Thursday, December 15, 2011

Retirement Blues.......

I expect to have a busy year 2012. I may or may not have time to come up with my regular blog posts. Yes, we have 4 seminars coming up and I will be involved in 2 of them in a big way and 1 in a lesser role. Then we have a minor research project for which I am a Co Investigator. So finally at the fag end of my career and that too when my retirement age has been extended by 2 years (I ought to have retired in Jan. 2011) I have my hands full.

Last week we had an unexpected visitor. An ex student paid us a surprise visit along with her husband and 4 year old daughter. She spoke of her student life in our college. When she spoke of me she remembered how angry she would be when her practical work and record would be criticized but added that whatever I had insisted upon has served its purpose. Every stroke, every line and every point made by me is etched in her memory and helped her during her masters and B. Ed courses.

“Not a day goes by when I do not tell my students about you all Ma’am. Even if you would scold us it was as if we were your children. There was something very warm and affectionate about all of you that touched a cord in our hearts. It was never the same in B. Ed or PG”. She added.

True. Ours is a college with a difference. I do not know what my career would have been had I joined some other place. We are one big family in our college and I am going to miss it when I retire in 2013.

When I talk of retirement I cannot help bring up my husband’s retirement and how it has affected my life. Most of what has been written in this post of mine applies to me too. This very afternoon I remembered that I had to talk to my tailor because he was not present when I left a friend’s blouse piece at his shop. He could not hear me properly and I had to repeat sentences.

“Who are you talking to?” Asked my husband from the bedroom.

I could not stop mid sentence so I continued talking to the tailor.

“Who were you talking to?” He asked when I was done.

“The tailor” I said. “Is it any problem of yours? And why do you have to be told things in the middle of a telephonic conversation, eh? Can’t you wait till I am done?”

The problem is that he feels left out. And this is just one example. I have a friend called Prema who begins her conversation with-

“Isn’t Padma at home?” Or “Please call Padma”.

My better half gets upset and says “As if I am no one in the house”. I have dropped hints but Prema does not understand and my husband continues to get upset.

“Why don’t you enquire after her?” I ask. If this was a solution my husband would find other means to show that I was primarily his property. Others could have my time but with his permission. It is flattering and frustrating to be so much in demand.

Now about retirement activities. The author in the aforementioned article says that her husband would read the news paper aloud and get riled over Fox News. Mine is no better. He too finds reasons to get riled. Let me elaborate.

There is a Sai Baba statue in a hospital near our house. We prostrate before the deity and proceed for our morning walk. People offer flowers/incense sticks/ camphor/ sugar candy etc to the deity. Sometimes they bring a lot of fresh flowers, place a handful at the deity’s feet and leave the rest to be used by other devotees. According to my husband there is a man whom he calls ‘Topiwallah’ who takes away flowers and stuff. He gets upset if I ask him to keep to himself. He is determined not to let the man have his way. He now takes along with him a polythene carry bag, picks up flowers and other stuff and puts them into it, hides it behind the statue and replaces them after we return from our morning walk after making sure that the ‘Topiwallah’ has gone. The devotees who bring flowers do not seem to worry but my husband does and I get to hear of his ‘outsmarting’ activities on a daily basis. It seems Topiwallah for his part has changed his timings not having the courage to steal flowers in my husband’s presence. As if he is a CID officer, uh!

One day my husband spotted him on our way back and muttered something under his breath.

“What do you have against this man?” I asked. The truth was that our topiwallah had changed his cap and I did not recognize him. Now it was my husband’s turn to get upset with me.

“You see him everyday and yet don’t recognize him.”

“He wears a white cap doesn’t he?”

A man may change his cap but not his face but I recognize caps and sweaters never faces. My husband almost disowned me. I wish he had. At least temporarily. That morning I was subjected to a looooooooong lecture on remembering/forgetting faces and could not work on my Sudoku and crossword.

Another of his pastime is to keep cash in the oddest of places. Like under the sofa cushion. When I check the locker and do not find cash there I assume that there is no money in the house. He feels empowered when I ask him and takes it out from unimaginable corners of the house. And that too with a mischievous grin. The problem is that at times he keeps it in one place and looks for it elsewhere.

“Why do you do it?” I demand.

“To make sure that we do not run short of money”. He says.

Now I call that silly. If at the age of sixty and sixty eight we haven’t learnt to plan our expenses I don’t know what we have learnt in all these years. I think that this is his way of killing time.

I sometimes wonder if I too will drive him up the wall once I retire. I hope not but I cannot promise.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Women empowerment - a myth?

The past three weeks have been busy. We had a National Seminar on “Women empowerment and Microenterprise” and we had an amazing woman as the chief guest on the opening day of the seminar. She is a retd. IAS officer, a former Vice Chancellor and is now an active core group resource person with the University Grants Commission. She is currently involved in giving managerial training to university teachers. That she symbolized women empowerment was one thing but for a person with such an impressive profile she was so simple and down to earth that I understood that there was truth in the Tamil saying ‘niraikudam thalumbadu’ that roughly translates as – water will not spill out if the pot is filled to the brim. And can you believe that the lady is around 78/79 years? She came all the way to Jamshedpur from Kerala for the seminar and the entire college became her fans. She is now in great demand with many others wanting to invite her for functions at their establishments.

That said, I wish to share some interesting points brought up at the seminar.

Mrs. Padma Ramachandran, the lady who was the chief guest, admitted to herself feeling a little vulnerable at times despite the fact that she is much better placed than many other women in terms of empowerment. She recalled that the cab driver who drove her from Kolkata airport to Howrah station was perhaps a little drunk and was driving erratically. And she did feel scared about her safety and suddenly felt a little uneasy and wondered what she would do if something happened to her on the way- even a small accident? She quoted someone known to her as saying that when women organize functions there is a lot of color and no substance. She advised us not to stop with organizing the seminar and submitting a report. Take it forward and do your bit to help women in your area to stand up for themselves was her message.

Her words made me think hard. Women empowerment is very much like the elephant in the story of the four blind men. There are so many angles to it and each one perceives it the way they want to. There were a few male research scholars/lecturers who presented their papers. There appeared to be a welcome shift in the attitude of men and we had speakers among them who supported the need to empower women. A paper on the empowered status of muslim who had property rights, control over the mehar amount given at the time of marriage etc. was particularly interesting. I wondered if the community allows them to exercise the right accorded to them.

Another question raised was why a woman’s income is called supplementary - Why not complementary?

There was another interesting story about a gentleman whose wife would wash clothes and ask him to dry them out on the terrace. Earlier he would throw furtive glances around him and make sure that no one was watching him drying clothes. Today he proudly looks around and makes sure that the neighbors definitely saw him in action!

Another point that came up was from our bank manager who spoke on micro finance. While he agreed that women were more credit worthy and took care to repay bank loans, they were often restricted in their endeavors due to lack of education. He quoted the example of a vegetable vendor – a woman – who took 15 minutes to calculate that ten 5 rupee coins amounted to 50 rupees. She was convinced only when another vendor – a man – confirmed that the manager had indeed paid her fifty rupees. His talk emphasized the need to provide basic education to women before encouraging them to handle small enterprises.

On the whole the seminar was an enlightening experience to me. I particularly liked the point made by the DC of East Singhbhum who was the chief guest for the closing ceremony. She said that women were already efficiently managing finances and running the household. They are psychologically equipped to deal with adverse conditions that befall the family. All that society needs to do is to awaken the inherent inner strength and help women develop it.

Finally my own conclusions –

  • Women can only call themselves empowered if they are included in decision making processes at home.
  • Women need to play a supportive rather than a detrimental role in establishing enterprises run by fellow women.
  • Women need to have spending rights. I do not mean spending the husband's money. I talk of the money they earn!
  • While one claims empowerment as a right it is also a responsibility. Society in general is quick to criticize the efforts of a woman. She would have to develop a sense of accountability instead of hiding behind her man at the slightest criticism. Admitting failure is no insult. Remember failure is a stepping stone to success.
  • Women need to trust themselves before expecting others to have faith in them.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On education.........

