'My parents disowned me for not marrying into money'

"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.

Summer romance

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.

Extreme measures

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."

See also: The daughter-in-law's survival guide

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.

Wedding bells

It was an intimate temple wedding, attended by Sanjay's entire family and friends, Alisha's cousins and friends from Mumbai, and her parents.

On that day, the years of tension between Alisha and her parents somehow melted away - they had a change of heart and said they were ready to accept their daughter back into the fold.

"They are still my parents and I love and care for them. While I consider their behaviour atrocious, I now realise it was a blessing in disguise. What they put me through strengthened me tremendously."

The newly-weds returned to Dubai after the wedding, staying at Sanjay's parents home, which they had to themselves, as the rest of the family was still in Mumbai. "Those two weeks were a beautiful time that I often refer to as my honeymoon," jokes Alisha.

Building a life together

During their first year of marriage, Sanjay quit his job and the couple started their garment business. They worked around the clock, routinely toiling from 9am to 3am the next morning.

"I remember the night of our first wedding anniversary," says Alisha.

"We got up from our table, cut a cake, exchanged a quick kiss and went back to work till nine the next morning.

" We worked really hard in the early years but honestly, I can't say it was difficult. We were both young and full of energy. I have never regretted my decision to stand by Sanjay."

Renewing ties

Alisha's parents continued to make every effort at reconciliation.

"I think their initial acceptance was because they had no choice - I was already married. It was only a few months later that they realised their mistake in judging Sanjay's character and were ashamed of how they had behaved towards his family. They apologised to us and our relationship gradually improved, though the wounds were still quite raw then."

Alisha's mother called her every day and invited them over for dinner at least twice a week. While Alisha was receptive, Sanjay had his reservations.

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"He was always civil towards them, if a bit cold at times, as he found it hard to let go of the past. My mother-in-law always encouraged me to respect my parents and insisted Sanjay accompany me when I visited them. It took some time, but Sanjay eventually forgave my parents. I think what helped was when they invited my in-laws for lunch and apologised profusely to them. We both really appreciated that."

Today, the tough times are well behind them. "I can happily say that my parents have the utmost respect for Sanjay, and my relationship with them has only grown stronger."

Given what the couple has been through, they often remind their children that a person's worth is what he is, not in what he has.

"We've also realised that sometimes adversity cannot be avoided. It's how you react to the situation that matters; if you don't let it break you, it will leave you stronger."

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