By Rebecca Brockman
When a couple, either married or dating, is asked how they met, the usual answer involves meeting during cocktail hour or through a friend. Now a more commonly heard response involves meeting online. Courtney and Nikhil "Nik" Meena have a very original answer: "We met in the emergency room."
They didn't share a room while recovering from a horrendous automobile accident; they were on duty during their first encounter. Courtney is a medical student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS); an exam question brought her to Children's Hospital. And Nik, a resident attendant, was just coming off call when they met in the ER at Arkansas Children's Hospital on Christmas Eve 2006.
But the tale of these two lovers has an even more unique twist. Nik is from Jaipur, India, and Courtney hails from Conway. An interest in the medical field and the desire for a broader education brought them together.
Born and raised a world away, Nik attended 21 different schools before he graduated and was accepted into what Courtney calls "India's Harvard." When asked to explain, Nik said in India, high school seniors take entrance exams to get into either engineering or medical school. He chose medicine.
"About 500,000 people take the test and 45 are accepted," Nik said without any hesitation. "And there's one billion in India," he added. Those were outrageous odds, but Nik was modest as he shared the statistics.
Courtney grew up in Faulkner County and attended Conway High School and the University of Central Arkansas, where she studied biology and chemistry. In May of this year, Courtney will graduate from UAMS and start her residency in pediatrics.
The memory of their first meeting brings smiles to Courtney and Nik. "It was a Christmas Eve well spent in the ER," Courtney said with laugh. She admitted that she wasn't looking for Mr. Right when she started medical school, but her mind quickly changed when she saw Nik. "I thought he was very cute. I liked his dark curly hair," she said. Nik felt the same way about her, but he thought she was taken. After finding out that she was available, he made plans to formally meet her.
Following a couple of emails and phone calls, they went on their first date to On the Border. Courtney planned to order a margarita to calm her nerves, but left her license at home. As it turned out, libations were not even needed during the first date, because the two felt comfortable with each other right from the start.
After dinner, the couple went to see the movie, "Pursuit of Happyness," a fitting title for the budding relationship.
They continued their own pursuit of happiness for the next two years and Nik proposed on Valentine's Day 2009. When probed for details about the proposal, Nik laughs and recounted the day he asked Courtney to marry him. Supposedly, Courtney was sleeping on the couch and he knelt beside her on one knee and put the ring on her finger. All the while, he was expecting her to wake up and realize what was going on. He told her, "Wake up or you are going to miss it!" Moments later, Courtney woke up to see a shining diamond on her ring finger.
There wasn't much rest after the engagement, because after some discussion, the couple decided to have a traditional, Christian ceremony in Arkansas and a second ceremony in India. Thankfully, Nik's mom took care of most of the details for the Indian wedding and reception.
Courtney said the "first wedding" took place on November 28, 2009, at The Peabody Hotel in Little Rock. Nik's mom, dad, one of his brothers and sister in law, aunt, uncle, and two cousins came to the wedding. "It was neat because Nik's dad was his best man and his brother and cousins were in the wedding as well," Courtney said. About 250-300 people attended. The Peabody ducks made an appearance, too.
The following month they traveled to India for the "second wedding." These nuptials took place in Jaipur on December 14, 2009, at the home of Nik's mother. Courtney's parents, her two younger sisters and brother-in-law were able to attend. The wedding ceremony was intimate, but there were between 500 and 600 guests at the reception.
Courtney wore a lovely, bright red sari, which she said was similar to the traditional white dress American brides usually wear. Nik wore a white and burgundy ensemble with gold embellishments.
There are few similarities between American and Indian weddings, but Courtney said the father gives the bride away in both ceremonies. Besides that, the Indian culture seems to have many more traditions and symbolism surrounding not only the wedding, but the union as a whole. For example, after they were married, many of the older women approached Courtney and whispered in her ear, "May you be happy and have hundreds of kids." While the Meenas plan to have a family one day, the thought of 100 kids makes both of them laugh.
Courtney explained how she wore a 50-pound dress to the reception that her new mother-in-law provided. She even brought the dress back with her to Arkansas.
The dinner after the wedding took place on the rooftop of a palace. To add to the royal treatment, two thrones were set up at the reception for the new couple. They sat in the thrones and the guests came up to them with gifts such as jewelry and money. Prior to the ceremony, Courtney's hands, forearms, feet, and calves were decorated with symbolic henna tattoos. Nik said the henna is not only for symbolic purposes, but the woman is not supposed to do any work until the ink washes off. "I felt like a princess," Courtney said. Unfortunately, the fairytale ended too soon for Courtney, "It came off two weeks later," she said.
Medical school, hospital shifts, and on-call responsibilities are their realities now, but when time allows, they enjoy walking their dog, Lily, and studying together. Courtney is working on her Indian cuisine and they plan to return to India at least once a year. But for now, Arkansas is home and they plan to stay, work, and start their new lives here.