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Unity in Diversity Special: An Oriya- Malayali 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, Shinta writes about her Oriya-Malayali marriage family with a dash of European Masala.

Where did you both meet? We would love to hear your story.

My husband and I met when we were studying for our Masters in Goa. We started out as friends and began dating soon after.

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

We speak in five languages – predominantly English and Hindi, and German, Oriya and Malayalam. Our son is most comfortable in English, and is steadily picking up Hindi. His Swiss-German is much better than ours, as he speaks it with his Swiss friends and in his pre-school.

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

Food is a very important topic in our lives! My son and I are nuts about food and we are often fighting over our share of dessert in the house. We are always trying different kinds of cuisines, ranging from Indian (but of course) to Thai to Italian and picking up new recipes from our travels. Baking is a time for some mom and son bonding. My son enjoys helping me bake – he assists in measuring ingredients and kneading dough, mixing batter, etc. If we had to pick our personal favorite meals, it’s always tandoori chicken & mutton curry (for my husband) and my mom’s Kerala-style chicken curry (for me).

What are some of your biggest cultural differences?

My husband and I come from vastly different cultures, he from Orissa and me from Kerala. We are also from different faiths which makes the cultural differences all the more distinct. Wedding customs are 4 day-affairs for my husband’s family, unlike the simple 1-day event followed by Keralites. I had never touched my elders’ feet before I met my husband’s family, this was something I had seen only in the movies! Likewise, my husband was quite surprised when he saw open displays of affection, such as kissing the bride was customary in Goa.…again something he had seen only in the movies. Now we laugh at how culturally naïve we used to be back then.

Did getting married to someone from another state bring you closer to your parents or did it pose a challenge? Definitely got our parents closer to us. Our parents (on both sides) were initially apprehensive about our marriage, but it is amazing how our parents opened their minds and hearts, and have helped us all along. Our parents are our biggest support system. Sure, it isn’t sunshine and roses all the way, my husband and I still have issues - mostly petty ones- but whenever we’ve had to overcome a bigger challenge and can’t arrive at common ground, its usually one of our parents who steps in and helps us resolve it.

What have the biggest challenges been as far as starting a bi-cultural family is concerned?

Maintaining a fair balance between two cultures and two religions – that is quite a challenge. We try to pass on our collective cultural inheritance to our son, and we sometimes feel like we are missing out on some things while trying to maintain a balance. For instance, since we have so many languages in our household, we don’t attempt to consistently teach him Oriya or Malayalam. We sometimes feel we may overwhelm him with too many customs and at other times we feel he is missing out on so much that we loved when we were kids. Our son, on the other hand, is growing up as a third-culture-kid in Switzerland, and is soaking up the language and culture like a sponge, while we, his parents are trying to keep pace with him!

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

The gift of learning about life from someone else’s perspective, without having any pre-conceived notions about what is right or wrong. My in-laws once went on a holiday with my parents (without either my husband or me) and they quite enjoyed it. This was the first time my in-laws were visiting most of my relatives and I was amazed at how everyone got along so well. My father-in-law picked up several Malayalam words and my mother is working on improving her Hindi.

Isn’t it strange how traditionally, people consider an intercultural marriage to be a problem (very often bringing disgrace to the family) that the couple should make extra efforts to overcome? How about seeing it as an advantage – a chance to learn a new language, an opportunity to broaden your mind and stop feeling that yours is the superior culture, and, very importantly - double the holiday celebrations and double the variety in food! What’s not to love?

Well said, Shinta! Here's wishing more power to you and your family!

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