Mix 'n' Match

Published: 19 October, 2011 10:20 IST | Amit Roy |

East is East and West is West and sometimes the 'twain do meet. Marriages in London have two cultures forming a comfortable union

East is East and West is West and sometimes the 'twain do meet. Marriages in London have two cultures forming a comfortable union

London witnessed a high profile Indian society wedding in August - that of Tej Lalvani, 37, son of Dr Kartar Lalvani, president of Vitabiotics, the UK's second largest branded multivitamin manufacturer which he founded in 1971, and his 31-year-old fianc ´┐Że from Leeds, Tara Ruby.  

Relatives and friends from India, including many from Mumbai, who attended several days of celebrations, would have noticed that Asian weddings in the UK increasingly are becoming "mix and match" affairs that remain part traditional but are also part western.

Manne-Queen: Shozna (l) with Raishma Islam (r), with the dress that
she wore to Kate and William's royal wedding

As the community has grown, Indian weddings in Britain have become a multi-million pound business.

Something as simple as Indian girl marrying Indian boy sustains several bridal magazines, fairs that promote everything from henna artists to beauty parlours and honeymoon tourism, jewellery shops, catering companies and fashion designers.

"I see myself as not so much an Asian fashion designer as a fashion designer," emphasises Raishma Islam, who designs lengha and other Asian outfits as well as Western-style evening gowns.

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These days in a multicultural Britain, it does not even have to be Indian girl marrying Indian boy. It is often Indian girl marrying English boy who is more than happy to wear a colourful sherwani.

Once, it was more usual for an Indian boy to marry an English girl. But these days, Raishma, who is an established designer in Green Street, the fashion centre in London's East End, comes across many instances of Indian girl marrying English boy. Perhaps the latter realise, "they are on to a good thing," laughs Raishma. She estimates the average Indian wedding in the UK will not cost less than Pound20,000.  "The average," she reckons, "is likely to be Pound50,000."

What she has found is that while brides will wear traditional Indian clothes for the actual religious ceremony, the trend is to wear western style gowns, possibly with embroidery, for the evening reception. Some risk plunging necklines.

As in western church weddings, Raishma will even design clothes for bridesmaids or children of the house known as "flower girls".

Champagne on arrival, sit down formal dinners when witty speeches are made -- though wit is not something that comes naturally to Asians -- cutting the cake and honeymoons in such five-star destinations as the Maldives, the Far East, Bahamas and the Seychelles are now common practices that were unknown to the first generation of immigrants.

It is all a far remove from the old days when immigrant men established a little nest in England and went back to India, married someone back home and returned on an Air India flight with his heavily-jewelled, shy, non-English speaking bride enveloped in her shiny wedding sari or salwar kameez. Thirty to 40 years on, many of these women still have not found it necessary to learn to speak English.

Raishma, who once worked as an assistant to Princess Diana's bridal gown designer, Elizabeth Emanuel, has made evening gowns for two fashionable princesses, Eugenie and Beatrice, daughters of Prince Andrew and "Fergie", the Duke and Duchess of York, When Prince William invited 'Shozna', a 20-year-old Bangladeshi girl who had fallen on hard times, to his wedding in April, it fell to Raishma to dress her in an elegant outfit and kit her out in Jimmy Choo shoes as well.

 The outfit Raishma created for Shozna was worth Pound1,500 and made from silk hand-dyed in India and embellished with hand-sewn beading and embroidery.

Raishma repeated her point, "It is not an Asian dress. I am a designer, not an Asian designer."

At the top end, tycoons try and achieve something that will make their wedding ones to remember. In June 2004, for example, when Lakshmi Mittal's daughter Vanish got a married, her father spent a record Pound30m on hiring the Palace of Versailles in France and making other arrangements. When Lord Swraj Paul's son, Angad, married in 2005, the reception was held in a palace in London known as Lancaster House.

But times are now hard and a wedding that was too ostentatious would be a public relations disaster. Although making sure his hospitality was generous, Dr Kartar Lalvani wisely exercised restraint when his son, Tej, married Tara Ruby. 

Kartar Lalvani is ranked 23rd in the Asian Rich List in the UK with personal wealth estimated at Pound150m. Tej is vice-president of global operations at Vitabiotics and shoulders many of the responsibilities of running a company whose products are sold to more than 100 countries (England fast bowler James Anderson recently became a brand ambassador for Vitabiotics).

Kartar Lalvani maintains an apartment in Mumbai, his wife Rohini's home city. One remembers Kartar's sister, the well known socialite Bina Ramani, enlivening proceedings at one dinner by taking the microphone and disclosing, "Tej has many aunties -- and I am one of them!"

Actress Ayesha Dharker and her poetess mother, Imtiaz Dharker, London girl turned Bollywood starlet Sophiya Choudry and music producer Biddu were some guests with strong Mumbai connections.

In fact, had Prince William and Kate Middleton dropped in, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as the royal couple is now called, would have recognised that several elements were not so different from their own "wedding of the year" in Westminster Abbey back in April.

William and Kate chose their own guest list, allowing the Queen and Prince Charles to include some relatives and dignitaries who could not be excluded. Then, there was the engagement party, the cutting of elaborate cakes (two in their case), the bash at Buckingham Palace for young people with pop music blaring and dancing till dawn, and then the honeymoon in the faraway paradise island of the Seychelles.

Tej and Tara kept to tradition -- their gurdwara wedding was preceded by marriage at Marylebone registry office. They had a mehndi at Indali, Kartar's Indian restaurant in Baker Street that serves healthy Indian food (if that is not a contradiction in terms) and sangeet, a sit down dinner at the Natural History Museum in the huge hall that houses a giant dinosaur.

The young went clubbing one night at Moretons in Berkeley Square, Mayfair; and Tej and Tara also organised a romantic boat ride down the Thames. The final reception was another sit down dinner, a black tie affair, at the exclusive Hurlingham Club in Putney, south London, where guests were greeted by men in red coats replicating the style from Regency England and the entertainment and the music were western. Tej and Tara also cut a multiple tier cake, which would not have looked out of place in Buckingham Palace. For their honeymoon, the couple flew off to the Maldives where rooms can easily cost Pound5,000 a night. After a week, they went on to Malaysia and Japan.

Was their wedding traditional desi?
Yes, of course.
Was it western?
Yes to that, too.
The only tell tale sign that gave it away that this was an Indian wedding was the swelling sea of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Mercedes and Ferraris that staff charged with "valet parking" had to contend with at the Natural History Museum. Those invited to Buckingham Palace for the William and Kate party probably had more modest cars.

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