Anupama writes a letter to her 18-years old daughter. Read what she has to say.
Stereotypes abound but these 11 things you didn’t know about NRI women could surprise you!
The very mention of an NRI (non-resident Indian) conjures visions of luxury, an Indian who lives in a foreign land where everything is in abundance and life is a bed of roses. An NRI woman, in particular, is seen as something of an alien when she lands in India. A hint of an accent, foreign clothes smelling of expensive perfume, paranoia about her children’s food and safety. Indeed, we all have a certain stereotype in mind. So let us look at what the average NRI woman is like, someone who is very different from what Bollywood blockbusters portray her to be — living in palatial mansions, riding in chauffeur driven Bentleys and celebrating every occasion on the scale of a mammoth wedding!
Instead, let us talk of Indian women who left Indian shores to join their husbands or to study or work. Let us talk of someone like me, people like my friends, relatives and acquaintances, who are Indian women living outside India in various countries across the globe; a very wide range of women with varied experiences who somehow tend to get stereotyped.
There are several luxuries that come with living outside India, especially in a rich country like the U.S. That is the prime reason why Indians have moved there- to make money. So, yes, the NRI woman may have a nice, large house and fancy gadgets. But, apart from a few countries like Singapore and the Middle East, most NRI women have to do their own housework. There is no domestic helper to clean that large house. In countries like the U.S. and in Europe, labour is expensive and one just has to do everything without outside help. Cleaning services are available but only the rich can afford this regularly. Right from vacuuming upstairs, downstairs and the staircase to washing the dishes (dishwasher if you are slightly better off, but that needs loading and unloading too), doing the laundry (no ‘dhobis’ to do the ironing), putting out the garbage bins after segregation of the rubbish – one has to do it all on one’s own. Even in times of illness and other troubled times, no one will bail you out and there is no escape from hands-on housework. One just has to crawl out of bed, put the kettle on and survive on Pot noodles or something similar.
No cooks or chapatti-making lady helpers amble over to cook the meals like they do in India. Several NRI women I know cook mass meals over the weekend and freeze them. Batches are then taken out on various weekdays at the end of a tiring day at work. It sounds a bit sorry, but this is a very NRI survival skill especially in the west. In fact, plenty of couples do this activity over the weekend where the husband will help in equal measure peeling, chopping veggies and all 4 cooking flames have pots simmering away in the organized preparation for the week ahead!
No cooks or chapatti-making lady helpers amble over to cook the meals like they do in India. Several NRI women cook mass meals over the weekend and freeze them. Batches are then taken out on various weekdays at the end of a tiring day at work.
For the longest time, the NRI man has been a much sought-after match, a prize catch. Getting married to one was a sure way of flying overseas and settling there. But not all countries have easy laws and until recently in the U.S., a woman married to a man with a green card had to wait years until she could move too. I’ve known a couple who had to live away from each other for at least 3 years before the wife finally got a visa for the U.S.
Besides getting a visa to live, there is also the work visa that remains elusive for so many women who move out of India. For someone who used to have a great career back in India, to be sitting at home in a foreign country without being able to work at what she was trained to do can be frustrating. There are several women in that situation and a lot of the times, the option is to simply wait. Of course NRI women then learn to make the most of their time. There are opportunities to volunteer, to explore the new places, new friends, learn new skills, to learn to cook unknown and foreign dishes and so on.
Yes, it’s a fantastic opportunity to find yourself in new country with unlimited possibilities. But for those of us who got married to a NRI and relocated abroad, this vision came crashing down. The biggest eye-opener is that some basic degrees obtained in India are not recognized in many countries. So wives who have followed their husbands out of India, often have to start a career from scratch.
Several wives have to dumb down and take up a job well below their qualification level back in India. An example is a friend of mine who worked as a Chartered Accountant in India with a multinational company and earned really well. She emigrated to the UK, only to find that she could only work as an accountant. She had to pass exams before she could work as a chartered accountant.
A relative of mine did her Masters in Pharmacy in India and was on her way to earning a PhD while she worked as a lecturer in a college. She moved to the U.S. to join her husband. She could not initially work for a few years and then had to take her pharmacy exams in the U.S. before eventually being able to get work.
