In step or not?

September 14, 2010

I see a lot of couples walking in the mornings and evenings in my neighborhood. Mostly older folks — visiting parents I assume — from India.

Women wearing saris with cardigans or shawls and sporting sneakers, men dressed in kurta-pajamas with a woolen vest and, sometimes, monkey caps. A small fraction of the women wear loose-fitting jeans and men, trousers.

Distinct physical attributes and attire immediately give away the region they’re from. Sometimes I can even tell if they’re from a big city or a small Indian town.

The one thing that’s common between all of them regardless of whether they are from a metro or a village, whether they’re north, south, east or west Indian, whether they’re vegetarians or non-vegetarians, whether they worship four gods or 40, whether they’re here for two weeks or six months, whether they’re going on a three-mile walk or going around the corner to Starbucks, is this: the men always walk four to five paces ahead of the women.

I just don’t get it.

These people have been married for a couple of decades, they should be matching each other’s gait CPDP Indian couple walking 005 sm1 In step or not?instead of following a discordant walking routine.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume they’re unrelated individuals enjoying the landscaping along the sidewalks.

One perspective of looking at it might be that they’re so comfortable with each other that they don’t need words between them. I understand that.

In fact, I quite like the idea of comfortable silence … I’ve been on many walks with my husband with nary a word uttered. But we’ve always walked together. Step in step (occasionally hand in hand, too).

I’ve seen other couples of other ethnicities on walks, too — not one of them has that dissonance about them.

What happens to Indian couples, then?

My parents and my in-laws do the same thing … the fathers always leading the way; the mothers quietly following.

They are different as night and day in everything else, but in this one attitude they could be Siamese twins.

Is this something that my husband and I are going to adopt as we grow older?

Will we also walk out of sync … not together, but apart?

Is it just something that happens naturally to Indian couples?

Is it a cultural thing? An individual preference? A social norm?

Or is it just me overthinking?

This article was also published on Desicritics.

16081BD1A60533E0F1173D28DE4F0D3F In step or not?

dp seal trans 16x16 In step or not?Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2010 Mansi Bhatia

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23 Responses to In step or not?

  1. anon1No Gravatar on September 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve wondered as well, and here’s a thought, maybe it is the ‘lack of a norm’ ?!
    A guy at work (non-Indian) was laughing about it, he thought it was hilarious that Indian men always walk in front of the women they are with and then said “I always make it a point to walk right-behind or with..”.

    And that made me wonder, maybe it’s just that Indians don’t follow this norm. (As a side note:- most Indian men, don’t hold the door for women either)
    It may be the comfortable silence you refer to, coupled with difference in the size of their steps.
    The average male stride length is 25% larger than female.. :)

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 14, 2010 at 5:54 pm

      It could be the lack of a norm…although that tends to become a norm in and of itself.
      I don’t buy the argument of stride difference…why is it visible only in Indian couples? Also, as I said in my comment on Desicritics, if people want to walk together they will adjust. My husband’s stride is way bigger than mine but he slows down some and I pick up the pace…it’s not about those strides, trust me.

      • anon1No Gravatar on September 15, 2010 at 12:25 pm

        Didn’t ya read what Mr. Ayyangar wrote, girl ?! Listen to him ! :P
        (On a side note, wish there was a way to read all the comments at one place.. )

  2. YogasavyNo Gravatar on September 14, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    It goes back to culture and generation difference. It was the norm then but not so much now especially among the younger generation.

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm

      I hope you’re right, Savira, and that as my generation grows older we won’t (seemingly) grow apart.

  3. Susan DeborahNo Gravatar on September 14, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Maybe they just follow what they did while doing the “saath pheras!” I wonder if those couples have even thought that they walk like that. So many things instinctively happen that people don’t even stop to think why it happens. Just attempt asking this question to one of those couples. They will be surprised.

    Joy always,

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm

      I’d asked my mom once and she said ”it’s just the way it is.” Like that was a reasonable enough explanation! It’s somehow ingrained culturally and I think you’re correct that people don’t even stop to think and reflect on something as simple (and yet as complex) as this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Susan.

