Aleem and Sonali are one of those couples that any single person who meets would think “Man, I want to get married!” In the presence of other people, Aleem seems to always slightly look sideways to see if Sonali is ok and she occasionally sends a smile back his way as if to communicate “I am just fine my dear”. These lawyers by profession prove that love is limitless and that the secret to a happy marriage lies in the small things. Pendotalk caught up with them to find out more about their love story.
Pendotalk: How did the two of you meet?
We met at a mutual friend’s house party.
Pendotalk: When did realize you were in love with Sonali? Which of Sonali’s qualities attracted you to her?
Aleem: Like most twenty something year old guys, initially I was struck by Sonali’s beauty. It was only once we started to get to know each other and eventually began dating, I looked beyond and found Sonali to be a generous, loving, and genuine person with a great sense of humor.
Pendotalk: Pendotalk recently held a discussion with a group of young men in their twenties and they agreed that for generation Y men, “the way to a man’ heart is “no longer through the stomach”, what do you think about this? What role do you think Solani’s cooking played in ‘stealing your heart’? Do you also cook for her sometimes?
Aleem: In terms of food being the way to my heart, when we lived in Toronto, Sonali was the only wife among our friend circle who made fresh chapattis for me at dinner -time. Needless to say, I was very proud of her and felt rather privileged. As you can imagine, most of the other wives were either annoyed, or felt that she was making them look bad, or shocked that she simply took the time to actually MAKE chapattis.
I guess what I am saying is that I don’t think her cooking played a role in stealing my heart, but it definitely strengthened our bond in in the sense – I would look forward to coming home to her cooking, and it made me feel loved to know she had taken the time to cook for me.
I don’t really cook very often anymore but I make a mean chicken koroga once in a while.
Pendotalk: When did you realize you were in love with Aleem?Which of Aleem’s qualities attracted you to him?
Sonali: I realized a few months into dating him.He is extremely funny, friendly, caring and affectionate
Pendotalk: For how long did you date before getting married? How did you know you were ‘ready’ for marriage?
Sonali: We were dating from January 2009 and we broke up briefly for about a year in 2014, then Aleem moved to Canada. I think the distance and break up made us realize we were meant to be and it had to be marriage.
Aleem: We dated for almost eight years. I knew I was ready because I couldn’t imagine my life without Sonali.
Pendotalk: Who popped the big question? How did you pop the big question?
Sonali: Aleem popped the question and he asked my mum for permission first which meant a lot to me. He went down on one knee at Lord Eroll, slipped a beautiful diamond ring on my finger and that was followed by popping a bottle of Dom Perignon.
Aleem:I did. It was traditional and low key. I talked to my family first and then to her family. Once we had all agreed we held a small traditional ceremony at her house and then washed it down with champagne.
Pendotalk: In African culture, before a couple gets married there are several practices carried out. For example, the Luos have “Ayie” where the lady’s parents may accept the man if they believe he is good enough for their daughter. The Kikuyus have a dowry payment ceremony called “rῠracio”…and so on. What kind of ceremonies did you have before getting married? Did you conduct both Hindu and Muslim ceremonies?
Sonali and Aleem: There is a family engagement ceremony in Hinduism that is carried out which involves being blessed by the family by them feeding the happy couple jaggery and coriander seeds and the groom is given a coconut which is blessed and he keeps until the wedding day which he brings to the wedding ceremony. We performed the Ismaili ceremony too which involved drinking Sherbat. Ismailism ceremonies and Hindu ceremonies have quite a few similarities as the Ismailies were originally Gujaratis so a lot of traditions have been carried forward.
Religion and Culture
Pendotalk: As a Muslim and Hindu couple, you appear to be very open-minded people. However, did you face any major challenges because of your different religions? What role do you think religion should play in a marriage?
Sonali: Initially, there was an expectation for me to convert to Ismailism as one cannot enter the mosque unless they are muslim. However, the family came around and I did not convert and I am happy for my future children to follow Ismailism. Religion is a very individual thing, and every person should have the choice to follow and preach the religion they wish. I believe in live and let live!
Pendotalk: What are your thoughts on relationships and marriages between Indians and Africans? How comes they are so rare?
Sonali: I believe race and religion should never define any relationship. If two people get on and can make it work there should be no barrier. I think inter racial marriages are slowly becoming more common, however the culture, language and traditions are very different and that might be the reason why they are rare.
Pendotalk: What are your thoughts on relationships and marriages between Muslims and Christians? Is it allowed?
Aleem: Allowed by whom? I don’t see why anyone should be prevented from sharing their life with someone they love because of religion.
The way I see it – the world is changing. We live in a pluralistic society where we – first as children- study and play- and then as adults – work, socialize, and ultimately do business with people from multiple cultures and diverse religious backgrounds. Against this backdrop, diversity has become our strength as a human race. We have realized that we cannot live in isolation and nor are we as different as our grandparents once thought we are. If we can play together as children and work together as adults and build our futures with the same-shared goals -how does it make sense to say- we want the same things – and we have spent our entire lives so far trying to get there – together- you are my best friend- but I can’t love you. You’re a Muslim.
