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Unity in Diversity Special : A Pongal-Khichadi Love Story

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, Gauri writes about her Marathi-Tamizh family.

Where did you both meet? We would love to hear your story. Ours is an office romance gone right. We sat across each other in a cubicle – him coding software and me decoding natural languages. We spent a lot of time drinking coffee and realizing how different we were, not just by virtue of our cultures but as individuals too. We enjoyed each other’s company greatly but didn’t think we’d actually end up together. The year we met, I was all set to start another master’s course in Berlin. I guess we were meant to be because over the next four months, we moved from being friends to a couple – he proposed and I ditched Berlin. Two years later, we were married in true Iyer style and everyone went home happy. I’m from a Brahmin family in Mahararshtra and he’s a “Tambram”, as they say. We were expecting some resistance on the family front but there was none and everyone dove head first into wedding preparations. The wedding was a big cultural fest with Maharashtrians, Tamilians and Malayalis (his mother is from Kerala) all joining in the fun.

Which languages do you speak at home? Which language is your child most comfortable in?

We speak Tamil, Marathi and English at home. Ashwin and I talk to each other in English (that’s slowly changing too) and we both talk to our son in our respective mother tongues. The child is doing wonderfully well in all three languages – can switch languages mid-sentence depending on whom he is talking to and translates from one language to the other with ease. He can also sing a few Malayalam songs thanks to his Paati (grandmother). I’m most pleased with this aspect of our multicultural family –a rich inheritance of languages for us and for our children.

What would you call are the family’s favourite home foods?

Pongal, sabudana khichadi, Ashwin’s sambar with dosa and my moong dal khichadi

What are some of your biggest cultural differences?

Our cultural practices are compatible to a great extent and I can’t think of any major differences. In day to day life though, food and language matters. We do have different food preferences- at the grains and spice levels and no amount of love can satisfy my craving for the food I know back home. It is also not our long term plan for English to be the dominant language in our household but while we are getting comfortable with each other’s languages, it is a long and slow process.

Did getting married to someone from another state bring you closer to your parents or did it pose a challenge?

Good question – Not until I had a child, I don’t think marrying a guy from another state made a difference to my relationship with my parents. Now, however, I do tend to go to them a lot for advice on how to do things the Maharashtrian way because I want to pass those things down to my children. In that sense, yes, we’re closer now. What have the biggest challenges been as far as starting a bi-cultural family is concerned?

Choosing a place to finally “settle down”, to grow roots in. Bangalore or Pune. His place or mine. Or a serene little town in Kerala. We can’t seem to agree and I don’t know if we ever will.

What have been your greatest joys as a family from two parts of India?

Calling three states “home”! We have no family left in Tamil Nadu and yet the last time I was in Chennai, I felt right at home! Earlier I mentioned that our cultural practices are not very different but for the same reason, it gets tricky when we have to decide which way to achieve the same final goal. For instance, I have a strong attachment to Ganapati festivities at home and go back every year to celebrate with my parents. My husband joins me when he can. Now we are talking about starting our own little Ganapati tradition at home and I’m already worried it’s not going to be the same thing. Or, how Diwali is more about chakli, chivda and rava laddoos, not so much about boondi laddoos or murukkus. That didn’t stop me from devouring them all though. (Laughs)

Thank you, Gauri for sharing your similar yet different cultured family's story.

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