Romantic proposals: Asking her to marry him, in (Gangnam) Style
Parita Patel was taken by surprise when Raj Balwani broke into a jig. Here's what happened next.
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Raj Balwani moved with his family from New York to California when he was 13.
Coming into a new world at what everyone knows is a kind of awkward age, he never fell into any Indian circles because social groups were formed at that point and he just made friends where he could.
This also meant that he never dated Indian women because he just wasn't around them much.
When he moved to Foster City, CA, in 2010, things changed a little.
A friend of a friend, another Indian guy, took Raj in and introduced him to a group that had more Indians and that Raj fit into well.
One night one of the guys suggested that Raj try Match.com, a potential way for him to seek out women who met his criteria and priorities.
He was hesitant, but the guy was encouraging. So he signed up for a three-month trial.
Then he set his filters so that he could see the Indian women within a 60-mile radius.
Based on how the site sorts profiles, Parita Patel fell to the bottom of his list of potential matches, so he didn't see her at first.
Luckily, he caught her eye, coming up near the top of her list of matches. She wrote him.
They met shortly after for coffee.
"We clicked immediately, just kind of our sense of humour and similar feelings about life and family," Raj says.
"And I knew that at that point in the game I was looking for serious, and I was going through a list in my head, like, 'Does everything check off?'"
It did, and after their first official date at Samovar and the Academy of Sciences, they went out for about a year and a half. It was then, around the middle of 2012, after having met each other's families that Raj knew he was ready to propose.
"I started to plan how I wanted to do it, and she knows I don't like to do things based on a norm, and I had kind of set the standard that everything had to be creative and over the top," he says.
"So I wanted to do something different. But whenever I came up with something, it seemed to average. It's a once in a lifetime thing. It needed to be special."
He considered a few different ideas, many of which involved travelling, but a trip would make her suspicious that a proposal was going to happen.
He needed to keep it local.
When the idea of putting together a flash mob came up, he immediately thought of the song Gangnam Style, remembering how he and Parita had tried to learn the dance one day at home together, moving aside furniture to get into it, and ending up in laughter as they tried to mimic the movements from the music video.
Because of the meaning behind the song and dance, he decided the flash mob was the perfect way to surprise her.
But getting a group together for the mob was harder than one might think.
"When you see those videos online, there are hundreds of people, and you think it shouldn't be that hard, right?" Raj says.
"I don't know how they do it. But I really wanted to get random strangers because it would have really kept that element of surprise."
He tried to contact dance groups, but the costs ended up being too high. However, someone at one of the companies put him in touch with a choreographer who was willing to work with Raj.
His price was more reasonable, but even he had trouble finding people on Craigslist and other forums to get involved. He came up with a total of one person.
Raj decided to suck it up and ask his friends.
In an e-mail to people close to him and Parita, he started with, 'DO NOT SAY ANYTHING,' before explaining that he needed their dance skills to help with the proposal.
He got about 12 people to commit.
With three practice sessions before the proposal, a day on which Raj told Parita he planned to show his brother around the city because he had just moved from Philadelphia, the group was ready to perform their Gangnam Style routine.
That day, a sunny afternoon in October 2012, she kept trying to help out with making plans, but Raj insisted that she relax and he'd take care of it. A lot was going on that day in San Francisco -- America's Cup, the Blue Angels were flying, and concerts and parades -- so transportation and the general feeling of the day were hectic.
"There were all these things going in a way that Raj had not expected that probably threw him off," Parita says, laughing. "I even kept asking to stop at different stations to do things, so he definitely had a lot of curve balls thrown at him. But he stayed cool and calm."
The story was that they were going to stop at the Sony store at the Metreon, which none of them even knew was closed at the time, but they stopped for ice cream, which created a good excuse for Raj to direct them through Yerba Buena gardens while they ate it.
They sat down for a moment on a bench in the gardens by the water. It was the spot where Raj had planned for the choreographer and dancers to be waiting. When Raj gave the signal, the choreographer hit the music.
"Once we sat down, all of a sudden I started hearing music, and I was like 'What is that? I think I hear Gangnam Style.'" Parita says.
"People started coming out and I was like, 'Woah, look at this, we're here at the right time to see a flash mob!' Or maybe I didn't say flash mob, but I knew there was some type of organised dance happening.
Then I started recognising faces and I was pointing and yelling out their names, like 'Hey there's so and so!'"
The dancers, aka friends of Raj and Parita, wore bandanas covering their faces, some of which started to slip during the dancing.
Raj let Parita watch for a few more seconds before jumping in himself. It was then that she got what was going on.
"When Raj got up and joined, that's when I knew," Parita says, choking up as she recalls the story. "And I was completely floored and shocked beyond belief."
After the dance ended, slower music came on, and Raj walked over to Parita to get down on one knee and propose.
The performers were the audience and they all cheered as the newly engaged couple embraced.
A friend caught the whole thing on video. Parita's back is the camera, so her sentimental reaction wasn't captured.
"She's a very emotional person; I mean a commercial can make her cry," Raj says.
"It was super surprising," she says. "I was completely thrown off guard. Never in my dreams did I think that's how I'd be proposed to. It was by far one of the sweetest things he's done."
Raj and Parita got married in August 2013 in the Bay Area, not far from where they met and got engaged.
Image: Parita Patel (L) and Raj Balwani