The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 28, 2002

Model marriages, indeed
Sonya Dutta Choudhary

EAST may be East and West still West, but today the two are meeting in a myriad model ways. Witness the recent marriages of top Indian female models Madhu Sapre, Sheetal Mallar, Vidisha Pavate, among others, all to westerners. All with much panache and verve. What is it that draws these traditionally opposite people and cultures together to this most intimate of relationships, a meetings of minds, families et al ? "I find the difference in cultures interesting", says top model Sheetal Mallar, "definitely not intimidating. It is interesting to mix the cultures." Sheetal, married to Italian Wimbledon player Mose, leads a somewhat jet-set existence between India where her work commitments lie, Rome where Mose trains intensively for tennis, with occasional visits to Niguria in the North west of Italy to Mose’s large extended family.

A peripatetic existence seems to be the constant in these transcontinental marriages, fittingly perhaps, since this is what brought these diverse couples together in the first place. For as Madhu explains, "As a schoolgirl I couldn’t have imagined marrying a foreigner. I mean we girls would discuss "oh my gawd’ how can you marry somebody who cannot understand Marathi, doesn’t believe in Ganesha or eat rice and dal. But eleven years of living abroad has made me more conversant with foreign customs. I have lots of friends abroad and no longer find them alien but recognise them as people rather than Italians or Indians."!"  Madhu finds herself juggling between work in India, Italy, Prague and Budapest, where husband GianMaria’s business interests lie.


Sheetal, who met Mose in London, also spent a long time abroad, in Europe and in Italy. She has learnt to speak Italian and mix cultures. "Culture, in fact is the least of our problems, for I feel that deep down people are basically the same, it’s more that we seem to be traveling all the time!"  Helen Brodie, former Miss Asian European and supermodel for Zee TV. Helen, half Scottish herself, is a graduate from the London School of fashion and has worked extensively abroad. Married to Argentinean Dutch John Michael Lindt who is currently working in Mumbai, the couple divides their time between Mumbai and San Francisco.

This difference in cultures seems in fact to work positively on very basic counts. For the creative professional single girl, marriage and the pressure to conform to a ‘traditional wife stereotype’ can be quite stifling. Men from the subcontinent seem somehow to demand more. Whether its Lucky Ali whose New Zealander wife Masooma is in burqa, as also Inaya, his petite Parsee second wife who wore short skirts and sang pop songs on stage before she retired behind purdah, or other ‘model’ husbands who lay down the law, traditions like these can be suffocating.

Also, as Madhu Sapre explains, "Indian men tend to be less independent and the girlfriend or wife often has to face a lot of unnecessary competition. Many times Indian mothers don’t allow their sons to get on with their lives and this ‘mama’s boy’ conditioning can be a big put-off. Whereas abroad families are as close, it’s just that nobody interferes". Yet most models do agree that men all over the world are basically the same. As Sheetal declares, "It really depends a lot on you. Men anywhere in the world try to mould you, to a certain extent. Whether that happens, is really upto you. As for me, I have been married for only a year, so haven’t ever had the occasion to feel cramped or stifled, but I do believe that can only happen if I let it".

Tara Deshpande, actress, married to Jewish American Dan Tanebaum illustrates, "Our families are very similar fundamentally- very family oriented and closely knit. Jews and Hindus have a great deal in common. They take marriage, rearing of children, education very seriously. As communities, they are non proselytizing, warm and hospitable. So, strangely, Jews also are far more conservative and closer to the Indian ethos than would be obvious to an outsider.  Yet I am free to pursue my work be it the films, writing or further study with complete support from my families. I must differ however when I say that I actually like some of this ‘straitjacket’ stereotyping. Marriages don’t work without sacrifice, compromise and loyalty. Two ‘I, me and myself’ philosophies don’t make a marriage any better than one."

What emerges out of this mix-n-match is an unexpectedly rich relationship of dynamism and discovery. Witness Madhu Sapre, for whom it translates into going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Day with all of Gian Maria’s relatives in the village church in Rimini in South Italy, a ceremony she has been attending with friends very often while living abroad. "I’m really lucky ", she confesses,"For Gian Maria is in many ways more Indian, than some Indians, he eats rice with his hands, he loves Ganesha."

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