Monday, April 30, 2012

Sacrifices and Expectations

In light of some recent blog comments I felt it only fitting to go ahead and post about some things I've been reluctant to discuss before. I've thought about this blog post a lot because of stories I hear from other pardesi's and because some of the things I write are not always clear. Especially when I'm typing while emotional. Considering I'm a very emotional person, that probably happens more than I realize. My comments are with each item.

My expectations were fairly simple. I didn't come thinking I was going to live a lavish lifestyle or have a Bollywood vacation experience. I didn't anticipate moving in and taking over. I'm not that type of person.

My expectations for coming to India:
  • Family works together as a cohesive unit. This happens in this family with some things, but on a daily basis, our family is quite separated from Uncle and Chachi's family. This could be due to the tension between brothers, or their general disdain for anyone not catering to their every whim...or both.
  • Maid service. We already had a maid, this was a reasonable expectation. Only problem is it took 6 months to get her to come clean my room on a regular basis. Right after she started coming in here she conveniently retired. We got a new maid a month later and there hasn't been any issue since.
  • I was supposed to be involved, consulted, etc. for family decisions. I was told I would have some say in renovations to the house and such as that. So far, it hasn't happened yet and I'm the only DIL. Even when I ask, a good portion of the family discussions are made while I'm not present. BUT, I will say FIL is exceptionally good at taking care of the house needs and making sure things get done if I make it known to him. I'm okay with this arrangement now. The more I see go on here, the less I want to be a part of it.
  • I would keep my job. And I did...with all it's challenges. It actually surprised me how many clients turned me down based solely on my location and not my education, experience, portfolio, etc. I would even get notes specifically saying they didn't want anyone in India. 
  • I would be able to relax and save money. I have saved money. It cost me about 1/3 the amount of money to live here as it did in the states. And I am expensive by Indian standards (imported foods, branded merchandise, etc.) As for relaxing, I don't think it was at all what I expected. I work less here but that only brings a lot of new stress. And you can't relax fully while so many people are staring at you, even if you don't really care that they are. 
  • Freedom. This is a democratic country but women are far from free in this city. Yes, it's almost exclusively this city and it's most certainly not just my house or neighborhood. I've had grown women who worked tell me they were only allowed to drive to and from work unless they sought their parents permission to go elsewhere and I've also seen that permission denied. It's also common for anyone who hasn't reached uncle/aunty status to be reprimanded for being out of the house for too long at any given time (more than 4 hours typically). 
Rules/things I was prepared for and agreed with: 
  • Not going out at night or being out too late. -- I didn't do this in the US, I surely wasn't planning on doing it in a foreign country. I still have no desire to. I hate going out in the evening and night but I have no choice since dinner hours here are much later than I'm accustomed to and not much is open early in the mornings. 
  • There would be no Punjabi class. I don't learn well in a one on one environment and I wrote a while back about the Punjabi tutor they hired for me. She was a sweet person but the situation did not work for me at all. 
  • I wouldn't be driving myself around. I was okay with that in the beginning. Things have changed now that I see how stifling it is without being able to go out and get the things you need when you need them.
  • Wearing more conservative clothing. I (wrongfully) assumed that I wouldn't want too much skin exposed to the Indian sun. I burn easily in the states. Here I don't burn at all but since I didn't pack any shorts I didn't have any to wear for a long time. This will be corrected on my upcoming trip to the states.
  • I didn't expect for people to have so little compassion toward me. I'm not naive enough to think that all DIL's are readily accepted and loved but this family had already accepted me a long time ago. We never had the 'don't marry the westerner' issues that many pardesi's face. Instead of compassion I was met with "tolerate" it. It being whatever it was I wasn't prepared to deal with. 
Rules I was warned of but refused to obey: 
  • I was told I wouldn't be allowed to have friends here. Though it took me a long time to find them, hubby supported me fairly quick with only the apprehension I had found them online. FIL and MIL surprisingly got excited every time I found someone who was foreign and married to a desi. Other than going alone, the friend issue has not been a major problem. 
  • Touching feet/knees. I was told conflicting things on this. First it was that feet are considered unclean. Then it was that I should touch the feet of old people. I stuck with knees for a while and if I was pushed, I would fake touching feet. I don't like feet, not even in the US, and I'm not about to start touching feet I know have walked through these roads with only flip flops (thongs) on. It's not smart for someone who gets sick a lot here. Still, I was nice enough to put on a show. 
  • Women eating last. I refused from day one to come here, be a short order chef and then eat the scraps leftover. I got lucky I guess because hubby agreed that it would be nice to eat together at meal time. (Of course there are exceptions when we eat without each other but you get my point.) I'm not cut out to be a subservient wife and it's a good thing he can handle that. (And just so y'all know he and I both know I'm a pain in the ass and are both perfectly okay with it.) 
Things I never expected: 
  • Blatant disrespect by educated professionals in non-government establishments. 
  • Being verbally abused by doctors and nurses. Most have even made overt and blunt racist remarks to my face while I was asking for treatment.
