The Joke (Surprise, Surprise) Was on Them

Dr. Amit Raj got so tired of his two cousins constantly pestering him about going out with their friend Dr. Ami Deepak Modi that during the summer of 2010 he decided to play a joke on them.

“Actually, we are dating,” Dr. Raj, now 34, told them the next time they brought it up, just before his senior year at DePaul University in Chicago, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology. “They were shocked.”

To top it off, he got Dr. Modi, now 31, in cahoots.

“We need to mess with my cousins,” Dr. Raj texted her via his beloved, dinosaur of a flip phone.

He slyly got her number from one of his well-meaning cousins, who also happened to be her best friend from Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream, Ill.; she knew his other cousin from St. Louis University, where she was about to start her sophomore year, and from which she graduated with a biology degree.

Dr. Raj, whose parents are from Hyderabad, India, grew up in Marion, Ind., and has two sisters. He is now a podiatric surgeon at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., and received a master’s degree in biology from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and a doctor of podiatric medicine degree from Doctor William M. Scholl and College of Podiatric Medicine, in North Chicago.

“The news spread in his family like wildfire,” said Dr. Modi, who came to this country from Mumbai when she was 7 with her parents and older sister.

She is now a pulmonary and critical care fellow at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and received a medical degree from Kansas City University in Missouri.

“I was falling for him,” she said, as they G-chatted and texted daily during their six-month charade. “He was really funny and charming.”

Not only were they both pre-med, but were also big into tennis. She was No. 1 in high school singles; he was the state runner-up in doubles while at boarding school in Michigan. They also couldn’t get enough of Bollywood and Hollywood films, and were fans of “Air Force One,” the 1997 movie starring Harrison Ford.

“What are the chances?” Dr. Modi said.

In December 2011, they went ice-skating with friends in Chicago, and then met up again with friends in February at an Indian folk dance competition at Indiana University Bloomington.

“I did have butterflies that weekend,” said Dr. Raj, who slow danced with her at an after-party.

In March, their joke turned out to be on them — they had their real first date, giggling and holding hands, at the Body Worlds exhibit featuring human anatomy at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

The official game changer, though, occurred a month later when he drove down to St. Louis for her Indian Student Association formal, to which she wore a teal-colored sari, and got him a silk tie to match.

“Will you be my girlfriend?” he asked the day before by a fountain in Forest Park on their way to dinner at an Italian restaurant.

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]

“I already am,” she said, to which he quickly replied, “It’s not official till I ask.”

That summer they hung out in Chicago, where she gave him moral support as he decided whether to delay medical school for his dream — TV and film screenwriting and development in Hollywood.

He opted for a yearlong internship at Warner Bros., starting in December, which included working on the TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” When she visited him they camped out under the stars in Big Sur.

“That is our favorite place in the world,” said Dr. Raj, who eventually headed to podiatry school.

In 2017, after years of long distance, they finally both had residencies in Chicago, and moved in together.

When Covid hit, and podiatric surgery was at a standstill, Dr. Raj cooked, and used his cinematic know-how to welcome her home after long hours in the I.C.U.

“He had grown a mustache and re-enacted ‘Tiger King,’ or pretended to be a D.J. at a disco club,” she said with a laugh.

On Sept. 2, 2021, after he created a fake anniversary party invitation to get them to California, he got down on one knee as she stood in heels on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset in Big Sur.

Always the jokester, he gave Dr. Modi, who is taking his name, a choice of a blueberry pop ring or diamond ring.

Of their five wedding celebrations over four days, they agreed the highlight was Jeffrey Iqbal, the Bollywood fusion singer, along with his band, playing at their sangeet, the evening before the wedding ceremony.

On March 18, Pandit P. Krishna Jois, a Hindu priest, officiated, before 330 guests, in the greenhouse at Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Fla.

“We’re excited to spend the rest of our lives together,” said Dr. Raj, quite seriously. “It started out as a joke, but marriage is not a joke, right?”

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