In 1991, Rishi Kapoor fell head over heels for Zeba Bahktiar in the movie Henna. In 2004 Shahrukh Khan swept Preiti Zinta off her feet in Veer Zaara. Along the way came other inspiring real-life couples like Mohsin Khan and Reena Roy; Zaheer Abbas and Sam Abbas; Sonya Jehan and Vivek Narain, Aly Khan and Chandini Saigol, and most recently, Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik – all of who contributed in their own small way to established that fact that the power of love does in fact take precedence over political borders and cultural norms.
Today, we introduce you to Kiran Chaudhry and Riyaaz Amlani – another young, beautiful couple that tied the knot this December in a larger-than-life wedding that gave all of Lahore and Mumbai a little something to think about. With hearty celebrations spanning more than ten days on both sides of the great divide, these lovebirds have given new meaning to the famous “Aman Ki Asha” campaign, bringing Pakistanis and Indians closer still, making them the obvious focus of our grand Valentine’s Day edition…
An exclusive with Kiran Chaudhry
Born in Pakistan and schooled at the Convent of Jesus & Mary in Islamabad, and the Lahore Grammar School (Kabana branch) in Lahore, before getting a scholarship to attend an international boarding school in the UK, Kiran finally ended up at Oxford University, where she did her undergraduate in Philosophy, Politics & Economics and finished off with a post-graduate degree in Law. She then practiced corporate law in London for several years before returning to Pakistan, where she decided to put vocal prowess to good use and teamed up with Adnan Sarwar to form a band called Caramel in 2006. Even though Caramel started off as a cover act, it has now evolved into a manifestly unique pop/rock/fusion band that goes by the name Club Caramel, has a respectable fan following, and continues to release acclaimed singles that warrant Kiran’s position as one of the contemporary voices to watch out in Pakistan and beyond…
Tell me a bit about your family. What do your parents do?
My family is based in Lahore, but my father’s parents migrated to Pakistan from Patiala in India and my mother’s parents were from Kashmir and the Punjab. My father spent most of his career in government service (the Police), so we moved around a fair bit as I was growing up. My family is also in the textile business, so that is something I became involved with upon my return to Pakistan. My mother is primarily a homemaker, but does a fair bit of charitable work with several women’s organizations in Lahore.
You studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford and then became a solicitor in London before moving to Pakistan to become a singer. What was the deciding point? How hard or easy was the transition for you?
I had always been quite academically inclined throughout school, so getting a higher education and a professional degree had been one of my goals. I was also determined to stand on my own feet and become financially independent, so becoming a lawyer was a stepping-stone on that journey. But at the end of the day, it was just a job – a means to an end. It was not my passion. I realized, early on, that to truly excel at your work, it had to be something you felt really passionate about. So after four years as a lawyer, and some cash saved up, I did some soul-searching and realized that I was first and foremost an
artist. Once I knew that, the decision was not hard. I think everyone is born knowing who they were meant to be. Somewhere along the line, they forget or become confused with other peoples’ opinions and expectations. The transition was not necessarily easy, as I changed careers and moved countries, but it felt exhilarating to follow my heart.
You’re also doing some work in textiles? Tell me about that.
My family has been in the textile industry for many decades. We manufacture cotton yarn for the weaving and knitwear industry. Textiles forms the largest industry sector in Pakistan and contributes the most to national GDP, exports and plays a vital role in employment. It is also unique in that it has a very strong industry organization (APTMA), which I was quite involved with as a member of the management. It was an amazing learning experience for me, with my slightly Western education and work experience, to sell yarn in ‘suter-mandi’ in Faisalabad! It was a real insight into Pakistan and our business culture. It was also amazing to be surrounded by some of the top entrepreneurs in the country – just to be in their presence and see how their minds work. I learned a lot about business in these past 6 years.
Do you consider yourself to be one of those do-it-all restless souls or have you found your calling and are content with what all you’re doing right now?
I have definitely found my calling. Nothing gives me more joy than singing live on stage. It is the biggest high and I am fortunate to have been able to make it my livelihood. I could not be happier and more grateful.
You must have been very young when you received your training from Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. Tell me a bit about your relationship with him. Have you trained with anyone after him?
