Saturday, August 31, 2013

Telugu girl's passport confiscated by parents for marrying a foreigner

As I was sifting through Telugu news this week, I came across this crazy story of a girl who eloped with a foreigner, despite her parents' opposition, and in turn had her passport confiscated by her parents. The young couple is now trapped as they cannot leave the country without her passport.

How terrible of her to marry a foreigner. What a life of misery, right? (sarcastic)

I thought this story was quite peculiar. Why would her parents care so much? With a foreign man, they wouldn't have to worry about a dowry, or ever losing their daughter as she shifts from her natal home (Western families cherish inlaws equally on both sides) Many Indian families are severely protective of the girls, and in some cases can be incredibly controlling. I doubt an Indian son from this family would've had as much opposition - it is funny how when a son marries a Western woman, they learn to accept it; and when a daughter marries a Western man, they question her judgement of even being capable to make such a decision (as if she is overrun with lust and desire). How typical is it - that when a family wants to assert control over a daughter - the first thing they limit is her mobility? Of course, there is the possibility that the family thought he was not a "good guy", whatever constitutes as that. I was not seen as a "good girl" by many of the extended family until after my wedding (as if that made me valid or chaste!) I feel bad for that guy, who came all the way to India to get her parents' blessing, only to be rejected in some ridiculous Indian family dynasty power play drama. I hope this young couple gets justice.

"Different countries, different languages...but love united them. They wanted to get married with the elders' blessings. Like all love stories, the parents' didn't accept. What happened next? What consequences did the couple face for giving the elders respect to ask for their permission? The girl is Maria, from Hyderabad. The guy is named Nikolai. They work in the same company in Dubai and fell in love. They came back to Hyderabad to convince her parents they wanted to get married. Maria's parents did not understand their love. They firmly refused to allow her to get married. They said it was a final decision. Maria & Nikolai went to Mumbai and eloped. Because of that, the parents threatened Maria, "We will see how you'll return to Dubai", and took away her passport. The couple complained at the Mumbai police station and a complaint was filed. The police said the couple has to go back to Hyderabad to file a complaint there. Maria is scared to go to Hyderabad - "What will happen? What will my parents do to me there?" The couple is demanding justice.
(In English - 1:11 - 2:05)
Is it wrong to fall in love? Is it wrong to marry the man you love? If the passport is given back, then they will live their life their way."


What do you think, dear readers? Would she have faced the same thing if she was an Indian guy? Do you notice that some traditional Indian parents try to restrict a girl's mobility as a means of control?


Friday, August 30, 2013

Why we decided to settle in Canada (rather than the U.S.)

(Maya & her dad at the beach, 2013)

Husband-ji and I both met when we were attending college in the U.S. as international students. At the time we graduated, we were both given an OPT card that allowed us to work in the U.S. for a year - and after the year was over, we were supposed to either ask a company for a work visa (which would cost the company up to $5000) or leave the country. Mind you, this was during the last year of the Bush reign and the economy was at it's worst. Many employers didn't want to spend that kind of money, when they could easily have hired an American without the hassle of a visa. Our last year in the U.S, we spent in San Francisco, which turned out to be a way more conservative city than I had expected (whatever happened to those cool hippies?) But in reality, I was getting the intuition that living in the US may not be good for us, even the year before. I was starting to really miss my family, and I was realizing all of the struggles you have to go through if you're not a citizen - for example, we always had to think twice before going to the doctor, due to the cost. I realized, why are we doing this when we can just move back to Canada and have a better quality of life? It was a huge decision that we made which changed the course of our life forever. It was extremely stressful to change countries, but it was well worth it in the long-term.

Many of our Indian relatives think good ol' USA is this glamourous place where everybody drives a Mercedes. What they don't know, is that the majority of Americans can't even afford to see a doctor when they're sick. What kind of life is that? So many of our Indian family are desperate to send their kids to the US because they think that's the only option...and it's not. It's not even the best option. And when husband-ji says we are living in Canada, they look down upon us. For many Indians (who have not left India) the US is this illusion of huge mansions, Hollywood, Statue of Liberty, everyone rolling around in wads of money...etc. Most of the international students we went to school with ended up leaving the US (but that was before Obama came in)

Canada always flies under the radar. Everyone automatically thinks it's a cold place where it snows all the time, like the Arctic circle or something. Like we live in some Eskimo hut and go ice fishing. It's pretty much the same as the US, but I would say more relaxed in every way. We like to watch American TV, movies, and news, for entertainment but we aren't really that dramatic in our own lives. People are polite, but standoffish at times. If you bump into someone, THEY will say sorry! And yes, we can identify an American walking down the road. I can't explain how but we just know. And as I lived in the US and have a soft-spot for Americans, I can sniff out an American with super sonic speed, since I know all the accents. There are more neighbourhood shopping districts, and less malls; people walk around more, than drive.

Moving back to Canada, it's pretty much been smooth sailing. I've been quite pleased. I was able to bring Madhavan into the country before we were married, on common-law status; all the benefits for children have come in really handy (the government pays us!); cheap and good quality healthcare; and also sponsoring my inlaws to come live with us. Not only that, but being Canadian has really affected my personality - although I like to call myself a global citizen - I really have some sort of a "Canadian finesse" about things (ie. dealing with difficult people in a very civilised manner - "you can win more bees with honey")

Here are a few reasons why we love Canada:

- great place to raise a family (1 year maternity leave provided by the government even if you're self-employed at 55% pay)
- health care (when I had my baby, I only had to pay $37 for a TWO day hospital stay in a large 400 sq ft private room)
- able to sponsor husband-ji's parents to immigrate here (we have applied and it takes 5 years, and then they will be permanent residents and can work if they want to, or not)
- common-law sponsorship (I sponsored husband-ji back when he was only my boyfriend and it took 7 months)
- excellent school system (not only are public schools free, but Canadian kids score in the top 10 of 65 countries)
- support from the government for children (for each child we get $150/month until they're 6 years old, to help cover for baby costs; also if you put in $2500/year into an RESP at the bank, the government will donate an extra $500 for your child...per YEAR!)
- universities are more affordable (54% of kids from low-income families are able to send their kids for post-secondary education)
- more tolerant to other ways of life (gay marriage has been legal for over 10 years, and we encourage immigration - half of Canada's millionaires are immigrants)
- better work/life balance (2 weeks paid vacation and 9 public holidays)
- not scared to travel & get exposure to other cultures (65% of Canadians hold passports - 35% of Americans have passports; 5% of Indians have passports - also we are more accepted as friendly travelers around the world)
- water supply is not a problem (our water bill is less than $30/month - we have the most water/inhabitant of any developed country)
- peaceful spirit (Canada was recently ranked the 8th most peaceful country in the world)
- safer on the streets (fewer murders and mass-shootings)

But the main reason for me was my family is here, and I thought it would be a better place for us to have children. Y'all know I like to think long-term! Of course, there are things that I don't like about Canada (Vancouver especially is less friendlier and the cost of living is more expensive than Hong Kong) but overall, I'm happy we moved here. Sometimes I wish we lived in Toronto because there are more young people, but I would miss living by the ocean too much. Of course, I miss my American friends, the American friendliness, and the cheap shopping - but I can always phone up my friends and/or hop across the border to get my Target shopping fix!

