I’m just a girl in love with a boy who happened to be born and raised on the opposite side of the Earth from me! This line gives you a brief idea about the person whom we have at your Adda today. She feels her blog is about embracing Indian culture and the challenges arising from moving to a country that is completely different, yet oddly the same as her own. People fondly call her ‘Bhabhi’. We are pleased to have Kristy aka American Punjaban at your Adda for this exclusive interview. We speak about Indian culture, her life in India and a lot more things. Fasten your seatbelts. 🙂
Q: When and why did you start blogging?
I started blogging in June of 2009.
Q: What topics do you generally blog about?
I blog about what life is like for a pardesi in an intercultural relationship. As my relationship has progressed from a long distance one to living with his joint family in India, I now also cover a lot of topics about what a pardesi could face or go through as part of a major cross-cultural move like this. My topics include Indian culture, culture shock and dealing with relationship issues.
Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?
I rarely get stuck. I’m a professional writer by trade and most of the time I write 4-5 blog entries at a time and schedule them. I almost always have 6 or more posts scheduled. So if I don’t feel like writing, or I can’t think of anything to write one day, I don’t have to. It keeps me from getting writer’s block and allows me time to refresh my mind between postings.
Q: You received a warm welcome and quick acceptance in Rohit’s family when they got to know about your relationship. 🙂 Did the people who care for you, accept/ support this relationship? How did Rohit’s family react to the fact that you didn’t even inform your parents about it?
Rohit’s family was happy and intrigued about our relationship. I had more hesitation telling my family, because they normally don’t react well to major changes. I normally have to tell them things in small pieces at a time. Both of my parents have severe health issues and a major shock could be detrimental to their health. I don’t think Rohit’s parents even knew that I hadn’t told my parents. But Rohit hadn’t told how serious we were until I actually purchased a plane ticket to come here and visit. He was nervous about whether or not they would accept me as more than a friend. That is what he had told them, it was the first year of our relationship. I didn’t let this bother me, because I knew there was a huge cultural difference and I felt he would know how to best handle his family in regards to us.
Q: What are the difficulties and emotional stress that one goes through when in a long distance or inter-cultural relationship? What are your suggestions to overcome them? Tell us about some memories/ incidents after your Roka and before your marriage.
In a long distance relationship it is very difficult to know if you can trust the other person, especially when their lifestyle and culture are something you don’t know enough about. The most important thing in maintaining the relationship is to always communicate with each other, especially if there is something you don’t understand or if something bothers you. One of the most common misunderstandings Rohit and I had during our long distance relationship was money.
In the US I had my own home, power bill, car payment, etc. and I paid all of my own living expenses. I also was somewhat of a workaholic and I worked 3 jobs. If we were to discuss the topic of finances, there was always difficulty explaining why my parents didn’t pay my bills or give me an allowance, etc. He also didn’t understand when I would say I couldn’t afford something. He had never had to pay bills of his own and typically only spent money without any thought of where it came from.
Q: You took up studying Hinduism before your marriage. Now that you have also lived a Hindu life in India, What differences did you find in theoretical and practical life? How did this study help you personally? Share some observations and experiences.
The main difference I find between Hinduism, now that I live here in a Hindu home and from when I was studying, is how relaxed the standards are here. There’s also a lot that the Hindu scholars in the US don’t tell you about practices that occur in Hinduism. Of course, my studies are somewhat limited. There are very few books available for converted individuals. Most books are written by and for those who already have a good understanding of Hindu practices. I was also under the misconception that Hindus practiced their religion more than they actually do, and I thought there was more emphasis placed on basic worship tasks. Since coming here and going to the temple often, I have noticed that many only go through the motions and there’s not an evident emotional connection. This is not unlike Christianity in the US, but I didn’t realize that until coming here.
Q: How has life been till now, since a year has gone by since are married and settled in Amritsar, India. 🙂 Share your overall experience in India, with your husband, in-laws, work and people and what were the hurdles as a white woman you had to face?
Life has been quite rough in my first 16 months here. I stayed sick for the first 9 months. I even contracted jaundice. I now have to take some pretty extreme measures to avoid getting sick. They are worth it, but make life even more difficult. Things started out well with my in-laws and stayed that way for the first year. Then a relative sent me a gift and caused 4 household members to stop speaking to or even looking at me for over 3 months, and even now (after another month) they still don’t speak more than just “hello” once in a while. At one point, they were actively turning their back to me if I entered the room. There is a significant amount of tension in the home between our two families, which I was unaware of before that. It’s also difficult to live in a tense environment. Other than that, the biggest hurdle I’ve had to face with living here as a white woman is the misconception that all foreigners are rich and should pay more money for everything. I rarely go to the bazaars to purchase anything for myself, because they always try to over charge me. As a previously independent woman, it is very difficult to get used to someone else having to do so much for you. I also feel isolated quite a bit because of it.