  • Constant tension in the home/family. Drama extends to even those not in the household and I had just rather not be privy to it all. I avoided drama as much as possible in the US and now I'm in drama central. 
  • Being shunned and made to feel unwelcome in my own home for unknown reasons. Nor would I have expected it to last 3 months (and it's still not totally back to normal).
  • I don't even know how to sum up the uncle ji crap I've had to deal with but I can honestly say I never expected any of that. He was wonderful when I stayed here before and seemed normal during the wedding.
  • I didn't expect to be completely disregarded in concerns for my health and well being on a day to day basis. I have been taken to the hospital and doctors were gotten for me when I was seriously sick but when I requested pre-emptive measures they were always denied or delayed. I have yet to get it through anyones head in this house that I can't just pop a random pill that a friend recommended. I have to see an actual doctor because there's a lot of medicine I can't take with this thyroid condition. They also don't seem to realize how serious the condition can be even when something small happens. BUT, neither did a lot of people in my life in the states. It's a widely misunderstood disorder. 
  • I wasn't fully prepared for IST. 
  • I wasn't prepared for the amount of lying that goes on here in this city. If you ask for something you are almost always promised, reassured, guaranteed you will get it. But it rarely happens unless you continually nag the person for it over the course of several weeks (sometimes months). If you don't get it now, you most likely never will. This is not just a shopkeeper issue either. The premise is they don't want to say no and upset you. But, it really pisses me off to be expecting something and continually lied to and then I never get it. 
  • I wasn't prepared to face extreme humiliation repeatedly. 
  • I wasn't prepared to be kept from enjoying things about India. Of course, after marriage I started hearing things like "we can't participate in Holi because people throw feces and pee at each other." And I've learned that is sadly true India-wide. So we don't go to the festivals in the city or participate in the holidays from anywhere other than our terrace. I feel robbed and cheated. My only choices are to never see these things or go against the family and that's no easy choice to make.
  • I was very ill prepared for just how much suffering I would have to see on a daily basis. Beggars that are maimed on purpose so they can make more money. Children forced to beg as if they're worth no more than the money they make. Babies beaten and murdered because they're female. Women set on fire because she didn't pay enough dowry. Animals severely beaten for no other reason than they were trying to eat trash someone threw on the side of the street. Rape being touted as not even being a crime because a woman was on her way home from work after dark. Honor killings. And I'm being questioned why I say Indians are sadistic?? Maybe Indians are used to this stuff (desensitized against it) but I am not. I can't handle human suffering or walk by like it doesn't exist. I don't want to. I refuse to get used to it.
My requests of the family since I've been here: 
  • Washing their hands more often. Kitty does this quite often. MIL and Chachi I have seen wash their hands once but I know they wash after going to the bathroom and of course during laundry and dish washing. FIL backs me on this one and I often hear him reminding people to wash their hands (in our family).
  • Washing the hand trails off the stairwell walls. After my first long battle over this one the walls got painted instead of cleaned. Fine, I can accept that. But, when they got nasty again it was another fight to have someone clean them. Hubby finally got pissed and did it himself (and FIL joined in). Afterward hubby came to me in amazement that you could clean the walls and the paint wouldn't come off. I appreciated him cleaning it since no one else would and they wouldn't even get the maid to do it if we paid but it greatly troubles me that it was such a struggle. I honestly felt like my health wasn't important enough for them to wash a small section of wall. 
  • Since MIL and I share a kitchen, I've requested she clean up her mess after cooking. This wasn't an issue until recently. Many times I was in the kitchen before her because I eat earlier in the day. Then she started getting everything ready to cook sometimes as early as 2 PM and leaving everything in the kitchen. Now it's progressed to me not being able to even find a couple inches of space in the kitchen before 10 AM or after 5 PM. Unless of course I clean it myself and I refuse to do it.
  • MIL to wash all the dishes after each use. Yes, this sounds simple but I can't tell you how many times I've went to get a knife out of the cup and pulled out a dirty one. Not just dirty, but often with chunks of food stuck to it.
  • Don't try to feed me food that has been sitting out on the counter. Bacteria is everywhere in every country but my body doesn't like it. Food is often left on the counter for hours and shared with the ants, lizards or whatever other creature is living in there at that particular time.
  • A hot water geyser. Granted as a means to try and help me avoid sickness. Very much appreciated. My only complaints with this is the times someone deliberately tried to sabotage my use of it. I wrote about those a while back.
  • Use of the spare kitchen. Twice now denied even though it was only used once in the 15 months I've lived here --- for my wedding the week after I got here. Keep in mind I would be supplying my own gas, stove, cookware, etc. Why can't I use it? Uncle ji can't give up his storage space.
  • As for minor requests, I ask for fruit quite often (mostly twice a week) since FIL does the grocery shopping for the home and I had him pick up KFC once. That's literally it. 
Not a single one of those requests is even close to being unreasonable. I never asked anyone to change who they were. I didn't try to take over the house or force anyone to conform to anything. I don't want to change them but they sure as hell try to change me. I'm the one being forced to conform to a bunch of archaic societal rules that even they themselves don't often live by.

