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HindustanTimes Thu,28 Aug 2014

Love actually: crossover couples and their happily ever after

Navleen Kaur Lakhi, Hindustan Times   February 12, 2014
First Published: 15:38 IST(12/2/2014) | Last Updated: 10:10 IST(13/2/2014)

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, they say, which only highlights how different men and women are from each other.

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And when a marriage comprises a couple from a different set of countries, the differences only become starker. Different culture, different language, different traditions and friends and family in different continents — you just have to pick your battles.

But then, how many happily married couples do we come across everyday? When we peeped inside the lives of some crossover couples from the region, the great truths dawned upon us.

Firstly, it is love that sustains a marriage, irrespective of where your spouse is from. Secondly, and most importantly, they rejoice the differences in their upbringing instead of finding faults in each other.

Lastly, long distances were never a deterrent for them. After all, communication doesn’t require too many apps (applications) or a fast internet connection; it only needs an honest intention. Read on and get ready to fall in love.

Marriage is an understanding, not a compromise
Girimer Singh Mann, 44, Chandigarh and Marta Ramirez, 44, Spain

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After experiencing life’s wild side, Girimer and Marta bumped into each other one fine day when both had sobered up and decided to flow with the rhythm of life.

Giri and Marta met at a yoga ashram in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, in August 2004, where both had come to seek some solace. Recounting their love story, Marta says, "I came to India in 2002 and started working with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. In 2004, I went to Manali for a break. The first time that I saw Giri was when he came to my room to get a haircut from a friend of mine from Spain. We started chatting and never stopped."

As they look fondly into each other’s eyes, cuddling and holding hands, you’d think they’d remember every tiny detail about their relationship. But, Giri and Marta can’t remember when exactly they fell in love, or for that matter — believe it if you can — the date of their wedding. "You can’t decide when to fall in love," Marta explains patiently, adding, "It’s a process in which something is built. Until today, that continues."

After four months of togetherness in Manali, Marta and Giri decided to be together forever. Marta’s mother came down from Spain to meet Giri, whom she approved of. Meanwhile, Giri’s mother and sister were also happy about the relationship.

Marriage happened in May 2005 in a gurdwara in Fatehgarh Sahib with only four people in attendance when Marta was seven months pregnant. Parents to three children — Uma, 9; Ram, 6, and Zora, 4 — Giri and Marta recently shifted base to Chandigarh from Manali, where they had been running Casa Bella Vista cottages and a Spanish café.

Marital bliss, one would assume, must have required many compromises to be made. But Giri points out that ‘compromise’ isn’t an appropriate term to use. "I prefer to call it understanding. When two families become one, it requires a lot of work. And here, we are talking about coming together of two cultures and different religions," he says, adding, "The first year is always exciting, but we were ready for the efforts to be put in later."

Always on the move, the two divide their time between Manali, Chandigarh, Goa and Spain. Their secret to a happy union, we conclude, lies in not taking things too seriously. Marta agrees, saying, "I made it clear that I would attend family gatherings and functions here only if I felt like, and Giri never forced me to."

Nevertheless, she is visited by feelings of homesickness now and then.

"I’m in a strange country. From language to food, unorganised governance, being constantly stared at and dealing with a different way of expressing love, nothing was a cakewalk. But when I go to Spain, I start missing India. Giri and the kids are my world now," she says, adding, "In many couples, we find that spark missing. Two people should be together because there is something special. Individual and combined growth has to be simultaneous."

Respect thou beloved
Amit Sodhi, 33, Panchkula and Leah Lanojan Sodhi, 33, Cebu, Philippines

While Amit is a man of few words, Leah prefers to let her smile do all the talking. Similar yet different, the two were drawn to each other six years ago like long-lost lovers.

It was a chance meeting in Singapore in 2005, where Amit had gone to spend the last year of a three-year hotel management degree (the previous two years having been spent in India) and Leah was conducting English training workshops for professionals in the corporate world, that brought them together. Recalls Amit with a smile playing on his lips, "Leah and I met through common friends. What attracted me about her was how hardworking she was. When her friends hung out with us, Leah would stay home to finish work. She was very different from the others."

A month later, Leah returned to Philippines to her parents and three siblings and realised the depth of her feelings for Amit, who had already decided that Leah was the girl for him. "Soon, our conversations via emails and Skype became frequent and we introduced each other to our families, though only as friends. In 2007, while I was still in Philippines and Amit was in India, he proposed to me," Leah says with a shy smile.