I was at school – about 14 years old when I started training with Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. He told me then to drop out of school and become his ‘shagird’ full-time. He said I would one day be ‘on top of the world’. He was the most loving and kind teacher: so gentle, and such a master of his craft. He would work with us tirelessly. He really wanted to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation. He was so devoted to music it was infectious. And he taught me the power of ‘soul’ in music – how you must feel each and every emotion in order to translate it effectively. I have trained with many teachers after him, most notably Ustad Javed Bashir (lead singer of the Mekaal Hassan Band) and also done several courses at London’s esteemed ‘Voxbox’ school for voice training. But there was never anyone like Ustad Fateh Ali Khan.
Caramel, Club Caramel and Adnan Sarwar – the three names that obviously hold a very high significance in your life. Tell me a bit about each.
Caramel and Club Caramel are one and the same – we started our band with the name Caramel and our club nights called ‘Club Caramel’ are what made us really popular. So people just started calling us Club Caramel and the name stuck. I like that we were named by our fans!
Adnan Sarwar and I have been friends and band-mates for many years and he is one of the most creative and talented people I know. His vision for the band has helped create a brand that has come a long way over the last few years and I think we have both grown tremendously in the process, both creatively and professionally.
What (and who) has been your biggest inspiration as a singer, composer and songwriter? Why?
I am inspired by lots of artists. But some of the top in that list are Madonna (an amazing all-round performer), Nazia Hassan (for modernizing south Asian music), Norah Jones (for her soulful vocals), Ella Fitzgerald (for incredible vocal control), Amy Winehouse (for the personality in her voice), Adele (for bringing the music business back to the basics), Whitney Houston (for showing what it means to have powerhouse vocals), Jewel (for brilliant songwriting), Jeff Buckley (amazing songwriting).
You’ve done some theatre as well. Was it a fulfilling experience? What kind of theatre would you like to do in the future?
I played the lead in the hit West End musical ‘Mamma Mia!’ as part of Nida Butt’s Made for Stage productions. It was an amazing experience because I got the chance to sing and act on stage for the first time. There is no greater high than the discovery of latent talents that you experience and develop for the first time when you try something new. I would love to do some more acting in the future, given the right role.
Do you feel Pakistan is an ideal place for artistes like yourself? Would you ever consider moving back to London?
I have always said that Pakistan is a magical place. It allows you to reinvent yourself however you choose. You can make things happen in Pakistan that you could not anywhere else in the world. This also applies to artists. It’s a great ‘nursery’ for the young artist to develop her craft and gain some experience. But, to grow, the young ‘seedling’ needs to be re-planted into the field, where it can grow into a tall tree. You catch my drift…
Which Pakistani singer(s) do you admire and enjoy listening to most? What makes them so special?
I love Strings for their soul and Noori for their upbeat and fun tunes, and all the Coke Studio sessions. There is so much soul in Pakistani music… I feel it’s in our blood.
Pakistani music tends to have a very melancholic sound to it, with little or no happy, feel-good music coming out at all. What might the reason for that be? Do you think it’s something to be worried about?
I don’t think that’s necessarily true – there is all kinds of music coming out. But music usually reflects the environment it’s created in and the personal experiences of the artist. So, if people are sad, they will express that… There’s nothing wrong with expressing yourself however you choose to so.
Now that you’re India’s “bahu” (daughter-in-law), do you plan on performing there or exploring your potential in the highly sought and lucrative world of Bollywood playback singing?
I will most definitely keep working. Music is what I do – and the beauty of it is that it has no boundaries – especially when it comes to India and Pakistan. Whether it will be playback singing or doing something more independent, time will tell.
What’s next on Kiran Chaudhry’s list of things-to-do?
You’ll have to wait for this one…
An exclusive with Riyaaz Amlani
Born and raised in Mumbai, Riyaaz Amlani was brought up with strong middle-class values by his parents. His father owns a chemicals trading business for the textile and petro-chemical industries and his mother was a house wife with her hands full raising Riyaaz and then his baby brother who was born when Riyaaz was 12. Riyaaz recalls his childhood being a simple and happy time, full of wonder and curiosity. He studied in a convent school and grew up in a very cosmopolitan part of Mumbai, so he was exposed to a lot of different cultures and religions and embraced them all. As a side business, Riyaaz’s father owned a restaurant called Berry’s which he turned it into a Mumbai landmark with his love and dedication. It was Berry’s that inspired in Riyaaz a love for good food and hospitality, propelling him to team up with friends Kiran Salaskar and Varun Sahni to open Mocha, a café modeled on the Quahveh Khannehs of Turkey and Morocco in 2001. Today, he is the owner of 30 odd restaurants & cafés across India and is considered to be one of India’s top 50 corporate leaders…
Berry’s obviously had a major influence on you. When did you first realize you wanted to follow in your dad’s footsteps and get into the hospitality and restaurant business?
