Friday, July 23, 2010


As Town and Country continues talking about his family, I think about mine and this desi construct of what it means to come from a “good family”. Growing up my parents drilled into my brother and me that obedient children, “study hard, don’t talk back to elders or teachers because they have a superior place in your life, and marry someone from a good family.” Sandwiched between the Lutes and Swedes, Dad would tell us we’re related to Guru Nanak (founder of the Sikh religion) and that Punjabis were the best. At times I wondered, if we’re so great what are we doing living with people whose kids think I am Pocahontas commanding rain on demand through dance and are mean to me at school (see below). And why aren’t we going back in India where I could be the princess of Punjab?

But the thing about Dad was while he said things, he never explained them. So in the same way I learned about Hinduism, Christianity and prostitutes (piecemeal through eavesdropping on grown-ups and TV) I developed then applied this unscientific definition of a what a good boy from a good family would look like: (1) Indian --- Hindu or Sikh (2) never been married, widowed or divorced – his parents should not be divorced either (3) from a middle class family, highly educated, including the requisite graduate degree stamped on his forehead and (4) if possible, would come from our Khatri caste consisting of these families: Bedi, Chopra, Kapur, Khanna, Malhotra, Puri, Sahni, Sethi, Suri, and Talwar.

As you can imagine growing up in Minnesota with the Anderson, Johnson, Nelson, and Swenson families made marrying one of our Khatri peeps from Punjab challenging. So I spent most of groom-hunting time looking for a nice, educated, middle-class Hindu/Sikh boy. While my parents are traditional, they would NEVER be labeled conservative. So they NEVER mandated that I bring home one of Punjab’s finest. Subconsciously it was my preference for a VERY loooooong time.

And really, as far as Indian parents in America go, mine are pretty cool. While proud to be Punjabi they didn’t teach us hate (except for Pakistan) and my brother and I were spared details about the ugly side of the caste system. Which is why I was unprepared for the day in elementary school when some kid asked what caste I was from. I didn’t even know the name so I just said, “A high caste.” “Brahmin?” he asked. “No,” I replied. He made a face and said, “You’re not high caste if you’re not Brahmin. Don’t you know that?” How some freckled white boy made me feel small and insignificant baffles me now that I am armed with knowledge.

When I was old enough I self taught myself all things Indian including the caste system. I learned that Brahmins, while high caste, went on to be scholars and pandits who refrained from meat and alcohol. Oh the other hand, Khatris (one level down) were warriors and zameendhars (land owners) who clearly ate meat and drink. Quickly I got a-okay with my caste. But I think Dad’s belief that Punjabis are the best is a LOT of pressure for drunk, carnivorous warriors and landowners.

And if some of my relatives were really honest, they’d admit they haven’t let go of the ancient idea of aesthetics when it comes to match matching: beautiful daughters for handsome sons; fixed sons for unbroken daughters; and affluent daughters for ambitious sons. Just when I think this matrimonial stuff is crap and wonder what bullshit keeps the system in place, Hindu teachings come back to me. I was taught that daughters, while a joy and lakshmi, to cherished and protected, are also a burden and must be protected. This is why the gods do not bestow peace and prosperity on fathers, brothers, and sons whose daughters suffer or live in despair. The scriptures are particular about this. So of course, parents have a lot riding on the appropriate settlement of their children, especially their daughters.

In the time I have been lost in my thoughts, Town and Country has set his wine on the table and stares at me. Maybe he now wonders if I am dead since I have not said anything in 10 minutes (most likely a record). I clutch my glass like a security blanket. He leans in to kiss me. I let him, even though I know he’s not THE ONE. How can he be when he just told me he’s still in love with someone else?

“Look,” I whisper between kisses. “If this is just sex. You have to be honest with me. I can’t take any more heartbreak.” He sighs. His deep brown eyes seem darker. “This is New York. If I wanted sex I could get it anywhere. I don’t need you for it.”

In that moment he actually seems more vulnerable than me.


Anonymous said...

Oh for Pete's sake.... All men say that. Btw Ms. Desi Girl, wonderful little lesson on Indians while maintaining humor & wit :)

101 Bad Desi Dates said...

Dear Anonymous ... well, if he can he should get it elsewhere as I am pretty much holding hard and fast to 5 days (at least). Hey glad you liked the lessons, this as far as posts go is one of faves, I shd be allowed to like myself, right?! :)