A dentist friend of mine migrated to the U.S. to join her husband after getting married. In the U.S., she worked as a dental nurse, struggled to pass the qualifying exams there, even bringing home a motor to practice her dentistry for the exams. Finally she passed her exams, but due to some hitch worked as a dental hygienist for another few years before finally practising as a dentist! Another friend of hers in another U.S. state had to join dental school for the last 2 years to get the American DDS degree. All this because a BDS degree from India is not recognized in the U.S.!
All the women I’ve mentioned above have gone on to jump over all the hurdles and now have reached where they truly deserved to be and the success is even sweeter. I remember being jobless and ogling at the creams and in Boots (a chemist shop’s chain in UK) and wishing I could buy all that stuff with my own money one day. I did indeed fulfill my dream. Up until then I just used the testers and refused to squander my husband’s money on these little luxuries.
Several wives have to dumb down and take up a job well below their qualification level back in India. An example is a friend of mine who worked as a Chartered Accountant in India with a multinational company and earned really well. She emigrated to the UK, only to find that she could only work as an accountant.
There’s no doubt that living abroad means that we do not have the responsibility of looking after parents and in-laws who are back in India. In contrast, many women in India have to look after their older relatives whether in joint families or otherwise. However, living away from India and away from ones family, NRI women feel tremendously pained and guilty from not having the opportunity to physically take care of their elders.
In turn, they also miss out on the support system that parents and in-laws provide, especially during times of crises and when childcare is required. They miss the companionship. Parents and in-laws do visit short term, but as winter nears, they depart for India. A whole new support system has to be built comprising mainly new friends, seeking out a trustworthy child-minder/babysitter and of course relying on the husband to take on equal responsibilities of the home and children.
Sure, there are things that you do not get with in India like less crowds, less pollution, tons of facilities. But there are plenty of challenges thrown in too. In the west, the cold weather is a major constraint and the fact that one has to fend for oneself at most times unless it is an emergency. One has to learn to drive, fill petrol in the car, check the air and fill air in tires, learn to assemble furniture, overcome the biting frost to remove thick layers of ice off the car and no one to rescue you.
One has to learn to survive minor illnesses with no one to fuss over you, because even friends do not always live close by or have the time to come around with a bowl of hot khichadi. In fact loneliness is another factor to contend with. Neighbours will greet you but mostly keep to themselves. There is a lot of silence around and it can be scary living in a large house. Loneliness can be depressing too, coupled with the cold. One really has to make an effort to reach out and make friends with people whether Indian or not. One has to learn to be sociable, participate in potluck dinners and generally go out of the way to stay connected with other humans.
Neighbours will greet you but mostly keep to themselves. There is a lot of silence around and it can be scary living in a large house. Loneliness can be depressing too, coupled with the cold. One really has to make an effort to reach out and make friends.
The holidays are a short time when NRIs get to come to India, travelling several hours from a very different time zone. The plane journey itself can be a challenge, especially when a child gets motion sick or gets blocked ears and cries all the way through the 10 hours. I cannot even describe the feeling when a child asks “are we nearly there yet?” 5 minutes into the journey and every 5 minutes thereafter! After landing, there is the jet lag to contend with and although it seems like a lot of fuss, it is not. Add to that, when a child gets a tummy upset or exaggerated reaction to mosquito bites, is it any wonder that we carry wet wipes, bottled water and insect repelants? We want to make the most of our time in India and hence the precautions, even though it seems like a lot of fuss over nothing.
In our defence, when we bring suitcases full of goodies for relatives it does seem like we’ve had it easy. But sorry to disclose the secret that we have been shopping for these goodies from last year, waking up early to catch the post-Christmas and other seasonal sales at dawn to get the cheap bargains. Nobody even knows what the credit card bill will be like when we get back home; that is after paying the mortgage and car loan.
As an NRI woman, you do not have to face what your friend in India faces. There is virtually no eve teasing, in the west, one can wear whatever one wants without anyone staring. But there are crimes against women and we are equally vulnerable. Healthcare is good, but one comes up against medical conditions one has never heard of in India, like eczema, cradle cap, glue ear and food allergies, which add to the challenges of parenting outside India.
