20 Years of Marriage: An Inspiring Cross Cultural Success Story

by Sharell शारेल on October 27, 2012

in Inspirational India

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Recently, Sheryl from Southern Life, Indian Wife got in touch with me to share her blog. I was amazed and thrilled by her remarkable story — happily married for 20 years to an Indian man in the US, and with five gorgeous children! So inspirational! I just had to find out more. Sheryl, and her husband Dharmesh, have been very honest and generous with their answers to my questions. I’m sure you’ll find what they have to say as interesting as I did. (Sheryl also says she’d be happy to give advice to anyone who needs it. Do have a read of her wonderful blog).

Where are you both from?

S: I really can’t call one place my home. My father had a goal of climbing the corporate ladder in his career, and moved us around the country frequently. By the time Dharmesh and I met in Memphis, Tennessee, I had lived in 8 states and attended 7 different schools. I was only sixteen. But, my parents were born and raised in Lousiville, Kentucky, and though we seldom visited family, I sort of feel like Kentucky is a home base. But now, we have lived in Georgia for 18 years, and have roots planted firmly in the red clay soil here.

I guess it is important to note that, wherever we lived, we always lived in exclusively white communities. In Memphis, which was a hotbed of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, racism was extremely overt, and though my parents did not buy into that, we lived in white communities because that’s where the good schools were. I had only known one black person by the time I reached age 12. And the only Indians I knew were the twins Hardeep and Pardeep in my school. But they were so different in appearance, accent, and style, that we didn’t befriend them. This was in North Carolina, a very traditional, southern state, and it was very clear to all of us kids, that whites stick together socially. Right or wrong, this unspoken code was very real.

D: I’m from Johannesburg, South Africa. My parents were born there. My grandparents were from India. My mom’s family still has a big place in , but no one visits it anymore. My dad’s family used to own some kind of factory there, too, but sold it a few years ago.I’ve never been to India. I immigrated to Memphis in 1984 at age 14. It was during Apartheid, and we came to the US for a better life. I moved here without my parents to start school and lived with my two uncles, their wives, and my grandmother. My brother and cousins also did the same thing, and we shared a room at my uncles’ house. My community in South Africa had no whites. Just Indians, Muslims, and African servants.

Where and how did you meet? What attracted you to each other?

S: We met in Memphis in 1988. I was 16 and the new girl in town, again, and had found a job working in a local ice cream shop. It was owned by the dad of Dharmesh’s best friend. One summer night, when the crowd had died down, the girl I was working with, and I, chatted about boys for a while. I actually told her that I knew I would meet the person I would marry – that night. No one believes me when I tell the story, but it’s true. She will vouch for me. Crazy, huh?

Dharmesh came in that evening to borrow paper cups for his family’s own ice cream store (all of the ice shops in town were owned by Indians – all were friends or family from the same neighborhood outside of Johannesburg). I saw him and fireworks went off in my head. He was the most gorgeous boy I had ever laid eyes on. What attracted me to him? His huge smile, his jet black 80’s hair, his black eyes, just gorgeous. But most of all, it was his charm. Even today, he walks into a room, and charms the pants off of people. Flirty, smart, and genuine. Immediately, he made me feel special. He wasn’t like the cocky good ol’ boys I knew from school.

The more I got to know him, as we dated, the attraction deepened to a different level. I loved his commitment to his family, and his loyalty to people. He was the consummate Indian son…did everything for his parents, played with his little cousin/sisters, and took care of anyone who needed anything. I had never known anyone so selfless and he treated me with the same devotion and loyalty. I was a lonely girl with no network of family or friends in my new home, so he filled a void for me. He was hot and a family guy…what more could a girl want?

But, I have to add, that my mother always told me to be aware that, “the things that attract you to someone are the things you come to hate later.” In our case, that has been true for periods in our marriage. After we got married, his duty to his parents has been a divisive issue that we’ve worked hard to negotiate. The discussion continues to this day. It’s hard.

D: I saw her in the ice cream shop and thought she was very cute. She had a nice smile. We had chemistry right away. We had very similar drive and ambition, both came from family’s with “issues,” and both wanted the same things in life. Family, success.

How long have you been married for?

S: We’ve been married for 20 years. I was 19 and he was 22 when we tied the knot.

Who proposed and how?

S: He proposed, but it was after we talked about getting married a lot. He had inklings that the family was networking to find him a girl, and I kind of put the pressure on him to go ahead and get married, to head the matchmakers off at the pass. I was in college and he was in dental school at the time. We were so young.

D: I asked my parents for their okay first, then asked Sheryl’s dad for his blessing. He was cool. I tied the ring box to a balloon and put it in a box. Then hid in her parents’ living room. She came home and her folks told her she had a package. When she opened it, I came out and got on one knee and asked her to marry me. It was good her parents were there. Her mom cried.

How did your families react? Did they require much convincing?

S: Ha. After we got engaged, years later we found out, that family members scurried around to try to fix him up with a Gujarati girl before we could get married. They even brought one to the house to meet him. But he was clueless.

At risk of offending people, I can only say that, on the surface, his family said they accepted me. But in reality, I was treated like an interloper and often flat out ignored in many situations. He was the oldest son, and going to be a doctor. I didn’t fit in to their plan for him or for themselves. I had no place with them. At family dinners and functions, I couldn’t sit with him because I was a woman, but the women didn’t want me either. So, I was usually placed at the kids table. Humiliating. He quickly bucked the system and would just have me sit with him at meals and no one would say anything to him. However, this did not endear me to the women.

D: When I was going to propose, I sat my parents down to talk. They were very calm and supportive, and they offered to come with me. When I was around, no one ever said or did anything about Sheryl.

What kind of wedding was it?

