SOUTH TAMPA — Click on Friendster, a friend of a friend told Jay Gosalia, and type in "Anjali Rajani." Gosalia went to the Internet social network. He liked Rajani's smile, noted she was Gujarati like him and sent off an e-mail. And just like that, the first-generation Indian-Americans broke family tradition, bypassing their parents' vast social networks and making their own introductions.
That's how a civil engineer who grew up in Montgomery and worked in Omaha fell in love with a pediatric dentist from Fresno studying in San Diego.
"Growing up here, it doesn't feel right," Gosalia said of arranged marriages.
But the modern meet-up was soon forgotten when they wed according to honored Hindu ritual, pleasing their parents beyond measure.
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Rajani and Gosalia corresponded a few times in July 2007, before she left for vacation with her family.
"I didn't check e-mail until the end of the trip,'' said 32-year-old Rajani, who earned both her bachelor's and dental degrees at the University of Missouri.
Receiving no further response, Gosalia, now 33, was about to write her off when a message hit his inbox. Attached were photos of bridges she'd seen while touring Portugal.
Ahhh, thought Gosalia, she was thinking of him.
That summer, they were e-mail pals. In September they spoke for the first time, then almost daily after that.
"She would tell me about all the fun things she was doing, like running on the beach, kickboxing and kayaking," said the Auburn graduate. "And I was freezing in Omaha." Gosalia works for a large engineering contractor with offices around the country.
In November, they met. Gosalia was nervous. His flight to San Diego was six hours late and her best friend crashed their first dinner together.
But he was hooked. He sent orchids, her favorite, as soon as he got home to let her know.
At first, "slow" was Rajani's mantra as Gosalia's work moved him to Orlando. Cross country flights, Skype and Sprint kept them going over the next 18 months. They met each other's parents and received their blessings.
But not permission to travel to Greece together, said Gosalia, laughing.
"I called to ask her mother three times, and every time the answer was no."
By then Rajani was planning their future, "But Jay seemed to be in no rush," she said.
That's why she never suspected his July 2009 proposal. Gosalia secretly booked a photo session in San Diego. "I needed pictures to send to family in India," he told her.
Ridiculous, she fumed. "Who sends pictures before you're engaged?" Besides, he'd never find a photographer on such short notice.
They began posing in the studio, then moved outdoors with Rajani less than enthusiastic.
After nearly three hours, Gosalia signaled to the photographer. Down on one knee, he fished the ring out of his sock and asked her to marry him. Rajani, in shock, turned as the camera flashed. Her long, black hair completely blocked the shot Gosalia had so carefully choreographed.
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While their meeting was modern, the wedding observed Hindu tradition. The priest chose an auspicious date: Dec. 12, 2009 for the celebration. Festivities lasted four days, beginning at the Rajani residence in Fresno with a mehndi or henna party for the women.
The bridal party drove to San Diego the next day, checking into the Manchester Grand Hyatt for the garba, a night of dancing and eating.
Wedding day dawned with the arrival of the groom astride a white horse, both adorned in fresh flower garlands. The bride's uncles escorted her to the mandap canopy where the groom's future mother-in-law washed his feet and offered sweets. Four times the couple circled the sacred fire, called mangal phera. They recited saptapadi, the seven vows and touched seven betel nuts. Speeches and Bollywood-style performances entertained the 350 guests at the reception.
After a honeymoon in the Maldives, the newlyweds settled into a Bayshore condo, close to Gosalia's new job assignment in Tampa. His bride, the dentist, is studying for her Florida license.
Heart Beat is a summer series that features recent intriguing stories of love and marriage. Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com and (813) 226-3332.