Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jai ho or bust...

(Img via)

As I said in a previous post, I was recently involved in a debate over at my blogger sister's Sharell's Diary of a White Indian Housewife Blog. The discussion turned from a very healthy debate into some extremely nasty and hateful exchanges, which Sharell published. I think debating about viewpoints and experiences is a good thing to do - it opens up a conversation, and a communication especially between cultures. Especially over the internet, where anonymous users can post their real, un-politically correct thoughts.
(*** all blog readers, I don't mean to frighten you, but you are not really anonymous to us. See that feed over there? We know the exact location and IP addresses of our visitors...we even know if you are visiting our site via iPad or Windows 7. Just so you know...)

There was one American girl, named Rebecca (who has an Indian husband) who had some heavy criticisms of the way India does things. I could relate to some of her anger and frustration, but in true American fashion, it was coming off in a condescending way. As a Canadian who has lived in the U.S. I can understand this and I can see beyond this. Before I left Canada, I would always be frustrated with listening to American politics and news stations. They come off as "We know best about everything, the way we do things is the best, everybody else is wrong" type of attitude. They can also come across as fearful to another culture's way of doing things. I was nervous to attend college there, as I thought I'd be going to school with all these "Amurikah" George Bush types. But, when I lived there, I got to see the real America. Most Americans are so friendly and so accepting. They have lots of questions about other cultures and when you talk to them one-on-one, you see that it is just curiosity, not condescending judgement.

But of course, many of the Indians took it the wrong way. And I would too, if I had never lived in the U.S. and made so many wonderful American friends. Whoever knows the psychology of Western women, knows that it is not just one thing that makes us mad. It may seem that Western women are so quick just to jump up and scream, and flex their dominance - but the reality is that there's always a deeper issue. A Western woman gets mad at the 10th time something has happened, not the 1st. I believe the REAL issue that many of the Western women had was the feeling of racial/cultural discrimination and exclusion. The exclusion thing is a big thing for women who are married to Indian men, as many of us (myself too) feel like we'll always be "an outsider" whether it is within the Indian family or in India itself. With many traditional Indian families, it is us who have to adapt to them, it is us who have to learn all the customs - and not the other way around. It is exhausting and overwhelming, even though it is well worth it in the end. This probably has something to do with traditional Indian family dynamics wherein the girl is seen as a part of the guy's family - the separateness of the families that you marry into. 

For Western women, the discrimination that happens outside of the family - when one is on the road - is a lot to deal with. Everything from getting stopped by traffic police, to being cheated from everything from groceries to monuments - is a lot. Because this happens so frequently - at least 10x a day - it is frustrating. On top of that, Western women do not have the skilled negotiating skills & the patience to deal with the injustice. We also feel uncomfortable in standing up and screaming and shouting in public, so in that way, we are more shy than Indian women - Indian women are the strong ones. Even if you go to India with thousands of dollars to spend, it'll all get sucked up by all these little things. So in that way, the dollar doesn't go very far. Being a Western woman in India is like walking around in a tuxedo or driving around in a Mercedes that you can't take off. And especially if you're nicely dressed or put together, it'll be worse. For many Western white women, dealing with this seems like such an injustice because the fact is that many of us have never had to deal with discrimination before. Aren't we lucky, I know... Of course, like any woman we've had to deal with discrimination from men, but Western women only have to deal with 1% of what Indian women go through on a daily basis, because we don't have a patriarchal society. Not only that, but Western women (especially those who are married to Indian men) have to deal with a lot of harassment due to the fact that we are seen as these disposable sexual playthings (thanks to the Indian media). Especially if you are married to an Indian, somehow all Indian men suddenly think they've got a shot with

So, the real issue on Sharell's blog post had nothing to do with the discount, nationality, or the Indian medical had to do with the mere principle of discrimination and a feeling of separateness that all of us Whindian wives have. But many of the "jai ho" Indian commenters were dismissive of it - and in that instance you really have to walk in a person's shoes to see it, which few were willing to do. Maybe the problem was that it was more confusing to them, as Western women's emotions are extremely multi-layered. It's not just about one thing.

I do believe that any Westerner is basically paying "the foreign debt" (discriminatory pricing, etc) regarding the mess the British made in India. If not that, then what is it? Obviously every foreigner that travels to India is not "rich" as many spend years to save for the flight ticket, or many struggling students go just to experience one of the world's oldest and culturally rich countries. Every NRI isn't "rich" just because they save for years to go back to their homeland to visit their family. Or are they? It's not only foreigners whose had to deal with discriminatory pricing, it's some of my Indian family members too. My MIL says that the fruit vendor will charge her a lower price if she gets out of an autorickshaw than an actual car.