Pendotalk: What are your thoughts on arranged marriages?
Sonali: In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with arranged marriages, I know a lot of people who are happily married through arranged marriages.
Aleem: Now days most arranged marriages are more of an introduction than anything set in stone. I think this form of arrangement is actually helpful for some people – so long as both parties have the opportunity to say yes or no.
In terms of an absolute arrangement – I don’t agree with any form of unilateral decision-making that takes away from party autonomy – especially one that could involve spending the rest of your entire life with a stranger.
Wedding and Marriage
Pendotalk: Congratulations on your wedding! All those who attended say it was a, beautiful and perfect ceremony. However, you both claim that things were not as perfect as they looked. Tell us about the drama that you had just before the wedding and on the wedding day itself. How did you tackle these challenges? Would you go back and do the wedding any differently?
Sonali: Thank you very much. A lot of drama happened on the wedding day but thankfully, no one noticed. It started with me being ill the night prior to the wedding. I was throwing up and had an allergic reaction to eye make up, so my eyelids were swollen, itchy and even bleeding a little. I ran late because of these issues while Aleem was patiently waiting. In an Ismali wedding ceremony known as the Nikkah, the bride and groom go to the venue together. As soon as we got to the car, I asked Aleem if he had the wedding ring and he said “oh no”! After a few phone calls we realized no one had the ring and we were running so late going back home was not an option, so we had to borrow a ring from one of the wedding guests as a replacement. The best way to tackle the problems is to be calm but I wasn’t. haha
I wouldn’t change anything about the wedding because I believe there are no fun memories if things go as planned, the story is always in the things that go wrong.
Pendotalk: Tell us about the song that you sung for Sonali on your wedding day.
Aleem:I sang a Hindi song called Peli Nazar Me from the movie ‘race’. The story behind the choice of song goes back to when Sonali and I first started dating. It was around the year 2008 and Sonali, my best man Nick, and I were all at Art Café. It must have been mid afternoon, we were fairly liquored and Nick and I decided to sing “Peli Nazar Me” to Sonali at the top of our lungs. Naturally, she was highly embarrassed. Since then it’s always been a bit of a joke between the three of us. It made for the perfect wedding song.
Pendotalk: How did you feel when Aleem sung for you in front of all those people?
Sonali: I was surprised and completely in awe. I couldn’t believe how brave Aleem was. At the same time I was embarrassed as all eyes were on me! I don’t like being the center of attention and I feel uncomfortable when everyone is staring at me. But I did enjoy it as it was a song Aleem sung to me back in 2009 when we had just started dating.
Pendotalk: Soon after your wedding, you left to go to Canada after ALEEM got a job there. That was quite a sacrifice on your part considering you were going to a new place where you did not know anyone and did not have a job yourself. What inspired your decision to go to Canada? What would you advise women faced with the same kind of dilemma?
Sonali: I was ready to move wherever Aleem was and I just thought of it as a new chapter in my life. Marriage is about 2 people and no longer just yourself so I was ready to go for US. My advice would be to never have any rules about where you will live, or what you will do because you don’t know what life has in store for you. Sometimes the decision seems right only for your partner but you’ll always fit into the bigger picture. (You can also read about yet another humble wife who sacrificed to be with her husband abroad here)
Pendotalk: Do the two of you live alone or with Aleem’s parents after marriage as is Indian culture?
Sonali & Aleem: We initially lived with his Parents, but we now have our own little apartment.
Pendotalk: What kind of relationship does each of you have with your in-laws? Do you think a good relationship with in-laws makes marriage easier?
Sonali: I believe we have a good relationship with each other’s parents and its only getting better and stronger with time. I definitely think it makes the marriage easier as we are both very close to our parents.
Aleem: I have a great relationship with Sonali’s mom. She’s a wonderful woman and yes, it makes marriage much easier. There’s twice as much help and love to go around.
Pendotalk: If a mutual friend approached the two of you and tells you they are considering getting a divorce, what would you advise them?
Sonali: Can they picture their lives without their partner? Have they tried their level best to make it work? I’d probably ask them to get some marriage counseling because most of the time the root cause is miscommunication.
Aleem: Well, I would first ask him/her why? Then based on his explanation I would either offer him/her:
- Far too much whiskey followed by a taxi.
- More whiskey and a disclaimer that I am NOT at all qualified to advise him but I’ll do my best to support him in this difficult time and with whatever decision he eventually makes.
Last piece of advice
Pendotalk: Any last words for the couples out there?
Aleem: Falling in love is easy. It happens in a moment. Marriage is life long commitment. It’s fun to wake up next to your best friend every day -so marry your best friend and remember to always remember that she is your best friend.
Sonali: Patience, Love and Understanding can make any relationship work and never sleep on an argument.