Thursday, November 22, 2012

The good ones in my life - 2

I returned after a trip down south on Deepavali day. My mind was filled with precious memories of my trip and I did not feel the urge to celebrate Deepavali. My Deepavali had already been celebrated in the very place where I grew up when a good number of us gathered to celebrate my maternal uncle’s 80th birthday. And the cousins who hosted the function made it memorable. For the three days I spent in my maternal grandfather’s house I forgot that I was married and lead a life of my own in far off Jamshedpur. My career and the promotion that still eludes me did not matter.

My mama and mami certainly deserved better. When my mother was widowed at the age of forty and moved into her maternal home my maternal grandfather was alive. He had to support us because we had no one else to turn to. We later realized that he was a little apprehensive about my mami’s reaction to the circumstances and had plans to set up a separate establishment for my mother if he sensed that his only son and daughter in law showed signs of displeasure. It never even happened. My mother had to adjust considering the future of her children.  My mami was under no compulsion to adjust. But she did. My mother continued to live there even after my grandfather passed away within 5 years of my father’s death and finally moved out only after my youngest brother took up a job. For the next 16 years that followed she would visit us and spend a few months in Jamshedpur with me or in Hyderabad/Mumbai or Tirupathi with my sister or older brother but would always return to Gobi which was her head quarter. Twenty one years is a long time for anyone to play host and my maternal uncle and aunt not only offered emotional support to my mother – they did it without a frown on their face. They too went through a lot during the period. Crops failed and management farming was not profitable. No one would have blamed them if they had showed us the door. But they were great people. My own children have pleasant memories of a summer spent at Gobi in 1986.  

For all the kindness they showered upon us they should have spent a happy retired life. My uncle had planned to do just that when he sold his farmland and renovated his house after all his children settled down. But God willed otherwise. My aunt suffered a massive stroke and never recovered. Due to an inoperable clot in her brain she was unable to recognize her own children. Initially she would speak incoherently calling out names at random. On one occasion she could recall who I was and enquired after my younger sister but little else. That was 15 years back. She now lives but has no life and her children attend to her as if she were a three month old. My uncle looks after her with affection and claims that he wants do as much as possible for her now because he could never do so when his children were growing up and he was busy attending to his farm.

Whenever I think of the two of them I wonder why they are being tried in this manner. There are times when I feel that scamsters and the like have it easy and selfless souls are at the receiving end of life’s blows. I know of no past or future lives or of God’s way of balancing things. I do know that my uncle and aunt did not deserve this. However, I did seem to find an explanation in Brian Weiss’s book Message from the masters in which the author says that those who have always been serving and caring for others sometimes need to receive the love and affection of others. One cannot always be the donor. I would not know if there is truth in this explanation but would it not discourage people from being good to others if their kindness is repaid in this manner? I am truly confused.       

Be it as it may, I am glad I decided to visit my uncle and aunt. I may have become a grandmother but memories of the days spent at my grandfather’s place in familiar surroundings will always be cherished by me.

Happy Deepavali!!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Motherhood: A Song for life

This is an interesting contest from Women's web and I could not help participating in it. Nice way to return to the blog world isn't it? Happy reading.

I first became a mother long back. 38 years to be precise. It seems strange to write about my experiences as a new and not so new mother. Was I prepared to handle motherhood? When did I actually become a mother in the real sense? Becoming a mother is easy being one is not. At least that is what I’ve experienced. My experience as a mother is like a spectrum of colors that are dispersed from a prism when light is passed through it. Some were joyous some were challenging. There were ‘Aha’ moments as well as anxious ones. But all these emotions combine into an integrated unit called motherhood. I am really in a philosophical mode and my analysis of the experiences I went through may just help me to define my role as a mother.

I have narrated my traumatic experience during my first pregnancy earlier. For all that I went through I was rewarded with a bouncy baby girl who seemed to be the prettiest girl on earth. She was sucking her thumb when the nurse brought her over after a bath and I remember thinking that she would be the much needed prop to adjust with my acquired family including my husband. I was proud of my princess and was very sure she would win everyone over. And she did! My mother in law was so delighted to hear baby sounds in the house after 20 years that she would not trust anyone to bathe or feed the child. We had to allow her to assess the temperature of milk before pouring into the feeder and she would check if her porridge was properly cooked before giving the child a spoonful. My unmarried sister in law would play with her every waking minute, dress her up like a doll and take her out every evening. It was then that a sense of insecurity that seemed to bother me.  I began to doubt if my daughter would ever bond with me. I somehow felt that she preferred the company of her aunt and grandmother. While I was happy about the affection the family showered on her, I felt left out and unwanted. But children have their own way of expressing their priority and preference and my 11 month old daughter did just that.

My sister in law would put the child to sleep by her side at night and since she was not breast feeding it really did not matter. However she would wake up around 4 in the morning and cry for milk. We would have milk ready in a flask and a duly sterilized feeding bottle by the side. My sister in law would pour the milk into the bottle but the brat would not let her touch the bottle after that. “Pamma”(combining Padma and amma) she would scream meaning that thereafter I had to take charge and give her milk. – it did not matter who filled the feeding bottle. I would squat on the floor and she would lie down on my lap hold the bottle with her hands and drink up the milk. After that she would pick up her little pillow and accompany me to my room and cuddle up by my side. I realized then that I had worried in vain. No one in the world could take my place.

