Tag Archives: Women

Name Changer

First of all I apologize for how this post probably rambles on. I’ve wanted to write about my name for a while, and I’m probably trying to cram in too many thoughts at once, please bear with me. Also I don’t mean to offend anyone, or pass judgments on anyone’s particular choices. Everything in here is my own opinion and highlights choices made specifically for me and my situation. My intention is not to preach to anyone, just explain the thinking behind how I got to where I am with my own name.

Also, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but just to clarify: Both my first and last names start with C. P is in the same boat, with a first and last name that start with the same letter. So I started out at “C C” and now I am “C C-P,” and P is “P P.”

I recently received our first Christmas card of the season and the envelope was addressed to “C and P” without any last name. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit. I’m sure we will get all sorts of name variations on our holiday mail this year, because when we got married I decided to hyphenate my last name. I believe I’m the first person in my family to have done this, so I can imagine that many will be confused at what the protocol is for addressing an envelope when the wife decides to buck the trend, even though I’ve been putting “C-P” as our return address for the past two years.

From a very young age I felt strongly about my last name. Perhaps it’s because my dad has three daughters and no sons who could traditionally “carry on the family name,” and I think he always imagined that his branch of the “C’s” would end with him. Or maybe I’ve always been stubborn with an acute sense of how I perceive my identity; but anyway, I never understood why a man intrinsically got to keep his name while a woman spent part of her life as one name and the rest as another. Something about it just irked me to the core.

However, ironically, I also admit that I was equally annoyed as a child when movie stars who I knew were married didn’t somehow share a semblance of a name to publicly show their familial tie. I always felt that without some sort of name connection the family lacked a sense of unity, or wasn’t as committed to each other.

I didn’t know how to rectify this in my mind. Growing up in a fairly conservative place, I didn’t really have classmates with different naming conventions. I didn’t know what options were available to me, or that options even existed! As I said before, my family always followed the pattern of a new wife taking her husband’s name upon marriage.

Then in high school my parents began their long messy divorce. I remember feeling strange for my mom… that she was now saddled with her married “C” last name which she elected to keep as a visible sign of her connection to her kids, even though she didn’t want to be connected to my dad anymore. I’m not sure if she ever thought about it, but I certainly did… that her last name could act as a constant reminder of the husband she no longer had. By no means am I saying that I’d want to keep my name in case I’m ever divorced (heaven forbid!) so that I can retain my maiden name without much difficulty, but it was something to think about when I was at a formative age.

It also struck me that I didn’t have the same relationship with my mother’s maiden name—“M”—that I had with my own last name. Of course I always thought of the M’s as my family too, but I was never an “M” in the same sense as I was a “C” (not meaning I was closer to one family or the other, it’s just I felt more like the name “C” represented me as an individual more than the name “M” did). It saddened me to think that if I had children and didn’t pass along my name in some form, then my potential future children might have that same noncommittal feeling about my name as I have about my mother’s.

Then one of my mother’s younger sisters got married when I was a freshman in high school. She was a corporate lawyer, a high powered go-getter, someone with a strong personality who married in her thirties so she had a long life as a “M” before marriage. I was totally shocked when she took her husband’s name without batting an eye. Of anyone in my family I thought for sure she would be different, times had changed. I was almost offended, why was this strong woman deciding to change how she is identified to the world simply because she married a man?

A few years later, I was sitting next to my aunt’s daughter, a blunt eight year old, who asked me what P’s last name was. “So you will be Mrs. P after you get married?” she asked me. “No.” I told her. I could see by the expression on her face that my answer completely caught her off guard. “Why not? What else could your name be?” she asked. “Ms. C-P” I explained. It seemed to be a completely new concept for her.

A Colombian student of mine put it nicely one day… most people from Spanish speaking cultures have two last names because one is from the mother and one from the father: so for example a person named Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez had a father whose last name was “Sanchez ______” and mother whose last name was “Rodriguez ______”.

Anyway, this student of mine didn’t really understand what “maiden name” meant on immigration forms so he would put “Rodriquez” as his maiden name and “Sanchez” as his last. I told him that people in the US would interpret this to mean that he was a) a woman and b) married if he filled out forms in that way. This launched us into a long discussion of last names in the US. Even though he had been living here for several years he hadn’t realized that most Americans only have one last name, from their father’s side, he just assumed they went by one of their two names for simplicity in a class room situation. At one point he declared “But, with only one name that’s like they are an orphan on their mother’s side!” I kind of liked that line of thinking.