Also, giving birth to a child in the west is very different from having one in India. There is less pampering, none of the post-natal Indian massages or special post-delivery diets. Unless your mother or mother-in- law comes over for the delivery, women are just expected to get on with things with none of the strict home confinement that we do in India. You just have to bundle the baby up in warm clothes in a pram and take them to the baby clinic every week to be weighed and so on, juggling everything on your own. You learn to cope using various aids like pacifiers and child harnesses. Above all, you learn to fend for yourself. Dads learn to participate actively- not just coochie cooing but changing nappies and helping with feeds. For many working women, expressing milk and freezing it becomes a routine when they return to work.
Whether we like it or not, in order to fit in with our new country, we have to adapt. Our dress sense changes due to a different climate, the need to avoid standing out too much so we can blend in at work and just so that we look like everybody else. After having children, there is a constant struggle of cultures, trying to remain Indian and yet letting the children fit in with the country they are born into. We try to get our children to speak our Indian language and know about our customs, but somewhere down the line we can never be totally Indian. Neither can we totally shed our Indianness. Every individual does what suits them best, but yes, we NRI women adapt culturally and that is what makes our lives more enriching. For example, we celebrate the diametrically opposite Diwali and Halloween with equal enthusiasm, sometimes even just days apart.
We NRI women adapt culturally and that is what makes our lives more enriching. For example, we celebrate the diametrically opposite Diwali and Halloween with equal enthusiasm, sometimes even just days apart.
Almost true. There is just you and your husband in a place outside India and that is blissful. No relatives to disturb you or interfere in your life. However, not everyone may experience this. Often, NRI men come to India for a short period, a quick arranged marriage after a ‘look-see’ meeting and a wedding within a week. The woman has no idea what to expect from her partner about whom she doesn’t know much. In fact, it can be hard to find out much about an NRI unless you have common friends or hire a detective to find out about his past. For a woman, it can be a shock to discover facts about her man that were previously unknown and although a lot of arranged marriages can be like that, if one is in a foreign country, it can very upsetting. There are organisations to turn to for issues like domestic violence and the police and social services do help, but being away from India, one has to cope on one’s own and that can be a harrowing experience. There is no ‘maika’ (parental home) to run to and returning to India may not be as easy as one thinks, as even buying a ticket to India could be problem.
Well, we may not always know what the latest fashion in salwar kameez is, but believe it or not NRI women are very clued in to what is happening in India. We have our mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law and friends back in India and are aware of the ground realities. Besides, we were brought up in India ourselves and know what being an Indian woman means. Most of us have Indian television channels and we watch more than just the entertainment programmes. With the Internet, there is no way we can live in our NRI bubble. We are as sensitive to the happenings in India as anybody in India is. We may appear to be armchair critics sometimes but isn’t that the case with many of us who live in India too, who feel strongly about various issues but feel like they cannot do anything? It may appear as if we have left India behind because of where we live and how we appear. But wherever we are, we will always be affected and moved by anything that involves Indian women.
We are as sensitive to the happenings in India as anybody in India is. We may appear to be armchair critics sometimes but isn’t that the case with many of us who live in India too, who feel strongly about various issues but feel like they cannot do anything?
For us NRI women, our lives are different from our Indian women friends back home, but life itself is the same. We have ups and downs, failures and successes, tears and laughter in varying degrees. It’s just that we experience them in a different place.
Yes, we are non-resident Indian women. We do not live in India, but India certainly lives within us.
I love writing about anything that makes me laugh, cry, salivate, roll my eyes or
Thank you for reading 🙂
Very well expressed and interesting too. In our family also we had such misconceptions until my sis moved in with her hubby abroad. The photos she had sent in the initial days and after her delivery made me envy her so much….yes until the bubble burst, after my mom’s first visit during the delivery. Whatever you had written above were the things my mom had told about the place. She liked it, but she could not or rather would not stay because she was missing the comforts in India.
I believe the problem is not in the lifestyle of US, UK or other European land, but the picture created amply by various sources:
1.) Indian movies show the hero and heroine dancing in the alpine mountains (of course, the heroine with skimpy clothes, what else can you imagine….she is immune to or has been inoculated against frost bite, ok..!!). And the remaining part of the movie showing how Raj and Komal lead happily-ever after life there, with all the paraphernalia of partying, boozing, friends, outing, bundles (!!) of joy, karva chauth, well…..please fill in by yourselves…..
