If you haven’t already, you could read about how I met my husband before reading this post about our secret relationship. By the way, I didn’t blog about it at the time, because I was too frightened anyone would find out about it! Even writing in a diary for myself was difficult because I didn’t want to brood over the negative, and it was often awkward within the family anyway… So for a long time, my Indian story was on paper (read computer screen!) except for the most exciting, crispy details! I am finally writing this after many years of patience…
Secret relationship: The beginning
When we started our relationship, mid February 2008, we had to hide completely. One morning Kishan and I were sitting in front of his house chatting. I didn’t think I was sitting particularly close to him, because it is natural for me to sit closer to male friends in Europe than women do in India, but it was shocking to his mother. I still remember jumping at her shout as soon as she got out of the house and saw us! It made me feel really bad, as though I had committed a crime or something, and quite angry at her as well. There is always two sides to a story though, and she was having a really hard time with the neighbours gossiping, so at the same time I could understand her position.
When I came to Khajuraho that first year in India, I stayed two and a half months in Kishan’s family to learn Hindi in immersion. We got together within a few weeks, but of course I was sleeping with Kishan’s mother and sisters. The neighbourhood didn’t question my staying there for so long then, because I had a foot operation that left me unable to walk for an entire month. When I came back in July after four months though, they started saying and/or joking that I had come back to marry Kishan. All I could do was smile awkwardly, laugh with them, and tell them that Kishan was just my small Indian brother (I am ten years older than him by the way, but I have always looked younger than my age and people tend to age more quickly in India so it doesn’t really show).
For our first entire year, we hid our secret relationship from absolutely everyone we met in India. Whenever we travelled together Kishan pretended to be my guide. Indians are curious about mixed relationships and they don’t hide their curiosity. If you have already been in India you probably know that they don’t feel at all embarrassed to stare at you for half an hour, and they ask you all sorts of private questions from how much you earn and why your husband hasn’t come with you. During my first time in India, a man who clearly saw me as a marriage potential even asked me if my friend and I were kissing. So whenever I was travelling with Kishan, people stared even more than when I was on my own, and they questioned him a lot! On trains, in shops, everywhere he had to make up stories. His pretending to be my guide was funny for some time, but after a few years it became really tiring. Of course, it was also tricky to find hotels who would accept having us share a room. Once we did a stopover in Jhansi (a big junction city in Madhya Pradesh but not at all touristic) and our rickshaw driver toured the city for almost an hour to find a hotel – in vain. Eventually we decided to drive another twenty minutes to the closest touristic town of Orchha and we did find a room.
The first year of our secret relationship was very hard for me to handle, because although I knew the family loved me for who I was, I kept feeling like an ‘impostor’ for having an affair with their head of family. I was really scared they would find out the truth and they would feel like I had betrayed them. I also hated the fact that we regularly had to be dishonest to save our face, because I have always been very bad at lying – it churns my insides and makes me feel very awkward. I alternated periods of faith when I trusted that everything would be well and the family would still love me if they knew, with days of great anxiety. This constant going up and down was really weighing on me, and the anxiety was like a poison in my mind, obsessing me and preventing me to think about anything else. (For Kishan it wasn’t as difficult, because he knows his family very well and he is very good at handling their feelings.) But one day in March 2009, about a year after the beginning of our secret relationship, something happened. It was horrible and it lasted for at least two hours during which I didn’t stop crying, but it turned things round completely.
Secret relationship : A turning point
Kishan had gone to visit some relatives for a couple of days, so I was alone with his mother, sisters and brother at home. Of course we were sending text messages to one another, and when one of his sisters heard my phone ring she picked it up and read the SMS that had come from Kishan. We were writing in Hindi and she read the word ‘cummi‘ which means ‘kiss’. When Kishan came back she told him he should really be careful with what he was writing in his messages. When he reported this to me, I snapped and got really crazy! I couldn’t take the situation anymore anyway so I went to his sister and shouted at her for going into my stuff because it was private!
There is no privacy in India, and I no longer had a room to myself because I was considered a part of the family (I did have a room to myself the first time I came to the family as a guest). I was sleeping in the upstairs room with Kishan’s mother and sisters and I was keeping my rucksack there. I didn’t have an issue about sharing my stuff with them or sleeping with them, and I really didn’t have anything to hide – except for our secret relationship obviously! This means I actually had no problem with them going through my stuff and I even didn’t really care about them checking out my phone – except that I was frightened they would find out about our relationship!!!
