Five Rooms for 22 Family Members – Our School Children – 11 Sep 15

Today I would like to introduce you to Hemlata, a little girl from a poor area of Vrindavan who is growing up in a big joint family.

Hemlata is six years old and she is one of 22 joint family members. Her father is the youngest of five brothers and they all live together with Hemlatas grandmother, their wives and children in one big house. If you now think of a two- to three-story house in which every child has his or her own room, you can forget that idea straight away. Every family of four or five has one room for themselves. These rooms are all just enough for one or two beds and maybe a cupboard. The grandmother normally sleeps on a bed outside and moves into her eldest son’s room when it gets too cold for that.

The family’s biggest reason for not expanding – for which they would even have a piece of empty land in the back of the house – is that they don’t have extra money. All five brothers are labourers and their wives housewives. They earn and then buy their food, clothes and other supplies from that money. There is normally not much left to save, especially due to the children who often need something new to wear or medical attention which again brings expenses.

Hemlata’s father for example regularly has to use any extra money on Hemlata’s doctor bills or medication. From her birth she has a breathing problem and a nearby pediatrician diagnosed asthma. She coughs a lot and we are told that especially in winter time it gets worse. She takes medicine which is said to help her breathe more smoothly.

At our visit, Hemlata’s younger brother is lying on his grandmother’s lap and drinking milk. She greets us friendly and tells us about the time when they bought the house and moved in while the family members slowly gather. It is a display of the traditional joint family and while these people are poor and struggle for money, we can see that they will always have the emotional support of all these people behind them.

We now provide them some educational support by teaching Hemlata in our school, completely for free.

You can help us helping children like her by sponsoring a child or the food for a day.

Are you too tired for Sex after a long Day of Work? – 10 Aug 15

Recently someone asked me for my advice in a personal matter: he worked hard and had long working days. When he came home from work, he was tired after a whole day’s work with lots of stress. He either had no time or, if he had time, he was too tired for having sex! That however left his wife unsatisfied and unhappy. What should he do?

First of all, it is a good thing you are turning to people for advice because it is about time! Once the unhappiness in your relation reaches a level where loud complains start and one partner resents the other, you have to rethink your lifestyle! And ideally make a few bigger changes as well!

Secondly, I hope not only your wife is missing bedtime fun but you, too!

Once you are married, there is someone in your life who has certain expectations of you, and rightfully so! I am not talking monetary expectations here! To be fully clear, I am not even talking only about physical expectations! Actually, this problem is not really about sex. It is about emotions and love. As your partner in love, your wife has a certain right to your heart and your time!

You decide: what is important to you? Are you living for your work or do you work for a living? Are you enjoying your work more than the time with your wife?

Don’t get me wrong, you should enjoy your work. There should however always be more joy in the time that you share with your family or partner. If it was not possible for you to share your heart in this way, you should have chosen another way of life!

A lot of people would say ‘I am doing all of this hard work for them, my family, for their future and for the children!’ Especially when you have children, you should realize that you cannot enjoy your time like this. If you work less, earn a bit less but spend some more time together, you will actually have a better life, I promise!

If you continue in this way, you and your partner will slowly get further apart from each other. You choose now whether you want to take more interest in being together and loving each other or more interest in work. If you choose work and she find something else, another interest that she wants to invest her time into, you are not in a position to complain!

Don’t expect your wife to be sitting at home, keeping the house clean and waiting forever for you to come and spend time with her. Or sleep with her – although sex is in this case more a symbol of your closeness. It is the physical expression of the love you have for each other. And right now, your work is slowly killing it.

You need to have time for your loved ones in daily life and then take out time for real weekends and holidays as well. Live your life!

Western Women married in India: do you follow ‘Indian Menstruation Rules’? – 30 Jun 15

I yesterday explained that a western woman marrying an Indian man and living with him in his joint family will have a few challenges to face. One of these will most probably be her mother-in-law and the decision until which point she will let her interfere in her life. Another aspect is the one that I would like to write about today: how far will you, a woman from the west, accept religious and superstitious actions. Will you follow them?

Again, as always, the questions that will come in this area depend a lot on the individual situation. Where did you grow up, how religious were your surroundings, which belief do you hold yourself and how far are you willing to practice a part of another religion just to please someone? At the same time it depends on your partner and his belief as well as his family and how strong traditions run in it!

