Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Educated Housewives

In my previous post, I shared a story about one of the girls I interviewed during the "Great Bride Search" who, although she had an Engineering degree, dreamed of being a housewife. I understand that sometimes what we go to school for isn't what we end up being when we grow up. Life takes us down different paths than we plan for ourselves.  The job pool has gone dry. Things happen. No big deal.
I also have no qualms about someone dreaming of being a housewife. Maybe raising a few kids, taking care of the exceptional amount of work that is involved in keeping a household and family running.
I also understand that sometimes, even though we achieve our educational goals and spend a few years paving a career path, life leads us to shift our priorities and we decide that being home is the best option for us. That all works for me.
After meeting a few of the potential matches and hearing similar stories of girls with amazing degrees wanting to stay home to cook and clean, I asked my husband what the deal was.  These girls who've earned such impressive degrees, plan to do absolutely nothing with them. He explained: They wanted to marry into a good family. Or their parents forced them to take up a particular course of study so that they could marry into a good family.
These girls have no interest in what they studied. They'll never apply it in the workforce. They didn't earn their degrees with the plan of ever working outside the home. Don't get me wrong, earn as many degrees in lines of study that interest you and do what you want with them, but these girls aren't even interested in what they studied. It seems having an Engineering degree, MBA, or the like is just a ticket into a nicer house to clean for the rest of your life.
I guess for me, the bottom line is, I don't like school that much. If I'm taking classes, it's because it's something I'm interested in pursuing, not simply for namesake with zero intent on application.
This just feels like one more big gimmick in the whole match process. What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

An Afterthought: I think the reason this bothers me so much is I never want to be financially dependent on a man. If I have earning potential, I'm gonna utilize it!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Girl Shopping Part 2: The Initial Interview

Part 2 of our series on finding a spouse, takes us to the interview round. Today we'll focus on the initial interview, the screening round if you will.
After we've sifted through the profiles (resumes) of prospective matches, and identified one we felt had potential (how we identified the potential is still a mystery to me - most likely it was basis what her dad did for a living or the fact that she had two siblings abroad and they all owned their own businesses. The decision to meet the family has little to no bearing on the girl herself.), it's time to schedule the first round interview.
So the father of the groom calls up the father of the bride and they make arrangements to meet. Generally the first meeting will take place with the extended family, meaning an auntie or cousin, sibling, or ME will show up to meet the family and prospective match. It's likely the groom might not even come along, and if he does come along, he will most definitely not come face to face with his prospective partner during this initial meeting.
So we visit the girls home, her family is hospitable, they offer us a cool drink and some snacks, which even though I don't want, I take any way so as not to seem rude. Within a few minutes, the ladies are whisked off to meet the potential bride and the men are left to talk.
I've conducted hundreds of interviews in my life. Generally for a job interview, I can decide within the first 60 seconds whether I like the candidate or not. However, I feel a bit more time is needed when you're determining the next 60 years of someone's life.
The first several minutes of meeting any girl is so awkward. Everyone is just kind of peeking out of the corners of their eyes and smiling, while they size each other up. I think it would be much more effective if they put the girl up on a rotating stage behind a curtain. There could be trumpeters playing then "Wahlaa" Mom pulls the curtain back, the spot line aims at the girl, and there she is, spinning on stage in a grand display for everyone to see. Which really, is the purpose of this first meeting. It's completely superficial. We check out her dress, we check out her complexion. Does she have acne? Is she as fair in real life as she was in the pictures (the answer's no)? Does she wear glasses? How are her teeth? Is she a healthy weight?  We're essentially determining her breeding potential and the potential that she might pass down weak genes to offspring. Don't want that in the family. Never mind that the potential groom isn't exactly Bollywood hero material himself.
So after what feels like an eternity of staring each other down coyly, the questions will start. Again, completely superficial:
  • What did you study in school?
  • Do you have plans to work outside the home?
  • What dishes do you know how to cook?
  • Do you plan to take care of the house, or will you expect hired help?
Yep, that's about the extent of the questions. There's really not much more that gets asked.
With one girl we met, I was getting so irritated with her answers, that I started challenging her, and she would change her answer basis my challenge. Given the limited questions, I stuck to the script and I asked whether she planned to work outside the home. When she said "No it's been my lifelong dream to live for serving my husband." Okay she didn't say that but she might as well have. Then I asked her, "So if that's you're life long dream, why did you get an Engineering degree?" She hemmed and hawed and didn't really give an answer. So I told her, "You should consider working outside the home, you have an impressive education your parents spent good money on." Then she says "Oh yes, I'll work outside the home." Then I said "But you just told me your life long dream was to be a housewife." She says "Oh it is." Blah blah blah round and round we go. I'm quickly irritated with this complete and utter waste of time. If it were a candidate for a job interview, I'd dismiss them at this point so we could all get on with our lives.
Unfortunately in my experience, as soon as the above questions were asked, the tables got turned and the girl's family started asking me questions:
  • Where was I from?
  • When did I come to India?
  • What did I do for a living?
  • What company did I work for?
  • What was my educational background?
  • How many siblings did I have?
  • What was my siblings education?
  • What did my siblings do for a living?
  • Were my siblings married?
  • Were my parents in India?
  • Where do my parents live (since the answer to the above is "No")?
  • Are my parents working?
  • What do my parents do for a living?
  • When did I last go to the US to visit my family?
  • How did I find India (as in, do I like it, not as in, can I locate it on a map)?
Wait a minute, who's getting hired, I mean married, here?
Generally my firing round would be interrupted by the father or brother of the bride coming to tell the ladies to come and sit with the men. This would mean a chair would get pulled up in the centre of the room, the girl would sit in it, and the guys from the groom's side would have a chance to ask her questions. Comfy, huh? Looks like we're just missing the trumpeters.
Generally, the men (and by men, I mean brother of the groom, never the groom) will have the following questions for her:
  • What did you study in school?
  • Do you have plans to work outside the home?
  • What dishes do you know how to cook?
  • Do you plan to take care of the house, or will you expect hired help?
Sound familiar? It's the same junk we already asked her.
Just like a job interview, she's going to give scripted answers. But unlike a job interview, she's going to give those answers: Keeping her head down at all times, never looking up, and never raising her voice above a whisper. This makes me CRAZY! I'm about as far from demure as they come. I cannot stand this damsel in distress routine. Speak up! We're deciding your life RIGHT IN THIS MOMENT. Take part in it! (Just for the record, this is the same advice I gave the groom.)
With hiring events, I average a completion rate of 12 per hour, with a selection rate of 20%. With brides, the stakes are a little higher. Especially considering that if someone you endorse, should the family decide on her, turns out to be a dud, it falls on your shoulders. After my first few interviews I swore I was done. I wasn't going to attend any more because they were so scripted, so fake, and so non-informative that I just couldn't see anything positive coming out of this experience. But, I committed, so I was in it for the long haul...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Girl Shopping Part 1: The Profile

