Love. It transcends geographical boundaries, culture, race and religion. In multi-cultural Malaysia where mixed marriages are not uncommon, one can see the trend rising and working in all its wonders, even though our Department of Statistics does not record the actual number.
Then again, inter-ethnic relationships are a growing phenomenon the world over, not just here.
In the US, the government census updated in 2018 said the percentage of intermarriages in the country grew from 7.4% in 2000 to 10.2% from 2012-2016. In Singapore, the Straits Times reported that 22.1% of all marriages in the island nation were mixed ones, the number almost tripling the 8.9% of such marriages registered in 1997. The newspaper was quoting data from the Statistics on Marriages and Divorces 2017 released by Singapore’s Department of Statistics.
So why are intermarriages on the rise? Is it a case of chemistry because “opposites attract”? Perhaps. But migration, globalisation and urbanisation contributing to the growth of diversity as well as rising education levels and relaxing attitudes are surely some of the other factors providing couples the avenue to find oneness of heart, values and beliefs in spite of the differences. This, however, does not mean an absence of prejudice among the more traditional-minded segments of society and family, although the two sets of couples Motherhood talks to today, have found benign common ground on which to build their relationships.
Pearl Lee and Haresh Deol
Pearl Lee and Haresh Deol, both well-known journalists in the areas of politics, current affairs and sports, tied the knot in 2013. They have a son ─ Shane Lee Deol who is two years old today.
When asked why they married each other and not someone else of their own race and culture, Pearl replies that race and culture were never the factors they considered before making the decision to spend their lives together. She says that their union was more due to compatibility and the agreement of being together through good times and not-so-great times.
“The chemistry between us was that we were both very realistic. We know life is not a fairy tale and we wanted to be a team able to withstand even the harshest adventure. Indeed, being together has been a great adventure and there are many more miles to clock in.”
Pearl says she faced no challenges as she herself is a product of a mixed marriage. Pearl is Chinese-Punjabi by descent while Haresh is Punjabi so in reality there are no real racial and cultural barriers to break down. “Furthermore, my mother-in-law has known me and my family for a long time. We are truly colour blind as we have family and friends from all walks, colour and creed.”
What has she learnt from her union thus far, how has it broadened her mind and how will she and Haresh bring up their child?
“I’ve learnt a lot,” she replies, “But everything that I have opened my eyes to has nothing to do through a racial/religious lens. We respect each other’s faiths but our journey has taught us more about each other and growing a formidable team together.
“I’m not going to impose what I want on my child. When he is grown up, he should be able to make the right decision on who he wants to marry ─ the decision that will best suit him and his purpose in life. If he is all grown up and still needs to be told what to do in life, then we would have failed as parents, really.”
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Drona Dewi and Arunan Raj Sahadevan
Drona Dewi is not afraid to declare she is head over heels in love with her husband Arunan Raj Sahadevan. “We come from a totally different culture,” she explains. “I am a second generation born Malaysian Nepalese, which means my grandparents migrated from Nepal, while my husband is also a second generation born Indian from the state of Tamil Nadu, which also means that his grandparents migrated from India. My race is known as Gurkha and his race is known as Tamilan.”
Drona and Arunan have been married for four years now and 15 February, just a day after Valentine’s Day, will be their wedding anniversary. They have a son, Jayraj, who will be turning three in April while Drona is expecting their second child being three months pregnant at the moment.
“I am so excited going through the process of being a mother all over again,” she gushes.
Why they chose to marry each other is a very common question asked by everyone, she says, but for her, the answer is simple: “My husband completely and entirely accepts me for who I am. There has never been a day where he has not stopped supporting me and I needed a man that will not change me from who I am.
“There is a famous saying that goes ‘Marriage is a walk in the park and the park is called Jurassic Park’. That is exactly how we have managed our marriage. We had some terms and conditions prior to the wedding although it was a love marriage. Both my parents are vegetarian and we have been brought up in a culture where we value compassion and place the lives of animals and humans as being the same. We practise Ahimsa (non-violence).”
However, although he is very spiritual, Arunan is non-vegetarian.
“I told my husband that I will compromise in marrying a non-vegetarian but will not allow my children to be non-vegetarian. I will also not cook him a non-vegetarian meal. We both agreed on this.”
Therefore, Drona is the one who decides on the dietary plan for the family including their child and coming baby until they turn 18.
“The real attraction for me,” she continues saying about her husband, “is that he allows me to love and take care of myself. It is never about him but always about me. The love is selfless and unconditional. We are very open to each other in that we can sit and discuss anything. Communication is key to our marriage. For example, on some days when I do not feel like talking, he gives me my space and ‘my me-time’. He lets me be comfortable in my own skin and that is so rare these days.”
As far as challenges to their marriage are concerned, Drona says her biggest obstacle was her mom! She had to convince her that she was making the right choice in marrying Arunan. It took some time but after the birth of their child, her mother was finally persuaded that Drona had made the right decision.
What Drona has learned from her union thus far is that it has opened her eyes about people. “You dont take sides,” she explains, “you follow what is right and go ahead in life, and from there, you will see divinity in people.” Despite living with her in-laws for four years now, she says, “I don’t see differences in them but similarity which is humility and good character.”
With one child growing up and another on the way, Drona believes strongly that as parents they need to set the bar and rise above race. “We will definitely share the pros and cons of intermarriage but more importantly, we must nurture our children from now not to look at race, culture, and religion but base their future relationship on love and mutual respect.”