2.) The unintentional picture created by the home-coming (for a short period) NRI women themselves. They do not want to reveal all these things in a matter of fact manner to the others, may be not to hurt the close ones and also not to give a cheap pleasure to those who are already jealous of them. Hence they either continue the image of “oh yeah, it is such fun out there..”
3.) Also they do not know to tell the others if at all they are questioned – “My God, if there are so much discomfort, then why aren’t you coming back to India?” They just can’t say, that “yes, there are certain things we need to adjust to, but its fine, its a choice we have taken and we love to stick to it, because we like the place for ……..etc.”
4.) There is also the problem in some houses of non participation of the husbands who are still rooted to their soil, wherein they have been brought with a patriarchal upbringing. For them, it is a great favour, that they have brought the spouse with them to a foreign land, and shown them the ‘best part of the world’. Hence, they expect royal treatment from the wife. I have known houses, wherein the husband just invites his friend just to show off the culinary skills of his newly wed wife. Oops, he does not know that the wife has never kneaded a dough, and is still experimenting with it.
5.) Last, but not the least. Some families who have returned to India for good (for whatever reasons) throw their weight around and expect to be treated like royalty when they introduce themselves as ‘foreign returned’. Come on…give people a break. There has been a lot of families who make short trips to places abroad, and nowadays at least, comparatively more number of people are aware about the pros and cons of living in a foreign country. Hence, please do not expect such awestruck response from all.
6.) The children of NRI families are told more about dirty public places, toilets, mosquitoes and pollution, (no denying, all these DO exist), than about artistic heritage, the various art forms and the places of worship, which needs everyone’s support for its upkeep.
Communication is the key. Please NRI women, tell your relatives not only about your Europe trip and cruise holidays. Let them also know what you had to forego to enjoy that. Show some videos of how difficult it is to mow the lawn or shovel the snow, along with the photos of Niagara Falls. People who do not want to empathise may not, but still it is worth to show both sides of the picture. Mix humour and may be you can help the future generation to take better decisions rather than paint ‘all white or all black’ picture.
Forgive me for the lengthy response, couldn’t help it..thanks anyway. Please write more….
Hi Chintu, Thank you so much for your input. I really enjoyed reading your viewpoint and appreciate you taking time to write in. Yes, I missed the bits about mowing the lawn and scrubbing the bathtub!
Thank you for point no. 6 which is really something we NRIs need to work on.
Oh God Vrushali, i felt like these were words coming out of my mouth…you have summed up ALL the points to the T. Being an Ex-NRI, i can relate to each and every thing now especially the guilt part!
Thank you Alina. I’m really glad you could relate to it. 🙂
What an amazing post! So true. There are a lot if misconceptions out there.
Thanks very much Janani. Really pleased that you liked it. 🙂
You just wrote my heart Vrushali 🙂 Bingo!!! Every single statement is true… Adding my thoughts below:
1.Another problem faced due to Visa – Many women who are on work visa are unable to let get of the visa status to stay at home and take care of their babies, the financial pressure associate with staying in a job and not becoming out of status is equally pressuring I believe
2. Expectation from relatives in India about the financial support we have to provide. They are not aware of ( or not being told about) the never ending credit card bills and mortgage loans , they live under an impression that every NRI is a multi-millionaire , but many middle class NRI’s families live on a tight budget – saving money for medical and college fund.
3. One major misconception that I myself had before relocating to US is about the healthcare here. Never imagined it could be so damn expensive and for heaven’s sake no one in the family should fall sick over a weekend. Trips to ER can be very traumatizing as well ends up leaving a huge deficit in your budget.
Thank you Bharathi. Glad you liked it. Loved to read your thoughts too. 🙂
So many of your points resonated with me. I have experienced every aspect, either by myself or women around me. Very well written!
Thank you Namrata. Happy that you liked it. 🙂
Wn we as parents of NRI, visit thm, it takes time to adjust to the cold weather,;learn new skills fr routing chores, fr eg placing utensils into the dishwasher, using hotplates, acquiring new skills of cooking various n new recipes, mannerisms at public places, (yesss!!!)….no complaints. ..it only opens u up to newer wisdom!