As a college student I decided that if I were to marry someday I would want to hyphenate because it seemed to be the best of both worlds—my name and my husband’s name—my identity, and his, with family continuity on both sides. I remember having quite a few heated debates with people about my plan. People told me that hyphenated names were “pretentious,” or too long, or confusing. That a kid would never be able to spell such a name in kindergarten. I think it was the hyphen in particular that annoyed people, but I thought that without the hyphen it would be all too easy to drop the “C” or for people to assume that “C” was a middle name and not a last name, that it would be easier to mess things  up. I thought for alphabetizing purposes a hyphen made it easier because the names were connected, so something would have to be filed under the first “C.” It made more sense to me.

“But what about your kids?” someone asked once, “If you give them the same double/hyphen name as yours, what happens if your kid’s future spouse also wants to hyphenate? Will you have grandkids with four last names? How ridiculous is that? Where does the madness end?” To that I can only answer that I made the decision for myself, and any potential future kids can ultimately make their own decisions about their own naming conventions.

As it became more apparent that my marriage partner would eventually be P, I was adamant about my choice, and the fact that any potential kids will also have the C-P last name (or P-C, at one point I said if he decided to take my name he could decide on the order). P was always fine with me keeping my C, that was never an issue. However I pressed for P to take on the C-P last name as well so that the entire family would share the same name, a stronger, more visible identifier of a family unit. At first he seemed cool with the idea, but after starting his phd program and having some publications under “P P,” and as our actual marriage got closer, he wanted to stick with just “P” for his last name.

He worried that if he changed his name people back in Nepal might find it “weird,” or that it might mess up his immigration documents, or his Nepali citizenship papers. He didn’t know the legal hoops he would have to jump through. I still encouraged the name change, but eventually figured he wasn’t going to budge. I had to be fair, I wouldn’t have been happy if he had continually pressed me to drop my C (which he never did), so I couldn’t keep pressing him to do something he didn’t want to do. When we applied for our marriage license he lingered for a few moments over the “name after marriage” question and I held my breath to see if he would change his mind, but eventually he filled it in “P” and looked up at me apologetically. Ah well.

Right before we got married I had briefly struggled with the idea of just keeping “C” instead of adding “P.” Many of the female international people I knew had kept their maiden names after marriage. This was due, at least in part, to having married in the US and not wanting to deal with changing over all their immigration documents to a new name. Many of my international students at work had kept their maiden names for the same reason—and all the Chinese students kept their names, since it was not a Chinese custom for a married woman to change her name after marriage. I had an American friend in my book club who had kept her name, and when she had a baby the baby’s last name was a hyphenated version of her’s and her husband’s name. I almost felt that by hyphenating I didn’t feel “progressive enough,” but then I would think back to the Hollywood actors that annoyed me as a kid, and realized that it was important to me to have both the names.

In particular I thought it was important to have P’s name as well as mine to denote the influence of South Asian culture in my life. Not everyone will recognize P’s name as South Asian, but those who do have a little bit more knowledge about me when I introduce myself. It kind of “breaks the ice” so to speak or gives me some South Asian street cred.

For example, a professor came to my office recently. I had sold something over the university email listserv and he was coming to collect the item. He noticed during our back and forth emails that part of my last name is “P” and he recognized it as different than the Irish sounding parts of the rest of my name. He was curious because even though he is just as “white bread” as I am, his wife is Filipino and he had known some Filipinos who had similar last names. He wanted to see if I also had a Filipino connection, and started by asking, “I don’t mean to pry, but I was interested in your name, what is its background?” It started a pretty interesting conversation.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the post-wedding transition has felt smoother for me since the “C” is still in my name. On occasion I forget to add the “P” when introducing myself (I’m getting better at it), but it’s easier to say, “I’m C C…… -P” instead of the more awkward sounding, “I’m C C—er—nope, I mean C P.” Sometimes I hear myself saying, “I’m C C-P” and I think, “maybe it does sound long and pretentious?” but ultimately I think I would have deeply mourned the complete loss of the “C” had I decided to change my name. I’m really happy with my decision. Now I just need to gently coax people to use my name correctly.

