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.