my love affair with India…

My Hindu friends tell me that I must have been an Indian in a previous incarnation. Why? Well I truly enjoy Indian culture- its food, its internal variety of people, customs and languages; its social values, even the way that they keep their tradition (parampara, I believe is the word) and their religion in most everything they do. Also I have come to understand how Indians absorb others and give it their “twist” making everything they accept truly theirs. It becomes Indian. A very unique characteristic.

Like any society, there are pros and cons, but when you concentrate on the positives you tend to learn a lot. And if you are secure in who you are you will learn even more.

Believe me, many people wonder at my fascination; I can’t explain it. This fascination propelled me to try to learn to speak the language when I started watching Hindi Films, and later Hindi television. Why? Well, I’m a ‘cultural mutt’. I no longer have what some might categorize as a ‘pure blood-line’. And that alone allows me to explore and absorb. I can be very Spanish, very Arab, and very ‘American’ while still feeling completely at ease among a group of very religious and proper Hindu ladies. I have learned of the many similarities we share regardless of culture, religion, or even language.

The women I have sat with to embroider, have taught me about saris, about their views on marriage, child rearing, work, widowhood, and divorce. Their opinions about religious practices have taught me a valuable lesson. Beyond all the barriers we may put up out of fear or ignorance, or arrogance we are all human; feel the same emotions, and our thoughts are really very similar if we are willing to just talk. Simple conversations without the ‘mine is better than yours’ or the ‘I know more than you’- when we suspend these, the world opens up to us.

The other day I went to a Sisters’ Prayer Circle. All the attendants but two were Pakistani; myself and another Turkish muslimah married to a Pakistani completed the group. I enjoyed myself tremendously. One, because I have enough grasp of the language to participate in all the conversations. The other, because all these women, professionals in their own rights, brought ‘something’ to the event. They were all able to suspend judgments and honestly be present in the moment.

One of the social high points after readings from the Qur’an and prayers was, of course, home-made Pakistani food- the hostess is an absolutely, excellent cook! We gathered around to talk about social issues. Two of those present spoke of the work they are doing to bring to the US Afghan women’s art work and crafts- namely purses as part of a cooperative that started in Dubai, where one of them had been living for the past four years. We talked about marriage, about baby names-laughing about some of the oddest names out there. We talked of fashion, as two of the women are designers; one part time (she is also full time in investment banking) and the other who has an established and very well known International line. I have seen her work at the Kingfisher ‘Fashion Week’ events televised from India. That led us to Indian Fashion. Most of us agreed we had a penchant for Rajput era embroidery, beading, and quilting- I absolutely love the ‘coats’ worn over tight white pants and bejeweled nagras. And what’s Indian fashion without saris! The hostess remarked that I was the only non-Indian woman she had ever met that only used one pin in her sari. That called for a demonstration, the hostess bringing out a few saris in brocades, antique, and the modern tie die versions. So there I was teaching grown-up Pakistani women how to wear the various styles of saris I like- with only one broach pin! We all giggled over the fact that the older ‘aunties’ would be very angry with them, and probably shame them a bit because they had been ‘out-sari’d’ by a non-Indian!

I guess when you feel comfortable in any culture and learn while you experience it, you become a Global Citizen. My aim is to go through cultures assimilating the best of each, absorbing it, making those good parts a part of me.

A lot like being Indian…


9 Responses to “my love affair with India…”

  1. June 3, 2010 at 6:32 am

    Haha! This is such a sweet post! Love it 🙂

    So where are you from originally? I thought at one time you were from India (I don’t know why!).

    • 2 INAL
      June 3, 2010 at 9:15 am

      Well when it comes to where I’m from, the simple answer would be to say I was born in NYC- my parents however are the ones that gave me my mixed heritage- my father is Jordanian-Lebanese and my mom is a mix of spaniard, lebanese, with dominican (that in itself is very mixed-that particular side has native american indian, african, white, and God knows what else!).

      So people see just about anything but white with blue eyes! One time in the Islamic Center of NY, which sits a block away from the hospital where I was born; a group of ladies tried to guess what I was- Indian? Malaysian? African?, Arab?- Martian?!

      Not being able to be pegged within any culture or race has helped me tremendously- actually has allowed me through the years to become comfortable in my skin. I can explore everything and take on what helps me be better.

