Back Again

I’ve decided to keep blogging.  I love to read what others are experiencing in their relationships and learn more about India.

Satya and I have been together now for three years.  Some things that I thought we’d have figured out by now are still up in the air (religion).  Other things were much easier than expected (visiting India and meeting his extended family).  Also, we are still in the same city I’ve been trying to move away from for nearly 3 years-very frustrating.

We’ve had our victories, like him finally receiving his permanent green card last month.  Don’t underestimate the stress of waiting for that to arrive and the stress of putting together all that paperwork.  Satya is much more methodical than me and we had many arguments about what to include (I wanted to include just the bare minimum).  The final weight of the package with its table of contents, color coded Post-It bookmarks, etc. was 4 pounds!!  We were lucky-we were able to complete all the paperwork ourselves without a lawyer.  Still, it was not an easy process.  We are breathing a sigh of relief now until the final batch of papers-for citizenship next year.

Another victory….Successfully hosting his parents for the past 3 summers for 3 months each time. Most of the credit goes to his parents for being so kind and so tolerant of us.  This summer we were both working and somewhat stressed out so we couldn’t spend as much time with them as we’d have liked, but we still had a good time together.  We’d all take walks together, play board games, watch movies, and go to the temple together sometimes.  It is nice to know that they love and support us and that we all feel comfortable together.

Some things are still works in progress.

Religion….We agreed that we’d both keep our religions and raise our future kids to respect both.  In practice though, we lean more towards Hindu/Lingayat more than to Catholic.  Mostly this is due to the attitudes we encounter at church such as priests in their homilies mocking religions like Hinduism for “worshipping rivers and rocks”.  I still feel like I don’t have a firm grasp of what Hinduism is exactly, but am slowly learning from experience-going with his family to the temple, celebrating some festivals, listening to beautiful songs with his mother like “Kali Maheshwari” and “Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma” etc.  It is hard to balance the two when Catholicism seems to say, “It is all or nothing,” and the Hinduism seems to say, “Come as you are…eventually we’ll all end up in the same place.”

Language.  My Kannada skills are laughable.  Maybe someday I’ll learn more.  We will be going to India again within the year so we’ll see. I just haven’t made it a priority.  Satya still intends to speak to our future kids in Kannada, so we’ll see how that goes.  I think if our kids were to have a fighting chance at understanding and speaking Kannada, we’d have to live in Karnataka for a while.  Or maybe encourage his parents to only speak in Kannada to them.  We’ll see……

Balancing our families.  Tricky.  This past January we went to India to see his extended family-aunts, uncles, cousins.  Indian hospitality can’t be beat.  This past July we went to Iowa to see my extended family-not so welcoming or warm and friendly.  I put part of this on Midwestern Scandinavian reticence-maybe if they after meeting Satya a few more times they’ll be more welcoming.

It is also hard to balance limited vacation time between the two families.  I wish I could see my parents for three months out of the year, but I can understand the reasons for the disparity.  My parents live close to two of my sisters.  Satya doesn’t have any siblings living near his parents and his siblings are unwilling to host his parents for more than a week.

**************************************************************************************************************

On a completely different note, I have a book to recommend Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull.  Very entertaining and well-written.  It is about Sarah’s adaptation to Paris and to her Paris love.  She is from Australia.  I think most people in intercultural relationships will find parts of the book that relate to them.

Favorite Movies We’ve Seen in 2010 (so far…)

We recently bought a blu-ray dvd player that also can stream Internet content to the tv. We are enjoying it a lot and are hoping Satya’s parents will also enjoy it when they visit this summer. We definitely recommend it because we can play Internet radio through Pandora (without commercials!!) on the tv and instantly stream Netflix movies to the tv. There are a few Hindi radio options. Pandora offers channels like a Kishore Kumar channel, A.R. Rahman channel, an Anu Malik channel and more. For all those lovers of Kannada music from the ‘60s there is not yet a Dr. Rajkumar station, though. Last summer, it was tough for the four of us to comfortably watch an instantly streamed Netflix movie on a laptop! Also, YouTube is able to be streamed to the tv so Satya’s parents should be able to find a wider variety of Kannada songs and movies there as well. (Unfortunately for me, a lot of the old Kannada movies on YouTube are not subtitled.) Without further ado, here are 3 movies we’ve recently enjoyed.

