The Difficulty of Living an Extraordinary Life

by Sharell शारेल on October 20, 2010

in Adjusting to India, Culture Shock in India

“You and I are both leading extraordinary lives,” I was told by a friend at an expat birthday party on Friday night. His extraordinary life is to work in many different countries, earn well, and then retire to a villa in the south of France.

Sounds much more enticing than my extraordinary life, doesn’t it? My extraordinary life involves living in a country that is less developed than my own, with a husband who is (shock horror, to some people) shorter and darker than me. People sometimes wonder if I’m happy, if I’m really content living like I am.

It’s a curious question because I’ve gotten used to my life. It feels quite normal to me these days, and I don’t notice such things. However, if I’m with my husband and a group of foreigners, I feel odd. Although I can easily be the part of a foreigner, because it still is a part of me, I sadly feel that I don’t truly belong. It’s not entirely who I am anymore. I’m different. These days, I’m incomplete bits and pieces of so many different things. I can say I’m Australian by nationality, BUT that’s not really me. My mentality is much broader now, I’m part of a intercultural relationship, and I live a simple Indian life. My own culture feels kind of strange. I can also say that I have a degree in accounting, BUT I hope never to use it again. So, it’s not really reflective of me.

Life was so simple when I had a comfortable, ordinary, and socially acceptable identity. White, Australian, university degree, professional job… the list could go on. I fitted nicely in the box. No one would think to question my existence and if I was content living like that. It would mostly just be assumed that I was. After all, I was doing what society aspires to. I didn’t question it too much myself. Even though I didn’t like my work, I just accepted it as a part of life, and trudged through it every day.

But now everything has changed. I must admit, I’ve been having a few low energy days questioning where I really fit in, and where will I fit in in the future — whether in India or Australia. What has happened to my old identity? The big question of “who am I?” looms. I’m actually quite disappointed in myself for thinking like this. Not only because I know that at the bottom of my heart I really don’t want to be “ordinary” (although it does seem conveniently tempting at times) but because I know that spiritually, I’ve moved beyond this way of thinking.

There is actually one simple cause of my issue. And the cause is in the answer to “who am I?”.

Instead of saying “I am a soul who is here to have [whatever experiences]“, people usually define themselves according to more superficial factors such as “I am [whatever profession]“. “I am [whatever nationality]“. “I am [whatever skin colour]“. They get attached to these superficial definitions and start behaving according to them. Fanatical white people are a good example of this.

If I view myself as “a courageous soul who is here to learn to be bold, to explore and broaden my knowledge in a culture that is different to mine, and to give something to the world through my writing”, it sounds good. It makes my soul happy too. And all the other superficial factors fall by the wayside. I know I’m on the right path, and I do feel content. More than content actually. Quite ecstatic. However, if regress and start thinking about who I am based on superficial definitions, it makes me feel troubled. My ego gets in the way. I feel like I’ve lost my identity and I feel out of place.

So, who are you?

49 people like this post.
© Copyright 2010 Sharell शारेल, Diary of a White Indian Housewife 2008-2014. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.

Related Posts You May Like:

{ 137 comments… read them below or add one }

Prashanth October 21, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Here’s the answer to life, the universe and EVERYTHING : http://goo.gl/YdHy ;)

Reply

ajnabiya October 22, 2010 at 7:20 am

Oops, my site is betweentworlds.blogspot.com, I guess I was too tired last night when I posted :)

Reply

viksdes October 22, 2010 at 8:57 am

Sharell yes we do live in extraordinary times, when we know so much more about other cultures , thanks to internet etc the perspective is very global. I do feel living abroad for a certain amount of time we all are faced with the question of ‘who we really are?’ , living in a different culture we make an effort to adapt to our new homes, perhaps some customs and habits totally different fro our own. I think it’s a part of process and no easy answer to the question. A thoughtful blog for sure :).

Reply

Arti October 22, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Hi Sharell,
So very well written, well described!!
The post provides for much food for thought!!
W are all searching for our true definition of life and Who am I, in some ways io the other!!

My Yatra Diary…

Reply

B. Kaur October 22, 2010 at 9:47 pm

They say the one who has wondered about this question – “Who am I” or “What’s my purpose” – has taken his/her first step towards enlightenment. So I say congrats for your first step!

You know you should consider yourself lucky to be wondering about this question b/c the way I see it, millions live their lives on this planet in half sleep like robotic machines all set to achieve or gain something. Yet few stop for a moment and wonder about what exactly it is that they’re trying to achieve or gain and what is really the purpose.

While growing up, I used to wonder what my aim is in life. I used to look at my mom and see her living the life of a housewife and taking care of her family and I used to wonder… What is the purpose of life?!?! And I think this question has been a gift because my life took many turns surrounding this question.

It is also said that this question is really a journey to go inward and seek further so I guess have a fun ride :-)

Reply

Prashanth October 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm

There are many good/great comments for this post, but the best one is from a user with pseudonym “xyz”….He/She summed it up, in an awesome way! Here’s my pat on your back, xyz! :)

Reply

Sharell October 22, 2010 at 11:36 pm

I agree, Prashanth. There have been many wonderful comments on this post, more than I had hoped for, and too many for me to reply to individually now. I can’t thank you all enough for sharing. I’m sure not just me but everyone who reads them will benefit. 8)

Reply

Sowmya October 22, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Hello, Sharell!

“Who am I?” I am a nebulous fog looking for clarity in obscurity.

I am also on the brink of making a permanent relocation to India with my husband who is ready to toss away everything and return home at a moment’s notice. We have a few more ducks to line up and then I’m almost certain we’ll be out of here in no time. I have always been champing at the bit for an opportunity to leave my country, and although there are the standard “I’ll miss ____” thoughts, I am almost ready to go.

Upon landing in India for the first time with my husband, I felt like I was finally home. I was like a little kid, bouncing around happily and taking the good with the not-so-good. In India, I was filled with constant inexplicable moments of bliss swelling up inside me, making me float up and up and up… I had never been so happy in my life when I was in India. There were some moments of weakness, but what surprised me the most about My India Self was the newfound ability to, time and again, scrape myself up off of the floor, defenestrate my dignity, and move on, whereas My Old Self would have been reduced to barricading myself inside the house, rocking back and forth on the floor while sucking my thumb.

