Monday, September 9, 2013

When Hari Met Saleha: Five inspiring Indo-Pak couples




When Hari Met Saleha

The Indo-Pak Love Connection

By Laaleen Khan
When it comes to choosing a suitable mate, today’s cosmopolitan South Asians seem to have a lot more choices than they did in the past. Recent years have seen an increasing number of people venture beyond their ethnic clans and spiritual backgrounds and choose spouses hailing from across the geographical divide. Whether one calls it mian-biwi or pati-patni, love and marriage are, after all, universal institutions.

Meet five real-life couples whose stories inspire an enlightened era of cross-border marriages: the Amlanis, Suris, Hussains, Kapasis and Gambhirs who met, wooed, and wed despite logistical challenges, visa hassles—and the occasional squabble over cricket or Kashmir!

NOTE: A version of this has appeared in Libas International magazine's Sept/Oct 2013 issue www.libasinternational.com (Volume 26, Issue 3). https://www.facebook.com/laaleen/media_set?set=a.10151888484800309.1073741833.542590308&type=1

Distributed by: Liberty Books (Karachi, Pakistan), India Book House (Mumbai, India), Jashanmal (Dubai, UAE & Manama, Bahrain), Arabian Establishment for Commerce (Doha, Qatar), COMAG (Middlesex, UK)

Cross-Border Amour:
Kiran Chaudhry 
&
Riyaaz Amlani
The Lahore-Mumbai newlyweds were introduced over two years ago and have been married for less than a year. Kiran describes Riyaaz’s marriage proposal as ‘the most magical night’ of her life.
On a visit to Jaipur, India
Besides figuring among Pakistan’s rising pop stars, Kiran is a corporate lawyer by training. She read Philosophy, Politics & Economics at Oxford University followed by an LLM, which led to a corporate law career in London. A few years later, she returned to Pakistan and switched gears into the music world as part of Club Caramel whilst simultaneously managing her family’s textiles business.

Born and raised in Mumbai, Riyaaz studied Entertainment Management at UCLA and is the CEO of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality, operating more than 45 restaurants and cafes across India. Prior to venturing into the restaurant business, Riyaaz executive produced Bollywood films. He enjoys DJ-ing in his spare time.

Ethnic and spiritual background
Kiran: I consider myself fairly secular-minded, and am spiritual rather than religious. My family is based in Lahore, but my father’s parents migrated to Multan in Pakistan from Patiala in India and my mother’s parents were from Kashmir and the Punjab. My father spent most of his career in government service—the police, so we moved around a fair bit as I was growing up.

Riyaaz: My father is Muslim, with a chemicals trading business for the textile and petro-chemical industries.  My mother is of Parsi heritage and a housewife with her hands full raising my and my younger brother. I am more spiritual than religious. Childhood was a simple and happy time for me. I studied in a convent school and grew up in a very cosmopolitan part of Mumbai, so I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and religions and embraced them all.
Featured in Indulge (The New Indian Express)
How they met
Kiran: I was in Bombay and Goa on a girlie ‘bachelorette’ trip for two of my friends’ weddings. Earlier that year I had met Avantika Sujan on a magazine photo-shoot and she insisted that I meet her friend Riyaaz Amlani, as he was also in the events and entertainment industry in India and might be a good person for me to meet, work-wise. She put us in touch over Facebook, but neither of us responded! Finally, she called us both up personally and urged us to meet up. So Riyaaz finally called and asked if I wanted to catch some live music. That did the trick and we met up with a bunch of friends over dinner. The first thing I noticed about him was his wit and rather dry sense of humour. It was not love at first sight but I did warm to him instantly. Riyaaz has a very disarming and charismatic personality. It’s hard not to fall under his spell. We met up several times before I left for Pakistan, but it was all very proper. He is a complete gentleman. It was only after I came back to Pakistan that I realized that I could not stop thinking about him. Fortunately, as I discovered, he was feeling the same way.
Riyaaz: Avantika called me up and said a friend of hers was coming in from Lahore and would find it useful to chat with me about the music scene in India, as I was in the Nightclub and Restaurant business. Being caught up with work I didn’t respond on Facebook for a few days. After a few polite reminders, Avantika decided it was time to threaten me with dire consequences if I didn’t take out time to meet with Kiran and her band-members! Finally I relented, and almost towards the last couple of days of her trip to India, I invited Kiran and her friends to join a bunch of my friends at a restaurant that was playing live music. During our first meeting we hardly spoke. There were about eight or nine people at the restaurant, and Kiran, like me, has great social skills. With so many people around, we were taking turns to talk to everyone so we didn’t get far beyond polite conversations and light-hearted banter. It took a couple more meetings for me to realise that she was a very special woman, far above the ordinary. It was just so much fun hanging around with her that I always thought of her to be a new 'old' friend. But then she left soon after for Pakistan, and I thought that was that. But she remained stuck in my head and started making frequent appearances in my thoughts. I didn’t understand it at first. It took me a while to realize that there was a real connection here.
On their wedding day in Lahore, Pakistan
The Proposal
Kiran: I was visiting India to meet Riyaaz’s friends and family, and one night when we were coming back from a party, he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I thought it was a bit late to be going for a stroll and I was wearing stilettos, so was a bit hesitant, but there was an urgency in him that made me agree. He said he wanted to show me something. We parked and walked a short distance into this very pretty Christian quarter of Bandra, with an almost a medieval feel. There he showed me a sign on an old, deserted building with a sign on it that said ‘St. Jude’s Bakery.’ He asked if I knew that St. Jude was the patron saint of lost souls, and told me that this was where he was planning to build a home. And while I was mulling all this over, he suddenly went down on one knee and took out a little box! It was the most magical night of my life.

