The Generation of Sacrifice

About a year ago, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the findings of their study on the issues of social mobility. One of their central findings for India showed that it takes about 7 generations for a low income family to move to a median income family. Over the past few days, this got me thinking about my own state and how my family came to be the way we are now.

1-520generations

I initially thought any upwards social mobility would be a linear progression. But in my family’s case, there was an exponential jump in my parent’s generation. The question, of course, was why and how? What would explain that sudden jump in a given generation?

Let me propose my hypothesis which I know for a fact rings true in my own case. My hypothesis is that most generations of a given low income family typically lead their lives without much forethought on the future living conditions of their children or grandchildren (thus leading to at most linear progression). Most of them lived hand to mouth and their only forethought probably went as far as planning for groceries for the following week. So this observation is in no way an indictment on their choices. But then, there comes one generation where the family members – typically the husband and the wife – break the cycle. They don’t break the cycle of poverty by working hard and moving up the ladder themselves. Instead, they break the cycle by doing that one thing that perhaps the previous generations did not: Work hard, but completely sacrifice every aspect of their own lives for the future lives of their children and grandchildren.

And that is what my grandparents did. My maternal grandparents practically dedicated their entire adult lives to ensure that their children were equipped with everything to become successful when they became adults. My grandfather also practically raised all his younger siblings in the same manner after his father passed away very early on. But perhaps the biggest credit to be given to my grandparents lies in the way they brought up their 3 daughters. Everything from emphasizing education, helping them get jobs, and getting them married to the right families – my grandfather made all the right choices to ensure his daughters would later on lead a good life.

Simply put, he had a very clear guiding principle: Do nothing for himself, but do everything it takes to ensure his future generations lived comfortably.

In all their lives, I do not remember my grandparents doing anything for themselves. I remember that after the longest time, my grandfather finally bought an Onida color TV to much fanfare in the then joint family (sometime in the mid 90’s). Then came the telephone. They didn’t even have a refrigerator or a washing machine till after they retired – something that was practically forced on them by my mom and her sisters. Even now I am unable to think of a single comfort – let alone luxury – that they ever procured for themselves. Even trips to Tirupathi, Dharmasthala and Nanjangudu were more of entire family affairs rather than personal pilgrimages. (I wonder what he prayed for there…)

As a grandchild, I can easily attest to his complete generosity towards us. So many things – from my longest serving cricket bat, to random sci-fi books I decided I wanted to read, to not even blinking an eye before agreeing to guarantee my funds for doing my Masters in the USA – were a direct result of his desire to see his grand kids do well. My cousins would easily attest to that as well. Come to think of it, even the late family dog got whatever it needed!

Perhaps, from my grandfather’s perspective, we were all his achievements. Even though he may never have expressed it out loud, I know he felt proud of us all. In the end, we – my mom and her siblings, my cousins, my grandfather’s younger siblings and their children – are all certainly the beneficiaries of the sacrifice that my grandparents did. The absolute least we can do is to first recognize and acknowledge that fact. God knows my grandfather had his own long list of quirks and unpredictable tempers. So while we may have seen how his quirks and tempers manifested, we will never know all the problems he solved and the sacrifices he made behind the scenes.

He passed away last week after a long, long battle with, well, old age. His passing was expected so I know he is at peace now with my grandmother. As time goes on, we will all accept his passing and move on in our lives. But every time we celebrate our own achievements, we will never forget that a big part of that celebration will always be attributed to my grandparents and their generation of sacrifice.

Our Small, Lean Indian Wedding (Part 3): Setting a Precedent

This is the third and final part describing our wedding in India in December 2018. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

My family is pretty big. OK I am not talking in the thousands. But when we were trying to come up with a guest list for our original ‘full fledged’ wedding, my parents easily came up with at least 350-400 guests to invite – and it could have easily been more! (And I am not even including Devanshi’s family here). In the coming months, some of these would-have-been guests will meet or talk to my parents and convey their wishes, and no doubt some of them will make some kind of a remark about not being invited for my wedding.  To be fair, most of them are people whom my parents or myself rarely meet, if at all. And so it really doesn’t matter that much.

