• Burhana Islam

Much Ado About Nothing: The Wedding Edit.

Updated: Oct 11, 2018


When it comes to traditional Asian weddings, the truth of the matter is that the whole affair is rarely pure and never simple. If you’re lucky like I am, school will be out and summer will finally find itself blossoming once again- even if it’s just for a little while. Only when that scene is set do you know that the season for matrimony, union and a million aunties telling you how many somosas, boras and feetas are socially acceptable to feed the entire population of Bangladesh three times over- well, put it this way, that season is undoubtedly in full swing.

I got married in August and my wedding wasn’t as simple as I would have liked it. In an ideal world, I would have had a barbecue after the cordial vows, but unfortunately, British weather, Asian culture and not least my huge extended family, all of whom I adore unconditionally, didn’t really cater for that. What I got in the end was still beautiful though. It was a good blend of East meets West and how to keep the elders happy all combined. At the heart of it, it was still me and, given the circumstances, I couldn’t have asked for more than that.


In light of this, I wanted to put together a post of tips and reflections. It might sound pretentious- almost like my wedding was the bees-knees or whatever, but I got a lot of kind messages from my side of the family and from friends post-wedding, commenting on the sweetness of the day itself and how noticeably different things felt this time around. Do bear in mind that we’ve averaged a wedding every half-term over the past two years so this was quite a compliment. I also saved a hell of a lot of money and I can only hope this encourages others to do the same at a time when austerity seems to be the norm.


I’ve split this post into three parts: The Basics, Personal Touches, and Reflections- skip to whichever you please.


The Basics


1) Venue


From experience (do correct me if I’m wrong), I’ve gathered that the average price for a wedding venue is about £5,000 in the Newcastle-ish area. Over the past two years, I’ve attended six weddings in the Falcon’s Rugby Club and they’ve always been generous with their pricing and their parking facilities- hence why I opted to go with them. I’m not one to bother with brand names, grand stairways or the scenic views a hotel may boast- all I needed was space and for £2950, I got the following:

- 270 seating

- 2 rooms (segregated)

- 1 bridal suite

- 2 prayer rooms

- 1 holding room

- Kitchen hire

- Furnishing, corkage, glassware, silverware

- Platform for the stage

- 500 car parking spaces

- PA system

- Signage

- Cake table

- Guestbook table

- Black chair covers

- Air-conditioning

- 15 waiting staff (at least 1 per 2 tables)

- Clean toilets


Good value for money, no?


2) Guest List


Since my sister-in-law came into my life, spreadsheets have revolutionised my way of living. From organising the wedding to keeping tabs on my personal finances, those little cells have given me peace of mind.


When it came to the guest list, I made a spreadsheet of all the families I’d invite to the wedding with columns for potential numbers, confirmed numbers and the gender split. This gave me a ballpark idea of how many invites to buy too and the numbers for the venue. In hindsight, I could have bought more than the hundred cards I’d ordered. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I naively and somewhat un-culturally forgot to include the numbers of every Yusuf, Mahmood and Ali I’d send invites to- those who I knew would never in a million years come anyway- silly me. I also didn’t realise it was custom to give my husband-to-be an invite either until it was too late. It’s safe to say that he came to the affair anyway. Lucky me.


On a side note, Whatsapp invitations to the young who don’t-mind vs. actual invitations to old or do-mind.


By the week before the wedding, we had confirmed maximum numbers of 267. On the wedding day itself, we had a turnout of little over 100. That’s Asian weddings for you. You just can’t call anything. Theoretically, the guest list seemed like a good idea at the time and I do stand by it. My dilemma was deciding between the £250 price difference between having 270 guests and 300. Thank God I decided to go for the former instead of the latter.


3) Catering


Do your research. Basically, if your food is awful, people will always talk and annoy the crap out of you. If it’s decent, they may or may not compliment it and then it’ll quickly be forgotten about. A happy balance, right?


We went for a company in Dewsbury who catered for my brother’s wedding. We opted for the same menu too with poppadoms in tow and carrot halwa with vanilla or pistachio ice cream - better than rasmalai in my opinion - £11.50pp.


Thankfully, we had already prepared for leftovers. We had an abundance of containers ready for the remaining food and packed them off with guests as they left in the evening. That night, while the whole habigushti was still here (even if I wasn’t), everyone got together, sang, ate and were merry while making feeta with the leftover rice. Meanwhile, the cake was dished out for everyone to eat and little was wasted.


Another side note: I wanted to keep some of the leftovers to feed the guests the next day to make things a little easier for my parents, but my Mama Bear was mortified at the thought. Apparently, it’s got to be fresh. Each to their own, I guess.


4) Decor

We went with Aliyah Creations in Middlesborough in the end. To be honest though, I legitimately could not have cared less whether we had decor or not. But hey, culture and peer pressure don’t really care for what I think either. I managed to get a decent price for what I got. In hindsight though, I should have sacked off the table centrepieces like I did the white chair covers (they were a pound a piece). If I had done that, I would have saved an extra £100 and, honestly, I didn’t even notice the centrepieces on the day.


For £600, I got:

  • The backdrop, stage, the three chairs/sofa for the ladies’ side

  • The throne chair, the main centrepiece and the table decor for the gents’ side

I don’t think that was too bad, do you?


Personal Touches


These are the things I knew:


A) I didn’t want a traditional Mehendhi/ Henna Night.

