First sorry for the lack of posts, I got caught up offline with DH being at home for a week, our dog having a benign breast tumour that needed surgery and all the regular things involving having a toddler in the house.
Yesterday some of the kids in our apartment building under the supervision of two great ladies had a mini fest planned. The idea was for the kids to bake and prepare snacks at home, plan fun games, and do simple craft project to sell during the mini-fest. The flyer on the bulletin board announcing the event said: We encourage all to attend and encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship in our children. And I loved seeing this, not to mention that all of Ishi’s older friends were in it too and kept telling me about it all along.
So we went, and this was FUN, brought back some good old memories of my school organizing such things when I was their age, be it to fund the class annual field trip, or just to make money out of selling my own toys, and I’m glad the spirit isn’t lost.
We enjoyed home made mini pizzas, dahi vada, chocolate cake, onion pakora, lemonade, sandwiches, pop corns and even pani puri. Ishita just loved them all, and while she was too little to play the “throw the hoops game” she just played with all the other toddlers in attendance. One of the older kid who was selling stuff said “This is a fun day I wish it was like this everyday”, and yes indeed, I think this should be something to do more often, brings the people together, let kids have fun, and we all had a very good time eating all these snacks.
The only “sad” thing though is that those who attended are pretty much the same old bunch of people we see everyday being active with their kids, too bad it didn’t bring more people out of their apartments…oh well!
The topic of identity in a intercultural relationship has been doing the round in the past few months on the blogs I frequently read in the gori-desi community.
And I thought maybe I should put my experience down on my blog too after commenting so much on the other blogs.
In short the main point that kept coming is where does a western woman married to an Indian guy stands in the equation, what identity do you have or are expected to have, there's also been the debate on whether western women dressing ethnic aren’t trying too hard.
Well here is my story, I’ve been living in India for 7.5 years, married for nearly 5 out of these. When I first moved to India, I was determined to fit in, while DH (who was just my live in BF at the time) was trying to come to term on what to do as far as his family was concerned (they learned about us through a cousin who decided to play tattletale on him after getting engaged).
In order to fit in, I would wear only conservative salwaar kameezes when outside, and try my darnest hard to cook proper Indian food at home, every meal, all the time. The few times I wore jeans around I felt very self conscious and probably noticed people staring at me more…and I now know that they were staring regardless of what I wore.
Over the years things changed, we got married and in the beginning I was trying hard to give the right impression to my MIL who was and still is my biggest critic (and not necessarily in the good way but that is another story). From trying too hard to still not get to fit in and be approved I went back to be…MYSELF and guess what? That’s what I do best, and that is what works for us.
Nowadays I don’t wear a full salwaar suit often, I keep the traditional look around my in-laws, but in everyday life I tend to prefer or a casual trousers t-shirt look, or wear a short kurta with pants or capris. As far as cooking goes, I cook a little bit of both continental and Indian and yes sometimes fusion cuisine, I’m not as purist as I was trying to make the most perfect traditional dal or trying to impress with my chapati skills. DH actually prefers when I cook continental style chicken, loves my Swiss style cakes, and got completely hooked to Authentic Swiss Muesli for breakfast.
What I’m trying to say is that trying to dress my way into “desiness”, was by far the most stupid thing I ever did in my life, because in the end not only was I still looking like a foreigner, I also ended up loosing myself, instead of solving the problem of identity most people have in their 20’s, I ended just adding a couple of layers to the problem.
Now I don’t know who changed more, me or others around, but in the 7.5 years I’ve been in India I noticed a lot of changes, mostly in how women dress, it seems that back in 2003 when I arrived there were more women dressing very traditionally in Bangalore, but looking on it, I wonder if it was not also partly due to the fact I had a very set idea on what was proper that made me notice the type of ladies I wanted to look the most similar to rather than the real fact, and most likely a little bit of both me and the world around me was back then more traditional.
