A Nuanced Article

Cristina, your article (Desi By Marriage, September, 2009)catches the nuances of inter-cultural relationships very well. The part where you address “ammas and nannas, aais and babas, mommys and pappas” is especially remarkable, since that reassurance is what is needed to gain acceptance  and inclusion within a typically tightly knit family.

Karan, online

Religion: a Bone of Contention

Indians involved in multi-religious relationships (Desi By Marriage, September 2009) know full well the familial conse-quences of marrying out of religion, and would never have dared to get involved with a non-Hindu in India. It seems that in every case other than the author, the American involved is a non-Hindu.

Without trying to sound like a bigot, in mixed marriages the issue of religion of the children becomes a major factor, even within closely related religions like Christianity and Judaism.

Abrahamic religions at their root, teach intolerance such as, “Thou Shall have no other God,” and “Thou shall make no graven images.”

When an intolerant religion is mixed with a religion that does not teach religious hatred, the intolerant religion usually wins.

The real heartbreak for a Hindu grandparent will come, when the grandchild calls him a hell-bound, devil-worshipping idolater.

Americans who wish to “sample” Indian culture without the baggage of the Hindu religion should seriously consider dating Indian Christians, with the added bonus of much less parental opposition.

G. Subbuswamy, online

Mutual Respect and Sheer Guts

Cristina Chopalli responds:

I would like to clarify that the article (Desi By Marriage, September, 2009) is not a case for becoming a Hindu or a vegetarian, but rather people coming together and respecting what each has to offer.

I was a practicing Hindu for many years before I met my Indian partner. Though I personally feel the need to keep such practices, I do not think that it’s necessary to give up the entirety of American culture in order to have a gratifying relationship with an Indian partner.

Both Kjirsten and Jason have great respect and honor for Indian culture. Kjirsten is a practicing Hindu. And though I did not ask Jason directly if he considers himself a Hindu—he is very committed to preserving that which is important to Manjiri and they are very happy.

It’s easy to say that people living in India wouldn’t dare go outside their family’s wishes, but the reality is that coming to America affords opportunities for personal growth that would not exist had they stayed in India. Please do not belittle the guts and sheer determination it takes to stand against people you love—in order to bring two different worlds together for the greater good.

Cristina Chopalli, Chicago, IL

Remove Those Rose-tinted Glasses!

Cristina, you are a tremendous writer and I enjoyed reading your take on the positive aspects of Indian culture (Desi By Marriage, September, 2009). But I think it’s really important that someone tell you about our culture in an honest and realistic way. It is very difficult for non-Indians to understand the conflicted nuances of Indian culture because we Indians never EVER share them. Indian families present a solid, unified unit to the public—but inside, it can be an entirely different story. Indians cover up family problems such as wife-beatings and child abuse on a daily basis, and deal with them internally. As a white American,  it doesn’t matter how much time you spend at their homes, or how close you think you are—you won’t get the real story.

I was also disturbed by your suggestion that all Indian parents love their children unconditionally. This is not even close to the truth. The Indian family is usually built around the themes of obedience and respect.   Children who don’t do as they are told will often lose their parents’ love and support. And that loss can be devastating.

If an Indian family accepts the marriage of their child to a foreign spouse, they often do so reluctantly—and their reluctance and disappointment often reflects in their relationship with the new spouse. That doesn’t mean that you won’t be appreciated eventually—I’m just saying that you may not have the loving and accepting parental relationship that you long for, because many Indian families are simply not set up to participate in that kind of social relationship, especially not with their daughters in-law.
My intent is not to hurt your feelings or criticize your relationship, but to inject a dose of hard, cold reality into the Pollyannaish stereotypes of Indian culture that fill your article.

What if I wrote an article in Time magazine about how I, as an Indian woman, desperately hoped to marry an American white man, so that I could escape the troubles of my childhood and embrace a Christian culture that emphasizes families, children, stay-at-home moms, and good old-fashioned American values?

I think the odds are high that you would think my American white boyfriend was a racist pig. You would also think I had a completely unrealistic, stereotyped, and naive view of American families and American culture. And you know what? I think you would be absolutely right.

Sumithra, online

Integrative Medicine

Aditi Nerurkar’s optimistic perspective (Indian Yellow Milk, September 2009) on the future of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in America was heartening. However, as of now, the reality is quite different.

Not long ago, when my Kaiser physician (who happens to be of Indian origin) prescribed some allopathic drugs for me, I asked her if there were other alternatives based on CAM or grandma’s home remedies. She said that even if she knew of such alternatives, she could not recommend them in her official capacity as a Kaiser physician. In other words, she was concerned that she could be liable for malpractice if she did so.

Most American doctors today do not prescribe CAM remedies such as Indian yellow milk, ginger tea, or Chinese herbs because these remedies have not gone through the rigor (rigmarole?) of large clinical trials and drug approval process. The drug companies don’t invest in conducting trials of these remedies because they are not patentable. Moreover, public funding for CAM research remains woefully inadequate.

Mainstream (allopathic) medicine in America is primarily based on patentable and profitable synthetic remedies. This is in sharp contrast with CAM which is largely based on unpatentable (and unprofitable) natural remedies.

The paradigm shift from allopathy to integrative medicine—which combines synthetic/patentable medicine and natural/unpatentable medicine—will be largely driven by patient demand. Whereas the drug companies will continue to “push” highly profitable synthetic drugs through aggressive marketing, patients will have to “pull” the natural remedies such as turmeric. As always, doctors will mediate between these forces of push and pull. Most doctors today have little or no professional training in natural medicine, but if patient demand for CAM keeps growing, they will have a strong incentive to learn about it. Similarly, the American medical community (medical schools, hospitals, FDA, etc.) will be motivated to overcome systemic barriers to the mainstreaming of natural medicine.

Vijay Gupta, Cupertino, CA

Remembering Ali Akbar Khan

My husband and I are fortunate to have had an encounter with Ali Akbar Khan (Mourning and Rebirth, September 2009).

Living in Honolulu as newlyweds in 1962, it was our custom to take a stroll after dinner along the expansive beachfront walkway in Waikiki, which was very popular with local people as well as visitors. One evening, we encountered an Indian man wearing simple navy slacks and a white shirt. He greeted my husband (a Sikh) with “Sat Sri Akal, Sardarji,” the customary greeting. We stopped and chatted. He mentioned that he was visiting Honolulu to give a concert and urged us to attend—and revealed that his name was Ali Akbar Khan.

We responded delightedly that we already had tickets to the concert, and were very much looking forward to it. We chatted with him for a few minutes, and were impressed with his humility and the presence of greatness, that somehow embodied all that is magical and wonderful about great artists in the Indian tradition. We parted with warm salutations and continued on our respective walks, forever to remember this simple encounter.

Now that we have lived in Berkeley since 1963, we have been blessed with many chances to attend Khan Sahib’s concerts.  My husband passed away in 2004 and now Khan Sahib is also gone. I will always cherish my memories of attending his concerts—that first one in Hawaii, and many more here in the Bay Area. He was truly a living treasure, and a wonderfully great man. Thank you India Currents for your sensitive articles about him and his timeless music. We are all the richer for his presence in our lives.

Darlene Dhillon, Berkeley, CA

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