Gurvinder Kaur, a Kenyan woman who left everything behind to marry a stranger in a foreign land, and her Canadian husband Surjit Singh Flora, narrate how their arranged marriage led to 17 years of blissful friendship and love.
“It is the dream of every girl to marry in her motherland, surrounded by her parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. Growing up, this is how I had envisioned my wedding, but when the day came, the dream I had always harboured turned out to be nothing more than just a dream.
My wedding in 2004 was nothing like I had imagined. I was far away from home in Canada, a country I had never lived in before. I was away from my parents, siblings and the friends I grew up with in Juja and Ngara areas in Nairobi. How did this come to be, you may ask.
It all began when I travelled to visit my aunt in Toronto, Canada. I had planned to be here for just a week or two. At the time, I was a 26-year-old single woman working at the then Universal College in Nairobi.
I had not taken a break from work for months. I felt worn out. Traveling thousands of kilometres away from home was my perfect getaway. I would rejuvenate and experience a new environment, a new nation, and a new people.
Things changed a few days after I arrived in Toronto in July 2004. My aunt thought that I would fit in the country and started pointing out opportunities in the country such as jobs with higher pay, jobs she thought I would like. But I still looked forward to returning to Kenya.
Everything I knew about life, from education to work, I had learned in Kenya. But she was determined that I stay, and told me that she’d hook me up with a man she thought would be a great husband. ‘You are ripe for marriage, and I have the right man for you. His name is Surjit Singh and he is a good man,’ she said.
I would later realise that this was no ordinary man, my aunt and his family had enjoyed a close friendship for years.
Although I did not brush off the idea at once, I was not sure that I was ready to leave my Kenyan identity behind. I finally got to meet him in one of the family parties my aunt and his relatives had organised towards the end of July 2004.
Unlike relationships where an introduction is made, and a prospective couple is allowed to go out on a date and evaluate if they are compatible, our die was cast. Surjit was going to be my husband.
Once we were introduced, we sat next to each other and engaged in some light banter. Although I had never met him before, I was immediately attracted to his soft voice and respectful sociability. He had bright eyes and a great sense of humour.
I still smile whenever I remember how I uncontrollably laughed the evening away at his jokes. In the following days after that meeting, my aunt informed my parents and relatives in Nairobi that she had found a husband for me, and we started our wedding preparations.
We did not date at all. On August 28, 2004, about three weeks after meeting, we got married at the Sikh Temple known as Golden Triangle Sikh Association, in Kitchener Canada.
My wedding day was a cocktail of happiness and sadness. It was the happiest day of my life and at the same time, the saddest. The stress and sadness that had overwhelmed me during the wedding planning phase manifested after I said my vows. It hurt deeply to get married without my loved ones close by to witness it.
It almost felt as if I didn’t have the blessing of my parents, but I took comfort in their assurance that they wished me good luck in my new marriage. Hard work began after our wedding. As two strangers who had come together to build a home, we had to quickly learn each other’s needs, hobbies, strengths, and weaknesses.
We had to adapt to each other and determine that we’d grow love and stick by one another from that moment until the end of our days. This was not easy at first, especially when our natural pet peeves started coming out of the closet.
However, because we had started by building a friendship, it was not too hard for us to gradually fall in love with each other, and to find our compatibility rhythm.
About one year later, in November 2005, we were blessed with our first born son, Satnam. We would later be blessed with our second born daughter Gurleen in August 2009.
Although arranged marriages in the modern world may seem outdated, my experience has been nothing but blissful.
Perhaps if the choice had been mine, I would have selected a bad mate for a life partner. My marriage has greatly benefited from my aunt’s insight on the type of man that suited me best.
Today, I have no regrets, and if I could turn back the clock, I would still marry Surjit – and bring my parents, siblings, and friends from Ngara to witness it all!”
Surjit Singh, 50
“I was working as an editor with the Punjabi Duniya, a newspaper in Canada when I met Kaur. I was 34 at the time and was extremely anxious when I was told that I would be meeting my wife at a party that July 2004. I wondered what I would do if she didn’t meet my expectations.
Deep down, I hoped that she was beautiful and admirable. I hoped she was attractive. I still remember how on that day I could hardly keep calm. I guess I could sense that she was the love I had been waiting for.
I was not wrong. She was gorgeous. She had this distinct smile and charm that filled the room. The moment I laid my eyes on her, I knew she was the woman I would marry.
It was the first time that Kaur had visited Canada, but this was home for me. I had lived in this country for 15 years at the time.
I was born in India in 1970, and moved to Canada in 1989 with my mum to fulfil my late father’s dream. He had migrated to Canada in 1976. For 11 years, he sought migration papers so that we could legally migrate to join him.
He finally got the papers in early 1988, however, his dream of living with us in Canada was never fulfilled. He died of a heart attack before we could travel to join him. The stress and anxiety of waiting for legal migration papers, the fear that he could be sent back home with nothing, and the worry about whether we would ever join him had taken a heavy toll on him.
All this was compounded by high blood pressure, cardiac problems, and diabetes. I was five years old when he left India for Canada and 18 when he died. Today, my memories of him are foggy and distant.
But despite the bad turn of events, I was determined to see to it that we fulfilled his wishes. I urged my mum on and we migrated to Canada in 1989. I was a teenager joining high school at the time. Over the years, adapting to the Canadian way of life was not easy.
Due to my culture and attire, which included a turban, I have always stood out. This regularly subjected me to so much ridicule that I thought it would be impossible to find a wife outside my culture in Canada.
The last thing I wanted was someone who would ridicule me, my religion or culture. My only hope was in returning to India where the tradition of arranged marriages is still alive and dominant and to find myself a wife.
My hope and dream for a good wife and a happy family was revived in 2004 when I was asked to marry Kaur. I set out a wedding plan that would take us a maximum of four weeks to get married. I am grateful that it all worked out, culminating in a wedding on August 28, 2004.
It has now been 17 years of love and friendship. Today, I am who I am because of her. Like all other marriages, we have had our ups and downs. We have had our disagreements, and there are times when Kaur has felt lonely being away from her family.
The good thing about our arranged marriage is that those who brought us together and proposed that we get married knew our strengths and weaknesses. They knew that we would be good for each other because they had known us for some time.
In addition, because we had not met, dated or swept each other off our feet with romance, our marriage started as a friendship. Today, when the fire of romance seems to be dying, our friendship is always ready to kick in and reignite the embers.
From my years in marriage, I can now tell anyone looking to marry that physical attractiveness and romantic feelings should not be the top priority in the list of the qualities they’re looking for in a partner.
The most fundamental character should be whether you’re good for each other and whether you will merge and adapt into each other’s character seamlessly. You can always panel beat love into your union down the road.