Monday, May 30, 2016

Now Featured In: Times of India (Chennai edition)


Guess what, guys!!! Yesterday we were featured in the Sunday edition of the Times of India newspaper (Chennai edition) on page 2! TOI is India's leading newspaper and the Chennai edition has a circulation of approximately 245,000 copies, so it is great exposure for us. Since I started my blog, my dream was to be in the Times of India and now it's something I can cross off my bucket list! 

Along with me, they featured 3 other Firangi Bahu's (including my friend Nancy - read her love story featured HERE) and we talk about how we have adjusted to Indian culture, get along with our in-law's and try to help other women do the same. My mentions in the article mostly talk about my weekly help column, Ask Firangi Bahu. They also mention the apartment building project we are currently doing for our joint family. The article starts off & ends with our story. 

Here is a small excerpt from the article:

"[Alexandra] began her blog as a resource for other intercultural couples. The mail she got prompted her to start "Ask Firangi Bahu". "I get a lot of letters from foreigners whose Indian boyfriends do not tell their families about the relationship. This is a bone of contention because for most Westerners, a secret is about shame, whereas in Indian culture dating is taboo," says Alexandra."

I did the interview for the article several weeks ago, so I have just been sitting on the edge of my seat with anticipation waiting for it to come out. They used a nice picture of our parents sitting together at our wedding. When I told my MIL that her picture was on page 2 of the Times of India, she was absolutely horrified and her eyes bulged out of her head. She was standing over the hot stove making spinach dal and she nearly had a heart attack. Great timing I have, I know! I told her it was a picture of her sitting at our wedding, and then she was relieved. "Then, it's okay, because I was looking nice that day in my orange saree and my hair was done up nicely." I don't think my MIL ever expected to be in the newspaper!

It is wonderful to see an article in such a large newspaper that celebrates intercultural love and creates awareness about couples like us. There are very few foreigners married to Tamil men, so I hope all the elder Indian aunty's and uncle's get a little less afraid about their children falling in love with non-Indians!

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Raghu & Jo


Introduction....
I am Jo, born and raised in Minnesota with a mostly-Scandinavian ethnic background. My husband Raghu is Indian and from Bangalore. He moved to the US for a Master's program and came to Minneapolis for his first job after graduation. We met and currently live in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. 

Three words that describe you...
Open, resourceful, happy. 

Favorite childhood memory...
Growing up on my family's farm. Feeding calves and doing other farm chores with my dad, gardening with my mom, and playing with my sister, brother, dogs, and lots of cats. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I am inspired by writing, travel, and good conversation. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met online, but Raghu recognized me from the deli where I worked at the time. We lived in the same neighborhood in Minneapolis.

How long have you been together?
Almost 6 years. Married for 2 years this June. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
His dedication to his dreams and his fierce loyalty to family. He's an independent thinker but gets along with everybody. He works hard and plans diligently for the future, but still seeks out joy and pleasure in life. 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Our wedding day, especially the reception. We had worked so hard to plan the whole weekend, and when the Hindu ceremony was over and we finally felt like we could relax and enjoy, we recited our "speeches" (vows) to our gathered family and friends. Those speeches allowed us to translate the commitments we had made in our Hindu ceremony to the mostly-American, mostly-Christian guests. It felt like the first time many of my family and friends really understood what we meant to each other and the depth of our love. Raghu's parents could not attend, but his brother came all the way from Australia and shared their blessings. We performed our choreographed, painstakingly rehearsed first dance to "Tum Hi Ho," and then we didn't stop dancing until everyone said goodnight. I had never felt so much love as I did that day.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Not much. I liked Bollywood and biryani. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
My family loved Raghu right away, and I knew they would. I think the real challenges came later, when they had a difficult time understanding why Raghu hadn't told his parents about me after we had dated for a few years. I think there were also times my family worried that I was losing myself by adopting so much of Raghu's culture.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Raghu showed me my inner strength and taught me how to fight for the things I want. I had grown up as an overachiever-type, and I worked hard enough and was rewarded for it. But after college, suddenly everything was difficult. I couldn't find a job in my field. I didn't know what had happened to the person I used to be, but I just waited around, complaining and making excuses for my situation. Raghu gave me some tough love and told nothing comes free in this life, but you can still achieve what you dream of even if it doesn't come easily or naturally to you. His lessons weren't always pleasant, but he patiently showed me that I can do almost anything with enough practice and persistence, and I'm learning to push past my emotions and to take control of the outcomes of my life.

Who proposed and how?
Raghu proposed at a birthday party for me and my sister at my parent's farm. We had just finished opening gifts, and Raghu snuck upstairs. When he came down he said he had "a special gift for Jo." He proposed in front of my parents, siblings, and niece. It was perfect. 


