FORBIDDEN LOVE

  • Jonit Bookheim
  • 02 Feb, 2012

Hettal married Suraj in the traditional manner of an Indian bride – bedazzled in an embroidered pink wedding sari, forearm to fingertip decorated with intricate henna designs.  But their love story is anything but traditional.  In a society where arranged marriage is the norm, Hettal and Suraj chose each other.  And, like the plot of a Bollywood movie, Hettal’s parents didn’t approve.  You see, Hettal is Hindu and Suraj is Buddhist.

We met Hettal at one of our cooperatives, where she is a designer, and we work with her very closely to produce samples of our designs.  She’s our point person there, and we send her all of our drawings, patterns, and specs to develop into samples.  Once the samples are ready, we go back and forth with her to make corrections and get the garments just right.  Hettal comes from a middle class background and was able to go to university to study fashion design.  That’s where she met Suraj, who was studying art.

When Hettal told her parents that she wanted to marry Suraj, they refused.  They had expected to arrange a marriage for her to a suitable young man from her own caste, and Suraj, not only outside of her caste but her religion as well, was not an acceptable match.

Hettal continued to see Suraj, but waited to bring up marriage to her parents again for half a year.  She wanted to show her parents that she and Suraj were committed and give them time to reconsider.  Finally one afternoon, she made the hours-long trek to her parents’ village home with Suraj in toe.  There, she again made a plea for them to let her marry her love.

Her parents hadn’t changed their minds, and a huge argument ensued.  They told her that if she married Suraj, they would renounce her as their daughter and never speak to her again.  Hettal stood her ground and started packing her things.

And she never saw her parents again.

Just kidding!  Would we really tell you a depressing love story this close to Valentine’s Day?  In this story, love really did conquer all!  When Hettal’s parents saw how far she was willing to go to marry Suraj, they relented.  The wedding was a joyous occasion with friends and family, and as is the tradition of Indian weddings, the bride and groom sat in elaborate thrones on a stage while guests lined up to get photos taken with them.

Hettal and Suraj moved into a modern apartment building on the outskirts of Mumbai, and invited me and Michelle to lunch one day.  Besides being in a “love marriage,” as it’s called in India, the couple is unconventional in another way:  Suraj helps cook!

 

They served a delicious chicken curry with vegetables.

We had a great time!

 

As you know, Suraj is an artist, and he offered to draw our portraits.

What do you think?  Did he get us right?

 

It has really been an amazing experience to work with Hettal and the other extraordinary women at the cooperatives. We’ve seen that fair trade is a process that supports and elevates them to make bold decisions and to be who they want to be.

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