A Year in India

Then & Now
September 23, 2008, 4:43 am
Filed under: Culture | Tags: ,

On the left, my cousins Sohinee and Shagun with my sister and me in Jogapur, my dad’s family village in Bihar, 1992.  On the right, Sohinee and me eating dosas in Bangalore, 2008.

During my first week in Bangalore, I stayed with my cousin Sohinee, who moved here five years ago from Delhi.  Sohinee and her husband Avinash graciously welcomed me to their home and fed me more delicious Indian food than I can even describe.

Three thoughts about my time with Sohinee:

Family: It was great to reconnect with a cousin I barely knew.  Part of the reason I decided to come to India was to bridge that gap between what I know as home and what my parents and family have known as home in India.

The City’s Faces: I noticed that Sohinee tried very hard to show me Bangalore’s western side; there was a sense of pride she found in it.  Somehow, she sees the western-feeling establishments as superior.  I, on the other hand, want to see the “real” India – the small, local restaurants and neighborhoods.  Admittedly, both of us are romanticizing these two “sides” of Bangalore.  The two of us are so focused on our versions of Bangalore that we’ve failed to realize that the city’s identity is seeped in both extremes and everything in between.  In that way, I’m trying to open up to the many faces of this city, though it remains difficult to grapple with the stark contradictions surrounding me here.

Women & Work: Sohinee told me a memorable story about a past work experience she had in Chennai.  Her interest in labor laws inspired her to work at a factory, where she served as a link between workers and managers.  What struck me about her experience was that she was the only woman in the entire workplace (there wasn’t even a women’s bathroom there). In the media and during AIF orientation, I’ve heard abstractly about the position of women in the workplace in India.  While I realize hers is just one perspective in the midst of a society where gender inequalities are strong, it was refreshing to hear a tangible story from Sohinee.  Her overall experience was not at all negative.  She truly felt that her ability to adapt and be personable allowed her to work well in such a male-dominated space.  (Her biggest difficulty was not her gender; it was language.)  I’m interested to hear more stories (rather than abstractions or generalizations) about women’s work experiences here in Bangalore.


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I am so glad you will get to know Sohinee, and I am sure a few other cousins in India as well. She is probably trying to protect you! Have a dosa on my behalf too. We are going to watch the presidential debates tonight. Should set the stage.

Comment by Prabha

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