(CNN) — For medical school student Nikhil, that New Year’s Eve was emotional, cathartic and unexpected.
It was December 2010. Nikhil’s father had recently passed away from cancer. Nikhil, then in his 20s, and his brother, who are Indian American, traveled from their home in the US to western India to scatter some of their father’s ashes.
Afterward, the two brothers extended the trip.
“We were going to be there over the New Year, and so we decided to go to Goa, up on the western coast, which is known for some of the best New Year’s celebrations in India,” says Nikhil.
One of Nikhil’s oldest friends flew in to join them, and the trio headed to the golden beaches and buzzy bars of Goa. They set their sights on ringing in 2011 at Tito’s, a beachside club famous for its New Year’s Eve extravaganzas.
“Goa, during New Year’s, is packed,” says Nikhil. “So we found a hotel in the next beach over to Tito’s and of course, it being New Year’s, it was bumper to bumper traffic and we couldn’t get to the beach where this club was located.”
In the end, the three men decided to walk from their hotel to Tito’s — not realizing the distance until midway through the trek. The walk was made even more challenging because Nikhil’s friend had convinced the group they should dress to impress — it was New Year’s Eve after all.
“But it’s Goa, and it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and we’re the only three idiots dressed in suits,” says Nikhil today.
When the three men eventually reached Tito’s, they found out the club was enforcing entry fees — the equivalent of around $100 per person. The group didn’t have enough cash on them.
“We walked another six kilometers back to find a bank — and all the ATMs, we realized, were running out of cash,” says Nikhil.
Eventually the men withdrew the money, went back to Tito’s and headed in — later than planned, but still with plenty of time to enjoy the evening.
Inside it was loud, neon strobe lights illuminating figures dancing.
Nikhil lined up at the bar, and when he turned around to speak to his brother and his friend, he saw, for the first time, the woman he was going to marry.
On December 31, 2010, Hirva was a twentysomething from western India, about to start business school. She was out celebrating New Year’s Eve with two of her girlfriends.
Hirva tells CNN Travel she saw the night as a “last celebration” before she’d be knuckling down to study every weekend.
Women got free entry to Tito’s. Men had to pay, but there were reduced rates for those entering in a mixed group.
In the line outside Tito’s, Hirva and her friends were approached by a group of guys who asked if they could enter with them, to lower the cost.
“We agreed to do that and help them out,” says Hirva. “Then they ended up just hanging out with us. They didn’t leave our side, and we really did not want to hang out with them.”
Inside Tito’s, Hirva and her friends were trying to shake the men off, when one of the group spotted Nikhil and his group at the bar.
“The fact they were dressed well, we thought, ‘They seem like nicer guys, and if we strike up a conversation with them we could get rid of those other guys,'” recalls Hirva.
The two groups made their introductions, Hirva’s friend leading the way. Hirva and Nikhil, who have asked for their last names not to be included in this story for privacy reasons, were the last to be introduced.
“It was just instant attraction,” says Hirva of the moment she met Nikhil.
“I remember him holding my hand and walking me through the dance floor. And I just looked at him and he looked at me and we both remember this moment of looking at each other, and I was like, ‘I just want him to hold my hand forever.’ It sounds really like out of a movie, but that’s exactly how I felt.”
New Year’s Eve meeting
Here’s Hirva and Nikhil photographed on the night they met, New Year’s Eve 2010, in the club in Goa, India.
Nikhil & Hirva
Tito’s was tightly packed with revelers, but the club is open air, situated right on the beach. The sound of waves crashing punctuated the dance music.
“We could see the sky, we could hear the ocean,” recalls Hirva.
For the next several hours, Hirva and Nikhil were side by side.
In between dancing, they told one another about their lives.
“She told me that she got accepted to business school and I very distinctly remember her describing that for the first time, and her being really excited about it,” says Nikhil. “That also was very attractive to me, because we’re both similarly ambitious.”
“It was typical club music,” says Hirva of the songs playing in Tito’s. “I remember this one song that we were dancing to, together.”
It was the song “Break Your Heart,” by Taio Cruz.
As 2011 dawned, the club started a countdown to midnight.
“I remember I was dancing with Nikhil, but as it struck midnight, I realized I was here with my girls and immediately let go of Nikhil to go give them a celebratory hug. He was still a stranger then,” says Hirva.
