We were standing on a Brooklyn street corner across from our neighborhood coffee shop when we got the call.
It was a Saturday morning in early November, exactly one week before my now-husband Rahul and I would fly from New York City to New Delhi, India, for our three-day Indian wedding—and exactly two weeks before the festivities actually began.
“Wait, really?” I heard Rahul ask the mysterious person on the other end of the line. He’d picked up the phone because it was an Indian number, and even though he didn’t recognize who it was, we figured it’d be wedding-related. (When it’s two weeks before your wedding, basically everything is wedding-related.)
“Are you serious?”
“So should we start looking for other venues?”
That last question really threw me for a loop. I’d been eavesdropping on the call the whole time, as one does, trying to use context clues to guess who it was. Up until the venue line, I’d assumed it was one of our vendors, calling to let us know that maybe we needed to order even more jasmine garlands or that the chaat (Indian street food snacks) we wanted for one of our events wasn’t available. But clearly, I’d assumed wrong. Very wrong.
“That was the general manager of the hotel,” Rahul told me with a sigh when he hung up the phone. “Apparently, it’s been sealed.”
“Sealed?” I asked. “What do you mean, sealed?”
“Sealed is the Indian term for temporarily shut down,” he replied. “It’s when the government comes and puts locks and chains on the front doors of buildings so that no one can enter. Now the hotel has to transfer our guests to their sister airport hotel, and we can’t have our events there anymore.”
I just about had a panic attack right then and there, standing on that Brooklyn street corner, still in my sweatpants.
But let me back up a bit, to a time in my life when the word “sealed” had not yet entered my cultural vocabulary. Rahul and I met on a camping trip in upstate New York about 4.5 years ago, and have been together ever since. It was one of those easy relationships from the start, where I didn’t even have to nervously check my phone for texts, because I knew he’d always be there, and I’d be there too.
When we first got engaged in September 2017, we went back and forth about how to handle the whole multicultural wedding thing; this was obviously new territory for both of us. Rahul grew up in New Delhi—also referred to as just Delhi—so we knew that no matter what, we’d need to have at least something there (and believe me, I was excited about all of the sparkles from the get-go). Meanwhile, I grew up in Rhode Island, but I didn’t feel particularly obligated to have a celebration in my home state. If anything, we decided, it might be fun to do a little ceremony in India as well as a little ceremony in Brooklyn. But once we looked into the prices, we realized that a “little ceremony” in Brooklyn was still a little more than we’d want to pay if we were doing two celebrations—which is partly why we decided to go all out and have one big bash in India. The other reason: As a freelance travel and wellness writer, I’m a major proponent of international adventures, so I was also just pumped to put on my travel agent hat and turn our wedding into a destination event for the books. In my experience, India is one of those countries that American travelers are a bit intimidated to explore on their own, so I was thrilled to give everyone I knew an excuse to get themselves on that plane. Plus, I wanted everyone to see where Rahul grew up. India is such a huge part of our relationship—we travel there fairly often to visit his family—and we both wanted to share that part of our story with our entire community. I knew it would help them understand our multicultural dynamic even more, too, not least because it helped me understand our multicultural dynamic even more when I went there for the first time.
Which brings us back to the street corner. There are certain moments in life when your character and your strength as a couple are truly tested, and for us, that surprise Saturday morning phone call was one of them. While Rahul stayed remarkably calm, I was anything but once I heard the news.
Understand: The stakes were very high. We had 60 Americans coming over to India in fewer than two weeks, Americans who’d never traveled to India before and who’d dutifully filled out their visas and gotten their shots and purchased their sarees and their lehengas and taken tons of time off work. The majority of them—including my 91-year-old grandfather and 89-year-old step-grandmother, who were flying all the way from Los Angeles to New Delhi—were staying at The Roseate, the hotel that got “sealed.” And, to make matters even worse, we were having two of our three wedding events there! We’d fallen in love with this urban hotel venue because it didn’t feel like a hotel at all—it felt more like the grounds of a super-Zen yoga retreat, a garden oasis right in the heart of Delhi. While other hotels we looked at felt pretty corporate, this one just oozed tranquil wellness vibes, with lush green rolling hills and serene plunge pools scattered throughout the property. Rahul and I love the outdoors—we met on a camping trip, remember!—and we felt that this spot perfectly married our deep appreciation for nature with our need for the venue to be in New Delhi, where his family still lives.
