Calling Mom…

Today, I spoke to my mom properly after ages. My Grandmother passed away recently, and my Mother was busy with the millions of minute yet vital things that usually follow a death. And with visitors, and condolence calls from people, she hardly had time to talk two words to me each time I called. And by each time, I mean every day. Yeah, I’m in my thirties and I speak to my Mother every day. It might be a bit weird, but it is as much a part of my routine as brushing my teeth or my morning cuppa. I have my breakfast, give Peanut his and then I pick up the phone and call her, and proceed to tell her pretty much everything I did the day before, and all my plans for the day. Sometimes it’s a toddler crisis or something else; but I talk to her and instantly feel better and I can sail through the rest of my day.

But since my Grandmother’s death and in the weeks I couldn’t talk to my mom, I realised something- talking to her had become a huge part of my life. And it got me wondering what I would do when she was no longer around for me to talk to. And that honestly made my heart grow cold. I simply cannot imagine her not being around for me to talk her ear off about things as silly as cooking, to as serious as my future plans. I was also having a tough couple of weeks here- there were some issues in the apartment we are living in, and getting them fixed was taking too long. There were alarms going off at all times of the day and night, and it was freaking Peanut out so much that the sight of the maintenance man was enough to send him into a crying frenzy. And since it’s only been a couple of months since we moved to another country, the Peanut is still getting used to a different daily routine. It’s not as easy for us to get out and about where we stay now, and since I don’t yet have my driver’s license, the Peanut finds himself cooped up at home most weekdays and that drives him crazy. Which effectively drives me crazy trying to find ways to keep him occupied.  Stressful to say the least.

keep-calm-and-call-your-mom-81

Usually I crib to my mom and she sets me at ease. Just hearing her voice and bantering about nothing in general is enough to make me feel better. But the past few weeks with her out of the picture it was awful. TS was and is bogged down with work and I didn’t want to bother him. One of my best friends is going nuts at home with a toddler and a newborn. Another one just moved houses. Suffice to say, I didn’t have anyone on whom to dump my woes. But then, I don’t think anyone can calm you down like your mother.

Talking to my parents is something that has been a part of my day since I can remember. From nightly sessions around the dinner table where we talked about our days, to long phone calls while my time away at college, its been a ritual that me and the sister still maintain to this day. I remember times during mine and the sister’s college when we would trudge our weary way back to our hostel rooms at 2 am in the morning after classes and Mom would be waiting at the other end for our call. She couldn’t sleep without talking to us. Employment and marriage didn’t change this routine for us. And it stays to this day.

Sometimes I think maybe I depend on her a little too much. That maybe in an age when she should be relaxing and enjoying life, I’m burdening her with my innumerable issues and troubles. Then again, research suggests that nothing busts stress like talking to your mom. Nothing can be more calming than the voice you’ve been hearing since before you were born I guess. And in an age where children are being taught to be independent and on their own probably from the cradle, its nice to have such a connection with your parents. And being a mother myself now, I can only hope the Peanut will grow up to be like me. That he’ll want to talk to me everyday; and not treat calls to his mother like a chore he has to cross of his list every week. Fingers crossed. Till then, let me pick up the phone and talk to my mom about this. 🙂

Image Courtesy: Google Images 

Advertisements

On Being Invisible

There are days in my life that I feel invisible. I wake up in the morning with my brain swimming with tasks that I have to accomplish, simply because if I don’t, there’s no-one else to do it. And from the minute my feet hit the floor, I cease to be me.

I’m a mother, a wife, a homemaker. I have to wake my child up, make sure he brushes his teeth and has a healthy, well rounded breakfast. If he refuses, I have to find ways to coax him to eat. I have to think of things to make for lunch and dinner and not anything will do. I have to ensure it is healthy and packed full of nutrients a growing boy needs at the same time also considering the fact that TS is on a mission to lose weight so I have to make sure what I make satisfies his requirements as well. I have to dust and vacuum and pick up a million toys. I have to bathe my child and dress him and keep him clean. I have to read to him and teach him new things and sing “Wheels on the bus” for the millionth time.  I have to do endless loads of laundry. I have to call my parents and check on them. I have to keep in touch with my tight circle of friends. I have to make shopping lists. I have to plan out a lunch menu for TS for the coming week. I have to supervise what Peanut is watching on the TV or iPad. I have to take him on a million pee pee and potty trips.

In the midst of all these things that I simply “have” to do in a day; I feel myself dissembling. Like I cease to have an identity. Like I’m just a series of to do lists and nothing more. Like I forget who I am beyond my identities of a wife and a mother and daughter or accomplisher of tasks.

And those are the days I have to remind myself to stop, and take a deep breath, and ground myself. The days when I pick up a book when Peanut naps and really read; not just skim through the ones I know I don’t have to exercise my little grey cells for. Or the days I stop feeling guilty about Peanut spending more time than usual watching rhymes so I can finally pen down a story that has been eating me up from the inside. Or the days when I hand over Peanut to TS as soon as he walks in the door from work, without thinking if I’m burdening him with a little too much. Those days when I cook something that I love to eat as opposed to what will be best for the boys. Those days when I try and tether me a little tighter to myself. Like a reminder to myself that I am much more than those labels that have been pinned to myself willingly or unwillingly. That I am accomplishing things even when my education gathers dust and my brain cells turn geriatric. That I am not just fading into the background of my life, and the things I dreamed of accomplishing when I was a naive teenager are still possible.That maybe, my life is only in limbo now, and that’s not a bad thing. Limbo is just a stage before going on to better things.

