When love conquers all: scenes from cross-cultural weddings

  • Veenu Singh, Rachel Lopez and Amisha Chowbey
  • Updated: Dec 19, 2015 22:51 IST

When the bride and groom come from different cultures or different parts of the world, the Great Indian Wedding is sprinkled with unexpected surprises. Scenes from shaadis less ordinary.

Avni & Fabian Schaaf-Mehta

Two young students meet on an exchange programme. What follows is a big fat Indo-German wedding

Much research was required before Avni and Fabian could marry. Avni, 25, a project manager for an international tourism conglomerate, is half Gujarati and half UP-ite. Fabian, an entrepreneur, is German. The two met at a class in business school in Germany where Avni, then 23, was on a student-exchange programme.

Going deutsch: The Schaaf-Mehtas share a joke. (Photos: Priyanka Sachar)

When Avni’s semester in Germany ended, the two decided to continue seeing each other – and both had butterflies in their stomachs when they told their parents about their decision to marry. “It was quite stressful, though I have to say that a lot of my Indian friends had it worse even though they wanted to marry fellow Indians,” says Avni.

Both sets of parents were perfectly okay with the idea, except for one thing: What kind of wedding would an Indian woman and German man have?

Immediately, their families swung into action. While Fabian’s parents watched the Mira Nair film, Monsoon Wedding, to prepare themselves for the Indian wedding madness, Avni’s family looked up German wedding rituals to make the wedding a perfectly cross-cultural affair.

As it turned out, planning the German wedding was far from easy. Avni’s family didn’t know anybody who had a clue. “Fortunately we found a German priest who helped us a great deal. The religious ceremony itself is similar to Hollywood clichés, but there are a lot of fun games in which the guests also participate,” says Avni. “For example, the key to our wedding gifts was with one of the guests and we had to dance with almost everyone to get the right one.”

A traditional German ceremony where the couple cut out a heart painted on a sheet. (Photo: Priyanka Sachar)

The Indian wedding was much easier to plan – except for one little thing. Fabian’s family is not even half as big as any normal Indian family, which led to some interesting innovations. “We had to designate some of our friends to play Fabian’s sisters when he had to defend his shoes against my sister and 17 cousins!” says Avni.

Both families were enthusiastic about participating in all the rituals for both the weddings. “I love Indian weddings, and more than that, I love the food, so I had a blast,” says Fabian. “We also created a guide to both ceremonies for our families and friends.”

The fun of mixing two cultures has continued even after the wedding. “Of course there are challenges, but we also learn a lot from each other,” says Avni. “It’s nice to be able to celebrate two sets of festivals. You need to be open to different customs. Sometimes you come across cultural similarities that you wouldn’t expect. For example, Germans always take their shoes off before entering someone’s house, quite like we do in India.”


Nikita Wu & Rahul Nayer

The bride has Chinese roots on her father’s side and her mom is from Nepal; the groom’s mother is Maharashtrian and father is Malayali

It all began with an early morning dream, the kind you wake up to and wonder if it was real. She dreamed of a wedding card, which read “Nikita weds Rahul” and a wedding in Goa. The only glitch was that Nikita Wu did not know anyone named Rahul. Yet.

She met Rahul Nayer the same month she had that dream, and two years later, they were married. No prizes for guessing the destination they chose for their big day!

Tere mere beach mein: The couple had a church wedding in Goa along with a traditional Maharashtrian wedding in Delhi.

The thing about dreams is that you need to work towards making them a reality, and believe that it is possible. Nikita and Rahul met via a common friend in Mumbai where Rahul was based as a pilot. “Even in a big group of friends, we were the only two people talking and guiding conversations. It’s not like sparks flew all over the place, but I realised that there was something interesting happening that evening,” says Rahul of their first encounter.

He had to visit Delhi often for his aviation licensing, which meant that he got more time to spend with Nikita. Sipping on yak butter tea in a quaint restaurant at Majnu ka Tilla (the Tibetan market) they spent time together – ‘platonic’ dates, as they called them. Discussing subjects ranging from foreign policy to TV series, what struck them most was their shared love for travel and adventure.

Nikita has Chinese roots from her father’s side and her mother is from Nepal, whereas Rahul’s mother is Maharashtrian and father is Malayali. Coming from different cultural backgrounds was never an issue. “We always joke that our children are going to have a quarter of each lineage,” says Nikita and it’s true that they will have the best of four worlds. “His parents are extremely liberal,” she adds. “They had no objections to a church wedding in Goa.” Ultimately, their wedding ceremonies were split into two beautiful parts: one was a church wedding in Goa and the other a Maharashtrian wedding in Delhi.