Time and again I have been lamenting on the plight of our school going children who are not enjoying their school life the way we did. Competition is stiff and the children need to perform they say. What exactly is performance? Getting a good rank? Coming 1st in class? Will rote learning that children are presently subjected to help in the long run? Many of you are young mothers and I really want to know what is going on?

A recent report in Hindustan Times claimed that a grade IV student in a government school was not able to solve problems in math of the grade II level. Teachers were not able to answer questions from the lesson they were teaching. We would all like to take up government jobs because accountability is almost nil. But are private institutions any better? We have a bunch of kids in our complex that would be playing in the campus when I returned from work. They were probably in their primary school. I would have to be careful while entering the compound and parking my car. One never knew from where a little boy or girl would come running. Of late I noticed that there were no children playing downstairs. Where had they gone? There was a super expensive coaching class being run from a newly built multi-storey building in our neighborhood and at least 20 children from our complex were being sent there for coaching. They had subject teachers tutoring them from 3 to 6 in the afternoon. The children would be forced to learn since they would not be sent home unless they finished mugging up for a test or completed their home work. A little girl known to me was detained till 8 in the evening because she was taking longer to learn. The girl was so tired that she went off to sleep without having her supper.

What is wrong with young mothers? Why are they not able to handle children in the 1st or 2nd grade? Most of them are stay at home moms. Do these children have to compromise on their play time? Will they not lose their love for learning? I am appalled to say the least. All these children come from fairly affluent families and go to reputed English medium schools. Is the school over burdening the children? I hear that some schools in town do not allow the children to write answers in their own words. The teacher marks out the answer in the text book and they just have to reproduce it word to word. Just out of curiosity I asked a boy in Grade V to describe his hobby in 5 simple sentences. As I expected his language lacked imagination and he could not write beyond the 3rd sentence. He simply could not think for himself. He has never been encouraged to do so. He has also been packed off to the above mentioned coaching class. Teachers do not encourage children to write out answers in their own language since it would mean additional work for them.

Why am I worried? Long back a friend said in jest that we Indians could never be leaders. We are happy being followers. I disagreed. I gave the example of my own brothers who had studied in Gobichettipalayam with Tamil as their medium of instruction and recounted their efforts to stand out among their peers. I wonder if I’d be able to defend our present school goers with the same zeal. If schools are going to churn out robots what can I do with them at the undergrad level? We have students who have opted for Botany Honors because they were not offered admission in any other subject. These girls do not have an idea about the basics of Biology. I have to start with cell organelles and often give up midway because nothing that I say seems to register in their minds. I cannot be expected to start from grade IV level.

Things were not this bad even till about 4 years back. I recall the golden days when I took up my job as Lab in charge. The girls would take 5 minutes to settle down for their practical class. They would discuss the lesson taught in theory. Their enthusiasm would be contagious. Most of them did not have educated mothers. But they were schooled by dedicated teachers who saw to it that they got their basics right. I am afraid that these days teachers expect parents to teach their wards and parents particularly mothers do not have the confidence to teach children in their pre teens let alone children in high school classes. Coaching centers are mushrooming and it seems easiest to pack them off to tuition classes and relax.

My advice to young mothers would be to encourage your child to think for him/herself. He may take a while longer but will benefit more. I am not going to be working when these kids move on to college. It is in the interest of making the best use of the intellectual resource of our country that I write. The available potential in the form of youth energy needs to be groomed and utilized.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Lost love. Who was the loser?

I’ve just finished reading ‘Lost Love’ by Arshia Sattar. The book made me change my opinion of Sita who was asked to prove her chastity not once but twice by her husband. Earlier, I would feel sorry for her plight and wonder how she could agree to publicly prove her loyalty to her husband? I mean, do these things have to be proved? Aren’t they understood? Sita, however, was married to the King of Ayodhya and her situation was perhaps different to mine and yours. But Arshia Sattar analyzes her action from a different perspective. The first time she is asked to prove her chastity, having lived in Ravana’s palace for a reasonably long period, she is perhaps too shocked to react and goes through the ritual of entering the burning flames without giving too much thought to the humiliation that she had been subjected to. According to mythology, the Gods including the fire god Agni declare her chaste and her husband takes their testimony to be authentic and accepts her.

Rama abandons her a second time on hearing his subjects gossip about her chastity and questioning the paternity of her unborn child since she is now pregnant. She gives birth to twins in the hermitage of Valmiki Rishi who offers her a home and shelter. Her sons are trained to sing the story of their valiant father. Rama, on hearing them sing and on the basis of Valmiki’s assertion that Sita was indeed chaste, relents and agrees to take her back provided she proves her chastity in the presence of his subjects.

This time however, Sita has spent a long time speculating over the treatment meted out to her and when she is thus humiliated a second time, she invokes Mother Earth to create a chasm and take her in as proof of her chastity. She is happy to see her sons united to the father but has no interest in joining him as his queen. For all we know there may be several more reasons and occasions for Rama to keep asking her to prove her chastity time and again. This is an insult that she could do without. It is her turn to abandon her husband who has to live with guilt for the rest of his life. This aspect of her personality is what women need to uphold in their lives. They ought to be accountable to their own selves for their actions and none other.

The plight of Sita in the epic raises a lot of questions in my mind. Are womenfolk any better today? Are not women considered as property that needs to be transferred from one proprietor to another from childhood to old age? The girl has to just turn 18 and her parents start worrying. She needs to be safeguarded till her husband takes over. The husband does not even have to be eligible. He just has to be a man. If her marriage fails it is usually her fault. She did not try hard enough. Her husband fell for his colleague/neighbor/any one in the whole world and abandoned her because she could not be the ideal wife that he merited. Never mind that he was less than perfect himself. Even if she was herself was above blame she had to put up with his wayward behavior because she would not receive any support from her maternal home. When I see women subjected to all kinds of humiliation by society I feel Sita was better off. She led a peaceful life in the forest raising her sons instead of having to listen to her chastity being questioned by every male in town.

Are financially empowered women any better? They have the freedom to leave home and spend a few hours in their work place. I wouldn’t know how it is today. When I was growing up, I had a cousin employed in a nationalized bank and one of the conditions laid down by her in laws was that she should hand over her entire salary to her mother in law and accept a pocket allowance that the MIL thought was appropriate. I do not know if the arrangement continues these days. I was lucky that my mother in law was assertive herself and encouraged me to stand up for myself. She would advise me not to let my husband micro-manage my life. Those were days when I was not working and my husband would give my MIL spending money. Once the money came into her hands she would let me handle it but would never let my husband question the running of the household.

“That much freedom is yours by right” she would say. “Don’t give it up ever.”

Today is her 33rd death anniversary. I spent just 5 years with her and for the last one and a half years she was bed ridden. But the impact she made lasts till now. I wonder how many are that lucky. My advice to young women is to be in charge of their lives. Men may resent it initially but once they realize that you are equally capable of running the house and deciding things, they will gladly acknowledge your role as an equal partner. After all who does not want a supporting hand?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Abandoning the girl child........

I was watching a talk show in a Tamil channel and was impressed by what one of the speakers had to say. She was abandoned at a bus stand by her father at the age of 5. She is unable to recall her mother’s face but remembers the color of the sari she was wearing when her father took her to the bus stand following a quarrel with her mother, told her that he would be back soon but never returned. She was given food and shelter by a family who made her look after a sick person for ten long years but she was probably treated well because she still refers to them as amma and appa. She would call the son of the family anna and the grandfather as thatha. Though had to work for a living she has no bitter memories of the time spent with them.

