“Gorian naley viah ni karona”— five words almost every Indo-Canadian cis-male has heard from their parents, grandparents, and even random aunties and uncles they have never met.
I have heard those five words since I was a pre-teen, probably even earlier. Today, I’m in a long-term relationship with a gori and I don’t hear those words much anymore. This is my story.
I would consider myself to be a progressive person. My immediate family hasn’t always been open-minded; in some areas they were, others they weren’t. If dating a girl outside of your caste is taboo, imagine how taboo dating a girl outside of your ethnicity is.
When I first brought a gori home, I was 19 and it was a culture shock for everyone involved. My family thought it was just a phase I was going through and that I would grow out of it. It was difficult for them to get used to the idea of me dating a gori, and that made the relationship difficult not only for me, but also my girlfriend at the time.
There were certain factors that complicated our relationship, beginning with my family's preconceived notions of what my partner should be/look like, but also the differences in our upbringings and socialisation.
For example, in Indian culture, it’s customary to greet every person in a household when you enter and engage in small talk. This was a difficult concept to grasp for my ex-girlfriend because she wasn’t raised this way.
It led to awkward smiles from my family when she was around, as well as side eye glares in my direction when she wouldn’t greet everyone. She started greeting everyone eventually after I explained this custom to her, but she never really became comfortable with it.
To be fair, I live in a joint family and there were over 10 people living in my house at the time, which is a lot of people to greet.
However, it goes beyond greetings and small talk. Indian families have an expectation that the person that their child is dating maintains a relationship with them as well. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that expectation, it’s an important aspect of my culture. But it can be difficult for a non-Indian who wasn’t raised this way to adjust—especially considering this was in the first few months of the relationship.
My family took this as a sign of disrespect and questioned my decision to date her, which led to me harbouring resentment towards them because I just wanted them to be happy for me. They couldn’t see past the expectations they had for their Indian son; they wanted me to be with a Punjabi woman, preferably Jatt (my family’s caste).
Another glaring difficulty was the language barrier, as not everyone in my family can speak fluent English, and my ex couldn’t speak Punjabi or Hindi. It can be tough to establish a relationship when the people involved don’t share a language that they both speak fluently. Still, I believe my family and my ex both could’ve made a more concerted effort to make this relationship work.
Among the various reasons this relationship only lasted a few months, my ex having a tough time adjusting to my culture was one of them (and vice versa for my family). I knew that if I was to bring a white woman home again, I would have to find the right person because being an outsider in my culture isn’t easy.
A year and a half passed, and I brought another gori home. This time it was different.
My family started to realise that this wasn’t a phase I was going through. They had to accept that a person’s ethnic background wasn’t the first detail on my mind when looking for a partner.
During the year and a half between these two relationships, there was also an interracial marriage in my extended family, and the idea of an interracial relationship became much more normalized for them.
The biggest difference between these two relationships was how quickly my family came to appreciate and adore my current girlfriend.
Being from Quebec, she too came from a family-oriented culture, so she recognized the importance of maintaining relationships. Even though there was a language barrier, she made an effort to talk with everyone. My Biji—who can only speak English in phrases—loves the short conversations they have because my girlfriend makes an effort.
My family could relate with her as well, as English also wasn’t her first language.
Most importantly, my family saw how happy she made me and recognized that that is what matters most. After my first relationship with a white woman, I didn’t know if it was possible for them to ever accept me dating one. They didn’t make it easy on me (and themselves), but I respect them for unlearning some of their ingrained biases and giving my relationship a chance. My family and I are all the more happier for it too because our relationship improved too.
My girlfriend & I attending family functions as a couple also helped them open up to the relationship. Seeing her interact with my extended family and dance to our music made the relationship much more real in their eyes.
As an Indo-Canadian, if you date a person long enough, your family will want you to bring them to family functions. I recognize the irony in this statement, but it can be daunting for a white person to participate in these spaces.
These functions are filled with extended family—mamas, mamis, fuffads, bhujis, massis, family friends, and more. Some you’re close with, others (most of them), not so much.
Just because my immediate family evolved doesn’t mean my extended family had that same level of growth. It took them longer to open up to the idea of me dating a gori. Some still don’t support it, even outwardly in the form of criticising my parents for failing as parents.
This has also affected my relationship with the extended family that criticised my parents. You can’t win over everyone, but most of my extended family support my relationship now, which is what matters. Them getting a chance to interact with my girlfriend at these functions definitely played a part.
In terms of the experience of attending one of these functions, prepare to get stares and be whispered about. It can be unnerving to be stared at and gossiped about solely for your choice of partner. While the stares and whispers don’t happen as often as they used to, and you get used to them over time, you’ll run into distant family members who barely know you and the process begins again.
One of the aspects that I really dislike about my culture are the unfair and sexist expectations placed on women. An example in the case of family functions is how it is shameful for women to drink alcohol, but the men can stand around the bar all night and they receive much less shaming, if any at all.
From the first family function my girlfriend and I went to together, I told her to not follow this sexist socialisation, and that I would support her if anyone in my immediate or extended family had anything to say about it.
As a man, it’s extremely important to stick up for your partner when they’re being criticised by your family for not adhering to conservative principles. It’s not that your partner can’t stick up for themselves, but doing all of the work in pushing back against these principles shouldn’t just fall on women.
Plus, let’s be real, attending these family functions sober? No, thank you.
Although my girlfriend and I are in a long-term relationship, we don’t want to get married soon; it’s a possibility though which will come with its own set of challenges. However, that hasn’t stopped pretty much every single person in my immediate and extended families to say, “viah kadho karona?” whenever I see them.
Is it annoying? Yes. But hey, it beats “Gorian naley viah ni karona.”
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