Subcontinental Divide - 2015


Meet the Pat...well, the Jillanis

By Ahsen Jillani

With the tremendous reviews the movie Meet the Patels is receiving, it was obvious that the battle was going to come to, well, my bedroom. Late one night, my wife lamented that I should have married a “desi” woman and life would have been a lot easier for me. This is not the first time either. Over the years, I’ve heard her complain about my expectations enough that I can usually guess that I will be hearing about why desi women were the perfect match for me.

I would hardly characterize myself as being the kabob eating guy who demands cooking, cleaning and ironing on a regular basis. I mean, we have an iron, but no one has seen it in decades. And I did microwave chicken kabobs that I got from an Indian grocer on a whim one time.

On a daily basis, I’m your usual boring man about the house who goes around sniffing towels and checking for dirt on top of furniture. That, I’ve explained to my wife, is not a desi thing—it’s called OCD. I don’t think most desi men use comet on the bathtub and steam clean the kitchen floor on a regular basis.

More than 27 years out, I am realizing that it wasn’t cultural differences that made my wife want to choke me while I was snoring in bed. Actually, I don’t know any desi wife who could tolerate my notorious snoring. That takes extra-terrestrial sort of love and commitment. My kids usually sleep on the porch if the weather allows, just to avoid the symphony that sounds like Ravi Shankar played backwards with a warning message to purchase earplugs before sleep deprivation kills you.

In all seriousness, however, I tore through the difficult barriers like a hitched buffalo slaving through dry ground. My parents were not traditional, having travelled through several countries while my dad tried his hand on a United Nations career. We met couples who fit every combination of race, creed, religion, ethnic background, and tax bracket. When I finally presented my dilemma to them, there was the usual silence, of course.

But then they asked practical things. “Deaths, births, illnesses, happiness and pain,” my dad said (asked?), looking up from his Newsweek magazine. I smiled. “Are you kids going to grow up Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or what?” my mom asked. I smiled.

I got married in a park by a Christian priest. My parents have passed. Strangely, nothing that scared my parents, and sometimes, me, ever happened. My girls are 23 and 19 now, and they have their own, rather strong, moral code. I never asked. I celebrate Christmas, wish my friends Happy Diwali, and Happy Eid, but I don’t see any of that as being “me vs. them.” People I love celebrate life in many ways. What then were the cultural handicaps that so many friends and relatives warned me about?

Three decades out, I can see a few things. Yes, my dad was right about being there for the family. But many desi families move to foreign countries, or away from their hometowns within their countries, and face difficulty seeing their families on a regular basis. More of that depends on your job and your economic circumstances rather than distance. Many cousins I know who work for large, progressive companies in the U.S. can take weeks off and fly home for weddings, deaths, and even vacations. I’m usually self employed or working for small companies who never seem to be able to accommodate my requests. Yes, my mom was right about the kids. If we had to thank a god for the meal on the table, I wouldn’t know which one to thank. My wife and kids have decided on their own god, and seem happy enough.

Yes, Bollywood/Hollywood always want to put their liberal spin on things and love, rather, LOVE, always seems to conquer all. For me also, beyond the logistics, it wasn’t about culture, religion, color, or national origin. I look back three decades and look at sacrifices and they go beyond whether I met my spouse at work, at a disco, through the internet, or via a traditional handshake between our parents. Someone who cares for you, wants to build a family with you, wants to grow old with you, and always seems to supersede the logistics, the distance and the culture.

In the end, I probably haven’t delivered what was expected of me. I hardly turned out to be an exotic Asian guy with mysterious ways. I’m just a person. My wife is just a person. I tolerate the fact that she washes clothes with organic washpowder that doesn’t work. She tolerates the fact that I sniff towels and complain that they don’t smell bleached and fresh. Those are just battles in the story of life. I don’t care if she cremates me, buries me, embalms me or throws me to the buzzards. She’s a person who loves me, a guy who snores, bleaches, smells things, buys steam cleaners and vacuums, and gives birthday presents like Lysol spray to the kids.

The world is now a small place and 12 hours separate one culture from another. I cannot make the journey East and claim that anyone loves me more because I have crossed some borders. My journey is the one I am on now…being with a person who plucked me out of the world to be her one and only, through fate or parental handshake, through culture and geographical border, and set her sights on spending the rest of her life with me. Meet the Jillanis….quirks and all.

Ahsen Jillani never goes on vacation because hotels will not give his wife a free room in case a snoring episode happens.