Sunday, December 19, 2010

Adjustments in a relationship.

Womens web has invited opinion on adjustments in a relationship quoting examples of three young working women. I have dealt with a slightly broader perspective and reached the conclusion that adjustment based on mutual concern and respect works well enough but it becomes a burden when it is one sided irrespective of whether it is the man or his wife that adjusts.

Adjustment is an ambiguous word that cannot be properly defined. It has one meaning when applied to women and quite another when applied to men. It applies to the wife and daughter in law but never to one’s mother or sister or daughter. Does adjustment mean submission? May be or may be not. It depends on a person’s expectation from those around him/her. An alcoholic’s mother may expect her daughter in law to adjust with her son’s drinking habit but how about handling the alcoholic son for a few days in the absence of her daughter in law? After all he was her son for 30 long years before he became her husband. And perhaps she was the one who got him married to an unsuspecting girl to shift responsibility.

When does adjustment become submission one may ask. It is a difficult question without a correct answer. It perhaps depends on one’s own level of tolerance. May be adjustment becomes meaningless when one begins to feel that the relationship is onerous and untenable. No relationship is an equal 50:50 partnership deal. This applies not only to marriages but to any relationship that involves give and take. But when one is in a mood to adjust if not a perfect 50/50 ratio, a 40/60 or a 35/65 ratio may work. Beyond that it becomes a burden. Think of a situation in which a whole wing of an apartment complex has to share water from a common overhead tank. Of the 6 households in the wing some may waste more water than others. This may be tolerated till the others manage to get a decent amount of water for their personal use. But if those that use water responsibly have to face water shortage due to the callousness of the others there is bound to be tension to the extent of making civil behavior among them impossible. Water, after all is an essential commodity.

In quite a similar manner adjustments have to be made in a marital relationship. In India marriage implies the union of two families. Very often the boy’s family has an upper hand and the girl and her family adjusts. There are also cases where the boy has to adjust with a whimsical wife who has decided to dislike his family from day one. The boy’s family, in such cases, reciprocates in equal measure making life a living hell for him or maintains a safe distance from him in their effort to ensure peace in their son’s life. It is also seen that a whimsical, demanding spouse just uses his/her partner’s family as an excuse to start a quarrel. Their behavior persists even after all demands have been met with and there is no interference from the extended family. So one is forced to conclude that in several relationships adjustments made are one sided and the person who is the more adjustable feels unhappy at the thought of having been at the receiving end of a dominating partnership.

It is often said that a woman is expected to be more adjusting and this is the advice she gets from her own family at the time of her marriage. In the Indian context there are several reasons for this expectation from a woman. The girl child is considered as ‘paraya dhan’ or property that actually belongs to her husband’s family entrusted to be cared for by her parents till her marriage. She becomes an outsider in the very home that she was born into once married. She has to deal with any discomfort she may face in the new set up. If such is the expectation by her own family, her in laws are no better. She has no probation period nor is she gradually initiated into a family of strangers with alternate ways of handling a situation. No one realizes that she needs time to accept the family acquired by marriage as her own.

Another reason for such an expectation is perhaps the misplaced expectation from a son. In the Indian set up a son’s birth is welcomed because he is expected to look after them in their old age. A daughter’s arrival unfortunately seen as a wasteful expense since she would be ‘given off’ in marriage and would be of no practical value to them. Till such an attitude persists girls would be expected to adjust even in the most difficult situations and her return to her paternal home would never be encouraged.

I tend to deal with cases that indicate that the woman is the one who adjusts. These are the more debated examples. But men have also adjusted stretching themselves beyond normal limit to make a relationship work. Society looks down upon a man who adjusts and he prefers to maintain a low profile and never lets on that he too has had to put up with an arrogant boss or an uncompromising wife. It is plain to all who wish to see that adjustments are meaningful only when all those involved in a relationship are equal contributors in an effort to make it a pleasant and long lasting one. This is possible only when there is mutual respect and sufficient breathing space to allow it to flourish.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Informal Education

It is long since I posted anything the reason being the onset of winter and the tendency to curl up on bed with a book whenever possible. I am reading an interesting book by Dr. Bruce Lipton – The Biology of Belief and it has given me an insight into the role played by the mind in shaping one’s health. No, I am not done with the book yet but being a biology teacher myself I realized that there was lot more to biology than what is being taught in its conventional form. It is like learning my subject all over again.

While dealing with Biology in its unconventional form I was inspired to think of the unorthodox modes of teaching and was forced to admit that those who broke away from the routine of class room teaching and practiced self learning in varies forms have actually benefitted from it. A look around me does identify a few people known to me who were criticized when they broke away from the tried and tested path but have indeed proved their critics wrong. Ramani was one such person.

Rmani was in class 9 when he ran away from school and returned after 24 hours saying that he was drugged and abducted by a stranger who offered him sweets in the local train while returning home. He managed to escape when he gained consciousness. Apparently his abductor had left him unattended and had gone off to have a cup of tea. The boy gave him a slip and boarded a train to Chennai to return home. His version was authenticated by the station master of Katpadi junction whom he had approached for help. The boy was brilliant but was never regular in class. He would not finish his assignments on time and ask his teachers pesky questions much to their irritation. He managed to finish school and joined a prestigious college in Chennai. He dropped out within a year saying that he found classes boring and he did not expect to benefit greatly by the outdated syllabus that was being followed. He wanted to be left alone till he decided on what was best for him. His parents almost fell at his feet asking him to first finish his course and ponder on what he wished to do with his life later. The boy was adamant and their pleas fell on deaf ears. Six months later he purchased books on computer technology and for the next 3 years did a lot of self study. Without a degree to support him, the boy started his career as a software consultant working for up and coming companies. He charged a pittance for his services if at all. Very soon word spread around and today he works from home earning not less than a lakh per month. He is invited to Latin America, Korea and Portugal to train those with engineering degrees and he has the final say on the structure and duration of the course. His wife is an MCA graduate but she gladly admits that he is more knowledgeable than her. He now admits that the story of his abduction in class 9 was not true. It was an experiment he tried out to escape the monotony of his school routine and simply an extension of his imagination.

Lalita was always drawn towards nature and believed that one could learn more from nature that all the conventional text books put together. She left home with her children - two of them minors – and lived in an aashram in the Western Ghats. She encouraged them to learn from their surroundings and at their own pace. She bought a lot of books for them and allowed them to apply the knowledge gained from books to their daily lives. Her children are now settled in life. To call them brilliant would be an understatement. With no formal education they are experts in their respective fields. When I think of them I wonder if we are doing the right thing by pressurizing our children to learn by rote or imposing a curriculum that has no relevance or application to their career or day to day life. Yet how many of us are willing to take a chance? I may appreciate such people from a distance and refrain from criticizing them but would I have the confidence to try it out on my own children/students? I am afraid not. The famous saying ‘better safe than sorry’ is perhaps more applicable to most of us.

Having said this it is only fair to add that informal education only benefits children that are receptive to it. I know of a father who was of the opinion that children ought not to be coerced into following any routine. He had a successful career and according to him, since his own father never imposed anything on him and he would do the same and let his children decide for themselves about what they would do with their lives. Unfortunately his son needed the guiding influence of a father and was unable to cope with the strain posed in the prevailing competitive environment. He was an average student with a flair for painting and music. With a little encouragement and a lot of appreciation the boy could have done well enough in class but the father being disappointed with him chose to blame his wife’s upbringing as well as her genes for his dismal record. His only argument was that since his own father had allowed him to study at his own pace and he turned out to be successful there could be nothing wrong with his method. He never even suspected that the method that worked for him may not be appropriate for his son. Today the son lacks confidence and longs for a kind word from his father more than anything else.

I haven’t yet finished the book but the title The Biology of Belief is impressive. Belief in one’s potential enables one to make an appropriate choice from the available environment. If a child is able to believe in his own capabilities he can make it big even if he is a school drop out because he imbibes life’s lessons by practical methods. If on the other hand he lacks confidence it becomes the duty of his parents and teachers to give the necessary moral boosting to acquire it. Whether the required training is formal or informal hardly matters. If the child’s potential has to be awakened a chain of mutual trust linking him to his environment on the one hand and his parent on the other has to be established. And once this chain is established it can work wonders to the internal system of an individual

Friday, November 26, 2010

On motherhood.........

Starry eyed had raised a question in her post on whether a surrogate mother, mother to an adopted child or a woman who has lost a child due to death or miscarriage and one who has been cut off from her children for whatever reason is still a mother. The inputs from her readers are interesting and most agree that a mother need not necessarily be a biological one to qualify as a mother. Surrogate mothers as well as those who adopt children are all mothers. Surrogacy and adoption are to my mind more superior forms of motherhood because society’s prying eyes keep watching them at every step and dealing with them is much more tough– this thankfully is a problem that biological mothers do not face. However, motherhood is a social responsibility in itself and however hard one tries on hind sight there is always a lingering doubt as to whether one has failed in this or the other aspect.

