Monday, December 07, 2015

What happened to Mehr?

Dear Son,
I feel lost without you to pester me and wish you never had to leave for college. I knew all along that I would have to set you free to carve your future but I feel sad all the same. For all I know you may never be the same person again. You will grow. You will have new friends who will influence your life and your decisions. My head tells me that you will make the right choices and stand tall among your peers but my heart sinks at the possibility of your being vulnerable to the pressures exerted by them. Without us, your parents, to monitor your activities you may feel tempted to think that it is a fashion statement to harass girls even if it is ‘just for fun’. Be warned my child. Your mindless activity may have a very serious outcome as Mehr’s story will indicate.

You know Mehr don’t you? May be you don't. She was my colleague’s only daughter and hadn’t started school when I joined college. In a way I had practically watched her grow. I rejoiced with her mother when she got admission in a prestigious school in our town and regularly followed her progress. I was invited to her ‘Navjot’ party and I remember gifting her a story book because I always felt that books were the most precious of gifts that could be given to a nine year old. 

I don’t know if you have the information that Mehr passed away last night. Her death was caused by three mindless teenage boys who hounded her on the way to school. 

The day dawned like any other day. The chirpy thirteen year old got ready for school, fussed over breakfast and was coaxed to eat by her grandma - this was a routine that the two of them enjoyed - and after wishing her mom and grandma a hasty goodbye left for school on her bicycle. The school was about half a kilometre from home and she expected to reach it well before time. And then trouble began….

The road was lonely and three boys started following her. One of them overtook her and stopped right in front of her while the other two laughed at her predicament from behind. She managed to stop in time and started off once again when another boy took it on himself to whistle and sing a vulgar song while the other two crossed her path from either side. The girl panicked and tried to pick up speed. The school was now in sight and she wanted to reach there fast. There were parents on the other side of the road and it would only take a couple of minutes to reach them. Unfortunately she noticed a rambler at the turning a little too late and slipped while trying to apply brakes. Her head hit the rambler and she lost consciousness.

The rest is history. She suffered a head injury, went into a coma and never recovered. Her mother is in a state of shock and her grandma refuses to believe that her beloved granddaughter is no more. All this happened within minutes of her leaving home and she is unable to come to terms with the tragedy that has befallen them. 

My son, stalking or hounding girls is not funny. Boys may feel powerful and relish the distress that girls are being subjected to. Girls on the contrary go through hell when they face sexual harassment. 

Mehr is no more. Her mother laments that she has nothing to look forward to. Her father seems to have lost his voice and the vacant look in his face speaks volumes of his mental state. All this could have been averted if only the culprits had been sensitized and trained to treat women with respect and I for one believe that values imparted by one’s parents play an important role in shaping one’s conduct. Values like charity begin at home.

I have tried my best to treat you and your sister equally. I have never encouraged you to imagine that you are superior because you are a boy. I expect you to treat all the girls in your class as equals. They need to feel safe and comfortable in your presence and consider you as a dependable friend. I know you will not let me down because I am sure that you too would want not want a repeat of Mehr’s story. All young girls need to feel safe and secure.

I want you to share Mehr's story with your friends. I want you to understand that girls are your friends and need to be treated as cherished companions. I trust you son and I know that you will not let me down.

With lots of love,
Yours affectionately,

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Random Musings

I am nearing retirement. No more extensions of service. Just three months to go and I feel lost already. My workplace doubled up for my social circle and I now realize how much I have drifted away from the Tambrahms in Jamshedpur. I remember the time some twenty five years ago when I would take out the clay figurines from my mother in law's trunk, all wrapped up in newspaper, wipe them clean and arrange them in the shelf of the only bedroom of our modest home and invite neighbors for "golu" during Navaratri. We had quite a few Tamilians in our neighborhood and we'd invite a few Bihari friends as well. It was a simple get together. I would also get invited to Lalitha Sahasranamam Bhajan sessions in the afternoons during Navaratri, 'haldi- kumkum' would be exchanged. We did not have a telephone connection and mobile phones were unheard of. Friends were invited personally with the daughters going from house to house with kumkum containers to extend the invitation. Initially people would be asked to come over on any or all of the nine days of Navaratri but later one restricted the invitation to specific days so that they were free to visit others on the remaining days.

Friends from college were invited home for lunch. We did not own a dining table or fancy cutlery. They gladly squatted on the floor and enjoyed a typical Tambrahm meal, were treated to filter coffee and a stroll in the neighboring park. I suffered no complex or inhibitions and was happy to be just 'myself '.

Then times changed. I decided to pursue my studies and enrolled myself for a Masters program in a local college and my excellent results prompted me to register for Ph.D. The subject of my Ph. D thesis was an annual crop that grew around Navaratri season. Thereafter Navaratri celebrations were shelved and the "golu bommais" - clay figurines that my mother in law had carefully preserved for years and my own addition to the lot each year were shifted to the loft and have remained there ever since we moved to our three bedroom apartment. I still got invited for "golu" but with old friends having left town or relocated elsewhere and not being acquainted with newcomers I seem to know fewer and fewer people. And all this when I can now connect through mobile phones and social/virtual apps.

