Friday, July 31, 2015

When Your Indian Boyfriend Leaves You for an Arranged Marriage

(Img via Buzac Marius)

In recent years, my blog has become more of a forum for masala couples to share their stories, and at times seek advice on masala-related dilemmas and conundrums - many which I air on my weekly Friday help series Ask Firangi Bahu. One of those dilemmas happen to be that many Western women are dumped by their Indian boyfriends who have consented to an arranged marriage, instead of sheepishly admitting to their parents that they have been in an intercultural relationship (oftentimes years-long and serious).

Being dumped by your Indian boyfriend for an arranged marriage is something that most non-Indians have no clue about - your Western friends may feel shocked, baffled and disgusted. But in India, it is all too common. And when your partner is Indian, there is always that fear - because the fact is that generally no Indian parent is going to want their child to marry even outside their region, much less someone from another country - at least initially.

As a married woman, I'm oblivious about when the auspicious Indian wedding season is. But I am always notified of it since during this time, I happen to get a huge volume of emails from Western women who have been dumped by their Indian boyfriends, who have opted to submit to their parents' pressures and agree to an arranged marriage. Usually the Indian partners leave their Western girlfriends abruptly, returning back to India "all of a sudden", claiming that they have been "forced" into a match by their cruel, unfair parents. In reality, many of these men are in fact consenting to the match and are just more concerned about pleasing their family. When a person gives their consent to a marriage, they become a participant in it.

Anyone who knows anything about arranged marriage knows the LONG process of it - these things don't just happen overnight. You can't just find some random girl and get arranged on the spot. Many of these matches are YEARS in the making. Some are even matched when the children are toddlers! First the parents will prod around, suggesting to their child that they should get married soon (this usually starts the second the guy starts working & earning). Then the parents will network and find out if there are any "suitable" girls around from social circles that they know and trust. Sometimes, they will set up an online profile for their child. Then, they will start contacting the "suitable" matches, and check if their astrology is compatible. Then they will meet the "suitable" matches parents'. Then finally, they will have a "bride viewing" and see if the kids like each other. Sometimes they will even go to the lengths of hiring a private detective. Then, there will be a lot more discussions about married life and expectations. Then, finally, a priest will be involved and set both an auspicious engagement date and a wedding date. The process of finding a bride is YEARS in the making, and oftentimes, several matches are considered before picking the "top" one. So, if your Indian partner is acting as if this has "suddenly" happened out of the blue, THEY ARE LYING.

For the Indian partners - the second your parents start prodding around and suggest that you should get married soon - is when you should outrightly nip it in the bud. Don't waste your parents' time. Don't make them look like an idiot while they look for brides for you. Tell them that you have a nice Firangi friend, and that you already have someone in mind for a life partner. End of story. Bullshit avoided.

All the letters I get are basically the same - no situation is unique - which makes me think that this is some kind of silent epidemic. The Indian boyfriend goes for "a vacation" to India. His parents are "forcing" him to get married. He cries to his Western girlfriend, before and after his wedding, saying that she is his one true love. Oftentimes, these MARRIED men come back from India - without their new Indian bride - and attempt to continue the relationship with the Western girlfriend. As a married man!!! Essentially cheating both the Western woman and their new Indian bride. The Western woman will sometimes feel sorry for them and agree to continue the relationship, provided that the Indian partner gets a divorce (rarely happens). It is dysfunctional and dramatic, to say the least, all thanks to the Indian partner who just didn't have the spine to tell his parents that he wanted to marry someone different. 

The Western women fail to realize that in their boyfriend (now EX-boyfriend, since he is fully committed to somebody else!!!) is NOT A VICTIM in fact, but rather a participant to this circus. Whether they are an active or passive participant depends on them. But when a person who is in love with a woman for years and starts to build a life with her - and knowingly gets married to someone else - that is WRONG on all levels. There are hundreds of opportunities to stop the circus - up until those 7 times around the sacred fire. It is a big mess of one's own making - and the only person who can be blamed is the Indian partner, who is being dishonest not only to his own true feelings, but his Western girlfriend, his new Indian bride, the bride's family, and his own parents.

It comes down to the fact that the Indian partner is certainly willing to pursue the relationship privately, but is unwilling to stand up to his parents and the world about his choice in love. That he would rather get conveniently arranged to somebody else rather than standing up for what he believes in. And trust me, that is someone you do not want to be married to, 'til death do you part. No matter what sweet romances he whispers in your ear. More than whatever men say, you have to take into account their actions.

If your Indian partner doesn't learn to stand up for you before marriage, then why would you even WANT to marry him? Really consider life after you get to the altar - because that's when the story really begins - you are not just marrying the man, but you are marrying his family too. You may have to live with them at some point. Do you really want a partner that won't stand up for you and fight for your love? Plus, it's an intercultural relationship, so you will face opposition from random strangers on the street. Will he stand up for you then?


For the Western women who have been dumped, I always tell them that:

1. Your ex-boyfriend is an adult who is making a choice.
2. It's not you, it's him, and it is his problem - a mess of his OWN making.
3. Give yourself time to get over the heartbreak and grieve the loss of the relationship.
4. Do not get involved with him (or any man) who is committed to somebody else, no matter how much they say they love you - EVER!!!
5. Be grateful that you are not that arranged new bride and you are able to leave the relationship and start over fresh.
6. Not all Indian men will be like this; don't completely write off ALL Indian men for one bad apple! There are many amazing Indian men out there who will not only fight for your love, but will make great fathers and life partners too. Don't settle for anything less!!!


The most courageous of these letters I get are the Indian partners who are standing up to their parents' and facing verbal, emotional or physical violence. When they are facing a threat of physical violence and/or being disowned from their parents forever and choosing to push through and fight for their love/lifestyle, it makes the men who are claiming their parents are "forcing them" (when in fact they don't have the balls to tell them in the first place) look completely wimpy and spineless. To each his own, but I have heard from people who are much, much worse off...Not to mention, disrespectful to the REAL victims of Indian forced marriages, who are typically young girls under the age of 18.


