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Desi Choices: Or Else

3 Jul

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Desi Choices: or Else

I am fuming really fuming after I read this. IHM has initiated several discussions over women’s choice and blindianlove is talking about choice of love or arranged marriage. All discussions about choice essentially come and rest on a woman’s choice about her attire, her deportment, her selection of spouse on and on. Why are we so obsessed with women and their bodies. I have never heard anyone talking about men and their attire or their choice be it promiscuity or drugging with an exception of marriage by their choice in desi context. Desi women wearing skimpy western wear is problematic for many desi eyes but what about desi young men showing of their undies in the public with those sagging pants??? (I ran into a bunch of desis men showing their undies at the Uni the other day, few months ago the same guys told me how the new batch of desi girls is wearing western wear that does not even look good on them.)

 What does choice really mean?

Choice is definitely a complex can of worms. All choices may be greater numbers of choices are definitely conditioned. We are taught limits of our choices any transgression is rebuked sometimes even violently. I have heard parents say, “We are pretty modern, we are okay with you marrying for love. Make sure the guy or the girl is from our caste/religion/region etc.” So it is really a choice??

You have a choice “do as I say or else…” The OR ELSE makes it really doubtful if it is a choice. It is smooth choicelessness that is presented as choice. 

At times I wonder if a choice without options really a choice??? 

Choice should not be confused with freedom. Freedom comes with responsibility both towards self and others. How marrying for love threatens family’s freedom I want someone to explain it to me. How wearing pants or skirts threaten family’s freedom would be another one I need an explanation for.

Bhagyashri went to parlor for threading and lost her life. I received this news by a personal email sent to me by a reader. She also mentioned her story. Let us address this reader as Venu. (I have only fixed the syntax these are exactly her words) She writes:

We are just two sisters, I am the eldest. My sister is a dentist, she works in a local hospital. Last year she visited me for two days. We both went shopping I insisted she have her hair done. She was reluctant but I wanted her to do something for herself. She is been lost since she had the baby. On my repeated insistence she agreed. We had her hair cut and colored. She looked beautiful.

 Next day her husband and his mother came to pick her up. As soon as her MIL saw her new look her expressions changed and she literally gave Lalita Pawar looks. I was in the kitchen getting tea ready but I could hear her saying something to my sister. My sister’s face was pale and she was almost shaking. When I came in the MIL said to me how I should not be doing this to her bahu, now I have no right to interfere in their life.

 Meanwhile her husband parked the car and came in. He saw his mother upset, the first thing he said to his wife was: “What did you say to mummy?” My sister was almost begging that she did not say anything. The MIL was upset that bahu will become habitual of getting her hair done every month and it will be an additional expense. My sister, insisted it wont be an expense, it was just one time thing and also didi paid for this time. On this her husband slapped her in my presence and said “Mummy say juban ladati hai (you are talking back to mummy; talking back to your elders is considered very disrespectful in desi culture).”

 I stood there frozen not knowing what to do. He literally dragged her and shoved her in the car. I am wondering why I didn’t react. Rather I am wondering what should have been my reaction. My own marriage is not solid so how can I even help my sister or ask her to come and live with me. I told this to my husband. Now he throws it on my face every now and then. He tells me “you are lucky I don’t act like your sister’s husband.” Sometimes he says “I should do exactly like your sister’s husband only then you’ll get your senses.” I make Rs. 8 Lakhs (800,000) per annum, I have a girl (13) and boy (8). I can not leave him for their sake so don’t even tell me that.

 The folk wisdom tells me to stay away from her (sister’s) marital problems. Every one says you can’t do much Ladki ki sasural ka mamla hai (it is about her marital home you can’t interfere).  Then my own marriage is not very good either. My widow mother will be devastated.

 Any suggestions about how should I deal with this situation.

