Tag Archives: valentines

Indian Couples Plan Their Own Big Fat Indian Wedding

Indians all over the globe are binge-watching the new Netflix series, The Big Day. The series focuses on big fat Indian weddings in exotic locales and I could not get enough! The Valentine‘s day launch was on point to woo the romantic notions of thousands of couples who put their own wedding plans on hold because of the pandemic.

Traditionally, marriage entailed matching horoscopes, a pinch of haldi, kumkum, chandan, coconut, dates, seven steps in front of the fire, a mangal sutra, and good luck. Over time and much thanks to Bollywood, weddings are a $50 billion industry in India. Indians love big weddings. Even some Americans desire to be married in the Indian way because Indian weddings are colorful, extravagant, and over the top.

When I was getting married, weddings used to be a family affair and the festivities revolved around setting a budget. The bride’s trousseau (sarees, jewelry, home goods) was collected from the day she was born. Once the wedding date was set, the house buzzed with decisions about the invitation card, venue, light display, music, marching band, caterers, and gifts for the groom and his family. No wedding planner was hired. Friends and relatives chipped in to prepare for the wedding. The bride and groom were not involved in deciding anything once they said yes. Everything was decided for them. They spent their days floating on clouds and fantasizing about their lives together.

I got married in the Pink City of Jaipur. Rajasthan’s havelis and mahals added to the charm. Colorful attires, music, and delicious cuisine set the mood. I wore a red and gold tissue saree I bought from Kala Niketan. I did my own makeup. My mother’s Navaratana necklace adorned my neck for good luck. My dad blew his budget because the groom’s family invited about three hundred people last minute. But he dealt with it, without flinching an eye. 

The Big Day, produced by Conde Nast India, is about avant-garde millennial Indian couples and displays the megabucks put into the Indian wedding industry. This gives us an escape out of our surreal, locked-down Zoom reality and into an extravagant social engagement. Six lavish, pre-COVID Indian weddings in exotic locales, with “breaking barriers” bridal looks, decor, food, and flamboyance!

One of the couples from the Netflix show, The Big Day.

The weddings are different because, in a rather unconventional twist, the millennial couples are in charge. They seem to have choreographed the entire ceremony to meet their style and personal flair. The couples tell us their back story. Their meet-cute, their courtship, their choice in engagement rings, their proposals, their challenges, their families’ reaction, and most importantly, the wedding preparation.

Some broke tradition by snubbing certain subversive traditions which seem to denigrate women like kanya dan and mangal sutra. Others embraced tradition by effortlessly accepting to live with extended families. There was a lot of emphasis on cross-cultural unions including a poignant gay marriage.

Some dialogues and vignettes pull at heartstrings: The Hindu priest who married two men dressed in lungis to recreate a Chennai custom said: “Hinduism is a way of life”. That sentiment brought so much solace to the newlyweds that they danced together.

I was floored with the destination of a Kishangarh fort and loved the incorporation of Sarson (Mustard) flowers and sprigs of Bajra. The use of floating sanganer block printed fabrics was a very creative idea. Everything was locally sourced and repurposed. The couples planned their wedding with such a great eye for detail, working tirelessly with vendors and creatives. The Baby boomer parents were there to offer support, happily or grudgingly, as they watched them choreograph their own wedding. 

I hope these newlyweds live happily ever after. I am hooked and will definitely watch the next episodes! My only question is – did the savvy millennials foot the bill of The Big Day?! 


Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

How to Work On Your Relationship During a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has wrought unprecedented levels of distress on an international level. Such global upset can trickle down and translate to a personal level as well, particularly when it comes to relationships. After all, sheltering-in-place with your partner adds extra pressure, while rendering the normal outlets and sources of personal perspective – things like visiting friends, going to school or work, even a trip to the grocery store – altered or entirely moot.

South Asian couples, ranging from those in their teens to right up to the ones hitting their 30’s are suffering a lot. Many South Asians who are in relationships often do so with such secrecy, they themselves forget that they have a significant other. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but still. When your relationship depends on covert dates with backup covers like, “Hey mom, I’m going to stay at Ayesha’s home tonight” and you are struggling to meet even a few times a week, a pandemic situation can be exhausting and difficult.

