Monday, December 31, 2012

Nirbhaya: The Rape Of A Nation

She didn't ask to be a victim. She didn't ask to be a hero. She was simply trying to get home. Now she's in her eternal home, and the nation is in an uproar.

As India lays the girl they've nick-named Nirbhaya to rest this week, protesters call for the government to take action. Rather than the government opening their doors and ears to the demands of a public that is calling for stricter punishment for rapists, they are instead launching tear gas and turning water canons on the angry crowds. Section 144 of the IPC has been invoked, which prevents a gathering of more then 5 people within the 34 km stretch that makes up the Delhi district. Seven metro stations were closed near India gate, in an attempt to prevent people from being able to gather near the country's Parliament building, the Presidents home, and the Prime Ministers office.
Schools across the country are discussing whether they should change their uniforms for girls, who currently wear skirts. The thought is that by dressing them in pants, it will help prevent harassment from the male classmates. There's also talk of invoking a curfew for females, preventing them from being out past 10pm and putting restrictions on their evening public transportation options to help prevent future instances of "eve teasing" and rape.
It's said in Delhi that a rape is reported every 18 hours. It seems that before any investigation can begin, the local magistrate must be called and give the order for any forensic tests to begin, or for the accused to be questioned. Well, magistrates sleep at night. So, if a girl comes to the hospital at 11pm, a victim of rape, she will literally have to sit in her torn, blood stained clothing all night, until the magistrate can be phoned in the morning after he wakes up, hear the details of the accusation, and order the examination of the girl and arrest of the accused. Forensic tests alone will take an average of 6-8 months before the results are available due to a backlog at the labs that perform this kind of work.
With the population of Delhi surpassing 20 million in 2012, a rape is reported there every 18 hours on average. How many rapes are occurring across India on any given day? How many are going unreported? Keep in mind, when you go to the police to report any crime, you have to share the details with them, and gain their permission to file a formal complaint. If they don't feel your case is worthy of being documented, they'll send you off and you'll never have a chance of gaining any legal justice.
The public is demanding the 6 men accused in the Nirbhaya case be hanged. Will that bring her back to life? No. Will it serve as a deterrent for potential rapists? I don't believe so. What India needs to see is a shift in mindset. A shift that places more value on women in society. A mindset that doesn't permit dowry killings, backstreet abortions for women who discover (illegally because ultrasounds for gender determination are against the law) they are carrying female babies,  or rapes committed out of revenge.
While the government does have a huge responsibility in this case, the change needs to start from the ground level. Parents need to teach their male children the fundamental differences between right and wrong. I don't believe any man can ever comprehend all he strips a woman from when he commits rape. It's a physical, emotional, and psychological injustice. It will impact EVERY SINGLE relationship she has and will have for the rest of her life. In India it can prevent a woman from ever marrying. It can cause her to be cast out from her family, from her village, from those she's loved and trusted her entire life. The blame is put on her. The same is borne by the entire family and the community. The shame of the victim is prevalent, while the actions of the criminal often go unpunished. These men have mothers. They have sisters. They need to be taught to respect them, to place the same level of value on them as they do their fathers and their brothers. When will they recognize that every woman they pass on the street is someones sister, someones mother, someones daughter.
Until women have the ability to practice the same educational opportunities as men, the same career opportunities as men, the ability to exercise the same day to day rights as men, there is no hope for a future on any level. While the government claims they're trying to implement changes to protect women, what they are in fact doing is stripping women of their basic freedoms. This continued oppression simply promotes the behavior that the public is demanding a change to. All of this, in the world's largest democracy...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Theives: A Dime A Dozen

Recently I posted about my maid stealing from me. While working to let the earring incident go, a thief struck again. This time it wasn't my maid, it was a well known local beggar, whom we regularly give to.
Last Saturday I was getting ready to go to a charity event. I was in the bedroom putting the finishing touches on the day's look and my husband was laying on the bed and we were talking. We had our front door pushed closed, but not latched. Suddenly it burst open and I looked out into the hall but didn't see anyone. My husband got up from the bed and went outside to see if anyone was there. He saw this local beggar standing outside our gate, and in usual form, gave him some money. Strangely, the beggar didn't beg for more, like he always does. He just took what my husband gave him and off he went. About 15 minutes later as I was taking a quick inventory of my purse, I realized my wallet was missing.
So we called our watchman who said he saw the beggar push our door open and asked him what he was doing. The beggar told him that we were sleeping, so he was leaving. My husband and watchman then jumped on my husband bike and went to search the neighborhood for him. When they didn't have luck, we headed to the police station to file a report.
In true Indian police fashion, the first 15 mins or so of our visit was spent getting scolded by the police for leaving the wallet on the table, not latching the door, etc. My husband tried to explain to them how our building was layed out and that the beggar had to come in the gate, up the stairs, etc. to get to our place. Finally, after a lot of convincing, the police allowed me to fill out a report. This consisted basically of me writing a letter to the police chief on a blank (not even lined) piece of paper explaining what happened and asking for his assistance. Lame.
So after I filled out the "report" to their satisfaction, my husband again had to meet the inspector. He convinced them to come to our flat and see the layout so they could better understand that it wasn't so easy for the beggar to get inside. Finally the inspector agreed and two officers followed us home.
On the way we met up with one of the beggars friends. The police questioned him, but he wouldn't give up the identity of his friend, out of fear for his own family. I explained I didn't care about the cash that was in the wallet, but if he could please return the cards, we could consider the matter closed. The contents of the wallet included my US bank card, US credit card, Indian Salary Card, PAN card, Social Security Card, US Drivers license, all of my loyalty cards, my rs5 bill collection, immunization records, and a few other things.....
Once the police saw our flat, they understood that a bit of an effort had to be made on the part of the beggar to get his hands on my wallet. Even considering that, they scolded the watchman with a message to the owner that better watch should be taken over the property. They assured us they would do their best to apprehend the guy, and away they went.
My husband then took me out to buy a new wallet which really seemed unnecessary considering I had NOTHING to put in it.
So naturally nothings happened in the last week, other then me trying to get all of my cards replaced. So far only my salary card has been received, but I am fighting with the bank over the PIN so as of yet, I have no access to cash. I couldn't even reorder my PAN and Drivers License because you have to pay for it and I don't have an active credit or debit card to bill it to. When the delivery guy came to drop off my new salary card, I had to really convince him it was me since I have no ID proof.
Today my husband took a drive around the neighborhood to see if he could spot the guy. He went back to the police station who advised him of the area the guy stays in. My husband spoke to some shop owners in the area, who advised him the guy's a big time thief and drug user. They also told him he hangs around the cricket ground near the masjid my husband goes to, so he went there and talked to the Imam. Thankfully everyone he met today was just as eager to get this guy caught as we are and they all took his number so they could notify him if they saw the guy.
At this point, any sympathy I had for him (thinking he was just desperate and maybe stealing to feed his kids) is completely gone and I've pretty much decided that I won't be dishing out a single rupee to a single beggar. EVER. AGAIN.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Single White Female

