Crossing the North-South Divide

Animals are territorial by nature and humans belong to the Animal Kingdom! We take our borders very seriously- the ones beginning from personal space to national and international borders and beyond. We tend to quickly form groups and identify with it and almost immediately, become hostile to everything else! Each group stands together against a threat and the group gets larger against a larger threat- there are exceptions to the rule- one look at North Korea would tell you that!

I am about to address the issue of the great North- South divide, in our country. India is a country which practices Unity in Diversity. We stand together as one but just as in school where our teachers scream over the microphones to maintain one arms distance so also we carry that concept forward into all our associations in life- the distance varying with trust.

When it started, how it started or why it started, I have never bothered to find out. Possibly, it stems from the inferiority complex each person (singularly or collectively) has but likes to claim he/she doesn’t but the person he/she interacts with does. The constant show of I am superior continues (Remember transactional analysis “I’m okay, you’re not okay”). The bottom line is that it does exist and I am the perfect person to guide you into this great world of oil and water!!

I am a South Indian, Malayali from Kerala (don’t for a moment think it’s obvious- people from North India don’t always know that; most don’t know the difference between Malayalam and Malayali which is subtle compared to the frequent group of “Madrasis” we find ourselves thrown into. If this makes you think that South Indians who take great pride in their intellect know much about their North Indian counterparts- well, it is Punjabis for most with a distrustful ring in the voice while saying so). I consider myself an Indian first as is every fauji (soldier) for I have lived everywhere else in the country, more than I have in Kerala. To bring about national integration, the Gods decided I was to be one of the many chosen ones.

When I was 22 my parents were made to panic that their daughter wasn’t married off yet so my mother, along with her sister went to the astrologer, with my horoscope. He read it carefully and announced that I would get married soon, to a boy that hailed from the same place as that of my birth. My aunt was relieved. Her niece would marry a decent Nair boy (she had previously warned me that she would never talk to me if I ever married into another community). My mother was rather upset though and when asked why, she revealed that the place of my birth was Agra in Uttar Pradesh. The sisters walked back in silence; my aunt trying to reassure my mother every now and then that the astrologer said birthplace but meant Kerala. My mother nodded unconvinced.

Flashback to college days…It so happened that my parents had an argument which I happened to witness from the adjacent room. The results of most arguments were in my father’s favour. This time, however, it was clear to me that he shouldn’t have had the last word. So, when he walked out and I heard the door shut louder than usual, I walked in and looked at my mother who was sitting silently, irritation writ on her face. Courageous me (now that my father was out of the house) said, “Why did you give up on this one? You were right. I heard it all!” “That’s the way it is with Nair men-it’s their way or the highway!” she snapped back. I raised my voice with emotion and announced, “In that case I shall never marry a Nair.” “I see! So, should I start looking for Punjabi boys for my daughter?”came an angry voice and that tigress in me that had barely emerged turned into a hapless kitty as I realized that the door that had been shut wasn’t the front door but the bathroom door and that my dad had been right there when I roared thus! I don’t remember what transpired after that, (possibly my defense mechanism at work) but it was clear that my father couldn’t dream of getting his children married out of the community.

Well, as I said, the Gods had the plans they did and in due course of time, I met and fell in love with a man who was half UP-ite and half Punjabi, thus proving the astrologer and my father right.

A bit of fast forward here-the wedding ceremonies were done in the Kerala style and the north Indian boy wore a traditional “kasavu mundu” and it was a rather simple blink and miss ceremony unlike elaborate never ending North Indian weddings. The in-laws were missing the horse, I am sure, and the pomp and show of their usual weddings. In fact, they were twenty- twenty five relatives of the happy groom, in all, who had made it from Delhi and were outnumbered by the “Madrasis” of “Keral”!! In case you are wondering how they permitted such a blow to their “Ladkewala” (boy’s) side- it was because the engagement and reception ceremonies were done in Delhi to cater to their folk. Meanwhile the Malayali counterparts were shocked to see glass bangles along with gold bangles on the bride's "mehendi"hands. In Kerala nothing but gold works!

The discomfort and unease that both sides felt and were trying to hide behind extra smiles and bonhomie were known to the bride and groom of course, but we couldn’t do much and were happy that the uncertainty was now over for good. We couldn’t wait for the whole lot to disappear and have some mush time to ourselves. Well, the biggest shock the boys’ people (my in-laws) had was that the groom was about to spend the first night at the bride’s place and not vice versa. It was unheard of in the North but not uncommon in the South. Personally, I think it should be followed everywhere because the girl needs to be comfortable in her surroundings to open up. The boy, no matter where he is would be treated as God- definitely not so, for the girl. Anyhow, this was the first of many differences to come!

Well for starters, let’s take the cuisine. My parents were paranoid about what their son-in-law would relish, especially my father, and they left no stone unturned to have “aloo-mutter”, paneer capsicum, “dal”, chicken “parathas” etc made to suit the God’s oops! Son’s (in-law) taste!! One of my favourite tea time snacks is “pazham pori”- banana fritters of sorts, a speciality in Kerala, but this wonderful man of the North I was married to, looked horrified when offered to him. “Kele ke pakode” he said, as he flinched, irritating me no end. While my parents were shocked at the reaction and instructions were given for “pakodes” for the “damaad” (son-in- law) I began an argument on how he insulted my favourite dish by calling it a “pakoda”. “Pakodas are made of gram flour and they are savouries but Pazham poris are made in refined flour batter and are sweet. All those terrible men who claim that women change men after they get married should know that we’ve been married nearly twenty years and he still calls them KKP!!

