Baby’s First Kali Puja

While most of India worship Goddess Lakshmi during Diwali, communities from the North East worship her divine contrast, Goddess Kali. If you consider Goddess Lakshmi as the opulent full moon, Goddess Kali is the regenerative new moon. We attended the vibrant Bengali … Continue reading

Advice: How Do You Live with the Caste System?

Dear Lauren, I am from Colombia, I met my partner from Nepal one and a half years ago. Our relationship is very beautiful, however, the differences between our cultures is difficult. My partner belongs to the highest caste. For that reason it is very difficult for him to speak with his family about me. I clearly understand the situation and I am sure one day we will solve this problem.

How do you live with the caste system in India?

Anonymous Reader

***

Dear Anonymous Reader,

Caste is a complex concept, it divides people into groups based on their duties and was created to bring about order in ancient society. As we are no longer in ancient times, I don’t think it should be considered relevant today, but sadly for some, it still is. This is partly due to controversial caste quotas introduced post-independence, designed to liberate the traditionally disadvantaged, as well as ingrained prejudices.

Living in India and speaking to many others in intercultural marriages, I think it is hard to speak to traditional parents about marrying outside their community, irrespective of caste. It may be hard for parents to understand their child’s decision to marry outside their community if their mindset is as rigid as the caste system itself.

I have noticed that when I meet people from the older generation for the first time, they are usually eager to know my surname, so they can determine caste. Our surname is a rare, and so people cannot always connect it to a caste. Once an elderly man started an argument with me in a shop. He said that I could not say my surname correctly and he wanted me to write it down. He then he accused me of being unable to spell it and suggested several alternatives. This went on for a while until I simple told him my husband’s caste and he stopped arguing, as he has received the information he wanted.

My husband has always told me that it’s important not to think of castes as higher or lower than each other because this reinforces the discrimination. When considering caste from a cultural perspective, it’s always best to name the castes, instead of it’s place in an ancient and redundant hierarchy.

I hope your partner can cultivate the courage to speak to his parents soon, I know it’s difficult but it’s the only way forward if you plan on taking your relationship further. Take care.

***

Dear Readers, Do you have any advice, experience or a fresh perspective to offer?

(Helpful and respectful comments only)

Are you looking for advice to help resolve your dilemma? Submit a question here!

Adjust or Adapt? Becoming a Member of an Indian Family

I want to look at two words, two words with similarities and differences, adjust and adapt. Let’s start with the obvious, they both begin with A and end with T. Enough with the similarities, let’s look at the differences!

The official definitions:

Adjust (verb): to alter something in order to achieve the desired fit, appearance, or result.

Adapt (verb): to make something suitable for a new use or purpose.

Through my blog I have come to know many Western women who have married into an Indian family and something I have noticed is that most of us have a passionate disdain for the word ‘adjust’. You may be confused as to why, so let me explain…

Many of us are told that once we adjust, everything will be easy. Once we adjust, everything will click into place, we just have to adjust. It’s really as simple as that, isn’t it? We just have to change a fundamental part of who we are to “achieve the desired fit”. One Western woman who lives in a joint Indian family told me that if she heard the word ‘adjust’ one more time she would do something unthinkable resulting in a crime scene.

Very often women are expected to not only ‘adjust’ their physical appearance, but pretty much their whole lives. Live with their in-laws, cook only Indian food, convert to another religion etc. When you first become a part of a new culture, you may happily slide into this new role, you do it for love. Slowly but quite surely, if it’s only you doing the adjusting, a new and ugly feeling starts to fester in the pit of your stomach, that feeling is resentment.

This is why I prefer the word ‘adapt’ when talking about becoming part of a new culture, you don’t try to change yourself to fit into established norms, you make them suitable for you. Adapting to a culture is a natural process, adjusting feels forced and unauthentic.

We should try to add your own culture to the mix, you are now in a multicultural family after all. Respect the values and customs of the new culture whilst maintaining respect for your own. This also applies to Indian’s joining a new Indian family, the culture of India is so diverse, I am sure that in many cases Indian girls are expected to adjust just as much as we non-Indian’s are. In India a marriage is usually not only between two people, but two families and every family is different. 

There are things about Indian culture I adore and have fully and willingly integrated into my life, but there are also things that just don’t fit with me and I am not prepared to change myself (adjust) to “achieve the desired fit”. The key to successfully adapting to multicultural life is an open and two way communication. I have found greater harmony in my Indian family life by talking about my culture with my mother-in-law and explaining why I do certain things. In return, she does the same. We understand each other more now because we can see the mechanisms behind our actions, which gives us the freedom to be true to ourselves.

A really nice example is that when I first moved to India, everyone laughed at me for saying “thank you”. I am talking hysterical laughter that made me feel really uncomfortable and insecure. Still, I continued to be thankful, I simply could not stop something I had been told to do ever since I could speak. After a lengthy discussion about gratitude and how we understand it in the West, to my surprise and without expectation, my mother-in-law now says “thank you” to everyone! She says thank you to our driver, the maids, vegetable wallas, shopkeepers and to me. The concept of ‘thank you’ is so different in India and it’s explained nicely in this article.

So, let’s stop adjusting ourselves and start adapting, learning, respecting and communicating. You may find yourself growing a new sense of self once you become a part of a new culture, but don’t sacrifice who you are and the things you hold dear about your own culture in the process. Let’s celebrate the best of both worlds.

Another two words for us to consider are sacrifice vs. compromise.

***

Check out my Instagram and Facebook pages for daily updates and discussions!

Cheek Pinching in India

The first time it happened to me was during my first week in India, I found myself in a state of shock! Someone I have never met before reached over, grabbed my cheek and pulled it around. When my little sister (who was eleven at the time), came to India for our wedding, her cheeks were red raw after all the aunties got their hands on her. In India cheek pinching is seen as a sign of affection, but when a stranger starts to pinch I can’t help but consider it as an invasion of personal space.

In general, concept of personal space in India is completely different from mine (not knocking before entering a bedroom for example). It doesn’t happen to me very often (thankfully), but I see it happen all the time to children and babies. They have as much right to personal space as adult do. Cute children and chubby babies must have really sore cheeks at the end of every day! I think in the future, I am going to have a real problem if people do this to any children we may have. It hurts! In the culture I’m from, touching a someone’s face or child without permission is seriously not okay, let alone pinching (ouch). I don’t think anyone actually likes having their cheeks pinched! Do they?

cheek pinching in india

What inspired this post? A couple of nights ago I was waiting for my husband, sat in the car with Alfonso. I had the window rolled down and was looking up at the sky, deep in thought. A girl appeared, reached into the car and pinched my cheek so hard as she squealed “oh my God, you are soooooo cuteeeeeee”. A couple of seconds later, after the event had fully sunk in, I asked her how old she was. She was twelve. The little girl then went on to ask me the same questions everyone in India usually asks me when they come from nowhere and start up a conversation:

  • What are you doing here?
  • Where is your husband?
  • Where are you from?
  • Will you come to my house?
  • Where do you live?
  • Where exactly in Nagpur do you live?
  • What is your surname?
  • Can you speak Hindi?
  • Can you speak Marathi?

Once I had answered the usual questions sufficiently, she asked me if I would buy her “something special from London”. I was taken aback at this, my cheek still hurting. She was a really sweet and confident little girl, I enjoyed our conversation until she started asking for me to buy her something. Curiously I asked, “what special thing did you want?”. She answered, “a watch”.

Cheek pinching is meant to be a sign of affection, but ouch, it hurts. I don’t think India’s cheek pinching obsession will go away anytime soon, even my loving husband is guilty of it!