I think I first really started realising that there is is a different dress code in different places in India when we were living in Chennai and we used to go out to pubs a lot on weekends. Truly try wearing a very loose fitting shapeless salwaar kameeze complete with dupatta in a hip pub and you’ll see what I mean…you end up looking like a no fun auntie at least 10 years older than your real age. There wasn’t many fancy malls back then, so in day to day activities I didn’t quite feel odd in my usual ethnic wear.
Then we shifted back to Bangalore, more pubs, more hanging out in restaurants with friends, and more malls visits, that’s when I started noticing that…gasp…the uber-traditional look clearly wasn’t cutting it and beside at home I like lounging in my t-shirts, jeans or casual pants, always did, but for a long time was petrified of getting caught going to the local grocery shop in these and would change outfits just to go buy milk and eggs…very silly, especially in Bangalore were we lived in a building where there was a lot of of young IT employees going to the local store in their track pants and t-shirts…be it men or women.
And I was working in a call center back then, at work I would stick to my conservative ethnic look, and a few of my colleagues even asked “Don’t you ever wear anything more casual”, and I guess this stroke a note. The answer was…that yes I enjoyed casual wear, but at home and on weekends when pub hoping. Not so much at work, though maybe I was right keeping work and play dress code different, the point is I was still wearing my collection of salwaar kurti day after day, while some of my ladies colleague did alternate between ethnic, indo-western and western wear, the difference between them and I was dressing to look the part while they were dressing according to their mood and taste. I was thinking that in order to fit in sacrificing my tastes, comfort level and mood was what was needed…boy I could not have been any more wrong than that!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think ethnic wear is bad, in fact I still wear salwaar suits from time to time, I keep the most traditional ones for traditional places though. And just these past few weeks I did a little unbiased observation of the feminine world around me, and guess what? You will find as many ladies wearing ethnic as you will find women wearing western casual wear. Over the years women have preferred churidars over salwaar when it comes to ethnic pants bottom especially in the young middle and upper middle class, the latest trend being elastic legging type churidar that perfectly fits all. Dupattas are less frequently worn in metros unless you go in a local traditional market. Women now prefer their ethnic wear to do something for their figure and work for their lifestyle it seems.
And oh I wanted to add what a lot of my lady friends are saying about clothes “Ethnic wear looks great, but a very traditional cotton outfit needs a lot of maintenance. Our lifestyle have changed, so should the clothes we wear, and how we make them work for us”
In the end I guess that while true things have changed a lot in India, I also did, and I don’t really care as much about fitting a standard as I used to, because guess what? I’m Swiss, I grew up in Switzerland, and that’s part of who I am, and is equally important as who I am becoming or plan to become anyway. And in any society, or culture you find a bunch of people that will try to make you feel bad about who you are and decide you must change, but there is a much bigger proportion that or doesn’t particularly have an opinion or completely agree with you and how you live, and you can’t be a crowd pleaser, there is no such thing as pleasing 100% of the population. Or even trying to please one person who doesn’t want to be pleased as I found out the hard way with my MIL, I can still dress Indian, cook Indian, touch her feet, speak as much Hindi as I possibly can with her, touch her feet, respect all of her custom, in the end she always end up praising one bit but immediately afterward pointing one flaw, pretty much like saying “Of course she cooks and dress well, but she still isn’t Indian so she isn’t perfect”. As if there was such a thing as perfection in this world anyway.
I am a big book worm, and that isn’t even a confession, I admitted that long time ago, publicly at least.
Back in the days in Switzerland I was a crazy regular at the city library, and still purchased many books on the side. Yup I was a book “nerd” as some would have put it. Normal teenage girls went shopping for clothes, met by the lake side to gossip and get a tan…and I spent a few hours almost every Saturdays to visit the city library, borrow a few, or sit in one of the comfy sofa to flip through heavy reference books, not that I was interested in academics, nope, I was a arts and crafts book junkie, star wars novel geek, mystery and thriller lover, and read girly teen novels as a guilty pleasure. Books books books, not a week passed without me buying one, and borrowing them on the side to satisfy my urge. But as a teen it was mostly a secret life, you can’t admit out loud you rather go to the bookstore than go hunting the most perfect fab earrings, and a self respected teen will only openly admit reading magazines and maybe the one two books recommended in them.
