Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy New Year!!

How time flies! It was as if we just celebrated the arrival of 2009 and we are getting ready to bid farewell to the year already. I am inching closer to retirement with just 2010 in between. I think I am going to miss work but then I also thought I could not handle life after my children left home. Did life change? no, it didn't. Missing them is one thing but getting on with life is quite another thing. As the saying goes-

"If you love someone let them go......."

Would children feel comfortable thinking of a teary eyed mother missing them all the time? No, I think they want us to lead a cheerful and fruitful life so that they can pursue their interests. Similarly, much as I love my work, the next generation will have to take over while I make a graceful exit.

Then that brings me to another question that bothers me. Am I leaving the place the way I got it? I am afraid not. Our college now boasts of a huge building and a library that has grown threefold. The size of my lab is thrice the size of the lab I joined. But to be frank the input from us is much less when compared to the time I joined.

What went wrong?

The priorities of students has changed. In my drawing room I have an expensive card wishing me a "happy teacher's Day" given by the Student's union. This was not the practice 25 - 30 years back. In fact Teacher's Day celebrations were limited to schools. These days students touch our feet before exams and after results. They never did so earlier. May be I look old enough to be revered in this manner but I do not rule out the influence of TV programmes as one of the reasons for this new aspect in the student teacher equation. I don't remember ever touching my teacher's feet as a student. But I am sure I loved and respected them in the same manner as the current bunch. Then there is the culture of saying 'bye teacher' after class. Luckily or unluckily we don't have girls saying 'Hi!' when we walk into a class.

My daughter says that the student/teacher relationship is very informal in USA and perhaps the trend is catching up in India too. Whatever be the nature of the relationship, whether cordial, formal or friendly, results should speak of a job well done. I am afraid that in our part of India the syllabus as well as teaching techniques are out dated and do not appeal to aspiring students. It is an open secret that deals are struck and money is exchanged at the time of a college teacher's appointment. The meritorious who expect to be selected on the basis of merit alone can laminate their certificates and place them in a showcase for all to see. If you expect to be paid as per the 6th pay recommendations you better learn the ways of the world! When the whole world knows these things how do we expect the kids we teach to be ignorant? So will the powers that be ensure quality teaching while we turn a blind eye to the appointment process? Is it asking for too much?

If quality is compromised then our students will say 'Bye teacher' and attend a coaching institute that helps them in their career and we can sit in empty libraries and labs welcoming the odd student who makes an entry by mistake.

No, I do not want to put you off with my ramblings. Those of you with young children, please see to it that your children acquire an education that encourages them to reason and think for themselves. Expensive school claiming to provide education at par with internatinal standards are mushrooming all over the place. These schools take their students to USA and Europe for excursions. But whether it is worth the trouble is something that needs to be checked.

So in the final year of my teaching career I plan to make a few resolutions-

1. I am not going to get angry with the student who wants to adjust her classes in college to attend a computer class or MBA coaching. The outdated syllabus that is followed in our college will get them nowhere and if she has a bright future in mind I have to adjust according to her timings or accept being ignored.

2. I will mentally prepare myself to respond cheerfully to the student who says 'Hi teacher' instead of the old fashioned 'good morning or good afternoon'.

3. When the students pulls a stool and sits down in front of me I'll try my best to forget the fact that as a student I'd stand in front of the staff room and ask for permission to submit my record work and it was usually the peon that came to collect my practical record. Even if I remembered it I'd keep it to myself.

4. I'll get used to the new dance numbers like 'pappu can't dance saala' and stop lecturing on how classical dance forms were more appealing when compared to the modern version which to my ageing eyes seem like an ill practised physical exercise. May be I'll sport a cooling glass to hide the disappointment in my optical/occular expression.

5. Twenty five years back I expected students to draw from the specimen provided. Ten years back I gave them my B. Sc and M. Sc records for reference. Five years back I stopped complaining when they copied diagrams from the text book unless they were highly objectionable. Nowadays I sign anything they submit as record work. Progressive evolution I suppose. Young aspirants to a lecturer's post be prepared to get photocopies of book diagrams as record work. Already we have students downloading matter for project work from the internet without putting in even the minimum amount of preparation but examiners are glad that the copied material pertains to our subject. In future you may have Biology students submitting project work in Psychology. After all all disciplines merge at a higher level don't they??

In short I'll try my best to accept the changes taking place in society as long as it is beneficial. I may crib a little and sound critical on an occasion or two. But I do understand that a society can never be static. It has to be dynamic and progressive and though it is okay to remember 'the good old days' it is never proper to expect what worked in our times to be appropriate now.

A Happy New year to one and all of you.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Changing parenthood??

I sometimes wonder whether the equation between children and parents is undergoing a very subtle change to the extent that one hardly notices it? I cannot help thinking of a past in which parents dictated terms and children willingly or unwillingly abided by their terms and conditions. It was not easy and one did revolt occasionally. But one generally muttered under one's breath and made faces when the offender was not looking but stuck to rules all the same. it was the practice at my mother's to gradually initiate daughters and daughters in law to house work giving them time enough to pick up the customs and ways of the family. Daughters were however warned that once married they'd have to listen to their mothers in law and unlearn whatever they had picked up in their own homes. At my husband's place things were different. Once the DIL arrived on the scene the mother in law took voluntary retirement from house work. Oh yes, she gave directions as to how things may be done, she'd do the marketting and stuff but it was the daughter in law who took whole and sole responsibility. I remember feeling that the arrangement at my mother's was better while my brother's wife might have felt that she ought to be given more responsibility instead of having to play second fiddle to my mother. The grass is always greener on the other side isn't it? anyway that is beside the point. In a recent trip to the south I met two unknown ladies who travelled with me by local transport on two different occasions. We had about 40 minutes together in the first instance and with Chennai traffic at its worst it took us nearly 75 minutes to reach our destinations in the second case. I've always noticed that complete strangers feel inclined to open up with me. But what surprised me that the problems faced by both ladies were astonishingly similar. Both ladies had married children and both felt that their daughters and daughters in law were using them and it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to cope with house keeping, looking after kids etc.etc. The second lady had an employed daughter in law but the first one's daughter in law was a home maker. With my own children in far off USA I often wish they were staying anywhere in India and I'd often say that I could have helped them out if it were so. It is again the question of grass being greener on the other side. Hearing the version of these ladies has set me thinking. Despite the facility of modern gadgets that are available is house work and the associated responsibility exhausting and would it be better to lead a quiet retired life cooking for just two people than to offer to help children and allowing them to take one for granted? I am unable to decide.

The second lady traveled with me from Velacheri to Chennai central. She was visiting her daughter whose mother in law was hospitalized and needed her mother's help at home. With a smile that kind of forced she told me that she had her own house elsewhere in Chennai and planned to leave for the railway station from there but her daughter had soaked dal and rice for idly and she came all the way to her place to grind it and store part it in the fridge for future use and leave the rest for immediate consumption.

"My daughter rang me up in the morning to ask if it was okay with me. I could not say 'no'. After all she can take liberties only with me".

Why was she rushing back to Erode to her son's place I asked.

"My daughter works as an Asst. Engineer with BSNL and she had taken a week's leave while I was in Chennai She has to resume work from day after tomorrow," she said. My grand daughter will return from school well before her mother returns from work. I cannot allow the child to remain unattended as long as I am alive."

It is okay to expect parents to help and I am sure the lady did her bit willingly. But I did sense a kind of frustration in her tone. I felt that the least her daughter could have done was to have arranged for someone to drop her off at the station. It was well past nine in the night when we reached the station and with a bag in each of her hands she did have difficulty in getting down at the station in the pouring rain. I was travelling alone and had my own luggage to take care of and could not offer much help. She spoke of her son who'd come straight from home to see her off.

For what purpose, I wondered. Could he not have picked her up from his sister's house and dropped her off at the station?

The other lady I mentioned got into a local train at Mambalam and was on her way to Ennore. She had to change trains to reach her destination. She had picked up stuff for her nine month old grandson from T nagar and was returning home.

"My daughter in law finds it difficult to shop with a small child so she asked me to get some readymades for him".

She then told me that she was rushing back home because her school going son would be back from school and would soon leave for his tuitions.

"Won't your DIL attend to him?" I asked.

"We don't stay together" she said. "She stays separately in the upper floor of our house and can barely manage to look after the kid. In fact I have another daughter in law who stays in Tambaram. I 've realized one thing. You can love your children and their better halves as much as you want. You do it for yourself. It is always better to be a little formal and cordial with them once they grow up and get married. Never take any liberty with them. My husband gets angry with me but I feel that as parents we cannot let them suffer even though their priorities differ."

There have been times when I miss my children particularly during festivals but is it possible that the parent children equation has changed even without my noticing it? Roles of mothers are no longer limited to cooking and cleaning. I've seen grandparents standing at bus stops to drop or pick up grandchilren. They gladly take on more and more responsibilities. I have no problem with that. But is it not the duty of children to make life comfortable for them? Like in the case of the lady who was rushing back to attend to her school going son was it not the daughter in law's duty to offer to attend to him? I can almost hear my daughter asking why the mother could not have asked her to do so. I really have no answer except that what is right by me could be wrong by you!