“The only thing that has changed after marriage is that both of us have found a travel companion who’s on the same wavelength, ready to push the boundaries of what’s possible and what’s not,” says Rahul. Together, they travel the world, take courses in adventure sports like scuba diving and paragliding.

“Being a pilot, Rahul is away a lot but the time that we spend with each other while travelling is special,” says Nikita.

Both earth signs – one a Taurus, the other a Virgo – they live up to the myth of being perfectly matched in the sun-sign department. But in the end, what matters most is the willingness with which they take part in each other’s craziness, marking every chapter in their lives with one more thing to share with each other.


Heena & Declan Cahill

A romance made in investment banking heaven: how a Sikh girl and a British boy struck a fine balance, combining a white wedding with a lavish Indian ceremony

I always assumed that I would have a ‘white’ wedding, with dresses and veils and a simple church ceremony. How did I come to marry a woman who was not dressed in white?” wonders a very British Declan Cahill, who married Heena Randhawa in a typical Sikh wedding last year. “The answer is that I fell in love with someone really special so I didn’t mind the religious and ceremonial differences, or that she speaks a different language; in fact I celebrated it,” he says.

For Heena and Declan, it all began on a rare sunny day in London, at an investment bank where they worked. There was no time wasted in weighing pros and cons once they realised they were in love. Before they knew it, they were married.

“I knew he was ‘the one’ quite soon!” says Heena, talking about the first few months of their relationship. “Since we both travelled extensively and lived abroad while growing up, we haven’t really had to battle any barriers about cultural upbringing even after being married.”

Their wedding in India, against the gorgeous backdrop of the Neemrana Fort, is something straight out of fairytales, where the unconventional groom fits right in. “I thought he rocked every outfit we picked,” says Heena, “The only problem we faced while shopping was that everything looked great on him.”

The twain shall meet: A glimpse of what Declan likes to call ‘Wollywood’ – a white man dancing to Bollywood songs.

Dancing with his best men to what he likes to call “Wollywood”, or “a white man doing a Bollywood number”, Declan kicked off the festivities in style, making it the best exchange of vows he and his family had ever attended. “The wedding day will always be something I will remember, from having a turban tied tightly around a head that was nursing a few whiskeys from the night before, to small stolen moments like secretly holding hands during the rituals,” he says, cracking the code of the core of Indian marriages – the laughter, the hangovers and the imperfect dancing.

Asked what was the one thing he would remember of the day she walked to the mandap, Declan answers simply, “Just thinking that I was the luckiest man alive.”


Chetan & Vasundhara Mohan

Two perfect strangers hum along at a tea shop – and let their taste in music and fondness for tea bring them together, into matrimony

Take a cup of tea at a tea shop. Add background music that happens to be the favourite song for two strangers in the tea shop. Watch the strangers watch each other as they hum along. Watch them smile at each other. Watch them get married two and a half years later. Now meet Australia-based Vasundhara, a content strategist with a start-up, and Chetan, a business consultant, the two people brought together by a song.

She’s Bengali, he’s Punjabi. Their decision to marry may have been opposed by either of their families, but it wasn’t. At least, not on cross-cultural grounds.

“My parents didn’t have a problem with how we met, or what ensued, but they were concerned about how successful a marriage between us would be,” says Vasundhara. “My parents knew I wasn’t the most responsible person, and having met Chetan, they felt the same about him. They were not wrong at that point, because Chetan was 25 when I met him and I was 24. Neither of us was responsible and my parents were quick to pick up on that.”

A bollywood-style romance: She is Bengali, he is Punjabi. Their marriage could have been opposed by either of the families, but it wasn’t . (Photo: Priyanka Sachar)

Chetan was not the living embodiment of Vasundhara’s dream of a future husband – because Vasundhara had never dreamed that sort of dream. “But like most girls, I had a great example in my father who is a kind and loving person,” she says. “My family also instilled in me a love for adventure and travel. Although I never gave much thought to an ideal man, I now know that I’d not be happy with someone with a closed mind.”

As Chetan’s parents are settled in Shimla, the couple had what they call a ‘Wedding on Wheels’. Their engagement, a grand affair, Punjabi in flavour, was held in Delhi. The sangeet and wedding were a mix of Punjabi and Bengali ceremonies and were held in Dehradun, and the reception was held in Shimla.

Indian weddings are characterised by never-ending ceremonies and chaos. Bring in rites and rituals from two different communities, and you might imagine chaos squared. But Vasundhara and Chetan were very clear about the kind of wedding they wanted.