So to all those women out there who are like me, who are living their days in a series of to do lists and trying to not lose their identities in the melee, theres still hope. This too shall pass and you’ll all be whatever you dreamed you would be and maybe much much more.

Women and Marriage

IHM’s blog is one that I read regularly. Although I rarely take the time to comment on the issues she writes about, when I read her post and the comments on it today, I simply had to share my views on the subject.  And I thought putting up a post about it would be far better than scribbling in the comments column.

I have been married for three years now. And to this date, I keep hearing about how women are expected to behave once they are married. In fact, I have heard tons about how women or the female species in general are expected to behave- period. Being brought up by a couple of people who taught me  and my sister to be our own person rather than confirm to the norm, I had not thought much about how it would be for me post marriage. I had always had friends telling me about how things would change once I got married. Many of them were brought up to believe that marriage was the be all and end all of their very existence. Not me. I always believed things would be different for me. I got married when I was 23. I had seen my friends getting married and turning into completely different people by then. But I still believed things would be different for me.

I come from Kerala- a state that has record levels of literacy and record levels of gold being given away as dowry every year. A place that in spite of all the progress it boasts about is still extremely conservative when it comes to tradition. When I got married, I had always wanted it to be a low-key affair. That did not happen. I had to give in to my Grandparents pleas and agree to a big fat wedding. But, I chose the guy I married. I had broken a golden rule there you see- good girls don’t find their own guys. You leave it to the parents. I had known TS since I was all of 8. We had been neighbours. We had grown up together. We had been friends. And then we had fallen in love. And I thought since we had known each other for so long, any transition would be smooth. Wrong.

The very day after I got married, I was told to wear a bindi since married women always did. I wanted to laugh but I complied. But then, I wasn’t so much worried. I was only going to be around the family for a week and then me and TS were flying to Singapore. Thankfully, TS is not one of those guys who insist on following tradition. I don’t wear my wedding ring or my mangalsutra. I haven’t worn sindoor except for the week after my wedding. In fact, if you look at me you would see absolutely nothing that would scream “married”  at you. It works for both of us. The first time we came home after our wedding people were shocked to find no sign of a married woman on me. Sure, I was criticised but I have learnt to take it in my stride.

I often get told I don’t look married. Then again, most people don’t believe it when I tell them I’m 26. I look younger than I am, thanks to some awesome genes from my parents. I am short, reed thin and with a little effort, can pass off as a school kid. People expected me to put on weight or change in some way after I got married. I haven’t. Not physically at least. But marriage changed me. I had to become more responsible, more so than TS. I had to quit my job and move to where TS was, something TS could not have done. And society expects no man to do that either. I have friends who have sacrificed their careers for their husbands, for family. I have friends who have put their lives on the back burner for the sake of their husbands or kids. For them, marriage has truly meant the end of freedom in almost every way conceivable. I have friends who have to ask their husbands or in laws permission to come home for functions and festivals. I have friends who have to ask their husbands’ permission before going out to meet with friends. I have friends who call up their husbands to ask permission before they buy something.

And when I look at them, I think how different my life is. I do not have to do any of that with TS. We are more like best friends than a married couple. We both believe that marriage is all about loving and respecting the other person and that is exactly what we do. TS lends me a hand in all household chores. When we both were working he only saw it fair that we both shared everything equally. But this is not set in stone. There are days when I shoulder more and days when he has to do the same. But most of my friends and a majority of my family dislike the fact that I let TS cook, clean, sweep and what not. It has been set in stone in their minds that it is exclusively my forte and TS is not to be dragged into it. They find fault with the fact that some days I tell TS I can’t be bothered to cook and we order in. They find fault with the fact that some days I’d rather sit and read or write than clean the house.

I have always been someone who has tried to do everything perfectly. When I was working I used to work, come back home, cook dinner, read, blog, spend time with TS and sleep. I would do the same and also include cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing to the mix, and manage to go out with TS or our friends. It exhausted me on some days, even with TS’s help but, I loved doing it. And I was proud of the fact that I managed to do all that. But there were people who still grumbled, still thought I wasn’t doing enough. Now, I’m back in India preparing for a couple of exams. TS is all alone in Singapore. When we told people of our decision to stay apart, there were some who vehemently opposed the idea. How would TS manage on his own? Never mind the fact that till we got married, he was managing fine all by himself. But now it was somehow blasphemy to even think of the fact that I would want to pursue my studies and career at the cost of TS getting a hot meal on the table three times a day. Yes I feel bad leaving him behind. That’s because I love him to death. But we both decided that what I am doing now is far more important for the two of us than anything else.

What started as a simple comment has somehow morphed into a full-fledged rant here. What I am trying to say is, people in India still have preconceived notions about how married women are expected to behave. Married women still have to juggle a lot of balls in the air and majority of the women I know try hard to do this. And a large number of women have to lead lives far different from what they expected simply because they got married. And this preconception is precisely why people say someone doesn’t look or act married when they encounter someone who does not fit into the married mold. And that is why most Indian women take that particular statement as a compliment when they hear it.

When You Lose Someone…..

It has been months since I have opened this page. The last time I was here, I was a totally different person. Now, I’m changed. If you ask me how, I might not be able to give you a coherent answer. You might wonder what could possibly have happened to change someone so soon and so much. I have only one word- loss. Isn’t that what always puts things in perspective for us? Not that it gives you answers that are black and white, but still somehow things seem more clearer- like the fog has thinned a bit and you can make out faint shapes somewhere. In the past few months, I thought about writing what I am writing here a million times but each time, I felt that the time was not right. Each time, something held me back. This is one place where I can say whatever I want to say under the cloak of anonymity and not worry about the consequences. I have always liked the idea of putting something out here and hoping someone somewhere reads it and finds a connection to what I have written- however tenuous it might be. I have another space where I write but people know me there and I couldn’t possibly write there what I am sharing here. I don’t know why, but it just doesn’t seem right. Anyway, I digress. I am here to explain my absence- not tell you why I write.