S: We had a small Christian wedding, officiated by my preacher. We were lucky that he married us, because the fact that Dharmesh was Hindu was an issue. But, he agreed to do it in the end. His parents didn’t see the need for an Indian wedding, because his mom believes that God is God, and it didn’t matter to her if the ceremony was Hindu or Christian. I only had maybe twenty family members on my side of the church. His side was packed to the hilt. The reception was a mix of both cultures. There were about two hundred Indians, and about fifty Americans. My family was amazed at the numbers of people who he considered close family. For us, family is brothers, sisters, and we are close to first cousins sometimes. Any further out than that, we pretty much don’t claim.

His family arranged a vegetarian Indian buffet, and gave me sets of gold jewelry and saris. We also had a DJ with all kinds of music. We had a traditional tall wedding cake, and I wore my dream white wedding dress. Americans gave us the china settings and small appliances which I had registered for at department stores, while most Indians gave us cash, jewelry or watches.

You live in the “Bible Belt” in southern USA, where there are only pockets of Indians and very little intermarriage between groups. How do other people view you and react to you as a couple? What are some of the major challenges you’ve had to face?

S: We’ve had varying experiences over the years with people and situations here in the South.
We live outside Atlanta, which is quite culturally diverse, but in the outskirts we are still in an area steeped in southern values. Most people treat us like they would anyone else, but there are those who have a problem with us. At a party once, Dharmesh and I struck up a conversation with a gentlemen who seemed very nice and friendly. But when Dharmesh excused himself to get another drink, the man boldly asked me, with disdain in his voice, “Why are you with a guy like that? You’re white.” Then he laughed a little and asked, “Does he have you worshipping cows?”

I have learned not to mention religion to white people until I get to know them very well. I have a friend who is a devout Southern Baptist, which means she strives to live according to the literal word of God in the Bible. In her faith, the only way to salvation is through the acceptance of Jesus as one’s savior. Period, no exceptions. When Dharmesh’s grandmother passed away, my friend was distraught that the woman had never been baptized, and told me that it is a very sad that she would not go to heaven. She is still my friend. I can’t fault her for her beliefs and she had genuine concern. I just don’t go there with her or anyone else anymore.

As far as the pockets of Indians around us, we don’t associate with them often. They network through functions and know each other from their kids’ dance classes and going to the temple, but we are not a part of that so much either. Dharmesh’s parents have close ties, and keep us in the fold that way. It feels like participation in the Indian community here is an all-or-nothing thing. You’re either all in or your all out.

Dharmesh has faced the challenge of fitting into the good ol’ boys’ club in his profession. He is a dentist in a very rural area and has learned to relate to his patients as one of them. He has a southern accent, and talks about deer and hunting with male patients, even though he’s never done it before. I think when his patients see our family picture at the front desk, they also feel like he’s less of a foreigner.

How about your children. How do people react to them? And how to they relate and fit into two very different cultures?

My kids are awesome because they take everything in stride. Our five year old just figured out that he is half Indian and half white, but he just says it’s good because it’s easy to spot daddy after school, because he’s brown and stands out among the other parents.

There is much more diversity in schools these days than ever before, with the influx of Hispanics in our country. So kids are pretty accepting of differences now. My oldest son has dated a Hispanic girl and is now with a white girl, but he says he wants an Indian wedding. My daughter has talked about wearing a sari to her high school prom, and her white friends want to do the same. One of my 12 year old twins has said he likes telling friends stories about his Dada’s life in India, England and South Africa. He says they’re cool. I think being half Indian makes them feel unique and special.

But they are still on the fringe of Indian culture. As they get older, Dharmesh’s family is making more efforts to get them involved and feel welcome.

How much of your partner’s culture have you adopted? In what ways have you managed to blend the cultures and what have you kept separate?

S: I have tried to learn the cooking, but I’m not so good at it. I do better by adding Indian flare to dishes I already know. The biggest adaptation I have made is accepting the presence of family around us…all the time. His parents are at our house daily and that was hard for me to accept at first. We don’t live with them, but we might as well. At first I saw it as an intrusion, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe in reincarnation, and karma, but have kept my basic Christian values as well. I also feel like he is the head of the family and gladly let him take that role. The sanctity of the family has rubbed off on me.

D: I eat chicken. I was raised strict vegetarian, but when Sheryl got pregnant the first time, she told me she was going to feed him chicken. So, I figured I needed to eat chicken if I didn’t want to starve.
I was baptized. We wanted a common ground for the kids. I went to Catholic school, so I was okay with being Christian. But, I still believe in Hinduism. It’s all the same to me. No contradictions. God is God.
I keep my personal life and family business very private. That’s an Indian thing. I speak Gujarati with family. Sheryl and the kids don’t speak. I keep in touch with Indian friends and keep them separate from white friends. I will always take care of my parents. I don’t care what Americans think about that.

Can you explain one part of your partner’s culture that you found surprising?

S: There are so many! Arranged marriage and parental influence are the biggest ones. I believe in fairy tale romance, and I cannot imagine my family having anything to do with choosing my mate. Americans often marry the exact opposite of what their parents want for them. I was surprised by how much say Indian parents have in their kids’ lives. American kids spend years trying to separate from their parents! And that’s what the parents want…to see their kids grow up and make it on their own, independently.

D: Family values and money. In our families, what’s yours is mine. But Americans keep everything separate. A mom might sell her daughter a sofa, or a father might lend his son money. We just don’t do that. We give. My uncle paid for my private school, and I have helped his daughter in return. It’s family. Americans split the check to the penny at restaurants. That amuses me. And Americans talk and gossip about their families.Big no-no for us.

Which foods do you like most and least from each others’ countries?

S: I used to hate everything Indian. I was used to bland meat and potatoes. But I can’t think of any Indian food I don’t like anymore. My favorite foods are matter paneer and vegetable biryani. The hotter the better.

D: Favorite – hot wings Least- boiled anything. I do not like roasted Turkey and all the bland food at Thanksgiving.

What’s the best thing about being in a cross-cultural relationship?

S: It’s taught me to respect all people for their beliefs. And I love learning new things about his culture. The differences in our upbringing create the spice of our life – both good and bad. I earned a degree in anthropology just so I could understand cultures on a deeper level. That has helped.