Growing up, I had very fond memories of Berry’s. I remember going there every Saturday. I was fascinated by the live band that used to perform there every night. But being a restaurateur was never on my mind. I did many things before I stumbled into the restaurant business. I was a shoe salesman, traded in safety equipment for industries, became an entertainment consultant, and then an executive producer in Bollywood before I got involved in the restaurant business.
How did it all begin (when you decided to turn your dream into a reality)? Did you face any hurdles in bringing together Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality Private Limited back in 2001? Was it your own brain child or did you receive any help from family or friends?
I have yet to meet someone who at some point of time has not considered having their own restaurant. My closest friends, Kiran Salaskar and Varun Sahni, and I, would always chat about how one day we would open up a restaurant and how it would be. I had an idea to have a space which served coffee from all around the world with Panini sandwiches and desserts. But it was just a pipe dream. Kiran was in the furniture business and Varun worked in the NGO space. Back then, I was working for a company in the movie business, but I was growing steadily disenchanted by the movie business, and one particularly bad day, I decided I couldn’t stand to do it anymore. I called up Kiran and Varun and asked them if they would consider it seriously. When they agreed, I typed out my resignation letter, and ‘boom’, we were in the restaurant business!
From the outset we were clear that we didn’t want our coffee shop to be a Starbucks rip-off. Instead we modeled ourselves on the Quahveh Khannehs of Turkey and Morocco, where a portion of a home was opened up to travelers and traders, and only coffee and shisha was served. This Quahveh Khanneh was the ancestor of all restaurants and existed long before French cafes and English inns. When we started off, people really enjoyed the variety of coffees and desserts that we offered. We were also the first to introduce shisha in the country – in an atmosphere that looked more like a living room rather than a restaurant. This first restaurant was called Mocha, and it was a roaring success – partly because it was so different from anything else on the market at the time. Today I see restaurants and cafes all over India and Pakistan modeled on these lines. It feels good to have started a trend.
You now own more than 30 restaurants/cafes across India. Could you tell me a bit about the history, food, ambiance and philosophy behind the first, and also your personal top 5?
I think the success of Mocha set the tone for the next few restaurants. We figured out that a restaurant must have a personality which is very individualistic – it can’t be a copy. Therefore, we bring a lot of research and creativity to our spaces – attention is paid to every little detail and I think people can see that. We like to think of restaurants as ”handmade labours of love. My favourites are Mocha of course, along with Smoke House Deli, Tasting Room, Smoke House Room and Stone Water Grill.
I’ve often heard the term “handmade restaurant” being associated with you and IEHPL. What does the phrase mean to you?
By definition, “handmade” refers to something that is created lovingly, by hand, and by a skilled artisan – with attention to detail, and with individual flaws and eccentricities which make it unique. This is the opposite of mass-produced assembly-line products, which are made with little care and attention but just turned out in mass numbers, as clones, devoid of any personality. We like all of our restaurants to receive painstaking attention to detail – where everything from the lamps, the crockery, the cutlery and the fixtures, have been handpicked to give each restaurant a unique personality of its own. I think customers can feel the difference this makes and it is my belief that this has been the secret of our success.
As a restaurateur, how much importance do you give to the ambiance? Do you have a special go-to decorator for your restaurants? Do you think the ambiance is sometimes more, if not equally important as the food, for a restaurant’s success?
Perhaps the easiest way to describe a restaurant is a space where food and drinks are served and sold. Nothing can be further than the truth. A restaurant is a multi-sensory environment – a feast for the 5 senses – taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch. When all these senses are in harmony, there is a great sense of wellbeing. I believe that customers just don’t come to eat or be in a good ambiance – they come to have all their senses elevated. Just ensuring that the food is good and that the ambiance is great is no longer good enough. A lot of thought has to be given to branding, tone of voice, the choice of music, the quality of cutlery and crockery, the lighting, the mood, the staff training, the list is endless. A great restaurant is where every little detail is meticulously thought through. Food and ambiance are just two of the many things that goes into making a restaurant special.