You see, I lost someone. Actually, I lost two people. One fine day I was pregnant with twins and on top of the world and the next I had to sit and listen as the doctor calmly explained to me that my babies had no heartbeat and that they were slowly dying inside me. I had been ecstatic when I got pregnant. I had been over the moon when the doctor told me I was carrying not one but two little ones inside of me. I had been so very careful- eating right, watching the way I walk, the way I sat, the way I slept. I had been careful to not get into crowded buses or trains. I had eaten stuff that I had previously found repugnant. I had taken my pre natal vitamins on time. TS had been extremely attentive and not let me do anything. I had done everything I could and yet after two and a half months of being pregnant, on the day of my ten week scan, my doctor told me that my babies weren’t growing as expected. One of them didn’t have a heartbeat and the other’s heartbeat was so faint it was almost impossible to detect. She said maybe my body wasn’t producing enough of the necessary hormones. She said we could wait for a few days and see. She asked me to stay off my feet for a few days. I didn’t care what I had to do. I only wanted my babies to be ok. She said there was almost no chance for one of them at least. I didn’t know what to say or think or even feel. Was I supposed to mourn for the baby I was sure to lose or pray for the one I might be lucky enough to hold in my arms?

As me and TS trudged home that day, we both were deathly quiet. A few days after that I went in for a detailed scan as per the doctor’s orders. And that was to be the worst day of my life. I was still holding on to the hope that one of them would make it. I had been positive, trying not to entertain the myriad of morbid thoughts that insisted on popping up in my mind. I stayed positive even as the technician prepped me for the scan. I stayed positive even when she started her exam. But the minute the words “I’m sorry” were out of her mouth, I knew it was all over. She told me my babies were both gone- no heartbeat, nothing. She said my body had already started preparing for a miscarriage. The signs were all there. She called it a hematoma. I could only think of it as death. I felt numb. I had to come out and look at TS’s hopeful face and tell him our babies were gone. I had to see him struggle with his emotions for a minute before he found his voice to console me. I could feel my blood run cold, feel my heart go numb. I had to sit and wait for one interminable hour for the reports. I had to sit in the cab on the ride to the doctor’s office, sit in her room and listen to her telling me it was all over, there was nothing more we could have done. I listened and nodded mutely as she told me we would wait for a couple of weeks and see if a natural miscarriage would happen. If it didn’t, we would have to schedule a procedure. I listened as she told me that it was not my fault, that there was nothing wrong with me or anything I did. She said it was my body’s way of ensuring that I had only a perfectly healthy baby. All I could do was sit and nod. I had to go home and break the news to my Mom who had come down to take care of her pregnant daughter. I had to see her masking her tears for my sake.

The next few days were absolute hell. I couldn’t cry. My Mom and TS both hoped I would, but I couldn’t. I had to stop going to work. I would wake up everyday morning expecting the bleeding to start and there would be nothing. I had to fight down the thought that I was carrying my dead babies inside of me. I had to fight the urge to blame my traitorous body everyday. I had to fight the urge to go over every day that I was pregnant and wonder what I had done wrong. I had to fight the urge to look at the ultrasound images I had and wonder what my babies would have looked like. I watched mindless soaps from morning to evening. I tried to smile and entertain my Mom. I tried to stay happy for TS. I knew it wasn’t easy for any of them. But most of all, I had to try and make sense of the pain that was with me all the time. When my miscarriage actually began, I thought the pain would be the worst part of it. I was wrong. It was the tought that what my body was expelling was tiny little pieces of what would have been my babies that tore at my heart. Not that the pain wasn’t excruciating. I don’t know if labour is this bad, but I would call it labour without a baby at the end.

And if that was to be the end of it, I was wrong. My body cheated me yet again. It didn’t do a good job of the miscarriage either. I had to get a procedure done. By then, I was soo numb that I didn’t care what was coming my way next. I went in, got it done, and came out. And all the while I was at the hospital, I was surrounded by happy pregnant women and ecstatic new parents. I tried not to feel jealous but if I say I didn’t, I would be lying. I did. I wondered why I had to go through so much pain and so many others did not. I wondered why God had chosen me to be the recipient of so much agony and not anyone else. But after I was home, sanity set in. I realized there were millions around me who were going through the same. I realized there were people who watched their kids grow up happy and healthy for years and then in one cursed instant they were gone. I realized maybe my predicament wasn’t that bad, that maybe my pain wasn’t as deep as some others’ were. I didn’t have to watch my kids growing up, I had only just started dreaming about how life with them would be like. I didn’t know how they looked like. I had only started wondering if they would be little boys or little girls. I had only started wondering about baby names. I had only started to wonder what they would become once they grew up. And yet I didn’t know how to explain or make sense of my grief. I could not even begin to imagine how someone who had been through all this would feel about losing their kid. I still cannot.

