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LOVE: The Ultimate Outlaw

February 3, 2014 , by Jerusha Rai, Leave your thoughts
LOVE: The Ultimate Outlaw » My Dreams Mag

 

When I was 14, my parents got divorced. Later on, the first guy I fell in love with broke up with me… over a text message! Not surprisingly, I became one of those cynics who refuse to get dolled up for weddings (but secretly cry during the vows). I would roll my eyes at yet another song about love (“wow, how refreshing”), but found myself humming it while I daydreamed. If someone asked me the antonym of romance, I would have glared at them, put on my best impression of Wednesday Addams and said “reality”.

And yet, just when I thought I had comprehended all the complexities and contradictions of love, it eluded me. “Love is the ultimate outlaw”, says Tom Robbins. It abides by no rules, because it requires no rules. For love can never be wrong.

I still do find most romantic movies far-fetched, but there are real-life love stories all around me: people who have suffered, not just because of love, but for love. And despite my defences, my favourite question to ask anybody is,

 

How did you two meet?”

This is exactly what I ask Colleen, the author of the blog “Musings from an American-Nepali Household” where she shares the perks and quirks of her inter-cultural marriage with Prajjwal.

It all started at a rural university near the Canadian border in northern New York State. We were both living in the same dormitory called the ‘International House.’ I bumped into Prajjwal in the hallway a few hours after he got off his twenty hour bus ride from his other school, but it took a few months of being friends and spending time together before the relationship grew more serious”, she shares.

 

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What are the chances of finding your soul-mate?

Poets and philosophers have worked long and hard on the formula. What must it be like to feel connected to a person that has literally come from the other side of the planet? And everybody around you dropping hints that it’s not going to work.

Yet Colleen tells us that she has married her best friend. For these rebels in love, their differences actually sparked the initial attraction. “I think I was initially drawn to Prajjwal because of his international background. Even ten years later I am still learning new things about Nepali culture, and I think he is still learning new things about my culture too. It adds an extra “masala” to our relationship and keeps things fresh and interesting” says Colleen.

She attributes her husband’s thoughtfulness to his roots in Nepali culture. She has observed that many Nepalis around her tend to show their affection through actions rather than words. “While an American will say, ‘I love you,’ a Nepali seems more likely to do something that reflects this. I think this approach has made me more mindful about doing kind and thoughtful things as well” she says, viewing her relationship as a space for endless learning.

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Best of both Worlds

Celebrating both American and Nepali holidays, eating American and Nepali foods and having friends from all over the world add to their adventures. It seems to stem from a deep curiosity about each other. I like this idea a lot, that in real-life, making love stay doesn’t mean dramatic dashes across the airport, but a steady attempt to understand your partner.

Colleen proudly proclaims, “I know how to tie a saree, make tarkari dishes, and discuss Bollywood films. I have a pretty good understanding of Nepali social etiquette and feel conversant in familial terminology—who’s a mama versus a phupa versus a kaka, etc. Meanwhile we joke that as jwain-sahab to an American family, Prajjwal doesn’t get the special treatment he might have had if he had married a Nepali, but he integrated well into my large extended family and quickly became my grandmother’s favourite son-in-law!”

The adventurous pair frame cross-cultural relationships in a lets-have-double-the-fun perspective, as opposed to the oh-its-too-difficult one. Their wedding was twice the celebration of faith in their love: a red, Hindu, Nepali bihey as well as an American style ceremony. Indeed it turned out to be a memorable event among others too. Recalling her day, Colleen muses, “It was the first time many of my American family members experienced Nepali culture, and likewise, many of Prajjwal’s Nepali family and our Nepali friends had never been to a ‘white wedding’. It was a great cultural learning experience and a lot of fun for all!”

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Love is simple, people are complex

Love might be the simplest route to happiness and yet society puts up so many hurdles over it. Cross-cultural relationships are viewed in more liberal ways than before, but there are still struggles that persist. “Rabindra was the first person in his family to not have an arranged marriage so it was a big thing to tell them he was having a love marriage with not just someone from another caste, but a white woman from Australia. His family were initially worried about me divorcing him because I’m a westerner (don’t you love stereotypes). We face cultural differences daily but we have managed to compromise a lot for the sake of love”, relates Casey, a Journalist and a blogger that writes about her cross-cultural relationship of nearly six years now.

Though we are all rooting for love, culture brings a team of very real conflicts that makes relationships one tough game to win. From the simplest lifestyle choices like drinking alcohol to the different living arrangements, the way we raise our children, language barriers, the expectations for women, the immigration process, all entail rethinking things you knew to be true all your life.

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Let there be spaces in your togetherness…

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow

not in each other’s shadow.” –Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

I was reminded of this quote by what Casey said when asked for advice on staying a happy couple. In her experience of a long-term inter-cultural relationship, it has seemed important not to change completely even for the sake of the one we love. “It’s important to compromise but it’s also important to hold on to our own culture and not lose who we are. If you change yourself too much to adapt to your partner’s culture, you will lose your own identity”. While open to making compromises, there are some things that Casey stands firm on. She cannot accept certain aspects of Nepali culture: the exclusion of girls during their periods because they are ‘unclean’, the refusal to let a white person into Hindu temples. She wishes for people to understand that being white does not necessarily mean being a non-believer. “I wonder about when we have our own children and if they have white skin but have been brought up as Hindu and half Nepali. Will they also be rejected if they go to a temple in the future?” she worries.

It doesn’t keep her from admiring other differences she has with Nepali culture, especially how people use terms of kinship when talking to others like “bhauju”, “didi”, “dai”, “hajuraama”. “It’s nice and I wish we had that in Australia. I also like really the Bhai Tika festival, the festivals for sisters and brothers. Bonds between siblings are unique and special and we have no such festival to recognise this relationship. The festivals are amazing. The colours, the food, the dance and dresses, it’s all pretty spectacular!”

