Last night, as I attended my cousin’s dholak-an intimate gathering of dance and song-in Lahore, I couldn’t help but notice how much the shaadi culture of Pakistan has changed in the past decade.
From Shendis to Bride and Groom Sports Days, the current shaadi culture is poles apart from what Gen X has experienced. Dholaks, which were once the most festive of events prior to the wedding, have now become almost obsolete.
Dholkis have been a part of the Pakistani culture even before the subcontinent’s partition. The dholki was an evening of women beating the dholak, raising their voices in song and clapping along. Women would sporadically stand up and dance on certain songs or tappays-a song with improv lines about the couple.
In contrast to other shaadi functions in which halls are booked and stages are set, the dholki is lowkey function that usually takes place separately in the house of the bride and groom. A few years back, it was predominantly a gathering of women, but as Pakistani cultural values changed, men also started participating in dholkis.
The setting is standard: relatives and friends sit cross legged on the floor around two people who play the dholki. As one beats the skin of the dholak methodically, the other keeps the dholak in place by resting their knee against it and beating the wood on top of the dhol with a tablespoon, adding another beat to the melody. The sound of the dhol is intensitied by the rhythmic clapping of those participating.
Often times those who are too elderly or unwell to sit on the floor pull up chairs on the outskirts of the gathering.
The tradition of the dholki was well established in the generation of the Baby Boomers when gender segregation was at an all time high in Pakistan and the mobility of women was limited. Women knew all the lyrics to popular dholki songs like ‘Luddi He Jamaalo’ and ‘Kala Shah Kala’ by heart and would sing well into the night.
From a female centric event of the dholkis, the focus was now on Mehndis, in which the bride and grooms side would dance to custom medleys, trying to prove their mettle on the stage. The quick rise in the popularity of Mehndis can be attributed to a more liberal culture amongst the middle and upper classes and Bollywood’s constant influence; dance became the new way of expressing happiness and is now even considered the main attraction of weddings.
Growing up in Pakistan in the 2000s was vastly different from say the 1970s or even the 1980s. Pakistani millennials have grown up in a country with ever increasing international influence, 24/7 internet access, shows from all around the world and a local entertainment industry that doesn’t necessarily cater to their needs. No wonder an 18 year old these days relates more to Netflix’s farfetched high school saga ‘Elite’ than the locally produced soap ‘Ehd e wafa’.
While no one can deny the dearth of quality local entertainment in Pakistan, another reason that has rendered millennials unable to associate with traditions such as dholkis is the lack of value placed on the national and regional languages. Private schools in Pakistan and a majority of parents equate quality of education to the elegance and fluency with which english is spoken; a British or American accent is preferred, local affectations are laughed at.
As I sat on the floor with loved ones, singing off-tune and clapping till my hands started to hurt, I couldn’t deny the joy I felt in the age old tradition of the dholki. Printouts of dholki songs were passed around so people could keep up with the lyrics, while the other half resorted to googling the lyrics on their phones. Unlike mehendi dance performances, the dholki is more inclusive, allows for mistakes and is a tradition that isn’t exclusive to a certain demographic.
I can’t say whether the tradition of the dholki will survive the coming decade, but I certainly hope so, because once lost, there are slim changes that it will be revived.
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