It was a flight to Budapest, Hungary.
Anneta Nikolou, cabin crew for a UAE-based airline, remembers her captain Ashutosh Gautam walking in to brief his colleagues prior to the flight.
“I saw him and really liked him,” she remarks. “The way he smiled, I thought he was handsome. But I don’t think he noticed me.”
On their way to the plane, the captain remarked that Anneta looked “a bit like Scarlett Johansson”.
“I hope you like her,” she rallied back.
The beginnings of love were in the air!
Four years later, Ashutosh from New Delhi, India, and Anneta from Athens, Greece were married in a traditional Indian ceremony held on the beaches of Palm Jumeirah. “Ours was not a very large wedding, about 150 guests,” says Ashutosh.
“Of whom, 50 were Greek and 100 Indians,” Anneta says with a grin. “And everyone was asked to wear Indian attire!”
They roped in event planner Sachin Singhal of Event Brokers to put their vision together. “When we first met Sachin, we loved him instantly,” the couple say almost in unison. Adds Ashutosh: “He suggested Dukes The Palm; just looking at the venue he was able to tell us exactly where everything would be.”
On D-day, as Ashutosh looked out from his hotel room towards the beach where the mandap (wedding stage) had been set up against the backdrop of the sea, with everything else arranged around it in a crescent, he couldn’t believe how everything had turned out.
Anneta was equally thrilled. “I was like ‘is this my wedding’? I was so happy.”
The bride wore her favourite colour peach. “It was the very first lehenga I tried when I went with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to Delhi to shop. Although I tried hundreds of others, it was constantly: ‘but it’s not like the other one.”
They bought the groom’s pagdi (turban) too to match Anneta’s lehenga, while Ashutosh’s simple, white sherwani was tailored in Bur Dubai. “It was her day,” says Ashutosh.
Although Anneta had her wish for a fairy tale wedding more than come true, it was after a sandstorm followed by rainfall had wrecked the entire set-up on the beach. “The whole thing had to be redone,” says Ashutosh. “And the second time was actually better than the first!”
Possibly a highlight of their wedding was how everything was done on time. “Indian weddings tend to get delayed. Dinner starts only by 11.30 at night,” says Ashutosh. “We, on the other hand, were finished by 11pm and that included dinner. And then from 11 to 2 we were just partying! Snacks and beverages by the beach – it was all there.”
“A Greek delight,” says their event planner Sachin. “Desi clothing on gorgeous Greek ladies (girl friends of the bride) was most amazing part. They all looked stunning.”
Several Greek dances were interspersed with Indian ones, with guests of both nationalities dancing their hearts out. “It was such fun,” Anneta says.
The previous night, the couple had a cocktail event, where the dress code was Western formals. Their outfits were from New York. “I placed my order on one of my trips and picked it up the next month when I flew in again,” says Ashutosh.
“It’s one of the perks of our job,” adds Anneta, whose own gown was picked up by her bridesmaid – a colleague – on another flight into New York.
Although they haven’t found themselves on the same roster after their first trip to Budapest, they do find themselves flying the same route at similar times, but different planes. “We have dinner together … a little date,” says Anneta.
There haven’t been many cultural hiccups after marriage.
“We as a family are very open,” says Ashutosh. “There has been no problem. It’s been a breeze, touchwood.”
Anneta admits that before arriving in Dubai, India meant only one thing – Bollywood. “But when I met him, I felt we might have been born in the same place. I didn’t feel any difference in our culture. We have different religions, but we didn’t feel even this because we both embrace every religion,” she says.
From their first meeting on that fateful flight to Budapest, to Ashutosh’s proposal to Anneta at the Acropolis with her family in tow, to date nights in New York and Manchester, the Dubai-based couple are more than living it up.