The times when my children got admission to reputed schools in Jamshedpur were momentous. My heart would sink when I would see parents give their children extra coaching for admission tests. I could not afford tuitions so I would frame simple questions and coach them on my own. There were little facilities I could not give them and I felt terribly guilty about it. But these inadequacies did not bother them. It only helped them to become confident and self assured. My second daughter was hardly ten years old when she would come home by town bus along with a friend and her younger sister. On one occasion her friend had raging fever and could not board the bus. My daughter approached an auto rickshaw driver and asked him if could drop them home. She also told him that she only had money for their bus fare and asked him if he would accept the amount adding that her friend was not in a position to board the bus. The man dropped her home and went away without asking her for extra money. It did not even occur to her that she could come home and ask for the extra fare. Her concern for her friend made me proud of her and it was an “Aha” moment for me!

My son got in and out of trouble as a teenager as recounted here and here. The trust he placed in me and his expectation that mummy would set things right makes me realize that motherhood means much more than the joy one feels on holding the little one for the first time. Motherhood was a responsibility and even while standing up for one's children ethics and morals could not be compromised. I am glad I was able to do just that.

My grand daughter rings me up with complaints about her mother and I realize that I am still expected to reprimand my daughter when need arises! My grandchildren see an ally in me who helps them tackle their own mommy. Finally when my 32 year old son calls me up to say that an advice - to concentrate on one thing at a time - that I had given him when he was in school, came in handy when he faced a crisis at work I realized that my hair may have grayed and I may have put on 15 Kgs of weight but I may never ever retire from my post as a mother!

So from what I see motherhood is a song that begins as a lullaby that she sings for her little one. It gets transformed into a motivational song when the kid is being prepared to face life and becomes an inspirational one when the child settles down. The lyrics may change but the essence remains!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Good bye for now

Today is coincidentally the day I wrote my very first post in 2006. I've enjoyed blogging to the core and am seriously considering bowing out gracefully. Yes, for quite sometime now I've been thinking of giving up writing - no, not totally for I'll be writing for women's web as and when possible - but I do not know if I can give up blogging completely. Blogging has been such an enriching experience that I may soon be back with something I wish to share. But for the time being it is retreat time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Accidental death

I keep thinking about the events that led to the murder of Aarushi Talwar and wonder if her mother - or for that matter her parents – could actually remain calm and composed if they had actually murdered their daughter as suspected. Was it a kind of honor killing? Did they eliminate her to suppress vital information that she had knowledge about? If the parents were indeed the culprits how did they stand up to police/CBI interrogation and lie detector tests? I do not wish to write about something I have no knowledge about but I would narrate an incident that took place some 35 years back in our colony.

D…… was a child in the fourth grade when he would come to my sister in law for private tuitions. His parents lived nearby. He once asked if he could bring his younger sister along. She needed to be coached for an interview to be admitted to a prestigious school in Jamshedpur. Would I teach her to respond in English? Money was short so I agreed although I had a 4 month old daughter to attend to. She must have come to me for about 15 days and it is quite another matter that her father did not pay me. The girl was admitted to the school and I forgot about her fee. I felt that they perhaps were also hard up for money the way we were. My sister in law too got married and moved to Orissa. I would meet D……. on my way to the local market or while I watched my daughter play in a neighboring park. He was polite and would enquire after my sister in law. I would in turn ask him about his sister’s progress. She had now been promoted to grade II and was doing okay in class he would say. I would meet the father too on his way to work and he too would acknowledge my presence with a nod.

D……. must have been around 13 when he told me that his 7 year old sister had died.

“Was she ill”? I asked.

In his naivety the boy told me that the girl had been acting difficult refusing to do her home work and her mother slapped her hard on the temple of her forehead. The girl had collapsed and died. His father had not returned from work and it took his mother a while to realize that her daughter was no more.

The girl was rushed to the hospital and was declared dead on arrival. I do not know how the case was hushed up because I heard neighbors say that the girl had fallen down from a chair and got hit on the temple and died. I kept the boy’s version to myself since I felt that the family must have been traumatized enough without fresh gossip adding to their woes. Her mother’s guilt was enough punishment for her I felt. For all I know, the mother may have hit her hard and the girl might have fallen off the chair. The 13 year old boy may not have understood the situation well enough.

I happened to meet his father a few weeks later and saw for myself what his daughter’s death had done to him. He seemed to have grown 10 years older in a fortnight and his eyes showed no signs of recognition. His hair was disheveled and he had not shaved for days. D….... told me that his mother’s condition was no better. She did not cook or clean nor bathe for days together. The shock was too severe to handle. I continued to meet D……… on quite a few occasions even after he joined college and started working. His parents had passed away before turning 50 and he was postponing marriage when I last met him some 15 years back. He might have shifted to another location in town or may have left Jamshedpur altogether. I only wish that he has gotten over his trauma and settled in life.