Lingo
Kiran: Well, I now officially have the very 'Indian' head-shake which can simultaneously mean both 'yes' and 'no!’ 

Riyaaz:
 I say 'yaar' a lot more! 
Choreographed dancing at Kiran's brother's mehndi in Lahore, Pakistan
Challenges
Kiran: I am not one to think too much about practical matters once my heart is set on something. I knew the visa issue would need to be figured out, but that never made me think twice. If you want to be with someone bad enough, you always find a way. I was lucky that my family also fell in love with him straight away. They were initially a little concerned that I would be moving to India and that there might be visa issues but when they met Riyaaz, all of those concerns fell away. They are so happy that I have found someone who is so right for me. Getting Indian visas for about 60 Pakistanis for our wedding was an insanely difficult task but the Indian Embassy staff were incredibly helpful and understanding. They called me "India ki Bahu" and assured me that my wedding plans would go smoothly. We now divide our time between Bombay, Delhi and Lahore. Riyaaz has a restaurant business in India, so can't live anywhere else, and I'm lucky to be able to travel freely to Pakistan for shows when required, so India works well for us.  I think it offers a far richer experience to be able to live and work in more than one country.  There are very few differences in our culture.

Riyaaz: Our need to be together overcame any obstacles that may have been there. As for my parents, they were both overjoyed because I think, somewhere along the line, they had given up on me. They thought I would never get married, being so involved with my work and all. But when they met Kiran, they were just over the moon. She is so likable, I haven't met anyone who doesn’t instantly warm to her. And I think that in turn comes from the fact that Kiran genuinely likes people and never stands in judgment of them. Our Indo-Pak wedding was double the fun! Funnily, many Indians believe that if they have a visa for Pakistan in their passport, they would be denied a USA visa! Many friends who would have come for the wedding didn't come for that reason alone, and really missed out on an experience of a lifetime. The paperwork required for visas between our two countries is understandably quite intense, so filling out forms and checking on all documents did take up a lot of our time before the wedding. Having said that, the officials at the Pakistan High Commission went out of their way to assist us. Even at the border, the officers on either side almost joined in the celebratory mood and were wonderfully helpful and hospitable. This made the border crossing a very special experience.
At their walima in Mumbai, India
Misconceptions
Kiran: I went to India with no preconceived notions and fell in love with it. If you do not judge something, only then are you able to truly see it for what it is. The most ridiculous question I’d encountered was, “Will you keep singing?" I don't know why everyone expects me to give that up! I will sing till my last breath. It is who I am, not what I do.

Riyaaz: To be honest - I didn't have any stereotypes of people I would come across in Pakistan. I was blown away by the hospitality, generosity and love shown to me by almost everyone I met in Pakistan. It is truly a special place. We are the same people, right down to our language and culture. That's why it works so well. 

Cricket loyalties
Kiran: Whoever's winning. It's a win-win situation!

Riyaaz: Both. No need to pick sides anymore! 

In retrospect
Kiran: I feel very blessed to have found my husband the way I did. It was most definitely destined. Riyaaz is an extraordinary human being. I don't think there's anyone else quite like him in the world. He is generous spirited, has tremendous vision, is a true champion of women and is constantly open to growth as a person. I am constantly surprised to find a man who can understand me so well! To other couples, I advise, go for it. There is so much to learn from each other and bring to each other's countries. 

