In Step or Out?

September 13, 2010
Mansi Bhatia

I see a lot of couples walking in the mornings and evenings in my neighborhood. Mostly older folks — visiting parents I assume — from India.

Women wearing saris with cardigans or shawls and sporting sneakers, men dressed in kurta-pajamas with a woolen vest and, sometimes, monkey caps. A small fraction of the women wear loose-fitting jeans and men, trousers.

Distinct physical attributes and attire immediately give away the region they're from. Sometimes I can even tell if they're from a big city or a small Indian town.

The one thing that's common between all of them regardless of whether they are from a metro or a village, whether they're north, south, east or west Indian, whether they're vegetarians or non-vegetarians, whether they worship four gods or 40, whether they're here for two weeks or six months, whether they're going on a three-mile walk or going around the corner to Starbucks, is this: the men always walk four to five paces ahead of the women.

I just don't get it.

These people have been married for a couple of decades, they should be matching each other's gait instead of following a discordant walking routine.

If you didn't know any better, you'd assume they're unrelated individuals enjoying the landscaping along the sidewalks.

One perspective of looking at it might be that they're so comfortable with each other that they don't need words between them. I understand that.

In fact, I quite like the idea of comfortable silence ... I've been on many walks with my husband with nary a word uttered. But we've always walked together. Step in step (occasionally hand in hand, too).

I've seen other couples of other ethnicities on walks, too — not one of them has that dissonance about them.

What happens to Indian couples, then?

My parents and my in-laws do the same thing - the fathers always leading the way; the mothers quietly following.

They are different as night and day in everything else, but in this one attitude they could be Siamese twins.

Is this something that my husband and I are going to adopt as we grow older?

Will we also walk out of sync ... not together, but apart?

Is it just something that happens naturally to Indian couples?

Is it a cultural thing? An individual preference? A social norm?

Or is it just me overthinking?

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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