It's Called Love
Marriages that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries.
Interracial marriages, while not uncommon among overseas Indians, especially in the United States, are still a rarity in India. However, as India opens up to the world, growing numbers of professional Indian women are tying the marital knot with men who differ from them in race, nationality and faith.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chief executive officer of Biocon and the richest woman in India, who has known her American husband John Shaw for more than a decade, married him some six years ago. Kiran, who met John during his work-related visits to India, said they instantly clicked after meeting at a party. The couple is now happily settled in Bangalore.
Was she apprehensive about marrying someone alien to her culture? Kiran responds, “There wasn’t a bit of apprehension in my mind. In fact it won’t be wrong if I say that John is much more Indian than I am. I never felt that our cultures are different or our geographical boundaries have the might to separate us.” Compatibility of couples, regardless of their cultural differences, is what’s important, Kiran says. “In our case John is not at all insecure or is in the least affected by my job or my achievements, which results in zero ego hassles between us.”
The cultural differences can even add spice to the marriage. Famous Indian dansuese Shovana Narayan, who is married to Austrian ambassador Herbert Von Traxi, says, “I find the difference in cultures extremely interesting.”
They are what drew Indian model Sheetal Malhar into marrying Andrew Moses, an Italian Wimbeldon player. Model Vidisha Pavate, who is wedded to Italian fashion photographer Darren Centofanti, says, “Since both of us are traveling so often, the time that we get to spend with each other is even more cherishable. Cultural or other such differences are the least of our problems.”
Nonetheless, Farah Rao, a Delhi-based engineer, is skeptical: “These type of relationships may sound incessantly romantic, but still in my opinion it would be difficult to let it last past the first onrush of infatuation. After all, each individual is accustomed to one’s own practices and is perfectly attuned in his or her own beliefs. All this makes it rather difficult for one to take up an alien culture with a breezy ease.”
But there is a far greater sense of adaptability among the younger generation. Says Dr. Sandeep Vohra, senior consultant psychiatrist at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital: “Today’s generation is not only well versed with practices of people around the globe, but is often well traveled. A sense of healthy departure from the strict codes of conduct is therefore expected.”
Tara Deshpande, who is married to a Jewish American Dan Tanebaum, says: “If we were to take an introspective analysis we will realize that fundamentally all cultures and religions are very similar. My husband Dan and me have a lot in common. We are both home oriented and as a matter of fact Jews and Hindus have many similarities. We take marital bond and family life with utmost seriousness. It is this spectacular mix of traditional ethos and contemporary knowledge that makes our marriage packed with fascination and adventure.”
Super model Madhu Sapre says of her marriage to Italian Gian Maria: “There were so many things about each other that we discovered and thoroughly enjoyed it. Though as a young girl I was never open to the idea of tying the knot with a foreigner. I would often think that it will be really strange to get married to someone who doesn’t speak Marathi, or who doesn’t believe in Ganesha, or perhaps who doesn’t know a thing about our staple diet rice and dal! But now looking back, all of it seems downright irksome to me. It is an irrational kind of fear, which stalks you, but doesn’t really harm you. On our long drives around Italy, I often relate to Gian stories about our mythology, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and he listens to it all with such ardor. And I get to attend the midnight mass on Christmas Day with Gian’s family and friends in the village church in Rimini, South of Italy.”
Her foreign travels made the adjustment easier for Sapre. “I had lived abroad for ten years and was very familiar with the customs and foreign traditions. For me today no man is separated by a geographical boundary. In my eyes each individual is a human rather than an Italian, French or Indian.”
Former beauty queen and Bollywood actress Kashmira Shah, who is blissfully married to an American investment banker turned
producer Brad Listermann, recalls, “Brad and I actually got to know each other through the net. We began chatting with each other in a very friendly manner, but initially there was not a trace of love. Slowly as we got to know each other, love began blossoming. In fact, once we chatted on messenger for 24 hours! Sometime later we met in Seattle, where Brad proposed to me. It took me an instant to decide that he was the man for me. Later we were married with Hindu Christian rituals at Pallazo.”
Shah says, “It’s all about putting in all the love in the bond. We keep on traveling to India as well as California, and are thoroughly enjoying our coupledom by exploring various things about each other.’
Wait, all that’s is beginning to sound way too rosy. Don’t they ever fight and can’t those disagreements get exaggerated because of their cultural differences. Shovana Narayan responds: “Difference of opinion, petty fights are tantamount to happen in any marriage. It bears really no relation that just because we come from different countries we will lock horns more often. All relationships are unpredictable. I realized that early on.”
She recounts, “When I first met Herbert in 1979 at a friend’s house, I was delivering a lecture on kathak. Herbert says he was totally enamored by this knowledge that I was a dance exponent as well as had a masters in physics. After that he began approaching me, but I took some time since I had often heard stories of how foreigners take marriage lightly. So perhaps I was not ready to step gingerly; it took him a lot of effort and convincing to make me marry him. But we still had a two year courtship period during which we got to know each other better.”
Their relationship has blossomed over the years with Shovana pursuing her dance career and Herbert his diplomatic profession.
Some of the women say that part of the appeal of Western men for them is that they tend to be much less chauvinistic than their Indian counterparts. Says Madhu Sapre, “Indian men are somewhat less independent. They have a bossy attitude towards their wives and girlfriends. It is difficult to carry on a bond that does not let you express your real self.”
Kiran Majumdar Shaw adds that, “American or French men are much more easy going than their Indian counterparts.”