One thing is for sure and you always have to remember: you don’t have to do anything you really don’t want to do. Nobody can force you to perform religious actions that go against what is deeply rooted in your heart. Always know this and if your partner tries to push you further in a direction you don’t want to go, it is time to consider whether it is real love and worth this struggle.

This being said however, I believe there are most often other ways to deal with such situations, as it is your love that keeps you together and makes you respect the other one deep within.

There are questions for daily life like the following: the meal is ready, you have helped cooking and your mother-in-law gives you a plate, directs you to the altar and tells you – or shows you, if you don’t have a common language – how to first offer every eatable thing to god before you eat it yourself. Will you not only stick to this rule but be the one to do this offering?

Then there are questions for once a month: in India, women are not allowed to enter the kitchen when they are menstruating. Still today, many don’t even eat together with their family on those days. They are also not allowed to do so many other things in daily life, like washing clothes or do the dishes. In some families women sleep in a separate room during this time! They are not pure during their period. How strict is your husband’s family with this tradition? In my opinion it is pure nonsense and a woman should not be degraded for something which is simply a biological, natural process of the body! If you feel the same, I would suggest you make your husband understand that this process is part of the cycle that one day brings sons and daughters – and nothing dirty or impure! It is your choice in the end how far you want to go in accepting or refusing such a superstition – but you should be prepared by having asked yourself this question!

So while you probably won’t mind joining the family’s ceremonies on festival days and while you will most surely go along with a lot of small things, there will be other aspects that bother you. I just want to ask you to please not keep such a problem inside yourself. You have to talk about it and your husband has to be open to hear and consider it. I am sure you will find a way that is comfortable for the two of you – regardless of the opinions of other people around you!

Ready to marry an Indian Man? Are you also ready for the joint Family Experience? – 29 Jun 15

Today I want to return to writing down some things for international couples that consist of a western women and an Indian man. These are thoughts for those who are in the process of deciding on a life together, to give their love a chance even though they come from two so very different cultures. It is not always fully easy but with a mature way of thinking and acting, you can make yourself and the other one happy. Before that, however, you need to do your homework and prepare yourself by getting to know the culture of the other one. By thinking and also talking about the future. Today, I want to start writing about the issues that you need to consider if you both decide to live in India – in his joint family!

It may always have been your dream, as a woman from a western country, to move to India. You have heard so much about it and now that you have found the man you feel is your soulmate, you are about to actually make this dream reality. Now I just would like to make you aware of a few facts that may look different in your dream than in your reality and one of these facts has to do a lot with the woman who was, before you, the most important one in your partner’s life: your mother-in-law.

I don’t want to be negative, don’t want to scare anybody and don’t want to advise against this path. I just would like you to be aware of how things usually work in India. There is a certain hierarchy within a traditional family which goes according to age of the family’s men. Among the women, this means that your mother-in-law is the head, then the eldest brother’s wife, then the second-eldest brother’s wife and so on. This is the sequence of commando of household, kitchen and education of children.

How much influence do you want other women to have on your life? Especially your mother-in-law?

Chances are that the family you are marrying into is not very traditional, otherwise it would usually be difficult to accept you, a foreigner, non-Hindu woman who cannot be of their caste into the family. How much importance they really give to traditions however, is a matter that fully depends on the family itself.

It is clear and understood that your husband will want you to respect his mother – and I believe you normally wish to do exactly this. How far however does he expect you to follow his mother’s wishes and orders? How much will you be included in the hierarchy? Will you be a part of the process to make meals for the complete family or are you planning to have a separate kitchen from the rest of the family, as many people do nowadays?

If your mother-in-law asks you only to wear a Sari, even at home, because this is what is decent, will you comply? Will your partner accept your decision not to, even if this causes disharmony with his parents and maybe other family members such as aunts or elder brothers as well?

You can talk a little bit about the basics before you dive into this experience of joint family living. Many things have to be explored on the way. One thing however should be always clear: you will go as far as you feel comfortable in adjusting. If there is anything which crosses your limits, tell your partner about it, as calmly as possible. Keep in mind that you may not completely understand the cultural background for what is going on – but also explain your partner why certain things are not okay for you.

This is especially true for certain superstitious actions – but that is a separate topic that I would like to write about tomorrow.

