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What's in a nikaah minus biryani'

Karachi, Nov. 29: Wedding guests in India are having a ball, but in Pakistan they are down to a trickle. All because biryanis and kebabs have been scratched off the menu.

Although the wedding season is in full swing in this port city and hundreds of nikaahs are being solemnised every day, attendance has dipped since Pakistan's Supreme Court banned lavish receptions, meals and ceremonies, terming them 'insulting waste and un-Islamic' and making them punishable.

The 'social reforms' measure has sparked a controversy with caterers, poultry owners, meat suppliers, decorators, florists and beauticians ' people associated with weddings ' launching a media blitz against the drive. According to them, such a course would deprive 'millions' of their rightful wages, increase corruption and make 'masses unsocial'.

Amjad Khawaja, a meat supplier in Hyderi area here, seethed with indignation. 'Imagine a wedding reception without the aroma of kebabs, assortment of lamb meat, chicken changezi, dampukht biryani, muzafir. Nobody wants to attend a wedding where only kulfi, Kashmiri chai or cookies are served.'

The contrast with India could not be more stark. In Calcutta, the spread at a recent wedding included Italian, Lebanese and Thai delicacies. In Delhi, planners have run riot with themes. One planner has flown in 12 giraffes and Zulu dancers from South Africa. Another theme that was being planned was a red sun with huge transparent tents with curtains of exotic flowers flown in from Bangkok. The Indian wedding industry is estimated around Rs 10,000 crore ' the annual outlay for Delhi in the Tenth Plan.

If the average Pakistani is chafing at the austerity measures, reformists back the move to the hilt. Columnist Nusrat Nasurullah said: 'It is a good opportunity to reflect upon the culture of waste, ostentatious display of wealth, power, elitism, clout and the subsequent humiliation of the have-nots'.'

Nusrat's arguments have been challenged in private talks and in letters-to-the-editor columns. Usman Arif, who lives in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, wondered why the 'honourable court' was restricting austerity drive to marriages. 'What about vulgar display of wealth by our army generals, bureaucrats and politicians' What about usage of air conditioners, bullet-proof cars, foreign junkets' Is it not insulting waste'

Journalist Naufil Khan said in 1990s, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief had introduced an ordinance to curb extravaganza in marriages. It created a stir but, over the passage of time, it was never imposed. Last month, a petitioner moved the court seeking its directive on the ordinance.

The All Pakistan Memon Federation, a caste-based body whose members form a sizeable chunk of Karachi's population, issued a newspaper advertisement endorsing the verdict.

Its chief Haji Qasim Khanani cautioned the court and the executive about society's 'manipulative trait'. He said he had 'personal knowledge' of several 'techniques' being adopted to circumvent the ban. 'One way is to bribe police and other law-enforcement agencies. Also, meals are being served in the guise of birthday bashes and aquiqa (a Muslim occasion to mark the naming of a child). Funnily, most marriages these days are coinciding with birthdays of the bride or the groom or somebody close in the family.'

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