The point I wish to make is this. In a fit of uncontrollable rage a parent could have unintentionally caused the death of a child but the guilt associated with it is not easy to handle. Somehow Aarushi Talwar reminds me of D…… ‘s sister (I don’t even remember her name) and I send a silent prayer for both their souls to rest in peace.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Looking back

Long back when I was doing my undergrad course in Tiruchirapalli I faced a dilemma during my practical examination. A few of my catholic friends suggested that we pray for success in our examination by reciting Our Lady’s Prayer “Hail Mary full of Grace …..” 9 times, for 9 consecutive hours. After each recital we had to make a wish. This kind of prayer was called hourly Novena. We all readily agreed and on the said day we assembled at a friend’s room and prayed very sincerely. The theory exams went off well and we had to answer our practical exams before dispersing. Our Lab boy Chinnamuthu was given the task of collecting plants from the neighborhood for the exam. He offered to give us a duplicate set of around 40 plants for a charge of Rs. 2/- per head. My friends found nothing wrong in this. After all it was up to the examiner to decide on the plants that would be given for the exam. Of the forty plants hardly 4 or five would be given. It was just a kind of revision and did not amount to cheating. I opposed the idea and refused to shell out my share of money and said that I would not even have a look at the plants. A walk around the campus was sufficient to familiarize us with plants that were in their flowering phases and that were enough, I said. After having prayed for divine intervention it was not proper to rely on a lab boy for help. We had a big argument and finally my friends called me a nut case and left.

On the day before the practical exam Chinnamuthu did bring in the plants and all except me went and had a look. My good friend Maria Stella tried to convince me that it was not wrong to have a look – so what if I had not paid my two rupees. I did not give in. A few other friends started dropping hints and I requested them not to do so. The practical exam went off well and we were to disperse the next day. It was a sad evening for all six of us who had been very close for the last 4 years. Stella in particular was known to be very outspoken was a favorite. We got our warden’s permission to sleep in one room but none of us actually slept. My friends tried to convince me that getting a duplicate set of plants was not cheating and I stood by my stand that paying for knowledge about the plants that had been collected for the examination was not correct. It indicated that we neither had faith in our own capability nor in the deity we prayed to. I admonished Stella for ever agreeing to pay the lab boy.

“Were it legal our teachers would have called us to the lab and asked us to have a look at the plants that had been collected. It is supposed to be a secret and it was wrong of Chinnamuthu to earn money by giving us a duplicate set illegally”. I said.

“Were you not familiar with the plants that were actually given?” Stella argued. It was just a kind of revision.
Be that as it may, that night was a memorable one. We laughed and cried at the same time knowing that our world would never be the same again. We disagreed on specific issues but enjoyed our disagreements on a few issues as much as agreement on several others. Of the six friends I only met Stella once before my marriage. Another friend Prasanna wrote a few letters and we later lost touch. Vinolia and Jaya were equally dear but somehow we did not remain in touch. Angammal was the only one who returned to the same college to do her Masters.

Years later I happened to meet a gentleman who had retired as DEO from Tiruchirapalli. He was visiting relatives in Jamshedpur. I enquired after Stella’s dad Mr. Maria Susai whose promotion as DEO was due. He informed me that Mr. Maria Susai had died of heart attack before being promoted. He had no information about his family. He was rather surprised that I was friendly with Stella because he knew Mr. Maria Susai to be anti Hindu, anti Brahmin.

“He would never have approved of his daughter’s friendship with you”.

It did not matter to me. Till date I cherish her friendship – a friendship that knew no compartmentalization in the name of religion or community. I have nothing but fond memories of my friends of my college days. We did not have the internet or mobile phones to connect us. Memories alone persist and I wish them well from the core of my heart.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Back Again............

I need some motivation. I really do. I’ve been experiencing the computer phobia syndrome for quite some time now. May be it was the over drive during the National seminar that put me off. I plan to write something but end up playing spider solitaire or free cell.  Would you believe that I haven’t yet submitted my full paper for the proceedings that has to be published following the successful completion of the seminar?  My topic was “Saving the Ecosystem: A Value based Analysis”.  I think I need to really buck up and become chummy with my computer. With the children away and interaction with grand children restricted to weekly phone calls I need to be grateful to the technological wonder that keeps me occupied. I cannot afford to ignore it. So Namaste Computerji ! Shat, shat pranam apko.

And I get going. Wish me luck to be able to complete what I wish to say.

Long back I had promised to share information about how my maternal aunt bonded with her mother in law. I plan to do just that. I have written about her in this post which has a reference to an earlier post written in 3 parts. My aunt had no children of her own but she was a mother to all of us nieces and nephews from her own side as well as her husband’s. Thanks to her we share a very close relationship with her nieces and nephews by marriage and consider them as very much a part of our family and they too reciprocate in a similar manner.

My aunt was 13 years old when she got married. It was therefore appropriate that she was instructed on culinary skills by her mother in law who loved her like a daughter. She must have been well past 40 when I happened to spend a fortnight with her after answering my 11th boards.  I then saw for myself the wonderful relationship they shared. By then ‘Amma’ as her MIL was fondly called by the family was quite ill and practically bed ridden. She had to be helped to sit up on her bed and escorted to the hall or kitchen and seated in a comfortable sofa or easy chair when she felt inclined to. My aunt would give her a hot water bath, scrub her back, comb her hair and massage her feet and what not. It was heart warming to listen to their conversation.

