Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Was yours an arranged marriage?

You wouldn't think that anyone would doubt that my marriage was arranged, but I have been asked that question more than a few times.

I resisted the urge to say, "yeah, I signed up on shaadi.com to look for a tall, fairish, Malayalee Erava boy, US-educated, green card holder... and i found him, and our parents and the stars agreed and here we are now."  And I answered them with a polite "no, we met in college."

Now having spent a couple of years in India, I am better acquainted with the sectarian prejudices that abound there.  I now know that Malayalees are admired for their savvy and ambition - in fact, they are rumored to have had the first presence on the Moon, in the form of a tea stall. They are also considered to be Machiavellian.  I began to think perhaps I had married into the wrong community, but perhaps you need to step on some toes to setup the first lunar tea stall...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

how India changes you

Living in India changed my outlook on a lot of the little things in life...

  1. You start to think of perfection as an affront to God. So many, many things in India are in need of improvement, its buildings, its roads, its social and governmental institutions, its politics, its bureaucracy... the list seems endless. But then you learn that "perfect" things, like the Taj Mahal or an intricately woven Kancheepuram saree, which look perfect to you and me, actually have been designed intentionally to have one tiny flaw. Why? Because only God is capable of creating perfection, dummy. And so it goes... you start to accept that most things associated with the human condition will never be perfect. Suddenly, the thought that you will never have the perfect house, car, spouse, kids, career and so on ceases to terrify you or make you run out for some Prozac; instead, it is utterly and amazingly liberating. That's not to say that you stop trying, it's just that you resent life's and people's imperfections a lot less.
  2. You start subscribing to crazy superstitions. If you've ever hesitated about walking under a ladder or felt cursed when you broke a mirror, you'd better not listen to any of your Indian friends' superstitions. Some superstitions are just silly, some are "based in science," and others are based in religion. I can no longer enjoy orange juice with a bowl of cereal for fear that the citric acid will curdle the milk when they combine in my stomach. Nor can I take a shower right after eating. These are matters of science, I have been told. I try to start important activities on any day but a Tuesday or a Saturday. Friday is not a good day for spending money because it is disrespectful to the goddess of wealth whose day it is (similar to Thor's day). I rarely purchase objects made of metal in any case, so Saturday is not really a problem for me.
  3. Your inner control freak starts smoking pot. The banana salesman and his dog are lying fast asleep on top of all the bananas. You realize that he probably isn't the first and only person to sleep on the produce and other consumables that he sells, and God knows who or what has beshitten all over the things you bring home from your local grocery. Power goes out at the damnedest times. Repairmen are called to fix things, they swear they will be there at a specific date and time and consistently fail to show, and when they do show, they fix one problem but the solution usually creates a different problem. Guests come one hour later than the time you tell them to come, or they just drop in out of the blue without calling first -- because calling first is cold, impersonal, formal (something that caucasians do). But, after some time, this just seems to be the natural order of things. You forget about the better business bureau.
  4. You start analyzing the veracity of directions that passersby give you, taking into account the person's general appearance and comportment. People in India do not like to say no to any question, even if the question is "do you know where the Hotel Atria is?," or "do you sell blue carpets?" Instead, they will make up directions and tell you to come back next week, they'll have some by then. So, in the case of directions, you learn to conduct straw polls and head in the direction that the majority indicates, of course, after taking into account whether they look crazy or just plain stupid. Obviously, you try to ask only police and auto drivers but sometimes they aren't around. My driver once stopped to ask a guy for directions and the crazy bastard just kept asking us for a ride to his village.
  5. You learn to handle unsolicited advice and suggestions with grace. Elders are respected in India and they feel it is their duty to constantly advise the younger generations ways to "adapt, adopt, and improve" as they grow into pukka adults, parents and middle-agers. They will give you ten homeopathic remedies all made with honey to give to your 6-month-old, and every shred of advice that your own elders may be suppressing will undoubtedly pop out of the mouths of passersby, shirttail cousins and sundry aunties and uncles. You realize that it's not just the advice itself that these people are offering, it is their care and concern for your progress.
  6. You learn how to say "how are you" and really mean it. In India, people have greater respect for each other than they do for the clock. They will linger over coffees, lunch hours, tea times to hear how their friends, colleagues and their families are really faring - the gas shortage, the unexpected medical bill, the nephew's motorbike accident, the daughter's first steps. Of course, maybe all this lingering is why they need to work a half-day on Saturday to make up for the missed work.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Godfathers and Astrologers

In India, elders count. Big time.

My father-in-law is The Elder of the family. He is not so much a patriarch, but more of a Godfather. That means if you need help or advice, he feels honorbound to do his best by you. Unless you are a girl nearing marriageable age.

Girls are too much responsibility. If they should (shudder) fail to get married, frustrated parents and aunties will look at all those who have put "thoughts" into her head to find the guilty party.

Take my younger cousin-sisters-in-law. One of them is a successful doctor with a failed engagement and no proposals coming in. This is a big black mark on our house. All the aunties of the family enjoy speculating what went wrong; one swears that it is all the gold the well-meaning parents bought for her wedding day while she was growing up, others say it was a case of the horoscopes not matching, and some others that her years in boarding school made her too independent. She has been happily ensconced in the UK for some time, far from these petty speculations.

I have another cousin-sister-in-law who just finished her bachelor's degree. She is stuck at this decision gate: whether to go on for an MBA or go to work. For any course of action, she needs her parents and her "godfather"'s (my father-in-law's) green light/funding. Her godfather has washed his hands of giving her advice due to her approaching marriageable age.

So the other day this same cousin-sister calls her mom in Kerala to ask her for career advice. Her mom tells her, "let's ask the astrologer."