Nepali-Bideshi Couples: Joining Hands and Hearts

Features Issue 28 Aug, 2010
Text by Baishali Bomjan

Secure in the knowledge that you will be
my constant friend,
my faithful partner in life,
and my one true love.
On this special day,
I give to you in the presence of God and all these
witnesses my pledge to stay by your side,
in sickness and in health,
in joy and in sorrow, as well as
through the good times and the bad.

I promise to love you without reservation,
comfort you in times of distress,
encourage you to achieve all of your goals,
laugh with you and cry with you,
grow with you in mind and spirit,
always be open and honest with you,
and cherish you for as long as we both shall live.

Till death do us part- a line most anticipated and cherished by anyone who’s been in love. But what is it about love, that brings together two people insanely different from each other, with views and visions, likes and dislikes as diverse as their way of looking at life, religion, marriage and children………… What is this unseen force?

It’s all about love- a feeling perhaps for some and an emotion for another, an experience of bliss or a reason to live. Although Nepal has always been extremely conservative when it comes to marriages, the statistics of love marriages or for that matter incidents of inter cultural marriages are on the rise today. Gone are the days when you had to be the perfect housewife, cook, mother— ready to do all the household chores and so on,

to qualify for marriage like it was some game. In keeping with the changing times, the card and gift shops have been quick to capitalize on the fact that couples today have become openly expressive about their feelings for one another. Isn’t it a cute sight to see young couples holding hands and walking down the streets of Thamel, oblivious to their surrounding?  I certainly think so…

While love comes in different forms, between mother and son, teacher and student, man and woman to name a few, I have chosen to write on just one subject- Inter cultural marriages because that’s something that fascinates me. Today couples in Nepal are coming out of the so-called boundaries of culture and race, painting Nepal in multicolor hues. Their ability to interweave their differences into a bond for a lifetime relationship is indeed admirable. Although I was able to feature only a few couples, this article is a tribute to everyone who has been and is still in love. Hearing them talk about their love and romance definitely made me want to believe in love and marriage a little bit more. Here we share some of the inspiring love stories of a few local Nepali-Bideshi couples………..

Arati & Thomas Kilroy
A genuine East-West connection
Who would have known that a Valentine’s eve party on February 13th  of 1999 would change the lives of a women from the east of Nepal and a man from the west of Ireland? This is the love story of Arati and Thomas Kilroy, Executive Director of Kilroy’s of Kathmandu. Thomas, a pastry chef from the Ritz Hotel, London came to Nepal for the first time in the winter of 1998 and was enamored by the color, cultural richness and the way of life of the native people. But was that fascination with Nepal strong enough to keep him attached to this place? Read on ….

I met Arati, Thomas and their daughter Jade Maria at Thomas Kilroy at 1905, a restaurant in Kantipath. The wonders that he has achieved in transforming this old palatial Rana house into a sophisticated and stylish eatery is highly commendable- a perfect place to talk about love and romance. Warm greetings from the pair coupled with hot coffee were definitely a good way of starting our conversation. At once this couple reflected a kind of easy and open attitude in their togetherness that only a few experience during their lifetime. “ I saw Arati for the first time at a Valentine’s Eve party in the winter of ’99. I still remember this girl (dressed in a pink outfit) making a fuss about not wanting to eat dal bhat,” says Thomas with a smile. Showing off his flair for cooking and wanting to impress this beautiful young lady (whom everyone mistook for Bipana Thapa, a well known Nepali actress), Thomas prepared a Jasmine Tea-Smoked Quails Breast Salad exclusively for Arati. “ I still have the photograph that I took with her that night,” adds Thomas. A series of dating each other followed that year resulting in their marriage on October 11th 2000.

“We had a typical Hindu marriage ceremony at the Bhadrakali temple in Kathmandu which was followed by a church ceremony in England on August 14th 2001,” says Arati, who experienced the flavor of both the eastern and western cultures. But western culture came as no surprise to Arati, who grew up in a family that had embraced different cultures with open arms. “My parents had a love marriage and my sister too is married to a Dane, so I was always comfortable with what the western culture had to offer,” says Arati. “Moreover I’ve always been very tom boyish and strongly influenced by western culture to an extent that everyone at home called me “Memsahib,” quips Arati humorously.

