Can Indian culture exist without Patriarchy?

I was at a party today where I met a woman of Indian origin, AB, born and raised in the city in the US I currently live in. She spoke like an American but could get very well along with all the Indians. I asked her how it was to be raised here and told her that her answers could help me raise my soon-to-be-5 year old daughter, who was starting Kindergarten. She said it was hard at school that had only 4 Indian kids altogether in the entire school. So, her parents made sure she had a good cultural base by taking her to the Indian temple every Sunday, (where she played with other Indian kids) and by helping her get certified in Indian dance and music. She told me how surprised her desi husband (who was born and raised in India) was at her Indianness, when they first met.I asked her whether she fit in better with the Indians than Americans, she said yes. I thought that was atypical of American Born Indians.

Then I realised she was wearing a mangalsutra. I asked her whether she wears it everyday. She replied even though her husband would prefer it that way, she doesn’t because it doesn’t go well with the everyday (non-Indian) outfits. (I told her that I don’t wear it everyday because I feel I am much more than my marital status. But I wear it on my short trip to India in front relatives of my in-laws because I don’t want them to taunt my in-laws, who have no problem about how I dress).

She told us that she is trying to learn her husband’s language so that she will be able to teach their kids both languages and converse better with her in-laws and extended family. Another Indian friend pointed out that his Dad wants his fiancee to learn their mother-tongue to which I asked, “Is that a fair expectation?” To this, the American-born’s desi husband replied, “It’s easier for us at this age to learn languages than it is for parents. It might not be fair, but that’s how it is”, which AB summarized as “Life is not fair. We just go along with the flow”. I felt a certain defiance in his tone about what I was implying but AB seemed cool about the whole thing. He added that his parents might know English but his extended family is not so good at it, so his wife needs to learn his language in order to communicate. I just commented that the effort to communicate should come from both sides, to which AB strongly nodded and her husband didn’t really seem to object.

I am pretty sure the husband is gonna tell AB how ‘aaj-jkal ki ladkiyaan’ of India (that is me) are versus how good she is in spite of being raised in the US. I am just concerned that injustice will be done to her under the disguise of Indian values and she might accept it because she wants to belong somewhere (somewhere being the Indian community).

Now, here are my questions to my readers:
1. Is it possible to imbibe Indian culture in kids living outside India without supporting patriarchy?
2. Do kids get confused more when the Indian parents outside India tell them they can not do certain things (eat beef, date) because they are Indians?
3. Do Indian kids still feel they are different (based on how they look or their parents Indian accent) from the others even if their parents never say that to them or raise them any differently?
3. How do you raise a confident child with a sense of identity and belonging?

As a non-religious-but-spiritual, patriarchy-hating feminist , I often wonder about these questions. Can you raise your child to be proud of the Indian culture but despise patriarchy?  Any inputs?

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Is Saif guilty?

Saif Ali Khan has been charged with assault on an NRI businessman and his father-in-law. Here is what Saif has to say:

http://youtu.be/U0VyQnRxizE or

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0VyQnRxizE

Do you think he is speaking the truth? I am no body language expert, but I have watched a TV-series called “Lie to Me” and testimonies of body language experts who analyze criminal behavior. Here’s my analysis of his body language.

What kind of expressions do you expect on the face of a person who is falsely implicated? Anger, Disbelief, Frustration

What expressions do you find on Saif’s face when he is listening to the questions? Anxiety. Some lip-biting going on. 

When asked whether he hit the elderly gentleman, his left arm flares out and right hand touches the nose. Two manipulators indicating a lie.

Watch his pace of talking. The pace is slow and constant throughout the interview until he says he was completely not expecting the plaintiff to file an FIR. Saif looks really irritated and shocked by it. His pace of talking has increased and this is one time he is speaking the truth. Another time when he speaks the truth is about the last publicity stunt question. See the disgust on his face when he answers that question. This disgust that was clearly missing while denying the “false” charges.  His disgust is also shown when he said, ‘Main bilkul nahi bhaaga hoon’. Look at the position of his hand, in the direction of the interviewer. This is also the truth. This hand wasn’t used this way for any other question.