P.S. If you think are facing verbal, physical or emotional violence, forced or early marriage, please reach out to others for help and do not stay silent. Organizations like The Love Commandos, Against Forced Marriage (UK), Forced Marriage Project can help.

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Dear readers, do you know of friends who have been dumped by an arranged marriage?
If so, what advice do you give them?
Why do people consent to life partnerships when they wish they could marry someone else?
Do you think this is a silent epidemic?


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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The foreigner with sindoor


Having been going back and forth to India for the last decade, one thing I have noticed is that the number of fellow Firangi's keep steadily increasing - which really warms my heart.

On my first time in Hyderabad, we only saw one other foreigner for the entire months that we were there. It was practically shocking to see her, and even I felt scared to strike up a conversation! It was in the elevator at the Deloitte building - she was a blonde lady wearing a kurta. She was working there, and we were visiting a friend. She was holding a file folder and had a security pass. She was completely at ease. I will never forget her! Having just arrived in India, and trying to find my footing, I had hoped that one day I'd be just like her.

Now that husband-ji has lived abroad and become a total diva, he insists on staying in nice hotels rather than staying in his family home - "for the A/C", so he says. In the hotels, there are lots of Westerners, of course. They used to only stay in the safety of their hotels, but nowadays many are venturing out and about around town. I really love seeing fellow Firangi's exploring India, even if they only visit tourist traps. At least it is some thing! It is a rare sight to see other mixed couples such as us - even in the West. The most we saw were in Delhi or Bangalore, and only recently too. The majority being Western women and Indian men, on their honeymoon.

It is rare to see a woman such as myself - especially in Hyderabad. A middle class wife who dresses like a local - with sindoor and all. On our last trip to India, when we were shopping around my favorite Park Lane in Secunderabad, I saw someone just like me...

A woman on a scooter turned to look back and I spotted her. The foreigner with sindoor. Her curls were in a long braid with an unmistakeable red down the part on her forehead. No makeup, simple jewelry, perfect Salwar Kameez, rubbery flip flops - not trying to stand out. A young Indian girl was on the back, holding her waist as she zipped through traffic. She looked quite Indian - in fact it didn't immediately hit me that she was a fellow Firangi. My gaze was hooked in the sixth sense that you get when you see one of your countrymen. She disappeared into traffic, into the heavy swarm of vehicles.

I continued on with our shopping with my cousin-sisters, picking up a Chhota Bheem balloon for Maya. We were waiting on the busy road side for husband-ji, Maya and the driver to come round and get us, and I'm sure I looked completely ridiculous standing on the road with this giant life-sized balloon. Men on motorcycles started pointing at us and making comments, as my cousin-sisters were irritated. I started waving the balloon in the air as I saw husband-ji's car approaching - just in case he couldn't see me - which now seems ridiculous as I'm sure I stuck out like a sore thumb! People stared more as I waved the balloon, and my cousin-sisters were absolutely embarrassed and scarred for life.

Suddenly, The Firangi with Sindoor popped out of the lane way in front of us. She was on her scooter, 5 feet away from us, where I could see her perfectly. She sat on the scooter and stared us down, while the young girl on the back seat was not so subtle - pointing her finger at us with her jaw dropped. We stared at each other for about a minute as she waited for a break in the traffic, and sped off. It was the first time that I ever saw anybody remotely like me.


I wanted to say so many things then, but I was just struck mute by the sight of her. What are the odds, really? That in a city of 11.4 million people, that I'd see my doppelganger?! I wanted to say hello, but I felt shy. Anything I could have or should have said in that moment, would cheapen it. Words were spoken through our eyes and then, like the way life flickers, she was off forever - devoured by my maximum city. I haven't stopped thinking about her since.

Although no words were spoken, there was a strange camaraderie in our staring contest. A staring contest that only a fellow wife of an Indian would give. She seemed fearful; and a bit apprehensive of me. She was definitely tougher than me - braving to ride the scooter all by herself. I wondered if the girl on the back was her daughter or maybe a relative - it's hard to tell with mixed kids. Her expression was tough, and sentimental - like she was looking back at the younger version of herself. She was detached, mature with experience, hardened. In that moment - and I don't know why - I got the intuitive message that she was silently telling me all that she had been through. It was a magnetic connection, an aloof enchantment of sorts.

I recognized this gaze instantly, as the gaze that I catch myself giving young rookie bahu's. Especially the ones in the first year of their relationship, having hardly experienced any cultural clashes at all. Just wait til they land in India; Just wait til they have kids', is what I always think! Many young bahu's will look at me with awe and wonder; as I glance with a knowing, hardened stare - as if to say: "been there, done that, just wait for what comes next..." Having been in my relationship for a decade, I'd like to think of myself as a mature, seasoned bahu - but sometimes, I wonder if it's all a continuation of the beginning. Maybe I am indeed the rookie bahu.

The stare that lady gave me was familiar to me, in a parallel universe. Realizing this, I thought to myself, "Is this the future me? An indifferent, hardened, mature woman? Am I this foreigner with sindoor?

I would like to become as brave and confident as her, but I hope I keep some of my wonder too...


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Monday, July 27, 2015

Saturdays with Daddy


One of our weekly routines that has really been working for our family lately is husband-ji's special day with Maya - every Saturday!

As we have our own business, husband-ji has to work 6 days a week, which hardly gives him enough 1-on-1 time with Maya. A while ago, we devised a plan wherein I sub in for work for him on Saturdays, so he can spend the whole day with Maya. This has been beneficial for all of us - I get to be an adult and work for an entire day uninterrupted; and husband-ji gets an entire day with his daughter - without me. 

As a mother, I have to stop myself from hovering over both of them, and this arrangement helps us tremendously! When I had meningitis, husband-ji had to take off work and take care of Maya for 7 days completely by himself and he could hardly handle her at all, feed her, dress her, or brush her hair. I realized then that he just needed more time with her to know how to do all these things by himself. By doing these special "Saturdays with Daddy", he has really come a long way in his confidence as a dad! And now, they have so much fun together!