But what did matter to us to an extent was what the people who had attended the wedding thought about it. My dad may well be on his way to becoming an ‘elder person’ in the family himself, but he still valued his own elders’ opinions and continues to seek their advice. So while he was understandably apprehensive initially about how this might all be perceived, he was not at all ready for what actually transpired in this regard. While we were expecting some sort of suggestions (perhaps bordering on criticism) from family and friends about how the wedding could have been done, what we actually got was quite the opposite!

We had our own family and friends pleasantly surprise us by complimenting us for the simple wedding and for eschewing all the excesses. One Uncle of mine who had his own daughter’s wedding coming up soon was left wondering if such simple weddings were even possible at all! I had friends tell me how they literally suffered through their own weddings having to stand hungry for hours on end while the steady (and seemingly unending) stream of guests came to get their pictures taken with the couple. But most of all, what blew my mind was when the elders in the family unanimously praised the simplicity of the wedding! But they didn’t stop there. They went one step ahead and said:

I am glad that someone in our family finally took the bold step of conducting a simple wedding like this. I hope more people will now look at this and do similar weddings in the future!

Knowing that these were words coming from what we would consider as the generally very conservative generation, I was really very very pleased. And my dad was definitely overjoyed to hear that as well!

As much as I was very happy with the way things went, there were inevitably some things that I wish circumstances had allowed. The foremost is the absence of family from Devanshi’s side apart from her parents. Considering this was done at my place in Bangalore, it was always going to be difficult for her family in Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Baroda to make the trip here at such short notice. I certainly wish her brother could have made it but that was not to be either. So a lot of credit goes to my wife and her family for understanding this and still go through the wedding in great spirits.

Looking back now, when we planned for this small wedding, we had certainly not thought about having our wedding be some kind of an example or precedent for others to hold similar weddings eschewing the excesses. But now I hope it does act in some capacity to let people know that this is still very much a feasible way to conduct a wedding. I am acutely aware of all the societal pressures and expectations that come with conducting a wedding in the family – invite hundreds (if not thousands) of guests, a massive buffet, sharing a professionally done wedding video online, grand setting, fancy invitation cards, etc. Make no mistake!  We had those pressures and expectations as well. But we took a leap of faith and courage and went ahead with a very simple wedding. And not only did it go just fine, we also received compliments for doing just that.

Yes there will always be families who have vast networks – huge families, business contacts, government officials and clients that need to be invited and pleased. But what people need to realize now is that the requirements that such families face are not necessarily true of most middle class and upper middle class families. I am not asking everyone to hold their weddings at their homes with a 50 person limit for the guests. All I am asking is for families to exercise basic fiscal restraint and avoid excesses – especially if they are stretching beyond their means to conduct the wedding. I am also asking them to understand that it is OK to not have a lavish wedding.

And as counter-intuitive as it may sound, that is a progressive idea right there for society to take up.

I have seen people spend money they don’t have on their child’s wedding, often making loans. Some justify it quoting the “Once in a lifetime event, make it big” idea but I personally do not buy into that. Just because something is happening only once in your life doesn’t justify making large amounts of loans that could have otherwise been used for the couple to start their new lives together. If a family can genuinely afford it, then I cannot fault them for holding a wedding within their means – however grand it may be (think Ambani). But I can never comprehend people stretching well beyond their means to have a grand wedding simply because of their own perception of what is acceptable or necessary.

So in the end, what I realized was that most of these pressures and expectations stem not from other people in the society, but mostly from within ourselves. Some of these pressures and expectations come from our own perception of what we feel is necessary to maintain our “image” in the society, some comes from the “Keeping up with the Joneses” attitude, and some comes from the lack of precedents and examples – thereby making us believe that there is simply no other way to conduct a wedding!

