A Mumbai girl finds love

I swiped right by mistake. And now we’re married.

That’s the best opening line for our love story, a story I’ve decided to write about, now that the dust is finally settling on the whirlwind that swept us up a year ago and has now flung us on different continents. As I write this, an hour shy of midnight in Mumbai, my husband has just had breakfast in San Francisco.

This is the story of how we met.

Why am I writing this? This kind of self-indulgence doesn’t come naturally to me – or to Abhishek. I tried telling myself it’s because an aunt of mine asked me to document the details and share it on a family chat group, or because it’ll help me exercise my writing muscle, or because it’s good to write things down for posterity if nothing else. But actually, it’s simply because it’s a very romantic story, one that proves, for the millionth time, that love is an enterprise worth undertaking.

So here goes. This is my version of the chain of events. I am sure if he were to write down his version – which he won’t – it will be a very different account.

Swiping right in Mumbai

I actually did swipe right on Abhishek’s profile on Bumble by accident. He was visiting his family in Matunga and landed up in my geographical radius – that’s how the app works. I didn’t want to date guys settled overseas, least of all in the United States, and I probably didn’t notice the part in his write-up that said ‘California.’ But by the time I came clean about this mistake and excused myself from his life, as it were, it was too late. We’d already begun a conversation that had moved to WhatsApp and I was busy playing Cupid to him and my best friend Sukaina, who, at the time, was interested in going abroad.

As it happened, Abhishek and I didn’t meet on that trip, and he flew back to SF. He met Sukaina twice, though. Goaded by his mom, he even met an ‘arranged marriage match’ on this trip (I’m rolling my eyes here.)

A hint of flirting

Anyway, Abhishek and Sukaina made friends and even kept in touch for a few weeks after he left, but the tricky thing was – Abhishek kept in touch with me too. He called, texted, even video-called regularly. They were all benign conversations about this and that, with a hint of flirting… actually no, he didn’t flirt with me. It was his salutations, really. “Hey pretty girl”, “What’s up pretty girl”, that sort of thing.

But it was quite obvious he liked me. I liked him too but didn’t for a moment forget the fact that he has an “American pincode”, as he likes to say. I wasn’t able to separate the guy from his country, and all the NRI trappings therein. Funnily, for weeks after he landed there, Sukaina, Abhishek, and I spoke on three-way conference calls now and then.

The picture shows a man holding a woman on a sailboat
Ashwini-and-Abhishek-sailing in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai

Finding Cupid during Covid

Now, the reason we didn’t meet while he was in Mumbai, is part of history – it was the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic – the deadly delta wave, no less – and because I live with my mom (and because I’m a scaredy-cat in general) I was taking all the social distancing rules very seriously. This was before they made the vaccines. Besides, what kind of cupid would I be if I met him after introducing him to my friend? The wave swept India and exposed all the warts in my socio-political reality. At a subconscious level, I changed my mind about migration and a couple of drunk calls from Abhishek helped cement our ‘relationship’.

So, our cross-country conversations went on steadily for months. We spoke about work and family and friends and ambitions, the past, the future… and fell in love. To the extent possible over video calls, anyway. In the real world, however, I was speaking to local Bumble bees and ‘matrimony guys’ tossed at me by well-meaning family members. Meanwhile, Abhishek was also going on dates in San Francisco.

Nothing worked out for either of us.

A first date halfway across the world

Finally, with the international flight ban behind me and two doses of Covishield in my body, about nine months after we first encountered each other in the digital universe, I took a mini-sabbatical from work. I flew all the way to the US to meet him. People go to the Starbucks down the road for their first date; I went halfway across the globe for mine, in the middle of a global contagion. It was the worst time for international travel. 

The first time we met was at San Francisco Airport. We wore face masks. I was sweaty and tired and full of travel grime, wore no makeup, and sported dark circles. But I did make sure I brushed my teeth before I stepped out of the airport – what if he came running towards me, roses in hand, grabbed me, and kissed me?

None of that. I suppose the odds of that kind of spontaneity become slim when you ask the guy to pre-order hair conditioner, bananas, and bhendi for you. I crashed at his place, yes. On the couch, no.

