The Balloon Man

The sibling, for all her brusqueness and bravado, is actually a gentle soul whose heart weeps at the sight of the homeless, needy and those less fortunate than her. She is always striving in one way or the other to make their lives better. The fact that she lives in a metro in India that is called the “city of dreams”, and that the city has seen more dreams wither and die than flourish, doesn’t help. The other day, she was taking a break from her studies (the sibling is always studying something or the other), when she looked out the window of her room and spotted a man selling balloons in the pouring rain outside. The time was closing in on midnight, and he had with him two little boys who were getting drenched in the rain as well.

The sibling’s heart bled, and she resolved to buy balloons from the man on her way back from work the next evening. The next day, after an exhausting day at work she stopped by the balloon man and bought three balloons. Each one cost 50 rupees and so her total came up to 150 rupees. She paid him with two 100 rupee notes (or so she thought), and asked for her balance of 50. The man said she had paid him only 100, and he was due another 50 from her. Not to make excuses for the sibling, but a hard, long day at work had taken its toll on her, and she proceeded to argue vehemently with the man and accused him of trying to take advantage of her. He protested that he was telling the truth, and even swore on his children that he wasn’t taking her for a ride. The sibling tossed one scathing remark over her shoulder, paid the 50 he demanded and went home with her balloons.

After her dinner, she opened her wallet for something and realised that the man was right all along. She had indeed given him only 100. Today, as she was recounting the story to me, she was extremely guilty. She said she couldn’t sleep last night and tonight she couldn’t find the man on her way back home. I told her it was ok and that we all make mistakes, and she could apologise to the man when she saw him next. What she told me next, got me thinking. She said, “The worst part is not that I yelled at him or doubted him. The worst part is that, I know if it had been someone well dressed and in a better profession, who had told me I’d given him only 100 and not 200 like I thought, I wouldn’t have doubted him as much.”

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What she said, hit me hard. We are so quick to judge people by their appearance and the jobs they do. We are taught from a very young age, that street vendors usually take advantage of you. So someone like a balloon seller on the street couldn’t possibly be honest, could he? He had to have been lying. And the sibling is usually someone who never judges people by their appearance. She’s the last person to subscribe to stereotypes. She always gives the other person the benefit of the doubt. But that day, even she was quick to jump to conclusions.

We often forget that even the poorest of men can be honest and the richest of men, crooked. Honestly, that seems to be the norm in the world these days. Part of it has to be attributed to the way we have all grown up. We are taught to be wary of people on the street- the homeless, the beggars, the street vendors. We are told that they are dishonest, take advantage of us; that they are not to be trusted, we should help them but not too much. If they are vendors, we should bargain with them or they might cheat us, if they have kids, they might be using them as props to gain sympathy and hence more business.The list is endless, and it is hard to break those years of conditioning. But maybe it is time we did.

In a world where research has proven that better looking people are paid better, and get farther in their careers and what not, let us not forget that appearances aren’t everything. Remember, sometimes a disagreeable exterior can hide a good heart. Lets not be guilty of catering to stereotypes.

(Image courtesy: Colleen Bevacqua, www.betterphoto.com)

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Boredom

Today has not been a good day for me. For one, I woke up late. Which in turn, meant my plans to cook a nice spread for lunch went down the drain. I was still determined not to order in, and so proceeded to whip up some easy dishes for lunch, whereupon I managed to slice two of my fingers open. After mentally cursing myself and bandaging them up, I got back to cooking. TS was heading out and he asked me a couple of times if he needed to stay back, or order something for me and the Peanut. But I was determined to cook, and that was what I was going to do. Yeah, I can be extremely bull headed at times; and for the weirdest of reasons.

TS heaved a dramatic sigh and walked out, leaving me to my own devices and the Peanut. On weekdays, I manage to cook easy meals; and I usually reserve my cooking for the evenings when TS is also home, so I don’t have to handle Peanut all by myself. If at all I cook in the mornings, its something easy like a peas pulao or some vegetable fry that I can manage when the Peanut is splashing away in the tub or playing with his toys. Worst case scenario, I put him in front of the TV or the iPad. But since the past week, I’m on a mission to reduce our reliance on gadgets to keep Peanut occupied, so I was determined not to put him in front of the TV today. Suffice to say, the ensuing three hours were crazy. I was interrupted every ten minutes with some request or the other- Pick up my toy for me. I need water. I am hungry. I need to pee. I want to see what you’re doing. I want a bowl and a spoon to play. I need to pee. Watch me throw the toys all over the living room floor. And now the couch cushions as well. I’ve gotten garlic from the pantry. You can fish the garlic pods from under the couch tomorrow maybe. I need to pee. Watch me spill water on the couch. Oops, accident on the carpet. 