When she turned 15, the lady of the house or ‘amma’ as she calls her, passed away. The father of the household sent her to work for some relative of theirs but she came back to him when she sensed the possibility of being sexually abused by two married sons in the family. Not knowing what to do with her, the master got her married to a 49 year old man who was probably a sick person because he passed away within 2 years of their marriage. She had a son by him. With no money and no one to support her, she took up the job of sweeping and cleaning the premises of a church when a kind hearted man married her and accepted her child as his own. She has a son by her second husband and her condition has now vastly improved. Her husband works in the Middle East and they have a house of their own. She just has one lingering desire. She wants her husband to help her seek out her parents particularly her mother. He has promised to do whatever he can to help her trace her birth mother.

“What purpose will it serve” asked the host of the show. She remembers her parents’ names but little else. She is perhaps in her mid twenties with dreams of a bright future for her sons. She has a caring husband and everything a girl of her age could ask for. Would it not be better to put her unhappy past behind and start a new life? Why would she want to rake up unpleasant memories of her past?

Her response brought tears to my eyes.

“I just want to know if my father deliberately abandoned me or if it was a case of unintentional negligence.”

She perhaps wants to confirm what she had believed all along – that her parents did not abandon her on purpose and she perhaps got ‘lost’.

“What if you find out that it was an act of willful abandonment?” asked the host.

“I would think that circumstances were such that they were forced to abandon me. No parent would deliberately leave a five year old daughter to fend for herself.”

I was full of admiration for this young woman. Anyone in her place would have been full of resentment for the father who left her stranded in a crowded bus stand. Anything could have happened to her were it not for the family who took her along. They did not educate her and made her do odd jobs. But they did not exploit her sexually or otherwise. She remembers that she had 3 sisters and a brother all older than her.

“Why me?” would be the question she ought to ask. But she has cherished warm feelings of affection and love for them instead of hatred. God bless you my child. How could your parents discard you without a thought? But then why should I think they abandoned her? It is perhaps human nature to be suspicious. Jessie, as the girl is now called, was unique not to think ill of them.

Children who complain that their parents did not provide them well enough should learn a lesson from the likes of Jessie. I do hope she is able to locate her parents and I pray that she is right in her assessment about them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Happy Deepavali!

Another Deepavali gone by and we are almost nearing the end of year 2011. Who would have thought that Osama bin Laden and Gaddafi would both meet their ends? To my mind the significance of Deepavali – the ultimate victory of good over evil – has been achieved by the end of these two who unleashed terror among their fellow men. Another war against corruption is on. I wonder if it is as easy for society to fight corruption that has so many shades to it. But of course it should not stop one from making an effort. Every small step would be a move forward and each step matters. Let this Deepavali awaken the desire to fight against social evils.The mythological character Ravan with 10 heads symbolizes the evils in society that need to be conquered. And what better occasion than Deepavali to resolveto do our bit to achieve it?

Deepavali brings along with it memories of the past. 38 years ago we celebrated our ‘thalai Deepavali’ or the first Deepavali after our marriage. I was upset that we did not celebrate it at my maternal home as per tradition, but considering the expense involved I could not do much. Mymother in law hinted that we could go provided my mother took care of our traveling expenses. I was determined that I would not encourage the practice even if it meant that I had to stay back. I felt that if I gave in, my mother may be expected to pay our train fare on every visit. My mother later advised me not to be harsh on my mother in law. It was difficult for a middle class family to shell out money for the trip soon after the wedding. Those were days when I had not understood my Mil for the person she was. If someone had told me at that point of time that I would learn to love and respect her and understand her point of view, I would have laughed at their face. But that is beside the point.

Coming to our ‘thalai’ Deepavali, my mother in law really made it memorable. She prepared all the sweets herself. A drum (capacity10 kgs) full of mixture or ‘chana chur’ as it is called here,101 boondi laddoos, apart from milk cake, namkins, burfee and what not. My father in law lit a mud hearth fuelled by fossil coal, fire wood, cow dung cakes etc on Deepavali day around 3:30 in the morning and water for the oil bath was heated in a huge aluminum pot that would hold 3 buckets of water.Sesame oil was warmed and a generous amount of pepper and turmeric was added to it. My sister in law made a beautiful rangoli at the door step and in front of the altar where pictures and idols of Gods were kept. New clothes were purchased for all members of the family and arranged in sets and placed in front of the altar. They were blessed with the application of kumkum in a corner. My mother in law applied oil on our heads and when each member had finished bathing she would hand out the new clothes meant for the person. We accepted the clothes after prostrating at her feet and wore them. She then made us prostrate at the puja altar and at my father in law’s feet to seek his blessings. Finally distribution of sweets began around 6 in the morning. Somewhere between the time we woke up and left home to distribute sweets, crackers would be burst. We were around 10 Tamilian families in the neighborhood and we’d burst crackers at dawn to make our presence felt.

The practice continued for several years as long as my father in law was alive and till date as far as practicable. The mud hearth was replaced by a heater and the aluminum pot replaced with a smaller steel one. Finally even that was abandoned when a geyser was installed in the bathroom. Sweets are prepared with the same enthusiasm but in lesser amount. The early morning oil bath has been replaced with shampoo bath after my father in law’s death. This morning I suddenly missed the aluminum pot and mud hearth. True, water gets heated in minutes so to say. But it is the involvement that has gone missing. My father in law would purchase fire wood and fossil coal after making sure that they were dry enough. He would chop thefire wood and break the coal into smaller pieces. All this went into preparations for Deepavali and would begin at least a week before. He would also watch out for the postman, night watchman, the sweeper all of whom would be given generous amounts of sweets. He would then ask us to pack sweets and savory for his senior citizen friends who would meet each evening in a neighboring park. The park is still there and I missed my father in law when I stood in my balcony this morning watching people practicing yoga or jogging in the park. My FIL did not have to exercise; he was active till the age of 75 and would fetch vegetables, grocery etc. He never took an auto and would walk to the local market and come back with a bagful in each hand.

I was a little upset about having to spend the day alone after having been exposed to a joint family set up earlier. But a phone call from my granddaughter cheered me.

“Amma, I had an oil bath. Mommyput mehandi (henna) in my hand on Sunday. I told my friends about Diwali. They hadn’t heard of it before. Mommy has made a lot of sweets and has packed somefor my friends too. Happy Diwali to you and tatha. We’re having a Diwali party on Sunday.”

Oil bath?? Distribution of sweets?I was touched. My daughters were trying to cling on to tradition – the way they had seen it being followed as children. And here I was complaining that childrendo not make sweets, they just buy them. True joint families of yester years are not feasible any more. But it is also my duty to be happy for them and accept the change that is part of an evolving social set up and bless them even if from a distance. I learnt a valuable lesson and I hope I always remember it.

A happy Diwali to all of you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The good ones in my life

We hear a lot about dowry menace and bride burning these days. I am going to narrate an incidence with a difference.

Long back in the 1930s when my maternal grandfather wished to get his eldest daughter married he had settled on a dowry of Rs. 5000.00. The boys family was good and they offered to give her diamond ear rings and nose stud and the ‘koorai’ sari ie. The 9 yards sari that she would wear when the groom would tie the knot with the traditional ‘tali’ or mangalsutra as it is popularly known would be gifted by the groom’s parents.

Due to some communication gap the groom’s father understood that my grandfather would bear the cost of the diamond ear ring that was around Rs.500/- and he started acting difficult on the day prior to the marriage. My grandfather was just around 37 years old and this was the first wedding in the family. The groom’s father was a magistrate in Bangalore and had come across as a very reasonable person during the negotiations. If one gave in under pressure, the probability of further demands in cash and kind could not be ruled out. And he had 4 more daughters to marry off. My grandfather insisted that he had not agreed to pay for the ear ring and the boy’s father claimed that he had indeed agreed to pay for it. It appeared as if the wedding would be called off and every one was upset. Then the unexpected happened.

