Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When it rains, it pours...

Over the past week or so, we have had a series' of misfortunes and personal turmoil. I honestly can't believe how much life can change in a matter of mere days and weeks...

On Sunday, we got word that husband-ji's thatha (grandfather) was in a dire condition. Since Christmas, his health has been failing and he had been in and out of the hospital - but he always bounced back. We were just hoping, every time, that he would pull through and just last a little longer, and a little longer...for us. He had yet to meet Maya and we were planning to go to India with her in the Fall.

I got a call from my inlaws on Sunday saying that thatha had multiple organ failure and was given 24 hours to live by his doctor. Having gone through the same thing with my grandparents - I knew it was serious, and I knew he was in his final days. Because doctors don't tell you stuff like that unless it's really serious. Immediately I told husband-ji to get on the next available flight. He thought I was being hysterical and overreacting and he said he'd take a flight the next day. I shouted at him and told him, "NO. You're getting on that flight RIGHT NOW. This is life or death." I was really adamant. It takes 16+ hours, plus a layover to get to India - and he had less than 24 hours to see his grandfather for the last time. Husband-ji caved in and said okay, and we put him on the next available flight, within mere hours. He called me from the airport and told me that I was right to make him go, and that he hoped that thatha would hang on until he got there. I said I was sure he would.

Two hours after his flight took off, I got a call from my dear MIL saying that thatha had died. It was surreal and I was in shock. "But....Maddy's on his way there right now....he's on the flight coming to see him...." I said. And then it sunk in. The pain stabbed my heart. I was never going to see thatha again. Neither husband-ji or me would get to say goodbye to him. Maya would never meet him, her kolluthatha (great grandfather)....and that his life was over. Even though we were given a warning, it just felt so sudden. Nothing can prepare you for a loss like that.

And then I realized that husband-ji was on the plane on the way over. He didn't know that his grandfather had died. I imagined him sitting on the flight, listening to his music and looking out the window, thinking of his thatha, with hope. He had a two hour layover in Abu Dhabi, and I was hoping that he wouldn't phone me - because then I'd have to be the one to tell him. I wanted him to not know about it and have hope and believe that he was still alive, for as long as possible. Because to him - his grandfather was still alive. I didn't want him to feel the throbbing pain and absence that I felt when I lost my grandparents. It hurt so much, and the heaviness of your heart never goes away...I didn't know how I was supposed to tell him.

He phoned me from Abu Dhabi and I had to tell him. It was one of the hardest things that I ever had to do...

(While the last rites were being performed, I lit a candle alongside thatha's picture and an offering of fresh flowers)

He arrived in India at 3:30am and immediately went to his uncles's house to see his grandfather. For (Hindu) Iyengar deaths, they keep the deceased in the house for 24 hours and perform the last rites; and then take them to the cremation grounds. He said everyone was wailing and crying, and he wanted to cry more but he felt he had to be strong for them. They were so glad that he came - his family needed him.

An Iyengar funeral lasts for 13 days, so I told husband-ji to stay in India for the whole thing and more - and be with his family to help them and support them. He can help them with all the funeral arrangements, and his mother needs him by her side, as she is fragile and distraught. Everybody needs husband-ji.....he is a strong, stoic character that instantly gives you a sense of calm. But, I worry about him - I worry about him coping with the sadness...I sense it in his voice. The best thing for him right now is to be with his family during this difficult time. And that is how I am giving my support to him...he needs to be there, he needs to grieve alongside his family, and he needs to take some time to himself before coming back to us.

Before all of this happened, we found out last week that my father has colon cancer. It's in the early stages but it is rapidly growing so he is having surgery to take the tumor out next week. He will most likely have to have chemotherapy.

Both my parents are a mess. My dad is terrified because he has never had any major health problems before. My mum is traumatized because she had stage 3 breast cancer 15 years ago, and she beat it after a long battle. She knows how hard chemotherapy is - and how much mental strength it takes to get through it.