Fortunately for both Arati and Thomas, cultural differences didn’t quite matter, as they were both able to adapt, nurture and focus on what they had found in each other with passion, commitment and undying love. “Arati makes a fantastic Kalimpong Thukpa style noodle soup and I eat dal, bhat, tarkari made by her everyday,” comments the Master chef himself. Asked what  keeps their marriage intact? Arati replies, “Although every marriage has its ups and downs, we don’t let bitterness get the better of us and never pass a day without saying sorry when the need arises.” “Moreover, we don’t let the unpleasantness carry over to the next morning,” adds Thomas. For a couple for whom telepathy seems to work most of the time, Arati says, “It’s in small things, like for instance I’ll know exactly what Thomas will order from the menu and the same applies for him too.” “There’s a certain karma that seems to click.” Thomas adds. Are there any major differences then, “Both of us are quick tempered and head strong, but emotional at the same time,” confesses Thomas who believes that there is a certain level of similarity between the two cultures of Ireland and Nepal.

Truly complimenting each other both socially and personally, Thomas says that Arati has always complimented his social skill. “ During various functions and gatherings Arati is the one always saying ‘ “You remember Mr. so-and-so? ”- knowing very well that I’m very bad with names.’ “ She is glamorous and carries herself very well and has played a major role in my success.” As for Arati, although Thomas has his lazy moments,  she says, “I sometimes get tired with his energy and enthusiasm and he has always been good at reading people”. However for this couple, the best part about their marriage has been the birth of their daughter, Jade Maria. While Jade seems to have some traits of her father (as she was pouring some some imaginary tea from her tiny tea pot), its amazing to see how fluent she is in both Nepali and English. “Jade speaks more Nepali than I do!” Thomas jokingly is quick to point out.

Talking about love and marriage … “For me love is being together with great understanding and the ability to forgive each other,” says Arati. Thomas on the other hand, believes that there’s a partnership in marriage without the  compromise. “You have to be able to understand each other’s situations and respect that.” But both agree that couples need to constantly take some time off to revive and revitalize their relationship and they have been successful at doing just that. “We take a long break and head off to some place abroad or if time is a factor, we take weekend trips to either Pokhara, Chitwan or some other similar places,” explains Arati. Thomas adds, “We also go out a lot together even while in Kathmandu and Friday nights are a must - especially now that we have Subterrania Club Kilroy.”

As for what fascinates this couple about each other’s cultures, Arati has this to say, “In the west everything is very well organized and the best part of it all is that the entire family sits and prays together before a meal.” For Thomas, the diversity of the Nepali culture, its flexibility and simplicity and the acceptance of different cultures is what has kept him here. “I truly believe my future is here in Nepal, together with Arati and Jade.” says Thomas.

Kai Weise & Abhaya
A couple with a passion for music and architecture
Tucked away in a small corner of the Thamel gallis, an inconspicuous gate leads to a house unlike any in Thamel. Serene and untouched by the commotion of Thamel life, its interiors have been worked out to near perfection- a reflection of the romance that is almost contagious.

Abhaya Subba, a professional singer and Kai Weise, an architect met each other for the first time in Darjeeling,  ‘Queen of the hills’. Meeting each other at Abhaya’s sister’s wedding was just coincidence for this couple who were meant to be. “I knew Kai through a brother and that’s how we met at my sister’s wedding. But it was nothing like the clichéd Hindi film scenario of love at first sight,” says Abhaya with a touch of humor, who came to Kathmandu  nine months after she first met Kai. She adds, “We got attracted to each other because of our differences. He’s quiet, steady, passive and strong while I’m the complete opposite.” A singer by nature she spelt those words out with a depth of feeling that only people who have been and are still in love can.

