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.