“Madam”~ The Story of a Solo Matriarchal Society.

There’s something to be said about a couple walking into a restaurant, and the waiter immediately greeting, and standing by the man and asking for his order. It sounds ridiculous to be picking apart such a seemingly inconsequential scenario, but honestly think about the last time you walked into a restaurant with someone of the opposite sex. If you were the male, did the waiter approach you first, and ask you for the order, for that matter did the waiter looked to you for a confirmation once the female ordered. How about at the end of the meal? Did the waiter give you the bill, did the leave it in the middle, or did they give it to your female companion?

 

Here in the US we don’t like to say that we are a patriarchal society, no we like to identify with everything other than gender. We say, we are a free society, a melting pot, a place of opportunity. And we may very well may not be a patriarch, but if you compare America to a matriarchal society…well we certainly aren’t that either. Maybe we’re in between, and it sounds pretty good, but I don’t think we are seeing that we lean more towards the patriarchal side than the matriarchal.

 

In all the places I’ve been to I have never been treated or as respected as when I was in Sri Lanka. Growing up in the USA, and traveling to various countries with my family I never questioned why a waiter did not acknowledge my mother the way they acknowledged my father, mainly because they assumed he was the one with the money, I suppose. But there are many families where the woman holds the money, for that matter there are families where there is only a woman to lead the family, however they aren’t respected as such.

 

Many would say I’m being nit picky but I guess I had my first taste of social respect from someone and I loved it. Sri Lanka is a total matriarchal society. It doesn’t matter who makes the money, the man, the woman, or the child. The woman is acknowledged just as much as the man. When we would walk into a restaurant my mother was greeted first, she was the one they asked for the order, and she was the one they brought the check to. Think about it for a second, process it.

 

My mother and I found it incredible, that for once her opinion, her standing mattered when next to my father. We actually found it funny that the waiter didn’t even listen to my father for his order unless it came from my mother. Now we probably shouldn’t have laughed, but it was treatment that the two of us had grown accustomed to anywhere we had gone before. It was only in this beautiful island where the roles had been switched, where we were no longer inferior, however miniscule it seemed, but superior. And the term that was used to address us? “Madam”. Everything that was asked began with “Madam.”

 

“Madam, what would you like?”

“Isn’t this nice Madam?”

“Madam, is this okay?”

“How is everything Madam?”

 

Now this restaurant scenario only hints at the way society truly regards male and females. The United States still hasn’t a woman president. Sure there are female governors, senators, and representatives, but President? Sri Lanka was the first country to have a female President. Yeah, if anybody was wondering where the ball got rolling for women politicians, it wasn’t Indra Gandhi, female Prime Minister of India. No, Sirivamo Bandaranaike was elected President of Sri Lanka in 1960…It’s been over 55 years since she was elected and our country has still struggled and failed to elect a female president.

 

I’m not going into this year’s election because that’s beast on its own, but I’ll ask you all this, what if more women ran for Presidency? Would our votes differ? These past few years we had Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina running on opposite ends, but what if there were more? Think on it.

 

Now returning back to my father’s homeland, one thing I found really impressive is that this is one of the very few countries where I saw women not being harassed by strangers, family members, and friends about not getting married. There are many female members of my family that have not gotten married and are perfectly happy and I find that admirable because almost everywhere else in the world women are pitied, argued with, and condemned for not getting married. Why? Because it is assumed and taught that men will provide financial, physical, and emotional security…but women can provide that for themselves as well. It’s her decision whether she wants to seek those goals with someone else or not. As a young woman I do want to grow up and get married but I’ve been reminded on more than one occasion that I can be intense and a little intimidating but honestly…I want to be able to provide myself with that financial, physical, and emotional security with or without a man. It would be nice to have a meaningful and strong connection with someone but I don’t want my future to be pitied or condemned if I were not to get married.

 

Hell, a woman who is raising her own kids on her own is pitied or condemned by strangers on the streets in our own country. Some see her as in need of help in supporting her family, but she could be just as capable of a man as providing for her family. Would there be more stability with someone else helping her out, maybe, maybe not.

 

If we as America don’t want to label our country as a Patriarch or a Matriarch then we need to find a balance between the two. We can’t lean part way towards one end and say that’s not what we are. We need to start accepting that men and women both can have money, intellects, and equal standing in class and society. We may be a melting pot of cultures, a place of opportunities, and a place of freedom but if we are to be judged as a Patriarch, Matriarch, or neutral…? We would most definitely be classified as a social Patriarch.

 

You don’t always see a problem until you’ve seen something opposite to it. I didn’t completely grasp how deeply ingrained this inequality of male and female standing in America until I saw the opposite end of the spectrum in Sri Lanka. If anything Sri Lanka is modeled quite nicely off of the beautiful Elephants who inhabit the island. Only Females are in a herd of elephants, and the grandmother is the one who leads them. Of course there are baby boy elephants but after a certain age they go off on their own. No other animal really does this with their groups. Sri Lanka is the elephants of human societies.