For my birthday this past August my mother sent me a card that was addressed to “Mrs. P P.” I decided to nip that trend in the bud from the get go. Perhaps it makes me sound like a psychotic control freak, but I called her up and said, “Hey mom, thanks for the card, I just wanted to ask you to please send me mail under the name ‘C C-P.’ I’m not ‘Mrs.P,’ and certainly not ‘Mrs. P P,’ I have my own name.” She brushed it off by saying, “Well, I was in a rush and it was faster to write that.” But I pointed out that in eight years of dating P and many years of living together it was never faster to write his name on my card before. She probably doesn’t really see what the big deal is, but I’m hoping the next time she sends something she will hopefully remember our conversation.

An article in the Huffington Post summed up my feelings about it (although the married couple in the example decided to change their name to a new name combining the two original last names, her sentiment on receiving the card is what I thought echoed my own):

Emily Zeugner, 32, who works in media in New York, and her husband, Amos Kenigsberg, made a similar decision — they changed their last name to Zeeberg.

Ms. Zeeberg explained that changing her name would have sent a message she wasn’t comfortable with, one that that effectively said, “I’m shedding my identity, I’m joining your family.”

“As a feminist, it really bugged me,” she said. “I’m glad that we created our new identity.”

After the two married, they received a wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Amos Kenigsberg.

“I just saw the envelope, and I felt such annoyance, and on a small scale, kind of outraged,” she said. “He gets full billing and his full name, and the only thing I get is Mrs. It just really pissed me off.”

Similarly, friends of ours (the Bulgarian-American couple who got married a few weeks after us) in their newlywed excitement like to call up and say to me, “hey Mrs. P!” and I usually gently correct them, “it’s Ms C-P, how are you?”

Last night we received another Christmas card in the mail from an aunt in Pennsylvania. She made out the card to “C C-P and P P,” and I appreciated her efforts in keeping us all included. I guess the best short hand would be “C-P Family/Household” I guess we will see what people ultimately do. As long as I’m not the dreaded “Mrs P P” on an envelope I’ll probably be happy.

So that’s the story of how I became C C-P. What about other married (or soon-to-be married) couples? Did you change your name or keep it, or part of it? Did you follow a tradition, or make up your own? Is there a story as to why you decided to do what you did?

Wearing Pote as a Newly Married Woman

Nepali Jiwan had an interesting post recently about “The Married Look” and what expectations people in Nepal have for the look of a married women including a few social cues such as tikka, churaa bangles, pote necklaces, nose piercings (for some ethnic groups), and wearing make-up like kajol. I basically left a blog post sized comment on her post, but I wanted to take a few moments to discuss at least one aspect of my new Nepali “married look.”

I’ve written about potes necklaces before, but I want to revisit the topic.

As I noted in the previous post, I occasionally wore potes (pronounced like po-thay) before I got married. P’s aunt, J Phupu, gifted me a necklace in 2008, and 2009, and sent a few more a little after that. The necklaces were generally short, colorful and multi-strand. I would sometimes match them with a saree if I was going to a South Asian party or dressing up for a cultural event at my work. On even rarer occasions I would wear one to the office to dress up an outfit (this makes me sound particularly fashionable, which I’m definitely not). S-di’s daughters would tease me sometimes saying, “Did you get married?” when I wore them because of their use as a marriage symbol in Nepal. They didn’t really have any special meaning for me at the time, other than a gift from P’s aunt, so I didn’t think it was a big deal to wear them before marriage.

Pre-marriage pote wearing examples over the years...

The week after we got married I informally wore red clothes (P’s mom didn’t tell me to do this, but I remembered my friend R being encouraged to wear red for a certain number of days after her wedding as a “naya buhari”, and as I was excited to be married I decided to wear red as well). I dressed up my red outfits with the short red, green and gold colored pote necklace that P’s mom brought for me to wear. It’s a nice necklace, but the Nepali wedding colors of red, green and gold remind me so much of Christmas, especially certain combinations and designs with these colors, that wearing red, green and gold jewelry in July seemed kind of “off-season.” (I’m definitely not a “Christmas all year round!” kind of gal).

Examples of green, red and gold potes hanging in a pote shop near Thamel. To the left are examples of "thin" potes, and to the right and above are examples of "thick" multi-strand potes.