Describe your wedding...
We had a Hindu ceremony at the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. It was simple but very special, with a few humorous moments of confusion. My parents had no idea what they were expected to do during the ceremony, and, frankly, we didn’t really know either. But the priest guided us and our guests through it, and everyone said it was very beautiful and sweet. We had a slightly more Western reception afterwards, with an Indian buffet and lots of dancing. My parents read a Christian prayer before the dinner, and we gave vows/speeches to each other. 

What does being married mean to you?
Being married means never feeling alone in this world. Marriage is family, home, and companionship. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We are planning a move somewhere warmer in the near future and to maybe buy a home. We hope to have children in the next couple of years. We want to take as many trips as we can - there are so many places we want to see. I hope that we can spend more time with Raghu's parents – I still haven't had a chance to go to India! 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
Never badmouth your spouse, and make all your important decisions together. 

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Generosity and a willingness to see the best in people. 


What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
When we are both at home, we cook and eat our meals together. We do a lot of regular household chores together, like grocery shopping and cleaning. We try to participate in each other's interests – traveling, cooking and making up new recipes, working out together, and going on motorcycle rides to our favorite picnic spots. I've been working on learning Kannada so that I can communicate better with Raghu's mom and so that we can raise bilingual children together. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Most of our meals together are Indian or Indian-inspired - Raghu is the better cook. I've stopped eating beef and don't eat meat on Mondays. We observe most Hindu festivals that are important to Raghu's family and go to the temple together. Since we live in the US, I feel like food and festivals are the most visible ways I've adopted Raghu's culture, but I know there’s more than that. I see the world differently since Raghu and I have been together. I don't have such a strong of a sense of entitlement, my attitude toward career and money has changed slightly, and I'm more comfortable with being late for things (not sure if that's a good thing). 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Not in a huge way. They are very curious and eager to learn. They like it when Raghu cooks Indian food for them, and they are good sports about trying even the spiciest dishes. We celebrated Diwali with them last year. 

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
My husband is pretty liberal about cultural and religious practices. If there is something about his culture I can’t embrace, he hasn’t introduced me to it and probably doesn’t want to. He does what works for him in the situation and environment he’s in – he won't go along with something he doesn't agree with just because it is tradition or his parents tell him to. That isn't to say there weren't adjustments to make, and I've been through my share of uncomfortable situations and conversations. He has always assured me that I don't have to do anything I don't want to. We have been able to talk through and understand these differences to live in a way that works for both of us. 

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
I'm always committing cultural faux-pas, and it usually it involves putting my feet somewhere they shouldn’t be or throwing food around (like into a grocery cart) without thinking about it. This drives Raghu nuts. When we go to the temple, people sometimes stare, making me uncomfortable, and in my awkwardness I inadvertently do something weird, often something I already know I’m not supposed to do. I used to get upset about this – I’m kind of a perfectionist – but a better approach has been to not overthink and to accept that these things will happen and I will be embarrassed, but I will be forgiven. 

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Initially, we had to learn how to talk to each other. I used to feel like Raghu was ordering me around whenever he asked for something or tried to offer advice. I remember one of the first times Raghu visited my family, he said, "Make me some tea." My sister looked at me and asked, "Why can't he get his own tea? Why does he have to talk to you like that?” I had to explain to her, he's not demanding tea from me, even if that's what it sounds like. It's just his way of asking for something. If I say no, he’ll just get up eventually and get it himself. But it took me a long time to adjust to this and to train myself to not snap back at him. It was a learning curve for both of us. We've had to learn each other's triggers and also to pause and listen more carefully before judging or responding defensively. 


What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is the new experiences. It seems like every week we are celebrating a festival or making a new favorite food. We have so many milestones and celebrations to look forward to – I still haven't been to India and have so much more to learn about my husband's home and family. 

On a bad day, the same novelty that I love about being in an intercultural relationship can be frustrating. His norms are not my norms. I'm always realizing I'm committing a faux-pas or learning about some non-negotiable my husband has that I wasn't even aware of. This will be even more of a challenge when we have children. We will both need to learn as we go about childhood in the other’s culture, so we know why the other parents the way he or she does. That way we can come up with new approaches that satisfy both of us. We’ve already had to consider how we would reconcile big and small differences about things we feel very passionate about – discipline, education, and the role of grandparents in our children's lives. We don’t necessarily have a model for this new family culture, and our families’ opinions and involvement will have the potential to drive a wedge between us, so it will be important to stay united. 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
I think a common misconception is that we have some ulterior motive for being together that other couples don't – that we are marrying for a green card, making a statement, rebelling, abandoning an old life, thinking we are too good for someone within our own culture, marrying a skin color or an exotic culture we are attracted to rather than one person we love. I think there's also a misconception that we are doing something reckless or naive, and an attitude that says, "If they only knew, they'd avoid a lot of trouble down the road." If anything, I think we’ve spent more time considering the possibilities and are even more prepared for the challenges ahead than people who marry within their culture. 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Raghu's parents did not accept our relationship at first. Raghu's mom didn't speak to him for almost a year. I felt very sad for him, but he had resigned himself to his decision and didn't show any doubt about his intentions. The situation was difficult because Raghu hadn't seen them in many years, and he didn't have the means to tell them about me in person or to visit them before we got engaged and married. It took time for them to accept our marriage, but they came around. It helped to finally meet them and to alleviate some of their fears. They are kind and warm people who accepted me as their daughter. I miss them and wish we could see them more often. 


Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
If you are in a new intercultural relationship, be patient, and don’t give up too soon. Listen – even when you believe yourself to be a good listener – because there are completely different upbringings, experiences, and values behind the words. It may take a long time to understand aspects of the other person, and you may never understand everything. This doesn’t have to break you – instead, it will enrich your life and expand your understanding of the world. 

As your relationship grows, separate out what you want from all the other voices that tell your how it should be or how your partner/spouse should behave. Intercultural relationships are not for everyone. If you are questioning something, you won't necessarily find the validation you are looking for from friends or family who have never straddled the line between cultures the way the two of you do. You have to be brave, not only to decide what you want, but to commit to continuing to learn, to make mistakes, to sometimes concede in arguments, and to always keep growing in your love. 

And after that, if you are committed to your intercultural love, get comfortable with conflict - feeling it, talking about it, and negotiating it. I don’t believe it ever goes away. Agree to put each other first when dealing with parents or in-laws, and make your decisions together. Prepare to set boundaries with your families, and support and defend each other as you do, because it will never be easy or equal in all situations. Both of you must be headstrong and committed to your relationship and the fusion of cultures you create together with your love. 

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Ask Firangi Bahu: "I have doubts about raising my kids in India..."

(Img via Giu Vicente)

Sharing a letter from a reader...

"Hi Alexandra,

I just recently found your blog, it's been so wonderful to ready your story and all those of your readers. I'm glad I'm not alone in some of the challenges we firangi bahus face.

I'm writing to you because I don't think I've ever seen this direct question addressed anywhere else. My North Indian husband and I currently live in the USA, but his family has been really pushing us to move to India for the past few years (Delhi specifically). I've never been opposed to the idea because I enjoy being in India and I would never want to disallow my husband from being away from his large extended family. However, I've been having some second thoughts lately...

We're getting serious about having kids in the next couple of years, but I honestly don't know if I would want to raise them in an environment where girls are less valued than boys. While I can't predict the future, I really want a daughter and would want her to have the most equal opportunity life she can have. Being in India would certainly allow for lots of family members to be in her life, but my husband's family is very traditional and biased towards boys (the current generation of around 15 cousin-brothers are all boys, I don't know if this is a coincidence or not). My own MIL doesn't understand why I'd want a daughter over a son and all the women in the family abide by very traditional gender rules. It's the one aspect of being in India that makes me very uncomfortable - I'm a very independent woman and would not want to instill ideas that I "serve" my husband or must dress modestly to my kids. I just worry about what the aspect of the culture would teach them.

Have any of your readers raised children in India? I would love to know and hear their experiences..."

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Dear readers, what advice can you give to this bahu?
Would you raise your kids in India?
Does your spouse's family have traditional ideas about gender roles? If so, how do you deal with it?
Can you raise feminist children in a patriarchal family environment?
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

A sweet mother/daughter photoshoot

Last month, as a treat to myself for Mother's Day, I did a special girls only photoshoot with Maya and it was so much fun. If any of you guys follow me on Instagram, you'll notice that I'm always the one behind the camera getting the great shots...which means I rarely get to be in the frame myself. I often wonder if Maya will someday look back at all the family photos and think that I'd never took care of her or spent time with her, since I'm hardly in the pictures.

One of my photographer friends, Felicia Chang, was doing a mother's day special for all the mothers to get in the frame with their kids. It was a great opportunity to have some special keepsake pictures with my daughter. Felicia is such a talented photographer and she has a very natural, documentary style. For families, it is perfect because it is so hard to get kids to look at the camera. I just loved the way the pictures turned out and Felicia really captured the close bond I have with my girl!





I also love this shot of Maya by herself...


P.S. Did you guys notice that I'm gradually going lighter with my hair color? Now it's more close to my natural hair color. Do you like it?

