His Story: It’s been nine years. When you say it like that, it does sound like a long time. Especially, since I am yet to turn 30. When we look back, it actually feels like a fleeting moment.
We met while we were pursuing our undergraduate course at Delhi University. On a cold January morning, on a college trip to the annual literature festival in Jaipur, I struck up a conversation with her -- coming from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, I was not very good at it. So, in effect, I ended up creeping her out, but we found things in common to talk about and ended up becoming close friends and eventually started dating.
I will not bore you with the details of how we wooed each other or how we fell hopelessly in love — you can read Erich Segal’s Love Story for that. But we were made aware of the fact of our relationship even before we had confessed our love for each other. Innocent questions from our friends would pull us back to reality, away from the fairyland: “What future do you guys have being an interfaith couple? Will your families agree to let you be together?”
In 2013, this question seemed like a minor hurdle in what was going to be a grand love story. The bellows of genocide were yet to surround us and ‘love jihad’ was something we had never heard of. Now, in 2022, when we tell people that we plan to spend the rest of our lives together, it is followed by unwelcome advice — about where we should register our marriage, how neither of us should convert or how we can go about trying to convince our parents to accept us as a couple. Some questions even venture as far as suggesting we raise our kids with a particular ideology in a particular atmosphere, which is weird considering how it is a matter of choice between just the two of us and not something others should be commenting about. Though we have our ways to navigate around these suggestions and we have learned to ignore certain jabs, they sometimes still manage to irritate and annoy us.
For instance, when we look for a place together, it becomes a challenge trying to find a landlord who will be okay with an interfaith live-in couple renting their apartment — not that it’s any of their business knowing the status of our relationship but then the world is not perfect. Similarly, at times, we are wary of telling brokers about our status and often pretend to be a married couple just so we are able to find a place.
Her Story: He rambles a lot and most of the time misses out on the story. Let me tell you. We met in college. Yes, I know, it’s Bollywoodish. But when his heartbroken eyes met my heartbroken eyes, we two idiots just naturally gravitated towards each other.
I knew he was into me even before he knew it himself. Born and brought up in an orthodox Hindu family, I was always a little hesitant to accept my feelings for him as he came from the community that cooked their chapatis on an 'ulta tawa'. But the hopeless romantic that he is, he made me let go of all the social bounds that I had grown up with.
Then, before I knew it, we started spending more and more time in the college canteen, talking about Shakespeare and bickering about characters we thought reflected our own selves. It was mostly the banter of two young adults yet to enter the real world.
Nine years later, after numerous breakups and patch-ups, we are still trying to figure out a conclusion of our story. We met as kids while we were still trying to understand ourselves, then we grew together and are still trying to understand each other and the world.
We tried letting go. We tried breaking up on a number of occasions — sometimes because we thought that our religious identities would collide, sometimes because we did not want to hurt our parents, and sometimes because we were a couple and fought like every other couple out there.
When my parents got to know about us for the first time, they told me there was no future for us. But the thought of letting something go and letting the world win over our love was not what we wanted, so we battled on: meeting in secret, saving each other’s numbers on our phones as names of friends and a lot more. This was way back in 2014 when we were still pursuing higher studies and were not financially independent. Now, in 2022, we are both financially independent, bright enough to have made it in a very competitive field. And yet we have not found the answer to our predicament — how to be with each other without breaking our parents’ hearts.
Their stance has not yet changed. But even ours hasn’t. We both work as journalists, reading and, at times, working on stories about harrowing incidents involving interfaith couples in the country — their love being tainted by a term called ‘love jihad’ — wondering if we will make it in a country seemingly racing towards hatred.
(As told to Mayank Jain Parichha)