During our second week of marriage I started transitioning into other outfit colors, and picking other potes, but as someone who rarely wore necklaces before, wearing the thick multi-strand short necklaces felt clunky, like I was wearing a tight collar every day. S-di had gifted me a single strand purple and silver pote during Teej 2010, and I started wearing this simpler, single-strand, longer pote on a daily basis, because I could hide it discretely under my shirt if I wanted to, but I still felt that connection of wearing a pote as a married woman.

I didn’t expect to wear pote every day. During those first two weeks I did it because I was excited to be married, and thought it was a nice nod to P’s mother’s traditions. I thought eventually I would probably stop. Then Mamu started talking about how my two very close Nepali friends—AS and R—both married to Nepali men, didn’t seem to wear “any signs of marriage.” AS wears a wedding ring every day, which to me is a sign of marriage, and R occasionally wears bangles, but neither wore pote or tikka daily, two signs that Mamu seemed really surprised about.

After hearing her talk about this a few times, I figured I would wear pote while she was staying with us, so that she would feel more satisfied that I was showing signs of being married in a Nepali fashion, but I didn’t like wearing the thick short necklaces all the time, and continued wearing the thin purple/silver necklace, even when it didn’t match anything.

The next time I visited R I asked her if she had any simple pote, very plain necklaces that I could wear inconspicuously. She said that the last time her mother visited she was also concerned that R wasn’t wearing pote as a sign of marriage, and had brought several simple ones for her to wear. She hadn’t made it a habit of wearing them, and said if I wanted to take one or two I could. I picked up two of the plainest necklaces: one that had pale pink and pale clear-yellow beads that basically blended in with my natural skin tone and another that had alternating tiny red and yellow beads that could blend with almost any outfit.

Sporting my single-strand red and yellow pote while out and about with P's cousin in KTM. In the US I usually tuck the thin pote under my shirt collar to be more inconspicuous, but in Nepal I felt more compelled to pull it out in the open to show I "belonged" more.

With my new simple pote, and the few fancier pote I already had, it was easier to find something to wear every day and it became more of a habit. By the time P’s mom was packing her bags to return home, I was putting the necklaces on without even thinking about it before I headed to work each morning, or slipping one over my head on weekends.

While I am in the US I don’t always want to show off the fact that I have on a pote. Most of the people I see don’t know the significance of it, so I wear it more for the significance it holds for me. However when I was in Nepal I found myself wanting to be very overt and intentional in displaying the pote I was wearing. Instead of tucking it under my shirt collar, I was pulling it out and wearing it publically and proudly. It made me feel like I belonged more—that I wasn’t just a tourist walking in Thamel, but someone married to a local person, someone more deeply involved in the culture. It felt like wearing pote was a statement—yeah, I’m a gori wife, “Mero shriman Nepali ho.” [My husband is Nepali].

Individual strands of pote hang waiting to be twisted and tied into proper pote necklaces in a pote shop in KTM

Completed multi-strand pote hanging in a pote shop. To the right are shorter styles, to the left are longer styles.

Actually, when I departed KTM for home, I was still dressed up for Dashain tikka—in the red and dark blue cotton block print salwaar kameez I bought in Delhi while studying there a few years back, the longer multi-strand shiny red pote bought for the bhoj party, the small red tikka sticker between my eyebrows I wore occasionally on my visit, as well as the giant red tikka and jamara grass from Dashain. I have to admit, I kind of liked the looks and surprised expressions I received at the airport—there are lots of tourists that leave Nepal with a simple red tikka, a kata scarf or a marigold garland draped around their neck, you might even see a tourist dressed in local clothing, but I figured you didn’t normally find a foreigner wearing pote, Dashain tikka and jamara grass unless she was part of a real Nepali family.

Mamu and P drop me off at Tribhuvan International Airport in KTM. In this picture you can't really see my thicker red pote well since it blends in with the red of my salwaar kameez, but the longer multi-strand necklace is hiding in between the draped sides of my dupatta scarf

Now that I’m back, I’ve been wearing a few of the thicker, multi-strand, but longer potes that I brought back from Nepal this time, as well as my good old simple single strand ones. I didn’t think I’d like wearing pote all the time, but it’s become kind of my “thing.”