In spite of all the sense I tried to make myself believe in, it was still hard getting over it. I couldn’t cry for weeks. I couldn’t look at a baby and not feel a sense of loss. I was blessed to have my family and TS with me, to get me through those dark days. They helped me through the blame and the self loathing and anger. TS was my rock, to say the least. He did not shed a single tear- not even when I accused him of not loving the babies as much as I did. He held me the night I cried and rocked me to sleep. That was the only night I cried. After that, it has been a battle to put it past me and move on. I had a bunch of great friends who held my hand through the whole process. I had friends who had kids but understood my need not to hear about them and always kept the conversation on other topics. I had friends who had been through the same and told me they understood. I also had friends who were insensitive- who in spite of knowing what I had been through kept telling me about their kids. I don’t hate them for it. I just hope they had shown a bit more consideration. And in the past few months, somehow the pain has become easier to carry around. TS  and my family tell me I have changed. I know I have. I still don’t know if its for the best or worst. I try to look at the bright side of things and move on. I know this happens to millions of people around the world. But that doesn’t make my pain any less does it?

I am moving on- slowly. Now, I don’t feel bad. I don’t blame myself. I can look at the ultrasound images without my eyes misting over. I can look at kids and not wonder why God took mine away. I still wonder what my kids would have looked like. I still wonder if the names I had in mind would have suited them. I still battle with the negativity that clouds my heart sometimes. But I am moving forward. I know someday I’ll be able to wake up and not think about what is missing from  my life, and even if I do, I will be able to do so without the faintest tinge of sorrow or regret. Until then, all I have left are a handful of lovely memories. the sound of a faint heartbeat and a few ultrasound images…

Missing Women?

I came across an article on Yahoo! India today, that said that women in some villages are forced to marry more than one person from the same family due to a shortage of women. Some of them end up being married to 4-5 brothers in the same family. I had come across a similar article a long while back in India Today. I think I was in school then. The presence of this article on the site today, shows that the situation has gone from bad to worse. This horrifying scenario can be pretty much attributed to one single factor- female foeticide. Girls are simply not being born to keep up with the number of men, and society has to resort to such measures to keep their families moving forward. I find this concept, horrifying, disgusting and more than that frightening.

These families justify their stance saying that a single wife in the family will ensure that their property will not be divided among many households and some such drivel. But just imagine the plight of the woman. Lets think about why a situation like this has emerged. Since the institution of dowry started, there has been a steady decline in the number of the female half of the population. Leave alone villages, even in metros, parents consider a son as a blessing- someone who can earn and take care of them in their old age. Whereas a daughter is always a burden- someone you bring up only to get her married off, with a sizeable dowry to ensure she stays alive, and if at all she happens to be employed, the minute she is married her in-laws will have more claim on her salary than her own parents. There is no guarantee that her parents will be taken care of. And among some staunch Hindu’s, there’s the belief that only a son performing the last rites will ensure moksha for them. To this day, I hear people repeating this. And if a couple is not blessed with a son, in spite of having daughters, it is always a nephew who gets to do the last rites.

I digress. Daughters are a burden- in addition to the hefty dowry and the money “wasted” in educating them, there is also the angle of safety. Who in their right mind would want a daughter in a society where abuse starts right from the hospital bed where the girl is born? Sometimes, in spite of all the safety you can provide a daughter, tragedy still strikes. And that kind of “disgrace” is the worst kind- it doesn’t matter if it was for no fault of the girl. She will still be blamed. Sometimes, even I feel scared when I think of having a little baby girl. What guarantee is there that I will be able to protect her in this society? There are none. She could be assaulted, raped, shot, killed, have acid thrown on her face- disgraced in every way possible from the minute she is born. A son, on the most part, needs no such taking care of, no such protection. So why not avoid the headache and have a son instead of a daughter. Sex selection and foetal sex determination are banned in India. Yet, it happens. The rich decide to get the pregnancy terminated, while the poor, who often have no access to such facilities usually wait until the kid has been born to take action. The number of cases (reported & unreported) of female foetuses being killed, girls being abandoned minutes after birth and even killing of the girl child has shot up drastically. And recently, I read about a motion to legalize sex determination in our country. That will be the end, I tell you. We might as well be heading towards an all male society. Women will become a scarce resource soon.

The article I read today also mentioned that for most poor villagers with daughters, this scenario was a boon. Their daughters are a scarce resource, and they have the power to bargain now. In olden days, the guy’s family had all the power when it came to a wedding and the dowry demanded was often hefty, something that a poor farmer could never be able to afford. Now the tables are turned. Women are in short supply and so, their parents have the power to bargain. They see this as a golden opportunity to get their daughters married off sans dowry. In some parts of India, the situation is so dire, grooms families are paying the brides parents to give them their daughters in marriage. And for these parents, the fact that their daughter could be married to 3-4 men does not matter. They are simply getting rid of a headache. Simple. And does this situation teach these people anything? No. Am sure once the woman is married off, to one or all the brothers in a family, she will still be under pressure to produce a son. And the vicious cycle continues.

For the rich, educated class of society, dowry is still one of the reasons most prefer to have a son rather than a daughter.After all they have to give their daughter enough depending on their social standing. For some it is a matter of passing on the family business etc onto the “responsible shoulders” of a son. For some it is all about having someone to carry the family name forward, since the daughter is always “paraya dhan”. For some it is about the security of having someone stay with them and take care of them in their old age. The reason and excuses abound but, the fact remains, that these excuses make no sense. All these are non- issues if you make up your mind about it. If you decide not to give dowry, then it ceases to become an issue. It is as simple as that. Somehow people fail to see that. Some are scared that without dowry their daughters will be ill-treated in their in-laws place. It is a legitimate fear, I agree. We hear and read about these issues on a daily basis. But a hefty dowry again, does not ensure a daughter’s happiness. She could be tortured in spite of it. There is never any guarantee.