But that was not the reason. I seemed to be happy socializing with my friends in college and was equally happy to relax at home during the puja break. But this Navaratri I seem to miss my initial days in Jamshedpur. Of course I do my bit by giving gifts of bangles and bindis to little girls in my neighborhood and visiting elderly ladies to seek their blessings. But with modest means I seemed to have derived more satisfaction then, even if it was just "sundal" wrapped in newspaper that I distributed. All the ziplock bags and aluminum foils that I can now afford seem meaningless.

While folding clothes this evening I was in an introspective mood and found myself wondering what I had gained or lost over the years. I hold on to expensive silk saris that I haven't worn in years knowing full well that my children would dump them without a thought. Maintaining them is a responsibility. But each of those are either reminders of the occasion of their purchase or I am reminded of the person who gifted them to me.

I feel that I was perhaps wrong in excluding myself from a social life that involved person to person interaction during festive occasions like Navaratri. This was a tried and tested method that was the lifeline of society and the only method of socializing particularly for women who were mainly homemakers. It also brought out their creativity and one was treated to colorful rangolis, bhajans and of course yummy snacks! I truly want to start organizing " golu" again. I wonder if it's too late in the day to revive the practice. No harm trying isn't it?

Happy Navaratri to all of you!

Sunday, February 08, 2015

My Style

This post is my entry for the blogger contest by Women's Web and Trishla eMart to describe a Style of My Own. 

When I look back and remember the years gone by I see that I haven't changed much as far as my style is concerned. I always preferred clothes that were comfortable to wear, easy to maintain and did not strain my purse. As for accessories I prefer to admire them from a safe distance and I have always been in awe of those who can wear earrings that look more like pendants and still feel comfortable enough to carry on normal conversation with those around them. If I ever wore anything expensive I would constantly worry about its safety and miss out all the fun associated with the event. Therefore the diamond earrings that my mother gave were hardly worn as long as she was alive and after she passed away I wore them for a few months for sentimental reasons and put them away because I felt that I would not only lose them to earring snatchers but would gift them parts of my earlobes as well. I think I should give up writing about 'My Style' because you may ask what is so stylish about wearing common everyday clothes. But I don't give up easily and here is a list of what I like or do not like, and I hope that my style would emerge from such a list. So here I go!

I have told you already that comfortable clothes top my list so crisp cottons are my choice any day and anytime. Even among cottons handlooms from any part of India would top my list. Be it saris, salwar kameez or nightwear I am not a great fan of floral prints. Stripes, dots, checks, traditional embroidery are all welcome. Zari - pure or otherwise are not for me.

Pure silk has a grace and beauty of its own but I feel that it's elegance is lost when it has a heavy Zari border and/ or pallu. The focus has to be on the silk so I would go for lightly embroidered silk or silk with small Zari dots and a thin line or two of Zari as a narrow border. Mysore silk would be my first choice and Kanjeevaram would be the next. Printed silk from Murshidabad or Bhagalpur also makes one feel good.

Coming to hairstyle I have almost no hair left so I cannot say much. Last year I visited America and my granddaughters got together and coaxed me to leave my hair loose. They straightened it using a gel and ordered me to leave it alone. I felt so uncomfortable that I couldn't wait to tie it up into a small ponytail. This is in contrast to what I preferred as a schoolgirl when I wanted to leave my long hair loose and my mother would have none of it. She would try different styles of plaiting it but it had to be braided - never left loose.

Thinking of my childhood reminds me of a photograph of me as a sixteen year old in which I couldn't recognize myself. It was taken at the farewell of the teacher of the tailoring school that I attended for a short time before joining college. I had worn jhumkas and a mattal to support the pair of heavy earrings that I was wearing. The mattal is a small chain that is fixed to the earring on one side and has a hook that is fixed to the hair above the earlobe. My mattal had beads too. I was also wearing a long chain with a heavy pendant. So whatever I may say, there was a time in my life when I dressed up for an occasion. Not that don't dress for an occasion now. I do. But it is more out of respect for the occasion and less for myself.

At my age however I prefer salwar kameez to saris for casual wear. There are a group of people whom I meet during my morning walk who had never seen me in a sari. They once saw me in a sari at a temple and said that I ought to wear a sari more often. I had to tell them that I wear a sari to college on every working day and had been wearing saris since my college days. I switched over to salwar kameez after I tripped and fell a couple of times during my morning walk.

As for footwear no high heels for me although with my less than five feet height I should be wearing heels. These days I like durable and comfortable footwear to fancy ones but I admit to having tried fancy ones in my hostel days including high heeled and pointed toed slip ons.

To end I would say that my style is to look presentable and feel comfortable. I can wear almost no jewelry with minimum make up and walk among decked up dolls feeling confident and self assured. That way I need not worry about spilling stuff on a dress or wonder if my hair is messed up or my kohl/eyeliner smudged. I cannot understand why a person would want a new outfit for every special occasion or feel uncomfortable if another person wore a dress similar to theirs. One can wear casuals and yet look stylish if they have the right attitude, carry themselves well and gel with the environment. On the contrary if one dresses up to show off or impress people chances are that he/she will get noticed for the wrong reasons.