Everything was sorted and planned to a tee. I was going to go on leave two weeks prior to the wedding. The wedding dress would be collected two days later along with the jewellery. Then, I would shop for the groom’s bari. Cards would be distributed in that week only. Finally, when there’s five to four days left for the wedding, mother and I would go for a nice spa day to bond and relax our nerves. I did everything in my power to avoid last minute market trips just so I can actually enjoy my own wedding event. But, alas, this plan never happened,” narrates 27-year-old Alina.
The day Alina went on her wedding leave, news broke that Sindh government imposed a temporary ban on public gatherings for two weeks, which included markets, malls, restaurant dine-ins and weddings halls. The coronavirus pandemic had reached Pakistan and slowly the number of cases were increasing. “The two-week ban seemed like we might find a loophole. We were still hopeful to have the event like we planned, but that also never happened.”
In the next few days, the hustling bustling cities across Pakistan quickly went under strict lockdown. Rangers patrolled the streets as no one was allowed to leave the house unnecessarily except the select few; that too with masks and social distancing. Almost all businesses came to an abrupt halt, only medical stores and small shops for groceries were open under a curfew.
For this nation, there are five seasons in a year: spring, summer, fall, winter and weddings (which stays all year round). Many families plan all the festivities a year ahead, relatives abroad book their tickets in advance and the bride and groom count down the days. There are umpteen businesses that thrive only because of wedding ceremonies. So, when the pandemic hit Pakistan, many had to put their plans on hold. While there were definitely many couples going through a similar set of these emotions, Alina felt her wedding ceremony was particularly being targeted.“Setting a date for my wedding had been already been nightmare. We decided on a date twice but something absolutely unavoidable came up. Both families had a lot planned – me being an only child and my husband the only son and brother – and no timeline seemed to align for us. Finally, we ended up having a simple nikkah ceremony last year with our close relatives, and planned to have a rukhsati this year at the end of March. It was the perfect weather, preparations were in full swing, but yet again, something absolutely unavoidable came up. We sat down again and decided to wait until things got better.”
But the coronavirus cases kept on growing, it seemed uncertain when would things go back to normal. “Our parents decided to hold a simple ceremony with a select few people. A week after Eid-ul-Fitr, we had a dinner set up at my nani’s place. We had 10 people from our side and the baraat consisted of the groom and his immediate family. It was an intimate group of people but we still maintained some social distancing. Since it was my nani’s place, I was comfortable enough to enjoy the festivities. Nothing felt forced and everyone got to chat about and have a great time. It was the most perfect event I could have ever hoped for,” shares Alina.
Not surprisingly, experiences of anxiety, fearfulness, sleep problems, irritability, and feelings of hopelessness were widespread during the lockdown. These were mostly the rational responses of our minds to the extraordinary realities that we were and are still facing. So, for an already stressful bride-to-be, these unforeseen circumstances easily heighten her anxiety. Since the lockdown started in March, a 34-year-old Noor was hoping things might start getting better until her big day came around in July. However, as days passed, the cases only rose and after Eid-ul-fitr it rose exponentially. “I was supposed to start my preparations in May because I thought by then things would be coming back to normalcy. My in-laws including my then-fiancé, now-husband, were coming from the U.S. for the event after Eid. Due to the travel ban, it was uncertain if they would make it in time. Even if they did, they would have to stay in quarantine for two weeks and I doubted they would have enough leaves from office to compensate. I kept checking the news for any positive signs but it would only break my heart,” elucidates Noor. “Apart from that, both my parents are immunocompromised, so my brother and sisters were staying inside. We became even more cautious when we found out about the cases in our own apartment complex. Only my brother would go for groceries and we did not step outside for more than three months straight. Everyone was on edge but I was probably more than the others. There was no wedding shopping, no preparations and I hardly spoke to anyone. Although, when I did speak, it always ended up in a fight,” she recalls.
