Posted in Women & Family

women’s biological or other issues need no fb coverage.

Many men do not understand this basic fact.

Women do not want to read explicit details of rape/menstruation/crimes against women/physical abuse of women/women’s body/delivery in social media, with the posts authored by men. At least this is my experience. It can be traumatic whether it happens to you or any other woman, take it from me.

I do write about these things in my very personal private blog which is not open to anybody and everybody. My footfall is very negligible with least audience. Moreover I don’t give a public discourse on women’s matters. I don’t encourage comments (I don’t get reviews) and I don’t look forward to discussing it at all with MEN (even if it may be only online). Chapter closed.

I want to strike one certain guy hard on his face for his comment/opinion on women opting for caesarian section for delivery over normal delivery. Do these men even know what women go through physiologically, psychologically, in the first place. What a callous comment. Shocked by such an insensitivity. In any case, it is a woman’s choice how she wants her body to be treated. Just like it is her right entirely how she attires.

Same holds true for rape. Why go into such a detailing. This is very disturbing. Just seeing the word again and again in print can put off women.

Consent is very important to women. I am saying this because, even at 52, whether it is in an elevator or in marketplace or wherever, I still take care that not a single man may even accidently brush against me. My friends think the same way. This is how personal we see things. This is how private women are really whatever or however others perceive of us. I hope men can elaborate on this one aspect more in future in social media. This has relevance to India especially. At least my generation women are still like the touch-me-not kind who maintain a physical distance with third persons under all circumstances. So you can imagine how we feel about our issues being laid threadbare for men to dissect and discuss so casually in social media. I do see some women posting comments. It is upto them. But frankly I don’t have such an appetite to carry these dialogues forward in public space. Simply no arguments with men on women’s delicate matters that I view to be very personal. Can we women ever bring ourselves to discuss the same way a man’s anatomy or male sexuality in open stage. No we just can’t. Never. Not even a thought in this direction.

Social media is a good platform to discuss issues, still there can be some decorum as to what extent we can openly debate women’s issues.

We girl friends do it all the time behind closed doors (and in whatsapp girls gangs etc). I grew up in a predominantly women’s world attending girls school and girls college. Even at work or otherwise, men have had very limited role to play in my life other than my family members. Very few male friends who I acquired either as a kid growing up in my neighbourhood or later in my life through family strictly or closest network of trusted friends. In actual life therefore, very limited exposure to men surprisingly still for the bold, brave talks I do here in my blog posts. So I find it extremely embarrassing that men, especially our Indian men should be debating on women’s issues so openly without a consideration to women readers. My husband says I write a lot on social issues without knowing men in real much. He views this as my greatest handicap.

We women can take care of ourselves. Appreciate male care whenever we solicit such an attention not otherwise. Day in and day out we don’t want a descriptive read on women’s biological or other issues coming from men.

Although I must admit to one thing I liked from what I read. That women are not the purported seductresses. It is equally men’s responsibility. It is good to read this one line because frequently we women blame ourselves for the way men see us. It makes us – or at least me, feel less guilty.

Finally I feel this strongly about daughters having an effect on men. I stand by my conviction. A man with a daughter is not the same as a man with only a son. I say this to my husband when he says I do not know actual men but write from my imagination. I had a very overwhelmingly protective father and also father-in-law. Loved the old world gentle care. Men with daughters I believe won’t be too very brazen on issues, especially where it concerns women. You can see a marked difference. Men with daughters are a little mellowed always.

I am still an Indian woman, an Asian woman and I uphold my Hindu Indian values up above everything irrespective of what I blog. May be self-contradictory. For the sake of family, if women have to forego/sacrifice, we Indian women are more than willing. We aspire for our family, not for individual success. If this is sexism, so be it. I am for equal women’s rights but also happen to think at the same time that women bending for the sake of family will go a long way in the family blossoming for generations as a happy lot. Finally this is what we strive for, right.That’s how our great grandmothers, grandmothers nurtured us. Family is an institution like a revered temple. Sacred. It is this institution that is falling apart in the west as women take long strides to keep up with men. In my unimportant opinion, women are free to aspire and achieve, but hopefully the casualty is not the family. This is what I want to underscore. I would still want women NOT to give up their kitchen and family even if they have to excel in whatever they do.