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Conflict and the good that comes out of it

It is in dealing with these struggles that Casey’s husband, Rabindra has come to list his favourite thing about her as honesty, understanding, cool and calm (“besides her eyes and hair”). In many ways, conflicts actually brought them closer, making them believe that they could challenge any struggle. “We shared things and we loved each other and encouraged each other to be more strong”, shares Rabindra.

Getting better at dealing with conflict every time it comes, Casey says “I try not to sweat the small stuff. If it’s an important matter, I will try really hard to understand him and where he is coming from. If it’s important to me, I will express myself.” In that endearing way that long-time couples finish each other’s thoughts, Rabindra adds, “If it’s not important we agree that it’s not important. We just laugh and kiss each other.”

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How to make love stay

Even as inter-cultural relationships are more accepted across most cultures with globalization, divorce rates are higher. Relationships don’t last for long. As our lives become more comfortable, we avoid things that are difficult. Making magic was easy, keeping it magical takes more than the cupid’s arrow.

Let’s take it from these people who, despite facing the additional pressures of cultural differences, have managed to keep love alive. Rabindra says there are a lot of things to always keep in mind. The first is that we all are equal and listening is key. “Don’t ignore each other. Share everything. Show your love. Respect each other, respect their family. Do romantic things. Take her new places, try different things and just make each other happy.”

Yes, its not all work. Its also play! And a sense of humour goes a long way. Rabindra draws a lot of amusement “talking stupid Nepalese words and asking Casey to repeat it. When she speaks those words in Nepali it’s really funny! The other thing is listening to her talk to my mom on the phone in Nepali. It is so funny to see them try to communicate together!”

Going back to Colleen and Prajjwal, we are also reminded to have adventures with each other. “Whether your adventure is a trip, a new activity, or a new experience, it helps to keep your relationship fresh and interesting. We have travelled, grown our family with a dog and now a new baby, and continually get to know new people and try new things. I look forward to having many new adventures throughout the rest of my life with Prajjwal”.

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To some of us cynics, it might all sound a bit harrowing. But then you see a face on the neighbourhood terrace, or hear a voice in a radio, or a shoulder that came bumping onto yours in a crowd, or a [un]familiar persona at the workplace, or a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, or a bumper to bumper collision on the road, or a pseudonym at a chat-room, or just a random comment at a community page sharing the same interest who tugs at your heart and clamps it’s vice-like grip.

There was a man (Newar) who fell in love with a girl (Newarni) on the terrace across the road, belonging to another caste and culture, but it couldn’t keep him from professing his love by throwing potatoes at her that eventually led to a lifelong partnership despite their family’s disapproval.

There was a woman on a radio (Purbeli) who fell in love with a man (Newar) who used to call-in; a voice without a face. The man was in love with that voice on the radio, the woman was in love with that voice on the phone. It was fateful they met, and found love. They didn’t belong to the same culture either.

There was a woman from the west who found a person from the east, on a poet’s page. One message led to another. They started sending and receiving virtual flower-pots, weekend wishes long before they knew ‘that was it’. At least one of them has taken four circles around the earth for the love and the bond that they didn’t write themselves.

All these human relationships and millions more out there, are happening, living, thriving and struggling right this very moment and are not defined by the colour of the skin, the rituals they practice, the cultures that claim them, the geographical distances. They find what they are made for.

Some only have to cross a road, some a city, and some an entire continent. Sometimes it’s a surprise, sometimes it’s a calling one follows that beckons the heart and the soul.

Cross-cultural relationships/marriages within our society are still met with great disapproval and emotional battles when two people from completely different backgrounds decide to seal their fate. This is all the more challenging for the white-skinned buharis in context of Nepal.

The language barrier, the expectations of the family for the foreign buhari to adopt the cultural curtsies, the superimposition of the gender roles (especially in/by the kitchen and the sink), the constant push to learn the Nepali language, constant remarks on body-language, hair, height, weight, snotty uncles/aunts or sisters or sister-in-laws or cousins, all arrives along with a cross-cultural relationships. Despite the efforts to gel-in, the foreign jwain’s and buhari’s are always looked upon with a distinguished foreignness, a family member who is quite not as their ‘own’, like an artificial limb.

While all these expectation are imposed on them, the families of these new members should also begin to understand that their own cultures and traditions aren’t the only cultures and traditions in the world, or the perfect one. As much as the families expect them to adapt to their practices and language, they should also be making just as much effort on the same subjects of adapting to the other person’s upbringing, social exposure, language and preferences. To let go of the concept of ‘us’ and ‘the other’ might be tasking to people of the orthodox persuasion, but as these and many other couples have shown, it is an opportunity to celebrate human union and to keep love alive not only in the lovers’ hearts but in all cynics who ask how they met and listen to their story.

 

 

Colleen is an international education professional, and she’s been with her partner, Prajjwol, for ten years. They met as undergraduate students in a rural college in upstate New York and have been together ever since. In July of 2011 they finally tied the knot. Their first child was born last October.

To read further about Colleen and Prajjwal, visit: americanepali.wordpress.com

 

Casey – 28 years, Journalist,  Rabindra - 30 years, Laundry technician and student
Lives in Brisbane, Australia. Future plans- Travel- Nepal, Europe, start a family, some half Nepali-Aussie babies, buy a house.

To read further about Casey and Rabindra, visit: whitegirlinasari.wordpress.com

 

 

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Text By: Jerusha Rai

  • Inter-Cultural Marriages
  • Article 2
  • Article 3
  • Article 4
  • Article 5
  • Article 6
  • Article 7
  • Article 8
  • Article 11
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