The health care, the education, the immigration for husband-ji's parents...all were the main decisions for us.

Check out THIS ARTICLE for the rest of Canada's strength in case you want to know more.

P.S. I'm not saying Canada is better...but it is just better for us.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thoughts on the CNN iReport - "It's not about Indian men"

(Img via)

Last week, an article online went viral about a University of Chicago student (Michaela Cross) who suffered from PTSD after coming back from a 3 month trip to India. During her trip, she suffered repeated sexual harassment which in turn had long-lasting mental effects on her.

Well, of course it did! The article brought me to tears as I read how this poor girl was victimised over and over again, completely helpless and unaware of how to cope with something like that in a foreign country.

Listen, there is a problem here. When many young women cannot go out without a male chaperone (or a group of people around her), has to cover herself from head to toe, cannot speak to any man without appearing "forward", is much more respected when wearing 3 or more symbols of marriage (as I've noticed)...there is a serious problem

I love India, and have had many wonderful experiences traveling around, and especially with Indian people and my beautiful Indian family. India is my favorite country on Earth. The reason why I get so frustrated with India - is because it is not safe for a woman - and India is better than that. Women (and Indian women most importantly) deserve better. And now that I have a half-Indian daughter, I'm much more passionate about it. Every fetus that gets aborted just because it's a girl, every girl that gets handed over to her inlaws as a piece of property with a furniture set, every girl who is gang-raped and victim-blamed - every girl feels like my own daughter. 

I wish for that foreign student that she could've experienced a different India. I wish so badly for her...I wish she would come back and give it another try, but who can blame her if she doesn't... What is worse, to die like Nirbhaya, or to survive like the recent Mumbai gang-rape victim? To survive with PTSD like Michaela? What is worse??? And all to feel shame? And all to deal with victim-blaming just for being in the wrong time/wrong place???

Husband-ji says that the woman always gets blamed for everything. If the eldest daughter gets raped, they will blame her because it will be hard to get the younger sisters married. If the family loses money in business after the new wife enters the family, she will get blamed. If she has a daughter instead of a son, she will get blamed. Attitudes are changing in our generation, but the elders who believe these things are keeping these attitudes alive.

Of course, dear readers, y'all already know I'm slightly feminist by my writing. How can I not be with a daughter? How can I not be when I have had endless freedoms my whole life (freedom of speech, expression, safety, an equal partnership) and yet so many of my Indian sisters do not?

The reason why I'm writing this post is mainly because I'm absolutely pissed that Internet commenters are more concerned about the reputation of India / Indian men, than showing sympathy for this poor girl's unique personal experience. I mean, really. REALLY?!?! Even women!!! That's what really gets's all fellow women!!! Instead, many completely discredit this poor girl for spilling her heart out and bravely telling her story - and make it all about "it's a generalization", "it makes Indian men look bad", blah blah, it's all crap. All you're concerned about is reputation? As a woman, how can you not feel for that girl? HELLO!!! Wake the f*** up and feel something!!! The article is about the long-lasting effects of repeated sexual harassment!!!! Are people that daft to reduce her unique personal experience to "it makes Indian men look bad"??? If people are soooooo concerned about India's reputation, then feel free to actually stand up and be a good samaritan when you see a woman getting harassed or eve-teased! Don't look the other way!!! Blame the people that committed these offences, instead of the girl who was brave enough to talk about it!

What the heck is the world coming to? When so many people cannot have a shred of empathy, no matter how horrific the story??? My husband read the article and was very upset. He was very upset for that poor girl. I told him some internet commenters are saying "it makes Indian men look bad", and he said, "no it doesn't. It's not about Indian men."

 Are "foreign" women supposed to keep their mouth shut about anything remotely bad about any experience in India? Of course we are, because so many Indian women can't even talk about it and that's in their own country! A country which has failed so many women over and over... with family honour only being located in a girl's vagina, with the absolute failure of the justice system (Delhi Rape case fast-tracked, but still not over 8 months later; Nirbhaya fund $$$ crores not even dispersed), the half-witted desensitivity of the police (to prevent rape the Mumbai police are taking down revealing mannequins in retail stores), countless unreported sexual violations for fear of shame...and a country in which marital rape is not considered a crime, yet half of all women suffer in silence from domestic violence (just ask any local hospital)!!!

I know the rules very well, "Don't air the dirty laundry", "Don't talk anything bad in case it offends"...Well, guess what? It NEEDS to be talked about. And I don't play by those rules. Thank God it is getting the media attention that it deserves. How dare Michaela single India out and make these "generalizations"?? (umm...excuse me, there is a reason why India is #3 most dangerous country for a woman after Afghanistan & Somalia) Where so many women are never respected equally (many within my own extended family) by either being put on a pedestal or treated like a slave and nothing in between (and a pedestal is just as much a cage as anywhere else)

There is an extremely dark underbelly of Indian society and it lies in the concept of the "totem pole" vertical society - the higher up on the totem pole, the more you are respected/can get away with; the lower on the totem pole, the more you are abused, inferior AND even compliant in accepting the abuse. Discrimination in terms of age, caste, wealth, gender...the list goes on. Respect is in the eye of the beholder. The separateness (outside the family walls, feel free to fend for yourself). The "look the other way", "don't get involved". The concept of "shame". Defending reputation at ALL costs...(might as well sell your soul while you're at it)

So, let me ask you one thing...the Delhi rape case is by far the most publicized of all of these violences against women in India, because it was so horrific. It got thousands of people out on the street and it actually got some great laws passed. And it looks like the Mumbai one is following suit. Why then, did nobody say that "it makes Indian men look bad", "she's ruining our reputation", "it's a generalization"...? Any explanation?

Could it be, perhaps...because she is a "foreigner"? Dare I bring it up? Because she is "an outsider"? What, then? Please tell me the reason.

Food for thought...

And FYI - the only people who are responsible for ruining India's reputation, are the people that commit these heinous crimes AND GET AWAY WITH IT (no accountability, slow justice is justice forgotten)

Many of you may think I have no right to talk about this. I'm not going to keep quiet about something that is alarming and needs to be addressed, no matter what country it is. We need to band together as global citizens, and most importantly, as women - as sisters - and allow for these types of things to be openly discussed without judgement or disconsideration. No matter the country. India gets no VIP treatment from that. Sorry if that brings a few demons out of the glitz & glam of the Bollywood movie that is the Incredible India campaign. I have a deep & unwavering love of Mother India and THAT IS WHY I cannot stay silent about her demons. I am a true patriot here - the patriot that is willing & aware to hold a mirror up to the country which I love and wish to see improve to all it's glory. Because I want to continue to go & I want my daughter to know half of her culture & most importantly I want us to feel safe. If violence happens to one girl, it is one too many. I do not want India to "mimic" anybody - but I do expect India to give respect and equality to it's daughters (if they can give it to sons, they can give it to daughters). And no, that's not a lot to ask!!!

