Saturday, July 25, 2009

Down the memory lane.

I had posted something on Perverted Minds and deleted it within a day or two. The reason was that I had unknowingly written about a person who is no more and when I realized it I felt bad considering that a dead person deserves no censure and one should let such souls rest in peace whatever be our differences when alive. Another reason is that I don't feel comfortable dealing with topics that harp on the bad side of human nature. There is so much of goodness all around us so why not encourage people with their stories? There are people who suffer in silence and never say a word against anyone. I feel dwarfed when I come in contact with them. I really do. There are others who are at the receiving end of life's blows and yet have a kind word for those around them and spread cheer wherever they go. Why worry about those who according to Dr. Jill Taylor have a bloated up left brain? They are not going to change anyway.

Having said this let me tell you about an aquaintance of mine. I wouldn't be able to give you his name because I don't know it myself. I know him as Telgu Tailor and my friends also know him as such. My first contact with him dates back to the time when I returned with my first born to Jamshedpur. My sister in law had asked him to make a few frocks for my daughter and we both went to collect them. Mild mannered and courteous he made us sit down, his wife offered us a glass of water. When we asked him what his charges were he smiled and said that it was his gift to the new arrival and did not want money. When we insisted on paying him he accepted a token amount of Rs. 2/-. His son was employed in TISCO and he stitched clothes just to keep himself occupied. He really did not need the money he insisted. Our years of association had just begun.

For the next three years he made dresses for my daughters and blouses for us at nominal cost and finally left for Rourkela where his son had landed a better job. We missed him a lot since no tailor could give us the fitting that he gave for our blouses. Within a year he returned with his wife, two daughters and a younger son. It was the usual story of the arrival of a daughter in law and his wife not getting on well with her etc. etc. To be fair to them I must say that the tailor and his wife being a tight lipped couple did not malign the son or DIL. Neighbors came to know of it through the innocent disclosure of the younger son and daughter who were in school. The older daughter was now married. The tailor started taking orders again and we were delighted. He was rather apologetic that he had to charge nearly as per the prevailing market rate. The family lived in the outhouse of TISCO's officer's quarters. I managed to get him quite a few orders from college since his house was on my way and it was easy to give and collect material from him. I'd bring him design books and he'd make beautiful dresses for my daughters. As a rule I never bought ready made dresses for them. Things seemed to be heading in the right direction when disaster struck. His daughter came back to Jamshedpur after the birth of a daughter unable to put up with torture at the hands of her husband and in laws. She had an older son but he was held back in Kharagpur - his mind duly poisoned against the mother.

Life went on with the daughter also taking to sewing clothes. The tailor was his usual composed self but his wife was heart broken and took ill. In the meantime the younger son and daughter continued to study. The daughter often travelled with me to college by share auto and the son came to our block to play with a neighbor's son. The younger daughter got a government job and the family shifted to another part of the town where she was allotted staff quarters and we lost touch once more. In the meanwhile the older daughter was widowed and for the first time I saw the tailor visibly disturbed. She was however offered a job on compassionate grounds and left for Kharagpur.

Years later I met him on my way to college. For the first time I saw him smile. His younger son was now a chartered accountant. The younger daughter had married a colleague of her's and was leading a happily married life. His wife's health was a cause for concern but they now lived in a 3 bedroom flat and had hired a servant to attend to her needs. I asked him if he'd take orders for blouses again because we still coud not find anyone as good as him. He politely refused saying that his son had forbidden him to sit by his sewing machine and wanted him to lead a peaceful retired life. Fair enough I felt and was genuinely happy for him. I wish I could end my narration right here. Unfortunately my story does not have a happy ending.

It was the morning of Republic Day and our tailor went out to fetch milk as usual. On his return he saw a few people standing by his son's car. He peeped in and saw his son lying dead within. He just could not believe what he saw. This could not happen to him he felt. But it had happened and he was at a loss for words. So were we when on hearing of the tragedy we rushed to his place. The boy had been in love with the daughter of the bungalow owner from the days that the family lived in the outhouse and the girl had reciprocated. But her family still considered him as being from a lower class despite the fact that his older brother was well employed and he was himself a chartered accountant. The girl's mother had insulted him with reference to his impoverished past and ignored her daughter's pleas. He had asked his brother to intervene on his behalf and the brother had also arrived from Rourkela with his wife for the purpose. They were to approach the girl's family on the evening of Republic day but the girl's mother hurriedly got her engaged to a boy of her choice on the previous day and told him that there was no need to ask his brother to come over since her daughter was already engaged. No one knew when he left the house and locked himself in his car and committed suicide. A suicide note addressed to his girl friend said it all. There was another note to the SP of Jamshedpur requesting him not to harass the girl or his parents since it was not their fault.

