Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Krishanu & Vivian


Krishanu was one of the very first commenters on my blog and I quickly realized that he is such a wise fellow! He writes a blog himself, is married to a beautiful Midwestern American, and has a gorgeous daughter who is the same age as Maya!


Introduction.... 
I am Krishanu and my wife is Vivian. (This Q&A is from the guy's perspective!) I was born and brought up in Kolkata, India - a thorough Bengali. Vivian was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and grew up in Duluth, MN. We live in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. We have a 3-year old daughter, Brinda. I'm an apatheist, so I say that I was born to Hindu parents. Vivian's parents are Catholic. We don't follow either (or any) religion but rather enjoy the holidays that both religions offer. 

Three words that describe you... 
Curious-minded, focused, pragmatic [those aren't the 3 best words to describe someone, is it??

Where/how do you feel most inspired? 
Listening to music, especially in my car but anywhere for that matter, with the volume cranked up! Watching and/or playing a closely contested sporting event, specially football (soccer). On a serious note, I think our daughter Brinda inspires me to be a better person, a better father, everyday. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse? 
We met through Yahoo Personals, an online dating site which later morphed into Match.com. We were both working in downtown Minneapolis at that time and in the same functional field (IT) but in different companies. Our work places were only a few miles apart. We exchanged online communication for over a week and finally met in person on an evening date. 

How long have you been together? 
We've known each other for 8 years and been married for 7. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse? 
Besides the fact that she continues to love me?! I think the quality that I most admire in Vivian is that she gets things done. If Vivian is in charge of something I know I, or anyone else, won't have to worry about it. She is a kind and giving person, and easily the best mom ever! I think the reason why our partnership works so well is because we complement each other so well. In some ways we are similar and other ways quite different. 


Favorite memory together as a couple... 
Has to be the birth of Brinda! Nothing comes close. 

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship? 
Here I might have had an advantage in this over most other people getting involved in intercultural relationship. I have an uncle who has been living here in the US for over 35 years. He's married to an American and they have a daughter. They've all been to India multiple times. When I first landed in the US, I stayed at their place for a week. So I'd say I knew quite a bit about the American culture. And plus, I'm like a sponge - I soak up every new thing I encounter. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
Vivian and I were dating while I was living with a (Bengali) room-mate. At the time, Vivian had her own apartment. I think it was our 3rd date when I took her to my place to introduce her to my then-roommate, and maybe a couple of other friends. They all got along famously. I also got an "approval" from one of Vivian's close friends! I told my parents about Vivian when we were about 6 months of going steady. They were in India when I told them, but they got to meet her a month later when they came over to visit me (an already planned trip). They knew that Vivian must have been someone special, as I'd never introduced any girl to them explicitly as my "girl friend" prior to this. In the *traditional* Indian form, all girls I had previously introduced to them before was considered just a "friend", even when things might not have been so! I think (we never really talked about it as I was not seeking their approval; it was my decision and I gave them time for it to sink in) they were a bit skeptical and apprehensive when they first learnt about Vivian over the phone, but when they actually met her in person and got to know her, any doubts they had subsided. I met Vivian's parents a month and half into our relationship, on her birthday. They are probably the best in-laws one could hope for! I met Vivian's siblings on separate road trips and I think I won over her sister and her family by playing with our oldest niece and her doll house. Both the road trips were probably 3 to 4 months into our relationship. Vivian and I have a running joke that her family loves me more ....and my family loves her more! 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life? 
I am not sure how much being in an intercultural relationship has enlightened me or Vivian. Our marriage, and subsequently becoming parents, has made us better human beings. More compassionate, more loyal, more dependable, more loving. Does that make sense? I'm sure the intercultural aspect of the marriage have opened our eyes to things we otherwise might have taken for granted, but after 7 years of marriage this is the only way I know and don't consciously think about it. If anything, I wish a lot more people would be in relationships that bring together different cultures and upbringing. The key is to have an open mind, always...

Who proposed and how? 
I did. I had been planning for it probably for a month or so. We had talked about getting formally engaged but in a not-serious way. We had even been to a few stores looking at rings and getting Vivian's ring finger sized. I went back alone to one of the stores and picked out the one I liked and got it sized. It took about couple of weeks to get it ready. Once I had the ring in my possession, I chose a Saturday when the weather was supposed to be good. I went to her place, and asked her to come to this location I had selected. It was on the banks of the Mississippi, a secluded area. We went down to this spot and I told her I forgot something in the car. I came back with a bunch of roses and a ring. Went down on one knee and asked her. She said yes. So cheesy!


Describe your wedding... 
We both actively planned our wedding together and it was fun! Since we were also looking for buy our first home (in fact we closed on the home 2 days after the wedding!) we were very careful to not go over budget.

