My home phone rings.
“Hello, this is Akshita here”
“Akhsita?Oh yes I remember.”
It took me a few seconds to place her- a young 26 year old Indian doctor, from Chandigarh who I had met on Oct 25, 2010 during a day long exam for Canadian Licence for medical practice.
I had noticed her sitting huddled up in a corner during the hour long break in the exam and I sat next to her with the usual smile to initiate a dialogue
“Are you from India?” she asked
“Yes from Delhi.”
We deicide to go upto the coffee shop to buy cofee and stand in the queue exchanging the usual data about each other.
“But I need some coins too so that I can call my husband once the exam is done.”
“So you don’t have a cell phone,” I stop short of asking her. Yes it isnt mandatory for all of us to have a cell phone.
We talk of the exam and the time flies away.
She mentions to me how ‘homesick’ she feels and it has been months since she talked to another Indian and another doctor.
“So you dont study in a study group”.
“No” she replied again.
Yes I too dont like group study so just give this answer a pass.
As we pack up to turn back for the next session and she asks me, as if unsure if this was an appropriate thing to ask:
”Can I have your phone number? If I need to, can I ever call you?”
I dictate out the number again too involved in my next exam without giving my name or even asking her number in return, even out of politeness.
We disperse and she is out of my mind.
Today she calls up to ask about the outcome of the exam result and poor soul declares that she could not pass. I reassure her, and to stay put until she succeeds. Next exam is 6 months on and enough to make a strong preparation.
She explains that she can only talk till her mother in law is in the shower.
She breaks down with the news that she cant even appear again until she reimburses the fees for this exam to her in laws .
“You couldn’t succeed, the fee of $1500 dollars was a total waste”—she is repeatedly taunted by her husband.
We talked for about 20 minutes or so, and she seemed keen to do most of the talking. I let her.
She confided is being nagged to compensate for the fees. How? She has no clues nor have they hinted how. Go out to work? She says but they dont let her even step out alone from the house. Or maybe if she does go out to do an odd job of $10.25 an hour, they may change their mind.
Or graver still , maybe they expect her to demand this from her family back home to refund. But they are so kind that they do not say it in so many words.
They are letting her use her ‘independence’ to decide how she would reimburse.
“I feel miserable.I dont know what to do’”?
The word homesickness strikes my mind. Now I get a clue to what ‘homesickness’ she was going through in her new home in Canada.
She is being reminded several times a day and in several ways that they got her married to their son, for doctors here earn good money and she has proved to be an expensive daughter-in-law on the contrary.
She is now here since 3 years and lives with her inlaws. She has been attempting to clear the licensing exam since past two years in order to come into the medical practice in Canada.The expenses for the fees are pretty fat and generally it takes a few attempts for the average foreign trained proffessional to pass the exams.
Since she’s been feeding on the family’s expenses for these past 3 years, who had even financed her $ 2000+ airticket when she arrived in the country after marriage and the expenses of her books, exams fees she has been convinced. With all this already spent on her, she has been convicned she cannot be provided with a cell phone.
“Here the person is paid on an hourly basis and half of the money is taken away in taxes’, she is told time and again.
Hence, to make long story short—she does not need to have a cell phone.
She is ‘allowed’ by her generous inlaws to make a 5-10 min call to her parents every 15 days and they are so kind they stand by her for everyminute of the call she makes to her ‘contented’ parents. Why shouldn’t they be, their girl is settled in Canada.
Any deviation in her expressions to her parents over the phone from ”alls well’ tone is greeted with eyes popping from the mother in law’s sockets, or for days when her husband “neither looks, talks or touches” her. (in her own words).
She has no relatives or acquaintnaces in the town she lives, and before she got my telephone number, she did not have even a single phone number to call in times, good or bad.
Mother in law is a retired lady and hence she is fortunate to be escorted by her all those hours when her husband is away. When he arrives only does she do her other social obligations.
She feels she and her husabnd are literally “remote controlled” by the mother in law. But she is ‘kind’ enough tolet her study time from 8 am to 12 noon, soon after her husband leaves for work, but past noon onwards she does the house chores of cooking and cleaning, unsupervised, while the mother in law makes a one hour telephone call to her daughter in another city.
Three years and she has not been even dropped a hint at learning to drive, with a simple assumption from her that she can only do it once she has her Canadian passport.
I offer her if I could help her in any way, she feels extremely undecided and then wants to wait that if she passes next time the attitudes will get better. At times she contradicts herself and justifies that the husband is “really bearing too much of her expenses”.
I ask her if she could give me her Indian phone number so that at least I can drop a hint to her parents—but she confides that the father is a heart patient and the mom has advised to refrain from any bad news.
I reassure her that there are various places and resources available for help but then it will need a huge courage on her part to come out. I also tell her to take her own decision—nor can I force her to take the action of my choice and then should go in with strong conviction. She repeats, “I think once I pass things will be different.”
As we were just in the midst of this discussion she hangs up the phone. Maybe it got disconnected. I wait.
But the ring doesn’t ring again.It hasnt rung till now—almost 3 hrs since her call.
I feel extremely disturbed. Can I return the call? What if other family members are home? What if she hasn’t told them about me and it might rebound on her. Hope she calls back. Hope she stays safe and in control of her situation
How can I take the baton for her? She has to run her own relay.