Decision for a Woman in an Indo-Western Relationship: Working or Staying at Home? – 23 Jun 15

I think it is always good to fall in love and when both sides are serious, it is a great thing! I also have a partner from a very different culture and background but I have to admit we had an advantage: I had been living within her culture for many years already before we even met! I had an open mind and had got to know already a lot about how western women and people in general think differently from Indians. I want to share a bit of that knowledge and the experiences we both made in our years together so that any western-Indian couple may have a benefit from it!

I want to give you some concrete examples of the areas where you will most probably think differently. The first one is the relation in between man and woman and the cultural difference in between men and women in India and the west.

Ladies: in Indian culture, the husband is a provider while the wife takes care of the home and the children. This is most probably what your partner has seen in his home. Nowadays and especially in big cities, more and more women get a good school education, go to university and also get a job, working in the field of their choice. Walking in a metropolitan city like Delhi or Mumbai, you will see a lot of women in business suits walking to or from their workplace.

In the cities there is only a small part of the population and even there, a lot of young women still decide to become full-time housewives and mothers after marriage! They do this because it is what they believe will fulfil them and maybe also what society expects of them.

Do you fit in that image? If you decide to move to India, can you imagine just living in the joint family of your partner, doing housework and minding the kids? Would this satisfy you completely or would you need more than that? Whatever you feel about this topic, you have to express it! There is no wrong or right and especially when you are walking this path in between cultures and societies, you first of all both have to know what you want and what the other one wants.

Gentlemen: in most western countries, parents find it equally important for their girls to study and get a job as they do for their sons. Women, in the consequence, get just as good jobs as men and they earn their own money. A marriage is a big event but it normally only changes the woman’s private life – not her working situation!

Mothers use to take a few years break of working when they get children but once the kids go into day care, they usually join the work force again. It is, in many western countries, necessary financially so that the family can afford a good living standard. At the same time however, women want more than just a life in their homes. Remember that they usually also don’t have the social setting of a joint family but individual households where nobody is at home if you are at work and the child in a childcare institution! They may even expect you to take time off work and be a househusband for some months, too, while they go back to work.

What is your stand on this? Do you see any issues with your wife going out and earning as much money as you do or even more? Would you stay at home with your child so that your wife can go to work?

Discuss a few scenarios, considering the options of being in India and being in her country. Get to know more about each other! Once you spend time together, you will find out some more differences in general behavior – but more about that tomorrow!

When Fights break a Joint Family and make Life even more difficult! – Our School Children – 1 May 15

Today I would like to introduce you to a boy who is living just a few houses down the road in the backside of the Ashram. His name is Mohit and he is actually a cousin of Anuradha, another girl of our school to whom I introduced you last year.

Mohit is 8 years old and the youngest of four children. His eldest sister is 14, his brother 12 and his second sister 10 years old. They live with their parents and their grandmother, who also owns the house.

Mohit’s father is a mason, daily looking for work and earning about five US-Dollar per working day. His wife tells however that he gets work only for a maximum of ten days a month. That means that they don’t have a lot of money available for feeding, clothing and educating their four children!

When you enter their home through a narrow gate, you see a small shed with a cow inside to your left. A few steps further, you see a toilet house on the left, then a kind of patio on a roof and straight on, steep stairs lead down the height of a complete floor to more rooms. You can see clearly that the house was built when the road was still on a much lower level. The street came up – and they had to adjust!

You notice, already when walking in, that the wall to your right has not originally been there. It is separating something – and looking down, we know immediately what it must be: a joint family didn’t get along anymore and built a wall to create two separate houses. The house belongs to Mohit’s grandmother who lives in one of the two rooms on Mohit’s side. They have a kitchen, too, but not more space. Asking what the fights were about which led to the separation, we don’t get a clear answer. ‘The others were always fighting…’

Obviously such fights in the family make it more difficult to make ends meet. They lack the financial support of another breadwinner – and the moral and emotional support in difficult times, too!

It is a pity to see this happening and happening in such a bad way that a poor family, who doesn’t have much space anyway, builds a wall and separates their home into two tiny places! They don’t have money to move anywhere else!

These are the families that our school children come from! Mohit has been with us for two years now. He passed the second pre-school class and will now start learning in the first class in July.

You can support children like him! Sponsor a child or the food for a day!

Traditional arranged Marriage in India – a Way to find a cheap Maid? – 3 Feb 15

You know that in India, arranged marriages are normal. You can hear all kinds of stories about those weddings and westerners often wonder about how you can marry a complete stranger. Sometimes however, you need a much more practical approach. You need to for example think of the help that the new wife will be in the boy’s family home! Isn’t marriage a great idea if you need a pair of helping hands?