India was the best kick in the pants.

Upon returning to my home country, I have begun to doubt myself and am, dare I say it, dreading some of the things that await me when we go back. Is this just the Pre-”Your Life is Going to Endure a HUGE Change and Will Never Be the Same” jitters talking? I could really use some advice from someone who has taken that leap and succumbed to the wonderful allure of India.

How do you think you would have held up so far if you had to live a more traditional Hindu lifestyle in India? A few practices that come to mind are: living with your husband’s parents (Privacy? What privacy?), being ostracized during a certain pesky monthly occurrence (staying closed away in one room, not touching/coming in contact with anyone, not being allowed to be with your husband, being banned from the kitchen, washing your own clothes separately, eating from separate dishes and generally being treated as ‘untouchable’) and not being allowed to sleep in the same room as your husband on certain days and for the entire month of November.

Have you already been in situations like this? Do you assert yourself or give in? How do you find a middle ground?

Maybe sitting over in my nice, cushy “developed” and privacy-laden country, looking at those aspects seems absolutely a(c)b(r)s(a)u(z)r(y)d, but once we are over there, I may enjoy letting go again and seeing where the wind will take me and how it will take me there. It might even be good for me.

Goodness, I’m rambling.

If anyone else has any thoughts or advice on this issue, by all means…I’ll put on some tea, lots of milk, lots of sugar.

Reply

Sharell October 22, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Hi Sowmya, I understand how you’re feeling. There are so many complex emotions involved in moving to India. No doubt some of what you’re experiencing is jitters. I felt sick with jitters. Dizziness, dread, horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach!

In answer to your questions though, I honestly couldn’t live a traditional Hindu lifestyle. I have no doubts what so ever about that. As much as I love my in-laws, I need space, privacy, and quietness. Those things are not negotiable for me. Fortunately, my husband feels the same. He doesn’t want to live with his parents either. Neither of us could slot into their lifestyle easily. Their house is a typically chaotic Indian home, where my mother in law gets up at sunrise and does her surya puja before bathing and going into the kitchen. My husband and I go to bed late and get up late. We don’t even bathe before eating in the morning. It would be disaster if I had to live there! ;-) I confess that I do use that “certain time of the month” rule to my advantage in our home though. “No, I can’t go into the kitchen today honey, I’m unclean!!!” My husband rolls his eyes at me. :-P So, I’ve never had to assert myself. When I visit my in-laws home, or any family, I dress traditionally and act traditionally. When I’m at home, I just be myself. And that is the saving grace. Of course, it adds another layer of complexity to my identity though!

Would you have to live with your in-laws if you moved to India?

Reply

Sowmya October 23, 2010 at 1:13 am

Hello again, Sharell!

Thank you for your input, honesty, and amazingly quick response! Your perspective is invaluable, unbelievably helpful and comforting in a way.

Although nothing is certain at this point (the key questions being: When? Where? How?), I know my husband would not have any problem settling back in with his parents until we figure out the Big Picture, thus it seems like a highly likely possibility. We talk about it sometimes, but I feel like I am letting him down now that I am not so thrilled about certain, traditional aspects that I respected while we were visiting India. I do not mean to be duplicitous. At the time, I thought I handled things well, even when I was blindsided by so much (there really is no way to prepare for the turn of events while being in India), but now that I have had some time to settle down after returning, I am finally processing what happened while I was there and wondering whether or not I could handle it long-term.

I think if we were alone, I could handle the day-to-day difficulties, but I worry that indefinitely bringing his parents into the equation might be biting off more than I can chew. I do not want to miss out on the opportunity to live in India, but now I trying to figure out how to best handle this.

I love my in-laws, and I am very fortunate to have them in my life. I feel like they love and respect me better than my own parents. I am closer to my India family than any of my relatives here. I really am quite blessed. They really do try to make accommodations for me so I feel at ease and at home. They prepared the only bedroom in the house for my husband and me so we could have some sort of privacy, they installed new air-conditioning units (they never use them, but they worried that I might feel too hot), they said I was welcome to participate in as many Hindu rites as I wanted so I would not feel left out (except for my going inside of temples, which is strictly forbidden in all of the temples they frequent), and they are very open to communication (if I have a problem with something, they would like me to voice my concerns). They understand that I am an individual and that I come from a country where individuality and privacy are heralded as king.

While we are here in my home country, my husband and I do not follow the strict way of life we maintained in India. I do the things that come naturally and comfortably for me: cooking only South Indian food, happily wearing sarees/salwars and pottu (bindi) whether or not I am around other Indians (unless I want to laze out in a comfy pair of jeans and a t-shirt, but this usually means that I do not want to speak to or see another soul for that day, another impossibility in India ;-) ) , lighting the lamp, speaking in my husband’s mother tongue… but I really only see the Hindu-practicing side of my husband while we are in India. We also enjoy late nights and lazy mornings, and we don’t always bathe first thing. I will definitely miss our leisurely, ill-bathed moments of slothfulness. :-)

I am so worried that I won’t be able to stand up to the challenge and that it will wear me down after awhile. Should I just kiss my identity goodbye? What good is it for, anyway? ;-) It seems to be nothing but trouble, always inhibiting happiness while creating doubts.

Reply

Sharell October 23, 2010 at 11:38 am

Hi again Sowmya, it just happened to be reading the comments in the moderation queue and yours was there! I thought I’d better reply straight away while I had a chance. I agree with seeya, your in-laws sound like real gems. It seems like both they and you want to make a huge effort to be accommodating. But yes, I agree it will wear you down after a while. How much so will probably depend a lot on your personality type though. My main issue is that it exhausts me being around people all the time. I need quietness to recharge, and am very happy in my own company (a strange thing in India!). It sounds like you’re a bit like me. I don’t like to speak to and see people some days either! It’s easier to handle the traditional aspects of India if you know it will be temporary and you have a place to be yourself. While it is possible to kiss goodbye your identity, deeper things such as your personality and need for “alone time” will still remain. That’s where the issue will be. I can act how ever is necessary, but if I don’t get my quiet time, I start going nuts! :-P This is even the case if I have to spend too much time around my own mother who is a talkative outgoing person.