 

The House that Made Us

Before you begin this, here is a key to family titles:

Mama- My mother’s brother- my uncle

Mami- Wife of my mother’s brother- my aunt

Mausi- My mother’s sister- my aunt

Mausaji- husband of my mother’s sister- my uncle

Nana- grandfather on my mother’s side

Nani- grandmother on my mother’s side

Aachi- grandmother on my father’s side

 

It’s hard to believe that when we die we only leave one thing truly behind, our home. Yesterday, June 28th I visited the house my Great-Great-Grandfather built in around 1914. It still stands in the middle of the village Aralia North, in Jaffna City, Sri Lanka. His name is written on a plaque on the side of the house, even though the house itself is slowly deteriorating. My Great-Great-Grandfather’s name was Dr. C.S Ratnam, Ratnam meaning precious stone. His daughter would later marry Dr. Navaratnam, his last name means Nine Precious stones, and move to the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. The couple would have eight kids, six of who are still alive to this day, one of whom is my own Grandmother Dr. Mangay Yoganathan, the legendary woman who can make a friend in ten seconds, and see through someone in five. Her memory is as sharp as diamond, and her will is stronger than the oldest tree, whose roots are buried deep in the earth. The cloth she is cut from is like a deep heavily embroidered silk sari, with twists and turns, and rich color flooding the fabric that could last centuries. The reason why I compare her family’s line to a sari is because it still stands proudly today, just as her grandfather’s house (Dr. Ratnam’s house) still stands, the house she grew up in still stands as well in Colombo. I had the good fortune of being able to visit it. Currently, my Father’s cousin, Auntie Malathi lives there with her family. Her Mother, my grandmother’s sister, Auntie Sili still lives there as well.

 

These two ancestral homes still stand with my families name written on them, one metaphorically, and one literally. It’s almost ironic, that the year I am able to see these two homes I am about to lose another.

 

My Grandmother, the woman I know as Aachi, is the mother of my father and she has always kept a distinct record of her family tree. This trip to Sri Lanka was her way of showing my brother and I where our ancestors came from. It’s always been a little confusing figuring out my father’s family tree, mainly because I had only ever been to Sri Lanka once and most of Aachi’s family has dispersed across the world. Her Brother Uncle Viswan lives in London, while her sister Auntie Saraswati lives in Italy. Her other brother, Uncle Suma lives in Colombo, but he has ties in Australia as well. Auntie Baba lives in Colombo as well, in a different house form Auntie Sili. All of her siblings had children, including the two deceased ones, and all of these children are my father’s cousins, and all of these cousins have gone on to live their lives in various places, some marrying and having their own kids, and some of who are having their own grand kids. It all very intricate and confusing, especially since as we travel across the world my brother and I meet people that are related to us in some shape, fashion, or form due. It’s not very cut and direct when you look at it piece by piece, but when you look at the grand picture you see the masterpiece of it all, as you would with a silk Kangivaram sari.

 

But as I have said before, I have only just started to look at the whole picture of my father’s ancestry, it has always been my mother’s side that I have been able to see pretty clearly, at least the immediate extended family. My mother was born in a city called Gwalior, in the state of Madhaya Pradesh in India. Gwalior has always been a growing city, and is just a few kilometers from Agra, and about five to ten hours outside of Delhi, the capital of India. The house she grew up in is entitled Bal Mandir, translated into Children’s Temple. This house was a school, at least the house plus a few of the surrounding buildings. The principal of that school was my Grandmother, or as I know her, Nani. Nani and my Nana (my grandfather) moved to Gwalior, and bought Bal Mandir, a three story building in the heart of the city. The address has always been a joke around the family, because the people who grew up in that house, my mother and her three siblings, all have wills of steel, and attitudes to rival the wittiest man.

 

Nimbal ki Ghot Number Ek. It’s the phrase that I have heard thrown around every time someone makes a dirty joke, or a hilarious moment of a supposedly serious situation. An example of this would be during my Eldest cousin’s wedding. Raji Bhaiya was finally tying the literal knot while my mother was making jokes about every moment of the ceremony, how the priests were taking so damn long just by lecturing about the sanctity of marriage, and the four stages of life. No one in their right mind makes a joke out of a wedding ceremony, not unless you are from Nimbal ki Ghot Number Ek.

 

Bal Mandir was where my mother grew up with my Mausi (Aunt), and my two Mamas (Uncles). My Nana and Nani raised them to be independent, smart, and loving people, and as they grew older the house remained as a constant. My Mausi married and moved to Indore with my Mausaji (my uncle who is the husband of my Mother’s sister). My two Mama’s also married. Papu Mama (The eldest of the four) married Vinita Mami (my aunt who is the wife of my mother’s brother) and moved to a house called Vhinenaggar. The only two to remain was my mother, and the third oldest, my Bhinu Mama. Bhinu Mama married Sheli Mami, and remained in Bal Mandir.

