By Vinayana Khurana:
My first experience of a Punjabi wedding at age five, was a mixture of fear and awe. I could see ladies in fancy sarees brushing past. And numerous food stalls, to which my little brother aged two, enquired, “Is everything free?” My father nodded with a smile.
Growing up, I remember getting dressed for a wedding almost every other day. As a child, the main attraction for me was the food, a great variety of which is available at any Punjabi wedding. But as I grew up, I got this feeling that attending a wedding was the only way I could stay in touch with my roots and culture, which is mixed as my father is Punjabi and my mom hails from Himachal Pradesh. Personally, I learned a lot about Himachali culture only by attending weddings in my mother’s hometown.
Their way of welcoming relatives after a 12-hour drive from Delhi (where I grew up and live) is first, through a long series of hugs. Eventually, one is asked if we want a glass of water. This is quite different from the way guests are welcomed in a Punjabi household, which is usually through an array of snacks! I still remember my grandfather saying, “Give the children whatever snacks they want. Only then set the table for the other guests.”
This approach to food is pretty much reflected in the respective culture’s weddings. At Punjabi weddings, we have an array of multiple stalls and a large buffet for meals. But at a Himachali wedding, there’s a tradition of serving all the people who are coming to bless the bridal couple. During this meal (the only one) known as ‘dhaam’, you are made to sit on the floor and eat from the ‘patal’, a plate made from a leaf. It always feels good to be sitting on the roof of our maternal home in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, eating ‘daal-bhat’ (rice with daal). The cold weather doesn’t allow the bride’s mehendi to dry easily, and the sound of the ‘dhol‘ sometimes makes her eyes moist with tears, perhaps, because it reminds her that she will soon be leaving the home of her parents for her husband’s home.
In a Himachal household, you are given to eat only when you share that you are hungry. These smaller habits are reflected in the larger way in their respective weddings. In one, there’s an abundance of everything and in the other, the focus is on serving a healthy lunch. Both of them are right in their own ways but a little different from each other, and due to these differences, I get the best of both worlds.
From what I have experienced, a Punjabi wedding seems to be more about fun and celebration, while the essence of a Himachali wedding lies in its rituals and customs. A stark difference is that, at a Punjabi wedding, you will be in the limelight on the basis of how you dress. But in a Himachali wedding, you just need to be a good storyteller, and everyone will love you! Interestingly, storytelling is an integral part of Himachali culture and in my opinion, it reflects a strong bonding within the family, because of which, stories get passed on from generation to generation. On a lighter note, my father often jokes about how in Punjab, there’s a theory that a human can tell good stories, only once his stomach is full.
Some of the things a child can learn from weddings is how to speak to elders, respecting your own family and a feeling of unity when he or she interacts with the long lost relations. I recently attended two weddings, and the one in Himachal, made me feel closer to that part of myself, which belonged there. My cousins, made me feel at home. We talked and laughed together and did not sleep a wink. We shared stories of our respective childhoods – funny stories as well as ‘ghost stories’. This, for me, is one of the best parts of a wedding experience. The other aspect is how it has been the chief link to my roots. The gradual loss of this, makes me feel, the loss of self, the loss of belonging and identity. It’s about those lost recipes from a grandmother’s kitchen, it’s about the songs she used to sing while cooking, it’s about her soft hands wiping our tears while crying.
Even now, while sitting in my room in Delhi, I can still remember, my old house, my joint family and the summer holidays. The fullness of those experiences is replaced by a slowly disintegrating sense of connectedness, because we live in a mobile culture, where, real interactions are replaced by virtual ones. The two states of my roots share the same border, yet, they are so different from each other. India is so culturally diverse, and sometimes, it feels like as if the great Indian wedding is the last link to this cultural diversity. Perhaps, many of my peers, especially those who live in the city, far from their home states, feel the same way.