I thought I was going to regret shouting at her forever. What followed was one of the most difficult moment in my entire life! In the family shop, Kishan’s mother and elder sister were sitting next to each other while Kishan had curled up in his chair looking down as they took turn to yell at him. I was still learning Hindi at the time so I could hardly understand anything, but it sounded like they were saying my name a lot (they were not) and I was terribly paranoid. I couldn’t take any of it as it was too painful, so I hid in the next-door room, crying my heart out as I heard them bombard him. I was too scared to face the conflict, but after over an hour I could no longer avoid it and I went back to the shop. Kishan was looking so tiny on that chair and he still hadn’t moved. He was silent, just letting them thrash him with their words until they were done.
I thought it was all over. I thought they wanted to kick me out of their life and their house. Kishan’s mother told me angrily that there were children in the house, and his sister added that they all had trusted me. That was pretty much the only thing I understood and still remember. I thought they couldn’t stand my betrayal and they wanted me to leave. Still crying, I went back to my stuff and packed my bag. It was clear to me that we were going to stay in a hotel this time. As I opened the door to leave, Kishan’s youngest two sisters grabbed my bag and pulled me back inside. They too were crying loudly and one of them begged me to stay. It was all so intense that I felt like I was in a really dramatic movie! Eventually, after Kishan had freed himself from his mother and elder sister’s grip, he came and told me that he was going to handle it. I had no idea how he was going to manage this time! He told me that his sister’s had not been telling him off for writing me loving text messages; instead she had been trying to protect him! And what had triggered the crisis was not the fact that we were having a secret relationship, but the way I had told his sister that my stuff was private!!!
I couldn’t believe my ears! They were fine with us being a couple as long as we didn’t talk about it and pretended there was nothing between us! What they couldn’t take was that I had said my stuff was private, while they had opened their entire house to me and welcomed me as a member of their family! I was stunned, because it really meant they loved me very much! And the privacy issue actually was nothing to me, because if they were accepting our secret relationship, I no longer had anything to hide at all! But how to tell them that while avoiding saying we were in a relationship??? To settle the crisis, Kishan told me to go to this sister and to tell her that my stuff was not private and that she had misunderstood what I had told her. I was feeling like utter shit as I spoke, and it felt quite ridiculous, but I said it and left the room. Then Kishan did the rest. I still don’t know nine years later how on earth he managed to tell them that I had just been scared they would find out about our secret relationship without mentioning our relationship!
I had been crying my heart out for two hours, and within the next minute the situation turned around as if nothing had happened. I was bewildered. Kishan’s elder sister started joking saying that I cried a lot! My eyes were stinging really bad from all that crying, but I felt so incredibly relieved!! I still felt like a total wreck for the rest of the day though and I went to sleep very early. It had been horrible, but I didn’t regret opening my mouth after all: they had accepted our relationship!
Secret relationship: An open secret!
Soon everyone in Kishan’s family knew that we were having a relationship – and I don’t think the neighbours were fooled. It was not a problem as long as we pretended there was nothing between us. We were hiding a secret everyone knew about! Weird! Incredible India, and incredible Indians! This is actually very typical in this country, and it is still and will always puzzle me. Indians are just good at ignoring what they don’t like…
This didn’t mean the difficulties were over though. My anxiety lifted but soon came other difficulties!
Of course, intimacy was impossible within the house, so we had to go to hotels or find some fields in the evenings and let the darkness hide us to express our affection. A friend of Kishan’s was working in a crappy hotel we would access by the back whenever his boss was out, to enjoy one hour of each other – on a dirty bed with smelly blankets – not very romantic! A couple of years later another friend of his opened a hotel and it was easier because we didn’t have to hide from any boss, but I was still feeling like a criminal or a stupid teenager whenever we tried to spend intimate time together. Needless to say we really compensated whenever Kishan visited me in Varanasi – we were glued to each other 24/7 and I couldn’t even detach myself from him to go to a violin class!!!
I really wanted Kishan to come to France with me to introduce him to my family, but in 2010 he applied for a Schengen visa and didn’t get it. The only way was to get married. For quite a long time this seemed like an insurmountable challenge, like a very distant dream! Kishan was ready before me, because it took me some time to agree to marry secretly as I didn’t want to hurt his mother’s feelings. He knew how to handle her but it would just have been too painful for me to have to lie about that as well. But we were desperate to get married, and not just for him to get a visa! We accepted to have a secret relationship to protect his family, but we wanted to have it a bit our way. Besides, we knew the legal procedure would take a long time, and we didn’t want to wait until Kishan’s youngest sisters were all married so we could get married ourselves! So a secret marriage it had to be.
Eventually we got married in November 2011 – just the two of us, in Delhi.
After our marriage: Waiting for fourth sister’s marriage to tell his mum!