I was good at managing my secret identity, since I loved reading so much I threw magazines in the mix too, and I while I actually laughed and rolled my eyes at the “How to get a guy to fall to your feet” tips most teen magazines had, I wasn’t completely out of the loop either. Sure I wasn’t fashionable, but I was not fitting the “geek” or “nerd” label either, my clothes weren’t unfashionable albeit very casual, which worked perfectly well for me. Over the years I even had a classmate or two who shared my urge to read and as you grow up you don’t feel so odd being a book-a-holic and eventually come out of the closet.
My taste in reading haven’t changed much, I’m still a sucker for mysteries and thrillers, still love crafts books, added self help, new age, cooking to the list, and still love my little girly comedy on the side. A travelogue, or real life story might catch my fancy, but fiction is what I like reading best, oh and I still leaf through a few magazines here and there to keep in the loop if you where ever wondering.
Where does this blog post lead you might ask? Well just to the fact I just finally joined a library here in India. While it didn’t even take a week after my arrival to Bangalore in 2003 to locate all the bookshops in my neighbourhood and frequenting a second hand one 3-4 times a week, it took me quite longer to get to join a library. First I didn’t know where they were, because I grew way to used of how things worked on a small scale in Geneva and how the State library network was free to all resident, free membership, and no rental fees, only late fees for being really late at bringing back a book (the duration of the lease was 1 month with 2 weeks grace period if I remember well). How did libraries work in India I had no idea, and I didn’t know where to turn to know how to find one.
Then in Chennai my landlady asked if I wanted to tag along to a government subsidized one, and of course I did.
But I was DISAPPOINTED, the library was old dull, smelly and looked pretty much like the stereotype sad library that cold come complete with a bossy lady screaming “SILENCE PLEASE” should the need arise, not that I imagine it was needed, the bunch of visitors here were for the most part scholars, students and old people, the books were old, about 90% of them were purely science and academics and I never saw the point in joining, this was back in 2004. The trip to that library didn’t make me feel good about libraries, I had no idea private ones could even exist, because mind you I grew up in a place where the concept of paying a member fee was absurd, and I decided government libraries were not made for people like me and never ever visited such a place again.
Until yesterday I didn’t even look at private libraries, but then a friend recommended “Just Books” which has a big network of libraries in various cities and and each cities having various main “office” and satellites to make sure you are never too far from a good book to read, and apparently even have the option to order online from the main catalogue.
We visited the outlet near or place, the choice was decent, the place bright and casual enough…no super seriousness there, and if they don’t have a book in that particular branch they can order it from another branch for you. Unlike the Geneva city library, there is no monthly limit (I always hated the 10 books a month limit back there), you just subscribe for a plan that allow you to take out only a specific amount of books at a time, and you can keep them home as long as you want too, so let’s say you subscribe for a 2 books plan, and return them after one day you can take as many as 60 books out of the library a month for the plan’s monthly fee, in a word the more books you borrow the more advantageous the plan becomes.
While I’m yet to see the complete online catalogue, I liked what I saw there, and I also loved the fact they have baby books, Ishita loose interest in her books after a week or two, and like her mama, is a bookworm in the making as I’ve never seen her more exited than when left to roam the books in Landmark or in the library yesterday…just for her books subscribing was a great idea to begin with.
I have less time to indulge in my book craze having Ishita keeping me busy, the idea of a library that doesn’t put a limit of days on your lease suits me too, but I still like buying books as well, and these days what I lack in reading proper books I make up in reading blogs…I just MUST read!
The apple never falls off far from the tree, I’m a free spirit, and so is my daughter.
We hate conventions just because someone said it had to be so. I’ll never really know my first act of rebellion as a child, but I know Ishita started just a few hours after birth.