It's been a bit since I've last posted. There are two main reasons for this:
1. I had some kind of virus attached to the conversion widget that was on my webpage, and was trying to get rid of it. It was causing a pop up message on every link found on my page. If you experienced problems with that, my apologies. The widgets been removed and it seems to be at least allowing navigation to occur.
2. I've been girl shopping. No, I don't mean shopping for girly things. I mean shopping for girls. Let me explain.
I was asked by a family to help find a match for their son. Since arranged marriage is one of my favourite (okay my VERY favourite) topics, I thought it would be a great experience. I was wrong.
Let me tell you how it starts out:
1. You post your profile on a marriage website like www.shaadi.com (there's even a www.secondshaddi.com for those who's 1st marriage didn't work out). This is the equivalent to a dating site sans the expectation of dating.
2. Interested parties (or more likely the parents of interested parties) review your online profile, and if they like what they see, email you a profile of themselves (or their son/daughter).
3. You review the profile and decide which families you'd like to meet with. Let's pause here.
Let me tell you about these profiles. They're all CRAP! Here is the information presented to you, in order to decide if you want to meet someone:
  • Name
  • Age
  • Height
  • Religion
  • School and Degree with Occupation (if applicable)
  • Complexion (The only options here will be fair, very fair, extremely fair, and they're all lying.)
  • Fathers Name and occupation
  • Mothers Name and occupation (housewife)
  • Sibling count, names and occupation(s) as well as where they are living (this is important if they're abroad)
A photo will of course be included. Generally it will be touched up so much that if you do go to meet the person, you won't even recognize them as compared to who you saw in the profile picture. Remember the options we learned about under the "Complexion" category.
Sifting through profiles seems totally pointless to me, because they're all going to tell you the same thing: NOTHING! There's nothing to be learned by them. There's no intriguing information about the prospective match. The photos are basically fakes and the there will be less information about a potential spouse found in those profiles then you'll find on someone resume. I don't even understand the point of sifting through them, but that's how it begins.
I leave you now, with one of the best newspaper ads I've seen in search of a spouse. Considering the family paid money to post this, I'm not going to protect his identity, but I should caution you, with an ad like this I'm positive his only attractive, God fearing daughter was snatched right up. Especially considering he posted a bounty, I'm sorry, dowry, right in the ad.
I wonder how much he had to offer up for his ugly, uneducated, Satan worshipping offspring?

To be continued...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review Alert: www.myntra.com

Myntra.com is yet another one of the rapidly multiplying online retailers bringing you at home delivery of the big name brands when it comes to clothing and accessories. Their website offers Western brands such as Nike, Levis, and Converse and also offers Indian traditional wear from household names such as Biba, W, and FabIndia.
After deciding I wanted to add to my kurti collection, I logged on and spent several hours browsing their offerings. It seemed that while they had a wide variety of items, the sizes were somewhat limited. For example, when filtering on my size, the options for kurtis/kurtas drops from 2452 to a mere 1725, excluding 30% of their stock. Still I should be able to find something amongst 1725 options, right?
Speaking of 30% - While browsing, I received a pop up that offered me a 30% discount on my first order, if I registered on their site. Figuring that's a great savings, I went ahead and registered. Little did I know that the 30% coupon would expire an hour later! It would have been better to register right when I was ready to place my order in order to avail the discount, however because the website doesn't allow you to put more then a handful of things in your shopping cart without creating a profile, I had to register in order to add to my wish list of items. Only I took too long building that list, and lost out on my 30% discount.
Part of the reason it took me so long to complete my selection, was because although there's plenty of filtering options on the website, it does not retain your search options when browsing. That means, every time I added something to my cart, it would take me to the "Review your order" page. If I clicked on the "Continue Shopping" option it would take me back to an unfiltered main webpage. If I used the back button, I sometimes received a notice that the previous page had expired, and other times got taken back to a main page sans my selection criteria. I found this to be really frustrating.
After sifting around on the site for a few hours, I made my final selection and set off to place my order. Although I no longer had the 30% off coupon available to me, they had provided me with a 20% off coupon but I couldn't find any place to enter the coupon code. Within a few quick clicks, my order had been placed without any discount. So I did what any savvy online shopper would do I made a note of all the things in my shopping cart and I cancelled my order. I then immediately logged back in to re-place my order. It seemed like a good plan.
When I was placing my order the first time, one of the items I selected must have been the very last one in my size, because when I went to refill my order, it wasn't available. The website said that they would send me an email letting me know when they restocked the item. I knew full well the reason it wasn't available was because I had ordered it and it was part of my now cancelled order. So I continued on replacing my items and was a lot more vigilant this time when I got to the shopping cart page and saw where I had to enter my 20% off coupon code. After applying the coupon, I saw that it only offered a discount on a single item. It wasn't a flat 20% off and to be honest, I wouldn't have ordered a few of the tops I had if I didn't think I was getting a discount. I decided then and there that it just wasn't worth it. I had already invested considerable time on their website due to a horrible navigation system, had lost out on my 30% off, had seemingly also lost out on what I thought was a flat 20% off, and missed out on my favourite kurti from that order due to stocking issues. It was time to call it a day.
Now I just had to figure out what to do about the money they credited to my online account after cancelling the first order. I didn't plan on placing an order on their website so having a considerable online credit wasn't going to do me much good. I used the online form to email their customer service asking them to refund the amount to my bank account, so long as their wasn't a fee in doing so. I asked them to call me before taking any action so I could confirm everything. I got the standard "Thanks for contacting us" email and was informed someone would respond to me within 24 hours. I did get a call the next day confirming there was no fee to refund my money to my bank account and with my confirmation, they'd proceed and I should see the refund in 10-15 business days.
The day after I spoke to their customer service about my refund, I got an email telling me my previously unavailable kurti was now in stock. Sigh.
When I told Z this story, he reminded me that he had ordered from that site previously. One of the items was a "free size" bracelet for me but it was too tight. When he looked into returning it, he found not only do they charge a restocking fee, but the customer has to pay the currier charges to return the item. The website says they'll reimburse the buyer for the return shipping charges up to rs100, but they also provide a list of items that are non-returnable and bracelets are one of those items. That's why the bracelet is still sitting in my closet.
Myntra does offer a referral/rewards program which provides an online credit of rs500 when your friends sign up and another rs1000 when they order something. You have 15 days and 30 days respectively to use the credit, and your order must be a minimum of rs2000.
If all this sounds so amazing you can't wait to log in and place your first order, please note that currently www.myntra.com is only shipping within India.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Living as an Expat - Or Not