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Recipe: Easy Tomato Chutney


Tomato Chutney is a staple in any South Indian's diet that you can easily whip up with a few leftover tomatoes in your fridge. Tomatoes have wonderful health benefits because they are a rich source of vitamin A, C, and folic acid. This tangy chutney is the perfect combination of spicy and sour. It compliments any vegetable poriyal, and goes along great with poori, chapati, idly, dosa, or even plain rice. I especially love it with Lemon Rice. You can even eat the chutney on a slice of toast! It is so versatile that I like to make it at least once a week.

Madh Mama's Easy Tomato Chutney

Ingredients:

- 6 tomatoes
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- pinch of asefoetida
- 2 dry red chillies
- 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 tbsp fenugreek powder
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder

Directions:


Chop the tomatoes into quarters and keep aside.

Heat up the pan to medium and pour in the oil and the mustard seeds.


When the mustard seeds start to crackle, add asefoetida and dry red chillies and saute for a minute.


Then, add the tomatoes and salt. Cover the pan and cook it for 10 minutes.


Open it up and add fenugreek, mustard and chilli powder and stir it. Cover it again and cook it for an additional 10 minutes.

And voila!

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Ask Firangi Bahu: "How do I get my confidence back to wear a saree without fear?"


Sharing a letter from a reader...

"Dear Alexandra,

Recently I read your article from 2013 on western women wearing sarees. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am of Hispanic heritage, and I've loved India and its culture for a very long time. Because of my dark skin, hair and facial structure I've been mistaken for someone with an Indian background constantly, and it makes me very happy. 

Recently, I went to a masquerade in a very beautiful gown my brother got me when he came back from India. I never felt so beautiful, walking out of the hotel I felt amazing and powerful and extremely comfortable.​ I felt so confident, until I went into the dance...

So many people were staring at me and while yes, the majority of it was smile and positive, I had one person come up to me and tell me I needed to get my own culture. And as I left the venue, a had a man grab my arm and as me if I was looking for a bong. I was scared and angry. I am a mixed race child - I have my cultures that I love and honor very much, but this was a blow to me.

This was over 2 months ago, I've wanted to wear this outfit and I'd love to purchase others. But then I get too scared and I feel like I will be attacked for it.

How do I get my confidence back to wear a saree without fear?"

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Dear readers, what advice can you give to this young woman?
Have you ever been attacked or questioned for wearing Indian attire?
If so, what would your response be to such people?
What tips can you give regarding wearing Indian attire confidently?
Do you think Indian attire should be reserved to Indians only or can everyone wear it with pride?
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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Distance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder


Husband-ji just returned back this week from a 3 week long trip to India, which will mark the longest ever that we have been away from each other. He was going for his cousin-brother's wedding and also to do some fabric business in Bangalore for our shop. 

Of course I would have liked to go, however it was just not possible, so I sent him on our behalf. For one person to fly to India, it costs thousands of dollars. If we all had to go, it would be triple the price. Plus, when husband-ji goes on his own, he can cut costs by staying with his family, whereas we would be more comfortable in an A/C hotel, considering the intolerable heat (which again costs more money). The heat was also a huge factor for us, since I was concerned about both Maya & I getting sick from it. The wedding took place in Tirupati in a wedding hall with no A/C - so no, we could not go. Another big factor was that my parents' were currently moving houses with a tight deadline, so I had to help them pack everything. My dad is now using a cane, so I could not leave my mom to pack up the whole house entirely by herself.

Originally, I was not worried at all. When husband-ji said he wanted to go, I said sure, no problem. I was confident that I would be totally fine on my own since Maya's in school. However, as soon as he left, I quickly realized that I was in over my head. 

 A few things that I didn't anticipate was Maya being so emotional about him leaving. She was a mess. It was a big surprise to both of us, since she has always been more attached to me and mostly ignores him! Despite my reassurance that he would be back soon, and trying to distract her from thinking about him, she woke up everyday crying for him and constantly kept saying "I miss him...he is never coming back". It was so difficult, and even after 3 weeks it didn't get any easier.

Another thing I didn't anticipate was how stressful my parents' move would be (what was I thinking?!). They have lived in their house for 26 years, so that means it's filled with 26 years of crap. Seriously. After all the furniture and the important things were moved, what was left was piles and piles of garbage (eg. expired canned food, medicines) and donation items. Especially with all the sentimental items, you really have to go through that by yourself to decide what to keep and what to throw. Just the amount of decisions that I had to make - for a single box - exhausted me. 

(Bye bye old house...)