D: Embracing differences, because there’s a lot of good in both cultures.

Do you have any advice for other cross-cultural couples?

S: Enjoy each other. Always remember why you came together in the first place. Sometimes you have to accept things that you don’t like when it comes to cultural differences. But, your partner and their culture are a package and you can’t change that. If you try, you change the person you love, and what’s the point in that? Never give ultimatums, and always talk to your partner in a way that they will want to listen. Sometimes professional therapy may be necessary, and that’s okay.

If you have kids, keep a united front for them. They need that security in their lives.

I write about my experiences, and that is therapeutic. Reach out to others who can relate to your feelings. That’s why I write about my life on my blog. I want to help others by sharing my journey on the bumpy road we’ve been on.

D: Always do what your wife says. (Spoken like a man!)

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© Copyright Sharell शारेल, Diary of a White Indian Housewife 2008-2014. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

vikas October 27, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Sharrel,
South African Indians,Fiji Indians and Guyanese Indians are westernized and have very little Indian roots and connections.They have more in common with the western culture than with Indian culture.Added to that Dharmesh and Sheryl got married in the year 1992 when values were better than now.
For me Sharrel’s love story and her Indian stay are more inspiring and uplifting.

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Sharell शारेल October 27, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Being married for 20 years is an achievement in any situation, so I still think it’s a very remarkable story and something we can all learn from.

Besides, his family still sound pretty Indian, including speaking their native language. And he clearly has retained his Indian values.

As well as that… I don’t even have to deal with my in laws visiting every day! ;-)

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Teril October 28, 2012 at 6:30 am

Ohhhh man!!! If I’d had my in-laws visiting every day….well, it just wouldn’t have happened. And yes, these days it is an achievement to reach 20 years of marriage, at least in the U.S., which is a sad commentary on our society. Unfortunately my marriage ended after 18 years. It was not something I wanted, and worked hard to prevent (we were separated 3 years before finally divorcing) but there are some things that perhaps weren’t meant to be.

Marriage in and of itself is challenging and then add in the multi-cultural aspects. I so admire you and Sheryl.

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ASG October 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Hi Sharrel,

I do agree, your marriage sounds more inspiring. Indians living in west are more westernized. A western women coming to India and adjusting to the culture and all that goes with it is more tough as the Indian society puts more pressure on the women than men to comply with the norm. What makes your story remarkable is your success in assimilating despite all odds, when compared to other expat women on your blog. your In laws have been wonderful to you.

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vinod October 28, 2012 at 6:58 pm

I don’t agree that Sharell’s inter cultural marriage is more difficult than other inter culture marriage. She does not have much issues with her marriage per se.

Her challenges come more from the different cultural environment that she lives in.

How is this different from a man or woman from Indian culture living in a different cultural environment of west? Why should be their intercultural marriage be less remarkable or less conflict filled?

I don’t consider life in India challenging, if man and woman are compatible and in love. India is exciting, once you adapt.The issue is, how long would they be bonded in love.

And that’s where this marriage is successful, for its in an environment where option of exiting marriage on slightest storm is possible one of the top choices.

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vikas October 28, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Ohh, yeah
I don’t know anything about the difficulties or issues in Sharell’s marriage. But it is certainly challenging for her coming from a easy and cosy context in Australia to adapt to the everyday issues in India.This blog itself is evident of the numerous white women who finally had to give up their stay in India and go back.They found the everyday going in India too hot to handle .
The context of an Indian man white woman couple staying in India is not comparable to an Indian couple trying to adapt to the West.Life is easy in the West with the social benefits ,easy bureaucracy,much more organized cushioning your stay and cultural conflicts.

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vinod October 28, 2012 at 8:24 pm

@ Vikas

This is what you feel.
Ask a westerners perspective of their life in India, they would give you a different perspective. Life in western environment is very ordered, predictable, routinized and under control.
In India, its anything but this. We Indians don’t appreciate the agitation, adventure, chaos and the plat form for spiritual growth that India provides.
For some westerner need to shock their self concept and challenge themselves by removing the element of control from their lives.
Sharell has adapted to this new environment, challenged herself, her comfort zone and grown as a person in the process. Her challenges in the marital life relate to become economically and career wise predictable, to enter next stage of life, motherhood.
Its been an enriching experience for her.
Everything is subjective. I can show you many Indians who yearn to go back to India. I can show you Westerners who would find life in the western environment as bland after their sojourn in India.
Not all intercultural marriages are successful. Not all intra cultural marriages are successful either – I am an example of that.
And that’s why I would congratulate and celebrate any marriage’s success.

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vinod October 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I still don’t understand why people stick to their reinforced beliefs and claim it to be a fact. I can show you many people in India, who are more westernized than westerners themselves. Once Charlie Chaplin came across a competition where charlie Chaplin look alikes were participating and aping his style. He decided to participate in the competition and “lost”. In a highly heterogeneous environment its not accurate to term that all Indians are “non westernized”

And in contrast, I have seen expat community more cohesive abroad than at home. There are Telugu associations, Gujarati Associations, Tamil sangams in major US cities. Despite being a single man, I do get invited to home for pooja and festivities. At work place, if its a typical IT place, one can see a group speaking in Telugu, another in Tamil, Another in Hindi, Another in Bengali, Another in Malayalam.

In this case too the core family values are as they would be in India – the family orientation, family get togethers, language spoken.

The basic conflict in the culture still remains strong. And the challenges of managing those conflicts is always present. Its am image of typical successful inter cultural marriage with five kids, just the southern way.

I work at Nashville, Capital of Tennessee and aware of the low Indian American population in that state. And the core southern white man’s values from the bible belt’s buckle.

This state was pretty homogeneous on demographics, only recently non whites or non blacks are making inroads.

To be married for 20 years is a remarkable achievement. I congratulate them for celebrating and managing their inter cultural marriage.

