Monday, May 6, 2013

Why women are from Venus and why it mars their life.

The next time you visit someone, watch who offers you a drink or a snack first. Then watch who gets it to you. Chances are it will be the woman of the house in both cases. As for getting it to you, it will almost certainly be a woman. It is very unlikely that in a house where there are men and women, a man will will get the snack/ drink (unless it is alcoholic, but we can talk about that another time). Not that there is anything wrong with anyone helping a guest. But what if the guest is the son-in-law of the house of which you happen to be the daughter-in-law?

Ever notice that despite everyone travelling far and wide and even though the joint family is less common than it was, the daughter-in-law is still given the same status that she always has been and the son-in-law is still the revered guest. I know of daughters-in-law who live in other countries and the families manage fine without them. But during a visit home, if someone should drop in, she is expected to play co-host, by cooking/ cleaning and serving. Again I have nothing against anyone chipping in to help, but why is it that  with the same relationship, we have not just different standards, the standards oppose each other diametrically! One in-law is an honored guest while the other is regarded as the unpaid help. If the reasoning is that women make better hosts, then a) Why do they make better hosts? and there are a number of parts to this question and  b) Are men then asked to move heavy objects and move furniture around on every visit based on just their superior (generally)  physical strength?

Equality is not a 'tit for tat' approach. And yet, it is interesting -  I have seen countless 'bahus' being asked to help, I have almost never seen a 'Damaad-ji' being asked to help at his ummm marital home(?!). On the contrary, everyone falls over themselves to make him the most comfortable. (Has anyone heard of a 'bahuji'?)

I know of a forty something woman, (call her Eve) an MBA running a business being told to touch the feet of some of her random couple, younger than her, distantly related to her husband. The explanation being that they have relationship that warrants it (they happen to be nth cousins to her Mother-in-law and in some obscure way 'uncle and aunt' ). What is even more intriguing, the blood relative, Eve's husband did not have to touch any feet. So in the whole gathering of 10 people, the only one who bowed down to all was Eve. She also ended up washing the dishes at this gathering as the hosts did not have help and her Mother-in-law willingly offered Eve's services, saying she would help.  There is nothing wrong in helping an overwhelmed host to clear up, but the initiative should have been Eve's.

Have you heard of a women complaining about her Father-in-law? When in-laws visit, you will hear a lot of cribbing about the mother-in-law not helping, or interfering too much with a child's upbringing etc while the god like father-in- law just sits still looking helpless and being waited on since he does not know what to do in a home that is not his. A man can retire and expect to just enjoy his life, but should a woman employ help to cook so she can retire from the kitchen, woe is on her-- because nothing is like 'mother-made'. (Well, she deserves it for spoiling their habit by catering to their every taste all these years)

People who visit their grown up married children often complain how the daughter-in-law did not take any leave from office to be with them, while the son-in-law is always excused with a proud "he was so busy" as if it were a mark of success. A surgeon who fell in love with her class mate, was accepted into the family on the condition that she  would move to his city, give up non vegetarian food and wear saris. She was even expected to cover her head when visitors came over. She who was otherwise up to her elbows in blood, trying to save lives! Strangely, the husband did not see anything wrong with this as he had grown up watching his aunts, cousins and all the female relatives around dressed and behaving this way.

I have caught myself instinctively rising to get people things, ask them if they would like more - basically playing the host even when it is not exactly 'home'. I do not think of myself as very traditional or even a nurturing person and yet I do it. I guess having seen my mother, grandmother, aunts and a  host of other women - practically every woman I came across growing up, was enough to instill the idea that it is 'my' job to do so. I even feel somewhat guilty when I think I could have done more. Decades of socialization are hard to shake off and centuries of  people pleasing probably encode it in your genes. Which is why more often than not, women are  the ones who ends up making more effort than any of the men of the house. Which is why during family gatherings man can comfortably sit with empty glasses and plates right next to them and wait for some woman to swing by and get them. Which is why at the end of a dinner party for friends, the female guests rise and offer to help, while, men continue discussing politics, cricket or the latest car on the block.