You’ve won the ‘Best Restaurateur’ by Time Out Food Awards 2011. Any other award aspirations?
It’s always wonderful to be recognized and appreciated for what one has chosen to dedicate their professional lives to. However, that has never been a driving force. I am driven by the need to brighten my customers’ day – by delighting them every time they visit one of our hand-made restaurants. Having said that, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to be awarded the ‘Three Michelin Stars’ or be listed in San Pellegrino’s ‘Top 10 restaurants in the world’.
What kind of food do you personally enjoy most? What’s your favourite ingredient? What’s the one dish or ingredient you just can’t swallow? Why?
I actually enjoy food in all its glorious forms, from the subtle beauty of Japanese to bold Desi flavours, great roadside grub to high-end French Haute Cuisine. I enjoy Thai spices, like kaffir lime, basil and galangal. But I just can’t bring myself to eat spare parts or offal, such as kidneys, brain, tripe, etc. This stuff makes me shudder.
What’s the latest cuisine craze in India? Also, what Indian food would you like to introduce to the world so people could move on from the ever famous chicken tikka masala?
European Cuisine is the fastest growing cuisine in India, and is set to rival the popularity of Indian and Chinese restaurants in the next year or two. I think cuisine from the South of India is extremely versatile and tasty. Its every bit as good as the more conspicuous North Indian fare which now represents Indian cuisine
As a customer, what restaurants do you always enjoy visiting in Pakistan? What makes them so special?
Whenever I am in a Pakistan I love visiting Andaaz in Lahore. The view overlooking the Badshahi Masjid coupled with excellent food and service makes it my favourite. I also think Cosa Nostra and Aylanto are quality restaurants and would hold their own in India.
Now that you’re Pakistan’s “daamaad” (son-in-law), do you plan on bringing your business here by opening branches of your restaurants/cafes in Lahore and Karachi?
No concrete plans as of now, but there is tremendous opportunity in Pakistan – people are natural born foodies. I think that Pakistan is most definitely a market that we would evaluate in the not too distant future.
What’s next on Riyaaz Amlani’s list of things-to-do?
The last year I have to say that my focus was tilted towards my personal life. Now with Kiran by my side, I plan to roll up my sleeves, and double the size of our company in the next two years.
Kiran & Riyaaz: The Big Fat Wedding Interview
Tell me, both in your own words, the story of how and when you first met. What was the first thing you noticed about each other?
Kiran: I was in India on a girlie ‘hen’ trip as part of my friend Sulema Jahangir’s impending nuptials, and was also there for the wedding of an old friend from boarding school. The plan was to spend some time in Bombay and Goa. Earlier that year I had met Avantika Sujan whilst doing a photo-shoot for Samina Khan’s Paper magazine. Avantika was from Delhi, but had known Samina at college in Canada. Avantika and I started chatting while I was waiting for my next shot, and instantly hit it off when we realized that we had both been lawyers in London before quitting our jobs to follow our dreams – I became a singer and she was now an art dealer. Following our meeting, I introduced her to some friends of mine that were gallery owners in Pakistan while she was in Lahore. When I went to India, we touched base and she insisted that I meet her friend Riyaaz Amlani, as he was also in the events and entertainment industry in India, and might be a good person for me to meet, work-wise. She put us in touch over Facebook, but neither of us responded! Finally, she called us both up personally and urged us to meet up. So, Riyaaz finally called and asked if I wanted to catch some live music. That did the trick and we met up with a bunch of friends over dinner. The first thing I noticed about him was his wit and rather dry sense of humour. I don’t think I realized that I had fallen for him, until much later.
Riyaaz: Like Kiran just said, I met her through a common friend called Avantika Sujjan. She called me up and said a friend of hers was coming in from Lahore and would find it useful to chat with me about the music scene in India (as I was in the Nighclub and Restaurant business). She introduced us on Facebook, but being caught up with work I didn’t respond for a few days. Strangely, Avantika did not stop calling me to find out if I had called Kiran to fix up a meeting. After a few polite reminders, Avantika decided it was time to threaten me with dire consequences if I didn’t take out time to meet with Kiran and her band-members. Finally I relented, and almost towards the last couple of days of her trip to India, I invited her and her friends to join a bunch of my friends at a restaurant that was playing live music.
