I woke up the next morning reviewing my experiences from dinner the night before and could not stop thinking about the role of women in India and the drastic differences from my own world.
Grandma and Divya’s mother rarely go out of
the house at night or to a restaurant. They would normally stay home and take care of the children; it is simply the role of the older woman. They only came along to dinner because I was there. When we got to the tables to the restaurant
they started to separate the children and the older women or to put the two single men at another table. I politely asked if we could squeeze in around one table. I just could not bear to have them separated. After a lot of conversation
they did accommodate me. I also asked Kruthi (Ravi’s daughter) to sit by me as I knew she would be sequestered off to a less important place. For one night, I just wanted her to be in a place of perceived honor. I know it caused a bit
of stir but no one argued with me… for this one night I could demonstrate that she was important. I asked Divya to sit on my other side for the same reason. Divya is Ravi’s niece; she is 22 years old and is continuing her education
and working in an office. She was full of energy and wanting me to find her a job in the U.S. It was not long until I found out why. Her mother asked me to give her a blessing to find a good husband. I asked Divya if she wanted to get married now. She
said NO! I want to stay single and be happy for a while. I was caught immediately between the generational cultural divide. I told Divya... Stay single for a while longer and finish your education. In my heart I knew it could not go on much
longer and she would be married soon. At dinner we chatted at length about this situation. Divya told me she wanted to find a love marriage… American translation: a marriage of choice. She also told me that her family
had very traditional values and that they would be planning to arrange her marriage. I could see her thinking about the consequences of betraying her family and choosing a love marriage vs. succumbing to her family traditions and having an
arranged marriage. It was painful for me to watch her struggle. The family is such a strong unit and shaming the family has big consequences. I was not sure she could leave her family behind without regret so I kept silent. My American perspective
was so different: I felt sure her prospects working in an office would be by far better than what her parents might arrange but what did I know of Indian culture. At that moment, it was hard for me to argue for a love marriage even in my thoughts.
The divorce rate is so high in the US and almost nonexistent in India, women do not have choices to remarry easily in India as in the US. I felt her inner struggle deeply as her choices carried a heavy weight.
In a reflecting moment she
said “when you come back to India on your next visit, she said she would most likely be married.” and then she cheerfully invited me to come to the wedding celebration when it occurred.
It was time for me to get moving so I went to the elevator to go down and get breakfast. Inside the elevator an English gentleman was chuckling at my struggle with the elevator buttons. It always takes me time to adjust to a
new culture when I arrive and it makes me acutely aware of how programmed I am for the common task. He gently reminded me, the first floor is really the second floor. The ground floor is the first floor. I thanked him for the reminder and went along
my merry way
I needed to get my head around getting ready as Ravi would be arriving soon to pick us up to drive us to work.
Last time I was in India, I taught Ravi some American phrases. He remembered every word and reminded me of
exactly where we were when I taught him. It is amazed me how much influence I had and how much it mattered. I just did realize the ripple effect. Last time in one of our many conversations, I was explaining the difference in our language
and in US we say” let’s go” instead of “Come”. When he arrived to pick up the team to transport us to the office he enthusiastically said “Let’s Go”. It cheered me.
The horn honking in
India is constant and it has a language all its own. One of my teammates asked Ravi what the beep of the horn meant. He earnestly looked at me and pointed to his horn on the car and asked “this is beep?” I responded
“Yes Ravi that is the sound the horn makes…. Beep, Beep, Beep. He started laughing his infectious laugh; it was so irresistible how could we not join him? We all knew it was one of those silly cultural differences and erupted in laughter.
We told him that in the US the horn is often used when you are angry and the sound is more like BEEEEEEEEEEP. He immediately caught on and said” ok long beep instead of short beep” “Yes Ravi “He
then elaborated and told us that a “short beep communicated I am here.” It was a delightful beginning to our trip.
In the office
I have to say, I love when the women come into our meetings.
In their beautiful clothing they are such a strong contrast to the men. They mostly wear the tunic style dress with leggings although some are dressed in the most beautiful saris. The colors and patterns are so uplifting with the traditional scarf beautifully
draped over the shoulder. They also wear these elaborate bindis of stones and beautiful patterns on their forehead. Bindis have transformed from the traditional red dot on the forehead and have transformed into quite a fashion statement. All those
bangles on their arms, long earrings and necklaces are so appealing it awakens my artistic senses. I sometimes just stare in a dreamlike trance. It is hard for me to concentrate as it is such a contrast to western office where we wear a lot
of black brown and grey.