Q: You also run another blog where you review restaurants and businesses. Do you visit them alone or with Rohit? What is your view about Indian food in comparison with the US, and do you like it? Have you also learnt to cook Indian food? What are your hobbies?
I visit all of the establishments I blog about on the review blog with Rohit, and occasionally with our friends. As for Indian food, I can only speak for North Indian, because I have yet to visit the south. In North India, most of the cuisine has a lot of oil or ghee in it. I rarely used any oil at all in the US, and I don’t like the taste of it nor does my body tolerate it very well. So when I’m eating North Indian food, I almost always opt for tandoori items. I love malai tikka and butter naan for example. I blogged once about the food here, and put up pictures of all the oil floating on top of the palak murg I had ordered. It was very grotesque.
At home I prefer to modify Indian recipes to be healthier and my FIL loves it. I’ve changed the families eating quite a bit by introducing international foods like Mexican and Italian without oil in them. I can cook rotis, parathas, curries, chana and many more North Indian dishes quite well. I love cooking. It’s one of my favorite hobbies. I also love to watch movies. In the states I exercised daily as a hobby and of course, like most women, I love shopping.
Q: Occasionally things just disappear never to be seen or heard from again – You said this in one of your posts about Joint families. There are many families currently who are opting for nuclear family setting in India. Having lived alone in the US and in a joint family in India, which setting do you like more and why? What are the advantages/ disadvantages of both according to you? How would you describe your family, a traditional conservative or modern liberal one?
For me, I much prefer a nuclear family. I like things organized and well kept, but that is very difficult when living with 7 other family members. I often have trouble finding things and it bothers me too much when things disappear. It may seem petty, but I was always taught that sharing meant everyone was included. It’s not like that in a joint family. If someone wants something, they take it – with or without asking – and most of the time you never see it again. I have lost clothing, special marking pens (which I’m sure no one in this house even knew what those were for), food and electronics. I’ve never seen or found a single item that was missing either. This can’t be blamed on the maid because she’s never in the room when I’m not here.
Q: Does Rohit and your family know about your blog/ read it? How do they/ would they react to it? What are the 5 best qualities that you find in your Indian partner?
Rohit knows about my blog and reads it occasionally. The rest of his family is not online, at least not the members of the household. The younger children here get online sometimes, but their time is consumed by downloading new games or music. Rohit has told his family about my online writing but they never seem concerned with knowing any more than that. It seems to be the general consensus in this family that online things don’t matter. Rohit’s 5 best qualities are his ability to listen, his willingness to learn about my culture and respect my feelings, he doesn’t force me to follow all of the household traditions or adhere to the rules of the home strictly. He also is very good at helping me discover new things in the city and he always makes sure to get anything I need or ask for.
Q: Professionally, what are you currently doing in Amritsar? How good/ bad is the working system in India and the US, in terms of work culture, ethics, salary, etc.? Which places have you traveled and how convenient/ inconvenient traveling in India has been for you?
I’m not legally allowed to work in India yet. I will have my PIO card this summer and after that I will pursue forensic work with the local law enforcement agencies. That is my professional background. I do maintain a freelance writing career to continue to make money and occupy my time while I’m here. I’m still working for US companies under my US credentials. I’m concerned for the environment too many Indians work in. It’s not a well functioning environment in my opinion. Often people don’t get paid, yet their bills keep coming. The companies are not held accountable for following labor laws or even for basic human needs. I’m not quite sure how some companies even survive. How do so many Indians just accept that they’ve worked a full month, but won’t get paid until the company feels like paying them. And quite a few people here seem unwilling to risk turning in their company to the labor board, when the company doesn’t pay into PF funds, etc.
Traveling in any country is somewhat inconvenient. I don’t like to travel and I really don’t like driving long distances in the car. I didn’t in the US either, but as you know Indian roads tend to be difficult to travel in some locations. I’ve taken car trips to Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, Vrindivan and some smaller cities near those locations. I also took a car trip to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Jalhandar, Chandigarh, Beas, Batala and another city I don’t recall the name of, as well as other surrounding areas in those region. All total, I’ve been on 11 vacations since coming here. I definitely prefer the train which is what we take to Delhi. Every time I’ve been out in a car, even locally, it’s been hit. The accidents were minor but it still shakes your nerves when it happens. I’ve also been hit by a bicycle rickshaw and slammed into by a scooter. To say the roads are not safe is a bit of an understatement.
Q: We have been reading a lot about security of Women in India. What are your views on that? As a Woman who has lived in a completely different environment, what do you think are the steps that the society needs to take care of and make a woman living in India feel safer?
I think women in India are making great strides toward their equality. I get excited every time I read or hear about another Indian woman, who has stood up against the oppression her society has placed on her. I would love to see more women stand up for what they know is right, instead of backing down to save the family honor. I think too many women don’t realize they will gain the support of the whole nation by standing up against oppression and abuse. Their family may have difficulty coming to terms with her asserting freedom, but she can individually save thousands of others. This has been proven time and time again.