This probably doesn’t sound very nice to you and it doesn’t to me, either, but if you see it soberly, that’s what sometimes happens. Let me tell you about a young Indian man I recently met:

This man is about 30 years old and the only son of his family. He has three sisters, of whom two are already married. He himself is not married yet and neither is his younger sister. His mother died five years ago and at his home, there is now only his father with his younger sister. His elder sisters live with the families of their husbands and he lives about 600 kilometers away, closer to his workplace.

Recently, his father’s health has started to deteriorate. In the light of all this, the work at home got too much for the younger sister and anyway, it was this man’s turn now to get married. So they sped up the process a bit, talked with some more families and finally the father found a girl that he deemed right for his son.

The last wedding preparations are going on, both families are happy, preparing and looking forward. The girl knows about her future husband’s work. She knows about the family situation.

She knows she won’t stay with her husband at his workplace but with his father, her future father-in-law. That the younger sister will also get married in a few years. That she will be the one who will be in charge of taking care of an elderly person. He told me this, just plainly, in our conversation: there will be someone to take care of the household chores and his father. He knows he won’t give much time to his new wife. That’s not what he is marrying for.

So what is this – a way to get a cheap maid? Or a good deal for her, as she won’t have any mother-in-law or elder sister-in-laws in the house? No fights for power and independence in the home exchanged for free labour and nursing?

Or am I seeing this a bit too soberly now?

Monika after her Surgery – No Visits or Calls of her Father or Family! – 29 Dec 14

Even after having been at the Ashram for nearly 48 hours, Ramona and I still find that we are thinking a lot about Monika. Not only about how she is right now, after her surgery – to which the answer is fine, according to circumstances – but also her family, the situation around, our experience at the hospital and small details that we talked about since we left her on Saturday. I wanted to share all those impressions with you.

Before we left to Vrindavan on Saturday, we visited Monika. She was awake and doing quite well. She could drink juice and could already mention that the watery soup they had given her had not tasted at all well. I had a conversation with the doctors who had done the surgery. They told that everything had gone well and that Monika would now need to be at the hospital for another few days, so that they can keep an eye on the wounds.

After that, they will need to change the bandage every second day. As it would be very tiring and exhausting for Monika to drive three hours to the hospital and then back home every second day, we are now trying to arrange a room for her and her mother close-by which we can rent for the next two weeks or one month, whatever will be necessary. There, she will be able to recover and just get to the hospital much more easily whenever necessary!

Back here, sitting around the fire and holding our hands over the flames, we sometimes think of Monika’s injury and all the pain she must have had! When she was nervous before the surgery, we told her not to worry – nothing will ever be as bad again as those days which are already lying behind her!

We now stay in touch over phone with Monika’s mother who is there to give Monika company, talk to her, hold her hand and make jokes to keep her at good spirits. The nurses are anyway very friendly and helpful and will take good care of her!

And that is a good thing – because apart from her mother and us, nobody has come to visit Monika or even called! Her family has not come by and even her father, who until now doesn’t even know how Monika’s operation went, whether she is well or not, has not bothered to call. Not one phone call from home. It is hard to imagine but so we have just passed on all the good wishes and wonderful messages of support that friends and helpers sent, to show that there are people out there who care, and care a lot!

It is more than just dropping someone off at the hospital. We could have just sent someone with her and wouldn’t have needed to do it all on our own. But we wanted to. We wanted to be there for them and also for us it was a good experience and is still. When you are with someone in a tragic situation like Monika’s and you are open to help and be there yourself, you get involved with your body, mind and heart!

Now Purnendu, Ramona, Apra and I are preparing to go for a short holiday to Amritsar which we had booked a long time before Monika came back to school. We will relax and enjoy a few days – but of course Monika will be on our mind and we will be in touch. On the way back, on the 2nd January, we will visit her and as the doctors calculated approximately the same time for her to be released from the hospital, we want to take her to her room on that day. I will let you know any news!

There are no Words to describe the Grief for a loved one – 5 Oct 14

Last Sunday I told you how my sister died on 18th September 2006. The days after her death went by in a blur. I don’t exactly remember what happened when but what I do remember is the extreme sadness of that time.

