Saturday, August 1, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Prageet & Larissa

Larissa and her handsome man are currently in a long distance relationship and living between India & Switzerland!

My name is Larissa and I am from Switzerland. I grew up and I am still living in small town in the eastern part of Switzerland. I have been traveling and living abroad for a quite a bit now. I lived in Canada for 6 months; and travelled to India 3 times. In the last two years, I have spent approximately 7 months in India, in the last two years. I am currently going back in September for another 3 months. My partner's name is Prageet, and he is from New Delhi.

Three words that describe you...
Kind, Friendly, Caring.

Favorite childhood memory...
I do have lots of favorite childhood memories. I especially loved the Summers, where we would pack up our stuff and leave for a week to go camping in Italy. The month of December involves a lot of favorite memories, too. Every day in December, we opened a little door of our advent calendar and got a piece of chocolate until it was my birthday, and until it was Christmas. What a loving time it was!

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I think I feel the most inspired on the airplane! While the plane is taking off - with music in my ears. How nostalgic you can get when you are taking off the ground!

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met online. Simple as that, brings a lot of people questioning if it’s a real thing or not.

How long have you been together?
We have been together for a little over two years now.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
I really admire his power of endurance. It is probably a lot stronger than mine... I am working on it though!

Favorite memory together as a couple...
My favorite memory must be the one when we first met. I finally made it out of the Delhi airport and saw him waiting for me at the end of the exit, surrounded by a hundred of other Indians. To this day, I still smell the scent when I hugged him for the first time.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
To be honest, I didn't know that much. All I knew was that I never wanted to go to India - EVER! Like never ever!!! I used to say that I wanted to see all of the countries - but not India. Look at me now.... traveling to India all the time and spending up to 5 months there at a time. How life can turn out, is ironically funny!!!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
I didn't really tell them - I just said that I had a boyfriend and he was Indian. For the first 4 months of our relationship I mainly kept it a secret, apart from two close friends. Then I announced that I was going to go to India to see him. Most of my family was worried, which I understand now. But this was the only way I could find out if this relationship was worth the distance. My sister tried to warn me that "all Indians smell like curry", which freaked me out. It turned out he didn't smell like curry, and neither did anyone else I have met before who is Indian!

 How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
This relationship has given me so much. It’s not just the love that I get from it - it is also the family, the chance to explore a new country, a new culture and to be part of it. It has changed me in a lot of ways. I am more open minded than before, more careful on how I look at other cultures. I am more respectful, but I also learned how to stand up for myself.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We are not married yet, but I hope we will be one day, and for that I have dreams. I want us to have a happy life, with our children, and happy with our jobs too. I want us to be able to afford to see our respective families at least once a year.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Being independent. Standing up for what you want in life. Also all the lovely holidays, like Christmas. For me, Christmas is a part of my culture - more than my religion. I think it may be harder when we have children, to figure out the perfect balance of both cultures.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
Since we are still in a long distance relationship, the things we do on a daily basis to stay connected is communication - talking on whatsapp, facetiming, sending each other pictures. It is important for me to be able to have as much of a “normal” relationship as possible.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I enjoy the Hindu festivals, although I am not living his culture on a daily basis. I respect and am interested in learning and understanding his culture. I love certain aspects of his culture. And I am excited to have an Indian wedding one day, with all the traditions included!

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
No, they haven’t. They are all very open minded though.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
The hardest thing for me is that as a girl, you are not allowed to be as independent as a boy. In Switzerland, I could go outside by myself without any problems, so it is hard for me sometimes. And my parents do worry for my safety in India.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
I like to think a lot about everything beforehand, so I usually don't have faux-pas. But one thing I cannot bring myself to do is touching the elders' feet. I know it shows respect, but it feels just so weird for me! I feel like it feels weird for them too, because I do it and I am white. 

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
We haven't had a very challenging time yet. We have been fortunate that his family is accepting and my family is very open too. I would say in the beginning, it was just hard to understand each other’s culture. Especially during the first visits with the families.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The different culture brings so much joy. I love celebrating with them when I am there. And having a totally different family from what I had before! The worst is the distance. You don't end up seeing them a lot, because it requires a lot of money to travel back and forth.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That they don’t work. They do work. And the misconception that most of them are just to get into the country or get a visa. And that’s not true. Just because some people do that for money or whatever doesn't mean that ALL of us do this. For most of us it’s LOVE.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Swiss women? 
People think that I am the typical white girl, who drinks a lot of alcohol, goes out to party every night, has had lots of boyfriends. And that I am rich....ha ha ha!!! Just because I am from Switzerland doesn't mean I am rich! I am not any of the above.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Be open to their culture, but also uphold your own culture. Try to work things out if it gets hard, because in the end it’s worth every cultural clash. Be understanding, but stand up for yourself if something's not okay to you. Talk with each other.

