The Sambandhi Connect | Women Uninterrupted podcast - Season 5, Episode 4

Two States - A podcast on inter-cultural marriage

April 18, 2024 04:08 pm | Updated 04:08 pm IST

Living together separately: listen as the matriarchs of two families from two States brought together by marriage trace their journey of understanding each other’s customs, food, language and building an active relationship with each other. 

Women Uninterrupted is a podcast by The Hindu. We bring you difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations about being a woman.

Host: Anna Thomas 

Guests: Pushpa Singh & Usha Dwaraka

Title music: Maya Dwaraka

Production: Anna Thomas with The Scribbling Pad

Kadi patta & Karuveppilai

By Anuja Singh

Ours was a classic Two States wedding – Mohan’s family is a staunch vegetarian Tamil Iyengar kind and mine is a liberal “eat-anything-under-the-sun” UP-Bihar shuddh-Hindi speaking kind. 

It has now been 23 years, two kids, one dog and two losses of dads – and we are still learning that it is sambAAAAr and that the तू pronoun (for “you”) cannot be used for elders! Meanwhile, “bed” for him is the mattress, but for me, it is the frame of the bed.

The rules of engagement that worked for us thus far:

1.   My mom is only my mom and your mom is only your mom: I love and respect yours, but she is “Aunty” for me. This “space” allows us to understand the other family and make decisions on what to adopt, what to try changing and what to leave alone. In the ratio of 70:20:10. For both us and the co-in-laws too.

2.   Language is hard work: Harmony exists if there is clarity - both transactional and in intent. The co-in-laws think in “mother tongue” and translate to English, the common language. Hence, intervene as needed to ensure that there is no loss in translation; and that intent, not just words, reaches home. 

3.   The kids are their own little/big people who can enjoy the most of both cultures: Diwali is a good example. The Tamilian Deepavali celebrates the victory of Krishna over Narakasura and occurs in the morning with the oil bath whereas the North Indian Diwali celebrates Ram’s homecoming and is one day later in the evening. We ensure that both are known and celebrated. As are Holi and Pongal, and Raksha Bandhan and Kannum Pongal. Then there is the difference in the way we take blessings from the elders or the namaskaram. Embrace the differences, rather than cynically overthink. 

4.   Living together separately is the secret sauce: This one is key towards respectful and proximate living. With the elders growing older, we moved the parents from Delhi and Chennai to the more cosmopolitan Bangalore; and housed them within 5-10 minutes of each other and us. We call it “living together separately”. Kids get to go to thatha-patti house and nana-nani house. Kitchens are separate and food is constantly exchanged. This was also a saviour during the Covid-19 pandemic, when we created the Singh-Dwaraka bubble.

5.   You are in the driver’s seat, and there will be no back-seat driving: Key to every successful relationship. Clarity in roles and responsibilities, a “need-to-know” approach towards sensitive information and a polite ‘No’ to micromanagement has helped a lot!

These tenets are not rocket-science, and they apply to all relationships. Just that, with a two-state marriage, differences are accentuated and action has to be a bit more explicit.

Meanwhile – I understand Tamil, but cannot pronounce the “zh” consonant, as in pazham. And he still thinks that politicians who speak shuddh Hindi are speaking a foreign language!


This is the Women Uninterrupted podcast, brought to you by The Hindu. On this podcast, we host difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations between different generations of women. 

Host: I’m Anna Thomas, your host on Women Uninterrupted. In this episode, we are exploring intercultural families and relationships. So, I have brought together two co-in-laws or sambandhis, as they say in Tamil, or samdhan, as we call it in Hindi. Let me introduce Pushpa Singh, feisty, young at 80. 

Ten years ago, Mrs Singh moved from Varanasi in North India to stay closer to her daughter down south. Welcome, Mrs Singh.

Pushpa Singh: Thank you very much, Anna. 

Host: Our second guest is Mrs Usha Dwaraka. Welcome, Mrs. Dwaraka.

Usha Dwaraka: Hi, Anna.   

Host: Mrs Dwaraka moved from Chennai ten years ago to stay closer to her son, and her son is married to Mrs Singh’s daughter, which essentially means that these two lovely sambandhis, Mrs Usha Dwaraka, Mrs Pushpa Singh and all their combined children live within 3 kilometers of each other.

Mrs. Dwaraka, about 23 years ago, when your son told you that he was going to marry Mrs. Singh’s daughter, what’s the first thing that you told him? First reactions. 

Usha: Actually speaking I am really open before - when they were growing itself, you know - I was ready. I am not very sure that they will get married to whatever/whoever I am looking into. I will see the family background, then I will say OK.  I trust my children and they are, no, proving it. 

Pushpa Singh & Usha Dwaraka

Pushpa Singh & Usha Dwaraka

Host: Mrs Singh, when your daughter told you that she was getting married to her son, what did you first say? Do you remember your first reaction?

Pushpa: I was happy because I don’t think they will take the wrong decision.  When I educated my children, I’ve given freedom also to choose their career or marriage. 

Usha: That is true. We trust our kids very much.

Host: Mrs Singh, was it saat phere or thalikettu: how did this wedding get solemnised? 

Pushpa:Saptpadi. It is the same thing, Saptpadi or saat phere

Host: And Mrs Dwaraka? Any special request that you placed for the wedding - like a ritual that you really love and you asked that it be included?

