Our two-day, 450-guest wedding was cancelled, so we livestreamed our backyard ceremony over Zoom
Dharmesh Lad, a software consultant, and Papia Dutta, a marketer, had planned a two-day wedding at a Brampton banquet hall over the Easter long weekend, from April 10 to 11. But as the pandemic unfolded in early March, they quickly realized they needed a Plan B. Here’s how their last-minute Zoom wedding came to be.
Papia: Dharmesh and I met right before Christmas 2017 on eHarmony. His profile stood out to me because he looked happy, and he had photos of his family—family is important to me. He messaged me first, and we went on a lunch date at the café at Whole Foods near my office in North York. Right after our date, he flew out to the U.K.—where he’s from—to be with his family for the holidays.
Dharmesh: I was attracted to Papia’s sense of humour. She’s pretty funny. And, obviously, she’s very pretty. We kept messaging over the holidays. I was sending her pictures of my nieces and nephews.
Papia: Dharmesh came across as a little bit shy at first. After the holidays we went on a few more dates, and we started to both get very comfortable.
Dharmesh: We lived at opposite ends of the city. I was in the Beaches and she was in Brampton. But we would try to meet up two or three times during the week. A year in, we booked a trip to the Dominican Republic for Papia’s birthday in January 2019. I planned to propose on that trip. We explored Puerto Plata and ended up at a fort called San Felipe. A while ago we invented a game called Backwords where we write or draw on each others’ backs with our fingers and the other person has to guess what it is. At San Felipe, I wrote on her back, Let’s get married.
Papia: It was really scenic. We were right on the ocean and the waves were crashing on the rocks. There weren’t many other people around. I had no idea what he was writing. He was going too fast. I couldn’t guess.
Dharmesh: I was a little nervous. After the third try, I just pulled out the ring and said “Let’s get married.”
Papia: When he proposed I was through the roof. There was nothing contrived about it. It was a very, very sweet moment. And I was surprised because he had just met my parents a few months before.
Dharmesh: At first, we wanted to have an intimate wedding, like something on the beach or outdoors. But we realized that between 50 of my relatives coming from the U.K. and Papia’s family and friends in Brampton, we’d have 450 people on our guest list.
Papia: Our wedding was going to be a two-day event–a traditional Hindu ceremony at a banquet hall in Brampton and an evening reception the next day at the same venue. Of course, with South Asian weddings, we also have certain rituals and events that happen throughout the week before the wedding, like a prayer and separate Haldi ceremonies where families and friends put a turmeric paste on the bride and groom.
Dharmesh: We had all our vendors picked out: photography, video, all the decor. We were in the final stretch, a month to go before the wedding, when the pandemic hit.
Papia: On March 17, we booked a meeting with the banquet hall to discuss our options. That same day, Doug Ford had banned gatherings over 50 people so we knew our wedding wasn’t going to happen.
Dharmesh: But we still wanted to go ahead with getting married. We had applied for a marriage licence in January, and it’s only valid for 90 days.
Papia: We realized it might not make sense to have a traditional Hindu ceremony, which is quite long, about 90 minutes. We knew we needed something shorter. I found an officiant online who could do a non-religious ceremony. She happened to be available on our original wedding day, April 10.
Dharmesh: We decided to do something closer to what we had initially talked about—an intimate outdoor wedding.
Papia: We knew we couldn’t do it in a park. So we ended up going with my backyard in Brampton. It’s quite large so it’s big enough for social distancing. My dad lives here with me too, so he could attend as my witness. Dharmesh’s sister lives in Woodbridge so she was his witness. My mom is in a long-term care home so she was unable to attend.
Dharmesh: The next thing was figuring out the logistics of streaming the wedding. One of my cousins in the U.K. owns an AV company, so we asked him to help out. He helped set up a webinar meeting on Zoom, which would give us more control over what people saw than a regular Zoom meeting. The moderators of the webinar control content and the audience’s ability to speak and share video. I tried to buy a webcam so we could have a better quality video, but there were no webcams anywhere in the city. Fortunately, one of Papia’s friends lent us one. We sent out the invites for the livestream a few days before the ceremony to close friends and family.
Papia: The day before the wedding, we went to Longo’s to buy some potted plants to decorate the backyard. We bought some bamboo sticks from Dollarama and made a little archway. Friends dropped off other items that they had on-hand, like drapes and bows. One friend dropped off a DSLR camera so Dharmesh’s sister could take some photos during the wedding. My friend Ann planned to come by later in the afternoon to take pictures for us as well.
Dharmesh: The ceremony was planned for 1 p.m. The Zoom call got going an hour early to give people a chance to get connected. We set up our laptop on a ladder, connected the external webcam and left it in one spot looking towards the garden. My two cousins in the U.K. helped troubleshoot people’s issues and make people feel welcome. They were a bit like our MCs. We had about 200 people join.
Papia: We still got to incorporate some Indian traditions into the ceremony. I’m Bengali and in the morning, for Bengali brides, you typically have a ritual called Dodhi Mangal, which includes a meal of rice flakes, fruit and yogurt. Then you fast until your ceremony. I did that in the morning. I was also wearing Bengali bracelets that my family had brought back from India, which you traditionally put on in the morning of the wedding. I got dressed up in my mom’s wedding sari, which is what I had planned to wear anyway. The staff at my mom’s long-term care facility helped her log on to the stream and they even got her dressed in a sari too.
Dharmesh: For our original ceremony, I would have been wearing traditional clothes: a kurta and dhoti. But since we decided not to hold a religious ceremony, I opted to wear a suit that I felt more comfortable in. I felt loved, blessed and happy standing opposite my partner, and that’s all that mattered. We wanted a special, unique wedding and that is what we got.
Papia: I felt so much gratitude and happiness. The sun was shining down on us, and seeing Dharmesh there smiling was really wonderful. It was a cold and windy day, though, so thankfully the ceremony was only 15 minutes long. We quickly ran inside afterwards and continued the “reception” there. We popped open a bottle of champagne and did a toast. They called us out for our first dance as well. It was to an old Bollywood song called “Pehla Nasha.”
Dharmesh: We were all hanging out on Zoom for over three hours. People had made speeches and put together photo slideshows for us. My cousins did the best job of putting everything together and keeping things in order. They had everybody muted until they called on them to speak.
Papia: Had we had a traditional reception, we wouldn’t have had so many wonderful conversations, but that’s the only thing we could do online. People were sharing their memories and stories. At the actual reception, we probably would’ve been so busy trying to make sure that everything was going on track. The day felt extremely special because irrespective of all of the twists and turns through the wedding planning, we still followed through. Nothing—not even a pandemic—could stop us from getting married. For me, the whole experience was really heartwarming. I am so very excited to spend the rest of my life sharing adventures, like this one, and making memories with him.
—As told to Andrea Yu
An earlier version of this story misstated the number of people who attended the wedding over Zoom. It is 200, not 150. And, the Bengali morning meal is not called Dodhi Mangal. The meal is part of a morning ritual called Dodhi Mangal which includes other traditions.