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.