Cultural differences

Where a line is crossed…

12:57 PM

When you belong to any community such as the gori community, you come across ladies from all walk of life that have for only common denominator that they like you are in a relationship with a man from the desi community. And over the years being active in these communities you occasionally come across debates about the “proper” way to honour your husband’s culture, whether it’s wearing Sindoor, having a mangalsutra, wearing toe ring, fasting for karva chauth, dressing the part, what is the most accurate way to wear a saree…yada yada yada.
What has always amused me about these is that the ones who are the most dead bent on desi cultural perfections are often those who only visited India on occasion, rather than living in the country, they are the one that suddenly feel that because they married an Indian guy it means they are to guard and protect their partner’s cultural heritage abroad, more vehemently sometimes than many old school desi aunties. It however become very irritating when those same ladies are the one pointing out how sad it is that even Indian women living in India are no longer respecting traditions, traditions I might add they might not fully understand. Where on earth do they get the right to be so snotty about the lack of traditionalism in the women that grew up in the culture they are just now dipping in?
A while ago I wrote about cultural identities and my journey in this department, we all go through an adjustment phase when we are expats, my journey is less about morphing into the perfect Indian partner for my sweeter half, than it is about shipping myself half way across the globe to be in a relationship with the man I fell in love with. See for me, I fell in love with my husband, not because he is Indian, but because he is him, and well happen to be India, not that I care, he could have been from ay cultural background it wouldn’t have mattered. My initial efforts at wanting to fit in was more directed at the me being in India, I can say with confidence that if we had both lived in Switzerland I would not have started dressing up in salwaar suits simply because he was of Indian heritage, that would have been stupid, and not even suited for the Swiss climate and way of life.
The India I arrived into in 2003 was more conservative in certain aspect than it is today, and I would not have worn capri around or even shorts as I do now regardless of my state of mind, but obsessing about the perfect way to wear a dupatta or pleat  a saree, nope, first because there isn’t any such thing as perfection, and there isn’t even one unique definition of what is properly Indian or not, it’s not a single culture, it’s a mosaic of cultures we are talking about.

And as far as I am concerned, I never wore Sindoor on a regular basis, in the beginning I wore it only when I was going to the FRO and other government offices to get all my paper in orders, because yes it gives you some brownie points when dealing with people who are from a more traditional background, I did it when going to a wedding, wearing a saree and everything, we had relatives there, and it was a formal place, I used to do it regularly when visiting my in-laws, but no longer do it unless it’s again a more formal event. The Sindoor in DH’s family isn’t even red, it’s orange not all communities applies it the same too. The Mangalsutra…well I don’t even own one, they aren’t done in DH’s family, they aren’t even part of the wedding ceremony, not all Hindu communities in India put as much importance on it as it is believed to be by westerners, in DH’s family women wear whatever they want around their neck, often it’s just a simple gold chain with a pendant of their choice, but my MIL has worn pearls and bead neckwear as well. I like wearing necklaces, and I like not being stuck wearing one type all the time so that works perfectly for me.
The toe rings, I loved these always found them cute, and I wanted to wear them after getting married, my feet didn't agree with the custom, I have narrow, totally ruler straight toes, so what glides on it, glides back off immediately, there is no rounded toe tip to hold the ring secure on the toe at all, just casually roaming around with them was painful because in two stride the ring threatened to come off the toe forcing me to stop all the time to push them back where they belonged. I even lost a few simply riding pillion on DH’s bike! I tried to squeeze them so tight they would not move, but the metal would dig in my skin making me bleed…so they had to go. I wear a ring on my ring finger and that is about it, and it’s not even the one we exchanged during our engagement ceremony, because that one got bent when we were unpacking stuff in our flat in Navi Mumbai when my dog pulling on the leash at the sight of the parkers and movers dragged me across the hall and crashed me into a door frame, bending the ding in such a way that it gave me a nasty bruise and was even though to remove, I am yet to send it for repair, we need to find a trustworthy jeweller for that and it seems it’s not even worth the energy and time for such a tiny repair.
While some women need to advertise their marital status, I’m not of that flock, I couldn't;t care less what the people think, my husband has no problem with me not wearing any of the traditional wife attire so why should any random people opinion matter, beside it’s not even something guaranteed to ward off sleazy men that are dead set on trying to hit on a woman so why bother if it doesn’t truly have a deep meaning to me or my husband I ask you?
As for Karva Chauth, I haven’t done it once, never even knew it existed before some of the gori in the community bragged about how well they fasted and how proud they felt doing it. DH never asked me to, never mentioned it, and when I asked him about it he’s reply “it’s really is completely up to you”, and since it is up to me, I don’t think it’s very fair to just ask the wife to fast once a year to guarantee her husband a long life, like many things in Indian culture, it’s gender biased, women brand themselves wives, men don’t, women loosing their husband need to break bangles, rub of sindoor and bindi and live a life of austerity as widows, men who become widower can carry on with their lives, women need to fast to guarantee their husband a long life, the favour might get returned by some modern husband, but nothing in the tradition says a man should fast for his wife’s longevity…get the picture? Many feminist women in India are distancing themselves from these traditions for these reasons, fully aware of why they are doing so, there are many women that are traditional too and continue doing things the old way because it really truly means something to them as well.