I have been a mother for 36 years and my role as a mother has seen its ups and down despite having tried my best. But one of the conditions mentioned bothers me. Does a person who is cut off from her child for whatever reason qualify to be a mother? Cut off from one’s children? Is it possible, I wonder? One may be physically cut off from her child but emotionally? Not easy at all I feel.

When I was growing up it was normal for children to be raised by grandparents’ preferably maternal grandparents. It was not unusual to have 4 to 6 children in quick succession so the older children would be conveniently left behind to make life easy for the mother. My own grandfather had at least 6 grandchildren staying with him since their fathers had transferable jobs and their schooling was getting disrupted. I often used to wonder how the children felt about it. While a mother may still feel connected to the child would a child feel the same way?

My father in law and his brothers had all left their oldest son to be educated and looked after by their grandparents mainly because Jamshedpur being far off they felt that this was a way to help their daughters. I had myself left my daughter with my mother for a year just when she had begun to recognize me and would refuse to go to anyone from my lap. It was not easy to not listen to her first words and watch her take her first steps. But then I had my compulsions and I hope I haven’t been considered less a mother because of it.

Having said this I come back to the original question. Who is a mother in the real sense? A biological mother has an edge over others in that she gets to decide what is best for her child. I know of a girl who did not conceive even 6 years of marriage and she decided to adopt her husband’s younger sister’s third child – a daughter. Within a year she got pregnant and had a biological child – again a daughter. As far as I can see she is good to both children and treats them at par. But her parents in law keep looking for subtle differences in their upbringing even where there are none. With time she got frustrated and showed them the door. According to her they were being over protective about the adopted child who was by chance their biological granddaughter too and were poisoning the child’s mind. It was impossible to raise the children as long as they interfered. If one’s own family views a mother’s intention towards her adopted child with suspicion why not the world around her?

A mother to my mind is one who knows to strike a balance between the affection that she feels for the child and the responsibility that she faces in making him/her a person fit enough to take his/her place in society. It is not easy but one has to try. When my children were in their primary classes my husband would drop them to school and they would come home by local transport. On rare occasions I would pick them up from school on my way back from college. The thought of my children standing in the sun waiting for a bus was not very comforting but I could not bring myself to leave a little early to pick them up. It was equally difficult for me to ask for favors from my colleagues in college on a daily basis. But then I encouraged them to go to school by cycle and they became independent pretty soon. So these little set backs actually worked in their favor – so what if the world considered me a bad mother who was hard on her kids.

And then what about mothers whose intentions are good but approach is questionable. Like a mother in a joint family who supposedly would carry a pail full of buttermilk with thick curd at the bottom. While serving her own children she’d take out the curd from the bottom and serve diluted buttermilk to other children in the group. While I agree that individual care for one’s own children is not possible in a joint family set up some middle path has to be adopted. May be the buttermilk and curd could be churned together so that all children get to consume a fairly nutritious diet. I feel a mother needs to be fair minded if she wants her children to get the right message regarding their interactions with their peers.

I’ve almost forgotten another group of mothers - the step mothers. They are the most maligned group among mothers. True, the step mother who has to bond with a child who is not her own and who is a constant reminder of a woman who was once an important person in her husband’s life. Like the case of mothers of adopted children she has to walk on tight rope. I had discussed about a few step mothers who were very caring and affectionate in this post of mine and pointed out that despite the impression one has about the group, there are several who are very good mothers and let us give them due credit.

I have seen women without issues being universal mothers. Having one’s own children has acted as a limiting factor. You love your own children and are so focused that there is no real need to look around and spare a moment for other children. But very often a childless aunt makes herself available whenever approached. She is able to treat a whole bunch of nieces, nephews and other children in the neighborhood with equal affection and one wonders whether her not having children of her own was because she was destined to be mother to more children than she could have ever borne herself? I know of one such person myself and remember her with the same affection that I have for my own mother.

I have to conclude by saying that the natural maternal instinct shown by a woman has little to do with bearing and rearing a child. It cannot be attributed to biological mothers alone. What makes one a mother in the true sense of the word is her ability to understand the responsibility that is involved in grooming children to become an integrated part of society. Anyone who fulfils the role is indeed a mother whether or not she happens to be a biological one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Endorsing corrupt practices???

The TV is full of news about corruptions and scams. A survey conducted by the news channel CNN-IBN points out that politicians and bureaucrats are mainly responsible for the present situation. I, for one, strongly believe that a situation, good or bad, takes a while to develop and take shape and if it were not for the indifference shown by the common man, no one, however highly placed, could have got away with being part of a multi - crore scam. So in a way I am as responsible as the scamsters for the situation.

Long back, when I had just taken admission in a local college to do my masters, I was told that one of my class mates had perhaps tampered with her B. Sc. Results. Those were days when results were announced in local news papers and according to the news paper the girl had obtained a second division but her mark sheet indicated that she had first division marks. She could not have otherwise got admitted to the master’s program since the cut off marks for the year was 62.5 and our HOD being a very strict person would not have allowed her entry. I was about 12 to 14 years older than my class mates and having worked in a college for nearly 5 years I knew that very often due to printing mistakes the results announced in newspapers are often incorrect and I said as much to my class mates. Just then the girl in question arrived and when confronted she openly said that her father being an IAS officer was in a position to influence people and she had indeed been favored. Had the rest of us been in her position we might have done the same. It happened all the time and her father in turn would oblige people with favors when his turn came. I was too shocked to respond. The girl however did not continue for long. She married a man in the administrative services and left within months. I can only make guesses regarding the favors her children might have obtained along the way since they had not only a father but also a grand father lobbying for favors on their behalf. Not that I could have done much but the least I could have done was to have voiced my protest/opinion in the matter. But I did not. I felt that she would not understand since her upbringing was different. She was brought up to believe that she was entitled to certain favors by virtue of her dad’s position.

We later had a student whose dad was a senior professor in a reputed college. The girl was bright enough to obtain a first division by her own efforts. But her brother was an IAS topper and had a brilliant academic record. She was under tremendous pressure from her family to top the batch. Her dad would ring up evaluators and examiners and casually pass on her roll number to them. However, the examiners were not influenced and she did not top the class let alone the entire batch in her undergrad examination. She went on to do her masters and was caught cheating on the final day of the university examination and was debarred. She later got married and left the town. If her father had not interfered she would have managed to pass with good marks. But the man wanted to flaunt her as being outstanding and she ended up being disgraced and debarred. I wonder why we could never bring ourselves to tell the father that he ought to leave her alone. He was a very senior academician and a good teacher. But is there any rule that says that his daughter had to be the best? We found excuses to remain silent and our respect for a senior colleague was just one of them.

Can we blame our politicians and others in influential positions for being corrupt? Are we not endorsing the practice by our silence? Do we not want to have it easy? Are we not suggesting to our youth that greasing palms and skipping the queue once in a way is okay. “Who has the time?…………” is the usual refrain. We catch hold of agents who in turn bribe dealing assistants to get forms submitted or for files to be moved from table to table.

What then is the solution? Frankly I wouldn’t know. I end with a story about the HOD of our PG department. He was a principled man and stood in a queue to submit his tax return form. He saw people paying the clerk Rs. 2/- each while submitting the form and ventured to ask why the money was being collected when his turn came. The clerk looked up and said “please wait I’ll let you know.” He put his form aside and went on to collect other forms. Finally after making him stand in the scorching sun for nearly 2 hours and after the last person left the man gave him the acknowledgement slip and said-

“Log apni khushi se diye aur hum liye. Apko koi taklif hai kya?”

(People gave me money of their own accord and I accepted it from them. Does this bother you in any way?)

This happened some 30 years back. No one knew why they had to pay the clerk. They paid him just because others were paying him and thought that it was perhaps expected of them. Like all other aspects of life corruption too has become part of our lives. They day it affects our dignity self respect it will probably die a natural death.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Down the memory lane - 2

I was upset when I heard that my good friend Prema’s older brother Raju passed away. No, he was not young nor did he leave behind dependents. He was schizophrenic and in the care of another brother who himself has retired from his services in the Railways. So, in a way it was good that he did not suffer from any prolonged illness and died a peaceful death. The news of his death took me back in time when Ramu, the main supporter and bread winner in their family died an untimely death just 6 weeks after his marriage leaving behind him his wife who had waited for 8 long years to marry him, his ailing mother and a schizophrenic brother. That was 26 years ago. His death was a shock not only to his family but to all of us who had bonded with them. The other brother had married a colleague and their marriage was not very well received by the family – at least not initially. Prema was Ramu’s right hand as long as she was unmarried but at the time of his death she was trying to adjust with the customs of the family she had married into and could not be of much help to them – neither financially nor emotionally. His wife was inconsolable and her anger was unjustifiably directed towards the family who she accused of having hidden the truth of his illness from her. That was however an entirely different matter and deserves a separate post.