My dad has to have surgery soon, so I have been spending as much time with him as possible. He comes over in the morning and I make him breakfast - steel-cut oatmeal - good for his tummy....and he plays with Maya and reads to her before he goes to work. In the evening, we go for dinner at his favorite restaurant and he watches Maya eat focaccia and practice using her fork. It has been really nice spending time with him....and I wish we would have spent time like this every day...

(My favorite picture of me and my dad)

Of course, I'm always trying to look at the bright side of everything, even though I want to break down and cry. Even though husband-ji didn't get to say goodbye to thatha before he died, he said he was fortunate to be present during his last rites and see him before his cremation. And even though my dad has cancer, we are fortunate that the doctors caught it, and that he is still alive. And that's what matters. We can get through the rest...

So here we are, me and husband-ji....on opposite sides of the world...both having to be strong for our families.

A few weeks ago, we were carrying along normally, doing our daily chores happily....and now look what has happened. You never know when the wheel of fortune will have to cherish every single day. Things can change in an instant...

The only thing that is comforting me right now is finding solace in my daughter's 20 months, life is simple for her. I look at her - she is unknowing, and unaware, of everything that is going on. I give her an extra hug and a kiss, I read her an extra story, and I hold her for just a bit longer before putting her down for the night. I am comforted in her love.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What to purchase on a trip to India

We are planning another India trip this year, and I can't wait to do my favorite!!! For those of you who don't know, I am an expert shopper. Like, Ph-D level.... and my favorite thing to do when abroad is purchase unique things that you would never find at home.

Traditional Indian outfits (of your choice)
Whether it be sarees, Salwar Kameez, MUST purchase Indian clothes simply because you CANNOT match the quality and price to the things that you'd find abroad - trust me, I have looked! Plus, in India - they have the latest designs. And one of my favorite processes is picking out fabric, sitting down, at the fabric "bar", as I like to call it.
Note: Get it tailored while you're there. Usually any dress shop will have a tailor on site or right around the corner. Some even do delivery to your hotel!

Children's Indian attire
If you thought finding Indian kids' clothes were hard abroad...then wait til you try to find children's clothes. You HAVE to get these in India itself - and if it is ready-made, note that the sizes run waaaay smaller.

(My auntie and me - in our cotton kurtas)

Ready-made cotton kurtas
Wear it over jeans or leggings, even the cotton ones have a fancy look! Easy to wear, especially in the summer heat.

Pure Attar fragrance
These are amazing and last forever. I have three bottles which I am still using, because you only use a drop. You can put it in your bath water, body moisturizer or use it as a fragrance, or even a room fragrance.


Gold (or other fine stones)
Yes, expensive. But go ahead of time, and take a snap of it - and send in an Indian friend/relative in later to do the negotiating in terms of the price. The craftsmanship of gold in India is amazing. And, they'll give you a protective travel case to go with it.

Costume jewelry
They have a fantastic selection of costume jewelry - especially bangles. They have more selections of colors and newer designs.

One of the things that I only buy in India is packs of bindi's - mainly due to the price. In the West, they can cost $10 per pack, when in India, they only cost max 15INR. Plus, they pack light! I get at least 10 packs when I go.

Fancy Chappals (sandals)
Indian women like to wear bejeweled sandals with a small platform kitten heel with their outfits. You won't find fancy enough ones out West! The largest size I saw was a 41.

You can purchase loose fabric or purchase it ready-made. The block-printed ones are the best. All my tablecloths are from India.

(Lakme sindoor)

Beauty Products
Some of the things I like to pick up are beauty products, such as hair oil, or Lakme products. For those of you who wear Sindoor, Lakme makes a liquid one so you can get the line straight.

Fine teas
You just can't get the same quality or freshness. I like to purchase small packets and try each of them. This is also great as gifts.

If you are a fan of Mehndi or like to practice it - you have to purchase Henna from India itself because it will guarantee it's freshness. Many of the ones that are sold in Indian grocers abroad are years old and will have no color.

Indian Literature
One of my favorite things to do is go to a local bookstore and scour the Indian Literature. So many of the novels are things that are not even carried out West - we probably only get 1% of it! Plus, reading Indian literature gives a deeper insight into many cultural behaviours that may or may not be explained.

