Sunday, December 22, 2013

Being taken for a ride???

I have been out of sorts lately. I don't seem to be my usual self. Reason? I have suddenly realised that however generous one would like to be, pressure tactics employed by people are annoying. I don't know if I am right or wrong. But recent experiences have made me lose faith in those around me. Am I being used? I ask myself. I think I am. When this thought crosses my mind I do not feel like being considerate or kind to those in need. What then am I supposed to do? I tried being mean but ended up hurting myself more than the person I wished to hurt. It just does not work in my case. Let me explain.

I was always sympathetic towards my servants and my ex-maid Rajamma was no exception. She rang me up saying that her granddaughter was getting married and I gave her Rupees 10,000/- and asked her to get something for the granddaughter and keep the rest for her personal expenses. I normally give her some 500/- to 1000/- rupees when she goes out of town. She left for the south to attend the marriage. As luck would have it, she  fractured her hip bone and had to spend around 80,000/- for an operation and expected me to help. I had my own needs to take care of. My house had to be repaired, my grandchildren were visiting me and I had to go without pay for two of the four months that I had spent in America since I was short of paid leave. My own brother in law was in hospital in Chennai and needed financial help for a major operation. I  politely refused. 

That started it. Unknown people claiming to be her son in law, nephew and what not started calling me explaining her predicament and my reply remained the same. 'Sorry'. She then sent a woman known to her, along with a granddaughter living in Jamshedpur asking for money. Teary eyed, the granddaughter pleaded that I give at least 20,000/- rupees as loan and she would ask her father to repay it. By now, my husband had become adamant saying that we were not moneylenders and if we had been in a position to help we would have done it after the first phone call. 'No' meant 'NO'. The girl left, disappointed. 

That very night Rajamma called me asking me to ask one or the other of my friends to lend her money saying that her daughter had spent the money set aside for her daughter's marriage for her treatment and  with the marriage scheduled in December there was little time to arrange for money at short notice.

I was in a dilemma. There was truth in what she was saying but with a daughter in law working in a Nationalised bank why could she not arrange for loan? I began to wonder if I was doing the wrong thing by refusing to help. I also realised that if I gave in there would be future occasions when I would be thus pressurised. I did give in and hand over 15,000/- rupees to her son who was attending the wedding and informed Rajamma about it but I haven't yet heard from Rajamma as to whether he gave it or not although 2 weeks have gone by. There were umpteen phone calls made before I gave the money not one after receiving it. 

A day after I gave the money I told my husband about it and he had predicted that I would hear no more from her and how right he was! Tell me now if I am wrong in feeling upset and annoyed. This is just one incident. There are more. But I leave them for a later post.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Of this and that

My vacation is almost over and in less than a fortnight I'll be back in India. It has been a pleasant stay - interacting with grandchildren, getting to know them better and generally relaxing. The only sore area was the fact that we were dependent on others to be taken around. Except for a fortnight spent before my second daughter shifted to her own house, we had no shopping areas near the places we stayed and were pretty much on house arrest during the week and if it weren't for two sets of grandchildren who were having their summer vacations we would have had nothing to do. 

We got to spend around three weeks with my son after a gap of more than 10 years. His visits to India just for two weeks including travel time and on his last visit he had spent just four days at home since he had to finalize the purchase of an apartment in Bangalore. On earlier visits to the US he was either studying or we had a lot of baby sitting to do so we visited him during a weekend and rushed back. It was a pleasure to relive the time when he was in India and also to see that he had not changed in the years gone by. I have given an account of an imaginary conversation with him in this post. This should explain why I miss the lively conversations and light - hearted banter that I used to enjoy with my children before they flew the nest.

Returning to my niche is something I look forward to. But I am also going to sorely miss my children and grandchildren. I sometimes wish we could return to the time when they were small, school goers and I did not have to worry about my blood pressure and arthritis. I remember my mother saying something to this effect during one of her visits to Jamshedpur. I had not understood her words then. I do now. And this makes me long for the days when I was my mother's daughter. She was a person I could turn to in my moments of distress and trust on her to give an unbiased advice and assure me that all would be well.

 'Bad times don't last forever' was her famous refrain. 

Unfortunately good times too do not last forever. So perhaps the best thing to do would be to enjoy the moment without worrying about the past and future.

Returning to a house that had been locked for more than 4 months and setting it in order is bad enough. I have to deal with some repair work too. The day we were leaving, around 4:30 in the morning, a part of the bathroom terrace (about 2 meters in diameter) fell off - plaster, concrete, cement - and we had no time to attend to it. In the process it had crashed into the washbasin and shattered it. We are lucky that it did not crash on our heads. I keep wondering if there has been further damage and now that we have to return I keep worrying about how it may be fixed. I hear that it has been raining heavily in Jamshedpur  which means that the seepage in the wall might have increased and repair work may not be immediately possible. 

So as you see though I know that I need to enjoy the moment I cannot help worrying about these little and not so little problems. Selfish I may sound but I cannot help wanting to return to my childhood when I had the older generation to take care of such things.

Be it as it may, let me enjoy the remaining week of my stay in America and enjoy Deepavali with my children and grandchildren which is again a pleasure that I hope to get after 13 years.

A happy Deepavali to all of you.

@ Dipali: Sorry for stealing your blog name.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Remembering the golden past.............