When he says, ‘I have been agressed on’,  and ‘I should have set a better example’, he walks behind a couple of steps. That’s an indicator of lying. It’s as if his body wants to go away from  or negate what he just said.

While talking about library, he says the gentleman said, “Please keep quiet”adding on  “among using bad language”. Saif has forgotten “please” and bad language don’t go together.

The only time Saif looks relaxed is when asked about the  CC-TV footage. He spreads his legs, sways balance from one leg to another and stops at the center. That’s because he is well-aware there is no CC-TV footage or that it has been taken care of. He is not anxious at all for that question.

Let’s see how this case proceeds in court!! 

That’s my take. What do you think?

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What made me cringe?

My parents had been on a vacation to place X, in India (through an agency that conducts group tours) with my Dad’s school-friends and their wives and other families they didn’t know.

 My mom told me they were having a lot of fun with all the sightseeing and with all the jokes going around in their core group.

 There were some young girls, about 21 years of age, about whom my Dad’s friends joked. These jokes were flirtatious in nature. E.g. they would say, we want this side of the table so that we could get the “view” (view to see young girls). The rest of this core group (including my mom and the other wives) encouraged this silliness by laughing at such statements and the other wives were like, “We are so sure of our husbands. This is all fake, they will come back to us, eventually”

The young girls were, of course, oblivious to all this.

This did not go too well with me. What made me cringe?

1.       Is it because I felt the married men were behaving like single ones with no respect to their own marital status?

2.       Is it because the wives were not offended by their husbands’ behavior of openly showing attraction to other women?

3.       Is it because though men looked at the young girls, the women did NOT look at the young or old or any guy, perpetuating the ‘virility of man, virtue of woman’ stereotype?

4.       Is it because unmarried women were being the butt of jokes (or open admiration), and it reflected the Indian men mentality of “Single? Line maro. Married? Bhabhi samjho”?

5.       Is it because old men were admiring young girls younger than their own daughters (and not women their age), perpetuating that attractiveness is based on woman’s age while man’s age doesn’t matter?

6.       Is it because I felt that when women encourage such comments from men, they propagate a culture of “Boys will be boys” that eventually leads to everyone dismissing serious crimes like Eve-teasing as something silly?

Well, I think it is 3, 4, 5 and 6. I would have considered this behavior as a fair joke if the wives had said, “You don’t stand a chance with them. I might stand a chance with that hot and young/old guy, though”.

Would this situation make you cringe? Or would you just dismiss it?

[Updated]- Were you comfortable when Amitabh, a widower in the movie, was shown as playboy “Sexy Sam” in Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna, whereas Kirron Kher, a widow, was shown as the “nice mom next door”? When her son (Shah Rukh) sees her with Amitabh bachchan, he freaks out. Why? Wasn’t she single too?

-Were you comfortable when Reema and Alok Nath, as samdhi-samdhan, innocuously “flirted” in the movie Hum Aapke Hain Koun? (I remember my Dad was very uncomfortable with those scenes, whereas my mom and I were giggling. I can’t believe I loved HAHK then)

-Were you comfortable when Karan Johar asked Anil Kapoor in the talk-show “Koffee with Karan” to rate the actresses based on sex appeal, when all the actresses were his daughter, Sonam’s age? (Then he asked Sanjay Dutt the same question. In all other episodes, Sonam was always a candidate to be rated. But because Anil Kapoor was also on the hot-seat, Sonam was excluded from Sanjay’s question.)

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Why this guilt, guilt di?

 There is nothing wrong in living with in-laws. There is nothing wrong in having guests over and entertaining them. It becomes a problem ONLY when people who do not want to live with in-laws or entertain guests feel guilty about their preference. I have some case studies to share:

Case Study 1:

One day, a coworker of mine, CO told me he was going back to India and was wondering why his wife is really apprehensive about going back to India. He said that she felt the schools for his kids in India weren’t good enough or the kids couldn’t do ice-skating, skiing, etc.  She also felt he wouldn’t treat her in the same way in India.

