38 year-old Saumya Srivastava and 39 year-old Shahzeel Jawed met in the first year of graduating college in their hometown, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. It is the love story of teenagers from two different backgrounds who fell in love when they are just 17 and 18, respectively. It is the story of their grit and determination to win against the tide of the odds and mark their 21st year of togetherness this year in 2022.
Saumya recalls, "During the beginning, we had no clue where our relationship was heading. We can’t call it romance; it was more of a matter of comfort, which was the appealing factor. With time, we knew it was destiny, otherwise, the odds of us surviving the last 21 years together were rare!"
And Shahzeel feels, "At that age, one is immensely unreal, naïve, and emotional that one doesn’t understand the intricacies of life – romance has been one of them!"
But then they did take the plunge against the wishes of their parents and, of course, the societal norms. So how did that thriller happen?
A UNION OF TWO FAITHS
A communication specialist by occupation, Saumya revisits the memories, "Right from graduating college, to securing MBA degrees, to starting with corporates, we changed cities but never each other. When you walk that amount of distance with one another (in our case the courtship lasted for almost 8 years), you know that marriage has to be the next step as a marriage means spending life together and, we knew that if we had to marry, then it had to be with each other. Even though the legal stamp of the jurisdiction was missing, we were family to one another— indispensable!"
But when they expressed their resolve to their respective families to tie the knot, it wasn't easy. Saumya recalls, "Truth bomb – It’s always easier for the man’s family to accept, comparatively! Why? Because we live in a man’s world. We know the change is on the way, but we will have to walk miles to get there. We got married in 2009 and it took time for our folks to get used to our alliance. Both sets of parents luckily came around, but for him much sooner than mine.”
A Solution Architect by profession, Shahzeel asserts that they are poles apart and their alliance could have drifted either way. “Mahima, there is no guarantee in life, so when you place two individuals who are predominately diverse in nature, upbringing, philosophy, outlook, and religion, the parents are bound to have their disapproval. But we adopted ways and means to stick together," he asserts.
He adds that there were many things that they learnt to deal with in a marriage. “If you wish to arrive at your desired destination, you need to be consistent and dedicated in your approach. Moreover Mahima, Communication is very crucial. You need to keep communicating to your parents, to your partner and then to yourself to keep your relationship strong. Once married we ensured that we heard everyone’s (friends, relatives) but did what was best for us two – as a family. Every couple is different and they need to design the rules which cater them the best!
ACCEPTANCE, NOT COMPROMISES ARE THE KEY
Shahzeel recalls how they bridged the cultural gap, "As for the cultural differences—no one on this earth is similar to another, but we make it work when we want to make it work.” Saumya adds, “Yes and we must make it work because we love each other—even when one is the yin to the other’s yang. We made a thousand adjustments to accommodate each other’s priorities but we knew that’s a part of adulthood and partnership, and that’s how we transcended to ‘acceptance’ rather than ‘compromises’.
Saumya further shares, “ Making time for each other and balancing life and maintaining our own space was the key. Moreover, when you stay together you realize how ego can kill relationships. So, with time, you manoeuvre your way in case of disagreement (which will come in abundance) and agree to disagree. But make way to consensus. Thirdly, sharing responsibilities should come naturally. You need to work as a team, irrespective of gender discrimination; otherwise, romance alone can never make a marriage work!"
One common thing they have to assert is - "Once your understanding broadens, everything falls into perspective, and you focus on similarities whilst accepting the beauty of differences."
Saumya asserts, "Also, it’s not easy staying happily married for 13 years, but over the years we have learnt and amended some patterns and unsaid rules."
Here Shahzeel chuckles in, "We love to work as a team – and that includes us three – be it cooking, cleaning, breaking into an impromptu yoga session – we love to be a unit. Inclusion is a big part of us."
Saumya takes pride in sharing "We don’t have gender defined roles – he is a better cook, I am a better saving manager. It’s about who is available at what hour to perform a duty. We are a team and work have no labels."
Respecting each other’s privacy is again very vital for their happy survival. While she needs her time to write in privacy, his Sunday evening hours are booked to call each and every family member!
"We are a team, but then we are individuals with distinctive interests," Shahzeel emphasizes.
RAISING AN INDIAN CHILD IN AUSTRALIA
Now they are raising an 8-year-old daughter in Australia where they moved permanently in 2019. So how do they ensure that none of the other's cultures dominates and a beautiful amalgamation is followed?
Saumya is quick to answer, "We are lucky to have an 8-year-old who values the art of co-existence, even at a young age. Mysha has balanced the journey of Namastey to Assalamualaikum with such repose and a happy demeanour, which is a learning for her parents, since they did not go through it. We, her parents, had to transition and tailor to the change as it wasn’t elementary for us but for her it was innate. She is on her own journey of discovery, beyond differences set by the world."
LEAVING NONE BEHIND....
Coming back to their relationship, how do they manage their own family in Australia and back home in India? What does it take to ensure none is left behind?
Saumya informs, "My mother-in-law once rightly said, ‘Rishtey faaslo ke mohtaaj nahi hotey. Bachhe agar ek dusre se na bhi miley, unhe ek dusre ki tasveer dikhani chahiye. Unhe rishto ke mayne samjhane chahiye’ - meaning ‘Relationships aren’t dependent on how close you stay to each other, but how well your hearts are intertwined.”
Shahzeel looks into her eyes and smiles, "We are a huge part of each other’s family. So we make daily video calls back home. Home is a necessity and these calls our best way to keep our daughter closer home and carry on the legacy of love!"
Clearly what started as a simple step 21 years ago, has become a journey of two homes, and a life together. If you wish to know more about this beautiful inspiring family, then you can read here in depth at Saumya's Blog: https://saumyathoughts.wordpress.com/
The opinions expressed within this interview are the personal opinions of the protagonist/ protagonists. The facts & statistics, the work profile details of the protagonist/ protagonists do not reflect the views of Baely or the Journalist. Neither Baely nor the Journalist hold any responsibility or liability for the same.