Wearing the same shiny red pote as the previous picture, but it's more visible here. P's two cousins, J Phupu and I sit together after our first round of Dashain family tikka

I just kind of wish I didn’t wear them before marriage so that it would have been a little bit more special.

Menstruation Jutho

Continuation from the last post

For a woman, jutho taboos surrounding menstruation can be challenging. I’ve written about this before in “A ‘Female’ Taboo” but I wanted to revisit it as I have experienced a few more things since then.

As I noted before, for me, a woman’s menstruation cycle is a very personal thing. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but it certainly isn’t something I’d like to announce to the world (although ironically, I’m writing about it on a blog, ha ha). This might be where my own personal feelings and Nepali culture greatly deviate, because although there are taboos affiliated with a woman’s period in Nepal there doesn’t seem to be embarrassment around others knowing that a woman is having it, since the taboos are enacted in such a way that everyone would know.

Case in point, during Dashain a cousin’s family came over to P’s family’s house to receive tikka from P’s grandfather. It was a cousin-sister and her two kids and her brother and his wife. They were making the rounds to the different family houses, however the brother’s wife had her period, so she couldn’t come in the living room where the family was giving tikka and had to sit in the hallway. It was obvious to everyone in the room why she had to sit outside, and not only did she have to miss out on receiving tikka and blessings from everyone for the year, she had to go from house to house sitting outside and being excluded, so everyone in the entire family would know she was menstruating. Perhaps the family didn’t care, but I really felt for her, and thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to go through the same thing, because I would feel mortified.

Right before Dashain, one of P’s cousins asked me if I knew of any medication that could delay the onset of her period. I asked why and she said that she was probably going to get hers right as Dashain tikka time would be in full swing. It was going to be her last Dashain in Nepal for a few years, and I am sure she didn’t want to miss out on the activities and gatherings.

“Would anyone know? What if you didn’t say anything?” I asked. That would have been my tactic if I was in the same situation.

“Well… if maiju [P’s mom] finds out, I might get in trouble.” She said. We didn’t talk about it afterward. She participated in the festival so I figured she sorted something out.

I’ve now spent several months with P’s family, so I’ve obviously gone through my “impure” time of the month while I was around them—handling food, sitting with everyone at the table, and no one has ever questioned anything. I’ve kept my mouth closed about it, so they probably never really knew when it happened, but they had to assume it did at some point, so I was a little surprised by P’s cousin’s comment about P’s mom scolding her if she participated in Dashain tikka while she was having her’s. Perhaps it’s easier for P’s mom to think about me in a different category when it comes to jutho as a foreigner, or maybe she is uncomfortable to bring up the topic with me, I’m not sure. Although it would be interesting to learn more about the taboos, it isn’t a topic I would eagerly bring up with P’s mom as I would hate to have menstruation jutho extended to me. I kind of like the policy of don’t ask, don’t tell we have going on right now.

But I’ve seen women perpetuate menstruation jutho on themselves—when a friend of mine got married a relative of the groom had her period during the ceremony and so she insisted on sitting outside the temple and peeking through a window while her husband and son were inside enjoying the festivities. It was only after we convinced her that the marriage was not taking place inside  the main temple, but in the breezeway/meeting area of the temple building that she felt comfortable coming inside to watch the ceremony. Had we been in Nepal she would probably have been completely excluded by family members, but here in the US no one was going to scold her.

Nepali Jiwan gave an example of living with a conservative Nepali family while she was doing a study abroad homestay and when they found out she was menstruating (I was wondering how—did they ask?) they included her in jutho taboos—she had to sit in another room and eat away from the family, and was scolded by a house worker when she touched the clothes washing water during her “impure” state.

Anyway—I guess I’m not really sure where I am going with this post except that I find the discussion of these taboos both interesting and humiliating.

Has anyone else ever run into menstruation taboos when dealing with their partner’s parents or extended family? What did you do?

Do you feel it is important to participate in the taboos when it comes to religious observance such as not entering a temple when you are having your period or would don’t ask, don’t tell?

Let’s Teej Again, Like We Did Last Summer…

Other Teej Posts: Teej (2009), It’s Time Again for Teej (2010), Panchami and the Bhutanese Refugees (2010)

Today is my first married Teej and my first Teej with my mother-in-law.