On a separate note – Every marriage needs man to make adjustments and loose his previous scope of freedom. All his decision making variables and environment related to it change. He has to consider his family, his wife’s family. And despite both being of the same culture, caste – it does bring new elements…different family cultures, different family control hierarchies and dynamics, competition and ownership of man or woman by their respective families and the inherent rivalry that it brings between the families for superior status in the social transaction.

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A October 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I think this is an extremely stupid statement. I’m Guyanese, third generation. And, I think it’s horrid to say I’m less Indian than you. That’s like saying someone born and raised in Plymouth, MA is less English than their ancestors. True, I don’t speak the language nor practise the same religion, but when a white person looks at me, they see a terrorist and will throw stones/whatever is handy. It’s people like you that I loathe.

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Manny October 30, 2012 at 8:08 pm

“That’s like saying someone born and raised in Plymouth, MA is less English than their ancestors. True, I don’t speak the language nor practise the same religion, ”

I think you are going to lose your point of contention……. putting it like that. LOL :P

But your point about how other non desie’s perceive you is a good one. I was reading about this liberal half Jewish woman who was to trying put her child in a conservative hasidic Jewish school in Israel and the school would not admit her son…saying that she was not Jewish or not Jewish enough. She took the school to court and argued her position.. She pointed out to the court, if she were in Germany in the early 40s, the Nazies would have found her son to be Jewish enough for gas chambers. That was it..she won the case and got her son admitted to that school. :P

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prithviraj33 October 27, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Sharell good article, some parts very depressing though. Couple of items:

More than half of Indian-Americans live in the southern United States now. Although I guess it doesn’t matter since Indians are a very small minority in America when compared to Europe.

It definitely confirms what I already thought though – for an Indian man to be in a relationship with a white woman in the west they have to give up so much

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Sharell शारेल October 27, 2012 at 11:19 pm

for an Indian man to be in a relationship with a white woman in the west they have to give up so much

Sigh. Here you go again. What exactly are you referring to I wonder? He hardly sounds hard done by.

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prithviraj33 October 28, 2012 at 1:40 am

Sharell,

Did you read that he had to have an all Christian wedding? No Hindu wedding? Just that is very telling about the dynamic of this relationship! At least they should have a Hindu ceremony.

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 2:03 am

Yes, I did. But I also read that he believes that God is God. It’s all one. If he’s not making a big deal out of it, why are you? Not everyone cares so much about religion. I had a Hindu wedding and found it to be meaningful. So, why can’t he have a Christian wedding?

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prithviraj33 October 28, 2012 at 2:16 am

You had only a Hindu wedding? Or a combination of both?

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 2:19 am

I only had a Hindu wedding. And we had a civil ceremony/registry marriage as well to fulfill legal requirements. No Christan wedding.

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prithviraj33 October 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Interesting, maybe you are right, I certainly feel that is appropriate to have a focus on both religions if it is a mixed race wedding. I think the history has to be put in perspective to. Christianity has a record of bullying other religions.

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 2:59 pm

In this case, Sheryl has disclosed to me that there is a reason why they didn’t have a Hindu wedding, and it has nothing to do what you are inferring. I will leave it up to her to elaborate if she wishes. All I will say is that your criticism is completely unjustified and is again a reflection of your biases.

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Anand October 28, 2012 at 12:01 am

Actually I read her blog yesterday. One guy asked Sheryl “where did you adopt these kids from Cambodia or Guatemala ? because the kids were brown and white. Sheryl says What ? and he says mine from Guatemala. i laughed so much after reading this..these kind of things happen only in movie…really funny…

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Moderator’s Note: Pradeep, I have approved this post, but will not be approving your other ones, posted under different names but from the same IP address. Although I’m not a Christian nor a religious person, I won’t be allowing derogatory remarks about certain religions here. It’s not appropriate.

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vinod October 28, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Should you not ban him? isn’t that what blog rules says?

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Yeah, I think the time has come. He rarely contributes anything worthwhile or positive to the discussion.

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I might add that he wasn’t the person assuming different identities….that was another Indian guy.

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Anand October 29, 2012 at 12:44 am

Perhaps your husband…haha

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Monishikha October 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Hi Sharell,

They sound like such nice people. I really appreciated how honest they were about the challenges of their marriage! Specially this line

I have to add, that my mother always told me to be aware that, “the things that attract you to someone are the things you come to hate later.”

This is a challenge in most marriages, whether they are same culture/intercultural/arranged/love . I’ve been married for almost 9 years now , and we’ve been there more often than we like. Thankfully, in our case , although the marriage was arranged ( we met through a matrimonial column, we dated for a while before tying the knot), there were and still are factors like mutual attraction, respect, common interests etc. which have seen us through the bad times. Fingers crossed, for the future, because this I know , that my husband is the man I’d like to grow old with !

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Laanisa October 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm

How embarrasing to be so small as to sit and troll under different names just to spread negativity towards an uplifting and insirational family of 7. Sharell, I cannot believe you would publish even one comment from such a person with such obvious bad intentions.
This brave family do not deserve such comments and hatred towards them by Priv and his kind. Too sad lives they must lead bashing on a beautiful , multicultural family, but then again its something beautiful they will never experience and I guess thats where the hatred comes from,

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 3:23 pm

It is indeed very sad and mean spirited of people. I try not censor the comments completely to show a wide cross section of views, and unfortunately it seems that some Indian men are revealing themselves to be very prejudiced and negative without even knowing the whole story. :-( I’m sure they’ll be a minority though.

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Dagny October 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Thank you Sharell! What a marvellous and at the same time true story! :)

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sid October 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Looks like lot has changed in Memphis since Elvis’ day! We are truly living in a global village now; nice to find out about Sheryl’s blog on here; hope to hear more such interesting stories.