It is always interesting to see the kinds of things they do together. And it is a big secret from me! All morning long they will be whispering about their secret plans. I only find out about what they did when I get home from work on Saturday evening and Maya eagerly tells me with delight! It is so heart-warming, and it makes me feel so much affection towards him as a co-parent.


For example, several times they went to the Aquarium. I think husband-ji does this because it reminds him of his Biology professor mum. Maya is also obsessed with Beluga whales.

Another weekend, he took her to a rock concert that they had at a local street festival. Maya was in the front row and dancing like crazy!


And he also took her to the Bloedel Conservatory to see the parrots.


With me, I always take her to the park or the beach or something relatively boring like that. But with Daddy, she does all this extra-special stuff! Both of them look forward to it all week long!

Coincidentally, "Saturday with Daddy" is also one of our favorite story books! I think Maya loves this book a lot because it's so similar to this routine we do! Saturdays with Daddy is our "new normal"!


Coincidentally, in such an uncanny parallel, I have started a new ritual of my own, where I spend every Friday morning with my Dad. Even though he gives me anxiety, and even though he doesn't really take care of himself, I realized that I still need my dad. And that I'd just better spend time with him, because who knows how long he will even be around. I can't control the outcome of his health, but I can prioritise my schedule so that I can spend quality time with him, at least once per week. And I'm quite surprised to say, that in fact it doesn't make me anxious - it gives me something to look forward to! For me, the real joy in life is about spending time with family.

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Dear readers, what's the "new normal" in your family?
Do you have any special routines that you do that really work for your family?

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Crystal & DN


Crystal is a talented Midwestern American expat, newly married and living in New Delhi with her handsome honey!


Introduction....
My name is Crystal, and I'm from Kansas City, Missouri (U.S.A.). I write a blog about my life in India, called My Hindi Heart. My husband is known as "DN", and is a North Indian Hindu, from the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. We met online a little over five years ago. We were married last month, in his hometown in India, though we are currently living together in our apartment in New Delhi. 

Three words that describe you...
Loving, loyal, determined.

Favorite childhood memory...
I have many favorite childhood memories. Sometimes the little moments can mean the most. Like fishing with my dad, or teaching my brothers swordplay, using brittle sticks. I was great at using my imagination, so even time spent alone was time well spent.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I feel the most inspired when I'm reading, travelling, or dreaming of the future. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met on Facebook, believe it or not. He randomly added me. At that time in my life, I wasn't opposed to talking to people I had never met. At the time, his English was a bit rocky, but we understood each other so well. We clicked right away, and became so eager to learn more about each other. 

How long have you been together?
We have been friends just over five years. We started developing true feelings for each other about three years ago, but our relationship didn't become official until a little over a year ago, after we had already met in person. We've been married for a month.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
My husband is so intelligent, passionate, and funny. He is also extremely family oriented, and has a big heart. I always tell him so, but I wish I could be more like him. ♥

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Our favorite memories are mostly the little moments we've shared together. Those are just between us. Our next favorite memories, are the memories of our travelling adventures! Travelling to Nepal, especially. Taking on an unknown city in an unknown country, together, really brought us closer. Cold nights in separate hotel rooms... Joyful days, wandering the crowded streets of Kathmandu, in search for a new experience. Ahh... ♥

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
The funny thing is, I had really learned a lot about Indian culture... Religion, beliefs, eating habits, society, and women... But I found out I didn't know much about his culture at all. I was foolish to believe that studying Indian culture would give me an idea of what to expect. The truth is, there are thousands of cultures in India. Beliefs, traditions, and expectations change from family to family. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
My friends and family knew how much I cared about DN prior to our relationship. They found out about our relationship the day it started. Since I wasn't able to call anyone, I made my friends and family aware on Facebook, and then again on my blog

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
My relationship has enlightened my life. I have learned so much about myself since the beginning of my relationship. So much has changed, it's really hard to put it all out there. What I wanted in life, my dreams and goals, changed significantly the more I fell in love with DN. I never knew how much I was meant to be here, before coming to India. 

It really is hard to describe how much I have grown... But with my growth came a lot of guilt. 
I wish I had all of this wisdom many, many years ago. I would have taken better care of myself a long time ago.

Who proposed and how?
No one proposed. Before our relationship officially began, DN and I discussed how relationships work in India, or rather, in his culture. When you enter into a relationship, it's for life. The next step is marriage! So when our relationship began, I knew that we would never be apart again. I knew that things would only get better.


Describe your wedding...
My wedding happened so fast... DN joked that I would be arriving in India as a guest in my own wedding. He was spot on. I arrived only a few days before my wedding. My mom was able to attend my wedding, as she came to India with me this time. 

I didn't see DN until about half an hour before our wedding ceremony started. I had no idea what I was doing, or how to do it. I just did what everyone told me to do. My heart jumped out of my chest when we exchanged garlands and walked around the sacred fire. Everything else was a blur of photos, TV interviews, and endless ceremonies.

What does being married mean to you?
Being married goes beyond the commitment of staying together forever. Love is a verb, an action. Marriage is also an action, something you have to work for every day. Being married is more than being together every day, it's making sure you are taking care of yourself, your spouse, and working every day towards your common goals. Marriage is a lifetime partnership. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
It's so amazing how dreams blend together when you find the person you will spend the rest of your life with. Our ideas of our future have seen many changes, but a few core dreams will always remain the same. We dream of starting our own successful business, starting our family, helping people in need, travelling, and taking care of the ones we love the most. We are most passionate about helping others and taking care of our family.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
Honestly, the best wisdom we have is what we have learned through our relationship with each other. Advice we have been given is very cookie-cutter advice. “Don’t fight,” or “Always communicate.” These are things we already knew and constantly practice.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I’d like to think I bring a few positive cultural values to our relationship. For one, I’ve taught DN to express love and gratitude not only through action, but through words as well. I’ve helped him broaden his mind, and I taught him to think positively. He’s learned to be a helpful partner, but I can’t take the credit for that. He learned that one on his own! ♥


What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?

