By Sarah Kuper
As a jewelry designer who owns a business with her mother in English Village, Avani Patel had a pretty good idea of the engagement ring she wanted when the right man came along.
But when her fiance, Milind, also named Patel, said he wanted to surprise her with the ring, Avani went to her mother for a little insurance that she would still get her dream ring.
“I knew he was going to work with my mom and I was sure she knew what I wanted,” Avani said. “It is beautiful.”
Avani and Milind’s romance began in 2012 at a wedding Avani attended as a guest on the groom’s side and Milind as a guest on the bride’s side.
The beachfront Cancun destination wedding cast a romantic spell over all the guests, but especially over Avani and Milind, and when they returned to the U.S., they began to date.
Avani admits the timing wasn’t perfect. Milind was completing a pharmacy residency in Washington, D.C., while she was busy with her jewelry business, Avani Rupa Fine Jewelers.
“It was a lot of work being long distance, especially because he had residency hours, which were crazy,” she said. “I went and visited a lot because I was more flexible. Of course, it was totally worth it.”
After many months, Milind finished his residency and things got more serious when he moved to Birmingham. He is now a pharmacist at UAB Highlands Hospital.
Once Milind made the move to Birmingham, Avani was sure a proposal would be coming any day.
She later found out that Milind originally planned to propose in the light tunnel in downtown Birmingham, but he was sidelined by a death in the family.
A few weeks later, while the couple was in Virginia Beach, Milind proposed to Avani on top of a Ferris wheel overlooking the beach at sunset.
“The beach and water has been a theme in our relationship so it was perfect. But, poor guy, I know it was nerve-racking,” Avani said.
The two set the date for Labor Day weekend of 2015.
The celebration would take place at a lake house Avani’s parents owned on Lake Mitchell.
Choosing a long weekend for the nuptials was necessary because the couple was planning a traditional Indian celebration lasting multiple days.
When describing the essentials that she wanted in her wedding celebration, Avani said she wanted a lot of good food, drink and fun with family. And, over the course of five days, she said, their wedding encompassed all that and more.
The festivities began with what Avani describes as her “henna day,” when she sat for five hours while her hands and feet were intricately decorated with traditional designs befitting an Indian bride.
The following day, the celebration continued with the sangeet, a night of informal dancing while the families got to know each other.
Then, on Saturday, Sept. 5, the couple was wed at Lake Mitchell in a late afternoon, traditional Indian ceremony. As is customary, Avani wore a red and hot pink bridal saree made by Indian designer Karan Motla, while Milind wore the traditional groom’s head dress.
Indian tradition is that the groom arrives at the ceremony on a white horse, but for their wedding, Milind arrived by boat. Avani was carried in to the ceremony on a palki decorated in her wedding colors of mint green and peach.
Avani said a traditional Indian wedding ceremony lasts at least two hours and incorporates many rituals that reflect Indian history and cultural values.
As for their wedding, Avani said what stood out to her was seeing Milind for the first time at the ceremony and exchanging floral garlands – a symbol of acceptance and unity.
“I saw him and I thought, ‘Wow this is really happening,'” she said.
After the ceremony, the couple opted for a more informal “after party” and then planned the formal reception for the following day.
“I knew we would be tired and it was fun to have a more relaxed evening after the ceremony. There was a lot of dancing,” Avani said.
The only event not to take place at Avani’s family lake home, the formal reception, happened at the Clanton Performing Arts Center with nearly 500 guests in attendance.
At this celebration, Avani and Milind observed American wedding traditions such as a first dance and cake cutting but also incorporated Indian dances and music.
While Avani said many of her wedding vendors were from Atlanta, she made sure the occasion had plenty of local touches and nods to her Alabama roots.
“The majority of our family had never been here and by the end of the week they wanted to move here,” Avani said. “A lot of family came from India just for a week, so it was special.”
Through the couple’s wedding website, they directed guests to attractions in Clanton as well as Birmingham.
Avani’s ceremony flowers and décor were accented with local peaches from Clanton and all of the alcohol at the reception was from Alabama breweries or distilleries.
“We had signature cocktails with local and personal touches like a ‘Tide Fashioned’ instead of an Old Fashioned because I’m an Alabama fan,” she said.
The wedding took a lot of planning and attention to details, Avani said, but in the end, the best part of the wedding had nothing to do with the logistics or aesthetics.
“It was emotional to get married but also to have my whole family be there for it. Family from India that I don’t see much came all that way. At that point we didn’t care how the food was or how it looked.”
While Avani and Milind did not jet off for an exotic honeymoon the day after the reception, they did take a trip to Spain’s wine country a few months later.