Navarathri has gone by and cut off from everything Indian and holed up in Pittsburgh, USA, I feel inclined to recall the Navarathi celebrations in the past.

Navarathri and Golu! My childhood memories combine the two as being inseparable. It seems we had a distant aunt (actually my mother's aunt) living next door who would not drink a drop of water before feeding a ' kanya ' during the nine days of Navarathri and at the age of three I had standing instructions to make myself available at their place to have an early lunch. The story goes that I would be ready to go to their place from the moment I got up and my mother had a tough time convincing me that I was not expected to turn up at dawn. This is just hearsay but since it was oft repeated by my no nonsensical mother it must be true.

There is another account given by my maternal aunt that my older brother would refuse to escort me to people's houses for 'golu' partly because only girls were invited and also because I would ask for 'sundal' the moment I entered a house without waiting for the lady of he house to give it to me. I was apparently eager to visit the next house.

Then I have memories of my younger brothers and male cousins setting out on their own for 'golu' in defiance of the rule that only girls were supposed to go visiting during navarathri. They too came back with a bag full of sundal and bananas and felt included. Those were carefree childhood days and I truly miss them now.

My dad had a transferable job and my mother would limit her navarathri celebration to the preparation of mouth watering 'vadai and payasam' on the 9 days and distributing haldi/kumkum and sundal  to ladies in our neighborhood on the 9th day. I remember loving the last day of navrathri because we would dutifully arrange our books in front of the deities in the puja room and offer prayers to Goddess Saraswathi, the goddess of learning. This was a day when we were forbidden to study. New clothes would be reverentially placed on a silver plate and would be given to us to wear on the following day. My mother would not even let us try them out for fitting and possible alteration and consequently our eagerness to wear new clothes would be such that we could not wait for the final day ie. Vijayadasami to dawn when we would wear them after a bath and dutifully write a full  page of Sri Rama Jayam before being allowed to read books. We were however invited to households that organized a golu. 

Post marriage ours was a household in which the tradition of the south was carefully followed and my mother in law had a trunk full of dolls and statuettes carefully wrapped in old newspapers. These would be dusted on Mahalaya day and arranged on shelves in the drawing room. Since it was a one bedroom, hall and kitchen unit that we lived in, we could not arrange them on steps but to her credit I must admit that my mother in law did a good job of it. We invited ladies from our neighborhood for haldi/kumkum and the atmosphere was one of socializing. This tradition continued for fifteen years and my daughters too enjoyed navarathri the way I did. 

It was then that things changed. I registered for Ph.D and the crop I took up as my research tool was seasonal and the Durga Puja / Navarathri vacations were used up for my research and 'golu' took a back seat. When my research work was done (after seven long years), daughters had left for college and the world around me had changed. Old friends had left, we had moved to our own apartment and we replaced golu at home with a visit to Durga puja pandals in our neighborhood and to houses of  neighbors who had bhajan sessions during Navarathri. I haven't given away my golu dolls but do not have the heart to start the tradition because it does not feel the same with daughters and grand daughters staying far away in a foreign country. Somehow, I prefer to donate the money for a social cause.   

My grand daughter Megha expressed her disappointment over the fact that her mommy did not have a 'golu' in their house and I thought of the time when I had looked forward to it. When I was growing up Navarathri was a time for ladies to socialize and give expression to their creativity by coming up with beautiful rangolis and decorations. Perhaps Megha too wants it for similar reasons. 

While I was brooding over the lack of festivities in America, my son suggested that we go to a temple in his area. The visit to the temple cheered my heart and I felt that I was in India again. Coincidentally it was the 9th day of Navarathri and also a Sunday. I got to see ladies in Kancheepuram silks and girls in paavadai and it did wonders to my spirits.

 I must add that there are places in America where they celebrate our festivals with a lot of fanfare and it is only by chance that I opted to spend this lap of my stay with my son. If after a gap of ten years I get to spend three continuous weeks with him, I feel that it is as good as having celebrated Navarathri!


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

On Societal Dynamics............

This is a post about my changed perspective about life in America. From ever since I could think for myself I had been under the impression that we Indians value the wisdom of our elders and are pretty much family oriented.

I thought that in the West - particularly the US - children branch off (read break off) from their parents and families early in life and neither parents nor children intrude into each  others domain. Children take responsibility for the choices they make, struggle through college, are burdened with loans and mortgages even before they start earning and as a result they do not feel inclined to be part of their parent's lives in their twilight years.

On the contrary in India and other Asian countries (in Italy also according to a book I read) parents worry themselves sick about the well being of their adult children who may well be employed and married. Children never really branch off and are very much part of their parent's lives till they die. As a result life for the elderly is less lonely in India.

A book that I am now reading - Another Country by Dr. Mary Pipher - has changed my perception. So has my interaction with my son's friend Curtis.

Curtis came over for lunch last Friday. My son had warned me to be prepared for his heavily accented American English and his preference for the Republicans. I expected to meet a formal, tight lipped American and wondered what his reaction would be to our Indian set up. Curtis was no fan of vegetarian food, I was told. But since I am a vegetarian he would have to bear with me, I thought.

