Forty-three 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.
Known today for their role as Ravi Patel’s pushy yet lovable parents in the 2015 documentary “Meet the Patels,” the Charlotte couple dishes on how to nurture a love that lasts. (Feature photo by Belva Barringer)
Trust that it’s meant to be: Vasant 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. “I took a two-month leave from my job and went home to get married,” he says, as if it’s just what you do. 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.
Laughter is important: 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 ten minutes, so I thought, ‘This guy might be OK.’”
Learn to love what each other loves and teach each other: 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 things Champa does. “When she was studying for her real estate exam,” he says, “I 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.”
TAKE 5—QUICK HITS FROM THE PATELS
What’s your favorite date night? “We don’t really go out just the two of us, says Champa. “We usually go out with friends. And we go walking.”
Favorite “Hollywood” moment after the documentary? “We didn’t realize how much the movie would impact us, but when we went to Toronto for the premiere … we got a standing ovation. That was a moment I cannot forget,” says Vasant.
So do people notice you around town now? “Yes, people will stop us when we’re out at the mall or something and recognize us,” says Champa.
Is that ever annoying? “We are enjoying the stardom!” Vasant says. “Are you kidding?”
What do you like to do together? “She likes to cook, and I totally love to eat,” says Vasant.