Babies love being swaddled they say? Who cares, my daughter would scream and shout until she could “do the starfish” in her bassinet, arms and legs wide apart no restricting blanket please! And the nurse to scold me for my daughter’s free will, going on and on about how babies HAVE TO be swaddled that they feel better and more secure and warm that way and showing me each and every time how to properly secure the receiving blanket snugly and then upon seeing my daughter crying saying “She is hungry feed her now” only to have her reject my breast and me to explain to the nurse that the crying will stop as soon as the blanket goes off and offering a demo, leaving the nurse baffled.
Yes like her mama my girl hates restrictive clothing, clothing is a second skin, it has to allow you to move freely and not come in the way. She made it clear barely 12 hour old that it was her way or the high way.
And as she grew she continued on that line all along, the latest is her rebellion against hair clips, day after day I have ladies asking me why I don’t tie her hair and few seem to understand that it’s not up to me, but to her, she literally tear them off her head along with a handful of hair, am I to force her through it and see her go bald? Apparently some think I should buy stronger more difficult clip to remove, place them more tightly on the head because girls look pretty with clips…
But my daughter doesn’t want to be pretty according to somebody else’s standard of prettiness, she wants to be free and comfortable, beside she isn’t breaking a law by not having hair clips, or is she? Who am I to tell her how her hair should look at the playground? There will be enough time in the future when she goes to school to have to have her hair tied up by rule…toddlerhood is innocence and bliss.
Then there are the aunties inspecting every inch of her body for bruises, marks and scrapes, pointing them to me accusatively and saying “Why is she hurt”, this is just a mosquito bite for Pete’s sake but if I tell them so they lecture me on how I should not let it happen because it look Ugly (yes that’s the word some used), because yes if one mosquito got through the mosquito net, braved the “All Out” plug in device and the mosquito repellent this is obviously a huge mistake from my part…darn where is my Almighty God zip on suit so I can make sure mosquitoes will not ruin my daughter’s beauty of all things!
That was before she was crawling or walking, now I have to deal with “Don’t let her climb the monkey bars, she will hurt herself” or “Why does she have a scrape on her knee, you should be more careful”.
But careful about what exactly? Careful that she never ever ever gets hurt in life? To the best of my knowledge falls along the path of life happen all the time, you stumble, you get hurt, you get back up and you go on, I had no ideas that monkey bars where a deadly prop not to be ever used, please arrest the guy who invented them, charge him with a crime against humanity dear! And get the guy who invented concrete roads, and the one who created planet Earth as a rock hard surface to walk on…oh wait we have a problem here…God did this one.
I’m letting my daughter make her own experience in life, learn that actions have consequences, cuts and bruises at the playground are nothing that a little bit of cleaning and a band aid cannot take care of. Shielding her from the fun of the playground in fear of her getting “ugly” marks however will kill her spirit, and someone without spirit is a dead one…pardon me for refusing to kill my daughter’s spirit simply because one moron said little girls have to look like dolls all the time. If I wanted a doll I would have gone to a toy shop and buy one instead.
A funny thing that is that as I was thinking about writing about it one of my regular reader posted something about it in the Feng Shui comments.
The simple truth is that every belief and faith are all about harnessing a positive energy to carry you through anything.
Prayers can heal, if you believe in them that is, faith can move mountains.
I’m saying all this because as I mentioned earlier, DH is the type of person who tend to see the glass half empty and wonder why bother even trying something new simply because it might not work. And I am the complete opposite, I tend to see the glass half full, and I think everything is worth a try.
I might be an optimistic, but trust me I think that half your success in life starts in the mind. As a teen I came to discover a bunch of audio tapes and book about sophorology in my parent’s bookshelves and curious as I was decided to read the book, and listen to the tapes.
Sophorology is a relaxation and guided meditation technique that has for core idea that you can easily program yourself for success, good health and overcome obstacle by simply planting the seed to your goal in the subconscious and that to really reach your subconscious you need to quiet the mind and reach that deep relaxation or meditative stage that is in a lot of way similar to the REM phase in dreams, this is the phase where you aren’t completely asleep, but not not actively awake either.