My husband was present at the crematorium when Ramu’s body went up in flames. If anyone else had narrated the story I would have rubbished the entire episode. My husband is a serious minded person and would never have repeated what happened in the ghat unless it was authentic and this is what he said –

Those were days when Jamshedpur did not have an electric crematorium and wood was used for the purpose. It seemed Ramu’s body was taking very long to burn despite the huge amount of wood that was being used. People who had gathered there were surprised since his body was frail and wasted on account of his illness. Someone suggested that Ramu’s soul was not prepared to go since he was worried about his mother and schizophrenic brother and his brother G, working with the railways should make a promise that he would look after both of them. It was an emotional moment for all present when G spoke with tear filled eyes. He said –

Ramu, please leave in peace. I promise to look after amma and Raju in the best possible manner as long as they live. This is a promise that I‘ve made in the presence of so many witnesses and will always strive to fulfill it.”

Having said this he broke down.

Twenty six years have gone by and I must add that G did keep his promise to his older brother. He took his mother and older brother with him to the place of his posting. Ramu’s widow laid claim to his LIC and provident fund contributions refusing to consider the plight of his mother and brother. One could hardly blame her. She had not bonded with the family and she saw this as a means to settle scores with them. She had a job and parting with at least a part of his settlement money may not have mattered. However, the choice was hers and she chose not to have any consideration for them. She also took away anything of value in their house saying that all of it belonged to her. Ramu’s mother died within a year of his death and it was the responsibility of G to look after his brother.

And did he keep his promise. Fortunately for him G and his wife took good care of the mentally challenged brother. They saw to it that he was given his regular dose of medication and treated him as normally as possible. They involved him in household chores and encouraged their daughter to bond with him. She is now doing her Ph.D in Kolkata. Uncle and niece would have long telephonic conversations. He would tell her that he planned to buy her a gold chain.

And how would you get me the chain?’ she’d ask. “Do you have the money for it?’

In his naivety Raju would reply – “I have put aside money from the money your dad gives me as spending money and I’ll buy you a chain as soon as you get your degree.

Unfortunately for him, he did not live to see the day.

Prema told me that it was not easy dealing with Raju. He would get aggressive at times and refuse to listen to anyone. G and his wife would be at wits end not knowing how to deal with him. But they never complained or asked any of his sisters to look after him for a change. I can only pray that the Almighty showers His blessings on their family because they have done their bit without a grudge.

My faith in the goodness of mankind takes a beating when I hear of scamsters and conniving politicians. It gets restored when I hear about the likes of G and his wife. They are just middle class people with a modest income but they are large hearted and that is what matters in the long run.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Happy Deepavali

Let me wish each one of you a very happy Deepavali and a prosperous New Year.

Deepavali brings a lot of memories along with it - the main being the anticipation that we felt earlier and has gone missing now. When I was growing up it was an occasion to look forward to new clothes and a whole lot of sweets. My mother would wake us up at dawn and we would have an oil bath before daybreak. The sweets and savories prepared earlier would be distributed. Crackers would be burst and we’d enjoy the day with carefree abandon. We’d go for fireworks at the club in the evening and get treated to a sumptuous dinner following the fireworks.

Then came a time when we became parents ourselves and things changed a bit. Oh yes, the early morning bath, and distribution of sweets was all there. But we had been elevated to the role of planners. Deepavali coincided with the time my husband received his annual bonus. We’d revise the budget over and over again making sure that everything was covered. Starting from curtains and bed linen to a shawl for my father in law as well as shoes for school going children everything would be included apart from the new clothes for every member of the family. It was a pleasure hunting for the best deals and contrary to the claim I make in my posts about not caring too much for shopping, I’d actually enjoy the experience. Sweets and savories were always home made except for jelebis that I do not know to prepare. When the children were small I would put them to sleep and start preparing sweets after 10 pm with my husband to assist me and together we would put them away in air tight steel containers sprinkling a little germaxine in and around the area to keep away the ants. This continued for the first 25 years of my marriage.

Has it changed now? In a way it has. I still prepare sweet for distribution because this is one occasion that my friends look forward to mainly because it is home made. I keep announcing that this year was the last time I was taking the trouble and we would order sweets from the caterers from ‘the next year’ and like ‘tomorrow’ it never seems to come. But all else has changed. It is long since I stopped shopping for Diwali. I seem to have a saree or two that I hadn’t worn and bed linen and curtains don’t have to be replaced every year. Moreover there is no bonus to look forward to so we buy stuff whenever we feel like it.

‘Tata Steel has announced 20% bonus and Tin plate only 15%’…………

That was once upon a time it has no meaning now.

The only anticipation we have now is that of phone calls from our near and dear ones including our children.

“A Very Happy Deepavali” to one and all of you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Entry.

Women's web has announced a contest asking contestants to write about their favorite female characters. Details about the contest can be obtained here. And here I go!

I've read Sivasankari's Nakel some 10 years back but it is a story that I love to repeat since it impressed me a lot. I must admit that I am not very sure about the names of the main characters. As far as I remember they are Renuka and Muthuswami. I may however be muddling up the names. Kindly bear with me. The essence of the story remains the same. so read on.

The character of Renuka in a Hindi translation of Sivasankari’s novel titled ‘Nakel’ is an all time favorite among the many female characters I like. Nakel’ means the halter – pin/ halter fixed to an animal’s nose to tame/control it. I think it should translate into ‘mookannakayiru’ in Tamil but unfortunately a web search did not throw up any result so I am not sure. However my desire to read the novel in the original remains and I do hope I am able to lay my hands on it soon. The actual surprise is at the end of the story and Sivasankari is simply brilliant to come up with such a superb ending to a story that seemed so very stereotype.

Renuka, the typical docile, tolerant Indian woman is aware of her husband’s umpteen affairs outside marriage but cannot do much about it. She has inherited a business empire from her father but is incapable of running it and happily lets her husband Muthuswami manage things. The story begins with Renuka’s teenaged son telling her that he had seen his father emerge from a hotel room accompanied by his secretary. He felt that the two of them shared a fair degree of intimacy. Renuka waits for her husband to leave on a business tour and swings into action. She first visits the secretary’s home and realizes that her family solely depended on her income for sustenance. She meets the girl’s father and offers to get her married to Muthuswami. Her inability to satisfy him in bed due to health reasons was bothering her and she wished to do something about it. She assures him that his daughter would continue to support him even after marriage. She also offers the same explanation to her husband’s elder brother who strongly opposes the idea initially but relents later. By the time her husband returns a date for the wedding is scheduled and preparations are underway. The husband is inwardly delighted but puts on an appearance of reluctance. The wedding takes place as planned. The two leave for their honeymoon.

On his return from his honeymoon Muthuswami rushes home with gifts for his first wife and children and looks forward to some private time with her. He had after all neglected her long enough. But no, he is in for a surprise.

Renuka asks him to leave her alone and move in with his second wife.

“From now on you will be staying with her in her house.” She declares. “The world knows that I got you married to a woman of your choice due to my indifferent health. So no one will be surprised if you do not stay here. You may visit us during the day if you so wish. This will not be your home any more.”

““The company will pay you your salary on the first of every month and you can look for a rented accommodation to suit your requirements like all other employees.”

Muthuswami remembers that the company was legally in her name and he himself a mere employee. Taking her loyalty for granted he had never bothered to change the arrangement.

“Why did you do this to me?” Wails Muthuswami.

Renuka explains. The secretary would accompany him on his business tours and keep an eye on him. It would not be easy to fool her the way he managed to fool Renuka. When the question of the marriage of their children came up, society would accept a second wife in his life but would object to a father with roving eyes. As for her she would stand tall as the sacrificing wife who understood her shortcomings and placed her husband’s happiness before hers.

She has the last laugh.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Obsessive behavior

Long back when I was new to this industrial town I was amused to observe an obsession for cleanliness in some of my neighbors. Now who doesn’t like a well kept house with everything in perfect order? But it is one thing to strive to keep things in order and quite another to drive everyone crazy due to the obsession. S was one such person. Her house could be easily mistaken for a well maintained hospital ward such was her obsession for cleanliness. I once went to her place to make an emergency phone call. I did not have the courage to step in lest I dirty her drawing room. Every thing stating from bed-linen to sofa covers were sparkling white. She had finished cooking, the gas stove had been wiped clean and covered with a white towel and every corner of her house looked well maintained. The children had gone to school. Their slippers had been washed and lined up in the balcony to dry. I was all praise for her house-keeping skills. We had tea together in her balcony and I took leave and returned home. From my own balcony I could see hers and to my surprise I saw the within minutes of my departure she had washed the sofa cover that I had sat on and was quickly wiping the floor having swept it soon after I stepped out of her house. I was annoyed and amused at the same time. Stories related to her obsession for cleanliness were whispered by my neighbors. Her children were scared to use the toilet after they finished their morning routine and left for school. She would wash the bath – room cum toilet once in the morning and again before an evening bath. The children normally relieved themselves at school before coming home or found excuses to use a neighbor’s bathroom. She was however kind enough to let them use it on their return from play in the evening before she washed it. It was a common sight to see her husband open his shoes in the landing and walk into the house carrying it in his hand to be placed in the shoe rack. I often wondered if it made sense to have a sparkling house at the expense of torturing children in their pre-teens.

