Loved & Married Too, Corporate Citizen Magazine Special Coverage Marriage is about keeping an open mind to the winds of change. “This is especially important since you start off dating, then become a couple and then you are parents. At each stage, this journey is different and beautiful,” say Uttara Subramanian and Deepak Agarwal. Married for 12 years, and currently based in Dubai, this is their story, and this is how they tell it
By Kalyani Sardesai
You could call it a campus romance... for that’s how they met and got to know each other. Then again, it’s not quite the typical campus romance, for, the romance wasn’t part of the deal on the campus. Not really. “We were good friends who really appreciated each other for the people we were,” says Uttara Subramanian, who along with Deepak Agarwal, her husband of 12 years were a part of the Pioneers batch at BIMM way back in ‘99-2000.
They were good buddies who hung out a lot, but amidst the rough and tumble of a grueling academic schedule (both were studying marketing and sales) and then the pressure of campus placements, there wasn’t much time to reflect on a future together. “It was only when we started working in different cities that the penny dropped,” says Uttara. “We realised we really missed each other. We could both talk to each other, and we missed our conversations.” And to think it all started with her snapping at him.
Back to the beginning “My roommate was really sick that day,” reminisces Uttara, a hostelite on campus. “As I came to class with a worried expression, Deepak saw the look on my face and politely enquired if he could help.” To which she retorted, “All you guys are the same, talking big and making tall promises to help. But when it actually comes to it, you never do a thing.” But help he did—and thereby starts the journey. “What I really appreciated about him is that though he was really smart and self-assured, he wasn’t the kind to go out of his way to make an impression. In a world full of people who are trying too hard at that, he came across a breath of fresh air, simply for being himself. He also happened to be very shy around girls. This was really endearing,” she smiles. For his part, Deepak loves her simplicity—and caring ways. “In every relationship—be it with family, friends or colleagues—she goes out of her way to do things for people and make them comfortable. That’s just amazing.”
However, when they both told their parents about each other, they were not very happy. He’s a Marwari; she’s the quintessential “Tam Bram”. Both communities are known to be traditional and set in their ways. Ouch.
“But we did look at things from their point of view,” shares Uttara. “Change is difficult for everyone, and parents do want to be involved in choosing a spouse for their beloved son and daughter. It’s natural they would be concerned about the differences in cultural backgrounds. So we allowed them the due time and space to accept us.”
With a tiny corollary, though: While they were respectful of their parents’ feelings, both happen to be firstborn kids and are known to stay firm on their decisions. It took a year, but they finally did get their families’ blessing, and were wed in November 2004.
Marriage and its Milestones
Soon after, the couple made the shift to Dubai. Now 37, Uttara works as Consumer Insights Manager, AMEA at General Mills, a billion dollar American food giant with brands like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Haagen-Dazs and many more. While Deepak (40) is General Sales Manager at Jotun Powder Coatings, a Norwegian chemicals company that deals with paint and powder in over 90 countries across the world. The duo is blessed with two mischievous boys—Pradyun (7) and Dhruv (1). So how do they manage the all-important work-life balance given not only the pressures of a corporate career, but also the fact that they are in a foreign country, away from traditional support systems?
“Planning, practice, and lots of trial and error,” grins Uttara. “However, we do have reliable household domestics, and visiting relatives from India always chip in. That said, we are a noisy, messy and rambunctious family, with a flurry of activity revolving around two very active children, and that’s how it’s going to be for a little while. Time management is key, and there’s no room for procrastination.”
“Post-marriage, one partner has to take on the major role at home, leaving the other person free to travel and work longer hours. If both decide to go for killer schedules, it would be very tough on the relationship,” says Deepak. “At all points, though, it has to be give and take steeped in a deep sense of empathy for your spouse.”
The building blocks of a relationship While both Deepak and Uttara are a study in contrast, it works out well for them. She’s talkative, social, friendly and outgoing. He’s a man of few words. He’s the short-tempered one, while she smoothens things out.
Importantly, their strengths complement each other. Despite the differences in personalities neither shy away from addressing issues. “It is vital to communicate and talk. Brushing things under the carpet never works,” says Deepak.
Uttara chips in, “The thing about marriage is that it is always in a state of evolution. You start off dating, then become a married couple, and in some time, you are parents, responsible for young lives. Through all this, it’s a good thing to keep an open mind, celebrate differences and keep on surprising each other. Also, given the stresses around us, it becomes all the more important to live in the moment and celebrate the little joys.”
Life may be tough and demanding, but having a sense of humour dissipates tensions. “We are able to joke with each other…about each other—and our families—and it’s all taken in the right spirit. This is achieved only after you are truly comfortable and secure with each other,” says Uttara.
Parenting is a vital arena of team work. “Over the years, we’ve managed to balance our roles. She’s friend to the kids, while I am the strict taskmaster. But basically both of us want the same for them: to grow up as loving and caring people, who are tough when the situation warrants it, and are respectful of traditions and elders,” says Deepak.
One would think the difference in cultural backgrounds would be a toughie—but it’s not so. “We are both foodies, and bond big-time over food. It does not matter whether it is North Indian or South Indian, as long as it’s vegetarian and well-prepared,” grins Uttara. “Also, the way we look at it, absorbing and paying attention to different traditions and rituals, is a healthy way to be.”
In the end, both have a simple tip for Gen-Next. “Be patient and give your relationship time. It takes considerable effort and luck to find a good person. Give them space, and love. At the end of the day, the material things don’t add up to much. Relationships do—and they are not transactional,” they sign off.