Saturday, October 10, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Satish & Susan

This American/Indian couple shares a great sense of humor, solid spirituality, and a lot of common sense!

My name is Susan and I grew up outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I met my husband, Satish, in Washington D.C. 

My dad is Jewish with Russian ancestry. Although, we did not celebrate any Jewish holidays while growing up. My mom’s family is Catholic and originally came from Italy. Growing up, we only celebrated Christmas. Both my parents were more spiritual and did not believe in practicing any religion. 

Satish's family originally comes from a small village near Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh. My husband had lived in US for 20 years before I met him. Because he spent half his life in America, and half in India, he is pretty Western in his thinking. In 2012, Satish quit his prestigious job as a scientist in Washington D.C. We both came to India to visit his family in 2012, and we have lived in India ever since. Now, we are pretty much settled in India. We have no plans to go back to the States anytime soon.

Three phrases that describe you...
Spiritual, wanna-be-comedian, and a good listener.

Favorite childhood memory...
Perhaps going on long bike rides with my father. Sometimes we would bike ride 25 miles per day! I love the freedom of being on a bike.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
Singing inspires me and is my emotional/creative outlet. When I sing my favorite songs, I try to feel at peace in the present moment.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
People ask us all the time if we had a love marriage. We got sick of the question, so we tell people we had an arranged marriage! We tell them that my father put an ad in the Washington Post looking for a non-veg, bunya from a “well to do” family. My father specifically wanted a bunya to match the conjus (stinginess) level of the Jews!

All jokes aside, in reality, Satish was originally my landlord. We had developed a friendship while I was living in his house. After a couple of months, I moved out of his house to move closer to the city for a new job, but we still kept in touch. It was very difficult for us to be apart. We knew we had feelings that went beyond just friendship.

How long have you been together?
We have been together since May, 2010….so 5 years. We got married in January, 2014. We have been married one and a half years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
I admire that he is a very caring soul and wants to give back to society. Even while living in US, he came back to India for one month every year for 20 years. He came back to India very frequently to work for children’s education rights and build general educational awareness in villages. Three years ago, Satish was so brave to leave his prestigious scientist job in the US and come back to India to do non-profit work. He is now trying to help people resolve conflicts in their lives. I admire that he is working on his passion and looks beyond money.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Hard to say….I will never forget our trips to Florida. Also, we took a cooking class in Savannah, Georgia that I will never forget. We both really loved exploring Savannah together.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I did not know much about Indian culture. I liked Indian food and was into Indian spirituality, but that was about it. It is a bit embarrassing to admit but some of my only exposure to India was through “Slumdog Millionaire.”

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
We were living together in US for one year before Satish told his family about me. In 2012, we finally came to India to meet his family. 

Satish’s family accepted me right from the beginning. They were happy he found someone, even if I am American. They are a very open minded family. We were living together unmarried, in the same house as my inlaws for one year. Because the house was Satish’s own house and the fact that he lived in US for so long, my inlaws couldn’t do anything about us living together unmarried. However, my mother in law made it clear to Satish that she would like us to get married.

My parents had more of an issue with our relationship. My mom basically told me I could “do better.” They said I should date around more. Also, my parents still have problems with the fact that we are living in India. My parents frequently ask us when we are moving back to the States. My mom uses emotional blackmail with statements like “if you really love us, then you would move back.” My mom also plays the future grandchildren card. She says it is fine if we want to live in India, but if we have children, we should not put our children’s life in danger with all the dust, traffic and pollution. 

All in all, my father is more accepting of my life choices than my mother. Although, even my father makes snarky comments about India and how my health will suffer by living here. I still talk civilly to my parents, but I am implementing firm boundaries with them.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Before my husband, I never believed in getting married or having children. I also never believed in love. I thought that the feeling of love is just the brain’s way of getting the body to reproduce. I used to think: why does everyone get married, have children, get a 9-5 job, have their white picket fence? I did not want to follow the same script of life. Now, I see that family as a very important part of life.

Also, my relationship has shown me that the outer world is just a mirror of our inner world. All the conflicts and tensions you have with your spouse are really just a reflection of our own inner conflict. Whenever we see something in our spouse we do not like, we are really just judging the same trait in ourselves. It is NEVER the other person. The other is just a mirror for us. So if we want to change something in the other, we must change it in ourselves.