While co-habitation is not illegal in India, it remains a social taboo. It's becoming more common in some of the larger cities. Often times, young people are away from their native places for employment purposes and can face some sticker shock when finding a flat to rent. While hostels are common, and gender segregated, many would prefer to rent a flat so that they can chose who they room with, have their own kitchens, and generally more privacy.
While this may be coming more common, women living alone is not. While it's fine for them to stay in ladies hostels, rent apartments in groups, or stay with family, securing your own flat as an independent female is met with suspicion.
When negotiating the terms of our current flat, my now husband had a lot of explaining to do.  At the time we signed our lease, we were not married, and couldn't provide a wedding date. Just the same, the landlord wrote up the lease as "Aimee, WIFE OF, Zia." You see, when signing legal documents, women are either listed as "WIFE OF" or "DAUGHTER OF." They are not their own independent entities.
My bank recently called me trying to sell me a credit card. I bit. I gave them the application information and a few days later someone from the bank called me regarding my application. They wanted to speak to my father in order to gain his permission for me to get the credit card. I explained I was 33 years old, had been making my own financial decisions for over a decade and I wasn't about to provide my father's contact information so the Indian bank could harass him for permission for me to secure a credit line. I told them to cancel the application.
Previously, we had two teachers from Spain living in our building. They were perfectly friendly individuals. They went to work and they went out on the weekends. They might have had a party or two, but for the most part, were considerate neighbors. A few months ago they moved out but come back to visit often. One of them decided she'd like to move back into the building, but she wanted to live alone. She explained this to the landlord and also asked that the landlord wave a few of the conditions in the lease, namely the landlord's right to inspect the flat at any time, and the option to paint the walls. The girl even offered additional monthly rent to sweeten the deal.
The landlord was hesitant and the girl continued to beg. This went on daily for over a week. The two would sit on my balcony (that's another post) and try and come to an agreement on the lease terms. The landlord finally convinced the girl that she would not rent to her and that was the end of it. When talking to the landlord, I came to learn that the real reason the landlord wouldn't rent to her, was the assumption that a single girl staying alone and refusing to allow the landlord access to the apartment at any time, lead the landlord to believe that she was going to start a prostitution business. How that conclusion was made is beyond me. This particular girl had and has had a steady boyfriend since coming here and never had any male visitors apart from that.
It's so strange to me that Indian society is suspicious over a woman wanting to live alone. My teacher friend did find a landlord that would rent to her and only her, and she loves the place because she got what she wanted with free reign to paint the walls and hang pictures (we can't do that either). But I also hate the requirement that a woman has to be a "WIFE OF" or "DAUGHTER OF" in order to sign a lease, fill out an application for a cell phone, or open a bank account. Currently my dad's name is on my PAN card (kind of like a social security card, it's used for tax identification purposes).
When will women stand up and demand their independence? When will it be socially acceptable to be a self supporting female? A woman shouldn't have to be handed directly from her father to her husband. When will she require more - more of society and more of herself?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weight Watchers

One thing Indians are never afraid to comment on is your weight. Not their weight. Yours. As in: Mine.
Before visiting India the first time in 2010, I went Paleo and lost like 40 pounds, so that's good. But of course, I had a life prior to the weight loss, and photos of that life are posted on Facebook. Two years later, people still feel the need to comment on that. Not like you'd hear in the US "Hey, have you lost weight? You look great!" but more like "Hey, I saw your photos on Facebook. You used to be really FAT!"
But I've heard so many other comments as well. Even since moving here in 2011, people are convinced I've lost weight (when in fact I've gained and nowyouknow). I haven't been the to gym in almost two years and thanks to genetics, pretty much everything I've gained has divvied itself up between my face and my belly. A while back I was chatting with two co-workers, who again commented that since I've come India I've lost weight, but added "You still have your belly though. You'll have that after marriage."
Recently I took a two month leave from work following surgery. I basically sat home and ate while I was recovering and since we all know the geography of my weight gain, it showed. While I was sure people would notice, I failed to realize/recognize/remember how many people would feel the need to comment on it. My favorite comment of all, came from a peer, who within five minutes of seeing me after almost 8 weeks, looked me up and down and simply said "Wow. You got FAT!"
I couldn't argue. But at least I've heard enough comments about my figure to take it in stride.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Love Versus Arranged Marriage

Arranged marriage is still alive and well in India. Since coming here, I've seen some really lovely matches, and I've seen some not so lovely matches. One even ended in divorce within the first year of marriage.

When I first met my now husband, he asked me if I was interested in a love or arranged marriage.  I told him that there are no arranged marriages in the US and that for most couples you could call it a "love" marriage most days of the week. I asked him which set of couples were more likely to get divorced. He said that couples who were in a love marriage were more likely to get divorced. I asked him if that was because parents were better at finding a suitable mate for their children. He explained that no, that wasn't the case, but a child wouldn't disgrace their family by ending an arranged marriage in divorce.

I couldn't imagine the kind of pressure that would put on a young son or daughter. Not only do they have no say in who their parents match them up with, but in many cases, never even meet their future spouse prior to the day of their wedding. Furthermore, it's traditional for the bride to move in with her husband's parents and extended family post marriage. Now you have a virgin girl, who's married to a stranger and expected to share a bed with him, who's surrounded by strangers, who have their own set of house rules and routines. She's expected to learn and adhere to those, while having little contact with her own family during that time. I can't imagine having no one to talk to during that intense period of adjustment. No option of just getting away for a while.