As for the rules, I don't expect everyone to have been as readily available to agree to some of those rules. I agreed to things that were fairly common in my life already. I came from an overly conservative, outwardly religious and evangelical family. I was raised with many of the same values I expected to live with when I came here. Many Americans wouldn't agree to those terms and that's their choice. I made mine and as bad as things have been here so far, I don't regret my decision.


  1. A great post, I do really enjoy it when you can put the emotion aside (which I respect is very difficult) and share your knowledgeable and well thought out thoughts.

    I am glad to know that you do not regret coming here and that you are realistic about the way that things do work here.
    I hope that writing posts like these will help you 'come to terms with' or even 'grieve' the life that you used to live or the dreams that you used to have. Before eventually deciding to move here, I wrote many introspective and personal blogs to help me bring with me to India the most powerful tool, that being the best attitude and outlook I could carry.
    I hope that you do have a wonderful time in the US, and that it does give you time to evaluate certain things within your life, and come back with a refreshed outlook - being 100% aware of the circumstances, family and environment you will be returning to!
    For your sake and for Rohit, I really do hope that he finds a better job and that you (and your parents in law, if you choose) do get to break free from this cyclical and destructive joint family.
    I do still follow your blog, and do still follow your story with great interest, we are just one of very few people living in a very similar environment, within the same City and with many of the same factors. 
    I read this quote just this morning and though it is from a movie and may well just be a baseless quote, I think it applies very well to our lives here.“This is a new and different world. The challenge is to cope with it. And not just cope, but thrive.”

  2. The things you were not prepared to deal with made me smile, because I went through a lot of that in the begining, that was 8.5 years ago :) It's is very though to suddenly face a new world, new customs and new environement, this is apparently called the expat adjustment phase, it can take years to get confortable in one place, and the first few years are always the hardest.
    You have it even harder because you live in a disfunctional joint family and probably taken advantage off on the cultural expectation thing, so good for you standing up.

    I have a friend here in my residential complex who is from Amritsar, I got to chit chat about that the other day with her, she says that it is a small town, and indeed a bit more conservative than the rest, but that the family you live in can make it or break it, in her parent's place, she wears shorts and t-shirts and no one bat an eyelid, when she goes out she wears western wear and just don't let people bother her, she went out alone too, she agrees though not to go out at night without someone else. She said that it takes time to enjoy the city and be confortable in it if you didn't grow up there. So chin up, the future can only look brighter :) Recharge your batteries in the US and come back strong and assertive to claim your place in the family, you are part of it, you have rights, and yes your expectations aren't unreasonable, and I strongly think you should be able to use the second kitchen. In quite a few joint family house a second kitchen is generally kept for the son who marry first so that his wife can use it, that means Rohit should be able to claim it, Uncle-ji's kids are nowhere near getting married yet and he can't use every empty room as storage.

  3. I also meant to mention that you in laws, have accepted you and they did agree to have you (AN AMERICAN WOMAN) come and live with them... Surely there is giving and taking in all situations and I think the things that you want to take are 100% reasonable!

    I also agree with the notion that certain things are different in certain families, and even within certain parts of the city.
    I have a Punjabi friend that I know through family, who gets around almost daily in shorts and western wear - but is still crippled by the backward mentalities within her joint family, she too is uncomfortable, she too is shunned without cause and is also (even though she is an Indian wife) looking to leave that environment.

