Culture Shock

Culture Shock

8 mins

Mira was super thrilled about her upcoming vacation to her grandparents’ homes. She was due to get married in about 8 months’ time; she had a sea of questions swimming in her head. Mira wanted to talk to her maternal and her paternal grandmother – she wanted their perspective about marriage; she wanted to know what to look forward to and how to really carry herself. Two women she always looked up to were waiting to welcome her.

Maternal grandma’s home calling

 An overnight journey to her maternal grandparents’ home did not feel desolate since she had a million memories to keep company. She madly missed moonlight dinners, afternoon tea parties, movie night outs with her big family- all her school summers were invariably spent at her maternal grandmother’s.

 Her ammamma (maternal grandmother) was so ecstatic to have her little darling home. Having met and greeted all the other family members and neighbors, the grandmother-granddaughter duo chose the patio to have their much awaited conversation, over some tea and yummy snacks.

“So, my little one is getting married, announced ammamma, tearfully. “

“Yes, Ammamma. I am so nervous. “Mira shared her thoughts.

“Not at all. We are all with you. Tell me, dear. What is bothering you so much?”

“Ammamma, I have seen how loving you and grandpa have always been. To one another as well as to the big family. Did you have to adjust a lot in order to have a successful marriage? What did you give up and pursue to be hailed as such as a wonderful wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law. Were there compromises? I have lived and worked abroad for quite some time now, so I am a little worried if I am missing important points.”  

Ammamma smiled. Her most beautiful infectious smile.

“If there is one thing that I never did it was to “compromise,” Mira. The most basic foundation on which our marriage is based is equality. I vividly remember, I was all of seventeen when I got married. I had not finished my graduation as yet; I was not at all adept at cooking or any of the household chores. I was learning albeit steadily. I still had a dubious state of mind. Your grandfather, on the other hand, was a graduate and had a steady job. He was twenty three. Mature and well-read. One of the first questions your grandfather ever asked me was, if I wanted to complete my education or perhaps, pick up a hobby and do some course. He witnessed my parents help me with accustoming to the newly married life- he never frowned, he never complained. He often expressed how I deserved attention and love from my family just like he did from his own. Why should it be any different or challenging only for the woman, he questioned often and many relatives looked at him as if he was weird. “

We both grew as a team, Mira. I made my choice to complete my graduation and pick up a part time job. He shared housework during those years. When my husband fell ill, I ran the house. We had kids not out of compulsion but because our love matured. Your grandfather thought of it as plausible that I took a sabbatical and enjoyed my motherhood. Whether it was financial matters or domestic decisions, we were in as a “team” and never as “individuals”. We had our share of arguments and disagreements; there was an impasse in many a situation. Not an iota of doubt about it. Nevertheless, we respect each other and have learnt to be considerate about each other‘s duties, expectations, ideas, fears and solutions. No work –office or home, is ever looked down upon. Nothing is easy. As a family, you have to learn to acknowledge each other’s contribution and not belittle. Exactly how we brought up our kids – daughters and sons were provided equal opportunity. No bias was encouraged. If there is one lesson I would want you to take away from this conversation, Mira, is “In a marriage, there should never be inferiority or superiority complex. You are equals. Treat yourself and your partner with respect. Otherwise, marriage is bound to be doomed.”

In the countryside, with paternal grandmother

One week later, Mira was soaking in the beauty of the countryside. She was on a walk with her nannamma (paternal grandmother) in the open green fields. They were chewing off the sugarcane sticks. They emotionally reminisced winter holidays back in Mira’s school days when Mira and her family would come visit her paternal grandparents and all the relatives. The fresh smell of the morning air was still green in Mira’s memory.

“Nannamma, I envy you. You are from an older generation. Still, you managed to have both work and personal life so beautifully entwined. “

Nannamma giggled her adorable giggles. You too can have the cake and eat it too, Mira baby. Decades ago, I took the most toughest and influential decision of my life.

Mira’s expressions succinctly showed she wanted to know more.