That's not to say the transition will be a smooth one and that the new wife will bow down to her mother in laws wishes without a fight. I've witnessed firsthand some pretty argumentative new wives who will really make things difficult for the new family. Who will buck everything said to them in their new house, and make the transition, if you can call it that, as painful for everyone as possible. I've witnessed one bride even run away, returning to her parents after not being able to get settled in her in law's home.

On the other hand, I've witnessed some really beautiful couples embrace their marriage relationship. I've seen wives, that prior to marriage, were very hot tempered, find amazing levels of patience in their new roles. They've embraced the rituals in their new home and found a balance between the husband and son relationship. It's often said, that married or not, a man's first priority is always his mother. I've seen this in probably 100% of cases. I've also seen men who ran wild before marriage, immediately start focusing on their career and become upstanding providers once they've gotten married.
In my husbands family, there are six children. Three of them have arranged marriages, two have love marriages (including ours) and one has a hybrid of the two.
I'm very fortunate in my personal situation. My in laws have accepted me from day one. If there's ever been concern over my character, how I would support their son, or how our marriage would be, it's never been expressed. Secondly, we don't live with the in laws. Their home is on the other side of the city, and rather then face 3.5 hours of commuting daily, my husband and I opted to take our own flat, on the other side of the city in order to be closer to the office and have more of our already limited time daily to spend with one another. Third, because I am earning, my mother in laws household expectations of me are lean, at best. While I do laundry (by hand), and basic daily tasks around the house, I don't cook. I've never had an interest in cooking, so we have someone come in daily and do some light cleaning as well as prepare food for us. For the most part, we eat at the office though so I'm spared from having to spend countless hours in the kitchen preparing Indian dishes for my husband. Additionally, because I spend so many hours a week at the office, I get spoiled when we visit the in laws. I'm spared from any household or cooking chores and I get waited on all day and told to relax, nap, etc after such a long stressful week. Finally, and most importantly, my husband balances his roles as a son and husband impeccably. For the most part his mother is not demanding, and when he does need to take a family related decision, I step out of it, keep quiet, and respect the outcome.
One concept I've recently been struggling with, however, is whether arranged marriages are more respected in Indian society then love marriages. I feel as though some people don't take our relationship seriously. Now, that could be because I'm a foreigner, or because I'm working outside the home, or because we don't live with my in laws, or because I don't speak Hindi. It could be for many reasons, however this is what I've experienced as of late. My husband's youngest sister was recently married. Her new in laws told her they'd find a suitable match for my husband. My sister in law informed them he had a love marriage and there was no need. They stated that was fine, they'd still look out for a good match for him. This conversation was carried over the other day while my husband was on the phone with them. He again told them he was already married, to which they replied, that was fine, they'd still look into finding a match for him. All the while I'm like WTF? Who are these idiots and how dare they step on the toes of my marriage? Thankfully they live abroad so I don't have to deal with them regularly.
If you ask a young Indian what their hopes for the future are, they'll tell you they hope to have a love turned arranged marriage. Essentially, they want to chose their spouse, and have their parents blessing. When they ask me what kind of marriage we have, and I tell them it's a love marriage, they will literally clap with joy and say they hope one day they could be so fortunate. If you ask the older generation, however, they'll tell you something different, though not overtly. One auntie in particular, who has several unmarried (albeit young) nieces and has had her eye on my husband for quite some time, always kind of gives me scowl when we meet. Followed by a comment that I better take good care of "her boy." When the older generation meets me and finds out we do live on our own, I don't speak Hindi, and I don't cook, and ::gasp:: work outside the home, the response is less then supportive. Granted they won't come out and say it, but I have to think they're wondering where my husband dug up this foreign harlot versus allowing his family to find him a nice Indian girl to marry. Thankfully my sister in laws are always there to support me and mom and dad are never far behind.

I asked someone once, what do people do, if they're in love with someone, yet their parents find a match in someone else for them. The answer was simple: They have an affair. I know more cheating men then I can count on my fingers and toes. Granted you don't discuss such things with these men, but everyone knows it. It's like the elephant in the room. Everyone knows it's there, but no one addresses it. Where is the sanctity of marriage? Indians are expected to be good boys and girls and marry the person of their parents' dreams, yet run around behind everyone's back in order to find happiness? It seems that the family unit goes only as far as the husband providing for the family, and the wife putting a hot meal on the table three times per day. Beyond that, it's a sham. Sure, not in all cases. Like I said, I've met some really lovely couples who've had arranged marriages and settled into things nicely. But that seems to be the exception rather then the norm.
I have to wonder, if India wants to consider themselves progressive, does that developing future hold a place for arranged marriage? Can India really move forward while holding onto such traditions?
What do you think? Post your comments below.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Home Help. Or Hurt?

With the exception of clothing, I prefer quality over quantity. I believe you're better off spending more for something better, rather then getting something cheap, just to pacify yourself for the time being, then later end up buying what you originally wanted, thus spending more in the long run and being temporarily stuck with something you didn't really want, instead of enjoying something better from the start. Okay that was a run-on sentence.
Onto today's dilemma. My maid is stealing from me. The first thing I noticed was a hair clip. I didn't actually realize it was missing until I saw her wearing it. It's nothing special, just a clear alligator clip. I know it's mine because it was one of only three that I had: one black, one brown, and one clear. It was one I brought from the US, so the fact that it's lasted me almost two years, is no mistake. The quality is excellent even though it's constructed of made in China plastic. When I saw her wearing it, I kind of did a double take, then went and checked my dressing table, where it was missing from.
I could care less, really, about the clip. It's the principle of the thing. If she needed hair clips, I'd happily buy her some. A dozen, if she wanted. Just don't take my stuff. Strangely enough, she noticed that I noticed it, and stopped wearing it.
This week she knocked on my door and asked me if I had an earring back she could have since the one attached to her earring was loose and she was afraid of losing the earring. I asked her for the earring so I could bring it inside and find a suitable match for it. Upon looking at the earring I realized why she was afraid of losing it. It was a diamond and gold star shaped stud, that I purchased at JC Penney several years ago. To have the nerve to take it, and come back and ask me for a back for it, really has my head spinning.
I told my husband about it, but neither of us have confronted her. On one hand, I don't want her to feel bad, but on the other hand, I'm really irritated. We pay her a significant amount (by Indian standards) for what is essentially substandard work, by my account. Anytime they've asked, we've given them extra money, paid half their kids school fees for this year, plus always give them extra during Eid as part of the Zakat requirement.
Getting back to my opening paragraph: I don't think I'd care if she had taken something ultra cheap, but she's taking the good stuff! Either way it's unacceptable because she shouldn't be taking ANYTHING but culturally, I'm not sure of the appropriate way to confront her and not make her feel bad (or vindictive which might lead her to take more stuff, or to accidentally drop a piece of my fine china while cleaning the kitchen) and since we don't speak the same language I don't want to have anything get lost in translation, which would cause us to have to revisit the topic.
I'm open to advice, especially those of you married to, or living in India, on how to handle the situation. Please share in the comments below.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Say Yes To The Dress

