In a new country

When Meera Anthony came across Arnav Joseph’s profile on a matrimonial site, she had already turned down several men who wanted to know what her hobbies were.

‘I found most men I met online irritating,’ she says. ‘See, I was no good at finding a good guy by myself. Even the short-term boyfriends I had, I would always find a way to end things with them because I’d get bored or irritated soon. My mother was really scared I wouldn’t find anyone. But meeting guys for the sole purpose of getting married was a nightmare for me. First, you’ve narrowed your search down to caste—in my case, Catholic Chettiar. And they would all ask me stuff that made it worse. Arnav was the first who saw the person in me. Never once did he talk to me like he was interviewing me for a wife-job, if you know what I mean. I knew he was different when he looked through my Flickr pictures, and commented on how much he liked the artistic side of me.’

Their conversation was easy and natural, and Meera credits it to what she calls Arnav’s refined approach’. They would talk about things they liked, their perspectives on just about everything. They met online regularly, got to know each other well, and after chatting for a few months, she agreed to meet him in person.

‘We told each other clearly that agreeing to meet didn’t mean we were saying yes already,’ she laughs. However, they decided not to bother with horoscopes. At the time, Meera was keen for things to work out. Her big concern was that the vision she had in mind, the man, his habits, his demeanour, should correspond to what Arnav really was.

‘Even before we met in person, I really liked him and really wanted him to like me back as well. But I wanted to meet him in person just to make sure the reality matched the picture I had of him in my head.’ Then, she clarifies, ‘When I say picture, it’s not just the way he looked, but the way he carried himself, his manners, behaviour and attitude in general.’

The first time they met, they hit it off, and decided to meet again. Their second date-of-sorts was at Juhu Beach. In total filmy style, that was when Meera knew. ‘It hit me suddenly that this is it. I don’t even remember how or why or what it was.’

She was waiting for him to ask her what her decision was, but he didn’t. At home, though, their parents virtually had their phones in hand, ready to call each other up and start making L arrangements. And this was when this strange melange of arranged-set-up-love-match became an ‘arranged-arranged’ marriage, Meera says.

‘The first thing I did when I heard he said yes was to call him,’ she says. The conversation went something like this.

Meera: You are aware that we are getting engaged next week, right?

Arnav: Yes.

Meera: Don’t you have to ask me first?

Arnav: Why?

Meera: That’s what every girl expects, na?

Arnav: What’s there to ask? I knew you liked me.

Three years into their marriage, she says she still holds a grudge against him for not ‘asking’ her. But every time she brings it up—and she does pretty often—he laughs it off.

And from that moment, there was no time to think. They were engaged and married, then they hopped over to Kashmir for a week-long honeymoon, came back to Mumbai, went to Paris, where her parents live, spent a few days there, and then headed off to Tampa, to start their life together.

Never at any point did Meera have cold feet. She knew he was right for her, and she found the prospect of marriage exciting, not scary or nerve-wracking.

‘I remember holding his hand in the plane and thinking ‘This is gonna be great.’ And I was right … I feel that way even now. This is gonna be great.’

Building chemistry, building trust

They met quite often, even as their families threw themselves into wedding planning. Arnav was the shy one. Meera says she felt sorry for him, because a fortnight before the wedding, he hesitantly gave her a peck on the cheek. She assumed he’d never dated before.

They had decided not to discuss past relationships. She told him she didn’t care about the past, as long as he intended to live in the present, and be faithful.

‘Knowing about the past doesn’t do any good. It only gives you more reason to worry, especially before a wedding,’ she feels.

But with marriage came trust, and they sat down for a full disclosure about ten months into the wedding, when they knew they were comfortable enough with each other not to get paranoid. It turned out they had both dated other people.

‘I, for one, didn’t want to know their names or any other details because I knew I’d get obsessed about it and ask more questions—and it might irritate him more that I bring up his past. I don’t want to be that person. If it’s his past, it’s his past, and there’s no point bringing it up every now and then. I’m his present and that’s all really matters to me, I guess.’

She did have one question, though. Why was he so shy before they were married? He shrugged and said he had no idea.

The post-marriage pressures

To most people, marriage marks the day in one’s life when one can heave a sigh of relief, certain that no nosy relative can tut-tut, It would be nice if you were to get married …’ or demand, ‘When are you getting married? What are you waiting for?’ or declare, ‘Marriage is all about compromise. You just get into it and make it work.’

Most married people believe a wedding marks the start of new pressures. Just when a couple is waiting to hang out, travel the world and spend alone time together, relatives begin to loom over their heads, pointing at body-clocks and whimpering about great-grandchildren.

‘The very next day, we got a full-on lecture from his parents,’ Meera says, ‘about how we’re not getting any younger, and how we shouldn’t put off the baby. We just nodded. Honestly, I’ve never cared for what other people want for me. But since the pressure is from the in-laws and I don’t want to be disrespectful, I just nod along and say “All right, no problem”. After a while, they stopped pestering us.’

In her case, there was a more telling pressure—finding something to do in a new country, where she did not have permission to work just yet. She didn’t want to be home and play housewife, and she didn’t want to wait to move until the permits came through.

The big move

Meera had to stay at home for about a year and a half before she could start working, with her Employment Authorizing

Document. She knew she would go insane, and so she got busy within four months of living in the United States by working for companies for free. It helped build experience on her resume, and prevented a gap in her work experience. It would indicate to prospective employers that she wasn’t the kind to idle away her time.

Being a web designer, she had to keep in touch with evolutions in design and coding, and she took to studying trends to keep herself up to date.

‘Even the few months that I stayed at home, I’d keep myself busy by cooking, learning new recipes, baking and giving baking lessons to my friends. I think Arnav appreciated that about me, the fact that I could keep myself busy without bugging him all the time,’ she laughs.

It helped that Arnav already had a large circle of friends. Meera quickly befriended them and their wives. Now, they’re a comfortable group that hangs out almost every weekend. They’re family to each other, looking out for their own in the absence of relatives. Soon, as she started meeting people in the neighbourhood, Meera made friends of her own.

However, she admits it can be tough, and one should be prepared.

‘Sure, there were times when I would break down in front  of him, crying that I miss my parents and my brother, and how I hate working my ass off and not getting paid. He was always such a good listener and always said that things would work out, I just needed to have patience,’ she says, fondly. ‘One of his regular sayings is, “Things always work out in the end; if they haven’t worked out, it’s not the end.’’ I love that positivity.’

In some ways, it was easier for her to deal with the move to the US, because she had been through a similar shift already, when her family left India to settle in Paris. She remembers vividly the mix of excitement, nostalgia and overwhelming fear at the prospect of leaving India, the country she grew up in, forever.

The shift to the US was easier, because it came without the challenge of a new language, and this made her far less apprehensive than the idea of moving to France had. She had also visited America earlier, and found herself thinking of her immigration as the beginning of another new adventure.

She does feel low at times, since she’s not allowed to leave the country except in case of an emergency—one of the mandates as her husband waits on his green card, and she waits on her H1B visa. Her parents and in-laws do visit as often as they can. But she still misses coming to India, where her extended family and most of her friends live.

The hiccups

It’s said that if you’ve got through the first year of a marriage, you can get through anything. As strangers become partners, and begin to share the same spaces, they discover things about each other they hadn’t expected. A towel dropped carelessly on the floor, a double-dipped spoon, a clash of favourite TV programmes—just about anything can lead to a fight. Meera didn’t find the first year tough in that sense.

‘I’ve heard friends say they would fight about everything-even things as trivial as choosing furniture, or figuring out who cooks when—and they would stop talking for days on end! We’ve had our silly fights too, but nothing ever serious enough to start a cold war. We talk about it, and have it out then and there.’

But they do have different approaches to the ‘having it out’. ‘If I’m upset about something, I say that I’m upset, and don’t let go until he says he’s sorry, and has calmed me down. When he’d get upset, he would just become quiet, and it would show on his face, and I’d start wondering what I did wrong. After making me break my head over it for a while, he’d come and talk to me, and we’d clear things up.’

She feels it’s all about egos. Especially in the first year, as one is adjusting to a new presence, it’s important to remember that the relationship is more important than the petty issue you’re fighting about—that puts everything in perspective, she feels.

In a new country
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