Reply

seeya October 23, 2010 at 5:01 am

@sowmya

Just adding a few words for what its worth. Your in-laws seem great and landing in India does not seem much of a problem for you. But living long term with parents is a heavy lift for even an otherwise everyday Indian. People born and brought up in India mess things up in this regard (many a time).

My mother used to say this, “Love between relatives is strongest when they stay apart” :). Thats both serious and a joke (which is not a paradox since it has been uttered in India). If you do decide to live with the in-laws, never forget the bigger picture. People begin taking things for granted, and very silly things begin unending arguments. Moving away after you have stayed with your in-laws would be devastating for everybody.

So the best thing would be to sit down with your in-laws and talk. If they know that you are as terrified as they are about screwing things up, everybody will understand that things are going to be ok. Then rants wont be misunderstood for taunts, or muttering for fights. This happens (unbelievably) a lot of time with a lot of families. And the sad part is, once broken, things can’t be mended. Never forget the bigger picture and it will be alright.

Reply

jalak October 23, 2010 at 6:48 am

random comments about a foreign culture makes your soul happy?
Its like someone from India moving to Australia and saying to himself “mmm…let me write a blog about all the weird stuff I see here” .
An Australian would then say ” mite.. you have no clue about our culture, history, you dont get it”

So..I dont see any grand purpose in you writing this blog. you are either reminding Indians of stuff they already know or letting your fellow foreigners create some more stereotypes in their mind bcoz you are not exactly academically pursuing these cultural differences.

More often than not you miff Indians with your half-baked understanding of things in India. Things are changing so rapidly in India, what you write today may be obsolete next year. It can’t even be a proper travel guide to anybody. If your goal is to enlighten Indians..simply forget about it..we are the gurus of that kinda stuff..

Hopefully you are making enough money with whatever you are doing. Else, I suggest to start doing something more meaningful in life. Something you can be proud of when you turn 60. Dont leave your husband though. We dont respect that kinda stuff here.

P.S. Post this message if you are really unbiased

Reply

Sharell October 23, 2010 at 11:19 am

Hi Jalak, of course I don’t mind publishing your comment. As I’ve always said, this blog isn’t written for Indians. Why would it be? I never even expected to have a lot of Indian readers, and I don’t expect them to appreciate or understand everything that I write. They aren’t in my situation. I write the blog simply about my observations and experiences, mainly for people who are in similar situations as me (who are also not going to really get it. That’s part of the attraction of this blog. I far from get it!). That’s all it is. If people want to read it, cool. If they don’t, that’s fine too. I don’t publicise this blog in any way at all. I don’t even tell my friends and family about it…so the people who find it and read it on their own accord. It must be meaningful enough though because it gets hundreds of thousands of page views a month. Yeah, it surprises me too! But if you dislike my blog, I guess you’re really gonna dislike my book when it’s published! :-)

PS: seems like you like to keep changing your identity just so you can keep posting hateful comments. I’m so glad it’s only you again, not another person! But why keep coming back to a blog that you don’t see the purpose of and making the effort to do that. Surely you can devote your time to something better? I’ll make it a little easier for you by completely blocking you.

Reply

Bhagirathi October 23, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Sharell, I just wonder how many people really bother to consciously think about these things. Majority of people, I would call them the herd, do what is expected of them, by society, by family. These expectations are directed at every aspect of life: profession, marriage, dress code, behavior, the right age for everything. In short everything has been prescribed and one has to just fall in line so as to not raise brows. The definition of success and happiness has also been prescribed. Now if one does all these things, automatically it leads to success and happiness. And you will find people beaming with societal success and happiness because they have been brainwashed into believing that they are happy and have done the right thing. So be it!

Everyone is not part of a herd, and everyone cannot, and do not wish to fit in. Why should they? They wish to decide for themselves freely what they want to do. What makes me me? I might be doing 5 part time jobs so which identity do I choose? I might be good at various things. One can’t be defined by one or two things. It will take pages to define a person. A person does not have AN identity but many identities. I could be a good singer, dancer, designer, writer, mathematician, programmer, cook, driver etc all in one. How do I parade my identity? I am afraid there are too many things that define me.

Sharell, I do so understand what goes on in your mind. I often reflect on these things. I too do not like to ‘fit in’ just because ‘that is the done thing’. I feel each one should do what suits them and what they believe in.

Btw Sharell, I see you have a lot of fans.

Cheers!

Reply

Bhagirathi October 24, 2010 at 1:02 am

Sharell, just like you, I too feel happy in my own company and that of my immediate family. I have never felt a great need for outside company. Many people find this odd and I am termed ‘unsocial’ which does not really bother me. What will bother me is having an outsider hovering all the time in my house, finding everything I do strange and telling me what I should or should not do, how and when I should. This is very common in India. One has no right to ‘me’ time.

Reply

surya October 25, 2010 at 6:50 am

@soumya,
wrong move madam, in fact a very dumb one. Living with in laws will invariably result in a serious situation and will prove to be a short cut to lose your man. Contemporary Indians are keeping away from this culture altogether. Needless to say finances factor in heavily in the decision making process. Long before my marriage, I promised myself that my wife would not be put through a joint family setting, EVEN IF SHE WANTED IT herself !!! I kept my promise and everybody is happy now.
@Jalak,
I can understand from where you are coming, but The Blog is run by a woman who is LIVING in India and whose spouse is an Indian. Obama keeps reminding students that they must work hard to match indian kids (living in India) in order to keep america remain competitive. Just last night I saw Mahindra advertising its Tractors on US national TV, The CWGames turned out just fine at the end, didn’t they? Thus India is ancient and big enough to take all the criticism on its stride. It’s a land of contrasts. One cannot wrap it (India) up under sheets anymore. Sharells criticism has some truth most of the time. If an american tells me tomorrow I cannot criticize my adopted land, I would tell him to go get lost. Outbursts such as yours, however, should also appear once in a while to present blog unfiltered and unbiased. @sharrell,
You aint seen nothing yet, just have a baby in your home, then see how your whole perception of existence changes for good. My wife became more focused and less distracted after our sons birth. Her professional performance had rapidly improved, believe it or not.
Surya, chicago.