Whether you are in a long-term relationship, or just getting adjusted to each other, or you are somewhere in-between, here are eight morsels of advice for keeping your relationship healthy during the turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Understand how your partner responds to stress and how you do, too

It is often easy to assume everyone reacts to high-level stress in the same way we do. But you and your partner might actually have different coping mechanisms to mitigate pandemic-related triggers – and if those responses are vastly different, your actions stand to baffle each other unless you openly explain them.

For example, you might prefer to stay on top of breaking news updates, while your partner only weathers the larger updates as they come. Whereas you would prefer to spend 30 minutes of quiet time in the morning drinking your coffee and getting up to speed on the news, your partner starts their day with funny videos or silent meditation. Neither of your responses is the “right” one; they are simply your respective ways of getting through the situation.

Being aware of what you both need to process stress can help you learn to grant each other space and respect to honor those needs, without questioning their validity. Plus, popular relationship therapist Esther Perel points out using these differences to balance your perspectives instead of exacerbating tensions.

Keep communication open and ongoing

As scary as the pandemic situation is, it is important to air your worries and fears. While your partner can’t be your sole source of support, they can provide solace about things that are concerning you.

If you and your partner don’t have the vocabulary for this type of open communication, you can set the stage for mutual support by asking each other open-ended questions, like:

  • What are you feeling today?
  • How has this day been for you? 
  • Is there anything I can do to be a better partner?

One exercise from couples counseling, called uninterrupted listening, can help you deepen this type of communication. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes where you are able to talk freely about absolutely any stressors on your mind. It could be work, your health, your future, etc. Your partner can respond with non-verbal cues, but they can’t chime in until the timer ends. Then switch, and take your turn as the listener.

Working on building this communication may help establish what preeminent relationship psychologist Sue Johnson refers to as a “secure bond”. Such an attachment is formed with someone when we know they are emotionally responsive, and that they feel for and with us. It doesn’t mean that they will protect us, necessarily, or that they will do the labor of problem-solving for us. Rather, it means they will face our problems with us (not for us).

Carve out designated space for different purposes around the home

You might have heard that it is helpful when working from home to designate “work” space from “home” space. The same goes for quarantine life!

Since so much of our lives are happening indoors, it’s all the more important to identify and label different areas for distinct purposes.

That might look like a room (or corner) that is just for your or your partner’s work; a table for sharing phone-free meals; or a nook for doing yoga and meditation together. Adding these defined spaces can provide you both with a sense of autonomy and boundaries you might be craving.

Do your best to keep any major decisions on the backburner

If you and your partner had some big choices on the horizon, to the extent possible consider holding off on reaching a decision. After all, it’s nearly impossible to make sound decisions when there are so many universally unpredictable variables, from job security to the everyday health of ourselves and loved ones.

If there is something that’s pressing, you don’t have to ignore it altogether. Instead, try keeping track of your thoughts about the topic in a shared or individual journal. You can revisit those ideas when things have resumed to normal, or you feel you are both in a calm headspace.

If you feel an argument coming on, pause – and plan to revisit it when you have both cooled down

Just as it is hard to reach logical conclusions on any major decisions during times of extreme flux, it can also be hard to fully stay grounded during an argument. Ironically, of course, the upheaval in routine and living conditions can leave us feeling unsettled and may trigger more arguments than we would normally have.

If you feel a spat or full-blown argument coming on, plan to touch base again in at least half an hour and no longer than 24 hours later.

Go for a walk alone in the meantime, or engage in self-soothing practices like a breathing exercise, practicing self-compassion, or calling a friend to check-in. Revisit the argument when you have both had the time and (mental) space to cool down.

Avoid criticism of your partner; along with contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, such behavior is considered one of the “four horsemen” of the apocalypse for romantic relationships by esteemed relationship psychologists John and Julie Gottman.

Go overboard with compliments and appreciation

In these times of absolute tumult, many of us are craving kindness and comfort. Your small notes of appreciation will go extra far in keeping your relationship strong.