When Curtis arrived he did not appear to have grown horns and seemed very much like my own son. He shook hands with me and sat on the cushion beside a low center table that double up for a dining table. When food (roti, dal, vegetable pulao, cauliflower sabzi and cucumber raita) was served he politely asked my son how the items on the plate had to be mixed and matched. Initially he tried combining dal and roti, pulao and raita but later placed the pulao and veggies on the roti, rolled it up and made it into some kind of Mexican burrito and consumed it with practiced ease. My husband who does not like eating with a spoon and ate his food using his hand felt relieved. The atmosphere was informal and relaxed.

We spoke on a variety of subjects including the family life of an average American and his interactions with his parents and children. He spoke of the emphasis given by his parents to his education and how they were careful about the facilities they gave him while he was at college. He spoke of having saved his pocket money to buy his first mobile phone while in college and rued the fact that school going children these days preferred to be picked up and dropped at school and parents being scared of denying them expensive electronic gadgets like i Pad and smart phones.  He felt that parents gave in to their demands because they had themselves been denied a lot when they were growing up. This in turn was making a whole generation irresponsible and demanding. 

 His parents lived close by and though he had an establishment of his own he dined with them at least four times a week. He fondly called his dad a smart man who drew a pension from two sources and joked about the tricks employed by his mother to make him eat mushrooms and the way he amost always outsmarted her. By the time he left he became comfortable enough to give me an affectionate hug and embrace my husband the way my son would have. I was left wondering if there was any difference between the Indian and American cultures if Curtis had an upbringing similar to that of my son and if the way children are being pampered by indulgent parents in the Indian sub-continent is the same as in USA?  

Mary Pipher's book talks of the problems that affect the elders in America. She quotes umpteen examples of children caring for their parents in the best possible manner and of the unfortunate shift from a communal culture to an individualistic set up. I have not finished the book but from the examples quoted I see that it is not as if the older generation is abandoned by their children. Job opportunities and better transportation and communication facilities have sent them to far away places and increased the Geographical distance between parents and children. Children alternate between their responsibility towards their job and children and a sense of guilt and helplessness for being unable to do their best for their parents. At times, parents too do not wish to be intrusive and prefer to suffer in silence. I was surprised that the older generation in India too face a similar predicament as mentioned in this post with more and more children opting to take up careers in foreign countries.

I think we like to paint our culture as being the best but it is not  superior or different to any other. We also face predicaments and dilemmas like any other race. We too have children who are caring and others who are self centered. Similarly,  we too have parents who have sacrificed their life for their families and others who have squandered money and brought their families to the streets.  The equation in families have also changed because a man is no longer the sole provider nor is his wife solely a home maker. When such shifts take place in societies is it not natural that the family structure also get altered?

Mary Pipher predicts a return of a community based set up in the near future. The importance of having grandparents to monitor the welfare of grandchildren is already being felt and there is a gradual realization that no amount of money spent on child care can substitute it. A few of my cousins talk of forming colonies where like minded people can live in an apartment complex so that they can be there for each other and their children can lead their lives in peace. 

So let us not lose hope. Human beings are the same world over and one need not fret that times have changed. Changes in society, like fashion, is cyclic not linear.


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Every one has a reason to pray

'Cycle Pure Agarbathies' and the Lakshmi Puja Pack along with Ripple Links have announced a contest about why Every one has a reason to pray and I have been tempted to write about it. Details of the contest can be got here. The past three months have been hectic and blogging has taken a back seat. However the topic is interesting and has set me thinking. Why does one pray? When did I start praying in the real sense? How does praying to an Almighty God influence me? Let me think..........

As a child I would watch my mother observe strict rules of a kind of self imposed quarantine even while going about her chores and would not even drink water till she finished reciting her slokas and offered food to God. However, to be fair to her, she did not impose a regular prayer schedule or routine on us children and we were pretty much allowed to decide for ourselves about our mode of addressing God. 

My earliest memories of praying dates back to the time when I heard the story of a shepherd boy who had no friends and Lord Krishna would come and play with him. I sincerely hoped that if I prayed hard enough He would perhaps appear before me.I could then boast and brag about it in school. I was just around five years old then.  As a child I would pray for anything starting from a prayer that I may not be punished for not doing my homework to not getting caught for sneaking snacks to our dormitory to feast at night.

When my dad was terminally ill, I remember praying that I may be allowed to die in his place since the family needed his presence more than mine. I had learned in my History class that the Moghul Emperor Babur had thus  prayed for his son Humayun's health and God answered his prayers. Humayun recovered and Babur died in his stead. Deep in my heart I believed that God would grant one's sincere wishes if the motive was selfless.

It took me a while to understand that all prayers are not granted whatever be the motive. Prayers are meant to lift one's spirit and give moral and mental strength in adverse situations. Meditating on cosmic energy one derives peace of mind through prayer. Nature worshipers are criticized for praying to God's creations like rivers and trees rather than to God - the creator. But I, for one, feel that our natural wealth has been conserved to a great extent due to the reverence man has shown towards nature. 

As far as I understand prayer does not necessarily have religious affiliations. Sending and connecting to positive vibes, combined with a heartfelt desire for universal brotherhood can also be interpreted as prayer.While there are those, like my mother, who prayed on a daily basis and on a regular routine there are others who pray when things spin out of control and feel the need for divine intervention. Then we have a few who use their prayers as bargaining tools saying that they need this or that benefit and offer to do something for the temple/church or society in return if and when their purpose is realized. Some pray out of fear of an almighty God while others pray for self realization.