I first learned about the holiday when P and I moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2007. I’ve taken part in the festival every year since, generally by wearing red and fasting for 24 hours, and usually by dressing up in a sari and going to the local temple with several female friends (AS, S-di) at some point during the day.

This year Mamu is with us, so I am letting her dictate how we should celebrate the occasion. Last night she explained that I should wake up early, take a shower so that I am “pure,” then I should dress in red clothing and wear my bangles and green and gold wedding tilhari, then we would worship Shiva and Parvati.

“And fast all day?” I asked.

“Eh, fasting too difficult.” Mamu said. “You have to work, not so strict. Eat pure foods. Milk, potato, sweets, fruits. No salt, no rice.”

“But Mamu that seems like too easy of a fast.” I told her. “No salt and no rice is easy if I get to eat sweets and fruits all day.”

“In Nepal it used to be harder.” Daddy explained, “No food, no water. But now the rules are not so strict. No need to fast all day. Sweets and fruits are fine.”

“But potatoes? Eating boiled potatoes hardly feels like a fast.” I insisted.

“It’s okay.” They said, “Eat, eat.”

If one thing is true above all else, I’ll never starve as a member of the P family.

So this morning I set my alarm for 6am… and snoozed it until about 6:40. By the time I was conscious enough to roll out of bed and stumble into the shower Mamu had already beaten me there. So I laid down for a few more minutes and listened to the water, waiting for her to finish.

Then I showered, and dressed up in a red kurta top that Mamu and Daddy picked out yesterday. I selected ten of my red and gold glass wedding bangles, putting five on each arm, and slipped my green wedding pote with golden tilhari over my head. When I went out to the living room Mamu and Daddy were already sitting on the couch waiting.

“Come, come,” Mamu said, “Wash hands to purify, then we go to worship Shiva.” At the sink she asked me, “Where’s your tikka? No tikka?”

“Should I put?” I asked.

“Tikka put on. Small tikka. Very pretty.” She insisted. So I went to my bedroom and fished out a packet of small sparkly tikkas from my jewelry box and stuck it between my eyebrows. While I was at it I asked P to put a small dot of orange sindoor at the part in my hair.

“Good,” Mamu said, and we walked to her bedroom where she had a small altar set up on the dresser. She had folded the Nepali calendar she brought with her from Kathmandu so that a picture of Shiva and Parvati was facing upward. In front of the picture she had a cucumber, a banana and an apple on a plate. She lit two incense and said, “Today we pray for the long lives of our husbands,” and motioned for me to pick up the plate of fruit/veg. I circled it in front of the gods’ picture and then she gave me the incense she had been holding. She folded her hands in Namaste and whispered a quick prayer. After I circled the incense she took them back and stuck them in the cucumber in front of Shiva to finish burning. She then motioned for me to touch both the heads of Shiva and Parvati, and then touch my own forehead with my right hand, then motioned for me to touch the two images of Ganesh and again touch my forehead.

“Okay, finished.” She said, “You want boiled potato?”

She took me to the kitchen where she had two small boiled potatoes on a plate ready for me. I felt like I was cheating. I kind of like fasting. I don’t have many opportunities to do it and I like having a reason to abstain from food—it’s like a personal challenge, and it makes you think about what it is like for the people in the world who have to go without. It teaches you discipline, and gives you some clarity. I have great respect for people who fast for Ramadan. One day of fasting hardly seems like a sacrifice.

I guiltily took one of the small potatoes and took a small bite.

“How many?” Mamu asked, “Two? Three?”

“One is okay.” I told her. “Potatoes are heavy.”

“But I have many!” She said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker to reveal another four or five floating in the water.

I compromised, “I’ll eat one now, and take two small potatoes for lunch.”

“And sweets?” she asked. At the Indian grocery store last night she had picked up two boxes of sweets—barfi and jelabi, and a canister of rosgolla. She thrusted three barfi into my hands.

“I’ll eat one now and take one for dessert.” I said.

“No… two. You want another? Three?”

“Okay, I’ll take two.” I packed a small lunch box with two small boiled potatoes, two milk barfi, and an apple. So much for “fasting.”

“No salt today.” Mamu instructed. “Only pure foods—ghee, milk, fruit, sweets, and potato.”

