Monday, July 30, 2012

Why this Guwahati - di?

This post has been picked as a "Tangy Tuesday Picks" by Blogadda.

The whole country is raving and ranting about how the kids on the street are getting more violent than before, how they turn into molesters or rapists at the drop of a hat. How being called 'sexy' is quite okay, and how we should be conditioning all our menfolk by having a few 'slutwalks'. The whole world and their aunt was stunned into awakening after an incident in Guwahati.

The next flurry of activity was everyone getting into the shock-relieving therapy of 'discover why'. Many theories, and among all the various ones that came out, the most reasonable seemed blame-the-parents.

We begin with the parents of the girls who dress provocatively, or the ones who dare to go into a bar at night. We then move on to the parents of the youngsters who were there that night, and then the others who displayed all the empathy of a door knob.

We all thought in our minds that the parents were either the 'broad-minded' buffoons that entertainment channels have so vibrantly shown, or they were the senseless village folk who by some mechanism, trained all their sons to be the modern equivalent of Genghis Khan.

Lets take a closer look. A closer look at how we unwittingly change the way a male child in our society thinks he is Gods answer to everything in the world.

It begins with the birth of a male in any of the households today - urban, rural, rich or poor. I have heard all kinds of smug remarks from the less acidic "Good, now the family is complete" to the more nauseous "You Lucky woman - you have only sons, no liabilities!" being said in various circles of extended family and friends,  to brand new mothers and fathers.

No - this is NOT rural India, and this is not uneducated, illiterate India either.

It then moves on to take subtle hints at regulating what good and bad behavior is - especially for the girl child. Example dialogues are slightly sexist "You should not leave things lying around.... you are a girl, and should be organized." to disgustingly sexist "Girls don't answer back to elders" - while, notice that its perfectly fine for the male progeny to do so. In fact, it is indulgently looked at lovingly, declaring how brave the child is. Not necessarily always by parents, or only by parents - the whole brain-dead society contributes.

In the case of a girl child, it is normal for the whole family to have a say in what she wears, where she goes, when she goes, when she is going to be back, and of course, who she goes with. Oh yes, I do hear you mumble something about your concern for her. I'd do the same too, when she steps out into what obviously is the jungle.  Just one look at the smiling Piggy Chops in an add, tells us that all of this is ok - this is how the world was meant to be. Why'd Piggy be so happy about the court martial is something I don't get, though.

My only question, why don't we do it with our sons? Aren't we unwittingly telling them that they are not accountable? Have we even for a moment thought, that these are the boys who then grow up to think women are meant to be indoors, cleaning and cooking, in domesticated avatars that have been glorified by Ekta Kapoor? Aren't we, at some level, agreeing that assumptions made by the molesters or rapists that 'she asked for it' is true?

Lets take a look at the ridiculous circus we call marriage in India. We bribe the mothers and the fathers and the sisters and the fourth cousin of the uncle of the groom; we also pay the groom in gratitude of his marrying our daughter - isn't that what you call Dowry? We imply here that its a huge favour they are doing us, by taking the daughter - a liability, off our hands. Even educated families. In urban India. Don't believe me? What about dialogues like "Do what you want in this house. Once you get married, your in-laws decide whether you work or not." Why? Do you decide what your son-in-law will do after marriage?

Or just go through the matrimonial columns in the paper. "Wanted : Fair, beautiful, homely girl for 30 year old man working in MNC." And this, by far is a regular requirement. Even young men I seem to encounter in office spaces, when discussing a future wife, say 'homely' is a requirement. Ask them what 'homely' means and they'll tell you "You know, the kinds who do not party too much, or the kind who do not have any boy friends." Prod a little more, and they'll give you definitions such as "The kinds who will be comfortable doing all the housework, even if they are working women."

But ask these dudes who they'd like to fall in love with, I can assure you the name that they come up with is not 'homely' at all! There is usually a mile long list of men who pine for the attention of that over-achiever woman in the office, but when marriage is on the cards, they know this is not who they'd be comfortable married to - and even if they were, the parents would reject them - coz' they are not 'homely' enough. That however, doesn't stop them from lusting after them.

It is not only our daughters that we harm in this social branding; do you really think the young minds of the males in our society is not flawed when we create such clear bias in their formative years? And what happens when a favoured child (favoured only due to the sheer coincidence that there was an extra appendage in his body) does not get any special treatment in the real world? And under all circumstances he would be pitted against someone he was brought up to believe is a second citizen - a woman. God forbid if the woman is able to perform better!