Be sure to thank your partner for the little things, like boiling water for your tea, making the bed, giving your partner an extended hug, or putting away the dishes.

Resume your regular romance to the extent possible

You have likely heard it before: Keeping some semblance of structure is helpful for staying balanced when everything seems topsy-turvy. If you had a regularly-scheduled date night, for example, make time to incorporate that into your quarantined life, too.

Here are some at-home date night ideas to try out:

  • Take a virtual tour at one of the many museums making exhibits accessible online
  • Try your hand at creating art together! If you are not crafty, this can be as simple as drawing your houseplants with a pencil and paper
  • Learn a new dance routine together. Getting silly and laughing together can be a great distraction from global and personal stress  

Try to eliminate outside distractions, just as you would if you were on a normal date! Put your cell phone on airplane mode, and focus on creating these new memories together.

You might just discover a new ritual of connection, a term that the Gottmans refer to for small but meaningful habits that you and your partner regularly incorporate into your daily routine, which can help you grow closer over time.


Vindhya PV is a passion-driven journalist who hails from Calicut, Kerala.

Love. Come. Go Away.

Love

come, go away

like curtains you fall back and forward in the golden hour 

of the darker lights

hidden, open, quiet

breathe, you’re loud, soft to touch

hold me against your skin if only our eyes linger

blue, your footsteps reside and awake like waves between our limbs your heart- pink, and red lips in purple

hue

you, look at me like I look at you and bend, straighten

curve, fall back, dance to the soundless music and the play of our fingers, foggy and green when we overlap— stop

breathe

I count your moles on the hazel lenses I call my own, you—

do you feel the cracks? 

crevices in my skin pour into your heart walls that are grey, bleed out the dark and dusk draws out our light

you and me and our thorns white under the moonlight you, you

“let’s swim?” 

in the craters of this space lets enclose ourselves in the little cage and again— hidden, naked, brown

reflections spoke honesty and you were so profound, a dip on one side of your cheek calling out the smile on my face— dimples, how quaint in this quiet forest where leaves are singing and we remain still, restless

move, my head on your neck and you move again with our hand on each waist

sway, to the soundless music that plays from the red of our pain

love, into the night and the pinkish golden haze

fall into water and stay dry, breathe with me, let our eyes linger, stay, 

Stay.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

MAALicious: Love Your Artisan Jewelers

Those who love jewelry and the world around them, have something special to celebrate with this Valentine’s Day month.

Designed in New York City and made for the global Indian woman, Maalicious Jewelry was born two years ago out of a desire to empower women artisans in India. The brand aims to innovate and create quintessential jewelry with a rich dose of tradition. Its inspiration is Indian, tribal, and historic. All of its earrings are 24K gold-dipped. Some of its artists get over 50% of the proceedings from the jewelry, and a few of their earrings are made using sustainable material like clay.

Poonam Thimmaiah, Founder of Maalicious

Maalicious’ Founder, Poonam Thimmaiah, spent her childhood hopping across India as her father would get transferred every three years. Growing up in different states developed in her an aesthetic that’s appreciative of and deeply rooted in various Indian subcultures. “I have immense appreciation for Indian handicrafts, and have always dreamt of making products work with women artisans using dwindling art forms that were chic enough to cater to the urban crowd,” says Thimmaiah about the idea behind her handmade jewelry brand.

Born as a pet project, Maalicious was conceived at Poonam’s home in New York while mending a broken heart caused by a miscarriage in her 36th week of pregnancy. “As they say, adversity leads to opportunity, and delving into arts helped me during those dark times,” she recalls. This was combined with her longstanding desire to create and wear her own designs. 

Poonam partnered with differently-abled students studying jewelry in Mysore on her visit to India a few weeks later. She then worked with women artisans to integrate various Indian art forms into the jewelry. A lot of research, learning, sweat, and blood later, they have grown into what Maalicious is today. The brand has had some amazing moments in the last few years, including being featured in British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar Thailand, and more. Last year, they also showcased their jewelry at the New York Fashion Week and the Paris Fashion Week. This year, it has again been selected for the New York Fashion Week in February. 