Like every mother Venu is thinking she is taking all the abuse and nonsense from her spouse and in-laws for the sake of her kids. She wants them to have a father in their life. She is forgetting that parents are children’s role model of not only gender roles but intimate relationships. The daughter is learning how to be submissive to men in intimate relationships and the son is learning how to oppress women in intimate relationships. No matter how much Venu tries to rub into them the equality of gender and respect for each other lectures because the practicum is showing different test results. On the other hand both children are imbibing how grown ups beget power in intimate relationships- by manipulation and throwing tantrums.

 My only suggestion would be to seek professional help. She is in position to afford professional counseling. She ought to start practicing assertiveness skills. I know when a woman starts asserting herself or even voicing her opinion that is different from her so called benefactors violence against her escalates. Those in power who are controlling her life feel they are loosing control thus they give even harder blows to break her spirit or spirit to resist ever again. This also serves as warning to other women who may be thinking of raising their voice against intimate injustice.

 At times I do not know what to tell the person because assertiveness is a learned skill and it takes time to learn it. A greater numbers of women all through their lives are taught how not to say no and be people pleaser now I am telling them to say NO. It doesn’t work that way. I guess one should begin with small and minor stuff like what you’ll eat or where you’ll sit, who I’ll talk to etc. But then I think the woman who approaches me is an adult why does she have to seek permission from anyone. Isn’t she the citizen of a free country?

 When will desis learn to mind their boundaries. Some walk in to couple’s bedroom and others do not leave until it is way past sleeping time… The whole culture is based on controlling each other. Some parents keep treating adult children (even when they have grwonup kids) as minors. They have no restrain on their tongues and or actions. Then there are dysfunctional adult children of these codependent parents who are miserable and are perpetuating the cycle. DGAC wrote a post where he reiterates the need for desi women to start saying NO. Here I am telling them how to start saying NO.

  • Start with small steps: you can not change everything wrong in one day. It took days and years to get into this mess so it will take time. This time use your patience for yourself.Begin with minor things like asserting your choice of food, clothing if not jumping to wear shorts and minis then go with colors you prefer.


  • When you say NO to someone, initially the guilty bug will crawl all over you. It is normal because you are doing something you are not use to. Take a deep breath and count ten. Then tell yourself. The other person is capable of doing what I refused to do. They’ll not die or get hurt. If they can then even I can die or get hurt. If I keep doing X for them then how will they learn? I am saying NO for their good. So that they can learn to do X one their own.


  • Often times we find difficult to say NO because we think the other person is dependent on us. Believe me you are as dispensable as another guy. If you die to night nothing will stop. The work will still get done. A rooster may think sun rises because I crow but sun rises every morning no matter if the rooster crows or not.


  • Once you say no for something don’t revert back, that way you’ll be sending a wrong message to the other person. Oh, when she says no she doesn’t mean it. Ultimately she’ll do it. Yes, often times the other person will create hardships for you because in a way you are asking them to change and accept new you. If the person is using brute force to make you do something then you know the answer how much they love or care for you. They are violating your human right to live in peace without fear of repercussion. Nobody is going to come and save you. IT IS YOUR DUTY TO SAVE YOUR SELF.


  • Stop thinking that you are the center of the universe. Nothing is about you, it is about the abuser. No matter how hard you try he/she will find something else to be on your case.


  • Remember, everything is about you if you are alive, healthy and sane. If you loose any one health or sanity nothing will matter anymore. Start saying no. If you are stuttering out of fear. If you are bitter and angry most of the time. If you are feeling hurt and not valued. Don’t you think its time you said NO??

For more tips on How to Say NO Without Guilt click here

Desi Marriage: Eligible or Ineligible Question

17 Jun

Desi Marriage: Eligible or Ineligible Question 

Why desi parents are hell bent on getting their children married especially girls by certain age? I guess it is a woman’s sexuality rights they are eager to transfer to the man and his family. They are really tired of guarding her. I remember our landlord in Rajasthan raised an orphan so as to marry him to his developmentally disabled daughter. He did marry her and legally raped her then abandoned her when her mental balance was totally lost. I also recall this great aunt in our native village that had Down Syndrome. She was married to a widower with kids. After Gauna (actual marriage, the woman goes to permanently live with her spouse this is when a marriage is consummated). She too came back more stupefied later she lived like a servant than wife in his house. I guess these women definitely needed to get married to ensure their place in the heaven. 

