Left to right, Saumya Pant and her daughters Paavni Pant-Rao and Suhaani Pant-Rao purchase a Christmas tree from Big Lots in Athens, OH, on Dec. 5, 2016. Originally from India, they have also lived in Abu Dhabi and New Mexico.


A Family's Journey: India to Athens

Photos by: Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

Words by: Aubree Dix / For The Post

Clarification: A photo below has been updated to better explain the photo.

Nagesh Rao, 54, and Saumya Pant, 42, met at Ohio University in 1998. At the time, Rao was an interpersonal communication professor, and Pant was working toward a doctorate in communication studies.

Rao, from southern India, and Pant, from northern India, faced disapproval from their parents while dating due to the age gap of almost 13 years and their cultural differences.

Rao and Pant dated for four years before having a traditional Indian wedding in a Hindu temple in Chicago, though they still lived in Athens.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

Husband and father, Nagesh Rao, jokingly places a red Christmas ribbon on his sweatshirt while he pulls Christmas decorations out of shopping bags with his daughter, Paavni, in their Athens home on Dec. 6, 2016. They plan to only be back in Athens for a year as they hope to start an organization for empowering women, called “Siya,” after an Indian god who is a powerful woman known for sacrifice.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

Chicken Curry, Dal, Pulao, Okra and Saag Paneer are conventional North Indian dishes that the Pant-Rao family enjoy. South Indians traditionally use more mustard seed in simpler dishes, while North Indians cook lavish meals with a lot of cumin.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

Saumya "jhootas" the spoon while adding spices to one of her Indian dishes on Nov. 21, 2016. The concept of jhoota originates from the caste system. Someone from a higher caste would never share germs with an untouchable, so tasting from a community dish like this is still looked down upon at most Indians gatherings, especially where elders are present. However, it has become a personal preference that is not an issue for most families. There is no equivalent English word for jhoota.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

The Pant-Rao family eats pizza as they watch the election results roll in on Nov. 8, 2016 in their home. The girls requested to stay up until the new president was revealed. Saumya said, "I'll wake you up if Hillary wins." A few days later Suhaani said, "No one woke me up in the night so I kind of knew that Trump had won. It was sad...I had this feeling that Hillary would really win, but she really did not."

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

While Paavni fills her backpack on Friday afternoon, Nov. 18, 2016, Nagesh ties his shoes. They are preparing to go to Columbus, for the night to celebrate a birthday party with their family friends, the Chandnas, of 18 years.

Their daughters are Paavni, 12, and Suhanni, 10.

The family has lived in Abu Dhabi, India, New Mexico and Athens. Rao and Pant hope Paavni and Suhaani will be able to live in any type of environment.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

"It was pretty good! I really liked it," Suhaani said after eating a Rice Krispy Treat for her first time at her elementary school on Nov. 15, 2016.

They left Abu Dhabi, where they lived in 2005, because they found few research opportunities and disagreed with the restrictions on women’s freedoms.

“Empowerment is not just about rubbing shoulders with men and working with men; it’s about what kind of dignity and self-respect you live your life, what agency you have in life, the capacity to make changes and influence change,” Pant said about the women she taught. “These women have found ways to feel empowered and independent in their domestic spaces.”

Both Rao and Pant taught a racially diverse population of students at the University of New Mexico in 2008.

After Rao’s mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, the family moved to India in 2010. While there, Rao served as president of MICA University. During his time as president, monkeys often camped outside their windows and peered into their home for entertainment.

Having returned to Athens in 2016 in search of better employment, Pant holds a one-year teaching position at Ohio University, and Rao is a consultant for the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“I look different from all of you … Are you curious about the dot I wear or the clothes I wear?” Pant said to her students. “It’s perfectly OK to not know, but it’s also OK for you to ask me rather than (be) uncomfortable around me the whole term.”

Liz Moughon

Saumya kisses Suhaani after picking her up from school on Nov. 15, 2016. In Indian culture people don't usually show public displays of affection, but that's a custom that the Pant-Rao family has dropped since moving back to America and raising their children here.

Liz Moughon

Saumya is a professor of communication studies at Ohio University. On Nov. 4, 2016 she lectured on hijras, male-to-female transgender individuals living mostly in India and Pakistan. At the end of class, she showed a video demonstrating their persecution and how people hire them for all the main holidays and celebrations yet discriminate against them the rest of the time.

Keep scrolling to see the rest of the photos in this photo story.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

Saumya rings the bell at Sri SaiBaba Temple on November 19, 2016. Ringing the bell signifies awaking the goodness in one's soul.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

Paavni applies bright red lipstick at Ulta on Nov. 19, 2016 in Columbus, when she went for her first make-up tutorial.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

After school on Dec. 5, 2016 Paavni and Suhaani look through photos of their old classmates at Mahatma Gandhi International School back in India.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

The Pant-Rao family lingers with the Chandnas and their friends on Nov. 18, 2016. Large and loud gatherings of people are common in Indian culture.

Liz Moughon / Photo Editor

Arianna and Suhaani watch "Mighty Med" TV show after Arianna's birthday party celebration. The Chandnas used to live in Athens, but they moved so the girls don't often have sleepovers anymore.

Liz Moughon

Paavni catches her first snowflakes with her tongue on Nov. 19, 2016 in the Chandna’s neighborhood in Columbus.

Liz Moughon

Paavni was very young when they moved abroad, so on November 19, 2016 in the Chandna’s neighborhood, she saw snow for the first time in her life.

Development by: Seth Archer / Digital Managing Editor

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