We were speechless. No words could console the bereaved family. Soon after the son's death the mother followed. I thought that our Telgu Tailor would perhaps shift to Rourkela or Kharagpur. A few months later I met him again on my way to a friend's place. He had vacated the house rented by his son and was living all by himself in an one room kitchen unit for a nominal rent. I suggested that he should start stitching again to keep himsel occupied. He smiled and I then realized that one could express not only joy but also sorrow through a smile.

"I stiched clothes to support my family. To give good education to my children. Too many memories were associated with my sewing machine. I cannot bear to go near it." he said.

"Why don't you go to your children?" I asked. "I am sure your elder daughter would be more than happy to support you after all that you've done for her."

"I cannot bear to leave the place where my son grew up." he said "After all, I have only his memories to live by. When I am unable to manage I will have to leave but right now I prefer to stay here."

"Please don't hesitate to let me know if you need help." My words sounded hollow even to my own ears. After all how does one help a person who lives but has no life?

Just out of curiosity I asked "What happened to the girl who caused all this misery?"

"What could she do about my fate? I was destined to lose my son anyway. I only hope that she is happy wherever she is. My son's soul would be pained if she weren't."

I was speechless once more. I was standing in front of magnanimity personified.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Incompatible alliances (contd.)

A lot has been said about the role of the man and woman in a partnership, married or otherwise. The success of the alliance depends on how much effort is put in to make it work. True, in fact very true. Another question that comes to one's mind is who gets to decide the upper limit of such an effort? Parents with their experience can give useful tips but their role ends there. If a mother feels that her daughter should be happy to have a responsible husband who cares and provides for her and the family, so what if he is is a home bird and refuses to socialize, she is perhaps not wrong. But neither is she right. Cooped up in the house, dealing with a sick mother in law and troublesome children it is natural of the daughter to want to go out and meet others of her age. A compromise formula has to be worked out by the couple in question. Others cannot decide for them.

Then the question arises as to whether a socially sanctioned license in the form of a marriage is necessary at all? I, for one feel that when human beings grouped themselves into clans and society, the arrangement of getting married evolved. Polygamy was not frowned upon in the beginning mainly because menfolk were hunter-gatherers and their lives were at risk. So it was customary for married men who stayed behind to marry the young widow and take care of her children. Later this arrangement became a right and was extended to men whose wives did not bear children and later to those who did not bear sons. Kings and monarchs married for political reasons and some religions allowed men to take on several partners through marriage claiming that it was God's will. Hindu mythology has every kind of alliance as example starting from Gandharva vivah and swayamvar to a monogamous Ram to Murugan with two wives and our charming Krishna whose relationship with Gopika is claimed to be platonic and Radha was his childhood friend. Meera's devotion was again on an entirely different level. One has to just go through the Mahabharat to understand how flexible a society existed at the time. Trial and error perhaps resulted in the present arrangement where a monogamous marriage is linked to accountabilty and is therefore a widely accepted practise.

However, with the tolerance level going down and the pain and trauma of a divorce becoming more common, the feasibility of the arrangement is being questioned. Women empowerment has blurred the division of labour that existed 50 years back where women looked after the house and men went out to work. Men are no longer the sole providers and women no longer wish to be tied down to the kitchen. I don't see anything wrong there and I am all praise for the current generation of young parents where both partners take equal responsibilty in running a family. Evolution, whether societal or biological, always comes with a price tag. The survival of the fittest. Whether genes or unicellular organisms like bacteria, plants or animals, nature eliminates anything that is known to have a deletorious effect on the community and the environment. They are never allowed to flourish. In my opinion the trauma of the present times will soon give rise to the best possible arrangement and that in my opinion would be acceptable to all. Anything that is unacceptable will automatically be rejected and eliminated. People like me worry in vain.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Incompatible alliances

I have so many thoughts crowding my mind that I cannot decide which one to take up first. I think I'll talk of marriages that seem to break even before the couple care enough for each other to even give it a try. Why,why does it appear to happen more and more these days?