And thus the male: female ratio keeps dwindling. In spite of the best efforts of the government and various other non- profit and non- governmental organizations, the situation has scarcely improved. The numbers have steadily fallen and one sees no signs of it improving anytime soon. Something needs to be done to change this mindset of people. The government has to crackdown hard on anti- female practices and policies. The time for surveys and studies and declarations are over. This is not the time for false promises or fake declarations to implement suggestions. This is the time for action. This is the time to come down hard on stupid rituals and policies that make a girl unwanted and unloved. This is the time to effect a massive change in society. Lets all pray before it’s too late. Else, am sure the day is not far off, when “women” will be a category on India’s list of imports.

Social Conditioning??

Yesterday was a really hard day for me at work. I was tired, and in a foul mood, and I had a little thing called grocery shopping to finish in the evening. I missed my usual bus home in the evening, the next bus was impossibly crowded, and I ended up standing all the way home. And by the time I had gotten off the bus, I was ready to take offence at anything the world said or did. TS was on his way home and these days, due to a new train line opening, he gets home faster than me. And although I had asked him to carry on home, he chose to wait for me at the supermarket. Now, when I’m truly angry and depressed, I choose not to talk about anything. So me and TS finished our grocery shopping in pretty much complete silence and headed home. TS said nothing. I was not in the mood to cook but, if I didn’t there would be nothing for dinner or for the next day’s lunch and as I started to step into the kitchen, TS came up and said he would do the cooking. And he did. He made me an evening snack, cooked dinner and lunch, served dinner, washed the dishes and managed to chase away my foul mood in the middle of all this.

The one thing that I noticed was, all the time that TS spent in the kitchen, I had this tiny feeling of guilt at the back of my mind. I kept on thinking, I should be doing it. I should be the one cooking, not him. He’s had a hard day at work. I shouldn’t make him cook too. And then as soon as I started to think, I squashed the thought. I’d had a hard day too. Possibly one of the worst days at work I have ever faced. And I should not be feeling guilty about making TS cook for just a day. Usually, I manage the evening meal at home and TS is in charge of breakfast. But it is not the end of world if he does the dinner also one day. What bothered me the most was, in spite of being extremely vocal about women’s issues and gender equality and all, I was still feeling guilty about something like this. And I blame it all on social conditioning.

From the time we girls are old enough to understand, we are taught that we need to know how to cook. It is an essential skill that we need to be well versed in, in order to survive in this big bad world. We are taught that in future, the responsibility of an entire household will rest on our fragile shoulders and we will have to do everything from cooking and cleaning and washing and what not. And also manage a career if we insisted on it. This was something that I heard quite a lot and, thankfully, it came from everyone else other than my parents. My parents were considered not so lucky by many people we knew ‘cos they had the misfortune of having two kids- both girls. Oh! think of the sacrifices thee parents would have to make, think of the amount of dowry they would have to accumulate, the amount of money they would have to save for our weddings, the headaches that were sure to come during our adolescence. The list of issues would go on and on. But thank God for forward thinking parents, who bought me and my sister up to be independent, strong individuals who didn’t think their role was limited to the kitchen or that they were in any way inferior to the son(s) my parents could have had.

In spite of this, there were always eyebrows raised when Mom or Dad said that I didn’t know how to cook. I was doing my degree then and except for the tea, coffee and rice and some simple curry, I was clueless about anything else. I had people say to my Mom she was making a huge mistake by not training me in all these “womanly” stuff. They said I would become lazy and spoilt and that my sister would also learn from me. They said I would not make a “good wife” or daughter-in-law. They said, me and my sister should be taught everything from ironing to washing to cooking to cleaning to the art of identifying the freshest of veggies. There were even people who told my parents not to educate us too much, as our future husbands or in-laws might not appreciate us being very smart. Mom and Dad never forced us to do any of this. We learnt when we felt we wanted to. There was no pressure. I learnt to grocery shop when I realized how difficult it was for my Mom to go shopping on her own, when it was just a few items, and I could easily get it for her on my way back from college. I learnt to iron when Mom was not around or when she was too busy to do it for me. I learnt to cook when my Mom was busy taking care of my sister who was extremely sick, and both of my grandmothers who were recovering from different surgeries.

Once I started doing stuff on my own, Mom or Dad would correct us if we were doing something wrong. I have seen my Dad ironing his own clothes, polishing his own shoes, cleaning and dusting, washing the car, gardening and in dire straits even cooking his own food. He chooses not to cook ‘cos Mom’s cooking is way better than his. But there was never a sense of something being thrust on my Mom or on us. And so, I grew up thinking and believing there was nothing wrong with a man cooking or cleaning although society always told me otherwise. Sometimes those voices would dominate my head and make me wonder, but, I would always think of what my parents had taught me and shown me and feel better. So me and my sister grew up doing the things we wanted to do and in the process ended up learning how to do pretty much everything. We both can do everything that society deems is a woman’s forte and more. Although my sister hates cooking and I cannot sew a button to save my life, we have both done good. I have a few “cousin brothers” (as we Mallus say) in our family who have been so pampered by their families that they don’t wash their own plates or even know where their own clothes are. And they are teenagers. While me and my sister could be living by ourselves and we would manage just fine.

I say stop this conditioning of women. This is an age when women can more than compete with men in any forte you can think of. When we can go out and work 12- 14 hour days and run a household, men can also come back from work and not vegetate in front of the television. If women can do well academically and professionally and be a good homemaker, then men can learn how to do these household chores too. After all, if it’s all about gender equality, men wouldn’t want to feel unequal or worse still inferior to women, would they?