Riyaaz: She stands by me and is a great source of strength for me each day. There's nothing I would change about us, now or in the past. We get along so well that it never occurs to me that she is from another country or culture. Honestly, the more I visit Pakistan, the more amazed I am at how similar Indians and Pakistanis are. This whole border thing is just so unnecessary. I would advise couples to follow their heart. 

Kiran on her musical ambitions:
Kiran received vocal training under Ustad Fateh Ali Khan in Lahore and at VoxBox Studios in London. She formed Club Caramel in 2006 with Adnan Sarwar. The duo has performed popular covers and released music videos for their songs ZindagiTeray Bin and Deewana.
In concert
“I hope to continue my music career in Pakistan, but I also see lots of opportunity in India, as an entrepreneur. Riyaaz's ability to think big is very inspiring and I'm starting to explore all kinds of new avenues in the fields of fashion, music and art. I also think there is a lot to be achieved from cross-border trade in these fields and I hope to showcase some of the possibilities that exist in the not to distant future. Riyaaz has boundless vision, is an excellent sounding board and has had such diverse experiences in business. I'm really lucky to have someone of his stature to mentor me in all my new business ventures”

Riyaaz reflects on his culinary businesses:
Riyaaz underwent various career paths before becoming a restauranteur; he started off as a shoe salesman, then traded in safety equipment for industries, and became an entertainment consultant. He then became an executive producer in Bollywood before he stumbled upon the restaurant business.
In Vogue India, August 2012
“I have yet to meet someone who at some point of time has not considered having their own restaurant. My closest friends, Kiran Salaskar and Varun Sahni, and I would always chat about how one day we would open up a restaurant and how it would be. I had an idea to have a space which served coffee from all around the world with panini and desserts. I was growing steadily disenchanted by the movie business, and one particularly bad day, I decided I couldn’t stand to do it anymore. I called up Kiran and Varun and asked them if they would consider it seriously. When they agreed, I typed out my resignation letter, and 'boom’—we were in the restaurant business! From the outset we were clear that we didn’t want our coffee shop to be a Starbucks rip-off. Instead we modeled ourselves on the Quahveh Khannehs of Turkey and Morroco, where a portion of a home was opened up to travellers and traders, and only coffee and sheesha was served and was the ancestor of all restaurants and existed long before French cafés and English inns. This first restaurant was called Mocha, and it was a roaring success - partly because it was so different from anything else in the market at the time.  Today, I see restaurants and cafes all over India and Pakistan modeled along these lines. It feels good to have started a trend. I absolutely love Pakistani food and would really like to set up a restaurant specialising in authentic Pakistani cuisine here in India soon”
—Riyaaz Nasrudin Amlani



Love At First Sight:
Sarah Ahmad  
& 
Gagan Suri
The Punjabi pair dated for four years and have been married for eleven. They have two sons. In our digitally-driven era, women are considered fortunate to receive a hand-written love note instead of an email or text. Sarah was lucky enough to get an entire book inspired by their relationship!
In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
An alumna of Parson’s and the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, Sarah worked as a fashion designer for retailers Walmart, Kmart and Sears and is currently developing her own line of dresses and resort-wear. She also volunteers with special needs children at the Help Center in Jeddah in the Sewing and Pottery Departments, and plans fundraisers for the American School of Jeddah.

Gagan was born at India’s Military Headquarters of War (MHOW). He has a degree in Hospitality and worked for Hyatt Hotels for several years. After his MBA, he worked at international investment banks on Wall Street as well as in Toronto, London and the Middle East. Recently inspired to publish his debut novel, 65 West 55th Street, Gagan also enjoys photography, singing, playing the guitar and harmonica, and is a member of Chaine de Rotissiere, an international gastronomic society.

Ethnic and spiritual background
Sarah: I am a Punjabi, Sunni Muslim from Pakistan. I have a very strong relationship with God, which I am rather private about. My general belief is that He is God of all mankind so I try to live a life free of prejudices and racism and give as much charity as I can. I pass the same teachings on to our kids.

Gagan: I was born and raised a Hindu. I decided to convert to Islam to get married to my wife. In practicality, I believe in one God and being a good human being. I tend to not follow rituals.

How they met
Sarah: I’d graduated from university when I met Gagan on a blind date in New York City. Since I had spoken to him on the phone quite often before we met, I already loved his personality. It was just a matter of meeting him. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was the one!

Gagan: At the time, I was working in Washington D.C. We knew right away that we wanted to get married to each other, so early on in the relationship we started working towards that goal. I knew she was the one from the first moment I saw her inner and outer beauty.
On their wedding day in Toronto, Canada
The proposal
Sarah: I kept teasing him about when he’d propose because we presumed we would marry, so there was no surprising romantic proposal.