When I’m frustrated, overwhelmed, or tired, I remind myself why I have to keep going. DN and I are both under a lot of stress at times, and there’s no need to make him feel like I’m never happy. My happiness is DN’s happiness, and we both go above and beyond to make sure the other’s needs are fulfilled. So that’s just it: I don’t spend a lot of time complaining if I’m uncomfortable. Instead, I tough it up and focus on my work. After a long day of work, we spend our time either quietly resting beside each other, or talking about anything and everything. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
In many ways... I love wearing traditional Indian clothes. We also eat Indian food every day. I exhibit Indian etiquette, as I learn it. In the presence of his family, I show the same respect any bahu would, as I know he would be equally respectful to my family. 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
My family eats Indian food more frequently now, but many members of my family don’t really like spicy food. I guess I get that from my dad. ☺

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
I’ll never be particularly fond of acting like strangers in front of elders when we are home with his family. We don’t really sit next to each other, we don’t talk openly unless we have something important to say. We certainly don’t show any signs of affection. All out of respect, of course.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Quite a few. Most recently, I was beginning to get a heat rash, and my bangles were making wounds on my wrists… So I took them off for a day. My mother in law was not too happy, and told me I must always wear at least two bangles on each wrist. 

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Being apart was the most challenging time in our relationship. I worked very hard to get back to India every time, but DN suffered a lot, mentally and emotionally. 

The next hardest part was the initial disapproval from his family. It really hurt me, and in turn, our relationship was deeply affected. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is who I’m in a relationship with. Blending cultures comes naturally for us, and we have a lot to learn from each other. 

The worst part is the confusion that comes from time to time, over innocent topics or events. 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
People seem to assume there are always a lot of problems that come with being in an intercultural relationship – and it doesn’t have to be that way. People also assume that couples will either assume one culture or the other. 

What are the biggest misconceptions about white American women? 
There’s a big misconception about “Western women” in general, especially in the East. People seem to believe Western women to be party-going, easy, and they particularly believe we will leave a relationship if it’s not convenient. Sad generalization… 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
When I first entered my relationship, my best friend exited my life. To be fair, I had been so focused on understanding culture that we didn’t have much time to talk at that time. Those that disapproved simply took it personally, knowing I would be living in India and away from them, and that fueled their disapproval. No one ever disapproved of my relationship, per se, on my side. There were a few naysayers on DN’s side, at first. 

There are also strangers who seem to disapprove. The truth is, whether stranger, friend, or family, the only thing we can do is ignore the negativity and move on. We don’t live our lives to please everyone else.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Respect your partner’s feelings, respect their culture. Give them the freedom to express themselves according to their culture, and love them unconditionally. Don’t let petty disagreements or different points of view start fights in your relationship. Be a good partner, a good helpmate, and become comfortable with sacrifice – it’s essential in any relationship, though especially intercultural relationships.

(All photos courtesy of My Hindi Heart)
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

A midsummer trip to Seattle


Recently we made a quick visit to see our Tamil family in Seattle over the 4th of July American long weekend. Now we have THREE sets of cousins who have settled in the Seattle area, so it is a great reason to go down and visit since it is only a short drive from Vancouver.

Luckily, now that husband-ji has his Canadian passport - which is basically the equivalent to an American Express black card in travel - we were finally able to pass through the border without any problems, interrogations or waits. Clearly, Canadians are less threatening than Indians to the American border patrol! Husband-ji was so relieved to cross the border stress-free. It really is a wonder what a certain nationality can do!

It has been a long time since we had a chance to celebrate an American holiday in the USA. We used to celebrate so many of them as we went to college down there. I totally forgot about the vigour that Americans celebrate their holidays. Just a few days prior, we celebrated Canada Day in Canada, and it was subtle. But Americans really go all out with their celebrations! For the 4th of July holiday, every store will have some stars and stripes theme. In Seattle, it is also one of the few times where you can light fireworks legally. Literally, it was like Diwali on the 4th of July night!!! As we drove back from a late dinner, the entire sky was lit with fireworks. Americans are so similar to Indians this way - in terms of their national pride; and their larger than life celebrations. In Canada, it is much more discreet and subtle. More boring, actually!


We also got a chance to swim in Lake Sammamish which was just beautiful. Lake Sammamish was so clean, refreshing and kid-friendly. There was a small flock of ducks that swam along with us, and Maya loved to chase them!


We also went bowling as a family, and Maya just loved it. Her bowling ball was definitely the slowest and it took about 5 minutes to make it to the end of the alley!


We also tried a lot of fantastic restaurants which we loved - although I would have liked to try more non-Indian food. We tried Aahaar, Chaat House, Inchin's Bamboo Garden, Kanishka, and Pagliacci Pizza. My restaurant recommendation list for Seattle is growing!



The main reason we wanted to go down to Seattle was to see her favorite cousin who is 18 months older than her. They play so well and have a similar outgoing personality so it was really fun for them. They were so happy to be together and caused lots of mischief together! They are also very caring and protective toward each other. 


And of course, we just HAD to dress them in matching outfits!!!




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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On blogging & criticism


When you have a blog and write about your life experiences so openly and publicly, you are bound to receive at least some criticism, if not lots of it. Blogging is really not for the thin skinned. And if you're a female blogger, you'll get criticism about your appearance, life choices, and probably a few odd death/rape threats. Unfortunately, people loooooove to tell women how they should think and what to do - how to "behave" and how to react to their own life experiences.

In terms of writing, blogging is different than writing a book as it is done step by step, in real time. With writing a book, you get privacy - both personally and creatively - for the story to develop. With blogging, you get comments every day - and sometimes it can either enhance or take away from the creative writing process. Sometimes new comments will spark inspiration. Or sometimes new comments will mess with your head and give you a writing road block. We as writers already have a critical voice in our head monitoring our work - do we really need hundreds of others? And at what point do these comments become an actual distraction from our work?