The joke is that most such male members in our skewed society actually believe that they are superior by virtue of their sex. They then look for excuses (let me assure you, we all know people like this) -
  • "The lady climbed up the ladder by sleeping around"
  • "The dame dresses like a slut so she deserves it"
  • "The wife/gf is popular with men so she must be a slut"
  • "The co-worker doesn't mind a few drinks so she must be 'easy'"
  • "If she earns more than me, she is not wife material" (this one was a shocker, but i actually heard it)
Where do we start? By throwing 'notional' equality out the window. And get into non-negotiation for the real sense of the word. Beginning with ensuring rules of the household are the same.
  • If the daughter cannot scream at elders, neither can the son.
  • If the son is tired after school / work/ games, common sense tells us that daughters / daughters-in law will also be so. So either we don't fuss around a son, or we fuss around both
  • If there is only one piece of the choicest dessert, split in two
  • Have meals sitting together - even if, as Mother fuss-a-lot, we like to hover around the table stuffing everyone's plates with food, realize that the son's expectation from a future wife would be the same. For a change, ask the son to serve a few bites or clear the plates. (Believe me, it does wonders to teach them dignity of labor - we learnt it in Hotel Management, and I am thankful for that)
  • Teach daughters and sons to fold clothes, iron them, stack them and hold them accountable for a missing sock. (Simple rule: since you fold them and stack them, you ought to know where that sock went). Not scream at mommy dearest for not tidying up the sock drawer. Ditto for the wet towel.
  • I like festivals - including Raksha Bandhan, for the colorful threads and the sweets. But never, never tell the daughters that you need the brother to protect her. Or the son that the sister (and all girls generally) need 'protection'
  • Never tell the son that 'all this is yours' ...... big mistake!
  • Remind the son often that in the world, the only thing they got free were their parents - they need to work for everything else - just as their female counterparts do too.
  • Remember also to never generalize women or men basis their clothes, language etc. Kids pick that up fast, and will most certainly form early biases.
That's all I could come up with - as my son grows older, maybe I get wiser too. Anyone has any more ideas? We could all do with them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Ginger Candy (Concluding Part)

(Read Part 1 here)

The creaking pulley of the old well was the recipient of all the pent up anger Raman carried in his heart. He pulled the rope so fast that the protesting pulley almost threatened to give up. Thankfully, in two rounds, the bucket had filled to the brim.

Back in the house, Raman's mother continued her sparrow-like ministrations around the man coughing into the blanket. Raman placed the filled bucket close to his mother and went into the kitchen looking for food. Raman picked up a plate and a ladle to scoop out some rice from the watery rice gruel.

 "Don't finish the rice gruel. Father hasn't eaten yet." As soon as she said that, his mother was stunned by the sound of shattering plates from the kitchen. The next thing she saw was Raman rushing out of the room, looking away from her. She called out to him, but the boy was just too angry to even look at her. The temporary lines of worry that fell on her brow on account of her son was soon replaced by a sense of purpose when her husband started coughing again.

*                        *                       *

It was three days later that Raman finally saw the man's face again. For the last few days he had left home at dawn and reached back only after he was sure the man had slept. But today morning, the man was sitting up on the bed when Raman tried to make his exit from the hut. "Raman my son," the croaking voice brought forth angry tears from Raman's eyes. He walked up to his father, and stood looking at the floor. Then he heard a choking sound, as if words were being strangled in the throat. He looked up to see his father sobbing. The sound moved from low hiccups to almost a wail.

His mother came running in to see his father sobbing. "What happened Raman? What did you do? Don't you know how ill father is?". Raman stood as still as a statue, his heaving chest and the hissing sound of his breath the only indication of him being alive. His mother put her hand into the tattered blouse she was wearing, and pulled out a coin from her bosom.

She pushed Raman aside and stood in front of the sobbing man. She then proceeded to circle the hand holding the coin over the man's head, all the way to his feet and back to his head again. She repeated this three times, and handed the coin over to a bewildered Raman. "You go to the Devi's temple right now and put this into the Navagraha kaavu (the shrine of the nine planets). His stars have to be appeased.... "

Raman took the coin, still warm from his mother's clasp, and ran towards the door, only faintly hearing his mother repeat her plea to go to the temple to appease the Gods. He kept running, past the fields, and the brook and the tea stall. Early village risers who saw him tried to stop him to ask him about his father; more pity. He did not stop till he reached the temple. He stood in front of the revered Devi, and opened his fist; the coin had dug an angry, red design on his palm. He thrust his palm forward as if offering the precious coin to the Devi.

The pujari (priest) of the temple came out with a thali (plate) to collect the coin, but he still did not release the coin. "Why do you hesitate, Raman? What was offered to the Devi must be given to Her, else you will bear the consequences. Don't you want your father to get better?" he asked slyly, pushing the plate closer to Raman.

