As Deepak Chopra’s daughter, Mallika Chopra grew up with modern conveniences, new-age wisdom, and a lot of parental advice. But instead of taking the advice to settle down with a nice Indian guy, she moved across the world to follow her career dreams first. By following her heart, she ended up at the right place at the right time to meet the guy she was meant to end up with. Here, she tells her inspiring story.
When I was 23, I moved from Boston to New Delhi for a dream job. I was launching MTV India, learning all aspects of media and sales, and I had a business card that could get me into any nightclub. But there was one caveat to taking the position: I had to move into my grandparents’ home.
I had grown up in Boston in a fairly modern Indian family—including my father, Deepak Chopra. Our life had involved its fair share of Indian tradition, but I had also been given a lot of independence. When I got to New Delhi, there were some noticeable changes, and some were easier to embrace than others. Respect for my elders was part of my upbringing, so I accepted the constant oversight and loving concern of my grandparents even if it felt unnecessary. My grandmother waited for me to come home every night, making it difficult for me to stay out after 10 P.M. I also didn’t dare to wear a skirt above my knees, and I was careful about who I invited home—particularly boys. Being a grown adult, I certainly felt like it was taking a step back in time.
Despite coming from a liberal family, I knew my parents secretly hoped I would meet a nice Indian boy and “settle down.” They never said it explicitly, and our family did not believe in arranged marriages, but I knew that everyone was on the lookout for an appropriate match for me. They wanted me to end up with someone kind, smart, and stable. And they hoped I would get married early, like they did, and build my life with someone.
I had a very different mind-set. I was ambitious, and I knew I wanted to return to the U.S. for graduate school and explore every opportunity my education and blessed upbringing had afforded me. My interests at age 23 were freedom, having fun, and learning as much as I could. I felt marriage would force me to slow down, take away my independence, and steal from me the excitement life had to yet offer.
On my first day in New Delhi, my cousin hosted a “graffiti party” where everyone wore white and used washable markers to draw on one another. I felt shy and out of place at first but was quickly engulfed by the festive atmosphere. People were having fun and laughing, and within minutes my white shirt was full of words, colors, and drawings. During the free-for-all, I noticed one particular guy—tall, dark, and handsome, he was hard to miss. In the chaos, we spoke for just a minute, and by night’s end, I couldn’t even remember his name.
The next day I washed my T-shirt. Most of the colors disappeared, save for one distinct mark—in black ink, the name Sumant remained on the upper left corner. The name just wouldn’t wash away.
What Happened Next »
Mallika and Sumant
A friend invited me to dinner that night, and among the guests was the same handsome guy I’d seen at the party.
“Mallika, this is Sumant,” my friend said. I couldn’t help but smile.
“You’re the indelible-marker guy,” I said, and explained what had happened with my T-shirt. Sumant revealed that he had borrowed a pen from a friend when he saw me, and my shirt was the only one he’d written on. Turns out, it was a permanent marker.
As the evening progressed, Sumant and I got to know each other. He was a pragmatic engineer who had gone to college in the U.S. and returned to India to work in his family business. There was something so real and grounding about him, and we found that we had numerous family connections and similarities. As we spoke, my heart beat faster with excitement, but also I felt anxious. I knew immediately that Sumant was the man my parents and family had hoped I would meet. I felt myself resisting the desire to get to know him better, as if that would be their dream, not mine, and that marriage could change so many hopes that I had for my future.
But having grown up with Deepak Chopra as a father, I was taught to be open and always ask questions. I reflected on the signs the universe was sending me. Could anything be more obvious than Sumant written above my heart in permanent ink? I decided to take a leap of faith, to trust my intuition, and to open myself completely to him.
Within two weeks, we both knew this was our lifelong relationship. We dated quietly for another four months, not ready to tell our families just yet. Despite living in the U.S. and feeling like a modern couple, we were both still respectful of the traditions of our families and knew that once we shared the news of our relationship, marriage would be inevitable. It may seem strange to some, but as traditions in our culture go, this was the only path to take. Eventually, about a year after we met, we did get married—in a memorable and extravagant Indian wedding.
Mallika, right, with Sumant and her children
Sumant and I remained committed to our personal and professional intents. We returned to the U.S. and both completed our M.B.A.s at Kellogg Business School. We gave each other the freedom and space to pursue our goals, which required living in separate cities for months at a time. But we were committed to growing up together and supporting each other on our individual and combined journeys.
Now, 20 years after we first met, Sumant and I remain happily married and have two incredible daughters, Tara and Leela. I believe more strongly than ever that the universe was gently guiding me toward my future husband all along. If I hadn’t believed in the power of coincidence and kept my mind and heart open to signs, I might have missed out on living the full life I’m so lucky to have today.
Mallika Chopra is the author of Living With Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy.
Photos: Stocksy. Courtesy of the subject.