A while ago, one of my masala blogging colleague's received serious backlash for an article she wrote and was quite upset about it. In reality, she did nothing but spoke about her truth and her life experiences, but for some of the readers, it ignited a firestorm which reminded them of their own negative experiences. The blogger took it personally, and it scared her back into her shell. Since I know her, I was aware that there were a lot of other things going on at that time in her personal life, which she could not reveal on her blog. Not to mention, she was struggling to write a novel, and the negative feedback made her so sensitive about her writing skills that she stopped writing altogether for several months. Sometimes readers forget that bloggers are people too.

It also reminded me of something I saw a few months prior. Flipping through my instagram feed, a famous blogger (like one who makes so much money blogging that her husband now works for her!) that I follow was posting pictures from their Spring Break trip to Hawaii. Her child was at some resort, riding a dolphin, and having a wonderful time. What caught my eye was the serious backlash that she was receiving in the comments' section. People were going so far as to call her a bad mother, tell her that she was disgusting, and all about the animal rights of the dolphin and animal captivity. A bunch of people unfollowed her and people even got into fights with each other in the comments section over it. I felt a little bad for her because she was on vacation at that moment and I hoped it didn't ruin her time with her family. I noticed later that she decided to issue a public apology to her followers about it. On that photo of her kid. Jeez.

I have faced criticism on my blog, on to how I should deal with my familial issues, ranging all the way to how I should raise my daughter. I clearly remember a reader telling me that I should not discipline my child because that would give them the message that I didn't love them. That particular reader had no children, and was clearly clueless to all the daredevil activities toddlers like to do, for example: attempting to jump off a 6 foot playground structure, just to see what would happen (yes, Maya did that!). Another time, I was berated by a reader who told me that I was so "fat and unhealthy looking" and that I need to get to the gym - that comment I received while I was on the elliptical machine at 6am, and subsequently had to stop myself from laughing so hard. Most recently, I received a message that I was a bad friend for not keeping in touch with my single friends after having a baby - when in reality, nearly all my single friends never responded to my texts after I had Maya - and therefore I had to make new friends. At that time, I was coping with postpartum isolation and I never felt so lonely in my entire life. Another recent crap comment I received was "why do you complain so much about your anemia when it doesn't bother you" on a particular day where my fatigue was so bad that I couldn't get out of bed (try doing that while taking care of a very active toddler!). And the most criticism I have faced on my blog is whenever I have thoughts about my experiences in India. On those posts, I am almost always told that as a Firangi I should "keep my mouth shut about India" because I'm just "an item girl", and have even been unfollowed over it. Unfollowed over my own real life experiences. But guess what? Month after month, I am followed by new people and my pageviews have been steadily increasing. The Little Engine That Could. So, no...I couldn't be bothered. And those who have unfollowed me are absolutely not missed. Sorry. Buh bye.

As a blogger, you share your daily thoughts and opinions about things that cross your mind. A lot of times, you can't fully explain the back story on a particular topic, or can't. I mean, who would read a 10,000 word blog post?! You expect your readers to trust & respect your unique feelings on a subject when it comes to those posts. Especially when it comes to family issues, there is a lot of baggage - enough to fill an entire novel (which you can buy in the future for $30 on the best-selling section at the bookstore, thankyouverymuch!)

I am kind of used to people criticizing me - whether it is constructive or not. Besides my Indian family being an uber-critical bunch, we also receive a steady stream of criticism from random strangers about being an intercultural couple, and I also attended an arts college in which we would have "critiques" of our work, literally every week. Some criticisms will make you re-think your perspective, and others you just have to let go - because, let's face it - only you are walking in your shoes. When it doesn't make any sense, and it doesn't speak to you, sometimes you just have to mentally say "F*** off!"

Criticism tends to sting more when it comes from a loved one or a family member, but when it comes from random people who don't even know you? Well that, you just can't take personally...

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Dear readers, what kinds of things have you been criticised about in your life?
If you're a blogger, how do you deal with criticism when it seems so personal?

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Call for submissions: Your Intercultural Love Stories


Okay folks, we have made it halfway through the year with our special Saturday love story feature, and I really really want to keep this series going, hopefully until the end of the year...or longer!


Why?

1. Many intercultural couples know no other couples like "us".
2. Sharing your journey is important and it can help other people a lot.
3. Every story is unique and worth telling!
4. We can all learn from each other by sharing personal stories of fearless love, resilience and adaptability.
5. Let's celebrate LOVE...in every color!!!


If you want to remain anonymous, I can use stock photos and alias names, so if you're more private - we can work around it!

I am looking for couples of ALL mixes and backgrounds!

And I am particularly interested in featuring more Indian inter-caste & inter-regional couples (hello, WHERE are you guys?!?!), LGBT couples, Blindian couples and Chindian couples.

Email me at madhmama@gmail.com to share your story on this site!

Click HERE too see my featured couples!


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Friday, July 17, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: "My Indian MIL is trying to dominate our social life!"

(Photo via Mikael Kristenson)


Sharing a letter from a reader....


Hi Alexandra,

Your relationship with your MIL sounds idyllic. Kudos to your patience and understanding and the effort you took to build such a beautiful life together. 

 I am an Indian married woman living in the US. I have unfortunately very out of the ordinary or weird concerns. I have handled my MIL's bossiness & possessiveness because I get where she is coming from.....but there are some issues I just dont know how to deal with!!!

Unlike most mother-in-laws she is the opposite of a homebody. She keeps on complaining about the lack of social life here (my husband & I are both introverts). She stays 3 months with us and 3 months with her daughter, so there is no joy in taking her out sight seeing since she has been visiting the US for the last 10 years and she's not very interested. 

On the contrary, she keeps on lecturing us on how to lead our lives in the US, right from cooking techniques to "climbing up the social ladder in the Indian community", using my SIL's life as an example (who has a very active social life and who includes her mom in EVERYTHING). 