“Amma, I plan to make sambhar and cauliflower sabzi for lunch” my aunt would say. “Do you think I should pressure cook 1 cup of dal for sambhar or should I make it 1 and a half?”

Amma would pretend to get annoyed.

“You’ve been married for thirty five years” she would say. “Do I have to tell you? Can’t you decide for yourself?”

“You found the sambhar spicy yesterday. That’s why I asked”.

“”Then restrict the amount of chilies. Why make extra sambhar and waste it?”


“Mr. K………. has come. Should I prepare tea or coffee?


”The servant wants a day off tomorrow. Is it okay to grant her leave or should I ask her to come in the morning and take the afternoon off”?

Listening to them one would think that the DIL was a novice and needed to be given directions even for managing day to day affairs. But I knew better. It was my aunt’s way of acknowledging that Amma was still very much in charge. When I hear of young girls claiming that the house was theirs and their MIL had no say in running the house I always remember my aunt who had no problem taking instructions even at the age of 48.

My uncle had the habit of maintaining an account book in which he recorded his day to day expenses. He had a college going nephew staying with him to whom he granted a pocket allowance of 10 rupees per month apart from the amount required for bus pass. In 1965 Rs. 10/- was quite enough provided the boy did not watch movies with friends or ate at the famous Mavilli tiffin rooms. He would coax amma and my aunt to giving him a little extra spending money. My aunt would give him the money but would not be able to account for it at the end of the day. Their conversation would be something like this-

Uncle: You bought coriander for 50 paise. What else?

Aunt: Mmmmmmm, let me think.

Uncle: Did you buy any other vegetables from the push cart vendor? How many times do I have to tell you that these fellows charge extra money? You could have told me to get vegetables from the local market.

Aunt: (unable to lie nor able to tell him the truth) mmmmmmm…..

Uncle: Did you buy charcoal for the boiler?

Aunt: No, I bought it yesterday.

Uncle: Then? What else? I am not able to account for 5 rupees.

Amma would be fretting from an inner room mumbling to herself.

‘Can’t she say something and be done with it? When will she learn to deal with him?’

“Why do you trouble her son?”  She would call out unable to bear the torture her DIL was being subjected to. “You know that she does not spend a penny without consulting me. You cannot expect her to remember where each and every rupee went.”

That would silence my uncle. Further questioning would imply that his mother’s discretion was being doubted.

I cannot quite recall another MIL/DIL duo who treated each other with such genuine and unconditional affection.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

'Vidaai' - When your daughter leaves home after marriage

When I first came to Jamshedpur I was surprised to see the open display of emotions when a young bride left home after her wedding. She would weep profusely hugging each member of her immediate and extended family. I come from a community that considered it inauspicious for a girl to cry when she left home. We were expected to control our emotions and put up a brave face while leaving home even if it meant that we had no idea of the kind of person our husbands happened to be.
“A daughter’s tears will ruin her paternal home” was the familiar refrain I grew up listening to.
 I wonder now whether the necessity to hold back tears and control emotions was an unrealistic expectation from women or was it a way of preparing her to face an uncertain future? My north Indian friends tell me that a girl would be considered shameless if she happily accompanied her husband post marriage and the ‘vidai’ ceremony was supposed to be a sad one and shedding tears was a must. I agree about the sadness involved but it may not be possible for every girl to wail and cry to prove her affection for her parents.

All this does not make much sense these days. Girls have in all probability left home to pursue higher education and/or career and are quite capable of managing quite well and better equipped to deal with minor hiccups that she may face in her future home with or without her in laws. My own daughter got married in Mumbai and left for America from there. It was only when I returned to Jamshedpur that it dawned upon me that she would no longer be part of our family as before. I did spend countless nights worrying about her well being. Living on her own in a foreign country with neither set of parents available for advice immediately she could have had her own set of teething problems. I never came to hear of them.  
This brings me to my next question. Have we actually trained our children to deal with adverse situations that they are likely to face when they leave home? Leaving home need not necessarily mean getting married. I deliberately use the word children because I am sure boys too have to deal with a bullying senior or a partial teacher. We never tell our sons that it is okay to cry once in a while nor do we encourage them to share their problems with us.

My days of parenting are almost over. I have made my own mistakes and regretted them too. I would advice young mothers to just be there for your children. Even if you feel that their choice in life (not necessarily marriage) is wrong they ought to know that you are there for them come what may. Shedding copious tears during ‘vidai’ is not sufficient. Lending them a hand in support when they need it would be a better way of expressing your concern.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Teaching and Learning

The Hindustan Times has launched a year long program ‘You Read and They learn’ with an intention of contributing 5 paise from every edition sold in Delhi Metro - NAC towards providing study material for 10,00,000 underprivileged children in Delhi. While I welcome the initiative I cannot help wondering whether children will derive any benefit by the initiative. No, I am not being cynical or pessimistic. I do not for a moment doubt the intention of those who thought of the scheme. My take on the matter is different. A lot of ground work needs to be done and the outcome of these findings need to be considered while planning such initiatives.

