Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dinner With Bongs

I was at an all-Bengali dinner this past weekend after a long hiatus. The hostess and I had met at the Y where we took our daughters swimming and we've stayed in touch since. She had wondered why I had not reached out to the desi or more specifically Bong community in all this time that I had lived in this town.

I told her quite candidly that I didn't think J and I would feel welcome given that I lack a husband. She encouraged me to seek out the exceptions to the rule and introduced me to her spouse. They are happy with each other and in as such not bothered by the fact that I am divorced. I have generally been able to have form viable social relationships with couples who are secure and happy in their own marriage.

The dinner guests at her house were all in their 30s. Everyone had a kid or two. J had plenty of company and was the only one in her group that spoke no Bengali. All the other kids were reasonably fluent. That did not seem to come in the way of social interaction which took place mainly in English.

Us ladies congregated around the island in the kitchen from where we repaired to the formal living room. Our host came over to see what we would like to drink. Chardonnay was among the choices and I opted for it. This was met with a few reproachful looks from the women and the barest hint of alarm from the host himself. I figured no one wanted a drunk woman without a designated male driver on their hands. I was given the drink of my choice and even managed to embolden some of the sisterhood enough to ask for Arbor Mist mixed with Cola.

The gents headed out with their Heinekens (which was the only kind of beer at hand ) to the deck. We did not see them for the rest of the evening until dinner time. The ladies talked about the preparations for Durga Puja a few weeks away. Some absent ladies were mentioned a lot and not always in a flattering light.

The rise and fall of kurtis as a fashion statement in America was the most profound topic of discussion. Apparently, American women had moved on to better things than kurtis as of last year and as such the woman who seemed to feel some passion on this subject would not be caught dead wearing a kurti to the workplace. Dressed like a fashionable American teen-ager, she seemed to be the reigning style diva of this group. When it came to fashion hers was the final word.

Husbands and marriage were talked about a lot. All the ladies were in considerable awe of their good fortune in being married to men who ate whatever they cooked for them. One woman went as far as to state that she'd have never made it through nursing school if her husband was not understanding enough to cook dinner on the days she came home late. The only time the men and women were together, the husbands joked about how badly the their wives drove and the women laughed along.

One dude went reminiscing about an elocution contest in his eight grade which had won him a prize. The wife looked on enraptured. While quite a few of the men looked like they worked out, not one of the women looked fit. Apparently, no one had the time for it - despite having such super-supportive spouses. I wondered how that did not strike them as odd. The men already looked younger than their wives and no one was in the 40s or 50s yet.

When I meet women who set such a low bar for expectations from marriage, I have to wonder what might happen if they knew they had the right to want more. Not only do they do themselves a great disservice, they make it that much harder for women who expect true partnership in marriage to find a man who has not been conditioned to seek a meek subordinate.


ggop said...

My former roommate and I never understood the awe our coworkers got from their new wives (it came out sounding wrong :-) its not like they had old wives stashed elsewhere)

I knew girls who started watching basketball and football as bonding experience with their husband.

Your portrayal of parties is more accurate than those of Chitra Bannerjee Diwakaruni or Jhumpa Lahiri in their books.

Suchi said...

Ah, sounds familiar. I learnt the hard way not to point out that there were other ways of living than slaving for the house and home. They really don't want to know that I live differently.

I wonder if you've read "I'm OK, You're OK" or "The Games People Play". The psychological theory in these books explains well why you need to go with the flow in such conversations and why such themes recur in groups.

Anonymous said...

Much ado about nothing...
Pretty normal households..except they dont need to brag about their spouses. And as far as workouts are concerned.. everyone knows it is all about motivation..never about lack of time.


Priyamvada_K said...

"When I meet women who set such a low bar for expectations from marriage, I have to wonder what might happen if they knew they had the right to want more."

Dear HC,
No need to wonder. They will just not get more :-J. Excuse my pessimism but sometimes I wonder if ignorance on the 'right to want more' is bliss.

At least socially these women won't be outcasts, and looks like they're pretty happy. So what the hey.

Hope all's well with you and little J.


Heartcrossings said...

ggop - Fawning over their husbands and making "good-natured" jokes about their wives seems a way of life in desi marriages. It seems to be self-affirmation that all is well with the marriage. And as for the parties - its a challenge to sit through them without dying from boredom.

suchi - No I haven't read either. You are right about going with the flow.

Sharda - much ado ? Not sure I understand what about...

Priya - You make an excellent point about ignorance being bliss. For a lot of women having the married label is worth making the greatest compromises - who wants to be a social outcast anyway.

Having been there done that and now being the outsider looking in, I can't but help feeling sorry for those who don't want more. A lifetime of entrapment for being Mrs someone is so not worth it.

As for happiness, it is a relative concept. For the better part of my marriage I thought I was happy too - just like these women I did not know better or know I deserved better. I see myself as I once was in these women.

More power to their marriages and happiness thereof but I'm sure glad I bailed out early :)