Glossary: Log Kya Kahenge – Hindi for “What will people say?”
Today over breakfast, I had an interesting conversation with my Chilean flatmate Francisco, and I realised that there are few things that remain at the back of your mind for a long time, but appear at the surface when you speak them out to someone who isn’t really aware that such things are capable of existing. Francisco keeps asking me many questions about Indian culture, and I love to share my knowledge and views on different issues. Given that he has never visited India, I appreciate his command over the Mahamrityunjaya mantra and his affinity towards Pt. Ravi Shankar’s music. But India presents itself as a novelty to foreigners every single moment, and here is a topic we touched upon in our casual morning chat.
So it began with him asking me if we still follow some British traditions in India, and then it escalated to some sensitive topics.
Me: You know what, you should visit India as soon as possible. There are so many things that will be new to you. There are so many aspects to this country that you can’t even imagine. But speaking of traditions, there are some things that I do not really understand. For example, the concept of arranged marriages. Is that common at your place?
Francisco: No, not at all.
Me: So the thing is, Indian parents are super protective of their children. They try to keep track of all their whereabouts and their friends, since childhood. They forbid them from speaking to strangers. And then one fine day, they choose a guy or a girl they think is fit for them, and send them off to that stranger’s house. This is so ironic!
Francisco: That sounds very strange. But you can say no if you want to, right?
Me: Well, in my case, I think I can. Because my parents are quite liberal. But in many cases, the parents have the final word. At least now it’s better. The guy and the girl go out for few months and get to know each other. And there are ads in newspapers and matrimonial sites…
Francisco: Really? (visibly surprised)
Me: Yes that is how it works. Or your relatives find a match for you. Anyway, it used to be way worse few decades ago. Sometimes the bride and the groom met directly on their wedding day.
Francisco: Whaaat?! Do these people remain happily married?
Me: They do remain married, yes. But ‘happily’ is often doubtful.
Francisco: But they can get divorced if they aren’t happy, right?
Me: Well that is tricky. You see, it is not so easy to get divorced in India. I mean legally it is. But society is like the highest authority. Getting a divorce brings down the reputation of your family, your parents have to suffer. People say bad things about you. So you try very hard to work your marriage out, even if it is ruined.
Francisco: What do you mean by ‘people’?
Me: People around you, you know – neighbours, relatives, colleagues, friends.. Everyone is afraid of being judged by these people. Before you take a decision in your life, you often have to think about the reactions of the society before making your own choices.
Francisco: (scoffs) And what about women? Do you really get to make choices of your own?
Me: Well it mostly depends on your family. If you have supportive parents, then you don’t really need to care about the society so much. I am lucky in that sense. Many parents wouldn’t even want to send their daughter abroad for studies.
In case of marriage, parents think they know what is best for their children – and I don’t blame them, since that is how it has been for centuries. They would choose a wife or husband for you from a family of the same social status, and expect her or him to make you happy, just like that. But how can they know their children well when they never have a frank conversation? Most often, if you want to talk about your personal life, they will orient it towards you studies or something like that.
Francisco: So you don’t talk about your personal life with your parents?
Me: Not really. That is not the kind of topic we discuss. There are so many things I want to know – for example, what do my parents think about homosexuality? But unfortunately, I will never get to know.
Francisco: That is sad. So what if you choose to remain single, and not get married? Can you?
Me: Well the funny thing is, this is something that I actually talked to my mom with once. She was super-shocked (both laugh). I even mentioned I would like to adopt a kid and be a single mother, and asked if she would be okay with that..
Francisco: Oh wow! What did she say?
Me: She kinda said okay, but that was mainly to end the conversation, because I was quite young then, and she really didn’t take me seriously (both laugh again).
But since you were talking about choices that women can make, one of the worst things is that if a woman is molested, somehow fingers are pointed at her – she might have been wearing short clothes, or partying at night.. Indian women aren’t supposed to do these.
Francisco: But that is so unfair! Men should behave well instead.
Me: I know right! Well things are changing, but not at the pace that is required. That is the saddest part. I could go and on, but we’ll continue this next time..
Then I proceeded to do my dishes, and we were done for the time being. The point is, it is funny that all these things come as a shock to the western world. This tells us how different we are from the rest of the world. It is great to be unique, of course. But shouldn’t we change a few things for the better, and not keep following them blindly just for the sake of standing out globally?
P.S. Thank you Francisco for teaching me this:
ॐ त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे
मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात् ॥