Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The foreigner with sindoor


Having been going back and forth to India for the last decade, one thing I have noticed is that the number of fellow Firangi's keep steadily increasing - which really warms my heart.

On my first time in Hyderabad, we only saw one other foreigner for the entire months that we were there. It was practically shocking to see her, and even I felt scared to strike up a conversation! It was in the elevator at the Deloitte building - she was a blonde lady wearing a kurta. She was working there, and we were visiting a friend. She was holding a file folder and had a security pass. She was completely at ease. I will never forget her! Having just arrived in India, and trying to find my footing, I had hoped that one day I'd be just like her.

Now that husband-ji has lived abroad and become a total diva, he insists on staying in nice hotels rather than staying in his family home - "for the A/C", so he says. In the hotels, there are lots of Westerners, of course. They used to only stay in the safety of their hotels, but nowadays many are venturing out and about around town. I really love seeing fellow Firangi's exploring India, even if they only visit tourist traps. At least it is some thing! It is a rare sight to see other mixed couples such as us - even in the West. The most we saw were in Delhi or Bangalore, and only recently too. The majority being Western women and Indian men, on their honeymoon.

It is rare to see a woman such as myself - especially in Hyderabad. A middle class wife who dresses like a local - with sindoor and all. On our last trip to India, when we were shopping around my favorite Park Lane in Secunderabad, I saw someone just like me...

A woman on a scooter turned to look back and I spotted her. The foreigner with sindoor. Her curls were in a long braid with an unmistakeable red down the part on her forehead. No makeup, simple jewelry, perfect Salwar Kameez, rubbery flip flops - not trying to stand out. A young Indian girl was on the back, holding her waist as she zipped through traffic. She looked quite Indian - in fact it didn't immediately hit me that she was a fellow Firangi. My gaze was hooked in the sixth sense that you get when you see one of your countrymen. She disappeared into traffic, into the heavy swarm of vehicles.

I continued on with our shopping with my cousin-sisters, picking up a Chhota Bheem balloon for Maya. We were waiting on the busy road side for husband-ji, Maya and the driver to come round and get us, and I'm sure I looked completely ridiculous standing on the road with this giant life-sized balloon. Men on motorcycles started pointing at us and making comments, as my cousin-sisters were irritated. I started waving the balloon in the air as I saw husband-ji's car approaching - just in case he couldn't see me - which now seems ridiculous as I'm sure I stuck out like a sore thumb! People stared more as I waved the balloon, and my cousin-sisters were absolutely embarrassed and scarred for life.

Suddenly, The Firangi with Sindoor popped out of the lane way in front of us. She was on her scooter, 5 feet away from us, where I could see her perfectly. She sat on the scooter and stared us down, while the young girl on the back seat was not so subtle - pointing her finger at us with her jaw dropped. We stared at each other for about a minute as she waited for a break in the traffic, and sped off. It was the first time that I ever saw anybody remotely like me.


I wanted to say so many things then, but I was just struck mute by the sight of her. What are the odds, really? That in a city of 11.4 million people, that I'd see my doppelganger?! I wanted to say hello, but I felt shy. Anything I could have or should have said in that moment, would cheapen it. Words were spoken through our eyes and then, like the way life flickers, she was off forever - devoured by my maximum city. I haven't stopped thinking about her since.

Although no words were spoken, there was a strange camaraderie in our staring contest. A staring contest that only a fellow wife of an Indian would give. She seemed fearful; and a bit apprehensive of me. She was definitely tougher than me - braving to ride the scooter all by herself. I wondered if the girl on the back was her daughter or maybe a relative - it's hard to tell with mixed kids. Her expression was tough, and sentimental - like she was looking back at the younger version of herself. She was detached, mature with experience, hardened. In that moment - and I don't know why - I got the intuitive message that she was silently telling me all that she had been through. It was a magnetic connection, an aloof enchantment of sorts.

I recognized this gaze instantly, as the gaze that I catch myself giving young rookie bahu's. Especially the ones in the first year of their relationship, having hardly experienced any cultural clashes at all. Just wait til they land in India; Just wait til they have kids', is what I always think! Many young bahu's will look at me with awe and wonder; as I glance with a knowing, hardened stare - as if to say: "been there, done that, just wait for what comes next..." Having been in my relationship for a decade, I'd like to think of myself as a mature, seasoned bahu - but sometimes, I wonder if it's all a continuation of the beginning. Maybe I am indeed the rookie bahu.

The stare that lady gave me was familiar to me, in a parallel universe. Realizing this, I thought to myself, "Is this the future me? An indifferent, hardened, mature woman? Am I this foreigner with sindoor?

I would like to become as brave and confident as her, but I hope I keep some of my wonder too...


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26 comments

  1. The first time I really saw another White-Indian couple was while abroad, in Taiwan. They were a couple in their forties and had their beautiful daughters with them. Unfortunately they looked so grumpy I didn't dare to walk up and say hi to them. If they were in a better mood I should would have!
    Having other couples to look at really changes a lot. As one of "those young ones" I love seeing couples who spend many years together and have kids on their own. It's always like a triumph of "if they can, we can too"!