“Are you going to live with your parents? ” , I asked.

“Yes, parents are the reason I am going back, so it doesn’t make sense to live separately”, he replied.

“Does your wife have a problem with that?”

“No, she doesn’t. She says it will be totally different, but she doesn’t oppose it. It will be different for me too; a different boss at work. But I will adjust and so will she.”

“I don’t think having a different boss at work is the same as having in-laws at home. As for me, at work, I have a work face that could change with different environment.  At home, I want to be myself.  Would you like to live with your wife’s parents?”

“I wouldn’t even like to live in the same building”. Thinking hard, he said, “If she doesn’t want to live my parents, why doesn’t she say so?”

“Because, our culture is very successful in inducing guilt in those women who feel that they need a place of their own. If a woman chooses to live separately, she is a home-breaker, not a heart-winner”.

I continued, “Your disposition is to take opinions from everybody. Your wife must be feeling that her opinion will not be valued. Did you make clear to her that going back to India was your decision, so to counter-balance, once you guys are in India, all decisions will be hers, nobody else’s? She will get to choose where she wants to live, which school your kids go to, what furniture you buy and what car you buy. She will live life as she wishes. Nobody gets to make a decision for her.”

Next day, he comes to me with a grin. “My wife is very happy. She is assured nothing much except her postal address will change.”

Why didn’t Co’s wife say what she wanted? Why this guilt, guilt di?

 

Case Study 2

T was a career girl whose parents came down to help her. They cooked food and took care of her kids while she and her husband continued growing in their career. This continued for a whole 4 years. Her parents had to leave because of other commitments. Husband’s Parents (HP) came down to help. They had to leave their hometown, their friend circle and even their part-time jobs.  But they were not healthy enough to do both, take care of the kids and cook. This put strain on T. She had to come back from work and cook for the entire family an entire meal because HP were used to having maids in their hometown do that for them. Since this city was in a different state from the hometown, they couldn’t get the maids do cook the cuisine they were used to.  Had T not had HP at her place, she would have made quick meals. Another issue was that HP did take care of the kids, but it was in a different manner than what T expected. She couldn’t tell them what to do, nor could she accept their way of upbringing.

Nobody was happy here. The husband couldn’t ask his parents to for the fear of sounding as if he is driving them out of his house. HP did not leave because they felt like abandoning their family in times of need.  They all felt guilty of the urge for change. This guilt wouldn’t let them say, “This isn’t working. Let’s change the set-up”.

Why this guilt, guilt di?

 

Case Study 3

V lived in a big city with her husband. They bought a 3 bedroom house.  Husband’s bro got a job in the same city. He and his wife moved in. The parents moved in too because both sons were in big city. Neither V nor her husband could say that the others need to look for a house for themselves, though they would have preferred it that way. They felt it was even wrong for them to have that preference.

Why this guilt, guilt di?

Case Study 4

Y lived in the US with her husband and a baby. Her husband’s cousin completed his education and was looking for a job. So, as long as he did not have the job, he stayed with them. That makes it 5 months. The couple left their baby in daycare and left for work. The Cousin did nothing towards helping the couple in cleaning or cooking and expected to be babied around. The couple used to order food from restaurants often, but this Cousin wouldn’t allow it, citing stomach problems. He wanted to be waited on hand and foot.  Y was frustrated. She fought with her husband all the time. Her husband wouldn’t put his foot down.  But what stopped her from setting ground rules at home for long-term visitors? It was this culture, “Atithi devo bhava” and the family ego: “Everyone is welcome to stay as long as they wish, and will be well taken care of”.  There was guilt when she felt that the Cousin had no right to dictate terms in her house.

Why this guilt, guilt di?

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Dr. Pepper 10

I was watching TV the other day when this ad popped up:

What were you thinking Dr. Pepper? How could you exclude 50% of the population from buying this drink?Explaining in equally sexist terms, weren’t you aware that, it is that 50% of the population that does the groceries?