The groom took my grandfather aside and asked him to be patient. He assured him that his parents were not greedy for a hefty amount in the name of dowry. There has been a genuine misunderstanding and they were as suspicious of my grandfather’s intention as he was of theirs. Finally he said-

“I request you to pay up the 500/- rupees that he is asking for. You will see for yourself how well they would treat your daughter. It is all due to some communication gap and in my opinion all will be well if only you relent. I leave it to you.”

My grandfather gave in albeit a trifle grudgingly. But my uncle’s words were prophetic so to say. My eldest aunt was treated like a daughter in their house and my uncle’s parents were the most accommodating among our relatives by marriage or otherwise. They stood by my grandfather’s side through thick and thin and my uncle was a son in law that every father in law would love to have. I shall soon do a post highlighting the warm and affectionate relationship between my aunt and her mother in law. I have already mentioned it in an earlier post written in 2 parts but I want to recount the lighter side. I feel blessed to have been surrounded by so much goodness in my formative years.

It may not be out of place to mention that my aunt had no children and upon her death her family returned the jewelry given to her by my grandfather to my maternal uncle because she had no children to inherit it. By then my uncle had also died and her mother in law was long gone. This was perhaps the only case that I've heard of when jewelry given as dowry was returned by the family some 50 years after it was given. They were indeed good people.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Pregnancy Story - mine of course - a passport to a healthy pregnancy.

I don't think I ought to be competing with the supermoms of the current generation. I wish to share my experience just to warn young mothers to be about how a little ignorance and indifference can turn your pregnancy into a nightmare. All this happened 37 years ago and times are different now. However, a little caution will not harm. It is a long narrative. Please bear with me as you always have. Here goes my entry for -

It seems odd to share pregnancy tips with young girls after becoming a grandmother to four adorable grandchildren. However, I wish to share my story just as a warning to would be mothers and first time grandmothers.

Thirty seven years ago at the age of 23 I did not know how to react to the news of my being pregnant. I had no knowledge of what to expect. Oh yes, my mother in law fussed over me since the family was going to hear baby sounds after a gap of 21 years and every one was thrilled. To be fair to her, she took me for regular check ups and the doctors prescribed folic acid capsules that she made me take right in front of her eyes. She prepared special dishes for me and after the initial misgivings we bonded really well. As long as I was in Jamshedpur it was a very normal pregnancy and I was totally unprepared to face the trouble that awaited me.

As was the custom I went to my mother’s place for my first delivery. In fact it was the first time after marriage that I got to spend some time with my mother and I was looking forward to a relaxed stay with her. Unfortunately that was not to be. The day after I landed home I had nothing much to do and took it on myself to clean a storage space near the kitchen. This was an area where stuff like shikakkai (to wash one’s hair) and gingelly oil was kept in addition to soap, surf, phenyl and other cleaning agents. After setting the place in order I took a bath and joined my mother and aunt for the afternoon meal when I felt itchy all over. I went to the bathroom and checked for signs of rashes in case something had bitten me. I could see nothing.

Those were days when the family lady doctor came on house visits and she was summoned in the evening. She had delivered most of the children in our family and very much like a family member. Considering the advanced stage of my pregnancy she had to be careful with the prescription of drugs and asked me to apply some lotion and left. The next three weeks were a nightmare to say the least. I could not get sleep, felt itchy and miserable and to add to it I began to have a funny sensation in the back of my head and my ear lobes started feeling hot. The doctor came once a week and checked my blood pressure but I could not understand or explain the sense of unease that I felt. To get some relief from the itching sensation I’d have a bath thrice a day and wipe myself with dettol water the rest of the time. My mother felt helpless and hoped that the itchiness would go away after my delivery.

Finally at the onset of the ninth month my mother had a small function in connection with my pregnancy. It was a noisy affair and I did not feel inclined to meet anyone. However I sat through the ritual of being blessed by elderly ladies. They had lunch and left. My eyes were puffed up and my head started feeling heavy. I attributed it to lack of proper sleep. The doctor’s visit was due the following day. I went to sleep early and surprisingly fell asleep immediately.

It must have been around seven the next morning when I woke up on hearing my elder brother’s voice. He had come over from Gudur to meet me. On seeing me awake he offered me some biscuits and I remember telling him that I’d brush my teeth and have it with coffee. I walked to the wash basin and suddenly I wanted to throw up. My mother thought that the heavy food consumed the previous day did not suit me. I did vomit but it was not undigested food that I threw up. It was bile. Within minutes I felt my eye sight dimming and by the time I rinsed my mouth I had lost sight completely and had to be led back to my bed. To add to my misery I had an unbearable headache and was writhing in pain.

The entire family took sometime to register that I could not see a thing. Someone rushed to call the doctor. We did not have a telephone at home then and mobiles were unheard of. The doctor came immediately and checked my BP. It was a soaring 220/150. Urine test revealed excess of albumin and I was administered sedatives and put to sleep. By evening my BP was normal, urine sample had just traces of albumin. My vision however did not return. An eye specialist was summoned. He flashed a torch into my eyes but I could not see a thing. The entire neighborhood was at our doorstep as is the case in a small town like Gobichettipalayam. My family still relied on Dr. Leela - our family doctor. The baby was not due till the next fortnight and I had not gone into labor. So no one was thinking about the baby. They wanted me to regain my eyesight. That was their immediate concern. It was then that Dr. Leela did the wise thing. She went over to a neighbor’s place and told them to advice my uncle and mother to shift me to a better hospital in Coimbatore. She wanted them to make it appear as if they were advising my family. She said that her clinic was not equipped to deal with complications but her daughter in law was working in a reputed nursing home in Coimbatore and if I was shifted there I could get better medical attention. She would line up everything and give us her car and driver. She was afraid that if she suggested this herself we would get panicky and imagine the worst.

The neighbor came over and suggested that I be shifted to a hospital in Coimbatore. My mother was not sure how Dr. Leela would take it. The neighbor pretended that she had convinced Dr. Leela and she had agreed. The family pundit was called in to check if the following day was auspicious. Our smart neighbor cornered him before he reached our place and on being properly briefed he declared that I should be shifted on the very evening since the next three days were inauspicious. We came to hear of all this back room maneuverings later. Finally around 8 at night I left with my mother, brother and uncle to the hospital where the doctor’s daughter in law worked. It was pouring rain and mother, weak sighted herself, was praying hard that I should regain my vision. We reached the hospital at 11 in the night. Treatment was started immediately. The next morning I asked the doctor if she was wearing a red sari. I could make out bright colors but little else. By evening I could make out my mother’s face but the hospital bed the stand to which IV drips were attached everything seemed to be slanted. The next day I could see properly. The doctors induced labor and my daughter was born the same evening at least 2 weeks before the due date.

The four days that had gone by were best forgotten. My I did learn a few valuable lessons in the meanwhile. They were-

1. Never ignore the signals that your body gives you. I did just that thinking that it was perhaps normal to feel so.

2. Never hesitate to go for a second opinion. In fact a good gynecologist would be open to consulting more experienced doctors herself.

3. When it is the question of life and death, almanacs and pundits need not be consulted. Not everyone would have a smart neighbor like mine.

4. When you feel uneasy contact the doctor at once. I was stupid to think that I could wait since my doctor’s visit was due in a day’s time.

Finally, my mother in law felt that if I had opted to stay back in Jamshedpur I may not have faced such a situation. In fact symptoms similar to the ones mentioned did come up in the next two pregnancies. But I was careful and my treating doctor was aware of my case history so I was admitted at the appropriate time and labor was induced. I’ve never gone into labor the normal way.

Years later I heard of a case similar to mine that unfortunately resulted in the death of both mother and child. The girl, like me, was unprepared and her case was handled by a reputed hospital in Jamshedpur. I was probably destined to share my story with you all and I got the lease of a lifetime of happy blogging!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Violence against women - my take.