Needless to say it felt weird to come back to the family house as husband and wife when no-one knew about it! The longer our relationship grew, the more we felt our Indian family was guessing we would one day get married, but no-one ever talked about it. Kishan was psychologically preparing his mother and sisters though. For example he would say to his mum that he didn’t want an Indian wife whenever she told him to start thinking about getting married, or he would criticise Indian women’s habits and praise Westerners… In the meantime I became so used to having a secret relationship that I could no longer imagine how it felt to actually have a normal one! Kishan was waiting for his fourth sister’s marriage to reveal ours to his mother, but it seemed like it would just never happen! Eventually she got married at the end of May 2012. Just before her marriage was arranged I flew back to Europe for the hot season. I kept asking Kishan if he had finally told his mum, but he still hadn’t found the right occasion, and when I came back to India in July I was very frustrated! I was based in Varanasi studying Hindi and violin at the time, and I couldn’t wait to tell people there openly that we were married. I couldn’t resist telling my foreigner friends so most of them knew, but I was scared to tell my Indian friends and neighbours because Varanasi and Khajuraho are pretty close (in Indian standards!) and I was scared the information would leak to Khajuraho somehow! Sometimes I would tell a neighbour but later would feel so paranoid about it that I would tell him that we hadn’t quite got married actually. Kishan and I kept being vague to confuse people, so they kind of knew but not really. It was not very comfortable to live! And every few days I kept asking Kishan if he had told his mother, but every time he said he still hadn’t…
Once, while I was in Khajuraho during some university holidays, some distant relatives came to visit the house. They were looking for a suitable husband for their daughter and they thought Kishan was a good potential!!! No-one knew that Kishan was already my husband, and we both found the situation pretty amusing!!!
Eventually in September 2012, Kishan phoned me to announce that he had finally told his mother that he wanted to marry me – ten months after our legal marriage! “Mum, I want to marry Vio”, he said. “You throw all my plans in the water”, she replied laughing. And his youngest sister added: “Amma knew already but she wanted to hear from your mouth with whom you want to get married” [i.e. with an Indian woman or with me]. I was overjoyed! But it took another six months for Kishan to tell her that we had actually got married, pretending a trip to Delhi to apply (unsuccessfully) for my PIO card had been a trip to get married. Our marriage was still secret outside of the house, and gradually the information reached the ears of his other married sisters, their husbands and their (very happy) children.
After fifth sister’s wedding, the world will be allowed to know!
Kishan had told me we would be able to tell our community we were married after his fourth sister’s wedding, because the fifth one would be easier to marry as she was better educated. I think he was being very Indian and telling me what I wanted to hear though, because it didn’t turn out to be true! Actually, we still had to be careful, because the fact that he, as head of family, was married to a foreigner could spoil his family’s reputation and therefore make it difficult to find a husband for his sister!!! Besides, if distant relatives knew we were legally married, his sister’s potential in-laws would ask for a lot more money in her dowry because I was a foreigner! Let me tell you that you have no idea how much I cursed Hindu rules, marriage practices and their obsession with reputation over the years, especially at times when my second half was trying to find husbands for his sisters (and God knows I made Kishan’s life more difficult than it was)!!! But it was his responsibility to find them husbands – and such responsibility is very heavy in India. And even if he didn’t follow Hindu customs for his own marriage, he had to accept to do it for his sisters, because he didn’t have a choice – and ultimately because he loved them. And deep down I knew and understood, so between my bursts of impatience and rants about Hindu customs, I knew there was no other alternative for us either…
Sister number five got married a lot sooner than we thought, in February 2013. Although I was sorry for her because she had wanted to get a job for a while beforehand, her getting married was a great relief – our last big step towards freedom!
Two months later, Kishan finally asked his mum if we could share the same room, over five years after the beginning of our secret relationship. She said yes but only when there were no guests in the house. Kishan’s more distant family – his uncles and aunties – soon found out about our marriage as well, but they couldn’t really take it seriously because we hadn’t yet organised a religious ceremony. His maternal uncle, in particular, kept pestering me whenever he came to visit, saying I should have a grand reception involving a lot of money with all my French family. Neighbours kept reminding me my Indian-wife duties whenever they visited, such as having to look after my mother-in-law, wearing sarees and bangles, covering my head, and of course making chapatis. This was pretty embarrassing, but all I could do was nod and smile and have it my way…
My life had become a lot easier as far as my secret relationship with Kishan was concerned, but I had a new relationship to deal with now: that with my mother-in-law (post coming soon)!
In February 2015, seven years after the beginning of our relationship, we split the shop in half to make our own room at the back. It has become my territory, and my refuge when too many family members come to visit.
Our wedding ceremony was eventually held over four years after our legal marriage, in December 2015.
Now that our situation has become normal I find it difficult to remind myself how life was then… And today what was a secret for so many years is public on the Internet for the whole world to see – a great victory!
To get an idea of how long we had to hide our relationship, you can also read Chronology!