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Laanisa October 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I hear you Sharell, it shows such an ugly side of themselves childishly creating different names and accounts and at the same times they are the ones defendining the Indian male! Unbelievable, they are the putting the Indian male to shame.
And what’s it to them how anyone choose to live, get married and raise ones kids. For some people, religion isn’t that important, as the mother said, god is god. But even in such a great family who seems to be mainaining a great balance with cultures they still find a way to complain. The family lives in the US after all and have lived abroad in genertations, why assume a Hindu wedding would be important at all.
If i get married here i would most likely have a Hindu wedding, if we get married living in Europe we would get married in church or the registry office, but then again we are not religous people but spiritual. Whatever way we would have choosen would have been with respect and love for eachother, and if eiher of us would have a strong wish for a certain ceremony that is what we will go for, as you do in a loving relationship

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 6:42 pm

But even in such a great family who seems to be mainaining a great balance with cultures they still find a way to complain.

This is the most tragic thing about it! It’s really quite appalling. Even more so when I know the real reason why they didn’t have a Hindu wedding.

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Sheryl October 28, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Sharell, thank you for allowing so many voices to be heard about our story! It’s enlightening to me. Thank you to all of those who’ve made supportive comments. You’ve made it all worth it…putting ourselves out there is hard.

I have to address the idea that some seem to think I was a woman who seduced my husband away from his culture. His extended family is very, very traditional, very, very religious, and had been very, very isolated from whites in South Africa. They are lovely, good-hearted people who just didn’t know what to make of me at the time. I perceived that my presence was an embarrassment to them.

My in-laws chose not to allow a Hindu ceremony, and I was very sad about that. I married him for all that he was, Hindu, Indian, South African, smart, kind, funny. We wanted it all, but couldn’t have it.

I did not choose Christianity for my husband. He is strong-willed and has a mind of his own. True to the spirit of Hinduism, which embraces all faiths, he embraces other religions, and finds meaning in Christianity as well as Hinduism. We are all on a different path, but to the same God.
He doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. He cares about God.
We explored many spiritual paths together for our family, and, at his urging, chose the one we follow now. Our kids are taught to respect and love all, and celebrate God in the Christian and Hindu way. It is up to them to choose their own paths, as well.

Dharmesh has never once given up his Indian-ness, love for his family, or his spirituality. But he has room in his life for new things,
too.

As far as giving up vegetarianism and eating chicken, he chose it. His dad is not a vegetarian, and his mom is. Meat was not new in his life. His comment in the interview was meant as a joke. He likes it. And, by the way, all Hindus are not vegetarian.

I respect everyone’s beliefs, and wish only happiness and peace for everyone in whatever path they choose.

Thanks.

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Thank you, Sheryl, for elaborating. It’s really bad that it had to come to this, but it makes your family even more inspiring, revealing how you’ve explored different paths together. If only more people were open minded enough to do this. You’re all on a beautiful journey together!

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Also, I might add, that it would be gracious if those who said disparaging comments came back and apologised for causing unnecessary and baseless hurt.

As Sheryl said, and I have also experienced, putting yourself and your life out there is really hard. People who do this really don’t need the narrow minded judgements of others, especially others who know very little about them and simply make assumptions!

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surya October 30, 2012 at 5:15 am

“ True to the spirit of Hinduism, which embraces all faiths, he embraces other religions, and finds meaning in Christianity as well as Hinduism.”
Sheryl,
firstly I have all good words for your successful married life, congrats. Intercultural and interracial unions are not uncommon in North America and however, sadly, the statistics depict them disfavorably. Personally I encourage Indians to marry Americans all the way, somewhat late for me to put into practice. I was already married when I got here!!

The second reason for my post is something else. My issues are with your husband and none with you. Its true that Hindus are NOT intolerant and are not hatemongerers unlike some other proselytizing faiths are, but then it should not be misconstrued and misquoted as “Hinduisms sees all religions as same, equal etc”. NO, hinduism doesn’t ‘embrace all faiths’, where did your husband get this, Hindus were genocided for 800 years by two faiths in case your husband didn’t know. Unless he had studied gita and Upanishads at least in abridged forms he cant comment on our faith. Besides according to his new faith all hindus go to hell permanently (muslims say the same btw) and they wont be saved!! Therefore it is silly if hindus still ‘embrace’ these faiths, simply such exclusivist doctrines are incompatible with hinduism. My point is one should not cross the line and spread misinformation about someone else’s faith even if the underlying intentions are genuinely good.
Lastly, if you, as you said, believe in rebirth and karma (which are the core dharmic doctrines), then you have no belief in your own religion, the religion that affirms ‘one birth and no transmigration of atma’. But then I know it is none of my business. You both sound like universalists to me. I am not offended just giving a perspective. Cheers.

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Sheryl October 31, 2012 at 12:42 am

Hi. You are right on a lot of points about spreading misinformation about other faiths. My husband has expressed a belief passed on to him by his mother, as this is the view of the master whom they follow. Neither he, nor I, is a perfect person, with perfect knowledge in any one set of beliefs. But we both respect the spirit of what the Master teaches as well as the spirit of love that Christianity teaches. I know world history. I know that people of every religion on Earth have had their less than admirable moments, but he and I are doing the best we can to make sense of a mysterious world. I have yet to meet a person who understands it all.
The point of our sharing our story is not to argue religion. That’s a very personal thing. But, I do understand your point.

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Winter Season Man October 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Very Inspiring story. There are always challenges in a mixed marriage but the satisfaction of overcoming them and embracing each other’s culture makes the journey worthwhile. All the best to this couple. I hope they spend the rest of their lives together!

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Manny October 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm

I just finished reading her blog. She writes well. Her sense of humor is really good. Maybe THAT’S why she is able to keep it together for so long. Ha Ha!

That’s the real magic people. Ability to laugh at this world.

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 8:54 pm

So true! But ya gotta laugh, the more you observe the world the more ridiculous it gets.

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Manny October 28, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Forget about her IC relationship Sharell.. But don’t YOU wonder how she managed to live through having 5 children? Tsk Tsk! :P

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Sharell शारेल October 28, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Maybe that’s why I admire her so much!! Just the thought of one is enough to freak me out at times.