Quick steps to self-destruction of decent happy societies:

  1. Close your kitchen
  2. See your family fall apart
  3. Prosper as individual – gay, childless, single, whatever.
  4. Perish without leaving a heir as others take over.

Already happening in Europe and America. We don’t have to subscribe to all their views. We are good by ourselves. A little subtlety in public forum on women’s issues cannot be an excess.

Having said that, it is an individual’s prerogative as to what he wants to post in social media. He/she needs no approval from any quarter. I am well aware of this.

If anyone truly cares for women, hopefully he/she does not stop with articulating ideas but get involved instead with development work in this area. You just have to go to your nearest government run ‘balwadis’ as a first step to take a closer look at grass root level. Women doing menial jobs leaving their newborns and toddlers in state-run childcare to go to work as house maids, cooks, tailors, construction workers etc. These are the issues that need more focus. Dark matters need no publicity in my opinion. They can be dealt with as per law and discussed in some other forum over social media.

You go to your friend’s house. Who gets you the tea. At least in my case, with us girls having grown up adult kids, it is always the daughters, not the sons, who come with a steaming mug asking their mothers to continue chatting up friends. Why do I want my granddaughter to learn to cook dosa/idli – it is precisely for this reason. Life is a lot more beautiful with a daughter around. Your perceptions change.

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Posted in Women & Family

Why can’t some of us sew or crochet ???

Really I envy the sewing women, crocheting ones, embroidering girls, etc., etc., because this kind of creativity I cannot even dream of. No PATIENCE or focus first of all and my hands are not made for crafts. Same with stringing flowers (poo thodukkaradhu) or drawing big kolams/rangolis (i can do decent ones but no inclination). No interest in learning Tanjore painting or Madhubani work either. No such thing as a hobby. Gardening miserable. No appetite for pets although I would like to pet friends.’ Kitchen is only for cooking the most essential, nutritious fare never for coming out with tantalizing exciting gourmet recipes. Bare minimum. For mithais and regional/exotic cuisines, there are always the restaurants! At least some knowledge or interest in music, dance, fine arts? Noooo. Leagues away from all these areas. Books/reading habit, only elementary and basic. Fitness regimen – only as much as my body permits and my body tires easily! So what to do after 50 with menopause staring at your face, with the empty nest beckoning us middle-aged women day after day. Physically we are tired as our hormones go for a swing. Emotionally we are drained. Housewives for a long, long time. Can we take up a job after this age. Can we even survive a part-time job let alone a 9 to 5 one. Once upon a time before I married, I gave tuition in Maths to many high school kids and first and second year graduate students. Even mathematics beyond Pythagoras theorem is something I can’t recall in this age. Trying to figure out where we are headed in life from this stage. To those of us who have kids still in universities there is still more time at hands. Those of us whose kids have to find love yet/marry have some breathing time as well. Looks like late marriage and late parenthood can turn out to be blessings later on in life!!! But absolutely no regrets. There are many, many women I know who would just love to trade places with some of us others for whom life gallops stage after stage at express speed. As MS amma gives life to Rajaji’s words, ‘Kurai Ondrum Illai’ honestly. Life has bestowed some of us with the best we could have ever hoped for. Starting trouble for some of us like me, but Mother Goddess more than compensated. From now on health of our life partners, career success and happiness of kids become newest priorities. Comfortably settled with our ambitious other halves having attained their goals, from this point on, nobody will miss us if we leave. This is soothing thought as well as hurting sentiment at the same time! Over all, we are over the bend. The future we look forward to is lot less to what distance we have already covered so far… A sense of gratitude washes over you… While at this, the soul craves for peace. The heart still is tender and can hold more. Solitude is the best medium to find that elusive contentment we women are seeking.

I hope I got my priorities right in life… Is this what we call middle-age crisis?

Posted in Women & Family

Lights On.

There is no greater God than the sense of empathy. If you don’t have it, there is no use going to temple or doing the puja. Some are born with this empathy. Some are raised in a way that they cultivate empathy. For some, the learning process is ingrained when they live as minority in an alien land. It is then you realise, your God does not matter, your language does not matter, your culture does not matter, your clothes don’t matter, your way of life doesn’t matter. These are different contexts that do no involve you at any level. It is a moment to reckon with and if you do not grow up still, believe me you will have to take multiple thousand janams to get this onto you.

