I started dating my “white” husband in mid nineties in a very parochial (I think) place called Kolkata, India. A white man with a brown woman was a rare sight in those days in my city so we got our fair share of snide comments and stares, bumping-into-telephone-pole kind of stares. We roamed the streets of Kolkata, the gardens of the National Library, the campus of my university, exchanging ideas and learning about our vastly different cultures in the musty yet magical Kolkata evenings. We even sat on the grounds of the infamous Victoria Memorial (supposedly anti-social activity is rampant there in the evenings), till the ‘peace keepers’ felt we were disturbing the sensitive morality of the city by sitting next to each other and drove us away, along with other amorous couples. I believe, it was there that I was called a “lady of the night” keeping company of a white man. I have to defend my earlier statement of Kolkata being extremely parochial here, where ever we went, we met a relative, a friend or an acquaintance of mine. And since I was sneaking out to meet my boyfriend, that was a ‘slight’ inconvenience. I don’t even want to talk about what happened when one of my aunts saw me walking down the street with Sean, holding hands.
Our romance survived all the surreptitious rendezvous, or in other words, sneaking around and we decided to take the plunge. My wedding was the first Catholic mass I ever attended. Growing up, I had dreamed of getting married in a white wedding dress, they looked so ethereal and beautiful in movies. Yet when the time and opportunity came to get married in one, I opted to wear a sari. I got married in Catholic ceremony, wearing a golden and black sari, Sean looked dashing in a tux. After the homily, the priest started giving the communion. I followed Sean’s lead through out the entire mass, like a two step dance routine. I kneeled when he did, stood up when he did, sat when he sat. So when he extended his hand to recieve the communion, I did the same. I am pretty sure Sean pinched me then, to deter my enthusiasm, although he denies it now. Instead of giving me Communion, the embarrassed priest put his hand on my head and blessed me. I was slightly miffed as I went through the rest of the ceremony.
It was important to Sean to incorporate some Hindu traditions along with the Catholic. For him our marriage was not just a union of two people but also a union of two cultures and two religions. He wanted to know “what can we do that is a Hindu wedding ritual”? How would I know? My focus in a Hindu wedding was always on fun, frolic and food. Did I ever pay attention to the rituals? So we did the very basic sindur ceremony where the bridegroom puts vermillion powder on the bride’s forehead, after we exchanged rings. I was just ecstatically happy to sign the marriage certificate and be done with it, but the rituals, both Catholic and Hindu, were important and meaningful to my husband, I respected that. Even the euphoria of marrying the sweetest guy didn’t take away the feeling of being slighted by the priest. I asked Sean why the heck was I denied the bread that everyone got, that too on my own wedding! That was NOT a nice way to treat a bride! He explained I had to be a Catholic to receive the body of Christ. I felt discriminated against, but let it slide. Later, when we went to enter the Temple of Jagannath in Puri, in India, Sean was denied entry for being a non-Hindu, I was appalled again. How can one be kept out from the house of God?
We decided to go to Cyprus and Israel for our honeymoon. Cyprus, because Sean had a meeting there, and Israel, because we felt it would be symbolic to go to a place where a new religion began, like our new relationship. Getting into Cyprus was easy, those island people were pretty laid back about the difference in the skin color between my husband and I. But Israel? Oh, we confused them. Those young immigration officers weren’t sure we were telling the truth when we said we were husband and wife. I have no idea why our relationship would matter to Israeli immigration, anyway! First, here was a brown woman and a white man, who claimed they were married, second, my passport said my maiden name and third, we didn’t carry our marriage certificate. They detained us for more than three hours along with some unfortunate Palestinian travelers, and asked us the same questions again and again, “Who is he to you?” and “Who is she to you?” “Why did you choose to layover in so and so place?” etc etc. It went on and on, till Sean smiled and said, “No matter how many times you ask, the answer is not going to change, she is my wife, I am her husband, we are here for our honeymoon. And why we chose to fly the way we did? Because we got a better deal with the airlines. Do you have any other ideas?” Finally, they let us go with the warning that we should stay in Israel and not stray into the West Bank. We, of course, promptly forgot the advice of not straying into West Bank, Sean’s organization has an office in Ramallah which we visited along with several other places.
A year after our Catholic wedding, we went back to India to have an Indian wedding. My country, I am sad to say, has a white skin fetish. Abiding by ‘the whiter the better’ rule, women spend a fortune on fairness creams and lotions to lighten their skin tone. Being dark is akin to being ugly, in most cases. When the beauty parlors do bridal make up, they lather foundation on the face of the bride. The face and neck turn very white while the other exposed body parts remain the original skin color, brown mainly. The same was done to me. Sean saw me at the reception hall and exclaimed, ‘What have they done to you? If I wanted to marry a white woman, I would have found one in the US!’ Between smiling and greeting over three hundred people I reproached my husband for reverse discrimination. What does skin color matter, white or brown, he is head over heels in love with me for my inner beauty and he better remember that!
We had our share of misunderstandings mainly due to our cultural differences. My poor husband, trying to be romantic (????) referred to me as “chick” one day and I let him have it! I thought the word was insulting and demeaning, to him it was complimentary. He didn’t know what hit him. Finally, when he figured out what caused this outburst he burst out laughing. Chick was supposedly a cute endearing term that was meant to convey the woman is young, attractive….whatever! There were others, I didn’t get the humor of Saturday Night Live, or Jerry Seinfeld for that matter. And when he said, “Are you bringing your pocketbook?” I gave him a blank stare. What in the world is a pocket book? He didn’t understand my Indian English and phrases sometimes, especially when I used phrases like “Come on, don’t give me that cock and bull story!” “Cock and what?????”
Most of the times we laughed about it and learned about each other’s culture. Sometimes we got into fights and argued about who is right. At the expense of sounding like a Fisher Price advertisement, we literally laughed, learned and grew together. And then came our golden skinned children….How they dealt with their ethnicity is another story. Sort of a sequel to this one.