Nana Chudasama’s parents wanted their son to marry not just any Hindu but someone from their own caste – a Rajput. Munira Jasdanvalla’s family believed their daughters must be well-educated but not employed. The two met at a workplace in 1966 and chose to become mates for a lifetime
It saddens one to be writing this article on mixed marriages when we are only a few months away from the year 2000. We are on par with the modern world in satellite communication and nuclear bombs. But we still talk about no outside the biradari marriages and kill or burn in our villages and smaller towns if anyone steps out of line. Even in metropolitan Mumbai, today it is difficult for a Muslim to get accommodation in modern housing societies.
The silver lining to this problem is that some brave individuals have taken life into their own hands, defied society and proved that barriers of religion, caste, and nationality do not jeopardise their happiness. A good example of this is our twice–over sheriff of Mumbai, Nana Chudasama — a hugely successful public figure who continues to fight for causes, be it the environment or AIDS.
Munira, his wife, belonged to one of the city’s very educated elite families — the Jasdanvallas — who made sure that all the girls in the family were university educated and more, but taking up a job was taboo. Munira went on to do her M.A. in economics, but defied them all by becoming the first woman member of their family to take up a job with the Bank of India. She later moved to the foreign exchange department of the then Investment Corporation of India, but still said her namaaz three times a day.
It was there that she met Nana. The year was 1966. Two years later, they were married amidst great opposition from every quarter. She left her family and parents. Not only was this orthodox Bohri woman marrying a Hindu, but a divorcee at that. The court marriage was attended by a few very close friends.
‘I always knew I was on an island. But it is shrinking so rapidly that I don’t even know if I can hold even one foot of mine.’
Munira stopped the formal three–times–a–day praying routine, as she felt that this was not a barter system with God which implied: if I pray so much I will get so much. Yet the first words that come to her lips in times of distress, gratitude or hope is ‘Allah’ and ‘Insha Allah’. She still keeps her roza because it is a very good discipline. She never prompted her children – son Akshay and daughter Shaina — to be Muslims. Her only prayer was that they should grow up to be good human beings.
“Sadly, religion is of prime importance in society. In filling up school forms and applications for my children, I always left a blank where it asked for religion. I left it for my children to choose what they want when they began to understand such things.”
She never imposed Islam or Hinduism on them. They had a Christian maid for thirty years and many Sunday mornings saw Shaina accompanying her to Church. Munira believes that in any relationship if either person is a fanatic about his or her religion it never works.
“There are three dominating factors in a relationship faith, food, and festivals. Inter–communal married couples should always stay separately,” Munira adds emphatically.
Munira easily admits the privilege her background gives her. “We are hardly an example. We should see what happens in smaller towns and villages. Here ‘sab chalta hai’. Even Nana’s daughter, Brinda, from his first Hindu wife has married a Muslim and we think alike on everything. And the Muslims accuse Hindu boys of taking away all our good girls!”
“But it is not all hunky–dory with the poorer sections. The Muslims are scared. My Muslim tailor wanted a house at Vashi, and not in Panvel because there are more Muslims in Vashi. They feel safer in numbers. Fear is encouraging communal ghettos. Recently, a very good driver, Suleiman, was recommended to a friend. But the friend wrote back to Nana asking for the driver to change his name. No Marwari or Hindu home will keep a Muslim servant today. The Hindus are a considerate lot, and have so much to give. But today, they are making a virtue out of a vice — the vice of intolerance”.
In conclusion Munira said: “I always knew I was on an island. But it is shrinking so rapidly that I don’t even know if I can hold even one foot of mine. But we must not give up hope.”
Nana began on a determined note: “Whatever people may say, this country is a secular country and I have great faith in secularism. No one has tabooed me because I married a Muslim. This is the inherent strength of this country. Any nation that calls itself secular must encourage inter–community marriages.”
“My parents would have liked me to marry not only a Hindu but someone from one’s own community — Rajput. But even my first wife was a Patel. I have always had opposition. But I went by what I felt was right.” Talking about the horrendous riots of 1992–93, Nana says it was the darkest period Bombay ever saw adding, “This tendency will continue and is even going to increase. But that should not deter people from inter–marrying. Choose a person whom you like and don’t be afraid of which caste or creed.”
The happiest news is that son Akshay is getting married to an orthodox Jain jeweller’s daughter, Aparna. Even their daughter Shaina — the elite fashion designer of that exclusive fashion house Shaina N.C., who has been designing trousseaus for all the brides from Mumbai to Manhattan, with Muscat and Milan in between — has married Manish, a staunch Jain ship–breaking tycoon–in–the–making.
As told to Dolly Thakore