Ultimately, when it comes to people’s perception of what is acceptable or necessary for a wedding, Devanshi and I cannot address the issues of people wanting to ‘maintain their image’ or their “Keeping up with the Jones’s” attitude. But we have certainly tried to contribute to addressing the lack of examples by providing one of our own and hopefully setting a precedent for other weddings in the future.

dsc00766

Our Small, Lean Indian Wedding (Part 2): Planning and Wedding Day

This is the Second of Three parts describing our wedding in India last month. Read Part 1 here and Part 3 here

The planning had to start with a complete acceptance by everyone involved regarding the small scale of our wedding. And this is where I was so happy to see all of us come together to plan the wedding – suggest ideas and make compromises. Turns out, it is much much easier to get everyone’s approval for the details in a small scale wedding than in a full fledged wedding! Who would have thought!!???!? Yes we had a few instances of disagreements that required negotiation on my part but in the end all things were agreed upon.

Then we had to figure out the venue – which actually ended up being the easiest of all decisions. We simply decided to have my wedding at my home!

So what about the guest list? Who to invite, who can we skip? This was after all the biggest sticking point between my parents and I in all previous discussions. My parents inevitably wanted to invite people they knew but whom I had never met and probably never would, and I was dead against it. The cliched thinking of “How can we not invite X when we have invited Y?” or “X invited us to their son’s wedding so we have to invite them to ours” was in full play. But we found a way out without having to actually make any compromise as such. Our home could accommodate about 45-55 people at most, so our guest list had to be planned accordingly. As it turned out, my parents have been doing a small ceremony every year for the past 12 years at my home where they invite about 40 of their close relatives and friends. So they pretty much took that list, added a dozen more and we had our guest list at about 55!

But what about the ceremony? How elaborate would it be? That was the biggest sticking point with my wife. Overly long and admittedly redundant ceremonies were her (and to an extent my own) complaints from our first conversations about the wedding. But then who comes to our rescue other than our own Purohit – the priest in charge of the ceremony itself?!?? He was more than happy to conduct the wedding ceremony and be done with all of it in less than half an hour! My parents (especially my dad) and I have some strong opinions against practices like the ‘Kashi Yatra’ and ‘Vara puja’ – the former redundant, and the latter just plain inappropriate (and should probably be made illegal) – and we were definitely going to avoid that. In fact, of all the different parts of the Kannada wedding ceremony, we only planned to perform the Mantapa puja, Mangal Sutra tying and gruhapravesha. (The kanya daana and nischithartha parts were performed previously while we took our vows in Des Moines). Our Purohit was more than happy to facilitate this simple wedding!

img_4643

Moving on to an equally important facet of the wedding – the food! Of course we gotta talk about the food! We had arranged for one full fledged meal for the afternoon of the wedding with the usual gamut of wedding dishes – Savige Paaysa, Puliyogare, kosambri, Usali, beans palya, aloo palya, Kootu, Majjige huli, Pineapple gojju, rice, rasam, aloo bonda, mysore pak and Chiroti. (I had specifically requested that the chirotis be smaller in size but the cook provided normal big sized chirotis. When asked about it, he candidly remarked “Sir our cooks cannot comprehend the idea of a small chiroti!”) We had also arranged for breakfast for about half the guests (Idli, chutney, upma, coffee, tea). And that was all we arranged for the food! End of story!

Wedding gifts was one aspect that I did not interfere even slightly because I knew it meant a lot to both our parents. Gifting nice silk sarees to all the women in both our families was something that they took a lot of satisfaction in and I was in no way going to cast a blot on that experience – in spite of the costs involved. This was one thing I was more than happy to step back from considering all the compromises they did for the wedding.

When it came to our wedding attire, I wore a silk dhoti and shalya that belonged to my dad for the actual ceremony, after which I changed into a silk Kurta and a Koti – both gifted to me by my in-laws. Devanshi wore a silk saree with some basic jewellery for the ceremony  and a nice flowing lehenga after that. I was very happy we kept the cost of our clothes to a minimum considering the circumstances.

We never printed any invitation cards and simply called everyone to invite them. Nobody seemed to complain and everyone showed up! So I guess it was fine??!!?

And that was all the planning we did for the wedding!

img_20181213_202418

The evening before the wedding, my mother surprised us all with a very cute wedding cake that she had ordered (and no one knew about). I had all my aunts, uncles and cousins and we spontaneously decided to play music and dance together. So for the first time, I saw my parents, aunts and uncles dance. Come to think of it, it was the first time they all saw me dance since I was probably a kid. And we all had a great great time dancing to old 90’s songs, gharba songs and even a song (“Masthu Masthu Hudugi Banthu”) from the movie Upendra! This has to be put in perspective because nothing like this happens in typical South Indian weddings. As ridiculous as it may sound, we were actually breaking new ground in a South Indian wedding with the whole dancing and singing. It definitely helped that my wife is from a state where they definitely know how to have fun at a wedding! But overall, even though the dancing was a spontaneous activity, we all enjoyed it and I was very grateful for my mother to have planned anything at all for that evening.

dsc00680

img_4867

On the day of the wedding, things couldn’t have gone smoother and easier. Both our parents were up at 630 or so and they performed the Sankalpa around 8 AM. Devanshi and I got up around 730 and were seated at the ceremony around 930 AM. Most of the guests had arrived by then and some had even had their breakfast. The purohit performed the ceremony for about half an hour – a rather simplistic ceremony. At the right muhurtham, I tied the mangal sutra knot, everyone showered their blessings with the akshathe and we were pretty much done by 1015 AM! Devanshi and I sought the blessings of our parents and all the elders in the family, and they in turn blessed us and gave us gifts. We then did the gruha pravesha with her knocking over a glass of rice and entering my house (again) – this time as my wife and as a daughter of the house. Everyone had their lunch between 1 and 230 PM and were pretty much gone by 3. Then we all went to visit my grandfather to seek his blessings. We rounded off our wedding day with a visit to the nearby temple – the first time as a married couple.

img_4938 (1)

The whole wedding ended up being completely stress free and without any issues. Though I was personally very happy with the small scale of the wedding, I was very curious to know what all the guests thought. In this day and age where weddings are getting bigger and bigger, here we were having our wedding at our home with about 50 guests. Approval from the elders in my extended family is something my father has always valued and he was understandably hesitant while we planned the wedding at my home.  After all, this had never been done in our extended families and possibly among all our friend circles. Would people opine that we should have had a full fledged wedding as a matter of general principle? Or would they accept this for what it was and just move on to the next big wedding?

 

Our Small, Lean Indian Wedding (Part 1): The Long Wait

This is the First of Three Parts describing our wedding in India last month. Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here. 

Devanshi and I finally had our traditional wedding in Bangalore last month. This came more than 2 years after our registered wedding in Des Moines, IA and after having moved out of the United States to Canada (more on that in a separate post). Predictably, our traditional wedding had been in the works soon after we got married in the USA. There were a few false starts and disbanded plans – largely due to my work travels and constraints arising from our immigration status. But things (mostly) fell into place for a wedding ceremony during our visit here and we got it done last week.

But ever since plans for our traditional wedding (henceforth just referred to as wedding) began to be formulated (from back in 2016), there were always points of disagreement between Devanshi and myself, my parents and myself, and my family and her family. The fact that we both were from different states (she from Gujarat and I from Karnataka) and having different wedding customs certainly contributed to the difficulty in planning the wedding. But whatever our disagreements, we all had one common objective – to have a wedding without any excesses.

It started off as a plan to have about 250-300 guests at a reasonably sized venue (we were looking at Ganjam Mantapa in Basavanagudi) over the course of one day – with the ceremony in the morning and reception in the evening. The devil, of course, was in the details, and we soon began to have our differences. Do we hire a professional photographer? What about the flower decoration? What’s on the menu? Who to invite? Needless to say, we were disagreeing on what each of us considered to be ‘excess’. Spending lots of money on a wedding photographer was excessive for me, while inviting guests we would likely never see again in our lives was an excess for her. There were many more arguments and disagreements with each of us wanting something that the others did not necessarily agree with. I understand this is all part of anyone’s wedding preparation, but it was still not a pleasant experience. Ultimately, due to all these small additions from each of us, the total cost of the wedding began to balloon out of control and we were all dissatisfied for different reasons.

I was probably in a fantasy land when I initially believed we could have a wedding as described above for less than 5 lakh Indian Rupees (about $7,000). When I eventually crunched the numbers, it became painfully obvious that that number was woefully inadequate and that it was going to cost at least 2-3 times as much (emphasis on ‘at least’). Attempts to introduce cost cutting measures were only met with more arguments and unpleasant interactions. Even though I was repeatedly told by my parents to “not worry about the expenses”, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable and hesitant to proceed with spending all that money for my wedding. In the end, I was tempted to simply give up and let my parents have their way – after all I have heard most brides and grooms end up doing exactly that. But in an unexpected intervention of circumstances, our process of immigration to Canada practically put a veto on any wedding plans till we had actually moved there. (I will not go into details, but suffice to say that we needed to stay put in the US and save our money till we finished our move).

Yes it was a little painful for all of us – especially for my parents who had already put in a lot of effort and were very excited about the whole thing. After all, I am the only child and they had been waiting for this for a long time. But these circumstances were beyond our control and we called off the wedding.

Fast forward to November 2018 when Devanshi and I have moved to Toronto and I am visiting India after 4 years towards the end of the month. Talks of our wedding inevitably resurfaces as this provides us all with one more chance to complete the ceremony. But with less than a month of notice, there was clearly going to have to be a big change in the planning of the wedding. My parents were understandably hesitant to drastically reduce the scale of our wedding – especially considering it had never been done before with anyone in our families. In the case of such a scenario, they were also not sure who to invite and who to not invite. Add to this their general desire to have a reasonably sized wedding for their only son, and it was going to take a leap of faith and courage from all of us to actually proceed with something like that.

On Being Married

It has been a little more than a year and a half since I met my wife, and a little more than a year since we got married. All this time, I have been constantly reminded by the wife of the fact that I have not made any mention of her in my blog – direct or implied. And more importantly, how that needs to change. When I asked myself why I hadn’t written anything about her, I realized that I was really waiting for some kind of a narrative to take form in our relationship – a narrative that I could then put in words and provide a context for. And I believe that I do have such a narrative right now, and so here is what I have to say on finding the right person, my decision to get married, and what I found on the other side of the decision.

I met Devanshi in March/April of 2016 when my general state of being was largely captured in this post I wrote back then. We met on a dating app and started chatting first. It was in those first days of chatting that we found out that we were both at the same Steven Wilson concert in Chicago just a few days before. To me, there could not have been a better way we could have been introduced to each other. Steven Wilson is one of the people I admire a lot – not just his music, but also his general thoughts on life and society. Realizing that this girl I had just met shares some (if not all) of my passion for his work and message meant a lot to me.

I wish I could say that our time together from that point onwards till we got married – about 4-5 months later – was just a great honeymoon period (as in any relationship). We did have our fun, make no mistake. There were more music festivals/concerts that we went to, got to know each other’s friends and even happily revealed to our parents that we were dating. But through all of that, her efforts to finish her graduate studies loomed large over most of the time we spent. There was a lot of uncertainty and many sleepless nights – for both of us – during the 2-3 months she was trying to finish her graduate studies.

And THAT pretty much sealed our relationship. For her, I proved to be a reliable and supportive friend who happily helped her with everything I had through some of her toughest times; and for me she proved to be the smart, tough and mentally strong person I had always sought out in a partner. There were times when I thought I would have just given up if I was in her position, only to find her continue to work and find a way to the finish line. Strength of character is a quality I have always admired and after she successfully defended her project, I realized that I had already made the decision in my head about where this relationship was going.

Within a few weeks, we were getting married at the neighborhood coffee shop Smokey Row with a few friends (and family through Skype) and a wedding officiant administering our vows. We then had a small party at the Art gallery of the Social Club to celebrate the wedding.

I am trying to come up with an analogy for this particular point in my life. The only thing that I am reminded of is the time in my life when I had just gained an admission to NITK for my undergraduate studies. This was right after me spending considerable time and effort preparing for the entrance examination, following which I gained admission to the college. In both situations – my wedding and gaining admission to the college – I experienced a feeling of having arrived somewhere. But, more importantly, I also had this stronger realization that the real deal lay just ahead of me. Yes I could always take satisfaction in having arrived at a place I valued, but what I did with my life and situation after that was what mattered from that point on.

We continued to go to as many concerts and music festivals as possible, with some miscellaneous travel sprinkled in between as well. We explored our mutual passion for cooking and board games along with some friends who moved in to our neighborhood. We spent 2 months in Manhattan, taking in a lot of what it had to offer and exploring the city and nearby places. But in trying to find the narrative for my married life, I realized that there just wasn’t a long running aspect that I could point out and say this has what defined my marriage life.

And the primary reason for that was us never getting the chance to stay together for an extended period of time. She visiting India and me having to go out of town for work every now and then has led us to never being able to spend extended periods of time with each other. Over the past 1 year, we have been together for just about half the time, and only for 1-2 months at a stretch. Though we have tried to make the most of our time together, what this has meant is that we have just not been able to setup a routine that could have otherwise defined our married lives. It is hard to quantify what we have missed out due to these constant interruptions to our continued understanding of and bonding with each other. And it may well be that we may never know until we actually begin to spend extended periods of time together.

But if I were to be pressed for one underlying narrative for our time together since our wedding, I would have to point to my wife’s effort to find a job following her graduation. It has been a very arduous process for both of us at so many different levels and over an extended period of time. The consequences of her not having a job manifested itself in many different aspects of our married lives that neither of us could have foreseen. We were putting our efforts to the best of our abilities to find a job, while also dealing with constraints that were beyond our control. Frustration, uncertainty, and a sense of despair took hold of our relationship at times in the process. But in the end, she did find a job – and found one in one of the unlikeliest places we had expected.

My wife started working last week at Garden City in Kansas. I helped her move there a week before, and she has now started her career there. It is a small town of about 30,000 people in SW Kansas and a good 9 hour drive from Des Moines. Interestingly, it is the most diverse city in all of Kansas – with a large Hispanic, Asian and African population!

So what does this mean for our path forward? Yes, for one, it definitely means that we will have to live apart while she pursues her career and I pursue mine. It also means that we have to wait a tad bit longer to discover what it is that we are potentially missing out on by not living together for extended periods of time. But to me, there are a few things that I am looking forward to with us living apart.

I have always believed in the value of people living by themselves for a few years after they start a job. The idea is that this would be the only time in their lives when they would have time, money and freedom to do whatever it is that they wanted (within reasonable constraints of course). I know I happily went through it for several years prior to meeting my wife. But I was always worried that my wife would never be able to get that opportunity – especially if she got a job and we lived together.

So as a silver lining, I am happy that Devanshi will get a chance to live by herself, forge her own routines, explore her own interests, and develop her own hobbies. As someone who did all that myself, I value that same experience in others – and especially in someone who is my wife. And so, in a way, I am looking forward to some things that living apart will bring us.

When I graduated from my Masters program and secured a job here in the US, I wrote an email to one of my Professors from undergrad letting him know about my progress. In that I had told him about how I went through some really tough and uncertain times and was able to get through all of that and secure a good paying job. He congratulated me on my degree and job, and he told me something that somehow put everything I had been through at that time into the right perspective. He said, “Life conducts the examination first, and then teaches a lesson.”

I have been thinking about what he said of late. My situation may not be perfectly analogous to what he said. But it does fit neatly into some form of a corollary. My wife and I went through the hard and uncertain times upfront in our marriage, and instead of it potentially weakening our bond, it has in fact strengthened our resolve to see these times through. So when we eventually do get to the point of living the married lifestyle that we have always wanted, our experience is going to be that much more rewarding. And so I firmly believe that if this is our examination, then we are going to reap some hefty rewards once it is done.

But all said and done, I do realize that this is just the beginning of our married lives, and that there will be many more chapters to look forward to. And rest assured, there will be many more posts here to capture it all.

*************************

I had promised my wife that I would write about her soon. And after she reads this post, I would be fairly certain that she will admonish me for revealing so much! I suppose this is also part of the examination!