“So, we do this thing…”
I pause, waiting for his full attention.
“We do this thing where two weeks after the wedding, you go back to your parents’ house…for like a week.”
My new husband, who I love dearly, rolls his eyes. “That’s dumb.”
This has been the end of every exchange between the two of us while discussing our different, but sometimes not so different, religious traditions and extravagances.
“Why do we break the coconut?” I would ask his mom after our traditional Hindu-Telugu ceremony.
“Do I have to wear a turban?” He asked after we showed him some old wedding videos of Sikh ceremonies.
The answer was yes, you should. It will look nice. Or it’s just what we do.
Luckily, neither of us, are very religious people. He was raised Hindu and I Sikh. His family is from Andhra Pradesh and my family is from Punjab, but both of us were raised near Cleveland. We first met in college, equally messed up our personal lives until we stumbled back into each other in our late 20s with the realization that, hey, this person isn’t so bad.
I would never have taken the first step had it not been for my mom. Yes, my strictly Punjabi, Sikh, Jatt mother encouraged me to say something to this 6 ft. 4 in. boy.
Growing up, it was an unspoken rule that I would marry a Punjabi, Sikh, Jatt boy. Everyone else I knew had, and in 21 years there hadn’t been a single aberration in our family. Even the term “PSJ” had been coined to keep conversations streamlined.
So when I found myself, dating and considering marrying someone who wasn’t Punjabi, Sikh or Jatt, it wasn’t just a shock, it was an earthquake.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be different. It was more surprising that I didn’t feel the guilt – the guilt that we are fed into that “this is how proper Indian girls act” and “this is who proper Indian girls marry.” I was just at that point where it no longer mattered. I wanted to be happy with someone. I wanted someone who understood me at subterranean levels. I didn’t care if he had a different religion or that his ancestors spoke a different language. At this point, we are both speaking English and worshiping “Game of Thrones.”
Once we were engaged, however, I began noticing the different idiosyncrasies between our cultures. The first time his family came to our house, my mom – as traditional Sikh Punjabis do – gave them all an article of clothing and a high amount of money in an envelope. They didn’t realize it was included until after the fact. I received 15-20 texts several hours later and realized they didn’t do the same thing.
I was shocked. Isn’t that just what Indian families did? Didn’t every meeting until marriage require exchanges of money as gifts? Not so. From that moment, I realized just how different our two families were, and how lots and lots of patience would be needed in order to not only understand the different traditions but also not to offend anyone.
So we began our wedding planning journey, precariously, separating out the traditions. One evening we would hold the Hindu ceremony, and the next morning the Sikh. We would warn each other if there was some extreme gift giving that would take place, in order to prepare the other side. I ran through the order of the ceremony and blessings with his mom and she did the same with me.
I cringed slightly when I thought about my very strict Sikh relatives watching me marry a non-Sikh. Nonetheless, I puffed out my chest and reminded myself that they had the choice to not come if they didn’t feel comfortable.
But it’s heartwarming to know, they all came.
Growing up with the mentality that one can only date or marry one other type of human being is absurd. Yes, it is always lucky if we can meet and love someone who knows our own experiences whether they are religious or cultural but it is not always the case. Yes, sometimes I do worry about the future, about what our kids will believe, or what directions we will be pulled in by our more religious parents. But I can look at my husband and know that in the long run, religion does not defy our relationship. And for that, I am lucky.