There are always certain questions that come to our minds when we think of love. How do we find love? How do we know that the person who we have chosen is the right one? And if everything goes well, how will our families accept our relationship and the immutable love that we have for each other? For some, the answers are readily available, but for some, they have to fight their battles.
And Manish and Etienne’s story is the latter one.
Etienne, originally from France came to India for 6 months in 2013. Being a spontaneous and adventurous guy, he wanted to know more about what India had to offer to him. Manish, had a passion to know new cultures; travel and language was his way to go about it. With their interests matching, they met through a global homestay and social networking website. When they met, they didn’t know the other person’s sexuality, it was not even a factor in them becoming friends, it came as a natural discussion with their interest in each other. Unfiltered conversations, and the idea of comforting company brought them together. With every conversation that they had, there felt the spark growing, and continued the journey towards getting to know one another, however they didn’t confess their feelings until Etienne found a way to stay in India by taking a job in Vapi. Spending four days at work and the next 7 hours on a bus or a train, Etienne always managed to spend his weekends with Manish in Pune. This friendship grew into love and in their words, it was organic.
With the time spent together, Manish meeting Etienne’s family, conversing with them even with a language barrier and Etienne having a sense of acceptance through attending Manish’s sister’s wedding, they felt what they never felt for anyone else. For both of them, the decision to be with each other was coherent. Though Etienne had visa challenges; the charming country, the food, the culture, the people and the friends he made were the catalysts for him to take that leap and continue his stay in India. Thus began a love story which stands as a source of inspiration to many in the world today.
So, who proposed to whom?
Just like their love story, the decision to get married came organically after having lived together for 6 years in India. They wanted to have a ceremony with their friends and families, but it wasn’t an easy ride.
Though times are changing in India, there is still a stigma associated with same-sex marriage and in Manish’s words, “more than preparing for the wedding, we invested a lot of time to research about the possibility of us getting married because of our nationalities. We just wanted a document from the government officials in India stating that I wasn’t married before however it wasn’t easy in our case. The officials wanted to meet both sets of parents and give their consent to a heterosexual marriage! Thankfully the French Government really helped us out. When they realised that it wasn’t going to be easy for us back in India, they were worried about both of us and our safety. They worked it out in France and a few months later we exchanged our vows in France in the presence of our friends and family”.
While Manish journeyed through his torment, Etienne and his family stood by him as a pillar of strength, courage, support and acceptance. “Our marriage wouldn’t have been possible without Etienne’s family’s support. Right from the beginning when they came down to India to meet us, making the effort to learn English so that we could converse better, being welcoming and letting me be a part of their family, which I proudly call ours now, I owe a bigger credit to them. This feeling of family was quite fulfilling”, said Manish.
A Canadian dream
Coming out isn’t easy. While most Indians are conditioned to live a certain way, Manish and Etienne wanted to live their lives freely. They wanted to enjoy the small moments like going out together and being able to tell people that the other person that they are living with is their partner. However the possibility of it still seemed difficult in India.
“I have been working on my relationship with my parents and I was okay to start our married life in India, but on the other hand, we wanted to live freely, to just feel normal in our personal and professional environment, and not hide about it. However with each passing day, our frustration was growing and it was getting difficult for us to continue in India. That’s when we consciously decided that we wanted to move out and Canada seemed to be a great option. Etienne’s brother was living here, no one questioned us on our sexuality or the person we are married to, the simple joys, which truly make the life. Things eased out and everything worked well for us”, said Manish.
While all of this came in their favour – with meeting each other six years ago, to living together, getting married and moving to a new country to start their life, there was something else that mattered as much to Manish – his parents’ blessings. “I come from a conservative Marwari family where my parents wanted me to complete my education, join the family business, get married to a girl and settle down. Though I was not very certain about my sexuality, I wanted to try my best for my parents as I have seen them loving and taking care of their parents. There’s immense love in our family and I wanted to reciprocate the same. I even tried dating a few girls in college. Though they were amazing, I wasn’t able to work it out and that’s when I realised that if I wasn’t able to work it out with them, I could never work it out with another girl, whom I would be getting married to under a pretense”.
“After having moved to Pune for my masters and working in the city for a few years, I moved to the US for a year. The time that I spent there really gave me a perspective about who I am, who I wanted to be and how I wanted my life to be”, said Manish. “Right before I returned to India, I told my sister, who I consider to be a motherly figure to me about my sexuality and she then told my parents. And I didn’t know about this even after I came to India. When I got to know about the fact that my parents already knew about my sexuality, I confronted them. They were in denial and said that everything was in my head and that time would bring in the change. That’s when I decided to open up and told them about what I was going through for years and that it wasn’t just a phase. With the pressure from society, they even set me up to see girls, went to a psychiatrist and even did poojas at the temples. With time, it has changed and it’s been a constant process. As my family and I cruised through accepting my identity, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support that I received from my friends from the LGBTQI+ community and allies alike. They helped me retain my sanity and when Etienne came into my life, things fell in perspective for me”.
That being said, Manish strongly feels that one shouldn’t rush through the process of coming out to their family and peers. It’s a decision that the individual has to make and if one has decided to come out, let their family, friends and peers know about them, and they should do it at the earliest. Because, as you took the time to come to terms with your sexuality, your family would need the time too. Then again, it’s important for one not to succumb to societal pressure and keep their wits. One needs to mould their life the way they want, than giving in to the pressure of expectations. We have fought through for our rights, and, one mustn’t give up, because life is a journey and it’s in your hands to make that journey worthwhile.
“When I told my parents about our intention to get married, it was huge because they always wanted me to get married. Fate and faith work in mysterious ways. Though they didn’t come to our wedding, I’m sure their prayers of wanting to get me married came true. Etienne’s family and our friends from all over the world came to our wedding and we were beyond words with all the love and affection”.
Rumi once said, “your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it” and Manish and Etienne, they fought their battles, focused on their journey and trounce the barriers that were built against. To live this happy life which is an ever evolving dream and blossoming reality, through the hunger to have more than what the society dictates and by tackling their challenges to get more from life.
We wish this beautiful couple all the happiness in their life together and the strength to tackle any obstacles that might come their way.