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Kannan October 28, 2012 at 9:39 pm

“Thats real magic people. Ability to laugh at the world.” Very true :)

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Indianwoman December 19, 2012 at 6:38 am

If you have the ability to laugh, then why did you used to fume in the “Why do Indian women like white men” thread? Take your own advice, yaar. Your posts reminded me of someone eating too much mirchi, lol.

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Kannan October 28, 2012 at 9:35 pm

What a wonderful, intelligent and good hearted couple! Very interesting to read their story! Having lived in Indian as well as western cultures I can relate to the humor in seeing the differences in family values, customs, etc. Marriage in itself is difficult as you have to deal with the classic challenge due to differences in male/female mind; inter-cultural marriages increase the challenge to 10x as you have to share your life with an Induvidual who has had a totally different upbringing than yours. And even more challenging is having an Indian spouse, because not only you are married to the person but to his whole family! Not to mention Indian families are full of drama as they are meant to serve as a vehicle to dissolve your ego completely! There is a lot of adjustments to be made from both spouses to make it work. If you have any element of ego you will get completely burnt in an Indian marriage. So hats of to Sheryl and Dharmesh on making their marriage work so wonderfully, and thank you so much for sharing your story and wisdom!

P.S. It is truly disappointing to see quite a few unkind comments. Commenters need to think twise before posting and ask themselves if there is any value in posting critical and judgmental comments. Peace.

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Padparadscha October 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm

“Not to mention Indian families are full of drama as they are meant to serve as a vehicle to dissolve your ego completely! ”

Hey what a great insight, thank you ! :)

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Amelia October 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Thanks for posting this, what an inspiring couple. I can really relate to a lot of what Sheryl wrote. I do feel for her when she felt excluded and not accepted into the family in the beginning…that must have been hard.

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to agree with what you choose to do and what to believe..when I moved to India with my husband, some of my Australian friends and family were very happy for us and others couldn’t accept that I will be living here (and might I add, we moved in with my in laws!)
But over time if you are okay, they start accepting too!

I just popped ove to her blog and like her topics, she is pretty funny too.

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Masala Bou October 29, 2012 at 3:31 am

What a lovely story! I have several friends (well four) each with four children but none with five!

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Sharell शारेल October 29, 2012 at 11:25 am

My grandma (mother’s mother) had five, and so did my husband’s parents. I really don’t know how they coped. One of my close friends has just had her fourth too!

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Nick October 29, 2012 at 3:51 am

I am in an inter cultural marriage, as an Indian man, in the US. Wish everyone in the same much success and happiness. Not sure if I would do the same over. Depends on the culture perhaps, as Indians and Japanes would be more suited than Indian and Finnish perhaps. Just depends on how steeped the person who is living in his or her non native country is and wants to be, and how much he or she is willing to let go. From raising the kids to wealth management to religion, sprituality, family relationships, food, language, ambition, etc etc, the differences can be overwhelming. Bsides, maybe you are married for a long time. But, what is the quality of your marriage because of these non traditional marriage issues layered on top of the usual ones in a same culture marriage. Sorry, Sharell, if I were to advise someone, it would be a stick to what you know.

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Mrs W October 29, 2012 at 7:29 am

I absolutely loved this post and their honest answers about their intercultural marriage. Their story is fascinating as I am also originally from the Southern United States and I am well aware of that environment—it was very interesting to hear about her experiences there with regard to her intercultural union. I read her whole blog as well and loved her sense of humor. I also loved her family photos…such a beautiful family! I’ll definitely keep reading her blog. :)

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Sharell शारेल October 29, 2012 at 11:52 am

Glad you liked it and could relate.

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Padparadscha October 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Ah, what a nice inspiring story (and photograph), I will go and check their blog. I can relate to several issues brought up by Sheryl and Dharmesh, but there is one sentence I find sad it is “I keep in touch with Indian friends and keep them separate from white friends.”

It’s nice to hear about the way men cope with intercultural relationship.

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Sheryl October 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I have to speak for my husband, because he hates to write! I don’t think he means to say that he doesn’t want his friends to mix, really. He has two circles of friends that are equally important to him. American friends of all backgrounds, but also his special relationships with Indian friends that go way back to his childhood. Most of them are spread around the country, and he has different things in common with each group. Also, spending time with just Indian friends at times helps reinforce his feelings of being part of the Indian community. Does that make sense?

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Manny October 29, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Hi Sheryl.

Some the things you wrote, is very true, but it doesn’t have to apply for folks who are in IC relationship alone.

You mentioned , being totally into the Indian cultural activities.. Either you are into it 100% or not at all.. That is very true. That actually applies to me too. I am Indian.. But I am not part of the Desi diaspora cultural groups and the various activities they are into mainly because I don’t have a family and kids. I have a couple of desi friends who I went to school with and I get to meet all the other Indians when I go to my friends house. They throw parties quite often.. Other than that, I do not know the rest of the desi folks and there are plenty of them. I am not into the Diaspora thingi.

About keeping the desi friends and American friends separate is also not very strange. Although I am not too strict about it. I have “get together” at my place and many times its all mixed. ..yet when I am into activities outside my home, the social circle seems to separate. Its mainly due to the kind of activities that doesn’t seem to interest the other. Diwali celebration (which I rarely go myself) is not something that interests my golfing buddies. I have a couple of desi friends who do play golf and so there is some mixture there.

But I totally understand what you mean about those two points you made.

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Sharell शारेल October 30, 2012 at 10:50 am

I can’t envisage too many Indians wanting to attend your steak and wine nights, Manny. :-P

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Sheryl October 31, 2012 at 1:52 am

I’m glad you understand the dynamics of the Indian “club” in diaspora. Plus, in regard to having separate relationships with people, I think most people have a little need for separate interests and people in their lives. For example, I enjoy getting together with female friends, and don’t want my husband around. He doesn’t “get” what we are talking about, and we women need that bonding time. It’s the same thing.
Oh, and about your comment about me coping with five kids…you’re right. Humor is my sanity! (And the occasional glass of wine)

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anjeneyan October 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Very interesting blog. I glanced through Sheryl’s blog. It looks very interesting. I will read later.