I have been in awkward situations where we had dinner invitations from friends who didn't invite her (not everyone does that) and she kept on complaining how insensitive we and our friends were to not include her (since apparently all my SIL's friends invite her all the time). She doesn't understand the concept of a generation gap. 

She has barely had a good life since my FIL passed away 10 years ago and is vicariously leading her social life through my SIL - 3-4 months every year. She tries to boss over conversations we have with external people, like waiters and maintenance people, and I feel very annoyed about it. For example, if my husband & I are trying to order food at a restaurant, she will interrupt and try to confuse the waiter. Sometimes it sounds extremely rude, and I can tell by the waiter's expression. It's just a weird, bossy way of showing me that she is totally at home in this country!! 

I am at a loss and have no clue how to entertain her....Hindi TV channels,cooking and sight-seeing just don't seem to cut it. Short of producing some grandkids, how do I make her next visit a happy one for both of us?? Any advice?? 

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Dear readers, what advice can we give this fellow bahu?
How do you set healthy boundaries with an inlaw about them micromanaging your life - without being disrespectful? 
How can you encourage an elder of a certain age to get her own social life?
How do you entertain/manage elders during their visits when they finish all their sightseeing?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"How did you meet?" (and other stories of disbelief in our intercultural union)


One of the things that is quite hilarious about being a mixed couple is that a lot of people are surprised that we are together. And not just together, but together long-term. This is something that really doesn't happen to same-race couples; and something they can't understand since they haven't experienced it themselves.

Sometimes, it happens in a lot of little ways. In ways that bother you, but it's not really enough to get mad about. It tends to happen consistently, regardless of how long you've been together. And it's an isolating experience, because only you and your spouse (or other intercultural couples) have to deal with this kind of thing.

I never really notice that we have different skin colors, except when people point it out to us as a mix that is foreign, exotic, and rare. In reality, we are just like everybody else - only we come from different cities - that's all.

For example, it will happen at Safeway. You will be in line together and the clerk will automatically ring you up as separate bills. Or sometimes they will bluntly ask you if you're together. One time I was in a particularly PMS mood and said, "Why WOULDN'T we be together?"

Then, there was the time when I was dropping off our rocking chair to get reupholstered. Husband-ji arrived in separate cars and I was pointing for him where to park. There were plumbers taking a smoke break in the alley and they asked me if he was bothering me. I said, "we have been together for 10 years." One of the guys remarked, "Oh, your business partner". I was a bit pissed at this assumption, so I decided to correct him by saying, "No, my LOVE partner". Jaws collectively dropped. I hated that it did.

One time in college, a friend of my roommate remarked that I could "do better" without even knowing husband-ji - solely based on appearance. What does that even mean?! That I should not be attracted to someone who is Indian? That by doing "better" meant doing "whiter"???

Last year in Italy, an old lady selling lace on the island of Burano asked me, "Is he the father?", pointing to Maya. I laughed and remarked, "Of course! Who else?!" Later, I told husband-ji and he was offended. He said, "Look at her features! Don't people see her Indian features?!" And then it dawned on us - the fact that other people, at first glance, only see skin color. Because they don't look deep enough. They just see color and nothing else. I don't think we had any words in that moment, as we had that realization.

The thing I get irritated the most by is a very subtle racism. It is a totally ordinary question, but one that is sometimes asked with an intense curiosity that borders on disbelief. It is when people ask, "How did you meet?" It seems like an innocent question, but it's not - depending entirely on the tone. People can ask it in such a way that it implies that two people from different races cannot socialize, or meet in average circumstances like every other couple. Some people assume that I had to go ALL the way to India to "meet" him, when in reality, we met in an American college, like many of our friends met their spouses. People always seem surprised to know that we met in college.

The bottom line is that YES, two people from very different worlds can find love together in the same way that everyone else does....


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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sunset fireworks on Canada Day


This year marks husband-ji's first Canada Day as a Canadian citizen, so we knew we wanted to do something special. This Summer, the beach has been our daily hang-out and when we found out there would be fireworks, we knew we had to spend the evening there!


This Summer will mark our 6th year that we have settled back in Canada, but we are always too lazy to celebrate Canada Day. In previous years, we always just relax at home or go out shopping. Husband-ji hates crowds, so we usually try to avoid the parades.


This year, we brought traditional Neapolitan pizza down to the beach and ate dinner with our friends while the kids played. We watched the sunset together, followed by the fireworks which were on a barge on the opposite side of the Bay.


It was a beautiful way to spend husband-ji's first Canada Day as a Canadian citizen!


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Saturday, July 11, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Yogesh & Maya


This beautiful couple is a Latin/Rajasthani mix that met in Hong Kong and lives in India with their two adorable children!


Introduction....
My name is Mayavati, which is my religious name (my father become a Vaisnava before he was married with my Christian mother). Technically, I have 2 names - Carmen del Pilar; and the second is Mayavati Devi Das. People call me Maya because is easy and they know me from my Youtube channels as Maya Belleza de la India and Mayalife India.

I am from Lima, Peru - a very diverse and complicated city but the place I love with all my heart. I am currently living in Rajasthan, India, with my husband and kids. I have a daughter, named Yana who has born in Hong Kong and is 2 years old. My son is named Yash, who has born in India and the next month he is going to be one.

Three words that describe you...
I am independent, very caring and real (I will not hide my feelings!)

Favorite childhood memory...
My favorite childhood memories were with my mother. She was always there like a warrior, and never let anybody put as down or disturb us. She was my heroine, always.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I feel very inspired here in India, is amazing how much I didn't like this country and this city, but every time I go out with my family, I feel inspired to write a nice story with photos or videos, because this country is interesting and very colorful.


Where/how did you meet your spouse?
Meeting him is one of my sweetest memories. We met in Hong Kong, as he was living there already for 18 months. I went there to a trip for Asia, as my goal was to do business and forget a previous bad experience in Lima.