Who proposed and how?
Satish proposed in June, 2013. We were taking one of our evening walks in a park. We stopped to sit down on a bench. Suddenly, he was down on his knees speaking in Hindi, asking me to marry him!

Describe your wedding...
We had a court marriage in India, which I would describe as a nightmare! Dealing with Indian bureaucracy is never pleasant, but this experience was worse than normal. For more than three months, we were going back and forth to the registration office with more documents/address proof, etc. We were basically harassed for more documents. We got married under the Special Marriage Act, which requires putting an announcement in the newspaper and then waiting a month. For three months, we must have gone to the registration office at least 15 times. The bureaucratic red tape took all the joy out of getting married.

We had our actual wedding celebration 10 months after our court marriage, when my family came to visit India. The celebration truly represented us and our backgrounds. We did not want a showy celebration, just a small celebration with 50 people.

Before the unity candle ceremony, my husband and I sang to each other the Hindi song “Kyon” from Barfi. The song represents our relationship well. It is about being care-free and traveling together through life being crazy or “baavri”!

All the major religions were represented during the ceremony. Satish and I consider ourselves spiritual, so we wanted a non-denominational celebration. We had my mother officiate the unity candle part of the celebration. Before Satish and I lit the candle, my mother-in-law and father lit the outside candles, which represented two separate individuals. My mother in law sang the Shiv Stuti bhajan, while we lit in the middle candle. The unity candle is supposed to represent two people coming together as one. After lighting the candle, we had our guests sing an Islamic chant. We then formed into a circle, sang and danced to the Jewish folk song, “Hava Nagila.” We feel that this ceremony was really special and symbolized our relationship well.

What does being married mean to you?
Being married to me means unconditional love even in the most difficult times. Being married means we have no choice but to make it work. You can be angry at your spouse and even feel hate towards your spouse sometimes. But deep down, there will always be unconditional love. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We hope to live in a farm house sometime soon. Perhaps we will eventually make it into an ashram. People from all over surrounding villages can come to our house and feel safe and feel like home. We want to give a safe place to people so they can improve themselves and their relationships.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship? 
Directness; informality at times.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I cook Indian food daily. We used to live in Punjab for two years, so I have adopted some Punjabi culture. I love Punjabi suits, bhangra, and cooking baingan ka bhartha. My Hindi is also getting better and better. I understand about 50-60% and can speak proficiently. Also, since I love to sing, I know some Hindi songs like “Tum hi Ho,” “Kyon” “Taare Zameen Par” am now trying to learn some classic Bollywood songs like “Khoola Khoola Chand”.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
Too many formalities. I am a very blunt, direct person. I find it strange to ask three times if someone wants food and only on the third time they say yes. I would like more directness. If someone wants something, they could say it the first time!

The overall treatment of women in India including being treated like a slave, dowry, sex selective abortions, etc. These are loaded topics which I do not really want to get into.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Giving my neighbors leftover lentils. I thought it would be nice to give them some leftovers, but here that is a big faux-pas. I am sure I have committed many more…

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
The most challenging issue is how to maintain our own identities and not lose ourselves in the other person. In Indian culture, once you are married, you are one for all intents and purposes. In general, in Western culture, the two people still maintain their own individual identities and still can have separate lives. So it has not been easy to balance these two views. 

The most difficult time was when we were living with my in-laws for almost two years. There were so many fights between my husband and in-laws. The fighting had nothing to do with me, but it was still a difficult two years.

What's the best part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is that there is always something to learn!

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
They assume a green card must be the reason we are together.

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
I try not to pay attention to any of that. If someone disapproves, that is their problem!

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
If the people in the relationship accept themselves and the relationship, others will accept you too. It is only when we ourselves have doubts, that we allow other people’s comments to bother us. If we are secure in our relationship, other people’s comments cannot disturb us.


1 comment

  1. Funny how the American vs Indian thinking is opposite in some regards, isn't it? For example, the formality thing. In India, formality means being politely indirect, but informally, they are some of the most blunt and direct (even to the point of rudeness) people I have ever come across (being South Asian myself). I mean, a lot of them aren't even afraid to burp or ask very nosy questions right in front of you! With Americans, formality means being more direct and official, whereas in informal settings they are more indirect and courteous. I think it is an issue of personal space; in Asia, the concept is more of collectivism and so personal space isn't focused on much, but it is in the West, as they value individualism more. Granted, once you're comfortable with someone you can be pretty direct with them (in any culture), but I think the above differences are true in general.


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