Look at the women who go to the child prostitution rings and save young girls, educate them and help them get out of that society. They haven’t just saved one girl, but they’ve saved her offspring and those around her are more likely to get help. It only takes one woman doing one good deed to affect millions worldwide, and it feels fantastic whenever I see it happening. One thing I think India as a whole should do to help improve life here for women, is to enact and enforce more laws to protect women and children. Even just publicizing these laws teaches children that hurting women or children is wrong, and will make a difference.
Q: Indian History and Culture has this unique aura and mystical element to it. What attracted you to it? Do you think history is repeating itself in many ways across the world?
I was never attracted to Indian culture. I grew up around it and it was part of my childhood so it was fairly normal to me already. While I agree India has a sort of allure, the only thing that has drawn me in is all the sparkly, girly items available for purchase. I don’t view the world like most and I see all humans as equals. So Rohit being Indian wasn’t a major thought in my mind, other than figuring out where we would live out our lives.
Q: We hear a lot of sterotypes everyday. What is that one sterotype which you have heard all your life and then one fine day discovered that it is not true at all? 🙂
In the US most of the stereotypes we tend to hear relate to Mexicans. When I was a small child, I was told by an uncle I should never look a Mexican in the eyes or he would think I wanted to sleep with him. Being young and impressionable, I believed it and avoided eye contact with them well into my teens. Then I met a Mexican woman and learned a lot about her culture and realized that my uncle had misled me. It was at that point I made the choice not to take anyone at their word (in regards to other cultures) and to research everything on my own before making any decisions. I have never found a single stereotype that was entirely true. Yes, some people will fit the stereotype, but it never applies to the majority.
Q: Many countries are observed having a cultural role reversal lately. For instance, many Indians are adapting more ‘western’ attributes and way of living, if we can say so, while Americans and many others are adopting Indian holistic ways. What is your view on this culture role reversal?
I actually spent quite a few of my childhood years living in an American joint family. This was very different from all of my friends. It’s now happening more and more in the US, and in many ways I think it is great. I always imagined as a child living with and taking care of my elders, as long as I was able to. This could have come from my own exposure to Indian culture, but I’m not sure. I think that joint family living is smart in many ways, not just financially. But, it has to work like it’s supposed to which doesn’t always happen. As for Indians adopting western habits, I think that can also be good. It will encourage more Indians to stand up for themselves and learn to treat each other better. Learning a western style of independence helps end the passive aggressively control relationships, that stifle growth of today’s youth.
Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?
I promote my blog through a facebook page, through blog promotion outlets like BlogAdda and through stumble upon. I get the most hits back from stumble upon and Facebook makes it easier to share with new people who are friends of friends. There are a lot of gori/desi couples but they don’t know that the support and information is out there to help them through their relationships. I get the most hits from stumble upon.
Q: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?
It’s extremely important to interact with readers. This lets them know you’re real, that you’re not only concerned with yourself and that the blog isn’t only about making money. Interaction builds long-term readers. I respond to about 95% of my comments. The rest I either delete because they are spam or inappropriate, or they are not to me. My readers interact with each other quite often as well.
Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?
It’s most gratifying that I can get my thoughts and realizations out there and find other people who have the same experience or advice to offer me on the subjects. Even though it is online, these interactions are with real people who have taken the time to write to me. I feel like their time is valuable just like mine and I appreciate that they took the time to read my post and write to me.
Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.
I’ve read a lot of good Indian blogs. I follow quite a few because it helps me learn more about the culture and things in my own daily life. I read a lot of “The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker,” a feminist who promotes gender equality. Another two India-based blogs I read are “Videsi girl in Mumbai” and “Kay in India.” There are two NRI blogs I read as well, “Double Expat” and “The NRI.” Both write on very different topics, but I’ve found a lot of good information there.
Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
The best piece of advice I ever received is to forget about perfection. If you are always working on one post trying to make it better then you’ll never post it and blogging becomes too much work. You’ll never have a perfect post. I rarely even re-read my posts before I submit them. Blogging should be both fun and easy to manage. If you’re worried about spelling and grammar, then use your computers settings to check it for you.
Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?
I have Adsense set up on all of my blogs. It’s been a long time since I set it up, but I believe all you need to do is sign up for it.
Q: According to you, what is the future of Blogging?
I think blogging will follow the trend of the internet and use more multimedia in the future.
Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.
Movie: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
TV Show: MasterChef (any country’s version)
Book: Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends
Time of Day: After everyone else is asleep and the house is finally quiet.
Your Zodiac Sign: Cancer by western astrology (which is not the same as Indian astrology).
Thank you Kristy for this interview. It was a pleasure conversing with you. It is not easy to be in an inter cultural relationship and as you wonderfully said ‘I’m just a girl in love with a boy who happened to be born and raised on the opposite side of the Earth from me!’. Friends, Kristy would love to take in your questions. Ask her now!