Saturday, September 12, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Lauren & Abhiram


Lauren is a personal friend of mine and writes a fabulous blog called English Wife, Indian Life which chronicles her life in India as a newlywed expat!


Introduction....
My name is Lauren and I live in Nagpur, India with my Marathi husband, Abhiram, and my adorable pug, Alfonso. I was just about to complete my training to become a registered pharmacist in the U.K. when I decided to move to India and start a completely new life.

Three words that describe you...
Curious, loving and optimistic!

Favorite childhood memory...
Holidays to the seaside with my family! I really miss the ocean, living in the centre of India does have its drawbacks...

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
Witnessing nature - it is my ultimate inspiration! Flowers, butterflies, birds, bodies of water and clouds. The beauty of nature, if you really take a moment to appreciate it, is overwhelming. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
I met my husband online, on a vegetarian forum of all places! I had been vegetarian for several years but I was going through a really dark period of my life and the night before I joined the forum I had eaten a box of chicken! I felt so guilty that I decided from that day forth I would the best vegetarian I could possibly be. I joined this forum, thinking it would encourage me and within a couple of minutes someone started a conversation with me. Talking with strangers in private chat boxes was not my thing, but this time, I don’t know what it was, I replied. That stranger was an Indian man living in the US...who is now my husband!


How long have you been together?
Our first online encounter was on the 15th of December 2012, and we decided to marry each other on the 21st of the same month. We met for the first time on February the 4th 2013 when my husband was flying back to India from the US to tell his parents he was getting married, that flight was via London! We spent his 10 hour layover walking around central London before he continued his journey. He was everything I had hoped for, and a whole lot more...

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
My husband is very wise and extremely intelligent. He is also extremely kind. During my lowest and emotionally ugliest times, he has stayed compassionate and loving towards me. He never judged me or got angry with me. Which leads me to another one of his amazing qualities - he has the patience of a saint!

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Only a few days after I arrived in India for the first time, we got into the car and drove to his mother’s village. When we arrived we went to the temple which had been built by one of my husband’s ancestors and there we had a secret marriage. A simple ceremony we conducted ourselves with only God as our witness. We exchanged marigold garlands and he applied the red powder called sindoor to my hairline.



What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I knew a lot about the Hindu faith before I met my husband. I had enjoyed studying it at school and continued reading Eastern philosophy. I had just finished reading the Bhagavad Gita when I met my husband. Unfortunately, I did not know so much about Indian culture itself. A lot of that came to me as a shock.

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
My family and friends were obviously not over the moon at my decision to move to India, but after speaking to many ladies who have followed the same path, I think I had an easy ride. As soon as my family met my husband, any fears they had disappeared. My Dad even suggested he was too good for me...charming! 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Marrying someone who belongs to another culture can really open up your heart and mind. Moving to India has changed the way I see the world drastically, I was catapulted out of my comfort zone. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was so worth it. As a result, I have shed many of my prejudices, fears and insecurities since moving to India. 

Who proposed and how?
I have heard that when an Indian man says “I love you”, that is a marriage proposal. I am not sure how true that is, but for us, it happened this way. We decided to marry before we had even met physically, after chatting online for only six days. We were that sure about it and I don’t regret a thing.


Describe your wedding...
I am so thankful that my husband and I had our romantic and secret marriage almost a year before our big fat Indian wedding. Indian weddings look like a dream, everyone is so gorgeous. The clothes, customs and the jewellery, hard to resist! Sadly, ours was traumatic for everyone involved and caused many arguments and a lot of tension. I have later learnt from friends I have made in India that it’s rare for an Indian couple to actually enjoy their wedding, it’s more of a declaration to society that these two people are married. I wish I knew then what I did now, I might have cried less...

What does being married mean to you?
I always wanted to get married but I never imagined I would be an “Indian” wife. I love being part of a pair, I love that I always have someone who will defend me and support me, especially as living on the other side of the Earth can isolate you. I am so grateful that I have someone who will always champion me, especially during those times when I don’t have the language skills to champion myself.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
I really don’t know what the future holds for us, but someday I hope to have a lot of babies and a couple more pugs!

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
I remember my Dad telling me not to be too emotional because I might scare him away, I don’t know if that is the “best” marital advice I have been given, but it did make me laugh through my tears!

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Independence was something my husband was longing for and something I have always had. After over a year living in a joint family, we moved to our own apartment. Here we have the best of both worlds; we live less than 1 kilometre away from his parents and have the space we were both desperate for. We still see them almost every day, just now we are not stepping on each other’s toes. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
My husband and I are both very spiritual, so we enjoy going to temples together, talking about philosophy and even meditating together. It might sound a little corny but I really believe that a couple who prays together, stays together.