Recently I shared with you part of the reason I don't feel I've faced many problems as a woman living in India. As I stated in Gender Segregation and Living as a Woman In India, I don't often go out alone and most often my company/escort/guardian is a male family member. In addition to that, I feel that I'm living in quite possibly the greatest city in India when it comes to pretty much every single factor. The general population here is cool and incidents of harassment and crime are relatively low compared to what we hear out of other parts of India.
I frequently get contacted by people who want to know more about my expat lifestyle, particularly, the ways I've connected with other expats staying in the same area. I gotta be honest - I haven't. All my friends here are Hindustanis, and I hang with them or my Indian family. Granted, I know or have met a handful of people here that were not from India but I've never sought out or participated in any activity geared towards Expats.
That being said, I am part of an Expat Forum, which I joined before I moved here. It provides some good resources and many of us share our blog posts on that site. I find it really interesting to read about others' experiences, so long as I can do so at an arms length.
Let me share with you the top few reasons I'm turned off by the requests for Expat meet-ups that have been sent my way:
  • They're all sent by men.
  • The men sending them are Indian.
  • The Indian men sending them have never been outside the country.
Let me tell you what this means. It means they're not Expats! Why are they trying to set up a meeting for Expats?!?! As much as I love this city, don't tell me they're goodwill ambassadors just trying to ensure everyone feels welcomed here.
Let me tell you why they send them:
  • They're looking for romance.
  • They're looking for money.
  • They're looking for a visa opportunity (really this last one is just a combination of the first two).
On a smaller scale:
  • It's fashionable to have the "white" friend.
  • They want to improve their English
  • They want you to find them a job abroad (you can read more about my thoughts on that topic in Refer a Friend.......or Not)
Granted they don't say this outright but I'm stickin' with my gut on this one. I'll share with you now, a few of the requests for meet-ups I've received:
  • Hai my friend.. I'm from Hyd hmmm if u need a friend then plz remember me.. Anyways plz take care n keep smiling
  • Greetings. Hope you are doing great. Well, I'm from Hyderabad, an Engineer and Ex. Professor by profession. Photography is my passion. Now a days, I am inclined towards capturing Non-Indian faces in Indian cultural and tradition wear.I found you in this blog. Can I request you to spare some time from your daily work to volunteer in this? This is completely non-commercial work and I'm doing this only for the sake of art. Hope you can understand my passion towards photography. I will be glad if you can give me a knock any time.
  • I want friendship , from u , will u please accept me , if so plz mail me
  • Iam male from Hyderabad, i want to be ur friend
Here are my responses had I sent them:
  • I'd forgotten you before I finished reading your message. Also, unless you're into Kung Fu, it's spelled HI or HELLO.
  • 1. I didn't ask. 2. Pervert
  • Unacceptable over indulgence of commas. Please continue practicing your English and build some self-confidence so you don't come across as pathetic and desperate. Perhaps that will help you gain friends.
So, my friends, that's why I avoid the Expat scene.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bollywood Movies: What You Need To Know

Note of interest: Bollywood, as a place, does not exist. It's a concept.
In my last post, I made fun of how many Bollywood movies are Hollywood rip-offs. Certainly that's not the case for all. Although I don't speak Hindi, I've fallen in love with quite a few Bollywood movies and believe those that are well done, can be understood regardless of a language barrier.
Here's what you need to know about Bollywood flicks:
  • Music and Dancing: Expect to see somewhere around 6 musical numbers per movie. You know how it works: A guy is crushing on a girl and he bursts into song in the middle of a crowded street professing his undying affection for her, while all pedestrians within a 5 mile radius start a flash mob, matching our hero step for step.
  • Music Videos: Not quite movie related, but any music video you see on MTV, VH-1, etc. is a clip from a movie. It's common to have a bit of dialogue before or after the singing starts, as they've just cut a chunk from the actual film. The music videos will start airing before the movie is released. I've seen some music videos I've hated, until I've watched the movie. Once I could put it into context of the script, I fell in love with the clip/song.
  • Item Number: Many movies will have what's called an Item Number. This often comes at the beginning of the movie, before the story starts, but can show up anywhere during the film. Generally the IN will feature a super hit actress that is not a member of the plot cast, and in no way related to the story line, she just kind of appears out of no-where. In many cases, the song or dance she performs has NOTHING to do with the plot and if your not familiar with the framework of a Bollywood film, can be quite confusing. It's just a random interjection of yet another song and dance routine in the film.
  • Singing: What you should also know, is the singing you hear in Bollywood movies is dubbed. Being a playback singer is big business here. The actors are lip-syncing.
  • Length: Hindi movies generally run somewhere around 3 hours. If you see them at the theatre, you'll be granted an intermission.
  • Plot Twists: Due to the length of the movie, you can expect a lot of plot twists. I've been surprised by quite a few movies when, an hour in and around the time my Hollywood conditioned mind expects the loose ends of the plot to start wrapping up, an entire new storyline will start. Then again, an hour later, when the plot takes another turn and an entire new story line starts. Some movies can be really unpredictable, which I find refreshing.
  • Sex: You won't see it. You'll barely see any kissing (although the younger Bollywood generation is getting pretty risqué). If you find yourself watching a scene in which two people are moving in for the big smooch, the image of a bee or butterfly landing on a flower or a ceiling fan spinning (if they're smooching in a bedroom - after their wedding, of course) will flash on the screen. I find a bit of a paradox here, however. While the plot might be innocent enough, the dance numbers leave little to the imagination. See for yourself.
  • Heroes and Heroines: Every Bollywood hero is capable of killing five guys with a single bullet, stopping a train with his bare hands, or flipping a car upside down with the smash of his fist. Every heroine is a damsel in distress.
  • Antagonists: Every bad guy is armed with an axe, a sickle, or a sword. At all times. In any situation.
So that's my top list of things you should know about Hindi movies. Here is a list of some of my favourite movies that you might enjoy:
3 Idiots: Great cast, great music, rather typical plot but enough surprises to keep it interesting.
I Hate Luv Stories: Lots of Hinglish dialogue which makes it easy for the non-Hindi speaker to follow. Great music. Awesome cast.
Raanjhanaa: Again: Awesome music. Awesome script. Awesome cast. Tragically beautiful love story. I still think they could have incorporated the song Why This Kolaveri Di into the movie. It would have totally fit the plot.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan: So full of plot twists, I felt like I got three movies for the price of one when I saw it at the theatre. Love seeing Anushka Sharma and SRK on the screen together again. Great soundtrack.
Ek Tha Tiger: Great script. Good, albeit somewhat predictable storyline. Awesome opening scene.
Kal Ho Naa Ho: Again, crazy plot twists. Somewhat corny musical numbers, although catchy. Great cast. Love seeing Hindi movies based in the US. I think I got halfway through the movie before I recognized Saif Ali Khan.
Special 26: Great movie. Might not make sense for people who aren't familiar with Indian government to follow but if you can get it dubbed, you should be able to follow along. Even though it's based on a real story, take it lightly.  
Barfi!: I loved loved loved this movie. Anyone who's a fan of Priyanka Chopra, or has seen her collaboration with PitBull or Thursday Night Football intro, wouldn't even recognize her in this film. She did an amazing job. Not a dialogue heavy movie, however you'd want to see it dubbed so you can really follow the narrative overlay.
Cocktail: Terrific story. Lovely acting. Again, great music. I really appreciated the storyline in this one and the music was great too.
Bol Bachchan: Great comedy, fun music. Really hilarious to native English speakers who've spent any time in India or anyone who's regularly observed "Indian English."
Anything else someone not familiar with Hindi movies should know? What to add your favourite Hindi movie to the list? Do so in the comments below!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Get Your Own Plot!