(All photos courtesy of Withlovefromlarissa)

Friday, July 31, 2015

When Your Indian Boyfriend Leaves You for an Arranged Marriage

(Img via Buzac Marius)

In recent years, my blog has become more of a forum for masala couples to share their stories, and at times seek advice on masala-related dilemmas and conundrums - many which I air on my weekly Friday help series Ask Firangi Bahu. One of those dilemmas happen to be that many Western women are dumped by their Indian boyfriends who have consented to an arranged marriage, instead of sheepishly admitting to their parents that they have been in an intercultural relationship (oftentimes years-long and serious).

Being dumped by your Indian boyfriend for an arranged marriage is something that most non-Indians have no clue about - your Western friends may feel shocked, baffled and disgusted. But in India, it is all too common. And when your partner is Indian, there is always that fear - because the fact is that generally no Indian parent is going to want their child to marry even outside their region, much less someone from another country - at least initially.

As a married woman, I'm oblivious about when the auspicious Indian wedding season is. But I am always notified of it since during this time, I happen to get a huge volume of emails from Western women who have been dumped by their Indian boyfriends, who have opted to submit to their parents' pressures and agree to an arranged marriage. Usually the Indian partners leave their Western girlfriends abruptly, returning back to India "all of a sudden", claiming that they have been "forced" into a match by their cruel, unfair parents. In reality, many of these men are in fact consenting to the match and are just more concerned about pleasing their family. When a person gives their consent to a marriage, they become a participant in it.

Anyone who knows anything about arranged marriage knows the LONG process of it - these things don't just happen overnight. You can't just find some random girl and get arranged on the spot. Many of these matches are YEARS in the making. Some are even matched when the children are toddlers! First the parents will prod around, suggesting to their child that they should get married soon (this usually starts the second the guy starts working & earning). Then the parents will network and find out if there are any "suitable" girls around from social circles that they know and trust. Sometimes, they will set up an online profile for their child. Then, they will start contacting the "suitable" matches, and check if their astrology is compatible. Then they will meet the "suitable" matches parents'. Then finally, they will have a "bride viewing" and see if the kids like each other. Sometimes they will even go to the lengths of hiring a private detective. Then, there will be a lot more discussions about married life and expectations. Then, finally, a priest will be involved and set both an auspicious engagement date and a wedding date. The process of finding a bride is YEARS in the making, and oftentimes, several matches are considered before picking the "top" one. So, if your Indian partner is acting as if this has "suddenly" happened out of the blue, THEY ARE LYING.

For the Indian partners - the second your parents start prodding around and suggest that you should get married soon - is when you should outrightly nip it in the bud. Don't waste your parents' time. Don't make them look like an idiot while they look for brides for you. Tell them that you have a nice Firangi friend, and that you already have someone in mind for a life partner. End of story. Bullshit avoided.

All the letters I get are basically the same - no situation is unique - which makes me think that this is some kind of silent epidemic. The Indian boyfriend goes for "a vacation" to India. His parents are "forcing" him to get married. He cries to his Western girlfriend, before and after his wedding, saying that she is his one true love. Oftentimes, these MARRIED men come back from India - without their new Indian bride - and attempt to continue the relationship with the Western girlfriend. As a married man!!! Essentially cheating both the Western woman and their new Indian bride. The Western woman will sometimes feel sorry for them and agree to continue the relationship, provided that the Indian partner gets a divorce (rarely happens). It is dysfunctional and dramatic, to say the least, all thanks to the Indian partner who just didn't have the spine to tell his parents that he wanted to marry someone different. 

The Western women fail to realize that in their boyfriend (now EX-boyfriend, since he is fully committed to somebody else!!!) is NOT A VICTIM in fact, but rather a participant to this circus. Whether they are an active or passive participant depends on them. But when a person who is in love with a woman for years and starts to build a life with her - and knowingly gets married to someone else - that is WRONG on all levels. There are hundreds of opportunities to stop the circus - up until those 7 times around the sacred fire. It is a big mess of one's own making - and the only person who can be blamed is the Indian partner, who is being dishonest not only to his own true feelings, but his Western girlfriend, his new Indian bride, the bride's family, and his own parents.

It comes down to the fact that the Indian partner is certainly willing to pursue the relationship privately, but is unwilling to stand up to his parents and the world about his choice in love. That he would rather get conveniently arranged to somebody else rather than standing up for what he believes in. And trust me, that is someone you do not want to be married to, 'til death do you part. No matter what sweet romances he whispers in your ear. More than whatever men say, you have to take into account their actions.

