Still feeling festive after a wedding celebration, Ben and a crew of cousins and other family poured into a Center City bar. In walked a woman with so much presence she seemed to glow.
"This is a girl I want to talk to," Ben said to his sister-in-law that night in spring 2011. He wanted to, but his nerves did not.
Ben didn't know the glowing woman - Amy - had noticed him, too, but, like him, she was too shy to do a thing about it.
Auspiciously, Amy was out with her friend-like-a-sister, Neha. Neha is not shy.
"She made me go up to the bar where he was standing, positioned us right next to him, and began talking just loudly enough to make Ben turn his head," Amy said, laughing. "She just made it happen."
Once the two started talking, they never stopped. "We were completely into each other," Ben said. "Instant attraction," Amy agreed.
It was happily ever eventually.
"I was in the process of moving to Chicago," Amy said. They got together once before she left, but their close friendship mostly blossomed by phone as they discussed their histories and plans.
Amy, now 33, is the founder and creative director of NAVEDA, a Philadelphia ready-to-wear and custom couture design house. But then, she worked in marketing and business development. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Amy moved with her family around the country, following her mom's career, but she had lived in Philadelphia during elementary school and in Lower Gwynedd for high school at Gwynedd Mercy Academy before graduating with marketing and financial-management bachelor and MBA degrees from Drexel.
Ben, now 36 and a physician at Main Line Health, grew up in Philadelphia and Glen Mills. After graduating from Penncrest High School in Media, he went directly to an intense medical school program abroad.
They had known each other a month when she left town. Months passed.
"The first time I went to Chicago to visit her, I brought two cousins with me," Ben said, "in case it didn't work out."
It worked out.
In 2013, Ben was an attending physician at Bryn Mawr Hospital, and Amy could no longer ignore her creative side. She was accepted to Parsons School of Design in New York, and, two weeks later, quit her job and moved to the city.
"Every move she made, I completely supported," Ben said. Amy appreciated it greatly. "It's not easy to, all of a sudden, have your partner in crime leave a steady career to become an entrepreneur," she said. "He's solid, dependable, and has been there for me in every single way possible." That's part of why she fell in love with him - that and the fact that he keeps her laughing.
"She's a genuine person," Ben said of Amy. "She's completely real - what I saw was what I got. And she was perfect from the beginning."
At Parson's, Amy worked for designer Naeem Khan and created her own pieces on the side. Using her knowledge of social media to build buzz for her designs, she caught the attention of a producer for New York Fashion Week, forcing her to quickly launch NAVEDA.
She moved back to Philadelphia in late 2014.
How does forever sound?
Ben and Amy had designed her engagement ring together. So how could he possibly surprise her?
Amy really wanted to experience Escape the Room Philly. "We will, we will," Ben would promise, secretly stalling until the August 2015 weekend when most of their closest local cousins and friends could take part. The premise of such spaces is that participants are locked in a room with a limited amount of time to find the clues that lead to the way out. Everybody was in cahoots to make sure Amy would find the last clue, a combination.
"All of a sudden, the song 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran came on, and everyone took 10 steps away from me," Amy said. "I kept thinking, 'Why is this music on? Why are they stepping away from me?' and I yelled, 'Guys, we still have time! We still have time!' "
She entered the combination into the lock on a box. When she opened it, she saw a ring box inside and, in front of her, Ben getting on one knee.
He said something ending in "will you marry me?" and she said yes.
It was so them
The couple, who live in Logan Square, are both of Asian Indian decent, but their families originated in different geographies and different cultures. "I'm North Indian and Hindu, and Ben is South Indian, and he's Christian," Amy said. They had two ceremonies, one in each faith.
They had a week's worth of celebrations. "That's because we're Punjabi, and we like to party," Amy said of her family. "There were anywhere from 50 to 100 people at my parents' house on a daily basis."
There were also daily prayers - and daily displays of Amy's talent.
"I designed everything: all of my looks for the entire week, some of my mom's pieces, and also all of my bridesmaids' dresses," she said. The latter wore two-piece floral-print silk gowns, topped with a summer cape with floral embroidery, complementing and contrasting with the bride's Christian ceremony dress in dusty rose with ivory accents.
For the Hindu ceremony, the bride wore a brilliant-red lehenga.
Amy has designed many fanciful gowns for her customers, but says, "I'm not so much a glam-and-sparkle kind of girl. For me, I wanted simple, elegant, classic."
The week kicked off with a sangeet, a 300-guest party with music, dancing, and moms and grandmothers singing folk songs, at the Pinecrest Country Club. There was a mehndi - the party and ceremony centered on the application of intricate henna designs on the bride's hands and feet. The henna artist hid Ben's name in the design, and because Ben couldn't find it, tradition required him to give Amy a present. She got a Chanel bag.
At one ceremony, Amy received her bridal bangles. At another, her family covered her skin with a mask made of turmeric paste to foster a glow.
On their two-ceremony wedding day, Ben rode a white horse as he and his family paraded to the Merion in Cinnaminson, a tradition called the baraat. Amy is an only child, so male cousins played the role of her brothers, holding a canopy called a jaal over her as she entered the ceremony.
After lunch, buses took their 500-plus guests to Grace Episcopal Church in Merchantville, where Ben sang Rascal Flatts' "God Bless the Broken Road" as Amy walked down the aisle.
After the Christian ceremony, the couple and their guests returned to the Merion for cocktails and the reception, and then, at the very end of the night, the vidaii, a ceremony in which the bride was carried in a doli from the reception outside to symbolically say goodbye to her family.
"When Ben was singing me down the aisle, that's when it felt like, oh, my gosh, this is happening," Amy said. Ben kept singing, even as he choked up at the sight of her. "It was completely surreal and perfect," he said.
The budget crunch
A bargain: "Sadly, I don't know that we had any bargains," Amy said. "It was a big, fat, Indian wedding, to say the least."
The splurge: Amy called on her friend and business mentor, Elegant Affairs' Shobha Rao, to create an Indian Secret Garden-theme wedding and transform the sangeet hall into an Indian bazaar. The stage looked like a little boutique, with trinkets and sweets wrapped and displayed on shelves, and bridesmaids acting as the shopkeepers. Moghul Caterers' food stations were set up like street vendors.
A week in St. Lucia.
Love: BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: Hindu ceremony, Hindu ordained minister Prabhakar Sharma
Food: Moghul Caterers, Edison, N.J.
Flowers and decor: Elegant Affairs, Fairfield, N.J.
Bride's attire: Designed by the bride, founder of NAVEDA Couture, Philadelphia.
Music: DJ BK Trehan, Philadelphia.
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