As I promised in my previous Post "What Not To Wear" I was gonna wow 'em at my sister in law's wedding with a fab dress to make up for wearing cotton ::gasp:: to the wedding date setting "function." My husband took me shopping yesterday and I found two (okay I found a lot more, but I decided on two) fantastic dresses, one for the wedding and one for the reception. Both are anarkali styles which is a loose fitting A-line type that falls just below the knee, with curridar bottoms.  They both have great bead work on them and fancy sleeve work thanks to the creativity of the tailor who had to improvise when she measured my neanderthal length arms. One is bright red, which is a traditional wedding function approved color, and the other is a bright pink with a full swirl of bead and stone work from tip to toe. I thought immediately of my sister in law (the one that's about to get married) when I saw it because she loves brightly colored fabrics and anarkali dresses are one of her favorite styles. I was happy. My husband was happy. I apologized to him  for all the dress drama I'd created over the past few days and thanked him profusely for taking me shopping. We headed home with our purchases with a plan to accessorize the dresses the following day after I had to time to evaluate my current shoe/jewelry/purse/hair clip inventory.
Once we reached home, it was a fashion parade. I again modeled the dresses for my husband. Loving the fit, the color, the bead work. I even did a few spins to see how they flared. I was getting in touch with the Charminar princess within.
I called my sister in law to tell her about the purchases. I described the dresses to her and told her that she could chose which one I'd wear to the wedding and which to the reception. To which she replied........."You're not wearing your khada dupatta" (read: wedding dress)? I told her I would be happy to wear whatever she thought was best (see, I'm learning). She said that the only time a bride gets to wear her khada dupatta after her own wedding is for the subsequent weddings of immediate family members, like siblings and maybe cousins. She thought it would be best to wear it so I had the chance once more before it had to be shoved in a closet forever. She said she'd confirm with the eldest sister in law and let me know. Before hanging up, she reminded me that when I'm packing for the week we're spending at the in laws in preparation for the wedding, I should make sure I don't pack any cotton dresses. Got it.
So I called Didi (the eldest sister in law). She informed me that not only was I to wear my khada dupatta for the wedding, but I was to wear my ghagra to the reception as well. My ghagra was my reception dress. It seems I have ZERO need or use for the dresses we so triumphantly bought. When I told my husband what they both said, he howled with laughter.  
While I know there will be other functions, these were purchases specifically made with this wedding in mind and after so much fuss, I had my heart set on wearing them. I guess we can skip accessory shopping, at least for today. I can accessorize with my own wedding ensemble. Ahh well what the hell. I love my khada dupatta and my 6 pound ghagra is out of this world. It's a cultural phenomenon that a woman would get to wear her wedding dress(es) more than once and I'm happy to have the chance.
Double Anarkali I won't be wearing to the wedding
Pink Anarkali I won't be wearing to the reception


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Not To Wear

Who: In laws and sister in law's future in laws
What: Setting the date for my sister in laws wedding
When: Sunday in Mid October
Where: In laws house
What not to wear: What I was wearing

Rewind to Saturday. My husband and I were discussing what time we should leave the next morning to go to his parents house, and how we were going to get there seeing as his bike is in the shop. We decided we'd leave early enough to get there in time to enjoy breakfast prepared by his mother. We decided we'd try to get a sharing cab for part of the distance and take an auto the remaining distance. We determined that we'd need to get some change for the auto, and we discussed how auto rates were increasing. Then he dropped the bombshell question "What are you going to wear?"

We spend most Sundays at his parents house. It usually involves food preparation, some cleaning, errand running, napping. Also their house is under construction so things are a bit dirty while the workers are there. Even without construction going on, they live in what would be considered the country, so the air's a bit dustier there. Oh and my 1 year old nephew prefers running around sans diaper. You never know when he might spring a leak. Basically what I'm saying is, I wear something comfortable, that I can keep relatively clean and that will wash up easily if I do get it dirty. What do you mean, what am I going to wear?

So why should I spend time thinking what I'll wear on what I thought was just another Sunday? It seems my sister in law's future in laws were going to be there to set the date for the wedding. I knew I wouldn't be part of the discussion. I don't know her future in laws. After the wedding I'm sure I'll never see her in laws again. To be perfectly honest, I didn't feel the need to make any sort of impression on them.

I've only been here a year and half and have acquired well over 200 new outfits since coming (more than 60 of which were procured in February of this year when we got married). They are basically new and all of them are very nice. My cotton salwar suits all have embroidery and most include some metallic stitching. That's fancy, right? My silk suits were impeccably tailored and every time I wear one, I get compliments. Nothing to worry about, right? Except I knew better. I told my husband on Saturday he better pick a dress for me because I didn't want his eldest sister posing the "Is that what you're wearing? Okay, seriously, what dress did you bring along?" Okay so she says it nicer then that, but that's what my ears hear. As I've never attended a "marriage date setting function" before, I had no idea what was appropriate.