Khosla Ka Ghosla This was about a retired father of 3 who dreams of owning his own plot of land. Finally, he has enough money and buys it, but then everything crashes down on him. One son announces he wants to go to the U.S. on a work visa which crushes his father’s dream of everyone living in the same house on the plot of land. A local goon seizes the land and then offers to sell it back to him, the rightful owner, for half price. At this point, Satya said his parents in India could no longer watch the movie. For them, I think it just struck too close to them-all their kids are in the U.S. and they do have a plot of land. Even for me and Satya the movie was a tense one. How will the man ever get his land back? Will the family be reunited?

In many ways the movie is very realistic about the struggles of middle class people and about the dreams of retired people. It does show a generation gap in India pretty well-daughter arguing about wearing salwar kameez, young women not wearing bindis on their foreheads, sons in their 20s expecting to make their own decisions but running into parental opposition. It does show how easy it is to encroach land-something I also saw in India (scheduled caste group seizing land of a school playground, poorer people encroaching on the outskirts of a university).

The tidy Bollywood ending was not very realistic of course, but it was satisfying. This movie kept us on the edge of our seats with the plot and good acting. There were no big budget Bollywood musical numbers. The film did win the National Filmfare Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 2006.

Loins of Punjab What would American Idol be like if it was in NJ and done in Hindi? Loins of Punjab answers that question. It is a small budget, independent movie but gives some good laughs. There is a sweet love story, a subplot about the trials of an intercultural relationship, and a character you will love to hate. There were a lot of stereotypes (Indian guy who is clueless about women, the engineer type, the Indian American girl who doesn’t know Hindi, etc.), but lots of laughs and heart. One part that made me uncomfortable was near the beginning when the white Jewish contestant enters the contest. Some other characters commented that , “He is white, of course he will win.” I didn’t agree completely with the ending, but it was a fun movie to watch. Has anyone else seen this movie? What did you think of the ending, especially regarding the contest?

Welcome Bright colors, big song numbers, lovable villains, lots of laughs. This is a typical Bollywood movie, but nicely done. There was even a Karnataka tie-in (although not flattering) in that the gangster brothers had the very Karnataka name of Shetty. Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor were hilarious as the gangster brothers. They were especially hilarious when trying out their legitimate careers (acting, and painting.) The big stars were Katrina Kaif and Akshay Kumar. One of our favorite songs “Kiya Kiya” is in the movie too. We’d heard the song and seen the video, but the video was a little confusing before seeing the full movie context.  This was a fun movie all around and one we intend to watch with Satya’s parents. 

What technologies do you use to help make parents visiting from India feel more at home?

Some Favorite Pictures From India

Bananas.  I ate so many bananas!  They are the perfect snack food, like a granola bar or energy bar.  Bananas are filled with nutrients, cheap, safe to eat, and everywhere!

The top picture is of the things we needed for our simple temple wedding blessing.  It was a no-fuss ceremony.  It was nice to feel included and I’m very thankful to have had the ceremony.  We were blessed by many members of Satya’s family.  This made our fourth wedding ceremony and now we are done!

The other picture is one of the first pictures we took in India-out the window of our Bangalore hotel room.  We were looking onto a very busy street corner early in the morning.  People would stop at the temple to pray on their way to work or to school.

The solar water heater on the roof of Satya’s home.  The U.S. has a lot to learn from India in regards to energy efficiency.  Usually, this worked very well (sometimes too well!).

A view from the roof again.  This is the Tata Indica that seems to be very popular in India.  Very nice car, loaned from family friends.  We would load up to 6-8 people into this sometimes.  I liked zooming around, listening to booming Bollywood music on the cd player, and being crowded amongst family.