Reply

Molly October 25, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Very interesting topic! I’ve recently read “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert where this topic of ego and find happiness in yourself not outside yourself was thoroughly discussed. I realise I am very late to read this book and with the recent Hollywood version (great feel good movie!) this is probably very old advise! But I reccommend you read it, even just the India chapter, great account of a similar situation!

Reply

Sowmya October 25, 2010 at 9:50 pm

@ Seeya – Thank you for your thoughtful input. While I spent several posts floundering around what was worrying me the most about the situation, you put it very succinctly: I don’t want to screw things up for whatever reason (I lose my cool due to constantly being around people, I become frustrated that every bit of privacy I used to cherish no longer exists, plus a list of other factors that might lead to me becoming resentful and upset), especially because we have been getting along so well.

I agree with you that moving away from my in-laws after having lived with them would be negative for all of us. I am hoping that once the talk of solidifying plans for the India move comes up, we can bypass the joint family situation for now.

@ Sharell – I started laughing when I read the last part of your post. It reminded me so much of my interaction with my own mother. We are the best of friends when we have more than a day’s drive of distance between us, but if we spend too much time around each other, I start to go insane. She is so energetic and perky, which I admire, sometimes I just can’t keep up. And I certainly can’t be “on” all the time, either! :-)

I agree with you about how it was easier to handle the traditional aspects of India when it is known that it would be temporary. Now that I am faced with a more permanent decision, I have a lot of thinking to do! :-) Again, I really appreciate your comments. When I wrote to you that day, I was having a mini panic attack, but now I have calmed down a bit. :-) Also, thank you for posting my comments. I did not want to detract from your original post. Next time I have a question for you, I will post it in your forum, I promise!

@ Surya – I think you are correct in saying that living with my in-laws could very well create a negative situation in the future, especially because I may be the one who realizes she can’t live up to the expectations of a daughter-in-law in that setting. I do not have the inner fortitude to do this and I doubt that I would be a good candidate for a joint family situation. I just do not want to be a disrespectful inconvenience to my husband or my in-laws.

If you don’t mind, I would like to know more in detail why you are against the joint family situation. I understand that it is a rather personal request, so I respect your decision if you do not want to elaborate. Although this is not my case at this point, would you reconsider your decision on having your parents live with you if they were older and their health was deteriorating?

I, too, have noticed contemporary Indians staying away from the joint family culture, and I have also seen the older generations marrying off their children and encouraging them to live as husband and wife separately (I’ve heard many people joking about how if a husband and wife live together, that is called a joint family). But what do these contemporary Indians do when their parents become older and can no longer take care of themselves?

Reply

surya October 26, 2010 at 1:04 am

Soumya

Iam not an expert by any measure to comment on joint family issues here. My personal observation with friends and family is that it is mostly unsuccessful and largely unnecessary. Two women in one kitchen will not go well ever. The deshi son (that includes me) feels its his responsibility to take care of his parents, I agree with the sentiment part but not with the practicality of it (living under one roof). So dont put blame on you just because you are a phoren bahu, this applies to deshi bahus (like my wife) equally well.

As I said financial compulsions are a big deciding factor here. All my cousins/friends live separately from their parents. Eg., my mom’s sis in law lives all by herself in her 70s or 80s. Her sons visit her, help her with shopping, doctor visits etc. She refused to live with them and they didnt ask her much. This is more of a typical scenario than an atypical one in contemporary Indian joint family landscape. A tectonic shift took place in last few decades. Just imagine your husband coming home and noticing all of you in a bad mood because, say, there was no agreement on who does what in kitchen. It is a good plan to start to live separately upfront than fight and separate and spoil relationships permanently. If possible live reasonably close by, so that they can depend on you in case of any need, that is the best option to keep him happy. Hope he will understand and has some mature foresight. Sentiments, emotions must be carefully balanced with life’s ground realities. My 2 cents. Goodluck.

Reply

Tamasha! October 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

Hi Sharell!
I just stumbled across your blog yesterday. I too am a white Indian housewife. My husband is Kashmiri, we own a small art gallery in Nepal. I am 10 years older than my husband, blonde, formerly a healthcare professional, originally from California, and I’m about a foot taller than him. Thank you for affirming so many of my own feelings in your blog!
Due to visa issues in Nepal my husband and I ended up living with his VERY extended family in Srinagar for 3 months. NEVER AGAIN. The constant bickering, inane banter, the Muslim thing, and difference in standards of hygiene were way too much for me. Then again I really wouldn’t want to live with my own family in California for longer than a couple of days either. Probably for many of the same reasons. I took care of my mother in the U.S. for 10 years. Caretaking is rough on all relationships. But it has to done. I think living close by and being available if necessary is the best possible compromise. Take care!

Reply

Sharell October 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Hi Tamasha, you’re welcome. I understand how it must be for you. It’s so good to hear of another relationship where height doesn’t matter. Owning an art gallery sounds wonderful…. sounds like you’ve found your own little piece of fulfillment too. :-)

Reply

prashanth February 4, 2011 at 10:24 pm

“height doesn’t matter”

@Tamasha & @Sharell

You folks are right! “What matters is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”…haha :P

Reply

Sharell February 5, 2011 at 8:57 am

Oh but there’s nothing worse than a short guy with “small man syndrome!”…. who thinks he has to prove himself to the world because he’s short and usually has an aggressive attitude. ;-)

Reply

prashanth February 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm

@Sharell

Ahhh, you made me confused with that reply. I’m just imagining whom you had in your mind, when you wrote that. Hitler?!?! Anyways, just to be on the safe side, let me tell you first that I’m almost 6ft. :P
————
“who thinks he has to prove himself to the world because he’s short and usually has an aggressive attitude.”