And for all the folks who are concerned about reputation...put yourself in that girl's shoes for a few minutes. Stop the judgement. Seriously. Empathy has no room for ego. Michaela's story is hers and hers alone. It does not reflect badly on anything or anyone. Please pray for this young girl Michaela Cross so she feels confident to face the world again. She is brave for telling her story.

Okay, readers, my tantrum is over. As you can see, I really had to get that off my chest!

(Img via)

Please see this excellent video on NDTV where it mentions, "The problem with (Indian) society is that we have lost empathy for other people & women as a nation". It is a MUST WATCH.


What do you think, dear readers? Why did Michaela's personal story get so much backlash? As women, have we lost empathy? As global citizens, have we lost empathy?


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jab we met... (part one)

Many of you have asked me how I met and fell in love with my beloved husband-ji...

I met him at college, when I was in my 3rd year. I was friends with many international students, including a group of South Indians that were really fun to hang around. Madhavan had just arrived from Hyderabad and was the newest Indian student to join the group. At that time, all the South Indians roomed together in this one dingy apartment building. I lived nearby, across the cemetery (yes, an ancient civil war cemetery) and periodically came to visit and chit chat with my Indian friends. They were always blasting Bollywood songs, cooking something delicious, and having serious discussions about life. That's just my kinda crowd...

I had just got back from winter vacation, where I visited my parents in Venice, and had a hellish flight back in which all my bags were lost. I came back to my apartment and there was no food in the fridge, so I wanted to go to both the grocery store AND back to the airport to see if my bags arrived. I phoned up my trusted South Indian group to see if they wanted to tag along and get some groceries before the semester started. All 4 wanted to tag along. They said Madhavan was going to be joining, who was "the new guy". I waited outside for them in the driveway and got out of the car. I was leaning against the car (probably looking as gorgeous as Madhavan came out and ...the whole world stood still. What I felt that day was the strangest feeling I'd ever felt in my life. We just stood and stared at each other, and the rest of our friends felt it too. There was just this crazy connection. It was literally as if a gust of wind called destiny had blown over us. There wasn't anything in particular that struck me about his appearance, but it was his eyes. His eyes, and his gaze, felt familiar to me as if he had loved me in another life. When he looked at me that day, I felt a warmth that was so pure and gentle that it pierced my heart.

This wasn't what you would call "lust at first sight". It was different. I had boyfriends before, even serious boyfriends who wanted to marry me, but it never felt right. Not like this. That is how I knew it was different. 

Meeting Madhavan was like finding the puzzle piece to my future. The day we had met, I felt like I looked God in the eye and he told me that "this man is your destiny". Years later, when I went to a psychic, she said that for the past 7 lifetimes Madhavan had loved me from afar, unable to approach me but at the same time worshipping me, and this was the first lifetime that he was finally able to muster up the courage to do it. And that was what I felt that day - that this man had already loved me, he already knew me, he understood me, it was like we spoke the same language that only we could understand. It`s hard to explain, but when you meet your just know in that first second.

We all piled into the car and Madhavan sat in the back seat. Every time I looked back into the rear-view mirror, he was staring at me, with that same telepathic gaze. He didn't take his eyes off me for the whole ride. We both smiled was the beginning of the rest of our lives...

"Ancient Sanskrit legends speak of a destined love, a karmic connection between souls that are fated to meet and collide and enrapture one another. The legends say that the loved one is instantly recognized because she's loved in every gesture, every expression of thought, every movement, every sound, and every mood that prays in her eyes. The legends say that we know her by her wings - the wings that only we can see" - Shantaram

To be continued...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Visiting a South Indian (Hindu) home

(An old pic of our relatives visiting our village in Tamilnadu - paternal thatha's ancestral place)

One of the best ways to get to know another culture is to visit locals in their homes. You really get to see their traditions, customs, and culture. Not only that, but you get to see them 100% in their element. You learn so much about a person by visiting their house - seeing what they worship, how they decorate, their prized possessions, not to mention talking in a setting that is comfortable for them. 

If you've married into an Indian family, or have Indian friends, one of the best bonding experiences is to be invited over to their house. Indians, no matter where they come from, are known for their hospitality. They have a saying, "Atithi devo bhava" which means "Guest is God", and if you are invited over to their house, they will give you the utmost respect. 

Westerners are a bit more formal in the sense that it is impolite to just drop by their house without any warning - Westerners like their schedule, and they like their space. Indians, on the other hand, are not formal at all in that way. You can drop by their house at any time of the day or night - it's "the more the merrier" attitude, and the lady of the house will usually stop everything she's doing and cook you some fresh food or snacks. They are so happy when others' visit them. Last month, we were invited to an Indian dinner party, not by the host, but by another fellow guest (which is a major faux-pas in Western culture) and they were thrilled to have us.

(Dadu's sweets!!!)

When you are invited to a South Indian home, it is polite to bring a small gift of appreciation - something as simple as fruits (mango) or sweets (my favorite is Dadu's sweets in Secunderabad). If you are coming from abroad then you can give them little tourist gifts from your homeland - I like to bring little totem pole figurines in which many South Indians like to display for the Dussehra festival. Or you can also get them a small idol of a God/Goddess for their puja room. I would recommend that you never go empty handed to an Indian home. If you forget, just pick up some fresh fruit to give them. 

Everybody on Earth knows about Indians & their lateness, but I have found that it is just better to be on time. As a foreigner, you don't get to use the Indian Standard Time excuse. But definitely don't come early. If you have to be late, don't be more than 15 minutes late. But again, Indian traffic can be quite unpredictable...

I would also recommend that you dress conservatively. Wearing revealing clothing and tight pants can make Indians very squirmish. The best bet is to wear a loose kurta, or if you want bonus points, you can wear Indian clothes like Salwar Kameez.

You absolutely must take your shoes off before entering a home. Feet/shoes are seen as very unclean in India. In modern homes, they will usually have a shoe rack/area in the hallway near the front door or outside the home. In the olden days, it was customary to physically wash your hands and feet from a water well outside before you enter a home. Nowadays you simply just have to take your shoes off. If there is a newborn child in the house, or if you're visiting a temple, then it is best to wash hands/feet before entering the building. 

When you are greeting the people of the house/host it is nice to put your hands together and say "Namaste" (Hindi) or "Namaskaram" (Telugu), or "Vanakkam" (Tamil). It is a nice gesture to say it in their language, because it shows respect that you are entering their territory and their culture. Do not do the Western style of handshake unless it is offered to you first, and do not hug, unless it is somebody whom you feel very close to who is a fellow female (MIL/SIL is ok). It is a big cultural no-no to touch somebody from the opposite sex. No touching, EVER. Not even in the home. Many Indians are extremely conservative and prudish of any touching between the opposite sex, ever!!! 

One thing you can do - especially if you are a Westerner who is becoming a part of the Indian family - is to bend down and touch the elder's feet and sweep your hands up and touch your heart/head. This is showing respect to the elders and taking their blessings. This earned me major bonus points with the Indian elders and every time I greet our Kolluthatha (great-grandfather) I do this. It is a very sweet gesture that will be seriously appreciated. If you're a girlfriend of an Indian, this will win you major bonus points, because as a foreigner, they will not be expecting you do this.