We meet after he saw a message I wrote in a website, as I was vegetarian and it was horrible to live in Hong Kong. Everything was so meaty do I struggled with eating a lot. I was also severely jet-lagged. He read the message and he sent me a email, and I was apprehensive to answer but I did. He called me late on a Saturday night and I told him I wouldn't go out. Being a gentleman, he invited me for lunch. I agreed, but I was still apprehensive.

Then, we met, and it was like BOOM! He was watching me as if he had found something. I was thinking - his eyes, his deep eyes! I loved those huge eyes and those thick lips, I was love struck! In the train, in the way to our restaurant, He was shy to say..."Sorry but I am vegetarian...if you want, we can go a multi-cuisine restaurant and you can eat non-veg..." I said loudly, "oh I am also a vegetarian!!!" I could see him relax inside about this uncanny coincidence! After enjoying the meal together, we went for a walk, and it started to rain. I asked him if he could take me a temple, because it had been a long time for me. He is Jain, but instead he took me to Gurdwara temple (Sikh temple), In middle in the rain, we went inside, prayed together and then resumed walking....

How long have you been together?
We have been together for 3 and half years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
He is very loyal. He gives me lot of security in life. He saves everything, he cares for the future, he want to build a family together. He respects my culture and he has never confused our LATIN culture with other Western ones.


Favorite memory together as a couple...
The day he proposed to me, he took me close to the sea in Hong Kong Harbor. He told me he loved me, and he wanted to marry me. I asked him about his family and their reactions, but he said confidently, "I am sure you are the one." He asked me "Are you ready?". And I asked when. He smiled and said, "Tomorrow!"

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I was scared to meet his mother because we married abroad and were an intercultural couple. But I was totally wrong, because she cried of happiness after she saw me the first time.

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
Most of them were not too surprised, because they knew I would eventually visit India, and I was born a Hindu. They always want to make sure that he treats me good, if he respects me, after all the negative press out there about Indian husbands. They believe me, and they are sure he is a good husband.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I have had some difficult times in India, at first with my health. The weather is extremely hot and sometimes you get a fever. Many clinics aren't very good and they are very dirty. In the end, I managed to tolerate it.

After my daughter was 10 months old, I went to India for the second time. Everything seemed different. My mother-in-law didn't like the way I cleaned the house and didn't want me to keep a clean space for my child. Everything is always dirty and there is so much dust everywhere. It was a negative experience for me and I didn't really enjoy myself.

Now things have changed, and I work on my video blogs, and work on my business as a creative outlet. I want people to see my India. Things have changed with my mother-in-law too, for the better. She rests, she respects my space, she enjoys spending time with her grand-kids, and she teaches me Indian cooking.


Describe your wedding...
I was sick with a bad fever right before the wedding, so I can't say much about the preparation. My husband and his cousins planned everything. The wedding took place in a big area with gardens and hotel for our 500 guests. We had lots of food, flowers, and dancing for 3 days! But it was extremely hot for me and my mother so I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

What does being married mean to you?
Staying together; keeping our individual stories; always blending with each other; and always putting our union first.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We want to enjoy our romantic relationship, because we only dated for 5 months before marriage. I want to be able to converse with each other about our opinions. I want to hug each other every day and enjoy our age. I want our kids to follow their own direction in life - I want them to be happy, as well as keeping our relationship happy.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
My mother in law always says to realize that we are all different as individuals and to understand that before reacting negatively.

My mother says that nothing lasts forever, so take care of yourself and your marriage. I know that is extreme, but it has definitely worked until now. My husband admires that I always take care of myself.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship (from your own culture)?
My husband and I are always together, so there is no emotion that I can hide from him. In Latin cultures, women are raised to be complete beings with a wide variety of skill sets. I can be a like a maid, a nanny, a cook, a beautician, etc. Latin women are very multi-dimensional and versatile. My husband was amazed by this. My husband has also praised the way I take care of our children, which is very much a part of my culture.


What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
We talk and debate a lot. My husband always respects my opinions and my voice. We like to tell stories to each other of the past and our childhood. It is a nice way to discover and understand your spouse. We also try to do everything together, whether it is shopping, or work. This sense of togetherness has helped me learn how to survive in India. He is my hero :)

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
In terms of our religion and diet we are the same; but I have had to adjust culturally. The biggest thing I have learned is to forgive people and not immediately cut them off the second that they upset me. I have learned patience in that regard. Also, I have learned to save money. I also feel that I value family more.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Not much, except my sister. My sister loves my husband and looks up to him a lot.


What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
It has been difficult for me to teach my mother in law that it's okay for me (and women, in general) that you don't have to stop your career/dreams/life just because you are a wife/mother.

We have already learned from our own families how to be a wife/mother so we don't need unsolicited advise or be bossed around. If my sister in law were to boss me around, then it would effect our relationship as sisters.

I also don't like how some women are kept only as housewives. Or that some daughters are sent away to other families - that is something I can't handle, and my husband feels the same way.


Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Only once - I hugged everyone at my wedding reception! I was so happy to be married that I forgot I was supposed to act like a sad new wife with an innocent face! It was weird for them to see me - completely the opposite!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
When I was having problems with my mother in law. It made me so sad and I doubted our future as a family. She made me feel that I would only survive if I was obedient to her. I want to be independent and make my own life choices - even the colors of the sofa, or where to buy a house and when.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I left my husband and fled to Peru. I couldn't handle it anymore and I was so hurt. My husband stood up for me and set boundaries with my mother in law and brought me back. She has respected my space since then, and it has improved our marriage and our family life.


What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is the values that we give to our kids. My daughter is so lovely and helpful, and she always shows her feelings. She is only 2 years old but she is already very religious and respectful to our deities. She is what I always dreamed for our children - to be caring, hard working, and devotional.

The worst thing is that we live far away from my mother. In Latin culture, the maternal family is more close to the children. It is hard for me to see my children grow up far away from my family.

It is also hard when you realize that guys have it easy compared to us women - they don't have to change their name, attitude or culture.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
When people have said that we will suffer for being in an intercultural relationship - that we wouldn't understand each other, that we won't respect each other's culture, ideas or feelings. These things happen in same-culture relationships as well as intercultural ones.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Latin women?
People think that Latin women are only showing off their bodies and consumed with their appearance. People think all Latin women do is dance and party, and that we are not educated professionals. Latin women can do it all - we can have a great career, be a good wife and mother, look beautiful, and dance!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Many. I have tried to be calm about it but I couldn't handle listening to such comments for long. My husband understands that we can't change such people, but it's hard for me to not get defensive. My husband's aunt always made comments saying that Indian wives are always good and the best at everything. One time, she asked me if I am similar to my father or my mother. I told her I am more like my mother. Then she replied, "Don't worry, with time that will change, and you will become GOOD." It was very offensive to me, my mother, and my culture. She still tries to talk to me but now I don't pay her any attention.


Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Be patient for the future. Be sure about your spouse's love and don't ever let the feelings stop. Nothing is more strong that your spouse on your side. Inlaws can be difficult - only because their own life may have been difficult. Sometimes they can't understand your ideas or feelings, but they do respect marriage and they would never want you to leave their child.

Enjoy the country you are living in, even if you miss your homeland. If you miss your homeland or think you can't handle living in India anymore, realize that you are doing it for love. With love you can do anything - it doesn't concern nationalities or countries.

Never let anybody put you down or leave you behind - you are the wife. As the woman of the house, you need to show your presence. This can be a battle. Society will try to push you down or diminish you for being a woman - don't let them. Make yourself known through hard work, love and care. Never forget who you are.

Many Indian women are not even given the option of choosing anything for themselves - everything is chosen for them by elders. Some women feel like they don't have a right to an opinion of who or when to marry. Some women can be jealous that we chose our spouses and be understanding of that. But don't let anybody disrespect you for your decisions.

And the last thing I want to say is....YOU CAN DO IT!!!


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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wearing Indian attire when nobody else is wearing it


There are a lot of people out there (Indian and non-Indian alike) who are afraid of wearing Indian attire - especially when outside of India. Thankfully, neither husband-ji nor I fall under that category. Even if that means we are the only ones wearing it, we represent it proudly!

Last month, we attended a family friend's baptism which was held at a beautifully historic Italian church. The baptism was around noon, followed by a reception lunch at a local community centre. For weeks, I was musing about what I should wear. Lately, I have been wearing a lot of colorful long maxi dresses which I can hike up to my knees if we are going to the beach. Wearing maxi dresses has become my day wear this Summer (like I wore for Maya's birthday); and if we go to dinner, I have been wearing my beautiful embroidered Salwar Kameez sets (like I wore for husband-ji's birthday).


For the baptism event, I decided to wear a cheerful hot pink Salwar Kameez; Maya wore a matching block-printed Anarkali; and husband-ji wore a dapper maroon Kurta Pajama. On top of that, stylish husband-ji wore his matching red velvet sunglasses and traditional embroidered shoes!

  We were the only ones wearing Indian attire that day. Our outfits were greeted with collective gasps and coo's, with people remarking about the beautiful craftsmanship. One girl said she "loved my saree" (and I told her it was actually a Salwar Kameez, and thanked her). One Canadian-born Indian girl came up to me and told me that she loved my outfit and that she wished that she had the courage to wear hers too. All the guys went nuts over husband-ji's outfit, asking him to style them too. I felt really proud of our outfits that day, and that we wore it with elegance and poise. There have been many times where I have worn Indian attire to non-Indian functions. 


Many Firangi Bahu's only wear Indian attire to Indian functions. Many will say they avoid wearing it because they don't want "unwanted attention". On that, I call bullshit. As a mixed couple, we are going to get "unwanted attention" anyway - so we might as well look fabulous! 

Indian attire should be worn and cannot be confined to one type of event only. If you feel like wearing it, just wear it! Even if it stands out, carry it well and carry it with pride. A lot of times, people are so concerned about what others are wearing that they completely lose their own intuitive sense of wearing what they want to wear. And that day, I just wanted to wear some hot pink!


Working in the Fashion industry, I know that you're supposed to wear things that make you feel good. You should wear things that are unique, and suit your personality and mood. You should dress for yourself, and not dress for others. And you should always dress a little fancier than normal - because it's better to be well-dressed than not. Spend on quality, and always wear things that are comfortable.

Part of the reason why Westerners are apprehensive about wearing Indian attire is because they are not exposed to it very much. Westerners don't know how or when to wear it. Indian attire looks fancy to them so they may only wear it to functions, if they wear it at all. Many Indians who live abroad choose not to wear Indian attire. Unless you have lived in India, you'll have no clue that Indian attire can actually be worn every day. It can be worn to school, work, dinner, temple, travel, functions. The only thing that depends on the type of event is actually the intricacy of the fabric, not the attire.


The first trick about wearing Indian attire in the West is that you can't overdo it - don't pile on the accessories, and also keep your hair and makeup simple. I also prefer to keep my jewelry to a minimum - for example, I wore a small antique Ganesh pendant with a gold "M" on it, to the baptism. And, in order for something to look effortless, you have to be confident and wear it with ease. If you want to represent India through your clothing, you have to know what you're wearing - respect the style, craftsmanship, and the process. If people are asking about it, tell them what it's called in it's proper name, and tell them how you got it made, and the ways in which you can wear it. And also, wear it only when YOU truly want to wear it. If you have to force yourself to wear something, you're not going to do the garment any justice.

I was not afraid for us to be the only ones wearing Indian attire. In fact, I was very proud!

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What we wore:
My Salwar Kameez and matching purse from Taruni
Husband-ji's Kurta Pajama from Manyavar
Maya's Anarkali from Biba

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Dear readers, have you worn Indian attire to non-Indian events? 
Have you often been the only one wearing Indian attire?

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