Another neighbor D would detain her servant till seven in the evening. Every item in the house had to be dusted and ever corner of her house would be wiped over and over again. Her children aged six and two would be seen playing in the verandah in all weather conditions. They would be denied entry out of fear that they would mess up the house. Oh yes, she loved them a lot but her obsession for cleanliness far outweighed her love for them. We would often see her escort the servant home. She’d be dressed in a petticoat and a loose shirt hardly befitting a woman of her status. Her excuse would be that she hadn’t yet cooked for the family and would change after finishing her cooking and had a bath perhaps at nine or ten in the night. Through out the day one could see her peculiarly dressed, hair uncombed and duster in hand. I often wondered if she cooked breakfast and lunch for her children (her husband had his meals in his office canteen) or treated them to readymade snacks and cold milk if at all.

My own mother in law had a fetish for cleanliness. But hers was within normal limits and the routine of the house certainly did not suffer. While my sister in law and I relaxed with a book in the afternoon she would tidy the kitchen and clean up stuff. She would never be satisfied with the way we arranged things. To her credit I must admit that her organization was better than ours – so what if she kept changing the order every now and then. And she certainly would not start sweeping and swabbing the house after every visitor left.

I wonder how common or uncommon this trait is in society. Wanting to have a well kept house with everything in perfect order and working towards it should be okay. Like in the case of S, she worked hard and maintained a high standard of cleanliness. But the fact that she was always well dressed and her family was well cared for is indicative of the fact that she did not let her obsession interfere with her role as wife and mother. She also had time for social visits, shopping etc. But not letting a child use the toilet in their own house was taking things too far.

D on the other hand was obsessed with her desire to have a sparkling house but her obsession was such that her children were neglected and her work was never over in time. I later heard that she was taken to a counselor for psychiatric assistance. When does an obsession become abnormal I wonder. Long back I read a short story titled ‘araikuraigal’ by the Tamil writer Jayakanthan. It was amusing as well as thought provoking. It points out that the line dividing sanity from insanity is very thin. I suppose it would be wise to set limits to one’s obsession/ambition and stick to them. Excess of any trait however appealing can only be harmful not only to the person but to others who are in association with him or her.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Joint Families - an introspection

I have the habit of raving and ranting on social issues and this time it is about the possible reasons behind the lack of attraction to the joint family system. Who is to be blamed is my question? Following an introspection I realized that my generation is as much to be blamed for the situation as the current bunch of young parents. Read more about it here and give me your honest opinion.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

We Compromising Indians

Ever since Kalmadi bashing started I’ve stopped watching other programs on TV and preferred watching the news coverage of our preparation rather the lack of it for the Commonwealth Games known as CWG. I was not surprised that teams from different countries wanted to pull out for the ‘unlivable’ conditions in the games village. It is perhaps due to the difference in Indian and International standards as Mr. Bhanot rightly pointed out.

I really feel delighted. Delighted at Mr. Bhanot’s comment that the Indian definition of hygiene was not the same as that in the western world. Rather the developed countries seem to have an atrociously high standard for clean toilets. What seems okay for us seems to appear filthy to them. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all in support of the gentleman. It is not as if we are talking of the living room or dining area. A bathroom is after all a place for cleaning one’s system and flushing out digestive wastes. And yet they want it to be sparkling, It is no wonder that more than 50% of Indians relieve themselves in public places. That way there will be no accountability and we Indians including Mr. Lalit Bahnot love the situation where one does not have to account for his/her action. I hope he plans to hand out aluminium or brass ‘lotas’ and train the delegates to relieve themselves on the banks of the Yamuna. They are bound to enjoy the experience and have a lot to share with their family when they return. Think of the atrociously high price the organizers could quote for the 'lotas' and the money it could fetch. Mr. Bhanot, I hope you are listening.

And look at the furor over paan stains in the corridors of the buildings marked out for the CWG. I don’t blame the westerners. They sip wine and smoke cigars. So they really do not understand how difficult it is for paan chewing Indians. But the way our media goes on and on about a few paan stains is disgusting. You can climb the stairs of any government office including the Secretariat in state capitals. People chew tobacco and beetle leaves and spit it out before entering the office of the high and mighty who they plan to meet. After all it does not look good to stand in front of an officer chewing tobacco or paan. He may ask you a question and in your effort to answer him you may end up spitting it on his spotlessly clean suit, polished floor or anywhere within a radius of 5 meters from him. Lalu Prasad Yadav had a party worker following him with silver spittoon wherever he went. Not everyone can boast of the facility. Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? So as long as people chew tobacco and paan, corridors of government offices and national monuments have every chance of looking colorful with bright stains all over the place. We actually need to have people trained to interpret our unique paan chewing culture to our visitors. May be we could get a few of them addicted so that the next time around they will not be shocked or knocked out of their senses.

As for Mr. Manishankar Iyer, the man seems to practice black magic. The elements seem to be controlled by him. The Delhi CM is at wit’s end. The rains just will not stop. No wonder a bridge here and a roof there have started giving way. Come on Mr. Iyer, I agree that those in the government as well as those outside it called you anti - national when you opposed the conduction of the commonwealth games on the grounds that the money involved could be used for other development projects. But should you go to the extent of invoking the Rain God and getting him to lash out on sports lovers? The way things stand India may be the only participating country and the few loyals who still want to cheer them may not even reach the venues. The rains just have to stop before more structures collapse and disrupt the smooth(?) flow of traffic.

But I am not surprised. The head of an institution slaps a gatekeeper in the presence of 200 students for being unable to control a frenzied mob single handedly and the officer in charge of the nearest police station advices the man not to annoy his higher ups. Instead of worrying about his safety and insisting on better security arrangements, the labor union refuses to take up his case saying that he was guilty of having neglected his duty. A young girl with a promising future dies under mysterious circumstances and her colleagues insist on a post-mortem but her father refuses to pursue the case saying that it would affect the lives of his remaining children since her in laws had powerful connections. Another girl with an equally promising career is murdered for dowry and her husband manages to be acquitted due to lack of evidence. Within months he remarries without his credentials being ever questioned. Isn’t this laid back attitude at least partly responsible for the substandard levels in every important aspect of our lives? We would rather cough up a percentage as bribe than await our turn in the normal course. We want it to have it easy all the time – so what if we have become a laughing stock to the world in the run up to the commonwealth games and a few have become richer. Was perhaps their destiny that worked overtime? The debate will continue for a few weeks, some may be arrested and released for want of concrete proof and we will start planning for the next national waste of the taxpayer’s money.

I started this piece as a satire but I end it with agony and shame hoping that at least a few valuable lessons will be learnt from this unfortunate chapter in Indian History.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Unusual Relationships

Of late I have been thinking of an unusual type of relationship among humans. One of asexuality. Well come to think of it asexuality may be more common than what we expect it to be. It was perhaps never openly discussed. We, in India, are so tight lipped when it comes to discussing sexuality, that several problems that arise due to lack of understanding/misunderstanding remain unspoken and unattended. It is as if openly discussing the problems associated with sexual preferences and behavior is sin. I wish to discuss it not as an expert - which I am not - but rather as one seeking answers. It is my request that it may be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Long ago when my marriage was just a few months old I remember a neighbor with children aged 10 and 7 coming over to our place and discussing with my mother in law some matter of grave importance in a hushed tone. She was a new comer to our town and was not very well known to our family. I kept to myself since the woman in question seemed to prefer to exclude me from the discussion. However it was my mother in law’s reaction that drew my attention,

“Don’t be silly” she had said in a sharp tone. “If your husband was indifferent and uncaring how did you have children by him? Hush up now and never repeat what you have just told me. The world will laugh at you.”

And so it did. In the months that followed it was an open secret that her husband was not sexually inclined and she had to plead with him to have children.

“My children are God’s gift to me.” She would often say. People would laugh behind her back and even call her Kunti Devi referring to the character in Mahabharat who apparently conceived the Pandava princes by invoking the Gods and natural elements.

Years rolled on and after my mother in law’s death I distanced myself from the woman unable to listen to the same story repeated over and over again. I had almost concluded that she was crazy and felt that the point raised by my mother in law was a valid one. She finally moved out of Jamshedpur and I got on with my life.

Recently it was whispered that a young mother known to me was contemplating divorce. The reason quoted was the same as the lady mentioned above. It set me thinking. Was procreation a purely biological phenomenon? Weren’t there any emotions involved? I wondered if the man in question was partially impotent. The couple in question seemed happy enough. I wondered what might have gone wrong? I wondered if there was any way to save the marriage? I immediately explored the Internet and stumbled upon a possible answer. Like homosexual, heterosexual and ambi-sexuals there are people who are asexual. They are not impotent nor do they practice celibacy. They are simply not interested in physical intimacy and prefer a platonic level of emotional interaction. That they may be coaxed or coerced into a sexual relationship on rare occasions, explains how they manage to have children but their married life can be frustrating and dissatisfying if not to them at least to their partners. I remembered the lady who I had known earlier and wondered if it was due to frustration that she gave vent to her feelings and if we were wrong in deciding that she was crazy.