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Old age or second childhood??

I wonder why a perfectly balanced, normal person gets transformed into a cribber and complainer when old age and illness sets in. My experience with people in the last lap of their lives tells me that they become worse than children in their pre-teens and dealing with them can be quite exasperating. My own mother in law was quite a handful. I had two little daughters when she became bed ridden. I had never dealt with anyone so sick and there were times when I’d be at wit’s end. Pickle and rice with plenty of gingili oil was her favorite food item. Being diabetic she was always hungry and demanded food at odd hours. But I am glad that I was young and energetic and it was easier for me to handle her. Anyone who knew my mother in law would swear that she was never like that and it was only illness that made her act the way she did.

I now hear of another dear old lady in her 80s who is bent on making life hell for everyone around her. And I cannot believe what I hear. This particular lady was a very pleasant person till about two years back. She had a pleasant smile and was always good humored. I remember a conversation I had with her daughter in law some 20 years back.

“I really wish my husband was a little more helpful” I said. “He has to be told every little thing. When he sees me buzzing around can’t he just pitch in to help? If I ask him to dice vegetables he sits in one place and I have to give him everything starting from knife and cutting board to a clean piece of cloth to wipe the washed vegetables and a container to put them in.

“Mine is just the opposite” said her daughter in law. “I really wish he’d stay out of the kitchen. He messes up everything and I have to do it all over again.”

Deep in conversation we hadn’t noticed the lady sitting just behind us.

“On the whole, neither of you are happy with your husbands” she said in an indulgent voice. “For that matter, I must admit that I too found my husband ‘not so up to the mark’ on many an occasion. It is these little differences that make life interesting.”

I did not know where to look. After all, it was her son who was being criticized. But the woman bore no grudge and simply laughed it off. She was particularly fond of me and looked forward to my visits. Her grandchildren adored her and daughters in law loved her dearly. I hear that she screams at people these days. Her voice is loaded with sarcasm and no one, including her grandsons who are now married, wants to sit and talk to her. They accuse her of being deliberately difficult. Her daughter in law is now nearing 60 years of age and is herself diabetic. She is unable to stay awake at night but the old lady will not allow her to hire a nurse or attendant even for the night. Even when one was hired for a short while she shooed her off and the daughter in law had to wake up and come for her assistance.

I don’t for a moment believe that old people act funny just to grab some attention. They are perhaps highly insecure and feel left out. Or perhaps their internal system is failing little by little and they simply feel restless and are unable to express themselves. An infant acts difficult for the same reason but one does take a child’s behavior to be part of growing up. But when it is an ageing parent or a loved one in one’s care that throws a tantrum, we lose patience. There is one moving experience I can never forget and I wish to share it with you.

My father in law was hospitalized and his days were numbered. My husband was attending to him in hospital coming home just to have a bath and breakfast. I’d visit the hospital thrice a day, taking my husband’s meals from time to time and also to relieve him even if it was for a short time. The nurse had inserted a tube into his nose for nasal feeding but my father in law perhaps in his restlessness managed to pull it off. Reinserting it would be painful and it was very difficult for my husband to see his father in so much pain. The nurses, for their part, would get angry with him for not taking proper care pf the patient. All this upset my husband and he told a friend of his that he could take it no more and wanted to go home.

"The nurses and doctors are here to look after him. After all I cannot do much and may as well go home." He said.

His friend sensed that my husband was very tired and terribly upset. He pacified him and took him out for coffee. My father in law could not speak but in the 15 minutes that followed, he kept questioning me and all others present with his eyes if his son was upset with him and had actually gone away. I kept telling my father in law that he would not go home and would be back soon. And the relief I saw in his eyes when the son returned cannot be adequately described in words. He looked up to my husband for support and security just as a child would look up to its parent.

I don’t really know why some are patient and others throw tantrums when their health fails. But I do know that all of us going to reach that stage sooner or later and difficult though it may be, one ought to deal with an old person with patience and kindness. We cannot take away their pain or insecurity. All we can do is to treat them with the love and affection that they’ve always showered on us and if due to our busy schedule we are unable to give them the required attention at least let us not be critical of their behavior. Let us accept it as the second childhood in their lives and understand that if growing up was difficult phasing off is not easy either.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Accidental Deaths??

I don’t really understand why I think of death and dying these days. Dying is the only sure thing in this world and yet the very thought puts one off. But somehow the process of ageing and dying of natural causes seems acceptable. But when young lives are lost sometimes for no reason or fault on their part one does feel depressed. I recently heard of two young men, newly married and sole bread winners of their family, who lost their lives in road accidents. Both were driving motorcycles given to them as part of the dowry demanded by their parents. Both belonged to the lower middle class. One worked as a daily wager under a contractor and the other sold dosa, idli in a push cart. After the release of Dhoom and Dhoom-2 rash driving has become a fashion among young men. But in the cases mentioned the former was driving at full speed in a highway and failed to notice a sharp bump and was simply thrown off. He was at least responsible for what happened. The second man was crushed to death by a speeding lorry trying to turn at an intersection with a golchakkar (roundabout).

We in India always look for the easy way out. I don’t know about other states but definitely in Jharkhand and probably in Bihar passing a driving test is not mandatory and license is often issued without the candidate ever setting his eyes on the issuing officer. Till some 10 years back the motor training institutes charged an additional fee for the license and once the 2 week’s training was over it was assumed that he/she automatically qualified for the license. Thankfully the practice has been stopped and a kind of mock test is conducted and I haven’t heard of anyone’s application being rejected or of a person who failed the test. I sometimes wonder whether accidents would be reduced if issue of license were not so easy.

Then there are train accidents. I do not doubt the efficiency of our engine drivers. They are responsible for the safety of passengers and are properly trained. But as in the case of a father ferrying his son to school in a jeep who did not exercise caution while crossing an unmanned railway crossing, we Indians are always in a hurry. Signals annoy us. We do get a kick out of overtaking from the wrong side and ignoring traffic rules. Smooth flow of traffic is an alien concept and I saw it for the first time in USA. No honking, no overtaking and all commuters kept to their lanes. Pedestrians are treated with care and motorized vehicles stop at intersections whether there is someone crossing the road on foot or not. I went to a Labor Day sale and my daughter found a parking space with great difficulty. Such was the crowd. But people were relaxed. No jumping queues or any such thing. It took us 45 minutes to pay the bill at the check out counter but we did not hear any one grumble or mumble.

Is over population the cause for our insensitivity towards rules? Why are we always so hyper? Even at the doctor’s clinic we wish to push ourselves and are allowed to go first. Are not the others patients too? Young lives are lost due to this tearing hurry, rules are broken, palms are greased but lessons are seldom learnt.

Then there is the other kind of accident. One in which the stove bursts and a young bride is burnt to death. Or a young girl with a promising career is found hanging from the ceiling and the law finds her husband innocent. And another girl equally beautiful and with an even better career marries him. Parents in their haste to get rid of their burden – read daughters – don’t even bother to verify the details of the first wife’s death. Social boycott of the boy and his family is unheard of. It is whispered that the girl was somehow at fault and we all tend to believe the boy’s version. Some 20 years back a girl known to me died of a mysterious cause. She worked in a reputed company and her colleagues insisted on a post mortem. The girl’s father backed out saying that he had 2 more daughters to get married and he could not afford to antagonize his son in law who had connections in high places. Another girl from the same town married him and walked out of the marriage saying that he was schizophrenic and it was impossible to live with him. The man later committed suicide and the family admitted that he was indeed mildly schizophrenic. Proper treatment could have saved him as well as the girl married to him. I don’t blame the boy as much as I’d blame his family and the parents of the girls who married him. It is generally agreed that an alcoholic, gambler or anyone with personality disorders would be okay if they got themselves a wife. The truth is that with a wife to bear the brunt of his behavioral problems others in the family can breathe easy.


Sorry to sound pessimistic. I cannot help it. Young lives are not only important to their families but to the nation as a whole. We lose them to accidents, illness and insensitive social practices like dowry. When they manage to survive we let them become terrorists and anti socials who in turn take away more lives. And we accept all this as fate or destiny.

I end with the story of my colleague Dr. SP. She was unmarried and lived alone in the top floor of a house in the heart of the city. Her family lived in Ranchi. During Holi we get a break of a week and very often around the same time Good Friday, Easter and Ram Navami are celebrated. So if a few days of casual leave can be managed one can take around 10 to 12 days off. SP had told her land lady that she would be leaving for Ranchi early next morning and would return after about 10 days. So when one did not see her during the days that followed no one really missed her. A week later I came to know through a neighbor that the local papers carried the news of her death under mysterious circumstances and it was only on account of foul smell emanating from her room that people became suspicious. No one had any clue about the motive for murder. The saddest part was that while all of us in college mourned her death, her parents could only think of the amount she would get as provident fund and were glad that just a few months back she had given her father’s name as nominee. When asked to file a case her father politely refused saying that it was not possible for him to attend court in Jamshedpur since he lived in Ranchi, We never heard from him after that. SP was a smart girl with a brilliant career and a bright future. We often think of her although it is more than 15 years since she died. We try to figure out the motive behind her death and miss her in our own way. We heard that she had booked a flat in Ranchi and had drawn some heavy amount to pay the builder and the killer had perhaps been tipped off by the bank staff. But these are just speculations and nothing was proved.