I’ve been in touch with teenagers for the past 32 years and I see a marked difference in the quality of students we get as finished goods from secondary school as compared to the time when I started my career. Earlier I’d begin my first class with intermediate students with an understanding that their school had taken care of the basics of the subject. Today I have to introduce the good ones to the different parts of a flower. The mediocre and below average students are not regular anyway so I am not including them at all.

The first thing that our school going children need are dedicated teachers. Teachers who can create a love for learning and exploring for themselves the joy of learning. They say schools have to promote students to the next class irrespective of their performance in the present class. Failing them and making them repeat a year may not be a solution but is promoting them a better alternative. If a student who has passed his 10th standard has to be taught the basics of science and/or the construction of a simple sentence who takes the responsibility? And how were students different 20 or even 15 years back?

I really wish the at least a few of my students had taken up teaching. I am sure they would have made good teachers and their students would have carried the torch forward. We’ve had students who would question the accuracy of the diagram in my record and point out that the specimen appeared different to them. I would have to explain that minor variation in shape was acceptable as part of the evolutionary process and parameters like leaf size varied according to the environmental factors like availability of sunlight and water. It was a pleasure teaching them. I wish we have more students questioning me and thinking for themselves.

That said, I must add that parents too are to blame. We did not have college educated mothers but they would not accept our excuses for poor performance. I remember an instance when I fared badly in a chemistry test and told my dad that I had trouble following the lesson. My dad came to school and met my teacher to discuss my problem area. The teacher did not take offence and took extra care for the next few weeks and left me alone only after making sure that I got my basics right and could manage on my own. I am not sure but from what I understand teachers are not as approachable these days.

The attitude of students is also a cause for concern. Soon after board results are announced we hear of teen age suicides, depression among students for not fulfilling parental ambition and what not. There is a need for open communication with children and an assurance that they will not be judged on the basis of board results or the better performance of a class mate or cousin.

These are just a few points I wish to make and start a healthy discussion on how our youngsters may be helped so that programs such as the one initiated by Hindustan Times may succeed. I will be coming up with more of my observations. Please feel free to join me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fake Baba

I came to hear of Nirmal Baba through my domestic help Baby who complained that her 65 year old mother woke the entire family up by switching on the TV and listening to Nirmal Baba’s discourses telecast at 5:00AM in the morning. She woke up at 4:00 in the morning, had a bath in cold water lit a lamp in front of the TV set and sat down to listen to him. She would have tea and a biscuit only after the discourse was over.

I was not impressed and advised my servant to stay away from god men and spiritual gurus. I felt that one ought to face challenges and find solutions instead of wasting time and money as suggested by these men who take advantage of the psychological pressure faced by those in distress. I never heard of Nirmal Baba again till news channels and local newspapers began to report that he had earned more than 109 crores in just 3 months. The money poured in from different sources. Devotees were charged Rs. 2000/- per person for being granted audience and he also asked them to deposit 10% of their salary as a solution to their problems. He maintained two accounts for this purpose. He claims to be paying tax for the amount thus received. Interviews with his one time devotees who now claim for action against him reveal that his solutions make no real sense. He just said whatever came out of his mouth. Like a woman was asked to keep her purse open at dusk while lighting a lamp at the altar in her house as a solution to her financial worries. When she came back to say that her problem persisted he asked her to put money into a costlier purse for better results. He asked some to distribute pencils to poor school going children for success in his examination. A person was asked consume and to distribute ‘kheer’ (Payasam) as a solution to persistent pain in his legs. He actually had blood sugar and his condition worsened. There seems to be no end to these stories. My husband loves watching the same news over and over again. I find it silly.

I now feel like defending these god men. Man claims to be capable of rational thinking. How then can a person lose all discretion and trust these swindlers? If changing one’s purse or distributing pencils was a solution wouldn’t we be a land of multi millionaires? The man was elevated to a divine level by the very same people who are hounding him and asking him to account for the money he collected. He has purchased a five star hotel and has planned to convert it to a chain of hotels, and why not? Money and power are intoxicating tools for corruption. Rare is the person who can resist temptation. For all the social service done by Satya Sai Baba with due respect to him one must say that he too had allowed people with vested interest to handle his money and upon his death people who tried to transport cash from his ashram were detained and questioned. I do not know if arrests were made. I have always respected Satya Sai Baba for his contribution to society. But beyond a point he too lost control or so it seems to me.

Stay away from such fake ‘babas’ is my advice. Life is full of unpredictable turns of fortune and one has to face them as best as one can. Superstitions have never benefitted anyone nor is there an easy way out from life’s woes. In my last post I forgot to wish you all a happy Tamil New Year. A very Happy Nandana year to all of you!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Adopted/Foster family bonds

There is a tele - serial that we watch regarding adopted children and the affection showered on them by the adopted father. It is a very touching story with the father fearing that the children may come to know of their adopted status and leave him forever. The children are also equally fond of the father but of course they do not know that he is the adopted father. What they would do when they learn the truth I often wonder. My husband however feels that the adopted status ought not to matter the affection he has showered on them will not allow the children to ever leave him. The question I ask is -Is there truth in the statement that blood is thicker than water? Will all the affection showered on an adopted child go waste when he/she realizes that the couple who brought them up are not biologically their own parents?

