Sunday, January 31, 2010

An American Living in India by Madama Sebastian

This is my experience and I don't expect to speak for all Western people nor do I view all Eastern people the same way. Now that that is out of the way, let me tell you a little of what I have and haven't learned.

Three years ago I arrived in India on the brink of marriage to my Keralite husband with a head full of National Geographic and Discovery Channel images of India. When I got off the plane in the middle of a January Chennai night, I was wearing a jacket. After all, it was official winter in Chennai and, thinking winter actually meant winter even in India, I came prepared. I was not even through the immigration line before the jacket was dismissed. It was the beginning of an endless list of miscalculations and misinterpretations that were not born in stupidity or ignorance, but in the blind perceptions of a person too heavily dependent on the third party media. In other words, I bought what the commercials sold me.

Here's the PR spin. India is spiritual. True--it is. Everybody's Hindu. Not true. Between 80 and 85% of Indians living in India are Hindu, which by the way, is much more of a choice of lifestyle than an actual religion. The remaining 15 to 20% of Indians have a mixture of beliefs--Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Zorastrians, agnostics. Not so unlike America in the way the numbers play out to a dominant belief.

In America we have 2 major political parties. In India, your brother could start a political party and it could be in power anytime soon. There are as many political parties and their representative party flags as you can imagine. The tug of war at the top can be all consuming to some Indians. Not so different from America where politics can be impolite as dinner conversation but simmering and hot just beneath the tip of most tongues. And so together, and apart, we believe strongly.

What's the same from West to East? Plenty. What's different? Plenty. Next time, we'll get into it a little more intimately.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Awww..I just felt like it by Madama Sebastian

Maybe I just wanted to type in Verdana font in size 3...or maybe it’s a little spring fever..nevertheless..

Hi to everybody from India..

It’s been a wild year of country hoppin’ and immigration visits but it’s all coming together now. Getting all nice and legal, working, getting a new home in Chennai (rented, but fabulous, darling) and just getting on with the business and joys of living.

Been very tired of the old hurry up and wait routine and now the new kid penance is nearly over. I still can’t speak more than 10 words of any Indian language and the ones I do speak are mixed among Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi. Blame those Bolly and Kollywood movies! Not all of my vocabulary are swear words, either! although I know a few and I usually use them when the dogs misbehave, which is often.

For all the sun in Chennai, I am no tanner...but I am more wise. There’s a part of you that fights change hard when you’re subjected to a big dose of it and then, somewhere along the line, you decide to make peace within and go more with the current rather than against it.

It’s in my American nature or maybe just my own nature to be strongly assertive, occasionally that stereotypical American aggressiveness sneaks in too..and that doesn’t fly here. I’ve learned to wait longer for nearly everything because I have to wait longer, not because I’m calmly accepting the waiting. That’s just the way it is (Cronkite-ism) and it’s just not going to change for me. There are stil occasions when I ask "...and WHY NOT?"

There are days when I miss what I once knew but there are never days when I’d turn around. I knew this would be hard to do--pick a’s hard on all of them--and the knowing has made it bearable. Now I can say I’ve been here long enough to get it..but if I didn’t have my Sunshine, it never could have been so wonderful. I’m not just puffing up for my good husband...he really is beyond patient and trust me, with me he needs to be.

This is what I wanted. It was the right choice. It’s where I belong and it’s who I want to belong with, the one who makes the ride exciting, interesting, unpredictable and maddening. What would life be without those adjectives!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Culture Shock 101 by Madama Sebastian

Yegg: What I would eat with bacon if I could find some in Chennai.

"I will kindly revert to you" Revert, Schmeevert..just get back to me.

"Tolet": What I thought were a lot of misspelled signs for public bathrooms were really missing-a-space words that meant "to rent" in "this building is to let." English that's older than me.

"Does it pain you?"...almost a better way of asking if something hurts.