Idols/Religious artwork
Almost all Indian artwork has elements of religion in it & depicts many of the stories of gods and goddesses. I love to purchase miniature paintings and wood carvings depicting the gods. 


What do you think, dear readers? What are some items that you only like to purchase from India?


Monday, February 17, 2014

Seeing an Indian play - "A Brimful of Asha"

As many of you know, I like to do fun things with husband-ji on our date nights. I am always looking for something out of the ordinary to do, to keep our date nights exciting. So, when I saw that an Indian play was coming into town, we HAD to go...

The play was called "A Brimful of Asha" and it was about an Indian mum trying to get her Canadian-born son married. An arranged marriage....

I wanted to see this play because I thought we could relate to all the Indian-isms and culture clashes; and also to get a greater understanding of arranged marriages. As a foreigner, the concept of arranged marriages is extremely difficult for me to understand. That, combined with the fact that my inlaws had a love marriage, and so did my SIL - there is really no elder to help me comprehend it, or "sell" me the idea. 

The play consisted of the mother and son arguing back and forth. The son was 27 years old and the mother wanted him to settle down and get married; whereas he wanted to focus on his career and meet someone naturally. The mother wanted to set him up on an arranged marriage because he had no girlfriend and she was getting worried. She felt it was her job, and her responsibility to make sure her son found his life partner "before she expired". 

The thing about Indian families, is that a marriage involves all the family members. The parents revel in their children's union, and equally enjoy the togetherness. It continues on when the couple has children - the grandparents' enjoy their time with their grandchildren. So after the son got married, the mother's next job was to pressure him to have children, so "she could enjoy"...

Another thing that the play touched on was also the generational problem of who knows best. Do the elders know best? Or do the young people know best? It wasn't really clear. The generations had so many differences between them.

Later on in the play, it came out that the mother was only pressuring her son to get married because she herself was getting pressured by society. She said that every single time she went out, people would ask if her son was married yet and then talk badly about her in the open and give her unsolicited advice on her son AND her parenting. She said that people would go out of their way to make her feel like an unfit mother because her son "wasn't obedient". So, in reality - she harassed her son the same way she was getting harassed.

One of the requests that the mother had was that her son marry someone who was born in India (despite the fact that her son couldn't speak Hindi). She said this was because, "after I'm gone, my son will have no connection to India", which I thought was interesting. 

The story also went into the background of the mother - how she had dreamed as a young girl to open a school, and was practically forced into a marriage. She picked the man who lived abroad in Canada because she thought it would be exciting to leave India. The reason why she wanted to live abroad was because she hated Indian gossip. But then she got really homesick and she regretted leaving. She raised Canadian-born sons who had little-to-none connection to their culture. She also complained how she had to give up all of her dreams when she got married and had a family. I kind of felt bad for her. Of course, as a stay-at-home mother I can relate to the idea that when you have children, your career naturally takes a backseat - and not in a bad way. However, I don't know why the mother didn't continue on with her hopes and dreams after her children were in school. I think that is why she ended up putting so much pressure on them. Her son even said the reason why she was so aggressive regarding his marriage is that "she was just bored".

The play also touched on conflicting ideals in terms of the son's career. The son was a theatre actor and didn't make that much money, but it was something he loved doing and was ambitious and passionate about it. His parents were always pressuring him to give this career up and trade it for a more steady job. The mother said, "you have to live comfortably with more money, rather than working for passion". The mother said that she wanted to study dance but her parents did not let her because they thought it was an "extra" activity that was deemed "unnecessary".

What I thought was really interesting was the complicated dynamic between the mother and the son - a relationship that fascinates me....

Overall, I thought the play was really fantastic. I would recommend that everyone see it - I would have loved to take my parents and my inlaws too. There were lots of culture clashes, generational differences, and loads of laughs. It was excellent.

A Brimful of Asha will be coming next to Toronto (March 19-22); and Kamloops (April 10-26).