 I also keep wondering why are grandparents so eager. Are they interested in few festivities, sweets or few gifts or a place in heaven? Can’t they just do that without an excuse of a marriage in the house? Never understood how a grandchild’s wedding could ensure place in heaven. I remember when I turned 18 my paternal grandmother started singing to my father “I want to see my first grandchild get married before I die.” I was pretty mad, I asked my father to give me an assurance that if I got married grandma will die if not naturally then definitely unnaturally. Yes, I was a brat. Dad and I didn’t speak for three years. This was not the reason it was a different one and that demands a whole different post. She lived for another decade. Good I didn’t get married or it would have been bad blood there…

I guess both desi men and women experience such pressures from families and community. Oh, I know Log (faceless strangers in the community, just like paparazzi) who gossip around why X’s son or daughter is not yet married. Thanks to these Log or half the population will remain unmarried. Des is really great people make sure invalids, drunks; wife beaters definitely find a wife. Last week I was imported to another sleepy town along with a bunch of singers to officiate a prayer ceremony for a family. To be clear, I don’t sing I was an accompanist as their guy was sick. I had a day off and I am always open to challenges and charting unknown waters I was happy to be a side kick for a change. I have watched so many bollywood movies especially Karan Johar flicks thanks to Amu that I can confidently and independently officiate a wedding, I know the whole chant Mangalam Mangalam…  

During a break before the guests arrived the lady of the house was serving me lunch and after little hesitation she struck a conversation. She informed me the prayer was for seeking blessings to start preparing for the upcoming wedding of the eldest daughter. So she started filling me in how good her daughters are. The elder one 31, she works for Alzheimer Association and the younger one helps couples finance their IVF procedures. (I do not attend weddings except those held at Summer Solstice, if I had a choice I would have run away from my own wedding. I remember telling Sum, friend, I do not know why I am doing this. I refrained all my friends from attending my wedding. Sasha and Ji went ahead to participate in a rail roko and Lal left for Delhi the same day. Sum came, I do not know why; even he doesn’t know to this day). 

These days IK (a white woman raised Catholic, teaches Kundalini Yoga and thinks she was desi in a previous life) is my social conversation coach until six moths ago it was A’s job (you met him here) and while in teens it was Rinks (she is here). IK tells me how I need to go beyond listening and to seem interested. I need to ask some appropriate questions. The problem is I don’t understand half the things and other half I don’t care unless the other person clearly tells me what is happening and if they need any help. So it is a pretty win-win situation for everyone. When I did not utter a word IK elbowed me. I mumbled, so the guy is desi? The look on IK’s face is worth $1000, how can you be such an idiot. 

The mother of the bride continued, “Oh he is an ABCD Telagu, who doesn’t know much about his own culture and language (the bride is north Indian).” I was pleasantly surprised. She further added how it was not a love marriage. I guess love marriages are considered parental failure in upbringing virtuous kids. She explained how she started looking for a match for the elder one when she turned 23. For six years parents approached all relatives and friends to suggest a good match even made few visits to  Des to showed their daughter (as if she was a commodity to be sold to highest bidder). But all efforts failed and the girl’s age kept growing like an evening shadow. Finally she told her daughter to find someone she liked (Wao, what a great favor: WE TRIED, WE FAILED, YOUR TURN and claim to modernity, we are pretty modern we let our daughter pick her spouse).

This reminded me of my cousin who is a second generation Brit, turning 3O’ in 2012. My aunt has been hovering over this self employed adult who bought her first home at the age of 23. Likewise aunt started looking for a match for my cousin since her 21st birthday, though she hasn’t given up yet but now her approach is “You may bring home anyone you like but he should be X caste.” My cousin is pretty mad and her answer was “All those guys interested in me have moved on just because you would not budge and now when the pool has further shrunk you want me to go and fish without any dating skills. Forget it.” Aunt’s weekly dramas are now monthly theaterics as audiences have moved out.  

Anyway, the mother of the bride continued, “A friend of mine suggested this guy, they had known the family for a long time. Our daughter was reluctant we asked her to at least meet him. They exchanged emails for three months before they finally met. Initially she told us she didn’t like him but we insisted she take her time to know him better (these are the same parents who prevented her from looking at any one in her prime youth). I have another cousin in Des, when she entered college my uncle was driving her back home. He stopped the bike and said to her pointing to our fields, “Look I want you to go to college in a straight line (an expression of speech) if ever I heard anything (read you talking to young men or men making cat calls at you) I am going to kill you and bury you in these paddy fields and no one will ever come to know.” (Wao, my great family traditions, readers I am lucky to be alive, thanks Mom 🙂 . Even they had a hard time finding a decent match for her, it felt as if this hundred pound young woman all of a sudden became thousand pounds of sand that no one will take even when delivered in a Sentro with big cash. Finally they found her a simpleton and a MIL to happily lock her horns with. All iizz well…

The mother of the bride to be left the table to fetch me some water, the bride’s aunt whispered in my ear, it is a love marriage. Thanks for blowing the poor mother’s cover uhh. Meanwhile more guests arrived and started congratulating the mother for her son’s wedding. That is when I came to know she also has developmentally disabled twins (25). The older one is still functional he can follow instructions and works four hours a day as a gardener’s aide at a local hospital. He can only follow instructions but not have a conversation. Last December the family travelled to Des for trousseau shopping for the elder daughter and meanwhile they got their older son married to a very beautiful 23 years old. I saw the wedding album my expressions changed I just held my breath beneath my teeth. Who would do that to their daughter? What was her limitation? She is too short just 4’10”. I asked what she does, the bride to be replied “Right now she is learning to speak English.” Great, the wife doesn’t speak English and the husband doesn’t understand Hindi.

I also recall the convent educated beautiful Rajput woman I met a decade ago at the naturopathy institute in Jaipur who was there to get her severely mentally disabled spouse treated rather a respite from his assaults. Some relative arranged this match to get even with her father. She had two sons from this man and no way of walking out of these aggrevated rapes her natal family would not let her do that for divorce is not heard of in their family. A widowed aunt was her only suppoter she ensured her some inheritance.I have seen similar bollywood and TV soaps where love conquers every thing and a disabled starts dancing  a perfect number but in real life developmental disability remains and nothing changes other than the woman’s life… None of the healthy normal women left the disabled man that I know of. 

I came back pretty disturbed how someone could do that to their daughter. Then I recalled my friend C, her younger brother is blind. One time I was at her place helping her mother in the kitchen. Her mother told me how she’ll find a sighted poor Brahmin girl to marry her blind son. Those days Bhaiya was dating his friend’s sister who was partially blind. He had to give upon her due to family pressure as she was from a different caste but later on his own he posted an ad in the newspaper for a match. He got numerous responses from sighted women from poor families. He picked a Gujrati woman, now his family was mad that she was Gujrati. I guess they had decided they’ll not be happy no matter what.

I am still wondering why a healthy working woman cannot find a husband but a developmentally disabled dependent man can easily beget a wife? If there are fewer women than men then how come there is a shortage of eligible bachelors? May be there are bachelors but just not eligible? Do women have to lower their standards just to have legitimate sex. In absence of intelligent conversation and commonality of shared ideals to me a marriage seems to be just an arrangement to have legitimate sex. It is just legitimate sex not safe sex we all know the tales of unsatisfied men visiting the street… I guess if women had an option they would not hesitate either. I guess it definitely works or why else would such seemingly dysfunctional system continue for times immemorial. May be arranged marriage is the only shot for all those who cannot strike it out on their own…

Desi Parenting: Passing the Buck

3 May

Desi Parenting: Passing the Buck

It was just the last Wednesday, at the YMCA, my swimming class was flooded with Desis. Besides me there were three other desi women with four children on the deck. While we were taking lessons the life guard was busy keeping their children entertained. This made me little uncomfortable I asked the life guard if baby sitting was included in his job profile. I guess one of the mothers over heard, may be I wanted her to hear it and soon a gossip session ensued how I hated children. No I do not hate children I just love my life more. I want the life guard to do the job he is paid for and keep me safe. I totally understand how women’s gendered duties of mothering and care giving prevent them from pursuing interests and skills. May be these mothers are able to attend the lessons only on the condition that they have to take their children along. May be their spouses refuse to share the childcare duties though the ideal situation would be for them to share the parenting responsibilities (I could see women running to answer phone calls their spouses). May be they could not afford a baby sitter. I totally empathizes with what ever their situation. But I refuse to jeopardize my safety and my peace. The good option for these women would be to take turns to baby sit each other’s children while the other person took the lessons. They should work on creating their own support structures rather than take other people for granted or assuming an entitlement to time and resources of others who are not parents by choice.

 In ideal situations both the parents would be sharing the parenting responsibilities so as to leave each parent with some personal time to pursue their own interests (some desi men do share parenting responsibilities). But that rarely happens in the Desi contexts as mothering and care giving are tightly knit in to desi women’s gender role and there is a looming fear that any attempt to alter it may create a cataclysmic kaliyug and endanger the great traditions of our beloved Des and communities. Next morning I read about a desi teens killing and nailing another minor. Was shocked and more disappointed at the response from a reader who wrote:

 “I had a conversation with my sister-in-law as to whether it is a good idea to keep kids at boarding school, considering teachers are better suited and trained to spot concerns and in also addressing such issues. They are also under a watchful eye, which one can not ensure at home. She was completely against it as she felt it would not solve bad behavior, and as a parent you would not be bonding with your child also.”

 I was wondering how easy it is to pass the buck, the parents could create a monster with their parental neglect and then expect the schools to fix all the wrongs. If teachers are trained so are better suited to spot the signs of troubles then what are the parents doing? Did the parents have to apply for any kind of parenting license or certification for owning much prided toys called children? This reminded me of the time I told my FIL that his son was assaulting me. He innocently replied “Oh he learned it from me. In my younger days I was like that, look it me now I am totally a different person. A woman’s love can transform a beast.” I just kept staring at his face thinking, “Wao, you created a monster and now you want me to kiss and turn your frog into a prince? About you becoming a different person, you may have given up assaulting physically but now you are even worse, a passive aggressive manipulator and inveterate codependent.” I guess I realized then it was not my job to cure their monster and turn him into a mutant monster.

 It is very common practice in Des to treat marriage as a cure-all for misbehaving, irresponsible sons, “is ki shaadi kardo apane aap theek ho jayega jab sar pe zimmedari padegi (get him married, he’ll improve once he has to bear the responsibility of a householder).” (I guess for these reasons arranged marriages work because if these men were to find partners on their own they would die single). I don’t think the person improves in any way but his parents get another scapegoat, his wife to blame for she failed to cure him. It is a great formula to fix one problem by creating another problem and that too for another person. It is assumed if a marriage did not bring him to senses then a birth of a child will definitely do it. I do not know if the man in question comes to senses or not but his wife and now mother of his child definitely comes to senses, she is more bound to him for the sake of a child and she cannot leave him easily even if she wanted to. It is in such circumstances an emotionally and physically brutalized desi wife pines all her hopes of emotional fulfillment on her children especially sons and thus creating another generation of dysfunctional adults and passing the buck…

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