Regarding the British atrocities in India - as a Canadian whose family was affected by World War 2, it has been a challenge for me to separate the culture from the movement. Not only do we have the family history, but I myself had to learn about the atrocities of the Nazi's for three years in school, in which we were shown videos of bodies (including children) being gassed and dumped into mass graves - for the purpose of "never letting it happen again" when in reality, all it did was make me dislike Germans! One of my friend's grandfathers was held in a concentration camp and was medically experimented on (like an animal) by the infamous Dr. Mengele because he was a twin, and suffered from health problems his entire life because of it. And on top of all that, my own Russian grandmother was forced to fight off the Germans as a child soldier, her entire family was killed, she watched her best friend raped (so badly that she could never have children) and she was shipped off to Canada as "a displaced person" without speaking a word of English, never to return to her home, or see her family again. She named my mother after her best friend. Maybe that is why my mother is so tough and determined. And maybe that is why I'm so insightful, because even I have struggled my whole life to penetrate my mother's toughness. The atrocities of war and unjust occupation affects everybody, and it affects generations. Another friend of mine's grandfather came back from the war with a mental illness (maybe an untreated post-traumatic stress disorder?) which in turn affected her mother, which in turn affected my friend. The whole family struggled with it. The pain and suffering can span generations like a row of dominoes falling on each other. Knowing ALL that, it was hard for my undeveloped teenage brain to make the distinction between the Nazi's and German people. Going out into the world, I have had to basically UNLEARN what was taught to me in school, because Germans are really nice people.

So knowing all these things, and not seeing any other deeper reason why foreigner's should be overcharged/cheated in India, I do believe it is remnants of debris of the mess that the British made. All the awful things they did to the Indians. Not to mention Sonia Gandhi, whose bad reputation is basically ruining it for all us Whindian wives. That, combined with the way the West usually comes across as a righteous attitude - "Do it our way! We're better!"

Who knows the reason why? Maybe nobody knows. It just is.

For my comments, I tried to be as respectful and understanding as possible, but I still got interrogated by this one mental patient fellow named Manny who basically wanted me to prove why I love India. And my criticisms were very mild. So, it's jai ho or bust, then? It is possible to love a country, and love the people, without loving everything that some people do. There's a lot MORE to India than the poverty, the corruption, the religious wars, and the violence against women. When I first visited India, I thought it was the greatest place on Earth. And I STILL think that. And I also don't agree with a few things that happen there, but it doesn't mean I love it any less. Just because I don't agree with a few things doesn't mean I hate India, or Indians. Obviously I don't - half my family is Indian and I love them all. And anytime we want to go on a vacation, we go to India. "Where else?" I tell my friends. Anyways, I basically told this mental patient Manny that I don't answer to him and I don't need to prove my love for India, to anybody.

I am proud to be the wife of an Indian. I am proud that I have a half-Indian daughter (the first of many, I hope). I am proud to have inherited a huge Tamil-Telugu family. I'm proud to call my second home India, and Hyderabad. I am proud to be a PIO. (Everybody who knows me, knows this already...)

For Westerners, sometimes we have trouble processing India. It is a land of contradictions and paradoxes. It is as transforming as it is polarizing. It's athithi devo bhava "guest is God" within the house/family, but outside on the road, it's not. It's the wealth and the poverty. It's worshipping hundreds of Goddesses, but then nearly every woman is subject to sexual harassment. It's democracy, but then it's openly corrupt. It's the peace and the chaos, all at once. Everything's in your face, all the time. It's hard for "a foreigner" to process or even begin to understand. That is why the only way I can truly love India is to accept both the good and the bad. I can't change it. Even Indians have to deal with these things everyday and they can't change it. It is not for any "foreigner" to change. To accept India is to respect it. To accept the culture is to respect it. And RESPECT is number 1 in Asian cultures.

There was one really nasty comment that someone made to Rebecca that really bothered me - the jerk fellow said, "With an attitude like this, I give you and your husband another 5 more years in your American marriage, that’s probably going to go down the way 1/2 of them in the US usually do sooner than later. Unless of course you pull of a completely different image in front of him which’s better than what you’re displaying here." I found that comment to be extremely nasty. It's JUST a debate, for christsakes! No matter how righteous she was sounding, it's dirty to attack someone's marriage or family. You just don't do that as a human being. Although I'm betting Rebecca's husband agrees with her on her opinions, that doesn't make him a "traitor". And maybe he doesn't agree with her, who cares? It's common in Western marriages to disagree on opinions and still peacefully co-exist. I had an American friend who's husband was in the military, always getting shipped off to Iraq and was very pro-war Republican. She was very anti-war going to all these rallies and riots. And they had the best marriage! They were SO in love. Even though they had a complete difference in opinions and sure, they fought about it. It didn't stop them from having a happy marriage. They truly LOVED each other. 

