ST. PETERSBURG — It had been a long while since Ajay Pallegar had heard from the girl with the pretty smile he'd met at her medical school graduation party, but nevertheless, he took her call.
"I had a terrible termite problem at my apartment building and they weren't trying to let me break the lease," said Dr. Sneha Lokesh, 28, of St. Petersburg. "I knew he was a lawyer, so I called him and he helped."
Ajay, 32, an attorney from St. Petersburg, used his legal knowledge to help her get out of the tough situation and then made an offhand suggestion that would change his life.
"I told her that she should move into my building," he said. "I didn't think anything of it at the time."
On Oct. 12, Ajay found himself riding an elephant through the streets of St. Petersburg on his way to marry Sneha in front of 700 guests at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.
He smiled from ear to ear during his 45-minute processional, also know as a baraat — where his family and friends led the way, dancing and singing up Seventh Avenue NE.
"She's probably the most perfect person I've actually ever met," he said of his new wife.
The seeds of this union were sown long before Ajay and Sneha met. Their families, both from South India, had known each other for years before they could get Ajay and Sneha into the same room.
"We were both just so busy," Sneha said. "I'd been to his house before for dinner, but he was never there. I was really busy with school and studying. He would say he was out traveling the world."
But finally the day came in May 2010. Sneha graduated from Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale and her family threw a party. Ajay's family was able to pull him away from his job long enough to attend.
"I thought he was smashing," Sneha giggled. "He was cute and he had the cute accent."
Ajay's entrancement with Sneha's smile gave him the courage to ask her out to dinner later that week.
But it wasn't until Sneha needed a lawyer that they connected once more. In appreciation, Sneha decided to prepare a traditional meal for Ajay at her new place a few floors down.
"It was killer. It was amazing, the best Indian food," he said. "I'm just a sucker for Indian, and coming from someone as beautiful as Sneha, that was the icing on the cake."
Cooking has always been a passion of Sneha's and she was confident that the meal would be a nice gift to someone who had helped her so much. She didn't expect him to keep coming back, but he did. A friendship accelerated into a relationship in a year's time.
"We were eating together so much, it felt so natural," she said. "It was like we were already married."
Still, to make it official, Ajay took Sneha to Armani's restaurant and presented her with the ring that she'd been hinting she wanted.
Sneha always wanted a traditional Indian wedding, and Ajay always wanted to do his baraat on an elephant. It took a year of planning, but on Oct. 12 it all came together in a weeklong celebration culminating with a 24-hour whirlwind of a wedding day. The couple will celebrate again with a grand reception in India on Dec. 28. Until then, they'll take a three-week honeymoon to Italy and settle into their new life together in St. Petersburg.
"I don't think anything changes for us," Sneha said. "I felt like once we were together it was already such a natural thing that marriage will just be a continuation. I'm excited for what's in store."