But now, everything was falling apart. Although we’d taken an entirely separate trip to Delhi back in August for the sole purpose of securing our venues and selecting our outfits, we’d still have to celebrate on some random corporate property, I moaned, and our guests’ first taste of India would be at a vibe-less airport hotel. We would also have to bus everyone to each event through the heart of Delhi traffic, provided we could even find event spaces that were still available just two weeks before our wedding. Even though it was not our fault at all, I felt guilty and irresponsible.
“It’ll be okay, Annie, don’t worry,” Rahul assured me with the grace of a man who’s been through his fair share of unexpected rug pulls. “We’ll figure it out. At least we have the airport hotel. There’s nothing we can do but accept the situation and start replanning our wedding.”
What followed was a series of events that don’t even sound real as I am typing them. I told Rahul that I needed a couple hours to process the information before we went full speed ahead on the replan, a move I highly recommend if your venue ever shuts down two weeks before your destination wedding. We went into the coffee shop, ordered two large almond milk lattes and a blueberry muffin to split, sat at a sunny table by the window, and read the Saturday New York Times. It sounds like a leisurely thing to do, considering we had a wee bit of a task ahead of us, but I knew my sanity was on the line, and easing into the ordeal seemed a lot better than diving in headfirst. I also took the time to scroll through Instagram photos of our beautiful hotel, with its Zen rolling hills and gorgeous plunge pools, to mourn the wedding that was. Though it sounds like torture—we all know that beating a dead horse comes highly unrecommended—it actually helped me say goodbye to our OG plan and get a grip on our new narrative.
After my brief buffer period was over, our first order of business was to alert the troops. This was going to be an all-hands-on-deck affair, and we needed all of the help we could get. I called both of my parents to fill them in on the fiasco while Rahul got in touch with some key members of the Delhi crew.
Remember the opening scene in Crazy Rich Asians, when word that Nick Young was bringing Rachel Chu home to Singapore spread like wildfire through the Singapore circuit? That’s exactly what happened with our wedding drama. Soon enough, we were getting all sorts of sympathy texts and calls from people who wanted to help us out.
Rahul’s best childhood friend Aashish offered to host our events on his family’s rooftop in Delhi if we couldn’t find a new venue. His friend Sujay’s dad, who’s a well-known doctor on the scene in Delhi, said he’d try to get in touch with a government official to persuade them to reopen The Roseate. Our amazing wedding planners got on the case, too, and started reaching out to all of the venues they knew, asking them if they had any availability. Rahul’s parents even told us not to stress, that we still had lots of time and that everything could still “be arranged,” a popular saying in India for anything that needs doing. While I, not surprisingly, wanted to know when it would be arranged, and who, exactly, would be doing the arranging, they promised us that people in India have arranged weddings in far less time than two weeks, and that we needed to trust the process.
By the end of the day on Saturday, I felt weirdly calm. In a quest to mellow us out, Rahul had picked up a really nice diptyque candle for us to burn in our apartment that day, and it worked—I will forever associate diptyque candles with emergency stress management. But more than the candle, we felt Zen because we’d watched our community come together to support us, which, of course, is what weddings are actually all about in the first place. I never thought I’d be one to get caught up in the madness that is wedding planning—before I met Rahul I always said I wanted to just elope or not even have a wedding at all—but I’d learned in the past year or so that no matter how chill or “anti” you think you are, you will still get wrapped up in the chaos. And so, in a weird way, it felt nice to be reminded before our wedding that we weren’t actually in it for the wedding at all. We were in it for the meaning behind the wedding, for the marriage and the life we were creating together, and for the people in our lives who cared enough about us to emotionally invest themselves in our absurd debacle. In just one day, we’d gathered enough backup options to be able to sleep that night, knowing that our wedding, whatever it may be, would still at least happen in some way, shape, or form. And that was progress. Would it be as perfect as the wedding we’d spent the last year planning so strategically? Probably not. But would it be the Indian adventure we’d promised our guests? One-hundred percent, yes—and then some. We decided that day that it was all about leaning into the uncertainty. Most of our American guests were traveling to India for the first time and wanted an authentic experience, and they were going to get one.