Last week I attended the housewarming ceremony of my longserving household help. She came to me in her early 20s. Now she is hitting 40s. Such a moving occasion for both of us who have become kind of sisters in the last 16-17 years we have been together. She has become like a family member to me. She has built a mini bungalow in her own words – but it is truly a 371 sq ft simple terraced house with a small living, bedroom, bath attached and kitchen plus a partially open top terrace with a room, bath and balcony. To the poorest families having a kitchen sink with 2 taps for running water, a tiled bathroom and upstair bedroom and open terrace is like 7 star hotel luxury. Why is this grihapravesham even more important? I am copy-pasting my old write-up from 2015:

Lights On: Original date of the blogpost: March 10, 2015

The evening before leaving for Doha I had a mini function to attend. Its the coming of age of my maid’s 12 year old daughter. In their community, its a small happy occasion worth celebrating . I have been trying to discourage my girl right from the start emphasizing this is an outdated ritual. In olden days perhaps this custom prevailed because it served as an announcement to interested parties/families who were looking for a (child) bride. There was a necessity to advertise that a girl was ready for marriage. Now we are in the 21st century, so why can’t we do away with this medieval and somewhat humiliating ceremony (the girls are embarrassed visibly). But coming from village, my maid still attaches importance to rural practices. She was in no mood to listen and anyway its not my business how they spend their money or lead their lives. Some of the things I say, she wholly adopts without question and from some areas, I am politely shut out. I take it in good spirit. We don’t own people who work for us.

I was invited the very first day to their humble house (if it can be called that) to give the girl a ritual head shower using the strainer (the atta sieve we use in our kitchens). As a sumangli, she gave me that respect. My MIL was around and she forbade me from going to the girl’s thatched hut that served as their home. I could not overrule her. For the 5th day sunday, she had booked a mini hall in a nearby hotel, very much beyond her means. Even I was weary of the unnecessary expenses. But then I thought what is there otherwise to celebrate in the lives of these poor folks.

Overruling my MIL’s words this time, I attended the function. Normally little girls get gifts like new dresses or bangles or cosmetics for this ceremony. Besides being plied with a variety of eatables/goodies like fruits and nuts. Since my maid has been with me for over 10 years now and since she is like a younger sister to me really, I got her daughter a pair of gold studs for the occasion – the designer kind that the girl can wear to college or work. Sylish and branded.

Reason is I have no daughter. My maid has a daughter but no money. How ironic our situation is. I referred to the ‘panchangam’ and verified that the date and time of the coming of age (in the school wherefrom she was sent back home by her teacher) was a good muhurat. Even the sunday ‘nalangu’ time was fixed by me besides the ‘punyajanam’ hour in the morning. I noted down the thidhi, nakshatram (star) of the days and handed her over the slip. It might come useful when arranging for the little girl’s wedding in future. Because along the birth time of the girl in our horoscope/kundali, I have seen this first menstrual date & muhurat mentioned in bold letters and a little calculation done on that as well (!) So somewhat understand the significance our society places on womanhood.

The hotel was close to my place but going there was the difficult part. I took my regular auto man and told him to park somewhere nearer. When I gave missed call, he had to come and pick me up. I did not intend staying over 30  minutes maximum.

Poorest people have the largest hearts really. I was surprised to see over 200 guests from my maid’s native village and their entire street turn up at the rundown hotel. My first time there. I hesitated frankly at the entrance. Within a minute I was surrounded by her mother and her husband (who works as a casual labourer – mostly house painter).They took me to the little girl in the open terrace up  the stairs. A big colourful ‘shamiana’ was pitched from one parapet to another and kids were running around playing and dashing on anyone and everyone seated in plastic folded chairs. Such an air of gaiety and festivity! Food in banana leaves was served at the restaurant in ground level.

I was clearly out of place. I had under-dressed for the occasion still I stood out among the women. But I knew I had to show that much respect to my girl who is working for me for over 11 years now; – to her I trust my home, my son and my old MIL; with her I feel safe; to her I owe a lot I cannot put in words. From taking care of me if I am sick (I get severe stomach cramps on monthly basis that sometimes renders me to bed for 2-3 days), from cooking for me, for caring for my home/house as if its her own.