I brought the sari I own with me to India and had a shirt custom made to match. Ravi picked it up for me from the tailor while I was working as we were to go to dinner that night dressed in traditional Indian
costume. The traditional Indian shirt under a sari comes just under the bra line. I was a little intimated to have my midriff showing in the office, so I ordered a bit of a longer top but alas when it arrived it was incredibly tight and
traditionally short. Oh well, when in India…
Sunu is the assistant who is helping us all out here. She keeps us in line and makes sure our meetings go as planned. I was bewildered about how to dress myself in seven yards of beautiful
silk fabric. I did not have the undergarment that holds it all together so Ravi took Sunu our mid-day to buy a cotton slip that holds the sari in place. Two of my teammates joined her to buy clothing for dinner. When they got back Sunu arranged for two
lovely young women to help dress me in my sari. There I was in the bathroom with three women fussing all over me making sure the pleats and draping were perfect. Of course I had to have my picture with all of them. We stopped all traffic walking into
and out of the bathroom all of whom appeared to be amused as the cause of the traffic jam and enjoyed the sight of me being clothes. After I was dressed, we walked to the café for tea time and everyone was staring at me. I am tall by
Indian standards and a tall white woman in a sari is a most unusual site. I attracted a lot of stares, smiles and approving nods. This I can tell you about wearing a silk sari… It is freaking hot to wear and managing all that fabric
takes some patience. I won’t be wearing it in the office again. The sari is tucked into a very tight petticoat at the waist, and it takes several safety pins to hold it all together so it does not come un-tucked at the waist and so it does not
fall off the shoulder. When they pinned me all together, they accidently pined the sari to my underwear and I did not know until I desperately needed to use the bathroom and was all alone. I ultimately figured it all out… but that was quite a predicament.
I had a lovely few minutes with each of my teammates all to myself. In the past I had been on many staff phone calls with them and had we had met in person a few times but it was rare for me to have one on one alone time. I was fairly certain
I would not see them again so I asked Sunu to arrange some time for alone without the rest of the team so I could visit. I did have a small agenda to discuss all the business & organizational changes but we pushed off other business so we could talk personally.
It is such a luxury to have this time. I had dressed early in the day to show Shobba my sari as she was not joining us for dinner. She wondered why I was so late for my meeting and why I was in the bathroom so long. Until she saw
me, she thought I must have had an upset stomach, a common occurrence for Americans in India. I had met with the men earlier in the day and had told them both Tapas and Subbie about my experience at Ravi’s the night before. Tapas explained
to me that there is a saying in India that translated to….”The guest is god or goddess.” No wonder I was treated like a celebrity. Tapas and Subbie knew my project had about a year left and each of them suggested me to take a foreign
assignment in India. I told them well… I am pretty sure it would mean a divorce. They unhappily understood. They both saw my visit to India as a very strong commitment to their teams and a bridge to building an alliance with the teams. The distance
is vast between the US and India and I think they often feel neglected. I knew this was true but despite the conditions I loved being in India. The people have an amazing ability to see what is great in the simplest gesture. Sadly most
of my colleagues did not want to visit India because the conditions are harsh by American standards.
The world is small again… As we were leaving the office campus and getting in our car to go to our hotel the English gentleman
I had met in the elevator earlier in the morning saw me. Who knew we worked for the same company? He called out “hey you are from the Zuri (hotel). How did you get such a nice car?” I looked at him and started laughing and said “Ah
I many not know how to work elevators but I know how to how to travel well when it comes to transportation.” I offered to give him and his group a lift back to the hotel but we would not all fit in Ravi’s car. He and his teammates were
taking the hotel car…… it was a rookie mistake. We all arrived at the hotel around the same time and we are all standing at the elevator together and again the English Gentleman inquired about the car. I gave him a quick lesson on
how to book your own car and… and of course be sure to ask for Ravi. He is a good safe driver.” He responded “Is there such a thing as a safe driver In India”. All my teammates responded in unison “oh yes
we have a good driver.” I told him I would give him Ravi’s number for his future visits. He said” Good, thanks, but I assume can only use him if you are not here, right!” I replied “I am glad you understand. “
In the evening, we had a lovely team dinner. All the American women in their Indian finery and all the Indian men in their western wear. Tomorrow would be our last full day in the office and there was still lots to accomplish but it was lovely
to send time at dinner discussing life outside work and getting to know everyone much more personally.