      Part of my childhood was among Jews, because we lived across the street from the Yeshiva University and public school that was for the jewish kids of the area- at the time I was able to study there because it was the only public school available and thanks also to one of my mom’s friend who was Sephardic Jew.

      Then I was ‘shipped’ to Dominican Republic to study- at that time NYC was a burn hell of gangs, drugs, and mass mayhem- so it was better for me to be in a ‘safer’ more educationally oriented society-

      From there a few years were spent between Jordan and Spain- until my first marriage to a Spanish Arab…that lasted about four months from beginning to end.

      Back to NY to work and study, afew years later I remarried- and have spent the last 28 years between NY, Yemen, and Jordan. Traveling to as many places as we can to view this rich earth.

      So this is Inal- cultural mutt! Very happy to be one!

  2. 3 oby
    June 5, 2010 at 1:09 pm


    I loved,loved your post. Being a white American married to an Indian (our wedding was in Delhi)I can completely relate to all the things you talked about. I am very impressed that you can wear your sari with one pin. for me it takes a lot of tucking, pinning and folding to get it to even look presentable. And if it is a silky sari…uh oh..I have even had one slide right off of me because I hadn’t done it quite right. It is a talent…no question about it. Like you I love Indian society. when I first went there I was like a deer in the headlights. It was steep learning curve at first that has flattened out somewhat with time. But whereas at first it felt so foreign to me, now it feels very comfortable and familiar. Your attitude about understanding and opening yourself to cultures is so beautiful. If more of us did this we would all be so much happier and embrace each other more. Thanks so much. Your post has made my week!

    • 4 INAL
      June 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm

      Welcome Oby! Make yourself comfortable- a spot of tea?

      I’m so glad I made your week! I love putting smiles and good vibes out there!

      Oh, I know about those silky saris! LOL they can ruin any woman’s reputation! 🙂 but my Indian Aunties gave me a trick- when you are going to wear one make sure your petticoat is of a rougher material that makes the sari cling to it. And because they can come loose at the folds get a big safety, do the folds, then tuck it into the petticoat and pin the folds to the petticoat on the inside. That keeps everybody in place; then wrap pallu as you want to the front Gujarati style or classical, or however you like. Once you get the hang of it you can tighten your petticoat a bit more and you won’t need the pin there- but it is a good measure of security.

      I’m so glad you had your wedding in Delhi- when I married, and still to this day Indian influence in Yemen is culturally strong- with the garlands at the wedding, and many who have worn the sari depending on where they live. So when I married it was not at all seen as strange that two muslims were getting married and the bride had the traditional red sari! 😉

      Welcome again Oby, comment as often as you like! And thank you for your kind words.

  3. 5 Daisy
    June 5, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Hi Inal,
    I’m daisy from Carol’s blog. I appreciated your comments there very much and have found reading this post a lovely experience! As an Indian living in India, I can say, you are very Indian! Carrying a silk sari without a pin is the ultimate test! 8)

    Don’t worry, many Indian girls too have their misadventures with the sari in the beginning, till they learn o handle it. So you are in good company.

    • 6 INAL
      June 5, 2010 at 11:36 pm

      Welcome Daisy! Make yourself comfortable- can I offer a spot of tea?

      You brought a smile to my heart and soul! Yep those silk saris are the epitome of trial and error, not to mention cascades of material that doesn’t like to behave! 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words! And please comment to your heart’s desire!

  4. June 21, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Haha. I was told I was a Pakistani in a past life (I am American). 🙂

    • 8 INAL
      June 22, 2010 at 12:14 am

      Welcome anthrogeek! Make yourself comfy- spot of tea?

      LOL, funny how we are either drawn to a place, culture, language- or others see in you things that are perfectly part of their own experience…

      I wonder what would happen if every person learned or allowed themselves to be a part of a place, culture, language, etc., that they felt an inner affinity for… Or embraced the person they saw had an affinity to them yet not be part of their ‘group’?

  5. June 22, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Thank you!

    Chai would be lovely. 🙂

    I was married to a Pakistani man at one point and everyone said he would control me, beat me, etc. Not once did he do anything like that. However, I dig the clothing, food and music.

    Identity is a really interesting topic that I would like to explore in graduate school. Especially converts to Islam. Many converts feel a lack of belonging anywhere (those from Western countries specifically).

    I think people should embrace who they feel a connection to…..that is just my opinion.


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