But all said and done there can be no doubt regarding the fact that a sincere and heartfelt prayer does wonders to one's mental and emotional health.As for me, it does give me inner strength and a firm belief that there is some powerful cosmic energy that helps me sail through adverse conditions and watches over me at all times.
These are reasons as to why I pray and how I plan to use  'Cycle Pure Agarbathies' and Lashmi Puja pack this festive season...........

Well, I pray because I feel inclined to pray and also because it helps me accept the good and evil aspects of life with equanimity.  

With all my children in distant shores I pray for their well being as well as that of their families. More so because I may not be able to reach them at moment's notice.

I pray that my husband and me remain healthy enough to allow my children lead their lives in peace. I also pray for similar blessings to my siblings, cousins in laws and friends who belong to my generation.

I pray that I may be able to do my bit for those in need in my own little way.

I pray that I may always remain true to myself and those around me.

Finally I pray that my country's leadership is such that will bring out the best in its people.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Imagining things..............And why not?

I happened to read a comment left by a reader on a post in Women's web and decided to analyze what  my reaction would have been if we had been allowed to have an honest discussion before marriage. If I had been as honest as in this post my marriage would not have taken place at all. It might have been something like this. I call myself PV and my husband KNR. I have written about my life before marriage here . This should give you an idea about the kind of person I was.

KNR: Do you know to speak Hindi?

PV: (To herself) How unromantic. How does it matter?Is he looking for an excuse to reject me?      (Aloud) I can understand. I am out of touch now. But why do you ask?

KNR: Just like that.

PV: I will pick up soon.

KNR: Good. Do you want to know anything about me or my family?

PV: Do you have a library near your house? I would want to become a member. By the way do you read books? Have you read Nevil Shute? He is awesome.

KNR: I must ask my mother. She is the decision maker in my family.

(To himself) Is the library my family? And why doesn't she marry Nevil Shute? Awesome... my foot.

PV: (to herself) No library means no marriage. How can I not read books?

(Aloud) I need to keep myself occupied. Moreover I cannot get sleep unless I read a few pages each night. I am sure your mother will understand. By the way, do you get The Hindu in your place? I don't like any other newspaper. I regularly read Art Buchwald. He is so funny.

KNR: You will have a lot of house work to do. That should keep you occupied. We get The Hindu two days late so we buy The Statesman that is published in Calcutta.

PV: (To herself) Don't they have servants? I would not mind reading The Hindu that is two days late. (Aloud) I need to do something in my free time. Maybe I could teach slum kids to read and write.

KNR:  (To himself) Good God! There is no way amma would let her do it.  Having slum kids in the house is ridiculous. And she is not going to let her go out on her own in the initial months. Neighbors may start gossiping.

(Aloud) My mother makes awesome sweets and savories. You could pick up recipes from her.

PV:  (To herself) Am I marrying his mother? Why does he bring her in all the time? And I have no    interest in trying out recipes.

(Aloud) You seem to be very fond of your mother.

KNR: Everyone in our family goes by her decision. She knows what is best for us. 

PV: (To herself) What a pest of a woman. (Aloud) You work in a lab don't you?

KNR: (To himself) At last she asks something about me. All this while she was worried about membership in the local library. Doesn't she want to know about life in our town?

(Aloud)Yes, we do steel melting. (Explains the process in detail and half of it does not even register in PV's mind).

PV: You have relatives in the south. Do you visit often?
(To herself) If this is so I too can come home every year.

KNR: My parents come when there is a wedding or death in the family. My younger sister stays back   to cook for me and my brother.

PV: (Horrified) What? She is only twenty years old and is in college I hear.
 And she is left behind tocook for her brothers? I find this ridiculous.

KNR: What is so ridiculous about it?She has been learning to cook from the age of thirteen. She can cook for fifty people.

PV: Fifty people? I cannot cook for five?

KNR: What? You haven't learned to cook? How come your mother let you off so easily? My mother was very particular about teaching my sister housekeeping.

PV: My mother says that cooking is something a woman does all her life. She needs to relax and learn things at her own pace. I cook only if and when I feel like it. I read, write letters to friends, watch movies in the theater, play board games like chess with my brothers.For me cooking is not a priority. In our family daughters in law are gradually initiated into the household.

KNR: It is the exact opposite in our family. Daughters in laws take charge as soon as they arrive.

PV: (To herself)  Good Lord what am I getting myself into? Must talk to mummy. We're nothing alike!.
 KNR: (To himself) What kind of person is she? Wants to play board games and read the newspaper but has no inclination to run the house. I must talk to amma.We seem to be exact opposites!

I agree that my marriage took place forty years ago and times were different. But it is equally amazing how two entirely different persons bonded over time. Even if I had actually had this imaginary conversation my mother would have rubbished my fears and would have known that with time I would learn that marriage was not a fairy tale and expectations rarely tally with reality

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Techno-savvy children and bewildered parents.

A father of  seven year old twin boys remarked that kids were over stimulated thanks to technology and class room teaching no longer appealed to them. With access to video games and supermen they needed to be engaged all the while which in turn was affecting parents at home and teachers in school with neither group equipped to keep pace with their demands. Gone are the days when kids could be left to play on their own while parents relaxed. The kids had to be constantly engaged. As a result they go to soccer camps, music class, learn yoga and karate. True, over stimulated minds are difficult to handle. This is certainly a topic for balanced debate.

