A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

I for Integrate

Posted by Pepper on December 5, 2015

I’ve often written about the kind of fierce rejection I faced from Mint’s family in the beginning of our relationship. Getting them to accept our relationship was a long and painful journey. His relatives could not get over the fact that Mint had the audacity to fall in love, let alone fall in love with a ‘Northie’, a caste-less, cultureless, immoral girl from the dreadful city of Mumbai. That is really the perception some of them continue to have of me. I don’t bow down to their patriarchal ways, I mostly wear jeans and tees and I don’t speak Tamil. I am clearly an outcast. If they find out that I actually enjoy some scotch, bare my legs and wear tiny shorts, use abusive language, they would probably banish me from their world, but let’s not get there.

Right from our first official meeting, I had to bear the brunt of their rigid views. When I say ‘their’, please note, I am talking about Mint’s extended family. His parents are far more reasonable and compassionate. Unfortunately, my MIL’s prime desire has been to see me integrate into the extended family. She told me this repeatedly, that I had to take the effort and break the ice. I would have to work hard to make them like me.

I tried a fair bit in the beginning. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, because I had a huge language barrier. Also, I had no idea about the kind of expectations people had from me. The customs and traditions were alien to me. The first few times I visited homes of relatives, I was utterly lost and simply followed some of the women blindly. Before we left, most of the hosts would take me to a corner and offer me a tiny jar of vermilion. Not knowing what to do with it, I just dabbed some bit of it on to my forehead. After some frantic sign language, I was made to understand that I had to smear the red powder onto my thali (mangalsutra). Most women scowled at my lack of knowledge and understanding. I knew winning them over would not be easy. But really, how could they fault me for not being familiar with a custom that was unheard of in the environment I grew up in.

I still harboured some hope of bonding with the few people who did speak English. My first encounter however, served as a wake up call. In our first meeting, I walked up to Baldie (one of the eldest and most respected figures in Mint’s extended family). I knew he was conversant in English, so I smiled at him and asked him how he was. To my horror, he glared at me angrily and turned his head away. I couldn’t believe anybody could be this rude and insensitive. Instead of allowing myself to flare up, I calmed myself down and tried some more. Each time I talked to him, he would turn his head away and blatantly ignore me. In a room full of people, this was humiliating.

Sadly, he wasn’t an exception. I was beginning to hate visiting these relatives, because each time I was made to feel very unworthy of respect. The women would jeer at my inability to string together petals of jasmine, my inability to draw a kolam and most importantly, my inability to speak to Tamil.  A lot of the men would turn away each time I tried to talk to them. Some of them would give me curt replies and shower me with scowls. The first question Mint’s chittappa asked me was ‘You know Tamil?’. This was on the second day after our marriage and he very well knew I could not speak the language. When I replied in the negative, he spat out a, ‘Then waat you know?’.  I chose to ignore it, but the disgust and the snooty sense of entitlement in his tone is etched in my memory.

I thought I could connect better with the younger generation. I started to ping a couple of Mint’s cousins on Gtalk. I was right. They responded fairly well. I was in the process of becoming friends with one of his cousins, K. We would chat often. A couple of months later, I heard K make a statement that totally put me off. She said she was terrified of letting the others in the family know that she spoke to me. It left me shocked. Was the younger generation forbidden from mingling with me? So much so that the people who spoke to me wanted to keep our interactions in the dark?

What was my fault? Why did I deserve to be treated like this? They had already created enough number of scenes in the past. Here I was, trying to be more forgiving of the rejection, trying hard to break barriers and make them see the person I was, and all I was getting in return was a slap on my face? Only because I belonged to a vastly different region, background and community? And then it struck me. His family did not want to allow me to integrate. For one, they didn’t think I was worthy enough of them. For two, they wanted to keep their kids safe from my corrupt influence. I was seen as a threat, an adulterant.

