Sunday, November 10, 2013

The reluctantly famous Indian Mother-in-law

(MIL & I, 2011)

Over the past couple of months, I've noticed my bloggy getting a TON of hits from Google searches, several times a day. So, what are people of the world searching for? INDIAN MOTHER IN LAW!!! Sometimes, it is "Indian mother in law problem", sometimes it is "how to get along with Indian mother in law", and other times it is "I hate my Indian mother in law". Yup, you got it....people of the world - from Dubai to Hong Kong to Finland - are searching for help with their good ole' Indian MIL!

Then, I thought....hmmmm....I wonder where my blog ranking is when people search for "Indian mother in law"? So I checked. And I nearly had a heart attack. My bloggy is #1 on google for "Indian mother in law"!!! It must be a mistake, I thought. Let me ask one of my blogger friends to check from Australia. Lo and behold, it is #1 there too! I couldn't sleep at all that night, I was so excited. Imagine, people taking advice from ME (?!?!) on how to understand your Indian MIL. Me?!?!?! A freakin' foreigner? Who would have thought? Yes, dear readers....I am officially the Indian MIL guru!

Naturally, I couldn't wait to tell my dear MIL the next morning. As soon as I woke up, I wanted to share my exciting news.

"Sandhya," I said. "My blog is #1 on Google when you search for Indian MIL!!! Even above the Times of India articles! You're the most famous Indian MIL on Earth" (joking but serious....)

Oh, you should've seen the look on her face! She was soooooo freaked out. She had that same 'Indian-aunty stare of death' when Madhavan first brought me to her house in India as a surprise. LOL!!

"What's wrong?" I said.

"No. I don't want everyone to know what we're doing. Everyone is going to keep commenting on me," she said.

"Who cares what others think?" I said, puzzled. And then I said, "Who's going to comment about WHAT?

"I care. I care what others think. Everyone is going to tease me. You write about how much I'm enjoying eating tacos and watching Western movies....they WON'T STOP COMMENTING on me when I return to India!!! AIYOO RAMA!!! They are going to tease me that I'm enjoying too much and becoming too Westernized! They are going to call me a bad Brahmin for eating veg in a non-veg restaurant and not invite me to their functions!!!"

I was baffled. Okay, yes, I know I have a conservative Telugu MIL from the not-so-big city of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. But seriously? After all this.....she had a love marriage, her son married a foreigner, and she has a half-foreign granddaughter, not to mention she is a huge supporter of my blog....and she's worried about what others think now? It's a bit late for that!

I said, "Sandhya....you're enjoying life here. You're relaxing for the first time in your life. Now is certainly not the time to care what others think."

She went on rambling, "They teased me so much for that New Year's picture where you did my make-up, they kept commenting on it and they looked up all the make-up and saw how expensive it was and teased me!" [MIL had asked me to do her make-up - the first time in 33 years since her wedding day]

I said, "Okay, so what...they teased you. You looked fantastic! Even FIL said you should do make-up more often!" (that was the first & last time I ever heard FIL giving MIL a compliment...lol)

And then I said, "Sorry, but you're a big part of my life! Besides, all my blog readers love you! One of them even said you were the coolest Indian MIL!"

She went on rambling about it for at least an hour. I was a bit concerned so I asked dear husband-ji when he got home. I told him about her freak-out and he started laughing. He said, "Oh, she's just freaking out because all her sisters are going to be jealous and they are going to tease her that she's enjoying life too much in 'America'!"

So, now everybody in the family...and in India... and worldwide know that Sandhya is "enjoying life too much"! Now everybody on Earth knows that she likes vegetarian tacos, loves Woody Allen movies and reads Swedish crime novels until midnight.

So....what's wrong with that? What's wrong with enjoying life? What's wrong with unapologetically living your own life - the way you want to?

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What do you think, dear readers? Why is MIL so concerned about what others' think? How should she deal with family members who make her feel bad for enjoying life? Have you ever had any similar situations?