Monkey at Jog Falls.  Kids+Snacks=Being followed around by monkeys.  They are cute at a distance.  One of them snatched a bag of snacks from the 5 year old which was a little unsettling.  The monkey then proceeded to put the plastic bag over its head and empty all the snacks onto the ground.

Monkeys are also a fact of life in town.  Satya’s mom has had monkeys walk into the house and steal bags of peanuts from the kitchen.  Also, sometimes at night the monkeys will sleep in the trees which means they will pee in the yard in the morning.  Monkeys are also known to steal purses.

In India, nature is an integral part of life.  Every ceremony involves local plants.  Animals are respected.  The moon is important because it keeps the time of the Hindu festival calendar-every festival seems to either be on a full moon date or a new moon date.  Here in the U.S. the moon is completely ignored.

I saved the best for last…Nandi at the temple at Banavasi.  Nandi is the bull who is Shiva’s faithful companion.  Wherever there is Shiva in a temple, there will usually be Nandi looking in the direction of Shiva.  This particular Nandi is special because he is looking at both his parents, one eye towards Shiva and one towards Parvati.  Satya’s cousin told me this is to remind people that both parents are to be respected equally.  I love that message.

Beggars or Divine Intermediaries?

It seems whenever India is mentioned, beggars are mentioned.  Did I see many beggars?  There is only one that I remember strongly-a man without legs who was on a little wooden board with wheels.  When we stopped to chat with some relatives in the market, he came around to everyone.  Nobody gave him money because he was a known alcoholic.

He is not what this post is about.

What would you think if you saw a man coming towards you leading a cow that had decorations on its horns and forehead?  He stops beside you and seems to be waiting for something.  You could ignore him or you could give him some coins and take blessings from the cow, symbol of faithfulness, gentleness and prosperity.  Is he a beggar?

We were watching a documentary about Israeli hippies in Goa and in the documentary, the above scene occurred.  What was the response of the Israelis?  To yell at the man to get away.  Satya explained the scene to me and said that the man was doing the Israelis a favor by approaching them.

Or women regularly come to your door carrying the goddess Yellamma (Yellamma is known for being a faithful and dutiful wife) on their heads.  If you are the wife of the household, then you worship Yellamma and give the women handfuls of rice for bringing blessings to your house.  Are the women beggars?

This happened when we were staying with family in a smaller town (described in one guidebook as the gateway to “deep rural Karnataka”).  I was a little nervous and stayed in the backround while the wife of Satya’s cousin bustled around finding rice to give them, taking blessings.  Satya later told me that the women were probably curious to see me, a new wife in the family, and wanted to welcome me.  Unfortunately, I stayed in the backround, unclear as to what exactly was happening. Later, I regretted not going to the door.

On my next visit, I hope to be less guarded and more open.

Looking like a Respectable Married Woman in South India

As our trip went on, my clothes underwent a transformation. I wore jeans, a nice t-shirt, little jacket, and my high heeled boots my first day in Bangalore.  By the end, I was wearing salwar kameez, bangles, bindi, chappals, and mangalsutra/thali.

These experiences come from visiting a medium sized city in Karnataka, South India.  Also I visited a rural village, Jog Falls, and Banvasi’s temple.

Chappals

This was the first transformation.  Our second day in Satya’s hometown we were taken to the shopping district for chappals.  The main consideration was visiting.  Taking shoes off is a must when entering anyone’s home.  Shoes are also considered the dirtiest thing.  Me unzipping the boots each time I was visiting, touching my hands to the shoes just wasn’t going to work.  Plus, wearing boots and socks was hot.  The solution-chappals.    Chappals are sandals that are backless that you can slip in and out of made of leather.  Flip flops made of rubber and plastic are called “slippers” and “sandals” equal sandals with straps that you cannot slip in and out of.

We bought our chappals at a store much like an American shoe store-brightly lit, benches to try on shoes, attendants bringing shoes out from the back, etc.  We didn’t buy them from a market stall, although there are certainly many selling shoes of all kinds.  We bought Bata ones, a brand that seems to be everywhere in India, though not here in the U.S.

