Sometimes the best way to capture its essence is through selfies that capture the most candid moments
Like any other good Punjabi, there is nothing I love more than a Big Fat Punjabi wedding. Over the years, though, my extended Big Fat Family has run through nearly all the marriageable young adults in its ranks. So, you can imagine the excitement and joy when my youngest female cousin announced she had found Mr Right.
If you have ever attended a Punjabi wedding, you will know that it rests on three pillars: food, drink and dancing. And this one was no different. There was lots of food and drink, followed by hours of dancing (I swear if I hear 'Chittyan kalayan' one more time, I will dunk my drink on the deejay) until we all collapsed in a puddle of sweat.
There was one difference, though. Whereas earlier all of us cousins, meeting after other after years in some cases, would have spent our time catching up, sharing each other's news and gossiping about other relatives out of earshot, this time conversation was not part of the equation (perhaps it was down to that loud music we all love so much).
In the place of stories, what we had were selfies. As I scrolled through my phone after the festivities were over, I was struck by how many pictures we had taken of one another and ourselves. There were the obligatory silly-face selfies, the hilarious duck-face versions, and those in which we tried to look our glamorous best in all our wedding finery.
Then began the flurry of mails flying back and forth, as we exchanged pictures, and discussed each one of them. And finally, with a certain inevitability, we posted them on social media and discussed them some more.
I must confess to some perturbation when I dawned on me that I hadn't actually even spoken to some of my relatives properly, so busy was I taking pictures of everything and everyone in sight. But the more I thought about it the better I felt. It wasn't as if I hadn't made connections with the members of my extended family. It was just that I had done it through pictures rather than words.
I guess this is just how we do it these days. And, you know what? It's perfectly fine with me.
Because the conversations and connections the pictures sparked off were way more exciting than any stilted conversation (struggling to be heard over 'Hookah bar' and 'Radha on the dance floor') at the event itself could have been.
We giggled over the picture an over-enthusiastic photographer took of the backs of one niece and aunt combination, focussing on their backless cholis. We got a little teary-eyed over the candid shots we had taken of the bride as she dressed up for the wedding, all red and gold and glowing with joy. And the pictures of us caught in the most awkward poses on the dance floor provoked much hilarity all the way from Chandigarh to Hyderabad.
But it was the selfies that really captured the essence of the occasion for me. Cuddling together with my assorted nieces and cousins, with everyone contorting themselves to get into the frame, so that we could document the mehendi on our palms, will raise a smile years from now. As will the picture in which our best sultry expressions are effortlessly trumped by my youngest nephew photo-bombing us from the back, sticking his tongue out to indicate what he thought of us silly girls.
Conversations are all well and good when it comes to making connections after years spent apart. But the selfies we took were the perfect aide-memoirs, to keep and cherish after the event, to pull out and chortle over decades later.
Like all weddings, this one too will be immortalised in the official album, done by professional photographers, who will produce perfectly-staged pictures and the most amazing candid, behind-the-scenes shots. And I am sure that it will be lovely to look at and cherished by all of us.
The bride will be beautifully lit and perfectly framed as she walks down the aisle for the jaimala, a sheet of flowers held over her by her brothers. But no matter how perfect this picture, it won't have the same impact as the shot I took of her from the sidelines as she turned to look at me and flash the most mischievous grin, as if only the two of us were party to some delicious secret.
There will be the obligatory family portrait, with all of us, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, bunched around the happy couple on the stage, smiling awkwardly as we wait for the photographer to get the frame just right. But no matter how good the official pictures, they won't have the immediacy of the candid shots we took of one another, goofing around at the edge of the ceremonies.
It is those selfies, and the moments they immortalise, that will live on long after the mehendi has faded from our hands, and the newly-married couple is over the honeymoon stage of the relationship. And when you think about it, that seems just right doesn't it? After all, what makes a family if not the memories that stitch us together over time and space. If we didn't have those, we wouldn't really be family at all, would we?