Abhishek has been my significant other for five years. We met at work and have been together ever since. He is a Bihari-Bengali, and I am a Muslim with roots in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Should this matter to our narrative? No. But it does in present-day India.
We’re the same age and in the same profession. Our values align, and we both want similar things from life. Our socio-economic backgrounds are the same. Heck, even our family structures are identical. But like many other multicultural and interfaith relationships in India, we face obstacles and societal practices that keep getting worse.
In 2018, we, as consenting adults, expressed our interest to marry to our families. Both of our experiences have been insanely complicated and wildly different ever since. We were not allowed to see each other even though we worked together. Abhishek could go out to work and meet his friends. I was in lock-up.
We then had to be separated by even more distance and I was sent to the US, which only added to our pain. Those six months felt like a lifetime. I was isolated, had no friends there and found myself alienated more than ever before.
Abhishek moved out to Hyderabad. He tried to bury himself with work and new connections, hoping it would help him stay sane. I prayed on some of those dark days that we would go our separate ways if this wasn’t meant to work out. And yet, we held on to each other through endless nights, fears and tears, and a nine-hour time difference.
Thankfully, a friend in India had my back and cheered us on. We devised a plan for my exit from the US and from my family. Abhishek was there to help fund my escape plan, and so I ran away on August 19, 2019.
My running away story seems very filmy to everyone who knows it. “All for love,” they say. But the trauma I carry from everything that happened before, during, and after still gives me nightmares.
We moved to Pune and started living together in a rented apartment without our families knowing. It was a blessing that we couldn’t have dreamt of. We found our way back to each other in new ways; there was just so much love. We gave each other a safe space that we called home, something our parents could never provide. Not in this lifetime. We worked together, dined out with friends, went on long drives and had late-night ice cream dates.
Everything we had there was ours. Nothing was given to us. We fought for ourselves and savoured each day – it was a year of pure bliss. This, however, does not mean we did not have bad days. All relationships have ups and downs, right? But our issues always had to take a back seat when confronted with family drama.
Nothing united us better than the bricks that our families threw at us.
Did that make our relationship toxic? I do wonder sometimes if we’re only together to teach our parents a lesson. But the love and respect we have for each other is a good enough answer.
In January 2021, we finally decided to take our relationship to the next level. Abhishek suggested we get married. Marriage is something we had been ready for quite a long time; the parent-dilemma was the only concern holding us back. We told our friends and booked a venue, got the outfits and fixed a date at the court. We were ready to elope.
But life had other plans.
Come March 24, two weeks before our wedding, our plan fell apart. My family found out about my marriage and trapped me into going back to them. It felt like the worst heartbreak one could go through, like someone had punched a hole through my chest. I cried myself through our first week apart.
Outside, the sun rose and set. I, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine how life could still go on.
After heated discussions and some begging on my part, my family settled on letting me live my way. One would imagine that half the battle had been won. That things would at least get easier, if not better.
There are new terms and conditions. I am not allowed to meet Abhishek or step out of the house unattended. And if we want to have a chance of being together, we have been advised to leave the country. Every day since then, I have imagined a billion scenarios.
Once again, I find myself alone, hopeless, and caged in this place that is my home. His family has no idea about any of this. Amidst all this, Abhishek contracted COVID-19 and thankfully made a full recovery.
This whole ordeal made us realise that even parental love and affection are conditional: ‘Be who we want you to be and we will give you our love and support. Deviate, and you shall find yourself on your own.’
Not once did we wish any harm on anybody or intend to cause problems to our families. We know all that they’ve done for us and are grateful for it. But we never imagined the lengths they’d go to save their name and social standing. We foresaw hurdles, but not this. We didn’t expect them to choose society over their children.
I would say our first significant mistake was waiting a year before deciding to marry. It was a human thing – we needed that time to figure ourselves out. The second was hiring the lawyer that we did for the court arrangements.
Some folks expect me to do more instead of just taking it lying down. I am supposed to get up and run away from home again. Not once do they acknowledge the state of my mental health. Just the act of getting out of bed and showing up to work some days is a chore, but these things go unnoticed.
This journey has opened my eyes to the reality that we’re not the only ones who are suffering. There are stories far more disturbing and worse than ours. But we have a voice and the means to use it. If we can talk about our pain and shed light on our struggles, maybe it will provide courage to others who need it.
Our fight continues. The story isn’t over yet. I am still locked inside the four walls that I ran away from. He is out there making sure we have our chance.
There is still hope for AbRu.
Rumana Shaikh is a designer at Team Codesign. When she’s not scrolling aimlessly through IG reels or avoiding client calls, she is binge-eating. She enjoys and consumes the horror/thriller genre in all forms.
Abhishek is a design strategist at Team Codesign. When he’s not busy with client calls, you can spot him reading non-fiction or playing FIFA with his roommate.