What I’m reading #3

Book: One & A Half Wife
Author: Meghna Pant

“It was as if immigrants transported the soul of their culture to the skeleton of another culture, and then plastered the former so it couldn’t come in contact with the host culture.”


There was something else I identified with, and laughed at a bit. There’s a line in this book where the protagonist, newly arrived in the USA, addresses her teacher by prefixing “Mrs” to her last name. The teacher then tells Amara (the main character) she can call her by her first name, and Amara is shocked.

We (I guess I mean desis) have always been taught to give due deference to our teachers by calling them Ms XYZ, Mrs ABC and so on. The thought of using first names of someone older than we are, and in a position of respect, does not even come to mind. Such a cultural difference, isn’t it? When I was studying for my Bachelors degree, the teachers were happy with the usual Mr and Mrs method (I was based in Dubai), but when I went for my Masters in the UK, I had to get used to the idea of referring to my lecturers by their first name. Since I was 23 though, I felt less guilty than I would have 10 years younger!

Even when it comes to friends’ parents, for example: my instinct would be to automatically call then “Uncle” or “Aunty”. But in Western culture, those titles are only reserved for family and they would be, to say it casually, weirded out, if we started doing that. I suppose having a system like “Chaacha”, “Fui”, “Mama” and so on denoting each uncle’s and aunt’s relation to us make “uncle” and “aunty” useless to us in a familial setting, making it a way for us to show respect to non-relations. Ah, culture. I once met a friend’s parents and faced with the prospect of calling them by their first names or referring to them as Mrs XYZ and Mr XYZ… I chose neither. I honestly felt I was being disrespectful whatever method I chose, so I stuck with making sure I had eye contact with either the mother or father before talking to them! I do realise there is no way they would think I was being disrespectful but I guess the (desi) concepts of what is respectful and what is not were deeply ingrained in my mind.

Adjusting to “desi” mode and “international” mode is a bit of a struggle for some. Some just get swept away in refusing to change with the world, while some go all the way and forget where they’re from.

Anyway, I’m enjoying this book because of the ability to identify with all the little things. Will keep updating as I read!


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