How rural India radically shifted my life, leading to intercultural marriage.

Prior to a spontaneous travel decision, I knew virtually nothing about India. Beyond the most elementary geographical knowledge, I did not yet know the vast depth of culture, traditions and hospitality of India that soon awaited me.

Life had been passing me by with my career pursuits. Playing it safe and still compromising my dreams of being more, already 30 years old, I knew there was a richness missing in my life. Looking back, it is embarrassing to admit just how long I waited, and how little I was then willing to risk in order to grow. I knew back then my reason of “why” to break out, but I had not yet discovered the “how.”

Breaking Away, And Forever.

For years I sought answers to my isolated lifestyle, one that was heavy in technology. The bright side of my life story only began the day I took the courageous step to buy the plane ticket to India.

Diving straight into the deep end of the pool is where my life experience with India began. I needed a strong shot of disruption and chaos to blast through the patterns and habits that had not been serving me, but imprisoning me. I was convinced that this disruptive step would be the method of upending my life. My goal, at an absolute minimum, would be to infuse new perspectives and opportunities into my hopelessly bland existence at the time.

The matter of deciding upon the destination of India was reached when I was certain I had reached my low-point and could go no lower. Feeling as though I had reached a permanent dead-end in my life, I was prayerfully seeking insights throughout every day. I was ready to start over with my life completely. Just when I was sure there was nothing, there came a moment of insight.

“What you seek is seeking you.” — Rumi

India calling

Seemingly unrelated circumstances of my father miraculously intersected with mine about this time, as though I had summoned them myself. They appeared as the catalyst for a metaphysical intersection of my life with India.

My father was on a career sabbatical at that time. His own quest for life and career fulfillment led him to serving as a physician for years in a series of foreign countries. At this particular time, while I was facing my purgatory period, he was working in one of the most remote corners of India.

It was a Christian hospital in the center of an isolated village. Unlike a big city in every respect, it was populated with a predominance of indigenous peoples with tribal languages. Without local assistance, even Indian national languages offered only limited communication with the remote villagers.

A single hospital campus resident was recruited to bridge the impossible gap that existed for otherwise helpless visitors. Her name was Asha. She was the foreign communications linchpin, the go-to facilitator for all foreign guests. Filling the gaps between visitors, she was journalist for several publications.

A chance introduction to Asha during a phone call with my father instantaneously cemented the opportunity of India travel in my mind. This fell perfectly into place for my disruptive quest for connection.

My father at that time had already encouraged me in letters to take advantage of visting this remote corner of India. Though having quietly dismissed it in prior weeks, it was now again on the table.

Given the alignment of events in my life, I was convinced a trip to this most remote village was somehow, mysteriously, the disruption and reboot my life required.

I further rationalized the travel decision with the fact I had relatively little to lose and potentially everything to gain. Most importantly, this journey aligned with my principles of living authentic local life abroad, in no way touristy.

I was alone, I took a ride
I didn’t know what I would find there
Another road where maybe I could see another kind of mind there

The Beatles, “Got To Get You Into My Life”

Life On The Other Side

The splendor of another, greater mind, awaited me in India. This “greater mind” of India was a complex integrated diversity of cultural minds. Words can still not fully articulate the experiences I had even within the first few hours of arriving in India. It was far beyond my wildest dreams, and precisely the kind of jolt I needed at the time.

No time was wasted getting the next train out of Kolkata with the students who had been recruited to bring me to the village. After a total of 48 hours of planes, trains, taxis, and jeeps, I arrived.

The first phase of my journey concluded with the serene landscape of bicycles, ox carts, and the villagers. The crowds and sorts of people I saw throughout the big city were long gone. This was not at all how I imagined India could be. It was farm country and suprisingly sparsely populated. With improved air quality and overall less pollution in contrast to the city, it was magnificent simplicity. The pace of life was relaxed and calm.

