Alexandra Madhavan

Madh-Mama: Blogging An Intercultural Marriage


Blogger Feature: Madh-Mama

Alexandra Madhavan calls herself Firangi Bahu, which is Hindi for “Foreign Daughter-in-law“.

She says being a part of an Indian family for nearly a decade, she has ridden the ups and downs that is the intercultural tidal wave.  In our featured blog by a mom for Spring, we are talking to Alexandra Madhavan who lives in  Vancouver, BC, Canada.  In her blog, Madh-Mama,  Alex shares what happens to a Canadian girl when she becomes a Tamil Iyengar wife.

What inspired you to write your blog? How did you meet your husband?

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I met my husband in college in the USA when we were both international students – and it was an instant attraction, chemistry and a stroke of destiny. We started out as friends first, and it took him forever to make a move! He was more concerned about being a gentleman. We were engaged soon after and then we were on a flight to India. It has been a wild ride!

I first started my blog after my daughter was born and I had a lot of downtime at home, being on maternity leave at the time. Originally, I wanted to document my experience of motherhood but then my writing morphed into a lot of intercultural topics. I also felt a bit lonely in the intercultural journey since we didn’t know any other couples like us. Subconsciously, I think I set out to find others like us who are in mixed marriages.

IMG_7772Tell us about ‘Madh Mama’

The main focus of my blog is to document our every day life – how we blend our distinct cultures – in little ways and big ways. So many people thought we couldn’t possibly live between these two diverse worlds and cultures – but we do every day. I also wanted to document how we are raising our daughter while honouring her rich cultural heritage (she is Tamil, Telugu, Russian, Irish and French).

 

How do you balance cultural expectations as a mom in a mixed marriage?

As woman, as a mother, and as an Indian’s wife – there are great expectations. It’s a triple whammy – it’s not easy. Sometimes the pressure gets to me. As an Indian wife, I am seen as the keeper of traditions and many of the customs are so complicated and multi-layered that I fear that I will never understand them. Also, my Indian family has had a hard time explaining traditions to me. For them, it is automatic. They have never had to explain it before. I have learned the most by observation and by doing my research, and I am still learning. I only hope I am doing a good job!

 

You’ve mentioned in your blog, “In my experience with my husband’s family & the process of attempting to blend into such a strong and dominant culture, I often find myself feeling either very visible or completely invisible.  Can you explain this a bit to us?

In India, it is not easy being a woman, a foreigner, or being a mixed marriage. As a foreign woman, I find that I am exoticized for my skin colour. People will ask to take my picture, people will touch me without permission, and generally be more intrusive with 1001 questions. I stand out like a sore thumb and there is nothing I can do to blend in. It makes me feel anxious a lot of the time. Yet at the same time, at Indian family gatherings or within the family home, I feel more invisible.
Family members are more comfortable conversing in their native tongue, so I am left to eavesdrop. I wish I could be in on the conversation so I could contribute.
I am essentially voiceless in family gatherings and feel quite steam rolled. If any question is asked to me, it is usually asked to my husband and then he answers it for me.
Also, there are some elders who are more sensitive about their English skills and feel more shy. And my accent makes it worse – nobody can understand me! So it is a bit hard. I am still trying to build relationships with my husband’s family, after nearly a decade.
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How did you decide to name your baby? What factors played a role in that?
Pronunciation was key. My side of the family absolutely butchers Indian names – they need a lot of vowels! We also wanted something that BOTH sides of the family would say the same. For example, the Indian side would pronounce letters like R, Z, V, W, X differently – so we had to rule out those letters. Since we had settled abroad, I also wanted to use an Indian name to preserve my husband’s heritage.
We also wanted a short name that could not be shortened by her friends. I went through a Hindu baby naming book and wrote down pages of names. Then my (picky!) husband chose the top 6 of
those names. TIMG_7776hen I showed the top 6 names to my favourite aunty (who I was named after) and she selected the name. It worked out perfectly! It turned out our daughter’s name – Maya – is a global name.
We also had a bit of trouble selecting a middle name. In my culture, we always give the child a middle name. My husband did not want a middle name.
We ended up naming her after my grandmother – Josephine – my husband could not say no! So we named her Maya Josephine – a perfect blend of both our cultures.
What are some of the things that surprised you as a mom in a mixed marriage?
One of the things that surprised me the most is that we started having cultural differences only after having children!
We never really had big cultural differences in the 6 years before having kids. I think once you become a parent, the way you raise your child is solely based on your cultural and familial experiences. Plus, as parents we will do things differently with him being a man, and me being a woman.
 It has taught me to respect our differences more. We don’t HAVE to do everything the same, and maybe a little diversity is good.
IMG_7773What are some of the things you loved most?
The thing I love most about being a mom in a mixed marriage are raising our daughter with traditions. Even though many are hard for me to understand, it is important that we celebrate life and milestones as much as we can. We celebrate Christmas and Diwali; Puthandu and Greek Easter – everything! I love an excuse to celebrate, and right now it is fun because my daughter is really understanding everything. I want to give her those memorieds
Another thing I love about being in a mixed marriage is the togetherness of our family. Family is so important to us, and it means a lot to see my daughter interact with her grandparents at every chance. I was extremely close with my grandparents when I was little, so I hope she has the same experience. My dream is to live with BOTH our parents – talk about a full house!
What are some of your favourite experiences cooking new recipes?
The only way my husband is more traditional is when it comes to food! Like a typical South Indian man, he loves his idly and dosas. When I met him I could not even turn the rice cooker on!!! And now I am a chef extraordinaire and I cook mostly Indian food. My daughter is just like her dad too, she loves anything spicy!
I have learned cooking from both my husband and mother-in-law. Both of them explain things horribly, so it helps if I just watch them and make notes. I also take pictures of the process because I am a visual learner. Having these notes are very helpful because I can never remember the spice combinations. Another thing that helped me was taking Indian Vegetarian Cooking classes. I learned how to make the best kheer from that class! Some tips for people who are just starting Indian cooking is to make notes, practice makes perfect, and also it is important to let the spices develop into flavours – more time is always good.
You’ve written about the psychology of the Indian mother in law..can you tell us what made you write that post and what you learned?
It has been a long road with my mother in law. I wrote that post when I felt that I finally got to a really good, secure place with her. Our relationship has developed slowly and delicately, with lots of bumps in the road. Even though we fought, we always came back to each other – united by our love for my husband, we needed to make it work. What came out of it was an unconventional friendship. I wanted to show other people that you CAN make a different relationship with your mother in law – but both parties have to be willing.
What tips do you have for other moms like you  who may be looking to balance cultural needs with family?
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It can be very overwhelming. Give yourself time. Learn not only by observation, but by interest. The need to understand culture needs to come naturally, it cannot be forced. Do things at your own pace. And also never forget the highest form of respect you can give is to make attempts (however little they may be) to understand your spouse’s culture.
What are you most proud of ? What are your biggest challenges?
I am most proud of the fact that I have always followed my heart and intuition – otherwise I would not have been in a mixed marriage. I am strong in my convictions and confident in decisions that are made from my heart – and I don’t need others people’s validation. My husband is also the exact same way.  My biggest challenge is dealing with other people. People don’t really know how to perceive us. People make assumptions about us because we are a mixed couple. However, I am just grateful when people are kind!
You can follow Alexandra’s journey on madh-mama.blogspot.ca and on twitter at @Madh_Mama


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