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    1. Totally! I always look at long-term couples as such an inspiration :) I want to know all their secrets for success!

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  2. Alex,

    Great post, I have noticed several fusion weddings here in the U.S on wedding blogs such as Style Me Pretty and Maharani Weddings. Glad this is happing, maybe you will be seeing many more mixed couples on future trips to Hyderabad.

    Melissa

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  3. My maternal grandmother has an indian husband. Back then they were a rare, strange couple and lived their life mostly in England (she is Finnish) because in Finland & India no one understood their relationship. My grandmother used to tell me a story where once when they were in India a woman came and pulled her hair because she was sure her blond hair wasnt real or that she was a witch!

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    1. OMG how fascinating! Can't imagine how it was back then...

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  4. Also, my grandmother told me the relatives of her husband were shocked to learn that she had a masters degree from university and a job, because his female relatives were all at home (this happened during the 1950s) and could barely read. Having lived my whole life in Finland where all the women work I was surprised to see my grandfathers country where I felt evey woman was a housewife. But I imagine it must have been even more shocking earlier when quite a lot of women in many countries were just housewives and financially depent on their husband.

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    1. I have heard the Nordic regions like Finland or Sweden are very progressive....seriously would love to visit sometime!

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  5. You always articulate your words so beautifully. As a desi man, I get the same feeling when I see other FOB desi guys. I have lived outside of India for 15 years now, and am elder and wiser.

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  6. "a total diva"- ha ha!

    I have yet to see an Indian woman with a non-Indian man where I live (not exactly a big, cosmopolitan city) but I live in hope :-).

    Raina.

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    1. OMG he is the biggest diva ever, I make fun of him all the time by calling him "the princess" in front of his family :D

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  7. I am Indian - mostly raised in the US - and my parents retired back to India (Kolkata.) My husband is white American and we live in the US. We go every year with our daughter to visit my parents and family. I rarely see foreign women in the area my parents live in - and always have a similar sense of camaraderie when I see a similar mixed couple. Of course a foreigner looking at me would see an Indian woman in a salwar. It is only when you add in American English speaking child and husband that people look twice.

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    1. I feel there are less mixed couples in the residential areas....but when I do see them it is like the highlight of my entire trip!

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  8. You write so well! It was like reading a book and the scene playing out in my head. Can't wait to read more about your life and the people in your life :)

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  9. I've never been the traditional type wearing Sindoor and dressing ethnic all the time. When I first arrived to India I was one of the very few foreigners around. So I totally know what you mean.

    Here in Mumbai, there is a HUGE community of masala couples. And I mean BIG the community I belong to has way over a 100 members and this only for ladies who are in India long term. Few of us are the traditional type though. most of us are western wear or I do western wear ladies who really only dress up for formal occasion, even those who live in joint families. So as an outsider most of these ladies might seem to be the typical expat type with no desi connection unless they are with their kids or/and husbands.

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  10. @alex

    do u see yourself in future in hyderabad ziping around on scooter with maya just like this lady or may be with husbandji??

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    1. Maybe....but I would only ride on a jet black Royal Enfield! :D

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  11. you were planning to write a post in hindu funeral rituals are u considering it still.

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  12. Hi madh-mama, I have been following your blog for some time. Thank you for sharing all of your personal experiences of your intercultural relationship! I am German and my husband is indian, from hyderabad. Just like your husband. We live in dubai now and are expecting our first baby. I would love to share our story in the section of your blog for intercultural couples, but when I start writing I get very emotional about. As soon as I am ready I will definitely share it. But I can relate to so many things that u r writing about! As per indian clothes I have loved them ever since I first wore them. I have lived for some time in hyderabad and was wearing only salwar kamez. Now that I am pregnant I even wear them to office here in dubai because they are so comfy and much more charming than normal pregnancy clothes. When I was in hyderabad in 2010 I knew no other intercultural couples other than us and also on our later visits I have never really seen any. And yes everywhere we are we get a lot of stares, fingers pointed, in India people even take pictures of the two of us without any problems. My husband gets so mad at this :)
    I wish you all the best and please keep writing your blog!! If we are ever in hyderabad at the same time, let's meet up!
    Janina

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    1. Hi Janina,
      Congrats!!! Yes please email me: madhmama@gmail.com!
      So cool Hyderabad is your Indian hometown too! Hope we can meet sometime! :)

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  13. So well written! When I was in India I was with my boyfriend's mom and dad (boyfriend couldn't afford to go again) and was often out on the scooter with my boyfriend's dad. People DEFINITELY stared at us haha, they were probably trying to figure out the relationship. It probably didn't help with their confusion that I was holding onto his dad's shoulders-he soon informed me there is a handle on the back I can grab, I'm sure he was hearing interesting comments in Tamil lol.
    -meg

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