 

Now all the while all her siblings were getting married my mother was having the time of her life. She went to college and made friends with her professors, Renu Mausi, and Jhor Uncle, as well as a girl in her class named Sujata Mausi. She obtained her Bachelors, and Masters degree, and was working for her PhD while also learning Kathak and joining an elite Dance Drama group called Kala Samoa. In addition, she joined a poetry group, and helped her parents with their own jobs. Nani was not only a principal but also a scout leader, while Nana was a writer, and Lawyer. They would take her all over for their meetings, and their pilgrimages to temples across India. But as she jumped around like a monkey, Ma would also help out wherever she could. She named each and every one of my cousins, except for the eldest. Each of my cousins who she named has the name starting with A. From oldest to youngest our names are: Pradeep, Anthara, Ananya, Akshara, Akshaya, Abhaya, Anila, Akshat, and Anant. It was in that house where she named all of my cousins, and it was there where the third generation started. We, like our parents would also have nick names: Raji, Bitto, Anu, Roli, Moli, Nanhi, Anni, Guddu, and Aadi. My mother and her siblings in order were named: Deepak, Deepti, Alok, and Tripti. Their nicknames were: Papu, Guddi, Bhinu, and Toonie.

 

It wasn’t until my mother hit thirty when it would be her turn to also make her own life. The story of my parents meeting is one I call a true love story. My father at this point was about forty-four years old, and a leading professor at Georgia Tech’s Biomedical Engineering Department. He was in Gwalior for a meeting, and presenting one of his research papers. As is custom for many of these meetings, there is often times a cultural presentation done by the college or people hosting the meeting. It just so happened that my mother’s College, KRJ, was hosting the meeting, and she was performing with her dance drama group. My mother was the Main character of the drama entitled Brigneni, a story about a princess huntress. My father was in the audience that night, and he would later see my mother presenting her last paper completing her PhD. My father himself had given a long lecture, which my mother claims is what impressed her most. The two would exchange phone numbers and letters, and every evening on Thursdays, the entire House knew it was when my mother and father would talk. My mother would sit in the outer most room in the house, where the corded phone was located, and since the house was openly designed everybody could hear her. It was those nights that would lead up to my father’s grand gesture on Valentine’s Day. He sent a large bouquet of Fresh Red roses from Delhi to the house, and it was only then when my Nani forced my mother to realize that my father wanted more than just a friendship.

 

The two would marry in 1996, a year before having me in 1997. My father was asked to live in Bal Mandir for a week or so by my Nani and Nana, before they gave their blessings. He wasn’t allowed to eat meat, or drink alcohol for those days, and he gladly endured it, even though being a Sri Lankan, it must have been difficult. The wedding was held in Gwalior, and a few of my father’s family and friends came including my Aachi, my Auntie Renuka (my father’s sister), Auntie Irhomi (Aachi’s friend), to name a few. It was a traditional Indian wedding, with a Sri Lankan groom, and by the end of it all my Mother moved to Atlanta to live with my Father, and my Aachi.

 

I grew up visiting India almost every year, living in Bal Mandir for weeks as my Nana would drop off my cousins Akshaya, Akshara, and Abhaya off at school on scooter, as my cousin Akshat and I tagged along. He would then take us to get milk, and fresh vegetables from the market. When we returned Nani would feed us all and we would go to sleep. Some days we would all put Mendhi on our hands, others we’d wake in the middle of the night and listen to the adults talk. Some days we would chase around the cat Billu (male cat). Years later on we would learn that Billu was actually a Billi (Female cat) and we would chase her kittens around as well. It was a happy home, and one I will always cherish, but sadly those memories will always be few, because when I was around four years old, Bhinu Mama past away. To this day I don’t know how he died, some people have suggested foul play, other say he just collapsed on the side of the road. All I know was that he was gone, and four of my cousins didn’t have a father any more. I remember waking up to someone calling in the middle of the night, and watching my mother break down into a fit of tears as my father tried to endlessly console her. She would leave within that week to Gwalior, leaving my father and I in the house. She went back to support the home.

 

As the years passed, I wouldn’t return to India for few years and by that point my brother had been born. No one in India had met him yet, and my Nani had been begging my mother to come and visit. It was that year that we had finally made a house in Goa, and had asked the family to come and join us. My Nani and Nana were so excited, as Papu Mama, and Vinita Mami brought my cousins Abhaya and Akshat to Goa with them. We would later learn that my Nani had contracted pneumonia and had been hospitalized for a few days then. Suddenly the great reunion had turned into a nightmare. We all hurried back to Gwalior to try and support her, my father speaking with the doctors trying to assess the situation. It was in those weeks I was unable to reconnect with my cousins, and family. It was also the summer I lost my Nani. She died in AIMS hospital in Delhi, with only half a lung. The doctors in the Gwalior hospital had been pumping her with drugs in the ICU, but we never got a clear reading on what was happening to her. I can only remember two of the names of the three doctors, Doctor Single, and Doctor Thakur. My Nana tried to take them to court but it was all moot. The Indian healthcare system is so screwed up that malpractice is so common, that one is unable to see when there is a severe case from all the others. I name these two doctors because I hope that God will one day serve them the punishment they deserve. Pneumonia is fatal, yes, but there is no excuse for sending an old woman with half a lung on a five to ten hour journey to a better hospital, without telling our family. It especially wasn’t alright when they did not let us move her earlier on, when they claimed they could help her but only ended up killing her.