The TV Series 24 is staring up in India. The first episode is set to air this week, staring Anil Kapoor as the Indian version of Jack Bauer. I never got into "24" when it aired in the states, but I am a big Anil Kapoor fan. You might recognize him as Prem, the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati, from Slumdog Millionaire (and he did appear in Season 8 of the US version of "24") but had to roll my eyes when I saw the advertisement for it.
Anil Kapoor at the US "24" Finale
Why? Just re-read the sentence above. Anil Kapoor is known in the US for his role as host of a TV game show ("Who Wants to Be A Millionaire"), ripped off from the US, and is now staring in a TV series, also ripped off from the US. Can't Indians come up with their own ideas for movies and television?
So much of the hit TV shows and movies here are plots taken from US shows. In the spirit of "24", here is my top 24 list of the most blatant Bollywood rip offs:
Bollywood: Partner
Hollywood: Hitch
Bollywood: Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu
Bollywood: Aisha
Hollywood: Clueless
Bollywood: God Tussi Great Ho
Hollywood: Bruce Almighty
Bollywood: Kaante
Hollywood: Reservoir Dogs
Bollywood: Players
Hollywood: The Italian Job
Bollywood: Khal-Naaikaa
Bollywood: Chor Machaaye Shor
Hollywood: Blue Streak
Bollywood: Black
Hollywood: The Miracle Worker
Bollywood: Nishabd
Hollywood: American Beauty
Bollywood: Hum Tum
Hollywood: Sliding Doors
Hollywood: My Best Friends Wedding (they couldn't even be creative with the title here)
Bollywood: Knock Out
Hollywood: Phone Booth
Bollywood: Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaaye (the Indian version is a bit tamer then the US version)
Hollywood: The Wedding Singer
Bollywood: F.A.L.T.U.
Hollywood: Accepted
Bollywood: Apartment: Rent at Your Own Risk (They should have considered a Hindi title because this English one sucks)
Hollywood: Single White Female
Bollywood: Pyaar Ka Saaya
Hollywood: Ghost
Bollywood: Sssshhh.
Hollywood: Scream
Bollywood: Mr Ya Miss
Hollywood: Switch
Bollywood: We Are Family
Hollywood: Stepmom
Hollywood: Home Alone
Bollywood: Teen Patti
Hollywood: 21
Bollywood: Ra-One
Hollywood: Tron Legacy (although many say it's more Robocop)
Have one to add? Comment below!

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Utlimate Mandoline Strikes Again!

Today spawned another medical emergency. Not an emergency really, but it required a trip to a medical professional which seems to be a theme for me since I've come to India.
On Tuesday, while slicing vegetables using the Ultimate Mandoline, from Pampered Chef, I sliced more than my cucumber. PC describes the Ultimate Mandoline like this:  "Slice and grate perfectly when you have four interchangeable stainless blades to choose from. The food holder ensures your fingers stay away from the blade, right down to the very last slice. The crinkle cutting, v-shaped slicing or adjustable slicing blade pops up to slice food when you slide the food holder over the blade."
I was using the v-shaped blade, and I was NOT using the food holder. As I was slicing, and becoming mesmerized by how smoothly I was able to glide the cucumber over the blade and create perfectly uniform slices, it occurred to me that it was nearing time to pull my hand away. Before my brain could fully register such a novel thought, my finger met the blade, and....you get the idea.
Two days later it was still bleeding so I thought I'd better see a doctor. There, they cleaned it out and bandaged it up. They also wanted me to have a tetanus shot. Now remember, this is India. The clinic doesn't stock the tetanus booster or the syringe and a trip outside of the clinic over to the pharmacy to buy the tetanus shot plus the syringe was required. Once back, I got my injection and was on my way. The entire ordeal took just 10-15 minutes, no appointment required, and cost somewhere around $3 including medicine and administrative fees. Not too shabby.
And for those that want to see what amazing things the Ultimate Mandoline is capable of when once doesn't employ the food holder?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Gender Segregation and Living as a Woman in India

