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


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!