How did Bollywood with its love for big, fat weddings manage to stay away from the nikah? Oh yes, there was a film of that very name years ago, but it was more a story of marital misunderstandings and love lost and found, than the show itself. And of course, there were the passing references to a friend’s nikah in movies such as Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gham, but no full bodied documentation of a Muslim wedding celebration, complete with 17 songs, 52 costume changes and budding romances behind every curtain the kind of Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, Monsoon Wedding and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. This vacant space is what Andaleeb Wajid’s My Brother’s Wedding attempts to fill, though the protagonist has little love for the wedding juggernaut, at least to start with.
Nineteen-year-old Saba, who will be 20 by the time the book ends, is an undergraduate English literature student at a college in Bangalore.
To cope with the bride hunting, ghagra and jewellery shopping and talks of prospective grooms and brides at home, Saba starts a blog to vent her frustration with the marriage mania. But under the pseudonym of ‘The Other T’ the blog would soon come to encompass every up and down that her family undergoes over the next few months and her own budding love life.
Saba has an alphabet to represent each member she writes of – real names can be so easily traced, silly. So if her diva-meets-bitch married elder sister Rabia is Q, her brother, whose wedding it is, is Y, his bride is B, Saba’s best friend Riya is X and her cousin Shahid is T. Of course, this a feel-good fiction and so the blog not only becomes a hit, with loyal followers who manage to decode the fake identities, but also results in solving some of the problems her family faces.
The feel of the book is very now, making it easy for the readers to identify with the characters. There’s enough masala here to make a Bollywood pot-boiler – loving husband, bored housewife, office flings, first crush, the gorgeous-but-whiny NRI kid, the brooding lover-in-waiting, covert glances, hidden kisses et all.
But what makes the book stand out is the unapologetic representation of a well-to-do, modern, but somewhat conservative Muslim family and the dichotomy that faces the children of such a family when they step out in a world where traditional barriers are being challenged everyday.
Saba and her young cousins read Twilight, nurse crushes on Robert Pattinson, longingly eye the NRI kid, but retreat inside the folds of a burqa at the first sound of parental disapproval. Her brother Zohaib romances an office colleague, but marries a girl chosen by his mother.
Her sister Rabia draws family ire by marrying a man, who even though a Muslim, is from a different community. Saba herself is a college topper, who writes award-winning theatre scripts. But with her ears buzzing with conversations regarding her own marriage at home, she is too unambitious, at least in the beginning, to dream of anything more than being allowed to finish college. Riya’s constant advice to think beyond marriage and children makes Saba dream of a career in writing, but also irritates her, as she fears her family won’t be okay with the idea. The friendship between the girls is not enough to bridge the differences in family customs. And then there are those tongue-in-cheek references to blingy ghagras. But if Saba’s friend Riya suffers from the misconception that all Muslims serve Roohafza or Rose Milk at their gatherings, Saba would do well to lift the veil of her sequin-lined, bought-from-Dubai burqa and check out the costumes at a Hindu marriage.
For every Riya who wears a chic silk-cotton salwar-kameez to a wedding, there will be a hundred Raima, Reema or Rinki, who would feel their wedding attire incomplete as long as it doesn’t shimmer like a chandelier.