Had the judiciary been faster in deciding on cases such as these people like SP’s parents would perhaps have the motivation to file a case and the unsuspecting public would know the cause and be more cautious.


If only girls are allowed to offer their opinion during marriage negotiations and the dowry menace done away with…………

If only parents thought twice before sending their wards to school in overloaded vans and three wheelers………..

If only traffic rules were drilled into our youngsters and breakers of these rules punished and penalized…………….

If only the state and central governments could ensure education for all children of the school going age…………

If our movies stopped depicting law breakers as heroes……….

If only the value of every life lost in this manner were realized by every one of us………..

Finally if every mother could be like Neelam Katara and fight for justice……….

I wonder if I am asking for too much to happen in too little time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gup Shap again.

My husband recently complained that I seemed to be folding clothes all the time.

Folding clothes? With three school going kids I could have been seen folding clothes but with just the two of us occupying two corners of the flat why was I folding so much clothes? Then I found reason to be happy. Take any of these serials and soaps telecast ‘from Monday to Thursday’. The lady of the house, every hair in place and dressed up (read decked up) as if she planned to host a party, seems to fold clothes as if it were her hobby. That the folded items are a treat to my middle class eyes is another matter. Silks and chiffons, with and without zari and zardari in all colors do appeal to a person like me who would feel baffled inside a cloth store. Watching them from a safe distance and betting to myself about their possible price and quality kind of keeps me occupied since the plot or story offers little or no interest. So if husband really felt that I was folding clothes was it possible that my class was being elevated? Did I really belong to the group of ladies who neither cooked nor cleaned but folded clothes all the time?

God is sometimes unkind and he doesn’t let me be so even in my imagination. The truth has to dawn upon me within seconds. Earlier I had two daughters taking care of these things. All I had to do was to collect the dried ones and dump them on the cot and thank God for giving me two very understanding daughters who’d fold and stack them. I have to do all this myself. Or else the clothes would be hanging in the balcony for days together.

That brings me to another question that bothers me. Apart from Kerala we Indians have an arrangement where the son and daughter in law take care of ageing parents. So I looked after my mother in law and my sisters in law looked after my mother and it went on and on. In the early days of my marriage I’d feel that if the Kerala arrangement was followed there may be less of those MIL versus DIL conflicts and life would be a lot more peaceful. Those were days when I looked for my mother in my mother in law and felt disappointed. I would have liked to live on at my mother's place if possible. In Jamshedpur I often see that married girls usually in their teens would stay on with their mother and the unemployed son in law would join her. The couple would have children and the poor father would have to feed not only the daughter but also her family.

“Why did you get her married at such a tender age?” I’d ask.

“Unemployed boys demand less dowry and we have 2/3 more girls to marry off.”

But did they live in peace? Not at all. The mother daughter equation changes once she is married and mother daughter clashes are even worse than the ‘TU,TU main, main of the MIL/DIL group in which women exercise some caution and have some consideration for the son/husband caught in between. There is a woman who sells masalas and other items like soap, detergent etc. I normally don’t buy anything from her but she stops by on Sundays to ask. She actually feels comfortable sharing her problems with me. She has two married daughters staying with her and says that the very girls who shared the same roof till about 2 years back do not want to stay in the same room for more than a few minutes. They fight over the chores in the house, the preference given to one or the other son in law and what not. The woman goes to a school to help prepare mid day meals for the children. The time she is away is the only time that she can think straight she says.

She approached the older girl’s in laws and asked them to be strict and order their son to return home.

“Chase them out” was the reply. “They left of their own accord and will have to return on their own.”

I wonder if they would say this if their son was earning.


All this makes me infer that lack of money causes problems and clashes occur when one is dependent on another for finances. Wouldn’t it be better to educate the girl and encourage her to have a job or a small business that fetches her money before getting her married? The logic behind getting one’s daughter married to an unemployed man to save dowry has always baffled me. Can this be called logical?

If lack of money was causing problems does excess of it solve them? The ex CM of Jharkhand has apparently siphoned off 4,000 crores during his tenure as mine minister and later as chief minister. The former CM of Bihar is famous for his role in the fodder scam. What do people do with so much money? Poor man Sukhram stuffed currency notes in pillow covers and almirahs not knowing what to do with it. He did not have a friend to advice him about investment options. Compared to the current bunch of politicians, helped by computer savvy associates, the man was a novice and consequently na├»ve. And to think Bangaru Lakshman of BJP resigned as party president (?)for accepting a bribe of just one crore. They say that the chair corrupts people. I am beginning to believe it too. But that is not my question. Do these guys sleep on currency notes? Do those who own flats in every known metropolis ever spend an occasional day in them? A boy whom I met during a program on AIDS awareness used to work as the actor Rajesh Khanna’s cook in Mumbai. According to him Rajeshji would visit the house once in 4 or 6 months (On a rotational basis perhaps?) but the cook, watchman, 2 dogs and the servant maid had delicious meals all through the month and enjoyed other luxuries too. At least our actors toil in the sets to earn that kind of money. Politicians can’t even see to it that roads laid with the tax payer’s money do not get damaged in the next monsoon season. And they have crores of rupees invested in deals that are of no benefit to the country.

Amassing wealth much beyond one’s requirement is also a mental illness. It hardly matters whether it was obtained through fair or fowl means. If you have money to spare use it prudently the way Warren Buffet did. I have a power point presentation on him but I don’t know how to upload it. But it is very interesting and lifts up one’s spirit. I’ll try putting it up or alternatively I’ll mail it to Suranga or Usha who can put it up in their sites. Let the money generate jobs or help eradicate illness. In short let money be used in an intelligent way by intelligent people and not by a bunch of self centred people who cannot think beyond themselves.

That was a long post and I just remembered that I have clothes to fold. Let me imagine that I am the mother/mother in law in an Ekta Kapoor serial who folds clothes with manicured hands looking as if she has a hundred others to do every odd job in the house.Thanks to Usha and Praveen I've managed to link Warren Buffet's power point. go ahead and enjoy!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The God Factor

I sometimes wonder about to the role a God’s presence in our life. I grew up believing that there is someone up there who is watching us and we need to account for our actions when we finally get to meet Him. It was this accountability that perhaps made me what I am today. Little things like “annalakshmi will cry” or “Saami (God) will poke one’s eyes if one cheated etc. went a long way in training me to be fair minded and to appreciate that we had enough to eat while there were many others who went to bed hungry. It also helped me feel compassionate towards those in need.

Unlike my Christian friends we, in our family, were under no compulsion to pray on a regular basis or go to the temple on a particular day. But we were expected to leave all work and assemble in the room marked out for prayers when the puja was over and camphor was lit. Whenever it rained and thundered we’d close our eyes and pray saying “Arjuna abhayam” meaning that like Arjun of the Mahabharat we were also seeking the blessings of Lord Krishna who was saying ‘why fear when I am here?’ So albeit in a very subtle way, we were being inculcated into believing that our life was being monitored by God.

On growing up and having developed a logical mind I have often wondered whether those who do not believe in God have missed something and also whether the belief actually sustains those who do. I remember a conversation I had with a friend and colleague who had just lost a sister.

“God balances everything.” I had said. “When HE tries your faith by giving you cause to grieve, HE also rewards you by granting you something to rejoice over.”

“How do you say this didi?” she asked. “My mother lost her mother at the age of five and was raised by a step mother. She had a bad marriage and she divorced my father. She went through the trouble of educating us and getting us married. Just when she began to relax, my sister, an air hostess with a great future, was brutally murdered for dowry. The court lets her husband roam free due to lack of evidence and a girl, related to us, marries the man despite knowing the whole story. Where is the divine justice that you talk about?”

Her mother died two years later and I am still looking for answers.

A friend of mine lost her husband two years back and is yet to come to terms with it and accept the fact that death is the only sure thing about life and it can happen in any manner. She and her younger son who claim to be agnostics take medication for depression but the older son, who is a practicing Christian, firmly believes that his father is in heaven and is watching over him. His attitude is positive.

I do not reject the existence of God outright. I believe that there is god in each of us. The God within us is the voice of our conscience that keeps warning us when we go wrong. The Hindu philosophy, that our actions alone count and that one is accountable for bad karma, has been propounded after a lot of deep thinking. The welfare of society is maintained by this belief and people learn to deal with life’s blows thinking that the perpetrators of misery will have to answer for their misdeeds. They get on with their lives believing that God will take care of things. The same goes with Christian teachings that advices man to ‘do unto others what you would have others do unto you’. It helps one control negative vibes and refrain from deliberately harming others.I am sure that the Koran, Gurugranth and other religious books also say something similar.