Maalicious Jewelry

What sets Maalicious apart from others in the market is its goal of giving its customers beautiful, lasting jewelry while holding the values of quality, labor rights, and sustainability paramount. Maalicious is also making efforts to support women artisans and rejuvenate their traditional arts. Its goal is to provide talented women artisans with a platform to shine, thrive, and succeed. A women-only run firm, the brand has around six women artisans that it works with on a regular basis in India, and has also collaborated with a few others in Italy and Ukraine. Their long-term goal is to stand in solidarity with skilled women and build a platform where they can support each other. “We would love to give back more to marginalized women and help with their sustenance,” says Thimmaiah. 

Further, Maalicious uses responsibly sourced and sustainable materials in their products, such as terracotta clay or red baked earth, silk thread, and wood, which have been part of our culture for centuries. Its distinctiveness also stems from their need to innovate in this space. “Everything is handmade and so, imperfect but that’s what makes them unique,” says Thimmaiah. For instance, their Vintage earrings are made of terracotta clay and then hand-painted. Their customizable Alice earrings can be personalized with pictures from their customers. Further, most of Maalicious’ signature pieces have a story from India’s glorious past behind them.

One of Maalicious’ earrings is a tribute to a unique and fascinating community called the Drokpas, about 5,000 of whose members today survive in the high altitudes of Ladakh. Believed to be the oldest and purest human tribe, the Drokpas inhabit the cluster of seven villages located down the Indus River. They are known for their liberal views, elaborate jewelry, chiseled features, and beautiful gardens. The Amrita Sher-Gil piece is a tribute to the famous Indian painter known as the pioneer of modern Indian art. Often known as “India’s Frida Kahlo”, she painted many self portraits and captured the daily lives of Indian women in the 1930s, often revealing a sense of their loneliness. 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

When You Love Someone…

It was a Valentines weekend but it was not jolly! My world was hurtling down a steep cliff, only it was worse than my hormone drenched teenage-ish mind imagined. My gut was in overdrive, signaling danger, and my cerebral cortex was out of orbit. 

I have always been a late bloomer and although my limbs stretched in height, my brain failed to catch up to speed. So when I got married, my baby face and warm, almond milk palette did not know that I was hurdling head first into a sharp, glacial disaster. As I said, it was not jolly.

Having fond memories of the ancient city of pink palaces – Jaipur – as a child was radically different than going as a bride into a family of three strangers and their even stranger acquaintances! 

Their thought processes were radically different from mine. They were very conservative in terms of customs, food habits, and medical treatment. A daughter-in-law should wear a saree, cover her head and touch the feet of every stranger who stepped into the house. Food was extra spicy, difficult for me to digest, and if I fell sick,  I was only allowed two or three antibiotic capsules instead of the entire course.

Most of these issues I could navigate. But there were times the home dynamics were rocked by temper tantrums and hysteria which defied human logic. I was absorbed in the quixotic chaos of my marital home with the eyes of an avid reader of mystery novels but not enough to prepare me for the harrowing hair-pin-bend-like Jumanji moments in my newly wedded life.  Help from home was a few thousand miles away. My parents lived in Bombay. There were no cell phones. The only landline phone was in the living room and was not private. There was not a single soul in the ramparts of my Piya-ka-Ghar who was sympatico. 

On one such dire occasion when my cup of sorrow was spilling, I made a plan to make a phone call from an outside line. I stealthily crept out of the house in a sweltering mid afternoon down the dusty lane when the family folks were on their daily siesta. There were no public phones and neighbors had no connections. I walked into the office of a relative and I told him a white lie. “The phone at home is not working and I have to call my parents in Bombay.” He acquiesced and I dialed home. When dad came on the line I explained to him, “It’s bad!” I wailed and then rattled off the issue in code language. To my dismay, my brilliant dad was having difficulty cracking my code. Regardless, I told him it would be good if he came there urgently, choking over every wor…d…he was having difficulty understanding. My only hope was that he could grasp the gravity of the situation from the emotional current in my voice. Mr. Relative kept staring at me but did not ask questions. I hung up and ran back to my in-laws’ house sobbing silently. I was at my wits end.

