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Reetu Uday Kugaji and Uday Kugaji (Photo:: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)
Reetu Uday Kugaji and Uday Kugaji (Photo:: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

All I want for Christmas is you

  • Looking for a Christmas romance? Skip the movies and TV specials and find inspiration in these real-world meet cutes
  • Four couples share their holiday happily-ever-after

There’s something about the Christmas season. The long winter nights, the promise of hot drinks, the lights, the Christmas tree, the holiday specials on TV and the choral concerts. It feels like the most wonderful time of the year.

It is also romance central, as every holiday movie or TV series will tell you. There’s mistletoe and mulled wine and festive food and a feeling of good cheer and promise in the air. For many people, this is the season they fall in love, or make a commitment, or solemnize a vow.

We talk to four such couples about their holiday happily-ever-after.

A party to remember

Reetu, 44, and Uday, 44

Meet cute: Pune, 2002

“Don’t compare our love story to those you watch in movies. They are written by scriptwriters, ours was written by God," says Reetu Uday Kugaji, 44.

It was the Christmas of 2002. Reetu Arora was in Nagpur, visiting friends. They coaxed her into attending a party. It had one rule: Women guests had to pick a card that would reveal the name of their dance partner for the evening. Reetu had already locked eyes with a “handsome green-eyed stranger". She recognized him from a chance meeting in Pune a year earlier. They stared at each other across the room, each silently hoping the other would be their partner. Fate was on their side.

Uday, 44, remembers everything about the night: what she wore—a stunning short dress—and his nervousness when she walked across the room to him. “My mind went blank," he says. “I didn’t know what to say."

It was a whole year after that brief meeting in Pune that the couple met properly. They spent the night dancing and talking, and by morning realized that this was no ordinary friendship. They were in love. Reetu returned home to Navi Mumbai but they stayed in touch. Uday came to meet her a week later; on the second day of his visit, he proposed.

Things moved quickly after. His parents came from Pune to meet her, and organized a sakharpuda (a Maharashtrian engagement ceremony) the same day in January. The couple wanted to marry on 14 February but the mahurat fell two days earlier. A month after they met, Reetu and Uday were married.

They now live in Navi Mumbai. Uday is an assistant general manager at Toshiba; Reetu is a chef and culinary expert. They decided not to have children to avoid burdening an already-suffering, overcrowded planet. An attempt at adoption ended in heartbreak. They travel together often, within India and outside. Every anniversary, they visit a different country.

“Our celebrations start on 25 December and go on till 14 February," says Uday. “I fell in love with my wife on Christmas Day and knew we would spend our lives together. It’s why this month feels like a fairytale to me." They don’t put up a tree or exchange presents. Instead, they dedicate the day to themselves. There’s a mandatory visit to Marine Drive, a home-cooked meal with some wine and quiet time together.

“Christmas isn’t a festival. It’s a feeling, a celebration," says Reetu.

Ridhima Bhatnagar and Krishna Kumar
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Ridhima Bhatnagar and Krishna Kumar (Photo: Parivartan Sharma)

It happened one year in Bandra

Ridhima,29, and Krishna, 35

Meet cute: Mumbai, 2014

It was December 2014. It had been a rough day for reporter Ridhima Bhatnagar. She had just moved to Mumbai and was struggling with the city’s rents, stressful work hours, getting acclimatized to a new place. That day, her story was falling apart too. As she sat at her desk, dejected, colleague Krishna Kumar walked by. His advice: “Just breathe. Everything will be fine."

“It was quite the last thing I wanted to hear in that state," says Bhatnagar, who brushed him off. On his part, Kumar was trying to be nice. An old hand in the “minefield" that was their office, he was a good Samaritan. Later, Bhatnagar realized she had been rude. She texted him, “Would you want to get a beer after work?" “Of course, I said yes," laughs Kumar.

It wasn’t a date—there was no agenda, and no pressure. “We went for a beer and things just clicked. Then we started going for beer every day," says Bhatnagar. The next two weeks were filled with dinner dates. To escape bumping into colleagues in Lower Parel, they would go to Bandra. It was mid-December and the suburb was resplendent in Christmas colours, with lights, decorated trees and the sound of carols playing from homes and churches. “Everything was decorated, and people were in good cheer. It put us in the perfect place to conduct a successful ‘dating experiment’," laughs Kumar.

It helped that they shared a fascination for Christmas—their convent education ensured they were familiar with the festival. On Christmas Eve, Bhatnagar suggested going to a church. Mount Mary was too crowded so they went nearby, to St Peter’s Church. The next night they had dinner at Chez Moi to mark their first Christmas together. “There was a lot of wine that night so most of the celebrations are blurry memories," she says.

A year and a half later, the parents got involved. A roka was arranged, and, in 2017, they got married. Their “Save the Date" video mentioned that they met during Christmas and fell in love. A year ago, they moved to Delhi: Bhatnagar, 29, and Kumar, 35, are TV news presenters. The “saner" timings mean they can have at least one meal together every day.

Christmas remains special. “If we had gone out at any other time, the vibe may not have been the same. There’s good food, and cake all around. People are in a good mood in this season. It’s infectious," Bhatnagar says. “It has now become a regular celebration. We put up a tree, have a special dinner. In fact, we have already bought our first plum cake of the season," says Kumar.

Casey Fernandes Ê Mendonca and Vincent Mendonca.
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Casey Fernandes Ê Mendonca and Vincent Mendonca.