It was great fun hanging out with her. She was comfortable in her own skin and pretended politely to laugh at my terrible cheesy jokes. I was amazed at how easily she got along with everyone, taking the time to talk to everyone in equal measure. She was unpretentious and charming. The first thing I noticed about her was how graceful she was and how elegantly she carried herself. And of course, her dazzling smile, which never fails to light up her eyes.
Was it love at first sight or did it take a few meetings to realize you were meant to be together?
K: It was not love at first sight but I did warm to him instantly. Riyaaz has a very disarming and charismatic personality. It’s hard not to fall under his spell. We met up several times before I left for Pakistan, but it was all very proper. He is a complete gentleman. It was only after I came back to Pakistan that I realized that I could not stop thinking of him. Fortunately, as I discovered, he was feeling the same way.
R: During our first meeting we hardly spoke. There were about eight or nine people at the restaurant, and Kiran, like me, has great social skills. With so many people around, we were taking turns to talk to everyone. So, we didn’t get far beyond polite conversations and light-hearted banter. It took a couple more meetings for me to realize that she was a very special woman, far above the ordinary. It was just so much fun hanging around with her that I always thought of her to be a new ‘old’ friend. But then she left soon after for Pakistan, and I thought that was that. But she stuck in my head and started making frequent appearances in my thoughts. I didn’t understand it at first. It took me a while to realize that there was a real connection here.
Did Pakistan & India’s overpowering history ever overwhelm you? Did the thought that the relationship might not work just because one of you is from India and the other from Pakistan ever cross your mind?
K: Nope, I am not one to think too much about practical matters once my heart is set on something. I knew the visa issue would need to be figured out, but that never made me think twice. If you want to be with someone bad enough, you always find a way. We both felt so strongly about each other that we would have made it work even if we had to both go and live in some third country!
R: Not even for a moment. It was never an important consideration. We got along so well that it never occurred to me that she was from another country or culture. Honestly, the more I visit Pakistan, the more amazed I am at how similar Indians and Pakistanis are. This whole border thing is just so unnecessary. We are the same people. Our need to be together overcame any obstacles that may have been there.
How supportive has your family been about the relationship? How and when did you break the news to them?
K: My whole family loves Riyaaz. They all fell in love with him straight away. It’s uncanny how well we both blend into each other’s families. Once I was sure that I wanted to be with him, I told my parents. They were initially a little concerned that I would be moving to India and that there might be visa issues for me and for them, etc. but when they met Riyaaz, all of those concerns fell away. They are so happy that I have found someone who is so right for me.
R: I simply told them that I would like them to meet someone. Both my parents were overjoyed because I think, somewhere along the line, they had given up on me. They thought I would never get married – being so involved with my work and all. But when they met Kiran, they were just over the moon. She is so likable – I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t instantly warm to her. And I think that in turn comes from the fact that Kiran genuinely likes people and never stands in judgment of them.
You belong to a hip, young, enlightened generation of your country – how exposed were you to each other’s countries and its people before visiting for the first time?
K: I wish I had been more exposed to India sooner in my life. It’s the most fascinating country for us, as Pakistanis, to visit – because we were one country not so long ago. It’s like discovering you have a long lost sibling and meeting them for the first time. Fortunately, I am a bit of an adventurer and love travelling, so I had made it a point to travel to India with friends many times. I met Riyaaz on my third trip to India.
R: I had a few friends in Pakistan like Ali Azmat and Andleeb, whom I met when they were visiting India. I got along really well with them and stayed in touch with them. I have always wanted to visit Pakistan, and had heard about their warmth and legendary hospitality. When I came to visit for the first time to meet Kiran’s parents, I was blown away by the warmth, generosity and love of the people in Pakistan. In fact I can confidently say that Pakistan is my second home.
How did the proposal ensue? Tell me the whole story.
K: I was visiting India to meet his friends and family, and one night when we were coming back from a party, he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I thought it was a bit late to be going for a stroll and I was wearing stilettos, so was a bit hesitant, but there was an urgency about him that made me agree. He said he wanted to show me something. We parked and walked a short distance into this very pretty Christian quarter of Bandra, with an almost a medieval village feel. There he showed me a sign on an old, deserted building with a sign on it that said ‘St. Jude’s Bakery’. He asked if I knew that St. Jude was the patron saint of lost souls, and told me that this was where he was planning to build a home. And while I was mulling all this over, he suddenly went down on one knee and took out a little box… It was the most magical night of my life.
