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Dinner at the Patels

I could feel them taking inventory of my outfit, my hair, and my non-designer shoes, and inevitably, as soon as whomever I was talking to chalked me up as being a “fresh-off-the-boat,” they simply turned to someone more important.

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Dear Cousin:

Sorry it’s been so long since we talked. I’ve been meaning to email you for a while now, but I’ve been rather busy adjusting to my new life in the United States, as you might imagine.

The truth is that Los Angeles is not at all what I expected. Do you remember how much we used to talk about escaping the nosy, close-knit Delhi community? Well I’m realizing that the demanding social scene back home is child’s play compared to what goes on in the Indian community here. What? You don’t believe that it could get worse than Aunty Jee’s weekly inquisition about why we’re still unmarried and childless? Well, allow me to elaborate.

Last week Raj insisted I turn off Skype and accompany him to lunch at his boss Dr. Patel’s house. In typical Raj-style, my new husband offered zero assistance as to what I should wear, so I decided to go all out and wear my new sleeveless salwar kameez with the purple trim. Do you remember that one? The one my parents paid an arm and a leg for? Anyway, it looked good. I even threw on some blush and mascara, and dusted off my straightening iron to tame my frizzy hair into submission. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty confident.

The key word here is “was” because the instant we pulled up to a sea of Bentleys and Range Rovers at Dr. Patel’s, and a uniformed valet attendant approach our little Honda, I realized that Raj and I were completely and utterly out of our league. We were like two little country bumpkins with no clue about what was going on. And do you know what embarrassed me even more? The fact that I was the only one in Indian clothes. The only one! Apparently I missed the memo that the uniform of the L.A.-Indian community is skinny jeans and 4-inch rhinestone Jimmy Choos.

Glittery shoes aside, I have to admit that these L.A. women are breathtaking. I’m not exaggerating when I say that each one of them looked like they’d walked out of a Bollywood magazine! Perfect hair, gorgeous clothes, and the diamonds, my god the diamonds were so blinding that even Elizabeth Taylor would have been impressed by the amount of bling at this party.

I almost felt like I was in Paris for Fashion Week — that’s how pervasive the designer labels were. And when I say labels I’m not talking about the sad little Coach bag Raj sprung for on our honeymoon. No, I’m talking about the big names: Gucci, Chanel, Ferragamo, and Hermes. Apparently people around here aren’t kidding around when it comes to being fashionable.

Obviously I felt completely out of place. But Raj — oblivious Raj — was insistent on making an impression and kept dragging me around to meet every guest that would give him even a cursory glance. They were civil — I’ll give them that — but I could feel them taking inventory of my outfit, my hair, and my non-designer shoes, and inevitably, as soon as whomever I was talking to chalked me up as being a “fresh-off-the-boat,” they simply turned to someone more important.

Eventually I managed to lose Raj, found a chair, and started absorbing the gossip: who was throwing the most lavish wedding of the year, whose son eloped with a non-desi girl, and who was most recently accused of being in on something called a “Ponzi” scheme (which reminds me, I still need to Google that word).

Anyway, I know I’ve only been here for a few months, but this place is so different from India that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to call it home. I think Raj is terrified I’m going to hop on the first plane back to Delhi. But really, what does my new husband expect? That an arranged marriage is all sunshine and flowers from the start? Ha. I don’t think so.

All jokes aside, I’m hanging in there. I figure all I’m missing is a flashy car and a $3,000 handbag before people accept me. And to think, my mom believed that teaching me how to make a good dosa was what I needed to make my marriage successful. Note to Mom: A little more about Prada, a little less about making the perfect crepe would have been beneficial.

I miss you lots and hope you come visit soon. It goes without saying that I could use reinforcements out here.

Love, Ameena.

Ameena Din, sarcastic wife and mother, lives in Los Angeles. As someone not accepted into the Indian community, she gives voice to others locked out.

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Commentary | NRI | November 2011

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