“We had a very close group planning the wedding. We knew who was important to us and we wanted only their input. Chetan’s parents never put forward a proposal that we weren’t comfortable with – even with the shopping, my mother-in-law ensured I had a say in everything that they bought for me,” says Vasundhara. “I was particular about having a small wedding and Chetan’s family happily went along with that. They were also very keen on learning Bengali traditions and we were keen on celebrating the Punjabi way. So it turned out to be double the fun.”

Like many cross-cultural weddings, the rites and rituals of the two communities were merged. “On the same day, I had the haldi, which is a Punjabi tradition, and the ‘bou-bhaath’ which is a Bengali tradition where the mother and grandmother make all the girl’s favorite dishes and everyone takes turns feeding her. The tradition signifies the family pampering the child one last time.”

And then there were the clothes! “I wore a Bengali saree during the bou-bhaath (reception), and for the wedding I wore a lehenga simply because I had had enough opportunities to wear sarees,” says Vasundhara. “I got mine from Jaipur and absolutely loved it. I walked in holding paan leaves in front of my face which prevented Chetan from seeing me until I was up close. This was a Bengali tradition. Chetan entered wearing a sehra (Punjabi style), but later wore a mukut which is a Bengali headgear. When the baraat entered, they were welcomed with ‘ulu’, which is a distinctly Bengali way to mark an auspicious moment and celebrate.”

Two years after the wedding, Vasundhara and Chetan still merge their cultures. “I think that as long as both the families are open minded, there are only benefits to this kind of marriage,” says Vasundhara. “As a Bengali and a Punjabi, I love a good meal. And our intercultural marriage has exposed both our families to all kinds of food. When Chetan’s family visits us, they insist on Bengali fish curry, or even the simplest of Bengali food like aloo shiddho. On the other hand, I have learnt how to make all kinds of Punjabi food. Also, it is a great way to learn a new language and develop more grey matter in the brain. And it a lot of fun when both families get together and pull each other’s legs with jokes like, ‘Bengalis eat water too’ (since Bengalis say, ‘jol khaabe’!).”


Janhavi Samant & Shan Mohammad

The couple wed in 2006, have two children, and still can’t agree on how they ended up with three ceremonies when they’d planned on having only one

Shan Mohammad: I was against any religious ceremony and I don’t like the loudness of a typical Indian wedding. I thought we’d register and move on with life. How did we have three shaadis?

Janhavi Samant: I’ll tell the story. My mum was pressuring Shan to get married. My dad had passed away recently and she believed that a wedding, if any, should happen within a year.

SM: Her mum knew I was hesitant!

JS: Because you were really putting it off. She wanted the Special Marriage Act for us as she did not trust Muslim law’s fairness to women.

SM: There’d be a reception eventually.

JS: My in-laws believed they had a social duty to hold one. I wanted a Marathi wedding – but only because I wanted to dress up. But then, for the court wedding, one cousin decided to come along. Mum said she’d come too. Shan’s parents said they’d travel from Bhilai for it. All these relatives and friends started saying “We’re also coming”, and suddenly 20 people were coming to “see us” getting married in court. My sister made me buy a sari. My aunt organised lunch at her place. Without any of us realising, it had become a celebration.

SM: Then my mother came into the picture.

JS: She took me aside and said “You’re getting the celebration you want, but I have one son. He won’t want a religious ceremony, could you convince him?”SM: So, now there was a nikaah in Kerala where my family is.

JS: Which was planned according to a Hindu mahurat. My mother-in-law said, “Tum log kuch achcha mahurat dekh lo”. And 20 Samants booked train tickets to Cochin.

SM: We knew they had never been to Kerala.

JS: Shan’s mother was keen to show her family’s support. They planned a city tour, put us up at a nice hotel. We didn’t hire a mehendiwali. So two of Shan’s sisters did it; one hand looked different from the other. It was wonderful how they accepted me. For the Marathi wedding, my family tried to make them comfortable too. The most unconventional thing we did was to have my mother, a widow, give me away. SM: After all these years the best memory was the feeling of surprise. I’m the kind of guy who goes to weddings for the food. So, being on the other side and feeling happy was surprising!

JS: You were probably smiling out of embarrassment! My favourite memory is from the civil ceremony. After we’d registered, they made us sit on these throne-like chairs and Shan’s father came and gave him a big, tight hug. That was very emotional – I missed my own father. I enjoyed my wedding. Not too many Indian brides can say that.