Salwar Kameez

Luckily, I brought one that I bought online here.  I quickly learned that despite what Satya said and what his sister said, jeans and a t-shirt was not going to work in India.  When we visited people or when I went out in public I wore either the salwar kameez I brought with me or the salwar kameez outfits given by the wives of Satya’s cousins (one of the nicest things was that as a newish married couple, we received gifts of clothes, money, puja items). 

Did I see women wearing jeans?  Only in Bangalore.  Teenage girls in high school/college can wear them in the medium sized city we were visiting (daughter of a cousin).  One of Satya’s married older cousins, about 40, wore a salwar kameez outfit everytime I met her.  It made sense-she was extremely busy as a wife, mother, and a doctor studying for a new certification.  Other than her, nearly all married women wore sarees all the time.  Especially for formal occasions, married women seem to wear sarees.  When we visited Satya’s old elementary and high school, the female teachers asked me, “Where is your mangalsutra?”  “Do you know how to wear a saree?”  (All the female teachers wore sarees.)

Also, a warning to all the tall women may have problems with readymade salwar kameez outfits.  I’m 5’9” and have a long torso so a lot of them didn’t fit quite right.  When relatives asked my mother in law my size, she said, “Oh, she is about my size.”  My mother in law is 5’2”!  We all had a good laugh over that.  Anyway, my sister tried on some of the outfits and they fit her perfectly-she is 5’5”. 

Also, on the same chappal trip, we bought some Indian-style “tops”.  These were very cute, but again not worn by anyone over the age of 21.  The brands should have clued us in-one was called “18 Fire”.  I had to use the XL size and even that was snug.  Here, I’m a M.  This is not to say all Indian women are tiny-I was not the tallest woman in the family or the widest but readymade clothes seem aimed at the youngest and thinnest women.

Bindi

One item I could not leave the house without.  I used the little stick on ones that you can buy in a pack at the market for 5 or 10 rupees/pack.  Those were perfectly acceptable.  Satya likes me to wear them.  Without a bindi he says my forehead looks “naked”.  Older women use kumkum (a red powder) instead of the stick on kind.  Do I wear a bindi in my everyday American life?  No. 

Bangles

On our trip to the market the night before the small Indian wedding ceremony we had my mother in law made sure I had bangles.  Indian women wear bangles.  It didn’t seem to matter if they were married or widowed-they all had bangles.  What kinds?  Gold bracelets interspersed with glass bangles.  What colors?  Green is most traditional for new brides and for weddings in general.  Red is also popular for everyday.  Sadly, my hands do not fold easily so I could wear small bangles.  It seems the smaller, the better.  At first, the bangles took some getting used to because to me, I felt like a cat with a bell on because every time I moved, I jangled.  Now I kind of like the sound. 

I do wear bangles here everyday but only a few on each wrist.  My advice-get the ones with the color all the way through the bangle.  If the color is painted on, after a few months the color will go away and you will be left with yellowish bangles instead of bright green.  Glass bangles seem to be preferred, but they are a bit more expensive than the metal ones.  I think it is worth it though.  Satya bought me some metal ones here and they were annoying.  Glass makes a nicer sound, glitter will not fall everywhere, and if you wear them overnight your arm will not get weird black marks like they will from the metal ones.  Glass ones take a while to find though-I asked at 4 shops here before I found one that carried glass bangles.

Mangalsutra

If you are traveling to South India and you are a married woman, it is best to wear this.  Why?  Because this is the equivalent to the American wedding ring.  Everywhere we’d go, people would ask about this.  It did not matter if the people were Christians or Hindus-everyone wore them.  Besides it is also important for ceremony.  Whenever a married woman visits another married woman, at the end of the visit they bless each other by applying kumkum and sometimes turmeric to the forehead and the large circles of the mangalsutra.  Sometimes small gifts are also exchanged like rice or fabric for a saree blouse, although the fabric is now mostly for tradition and ceremony and not to really make a saree blouse.