Our last night in Bangalore
After a long week in the office we had tied up most of our work. It was our last night
in Bangalore so we had decided to do some shopping in the city. Ravi drove us to “commercial” street which was the perfect name for this area of town. It was shop after shop of everything you could ever imagine. Before he dropped us off Ravi
gave us strict instructions on exactly where to stand and d when he would pick us up and to stay close. Now I would not normally shop in this part of the world without a local but we had Wentao with us…. I have shopped with her in China and she was
the most seasoned bargainer and shopper I have ever come across. She holds court with the vendors to make sure she gets the best price. She tries to hit a 40 -50% discount and usually settles for 30% depending on what she is buying).
She starts by picking up a single item and the adding more to entice the price drop. “You will get more of us to buy if you give us better price” That price is too high, I love your things I may have to walk out and disappoint
my daughters if you don’t give me better bargain” “ I really don’t need anything here this is just to keep my children happy. “ “Stop polishing the necklace until we have made a bargain, you
waste my time. I will buy all three if you give me better price”. The other women stood in awe. I often wonder if the shop keepers are deciding if they really want to feed their family to make the deal or just let her leave. She
is that tough….. of course we all benefit from her knowledge. I trust Wentao implicitly when it comes to shopping and negotiating, it is second nature to her. This just gives you a sense of how careful I am when I do business with her. I saw other members
of the team admiring her negotiating skills. The negotiating had gone on for more than 45 minutes and it was dark, I finally told Wentao …. “Make your deal, I am calling Ravi NOW, It is time to go.” The art of negotiating is argumentative,
noisy and dramatic. It was a relief to finally get in the car and amazing quite as Ravi guided us through the traffic to the hotel so we could have a late dinner.
Ravi always has a small story to tell as we drive and he did not disappoint. “Mum
you know, I come home last night and my little boy was sleeping holding the superman PEZ you brought him. Every night mum he is holding something from your visit.” I am constantly amazed at what is important in the in the eyes of a child.
I did not bring anything elaborate… PEZ candy, small rubber balls, marbles, jump rope (they call it skipping rope), some” coin candy and some small spinning tops. Those small items were prized in India. They had no
idea what PEZ even was. I had to explain to Ravi how to load the candy and how it dispenses one at a time when you lift the head up and down. I had to explain that the PEZ characters of Cinderella and Superman were from cartoons that virtually
every American, young or old would recognize. It is always an awakening at what I take for granted.
It was the last day in the office and after we finished our final meetings. The Indian team eagerly gathered to take a group photo and to
present us with parting gifts. It was a fun occasion and we all enjoyed the camaraderie we had built together. As I left I was tinged with a moment of sadness as we walked out and I had to say goodbye to Sunu. As Sunu was helping us
pack our gifts into our luggage Ravi presented each of us with gift, a bundle of Indian tea and additionally to me he gave me a framed picture of me with his family so I would always remember my visit to his house. I was overwhelmed by his kindness and thanked
him as tears streamed down my face. I said goodbye to Sunu though more tears as I got into the car. I knew we were headed to the airport and I would have to say goodbye to Ravi…. I did not know how I was to manage. I had not had nearly
enough time to talk with him. , I was disappointed in that fact and I knew he is as well. I will need to find my words and keep the water from my eyes… How will that be possible? I knew I may never pass this way again and my mind was in
full recognition of that hard fact. As we drove to the airport my mind wandered as I observed my surroundings. It is a difficult life in India and it forces you to stay in the moment to survive. The generosity and the spirit of the people are next to
none. I worry that this part of the world will struggle for a long time to reach the next step to the modernization that they so crave. The infrastructure is lacking, the unfinished highways and presence of sewage and trash are barriers, and cherished
traditions often block progress. The sacred cow stops traffic, leaving droppings everywhere and no one seems to notice; sewage, water buffalos and burning bodies, on the rivers pollute the waterways, arranged marriages tie people to their level of society.
It is such a contrast to the industrialized world. Despite all these things I love it here and I know it is because the people have the largest heats and the deepest spiritual understanding of anywhere I have been.
Through my tears, I find my words
to say goodbye to Ravi and I needed to control my emotions so as we left I forced my thoughts toward to the trip to New Delhi and then to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I was truly excited about the trip and I kept my thoughts in that direction
had been gone almost 10 days and was beginning to feel the tug toward home.