As India celebrates seventy years of independence, I thought there was no better way to celebrate our nation, than to acknowledge and celebrate the bonds that bring us together despite our cultural differences. Nobody exemplifies this more than the men and women that have tied the matrimonial knot despite differences in language, food and even religion. Throughout the month of August, the Times of Amma will be speaking to Moms who are raising multicultural children and Moms who grew up in multicultural families.
Today in our Unity in Diversity Special Series, Sonali writes about her parents' multicultural marriage.
As a young girl, fairytales or love stories didn’t fascinate me. I didn’t dote over romantic novels, or lose lose an eyelash over “Love Story”. I felt Mills and Boons was overrated. That’s because I had a love story of my own to look up to, one in which I spent my growing years, one which I was a part of.
Pune, 1976; destiny was brewing its magic to bring my parents together. A young Malayali, Christian girl from a small village in Kerala was in town pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse. At the same time a handsome Punjabi “Shashi Kapoor” look alike and the apple of his mother’s eye (sigh… Punjabi mothers…) was in town doing his degree course. Both were in the Indian Army. My mother’s friend took her along to meet two young gentlemen who were delivering a parcel for her and that’s how my parents met.
My mother recalls how that one conversation with the “Punjabi boy” led to him to (obstinately) want to come and see her at her hostel! She was livid, was he crazy? After relentless tries, my mother finally gave in with one condition – friends only! They met often, with one done deal, that they would share all the expenses. For two young students, that meant month end outings were sometimes just one paper cone of peanuts, consumed over light conversation and paid for by them both. Then in tandem and by fate, my mother and father both got posted to Secunderabad.
By then things had already moved ahead of the friends only status to courtship. My father was impressed by this mature, grounded yet simple girl. My mother smitten by the determined handsome young man who saw her for the person that she was and not just a beautiful face. Finally they had to admit, they had found their life partner.
What next? Tell the parents. Never easy! So they wrote a letter and these immediately caused the stir that was expected – both the mothers “fell sick” suddenly and immediately. The kids were called to their respective homes. Now here comes the daredevil part, this was 1976 for crying out loud! They both decided to get married before they left. That way no matter what happened at home, they could always get back together again. I admire their courage, I frankly am quite the opposite in that respect. A small group of close friends organized everything. A lady gave her a Sari to wear, one gave her some jewellery and another did her makeup. All this to finally be told that the Church and temple had refused to allow the marriage on their premises. So my parents were married in a small Gurudwara on the 6th of May 1978. A date on which I wish them every year, as their “original” anniversary! They left for home the very next day.
After a long, teary and melodramatic convincing session on both sides, they had to admit that they were already married, like it or not, accept it or not and somehow that was the turning point where both families reluctantly accepted. My mother was called to her new Punjabi home, where my parents were “remarried” the “proper way” on 19th May 1978.
Relating to that, I remember me as a little girl telling someone that my dad had married “twice” and seeing the gentlemen’s eyes turn to saucers because he thought my dad had two wives!
My mother settled into her role of trying to be a good Punjabi “bahu” and my grandmother trying to find reasons why she could not. This was of course till the right balance was found. My mother made her place in everyone’s hearts. She struggled to learn Hindi, but finally managed. However, my mother still cannot get her masculine and feminine right in Hindi! As you can imagine, that still leads to quite a few hilarious situations. She became an expert at Punjabi cooking, expected from a lady back then. But what I find remarkable, is that my father did his best to fit into his new Keralite family. Learning to wear a Mundu, drinking toddy with my mother’s brothers and eating food cooked in coconut oil. And they loved him for it. I remember my dad lamenting how someone would cook in “hair oil” (translated as coconut oil) and my mom’s family, to ease his misery trying to make chapatis in “North Indian” oil for him which turned out nothing like they were supposed to! He had them anyway. But North and South came together in every way and every time my parents could help it.
My sister and I grew up knowing why our parents’ love story was ordinary yet special, because it was not easy to make this arrangement work. We know how they got married, right down to the last detail. But the lesson there is of tolerance and acceptance of religion, caste, language and culture. To love people for who they are, not for how they dress, what they eat, what they speak or how they look and to never give up on those we love. We adore each side of the family dearly and feel at home in both places. My mother left her job after marriage to raise us. That is probably the one and only concession she made, that too out of choice. She was allowed to live her religion and culture and more so, impart it to her children. My sister and I practice the Hindu religion but participate in every Christian ritual and festival. We even did Catechism in school. We are multilingual and speak both our paternal and maternal languages. We know Punjabi and Malayali traditions. We sing Punjabi wedding songs and Malayali prayer songs. We listened to Punjabi and Malayali bedtime stories. For us this was “normal” and it helped us widen our horizons, develop an open thought process which we use in our professional and personal lives even today. We learnt to adapt to different people easily as seeing those different from us never came as a threat. It came with a piqued interest to learn more about them. Mum encouraged us to learn as much as we could about every state we travelled to. The belief in friendship between partners and the knowledge of working towards making your relationship work; we owe to our parents. Their 39 year old friendship and partnership is testimony that people can all live together in harmony, if we embrace our differences and focus on adapting and adopting. We sisters knew what to look for in a man and how to be that in return to him; thanks to our parents.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I married a Mauritian national who is Telugu by origin, so I took it one notch up with a different nationality! But ours is another love story, in another era and hopefully it means the same to my children as my parents’ did to us! Happy Independence Day to all Indians and as my mother says – Happy Global Day to all Global citizens! We are human beings before all else and created equal – find beauty in the differences!
Thank you Sonali, for sharing this moving yet uplifting story of your parents love story and your childhood. We wish you and your family a very Happy Independence Day.
For more stories from multicultural families like Sonali's come join us on Facebook.
For a look at the behind the scenes life of Team Times of Amma, take a dekko at our Instagram feed and join the conversation.