Breaking Barriers with Love & Spiritual Togetherness ~ Merle & Kumar Dodhia

by on October 5, 2011

He is a Gujarati Jain whose parents are from Kenya, while she is an Anglo Indian from Chennai. A couple who found each other in their thirties and discovered love, security & spirituality in their togetherness, & by breaking barriers to come together. They enjoy sharing the housework & eating out at weekends, attending the Sunday Church, reading books on health & fitness, and above all, talking about their children. He is an idealist and influenced by his readings of Ayn Rand while she is more practical & level-headed. They both work in different capacities with the fashion design house of their son, Sidney Sladen.


Interviewing elders - Merle- Kumar Dodhia

Jigyasa&Pratibha: Both of you married in your 30s. Tell us how you met.
She: I took up a job in his family business, Dodhia group of companies, in Kenya in 1982. Both of us met and instantly took a liking to each other. But I was not very keen to settle down as I had been married earlier & had two children.


J&P: How did your families react to your decision to marry each other?
She: My family is quite liberal; many of my cousins have married in different cultures. But his family was not very happy with the decision.


He: My family was quite disapproving for many reasons – intercaste marriage, my decision to adopt both her children, and also because of my religious conversion.


She: We shifted to India in 1989 & had a simple marriage in 1996. Once our daughter Damara was born, his family became more accepting. In fact, now things have changed and within my own family, there have been many marriages outside the community.


J&P: May we ask what brought about the religious inclination?
He: I studied in Millfield school, one of the finest schools in England, from the age of 14 to 19. It shaped me and made me who I am. My housemaster was a Reverend and his religiosity had a great influence on me. Though my father was a Gujarati Jain, I felt drawn towards the church. After I met her, I embraced Christianity.


She: After we met, his interest in the Bible deepened and we started reading it more seriously & in depth.


J&P: What made you move to India?
He: When I was 12, I came to India for a 2-month visit. That time I promised myself that I would come here & settle down as soon as I could.


J&P: Did your decision to marry affect your careers?
He: I left my family business, came to India and started a STD / PCO booth. I did that for a decade, the last 4 years were very successful & I was declared the 2nd best collector in North Chennai. But once the computers & internet world took over, I had to shut down.


She: I am trained in Montessori education. So we decided to start a play school in Aminijikarai. We even educated children from the nearby slums. Around 2001, both of us started helping our son Sidney as his fashion designing was expanding well.


J&P: What was it that attracted each of you to the other?
He: She is a beautiful & immensely caring person.


She: He has always been very understanding. But I must tell you that when we met, he really pursued me. Because of my first marriage, I was hesitant. He never pushed me, but convinced me in his calm & patient manner.


He: Love is a very fragile emotion and one must learn to be patient. I remember my excitement when we got married. Everything seemed new – new wife, new land. I felt like I was ready to start anew.


She: And he is very fond of both my children.


He: When I met her, I wanted to marry her, but more than anything, I wanted to be a true father to Sidney & Vivien.


J&P: Ah, and what about other things? Do you share responsibilities at home?
She: Oh yes, even now if the domestic help doesn’t turn up, he vacuums, irons & cleans the vessels. Even though such has not been the trend in his family, I think because he has travelled extensively & grew up in a boarding school, he is not conventional in his outlook.


He: I think this is more because of the training from my school days in a hostel.


She: Our routines are fairly simple and we are not fussy eaters and keep mealtimes a simple affair.


He: In fact, we have healthy eating habits. Every day, she includes an assortment of vegetables in our meals. Her mother used to do that.


J&P: We can see some interesting health books on the table. And your refrigerator has many health food packets. Are the children health conscious as well?
He: Oh yes, our elder daughter Vivien who lives in Australia keeps sending us health foods. Last week, she sent us a packet of detox tablets that we are quite excited about.


She: It is a one-week program, so we will do that when we are sure there won’t be a break. In fact, Damara asked us the other day why home food is considered healthier than eating out. We had an interesting conversation about cleanliness, fresh food & health benefits. In fact, even though she is young, she is quite health conscious.


J&P: Name one change you would like to see in each other.
He: That’s a difficult question, there are more things I like in her than the few minor ones that I don’t. Maybe her habit of buying things for the children. She could be more disciplined in that.


She: He keeps telling me the same & then spoils them rotten when he goes shopping. When a relationship begins each one tries to impress the other, but with time, you become so comfortable that there is no pretense. You start knowing and understanding the other completely.


He: At whatever stage life provides everything else if there is love.


First published in October 2011 in Harmony – Celebrate Age Magazine for the column – Soul Food and Soul Mates. Part-2 of this post is the Coconut Dal Rice & Devil Chutney from the kitchen of Merle & Kumar Dodhia – the 4th couple featured in this column.


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