Who is that special woman you always looked up to?
I often notice that there are amazing mentors we have in life that give us wisdom beyond career advice. Many of us have women we look up to as example of strength, beauty, intelligence and reliance. I never felt like I had a woman like that in my life, until I met Jay’s special woman…his Grandmother.
Last week on Instagram I asked everyone to write the most important piece of advice you would tell your younger self. One topic that kept coming up was prioritizing relationships and family. We all think the big wins feel good and the material stuff is so fun at first, but it was clear from your answers that true satisfaction comes from relationship building and community!
Growing up I never had any real relationships with my biological grandparents, which often made me envious of other kids who had these amazing loving grandparents who always spoiled them with gifts and attention. Since I didn’t have any grandparents in my life, I decided that the whole notion of grandparents was completely overrated.
When I met Jay he told me the most beautiful stories about growing up in India with his Grandparents…of the tight knit communities, respect for elders, and how their age and wisdom bonded the generations together. He remembered his Grandma’s delicious spicy fish fry, the warmness and unconditional love within her embraces, and her resilience in times when her husband lost his fortune and she had make do with very little.
When Jay invited me to travel to Bangalore and meet his grandparents for the first time, I cannot tell you how sacred I was! I always heard that they wanted Jay to marry a nice girl from his cast from Banglore of their choosing, and was so terrified they would hate me. Love marriages (where two people freely choose each other to marry) are still quite uncommon, and most people still look to their elders to help them find an arranged marriage (very Game of Thrones style). So off to Bangalore I went last December, with lots of long maxi Ganni dresses in tow for modesty, and faith that at least I could escape to my hotel if meeting the family went south!
I remember I finally getting off the 24 hour plane ride and saw lots of dust, herds of goats, and the glorious chaos of endless honking cars, people, and mopeds…I was very overwhelmed by this new culture and had no idea how the American girl in me would acclimate. After a long nap at our beautiful hotel, Jay pushed me out of my comfort zone to go meet the family.
In India, when you introduce your fiancee it is a really serious big deal, because marriage is viewed as the tying together of families, and involves a lot more than just the individuals. Marriage in India is not about romance, it is about survival that involves the whole family and impacts many people. In the United States, the idea of “love marriage” dominates the culture – marrying for love, not family, not survival needs. Though love marriages do occur in India, many families find a partner for their unmarried children. I knew walking into this situation that many of Jay’s family members had wanted him to have an arranged marriage … so naturally I was very scared of being approved of!
As much as I believe in developing confidence and a sense of strength that comes from within, there are still certain situations that give us all pressure to perform well and live up to expectations. So with all of this cultural difference, and fear of how I would come across, I tried my best to feel at ease as our uber pulled up in front of a very colorful apartment building where Jay’s grandparents live with his uncle and cousin.
When I made my entrance in my hot pink Ganni maxi dress, to my great delight, Jay’s Grandmother greeted me with the most beautiful big smile and joyful, regal hot pink saree to match! We literally were twinning in both joyful energy and outfits! Clearly she was a fashionista just like me!
When we sat to down to tea, we both immediately started talking to each other – me in English and she in Tamil. Although neither of us understood the other person’s language, we had that instant chemistry that crosses the barrier’s of language. She exuded warmth, youthful energy, and a childlike delight I saw in myself. She also clearly had a glamour and sense of creativity and style that we immediately began connecting on. As I got to know her, I came to admire her so much. This amazing woman who had once been a girl married off at age 14, who raised four children, who went through tumultuous financial ups and downs, and yet always remind so cheerful and filled with grace and love.
In those short days I spent with her, I felt so grateful that I was able to connect on so many levels with someone whose life has been so different than mine, from a culture so different from mine…who doesn’t even speak my language! She never judged me, she never looked down upon me for not being from Bangalore or a certain cast, and truly embraced me into her family.
These days, back home in the Bay Area, I often find myself thinking about her, and wishing I could take her with me on one of my photoshoot adventures, or go saree shopping with her. I often wonder what she would think of San Francisco, or a certain art exhibit, or feminism?
I notice that our generation is often so busy, or so connected to our phones and friends, that we forget about the wisdom of our elders. We forget to go connect with those people that have an unconditional love for us, and we forget to touch base with them and drink in the wisdom they hold.
So dear readers, while we go about our busy lives, I hope you remember this week and beyond to connect with those who enrich your life, and to remember that no matter our differences, we are all her sharing the same human connections. You might just find a new friend, or grandma, or mentor in someone totally unexpected – if you just give them the chance!
How did your grandmother help your family survive and thrive?
What wisdom did she pass on to you?
And if you have made it this far, check out my post on cultivating deeper romantic relationships here!