Saturday, June 13, 2009

I Miss India

I miss India
The swoosh of cars, honk honking
dogs barking,
birds tweeting in the flutter leaves of the tree outside my window
it's big orange blossoming blooming in the sunshine
while the kawa hops down on my porch banister hoping I'll give him a scrap.

I miss India
The smell of dinner, spicy and hot dripping like oil from the windows of flats I pass
Mixed with earth, rain,
and a compost heap on the side of the road

I miss India
the laughter of friends sipping milky-sweet chai at a dabbha,
slapping at the macchar biting my ankles
sweat making my kurta cling to my back, as we laugh and enjoy the simplicity of eating with friends

I miss India
the breeze in my face taking an auto-rickshaw
the icy blast of air from an air conditioned music store, music so loud my head is buzzing
I always complained but it is nice to get TOO cold while watching a three hour Bollywood movie.

I miss India
The smile on your face as you hand me a reused Bisleri bottle filled with cold water from the cooler by the mess, beads of condensation dripping as I pour it into my mouth, India style, splashing down my chin, making you laugh, like always.

I miss India
the big white cows with the hump on their backs
glaring at me with their innocent eyes as I wait for you to buy the cigarette I am trying to encourage you not to smoke, and saying I don't like the smell, i miss that smell

I miss India,
The buses trundling past, with all their destinations in Hindi. I can never read them fast enough to know... is this the right bus? so I only get on when I am with you

I miss India,
staying up late watching movies with the philosopher and a strong woman, the air cooler blowing a humid but relieving breeze,
Enjoying the cooking at your family home.. such good daal, followed by a night time walk in the damp grass with two mischievous dogs,
riding three people on your new bike, laughing at the stares of people, seeing us crammed together, backpacks in all directions,and being driven by a girl, no less ;)

I miss India
How the merchants in the bazaar were fooled by my salwar suit (for once!) and for you we had a normal day shopping, unless I opened my mouth, my Hindi infused with an obvious American accent

I miss India
laying there, watching the fan revolve lazily, turned down so we can hear the parallel cinema film we are watching together, thinking of our plans for tomorrow, next week, next year... our world.


chitta said...

I was going through your comments in

You came on a bit strong in the first couple of your comments. But I agree with most of your points.

In regards to the divorce rate comments, you were almost right.
Indeed if the woman has ways to stand on her own she does not have to take abuse. And the fact that many women in Indian marriages are pretty much dependent on their husband, this makes it less likely for them to think of divorce.

But their is another part to it which you did not mention.

The Indian society is not very accepting of divorce and divorced women in India have very low chance of getting married again.
But based on your time in India, you must have noticed that.


linzi said...

True....that's a good point about divorced women and remarriage.

Interestingly, in my time in India, I didn't really meet any women who described themselves as divorced... When I lived in Delhi there was a small group of older women who were never married, and worked with me.

Of course, in some places I was, widows may get the same kind of treatment as divorced women...

On a tangent, I wonder how many women in India go home and stay with family (permanently or semi-permanently)as a way 'out' of a marriage without the taboo of divorce?

Chitta said...

I have only anecdotes. The younger sisters of two of my close friends in India (I live in US) are divorced and have their own jobs. Their parents and brothers are helping them out in many ways but they stay in difference places for job reasons.


There are many older women who are not married and many not so older ones who have given up on the idea. But rarely out of their own choice. With arranged marriage being the preferred route many for whom that arrangement is not achieved by a certain age end up being single for their life. (This is of course not the case for men.)

I think the most important thing that a woman (with encouragement from her family) should do in India is to make sure that she can stand on her own. Stupidly there are still a lot of families which do not pay attention to that and rather focus on saving for dowry for her.


Since you are an anthropology student and researcher, let me throw this hypothesis that I was arguing with a friend of mine many years ago.

I think the Indian government and society is focusing on the wrong thing, when they talk about the evilness of dowry etc. etc. My take was that dowry was only a symptom, not a cause and to get rid of it one has to work with the cause.

To me the main cause was some of the families and their surrounding society not encouraging women to be independent and be able to stand on their own. As I was growing up what I was noticing was that the families around me did not pay a lot of attention to this aspect (this was 20+ years back in smallish town) but they all wanted to find a well placed husband for their daughters. This plus the fact that marriages were mostly arranged basically created a marketplace, and a very skewed one at that; few well placed men being chased by a whole lot of families. This is and was a recipe for the dowry market and other disasters.

I think this is still true in many parts of India, but the situation has changed drastically (for good) in many other parts.

I guess I have rambled too much.

linzi said...

The single older(ish) women I worked with were well educated and independent and lived at home with their families as well.

The interesting thing I noticed about most of those ladies, is that, even though they were older than me, we still fit into the same social category in India (i.e. unmarried women). In that sense, we almost have more freedom to be 'kiddish' and goof off more than women of the same age who are married, who tended to be more in taking care of us unmarried women. (Like sharing their fruits from home with us, etc, since many of us unmarried ladies didn't bring lunch from home!)

Of course, I have always appreciated that in Indian culture it is much more acceptable to spend time with people of various ages, not just in your own peer group (which I find is the norm where I grew up).

Regarding dowry, that is an definitely a good point... dowry is a part of a much greater system. It's interesting to me because in my mind dowry is so much different, than, for example, helping out family, or the bridge/groom getting gifts.

