As featured on Nirali Magazine June 2007.
Sabeena Rajpal’s first date with Patrick Bracken was at a Washington Wizards basketball game.
Now, this could have ended in disaster. Sabeena, an attorney, attempted to act interested in the game, but she just wasn’t a huge basketball fan. Turns out, it didn’t really matter—by the end of the game, the conversation was flowing so easily it was obvious that Patrick, a consultant, wanted to see Sabeena again.
The next seven months saw the two go from ballgame buddies to boyfriend and girlfriend. When it was time to propose, Patrick made sure to give Sabeena a day to remember during a weekend trip to New York. After a picturesque day jam-packed with brunch at Freeman’s (a bistro renowned for its inventive combinations) and shopping and sightseeing around the city, Patrick rushed Sabeena to get ready for dinner reservations. But instead of going to the restaurant, their taxi dropped them at Chelsea Piers 12 minutes before sunset.
Just as the sun went down, a nervous Patrick proposed; Sabeena accepted. But that wasn’t the only surprise of the night. When Sabeena arrived at dinner, she was greeted by a table of familiar faces—Patrick had arranged for both their families to join the couple.
“Immediately after Patrick proposed, I tried to call all my family members to tell them the good news, but nobody picked up because they were all waiting at the restaurant. It was really great to be able to share the excitement of our engagement with both our families there together,” remembers Sabeena.
And so the planning began. “I wasn’t one of those girls who dreamed about how I was going to plan my wedding from a young age, but I think I got even more into the planning because I had never thought about it before,” she says.
And because Sabeena and Patrick only had a wedding coordinator—someone working just the day of—she had to be extra-organized: “I had a chart and broke it down by all the individual events,” Sabeena says, chuckling. “I sent out a complete timeline, but I’m convinced nobody actually read it. The wedding isn’t so much on other people’s radars as it is on yours, so the key is to just go with the flow and just enjoy the actual wedding day.”
The wedding extravaganza consisted of four back-to-back events squeezed into three days, starting on a Thursday night. The festivities kicked off with the sangeet, a traditional north Indian party characterized by lots of singing, dancing and musical performances. The event was held at the Heritage Club, which local magazine Washingtonian selected as one of “100 Very Best Restaurants” in the D.C. area.” The 150 guests sang and danced to traditional tunes such as “Lathay Di Chadar,” courtesy of live singers and a lively dhol player.
Friday afternoon found the bridal party at a rehearsal lunch thrown by Patrick’s mother at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, “a huge room where the wedding party and close friends and family got to mingle with each other,” says Sabeena. And later on that night, a traditional low-key mehndi was held for the women at the home of Sabeena’s parents.
As for the wedding itself, Sabeena and Patrick chose to avoid the traditional hotel venue. A year before the wedding, the couple considered a few unconventional locations, eventually booking a breathtaking 16,000 square-foot venue called The Galleria at Lafayette Centre. Located in downtown Washington D.C., The Galleria’s most prominent feature was its 50-foot sky-lit atrium.
Though the venue was unforgettable, there was one small drawback: “You don’t have the luxury of an experienced hotel staff,” Sabeena explains, “so much more work is shifted onto the shoulders of the wedding party and planners.” Still, the couple relished the ability to plan without constraints: “We were able to start from scratch, so it gave us a lot of freedom with the planning.”
Sabeena took advantage of that freedom. For her wedding theme, Sabeena wanted color, but not so much that it would clash with the vibrancy of traditional Indian outfits. So she decided on the slightly offbeat color combination of turquoise and chocolate brown.
A striking mandap hung dead-center of The Galleria and served as the foundation of the wedding décor. Sabeena is quick to pay homage to the decorator Priti Verma, who “totally understood” the “modern” mandap look. “Priti did a mock mandap for me, which was really great because a lot of other vendors will just say things like, ‘Just trust me, it’ll look fine’,” says Sabeena. “Her idea for the sweetheart table in front of our mandap during the reception was great.”
The seating for the ceremony—polished chocolate-brown wood and turquoise seat cushions—perfectly reflected the theme. Hanging on each chair was a paper cone filled with freeze-dried petals that were thrown ceremoniously at the couple as they left The Galleria. “I have the ideas, but I’m not very good at crafts so my father was the one who actually made them. He had a week off during the wedding planning time and spent most of it rolling up all 300 cones,” reveals Sabeena.
The Bride’s Attire
Sabeena traveled to India for her bridal wear, which she bought in various boutiques in New Delhi. She did all her shopping in just eight days, though her mother stayed there longer. While she opted for a simple skirt and sleeveless top for the mehndi, she went the traditional route by donning a light green sari at her sangeet. Her wedding sari, which was pink and turquoise with antique gold embroidery, coincidentally matched the décor—a happy accident. For the reception, she changed into a red lengha that also had antique gold embroidery.
Dressed in a white sari, interfaith officiant Rev. Claire Goodman, who was chosen for her familiarity with both the Hindu and Catholic traditions, performed the wedding ceremony. “It was very important to Patrick that he knew what was going on during the ceremony,” says Sabeena. “Claire had married couples of all different religious and cultural backgrounds, so she was familiar with Hindu and Catholic rituals.”
