By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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Within 48 hours, Sarika's mother had drawn up the first list of invitees. (She had been jotting down names all fall.) At one point, the guest list for the reception would fluctuate up to around 750 and then back down. Atul, as it turned out, would live in Boston for most of the planning process.
Sarika never hired a wedding planner.
For a Hindu ceremony, you can't just pick a wedding date. Couples consult an astrologer for auspicious wedding times. The process isn't entirely old-world, though. "They gave us an Excel table," says Sarika. "We had a percentage thing -- like, 'This day is 70 percent good, this day is 85 percent good.'"
The first week of December was designated 100 percent good.
"Both our moms said we should just do it that weekend!" says Sarika. But friends and siblings in medical school had exams that week. Sarika and Atul had the last say, and they decided on November 18.
In some South Asian weddings, the parents aren't simply consulted -- they actually make the majority of the decisions. Historically, the wedding was seen as the last act of parenthood (back in the days when brides were practically children and often married in their teens). Of course, the concept has been diluted these days. But parents still take great pride in their children's weddings -- and in some cases, they do all the planning.
A marriage is also very much "about a meeting of families," says editor Zooni. "You want to make sure that the parents get along…There's a lot of pleasing. "
And the "pleasing" is an important part of the wedding preparations. Neither family wants to be neglected. If families are from different regions or speak different languages, they may quibble over which rituals to do. Here in America, South Asian kids often tend to socialize together even though religions (Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism) and ethnic backgrounds (Pakistani, Indian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi) don't necessarily match up.
Even the vendors can get drawn into familial tension, says videographer Farhan Khokhar of A&A Videography.
"It's very offensive to have more shots of the bride's family than the groom's family," he says. "In a Western wedding, I've never had anyone complain that someone's been left out," he says.
Problems can also occur if families are sharing expenses and one side has no real upper limit while the other side clearly does. To avoid confrontation, Sarika and Atul discussed money issues with their own respective parents.
The couple took care of the big stuff -- the venues, the photographer, the Indian decorator -- before Atul left last June to begin his neurology residency program at Harvard. She stayed here, finishing law school at the University of Houston and an internship and preparing for the wedding. The plan was for her to join him in New England after the wedding -- which was the proper thing to do, anyway.
For most of the summer, planning was minimal; but by early fall, it kicked into gear again. Besides the wedding and reception, there would also be three other traditional pre-wedding events: a haldi, an intimate party to initiate the wedding; the mehndi,when friends and family have their traditional Indian henna tattoos applied; and the sangeet,a large dance party the night before the ceremony.
By October, Sarika and her mother were dedicating practically their entire lives to planning the colossal affair -- which was becoming even more massive than originally planned. Initially, the couple expected 250 people for Friday night's sangeet, 300 for the wedding and 600 for the reception. But, somehow, the wedding had expanded to 450, and the reception was looking like 700 to 750 people.
"The Friday night thing -- I have no idea," Sarika says. The venue had a limit of 300 people, so they couldn't allow the guest list to balloon too much.
"When it starts adding up like that, you just think, 'Oh my god.' It's adding up to thousands of dollars. I don't want my parents to go broke. But they want to do it, too -- they want a good wedding."
All fall, Sarika's aunties dropped by the house to help. Occasionally, a group of friends would come over with their own personal deep fryers, sit on the floor and cook little snacks that could be frozen until the wedding. "And it's so funny because they'll put on Indian music and they'll gossip," says Sarika. "It's totally like My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
A lot of these women are part of the first wave of young Indian immigrants who came to the United States in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Now their kids are old enough to partner up, so there have been weddings galore in the last few years.
The boom has bred a bit of one-upsmanship, actually. Call it "keeping up with the Patels," call it what you will: People up the ante year after year.
"You see someone spend $70,000 on X, Y and Z. Then someone has to spend $100,000 on the upgraded packages on X, Y and Z," says wedding coordinator Doyle.
One recent affair was even deemed "Donald Trump"-esque. If you want to throw an unforgettable bash, you need that wow factor.