So now, when the TS cooks or cleans of washes clothes, I don’t think of it as an event of international importance or of myself as a very lucky wife. It is just a division of labour. We both do everything depending on what we feel like doing. If I don’t want to cook one day, TS does it. If he’s lazy about ironing, I do it, and so on. I don’t believe I am a bad wife for not wanting to do something that has traditionally been considered a woman’s job and I don’t think TS should feel belittled if he is in the kitchen cooking. Thank God for his wonderful mother who taught that women are not slaves and men slave drivers. And here’s to more men like him and more mothers like his. 🙂

My Take on Violence

In my previous post, I had recounted the story of one of my friends. Its really hard for me to see her wasting her life in this fashion, and the thought that nothing I say can make her change her mind is even more frustrating. I have been thinking about her and have also been reading other’s stories on the VAWA blog and there are a few things that I find disturbing.

I cannot, for the life of me, fathom why any woman would take any kind of abuse from her husband or his family or from anyone for that matter. I for one, would never do that. Maybe it is my upbringing, or my financial independence or whatever that makes me think in this fashion. I don’t know. I know that if TS even thought of raising his hand on me, I would walk out, without a second thought. I know my parents will back me up, I know I will be able to manage on my own. And I think nothing merits physical abuse. Ever. Period. Nothing that a woman does or says gives a man the right to rough her up. And no, I don’t buy stupid arguments like- it offends a man’s ego, or its common in marriages for the husband to slap the wife. I don’t buy that. I don’t mind arguing or even fighting. Me and TS do fight over things but, we never make it personal. He never says a word against my family or my upbringing or anything. We fight and we sort it out, as two individuals. And no, there are no swear words, no abuse. We both have very short tempers but, we always manage to handle these issues like adults. And I believe that is how it should be. I don’t think violence is the answer to anything and that is precisely why I will not condone this kind of abuse.

Coming to think of it, I can understand why some women put up with these things. When I was in college, most of my classmates were bought up to believe that marriage was the be all and end all of their lives. That her husband and his family should be her world. They were all small town girls, and I was appalled by their attitude. Most of them didn’t even have any interest in their studies. Their only aim was to finish college so they could get married. And they did get married the minute their studies were over too. Most were not even encouraged to study beyond their graduation. It was almost like their parents were washing their hands off them. Yes, they chose grooms for their daughters with a lot of care. Yes their daughters were the apple of their eyes. But, I didn’t understand why they didn’t encourage their daughters to stand on their own two feet.

I was even more surprised at the attitude of the girls.Most of them believed falling in love or having a boyfriend was absolute blasphemy, that a woman’s place was always one step behind her man, that if you were employed it was always good to have a job that paid less than their husband, that they had to know how to cook and clean and that too food, that their husband and his family preferred and it was good not to work once they had kids, even if their families were around to take care of the kid. And many of them are living their lives as stay at home mom’s. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a stay at home mom. But I do have issues with their attitudes. Not wanting to work, treating their husband’s families as superior to theirs. I don’t get it. Not that I blame them, its the way they have been bought up.

From the time a girl is born, her parents start to worry about getting her married off. Not about her upbringing, not about her studies- they only worry about her wedding and the expenses associated. Even today educating a girl is not seen as a huge priority where I come from. I have people in my own family (very distant relatives, thankfully!) who thought my parents were making a huge mistake letting me and my sister go for professional courses. They said it would make it even more difficult to find grooms for us. They cautioned my parents against making us too independent. They said we were too opinionated. They said it was dangerous for girls to be so. They told my Mom it was a big mistake not to teach me cooking. And when I got a proposal while I was in the first year of my MBA, in spite of some of my family asking them to go ahead, my parents refused. They said they wanted me to finish my education and get a job before they decided something like that.

I was never bought up to believe I was inferior to someone. I was taught I was as good as any other guy, maybe better. I was never taught to suppress my likes and opinions for someone else. I was taught to express mine, and stick to what I thought was right. I was never taught to be submissive, I was taught to not take crap from anyone. And I was taught to not take any kind of abuse from anyone. I even fought with a teacher in school because she had this habit of belittling me in class all the time. I told her I would take her to court for emotional harassment if she carried on with what she was doing. She apologized to me. I apologized to her too for my outburst. Anyways, I don’t see why people should put up with this kind of treatment from anyone.

And I don’t think fear of society should be a factor. Society’s opinion doesn’t matter. You are the one living with the abuse. And its not like society is taking care of your needs. Society just stands by the sidelines and watches all the fun. Its your life and you have to make the choice. It will be hard, especially if you are financially dependent. I cannot begin to even fathom what a victim of abuse goes through. All I can say is, know when to say enough. Know when to walk out and don’t let anything beat you down. That’s the only way to go. You are as important as the man in the relationship. You are not a second grade citizen that your emotions can be trampled upon, that your likes and interests are of little consequence. And to parents who believe that daughters are mere lumps of flesh to be auctioned off in the marriage market concealed under mounds of gold and money, I say, stop thinking that way. Your daughters are as precious as your sons or someone else’s sons. Encourage them to blossom and do well instead of teaching them to be doormats. Maybe then we can look forward to a better society.

I know my thoughts are disjointed here. I was reading some of the stories on the blog and was so upset and that’s what prompted this. I will write more on this topic as and when I think of something more. As of now, my thoughts are scattered. So forgive me.

A Story of Violence?

Its Violence Against Women Awareness (VAWA) month in the blogworld. I have been reading through a lot of posts in the past few days. And the other day, as I was talking to TS about it, I realized that I know women who have been through these violent experiences too. And by violence I don’t mean just physical violence, I mean everything from eve teasing to rape to emotional bullying. And these women come from all social, economic and religious backgrounds you could possibly dream about. Some of them have had the courage to walk out and rebuild their lives, some of them are still stuck in the vicious cycle of abuse,some of them are stupid to not even realize it is abuse that is being meted out to them, some of them keep up with the charade of normalcy for the sake of society and some of them have been bought up to think they deserve it. I will recount here one of their stories. There is no physical abuse involved but the worst part is the girl in question doesn’t even realize she is being abused. And in spite of trying to tell her countless times that she is being made a fool of, she still refuses to accpet it.

