Best of Nirali Magazine

M

aybe you’re the girl who dreamed of her wedding day all her life, or maybe you’re the girl who didn’t give it a second thought. Whether you were fantasizing or otherwise occupied, now you’re deep in the throes of planning for the big day—and you want to do it right. Don’t you wish you had the insider knowledge from someone who’s already braved the desi wedding gauntlet?

talked to dozens of South Asian brides who told us what went right—and wrong—during their planning processes. We’ve compiled their best tips and tricks below. In fact, we got so many great suggestions that we had to break them up into two parts—so look for More Real Tips on June 18.

See All Nirali Weddings Here!
GET STARTED AND GET ORGANIZED

Create a system.
I highly recommend preparing checklists throughout the process and continuing to monitor your schedule against the checklists.
—Ayesha Farooqi, New York, NY

real-tips-ayesha.jpg
Clockwise from left: Submerged centerpieces. Ayesha and Ali cut the cake. The happy couple.

The smartest thing I did was to stay organized. I created email folders for all my emails from vendors; hard copy folders for the vendor contracts; spreadsheets for guest lists, table seating and gifts; phone lists for all my vendors and, once the wedding came around, a packet that I distributed to all my helpers so that everyone was on the same page.

Also, there are tremendous challenges with having a wedding at a private home, including the rental of all items, hiring staff, designing the layout of your tables and related table decorations. I planned to have three separate chandeliers made entirely of flowers, all spaced at equal intervals underneath the tent. I never thought I would have to sketch things out on graph paper after junior high—who knew I would do it again for my wedding!
—Sheila Bangalore, Chicago, IL

It took us a year to send the thank-you cards because we had so many different lists of friends, parents, in-laws. Create one master document or spreadsheet with all your guests—it will be much easier to send your cards.
—Nadia Samadani, New York, NY

real-tips-renu.jpg
Clockwise from left: Renu and Blair. Renu’s simple and chic reception décor. See more photos in the story Snap Happy.

Take care of yourself.
Get a personal trainer! He helped me get in great shape for the wedding and honeymoon. It also helped spending time at the gym to take my mind off wedding planning (and some frustrations!).
—Menaka Sanwal, Jersey City, NJ

Prioritize your spending.
Keep it simple and elegant. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on table linens and flowers. It’s more important to spend the money on a good photographer, good food and good entertainment. That’s what people will remember—that it was fun and that they were fed well. And when others look at the pictures, they should say, “Wow, I wish I was there.”

Don’t spend too much on extraneous stuff like a honeymoon suite—you get there and you’re so tired, you just go to sleep.
—Renu Yonkoski, Skokie, IL

If you plan to use your cell phone a lot around the time of your wedding, call your carrier in advance and bump up your plan. I have a plan with more than 2,000 minutes and I still managed to pay a small fortune in cell phone bills!
—Sheila Bangalore, Chicago, IL

real-tips-aarathi.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Aarathi’s ice bar. Aarathi and Bobby. Their mandap.
TIME IT RIGHT

Start early.
Start planning as soon as you can. When you give yourself enough time, your wedding can be any way you want it.
—Aarathi Cholkeri-Singh, Chicago, IL

Give yourself sufficient time between the engagement and the actual wedding, and spend that time actively planning and executing the wedding. My husband and I got engaged at the end of September 2005 and planned to marry in the first week of July 2006, which gave us a little more than nine months to plan the wedding. At the end, we found that we ran short of time even with both of us cramming every weekend and many weekdays for a bit more than eight months with wedding preparation related activities. Unless it is a small and simple wedding, a bride will be doing herself a great disservice if she gives herself less than six months to plan.
—Ayesha Farooqi, New York, NY

Try to take as much time as you can and plan as far in advance as you can, because every day, week and month counts. If you want to be very detail-oriented, you need a lot of time.
—Deepika Ghumman, Fairfax, VA

real-tips-deepika.jpg
Clockwise from left: Deepika and Rinku. Their guestbook. The cake. See more photos in Thanksgiving Celebration.

Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Not all of us have more than a year to plan our dream wedding. For those who don’t, time management is key. No matter what you’re juggling, make sure you understand that you can still have a perfect wedding without doing every single thing yourself.
—Smita Gulivindala, New York, NY

I scheduled a portion of my professional exam one week before the wedding. I was very stressed. I should have either postponed the exam or the wedding by a few months. The fatigue I felt from juggling everything resulted in my getting a terrible cold the week of the wedding. My nose was running and my head was spinning while I was having mehndi applied to my hands and my aunts were singing and playing the dholak and my cousins were practicing for their dances. It felt like I was chained up to the inside of a car wash—not fun!
—Sanam Alam, Palo Alto, CA

real-tips-harneet.jpg
Harneet and Aman on their wedding day.
ENLIST HELP

Delegate duties.
At first I thought I could do everything myself, but as the wedding got closer, I was freaking out. Thank God for my awesome mother and my best friends who helped out and took control when I lost it.
—Harneet Arora, Silver Spring, MD