I am not a doctor or psychologist but I certainly would like to know if there is a way that enables one understand that their (a)sexual preference would adversely affect their married life and therefore clarify the situation to their future partners before tying the knot. Alternatively they may perhaps seek out others like themselves and enjoy a purely platonic relationship. I don’t see any point in coaxing such a person into marriage and complaining later. Parents assume that all is well with their children and children never feel comfortable talking to them on such sensitive issues and when it does crop up counseling is never a preferred option. I for one feel that we as a society ought to change and learn to be more open to discussing what we consider unusual or abnormal. For all one know the condition may be more prevalent but less known.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The teachers in my life.

Yet another teacher’s day has passed by and I am left wondering whether the profession so very glorified in our epics to the extent of placing one’s Guru even before God has lost its revered place in our society. I’ve cribbed and complained enough about the plight of teachers as well as student/teacher relationships in earlier posts than to mention them here would be repetitive. I have therefore decided to look back and remember those teachers and mentors who have made me what I am.

The first teacher in my life was of course my mother. Apart from instilling values in my life she was the one who taught me to read and write Tamil thereby encouraging to read good Tamil literature. I remember the time in Mumbai when my father’s transfer did not coincide with my school session and we landed there in mid September. I had to wait till the following June to resume school. My mother took the opportunity to teach me Tamil. In no time I was reading books like ‘Ambulimama’ (Tamil version of Chandamama) and the interest remains with me till date. I am currently reading Kalki’s ‘Sivagamiyin Sapadam’ and enjoying it to the core. My mother was herself a voracious reader and even when she could read no more due to poor eyesight one of us would read out to her. Her concentration was such that she would correct us if we ever mispronounced a word or skipped words. Amma was great and she continues to be my mentor in absentia. Even now I think twice before being uttering a harsh word and in all probability restrain myself. ‘Amma would not have liked it’ I say to myself.

I remember Miss Rose my second grade teacher who would make us read aloud texts from English and correct our pronunciation and accent. She was never critical and her gentle reproaches ensured that we remembered her corrections for life. Then there was Miss Claire, my fifth grade teacher, about whom I have mentioned in this post. She taught me to respect people not for their good looks and fair skin but for whatever good qualities they possessed – not necessarily academic excellence.

How could I ever forget Ms. A. Cheriyan who taught me to love Mathematics and numbers. She was my Mathematics teacher for four long years in high school and I can still visualize the way she explained problems on ‘Time and Distance’ and ‘Work and Time’. She was a little disappointed that I dropped Mathematics after school. We corresponded for six years but we lost touch after my marriage. I met her daughter in Bangalore three years back but unfortunately she had passed on and I lost an opportunity to tell her that I had now become a grandmother to 4 grandchildren but my love and respect for her remains in tact.

Then we had Mrs. Jessie Rajan in my 11th grade who would give us 4/10 for a good essay in English composition. Every composition class would be a test and if one got half a mark more he/she would feel so elated that we’d pull up our collars and strut around like proud peacocks. I was in awe of the way she carried herself and as a senior school student I often wished to be like her if and when I ever became a teacher.

College days were fun but I don’t think I was drawn to my teachers in college as in school. By then we had almost reached adulthood and nothing seemed the same as school. We had very good teachers and they were experts in their subjects. But a certain amount of aloofness had set in and I don’t remember them being particularly caring or appreciative. I recall only one of them – Miss Kokila Florence. I had opted for Biology expecting to be able to apply for medicine only to realize that I had taken up the wrong subject. It was Miss Kokila that made me understand that a thinking mind and a good teacher could turn an otherwise drab subject to an interesting one. She took Botany for us and it was due to her that the subject was made easy and interesting. I later majored in Botany and went on to do my masters and Ph.D. thanks to her inspiration.

Then there were other teachers who inspired me in different ways. I had written about Teacher Huntley and how she impressed me in a recent post. My mentor and Ph.D. guide Dr. Prasad who encouraged me during the lull periods that depressed me while I worked on my thesis. Were it not for him I might have given up mid way.

The Founder Principal of our college Dr. K. Savitri, a professor in Psychology who bound all of us together as a big family and her husband Dr. N.K. Singh who believed in according due respect to their staff members deserve special mention. Our spouses were also considered as part of the college as were our children. They brought out the best in each of us and the college to me is an extension of my home. They believed that a tension free atmosphere and mutual trust were the basic requirements in any organization more so in an educational institution where young minds were being molded and prepared to take on the future of the country. They made our college one with a difference and it remains so till date.

Finally we have students who teach us a new lesson on each day of my working life. I am particularly in awe of students who make it big against all odds. The system in our parts of the country is not the very best and unfortunately not very conducive to education. Sessions are late and exams are conducted for months together but they make the most of the prevailing conditions and aim to do well in life. I can now understand their plight better and feel that a person like me has nothing to feel proud about because I was lucky to have studied in good schools and colleges all along. I still have to learn a lot from those around me who teach valuable lessons in their own way.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

This is life!!

Suranga’s post on Pension Sarees and Security blankets took me back to the time when I actually thought that I lived in a country where hard work was rewarded. Oh yes it may fetch you a rank and a certificate that you can frame/laminate and place it in your show case but if you expect to be rewarded with a job, let me tell you that you live in the BC era. These days you need to do very well and come out in flying colors but the minute you get your well - deserved degree/diploma start putting away some amount that will come in handy at the appropriate time.

I may sound cynical but that is exactly what is happening. After the well and not so well qualified bridegrooms, jobs are also up for sale. At the cost of antagonizing my feminist friends I feel like taking up for dowry demanding parents of eligible bachelors. They have really raised their sons - fed, clothed and educated them as they claim – so they perhaps have the right to put them up for sale if they so wish. But these conniving politicians and other powers that be have nothing to do with the exorbitant amount of hard work that goes into obtaining a decent result and the preparation for one’s job interview, expect to be paid a hefty sum sometimes the equivalent of a whole year’s expected salary. They spare none –neither the peon nor the class I employee. Humiliating as well as depressing for those who believe that they have done their best and that God would do the rest. The Gods seem to be napping when interview panels are set up!

To be fair, I got my present job purely on merit and that too 10 years after I graduated and I was rather out of touch with my subject. My HOD later told me that she was impressed with my results and was confident that I would soon pick up from where I had left. I have written about it in this post.

I then thought of improving my qualifications and joined my Masters in a local college. And I really worked very hard. I’d leave early and return in evening after attending my classes. It helped that the college timings were different and the principal of our college allowed me leave college and attend classes during my free periods. I’d go to a class -mate’s house for combined study enjoying Gujrati food prepared by her mother. Then my results came. I had topped the batch and broken a 21 year old record to obtain nearly 74%. I was on cloud nine. I then decided to appear for the Eligibility Test for lectureship and cleared it in the first attempt. Only four of us from Jamshedpur qualified the exam in my subject and I saw that all of us were either batch or college toppers. I truly believed that all was not lost. Merit still held a place in society. There were whispers about results being bungled but we had proved that it did not happen in our case. Then came the interview. By then I was already 45 years old and would have to join as a fresher. I was worried if I’d be posted in my home - town or would have to go to some remote area. People advised me to join first and try for a transfer later. I need not have worried. I was not selected and the others who qualified the exam with me were also rejected. Those who were selected either had political/bureaucratic godfathers or had coughed up a year’s salary to grease those with itchy palms. I got my Certificate laminated and put it away in my locker. I attended three subsequent interviews but the outcome was pretty much the same. The rates were increased or so they said.

Then came my Ph.D saga. I worked on my thesis for five long years. I had to submit it for evaluation on or before the completion of 5 years from the date of registration. I had to go to Ranchi to submit 5 copies of the thesis. Before submission I had to get it signed by the Dean, Science faculty as well as HOD – PG department of Botany. On the first day the Dean was not available and I brought it back. Protocol was to be maintained and our HOD could not sign it before the Dean. The next time the Dean signed it but the HOD had left for Patna to attend a Seminar. I was to go a third time just a day before the deadline. My guide cum advisor was beginning to get worried. I went to his place where a colleague of his had dropped by. He advised me to meet the dispatching assistant and to request him to wait while I got the HOD to sign the thesis and paid my evaluation fee.

“The university functions in the morning in summer and by 12:30 in the afternoon these fellows pack up to leave. If you ask him to wait, he will.”

The colleague then lowered his voice and said, “Pay him 50 or 100 rupees for chai/paani he will dispatch your thesis fast.”

“How do I do it Sir?” I was almost in tears. The three trips I made to Ranchi seemed easy. The immense labor that went into my research work was easiest. How on earth does one offer bribe?