I had mentioned that lack of parental support led to the death of a certain Mrs. Rao in my first post written for women's web regarding violence against women. True in most cases women are neither equipped nor encouraged to stand up for themselves against unacceptable behavior from their men folk/in laws or anyone who violates their right to dignity and self respect. But there are a few exceptions and this post is dedicated to those women who were victims of domestic violence but found means to survive against all odds. In two of the three cases mentioned they had the support of their parents and the main purpose of this post is to reflect on the possible role that parents and family could play in helping the victimized women to deal with violence against them.

Priti (name changed) was just twenty years old when she was married off with a lot of fanfare. She was the first born to her parents who wanted the very best for her. Theirs was a business community and girls were rarely encouraged to study. But her father was proud of his daughter’s academic excellence and he encouraged her to study. She passed her undergrad course in Philosophy Honors with a high 1st division and married a man of her parent’s choice soon afterwards. The groom was a charming good looking young man with a promising future. At least that was what they thought.

Unfortunately their assessment was wrong. Their son in law had a weakness for women and squandered his hard earned money on them. He was neck deep in debt. His parents blamed her for being unable to control his philandering habits and ridiculed her for her less than ordinary looks. According to them she had to be grateful to him for fathering her child – a daughter on top of it. Another man would not have given her a second glance and would have thrown her out for bearing him a daughter. She was totally at their mercy for spending money.

Priti’s parents then decided that it was time for them to pitch in. They encouraged her to pursue her studies and she went on to do her Masters. They financed her education and took care of her personal expenses too. Her in laws could only laugh behind her back and taunt her for not being worthy of the husband’s affection. She also answered the National Eligibility Test for lectureship and passed the difficult exam in a single attempt. She had a second issue – a son this time – but her husband did not mend his ways. She then joined as lecturer in a town about 100 kilometers from her husband’s place and moved out for good. By now her husband had married a divorcee and stopped coming home altogether. She has not yet divorced him but has severed all contacts with him and his family. Her parent’s continue to support her morally if not financially. Recently she booked a 2 bed room flat for herself and enrolled her children in reputed local schools. Her husband’s second wife, a bank employee with an independent income is facing the same problem as her and keeps seeking her advice on how she ought to deal with the situation. I think it was very nice and thoughtful of her parents to encourage her to have an independent income and a social standing for herself. They could have offered her a home and shelter but that would not have given her the confidence to face the future.

Lakshmi (not her real name)was a house maid and put up with her short tempered mistress only for the sake of the out house that they allowed her to occupy in lieu of a salary. She took a occasional slap in her stride and did not give a second thought to the abusive language and swear words directed at her. Her husband who was a construction worker often suggested that they move out rather than tolerate the inhuman behavior of their master and mistress. Lakshmi would ask him to be patient since it was not possible to rent a house with unlimited supply of electricity and water on his salary.

It was around 12 in the afternoon when Lakshmi had finished sweeping and was swabbing the drawing room when her mistress called out to her. She wanted her to fetch something from the fridge and Lakshmi took some time to respond since she had to wash her hand and wipe it clean before opening the fridge. Without a second thought the mistress took out the burning hot iron ladle used for seasoning and shoved it into her stomach and pulled it across the back leaving the skin scalded and burnt. It was then that Lakshmi thought that enough was enough. She went into the store room picked up the broom and began hitting her mistress with it treating her to the very swear words that were hurled at her on several earlier occasions. She pulled the mistress by the hair and dragged her to the court yard calling out to neighbors and threatening to call the cops. Neighbors intervened, the mistress almost fell at her feet and the master, who had come home for lunch, pleaded that his wife be spared. Lakshmi left her job at their place and moved to another area of our town. She was not keen on going to the police because she was sure that they would harass her and spare her mistress.

The third case is about Rashmi (name changed) who was a bright student trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband was short fused and her mother in law did everything possible to set him against her. She would be regularly beaten up for no reason and her mother in law would tell neighbors who intervened that Rashmi deserved to be beaten since she back answered him. Dowry menace also could not be ruled out but it was done in a very covert manner so nothing could be proved. It was then that Rashmi’s father registered her name for service in his company against the ward’s quota he was entitled to. He told her that the 8 hors that she would spend at the office and the time spent in commuting to work would be a welcome relief from the stifling environment at home. And of course, the money that came in and the quarter and medical facility that the company offered would be added benefits. He could have given his service to his son but he felt that she needed it more.

Rashmi was lucky that she got a call within a month and got the job of an office assistant soon afterwards. Her husband deliberately opted for a transfer to Madhya Pradesh but she refused to accompany him citing her job as the reason. She was not going to give it up at any cost. If her in laws had a problem with her job she would apply for a quarter and move out with her children. Her husband realized that she meant what she said and let her continue. He has however moved out and her mother in law blames her for it. According to her, he was ‘fed up’ with her superior airs and no husband could bear to live with a wife whom he could not ‘control’. Rashmi does not bother. She does her share of house work, gets the children ready for school and leaves home by 8 in the morning. She is not worried about the physical strain. She is happy to have a life of her own – a world where she can meet like minded people and establish an identity for herself. Her husband continues to make life hell for her when he visits them but she counters his behavior by ignoring his outbursts and that annoys him more.

For all the stories of bride burning and cruelty to women, we do have a few that would inspire women who are victimized and encourage families to support their daughter/sister intead of treating her as alien property. A change in the mind set would go a long way in curtailing violence against women.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is marriage a necessary evil?

I have a question that bothers me since there seems to be no correct answer. Long back, when my daughter was not yet 10 years old, a family friend approached me for details regarding a colleague of mine who was being considered a suitable match for their daughter. The man in question had joined as lab attendant and improved his qualification to become a lab assistant. He was working on his Master’s degree having taken admission in a local college. He had obtained a distinction in Physics Honors in his undergrad course and had a very good practical hand. (He still works with us and gladly fixes electrical and electronic items for us when required). I could foresee a bright future for him and had no hesitation in suggesting that they could go ahead and start negotiating with his family in Andhra Pradesh. I had no knowledge about his family’s financial status but guessed that they may not have been very well off since he had started working soon after completing his 11th standard and a bright student like him who could not continue to study was probably from a needy background. However, I kept my thoughts to myself on a matter that did not concern me.

A few days later I was asked by their daughter who studied in our college to drop by their house when possible since her mother wished to consult me on an important matter. I readily agreed to visit them after college on the very same day. When I reached their place I found the family in a dilemma. Their older daughter for whom my colleague was being considered was upset that her parents should even think of getting her married to a person of questionable financial status. It did not matter that the man had a chance of coming up in life. It was his current status that mattered. She would not settle for anyone that did not have a white collar job and whose father was equal in status to her own father. Her parents on the other hand felt that there was no harm in carrying the matter forward if the boy in question was hard working and responsible.

I tried to reason that since she had a government job herself, they could manage to lead a pretty decent life on their combined salaries. The girl was adamant.

“Would you say this for your own daughter?” she asked.

My daughter was around 8 years old and I had not thought of her marriage prospects at all. She was in grade III and I was not sure where this conversation was leading. But I had the sense to understand that the matter ought to be handled by the family and it was better to leave it to them. Finally the girl’s parents gave in and the matter was dropped. The girl however did not marry at all. She probably rejected all proposals considered by her parents. Her younger sister got married as did her brothers. She never forgave me for even suggesting that she marry my colleague and would refuse to acknowledge my presence when we met while traveling to work or in the market place. She probably did not know how or where to vent her anger and I let her be since I was not affected by her behavior in a big way. She now leads an independent life in Hyderabad while her parents stay with her married brother shuttling between Hyderabad and Jamshedpur. Marriage was not a priority to her and she chose to remain unmarried rather than enter into a matrimony that did not appeal to her. I too had to admit albeit a little grudgingly that this was perhaps a wise step that she took. Thirty years ago this was a bold step too.

Years later I narrated the incident to my daughter who was in college. Her reaction set me thinking.