In such times, it is important to keep emotional ties strong with your loved ones and uplift their spirits. Noor feels this is what brought her stress levels back to normal. “My partner and my in-laws were very supportive through this entire ordeal. He would call to check up on me and cheer me up. My sisters-in-law would sometimes FaceTime me and tell me stories about their family. I also got to bond with my mother-in-law, which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise,” says Noor. Since travelling was still a risky business, both the families decided to have an online Nikkah ceremony after meethi Eid. And once the paperwork is finalised, Noor would fly directly to her husband in U.S. “I dressed up in an embellished trouser suit with minimal makeup done by my sister. The guestlist was only my two immediate aunts and an uncle, my sister-in-law who lives in the city came with her husband. Maulana sahib came and officiated the Nikkah. Once it was all done, I felt silly for being so stressed out but really happy to be married,” Noor enthuses.
When the lockdown eased after Eid-ul-fitr, solemnising marriages at home was happening frequently. Malls and local markets reopened including the salons for designated hours, provided that they follow proper precautions. Moreover, wedding venues weren’t (and still aren’t officially) open for business, hosts had to keep the guestlist according to the space that they have. While this was the time when the number of coronavirus cases were skyrocketing, there were many unfazed by this fact. “I wanted to wait until the end of the year to see if the number of cases would go down. However, my in-laws wanted to have a ceremony as soon as possible. We live in a two-bedroom apartment and my mother is over 60. Hence, we only invited a few elders to be present during the wedding at home. Keeping in mind that the virus is still spreading, my family had to deal with many sulking relatives as we didn’t invite them, too,” narrates 29-year-old Anum. “Unfortunately, little did I know that as cautious we were being, my in-laws would be the exact opposite. We had a capacity to host only 10 to 15 altogether, but they brought in 20 people just from their side. Even though we constantly reminded them to bring less people and wear masks, none of them followed through. When we tried to reason with them, all they had to say was that this was the first wedding of their family and they had a lot of ‘armaan’. I was quite surprised by this attitude even though one of their relative abroad passed away due to COVID-19,” laments Anum.
Upon inquiring about the safety of her family, she informs, “By some miracle we’re all safe and so far, no one in the family or in-laws got sick after the wedding. My family was constantly in masks and we had sanitizers with each of us. I was hoping to see a cultural shift that age-old wedding customs wouldn’t be so important as to risk your health. It didn’t happen in my case, though.”
While there are couples postponing their events for when things go back to normal, there are some who consider this as a best chance to get married. 28-year-old Tahir’s wedding was scheduled to take place in December 2020, but he pushed for an earlier date, “I had my Nikkah done in January and I was saving up money for the wedding. While weddings are an auspicious occasion, they are also very expensive. Even if you hold a simple event, you end up spending a six-digit figure and not everyone can afford it. I know so many people who had to take loans to cover a two to three-hour function and then pay it off for several years. It’s not practical and not worth the cost at all.”
Tahir plans on having a small dinner with the two families and bring his bride home. “In my opinion, what truly matters is solemnising a marriage between two people. One must do whatever is convenient and within their means. Parents and relatives save up money for over years just so a few people can praise the wedding arrangement and the dowry prepared for the bride. We need to move the focus from wedding events to the actual marriage and compatibility of the bride and groom. An expensive wedding ceremony will not guarantee you a happy marriage but love, mutual respect and understanding will,” comments Tahir.
For couples still struggling to cope with the emotional impact of the weddings during the pandemic, Karachi-based psychologist Yumna Zafar Usmani says that it’s okay to feel a little sad. “You had made preparations for the big wedding and had to adjust to a make-do family only event - a stark contrast from what you wanted. You perhaps envisioned taking those grand wedding pictures and maybe weren't able to in the pandemic-ridden time. Don’t let anyone tell you that you're not allowed to feel at least sad when you’re witnessing your plans being plagued away,” suggests Yumna. “What can help you in dealing with this change is by acknowledging it and the forced adjustment with your partner, because s/he will understand your pain the most. Talk about how you will make it up to your wedding plans by perhaps hosting a reception for others after the pandemic. Or by treating yourselves to an elaborate vacation. No matter what plan you come up with, do it together to prevent further alienation. Use this time to understand and support the emotions you and your partner feel and direct them to plan further,” she recommends.
“And as for people who always wanted a simple wedding and were glad to have got their way, enjoy the simplicity,” concludes Yumna.