Reading Outlook I am amazed at the differences between the columns of 2 Muslim women . The first, Yvonne Ridley who converted to Islam writes on “How I came to love the veil” and the second, activist Asra Nomani writes on “Beyond the veil”. It seems to me that while Ridley defends her adopted religion, Nomani sees it’s problems and addresses them. I haven’t researched greatly into each one’s philosophies, however this difference in opinion brings home to me certain similarities in the way I view my religion.
P is an American. She’s white, the daughter of a wealthy doctor, was raised in the Southern United States and is now married to one of our desi friends. After marriage, she’s learned to cook desi food (well), dresses in graceful saris and salwar-kameezes when the occasion calls for it, is attempting to learn Hindi, and does all the desi pujas and rituals that her mother-in-law has made her aware of. In fact when my Mom visited the States and met P she was thoroughly impressed by her Indian-ness. And it’s true, barring one or two, P is the most traditional among all my Indian-born married friends/friend’s wives.
She travels to India often, and loves spending time there, although she does find it dirty in general and has much to say about the deplorable state of bathrooms in homes/malls etc. And like me, has problems with the way women are treated/looked at(eve-teasing/dowry demands etc.) in India. I’m not sure what the family dynamics are in India at her in-laws place but she seems to get along pretty well with everyone. And that might be because she’s a very nice person. Or cynically (because I know that she has a mind of her own), that everyone is conversing in the vernacular which she doesn’t understand very well.
The difference in my and her thinking stems from the fact that she, as a practicing Hindu has the whole “Indian woman” thing going on, while I, as someone born in India and won’t accept the traditional “female” role easily. It might be that she is unaware of all the baggage that comes with “being-a-good-Indian-girl”. Also, from her talk, it seems that she’s able to pick and choose the customs she wishes to follow without incurring any displeasure. How ? It might be that she’s viewed as the “American” who deigns to follow Indian customs (so nice of her etc.) – thus what she does is more than enough, while I, as an Indian woman am expected to follow them all (no choice in the matter).
It’s like from the “inside” one can see where and how social expectations develop, and be critical. From the outside, flirting with the exotic, knowing you have the option to pull out, and no one will damn you for it, blinds you to faults.
There are also circumstantial differences. As an American who’s well insulated from Indian society (by living far away) except for the once-in-2-year India trips, and having a maternal family and society which do not force upon her pujas and vrats for the good of the husband/sons/family/world in general, and actually concedes that she is a person in her own right (and not just through marriage) she has options. If she does do the Pujas – great. If she doesn’t – so what ? Doesn’t affect her parents/friends etc and doesn’t affect her relationship with the outside world. I, on the other hand am looked on a little oddly (she’s just different) when I wear my mangalsutra only as jewellery, or keep my maiden name. When in India, my telling-it-like-it-is is curbed by what the friends of my families will think and how my conduct reflects on them. I am reminded of my duties – this is what “women” should do – while I think P might have the option of feigning ignorance or a language handicap. I am not insulated from “what-everyone-will-say” or “what-everyone-will-think” because my families live there. And everyone, regardless of “how modern we are” have the same expectations from (Indian) women.
Categories : _india , _culture_and_society , _women