You mean, they go on banging whatever they come across? ;)

Reply

amar October 26, 2010 at 12:17 pm

@Jalak:

I am appalled by your rudeness to Sharell. She is a guest in our country and have you forgotten the basic courtesy that Indians extend to their guests however, we may disagree? By trying to run down her views on India and Indians, you have not done any credit to India and Indians. And from what I have read, she is balanced, fair and circumspect. In fact, Sharell is doing an amazing job of holding the mirror to us. If we don’t like what we see, it is we who need to introspect and change. Dont shoot the messenger!

@ Sharell: I love reading your blog. It has become a daily habit and feel something amiss when you don’t update it. You are an amazing writer, so lucid and transparent about your feelings and not afraid to reveal your weaknesses and fears. I am looking forward to your book..Best wishes.

Reply

Sharell October 26, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Hi Amar, thank you so much for your kind support, and for taking the blog in the spirit that it’s supposed to be. I think, from the other things that “jalak” has written, he doesn’t like the blogs of any of us foreign girls commenting on India. In the past, I probably would’ve been really upset and offended, but I’ve learned to accept there are all kinds of people with all kinds of views. It also helps that I have some Indian friends who write blogs about sometimes contentious topics, and they receive some disturbing mail in return too! Anyway, I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the blog. :-)

Reply

raj October 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm

@Jalak: you really spoiled our mood on this beautiful blog..I agree everyone is entitled to have a opinion but please don’t make a statement on behalf of other Indians.Just like you, Sharell has a right to speak her mind and you can’t blame her if she speaks it honestly . Lets call a spade a spade, ignoring or sweeping our problems under a carpet won’t solve the issue.The problems need to be discussed if we are serious to give a better India to our coming generations.

@ Sharell : Whatever you say about India, is usually both true and false.No statement can be generalised about Indians. Furthermore – it’s conditioned and has a very complicated background and implications. Most of foreigners forget that their perception is distorted by the conditioning they have from their upbringing. Even if they get the facts right, they analyse them with logic, which is often irrelevant. They make assumptions based on their experience, which is rarely valid in the new environment. They expect things that cannot be fulfilled here, and they are themselves often failing to meet the expectations of Indians.

Reply

Sharell October 27, 2010 at 5:09 pm

They expect things that cannot be fulfilled here, and they are themselves often failing to meet the expectations of Indians.

Oh yes, this is very true Raj! It’s probably my biggest issue. It’s quite a challenge to address the problem too because it requires a huge change of mindset. The logically conditioned mind finds it hard to function when things don’t make sense anymore! ;-) Meltdowns often result!

Reply

Sharell October 27, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Raj, I hope you don’t mind, I make your comment a topic in the forum because I thought it would be good to try and address some of the incorrect assumptions us foreigners do invariably make.

If anyone would like to respond, here’s the link to the forum topic.

Reply

Barns October 27, 2010 at 8:17 pm

‘PS: seems like you like to keep changing your identity just so you can keep posting hateful comments. I’m so glad it’s only you again, not another person! But why keep coming back to a blog that you don’t see the purpose of and making the effort to do that. Surely you can devote your time to something better? I’ll make it a little easier for you by completely blocking you.’

YOU GO GURRL

The more comments I get on my own posts, the more I understand that people like Jalak are known as ‘trolls’. They are rude, deliberately contrary, and often extremely condescending – largely for the purpose of gaining attention in the short term. Obvious clues are an unexplained sense of superiority, a propensity to make gross generalisations and a desire to issue instructions to the writer. They do not give in and say ‘lol i’m just havin a laugh’, ever, and if you try to back them into a corner they usually ignore every word you write while making a new incendiary comment, so the best way to deal with them is that old playground technique: ignore!

(I am aware that in making this post I have fulfilled some of my own criteria for being a troll, but I’m not, ok?)

Reply

Sharell October 27, 2010 at 8:36 pm

and if you try to back them into a corner they usually ignore every word you write while making a new incendiary comment, so the best way to deal with them is that old playground technique: ignore!

Barns, ooooh yes!! I’ve had lengthy email “discussions” with them in this manner too, trying to make them see reason!! Now it’s just block and ignore. I have however been kind enough to give aggrieved Indians the chance to set us foreigners straight in the forum (all within the boundaries of fair play of course). ;-)

Reply

Hélène November 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm

(Sorry, I double-post because the last post was full of mistakes, I apologize)

Hello from France,

I just wanted to tell you that I kind of find myself into your words. Who am I? I often wonder.
I am actually a little like the young lady you were 5 years ago.
I am French, still an undergraduate student in English linguistics(plan to be a professor :) ) and two years ago I met the man of my life(darker and smaller than me too hihi) who is an international researcher from South Africa. Both of us travel a lot and we plan to settle in South Africa, at last. He is “technically” Indian as I am white myself. He was raised in the South African Indian community and had to make the terrible experience of Apartheid. It is still not easy for people in South Africa to find who they are in terms of groups and individually too.

I am going back to South Africa in two months to settle there and live with him the time we decide to move to another university somewhere else. Since I am with him, well, I feel I don’t belong completely to the initial culture I was raised in. I feel that I want more than that. I feel that I want to discover the history of the country he was raised in, the culture he was raised in and the different cultures that coexist all together in South Africa. I do even more than wanting to discover them, I integrate some of his cultural references in my daily life(even when I am alone in France).
I sometimes make a vegetable biryani not because it is an exotic meal, but because it is the way I now eat. I also celebrate Diwali(even alone in France).
I feel that more and more of my life is not one hundred per cent compatible with the way I used to live in France before I met him. It is a bit confusing, not always easy because I talk to my parents and to my friends about things they know nothing about and which are an important part of my life.
We don’t have exactly the same references anymore and I feel as if I am between two worlds.

I think that it takes time to balance, but living in the same country and speaking the same language is something that helps. I know that my fiancé’s initiative to learn French is something that makes me feel better.I feel less home sick when I know I can talk to him in French. I speak English well enough to talk to him about lots of things, but French has a sentimental value that English does not have as yet and I guess that both languages will never have the same value for me.
My in-laws and my sisters-in-law are wonderful people, they welcomed me as I was, they did not try to impose anything to me. They let me naturally take things I liked in what they showed me. One thing I loved with them and all the South African Indian people I met was their genuine warmth, their genuine hospitality, something that is less true in France.