My head was reeling and I was this close to whacking him to keep him from bugging me. I finally had to give in, and plop him in front of the iPad. And through the red haze of my anger, I realised something. I realised I myself was extremely dependent on gadgets. I read on my iPad and the first thing I do in the morning is check my phone. Plus, most of my friends being in different time zones, I’m always on the phone checking and replying to messages. I have thought many a time that I would restrict gadget time to just a few hours a day, but I haven’t been able to manage that. And I realised Peanut was dependant on them too.

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(Image Courtesy: Google Images)

Having just moved to a new city and living in an apartment, Peanut gets to go out very little. And he’s bored at home. I have to depend on gadgets to keep him occupied. But that got me thinking. is being bored so bad? After all I grew up without any of these gadgets. Even my TV time was severely restricted. And if I complained I was bored, I was made to help out at home, or find means to entertain myself. The Peanut does help out at home. I’ve made sure of that from the time he was about two, but when he’s bored, I almost always resort to gadgets. Before Peanut was born I had made up my mind that he wouldn’t be one of those kids who always had their head in some gadget. And till a certain time, I managed that. While I was with my parents, Peanut was never interested in gadgets. But then, I was at home. We had space for him to run around outside. There was birds and bees and butterflies and flowers. We would go to the temple and temple festivals. We would take him to my mother’s and father’s ancestral homes where there was enough and more space for him to run around and play.

Once I was back with TS, the amount of time I got to spend with Peanut dwindled. I was taking care of everything at home and I had no help. We were stuck in a high rise apartment. Peanut got to go out everyday, but he got tired of the slide and the see saw at the play area pretty quickly. Meal times became crazy for me. While back home he would have his lunch watching the neighbourhood cats and dogs and the crows, there was nothing now to hold his attention except the traffic on the road and that got old pretty quickly. After bouts of screaming and tantrums and wheedling, I had to give in and put him in front of the iPad. And so the tradition of eating in front of the gadget started. From then on, it got worse. If he was out and we were eating at a restaurant, he wanted the iPad. If we were out shopping, and he threw a tantrum, only my phone or the iPad would calm him down. If we were out on a long drive, he got bored after a while and demanded a gadget. After a while, it got so bad and so routine, that I would just give it to him before the tantrum started. And unconsciously I was teaching him that being bored was not acceptable. Something had to fill the void all the time. Giving him a gadget was easier for me as well. I didn’t have to try hard to keep him occupied. I didn’t have to think up stories and games and ideas. I didn’t have to clean up messes. I didn’t have to endure glares from people when he threw a tantrum in public. And it also gave me time to do things that I wanted to do- like watch a movie, or read a book, or talk to my friends.

But these days, I’m making an effort to let that not be the case. I’m still dependant on gadgets for his mealtimes and such but I’m also making the effort to spend time with him. To tell him stories I made up, to show him stuff I cook or explain it to him, to do puzzles or read books together, to paint, to actually laugh and play with him when we are at the park and not check my phone then, to not capture everything we do on the phone, to play car games with him or sing along with him to nursery rhymes when we are out on long drives, to put on some music and dance with him, to just chase each other from room to room, to play hide and seek, to stop if I’m using a gadget to actually listen to him when part of my mind is irritated at the interruption. To think of something to do to fill the time when both of us are bored, and annoyed, and not to fall back on some gadget to keep us entertained. The Peanut is hardly three, so some days, things go my way and some days his tantrums and crying get so bad that I give in. But as he gets older, I hope to teach him that being bored is ok. That you needn’t be occupied with something or the other all the time. That sometimes, you can just watch the rain fall or the wind blow, or trace the path of a falling leaf, or watch the trees sway in the wind, or just lie down on the grass and stare at the blue sky, or talk about random things, or ask me a million why’s, to find shapes in the clouds, to count the stars, to try and see the girl in the moon. That sometimes its good for your mind to just be in the moment, and stay still, and take stock of things and maybe even be bored and not do anything at all. Someday…

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.

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.

Crazy Parents??