R: Exactly how Kiran told you!
Yours has got to be one of the most well-planned and coordinated wedding schedules I’ve ever seen. When did you start planning the wedding? How particular were you about the small details?
K: Well that’s good to know, because we planned it all in about a month and a half. Riyaaz was working and I was travelling before that so it had to be this way. But we are both pretty focused and efficient people – so getting everything done quickly was not too hard. We both are detail-driven (my lawyer background comes in handy) and Riyaaz is in the hospitality business so that helped! We only met in November 2011, he proposed in March, we were engaged in April and so there was no time to plan things out slowly!
R: Honestly, given the busy schedules that both Kiran and I have, and the amount of traveling we have both had to do in 2012, we didn’t really spend too much time planning the wedding. I really moved into gear a month before the wedding. Being in the hospitality business helps, and I delegated a lot of responsibility to my close friends who all chipped in. We wanted it to be special but never over the top, and I guess the personalized touch was what everyone appreciated. It was more fun organizing it rather than work.
How important was it for you to let each other be a part of all the major decisions. Were there any areas of the wedding planning and execution that you were not willing to compromise on at all?
K: We are almost always in agreement on most matters – it’s uncanny. Also, I completely trust his good taste. He is aesthetically sensitive and very switched on so I actually value his input a great deal.
R: Kiran and I are beautifully in sync with each other with regards to our sensibilities and aesthetics. Kiran meticulously handled the Pakistan part of the celebrations and I the India ones. We did our own things and had complete trust in each other’s judgment. The wedding was a good indicator of how our marriage will be.
Who designed your outfits for all the major functions?
K: My clothes were all made in India – some were vintage pieces that were reworked and Kamiar Rokni, who is one of my closest friends, helped me stich my Valima saree blouse and the tops for the Mehndi and Nikkah outfits. But everything was bought in India…
R: My wardrobe was put together by Manu Arya of Nine Clothing and Suneet Verma, and they both did an excellent job in less than two weeks!
Are there any last minute outfit horror stories that you’d like to share with us?
K: As a matter of fact, the zip to my Mehndi outfit broke just before we were going to leave for the venue! Luckily, Kami called ‘master sahib’ and he ran back to replace it for me (the benefits of friends in the business!). Other than that, it was all smooth sailing!
R: Just a minor one, the wedding ‘jootie’ for the Nikah was too tight and I had not checked on it before I reached Pakistan. Fortunately, Kiran had already got me a Sherwani, Turban and Jootie as a ‘back up’ which was perfect. She thinks of everything.
Any other interesting wedding-related behind-the-scenes stories that you can now look back on and laugh at for adding beautiful memories to your big day?
K: Our wedding, I have to say, was epic. Just in terms of the logistics, we had 60 friends come to Lahore across the border, and about 50 came from Pakistan to Mumbai. There was so much meeting and getting to know each other that the whole thing was like one big party. So many new friendships were forged that it’s going to be hard for people on both sides to forget about in a hurry. Of course logistics bring their fair share of challenges, especially between our two countries, but in the end, all went remarkably well.
R: Oh, and of course there was this incident where all my friends got on the plane to Amritsar, from where we were to cross the Border at Wagah, but my family and I got offloaded because the plane was overbooked! So the entire Baraat took off, leaving me behind, and this was on the day of the first function in Lahore. We all panicked a little bit, but managed to jump on a plane a few hours later and made it just in time before the border shut!
Did Riyaaz show signs of getting cold feet before the wedding? Also, even though it’s hard to imagine her turning into one, but did Kiran show signs of turning into Bridezilla?
K: Not at all. Even I expected that I would experience this phenomenon at some point, but it simply never happened. We were just so happy to finally be united after months of a long distance relationship. The wedding and the aftermath has only brought us closer.
R: Kiran has an amazing temperament, and this remarkable ability to keep her wits about her, even in the most stressful situations. To add to that, she is a meticulous planner and extremely well-organized; she was always calm and on top of things. She made me wonder about how the rumours of a Bridezilla got started in the first place.
Looking back, what was the most fun part of your whole wedding celebrations?
K: For me, the Mehndi was the most fun event. I loved the movie that the Indians had prepared using all of Riyaaz’s close friends as actors and shooting popular clips from hit movies like Sholay to tell the story of how we met.
