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Love across cultures

Many expats have married Indians and made Delhi their home. They lead interesting lives

They say marriages are made in heaven and consummated on Earth. And Earth contains many nationalities and races; love is that binding force that transcends such barriers. Two people destined to be together live together find each other in the most unexpected places, in most unexpected ways. Delhi is a cultural melting pot where people from all over the world gravitate, an act of destiny not premeditated, and make it their home. Many find a partner and life, as they knew it so far, was changed forever.

In 1987-88, three decades back, young Jennifer from San Francisco came to India for the first time. She met her future husband Manpreet Sarang they dated for a year and half before they got married in 1991— the year India’s economy was liberalised. She stayed on, did her Master’s in business administration from Faculty of Business Studies, entered the corporate world and worked for leading companies before she started consultancy work some eight years ago.

She’s is a proud mother of two daughters; the elder, 24 years old, recently got married to an Indian and the younger, 19, is pursuing college in the US. She lost her husband a few years ago and lives in south Delhi alone with her dog Tobi. Consultancy work keeps her busy, as she travels on an average 100 days a year for work. She decided to stay on in Delhi even after her husband’s demise, and plans to spend rest of her life here “Delhi is who I’m, where I live,” she says.

Her husband, an IIT graduate who went on to become a garment exporter, told her before they got married that he had no intention of shifting to the US. When she started living in Delhi, she made a list of things that would be a challenge to deal with in her new life — none of which exist now.

The city has changed beyond recognition in the past three decades. “The Delhi of late 1980s took me backward in time to the 1950s of the US.” Now that too is history. India is the place where all the change is happening, she feels, a generational shift is felt in 2-4 years. Communication has revolutionised.

This year, for the first time, she felt dealing with pollution was challenging. “I always defend Delhi. There are safety concerns for women,” she says but qualifies it by saying that a big population resides in the city, and if one looked at rape in per capita terms — crime in the US is 10 times more. “India is a safe place compared to San Francisco. Here in Delhi, one horrific crime against a woman gets reported globally, but back in San Francisco such things happen every day and you don’t get to hear about it.”

She loves India, for the pace of life is slower, families are closely knit and people go out of the way to help kith and kin, and dress up for weddings “as if attending Academy Awards.”

They don’t know each other, but Susan Kralovec, in her mid-thirties, is also from San Francisco and agrees with Jenny on the subject of safety. She has been attacked many times in San Francisco — once a miscreant even put a knife on her neck.  She doesn’t feel particularly safe in Delhi, either. A professor in the US, one of her areas of enquiry is the relationship between object and products and how they impact culture.

Two years ago, she was backpacking around the globe but took a guided tour to India because was hesitant to travel alone in the country. She met her future husband Akhilesh Kumar, a resident of Delhi, in Kerala where he was also holidaying. He was engaged to an Indian girl at that point in time and was not sure he wanted to marry her. They stayed on for four weeks, had many heartfelt conversations, got to know each other better in a few days than most people do in years. It was a mere coincidence that they met again few months later in Alleppey when Akhilesh was there with his mother.

They have been living together in Delhi for now 10 months. “I love India. I don’t love Delhi,” she says while having coffee at a South Indian restaurant in Kailash Colony, where she lives. Pollution remains a concern, the Delhi heat in summer turns her “purple”. “We will leave Delhi, I will run a guest house in Kerala,” she says. At the moment the partners are trying to establish themselves, neither of them are financially dependent on each other. They have founded a startup to help people in “personality development”. She misses her friends in San Francisco.

India’s renowned tiger expert Raghu Chundawat married wildlife photographer and filmmaker from England, Joanna Van Gruisen when she came to India in the 1980s. Their union was good news for Indian tigers, particularly in Panna National Park. Environmentalists to the core, they have created a retreat for mind and spirit, Sarai at Toria, away from the madding crowd in the bosom of nature, brick by brick, plant by plant, with great care. They are for responsible and ecologically friendly tourism. Joanna travels every summer to meet her 90-year-old mother, who still knits sweater for her.

Tatsiana Chykhayeva from Belarus met her prospective husband Rohan Saraf in the Bahamas in 2015 where they were working and decided to shift to Delhi. The two run Roadhouse Cafe in Greater Kailash-I. She also writes a personal blog ‘Life Talk Delhi’.

Tatsiana feels that there’s an element of bias in the way foreigners are treated. White Europeans and Americans are dubbed ‘expats’, Russians, Nigerians and Afghans are called ‘migrants’. She organises events for expatriates to help them make Delhi their home. She likes people, their story, and life that’s rich in experience. Delhi is the right place for her.