If we were to choose a Christian patron saint for ourselves, Uzma and I would probably select Saint Patrick, the “Apostle of Ireland” and not Saint Valentine. After all, it was on a celebration of St. Patrick’s day 21 years ago that we both took our chance on love. I asked her out. She accepted, although I was wearing a hideous green shirt that day and I had not made a good first impression a few months ago.
It was the beginning of an improbable love story. It wasn’t just that she was Muslim and I am Hindu. It was that she was born in Pakistan and me in India. It wasn’t just that she was born in Pakistan. She was born of parents who had migrated to Pakistan when the country was born and had witnessed, first hand, the horrors of partition. They had been persecuted by Hindus and Sikhs on their journey out. It wasn’t just that I was born in India. I belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community that was ethnically cleansed out of its homeland by Pakistan-supported Muslim extremists.
Yet, in Chicago, where we met, we learned to see ourselves and each other as not just vessels carrying that history, but as individuals with our own independent identities. Influenced by our ancestry, but not beholden to it. Our separate stories made us stronger as a couple, even if our couple-hood was hard for some to accept.
Against many odds, we nurtured our love day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Romeo and Juliet have nothing on us. Theirs wasn’t a love story. Theirs was a tale of infatuation, a crush. The narrative pace of that play belies the fact that Romeo saw and fell in love with Juliet on a Sunday evening and they were dead by the following Thursday — a mere 4 days later.
In both our countries of origin, there are extremists —primarily of the religious and cultural type, who hate Valentine’s Day. They think it is a corrupting western influence. They seem ignorant of the fact that every culture and subculture has its own poignant love story folk tale. How can saying yes to love be bad?
Though we owe more to St. Patrick, I say, “Folks, take a chance on love this Valentine’s Day and every day of the year.”
Is it easy? No.
Is it worth it? Absolutely!
And try not to be like Romeo and Juliet.