As of late Saturday night, while this discussion was going on, I had only one dressed pressed. It was a cotton black and white paisley print top, with burgundy flowers embroidered at the bottom hem, along with plain black salwar bottoms. I set aside burgundy bangles, earrings, a black studded watch, and instead of the silk printed dupatta that came with the dress, I picked out a nice black cotton one that has multicolored beaded trim. Granted, it's one of my oldest dresses, but it's comfortable, and I think it looks really nice. It's understated and conservative, like me. At that point, my husband was playing it smart, and said if I would be comfortable in that dress, then I should wear it. I chose to ignore the message hidden between the lines.

Sunday morning we arrived at the in laws. The ladies were in a frenzy preparing lunch and cleaning in anticipation for the guests to arrive. Their maid, who's also named Lakshmi, had her own function to attend that day so she couldn't come to help out which added an additional layer of stress. My father in law and husband went to pick up breakfast for everyone, I helped with a few preparations then when no one would give me any other work to do, accompanied my brother in law to his dental clinic for the morning. Shortly after we arrived at the clinic, we got the call that the guests had arrived and we should hurry back home.

As soon as we arrived home from the clinic, my eldest sister in law drags me into a bedroom and says "Okay quick, where's the dress you brought?" I told her what I was wearing was all I brought. "You don't have another dress?" She was surprised. I said "No. This is all I brought." and in my head was telling my husband "I TOLD YOU SO!" So I freshened up, reapplied my makeup, jewelry, and made my appearance with the rest of the family.

I maybe said ten words to the guests and otherwise sat there quietly, as everyone made preparations for the wedding and reception. After the guests left, the youngest sister in law, the one getting married, says, ever so gently "You never know when functions like this will happen. You should keep a party dress here just in case."

I guess that might be true. But define "Function?"

Quite honestly, setting a date for a wedding could have been handled via a phone call, rather then 5 people plus a driver, cramming into a compact car and driving five hours each way. Essentially it was a business transaction as it involved the paying of dowry. Does the money not spend as well since Chota Bobbi (that's me) wasn't wearing a bedazzled and sequined get up? Does it set a bad example or put the family in a negative light because unlike everyone else, I wasn't putting on the show? All these encounters are is a big phony display of nice. Everyone puts on a fake friendly smile, displays their best behavior, and agrees to everything everyone else says. It's a sham. Why waste a good dress on it?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Subtitles and Censorship

The first time I visited India, I was surprised to see English television shows and movies with English subtitles. It seemed to me that if you were going to benefit from subtitles, then they should be in your native language. It would have made more sense to see them in Hindi or Telugu. When I asked why this was, it was simply explained that in some scenes, the actors speak very fast, or use words Indian's aren't familiar with, so have the option to read the script helped them understand the dialogue.
I also realized that having the subtitles displayed allows for a certain degree of censorship. Of course the normal cuss words are changed in the subtitles. Some apparently don't have an alternative, so they are just ***** in the subtitle. Even if in the dialogue the actor says the swear word, and you hear the swear word, it will still be replaced in the subtitle.
Some of what's chosen to be censored (and for that matter, not censored) surprises me though. For example. The other day I was watching "Two Broke Girls" and Max and Caroline kept saying "Crap" and it was censored in the subtitles. However, the next day I was watching the episode of "Sex and The City" in which Charlotte's love for art leads her to have a painting of her lady bits hung in a gallery, and the word "Cunt" was used repeatedly and appeared without shame in the subtitle. Two four letter C words, one significantly more profane and offensive then the other, yet the milder of the two, in my opinion, was the one censored. I'm not sure who's actually responsible for determining what appears in the subtitles or what is **** out but perhaps they don't know the meaning or connotation with the second C word.
I'll tell you, having the English subtitles displayed really takes away the anticipation of what a character is going to say. I haven't gasped at the television in a long time. It also makes watching stand up comedy a waste of time because the punchlines are displayed on the screen before the joke's been delivered. Even the background music lyrics are subtitled.

When subtitles are present, I can't ignore them. It's as if they are little eye magnets so "watching" television might be better considered "reading" television. I guess I should be wearing my glasses.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lost in Translation - Part I

