Inside their simple Richfield rambler, with robin’s egg blue shutters and trim, the Gundagovis look back on a 50-year odyssey with warm smiles. From their snap-of-the-finger courtship, to their 8,000-mile journey from southern India, to a leg-crushing workplace accident to their separate simultaneous stays in Twin Cities hospitals, “it was all a wonderful experience,” Gurupad says.
Their marriage was arranged a half-century ago in the state of Karnadaka, India. Gurupad, two of his brothers and his father visited Kunda’s family. As was custom, she served coffee and tea, glanced at the four men and returned to the kitchen.
“I asked my mom, ‘Who am I going to get married to?’ I remember his brothers both came in full suits while he wore a T-shirt,” she recalls.
She was 21. He was 28. The families got to know each for six months, but Gurupad was away in Mumbai, working as an electrical engineer.
“There was no correspondence, no phones calls,” she says. “The second time I saw him was at our wedding.”
They both look at high U.S. divorce rates and shrug, saying they put their faith in their families and it worked.
Five years later, Gurupad followed a childhood friend to Minnesota. Samuel Kumar was working at 3M and helped find a company, Midwest Automation, to sponsor his friend’s emigration. Today, there are 23,500 India-born Minnesotans in the state and countless grocery stores and restaurants that serve Indian palates. When Gurupad arrived on Thanksgiving Day in 1970, there were hardly any India-born people around.
Two months into his job, “a reckless truck driver moving a big machine without proper precautions or procedures” prompted a forklift to tilt, dropping a machine.
“It crushed both my legs.”
Kunda was six months pregnant back in India, waiting for the birth of her son before following her husband to Minnesota. But everyone agreed that he needed her immediately, facing two surgeries and a grueling six-month recovery.
Scared with shaky English, Kunda was touched by the strangers she met on her plane, who sat with her at the airport until Kumar arrived. When Gurupad mentioned to a pastor that his wife couldn’t come to visit the hospital every day, members of the Colonial Church in Edina set up a carpool, driving to St. Paul every morning to pick up Kunda. Another congregant would bring her home from the hospital at night. “And we’re Hindu,” says Seema Pothini, their daughter.
When the baby was born, Kunda was hospitalized in St. Paul and Gurupad was at Fairview Riverside. More rides were offered so he could visit his new son.
Steps are still a challenge for Gurupad, who was declared 60 percent disabled from the accident. He returned to Midwest Automation for many years before retiring last year.
He became a U.S. citizen 20 years ago, quizzing his daughter while she was in high school to prepare for the test.
Now, the Gundagovis have five grandchildren. All under 10. The first members of their families to make the trek to America, they now chat online with relatives in India.