The conversation then shifted to the plight of senior school teachers who had to make interesting power point presentations and throw in cartoon characters even to teach subjects like Chemistry and Mathematics. I could understand children in their preteens getting easily distracted but do senior school children need stimulants to understand the basics of a subject? I remembered an essay that we had to write in our 11th standard - "Is Technology a Boon or Bane to Society"? So even before Television had entered our homes and mobile telephones were unheard of, our elders had been worried of the changes taking place in our lives due to technological advancement. I was myself of the opinion that mobile phones were a luxury and school going children were better off without them. Or that two wheelers that were motorized were not meant for children in high school and they would benefit more if they cycled to school. My mother had advised me against sending more than the required amount for my daughter's hostel expense when she joined college saying that she would waste it. I would send her a draft each month. But five years later I got my son an ATM card partly because I wanted to be spared the trouble of making a draft and sending it by registered post.It was also because I had realized that he may face unforeseen situations and require money at short notice.   Internet banking skills were acquired much later and I now seem to have forgotten the days when one actually stood in a queue to purchase railway tickets.  

I see myself reaping the benefits of advanced technology and have to admit that life has become a lot easier on account of it. Why then am I worried that over exposure to technology may harm my children and grandchildren? Even while I write this post my 9 year old granddaughter is baking a cake all on her own. Her dad has gifted her a mini oven with a timer. Her mom has bought her cake mixes with proper directions. With a little help from me (to measure vegetable oil and to remove the finished cake from the oven) the child has managed to bake a cake and now she has started on the preparation of cookies. Mini ovens and cake mixes were not available when my children were growing up but that is beside the point. Technology, when put to proper use, is never harmful. Educating children on the proper use of the tools available to them and encouraging them to understand that life is not just speeding up but also slowing down to savor the beauty of nature and to give a thought to the less privileged ones among them would perhaps balance the hyperactivity that they are constantly subjected to. For this attitude to develop socially productive activities ought to be encouraged. For instance why don't we have parents teaching their wards to manage a kitchen garden? Why not train them to fold clothes and arrange their closet or vacuum their rooms? Isn't it true at least to some extent that parents too want to relax and prefer to latch their kids on to a video game or a TV program even if it only to keep them off their backs? Are we not proud that a child in our family not yet two years of age is able to plug an earphone to his ear, hit the right button and listen to music from an i Pad? I know that I feel puffed up when my grand kids do it.  

I am sorry to say that the onus is on parents and grandparents. The child can and should be given direction and elders ought to strike a balance regarding the activity their wards indulge in. Not easy I admit,but no harm trying.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Morality In Marriage

I happened to read an old post of mine about my views on marriage. One of the readers had raised a question regarding the role morality ought to play in a marriage. If the husband was otherwise a responsible person and provided well for his family did it matter if his morality was questionable? 

This question does not have an easy answer. In fact it does not have an answer at all. Let me explain. Till about a hundred years back it was common for men folk to visit prostitutes and was considered a status symbol and indicative of affluence. Their womenfolk could not object. I am sure they were not happy about the arrangement but could do little to prevent it even if they wanted to. With time such visits became hushed shameful affairs and women began to have a say in the matter. Fear or rather awareness of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases have acted as deterrents. I happened to be part of a team that conducted a survey on AIDS awareness long back and we had a session with sex workers as part of our training. They all had a single message for society. "We don't go to men. They come to us. If wives could check their husband's desire for sex outside marriage we would automatically be out of work".

It is easy for me to say that morality is a very important factor in a partnership including marriage. But don't women or for that reason men to a lesser extent have umpteen reasons to look the other way if their partner is not loyal to them? Does not the security provided by marriage  matter? Or if children could get affected in the crossfire between parents would it perhaps be better to ignore the husband's philandering habit? I tend to talk as if morality in a marriage is the responsibility of the husband alone. It is the responsibility of both partners although the clandestine affairs women have outside marriage are not reported often.

The reason for my choice of this topic stems partly from what I heard about a neighbor whose husband wants a divorce. I have known the woman from the time her son was a two year old. He is twenty two now. The husband and son are apparently fond of a mother/daughter duo also residing in our complex. Initially I rubbished the story saying that the son could be interested in the daughter and the mother being a family friend could have expected the boy's family to approve of the match. Differences might have cropped up when the boy's mother objected. But I hear that the husband squanders hard earned money including his settlement dues on the neighbor and her husband is a silent spectator. He does not have a problem as long as the money keeps coming. I really don't know what to make out of the story. If both husband and son have turned against her, the lady ought to opt for separation. But with no income of her own can she afford to do it? Wouldn't she throw morality to the winds and wish to remain married. Those living in their block are fed up with the constant fighting and had to call the cops to settle their dispute when things got out of control.

A relative of mine some ten years younger to me is a lawyer by profession and has a soft corner for the assistant who works in his Office. His mother advised the daughter in law to keep quiet saying that if she objected he may be more open to making his affair known to the world. It was in her own interest that she chose to pretend that she did not know about it. With children to educate she could not afford to confront her husband lest he stopped supporting them. Selfish it may sound but the practical aspects cannot be ignored.

