I wanted to talk about this on Sunday, but between my drawing commissions and housewife duties, I didn’t have the chance to. Meanwhile, I did have the opportunity to reflect on this topic a bit more. It’s a deep and ever-changing reflection, as my transformation is ongoing.
When I first came to India, I was full of these wild and naive thoughts, that India would be a spiritual place of understanding, where no one would judge me because I did Namaste and I adored them all. It wasn’t long before I was sucker punched by the reality that India was not actually the divine spiritual place I thought it was going to be. Like all newbies with the best of intentions, I had made the mistake of generalizing India.
I quickly learned that I could not be my American self in India. I could not leave my home much, I could not keep opposite-gender friends, and I certainly could not have a social life (especially in Jhansi). It didn’t matter that my skirt was made in India, wearing a skirt and baggy yoga shirt was a reflection of what I imagined India would be like, not at all like what India actually was. If I hoped to blend in, or find belonging, I would have to dress in Indian clothes too.
In the following year, I resisted, rebelled, got angry at society, tried harder, and began to assimilate, before I actively began searching for balance.
My re-entry into America was no better. I was so excited to be home and back with my family, the first time, that I didn’t notice it at first… How quiet the streets were. How stuck to electronics people were. How distant people were, and how very few people walk or bike anywhere. How families somehow seemed more cold and distant to one another. These are just a few of many examples.
Over the year, I realized that I could neither agree with certain aspects of Indian culture and lifestyle, nor could I agree with certain aspects of American culture and lifestyle. This was the beginning of a new life, blending cultures.
My Changes So Far
I can no longer relate to old habits. Two-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t exactly love my life. Things were hard. I worked hard and struggled to make it on my own – and failed. But I spent a lot of time with friends, happily wasting our non-working hours on video games, old TV shows, and fandom, mostly.
I miss that, in a lot of ways. But I am a very busy married woman now. I still love video games and the stories they tell, but I just don’t have time for it. I still miss those friends, and being able to laugh with them nearly every day, but we aren’t in touch now. Well, and, even if we were, those days are long gone.
These days, when I’m not cooking, cleaning, or working, I am settling down to read, draw, or brainstorming ideas for self-improvement and bettering my future. That being said, I don’t have a lot in common with those friends any more.
I can no longer agree with certain American family dynamics. There are pros and cons when it comes to family relationships in either culture. In Indian culture, family is extremely close, and sometimes that can be suffocating. These are my personal experiences.
Pros: Your family has your back, no matter what. If you need money, they will pull together and help you. They will never expect you to pay them back (although you should and probably do). If you need a place to stay, you don’t even have to ask. Your parent’s home is always your home. Families save money for their children before their children are even born. This money is mostly intended for college and marriage, but some save even more money that can be used whenever their child is in a pinch.
Cons: Your family can be nosey, and are not too shy to tell you how much you need to improve. And while it’s not the worst thing that could happen, it still makes me uncomfortable having to cover my head (and face) for my male in-laws.
Pros: You have a certain independence from your family. You can work and live away from home with very little guilt for making your own choices in life. Relationships with family members can be a lot like friendships.
Cons: Living away from your family is financially hard, but living with them is mentally harder, as both parties are independent (especially as an adult) there can be a power struggle between adult offspring and parents. Parents can decide, before adult offspring possibly lives in their home again, whether or not it is convenient for them. And if it isn’t, they will not allow offspring to live with them. Adult offspring pay for college themselves. Any money borrowed, if it is convenient to give, is definitely owed back. No money is saved for children’s futures. Parents expect to retire with their own money in a retirement home, or perhaps plan on living with one of their adult children in their later years.
I learned that I never knew love until I entered into a relationship with my husband. Love, the action. The commitment. Unconditional and unwavering love, and the loyalty that goes with it. Doing your best and being your best, and inspiring your partner to do the same. Learning and growing with each other, no matter what. Where has he been all my life?
I express myself differently. I grew up saying “I love you” every time I was saying goodbye on the phone to my parents or relatives. Every time I was leaving their house, or if they felt sad, or if I missed them. It was habit. You used to hear things like, “What if something bad happens and you never get the chance to say it again?”
When I think, now, of that phrase people used to say, I think… “Really? As if they won’t know you love or loved them?”
I believe more in expressing love through action. Though “I love you” and “I love you so much” are words me and my husband sometimes express to each other, it’s very rare. I am happy to admit that it is not necessary. Love, in action, is more powerful than those three words ever will be. As much as I love my parents, I get annoyed when I hear them say “I love you” at the end of every phone call. It’s said like people say “Chalo, thik hai” (“Okay, let’s go) at the end of their calls in India. Anyway, I say it back, because I don’t want them to be hurt, as they may not see it the way that I do now.
I still say “Thank you”, however, not as frequently. I probably won’t get rid of that one. Nothing shines brighter than gratitude and appreciation. Because I know it can be insulting to some people, in India (as it might send the message that you didn’t think they would ever help you, or something similar) in some situations, I choose to smile of visually express my gratitude rather than verbally say “thank you”.
I learned that you are never done working, in life. Inspired by Indian work ethic, and especially by my in-laws. My mother-in-law, which is the same age as my paternal grandmother, still actively tends to her household and even works outside of the home, looking over the new construction site, bringing food, helping with tasks of bringing jugs of water and the like. My father-in-law tends to the construction site as well, helping workers in any way he can. They are awake at 4:30 AM (with a small nap midday) and asleep by 10 PM. Is anyone ever really retired here? And if so, I think they would just get bored and find themselves unhappy.
I have learned that true joy is in the littlest of moments. Being financially down on our luck does not get us down. My husband and I do the best we can. Knowing that sets us free of unnecessary stress, and we have learned together, that the littlest things bring us the biggest happiness. There’s so much joy in cooking together, watching our favorite show Ashoka (it’s so dramatic sometimes, we end up laughing at it instead of enjoying it), going on a walk together, drinking chai together, or just sitting in silence as we do our own thing.
As of Right Now…
There are elements of many cultures in my daily life and in my marriage. When aspects of Indian culture and American culture don’t suit me, I will find something that does. I will incorporate the best of both worlds into my life. This is balance. This is the foundation of our intercultural marriage in the making. I am not limited to who I was, or who people think I should be. While there are some hard days, this is what has shaped me.
One day, while looking over the balcony into an unfortunate landfill, my husband pointed to a green, lively corner. “Do you know what those are?” He asked me.
“No…” I replied, squinting at the corner.
“Those are lotus flowers.” He said, smiling.
I searched the trash-filled patch of land a little harder, and noticed that there was indeed, a small puddle in the corner – the only corner that was filled with green green plants. He was right. Lotus flowers were blooming.
“Ew.” I said, wondering how anything could grow there.
“The lotus only grows in dirty water.” He smiled, and gazed back at the lotus plants.
The Lotus Only Grows in Dirty Water
Photo by Yoshikazu TAKADA via Flickr.com
This reminded me that my dear friend Lauren had said the same thing. Then I found these quotes:
“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering.”— Goldie Hawn
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” —THICH NHAT HANH”
Photo by Angela Layana via Flickr.com
Featured image by Takashi .M via Flickr.com