Real Weddings: Uppekha and Rahim
Inside an extravagant four-day Ismaili-Hindu wedding with a rotating guest list
Rahim Allani, an investment banker, met Uppekha Jain, a Bollywood actress turned media professional for the provincial government, at Cabana Pool Bar three years ago. They had planned to get married in Spain in the fall of 2020, but decided to fast-track their wedding when they realized they wouldn’t be able to travel any time soon. According to the Hindu religious calendar, their lucky day was June 25, and so they pulled off an extravagant multi-day celebration—with fireworks and multiple outfit changes—in just three weeks.
Rahim: We met about three years ago, when Uppekha was in town for her brother’s wedding. I begrudgingly went with a friend to Cabana on a Saturday in the summer of 2017. One of our mutual friends showed up with a couple of other people, one of whom was Uppekha. My friend told me she was a soap opera actress in Mumbai but originally from Toronto.
I saw her and immediately thought that she was drop-dead gorgeous. We chatted a bit about Mumbai, but both of us were in relationships at the time so nothing more came of it. Then in March 2018, I went to Mumbai for work. I told our mutual friend I was going, and asked if I should message Uppekha to meet up with her. He told me it was her birthday that week, and I asked her if she wanted to hang out.
Uppekha: Our mutual friend is always introducing me to people who come through Mumbai. But Rahim’s name autocorrected to Rabin in his WhatsApp message, so I didn’t remember who he was. He followed up, though, and we eventually met up.
Rahim: We met at a bar near where I was staying. We both had plans to do other things later that night, but there was a taxi strike, and our other plans got cancelled, so we continued to hang out, and one drink became two, then three. I remember at one point she told me, “I didn’t realize you actually had a personality, because when we met at Cabana you were so quiet.” I ended up going to her birthday party later that week, and then came back to Toronto. Later that year, she moved back to Toronto for good, and we started seeing more of each other.
Uppekha: In Mumbai we connected instantly. I had lived there for eight years and he was a breath of fresh air. He understood me and got my jokes. He also wore a nice watch, which I noticed. I know it sounds cliché, but I think humour is the foundation of any good relationship, and we laughed a lot. He also knew how to woo a girl.
Rahim: I’ve been going to Mumbai regularly for work for the last 10 years, so we could relate to things in Toronto and India. I was impressed by how much she had to say. We officially started dating in early 2019.
Uppekha: We never actually got engaged. I told him I didn’t want a long, drawn-out process, because I had walked away from a couple previous engagements. I wanted to go straight to the marriage. In early 2020, we decided we would get married in late fall, somewhere warm. We were thinking either Spain or Mexico. I love the outdoors, and we wanted a destination wedding near the water. Then Covid-19 hit.
Rahim: We were supposed to go to Mumbai and then Hong Kong in March for Uppekha’s birthday. I had ordered a ring to pick up in Mumbai, and was going to officially propose in Hong Kong, so we could get started on wedding planning. But on March 13 we decided not to go. Thankfully we didn’t, because India shut down that weekend. My ring is actually still sitting there. We decided to wait a couple weeks and see if things would start opening up. At that point Spain was looking more and more bleak.
Uppekha: So we thought maybe we could still do it in Mexico. But then Covid hit Mexico. We were thinking let’s just do a winery in Niagara, but then they all closed, too.
Rahim: We are two different religions, I’m Ismaili Muslim, and she’s Jain and Hindu. Uppekha’s mom told us that, according to the religious calendar, the best date for our wedding would be November 25. But we really wanted to get married outdoors. She told us if we didn’t do November, the only other alternative dates would be June 25 or June 28. We decided on June 25, which was only three weeks away.
Uppekha: A lot of people were pushing off their weddings to 2021, and we did the opposite, taking the bull by the horns. We thought, It’s Covid? Okay, let’s get married! That said, there were a lot of hiccups along the way. Typically, South Asian weddings have tons of events and people. And both of us have large social circles. One side of Rahim’s family is 45 people on its own. When we started planning, gatherings were still capped at five people. We had been going between Rahim’s family’s house, where his parents, sister, brother-in-law and two kids lived, and my family’s house, which was my parents, my brother and sister-in-law. So at the very least we wanted the 10 of us there. I also didn’t want to give up on an outdoor wedding by the water.
Rahim: We decided to do something smaller now and possibly have the 800-person Indian reception at some point in the future.