It is useless, even counterproductive, to micromanage every aspect of the occasion as it will only result in more stress for you, the bride, and those around you. Delegation of some responsibilities is very important and, while we risk imperfection or things not being done 100 percent to our liking, we have created the opportunity for loved ones to be included in this memorable occasion.
—Sanam Alam, Palo Alto, CA

I did not delegate enough work to others. I ended up getting very little sleep for the two weeks leading up to the wedding. I think I must have slept an average of two to three hours each day during the two weeks leading up to the wedding including the day of the mehndi and the shaadi.
–Ayesha Farooqi, New York, NY

Spread the responsibilities.
We were incredibly organized and shared the plan with as many close family and friends as possible. At least 50 people at any given moment knew exactly what was supposed to be happening and could naturally help to direct crowd flow, chip in here and there, etc.
—Aarthi Belani, New York, NY

real-tips-menaka.jpg
Clockwise from top left: The grand venue. Menaka and Alex. Menaka gets ready.

If you are having a big wedding, you must appoint at least two maids of honor and, in my opinion, they should be friends vs. family members because family is running around taking care of things anyways. With Indian weddings, you have anywhere from two to five events, and your poor friend is bound to get burned out. For my first event, I had one friend who literally didn’t sleep at all and ran around for me (drive me to my appointments because I didn’t want to get ready at my house, feed me because I had mehndi on my hands and feet). For the second event, my other friend had the same situation and they both were exhausted by the third day.
—Harneet Arora, Silver Spring, MD

Accept advice from others.
Always be open to at least listening to other’s ideas. You never know—it may not have been what you were particularly planning, but it may actually be better.
—Mala Soni, New York, NY

The smartest thing I did was to find a way to have a ceremony that included input from my parents and in-laws. That kept everyone happy.
—Aneesa Shoaib, New York, NY

real-tips-mala.jpg
Clockwise from left: The cake at the winter-themed reception. Mala and Nirav. The spring-themed engagement party.
FIND THE RIGHT VENDORS

Vet your vendors.
When picking vendors, try to get recommendations from friends and family who have recently gotten married—they’ll be a lot of help.
—Menaka Sanwal, Jersey City, NJ

Living in Dallas and having the events in Houston, I communicated with several of my vendors through email and phone. I picked my mehndi lady off of a referral and had her send me pictures of her work. It was exquisite, some of the best I have ever seen. But I found out the day of the mehndi that she had stolen those pictures off the Internet and had no clue how to do mehndi. I wish I would have trialed the mehndi. I ended up kicking her out of my home and having to find someone else that day who could just do regular mehndi.
—Sonali Majmudar, Dallas, TX

My tent vendor was a total nightmare! If I were to do it again, I would have spoken to the Better Business Bureau to make sure they were members. I would recommend confirming the same with any vendor used.
—Sheila Bangalore, Chicago, IL

real-tips-smita.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Guests aboard the Cornucopia Majesty enjoying the Manhattan view. Smita and Vineet. Their outdoor mandap.

Do your research
The smartest thing I did was to do research online thoroughly to save time in meeting all the vendors. From banquet halls to makeup artists, I looked everyone up online and asked friends that had used any of them for references. I weeded out many banquet halls just by checking their capacity online and talking to them on the phone for availability. Doing the research beforehand saved me a lot of precious time.
—Smita Gulivindala, New York, NY

You want to do your research and shop around. You don’t want to go with the first photographer or decorator you see. I visited Web sites like The Knot and WeddingSutra every day to see what other people were doing. You also get to see what not to do.
—Deepika Ghumman, Fairfax, VA

Spell out what you want.
The biggest mistake I made was to not make myself clear to the photographer that they needed to pull family members no matter what they were doing to get their photos taken. Because of this, sadly I have no picture portraits of my parents, siblings, uncles and aunts from the wedding day.
—Harneet Arora, Silver Spring, MD

real-tips-aneesa.jpg
Aneesa and Muntasim.

Consider non-desi vendors.
Don’t be afraid to choose a non-South Asian vendor for video or photo. Their equipment is generally far more advanced (our wedding video was shot and edited entirely in widescreen HD format) and they are usually easier to work with. They will work with you to custom tailor your wedding video to your tastes. Many of the existing South Asian wedding videographers we ran into are in the business of cranking out as many videos as they can with very low quality and bad service.