In accordance with Hindu wedding tradition, the couple exchanged garlands, walked around the fire four times, applied sindhoor (red power) and took seven steps together. And following Catholic custom, the couple asked guests to pass the Sign of Peace, exchanged rings, lighted a unity candle and declared their intent to marry. Patrick’s mother did a reading from The Prophet while Sabeena’s grandmother recited a Sanskrit prayer known as the Agni Mantra. The couple kissed at the end of the ceremony.
“It is possible to do a Hindu/Christian interfaith wedding,” says Sabeena. “We thought ours would be about an hour, but surprisingly it only took 30 minutes. We were shocked. It was the first wedding—especially Indian—that was ahead of schedule! We got so many comments on how unique and moving our ceremony was.”
The Cocktail Hour and Reception
After the ceremony, guests moved upstairs to The Galleria’s two balconies for a cocktail hour while caterers moved the rows of ceremony chairs around circular, formal tables for the reception dining and dancing area.
Guests returned downstairs where they dined, wined and celebrated wedding toasts. After dinner, the lively crowd of wedding guests took the dance floor by storm, “balle balle-ing” (Sabeena’s family is Punjabi) to the rhythmic beats of a live dhol player and grooving to the western and eastern songs played by the in-house DJ.
The Cultural Traditions
From the beginning, Sabeena and Patrick knew that they didn’t want a “culturally one-sided” wedding. And while they wanted to fuse Indian and American customs, there was no guidebook showing them the way. So they decided to first identify the musts: Sabeena’s parents wanted Indian food at the reception; Patrick’s mom wanted a rehearsal lunch. Sabeena wanted to wear a sari; Patrick pictured himself in a tux.
But the couple also incorporated traditions from elsewhere: for their first dance, Sabeena and Patrick chose a rhumba, a Latin-style dance. And at the rehearsal lunch, Sabeena surprised Patrick with a soccer-themed “grooms cake,” a typically Southern tradition.
And the wedding began with the traditional baraat. Patrick made his grand entrance on a white horse that was completely adorned in traditional Indian attire that was supplied by the rental company. But while traditionally it’s the groom’s family that comprises the baraat procession, Sabeena’s family decided to “cheat the tradition a bit” and came dancing in down D.C.’s 22nd Street. The men even wore scarves in the wedding colors—Patrick’s side donned brown, Sabeena’s side wore blue—during the baraat. “The scarves were such a hit that everyone wore them the whole night,” says Sabeena.
There was one other custom that Patrick had to suffer through. Having been informed in advance about the Indian tradition of the bride’s sister stealing the groom’s shoes in exchange for money, Patrick thought he would elude the Indian system and bring an extra pair of shoes that his brother was designated to guard. Though clever, his strategy couldn’t beat out the ways of tradition.
“On the wedding video, you initially see the girls grab the extra shoes and then about 15 seconds later, you see Patrick’s brother reaction when he realizes the shoes aren’t there anymore. It was great.” says Sabeena.
The Special Touches
While decorator Verma took care of the larger theme and décor, Sabeena and her family wre responsible for the smaller touches. One favor consisted of small gold bags filled with drief fruit and nuts, placed on every guest’s chair. For their second favor, the couple decided to put their initials—S and P—on salt and pepper shakers filled with candy in the same color as their theme.
The couple replaced table numbers with significant D.C. landmarks—including places such as Patrick’s old apartment or Sabeena’s alma mater of Georgetown. “It took so many hours to take all those photos,” remembers Sabeena. “But they turned out really well and in addition to the tables, we compiled the photos and created a photo guestbook out of them.”
Invitations: Suneja Card Creations, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi
Sangeet Venue, Catering: Heritage Club, 240.988.6993
Pre-wedding Event Photographer, Hugh Broadus, 202.302.5723
Sangeet Hair: David’s Beautiful People, 301.881.2540
Sangeet Makeup: Suzanne Donithan
Rehearsal Lunch Venue: Clyde’s of Gallery Place, 202.349.3700
Groom’s Cake: Creative Cakes, 301.587.1599
Mehndi Artist: Sanober Azam, 410.531.9654
Mehndi Catering: Lebanese Taverna, 703.841.1503
Horse for Baraat: Harmon’s Horse Drawn Hayrides and Carriages, 540.825.6707
Wedding, Reception Venue: The Galleria at Lafayette Centre, 202.263.8492
Decorator/Mandap Designer: Priti Verma, L’Ambiance Designs 703.584.7039
Officiant: Rev. Claire Goodman, Sacred Ground Ceremonies, 434.296.9885
DJ: Amar Sethi, Shan Productions, 609.638.3944
Photographer: Anne and Bill Holland, Holland Photo Arts, 866.774.8444
Videographer: Matt Buerhaus
Coordinator: Nicole Nichelsen, Nik’s Nak Design, 410.356.4512
Floral Design: Barbara Von Elm, Growing Wild Floral Co., 540.364.6246
Wedding Hair/Makeup: Suman Khosla, Bridal Elegance, 703.493.1046
Lighting and Spotlight Gobo: Atmosphere Lighting, 301.585.2100
Catering, Linens and Cake: Danielle Couick, Windows Catering Company, 703.519.3500
Indian Caterer: Mukesh Khanna, 202.359.0252