To me, it seems to be marriage between two USA citizens from different cultural backgrounds. While the cultural differences (impact of family, parents on day to day life) would be significant, it is clearly an American way of life and living. Since none of them have lived or visited India, their affiliation to India or Indian way of life or thought would be inherited or influenced by relatives. The next generation would identify themselves with white Americans (is this the right term, I am not sure) rather than with Indians.

American emphasis on individuality – to the extent of excluding family members in several aspects of life- seems strange if seen from a purely social context. There is a difference or a line between exclusion and privacy. While we may respect the privacy our children or parents need, to exclude them from the joys and sorrows of our day to day life seems to be receipe for loneliness.

USA and its citizens give an impression of living in an insular place where external influence is minimal. Most individuals need to know only one language- English- one religion- Christianity. Though most of its’ citizens are immigrants, they fit into one pattern- one way of life.

If we inject our Indian way of life and thinking into it, then it is a receipe for creating a new dish whose taste and edibility will be known only when consumed.

We have relatives and friends who have married US citizens and settled in USA in the last few decades. There is little of India left in such unions- especially in the next generation.

The last two decades have seen a wave of Indian emigration to US, fuelled by the IT boom. Many have become US, Australian citizens and settled down there. The next generation of such families will identify themselves more with local population than with a country several continents away. Most of them are not able to speak the language of their Indian parent, stand out when the come to India , speak in an accented English which puts off their local relatives. The chaos, noise, squalor and lack of cleaniless offends them. The parents valiantly try to defend India and give up after some time.

None of this is a criticism of either USA or India. This is just the view that I have – may be prejudiced or incorrect or based on limited knowledge or based on loving India too much.

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Marcy October 30, 2012 at 8:35 am

While what your stating might be true for a generation of Indian Americans a few years ago, I see many current school/ college and young adult Indian Americans embracing their roots, learning Hindi in college as a credit course, viewing Indian movies, volunteering in India and learning the various arts of India.

In addition kids all over US these days are learning either Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese and even Latin (which is a dead language) in their schools even though it is not a requirement. My kids are currently learning 3 languages (2 in school and 1 private classes) just like the kids in India. I know of more Indian American kids who have gone to rural India and taught kids from the less privileged kids than who have said India’s chaos and lack of cleanliness offends them. In fact they loved the freedom India got to offer – they could commute freely within cities without having to depend on an adult to drive them to their shopping or entertainment destinations, they got to identify with their roots and understand better from where their parents came from, etc. Yes the next generation Indian Americans’ outlook is definitely American, but they have not abandoned their heritage; if anything they have proved that a blend of cultures only provides for a more enriched experience and most of all they are proud of their culture. We only have to see through the eyes of these kids to truly understand how they view the world and India.

Also I think people characterize all of southern US incorrectly. At the heart of the southern culture is what we closely relate to as family values, fear of God, respect for your neighbor/ community, hospitality and politeness which are the very values we teach in India. Sure they are reluctant to befriend people who look different, but once they get to know you they are quite accepting of you and your ways, which is very typical of Indian folks too.

In the end, I would like to state that I see teens and youth in India more westernized than some of our kids here. The world is quickly becoming a global village with the advent of the internet and ease of travel across the planet. It is time we stop bemoaning the loss of one culture to another and celebrate the unique traditions this melting pot called earth is offering. As long as basic moral values and humanity is not lost, we should not be too worried about erosion of traditions as we know it – it is merely an evolution of culture into a new one. Yoga, chai lattes, bollywood remixes, fashionable kurtis are here to stay in the US (and worldwide) alongside thanksgiving and IPads, so enjoy all of it.

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anjeneyan October 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm

I agree with much of what you have stated. We are seeing a segment of our youth being more westernised (with incorrect understanding of the underlying western culture,principles and ethos). I am glad to know that more languages are being consciously learned today as a US citizen knowing European or Asian languages has more opportunities on a global scale.

Considering the size of India, the presence of foreign citizens participating in welfare activities would not be visible and most of us may not be aware of these intiatives. These certainly would help in having a better understanding of India and its inhabitants.

I must confess that my knowledge of Southern USA is heavily influenced (in a very positive sense) by the novel Gone with the Wind. I agree to all you mention of Southern USA without any reservation.

I agreee about the world becoming a global village and cultural fusion to create a new one. While the brain accepts erosion of tradition, the heart refuses to reconcile to loss of traditions and wants to cling on to it. My children (who are grown up) chide me for it.

Again, no offence meant.

With very warm regards and many thanks for clarifying.

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Rebecca October 29, 2012 at 8:31 pm

What a beautiful family and congrats to Sheryl and Dharmesh on 20 years of marriage!

I am also an American woman married to an Indian man and we have two children. Reading Sheryl’s comments made me realize how lucky I have been that my Indian husband’s parents have been so welcoming and accepting of me. My mother-in-law was not thrilled at first when my husband told me that her that were marrying, mostly because she didn’t want her son to live so far away in the US. Thankfully it didn’t take her long though to accepts and be happy with our marriage. I can honestly say I have a better relationship with my Indian mother-in-law then with my own mom. Sadly it seems most couples in Indian/non-Indian relationships face much more hostility, especially from the Indian relatives.

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Magda October 30, 2012 at 12:33 am

Great story! Being in a intercultural relationship myself (my husband is Indian and I’m Polish), I feel like such relationships just make our lives richer because we can enjoy both cultures and through that be more open-minded towards other people. I was also glad to read about Sheryl’s as well as yours Sharell (throughout your blog) experiences of interacting with your husbands’ familes and in-laws. I will be meeting my in-laws in two weeks and it gives me hope that they will accept me and honor my husband’s choice.

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Dell October 30, 2012 at 4:56 am

After reading about Julia Gillards new Asia manifesto I guess Sharell is a serious contender for the ‘Order of Australia’ award!

