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.