In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
When you live in India, it’s hard not to let the culture seep into your veins. I wear Indian clothes, not only because I think they are gorgeous and I don’t have the thighs to pull off jeans, wearing Indian clothes helps me to blend it. Seeing a foreigner is rare around these parts, I am not a huge fan of the stares and photographs. 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
My family have been to India only once so far and my mum was really nervous about wearing a saree for our wedding. She thought she would look horrendous and was literally dreading it. Turns out, when the shopkeeper draped that pure silk saree around her for the first time, she burst into tears because she had never worn something so beautiful. She felt majestic in a saree, it was really overwhelming and great for her self confidence. 

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
I really find it difficult to understand why people care so much about what society will say about you if you step even a toe outside of the cultural norms. I remember when we moved into our own place (remember, less than 1km away from my in-laws), people were so upset to begin with. Not because we left, but because of what people might say about the fact we left. I realized how much of an impact something, that seemed so small but progressive to me, made on “society” when a vegetable vendor started shouting at my husband about it. The vendor asked if we were new to this area, and my husband replied that he has lived in Nagpur most of his life but he had just moved into a building nearby with his wife. My husband was then told, by the vegetable vendor, that he was a bad son and a son must never leave his parents. Needless to say, we’ve never bought vegetables from him again!!!

It took only a matter of days for everyone to calm down, my in-laws to enjoy the space and for our relationship to flourish with this new arrangement. 

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
We had some friends come over to our apartment and I offered them some sweets, after they had taken some, I put the lid back on the box. Ants and all sorts of things would be attracted to them this seemed to be the logical thing to do! I was told after how rude it was to put the lid back on the box of sweets...who knew!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
The most challenging time for us was being in a long distance relationship. I moved to India one year after we first met online and I spent only five weeks in India during that time. I know many couples who have been in long distance relationships for so much longer than that, and I really respect them and admire them for believing in their love so strongly that they will wait for each other.



What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Being away from my family and friends. I miss them so much it’s hard to put it into words.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
The biggest misconception I have seen is that people assume my husband wanted to marry me in order to get a British passport. We are living in India; and when we met, he was living in America. It’s absurd that people would think that, but I can see why they do.

I even know women who have been lured into marriage by men who wanted to use them to get a visa to come to the West, it’s actually quite common, therefore not surprising that people will assume it. Still, very frustrating. 



What are the biggest misconceptions about British women? 
I have heard we have hundreds of boyfriends and absolutely love getting divorced! 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Some people will never understand why someone falls in love with someone else from another culture. We just have to move on and feel sorry for those who have such narrow minds.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Please don’t think of your own culture as your dirty little secret! You may find yourself growing a new sense of self once you become a part of a new culture, but don’t sacrifice who you are and the things you hold dear about your own culture in the process. Make sure you speak openly about your culture as well as asking questions and learning about your spouse’s culture. Let’s celebrate the best of both worlds!



(All photos courtesy of English Wife, Indian Life)
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9 comments

  1. Beautiful couple!

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  2. 'Let’s celebrate the best of both worlds!'

    What a lovely couple and I think the above statement is the perfect way to think of an interracial relationship.

    I love this series!! Looking forward to being featured soon as well! [only have another couple of questions to answer]

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  3. I have been following her blog for sometime now. She is a quiet cheerful and vivacious girl. I think she kind of plunged into here marriage, that's what young people do, I guess. In her case, it was more difficult because it was a inter racial relationship. She has done a commendable job of adopting her spouse's culture. Like most western women she is a bit of a romantic. Indians are romantic too, but they do not tend to look at marriage purely from a romantic angle. Not good or bad I guess purely cultural. I wish the couple a happy married life.

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  4. Its funny how some people meer their indian boyfriends and live closely to them to be dumped because he wants to go back to india for an arranged marriage and this couples meet online and decide to get married suddenly. Funny life!!

    Anyway nice couple with cumplicity, wish them the best of love :)

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    Replies
    1. Is "complicity" a word? The closest word I can think of is complicity which is used in the context of criminal behaviour.

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  5. Such a lovely romantic story! I get cross also when people, even friends jokingly suggest that my Indian boyfriend is with me for a UK visa - it took me over a year to persuade him to come to UK! Plus UK visas are damn hard to get for non EU nationals and the source of much heartbreak for many couples (including us!)

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  6. Great interview! I've been following Lauren's journey since the beginning of her blog and love it. I love her as a person.

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  7. December 15, 2012 must be a lucky day because it's the exact same day as my husband and I started talking!

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    Replies
    1. Whaaaaaaat, my bf and I started seeing each other around that exact date too!!

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