My husband recalls the incident of a child Chinna who lost his mother when the family fled from Burma during World War II and was brought up by his maternal uncle and aunt in Jamshedpur for a while till his father found a job. In fact his older brother and sister also stayed at the uncle’s place but they were aware of a life they had spent in Burma while the youngest was a mere baby. When the children’s father found a job and was in a position to support his family he came to Jamshedpur and took them to Bombay where he worked. The older children had no problem but the youngest fell sick and had to be brought back. The aunt for her part would not touch food after he left and pleaded with her husband that the boy be brought back. Chinna loved his aunt dearly and would call her ‘amma’. She was an aunt by marriage but the bond was such that outsiders believed that he was her own child. He lived with them till their death loved and accepted by his cousins. Chinna was okay with his father too but could never consider moving in with him permanently. Chinna was in his twenties when I got married and I remember him bringing home Tamil magazines that I looked forward to. The family moved out of our township within a year of my marriage and we heard no more of them.

There is another case of a seven year old girl Ammu who came to work as a domestic help for a family known to me. A few years later she lost her eyesight partially following small pox. By then Ammu had become an indispensable member of the family and managed the running of the household and extraction of work from the servants. With her around one could stop worrying about routine matters. The children of the household loved her dearly and the master and mistress almost forgot that she was just a domestic help. Her own brother and sister in law found the arrangement suitable and led their own life peacefully. She would visit them occasionally but would return with a whole lot of complaints about them. She found her sister in law unrefined and her niece and nephew ill mannered.

It was then that differences cropped up. Ammu once took the liberty of approaching the master for spending money that the mistress normally gave her. This was unaccounted petty cash that was given to her to run the household. With this money she would buy vegetables and fruits from roadside vendors, pay for the gas cylinder and buy trinkets for herself and the master’s 11 year old daughter. It was her spending money and she used it prudently. She found nothing wrong in asking the master for money when she ran out of cash. She had lived with them for more than 20 years and had never felt that her role would ever be questioned. The mistress thought otherwise. She felt that Ammu ought to have approached her instead of the master.

“Even the children do not ask their father for money directly” she said. “How could you even think of doing so?”

Initially Ammu did not read much into her words but there was a subtle change in her attitude. She found fault with everything Ammu did and stopped talking unless absolutely necessary. Finally she packed Ammu off to her brother’s place saying that since two of her three children were married and a daughter in law had arrived on the scene, they could manage without her.

As expected Ammu did not get on well with her brother’s family and came back after a month. Things were never the same but considering her selfless service to the family they found her accommodation in a home for destitute women and I hear that she is happy over there.

This brings me back to the question I asked earlier. Chinna and Ammu were able to gel with their adopted families. May be not exactly adopted but both were treated well by the family they lived with. Chinna was loved by his foster family and so was Ammu. In Ammu’s case the difference could have been sorted out but it appeared that there was no real intention of resolving the issue. It was not as if her mistress felt threatened or insecure by her presence. The only reason I can think of is the class difference that marks out a servant from the master. Had she been a relative like Chinna her lapse may have been overlooked. I feel that treating a servant like a family member is not the same as accepting her as one.

I may be generalizing the issue and each case of adoption may be different. Like in a TV program where the real mother and adopted mother were fighting a custody battle, it was the adopted mother who said that it was well past the child’s ‘milk’ time and even if she did not get the child back she would request the real mother not to let the child go hungry.

“He cannot wait till I mix the milk powder in hot water, cool it and pour it into the bottle and give him. We can sort out our differences later. Please give him his milk first” she said.

And I was left wondering if it was fair to give the child for adoption and place a claim for the same child without a thought for the woman who brought him up like her own. Who was the real mother, I wondered? Was it the one who worried about the child’s hunger pangs or the one who was reclaiming the child after initially abandoning him?

I guess there is more than one correct response to this question.

Sunday, April 01, 2012


I can see it coming. My extension of service I mean. With a chance of my service being extended by 3 years (we will know in a month or two) I am in a terrible dilemma. Do I need to continue? Or should I quit? I am putting down the pro and cons with the hope that my readers will give their unbiased opinion.
When I started working I was impressed by the students in their undergrad and intermediate courses. Those were days when Biology was a preferred option and students may not have aspired for a great career but were nevertheless very focused in their lessons. Salary was less and I would be terminated during summer and Durga puja vacations. But my job was very satisfying. I cannot say the same now. With the IT boom came highly paid IT jobs and basic biological science is no longer preferred however much we talk about global warming and conservation of the ecosystem. I draw a decent salary and if the govt. wants to retain me for three more years should I stop worrying about a satisfying career and pocket the money that comes my way?
My children in foreign shores are looking forward to my retirement and hope that I would be able to spend some time with them without complaining about having no leave. Grandchildren are a treat to interact with right now. Three years from now they will outgrow this phase and may not even have time for me.
Husband is a home bird without a friend’s circle of his own. He is also looking forward to the day when we could have breakfast and lunch together.
What then is stopping me from putting in my papers?
I have a minor research project that will keep me engaged till Nov. 2013. I am the co-investigator and cannot run away from the responsibility I willingly took upon myself. Once that is over I have just 2 more years so I may as well continue.
My pension amount will be decided on my last drawn salary. And with the 6th pay yet to be implemented that is going to make a difference.
I have carved a niche for myself and quitting it may not be easy. I need to decide fast and prepare myself to face the consequences. I cannot help praying that the extension of service is either never announced or announced after Jan. 2013. Ideas???

