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Saying No

At a dinner party…

Me: “Hi Aunty, how are you!”

Aunty: “Hi beta, how have you been?”

Me: “Great! I just got back from Sri Lanka, it was just so beautif…

Aunty (interrupting): “Why don’t you have a samosa?”

Me: “No, thanks…”

Aunty: “Come on, try one, they’re fresh and hot.”

Me: “No really, I want to save room for dinner…”

Aunty: “Don’t tell me you’re dieting, just have one!”

Me: “No no, I’m just trying to eat healthy, really, I’m fine.”

Aunty: “Just for today enjoy yourself, you can get back on the diet tomorrow. You have to try it!”

Me: “Okay…”

Aunty: “Good girl.”

Sound familiar? This is a pretty typical confrontation with a well-meaning aunty and I must have had this conversation hundreds of times…. Just think about how many samosas that is! We come from a culture where we generally don’t accept no for an answer and though the samosa example is relatively innocuous (except for on my waistline), there are certain fundamental problems with this.

From childhood, we are taught never to rebuff our elders. If Meher aunty asks you for a glass of water, you drop Barbie and go get it. If your teacher at school asks for volunteers, you must put up your hand. If someone asks you if you’re having fun, you must never say otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with being positive, with taking part, helping out. But sometimes saying no is important, too. And if we don’t teach our kids, and learn ourselves, to say it, what sort of a culture are we creating?

Part of it stems from a desire to make other people happy, even at the expense of your own needs. Mira, 29, is a young mother. “When I had Anya, I got advice from everyone, from my relatives to friends of friends. Everyone had an opinion on everything and it was exhausting to keep up. I often felt like I was doing more things for Anya because I needed to please, rather than for her or even myself, and it was making me miserable.

“I finally decided that I needed to change the way I responded to the advice, and trust my own instincts.” As South Asians, we are firmly ensconced in the ‘it takes a village’ mentality, and for all the benefits, we cannot possibly pay heed to everyone’s suggestions, no matter how many grandchildren Padma aunty has.

If no doesn’t mean no, we can get into a lot of trouble. It doesn’t instruct our children in the lessons they need to live their lives. We show them that the word has zero power. We don’t give our children the tools to stand up to the playground bully. We don’t encourage our teenagers to avoid the pitfalls of peer pressure. And significantly, we teach our women that saying no will not protect them against anything. They can’t protect themselves from the pressure to have sex. Or against a marriage they don’t want. Or a husband who physically assaults them.

We also teach our men that they shouldn’t trust us when we say it and that maybe we just haven’t made our minds up yet.

We take care of ourselves by saying no. It’s self-preservation. It’s our right to a life where we are in charge of our decisions, regardless of what the world around us dictates.

So next time you’re attacked with a plate of samosas you don’t want, just follow this simple technique.

Me: “Hi Aunty, how are you!”

Aunty: “Hi beta, how have you been?”

Me: “Great! I just got back from Sri Lanka, it was just so beautif…

Aunty (interrupting): “Why don’t you have a samosa?”

Me: “No, thanks…”

Aunty: “Come on, try one, they’re…”

Me (interrupting): “Oh Aunty, did you hear what happened to Shah Rukh Khan?”

Aunty (gleefully): “I know! I’m can’t believe it, but my friend Lalita’s daughter’s friends told her….”

Mission accomplished.

The author is a single Indian woman in her late 20’s who has lived in many cities around the world. She hopes her experiences and thoughts will help bridge the generational gap between South Asian parents and children worldwide. ‘No Sex in the City’ is inspired by the popular TV show ‘Sex and the City’ which captured the attention of diverse viewers across the globe.

 

 

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