Fairytale wedding or simple marriage; love common denominator, not age or time

Nitin Mehdiratta, in red, friend of Shefali Gopal, leads the groom Christopher Malik in a traditional Indian wedding procession on the Quad on Saturday, June 16, 2007. The dance that Mehdiratta performed could be considered Bhangra, as he led the groom an Maria Surawska

Nitin Mehdiratta, in red, friend of Shefali Gopal, leads the groom Christopher Malik in a traditional Indian wedding procession on the Quad on Saturday, June 16, 2007. The dance that Mehdiratta performed could be considered Bhangra, as he led the groom an Maria Surawska

By Brittney Foreman

From marriage ceremonies on Foellinger Auditorium’s steps to weddings and receptions in the Union, the Quad seems to cultivate a season of love during the summer months.

On Saturday, June 16, one wedding ceremony literally traveled from the steps of Foellinger to the Union. The Hindu wedding started with a baraat, a formal Indian wedding procession, down the Quad.

The groom, Chris Malik, rode on horseback on the east side of the Quad as his family, groomsmen and a few of the bride’s friends danced bhangra while a drummer played. Making occasional stops on the way from Foellinger to show their moves in the 95-degree heat, Malik was greeted by the bride’s family on the south side of the Union. The baraat ceremony signifies the acceptance of the groom into the bride’s family.

“He’s always been accepted into our family,” said the bride, Shefali Malik. “It (was) a touching moment to see my mom greet his whole family.”

Her mother, Mrs. Suman Gopal, could be seen through the crowd of family and friends, throwing rose petals on Malik’s head.

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Shefali, an alumna of the University, watched what she could from her hotel room in the Union.

“I knew the next step was my marriage,” Shefali said.

The wedding ceremony took place in the Illini Union Ballroom and lasted about two hours, a condensed version of the traditional Hindu wedding which used to take seven days. Shefali and her bridesmaids wore colorful traditional outfits called lenghas, said bridesmaid Simrita Rakalla, junior in Business. The bridesmaids’ lenghas ranged from orange to blue and came straight from India.

Shefali’s lengha was white, and draped over her head was a sparkling jeweled crimson scarf, or dupatta.

Shefali said that Indian culture is a huge part of her life and Chris has always been very interested in learning about it.

“I love to drink Indian tea, I love to do Indian cultural dance,” Shefali said. “I’m glad that he embraces it.”

Shefali, 24, and Chris, 32, met in graduate school while at the Ohio State University.

Chris said they met because their lockers were close together.

“Before I knew it, I was going to India to meet her family,” Chris said.

Chris’ first impression of Shefali was that she was a very cheerful person.

“Which is just refreshing when you’re in that pretty competitive academic environment,” Chris said. “It’s nice to be around people who can put a smile on your face.”

Jody Hanson, Chris’ mother, said that Shefali has quite a positive aura.

“She is the best thing for my son because she brings out the best in him,” Hanson said. “I think he brings out the best in her. They complement each other.”

One of the things Chris and Shefali enjoyed most about their wedding was the fact that they could share it with all their family and friends.

“I was just so happy to have everyone that we love and care about under one roof at a time,” Shefali said.

Another type of collegiate wedding

Some couples, however, do not find it necessary to include family and friends in their marriage ceremony.

Piotr and Dominika Kondratko got married May 17 at the Champaign County Courthouse and did not tell their families until a couple of weeks later. Dominika, 26, graduated from the University in May, whereas Piotr, 28, expects to graduate in October.

“It should be for the couple and not for everyone else,” Piotr said. “And it didn’t cost too much, $35.”

Piotr said he would rather spend money on something like travel instead of getting aggravated at the wedding and possibly not having a good time.

Piotr and Dominika met about two years ago, dated for five months and then got married.

“When you get married, you want it to be wonderful for you and not … worry that someone’s going to judge you, that it only took five months to take a step like that,” Dominika said.

Piotr and Dominika said they have the same goals when it comes to family life and how they want things to go.

He said that the level of understanding they have for each other surpasses anyone else’s.

Both Piotr and Dominika said that how they connect is difficult to explain.