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Celebrating Myself

Women’s web has given me an opportunity to pat my own back by recounting an achievement that I consider worth celebrating. I admit to feeling a little hesitant because years of mental tuning have made me think that it may not be politically correct to do so. After all, what could I have done on my own? My husband and children too need to be given due credit. So I leave it to my readers to decide how much of the credit part actually belongs to me.

Let me start with the time when I started looking for a job. I had applied for the post of a Science teacher in a local school and the Principal shot a question on me regarding the balancing of a chemical equation.

“Potassium di chromate” he bellowed sensing my insecurity. “How would you write the formula for Potassium di chromate, eh?”

“KCrO4” I mumbled, glad to remember that K stood for potassium and Cr for chromium.

It was 10 years since I had graduated from college and very much out of touch with my books. I needed the job very much and hoped that the principal would understand.

“KCrO4?“ The sadist of a Principal asked. “I’ll call a student from class VII and he would be able to tell you that it is K2Cr2O7.”

“Sir, I am not very much in touch but given a chance I’ll pick up soon.” I hated myself for having had to say so. I had been a good student all along and it was humiliating to fumble for answers.

“Do some revision before aspiring to teach in our school”. The interview was over.

I cried myself to sleep that night. Time would make me realize that this failure was indeed a stepping stone for success. I applied for my present job soon afterwards and was placed first on the merit list. A few months after I joined college as Lab assistant I asked my Head of the department how and why she chose me when several fresh graduates had also applied. She explained that my academic qualifications and high percentage had convinced the panelists that I would pick up from where I had left although they had sensed that I was out of touch. And this is how I proved that their trust in me was not misplaced.

Fifteen years after I finished graduation I was accepted for a post graduate program in a local college. In the interim period the syllabus had changed and areas that were only touched upon in my undergrad course had assumed importance. I had three young children and an aged father in law and schizophrenic brother in law to look after. To add to my misery I was not eligible for study leave which meant that I would have to attend two colleges as well as my family. The two years that followed were the best in my life. My children rose to the occasion. I would leave home at seven in the morning after having prepared food for the family. I would be eight in the evening before I returned. I would study at a friend’s place after college because I knew that I would not be able to study at home. Daughters would get ready for school, pack lunch for my husband and themselves and help my son with his home work. They learnt to serve food, clear up the kitchen, fold clothes and even to prepare dosas if the batter was ready. My son who was just seven years old would happily adjust and by the time I returned home he’d have gone to sleep after dinner. And to top it, their school performance did not suffer.

What did I gain by all this you may ask? Well, I managed to top my batch and break a twenty one year old record and I hear that my record remains unbroken till date. It is now 23 years since my results were announced. My children have settled down in life. And above other things, my daughters say that they were motivated to rise to the occasion and learnt house keeping skills as an additional incentive.

As for my husband, he knew more Botany than me because I would discuss expected questions with him and he would rattle off the names of authors and books to the extent of making his friends ask whether he was also planning to answer an exam along with me. I realized that I had taken things too far when my son who was in grade II drew the chemical structure of Gibberellins (a growth hormone) on the living room floor.

I cannot think of any other achievement than this that is worth a celebration. I celebrate it because

  • It brought us close to each other as a family.
  • It made me realize that success is achieved by collective effort and cooperation. An individual’s input has to be supplemented by family support.
  • Age is not a limiting factor when it comes to learning.
  • Husband can drive me nuts but I still think he is the best I can hope to have!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Anthropomorphism and religion

In the course of looking up for material for my presentation in the seminar I came across the term anti anthropomorphism among tribals of Nilgiri districts and a preference for a cosmic religion. Anthropomorphism pertains to attributing human traits to gods as we see in the commonly accepted and practiced form of Hinduism. Yes, we do have saguna and nirguna forms of meditation and the explanation given is that it is easier to concentrate on a deity with a form in the initial stages and one could graduate to worshipping the formless cosmic energy (call it God) later. I do agree. As children we did look for illustrations in our lessons and only when we reached higher classes could we understand lessons on a conceptual basis.

Attributing a form to our gods makes us recognize gods by certain traits. Lord Rama is visualized as bearing a bow and arrow, Lord Krishna with a flute and Lord Ganesh with an elephant face. Worshippers of nature and the elements like the tribals of Jharkhand worship the Sal tree during Sarhul and Karam tree during Karma Puja. I remember being confused when my Christian friends would question our wisdom in worshipping the sun and the sacred basil saying that they were creations of god and need not be worshipped. I could not defend myself then nor do I want to now because religion to me is a way of life and god is not a formidable task master waiting to punish his children for their mistakes. Nature worship needs to be seen as man’s way of conserving biodiversity. Heaven and hell do not await us after death. We experience hell when we suffer and heaven when we get the fruit of our labor in this very life.