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Orange Jammies October 30, 2012 at 11:27 am

LOVED their 5-year-old’s take on Dad being brown and therefore easy to spot! :) Thanks for this interview, Sharell!

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Ravindran Nair November 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm

They have gorgeous children btw.

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sub November 4, 2012 at 8:13 am

small kid looks very cute :P

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K November 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Thanks for sharing such a nice story…. must say their answers are quite candid.

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Brittany November 8, 2012 at 6:44 am

Hi Sharell,

This is my first time posting on your blog. I have really enjoyed reading about your experiences and insights. I am getting married this January in Mumbai to an Indian and while I have lots of international experience, this will be my first visit to India.

It is really inspiring to read about other successful inter-cultural relationships. Thank you for sharing this post. Their family sounds absolutely lovely.

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Sharell शारेल November 8, 2012 at 10:24 am

Welcome, Brittany! :-) And congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I’m sure it will be the start of an amazing journey for you.

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Alex November 12, 2012 at 11:16 am

Sharell thanks for posting Sheryl’s story. I am also an Australian married to an Indian. We live in Australia and the rest of his family in India so we don’t see them everyday obviously, but I am sure it would happen if we were in the same country. The only way is recognising and accepting each others’ cultural differences. Luckily for us as a couple, though from completely different cultures we have many similar values.

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Sheryl November 14, 2012 at 1:30 am

Hello, thank you for posting Sheryl’s story. Strange that my name is Sheryl and I just married a South Indian man on 11-11. I hope we have just as much success in our marriage, as you’ve had in yours!

Happy Diwali!
Sheryl

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Dawn November 16, 2012 at 10:24 am

As a caucasian US citizen who grew up on a farm in a town of 600 who married a man from Bombay almost 20 years ago, I am surprised you don’t know a ton of people “like us”! We have so many friends who are Indian + other ethnicity/race who have been married for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, etc years. While living in Bangalore last year, we met a couple who was a British female who married a Sikh male 50 (!!) years ago and had 4 children. It is not such a big deal to any of us. We married the person we loved… they just happened to be Indian which really isn’t the focus.

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Sharell शारेल November 16, 2012 at 10:40 am

I do know plenty of foreigner/Indian couples. There’s a group of more than 50 of us in Mumbai for starters!

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happilymarried January 19, 2013 at 3:15 am

I loved reading this post, Dawn. It rings so true. Is it a big deal to be in a cross-racial/cross religious relationship? I have found no such problems. I loved your reference to the couple married for 50 years! I and my Jewish American husband have been married for 18! My sister is married to an Italian, Catholic for 20! They just had their 3rd child and two cousins in Canada somehow found two Germans! Lol… I also have a cousin married to an Eygyptian Muslim, living in Eygpt; she has chosen to wear the burka. We respect her and her decison. Indian women are marrying non-Indian men in every respect in the US. I have honestly found the only backlash I get is from Indian men. We are all the same girls. I do my Shiv puja still and go to my Jewish mother-in-law’s house to celebrate Hannukah. She gave us a Hanukkah passed down from her mother; I light it every year with my husband. When you love someone, it flows…our problems are like every other American family: why didn’t he stick to the grocery list? why did he erase Days of Our lives… It’s been 18 years! We met when I was 20, in college. He followed me around like a puppy dog and made friends with my sisters. It has been glorious years. It does work. I smiled so much reading this entry.

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Padparadscha January 21, 2013 at 4:19 pm

@happilymarried. I’m not surprised you relate to this post since you are in a similar situation. I gather you are an American girl of Indian descent who married her American college sweetheart. Obviously then it must be difficult for you to imagine what kind of problems people face when they lived all their life in different countries/cultures and when falling in love, one of the two partners has to emigrate.

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IndianWoman December 18, 2012 at 2:13 am

I haven’t been in this site in ages (I would post under quite a few names), BUT thanks for posting this article.

This article beats the idea that ‘inter-racial/inter-religious” relationships don’t work out or don’t last.

They look great together. I can see the joy in their faces.

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Raina January 25, 2013 at 4:00 am

Sharell,

Its been a while since I’ve visited your blog so thought I’d drop in and I’m loving this post on Dharmesh and Sheryl. I tried clicking on the link to visit Sheryl’s blog only to read that a password is needed. Is this a recent development? Is there a password I can get a hold of?

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Sharell शारेल January 25, 2013 at 9:43 am

Oh no, I didn’t know that she’d password protected it. :-( Even I don’t have a password. I’ll have to get in touch with her. Sorry!

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Raina January 31, 2013 at 4:41 am

Sharell,

Thank you for getting back to me on this. If Sheryl is willing to part with the password, please do let me know! :-) Keep writing.

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Akash February 16, 2013 at 10:44 pm

It a shame that she has locked it.Her story is really inspiring.She seems to be a fairly good type like you expect your wife to be.Look at her children that clearly show how successful her marriage has been. Most of us would’t even try our luck with such good white women let one indian women….and weaklings like us would find our soulmates through arranged marriage route.Thank god there is a system like this otherwise I wonder how I would have managed.

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Sharell शारेल February 17, 2013 at 9:24 am

Unfortunately, putting ones personal life out there can be very overwhelming, especially opening oneself up to people who like to be critical and write nasty comments. Blogging requires the development of a thick skin. Perhaps this is why she’s made her blog private. I’m yet to get in touch with her sadly, I’ve been away travelling a lot.

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Christine March 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm

That’s really upsetting to hear – she has such a wonderful story to share, and I would have loved to read it! Sharell do tell us if she decides to once again open her blog up! :)

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ShaLes April 30, 2013 at 5:17 am

What an inspiring story! It does not matter whether one is arranged or love marriage, what matters is two people agreeing to duke it out no matter what. Thank you for sharing your story!

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Kartik September 14, 2013 at 1:18 am

Absolutely shales i concur. Its truly inspirational. I tried the same thing in australia but have not given up.

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