R: Every day of the wedding was super fun, but I guess the most fun was the Mehndi, where we had a little war going on between the boy’s and the girl’s side about who would put on the best performance. We all tried to outdo each other, and were amazed by each other’s efforts. In the end we all landed up dancing together.
What was the most indulgent, so-not-necessary-but-you-just-had-to-do-it expense of the wedding?
K: The beautiful lanterns that we lit at the end of the Valima reception in India. We wanted everyone to light one and send it off into the sky with a prayer for us.
R: I think the functions were beautiful and simple, devoid of any superfluous ostentations. Imagination and creativity triumph over simply throwing money at something any day.
People who attended all the functions were really excited about the wedding happening in two countries. How easy or difficult was getting the paperwork sorted out for guests on both sides of the border?
K: Well let’s just say that we had a large part of the foreign office and government bureaucracy on both sides of the border working on our wedding! Everyone at the Indian High Commission, from the guards outside to the support staff know me now and we are famous even at the Wagah border! Last time I crossed overland, the baggage handlers were fighting over who would carry my bag and were asking how the wedding went!
R: Well, the paperwork required between our two countries is understandably quite intense, so filling out forms and checking on all documents did take up a lot of our time. Having said that, the officials at the Pakistan High Commission went out of the way to assist us. They were so kind and thoughtful, which made things easy for us. Even on the border, the officers on either side almost joined in the celebratory mood and were wonderfully helpful and hospitable. This made the border crossing a very special experience.
Did you take any special steps to ensure your guests traveling to Pakistan would have a hassle-free trip? Did you or your guests face any problems here?
K: Riyaaz is a master organizer and he thought of everything – from getting everyone prepaid sim cards to booking extra rooms in Bombay and Goa. He left nothing to chance.
R: Kiran and her family ensured that all my guests were superbly looked after. All the Indians came back raving about the warmth and hospitality they received from Pakistan.
What was the best thing about getting married in your country-in-law? And the one thing you didn’t like about getting married there?
K: The best thing about getting married in India was knowing that I am not going to be so far from home! Honestly, the commute from Bombay over land takes me as long as the commute from Karachi to Lahore and is actually cheaper! The one thing I was unhappy about was not being able to take along my favourite makeup artists with me – Maram & Aabroo!
R: I think the best thing about getting married in Pakistan was that so many like-minded people from across the border met and forged life-long friendships, together with a better understanding of each other. So much love flowed between our two countries. Bringing so many people across wiped away all the pre-conceived notions and prejudices we may have carried previously (owing to the media propaganda on both sides). The sad bit was not being able to bring all my friends to Lahore.
Now that you’re happily married, how often do you plan on visiting your country-in-law?
K: I will be living and working in India and Pakistan both – and spending some time in London as well. It’s a global world and I like it that way.
R: Like I said, Pakistan is my second home, and Kiran will still be pursuing her career there, so she will be there often. Also I have grown extremely fond of Kiran’s parents and Brother and am going to try and visit Pakistan as often as I can – I suspect at least a few times a year.
What’s the best gift you’ve both received from each other both before and after the wedding?
K: His un-fettered, un-conditional love!
R: Are you kidding me, she has given herself to me. What more can a guy ask for?
And lastly, where did you spend your honeymoon?
K: We stayed on in Goa. Why would you go anywhere else when you have it all there!? Beautiful beaches, amazing restaurants, fantastic private parties, wonderful people… It was a blast!
R: We went off to Goa for a week. Actually I go to Goa every New Year. It’s a ritual. I love the place and wanted to share it with Kiran. Also a lot of her friends who had come to India, for the wedding wanted to go. Also, since it was New Years’ time, and with Goa being one of the Top 5 places in the world to celebrate the New Year, it was a no brainer. So a whole bunch of our friends from both countries took off and had a blast.
The 10 day wedding itinerary, as shared with friends and family who were invited to join in on the celebrations.
20th Dec: Dinner & “Kick-Off” Party (thrown by me and my close friends – Adnan, Kami, Samina Khan, etc)
0935 – Flights from Bombay/Delhi land at Amritsar. Everyone crosses the border by 1030/1100 and should reach the hotel by 1200. Rest up.
1900 – Leave Avari hotel for Dinner at Andaaz Restaurant (the Old City).