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Love is known to bring courage to even the meekest and Leah was no exception. When she’d decided to marry him, she didn’t mind travelling to India all by herself for the ceremonies. However, Amit was worried. "I was really anxious when she told me this. It also made me realise how much she trusted me," he says, with Leah chipping in, "It was only after coming to India that I learnt that marriages are of two types—love and arranged. Back home, you just choose your own partner."

In November 2007, Amit and Leah tied the knot in a traditional Hindu ceremony and Leah converted to Hinduism. Did Leah’s move to India spell the start of a period of adjustments? She doesn’t think so, though marriage does ask for changes in lifestyles, Leah says. "While I was used to eating sea food which is almost bland, food in India is rather spicy. But, my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law changed their cooking pattern rather than expecting me to adjust. They have done everything possible to make me feel comfortable," gushes Leah, who is mother to a three-year-old boy, Jasper, and works as an English teacher, social media manager and blogger.

For Leah — Amit’s ‘bebu bear’ — her husband’s love has been consistent. "He’s thoughtful and knows exactly how I’m feeling. I think all it takes is respect for your partner and open-mindedness for the new culture. It’s not about what you say but how you say it," says Leah, affectionately called ‘honey bear’ by Amit.

Meanwhile, Amit, a freelance web designer, adds on a note of pride, "When we got married, people thought she would return to Philippines in four or five months. It’s been almost six years now and we have proved them wrong."

Free your mind of blocks
Aman Jaspal, 29, Chandigarh and Sameena Jaspal, 29, New Zealand

When we hear Aman and Sameena’s love story, some popular thoughts get reconfirmed — such as the fact that men do face commitment phobia and that love conquers all.

Aman, a Chandigarh boy, and Sameena, who was based in New Zealand, met in Chandigarh in 2009. Born to a British mother and Punjabi father, Sameena was in India to visit her grandparents when she met Aman socially. "He got my number and called me up to show me around Chandigarh. I had heard that he is a ladies’ man, so I politely declined," she laughs. They were soon friends on Facebook and started talking occasionally. But, it wasn’t until mid-2010 that they met up again in London, where Sameena was working.

"After spending quality time together in London, we started dating, though it was long distance after I moved to Norway for post graduation," says Aman. For those who fret over their love being thousands of miles away, Sameena and Aman show how things work.

"We were always there for each other. The long distance made our relationship stronger," says Sameena, adding that she knew Aman is ‘the one’ after their time together in London, even though she’d never thought she would marry an Indian. Aman, she laughs, "took longer to figure it out".

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In 2011, Sameena moved to her hometown Christchurch in New Zealand and Aman moved back to India. Marriage was the next step for them, though it did throw Aman in a tizzy. "I wasn’t scared to marry Sameena but to get hitched in general, perhaps because none of my friends or elder cousins had married yet. But I knew that if we didn’t tie the knot, I might end up losing her," he confesses.

It was clear that Aman won’t move to New Zealand, so Sameena readied to change her lifestyle. "It was nothing major apart from the language barrier. Of course, expectations from married women in India are more, but I was brought up to take it in my stride. Aman, too, was a constant help," she says, adding on a lighter note, "I’m now almost used to India timings. Earlier, I would be ready for an appointment at least 10 minutes ahead. Now, I’m more relaxed." Married since January 2013, they are now the proud parents of a baby girl, Amaania.

On the personal front, Aman and Sameena are polar opposites. "Sameena is romantic and outspoken while I’m more practical and realistic. I’m not someone who would call up four times a day to say that ‘I miss you’ or ‘I love you’. But, I started calling her more often to make her happy. She, in turn, understands my silence. Over time, you make changes keeping in mind the other person. It’s essential to remove blockages from the mind," says Aman. Sameena also believes that their differences have worked for them.

"Love for me has changed and developed over this last year. It’s no longer just about romantic getaways and having fun together, but more about support and respect for each other. Also, the support of our families has been very important," she says, adding that she loves how her father-in-law involves her in every family decision, more so when Aman stays away for long periods in Amritsar for work.