As the night wound to a close, Nikhil asked Hirva for her cell phone number. She hesitated.
“In India, you don’t just share your phone number with random guys you meet, it’s not a thing. It’s not safe. And so I was trying to not share my phone number with him,” says Hirva.
Hirva and Nikhil ended up going their separate ways without exchanging details. Neither of them thought they would see each other again.
“There were absolutely no talks about keeping in touch or meeting again,” says Hirva.
But it turned out their friends had swapped details. And the next day, Nikhil’s friend, after a bit of teasing, passed on Hirva’s number.
Nikhil sent Hirva a simple first text, just wishing her “Happy New Year.”
“My best friends and I were having brunch at a beach shack and my phone pinged,” recalls Hirva. “It said ‘Happy New Year’ from Nikhil. It was totally unexpected. But definitely made me smile.”
Hirva saved Nikhil’s number in her phone, under the name “New Year Boy.”
The night before, in Tito’s, one of Hirva’s friends had taken some photos with her digital camera. At brunch, the women flicked through the pictures. One stood out — of Nikhil and Hirva, arms around each other, smiling.
“All of us agreed that there was something about that picture,” says Hirva. “That picture made it look like I had known him forever.”
Later, Nikhil sent Hirva a Facebook friend request, and she accepted.
Then she updated her Facebook status to the lyrics to “Break Your Heart,” the song she’d danced to the club with Nikhil.
“I got a lot of comments, and no one knew actually what it meant except for him,” she recalls.
Long distance correspondence
Hirva and Nikhil sent messages back and forth for the first few days of the New Year.
“Those first few messages on Facebook were crucial,” says Hirva. “They were like essays, we were sharing so much with each other, it just instantly felt special.”
“It was a barrage of questions back and forth. Simple things like what is your birthday? What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite color?” recalls Nikhil.
The questions — and the answers — quickly became deeper.
“What do you like? Where do you see yourself going in life? What are your career aspirations? What are your personal aspirations? Do you want to settle down and have a family? Tell me about your family. How many brothers and sisters do you have? What’s your day been like?” recalls Nikhil.
“I think we connected instantly, because we connected with each other’s views on some of those big things in life,” says Hirva.
Reading each other’s long responses, Hirva and Nikhil felt they were on the same wavelength. But there were also big differences. They had quite different personalities. And they’d each been brought up in different countries. Hirva had never visited the US, and while Nikhil had been to India on vacation and to see family, he’d never lived there. Still, the two shared the same cultural background — they’re both of Gujarati heritage.
“The way I would put it is, even though he grew up in the US, he had a little bit of India in him. And even though I grew up in a conservative state in India, I was more progressive. And that’s what kind of clicked for us,” says Hirva.
January rolled on, and messages continued to fly back and forth. Neither Nikhil nor Hirva had a smart phone at the time, so they’d only pick up the updates when they were at home.
One day, Nikhil decided to give Hirva a call.
“It was late at night, I’d gone out with my friends, and I really just wanted to talk to her rather than waiting for another message,” he recalls.
He worked out the time difference, realizing it was Hirva’s morning. She picked up, but didn’t seem pleased to hear from him.
“She actually was very curt with me on the phone,” says Nikhil. “She said, ‘I actually have to get ready to go to work.'”
“I was actually very nervous,” Hirva explains today. “I wasn’t expecting a phone call. So I didn’t know what to say. It was just so awkward.”
After hanging up, Hirva immediately contacted the friends who were with her in Goa on New Year’s Eve, asking them what she should do.
Hirva’s friends encouraged her to talk to Nikhil.
“Up until this point, even when we were exchanging messages, I didn’t think anything could come out of it because we were in different countries. I was like, ‘This just means that I have a friend in another country and I’m getting to know him.’ I didn’t think of it in any other terms,” recalls Hirva.
“But then when he called me and then we started talking more, it became clear that this was going somewhere.”
This was exciting, but also nerve-wracking. Hirva knew the reality of a long distance relationship, across countries and continents, wouldn’t be easy.
Hirva and Nikhil arranged to talk on the phone at a time that suited them both. This first phone call lasted several hours. Afterward, they switched to video calling via Skype, kicking off several months of long distance, long-lasting calls at all hours of the day.