Coming to anthropomorphism, I have just one problem with it. When we give our gods a human form don’t we also imagine that they have human qualities? Don’t we ask for wish fulfillment and offer to break coconuts or feed the poor in lieu of the boon that is granted? Don’t we think that god’s need to be pleased with offerings for favors? Don’t we fear the worst if for some reason one is not able to fulfill a promise he/she made to god. To my mind God understands everything including our unjust demands and if a particular incident that is not acceptable does happen, with the passage of time we do realize that whatever happened was for good. I have seen this happen umpteen times in my own life.

Feeding the poor, distributing blankets in winter, donating for a good cause need to be done spontaneously with an inner desire to give back to society a little of what society gave to us. The God factor is good as long as it helps us lead a purposeful, honest life with concern for the world around us. If one’s faith in God enables a balanced approach to life, enabling one to treat success and failure as part of our learning purpose, it hardly matters if our God has a form or not. But when I see God being used to flaunt one’s power, to cover up one’s mistakes to look down upon fellow men I cannot help wondering if such people are truly God fearing? Aren’t those among us who are true to their conscience better advocates of the God factor?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hi friends,
Have been away for long. Was very busy helping out with the proof reading /editing /compiling the abstracts for the Odia department seminar in our college. Finally the seminar is over and the souvenir has been released. Should hopefully find some time to write before my departmental seminar starts staring at my face. Yes, we have our own national seminar coming up and the dates are 27th and 28th march 2012. We are a department of 5 people whereas my friend nalini was running her department alone. So I expect to be less stressed in my own seminar. Valuable lessons learnt from mistakes committed during the organazing of the odia seminar will hopefully come handy.
Between you and me, husband is threatening to divorce me if I mention the word seminar in his hearing. Poor man has been bored to death. Remember I am his soul cum sole mate! I am not worried though. After all I am his "only You" and however much he rolls his eyes he needs me around. After all the TV or sofa sets cannot talkor for that matter listen!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Playing the moderator.

Have you ever tried to settle children’s quarrel? I did and failed miserably when my brother’s children picked up a quarrel and dragged me into it. This happened 10 years ago but I feel amused when I recall the incident. By then my daughters were married and my son was in college. I was terribly out of touch with children in their pre teens.

The three of them belong to two sets of parents. The two girls Shruti and Shweta are sisters and little Vishnu is their cousin. My brothers live close by and there is a regular interaction between the two families. The family had come together to attend my mother’s funeral and the rites connected to her death were being performed. It so happened that Shweta the younger of the two sisters had been sleeping when the older one went off to play with Vishnu and a few other friends. Naturally Shweta was upset on being left out. By the time she got ready to join them the other two returned home. It was already 11 in the morning and it was very hot outside. Shweta wanted them to accompany her but the other two were done for the morning. The conversation that followed was something like this –

Shweta: Why didn’t you take me along?

Shruti: You were sleeping.

Shweta: You should have woken me up.

Vishnu: We did. But you didn’t get up.

Shweta: Did you shake me up?

Shruti: We called out to you but you did not get up.

Shweta: That means you didn’t wake me up. I would have woken up if you had shaken me.

Then she announced –

I am going out with athai (me) none of you will come.

Vishnu: Why? Athai belongs to all of us. You alone cannot go out with her.

Shweta: Oh, yes I can. Because you both went to play without me.

Shruti: Athai would never agree to it. She would either take all of us out or none of us.

I began to panic. I was being dragged into their quarrel for nothing. What do I do now?

Me: It is very hot outside. I am not going anywhere.

Shweta looks a bit disappointed. Her face then brightens up.

“We’ll go out in the evening. Won’t we athai?”

Vishnu: What time athai?

Shweta: You are NOT coming with us.

Vishnu: We went out to play without you in the morning. But we are going out in the evening. Morning and evening are different.

Shweta: They are not. You guys were mean to leave me out. And Athai will never take you both along.

I wondered if I had a say in the matter. Was there a way I could resolve the issue without taking sides? Should I feign a headache and refuse to go out? But Shweta had set her heart on going out with me and expected me to take her side since she had been ‘wronged’.

I made the mistake of trying to arbitrate.

Me: I’ll take Shweta out and get a cone ice cream each for all of you. You can be friends after that.

Shruti: We’re staying home so Vishnu and I get two ice creams each.

Shweta: Why?

Shruti: Because you are going out and we’re staying home.

Shweta: You guys left me out and went out to play. So I get two ice creams. And I hope the ice cream melts by the time we get home.

Vishnu: That’s not fair. You can’t go out and have two ice creams too.

A fresh round of argument follows and no solution in sight.

I felt that the mothers alone could tackle the situation so I called for them.

Shweta’s mom S…. pitched in.

S….: Who woke up late this morning.

Vishnu and Shruti: Shweta.

S….. : How do we punish her?

It was okay for Vishnu and Shruti to quarrel with Shweta but they certainly don’t want her to be punished by an adult.

Shruti: It’s alright. Shweta can go out with athai. We’ll stay home.

Shweta mellows down.

Shweta: You both can come along. It would be so much fun. Athai can you take all of us out this evening? We’ll play ‘dashing cars’ for a while and come home.

I was left wondering if the children had actually quarreled or if I was imagining things.