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17 comments

  1. “What will others think?” aka collectivism is the mark of conservative societies. As we are often brought up that way, it is difficult to change until the person makes a conscious decision to do so.
    Why should women always sacrifice and serve? What’s wrong with having fun? Conservative societies (and religion because it is conservative, especially the religions of the book) rely on controlling a huge chunk of the population by demonizing pleasure and through guilt and fear.
    Imagine, if women started thinking about their own pleasure? Who would marry so many useless men? Who would look after children? Who would cook, clean and do everything? If you were in charge of your own pleasure, would you go to some priest? Basically, they lose control over you. Once, the system is in place, most people will follow and not break the cycle. How will we get soldiers if they believe in pleasure and will not go to war for someone’s interests? SO, condition them into guilt and fear, so that they will do what serves the authorities purposes.
    Nothing is wrong in living a life of pleasure. Humans are naturally drawn to pleasure. If women had their pleasure and stopped feeling guilty, patriarchy cannot survive. But, we condition our women into low self worth, that they are not worthy of pleasure and existing.
    All said and done, your MIL’s relatives are jealous. She is having the fun they cannot because they are back in India. More than that, they do not have a socially sanctioned reason to do things like her (aka living abroad and having a phoren DIL)

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    1. Exactly - what's wrong with having fun and enjoying life! Why is that to be ashamed of, I don't know...for once MIL has nothing to complain about, why be ashamed of that? It's crazy. Why not be proud of that? Instead she is embarrassed. She has been conditioned into thinking that enjoying oneself means being lazy.
      I totally agree about demonizing pleasure through guilt.
      MIL has loosened up so much since I've known her, and it's been a great bonding experience to see what her interests are outside of family. We have a lot of shared interests.
      Oh yes, many are jealous....MIL is the only one not having all the bahu drama....
      LOL @ "phoren!!!!! Hahahaahahahaha pronounced exactly like that!

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  2. Loved this post, Alexandra!
    Appreciate your thoughts & views. We in India bother about 'log kya sochengey' (what'll people think!)
    Nice that you have such a wonderful outlook!
    "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion" - Camus
    Do convey my regards to your MIL!
    Pl do let her know that we can be free & chill! :) Why be serious & live life as per others?!!!
    Best wishes for your Blog!

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    1. Thanks so much! I totally agree....I was raised to not care at all what others think, and to be not competitive with others - so it is very foreign to me, to understand. I really don't get it! I think it is a waste of energy to care what others' think. Trying to convince MIL now.... ;)

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  3. You address your mother in law by her name. We do not address our elders by their names. It is a sign of disrespect. It shows that you have an excellent equation with her.

    Apart from culture, your MILs reservations are not unfound. At a personal level, she may not be comfortable with you talking about her publicably. Even I would have felt the same. But I am glad that she is enjoying her life with you.

    Apart from women, I think everyone in India are bound by the same thing. These fears are not unfound as some people make it out, but very real. It is because the actions of one individual does have a bearing on the entire family, which some people mockingly describe as "honor" without realizing the gravity of the situation. If your marry someone from outside your caste, community etc., it does creates problems in the marriage of your siblings. With all our modernity, the greatest problem of a man still remains the marriage of his daughter. Love marriages are beyond the imagination of people in certain communities no matter how educated and liberal they are. Though I wish there are more love marriages in our society.

    One person in Haryana, which is famous for "honor killings", was asked about this phenomenon, he simply said that effects of such things are not limited to only one generation, it goes on and on for decades, since they are living in a small village where everybody knows everybody for generations. It may not be a case in urban areas, but in rural areas it is a life and death situation. "Log Kya Sochengey" is very real.

    I am against "honor killings'", "dowry" etc., but before we dismiss them and condemn them, we need to understand the mentality behind them, and create awareness to eradicate such evils. For you it is disgusting, for them it is culture, way of life etc. Today instead of creating a dialogue among people, we are actually alienating sections of our society by branding people as "rural", "conservative" etc. When we can talk to Pakistan, which is our arch enemy, then where is the difficulty in opening channels of communications between different sections of our own society. In India, different sections of society lead detached life from each other and have absolutely no idea about others. An urban man may not understand the social dilemma of a villager, but he his quick to condemn him and offer advice. There is an elitist disdain at work here.

