In eighth grade art class, we learned about color theory. Take two different colors and mix them in the right way and without a doubt, they would come together to form something incredible, something beautiful. My husband and I have been mixing his British upbringing with my Indian heritage and between his white and my brown, we too are trying to create something unique, something beautiful.
Sam and I, both journalists, met in New Delhi, the capital city of India. Our first meeting lasted ten hours and by the time I landed in California six months later, I knew that despite the months of a long-distance relationship ahead of us, this would be the man I’d marry. Sure enough, we were engaged within months of my return to India and three years ago, we tied the knot—literally—in traditional Indian style.
Everyone assumed that we’d be moving to his home in the UK, but among the other things that bond us is a common love for this crazy country. I may have been born here, may have lived here for most of my life, but as soon as I step on a plane to head elsewhere, I have the sudden realization that this is where I must return, that this is where my heart belongs.
In art theory, we learned that different colors evoke different human emotions. Nowhere is this truer than in India. White skin is prized, a premium, something to aspire to. White means you’re rich, educated, someone who matters. Dark skin, on the other hand, is a sign of poverty, of hard manual work. Dark skin means you’re not as important.
Each time Sam and I went out during the first few months of our courtship in India, I found myself oddly aware of my skin color. People gawked at us, this odd couple that was neither here nor there, too different to fit neatly into a known box. We were an anomaly, a curiosity, a strange form of relationship that didn’t play by the rules of a traditional, conservative India.
I found myself amazed as doors that had been or would have been slammed in my face opened up magically for my fiancè. Where corrupt policemen made life miserable for the average Indian, they smiled and offered tea to Sam. Where blockades meant absolutely no passing through for journalists like myself, Sam’s white skin acted like an automatic security clearance.
But there was also the reverse. Sam was often charged more by taxi drivers, shopkeepers, even landlords. No matter that he’d lived here seven years and made India his home, he would always be the foreigner. As a romantic interest, a fiancè, and a husband, Sam was not considered the most desirable catch. “Couldn’t she have found a nice Indian guy?” my mother’s friend asked her when she heard of our engagement. “Be careful, M,” a friend of my own warned me. “Western men don’t understand love the way we understand love.”
On New Year’s Eve a few years ago, just months before we were to be married, we were sitting in a nice restaurant in Delhi when a Danish woman and her friend came up to us to introduce themselves. They soon gave up the “we figured you’d be interesting” charade and asked what was really on their minds: “Where did you meet? Are you serious about each other? How the heck have you not gone stark raving mad?”
One of our new friends was in a relationship with an Indian man and the cultural differences, she said, were proving to be more than she’d bargained for. “It’s nice to know that some people can some way, somehow make it work,” she said. “Because it’s difficult, isn’t it?”
It is, but just like in art, what you imagined sometimes turns out to be vastly different from what finally appears on the canvas. Where my parents once saw a white man, they now see someone who is in love with their daughter, the father of their grandchild. Where my friends once saw a couple unsure of what they were getting themselves into, they now see two people who refused to compromise.
We’re no longer just a white man and a brown woman. Together with our ginger cat, golden dog, and who-knows-what-color child, we’re a multicolored, multilayered global family.