So, those things were hard to deal with on top of the day-to-day grind. Since husband-ji was away, I had to fill in for him at the store when Maya was in school. By the time I'd get home at 5:30 pm, we'd both be starving and there would be no one there to start preparing dinner (as husband-ji used to do when he arrived home before us). Every day was completely rushed. The first week I did pretty well, spending the mornings cooking all the meals for the day... but by the second week, everything went to shit. We ended up have take-out food every night for dinner because I was just too tired to make anything. I was barely functioning and having husband-ji gone felt like I was missing a leg. We have gotten into such a good rhythm as parents and partners that having him not here made it difficult for me to handle daily tasks. Having him gone made me appreciate how integral he is to the household, and as a parent. I don't think I would have realized that in a week. It took a good 3 weeks of hell for me to really appreciate him!

Husband-ji didn't exactly have much of a vacation either, since Indian weddings are notoriously full of drama, a big cluster-f*ck, and too long. The heat and the traffic made him very tired, so by the time we got on Skype (with the 12 hour time difference) at least one of us was basically in a coma. I was glad that husband-ji got to spend time with his family without me, because I think that's important. He got to spend wonderful quality time with them, and ended up healing the relationship with his sister and her husband which is proof that time heals all wounds.

I was a bit sad that husband-ji missed Mother's Day though. I wasn't expecting anything and I told him not to purchase anything for me, but he surprised me by coming back with a giant suitcase just for me! The best thing about husband-ji is that he has the best sense of style - everything he purchases is exquisite. He brought back everything I could ever dream of getting - designer sarees, cotton kurtas, sweets from Dadu's and Karachi Bakery, pillow cushion covers, ayurvedic eye cream, outfits for Maya, and Indian fashion magazines. It was all so thoughtful. And the best was these amazing gold jhumki's that he got from GRT. Those were absolutely breathtaking. I own very little gold, so it was extra special.

(Mother's Day gift from husband-ji)

Now that he is back, we are finishing up packing my parents' house, preparing for my inlaws' impending landing...and the best thing is that Maya is back to normal!

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Dear readers, how do you handle it when your partner is away for long lengths of time?
Do your kids get affected?
Do you find moving stressful?
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Monday, May 16, 2016

On Modern Techology

I often complain about people who are constantly checking their smart phones as if it is actually glued to their hand. People hardly say "hello" anymore on the street and most people don't even give any eye contact. It is frustrating when you go out in public and you get rammed into by a smart phone zombie who physically bumps into another person because they are so engrossed in their apps. There's so much that you can do on the go that you can easily get consumed by it all. In the evenings, and especially when we're on vacation, I like to completely unplug from the world of smart phones, and especially the internet - to avoid overstimulation and to just take a breather and enjoy my family.

However, as much as I like to complain about modern technology (see above), it is basically the only thing that unites our family across the globe. Now that my in-laws are moving here, I am thinking about all the extended family that we are leaving behind. Most of husband-ji's aunts & uncles are still in India, whereas most of his cousin-brothers/sisters have moved abroad and are scattered around the globe. For Maya to see her cousins, we have to plan special trips which takes a lot of advance coordination. This is something completely new for both our families, as I grew up with my extended family & cousins here in Vancouver; and husband-ji grew up with all of his in Hyderabad. I went for weekly family dinners on Sundays at my grandparent's ranch house; and husband-ji went for weekly visits to play with his cousins in Sitafalmandi.

Luckily, thanks to modern technology like skype, google hang-outs, and WhatsApp, we can keep in touch with our extended family every day which makes us feel like we're not so far away. It also makes us feel like we're not missing any big life milestones, despite the distance.


A few months ago, Maya's little cousin-sister Avantika celebrated her 4th birthday at home, in the U.S. She wanted all of her family to be there when she blew out the candles, so we all came online for a google plus hang-out and all the children helped her blow out the candles on her cake. Afterwards, the children danced around their respective living rooms in their fairy wings and it was like they were all together in person. It was a beautiful moment, and it made me feel like the children were still growing up together, despite them not all living in the same city. Other times, we have even done google plus hang-outs for random pooja's and Vishnu Saharanamam, or to just catch up and see everyone.

Husband-ji was in India this month for his cousin-brother's wedding, while we chose to stay back due to a plethora of reasons (not wanting to take Maya out of school, flights too expensive, my parents' moving, the extreme heat in Hyderabad/Tirupati, can't close the store) which I instantly regretted and was feeling bad about. All of said reasons made it difficult for me to handle everything here all by myself - taking care of Maya, school pick-up/drop-off, cooking meals, packing my parents' house, working in the shop - I really had my hands full. And with Maya being older now, it was very difficult for her to be away from her dad for 3 weeks and many days she burst into tears because she missed him. It is in those moments that I thank God for modern technology. Instantly, I can call husband-ji on Skype and he can talk with his daughter, have dinner with us, and play with us. He can also discipline her from afar, telling her to play with others nicely and share her toys.