I've decided to break this post up into two (not necessarily sequential) posts. This first post will be about funny things Indians say, when speaking English. At least they are funny to my ears. Call it the British influence, or perhaps, a literal translation, but some things just ring funny in my ears. Here are a few examples:
Updation - The (I can't even call it a word, because it doesn't exist) "updation" often comes across in emails I receive from office colleagues. Generally it means, correction, or change. An example would be: "Kindly make the necessary updation, and revert." More on "revert" later. Except "updation" as an option in the English language, doesn't exist. Just ask Merriam-Webster.
Do the needful - You'll generally see this phrase preempted by "Kindly" or "Please." People use it when they want you to do something or need your help. Usually you'll get a rambling story about something, most often, something the requester messed up on, then they throw it back to you with a "Please do the needful." Generally I want to respond with: I NEED you to stop messing this up!
At Any Cost - Another plea for help, in many cases. Or sometimes it's taken as a vow to do something. If I tell someone they need to be committed to achieving department metrics, for example, they'll say: "Yes. I'll do it. I'll show you at any cost." Dude, whatever the cost, just pay up make sure it gets done. It's such an overly dramatic phrase and it gives me ZERO assurance that they're going to deliver.
Revert - While I find this to be a generally appropriate phrase, it still annoys me. I suppose it's more professional than saying: "Hey, let me know." But I find it completely overused. If you check my office inbox, you'll probably see it at the bottom of 75% of my emails something like "Kindly revert for any questions" (yes for any questions, not with any questions).
Is it!?! - This is like saying "Seriously" or "Are you kidding me?" The worst part of this phrase is, it's super catchy. I find myself saying it all the time.
Doubt - If you have a question about something, you would say instead "I have a doubt." This really threw me for a loop when I was training my then Indian counterparts on a new process and they kept coming back with doubts. I understood that to mean they didn't believe what I was teaching them was correct. I quickly realized what the phrase really meant and now go out of my way to inform trainers coming from the US about this little phrase.
Tensed/Tension - Instead of telling someone not to stress or get stressed out over something, you tell them: "Don't be tensed" or "Don't take tension."
Break Your Head - If faced with a tough decision, or trying to figure something out, people will tell you not to Break your head  on it. In other words, don't over think it.
Only - The word only gets tagged onto sentences where it's really not necessary. For example, yesterday I heard someone on the street talking on his cell phone. The caller on the other end must have asked him where he was. He responded with "I'm in Hyderabad only." As if he could be in two places at one time. Why he didn't just say "I'm in Hyderabad" is beyond me.
Happy - Don't be sad, nothing wrong with happy, but here, you don't buy someone a Birthday Card. You buy them a Happy Birthday Card. At year end, our director sent out an email to the management informing us when we should collect the "Happy New Year" cards for distribution to our staff. Another phrase that can be paired in this category is "Many Many Happy Returns of the day!" That's what you tell someone instead of "Happy Birthday" when you present them with their Happy Birthday card.
A few other things to point out: Indians feel the need to say a lot of phrases twice. For example, if I ask someone how many biscuits they would like, they respond with "Two Two." Just saying "Two" one time would have sufficed. Now I need to determine, do I give them two, or do I give them four? Another double phrase occurs when you didn't hear what someone said. In Hindi, the response would be "Kya Kya." Literally translated it means "What? What?" because saying it once, might not have sufficed.
Having studied foreign language, I do understand this next debacle, however, I still find it amusing, and a constant cause for correction. Tense, is often something that gets lost in translation. For example, someone will ask me "Did you ate your lunch." It makes sense to me, where the confusion comes in, because if they're asking whether I've already done it, then that would be past tense and ate would be the past tense version of eat, so it seems logical, right? If you answer "Yes" to the above question, then subsequent question will be "What did you ate?" One other phrase I love to lump in with this category, but might in fact belong in a category of it's own, is one of my husband's favorite phrases "Baby I said you." What he means is, "I told you." I try most times to just laugh to myself when he says that, but once out of every three or so times, I find the need to correct him.
I'm trying hard to not lose my own grammar but often feel that if I phrase something in the way an Indian would phrase it, they'll understand me better. I know that's an incorrect approach because it's not helping them improve their English, and is tarnishing mine, however I'm not a grammar teacher so who am I to correct it?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Technology or Bust!

According to the US Dept of State's website, India exported in excess of $35 billion in software during FY 2009. With so much technology being produced here, wouldn't it be nice if a little of it stayed within the country? Maybe we could consider a Pay at the Pump option at the gas station, or ::gulp:: vending machines?? Maybe not.
I had a not so lovely technology experience today, while trying to obtain my receipt number for my husbands US Visa. Back in August, I sent off his application to Chicago, along with a check, for the processing fees. The USCIS states on the application instruction form, that if you're sending a check, it will be treated as an E Check. That's cool. No worries. They also state that within 30 days of receiving your check, they will provide you with a receipt number via email, that you can use on their website to check the status of your application.
Today is day 44 since the check cleared the bank. I've not received any receipt number via email. I've tried repeatedly navigating through the IVR at the USCIS' customer service number, and have not been successful in reaching a human being, even though I'm calling during their staffed hours. Today I had a little more luck though. I did get through to someone, who told me that they couldn't find record of our application under my nor my husbands name, nor our DOBs. The kind customer service rep did, however say that if it wasn't an exact match in their system, the system wouldn't retrieve any results, and since my husband doesn't even know what his legal sur name is (we can save that for another post) this poor woman at USCIS had no hope of finding it in the system either. She stated that if I had the cleared check I sent for my application fee, that the receipt number would be printed on the back. Bingo! Or so I thought.
Well I don't have the check. I don't even have the check number (irresponsible, I know, but I write like 2 checks a year). I logged onto my bank's website and checked my account to see if there was any such option of viewing the check info. I couldn't figure it out, so I hopped onto their "Chat Live with a Representative" option. While the customer service rep was nice and polite, he couldn't figure out why I couldn't view my checks online so he recommended I contact the phone banking operators. I called once and got disconnected. The second time I connected with someone that walked me through a slightly different version of what "Chat Live" had suggested, but we still couldn't retrieve the scanned check image. When I told her it cleared as an E Check, she said that was the reason and that in those cases, the bank doesn't even receive the check back.
So, I have no image of this check to retrieve the receipt number that USCIS supposedly put on this check, and USCIS can't tell me what my receipt number is either. It's a complete technological breakdown. If USCIS had not used the fancy E Check technology, I'd have my receipt number. Or if their computer system wasn't so finicky... 
Something like this would have never happened in India. Here's why: In India, to complete ANYTHING it involves going to the actual place, standing in a make shift line (which is really just a mob of people all pushing to the front and shouting). After waiting for several hours in a non air conditioned sweaty, and now smelly room, you'll eventually get to talk to someone in charge, who will probably direct you to another line and another person, who will then probably direct you to yet another line and yet another person, who will probably direct you back to the first place you came from. Once you again explain what it is you're trying to accomplish, and they again try sending you to a different line, and you tell them, no, I went there, then they sent me there, then they sent me back to you, the person will generally take some form of pity, help you complete your request and on the spot give you a hand written receipt. This will be right before they log your visit into an over sized composition notebook, or visitors log, and send you on your way. Problem solved. You're visit has been logged and you have the hand written receipt to prove it. One would think that not being able to search electronically for things would be a hindrance, but I gotta tell ya, I've never been to a shop, office, anything, that couldn't sift through a stack of half a dozen or so composition notebooks, and flip right to the page of my last visit to find the transaction details. No software crashes, no threat of hardware malfunction. Everything's there, in black and white. Literally.
Technology can be such a wonderful thing, and I often find myself baffled that in India, where so much software is created, so little technology is used (I mean come on, I live in a city of 18480 people per sq kilometer and we still employ traffic police to serve as stop lights). Yet who's to say what is better or worse? It comes down to what is more functional. Today I used my fancy laptop, and my fancy VoIP program to call 8600 miles away to get ZERO information. Would you call that functional?

Update 10/10/2012 - After exchanging a few emails with the USCIS, they were able to find our application and did provide me with a receipt number. They also said they'd mail me a receipt copy. Something tells me that'll be the missing check.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Out Of Sight...

