Thursday, January 05, 2006

Waging a Losing Battle

This is not going to be an easy post. But then no post of mine has been easy excepting the nonsensical ones :) On our way to Shaws to do the weekly groceries, The Mr and I argued about everything under the Sun from Hinduism to Symbolism to my lack of understanding of the Holiness of New England Patriots :)

So how important are symbols in our life? Take the beaten-to-death "Thaali/Mangalsutra sentiment" of cinema. Somehow not just in the movies but even in our lives we are ruled by the sacred thread. If I recall the old movie 'Kandhan Karunai', there is a scene where Lord Muruga explains the reason behind 'thaali' & 'metti'(toe rings) to Deivanai. The Man walks with his head held high and when he sees a woman with a 'thaali' he realises she is married and it is a sin to want her and the reason men wear 'metti' (toe-rings) is coz the women walk with their heads bowed and the first thing they see is a man's feet and they can know from the toe-ring if he is married or not. Wonderful if only the men didn't make women wear the metti too.

But when you introspect, the thaali is nothing but a symbol of the union of man & wife in holy matrimony. Does wearing it constantly prove your loyalty to your husband? Why is a woman who doesn't wear it considered an arrogant girl with no respect for culture? So if a thaali is to show the world a woman is married , how are the guys doing it? (The Mr claims that his forlorn face gives away the fact that he belongs to the 'hen-pecked' kind' :D)

I still can't understand the logic. I mean, when you get down to it, it is but a personal choice. Whether I choose to wear it or not. What I feel for my husband can't be and shouldn't be quantified and shut within one gold chain.

And please this has nothing to do with women's lib. Thaali is but the tip of an iceberg. In our society, we seem to have this invisible wall around us; a wall built of just stereotypes and symbols; where it doesn't matter whether you trust & love your husband as long as you wear your mangalsutra and metti(toe-rings) for all the world to see.

Or maybe it is in our psyche to dwelve on the symbol and forget the spirit? Just like the black idol in the temple . It is always easy to converse with God when he is in one of those many shapes we like to put him in - as Ganesha, Shiva, Muruga. Somehow the symbol evokes more piety than a shapeless, invisible being with life-altering powers. My form of prayer is having a conversation with The One wherever I am. Even while chopping onions. He could be in the knife at that point. But no one would call me spiritual unless I do my daily puja.

So what is the point of all this? I don't know. I don't wear my thaali while I am here coz I don't think it defines my relationship with The Mr. And he wholly agress with me. But my family back in India doesn't feel it is a good idea. And I don't blame them. And after a few discussions on the 'evils' of not wearing thaali, I just caved in. It is easier to wear it and be the quintessential Indian woman than put my family through the rigmarole of answering every raised eyebrow that claims their daughter is 'too americanised'. Sometimes I wish I were stronger but when I listen to my 80 year old Grandma complain ever so softly about her little girl not wearing anklets/metti, I somehow feel this is the least I can do to make her smile. My battle can wait.

Does that make me a hypocrite? A coward? Can't really say. Coz this isn't an easy solution and it won't happen overnight. And yeah, next time please make the thaali in a light weight, trendy style. Atleast that way it won't weigh so much on my neck. Literally.


Blogger IBH said...

well said :)! share the same thot as u!especially the last part :) abt trendy thaalis :)

Am a tam bram married to mal u can figure out how 'my-side' thaali and 'his-side' thaali will look like rite?:)

I dont wear my thaali here...just that with shirt and pants or skirts...thaali doesnt go well and my metti's end of the hoop gets inbetween my no metti either :)

but when i go meet his family side in US i just wear that sleaky,sexy pipal leaf shaped pendant in a very cute chain :) so that makes my thaali a convenient one :) But during India trip, I do make sure that I make people happy wearing all these things....

1:23 PM  
Blogger Kumari said...

@Ibh: Tell me about it. Mine is the typical thick & bulky one. And i am damn kicked coz it was The Mr who said "Take it off. It doesn't go with your dress" :D And no shortcuts coz the 'thaali pendant' is too heavy for a simple gold chain :(

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Humsika said...

My very trendy and thoughtful MIl made me one with a very simple gold chain and a smaller, lighter version of the original. It looks like a normal chain with a very normal pendant. The original remains safetly tucked away in an yellow cloth. I just saw the other day in claire's accessories that toe rings had become a fashion statement here. It is an invisble stretchy band thing with flowers and even one with a cute little slipper. It perhaps defeats the whole purpose of weraing a real silver one. But it looks real good and I wear one with a flower. ;-)

2:05 PM  
Blogger Balaji said...

the wife either wears a small, trendy one or doesn't wear it at all. but yeah, she does wear it when in india.

and in the movies, i think it was 'alaipayuthey' that broke the thaali sentiment. i loved that scene.

btw, that "forlorn face" comment by your hubby was hilarious.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved your post Dear Griz. But I mostly like the physical factors of the emotions we are supposed to have and signify by having them, the physicalness of the relationship, how do I express it!? (Except when it doesn't go with the dress ;)) It makes a big diff to my MIL and I kind of like to see her smile. Can't help it man, am grateful that she accepts me and loves me like the way she does. Am I fooling myself? donno!

12:18 AM  
Blogger RT said...