 

I wouldn’t return to India for another Four years and within that time, my fatherless cousins would also lose their mother, Sheli Mami, to anemia. They were orphans, and my Papu Mama and Vinita Mami would move back into Bal Mandir and adopt them as their own kids. Their only daughter, Anthara would become their older sister, and eventually the house would once more be a home.

 

Years later and I am eighteen, my brother is nine, Raji Bhaiya is twenty-nine, and was married in February, Bitto Didi is about twenty six and is pregnant with her first child, Anu Didi is twenty four and working in Delhi, Roli and her twin Moli are twenty and are finishing up their last year in university, Nanhi is nineteen just starting her college career, and Guddu is eighteen almost ready to start his own adventure. We finally thought things were coming together, with Bhaiya married, Bitto Didi pregnant, Anu Didi with her job, Roli and Moli about to graduate, Nanhi starting her second year in college, and me and Gudhu entering college. We were and still are in stressful periods of our lives, and despite the distance, we still have an idea who is doing what and where.

 

No one expected it, that the downfall of our ancestral home would come so quick. I, at least, had believed that one of the four cousins living there would inherit the house, and would raise their kids there, and I would continue to visit and show my own kids where their Great Grandparents started their marriage, and where their grandparents grew up, and where their aunts and uncles, and parents had slept, and played, and loved one another. Currently those future hopes and dreams are gone, and I don’t think they will ever play out, because the one person that was keeping that House as a Home is gone. On June 23rd, 2016 my mother’s eldest brother, my uncle, the adoptive father of my four cousins: Akshara, Akshaya, Abhaya, and Akshat, and father to my cousin Anthara past away from a 3 day heart attack. Like all the other deaths in our family his also could have been avoidable.

 

Without my Mamaji, my cousins have lost yet another person who they saw as their father. Without him, my Nanaji has no one to truly look after him in Bal Mandir. Without him, there is no one to make us feel like we are at home when we visit Gwalior.

 

I didn’t know my Mamaji as well as I would have liked. I know of the stories of my mother and her siblings and how they would all hangout after school with their friends in Bal Mandir, they would eat snacks, do homework, clean the house, and watch TV until their entire vision turned yellow. But I also knew him as an intellectual. This past summer of 2015 I sat in a car with him, my mother, my brother, and my cousins Akshara and Abhaya. He had come to pick us up at the airport in Delhi, and drove us to Gwalior. During that journey he took us to see the Taj Mahal in Agra, showed us an apartment he stayed in Delhi, bought us fruits to eat, and also had long discussions with me and my mother about India’s history. He played the Tabla when he was younger, and still knew many of the taals and bhols as he grew older. He had done so many different jobs in his life, working in different factories, and opening his own factories. He could cook awesome Terhi, though it was a tad spicey, and he could joke around with his siblings like every other member of Bal Mandir. He was the only man I could ever really call Mamaji, or uncle, as my father has no brothers, and Bhinu mama died when I was so young. He worked his hardest to give my four cousins everything they needed in life, while also teaching them a lesson that my own mother has taught me. It’s something that I believe the entire Varma family has passed down through their generations. We Varmas never change who we are, we grow into better versions of our former selves.

 

I dedicate these five pages of my knowledge on my family history and ancestral homes to my Late Papu Mamaji, Deepak Varma, the man who kept our ancestral house a Home. I don’t know what will become of Bal Mandir, but without him and all the other members that we have lost in these past years the house no longer feels like a Home. It’s walls may still whisper the memories of happy times of shared laughter between siblings and friends, Thursday night phone calls, crazy cats, shelling of peas between cousins, dancing on the roof in the rain, tasty cooking in the kitchen, and shooting dogs with BB guns in the morning. But those walls also whisper of the arguments, and stresses of surviving in an expanding India, as well as the deaths of our loved ones.

 

Some day I hope to take my kids back to that home, maybe it will still be ours, but most likely not, but I hope to tell them the stories of that house, and what it’s walls could tell us if they spoke. I also hope to stay connected with my family there, but again that is still uncertain. My uncle was truly the one keep us all together and for that I will always remember and love him.

 

May you find eternal peace Papu Mama

Love your Niece,

Anni (Anila Priyadarshini Yoganathan)

It’s Not About Selfishness

Trigger warning: suicide

I’ve always broached the subject of suicide through glossier, sugar coated angles to try and ease in the harsh reality of what people face when going through a suicidal episode, but this time….I can’t do that.