I went with Satya’s parents when we picked out the mangalsutra at the jewelers.  First we selected the chain-small gold and black beads.  Then the large flat circles were selected along with three larger gold balls.  Mine is very similar to my mother in law’s and Satya says it is Maharashtrian style.  I guess that makes sense since we were in Northern Karnataka.   Yes, I do wear the mangalsutra everyday here in the U.S.  I received mine during the small temple wedding ceremony and afterwards felt “more official” and more a real part of the family.

Conclusion

Now I know a lot more about what to expect and how to look like a respectable married woman (I feel old writing that).  Once I did get whistled at in the market-was without mangalsutra, and wearing jeans and an American blouse.  Satya deemed that a great insult and wanted to notify the police (I thought that was an overboard reaction, but he says in the South to whistle at someone else’s wife is a great insult.)  I’m a little nervous though about the next trip.  Satya says that his relatives were “low balling” me and that next time their expectations may be higher.

The Welcome and Houses

So we left off with the bus trip.  Not fun at all.  I DO NOT recommend taking the budget overnight buses in India if you want a peaceful night sleep.  I thought they’d be like Greyhound buses or nicer, but no.  Next time (probably winter 2011) we’ll fly from Bangalore to his hometown.  Or maybe take the train and be adventurous…..this trip we never did get to take a train.

The bus stopped and we got off into a rickshaw.  From the rickshaw to his house was not far.  When we arrived at his house it was such a relief!  And we had such a warm welcome!  Satya’s mom and another cousin welcomed us and blessed us.  We were given a small bucket to wash our feet off before entering the house.  Also, everything was beautiful-the yard had been cleaned, the house repainted, and the entryway was decorated with colorful lights and garlands.  There were rangoli patterns on the sidewalk and a big “Welcome Home” sign. 

One moment was a little tense-as a daughter-in-law I was told to put my right foot on the threshold.  Then a nail was placed between my big toe and second toe and tapped in.  After my foot was removed, a cousin finished pounding the nail in. 

We had something to eat.  I think it was banana and maybe tea.  I don’t think I ever ate so many bananas as when I was in India.  Then it was nap time! 

We woke up to the sound of voices and found out more relatives arrived.  Most of the time everybody was spoke in Kannada.  Despite my intentions, I never did learn much before I went and while there, only picked up a few more words.  Body language does go a long way, though. 

In the evening we did some visiting.  It seems that every day around 4 pm our rounds of visits would begin.  This caused some stress because in India relationships seem much closer and much more almost political.  We had to be careful of who was visited and in what order. 

I loved seeing the different houses.  From what I could see, most people were either lower middle class to wealthy.  Many, many people had new houses.  Like others have commented, the value placed on furniture seems to be different.  Furniture does not seem important and often seems to be multipurpose because it seems in India you never know how many people you will need to entertain.  In many houses, the house would be absolutely gorgeous and so were the floors.  The floors would often be of fancy stone.  The first room where the entertaining would take place was often sparsely furnished.  There would be those ubiquitous plastic chairs (the patio, stackable kind here), and often a twin bed to sit on.  Sometimes that would be it.  Some homes did have fancy furniture-rosewood couches, but that was not the norm.

Every house did seem to have a “showcase” though.  This is where important gifts are kept-everything from large idols to photographs of grandkids.  Usually the showcase is built into a wall, has 2-4 shelves, and has a sliding glass or plastic door.  Maybe in the U.S. the equilvalent would be a mantel.  Magnets have not made it over to India yet.  I did not see any refrigerators covered in magnets. 

Overall, “stuff” in India did not seem important.  Traditionally, things like gold or land are what people save up for and really care about.  This is changing a bit, but not much.

The trip, Part 1

Where to begin…….First off overall the trip went really well.  I made some minor faux pas, but did not permanently wreck anything.  The trip was definitely easier on me than on Satya.  I think he just had too much to worry about and feel-returning home after nearly 10 years and worrying about whether I was having a great time and realizing how much India has changed. 