In Houston, for example, there is a single prominent videography company that specializes in Indian weddings and people tend to use them just because everyone else did. I had originally hired them, but I am so happy that I changed my mind because the quality is average and the copycat methodology they use (all the videos use the same music, styling, etc.) is horrible. I realized this not too long before my wedding and I had to cram at the last minute to find a truly exceptional videographer, and although he was not Indian, he had done Indian weddings in the past and was able to incorporate his artistic flair.
—Sonali Majmudar, Dallas, TX

Pick the right wedding planner.
While wedding planners can be a great resource, make sure that you are very selective when you hire one. Of the three wedding planners I spoke with, only one seemed great but was going to be out of town during my wedding weekend. In the other two cases, one did not seem organized and the other refused to help me unless she worked with vendors she had worked with previously (translation: if she suggested a vendor, she would be eligible to collect a commission from the vendor and therefore make money above and beyond the fee I was supposed to pay her). Wedding planners can be great but you really need to know who you’re hiring, make sure they are extremely organized and, above all, are patient and hard-working.
—Sheila Bangalore, Chicago, IL

real-tips-aarthi.jpg
Clockwise from left: Aarthi’s mandap. Aarthi sings at her jam session. Aarthi and Anil.
GET CREATIVE

Pick a theme.
We had a seasonal theme for all our events which turned out to be great. Every party was themed with a season and the décor, food, invitations, etc., were all tied in to each season.
—Mala Soni, New York, NY

Play up your personalities.
Since my husband is not Indian, we decided to have an informal sangeet at my house two days before the wedding. Todd is a professional musician, so we wrote on the invitations that everyone should feel free to bring a musical instrument to play as we would create a free-form improv night of music. Our family and friends had an all-night jam session with Indian and American instruments. We even ended the evening with my friend Sangeeta hosting an Indian-American game of Antakshari with Hindi songs as well as American songs.
—Reena Shah, Brooklyn, NY

We had a very wonderful and unique sangeet. I’m a singer and many of my friends are professional musicians, so we rented out a gorgeous, art deco-decorated jazz club with a stage and full sound and light system, had two hours of live music (songs from all over the world, including some original ones) and then finished up with DJd dance beats. We also had signature cocktails for that evening, one named after me and one after my husband. Mine was a Mango Bellini and his was a Ginger Gin ‘n’ Tonic.
—Aarthi Belani, New York, NY

We had an ice bar that had our names carved in it with roses throughout. They put about 10 pictures of us into the bar so that everyone could see them.
—Aarathi Cholkeri-Singh, Chicago, IL

real-tips-sonali1.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Keepsake raas sticks from Sonali’s garba. Sonali and Prayes. Reception favors of zardosi-worked boxes.

Dare to be different.
I was tired of going to the same banquet halls in Long Island for weddings and sweet sixteen parties and wanted to do something different for my wedding. We had our reception on the Cornucopia Majesty, the largest luxury ship in the northeast. The ship went around all of Manhattan several times, circling around the Statue of Liberty. We had many out-of-town guests who absolutely loved the view of the New York skyline at night.
—Smita Gulivindala, New York, NY

I think the smartest thing we did was not use any flowers! Flowers end up costing a fortune and that budget can be put to be better use somewhere else in your wedding events. No one even noticed, and the centerpieces we had made turned out to be a big hit. We had fresh flower petals on the aisle, two arrangements on each side of the mandap, some arrangements on the cake, and that was it. It worked out nicely and we used all of that money elsewhere to make my event unique and special.

In addition, at the garba, for our guests we had decorative keepsake raas sticks that matched, along with a hand-painted pure silver pooja thali. For the wedding, instead of doing a clichéd wedding favor, we had handmade paper boxes with zardosi work made in Jaipur and then had those filled with incense sticks. This worked out nicely because no matter what their ethnicity, folks enjoyed them.
—Sonali Majmudar, Dallas, TX

Instead of spending money on renting out another hall and transferring approximately 500 people from the gurdwara to a hall or hotel, I saved myself from a big headache by having a beautiful tent installed as an extension to the gurdwara.
—Harneet Singh, Silver Spring, MD

real-tips-sheila.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Sheila’s table numbers incorporated Indian cities. Sheila and Samir. Their wedding cake.

Implement Indian details.
Our wedding cake (from Icebox Cafe in Miami) took into account the colors and illustrations from our wedding invitations. On each of the five layers, different illustrations from our wedding invitations were stenciled onto the icing. Our amazing baker, Maday, also learned Devanagari script and decorated the cake with various words (life, love, etc.). I don’t know many people who would make stencils and learn Devanagari script as part of creating a final product but she did with a smile on her face.