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Our Valentine's Day 2014

Our Valentine's Day this year was pretty uneventful, but quiet and sweet. This year was actually the first year that I have ever forgot it was Valentine's Day until - literally - the night before. I usually am giving poor husband-ji warnings, soon after New Years that he better get me flowers or do something romantic, or else. But this year, it was all a blur...we have been so busy with our day-to-day grind & Maya's non-stop shenanigans! 

This year, I told husband-ji that I wasn't in the mood to celebrate because my dad is having some health problems. I just didn't feel like it because I thought it wasn't important - and besides, we had just celebrated our 8 year anniversary last month. (I am really turning into an old fart!!!) My blogger friend Andrea said that it's easy to forget Valentine's Day when love is a daily part of your life.


On Valentine's Day morning, husband-ji surprised me with a cute little gift pack of bath stuff from The Beauty Bar. I thought it was such a sweet gesture. Despite everything that is going on, he still wanted to pamper me! OMG...SWOON!!! Apparently he bought the gift a week in advance - which is totally out of character for him (usually he gets things the day before / day of). Maybe my super-planning personality is starting to rub off on him!

(( Is it just me or does Valentine's Day feel like Mother's Day #2? ))

I continued on my day with Maya, and then in the evening, I cooked him his favorite Carrot Masala (recipe coming soon) and Aloo Masala Capsicum. Oh yes, I am such a professional Indian wifey, yaar....I cooked TWO curries and the SAME time!!! I think I just upgraded myself to gold status...LOL! Of course, my MIL would probably only give me a B- grade because I didn't make Sambar/Rasam to go with it!

After dinner, we watched a few episodes of The Walking Dead, which was recommended to me by one of my blog readers. I just love to watch horror shows on Valentine's Day (weird, I know...) Since we were watching it from the beginning, husband-ji got addicted too...thank god, something other than his Food Network!

Click HERE to see what we did for Valentine's Day last year.


Dear readers, what did you do for Valentine's day? Do you celebrate it - why or why not?


Friday, February 14, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Swim BABY!

One of the things I love to do with Maya is take her swimming. As a child, I remember practically growing up in our pool, and all our friends would come over and play. We would literally be in the water for up to 8 hours a day - it was so much fun! I don't remember what was my earliest memory of swimming, just that I was always in it. The pool, the ocean...we always played in the water. So from a young age, I became a very strong swimmer - and the act of swimming, and playing in the water, was a huge part of my childhood.

My experience with water was very different than husband-ji's family, who have had little to none experience with water - coming from the non-coastal city of Hyderabad. I think they never learned how to swim because it was expensive, and they didn't see the need for it. Nobody in husband-ji's immediate family knows how to swim, and in fact, many have an intense fear of water. My MIL cannot even let the water go over her head in the shower without getting a drowning sensation. One time, I tried to teach husband-ji how to swim before marriage and it was a complete disaster!!! He was adamant that he would drown, even in the shallow end of the pool, and had to get out of the water after only 5 minutes. He has since been too traumatized about it and refuses when I bring it up that we should try again.

I really feel bad that husband-ji is left out of me and Maya's favorite shared activity. I remember swimming to be such a family activity, with both my parents always chasing me and playing with me in the water. Hopefully, Maya will have better luck teaching him, one day...

But even in our extended Indian family, with many relatives and cousins living abroad, none of them seem to be taking their children swimming. One relative said that the children are "too young" for it, even though their child was older.

Here in Canada, parents start doing swimming lessons with their children very early. Some even start from the age of 6 months old.

Why, you ask? There are so many benefits of teaching babies swimming, including:
- water helps improve coordination and balance, as well as endurance and concentration
- babies can exercise more muscles on water than they can on land, because they are less restricted by gravity. That means that this increased strength often leads to early walking and other improved physical and psychological development
- the combination of warm water and gentle exercise increases baby's appetite and makes them sleep better
- fosters a growing sense of independence, self-esteem and confidence
- regular baby swim training reduces a child's sick rate by 70%
- early swimming prevents a fear of water
- learn vital life-saving actions, such as kicking, floating onto the back, and reaching for the sides of the pool
- reduces the risk of drowning by 88% in children ages 1 to 4.
- nice bonding experience between parent/child; and socialization with other infants

I started swimming with Maya quite late (by Canadian standards), around one year, but she picked it up so fast. As a toddler, it is one of her favorite activities to do. And as a parent, I like that it gets her nice and tired for the day (jackpot!) But really, it is such a fun activity for both of us. And boy, did she pick up fast. It is amazing how they learn to hold their breath underwater and kick.