  4. ucant-seemeNo Gravatar on September 15, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Well, what I could thought of had already been discussed, but anyway, it was a keen observation you had..Insignificant bits of life..yet very thought provoking..

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 16, 2010 at 7:35 pm

      Thanks, Yogesh.

  5. S.R.AyyangarNo Gravatar on September 15, 2010 at 4:04 am

    I don’t think its always true. But yes, normally menfolk walk at a faster pace leaving behind his counterpart.It even happens with my wife too who walks slow but it does not mean she has the ‘Saat Phere’ or ‘follow the Pati’ synodrome!

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 16, 2010 at 7:36 pm

      Question for you, S.R.: why don’t menfolk slow down or womenfolk walk a little faster? Is it really that cumbersome to walk together when on an evening walk ”together”?

  6. Myrna R.No Gravatar on September 15, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Sometimes cultural norms are hard to accept. I’m not Indian, I was born in Puerto Rico. I remember grinding my teeth in restrained anger, when I observed my grandmother literally stir my grandfather’s coffee cup, as if he had no hands. Well, I certainly do no such thing for my husband. And after 41 years married, we walk in step, together.

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 16, 2010 at 7:38 pm

      Every culture has its own nuances, Myrna. Thanks for sharing that anecdote … my mother-in-law does something similar: after dinner placing a glass of water in my father-in-law’s outstretched hand. I’ve made peace with things like these by thinking: ”to each their own.” :-)

  7. Duane ScottNo Gravatar on September 15, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Okay. That is very strange. I have no clue why… but I’ll tell you right now. As you get older, don’t split apart. Keep walking side by side, hand in hand. That’s the way it’s suppose to be.

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 16, 2010 at 7:39 pm

      And that’s the way it shall be, Duane!

  8. Nalini HebbarNo Gravatar on September 15, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    the men always walk four to five paces ahead of the women…we have to thank Manusmrithi for it, I guess!

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 16, 2010 at 7:40 pm

      That’s just an excuse I’d say, Nalini. We’ve come along a far way … I’m more inclined to be hopeful and believe that things like these are generational and will, with time, change.

  9. anon1No Gravatar on September 16, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I think you (and other commenter(s) here) are putting way too much emphasis on the ‘symbolism’ of all this !
    Just because someone walks a pace or two ahead of someone else, doesn’t mean he/she has stopped loving the other person, or is trying to ‘lead the way’ etc.
    Just like if some people walk hand in hand, that doesn’t mean their love will last longer, or that they consider each other equals…
    So in conclusion, yes this was an interesting observation, and yes, you are over-thinking it !
    And if on some days, you are lost in thought and walk two paces ahead of your husband, don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you are growing apart :P

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 16, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      I’m not afraid we are going to reach that stage ever…and in discussion with my husband about this, I realized that most couples, after they have kids, tend to be occupied with other more important ”things” than each other. The space between them becomes the norm, not noticeable to themselves, but glaringly obvious to overthinking observers like myself. Doesn’t mean anything to them, most likely — and they’re probably ok walking the way they do…at their own pace. But to me it’s symbolic of something broken. I recognize it may be viewed as a rather harsh assessment … but, again to me — and only me — it seems like an irreparable gulf.
      As for walking two paces ahead of him … unlikely given the mathematics of our stride lengths. :-)

      • anon1No Gravatar on September 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm

        That’s one way of looking at things I guess… Believing you’ve got it right, and everyone who’s different, has it wrong :)

        • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 17, 2010 at 1:37 pm

          Na-uh. Everyone is right from their perspective. I’ll invoke my husband’s pet phrase here: ”Har aadmi apni jagah sahi hai” and modify it to say ”aadmi/aurat” :D

          • anon1No Gravatar on September 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm

            I guess, phir, “Aap bhi apni jagah pe sahi hi hongi…”
            And I should probably reserve my views for my own blog ;)
            You have a good weekend MB !

          • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm

            Your own blog? Where? Do tell.
            You have a wonderful weekend, too, anon1.


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