  4. Another good read, Kristy! One question: Who banned you from having friends and why?

  5. Hey Kristy, I think this is a great post! I especially like how you allow yourself to undergo an objective catharsis, however painful it may be. It actually takes courage to share some of the most vulnerable moments of your life in public open to criticism(and adulation too), and to fairly look at the pros and cons of decisions. I really hope your family understands you more and tries to adjust, just the way you've made adjustments. I was wondering if some issues between you and your MIL could possibly be due to problems in communication...With your MIL not speaking English, I'm not sure how you get your point across in a way that is polite and non confrontational because difficult conversations more often than not just get lost in translation. What you meant, might be perceived in a different way altogether from a third person. And something about racism in India....only when I went outside the US I realized how we don't bat an eyelid while being racist towards white people. For most of us, just coz of a colonial hangover there is just one type of racism, and that is towards US. We are not held to any guilt if we are racist towards the gora, because in the minds of most Indians there really is no such thing. Racism counts only when it is directed by the whites towards us. This is being entrenched by Indian media these days which gets hyperbolic when any Indian is murdered/robbed/slighted in the west and it is naturally assumed that an incident happened because of our skin color. I hope that more Indians get a chance to travel and see the world and not live in the bubble of self righteousness and morality that we allow Indian media to create around us. 

  6. I started out with a good outlook. It was only after really seeing how things work here and how people treat each other that I learned I could never like this place. There are some good people here but they let themselves be trampled on by cruel, heartless individuals with no compassion toward life -be it human or animal.

  7. I'm about to break it lol. They can throw all the rules at me they want but I'm not going to live that way. It's absurd and may have been appropriate 30 years ago when this place was a war zone and MIL and Chachi both lived under a tyrannical MIL themselves but it's different now. I'm not going to live under their fears. It just doesn't work. I was just down in the second kitchen earlier. They have a bicycle stored in the pantry. I've never seen either of the kids ride it and I think they're both too old now. I know the boy is already learning to drive. It's like they're collecting junk.

  8. I'm not 100% sure how banned me from having friends. I just know Rohit said his parents would never allow it. I never had any intention of following that rule and found quickly that his parents got excited about all of my gori friends. So maybe there was some miscommunication or something. I will never know. The only thing I do know is that I'm no ones hostage. :D

  9. Many things between my MIL and I do get lost in translation. I tell Rohit what I need and he tells her in Punjabi. In the beginning I trusted this relationship. It was only later I learned he wasn't always understanding me either. We worked out some of the issues but then I noticed still nothing changed. But the majority of our issues come from things I know she's doing even though she understood well that we asked her not to. Like coming into my room and going through things. She now tries to sneak in when we're not here but she always leaves a trail that alerts me of what she's done. That's my biggest complaint with her right now.

    I see a lot of what you're saying with Indian media. I thought the same as you. They are dramatizing it whenever an Indian dies in the west. While it's awful these things happen (and I happily admit they enrage me as well), I can see the slant toward how bad the west is when these things happen. I try to avoid the news channels here and get my news elsewhere because of it. There's bad in every culture. I can't imagine what would happen if they used the same zeal reporting Indian on Indian crimes.

  10. I am not trying to take away from the problems, negativity or your experiences... I am talking only with the hope that you could find even a little more happiness or comfort so long as your need is to be here.

    I really wish that you and Rohit get out of here as soon as you can so you can be in the place that is right for you.


  11. Couldnt some of the things you expect from other be done by yourself? Really, is it always important to expect from others?  Since you are from US, I am sure you have always being things for yourself, and definetely other than your boyfriend/hubby no-one else does things for you...
    E.g, Fruits:, Why cant you get it for yourself? In the meanwhile, treat your family members too for something healthy. Why are you ecpecting this from your in-laws?
            Isnt it ironic that you are seeking freedom, and yet keeping a lot of expectaions from family for mundane things?

            Would the list be just as long if you had to write a "Sacrifices and Expections" blog from your in-laws perspective?? Points to ponder?? I presume....

  12. Absolutely I can do these things myself. But as I've written a few times I get fussed at if I do. I prefer to do my own laundry because it's one thing that stresses me out when MIL does it but I've been cornered and yelled at by 3 family members on more than one occasion when I did it. I'm not allowed to partake in the cleaning and thus I sneak around and clean the things that bother me when no one is home, which is rare.

    I purchased fruits and veggies once and FIL got upset. I still purchase a few for myself, things he can't find but Rohit and I both get a lecture if we get any of the items he can find. I know it's very different than most of India that FIL does our grocery shopping but it is how he likes it to be.

    I cook for them quite often and introduce them to healthy foods which FIL loves. He's even got MIL copying a few of my recipes when I'm not cooking.

    A lot of these things are not my expectations, they are things that are forced on me that I just don't have the energy to fight right now.

    I don't know what the list would look like if written from their perspective. I would ask but I'm certain they would say there's been no problems, or that they didn't expect anything. I know they've told me that many times, they don't expect anything from me. Of course, it's not that way in reality. They have expectations they just don't call them that.