“What was wrong with her question mummy? Why did it upset you? Tell me honestly if you would have considered the match for me? Would you not prefer to get me married to a man of sound financial background than a person with commitments to his family however promising his career?”

It was a tricky question and I had to admit that she had a point.

When I see my colleague today I feel that he hasn’t fared badly at all. His wife is an excellent home maker and their son has completed an engineering course and will be taking up a job soon. He is used to taking up responsibilities and gladly attends to matters involving his wife’s family. I wonder if his life would have been as smooth sailing and happy if he had married Rajalakshmi (as the girl mentioned earlier was called). The basic question as to whether I would have got my daughters married to promising young men on the basis of their qualification alone still remains unanswered. To be frank I did not have a very great role in the marriage negotiations of my daughters. It just happened the way it did. Had I been at the receiving end of marriage negotiations dealing with hard to please parents of eligible boys I too might have compromised. But would my daughters have done the same or would they have objected? The girls are well settled and their husbands earn well. It is easy for me to preach that marriage is a gamble and the gamble is played out in heaven.

Finally I think that life is a balance sheet. Credit and debit accounts are maintained. Looking back I realize that my mother did not think beyond a hard working husband for me and life hasn’t been bad at all. Among those that got married with me some started off well, some took time to take off but now most of us are at the same level. So life is not what one gets – it is more about how one wishes to deal with it. And it varies from person to person. Marriage is just part of life – not life itself.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ramblings of a living fossil.................

Teacher’s day has come and gone and I haven’t written a line regarding the profession that has given me an identity. The teaching/learning process has gone such a tremendous change and I am unable to decide if it is for the better or not. The inflated marking system and the exam oriented preparation by students have left me wondering whether my perceptions are outdated. The head tells me that it is indeed so but my heart refuses to believe what my head says. I have a feeling that all this superficiality in the learning process will phase out and very soon we will revert to a method that requires the application of knowledge acquired to be successful. Certain sore points stand out and I am going to bug you for answers.

When I was in grade III we had a Math teacher who would give a straight zero if our answers did not have a unit along with the numeral. It had to be 10 pounds or 20 miles and never 10 and 20. No consideration for the numerous steps involved to arrive at the answer. As a child I would find it unfair that one was given a zero after all the effort put in. I later understood.

Fast forward by 30 years-

A student of mine called Jennifer Wadia brought her record for correction. She had drawn a thistle funnel hanging in the air above a beaker of water to illustrate the process of osmosis. I put a big, ugly question mark on her drawing sheet and asked why she had not drawn the stand and clamp.

“It is understood ma’am” was her response.

“I don’t understand something that is not illustrated” I said. “Draw the supporting structure and submit your record”.

“I drew it from my 10th standard copy and there was no stand/clamp in the diagram”

Jennifer was a good student and the school she studied in was the same in which my daughters studied. It was a reputed school and I could not believe what she said.

“Show me your copy. And who was your biology teacher?”

She mentioned a name that sounded familiar. My daughter – then in the 8th standard – was being taught biology by the same person and she was a good teacher. My children never came to me with doubts in biology and their grades were good. What then went wrong?

The next day Jennifer brought her 10th grade biology copy and as she had said the thistle funnel was hanging in the air without a support and the diagram had been ticked as correct.

I went home and asked my daughter for her biology note book and it was the same in her book too. She was Jennifer’s junior by 5 years and the school was churning out generation after generation of students who thought that there was no need to draw a stand and clamp to support a thistle funnel.

“I am coming to your school to talk to your teacher”. I was truly upset that children were being taught in this manner. My daughter would have none of it.

“Please don’t” she wailed. “Teacher had told us that there would be a stand and clamp to hold the thistle funnel. I thought it was understood. She will not like it if you point out”

At the risk of being labeled a living fossil I still insist that a scientific drawing need not be a piece of art but it has to be properly illustrated. And the teacher who cannot be told that she was instilling a wrong concept and/or accept it when pointed is doing a disservice to society. However, knowing the teacher personally and having met her on quite a few occasions I don't think she would have had any hesitation in admitting her lapse and rectified it. I only mean to say that as teachers we do tend to take our student's intelligence and analytical skills for granted. In this case she must have told them that the thistle funnel had to be held with the help of a stand and clamp but since she did not illustrate it, it was not registered in their minds. Believe me, I have no intention of finding fault with the school that has groomed my children. I just wish to point out that such lapses have far reaching effects.

Correct me if I am wrong but I feel that the marking system in our board exams need to be re-assessed. I have to give another example here.

My daughter had answered her 10th boards. She showed me her Biology question paper. It had a drawing that illustrated a biological process. The students had to label the diagram and draw an inference as to what the process might have been. My daughter’s inference was wrong. The question carried 4 marks. I would have given her a zero. But she said that marks were split and she would only lose 1 mark for the inference. She had labeled the diagram correctly and written out the procedure and all that carried marks. I later confirmed her claim and it was true.

Those among you with young children ought to tell me whether the present system where marks are awarded rather than deducted - when the basic concept is wrong – is helping or harming your children. I would rather have my children learning their basics the hard way. Marks to my mind are not important.

I would ask teachers in the making and those that have just taken it up as well as parents with school going children to pay attention to whether your ward is understanding the concept/lesson that is being taught because ultimately that is what is going to help them in their career.

It is not that I want to criticize the present system. I just wonder if it can be improved

Friday, September 02, 2011

Is this normal??

Yesterday was Ganesh Chaturti and a day off from college. Believe me, at the age of sixty I still relish the thought of a holiday pretty much the same way as when I was a schoolgirl. I took the opportunity to visit my doctor for my arthritis.

Weather is unpredictable these days in Jamshedpur. It is sunny now and within the very next couple of minutes dark cloud gather and it starts drizzling and then it is pouring rain. At the clinic were a family who had brought a three month old baby to the clinic. The baby was crying non stop initially but finally went off to sleep. They were totally unknown to me but the sight of the indulgent grandmother and the young mother somehow reminded me of the time when I was a young mother. A girl in her late teens had accompanied them and she took turns to hold the baby. She reminded me of my sister in law who was so very fond of my daughter and took charge of her the moment she started crying. We were preparing to leave when dark clouds appeared from nowhere and one could predict a heavy shower within minutes. The child’s mother started calling someone over the phone probably worried how they may reach home. It was then that I offered to drop them in my car provided they lived within Kadma where I live. They were glad to be offered a lift and by the time all of us got into the car it started drizzling as expected. I started the car and took a turn when it started pouring.

The next few moments were simply horrible. I simply blanked out. I seemed to have forgotten my way and I could not remember where I needed to go. I took a wrong turn and headed in the direction opposite my house. The roads seemed unfamiliar and the sign board made no sense. I slowed down and asked –

“What place is this?”

I truly felt like crying. Why did I have to bring this on myself???

The teenaged girl came to my rescue. She suggested that since it was pretty dark I had perhaps got confused. (It was just 4 in the afternoon). Then I seemed to realize that I had reached the main road that connected our area to the railway station. Luckily I hadn’t gone too far, just about a kilometer in the wrong direction. I took a U turn and headed in the direction of my home. They live at a 5 minutes walk from my house and I prayed that I should drop them at their destination safe and sound. It was raining heavily all the while but the moment I dropped them and proceeded towards home clouds started to clear and when I reached home it was sunny once again. The group must have taken me to be a nutcase.

It took me a while to become normal. What if I had lost control of the car? I’ve lived in the area for the past 38 years and yet why did the roads look unfamiliar? All this took no more than 5 minutes but it was a scary experience. To top it I had to account for the lives of unknown people. It has never happened before.

I reached home and straight away wrote a post for Women’s web to make sure I was okay. While I returned from college I explored the area again. It was not the route I usually take but there was nothing unfamiliar about it. I think the unexpected downpour was the culprit. Dr. Anthony, if you’re reading this post I want you to reassure me. Is this normal??

