Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Accidental death

I keep thinking about the events that led to the murder of Aarushi Talwar and wonder if her mother - or for that matter her parents – could actually remain calm and composed if they had actually murdered their daughter as suspected. Was it a kind of honor killing? Did they eliminate her to suppress vital information that she had knowledge about? If the parents were indeed the culprits how did they stand up to police/CBI interrogation and lie detector tests? I do not wish to write about something I have no knowledge about but I would narrate an incident that took place some 35 years back in our colony.

D…… was a child in the fourth grade when he would come to my sister in law for private tuitions. His parents lived nearby. He once asked if he could bring his younger sister along. She needed to be coached for an interview to be admitted to a prestigious school in Jamshedpur. Would I teach her to respond in English? Money was short so I agreed although I had a 4 month old daughter to attend to. She must have come to me for about 15 days and it is quite another matter that her father did not pay me. The girl was admitted to the school and I forgot about her fee. I felt that they perhaps were also hard up for money the way we were. My sister in law too got married and moved to Orissa. I would meet D……. on my way to the local market or while I watched my daughter play in a neighboring park. He was polite and would enquire after my sister in law. I would in turn ask him about his sister’s progress. She had now been promoted to grade II and was doing okay in class he would say. I would meet the father too on his way to work and he too would acknowledge my presence with a nod.

D……. must have been around 13 when he told me that his 7 year old sister had died.

“Was she ill”? I asked.

In his naivety the boy told me that the girl had been acting difficult refusing to do her home work and her mother slapped her hard on the temple of her forehead. The girl had collapsed and died. His father had not returned from work and it took his mother a while to realize that her daughter was no more.

The girl was rushed to the hospital and was declared dead on arrival. I do not know how the case was hushed up because I heard neighbors say that the girl had fallen down from a chair and got hit on the temple and died. I kept the boy’s version to myself since I felt that the family must have been traumatized enough without fresh gossip adding to their woes. Her mother’s guilt was enough punishment for her I felt. For all I know, the mother may have hit her hard and the girl might have fallen off the chair. The 13 year old boy may not have understood the situation well enough.

I happened to meet his father a few weeks later and saw for myself what his daughter’s death had done to him. He seemed to have grown 10 years older in a fortnight and his eyes showed no signs of recognition. His hair was disheveled and he had not shaved for days. D….... told me that his mother’s condition was no better. She did not cook or clean nor bathe for days together. The shock was too severe to handle. I continued to meet D……… on quite a few occasions even after he joined college and started working. His parents had passed away before turning 50 and he was postponing marriage when I last met him some 15 years back. He might have shifted to another location in town or may have left Jamshedpur altogether. I only wish that he has gotten over his trauma and settled in life.

The point I wish to make is this. In a fit of uncontrollable rage a parent could have unintentionally caused the death of a child but the guilt associated with it is not easy to handle. Somehow Aarushi Talwar reminds me of D…… ‘s sister (I don’t even remember her name) and I send a silent prayer for both their souls to rest in peace.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Looking back

Long back when I was doing my undergrad course in Tiruchirapalli I faced a dilemma during my practical examination. A few of my catholic friends suggested that we pray for success in our examination by reciting Our Lady’s Prayer “Hail Mary full of Grace …..” 9 times, for 9 consecutive hours. After each recital we had to make a wish. This kind of prayer was called hourly Novena. We all readily agreed and on the said day we assembled at a friend’s room and prayed very sincerely. The theory exams went off well and we had to answer our practical exams before dispersing. Our Lab boy Chinnamuthu was given the task of collecting plants from the neighborhood for the exam. He offered to give us a duplicate set of around 40 plants for a charge of Rs. 2/- per head. My friends found nothing wrong in this. After all it was up to the examiner to decide on the plants that would be given for the exam. Of the forty plants hardly 4 or five would be given. It was just a kind of revision and did not amount to cheating. I opposed the idea and refused to shell out my share of money and said that I would not even have a look at the plants. A walk around the campus was sufficient to familiarize us with plants that were in their flowering phases and that were enough, I said. After having prayed for divine intervention it was not proper to rely on a lab boy for help. We had a big argument and finally my friends called me a nut case and left.

