In his book 2 States: The Story of My Marriage, which has been adapted into a film as well starring Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, Chetan Bhagat writes about the sometimes comic, sometimes frustrating and many a time stereotypical incidents that come to play when two people from different corners of the country tie the knot. We speak to three couples to understand what it takes in real life to cross cultural barriers and find happily ever afters…
When a Tam-brahm met a Bengali
Akshay Vilivalam and Priti Ghosh
Akshay Vilivalam first bumped into Priti Ghosh when he was in Haryana, working as an engineer. He had just returned from the US and asked her out on a date. “I was trying to impress her with my US-return status,” laughs Akshay. She accepted, and three dates in, the couple realised they wanted to be together.
Akshay, born and brought up in Chennai, did not know much about Bengalis. “Bengali dads are cool, but the moms are a completely different story,” he says. After being yelled at by Priti’s mother on their first meeting and accepted by her dad at the same time, Akshay began to work on his family. “At first, the response was great, but twelve hours later, the fireworks began and I knew all I could do was to shut up and listen,” he explains.
In the end, love did prevail, although the wedding itself was another issue. “The moon dates of the Bengalis did not match the Tam-brahm sun dates. The night wedding didn’t match the day wedding,” Akshay says. “And, of course, the conch shell. Bengalis consider it auspicious to blow the conch during a wedding and when they did, we were confused as it is inauspicious in a Tamil wedding.” But five years into the marriage now, the couple and the in-laws have learned to live with each other. “Whenever cultural differences crop up, we have fun dealing with it,” says Priti.
A Malayali-Bengali union
Gayatri Bhadran and Rajarshi Bhattacharyya
She is a Malayalee from Kerala and Chennai. He is a Bengali, born and brought up in Delhi. They met in Bombay in 2008. “I was a journalist for a youth-based publication in Bombay and he was a guitarist in a humour metal band. My editor gave me an assignment to interview the band and that's how we met!” says Gayatri.
“I was the youngest and the most pampered. I enjoyed all the attention as a child and my parents have always been fun. They've let me make my own decisions - be it studies, jobs and finally choosing my life partner,” she says and adds, “My husband was busy studying most of his childhood days and in his free time, jamming and playing shows with his bands. His parents too have always been very supportive of his decisions and choices throughout.”
In 2010, Gayatri was in a very bad bike accident and fractured her arm. “My husband (then boyfriend) drove down all the way from Mumbai to see me. That's when my parents first met him. After he left I slowly broke the news to my parents that we were dating and would eventually want to get married! My husband told his parents about me a few years before our wedding and then they came to Chennai to meet me and my family. My parents were very sceptical because of all the obvious reasons - vastly different culture, non-Malayalee etc. His parents too had a similar reaction when he told them, but were fine with it when they met me and my family,” she adds.
So what about the wedding? “We had a big fat Mallu-Bong wedding all over the country - Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi. The wedding ceremony was in traditional Malayalee style which was held in Chennai. The remainder of the Bengali wedding rituals such as Bou Bhaat were held in Kolkata and lastly we had a reception in Delhi. Then we finally moved back to Mumbai where we currently reside, covering all four metro cities. Our wedding happened according to Malayalee customs and my husband was very surprised when everything got over in 15 minutes and it was time for lunch! While we enjoyed these differences in customs, they were stressful at times and fun at times,” she says.
What’s the one thing that stood out for Gayatri through this entire affair? “Bengali's don’t have a first night! They have something called "Kaal Raatri" wherein the bride and groom are not allowed to sleep in the same room. My cousins found this quite funny and my leg was pulled quite a bit.”
The Tamil-UP duo
Bharat Kumar and Shashi Pathak
It was a love story that started way back in 2006, at a multimedia class in Vadapalani. When Bharat, a Chennaiite aspiring to make it big in the animation industry, saw Shashi, he immediately knew that he had found the love of his life. “I didn’t tell her that for a long time though,” he laughs, “We were in two different batches. It was only after our two batches merged that I started talking to her. We got married in 2010 and have a two-year-old boy now.”
For the UP-born Shashi, marrying a Tamilian gave her a chance to understand a new culture. “As my dad had a transferable job, I’ve grown up in Assam and Gujarat. Marrying in to a Tamil family gave me the opportunity to learn the dynamics of another culture,” she says.
While their engagement and reception was in North Indian style, the wedding was conducted in namma Chennai style. “There was appalam-breaking and all the other elaborate customs associated with Tamil culture. I realized that south Indian marriages can be a lot of fun too! Most importantly, I was gifted a lot of clothes during the wedding…what can be more exciting than that?!”