So now I am sitting in my office with tikka, sindoor, tilhari, red kurta, and glass bangles. In my own office it doesn’t matter so much… I’ve dressed “international” before, and it is more accepted by our student population (being that they too are international), but I have to meet with a domestic student today that the university administration asked me to take off campus for a serious issue tomorrow morning, so I am a little shy about meeting her all “Nepali-fied” and having her think I’m “weird.” I also have to host the campus religious diversity center open house—which I guess dressed in Hindu festival attire I won’t be too out of place, but I prefer my bubble of cultural diversity when dressed in this way.

The plan for the rest of the day is that once I get home from work I’ll dress up in a new maroon silk sari that Mamu brought me from Nepal specifically for Teej and go to the temple where P and I got married with Mamu and S-di.

So happy long life to my family, and happy Teej to anyone else celebrating today. Hopefully your MILs and/or significant others are helping you cheat with sweets as well today ;)

Sex-Selective Abortions and Children in the Prison System

Two articles were forwarded to me today by readers that I thought I’d pass along.

The first came from a reader–“Ullu”– in Finland. It was a Republica article on Sex-Selective Abortions on the rise in Nepal. The article explains that now that abortions are legal in Nepal, sex-selective abortions are becoming more common. Although doctors can potentially spend up to a year in jail for performing an abortion on women who have an ultra-sound to determine sex, and after finding out the gender, decide to abort the fetus, this has not deterred some doctors from following through on the procedure. Likewise it can be difficult for some physicians to even know whether or not their patients already know the gender prior to an abortive procedure. Some patience cross the border to India for ultrasounds, others simply visit a new health facility to finish the procedure. As one doctor noted, “[Our hospital has] a strict policy of keeping the baby’s gender a secret, but there are many health institutions in the country… Our effort alone cannot control illegal abortion.”

In a country where women, particularly from low-income families, have very little say in their reproductive health, legal safe abortions  in reputed medical facilities are important. However sex-selective abortions, in the words of one community nurse, could effect the overall population of Nepal some day– “We’ll have a dearth of [the] female population this way.”

The second article comes from Sparkly Date Palm who I believe writes from Dubai. She sent a link from BBC about a woman who is “mother” to 35 children, whose own mothers are currently in prisons in Nepal.

Thanks for the links!

World War II Indian “Spy Princess”

The BBC had a feature article today which I found interesting and thought I’d share. It was a profile on Noor Inayat Khan, who served as a British spy in France against the Nazis during World War II. Eventually she was captured, (and some sources say tortured, although it is unconfirmed), and executed in Dachau at the age of 30. Her final words were “Liberte!”

So often we hear negative news stories about South Asian Muslims, and rarely are heroic or strong South Asian or Muslim females featured, so I wanted to take the opportunity to point you towards her story. Additionally—the intercultural twist—her father was an Indian Sufi, and her mother was a Caucasian American, and she was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914.

Noor with her American mother, Ora Meena Ray Baker

According to the BBC article (Churchill’s Asian spy princess comes out of the shadows) and the Wikipedia entry on her, she was the great great grand-daughter of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore (and hence the use of the word “princess” in relation to Noor), who ironically was famous for fighting against the British.

Although Noor was “deeply influenced by the pacifist teachings of her father, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny.” She was quoted as saying, “I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.”

Noor in the early days

At first her Special Operations Executive trainers expressed doubt about using Noor in the field due to her “gentle and unworldly character,” however she was fluent in French and trained in wireless operation, and was ultimately selected to work as a spy in Nazi-occupied France. She was deployed in June of 1943 under the code name “Madeleine.”

A month after her deployment her spy circuit began to collapse and her commanders urged her to return to England, but she refused to abandon what had become “the principal and most dangerous post in France” because she did not want to leave her French comrades without communications.

For three months, she single-handedly ran a cell of spies across Paris, frequently changing her appearance and alias until she was eventually captured. On her arrest she fought so fiercely that the German police were afraid of her and she was thenceforth treated as an extremely dangerous prisoner (contrary to her earlier description of being too “gentle”). She attempted to escape twice during her interrogations, and according to the former head of the Gestapo in Paris, Hans Kieffer, “never gave a single piece of information to the Gestapo, but lied consistently.”

On November 25th 1943 she escaped with two fellow agents but were captured shortly thereafter during an impromptu air raid alert. She refused to sign a declaration renouncing future escape attempts so she was shipped to Germany and held in solitary confinement for ten months, classified as “highly dangerous” and was kept shackled in chains most of the time.