And, not only that, but we didn't miss cousin-brother's wedding either. On the day of Uncle K's wedding I was feeling so bad and so left out because we were one of the few who didn't go. During the ceremony, husband-ji skyped us and we watched it live and congratulated them. Husband-ji was sweating so badly that I could see the water on his forehead, even through the very pixelated screen. Everyone was sweating in their silk outfits for the 16 hour long wedding, while we were at home in the A/C and I was sitting with comfortably in my nightgown with no makeup on. We still got to see the wedding and be there, but we just didn't have to suffer from the inhumane heat. Then, I didn't feel so bad anymore!

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What about you, dear readers?
Do you love or hate modern technology?
Do you feel more connected to family members who live afar via modern technology?
What ways do you keep in touch or for what occasions?
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Friday, May 13, 2016

Ask Firangi Bahu: "We are astrologically incompatible and will bring bad fortune to the family..."

(Img via Michael Hull)

Sharing a letter from a reader....

"Hi, Alexandra. It's very encouraging to read stories from interracial couples. I would like to ask: did you face problems from an astrology aspect when you decided to tie the knot with your partner?

I'm now facing a major issue because my astrology is mismatched with my Indian boyfriend, on top of the interracial problems. My boyfriend's parents are strong believers in it, and I have no idea how to deal with it. My boyfriend and I have been together for 5 years and we have decided to get married. However, our astrology apparently is badly mismatched and we have been told that our marriage is even considered to be impossible.

My boyfriend found it very hard to convince his parents, and now he himself is confused and is torn between his parents and I. His parents are telling us that there will be a lot of unhappiness and problems and will affect the whole family. My boyfriend told me if the effect is on him, he wouldn't have a problem with that...but if it effects the whole family, he finds it hard to do it. Now he is worried the blame will be on us if anything bad happens to them. He is not a strong believer in astrology, but his parents are and they are putting pressure on him. Hope to get your advice on this matter...."


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Dear readers, does your Indian family believe heavily in astrology, and how much?
Were you deemed astrologically compatible or incompatible with your partner?
Is there any way to get around this?


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Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Secret Society of Indian Family Dynamics


There are a lot of things that happen in our Indian family that I can't tell my Western friends or family. At times, I feel like I have one foot in each world - one in the Western world (my family, friends); and one in the desi world (my Indian family, friends). The desi world is pretty much my home life, and when I step out of the door, it's like I have landed in Canada. The only people that understand the complexities of both worlds are other people who are in fellow masala marriages, preferably with an Asian connection.

There is an unspoken code in desi families - thou shalt not tell Westerners about our family dynamics because they will think we are bat-shit crazy. This is because Westerners who live in a white-washed world always seem to view the world with a Western lens that borders on tunnel vision. (The same can be said about Indians who come abroad, and look at everything through an Indian lens, or an Indian moral code.) So, when they don't understand something - ie. that other cultures operate differently - Westerners will claim that it is morally wrong and could even go so far as to shame you for it. Of course, I am allowed to say this because I certainly catch myself doing this which is why husband-ji always gives me the "Indian Culture Excuse"!

My own Indian family is incredibly dramatic, probably more than most. And extremely passive aggressive. At any given moment, someone will be pissed off with another person for a ridiculous reason which is going to make great material for my bestselling novel. It's like a non-stop Indian serial that just goes on and on and on...until you get a brain aneurysm or a permanent migraine. Many of the ways our family operates seems very foreign to my Western friends/family that it is seen as "backward" when it is really just "different" and definitely more complex. If I tell any of our Indian family gossip to any Westerner, they will look at me like I am a mental patient.

I think I first noticed this when we were dating. Because our relationship was new and exciting, I wanted to tell everything about it to my Western friends. Coming to know that husband-ji was keeping our relationship secret from his family, all of my friends were appalled and encouraged me to dump him. The only person who understood that was my Punjabi best friend, who was also keeping her Uttarpradeshi boyfriend a secret from her parents for over three years.

During our wedding (wedding 2/3, just to clarify), our wedding officiant announced in her speech that we planned to live with both of our parents in the future, and nearly everyone in the audience gasped in horror. Living with parents - and especially in-laws - is seen in most of the Western world as worse than being in a fatal car accident. Especially now, when I tell people that my in-laws will be arriving soon, most people give me a look of despair, or are shocked that I'm actually really excited about it.

Another time, I decided to turn on the TV and watch Dr. Phil. The show was about "Mother-in-Law's from Hell" who overstep their boundaries. They gave a huge list of warning signs and personality traits for mother-in-law's that you need to watch out for. Which was basically a typical Indian mother-in-law!!! My mother-in-law is exactly like that and I love her so much, meanwhile people are desperately going on Dr. Phil for intense therapy over it!

