Inside a country ceremony inspired by Bollywood and Burning Man

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Romana Kassam and Nadir Ebrahim met briefly at a wedding in 2015. Nadir, co-founder of WorkTango, a human resources management service, was immediately smitten, but he was living in San Francisco at the time, so waited until he moved back to Toronto a year later to ask her out via Facebook. Romana, a multidisciplinary artist, was ready: she’d just come back from Burning Man, and was feeling especially open to love. “I had actually recently gone to Bellwoods to write down the five things I want in a man,” she says. “I feel like I manifested him.” For their first date, Nadir made numerous reservations around the city, as he wasn’t sure what she’d feel like eating. Romana had an artist emergency immediately before, though, realizing she’d forgotten to pick up a huge ladder she needed for a mural gig the next day. Instead of going to dinner, Nadir agreed to help her pick it up in his car, and afterwards they ordered butter chicken roti from Mother India to Romana’s apartment.

A few years later, they wanted to get engaged, but traditional methods weren’t appealing. “I realized it was because, for most engagements, it’s the man who gets to choose when he’s ready,” says Romana. They agreed to plan a day where they’d both get to propose to each other. Nadir went first, taking Romana on a romantic picnic in Dufferin Grove Park. Then he blindfolded her and called an Uber back to their place, where he’d decorated the backyard like an enchanted garden. He played Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road,” the first song they’d ever danced to, and got down on one knee. Romana’s proposal was inspired by Love and Basketball, one of their favourite films. She walked him over to a local basketball court, where a few of their friends were waiting, wearing T-shirts that said “Play for Love.” Every person got a chance to challenge Nadir, and he had to defend them while answering questions about his and Romana’s future. Then, their friends lined up around the key, and Romana got down on one knee to present Nadir with his own engagement ring. “I didn’t think it was fair that women walk around with a sign they’re off the market, but men don’t,” Romana said.

When it came to planning the big day, they knew they wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before. They also wanted to make sure their guests could actually participate in most of the nuptial activities—and their demographic was everyone from Nadir’s six-year-old nephew to Romana’s 80-year-old great aunt. They decided to create a day that was more of an interactive festival that could appeal to all 200 guests—with an Ismaili picnic, chai tea ceremony and silent disco—rather than a traditional wedding.

Cheat sheet

Date: July 7, 2019
Photographer: Kumari Images
Videographer: Colin Dougan, Sonder Media House
Planner: the bride; Simple El’egance Events (day of)
Bartending and hospitality service: Settin’ the Bar
Technical producer: Wilson Lin
Audio headset experience: Hear/Now
Bride’s outfit: Mani Jassal
Hair and makeup: Cindy Munoz Rojo
Mehndi: Travel Art Henna
Catering: Couple’s families
Dessert: Ice Cream Trucks Toronto
Music: DJ Makem
Guests: 200

They held an intimate wedding ceremony at the Scarborough Ismaili Jamatkhana the day before the reception. On the day of the party, guests were greeted by a cocktail hour at the venue, their close friends’ 40-acre Clarington property:

They had two of their friends create a custom cocktail experience:

The couple made their entrance on an ATV while DMX’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” played:

After, they did an traditional Sapatia ceremony: a set of covered clay plates are put in front of the couple. Each contains lentils (symbolizing nature’s bounty), silver (symbolizing material wealth), sugar (for sweetness and harmony) and turmeric (for good health). The couple then step on the plates and try to break them to release the gift. It’s believed that whoever breaks the set of plates first will rule the house in the marriage:

Romana won. She fashioned her top and shorts out of a pair of Mani Jassal pants, and made the headpiece herself:

After the ceremony, they moved on to the next portion of the day—an audio experience created by some friends. All 200 guests donned noise-cancelling headphones to listen as they were guided through the couple’s relationship story, and were asked to participate in numerous ways, including breaking into the Macarena. It ended in a dance competition and a singalong to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air soundtrack:

“It was such a fun way to get people in their body,” says Romana. “We were afraid of how our parents’ generation would respond, but they had the time of their lives.”

Next, they created a tented “chai and chill” experience, set up with cozy Persian rugs and pillows. They served tea that was made to taste exactly like the chai you’d get in khane, which is what Ismailis call their place of worship:

Instead of traditional speeches, they asked a few guests to share stories about their relationship:

They also played a game with their parents (this was when they were asked who would burn the house down):

After the chai, they had a traditional Ismaili picnic, which consists of African-style barbecue with lots of Indian spices and flavours. “The Khoja Ismaili diaspora originated in India and migrated to East Africa, which is why our food combines the traditions of India and East Africa,” says Romana.

An ice cream truck showed up during dinner, and all the kids went running (so did a few adults):

After dinner, instead of a first dance, Romana, who had secretly been learning guitar before the wedding, surprised Nadir with a rendition of their song, Monica’s “Angel of Mine.” Then, everyone had an epic ’90s dance party: