Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Challenges of a Thoroughly Modern Indian Bride (A Guest Post)

It's my first guest post!  My dear friend, S, who has my partner job at our company in Mumbai, India, is getting married next month.  This is her account of some of the issues she's had to deal with as she -- a thoroughly modern Indian woman -- deals with traditional Indian cultural values and a traditional Indian extended family.

Ok, so I'm finally getting married!  The fact that I've lived with my very yummy hubby-to-be for a little over 2 years makes little difference at this point… I mean, it makes things easier of course, but also makes it much, much, much tougher. You see, I'm an Indian girl, living in India, with an Indian boyfriend, and I live (in sin!) with him. At this point, with the wedding a little over a month away, the change in my way of thinking and acting is the bigger transition, not the appearances and the shopping.


My parents married for love – way back then, they defied their families to be together. Theirs was a union by choice, and not something that was rammed down their choking throats by their parents, as was (and still is) the custom. So of course, my parents brought us up in a manner that differed significantly from their peers. My sister and I are outgoing, outspoken, to-the-devil-with-societal-chokey-rules kind of gals – we've never done anything illegal, or anything that has shamed our parents or has been radically different from their beliefs, but we were the first to get the mini-skirts, to shave our arms and legs, to go out late nights… we were, as our parents friends called us: 'Modern girls – westernized'. My parents always thought we'd hitch up with men like ourselves.

In my case, that is partially true – my man, is a very 'Modern' man. A very Modern man with a very Orthodox North Indian family. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!!!! Want to know why I didn't run? Till very recently (by which time I was hopelessly in love), I had very little exposure to them!! They're really nice people, don't get me wrong… it's just that their belief systems (pertaining to women) are just… well, orthodox.

We got our first taste when Modern man's father found out that I was living with Modern man. That was 2 years ago. He's only just accepted it. We got our second (very bitter) taste of it when Modern man informed them of his intention of marrying me. That was a year ago (though the decision was made way, way before). Their reaction was outright rejection, then denial, then emotional blackmail, then despair, and now, finally, acceptance. Their reaction, while more extreme than we'd expected, is understandable. I am nothing like the girls they're accustomed to. The expectation was: fair skinned (I'm very, very dusky!), shy (er…. Ahem!), family oriented in the sense that her career will be secondary to her familial duties which include 'making the house a home' and 'cooking' (har har har! I've hired us a live-in maid who cooks… thanks to my well paying job! ;)), meek (ROTFL!!!!), respectful and obliging (um…. I respect your opinions, but I do have some of my own!!).

hindu-bride-image hand

Needless to say, Modern man and I have had a very rough time with this. While I've been struggling to portray the right 'image', and getting increasingly frustrated by expectations that I don't fully comprehend and/or agree with, he's been grappling with striking the balance between catering to the family's expectations, and ensuring that our expectations/wishes/wants are accommodated. We almost broke up a couple of times. However, the worst is over. Relatives have been met with, issues between Modern man and I settled, expectations all around (both families, and each other) discussed and either accepted or dismissed. The hard part now is working on those that have been accepted. Some (like not expressing opposing opinions in the presence of certain people who are around a lot and are making decisions around the wedding) are harder than others (dressing in a certain manner when with certain folks). It's going to be a work in progress – while I am pretty good at being a partner to Modern man, it will take a while before I'm good at being his 'wife' in the eyes of all who are external to this relationship.

Modern man's take is that we will emerge the winners, in spite of these piddly little restrictions placed. After all, we are getting away with the biggest 'ask' of them all… WE are getting MARRIED. And THAT is worth all.

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Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, what an insightful and intriguing post. It blows my mind because I just can't comprehend that kind of family pressure! I am aware of many cultures throughout the world that are steeped in these (ancient?) traditions, but it's difficult to understand that even these cultures haven't "evolved" to a greater extent. It's scary how women tend to STILL be perceived and expected to BE, here in the 21st century. I know our own country has gone through a lot of turmoil to achieve women's rights and respect over the years, and it's an ongoing struggle, even though we've come a long way (baby!) Good luck to you, and I salute you for your courage, and your husband-to-be for his forward-thinking.

jennifer said...

Good for you, and good luck, Modern Man and Modern Woman!

Marco said...

That was one of the most entertaining posts I've read in a while. More power to the New Indian Woman!

Michelle said...

Great post from your colleage - I wish them all the best. I have come to have quite a few friends from India and the arranged marriage topic and expectations has always fascinated me. I had the nice experience of spending several hours discussing this topic on a long road trip with a male friend in India. He had me convinced in the end - trust Mom and Dad! However, I have seen other friends with various attitudes on the topic from fully embracing to complete rejection and it gets even more interesting if they are born and raised in the US or UK but parents are from India. Again - thanks for the guest post.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. I like learning how different cultures do things. We have a few Indian friends through work and I know one is to have an arranged marriage next year. I can't imagine that myself.

Goofball said...

congratulations and thanks for sharing!

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