Friday, March 16, 2007

A Home Together - Sejal and Sajid's Story

When Sejal met Sajid in their college cafeteria, the spark of connection was instant. At eighteen, these things tend to be strong and overwhelming. She was studying English Literature, and he was doing Economics. After that first meeting, where most notably Sajid said something so funny that Sejal splattered a mouthful of tea on his shirt as she laughed uncontrollably, they could not have enough of each other's company.

Sajid's dad supplied auto parts to car and truck makers around the country. His only other sibling was a kid sister ten years his junior. His father was waiting for him to finish college so he could help out in the business. Both Sejal's parents taught at a local college - one History and the other Math. Her two older sister were married with kids.

When they first started skipping classes to go to the movies, it was more in the spirit of truancy than romance. The spark had been felt but not recognized for what it truly was. They had quickly become best friends. There were no secrets and nothing was too personal to share. This was a one of kind experience for both of them. Neither had ever been quite as comfortable with anyone else. The future and any plans for it was farthest from their minds.

When Sajid turned twenty, his mother broached the subject of Nausheen, his third cousin. Her question was fairly innocent. What do you think of Nausheen ? Sajid replied honestly that he never had never thought about her. But she is so breathtakingly beautiful his mother persisted. Sajid said he had never noticed what Nausheen looked like. Do you like someone else ? his mother asked grimly. It was at that moment that he realized that had been in love with Sejal for over two years and telling his parents would cause a huge domestic upheaval. He was Muslim and she was Hindu. He had walked away from the conversation that evening without responding to her question.

The next day, he asked Sejal, Do you love me enough to marry me ? and Sejal replied Yes. Unlike most couples, this expression and acceptance of the true nature of their relationship did not bring joy to either of them. Sejal's parents would not accept Sajid as a son-in-law any more than his parents would accept Sejal. Both families would do everything in their power to prevent their marriage. They would have to escape if they ever hoped to build a home together.

Sajid's father was deeply disappointed to learn that he wanted to go to the US to pursue his masters. He did not see the point when there was a family business that needed help managing. What good will a foreign master's degree do ? You won't be working for anyone else he asked. Sajid said nothing. Sejal's parents were a little surprised by her desire to take the GRE and made it clear that they would not be able to afford much more than passage money. But what about marriage her mother asked. Sejal reasoned with her that a two year delay would not be the end of the world. She'd still be young enough and more eligble with a foreign degree.

Waiting for the consular officer's decision on their student visa was the most harrowing day of their lives. Sajid asked Sejal What will we do if one of us gets the visa and the other does not ? Sejal replied We should take that to be a sign from God that we should not try to be together. Sajid quipped Whose God, yours or mine ? I think they both want the same thing Sejal smiled. They both got their visas approved and to Sejal that was divine sanction for their marriage.

At the time of their marriage, their worldly goods included a few hand me down pots and pans, winter clothes from Goodwill, a beat up Nissan Sentra, a bunch of second hand books, Sejal's silver Lord Ganesh and Sajid's prayer mat that once belonged to his grandmother. It was with great trepidation that they informed their parents of their new found status. It was met with much shock, anger and indignation as they had expected. Both sides said that they did not recognize the marriage. The parents had formally severed ties with them .

While they had known the consequences of their actions all along, it took a while to accept they were now truly on their own, dependent on the kindness and camaraderie of strangers to have any semblance of a social life. Going back to India to visit with family was not an option until the families came around to accepting their decision.

America had allowed them to fulfill their desire to be together for life, but it had also made this a life of utter loneliness and isolation. The happy, carefree days of college in Pune was a dream they both liked to visit often. It was a time when they still had families who loved and cared about them. Now they felt like orphans. Sometimes Sajid asked Do you think we did the right thing ? and Sejal would reply Only time will tell. America was bitter sweet like the togetherness they had fought so hard to achieve. It defined both their escape and entrapment.


ggop said...

Luckily the few Sajids and Sejals (or vice versa) I know eventually made peace with their families. I am not overtly religious but it initially bothered me that this peace came at a cost. One party almost always converted. But they compromised willingly so it worked out.

Nice narrative.

cheti said...

" escape and entrapment"

That describes a lot of lives !

Anonymous said...

very good post.


Priyamvada_K said...

Fabulous post! In many ways life in America is both an escape and an entrapment. It will never be the same for Sejal and Sajid, but making it together will be a true test of love.


Heartcrossings said...

ggop - Most often peace comes at the cost of compromise. I have been curious about how that arrangement works out in the long run. Conversion is a life changing event..

Cheti, SriPriya, Priya- Thanks !