Raman closed his fist tightly around the coin, turned around and ran, the pujari calling after him. He ran along the muddy walkway through the fields, and into the tea shop. Pradeep was sweeping the floor readying the stall for businees, and was surprised to see Raman sitting on the bench meant for his customers, panting while looking at the floor. Raman had never, in the last so many years sat on the bench for customers. "What happened, Raman? Are you alright? Is your father fine?"

Raman looked up, his eyes glistening with the tears that would not flow. "My father would be dead in a little while," he said calmly. "And I want the ginger candy from that jar. As many as you can give me for this coin." He handed the warm coin to Pradeep.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Ginger Candy

picture rights Flickr

The glass jar in the little tea shop was almost empty now. Raman walked right in front of the jar, with the aluminium milk can almost banging on the wooden counter top. Raman looked only for a second at the little ginger candies in the glass jar before moving towards the little makeshift kitchen in the back. Ginger candy was obviously the most popular one in the shop, as the jars of orange drops and lemon drops were almost full.

"When will you stop banging on my table with that can?" Pradeep owned the best tea-stall in the village, and anyone who passed by during the evenings would be enticed into the stall with smells of freshly fried banana fritters and onion pakodas. Mornings saw a different menu being offered in Pradeep's shop - hot appams and dosas with spicy sambar or stews.

The tea stall was also a treasure trove of gossip and news - it was left to the listener to distinguish one from the other. Raman would grab bits and pieces of both during his daily deposit of the much needed milk during both the peak tea times.

He had been bringing milk to the stall since he was six. The landlord of the little hut where he and his mother lived had demanded labor in lieu of the rent that they never paid. But atleast they were allowed to stay on inspite of the erratic rent. There was not much that his mother could earn washing clothes and Raman had no memory of having seen his father. The tea stall visitors had spoken of some factory in Madras where his father was supposed to be working.

The landlord was a wily fellow, and realized soon enough that little Raman was just perfect for carrying the milk to his various customers. Raman would not steal it, and he barely would stop to even rest his little arms and legs. This saved the landlord a lot of ulcer-causing worry. But little Raman was growing fast, and the landlord started to look for new occupations to keep him busy, while continuing to pay him pittance, or nothing at all - the rent was still erratic.

Raman was almost fifteen now, and he could fathom discussions in the tea stall much better. He knew what it meant when the men snickered about the buxom women who passed by, he knew why Pradeep brought smaller ladles and katoris for the sambar, he understood why the people who came to the tea stall looked at him with pity when they were heartily eating the hot oily snacks. Sometimes they offered the snacks to him, but Raman just shook his head. He loved the snacks, but he didn't care too much for pity. But he often wished someone offered him the ginger candy - he would probably not have refused that.

Raman waited till Pradeep poured the milk into a huge pot on the wood fire, and washed out the last drops of milk with water, adding it to the pot. "You are still working? Shouldn't you be at home atleast for today?" Pradeep never looked at him with any pity, and that probably was why Raman was closest to him. Pradeep had, however, taught him how to count money, and get back the right amount of change, which saved Raman from many a beating from the landlord.

"Why should I be home today? Is it a festival?" Raman would have to go to the landlord's house for cleaning up if it was a festival. But his mother always brought back tasty food from the landlord after the festival was over. He suddenly felt hungry.

Pradeep looked at him with surprise. "You don't know? Your father is here. I have to go to your landlord's house to give some appams there. I will give him the can. You go home."

Raman just stood staring at the wood fire, thinking of whether that was news or gossip. Pradeep looked like he was telling the truth. He then nodded to the flames dancing on the sides of the soot blackened milk pot, and ran out of the stall, through the green fields, stopping only when he reached the threshold of the little mud hut.

His mother was moving about the house with a sense of urgency that he had never seen. She went to the cot in the corner where a thin, coughing man covered in a blanket smelling of moth-balls seemed to be the center of all her attention. "Rama..... go get some water from the well. We need to help your father wash his legs and face." Raman did not budge. He moved closer to the bed, trying to make out the face of the man who lay in his bed, who by virtue of a few cells more than a decade ago, was his father.

"Rama...Go now! Can't you see father is unwell? He needs to get his dinner and then his medicines." His mother's face looked different now..... was this how she looked when happy?

"Ask him where he was for so many years, Amma." Raman was still looking at the man his mother said was his father. "Ask him why he has come now."

His mother stood up, reaching just below his eyes. She hadn't realized he had grown so tall! "Did I teach you to be disrespectful of your elders? Or do you want the Devi to punish you for not caring for your father?" Raman walked out of the hut with the bucket, leaving his mother to rub the man's back through yet another coughing fit.

Read the concluding part here

Monday, July 23, 2012

From me to you, woman to woman

Dear Daughter,

Another birthday, and poof! Like magic, you are nine years old!