The picture is from a book called Americanah (to all my IB friends who are reading this for class sorry for the spoiler), and the main character is reflecting upon her cousin’s failed suicide attempt and whether he had thought of her whole doing it or afterwards.

image

Many people say suicide is selfish, to take ones life and not think of how another feels is seen as selfish. But what about the people who say that someone should live for them? Just by simply asking if her cousin thought of her while trying to end his life I see as selfish, because in that exact moment everything else ceases to exist but that constant conflict of choosing life or death. Suicide isn’t about who is selfish but that’s what people think of, they think the person committing the act is selfish, not that they themselves are asking a person who is ill to survive is selfish.

I’m not promoting suicide in anyway but I think this idea that when someone is facing an episode should think of their loved ones is hard, it often makes them feel worse why? Because often time people going through a suicide episode believe that those in their life were better of without them, that they are truly alone in this world because they cannot feel the love and support of others.

It’s not about selfishness, it’s about breaking through to someone to save a life, showing them that they are not alone, that they are loved, that they can make it through a rough time. If anybody else thinks it is about selfishness then you yourself are selfish for not trying to comprehend the thoughts and emotions one faces when going through that moment, and truly unless you have been through it you can NEVER completely comprehend it, but trying means something.

The Desi, The Coconut, & The Indian

When Ms. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke of single stories I can’t help but think of the many stereotypes created about my people, some even created by one another. It’s a fundamental problem of humans to categorize each other, to try and understand someone, or even ourselves better.

 

Growing up, I always identified myself as 1/3 America, 1/3 Indian, 1/3 Sri Lankan. Obviously even back then I thought of identifying with a country’s culture meant more than the blood that ran through my veins. I wanted to share my heritage with my parents’ heritage, and the one I was experiencing within in the United States. It’s funny really, that a five year old can figure where she came from, and where she is without the labels and categories placed upon her by other people. A kids mind is so simple, never trying to over analyze, understand, or decipher subjects, which can often detract from the main purpose. A kid can look at something and draw their own conclusion from what is presented to them, not from their past experiences, prior knowledge, or anything else. It just is. And that’s why I can never really thing of myself as just America, just Indian, or just Sri Lankan. I am all three, and they each make me who I am in their own ways.

 

But there was always a term that even to this day confuses my 1/3 Indian side constantly. It is the term “Desi”. It loosely translates from Hindi to countryman or someone from the “Des”, or motherland (being India). The application of this word is always questionable, but what I have realized is that it mainly refers to people outside of India, people who come off the boat to a new country. When Ms. Adichie refers to the creation of a single story depicting a group of people a specific way I think that Americans took the chance to create a single story based off of Desis, people who came from India and had to figure out a way to assimilate to Western culture and values.

 

However, over time this label has been thrown around with different connotations, sometimes it refers to Indians that immigrate, other times it refers to first generation kids, often times it refers to the people that haven’t figured out how to assimilate to American culture, while still holding true to their own values and identity.

 

The latter definition is the one that I most understand since I hear the label thrown around so much towards people who refuse to adapt to their new lifestyle in America, they believe it means sacrificing their culture and religion when it doesn’t/. They don’t accept the American lifestyle at all, and will often say “These Americans….” And proceed to say a judgmental comment, despite them being in America for over fifteen years. This type of person also promotes competition between their kids in the American school system, wanting them to get into an Ivy League University, be Valedictorian, become President of all the clubs at school, and only focus on academics. Of course none of this is really bad, wanting your child to succeed is not a bad thing at all, but it’s the idea and requirement that all Indians kids have to do this that frustrates me.

 

For whatever reason, there is no in between when it comes to Desis and I think that is because today when people immigrate from India, they tend to join groups of other Indian immigrants that have already established. The stereotype that all Indians are nerds, or doctors, or lawyers, causes these immigrants to live up to such a high level. Of course, there could be worst stereotypes, but now you have a group of people that think the same way, wanting all their kids to be the best. Even more, they love to see how other children are doing compared to their own, they thrive off of the competitive atmosphere, especially when one child gets into one college, or has a higher SAT score than another. All parents have bragging rights, but what’s the deal with bragging about your child, and then asking another parent about their childs’ scores in order to elevate their own child. This can also be stated for the kids, who will compare GPAs, awards, and other acclimations that will possibly make them look better than someone else. They worry about everybody else, to make themselves look better.

 

I don’t really identify myself with this definition of Desi, but all the aunties, and uncles, and their children who I meet expect me to (I’m not related to any of these people). They ask “What do you want to be?”, “Where do you want to go to school?”, “What are your plans for life?”. I think I first got this question when I was in the eighth grade by someone. Like really? I haven’t even experience High School yet, and you want me to pick a career? Obviously the answers that were expected were: Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, or Accountant.

