I am a native of Indonesia and I met my husband when he walked into my office with a friend in 1994. He was a Malayali Christian from a conservative family, on a visit to my country. We instantly clicked and started dating. After two happy years, we decided to get married.
In 1996, we moved to India and started a new phase of our lives in Pune. In Indonesia, men and women are considered to be equal. To see a completely different system which leaned more towards patriarchy was a huge cultural shock for me. My food habits were also altered; from eating rice for every meal to having all sorts of Indian foods, it was a refreshing change. In the beginning, it was a little difficult for me to adapt since I didn’t understand the language well and everything seemed alien. The caste system is something I didn’t understand very well either.
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Another obstacle I had to face in my marital life was my mother-in-law not being very supportive of our union. She wanted my husband to marry someone from their own community. She loves him a lot; he is the apple of her eye. My husband and father-in-law were supportive, which boosted my confidence. Once I had kids, my mother-in-law warmed up to me and since my husband and I have been married for so long, she started accepting me as part of her family. Things slowly started getting better for me in this country.
With time I became more accustomed to everything and for this I give credit to my husband, as he was always very understanding and helped me cope with the immense change. My husband and I still share a bond built on trust and understanding, which is very important for a relationship between two people from such diverse backgrounds. What keeps our relationship growing stronger is the love, which was pure from the very beginning.
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I have three Indian-Indonesian children who are brought up more in the Indian way since it is where they have grown up. I try and take my children to Indonesia so that they do not forget my culture either. Earlier, my husband and I had a lot of time for each other. We still try to maintain that in spite of the children. I believe that the children have brought more joy and stability to our lives and we are trying to do our best to raise them well.
What helped me retain my identity while getting accustomed to the country is my husband’s understanding attitude.
Despite the patriarchal beliefs here, he gives me a lot of freedom. I meet my friends- who are mostly expats from Indonesia- anytime I want to. My husband is also very protective of the kids and me.
Also, what keeps us together is the fact that I cook great food for my husband. As long as I give him food when he’s back from a long day, I am free to do whatever I want to.
Now I have also got used to the cultural diversity of the country and can tell a Sindhi from a Punjabi and have mustered the courage to travel with my kids to Mumbai and back late at night. However, there are some values I still hold dear, like respecting my parents, and every time I meet them, it is like nothing has ever changed between us.
I love my husband for being so understanding and introducing me to this wonderful country which has accepted me as its own.
(Yetti Rex Alexander <as told to Niharika Nandi)