Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Intercultural Love: Mezz & Chotu


This lovely Hind-Jew couple met at a Jewish synagogue and lives in Australia! They also share a love for making music...

Introduction....
Mezz (Jewish-Australian from Sydney) and Chotu (Maithil-Brahmin from India). We live in Canberra, Australia.

Three words that describe you...
Gregarious, dreamer, musician.

Favorite childhood memory...
Picking out a dog at the rescue shelter to adopt, for my mum’s 40th Birthday. My parents had finally relented and agreed to the family adopting a dog, and we found the cutest little Schnauzer/Maltese cross who was the only dog not barking, but instead came to lick our fingers through the bars of his cage. He turned out to be the most amazingly affectionate and loyal member of the family for the next ten years.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I feel inspired to be creative (usually through song writing) when I’m home alone, contemplating how I feel about things, and inspired at the beauty of the world when I’ve climbed up a lovely mountain.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We actually met at the local Jewish synagogue – strange but true. I’m not very religious at all, but in April 2014 for the first time in my adult life I thought I would go along for a Friday night Shabbat service, and Chotu just happened to be there too. He had moved to Australia in 2008, initially to study for his Masters degree in Canberra, but had since then emigrated permanently. He was interested in learning about all religions, having grown up as a Hindu but with many Muslim friends, and had been invited to the Shabbat service by a work colleague. We noticed each other immediately and a friendship blossomed, which soon grew to be much more… It definitely makes me believe in fate, the way that we met.

How long have you been together? 
3 years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Among many other qualities, I admire his kindness, incredible work ethic and the protectiveness he feels for his family. I also admire his cheeky side and ability to let loose and have fun.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
So many! From our overseas adventures together in India, Indonesia, and travelling around Europe to poignant moments from our everyday life. We love going on road trips together and exploring small towns on the way to bigger cities like Melbourne and Sydney. I also think the regular things like hanging out and entertaining friends at our home, going out to the movies, performing music together (Chotu is a wonderful singer and Tabla player and I’m a singer/songwriter/pianist) would rate highly in our shared memory.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Not a huge amount – I knew that some Indians were vegetarians (I’ve been veg for many years) and that there was great diversity among the different groups of people from the same country, but actually learning about the culture came after the relationship started.

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
With our friends, it was a non-issue, as many friends are in intercultural relationships in what is a wonderfully multicultural part of the world. With my family, I was very open and upfront from the beginning, and initially they welcomed him with open arms as they saw how happy we were together. While we did face a couple of religious-themed challenges thrown up by my parents when we started talking about marriage, they seemed to soften after they visited India for our engagement ceremony. I think I had never been “religious” enough for my parents and Chotu was just caught up in what was essentially their reaction to my confirmation that I wouldn’t follow certain Jewish cultural expectations in my life. I’ll never forget how good I felt when my mum finally wrote me a handwritten note saying that children are not put on this planet to live up to any parental expectations. They truly love my choice of spouse and their mixed feelings were more about me and my level of Judaism than us as a couple.

His family had some serious reservations about our relationship at first. It took a lot of open communication, his standing up to them by not letting their opinions influence our relationship or his actions, and then quite a bit of time spent with them when they came to visit us in Australia for them to realise how good we were for each other and to take that risk of supporting us as a couple. His mum was quite wise when she told us to give it a couple of years to see how we felt, and then we should get married!

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Well it has definitely enlightened my life to the point where I can’t imagine life without him. I just love the daily things we share, like waking up and going to work together, cooking for each other, spending time with our friends, going for bushwalks together, playing tennis (badly!), or cuddling up on the couch etc. Our relationship has made me realise the deep importance of family connections, and keeping in touch with the people that love us. Travelling to India and spending time there has also opened up my view on the world, as it would for anyone used to Western culture.

Who proposed and how?
The night before Valentine’s Day, when we were going out to a fancy dinner together, he surprised me in this beautiful garden behind the restaurant with a gorgeous handmade card and a diamond ring. We had spoken about marriage in general but I was very happily surprised with the timing and style of popping the question. Of course, I accepted and proposed back straight away.

Describe your wedding...
We had two weddings on one day (quite a feat!) to make it easier for guests who needed to travel. The night beforehand we had everyone over to our place for a casual Mehndi/Sangeet type of event. In the morning we had our Hindu marriage ceremony at the Hindu temple near our house, followed by an Indian lunch, and in the afternoon we had our legal civil ceremony followed by a dinner party reception. We basically organised everything ourselves and while that was at times a bit stressful, it did make the event extremely personal and enjoyable, with our close family members and friends providing much help along the way.