Money cannot equal everything. But money is a good mediator, agreed. I could see how my presence silenced everyone for a minute (for which I felt like an intruder) and at the same time how proud it made my girl. She wanted to show me off to one and all I think. She paraded me through her folks introducing names left and right. Some I could recall from our conversations over years, some I could not. It felt so strange. I felt all the love but found that I could not reciprocate in same measure – OMG what a prissy I am!

They offered me a hot cup of coffee. Couldn’t refuse but atleast it gave me a reason to forego food. Moreover my MIL had strictly warned me against eating in their place. I felt bad. I thought how disrespectful that could be –  wanted to atleast eat the sweets and have the icecream if nothing more. Now even when my heart wanted to, my mind said ‘no’ looking at the crowd. It was such a mass of lower-middle class. The gaudy silks and the blaring cine songs playing in the stereos revolted me. The men had their hair oiled and combed, the women wearing cheap scent and flowers. I felt ashamed of myself. For all the social justice we talk about, how many of us can really mix with simple folks in the lowest strata of our society or partake in their homely celebrations. I couldn’t believe my reactions myself. There was suddenly the urge to run away from the scene.

Easy to preach the world. Difficult to practise in life. Our noble f*****g principles. Such a shame. I hang my head in total disgust for my mental block and apathy towards the lesser fortunate, the poor wretched rural/urban folks of India.

There was the ‘nalangu’ ceremony. First one ever for a girl in her life. Nalangu is essentially the haldi-kumkum ritual. We sumangali women have to annoint the girl with haldi-kumkum one by one that’s all. Then we have to sprinkle some ákshata’ (rice mixed with kumkum and haldi marking fertility) on the girl’s head and finally there will be áarthi.’

I couldn’t stay long until the aarthi so I was allowed graciously to finish my turn of nalangu first and leave with the ;thamboolam.’  Many pictures were clicked in those few seconds.

In some 15-20 minutes I was there, I noticed that my maid’s mother from her native village had got some 21 ‘seer’ plates (gift plates) for her granddaughter  – one tray of bananas, one of jack fruits, one of dates, one of almonds, one of sugar, one of apples, one of biscuits, one of chocolates, one of bangles, one of silk clothes, one of little silverware (anklets), one of gold (in her capacity she had got the girl a gold chain) etc.

Such a poor woman you know. A farmhand turned dishwasher in a local highway restaurant as the crops dried out and the lands grew infertile.

My eyes were beginning to water. With a great effort, I controlled myself. She took me by hands and showed me the ‘seer’ beaming with such a pride. A hardworking woman’s life savings lay in front of me – with such a love for her daughter’s daughter.

There were other gifts arranged in corner of the terrace. Coconuts, trays of fruits and fresh flowers.

Over 200 people ate at the feast that night I believe. I left quick handing over my gift and 3 plates of fruits and flowers I had gotten the girl. I did send for her each of the 5 days something I cooked in my kitchen.

Next day after the function, I had very little time to talk to my maid. I had a flight to catch that night. I learned she had spent some 29,000/- bucks on the event. I was a bit angered. Given her economic condition, I was not happy to learn about the expenses. She said, her brother who worked as mechanic gave her daughter 1 sovereign of gold. One more brother also gave the girl the same gift. Her parents and in-laws too gave precious gifts and also the neighbours and relative circle. In all, the little girl had received over 12 sets of salwar kameez, lots of health drinks, fruits, cash gifts etc.

Not a single well-to-do member from my kind of society was spotted (naturally). We move in 2 different societies that did not overlap. I was the only one who ever dared from mine to attend my maid’s house function. When my maid said she paid off the entire expenses for food and hotel with the gift money, I got stumped. So I needn’t have worried. The poor took care of each other.

What an affectionate circle of friends and relatives. The 5 days her rural parents stayed with her in her cramped house lavishing the young matured girl with such a love and a variety of eatables. The generosity of the poor people is something that we cannot see in the miserly upper middle-class.

Aren’t we all busy looking for where others live, what cars they drive, how they shop.

