Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Just another day...

Son: "I am opening this pack of cereal.."

Me: "Okay. Just put a stopper on the remaining (that cannot fit into the jar) and put it in the cupboard"

Son: "I assign that task to you Mom…"

O K A Y…

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Backseat Coversation

We are driving to the sport's day in son's school. We have picked up two friends M and T. Both girls and the lad are seated behind while I drive.

Conversation 1:

Son: "Mom Im feeling very unsafe sitting between two girls."
M: "Why are you feeling unsafe? T is almost your cousin. She won't do anything to you!"
T: "Yeaaaahhh!"

Conversation 2 - as we reach the venue and slow down to park, son sees the girl of his dreams. T sees her too.

T: "Look A! There is her!!"
A: "Yeah, I can see her!"
M: "Thats so gross!"

Just another day in the lives of 10 year olds! Just another moment a mother ought to remember for the rest of her life!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

After 12 years all that is left is a requiem....

Friday, September 6, 2013

Can you be above Superstition?

It has been over a fortnight since Anti-supersitition activist from Maharashtra Dr Narendra Dabholkar was shot down by assailants in Pune as he took a morning walk. Dr Dabholkar was accustomed to receiving death threats from organisations that deemed his objections to superstitious beliefs as being against a religion, while all he advocated was the use of scientific reasoning to quash the claims of religious Godmen, babas and the like that resulted in the exploitation of the poor.

Dr Dabholkar's campaign addressed serious issues - from sacrifices, quackery in the name of health care in rural/tribal India to black magic and miracle performing feats of self-styled Godmen etc. But superstitious beliefs exist in our homes in everything we do!

From 'Karwa Chauth' - a fast observed by married women for the longevity of the husband, choosing the right time and day to tie the knot, donating Rs 51 or 101 as the one rupee brings good luck, inauspiciousness of Saturdays to start a new venture or buy something new, to segregating menstruating women because they are considered 'unclean', the list of superstitious beliefs we 'inadvertently' follow is virtually endless. 

My domestic help works very hard to keep her two children in school and give them three meals a day. But she spends a lot of her money on appeasing different Gods in the hope that her children will remain healthy and safe. The other day she asked me for a day off because she wanted to go "pay her debt" to a Goddess whose temple is located in her village near Aurangabad in Maharashtra, who she had prayed to for a 'son' after her first born was a daughter. Now she says she has to spend the money and travel to the temple because "My son keeps falling ill with diarrhoea and vomiting and my relatives say it is because I didn't go to the temple and thank the Goddess for his birth." The cost of the travel, stay and offering will set her savings back by two months, but for the longevity of her son, she HAS TO do it!

In the past she used to observe a 'fast' almost 5 days a week. It was only after she fell grievously ill due to sudden weight loss and lack of nutrition that she has brought it down to once a week. Her explanation - "I have to keep Monday fast for the Goddess because my happiness depends upon her blessings." I'd tried explaining to her that ruining her health and giving money to a doctor was not what any God would want her to do! But in the light of her faith, my words made no difference.
And it is not the poor alone who are exploited by this 'blind' faith. 

Look around you and you will find that beliefs and fears based purely on 'hearsay', or fear of the unknown are so deeply ingrained in our society that we don't move ahead in life without them. Fasts on specific days of the week to appease specific Gods, offerings given away to temples (which actually go to the priest) on specific days to keep Gods happy, wearing different kinds of gemstones (which apparently is a multi-crore business in India)...even celebrating certain festivals because they are said to bring us certain 'gains'... 

Superstition is intrinsic to our culture and when we are faced with trying circumstances we turn towards a reprieve, most often provided to us by a seemingly exalted individual who has beaten the odds and emerged happy, satisfied and perhaps successful. Nine out of ten times these exalted beings thrive on our fears and take us down a garden path - 'donate this', 'feed that animal', 'eat this', 'give this up', 'wear this stone' etc. - that we believe (albeit foolishly) will alleviate our situation. 

We spend our money buying the things we are asked to and spend our time doing the things we are expected to (to help ourselves) in addition to the unmentionable amounts of money we are charged for such 'service'. The cycle of madness begins and the seeds of suspicion are sown.

If it doesn't work, we are simply told that our fate/destiny/past actions are so mucked up that we need to do MORE... We are told that our unhappiness or business losses or the critical health of a loved one are a result of the unhappiness our forefathers feel, for we failed in our duty towards them when they were alive. We buy the argument never questioning how we could be the cause of the unhappiness of a dear departed who wasn't even alive when we were born!!! We are also told that as much as we do in our current life, we will probably never appease our ancestors' souls and are condemned to live thus. 