What does being married mean to you?
Being married means to me that you work out every issue, large and small, that you face as a couple. Whether you do it by communicating, seeking advice from elders or professional counsellors, or any other method, marriage is a lifelong commitment that you will put each other’s well-being as your top priority. Being married is about growing together and encouraging each other to fulfill our individual dreams and goals as a family. It also means someone is always there to emotionally support you and has your back.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Lots of adventures, travel, enjoyable times with friends and family, supporting our families to achieve their goals, and hopefully if we are blessed enough, enjoying the privilege of raising children of our own one day. And to grow old together while never forgetting how to have fun.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
One of the guests at our wedding (who herself had been married to a man from a different religion for the last 30 years) told me that the best advice she could give us was at the end of the day, don’t listen to other people’s advice as much as listening to each other. The couple needs to make decisions together without too much outside influence. I liked that advice.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I think I bring a love for festivals, food, and music from the Jewish side and Chotu does the same from the Indian side. Growing up in Australia, I bring a desire for an egalitarian society based on feminist and socialist ideals. My husband brings a deep respect and love for family, and a sense of responsibility for the family’s well-being, among other things.


What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
We try and go out on dates (movies, concerts, walks) every so often - it’s easy when you live together to forget to do this but it’s so important! It’s not about the cost of the date, it’s about setting aside time to be together. We also go away on mini-breaks which is awesome.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I adore learning about Indian culture, from how to cook Indian food to learning to speak Hindi. I have also become super hospitable over the last three years and think nothing of having multiple people over for meals/to stay etc. I think that warm idea of extreme generosity and hospitality comes from the culture he grew up in.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
In small ways, yes. My parents are open to trying new experiences (food/festivals etc), and have a beautiful piece of Indian art that his family gifted to them in the middle of their home. I know my mum meditates looking at this amazing picture.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
I’m very lucky in that Chotu’s family are extremely progressive and there isn’t anything within his family’s own culture that I’ve found hard to embrace. While travelling in India more broadly, of course there are challenging things, mainly around the expectations of women’s roles in the family and society at large. I also found it hard that there wasn’t much acceptance of live-in relationships.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
On our first trip to India in 2014, I unwittingly washed some of my partner’s clothes with mine, and hung them up to dry altogether. Little did I realise that as we weren’t married (or engaged) this was most definitely a faux pas!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
I think there were two – when his family had their initial concerns about me not being Indian and put a lot of pressure on him to end our relationship, and when my parents (after two years of happiness and acceptance) starting putting up ridiculous conditions on how we could celebrate our wedding. Luckily in both instances, common sense and the love that they had for us prevailed. Having the support of both families when we did get married earlier this year was fantastic.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Best part – learning new things all the time and feeling connected to two incredibly rich and varied ancient cultures rather than just one. Worst part – that small misunderstanding and cultural clashes can at times blow out of proportion. But I’d like to think we are managing these better and better as time goes on.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That somehow you lose out by being in one, rather than gain so much. It’s definitely the latter.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Australian women?
One big misconception about Aussie women would be that we all drink a lot of alcohol. Some people might, but others might enjoy the odd glass of wine without any issues at all. Another misconception is that we believe in divorce as a rule. I happen to come from the school of thought that divorce is often an avoidable tragedy, and that other than in cases of emotional/physical/financial abuse, every option for reconciliation must be explored before divorce.

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
I feel very lucky that I personally have not.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
When trying to gain acceptance, if you truly love each other, don’t give up – families do love their children and will eventually realise that they are better off embracing their choices. When it comes to cultural clashes – keep your sense of humour handy at all times, cos those clashes can happen at any moment! When trying to make an impression on your in-laws, embrace the fact that no one is perfect, so you don’t need to be either, and that it’s the intention that matters. Enjoy the ride.


Click HERE to read more intercultural love stories!

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2 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your relationship. It was very special...I also gafawed when you did your laundry together...didn't even know could be an issue. I sent my clothes to my indian MIL's house to be laundered even before we were engaged. I wonder if she thought that I was very strange

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    Replies
    1. Awww thanks Rebecca! I'm sure your MIL was happy to be asked to help 😀 Mezz xo

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