Thank you for reading and sharing your experience. I totally understand the part about mannerisms in public places :). Every small thing can be a challenge in a new country especially for older people who take a little longer to adapt but they do so with a smile 🙂
This sounds really depressing. If it is so difficult then why do you (NRI women) want to live here? If you feel you have the support system in India, then go back. It’s a CHOICE. No one is forcing you to stay. It’s not like other countries are calling you here with open arms then why would you want to suffer here? Articles like this make me so mad. I am an NRI woman. I have a maid who cleans the house every 2 weeks and my husband does the dishes and laundry. We both work. We have an amazing life here. No, it’s not like we have tons of money. We lead an ordinary life. And to all the women here who commented, GET A LIFE!! Come out of your depression and start doing something productive instead of whining. If not, go back home and be happy. That is what counts.
Dear Vrushali, Nice article. I am a NRI woman and this is exactly how I felt when I came here for the first time. It was bit of a shock to get used to the routine here. Especially for me because I was newly married and didn’t do any house work back in India. I was one of the pampered one in the house. I had to learn everything from scratch – cooking, cleaning grocery shopping etc.
As years passed by, I started realising that I actually enjoy doing most of the chores by myself. I am not dependant on anyone. It’s not like India – one day the maid doesn’t arrive the whole support system collapses. Husband-wife can’t even manage house work for one day. Me and my husband we both work and we share the house work where ever we can. I can rely on my husband if I have to go away from house for office meeting or India trip(without kids). He is capable of looking after children and managing the house in my absence because he has always done all of the work with me. Now I have started having maids for some of the house work as I find it difficult with growing age. They are bit expensive if you compare with Indian wages but affordable here. We are not very rich people. We are a middle class family. I know so many other women who do not work but still have maids here to do the house cleaning. There are people who come home for cooking as well. If not you will always find some one who can provide daily tiffin food. It is not that hard. I get help for house cleaning but don’t usually get food from outside because I like cooking for my family. I enjoy that and my family likes the home cooked food too. It is a great feeling to cook and feed the family. Maid’s food can never take that place.
You have cleverly picked the professions which need extra education in foreign country. Have you forgotten that majority of NRIs work in IT industry? None of them need any extra education to work here. In fact they get paid very well. When you claim that people work at higher levels in Indian companies, have you forgotten about long working hours/weekend work in India? I have seen so many people in India who come home at 8/9 pm. You may have family to look after your kids but they need PARENTS!!! In western countries you are not expected to work for long hours. Men and women can finish work and reach home on time.
Now days you go anywhere in US/UK there are so many Indians and that is the support system here. I never had any issues regarding child care. I used to send my daughter to English daycare and childminders and they were wonderful. So much better than Indian daycare. I’m still in touch with my daughter’s old childminders (she is 16 now) They still call her on her birthdays. I have wonderful friends here who always help me to look after my kids. My little one is 9 years old and my friend (who has got child of the same age) looks after him. They have great time together. My friends help me during illnesses. They helped me during the hard times we had. When I moved house I didn’t cook for one whole week while I was setting the house. Food was provided by my friends for the whole week. In turn I also do the same for my friends. Is this not what we do for each other in family? If you know how to maintain relationships then you will always have great family and friends around you (No matter where you are). If not then even if you are in India you will not have any support system.
Sometimes I think the people who claim to have support system of parents in India, how many of them are happy to live with their in-laws under the same roof? And how may will have their own parents in the same city? If you do not have your parents/in-laws in the same city then what is your support system?
There are many more things you have not realised how bad they are in India. I am not saying this because I’m anti-India. I love India even after knowing all good and bad things. I come to India very year to visit the family. My family keeps coming to visit us here. Over the years I have noticed the differences between India and western countries and also realised that there will be always some good and bad points about every place. The choice is yours. We have made choice to stay here and we are happy here. As Pooja said, if you are not happy, GET A LIFE instead of staying here and SULKING!!
Very nice response. Well written.
Such a well written article, made me bit emotional to read the reality one we all women abroad are living.
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