Hooked to it I later took a course to learn more, I was 19 and trust me a lot of my friends laughed about it, 19 year old do not go to a guided meditation group right? But then at that same time some of my friends (shall I say acquaintances) began to loudly comment on the fact that it seems that everything was tending to go “my way” and that I “had it easy” all along. They were mostly referring to my always managing to pull out of though school exams with the minimal effort back then. I wasn’t a class topper, because that really wasn’t my ambition, but I wasn’t a bad student either, if my goal had been to be the best student ever I would have surely succeeded I’m not going to lie. But nonetheless I did use sophrology to program myself to stay calm, to think ahead, to prepare myself to face road blocks, in such a way that exams never really stressed me out, and the most terrifying of all back then were the “oral exams” name given to the type were you enter the class room one at a time to face the jury, pick a topic in a lucky draw (so that you never know what is going to hit you in advance) and then getting 10 minutes to prepare your “defence” and go prove your point to your teacher and his/her choice of a jury person…to any teenager this is stressful, to me being an introvert and being a bit of a shy public speaker this can be terrifying, the type of situations one can loose it very easily…but thanks to the fact I programmed myself and kept telling myself “I WILL NOT LOOSE IT” and positively pictured any kind of scenario that could hit it me in the calm of my bedroom weeks before actually helped me in many ways. And I actually scored a few A on books I barely read simply because I was calm, composed, assertive and knew how to get my point through without letting the “opposition” a chance to question me. Even on the weakest topics like…ahem German I managed to get my pin out of the game, you can’t fake not being able to speak a certain language fluently, but attitude is counting as much, despite my making terrible mistakes in German to explain a book chapter, I was doing it, calmly, seriously, methodically. after a final exam my German teacher came to me after he graded everybody, it came as no surprise that I scored the average just to get me through, but he told me that in the weeks leading to the big exam and heck most of the year I came to him as a slacker, he had little hope for me, and confessed that when i entered the room on exam day he was more or less ready to just brand me with a big fat F as there was nothing during the school year that proved him I could actually speak German, but what stunned him during the exam is how despite my horrendous grammatical mistakes and lack of big words I got the point he wanted to hear through, and he was actually amazed at how calmly I did it too. Trust me I could have easily gone in panic attack mode then, that was easy: not speaking the language fluently facing a teacher ALONE in a final exam and not knowing more than 10 minutes in advance what book chapter I would have to dissert…I just was positively determined to not let that happen. Sure I never read the book in question in the original German language, I read it in French, then knowing what it was about I methodically got the important points, listened during classes about what the teacher thought was important about the book, and I took the plunge on exam day.
I never had it easy by default, and I was not having it my way all the time. What others perceived as such back then was merely the product of careful preparation…not necessarily conventional…but preparation nonetheless. and it’s not that things go my way all the time, is that I prepare myself for many scenarios and when an obstacle arise i find a way around it instead of sitting down and “scream why is this happening to me” screaming and begging won’t make the rock on your path disappear. Sitting and thinking “How can I go around it” surely will make you put it behind you.
Another thing that is bigger than all of us and got glimpse of during meditation is that, indeed there is a universal energy around us, it’s not positive, it’s not negative, it is what you make out of it. And prayers, religious beliefs, superstitions, and how you think affects it. This energy can both heal and destroy.
Have you ever heard of Reiki? And it’s healing power? I read about it, never practiced, but I do strongly believe in it, my mom practices it, I benefited from it on at least two occasions, once I didn’t even know about it.
Every religions out there have tales of miraculous healing, healing techniques that appear impossible to the scientific eye, tales of shamans, witches, druids…there is one common root to all these practice, those people all tap into this universal energy and harness it to work toward a goal. But their being convinced a person can be healed isn’t enough, if the person on the receiving end isn’t even the slightest bit opened not much good will come out of it.