Every arrangement, including marriage, that is endorsed by society has evolved over several years. Morality is a matter of individual perception. The middle class sets high standards for morality be it loyalty in marriage or earning money by fair means. A look at those in governance and administration tells a different story. One scam is hardly dealt with and a new one comes up. In the slum where my domestic help lives they have no time to even define morality. Affairs outside marriage are ignored unless it involves fist fights between the couple in question. So I suppose morality matters to people who can challenge it. But if a person chooses to ignore it let us give them the benefit of doubt.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!!

I have a question that deserves an honest reply. Widowed mothers are deprived of active participation in their son/daughter's weddings as per Hindu customs. They say that their participation is inauspicious. Does their widowed status make them less or inferior mothers? Who else could be more of a well wisher for her children? Why not all of us including mothers resolve to do away with this misconception and do our bit to ensure their participation in family functions particularly if it involves their children. 

As for children they ought to take a lead if they wish to pay a tribute to mothers and motherhood. 

Happy Mother's Day to all mommy bloggers.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Celebrating Girls, Celebrating Women

Thank you Women's Web for honouring me with a first prize!!!

I feel like a school girl now!wow and WOW again.

Women's web is holding a contest on Celebrating Girls, Celebrating Women. Details can be got here. 

The following is my entry for the contest. The offer of Flipkart vouchers for the winners was too good to resist. Moreover I have become too lazy to write. This assignment is a welcome one. So what if I am competing with a generation half my age! 

Looking back I feel that I had it lucky. I was born when my parents were traveling from Bangalore to Madras and my mother had to disembark at Jolarpet and check into the railway hospital to deliver me. My dramatic entry into the world made my father grant me the status of a heroine and he would never tire of repeating the story of my birth to anyone who was within hearing distance. I was his little princess. When I was a month old I had convulsions and as the story goes, my father, though a doctor himself, could not decide on the medicine and its dosage that could be safely administered to an infant. My paternal grandmother prayed that she would name me Padmavathy after the deity in Tirupathi if I recovered and soon afterwards my dad miraculously found a cure to my illness while looking up a medical journal. My grandma performed a “Sumangali Prarthana” when I recovered and my naming ceremony soon followed. I grew up without realizing that girls were considered unwanted in several families. We faced no such discrimination in ours.

As a child I was encouraged to speak out and stand up for whatever I considered was right. On one occasion the Principal of our boarding school punished me for something I had not done. She refused to listen to any explanation threatening to write to my father about the incidence. I wanted my father to hear my version being pretty sure that he would understand. I wrote a detailed letter mentioning the Principal’s refusal to allow me a chance to defend myself and gave it to my teacher to post. Since our letters were censored the Principal got to read the letter. She called me to her office and asked for my side of the story. When convinced she asked me if I wanted the matter dropped or if I would want her to post the letter. I replied that I would want my father to know about the incidence and if he felt that I was wrong I would gladly accept his verdict. She posted it just to see what my father’s reaction would be. However, she did add a note from her side saying that the matter had been resolved and that she wanted me to stay away from bad company and do well in life. If she had expected my father to scold me or advice me on good behavior she must have been disappointed. My father expressed absolute faith in me and added that he was sorely disappointed at the judgmental attitude adopted by the school. The Principal was highly appreciative of my parents’ trust in  me and even more surprised at the level of confidence I showed by depicting the episode truthfully and posting the letter through her.

“This is the kind of rapport I would want every child to have with their mentors” she added after narrating the incidence in the assembly. The entire school clapped for me. I was just thirteen years old then.

Years have gone by and today I teach undergrad students in a local college. I am afraid that even today girls face discrimination in their families and are considered a burden by their own parents. Just two days ago a young girl doing her B. Com in our college approached me saying that her friend was being subjected to mental torture and was contemplating suicide. The girl had been abandoned by her husband within two months of her marriage. That her husband was unemployed or that she was sexually harassed by her father in law who accused her of being a woman of loose morals when she refused to yield to his advances did not bother her much. She was more upset that her mother wanted her to return to her in laws and ‘adjust’. Her  mother was  worried about the future of the other unmarried daughters who would not get good husbands if she continued to stay with them after marriage. More so since her in laws were spreading rumors about her character and chastity. I could understand her mother’s point of view even if I did not agree with her. I asked the girl to remain firm and continue to concentrate on her studies. Suicide was no solution. She could earn some pocket money by teaching school children and/or taking up part time assignments. I told her that there was no need to return to her husband unless he found a job to support her and promised to stand up for her against his father. She had heard from reliable sources that her husband was planning to remarry.

Good riddance” I said. “It should be sufficient reason to put him behind the bars”.

I offered to talk to her mother if required. When she left I could make out that she had gained some amount of self assurance. I asked her friend to keep a watch over her and continue to instill confidence in her.

Although the status of women needs to improve I am glad that girls are reporting incidents of physical and mental torture. Instead of churning out spicy stories about their friends in distress, the youngsters are offering support them in whatever way they can. This in itself is cause for celebration. However, womanhood cannot be celebrated unless they realize their own worth and merit. A colleague of mine spoke of the lavish wedding she had planned for her daughter who was  a final year engineering student. She had set aside 25 lac for dowry and gifts for the groom. She would need another 10 lac for the wedding expenses and five more for jewelry and silverware. She claimed that this was the minimum that a well employed groom would expect adding that if she tried to bargain there were others ready to quote a higher price for the same boy.