I met her when she was 18. She was an only child, much loved and treasured by her parents. Her every wish was fulfilled and she was truly treated like a princess, She was their star and everything she wanted was hers. She would get it through tears or any other means of persuasion. But mostly her demands were simple and her parents were only happy to oblige. She was extremely naive and innocent and lived in her little dreamland which was based on heavy doses of movies and M & B-esque novels. She believed in the “one true love” and being with him at all costs. When I heard of her ideas at first I shrugged it off as a result of her extreme naivette. I did try to tell her that life was different but never gave it much thought. It didn’t seem all that important then. We were all teenagers and I was not very sure of what I wanted from life as well.

That was when she met him. They were classmates. She noticed him first and was smitten. She kept telling a few of us, her friends, about him. We didn’t know much about him, except the fact that he was one of those typical Bollywood tapori kinds, whose only pastime was racing bikes and hanging out with a gang of like -minded guys. He didn’t seem like the guy for her and I told her so. She didn’t mention anything about him for the longest time and I thought she was over him. And then one fine day she dropped a bombshell. She was in love with him, she said. He loved her too. He had confessed to her. She wanted us friends to meet him and like him too. I met him, spoke to him, and didn’t like him. He was shifty, I felt, and not honest. He didn’t seem ambitious. I told her so, but, she defended him and said he was nothing like that. In the meantime, her parents managed to secure a seat for her in a better college. She refused to leave, citing a horde of stupid reasons. The only reason was she didn’t want to leave him. Her parents surrendered to her tears. I told her she was being stupid. She didn’t listen. I stopped telling her anything about him.

The intial few months, everything was hunky dory. They acted like any other couple in love- they were always together, always on the phone, talking late into the night, always out on the weekends. Everything seemed perfect and she tried to prove to me that I was wrong about him. I said nothing. Then the troubles began. He would ask her for money to go out with his friends. Initially, she would give him whatever he demanded without question. She would lie to her parents to get more pocket money so she could give him. She would claim she wanted to buy dresses and shoes. She never did. Then she started asking him why he wanted so much money. He always had a set of excuses ready. She never bothered to find out if they were true. She trusted him. Once she was all set to sell her gold chain that her parents had gifted her for her birthday ‘cos he wanted to buy something. We managed to talk her out of it.

There were fights too. Over everything imaginable. He wasn’t interested in attending classes and would force her to bunnk classes too, so that they could spend time together. If she refused, he would pick a fight. She would keep calling him up to apologize and he wouldn’t pick up. He would yell at her in front of her friends and his friends. She would just cry. He wouldn’t even appear for exams sometimes. She would beg with him to focus on his studies, but to no avail. She still defended him, said he would still make something out of his life. We always tried to tell her otherwise but she chose not to believe us. He would drink heavily too, even come to college drunk. She would cry and make a fuss, and that would send him into a rage. There would be more fights. When he regained his senses, sometimes, he would apologize to her, tell her he would mend his ways. She would be blissful for a couple of days and then the fights would begin in earnest.

Then, her parents found out. They disapproved of him. He took it as a personal insult and insulted her parents. She listened in silence. She tried to convince both sides but failed. Her parents, who had till them given in to all her demands, refused to give in to this. They tried to stop her from meeting him, but she would always manage to find a way around them. She tried to convince him to do better at studies and find a job, he said his interests lay elsewhere. They were almost at the fag end of college by then. She was all set for her higher studies, he hadn’t cleared a single year of college. Then he declared he was off to pursue a degree in a different subject elsewhere. She rejoiced. She told her parents he had decided to mend his ways. She started dreaming of a future with him again. He lasted a month, and then went back to his old ways- friends, partying, booze. Her parents started forcing her to move on and tried to ger her married off. She threatened to run away. They stopped forcing her. They wanted their daughter with them, come what may.

She wanted things to work. But he was fighting with her again. He told her he didn’t love her anymore and had no interest in getting married to her. She persisted. She found out that he was seeing another girl behind her back. She refused to believe it. The girl called her up and spoke to her. She decided to forgive him and blamed herself for it. She said maybe it was her attitude that drove him away. The other girl dumped him immediately. Meanwhile, she got a job. I remember her calling me up and telling me about it. She said she was happy, and that they could get married now. I asked her how she could do that since he was still unemployed and not even a graduate to boot. She said she’d support him with her salary. Her being employed drove him over the edge I guess. The fights became more frequent. He abused her and belittled her all the time. He badmouthed her parents, put her down at every opportunity he got, questioned her, cut her off from her friends, made fun of her job, and even questioned her character. She suffered in silence. She would call me up once in a while in sheer desperation, seeking advice. I would tell her the same thing every single time- dump him and move on. She would agree with me and go back and make up with him. And she would tell him everything about our conversations. He forbid her from talking to me- said I was a bad influence on their relationship. I didn’t care about him, but, I still hoped she would see sense.