    The common man in India, is forever facing "moral dilemmas" regarding what is culturally appropriate/inappropriate everyday. There are not easy answers for him. Today, Indian people who lead an alien lifestyle from the common people, are asked to comment on social situations and "moral dilemmas" which they are not likely to face in their lives, because they lead a privileged life. Nobody is interested in solutions but beat around the bush. Common man may be conservative, but unless his point of view is taken on social issues we would not be able to find viable solutions to our problems. Right now, neither the politicians nor the media has much respect for him. We need to include all sections of the society in these debates, whether or not we like their views. Our problems need indigenous solutions.

    I may come across as offensive but I have seen after such incidents take place, there is lot of "fire and smoke" in the media, but nothing comes out. We need solutions which won't come if we live in this "artificial bubble" of modernity know nothing about our own country.

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    1. You cannot always assume that elite Indians who live in a bubble cut off from the common man and know nothing about India are always commenting on issues.

      Everybody who faces this issue directly or indirectly by being involved with an Indian has a right to comment. Yes, this issue is real which is why we are discussing it instead of pretending it does not exist and break this cycle of conservatism.

      If some Indians are living in a bubble, it is because they managed to break this cycle and that means rest of us can too.

      I feel you are trying to please this side and that side and looking down upon modern Indians. Modernity upto a certain point is okay with you but you do not want it totally.

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    2. @anonymous - Yes, I call her by her first name, which is typically a big no-no. I used to call her "aunty" but now I call her "sandhya" because she is like my friend. She said she didn't mind, hope she doesn't! I wouldn't call her by her first name in India though.
      I know I am probably a bad Bahu for talking so much personal business, LOL!
      The moral policing on India is really bad - people can make your life hell by judging, bullying, and also denying service. So yes, her fears are not unfounded. However we are not living in India anymore, only visiting. And it's time to quit hiding, and be open about our lives. That's easy for me to say, because I'm an open book.
      The elitist comment reminded me of an article I read a while back. It's a good read:

      http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/the-colonial-native-vs-the-hindu/

      "The elite of India suffers from a fundamental alienation from the traditions and culture of the land that would not be less poignant had they been born and raised in a hostile country."

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    3. @boilingwok - I totally agree. Being modern does not mean you are cut off from traditional. Hubby is from a conservative family but he is very modern, he lives in both worlds. He knows their mindset, but has chosen different for himself. Same with MIL being from Guntur and coming to accept a foreign DIL and a life abroad. She always says she would have never dreamed her life would turn out this way. She is modern at times (at home), traditional at times (in India), and conservative at times (around Indians who judge her).

      "Everybody who faces this issue directly or indirectly by being involved with an Indian has a right to comment." --> thank you for this. There are so many people who believe that I cannot/should not comment on India, that I have no right to comment on the culture. Meanwhile I'm in an Indian marriage and living in an Indian household, just like any bahu. Except I'm foreign, so it may effect me more than most! But at the same time, because I'm foreign, I can choose to not do things I don't like.
      I think a lot of traditions in India have no place in a modern society, the traditions that discriminate, confine, etc. Some traditions do, and some don't. Traditions ought to change with the times, and that is what the dilemma is in India as of late. We will see what happens...

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    4. There is no one to please as boingwork said. As far as the modern educated Indians are concerned, the programme "Satyamev Jayate", showed that it is the rich and educated and doctors in urban India who are indulging in female infanticide. It has now become a case of "Kettle calling the Pot Black". An educated Indian may disown his child for a inter caste marriage but he may not kill him. That is a saving grace, but does it mean that he is free of bias. In India all are same educated/uneducated, only the degree varies. No one can hold moral high ground and sermonize others. Those who have been able to strike the balance between tradition and modernity, I salute them.

      I am simply suggesting that simplistic and knee jerk reactions to social problems, lead to nowhere. It may lead to change in laws here and there, but no lasting change will take place. It would be better to put ourselves in their position and see what could be the possible solutions to the problems. If at all the change comes, it will come from these communities itself. Work with them on different issues, health, women empowerment, employment, education till the time they become aware that a girl child is not a burden and need to be preserved. This approach work at different levels among different people. I think various NGOs are working in this direction. While the discussion and debates should continue, true change would come only by concerted effort in this direction. Changing mindsets is extremely difficult but not impossible. This is not the only way forward, but a significant and tangible one. It is like trying to untangle a ball of wool, I guess. That is what I believe, some people may not agree with me, which is all right.

      For those, who want to break these age old stale traditions, there are free to do so and register their protest.