Days later, we reached Delhi and there was a huge reception in the true North Indian way and I, the bride was probably the least stunning in the crowd! My friends from college were horrified that I had a cardigan on (which was not matching either) but it was January and I was cold. The day after that, things were back to normal and I began my life in the new household, extremely cautious of my mother-in-law. I was petrified of her, knowing she wanted a demure, Punjabi or any North Indian daughter-in-law and knowing even more that I was faking the demure bit and that she could see right through it. My darling sister-in-law was the only one who calmed my nerves and of course my father-in-law, who was full of life and with whom I hit it off really well. My mother had instructed me to wake up with my mother-in-law so I had asked Mama as meekly as I could as to when she woke up and she said four! I froze! It was winter! Four was inhuman! I decided I would wake up at six and tell my mother I tried. I woke up at nine!! Believe me, in all of my life until that day, I had never ever slept beyond seven! I was horrified. My husband was not bothered and kept sleeping. Well, it was his home! I jumped out of bed and managed to reach Mama in the kitchen. She was busy cooking and she said she was making a North Indian specialty for me. I was touched and smiled. It wasn’t returned. I, not to be deterred, asked her pleasantly, what she was making and she said “Kadhi”. It took every bit of self control there was in my body, mind and soul to not scream “NOOOOOO”. That is probably one of the few things I couldn’t stand (I don’t mind it now) at that time. I, however, faked a happy smile and said “Wow” unlike the son-in-law who had flinched at pazham pori!

My mother-in-law had doubts whether her son would ever get fed well enough by me. She was right. I couldn’t cook anything but tea, eggs and Maggi when I got married. For months after we moved in to our home, it was always rice and dal(lentils) and on days I made a fully cooked potato fry, my husband would be so delighted! Then I learnt how to make the North Indian “Chhole”(chickpeas) and “Rajma”(kidney beans) from her (Mama cooks them really well and they are my husband’s favourites), lest she thinks her son will get fed “saambar”(in the north, it is pronounced as the deer is whereas it is “saambaar” but they couldn’t care less and neither do their south Indian counterparts have any remorse while puckering up their nose and saying rajjamma for rajma) for the rest of his life.

For Keralites , Onam and Vishu are the two major festivals. There are other minor festivals too but they don’t really count as much. My parents’ idea of celebration of every festival was mostly food related. The only festival which had vigour was Diwali with lights and crackers- otherwise it was just the cuisine that mattered. So, I really never knew the nitty-gritty of any festival till I became an adult and was exposed to the world myself. My parents had simple thinking- work hard and remember the Lord just before you sleep and just after you wake up. They didn’t believe in rituals. When they went to the temple they prayed with all devotion but if they couldn’t go, it didn’t really bother them. Our father had forbidden superstition so we dared not voice any if we had them. My parents fasted for a day or two in a week for the well being of the family but it wasn’t a strict fast (no alcohol, no non-veg). Coming from such a background and having formed my own religion in my mind (they followed avatars of Vishnu while I have been a Shiva follower) I did what I felt like. There was and there is no one between the Lord and me.

Credits: patrika.com
When we got married, the all important North Indian festival of Karva Chauth happened. This is a major festival for married women in the North where they fast from dawn till the moon is visible at night. Ideally, they don’t even drink water but this may vary with your tolerance level and the magnanimity of your mother-in-law. This fasting is done by the wives and even girl friends, out of love for their husbands/lovers to ensure that they live long lives. Now, this festival was coming near and my mother-in-law asked me how I would be fasting! Despite the fact that I was still trying my best to get into her good books, this was so not me for I knew that it was extremely difficult for me to stay off food. I knew I’d cheat and if anything happened to my husband after that I wouldn’t forgive myself either so I told Mama that I wouldn’t be keeping the fast. She couldn’t believe her ears but I told her as earnestly as I could that I couldn’t pray for anybody’s long life on an empty stomach and that I might actually curse everybody in sheer hunger. Mama was disappointed all over again (what could be expected from a south Indian bahu) and I felt bad but I had to be honest.

My mother and I are very close and we talk about anything under the sun. Long ago, while still in college, she had told me after hearing a friend cry over her rude daughter-in-law, that whenever I got married I should never come between mother and son. She told me once again before I got married, “Remember always that he was first her son before he became your husband and whatever you love about him is because of how she brought him up. Always give her that respect and never come between them.” I have always followed that and treated Mama with utmost respect. And yet, this fasting I just could not do.

Credits: in.pinterest.com
On Onam, it is my husband’s turn to feel jittery. He is petrified of the “Sadya” (feast) which is served on banana leaf and has to be eaten using his fingers. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that he is left handed. Again, north Indians use both their hands usually, while in the south the left hand is forbidden. The cuisine itself is a battle for the man. While most of the daily dishes are okay some which are laden with coconut are just not to his liking but then again, Gods are allowed to be fussy so he gets away with it!

Starting from the language issues when we meet relatives to their expectation of us (again, more in the North than in the south though I wonder if it is a gender thing) to our basic way of thinking, we are so different. This would have been a lot worse if it were a joint family system. Not that couples don’t survive there, it is just that it gets a lot tougher. And yet, the bottom line is that love conquers all. If you love one another and have the will to make it last, then nothing else matters.

Comments

  1. Wow! Loved it! Write more please!

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  3. Loved the KKP. It has a ring to it which reminds me of BKT! Girl, you rock. Keep writing dear. Love reading your blogs

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  4. Loved it!!So relatable...I am still laughing about the mismatched sweater..
    Great going Anu.

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  5. Very nice!!!! Loved reading it... looking forward to read more.

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  6. So well written..... Looking forward to more...

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  7. Fabulous Anu! Love the humour....Keep writing & remember to share it on fb....love

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  8. Connected immediately with the topic so true loved itπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

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    Replies
    1. Ha! Ha! Of course you would ;) Thank you so much :)

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