November 29, 2016

DUGGAL | The Struggle of Giving Thanks

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This year was the first year I headed home for Thanksgiving. Most of campus tends to clear out the week of Thanksgiving Break, and usually, I am just another immigrant millennial headed to one of their American friends’ homes to gobble down some turkey and stuffing (and chocolate covered strawberries if I get lucky). This year, however, the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services decided to come in clutch and schedule my citizenship test the week after Thanksgiving. I was headed home to the aggressively Southern state of Texas to take my citizenship test, and spend some quality time giving thanks with my parents in the process.

The idea of family bonding is not lost on my family. My parents, like most other parents, enjoy pretending we all like each other enough to (semi)-voluntarily spend time with each other in a way that constitutes “quality family time.” There are several activities, of course, that fit this description. I like to think of these activities as if they correspond to a spectrum. If you’re on the “loving family” end of the spectrum, you guys can do a game night or a trip to the mini golf course. Your family gets along with each other to handle a little healthy competition so why not capitalize on the decent guarantee that no one will die during a game of Trivial Pursuit while you can? If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, however, that guarantee does not exist, and you tend to wisely choose heading out to dinner or heading to the movies.

My family headed to the movies this Thanksgiving Weekend. The movies are my personal favorite form of “quality family time” because they require no direct interaction and can be mildly fun if you pay close enough attention to the movie and/or fall asleep. The movie my family watched this past weekend was a Hindi movie (Dear Zindagi, for reference), and it got awkward real fast.

Watching movies with your parents can get awkward if you’re on the end of the spectrum that can’t handle a little healthy competition. Sometimes there’s a sex scene, and since sex is not a thing that exists in the bubble that is your household, everyone has to shift uncomfortably until it’s over and then you can continue pretending you have no idea what sex is as a 20 year college student. This time, however, it wasn’t a sex scene that did me in for shifting uncomfortably in my seat. In fact, it was just the premise of the movie itself. It struck home (pun definitely intended) in a way no one saw coming.

The movie’s premise brought up some great points. Without dissecting the entire movie itself (tune in next week when Hebani turns into a self-proclaimed movie critic and bores everyone to death with her unsubstantiated opinions more so than she usually does), the movie’s basic premise does a lot to address the very real hypocrisy that exists within Indian society when it comes to women in general and young women in particular. Dating more than one person, choosing an unconventional career path, making mistakes — these are a handful of practices upon which Indian society places a complex and unfair judgement.

My favorite point, however — and the one that stuck with me most — was the one about viewing the mistakes your parents make outside of the vacuum of your household. There’s a quote in the movie that translates roughly to “Think about your parents as people rather than the ideal that is a parent.” I’m not entirely sure how much more accurately I can convey the way in which those words were said, but the idea is simply that your parents are people. In viewing them as just that — people that can make mistakes, people that have to make tough decisions, people that can make the wrong decisions — you distance yourself from the pressure of comparing them to an unrealistic ideal and allow yourself to understand them as people that have faced the same realities you might face as well one day. You don’t have to agree with their decisions, you don’t have to justify them, and frankly, you don’t have to respect them — but you do have to try and understand them if you’re going to move towards a more mature relationship with them.

This was not something I wanted to be hit in the face with in the theater, on Thanksgiving, next to my mom. For a family that hides the fact that we cry at the movies from each other, sobbing hysterically during what was labeled as a Bollywood comedy was not the best way to go about tackling being home for Thanksgiving for the first time in a couple years.

It was, however, one of the better ways to tackle being a part of my family. No one’s family is ever perfect. There’s a reason there’s as many movies about family drama as there are about literally anything else. Families are made up of people that are meant to be yours from the minute you were born, and judging them at a higher standard than you would ever judge yourself or any of your closest friends makes for a tough way to be happy.

Hebani Duggal is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at hduggal@cornellsun.com. Teach Me How to Duggal appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

One thought on “DUGGAL | The Struggle of Giving Thanks

  1. As a fellow Indian, I can definitely relate to this. Indian society is all about idealizing your elders, especially your parents. It makes messy family situations even harder to deal with when it is literally your duty to just keep quiet and not question anything that your parents say or do, while you quietly distance yourself from your parents due to the impossibility of reconciling your mom or your dad, who we are told we must treat like God, with some of their very human mistakes they make as a parent and as a person. Then it just makes it worse when they try to call you on your shit when you start making your own mistakes. I stew when I get called out by them, because oftentimes the mistakes I make are similar to theirs; after all we’re family. But recognizing this and seeing each other where we’re at would go a long way towards making it feel like we actually are a family. No, it’s not always ‘all about loving your parents’ because that’s an unrealistic and unhealthy requirement. Sometimes you need to hate your parents, because at least then there will be other times when you can genuinely feel love and appreciation for them, as they should for you. Great article.

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