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    5. @ Anonymous - Nowhere do we claim educated rich people are modern or not having conservative values.

      This is one of the biggest misconceptions in India - educated/rich/wearing western clothes automatically means not conservative with liberal values. People can be any of the qualities listed above and still be conservative. This hypocrisy is the very reason, people follow the outer signs- like education, dressing conservatively & making people believe they have "traditional values" while being liberal inside or vice versa - men pretending to be liberal but turning out to be extremely patriarchal after marriage. That means they really have not broken out completely of their conservative moulds.

      At the same time, it does not mean conservative Indians are liberal too.

      Knee jerk reactions lead to nowhere for any problems. Simplistic, maybe. Traditions unnecessarily complicate things which can be done and sorted out easily and create issues out of nothing at times.

      Why should everyone strive to create a perfect balance? Perfect balance is one of the hardest things to get and most people keep beating themselves over it. Blindly following things because they are culture/tradition serves no one and sometimes in life we have to take a side. We can't please both sides because that would compromise the person we are & our happiness.

      Balance between tradition and modernism can also be hypocritical. We are modern and let our DIL work. We are cultures and take all her money & do not let her give some to her parents.

      Culture and tradition are just used to justify whatever suits them and to their benefit and it is used to shut up people because once we say their culture is bad, it become an issue of political correctness.

      Everybody needs to choose their values and judge/live by that instead of following something ordered by someone who knows when and in what situation. Sati can also be justified as our culture. But does it align with our values?

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  4. haha enjoyed the post. Yes, we do care alot about what others think, and modify our actions accordingly...Nice post this was! :D U have well adapted the Indian culture it seems :-)

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    1. Thanks! I really try to, or at least to make an effort to understand! One day I will have to explain my daughter all these things :)

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  5. Hi Alexandra - hope you are feeling better :)

    I think a big issue here is that there is no real culture of individualism in India. Everyone is always into everyone's business. Always finding the need of giving an opinion about EVERYTHING. Always preoccupied with what this person have and not have and do and not do. When you think about it is really exhausting.

    I know how she must feel; after all I also come from a similar culture where keeping up appearances and always thinking about "el que diran" which means "what would people say" is very important. I particularly never cared about this mentality and never followed these rules. I never cared what other people thought of me, including family members.

    I agree with your hubby; is straight jealously. Why can't they just look at it as a especial time that the two of you had together instead of opening every single link you attached and tallied how much you spent in makeup? WEIRD!!!! People really need to get a life.

    Anyway, tell your MIL to say just thank you to anything that they say that makes her feel uncomfortable even if it doesn't make sense to say it (in my case it threw people off and worked). And, she should have nothing to feel bad about. Tell her that that was a special time for you and that you loved every minute of it. At the end of the day, this was between the two of you and she should not let anyone take this wonderful experience away from her or make her feel bad about her having it.

    Millie B

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    1. I totally agree about the individualism, there is no sense of it at all. Children raised to be obedient, and to please, so much duty and obligation to the family as a whole...it's like, who's life are they living? The lack of freedom bothers me. Must be more of a Western concept, or maybe just in my family...?
      I always thought that being truly happy is better than keeping up appearances, and also the same thing goes with speaking honestly. I have had very few real conversations with my extended family members, it's all small talk, it makes me uncomfortable.
      I think they are jealous, and maybe curious too. They want to know how it is we are "adjusting" to saas-bahu life, what are we doing different from everyone else (everything! LOL) I notice a sense of freedom with MIL, she has really blossomed a lot. I feel like her true individual personality is coming out.
      She is very sensitive though. She is going back for an arranged marriage of one of the cousins in the Spring, we are unable to go. It's funny though that the same ones that tease her are always asking her to bring all Western beauty items (MoroccanOil shampoo, hair dye, eyeshadow etc)
      Hahahaha....
      Thanks for the excellent tips, I will tell her!

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    2. individualism is definitely a western concept. Collectivism is way too common in Asia, definitely more extreme in East Asia. The level of collectivism among East Asians shocks me.

      The jealousy part is also a huge mark of conservative cultures. Again, hugely amplified in East Asia. Maybe, I am not a good Asian lol

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  6. Oh my gosh... your mother in law is so cute!!!! :D AWWWW :D I love her

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