On the day before the practical exam Chinnamuthu did bring in the plants and all except me went and had a look. My good friend Maria Stella tried to convince me that it was not wrong to have a look – so what if I had not paid my two rupees. I did not give in. A few other friends started dropping hints and I requested them not to do so. The practical exam went off well and we were to disperse the next day. It was a sad evening for all six of us who had been very close for the last 4 years. Stella in particular was known to be very outspoken was a favorite. We got our warden’s permission to sleep in one room but none of us actually slept. My friends tried to convince me that getting a duplicate set of plants was not cheating and I stood by my stand that paying for knowledge about the plants that had been collected for the examination was not correct. It indicated that we neither had faith in our own capability nor in the deity we prayed to. I admonished Stella for ever agreeing to pay the lab boy.

“Were it legal our teachers would have called us to the lab and asked us to have a look at the plants that had been collected. It is supposed to be a secret and it was wrong of Chinnamuthu to earn money by giving us a duplicate set illegally”. I said.

“Were you not familiar with the plants that were actually given?” Stella argued. It was just a kind of revision.
Be that as it may, that night was a memorable one. We laughed and cried at the same time knowing that our world would never be the same again. We disagreed on specific issues but enjoyed our disagreements on a few issues as much as agreement on several others. Of the six friends I only met Stella once before my marriage. Another friend Prasanna wrote a few letters and we later lost touch. Vinolia and Jaya were equally dear but somehow we did not remain in touch. Angammal was the only one who returned to the same college to do her Masters.

Years later I happened to meet a gentleman who had retired as DEO from Tiruchirapalli. He was visiting relatives in Jamshedpur. I enquired after Stella’s dad Mr. Maria Susai whose promotion as DEO was due. He informed me that Mr. Maria Susai had died of heart attack before being promoted. He had no information about his family. He was rather surprised that I was friendly with Stella because he knew Mr. Maria Susai to be anti Hindu, anti Brahmin.

“He would never have approved of his daughter’s friendship with you”.

It did not matter to me. Till date I cherish her friendship – a friendship that knew no compartmentalization in the name of religion or community. I have nothing but fond memories of my friends of my college days. We did not have the internet or mobile phones to connect us. Memories alone persist and I wish them well from the core of my heart.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Back Again............

I need some motivation. I really do. I’ve been experiencing the computer phobia syndrome for quite some time now. May be it was the over drive during the National seminar that put me off. I plan to write something but end up playing spider solitaire or free cell.  Would you believe that I haven’t yet submitted my full paper for the proceedings that has to be published following the successful completion of the seminar?  My topic was “Saving the Ecosystem: A Value based Analysis”.  I think I need to really buck up and become chummy with my computer. With the children away and interaction with grand children restricted to weekly phone calls I need to be grateful to the technological wonder that keeps me occupied. I cannot afford to ignore it. So Namaste Computerji ! Shat, shat pranam apko.

And I get going. Wish me luck to be able to complete what I wish to say.

Long back I had promised to share information about how my maternal aunt bonded with her mother in law. I plan to do just that. I have written about her in this post which has a reference to an earlier post written in 3 parts. My aunt had no children of her own but she was a mother to all of us nieces and nephews from her own side as well as her husband’s. Thanks to her we share a very close relationship with her nieces and nephews by marriage and consider them as very much a part of our family and they too reciprocate in a similar manner.

My aunt was 13 years old when she got married. It was therefore appropriate that she was instructed on culinary skills by her mother in law who loved her like a daughter. She must have been well past 40 when I happened to spend a fortnight with her after answering my 11th boards.  I then saw for myself the wonderful relationship they shared. By then ‘Amma’ as her MIL was fondly called by the family was quite ill and practically bed ridden. She had to be helped to sit up on her bed and escorted to the hall or kitchen and seated in a comfortable sofa or easy chair when she felt inclined to. My aunt would give her a hot water bath, scrub her back, comb her hair and massage her feet and what not. It was heart warming to listen to their conversation.

“Amma, I plan to make sambhar and cauliflower sabzi for lunch” my aunt would say. “Do you think I should pressure cook 1 cup of dal for sambhar or should I make it 1 and a half?”

Amma would pretend to get annoyed.

“You’ve been married for thirty five years” she would say. “Do I have to tell you? Can’t you decide for yourself?”