But then all this applies to those of us who lead ordinary lives. The politician who siphons off millions and millions of public money seems to think that taxpayers are actually paying for him to invest in appropriate shady deals to an extent that he wouldn’t even remember the number of investments actually made by him. His PA would be entitled to own a dozen houses in posh localities and perhaps his gatekeeper would be a millionaire. The God within them is conveniently drugged and goes off to sleep like Rip Van Winkle.

I have not actually seen God. But I do meet his representatives from time to time. My maternal grandfather and uncle are personifications of God in my life. Thanks to them we grew up like other children without missing the presence of a father in our lives. My husband is being helped by a seventy year old man completely unknown to him till a few years back. This man is not a practicing advocate or a qualified lawyer yet he spends his time giving free legal advice to those who come to him. That he does not charge any fees for his services is one thing, he also arranges for lawyers, who like him are selfless and fight cases in the lower as well as high courts for a nominal fee. My husband’s was case filed in Jharkhand High court and the verdict was given in his favor. All this happened in 2006. We left for America soon after the case was filed and the lawyer took care of everything. My husband returned from America in about 5 months and came to know that the case had been disposed of in his favor. Can you believe that the entire process cost him only Rs. 3000/- ? We have not even met the lawyer in person. We are asked to see God in everything. I am not such a great soul to put this advice to practice. But I do see God in such people who can mint money if they choose to but refrain from doing so.

The God factor is important in that it helps one get past trying times. It enables us to accept unhappy and shattering experiences with equanimity and accept them as God’s will. Very often a shattering experience results in something better at a later stage and the bitterness felt earlier is forgotten. It does not matter which God or mentor one chooses to trust. What matters is that faith strengthens the mind and energizes the spirit. Agnostics and atheists place their faith in themselves which again is like trusting God because the scriptures say there is god in all things and before anything else, one is accountable to one’s own conscience. Life is but a chain of trust and the first link in the chain is the trust one places on him/herself.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

STORY TIME

This is a piece that I wrote some 4 years back and it is special because it was my first published work. It was published in Woman's Era in 2005. It was saved in my computer and I was looking for something else and this one popped up. The kids in the story are my brother's daughters who have now grown up into responsible young girls with the older one doing her Dentistry in Coimbatore and the younger one planning to follow her soon. They are both trained in Bharatanatyam and re reading this piece makes me wish to go back in time and enjoy the days when they were kids in their pre - teens. i dedicate this post to their bright future.

As a fresh graduate I often entertained my younger siblings and their friends to a story session whenever there was a power cut in the locality. We would light a candle and form a circle around it and I would narrate to them stories selected from a wide and variable range. I was an avid reader so there was never a dearth of good fiction. These stories would be narrated with such fervor that my young wide-eyed audience would laugh or weep as the situation demanded. The hero, the villain, the step- mother, and all other characters in the story were real people and were critically analyzed during dinner -time. They would go on to suggest a different conclusion or a better treatment of the plot and feel thrilled when their idea was accepted. Those were days before the television made its entry into rural homes and this was a means of healthy entertainment.

My own children never came to me for stories. My father in law was a well-read man and he took charge of supervising their study time and home work each evening and would reward them with a story while I prepared dinner. The children looked forward to their story time and since it was conditional and subject to their finishing the given assignments, their studies were also simultaneously taken care of. For this purpose he would religiously read children’s fiction and fairy tales while I took it easy and thanked god for small mercies.

My earlier success as a story -teller encouraged me to try the same with the next generation and not realizing their potential I offered to tell them a story. The next generation comprised of my brother’s daughters Shruti and Shweta who were smart young girls studying in the primary section of a reputed school in Mumbai. They belonged to the digital age and had grown up watching TV! The story was from a movie I had watched as a schoolgirl and was the vernacular version of an English movie The parent trap. It was also one that I had earlier narrated to my younger brothers including the father of the two girls.
“A long time ago there were two sisters who were twins” I began.
“But how can sisters be TWINS?” Shweta asked.
“Be quiet! She means twin sisters.” Shruti the older one explained. I could not understand the difference however much I tried. Anyway I was grateful for her timely help and continued the story. “The older one was called….”
“But aunty you said they were twins” this was Shruti.
“She was older by a few minutes” I explained.
“By how many minutes?” interrupted Shweta.
“May be ten or twelve” I replied. “The sisters were called Lalli and Pappi.”
“I don’t like their names. They’re too old fashioned. I’ll suggest new names for them,” said Shruti.
“Me too” said Shweta.
After this I lost track of who was saying what. I just sat through the discussion that followed.
“I’ll call them Riya and Rini”
“Never ever! They’ll be called Anu and Vinu”
“Those are not real names. They’re only nicknames. Any way they sound stupid”
“They sound stupid to you because you’re stupid”
“Aunty! She’s calling me names”
“You started it silly!”
“Why don’t you get lost?”
“Why not YOU? You’re not wanted here any way.”
“Who are you to say it? This is my house and I’ll stay here as much as I want and as long as I wish to.”
“This is daddy’s house not yours”.
The debate continued for what seemed to me an eternity.
I felt lost and inept to arbitrate. My head started reeling and I had to call for their mother’s intervention. My own children had grown up and I had lost touch with children in their pre – teens. The mother knew exactly how to tackle them. She made them suggest a name each and solved their dispute in a minute. I felt like a fool.

The naming ceremony was over but I had no energy to continue. I seemed to have forgotten half the story and needed a cup of coffee to revive my spirits. I did not have the heart to let the children down so I continued with the story. I tried to impress upon them the efforts taken by the children in the story to bring their estranged parents together. The story did not seem to provoke emotions and perhaps the plot, to their minds, sounded outdated. This was a generation of SUPERMEN and SPIDERMEN and the world could be accessed at the press of a button. They may not have found the escapades of characters in the story interesting. I felt a little dejected over my failure as a storyteller. I left home to visit a friend planning to give up story telling for life. After a pleasant evening, spent at my friend’s place recalling our childhood days, I returned home at ten in the evening. To my greatest surprise the two little girls were waiting for me in the front room waiting to hear the next story! They had invited their cousin to sleep over and their beaming father told me that the girls were superb narrators and had since afternoon kept their friends entertained with a modified modern version of my story without destroying its essence. They had animated discussions about the plot and characters, found alternative methods to deal with the villain of the story. Their heroine for instance abandoned the old-fashioned post office route and communicated via e-mail and the villain did not bother to threaten the postman or snatch letters from the servant. He simply hacked passwords and deleted mails. My brothers who had a pleasant reminder of yester years joined their children to listen to yet another of my stories!

The experience however was an eye opener. Children would remain children and they had enjoyed the experience. I had worried in vain. I am now a grandmother and soon my grand daughter will be asking me for bedtime stories. Keeping pace with changing times I’ve asked Shruti and Shweta to update me with stories that the new additions to the family would prefer!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The 'other woman'

Of late I’ve been hearing a lot about the ‘other woman’ in a man’s life. A court verdict has ruled that a man’s second wife/partner is entitled to property rights just like his first wife and if I am not mistaken this applies to a live in relationship as well. I don’t want to go into the legalities of such an arrangement or argue whether such a verdict would or would not act as deterrent to the not so serious flings that men and women tend to have without the commitment that is called marriage. I merely wish to analyze whether it is okay to paint the mistress/second wife black and call her names just because she involved herself knowingly or unknowingly with a married man? Is there perhaps another side to the story? I know it is easy for me to offer my opinion having never faced such a situation but a few cases known to me make me wonder what went wrong and also if those of us who pass judgment are overlooking the trauma faced by the so called ‘other woman’.

As an undergrad student studying in Trichy some years back when I had neither age nor maturity I remember announcing that if my husband ever had an affair, I’d let him go and have nothing to do with him. There was no point, I argued, in continuing my relationship with a cheating husband. I’d show him the door……. We were actually analyzing the situation in a hit movie and our sympathies naturally lay with the unsuspecting, god like heroine who sang soulful songs to express her agony. She finally forgave the errant husband and the other woman was suitably punished.

My friend agreed heartily but added that she’d show him the door too but only after making life hell for him and his mistress. Others too agreed but suggested punishments like rolling him down the stairs, scooping out his eyeballs etc. etc.

But movies are movies and real life stories are different.

Take for instance the case of Veena (name changed) that took place 40 years back around the time we had the above mentioned argument. She was working in a multinational company and fell in love with her married boss and could do nothing about it. She married him against the advice of well wishers. Her parents in law sided with the first wife and the couple moved to the middle-east. She felt guilty about having wronged the first wife and decided not to have children of her own. Unfortunately her husband died. She continued to support his family-got his daughter married and educated his son. Now with the parents in law passing away, the two women live together and the children love her, if not more at least as much as they love their natural mother. Veena was related to me by marriage and I may be biased in my opinion of her. But I find it equally difficult to be harsh on D…….. who I know only from a distance.