Hope, the very reason someone turns towards an alternate route to assuage their suffering is lost completely as they sink deeper and deeper into the irrevocable absurdity of this circumstance while those who benefit from it, continue to make money and tap into the delirium that possesses the people trapped forthwith.

Dr Dabholkar vehemently advocated an Anti-Superstition Law in Maharashtra, and although I do believe that such a law must come into existence to tackle the larger superstitious beliefs, I also believe that laws won't necessarily help curb the blindness when it comes to 'faith'. 

The change must begin with each one of us, and can only be curbed if we mothers, creators of homes and nurturers of the future generation put an end to them in our homes. 

Let us endeavour to raise a daughter who doesn't need to resort to a Karwa Chauth fast and a son who doesn't need to postpone buying his dream car on a Saturday...a home where nails can be cut after sunset, lives don't come to a halt during a solar eclipse and our passage to heaven is created not by bathing in the Ganga, but by leading decent lives....

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

'Best Man' dilemma

The other day, son asked: "Mum, do we have the practise of having a Best Man in Indian weddings, like the Americans?"

"If you mean Hindu weddings, we don't. But even in India, Christians do" I said focussing on the traffic of our chaotic city.

"Oh thank God we don't have a Best Man!" he said, as I saw him relax in to the back seat of the car.

"Why?" I was now really curious!

"Because I won't know which of my friends to choose from as my Best Man. I have four best friends you know" he said matter-of-factly telling me the names of his four best friends in order of preference.

Then he quickly added, "Otherwise I would have to marry four times to give them (all) a chance..." chuckling to himself.

What a harrowing dilemma for a ten year old!!!

Friday, August 23, 2013

You have (Forwarded) Mail

I've been running and hiding, screaming and fighting, crying and arguing. These past few months have been about trying to figure out Life and Love (and love life if I may add)! 

Astonishingly, these remarkable lines jumped up at me today!
When one is surrounded by love, the feeling of excitement fades away, and one tends to ignore the true love that lies in between the peace and dullness. 
Love shows up in all forms, it could be the most dull and boring form. Flowers and romantic moments are only used and appear on the surface.
Under all this, the pillar of true love stands... and that's our life... Love, not words wins arguments…

I can't say that the battles in my head will stop raging completely. But I can say that tonight I will sleep.

I often receive forwarded emails that I simply delete (regardless of who the sender is) after I've had a cursory glance at the Subject Line. Today I opened one. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Disruptive Innovations

The other day I got a HUGE shock.

My daughter uses gel pens at school and her consumption of these pens is really high. Until recently I wasn’t paying much attention to her frequent sharing of info – “Mom, I’ll be stopping at the stationer’s to pick up pens.” It just didn’t “strike” me, until a few days ago when she asked for a set of pens and wanted “me” to pick them up.

Incredulous that she had a whole bunch of pens without refills, I asked her why she bought new ones instead of just buying refills? She didn’t know why and truthfully said, “I think because it is faster…” (as in faster to just go pick up a pack of 10 pens than figure out which refill should be purchased for which pen…)

I told her that we would do this the old fashioned way. I sent the driver to the neighbourhood stationer armed with myriad pens to get refills. He returned later and said, “There are no refills for the pens. Shop keeper says we don’t keep refills because refills cost Rs 6 and a new pen Rs 10, so people just buy a new pen instead of buying a refill.”

Honestly, I am still in shock.

When I see ten unused gel pens I only see plastic; plastic that we are unable to dispose off effectively from any city in our country. If our cities are a ticking time bomb of garbage, I would say, such plastic waste is definitely adding to the tick off!

A few weeks ago I read an article on a website about ‘Disruptive Innovations’. What struck me was how the rapid advancements in technology had actually led to endless and mass-produced products that are bound to go defunct in a short span of time. For example, the manner in which hard disks and pen drives have replaced CDs as modes of storage of data - from files to songs to movies, all types of files are now stored on these compact devices that have larger memories, are not prone to the elements (at least not as delicate as CDs are) and are also easy to carry around.

But what have we done with all those CDs that we had amassed over the last 1.5 decades as the next revolution in storing data? They’re still about, languishing in the innards of drawers or tables until their data is transferred to a hard disk and the CDs discarded.

Where do these CDs land up?

Heaven knows! Considering how our cities are completely inept at disposing even simple bio-degradable kitchen waste, I shudder at the possibility of millions of these devices finding their way into landfills and lying under mounds of other non-biodegradable e-waste!

