I broached the subject out of sheer curiousity. She looked radiant, this twenty-something girl. She had about her the sort of glow that comes with inner contentment. Complimenting her on it she attributed her effulgence to the magic of marriage.
“Eloping would have been the easiest route to the altar, but it was a far-fetched idea.” Saira laughed wryly as she proceeded to tell me their beautiful story.
They were in love, and when you are in love, religion is the last thing on the mind.
Their union didn't create the stereotypical drama that's usually witnessed in similar situations. She still heaves a sigh of relief that eventually both their families were on the same page. Of course it wasn't a cake walk, of course there were hesitations, but nothing that could not be talked over. A genuine effort and assurance offered a thaw and eventually created a bond that has simply grown stronger with time. Both their folks were broad minded and educated people, Saira elucidated. It helped in dealing with the initial jitters.
Saira Ahmed and Rishabh Sethi were deeply in love. She was a Muslim and he a Punjabi Hindu. After five years of courtship, finally the wedding bells were all set to ring. However there was a minor hindrance. Who would set the tone of the bell? And then began the maneuvering, each side politely placing its reasons. The pendulum swung between a phera – a Hindu ceremony – and a nikah – a Muslim one. Over cups of tea and nibblers, as the issue was discussed, it had the potential to drag beyond the bonhomie. To Saira and Rishabh’s great relief, a court marriage was an idea that found a majority of takers. In Saira’s words, “Finally the law of the land prevailed and we became husband and wife.’’
The three years of married life have not been without its adjustments. Both the immediate families embraced the love-birds. But – as we know – an Indian family's extensional parts are never inconsequential! There has to be a relative who plays the role of a spoiler. The snide remarks did fly occasionally. One particular cousin sister rued the fact that ''hamara munda (read Rishabh) missed his ticket to Amrikka, by turning down Kapoor saaheb's NRI daughter.” Another grand aunt insisted that having Saira as a family member was like rubbing salt on her wounds from the Partition.
The couple had mutually decided to simply ignore such extraneous irritants and took them in their stride.
Saira’s has an elder sister whose in-laws were furious at the interfaith matrimonial alliance. They not just boycotted the wedding but also served an ultimatum on Saira’s sister to choose between her husband’s family and her younger sibling. Saira’s sister refused to succumb to such pressure tactics. Those were days of tension for the newlyweds but maturity and patience paid-off.
There were many firsts that they had to pull through.
There was a pooja in the house. Saira was hesitant and unsure – she had never been part a pooja before; how would her in-laws react to the presence of a Muslim? Rishabh, ever conscious of her thoughts and feelings, took her hand and walked her to the room from which the chanting of the mantras could be heard. For Saira it was a crucial milestone in the path Rishabh and she had charted.
It was Diwali in Saira’s new home. Together with her mother-in-law she created her first rangoli. Her sasuralwalas insisted she inscribe swagatam in Urdu. They called it “our multicultural rangoli.”
It was Rishabh’s first Ramadan Iftar at Saira’s parents’ place. Saira’s father noted Rishabh’s confusion and explained gently to him the essence and etiquettes of the holy month. When Rishabh joined the family for the Eid festivities, among the gifts he received was a skull cap with an R woven on it. It had been made specially for him by Saira’s mother. Rishabh was deeply touched by the gesture.
These small gestures coalesced into a steadily cementing bond between the two families.
Marital life has also been about discovering each other’s cultures. Being secure individuals has certainly helped matters, they have always managed to polish the rough edges, making the journey called life a worthy experience.
Saira and Rishabh are the quintessential couple. In schismatic times they restore our faith in love, in promises kept, in values such as mutual trust and understanding. They are a shining example of taboo and prejudice overcome. There is something reassuring about them. Through their silences and their smiles I get the feeling that along with love, sensibilities and sensitivities are the keys to a good wholesome relationship – and not just to its survival, also to its blossoming.
Last heard, the storks are visiting Mrs and Mr Sethi. If you are wondering which religion their child will follow the couple has an answer, “Our primary concern is not to raise a hindu or a muslim kid but a child who is ethical, compassionate and humane. S/he has the liberty to choose her/his religion. It could be different from her/his parents' beliefs. Rest assured, we will welcome the child’s choice, as and when, or if, s/he makes it!’’