|HER WORLD||Sunday, September 8, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Jhalkari Bai fought as Lakshmi Bai
Off the beaten path
up to the challenge
Is it possible for a person from a different culture to marry into a tightly knit Indian family and make the marriage work? Many have tried. Some have failed — tripped by caste, religion and in-laws; others have flourished, turning differences into advantages, enriching both cultures and creating an entirely new identity.
A recent United States Census confirmed that the Asian Indian group has become one of the fastest growing ethnic communities during the last decade. For the first time, the Census Bureau allowed respondents to identify with more than one race in the 2000 census. This gives an idea of how many multi-racial Asian Americans there are in the USA.
According to the Census, out of the 281,421,906 persons living in the US, 3.6 per cent identified themselves as just Asian. Additionally, there were 1,655,830 (0.6 per cent) persons who identified themselves as being part Asian and part one or more other races. Welcome to the world of mixed marriages among the Indian community in the United States of America.
Researchers believe mixed marriages are a good way to merge two cultures. The couple can study another language and the kids can be bilingual. Take, for instance, the children of Meena Sonea, an Indian, and Daniel Hewett, an American. They speak Hindi at home so that the children get the best of both cultures. Ask Daniel if he knows Hindi and he answers, "thoda thoda" (a little).
It also gives them a chance to understand other cultures, customs and social structures and helps them communicate easily across groups. "Nothing in our marriage is taken for granted because everything is different. It is interesting," says Daniel. And what’s more, this kind of marriage may be more fun because there are many funny incidents in your married life due to different customs.
Shraddha, a PhD student at a university in New York, married Dennis, a German colleague, for the third time last December. "First I got married here in America in 1999. Six months later, we went to Germany to get married again because his parents insisted on it. And last December, we went to India to get married in the Indian tradition. It has become a standing joke in our family — three marriages and that too to the same person!"
Daniel, too, remembers an incident from his wedding. "At the engagement ceremony, there were around 50 to 60 people and they were all grinning at me. I did not realise at that time but I was performing all the ceremonies with my left hand, which is a big no-no. I felt foolish. But it was fun. And everyone has been accepting."
So was it love at first sight for the mixed couples? What about the acceptance in families and the society? Does "love make the world go round", or does religion, tradition and society? There is no one answer.
Though the common thread among the marriages is that all couples started out as friends and were involved with each other for a couple of years before plunging into matrimony.
"When we had been going around for a year, Meena, because of her cultural background, was convinced that she would marry me. But I was still not sure. It took me some more time to realise that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her," Daniel remembers.
While Meena and Daniel, and Shraddha and Dennis met in graduate school where they were in the same class, Parul and Shane met at her aunt’s store where Parul worked part time. Meena’s and Shraddha’s parents accepted their daughters’ choice of their life partners; but for Parul it was a long struggle. "When I first told my mother on the phone about Shane, she said, ‘I am going to shoot myself’. It took months of persuasion and I went to India to speak to them. It was a coincidence that one of my friends who had had an arranged marriage split up from her husband, and it worked in my favour," says Parul.
Anil, a software consultant, has the same story: "I am the only child and it was a big issue in my family. There was a phase when I did not speak to my parents for six months because every time I would call them, my mother would start crying and my father would refuse to speak to me. It was when they came for my graduation, met Susan and knew it was going to last, that they said yes." For his parents, one area of concern was the fear of divorce, which is acceptable in North America but largely ruled out in India.
But once the acceptance came, it was total. Susan now has a puja (worship) room installed in her apartment, and has given her daughter a Hindu name and a Christian middle name. But is she Hindu or Christian? Will her religious education become a matter of dissent? Only time will tell.
Shraddha does not see her marriage as ‘different’ from that of her friends in India. She says: "When I look at my friends in India and the marriages they’ve had, I don’t think there is much difference. Most of us got married in our late 20s to people of our choice, after having a couple of disastrous relationships. The important thing is that we are happy with our choices."
Not that it was easy for the rest of them. Daniel and Meena moved away from the earlier group of friends Daniel had grown up with; Parul and Shane found new people to spend time with, who were more accepting of their mixed marriage.
All of them want to maintain contact with India and pass on their culture to their children. "Sometimes I feel under pressure to pass on Indian values to my children, almost as if they should be more Indian than other Indian children," remarks Parul.
Many Westerners find the world of large Indian joint families bewildering. "In India, nothing is an individual event," remembers Daniel. For Susan, it was the respect for mother-in-law. "There was no question of right or wrong and I had to understand that - the sooner the better!"
