From Spartanburg to India: USC Upstate Graduate Finds Love, Marriage Despite Obstacles
Spartanburg, S.C. - When Bridget Keane, a 2007 University of South Carolina Upstate graduate, met Arvind Nagarajan in 2002, she never thought her life would develop a plotline worthy of Hollywood. But her story with Arvind is a romance filled with tricky obstacles: cross-country moves, clashing cultures, and a call to active duty in the U.S. Army. Happily, love prevailed, as the couple overcame their differences in religion, culture, and geography in August, tying the knot at two separate, very distinct wedding ceremonies: a Roman Catholic service in Chicago, Illinois, and, two weeks later, a three-day long traditional Hindu ceremony in Chennai, India.
A native of Chicago, Bridget was attending college classes and working in the Army Reserves in Chicago when she was introduced to Arvind by her aunt, his employer. A native of India, Arvind came to Chicago for college and stayed to work after graduating. They started dating casually, and Bridget recalls that they were so nonchalant about the relationship, they didn’t even tell their friends they were dating. “We had so many cultural differences; I don’t think either of us was thinking this would be a long-term relationship,” she explains. And a major change in Bridget’s life would delay the couple from becoming serious.
When America entered into war with Afghanistan, Bridget was called to active duty. She served on the military police in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004. While on active duty, Bridget and Arvind lost touch. Arvind, too, had left Chicago to pursue a master’s degree at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Once Bridget returned to Chicago, the couple’s paths crossed again. Bridget explains, “Arvind graduated from Georgia Tech and was offered a job in South Carolina, but then the offer fell through at the last minute.” Jobless and homeless since he had already given up his apartment in Georgia, Arvind called Bridget’s aunt and asked for a summer job and a place to stay while he searched for a more permanent job. While they were both living in Chicago, Bridget and Arvind began dating again, and this time, it was serious. So serious that when Arvind received another job offer in South Carolina, Bridget decided to move to South Carolina, too.
Thus enters USC Upstate into Bridget’s life. When looking at colleges in the Upstate, Bridget decided on attending Upstate because of its strong academic reputation, affordable tuition, and convenient location. Though she had been an education major in Chicago, Bridget had also taken many psychology classes, and she decided to be a psychology major at Upstate. She also found a work study job in the Chancellor’s Office.
Living in a new place and adjusting to new school and work environments brought Arvind and Bridget closer together, and he proposed in May 2006. While they had already overcome many of their cultural differences, the couple struggled with how best to acknowledge the very distinct religious and cultural heritages of both families in the wedding ceremony. Eventually, the couple reached a solution. “Since my family is devoutly Catholic and his family is devoutly Hindu, we thought it would be difficult to blend the cultures into one ceremony. So, we had two ceremonies,” says Bridget.
When asked if she was frazzled at having to plan two weddings, Bridget explained that Arvind’s parents planned the Hindu wedding. Since Indian culture includes a strong tradition of arranged marriages, the tradition now carries on in the form of the parents being heavily involved in wedding planning. But, yes, Bridget readily admits that planning a wedding in Chicago while living in South Carolina was no easy task.
On August 11, 2007, Bridget and Arvind were married in a traditional Catholic service in Chicago. All of Bridget’s family and friends were in attendance, as well as Arvind’s parents and brother, who traveled from India for the ceremony. On August 14th, the couple traveled to Chennai, India, to prepare for their Hindu ceremony. The actual wedding ceremony took place over three days, from August 24th to the 26th.
For their first week in India, the couple traveled to several Hindu temples to be blessed. Bridget also had to go shopping for her bridal clothes and jewelry. Arvind says she got a lot of help picking her clothing and jewelry out, because many of his female relatives accompanied her on the shopping trip. The day before the wedding began, Bridget had to wake up early to start her beauty regimen for the wedding. Hindu brides must undergo several steps of preparation for the wedding, including having their makeup and hair done, receiving henna tattoos, and dressing in their elaborate bridal clothes.
Arvind explains that traditional Indian weddings often lasted for five days, but constraints of modern life have shortened the ceremony to two or three days. The average attendance at a Hindu wedding is several hundred people, most of which are relatives. Arvind says, “Most of the ceremony revolves around a central fire accompanied by readings from sacred Hindu texts by the groom. During this time the guests are usually free to mingle and enjoy themselves. Towards the end of the ceremony, all the guests are gathered together to witness the groom tie the mangalsutra, or wedding necklace, around the bride’s neck, which signifies that the bride and groom are wed to each other. The mangalsutra has a similar significance to wedding rings used in Christian ceremonies. Finally, the couple holds hands and walks together around the fire seven times, finalizing their betrothal and commitment to each other.”
When asked if they traveled anywhere for a honeymoon, Bridget laughs and says, “No, India was our honeymoon.” Among other sites the couple visited, Bridget says, “We went to the Taj Mahal, which I really wanted to see.”
After two wedding ceremonies and some serious globe-trotting, the couple is glad to be settled back at home in Greenville.