Lauren & Abhiram Mokasdar

Meeting online on a vegetarian forum, a boy from Nagpur and a girl from Bath thought they had a connection from a previous life: within one week they had decided to marry. Today Lauren runs a blog that gives valuable advice to expat wives in India

I became a member of a vegetarian forum in December 2012 and within a few minutes of browsing the site, a user started a conversation with me. Usually I would completely ignore this, but for some reason, I replied.”

What happened to pharmacy student Lauren next is the stuff of romcoms. She felt an instant connection to the faceless person at the other end. They kept chatting. “‘This must be a past life connection!’ I thought, and just as it crossed my mind, the words ‘We must have known each other in previous lives’ popped up on my screen”. Call it love at first ping, if you will. “I hadn’t even seen how gorgeous he was!”

There was just one problem. Lauren was in Bath, England. The person at the other end – Abhiram Mokasdar was working in New Jersey USA, and hailed all the way from Nagpur.

The connection was too strong to ignore. Lauren and Abhiram kept chatting and within a week, they’d decided to marry. Abhiram quit his job and booked a flight to India to break the news to his parents. He had a 10-hour stopover in London – where they first met. Lauren then finished her degree and in June 2013 boarded a one-way flight to India.

They married a week later.

“I love living in India but, as you can imagine, it is not always lotus flowers and marigolds,” she writes on her blog EnglishWifeIndianLife. Lauren and Abhiram first had a secret temple wedding and then a traditional Indian one – sari, pheras, mangalsutra and hundreds of guests – in April 2014. “The wedding was so intense compared to a British wedding,” she says. “It’s really not about the bride and the groom.”

And it’s certainly not the kind of wedding she’d have imagined for herself as a young girl in Bath. “I’m Anglican Christian and not that religious, but I’d always expected to have a church wedding,” she says. “Until I met Abhiram, it was always a white dress even though there was no man in mind.”

In India, she switched to looking at (and making dream sketches of) heavy lehengas and saris, picked out a mangalsutra instead of a wedding ring, began shortlisting sample wedding invitations from a bag of 50 and took a 14-hour sleeper bus to Pune to shop for the wedding. Nothing went as planned. “The lehengas we saw were beautiful,” one blog post says. “I loved them so much but they didn’t love me. I had a slight problem, I am 5ft 8in and those skirts were unfortunately not made with my height in mind.”

As Lauren adjusted to life in India, the lehengas were altered to fit. She learned to love yellow (“A colour I usually run away from”) after learning that it was an auspicious colour for the wedding puja and wore a Paithani sari to one of the events.

Eighteen months on, Lauren’s site has had plenty of posts on living in India: henna tips, spirituality, finding love online, other love stories from across the world. The advice section, Agony Bhabhi, offers hope to others trying to adjust to life in India.


Neha & Manuel Baumann

Neha Jain and Manuel Baumann have never let their Jain and Catholic upbringing or religious beliefs come in the way of making their marriage work beautifully

W hen you’re a German groom with an Indian bride, no boring old horse is going to take you to your mandap. Only an elephant will do. So Manuel, the maharaja for the day, got to his fairytale wedding at a regal pace, while Neha Jain, his maharani-to-be, giggled in the mandap as she awaited her groom.

That’s the joy of a cross-cultural wedding, though no one could have seen that coming when Neha and Manuel first met at a party in Bangalore. They were completely indifferent to each other, but time and social circle proximity soon ushered in romance, and in 18 months, they decided to marry.

(Photo: Priyanka Sachar)

That was four years and a two-year-old daughter ago, and Neha and Manuel, working out of Bangalore and Hyderabad as an HR consultant and a sales honcho respectively, still laugh at their parents’ fears regarding a cross-cultural marriage.

“My mother thought Manuel’s family would be very outdoorsy and I may not fit in. I think she had images of skiing vacations and tennis classes,” giggles Neha.

Most cross-cultural couples plan suitably cross-cultural weddings, but Manuel insisted on an Indian experience, elephant et al.

Other adjustments had to be made. Jains are vegetarian and supposed to be teetotallers. But Manuel’s family needed their wine and meat. “The Jain side was dismayed at the idea, but eventually relented,” recalls Neha with a laugh.

As the wedding indicated, cultural compromises are not as hard as they originally seem to be, and that’s what Neha learned in the four years of her marriage.

“Marriage is about the two people concerned, and in the long run, culture plays a very limited role,” says Neha. “You deal with each other’s likes, dislikes, fears, hopes and dreams, irrespective of where the other person is from. Even today, I am a staunch Jain and Manuel is a staunch Catholic but that has not affected our relationship in any way. In fact, I think cross-cultural marriages make the best babies – they’re fast developers and a lovely mix of both sides.”

From HT Brunch, December 20

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