Nodding "no" with head figure-eighting side to side actually...means "yes" or "I agree with what you are saying. In this situation I usually end up nodding right along with the person who is agreeing with me. Like yawning or throwing up, it's contagious.

Questions asked and assumptions made at my Indian job interviews and in some casual conversations:

"How old are you? How old is your husband? Where does he work? When's his birthday? Do you have children? When are you having children? How much money did you pay for your house? your car? How much is your salary? When are you moving to the US?" (Didn't I just get here?)

In India, what Americans call a a CV or curriculae vitae. Thanks for adding Latin to the many languages I now I have to know just to get by. When you do hear the word resume in India used in reference to work, it is pronounced like the American word resume which means to pick up where you left off.

"I am speaking English. Why don't you understand me?"...

My response: ...because it's not the English I know...the one that adds an idiom a day and drops two others in the same day. Indian English is highly influenced by the formal, old style British English. I am not Shakespeare. The communication twain shall meet but let's not make it a head on collision!

A lift is an elevator in India, but something a short man slips inside his shoe to make him taller in America...and even that's an old word.

The Indian term "ear bud" ...just sounds like someone forgot to clean them. We call them Q-tips in the US...ya know, like Kleenex tissues. The brand name becomes so popular that it ends up being....Ah, forget it.

Tata...from salt to cars, it's the big name of nearly everything in India, a family dynasty. I love the word, but as an American, for all the wrong reasons (aka bodacious tatas) It just sounds like something I used to whisper to my friends in 6th grade and giggle....tata...hee, hee, hee....

Fairness cream. How many years of baby oil with iodine, Coppertone, and bronzers have I invested developing this sorry excuse for a tan? I come here and bingo! Tan is out...fair is in. SO "in" that in the Indian personal ads (for matrimony) a prospective bride will list her skin tone almost before her educational credentials. Pale magna cum laude.

Communal water pitchers. I guess the reason is for sanitary purposes but in India, you will likely have one pitcher of water and one glass for an entire table of people. Folks take turns filling the glass and then holding it half a foot away from their mouths, streaming the water artfully south. I have yet to see one Dixie Cup but I also carry my own...because, let's face it, otherwise I would most likely drown.

Hair color. Take your pick. As long as it's brown, you'll get just what you need.

Selfless....No by Madama Sebastian

The Sebastians recently celebrated some important landmarks including 2 year time in India and our marriage. In the scheme known as life, 2 years is barely a blink for most people, but for me (Baba) the blink was an eye opener. When you cut to the chase, we are a content pair.
We have no fabulous tales to share unless you count being happy as fabulous. These days, in our shaky world, I think happiness alone is a tremendous achievement. There was a time when happiness had to equal a tangible and it's a relief to drop the concept.
For those of you who know me well and have not been a physical part of my life these last few years, I appreciate all the emails. They connect me to those I love on the other side of the world from the one I live in and, without those notes, my happiness would be half.
Can life be bliss? It's relative. What do you recognize as bliss? A cool breeze on a hot day? Or a new gadget? When I really learned to quit living by other people's rules, my life became easier to live. I don't hurt others to do this and that should be enough.
The invisible societal requirement to please others without acknowledging your own needs (double or triple that for the female gender) is out and out crap. Pardon me for not being an emotional martyr so that someday my tombstone will read like a list of adjectives from a Girl Scout manual. She was "devoted, selfless, caring, charitable, blah, blah."
Those who genuinely have these qualities don't care what their tombstones read. Those who put positive qualities on like slick, shiny clothes are emotional whores whose pimp is ego. Ever see someone hold a door open for someone else and just scan the room with his eyes for the thanks he expects? Bingo. Human to human kindness may include thanks but it doesn't require an audience.
This is not a lesson taught. It is a lesson learned. The day I quit learning, I give full permission to death to claim my sorry ass and spirit me away to the great unknown. When you give yourself permission to learn at every age, you extend, you stretch, you grow, you live. You get one great wave of life, you gonna ride it?