The Mars - Venus debate will be on as long as the planets last,and this is not even a real issue when we have  female infanticide, bride burning, rape and dowry etc to deal with -  but if we could stop telling girls to learn cooking so they can bring joy to their marital homes and instead tell both boys and girls that  learning cooking  would be a good way to ensure that they eat healthy meals, if we could as readily accept that a women needs to retire from her house work as much as a man needs to retire from a factory or business; if we could as easily request  a son-in- law to clear up the dinner table as we do to a daughter-in-law - maybe we could stop sending women to Venus and forcing them to conform to Venusian ways.Maybe if we stop training women to be people pleasers, they will find the strength to fight their battles better. Maybe we should send everyone no matter what their gender, to the same boot camp on the same planet and then let each one decide which planet suits them best.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Espousing teleshopping...

Coming soon to a TV screen near you - the man of your dreams! (or if you are a man, a woman of your dreams). No, I do not mean Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie or even Shahrukh Khan and Katrina Kaif. I am talking soul mate, better- half, till-death-do-us-part sort of dream ummm.. person. What the matrimonial ads in the newspapers, online sites and matrimonial services could not do, the idiot box will do for you - find a match and even better, tell you how to keep him.

Yes, I did say him and not her because from what I can make out it all seems to be about how to keep your husband happy. Oh never fear, there are tips for him too like the ‘Mujhse Shadi karoge’ show which apparently tells a man how to propose. But once we women get delirious with the ring on our finger we can learn to deal with our mothers-in- law  in  ‘Saas ko saas rehne do’ (his relationship with his in-laws is apparently not a concern) deck ourselves up with ‘gold and beautiful’ and of course, take cooking lessons. And who can forget the makeover? In a show called 'Roopmati',the channel tells you how to look gorgeous   - "Since makeup is indispensable on the wedding day" Maybe a show called ‘Exes and Whys - its all in the chromosomes’ , talking about dowry deaths and female  infanticide would have been a better way to have Mother-in- law stop blaming their Daughters-in-law for not begetting a male heir.

Promising to be “very unique and exciting to all matrimonial-related matters”, it goes on to have the same old same old astrology, shopping or honeymoon travel planning! As usual paying more attention to the wedding, rather than the marriage itself. If only we could have talked about blood typing, equality in marriage and what to expect when the ‘shehnai’ stops and the journey after the honeymoon, it would have indeed been unique and exciting.  Talking about the realities of life instead of the best make up and lehenga and the most exotic romantic destination.  – now there’s a revolutionary idea! 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Who cares...

This morning I woke up to a phone call that there had been a bomb blast in Boston, USA. With my twenty- one year old son at  the University there, it was hardly the best wake up call.. A hurried phone call  later, my heartbeat steadied a little and knowing that he was safe, I could actually begin to take in what had happened.  Two powerful bombs had gone off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people had lost their lives and many were injured. ( A report in the New York Times.) My phone kept ringing through the day and there were messages on Face book and texts that expressed relief at my son being safe. The best part was knowing that some of my friends in the USA had called and assured themselves of  my son's safety much before I even knew about the blast. It was reassuring to know that there were people who cared.

Those kind of people were missing last evening from a busy intersection in Jaipur, Rajasthan where a mother and baby bled to death as motorist after motorist just drove past them , ignoring every cry for help. The Man, Kanhaiyalal Raigher, can be seen alternately pacifying his distraught son and  begging, pleading, beseeching someone- anyone to stop, but no one did. Eventually a motorcyclist did stop, but it was too late for the little girl and her mother. We now have the story of how a girl and her friend thrown off a bus in Delhi, were left to die. We have the story of Keenan and Reuben, who were beaten to death in front of a crowd in Mumbai. Of a young man Santosh, in Mumbai, who was stabbed to death just for standing up against a group of boys who were harassing a girl. No one helped any of these people. Though almost everyone said how terrible it was that they did not get help. So were all the helpful people missing from those places on those days? No one  thought of alerting the police. Maybe if the passing motorists in Jaipur or Delhi had just called in reporting the incident, it would have saved  lives. 

