These couples overcame insurmountable odds to stay together

Updated: 13 February, 2018 12:08 IST | Team SMD | Mumbai

Three couples in relationships that were exacting from the word go, share what their journey has been like and what got them through testing times

Smriti Lamech and Rajeev Kalambi
Smriti Lamech and Rajeev Kalambi

'Marriage is not built on parental blessings'
The couple: Smriti Lamech, 39, media professional, and Rajeev Kalambi, 43, finance professional
The hurdle: Religion

Smriti Lamech and Rajeev Kalambi's Allahabad wedding in 2003 was not attended by anyone from Kalambi's family. Until then, Kalambi, the eldest son in a Konkani Brahmin family, had been the apple of his parents' eye. The one who never challenged them. It was the girl he chose to marry that was the problem. Lamech was a Christian.

On the other hand, Lamech's family, was used to the idea of his family being absent. It had been a recurring matter for four generations. "My husband was the fourth generation of men who had left their respective families to marry into ours. Mixed marriages have been a pattern. My grandfather's grandmother was Chinese. But even though there had been ethnic barriers, everyone was Christian. I was the first in the family to marry a Hindu," says Lamech, a former media professional, based in Delhi.

Into a year of knowing each other - the two met as colleagues - they realised that something was brewing between them. "We would spend all our time together, travelling to and fro from work, hanging out after hours. In fact, when we became friends, I was already in a relationship of two years. And he was seeing other people, casually. But, invariably, because we shared so many interests, we ended up seeing each other all the time."

Despite their joint resolve, it was an uphill road. Soon after deciding to be together, Kalambi left for Hyderabad to pursue a management course. "That was a tough year for us, and there were times when we were close to falling apart," she recalls. But they did manage to piece their lives together around their issues. They married 10 days after he graduated. "My in-laws were wild. They cut off from us completely."

Kalambi says, "When I first told them on the phone that I wanted to marry Smriti, there was a one-minute long silence. And that is a long silence on a phone call. They got my relatives and childhood friends to talk me out of it. That was the first time I realised that their love for me was not unconditional."

Even though the family reconnected after a year, fights continued. Lamech says, "I was nothing like the Rajshree bahu they had wished for - 'she doesn't eat our food, nor speaks our language, has not even taken our surname'. Fights that are common between in-laws [even in arranged marriage scenarios] would seem more upsetting, thanks to our history. Also, things like my husband's left-liberal views, as opposed to their conservative thinking, him being cool with eating beef - his parents thought it was me instigating him in that direction.

But, that was the person he was, with or without my influence. We would fight with my in-laws, and then not speak for six months. It took us a decade to find a middle ground. We fell into each other's way of thinking. Now, they finally see me for the person I am, someone who is opposed to religion in general, and not just their religion. Both my husband and I are non-believers."

Now that things are on level ground, Lamech does not want to dwell on the past. "The worst of our relationship is over. But I also feel it's important to tell this to young people who feel 'how will I build a marriage without my parents' blessings'. While it is nice to have that, you don't build a marriage with that. Marriage is built on shared values, and very simply, love."

By Kusumita Das

'My friends had only seen transgenders who begged for money'
The couple: Madhuri Sarode, 35, social worker, and Jai Sharma, 36, entrepreneur
The hurdle: Gender

Her first wedding anniversary just went by. December 20. And, Madhuri Sarode can't believe how much life has changed since her wedding day. Her husband Jai Sharma says, "For days after the wedding, my mother refused to speak to me even on the phone. I was living with my brother [while Madhuri was living separately] and she read the news in the newspaper." But now, the couple notes, his mom is fine.

Madhuri Sarode Sharma and her husband Jay with their pet. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Madhuri Sarode Sharma and her husband Jay with their pet. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

"I understand her anger. Any mother would want her son to marry a regular girl and have kids. In my case, that's impossible," says Sarode. Born Prakash, Sarode is a transgender woman who in her pre-teens - the age when attraction starts rearing its head - realised not just that she was attracted to boys, but also that the body she saw in the mirror was not the body she identified with. While after asking around she did meet others in her school who were also questioning their sexual identity, her first acquaintance with the term transgender came after Std XII when she went to the Humsafar Trust through an outreach programme and realised that she wanted a career in social work. Her family, she says, has taken her to psychiatrists and done "jaadu-tona" to make sure that she behaves like the boy she was born as.