D……. was at the receiving end of life’s blows. Her husband was an irresponsible sadist who troubled and tortured her day in and day out. She found solace in the company of a family friend and finally walked out of her marriage and married him who agreed to look after her daughters as well. She was of course highly criticized and I am afraid I too agreed to the view that walking out of an abusive marriage was one thing but marrying an already married man and disturbing his family life was quite another thing . I agree, hers was a marriage of convenience. I noticed that she had to be fiercely protective of her daughters and could not trust them to remain alone with the step father. Nothing in her life was easy. She educated her daughters, got them married and looked after their children while they went to work. She never for a moment kept them under the illusion that her husband was going to support them, the way a natural father would. There was an invisible line drawn and the girls rose to her expectations. It is not easy for grown up girls to support their mother under the circumstances but they did. She is no more and her husband has gone now back to his first family. The girls are happy attending to one another’s needs. They hardly have anything to do with their step father.

I sometimes wonder if she was happy with her choice. Wagging tongues and prying eyes notwithstanding, she perhaps wanted some protection from her first husband both for herself and her daughters. But even after marrying someone known to her she had to worry about their safety and could not bring herself to trust him. Somehow I am not as critical of her as before. One does not know the circumstances that led to her decision.

What are the circumstances that lead to extra marital relationships I wonder? We see highly educated qualified women agreeing to marry men who are already married and never accord them the same respect that they give their first wives. AG married D soon after her graduation. Her father sensed that all was not well and encouraged her to do her Masters and later to appear for the National Eligibility Test for lectureship. Educating girls and encouraging them to work was unheard of in her family. She realized that her husband was having an affair with a divorcee and walked out of the marriage with her children and took up a job in a new town. Today the second wife is insecure and keeps calling her to know the whereabouts of the husband! And despite the misery she caused, AG is inwardly sympathetic towards her. For all you know the man may be having an affair with a third woman, she says.

I can go on and on. It is easy for one to sympathize with the wronged woman. She deserves all the support that can be given to her. But what about the ‘other woman’?
She is neither respected nor supported. Her needs could have been emotional but who cares for her emotions? She is a home breaker and that’s it. Does anyone ever stop to think of the insecurity she may be experiencing? No one seems to criticize the man who abandons his first wife for whatever reason.

‘Men are like that only’ is the famous refrain. Either the first wife was not smart enough or the second wily, crafty and what not. No one seems to think that both of them cared enough for each other and were willing to face the outcome by marrying against all odds.

I hope I am not giving you the impression that I endorse extra marital affairs. Far from it I feel that in the unfortunate event of falling in love with an already married person, one should insist on proper divorce proceedings. Again I say that it is easy for me to sympathize with the women, having never faced the situation myself. Those who have, know the sorrow that inevitably follows and the sense of inadequacy that one feels for having let one’s husband go. This is not a black and white situation and there are several shades of grey that fall in between.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gup Shap again

I know it is late but Happy Diwali all the same. I hope you all had a nice and safe Deepavali.I reached home just a day before Deepavali so we made it very, very
simple.

It has been a long time since I posted anything on my blog. I think I am going through one of those lethargic phases when one just does not feel like doing anything. The trip to the south was exhausting and made me pledge never to fit in so much of travel in future trips. Considering the accident prone world we live in I am glad to have returned to my niche in a single piece. In Karnataka it appeared as if the rains followed us giving us just enough time to leave a place before creating havoc there. Unfortunately we were unable to enjoy the natural beauty of the western ghats since we were holed up in a hotel room most of the time.

I had high hopes of meeting Suranga, Usha, Aarthi, Srijith and Riti during this trip. Lack of communication was the only reason for missing out Suranga and Srijith who live within walking distance of the place I was staying in Mumbai and Chennai. As for Srijith I felt lousy staring at an apartment complex near Balaiyya garden bus stop and wondering whether he actually lived there. I must have crossed the place at least twice a day but I did not have his phone number and I was being punished for my laid back attitude. Sorry folks, there will be a next time and that is a promise

Coming back to Jamshedpur feels good. Where else can one leave home at 10:15 AM and reach one’s workplace before 10:30 AM? Where else can one go on long winding walks for an hour and return all set and fresh to take on another day? I can hear my brothers and sister both natural and by marriage call me a ‘pattikkadu’ (villager) unaccustomed to smart city ways. True, we all get used to a particular life style and claim it to be the best. Every time I meet my folk I am under a kind of dilemma as to whether I should continue in Jamshepur after retirement or move out to Chennai, Bangalore or Mumbai. But city life baffles me and finally I decide that our good old Jampot is the best place for an ageing couple to spend the final lap of their life on earth.

Post retirement I need to take up an assignment and absent myself for at least 5 hours each day. Or else my husband is going to drive me nuts and I’ll be churning out sob stories in my blog. I had copied out a piece on ‘Golden Retirement’ 3 years back and like the lady who authored the piece I think I am going to have him velcroed to my hips if I dared to stay home. Can you imagine the areas in which he awaits my response are?

I’d have returned from college and would be relaxing in my bedroom with a magazine in hand.

HIM: I am going for milk.

ME: Okay.

HIM: I am going for milk.

ME: Please do. And take the keys with you. I may doze off to sleep

HIM: What did you say?
I ignore the question. He has almost reached the door and comes back just to ask if I had said something. I could not have asked for a cuter husband but I really wish he could just go and get the milk instead of waiting for my approval in matters that don’t matter at all.

Jokes apart, I don’t blame him. There was a time when we had to worry about so many things. A child’s admission, hostel bills, father in law’s health concerns etc. etc. There now seems to be a sudden void in our lives. That brings home another realization. When a person has nothing to look forward to, one’s life becomes monotonous and boring. That is exactly why his concern touches my heart.

Did you take your medicines?

It is getting cold. Why not wear a half sweater?

I am drawing out my quarterly interest from the post office. Shall I deposit a part of it in your account?

The questions continue and they are important because they sustain us. The phone rings and I pick it up.

He appears at the door.

Who? He gestures.

My friend. I reply.

He goes off nodding his head.

To those of you leading a busy life these things may not matter. May be not yet. But to us it reiterates the fact that we need to remain fit and well if not for ourselves at least for the other person. We have made ourselves so very interdependent that very often he says something that I was just about to say. This brings to my mind another malaise that seems to have inflicted society of late - couples opting to separate in the twilight of their lives. I recently heard of a person known to me with grown up and married children opting out of marriage. They may or may not go for a divorce but they certainly prefer to lead separate lives. Each one says that the other is free to come and stay with him/her but on his/her terms and conditions. When I discuss this with friends they say that people are more honest these days. Why put up with an arrangement that is no longer agreeable? There is some logic in this argument but is this the right solution? Like one says that children earlier put up with their parents since their common property generated the income that was required to support their families. It no longer holds in a society where parents see to it that children reach dizzy heights saying that their children should never go through the hardship they once faced. Parents too have set aside enough to lead an independent life post retirement. There is no question of anyone adjusting with the other person. But isn’t it taking things too far when a wife or husband refuses to be part of the other’s life at a time when there is an acute need for meaningful companionship? I’ve known children supporting the mother and abandoning their father. Perhaps they feel that a mother’s presence in their homes would be more useful to their working wives than their father’s who would do nothing but occupy the front room reading the day’s newspaper.

Be it as it may I still subscribe to the view that old age is meant to be spent together whatever be one’s differences in day to day life. As for me I cannot imagine life without the domineering presence of my old man so what if he bugs me with irrelevant questions all the time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tagged by Renu.....

This was a tag given to me by Renu long back. To be honest these are not the actual responses by my children. Knowing them, this is what I expect them to say. Just meant to be laughed off.

Mama: What is something I always say to you?

Son: You say so many things. The list is long.

Daughter: I don't think you've kind of insisted on anything. So can't really say.

Me: A talkative person like me hasn't said much? Not very complimentary :-((.




Mama: What makes me happy?

Son: The quick retorts you get from me. But for me you would lose your mental sharpness.

Daughter: You are generally happy but you seem happiest in tackling adverse situations. Challenges seem to give you a high.

Me: so true:)




Mama: What makes me sad?

Son: Anyone whose sob story impresses you. God knows how many people find your shoulders suitable to cry on. Honestly, I've lost count.

Daughter:Treachery and your inability to correct it. But you do go overboard to the extent of letting things affect your health.



Mama: How do I make you laugh?

Daughter: When your lips start quivering and you seem ready to cry while watching vidaai scenes in a movie or TV serial. I found it funny even as a child and wondered how you failed to see that it was not for real.

Son: mmmmmmmmmm.I think I'll say 'me too.'



Mama:What do you think I was like as a child?

Daughter: From what patti said you were a bookworm and very careless with your things. But daddy's company seems to have sobered you.

Son: I can't even imagine you as a child. But from what patti says you seemed to have been the boringly good kid, listening to mamma and generally being obedient. Thank God for us children who made life spicy and interesting for you.

Me:I didn't know that being good could be boring.



Mama: How old am I?

Daughter: You are now a grandmom to 4 g'kids but getting younger by the day.

Son : My soon to retire mother, why ask leading questions? If you expect me to say that you are young at heart and stuff like that..........I think I am sleepy and need to go to bed. (yaaaaaawns!)I think I'll make up for that by saying that you are ageing gracefully. Happy??