When I first started visiting my in laws (prior to them becoming my in laws) I quickly realized that there is a very particular behavioral expectation of the females in the household when guests of the males in the household arrive. Essentially, we are to be rarely seen, and never heard. At first I attributed this to my being white, or the fact that I was hanging around the in laws prior to my husband and I getting married, which is not customary. I figured the in laws were doing it more for my protection so as to prevent questions arising, and rumors starting, which is, in part, true.
Whenever someone would arrive, I would be whisked into a bedroom or other sanctioned area. My sister in laws would, without a word, serve up a few refreshments, and shortly after my confinement, join me, where we'd hang out, gossiping and periodically checking in to see if the men needed anything, but for the most part, would hole up until the visitors had left.
I expected this to change after marriage. I was wrong.
As I write this post, I'm confined to the bedroom of my very own apartment, while my husband entertains some old friends. And I gotta tell ya - I don't mind!
I don't have to play hostess. I don't have to put on some fancy dress, and try and make small talk with people I've never met. I don't have to nervously hover around asking if I can refill glasses, or prepare any food. I don't have to try and act busy so as not to impede on their conversation. Instead, I can blog. I can surf facebook. I can read. I can nap. And when they're gone, my husband will lovingly come and give me the all clear, and then take me out to lunch. It's a relief, quite frankly.
When visiting the in laws, my sister in laws and I have some of our best gab sessions during such instances. It's a great bonding opportunity, and when I'm alone, a great chance to recharge my batteries and not have to fuss like the nervous hostess I tend to become. I know it might sound sexist or reminiscent of a time when women didn't hold an equal status to men, but, like with so many other things in India, I've come to embrace it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Where's My Party

One tradition that throws me for a loop every time I'm confronted with it is the requirement that whomever is celebrating a birthday, a promotion, the birth of a child, their engagement or wedding, etc - is the need for THAT person to throw a party. If it's my birthday, it's my responsibility to bring a treat for my colleagues. Granted, not much different then we did back in our school days, but the list goes on.
My boss was recently promoted. The first question everyone asked after congratulating him, was "When's the party?" In my Western mindset, we should be treating him. He's the one that earned the promotion. Until one treats, after such an occasion, they won't hear the end of it. I had to listen to my co-workers ask my boss multiple times a day for almost 2 weeks when he was treating us. Finally he closed the book on that on Friday. If nothing else, my ears are appreciative.
I remember being so irritated after my wedding when being asked this question. People were down right pushy about it.  Hey - I hand delivered your invite, I followed up both verbally and via email and text prior to my wedding reception. You had alternate plans. You didn't come. Now you're asking me where's your party? Excuse me, I just spent 8 lakhs on a party. Sorry you couldn't make it, but the buck (or rupee in my case) stops here.
Most recently a colleague that joined the same day I did completed his notice period and his last day in office was Friday. He's headed to the US for his MBA, which is a huge accomplishment and something he worked very hard to earn. Now in my mind, I should be giving him a gift, as a congratulatory token of all he's accomplished and will accomplish. But instead, he presented me with a very nice gift and promises of plans for dinner out next weekend. I feel like a schmuck because I should have given him something. I had the thought prior to his last day in office, but when someone's headed to the US, what on earth would you give them from India? Now, I'll feel like a bigger schmuck if I give him something because it might seem like it's only in response to his gift to me. How it's actually viewed is beyond me though so we'll see. Maybe that is reversed as well.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Work Work Balance

I was promoted to my current job role in November of 2007. When I came to India in 2011 people here thought I was crazy for accepting the same position. They told me I should have demanded a promotion. I had a personal motive for coming though, which could be achieved without requiring a loftier designation.
Since arriving in India, I've been a bit surprised by the mentality of the corporate employees. They seem to believe that if they aren't getting promoted every 6-12 months, it's time to find a different job in a different company. I regularly see people company hopping and often taking friends with them. They'll start out in one position, move to another company for a promotion, then bring their friends along, all getting promotions along the way. They may have the same boss at three consecutive companies, but with each company jump, they get a better designation.
Up until this point, I felt it was really unreasonable to expect such career movement. I've grown up with the mentality that companies don't owe their employee's anything. That you're lucky enough simply to have a job. That you don't go to your boss demanding promotions or raises or bonuses. You're fortunate enough taking what they offer you. I've never negotiated a salary and I've always felt sincerely thankful for any raise or promotion I've been given.
The second major realization I've had since coming here is the lack of work-life balance. A common week is spending 60 hours physically in the office, logging in before and after the shift from home, and again on the weekends. Everyone does it. It's not a matter of working inefficiently during the week, it's a matter of having so much damn work to do, there's not enough hours in the standard office day to do it all. Our weekends go towards hiring events, trainings, "team outings." If we get a day off, we'll spend it logged in, catching up on emails, monitoring inventory volumes, and often times, spend at least some time at the office, due to some or the other emergency that just happened to crop up on our day off.
After doing this for almost a year, I was really getting depressed. My goal in working is to create a nice life for myself and my family. The office is a place I HAVE to go in order to make money to go to the places I WANT to go. While I believe in giving your all and doing a job you can be proud of, it's just that: a job. A former boss once told me: A job is something you do, not who you are.
After pondering both of the above observations parallelly for the past year, I've finally found where they intersect. For Indians, it IS who they are.  It's not just a job, it's a self defining proclamation of who they are and what they stand for. It's bragging rights, not only for the employee but for their family. There's no concept of "good enough." That's what drives them to put in more hours, take on more projects, and devote their lives to their jobs, under the guise of devoting their lives to their families. It's acceptable to spend 16 hours a day at the office earning, if you know while you're in office, your family is sitting comfortably at home. The more promotions you get, the more marketable you are, the more earning security you have, and the more comfortably your family can exist. I guess it makes sense, but....
While I want my family to be comfortable and enjoy life, I want to enjoy it with them. That's the purpose and the value in having a family. I married my husband because I enjoy spending time with him. I crossed 8600 miles to be with him, not to spend my days slaving away in the office.  I plan to have children that I will raise, not that will be raised by a nanny while I'm holed up in some conference room. Besides, life is short and there are no guarantees. Take the time out for the ones you love and care about. Don't put some meaningless office task between you and what you enjoy. If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, would your boss miss you? No. They'd have another guy filling your position within a week. But what about your family? They will be left with an unfillable gap. No amount of money you earned in the past will afford the glue it will take to piece their hearts back together.
Think about what's really important.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Wet Washroom

The most asked about topic since coming to India relates to the Indian "washroom." The month of May will mark the 1 year anniversary 2 rolls of toilet paper entered my flat, and as you can see, they are alive and well, and mostly still whole. I thought now would be the time to introduce you to what is referred to as the "wet washroom."