Gagan: My proposal to her was very unconventional because it happened at a police station in Toronto. I’ve described it in my novel.

Challenges
Sarah: We lived in separate cities at first and fate brought us together in Toronto. We had extreme wars waged from both sides of our families regarding our union, but fate eased out all issues. At the time of our wedding, our countries were not issuing visas to each other due to nuclear testing so we got married on neutral ground, in Toronto. I was surprised by how similar our family structures were. Being a Punjabi, if I had married a Pakistani from another province it may have been more challenging than marrying my Indian Punjabi husband whose parents were both born in what is now Pakistan. As for religious challenges, they never arose in 15 years because we are respectful to our families’ beliefs and share common ground on what we teach our kids. Due to unfortunate world events and tightened security, I still need security clearances to enter each Indian city despite being a Canadian national. Thanks to our Indian Consulate friends who treat me like family, those clearances get expedited.

Gagan: All possible obstacles came in our way! Parents and siblings added a lot of negative pressure and we had to deal with these one by one and win over each situation. I only experienced difficulty getting a visa once and that was when applying on an Indian passport under emergency circumstances, when my mother-in-law to-be had passed away. Since then, the visa process has become easier with my Canadian passport.
Enjoying a romantic moment
Misconceptions
Sarah: Living in the US, Pakistanis and Indians are more familiar with each others’ identities than any other nationality they encounter. In Pakistan, though, everyone who’d meet Gagan would remark, “He’s just like us!” I’d always laugh and say, “What did you expect—two horns on his head?”

Gagan: I was taken aback by how open the educated society of Pakistan is. It was very easy for me to blend in and be a part of my wife’s extended family. My parents had a very hard time understanding Pakistani marriage rituals, similar but still very different from traditional Hindu weddings. My wife had a lot of misconceptions about Hindus and Sikhs. She asked a lot of questions and when looking for an answer, I found that traditions and cultural rituals are somewhat linked to religion and to an outsider, it is hard to distinguish between the two.
On a family trip to China
Food
Sarah: Gagan eats far more interesting vegetarian and daal dishes that I’d ever encountered growing up in Pakistan.

Gagan: One of the things that surprised me was that Pakistanis cook everything with meat in it!

Lingo
Sarah: Sometimes I am surprised by the fluent Urdu I hear my husband speak when he is on the phone with one of my relatives.

Gagan: Apparently, after being with my wife for almost fifteen years, I sound just like a local Lahori!

Cricket Loyalties
Sarah: I support Pakistan, Gagan is indifferent. We usually abstain from cricket and Kashmir discussions!

Gagan: Fortunately for me, I have never been much into cricket, so it has never mattered much at all. I always say, may the best team win.

In retrospect
Sarah: I am lucky and blessed with the choices I’ve made. My advice to couples is, respect your religious and cultural differences and you will create a common culture based on love and humanity. If people judge you, brush them aside as that is their problem, not yours. There are plenty of worldly, educated people who will come your way accepting you happily.

Gagan: Believe in your love and stay firm in your belief. 

Gagan speaks out about his debut novel, ‘65 West 55th Street’:
Book jacket
Excerpt: Love goes beyond boundaries. To all those who go against convention and dare to love someone of a different religion, culture, or country, believe in yourself, and stay away and what will remain is true love.
Salman Khan holding his copy in Dubai, UAE
“This is the main message of my novel, a fictionalized memoir. The story is not just about a Hindu-Muslim; it is not about a Pakistani-Indian. The novel goes well beyond these concepts, it is applicable to any two people of any two different backgrounds and the people around them”


Whirlwind Romantics:
Saba Qizilbash 
&
Mujtaba Hussain
Of Kashmiri descent, the couple met twelve years ago and have been married for eleven. They have two daughters. After a chance encounter with Saba in San Francisco, Mujtaba instinctively knew that she was the One!
At Saba's art show in Dubai, UAE
Following a BFA (Distinction) in Painting at Lahore's National College of Arts (NCA), Saba undertook an artist-in-residency program at Oregon’s Sitka Center and moved to San Francisco to participate in alternative art shows. She received a Master’s from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and went on to design workshops for marginalized communities in Providence, Lahore, Sheikhupura, Delhi, and Dubai. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at the American University in Dubai and a Visiting Professor at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, and spends a good deal of time in the studio. Her intrinsically personal art works emphasize femininity and symbiotic relationships. Saba is also a community activist, and the brains—and heart—behind Mums Who Share, a community initiative in Dubai that provides free meals to the city’s predominantly South Asian construction workers.