The picture shows a man and a woman posing by a swimming pool
Ashwini and Abhishek – posing by a swimming pool in suburban Mumbai

Unpacking a new relationship

It was comfortable and familiar and I felt like we’d known each other for decades. One of my clearest memories of the first few minutes at his apartment is of me sitting on the bedroom floor, unpacking just enough for a quick shower; I remember taking my underclothes from the bag and flinging them across the room, onto the bed, while he watched the spectacle like it was a regular, everyday occurrence.

Today, at get-togethers and house parties when we tell acquaintances and strangers the story of how we went straight into a live-in relationship the very day we met, we do a double-take ourselves. But it felt so right and easy. Nonetheless, it was an overwhelming month.

I met his flatmate, his friends, his city, the DIY culture of America. I also met my own insecurities. Moreover, the prospect of living as an immigrant in the US is unattractive to me. But I allowed my adoration for Abhishek to guide me… and by the time I flew back, I’d already asked him to marry me.

A proposal in red lipstick

In keeping with the dramatic nature of the whole affair, I wrote my proposal with red lipstick on his bathroom mirror. By the time I boarded my flight back home, I was wearing a heart-shaped ring and had two canceled appointments at two different marriage bureaus in California to my credit. Yes, we almost did the deed. But it was too much too soon to actually go through with it.

The first appointment stood canceled due to numerology (his family said the date was inauspicious) and we, mostly I, got drunk the night before the second appointment. It was on the morning of my flight back home anyway, so we were planning to drive from SF to Sacramento, get married and go straight to the airport. In hindsight, that might have been a touch too dramatic, even for us.

Love and legalities

On my homebound flight, as I flew over the North Pole, I saw the shimmering green aurora borealis polar lights from my window. I am a hardened atheist, but it really did feel as though the heavens were dancing for me and my newfound love.

Once I came back to Mumbai, the real shebang began. Given my imminent migration, the clock started ticking on a bunch of legal and work-related things. My mother got Covid, then post-covid neuropathy. Abhishek’s father underwent surgeries for a long-standing diabetic foot issue. My world was spinning very fast suddenly.

We decided to get married in the US to avoid a large gathering in Mumbai in the middle of another wave, so we booked yet another date at the marriage bureau in San Francisco. It was a no-show, because, after a lot of discussion and deliberation, we got married in Mumbai after all. While we fed each other bananas on stage in front of an audience (one of the many ridiculous rituals in a regressive Hindu wedding) some officiator in America probably thought a sorry brown couple had broken up after all.   

Wedding bedlam

The whole process leading up to ‘the day’ was chaotic – somehow, with us, it has always been like that. My brother, who lives in Hong Kong, had to jump through a hundred hoops of his own to join our celebration – that’s a whole different story with its own confounding twists and turns.

With Abhishek and Ashwini, nothing is easy.

On our wedding night, for instance, he was applying eau de cologne on my forehead because I was burning up with a fever. Covid, of course. Instead of going to the gorgeous beaches of Maldives for our honeymoon, I took him to Devgaon, a quiet village in Maharashtra, to isolate in a huge stone cottage in the middle of a jungle, where bugs feasted on his NRI blood. That’s us.

West coast love

Even our stunning pre-wedding photos belie the madness of creating those perfect frames; we were posing in a swimming pool at Thane at the crack of dawn and then on a boat in the Arabian Sea at dusk, on the same day. More than once, we – us and our photographer – almost fell into the sea. There was a moment on those dangerously choppy waters when I held onto nothing but Abhishek’s body; it was a fleeting second, but it was enough. I gave him his wedding band that evening on the boat.

There are many more examples to illustrate the insanity that always surrounds us. We actually printed two sets of official wedding cards with two different dates! The reason is solid, I swear. No, not numerology. It’s got everything to do with the BMC and my U.S. visa. Speaking of which, as I write this story, I’m waiting for my visa agent to get me a slot so that I can meet my husband at San Francisco Airport once again. It could take months, I am told.

Hopefully, this time, he’ll run towards me, roses in hand, grab me and kiss me.

This article was first published in Cowboy Jamboree magazine.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of India Currents. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, individual or anyone or anything.

Ashwini Gangal is a fiction writer based in San Francisco, who has published stories and poems in literary magazines in the UK and Croatia.