Then again, maybe we feel only for 'OUR' people. I am extremely grateful to all those who called in and checked in on my son and all those who called me to make sure he was okay. I am touched. I know that people care. It was terrible what happened in Boston, the oldest marathon in the world. But why did no one care for those others? Did they feel it did not concern them? Were they worried about getting embroiled in court cases? Did they think it was a hoax? Did they feel it would never happen to them?

All that I can think of is - 
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—

because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

― Martin Niemöller

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Simba sighting

January 15, 2005 - April 10,2013.
People often move out of the way when we are on a walk with him. The maintenance people check to ensure he is safely locked up even before they enter the gates. As for the children, well, they are terrified , if they have never been here before. Once they have met Simba, almost all kids go home and ask for a pet.

Whoever said appearances are deceptive had Simba in mind . A huge German Shepherd of German descent, he has a head that seems almost bear like. On his two paws, he is taller than most grown men. If you ever have him charging toward you, you are unlikely to wait and find out the reason. What most do not know is that he is probably on his way to lick you senseless.

If you see him howling at the gate, you can be sure that he is just inviting you to come in. Only thing is, most people are sceptical about this. His biggest joy is to have friends over. Oh no, I do not mean canine friends. I think he doesn't even know that he is a dog. He loves friends of our sons and loves them all equally. His motto is "the more, the merrier" and heaven is when they choose to play outside with the ball. But he is just as content to be a part of the group discussion or even a board game, and his eyes move from one to another depending on the conversation or the move.

So what kind of a guard dog is he? Well, the kind that guards your soul and teaches you never to judge by appearances!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A day for everything and everything for a day.

Mother's, Father's, is maybe how it began,
with others jumping  into the fray.
Now there is a theme to everyone,
be it grandparents, doctors or teacher's day.

Water, fire, air as well,
each one has its very own day.
While on others its 'Men', 'Children' and 'Women'
who firmly hold the sway.

You focus on your mother for her day,
and treat her like a queen.
Just as on 'World earth day' think of the planet too,
though on other days pillage and rob the green.

When there is an official day for happiness,,
does it mean other days need not be so?
If we celebrate life on only one day,
what are the others for?

There is a day against discrimination,
as if on others you can.
Is it not better to be reminded every day,
this scourge ruins life for every man.

A day for charity and and a day for peace,
for heart and health and friendship too.
a day to talk aloud of all these,
even if there is no follow through.

And then there are some days,
that are burdened with more than just one cause,
though that might be confusing,
as to which one to espouse.

Never mind what you do at other times,
but celebrate each on their day you must.
Some with flowers and chocolates and gifts,
others in conversations that raise dust.

Just as on a day for literacy earmarked,
you spread the word that its always learning time,
today on world 'Poetry day',
you can say it all in silly rhyme!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Substitute a bride

A young man falls in love with a woman from his neighborhood. He does the honorable thing and proposes marriage 'through proper channels'. The parents are thrilled since all other parameters fit. So they approach the woman's parents. A marriage is arranged and a wedding is planned!  Sounds like a Karan Johar movie so far? So break out the champagne and let the music play.

So how did the fairy-tale end? Oh the prince ( fittingly named Raja) did ride off into the sunset with a blushing bride - only it was not the same woman he was blissfully in love with. Turns out no one had asked the bride-to-be if she wanted to marry the prince in question. So come the wedding day she was no where to be found. The distraught bridegroom just popped the question again- to all the woman at the wedding and one agreed! Before she could change her mind, the 'mantras' were chanted and they were bound in holy matrimony for the next seven lives.The Karan Johar movie just morphed into a Maniratnam film and ironically the woman who ran away is named ..  you guessed it - Roja! (You can watch a random clip from the movie here)

A recent Times of India report claims that "Lady luck shines on groom after bride-to-be disappears". The world over, this would probably be a 'believe it or not' story, but in our country no one seems to raise a brow. I remember a case of  a young woman was rescued from disgrace when she was left standing at the altar for the lack of a fatter dowry. A chivalrous eligible guest stepped into the space vacated by the groom to the eternal gratitude of the bride's family. The other guests lauded him too. Of course no one knows what happened after. We assume they lived happily ever after. But either way, the girl found a husband. So that must count for something, right?

