Pooja Patel, a Saint Louis University freshman, followed her sister’s footsteps by rounding up students in spring 2007 for the Indian Student Association. Bharat Panuganti, one of her invitees, said friendship “kicked off” immediately.
She drove them to their first dinner date at The Cheesecake Factory. They quickly dated exclusively and made it public a few months later. They became invested in their studies as well as each other while he pursued medical school to become surgeon and she studied dentistry.
Amid their traditional wedding plans, the sprinkled diverse over three days with touches in food, dress and ceremony at six vibrant events that meshed cultures – Pooja is Gujarati and Bharat is Telugu – in a Hindu wedding weekend at the Saint Charles Convention Center.
Bharat composed a save-the-date for what became a list of 600 guests. The bride, her parents and sister flew to India to select clothing and decorations. Mexican sombreros decorated a fiesta-meets-henna party. Dancing, wondrous food and colorful backdrops saturated the weekend.
What wedding moments resonated?
When my family was saying goodbye at our “vidai,” a ceremony where all family and friends bid farewell to the bride, I hugged my dad as we both cried. It really hit me that I was married. My dad did such an amazing job planning and organizing the wedding. Again, after we were married, Bharat and I were on the carriage and it was just us two and I thought, “Wow, this is amazing!” We had the best family and friends to help us out.
Did you leave a personalized memento for guests?
Our reception color theme was cream and a lot of gold with a hint of light pink flowers. I am a dentist, so our personalized dental theme gifts – brush cover and toothpaste squeezer – had our names and wedding date on them. We added candy and a stick on top which said, “Eat, brush and be married!”
What was your first dance as Mr. and Mrs.?
We decided to do something a little fun and surprised guests with a choreographed dance mix of American songs and Bollywood songs.
How did you propose?
I flew her out to San Diego for what she thought was a simple vacation and lured her to La Jolla Cove (and) had a photographer waiting. With a blanket sprawled over a cliff overhanging the Pacific Ocean, I told her I wanted to see the water better, got down on one knee and popped the question. We flew out her entire family from St. Louis and mine from the (San Francisco) Bay area. It took some planning over six months.
What stood out among a weekend of wedding rituals?
I rode into the wedding ceremony on a white stallion with traditional Indian drums (dhol) playing in the background with a large procession dancing on the way to the wedding site.
What “snapshot” from the day stands out in your mind?
The moment the sheet was lowered and I saw Pooja sitting across from me on the stage. I have never seen someone look so beautiful.
What do you love about your mate?
Everything. After 8-1/2 years, we know each other very, very well. I can be myself around him. He is always the first person I tell anything to. He is very caring.
She is extraordinarily nice and caring, accommodating, understanding, fun-loving, food-appreciating, adventurous. I’ve never felt more comfortable with anyone.
What is your greatest asset as a couple?
Bharat is truly the calm to my crazy! We balance each other very well.
We are on different ends of a spectrum of personalities. This is a benefit rather than a detriment. It keeps the other person interested.
The Date: August 20, 2016 | The Bride: Pooja Patel | The Groom: Bharat Panuganti | The Bride’s Parents: Ajay and Jayshree Patel | The Groom’s Parents: Rao and Vijji Panuganti | The Ceremony, Reception and Other Events: Saint Charles Convention Center | The Officiants: Hindu Priests | The Wedding Dress, Bridesmaids’ Dresses and Men’s Attire: All saris, kurtas and other outfits from India | The Rings: Engagement ring from David & Sons Fine Jewelers, wedding bands from Rosados Box | The Flowers: Wedding decorator Fatima Dalal | The Cake: Sarah’s Cake Shop | The Band, Other Entertainment: Live band from India and DJ Karan Pujji | The Photographer: Kelly Pratt Photography | The Videographer: Vimage Studios | The Invitations: Provider in Mumbai, India | Lighting and Décor: St. Louis Wedding Works | The Planner: Bride’s dad, supported by Connie Barber of Saint Charles Convention Center | The Honeymoon Destination: Kauai, Hawaii |The Newlyweds’ Home: San Diego, California