In praise of shendi and shalima

Let us be grateful for small mercies!

Shendi (not to be confused with shandy) is the event that combines baraat (the ‘real’ shaadi) with mehndi. In other words, add dances to the event of baraat, and you get shendi. In the process, mehndi’s rasm-e-hina gets deleted due to the shortage of time. For the same reason and equally mercifully, many of the unendurable rituals such as doodh pilai and joota chupai have to be abridged or eliminated altogether. The less the better, so God bless the man who invented shendi. As another bonus, usually the attendees are spared the emotional sights and sounds of the exchange of vows (nikaah), which in view of the scarcity of time has to take place earlier. Shalima combines baraat (shaadi) with walima, and offers similar benefits.

Saving a day of ‘festivities’ is huge! Of course, the ideal would be an hour-and-a-half event where each guest is served a couple of dates and a sandwich with a cup of tea; but that– in the subcontinental context– would be too much to ask too soon. You have probably heard of the enlightened bridegroom somewhere in Europe who had taken his golf bag to his wedding ceremony. When the bride asked what in God’s name was it doing at her wedding altar, he uttered these immortal words: ‘This (wedding) is not going to take all day, is it?’ This level of maturity and level-headedness, where weddings are considered matter-of-fact realities of life instead of occasions which you expect others (and yourself) to grace, all resolved to have a grand time or die trying is a thing of the distant future for us. It will probably be the 23rd century before our folks will start treating a wedding, not as some fantasy event but as the prelude to the mother-of-all-practical-matters– marriage. In the here and now, we must recognize our limits and be thankful for small mercies like shendi and shalima.

Some words of autobiography are in order here. Circumstances beyond anyone’s control saw to it that there was only one ‘proper’ event in my wedding a good two decades ago (in hindsight a shendi, although it was years before the word was invented). It was purely accidental but since I had always considered mega weddings of the look-this-is-how-it-is-done ilk to be too self-assuming and vulgar, I did not have any reason to complain. Nor did I make any attempt to right the ‘wrong’ later. It may have been forced on me but, being a positive thinker, I like to think that I was a good 20 years ahead of the time. It is a good thing that I am blessed with a thick skin, for ours happens to be a country where many believe that there is a religious significance to walima, and therefore no wedding is complete without it (to this day, I am periodically reminded of this). Although this belief is ill-founded, the walima is here to stay in the foreseeable future. The shalima therefore has a brighter future in our region than the shendi.

Some years ago, an acquaintance had politely and discreetly suggested during the course of week-long wedding festivities that perhaps they could be abridged somewhat considering that the guests had other things to do as well. One man had responded to the suggestion then in these words: ‘But we have nothing else to do!’ While such individuals still exist today (and they may very well still be in a majority), it is safe to say that their numbers have declined since, and will continue to decline.

Until fairly recently, the trend in the duration of weddings was strictly on the rise. Multiple dholkis, maiyon, mehndi, baraat, and walima meant a whole week of festivities, if not more. The more religious folks had replaced mehndi and dholkis with qawwali nights, giving the whole arrangement a touch of piety without taking anything away from its pomp and show (the way referring to the engagement ceremony as dua-e-khair does). 

All those who are known to object strongly to any violation of the traditional mehndibaraatwalima wedding template (on the part of others) put themselves at a great risk of having to see their own children or grandchildren being guilty of the same. Already, many of them have faced this ignominy. For it is inevitable, not only in view of the expenses involved but also of the immense wastage of time.

Until fairly recently, the trend in the duration of weddings was strictly on the rise. Multiple dholkis, maiyon, mehndi, baraat, and walima meant a whole week of festivities, if not more. The more religious folks had replaced mehndi and dholkis with qawwali nights, giving the whole arrangement a touch of piety without taking anything away from its pomp and show (the way referring to the engagement ceremony as dua-e-khair does). Shehndi and shalima (each of which means one less event), having reversed the trend, are therefore breaths of fresh air. In the overall scheme of things, this may still be an isolated practice; but it is a start at least– and a welcome one at that.

Life is plenty tough as it is. Anything that reduces the drudgery of existence, rituals and ceremonies, especially for those unfortunates careless enough to be born with thoughtful souls, is to be cherished. Weddings are no-doubt wonderful occasions full of gaiety and fun. But it is an essential stage of intellectual progress to accept the cold hard truth that others are not nearly as excited about one’s ‘big’ days and events as one naturally is (for the very good reason that they have their own big days to be thrilled about, their own problems to solve and their own lives to live). They therefore are incapable of regarding somebody else’s event as having anywhere near the cosmic importance that that individual thinks it has. Truths are often uncomfortable in the short term. As a medium to long term strategy however, nothing makes for a richer and more peaceful existence than fearless acceptance of facts.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed

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