If it is a South Indian Hindu home, usually a "manjakumkum" will be performed once you enter the house. This is usually done for married women, but I remember it being done for me on my first trip to India when I was just "the school friend". A Manjakumkum is a blessing they will do where they bring a platter of offerings over to you - it can consist of betel leaf, supari, turmeric, kum kum (sindoor), fruits, cloth - which is symbolic of womanhood. It is a special gesture that made me feel welcomed into the household warmly.

(Bonding with the girls in my inlaws' house, Hyderabad 2010)

Once you are in the living room/seating area, you will immediately be offered water. Indians offer water to anybody coming to their house as a courtesy. If an Indian is coming to your house, you MUST remember to give them water when they sit down.

The lady of the house will usually offer you food, or will make food freshly for you. Indian ladies will not take no for an answer, as they are delighted to fill your stomach. Don't ever turn down the food - once you enter the door of an Indian household, you'll never go hungry. Whatever you do, do not offer to help or do the dishes unless you know each other really well. That is a major Western faux-pas - they will feel bad. Just sit and enjoy, and if you want to compliment them - eat more, compliment the flavors of the dish, and say you're tummy is so full. You can also ask for the recipe. Indian elder women love this. They have such a nurturing spirit and they are absolutely obsessed with feeding you, especially guests. Many Indians like to cook fresh everyday, so it is not a big deal.

Many Indians (in India) are strict vegetarians, so expect that in some houses it will be vegetarian (egg is also considered to be non-veg). 

(Secunderabad rooftops at night)

Many in our South Indian family prefer to eat with their hands, so there is usually a small dish of water with lemon given - or in more modern homes, just use the bathroom to wash your hands. As a foreigner, they will give you utensils, but if you feel up to eating with your hands you can surely try. But it's harder than it looks!
***A funny story - one time one of my aunties visited India, and the bowl of water/lemon was offered at the end of the dish and she DRANK it!!! She thought it was an end-of-meal soup!!!!***

When we visit our family in India, the main conversation at the dining table is "Do you like India?", "Do you like Indian food?", "It's very hot outside, how are you managing the heat?", and then they will ask husband-ji about work - that's the type of conversation. And that's about it. They usually won't ask you anything personal unless you have a very informal relationship.

At the end of the visit, you can say thank you, tell them you're very happy to visit, and that the food was excellent and that you're so full. When you're leaving the house, a "vettal pakku" may be performed for a safe journey. Indians are known for their hospitality, and even if you show up at midnight, they'll practice "Atithi devo bhava". Us Westerners definitely need to learn some tips from them! In my experience, visiting various relatives at their homes and all of us just hanging out together is more culturally revealing than going to see any monuments. Inside the Indian home is where the real heart and soul is in India.


Friday, August 23, 2013

The new generation of women

Okay, it's official...I'm seriously impressed by this new generation of females that we've got here...We are definitely going to have a few women presidents in the upcoming years!

Out of the mouths of babes...these young women are so sensible, articulate and intelligent that they are serious leaders. I'm impressed!!!

A 14 year old explains why it's wrong to slut-shame:

"Slut-shaming contributes to rape culture/rape supportive culture. Rape culture is a culture in which sexual violence against women is commonplace, and in which prevalent attitudes tolerate said sexual violence."

A 14 year old girl holds her own in a debate with O'Leary (fast forward to 3:36):

This young woman not only holds her own in a debate, and she corrects him on his facts! Watch O'Leary's expression when he realizes he's being squashed!

India's Red Brigade - a group of young women that patrol the streets for rapists:

Click HERE for the video on CNN.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

My husband is a better Indian wife than me!

(Samosas)'s official...husband-ji is a better Indian wife than me!

On Saturday we had friends over to our place for dinner and husband-ji wanted to show off his cooking skills, as his friend is also Tamil and thought he might want some home cooking. Husband-ji was cooking up a storm all day, making his famous layered vegetable biryani, tomato chutney, onion chutney, coriander chutney, and spicy samosas made from scratch.

Saturday is the day I "work" which is technically working my job in the sense that I get a paycheck, but I consider it "my vacation" from the hardest job of all - motherhood. Husband-ji stays home on Saturdays with Maya and he loves to have a fun daddy/daughter day. He would actually be an excellent stay-at-home dad, but I would miss my daughter way too much (1 day away from her is enough for me!)

On Saturday afternoon, husband-ji called me home from work saying that I forgot to bring my lunch. I came home quickly and saw that he had prepared me lunch to take to work - like a tiffin box! And he made one for my father too. OMG. Best husband of the year award...

(He can do it all!)

I arrived home at 5pm and the whole house was clean (and smelling like masala, of course), the baby was fed & happy, and he had prepared a 2 course meal. Not to mention, he looked totally handsome, as always. Indian moustache trimmed so symmetrically! Very impressive...!

Holy crap. My husband is the best Indian wife on Earth. No wonder I'm so freakin' lazy!!!

It makes me think...what exactly am I bringing to this relationship? I don't cook anymore. I do laundry sometimes. At times, I can drudge myself to load the dishwasher. But I really look like such a slob. I don't wear makeup anymore because my daughter is always touching my face. I hardly brush my hair anymore because my daughter is also pulling my hair!!

Of course I know I take excellent care of Maya. And I know that I offer constant intelligent and thoughtful conversation (although I think husband-ji finds this annoying...especially when he's watching his precious Food Network competitions!!!! HA HA HA!!) And there must be some debris of beauty left in my face...and if it's not, oh well, he's stuck with me forever!

(Husband-ji looks handsome...all the freakin' time!)

I think I need to step it up. The one thing I do which is definitely good wife behaviour is to walk over and bring him lunch at work a few times a week. Of course it's lunch I've picked up from somewhere, not actually I could probably cook at least once a week, but then husband-ji would probably complain that there's a pinch less of salt! Maybe I should give him a back/neck massage, but then sometimes he's already deep in snore-ville by the time I get to bed. I do make an effort to schedule our date nights though. I do make him his cup of chai in the morning, but that's hardly making an effort! I am just the laziest Indian wife right now and I simply can't bring myself to get out of it!

What about you, dear readers? Any suggestions on special things you can do for your partner? 


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rakhi Festival (My favorite Hindu festival)

(Husband-ji's sisters)

Rakhi is one of the few festivals that I have experienced in India (somehow we always end up going when there are no festivals on!) Almost all of huband-ji's little sisters were in town so we were able to celebrate it at as whole family.

There is nothing like celebrating a festival in India itself. Watching the customs, and the specific order of traditions is very illuminating. Immediate family members, extended family members and neighbours often celebrate along with us, and it makes it the more the merrier.

In India, cousins are also seen as sisters. It is typical for an Indian man to refer to his girl cousins as his sisters as well. The festival can also be celebrated by brothers-in-law's/sister-in-law's.