A friend of mine recently sent me an article from the Washington Post addressing the call for female only trains, busses, cabs, and even city parks in parts of India. It seems that it's not only the Indian newspapers that are full of stories of rape and violence against women. India's seeming surge of violent attacks is making news globally.
In sending me the article, my friend was asking for my take on the safety of living in India as a woman. Keep in mind, I am married to an Indian with my in-laws ever present so my experience I feel is more sheltered then that of someone staying here, who doesn't have family to fall back on and has to take care of everything on their own.
Let me start out by saying, I feel blessed to have landed in Hyderabad. No matter where else in India I've visited, I've always felt like I was coming home upon my return to the city. I find the people here to be very welcoming and genuinely caring and helpful. When I first came here, I attributed this to my white skin. Everyone was curious about me and eager to help, but after living in the same place for over two years, that sentiment hasn't changed much. When I'm out in my own neighbourhood, I feel comfortable. Local merchants that know me (and that's just about all of them), go out of their way to come and say hi when they see me out, and I feel as though I have people I can count on when I need anything.
Apart from taking care of daily business in my own neighbourhood, I don't go out alone. I'm always accompanied by my husband or my brother in law and don't find myself in situations where I have to navigate something without the company of a guardian that speaks the local language. It sounds old fashion, but it's how things are done and it certainly lends itself to safer circumstances.
The article in the WP discussed the demand for women only transportation options and locals providing women a place they could relax and enjoy the company of their friends without having to deflect lewd comments or looks from men. They are supposed to provide safer options for the female population. Now, we all know that the real problem is with the men and that the attention should be on raising our boys to learn to respect women, but that's going to take an immense educational effort and generations before such sentiment is at the heart of the population.
If there are immediate options available to women that allow them the independence to go out alone because they don't have to fear for their safety from men on a local bus, or some creep at a local park then I think that's a good thing. I don't believe that some level of segregation, in the name of safety, will discount the educational gains or career options for women, as stated in the article. I think it would do the opposite. I think it would provide women with opportunities to bolster their confidence and independence because they wouldn't have to expend energy worrying about every other passenger on the bus and what their intensions might be.  
There's no where I want to go that I don't have someone that is willing to take me, and while I appreciate their company, the option to take a ladies only bus would certainly provide additional options for me and I think that's a good thing!
What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Massage: Why Can't It Be A Legitmate Thing?!

Body massage in India is somewhat of a taboo. Not overtly, but an undercurrent of suspicion seems to arise anytime I bring up the topic. I was a regular at local massage centres back home, and in over 2 years in India, have yet to find a quality, legitimate place to have this done.
My first experience getting a massage in India scarred me. It started out at my local salon/parlour and the same girl who had done my facial and hair spa, took me into the back room for my massage. Within a few minutes the male owner entered and was overly concerned about any tension I might have in my bra. That experience shied me away from getting massages for a long time.
About a year later, a massage parlour opened up in the building right beside my apartment. I heard all of the "therapists" were women, so I felt a bit better and considered checking it out. Until I was informed they only accepted male clientele. It was a brothel under the guise of a massage parlour.
One day we received a flier in the newspaper for a package deal at a new salon. It included a massage so I checked it out. The place was professional and the massage was conducted by a female, in a comfortable and secure setting. She just wasn't very good. I'm not a fan of these foo-foo massages, I'm used to being worked over by a sports therapist and the massage being more of a work out. So now I'd found the location, just not a quality therapist.
Just before my wedding, I started going to a new salon. The owner of the salon gave an amazing facial and included a little shoulder massage, so I asked her once if she'd do a back massage, even thought it wasn't in the "menu" of services provided. She agreed, but she never did it. No matter how many times I asked, she'd say "yes yes" but she'd never do it.
So now her salon has been bought out and I'm going to the one that replaced it. They advertise massage services, and have quite a variety to chose from in the menu. Every time I ask for it, I just get returned with confused stares and no matter how many times during my services that I bring up the subject, they NEVER do the massage. I can point it out in the "menu" but they never do it.  I don't know how to be more assertive about it besides crossing my arms, stomping my foot and refusing to leave until they do it.
Today I asked no less than four times. The lady doing my other services (the same one from the old place that got bought out) even asked me if I wanted oil or cream, and even stepped out to confirm the prices, but she NEVER did it.
I don't know if I'm some kind of freak for asking for it, or for persisting, but I don't get what the big deal is. I don't require someone who's professionally trained, just someone who can put a little elbow into it and isn't a pervert. There are options at the high end hotels and a few resorts to have it done, but you'll pay a fortune and those places aren't easily accessible. It looks like they might be my only option though. I think when I get to go back to the US for a visit, I'll schedule a massage for every single day I'm there! Just to make up for lost time.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Birth and Beyond: Welcoming Your Bundle Of Joy

Now that you've spent nine months avoiding the eclipse and not crossing rivers at night, and you've welcomed your bouncing bundle of joy, what's next? Well, just as there are a lot of beliefs surrounding how to get pregnant and what to do (or not do) during your pregnancy, you can imagine there are many that come into play once your baby arrives. Here is a list to get you started from birth and beyond.

Post Delivery Confinement:  Originally introduced to keep the mother and child safe from infection and evil spirits, as well as allow time for the mother to recover from the delivery, the post delivery confinement period lasts for approximately 40 days. This also aids in protecting the child from nazar, or Evil Eye, which we'll learn more about later. Confinement may take place in the wife's parent's home or at her in-laws place. It's common for the parents of the wife to pay for the birth of the first born. Often, the woman will travel to her parent's home for the last few months of her pregnancy, and stay there through the confinement period only return home to her husbands place around the 2nd or 3rd month following birth.

Mama Massage: During confinement, new mothers are often given maalish, or a full body massage once a day. Believed to help with circulation and of course, relaxation.

Baby Massage: Baby massage, either given by the mother, grandmother, or dai is also very common. Normally, the child will have a bath once a day, followed by a massage with oil, a head to toe covering of baby powder, then application of the nazar battu, which is the intentional blemishes drawn on to ward off Evil Eye.  Unfortunately, even if a trained dai, or nursemaid, is employed for the massage, many times due to too rigorous of a massage, this practice leads to dislocation of the joints and a trip for the new-born to the hospital.