We left from NY and were nervous about missing the plane which made for tense train rides.  Once we got to the airport we relaxed.  Flew to Germany.  First plane was very nice-very cushy and modern. We landed in Germany late at night for our 8 hour layover.  Discovering that  water was $8/bottle was not fun.  The Frankfort airport was not very clean and we never did discover where the showers were.  Got on to the plane and discovered this one didn’t have all the amenities of the first plane-no personal video screen and stuff like that.  We also made another mistake-we ordered the “special meal”.  We felt pretty special to receive our food first, but then discovered that we somehow got on the vegan meal list instead of the regular vegetarian one.  We noticed others had some very tasty meals beside us. 

Landed in Bangalore.  The new Bangalore airport is very nice and extremely modern and clean.  Some people complain that it doesn’t reflect India at all, which could be true.  The bathroom was very clean-when one person leaves the stall the attendant briefly cleans the stall before you enter.  We were funneled through a place where a guy was sitting near a camera.  I guess the camera was a thermal one aimed at people’s foreheads to see if they were feverish.  Did not see anybody get stopped. 

We found Satya’s dad and cousin and the taxi and drove off.  It was about 3 am Bangalore time.  Then we entered the hotel Satya’s dad picked.  Satya’s dad calls it an “old-timer’s no-star hotel”.  What does that mean?  There was a toilet, but no shower just buckets.  No towels.  Flimsy sheets.  Hotel workers were sleeping in the hallways.  The hotel had a convenient location-right beside the bus stand where we’d catch the bus going north later that night.  Unfortunately, the hotel was insanely loud. The hotel was located at a corner and right below our window was the roof of a Ganesha temple.  Even at 4 and 5 am it was loud and at 6 am rush hour seemed to start up.  I don’t think either of us slept. 

Around 8 am we decided to give up sleeping.  We met Satya’s dad and cousin and then walked a few blocks to have idlis, rasam and tea for breakfast at a small restaurant.  Then we did more walking around Bangalore.  Bangalore seemed extremely noisy and busy but not in a very antagonistic way.  It seemed gentler than New York City, for example.  Satya noticed a lot of changes.  10 years ago there were more trees, less cars, less people.

We went to the government store.  The building seemed to sell almost everything from shoes to wooden statues to sports equipment.  We didn’t buy anything though.  Next was the Sapna Bookstore.  This had multiple floors and many books, dvds, and cds.  Next were the government buildings.  We took the rickshaw which was an adventure.  Rickshaws in Bangalore are definitely not for the faint of heart!  Only use rickshaws on short trips…….at the end of the trip we were in a rickshaw from one end of Bangalore to the other.  That experience will not be repeated! 

As others have said, horns are used for everything-when turning, when at an intersection, etc.  Later on in the trip we kept seeing big orange dump trucks filled with manganese.  On the back, the trucks said something like “Honk please”.  Horns seem to be crucial for safe driving. 

After looking at the outside of the government buildings and going to the park, we met up with another cousin and his family.  He had rented a minivan.  Minivan is a much more comfortable way of traveling than rickshaw!  We went to lunch inside a hotel.  One cultural difference was soon apparent-kids can run everywhere in India!  His cousin had a daughter who was about 3 but she would go to other tables and talk to other families and then go to the entrance of the hotel. When she strayed too far, she’d be called or brought back, but she was never forced to stay put or told “Don’t talk to strangers”. 

After doing some shopping and stopping at their house it was time to rush back to the hotel to catch the bus.  We just barely caught the bus.

Bus travel is not for the faint of heart either.  We did not travel on the new, fancy buses, but on the older ones-not too clean, no ac, no bathroom onboard (although that was probably a good thing).  After just managing to catch the bus, we settled in.  The trip would take about 10 hours and there would only be one bathroom stop.  The bathroom stop was at a small roadside restaurant (Indian equilvalent of a diner maybe).  Sleep did not come easy on the bus either.  The road was extremely bumpy (Satya explained that it was because in some places the road gets wiped out each year because of the monsoons), very noisy because of the horns, and there was lots of construction.

I’ll leave off here for now…..

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries