No Legs Please - We are Indian!!

The seemingly mundane picture above is not really so! It was taken within the first few months of my arrival in the US. This picture along with others, few of which I am sharing here caused a big tizzy with my in-laws back home in New Delhi. See below for context...

India in the eighties believed in very traditional attire for the women as shown below. Generally women from genteel families wear such attire on a regular basis:

Here yours truly is with her close friend, Malini currently visiting US,in a silk tunic and pants attire (salwar-Kameez) with a scarf which is supposed be provide extra modesty. Modesty is key and skin exposure is very limited. Indian fabrics generally handwoven are of unbelievable beauty and rich colors...

Or

Here I am in a sari or six yards of material gracefully swathed around the figure which allows a nice waistline to be seen or hidden depending on the challenges to the figure with a brief peek at the cleavage depending on how you want the loose end of the sari to drape around you. Believe me, we Indian women can be very innovative depending on a number of factors. I have to say, we become very adept at walking very fast in this attire... It is considered rightfully so one of the most elegant attires in the world because one can do a lot with it, but that is not the point here.



Or at the most, they dressed like this:

Jeans were fine as long as they were not skintight. Indian girls back home were very creative in combining the Western attire with Indian jewelry like anklets so as not to lose their rich ethnic traditions in the process... The overall impact was quite feminine.

The above pictures of me in the traditional Indian attire indicate how my extremely conservative and orthodox former mother-in-law remembered me when I left India for the US. If she had her way, I would be just wearing my sari. My ex's family was a very traditional with a male-dominated set-up where my over-bearing mother-in-law ruled the homefront and her rule rather her command was you wore only a sari and that too with your head covered as a sign of respect for the elders at home. Of course, I never wore my jeans in my in-laws home. Are you kidding me!!!! Extremely stifled in my new home, I used to revert to my own identity with a vengeance when I came back to my parents' place while waiting for my visa to join my new husband in the US.

Anyway after I arrived in the US, I felt in my element in terms of being very comfortable in my own skin and completely adopted Western attire on a daily basis. It was not too much of a transition because I grew up in a family that was way ahead of the times in India, where high premium was paid to education and career regardless of whether you were a son or a daughter and there were no real taboos on attire etc. I grew up as a regular tomboy who competed with my six brothers on every level, intellectual or physical, the latter often to my dismay.

So in my characteristic enthusiasm, I started sending these pictures back home from US to show how "with it" I was - how well adapted. I had no clue at all in my naivete how I was agitating my mother-in-law by sending these pictures back home.
I think till this point, she was fine with my bundled look because no skin was showing...

But hell, you as a woman did NOT NOT show your legs once you were an adult or rather a teenager. Strangely displaying legs was a BIG NO NO! This picture shows me with my two brothers in California-I lost the one immediately next to me to leukemia last year. He was here in the US as a doctoral student at that time. This picture of me in shorts along with the first one at the top caused an uproar in Delhi. I on the other hand was thrilled to discover "LEGS" that were so unnaturally pale the first time I exposed them. Needless to say, it was a blissful feeling of freedom... Of course, my dear brothers probably egged me on to send on all those pictures-I was always the kid sister who was set up...


and you certainly did not show so much skin as I was doing so in my sun-dress while pregnant... First my LEGs, now my shoulders and no scarf for modesty-that was it!!!! I was doomed.


My in-laws certainly were not amused by my Americanization! I did love my red hat!

Years later, I still chuckle at the hysterical call I got from my normally gentle mother in the middle of the day which means it was very late at night in Delhi as Delhi is ten and a half hours ahead. Both my parents were very frazzled. Mother kept repeating rhetorically at this point as to what was I smoking or rather what had possessed me to keep sending these pictures to my mother-in-law of all the people. Mother was mad and very anxious that I was rocking the proverbial marital boat by scandalizing my mother-in-law who had ultimately gone beserk and called mom agitatedly telling her that her daughter was Americanized to the point of running around semi-naked- Ok naked-splendour is what she proclaimed! Mother was being tactful. And wisely so, I may add.

Mom of course didn't buy it and knew that the woman was exaggerating but those were the days of a new marriage and Indian mothers would always tell their daughters to give in for the sake of peace at home. Mother also knew that her independent in spirit daughter was very analytical, not to mention very rebellious, who would defiantly send the MIL more pictures just to make a point... And you know what I almost sent her the one of me in my swim-suit but refrained only because that might have caused mom-in-law to go apoplectic and cause more drama back home as she lived too close to my family home...

Of course at the end of the day, my ex was a product of that environment. As they say, coming events cast their shadow... I still marvel at how two people from the same culture can be worlds apart due to different values and upbringing...

Anyway it has all changed dramatically back home but it was totally a different world at the time I left. Now Indian women are very westernized, especially the younger generation... Just check Bollywood, but take that too with a grain, rather a fist, of salt as that film world reality can be exaggerated to the point of being unreal...

Enough said, let us just head over to Candid Carrie's Friday Foto Fiesta for some fun...

Comments

Malini said…
hey raksha, we look prettier in our indian outfits.Believe me even today when i see the young adults walking around the popular markets in Delhi dressed in the strappy affairs I feel like covering them up..the belief being not one of modesty but of soft feminity. Today's mothers in law have less option and are often incompetition withe daughter in law.3 cheers
Aleta said…
I am an American, born and raised in the south (New Orleans), just to say where my perspective is coming from.

Personally, I think the Indian outfits are beautiful. I'm always amazed by the colors and the soft flow of the fabric.

That said, if anyone told me I had to dress in a specific way, I would rebel.

This is my first time to your blog and I enjoyed your post, from the history of your background to your sense of humor!
Susie said…
Wow!! I didn't realize that something as tame as a maternity sundress or shorts would cause such an uproar. Thanks for sharing that!
wendy said…
What a fascinating post! I learned so much...thank you! :)
Carey Sue said…
Again, you are so eloquent! I too love the indian outfits!

I would of never guessed that you were rebellious I love it!

Is it still as strict at your former MIL's?

Just wondering if she's lightened up some!

Thanks for those great pictures of your great legs!!
Nik said…
You are BEAUTIFUL no matter how you dress. Thanks so much for explaining some of the little details of Indian culture.
Bragger said…
I love your blog, and I especially love the little kernels of your culture that you share. Keep it up! :)
cyclnigred said…
I have always enjoyed seeing Indian women in their colorful garb. I have often wondered how they handle all that draping material.
Ronda's Rants said…
So interesting...I am a Florida girl who was raised in shorts and bathing suits. My Hubby loved it...his Mother was a very conservative woman who thought I ran around half naked! I can only imagine how hard it was for you!
I do love the Indian dress though...beautiful! Are you hot or uncomfortable while wearing it?
Anonymous said…
Hey look pretty hot in those jeans! You crazy rebel!
BoufMom9 said…
Fantastic post and very educational.

I think your traditional outfits are just GORGEOUS and i honestly love the idea of modesty, esp in young ladies ;)

Happy FFF!
I think we Americans could learn alot about modesty. I dont think you should wear a berka, but I think way too much skin is showin this day and time!
Love your blog!
Teri said…
I just love the stories and photos that you share. I am learning so much each week. Thanks!
Candid Carrie said…
Ooooh - you crazy rebel! The pictures are just fabulous! I can only imagine how liberating it must feel to be free of all that fabric.

I will never retain all this information, please tell me that we are not going to have a test because I will not pass it.

Next week we want the cleavage shot ;)
Inger-Lis said…
I can sympathize with your statements on dress- I grew up in a very conservative religion that had definite views on what women should and should not wear. We didn't have to wear long dresses, but you always had to make sure you weren't showing too much skin. I always have had a weakness for tanktops. I love the air on my bare shoulders. Now I wear whatever I want, which usually consists of jeans and tanktop. I don't think its immodest, and I have always hated the the term 'feminine modesty.' However, I think if I ever sent a picture of me in that outfit, my mother-in-law would also have a fit. Whenever I see them, I make it a point to dress as modestly as possible so as not to rock the boat.
~~tonya~~ said…
Great pictures and story!! TFS
Anonymous said…
That cracks me up, that you could not show your legs. Your M-I-L must have gone balistic in the 60s and 70s at what she saw coming from England and the U.S. LOL Great pictures, btw. -DT
What an awesome post... I love everything to do with foreign culture...Such great pictures... I am off to snoop a little... : )
Tulsi said…
Thanks for stopping by!!! My main blog is www.thefamilyawaits.blogspot.com.
My mom had a doctor from India who said Tulsi was a revered plant and was usually planted at the beginning of a marriage. My cousin married a man from India but he has been here for 40 something years and knows nothing about the culture. His family there are devout. For the wedding open house, they dressed in the traditional Indian Wedding Clothing and then married in the US traditional. I love Tulsi Tea. I actually bought it because it is the only thing with my name spelled correctly. But I love it. My name isn't said like it is spelled. It is said Tulsa. Like the town in Oklahoma. (We lived in OK for a few months and it was fun with my name. I had more than one look. ) I would love to know if there is more to the Tulsi background. I'm also half American Indian so if someone asks me if I'm from India I say that I'm not India Indian, but American Indian. I LOVE the fabrics of India. My daughter dressed in the traditional dress at my cousin's open house. Some are to die for. Me? I'm a jeans kind of girl.
Debateur said…
I think that Sari's are very beautiful. I always wished I could wear one. I love the fabrics.
Sandi McBride said…
Pretty as you are, the Indian attire is just to beautiful for words...even Western women look good in them...I'm thinking of Diana, Princess of Wales (who would have looked good in a towsack...burlap). I really enjoyed this post...
Sandi
lmerie said…
Great post! I have a friend originally from India. We were invited to her sister's wedding, here (in South Georgia). The wedding attire was stunning! the Sari's were out of this world!

Other than that special occassion- they are dressed like any other american :)
Jay said…
Looks like you are hip from the East to the West :-). I think these days the West is becoming Easternized too, everybody digs Indian and Eastern fashion.
Moannie said…
My, how pretty you look. I am returning the compliment you made to me by visiting my site and leaving a comment. when we lived in a treplex in Quebec one of the flats was taken by an Indian familly and I became good friends with the wife. She once dressed me in one of her Saris and I don't think I ever felt more beautiful, though I imagine that it would take some getting used to when doing the housework. I will be back again.
Monisha said…
I really love reading ur posts (as I have told u probably a million times already) although I don't always add a comment. With this one, I thought I must contribute.

In my case, my husband (so to say handpicked by me !!) happens to be far more conservative than my ma-in-law in terms of dressing - thankfully much mellowed now after so many years of marriage. I believe even as a li'l boy, he would object to mom wearing anything but saris. God knows where these fellows learn such stuff from.

But thankfully, I have an accomplice in mom (in-law) who always enthusiastically helps me shop for things like beachwear, shorts, etc. ... big comfort I assure u :-)
RBK's Realm said…
Monisha,

You are a girl after my heart! You should start a blog also since you also have interesting stuff to share.

Cheers!
Vivian said…
I love it, RBK! You strutted your stuff with pizzaz and a lot of heart! You were ahead of your Indian time, my dear! Thanks for sharing your eye-opening and leg-baring experience. And lovely gams, by the way :-)!