Food: As we learned in Food Myths and Mysteries, there are many beliefs surrounding food in India. For the new mom, here are a few guidelines:
  • Gourds such as lauki and tori are believed to increase your supply of milk.
  • Paan (betel leaves) after every meal is thought to help with digestion.
  • Increased intake of ghee (clarified butter) is believed to help regain strength and aid muscle repair.
  • Fruits, fizzy drinks and juices are believed to be cooling.
  • Green and red chillies might be difficult to digest so you might be told to replace them with black pepper for some spice.
  • Foods believed to produce gas for your baby through your milk will be discouraged. Some examples include onions and jackfruit.
  •  Garlic may be consumed in large quantities as it's believed to aid in the contraction of the uterus.
Evil Eye: It is believed that new-borns are highly susceptible to nazar or 'Evil Eye.' To protect the new-born from Evil Eye, there are many practices that can be used:
  • If your child has an evil eye cast upon him/her, wave some salt over her/his head and toss it into the fire or water.
  • Another common widely followed way is to wave red whole chillies over the affected child and throwing them in the fire. People are usually heard of saying that if the smoke smells of chillies, then the child was not affected by an evil eye or buri nazar. But, if the smoke does not smell of chillies, it is said that the child was indeed troubled by the evil eye and it has been warded off.
  • Babies are usually adorned with kajal (kohl) under their eyes or on their foreheads. There is a common belief that this actually mars their beauty and makes them look unappealing to those casting an Evil Eye.  It's also common to see them with drawn on eyebrows.
  • A small pocket knife, an iron piece or religious charms are kept by the baby’s side to protect him/her.
  • Bits of pottery from a burial ground, tooth of a crocodile or a tiger’s claw at one’s homes are popular charms said to ward off the Evil Eye.
  • Small mirrors are also sewn or braided together and are said to reflect back bad energy.
  • The child may also be adorned with an amulet such as a taviz. Taviz is generally in the form of a black string and can be tied around the neck, wrist, or ankle, and less commonly, the upper arm (between the shoulder and the elbow).
  • Families will also sometimes dress their little boys up as little girls when taking them out, so as to curb the likelihood of someone feeling jealous over the birth of a boy and hence cast an Evil Eye on the child.
Jewellery: Seeing babies wearing jewellery is quite common. Apart from the taviz, seeing small children with anklets, bangles, and earrings is a normal site. Many Hindus will have an ear piercing ceremony for their child, regardless of gender, on their first birthday. These can be as offerings to the Gods, or to keep away evil spirits, or to welcome the good spirits that will watch over the child, offering health, happiness and prosperity.

Birth Defects: Using the term "defect" might be a bit harsh here, but I'm talking about small abnormalities that could be easily corrected with surgery. Many of these things are believed to be auspicious. Those include, skin tags, extra fingers or toes, or, God forbid, tails. It seems these things are good luck and will ensure your health and prosperity.
I remember watching an episode of Ripley's Believe It Or Not several years ago and there was as story of an Indian child that was born with a tail, who, rather than having it corrected, was worshipped for it.

I'll admit it, I'm not a fan of many of the customs and feel that a lot of them stem from outdated superstitions. I also worry that some of them might cause harm to the child, such as the fear of post-natal check-ups due to worry over the Evil Eye, massages resulting in dislocation of the joints, blindness caused by a bacteria infested kohl pencil, or the risk of the child getting a taviz which is tied around their wrist, ankle, or neck caught on something and choking.
What do you think about these customs? Any you'd like to add or learn more about? Feel free to leave a note in the comments.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hot State: Pregnancy Beliefs in India

As the second instalment of my Pregnancy in India series, where I first told you about how I was instructed to get pregnant (none of steps involving actual being with my husband), I'll share with you now some of the pregnancy beliefs in India. This is just a partial list of things that I find most interesting. If you have heard any others, please share them in the comments below.

How to avoid miscarriage:
  • Avoid dead bodies: No matter how tight your relationship was with the deceased, the pregnant woman is not to get close to the body.
  • Don't cross a river, especially in the dark. Doing so, you're at risk of the water spirit giving you bad energy.
  • Don't visit any woman who has recently had a child. This too is believed to cause some bad spirit influence over the unborn.
  • Keep your arms down: Raising your arms over your head or resting your hands on your head. This may result in strangling the child with the umbilical cord.
  • Avoid egg, pineapple and, papaya. Some doctors will agree that un-ripened papaya can result in contractions but overall the medical industry considers the three to be safe as long as they are consumed in moderation.
  • Hot Foods: Apply the list I shared with you in Food Myths and Mysteries and don't eat those things during pregnancy.

  • Don't do it!: Pregnant women are discouraged from bathing. Considering we don't have hot water here, I'm not sure it's a temperature thing, which I've heard about even in the US.
  • Washing your hair: Some believe women should not wash their hair for the first 7 months of pregnancy until they have a special religious ceremony. Not adhering to this could stop reincarnation, which happens through the head.

How to prevent birth defects:
  • Avoid the eclipse: The wife should remain in bed and not even glimpse in the direction of the moon. 
    Courtesy of www.aaroads.com
  • Avoid eye makeup: If the pregnant woman applies eye makeup, there's a chance her child could be born with the same look.
  • The husband should not apply a talik to his wife (that's the smudge between the eyebrows), otherwise the child might be born with the same mark.
  • Parting of the hair: The husband, should however, part his wife's hair three times from front to back during a religious ceremony to ensure "ripening" of the embryo.
  • Locking and Unlocking: If during pregnancy, the wife has to lock and unlock things frequently (think doors) the child may be born with bent, weak fingers.
  • Chopping wood: If the wife chops wood with an axe or breaks a wooden object, the child will be born with "marked" hands.
  • Stamping or Printing: If any stamping or printing is done during the eclipse, the child will be born with an impression on their body.
  • Sewing or stitching: These will cause birth defects.
  • Lay Still: Moving or shifting too much from side to side while trying to find a comfortable sleeping position later in pregnancy may result in suffocation of the unborn.
  • Do not travel in the even months of your pregnancy (i.e. 4th month, 6th month, 8th month).
Courtesy of www.foodlve.com
How to ensure a good lookin' baby (by Indian standards):
  • Saffron and milk: Drinking this mixture will ensure a fair skinned baby.
  • Oranges: Eating these while pregnant will also ensure a fair complexion in the unborn.
  • Coconut is also consumed (basically any white colour food) to ensure a light skinned baby.
  • Avoid Spinach: It will result in excessive hair growth for the baby.

