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.