Usha: Yeah, I very much insisted that the marriage should take place before the fire and the saptapadi - we call it in Tamil ammi mithithal - I was very particular about that.  And, my sambandhi Pushpa, she arranged that Aryama…Arya Samaj marriage and it was very good. Whatever I wanted, everything happened. I am very happy. 

Host: Mrs Singh, Mrs Dwaraka - we all have different rituals for pregnancy, birth, christening. So, your grandchildren came along. How did you both decide which rituals to do? Or did you just do all of them? 

Pushpa: You want me to answer?

Host: Yes. Yeah. 

Pushpa: We missed out that bangle ceremony, and the 8th month we will do like: seemantham.  I was elsewhere. I couldn’t come that time, so we missed it. But afterwards, you know, after the baby (is) born; that 11th-day naming ceremony and the yearly function: everything - whatever have to be done, we have done it. And my sambandhi is so sweet. She always says yes to me. I love you, Pushpa.

Pushpa: I told Usha ki she should recite all rituals for the baby or the function, whatever she wanted to do, she should do it.

Host: Now you have two grandchildren. What language do you all communicate in?

Usha: I speak to my grandchildren because I wanted them to learn Tamil also. So, I speak to them in Tamil. My first grandson - he is speaking little little Tamil and I am very happy about it. He can converse in Tamil but that girl - second girl, you know - she very well understands and she will speak in English only!

Host: How about Hindi?

Pushpa: My grandchildren - all the three languages they are speaking: Tamil, English and Hindi, and they understand everything.

Host: So, that’s one good thing – they’re multi-lingual.

Favourite new festival after marriage that you all celebrate together? 

Usha: That is the only thing, you know, we are south Indians. We don’t know much about Holi and other things. And that time, it was not famous. Now that it is celebrated everywhere - and after my daughter-in-law came, she started doing…I just wanted to be part of everything.  So, I joined in with her. I don’t know much about it, but I will go with her.

Host: So, you like Holi?

Usha: Yeah. Holi is, like - we used to do it in some other form, a festival in Tamil…we call it, you know, after the Sankranti - that is Pongal day - the next day, we used to do something for the welfare of brothers. We will do it in some other way. And these people are doing it in Holi, celebrating in a different way: tying that thread around their hand - and gifting is always there.

Host: Favourite new South Indian festival?

Pushpa: Pongal.

Host: Why do you like Pongal?

Pushpa: So many dishes and so many things to taste and my Usha is making, everything is very nice, according to my taste. She is not putting more chili - because I am not able to eat.

Host: Name one south Indian dish that you really like. 

Pushpa: Vegetable.

Host: Vegetable is a dish?

Pushpa: Any vegetable.

Host: Any vegetable? OK…A woman after my heart…and one south Indian dish that you do not like?

Pushpa: Usili.

Usha: You don’t like usili?

Host: Mrs Dwaraka, name one north Indian dish that you really love.

Usha: I really love the way Pushpa is doing her aloo paratha. She always invite me with: come, Usha, we  will have aloo paratha together. 

Host:  I don’t like, means…I don’t know…I don’t know. 

Pushpa(whispers): Lasoon.

Usha: She is very …making special things for me because I don’t like lasoon (garlic) in my food. So, she will be careful about making it for me: special dish.

Host: So, do you eat together a lot? Do you go out?

Pushpa: Yeah, sometimes: both we do. 

Usha: We will go out also and we will eat together also. All functions, you know, family functions, Deepavali, Pongal, everything. You know, we are here, everybody is here. So, we will call whoever, whose ever house it is happening: we will be together, everybody… 

Pushpa: She cares a lot for me. 

Host: Name one endearing thing about your daughter-in-law, Mrs Dwaraka. 

Usha: Daughter-in-law is…she is affectionate.  She is very, very knowledgeable. She will say right or wrong, whatever it is. She won’t hide things from me. She will say, you know, aunty, this won’t work; aunty, this is okay, you can proceed - something like that. I can trust her.

Host(to Pushpa, teasing): Does that make you feel good? 

Mrs lovely thing about your…

Pushpa: My son-in-law is very witty, which I like because my son is also very witty. 

Host: That reminds you of your son, kind of. Let’s see, what would you like to do - both of you together. Is there some dream that you would like to do, something together…hobbies…

Usha: You know, I was telling her: take me to some north Indian - Kashi, you know, like Ganges. Her place - native - is there. So, we planned and it was going to happen and somehow it has not happened. This time, we were thinking of going to Ayodhya, so let us see.

Host (to Pushpa): Is there something which you would like to do with her, Mrs Singh?

Pushpa: Everything; everything but not sleeping. 

Host:  What’s a shared hobby? Do you both do something together?

Usha: Funny thing: Don’t laugh at us. See, my sambandhi, you know, she used to get a lot of - whenever the season - she will get lot of mutter (peas) with that outer thing.  So, whenever I am there, she/it is there, it means we will sit together and we’re talking and we will take off – peeling off. That is the best hobby.

Pushpa: She is making a pickle; whenever I go there, we are doing that.

Usha: We are very famous about doing that mango pickle together.

Host: Shelling green peas, making mango pickle…between you two ladies, Mrs Singh, Mrs Dwaraka - whether it is mangalsutra or thalikettu, saptapadi or Arya Samaj - at least one north Indian family is learning to pronounce sambar correctly, and one south Indian family is learning that it is chhole and not cho-lay. Signing off on this episode of Women Uninterrupted, a podcast where we host difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations between different generations of women, brought to you by The Hindu.

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