Saturday, January 24, 2015

"You co-operate with us"


On this latest trip to India, 9 years into being a part of my Big Fat South Indian family....I finally felt like I was an actual part of the family. Yes, it took me 9 years to get here. I felt like I was a respected and crucial member of this family who contributes in her own way. And this....this was ground-breaking for me. After so many years of feeling like an outsider, and many times feeling less than dirt on this golden brick Brahmin highway, I felt important and I felt valued.

There were a lot of little moments and big moments that made me feel like this. Here and there, it was a smile shared. A joke shared with me. Someone making the effort to speak to me. Complimenting me. A bond of inclusion. A sense that my opinion was respected. A feeling that they wanted me to be there - but not just be there - be really there and participate. A feeling of being wanted; and the start of being beloved.

One of those big moments came when I attended cousin-sister's engagement...

My MIL's younger sisters have always been quite conservative. They are very devout, very by-the-book, and generally strict with their children. The youngest two have been the hardest to bond with. Eight years ago, on my first trip to India, I remember visiting Chinnathha #3's house. I was not spoken to the entire time, except given a bad look when I refused ghee on my Aloo. Chinnattha's MIL refused to be in the same room as me, but instead she stared at me from behind the kitchen curtain like a crazy old ghost lady. I felt like the caste-less foreigner who polluted their space. I remember how I cried and cried after. How it stung for years after that. How I wondered why she did not even look at me; why she did not like me. What did I do to her? I thought. How I wished that my skin was brown, just so that she would acknowledge me.

A similar thing happened with my MIL's other younger sister as well. And as the years went on, there was virtually no improvement. I began to think that the mere concept of me - was just too different for them. Somewhere along the lines, I accepted this fate - if only to be at peace with myself.

So, when I saw Chinnattha #2 approaching me at the engagement, I thought she was coming to see Maya - my daughter being the connecting bridge between us. At least she is loved by them, I thought.

Instead, she came up to me and looked me dead in the eye, like the hawk she is. "You're enjoying the event?" she demanded. "Yes, I am. It's lovely and I'm glad we came to see it," I said quietly.

Then, she said, "I appreciate you. You co-operate with us. You are just like a daughter to me." It was so blunt. My jaw dropped. My eyes filled with tears of joy. I choked up a bit. I embraced her and whispered, "Thank you, thank you for letting me be a part of your family". She waddled off quickly, with that strange penguin-walk that aunty's-of-a-certain-age do, maybe embarrassed that I hugged her. I was left there standing like I just got hit by a rainbow. Like I starving roadside dog that had just been thrown a treat. Was that my initiation into this family? Did I finally make it into the inner circle?

That was a big turning point for me, and I still can't even believe it happened. To be appreciated. To be acknowledged for my efforts. To be told that I'm a part of this family, as if I was born into it. Maybe it was a one-time thing, but it really meant a lot to me and I'll never forget it.


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30 comments

  1. Alexandra, even an indian bahu wd not have tolerated what you had to and yet u kept trying to win their hearts....thats wat threw them, you didn't take the bait, instead in your quiet patient way, you showed them your humanity, their hearts had to melt, there was no other way, love conqers all;-) big hugs

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  2. I'm so happy for you! The first time I met my boyfriends mother she cried and cried. It was hard for her to see her son not only with an Alerican, but living together! He almost felt he had to break us off because she seemed so unhappy on that trip.

    But she came around! She's always considerate to ask how I am. He's currently in India for his sisters wedding and his mom is even making comments like "we'll do this when you and Cheyenne marry" etc. he said she seems to really like me now.

    That is such a wonderful feeling, to finally feel accepted!

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    1. That is so wonderful and heart-warming to hear. Sometimes elders react the way they do because of shock...and then they get over it. Yours sounds like your happy beginning has already started! :)

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  3. I've been following your blog for a while ...it is truly amazing how far you've came...sometimes I read it to my best friend who is in Hyderabad and he loves it! You have a beautiful family and I can't wait for more blogs for us to read! Oh and the wedding looked incredible.
    Shanice

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  4. Alex,

    I am so happy for you! This acceptance and love has been if you will the, "missing link" in your relationship with the rest of your relatives. This was inspiring and fills your heart with love and gladness. You will feel more at ease when you visit and your love will grow with each other for many years to come. This is a great feeling of finally feel accepted.

    Melissa

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    1. Thanks Melissa...it really has been the missing link. I feel really grateful that I had this bonding time with them and that we all made the most of it. It makes me feel even more welcome coming back!

