Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Keys To The Cage

When I went to pick J up from Sirisha's a few days ago, she invited me in. Though we have traded bowls of sambar and halwa a few times, we have never been inside each other's home. Her daughter comes over and J goes to their place but our interactions have been limited to phone calls and short exchanges from the balcony.

As it turned out her husband was out of town that evening and would be back only much later. This is not the first time that a desi wife has turned more convivial than usual in the absence of her husband. I feel like I am participating in something clandestine akin to an extra-marital affair had I been a man. I would much rather visit them when Suresh is at home but that apparently is a bad idea.

So we got chatting about this, that and the other. Sirisha is back in the job market after a few years and is finding it very hard to land one. He wants the second income but does little to help her find the source of one. In the meanwhile, he controls the purse strings. They have only one car so she feels caged in the house and recalls with nostalgia the carefree college days in Pune when she zipped around free as a bird on her Kinetic Honda.

She wishes she had some money of her own that she could spend as she liked - buy gifts for her family on her trip to India. Suresh threw a fit when she wanted to buy a little trinket for her favorite aunt. A second car would open the doors to paradise. Right now it is a far distant dream. I listen for the most part and don't have much to say. I realize she wants to vent and does not expect me to magically solve her problems.

Since school is out and J is going to daycare full time, I ask her if she would like to babysit her. It would be a win-win. I know she is a good mom and would take adequate care of my child. She would come into some money. Her face lighted up at once. She said she'd let me know after talking with her husband. Needless to say, I never heard back from her.

From talking to her that day, I realized that the cage she spoke of included the kids as well. Suresh does not allow them to watch any movie even if G rated without reviewing it for objectionable content by his exacting desi standards. Suggestions or depictions of intimacy between a male and a female character would disqualify a movie from being kid-safe. He plans on sending the oldest, a nine year old boy back to India next year so he can be enrolled in a "good school" and get a "real" education. J's buddy Rashmi will follow suit in a few years.

In the context of all that the attitude of the two kids is very interesting. They detest anything that has to do with India. Rashmi has told me to my face that she "can't stand the smell of Indian food" and refused to do lunch with J. She looked at me in horror when I said that I don't have chicken nuggets in the fridge. Culturally, there is nothing remotely "Bharatiya" about them - atleast in the sense that Suresh has in mind. She disdains the "desi-ness" that her upbringing is all about. I doubt if either kid will accept the idea of going back to India. They are Americanized in a very decisive sort of way that J is not.

Yet on the outside, in their ethnic clothes, weekly Telugu lessons and hoards of desi friends they seem to be living in a microcosm of India that I feel J is completely missing. To me Rashmi and her brother are the kind of kids that will "get" India even while living in America but my daughter will flounder from lack of cultural awareness and assimilation.

After interacting with them so closely, I am no longer sure if that is really true. J is intensely curious about India, my childhood, the city where her grandparents live and the extended family she has seen very little of. She does not speak Bengali but understands most of what I say to her. She loves Bengali food over anything else. Kishore Kumar is her favorite Indian singer and she tries to lip synch to his songs. I expect she will be fascinated by India when she does get there because there is so much pent up curiosity. Maybe it is a good thing after all that the I don't live the desi way of life to the point that J is compelled to assert the American in her.


ggop said...

I think anything thrust on the tween crowd is rebelled against. I'm not surprised at all.

Your friend's husband has serious control issues...


Heartcrossings said...

ggop - I am sure he has and I feel sorry for her.