Disclaimer: This is actually a picture from my Walima day

Ultimately, I had no intention of hiring a hall, sorting the decor, blasting the music, getting dressed up, organising catering, figuring out the photography and all that faffy jazz so close to the wedding day itself. At the time, I had a looming deadline (one I thankfully managed to hit two nights before the nikkah). That made all of this nigh impossible to think about. Instead, two days before the wedding, I had all the aunties and girls over and we teamed up and played Scrabble and Jenga, reminisced about our youth, contemplated the future, made last-minute treats, sang/screamed our hearts out and ordered take-away. It was bliss. I got the front-side of my hands done by a friend’s cousin who was starting out on her henna journey and she managed to fit in a couple of other hands too. We took no pictures that evening.

On the day before the wedding itself, we had planned a barbecue. Typically, it rained. We moved the party indoors and managed to feed about 100 people multiple times throughout the day (dinner in the afternoon, snacks in between and a make-shift burger bar in the evening).


Every room was packed to the brim and it was time to get the Instax out.


It was beautiful.


B) I also wanted my wedding to have my own quirky touch to it.


Abdul and I are geeks and, as noted by the rest of our world, coconuts. We love all things from Middle-Earth to Westeros, from etymology and languages to poetry and puns and everything sandwiched in between. I really wanted our wedding to reflect that - even if the only purpose it served was to make him laugh.


I got all of my cousins and some of my friends in on it and we put together the following:


C) Delegation is a beautiful word. It has the power to ease practical burdens, lighten mental loads and give you a peace you never thought existed when you’ve got too much to think about. The good thing is that when it comes to a wedding, nobody minds helping out- all you have to do is ask:

I’m aware I have a minus in the money saving column, but since I was saving almost £4000 elsewhere, I really wanted to make sure that my cousins and uncles visiting the city had a nice place to stay for two nights- one on either side of the wedding. It just made things easier in the house and everyone appreciates good accommodation. I ended up hiring an AirBnB little over a mile away for 10 people and I kid you not, the place was fully kitted out like a hotel. It was a steal for the price I ended up paying and I’m glad I invested in it. Nobody really pays attention to materialistic things like henna and decor, but everyone appreciates ease. In the end, I’m glad I prioritised that.


D) Photography- simply put, I didn’t want to fork out near a grand for pictures and with smartphones at hand, everyone’s a photographer. Instead I thought it would be fun for my family to get their Instagram game on so we came up with this:

FYI: the account is no longer active

Through a friend, I also managed to get a photography student to take the shots on stage. We had a list(ish) of people coming to the wedding and my cousin took the mic. and called it out. My immediate family went first and then my in-laws were prioritised straight afterwards. The list then continued with the rest of the guests and anybody else wanting to take pictures at the end.


E) The Guest Book: this was basically a note card plus a polaroid shot slipped into an envelope and dropped into the crate. On the surface, the idea was for Abdul and I to go through the messages, putting faces to names and introducing our extended family and friends to each other. Theoretically, it’s actually a really nice way for us to become more familiar with our respective habigushtis. Underneath all that, it fed my need to control what the guest book ultimately looked like.


Reflections


When it came to the lead up to the wedding, there was a lot of uncertainty. For example, I didn’t know if people would actually show up. I didn’t know if we’d get food poisoned, if there’d be more arguments or what people would say and the rest of the likes. But there was one thing I was certain about and that was the fact that I wanted as many people as possible to be directly involved with the planning of it. When I thought about looking back on this whole affair, I knew I wanted to say that I legit had fun, that I didn’t drown wholly in the materialism the spectacle brought with it and that, honestly, it really was just one day. I also wanted to say that because of my wedding, our family was brought together more closely than ever before and I wanted everyone just to enjoy actually being a part of it. Two months on, I still see the fruits of our labour.


I also sometimes think about having kids of my own in shaa Allah. When I do, it’ll be sweet to tell them these stories of us- the stories of our ever-growing family: of the fact that my cousin and my new sister-in-law sat painting my palms that night- there’s a story I can tell them there. I get to say that my little nieces got up extra early just to do my hair - there’s a story there too. I get to tell them that their Bristol aunties slayed it when it came to my make-up and that my sister-from-another-mister made me a flipping fish thaal - I got to share that little platter with everyone I grew up with and more. I get to say to them too that their afon and only khala is a real boss and she knows how to fight your corner and get shit done. I also get to tell them of the time my brother, my grandma and my Mama and Papa Bear took me through to one of the biggest moments of my life.


Ultimately, despite what may have been said, this whole thing was never about saving money or being cheap (that was a perk- don’t get me wrong). It was more about the fact that we are so blessed to have so much love amongst us, that we have people we take for granted who truly do care for us and pray for us, and that we have so many more memories to add to the stories that make up our lives. I’m really glad that things panned out the way they did. I don’t think I could have asked for more. Everything was just so chill and, throughout the whole thing, I was too. It didn't even hit me that I was leaving that part of my life behind. I think I was more appreciative of the fact that somehow I was gaining more because we were all here together for this whole, damn thing. What more could I have asked for?


Right now though, I just pray that because my intention was to nurture and grow the love we have between us as a family, I pray that I’m blessed with even more of that as my own little family continues to grow.


As always, May He always keep us close.


Ameen.

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