What were we doing at home, after her death? We actually had nothing to do. We just held onto each other, supporting each other in our grief. Naniji had lost a granddaughter. Babbaji and Ammaji had lost their only daughter. The three of us had lost our sister.

In the beginning, I was still in full shock. I didn’t cry. I held my crying mother in my arms, was as sad and grief-stricken as I have ever been in my life but I couldn’t cry. We talked about Para and thought of a future without her which looked grey, sad and lonely. Everyone cried – but I couldn’t.

I believe the shock had really shaken my mind. I never needed much sleep but in those days, I slept extremely badly. One morning after such a night, I came out of the cave in a kind of half-awake state, a ridiculous idea on my mind which in that moment seemed the solution to everything. When I saw Yashendu, I told him to urgently switch on the computer: we would search for her on Google! That was it, she was not gone, we would find her! I couldn’t accept the bitter truth, couldn’t face reality.

Many people came by in the days after Para’s death. Even more people, friends from all over the world, sent emails, messages or phoned to show their support and send their condolence. With every mail, every word about her, remembering times together or just trying to give mental support, I felt that not only I and not only my family had lost a wonderful person. No, the world had lost one. She was too young, she would have seen so much of the world and with her heart would have moved so many others!

A dear friend, with whom Para was going to stay as well after landing in Germany, even took a flight and came to the Ashram. She joined us, just to be with us in grieving for my sister.

Finally however the point came when I could release. I started crying and cried until there were no tears anymore. It was a relief to let it out – but it didn’t ease the sadness a bit. Nothing would ever be able to fill this space that she had left behind.

The difficult Situation of elderly People in the West – 25 Sep 14

I yesterday mentioned that people in the west had to send their parents or grandparents to a home for the elderly. I used the words ‘had to’ consciously, because they really were in a difficult situation, not finding another way.

There can be many people, especially from India, who oppose this thought. Having grown up in a joint family setting, it is no wonder that you feel deeply disturbed about the idea to send your parents to the care of strangers to a foreign place away from home. Full of indignation you protest that there has to be a way and that there is always a way. After seeing the whole picture however, you might understand why many people really don’t see a way for themselves.

I have experienced this with German friends. As I explained yesterday, people don’t live in family in the west, even when they get old. They have been living in their flat or house and that’s where they just get older with time. You can meet many women at the age of 75 years or more who have outlived their husband and have their own small apartment where they get along well. They go shopping for themselves, stay fit by doing some sports, are social and amazingly fit.

Until one day they fall, have an accident and have to go to the hospital. Or they slowly start forgetting little things, keep their food too long on the stove and burn it, leave candles burning and don’t hear their doorbell anymore. Things that worry their children. Once authorities gets to know about their home and health situation, they insist that these old people need to get help.

There are regulations on what has to be done for certain states of health. Food supply has to be ensured, emergency help has to be available, the bathroom has to be equipped with handles for getting up easily from a toilet seat etc. This all is possible if the person is still mobile and the funds are there for preparing the flat in this way. Once health has deteriorated so much however that there is constant danger of falling or help is actually needed at all times, for going to the bathroom or for ensuring that medication is taken, it gets difficult.

Even if an elderly person is living in the house of his or her son or daughter, it is very probable, that every other adult person in the home has to go to work to earn money. That means at least for half of the day, there is nobody home to take care! In India, you don’t only have a joint family but an extended family with uncles and aunts, cousins and just so many more people to be there! Women don’t always go to work, someone usually has a small child at home and is there to take care anyway – there is just always someone there. In the west, it is not like this! Not every family can afford to have only one person go to work – they need the income of both parents.

In Germany, there is a possibility to employ a 24-hour help for the home but for this nurse or caretaker you need another room and again the funds to pay! Human resources are very expensive and there are many regulations that have to be followed. Social security, although it is wonderful that it exists, doesn’t pay for all of this. The government uses tax-payers’ money to help but also tells the children to pay as well. In the end, it is cheaper to take care of several old people at one spot than of many at different places around town!

What I want to say is just not to judge. It is easy to do that out of your different cultural setting. I still believe a joint family is the better, lovelier and nicer place to be at. I believe that I would try every possible way to ensure my loved ones don’t have to go to a home for the elderly. But I also don’t judge those who cannot manage. The system around them has prepared them and also their parents for this step. I just hope that society will change one day and find a way that gives them more love!