A recent news item I came across says that a French label has decided to manufacture sexy lingerie for girls who are under 10 years of age. Another news article talked about a mother who decided to get plastic surgery done for her 6 year old daughter because, according to the mother, the kid was not happy with the way she looked. There is another programme that airs on Discovery Home and Health I think, called “Toddlers and Tiaras”, thats follows the lives of some toddlers and their parents who participate in the kids pageant circuit in the US. These kids actually get their hair and makeup done, get manicures and pedicures on a regular basis, even have their food monitored and are taught how to walk and shake their booty and what not. To say the least, all these above instances shocked me to the core. But then, in an age when a 13 year old boy and 15 year old girl have a baby together and their parents are apparently “proud” of the fact that their kids decided to “keep the baby”, you can’t expect anything lesser.
What is happening to kids today? What kind of examples are being set for them? Its a scary world. I have been married for a couple of years and am seriously considering having a kid but, I’m petrified at the thought of bringing a kid into a world where she/ he will start demanding a nose job or something at age 3. What kind of role models do kids have these days? I remember my childhood when I was never insecure about myself. True, I was quiet and preferred not to talk much, but I was smart and happy. In spite of being pudgy and hardly being able to see above the dining table at home, I never thought I wasn’t pretty enough or that my nose was too weird or anything. In fact, I still think there’s something wrong with my nose but I wouldn’t dream of getting any “work” done on me.
True, when you are kids, you want a dress that one of your friends wore, or you want to look as pretty as a “Barbie” or something like that, but I don’t know what kind of a parent would dream of getting surgery done on a 6 year old to enhance her features. I have seen countless TV programmes of kids who are sixteen wanting bigger breasts and their vain mothers going along with them. I have seen guys who are in their teens wanting more defined cheekbones or a better looking nose and having their parents actually shell out the money to get these things fixed for them. I can understand parents wanting to do this for a child who was born disfigured or has been disfigured because of some accident. But doing this for a kid who otherwise looks perfectly fine, is beyond my comprehension.
More disturbing is the thought as to why kids want to do these things. Why do these kids get the idea that only something that looks like a Barbie doll is perfect? Or that only a size zero is perfect. Or that you need to have perfect hair and looks to be considered popular or important. Maybe it has to do with the kind of environment we live in these days. There’s this incessant exposure to what is considered to be perfect. Movies always portray the herione as beautiful, size zero, looking smoking hot in a bikini. The hero has chiselled features, six pack abs and what not. And the pictures that come in magazines these days screaming ” ‘insert hero/heroine’s name’ spills secrets on how to look fab- his/her diet and exercise regimen” and the article goes on to give you every minute detail of their day. But the pictures of said hero/heroine will invariable be heavily photoshopped. Even pictures of actresses in their teens come with a lot of photoshop work done on them. And I wonder, how many of those reading the magazines actually realize that. And even if they why do they not accept the fact that it’s not normal to look like that.
There’s this belief that has been fostered in us that only thin is beautiful. This is especially true for the female half of the population. Look at the models who walk the ramps, whose faces fill magazines- they are all reed thin. How many times do we read about models who lose their lives because of excessive dieting? There is some hue and cry for a few days and then all is forgotten. Just look at Disney movies- Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, Jasmine- are all stick thin and extremely pretty. I’m not saying that they should make these characters fat. I’m not endorsing obesity in any manner. But aren’t we sending the wrong message to the millions of kids who watch these movies? Kids idolize these characters and aspire to be like them. True, the obsession passes once they are out of their childhood but then, they have their tween idols and then teen idols and what not to look “up” to. And they are all invariably stick thin and pretty. Very rarely do we have stars like Jennifer Hudson or Amber Riley or Monique who are on the plus side. But even they, aspire to lose weight (case in point- Jennifer Hudson). It’s all in the way people are conditioned.
People say that kids should have the intelligence to know what is right and what is wrong for them after a certain age. They should know that aspiring to have an unrealistic figure or getting work done to achieve perfect beauty is not good. But at a time when peer pressure overrules all other judgement and in an age of super sophisticated cyber bullying when you have every chance of being bullied for being a little on the plump side, kids will want to confirm to the norm rather than have the courage to stand apart.
And today I came across an artice in HBR which said that better looking women have a higher chance of getting promoted and getting better pay packages in the corporate world. I was flabbergasted. I’m all for looking well put together in the workplace and being dressed professionally and not coming into work looking like you just rolled out of bed and all, but to think that that’s the most important critetion you are going to be judged on and not your ability to get a job done or your qualification is just plain humiliating. I’m all for dressing well and being confident about your looks but if you are going to tell me that’s the only thing that’s going to matter then what’s the point of being smart and intelligent? No wonder kids would rather be pretty than have anything else.
In this age when there’s lingerie for kids, having a kid at 13 is cool, teen moms are all the rage and plastic surgery is the way to go, I’m scared for all kids. I’m scared to bring a kid into this world. And when that happens, I can only hope that my kid (in fact, all kids) has the sensibility to understand all that is superficial and chose not to go that way.