(Brother & sister)

Rakhi is a Hindu holiday which is celebrated through the whole of India. It is a festival to celebrate the special bond between brothers and sisters. It comes every year in mid-August.

(Tying the thread)

Rakhi is the sacred thread that sisters tie on their brothers' wrists, and take his blessings for him to always protect them. Raksha Bandhan literally translates as "bond of protection". For the sister, the thread symbolizes her love and wishes for her brother's long life; and for the brother, the thread symbolizes his protection for her safety and well-being. It is an occasion that not only celebrates the tender bond  in a sibling relationship, but also a familial duty/obligation to look after each other, no matter what. The deeper message is that we need to think of others, and send love to others.

(Sweets / offerings)

In our family, sisters tie the thread on the brother, then they bow a few times (2 or 4 times to be specific), then the brother blesses them by giving them a small gift, and then the sister will feed sweets to the brother, and she will eat some sweets for herself too.

(Youngest sister Bhavya taking blessings)

I loved celebrating Rakhi and watching husband-ji with his sisters. They look up to him and respect him so much for guidance, and I think me joining in the celebrations with them made us all feel closer. It was especially nice for me because I am an only child, and I love to see the tender bond between husband-ji and his sisters.

I think it is a lovely festival and it should be celebrated worldwide - not just by observing Hindu's.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Another day...yet another story of harassment in India


One of my favorite blogs, Diary of a White Indian Housewife has just written a post about her friend Natasha Zarine (Indian citizen), who wrote a letter of complaint about harassed by young men at the tourist site, Ajanta/Ellora. I was not surprised to hear this. We went to Ajanta/Ellora caves & Aurangabad for our honeymoon in 2011 and I witnessed similar events, which I'd like to share. The things I witnessed at Ajanta/Ellora was offensive, aggressive and derogatory. The only other time I felt unsafe in India was when we were traveling to a temple town in rural Andhra Pradesh, but that is another story...

(Indian stepford wife...? At Ajanta)

Being newly married, I was thrilled to finally wear all my symbols of marriage. I wore my salwar kameez outfit, along with my thaali, mangalsutram, sindoor, and toe rings. I was so proud to wear them...after all these years, I could finally wear them...I was incredibly proud to be married. As soon as I put them on in India, I noticed I was treated with more respect - by everyone on the road. The difference was pretty huge. People stared the same, but they were more polite towards me. I wore my symbols for romantic reasons, but it was then that I realized that it also has some kind of weird social status, and I honestly felt protected by my symbols. It was like my good luck charm. (Similarly, even in Canada, in Indian restaurants or Indian grocers, if I'm wearing these symbols I'll be treated with way more respect...kinda weird) I didn't know folks could be more polite! Hmmm...!!!

Anyways, back to my Aurangabad story...the harassment which I witnessed was truly horrific and exactly like the picture that Natasha had posted. It was worse at Ajanta, than Ellora. It is such a coincidence that this story has come up since it has been exactly 2 years (to the day!!) that we were there.

(Me and super-hot bodyguard! Ajanta caves)

For the Ajanta caves you have to take a big bus up to the site. We were waiting for a bus along with an Indian family, an Italian couple, and a bunch of young rowdy goons men. I thought maybe they were on a school trip, but then there was no teacher there. When we boarded the bus, the young men rushed to sit behind us in such a manner that they toppled over each other to get to the seat. Jesus, I thought, this is really aggressive. I was freaked out that they were going to start saying things to me...we were surrounded. I was frightened. Husband-ji couldn't understand the Marathi they were speaking. They sat behind me and I could feel the intensity of eyes in the back of my head. The patriarch of the Indian family moved his wife and children to the front of the bus. Oh crap. They must've had a good reason to move. Then the young boys yelled at the Italian woman in broken English, "Do you want to sit on my lap?" I cringed. I quietly prayed, with my head down, Please God, don't say anything to me...don't let them ruin our honeymoon. I don't know what it was, but I felt protected. Maybe it was my prayer, maybe it was my symbols of marriage, or maybe it was my intimidating husband with the gigantic Shiva tattoo sleeve that they didn't want to mess with (husband-ji has a raging temper...and for whatever reason, nobody has dared mess with him in his entire life) We walked through the site, and nobody bothered us...we floated through untouched and unharassed. We were able to see the monuments, we were able to hold hands like newlyweds...meanwhile, ALL the other tourists were getting harassed very badly. They were being surrounded by these young men, like a swarm of bees. Getting pictures taken, getting groped, getting offensive derogatory comments shouted at them. The Ajanta path is very wide and open, but the young men were crowding around the tourists so badly that they could not even walk or get away. I observed that the young men weren't even going into the caves, they were just loitering in a particular spot and as soon as a tourist came they would crowd around them, shout abusive language and take pictures of their breasts with their cell phone. Now, you may be thinking this is happening to a tourist woman who is traveling alone - but think again. This was happening to tourist couples (man & woman); and groups of 5+ tourists traveling together. I can't imagine what would have happened if it was a girl alone. What are the tourists' supposed to do, get a bodyguard? In India, with these types of groups of thugs, things can escalate pretty quickly. It is extremely scary to witness. I felt like there was this aura around me, an unknown shield that protected me. Maybe it was all my female ancestors who protected me that day - all my guardian angels that formed this invisible shield. Or maybe I was just lucky...

(Husband-ji in the front; behind, the Italian couple who were harassed badly on the bus)

The next day, we visited the Ellora caves. There weren't as many goons men in large groups, but mostly they were in small groups of 2-3. People stared, but it was relatively quiet. There were lots of Indian families. Not like the day before at Ajanta. These cave sites are huge and many have a lot of stairs that you have to walk to. Husband-ji was going crazy photographing the monuments. I was mostly just absorbing the beauty of the site, as well as writing and photographing. Towards the end of our visit, husband-ji wanted to look at one of the caves that was a huge climb and it was 3 levels. I told him I was too tired and I'd wait at the bottom of the steps for him. Are you sure? he said. Yes, yes, go, I said. There are lots of people around. If anything happens, I will scream for you. What a mistake - I'll never do that again! It had been a pretty quiet day, compared to the day before. He hesitated but decided to carry on, as I was confident. I sat at the bottom of the steps, writing my my journal, but always keeping an eye on my surroundings. I saw two goons men walking towards me, and they looked at each other and smiled villainously. They kept approaching and stopped about a foot in front of me. My heart was pounding, was this the moment I'd have to scream? One of the men snarled, "You're looking very Indian, madam". I didn't know what to do. Normally, I would have just kept my head down and pretended I didn't speak any English - my go-to response. But instead, I got an urge to say something. I looked up, looked him straight in the eye, and said boldly, "That's because I have an Indian husband." I held his gaze for about 20 seconds like a tigress, practically burning a hole in his eye... meanwhile, internally I felt like shitting my pants. I looked back down to my journal, hoping they would leave, and tried to remember if I had anything in my purse that could be used as a weapon. They stood there for a few minutes longer and discussed with each other in Marathi, as my heart was pounding. Please God, I prayed, make them go away...please make them respect me. And they left. It truly was a miracle. It was almost as if I had some secret unknown power of witchcraft that had made them go away (did being married change this..? did being confident change this...?) When husband-ji came back, I said what had happened. He said angrily, Where are they? How dare they even approach you! (Oh, yes, husband-ji screams at men if they even look at I said, It's fine, nothing happened, they're gone now.

