Sunday, November 23, 2008

Conflict of cultures

Conflict of Cultures

This is a fiction, but many similar situations are still happening. Even girls who are college educated are forced into marrying men arranged by their parents.

Parts of this story are similar to my Nadine Story. This is because girls like Nadine and Shoba live through such grotesque night mares.

Conflict of Cultures

Shoba grew up in New York to immigrant parents from India. Bal and Archana left India when Shoba was two years ago. They borrowed heavily from friends and relatives to pay for their way to America and start a small business in New York.

One of his creditors was his distant cousin, Rao. Rao wasn’t generous, he had sinister ulterior motives.

“I trust you, bro. There is no hurry for you to return the money. But there is one traditional condition. When my son, four years old Raj grows up, you will send for him to America and marry your daughter Shoba.”

Bal was happy to oblige, the loan wasn’t much of a dowry to pay for Raj. Besides, it guaranteed an Indian husband for Shoba.

Bal and Archana were busy in their shop and Archana had no control of her American daughter Shoba. Shoba turned wayward. With her friends, they became bullies, dressed gothic clothing, and metal studded belts and accessories. They played truant, shop lifted, tagged graffiti and were caught by the police. Her high school principal threatened to expel her. Night upon night, Shoba did not come home. If she did, she came home very late and she made Archana's life hell because she claimed that Archana played favoritism and preferred her brother Prasad to her.

It was always, "I am an American, not Indian."

“But you know that you are Indian.”

Archana and Bal made a big mistake. They thought Shoba will settle down if she is married.

"In India, girls at fifteen are already married."

"Maybe if she had a husband, she would grow up."

They asked his cousin Rao to send for Raj for the wedding. They would pay for his air ticket.

“Sorry, Raj is only seventeen. He is too young to get married.”

“He can come here and go to school.”

Rao craftily proposed, “Well, I suggest a better solution will be for me to chaperone Raj to America.”

Meera his wife jumped at the chance of going to America though her coming wasn't part of the original agreement.

"If I can't go, Gopal can't go either." Meera insisted.

Bal had established quite a reputation among the Indian community. It would be a fine wedding. Everything was paid for by Bal, of course, according to the Indian custom. Bal invited his Indian friends from all over New York.

Archana gave Shoba very expensive red wedding sari with gold thread trimmings. Bal gave Shoba were a big box of jewellery.

“Come, Shoba, all Indian girls wear a sari on their wedding day. I have asked my sister to send you the finest sari she could buy in Mumbai.”

"American girls don’t wear a sari and I am not about to wear one now," she swore and refused to let Archana help her dress.

Her auntie Sudha persuaded her to put it on.

Sudha coaxed, “Come Shoba, give dad face and make him a very happy man even if you don’t care for Raj.”

Reluctantly Shoba let Sudha wrapped the yards and yards of blazing gold red sari around her. Then Sudha fixed a big safety pin among the folds of the sari and clipped it to the petticoat near her navel.

"See, in this way your sari would not drop off." Advised Sudha, “And make sure you walk tiny steps like a demur lady.”

Sudha pinned a gold brooch studded with rubies on Shoba's left shoulder so the pallu would stay in place.

"The pallu is the open end of the sari, during the wedding, you will use it to drape it modestly over your head," said Sudha.

Shoba's girlfriends came in their Gothi black jackets and black jeans to join in the fun to make Shoba the most beautiful Indian bride in New York. They painted red and white bindi, little dots all round her eyes. They painted modern henna designs on her hands, feet and legs and they had a good laugh. Shoba was their Nouveau Indian bride, after all, she was a American. The girls gawked at the beauty they had created. Shoba had a nose ring attached to a chain that went to her ears. It was such a beautiful picture that even Shoba was getting to like being a bride. She looked like an Indian actress that Archana watch on her videos.

Archana knew that Shoba hated her and would not listen to her. Archana asked Sudha to talk to Shoba, “It breaks my heart to make this request, but what to do?”

Sudha gave her a good prep talk. "Shoba, I wish it was your mother who is doing the talking. As an auntie who had known you since you were two years old, you are like a daughter to me. As of this day, you are Raj's wife. Listen to him like all Indian wives listen to their husbands."

Shoba rolled her eyes, cursed and made a rude sign with her middle finger behind her back to her friends.

Shoba and Sudha hugged for a long time and Sudha's eyes were misty.

“You come to me when you have any problem, promise me.” Sudha whispered in her ear.

Deep in Sudha’s heavy hearts, she questioned if this was right for Shoba. She herself was arranged to be married to her husband. She came all the way from India. She did not know her husband before but she grew to love Kumar. She had a nagging feeling that this was not going to work for Shoba.

During the ceremony the priest put a sacred rope around Raj's and Shoba's necks. They were now married!

The priest then instructed, "Raj, you walk first, then Shoba, Raj you lead Shoba, and Shoba, you follow Raj. This is very important for Shoba to be obedient to Raj."