I guess what it comes down to is the criticism. To be openly critical doesn't mean you're disloyal. It's just debating and a difference in opinions. If my husband came to me today and said, "I'm so sick of this country, I hate Canadians", I would say, "Sure, let's pack our bags and get out of here! I love YOU!" And that has actually happened to us before, but with the U.S., but that's another story...and I still love Americans and all my American friends, even though we felt we had to leave.

Anyways, it was a good debate that was very illuminating. It brought up many multi-layered thoughts for me and I also learned a lot from others' perspectives. I still have a lot to learn on my journey. I also thought it was very interesting psychologically. It was better than the U.S. presidential debate, that's for sure! But I'm glad I got out of it before it turned nasty. And hopefully it doesn't send me any more Whindian haters over here.



  1. I've read Manny's comments on Sharell's blog. He sounds like a nut. He borders between the ridiculous and the obnoxious and tries to cover it up with a bunch of nonsensical smileys and "lols". As for the rest of the lunatics that share his traits - best not to feed the trolls.

    About the harassment issue you brought up: I have seen it up close in India when we were both there as a couple. We were there last about 7 years ago - it was so infuriating and disappointing to us that I pretty much decided to travel alone then onward. There are no ifs and buts about it: It is a very patriarchal society with regressive attitude toward women.

    1. I think I am even more sensitive to it now, especially that I have a daughter...I know you can relate! We are planning to go to India with Maya next year and I'm a little nervous.

      I was never harassed so much in the cities than I was at tourist sites, where I feel there are young men who purposely troll around there in groups just to harass foreign women. The worst I experienced was in 2011 during our honeymoon trip to Ajanta Ellora and Agra, where I felt unsafe even though I was with my husband. And then of course, the awful Jyothi Pandey's attack was 6 months later... At least now due to the outrage of that attack, people have started talking about these things publicly and have opened a conversation to change the attitudes towards women.

      I am still scared for my husband's younger sisters who have to experience such harassment on a daily basis. As a woman and a mother I can't stand it.

      Re: Manny, I feel like he's one of the folks that learns about the world through wikipedia, instead of getting out there in the real world and talking to people. Also I think he has a little crush on Sharell and tries to provoke her to get attention!

    2. Manny? A crush on me! Outrageous!! (I so hope you're wrong). Haha.

  2. i read the comments on white indian housewife and i can tell u that the people who r making the comments like that r the same ones who r doing the eve-teasing and whatnot.
    i saw it myself in varanasi and it was really bad. also my sisters have to deal with it every day.
    some r too proud to admit but u cant turn a blind eye. its there.

    1. Yes, since they are so unable to see our point of view, in their next life let's hope they all come back as foreign women who are married to Indian husbands, living in India. Then they will see for themselves...!!!
      But maybe by then, things will have improved, who knows?

  3. Hi Alexandra,
    I started to write a comment on your post, but then it became as long as a post. So, I decided to make a post on my blog and refer to your post for the background story. I hope this is okay with you. Let me know if you have any obligations. I will post it only after I know you are okay with the referance.

    1. Sure, why not? I'd love to hear your thoughts and perspective.

  4. This is a great post! I agree with a lot of the points you've mentioned, and I also agree about how unbelievably frustrating it can be living here half of a mixed couple. I live in Bangalore, where there are a lot of expat ladies, who, through no fault of their own (thanks Indian visa system) can't work, so they end up being ladies who lunch. I find it very frustrating that everyone assumes I am one of the same when I work full time and most definitely bring in the bacon!! Presuming rupees are flying from (and up) my skirts is very annoying, but I must say that trying to be chatted up all the time has taught me some very inventive put-downs! I have also learnt how to haggle to the last paisa, and have become quite cynical about people's motives, which has been very beneficial. I often wonder if I've been turned into a bit of a cynical, hard person, but I suppose that journey of inner insight is something for another post....thanks so much for your blog, love it!

    1. Thanks for reading, a big compliment to me because I love your blog! I can't imagine what it must be like for you on a daily basis, and I also noticed TONS of ex-pats in Bangalore - the most I have ever seen in India. That's great that you've learned how to haggle, what a valuable skill in India...I'm still too meek to do it. The only thing I can do is outdo "the desi staring contest" but that's about! When I lived in NYC I felt like it was turning me into a cynical because every time I stepped out the door it was like a rat race with the crowds, but that's nothing compared to India. I couldn't imagine what it'd be like living in a huge metropolis like Bangalore, with the traffic, etc.


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