"It was against all odds...
but we couldn't go down not trying"
Meet Lisa and Varunav. We sat down with them at a cafe in West London before lockdown.
Both of them grew up in foreign countries before moving to London to study. Lisa comes from Moscow and Varunav grew up in New Delhi.
On paper they come from two very different countries. But they were surprised by the similarities they found between their cultural values.
Here's their full story:
Going for the girl
Lisa and Varunav started dating while studying their Masters at the London School of Economics - a school known for bringing in students from all over the world.
But that's not where they first came across each other.
They actually spent their earlier years in the UK doing the same undergraduate course at the same university in Surrey. Lisa was seeing another person at the time, but it didn't stop Varunav from noticing her.
V: "I knew of her but she didn't know me!"
L: "We knew of each other's existence, but I don't even remember speaking to him once. He says he remembers we did."
They bumped into each other again at LSE when Lisa spotted him on a Facebook group set up by LSE to welcome their new cohort. He messaged her to say hi but in the first year their different friendship groups kept them from properly interacting with each other.
Varunav came back from a year abroad in the US with a new drive to make things finally happen with Lisa. He spoke to a friend about his plan to take Lisa out on a date but had some doubts:
V: "She's in a different league all together, she doesn't even know us"
It didn't help that they had some first impressions to overcome.
Lisa first saw Varunav as an "arrogant spoiled brat". He was well dressed, and has a relentless confidence about him. It was only in the relationship that she discovered that he was actually a true romantic.
L: "Even though he doesn't look that way, he's a big softie!"
On Varunav's side, he saw Lisa as a fun loving party girl, but already could tell there was more under the surface / than meets the eye.
V: "I thought she was hiding something that she didn't want people to know about her. And I realised what that was when I first bought her flowers - when I saw her smile for 15 minutes straight!"
Since January, he tried to ask her out and make conversation. Finally she said yes to a date in March.
V: "She was bloody hard to catch... and it finally happened in March! Little did we know, it was too late."
Separated by COVID for 6 months
When COVID started making its way around the world, both Lisa and Varunav decided to head back home to their countries for a month to wait out till the situation got better.
A month went by, then two months, three months... eventually it turned into 6 months apart.
They unintentionally found themselves in the middle of a long distance relationship.
While staying away from the pandemic, they stayed in touch over the phone, talking for at least two hours almost every day.
V: "If my phone was buzzing, it was only Lisa, or else it was not buzzing" "For one hour, we were just saying good night to each other"
Keeping them connected were the memories of the 5 days they had spent with each other, and a bond they had unconsciously formed.
V: "Those 5 days LASTED for the 6 - 7 months while we were apart.... If it wouldn't have worked out the way it has today - I would have been happy with just those 5 days."
Sharing cultures - India and Russia
While taking photos with them, Varunav showed us a silver bracelet that Lisa had gifted him with an inscription in Hindi on the inside. Translated it reads: "You are my world".
It's a beautiful symbol of not only her love for him, but how much she's embraced his culture. And on Christmas, Varunav surprised her with a matching bracelet with the same inscription, in Russian.
Lisa celebrated Diwali with Varunav and his friends, has tried a lot of new Indian foods, listened to Punjabi music, and watched the Indian movies he has introduced to her.
In turn, Varunav proudly announces he has started learning some Russian. He starts demonstrating with the items on our table in the cafe.
He even surprised her one day.
L: "He told me we were going to an Indian temple, and told me to bring my head scarf.. But instead he took me to a Russian restaurant!" "Think he likes Russian drinks more than the food!"
They were both very surprised to find a lot of similarities between Russia and India - in terms of the underlying values on family and friendship, even similar foods
V:"We have a dumpling dish called mo mos, everyone in India loves them. In Russia they have pelmeni, turns out - same thing."
They hadn't felt a clash of cultural views so far and when asked if it was important that their partner took part in their culture, they responded:
L: "Even if you aren't interested in your partners culture you should at least acknowledge it and RESPECT it. You respect the traditions, the values, and how they are brought up."
V: "I see it as a way to learn more. Who can teach you more than your own partner?"
Both of them now live in London, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, but they noted there's still some work to get to full acceptance in their home countries.
L: "In Russia, there is still a lot of racism happening - they wouldn't judge, but wouldnt understand why I wouldn't choose a Russian... My parents are happy, they just want me to be treated right. But if my parents' friends find out, that would be different story."
Although Varunav always teases Lisa about how she wouldn't be able to survive in India if she couldn't eat spicy food or handle mosquitos, he genuinely looks forward to the day he can show her his country.
V: "If I take her to India, everyone will be shocked for the first 20 seconds, shocked in awe! Looking at how pretty she is and her features. BUT they would be so accepting, and very PROUD of the fact that she is entering into our culture, and they'd be super welcoming."
While the older generation can still be judgemental, it's a new world - Varunav notes how over the last years, Indians continue to grow more multicultural as they travel all around the world.
Despite who might disapprove in the wider context, their friends (and especially their peers from LSE) are some of their most enthusiast supporters:
V: "Whenever I post a pic of her, my Instagram is flooded. I'd get 40 to 50 DMS all saying you guys are so cute. [jokingly] Guys calm down!"
📺 Currently watching:
Bollywood Wives (V: "NO! We are striking that off the record")
✈️ Next travel plan:
V: I'll take her to India.
L: I'd love to take him to Moscow. (V: I'll be speaking Russian everywhere!)
🍦 Favourite ice cream flavour: Lisa's is green tea ice cream. Varunav's is a mystery.