It also comes up even in small conversations in passing, like the fact that we have to attend a Griha Pravesh at 7 in the morning. Western response: oh, the horror. So-and-so's sister-in-law stole gold from her. Oh, the horror. We might have to shave our baby's hair. Oh, the horror. We have to attend a funeral for 13 days. Oh, the horror. So-and-so is getting harassed for a dowry. Oh, the horror. My husband wants me to eat meat outside the home. Oh, the horror. I can't kiss my husband in public in India; or around any Indian people, for that matter. Oh, the horror. We have to consult an astrologer before we set a date for so-and-so. Oh, the horror. My kitchen is covered in mustard seeds. Oh, the horror. I slept in the same room as my mother-in-law for 3 months. Oh, the horror.

It is especially hard with friends who start dating Indians, because they will come to me with all these so-called horror stories, and my reaction is: actually, that's totally normal. It's like their Western friends have been so outraged by their stories that they have got them all riled up about it and encouraged them to give ultimatums to their partner. Western ultimatums, that is...

Most of the time, when I tell Westerners about anything to do with India or Indian family dynamics, it's like they give me this look of Alice in Wonderland looking down the rabbit hole.

(Via)

I don't like keeping everything secret, of course, and I still do tell people about what's going on around the house lately. Because, I think, it's partly my responsibility. If Westerners do not understand Indian family dynamics it's because they haven't been exposed to it - and sometimes I'm their only connection to such a world. People should be able to have honest conversations about culture. But sometimes, especially when I'm emotionally drained or tired, I do keep my mouth shut and keep it on the down-low.

My dad, for one, is always perplexed with the Indian family drama. He can't even wrap his head around it. He definitely thinks everyone is crazy. Whenever husband-ji is on the phone with his relatives, my dad whispers to me, wide-eyed, "Maddy was yelling at his father again. I think they got into a serious argument." I have to tell him that when husband-ji speaks in Tamil, he just talks extremely loud and that he is not, in fact, yelling or angry! He can be talking about the weather and it will sound like he is bitching someone out on a loudspeaker. Luckily, my mum has become my one Western confidante who understands the complexities of Indian family dynamics partly because she used to live in India and Nepal, and we still do business in India. That, and she has a desi son-in-law!

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What about you guys?
Do you confide in your Western friends/family about Indian family dynamics?
Please share your experiences...
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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Travelling to Hawaii (with kids!)


Earlier this year, we did a family trip to Hawaii with my parents and we all had a wonderful time together. Hawaii is very family friendly and great for large families of all ages.

All of Hawaii's beaches are free!
Every single beach in Hawaii is free, even if it's attached to a fancy hotel. All the beaches have a mandatory public entrance so that everyone can enjoy it. That way, you can totally chill out at the Four Seasons beach...without paying the price point. Most beaches have parking lots nearby, so they are easily accessible.

If you're on a budget, don't stay in a resort
Most of the resorts in Hawaii are over $250 a night, which really adds up after a week. The unfortunate thing about staying in a resort is that you're more likely to eat their crappy food, which is wildly overpriced ($20 for a burger - and limited vegetarian options). Plus, resorts will be infested with the type of tourists that never step foot outside the resort. If you have the money, stay at a resort for convenience; but if you don't, you can easily find a condo rental for $100-$150 and you'd save a lot of money making your own food, while still enjoying everything Hawaii has to offer like the free beaches. If your condo is part of a hotel property, you might even get to use the hotel amenities. If you're traveling in a large family, it's better to stay in a condo. If you're traveling as a couple, stay in a resort.

Don't pack too much
Chances are you might wear one or two things. You will basically be living in your bathing suits and flip flops. Hawaiian style is very casual and laid-back. I saw people buying groceries wearing their bathing suits!

But bring snacks on the airplane...
We are lucky because Vancouver has a direct flight to Hawaii (5 hours long) however the airplanes are so cheap nowadays that they don't even provide you with a meal. If it was the same flight on the East coast, they would provide a dinner, but nooooo, all we were offered was lousy sodas and peanuts. When you're traveling with a child, this is a big problem. Pack a lunchbox for them with a full meal because they will get hungry...and also pack one for yourself! (But just say it's for your child!)

It makes for a beautiful road trip.
If you get a chance to, drive around and explore - you can even rent a car for just a day. The Hawaiian landscape is so beautiful, and it's nice to explore a locality outside of the resorts. There are wonderful farmer's markets and small boutiques scattered around the islands.

The fruits and sushi are amazing.
The food is not that great - most places are hit and miss. However, the fish is amazing. The selection of fresh fruits are delicious. And the best food we had was Japanese food - not surprising since Hawaii has a huge Japanese population.