The next day I went to Ranchi and went to the dispatch clerk after getting the required signature and asked him to wait while I paid the evaluation fee at the bank and brought him the receipt. He agreed and offered to watch over my thesis while I went about doing my job. I was truly grateful to him but the thought of giving him a hundred rupee note without the others noticing it was disturbing. Anyway I paid the money and came back to him. By now a few of his colleagues who had wound up their work for the day had landed by his desk. I gave him the receipt and 5 copies of the thesis. He smiled and put them away.

“Madam, it was a good thing that you told me. It is well past one in the afternoon and I usually leave by 12:30. I smiled back and thanked him. I still hadn’t given him money. I wondered what I could tell him. I am usually talkative but this was one occasion when words failed me. I hoped that he would ask me for it. He didn’t. I turned around and started walking to the door.

“Madam”………. Someone called.

‘Aha!’ I thought. They are going to ask for money.

“Kya?”(What) I said from where I was.

“Kuch nahi” (Nothing) was his response. I proudly walked out happy to have thwarted his attempt to ask for and accept bribe.

Then trouble started. My thesis was not dispatched for 4 months since he had a lot of ‘important’ work to do. My advisor on one of his visits to Ranchi, took personal interest and dispatched it at his own expense. It cost Rs. 600 in all. Then I went thrice to find out if the examiner’s report had come. One of the evaluators had sent the report the other hadn’t. When contacted he said that he had not received a copy of the thesis yet. My husband and my advisor went personally to Bhuvaneshwar and gave him my personal copy. We waited for 2 more months and approached the dispatch clerk to ask if the report had come but it hadn’t. A whole year had lapsed. I stopped going to Ranchi but would ask anyone going to the University to find out. The answer would be a big ‘No’. Finally it was my HOD who went to the university and was directed to a different person who came back to say that the report from Bhuvaneshwar had come but the other one hadn’t. It so happened that being in a hurry she forgot to ask me for the clerk’s name and when she asked someone about the person who receives reports she was directed to a different person. I would approach a certain GT and she went to another US. I immediately sprang into action. The following day I went to US and collected the report and gave it to GT and requested him to send the file to the Registrar for his approval of a date for the viva-voce. He must have felt that I had been harassed enough and did the needful and nearly 15 months after the submission of the thesis I was awarded my Ph.D. degree. If it hadn’t been for my HOD who went to the wrong person (maybe he was the right person and I was approaching the wrong person) I might have had to wait for a longer period of time. It was however clear that the dispatch clerk had deliberately suppressed the report just because he was not treated to chai-paani by me. I do not rule out the possibility of the duo working in collaboration.

The experience however made me a true Doctor in Philosophy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Special and not so special children

Mythology mentions that when Markandeya’s mother was given the option of having a short lived but intelligent son or a son low on intelligence but blessed with a long life she preferred to have an intelligent son even if he was destined to live for just sixteen years. Thus was born Markandeya, an exemplary son who grew up to be a devotee of Lord Shiva. However, since Markandeya worshipped Lord Shiva, the God of death viz. Yama failed in his efforts to take him away when his time came because he clung to the Shivalingam that he worshipped. Yama threw the noose of death around Markandeya’s neck but it accidentally landed on the Shivalingam thereby enraging the lord. He attacked Yama and almost killed him. Yama was revived on condition that Markandeya would live on forever.

I’ve heard this story from my mother several times and as a child I often wondered if it would have been better for her to have opted for a less gifted son and saved herself and her son the trauma that followed. I also felt that as a mother she should have wanted her son to live long gifted or otherwise. I wish I had remained a child in her pre teens not exposed to the harsh realities of life.

Years went by and I have had the opportunity to witness and admired parents with mentally/physically handicapped children and have marveled at the patience with which they dealt with them. There have been others whose children may not have been bright sparks but were otherwise gifted and it required a lot of patience and understanding to deal with them in accordance to their needs. Is it therefore easier to bring up a bright and gifted child as compared to the average and below average ones? I am afraid not. Parenting/teaching a bright child poses challenges in ways unforeseen and one actually starts wishing that such children were easier to handle. My children were not out of the ordinary nor could they be called geniuses. However, I remember being upset when my older daughter and son were vocal and I would be equally upset when my second daughter would give me a strange look and walk away without saying a word. I could never decide which type of behavior was more preferable and today I do feel glad that my role as a parent is over and my children lead their own lives without my having to worry too much about them. Whether I may take credit for their success I would not know but I do like to believe that I played a role in making them what they are today.

Parenting has never been easy. Long back when my daughter was in Standard I the school did not rank their performance and gave them grades. I was curious to know where she stood in class. My curiosity took over and I asked her teacher, a fifty plus woman with years of experience to her credit, how my daughter fared in class and where she stood as compared to the others in her class.

“She is a promising child. That is all I can say for now.” Was the teacher’s response.

“Could you tell me how L has done in the terminal exam?” I persisted.

Now L was a very good student and had won several prizes the previous year. Somehow I wanted to know how my daughter had fared as compared to her.

That put the teacher off. During her long span as a teacher she must have dealt with many others like me.

“Mrs. R” she said “ why should I give you any information about another student? For you to compare notes and demoralize your daughter at every step? Is it not sufficient that your child is good and promising enough? You worry about your daughter but I am concerned about all forty of them. I want the weaker ones to improve. I’d rather identify their shortcomings and work on them. And do you know that it is the average student that does well in life? He/she can handle set backs better and is always willing to learn and take corrections. And for God’s sake, the child is just six years old. Why not let her learn at her own pace and enjoy her time in primary school? She has all the time in the world to take on a world full of competition.”

Teacher Huntley’s words have remained with me ever since. Shortly after our meeting I took up my present job. I try my best to accommodate the interest of students from the weaker sections of society – those who did not get the opportunity that my children got – and feel happy even if a few among them make it big.

Parenting is therefore a learning process. Each day teaches us a new lesson. More than other things parenting teaches us to tolerate and forgive. I have a friend who was a cleanliness freak and would criticize the parents of unruly children on their upbringing. Her children when they came were little charms and up to all sorts of pranks. These days she understands that children would be children and a messy house no longer upsets her. In fact she advises other parents to take it easy saying that children would soon grow up, leave home and one would have nothing but memories of their childhood to remember.

Finally parenting is a responsibility. I have a friend with a mentally retarded son who is now around 28 years of age. I’ve watched her taking care of him since the past twenty years. Her life simply centers round him. He has to be fed and is literally on her toes all day long. Yes, the boy keeps walking around the house every waking minute and she keeps walking behind him either with a bowl of food in hand or a towel to wipe his mouth. Otherwise she has to see to it that there is nothing obstructing his way. He will either trample the object or tumble and fall. She occasionally calls me up for a long chat. Ours is the only place she brings her son and that too very rarely. She does not complain but I understand how difficult it must be for her to look after the son who is now about 8 inches taller than her. I once remarked that she was god’s own choice for the boy. Anyone else in her place would have given up.

“I wish I had been less patient didi,” she said. “Had I been so I might have understood that all was not well with the boy and we could have taken him for treatment much earlier. He might never have been normal but at least as doctors say he could have been trained to do something making him self - reliant. I was young and na├»ve and failed to look for the milestones that mark a child’s growth and development. He was a fussy child always wanting to be carried. Physically he was a chubby child but would never make eye contact or show signs of recognition even when he was a year old. My mother in law would not hear of anything negative being said about him so when he did not try to talk and made strange sounds instead, she insisted that several children learnt to speak at the age of three and there was nothing unusual about it. When we finally sensed that something was wrong and took him to Vellore at the age of three, irrevocable damage to his brain had been done and the doctors could do nothing more.”

A final word. Nature and nurture are both responsible in shaping a person. The environment provided by society also matters. If the children become self reliant and responsible adults one need not worry. But, if god forbid, something goes wrong denial will not help. One should act fast and do whatever possible to help the child. I was surprised that under pressure many of our college going youngsters take anti depressant pills and regularly go for psychiatric counseling. Is this perhaps an indication that they are not comfortable turning to their parents or older siblings for help? Are they finding the competition in this world of ours too much to handle? I agree that a teenager tends to drift away from his/her parents and resists authority in whatever form. Is it not our duty to reach out to these youngsters in whatever little way and help them redeem themselves? Can we at least stop looking down upon parents with physically or mentally challenged children and/or those dealing with a troublesome teenager? They have enough to cope with without our probing eyes and wagging tongues adding to their misery.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Caree women and assertion-are they mutually inclusive?

“We hear of men abusing their wives all the time. Putting her down as being ignorant and stupid is quite common even among the educated men even if they know the truth to be quite the opposite. They feel threatened and inadequate by such a wife particularly in the in the presence of their friends and would prefer to have decked up dumb dolls rather than have a wife who can observe and understand whatever goes on in the world around her”.