(The difference - what to watch out for)

I was lucky... I was really lucky. It was a miracle. But I felt guilty for the other tourists, I wanted them to feel safe too. I didn't know what it was that I was doing that kept me this day I still don't understand it. Maybe it was my destiny, to have not been harmed that day. Looking back, I wish I knew the answer. I wish I knew Marathi so I could ask those men why they are doing that. Why harass these tourists, why spare me? Is it because I look like some stupid idea of a respectful Indian stepford wife? Would I have faced the same thing if I had worn jeans? Was it because I have an intimidating Indian husband? I felt guilty that I wasn't brave enough to help them. If I knew what it was, then I could help the other tourists, and take them under my invisible shield. And I wish I knew Marathi so I could tell them that they cannot talk like that to women. 

(A few more at Ellora, but not nearly as bad as Ajanta)

It reminds me of the post I did: India: A dangerous place to be a woman - where the narrator in the video said, as a woman, it's all about how you're perceived. As a Westerner, this is the heck am I supposed to know what young Indian rowdy men think of me? I'm not a mind reader! (classic Indian In India, it is respect - not beauty- that is in the eye of the beholder. I don't have a clue what it is that makes a woman look respectful, especially in India. But whatever it was, it worked...But the fact remains, no matter what I was doing/wearing, it should not be happening in the first place...towards anybody!!!

Of course, many women are harassed whether they are foreign/Indian; unmarried/married; wearing Indian clothes & symbols of marriage, or not...These goons do not care. They are ruthless. They just wish to assert their power and victimize. I thank god that I was untouchable to them that day, but at the same time I want to know the reason why...


It is an absolute shame to have this behaviour happen at such monumental sites. The Ajanta/Ellora caves are magical works of art and history and are so sacred. It is not only the guards' fault for not condoning this behaviour, but it is these young men who think it is acceptable to do this. They should be ashamed to be acting like this. They need to have some respect. There need to be social attitudes about this kind of thing that makes it unacceptable. Do all the young men think that they are entitled to behave this way towards a woman? Maybe not. Maybe only a few did, and the rest were swayed by bad behaviour. Why did they not speak up then? Why don't they say to another, "Dude, that isn't cool..." It is fine to stare, but to make lewd comments and get in someone's personal space so much that they cannot move - especially a tourist visiting, is awful. These bad apples are taking away from Incredible India. I have been to 15 Indian cities and Ajanta/Ellora was the worst I've ever seen. The foreigners are going to remember how scared they were, not how much they enjoyed the heritage site, which they have always dreamed to visit. What are they supposed to do, visit India and just stay in a hotel? When a woman visits India, there is a certain sense of imprisonment that is felt. You have to have a male chaperone, you have to cover up your body, you are not free to express affection, you have to be aware of how you're perceived.


We were beyond lucky to have not been targeted, and to enjoy the beauty of these monuments, and to not have anything ruin our honeymoon. What I didn't enjoy was seeing these women being humiliated. They humiliate one...they humiliate us all. The other tourists deserved to see the caves too...but they got so swarmed, I'm sure they didn't even remember the beauty of the place - they just remember how frightened, violated, and helpless they felt. It is an absolute shame. Shame on those young men.

For this post, I asked my top blog consultants (husband-ji, FIL, MIL) for their opinion. Husband-ji (who was there) said that these goons can smell fear, and because we seemed confident, they did not target us. My FIL said that this behaviour is related to these goons' upbringing and also the raging group mentality. My FIL (who has lived abroad, all over the world, for 15 years) said there is eve-teasing everywhere, but in India, eve-teasing is used as a vehicle for personal attacks and humiliation. In the West, an example of eve-teasing is "you sexy baby, you look so good", and in India, it is "you stupid _____, come sit on my lap and ______". My MIL said it can happen to anyone, regardless if their husband is there, and that I just got lucky, but I probably was more protected because of my conservative dress.

I applaud both Sharell and Natasha for raising awareness about this and speaking out. It is a brave thing to do and this kind of treatment is barbaric and should be condoned. The way women get harassed in India is extremely unpleasant. I urge everyone to join and support this cause, and if you are even more interested, please form a group and visit Ajanta/Ellora yourself and help get this behaviour out of there. Help take this disgusting behaviour out of this holy site. Read more about the discrimination of women in my previous posts: Jai ho or bust; and India: A dangerous place to be a woman.

Click HERE to read yesterday's article on CNN about how a student got post-traumatic stress disorder from being systematically sexually harassed in India for 3 months.


What about you, dear readers? Have any of you been to Ajanta/Ellora and had a similar experience? Any other tourist spots that women need to watch out for?


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Satyamev Jayate: "Is Love a Crime?" - thoughts

Satyamev Jayate (translation: "Truth prevails") is a famous Indian talk show that I'm totally obsessed with. The reason I love it is that it talks openly and honestly about real issues that India is facing - more sensitive issues in society that nobody wants to talk about due to "shame" etc. It is developed and hosted by Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, and I think he is absolutely brilliant. In the West, daytime TV is filled with talk shows like these that talk about similar issues, so it is great to see an Indian version like Satyamev Jayate talk about real issues that many modern AND traditional Indians face. Opening up a dialogue, like this show does - makes people aware of others' personal experiences - their struggles and triumphs, and it reveals their humanity. For Westerners, it explains a lot of Indian cultural traditions - where they come from, the mentality towards elders...everything. 

This episode is called, "Is Love a Crime?" and it talks about modern Indian couples marrying for love, against their parents' wishes. Some stories end in tragedy, and some end in success. Indian parents are extremely involved in their children's lives, and see them as a personal investment - and in true Asian mentality - they believe their children are a reflection of themselves. Many Indian children are raised in an environment where their lives are not exactly their own - their lives belong to their family, there are so many people to consider first before you consider yourself. If an Indian girl elopes with a boy - without her parents' knowing - they can face dire consequences. It is related to the elders being control freaks, the family's reputation, and also their girl child's "honour" ("honour killings"). In India, within certain communities, there is such a societal pressure that people (in groups - mob mentality or moral policing?) can treat you badly due to your reputation. So, even if you don't care what they think, other people can cause you a lot of trouble and make you so afraid that you end up caring what they think - if not for your own protection. It is a vicious cycle...a bullying of sorts.

This issue struck close to my heart as within the Indo-Canadian community, there are constant "honour killings", for example the Jassi Siddu case which I follow closely. Not to mention, all of our Indian friends, in Hyderabad, have had love marriages and have had to face similar (but much less severe) opposition from their families. My husband remembers his best friend's brother eloping to a girl, and he and his friends were rounded up to defend the couple, as the girl's side men were coming over to take her back.

As a Western woman, it is hard for me to think about young couples who love each other so much...who by just being in love and choosing a partner can face parents' disowning you, bullying, and even death. True love should be celebrated and never punished...people (especially women) should be able to make decisions for the direction of their own life.