Me: Loved your responses.Reminded of the time when you were here in Jamshedpur.



Mama: How tall am I?

Daughter: All of us could see the top of your head from time immemorial.

Son : As tall as I want my mother to ever be.


Mama: What is my favourite thing to do?

Son:Your afternoon sleep with all three children made to forcibly lie down whether they wanted to sleep or not.

Daughter:Discussing issues that affect mankind in general.

Me: My college timing has changed and so no more afternoon naps except on Sundays and holidays.



Mama: What do I do when you’re not around?

Son:Playing computer games I suppose.

Daughter:Listening to carnatic music and blogging perhaps.

Me:Missing my kids, you silly children!



Mama: If I become famous, what will it be for?

Son: For being the mother of excellent children. The day is not far ma....Just wait.

Daughter: For your heartfelt concern for those around you.



Mama: What am I really good at?

Son:You seem to handle situations that drive you crazy very well. And you make excellent rasam.

Daughter:You balance home and job pretty well tho' I don't remember you doing anything really fast. I remember you starting after us and overtaking us on the road in your moped. Daddy was always a safe driver but you loved to speed up.



Mama: What am I not really good at?

Son:Cooking an elaborate meal. I don't think you care too much about spending hours together in the kitchen.

Daughter: At defending your children. You always wanted to hear the other side of the story instead of believing our version right away.



Mama: What is my job?

Son:Being our mother.What else, eh?

Daughter:To worry about daddy as if he were a 4 year old.You've never let him grow.

Me: I did not stop his growth. He preferred it that way. It suited him.



Mama: What is my favourite food?

Son:Spicy south Indian dishes like 'vattal kuzhambu and seppangizhangu roast'.

Daughter:Junk food like pani puri and samosas. We know it ma..ha,ha.

Me: I've given it all up now.



Mama: What makes you proud of me?

Son:You learnt to drive a car at the age of 54. Wow, I am impressed.

Daughter: You pursued your studies after a gap of 15 years. I remember the hard work you put in.



Mama: What makes me proud of you?

Son:Proud of me? That's good news.

Daughter:didn't know you were proud of us. Why didn't you let us know?

Me: Naughty children. as if you didn't know.



Mama: What do you and I do together?

Son : Discuss socially relevant issues.

Daughter: '''''''''mmmmmmm' let me think..... Oh yes, you've made me help in the kitchen ever since I could. So how come you don't remember me helping you out????''''

Me: sorry my child. I wish I could undo all that and give you back your childhood.



Mama: How are we the same?

Son:I don't think we are the same and I am glad we aren't. Like poles repel you know!

Daughter:We both like junk food.

Me:Sonny boy, we share the same gene pool. How different can you be?



Mama: How are you and I different?

Son:I am a towering personality and you are a shortie!!

Daughter: I am better organized than you. You keep hunting for things all the time.

Me: True, very true.


Mama: What is one thing you wish you could change about me?

Daughter:I'd really want you to lose weight. It would be good for your health.

Son : Me too.

Me:I'll try harder but There seems to be little I can do about that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Down the memory lane-2

Let me begin with wishes for a very happy Navarathri and Eid to all of you. Festivities being part of the Indian scene getting in and out of shops has been a tiring experience. Not that I am a great shopper but getting a hair band for my scanty hair took me nearly half an hour what with enthusiastic teenaged girls crowding the ladies corner picking out make up kits and accessories to deck themselves for the pujas. I found myself sorely missing my grand daughters who have just begun to understand what it means to own bangles and stuff. That reminds me. I happened to look at a photograph taken soon after I finished my 11th standard boards. I could hardly recognize the teenager looking back at me. She had worn danglers (Jhumkas) and a ‘mattal’ to support ear rings that would pass off for mini plates and a vertical line instead of the round bindi I normally sport these days. I really wonder if I was really that crazy and if I was indeed so when did my teenage enthusiasm die? Be that as it may Navarathri is the time when girls are given special treatment. For my part I did my bit for the girls mentioned in my previous post and escorted a handicapped friend Prema to visit a friend of hers whose husband is recuperating after a mild stroke that had him hospitalized for a week or so. And again the visit took me back to the days when I had just arrived at Jamshedpur and we all lived in the same locality. Prema’s family has done for me that which I need several more births to ever repay.

My mother in law was seriously ill and bed ridden. She was forbidden the intake of more than 5 gms of salt per day and her kidneys were failing. Being diabetic she would be constantly hungry and with 2 small children I’d be at wits end unable to cope with her demands for spicy (forbidden) food. Prema’s mother was a friend of my mother in law and the dear lady would say that since she cooked early for her husband who left for work at 8 in the morning I could come over to her place anytime to pick up stuff for my mother in law. I’d sometimes knock their door at 6.30 in the morning and come back with steaming hot food.

“V was not always like this” she’d say referring to my MIL. “It is her illness that is making her act strange. You think she’d eat all of it? She’ll probably just taste a bit of it for a change and refuse the rest. Don’t worry about anything. You can come over anytime.”

To her credit I must add that she never discussed all this with anyone nor did her children, Prema included, question the reason behind my early morning visits. In fact Prema doesn’t even remember any of it now. But I have not forgotten the favor. It was like having my mother close by. My mother in law was also completely at ease about my contact with the family. She knew that T mami (Prema’s mother) would never set me against her. There were times when I’d have a complaint or two against my MIL. Her advice would be the same.

“Don’t bother about her outbursts. She’ll cool down by the time you go back. Do you think she’d have spared P (my SIL)? She is one person who is the same within and without. You’ll soon understand.”

True, my MIL was like a pressure cooker releasing steam from time to time. One had to understand the soft interior behind the tough exterior and T mami helped me see it.

I don’t know why I am reminded of my younger days so much these days. I lost a dear cousin to cancer. She was younger to me by a year and the first leaf to fall from the branch that sprung from my mother’s side of the family tree. She is mourned among others by her 82 year old mother. She was in great pain and has perhaps found liberation in death. We shared a childhood together spending our vacations in Gobi at my grandfather’s place. Her mother was an inspiration to me with a balanced temperament and uncomplaining nature. Those were days when parents generally let children run wild during vacations – no special treatment or attention. Anyone who was free would feed the children and one would fall asleep on mats spread out in a common hall. I wonder why the current generation of young mothers are so protective about their children.

My child won’t eat this or that……….
My son is an angel he’d never start a quarrel…….
My son won’t get sleep unless the AC is on……..

When we were young and up to mischief, anyone including the servant could scold us and our mothers would go about their work as if nothing had happened. They interfered only if there was a danger of children hurting themselves during a quarrel and the maximum punishment inflicted would be to withdraw the culprit from the scene. Never mind who started the quarrel. But we were happy as long as we got to enjoy ourselves.

Is this over protective attitude due to the fact that we have smaller families and more time in hand, thanks to modern gadgets? Or is the affordability in terms of money and means having a negative impact on inter personal relationships? Does one feel the necessity to flaunt one’s status in life even to one’s own parents and siblings? I am only generalizing but there seems to a subtle change taking place in society and the next generation of children may perhaps tend to be more self centered and uncaring and this will not be good in a society where the divide between the rich and poor is increasing by the day.

To conclude, I may add that almost all festivals are celebrated to denote the triumph of good over evil. Different reasons are quoted for celebrating Navarathri. Devi Mahatmiyam says that even with the combined strength of all the gods and demi gods, it took a long drawn war before Shakthi won the battle against Mahishasur, a demon. Ram led a battle against Ravan and ultimately defeated him. Demons are vanquished and justice prevails is the message. Even Gods could not accomplish it in a day. Corruption, terrorism, caste differentiation, communalism, avarice, dowry menace, female feticide and unhealthy competition are some of the demons that damage our social structure. We may not be able to change the world. Why not begin with changing ourselves and inculcate the value of community life in our children? They need to be sensitized by parents and no time is better than the present time. Let us begin right away. Happy Navarathri!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

dreams and more dreams.

Let me begin by wishing all of you a very happy festival season. A Happy Navarathri, Id-ul-fitr and in general a happy, pleasant time to all of you. I started writing something serious but retained it as a draft because I felt that this was not the time for it. Vacations have begun and we plan a trip to Shiridi, Mumbai and Shringeri. I hear that the Malabar coast is luxuriant after the rains and I've never been to Shringeri.

In this post I am generally going to share with you some eerie dreams I had. Sue had long back tagged me asking me to write about my dreams. Being the boring teacher that I am, I wrote out a long list of figurative dreams of how I wanted terrorism to be wiped out and other similar stuff befitting my age. She then told me that she meant real dreams and I had promised that I'd share them later so here I go.

Dream no.1 I was around 13 years of age and it was a Saturday morning. I was studying in a residential school and we were allowed an extra hour of sleep on saturdays and Sundays. I woke up sweating profusely. I had a dream that my dad was in hospital and he was on some life support system. There were all kinds of tubes and stuff and he was all skin and bones. I recognize him only by his voice. We, in the boarding school believed that Friday night's dreams come true but if it was a bad dream its effect could be neutalized if shared. I quickly woke my friends up and shared my dream. Unfortunately the dream did come true and in the months that followed the same dream recurred a few more times and 4 months later when I visited my father in hospital I was shocked to see everything exactly as it was in my dream. My dad, a 175 pounder had been reduced to a skeleton and some 6 months later he died. I had never seen the interior if a hospital room before so I cannot explain how I got such a vivid picture of the hospital scene.