 

When talking about a single story, this is the single story Desis have: You can never succeed without following the pathway our country men faced in America, there is no other way to survive, or live. They see one part of the story where the only true form of living comfortably and successfully is to push their kids to never let go of the values they have instilled but also to succeed at everything they do. Failure isn’t an option.

 

I think that most people in class will discuss America’s view of a single story, but for me and my life I have only ever been placed into a box of stereotypes and expectations by my own people. It’s hurtful, limiting, and frustrating. You may ask me, “Why separate yourself from your own people? Why call them Desis when you clearly are also their fellow country man? Why distinguish yourself when you can unify?”

 

My answer is simple: I am not the same. If the connotation of Desi accepted: one who can desire to be something other than cliché jobs, one who isn’t overly ambitious or competitive, one who doesn’t sit in a room and compare herself to everyone else in terms of intelligence, then yes I would be a Desi. But I’m not, I can’t be.

 

I walked around, and still walk around, for the past four years crafting a way to state my desire to become an author. At first, people would try and talk me out of it, saying I wouldn’t make much money, I wouldn’t be happy, that it wasn’t realistic. My responding thoughts are: This is America, people immigrate here for more opportunities, it’s ridiculous to think that we shouldn’t take advantage of those opportunities if they are now made available. In order to avoid such scrutiny my family and I would come up with various ways to state my ambitions. This is possibly the best way: “I want to become an author, and I will major in creative writing in my undergrad, but I will do something such as Law as my graduate degree. I will be able to pursue something I love, while making money.”

 

It’s smart way to avoid the frightened look most people have on their face when I tell them about writing. It’s a smart plan, but honestly I’m not sure if I want to do law, I want to explore my options in college for a graduate degree, but I can’t say this to my fellow country men. For them I must have a ready answer that they believe will lead to my success.

 

I know I mentioned a Coconut in the title. This blog is getting long as it is, but coconuts aren’t as complex as Desis, not quite at least. Coconuts are people that are brown on the outside, and white on the inside. They have blatant disregard for their culture, and assimilate to the American, or western culture completely, forgetting where they or their parents came from, and how they contributes to their identity. An example of this would be a Indian Hindu who comes to America and eats meat (beef specifically) because everyone else does it and they want to be accepted. But they grew up learning that cows are sacred, and to kill one anywhere and eat it is an insult to God. Why? Because once a child can no longer last upon his or her mother’s milk, the cow is the one that provides the sustenance for the baby to survive.

 

However, this is not the only example of how far Indians can assimilate, some don’t hang out with other Indians, don’t make an effort to hold onto any piece of their roots, be it religion, festivals, food, etc. Most of the people that I have met that have had this problem are kids that cannot connect with their Desi parents who want them to do their absolute best. These kids grew up in America and just want to fit in, and they feel as though in order to do that they must completely reject the values and ideas their parents have enforced into them, and go the opposite way.

 

These Indians see only one story, that in order to fit in they have to reject their background and be like every other “American”, eating meat, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, stuff they never would have done back at home. Granted its understandable, if you live in a repressed house then all you want to do is break out, but that doesn’t mean lose every value you have ever been instilled with. The urge to assimilate is powerful, but don’t lose yourself along the way by doing so. Remember what you truly hold dear to you in morals and beliefs, and just live. Experience new things, make friends, but don’t sacrifice yourself for someone else’s views and ideas, that’s the fundamental problem.

 

 

This blog isn’t stating that all Indians who come to America and have kids here think one of these two ways. Heck, my family and I are the living proof that this is not the case. There are plenty of Indians that live here and are more open minded to exploring the United States’ opportunities, but never in my life have I heard these people identify with the term “Desi”. They will call the people that I have defined above, Desis, but not themselves. Why? Because they know that they are different from Desis. To these people, and myself we call ourselves Indians. In addition to this, we never completely assimilate to the American culture, or what is believed to be the American culture. We hold true to their values, and remember who they were in their own country. We adapt, but we don’t change ourselves for others.

 

We’re grouped as one to the rest of the world, but within us we have realized that we don’t think the same, we don’t share different versions of a story. Desis believe that the road to success is through competition, full academic concentration and specific jobs. Coconuts believe that in order to survive in this country you have to sacrifice all that you believe in to become one with the western culture. And then you have Indians, the people who are in-between, who want to be successful, happy, and adaptive. There are probably many more groups and divisions within my people, but these are the three that I have encountered and have had a direct impact with me. It sounds cruel to categorize people, but it honestly is how Indians view one another. We’re all different, sure, but there are specific ideologies that separate us. We’re driven apart by our single stories.

Bottled Drinks and Their Human Counterparts

I think there’s a lot to be said about not being able to find the motivation of certain actions committed by characters in novels. Not only does it provoke a sense of ambiguity within characterization, but it also causes the reader to pay more attention to what that character signifies, and what their actions signify.

 

I’m going to ATTEMPT to try and break down the characterization of Bigger Thomas, from the novel Native Son by Richard Wright.