One thing I learned about in this episode, was about the Khap Panchyat -  an elected council of five elder MEN who govern a particular community (village/very small towns). They are looked to for advice, decisions, and they set the tone for the whole village. They can also hand out punishments if they see fit, and sway the attitudes of the village with their power. It has nothing to do with politics, the Indian government, the police - it is a village tradition that goes back thousands of years (because the Indian judicial system is notoriously slow). The Supreme Court of India has deemed the Khaps illegal due to their involvement in encouraging honour killings (a form of control of women?) when couples want to get married against their parents' wishes. But the Khaps are still there, and they still have power and influence. Khaps are die-hard about their traditions and they believe they know best. They can be quite feudal-minded and backward, so deep in their traditions that they are unable to see.. The Khaps make their own rules. I had no idea about the Khaps because our family lives in the urban metropolis in Hyderabad - I had no idea that these things happen.

My favorite part of the show was when Sanjay Sachdev came out - he looked like he could be another Khap (same age, but much less grumpy), but instead he runs an organization called "Love Commandos" which gives a safe place for young couples to elope and the resources to start their life together. He was fantastic. He said, "Proudly declare, I am a lover and never let love's burden be guilt"; "Love openly, fearlessly"; "intercaste & love marriages are the only way to stop this nation from disintegrating/dividing"; to the Khaps he said "Give your children the freedom to love, to spawn a generation of virtue, not vice".

I also really liked what Dr. Chaudhary said, "Traditions should be respected, but nature's law applies to tradition too. Tradition ought to change with time as society changes."

Check out the video below to watch the full episode with English subtitles:

Click HERE to read my other article about Love marriage/Arranged marriage in India.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

14 months old

This summer has been amazing in Vancouver - July was one of the hottest record-breaking months without even a single drop of rain. Since it has been so hot during the day, one of our favorite things to do with Maya is going for nice sunset walks by the ocean...but then we discovered that Maya is scared of the sand! We put her down on the sand and she had a complete flip out...she was acting as if she didn't like the dirty sand beneath her feet, and got freaked out that it was moving when she stepped on it! So instead, we let her play on the grass in the park and she just loves it. She points up at the trees, and the ocean, and runs to see all the people who are also having picnics, as well as putting a mat down and eating all together while she crawls all over me, and bites me and licks me. Oh, motherhood...!

She has developed a really big interest in dancing, singing, and Bollywood tantrums. Sandhya (who is hoping that she will become a doctor - what else for an Indian girl?!?) is even saying that we should put her in dance, singing and acting classes when she gets older. Maya is obsessed with music videos and loves to dance to them. She currently has 3 dance moves - the hip shake, the sideways crab crawl, and the jump up and down wriggle. She likes to sing a lot which can be misinterpreted for yelling! If it is in fact a yell, it's a very long yell!

Like a typical girl, she has a fascination for jewelry. Anytime I wear an earring or necklace she touches it delicately and looks so closely at it (mere inches away) - it's like she's a jewelry appraiser or something!

She has become quite independent in the sense that she no longer wants to hold my hand when she walks, and she likes to flip the pages of the books - she won't let me do it, so I'd better read fast!

Not only that, but she has started to run. She now pitter patters around faster than my own pace, so I'm trying to keep up with her! (Who needs exercise?) If I take my eyes off her for even 5 seconds, I have no idea where she's ran to!

Her hair has grown so fast and has gotten really long, curly, and fair. It has become so long that I have to use a hair pin so that it doesn't get in her eyes! I do bows, ponytails, and we also did her first pig tails! It makes her look like a little girl and makes me feel like she's so grown up! 

She has finally started to eat what we're eating - all the textured food - which is so great. She is such an Indian girl. She is crazy about rice/mango pickle, any curries, idly, dosa, dals, and she loves pesto pasta and any lime or garlic flavors. This chick loves anything masala! She is also crazy for cherries, just like me & Sandhya. She actually gets mad at me if I don't give it to her fast enough! She also likes fresh mango slices or mango lassi's. And of course, she's crazy about ice cream, and french fries too. I think she'll have no problem with food when we visit India next year!

Every evening she likes to do what I call "the WWF smackdown" where she wrestles with us and crawls all over us wanting us to chase and tickle her. So....maybe she'll be a WWF female wrestler / bollywood actress / Bharat Natyam dancer / Classical singer / nature lover / Indian chef / food critic....? Whatever she is...I know she'll be well-dressed!

Until next month,


Friday, August 16, 2013

Funny ex-pat comedian in Mumbai

TGIF everyone! I came across this hilarious video of this expat, Edward Sonnenblick who performed at The Comedy Store in Mumbai. He is just hilarious...and his Hindi is flawless!
He talks about many funny things such as: his obsession with Bollywood films, Bollywood vs reality, arriving in India, accidentally being taken to a brothel by the autorickshaw, calling the wrong phone number, and driving in India.
Check it out for a great laugh!


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The psychology of the Indian Mother-in-law

(My MIL, 25 years ago, before she was a MIL)

The typical Indian MIL (and mother, too) is quite a complex person. An Indian MIL from Mother India itself has a lot of cultural and generational values, and it is YOUR JOB to try to understand where they are coming from.

Most Indian MIL's will feel extremely hesitant and awkward to build a relationship with you before marriage, especially if you are foreign (we scream "divorce"!!!) Building a relationship with a hesitant person is a PROCESS and you have no choice but to be patient. Your efforts will eventually pay off  because in most desi families, respect is earned from the elders, not just simply given for free. Many Westerners can be discouraged by this, and bitterness can build.

A Western MIL will typically form a friendship with you before marriage, regardless if she thinks that you will be a permanent member of the family. She will not be as involved, in fact she is typically more detached. She is there if you need her, but in Western families, there is a clear set of boundaries and a respect for personal space. Many Westerners are not used to their Indian MIL's helping out all the time, and can find this "too aggressively involved" for their tastes. A Western woman will have grown up thinking that she is in charge of her life and household, and many get discouraged when they realize that you're going to have to SHARE that role with your Indian husband's mother...if not now, then eventually.

(Respect the mother/son relationship)

Indian MIL's are a completely different ball game. The concept of boundaries do NOT exist in Indian families. When you marry an Indian person, you marry the whole family. Culturally, they view marriage as a merging of two families, not just two people getting together. Not only that, but when you marry an Indian man, you belong to their family and their family should be given the top priority. Indian MIL's are extremely protective of their children and it is crucial to get off to a good start (do everything their way first - then bend the rules later). They can continually baby their children for life. (Example: when my MIL first came to visit us, she mixed husband-ji rice/pickle and fed him by hand! I nearly vomited that she was hand-feeding him at the age of 30!!! But then she fed me too and I thought it was really sweet. But definitely not for every single day...I'm a grown woman here....hahaha)

(Feeding me is ok...but only once in a while!)