And that is my only problem with innovation.

I know many people who think nothing of going to a store and buying the latest (read: technologically advanced) mobile phone, while quickly and quite unceremoniously discarding their relatively old (not ancient by any parameters) handsets, giving scant thought to where it would go when they dump it in the nearest dustbin.

I also know people who change laptops, digital watches and the like faster than they change their hairstyles.

I don’t have a problem with innovations – I have a problem with the attitude of consumerism they foster. Big companies spend unmentionable budgets on creating needs that seldom exist in reality – they only exist in the buyer’s mind, who grabs his wallet and waits in a queue outside the Apple store to pick the latest device that has a ridiculously minimal number of alterations in comparison to its predecessor, but is packaged quite as a ‘revolutionary’ product that our consumer cannot afford to miss out on!

This holds true for everything we use – including use-and-throw plates and spoons (I still cannot understand how people use them!) in parties “so we don’t have to do too many dishes”, to plastic buckets and dust bins to pens (THAT one is still a shocker!) and many more.

There can be no curb on technology. Heck, there shouldn’t be. But I do believe that we can adopt a consciousness that won’t allow us to misuse the resources available to us that will encourage us to consume less and thereby decrease our purchase.

Can we consciously stop clamouring for and buying things just because we have the money?

Can we adopt an attitude of satisfaction with the iPhone 5 and not run to buy the iPhone 6, which I believe is right round the corner, only because of its snob value and not much more?

Can we begin caring about the waste we produce within our homes and make genuine efforts to reduce it, and reduce the burden on our planet?

Can we stop using colourful plastic plates and cups and saucers and what not just because it comes cheap (because the reality is that sooner than later, these coloured melmoware loses its sheen and has, therefore, a shorter life span than your Indian and gharelu stainless steel)?

Can we encourage our children to look for means of recycling, including the gel pens, instead of merely buying a new set of 10 each time?

It’s not an easy task but if we want to not end up just like the movie Wall-E it is high time we said ‘no’ to innovations that have the potential for destruction simply because we don’t know how to dispose them!

Walk the Talk: I’ve known people who think nothing of buying a plastic bucket for their bathrooms because the older ones look, well…old. I don’t buy that argument because I have been using buckets that are as old as my marriage – and that’s OLD believe you me! (18 years this June!!!) And there is nothing wrong with them! All you need is the intention – to reduce, reuse and recycle!!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Looking Inside - The rot that began at home

Ever since the furor over the Delhi gang rape began almost a month ago, I have maintained a conspicuous silence about it. My first reaction to the issue was – Don’t treat us like Goddesses, porcelain dolls, or someone who needs looking after/protection, just treat us like human beings.

As a woman who has lived in many parts of the country and experienced many forms of molestation in all sorts of places (public transportation, cinemas, on the streets etc) to me the beginning of the real change was clearly to begin with my home.

I vowed to raise a boy who will respect all women – not just his mother and sister, but all women he comes to deal with or know, regardless of who they were.

Having said that, I began a journey of intense soul searching that led me nowhere. Here I was, living in a nuclear family, in a city where women are ‘safer’ than most other parts of the country, raising two children almost single-handedly, ensuring that my daughter grows up to value herself as the most important person in her life and ensuring that the son values the importance of the women in his life, having in a way, complete ‘control’ over my circumstances.

Repeatedly, my thoughts crawled back to my family – extended family (and we are a very large one at that) – to my cousins – brothers and sisters, to my sisters-in-laws, to my aunts and uncles who have often cited lack of ‘control’ over their circumstances that has led to their indulging in, participating, encouraging or even supporting (through their veritable vow of silence), activities that make me hang my head in shame.

I thought to myself, if the change has to begin with me, it has to begin with my acknowledging that my extended family (that encompasses my relatives from my father’s side) despite its urban living, its money and its (lack of) education has scant respect for women, either their own or others’.

I shocked myself when one day, it struck me that the reason why I was so shaken by this girl’s ordeal was simply because the perpetrators of the heinous crime seemed no different from the men in my extended family – those men who make their wives abort female fetuses, those men who beat their wives after drinking, or rape them in their bedrooms, those men who believe that a woman’s place is inside the home, who should not be out watching a movie with a male friend, or pursuing a career, who leer at women in skirts in a bazaar, but won’t let their wives wear anything but sarees, who pass lewd remarks about other’s sisters and wives, those men who want to overpower their women with money, violence and morality….those men existed, within my family.

