"This is the best fun ever!" How South Asian weddings inspired Zanib Mian to write about Pakistani culture
Published on: 23 July 2020
Planet Omar: Incredible Rescue Mission author Zanib Mian shares how South Asian weddings shaped her experience of Pakistani culture as a child - and how those memories still influence her writing today.
Illustration by Nasaya Mafaridik
In Planet Omar: Incredible Rescue Mission, which is the third title in brand new addition to the Planet Omar series, I thought it’d be a good idea to include a South Asian wedding as they are such a big part of a South Asian child’s life. I remember the first time I saw a south Asian bride on television, as a young child. She was wearing an extremely large nose hoop (can't call it a ring), which was then attached to her hair by another intricate, golden fixture. To me, it looked thoroughly painful. Torturous, even. It probably wasn't helped by the fact that south Asian brides are traditionally supposed to look sullen and forlorn. It seemed to confirm that this thing on her nose was far from welcome.
Frightened, I said to my mum, "I don't ever want to get married."
Mum smiled and assured me that I didn't have to wear one of those if I didn't want to.
After that, the bride at every wedding I attended as a child was fascinating to me. What colour was she wearing? Could she walk without someone holding her dress? Was she only pretending to be sad but was secretly very happy?
In fact, weddings and Eids were fascinating as a whole. As a British kid of Pakistani heritage, living in multicultural, diverse North West London, on a (healthy?) diet of books from the library and cartoons (one hour a day, when Andi Peters and Phillip Schofield brought them), which didn't include people or events from my background; these magical banquet halls were rare occasions where I was fully immersed in the A-Z of Pakistani culture.
These were times when I swapped my jeans and t-shirts for a shalwar kameez, and my strawberry split for mango kulfi. I enjoyed the beat of huge, pulsating drums called dhols, and watched in amazement as the older girls performed choreographed dances to the latest Indian/Pakistani songs.
Ah, but there was only one group of people even more fascinated by it all than the children. It was those people, who were from a different background. I loved watching them enjoying everything more than everyone else, with sincere this is the best fun ever looks on their faces. I especially took joy in seeing these friends wearing traditional Pakistani clothes, and it was all because they were learning about my culture, and relishing every moment of it. I loved sharing it with them.
I'm sure this pretty much sums up the sentiments of every child being raised in an environment where the dominant culture is not that of their parents or grandparents . Especially those who have never visited the country their elders called home. Just like Omar does when he visits Pakistan for the first time and experiences a wedding huger and more surprising than he's ever done before, in Planet Omar: Incredible Rescue Mission; these children learn about their heritage in small, but fun, doses. And if some of their closest friends, or the wider community that they live in, can also learn, well it's just the best fun ever!
I think it's incredibly important to use books as an opportunity to share our cultures with each other. I'm sure those that enjoy attending weddings bursting with colourful culture which is new to them, much the same way as I loved seeing the practices at a Chinese wedding I attended, would just as much delight in imagining the pictures in their own minds, as they read about it in books. This is also a brilliant way to promote cultural empathy and understanding. It's using knowledge to build strong bridges and say, 'hey this is my culture. Isn't it so very interesting?'
Zanib Mian is the author of the Planet Omar series. Planet Omar: Incredible Rescue Mission is published by Hodder Children’s Books and is the 3rd book in the series.
Zanib Mian and the front cover of Planet Omar: Incredible Rescue Mission
About Zanib Mian
Zanib Mian fell in love with writing at primary school. After studying molecular cell biology at University College London, she taught science in secondary school before deciding to move into children’s publishing. Zanib felt that characters from all minorities were missing from books for young children and launched Sweet Apple Publishers with a clear commit…