As a Westerner, you're not going to be the subservient DIL that your MIL always dreamed of. It will take a lot of patience on both ends, but the effort will HAVE to come from your side - not theirs - in the beginning, at least. Many old-school conservative Indian elders will have trouble adapting to the change so you will have to do most of the "cultural investigation". Besides, if you are a foreign girl, you are marrying into THEIR family - a complicated Indian family dynasty. If she is the mother of a son - she will put her son on a pedestal and think that she is important just because she has a about "little emperor" syndrome!!! Many Indian parents see their children (especially sons) as an emotional investment because they are expecting to be taken care of in their old age by the eldest son. The umbilical cord is never cut...

The Indian MIL of that generation (50+yrs) will have sacrificed so many things for the family as a whole - her own independence, her own natal family, even her career, not to mention many of her hopes and desires. As an Indian woman of that generation, they are expected to sacrifice and think nothing of it. For a traditional Indian woman, their needs come last, and they may have lived that way their entire life. That is why some desi elder ladies complain so much - it's because they believe their lives are out of their control. Are they really out of control of their own lives? They may have been their entire lives...they may have lived in a joint household with so many people to take care of before themselves. Many women of that generation believes she is not worthy inside and lacks confidence (a result of patriarchy - women are inferior, men are "a gift from God"). At the worst, she could have been treated like a slave by her in-laws and had to work her ass off everyday, until her in-laws died. Many women look at becoming a MIL as a chance to never work again - because being a MIL is the most powerful position in a household - and the cycle continues... Even within the Indian family dynasty, sometimes the only time a woman can express dominance is towards another (younger) woman in the family - hence the drama between MIL vs DIL, or SIL's. Way back in the olden days, a woman could not even decide what to cook/eat for lunch - the exact ingredients/measurements were given to her and she was to cook whatever they told her. Women nowadays have many more freedoms, but we are still dealing with a generation that is conservative, not to mention a traditionally patriarchal culture (India). India is changing, but still, the old values die hard. Many MIL's want their DIL's to suffer like they did, so they can understand what they went through. But many MIL's also want to stop the cycle. And YOU can help stop the cycle by understanding your MIL's past, empathizing with her, and forming a new, healthy relationship. Especially if you're a foreigner - you have this chance to start fresh because you're not Indian (in that way, foreigners have it easy because they can pick and choose what traditions work for them).

(Maya at 10 weeks - future roti eater!)

For a conservative Indian MIL, the merging of cultures can bring up a lot of concerns. They may be wondering what, if any, cultural customs that you will be keeping/losing within your family; how the Western DIL will adjust to being in the Indian family; how you will take care of her son, and most importantly - if you will be taking your son away from her, his family, and his culture. I consulted my MIL on this issue, and she said that many desi elders fear that the introduction of a foreign wife who will lead the son astray from fulfilling his responsibilities to his family - making the wife a priority over the parents. She said the concerns are based in fear and inadaptability - because if the son gets a divorce then the MIL will get blamed by family, friends, and society.

In the Indian family dynasty, the wife is often referred to as "the keeper of the flame" (which means keeping traditions), so naturally with the introduction of a foreign DIL & the possibility of a half-Indian a lot for the MIL to digest. Conservative Indian MIL's are notoriously stubborn and hard-headed - and the mere addition of a foreigner tells her that she's going to eventually have to adapt to her DIL too - even if it is as small as explaining Indian customs (that she's never had to explain before), or as big as celebrating Christmas, and being open to Western values. Having a Western DIL is going WAY out of her comfort's uncharted territory for many elder Indian women.

(Us getting stared at by other Indians again!!!)

Not only that, but many conservative Indians care too much what other people think. All of her friends and family are going to be asking constant questions about "how it functions"...forever! Not to mention getting stared at like crazy when you're out in public. This was extremely uncomfortable for my MIL as she is naturally quite shy. It was very hard for her because everyone in the neighborhood, family and friends know me since I'm the only foreigner that ever existed in this group (even in the freakin' neighborhood!) Not to mention, it was extremely awkward for her to explain that we were secretly engaged, living together as an unmarried couple abroad. She got so much judgement from others that she refused to discuss me and called me "Madhavan's college friend" (which irritated the crap out of me!) even though I had his name in Tamil tattooed on my arm, that everyone gossiped about!

AFTER you get married, you can really focus on building an open relationship with your MIL. It is easier than doing it before you're married. When I got married, I felt like I unlocked the key to my MIL's heart. I was finally like a daughter to her...after so many years of waiting around, like a person banging on the door outside a locked house. It felt great and well-earned.


The best way to try to understand your MIL is to try to ask questions about her background. That way you can create a safe, open place to get to know each other. And knowing more about her will help you understand her behavior. She may not reveal everything right away, but just keep asking (I still haven't learned all of the family secrets, even after 7 years! But I'm getting there, thanks to my excellent eavesdropping and persistent questions!)

Important Questions to ask your Indian MIL:

-What was your relationship like with your MIL?
-What were your duties and responsibilities as a DIL?
-What did you struggle with as a DIL coming into your inlaws house?
-What was your relationship like with your SIL's?
-What did you have to sacrifice as a DIL?
-What can I do for you around the house?
-What makes you happy? (Hobbies, interests OUTSIDE family)
-What irritates you? (you can learn this by listening to the constant complaining!)

(We are big foodie's...when we get together, we gain 20lbs each!)

Ways you can win over your MIL:

- ask her questions about Indian culture (and her specific regional culture)
- ask her to tell you stories of her childhood, her natal family, her grandparents (get to know the ancestors)
- ask her cooking questions / let her teach you how to cook / compliment her cooking
- watch movies together / take her out to the cinema
- go for walks together in nature
- always find a way to include her
- don't get in the middle of her relationship with her son = don't compete (you won't win!)
- don't openly disagree with them (disagreement=disrespect)
- treat her son like the "little emperor" that he is (don't be afraid to show affection to him in front of her - they secretly love this)
- ask her for advice on anything - friendships, life, her son, caring for your baby (this will make her feel included and important)
- phone her often & tell her about daily events in your life (inclusion)
- send her gifts (books, beauty products, perfume, movies ...bribes disguised as attention really does work!)
- try different international cuisines (this will help her find new discoveries in eating non-Indian food - try Mexican vegetarian food)
- give her books to read about other intercultural families (Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth is a great one)
- watch TV shows together & discuss (news programmes, Satyamev Jayate, Sasural Genda Phool, Real Housewives shows - anything that gets you guys talking)


P.S. The MIL/DIL relationship is a women-only arena. DO NOT get your husband or FIL involved. Don't complain to them.

*****You have a better chance with your Indian MIL if she has a good marriage with her husband. That way, her needs will have been met through her marriage and she won't put unhealthy attachment/investment on her children. If a son is the ONLY source of attention/affection for the MIL then you're going to have serious problems!!!

At the end of the day, this is the woman who has given you her son. If she didn't exist, your husband wouldn't exist. You have to appreciate her, at least for that.

Many Indian women of that generation have had difficult lives. There was always some kind of struggle for them, some kind of hardship. Respect her struggle. Empathize with her as a woman.

**Disclaimer: I can only speak what worked for me within my family (it may help some, but it may not work for others)**
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