Born in Srinagar, Syed Mujtaba Hussain hails from a family of lawyers and judges. He was the country’s first Kashmiri and Muslim graduate from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, and worked as a Judicial Clerk with the Chief Justice before pursuing an LLM in International Law at Essex University, followed by a position with the United Nations in Geneva. He returned to Kashmir and set up practice to safeguard women’s and human rights. After a second LLM from UC Berkeley and a degree from Stanford, Mujtaba taught law at Berkeley Law School for a year before resuming with the UN in Geneva and joining a New Delhi law firm. He now runs a boutique law firm in Dubai, Emirates Legal, and is often invited to speak at international conferences and universities. Mujtaba also undertakes pro-bono work in Dubai for South Asians with low-income backgrounds.

Ethnic and spiritual background
Saba: I belong to the Qizilbash family and grew up attending majalis, Mochi Gate and Tazia processions. I was always thrilled by the visual installations, the zari fabrics and the symbolism. However, I’m more inclined to the Sufi way of life in which there are many paths that lead to the Ultimate Truth.

Mujtaba: I’m Kashmiri and Muslim.
On a family trip to Pehlgam, in Kashmir, India
How they met
Saba: Mujtaba and I met by chance in San Francisco when we were graduate students. I was on my way to RISD and he was at Stanford on a fellowship. In our second phone conversation, he told me that by this time next year he would be attending UC Berkeley and would be married to me and he managed to accomplish both!

Mujtaba: I was very struck by the fact that Saba’s grandfather had lived in Kashmir. In fact, she was the first Pakistani girl I had ever met and I was very curious to know more about her. She returned to Lahore and I returned to work for using a personal cell phone so I spent a year calling her from a public telephone booth and secretly Skyping from work. I’d had to convince Saba about marriage on three levels; firstly, that India and Pakistan would become friends sooner or later, as economics would act as an adhesive to bind these countries together. Secondly, I hadn’t lived in a very traditional Kashmiri environment and could adapt to any situation. Thirdly, I could easily find employment outside of India if required. I felt I had to present my case and at the bottom of my heart, I always knew I would be able to convince her and her family.

The Proposal
Saba: Mujtaba came to Lahore seek my mother’s permission to propose to me at a time of political chaos between Pakistan and India. Our respective High Commissioners had been expelled and things were looking bleak. He brought one of his mother’s exquisite Pashminas with him so I had to say yes!

Mujtaba: India and Pakistan were on the brink of war and only my father and mother were granted a four-day Lahore visa for the wedding. Immediately after our wedding, I went to UC Berkeley and Saba went to RISD.
Featured in The National (UAE)
Challenges
Saba: I think marriage is challenging no matter which part of the globe you are from. We were both going to marry and move to the US for a few years so the geopolitical aspect didn’t hit us till we returned for our Valima in Srinagar two years later. There are also many cultural differences in terms of customs, dinner rituals, social etiquettes, wedding rites as the Kashmiri culture is old and uninterrupted. Our culture in Lahore is also old and full of history but here we have contemporized it. Many things in Kashmir are still stuck in a time warp, but there are times when I’m sitting in a shikara on Nageen Lake floating amid giant lotuses, without a McDonalds in sight, when I wish time would move as slowly in other parts of the world. It’s annoying how we have to plan our  visits in advance. We cannot be spontaneous and just take a plane across. The paperwork is no joke either. Somewhere past stapling the 10th copy of a 30-page application and support documents you tend to lose your sense of humour about the whole thing!

Mujtaba: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I believed that my future was with Saba and I saw no obstacle coming my way. The best part is that the governments of both countries made it possible for me to reach Lahore on my wedding day. It was not easy but I made it a point to petition the right people and requested them to assist in expediting the process. Geographical boundaries divide us only to define our nationalities, but they impose no restrictions on aspects that relate to our personal lives.

Misconceptions
Saba: I was often warned by well-meaning people that I wouldn’t be able to meet my family again. Going to Kashmir for the first time, I was critical of it being called the ‘Switzerland of South Asia’. But on my visit last year, I had to admit it was true as we rode on horseback through picturesque Aru while Sharukh Khan shot Yash Chopra’s last movie in the next hotel.
Saba strives to balance family and studio time
Lingo
Saba: The most popular one that I picked up in Srinagar is “oh oh oh,” an expression used to show empathy. Mind you, my use of it is more cynical! I really had to introduce Mujtaba to the Punjabi sense of humour. It’s brash, it’s personal and we love it.

Mujtaba: I’ve learnt expressions like “pain-du” and zabardast,” to name a few.

