Abha and Anil Singhal met through a classified ad. One day later they were engaged to be married.
Was it love at first sight? Not exactly, but after a 24-hour courtship, the young couple and their families decided it could work.
As twenty-somethings born and raised in Delhi, India, securing a spouse through arranged marriage was commonplace. While families today might find a partner online through a matchmaking website, families in the 1980s who did not work with a matchmaker placed classified ads in the newspaper.
Abha explained that, “In India, there is a matrimonial section in the Sunday newspaper. Anyone who wanted their son or daughter to get married could run an ad. Anil’s father had done it, and my father responded. My father would scroll through and then say, ‘OK, it looks right,’ so he answered the ad. This is how it started.”
Identifying a good match
A good match might be considered someone who is from the same region or caste with similar language and cultural traditions, and in the same socio-economic class. Education, profession and financial status of the prospect is also important, including future financial prospects. Men are generally expected to be slightly older than women, and the ad would also describe physical characteristics such as age, height and skin tone.
“The most interesting thing,” recalled Anil with a quick laugh, “was that you had to put your salary in there because they wanted to make sure that you were able to afford the wedding.”
Anil explained that placing an ad was the most efficient way for him to find a partner because he was working in the U.S. at the time and could only spend a month or two at home before he had to return to work. “My grandfather who was 80 years old was maintaining the files,” he recalled, “and there were over 100 responses after they filtered them out.” Anil thought he got so many responses because many women wanted to come to America. “It wasn’t just me...people wanted to come to the U.S.”
“How many did they actually go to see?” Abha nudged him. Anil responded, “They went to see three or four, but I told them I was only going to see one final candidate. Normally the bridegroom would do the screening, but I told them that I couldn’t say no to anyone, so my sister, my father and my mother did the screening for me.”
No advertisements for Abha
Abha, on the other hand, would not allow her family to place a matrimonial advertisement for her. “I had told my father, ‘you are not putting me in the newspaper.’ That was one criteria. I had something against it, I don’t know why, I just didn’t want it.”
She explained that her family lived in Africa for six years while her father held a post in Zambia, so she didn’t have a wide network of friends her age when the family returned to Delhi in 1979. “I really felt like I didn’t belong there anymore. My sister was my best friend and when she got married in 1980, she said, ‘you should get married and get away from here, too.’” The Singhals both laughed at the memory. “I told my dad that I was very happy to go out of the country. After living abroad for so long, it would be difficult for me to settle in Delhi. So that’s why my dad used to look for ads for somebody from abroad because it would be a better fit for me.”
Abha’s parents would peruse the Sunday advertisements and point out men who seemed suitable. “My father was screening on my end and we would sit down and he would show me the candidates.” When she read Anil’s advertisement, Abha also thought he had all the right qualifications and agreed to meet him.
“His parents met our family first,” explained Abha. “In arranged marriages, it is important that the families are compatible. Do you have similar cultural values and do you have similar beliefs? Both of them were middle class families and it felt very easy to talk to them. My father’s main goal was that all of his kids be educated, self-sufficient and independent, and it was similar in Anil’s family. We liked what we saw in the resume so we said yes, we can meet Anil when he comes here.”
For their first meeting, Anil and his family went to Abha’s house for tea. “My parents, his parents, my sister, my brother-in-law were all there,” Abha recalled. “We wanted to get everybody’s opinion of this person, and in the same way their family was trying to gauge me up, too. He seemed very honest, like he was not trying to be something he had made up.”
“Then we spoke one-on-one for some time in a different room,” recalled Anil. “But that was just for an hour, maybe even less. After that, there was just one day before we decided.”
In the meantime, Anil’s family checked in with Abha’s parents. “My father talked to her parents to make sure they were not pressuring her to say yes.” Abha added that, “In our family, if I had said no, there would be no pressure ever from my parents. Not at all. Whatever I said would go.”
A future decided in just one day “We dated for one day,” Anil bragged. Abha quickly interrupted. “Actually, he likes to minimize it,” she countered.
“Yes, that’s true,” Anil continued. “Before the engagement it was one day, but after the engagement and before the wedding we met many times. But there was no turning back at that time,” Anil joked. “I guess I made the cut, or it seems that maybe HE made the cut,” Abha surmised, and they laughed together at the thought. The couple married in December 1980 and will celebrate their 40th anniversary this month.
On coming to the U.S. Anil first came to the U.S. on September 2, 1976, to begin graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His undergraduate degree was in electrical engineering, but Anil made the switch to computer science because “software was the up-and-coming field at that time and the U.S. was number one in that area.” Two years later, he received a job offer at Wang Laboratories in Lowell and moved just outside of Boston. He got his green card in 1979.
When I came to this country, no one from our family had ever been to an airport, let alone fly on an airplane,” Anil explained. Like Abha’s family, Anil’s family also believed in the value of education. “Education was a big thing and you spend half of your money on it. It was very expensive to come here. My father had to take a loan against his house to send me to graduate school and that covered only one year. Luckily I got a job here in the first year and that’s how it worked.”
Anil recalls that money was tight and living halfway across the world was expensive. “When my sister got married in 1978, I couldn’t go. It was easier for me to send money to help with the wedding than it was to travel there. Plus, because I didn’t have a green card yet, I might not have been able to come back.” “In those days,” he added, “a phone call to India cost about $3 per minute, maybe even more. When my sister got married, my phone bill was about $300, which was the total income I earned that month.”
Abha arrives in 1981 Abha remained in India for a few months after their wedding to complete background checks and secure her green card. After she arrived in the U.S., she found a bookkeeping job at a car dealership in Nashua. Just a few months later she was laid off. “Usually it’s a last in, first out situation,” Abha recalled. “My account manager was very kind but I took it so personally—my first job and I am already laid off.” With her background in economics, she soon found another job with another dealership in Tewksbury before eventually accepting a position with Wang Laboratories in the bookkeeping department.