I think it was in early 2008 that I had tried to 'Defend Arranged Marriages' and ended up failing miserably since as usual I started seeing the other point of view and actually ended up endorsing (not quite, perhaps?) the right of younsters of Gen X to decide on who they want to spend their lives with. Before I am labeled a hypocrite let me clarify. I could not actually claim that marriages arranged by parents were always successful or that those arranged by the children concerned were disastrous. So I made a safe exit by mumbling something that was acceptable to all. That was just a light beginning to a rather serious issue. So let me get going.

I often think about why Indian parents want to have a say in their children's marriage. They seem liberal enough but when their children marry they prefer to stick to their own community/religion/social standing etc. etc. This is because they feel that their children would be able to adjust better. But is it really so? Take for instance the example of a couple I know or rather heard about.

S and P were neighbors and were happy when their children, both IT professionals decided to marry. 'Thank God they did not choose someone from a different state speaking a strange language' they thought. Their wives felt puffed up. 'Upbringing matters' they beamed at each other. 'It is the culture we've inculcated in them'.

Their joy was shortlived. The highly qualified professionals had not learnt the simple truth that marriage means much more than looking good on the wedding day. The first two years of marriage were okay. Trouble started when the husband wanted the wife to slow down and think of starting a family while the wife, who was on the verge of receiving a promotion and expected to be sent abroad to train a new batch of systems trainees, flatly refused. She felt children could wait. She accused her husband of being jealous of her success. Their relationship soured and even without consulting their parents, they filed for a divorce. Parents pitched in, they were asked to go for counseling. 'Upbringing' and 'culture' seemed to be words without any real meaning. All they could be happy about was that no children were involved in the mess that was called marriage.

B had been a good student and it was no surprise that he was accepted in an American University with full scholarship. His parents were elated and at the age of 18 he left India to study in America. He gradually took to the American way of living. His friends were Americans and he relished their company as well as their food. Weekends for him meant car racing and mountain hiking. Drinking beer after a hard days work was no sin. He got a job in a multinational company in California and his parents started hunting for a suitable girl for him. They were perhaps not too happy with his preference for beef and pork and felt that getting him married to a traditional Indian girl may help him to appreciate everything that was Indian and help him change his ways that were rather objectionable to them.

K was a girl from a traditional south Indian background. True she had done her Engineering and had a good GRE score and hoped to pursue her studies in USA. Her parents would not hear of sending her on her own to America. She could get married and do what she pleased. They found B a suitable choice and after a sound background check on B's family, the kulam - gothram stuff and horoscopes duly matched, the couple were married and K was happy to have a chance to study in America. She was 22 and B was 30, but Tambrahm parents do not bother too much about the age difference. So our Tambrhm bride with no exposure to life outside her immediate community let alone a foreign country was sent to America after the necessary formalities of passport/visa etc were completed. trouble started from day 1. She cooked a simple south Indian meal but B would not touch it. He took out some precooked stuff from the fridge and after heating it up in the microwave and settled down with a glass of beer and started watching some adventure sports on TV. K was shocked to say the least. He seemed to be eating some weird smelling non vegetarian stuff and she had never seen people consume alcohol except villains in movies. He spent his weekends with his friends and she refused to join him. Her idea of spending week ends was a visit to the Indian store, watching some Tamil movie at home enjoying some special south Indian delicacies. A visit to the temple was welcome and she longed for the company of Indians who she was told would also visit the Indian store and temples during weekends. He encouraged her to go out on her own but she was so much in awe of the malls and shopping centers in America that she dared not venture out on her own. He was not used to people dictating terms and here he was, stuck to a wife who was a not only a nag but also a highly opinionated woman who made no effort to understand him. In no time the couple realized that they could not continue to live together and a divorce was the best solution. They could have separated amicably but unfortunately it was not so. I'd rather not go into details because whatever I know is only through third and fourth persons and I may not be fair to them if I went into further details.

There are many more such cases where the blame cannot be accorded to one or the other partner. Parents think that they are doing the right thing by sticking to certain basic rules while choosing a partner for their wards. This may have made sense some 40 to 50 years ago when it was common for children to study and later take up a job in or around their home town. The children more or less followed family traditions and allowed parents to decide on a suitable partner and accepted their choice without a murmur. There are several children who willingly let their parents choose partners for them but there several others who make their own choice and are happily married. I cannot say which is the better arrangement but I do know that if your ambition permits you to let your son/daughter leave home at an impressionable age and have a high flying career, you should be prepared to deal with an adult son/daughter who has a mind of his own. Should you take it upon yourself to arrange their marriage it is imperative that you accomodate their interest in your choice. One cannot have it both ways. As in the case of B and K weren't parents at least partly responsible for the situation? Or in the earlier example were not parents hasty in declaring that it was their upbringing that made their children decide to marry each other? Marriage is a highly personal arrangement and for some reason compromises have become a thing of the past in many cases. Affiliation to the same community or religion is no more a priority and is certainly not a pre-requisite to compatbility.

