Romantic proposals: He popped her the question on live TV
It takes some gumption to go down on your knees knowing millions of viewers are watching you doing it. Chirag Shah did just that for Simone Jhingoor.
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Chirag Shah glimpsed Simone Jhingoor at a South Asian networking event in New York four-and-a-half years ago.
He noticed her, but kept to himself for most of the evening. But at the end of the night he worked up the courage to talk to her, feeling for sure as they spoke that there was some chemistry, and he gave her his phone number before they parted ways.
Jhingoor was born and raised in the Bronx, and Shah, who grew up in Michigan, was intrigued by her native New York upbringing and eager to hear more.
The next day, after trying hard not to hold his breath, he heard from her.
By the middle of 2013, when the two had been dating for four years and starting to get some questions from their families Shah knew he was ready to make the step toward a bigger commitment.
"We've always had a really strong, great relationship," Chirag says. "I think our fundamental values were very much aligned although our upbringings or environments we grew up in were vastly different."
Despite their distinct backgrounds, he says he found a symbolic connection in the fact that they were both raised by their grandmothers, who also happened to share the same birthday, a coincidence with astrological significance.
Once he had the ring, he wasn't entirely certain when or how he would pop the question, but a few days before their four-year anniversary, he decided spontaneously to step into the NBC studios to float the idea of an on-air proposal by the Today Show producers.
"I thought this was something I could really outdo myself with," he says.
Over the next day or two, with a little talking plus sending a photo collage of him and Simone to the producers, he got what he wanted.
The next step was getting her there.
"I'm not a morning person at all," she says. "There's no way I'd normally get up at 6 am."
Chirag emailed one of the VPs at the NGO where Simone works, the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation, to see if he could somehow use her work as a part of the scheme.
She was on board, and he drafted the fake emails from NBC inviting Simone to speak on television October 24, 2013.
"My job was in on it," Simone says. "My manager called me into her office one day and was like, 'PR got this email from the Today Show that they're doing a segment on people who are giving back to their community,' and these things pop up every now and then.
It just so happens that I'm one of the few people at the organisation who is actually from the Bronx and they said it wasn't even specifically about WHEDco, so it made sense that she asked if I was interested. I was like, 'Hell yeah!'"
Chirag informed her family and a couple of his friends who came out to watch Simone's supposed discussion of her impactful work.
The producers at the Today Show tried to do everything possible to keep the surprise under wraps, which meant that even people internally were not in on the secret, including Al Roker, who also apparently thought Simone was there to talk about WHEDco as well as an Indo-Caribbean women's organisation that she co-founded, Jahajee Sisters.
The video clip of the proposal, which made the media rounds after, shows everyone was taken aback by Chirag's presence on camera.
"It took a few seconds for it to start clicking," Simone says. "I saw him standing with the cameraman the whole time. And I was starting to wonder about it, like 'Why is he not standing with the rest of our friends who came out to watch?'
They were all standing behind the barricade. And he was all chatty with the camera guy. But I didn't have time to think much about it because I was trying to focus on what I was going to say. But then as soon as he walked over and took the microphone, I knew."
Chirag grabbed the mic from Roker and began his proposal speech to a very calm and collected Simone:
"As a child, growing up in Canton, MI, I held on to a vision of one day coming and living in New York.
Had it not been for the fulfilment of that vision, I would have never realised my larger purpose of finding such a beautiful and inspiring human being.
I am more thankful at this very moment than I have ever been."
Simone remained somewhat impassive, which she later explained is simply part of her cantered nature and demeanour, but broke into a moment of visible joy as she said "Yes!" to his proposal.
Though the event drew criticism from some feminist blogs like Jezebel in the aftermath, accusing Shah of stealing Simone's few minutes to talk proudly about her work and making it about himself -- to which she responded boldly in a separate article that expressed her hurt and disappointment about the commentary -- both of them were able to preserve the moment as special to them.
"It was interesting; it was a lot to take in afterwards," Chirag says.
"Putting yourself in the public eye exposes you to a lot of different opinions. But outside of a handful of those negative examples, everyone else was really supportive."
"My family in India was able to watch it live. My parents who are obviously not here and friends across the country were able to see it. So it was a very, very happy moment for the both of us."
Simone adds, "It's just one of those moments, you know, where you just feel really happy.
I can't even describe it.
The way it was set up, I just didn't expect it. And it was so funny hearing from the older aunties and uncles who were like, 'Oh my god! It was so Bollywood!'"
The couple is looking for wedding dates for later this year.
Image: Chirag Shah and Simone Jhingoor on Today Show