 

Think of the drink aisle in the grocery store, except it’s divided into three parts. The middle part is scattered with 2 L Diet Coke Bottles. They are few, and are often hidden. The other bottles in that middle section are 2 L water bottles. The other two sections that surround this middle section are bottles 2 L Minute Made Pink Lemonade.

 

Can you see it?

 

Alright, now think of all of these as people in the setting of the novel, Chicago in the 1930s. The water bottles represent black people, who are restricted to living in the confines of the middle section, or black belt, of Chicago. These people wish they could have a chance, even crave it, but they accept the situation they are in. Water is pure, and moves despite adversaries in its path. The water in these bottles reflect the feelings that these people have. They wish things could change but they also want to keep moving on in life, they just want to survive the conditions they were thrown into.

 

Now the Minute Made Pink Lemonade Bottles represent the White people of Chicago. They are quite the opposite of water. This lemonade is filled with sugar, and artificial preservatives that really aren’t good for you at all. These people are quite ignorant not only of black people, but what their actions do to black people. They’re scared, and filled with guilt for the fact that they have segregated these people, and might actually possibly wrong about what they have done. However, they don’t do enough to change the problems in American society, that works against Black people. The pink sugary drink represents this fear, guilt, and ignorance that the white people experience.

 

Lastly, we come to the Diet Coke. There aren’t many. In fact, in the case of the novel, there is only one, and he is Bigger Thomas. Why a Diet Coke bottle, you may wonder? Well, because that’s the only picture I could find of a soda bottle exploding, which conveys my metaphor.

 

We all know soda is bad for you, mainly because it is sugary, and carbonated, and serves no purpose other than it tastes good. In this case, the drink inside the bottle represents Bigger’s thoughts and emotions. Bigger isn’t very expressive, when he is not angry or scared. In fact, he’s quiet and just wants to go through life and earn money. This is similar to the Water bottle he is surrounded by, but similar to the Lemonade bottles, Bigger faces ignorance not only of the world around him, but also of understanding White People. He hates them for how they oppress him, for how he doesn’t have a chance to go and achieve distant dreams, such as becoming a pilot. This bitterness is the carbonation in the soda. It’s fizzy, this is kinda similar to the tingling one receives when they drink minute made lemonade. The light fizziness in the lemonade is the anger and guilt that the white people in the novel face, but the fizz that Bigger experiences is on a larger scale. He’s scared, upset and disappointed.

 

Now you can say that all the other Black people must feel this way as well, and yeah sure, but you forget, water is pure. They may feel upset, and they may feel anger, but they do not stop to contemplate what life could be like had they not been born into the life they were given, at least in the novel they do not. Bigger does and his refusal to see White people as anything other than an enemy is the closing of the cap on his bottle. The cap signifies Bigger not being able to understanding anything other than what he believes. He isn’t expressive, so the sugary drink, his thoughts and emotions, stay within the bottle, him.

 

Anyone know what happens to a bottle of soda when you shake it, and then you uncap it….? Well for those of you who don’t… IT EXPLODES! What might cause the shaking in this large metaphor? Well, the shaking of the bottle is the oppression that the black people face, the fact that they are stuck in one part of the city, can only obtain a certain level of education, and on and one and on. There was a limit to just about everything that they could do, and that shook them to the core. However, while all the other black people are water bottles, and don’t explode when they are opened, Bigger is a carbonated drink, who is pressured by his own thoughts and emotions, and cannot let go of his anger for the people who oppress him and his people.

 

So he snaps. The thing about Bigger is that he is not representative of all black people, especially in this novel. Mentally and emotionally he just can’t seem to express himself, and like Mr. Max says in the novel, White people are ignorant, and feel guilt and scared for what they have done to Blacks, so they channel it through anger. Bigger is similar to this, he channels all his fear and oppression he faces from white people, through anger. I think that this was what the ending of the novel met, when Max tries to convince Bigger that he committed murder because he was oppressed, because he was shaken, but if you remember Bigger was closed off, he was different, he couldn’t let go how he felt. So when he tells Max that he killed for something, and he meant to do it, he likely did.

 

All these components of Bigger come together in the novel. It’s complex, and very difficult to understand, but I hope this metaphor broke it down somewhat.

The Plausibility of the Setting of The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale is another interesting Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian novel. In this book by Margaret Atwood, the setting is a combination of geographical and societal elements. In this Post America society, Gilead, as the main character Offred refers to it, Atwood hints that the society is set up in a town called Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

Now, this geographical region could easily be discarded as just another place, where this society was chosen to set up. However, this New England area was where the Puritans first began their new life in the new world, where they were free form religious persecution. The Puritans were a very religiously devout Christians, who followed the bible to the letter (of their choosing that is), and held grave superstitions against anyone who did not believe in their ways.