I blame the girl and her parents more than the groom's family for the situation. I would certainly not want to marry a man who could decide on his life partner based on the price quoted by the highest bidder. The girl’s family wish to flaunt their purchasing power by making such offers and the groom’s family behave as if their son is up for sale (read auction). Bride burning and torturing daughters in law are consequences of the greed that is being fanned and nurtured by society in the name of dowry. Girls too have no qualms about letting their parents part with their life savings for their marriage and allowing them to depend on their sons for their upkeep.

I cannot help narrating a conversation I had with my co - sister 25 years back, She wanted to know if I had bought diamond ear rings for my daughters and advised me to buy the earrings fast since prices of gold and diamonds were touching the sky. I replied that I had no intention of investing in diamonds and their education was my priority. My co - sister insisted that no decent guy would marry them for free. I retaliated by saying that my husband's cousins (8 of them) had all married well placed men none of whom made atrocious demands. I too would be able to marry my daughters without the above mentioned piece of jewelry. If she quoted one example of a person who made dowry demands I could give five examples of those who did not. I can proudly claim that I was right and the question of dowry never came up at the time of their marriages.

Let the successful ones among us celebrate women and womanhood by all means. However, in our moments of celebration let us also remember that there are several women who need our emotional support to stand up for themselves.

This piece is my entry for -

Monday, January 21, 2013

Goodness of Coconut For The Skin

Being a south Indian and a Tambrahm at that, coconuts were always a part of my existence. My earliest memories of this wonder ‘nut’ is the time when an aunt or grandma would sit down with a bottle of coconut oil and all of us cousins would line up to have our hair combed and neatly plaited. The ritual of applying coconut oil and plaiting the hair of 8 to 10 girls would be followed by application of coconut oil and combing the closely cropped hair of our male cousins. As a child I thought it to be old fashioned to have so much oil applied to our scalp and tried to coax my mother to have my hair trimmed and permed or curled but she would have “none of such nonsense with hair falling over the forehead” and I have to thank her for her effort and the gift of the lovely long hair that I once possessed.  

Coconut oil served to help me bond with my hostel mates when I had to join a boarding school at the age of twelve. I was a stranger in a hostel where a good number of students were Anglo Indians. Having left home I was a total misfit in the hostel. Among the toilet items that my mother had packed for me was a bottle of scented coconut oil that had frozen in the cool weather of the Nilgiris. I was trying to scoop out a little with a spoon when a voice behind me said-

“Why don’t you let it melt in the sun for a while?”

It was my good friend Irene Trencher who had given the suggestion thereby offering to make me comfortable in an alien situation. Others followed and soon at least 10 of them borrowed my scented coconut oil to apply on their hands and legs and my mother was at a loss to understand how a bottle of coconut oil could get over in a month’s time. The warden had to intervene and take the oil bottle in her custody till I felt comfortable enough to say NO to friends who took advantage of my insecurity.

When my daughter was born my mother took the trouble of extracting coconut milk from home grown coconuts and clarifying it like butter and filtering pure coconut oil to give my daughter a body massage. The smell of home made coconut oil was heavenly and my daughter’s skin acquired a natural glow on account of it. She made sure that I brought back a bottle of coconut oil thus prepared and used it exclusively for massaging the child’s body to make sure that her skin did not crack in the winter months.

Apart from external application coconuts are generously used in Tambrahm/Kerala cuisine since it has the property of curing stomach ulcers and is a rich source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. And who can deny that coconut water is the safest soft drink from God’s own factory!!

It was fun participating in this contest by Women's web. Took me back in time. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On Teenage suicides.........

It was depressing to receive the news of teen age suicide in our town. This time it was a 16 year old student who was answering her pre - board exams from a reasonably well to do family. Both parents had demanding jobs and the girl was perhaps left in the care of grandparents who probably could not offer the emotional support that teenagers require in the present times. I report the incident as an outsider purely from hearsay since I came to hear of the incidence through an acquaintance whose son studied in the same class as the dead girl. My account may not be very accurate but since many others, like this girl, face similar problems I cannot help analyzing the situation.

The girl was a fairly good student till recently but had begun to fare badly of late. Like others of her age she trusted her peers more than her family and would hang around with a few friends some of whom were boys. Her class teacher being conservative would openly reprimand her for her choice of friends particularly her interest in boys. On the day she committed suicide a friend, who belonged to her group and particularly close to her, had decided that he could take no more of the hints dropped by the teacher and decided to break off from the group and concentrate on his studies. He seemed to agree that the girl was distracting him from his studies and told her as much, advising her to leave him alone. The girl perhaps did not worry too much about the teacher’s words but could not accept the fact that her friend too seemed to hold a similar opinion. The two had an argument and the girl left school in a disturbed state of mind. She tried contact him on reaching home but he did not respond. That was it. The girl committed suicide by hanging leaving her family shattered.

I really cannot explain the reason for the emotional vulnerability that teenagers face these days. I studied in a co – education school some 45 years back and healthy competition as well as friendship between boys and girls was accepted in our school. We did not have teachers dropping hints about our character or putting thoughts into our heads. In fact, I don’t even remember thinking of the boys in our class as anyone but good friends who could be depended upon to stand up for me as and when required. Have times changed now? Or was this girl plain unlucky to have a narrow minded teacher? Or was I a plain Jane - simply not cut out for romantic feelings?