Back to my Reiki mom, during the time I let her practice directly on me after I complained from a terrible headache and back pain I could feel the difference, I even noticed that the aches and tensions were not limited to the two areas I mentioned, but my mom found them anyway and healed these other spots too. I knew before hand Reiki was a working method, and as I was receptive my body did let go of the tensions more easily. My mom though mentioned she tried a session on my sister, and because my sister is a person who need science and logic to explain everything to her couldn’t for one second believe Reiki could actually work, result: while my mom’s healing touch tried to soothe the body my sister’s mind panicked and my sister burst into tears and her body tensed itself even more under the action, the fact was that since Reiki was going completely against her belief and she wasn’t willing to go in with even a slight opening toward something new, her mind triggered a self preservation mechanism. What happened in her case was a clear case of “This is BS, this won’t work and nothing good will come out of it”
My sister’s mind was dead set against it, probably without her even fully knowing it, the seed for failure against it was planted…and when you have such a seed planted, indeed nothing will ever work your way.
So here is a long entry to basically tell you that what you believe in and how you think will affect the outcome.
It might not always go as planned, you can’t always win big because there are other parameters than just yourself in anything, you can’t change these, but you can change how you approach things.
Sorry for the lack of posting, DH was in town the whole week, so I tend to limit the time I spend online then.
This last Saturday we obviously had the TV on “Star Cricket” to watch the Cricket World Cup Final since India was playing and had a chance at becoming world champion again after 20+ years.
Now to make things clear, I am not a huge fan of cricket, I find it difficult to follow a game that last 8 hours (though the T-20 format is easier for me to get interested into), but if you are married to an Indian guy, chances are that he is hooked to it or at least have an interest in it. Kids play it from an early age, there are several sports channel practically showing nothing else but cricket, and I dare you to find at least one person in India who’s never heard of Sachin Tendulkar, and in truth you probably won’t find anybody who can’t at least name 3 players in the current national team, that’s how important cricket is.
I remember when I first got to know about cricket, it was in 2002, I just met DH and he spent time online checking the score on cricinfo at my place, back then internet TV wasn’t really huge, I had a slow dial up connection so that was the only way for DH to know what was happening with team India. I realised immediately that this was something vital to DH so I asked him to explain what cricket was to me, and he went on and on drawing little graphics and writing terms on my notepad, I didn’t get much of a visual though as cricket doesn’t exist in Switzerland. Then I went to visit India in December 2002 and DH would watch some of the matches in our hotel room in Manali, so I got to ask again some of the rules and understood the explanation a bit better with some visual support. Then I got back to Geneva, Lagaan came available in DVD and I got an even better understanding of the game, even if this is a fictional story.
Yes you can’t say India without thinking of cricket, this is as much part of it as spicy food.
But back to Saturday shall we? frankly I didn’t pay much attention to the first inning, Sri Lanka was batting, and you would hear the entire neighbourhood cheer each time India took a wicket, no need to really watch TV. Then in the second half India got to bat, and DH got frustrated with India loosing 2 wickets so early in the game, and switched off the TV when Tendulkar got out, I asked him a bit puzzled why, and his reply was “It’s over, India is loosing” and I was like “Huh???? it’s still too early to tell, they can still win” but then DH’s “Glass half empty” tendency was resurfacing, the TV stayed off and DH went to watch a movie on his laptop, but 8.30pm I had Ishita asleep and dragged him off the laptop to play Monopoly as we hadn’t had an opportunity to play a board game undisturbed for a LONG LONG time, about half an hour into the game we heard loud cheers from all around our neighbourhood again so DH rushed to the computer to watch the game on his laptop, I pointed out the silliness of it though because we were playing Monopoly on our coffee table, all he had to do was switch on the TV again, which he eventually did, and at one point the game looked really tight, the game was closing in to the end, and there always seem to be just as many runs left as there were balls left, i think at this point both DH and I lost focus on our Monopoly game, then a breakthrough brought a little relief and then WHAM!!!!!!! The runs we needed to win were scored with a 6!
Within seconds you had people all over shouting on their balconies and homes, and fireworks starting everywhere.
Ishita got scared and woke up, DH went out buying some more beer to celebrate and we watched the trophy ceremony.
I might not be a huge cricket fan, heck on most days it bores me a little, but I don’t think anyone can stay insensitive to such a win and be moved seeing the players celebrate the victory after so many years of trying and a rather disastrous 2007 World cup.
Congratulation Team India…and what a match!