My mind went back to my granny – I never had such a ceremony because my mom was a teacher and was against this kind of needless publicity of a girl’s attaining puberty. But my grandmother did lavish a lot of care and affection on me. I have forgotten so much of my younger days. In our families this is a hushed up affair. I went back to school in fact in 3 days.

My maid made her girl take 10 days leave from school. I was moved when she asked me how to use a sanitary napkin for the first time. I volunteered to get it for her but she said, ‘Akka, I am very poor but there are a few things I want to do for my children by myself. Like getting my daughter her first napkin packet. You are doing so much for us already, but please allow me to buy the basics for my daughter as a mother.’ 

Saying that, she started to cry.

What has poverty got to do with a mother’s love and affection for her daughter. Poor people also have pride and honour and priorities. How can we take them for granted about anything.

She got the packet from the corner shop and I took out one pad and demonstrated to her how to go about it. She herself never uses one. Saves every penny for her family.

‘Your daughter would have been taught in school anyway’ I told her and she said yes. Because even in our days we had visits from Johnson & Johnson and that was decades back.

How the illiterate village girl willingly learned from me and went on to help her daughter to use the sanitary napkin touched my heart. I told her about the importance of hygiene and disposal of used pads and every single word of mine she listened to with rapt attention. Every evening she came back and told me their trials and triumphs. Mother and daughter were having a different kind of experience. Daughter is smart and is a quick learner.

And what a pride in my maid’s face. She felt like she had passed on to the next stage of her life. Her darling daughter was no more a little girl – but a budding young woman. 

But I kept warning her, ‘don’t pamper your daughter too much. we are all women and in this monthly menstrual condition we girls go to school, college, write exams, play in school grounds, catch bus, go to work and do everything; your daughter has to soon return to her routine normal school life.’

And I added, ‘don’t let the girl think she is a heroine either. this isn’t a picture we are watching. she is a princess to you, but let her get it this is nothing unusual; if you are born a woman, this is your life; let her not be distracted but return to books the quickest.’

And my maid said something she had told me a 1000 times earlier: how her mother made her walk 7 km to their ‘kazhani’ (agri holding) to work as farm hand the 2nd day she matured as a girl. She was barely 13 and had been a child labourer since the age of 7. She was not spared from taxing manual labour of 5-8 hours per day even during her periods as a little girl. ‘My legs would hurt and stomach would groan and thighs shiver but my mother wouldn’t spare me; and then there wouldn’t be enough food to eat’ she would recount her sorry tale.The moment she came home from farms, she had to pitch in with her share of kitchen duties and domestic chores like fetching water, doing the dishes, washing clothes etc. Whereas her 3 brothers who rested all day went to school or learned trades like a/c repair, car mechanical work etc.

Yes there are daughters of India who suffer a lot. Whose entire lives end up as tragedy.

‘Marriage was a relief’ said the girl, ‘because at last I could be at home when I had my periods. It was a luxury. Akka, which is why I want my daughter to get all the rest on earth minimum this first time.’

I had no words to that. I wished I could go back in time and extricate my girl from all her hardship and punishing childhood. She did not send her daughter to school for 9 days I guess (i left before the girl returned to school).

My mother never allowed me more than 3 days of rest either. She was teaching 8th class herself where many a day a hearing & speech impaired girl attained puberty – sometimes right in the class hours. ‘When those helpless girls can manage, why can’t you?’ was what she told me casually, ”don’t be a sissy.’ My mother suffered from a serious health issue as well – so it was not something that we gave much attention to. Part & parcel of growing up. I think this is what education can do to us.

Rural, poor India has to change a lot. I don’t see a reform in the short run.

Soon I left for Doha but I am talking to my maid everyday almost. She is cooking for my son (against my MIL’s wishes). I have forbidden my MIL from going near the gas stove (she is 78). I feel better if she is around my house.

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My part-time maid lives off my street. Hers is a dead-end. No hutment is seen within the city limits these days (except in north Madras extension areas which is a fishing colony) but since this is a fag end of the street with no traffic, the civic authorities have spared it. Coming from a dirt poor family, it is also true that my girl’s home stands out like a sore thumb in the otherwise cement and concrete lower middle-class neighbourhood of hers.  Most constructions there are unauthorized. But regularized as our corporation routinely ratifies illegal tenements/housing. