A minute and forever. That’s how long I’ve known my husband.
When did I know it was right? I needed to throw up and he held my hair back – I had met him a week earlier.
When did I know I had to marry him? When he cooked me his special Hyderabadi dal-korma combo.
When did I feel there may be hiccups? Two years later at a lawyer’s office. We were trying to register for our marriage certificate. There was a religious divide: I am Hindu; my husband a Muslim; and neither of us wanted to convert. And while the family haggled with us about any rites and rituals to be performed, we found ourselves in a bigger ditch: the legal system.
Having prided myself on my parents’ nomad-like tendencies as a child –we moved every two years - I am a believer in ‘home is where the people you love are’. But while that sounds empowering, for me, it comes with a crippling lack of legally traceable roots.
The lawyer was polite – I suppose a few grand an hour could afford him that – and firm. We could, said he, because of our lack of documents (papers that proved residency) try a Hindu wedding (which would require conversion); a Muslim Nikah (similar issue here) or a civil signing, which required Aadhar cards and a 30-day-in-the-country waiting period. When we explained to him that these ids are not meant for NRIs, he asked for bills, or licences, or PAN cards with local addresses [the 30-day waiting period was non-negotiable].
Because of the stalled paperwork, we could only marry in the cities which we had been born in – in my case Calcutta (now Kolkata) and in his Hyderabad.
[We followed the law; we got married; we returned to Dubai. Between the waiting period, we travelled.]
We learnt a lot about each other - and about India. Having moved from the country a decade ago, the everyday biting discrimination you face had faded to the back. Now it tumbled forward, in snide looks, rolling eyes. And an odd sense of us and them.
No matter where we would go, there would be a slight hesitation, an almost rebuff: one’s name was Muslim, the other Hindu (neither of us had changed our names). We were never hounded or tormented in any way, but there was a subtle grey cloud that would linger for a few minutes.
Then came the news of the ‘love jihad’, where a Hindu woman married to a Muslim man had to fight her parents - in court. There were horror stories of honour killing because of inter-religious marriages, which had been in our peripheral vision but started to take centre stage. The venom was frightening.
It still doesn’t make sense to me.
A book my mother had given to me as a child spoke of how one woman explained the difference in skin colour and religion to a child. She took different coloured containers of various sizes and had the child pour water in each one. Once done, she explained that the water signified life and soul, the jars bodies. It was an important lesson: No matter what we look like, are we not all the same in the end?
Getting married was a collision of two sets of thoughts, of lives lived and lessons learned. Religion was not a major issue – to us at least. That baggage was never ours; what we picked up we left at the Dubai airport. No one asked us why we were travelling together or why our faiths are different. No one wondered why we don’t share a common last name.
Geography, history and demographics turned into terms.
It was ok: we had come home.