“You found the sambhar spicy yesterday. That’s why I asked”.

“”Then restrict the amount of chilies. Why make extra sambhar and waste it?”


“Mr. K………. has come. Should I prepare tea or coffee?


”The servant wants a day off tomorrow. Is it okay to grant her leave or should I ask her to come in the morning and take the afternoon off”?

Listening to them one would think that the DIL was a novice and needed to be given directions even for managing day to day affairs. But I knew better. It was my aunt’s way of acknowledging that Amma was still very much in charge. When I hear of young girls claiming that the house was theirs and their MIL had no say in running the house I always remember my aunt who had no problem taking instructions even at the age of 48.

My uncle had the habit of maintaining an account book in which he recorded his day to day expenses. He had a college going nephew staying with him to whom he granted a pocket allowance of 10 rupees per month apart from the amount required for bus pass. In 1965 Rs. 10/- was quite enough provided the boy did not watch movies with friends or ate at the famous Mavilli tiffin rooms. He would coax amma and my aunt to giving him a little extra spending money. My aunt would give him the money but would not be able to account for it at the end of the day. Their conversation would be something like this-

Uncle: You bought coriander for 50 paise. What else?

Aunt: Mmmmmmm, let me think.

Uncle: Did you buy any other vegetables from the push cart vendor? How many times do I have to tell you that these fellows charge extra money? You could have told me to get vegetables from the local market.

Aunt: (unable to lie nor able to tell him the truth) mmmmmmm…..

Uncle: Did you buy charcoal for the boiler?

Aunt: No, I bought it yesterday.

Uncle: Then? What else? I am not able to account for 5 rupees.

Amma would be fretting from an inner room mumbling to herself.

‘Can’t she say something and be done with it? When will she learn to deal with him?’

“Why do you trouble her son?”  She would call out unable to bear the torture her DIL was being subjected to. “You know that she does not spend a penny without consulting me. You cannot expect her to remember where each and every rupee went.”

That would silence my uncle. Further questioning would imply that his mother’s discretion was being doubted.

I cannot quite recall another MIL/DIL duo who treated each other with such genuine and unconditional affection.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

'Vidaai' - When your daughter leaves home after marriage

When I first came to Jamshedpur I was surprised to see the open display of emotions when a young bride left home after her wedding. She would weep profusely hugging each member of her immediate and extended family. I come from a community that considered it inauspicious for a girl to cry when she left home. We were expected to control our emotions and put up a brave face while leaving home even if it meant that we had no idea of the kind of person our husbands happened to be.
“A daughter’s tears will ruin her paternal home” was the familiar refrain I grew up listening to.
 I wonder now whether the necessity to hold back tears and control emotions was an unrealistic expectation from women or was it a way of preparing her to face an uncertain future? My north Indian friends tell me that a girl would be considered shameless if she happily accompanied her husband post marriage and the ‘vidai’ ceremony was supposed to be a sad one and shedding tears was a must. I agree about the sadness involved but it may not be possible for every girl to wail and cry to prove her affection for her parents.

All this does not make much sense these days. Girls have in all probability left home to pursue higher education and/or career and are quite capable of managing quite well and better equipped to deal with minor hiccups that she may face in her future home with or without her in laws. My own daughter got married in Mumbai and left for America from there. It was only when I returned to Jamshedpur that it dawned upon me that she would no longer be part of our family as before. I did spend countless nights worrying about her well being. Living on her own in a foreign country with neither set of parents available for advice immediately she could have had her own set of teething problems. I never came to hear of them.  
This brings me to my next question. Have we actually trained our children to deal with adverse situations that they are likely to face when they leave home? Leaving home need not necessarily mean getting married. I deliberately use the word children because I am sure boys too have to deal with a bullying senior or a partial teacher. We never tell our sons that it is okay to cry once in a while nor do we encourage them to share their problems with us.

My days of parenting are almost over. I have made my own mistakes and regretted them too. I would advice young mothers to just be there for your children. Even if you feel that their choice in life (not necessarily marriage) is wrong they ought to know that you are there for them come what may. Shedding copious tears during ‘vidai’ is not sufficient. Lending them a hand in support when they need it would be a better way of expressing your concern.