Why could the girl not handle the boy’s stand that they needed to concentrate on their studies? Even if the teacher’s insinuations be ignored was it not important for them to do well in their board exams? Why are teenagers unable to face setbacks and the like? People say that lack of a support system in the family - like the one provided by a joint family - was partly responsible for depression among teenagers. But even while growing up I do not remember having to turn to family members for support unless the issue was grave.  We too fought and patched up, had differences of opinion that led to times when we would not be on talking terms with friends for days on end, but none of these depressed us for long. We did not have access to modern communication tools and snail mail was the only way we could remain in touch. In a way I feel lack of effective communication tools enabled us to deal with situations better and equipped us to deal with the rough patches in our formative years. But  why are teenagers unable to handle minor irritants and move on?

In this case, people tend to blame the mother for being career minded and suggest that the girl perhaps felt lonely and left out. Even if the mother had been a home maker could she have understood the cause for her depression? Don’t we as adults fail to concede that a seemingly trivial issue can be a matter of prime importance to the child? How many of us in her shoes would have asked for a meeting with the teacher and boldly stated that as a teenager a girl tends to seek male company and as long as the children interacted as a group there was no cause for worry? Or, even if the teacher found her behavior unacceptable she ought to discuss the matter in private with the parents rather than demoralize the child in public.

No, we as parents would have screamed at the child and threatened to pull her out of school if another word regarding her ‘bad’ behavior was ever mentioned by the teacher. I remember telling my son that I would send him to work as a porter in the railway station if he did not do well in class.

I have no problem” he replied “It is up to you to decide whether you wish to be known as a porter’s mother”. 

It was easy for him to say this because he was well above average and knew that my empty threats were best ignored. I shudder to think about the impact my words might have had if he had been unable to cope with academic pressure and had taken my words seriously.

As for teachers, I am afraid they too are ill equipped to handle today’s techno-savvy teenagers with every facility made available to them by doting parents. Being conservative is one thing but the present times also require some amount of flexibility. Parents and teachers need to interact regularly and decide how the best in a particular child may be brought out. The appointment of a counselor should be made mandatory in every school and value education ought to be imparted not as a sermon from a pedestal but by acquainting one’s self of the problem areas in a student's life and adopting a non- judgmental attitude for students to be able to approach teachers for emotional support. 

Friday, January 04, 2013

On Family/Societal Values..........

A lot has been written about rape and rapists and I fully endorse the view that as a society we Indians need to do a lot of introspection regarding the respect accorded to women treating them as thinking individuals rather than considering them as inanimate objects to be used and thrown. I may sound harsh but apart from a lucky few, majority of Indian women do not even have the privilege of expecting their families to stand up for them in the case of a crisis be it torture for dowry, physical or sexual harassment.

Ours is a patriarchal society and its norms have been tailored to suit our men folk. They will ‘allow’ us o work outside home but will have control over the money that we earn. A colleague of mine was upset that her husband bought gifts for his parents and siblings when they visited them but never asked her what she would like to gift her parents. Oh, yes she did buy stuff for them too but it was his lack of concern that upset her. She had waited for years to see him treat her family with genuine affection but it never happened. On the other hand she was expected to take to their ways like fish to water. He had no qualms about asking her to apply for loan to finance the lavish wedding that was planned for his sister but the gift of a silk sari to her mother on her 60th birthday was waste of money. Would you expect a son who observes the dominating behavior of his father respect the women who may be his class mate or office colleague or for that matter the girl who may marry him? I would be happy if he did but would not be surprised if he didn’t.
Take another scenario. A mother is unable to cope with the influx of unexpected guests and needs help. She invariably expects her daughter to pitch in and help and vocally expresses her displeasure if she doesn’t. The son on the other hand may not be disturbed and the husband continues to chat with the guests discussing anything from politics to share market. The mental tuning is such that it does not even occur to the mother that the men in the family also need to do their bit.

The day a girl child is born one starts cribbing about the expense that would be incurred at the time of her wedding. ‘Who will marry her for free?’ is the common refrain. Did the new born girl ask you for a lavish wedding? She grows up listening to family members calling her ‘paraya dhan’ and even while educating her, parents – particularly the mother – never fail to remind her that spending money on her education was a waste since it would be her husband and his family that reaped the benefits. If one’s daughter was self assured and confidant and established herself in her new home would it not make parents proud? The girl grows up feeling inadequate and is it not true that we need to learn to respect ourselves before expecting the world to do so.

I can quote several instances that indicate that the mind set of subjugating women has been accepted as their fate by women and right by men for generations. Rapists and the like derive sadist pleasure in overpowering their female counterparts and their act is an extension of the will to control and subjugate them. Teaching our sons and daughters to treat each other with mutual respect will help control incidents of sexual harassment, molestation and rape to a very great extent. Distributing sweets when a son is born is not sufficient. It is the not only the responsibility but duty of parents to inculcate values in them and this can be done by leading by example. Like charity societal values also begin from one’s home.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Happy new year!!

Hi all of you. A very happy year 2013 to all of you. My computer has gone crazy and I am trying to use my I pad to write this post. Nothing like the old fashioned desktop with Microsoft word installed where one could write at leisure and save documents. I think sooner rather than later I am ging to either buy a laptop or get my computer fixed. I pad and the like are not for me. Or who knows? I may just get used to this version of technological advancement. Wish me luck.