What do you think about it? Here’s one article that shows what a flop-show this sexism turned out to be.

Are there any Indian ads that are sexist? What do you say to those people who argue that men and women are different and therefore need to be treated differently?

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Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

I often wonder about Aishwarya Rai Bachchan…

1.       She moved into her in-laws house as if that was the right thing to do. Amitabh says it was the couple’s decision. The couple, Abhi-Aish, who earns in millions, couldn’t even afford to buy a house of their own?  What value does she get by staying with her in-laws?

 2.       She took her husband’s last name (though she didn’t drop her own). She definitely gets a lot of value from that. A “Bachchan” means something to the Indian public.

 3.       In an interview with David Letterman in 2005, when asked if she lives with her parents and whether it is common for Indians to do so, she replied, “Yes, it is common for Indians to live with their parents and it is also common to not take appointments with them for dinner”. Now this was a defensive answer. What is wrong with taking appointments from parents? Don’t they have their own life? Or do you assume that at parents house you can stop by any time and they drop all their plans in order to accommodate you?

 4.       In an interview with Oprah in 2009, she stated that Abhishek and Aishwarya live with his parents, because it comes to Indians very naturally. Really? How about living with Aishwarya’s parents? Will it come naturally to Abhishek?

 5.       I also wonder why the Bachchans are making statements that encourage patriarchy. It was Amitabh (not Abhishek or Aishwarya) who carried the baby home from the hospital. It is Amitabh who is going to have a final say on Beti B’s name after Abhishek and Aishwarya shortlist the names (or so say the news articles).  

 Now, what kind of example are they setting for the millions of fans who look up to them? Are they doing this to have a favorable opinion from the masses that believe in patriarchy, because reputation matters to them professionally?  Do “middle class” values equal patriarchy?

 All said and done, she continued her career as if marriage had nothing to do with it. This is definitely a step above what her seniors did.

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Thank You Technology

There is a rotating stage show at Tomorrowland, Magic Kingdom, Disney World, called the Carousel of Progress. It was my favorite Disney attraction. It shows a typical American home in the 1900’s, 1920’s, 1940’s and present day. Here’s how it goes:

  •  The first act takes place during Valentine’s Day around the beginning of the 20th century, and features the family using the new innovations for that era, including gas lamps, a kitchen pump, a hand-cranked washing machine, and a gramophone.
  • The second act features devices such as radio, a sewing machine, and a homemade cooling device during the 4th of July in the 1920s
  • The third act, set around Halloween in the 1940s, has the family interacting with technologies such as an automatic dishwasher, television, and a homemade paint mixing system.
  • The final act is set around Christmas and depicts the family interacting with the technology of the present day. It shows the home in the first decade of the 21st century with high-definition television, virtual reality games, voice activated appliances, and other recent innovations.”

[Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carousel_of_Progress ]

What strikes me most is not just the technological progress, but what impact it made on society. In all scenes except the last one, the man is sitting on a chair talking to the audience while his wife is doing house work in other rooms of the house. In the last scene (that had a 60 year leap from the last one), the house had an “open floor plan“(the living room, kitchen, dining room are not separate rooms but parts of an open space). And here’s what I see: The wife using a laptop in a business outfit, the husband cooking in the kitchen, the grandson and the grandma playing virtual reality games, the granddaughter playing with her ski-boots and the granddad sitting in the living area.

Speaks volumes, right? I couldn’t help but smile. Thank you technology, you have blurred the gender roles. If this could happen in America, India should not be far off. Remember, this was in Tomorrowland, not Fantasyland. It’s an assurance to us, feminists, that eradication of gender roles that we fight for everyday, in not a myth. It’s not an alternate lifestyle but THE LIFESTYLE of the 21st century.

(Here are some pictures of the last act I found on the Internet. The wife is cropped but her laptop is visible in the right: http://www.flickr.com/photos/disneyworldsecets/2770782298/ http://touringplans.com/assets/attractions/mk45/8.JPG?1290673007)

 

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