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  5. I came across your blog and enjoy reading it and your description of your life and inter cultural marriage. However, what you have experienced as far as non acceptance is something Indians also experience (sometimes brutally) because of caste based discrimination. I feel that in an advanced and intelligent society caste would be immediately discarded as unscientific and un-democratic, but sadly Indians do not have the intellectual maturity or capacity to see that. I despair that so few of us have see through this, and even among other scientists (which is my ilk!), I find Indians readily belive in it, notwithstanding the fact that just a few (in evolutionary terms) years ago, we were all one 'caste', hunter-gatherers on the plains of Africa before we migrated to other continents. I feel if we don't realise this soon, we will never be able to advance an be a mature society. Makes me despair.....but, kudos to you for your patience and tact in dealing with rigidity and discrimination. You have dealt with it more admirably than even an Indian daughter-in-law!

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    1. I was really shocked to read this post Alexandra, because our Indian family is not Brahmin, and I have never been treated like what you describe. I do feel like the above commenter they may be a caste issue, as once when I visited a place, my husband was asked to stay outside as it was assumed he was low caste. I admire your patience, and congratulations for winning your in-laws ! (Padparadscha)

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    2. @anonymous - It absolutely is caste-based discrimination. I don't think it was done consciously, but as something that is deeply ingrained. Even at one of these homes I was not allowed in the kitchen because I was not a Brahmin. Indians often have to deal with this on a daily basis, but foreigners do too, especially if they are looked down upon, like "sexually free porn stars" with "no family values". For many Brahmin families, the world is divided into "Brahmin" and "not Brahmin".

      @Padparadscha Thank your lucky stars that your inlaws aren't Brahmin! LOL ;)

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  6. @ Alexandra

    I think it is all thatha's blessings. The love and respect that u showed to him and in laws made this happen. I think thatha would be very happy up there that his dear madhavan is in good hands and shower his blessings on both of you.

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    1. I think so too. He was the first one to accept me and everyone was shocked. Because of him, everyone has followed...thank god for him.

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  7. As an Indian woman, I feel even Indian DIL's go through every thing that you have mentioned in your blog. Older women being very unwelcoming and standing on a pedastal to new brides is common. I am not saying all this is justified. It is wrong. My MIL came from Tamil Nadu and my FIL from Kerala. MIL hated FIL's family and so hated everyone from Kerala. Unfortunately two of us DIL's are from Kerala and she spared no efforts to hate us and to treat us like we were dirt. She never accepted us as part of the family. All family matters were discussed excluding the two of us. To add to all this, I came from a liberal family and never followed any customs, rites and rituals. So, she had one more reason to dislike me. Firangi or non-firangi, DIL's are DIL's. Like old wine and rice, it takes a loooooooong time for the in-laws to accept them. Call me cynical, but I am not all that hopeful that these things will change in the years to come. Please accept my heart-felt appreciation for your paitence and tolerance in surviving a hostile environment.

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    1. I totally agree. As new Bahu's we are the lowest on the totem pole and have to earn respect, it can take years. It sure did in my case!

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  8. Wow hats off to you. When my in-laws did that I was hurt too, but my turning point came when my daughter was born n they constantly tried to take my dauhgter away and compared me with her dad n ignored n not respect me a mother. After that I stopped pursuing them. i disconnected n made them realize that I don't really need them.
    I think they realize now! Not happy with this but I had to protect my heart and just stop trying to please coz I knew nothing would. But u atleast dot gv up on them,. Me being an indian, even though born abroad cudnt put up with their crap.

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    1. I had a very difficult time with my MIL during my postpartum period. It was very very very difficult!

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  9. I was so glad to read this post. I am so glad that you are happy that your extended family has been finally accepting. It must have been hard in the beginning but hats off to you for doing what you do with love and patience. Take care...

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    1. Thank you so much...I am glad I was patient, especially now. I always hoped to reach where I am now.

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  10. Hi Alexandra,

    I love your blog and find myself constantly refreshing my browser to check for new posts! :) .
    It is so wonderful to know that people have come around and you feel welcomed and respected. I must say you have a mountain of patience.

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  11. Replies
    1. Thank you! This pic was taken at my little cousin-sister's engagement.

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  12. Visiting your blog for the first time. Though I'vent met you, I feel happy for you

    Regards
    Village Girl

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    1. Thank you :) I feel happy for me too!

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  13. Hi Alexandra! Such moments pass by me, even me being an Indian, because I am not a north-Indian to my to-be in-laws. Being a south-Indian has the same kind of clashes and patch-ups with connecting north-Indians. But all is well what ends well. Glad to have your thoughts and feelings here. Great post! Best wishes :)

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  14. Your insight about your Hyderabadi family is really eye opening - Indians do have many shortcomings inspite of a highly evolved spiritual/philosophical foundations; caste discrimination being a major offense. I am curious to know why you use 'Iyengar; in the tag line? Many of the traits - good and bad are shared across regional and caste lines, so why use the old labels? It reinforces the divisions amongst groups. The younger generation -like you- are our hope for an egalitarian society. You certainly have shown us how to be multi-cultural and tackle the hurdles. Kudos to your work, writing and good humour.
    Thanks for your clear eyed look at Telugu/Tamil/Indian life, sometimes we cannot see the forest because of the trees.

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