Shoba was appalled, she had not settled for this. She couldn't back out and make a scene, not in front of all Dad's friends. She was like a trapped animal. Raj kept tugging the rope, she had no choice but to follow him. This old fashion Hindu custom was like a noose to her neck.

Bal heaved a sigh of relief. His willful daughter was at last married, and he did not have to worry about her anymore. After the wedding, Bal drove his cousin Rao to the airport. He gave him a bear hug.

“Bro, have a good flight home, I will take care of Meera and Raj.”

Bal rented an old apartment for Shoba, Raj and Meera so they would not be too far from him. It was less than ten minutes walk away. He only had a smattering of English conversation lessons in his village school, and he refused to speak English because he said the Americans laughed at him every time he opened his mouth. Raj hated school and soon dropped out. Shoba pretended she did not speak any Tamil. Raj did not work, he did not have to. He stayed at home and drank and watched TV.

Raj's repertoire of words was bullshit', f* you' and shut up'.

There was hardly any conversation between Shoba and Raj.

On top of this, Shoba had mother in law trouble. Meera made herself the queen of the house. Meera only spoke Tamil which didn’t help.

She kept on saying, "You are an Indian girl, and you must listen to everything I tell you because I am your mother in law."

Meera made Shoba do all the house work and the cooking. If Shoba refused, the mother-son duo locked Shoba in her bedroom. They said that she disgraced them for being a shameful wife because she didn't listen to her mother in law and her husband. They hoarded the television watching Bollywood videos. Meera insinuated that like some of the poor brides in the videos, who disobeyed their husbands and mother-in-laws deserved to be starved and beaten up.

Raj loved his drink, and when he was drunk, he became violent and he beat up Shoba. She was covered with bruises. They fore bade her to go out with her unruly American white and African American girlfriends; they did not like them to come to the house. They locked her in the apartment.

They argued, "Girls in India are gentle, demure and never talked back to their husbands and mother in laws."

Meera rang Rao and her relatives that Shoba was a bride from hell. Her friends were bitches and witches and they had no respect for her and Raj. This would never happen in India. She was ashamed of her. Shoba was either stupid or so stubborn that she refused to learn to make traditional bread like Roti prata and chapatti.

When Raj’s friends came and watched cricket on TV, everyone ignored her. Rai ordered her around to serve them beer and curry chicken and chicken tandoori.

Bal could not do anything because it was a disgrace to an Indian father if his daughter was not a good wife. Archana couldn’t help because she herself was steeped in traditional Indian custom where a girl was treated like cartel and had to be subservient to her husband and mother-in-law. Bal pleaded to Raj and Meera to treat Shoba better or to leave since he did not love her.

Raj spelled out, "I will go when I am ready. Don't forget, you cheated me. Your daughter was no virgin and had been sleeping around with many American boys. Besides, she is a cold bitch. You can see for yourself: in India, most wives would have been pregnant long ago. But no, your slut thinks she is too good to sleep with me."

Poor Bal did not realize that Raj had a selfish plan. Raj did not intend to make Shoba his wife indefinitely. He had a sweet heart back home. He only wanted to come to live in America. Marrying Shoba was his ticket to his American dream. He just had to tolerate this wild girl until he got his green card. Then he would send for his home-loving village girl, Aditi to be his wife.

In the meanwhile, he would take full advantage of his situation. He enjoyed an American life-style of booze and cricket and being a couch potato, watching all sorts of TV. He was provided with free food and lodging courtesy his father-in-law. He liked sex and domineering over Shoba. The more she resisted him, the better he liked it. He imagined he was sleeping with the popular Bollywood actresses.

He knew that immigration officers were monitoring to see that he didn’t come to America for a marriage of convenience. In the interview when he applied to come to America, the officer had grilled him and kept asking if his marriage was a marriage of convenience, since he did not even know Shoba and Bal.

The grotesque nightmare went on for months. Shoba appealed to Sudha, but her husband Kumar told her not to interfere.

One morning, Raj urgently rushed to Bal's shop.

"Please come quickly, Shoba is having a baby."

Bal and Archana made a quick dash to Shoba's apartment. Shoba was lying in the bathroom on a pool of blood. A baby was lying between her legs. The umbilical cord was not cut. Shoba was barely breathing. The baby was blue and had died.

"Have you called the ambulance?" Archana asked.

"No, we were afraid and decided to come to you."

By the time Bal called 911, and the time it took for the ambulance to arrive, Shoba had died.

When the autopsy was performed, the baby was a fully formed baby and there was no reason why she had died. She was a victim of female genocide which is so common in India. Forensic evidence found that Shoba had delivered the baby at least twelve hours earlier. By the delay in medical attention, Shoba bled to death.

This was such a great tragedy when Meera and Raj brought their prejudices to America, and Bal and Archana blindly followed an out dated custom of match making Shoba to a complete stranger.

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