If your Indian partner doesn't learn to stand up for you before marriage, then why would you even WANT to marry him? Really consider life after you get to the altar - because that's when the story really begins - you are not just marrying the man, but you are marrying his family too. You may have to live with them at some point. Do you really want a partner that won't stand up for you and fight for your love? Plus, it's an intercultural relationship, so you will face opposition from random strangers on the street. Will he stand up for you then?

For the Western women who have been dumped, I always tell them that:

1. Your ex-boyfriend is an adult who is making a choice.
2. It's not you, it's him, and it is his problem - a mess of his OWN making.
3. Give yourself time to get over the heartbreak and grieve the loss of the relationship.
4. Do not get involved with him (or any man) who is committed to somebody else, no matter how much they say they love you - EVER!!!
5. Be grateful that you are not that arranged new bride and you are able to leave the relationship and start over fresh.
6. Not all Indian men will be like this; don't completely write off ALL Indian men for one bad apple! There are many amazing Indian men out there who will not only fight for your love, but will make great fathers and life partners too. Don't settle for anything less!!!

The most courageous of these letters I get are the Indian partners who are standing up to their parents' and facing verbal, emotional or physical violence. When they are facing a threat of physical violence and/or being disowned from their parents forever and choosing to push through and fight for their love/lifestyle, it makes the men who are claiming their parents are "forcing them" (when in fact they don't have the balls to tell them in the first place) look completely wimpy and spineless. To each his own, but I have heard from people who are much, much worse off...Not to mention, disrespectful to the REAL victims of Indian forced marriages, who are typically young girls under the age of 18.

P.S. If you think are facing verbal, physical or emotional violence, forced or early marriage, please reach out to others for help and do not stay silent. Organizations like The Love Commandos, Against Forced Marriage (UK), Forced Marriage Project can help.


Dear readers, do you know of friends who have been dumped by an arranged marriage?
If so, what advice do you give them?
Why do people consent to life partnerships when they wish they could marry someone else?
Do you think this is a silent epidemic?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The foreigner with sindoor

Having been going back and forth to India for the last decade, one thing I have noticed is that the number of fellow Firangi's keep steadily increasing - which really warms my heart.

On my first time in Hyderabad, we only saw one other foreigner for the entire months that we were there. It was practically shocking to see her, and even I felt scared to strike up a conversation! It was in the elevator at the Deloitte building - she was a blonde lady wearing a kurta. She was working there, and we were visiting a friend. She was holding a file folder and had a security pass. She was completely at ease. I will never forget her! Having just arrived in India, and trying to find my footing, I had hoped that one day I'd be just like her.

Now that husband-ji has lived abroad and become a total diva, he insists on staying in nice hotels rather than staying in his family home - "for the A/C", so he says. In the hotels, there are lots of Westerners, of course. They used to only stay in the safety of their hotels, but nowadays many are venturing out and about around town. I really love seeing fellow Firangi's exploring India, even if they only visit tourist traps. At least it is some thing! It is a rare sight to see other mixed couples such as us - even in the West. The most we saw were in Delhi or Bangalore, and only recently too. The majority being Western women and Indian men, on their honeymoon.

It is rare to see a woman such as myself - especially in Hyderabad. A middle class wife who dresses like a local - with sindoor and all. On our last trip to India, when we were shopping around my favorite Park Lane in Secunderabad, I saw someone just like me...

A woman on a scooter turned to look back and I spotted her. The foreigner with sindoor. Her curls were in a long braid with an unmistakeable red down the part on her forehead. No makeup, simple jewelry, perfect Salwar Kameez, rubbery flip flops - not trying to stand out. A young Indian girl was on the back, holding her waist as she zipped through traffic. She looked quite Indian - in fact it didn't immediately hit me that she was a fellow Firangi. My gaze was hooked in the sixth sense that you get when you see one of your countrymen. She disappeared into traffic, into the heavy swarm of vehicles.

I continued on with our shopping with my cousin-sisters, picking up a Chhota Bheem balloon for Maya. We were waiting on the busy road side for husband-ji, Maya and the driver to come round and get us, and I'm sure I looked completely ridiculous standing on the road with this giant life-sized balloon. Men on motorcycles started pointing at us and making comments, as my cousin-sisters were irritated. I started waving the balloon in the air as I saw husband-ji's car approaching - just in case he couldn't see me - which now seems ridiculous as I'm sure I stuck out like a sore thumb! People stared more as I waved the balloon, and my cousin-sisters were absolutely embarrassed and scarred for life.