We can just guide her, reassure her and empower her to take her own sound decisions.
But the courage has to be her own.
I’ve never been so puzzled in life. I find it hard to get back to business as usual.
A perfect recipe for me to stay up all night, staring the roof .
Very often we hear of the cries of stories wherein the western desi girls are subjected to forced marriages by their families to cousins or other family members.
In Pakistan I know, there has been a special cell in the British HC for rescuing such girls from the clutches of forced marriages. Majority of these girls are at least school graduates and well aware of their rights and still they find it hard to rebel against what goes on.
A similiar but reverse trend of bringing girls from back home is thriving too. Many desi households in the west live a terrifically balanced life —by adopting those western values which suit them and conveniently being amnesic to those norms which donot suit them.
Prevailing social and economic hardships, over population, and fascination for the ‘foreign country’ or ‘west’ lures equally the parents and the girls back home to aspire for a foreign rishta. It offers a quick escape from the hardships in the heat and dust back home. The guy’s family too finds it a lot convenient to look for a simpleton bride from their homeland with the impression that the girls back there are still make ‘bholi bhali bahus’ as they had known when they migrated a couple or more decades ago. Majority of them live in the time freeze of the times they had last lived back home.
The parents quite often, convince the boy, after he has done enough of ‘playing around’ in high school or college days, that now it is worthwhile or rather safe to go for a desi girl with a desi frame of mind—fulfilling everyones convenient dreams—most of all of parents themselves, of a desi seedhi saadi bahu. It also enables obliging the relatives ‘behind’ by choosing their daughter, hence opening their gateway to the west.
The guy is convinced that the girl who comes will be adjusting and law abiding at home, wouldn’t be a threat to the marriage, and will never know her rights or claims if at all the marriage fails.
This is one mindset which atunes all diaspora of the South Asians, to the same wavelength, across all subgroups, all faiths, all languages and all economic classes.
Doctor girls are in huge demand by the foreign settled rishta parents from our subcontinent.
Principally it is a noble profession, it makes great news to announce that the bahu is a doctor, if she gets into the system she will mint money and will be the blue eyed of her husband and his family as their mortgages will be finished soon.
Back home with 4:1 ratio of girls in medical colleges, and the valid aspiration of every medical graduate to find a suitor of equal professional aptitude is tough, hence getting a proposal from a foreign settled graduate is like “her man in shining armour riding a white horse, who will come, and lo will vanish all the miseries in her life.”
Of course the cousin marriages, in Muslims, need no cross check. In other communities, the girl’s family is so enamoured by the foreign rishta that they believe on word of mouth or get impressed by a tour of the photoalbums, and consent to the foreign damaad without much investigation. Even if they wish to inquire, ‘the distance, the visa, the expense’ constraints are enough to dampen the ‘evil’ thought.
Investigations for what? She is a doctor and she will earn well over there.
A lot of them do not even explore how tough the licensinfg exams are, and that barely a fraction of them are able to make into the field of medical practice.
Majority of doctors end up being grateful housewives or doing odd jobs or even diversifying into diametrically opposite fields like interior decoration, beautician, research assistant or a teacher.
This is not the srtory of one Akshita. The situation on ground is overwhelming in volume.
The idea here is not to create a paranoia but to inform about the various vulnerabilities one faces—be it in professional terms or socail viewpoint.
Despite the tremendous pressures for a right match or aspirations to move over to the greener pastures, it is mandatory for the parents to cross check the degrees that the boys claim to possess and the the possibilities of one’s daughter to be able to pursue her career.
She should be aware of her rights as well as the duties which takes to make marriage a compatible, pleasant and a worthwhile experience. It certainly does not imply that all are alike but a lot of girls I have personally known do find it tough to adjust to the controlling ways of their insecure inlaws.
Getting one’s daughter maried off to a stranger residing thousands of miles away needs a truck load of courage. It should be embarked upon with wisdom and with all the possible issues in mind.
It has been, now, 4 hours since Akshita called me. She did not ring back. Hope she is fine and safe. Hope her controlling mother in law hasn’t heard her talk on phone.
I hope she gets enough courage to stand up on her two legs and her husband grows a spine in his back —to at least lend a moral support to his wife, who has come a 4000 miles just to spend the rest of her life with him, and who is going to be a mother of his kids in future.
If the mother in happy, their children too would grow happy.
Most likely, I am afraid her situation will prevail as such with cyclical pattern of frequent taunts and then a few happy moments— typical of abuse—and she will go on for years being unsure whether it is appropriate for her raise an alarm and she will be listened to.
Every doctor girl coming here to Canada or west in general, has to go through the challenges—of adjusting to the new way of life, pressures of completing the battery exams in order to get back into practice, feeling homesick but unable to visit parents and with loads of expectations that one day she will turn into “a goose that will lay gold eggs.”
In this era of information explosion it is an abominable sin to embark on a life long decision unaware of it’s pros and cons. It is mandatory on all parents and girls to please take wise decisions.
Please look before you let your daughters leap.
Decide carefully and wisely…
16 December 2010
(PS: This is a true story of today itself. However, Akshita is not her real name).