A Culture of Obligations

August 10, 2010
Mansi Bhatia

I’ve become increasingly impatient with, and resentful of, anything that has a whiff of an obligation to it.

Culturally, we’re trained to grin and bear it when auntyjis come unannounced to gossip about the neighbors and ask uncomfortable questions about one’s personal life.

We don’t like it, but we still attend birthday parties of toddlers that the kids themselves don’t care about (and more important, won’t remember).

We host folks at dinner because at some point they invited us (doesn’t matter if we don’t have anything in common).

We are taught to be respectful and tolerant of our relatives – no matter how distant the connection – and be charming hosts should they visit town.

Daughters are taught to always obey their in-laws, no matter how unreasonable their demands (not one Indian woman I know goes to her parent’s house first when she lands in India … there’s an unwritten rule about things like that).

For years and years we’ve heard it is part of our sanskriti, but I don’t understand why we need to do things just because our culture mandates them?

Why can’t we feel guilt-free when choosing to laugh in the face of these obligations?

Why can’t people just chill and not force such inconsequential minutia on an already complex life?

Does it matter if I didn’t attend your first child’s first birthday? It isn’t for him anyway.

Does it matter if I didn’t get a gift for the distant cousin when I visited from the United States? It’s not about the money or the weight I’d have to lug – it’s about the shallowness of it all.

Why do I need to have something for everyone in the “relative” and “neighbor” categories every time I go home? Why do I have to meet those people’s expectations? Heck, why do they expect any gifts to begin with? I don’t even know some of them!

And how does it matter to any of them how long I have been married and don’t have any kids? Why are they ‘concerned’?

And who are they to tell me how I should focus on raising a family instead of focusing on my career? What do they know?

And why am I obligated to hear them go on and on about their assumptions?

If I choose not to humor them, why do they have to feel all hurt and snubbed?

Why, then, do they have to take me on a guilt trip and give me lectures on our traditions, our roots, our values?

They tell me it’s our culture – our tolerance of all this social fiddle-faddle shows how respectful and decent we are.

What about all these people who make all these demands? Where is their culture? Where is their respect for privacy? Where is their decency?

Don’t they have an obligation to let me be?

Where’s that in our sanskriti?

Mansi Bhatia is a writer/editor currently residing in San Jose, California. An Indian by birth, a world citizen by choice.
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