Forty-four years ago, 27-year-old Vasant Patel met 19-year-old Champa. Their parents arranged the meeting through a newspaper ad. Ten days later, they were married.
In 2015, they became known for their role as Ravi Patel’s pushy yet lovable parents in the 2015 documentary “Meet the Patels.” The film chronicles Ravi, an Indian-American man on the cusp of 30, as his parents and extended family try to help him find a wife in the traditional Indian way.
As for Vasant, he moved to the U.S. from India in 1967 to study mechanical engineering. After a few years of work, he decided it was time to get married. So he took a two-month leave from my job and went home to India to get married.
When he got home, his parents had selected 13 girls for him based on a newspaper ad. “I almost thought I wasn’t going to get married,” Vasant says. “She was the last girl I met.”
Champa means “flower that blooms in spring” and Vasant means “spring” in the couples’ native Sanskrit. “When I heard that,” says Champa, “I thought, ‘His name and my name really go together.’” She was right.
Remember the value of laughter: Anyone who’s seen Meet the Patels knows that humor runs in the family. Champa laughs as she remembers the first time she met Vasant.
“He was chubbier back then,” she says. “He made me laugh within the first 10 minutes, so I thought, ‘This guy might be OK.’”
Embrace co-learning: They don’t buy gifts or go out on fancy dates, Vasant says, and they don’t buy into the Valentine’s Day hype. “That’s not love,” he says. “Love is not about whether someone loves you. It’s about loving what the other person loves and learning to love it yourself, even though you didn’t love it before.”
He puts that into practice by immersing himself in things Champa does. When she was studying for her real estate exam, he read a real-estate book.
“He is a great teacher,” says Champa. “When I got to the U.S., I was shy and I wasn’t talking a lot. He was teaching me things. He taught me how to drive. He taught me English.”
And she has taught him some things, too. “She has brought out my free spirit and spontaneity in me,” says Vasant. “She’s really good with people.”
Let it go: Don’t sweat the small stuff, Vasant says. “We’d fight about things that we can’t even remember in a month—whether the light was about to turn green or whatever,” Vasant says. “Who cares? Let it go.”
And most importantly, he adds, don’t worry yourself with trying to change the other person: “Just be the best you can be and don’t let the other person change who you are.”
Photography by Belva Barringer. This story first ran in the February 2018 issue of SouthPark Magazine.
A glimpse into “Meet the Patels”
Vasant and Champa Patel flew to India in 2008 with their son, Ravi, and their daughter, Geeta. (As always, her video camera went, too.) They dreamed of an ideal Indian bride for Ravi and the prospect of grandchildren.
They returned to Charlotte with no bride and raw footage for a remarkably entertaining documentary about Indian kin and communities. Seven years later, the buzz around “Meet the Patels” suggested the prospect of an Oscar nomination.
The siblings’ project won the audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2014, caught fire on the festival circuit and got a national release.
“We started shooting a vacation video that never ended,” says Geeta. “It’s like when you’re having a conversation, and you can’t stop having it because you’re so intrigued. It simply became a film.”
“OK, that’s the short answer,” says her brother. “The long answer is that I didn’t know that we as a family were particularly interesting. You don’t come to appreciate your family as documentary subjects until you have made the film and you’re editing it.”