Recently, a reader wrote to me upset over the way her Indian boyfriend’s family communicated. She was particularly bothered by how her boyfriend and his family continue to speak in their own language, which she can’t understand, in front of her. She wanted to know how I coped with something like that, and suggested I write a blog post about it.
Here’s a summary of my complicated situation. While my husband’s parents can’t speak English, his siblings all can. The family also speaks their native language, Oriya. This gives rise to all of the following happening when I’m present. My mother in law will usually speak to her children in Oriya and to me in Hindi. A conversation where everyone is involved will usually be in Hindi. The children (my husband and his siblings) will usually speak amongst themselves in Hindi. Everyone who speaks English will usually speak to me in English. My father in law did attempt to speak to me in English once, and my sister in law laughed at him when he got it all wrong.
As you can probably imagine, it gets very confusing for me. It’s a big family, and when everyone gets together there’s a lot of talking going on all at once. Sometimes I just sit back in a daze.
Something that it’s made me realise, is how much we unconsciously rely on understanding what’s being said and what’s going on around us in order to feel comfortable. There can be conversations taking place that I know don’t involve me, and are irrelevant to me, but I want to understand them anyway. The fact that I don’t understand them makes me feel kind of left out at times — and even a bit paranoid. [click to continue…]
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I like to drink wine. It’s been my preferred drink since my university days. Back then, I used to drink cheap wine that comes in casks of one to four litres. I didn’t really care what variety it was. Over the years, my taste became more discerning. My favourite type of wine is now an oakey, buttery, chardonnay. Wineries in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula regions of Victoria produce some delightful ones, as do wineries in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.
When I came to India over five years ago I got an unpleasant shock. Wine was overpriced and underappreciated. In conversation, a young business school student from a very good family told me about the imported vodka and whiskey he was fortunate enough drink. I was unimpressed. “Well, what do you think I should be drinking to make a good impression on people?” he asked me. “A fine wine of course,” I told him. He took my advice and actually thanked me later.
Many people are surprised to find out that India has its own vineyards and a rapidly growing wine industry. However, wine still remains a drink for the elite. In fact, it’s hardly even recognised as alcohol here. [click to continue…]
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How can you get 1 lakh rupees in cash, 36,000 rupees to cover your medical expenses, AND a government job in India? Simple! Just cut off your tongue if the political party that you support wins the election.
I normally ignore anything to do with politics as it only leaves me shaking my head in disbelief and frustration, but this was just too bizarre. A 32 year old woman from Tamil Nadu vowed to sever her tongue if the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party was elected to power. Sure enough, when the party did win, she went to a temple and cut it off. Doctors apparently failed to reattach it, despite Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa intervening and rushing her to a private hospital to be treated. The Chief Minister then compensated, or should we say rewarded, the woman with money and a job in a canteen for her efforts.
My first thought was how ridiculous! Surely, this will just encourage other acts of self harm. I’m not alone in thinking this either as the act has attracted widespread criticism from a human rights campaigner.
Unfortunately, it seems acts of self harm aren’t isolated incidents in Tamil Nadu politics. It’s shockingly been going on for the past four decades, since the anti-Hindi agitations in 1965. Many cadres resorted to suicide to add impetus to their protests then. In return, political parties made them out to be martyrs. Even today, their families still continue receive state pensions.
The last time someone cut off their tongue was in 2002, in support of the same political party. It was the chief’s 54th birthday, and a tea shop vendor decided to celebrate it by severing his tongue and offering it at the Tirupathi temple.
Shame he didn’t wrap it up with a ribbon and offer it as a gift to the chief instead!
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Quite a while ago, I wrote about the unfortunate culture shock experience that resulted when a “brother” from Kerala, unaccustomed to the ways of the western world, came to stay at my house in Melbourne for a while.
But what happens in Kerala when people see a white person, up close, for the first time? My friend Barnaby, who lives there, has written an amusing article titled Saip Shock about it over at the NRI.
I’ve been to and lived in quite a few places in India where a white person is a strange novelty. I’ve been photographed, dragged aside to meet every visiting family member, and endlessly questioned and examined. But, I’ve NEVER had the hair on my arms stroked and called soft. Well maybe that’s because I’m now a Mumbai-wali and get it all waxed off, yaar!
Note: the above photo has been (unskillfully) digitally edited by me in a lighthearted manner. (Sorry Barnaby, I’m sure you’re not THAT much of an attraction!).
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Time has really flown. I can’t believe my nephew recently turned two! He’s gone from a tiny baby, to a nine month old soon-to-be toddler, to a big boy who’s had his mundan ceremony (this first haircut, in which the child’s head is shaved by a pandit, is believed to get rid of any negativity from the child’s past life). Next will no doubt come the transformation into chota rakshash (little monster) when the “terrible twos” set in.
My in-laws threw what was quite a rocking birthday bash on their terrace. There was food, a DJ, dancing… and party games that all the guests participated in. I found myself drawn into a game of Musical Chairs. It was unavoidable. Children, parents, and even grandparents were taking part in it. After a few moments of dismay, I began laughing and having fun along with everyone else. It suddenly struck me that I was part of another joyous and uninhibited India moment, something that I’d never get to experience back home. People were having so much fun together, with childlike abandon. In contrast, back home the adults would be sitting sedately in a corner, downing beers and wine, and complaining about the loud music. I really cherish these unexpected ways that India uplifts my spirit and is so nourishing for me.
Cutting and eating the cake.
Happy days, with my big sisters in law. Love everyone's smiles!
(A pretty sari shot to compensate for the ugliness of my monkey bite in the last post)!
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