The news of the birth of another girl child to a cousin who had previously undergone an abortion to rid herself of the female fetus she was carrying, became the impetus for me to write two open letters: one to the boys of my family (including the jijajis (brothers-in-laws) and uncles) and one to the women.

Dear Patriarchs,

Often in our interactions, I have been told off by many of you as being too ‘independent’; some of you have jokingly sympathised with the man who married me (not who I married) for his fate; many of you have inwardly, many openly denounced my thought process and expressed unhappiness, discomfiture and even anger at my so-called rebellion. Today I invite more of your wrath through this letter but by the end of it, I hope you realise why I am writing to you.

It starts with your words

My first objection has always been to the kind of language you use. The liberal use of abuses, aimed at mothers and sisters, even in a joke or regular conversation has always been disconcerting. Like most patriarchs of the family, the boys’ training begins young and by the time they are teen-agers the MC and BC words become part of their everyday vocabulary.

You claim to have respect for your women (mothers, sisters, wives) and yet, your tongue carelessly spills MC, BC abuses, night and day. That is because what you call respect is nothing but your misogynist and patriarchal outlook in the garb of respect.

Control is central to your being. Your mother follows the dictates of your father, you expect your wife to do the same. You marry your sisters off into families that have money, and power, but possibly no education; even if she is armed with a relevant degree and desires to work you will pay no heed to her desires. You give huge dowries to marry your sisters, to ensure their happiness; little knowing that money can only “buy” temporary happiness. But you don’t worry about that – because once she is married, she is the husband’s responsibility and she has to manage her own life, for better or for worse.

SO if she has to kill a female fetus to have a male heir (because her husband’s family and their values are just like yours) you won’t blink an eye, you won’t protest, you won’t even acknowledge her pain.  And why are you so uncaring and unfeeling towards your own sister? Because you will have done the same thing to your own wife! You would have her abort a female fetus for the male child, the heir who will carry the family legacy forward, which will ensure that all the riches you have amassed stay within the family.

You disrespect the women in your home by slaying an unborn girl child, by pressuring your wives to kill those unborn babies, and by watching mutely as your sisters do the same.

And if you do have an inclination to help your sister trapped in an unhappy wedlock (that you “purchased”) you will not empower her to walk out on an abusive husband, or ensure that you will support her, come what may. Instead you will continue to keep buying her happiness, with expensive gifts to the in-laws, molly coddling them, wishing that the problem will just go away.

You won’t allow your wives to pursue careers, to enjoy their passions. Just like your housewife mother (out of choice) did, you expect that your wife will keep your home uncomplainingly, raise the kids, respect your parents, and do whatever it is to be the dutiful wife (in your parlance).  

And your drinking – that takes the cake!

You will feel neither remorse nor shame when you make cheap comments about your own distant sister to her husband, thinking/assuming that when you drink, every third-rate remark you make (even if it about a girl from your own clan) will be excused or taken lightly. You will not desist from passing crude remarks to the friends of your wives; remarks about their bodies that speak volumes about the lack of values in your upbringing.

Your upbringing won’t stop you from raising a hand at your wife, or forcing her to have sex with you even if she’s not up to it. You will exercise the ‘rights’ of a husband every opportunity you get, because deep down you are comfortable in the thought that divorce is a taboo in our family; that your hapless wife (who has already been told by her family to ‘adjust’ and ‘compromise’) has no financial security and will therefore always be dependent on you; that somewhere, deep within, she accepts your behaviour (as she does of her brothers, your brothers and other males in the family) as ‘this is what men will do’.  She may or may not raise a ruckus with you in private about your attitude, but she will always choose to stand by you whatever your behaviour – either with her, her family or other women.

Women are objects

Your remarks, your looks, your behaviour are indicative of the deep-rooted malaise of our society that is confined neither to caste nor class. We will go to a temple and bow our heads to a Goddess, BUT in our homes and on the streets, we will objectify women, disrespect them, even kill those unborn girls!

Do you realise now that you have turned out to be no different from those six men who raped that girl on the bus? This horrific revelation is the reason I write to you today.

All of you, my dear brothers, brothers-in-laws and uncles, please remember that there is a little girl growing up in your family (yes, the one you didn’t kill, the one who was allowed to live) looking at you, your demeanour and your behaviour. One day she will break the vicious circle that has entrapped her mother and the women before her and question you on your misdoings. Today you are not answerable to me, but I hope you have your answers ready for that day of reckoning.