Uppekha: As things started to open up, and the limit expanded to 10 people, we were ready to find a venue. I’m the kind of girl who wants a big beautiful wedding, not a small backyard affair. We thought we’d have a nice weekend getaway with our families, and a small ceremony outdoors with a seated dinner. But there were so many complications even with that. We needed two officiants, because we wanted two different religious ceremonies, and I wanted to walk around a fire, which is a Hindu marriage tradition. We found an Airbnb in Burlington, which had a beautiful backyard and backed onto the lake, and booked it.
Rahim: Then, shortly after we decided on this plan, the government announced that outdoor weddings in Burlington could have 50 people and places of worship were open at 30 per cent capacity so we decided to add an event at the Meadowvale Jamatkhana. We had already rented this big beautiful house, and our plans started falling into place.
Uppekha: There was also the issue of all the pre-wedding events. As an Indian girl, the mehndi and the sangeet were important. Unfortunately, the sangeet involves lots of singing and dancing close together, so we decided to postpone it. The mehndi is where everyone gets henna done, and we decided to hold it in circulation, with 10 people at a time. We had it on the Tuesday, two days before the wedding. It started at 11 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. People signed up for two-hour time slots. My poor mother had to do everything herself. It was a logistical nightmare, but it went by really quickly and ended up being an incredible day. We had the Hindu ceremony on Thursday outside at the property. We had to account for our Covid-friendly vendors in our 50 person cap, so the invite list was only 40 people. We distanced the chairs according to families, and labelled all of them. We held the ceremony under a pergola, which we decorated with flowers. We also had a flautist come in, and we ended the day with a 10-minute fireworks show. On the Friday, we hosted a cocktail and canapé party for close friends at the house. We did three shifts of 10 people, and hired a jazz singer and live event painter. There was hand sanitizer and masks and gloves everywhere.
Rahim: We don’t think we need to do that large reception anymore. With various events hosting small numbers of people, we realized we’d be able to pull off cool, intimate experiences we wouldn’t have been able to do with an 800-person Indian wedding. For instance, on Friday I got the bartenders from my favourite restaurant, East Thirty-Six in Toronto, to come in and make cocktails and do a champagne fountain. The catering was by a chef from Chotto Matte. One of my cousins is the actor and singer Huse Madhavji, and he serenaded us with a soulful version of “Fools Rush In” and “Stand By Me” on his guitar for our first dance.
Uppekha: The last ceremony we did was the Ismaili ceremony, which was on Saturday at Meadowvale Jamatkhana. They were only allowing 20 people indoors, so we kept it to immediate family, and everyone had to be masked up. I had my mom ask one of our relatives in India to make matching masks for the guys and girls and a special one for the bride. They arrived two days before the wedding. We had Webex video conferencing going for friends who couldn’t come. Overall, it was really nice to have an intimate wedding. What we thought was going to be a nightmare actually turned out really magical.
Rahim: We ended up hosting 120 people in total over the course of three days. And we still got to do some traditional things—for example at the Hindu celebration on Thursday we played a game where the family steals the shoes from the groom and you have to negotiate to get the shoes back. I bought back a pair of shoes for much more than I paid for them. Getting to put on a 10-minute firework show was also pretty awesome.
Uppekha: It was like a Bollywood movie, with tons of outfit changes and rotating guest lists. Finally getting to have my dream outdoor wedding on the water during Covid was amazing. We had lots of family and friends tuning in from around the world. They were so thrilled, and told us it was a piece of good news in all of this craziness. Plus, a lot of our guests were thankful for an excuse to finally get out of their sweatpants and dress up. Sure, there’s Covid, but we wanted to make the most of it, and it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself safely and celebrate the unity of two families.
Dates: June 23 (mehndi), 25 (Hindu ceremony), 26 (cocktail reception), and 27 (Ismaili ceremony), 2020
Venue: Airbnb, Meadowvale Jamatkhana
Photography: Amanda Thirkill Photography, True Colors Studio, Nikki Carr, Huse Madhavji
Caterer: Luis Avila from Chotto Matte, East Thirty Six
Cake: Baking Statements by Sabrina
Live painter: Paul Dolgov
Makeup: Seher Studio Inc.
Hair: Blend & Tease
Bride’s outfits: Flaire Design, Sahiba Fashions, sari from her aunt
Groom’s outfits: Flaire Design, Hibhana Mumbai
Music: Vishal Bedi (flautist), Huse Madhavji (first dance), Ross Music Inc. (jazz band)
More photos from the three-day extravaganza
Thursday, June 25: The Hindu Ceremony
Friday, June 26: Cocktail Reception
Saturday, June 26: Ismaili Ceremony