This was an observation made by a friend and I was not sure as to whether I should agree with her or not. My own life was quite different and the encouragement I got from my husband to improve my qualifications could not be denied or ignored. But there were others in my circle who required their husband’s help to fill up income tax return forms or to apply for schemes that offered tax benefits. I often wondered why they chose not to try and do these things themselves. We have friends from another local college who would not be able to tell us whether they had received the increased DA allowance as promised by the government or not. They plead ignorance when asked if a particular circular from the university had reached their college saying that it was their husband that took care of their salary accounts and that their pass books had not been updated for months so they would not know if the increased DA had been paid to them or not. We sometimes checked with them to make sure whether such notifications had been issued but had not reached our college for whatever reason and I really feel annoyed and unable to take such answers to my queries. I sometimes wonder if it actually suits these women to remain ignorant. It has been three years since I started collecting tax return forms from friends to submit them in the IT office some 2 kilometers from our college. I heard that they earlier gave it to a peon who charged them Rs.100/- per form saying that the queue was long and that he had to take leave from work submit them. It took me less than thirty minutes, even on the last day, although forms had to be submitted in alphabetical order in three different counters. There was no separate queue for women but the employees were quick and did their job pretty efficiently. I did not mind doing it since the IT office is on my way home but I did feel pained that not one of my friends offered to give me company. If educated women want to act helpless do we have the right to blame our men folk for not according our job and career the importance that it deserved? It does not matter if you are a home- maker or a career woman it is important to carry yourself with dignity and make sure that your job cannot be brushed off as unimportant. Unless a woman learns to respect her work - even if it is just an honorary service – no one else will.

Having said this I want to mention the case of a relative of mine. Let me call her Veena. She was bubbly teen - aged girl when I first met her some 25 years back. She was a college student and had come over to my sister in law’s place during her vacations. I admired her for the manner in which she made herself useful. She entertained my sister in law’s kids then aged 6 and 2, helped her out with house work and was very pleasant to me although it was the first time she met me. Neither talkative nor withdrawn, she was the kind of person anyone would like to have for company.

As luck would have it Veena had a failed marriage that ended in a divorce. Her husband was having an affair with a colleague and all that her parents could do was to ask her to be patient and wait for God to bring about a change in the heart of her cheating husband. They asked to fast on certain days and pray to different gods at different times of the year in the hope that he would return to her. Even when she had no option but to divorce him after the other woman moved in to their house, her family did not offer her food and board. Parents were not willing to support her out of fear that their son and daughter in law may not like it. Veena took up a job in Bangalore and stayed in a working women’s hostel making herself available to her family when they needed help. However, her own brothers and sister would consider her presence inauspicious during family functions and her mother would not protest. She got married to a kind hearted man, two years younger to her, but his family refused to accept or bless the alliance. Finally when she felt that she had been at the receiving end for long enough she withdrew herself from her family. She stopped attending family functions. The couple moved to a smaller town in Karnataka where he does some consultancy work for an American firm and she spends her time teaching yoga and meditation to school children. Her husband visits his parents once a month, takes them to the doctor stocks up their kitchen and gives them money for their upkeep. He refuses to take her along since they never ask for her. They have decided against having children. He respects her for the person she happens to be and she finds solace in the love and affection he bestows on her. They do not complain or crib and would rather forget their painful past. She still feels responsible for her parents and says that the only time when she would want to go to them would be when their health failed and they needed someone to look after them.

I do agree that I am quoting two extreme examples. The former group of working women got support where they did not need but the girl Veena mentioned later was shunned by her own family using social pressure as an excuse. I do not for a moment believe that her parents did not love her but being orthodox they perhaps believe that it was against the prevailing custom to support the daughter and antagonize their son. They could not bring themselves to stand up for their daughter when she needed them the most. But I feel glad that she could at least gain the love and respect of the man she married. Were it not for him her story may have been different.

Now I come back to the point I started with. Is being assertive a positive or negative quality? According to the friend I quoted in the beginning men feel threatened by such a woman. So many of our educated young women would prefer to play a sub ordinate role in the family even if only to pamper the misplaced ego of their spouses. But Veena’s story gives an entirely different picture. She is neither dominating nor submissive. She is just the cool and balanced person that she always was. But, to my mind, she commands more respect than many others with notable careers and a six digit income per annum.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Teaching/learning process

An old student (let me call her K) paid us a call last week saying that she planned to join a post graduate course and needed to apply for a college leaving certificate. It was actually 10 years since she passed out and she was currently employed as a teacher in a local school. Since we had some free time and, being a Saturday, it was her day off we started discussing the scenario in schools and dealing with adolescents in senior school. Ours is an all girl’s college but the school she worked in was co-ed. We dealt with girls from the lower rung of society or those from families that had just realized the importance of educating the girl child. Many of these girls came to college because this was the only time they got to leave home on their own. K on the other hand was dealing with boys and girls from a privileged background with adequate exposure to career options and were supported by parents who would willingly see to it that they got the best opportunity available for landing in prestigious colleges in India or abroad. Despite the socio-economic disparity in the two groups it was evident that both of us were dealing with an energetic group and the teaching/learning process that we followed was getting outdated.
“No student would be interested in a monologue delivered by the teacher unless it has some application to real life situations” said K. “If you wish to tell them about the working of the brain you have to begin with an accident on the road that knocked a passerby senseless. They get involved and before long you find them eager to know about nerve cells and neurons and the messages transmitted by the brain. Alternatively, you can draw a beautiful diagram on the board and start explaining the theory straight away. You will soon have the whole lot of them yawning or throwing darts at each other.”
We dealt with girls from a less privileged background so we expected them to be more open to the age old tried and tested method of teaching and learning. The syllabus was outdated as well as the tools for communication. The chalk, blackboard and charts were still being used. The computer/internet, as an essential tool for accessing information, had only been made available to us since a year but in most departments students were not allowed to use it fearing that they may mishandle it and getting it repaired would be difficult since the college management was not sure as to where the money for its maintenance and repair would come from. Moreover most of our students did not have a computer at home so it really did not matter whether they were allowed to access it in college or not. But were we able to ensure the interest of our students in the subject by our age old methods? Unfortunately not. The number of students opting to study basic sciences has dropped and those who do take up these courses are either a highly de-motivated lot or are here because obtaining a degree is a pre requisite for admission to MBA/MCA courses. They also need to be graduates to be able to apply for entrance exams for bank jobs and administrative posts. No course is sought after unless it has some application in their lives by way of a high paying job. Education also improves the marriage prospects of a girl and a girl who has never read or appreciated Shakespeare’s work may insist on doing an Honors course in English. It would encourage the boy’s family to think that she would be able to guide her children and coach them at home better if she had a degree in English as compared to other subjects. Practical applications are important and marriage is market in itself.

What then is the solution? Who would understand it better than me that the applied aspects of a subject come later but basics are equally important? Should a system that allows a student to be promoted to the next level without having understood the previous level of a subject be called student friendly? Failing a student or making him/her repeat a year may not be the solution. But shouldn’t the planners of a syllabus think of what ought to be done to ensure that a student who passes the 10th grade knows the basics of a subject that he/she opts for in college? Why not make teachers accountable? No one questions a child’s right to education but is our education translating into knowledge of the right kind?

I would like to know from those dealing with young minds either as parents or teachers to let me know their perception of the education that is being imparted to their children. My opinion in the matter may be outdated. However, I am willing to learn and would be glad to take a lesson or two from anyone willing to teach me.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gup Shup Again

I've been away from the blogworld for a long time now and it took me quite an effort to start writing again. It was similar to the feeling one gets when college reopens after a vacation. One just feels like lazing around doing nothing but then realizes that one needs to do something worthwhile and meaningful. Oh yes I like to think that I write meaningful pieces and they are certainly worth a read.

Was my break good? Time with my grandchildren was good but healthwise it was unfortunately a big 'NO' :-(((

Can you imagine what it is to be in constant pain? Well,well my arthritic knee made me realize what intense pain was. There was nothing anyone could do about it. I went limping all over the place and climbing up and down the stairs one at a time. Yes, i live in the 3rd plus half level of an apartment complex without a lift and had to climb up and down 52 steps even if it was only to go to the doctor or for an X ray of the knee. I would have done anything to be relieved of the pain including a visit to the local 'dayan'(witch) and tried out witchcraft. I tried an assortment of pain killer oils and ointment with no positive effect. The bone specialist advised knee replacement but the thought of post operative care as well as the expense involved was not encouraging. I tried homeopathy which had worked well in the case of my spondylitis but it did not help this time. Finally a visit to an Ayurvedic Center and the treatment offered by them helped and I am at least 50 to 60% better with their medicines, light exercises as suggested by the doctor and oil massage. I have to report to them this Friday and I now plan to go for oil massage by a professional in the center. Climbing up and down the stairs is not that much of a strain now so I think I can manage to go there twice or thrice a week.

The house feels empty without my little Annu and Megha. I have the computer to myself but I do not feel like using it. Megha would always want to wrest it from me and I do miss her saying 'what amma, you've been using the computer for sooo......... long'. Or Annu asking for candy and raisins not just in one hand but both. Give her a little in each hand, she'd transfer all of into one hand and stretch out the other hand for more! I can almost hear her saying 'Thatha put medicine, amma paining, amma very paining'.

