Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Discovering kindred spirits in Bangalore

Last year, when we were in India, we made a trip to the cosmopolitan city of Bangalore. Turns out, so many of our relatives have settled in Bangalore, as there are lots of career opportunities. 

When we were there, we were invited to some relative's houses, as I had not met these folks yet. As many Firangi Bahu's know, visiting relatives can be a stressful experience. You don't really know what you're walking into - will they approve of you? Will they give you nasty looks? Will they have certain stereotypes of Western women? Will they ask you 1001 questions? Do they speak English? Will they even bother to speak to you in the first place? 

I have been in so many situations where food is served to me, but I am not spoken to. I cower in a corner, as if I'm some imported foreign candelabra that nobody quite knows what to do with. The foreign centerpiece of the family that is to be seen and not heard.  Needless to say, whenever we visit new relatives, my expectations are low. This is for my own protection. This is so I don't get my hopes up and get disappointed. Even though I am insanely loveable (obviously), I am not Indian. I am a foreign, caste-less non-Brahmin, non-vegetarian, big-busted tattooed girl who likes to make art and has her head in the clouds 99% of the time. I am not everyone's cup of tea. So, when meeting new relatives, I set my expectations low because that is simply how I survive. When expectations are low, you don't get disappointed!

On the way to the relatives' house, husband-ji and MIL were keeping me up to speed. "This uncle married a Punjabi," she said. "Another one married a Gujarati," he said. My jaw dropped open. "You mean there are other people like US?" I gasped. And my second thought was, "How come no one has ever told me about them?!"

It was all VERY mysterious. Who were these rebels of the family? It was as if they were fellow secret international agents whose identities were just revealed to me on a mission abroad. I wondered what they would look like. Needless to say, I was getting so excited to meet this side of the family that I never even knew existed in the first place. Perhaps it would even be the first relatives who would actually understand us on a deeper level.

Intercultural relationships are our Indian family's dirty little secret. They exist, here and there, but nobody flaunts it. Nobody boasts about it. We slyly go under the radar, to not upset the natural family standard of polite and acceptable arranged marriages. We wouldn't want to be a bad influence on any of the youngsters, now would we???

When we arrived, the family was so welcoming and jovial. We sat down, had a natural conversation, without any judgement. It didn't feel like we were some outcasts brought in off the street. They were actually listening to us, without judging us. The vibe was relaxed, and if we were sitting on a beach in Goa, sipping mai-tai's together. Then, we shared a meal together, and the whole thing felt so intimate and familiar. The grandma was so happy for us - for our family - that she started to cry tears of joy. That was the first time anyone has ever cried tears of joy in meeting me! She loved my daughter and pinched her cheeks constantly. She looked at me with pride. My MIL was so pleased and happy. It was probably the most at ease I had ever felt with any of husband-ji's extended family. I felt like the sun was shining on me that day. In that moment, I felt like I was the best bahu on the planet. Not even a Firangi - just a bahu. For once, it didn't seem to matter that I wasn't Indian.

I really need that more than ever. The weeks prior were filled with a lot of stress dealing with insanely grumpy and conservative Tamil elders who act like they were born in 1652, who said I looked fat and that maybe my daughter "didn't like Indians." I was becoming numb. My expectations were below zero. I was ready to get the heck outta Dodge.

But that night, I felt at home with these relatives. I looked around the table in awe of the multiculturalism. Tamils, Telugus, Punjabis, Gujaratis, a Canadian, and an Indo-Canadian masala baby. It was beautiful. I felt like I belonged there - like I was a piece of the puzzle too. That somewhere - finally - I fit in.

People who are in intercultural relationships share an unmistakable bond. It is inexplicable. They understand you on a higher plain, as if you share a telepathic language. They know what it is like to be disapproved of, to be treated like an outcast, to have your life choices questioned. They believe in the power of love - no matter how unconventional it is, or how many people do not understand it. They know what it is like to live for yourself and choose your own path, rather than being caged inside society's superficial box of standards. They know what it is like to defend your love, and fight for your love - every minute of every day - because it is so worth it. They choose love, despite their differences. They choose love, above everything else. They are quietly brave. And they think the differences are what makes people beautiful and interesting. They are your fellow soldiers of love.

So, for that night, I finally got the chance to meet relatives who appreciated us for our differences - who didn't make us feel like it was something strange. It was a powerful moment for me. I haven't stopped thinking about them since, even though it was a year ago.

Maybe, just maybe...I got a glimpse of the future...



  1. I don't mean to sound disrespectful to our elders, but whenever I meet a really cool elder person, I am pleasantly surprised. Most of them live inside the box of society and ask standard boring questions and disapprove of anything unconventional and start preaching. Having tolerated this all my 25 years, I just keep quiet and listen from one ear and send it out the other. But once in a while you meet an uncle or aunt who is a breath of fresh air, who is jovial and engaging, has lived a full life and understands you without judging.

    1. I agree with you on the 'boxed in/unconventional' attitudes of a lot of elders- especially the case with Eastern elders, since our societies are more traditional. In the west, I think there are relatively more elderly people who are open to new currents and society and try to actively stay young or even attuned to youth culture - a lot of them even have their own hobbies and outside interests, which I admit I don't see a lot of eastern elders do. There are some, of course, but it is as if in the east, elders' traditional mentality makes them more conscious of their age and thus don't have much of an incentive to 'act young' again.

  2. So beautiful post today. So many of the sentences spoke to me.
    I am marveling at your ability to write them down.
    My personal journey from the begining of your post to the end of your post took 4-5 years to cover.

    Its a glimpse of the future.
    It also tells us that we can actually shape the future too (coz sometimes I forget that).

  3. I've been to Bangalore once. I remember the traffic was crazy, like it took us an hour to get to a place normally only 20-30 mins away. But I remember it was a very 'green' city, with lots of trees and botany everywhere.

  4. Alex,

    Just really enjoyed this post. I was so glad to hear that you were not being judged by others and you fit in. There is hope for the future, how wonderful to see this kind of interaction.


  5. Interesting how families conveniently forget to mention the rebels as if we are the only ones rebeling ha ha. Glad you had a nice experience there :)

  6. @Alexandra

    The problem may be because they do not know what to make of you. What to talk with you?? there is an obvious language barrier. What is of interest to them may not be of interest to you. They may not have met with a foreigner in their lives. This may be true of Indian inter cultural marriages also. Yes, there is a taboo of inter cultural, inter caste marriages and I also understand your alienation to some extent. Talking to a person from different region, language and culture you have to be careful. You are mentally eliminating what not to say but don't know what to say. With an Indian of different culture I can talk freely about family, children etc. but with a foreigner I don't know. Mostly family is the ice breaker in India. With a foreigner, if I talk about family it may be misinterpreted as interference in private life. I really do not have any idea about their life and country.

  7. It's nice you can have a relaxed relationship with some Indian relatives ! - Pad


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