When countrymen meet on foreign soil the rendezvous is more than a mere handshake. Passionate emotions of patriotism, pride, and honour fire the occasion. The union is always intense and heady.
So was it when the small and vibrant community of Filipinos, that has made Kochi their home, gathered to meet their visiting ambassador Benito B. Valeriano. Two things stood out. The Filipinos have taken the love route to Kerala and all of them are beautiful women from the Philippines.
“One thing that is common to us all, besides being Filipino, is that we have all become Malayalis,” said Maria George who can read and write Malayalam. Married to George Devasia, whom she met in Dubai, the couple has been in the city for the past 13 years.
Maria announced happily that she can cook “very good kappa and fish curry.”
Benito Valeriano looked amply pleased as he watched his people chatting away gaily in Tagalog, their mother tongue. Before his current tenure the ambassador was in Dubai for five years where he was witness to many marriages of Filipinos to Indians.
“A majority of the Indians in the Gulf countries are from Kerala so I am not surprised at all. It may be one of the smallest overseas Filipino communities here but it seems well ensconced,” said the ambassador, who has been to India nine times and is familiar with the country and its ways.
Suresh Kumar from Elamkulam is married to Sheryl Mallari from Pampanga in Philippines. He met his wife “through Yahoo Messenger” he said dryly.
Exasperated that his horoscope would not match with any girl’s he took a practical approach to marriage. “I decided not to marry from India. I chose Philippines because of a common language, English. I chatted online with my wife for a year and then we decided.” Sheryl and Suresh have been married for four years and Sheryl can “cook excellent Kerala food.”
Craig D’Souza met Marnie, also from Pampanga, while studying in Singapore. They fell in love and tied the knot in 2008. Marnie has adjusted well, loves the food and says she has gained weight after living here.
Delise Solon, a dentist, met Francis Kallukaran, an oral surgeon, while working at the National Guard Hospital in Jeddah. They moved to the city last year and live in Kakkanad. Their two children Bianca, 14, and Jayvee 12 have adjusted well to the school and clime of the city. Delise revealed that her husband after being married to her has begun eating less spicy food. To her the city is clean and the people well educated. She is happy to live here.
Physiotherapist Renita Gatmaitan is married to Keith D’Morais, a medical transcriptionist from Fort Kochi. They met online.
Renita reasons that most marriages between Filipinos and Indians are between IT professionals. “It can be because of the IT boom.” Married for six years the D’Morais have two children. On her adjustment to a new way of life she opined maturely, “Both cultures share a common value of close family ties and hospitality. Philippines was ruled by Spaniards, Japanese and Americans. We know how to adjust with everybody.”
Maria Agnes Cervantes, the Deputy Chief of Mission, came up with numbers. “In India there are about 3,500 Filipinos. Most of them meet their spouses in West Asia or the Far East. Most men working in India are skilled professionals,” she said.
Rose Kuruvikunnel who hosted the gathering is married to a businessman from Pala. She has been assisting the Philippine embassy get in touch with their citizens in Kerala. She said that about 20 or so Filipinos live in the city and are all women.
Mona Lisa, 38, married to fitness trainer P. F. Joseph has a five year old son. They too met online and got married in Bangkok, as “we have relatives there”. Both can speak a few words of each other’s language and have adjusted well to the cultural differences.
Armielum arrived in her wheelchair to the meeting, a picture of health and happiness. Hers is a beautiful love story. Wheelchair-bound since the age of 14 she met her husband Sanil Konnully through her friend in Philippines.
Smitten by her charm Sanil began to call her everyday. “I was full of doubts but then his love changed my view of life and I agreed to marry him. I came away because of love. My home is here. After I posted on Facebook that I am OK everybody in my family, back in Philippines, is happy and satisfied.”
And so the tales go on and on, of falling in love, of coming away, of new homes, of adjustments, friends….
The children play about happily oblivious of coalescing two markedly different worlds so tenderly in their achan’s hometown.