Does anyone take digs at the other person’s culture? "When it suits Aman, I am a true Sardarni and at other times I am a white woman! He teases me about being a Kiwi with silly sheep jokes," she laughs. The two agree wholeheartedly that coming from different cultures has made them more appreciative about things. "Learning more about another culture and religion has been amazing. The only hard part has been moving away from family and lifelong friends," says Sameena.

Look for Similarities
Vindu Dara Singh, 49, Mumbai and Dina Singh, 34, Russia

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Bollywood actor Vindu Dara Singh’s family might be an ideal instance of cross cultural marriages. While his brother is married to a Gujarati, his sister has an American husband. This is perhaps why Vindu’s marriage to a Russian didn’t come as a surprise to his family. Vindu and Dina Umarova, a Russian model, met in Mumbai in 2005.

"Dina had come to India for a modelling assignment. A friend of mine kept asking me to meet Dina. We met a couple of times, but didn’t really date or discuss our feelings. Though many of my friends asked me not to let her go back to Russia, I didn’t take them too seriously," says Vindu. Just like they show in the films, the ‘realisation’ dawned on him when Dina was away.

He says, "When she left, I felt something was amiss. Finally, I confessed my love and requested her to come to India." In the meanwhile, Dina was feeling separation pangs as well. "Every woman wants to be treated in a certain manner. Vindu made me feel very special. I could see it in his eyes that he was completely in love with me," she says, when asked what drew him to her.

With Vindu’s father — late actor Dara Singh — and his mother happy to hear about Vindu’s love, things fell into place perfectly. "After my divorce from my first wife (actor Farah Khan), my parents were eager to see me settle down," he says. In March 2006, the two married in a gurdwara in Mumbai. Vindu says they hardly needed adjusting, since "there isn’t much difference between Indians and Russians, apart from the language".

"In fact, what I really like about Dina is how close she is to her family.  Besides being a loving and caring person, she is very straightforward too," he smiles. Any hiccups in understanding Indian customs like that of touching the elders’ feet were quickly overcome. However, Dina is still trying to adjust to Mumbai’s traffic and pollution.

"But people here are very warm," she adds. Does she ever miss Russia? "The thought of going back to one’s country comes when a couple fights, which we hardly do," says Dina, mother to a six-year-old daughter, Amelia. Vindu and Dina’s families are now one big happy family. "It’s fun watching my in-laws and family interact," Vindu laughs.

More love...

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Celeb love — across the borders

Sunny Leone was born a Punjabi in Ontario, Canada, as Karenjit Kaur Vohra. The 32-year-old former adult porn star met New Yorker Daniel Weber in 2007 in Las Vegas. Daniel, 35, is starry-eyed when he recalls their love story. "Sunny played real hard to get. But, I believe in old-fashioned chivalry and courted her until she gave in. She finally agreed for a date and we met for dinner. We spoke for three hours without opening the menu and the rest is history," he smiles.

The two married in 2011 in two ceremonies conducted in accordance with Sikh and Jewish faiths. "We were married in Los Angeles in a gurdwara in the morning and on the beach in a traditional Jewish ceremony in the evening. Neither of us has changed our religions because we respect each other’s faiths. In fact, our families were very happy to see us married," says Daniel.

Having recently moved to Mumbai after Sunny was offered Hindi films, the two can count on their fingers the factors that make a cross cultural marriage work. "Trust, respect, listening to each other and compromises make a marriage successful. For both of us, bonding with a new family from another culture was amazing and we enjoyed learning in India and Israel," they say, adding that communication is the key.

Whenever they have children, Sunny and Daniel would like them to follow both of their religions.

Love of another kind

Vijay James, 50, and Jacqueline James, 41, overcame one of the most overwhelming challenges in the new-age world — vanity. Having met in 2003 on an online matrimony site, the two accepted each other wholly.

Vijay is physically challenged and was expecting to find a life partner like himself. When he came across Jacqueline’s profile that mentioned her profession as a teacher for differently abled children in Singapore, he found a common thread. "She believed that disability is only a state of mind and it won my heart," smiles Vijay, a Chandigarh resident.

After five years of long distance relationship, she made her maiden visit to India in 2008. Until then, Vijay hadn’t seen her because Jacqueline didn’t think she was "good looking enough". What was Vijay’s first reaction on seeing her? "I thought she was beautiful," he smiles. The two married in 2008 and wish to travel together to make up for lost time. Their secret to an everlasting bond? Unmatched compatibility.


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