We had a wedding and a reception in Minneapolis. We booked a spiritual center which also had a large reception area. A family friend catered the reception. There was no religious ceremony. Vivian wore a white dress and I wore a tux. We put the rings on each others fingers and I put a sliver of sindoor on Vivian's hair and put mangalsutra around her neck. Then we ate and drank and partied in the evening. There were about 100 guests. Then our families helped with the clean up! 

A few months later, we had a wedding reception in Kolkata. We had around 300 guests. Again, no religious ceremony. We sat in *thrones* while people came and wished us well. Vivian wore a saree and I, dhoti-kurta. 


What does being married mean to you? 
That you are in it for the long haul. That it takes work to make it work. That some some days are going be worse than others. But you get to spend it with the person you love. I wouldn't have it any other way!

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple? 
Now we are moving into different territory! We want to be financially independent as soon as we can. By financially independent, I mean that neither of us has to work for money anymore. Both of us really like our respective jobs but the option of not working, or working some other job, or just plainly using our time in the fashion we deem appropriate instead of being dictated by a *job* is something we look forward to. This essentially means that our investments should produce enough to cover our cost of living. 

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship? 
I think coming from a country, and subsequently culture, where societal safety net for the citizens - such as Social Security, Medicare, etc. - are non-existent - we are instilled at an early age about the importance of saving. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
Almost everything we do on a daily basis is steeped more in the American culture, and that is not a bad thing at all! Take for example, meal times/hours. Indians - and maybe Bengalis more so - are notorious for having late dinners. When I was growing up, having dinner at 10pm was the norm. In our household, we make it point to have dinner at 6 pm. Going to bed with a full stomach is probably one of the worst thing one can do one's body!

One of the other aspects I've adopted and now am way ahead of Vivian - is American politics. I got into politics (watching and following and understanding the political landscape, not actively engaged in politics) during the 2008 presidential election cycle and since then have been following it closely.

Also football - the American kind. NFL! I'm into most sports anyway, but I'm really into NFL. It started with Vivian already being a Packer fan and I slowly starting to appreciate the kind of stoic optimism the Vikings fan endure on a yearly basis. We watch Vikings v/s Packers game on separate TVs in our home!!!

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
Exhibit A: When my parents visited us for the first time after our wedding, we made it very clear the family dinner time is at 6 pm. They could have it later if they wished, but Vivian and Brinda were not going to change their diner time. My parents agreed to have dinner at 6pm, but were a bit skeptical that they will get hungry by the time bed time rolled by. But boy, they got so used to the benefits of eating early that they continued it the whole time, and in subsequent visits, they were with us! They tried to incorporate this back home in Kolkata and they weren't completely successful but they managed to bring forward dinner time to 9 pm. 


What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
I love Christmas time. I love the trees brightly lit up, homes sparkling. I love the time we get to spend with the extended family. I hate the consumerism associated with the big holidays. I also dislike how the general population has bought into this commercial aspect. Vivian's family is big into exchanging gifts. I've tried to explain to everyone that I don't need gifts but to no avail!

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship? 
Best part: The food! I love food. I can cook (and do cook) most Indian dishes I want to have. In fact, I cooked for Vivian on our 4th date, and that was the key to her heart! Vivian can make (and does make) most American dishes we want to have. Plus, she bakes! Oh yeah, my friends and family are won over by her brownies! And going from food, we experience the best of both the cultures has to offer: holidays, geographical locations, weather each country offers at different times of the year. 

Thing I hoped might be different: I hate to call this the worst part as there is no worst part in any relationship. I just hope Brinda would learn/speak more Bengali. She's at an age now where her vocabulary is increasing by leaps and bounds every day. Even though I have been trying (and my efforts can certainly be better) to expose her to Bengali, just the fact we are in the US means she is constantly surrounded by English, and that is just what she's is picking up. Maybe this will improve as she grows older, but seeing other children in similar situations I don't have the highest of expectations!

What are the biggest misconceptions about Indian men?
On a generic level, I think Hollywood, and more so Bollywood, have sullied the image of both cultures to the extent that any damage control is futile. Western media continues to propagate that Slumdog Millionaire accurately portrays India. "Item songs" with their abundance of white skin keep on perpetuating the lasciviousness of Americans. 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them? 
Let me preface this answer with this: I have a thick skin, and disapprovals slide off me like water on a leaf! I am sure I have come across people who probably do not approve of our union. But who cares?! I simply consciously block them or have become so immune that I actually don't see them anymore. 

