Sunday, September 22, 2019

On a view of India that seems a little stuck in the past

I read a lot of Bollywood magazines growing up. Stardust and Filmfare were staples as a teenager, and then there was the magazine that I think Zee came out with for a while? Their whole "stand out from the crowd" feature was they didn't do gossip I think? Which was why Aamir Khan was on the cover of their first issue, and why I decided to "support" them by actually buying their monthly edition when I was in high school. Well, I didn't buy it as much as convinced the parents to subscribe to it via the newspaper-wala.

This really wasn't the point of this post.

So anyway, I read a lot of these magazines. And a moment that has always stuck with me is reading Filmfare while waiting for a waxing session in the salon I went to pretty much from when I started these things till when I moved away. And in the Readers' letters section, there was a letter from a woman who did not live in India (she may have been based in Singapore) who had written in about her biggest complaint about the movie Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - that the characters played by Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta did not wear sindoor or mangal sutras in the movie, and what kind of world was this that married Indian women did not wear these things.

That was her biggest issue about the movie, you guys. That in a movie about two loveless marriages and infidelity, the married women did not wear signs of being maried. So what if even 13 years ago, a lot of women in India did not wear these on a daily basis. And having not actually seen the movie, I don't remember what part of India their characters were supposed to be from, but a mangal sutra isn't something every Indian, or even Hindu woman wears.

But I remember being amazed that this woman had been so bothered by this fact that she actually sent a letter to Filmfare magazine. And I remember thinking that NRIs probably think of India as just being stuck in the time period that they left, and that nothing could have possibly changed. And it's something I occasionally worry about doing myself, so kindly send a virtual kick if you ever see me saying something about India that may have been true eight years ago, but no longer is.

And I thought about this woman again today, when I listened to a podcast interview Seth Meyers did with Lilly Singh. Excited as I am to see a brown woman have a late night show of her own, I've never really watched her stuff on YouTube, and haven't particularly enjoyed whatever snippets or interviews I have seen. But I listened to the interview, and was utterly baffled when she started talking about moving from Canada to LA. Baffled because she talked about how this was unheard of in her family, because Indian women usually leave their parents' home only when they get married, and so for her to move countries for her career was a very big deal.


Look. I'm not saying it wasn't a big deal. As someone who moved out my parents' home and moved countries to go to grad school, I think it definitely is. And I'm not saying there isn't a huge number of Indian women who don't move out of their parent's home till they get married. I have friends who did that. I also have friends who moved out, either to study or for work. I have friends who moved away for college, and then moved back in when they returned to Delhi for a job. If I hadn't decided to go to grad school, and was still working in the same city, there's a good chance I would have still been living in the same house.

But to just categorically say Indian women don't do this seems so absurd and outdated to me that I really am utterly baffled by her world view. Especially since it's not like she grew up in India where she would have seen it happen all the time. She grew up in Canada, and presumably knows other Canadian Indians, and/or has family and friends back in India and/or around the world. To make a sweeping statement like that is to make a generalization that is at least a few decades old, and it bothers me that someone who is being held up as the symbol of brown women* to the US would spout views like this.

*Do NOT get me started on that other symbol, Priyanka Chopra. Pfft.

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