Anil said that, even though the couple worked in different offices for Wang, they still commuted together because they had only one car. Anil’s brother was living with them at the time, a student at UMASS Lowell. “Abha would drop off my brother in Lowell at school, then stop at the towers to drop me off, then go to her office in Chelmsford in one small Toyota car.”
Assimilating to America Both Abha and Anil said transitioning to life in America was easy for them. Abha explained that “language was not a problem at all, but accents were sometimes a bit more difficult. I was more used to British accents than American, so watching TV actually helped.”
She explained that Indian students learn three languages in school. “Initially you start with Hindi and English, then in a few years you also study Sanskrit for a short time. Your math, your science are in English only.”
Anil agreed. “In college, we had an exchange program with engineering professors from MIT. We were using all of the same books which were used at MIT, and in many areas like mathematics we were ahead because the engineering program in India is five years rather than four.”
Anil also said that, “For me, coming to the U.S. was a great experience. People were so helpful. I didn’t even know what a vending machine was, but people would explain how to put money in and no one would laugh at you. People were so nice. Sometimes I feel like it was more open at that time than it is now. Maybe it is the same, and we are just more conscious now, but I didn’t feel any strong biases then. “My boss at Wang was very nurturing and very helpful,” added Abha, “so overall I think we met very nice people who helped us along the way.”
A new business venture In 1984 Anil partnered with an Indian friend from Wang to co-found a small engineering consulting company. NetScout has since transformed into a leading global service assurance solutions provider with over 3,000 employees in 15 offices across three continents. In January 2007, Anil was appointed Chairman of the Board and has been serving as NetScout’s President, CEO, and Chairman since that time.
“I came up with the phrase, ‘only in America can you achieve the American dream,’” Anil remarked. “Could we have done this if we had stayed in India? I don’t think so.”
Around the same time, Abha left Wang to pursue an MBA at UMASS Lowell. After she graduated in 1989, she worked part time for NetScout. Anil recalled that “there were about ten people working at NetScout at that time.” Abha claims that, “I was the boss because I controlled the money.”
Since Anil traveled extensively as he was growing the company, Abha left the workforce to stay home with their two daughters, Priyanka and Nikita. The couple moved to Carlisle in 1997 because they were looking for a town with excellent schools that was close to Anil’s office in Westford. Abha said Tall Pines was a new neighborhood when they arrived, with only four houses completed in the development at that time.
Becoming U.S. citizens while preserving their culture Indian immigrants face a difficult choice when considering U.S. citizenship. India does not allow dual citizenship, so nationals must relinquish their citizenship to become U.S. citizens.
Abha applied for citizenship first. She explained that becoming a parent was a driving force in making her decision. “When your children are born, you want to give them the same opportunities that you had. That was more of a deciding factor. Slowly you start assimilating into American culture and you want to be part of that. I was ready a bit sooner.”
Anil became a U.S. citizen in 1997. “When the business was growing up I was traveling a lot, and it is difficult to get a visa if you are not a US citizen.” He said that, “Couples are often double-minded about it. It was an emotional experience to give up my Indian citizenship, and that was maybe the hardest part.” Anil remarked that he never even voted while he lived in India. “When I came to the US I was almost 21, so I voted here for the first time.”
While Anil continued to build his new business, Abha got involved in a number of town activities, including volunteering extensively for Carlisle schools, Gleason Library, Girl Scouts, Meals on Wheels, the COA and even joining the board of the Carlisle Mosquito for a few years.
Preserving their Indian culture at home has not proved too difficult. Abha explained that the family established strong ties to other Indian families living in the area. “We have a good circle of Indian friends close by and we have celebrated all of the major festivals together for almost 40 years. We always have a big feast for Diwali, except for this year.”
COVID impacts daily life COVID has definitely slowed the Singhals down. Anil worked from home from March through June, but has since gone back to the office. He said that 10% of all NetScout employees work in the Westford location, but only 50 people currently work in the building on a daily basis including 25 essential personnel. Anil said he anticipates that most employees will return to the office when COVID is under control. “Some big companies think they are saving money by having employees work from home,” he explained. “Half of our discussions happen on a chalkboard. Productivity is down, and I think we will go back to old times.”
Abha was board chair of the Council on Aging when COVID struck. “I have contributed with whatever I have learned and been able to help them, especially during the last six months when Angela (Smith) was doing most of the work. I told her she could call me at any time for any kind of discussion and we would all go through this together. The whole board was very supportive and we all tried to help Angela while she was involved in so many meetings with the LEPC. It has been an interesting journey.”
The couple mostly misses social gatherings. Anil said he may meet 500-600 people per year while traveling for NetScout, but travel has ceased. He said the company will try holding a wine session during their April sales meeting that he hopes will help soften the drudgery of hours of online Webex meetings. Over the warmer months the couple settled for small gatherings with friends on their deck, but those have also ended for the winter. Abha, a consummate bridge player, is content to play bridge online for now, but looks forward to meeting with her bridge group and book club in person when it is safe to do so.
Celebrating 40 years Anil penned a book in 2018, Lean but not Mean, about the unique corporate philosophy behind NetScout. “You can’t have happy customers unless you have happy employees,” he explained. “We never had a layoff in the history of our company and the average tenure of our employees is 20 years. One person came in 1989 and is still with us. We know more about him than his wife and kids.”
Forty years after their humble introduction through a classified ad, it seems that Abha and Anil may have figured out the secret to a happy marriage as well. Happy anniversary to you both.