I will share one thing that I've noticed when I have an interaction with an FOB (fresh off the boat) Indian. Once they see Vivian, or come to know about the fact that I have an American wife, I literally see the realization dawn on their face that I'm either a US citizen or permanent resident. And quickly that realization, leads to the manifestation of somehow bringing up this fact (supposedly camouflaged) in words. The implicit meaning behind this? Ah, so you married for the Green Card! I smile and nod. 

On a personal level, I seriously don't think I've faced anyone from Vivian's family who disapproves of our union. One of her grandmothers (who has now passed away) was reportedly quite racist but I can categorically say that she never showed any of that to me. 


Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
[I'm going to sound harsh here. Too many times I've read about how the non-Indian in the relationship is put under tremendous pressure to conform to the Indian standards] If you are the Indian in the relationship - especially the male - have THE SPINE to stand up for your convictions and actions! Considering that you are an adult individual, economically independent from your parents, who has taken a very conscious decision to enter into a relationship with someone who might be considered *not suitable* by your parents, have the decency and integrity to either end the relationship if you want to please your parents, or stick with your partner if there is opposition to your relationship. Don't be in state of limbo or denial - or worse still implicitly force your partner to conform to mythical Indian standards of appropriate son/daughter-in-law behavior!!!

And the same goes for yourself (the Indian in the relationship). Don't be pushed into following practices and traditions of your partner's culture that you don't feel comfortable with. Have open conversations with your partner to talk about situations and customs that both of you will agree to. 

I'll cite a couple of examples from our relationship. Vivian doesn't feel comfortable touching anyone's feet (an Indian custom where a younger person asks for blessing from an elder) as it is a very alien gesture to someone who isn't used to it, so she doesn't. End of story. Being an apatheist, I don't believe in praying to Jesus Christ (or any other gods such as Durga or Shiva), so I will not participate in a Catholic prayer that Vivian's parents will say before a meal. Are both of our actions rude to people who don't understand where we are coming from? Maybe, but that is a decision you just need to make and stick with.

I want to leave on a positive note. If you are lucky enough to find someone who you love and who loves you back, and you decide to spend the rest of your lives together, go for it! It doesn't matter that you come from different background and cultures and upbringing. If both of you want it to work, it will work.

(All photos courtesy of Jesting Jousts)
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10 comments

  1. As a South Asian man, I LOVED that last part about needing a spine. TOO many of us Asians let our society and parents get away with too much control over our lives. They fear being labeled as 'bad' kids as a result. But that's just victimization and irresponsibility over one's feelings, at its worst. Kudos to this guy to having guts!

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  2. What a lovely feel-good post ! It's always interesting to hear the guy's perspective and I really appreciate this no nonsense approach. You make intercultural relationships sound uncomplicated. I hope you find a way to be independent financially. By the way your little girl is really cute ! (Pad)

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  3. I absolutely loved this one! I was surprised to see an interview done by an Indian man, but it's such a wonderful perspective. I love that he said not only for Indian men to have the spine to stand up, but also for the other person in the relationship not being pushed into aspects of your partners culture.

    Going back to one of your previous blogs, I completely understand about not letting yourself get too absorbed into your partners culture either. At one point I was cooking Indian every single day (although, not too many complaints, it's delicious!), and at the same time researching if my university offers Hindi courses that I could take after I got my teaching licence.

    This was good. I enjoyed it very much!

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  4. What a breath of fresh air this couple is. I love the fact that neither bends themselves into pretzel shapes to conform to others' random cultural expectations. Live and let live.

    - a fellow apatheist

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  5. Hey your post was amazing. I applaud your advice to fellow Indian men - have a spine! I also believe that Bengali's in general are a forward class of people and embrace change (I am a non Bengali Indian girl). Hence not much of opposition from your parents. Love the way you think and the perfect balance of your family. God bless you guys :)

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  6. What a lovely post Krishanu! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your relationship. What a lovely family you have. I wish you and Vivian a happy life together. You seem to get along with everyone on both sides of the family and don't have any opposition.

    Melissa

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  7. I appreciate hearing about this, from a guys perspective! And I am happy you are featuring so many intercultural relationships. It is very very encouraging to read. Some days it feels like we are alone out here.

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  8. Loved the takeaway advice and very interesting to read an Indian man's perspective.

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  9. This part "I want to leave on a positive note. If you are lucky enough to find someone who you love and who loves you back, and you decide to spend the rest of your lives together, go for it! It doesn't matter that you come from different background and cultures and upbringing. If both of you want it to work, it will work." is undoubtedly my favorite part of this blogpost :-)

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  10. It's funny you bring up the early dinners. My husband's family often got confused stares and glances from neighbors because of their early dinners around 8-9 PM. They always lived like that but my husband was still awe-struck by the fact I never eat dinner later than 7 PM. I simply feel so much better both at night and the next morning when I don't go to bed on a full stomach.

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