No, I will not tell you how fast time has flown by, because you would have heard the same thing from a lot of people lately. You will continue to hear it from all the loved ones who have watched you progress from a bulge in my belly, to a cranky, colicky baby, to a toddler with the curiosity of an award winning archaeologist ...... to now, when you can knock anyone down with a charming smile and those soul warming eyes that you claim are your Dad's (I am quite sure I know who put THAT into your head!!)

How I will always think you are...... yup! Even at 30
You remember the proverb in the English book - 'Do not put all your eggs in one basket'? I think you know what that means.... While I was the one to teach you the meaning of those words, I discover now that I have done exactly the opposite.

You, dear daughter, are the one single basket that has all my 'eggs'. I look at you growing up, and I want to hold on to your baby years. I realize how much I see myself in you. I know I can be a bit over-conscientious with you, but you should know that it is only because I am terrified to see you stumble, lest you get hurt. I know I suffocate you sometimes, with all the rules I impose...

"Do your homework before the TV", "have your bath before your dinner", "brush your teeth at night" (even when you can barely keep your eyes open for another second), "You can only play in the vicinity where I can see you", "Don't talk back when you are being 'lectured'", and many more I am sure you would love to add to this list...

I also know you hate it when I tell you what to wear, and how to wear them. Another thing I think you want done away with is when I sneak a peek into your 'personal' stuff - including your diary and your trinkets drawer. You don't know it yet, but I do realize you have been shifting your hiding places more often these days.

I also understand that you don't like the way I tie your hair up in two pigtails, and why you change it to your favorite 'grown-up' pony tail the moment you are in the school van. I am quite impressed at your ability to manage your hair, dear. And I am happy you think of doing things only to please me; but it will be a little while before I completely let go of your hair yet. But tell you what - lets have a deal here. I'll tie up your hair the way you want, and you can try sharing more of your 'personal' stuff with me.... Sounds good?

No, don't get me wrong. I trust you completely, and I most certainly second your sense of independence and accountability. And you have more than once proven to me how responsible and sensible you are - as a daughter and as an older sister to a very irritating younger brother. I have never for once doubted your ability to choose your friends, your activities or your hobbies. Neither can I complain about your attention to your studies or your behavior - they remain one of my most cherished blessings.

But I need time to adjust to your independence too, you know! It does come as a shock to me when you don't need me anymore to get you ready for school, or when you don't need my help to open up Google and look for a new word in wiki. Or like the other day when you warmed up the milk on your own in the microwave - I didn't know whether I ought to be happy or sad. So I've drawn out a pact for all the things I promise to do, now that you are nine
  1. I promise to discuss our 'going out' plans with you instead of just expecting you to tag along - you have stuff to do too, right?
  2. I shall take you along when we shop for you - no more surprise frocks... and we start the lovely tradition of blowing Dad's credit card - together!
  3. I shall refrain from hunting out your diary, and we can talk about all that stuff instead
  4. You want a pony-tail, you get a pony-tail. Or a short blunt cut. Provided we are clear on the tattoos and body piercing rules.
  5. You don't want a nagging mother or a really naughty brother when you go to play with friends - point taken, and we stay put. But the rule on playing at a visible distance from our balcony stays - for now. 
  6. I will stay clear of the accessory matching too. But I step in with suggestions now and then - ok?
  7. We stick to our wake times and sleep times as set, but I promise you can set your own alarm clock as soon as you reach high school.
  8. We go out on mom-daughter ice-cream trips, and we can discuss about anything in the world. Yes dear, about anything at all.......... we are friends too, right?
See? No problems with temporary tattoos too!

Happy ninth, daughter.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Homework Saga

While originally Wordsworth might’ve had many connotations to the ingenious statement "The child is father of the man", I get whiffs of the poet’s sentiments when I get little snatches of my childhood through my children.
The last weekend of a fast depleting holiday season saw us scrambling about to put final touches to the holiday ‘homework’.... (Ugh!! how I detest that oxymoron!), which resulted in me racking my brains to understand the 4th grade questions.

Just for emphasis on the fact that I am not joking about the word 'racking', let me share with you some of the questions (while reading the questions, please remember that the said paper is for FOURTH graders!):
But first, what do we hope to accomplish by the holiday homework?

Do we want the kids feeling grossly inadequate while sitting to write the answers out? Or is our primary aim to gather exceptionally skilled artwork made by the kids’ parents and adorn the school walls with them? Or better still, is the aim to take the parents back to their high school days (ofcourse I meant high school - this definitely isn't primary school stuff!).
A corollary to this question – so are we teaching our kids that it’s okay to take credit for someone else’s work? There are kids in higher classes who have now started paying professionals to create project work; I think I know who did their homework for them in the 4th grade!

Read the complete post at Parentous.