But I think that when you love your partner, you really want to know his or her culture. It may not be easy, but I know lots of couples who managed to do it, overcoming one’s difficulties and sometimes one’s depression.
Maybe having children can also help to reconciliate with the two parts of you, the one that wants an “identity” and the one that feels trapped by it. Children integrate both the cultures of their parents and create a

It takes time to know who you are but as you said, I think that we are not only a teacher or white or French/Australian, we are more than that. I feel I am in the same dilemma as you are. I feel I am not so French anymore, and not South African or even Indian either. I feel that English is not my language and though I use it more than I use French(I guess you feel less the problem as both of you speak English, even if Australian English and Indian English can be seen as two varieties of English).
Life in France was boring for me because “too easy”, “too comfortable” like in a cocoon, too restrictive, lots of rules, no unknown, I would never cross the limits, I would stay on the path. I guess it is how lots of Westerners feel when they start living in another country, we are attracted by what we don’t have, the same way people from Africa are attracted by Europe. I now know life better as I encoutered myself(or my fiancé) real difficulties(Immigration, being 10000kms away from each other, etc.). I would not give anything to go back to that life now that I have him.

Home is where he is, home for him is where I am. I grew up in France, I will stay French inside, but not only anymore as I now pick things in all the cultures I am in contact with. My identity, well, sure I am a student, I will be a professor one day, I am white, I have French nationality but I’m not only that.

Feel content about yourself, you can. You are lucid about yourself, you know what is not to be done. We are so many in this case. We are not alone and come on, if we all are in this situation it’s for our partners.

“If you feel you are not at the right place, well, try harder to integrate into it”, it is what I longed thought. I felt guilty for not feeling so well. South Africa was not always easy those last months and I told myself that it was my fault. I should have done more. I should do more.
You know, we don’t realize how crazy it is to leave your country for another one you know nothing about. Loving somebody does not mean knowing the country of the person. My dad told me one day “Come on, do realize what you are doing! In South Africa, you will be alone, no roots. Few people can do that for more than one month! It needs courage! What you are doing is really amazing” And I think he was right. We must be humble and proud of ourselves for what we managed to do up to now.
We have the right to have doubts! The only thing is that we must not let these doubts mislead us.

Do you know why you are in India? I do know why I’m leaving for South Africa in two months. If you know why you do things, well, you can’t make any mistake.

Good luck! Always remember why you are there today(present), where you were(past), how you felt and what you can do(future)!

Reply

Sharell November 6, 2010 at 11:56 am

Hi Helene, thanks for writing such a thoughtful comment.

“Do you know why you are in India? I do know why I’m leaving for South Africa in two months. If you know why you do things, well, you can’t make any mistake.”

This is so true! I definitely know why I’m in India, and it does give a feeling of purpose and direction. :-) Wishing you all the best for your move!

Reply

Padma Narayanaswamy February 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Hi Sharell,
Your observation that why this woman married a short husband made me laugh. It is not because you are white ,generally Indian women dont marry who are shorter and older than them.
My hubby was saying that a colleague divorced his wife as he did not know the truth that his wife is elder to him by one yr

Reply

Manny February 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm

It’s a tit for tat! Since Indian women are prejudiced against height challenged men, Indian men don’t care for older women!

It’s Karma?

:)

Reply

surya February 4, 2011 at 3:45 am

wasnt sita older than rama by an year…unless iam spreading some misinformation if not blasphemy. who is the expert on the itihas here?

Reply

Manny February 4, 2011 at 5:32 am

Don’t tell me Sita was a cougar! Oh Lordie!

:)

Reply

Abdullah K. February 4, 2011 at 9:29 am

Its probably more like Rama was too mature for a younger woman. And besides, when you are in love, age and other small things just fly out of the windows.
 
From my personal experience, I find women younger than me tend to be extraordinarily inspid and boring. They have seen very little of life, understand very little and behave like schoolgirls. Of course, I leave room for exceptions.

Reply

prashanth February 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm

True, Mr.Abdullah! In India, many city chics seem to act cool by aping western culture, whereas in the west, there are only a few, who are not inspired by Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Birtney Spears or any other junkie. They seem to have no purpose in life and talk nothing related to reality, intelligence, etc stuff.

@Padma

In that particular case, I think the guy wanted some reason to divorce his wife (as he doesn’t love her)…If he was from a western country or was living in a western country, he would have found some other reason…He is in India..So, he probably figured it out that, that would be the best pretext for divorce.

Reply

Abdullah K. February 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm

True. I don’t think anyone would divorce his wife on such a small pretext, if the marriage is otherwise without any problems.

Reply

Sharell February 4, 2011 at 7:19 am

I’m three months older than my hubby, so it balances out! Him shorter than me, but me older than him. So we’re equal. :-)

Reply

Manny February 5, 2011 at 2:36 am

You cradle robber you! :)

Reply

Sharell February 5, 2011 at 9:06 am

I’m following in my mum’s footsteps! My dad is 9 months younger that her.

Reply

Mohit Gupta February 4, 2011 at 2:23 am

Hi all,

I got my VISA , just when I had lost all hope and excitement and even planned for an alternative.

I went to consulate to collect my passport.My fiancee told me to remember “VAIBHAV LAKSHMI” before opening the envelope.I did that and opened. Then started to looking VISA stamp.I didnt find. Then I thought , if they would have refused my VISA then they would have returned my documents also.Then I turned the pages of my passport again and there I got !!! :)

I think , Sonia did have a role in it or the emotional mail I sent to Embassy the day before yesterday.Whatever , I am gonna Europe..!!!

Reply

Sharell February 4, 2011 at 5:52 am

What a relief!!!! I’m so happy for you!! Shubh yatra and enjoy yourselves. 8)

Reply

Mohit Gupta February 5, 2011 at 1:19 am

Thanks Sharell ,

You are co-ordially invited for the party with Pradeep on 7th feb. :)

Reply

Ria April 30, 2011 at 2:13 am

“Life was so simple when I had a comfortable, ordinary, and socially acceptable identity. White, Australian, university degree, professional job… the list could go on. I fitted nicely in the box. No one would think to question my existence and if I was content living like that. It would mostly just be assumed that I was. After all, I was doing what society aspires to. I didn’t question it too much myself. Even though I didn’t like my work, I just accepted it as a part of life, and trudged through it every day.”

First of all i just want to thank you for your blog, I found it a few weeks ago and have spend as many of my spare moments reading.

I currently find myself in my “comfortable, ordinary, and socially acceptable identity” I had spent the last 5 years since finishing uni chasing after that “perfect” existence, which i thought was a good job, man, and house. I had the man, and a year ago got the job, the house to follow shortly maybe, you see, i was virtually there, but somehow, after all the years of striving to get to these goals, i then discover this is not what happiness is, it was just conforming.

That relationship had since ended, and a new one begun. This is how i came across you. I am in a reltionship with a most wonderful indian man, which has now completely shaken my whole existance! It is early days for us, but being the precautious girl i am i am looking at the future “just in case” it all does work out, this is how i arrived at this post. If we are to eventually be together long-term it will mean one of us re-locating, and knowing how passionate he is about his family i cannot see that he would want to live here in the UK, and come to think of it i’m not even sure i would want to stay here. My only ties here are my parents (i am an only child) and my job – yeah that thing – the job that i strived for so long to get, cant say i love, but somehow struggle at the thought of letting go of – maybe this is just my pre-disposition to conform again.

I guess what i am saying is that i am scared, because i believe now, that conforming to what is generally expected of the average person here, is not what will make me happy, yet following my heart would mean one day taking a leap of faith giving up the comfort and secruty i have, for the unknown.

I dont quite know what my whole point is, but really wanted to share my thoughts.

Reply

Sharell May 1, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Hi Ria, welcome to the blog and thanks so much for sharing your situation. I know exactly how you must be feeling. It’s exciting and very scary (terrifying even) at the same time! Even though we, as people, don’t necessarily like something we still struggle to let it go because the thought of the alternative… such as not knowing where we might end up or what the future might hold (change!)… is a daunting possibility. It’s even more daunting when it involves stepping outside our comfort zones and going against what society expects of us. A lot of strength and determination is required. However, based on my experience, if you’re looking for something greater than the “external” factors in life, a move to India could be good for you. I can reassure you that I’ve been very well rewarded for my leap of faith…I think it’s what the “universe” wants from us. The courage to be bold and take chances to discover our destiny! If you’re heading in the right direction and have faith that everything will be taken care of, then it will be. If it turns out that it’s in fact not the right direction, and blocks arise, then at least you’ll have tried and found out… and no doubt learned and developed yourself A LOT in the process. So, either way, you win really. :-) Being an only child, I’m tied to my parents too, and miss them heaps. But I go home at least once a year, and they’re happy that I’m happy.

Reply

Ria June 27, 2011 at 1:25 am

Thank you for your reply Sharell, I am feeling so positive about my future right now! I still have ties here at the moment (damn those frivolous years of youth set free with a credit card!) but i am so confident that i will do whatever will make me happy in life, when the opportunity arrives.

It is still early days for our relationship, but already he is supportive and very understanding of how much of a leap i may be taking in the future should our relationship be for the long haul. When he tells me about his culture, it is definitely a culture shock, he can see my fears, but goes out of his way to understand them at the same time – i couldnt ask for more.

i find your blog so inspiring, i would love so much to be able to write and share my experiences with others as well, i’m not really much of a writer, but want to try so maybe that is a good start, my story is only just beginning, so maybe its time for me to get blogging =)

Reply

Sharell June 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Do start a blog! You’re embarking on an amazing life changing journey and writing about it will help others, as well as help you come into touch with some wonderful helpful people along the way.

I was fortunate that being an accountant gave me good money management skills… one benefit at least. ;-)

Reply

Ria June 30, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I definately will start blogging, trying to think of a name to call it at the moment.

I was having a conversation with my man this morning, (lol, i have always had an aversion to the word boyfriend!) he is from Orissa, he’s home at the moment, he started telling me about an Australian women who married an Oriya man, he said that it was a really big deal there and it was in the papers and everything (although i know he is sometimes prone to a little exaggeration) then curious i asked if they are living in Mumbai, he said yes, i asked if the lady is called Sharell, he asked his mum but they could not remember, is this pure coincidence or did he in fact start talking to me about you this morning?!

Reply

Sharell June 30, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Hi Ria, it was me!! And for once you weren’t on the receiving end of any Indian exaggeration. I was in the newspaper in Orissa. Here’s the article. It’s a really complimentary one (I got it translated).

http://www.whiteindianhousewife.com/2010/06/im-in-an-oriya-newspaper/

Note though, that they made up my husband’s name. It’s not Arush as stated in the article. ;-)

Great to hear that your man is from Orissa too!

Reply

Ria July 31, 2011 at 7:43 pm

That’s pretty cool – small world! So, I’ve got my blog up and running. . .www.meandindia.com it is in its fledgling stages but hey, I am right at the beginning of this journey! thank you for inspiring me!

Reply

Sharell July 31, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Congratulations, Ria! 8) You’re off to a great start. I’ll add a link to my blog, and send some readers your way. So glad to have inspired you.

Reply

Mohit gupta August 1, 2011 at 3:07 am

Hi Ria ,

Gud Luck !

On first instance the name of the blog looked like MEAN-INDIA and I thought what and then said to myself , it’s ok , India can be mean sometimes and everybody has right to express his view.

View , that was the problem.I viewed it incorrectly !

Me and India ! Good Name ;)
One reader confirmed but make sure you right only as good as Sharell writes about India. ;)

Reply

Ria August 3, 2011 at 12:06 am

I had a little giggle when I read this, it didn’t occur to me to look at the url as a whole, never mind hey.

