Vandana Verma lives in Oman, a country bordered by the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. An educator, mother of two, and native of India, Verma talks about the modernization of Bedouin culture, celebrating India’s festival of light, and her desire to see the end of violence and strife.
Q: What was it like to grow up in India?
A: I was born in a place called Patna, the capital of Bihar, one of the many states in India. I am the eldest of five siblings. The initial ten years of my life were spent traveling around India as my father had a transferable job. So, we lived in west Bengal and various states of South India. When I was around eleven years old, we returned to Patna where I finished my schooling and my graduation from a missionary college. After my marriage at the age of twenty-three, I moved from Patna with my husband.
Q: What are some of the similarities and some of the differences between Indian culture and your current community in Oman?
A: Both the cultures believe in very strong cohesive family ties, and both the cultures are more conservative than the western community is.
Our values and principles, in many regards, are the same. For example, a son is expected to take care of his parents when he comes on his own. We have to show respect to our elders no matter what the relationship is.
Family is still involved in the selection of the spouse. The process of arranged marriage is still very much prevalent, though it is gradually changing—especially in India, as children are getting educated in the western countries.
Religious and philosophical principles guide the life of both the communities.
The Indian women by and large are professionals, open to the changes influencing the society, and so are the Omani women. They are encouraged to be educated and most of them are professionals.
Some of the differences: In India, by law you have to practice monogamy, whereas polygamy is widely practiced in Oman. There, it is acceptable to have four wives.
Islam dictates that alcohol is forbidden. No Muslim in Oman is allowed a liquor permit, whereas there are no such restrictions in the Indian culture.
Oman as a country is still fledgling. The country has been thrown into modern age in a very short time. In a short space of time, they have been thrown into a modern and technological era from a Bedouin lifestyle. The Omani youth have had to take jobs for which they have not been trained or qualified, whereas the process of modernization and technological development by now has been for many decades in India.
Q: What do you think are some of the most powerful commonalities between women around the world?
A: Inner strength and courage to face adverse situations. They are organizers and nurturers, and they are capable of multitasking.
Q: What has your career been like, and how has that changed/continued in Oman?
A: I am not fiercely career oriented, as I have always tried to balance my professional life with my family. But I believe in having a profession. I worked as a customer service executive in a leading telecom company. It taught me public relations and I realized that I quite enjoyed interacting with people. After sixteen years of working in this organization, I felt that I was stagnating and felt that a change was required. I participated in a course to teach the English language to foreign students but ended up working with early childhood education in the American School where I am extremely happy and feel that I have found my niche.
Q: Tell me about your family. And what are some of your favorite traditions to do together?
A: I have been happily married for twenty-seven years. My husband is a banker by profession, but now he has his own investment company. We have two daughters who were educated in the American system. Our older daughter has just graduated from Boston and is now teaching at TAISM (The American International School of Muscat). Our youngest daughter is also studying in Boston, where she is doing her undergrad in advertising and marketing. We are a very close-knit family. We hope that they have imbibed the best of Indian,
Omani, and the American culture.
India follows many traditions, religious and otherwise. These are great opportunities for family bonding. We have tried to keep them going in Oman. The most significant of these is Holi, the festival of colour, and Diwali, the festival of light. Here in Oman we celebrate Diwali with great enthusiasm. After offering prayers we light the entire house with Deeyas (tea lights). Traditionally we have an open house where family and friends visit bearing good wishes for health, wealth, and happiness. We believe that this is one occasion when all enmity should be forgotten.
Q: If you could change one thing about the world today, what would it be?
A: Stop war, strife, and terrorism. I would like this place to be a better place to live in.