"At 19, Alisha* was made to choose her parents or the man she loved. She followed her heart and never looked back. Alisha shares her love story."
*Names have been changed.
Alisha and Sanjay*, who run a successful business together, have been married for more than 30 years and have three children in their 20s. Looking at the blissfully married couple, it's hard to imagine the long, hard struggle they went through to be together.
Growing up in Dubai, Alisha led a very pampered existence.
"I don't mean to sound pompous, but I was used to travelling first class, had cars and drivers at my beck and call, and was the only 16-year-old among my friends with credit cards, which wasn't common in those days," she explains.
So when she chose to pursue a relationship with Sanjay - whose family was far less affluent than hers - things between Alisha and her parents quickly soured.
It was instant attraction for 18-year-old Alisha when she met Sanjay at a party. But it wasn't until a chance meeting in India a year later that she realised he was The One.
"My mother and I were on summer holiday in Mumbai. While we were there, we attended my cousin's wedding," she recalls.
Sanjay happened to be visiting his extended family in Mumbai at the time.
"He was staying with his aunt, who is a very close friend of my mum's, and we all ended up staying in the same house," says Alisha.
The pair got to know each other.
"Sanjay was different from the other guys I knew. He was - and still is - a very good listener. Materialistic things didn't matter much to him."
They began dating secretly in Mumbai, but Sanjay never thought the relationship would last as their lifestyles and circles of friends were so different. He assumed it was a summer romance that would fizzle out. But Alisha thought otherwise.
"After the wedding, I left Mumbai ahead of Sanjay to return to Dubai. A few weeks later, I called his dad, on the pretext that I had photographs to pass to Sanjay. But I was really trying to find out when he would be back, which happened to be the next day, " Alisha confesses.
A relationship blossoms
Sanjay only returned her call 10 days after returning to Dubai. Once they reconnected, their relationship blossomed, albeit in secret.
"I didn't tell my parents because I knew they wouldn't approve. My siblings liked Sanjay and my elder sister helped me meet him on the sly. My friends had mixed reactions. Most of them tried to dissuade me from being with him as 'we weren't the right fit'.
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"Not that Sanjay made it easy for them, as he would appear aloof whenever he felt slighted. But my two closest friends got along great with him."
One year later, the couple decided to get married and Alisha broke the news to her parents. Not surprisingly, it didn't go well.
"I knew from the start that my parents, especially my mother, would not approve. She was very status-conscious and could not reconcile the drop in my living standards if I married Sanjay. They had a misguided notion that I had to marry into money."
Sanjay's parents weren't thrilled with the union either, as they were aware that Alisha's parents perceived them and their son poorly.
"But they were always loving and welcoming with me. I had an especially close relationship with my mother-in-law, who was a very wise and loving person," says Alisha.
Over the next few weeks, Alisha's parents gave her an ultimatum: Choose them on Sanjay.
"They even tried to set up marriage meetings for me with other guys. But I made it clear that I was going to marry Sanjay, no matter what. When I told them I wouldn't hide my relationship with Sanjay, they seemed to back off," says Alisha.
In reality, trouble was brewing. Her parents cut her from the family, packer her off to London for six months, then to New Delhi to stay with her grandmother for almost 18 months.
"I knew things wouldn't be easy with my family but I didn't expect it to be so tough," recalls Alisha. "Being banished from home was hard enough, but they also intercepted my letters and did pretty much everything to keep us apart.
"My grandmother was a pillar of strength; while she did not have the capacity to fight my parents, she gave me a lot of love and affection."
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With Sanjay in Dubai and Alisha in New Delhi, staying in touch was a challenge and the couple was miserable at being kept apart.
"International calls were very expensive in those days and Sanjay had just started working. We would schedule a phone call every week for just three minutes, six, if we were feeling rich. We'd write each other every day; I probably have over a thousand letters that we exchanged during that time."
When Sanjay's parents saw how intent their son was on marrying Alisha, they gave their blessings even though they felt it was too soon, as Sanjay was just 20.
"My father threatened to annul the marriage because Sanjay was underage, so we waited. On the day Sanjay turned 21, I called my parents and told them I was getting married in a week and if they wished, they could attend. At first, my mother said they were too busy, but they made it to Mumbai for the wedding," says Alisha.