There was this special wedding that I had to attend, that of my Godson Kenleigh Britto. Ken had moved to Australia many moons ago, but we kept in touch every year through a telephonic talk on his birthday. And for the period that he was in India, we visited him at his home in Malad every single birthday till he was 12 years old, after which Ken’s family migrated to Australia. Ken has kept pictures of those 12 birthday years neatly documented in his photo album.
And now Ken was getting married to the picture perfect girl, the girl of his dreams Sameen and the family wanted me to do the honour of raising the toast to the couple at their wedding reception. But, of course, the pandemic came and all plans were scuttled as there was no cross-border movement and Australia had shut its borders even to its own citizens residing in other states.
But miraculously everything cleared in the May of 2022. The skies opened, the border restrictions cleared and the embassies were liberal with giving out visas.
So both my friend Rema Ramchandran and I decided to do this journey together. Rema had other plans for Australia, but brought forward her trip so that we could share the experience together. We flew in to Sydney and were met at the airport by Ken and his mom Trini (my best friend from college).
The start of our Australian experience began on Day 2 itself. Rema and I visited The Rocks, the locale of the iconic Harbour bridge with spectacular views of the Opera House and the Central Business District. We were lucky as the Vivid Sydney Festival- the festival of light, music and ideas had just started a few days earlier. From here we visited Bondi Beach, Watson’s Bay, King’s Cross, Darling Harbour and back to the other side of the Opera House to catch the Vivid lights at night as they were being lit up on the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The whole city was illuminated with 3D projections and was a wonder to behold! Thanks to Trini Britto’s meticulous planning of the visit.
Realised that I forgot to bring part of my meds. Trini rushed me to the Rouse Hill Medical Centre. No pharmacy in Australia will give out meds without a local doctor’s prescription. Had to register at the centre, met with the doctor who then gave me a prescription and I was able to buy my meds. A great burden was lifted off my shoulder as I knew that now I could enjoy the rest of my trip.
The same evening, there was the traditional ceremony of Rocce at Trini’s home. Rocce is the traditional Goan/Manglorean pre-wedding ritual held before a wedding. It symbolises a shift from a single life to a married life. It was a delight to meet up with Trini’s sis Donita and her beautiful family of hubby Richie, daughter Raisa, son Royden and his significant other Steff. I remember Donita as a little kid who used to hang around with us when Trini and I were up to mischief while in college.
Trini’s nephew Nigel was the other star attraction of the whole Goan-Manglorean celebration. Food was sumptuous at the Britto home with both Goan hubby and Mangy wife taking credit for cooking the traditional meals. We feasted on the delicacies, couldn’t care less on who cooked what, ate greedily and were given large helpings to take home.
The wedding day dawned bright and clear. The white limousine arrived in the morning to take the bridal entourage for a photo shoot before the ceremony started. The reception was held at the LEVEL1/South Terrace, Bankstown banquets, NSW. Entering the reception venue was like being transported to a spectacular white floral dreamland. Each guest who entered looked in awe at the exquisite set-up and made the most of taking pics before the bridal entourage arrived. The evening passed like a dream, the prayers, exchange of rings, the vows, the raising of the toast, the bridal March and the cutting of the cake had a unique fusion of different elements of culture and religion.
Roy Rosario, the brilliant Master of Ceremonies did a great job of beautifully entwining the diversity of tradition-bound music and modern dancing. Just try to imagine the dance floor with couples swaying to a slow fox-trot and then a quick somersault to a Lebanese Dabke dance with legs stomping to the rhythm. Well! Roy did it all. An MC at his best, supported by DJ Aelred. Roy’s wife Carole must be so proud of his exceptional skills in managing the mood of the crowd.
Ken and Trini drove Rema and me to the Blue Mountains on the outskirts of Sydney, a natural wilderness with breathtaking scenic views of waterfalls and rainforests. We went through a glass topped scenic railway carriage, a glass-floored cable car suspended above a steep gorge and a scenic skyway suspended over ravines. A thrilling experience, indeed!
Then it was back to the post wedding Dawaat at the Afghani restaurant ‘Zac’s’ in Sydney. The Britto’s festive spread was again evident on the table with an overcrowd of dishes.
We got the early morning flight to Melbourne and checked in at the Hilton at Little Queens Street which was just across the road from the RACV Club, the venue for Rema and my IWFCI business meetings for the the next couple of days. But soon after arrival, we got into a tourist taxi and did the sights of Melbourne, the Cricket Stadium, the War Memorial and others. We travelled through their beach route to the famous Acland Street in St. Kilda, and through the Albert Park Lake, site of their famous Formula One, Grand Prix.
Rema and I walked across the street to the RACV Club, where we met the International Women’s Federation of Commerce and Industry (IWFCI) International Chair, Ms. Diana Abruzzi in the foyer. Over lunch, we had discussions about the current developments in the trade sector after the signing of the Economic Cooperation and Trade agreement (ECTA) between Australia and India in April, 2022.
We then headed up to the second floor for a meeting with Australian Government officials. The Hon. Bruce Billson, GAICD, Australian Ombudsman for small and medium sized businesses, Susan Coles, Dept of Foreign affairs and Trade, Govt. of Australia, John Velos, Barrister and Solicitor, Rohini Kappadath, General Manager, Immigration Museum, and Jacqueline Plunkett, Senior Associate of Holding Redlich were present for talks at the meeting.
Dr. Rema Ramchandran made a presentation on “Propelling New Possibilities” and explained the areas and sectors of business which could be an avenue for forging pathways for Trade between India and Australia.
These included Education, Medical Tourism, Real Estate, Back office operations and exchange of culture and culinary cuisines.
Both Rema Ramchandran and I had another round of productive discussions with IWFCI International Chair, Ms. Diana Abruzzi and Australian women entrepreneurs over a three course lunch at the RACV City Club. As President of IWFCI India, I began by saying that the newly signed ECTA was the beginning of a new era in Australia-India relations with new opportunities for economic progress. I also spoke about how proactive IWFCI India was during the pandemic by having 3 Virtual Fireside Chats. Experts were invited from across the globe to talk about the New Normal in the post-Covid era. A book titled ‘NeoVision’ was also published which carried the proceedings of the 3 Virtual Fireside chats.
The meeting was followed by informal chats over coffee with Diana Abruzzi and John Velos at the RACV Coffee House. The end of another effective meeting.
Trini had planned this final trip on the Great Ocean Road for Rema Ramchandran and me. It was a 13 hour road trip (back and forth). We had to wake up early in the morning, gobble breakfast hastily so as not to miss the tourist bus trip scheduled to pick us up early morning from down our hotel street. Promptly on the dot, the bus arrived at a side street and the cheerful driver Bret greeted us and led us to the bus.
The drive on the Great Ocean Road is one of the most scenic drives through Melbourne. It takes you along beaches and rainforests to the Twelve Apostles which are rock formations jutting out from the sea. Today, only 7 of the 12 Apostles remain due to erosion. And along the way, one can see the koalas, the kangaroos and the wildlife.
We returned back to the hotel late at night fully conscious that we had an early morning flight to catch to Mumbai.
This was my second visit to Australia. The first time I visited was along with my hubby Vasu in 2007, and that was only for tourism purposes. We covered Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth that year.
This time it was a totally different experience with my friend Rema Ramchandran, which included a grand wedding celebration, a series of business meetings and great tourism thrown in.