AJIT & KAUMUDINI VASHI
If the world needed a poster couple for arranged marriages, it would no doubt be Ajit and Kaumudini Vashi. With thirty-three blissful years of matrimony under their belts, Ajit insists that not only was that fateful introduction in his uncle’s kitchen a classic case of ‘love at first sight’, but that their devotion to one another continued to grow after they were married, “and continues to grow to this day.”
Kaumudini agrees, and shares words from a poem she wrote for her husband, echoing sentiments which she expressed from the sanctity of her Novi home: “Couples who find each other in the traditional ‘Western’ manner fall in love before the wedding. Often, with arranged marriages, the real depth of feeling comes into being after the vows have been said.”
The major hurdles that had to be overcome by Ajit and Kaumudini had nothing to do with personal compatibility, but instead surrounded their difficult journey from the Gujarat to the United States in 1977. Having left both sets of parents and a comfortable middle class existence in India, they arrived in Detroit without a job and with a mere fifteen dollars between them.
“Leaving our folks was the toughest part,” nods Ajit, a degreed engineer from IIT/Kanpur whose parents, in the Indian tradition, had insured him a top-drawer education. “Family is an integral part of Hindu culture. We respect our parents in a way that few Westerners can understand—that’s one of the reasons that arranged marriages can work out so well. We accept the fact that our parents know best, and enter our marriages, which they arranged, with the full understanding that our chosen partner represents the culmination of their wishes for us.”
To this day, thirty-something years later, Kaumudini still finds it difficult to speak of their journey from India without tears. “My parents were older—my father was already in his mid-eighties when I left. When I said goodbye, I was pretty sure it was for the last time.”
Despite the bittersweet memories, the move to the States proved successful beyond their wildest dreams. Signing on with Guardian Industries as a project engineer—a choice he made, despite several job offerings, because “Guardian was small, but growing rapidly at the time—I saw infinite opportunities in the operation,” Ajit says.
Guardian, of course, is Bill Davidson’s Auburn Hills-based flagship corporation, the world's largest manufacturers of float glass and fabricated glass products, supplying the automotive industry with a variety of exterior products, a significant player in the building materials distribution business—and almost as an aside, the world's largest producer of mirrors. It’s also the company run by our featured interview in ‘Our Arab American Story’, Russell Ebeid. The multi-cultural makeup of Guardian’s executive board is doubtlessly instrumental in the company’s legendary success.
From a small but auspicious start in Guardian’s Carleton, Michigan plant, Ajit Vashi moved steadily up the corporate ladder to reach his current position as a director, where he now oversees new construction and plant renovation. Among his countless accomplishments over the years, there is none that offers him more personal satisfaction than his involvement in Guardian’s Indian facility, a plant whose construction he urged despite economic uncertainty and internal scrutiny. “No question, this plant would not have come into being without Guardian being ultimately convinced that it was a good move. We’ve managed to attract the best talent from major Indian cities despite being located in rural India because, along with the manufacturing space, we built a housing colony—a village, really. And fine schools for the workers’ children. That’s key to Indians, of course.”
As proud as Ajit and Kaumudini are of Ajit’s work with Guardian, nothing swells their hearts more than the success of their three daughters, all of whom have made seamless runs through Northwestern University’s prestigious medical program and are on the fast-track to careers as physicians.
As for arranging marriages for their daughters, however, both Ajit and Kaumudini agree that, because of their ‘Americanization’, it’s not a path they will take. “We’ll sit back and hope for the best,” smiles Ajit. “So far, they’ve chosen well,” he says, pointing out that one of his daughters is dating a man with Jewish background. “Some of the things that were important to us in India are less so here in the States.”
Some things, perhaps, but gratefully—hard work, family love, and a firm memory of where they’ve been and how much they owe to their parents especially—not everything.