Noticing a little awkwardness about sharing their romantic past, I switched the discussion to marriage. “We got married in 1997 after getting to know each other for a year or so,” informs Kai who was born and brought up in Kathmandu and therefore never really unfamiliar with her place and culture. “ Kai’s background was never an issue for me and my family because my parents brought me up showing the wide spectrum and I’ve lived my life on my own terms” adds Abhaya who was lucky to have had such support from her parents. Both agree that their cultural differences were never an issue as they saw each other more as a person rather than somebody from some place. “We fit together like a hand in a glove,” says Abhaya.

When asked as to what love meant to the couple, Kai (the more philosophical one) is first to answer. “One tries to define love but its something that is beyond any definition. In the end its about mutual respect for each other, understanding and support.” Abhaya, on the other hand has her own views “ We are very uncomfortable with how love is predefined, we’d rather not get into role playing and that’s why it works. You cannot expect to be loved every moment of the day but it’s a feeling that you carry with yourself and know that the other person too is doing so, always…”

Just as Kai leaves the room to attend to Raydn, their three-year-old son, Abhaya, the more outspoken one says something very special about her husband. “ I left singing completely in the year 1995 but it is because of Kai that I am what I am today. He encouraged me to go back on stage and perform and the only way that I can show him that I love him, is by being successful as a singer because he has played such a vital role in it.”

Working as professionals in their respective fields and being full time parents is not as easy as it sounds. No one knows this better than this couple who have diverse professions and interests. “ You have to respect each others space but at the same time you also have to be able to spend quality time with your family,” says Kai who understands that even though there are times when work may take you to different places it is all about coming home in the end.

Mature, successful, and in love, Abhaya and Kai truly reflect passion for their work and family as individuals and as a couple.

Yasmine & Achyute B. Rana
Partners in life and in Business
It is amazing to see how Nepal has this unique way of working its mystical charms on people coming from all over the world. Is it the mountains, the simplicity of life or purely the ability of the Nepali people to accept diverse cultures and ethnicities? I wonder….

The amazing story of this couple   surely proves beyond doubt that it is a combination of all three that makes Nepal a haven for couples to start a life together. Meet Yasmine Rana, owner and designer of Yasmine’ Boutique and her husband, Achyute B. Rana, her partner in business and in life. A nomad at heart, Yasmine first arrived in Nepal on July 1982 on a vacation. “ My curiosity for this overwhelmingly beautiful country brought me to Nepal,” says Yasmine. But little did she know that this incredible vacation would turn into a life-long relationship and that she would find her home in this wonderful country. She was destined to meet Achyute B. Rana in the same year with whom she started a life together, not just as a life partner but as a business partner as well.

A graduate from the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, Yasmine realized the potential for a boutique when few existed in Nepal. She set up a boutique at Durbar Marg.  Twenty years of dedication and persistence have gone into the creation of Yasmine’s designs. “She’s very creative, and has an eye for perfection both as a person and as a designer and pattern maker,” says Achyute full of admiration for his wife. He adds, “ She came across as a very dynamic and confident person when I met her for the first time. There was a certain level of understanding and interest between us that seemed to click.” With a warm glance Yasmine says, “Achyute is a gentleman, traditional in many ways and very avant guard in other ways. He is a true companion and a great father. He had a certain quality that reflected refinement and class and that was very appealing,” Both very head strong and focused, they believe that they are not quite opposites as couples usually are, but do have differences in their approaches to different issues.

As for cultural differences, this couple never really had any, and blending into each other’s cultures was quite simple.  Both believe that the holy bondage between a man and a woman comes from within and not from where you belong. “ The essence of marriage is the same for any couple, whether it be intra or inter cultural,” says Achyute. Yasmine adds,“ We never saw each other as belonging to different places but focused more on our likes and interests, because I think it is far more important that we see each other as a person first.”