We spent the next few days in New York making dozens upon dozens of phone calls, firing off a bajillion What’s Apps to the various vendors we were working with in Delhi, sending incredibly detailed update emails to the 60 Americans traveling overseas in just a few days, and staying up well past midnight to strategize with our wedding planners and take virtual FaceTime tours of new venues. (Of note: Delhi is 9.5 hours ahead of New York, so most of our meetings didn’t start until around 10 or 11 p.m. our time, 7:30 or 8:30 a.m. theirs.) By the time we took off for New Delhi one week before our wedding, we’d secured a new venue for our first event, the Sangeet, which is the Indian equivalent of the American rehearsal dinner, except it’s more of a cocktail party vibe and there are lots of choreographed dances. But that’s all we’d finalized. We had six days left to select a new venue for our second event, the Mehendi, which is a full-day event where everyone gets mehndi (henna). That’s not to mention all of the other things we needed to do, like redo all of the decor and the food and the drink menus, secure busses to take our guests to and from the airport hotel for each event, and, oh, yeah, get our ornate outfits fitted, and pick up our wedding rings, shoes, and accessories.
Anyone who has ever visited New Delhi knows this was a Herculean task. We spent those six days hustling through the traffic-laden city, fueled by chai and adrenaline, dodging rickshaws and blaring car horns so we could make it to where we needed to be. One day, we brought my cousin Katie and her wife, Chelsea, who’d flown from Southern California and gotten into Delhi early, to the heart of Old Delhi to pick up Rahul’s sherwani (Indian wedding suit) from his tailor. Old Delhi is a historic, hectic neighborhood that’s not for the faint of heart, and as the four of us were zig-zagging through its crammed streets, squished into an open-air rickshaw as the aroma of jalebis and other street foods wafted through the thick air, my cousin looked at us and said: “This is why we came.” Rahul and I met eyes and smiled because that was exactly the adventurous spirit we were hoping for.
In the end, I have to say that we pulled it off with flying colors, quite literally. Our new venues, decked out in deep magenta bougainvillea and bright orange and pink roses, were actually incredible, perhaps even better than the ones at the hotel that we’d originally booked. And it turns out, our guests actually liked being bussed around everywhere. They enjoyed watching the locals power through traffic with a vengeance and trying to figure out the perplexing unwritten rules of the road. They even enjoyed hearing the constant drone of never-ending car horns—it was all part of the truly authentic and at times nerve-wracking experience that is driving through crowded Delhi. While we’d originally planned to have two out of three of our events in the hotel so that people wouldn’t have to experience Delhi traffic, it was perhaps smarter, in retrospect, to vary up the venues so that our guests got to see that quintessential part of the city. Another perk: Rahul’s friend Aashish and his whole family ended up throwing us a killer last-minute after-party on his rooftop, complete with drummers and a live tandoor counter serving fresh Seekh kebabs. They wanted to help out in any way they could, and that after-party ended up being one of the most fun and lively events of our whole celebration. And guess what? On the day before our Sangeet, The Roseate called us to let us know that they had been magically “unsealed” after all. Go figure! Though their venue space was still closed off, meaning we couldn’t switch our events back over to their grounds, our guests at least got to ditch the airport hotel and stay in their beautiful green garden oasis of a hotel after all.
On the last day of our wedding celebration, my grandfather gave a toast to celebrate our marriage. “To Annie and Rahul,” he said, “who had us all on the edge of our seats these last few weeks but stayed flexible and prepared during a situation that could have gotten the best of them.” It’s true—and that’s the advice I’d pass along to anyone whose wedding also gets the 11th-hour treatment. We had no idea that we’d have to deal with so many changes at the very last minute. But that’s life, isn’t it? And isn’t that why we get married in the first place, to have someone to go through life with, to have someone to solve problems with together?
These days, with the wedding industry at peak Pinterest, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in the picture-perfect minutiae. You know, the little details. But as someone who spent an entire year planning the little details only to have them thrown out the window at the last minute, I am here to remind you to think bigger. When we heard the hotel was sealed, one of my first thoughts was that our guests would not get to see this one cool tree on the big lawn we’d reserved for the Sangeet. I loved the way the twinkly lights on it sparkled just so, and I was super bummed the tree wouldn’t be a part of our party. Ironically, our new Sangeet spot had an even better tree—the “bar tree,” as it was right above the bar—that created the perfect twinkly nighttime vibe. But that’s not the point. The point is that weddings are not about the sparkly trees in the first place. While it’s ideal to create a memorable experience for your guests—especially when some of them have flown halfway around the world to get there—weddings are ultimately about celebrating your relationship and your community of people who will not care what tree they are drinking under, as long as they are drinking under it with you. They are about trusting that no matter what happens from this day forward, you will be able to figure it out together—because something can always be arranged. And if that something is anything like our wedding, it may even be better than you could’ve possibly imagined.