Noor, in the field

On September 11th 1944 Noor and three other agents were moved to Dachau Concentration Camp, and in the early hours of September 13th the four women were executed by a shot to the head. An anonymous Dutch prisoner reported in 1958 that Noor was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot in the head. Her last words were “Liberte!”

She was posthumously awarded a French Croix de Guerre and the British George Cross (Britain’s highest award for gallantry not on the battlefield).

To learn more about her, the BBC recommends Noor’s biography “The Spy Princess” by Shrabani Basu written in 2006.

Panchami and the Bhutanese Refugees

Back from New York, Teej and fasting.

I fasted from about 9pm on Friday night until about 9pm on Saturday so that when we were in the South Asian section of the city (Jackson Heights, Queens) I could eat at the Nepali restaurant with our friends. I found fasting a bit easier this year, I think because we were so busy walking around and doing things in the city that it made the day pass more quickly and kept my mind off of it. Although when someone sitting next to me at the tennis match ate a delicious smelling panini it made my mouth water.

Me at the US Open, Roger Federer in the background, wearing my red Teej clothing

On Sunday P and I woke up early and drove back to Massachusetts so that I could meet up with AS and S-di at the Bhutanese refugee gathering. By the time I arrived one of the pujas had already taken place, but I was quickly ushered to the newly forming ring of women preparing for the second puja.

AS and S-di were dressed in beautiful red saris, AS wearing the same clothes as she wore several months prior for her wedding including potes, bangles, dori and tikka. Since I was walking in straight from the highway, I was only wearing a red shirt and sweater and P’s mother’s red Teej necklace, but at least I had the right colors on.

AS explained that the women had organized a puja for Panchami, which is technically the fifth day (panch= five) but was actually the third day of Teej (Day 1—Daar feast, Day 2—Teej fast)– sometimes I really don’t get the Nepali calendar. The puja is in honor of seven gods represented by seven stars in the sky that are in the shape of a question mark (I’m assuming she was referring to the “seven sisters,” or Pleiades, in Orion’s belt, but maybe she meant a different constellation?). Again, the women generally fast until after the puja, and the puja is supposed to cleanse them of any sins they committed during the year (particularly sins they may have committed breaking menstrual taboos such as touching food, etc).

I enjoy pujas, especially larger chaotic ones. I don’t ever really understand anything that is going on, but there is always a lot of activity and confusion. Yesterday the large cluster of women sat in a circle with the priest (the only man in the group), who had spread before him an assortment of puja paraphernalia such as flowers and flower petals, fruits, rice, water, and incense. As the priest chanted prayers the women would pass around paper plates/bowls with flowers, water, or rice. I’d periodically be prompted to take a small handful of flower petals or water, hold it between my hands (in the namaste gesture), drip the water on my head, or touch the petals to my forehead, and then throw the petals into the middle of the circle.

At one point I was given a small plate on which  I  had to place a banana, apple, rice, flowers, water dyed with red tikka powder, and coins, and I offered it to the priest as a blessing. Even if I’m unsure of what to do, the other participants are usually willing to share or help me out, passing me handfuls of rice or miming the hand gestures I should follow.

Near the end of the puja the women stood, and started shuffling clockwise around the pile of puja material while the priest chanted, and plates with apples stuffed with handfuls of incense were lit as an arti and burned like candles. We were supposed to circle the altar seven times (but I might have only made it around three), and after the priest circulated through the crowd giving post-puja red tikkas.

Here are a few pictures from the event—

women sitting in the circle near the priest

AS (left) explains a few nuances of the puja as I'm passed a bowl of water. The priest's peach-pink-gray topi hat is seen to the left.

Listening to the priest for the next step. S-di is in the red sari with green pote to the left

Center of the puja activity-- bananas, flowers, yogurt, incense, apples, oranges, money, rice, nuts, even glass bangles

Giving offerings to the priest

Apple arti

Circling the puja area. You can tell the married women from the unmarried women by their necklaces (or lack there of).

Puja aftermath

And apparently a Nepali website (Sajha.com) captured me in action too-- chatting with AS and S-di

And posing for pics! AS, me, S-di, and an acquaintance of S-di's

For more views of Teej you can check out Nepal News video clip on celebrating in KTM this year.