2100 – Leave for the “Kick-Off” Party at the Haveli Baroodkhana (the Old City).
21st Dec: Mehndi
Daytime – free for shopping/sightseeing.
2030 – Leave hotel for the venue (Civil Services Academy on the Mall Road) for the Mehndi (‘Sangeet’ as you guys like to call it!).
22nd Dec: Dinner & Live Music Evening (Folk songs by Saeen Zahoor & Qawwali by Nadeem Qawaal) (thrown by my mother’s friends for me)
Daytime – free for shopping/sightseeing.
1930 – Leave for venue (farmhouse) from hotel.
23rd Dec: Baraat Reception & Nikkah (followed by Lunch)
1300 – leave for venue (the Park at Zaman Park) from hotel.
1330 – Nikkah & Dua.
1400 – Lunch is served.
23rd Dec: “Rukhsati Party” (thrown by one of my best friends, Hassan Sheheryar Yasin for me)
2030 – leave for the after-party venue (the Cigar Lounge at the Royal Palm Golf & Country Club).
Dress-code: Desi “Bridal” – everyone is encouraged to wear their ‘actual’ Bridal outfits if they have them (or borrow some if they aren’t married yet!) with full wedding bling (tikkas, mathpattis, jhoomers, etc). Boys can wear their weddings formals (suits, dinner jackets, sherwanis). This is an opportunity to get some more mileage from that outfit you spent a fortune on and never used again 😉
Saying “Al-vida” in classic Lahore OTT style!
24th Dec: departure for Bombay!
1000 – check-out of hotel.
1100 – Leave hotel for the Wagah/Attari Border… to get the party started in India!
6.10 pm Land in Mumbai (affectionately called Bombay)
7:30 pm – Check in to the Hotel and get ready
9:00 pm Leave for The Tasting Room for a Christmas Dinner and Dance
Dress Code : Black Tie with a Dash of Red (It is Christmas Eve)
25th Dec: Merry XXXmas
Daytime – free for shopping/sightseeing and mostly for resting by the sea-side pool or the Spa.
7:00 pm – Leave for Parsi* Dinner & Drinks hosted by Riyaaz’s dearest friends Kiran & Sandali Salaskar
*A note on Parsi Dinner: I (Riyaaz) am half Parsi my mother’s side belongs to the Zorashtran faith which is the world ‘s oldest monotheistic religion. It’s truly an endangered species with just 1,50,000 surviving Parsis in the world out of which 70,000 live in India and just 5,000 in Pakistan, mostly living in Karachi. I thought I would be fun to get you guys to try a traditional Parsi feast, which I, on good authority, tell you provides some of the best eating in the world.
Traditionally Dinner is served on banana leaves placed on long community tables. It’s an 8 course meal so come hungry, and the meal is best enjoyed eating with hands, so don’t be all polite. Guest are served Individually over 3 different seatings. I suggest we let our elders eat at the first seating which begins at 9pm. The Fare is strictly carnivorous so the less fortunate vegetarians please raise your wretched hands up and be counted.
Daytime – free for shopping/sightseeing/ purging.
5.30pm Join us for sunset cocktails by the beach watching the sun set over the Arabian ocean and smile over our new lives together with Pina coladas and Martinis.
8.00 pm Formal Walima Dinner and Reception
Sitting on stage and clicking pictures but we’ll be in a great mood.
Afterparty in the ‘Presidential Suite’ … More Drinking and Dancing
Transport : Elevators will be provided at the lobby.
Dress-code: Desi/ Semi-Formal Westerns venue is open air sea-side.
We leave for Goa. Stay till 2nd. Big party by Riyaaz and his friend Rajeev at ‘Club Soma’ on the beach from 2pm to late. New Year’s party followed the next day.
Total number of guests at wedding: About 1000-1500 in both Lahore & Bombay.
Number of Pakistani guests that traveled to India: 50
Number of Indian guests that traveled to Pakistan: 60
Number of guests that
The first song Kiran & Riayaaz both danced to as a couple: ‘Deewana’ (Club Caramel) is our song. I sang it with him in my head!
How they spent their first Valentine’s Day together and how they plan on spending it this year: We wanted to get to know each other better, so we went to Ko Samui in Thailand for a week. It was the most magical trip ever and we completely fell in love there. This year we are spending it in Kerala and hopefully it’ll be even better!