Sometimes, inter-cultural marriages fail, a victim of unrealistic expectations. Some people are brought up with preconceptions and misconceptions of what a marriage ought to be.
Research shows that Indian women married to foreign men seem to fare better, perhaps because they are used to the idea of being the givers and the ones to adapt. In a traditional Indian marriage they would have to adjust to a vast family of in-laws, whereas here they adjust to a new culture and people.
Which is better — to
marry in or marry out? Everybody has his or her own answer. Crossing
national, ethnic, cultural and religious boundaries for marriage is by
no means easy. But love and mutual respect seem to make the path
smoother. And certainly more fun. — WFS
Jhalkari Bai fought as Lakshmi Bai
LAKSHMI BAI, the Rani of Jhansi, stands as a symbol of determination, indomitable courage and strategic military planning. She has been extolled by littérateurs and folk singers have sung paeans of praise for her bravery. The popular image of the Rani is contained in a series of folk songs and rasos of the area around Jhansi as well as in the Powada, the folk songs of chivalry from Maharashtra.
Sir Hugh Rose, the British General in Jhansi, recalled her as "the bravest and the best military leader." The Rani was also very popular among the womenfolk of Bundelkhand and there are numerous songs praising the Rani for taking up the sword and fighting the firangis instead of crying over her widowhood helplessly. She was a role model to many of them, which can be gauged by the immediate response she got for the women's army that she raised within a short time. Some of the female soldiers like Mandar, Sundari Bai, Mundari Bai and Moti Bai fought the British with the Rani and earned for themselves a place in the history of India's first war of independence.
One of Lakshmi Bai's favourite female soldiers was Jhalkari Bai, the chief of Durgavahini, the women's force. A Koree by cast, Jhalkari remained Lakshmi Bai's close associate and helper during the battle. Her husband was Poonam Koree, who was employed as a canon operator at the main gate of the Jhansi fort. Legend has it that Jhalkari Bai had motivated him to fight for the queen and lay down his life for the country. Jhalkari Bai had the good fortune of being trained by Lakshmi Bai herself in the art of archery, wrestling, horse-riding, shooting and other physical exercises. Jhalkari was brave, daring and had an uncanny ability to understand war strategy. She motivated other women also to join the army and die for the cause. The Rani liked her and had faith in her. She, in return, was loyal to her queen and would have died willingly fighting with her. But fate willed otherwise.
Interestingly, Jhalkari Bai had a close resemblance to Rani Lakshmi Bai. According to historians, in physique, the colour of the eyes and complexion, the two women—Rani Lakshmi Bai and Jhalkari—were so similar that were they to dress alike, they would have looked identical. Brindaban Lal Verma mentions this fact in his novel Jhansi Ki Rani and Vishnu Rao Godse makes a reference to Jhalkari in his Marathi book Mazha Pravas (My Travels). A great strategist as the Rani was, she took advantage of this fact and the two women between themselves managed to hoodwink the British for quite some time.
The fort of Jhansi was surrounded by the British forces under Sir Hugh Rose. There was incessant firing from all sides and it was just a matter of time before tables could be turned unless help came from Tantiya Tope. That could be long. The exigency of the hour was to save the life of the Rani and her infant child, Damodar Rao, the heir apparent. It was at this point that Jhalkari's resemblance to the Rani came as a blessing in disguise. Jhalkari dressed herself as the Rani with her immaculate white Chanderi sari tucked neatly, the typical turban, and the mark of crescent moon on her forehead, a sword and a shield. Jhalkari knew how to wield her weapons and not even the most argus-eyed of the British could discern any difference; indeed, no one could have imagined the plot.
As planned, Lakshmi Bai galloped to the ramparts of the fort amid bullets and took her legendary leap from the formidable height, with her son tied on her back. Her aim was to reach Kalpi, muster up forces and give a fight with renewed vigour.
Back in the fort, the British fought with Rani Lakshmi Bai (Jhalkari, in reality). She went up to Dantia giving a heroic resistance to the British forces without caring for her life; however, she was subsequently imprisoned. The trick had worked and for one week, Jhalkari managed to dupe the British by posing as the queen.
Historical records reveal that an
internal informer betrayed Jhalkari out of jealousy. Uncertain about
her true identity, the British vacillated for a while but when
convinced that the so-called 'Rani' was not the queen of Jhansi but a
maid named Jhalkari impersonating as Lakshmi Bai, they released her.
Jhalkari, it is said, lived till 1890 and became a legend in her time.
Extolled for her bravery and acumen, she found place in many ballads
of the time.
