By Guest Blogger, Meera
Imagine a girl who heads to the pooja room every day right after bath to pray; one who wouldn’t dare to go to her orthodox cousin’s place wearing a sleeveless top or without bangles; one who would follow all customs and traditions (aachara as they call it here) to the last point even though that meant extreme discomfort to her; one who would not daresay comment anything when people bash Indians who settle abroad; one who would always nod to comments like ‘Indian culture is the best culture. Others have no family values’, ‘Who says we are backward? We had airplanes during the Ramayan time! What is so great about Wright brothers? They only reinvented it!’ This was me, a typical behenji type girl and you would find plenty of such girls in south India, especially in my community (Brahmin). But I was a fake! I was expected to be the girl next door whom every “cultured” boy would like to introduce to his parents. For a long time I didn’t know that I could be what I wanted to be. And then IIT happened.
I met liberal people and free thinkers for the first time there and I turned into one. My first transformation: atheism! For a major part of my life till now, I’ve been told to believe in the supreme God and to pray to him every day to offer our gratitude for whatever we have. Added to that I’ve also been told umpteen number of times that we have the ‘purest’ culture and we should uphold its traditions and values. When I started to open up my mind and started thinking freely, I questioned everything I had been asked to do/follow without being given a choice. On one hand, there was an overwhelming feeling that I was challenging everything I had been told since I was a kid and on the other hand there was the truth. Everything I stand up for is considered wrong and I would be branded as a person corrupted by the influence of the West if I say anything against religion. It definitely doesn’t feel nice to be surrounded by people who think that everything you believe in to be some form of sin.
My family practices some ridiculous things. Usually any girl during her menstruation days would be feeling very uncomfortable and would be suffering from menstrual cramps. She would be very glad if people offered some comforting touch and some privacy to take rest but just the opposite happens here. You would be pushed to a corner of the house and asked to sleep on a straw mattress. No one will touch you. You won’t be allowed to dine with other or use other’s stuff. And the most horrible of them all, you are forbidden from touching the water others use. I can’t believe women have agreed to such customs! I think initially women were just asked to stay indoors and take rest and that seems logical but what I just described is beyond my comprehension. I recently got to know that these customs exist in many other communities as well. Some girls of my age when given the freedom to do whatever they wanted about these customs stuck to them. Wonder why!
I’ve never quite understood why people here are very judgmental and highly opinionated. I also wonder whether every culture thinks they are the best and others aren’t that morally sound. Let us consider the South Indian – North Indian divide. Recently at a function I heard my aunt tell my cousin “Be careful in Delhi. Those people are very cunning. They also have that awful dating culture there.” I found myself asking two questions. Firstly why do South Indians think North Indians are cunning? They don’t say that out loud but they do it quite often in closed circles. And secondly why is dating wrong? What is the big deal about love marriages? At this stage let me give some more information about myself. In my college days I have dated and finally found love in a very dear friend who is not from my college. We are going to study in the same college in USA. And here is the surprise – he is a North Indian!
I have absolutely no idea why people here think North Indians are cunning! Most people who say such stuff haven’t even interacted with North Indians. Their ability to form opinions without any firsthand experience amazes me! And the next issue is dating. Interaction between adolescent boys and girls is discouraged by parents (and the society in general). This mindset continues into college and work place as well. And all of a sudden when you are of a ‘marriageable’ age, you are showered with photos of the opposite sex and asked to meet their family and within a couple of meetings the marriage decision has to be made. I think in this process you find a person who ‘satisfies’ some criteria (like non smoker, non ugly) but have zilch information about your compatibility with that person. And moreover you are expected to sleep with that person and produce a baby within a year. Now why is this good and why is dating and finding a suitable boy whom I am very compatible with wrong? And what is the result of this attitude? I am forced to hide my relationship status from my family. And I think this is the case with most people in India!
Now that I am moving to the US for a couple of years, I find the thought of escaping from this hypocritical society very comforting. Oh spare me the innumerable questions I face every day pertaining to that! Why will you take 6 years? You can finish it off in India in 3 years! Are you planning to settle there? What do you want to do after you finish your course? You kids go to US and never come back to India. What should we parents do? My parents are already very sad that they have to let go of their only daughter to a country so far away and the well-wishers love adding fuel to the bon fire!
I am still wearing a mask and I hope I can remove it once I move to the US. Whether I can come back to India as the real me and face my family and community only time can tell. For now I hope to find more free thinkers like me and have the time of my life there! About the author: The author Meera is 21 years old and graduated from IIT Madras with a B Tech in Electrical Engineering. She will be moving to USA this August for her doctoral studies. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org