Can so identify with this... Have gone through countless arguments on the thali metti with parents of both sides and well.. One set understand but still tug you to carry on and the other set think its blasphemy of sorts.
Once when I had just gotten married, I was made to wear the yellow-thread wala thali for a while. I hated to apply turmeric every morning over it to make it look yellow. That would inturn spoil the collars of my fav shirts. So I used to hang it out and wear it back after the shower. One day, I forgot to wear it and I got a complete crisis call from MIL to get back from work (15km away) the very minute, letting go of all meetings and engagements for the day..
Peoople have their priorities I guess..!!..:)

ANyway, nicely put.. :)

1:59 AM  
Blogger Ayush said...

The discussion of Symbols to Spirit is great. And I think we can see it everywhere, be it India or USA. The Spirit of an action/emotion is first bound in a Symbol -- almost as an honor, as a proclaimation. The Symbol serves the beautiful purpose of reminding us of the Spirit that was first embodied in it. But over ages the Spirit is often forgotten while the hollow Symbol remains, no longer serving as a reminder of the lost Spirit. Often, the Symbol, in trying to preserve its own glory, even perverts the Spirit and becomes a gesture of oppression and submission. Another difference is while the Spirit of an amotion/action evolves with different individuals and changing times, the Symbols get set in stone (sometimes literally) and unable to change, they rot.

Besides, the male social dominance adds an extra factor by gradually eroding the Symbols into equations of power.

So it is with the mangalsutra, the sindoor, the Karwa-Chauth, the sati, the dowry, the joint family, and the heterosexual marriage among countless others.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Deepa said...

Your thoughts echo may of the married girls of our age :). Wearing the thaali everyday was something I really wasn't happy coming to terms with before the wedding. At the same time, I was no great rebel to try and say no to it before the wedding. What my Mr. and me did try (he a lot harder than me) was to make the thaali as light as possible and negotiate the size of the pendant to make it as small as possible. Removing the metti however was not a problem with both sets of parents (:D). I have never contemplated going around without the thaali in India. Not worth the heartburn it will cause to parents. Back here, I have removed it sometimes, but the fear of losing it if I remove it gets the better of me most of the time. I know for sure that losing it will be disastrous for folks back at home to hear and is something we cannot handle. And so for the sake of family, I carry this 'burden' along and slowly it doesn't seem like a burden at all.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Kumari said...

@humsika: Aaah...the lucky one with the trendy one :) I wore toe-rings till they got caught in my flipflops and scratched my skin :( Might wear one once summer returns to New England :)

@Balaji: Looks like I am the one without a trendy thaali. Damn :D Yeah, i stopped wanting to not wear one in India. 'Alaipayuthe' is like The Bible to me :p

@Gif: I am not against wearing it but the rebel in me hates it when i am forced to do stuff just for 'society's' sake than mine.
Infact, even when i wear it i was asked to hide the pendant inside my dress as others shouldn't set eyes on my thaali. That kinda bugged me no end. So the rebellion :p It looks nice with a saree :)

RT: Thanks :) I can understand. But for this being a forum read by my family i would have exchanged my funny thaali episode :D

@Ayush: I guess so. But sometimes people place hope on the symbols to resurrect many a dying spirit. And as long as such hopes are placed, symbols would remain. And in a way, tho i hate it, i guess symbols do help simplify complex ideas :) Thanks for dropping by.

Deepa: I agree about the heartburn. One reason why i wear my anklets and thaali even in a pair of jeans and shirt back in India. Your Mr thinks of every detail and he starts thinking much ahead of time :) From the responses i have received, i have put fwd a petition to My Mr to make a lighter trendier thaali tho all he can say is "Don't wear it" :D

3:52 PM  
Blogger Ducking Giraffe said...

though i am sort of a newbee( and i dont mean newly married:P) in this thali methi thing , I think the issue is interesting ... anything worn/done just to tell the world or make others happy or whatver when it doesnt make u one bit happy... never agreed... especially if it doesnt go with the dress;)...yet we do it dont we ...dressing up like an indian bride ...sounds like awesome fun ..... btw i wear a bell, any idea what it stands for :P

6:22 AM  
Blogger Kumari said...

@Duck: Dressing up like an Indian bride is still awesome fun. But going grocery shopping like that is a pain :) And a bell means, you are The Princess whose beck n call we should obey :p

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anu said...

hey pon c. not sure if ud remember me. yeah we used to be extended wingies. stumbled across ur blog now. a great place indeed.i do identify with ur thali situation. sometimes people just dont understand that loyalty, love and commitment is a way of the heart, and not inflicted by rules or rituals

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, my question is about keeping an unused thaali at home. After my mother passed away, my brother kept her thaali in his house for sentimental reasons. People have told us not to do this, but we are not sure what exactly we should do with this thaali. It is a big, bulky one and cannot be made into a ring that my brother can wear (like in the movie 'Gentleman'). Can it be sold or donated to a church/temple 'hundi'? Please let me know about all the superstitions/grandma's stories, etc. regarding this matter and remedies for the situation. Thanks. Clueless.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yendi pundaigalaa... thali oru burden? Appuram ethukkudi thamizhan pooLa Okkaringa? Evanaavadhu veLinaattukkaarana katti konjanaaLukku oruvaati aaLa maaththittu pogalaamedi (suthanthiramaa)! Adhukku vasathiyaa pottu kooda thookki erinjiriduveenga.. thoo!

3:04 PM  

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