About a week ago, I was captive audience to an all-infant battle on board a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight to Manchester. The wailing began before we took off from Lahore, it continued through the course of the flight, and sometimes still echoes in my head. After seven long hours, I realized I had another four hours ahead of me to Marlborough College, the wedding venue.
In the four hours en route to Marlborough, I slipped in and out of oblivion to make the odd conversation with Pip – the bride’s friend from Yorkshire who volunteered to fetch me en route to the wedding. By the time I made my way out of the airport it was clear we would miss the service at the Chapel but like a good host Pip reassured me, ‘all the fun begins beyond the vows’.
I was particularly intrigued when Pip told me he had traveled across the globe but had never been to London. He said, ‘London is all grey and dirty and mechanical and I prefer the vast, charming expanses in the North of England’. As we drove by green fields, and the vast expanses of picturesque farm land, I could imagine Pip basking in the sun, enjoying the suburban life, away from the compartmentalized existence most professionals share in London.
Much to our mutual delight, Marlborough was nothing like London. The setting was quaint; brick stones that housed shops but without any of the modern day neon signs or intrusively large, overshadowing billboards. The Master’s Lodge, where the bride’s father, the Headmaster of Marlborough College worked and lived, was a grand house of several stories looking onto lush gardens on two sides. The lovely sit down wedding dinner and dance was organized in an off white marquee set up in the lawn.
The bride and groom were both very much English but had met and worked in Pakistan together.
When I arrived at my table, my seat was reserved amongst guests I had not yet interacted with, which led to some wonderful conversations. In fact, I think out of the hundred odd guests at the wedding, I was able to converse with more than half the people. This was in sharp contrast to a Pakistani wedding where socializing is somewhat contained within a coterie of like minded, same aged associates. Also, the fact that thousands attend a single wedding gathering makes it humanly impossible to meet everyone.
In England, the free breeze and free conversation flowed endlessly right until the early hours of morning the next day. We danced in the backdrop of a live band, and as we revelled into the wee hours, some of us returned to a quiet and rather comfortable marquee to settle in for the night.
Apart from the incredible display of hospitality, there were many things that I enjoyed about my first English wedding. The celebration lasted over a day, and amongst only the dearest and nearest; a reasonable number of friends and relatives that the bride and groom were fully able to share their beautiful beginning with. After that, they get on with their lives.
Short. Sweet. Simple.
Conversely, in Pakistan, weddings sprawl over weeks like a marathon celebration. For guests who are visiting from out of town or are anything short of professional athletes, chances are they’ll fall ill before the main events at the fag end of the celebration. Just to list the events, we have the Engagement Party (Baat Pakki), numerous dance practices, multiple dholkis (sing and dance sessions), the mehndi (customs and dance), the baraat & shaadi (Wedding), the nikah (to make it official) and the valima (to celebrate consummation!). Recounting the events alone, is an ordeal.
Today, millions of Pakistanis continue to bleach their brown selves in a quest to find better prospects. Indeed, the colonial legacy of equating fair skin with superiority still pervades our culture. In the sea of cultural crossovers between the people of the subcontinent and those who governed them, representing the commonwealth, the simplicity, the charm and the intimacy of a private English wedding was something that failed to leave an imprint on the subcontinent.
Whatever the cause, one thing we must take note of is that a country like ours doesn’t have the means for hosting endless dinners and lunches and tea parties. It would only be fair to reduce the pressure on parents in their dotage fretting over the prospect of staging elaborate wedding celebrations for their numerous children.

 The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.

Khizr.imran@gmail.com