HE stands in the kitchen drinking coffee, wondering what she wants from him. She stands over the sink, feeling her temples throb. Neither can remember how from deciding whether to get a new refrigerator they ended up arguing about money, that resulted in a shouting match. Each silently asks: Why can’t we stop arguing like this?
That’s a question most couples ask at one time or another. Fights spring out of nowhere and can quickly get out of hand. "You never take me anywhere," she accuses. He responds, "If you’d dress nicely, I might feel like it." She replies, "How can I buy nice clothes on the money you earn?" And so it goes...
It’s all too easy to settle into hurtful, repetitive and even predictable ways of arguing with those we love. But, couples can often stop an argument before they start if they use the following "circuit breakers". These tips won’t necessarily settle your disputes, but they will give you breathing room — the perspective you need to create a positive and nurturing relationship.
A middle-aged professional was convinced that his wife was too extravagant. "No matter how much Igive you for household expenses you always run short," he said. Do you have any idea what food costs these days? she replied. "Next time, why don’t you buy the groceries?"
Thirty minutes at the market was enough to show the husband that his ideas of how much it cost to eat were about 10 years old. Role switching may not itself resolve disputes, but it does lay the foundation for talking about them from a new perspective.
Make a U-turn
"My husband doesn’t listen," said a 35-year-old bank employee. "Sometimes he leaves the house and won’t even tell me where he’s going."
"Change how you typically react and see what happens," I suggested to her. "This week, don’t ask him where he is going. And don’t just wait at home. Join a club, or go to a movie, or visit a friend. If he asks you where your went, say honestly, "Oh, I just needed to get out for a while."
It wasn’t easy for her, but she agreed to do so. The next night, she kissed him on the cheek and said, "I need to go out for a while. See you later. "She went to a movie and came home after midnight. The next night when he left with some friends, she wasnthere when he returned. When he asked where she had been, she said casually," Oh just out. I love you but I’m not going to worry so much about you."
Sometimes its easy to blame or nag. And, we think, of a little doesn’t work, we’ll double it. That’s natural, but not always helpful. Instead, try making a U-turn from unsuccessful behaviour. You might be pleasantly surprised.
When I ask some couples what topics spark off conflict, they usually tell me: insensitive comments, expensive purchases, undone chores, and sex.
"When my husband mentions my weight, it really provokes me," says a 38-year-old teacher. And he knows that when she once again refers to the clutter in the basement, he’s in for trouble. These "red flags" are cues that the couples are venturing into areas virtually granted to start a fight.
If couples learn to watch and listen for "red flag" subjects, they can use them as warning signals to back off, slow down and lower the tone of discussion.
Therapist Amit Bhattacharya suggests that couples agree to immediate stop arguing as soon as either partner recognises a "red flag" word or issue. They resume the discussion when they have calmed down.
Laugh it off
Humour may be one of the most effective means of avoiding or derailing an argument. My friend Jatendra Kaushik was arguing with his wife, Suman, early in their marriage. "It reached the heights of absurdity," Jatendra says.
Finally, I said quite seriously, "You know what they would do to you in Russia if you did this? They’d take you out before a firing squad!"
What Suman said in response to my self-righteous statement was, "So, I made a mistake, shoot me!" After I stopped laughing, her words made me realise how absurd the argument had become.
Now when Jatendra Kaushik and Suman argue, one of them will say, "So, I made a mistake, shoot me." Whenever they say it, they laugh and become more civil.
Humour can change the emotional climate of an I’m — right — and — you’re — wrong fight. You begin to realise that the argument is absurd and see you are part of the problem too.
A few years ago, a professor and his wife were on the verge of separating because they couldn’t stop quarrelling. Then one evening while talking with old friends, the couple started recalling the fun they’d had as newly weds going to free art exhibits and discovering inexpensive restaurants. After that they repeated some of their past experiences, recapturing their old positive attitudes and gradually knitting their marriage back together.
Another marriage was plagued by constant arguing about the husband’s thoughtlessness. Immersed in his computer-programming business, he seldom remembered his wife’s birthday or their anniversary." Fighting with him only made matters worse," said the woman.
She further says, "Instead, I remembered how pleased be used to be, years ago, when I hugged and kissed him whenever he brought me the slightest trinket. So I waited for the first chance I had to praise him for some small act of thoughtfulness.
When he brought home a book she’d asked for, she thanked him as if he had given her a diamond, "He looked at me oddly," she admitted. "But Iknew he was pleased. I did this a few more times, and gradually he began to think about me because he enjoyed being appreciated, just like in the old days."
Forgiving is winning
When couples force themselves to take a positive approach, the results can be surprisingly rewarding.