How to predict the gender: In India, gender determining ultrasounds are against the law due to infanticide rates for female children. A few indicators relied upon to determine the gender of the unborn, subsequently are:
  • Pimples: If you have a lot of pimples while pregnant, you're having a girl.
  • Sweets: Eating more sweet food rather than sour food during pregnancy will increase your chances of having a boy.
  • Carrying Low: You're having a boy.
  • Small, round belly: You're having a boy.
  • A glowing face: You're having a girl.

Ensure a smooth delivery:
  • The mother should eat ghee (clarified butter) while pregnant to ensure a smooth delivery. The kid should slip right out.
  • Avoid overeating: It will result in a large sized baby which will be difficult to deliver.
  • Heavy Lifting: Doing a lot of physical labour during pregnancy will decrease the chances of having to deliver via a C-section and increase your opportunity for a natural delivery.
  • Birthing methods are hereditary: If your mom had a C-section, you'll mostly likely have to deliver the same way.  

So there it is, in a nutshell, your basic guide to pregnancy in India. Do you have any other pregnancy beliefs to share? Do so in the comments below!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Biology Makes Babies

While I appreciate the comfort that prayers can bring, and I find value in praying for a lot of things, there's one thing that I have never believed could be answered in prayer. That thing is conception. Conception as in: The sperm meets the egg, the cells divide, the cells divide again, and whammo, nine months later you have a bouncing baby. Granted, once you find out you're pregnant I think it's super natural to pray. To pray for a healthy pregnancy, to pray for a healthy baby, to pray to keep your spouse safe. But prior to that, it's biology.
As the second most populous country in the world with a staggering 1.23 billion people, India certainly seems to have gotten the conception trick down. Lately, however, I have to wonder if many people really understand how it all works. The biology aspect I mean. Many women will bemoan the fact that they've been unable to get pregnant. Of the women that have expressed to me, their disappointment in not being able to get pregnant after marriage, one includes a woman who insisted her husband wear a condom every time they "met," another doesn't live with her husband and might see him for a day or two every few months, and a third gets her period twice a year and has never seen a doctor about it. Do the math. It's not rockets. It's not lack of prayers being answered. It's biology. Perhaps if it did happen for any of those women, it would be a miracle and completely change my mind on the topic.
Well, after being married more than a year, and no babies to show for it, drastic action had to be taken today. I was given very specific instructions. They included:
Fast: This means no food, no drink, no smoke, no sex. What one thing from this list is required to make a baby? Nope, can't do that.
Fruit: When it was time to break my fast, I had a very specific seeded fruit I was to eat, seed and all. It was brought from a dargah, which is a holy shrine. I don't know what kind of fruit it was but it tasted like a prune.
Water: After swallowing the seeded fruit, I was to drink water.
Food: After the water I was to eat a bowl of kheer, which is a sort of milky rice pudding.
Prayer: After the food I was to pray.
Recitation: There was a script that also needed to be recited, but as I don't read Arabic, I was S.O.L.
Doing all of the above is supposed to aid in fertility. Considering not a single act from the above list involves what I learned in my 5th grade Family Studies class, I can't say I'm convinced. Biology has to come into the equation somewhere. Yet it would seem that many here don't make that connection.

Putting all of your faith in the above would seem to me to make pregnancy almost impossible without a little physical contact with your spouse coming into the equation.
Wait until I blog about the superstitions pressed upon women during their pregnancy. It's amazing any babies are born here.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Mega Watt Smile

Remember when you were a kid and learning about the importance of brushing your teeth? The dentist used to tell you to spend 2 minutes brushing, twice per day. Your parents would make you sing your way through the alphabet song and you couldn't stop brushing until you reached Z?
9 Oct 2007 - Indian school children attempt to break the world record for the largest co-ordinated tooth brushing, currently held by the Philippines, at 41,038. Courtesy of BBC News
Indians have the brushing thing down to a science. Never in my life have I seen people spend the amount of time they spend brushing their teeth. Every morning, you'll see men zooming by on motorcycles with a toothbrush hanging out of their mouth or kids walking to the kirana shop to get the morning packet of milk, brushing all the way there and all the way back home. My personal favourite (please sense sarcasm) generally happens between the hours of 8-10am, and is the sound of any number of neighbours brushing so vigorously that they gag themselves, repeatedly. Brushing right out there in the open; for a super extended period of time. Shoving that toothbrush so far down their throat, they make heaving noises and not just once, but like 10 times before they're satisfied. It's like a gagging quota or something.
Everyone does it. It's not an isolated thing. I've not been anywhere in India where I haven't observed this. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great. Many Indians have really sparkling beautiful teeth regardless of the fact that they might have never visited a dentist in their life.
There are two dental products I have not been able to locate however. The first is dental floss. Both of my brother in laws are dentists so I thought they could hook me up. When I asked one why I couldn't find it in the stores he says, "People don't know how to use it, so it's not sold. They do themselves more harm than good with it." When I asked him whether he could get me some, he said "No, you'll do more harm than good with it." Point taken, and perhaps he's right as I did have my US dentist tell me once I was flossing too hard and had cut marks on the roof of my mouth and gum line. Moving on...
The second product I can't find is home tooth whitening kits. Again, deemed too dangerous for the average consumer, you can only avail this service at your local dentist office. Of course you have the normal array of whitening toothpaste but we all know how effective that stuff is. So I did what the internet savvy consumer would do and I turned to Pinterest. There I found an amazing recipe that worked better than any store product I've purchased (and I've pretty much tried them all). You just have to mix 1/4 cup baking soda with juice from half a lemon and apply it to your teeth for 60 seconds then rinse with water and brush as normal. I'll spare you the before and after pics of my own mouth, but trust me, this concoction works! Just be careful not to get it on your gums because the mixture will tear 'em up. I found it worked well to use a Q-Tip (you won't believe how long it took me to find those in India) to apply.
So... happy brushing, and happy whitening if you decide to try the recipe. If so, let me know what you think! And if you're visiting India any time soon, could you bring me some floss?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

