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wedding weekend in the Windy City

Throughout our home leave travels, it felt as if we were moving westward to flee the impending fall weather. We left Europe just as the temperature began to dip, and the same thing happened as we neared the end of our stay in Maine. Before heading out to the Southwest, we made a brief stop in Chicago to attend a wedding and catch up with as many friends as we could on the margins of the celebration.

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We had moved to Chicago for graduate school and lived there for a year and a half, which is long enough to cultivate a few favorite hangout spots, but not quite long enough to say that we know the city backwards and forwards. Thus, every time we return, we enjoy the nostalgia of revisiting our old haunts with the joy of discovering new places.

D stopped by his old job, where we saw a handful of familiar faces but many more new ones. A friend who was out of town left us the keys to her Hyde Park apartment, which triggered a wave of nostalgia. So did spending an afternoon with a friend at Montrose Beach, as well as having bibimbap followed by drinks at our favorite Belgian beer bar in Andersonville. Topping the list of our new discoveries was Myopic Books, a tightly packed independent bookstore where we wound up spending a couple of hours on S’s sister’s recommendation.

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D’s friend who was getting married is of Pakistani descent, and the wedding was going to be a traditional Pakistani affair full of customs completely unfamiliar to us. He met us for brunch before the festivities got underway and helped explain some of what we were about to experience. He also brought clothes for D. The couple’s parents had purchased tunics and scarves for the attendees, so all of the male guests who chose to wear ethnic clothing to the colorful Mehndi ceremony were color-coordinated — orange tunics with purple scarves for the groom’s side and burgundy tunics with orange scarves for the bride’s side.

A Pakistani wedding actually consists of several different ceremonies. Some are private, and only immediate family members are invited. We were going to attend two events — the Nikkah, which is the actual wedding ceremony, and the Mehndi, which takes place the night before. D’s friend helped us read between the lines of the information we had found on the wedding website. For instance, one of the events had a 6pm start time. “Oh no, no, no — that’s 6pm DST!” he chuckled. Desi Standard Time — to ensure that all the extended family members and friends of the bride’s and groom’s parents actually show up for the event. “I won’t get there until 7:30 myself, and neither should you,” he concluded. And even with this warning we showed up a bit too early.

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There is a lot to be said for Pakistani weddings. In fact, the night before the Mehndi, the bride and groom sent out a three-page document to all their non-South Asian friends to help clarify the traditions. The part that stood out for us, and what we enjoyed most about the festivities, is the emphasis on dancing. For instance, the Mehndi starts with the groom’s entrance, who dances his way into the reception hall with an entourage of his friends and family dancing along behind him. And it concludes with choreographed dances, performed by friends and family of the couple, oftentimes with unintended comedic results.

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Similarly, the Nikkah ceremony starts with a baraat — the groom’s procession only had a hundred yards to cover from its starting point to the reception hall, but it lasted half an hour, with music blaring from a speaker that the event organizer pulled along on a dolly while a drummer banged out a thumping beat on the dholak drum.

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At the end, when the dancing is over, the speeches have been made, and everyone has eaten their fill of delicious South Asian food, comes the ruksati — a slow, tear-filled procession towards the exit that is symbolic of the bride’s leaving her family. The bride’s mom was having too much fun to shed actual tears, and we saw her dipping her finger in a glass of water to daub substitute tears onto her cheeks. There was no question, however, about the authenticity of the bride’s tears.

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We took our leave shortly thereafter while our friends continued to party in the hotel. Not only did we have to drive back from the northern suburbs to Chicago’s South Side, but also we had an early morning flight to Salt Lake City the next day.

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