  “I am the second one of the four daughters my parents have. I would proclaim that I would be the one to take care of my parents. It was as if I snatched the right from my sisters. Back then, not having a son put the parents in a pitiful position. None of us at my home fathomed it though. When I got married, I had a few rude shocks of my life. For someone who was so used to working with dad in the fields along with my studies, I continued to take interest in multi-tasking post marriage too. My in-laws gave me an advice that I should stop being around my parents’ home so often. They were doing me a favor by asking me to help them in the fields if I so wanted to work. Otherwise, I could choose to be indoors since there were many workers in their home who would clean, cook, serve et all. I would have despised myself if I had accepted the generous offer. Since I did not budge, they came up with a lot of excuses, like sudden illness, overnight travel plans whenever I planned to go and spend time with my parents or say, when I longed to go out for my agriculture work. Time passed and nothing healed. Instead, they  conspired against my parents – They once told me that I should be “smart” and not bother too much about my parents. It seems, my parents were only “using” me to get the farm work. I was advised to secretly distance from them so I could be free and my sisters would eventually take over the work. I protested fearlessly. My parents had taken care of me with such unconditional affection and all amenities in place to make me the woman I was. I had tirelessly worked for months at length and learnt the art of agriculture. If someone wanted me to be meek and quiet just so they could dominate my life, why would I let that happen?”

Nannamma paused for a bit. Mira let her be.

“I spoke to my husband. He was a very reserved person who hardly took matters in his hands. I firmly made up my mind – he is nice, but, wanted to be a good cop.Very Indecisive. I became the bad cop and brought about a transformation. It was not easy. I escalated the issue – many families, village panchayats (council and meetings) gathered to listen to me. Not everyone echoed my opinion and concern. Some called me arrogant, some threatened me that I would remain unmarried if I decided to leave, and some blamed me without knowing who I was. I had my parents, siblings, few neighbors and friends by my side. I knew that I was not doing any wrong. I did not desert my in-laws. I did not give up on my marriage. All I said was, I was responsible for my parents. “I am the son. I am the daughter.” I had always been passionate about my work and wanted to continue it. It was not a grave sin. I argued, screamed, mellowed down, went through a lot of phases of dealing with it. In the end, I won. Not with a majority, I admit. But it was a start. A fine one at that. “

Mira was impressed.

“Mira, in life, be it your professional life or personal life, people treat you the way you allow them to. So, do not blame them too much. Never be scared to stand up for what is right. The whole world will not appreciate and celebrate you. It takes time. Things will fall in place. Patience, my dear. That is a virtue. “

“Your grandfather has been a fantastic companion. After that incident, he too mustered courage to be more outspoken. Something so against his natural traits. He pondered over the issue and felt apologetic for not speaking up and being a mere spectator. Your grandpa made up for all that. He loved me so much for helping him do so much that he was capable of but had not tried yet. I love him for making me the person I am. He has been exceptionally instrumental in bringing about beautiful elements into my life. I could not have done it alone. Nor him. We filled each other’s void. We had our lovely children. We built a wonderful future together. I miss him so much. Nannamma’s eyes were moist. “

Back home

Mira had the kind of vacation that had exceeded all her expectations. She imagined that she would have a culture shock when her grandmothers spoke of marriage since they belonged to a different generation. Mira couldn’t be more wrong concerning their mindset. She hated herself for being so judgmental. To her pleasant surprise, it was indeed a culture shock but of an entirely different level. She was so happy she spoke to her grandmothers. She had priceless life lessons picked from her trip. She couldn’t wait to share it with her parents, sister and of course, her fiancé.  

In her heart, she fondly remembered her maternal and paternal grandparents and sought their blessings.

We should never hold a particular religion or region or nation or a culture as responsible entity for a particular kind of behavior-good or bad. Each of us is different; each of us has our own set of experiences, interactions which in turn churn out our ideas, our attitudes and the approach we end up taking. The more humble we are, the more open we are and learn from people around us, the better we become. Our responses to life become so much more effective.

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