Love knows no borders
In a cross-cultural marriage, life becomes an adventure that throws up new challenges and joys every day.
Growing up in a traditional Bengali Hindu family in Delhi, India, there were times when I would pray that the powers-that-be would reveal the name of the man I would someday marry. I would think it would be my next-door neighbour, who I played badminton with, the math genius in my school or the cute boy who won dance competitions at the Durga Puja festival. Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would serendipitously meet my Prince Charming Cody who grew up in Ohio, United States, more than 12,000km away from where I was.
Rewind to 2011 when I travelled to pursue a master's degree at Syracuse University in New York. He was the first person I spoke to in class. He asked my name and I pronounced it slowly and phonetically, Nil-Ahn-Juh-Nah, because even though I love my parents very much, they gave me a name even most Indians can't pronounce. He introduced himself and asked a few questions about the programme. It was clear that we didn't understand each other. To me, someone who had never travelled outside India, his accent swayed like a rollercoaster.
We remained good friends for years and kept in touch, occasionally visiting each other, even as I moved back to Delhi and then to Dubai. I swooned at his sense of humour, kindness, non-judgmental nature and gorgeous hair. He fell in love with my ability to laugh at all of his jokes, among other things. He would poke fun at my accent, ask never-ending questions about Indian stereotypes, and have laborious conversations with me about race, religion and politics. Soon, we became a close-knit team who despite our differences, fit together like a puzzle, interlocking all the pieces of our eccentricities.
He was very different from the male chauvinist men I had dated before. He prioritised my happiness and saw my career being as important as his own. When I couldn't afford assurance of him blending seamlessly into my culture, family and traditions, he would tell me reassuringly, "I would marry you in India, US and UAE. I would move wherever you are and love and support you in every way." And he really meant it. To be with me, he was willing to leave the job of his dreams in Michigan and move to the Middle East, a region still esoteric to many in the West.
By now, marriage had become the most important thing on my parents' to-do list. So, at 29, I decided to tell them I had met someone. While they were both nervous and excited to meet Cody, a Catholic white American, my grandfather pointed out that the divorce rate in the US is high and that American men, based on what he had seen in Hollywood movies, are quick to find new love interests.
Cody waited respectfully and uncomplainingly for my family to get on board. He flew down to Delhi to win them over, neatly dressed in a blue kurta. As is the practice in our culture, he bent down to touch my grandfather's feet, who laughed out loud and gave him a bear hug instead. I could see the barriers fade instantly. He won my mother's heart by gobbling down the umpteen dishes she had prepared for him, including butter chicken and spicy biryani.
After Cody proposed in March 2018, my family started planning our wedding in Delhi. We were fortunate that my in-laws gladly agreed to a traditional Bengali wedding and promised to support in every way they could. Nervous about how overwhelmed his family might be of this elaborately planned ceremony, my parents compromised on certain traditions to make room for his family's comfort. But the truth is, we were overthinking. My in-laws were understanding, flexible and willing to learn, embracing our culture with open arms. My father even asked me, "Is this how generous and warm Americans are? I couldn't have asked for a better family for you."
The highlight of our wedding, however, was how enthusiastically the groom donned a topor, the conical headgear traditionally worn in a Bengali wedding ceremony. Ten months have passed, and to this day, he jokes about how he felt like cattle, following instructions blindly without a mind of his own. I like to remind him of how he poured sindur, a traditional vermilion worn by married Hindu women, all over my forehead and nose. That's how we call it even.
We are now happily settled in Dubai, still learning and accepting each other's idiosyncrasies and cultural differences. When I considered changing my last name to his, like most married women, he put his foot down, calling it regressive and offering to change his last name to mine instead. He knows how important it is for me to stay connected to my family and roots. When I pray to Goddess Durga, he stands next to me and folds his hands. He enjoys Indian food more than I do (especially chicken biryani and chhole bhature), watches Bollywood movies and accompanies me to cricket matches. He even throws in Bengali and Hindi words during chats with my family. Likewise, I ensure we celebrate his festivals, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and speak to his family every now and then. All in all, this cross-cultural marriage has been an adventure.
When we decide to grow our family, it will be crucial for us to instill values of both our cultures in our children, educating them about their roots, teaching them both English and Bangla and, most importantly, making sure that as human beings, they learn to recognise, accept and celebrate differences.
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