 

Similarly, Gilead is set up as a religious society where the only religion is Christianity, and serves to solve the problem of infertility. The group that leads the society are called The Eyes, who are led by a older Christian men, most of which who hold the title of Commander. These men were the ones that tore down American society as it was in place during the 1980s. During the 1980s, the topic of abortion was being debated across the country, as people began to question whether there was a true separation between church and state in the American government, and whether a woman was truly responsible for her own body. Atwood takes the religious extremist idea form this time period, and puts it in place as the laws of Gilead, where each woman has their own role that is assigned to them. They are either: a wife, a Martha (a servant), or a Handmaid. The Handmaids are the true representation of these extreme religious ideas, as they are the women that birth the children. They are covered from head to toe, and are required to birth babies, to keep the society going. Abortion is illegal in this society, and so is the concept of men being barren. Outside this area however, Offred discusses how there is a war raging on between rival factions of Christianity. This is another interesting idea, as religious wars have been going on since the beginning of religion.

 

So, when studying this society, many people question whether this is actually a possible outcome for a Post American society. Looking back at when this novel was published in the 1980s, it is slightly possible that extremist ideas of religion, and women could take root within a new society. It’s also even possible for a religious extremist group of people to take over a nation, and completely convert it into a radically secular society. There have been examples of this throughout history, more recently, the take over of the Taliban in Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan. However, I think Atwood for got to take in America’s standing within the world. She solely focuses on the internal aspects of American society, and not the international view of it. Today, and in the 1980s, there are a lot of countries, and organizations (legal and illegal), that depend upon American society remaining the way it is and was. IF America were to have a religious apocalypse, more likely than not, many organizations, and other countries would get involved to stabilize America, or even try and take over it.

 

It’s not exactly probable that a religiously extremist group, be it part of the government or an independent organization, would simply murder every single member of the government and simply assume power. First off, that’s a lot of people to kill, and in a society that’s already depleting in numbers due to infertility, the motive for killing that many people doesn’t quite seem rational. Second, what country in the world during the late 1900s, wouldn’t try and involve themselves in America’s problems. After WWII, American had become a world power, an international police. The entire world had something invested in America policing other countries, or staying out of other countries.

 

Looking at the setting for this novel, it’s pretty clear that Atwood had interesting and partly plausible ideas of religious extremism taking root within American society, and influencing governmental decisions and laws. However, Atwood fails to discuss the influences of other countries and organizations that depend upon American society remaining the way it was during the 1980s. It’s just not entirely plausible that every country in the world would simply sit back and watch as America becomes a war zone for rival factions Christianity, and holds a society where the only objective is procreation, and controlling of women. There are too many economic, and political factors that are just not considered.

Da Rules (If only for Literature Blogs) on How To Blog

There are always going to be social and literary protocols when it comes to pieces of writing. Of course, when dealing with a blog there is a whole other aspect that affects how one should write, and that is the internet. Here are some “dos” and “don’ts” when it comes to blogging. Of course, this mainly applies to Literature blogs however, I think it’s safe to say that posting just anything written on the internet is asking for some trouble.

Do:
1. Proper grammar: blogging is like online journaling, and though some people write for themselves, it is always a good idea to make sure that you use good grammar. It makes it easy on readers, and doesn’t discredit what you are saying. Using slang is okay, it provides more incite into who you are as a person, but do not get carried away as it can detract from the information you are presenting. Even though blogging is informal, how well you use grammar affects how people view you as a blogger.

2. Analysis: When discussing a major topic, provide some analysis. Though you may be trying to present the facts, add some analysis to provide further information and interpretation into a subject. It does not have to be extremely indebt but it should be about a paragraph or a few sentences describing your thoughts about the facts and what they mean.

3. Some Background Information: This can be part of both what not to do and what to do. Background information or plot summary, when referring to literary works, can be useful to readers. It provides them with an understanding on what you are discussing and possibly analyzing. It also shows your knowledge on a literary work or subject and how passionate you may be. This can actually attract readers, if you are similarly passionate about certain subjects. This should be around a paragraph or simply a few sentences.

4. Organization: If you are discussing a topic, it’s really frustrating as a reader to completely jump from one topic to the next. Be structured, be organized and make a point to what you are saying. This may be a journal of a sorts, but not having a point in any piece of writing is well…pointless, for you and the reader.

Don’t:

1. Extensive Background information: Having too much background information or plot summary detracts from what you are discussing and analyzing. If it doesn’t help your argument in analysis, then don’t add it. If it does, make sure to summarize it concisely, but informally. Remember, passion does help make a statement, but being too passionate can come off as a bit creepy.

2. Profanity: Informal writing can often reflect how we speak, and many of us use profanity on a daily basis. However, the use of profanity can also detract from an argument or topic. There is no need to casually drop swear words every few sentences, especially if they are unnecessary. It doesn’t help what you are trying to say, even if it is a form of expression. Remember you still have an audience to consider, though this is an informal piece of writing.

What Should Be Graded By Mr. Beddingfield:

  1. Effort
  2. Creativity
  3. Some Analysis
  4. Organization