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fighting Corruption

A lot is being said about the anti corruption drive and I feel glad that the lay man has stood up against the corruption that prevails in society. The huge crowd that gathers in support of Anna Hazare is proof that the common man is sick and tired of greasing palms to get the simplest work done in Government offices. I feel bad that I also am part of the problem simply because I am not part of the solution. I did not offer ‘chai pani ka paisa’ to the dealing clerk while submitting my thesis. The process was deliberately delayed and the examiner’s report suppressed. Finally I manage to acquire my doctoral degree 18 months after I submitted my report. I had nothing to lose since I had a job and at that point in my career I could not have got an automatic promotion. I attended three interviews after that but the story was the same. It was whispered that there was a price attached and the moment I landed in Patna negotiators would seek me out. No one did. So I really haven’t directly dealt with mediators who strike shady deals on behalf of the powers that be. It is all hearsay which may or may not be true. Again it was a consolation that I had a job that promised a pension on retirement and I was in a better position than many others equally qualified and competent.

Is it the same with others?

Kala is the Head Mistress of a middle school that is semi government. Funds are released after several rounds of meetings and around 30 teachers working under her wait for months to get their salaries. And when the salary amount is sanctioned the dealing clerk delays the transfer of funds till she pays him an amount agreed upon as ‘chai pani ka paisa’. This depends on the amount each teacher stands to ‘benefit’. There is no guarantee as to when the next salary would be sanctioned. I wonder what ought to be done under the circumstances. Some teachers are sole bread winners with several dependents. Kala knows that as a teacher she should fight against corruption. Complaining will not help since the clerk is perhaps the agent and there are many others who benefit by his collection. I wonder if Anna Hazare’s drive against corruption will actually reach out to such people who are victims of a corrupt system.

I have no sympathy for those among us who grease palms for obtaining favors out of turn. Driving license given out without the person taking the test for instance. A friend’s husband lost his life on account of rash driving by a teenager who in all probability was under age. But who cares? We want the easy way out. One goes to a government hospital and the treatment he/she gets is definitely better if hospital staff are bribed. The list is long and this is only the beginning.

I don’t mean to say that we should lose hope. I feel that we ought to take steps to counsel government employees and impress upon them that it is a shame to expect ‘oopari kamayi’ (bribe) as a right. The chain/circle is vicious and inter-connected and links politicians, bureaucrats as well as their sub ordinates. I end with two examples of upright IPS officers that makes me think that it is wrong to paint everyone with the same brush.

One involved the SP of our township some three years back. He had given his phone number to the women’s organization that supported a complainant of domestic abuse and asked them to feel free to contact him at any time of the day/night in case of trouble. They rang him up at 2 in the night and within minutes the station in charge of the police station nearest to the girl’s house sent a constable to arrest her husband.

The second involved the DIG of our township. We had an interactive session with him at a local college. He asked the audience to co – operate with him in punishing erring traffic police/constables and the like by lodging an instant complaint. A constable posted at the National Highway leading to our town was seen accepting bribe to allow the entry of heavy vehicle during the time declared as ‘No entry’ time keeping the safety of school children returning home in auto – rickshaws/ private vehicles in mind. Someone clicked a photograph of the constable and forwarded it to the DIG. The man was immediately suspended. This has served as a warning to other constables too.

These are the steps that responsible citizens can take to be part of the solution. I add that I myself spoke to the aforementioned DIG at six in the morning on behalf of my servant who said that the station in charge of our area would not accept a complaint that she wished to lodge. I wanted to check for myself if he would take calls that early in the morning. And he did. He asked her to go to the police station that very day and that he would direct the station in charge to take appropriate action.

If we wish to take Annaji’s movement forward we too need to do our bit.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Following Up

I had written sometime back on a few cases of schizophrenia in two parts and had commended the care givers on their role in taking care of these people. I had heard of these cases from people close to them and was full of admiration for the decisions made by them. I’ve been following their case from time to time and updated myself on the course their lives have taken since then. I refer in particular to the case of Preeti and Montu.

I had mentioned that Preeti surprised everyone by deciding to give her marriage a try although she was under no compulsion to do so. Her parents in law were so grateful to her that they pampered her to the core and provided her with the necessary support in running the house and attending to her whimsical husband. Now that the couple opted to have a child one would expect her to bond well with the husband and their marriage would be near normal. With many of our marriages having their own ups and downs, even without having to deal with a mentally imbalanced spouse, one ought not to imagine that life was very easy for the girl who was totally unprepared to deal with the situation. However, to be fair to her, she did try her best. I don’t mean to say that she has failed in her effort or has given up. Her problem was different.

Preeti had a baby boy some three years after her marriage. She loved her son alright but had a nagging doubt as to whether her husband’s condition was genetic and if he would inherit the condition from his father. Schizophrenia does not necessarily show up till adolescence or even much later and she had no means of knowing about the possibility of her son ‘turning mad’ as those around her cruelly described her husband. She looked for indications where there were none and even the slightest tantrum shown by the child was attributed to faulty genes. It was very distressing for her parents in law to cope with the mindless insinuations heaped by her on an innocent toddler but could do little about it. Things came to a head when she refused to return after a visit to her parent’s place saying that she did not want the child to pick up ‘mad ways’ from his father. Her parents did not feel free to advise her since they partly blamed themselves for the mess that she made of her marriage. Her husband went for a patch up but he was manhandled by her brothers and uncles. They conveniently forgot that he had to take medicines for life or that his condition had to be managed only with the help of medicines unlike a physical affliction that could be completely cured after a period of treatment. He could not muster courage to go again. The rift widened and it appeared that they would never patch up. However, counseling came from unexpected quarters.

Her paternal grandmother was the one who intervened and set things right. She was sympathetic towards her granddaughter but also questioned her decision to opt for a biological child. Did she not know that he had a 50:50 chance if inheriting his father’s trait? No one was perfect she claimed. The boy could derive some shortcomings - both physical and mental - from her as well. Did she expect her brothers to take care of her once her parents were dead and gone? She could opt for separation but not until she found a means to support herself and her son.

“Stop pouting and sulking.” Were her final words. “You made a choice earlier and were glad to be hailed as a sacrificing wife. You were amply counseled by his doctor and were advised on what could be expected of him. Please don’t think that I am not supporting you. You must admit that you are also partly responsible for the situation. Be brave and face the situation. What if it were your brother instead of your husband? Would you love him less on account of his mental condition? ”.

Somehow, her grandmother’s words made sense and Preeti returned to her husband. She went for counseling sessions and felt better after that. She got enrolled in computer classes and is able to divert her mind from negative thoughts and doubts that earlier haunted her. Her parents in law refrain from ever referring to her prolonged stay at her parent’s place or her tantrums when Montu went to fetch her. It is just as if she has returned from a well deserved break which was perhaps just what it was.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Advising caution.........

This week brought in news of a family friend’s unexpected demise and the tragic instance of child sex abuse yet again. Both events disturbed me a lot.

Death is the most natural event to occur in our lives and yet we are never ready to face it. I have mentioned the Sinhas in a number of my posts but two alone stand out in my memory - Canine instincts written when I had just started blogging and a Deepavali post written soon after. Both the pieces were the products of my first year as blogger. We have known the family for nearly 35 years. Our children practically grew up in their house. My son was like a toy in the hands of their sons. They would rush to see him after school and would carry him away to their house from the time he was a month old. Whenever the boys were given new clothes for Durga puja or other special occasions the boys would definitely come over to my place to show me their new dress. How I wish God had been merciful to them. The older of their two sons passed away of renal failure at the age of 31 and their mother never quite recovered from the shock. She lived on without the urge to live and followed the son 8 years later. However, their second son married a very adjusting and accommodating girl and Mrs. Sinha spent the final years of her life with them doting on the granddaughter who she felt was her dead son gifted back to her. Now, it was the turn of Mr. Sinha to pass on. He died of a massive heart attack and it breaks my heart to see the son alone in this world. He is not the kind of street smart guys one sees all over the town and after his father’s unexpected death he did not even know what to do next. It was Mr. Sinha that managed things.