“Everyone made fun of me for leaving parties at all times to just go talk to him,” says Hirva. “They thought this was silly, it wasn’t going to work out. And I remember telling everyone, ‘Just wait, I’m going to invite you to my wedding.'”
While they’d only met each other once, as the months rolled on and the calls continued, both Hirva and Nikhil hoped the relationship would go the distance.
“We realized very quickly that there is no point in continuing this type of conversation or this long-distance relationship without some sort of commitment from both of us that this is going to go somewhere, or that we’re going to end up together,” says Nikhil.
A new chapter
That summer, in August 2011, Nikhil flew to India to visit Hirva at business school. Towards the end of the two week trip, Nikhil traveled with Hirva to her hometown, to meet her parents.
“I told my parents, ‘I met someone who’s in the States.’ And then my mom started crying. She said, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t want you so far away from us.’ But then when they met him, of course they fell in love with him.”
Hirva and Nikhil say it was “surreal” to be reunited after several months of Skyping. But the trip only made them more committed to a future together.
“The level of comfort and ease even in that first meeting was unbelievable,” says Hirva.
The two figured Hirva’s MBA would allow her to work anywhere, whereas Nikhil’s medical degree could be harder to transfer. Living together in the US seemed like the best plan.
They knew this wouldn’t be easy, and they might face some doubts from loved ones.
“Even though we were both Gujarati and there were a lot of cultural similarities, there was also a lot of unknown from the families’ perspectives which led to some hesitation,” says Hirva.
But as time went on, these qualms quietened. The following May, Hirva visited Nikhil in the United States, and met his family for the first time.
Hirva and Nikhil got married in November 2012 in India. Here they are on their wedding day, which they say was “beautiful and intimate.”
“As Hirva was packing her bags and about to leave for the airport, I asked her if she could envision a life in the US and asked her to marry me,” recalls Nikhil.
“She said ‘Yes’ as her eyes teared up. I didn’t have a ring since this was not planned, but I remember tying a piece of string around her finger.”
Later that year, in November 2012, Hirva and Nikhil got married in India. As promised, Hirva invited all the business school friends who’d teased her about her long distance Skype calls.
The event was “a very small wedding by Indian standards,” says Hirva, but it was “the most beautiful and intimate” ceremony.
The couple Honeymooned in Goa, the place where it had all began. They didn’t go clubbing this time round. Instead, they spent the days, as Hirva puts it, “hanging out at the beach, eating good food, being newlyweds.”
A decade on
Here’s Hirva and Nikhil pictured earlier in 2022.
Nikhil & Hirva
Today, Hirva and Nikhil live happily together in a suburb in the midwestern US with their three kids. Hirva works with a consulting firm and Nikhil is a physician.
The couple say they work through life together, navigating the good and the bad, and everything in between, side by side.
“After being with her, it seems like any sort of roadblocks, whether it’s career wise, or life wise, that have come my way, we’ve tackled it together, always,” says Nikhil.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes it work,” says Hirva. “But what stood out right from the start is that we were just really comfortable with each other, it was a lot of ease.”
Hirva adds that she thinks she and Nikhil perfectly complement each other.
“He has a very intense personality, and that might have something to do with the fact that he lost his father at a young age. So I kind of bring that fun and lightness in his life, and we kind of balance each other out,” she says.
Nowadays when New Year’s Eve rolls around, the couple are more likely to be found hosting friends at home than clubbing on the beach. But they always reflect on how they came to meet in Goa.
“It certainly has significance,” says Hirva of December 31. “We consider it our real anniversary.”
“A lot of things happened serendipitously for us to meet,” adds Nikhil, who says he often finds himself reflecting on the fact that he was only in India — and therefore only met Hirva — because of a tragedy, the death of his father.
“I’m a scientist, I like to see objective data. My worldview is not somebody who believes in things that are not measurable, empiric, grounded in science. But the way that this happened always gives me pause,” he says.
He has a vivid memory of being en route to Goa, and feeling, against the odds, that “something good is going to happen.”
“In hindsight when I think about that, the scientist in me says it’s just putting meaning to circumstance and meaning to happenstance,” says Nikihl.
“But it always does make me sort of pause and think, was this something that was meant to be? I don’t know if I believe in that. But it’s hard to sort of put all the circumstances together and think otherwise.”
Top graphic by Alberto Mier, CNN. Photos courtesy Nikhil & Hirva