S and T decided to marry though they belonged to different cutural and religious backgrounds.They were both atheists. P's parents understood and supported the marriage. S could not convince his parents who insisted on conversion. Three years have gone by but they do not understand that for a couple who don't believe in God conversion has no meaning at all. They keep insisting that with age their children would change their view on the existence of God they certainly could not have children who did not belong to any religion. Touch wood the couple are happily married and they have a daughter who adds joy to their lives. Let us hope that his parents see reason for as far as I can see if they miss watching their grand daughter grow the loss is theirs.

I hope I have dealt with the topic with the fairness that it deserves. I would really welcome my readers to come up with their opinion on why marriages fail and who exactly is responsible for the situation. I don't want to be harsh on parents since as one such parent myself I can understand their anxiety and firmly believe that they have their child's welfare in mind. I met a friend's daughter who had been brought up in USA. She was one who had an arranged marriage and her husband was working in the Middle East. The couple met once a year. My daughter was surprised and asked her how she felt about it. "What does one do if one's mother sheds tears and forces you to marry a person of her choice? I have no real feeling for my husband and this long distant arrangement suits me fine." Her honesty surprised me but it also set me thinking. I wondered if the couple would ever bond. I suppose they will. After all most in my generation had an arranged marriage and we did bond with the husband and his family but then ours was not a long distant marriage! Let me stop right here or else I may confuse you.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


It feels good to be back. It feels great to arrive home at 10:30AM and a phone call from college greets one at 11:00 AM enquiring whether I plan to join college the very same day! It feels wonderful to be wanted. To know that people care for you. I would have liked to have taken a day or two off but I rushed to college and saw the relief on my colleague's face.

"You were running out of leave. I was wondering how to adjust it. Thank God you're back."

Now this particular girl was assistant to the Principal's PA and to be frank I was not on very great terms with her. Just cordial and polite but never more than that. I was touched. It was on her insistance that my HOD rang me up and asked me to join the same day. She could have let things be. A salary cut for me would have made no difference to her. But that is what our college is all about! Thank you S, I'll always remember your concern.

My stay in America was hectic. Grandchildren are a source of joy. I returned to India dreaming about them. While I am not too keen on relocating to the US of A I am glad that our tools of communication is improving by the day and we can remain in constant touch and who'd have thought that I'd be traveling to America as if it was a trip to Bombay or Delhi! Starting from 2002 I've met my children almost each year except perhaps in 2005 and I have no reason to complain.

I get to read some good books whenever I visit my children. So it was this time also. I'd recommend My Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Taylor to all of you. It is about the miraculous recovery of the author from a massive stroke and the manner she rediscovered the working of the human brain and the impact it had on her life. Those of us that believe in universal brotherhood and love for fellow human beings should definitely go through this book. According to her, the left hemisphere of our brain is rigid, recognizes limits and is responsible for the analytical side of our nature. This often results in a judgemental attitude and egoistic tendencies. The right side is responsible for a blending, harmonious approach where one can experience universal harmony and bliss and oneness with nature. A balanced mind is the result of according equal importance to both sides so that one can be tolerant without being submissive and analytical without being judgemental. I was greatly impressed and brought the book back to India for others to read and benefit by Dr. Taylor's personal account.

So when my husband blasts me for no fault of mine I plan to tell him that it's really not his fault. I understand that the left side of his brain is working overtime and need to rest a bit!...**wink, wink**. Actually the 6 weeks of alone time has proved useful and he is extra nice these days. I hope I really remember to say all this when our usual routine sets in. The next time I crib about him please remind me won't you?

I think that is enough for a come back post. Hillgmom is planning a trip to USa to see her new grandson. I can sense her excitement. Little Anush is all excited about having a little one at home and I congratulate artnavy for the good news she gave us. As for the rest of you, I am finally done with my jet lag and will catch up on your posts soon. A big hello from me to each of you. Hello.......oo