I’m slightly shocked at people actually reading it! (thanks sharell!) I have been writing a private blog/diary for years, so it’s a bit scary now having one that others read!

:-)

Reply

Backwhereitallstarted June 17, 2011 at 12:25 am

Sharell,

Here’s another expat whose approach to Mumnbai seems to resonate with yours:
http://www.cnngo.com/mumbai/life/12-rules-expat-life-mumbai-373428?page=0,0

Cheers

Reply

Sharell June 17, 2011 at 10:40 am

Yaay! That’s always good to read about. They’re few and far between.

Reply

Kay June 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Hi Sharel!

I was frustrated with my boyfriend’s office for taking him for granted. He’s currently in the USA and wakes up in the morning and attends an office call thats night time in India and then goes to work and then attends a call at around 10 pm with his indian office again. He is employed in india and is in the USA temporarily but i was just wondering why Indians do donkey’s hours of work and was searching for “Indian Service sector professionals lifestyle” and came across your site.

I love your posts. I completely agree with you though I am Indian myself. Born in India, grew up in the middle east and my parents still live there, currently a student in India. I’ll be graduating soon and I am not sure whether I want to continue in India or go back to the Middle East.

The scene in the Middle East is terrible. If one calls India conservative, middle east is the extreme. Though I wouldn’t agree with people who make a mockery of life in the middle East, I must say life there is dull – like you described your life as an accountant in Australia- add on that there will be in the Gulf there is no freedom of speech, no public transport, no local politics or cinema or any social activity. Life is quite dead. My friends and I used to Joke- Life in the Gulf, is like locking yourself in a very, very , very …..clean room.

I have been a student in India for the past 5 years, and while I love my friends here, my love, and his family here, my own relatives here, I must admit, all through out I ve managed because I was just a student and I always had it in mind that someday I will go back home. I don’t have many of the material things I used to live with but I feel very fulfilled over here like yo u say.

But sometimes I feel homeless, because in the Gulf, as an expat, you will never get citizenship. I don’t belong to the Gulf, I am Indian but I’ve been there most of my life and I cannot think of not having a home to go back to in the Gulf, it will be like I lost my childhood. At the same time, when I live there also, I hate it there without my friends in India, and the colorful life here.

When I come to India, I enjoy it and hate it the same time. Here in chennai, you need to pay for everything. I don’t like the way its a fight with everyone from the milk man to the house maid to the auto -rickshaw guy- everyone bargains and clings to your neck… the traffic..the corruption and having to bribe everyone….To even pay our Utility bills we had to bribe the officer to make an invoice for us. Since he asked for bribe and we didn’t comply, he didn’t let us pay our bills and cut off our electricity for a week…He took the bribe and told us to pay our bill two days later.No one has a sense of time, there are pre-conceived notions about you being an NRI, ….so many things that it suffocates me….While my boyfriend takes care of most of it..(He’s Indian and brought up in India) ..there are certain things I cannot tell him and hurt him..like…especially the material things, the habits….etc…I obviously tell him softly eventually and he listens and if its something he can he immediately changes….. but I sometimes think I don’t belong anywhere…….neither the gulf nor here and i dont even know where i want to be.

Sorry if it was a very long comment. I just felt I related to your site.

@the someone who said this site was not necessary – Jalak I guess- yes sometimes we may go through some emotions, shrug it off and move on.but sometimes we sit online like this and try to see if we can relate to it and we feel happy there is someone…..Your comment was quite unwarranted.

Reply

Sharell June 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Hi Kay, welcome, and long comments are interesting, so no need to apologise. Thanks for sharing. :-) I’m really happy you can relate to what I’ve written. I find it does help to know people are going through similar things. It’s comforting. The Gulf seems like such an unnatural living environment. It must be hard for you there. Life can be confusing trying to find where we feel like we most belong, that’s for sure. I hope it all falls into place for you!

Reply

wikitheeks August 1, 2011 at 3:57 am

Kay, which Gulf country did you live in? What do people do there for fun and entertainment? Sounds like a boring life.

Reply

Mohit gupta August 3, 2011 at 4:15 am

She is probably talking about SAUDI ARABIA because she mentioned “NO CINEMA” as all other Middle Eastern Countries like UAE , QATAR , OMAN , BEHRAIN , KUWAIT are not that lacking in entertainment department.

Yes , you are not supposed to talk or protest against government but then there is nothing talk or protest as most of the people there are to earn good money and that objective gets fulfilled easily.

Also the best thing is that crime is almost non-existent and there is no income tax.Quality of life is good but without much alternatives for leisure.

Reply

megzy July 25, 2011 at 12:09 am

I will say that the journey of life revolves around giving up the attachments to the superficial so that the learning of the supernatural within us can be understood. Such superficiality is pride’s need for significance in a social construct. As we travel the journey pride realizes that significance comes from within not from without.

Reply

Sharell July 25, 2011 at 9:27 am

Megzy, you are full of such good wisdom and advice… about everything!! :-D

Reply

Ben Braxman August 15, 2011 at 1:26 am

Sharell,
In the true sense of the word I admire you. Your heart-mind are in the right place. You may want to tame your spirit.
In comparing your predicament with those of the Indians living in a Western country you have it easy. Relatively speaking it is more challenging for a colored person to live in a white country where one is always a second class citizen.
A friend in Canada told me that most of the time he goes for a walk in the park some people jeer (!) at him. Another friend was walking on a beach in southern Florida and a woman came along and said, “we don’t want you here.” There are many incidences like this I can share that cause deep wounds.
So, Sharell, stay where you are and settle down and have few babies! You will be happier in India.
A well wisher.

Reply

Sharell August 15, 2011 at 10:46 am

Thanks Ben! Having a kid is next on the agenda. ;-) And, I dare say you’re right, it will be a good distraction for me.

Reply

VS August 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I am so confused after reading this post of yours….at one point you seemed so sorted and the other hand questioning your own identity!!!!
Anyways! not for me to think but thanks for sharing again

Reply

Sharell शारेल August 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I’m a Pisces. The symbol is two fish swimming in the opposite directions! ;-)

Reply

Leave a Comment