Maya has never been scared of the water, she always loved it, right from the very first day. We take her to a mixed age class with other children as young as 6 months to 3 years old. I've noticed in the class, that the later you start swimming with your child, the more scared they are of water. So the earlier, the better!

As my MIL was staying with us during the Fall, I made sure to bring her to watch Maya's swimming classes. And boy, was she amazed. For a woman who had been deathly scared of water for her entire life (and still is!) she was both amazed and baffled that babies as young as 6 months were able to swim and hold their breath. She loved attending the classes with us, and it easily became our favorite weekly outing.

Recent videos of Maya swimming:

What about you, dear readers? Do you know how to swim? Do any of your Indian family have a fear of water? Do you think it is important to teach children how to swim?


Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Indian Mother-in-law DECODED: fears of a foreigner coming into the family

The average Indian Mother-in-law would have never imagined that she may one day welcome a foreigner into her family by the marriage of a son or daughter. It is an extremely frightening concept for even the most modern of Indian elders - because it requires them to do some adjusting

An Indian woman of our parents' generation would have had to do a lot of adjusting already, as she became part of her new husband's family; as it is a common cultural occurrence that the women bear the brunt of "adjusting". She would have had to "adjust" to her husband, as well as her inlaws, and her inlaws' family - which after marriage would be her first priority. The most coveted position in the Indian family tree is that of an elder - because you have the most control, only due to your age. Many women use the position of Mother-in-law to demand the respect or power that they have always wanted or needed.

Building a relationship with your Indian mother-in-law is just as important as building a relationship with your husband. Along with marrying an Indian man -  comes his mother. You can't marry one without marrying the other. The umbilical cord is never cut between these two, no matter the distance. That is why many new Bahu's (daughter-in-laws) struggle with finding a place in BOTH these people's hearts, along with juggling endless responsibilities. 

For a Firangi Bahu, there can be many road blocks. Cultural, generational, language....not to mention all those not-so-nice stereotypes that many conservative Indians have about foreigner's moral character (no matter how well-traveled they are)...

For this post, I had to consult my dear Indian mother-in-law, as to what her initial fears were about welcoming a foreigner into the family. Some of these fears are also from the extended family, and the community, as well.

What will they eat? Will they eat separate dinners? Will she learn how to cook his favorite foods? Will she learn how to cook our favorite foods? 
Note: A huge misconception about foreigners is that "they cannot cook food as well as an Indian"; or "you can tell when it is cooked by a foreigner" - totally wrong! 

Obviously, one is most comfortable speaking in their mother tongue.... 
What if we don't share the same sense of humour? What if she misunderstands me? What if I can't express myself properly to her?

Will she respect us? Will she have different ideas of what "respect" is, culturally? Will she take our advices and suggestions?

Future plans & where do we fit in?
Who will take care of us when we are old? Will they allow us to live with them? Will the daughter-in-law take care of us? How involved will we get to be in our grandchildren's lives? Will our relationship be less close to her due to cultural differences? Will we ever feel comfortable with her?
Note: It is a common cultural custom that the eldest son MUST take in the parents when they are elder. This is practically non-negotiable.

"Breaking up" the family
As we all know, in Indian families, there is a constant sense of togetherness...ALL the time...and foreigners may prefer their "personal space". It is even sometimes looked down upon if you have your own individual interests, outside of family (this is considered a luxury). For needing more time alone with your spouse, you may be accused of separating the family. That is why it is extremely important to make extra efforts to "include" your inlaws.

What are her priorities? Will we be just as important to her as our son? Will she only give priority to her family? Is the family unit important to her? Is her work her only priority? Does she understand her many responsibilities? 
Note: Indian women are traditionally expected to put her husband and his family first. Western women are often seen as being "too individualistic".