Dreams no.2 Just before my marriage I had a dream that my dad had come with a suitcase and said that he planned to spend sometime with us. He continued to come in my dreams prior to my younger sister's and older brother's weddings. My younger brothers got married some 12 years after our weddings. I almost expected him to come in my dreams when the two younger brothers got married. But no, he didn't.

Dream no. 3. This again involves my dad. I had, by then, almost stopped expecting him to visit me in my dreams. It was more that 33 years since he passed away. I was advised bed rest following high blood pressure. My dad took me in my dream to Patna for an interview. He leaves me at the gate of the Secretariat and vanishes much to my annoyance. My name is called out and I try to go in when a little girl asks me if I was PR and when I answer in the affirmative she asks me to go back saying that I was not called. I insist saying that I had indeed been called but she does not let me in.

I wonder what dreams are? I've had my mother in law coming in my dreams soon after her death. My father in law's blood urea count shot up before his death and he developed blisters all over his body due to that. A few days after his death I dreamt that he was looking good and was telling a friend of his that he was fine and all his blisters had healed. But for some reason my mother has never comes in my dreams. I think it is because my mother lived to see us well settled while my father didn't. If there is something called soul then my father's soul perhaps wanted to be part of any celebration in the family.

I have regular dreams but most of the time I cannot remember anything when I wake up. But these are a few that I can remember and they usually involve my dead relatives. I don't read too much into my dreams nor do I look for interpretations. But I do offer a silent prayer asking God to take care of things.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

All is not lost




I had lamented in my last post the plight of education and the dearth of good teachers to train young minds. True, the teaching profession has lost its charm thanks to their underpaid and over worked condition. However all is not lost. The pictures posted above indicate the effort of Mrs. Anjali Bose, a seventy three year old social worker who has taken it on herself to do her bit for the girl child in Jharkhand. Her school is called 'setu vidyalaya' or 'bridge school'. The Jharkhand government identified her organization and gave her the job of coaching 50 girls between the age of 9 and 14 and raise their level of understanding to that of Grade 6 in a regular school identified by the government. Their education upto the 12th grade would then be the responsibility of the state government. These girls had to be school drop outs as certified by the headman of their village. The school was to be a residential one and the time granted to them was 9 months. She was supposed to appoint a teacher, an assistant teacher and a cook.

Mrs. Anjali Bose was already running a sewing class in her house in the outskirts of Jamshedpur. She converted it to a residential school and within 4 months the change undergone by these girls was visible. Today at least 30 of these students expect to be absorbed in the school marked out for them. They take their exams in February 2010.

The government carries out periodic checks and the grant is given out in part after ensuring that the previous amount has been properly utilized. The cause for cheer mainly lies in the fact that palms were not greased to obtain it nor does she plan to press for renewal of the project. Should the authorities consider her competent renewal should automatically follow is her stand.

It is not as if it was a cake walk all the way. Parents were wary and suspicious of her intentions. More than other things parents from a rural background had to be convinced about the importance of educating the girl child. A truly service minded teacher had to be appointed, who would agree not only work for the pittance paid to her but also double up as honorary store keeper cum warden. Many of the girls were illiterate and had to be taught from scratch. The government allowance covered only the children's board and lodge. The 5 staff members ie 2 teachers, a cook, a gatekeeper and maid who kept a round the clock vigilance on these young girls were perhaps expected to live on fresh air and water. Extra bathrooms had to be built, bed and bed linen had to be provided, at least 2 sets of uniforms had to be stitched and a buffer amount kept ready to counter any delay in payment by the government. Then there was always a chance of the girls falling ill so that too had to be taken care of.

Luckily, all these issues have been addressed. The teacher who works for them is sincere and efficient. She has her own set of problems but she still manages to teach these children some singing and gets involved in their physical training and games too. They are given simple chores to do and a healthy foundation to community living is being imbibed by these children albeit unconsciously.

The photographs above were taken on Independance day and in the first photograph Anjalidi can be seen addressing the gathering. This is an example of good work done against all odds and the dearth of good teachers that society faces is not because they are underpaid but rather because the importance of the profession has been conveniently forgotten. But I still insist that all is not lost.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy teacher's Day

I am a little late with my teacher's day post the reason being my dilemma as to whether the celebration of teacher's day is required or justified any more. Don't get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for teachers since they train young impressionable minds. But teaching is not a preferred career these days. When I was growing up teaching was considered as perhaps the safest option for working women. I know of a friend whose mother would allow her to leave town and work in another place some 250 miles away only on condition that she worked in an all girl's school with a teacher's hostel attached. The rules for teachers in this school were only slightly more lenient when compared to students. If students were allowed a weekly outing and had to return by 6 in the evening teachers could go out daily if they wished but had to leave whatever they were doing and return by 7 in the evvening. Teachers could go for a matinee show on Sundays while an occasional film was screened for students in the school auditorium. Yet these teachers gave their best services and students loved and respected them.

My own brothers were schooled in a primary school where there were benches only for the seniormost class ie the 5th standard. The rest would sit on wooden planks with all sections of a particular class being held in the same hall. Their first standard teacher was a widow who had taken a 2 year diploma course in teaching after finishing her matriculation. When my brother joined school he cried so much that I sat through the class for a whole week. I was myself in standard 10 and studying in an expensive boarding school. My father had just passed away and the family could no longer afford costly education for my younger siblings. The week I spent in a corner of the class was an eye opener. They were being taught by a born teacher who inculcated a love for learning in them. Today my brothers are doing well in life with one of them having graduated from IIM, Bangalore in the mid 80's and another a product of Anna University, Chennai. The headmaster, a simple unassuming man came home to meet my mother on Gandhi Jayanthi Day along with my brother who had been awarded the first prize in an inter school speech competition. He was perhaps in Standard 2 or 3. My mother treated him to some salted buttermilk. He recognized some potential in the boy and predicted a great future for him. This man was given the President's award for best teachers on Republic day. Those were days when merit was recognized and lobbying was unheard of. A good school may not have tall multistoreyed buildings but they certainly need the right person at the top. Unfortunately I forget the name of this great man but he certainly led by example and motivated the teachers under him to do their best.

Fast forward by 40 years. I was approached by a saleswoman who frequents our apartment complex to help her daughter with English. The girl was in standard 9 and studied in a government run Hindi medium school. I asked her to bring her English text and saw that she had a few good pieces in her book. Poems by Shelly and Wordsworth, an abridged version of part of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice etc. I was delighted. I had studied 'The Merchant of Venice' in the original for my 11th Boards and I welcomed the idea of reading Portia's piece on 'The quality of mercy..........'. But unfortunately I was not prepared for what I got. That the girl could not read a line from her text book was bad enough but she could not write the full 26 letters of alphabet or frame simple sentences using 4 to six words. How she managed to land in standard 9 was a mystery. I asked her to write a paragraph on her school in Hindi. She barely manged to write something but her writing was bad and spellings worse. What about science I wondered. She had managed to scrape through her exams. The teacher had written out a few answers that she had memorised and managed to pass. I wondered if this was the state of affairs in North India and if it was always so. After all my brothers and many others like them had studied in vernacular medium schools and were very successful in life.

"It was never like this" said my colleague and my mentor and Ph.D guide Dr. AKP endorsed her view.

"Your brothers sat on wooden planks but I had to carry my own mat to school" he said. "I had to cross a river on the way and very often the flimsy bridge made of bamboo poles would sway during cyclonic weather and yet we braved adverse weather conditions to attend school.

"Sir, government school teachers are being paid well what are they upto instead of teaching their students?" I asked.

"One can hardly blame them." said my guide. They are given all kinds of odd jobs. They are involved with counting cattle and livestock, they participate in polio eradication drives and carry out door to door surveys to identify below poverty line families that qualify for BPL ration cards. Census counts, distribution and rectification of erroneous voter identity cards or any work that the government wants them to do is gladly taken up by government school teachers. Our teachers only had to teach but these people have to do everything but teach. Does the DEO have the moral right to ask them why their students cannot write a simple sentence or understand basic science or Indian history for that matter?"

I seemed to understand something though not everything. We are a densely populated country and millions of young men and women are unemployed. Why cannot the government appoint them on adhoc basis to do such work and leave teachers to do the job assigned to them at the time of their appointment? If this is the way we treat our teachers do we have the right to celebrate teacher's day?

However I still admire those that take up the profession and struggle to do their best against all odds. It is these men and women who still allow us to hope that all is not lost.

Happy teacher's day to all teachers!!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

On being a mother in law.

Young girls aspiring to marry a TDH guy of your choice are advised to stay away from this post. You may read it at the risk of being subjected to some leg pulling exercise from me so be warned. No malice intended. Just some harmless fun at your expense.