Helping out father (be it the husband's or wife's) seems like a natural thing family would do for each other. Gifts for the bride and groom seem like a nice way to have everyone come together to help the new couple start off in life. But then dowry, it seems so very transactional to me.

"What will you give us to take this daughter of yours?"

"A new Maruti Swift, sir. Orange color."

I don't really know, but historically, was dowry more of a gift for the daughter herself? Sometimes dowry is used that way now, the dowry money/gifts are used for the new couple to set them up. I get the impression, though, that in many cases, it is a way for a family to capitalize on their son and see how many gains they can get from their investment (i.e. raising and educating him)... No wonder people don't want to have daughters... it's a lose-lose situation (you raise them and (hopefully) educate them, and then pay someone else to take them.

Honestly though, most of my Indian friends and many other Middle class Indians I know these days seem unwilling to consider taking/receiving dowry.

I haven't really done much study on dowry itself, most of my studies have been more focused on children+education+gender combined.

What's the history of dowry, exactly? I wonder how it has changed over time...

Anyways, now I have rambled quite a bit as well... A lot of this is just thinking out loud! I hope you don't mind.

chitta said...

In my opinion the *traditional* arranged marriage in India is in most cases a transaction.

When there is no prior attachment between the girl and the boy it is kind of a transaction.

The girl's parent want to maximize the value they want and the boy's parent want to maximize the value they can get. Like the baseball trades, there are many "currencies" that contribute to the value.

From the girls side: the currency is the boy's job/income/property, family connections etc.

From the boys side: the currency is how pretty the girls is, dowry (cash, gifts), family connections, etc.

The transaction gets lopsided when the girl does not have the education/skill to be independent.


When my friend was complaining about dowry in regards to his sister, I recall telling him the above theory, and told him to help her sister get a marketable education and the problem would automatically get solved.


Things are changing a lot. My home town (Bhubaneswar) which had 1 engineering college when I got out of high school now has 45 colleges and about 30% of the students in these colleges are girls. Most of them get jobs when they graduate and they are not taking any nonsense.


One of the reason I mentioned the above (my advice to my friend), is that it may come in handy when you are teaching in India.


(I really have not explored the history of dowry. I think its always been demand and supply. I have read that in some tribal societies in India where the girl contributes to the husband's family by working in the field the husband's family pay dowry to the girl's parents.)

@lankr1ta said...

I saw your comments on sepia mutiny. And I agreed with all of them.

I sometimes read posts on sepia mutiny and several other "desi" sites and really wonder what it is they are actually trying to do? Is it so important to always identify oneself as "brown"? Is it that overarching a part of one's identity. Of course I can always not read these blogs, I do they are fascinating, but on the whole I feel they kind of ghettoize the South Asian minority. Remove the "people" part of it. I loved your PEOPLE need PEOPLE

linzi said...

thanks for the positive feedback... it is good to know I am not alone out there!

Svaha said...

White Woman's Burden
There are a small number of blogs now, by women from the West in the process of getting married to, or already with, an Indian husband. Interestingly many of these blogs call out to themselves in "skin color" terms: "WHITE Indian housewife" or "GORI girl". Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but there seems to be a mild air of prejudiced condecension in the subtext of these blog titles.
'Look at me, I am white but I am trying to make it with a "colored" man in very difficult circumstances. I am liberated and don't care about race (what about those color references as the defining characteristic of the blog titles?) but look at my husband's family and country -- caste system, higher fees at parks for foreigners, they shit and spit in the street, mom-in-law looks at my "blonde" hair and "fair" skin in envy -- so much of a white woman's burden (sigh!).'
Methinks there is an externalization of collective prejudice perhaps? When 9/11 happened, Sikhs got murdered in Phoenix, AZ, coz some European-Americans couldn't be bothered with the difference between them and Al-Qaeda! Sikhs and Muslims thrown into the same category because they have turbans and beards is the ultimate irony! And speakin' of Australia --- well, lets examine the immigration policies from a few years ago or how "aborigines" have been treated.....the less said the better! Australia, South Africa, and the US are examples of institutionalized prejudice in European-dominant societies, in the same way as one might think of the caste system in India. There is unfortunately no racial monopoly when it comes to prejudice, although the evidence points to greater violence related to institutional prejudice in "white" societies.
Another important point about these (mis)conceptions is the equating of race with skin or eye color. Any decent anthropologist or evolutionary biologist will tell you that human beings are essentially all racial hybrids and are genetically indistinguishable from each other racially compared to other species, say, apes or mice. Indians and Europeans are actually all caucasians who even share a common original language called proto-Indo-European -- read Max Mueller!! This is what really gets me: that these women/men think they actually have married into a different race because of differences in skin color. It never occurs to them in their ignorance that they should question the prejudices they grew up with in their own societies/families. The externalization of ignorance is the the very essence of prejudice.So skin color is just a political manifestation of "racial" self-identity in institutionally prejuduced societies: us vs. the aborigines, us vs. the "blacks", us vs. the injuns, us vs. the japs we put in the internment camps, us vs. the wetbacks, us vs. the curry-smelling brown guys, us vs. the shudras, etc., etc. I have never actually seen a WHITE-skinned person, they are mottled pink or cream, or yellow, or brown, or whatever. White is the color of the printer paper next to your PC -- its an invention of convenience to define separateness in very superficial terms.
So, I might ask, are Westerners like that only, but I may be accused of generalizing to an entire group or race or set of countries, and that wouldn't be right, now, would it?