Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bahu gets a promotion!

Earlier in the Summer, husband-ji went to India for 3 weeks for his cousin-brother's wedding. It was a grand, uber-traditional Tamil wedding - arranged, of course - to a girl from a smaller, more traditional city. Basically, by Iyengar standards, she was the perfect Tamil bride - beautiful, thin, fair, young, extremely sheltered by her parents, from a smaller city, and hates garlic, onion, and North Indian food. A South Indian bride, through and through - and probably the most traditional out of all the sister-in-law's (me included) who have married into the paternal side of the family. As you guys might remember, I could not go for the wedding because I was helping my parents' shift houses, and also I did not want to risk me or Maya fainting from the inhumane May heat in Tamil Nadu.

Anyways, during the wedding time, I kept in touch via modern technology and watched the ceremony via Skype and spoke to everyone giving my congratulations.

And then, something interesting happened...

Husband-ji handed the phone to his uncle (the groom's father) and I offered my congratulations for the marriage. Here is how the conversation went:

Me: "Congratulations uncle!"
Uncle: "Congratulations to YOU!"
Me: "To me, why???"
Uncle: "Now you have been promoted to the ELDER SISTER-IN-LAW!"

I was a little shocked, because it just dawned on me that this WHOLE TIME I have been the dreaded choti bahu. And that people actually think this way. And friggin' thank god, I was finally getting a promotion!!!

Even though husband-ji and I have been together for 10 years, we have only been married for 5 years (because obviously the first 5 years of me waiting around to get married to him doesn't exactly count in desi family values). Technically, I was the last bride to marry into the family, making me sister-in-law #3. That means that until now, I have been under scrutiny. I totally forgot about all of this because since I have had Maya (produced an offspring for the clan) most of the extended family has gone easier on me because I have distracted them by being an amazing mother.  (Shocking, I know. That a Firangi can actually be a devoted mother!) Luckily, I had Maya 9 months to the day of our honeymoon, so I didn't have to deal with too much choti bahu nonsense. However, for some families, choti bahu bullying can last a lifetime.

(My wedding day)

You see, the choti bahu - or the newest bride to the family (and thus, the youngest), is subjected to all kinds of strange treatment. Everything about her is dissected. Her appearance is torn apart. Everyone discusses IF she cooks, and WHAT she cooks, and HOW often. Does she have her husband on a tight leash? How does she express affection with her husband? How does she get along with in-laws? Is she an obedient daughter-in-law? Does she work outside the home? Is she eager to impress? And whom does she want to impress? She is basically put under a microscope - for years - as people try to figure out how this new, unknown person fits into the complicated and tight-knit Indian family structure. Her each and every move is sliced apart. Her relation to others in the family. What she says and does not say. Being the newest daughter-in-law in the family is a LOT of pressure, and nothing you do goes unnoticed. Most daughter-in-law's are ruthlessly compared to the angelic daughters of the family, and to their co-sister's-in-law's, as if they are being lined up to perform some Olympic rat race.

Of course, men do not have to deal with this kind of sorority hazing because they technically never leave their natal home - emotionally, at least. Such discussions are limited to the ladies - all hush-hush talk in back rooms, kitchens, and private phone conversations and messages when the guys are out - because, let's face it - the guys just don't get it! Somehow I think that if the guys of the family were subjected to as much comparison, then they'd murder each other in less than 10 seconds.

For example, even though I have not met my new cousin sister-in-law, I know how she chops her vegetables, how she cooks, the dynamic between her and her husband, and all sorts of odd random details that have made it all the way to Canada through the desi family grapevine. The newest bride is always the newest gossip.

One thing I am relishing is as the years go by my seniority in the desi family increases. And with seniority, comes more respect. I have come a long way since being "the foreign girlfriend" and I'm glad to be in a better position. In desi families, there is a clear hierarchy - especially for women who marry into the family. It's sort of like marrying into a sorority house where they haze the new members to scare the shit out of them - lets just call it "kappa delta desi"!

Being promoted to the "elder sister-in-law" role is basically like being promoted to that cushy corner office with the great view...where you can basically do whatever the f**k you want!


Dear readers, do you have some "choti bahu" stories to share?
Did you face any hazing as a new bride?


Monday, August 8, 2016

Loving Living Small

When you think about your dream home, most adults would likely say that they'd like to live in a large house, with a big yard, a garage, lots of bedrooms, a big kitchen, and why not throw in a swimming pool and a nice car too. This is the American dream, and especially the NRI's dream. 

For any Indian who has moved abroad, the biggest moment is buying a big house to show off to their desi relatives, proving to them that they have done well in America. Sadly, the house is usually in the middle of nowhere, and the majority of the bedrooms sit empty year-round, because...well, everyone else is in India.

One of my favorite TV shows is called House Hunters, because I'm basically a big snoop and I like to see inside people's houses - around the world and in the U.S. Whenever we watch an American episode, the Americans are always complaining of not enough space and storage. Like they need at least 5 bedrooms. For two people. And the husband always needs a big garage. For what? I don't get it. And the kicker...the house is usually priced under $500,000!

Earlier this Summer, my parents sold their house and moved to a new 3000 square foot rental home. Then, they went on vacation for two months, so we house-sat and took care of our family dog. The new rental is a beautiful two storey character home with 4 bedrooms, 3 storage rooms, 2 living rooms, and a swimming pool. The garden is HUGE and it was bigger than most dog parks in Vancouver. In such an urban city, it is so rare to find a house with some green space, which was lovely. 

(The garden)

I thought it would be such a treat to stay in a bigger house for a few months to have more space, especially since my in-law's were coming and they could have their own bedroom. At first, we loved it. Maya is very active, so it was great to have a nice garden that she could run around in and play soccer (her new obsession). But then, we started to hate it...

It's weird, isn't it? That's the American dream - to live in a bigger space, everyone with their own rooms, lots of SPACE....that's what we're all supposed to strive for, right? But after a while, I just couldn't stand it anymore. The house was just too massive. I was exhausted getting from one room to another, and going up and down the stairs. It was like a black hole - people would disappear and you'd actually have to search the house to find out where everyone was. The space was too overwhelming. The garden seemed terrifying at night, as if anyone could be watching us from behind the bushes. I just didn't feel comfortable. I yearned to be back at my small apartment.

I thought it was just me, but surprisingly everyone else felt the same way. Husband-ji started to complain that the commute was too long to get to work, and he was tired from driving so much. My in-law's started to complain that the house was too isolated from everything. Maya kept asking me when we were going back to our "old place".

A month into my in-law's stay, my parents returned and we were all relieved to move back to our apartment. Our apartment is 1000 square feet and has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an office. It is not a big place, but we love it. We live in a very busy area, on a main road, with 10 excellent restaurants and a major grocery store within a 1 block radius. Our workplace is a 7 minute walk from our apartment. We live a few blocks from the beach. There are three beautiful children's parks near us, and a movie theater too. My in-law's do not have their own bedroom, so they sleep on the floor. They are much happier here living in a busy area - it's as close to India as they could get. Even at our family home in India, everyone seems to be more content sleeping on the floor. My father-in-law is out and about all day, exploring, going to the library and community centers, and picking up groceries. My mother-in-law doesn't go out too much but she does love to sit at the window like a typical desi granny and spy on people! Most of the time, we spend the day in the living room all together, peacefully co-existing and interacting. The only time we really go into our bedrooms is at night, to sleep. I actually feel like our master bedroom is too big, and it could be smaller because we are hardly ever in there. When we want some outdoor time, we either go to the beach or the parks, and there's always lots of kids for Maya to play with. It has more of a community-feel. Less like you're stranded in the middle of nowhere, like The Shining.

(My father-in-law working on the dining table; my mother-in-law watching TV)

I love living in a smaller space. You know where everything is, you have less, but you spend more time together as a family. I know I should want some huge house, but I don't. At least for right now, I wouldn't trade it for anything.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Bibi's Bhang ki Chaatni (Hemp Seed Chutney)

Hi, I'm Bibi and I'm honored to do a recipe guest post on Alex's blog today! If you'd like to learn more about me please check out my interview here or visit my blog Keep Calm & Curry On.

Zesty, zingy, and healthy too this recipe combines the goodness of hemp seeds with the bright flavors of mint and lime. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of the "right" fatty acids, fiber, and all the essential amino acids for a "perfect protein" in a vegetarian diet. Try this tasty chutney as a healthful addition to any rice or roti based meal.

Yes, "bhang" means hemp or marijuana. No, you will not get "high" or even a buzz from this chutney as hemp seeds are not psychoactive. Bhang or hemp seeds are actually a fairly common pantry item here in the Himalayas. I bought these bhang seeds our local market for a few rupees an ounce. They are favored for their nutty flavor in chutneys and they do taste a lot like sunflower seeds and a bit like pine nuts. I can certainly see how they'd be great in a basil pesto. Nutritionally, hemp seeds are a great source of balanced omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, both soluble and insoluble fiber, and all the 20 amino acids necessary for good health. They are considered a "warming" food in the Ayurvedic and Unani sense so eating them in small amounts as in this chutney is recommended.