Cricket Loyalties
Saba: Go Green!

Mujtaba: The team that wins.

Ramadan Drive held by Mums Who Share; summer 2013 in Dubai, UAE
In retrospect
Saba: Mujtaba is passionate about human rights, has a reservoir of ideas and an exciting determination for achieving his goals. He is supportive of my career and tries to understand the constraints of an artist who works from home, as it’s often difficult to separate the boundaries of domestic duties and zone out in the studio. Coincidentally, he’s from Srinagar, a place where my Agha Jan (grandfather) had spent many years before Partition. My daadi was also Kashmiri by birth. It was also surprising that he and I also shared ‘Hussain’ as a family name. When I met Mujtaba, I had to turn around and look to check whether the spirits of my ancestors were urging us along! To potential couples, I would say know what you are getting into, understand current visa restrictions, and discuss in advance your future children’s nationalities.

Mujtaba: I wish that I could have proposed to my wife the first day that I met her and gone to Lahore earlier to marry her. I could have then counted one more marital year in my life. Saba’s simplicity, intensity of purpose and not judging me as an Indian were qualities that immediately attracted me to her. As I started to understand her philosophy of life during our phone conversations, I realized that we had a lot in common. The only time I think that my wife is someone who was born across the border is when we have to travel to India or Pakistan. We took a conscious decision to share the commonalities of our two countries and respective cultures and traditions with our children, who identify themselves as half-Indian and half-Pakistani. We want our kids to look at both countries with the same love and respect. Frankly, I noticed the same differences in Saba that I would have noticed if I had married a girl from Indian Punjab. My friends in India have no clue about the commonality I am talking about. I only wish the media would focus on all other things between India and Pakistan not related to politics. Other than food, I cannot think of any differences because the Kashmiri Wazwan cooked only on formal occasions is the best food in the world and even if you do not like it, pretend that you do. This is the one thing that Kashmiris are very sensitive about! My advice to couples is to remember that you are choosing a life partner first and their nationality second.

Saba’s inspiration for her recent art show at Dubai International Festival City, ‘The Empress’ New Clothes:’
“I have addressed geopolitical issues in my earlier art works and am currently focused on the feminine. My recent series was presented at a solo show at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery in Dubai International Financial Centre. As a contemporary Pakistani woman raised to follow certain conservative social norms while juggling expectations, preconceived notions and relationships, I am attempting to explore the idea of dominance and subjugation suggested by the kind of clothes we ought to wear, as a second skin weighed down by connotations. At a glance, the sense of ‘weight’ and ‘load’ is quite apparent in the works. Yet, if you were to remove the articles and shed the load, the figure would disappear. In removing the actual representational figure from the canvas, I was able to emphasize what we wear or are made to wear can become unwanted barnacles that can consume us”
—Saba Qizilbash


Long-Distance Lovebirds:
Sharmine Aziz 
&
Mutaqeen Kapasi
She’s Pathan, he’s from Pune. The romantic duo have sustained their cross-country romance with three years’ dating and four years of marriage. Looking back, Mutaqeen wishes he’d married Sharmine sooner so that they would have spent more time together!
In Pune, India; photo by Pravin Talan
Although Sharmine majored in Women & Gender Studies and Political Science at the University of Toronto, she realized her true calling lay in Early Childhood Education. She spent four years teaching in Islamabad and is currently training to be a Montessori teacher in Toronto. She is passionate about children and volunteers at a school for autistic children. She is also the sponsor of a young Hindu girl from Nepal named Dipa.

Mutaqeen was born in Pune and grew up in Jeddah. He left home at the age of fourteen to study at the United World College in Singapore. After graduating with a degree in Finance at the University of Toronto, Mutaqeen launched a food commodities import/export business called Ocarta, expanding a sector of his family’s business. Inspired by Shamine to initiate a project that would benefit the world, he started a recycling factory a year later, the award-winning Plastica Industries. PET plastic is recycled through specialized processes into PET flakes, which are used as a source of raw material for different kinds of polyester based  products such as bottles, food containers, geotextiles and packing materials. Mutaqeen hopes to open similar recycling plants in Pakistan and India to benefit the environment there.  
At their Bohri nikkah ceremony, reflecting Mutaqeen's heritage, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan
How they met
Sharmine: We first met at university. To be honest, I wasn’t looking for anyone to marry. It was a thought I had put on hold until I returned to my country. Plus I always thought I would marry a Pakistani Pathan boy. However, God had other things planned for me. Mutaqeen’s belief is us broadened all horizons.

