On Valentine’s Day, let’s tell the story of Hamid and Vimla Band (M.D., Ph.D., and Ph.D., respectively). They were so in love, when they got married they had three weddings: One Hindu, one Muslim and one at the courthouse, just to be sure. It sounds romantic, and it was. But it wasn’t easy along the way.
They met in the laboratory. Vimla was working on her master’s and Hamid was an M.D. student. He was from Kashmir, Muslim. She from Delhi, Hindu. Both from very close families who would flip out at the news. And Hamid and Vimla knew it. Vimla knew what the reaction would be. Still, she would do nothing behind her parents’ back. She had to tell them.
She was chopping vegetables with her sisters and mom. Vimla took a deep breath. There was this young man in the lab, she said … who she liked … who is a Muslim.
Her mother did two things. First, she almost cut her hand. Second, she channeled the Godfather:
“Don’t say this thing ever again in the family.”
They had planned to each tell their families at the same time, so they would be weathering the reaction together. Hamid had sent a letter several days earlier, thinking it would arrive at the same time as Vimla’s talk. They never heard back. Had his family received the letter?
They found out years later they had. They were refusing to acknowledge it; if they ignored this, it would eventually go away.
You don’t understand what India was like at that time. Hamid had come from a very segregated area. You might know a Hindu person, be friends – but to even eat dinner at one another’s house was unthinkable.
Within Vimla’s family, even marrying outside the Brahmin caste was off the table, forget outside the religion.
After the vegetable-chopping talk, Vimla knew they had to stop things right there. Or at least slow down, as much as they could. Or at least not bring up the subject while her mother had a knife.
Vimla went home every weekend. Her parents went to the doctor at the medical center where she and Hamid studied. They would stop and visit her at the lab. They would of course see Hamid – they knew who he was. They always said hello. (Of course they did, they are nice, polite people!) But they never acknowledged the possibility. In their minds, all that was done.
Hamid’s brother-in-law came to town for business. Hamid introduced him to Vimla. Hamid never said anything in particular. But the guy wasn’t stupid. He went home with some news. Still, Hamid’s family ignored the obvious with every bit the determination Vimla’s family did.
Years went by. Vimla’s elder sister got married. All of Vimla’s lab-mates came to the wedding – Hamid, too.
Vimla could not have gotten married before her elder sister. But now …?
And she and Hamid were about to leave for America for their postdoctoral fellowships. It was time for another conversation.
Vimla decided it might be less confrontational to have an intermediary broach the subject. She sent her sister and brother-in-law with a message: If her parents did not agree, Vimla and Hamid are talking about going to America and marrying there.
This time, Vimla’s parents did not flip out. “Maybe there is room to wiggle,” Vimla’s sister reported.
Their mother’s biggest worry was: “What would Guru ji (a family priest) say?” Her sister’s husband was quick: “Well, let’s ask him.”
The Hindu priest met with Vimla and Hamid, separately, for 5 minutes each. “Let them marry,” he said.
They first told their parents in 1979. On Dec. 2, 1983, they went to the courthouse, and were married in front of friends. The next day they had a Hindu wedding. It was very small, immediate family only. Vimla’s parents hadn’t invited anyone else.
“They would not have come,” Vimla said.
Some of Hamid’s relatives were nervous – afraid the interfaith wedding might set off riots (there were none).
Then they were off to Kashmir, so Hamid could introduce his family to his new bride.
She could not come into his family’s house if they were not married. But they were married, Hamid said. No: “That’s not a marriage we accept.”
You are either Hindu or you are not. There is no converting. But Islam welcomes everyone. And so, it was very simple. All Vimla had to do was …
Hamid put a stop to that. “I have accepted her as she is!” he said. She would not convert.
This was kind of a big deal. There was drama. People were shocked. Hamid’s uncle was upset.
But Hamid’s father was very close to the imam (a Muslim priest). He asked: How can they get married? How can we solve this problem? How can they be together?
“This story is not just the story of our love for each other,” Vimla said. “It is the story of the love of our families for us. My family’s love for me and Hamid’s family’s love for him.”
The imam met with Vimla. He asked one question. He said, “Do you believe in God?” He didn’t ask how, he didn’t ask in which way, he didn’t ask by which religion.
“Of course,” she said, “I believe in God.”
The imam said: “She can marry him now.”
And she did.
It was Dec. 17. Three weddings in 16 days.
And then it was done. Her family accepted him completely, and his did the same with her. After all of that ignoring, they were each in the family fully. They were married, husband and wife. There was never a problem again.
“Of course, we did come to America a year after that,” Vimla said.
The only time in-law drama threatened was when they had children. And one side of the family sent a list of carefully-chosen Hindu names and the other had a stack of Muslim suggestions.
So they ended up with Sheehan and Neil. Good Irish boys.
To this day, their old friends congratulate them on Dec. 2, Vimla’s family observes the Dec. 3 wedding anniversary and Hamid’s side recognizes Dec. 17.
Three anniversaries? And which date does a husband have to remember?
Are you kidding? How could he forget?