1/3 cup hemp/bhang seeds
1 tsp garlic/lahsun paste
1 tsp ginger/adrakh paste
2-3 green chilis/hari mirch, roughly chopped (omit for less heat)
2 Tbsp oil of choice (I used rice bran oil)
1 Tbsp lime/nimbu luice
3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint/pudina or 1 TBS dried mint
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp chaat masala or dry roasted cumin/jeera seeds
salt to taste

Here's what to do:
1) Dry roast hemp/bhang seeds in a kadhai or deep skillet for about 3 minutes or until seeds begin to turn brown. Remove from heat and allow seeds to cool to room temperature.

2) When cooled, grind dry roasted hemp seeds to powder using mortar and pestle, sil-batta, or electric coffee grinder. Mix ground hemp seed powder with garlic paste, ginger paste, green chilis, oil of choice, lime juice, mint, water, and chaat masala until smooth in mixie, blender, or food processor. Salt to taste and keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and do come visit me at Keep Calm & Curry On for more culinary fun!

Calmly currying on,

Monday, July 18, 2016

Joint Family Life thus far!

For most people, living with their In-laws would be a nightmare come true. It has been 2 months since my In-laws moved in with us, and it has been nothing less than a dream. 

Traditionally, most young newlywed couples (in India, at least) move in with the husband's parents as newlyweds, which can cause a lot of tension. There are loads of TV shows about joint family strife and drama. After getting to know my in-law's for the past 10 years and developing a solid friendship and rhythm with them, it is only now that they have moved in with usAnd you know what? I don't think I would have appreciated their help as much then, as I do now. I used to like to be an independent woman and do everything by myself...until I had kids!!! After having a child, it's impossible to do pretty much anything at all. Even the most simple tasks like going grocery shopping or using the toilet in privacy is difficult. Forget about ever having a nap during the day. Having my in-law's help, and their companionship has been incredibly comforting.

Like many mothers of young children who live in nuclear families, I have found it extremely difficult over the years to complete all my household work, prepare fresh meals for my family, work on my own passions, and find time for myself on a daily basis. Living in a joint family has alleviated ALL of that stress because I now have two extra helping hands around the house. My In-laws' unwavering support has made my life so easy, as a woman, as a mother, and as a wife. 

Just as I suspected (and hoped!), as soon as my mother-in-law landed, she hijacked my kitchen. She cooks 3 fresh meals a day and could arguably be one of India's top chefs. Her spicy home-style Andhra cooking is famous in husband-ji's family. Prior to her arrival, it has been a struggle for me for YEARS to cook for my picky-eater husband. Now all that stress has gone now that she has arrived. We are all extremely happy, well fed, and definitely plumpy!

(What dinner looks like!)

Probably the most surprising thing to me is how helpful my father-in-law is around the house. I have actually never spent so much time with him, as he has only visited us for a maximum of 1-2 weeks before because he was always working. I used to think he was one of the more traditional members when it comes to gender roles, however he has equally taken charge of household tasks. He takes care of the dog, feeds him, and walks him. He walks to the grocery store twice a day and buys everything we need. He is also obsessed with keeping the sink empty so he washes all the dishes and loads the dishwasher every day. Which means that my only responsibility in the kitchen is putting the soap in the dishwasher flap and turning it on. Yes, my only responsibility is pressing a button!!!

And that's not even the best part. Now that my In-laws are living with us, husband-ji and I can go on a date night any night of the week. My mother-in-law says we don't even have to ask her if we can go out. So far, we are averaging going out about 2-3 times a week, which is such a luxury. Before, we would have to pre-book the babysitter and eagerly covet our date nights, where we would basically be $200 broker after going to dinner and a movie (plus paying the babysitter). Not only that, but it was all limited in time and rushed, since we had to be back by a certain time so the babysitter could go home. My parents have tried to help out as best as they can over the years, but they are working full-time, both not in good health, and elderly. My in-law's are 10 years younger than my parents, so it's a completely different generation and they have a lot more energy.

I also don't feel any pressure to be the ideal bahu as I have felt in previous years. In years past, I have always wanted to impress my in-law's and have exasperated myself but now I feel like just being me is enough. I genuinely feel like they like me, and they are not judging me, and I can be comfortable around them just as if they were my biological parents. I really feel as though I am their daughter.

I knew when my in-law's moved in with us, that Maya would thrive the most because grandparents and grandchildren have such a dear, special bond. But I truly had no idea how much husband-ji and I would thrive...just as much as her!

Joint family life is definitely for me! I never want to go back!

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