When locating most public washrooms, you'll typically see a sign hanging the door stating whether the washroom is "dry" or "wet."  A "dry" washroom means you'll find toilet paper and no sprayer or bucket of water/cup (although sometimes they are there and the "dry" just means you'll have the TP option). "Wet" generally means no toilet paper and instead, a sprayer or a bucket with a cup. Now, I can't say I'm a bucket/cup fan. Using that option generally means needing to strip from the waste down, because you WILL get water on your pants. And many times it can be tough to find a "dry" place to hang your drawers in such a washroom as the folks before you might have splashed around a bit. Not to mention, a certain amount of friction might be required to properly clean certain areas.

So when I was deciding what my flat HAD to have, I went with sprayers (and as you can see, Western toilets). These are the types you find attached to kitchen sinks in the US. Each washroom has one sprayer next to the toilet. This is used after you do the business in place of toilet paper. It's considered to be a much cleaner option. Not to mention Indian toilets aren't meant to handle large quantities of TP nor is the sewage system that sophisticated.
 Additionally you'll see that there is no bathtub or shower stall. You will however, find a showerhead mounted on the wall. This gives a while new meaning to the term "wet" washroom. After your shower, you can squeegee the floor and things will be pretty much dry instantly. Additionally you'll notice a tank above the toilet. That's known as the Geyser (pronounced Geezer, like an old man). It's essentially the water heater. Please note the size. There's a switch on the outside of the washroom that you flip on 10 mins or so before you take your shower, which buys you like 20 gallons of hot water. That means getting wet, turning off the water, soaping up, turning the water on, rinsing off, etc. It also means you know how to take a very efficient shower if you want to take a hot one. Generally the ground water is warm enough to where I don't bother turning it on in the first place. You can achieve a "warm enough" shower without it.
Additionally in the washroom you'll notice an orange bucket, and inside that - a cup. This bucket is essentially a wash bucket. It's used when the water is turned off (which is frequent in the summer due to a mass water shortage) whether you're using the toilet or needing to shower. It's a scant supply of water, I can promise you that. It's imperative that whenever the water is turned on you fill the bucket. Keeping the buckets filled at all times is vital. You don't want to be in a precarious situation without water handy. Trust me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Visa Misconceptions

There's a widespread misconception that marrying someone of a different nationality grants instant permission to go between the two countries for any reason at any time, or that somehow immediate citizenship is granted for both parties in the country their spouse is from. I can assure you this is not the case.
As I approach the one year anniversary of my arrival in India, it was time to renew my Employment visa and my Resident Permit. The Employment visa is the only visa India offers that allows me to work and be on Indian payroll. As I don't have the option of sitting home without income, I had to renew.
The renewal process was as daunting as the initial visa application process. The following documents were required:
1.      Original Passport with employment visa;
2.      Original Residential Permit issued by the FRRO;
3.      Six passport size colour photographs;
4.      Personal signed request letters to the FRRO from you;
5.      Two copies of the visa extension form duly signed and photo affixed on each copy
6.      Copy of your passport bio page and employment visa;
7.      Copy of your FRRO residential permit;
8.      Original lease deed (in case the FRRO officer asks this for cross-verification); - Please carry old as well as renewed (new) lease deed
9.      Copy of house owner's proof of residence and PAN card;
10.  Copy of duly executed Addendum to Offer Letter (Employment Contract);
11.  Copy of duly executed original Offer Letter (Employment Contract);
12.  Copies of your pay slips from June 2011 to March 2012; - Please print each salary slip separately and make sure that the text is legible.
13.  Copies of the tax statements you sent us - Please carry all the tax statements you have.
14.  Copies of TDS challans from the month of July 2011 to March 2012
15.  Copy of company Articles of Association and Memorandum with certificate
16.  Original signed visa extension request letter from company
17.  Original signed No Indian available certificate along with a copy of your updated resume
18.  Original signed authority letter in the name of law firm affiliate
19.  Original signed Undertaking letter from company
20.  Original signed proof of address letter from company
21.  Original signed Monthly salary certificate from company
22.  Original signed Annual salary certificate from company
23.  Original signed TDS deduction letter from company
24.  Copy of HR representatives passport or PAN card or Election card as proof of identity and copy of her residence utility bill as proof of address (being the guarantor
25.  A Demand Draft drawn in favour of "DDO, SIB, Hyderabad" for Rs. 7500 towards visa extension fees to be paid to the FRRO.
     The above list is what is required to simultaneously renew both the visa and the permit for one year. It allows me to work in India, to live in India, and most importantly to remain with my husband. Without the approval, I can't be here. There is no instant citizenship just because I'm married to an Indian. Subsequently, had the documents not been approved, he wouldn't be able to jump on a plane and return to the US with me. It doesn't work that way. It's not that simple. 
      Prior to coming to India we had looked into obtaining a Fiancee visa for him, which is a 90-day visa that is granted for foreigners to come to the US and get married. We were told the process of approval takes 180 days. Six months just to obtain a 90 day stay in the US! Does that sound like an easy process? Even once that's granted and the marriage happens only then the greencard or other visa process can begin. It's not easy and it will surely result in time spent apart.
      After discovering that, the only logical option was for me to come to India. While it hasn't been easy, I'm with my husband, which above all is my only objective. We'll start investigating visa options for him now, at least so he can come and meet my family, but it won't be quick and easy and just because he's married to a US Passport holder does not grant any assurance that it's a guarantee. Regardless of the time it takes or the challenges we face, we are together and that's as much as I could ever ask for.