For our table numbers, we incorporated both the alphabetical and numerical system because we really wanted our tables to be identified by cities in India. Thus, Table 1 was also Table Agra, Table 2 was also Table Benares and so on. In addition to a city name and number, each table card also included a map of India which indicated where the city was located—the effect was amazing.
—Sheila Bangalore, Chicago, IL

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TECHNOLOGY

Set up a Web site.
Wedding Web sites are a great way for family and friends to keep in touch with you, even after the wedding. I want to keep ours up for a while to keep my family in India updated and connected.
—Deepika Ghumman, Fairfax, VA

WeddingWindow.com
is a great tool to set up your own site. My sister is getting married in July, and her Web site, which is www.ateetandtina.com, is set up through WeddingWindow. You have to pay a little extra for the personalized URL, otherwise it would have looked like this: ateetandtina.weddingwindow.com.
—Reena Shah, Brooklyn, NY

real-tips-reena.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Reena is carried into her ceremony. The newlyweds. Reena and Todd dance at their reception.

Use video to entertain and connect.
We got a love story video shot, basically a movie made about how we met, how he proposed, interviews of each other, etc. and we played it at the reception rather than giving a speech. It told our story for those who did not know us that well or our history, and it is a keepsake for us and our parents.
—Sonali Majmudar, Dallas, TX

My wedding was the first in the family so my parents had a difficult time managing the guest list. With the familial and cultural pressure of inviting distant relatives and those whose children’s weddings they had attended years ago but were no longer in touch with on a regular basis, our guest list quickly reached the 600+ mark. Creating an atmosphere of intimacy was going to be difficult if not impossible. So we decided to incorporate the use of audio-visual technology.

We hired two videographers who would be able to capture maximum footage (which is very useful when editing as much of it gets filtered out). Because we had two video cameramen, we were able to capture many subtle moments. For example, when I walked in, we caught the footage for that as well as Imran’s reaction. This enabled us to accomplish a seamless cohesiveness in the wedding video which adds to the feeling of intimacy.

We also created a picture/video montage featuring pictures and video clips of Imran and me through our childhood and adulthood with loved ones and displayed it on a screen to allow those who’ve been close to us over the years to feel acknowledged and recall good memories. After the ceremony, when the guests, Imran and I were mingling before dinner was served, we had clips of the function intermittently transmitted on the screen where the video/picture montage had previously been displayed. This allowed people to have the feeling of knowing what was going on.
—Sanam Alam, Palo Alto, CA

real-tips-sanam.jpg
Clockwise from left: Sanam and Imran. The couple at their mehndi. The setting for the ceremony.

We had a “mockumentary” video presentation. My brother impersonated a Walter Cronkite-like anchor and took the audience through a brief summary of our lives as if it were an expose or investigative reporting. There was quite a bit of comedy and in-jokes. His friend played a filmi-style gossip VJ who pretended to comment cattily on our marriage, the way Bollywood TV shows do about romances between Hindi film stars (“He’s marrying her for the money, and she’s marrying him for the political gain.”)
—Aarthi Belani, New York, NY

What are your best wedding planning tips? Share them in the comments below. And look for more advice from real brides in two weeks!
n

Ismat Sarah Mangla learned everything she needs to know about weddings after doing this piece.
Published on June 4, 2007.
Photography: Courtesy of respective photographers. See below for complete list.

Photographers featured

Ayesha Farooqi: 3PointImage and Abella Studios
Renu Yonkowski: Prem Mukherjee/Arising Images (See more in Snap Happy)
Aarathi Cholkeri-Singh: Lasting Memories
Deepika Ghumman: Glenn Barnett Photography (See more in Thanksgiving Celebration)
Harneet Arora: Paul and Simar Singh/A-1 Action Photo and Video Inc.
Menaka Sanwal: Jay Seth Photography
Mala Soni: Amish Thakkar/Fine Art Studio
Smita Gulivindala: Sunny Image
Aneesa Shoaib: Courtesy of Aneesa Shoaib
Aarthi Belani: Caroline Yang Photography
Sonali Majmudar: Humza Yasin Photography
Sheila Bangalore: Novel Photography by Mona Chaudhry
Reena Shah: Radhika Chalasani Photography
Sanam Alam: Zeerum Images

Comments are closed.
  1. June 26, 2007, 11:08 am Payal

    The advice about hte honeymoon suite is so true. Same with spending money on table linens and flowers! And I love the seasons theme for your events.

  2. October 10, 2007, 11:52 am Emily

    I really enjoyed reading about your wedding. It was so beautiful! Your wedding tips are so true. One thing we found handy was setting up a wedding website. It was great for sharing info about our wedding, sharing our engagement photos, and doing the RSVPs. We used BluePetals . It was really quick to get a site up and running.

  3. March 5, 2008, 6:29 pm Apu

    The tips are great! I’ll definitely keep them in mind as I’m going through the wedding planning process this year.

    Also, I am looking for a place to get some decorative raas sticks made. Sonali, where did you get those from?

  4. September 24, 2008, 2:25 am Rania

    Very nice couples and wedding arrangments.

  5. April 11, 2009, 3:02 pm Wedding Wallah

    Just launched blog on wedding vendors catering to the Indian wedding. Please check it out and add your experiences, reviews and ratings. This could become a great forum for bride to bes!