Mutaqeen: I was enamored by Sharmine when I met her and the rest is history. There was really no courtship. Honestly, I just saw her and I knew that she was the one, and that she was perfect for me. It was like everything suddenly fell in to place.  
In Dubai, UAE
Challenges
Sharmine: I’d assumed my grandfather, a renowned politician, would have an issue; however, he was obviously more forward thinking than I’d assumed and he gave his blessings immediately. Mutaqeen felt right at home on the very first day. During our wedding, I didn’t get my Indian visa till the last week. My mother-in-law was so stressed out. She kept saying, "All the cards have gone out, everything is booked, and the bride still doesn’t have her visa!" It was a cliffhanger situation!

Mutaqeen: Apart from getting the Canadian Residency visa there has really been no other challenge.

Misconceptions
Sharmine: The agent in charge of background checks for all Indians entering Pakistan came over for a routine check up and was extremely perturbed. He asked my mother why she was giving my hand in marriage to an Indian and if she had found no suitable Pakistani boys!

Mutaqeen: Anyone that had met Sharmine knew that I would be a fool to give her up for something as trivial as cultural differences. So no one asked me any questions.
In Pune, India; photo by Pravin Talan
Lingo
Sharmine: I’ve picked up a lot of words, especially the word ‘only’ since Indians tend to use this word a lot. Despite my denial, I am pretty sure I say it just as much now!

Mutaqeen: I use a lot of Urdu and Pashto words now.  
Sharmine on her wedding day
Cricket loyalties
Sharmine: Here’s where the fairytale ends! There is no love during an India-Pakistan match. When Pakistan lost to India during the World Cup finals, I went into mournful silence for the next few days!

Mutaqeen: India all the way! It’s great when both teams play against each other, as Sharmine is very patriotic supporting Pakistan and it’s always a lot of fun. During the game, I must say the atmosphere is tense, but at the end no matter who wins or loses, we are happy for the winning team.

Mutaqeen with his recycled PET flakes





College Sweethearts:
Shermeen Karim  
Udit Gambhir
The Karachi-Delhi duo dated for seven years and have been married for eleven. They are parents to a daughter and a son. Together since their teen years, Shermeen and Udit managed to maintain their relationship from opposite ends of the world!

In addition to her role at the Societe Generale Karachi as a Foreign Exchange/Sales Trader, Shermeen has worked at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto and the Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto and Singapore. While on maternity leave, she stayed up to date with Currencies’ Day Trading in her spare time. While living in Canada, she busied herself with charitable projects including Walks for Alzheimer’s and fundraising for Pakistan’s earthquake victims within RBC Capital Markets. She’s passionate about photography, has taken courses in Singapore and goes on photography trips with her DSLR camera.

Udit is from New Delhi and also works in finance. He currently works at a bank in Singapore. Udit balances his corporate life with philanthropic volunteer work. As a college student, he taught entrepreneurial skills to impoverished high-schoole students in Cape Town and participated in a one-week build at a slum sponsored by Habitat for Humanity and the Jimmy Carter Foundation. He has also raised funds for Pakistan’s flood victims, the CARE Foundation India, and United Way in Toronto.


On their wedding day
How they met
Shermeen: I first met Udit while we were both studying at Bentley. Introduced by common friends, we became friends immediately. After few months of socializing, we realized that  we were attracted to each other. Maybe this was due to the fact that we had similar tastes and interests. It was quite funny how Udit used to throw hints at me and I conveniently ignored them until I finally gave in. I guess from there on our ‘story’ began—a sweet courtship whilst in our fantasy college world! 

Udit: I first encountered Shermeen in the Bentley cafeteria within one month of starting college. We met again a few times and then became good friends. I asked her out officially in April 1995 and she accepted after a few days by giving me a card that only said ‘Yes!’ She was my best friend and my conscience and had actually become ‘the correct side of my brain.’ We kept the relationship going long-distance after I’d graduated and returned to Delhi, and met once or twice annually. She graduated and returned to Karachi and that’s when it got a bit hard to communicate via telephone between Pakistan and India, but we somehow managed. I left for the US for employment, missing Shermeen by a few months, though our relationship was still going strong. Her parents had never received confirmation of their suspicions but my parents knew all about our relationship. So in 2001, we decided to take things to the next stage and Shermeen discussed it with her family.
Challenges
Shermeen: Udit and I got engaged and married during severe geopolitical issues, the bombing of the Indian Parliament, Kargil and 9/11, visa issues, no flights between India and Pakistan, yet we survived and managed to have a wonderful, memorable wedding. To this day, it is an extremely long process for me to get an Indian visa. I still need to apply from my Pakistani passport, even though I travel on my Canadian passport all over the world. So whichever city we move to, we make sure we get familiar with the Indian visa section staff at the consulates!

