BY SYDNEY MELSON
The Birmingham Times
“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Erica Wright firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.
JEGIL AND GRACE DUGGER
Married: May 23, 2009
Met: In 2004, in Five Points. “There was a Ruby Tuesdays right where the Chick-Fil-A currently is,” Jegil said. Both were out having dinner with friends. “It was a rainy night. I remember that was a nice hangout spot, especially on the weekends. I saw Grace in the booth over, and she was very attractive. I was trying to get her to make eye contact with me, but she never looked up.”
Jegil’s friend and Grace’s friend tried to hit it off, too. “I remember asking the waiter if I could order a drink or appetizer for Grace, and I’d pay for it. I did, and Grace and her friend ended up sitting down with us . . . Grace and I could not stop talking. It was like we had known each other forever,” he said.
Most of all, Jegil said they both had the same sense of humor. “One question I asked her was if she knew who I was,” he said. Jegil previously had a successful career as a football player at UAB and played in the Canadian Football League as well as for the Wyoming Cavalry, [a former team in the Indoor Football League] in Casper, Wyoming.
“My answer was, ‘do you know who I am?’,” Grace said, and they both laughed. “I don’t care who you are. But we really hit it off. He asked me for my number.”
“She wasn’t able to pronounce my name at first,” Jegil said.
“Yeah, that’s hilarious. I had never heard the name Jegil before. Actually, I forgot what his name was. We had been talking on the phone for a couple of weeks, and in the middle of one of our conversations I was like, what’s your name again?” she said.
First date: In 2004, they went to Olive Garden in Hoover. “Back then, that was her favorite restaurant,” Jegil said. “We had great conversation, but we also had great conversation with the waiter. I’ve always been big on that. For the next three or four years, we’d always have the same waiter and he’d remember us,” he said.
“The waiter that we had, he was talking about his relationship during our first date,” Grace said. “I think he was married to an immigrant as well. We were just discussing our relationships with different cultures,” Grace said.
The turn: “There were certain goals he had, and I had certain goals as well,” Grace said. “That was very important to me. He’s also very family-oriented. It was really sweet how he had a good relationship with his family, and he constantly keeps in contact with everyone.”
Jegil said Grace came to him at an important time in his life. “I think God sent her to me when she was most needed. I was going through a transition trying to figure out what was going to be my next phase after football, but I was still chasing that dream. I was being bounced around the country to pursue a football dream, and Grace was right there with me. She seemed to not care about my failures, or she helped me get past my failures,” he said.
Jegil recounted when he went to play for the Oakland Raiders in California. “I got cut . . . and came back and I was distraught. Grace later admitted she was glad I didn’t get the job anyway. It was an interesting way to look at it because I knew that she really loved me for me . . .,” he said.
The road to their relationship was tough for both. “African American and Indian, you don’t really see that mix a lot. Her parents did not approve of her marrying an African American man,” Jegil said.
In Indian culture dating is not typical, said Grace. “I wasn’t allowed to date growing up, so [Jegil] was the first person I ever told I had feelings for,” she said.
The proposal: Mid-December, 2007. Jegil said he wanted to make sure the proposal was traditional. “I went and asked her dad, to get his approval before I proposed to her. I never did get his approval. It was a tough situation,” he said.
Despite that, Jegil remained undaunted. “Grace was going to Washington, D.C. to do an internship after she finished her master’s degree. I wanted to propose before the internship,” he said. The December before she left, Jegil and Grace flew out to an R. Kelly concert in Los Angeles for her birthday, on December 13.
“We hung out in Los Angeles for a couple of days. She thought I was going to propose to her there because we had a limousine, but we got on the airplane heading back to Birmingham,” he said.
They stopped for a connecting flight in Houston, where Jegil coordinated the proposal with the flight attendants. “Grace is like, ‘why are you talking to them?’ but I told her they knew my relatives. So we get on the plane and as we’re landing in Birmingham, Grace is knocked out, she was exhausted. The flight attendant says, ‘Will Grace Vasa please stand up?’, and she stands up and starts looking around. Then the flight attendant says, ‘the guy next to you wants to know if you’ll marry him.’”
Grace was shocked. “I was like, are you serious?” she laughed. “Jegil was really nervous. He said ‘yeah, answer the question.’”
“Everyone on the plane was looking at us! It was a full flight,” Jegil said. “But when she said yes, everyone started clapping.”
The wedding: Jegil and Grace’s wedding was a three-day affair. “A traditional Indian wedding lasts about a week, but in the United States it’s difficult to get everyone together for that long. Combination weddings between Indian and other cultures are typically three days,” she said.
The wedding colors were red and gold, standard colors for a typical Indian wedding, Grace said. The wedding was officiated by Grace’s former sister-in-law who held a Master’s in Divinity, Carrie Kramer, as well as the late Reverend Eric Hayward, a family friend of the couple from South Africa.
The first day, Wednesday, was a festive Mehndi party at Grace’s mother’s house. Thursday was a blessing ceremony at Grace and Jegil’s house. During the ceremony, guests blessed the married couple with prayers and inspirational messages, and a red powder was put on their heads to symbolize blessings, too. Grace wore a sari and Jegil wore a kurta, traditional Indian attire. Friday was the dress rehearsal at the couple’s house.
The wedding ceremony was at Southside Baptist Church, which was significant for the couple because it was near Five Points, where they first met. Jegil’s football team would also occasionally attend church there on Sundays.
Most memorable moment for the groom was worrying about catering. “There were many people there from so many different backgrounds. We decided to serve both American and Indian food, so we had to deal with two different caterers, we had to count to see how many Americans and Indians would be there. When the wedding was over, the majority of people ate Indian food,” Jegil said.
He also loved the energy the wedding had with the meshing of cultures. We went from Bollywood dancing to the electric slide,” he said.
The bride said dancing that night meant a lot to her. “I grew up dancing. Music is a big part of my life. I took Indian classical dance for over 10 years. Dancing for me was just like how we have to eat,” she said.
The wedding night was a fond memory of her father and father-in-law, she said.
“Our fathers have both passed since then. My dad passed away six years ago, Jegil’s passed away five years ago. So just to have both of them in our pictures, and to have my dad walk me down the aisle… I’ll always have those memories,” Grace said.
Words of Wisdom: It’s OK to look for help when you need it, Grace said. “We’ve been through marital counseling to discuss some of our issues. Sometimes we just need a refresher,” she said. “Sometimes there’s so much going on; we’re both extremely busy professionally, so it’s important to check in a lot with each other.”
Communication is key, too, she added. “We don’t like each other all the time. But we’re in this together, and not talking doesn’t solve the issue. One thing about our relationship that I love is that even when we [squabble], we can’t go more than maybe 24 hours without talking to each other. Let’s get down to the reason we’re upset and just face up to it, because otherwise things don’t get discussed and don’t get resolved,” she said.
Don’t expect any relationships to be flawless, Jegil said. “[Grace and I] have been through so much in our marriage. We’ve had failures and we’ve had some great successes as well. I think the one thing that has gotten us through is to talk about it and to understand each other. I think a lot of people get married and think they’re going to change a person. We respect each other for who we are, we try to find a way to meet in the middle and we constantly overcome our adversities.”
Happily ever after: The Duggers have a five-year-old son, Cayden Sanjeev Dugger, and a daughter, Nahla Sangeeta Dugger, who passed in 2009
Grace, 38, was born in Narsapur, India. She moved to Hoover, Alabama at two-years old and attended Hoover High School. She has a Bachelor’s in Social Work from UAB and a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Alabama. Grace currently works as the program coordinator for Jessie’s Place, the women and children’s shelter of the Jimmie Hale Mission.
Jegil, 41, was born in Detroit, Michigan and raised in Midfield, Alabama. He graduated UAB with a degree in history and a minor in health education. He played football for UAB, the Edmonton Eskimos in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada as well as the Wyoming Cavalry in Casper, Wyoming. He is currently an entrepreneur and currently owns and operates Pye Tech, a digital payment company.
Grace and Jegil have a Blindian Family, a term for families who are Indian and Black. They invited the world to learn more about Blindian families at the Blindian Project on Facebook.