All Dogs Go To Heaven

You'll be missed, Buddy!
It's with a heavy heart that I report Steppy's passing. Steppy left us in the early hours this morning. I kind of suspected something was wrong. The past few days he's been a tad lethargic. I had noticed his eyes were a bit squinty and he wasn't his alert self. Sunday he even got goosed by a monkey and didn't get overly excited about it. When I stepped outside mid morning I noticed he was laying in his usual place, but not in his usual position. It seemed odd. I actually wondered at that time if he had died and thought of going down to poke him, but figured I was over-reacting. This afternoon when I got up, my maid confirmed for me that he had passed. She thinks it was due to his old age, but who knew how old he really was?
He was such a sweet soul. Every day when I got home I would receive such an enthusiastic greeting. He would dance in circles of excitement as I stepped down from the cab and bop his nose along my hand as I walked to my front door. Then when I closed the gate behind me, he'd sit beneath my balcony wagging his tail and whining for more attention.
Each afternoon when I'd step out to catch my cab he'd trot along with me and wait at my side until my cab arrived. Anytime I'd walk to the corner store, he'd be right along side me and wait outside until I completed my shopping and escort me back home.
He taught Leila and Doni compassion towards animals. He was patient with them while they overcame their fears and soon he became part of their games. He served as the unofficial security alarm for our apartment, ensured no other stray dogs made our lane their home, and he even rescued me from a rat once.
It was weird coming home today and not having him waiting. Perhaps another dog will move in, but never one as sweet as our Steppy.
You can read more about Steppy in 'A Dogs Life'

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Scene: I'm standing on a chair in the kitchen, reorganizing the small appliances the workers haphazardly placed after they finished painting our kitchen.
Z: "Why are you doing that? Let the workers do it."
AT: "I can do it myself. What do I need them for?"
Z: "Just tell them how you want it organized and they'll come and do it."
AT: "It's not a big deal. I can have it done before they can even get up here."
Z: "But it's their job. Just stand here and tell them how you want it and they'll do it."
AT: "I told them how I wanted it, and this is how they kept it. I'll do it my way, it will be done in two minutes, and it will be the way I want it. You know, in the US you don't have someone you can call every time you want a small task done. You have to do it yourself."
Z: "Don't scare me like that."
When I was making plans to move to India I was given a single piece of advice by my then Site Director "Don't become too dependent on others to do things for you."
In India, hired help is just a call and a 20 rupee note away. Anything you want done, any time, day or night, there's someone you can call and hire to do it. Just two years after arriving, I'm realizing how completely dependent I've become on others for super basic things I've done for myself most of my life.
When I first came here I felt guilty asking my watchman to get me breakfast or to go to the market or to take my clothes to be pressed. My husband kept telling me "it's his job." Not really. His job is to keep the exterior of the apartment clean, be a Mr Fix-It when required, and ensure our building is relatively secure.
Fast forward 2 years: Hired help takes my laundry to be pressed, hired help presses it, and hired help goes and picks it up after it's pressed. Hired help makes my lunch and my tea. Hired help takes me to and from office every day. Hired help replaces a burnt out light bulb, or an empty water bottle, or an empty toothpaste tube. Every little thing, is done by someone else; to the point of my own paralysis. If my cook doesn't come, I don't eat. If someone doesn't take my clothes for pressing, I don't wear business formal to the office. I've become completely dependent on others and I find it maddening.
Having someone there to do every small task has put me into a state of helplessness when I'm left to my own devices. What I find most frustrating about it, is that I have to wait for said help to arrive then spend what feels like an excessive amount of time trying to explain what I want, and watching over them to offer direction in order to ensure it's done right. In that time, I could have just done it myself, and no doubt saved some money and my own aggravation.
I've always been a strongly independent person and I'm stunned and rather dismayed about how quickly that quite admirable trait has vanished from my character. I try and justify it by saying that everything is so damn difficult here that you should take help where you can get it. Let someone else fuss over the small stuff. Part of me is appreciative for that reason, and the other part realizes how sheltered I've been over the past 2 years because I've always had someone there to do everything for me and I've had pretty limited instances where I've had to struggle for anything. That's a blessing, but could also be a curse.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

10 Things You Have to Know About Arranged Marriages - Courtesy of Bollywoodshaadis.com and My Boss

My boss forwarded me this article from Bollywoodshaadi's.com
People in the western countries are at their wit’s end when it comes to comprehending the rationale behind arranged marriage system, more so the success rate that it enjoys. But there is a lot more to this traditional system of making matches than what meets the eyes.
1) Right age: Love knows no age, but in order to make a good match through arranged marriage, it is imperative to keep age consideration in mind. The preferable age for girls is around 25 or 26 and for guys no later than 30.
2) Self assessment: Take a pen and paper and list down what all things you expect in your spouse to be and what level of compatibility do you desire, that will be in tune with the compromises that will need to be made.
3) Decent Expectations: Expectations in an arranged marriage tend to run high and higher the expectations, greater are the disappointments because at the end of the day, it is not necessary that all the virtues that you desire can be found in one person.
4) Economic compatibility: Arranged marriages take everything in account and strive for utmost compatibility even in terms of economic standing of the families. In fact, in olden days it was a way of ensuring financial security for the bride.
5) Beauty: Arranged marriage is about suitability and compatibility. Beauty can easily take a back seat. Your intended need not be as dashing as Tom Cruise or as charming as Kate Winslet. Looks are important but not the most important thing.
6) Understanding: Now, this is the million dollar question: how can you understand a person in just one or two meets? At times a lifetime seems less to truly understand someone. It is here that you should share your feelings about the person with your very close friends or may be siblings.
7) Observe Etiquettes: Yes, there are some set codes of conduct that society at large expects you to follow. For example, do sufficient background research about the person before consenting to meet. Answering in negation after having met twice or thrice may be detrimental to the person’s self confidence.
8) Take Advice: Feel free to take advice from those you feel will be able to guide you in the best possible way. Do not make a show of your feelings but then do not go about it unsolicited.
9) Final Decision: Do not just marry a girl or a guy just because your parents or friends asked you to. It has to be your own decision and you will be responsible for whatever happens later in the life.
10) Commitment: Arranged marriages are based on commitment and it is the most necessary element that keeps a relationship going.
Bollywoodshaadis.com – Mon 29 Apr, 2013 1:11 PM IST
What do you think? Is there anything that should be added to the list, or any items you don't feel should be on the list?