Despite an outward physical appearance of poverty, there was an unmistakable underlying richness to life, a true human connection.

After several initial days in guest quarters, I spent the remainder of my time with a new found host family. This transition to living in an Indian home was the beginning of incredible spontaneous events that filled the remainder of my visit and put the rest of my entire life on edge.

Understanding that I wanted to have the most authentic experience of India possible, Asha’s family invited me into their modest hospital provided quarters. It was a three room, duplex style home with smooth cemented floors and asbestos roof. Outside was a spacious courtyard and outdoor cooking area. There was rarely electricity and no running water of any kind. Despite the spartan nature of the quarters, it was clean and tidy.

Into the second week, I was already adapting to every custom I could observe. I slept in straw beds on a cement floor. I ate using only my hand, sitting outside in the courtyard on a mat. The chickens stealthily awaited the moment I would turn my back momentarily, to then immediately confiscate the rice on my plate.

The flow of operating from a perspective of simplicity was revolutionary and refreshing. Though simple, it was not an experience to be interpreted as easy. Simple also was far from being free of difficulties and hardships due to constraints of resources and cultural traditions. It was still absolute challenge and growth for me.

Through the experience of less in the material sense, I experienced an inner, expanded, fulfillment of being. My momentary experience was gradually all which possibly mattered. It was paradoxical, and with glimpses into the truly mystical in my interactions among the local peoples. This was unmistakably a life of authentic being and connectedness. My long-sought remedy, the connection, was here and now.

My mind, having now expanded and shifted beyond my own comprehension, was never going to be the same. There was no going back. I could see a bigger future and I then refused to ever again be chained to my limited past. The disconnected and isolated version of myself had already become obsolete and had vanished.

Despite my series of epiphanies, I could not escape the reality of inevitable return to career and desolate apartment life in Seattle. To return back was somehow inconceivable. My determination was to find a way to stay and get further integrated.

Going Way Out and Beyond

For the last stage of this trip, Asha arranged that we stay the remainder at a Leprosy Mission Hospital that required a full day’s travel. This is where her mother served as a lead nurse. Never did I imagine we would be taking such a trip, but I was thrilled with the notion of what awaited us. To think I would ever be living in simple staff quarters within close proximity of leprosy patients was something far beyond my imagination. My life was unfolding mysteriously into realms stranger than fiction, and I was thriving with the anticipation of what would come next.

The drastic changes of my life perspective continued to compound with my experiences at this hospital while learning about the lives of the patients. Outside of the hospital campus, Asha and I spent time going on walks and shopping in the nearby town. The cities surrounding the hospital campus were considerably more developed than the village where she originated. Here I could witness other kinds of diversity, the contrasting sorts of lives people lived. I could see it, but I still could not understand it. But my lack of understanding did not lessen the allure to all I was experiencing.

During this time, Asha and I had time to connect the dots between our life experiences at great length. Our stories aligned and resonated with each other. We discussed our common outlier perspectives in our respective cultures during the day, and enjoyed a cozy family setting, preparing meals with her mother, back in the modest quarters each night.

Being already 31 years old in India, and unmarried, Asha’s situation was uncommon. It was not, however, due to a lack of marriage proposals. It was that some circumstances of her life were far removed from normal, and she would not compromise by going with conventional thinking. Being new to the land and culture, I could not fully comprehend everything Asha was telling me. I was absorbing everything like a sponge, but what she was unpacking in our conversations would take me years to fully comprehend.

Her uncompromising values for equality, backed with unshakable resolve, were not the desired attributes of a woman in this society. For a traditional marriage in a man dominated society, such views were a non-starter.

For this reason and others, she had been living a life packed full of challenges on multiple levels. Already it was clear to me that, fundamentally, our values were in alignment despite our diverse cultural frameworks. Finding ourselves previously alone, in the darkness of our lives, we began to discover our own light. We began envisioning a future together.