According to the couple, marriage should be about understanding and accepting each other, giving space and bringing out the best in each other. “She’s very creative and loves what she does,” says Achyute, a very supportive husband who has taken charge of the management side of her business. Yasmine’s classy designs with a touch of multi-cultural sensitivity reflect her international background and despite the western touch in her designs, she has managed to come up with an eclectic blend of  east and west. The same holds true for her marriage and life in Nepal. She has merged into the Nepali culture with panache. “I like wearing saris at family gatherings and I am very comfortable with Achyute’s family and culture,” adds Yasmine with a smile on her face.

 When inquired about what they like in each other’s cultures, Achyute was first to answer. “There’s a certain class about French people who carry themselves very well. The perception of anything French reminds you about elegance, sophistication, and finesse.” Yasmine was attracted to something quite different and explains,“ I really appreciate the depth of attachment in families and it’s amazing to see how every member of the family comes together when the need arises.”

Dynamism, dedication and determination- what more can I say about this couple who has transcended all boundaries and differences and created a whole new world filled with creativity, passion and  commitment to each other.

Brenda & Phillipe Hendricks
The Via Via Couple
Walking down the crowded streets of Ason with a friend a year ago, I met Brenda Thapa (whom I knew from my college days) who seemed to know my friend. She invited us over for the opening of the café/ lodge called Via Via (a world-wide chain of cafes/lodges) in Thamel which she and her husband together with another partner were starting. Although I never made it to the opening, a year down the line I had heard quite a lot about this place and learned that this watering hole was abuzz on friday nights. Finding my way to their cafe was not easy, as I had expected something a lot more fancy to look at from the outside. A little apprehensive, I entered the building and to my surprise six flights of dimly lit, narrow stairs led me into another world thriving with a rhythm of its own. The Belgian-Nepali fusion of its interiors, bold, trendy and full of color reflected the vivaciousness of this talented young couple. Warm greetings from Brenda and Phillipe welcomed me inside.

Brenda Thapa, a Nepali and Phillipe Hendricks, a Belgian met each other for the first time in Kathmandu on October 17th 1998. The romance that followed culminated in their marriage on the same date four years later in 2002. Talking about cultures, Phillipe was not that ignorant about the eastern culture even prior to meeting Brenda. “ I had traveled extensively through India and Nepal for over five years and therefore was well versed with the eastern way of life,” says Phillipe. But it was a different story for Brenda and it was sheer determination and her ability to adapt to different cultures that made her come out as a winner. “ I grew up in a very open environment and my parents always showed me a greater perspective of life,” says Brenda and adds, “ Just because I marry a foreigner doesn’t mean I leave my past behind.  I’m still culturally bound to my roots and perform the daily rituals of Puja (prayer) and the lighting of Agarbatti (incense sticks) religiously.” “ I love the part about her lighting the Agarbatti,” says Phillipe with a warm glance at his wife. He adds, “Although I am not as cultural as my wife in my practices, I appreciate the ideals, fundamentals and the essence of all religions.” Therefore blending their eastern and western families into one big eclectic family wasn’t as easy as one would expect.

Brenda and Phillipe wanted to take their relationship to another level by wanting to be partners in business as well. So they started Via Via Café/Lodge with another partner. “ It was great fun doing the entire interiors, setting up the place and painting the walls together. But it took us over three months to complete the place,” says Brenda with a sense of achievement and satisfaction in her voice. “ Our main objective was to make a common ground for people coming from various places and allow intercultural exchanges between them. Must say that this formula has been very lucky for us and has worked wonders for a lot of people coming to the Café,” adds Phillipe.

Business aside, what was it that brought the two together? And what does it take to sustain such relationships?  A series of Well………. and Hmmms….and shy laughter from both said it all. “ He is a very sweet husband and has always been beside me through the ups and downs. Moreover he understands the eastern culture very well and that in itself is a big factor that has kept the relationship going this far,” says Brenda, the livelier of the two. Phillipe, a little self-conscious now gave Brenda another warm glance and said, “ Brenda is more outspoken and she has always supported me in all my endeavors. She is very flexible and adapts to different situations with ease.”

With Phillipe’s background in photography and fine arts and Brenda’s in literature, this couple has bonded perfectly as partners in life as well as in business.