Your truly,

My dear sisters and aunts,

Yesterday I got the news of the birth of her second girl. It came as a shock because I am aware that she had already aborted one child a few months ago because it was a female. This time, did the sex determination test go wrong? Or did she decide to keep the baby, whatever be its sex?

Knowing what she has often said about the importance of the male child in the family I daresay it’s the former. And my heart goes out to her, not because she gave birth to a girl, but because she will have to have a third child for the coveted boy (yes, despite her two C-sections and the impending danger of a third delivery).

This educated (MBA degree holder) is not alone. Her older sister, perhaps the only one in our generation (so far) to have three children, was compelled to have the third after the birth of two daughters, and after aborting one or two female fetuses. Another sister-in-law went through the same ignominy twice, thrice (I’ve lost count) before she conceived the male child.

I have grown up with all of you my sisters (and my feelings are on similar ethos for my bhabhis as well) and I cannot for one moment condone or even attempt to understand how all of you, women with good, sound education, can accept or live with the status of no-grade citizen inside your own homes.

Your husband’s families don’t let you grow as an individual, chances are that you have given up the dream of working despite your MBA or CA degrees to conform to the family’s wishes; husbands beat you at will, rape you in your bedrooms; you are forced to abort your girls; you are mentally harassed for dowry and related issues; your parents can never stop fulfilling the ‘demands’ of your husband and his family; you watch as your drunken husbands and brothers misbehave with other women (maybe even your own sister), make fools of themselves, get into needless brawls, spoil relationships, and yet, and yet, you call yourselves happy.

As a woman, my heart bleeds as I write this because I know that when confronted, the truth will be distorted because as a clan, as a society we are used to lying to keep up charades. “Happy family” – the biggest entrapment known to Indian society especially us, the middle class, has obscured our sense of right and wrong.

I know that you’ve often been coerced into toeing the line. You have succumbed to pressures –from fathers (this is what girls in our families do; protect our virtue/honour/family name, etc.), from brothers and now from husbands (for very much the same reasons as your father).

Your sense of adjustment and compromising becomes so intricate a part of your lives, that you begin doing the same with your sons, forgetting where to draw the line, pampering them as the ‘khandaan ka chiraag’, forgetting to change the warped value systems of the clan that they are growing up with, forgetting to teach them to respect women, forgiving all their insolent and uncouth behaviour with their wives (or even with you), overlooking their flaws and focusing on protecting their male egos from all and sundry.

Your daily lives are filled with homely activities interspersed with regular intervals of retail therapy and although I know how important money is, can it make up for the loss of one’s dignity?

Or are you in a ‘comfort zone’ having become exactly like the mother-in-law you cannot stand – giving explanations and justifying the abortion of your own unborn child (because a boy is necessary for furthering the ‘vansh’)?

Do you, like your in-laws make every frail attempt to camouflage the loss of the baby as an unfortunate miscarriage, an act of Nature, not of willful murder?

Can you raise a girl (yes, the one you didn’t kill) inside that home where you face discrimination?

Will you teach your little girl the same values you were imparted (or have imbibed) – adjust, compromise, don’t complain, get beaten, get raped, abort that unwanted girl child?

Do you honestly believe that wearing diamonds and expensive clothes, driving luxurious cars, living in palatial homes, can actually NULLIFY the disrespect meted out to you?

Do you desecrate women who lead happy lives as individuals? Or do you envy them their freedom, their choices, their free spirits?

Do you look at yourself in the mirror every morning and smile at the person you have become? Or do you dream of the girl you were?

Ask yourselves these questions and seek the answers my dear sisters. Don’t hide behind the mountains of rules the males have raised just to rule over you. Don’t impose those rules on your daughters and daughters-in-laws.

Learn to decipher between your will and your willingness and their impositions and assaults.

Learn to say NO – Follow your passion, pursue that career, hangout with your friends from college without the guilt, give birth to the child borne out of your love.

Learn to fight back – Kick him if he beats/rapes you, call the cops, call your friends/well wishers, call the media.  

Learn to protect – not just the child you brought into the world, but that baby who found its home in your womb, and whose only wrongdoing is her sex.

Learn to raise a boy who will respect all women. Let him break the cycle of patriarchy and misogyny and became a man who respects and loves all humanity, including and ESPECIALLY women.

Learn to appreciate – the beauty of life, without having to whip out your wallet or flash your diamonds for it.

Learn to demand – your rights as a HUMAN BEING.

Empower your daughters, empower your mothers and mothers-in-laws, sisters, sisters-in-laws, empower yourself.

In hope and prayer,

Your sister,