And don’t get me wrong, I know gori who are traditional and do these because it works for them and because it makes both them and their partner happy. My beef is with those who just seem to be more in love with Indian culture (whatever definition of it they have) than with the man. In a way these ladies make me feel like their partner is just there to validate their love for all things Indians which well they are free to do, but the line is crossed when these same ladies start commenting on how sad it is that Indian ladies are no longer traditional, or brag about how they can perform all the pujas and rites with ease, and how they even do it better than the Indians themselves, generally just giving the impression that they are trying way too hard to be someone that deep down they aren’t but think they should be. That is called being more royalist than the king, and it’s dangerous.

8 comments

  1. Hmm yes, I personally have a problem among this lines too. It's with the idea just because I am in a relationship with someone all of a sudden I need to get new hobbies,new cooking styles,new clothing styles, new language styles , basically a just 100 percent makeover. But then why is that person in a relationship with me? To teach me how to dress,cook,speak or because they like me for who I really am? I dont need a guy to learn how to cook,if i want to do that I sign up for a cooking class.I dont want to just be a person that is interested in something because my other half is. I want to be an individual with individual interests. And I hate the other side of this attitude,the "where is your husband/boyfriend" attitude. Right people cant be interested on their own to adopt culinary,clothing or other styles into their very own life,they must have a boyfriend or husband to justify this.lol and btw i do dress up in salwar suits in the summer,because i like my salwar suits and find them quite practical.

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  2. @ My Next Life, for some reason your comment didn't get synched in disqus, hopefully will appear soon now that I requested an import from blogger onto the platform for it :)
    That's exactly the point, why waiting for a desi husband/boyfriend to have an "excuse" to dress Indian? As you said if I want to learn how to cook I'm not going to wait until a man comes around to sign up for a cooking class.
    When I went back to Switzerland for 2 months in 2008 I didn't pack any kurti, I packed very little in matter of clothes because I knew I would be shopping at my favourite stores back home. But over the years I have accumulated a colection of brigth colorful outfit, that stand out in Switzerland. I was however already dressing in crazier colour than the average in Geneva days, so only seems normal to go for the same hues in India :-) At one point though I was at a family friend's place tying on my lilac and yellow reebok shoes on and that friend's 12 yo said "Wow these look stupid" in a typical teenage way we've all been to, and i was like "What's not to like, they are comfy, practical and colourful" and she replied "What does your husband think of these really" at which point I blanked because I never asked him and frankly I didn't care, the shoes are on my feet not his, her mom found the words faster than me though and said "You better learn right now that it's a waste of time to do things in life only with your husband's seal of approval" HA!

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  3. And your comment showed up while I was writting my comment that it didn't show up yet :-)

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  4. Sharell9:15 PM

    Oh so true! Especially this bit "What has always amused me about these is that the ones who are the most
    dead bent on desi cultural perfections are often those who only visited
    India on occasion".....

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  5. Hélène8:34 PM

    I think your view is very sensible.


    Living outside of India, the Indian things I do are mostly cooking because I love it, although lately I've started using less chili upon DH's request. It's funny when I ask him something about Indian traditions he always takes a pause before answering, and on the other hand he rarely asks about French traditions, he learns by observing other people. I have one worry though it's that we haven't been to India together for 2 years now, I'm afraid he is ashamed to properly present me and my children to his family and friends. Reading about you and your husband's views makes me feel better. Than you Cyn :)

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  6. gayatri10:42 PM

    Accepting culture of people from same country but different state is difficult.Its nice to know that u r taking good part of cultures of 2 different countries.Also u respect and like this place.Many people r not even ready to relocate to another city for fear of adjusting to a different place.

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  7. Relocating to different cities in India has been my lot since the beginning of time :-) I think in today's world it's impossible to think I'll live all my life and die in one specific city, especially in India where most big jobs require travelling.
    As for me I grew up with parents that loved travelling on holidays, they would take long stretch of their yearly allocated holidays in the Summer to take us to different countries, across Europe and North Africa, we used to travelle the "rough way" camping and road trips, staying in PG houses, and my dad was and still is a sail boat fanatic, so there was a fair amount of holidays spent on his boat or my uncle's boat, which ever was shipped to the mediteranean sea at the time, that's the place I actually learned a lot about geography and culture, best school ever :-)

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  8. I'm a huge observer myself :-)
    Dealing with family is always tricky in India, DH and I are at a point where we don't really care what certain people in the family think, we go to his parent's place roughly once a year and we both think a week is our tolerance limit. And it's always US doing the travelling, despite DH having little in matter of holidays and the fact that to make it worth it we have to fly, as the train takes too much time.

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