When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is: “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaroon towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we’ve decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we talked to Sharan Bal and Rob Friedman, who met as young leaders in social justice and got married last September on a horse farm in Roxbury, NY. They divided the weekend into a day of Sikh traditions followed by a day of Jewish ones, all ending in fireworks.
Sharan: For Rob it was very important to get married in the Catskills. He spent a lot of time there growing up, and we live in the city now. For me, I definitely wanted elements of the big fat Indian wedding. It was challenging because there’s not much infrastructure for any of that up there. If I were to do it all again, I would have started with a planner initially, and just been like, here’s what we’d like to do, please help us find a place. But we went location first, and it seemed like literally nowhere in the Catskills could host more than 150, 200 people, which wouldn’t work for an Indian wedding. But finally we did come upon Stone Tavern Farm, which had the size, and they had also done other Indian weddings there, which made us feel better. I didn’t want to be any venue’s first.
Rob: It was important also to infuse the weekend with both of our faiths, and demonstrate the connection between those faiths. To showcase for people who have never been to a Sikh wedding ceremony what that looks like, or folks who have never been to a Jewish ceremony what that looks like.
Sharan: My parents were an arranged marriage. They didn’t really understand the whole notion of dating. I met Rob in 2012 — at this leadership boot camp for people who care about social change called Starting Bloc — but they didn’t want to get to know him until it was serious. In December 2016, we told them we’d like to get married and they were so happy. They said, “That’s great! You’re our son now!” My parents said I didn’t have to do the Sikh wedding if I didn’t want to — but it would be nice. And Rob’s parents were encouraging, too: Do the Sikh wedding and the Jewish one! We invited a total of 350 people, and 250 attended.
Rob: Before the first ceremony began, a few of Sharan’s relatives, some of whom had flown in from India, came to my parents’ house to tie my turban. They presented me with a kirpan, a sword that’s a ceremonial part of the Sikh ceremony as well, and they helped me get dressed with my sherwani.
Sharan: Typically grooms wear cream and red, or ivory and red, but Rob is very pale, and so he didn’t want to wear that color because it would wash him out. So we picked out this nice blue and had the sherwani ($750) designed at Image Boutique Shop, a mom-and-pop shop in Atlanta.
Rob: I knew Sharan was up in a room while she was waiting to be brought down by her handlers. I yelled up to her, like, “Are you ready for this, Sharan?” And she yelled down, “Let’s do this!”
Sharan: It kicked off with a baraat, which is Rob riding in on a horse, with his side of the family and friends in a procession with him, coming to meet my side of the family and guests.
Rob: That was really emotional for me, I wasn’t expecting that. To have complementary sides of our respective families meet in the middle of a circle for an embrace and an exchange of garlands. There was one particular moment where my aunt and one of Sharan’s second cousins hugged, and I just kinda lost it.
Sharan: After the milni, you share food together. Benares catering served samosas, pakoras, chutneys, tea, and coffee. Then everyone got seated on the floor under the tent [$2,000, Events Unlimited Party Rentals] for the Anand Karaj, the Sikh wedding ceremony. I wore Anita Dongre jewelry and a lehenga made of hand-embroidered silk that I found online at Warp ‘n Weft [$1,800].
Rob: Honestly, I got completely lost during the ceremony. I don’t speak Punjabi, so I was focusing on not staring at Sharan too much, because we were sitting side by side. When we had our second ceremony, on Sunday, that was of course a much more familiar experience for me. We were married by my childhood rabbi who bar mitzvahed me. He read the vows we had written; I was initially skeptical of that, but he said it was what he usually does, so we can take each other in as these words are being read aloud.
Sharan: For that day, I wanted to wear white like a Western bride. I wore a white lehenga by this amazing young designer I found who’s based in L.A., Kynah, with super reasonable pricing; it cost around $600. And the jewelry was ReeMat Designs. Rob’s childhood rabbi officiated a really amazing interfaith ceremony — we were able to make some shifts based on things we cared about: like instead of me circling Rob, I circled him a few times then he circled me a few times then we made a circle together.
Rob: We walked out from under the chuppah to Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” I had a bunch of my dad’s friends come up to me being like, what was that song? I know that sample! There were aspects of the whole thing that were intergenerationally relevant.
Sharan: There was a cocktail hour outside, then we headed into the barn for the reception. We had a sit-down dinner served family-style: naan and rice and curries, and Indian desserts. Our planner was Leah Weinberg at Color Pop Events and her advice was not to worry so much about the décor because the venue was so open. Something we didn’t realize about cost when we picked the venue is how expensive it would be because you have to bring everything in. And so plates and cutlery and this boring stuff is not included in the price of the venue, so we didn’t really have budget to spend on decor. We ordered stuff on Etsy and Amazon, Indian decorations like garlands and lanterns, and spent all of Thursday decorating the venue ourselves, me, Rob, our brothers and their girlfriends.
Rob: Our florist, The Green Cottage, handled all the candles, and Sharan had this vision of just hanging up hundreds of photos around the barn, to capture everyone who was joining us and some folks who couldn’t be there. Hearing everyone’s reactions to the photos–that was a really cool and cheap way to do décor.
Sharan: Our first song was Miguel’s “Adorn.” My friend is a hip-hop dancer, as is his girlfriend, and we worked with them to choreograph a dance because we didn’t like the idea of us just doing a slow dance.
Rob: I love dancing, Sharan loves dancing. We definitely messed up, like I had never practiced in a suit before, and Sharan had never practiced in her wedding lehenga. But everyone around us was whooping the entire time.
Sharan: We wanted a mix of music that our friends and I would love, music that the parents would love, and also Bhaṅgṛā music. It was really hard to find a DJ who would do all that. We ended up working with DJ Scribe of 74 Events, and he did a good job of mixing it all together so it felt fluid.
Rob: The hora was absurd. Far and away the most raucous hora I’ve ever been a part of. I think one of the special things about a hora, and Indian dance, is everyone is just dancing with each other — it sounds cheesy but to see one of my colleagues locking arms with my college buddy dancing aimlessly, it’s like, What is happening? When some of the oldies were starting to drift out, that’s when there were fireworks. They were part of our venue’s shtick. I didn’t know this, but Punjabis love fireworks. I guess everyone loves fireworks. We were up until 2 or 3 in the morning. There was this funny moment in the barn, just us, where we were like, we did it. We had been working on this for a year; it was all-consuming. But we pulled it off.