Monita Soni and Her Father

Hours passed and my mom called on the landline but her message was not conveyed to me. Then at 3 AM on a very cold and foggy winter night, a very tired, bleak-eyes tall man in a tweed coat and muffler came over the threshold. My mother-in-law called out my name: “Monita… your dad is here”. I ran out in my nightgown, bare feet without bothering to throw a shawl on my shoulders. “Daddy!”, I cried out and clutched at the hand knit grey sweater on his chest and started bawling.

He gently patted me on my back and said, “It’s good to see that you are okay my daughter.” I looked up at his face, he had not shaved and his lips were cracked from the cold. There was a worried look around his eyes.

Later, I found out that he was flying from Bombay to Delhi for an urgent business matter when he took my “call” and then not knowing how to contact me for a better understanding of my duress on the phone, he took a night taxi from Delhi. He traveled all through the dark, bitter, cold night to check on my condition.

He also said: “Daughter when you love someone, you don’t subject them to stress.” I forgot my troubles and felt guilt because I realized how much anguish I had caused my dad and how he must have suffered not knowing what was troubling me. I gave him a comfortable bed and said: “Dear dad, you rest now. We will talk in the morning”.

But my dad’s words “ When you love someone…” are instilled in the staccato of my beating heart. I can never forget his worry-stricken face. I also became acutely aware of how many insurmountable struggles of his own he had kept hidden from me. Those gently spoken tough words from a very tender hearted man caused me to transform from a crying daddy’s girl into a woman of tremendous resolve like a koi fish swimming against the current.

Because when someone loves you… you grow.

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner. She drew the featured image as a symbol of her love for her father.

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.

A 55 Year Love Story

A Short Introduction 

This is the love story of Yatindra and Sadhana Bhatnagar – nearly 55 years of sharing cheers and tears, facing odds and overcoming them, together.

It’s a story of reaching great heights – he in journalism and she in painting and sketching.

Yatindra wrote books, Sadhana contributed to some. They collaborated on some more.

Both traveled widely. From New Delhi to Indore, mingling with Presidents and Prime Ministers, top diplomats, artists and business people.

Sadhana raised their two lovely daughters and wrote poems for Yatindra; he wrote them for her as well.

She was an excellent cook, expert in sewing, knitting, crocheting, singing, embroidery, hospitality, making life-long friends and helping others. They gave love to their daughters, their daughter’s husbands, and strangers. In return, they got love from far and wide.

They were always on the same page; two bodies and one soul.

Both remained love-birds, till her last day. He would sit by her side, hold her hand, look into her eyes, and whisper sweet nothings in her ears.

This is their Fairytale Love Story.

Start of a 55 year old love story

Talking about pairs, arranged or love marriage, meant marrying in our own community (caste) and region, with similar customs and language and habits, family background – and of course matching horoscopes. None of these figured into our marriage at all. 

Ours was a beautiful combination of love and arranged. 

We had only one ‘date’ on April 21, Milan Divas – The Day We Met, and got to know each other. That was enough for us. 

In the six-months of waiting, dozens of letters were exchanged. Phone facility was not easy; it was also expensive. So we had the mailmen helping us. In this case ‘the middlemen’ were welcomed. Letters were a big consolation. 

It started with my four-year-old friendship with Indrajit, Ved’s (Sadhana’s) brother, that led to our marriage and 55-years of courtship.

Destiny had played a significant role. 

Ved was born in Nowshera, now in Pakistan, before her family moved to Abbottabad.

I was born in Indore, over 800 miles from Ved’s birthplace. She moved to Abbottabad and I to New Delhi – the distance cut by 90 miles. When we married she lived in Dehradun and I in Delhi, only 150 miles away. 

We were surely destined to move closer and closer till we became one. 

The rest is history, as they say.

We married on a ‘bad’ day but made a good life

October 8, 1961! The day, I believe, no marriages took place in orthodox Hindu families. 

That is because it is part of the Shraddh season when orthodox Hindus remember their dead, pay respects to their souls, feed the Brahmins and the poor, and pray for the eternal peace for the dead.