Cultural customs
Will she want to learn about our culture? Will she dislike certain aspects of our culture? What Indian traditions will they choose to carry on in their lives/grandchildren's lives? How will they function with all these cultural differences?
Note: The daughter-in-law is seen as "the keeper of the flame" which means "the keeper of traditions" - a foreigner may not know or understand all the traditions, which will require extra effort on the elders' part to teach them these traditions, providing the foreigner is interested in learning (some aren't)

What will others think?
Will everyone gossip about us? Will people say bad things about my parenting since my child chose to marry outside our culture? Will people think my child hates our culture? Will people be mean or rude to me at public events? Will people laugh at us?
Note: Many Indians are extremely superstitious of the "evil eye" from others. They feel if people talk badly about you, actual bad things can happen.

Lack of control
Doesn't my child care about our opinions? We've known him longer - doesn't he want to take advice from us? Doesn't he value us?
Note: Many times, when an Indian son/daughter picks their own spouse, it is seen as an public act of "defiance" to the parents. Since Indian children are typically more protected and babied, they are expected to consult elders before ANY big life decision, and it is a big shock to the elders when they don't (elders may feel that they are not needed or a sense of uselessness)

Why can't he find an Indian girl? Aren't there so many Indian girls to choose from? Why does he want to make life more difficult for everyone? What will their children look like?

Marriage should be forever
If they fight, will they get a divorce? No matter what, marriage should be they have the same ideas of the permanence of marriage as we do? They have all different boyfriends and girlfriends before marriage - how will they stick to just one person for life? What if she gets bored and rejects us?
Note: In Hinduism, once a couple is married, they are to be married for the next seven lifetimes, so there is NO splitting up! And foreigners get a bad reputation for being divorce-crazy, but I think foreigners in general are less inclined to tolerate bullshit. But in Indian culture, there is still a great social stigma attached with divorce - it is seen as a failure on behalf of the whole family. Usually if there is a marital problem, an elder will step in to guide the couple with tips and suggestions. 

Ruining the "bloodline"
Will they cause other family members to rebel? Will everyone start marrying foreigners now? How will this negatively affect the entire family?
Note: This one is probably the most ridiculous one. We had one relative who claimed that I was ruining their "perfect Brahmin bloodline" (Hey, I didn't know there was a specific Brahmin blood type! LOL!) And by the mere introduction of me into the family, would cause ALL future generations to rebel, and "god knows what will happen next, maybe someone will marry a Chinese". Well, we have been together for 8 years now, and I'm still the only foreigner in the family (unfortunately...hee hee!) Everyone else is still on the dutiful arranged-marriage path! So, no, it really didn't have any effect on anybody.


So there you go, Firangi Bahu's & Firangi Bahu's to-be! This is what you're up against!

My mother-in-law had many of these fears, and some she still has. Sometimes if I fight with husband-ji, she thinks I will just immediately leave him and get a divorce (never!) So she constantly threatens husband-ji to treat me nicely...which totally works in my favor! ;) Most of her other initial fears are completely gone.

Most of this advice is for foreign girls marrying into an Indian family. For foreign boys marrying Indian girls, it is a bit different. The elders' main concern would be "can you (financially) support our daughter" (even if she plans to work, it is seen as the male's job to earn more & provide financial security); that you intend to be faithful to their daughter; and they may have fears that you will "take their daughter away" from her culture, forever.

As your inlaws get to know you better (a.k.a. most likely after marriage) most, if not all, of these will disappear. Keep in mind that these are valid fears for your Indian inlaws, and that the concept of a foreigner coming into the family is a HUGE adjustment for them. Many of these fears have nothing to do with the actual person - it is more a fear of the unknown. Remember, this is uncharted territory for a lot of Indian elders.

My advice? Be patient with them...and be gentle with them...and try not to take ANYTHING personally.


What about you, dear readers? What initial fears did your inlaws have? If you are Indian, what fears would you have of a foreigner marrying your son/daughter?

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