Udit: We never lived in India or Pakistan post-marriage, but challenges manifested themselves in different ways: religion, practices, political tension between our countries, but they weren’t insurmountable or such that could not be laughed off. We’ve had our ups and downs but I think the reason was more about evolving personalities, lives, roles, and responsibilities than anything about our ethnic backgrounds. India takes forever to give my wife a visa and insist on processing her Pakistani passport instead of her Canadian one. I advise couples to beg and plead at the embassy without getting angry as then you’re doomed!
A happy family scene for the Singapore-based Gambhirs
Misconceptions
Shermeen: I never really came across any silly questions or comments about Udit or his background. In fact, my family and friends were immensely excited that they would get to travel to India.  Bollywood plays a big part for us non-Indians in keeping track of Indian culture!

Udit: Conservatives, fundamentalists, non-drinkers, sexists, ‘India-haters’ are all stereotypes that Indians are fed about Pakistanis. But one must go to Pakistan and see how similar they are. Yes, there are pockets of extremists but these exist in every country.
On a visit to Agra, in India
Lingo
Shermeen: ‘Vaila!’ and ‘Haanji!’

Udit: Masla’, ‘Ya Ali-madad.’ I am consequently better able to articulate things to my Pakistani colleagues at work!

Cricket loyalties
Shermeen: Pakistan.

Udit: Always India!

In retrospect
Shermeen: Udit and I have grown up with each other. If I could turn back time, maybe I would’ve gotten married a bit later. My advice to couples is, you are different from each other, but always be fair and tolerant.

Udit: I think we did things right except for my departure to India post-undergraduate studies. If given the chance again, I would have stayed and started my career sooner. I’d advise people to have faith in themselves, not in fate. Don’t compare differences between the two countries but focus on how much similarity still remains. It’s all about the couple. People, society, even parents will acquiesce to your desires eventually. And yeah—please never discuss Kashmir!

Udit volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity project in Cape Town, South Africa

18 comments:

  1. A common theme in the stories of the couples is that the women are all Pakistani and the men Indian. I think Pakistani women are some of the most beautiful in the world..I don't blame these Indian men for falling for these gorgeous women.. Having it the other way, Pakistani man with indian woman quite rare.. There are can be issues with how Pakistani men treat women.. Just being honest. Interesting though.. The women are all Pakistani!

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    1. So how many Pakistani men have you encountered who treat their women in any way different to how Indian men do? And btw my father is Pakistani and my mother is Indian, and my mother's sister is also married to a Pakistani man and her brother to a Pakistani woman!

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    2. It's not possible to give a generalised answer as each relationship and situation is unique, as are social, ethnic and educational backgrounds and individual preferences and compatability. Your parentage/familial background is fascinating though, I'm sure you have plenty of insight

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    3. I actually do! It really is a nice feeling to be both Pakistani and Indian at the same time :) but when it comes to cricket, my parents literally act as if they are sworn enemies, at that moment there is no family, there is only an Indian and a Pakistani under one roof :p

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  2. There are of course many Pakistani men married to Indian women as well, though coincidentally my research led me to these 5 wonderful Pakistani women and their choices. Thanks for reading and keep the comments coming :)

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  3. great read! Keep it coming!

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  4. I am Pakistani... and very soon will be marrying an Indian girl...... a good read.... but still not as unexpected and as suspensive as it has happened to me.....:)

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    1. congratulations.... may God bless u and ur partner.

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    2. you married or still planning?

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  5. Wish i could make it to this list someday :)

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    1. Bhaisaab, u will be out of the army...don't try it.

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  6. very interesting reading. we would like to publish it's translation in our weekly magazine. sunil kumar editor.chhattisgarh@gmail.com

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  7. Didn't realize there were so many Veer-Zaraas but with happy endings :) Wishing them all the best... and one also hopes in the relationship between the two countries it is love that wins and not war...

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  8. As an NRI of Indian origin, I am happy to know of such union, but I am curious to know as to how the couple deal with the issue of religion. Only asking.

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  9. can you provide contact address ,be it email id of any of these happy couples

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  10. Hi Laleen you wrote well.We all want indo pakistan make peace together.This is the best prove for best friendship.Anyway
    https://www.mycomuniti.com/group/india-with-pakistan
    Join the group here at MyComms as a way of showing support for Pakistan and letting the world know India and Pakistan hopes for a future together

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Your comments are welcome!