Creating The Future

By the day of my departure, we had concluded that there was absolutely a new window of opportunity appearing in our lives. Yet there were those lingering doubts about cultural and logistical gaps we could both never quite entirely shake. Those elements were to nearly destroy me in the agonizing struggle that awaited me in the coming year.

Upon returning from my immersive, and course-correcting life altering journey, I faced what seemed to be insurmountable challenges. I had barely touched the tip of the iceberg, and had no idea how to proceed. I was alone, and there was nobody whom I could relate to about my deeper experiences.

Nobody paid as much attention to my going as they did to the announcement I made upon my return. That is when everyone freaked out, with my news that I had fallen madly in love during my trip. My plan to return, to marry Asha in India, was nothing anybody could take seriously.

Pollyanna

Such a radical shift in my life approach indicated to my friends and family I had taken leave of my senses, and had somehow lost capacity for rational thinking. Had I been drugged, joined a cult, or converted to something else? Not at all. Instead, this was the first step on my journey of massive inner shifting that had been coming for a while.

The trip to India, coinciding with meeting Asha, was the grand tipping point. I turned to my internal compass for life course correction. Previously I was adhering closely along the lines of society’s brand of normal. Like so many name brands, normal is perhaps the most costly of them all.

“A normal person is what is left after society has squeezed out all unconventional opinions and aspirations out of a human being.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Closing The Gap

Fast forward through one year, after that first trip, I returned to India. This time I was in possession of a United States fiancée visa, nearly completed. There was no guarantee we would be able to return together, but I bought her ticket anyway.

We needed more verifications, a seemingly endless list of various approvals to fulfill all the government requirements. The visa process was mind-boggling in its complexity. The optimistic aspect was that our paperwork was in the government’s system, ready for further processing.

We had to travel for days in a train to the opposite end of the country. None of us had ever done that. Nobody in Asha’s family or circle was familiar with Mumbai to help us. Against all odds, we boarded and survived that extended train ride for days across the country. Being vulnerable as a white man with an unmarried Indian woman, her brother and brother in law were continually at our sides.

Once in Mumbai, we proceeded with her visa. That led to our later marriage, and a new life together.

“We get together on the basis of our similarities; we grow on the basis of our differences.” — Virginia Satir

Fast forward twenty years, we have countless enriching travel experiences between cultures and countries, including three children in their teens.

We just celebrated twenty year wedding anniversary. Coinciding with this I just received my OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) from the India government. This is the closest one gets to full Indian citizenship, and provides me nearly equivalent rights of native citizens of India.

Marriage in 1998

The expanded version of this story is the topic of my upcoming book. If you are inspired, please follow me, clap below, and share this story. Tell me your impressions one way or the other. I look forward to the new doors this can open between you, me, and a bigger, authentic cultural world. There is more to come, much more.

Not a Bollywood India, but real India

If there was ever a time to innovate and expand new intercultural bridges in the world, it is now. Through our twenty years of gathered insights, my wife and I are able to launch projects based in rural Indian villages, destined to lead to revolutionary benefits for both sides. Though we have ideas, we need your ideas and help even more! Help can be in the form of mere suggestions and ideas or concerns, helping establish this platform, or even travel and witness this culture in a mutually beneficial way.

Getting involved with what we have envisioned will be filled with exciting and fulfilling opportunities regardless of your interest. This is for anyone with authentic desire to discover and learn more about India far beyond what they know today, as real and foundational as it can get. What we already have in mind will develop new and much needed global connections, opportunities to build cultural bridges, all leading to growth in new dimensions. We are looking for you, the one with interest in making this happen. Priorities are focused initially in the realms of village-based business, education, and much needed medical facilities. More on those topics coming soon.

Let’s connect!

I’ve created a mailing list for you and for all of us with interest. To contact me or learn more my story or about these topics, get in touch by joining my list here.

Life through an intercultural lens, married in India twenty-three years ago.