Singing to the stars

Casey, 30, and Vincent, 31

Meet cute: Mumbai, 2006

It was love at first sight for Casey Fernandes. The bachelor of commerce student at Rosary College of Commerce and Arts in Navelim, Goa, was in the middle of preparations for a carol-singing competition. Playing with “Baby Jesus", she threw the doll up in the air. That’s when she spotted Vincent Mendonca and forgot to catch the doll. “There was something about him. I couldn’t take my eyes off him," she says. “While my class was singing carols, I mumbled through the lyrics. I kept looking at him and blushing."

A common friend, Stanley, introduced them. Vincent, a student at Shree Rayeshwar Institute of Engineering and Information Technology (SRIEIT), Shiroda, had come to the college to “check out the girls" and was completely oblivious to the girl checking him out. All he remembers of that day is going over to her house with friends to get coconut branches to decorate her class crib.

The day was 23 December 2006. Casey was smitten, though her parents had warned her to focus on studies and not waste time on boys. Over the next week, Casey would keep asking Stanley about his friend. One day, Stanley called Vincent and handed her the phone. She hung up.

The next time they met was at a movie, as part of a large group of friends. They were sitting together; Vincent remembers what she wore that day: a black skirt and white shirt. She remembers what he told her, “You look like Vidya Balan" (they were watching the actor’s film Salaam-e-Ishq).

They started keeping in touch over the phone. Vincent gave her a spare SIM card so she could call him, and they would talk till 4 every morning. A month later, she declared her love. His response to her declaration“I think I like you but I am confused"left her heartbroken. She resolved to cut ties. The very next day, though, he called to say: “I don’t think I like you. I love you."

“Initially, it was very one-sided relationship. But the more I talked to her, the more I realized there was something more," he says. “I always wanted a girl who cared about family and Casey was just that."

They kept their relationship secret for three years. One day, when her brother found out, Vincent went over to meet her family. “I was so nervous but he was extremely confident. They immediately liked him," she says. Vincent’s family already knew about the relationship.

After graduation, Casey took up a job as an accounts executive in Margao, while Vincent went to Mysuru to pursue an MBA and started working there. No one thought their long-distance relationship would survive. The first time Casey left Goa was to surprise him on his birthday. “My parents wanted us to marry soon because we had been dating for some time. But Vincent wanted to make something of himself and get a good job," says Casey, 30.

He proposed to her on Valentine’s Day, in a shack by the beach, surrounded by placards of their pictures and love quotes. In January 2017, 11 years after they met, they got married. They now live in Bengaluru where Vincent, 31, works as a senior quality consultant, Mercedes-Benz.

They both look forward to December. “It’s a romantic month now," laughs Casey. Christmas means spending time with family. They go to Goa and split time between both homes. “I don’t think I will ever forget 23 December, our unofficial anniversary," says Vincent. “Earlier, Christmas was about making neuris, going for mass, and putting up decorations. After meeting Casey, it became something different, and a lot more meaningful."

Bharti and Sanjeev Chhabra.
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Bharti and Sanjeev Chhabra.

A college affair

Bharti, 52, and Sanjeev, 56

Meet cute: Roorkee, 1986

The setting couldn’t have been more Bollywood. The year was 1986 and Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee’s architecture and planning department was abuzz. There was a new girl on campus and she was from Mumbai (then Bombay)—the city of dreams, models and films. Bharti Srivastava got ragged a fair bit.

One day, a couple of older students rescued her and took her to the cubicle occupied by final-year student Sanjeev Chhabra (all thesis students had one). “I was told he was a quiet guy and that no one would harass me there," recalls Bharti. “She was the most stunning girl I had seen. She had a king-sized bindi, and was wearing a salwar kameez," says Sanjeev.

Their friendship blossomed into something more. She got him to quit smoking, helped him organize a strike in the university. They would go on long walks together. One day, he asked her out to dinner. She turned him down. On the day she agreed, he had just 20 in his pocket. Their first date featured a cold drink and a salad.

A few days before Christmas, they went on a trip to Mussoorie. “On the way back, Sanjeev kept blabbering. His term at college was coming to an end so we knew we had to clear things between us. I wanted him to come to the point but he didn’t," she says. On Christmas Eve, Bharti did what he couldn’t—she met him and said, “I think I love you."

“I couldn’t sleep all night," says Sanjeev. “In the morning, at 4am, I went out and ran 13 rounds in the campus stadium. I have always believed that if something is troubling you, a 10km run will put things in perspective," he says. The run helped him do just that. The next day, on his birthday, he proposed to her.

They married four years later, in June 1990. They now live in Gurugram. Sanjeev, 56, is a director in an architecture firm, and Bharti, 52, is the country manager of a lighting company. They have two daughters, Abhilasha, 26, and Isheeta, 19.

Christmas remains special because it’s a dual celebration, with Sanjeev’s birthday.

After the birth of their eldest child, a ritual evolved—a tree, stocking and gifts, and movie-watching. “Everyone would choose a film and we would spend the day watching them all. It continued till midnight, till we brought in my birthday," says Sanjeev.

“We have the best time. There’s no tension or stress surrounding the festival because it’s all about fun, cutting a cake, ordering in, sharing drinks and bonding with the family," says Bharti. “Christmas for us is just about being together."

Joanna Lobo is a Mumbai-based journalist.

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