How we met: ‘She told her parents she was in love – and all hell broke loose’

Lizzie Cernik
·4 min read

In 1989, Mythily Rallapalli and Prakash Shankar were both studying medicine at the Gandhi Medical College in Bhopal, but their paths rarely crossed. That year, they went to a national meeting for medical schools. Prakash was there to play badminton and Mythily to display her rangoli art work. “I spotted her cheering me on and later asked if we could go for an ice-cream,” he says. They soon became good friends, and Prakash admits he found excuses to seek her help in the library. “I was the more serious, studious one, he was always out on his motorbike with his friends, making jokes,” she says. By the fourth year of their studies they were inseparable.

When they completed the course in 1992, Mythily went back to her home town of Visakhapatnam, many hours away from Bhopal. Prakash, who lived locally, realised how much he would miss her. “I went to the station to say goodbye and felt this huge sense of loss,” he says. The separation made them realise they wanted more than friendship, but they knew it wasn’t going to be easy. In India many conservative families prefer their children to marry within their caste, and this was the case for both their parents. “Mythily comes from a conservative Brahmin sect, whereas I’m from a traditional warrior clan and we have a very different way of life. She told her parents she was in love and all hell broke loose,” says Prakash.

“My mum said it was an absolute no,” Mythily remembers. “My father told me that nobody in the family would accept me.” Prakash’s parents were equally unimpressed by the prospect of their marriage. “They worried it would bring shame on the family and make it harder for my sister to marry.” Undeterred, he took the train to Mythily’s home to try to persuade her parents to change their minds. He was unsuccessful, but they did say that she could return to Bhopal to complete her post-grad training a few months later. The couple stayed in touch through letters and secret calls. Despite her family’s promises it soon became clear she wouldn’t be returning.

“They tried leaning on me to consider other matches. I knew I couldn’t marry anyone else and decided to go,” she says. They left their families and met in Mumbai, where Prakash’s friends could help them to get married. “We couldn’t go to Bhopal because that’s the first place her family would look” says Prakash. “She was flying to Mumbai and I took the train. It was stranded before the final destination and I became distraught thinking I would miss her and she’d be vulnerable in this dangerous city.” Luckily he found another way to get to Mumbai and reached her in time. “Seeing her come out of that airport was the most satisfying moment of my life. It was so good to be back together.”

They married the next day before revealing their secret to their furious families. “We moved back to Bhopal to get jobs. I lived with my parents and Mythily was offered accommodation by generous seniors from our university.” In 1994 they moved to Delhi to live together and later joined the Indian Army Medical Corps. From 1995 to 2000 they served together in various field locations and had their first son together in 1997. After leaving the army in 2000, Prakash decided to pursue a career in psychiatry in the UK, working briefly in Darlington before settling in Edinburgh. Mythily joined him in 2002 and their second son was born six years later. “It was a huge transition but I’m now happy here, working as a GP, and Prakash is practising as a psychiatrist,” she says.

By the time they left for the UK they had reunited with their families and they both developed close bonds with their in-laws. Mythily lost her father to cancer in 2002 and Prakash’s parents died in a road accident a year later, but they still travel to India to visit her mother. “She came to support us during the initial months when our second son was born and loved Edinburgh,” says Mythily. Despite the difficult start to their relationship, neither has a single regret. “Prakash is so loving and committed to what he does,” says Mythily. “I just love his sense of humour.” He describes her as “his rock”. “Her mental strength and resilience give me a sense of purpose.”

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