Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The double life

Last week we celebrated Christmas with my dad's side of the family, hosted by my dad's sister who has zero knowledge of India and Indian culture. They have never been to India, have very few interactions with Indians (outside of husband-ji) and my aunt's husband hates Indian food (although I doubt he has ever tried REAL Indian food because the majority of Indian restaurants in North America are crap!)

Coming back from a month in India, it feels weird to be in an environment where people have literally no idea about our life in India. It almost makes me feel like we are leading this double secret life, like some undercover CIA agent who goes on missions in foreign countries while their family has no idea. The crazy life we live in India is beyond their wildest dreams.

Sometimes I want to explain it to them, but unless they visit India or enjoy cultural things like Indian food, movies or books by Indian authors - I don't think they'll ever get it. They live in such a white world. I mean, at Thanksgiving, my aunt's husband asked us if there were still arranged marriages in India. That's how little they know. 

For Christmas, I wanted to wear my new red Salwar Kameez. After being in India for so long, I got dressed almost automatically with my 3 red piece suit, full jewelry, and sindoor. Then I looked at myself in the mirror and I looked perfect - by Indian standards - all matchy matchy. But then I remembered where I was going. I was going to my aunt's house and she wouldn't know what sindoor was, or the Goddess Lakshmi on my necklace. And I didn't really feel like explaining it to people who wouldn't comprehend it anyway. Everyone would most likely be wearing jeans and sweaters. So I rubbed off my sindoor, and took off my red Salwar pants and put on black leggings instead, to tone it down. I still wore my beautiful tunic though.

When I arrived and took off my coat, the first thing my aunt said was that she loved my tunic. And I mean LOVED. Her jaw dropped open and she thought it was so beautiful. Then, I felt silly. I said, "well actually this comes as part of a 3 piece suit..." and I totally should've worn it. Part of me realized that it was my fault too - maybe they would have more of a connection to Indian culture if I just took the time to explain things properly, rather than automatically assuming they would have no interest. If I feel like I'm living a double life - it's because of me - because I am making a choice to leave them out of it. And maybe I shouldn't...

After dinner, my other aunt (who loves Indian food) gave husband-ji a gift of his favorite Indian sweets like Kaju Katli and Besan Ladoos. We passed the box around. My aunt's husband hates nuts so of course he couldn't eat any of them, since almost every Indian sweet has nuts. Then I asked my aunt if she wanted to try and if she liked cashews. She tried my favorite Kaju Katli and as she was eating it, her expression changed with the explosion of sweet foreign goodness. It was almost as if - very faintly - she realized that their was this whole other world out there, that compromises so much of our own daily life. She gasped as she ate, "Oh this is good....this is so rich tasting!" she said. 

I smiled to myself, as if I was slowly cracking open the door to our "secret" Indian life...slowly but surely.



  1. I really love reading your blog Alexandra. I think you should wear your beautiful Salwar Kameez, the sindoor or necklace if you want and not worry too much about explaining anything or caring about what others might think. I have the reverse fear that when I wear a salwar kameez that Indian people outside my family will think I'm trying too hard to be Indian or whatever. I'm lucky in that my Indian family including my husband are delighted that I want to wear Indian clothing, jewellry etc. We recently attended a Satinder Sartaaj concert and I debated with myself whether I should wear a salwar kameez or not. I ended up wearing it because I feel extremely feminine and comfortable in it. I'm sure I was the only white girl in the whole auditorium and I did feel nervous at first but after a short time I just felt like one of the crowd there to enjoy the show.

    It must be difficult/tiresome at times to deal with family who have no clue about Indian culture. My family do not know much about Indian/Punjabi culture and food either. My husband was really worried about the choice of Punjabi cuisine we had decided on for our wedding. My mother is quite easy to get along with but my father and children are quite stuck in their ways in regards to food. I was really surprised when they all said how delicious it was. I still have to cook something separate when we have certain curries however.

    I love so many things about my husband's culture and it's become an integral part of our relationship and I sometimes want to keep that world to myself and as you say if they have never been to India or taken an interest in the movies, literature, or food they cannot really understand. I kind of like my secret Indian world to stay that way :)

    1. Thank you Rahnee :)
      I am glad I wore it and I think I will wear it again to show my extended relatives a peek of our life. I love Salwar Kameez and how comfortable they are......they are so fabulous!!!!
      I know what you mean about the secret world :) sometimes its nice to keep it all to oneself.


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