"I do believe being the T in the LGBTQ is most tough. Everyone else - lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the queer - look normal. However, as transgender, we stand out. Because we cross-dress. We can't not; it's through this that we express ourselves," she says. It's an identity she celebrates, in fact. Which is why among the first things that she told Sharma, when he pinged her on Facebook one day after seeing her profile, was that she was a trans woman. "It was never a problem for me. I knew her and liked her," says Sharma. His childhood friends however, did have the "what are you doing!" question. "They had only seen transgenders as people who beg for money. To them all, I said 'come home and meet her'. And when they did, all their questions were answered," he adds.

Sharma, Sarode says, who turned 36 on February 6, a day before she turned 35, had no plans to marry. "He had a crush on a woman who married someone else and he had decided never to marry." In fact, at some point in their courtship, Sharma suggested that they live in. "But I didn't want that. I told him that it's very common in the community that men live in with us and dump us after five years. I wanted the whole hog - a baraat, a dulha, haldi, etc." The wedding itself, says Sarode, was arranged by their respective sisters. Sarode's parents have passed away.

It was only after meeting Sharma that she underwent two surgeries, one for silicone implants and the second a vaginoplasty. "Though this allows us intercourse, I can't have biological children," she adds. And that's something the couple misses. A marriage certificate would allow them to adopt, but Sarode wants a certificate that says that she's transgender, not one in which she has to accept a female identity. When the Transgender Bill 2016 gets passed, Sarode and Sharma will get their certificate.

For now, their Kalyan home enjoys the pitter patter of paws - a labrador named Maggie and a spitz called Frooty. "We love animals. Jai runs a pet store, in fact. And, we moved to a bigger home here in Kalyan because we wanted the dogs," Sarode says.

By Gitanjali Chandrasekharan

'My family wanted to know why I had picked a Dalit'
The couple: Nilakshi Pawar, 34, homemaker, and
Nitin Pawar, 35, BMC employee
The hurdle: Caste

Twelve years ago, Nilakshi Pawar took a decision that most would consider impulsive. She married a boy she had known for less than a week. It was a choice that would land her on the streets after she was thrown out of her maternal home, and alienate her family for a decade. "The outrage wasn't over the fact that I had gone against their wish. It was about a Maratha girl marrying a Dalit boy," says Nilakshi, 34, who lives with husband Nitin, her in-laws and their eight-year-old daughter, Tanvi, in Chembur East.

Nilakshi and Nitin Pawar. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Nilakshi and Nitin Pawar. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

The long-known rivalry between the two castes in fact made headlines earlier this year with the eruption of the Bhima-Koregaon violence over a historical commemoration. In 2016, Nagraj Manjule's Sairat, the highest grossing Marathi film till date, spoke of a love story between a privileged Maratha girl and a poor Dalit boy, eventually ending in the honour killing of the couple. It was inspired by true events.

"You don't think about caste when you love someone. It never mattered to either of us," says Nitin, 35, who works with the municipal corporation. The two met in 2007 at a function where Nilakshi was handling public relations for a catering firm. "On my insistence, we met at a coffee shop the next day. As creepy as it sounds, I told her that I loved her in that very meeting," says Nitin. In order to test his intentions, Nilakshi asked him to meet her family and make it official.

The meeting was civil until caste lines were drawn. "After that, it went hostile," he says. The Pawars left for home well-aware this wouldn't be easy from here onward. "My family wanted to know why I had picked a Dalit. According to them, he was neither as educated or as well-off as us. They even had a problem with his complexion. They wanted me to leave him," she says. And, when she refused, they told her to leave.

She put up at a colleague's home and married at Parel's Buddha Vihar, where Nilakshi converted to Buddhism. The marriage was attended by Nitin's family and a handful of friends. "Unlike Maratha weddings, where the bride is dressed in a yellow saree, I was clad in white. We wear white at funerals. The customs were all new to me," she says.

Her liberal upbringing meant that she worried if she could have her freedom. "Fortunately for me, his parents were supportive. Nothing has changed except that I now I wear a mangalsutra and have a daughter," she smiles. Last year, the ice thawed when Nilakshi and her maternal family got talking. "Time heals. And with youngsters marrying outside their caste and religion, it had led to more acceptance."

By Anju Maskeri

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