Happy endings? Apparently you have one with Raja and Rani finding each other and eternal happiness.
What about that  girl who is still missing? The parents who decided 'what was best' for her, are hardly going to be pleased about her running away and the 'dishonour' they had to face. Never mind that they had no respect for her as a person and treated her like a commodity that could be off loaded to the first person who offered to take it off their hands, like a piece of furniture that had outlived its usefulness.

As for the substitute bride, it is truly amazing that anyone can step into marriage on the spur of the moment. People probably give more thought to  taking on the role of a bride in a play. But then those people do not grow up listening to how you need to find a groom from the very minute they are born. Most girls in India are 'aware' how hard their families toil to find them the 'right' match. After all if you are a 'responsibility' (liability?) to be settled, one man is as good and as unpredictable as the next. When you have been treated as a 'thing', an object to do with as deemed fit by the elders in your life, you see yourself the same way. The thought that your rights to your own life have been violated does not even cross your mind. Then there is also fate - 'destiny' that must have brought you this cross road. Never mind who the man is, what happens after is your 'destiny'.

The girl whose honour was saved at the altar by the gallant who stepped up to the plate and married her probably got a grateful slave for life. ( Maybe he was very nice and treated her like a queen  though I wonder what his family had to say to the wedding invitee turned surrogate groom.) But for all his chivalry, thought of women as commodities who could be passed around - like the toy truck that's left in the sandbox after a child got tired of it.

No matter what the headline says about 'lady luck shining on a desperate groom' there can be no happy endings till we as a society stop treating women like rag-dolls, to be propped up in a wedding mandap, about as important as the toran or the kalash that pretty up the venue, disposed off with the first seemingly suitable man who comes along.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Keeping God away

When my father passed away eight years ago, it seemed appropriate to bid final farewell to him in the city where he was born and many of his relatives still lived. Despite living away from the place and people for over 45 years and visiting on 'earn leave' just for a month at a time, once a year, he still felt strongly for the place. I am told that my father had  not been a very religious man, but over the years had got increasingly so and had taken to the the rituals and traditions that come with it. So it was decided that we would do the thirteenth day ceremony in a  way that he would have liked. A 'hall' was booked and friends, relatives and countrymen were invited.

It all went on as these things usually do. People came, looked appropriately somber, said all the right things - some even shed tears and stated how much they had hoped to see him and how much they would miss him. Then they would spot some one they knew and had not met for ages, excuse themselves and you would hear exclamations of 'its been so long' 'how she has grown' etc. Eventually everyone settled down to a nice lunch that had all my father's favorite food. The soul is satiated seeing loved ones eating the food and transitions to the next world happily is the theory.

All through all this there was a ceremonial pooja being conducted by a priest . My brother, heir to the family name and lineage would dutifully do whatever he said. I, the married daughter did not have much to do. My mother, who had spent two thirds of her life with him had even less to do and sat a little way away observing all that was happening. At the end of the proceedings as he accepted the Dakshina, his fees for officiating the solemn ceremony, he declared that my brother was free from the sutkal/ sutak that kept him under mourning. From now he was free to go to work, weddings or temples- basically where ever he chose to go. He then turned to my mother who was standing nearby and told her that  as she had been recently widowed, she should mourn for the whole year- even visiting the community temple was out of bounds. A twelve year old who was standing close by summed up our feelings when he asked "Why is he asking her to keep away from God at a time when she needs him the most?" Obviously the priest knew less about being a spiritual leader (or for that matter about being a sensitive human being) than a twelve year old!