There was a time some 30 years back when the boys family decided on the qualities possessed by their would be daughter in law. My mother in law expected me to be able to cook for 50 people if the situation so demanded. "Ellunna ennaiya nikkanum". This roughly translates as " One should be ready with sesame oil when the word sesame is uttered." I did not fit the bill and she had to manage with a DIL who could barely manage to cook for 5 persons. Forget the stipulated 50. But we got on pretty well. She'd teach me to stand up for my rights as a woman so what if it was my husband who was acting difficult. As for my father in law - the poor man could not even say that there was less salt in rasam or something as simple as that. My mother in law would take up for me like a mother hen and ask him to get used to eating less salt. "It is good for your health" she'd announce. Those were days that I always cherish.

Fast forward by 36 years. I hear that it is the girls who set conditions for marriage to a guy. Like some girl who said that she wanted her MIL to be able to speak good English and I've started worrying. 'Will my english be good enough for my DIL?' I wonder. Don't go by what I write. Years and years of life spent in Bihar/Jharkhand and that too in a town like Jamshedpur I cannot speak a complete sentence in any one language. Being close to Kolkata our Hindi is Bengali mixed and unique to our town. Tamil being my mother tongue I tend to add a few words of Tamil when I speak to my children. So it is Hinglish/Benglish/Taminglish all in one. Like when my daughter calls I may say something like

"Sollumma, kaisi ho? yeh week end me kya ki? Teri mamiyar kaisey manage kar rahi hai?"

This means " Tell me, how do you do? What did you do this week end? How is your mother in law managing?"

The ease with which I blend the three languages would baffle any DIL who did not know all of them and if she expected me to speak any one language I'd have a lot of unlearning to do. I think I should start practising. Who knows which language she'd want me to talk to her. Let me at least be fluent in the three that I claim to know.

My DIL may herself be a Hinglish speaking girl or even otherwise she may not be a talkative person so the language issue may get automatically resolved. I may only have to say 'yes', 'No' and okay. But she may have other conditions. What if she is a towering personality and my less than 5 feet of height puts her off? I don't blame her. If wants to see my face I'd have to lift it up or else she'd only see the top of my head. Constantly lifting up my head would aggravate my spondilytis and my shoulders would take turns to freeze. I'd trouble her to open doors and pick out stuff from shelves and the poor girl would also have to close doors and put back stuff. You see, even with the best intentions I can be a pain and it is only my husband who can pamper me 'cos he has no other option.

I am crazy about my cross word and sudoku. I read the head lines and check out university news and get started with my crossword. Not the cryptic one - just the quick one. I know of a 90 year old greatgrandpa who'd fight with his 70 year old son for the days newspaper. They'd buy 'The Hindu', Deccan Chronicle as well as Economic Times all in duplicate. Both would want all three papers for themselves. A fold here or a crease there would not be tolerated. It was the grandson who solved the problem by ordering two sets of all three newpapers. So, should my DIL want a crisp new newspaper to read I think I'll do the same. One set for her and another for me. As of now my husband waits for me to be done with my crossword before he even casts an eye or lays a hand on it. No, don't start imagining that he's an absolute angel. He is not. This is one area in which he is not in competition with me.

When I am pensive I tend to put a hand on my hip. My daughter keeps pulling it off. She says it makes me look formidable. I'd often wonder why I shouldn't look formidable? But now I feel that my DIL like my daughter would also object to a MIL with hands on her hips. She may prefer one with fingers on the lips. I think I'll try to get rid of the habit.

So you see our generation of mothers and mothers in law are rather accomodative. One has to just specify and we'd adapt. I invite my readers to let me know if there are any more specifications to qualify for the degree of a MIL.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Heartfelt-2

Sometime back I read an article in 'Prabhat Khabar' discussing the pathetic condition of colleges and universities in Jharkhand/Bihar. The topic was in fact covered in a series of 5 to 6 articles and were authored by a professor from IIT, Madras.He, who had been a product of schools and colleges in Bihar knew what he was talking about. He laments that the colleges in the region are just shadows of what they were when he was a student. He is ofcourse right.The college that my husband studied was one of the best in the state and students who were his batch mates have made it to prestigious universities abroad in times when parents hardly aspired to send their children abroad and most were happy to see them graduate in local colleges and take up jobs in and around the town where they were raised.

Truth is bitter and I found it difficult to swallow it. After all I am being paid by the tax payer's money and hope to draw a decent pension on retirement. But I needed to do some introspection and acknowledge how far and how much was I responsible for the situation and defend myself if possible. It really didn't require a professor from far off Chennai to tell us to our face that the functioning of colleges in our part of India is bad. It may be worse elsewhere but I am not accountable for all colleges and universities. I just want to find out through my analysis if there is still some hope and scope for our system to improve.

Anyone can come to our college at around 2.30 PM in the afternoon and find the campus deserted except for a handful of students who are either waiting for their company buses to ferry them back home or attending practical classes. The time table indicates that the college functions till 4.00 PM. Where have all the students gone one may wonder. They are either busy attending tuition classes/coaching classes or buying little trinklets at the local market a stone's throw away from the college. Teachers have to remain in college till 4 in the evening since they are being paid. Students pay a pittance as college fee. Their parents pay at least 10 times more as tuition fees in tutorials and coaching centres and one does not have to be a genius to understand where their priorities lie. Our Principal tried locking the gate one day. The press came, student union leaders came, there were frantic phone calls being made to the Principal. The students shouted slogans from within and the brothers joined them from outside. On the very day 2 programmes to celebrate the Science Month were going on and the students wanted to be let out rather than sit through these lectures. Not a single parent seemed to have questioned his/her ward. The general feeling is that classes are never held as per schedule in the college. How can classes be held in the absence of students? If anyone has an answer please let me know. Gates were finally opened and haven't been locked since then. No student union leader comes to advise his fellow students to attend classes regularly or to arrange for tuitions after college hours.

Was this always so?? No, it wasn't. When I first joined college we had students who came from their theory class discussing the topic taken up. They'd account for the number of ATP molecules formed in the course of a cycle of reactions in biochemistry or the bonding of atoms in a particular molecule and I'd have to ask them to stop their discussion and get on with their practical work. We still remember our old students. Arunima for the diagrams she made and Manisha for her perseverance and so many others who may not have been bright sparks but were keen to learn and made a sincere effort towards aquiring knowledge. This is what I find missing in my current batch of students. I had mentioned about a batch of students in an earlier post. In my department they were perhaps the last batch of dedicated students. Students wanting to study basic science have decreased in number. Another women's college in town offers Biotechnology and Environmemt and Water management as Honours courses. Students seem to find those courses more appealing. But a post graduate in Water management may be good for the industry but may not necessarily be a good Biology teacher in school. And not all of them are absorbed in industries. Some do take up teaching not having anything else to do. As a result the very foundation may be wobbly and it is these students that come to college and are unable to cope with the speed at which education is imparted in college. With coaching classes mushrooming all over town they prefer to go there rather than stay on in college. The college is reduced to a mere examination centre. They do not realize that tuitions can supplement or compliment class room coaching. They can never replace the teacher who draws figures on the board or explains the portion in detail.

It is the future of our children I worry about. The process of imparting and aquiring knowledge should be enjoyed to the core. Parental ambition sees to it that children handle the computer even before they learn to talk. Is it any wonder that we have robots instead of children and the curiosity of an entire generation is being stifled? A reputed preparatory/play school in town holds entrance tests for two year old kids and parents keep their fingers crossed for their ward's admission. It is a kind of prestige issue to have your child coached in the school.

I happened to visit the school attended by my grand daughter in Maryland, USA. The school charges no fees or may be a nominal amount. Parents don't go hunting for the most expensive scools. In fact the school authorized by your county is the only one you can send your child to. Children have an hour or two of systematic learning to do followed by an hour of any activity of the child's choice. The child can draw or paint, read a book or organise cutlery and crockery on a dining table. The child learns a lot when she/he is left to choose an activity of her/his interest. I also saw volunteers reading out stories to children in a local library and this was perhaps to help weak students and others who don't speak English at home to pick up language and grammar. In another day care I saw flower pots with children's name on it. Three year olds are encouraged to sow seeds and watch a seedling develop into a full grown plant. What a relaxing way to learn things. I really felt that our children were missing out on their childhood for no fault of theirs.

I may seem to have gone off the topic. No, not at all. I am coming to the point I wish to make. If one inculcated a love for learning in children and allowed them to do it at their own pace they may not peak before their time and will join college with their quest for knowledge in tact. As of now, we have a group that is so ambitious that they want short cuts to success and another group who are so weak that they lack even the will to try. The middle group to which most of us belong is perhaps missing. As a result no one wants to put their hearts into what they learn unless it translates into a five digit salary right from day one.

Sorry to sound pessimistic. But it is the future of India that is at stake. I've discussed only one aspect that bothers me. There are more angles that need to be explored and debated. I should consider the student's point of view and also accomodate the plight of parents who want the best for their wards. Somewhere in between the two, the role of politicians who want the masses to remain ignorant also needs to be included.