Hawaii is racially diverse and has lots of mixed families.
Yay! It was great to be around families just like us...finally it felt like we fit in perfectly! Many families are multi-ethnic and it is celebrated there. Being a mixed family in Hawaii didn't feel like something strange.

If you need ____, you can buy it there
Hawaii is American, so they are readily stocked with a plethora of the exact same American products that you would be able to find in mainland North America. You will even find a better selection of sunscreen, swimwear and beach accessories.

It gets dark early, and the sun rises early
All throughout the year, no matter what season, the sun rises very early and it sets quite early too. This is totally different than Canada because in the Summer, it will stay bright until 10pm. The time change is only a few hours from the West Coast, but you can feel jet lagged from the difference in sunrise/sunset timings.

Take in the scenery
There is something so calming about being in Hawaii. Whether it be listening to the waves, the palm trees rustling, or basking in the sunshine - when you're in touch with nature, on an island - you pick up those good Hawaiian vibes.

Why not Island hop?
So, you've come all the way to Hawaii...why not make it even better by spending several days on a few different islands? If you have time, I would try to spend 5 days per island. Each island has a completely different feel to it - for example, the Big Island is more volcanic and spiritual. Maui has the best beaches; and Oahu is the state capitol; Lanai is the most quiet.

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What about you guys? Have you ever been to Hawaii?
What tips and tricks can you add?

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Recipe: Bibi's Easy Rose, Coconut, & Cardamom Laddoos

Hi, I'm Bibi and I'm honored to do a recipe guest post on Alex's blog today! If you'd like to learn more about me please check out my interview here or visit my blog Keep Calm & Curry On.


These delicately flavored laddoos are elegant enough to serve as a dessert at a posh dinner party or holiday gathering yet easy enough to make for an after school treat. The classic Desi pairing of light rose, aromatic cardamom, and rich coconut are combined with lush milky sweetness in these dainty treats. Deliciously soft and chewy these pretty pink laddoos are a hit with both grown ups and kids alike!

I first saw this recipe on a Nestle website featuring recipes for kids. It looked so easy I doubted it would really taste like mithai or the traditional milk based sweets of South Asia. Was I ever pleasantly surprised! The can of sweetened condensed milk make these taste just like the traditional laddoos made by the time consuming process of reducing milk. This is such a great recipe to make with children, depending on age they can help with the brief cooking and mixing steps as well as have tons of fun rolling the mixture into balls and dredging them with coconut.

Ingredients:
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk (390g)
- 3 cups desiccated coconut
- 1 tsp butter or ghee
- 2 Tbsp rose syrup (or Rooh Afza)*
- seeds of 9-10 green cardamoms, ground coarsely
- 1 drop coconut flavor (optional)
- 1 drop red food coloring (optional)
- additional desiccated coconut to roll laddoos in

Here's what to do:

1) Combine 3 cups desiccated coconut, can of sweetened condensed milk, rose syrup, ground cardamom seeds, coconut flavor, and butter or ghee in large heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai and mix well.


2) Heat pan with mixture over a low flame stirring continuously. Keep stirring until mixture pulls away from the pan and forms a mass. This should take about 7-8 minutes at the most.


3) Remove pan from heat and transfer mixture to a heat proof bowl. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature or place in airtight container in the refrigerator for an hour. (I usually put it in the fridge as my family tends to "sample" whatever is out on the counter. I am told it is for "quality control" purposes. :::eye roll:::) When cooled form tablespoonfuls into balls. I use a cookie scoop to get uniform amounts. Coat your palms with butter, ghee or coconut oil if mixture sticks to your hands.


4) Roll laddoos in desiccated coconut if desired. Refrigerate finished laddoos in an airtight container for 30 minutes before serving to set. These will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This recipe made 20 tablespoonful sized laddoos.


Helpful hints:

*If you don't have rose syrup or Rooh Afza you could use 1-2 drops of rose essence or 1 teaspoon of rose water plus 1 drop red food coloring for flavor. If you're not familiar with the iconic Desi sharbat syrup of Rooh Afza there's a post on my blog about it here.

If using fresh grated coconut, increase the amount to 4 cups and omit ghee or butter.

You can make many variations in flavors and colors with this recipe. I've made them with pistachios and saffron threads soaked in 1 Tbsp water for 20 minutes which came out a brilliant yellow. I've made them pure white by adding no flavor except for coconut essence. I've even made blue laddoos by adding curacao syrup.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and do come visit me at Keep Calm & Curry On for more culinary fun!
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Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Year In Motherhood


Happy Mother's Day, dear readers! Here's a little celebration of my past year in motherhood, which has been the most fun yet!



























Mothers and their children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.” - Gail Tsukiyama, Dreaming Water

Happy Mother's Day!
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