Our marriage on a Shraddh day!

Indrajit and I consulted ‘Mr. Calendar’ and decided on the convenient Sunday.

Everything happily fell right into place. Virtually, the entire city came to witness this ‘unique’ marriage. We got the best hotel to stay, had one of the best bands available, and the caterers were happy to get business during a slow season.

It was no “Big Fat Indian Wedding” yet lovely and pleasant; a good family event where two families became close.

Mataji (my widow mother-in-law) gave away the bride, another break from the orthodoxy. 

I gave Ved a new name – Sadhana, the desired one, my prayer. 

On the bus heading home – and to new dreams – a non-stop singing session started. Sadhana obliged by singing what became one of our favorite songs:  

Nayee manzil nayee rahein, naya hai meherbaan apna, na jane ja ke theharega kahaan yeh karvaan apna. (New destination and new path, new partner-friend, I don’t know where this caravan will end up.) 

How appropriate was her choice!  

Making of a Home 

Back home well past midnight, everyone was tired and retired to bed early. No ‘first night’ ritual. We looked forward to the future. 

The next day my errands took a long time and it was a late evening when I returned. I was stunned – my beautiful wife was waiting for me in her elegant dress, simple yet lovely jewelry, hardly any make-up, and the apartment had transformed into our “home.” 

Homes are made with love, vision, respect, commitment and a desire to become and grow as one. Sadhana arranged the furniture and other things to make the small rooms look larger and bare walls were adorned with photos and paintings. The home looked inviting; it bore the stamp of a lady with good taste and creativity.  She did everything with love and care to make it her home, our home.

Wonderstruck, I could only say: “Tumne to ise swarg bana diya (you have turned this into a heaven.) She had a lovely smile on her face as we exchanged glances that said more than we expressed. 

I was apologetic for being away for hours but she put me at ease with a phir kya hua (no problem, that’s okay).

I was stunned and could only look at her full of admiration and joy.

I fell in love with Sadhana, again. And that love continued for about 55 years. 

Our Honeymoon and More

We didn’t have a honeymoon in the traditional sense. We had made no plans and we kept everything limited and simple. As part of our wedding, just a couple days after our marriage, we were off to Dehradun for Phera (return).  

The Phera tradition serves two purposes: one, to know first-hand from the girl how she was welcomed at the groom’s place and how she feels about the groom (Mataji could tell from Sadhana’s glow); two, to know the son-in-law better without his entourage (Baraat). 

After spending a couple days in Dehradun, meeting Sadhana’s family and a host of her friends, we went to Mussoorie for a day to have time exclusively for the two of us. Unexpectedly one day became two.

Our lives had become the ultimate union of two hearts and two minds to reach the divine state of one.

That was the relation between Sadhana and I, from the beginning to the last. 

We did have a delayed honeymoon after 11 years where we went to Europe and Egypt for 40 days. It will remain a cherished memory.

Life, of course, is not a bed of roses. 

We encountered problems. We faced hardships and challenges. We had our disagreements. We argued. But they were few and far between. 

The ‘ceasefire’ was quick. Tears shared and sweet smiles exchanged happily. 

The arguments did not last long.

The ‘silent treatment’ could not go beyond a couple hours. 

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

In early 1940s in India, Brooke Bond Tea widely displayed an ad proclaiming: “Two leaves and a bud, the standard plucking method of the high grade tea.”

When we would patch up – and I loved that job happily – it was “two tight hugs and a kiss, the standard patch-up method of the highest grade of love.” 

Peace will be inevitably restored in no time to be followed by more tight hugs and more shower of kisses, enough to drown us in love and loud laughter.

Sadhana was an incredible human being!  

Yatindra Bhatnagar, a journalist, author and poet has been writing for more than seven decades.  He was chief editor of daily, weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines in India and the United States. He has done more than three thousand radio and TV programs and written 20 books, in English and Hindi.  He has extensively traveled in India and abroad. At nearly 91, he is still writing books, contributing to papers, doing radio programs and has his own website: www.internationalopinion.com

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.