All along, Mint couldn’t figure out why I was even trying to bond with those people. He told me they would never accept me, no matter how hard I tried. It was probably their way of putting across the message that there will be consequences if you dare to deviate from the norms and marry outside the community. That day, I decided to ignore the jerks and focus on the few good people. Yes, his family does have a few people who are very welcoming. These people always give me warm smiles, although we don’t speak a common language. We visit their homes and they shower me with love, gesture me to eat more, always present me with a little something when we are on our way out. There is a genuine fondness we share.

To date, this is how things are between us. Majority of his family is unwelcoming of me. A handful of them are warm and I make sure I reciprocate in my own ways. This time when my in-laws visited, we got around to talking about this subject. My MIL pointed out that I still haven’t integrated into the extended family, although it has been over 5 years. It sounded like an accusation to me and it made me blow my top (inside my head, as usual). I decided to be honest with her. I told her I was no longer going to be making any attempts. Those people treated me like crap. How long could I go unscathed? I didn’t deserve it and I wasn’t willing to put up with it anymore.

My MIL seemed quite taken aback by my honesty. She seemed to sympathize, but offered a different view point. She said if I continued to try relentlessly, one day they would soften. I told her in all honesty that they weren’t worth it to me. I would rather shower my attention, love and time on people who deserved it. At this point, we realised we couldn’t see eye to eye and decided to not pursue the subject anymore. I know for a fact that she wasn’t pleased with my ideas, but I am glad she was made aware of how I felt.

After all, any kind of integration needs some openness from both ends. If an opening doesn’t exist and you try to walk on to the other side, you will only hit the wall.

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19 Responses to “I for Integrate”

  1. Radhika said

    I know just what you went through. Almost the same thing happened to me even though I married another Bengali. It was a love marriage the immediate family did not approve of, so the extended family followed suit. On top of that was the reverse snobbery of my higher caste and westernized ways… After trying for years, I now live in peaceful and splendid isolation.

  2. I think you’re completely right about this. These people have made up their mind that they will dislike you and be rude to you and make you as miserable as possible. I think they will take your silence or attempts to make nice as weakness. Is this the culture they are so proud of, that they want you to adopt? I pity their children.

  3. You are a strong girl who stands to her belief and glad you have someone like Mint by your side. A general observation: I feel sad to see how families stifle someone’s individuality with the whole religious bull crap. I have seen it with few of my female friends.
    Cheerz

  4. I’m sorry this happened to you and I’m even sorrier that people are so difficult. I remember my dad and I attended a wedding a few years back. It was a similar situation, likely from a similar community. The guy was marrying a ‘northie’ girl. The hostility in the Mandapam was overpowering and I felt really bad. I remember even asking my dad why we had attended and why these people had hosted the wedding if they weren’t going to be nice to the bride and her family. He didn’t really have any answers.

  5. My Era said

    I am glad you honestly made your MIL aware of your point of view. In my point of view, 5 years is a long time enough to have given the extended family enough opportunity to soften up.
    I have experienced quite a similar treatment from my own extended family following my divorce. Initially, it used to hurt me to see those who loved me all my life, had grown indifferent to me because of my marital status. But, eventually, I had to take a call to choose my peace of mind & severe ties (at least mentally).

  6. The Bride said

    Thank you for writing this. I just read a similar post on The Madh Mama’s blog, which focuses on intercultural marriages (or rather international marriages). When I read posts on that blog, I am struck by how those of us who marry outside our communities within India also face intercultural issues.

    Like you, I have also faced being isolated in gatherings with the husband’s extended family. A big part of it is not being able to speak Malayalam, but even the ones who do speak English do not try (though I’ve heard that others make fun of their English if they see them trying). The husband’s family is not rude to me based on pride in their caste or whatever, except for a few exceptions, it’s more they cannot be bothered or just see me as a strange intrusion, an alien of sorts. Ironically, my father-in-law used to be one of those who was rude to people who married outside the community, until all three of his kids did in some way and he mellowed substantially.

    Of course, your mother-in-law will want you to try to integrate because she will be the one facing the barbs from her family. However, it is not your problem. You did try and there is a limit to how much effort you can waste on people who are essentially not worth it except for your mother-in-law’s izzat. If I faced what you have, I’d have backed off sooner. Hell, I have pretty much backed off, also because my husband doesn’t make half that effort with my family and they are super nice to him (just because he’s lazy and increasingly anti-social, not because he dislikes them). Since Mint can’t be bothered, I’d take it as a cue to drop it happily, except of course we women must be liked.

    I’m glad you put your foot down with your mother-in-law and that she was able to agree to disagree. The relationship with immediate in-laws is more important and I have found time (and of course arrival of babies) does a lot to smooth that.

  7. I empathize with you sistah! Though in my case the rejection was not as strong, but it was there (or rather I felt it) for sure. Simple things like extended family aunts complaining to MIL i dont wear wedding indicators, telling my husband repeatedly I dont wear saree during functions. And in our 5 years of being married, apart form a couple of folks no one has asked me what I like to do, about my job, about my hobbies. It sucks. Same with in laws – I always get the feeling of bias, and though they dont show it actively, passively I gets forth to me. I have learnt to ignore it, but still at the back of my mind that thing is always there.

  8. In our wedding, I was accepted wholeheartedly by S’s family (including his distant relatives). It is my extended family that considers us an outcast. In the beginning, I tried to mend every broken bridge but with few people speaking bad of S, I felt I dont need these people in our lives. There are a few ppl who are okay with our inter-caste marriage and they treat us so well – it is with them that we are close too. As you said, these people are not worth all the effort we make. Hugs!

  9. Ani said

    Hi,

    I just feel like your post sounds very “Anti Tamil” and I feel that it sounds very generic. Being a Tamilian myself, I do know that are a lot of people who welcome people from other cultures, even though they might not be open to the idea of marrying outside ideally. Mint’s family seem to be on one end of the spectrum. I thought I should clarify that to your readers, if you do not mind.

    • Pepper said

      Hi Ani,

      May I request you to point out to me exactly which lines from my post sound Anti Tamil or ones that make generalisations about an entire community? As far as I can see, I have spoken strictly about Mint’s family and my experiences with them. So please reread the post if you have to, but do let me know what statements in my post made you say this. Thanks.

      • Ani said

        I am sorry but I am unable to pinpoint what exactly made me feel that way. I felt it was the general tone. It was just my personal thought. I apologize if this upset you. Just wanted to share what I felt!

        • Pepper said

          It didn’t upset me, just made me really curious. I do not believe in generalizations and think they do more harm than good. Also, I obviously am aware that there are tons of Tamilians who welcome people from different backgrounds. I would never, and I repeat, *never* intentionally paint an entire community black because of my experiences with a few people. So I was really curious to know what made you feel the way you did.

          I’m not sure ‘general tone’ works as an answer to my question. There are words that set the tone. If you still can’t point to any single statement, then I am going to say what you thought was just your own reading of it.

          Let me clarify then, I wasn’t and didn’t intend to be Anti Tamil or anti any community. And it’s okay, you needn’t apologize 🙂

    • Deepa said

      I don’t think any aspect of this post is anti tamil. Not sure why you get this feeling.

    • mevsrogue said

      I never felt she meant it that way even a bit.

  10. radha said

    ha , Im form Tn and I’ve been married closer to 3 decades and my very own family did this to me, my extended family is a pain. i dont deal with any of them, i visit if i have to, smile if i have to and leave, now they are trying to be friendlier, but after so many many years i dont care, i have a loving circle and thats all that matters, and yes it was a love marriage but he’s of the very same community, it was just a matter of i picked vs they all picked and what a bad bad example i set to the younger gen, now love marriages ar ethe norm of course i’m solely responsible you see. but now isn’t that a wonderful thing. 🙂

  11. D said

    Hey…I thought I will just drop in to say- where is the next post?…:)…

  12. Deepa said

    hello sweets, no post in a while. Hope all is well at your end and at the inlaw’s end too in Chennai. Drop me a note when you have time and let me know you are okey-dokey. And here’s all of us, M, V and me, wishing you and Mint and the lil sis and the awesome parents a very Happy 2016. Good health, prosperity and love coming your way:-)

  13. […] I for Integrate […]

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