I stopped taking her calls after that, because I realized that irrespective of the number of times I told her to dump him, she wouldn’t. I felt sorry for her parents. They had become hermits. The couldn’t even speak to their relatives. They were all pointing fingers at them, and blaming them for their daughter’s foolishness and irresponsible behaviour. They persuaded her to get married. She almost agreed once. She called me up and apologized for not listening to me earlier. But again, she went back to him. Last I heard, he had managed to get a small job at some company. He still hasn’t completed his graduation and doesn’t seem inclined to do it either. She’s doing well in her job and enjoying it. Her parents are still opposed to their relationship. And she, foolishly, still believes things will work out. She still wants to get married to him. She still believes her parents will come around. She doesn’t even have any qualms about leaving her parents for him. She’s considered doing it too. Her parents have threatened to disown her, have threatened her with suicide if she decides to marry him. They view the daughter who was once the apple of their eyes with suspicion and anger. They don’t trust her or anythig she does. She still defies them and meets him every opportunity she gets. He doesn’t care how the whole thing plays out. She’s still blinded by the fairytale ending she has envisioned for the both of them.

I don’t know how this story will end. I hope it doesn’t end in tragedy. I hope she comes to her senses before it is too late. Sometimes I think she’s still with him because of some twisted belief that she will be able to reform him. Sometimes I think it is the fear that he might destroy her life if she chooses to leave him that makes her stay. I don’t know. I don’t know if this qualifies as abuse or as foolishness. Maybe its a mix of both. I don’t talk to her much these days. I am tired of giving her the same piece of advice wrapped in a different colored paper every time we talk. I am tired of trying to dissuade her, trying to make her see that she is being abused, that this is not how a healthy relationship works. I don’t know what more I can do to bring her back to her senses. I don’t even know if I should try anymore. I have been trying for the past 8 years anyways. What do you guys think? Any advice?

Lucky Me…

The other day I was talking on the phone to one of my friends from college- my degree days to be precise. We were chatting about life in general, and she asked me what was cooking for dinner. It being a Friday, I told her mostly TS would get back home and end up cooking or we’d order in. And she went, “Oh! You’re so lucky he does that! My husband doesn’t.” I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to get into an hour long lecture or argument with her. I am tired of asking peoeple to please tell me how the fact that my husband cooks on some days has a bearing on my luck. I don’t get it. People normally assume, that in a marriage a woman’s role is to cook and clean and keep house and take care of her husband’s needs, and the man’s role is to simply earn money. Forget the fact that the woman is also earning and does as much work as the man. That doesn’t count. If a woman doesn’t cook, she’s a bad wife, her mother didn’t bring her up right and what not (again notice how the blame falls on the mother).

I have had both mine and TS’s families also commenting on me “making” TS cook. And I try not to argue because no amount of argument is going to change their minds. But the dynamic of the relationship I have with TS is totally different. TS doesn’t consider his cooking a favour that he has kindly decided to bestow on me. He loves cooking and pottering around in the kitchen and he is undoubtedly better than me in cooking certain dishes. And some days, he knows that I am way more tired than he is and that I would rather sit and read or catch an episode of CSI than get into the kitchen and cook. And I don’t think I’m lucky either just because TS cooks. I don’t see the reason why I should.

My parents never bought me up to believe that my place in life would be restricted to the kitchen. In fact, having to cook was one of the things that they taught me was essential when I would start working and living on my own. Even then I had pretty much zilch knowledge of cooking when I got married to TS. I loved to cook but I would get into the kitchen and try to see what Mom was doing only when I was in the mood for it. And Mom never insisted. I learnt to cook a few dishes in the month before my wedding and that was it. I started clueless about how to cook or shop for groceries or buy fish or anything like that. Excpet for the rare occassion where I would buy stuff for my Mom on my way back from college or accompany her on her grocery shopping, I had no clue about all these things at all.Yet me and TS somehow managed to figure everything out on our own once we started our lives here. Cooking was crazy for me initially. I used to be on the phone with Mom for hours asking her all kinds of questions while trying to make sambar or some such dish. TS would also pitch in with his expertise and we would whip up something. Even today, after more than two years of marriage, I still have to call up Mom for certain recipes. That doesn’t mean I’m am awful cook. I do whip up stuff on my own. I create my own recipes. I watch cookery shows and read cookbooks and make dishes that TS and I like. Its just that I don’t consider cooking to be my forte.

When I was at home and not working, I used to do the bulk of all the household chores. Even then, TS was totally cool if I told him I wasn’t in the mood to cook one day and would rather order in. Today, since I’m also employed we share all our household chores. Cleaning is my forte since I’m the cleanliness freak and even if TS does a good job we both know I’d do it all over again. TS does the ironing most days. If he’s not in the mood for it I do it and he cooks. We do the laundry together. He washes the dishes, I fold the clothes, we both shop for groceries. Never have I felt that the bulk of household chores were on my shoulders. We both do it and we both don’t consider it a huge deal. TS never makes it a huge deal if he helps me out and I don’t think I’m blessed to have such a wonderful husband. After all even I learnt all this stuff only in the past two years.

Truth be told. TS has been cooking for longer than I have. And yeah most days I don’t even get him breakfast. He either gets it himself or chooses to eat at someplace close to his office. I don’t wake him up in the mornings either. Its the other way round. Yeah, I know I sound like the antithesis of what a typical Indian wife should be like, but thats the way I am. And no I don’t think it makes me a bad wife either. Just like TS is used to a routine, I am too. And just because one fine day I happen to find myself married I don’t think I should alter my whole life and personality to match TS’s and neither do I demand it from him. And me and TS have found ways to make our life work. We don’t blame each other or try to assert our superiority over the other. We don’t point fingers and try to hold just onee person responsible for things. We are in this togethr and we are both equally responsible for the things in our life. We just work out something that works for both of us and in spite of our small fights and even our big ones, we do just fine. Our arrangement of “division of labour” suits us perfectly, and if people want to comment on it, they are free to. But sorry, we both don’t want to include luck into the equation. No thanks!!