“It’s like we have one mind,” Dominika said. “He’s my dream guy as I always tell him.”

“Oh stop it, you’re making me blush,” Piotr said.

To learn or to love?

With wedding season well under way on this campus, one might ask what people are coming to college for, an education or to find a soul mate.

“I think partly education, other part social education,” said Nate Allen, University alumnus. “I don’t think too many people are looking to get married in college.”

Allen, 25, said that when he was younger he always thought he would get married between 25 and 30 and he still holds the same mindset now.

David Young, senior in ACES, said that age doesn’t matter.

“I don’t think an age determines how you feel about a person, because you know when you meet your soul mate,” Young said.

According to a 2005 statistical abstract put out by the Census, about 18 percent of 20-24 year olds are married, with about 47 percent of 25-29 year olds and about 64 percent of 30-34 year olds. The number of women who are married, at age 20-24, almost doubles that of men. The gap decreases as age increases.

Carol Livingstone, associate provost and director of the division of management information, said the University does not collect formal data on the marital status of students.

For some, witnessing weddings seem to be a part of the college experience. Young said he once saw a couple taking pictures by the Alumni Center fountain.

“I drove past and I saw a lady had on a wedding dress,” Young said.

Becky Blythe, secretary for records services, said she too has seen couples taking pictures by the fountain, through the window of the Admissions and Records building.

Blythe got married when she was 20 and got divorced after 24 years.

“I didn’t experience life really,” Blythe said. “I went from high school … right to working.”

Blythe said getting married young contributed to her divorce. She said she didn’t get the experience of going to college and meeting a lot of new people. Blythe has two sons, ages 25 and 23.

“I would say they’re nowhere near ready to be married,” Blythe said.

She also said she hates to say no one should get married at 25.

“I would say it depends on the person … but I wouldn’t recommend it at such a young age,” she said.

A misconception young people have, Blythe said, is thinking one can change a person.

“We all think that we’re going to make someone a better person,” Blythe said. “And we try to and then … you find out you really can’t.”

When the time is right

One of Chris Malik’s friends told him that one shouldn’t marry someone unless inspired by him or her. Also, Chris and Shefali’s family and friends could see their attraction to one another from the beginning.

Will Lovell, one of Chris’s groomsmen and a former roommate, said he could tell from when Chris started dating Shefali that they would get married.

“He was immediately putty in her hands … and vice versa,” Lovell said. “Anyone who’s going to ride a white horse in 90-degree weather must love his wife.”

Aarti Gopal, Shefali’s sister, said she lived with Shefali when she and Chris started dating.

“There was just something different about him. You could tell by how excited she was,” Aarti said. “She would kind of giggle at the end of each conversation involving him.”

Aarti said that 24 is the right age for Shefali and it’s perfect because she’s got the right guy.

“It’s fun to be here and say I was there when it started and I’m here when it’s taking its next step,” Aarti said.

Chris and Shefali took their next step at the Union because of Shefali’s love for the University. Mary Blair, conference coordinator for the Union, said they host roughly 30 receptions per year.

“We only do weddings when school’s not in academic session, and you have to be affiliated with the University.”

Shefali and Chris, who got his bachelor’s degree at Princeton University, also had their reception in the Union later Saturday night.

Phil Strang, facility manager for Foellinger Auditorium and Lincoln Hall Theater, said couples like to take pictures behind the Union because of the great background after dark. He said couples pay to have the dome lights turned on, which looks very impressive.

Shefali said her wedding day was amazing. She also said people came from all over the world – India and Vienna, Austria – and from every coast of the United States.

“It’s nice for a lot of us to come back to campus again,” said Amanta Mazumdar, a University alumnus who currently works for the same company as Shefali.

Shefali said she never anticipated finding love in college. And she said going to Ohio State for graduate school was a coincidence.

The rest was history.

“He’s such a warm person and he just has so many good characteristics sometimes I just feel like, is he really real?” Shefali said. “And it’s not pretend or anything, he’s always the same person, he’s always so genuine.”

And why does Chris love Shefali?

“When you think of love, there’s no right answer,” Chris said. He said it’s love when you meet “someone who inspires you to be happy just how they are, or someone that inspires you to be a better person.”