I feel bad that I had to fall sick when the kids were around. But my health problem made me realize one thing. I have people around me who really care. Be it my colleagues in college or cousins in distant places or my own family including my sister,brothers, their wives as well as my children. All of them were concerned and offered help and advise - each one in their own way. I am told that like diabetes arthritis can be managed but will now remain with me for life. Not a comforting thought but then what cannot be cured may as well be endured!

I returned to college after the summer vacation and was told that the services of 29 people including me was being questioned. Some retired pensioners were also affected. It seems that our posts were adjusted against the posts of another college in the University that had posts in excess. Now the concerned college was clamoring for the posts to be returned to them saying that the employees of the college were losing out on their line of promotion and it was against the government rule that posts be transferred to other colleges. Another version was that after adjusting our services the university should have accounted for the adjustment to the government. Now the university is part of a new state and the government of Bihar that had created the post was no longer approachable. We have separated from Ranchi university and are now part of Kolhan University. Would the parent state government or the parent university offer some explanation? Everything was so very confusing.

'people get transferred, not posts'.........

I did not know whether to laugh or cry. Luckily my pain was so severe that it did not matter whether after 30 years of service I would be told that my entire career was based on a wrong foundation or if I would be denied pension and retirement benefits. Learning to look at the bright side of things! Our Principal is now making trips to Ranchi to adjust our posts against the posts of retired employees as well as those who left our college services midway for whatever reason. In the meanwhile it is whispered that there is no problem as such and all this fuss is being created by a few with itchy palms. 'God save this country' is all I can say. No I am not too worried. I am something will be done and with nearly 300 employees affected a solution ought to be arrived at and the problem done away with forever.

I may not be very regular but I shall post something once in a while till my arthritis is taken care of. Will catch up with your posts soon.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Suranga tagged me to write about 10 things that I do that are not considered feminine. Well Suranga 10 is a little too much but I'll try anyway.

1. I am not keen on make up/shake up etc. Even on my wedding day I did not use lipstick. Except when in my pre-teens I don't remember ever wanting to own lipstick. I think it has something to do with a teacher who'd pick on me all the time. I don't remember her name but I do remember her red lipstick and frowny face.

2. I do not attach too much importance to feeding the family and children in particular. Yes, they need to be given meals on time and I make sure that the food is nutritous and filling. But ask me to cook a separate dish for each of my children or worry about satisfying a fussy child throwing tantrums for food........ well they can howl as much as they want but they get to eat what the rest of us eat. I was brought up that way and I never imagined that there could be another way. However I do see other mothers do exactly the opposite and I feel a little inadequate as a mother.

3. I have said this before and I'd say it again. I am not the person to want to go on a shopping spree. Most of my sarees have been selected by other people. Like say a person may go to Calcutta and pick up a few sarees from there and ask me to choose from among them. Even in that case the number should not exceed 2 or 3. Someone just has to say that this one or the other one would look good on me and I'd simply go for it. Regarding my monthly provisions, my husband takes care of it. I drive him to the market and wait in the car most of the time. It is the other way round in most families.

4. When my daughters visit I book tickets and plan for vacations and my husband worries about pickles and pappadams.

5. I wish I could say that I could change tyres and fix punctures. I cannot but the day I decide to learn I definitely will. I can take care of fuses and minor faults with my gadgets.

6. It seems that as a child I would rather read a book than play with dolls according to my paternal aunt.

7. I admire ladies who can spend a whole afternoon attending kitty parties and stuff. I have been invited to join chit fund groups that meet up on a monthly basis.but I've declined the invitation saying that I'd rather open an RD in a bank. I cannot discuss anything unless it has a social or psychological relevance.

8. Like Usha I seem to grow hair on my chin and pluck it out regularly. Finally my true colors are showing and the world gets to know the not so feminine side of my nature!

So I have not fared too badly and I see that the feminine energy within me needs to be boosted. May be I'll try. I may succeed or may be not. We are all what God made us to be.

Anyone interested may take up this tag but I'd invite Renu to do it if she has not done it already.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Temper Tantrums

I thought I would not be able to blog for a while with my daughter and g'daughters visiting us. True, I have been busy - no, not overworked since my daughter takes care of her children's need pretty well - but just enjoying their company. Little Annu wants to be carried all the time "amma, godi"........ is her request from time to time. Need I say that I am ever ready to oblige. Her mom complains that I am spoiling her but aren't grandmoms expected to do just that?

However, I just heard of a case in which a mother had been misunderstood all her life and passed away just around the time her daughter began to understand her problem giving her no chance to make amends. I felt sorry for both of them since it was not fair that one's judgemental error becomes a life long burden. I could not help sharing this story with you so that if ever we come across such cases we remember that there could be more to it than that which meets the eye.

Shuba was a close friend of mine when I was in college. We in the hostel tend to get close to a few chosen friends and often share secrets with them - secrets that we don't feel comfortable talking to our own siblings or members of the extended family. Shuba's problem was her mother. As perceived by Shuba she was foul mouthed and uncaring and gave her father a tough time. Shuba and her younger brother were sympathetic towards the father who often worked late hours in office just to avoid a confrontation with his wife. Even when he did come home early the children would meet him at the street corner and the three of them would take a stroll to a neighboring park just to be able to talk to him without the mother constantly yelling and complaining making any communication between them impossible. When alone with her father Shuba would crack jokes, mimic her teachers while her brother would discuss cricket and politics. Her dad would tell them how his day went and about his aspirations for his children.

"I wish my dad had been blessed with an understanding wife. My mother comes from a rich and influential family and nothing my dad does measures up to her standards. She is quarrelsome and often takes out her frustration on her parents as well as me." Shuba would say.

"Why you?" I'd ask.

"I resemble my dad and she hates me for it."

At the tender age of 16 I did not really understand much and pretty much agreed to Shuba's view that her mother was acting difficult on purpose. My opinion did change a bit when I met her mother in person. She seemed a warm person and made me feel comfortable. I took her side in private when Shuba tried convincing me that her mother was just putting on an act.

"She does it whenever we have visitors. She'll be so kind to me that none would believe my version. That is why I never talk about her to family members. No one would believe me when I tell them about her temper tantrums."

Like all good things life our association came to an end after we graduated. We exchanged letters for a few years and finally even the letters stopped. I often thought of her and wondered how she might be faring. My own mother was a pillar of strength in the initial years of my marriage when I faced severe financial problems and had to deal with a sick mother in law all by myself.

"This will not last for ever. Better days are waiting for you. Just be patient." she'd say.

And I'd feel better. It really helps when one gets the right kind of advise. I wondered if Shuba's mother could ever be a mature and balanced guardian to her the way my mother was.

Years rolled on. I met Shuba purely by chance at a wedding. She was a microbiologist working in a multinational company. She was her usual jovial self but I sensed that all was not well with her. I could not bring myself to ask about her mother. So I enquired about her husband and children instead.

"I have an only daughter and would you believe it when I say that she is just another version of my mother. She seemed so unhappy and dissatisfied no matter what I did for her. I got her married to a person of her choice hoping that she'd be happy with him. But no, she kept quarreling with him and hated his parents from day one. The couple moved into a separate apartment and now she accused him of hatching plans against her with his parents behind her back. She attempted suicide following a quarrel with him and I had to intervene. I took her for psychiatric counselling and her condition has been diagnosed as bipolar disorder and she has inherited it from my mother through me. With medication and counselling she is much better now. Her in laws are quite understanding as is her husband. He has decided against having a biological child and plans to adopt one in a year or two when her psychiatrist considers her condition fit enough to raise a child."

"All is well that ends well. Thank God that she had understanding people around her. Why do you seem upset? Things are improving and you should be happy." I said.

"Only when I accompanied my daughter to her counselling sessions did I understand what it was that my mother suffered from in all these years. We did not have the means or understanding to treat her condition and always believed that she did it on purpose. Unfortunately, I got so involved in my daughter's life that it took me a while to realize that with a little medication and a lot of understanding my mother too could have led a near normal life. I truly wanted to make amends and bring her over to my house on my return from my daughter's place. But God perhaps wanted to punish me for never having tried to understand her problem. Within a week after my return from my daughter's my mother passed away in her sleep with only my father by her side. She who never found peace in her life time, left us without giving us a chance to tell her that we now understand. Try as much as I might, her memories keep haunting me. If only I had a second chance........." her voice choked and she burst out crying. I let her cry to her heart's content hoping that her guilt would be eased out at least to some extent.

The entire story kind of depressed me. Very often we fail to understand that temper tantrums and the like need to be addressed with care and concern. It is easier to accuse the person of deliberately causing trouble and brushing aside his/her behaviour as a ploy to get attention. Moreover no one likes to admit that a family member needs psychiatric help. Like the heart, liver or kidney, the brain can also develop symptoms that can be rectified with proper treatment. No one need to feel embarassed about going to a psychiatrist. At least not in the 21st century.