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Nice News

Last week I had to attend a religious function.  The mother-in-law of Suman, a friend of mine had passed away thirteen days previously and the ceremony was being held to pray for peace to the departed soul.  In fact the old lady passed away a mere twenty three days after her husband did, so naturally it was a sad occasion.

Suman and I were very close about ten years back.  We used to meet in the park regularly in the evenings along with our small children.  The kids have grown up now and we are both very busy.  Although we don't meet regularly, our friendship is very warm and supportive.  You could say that we see each other off and on and sometimes we miss out on news about each other.  But we always catch up eventually.

Suman's husband Anil is the second son of his parents.  The eldest son Amit lives in the United States.  Around eight years back he visited home and stayed with his parents.  When he heard that Suman had a friend who was a foreign woman married into an Indian joint family, he was quite interested to meet me, to find out how I coped with the culture differences.  He was finding tremendous difficulty handling the differences in spite of being born and bred here.  He visited my home one evening with Suman.

We welcomed them into our home as we did with any visitor.  My father-in-law thought that Amit was Suman's husband.  He became irritated as Amit constantly invited me to join in the conversation and had a lot of questions to ask me.  I don't think Amit intended to do this, but my father-in-law felt somewhat snubbed by him.  As he and Suman left, Amit shook my hand as is common practise in western countries.  I didn't mind in the least.  My father-in-law's eyes narrowed when he saw this.

After the visitors left, I was subjected to a barrage of questions by my father-in-law who was completely puzzled by Amit's apparent interest in talking to me, not to mention his apparent audacity at shaking my hand.  I patiently tried to explain the reason for Amit's curiousity.  When my father-in-law realised that Amit was not in fact Suman's husband but her elder brother-in-law who was, to the best of our knowledge, single (despite being around fifty years of age) he became completely furious and it became necessary to calm him down.  This was a very embarrassing situation for me, although I tried not to let it bother me.  My father-in-law was very much a man of his time and culture and meant well.  After that, I met Suman very infrequently.

There was no sign of Amit at the function.  Living as he does in the United States, it would have been difficult for him to get away.  I didn't think twice about it.  As I was getting ready to leave, once the function was over, a woman approached me, introduced herself as Meena and asked me who I was.  When I told her, she told me that Amit had told her about meeting me once.  She was now Amit's wife.  They were married a few years after Amit visited my home.  She explained to me that she had been a widow with a young son.  Her late father-in-law had arranged her remarriage with Amit, as he worried about her future after his death.  It seems that Suman had forgotten to mention this to me.  Although  this function was a sad occasion, I was very happy to learn this good news.
Right then Amit's call came through on Meena's mobile.  She passed the phone to me and once he had recognised who I was, I congratulated him on his marriage and told him that I was very impressed with his wife.  I also told him that the two of us were getting on like a house on fire.

"Why not?"  he said, "you're two nice girls!"  That made me laugh.  He's a very charming fellow indeed.

My father-in-law has now passed away, but this bit of news about Amit's marriage was something nice to talk about to my mother-in-law when I  got home.  She's always hungry for news.  Indeed, it was a nice piece of news.  Meanwhile I hope to meet Meena before she leaves Lucknow at the end of this week.


  1. Oh, walking into those social minefields can be a troubling adventure! In my part of the world, very often the interaction is between Latinos and White Americans--culturally old-fashioned, conservative people and youthfully liberal people. Can be difficult.

    I enjoyed your loving retelling of his experience. I am happy by the way it turned out!

  2. I am always amazed how well you seem to have adapted to a different culture. The stories about your life in India are always very captivating and i love the easiness with which you convey your thoughts.

  3. Perhaps you can keep the connection going with email, chat and Skype, once Meena returns to the States next week! Enjoy your visit with her.

  4. gaelikka, it is outrageous that one's father-in-law takes it upon himself to berate a grown woman for who she chooses to see. Man or woman. Sometimes, following your narrative, I really do not know where you take the patience from to cope with Indian culture.

    Mind you, you might tell me any minute now that the Irish too frown upon male/female friendships.

    I despair at times about how blinkered some people are.


  5. PS Sorry, gaelikaa, so outraged I am I promptly misspelt your name.


  6. Well Ursula, I'd have probably said the same once upon a time. But my life changed and I've learnt that listening to what other people have to say and understanding them is a great help when these situations arise. Mind you, they don't arise every day. It's pretty outrageous all right, but you can't change things by losing your temper. I always try to listen and learn. The old man wasn't really to blame for that - he learnt these attitudes from the environment in which he grew up.

  7. I love to hear of these cultural differences and the things that come to mind most when reading yours and similar blogs, is how patient you (& other wives) are and how compliant!
    I am far too independent & would find things really difficult & would not stay quiet. You are the better person!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  8. It's sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand the cultural differences. Your father-in-law was of a generation who had strict moral codes, a little like my father-in-law I think. Although I do wish I had your endless deal with these things so well.

  9. Thats 's a happy ending to the story ..loved the way you have narrated it

  10. This is completely foreign to me and reminds me that there is so much I have yet to learn and understand.

  11. A really interesting story and a nice ending. Amit sounds lovely
    :-) I hope you got to catch up with Meena

  12. Interesting story with some very nice insights. As an amateur sociologist, I can only marvel at the many levels of transactions that took place in the narrative, each in itself a case study. You are a different person than the one who landed on Indian shores. It is difficult not to be judgmental about many of these social norms and value systems but you have adjusted well and I compliment you on that.

  13. Incidentally, another thought occurs to me. Supposing it had been an unmarried elder sister wanting tips from an Indian girl married to an Irishman, what could have been the ramifications? Interesting to speculate right?

  14. You always seem to handle all these differences with so much ease and graciousness. I guess that's what helps you to be such a good storyteller.

  15. Girl, you are amazing. I would be an absolute wreck in such a social occasion yet you always have so much grace!


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