Last night, my husband and I accompanied my sister-in-law and her husband to dinner at a friend’s place. It was the same friends whose 25th wedding anniversary celebration I attended earlier this year.
The friends always invite me to functions, and I’m always usually honoured to go along. However, last night was a bit of an ordeal for me. I wanted to go to the dinner, but I didn’t want to leave our apartment. I haven’t been feeling so good since the shock explosion (that is, cracker) right near my ear during Diwali, which made me half deaf for a day. I feel anxious and unsettled, and don’t want to be around any loud street noise. (Which means that I don’t want to go outside).
I made the effort to attend the dinner because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. However, to be honest, half way through the night I wanted to run away, and jump on the first plane home to familiarity. I felt so lonely and out of place.
My experience with India is very changeable. When I’m in good health and spirits, I feel capable of dealing with whatever situation I’m in. When my health isn’t that good, I feel tense, overwhelmed and claustrophobic. It’s made worse during the times that I can’t relax and be myself, such as last night.
Socialising in India is quite the opposite of socialising at home. At home, we would go to a friends house, and everyone would sit down together for a chat over a glass of wine or beer. Soon after, we’d move to the dining table where dinner would be served. Everyone would sit down there together and start eating, including the women. In India, it’s traditionally quite different. (Although socialising with my husband and his friends is quite like in the west).
As soon as we arrived last night, I was called into the kitchen with the other women, while the men remained in the living room. Dinner was yet to be cooked, so the women set about preparing it. I chatted briefly to the auntie in Hindi (because neither her nor the uncle speak English), and tried to learn as much as possible from the cooking.
Soon the kitchen was so hot and smokey, I couldn’t bare to be in it any more. My face was covered in a blanket of sweat. Uncle started serving beer and asked me if I wanted any. Of course I felt compelled to say no, although I was thinking the very opposite.
Soon, I had to leave the kitchen because it was too uncomfortable for me in there. It would’ve been inappropriate for me to go and join the men, so I was shown into another living room. There, I spent half an hour entertaining myself alone while the women tended to dinner and the men. Most of the time, I spent gazing out the window and into other people’s apartments. I appreciated that it was a rare opportunity for me to observe people and not be observed in return.
After a while though, I began to feel quite sorry for myself. I’m usually content in my own company, but I longed to be able to relax and join in the socialising. I missed the freedom and ease of my social life at home. I missed free flowing conversation, where I wasn’t limited to understanding only 25% of what was being said and giving one sentence responses, due to my lack of Hindi. Uncle kept offering me beer. Even my sister-in-law gave in and told me I could have some (she obviously started feeling sorry for me too). But I declined. Where’s the fun in sitting alone and drinking?
I didn’t have a bad night last night. Some parts of it were fun. I even laughed from time to time. For most of it though, I just felt very very lost. This caused me to confront my husband when we got home. I wanted to know why he hadn’t been of more help and support to me. Why couldn’t he have come to check on me and be with me?
His response was that he thought I was fine in the kitchen with the women. He also said it would’ve been rude for him to get up and leave the room once the serving of food had started (and food, starting with snacks, had been served very early on).
But I wasn’t feeling well! And I can’t hold a conversation in Hindi (let alone Marathi, which they were also speaking)! How could I be okay. Sometimes I just want to throw aside good Indian manners! And, sometimes I don’t think my husband realises all the sacrifices I make here for the sake of trying to display good manners (or even just for daily life in India).
I’m going back to Australia for a holiday next month, and I think it’s going to be very timely. I obviously really need to recharge myself and get my groove back!
© 2009, Diary of a White Indian Housewife. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.
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