A culture of obligations

August 11, 2010

crying kid at party 1 300x2072 A culture of obligations I’ve become increasingly impatient with, and resentful of, anything that has a whiff of an obligation to it.

Culturally, we’re trained to grin and bear it when auntyjis come unannounced to gossip about the neighbors and ask uncomfortable questions about one’s personal life.

We don’t like it, but we still attend birthday parties of toddlers that the kids themselves don’t care about (and more important, won’t remember).

We host folks at dinner because at some point they invited us (doesn’t matter if we don’t have anything in common).

We are taught to be respectful and tolerant of our relatives – no matter how distant the connection – and be charming hosts should they visit town.

Daughters are taught to always obey their in-laws, no matter how unreasonable their demands (not one Indian woman I know goes to her parent’s house first when she lands in India … there’s an unwritten rule about things like that).

For years and years we’ve heard it is part of our sanskriti, but I don’t understand why we need to do things just because our culture mandates them?

Why can’t we feel guilt-free when choosing to laugh in the face of these obligations?

And, why can’t people just chill and not force such inconsequential minutia on an already complex life?

Does it matter if I didn’t attend your first child’s first birthday? It isn’t for her anyway.

Does it matter if I didn’t get a gift for the distant cousin when I visited from the United States? It’s not about the money or the weight I’d have to lug – it’s about the shallowness of it all.

Why do I need to have something for everyone in the “relative” and “neighbor” categories every time I go home? Why do I have to meet those people’s expectations?

Heck, why do they expect any gifts to begin with? I don’t even know some of them!

And how does it matter to any of them how long I have been married and don’t have any kids? Why are they ‘concerned’?

And who are they to tell me how I should focus on raising a family instead of focusing on my career? What do they know?

And why am I obligated to hear them go on and on about their assumptions?

If I choose not to humor them, why do they have to feel all hurt and snubbed?

And why, then, do they have to take me on a guilt trip and give me lectures on our traditions, our roots, our values?

stay ahead of the culture 300x168 A culture of obligations

They tell me it’s our culture – our tolerance of all this social fiddle-faddle shows how respectful and decent we are.

What about all these people who make all these demands? Where is their culture then? Where is their respect for privacy? Where is their decency?

Don’t they have an obligation to let me be?

Where’s that in our sanskriti?

Also posted on Desicritics.

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12 Responses to A culture of obligations

  1. YogasavyNo Gravatar on August 11, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Wow! You do have quite a few points to vent about. Well you have officially met your first Indian woman who does not go to her in laws house first! From day one I have always visited my parents place first and it has been like that ever since till a couple of years ago when both my in laws passed away.
    Secondly the respect and culture etiquettes were there to build a community and sadly that has not changed with the times. I believe there is a positive and negative to these traditions.
    The upbringing of people differ and must say I was not taught to obey but to earn respect.
    The change must start from us as oppose to them.
    You have valid points and a great debate over coffee would be exciting.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 4:24 pm

      Savira, It’s wonderful to officially "meet" someone who doesn’t follow the unwritten rule! I agree that there must have been a reason to have certain social norms in place but cultures need to evolve the way people do. And just doing shallow things for the sake of doing them is only hollowing out our culture not strengthening it. I see so many teenagers being forced into touching elders’ feet to show respect when they couldn’t care two hoots about something like that — just because someone is older to us doesn’t necessary mean they are entitled to respect. I has to be earned. But our culture says otherwise. I find it really bogus. I’ve been called a rebel many times before, but I don’t see myself as a rebel when it comes to not following cultural obligations — I see myself as being practical. Let’s talk over virtual coffee sometime :-)

  2. anon1No Gravatar on August 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Yer ranting.. I LOVE IT ! :)
    I think you have the answer…
    “Just don’t”.. Don’t do it if it doesn’t sound/seem right.
    I know for a fact no relative of mine is leaving me anything in their will.. ;)

    • MansiNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 11:25 pm

      Even if mine left me anything, it wouldn’t change my attitude toward them in life. Some things are just not worth the time, effort, and angst.

  3. Shachi ThakkarNo Gravatar on August 11, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Again, thought provoking points….

    I always go to my parents place first when I go to India…it has happened only twice so far, but I am going back home again this year, and it will again be to my parents place first.

    Gifts – I stopped taking them a while ago…now I only buy for people that I want to – mostly kids in the family or neighborhood…..

    Dinner n invitations – I agree with you here….we should not have to invite people over just because they invited us or any other reason…if there is not much in common, why do it?

    Overall, I agree – we should create our own culture rather than following one blindly.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 11:27 pm

      I’m just curious — this is when you travel with your husband? I know a lot of females who travel separately from their husbands (they usually go to India a month or so in advance and by the time their husbands come, they have reached their in-laws’ house after a good two-three week stay at their parents’ house) but if they travel together, the first stop is always the in-laws’.

  4. keerthanaNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 7:46 am

    Why should I get married when I’m 24? Is it an unwritten rule? I don’t want to, but does anyone care?

    • MansiNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 4:34 pm

      All I’ll says Keerthana is: Do what you want to. It’s your life. And you only get to live it once.

  5. nalini hebbarNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I love my own company more than a noisy party and I am happy to know that there are people with similar thoughts!

    • MansiNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 11:35 pm

      Thanks, Nalini – I appreciate knowing, too, that I ain’t by myself :-)

  6. Azra RaphaelNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    don’t we all wish so.. well, at least i do. why should i be going to functions where all they do is gossip and bitch? why should i be in agreement when i’d rather say no and give u a piece of my mind?

    loved the post.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 11:35 pm

      Then don’t. It really is as simple as it sounds. All you have to do is say no. And stick to it.
      Thanks for stopping by :-)


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