Newlyweds Rachna Patel and Sanjay Alwani


The newlyweds Rachna and Sanjay Alwani after the wedding ceremony on Saturday, October 12.
Photos: Michal Ramos Photos

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The pretty girl who would greet you with a warm smile and hello finally tied the knot with her Prince Charming two weeks ago at an elaborate wedding and a unique reception that evoked the feel of the Caribbean where her new husband and his family are from.

Rachna Patel, the daughter of Aku and Meena Patel who are synonymous with gold jewelry in the Houston area due to their decades old store, 22 Karat Jewelers on Hillcroft, got married on Saturday, October 12 in the morning at the BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in Stafford. It was the bride’s wish to be married in front of the ornate white temple and a sea of chairs had been set out for 600 people. The richly draped mandap was covered with red roses but the scripted wedding ceremony was severely abbreviated by a mighty thundershower that sent the guests scampering for cover indoors.

The newlyweds with their parents after the wedding ceremony at the BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir.

The newlyweds with their parents after the wedding ceremony at the BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir.

Rachna was undeterred though, and with the white temple set against dark grey thunderclouds, the wedding was performed with the immediate family under large umbrellas. She was betrothed to Sanjay Alwani, a young man whose family is also in the jewelry business on the island of St. Maarten and has lived there since his grandfather settled there in 1975.  His family traces its roots back to India, which his great grandfather left in 1865 to migrate to Lebanon. The young couple met while studying in college in the northeast through some mutual friends. After the wedding, they will make their home in St. Maarten.

The reception was an affair to remember as it brought together the Indian, Texan and Caribbean cultures for a truly unique experience for the 1,200 invited guests at the Hilton Americas Hotel on the same evening of the 12th. In the reception area, a four-man steel drum band was played out Caribbean tunes, while bamboo and palm frond thatched stalls served out drinks and later ice cream and deserts. Waiters served fresh young coconut juice, and among the Indian appetizers, sweet, light creamy desert was served in a martini glass.

The real treat was inside the vast Ballroom on the second floor which had been converted with skillful colored lighting and tall shimmering white drapes into a Caribbean seaside resort. As you entered, the chirping of birds mingled with soft music and the lapping of waves breaking on rocks in a video projected on three huge video screens, recreating a Caribbean Isle shore. On either side, a large porthole gave the illusion of peering out at the rolling sea going below.

With minimum words and no formal emcee for the evening, save a Black Caribbean guy in dreadlocks and a yellow colored knitted cap who described in a West Indian accent  the dancers who performed the Caribbean shimmy and rolls from Carnival, complete with two on stilts and in the headgear of a horse. They were followed by a Las Vegas style routine with girls wearing colored feather head dresses and a Hula Hoop Champion who showed her skilss by strutting her body to make a huge stack of LED illuminated hoops twirl around her.

A  well-edited video showed how the young couple – they are both 31 – met and the courtship that followed; later it focused on the days-long festivities that preceded the wedding in St. Maarten and in Houston. Both of them showed up onstage clutching dandias, surrounded by their families. Aku Patel made a brief  brides father’s speech and Sanjay’s dad added a short few sentences to it.

An opening sweet plate of frozen custard in clean, hardened shells of tough skinned fruits like oranges and mangoes was intriguing. The buffet lines for dinner – catered by Bombay Brasserie – were opened up to the huge hall, while a pop jazz band played inside. At the end of the very long day, a DJ spun pumped up Indian contemporary dance music which was irresistible to the many who stayed till the wee hours of the morning.