Suddenly, The Firangi with Sindoor popped out of the lane way in front of us. She was on her scooter, 5 feet away from us, where I could see her perfectly. She sat on the scooter and stared us down, while the young girl on the back seat was not so subtle - pointing her finger at us with her jaw dropped. We stared at each other for about a minute as she waited for a break in the traffic, and sped off. It was the first time that I ever saw anybody remotely like me.

I wanted to say so many things then, but I was just struck mute by the sight of her. What are the odds, really? That in a city of 11.4 million people, that I'd see my doppelganger?! I wanted to say hello, but I felt shy. Anything I could have or should have said in that moment, would cheapen it. Words were spoken through our eyes and then, like the way life flickers, she was off forever - devoured by my maximum city. I haven't stopped thinking about her since.

Although no words were spoken, there was a strange camaraderie in our staring contest. A staring contest that only a fellow wife of an Indian would give. She seemed fearful; and a bit apprehensive of me. She was definitely tougher than me - braving to ride the scooter all by herself. I wondered if the girl on the back was her daughter or maybe a relative - it's hard to tell with mixed kids. Her expression was tough, and sentimental - like she was looking back at the younger version of herself. She was detached, mature with experience, hardened. In that moment - and I don't know why - I got the intuitive message that she was silently telling me all that she had been through. It was a magnetic connection, an aloof enchantment of sorts.

I recognized this gaze instantly, as the gaze that I catch myself giving young rookie bahu's. Especially the ones in the first year of their relationship, having hardly experienced any cultural clashes at all. Just wait til they land in India; Just wait til they have kids', is what I always think! Many young bahu's will look at me with awe and wonder; as I glance with a knowing, hardened stare - as if to say: "been there, done that, just wait for what comes next..." Having been in my relationship for a decade, I'd like to think of myself as a mature, seasoned bahu - but sometimes, I wonder if it's all a continuation of the beginning. Maybe I am indeed the rookie bahu.

The stare that lady gave me was familiar to me, in a parallel universe. Realizing this, I thought to myself, "Is this the future me? An indifferent, hardened, mature woman? Am I this foreigner with sindoor?

I would like to become as brave and confident as her, but I hope I keep some of my wonder too...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Saturdays with Daddy

One of our weekly routines that has really been working for our family lately is husband-ji's special day with Maya - every Saturday!

As we have our own business, husband-ji has to work 6 days a week, which hardly gives him enough 1-on-1 time with Maya. A while ago, we devised a plan wherein I sub in for work for him on Saturdays, so he can spend the whole day with Maya. This has been beneficial for all of us - I get to be an adult and work for an entire day uninterrupted; and husband-ji gets an entire day with his daughter - without me. 

As a mother, I have to stop myself from hovering over both of them, and this arrangement helps us tremendously! When I had meningitis, husband-ji had to take off work and take care of Maya for 7 days completely by himself and he could hardly handle her at all, feed her, dress her, or brush her hair. I realized then that he just needed more time with her to know how to do all these things by himself. By doing these special "Saturdays with Daddy", he has really come a long way in his confidence as a dad! And now, they have so much fun together!

It is always interesting to see the kinds of things they do together. And it is a big secret from me! All morning long they will be whispering about their secret plans. I only find out about what they did when I get home from work on Saturday evening and Maya eagerly tells me with delight! It is so heart-warming, and it makes me feel so much affection towards him as a co-parent.

For example, several times they went to the Aquarium. I think husband-ji does this because it reminds him of his Biology professor mum. Maya is also obsessed with Beluga whales.

Another weekend, he took her to a rock concert that they had at a local street festival. Maya was in the front row and dancing like crazy!

And he also took her to the Bloedel Conservatory to see the parrots.

With me, I always take her to the park or the beach or something relatively boring like that. But with Daddy, she does all this extra-special stuff! Both of them look forward to it all week long!

Coincidentally, "Saturday with Daddy" is also one of our favorite story books! I think Maya loves this book a lot because it's so similar to this routine we do! Saturdays with Daddy is our "new normal"!

Coincidentally, in such an uncanny parallel, I have started a new ritual of my own, where I spend every Friday morning with my Dad. Even though he gives me anxiety, and even though he doesn't really take care of himself, I realized that I still need my dad. And that I'd just better spend time with him, because who knows how long he will even be around. I can't control the outcome of his health, but I can prioritise my schedule so that I can spend quality time with him, at least once per week. And I'm quite surprised to say, that in fact it doesn't make me anxious - it gives me something to look forward to! For me, the real joy in life is about spending time with family.


Dear readers, what's the "new normal" in your family?
Do you have any special routines that you do that really work for your family?

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