I am often asked if a relationship can be saved. I usually respond, "No, but you can build a new relationship." Forgiveness allows that process to begin. We may feel we’re admitting defeat when we do the forgiving. But on the contrary, as the saying goes, the one who forgives gains the victory.
Forgiveness involves letting go of
anger, restoring respect and offering acceptance. If you can find a
way to offer the gift of forgiveness, you’ll have discovered one of
the strongest circuit breakers of all, one that allows you to put down
the burden you’re carrying. With your hands and heart free, you and
your partner can begin building a new, more fulfilling relationship.
Off the beaten path
ANJLEE Aggarwal, 33, is not the run-of-the mill fashion designer. She is different from the rest of her tribe for two reasons. First, she designs dresses for polio-stricken women in adition to those for normal women, specialising in block printing and hand embroidery.
Second, she herself suffers from muscular dystrophy. It is a genetic, irreversible disability that struck her at the age of 19. She cannot move without an escort.
Her condition notwithstanding, she is determined to make a place for herself in the high-profile and highly competitive industry of fashion designing.
She had a very active and ‘normal’ childhood. Anjlee was always good in studies. She learnt Bharat Natyam at an early age and gave solo performances at various functions in her school in Kolkata. She also learnt painting and played basket ball in her school days.
After her father was transferred to Delhi in 1986, she did a Bachelor’s course from the Institute of Home Science, South Extension. She then completed her three-year course in the fashion and apparel technology, scoring 75 per cent marks. She could, however, not join the Master's degree because of the dystrophy.
" The symtoms of muscular dystrophy were detected when I was in the second year of college. I could not run after buses as other girls used to do.I could not climb up stairs as fast as others. Sometimes while dancing, I lost my balance on the stage," she says, adding that the problem aggravated in the third and final year of graduation. " My practicals used to be held on the third floor of the college building and I wasn't able to climb the stairs. It was then that i realised that I was suffering from dystrophy," she says.
Despite the blow, Anjlee started her boutique soon after graduation. Her first order was of Rs 52 for designing an outfit which was later exhibited at Samrat Hotel. Subsequently, she started designing readymade outfits for women for the Mrignayani emporium of the Madhya Pradesh Government. She sold her fabric, suits and other outfits all over the country during exhibitions organised by Mrignayani.
" I would do block printing and hand embriodery on handicraft and handloom products. The response was always encouraging," she says. She now puts up a sale counter at the famous Dilli Haat five to six times a year. Kutch embroidery, block printing, and batik patterns are found on most of the fabrics and outfits designed by this young physically challenged designer.
A desire to do something for the disabled motivated her to design trendy clothes for them. Understanding peculiar needs of the physically challenged, she started designing saris, lehngas, suits and trendy dresses for women with physical disability and older women in particular. " The disabled do not like to wear flashy dresses, yet they are more concerned about their physical appearance. Since they have special physical needs, they want to look trendy yet decent," explains Anglee, who has also designed several dresses for the polio-stricken and patients suffering from the arthritis.
She is critical of fashion designers who do not design clothes for the disabled. "Perhaps there is no profit in clothes for the disabled or fashion designers do not consider them (the disabled) as potential customers," she feels.However, she plans to continue designing clothes for the disabled.
Anjlee, who lived a `normal' life before sshe was afflicted with muscular dystrophy, understands the problems and aspirations of the disabled. She is trying to sensitise `normal' people about the needs of the
disabled and also encouraging the physically challenged to overcome their disabilities. She co-founded Samarthya in 1996 and organised several trips for the disabled to various tourist spots and pilgrimages. " Samarthya's aim is to bring out the disabled from their shell and show them the world," informs Anglee. So far, it has organised trips to places like Shimla, Dalhousie, Khajjiar, Mussoorie, Rishikesh, Jaipur, Amritsar and Kolkata.
Samarthya was invited to a workshop on "Accessible tourism" held in Indonesia in September, 2000. Anjlee was requested to work for the promotion of barrier-free tourism in India. Now, she has managed to convince the Tourism Department and Delhi Tourism to make Dilli Haat, a barrier-free area." Dilli Haat's accessibility to the disabled was limited. There was no designated parking lot for the disabled. The ramps near the parking were steep and without hand rails. Ticket counter windows were found to be too high for a person in a wheelchair. " I had fallen from the stairs in Dilli Haat and hurt myself," she informs, suggesting that there is a need to make architectural changes in the complex.
She has also managed to convince the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to make the Safdarjung Tomb disabled-friendly. " I have suggested to them (ASI) to make the toilets more disabled-friendly and install braille plates describing the history of the monument," she claims.
She sure can be an inspiration for
other physically challenged persons.