However, this was not the purpose of this post. One thing that worried me was the fact that the family lived in perpetual denial. They never believed that they could fall ill. Bikhu, as the older one was called, was perhaps a case of juvenile diabetes. Mrs. Sinha was obsessed with cleanliness and yet the flush out pan in their toilet would be full of ants. A doctor friend suggested that all four have their urine samples tested and at the age of 18 the older son’s urine had sugar not in traces but in excess amounts. Kidney failure had set in. The family kept fooling themselves that all was fine. Diet control was never seriously considered and the boy lost his life thirteen years later.

Mrs. Sinha too was perhaps diabetic but she also waited till her kidneys began to fail before opting for treatment. By then she had lost her first born as well as her desire to live. Mr. Sinha had a massive heart attack soon after the son’s death. He was obese and the doctor had recommended weight control and change in life style/food habits. Mrs. Sinha’s notion of treating a heart patient was indeed weird. He needs good food she would insist. Chicken soup was okay but she would give him chicken fry and scold her daughter in law if she objected. You will starve him to death – she’d scream. Every time I enquired after his health Mr. Sinha would say that he was fine. He never went for regular check ups saying that doctors would unnecessarily ask for tests to be done even if there was no need. From a week before his death he had mild chest pain. Given the medical history of a previous attack he ought to have gone for a check up. He passed it off to gas problem and tried home remedies. Unfortunately he did not survive a second attack.

After the age of 50 one has to be prepared for degeneration of the system and take the necessary precaution. Given the history of diabetes in the family I have advised their son to monitor his blood sugar levels. I hope he takes my words seriously. With two little girls and a wife to support he cannot afford to be indifferent the way his parents were.

The other case of child sex abuse took place in our complex and the victim was a little girl of about 8 years in age studying in class III. The abuser was a class mate’s father. As per an arrangement with him, the girl’s father would drop his own daughter and the abuser's son studying in the same class at school and the boy’s father would bring them home. This was a recent arrangement that was initially a temporary one during the exams and was continued since it appeared to suit the two families. The man in question would delay bringing the girl home saying that his milkman arrived around the time and would go away if the house was locked. He’d send his own son away to ride a newly purchased bicycle and with his wife away at work he’d have the house to himself. He initially tried getting familiar with the child and threatened her of dire consequences if she told anyone about it. After a few days he forced her to drink some foul smelling stuff saying it was orange juice (perhaps alcohol) and forced her to have oral sex. He also tried fingering her privates. The child was petrified but just told the mother that she did not want ‘uncle’ to bring her home. That very night she woke up with a start and started screaming incoherently and all that the mother understood was that she wished to be saved from ‘uncle’ for whatever reason. The child’s father had left for Calcutta in the evening and was to be away for the week end. The mother called the watchman and took the child to a doctor in the complex around midnight. The girl was weeping profusely and shaking as if she had convulsions. She would not let the doctor touch her. His wife however coaxed the entire story out of the child and was stunned that such an incidence could have happened. The mother was initially shocked but around 6 the next morning she informed a women’s organization that swung into action and by 10 in the morning the abuser was behind bars. The DSP took special interest and assured the family of immediate action. The mother supposedly slippered the man right in front of the station in charge of the police station. The father came back immediately and when I met him in the evening he said that he must have received at least a hundred calls asking him to withdraw the case. I now hear that he has indeed withdrawn the case though I do not know for sure. Even if he has(there could have been some compulsion that we do not know of) I appreciate the quick action taken by the women’s organization and police.

The two are unrelated incidents but had to be shared. The world needs to know that it could be one among us who’d be the next victim and caution - whether in the case of health or in the trust one places on a neighbor- will not hurt.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dealing with good people.

Dealing with good people can be frustrating. At least that is what my experience tells me. You yell at the son and daughter and they yell back at you. Scores settled and peace prevails. But gently rebuke them or better still don’t say anything at all. Pick up the wet towel and put it to wash. Smile at them and say “Anything else to be washed son”? It simply unnerves them and there won’t be a wet towel to pick up next time.

Priya was told that she was lucky to have Mrs. Kapoor for mother in law. Mrs. Kapoor was mild mannered and soft spoken. She would never interfere in her life. And she didn’t. But having no complaint against her mother in law was Priya’s only complaint. It was very difficult to get past her mother in law. There was a talk of hiring a cook when Priya’s husband Nitesh was hospitalized. Her mother in law pitched in.

“Why hire a cook my child. I have nothing to do. I’ll take care of the kitchen. You can attend to Nitesh.”

Priya would return from hospital at 8 in the evening. The evening meal would not be ready.

Her mom in law would smile sweetly and say –

“I was just about to start. However, I could not decide whether to prepare bitter gourd or pumpkin. Which do the children prefer? And would it be okay to prepare rotis before hand? I thought the children would want to have fresh rotis.”

“Anything would do mummy”. Priya would reply. “I have some packaged, pre-cooked vegetables. If you’ve kneaded the flour I’ll prepare rotis immediately. The children should be hungry and will be asking for food anytime now”.

“Oh my God, I just forgot. Why don’t you freshen up? I’ll knead the flour. By the way how many cups of wheat flour do we take?”

“Never mind mummy. I’ll toast some bread for them. I’ll check for left over food in the fridge. Or else I’ll make some upma for the two of us.”

And as an aside she would add ‘Please get right out of my kitchen. I may just eat you up for dinner’.

It was a frustrating situation. To top it the MIL would appear so very considerate when neighbors and relatives dropped in.

Poor child, she has to do the running around since I cannot manage outside work. So I’ve asked her not to worry about home and children. After all what am I here for”?

Bhavana too had been blessed with a good mother in law. She was however not as indecisive as Priya’s mom in law. She was smart and very much in control. Bhavana wanted to take up a job. The children had grown up and she had some spare time. She wanted to take up a part time job.

She over heard her mother in law telling her husband-

Bhavana wants to take up a job. And why not? She is qualified and capable. I’ve offered to manage the house. My arthritis causes problem but I’ll manage somehow. I’ll finish work and give myself a massage once I am done. Appa can fetch the children from the bus stop. It will be very hot when they come back. He’ll have to carry an umbrella. It will be a little difficult for him to manage the children with an umbrella in one hand. He’ll manage somehow. Hire a servant to fetch them? Servants are so unreliable. You pay them a huge amount and end up doing all the work yourself. Never mind son, don’t worry. We’ll manage somehow”.

Bhavana was at wit’s end not knowing how she was supposed to deal with such a sacrificing mother in law. It would have been easier to deal with one who refused to help out.

Pranati’s mother in law was in hospital. She would visit her every evening with a flask of coffee and some snacks. For the rest of the day she had hired a private attendant and was paying her an amount that was quite beyond her means. In order to save money she would take a bus to the hospital and would invariably be late. She would wait for the milkman at a neighbor’s place since he came there earlier, prepare coffee at their place, leave her two year old daughter with them and rush to board the bus. On one occasion she saw her cousin and his wife going towards the hospital in a two wheeler while she was herself in the bus. Had she spotted them before boarding the bus she’d have asked them to take her mother in law’s coffee along. When she reached the hospital ward her mother in law was very cross with her for being late. It so happened that her cousin’s wife had innocently remarked that had she known that Pranati would be late she would have brought the ailing woman some coffee herself. Well meant words but they triggered off unnecessary resentment between the mother in law/daughter in law duo. Under the circumstances it would have been better to keep one’s opinion guarded. Getting coffee on an odd day was not the same as doing it on a daily basis. And there could be umpteen reasons for the delay.

In my opinion good will alone is not sufficient. It has to be peppered with smart thinking. As the saying goes ‘an intelligent enemy is easier to deal with than a foolish friend’. Think about it.