Why this story today? This morning one of the news items on TV was about how the church has apparently asked the Suryanelli gang rape victim and her relatives to keep away. I quote bits from a news item  " Catholic church in central Kerala has banned the Suryanelli gang-rape victim and her relatives from entering the church. As the residents in the area have come to know the identity of the victim and her family, it is better that they should stay away from the church until all the problems related to the case are resolved, the church is said to have ordered."   In stories that followed the church denies discrimination.

 But the point is that often the devout are denied the comfort their faith promises in their darkest hour. These  are not the only two people who have had this happen to them. And for some of those it happened to may have been all alone,desperate and needing someone to turn to. Are forgiveness and succor to the distressed not the basic tenets of any religion? Should not those who believe in Him have full access to Him? So why is God kept away from those who need him the most?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How would you know...

If soul mates are meant to find one another,
is it because they share one soul?
Do they have just a piece of yours,
or are you equal parts of a whole?

Are soul mates exactly alike in every way,
and any difference ever so  rare.
Or are they just the opposite,
meant to complete one another as it were.

Are they are born with a piece of your soul,
and do you have a piece of theirs?
And like ancient bits of treasure maps,
do they match up by the jagged tears?

The one who has a piece of your soul,
would you know  just at  first sight?
Or are there a few close misses,
before you get it all just right?

Does age ever matter,
just what does come into play?
Is it looks, likes or nature,
or just somethings to one another you say?

Such questions sometimes come up,
and must have through the years.
No answer seemed to be exactly right,
from the young, the old or from peers.

Then again, it just maybe,
the quest for the perfect soul mate,
is to be the best mate you can ever be,
and leave the rest to happenstance and fate.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rules rule

When I was little I was told what and when to do,
a time to eat and drink and sleep
there was a time to play and read
a time to look and leap

Then there was a time for school
a time to play and a time to learn.
English in this slot and Science in that
and a time to every page in each book turn

And if you thought it ended with sleep,
you did not know the rules,
only some clothes were the right night clothes,
while other were  uniforms only for schools.

So maybe it stopped with school you say,
would you believe it just had begun?
the rules for judging one and all,
extended to everything under the sun.

What and where you wanted to study,
the subjects that you chose,
there was a rule that ranked them too,
and with that your standing dipped or rose.

What jobs were just right for the girls,
and how boys must plan their careers,
When and whom to get married to,
the right time for patter of little feet, for bottles and for diapers.

They even told you what you must want,
as parents of your child.
It was not just  fun and love and laughs,
there were many rules compiled.

From what to wear and what to eat,
and how and when it is best,
you are told be yourself and then,
pushed to follow the rest.

It seems it does not matter which generation,
it matters not what your age,
There are always rules you must follow,
and how you fit in, is the gauge.

Just as in life you live by rules,
so must you also in death.
when, how, what the rituals strict,
follow you even after your very last breath.

We all do it to those we love,
 for fear  is the strongest rule.
Maybe we should learn instead,
to be ourselves, to break free of schedule.

How then can you be yourself,
when you live by all these rules?
The rules that no one even knows who made,
be they wise men or be they fools.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The words come tumbling after...

Its not always what I say to you,
that I really want to tell
Often there is so much more
that's left unsaid as well.

Sometimes the time is just not right,
sometimes it isn't enough.
At times the words agonizingly slow
at times they sound too bluff.

The words, they come to the brink,
and they push and strain.
Sometimes just buzzing overhead,
almost for all to see, in sight plain.

And even though I know I can say,
just whatever I want with you,
its exactly what holds me back,
knowing what it might or might not do.

Oh I can get by with things as they are,
and it would not be so bad at all.
but there are times when I wish I could,
let out the words in  unfettered free fall.

To see where they would go and land
to just let them be.
to say the unsaid, the unexpected,
for once just feel, oh, so  free!

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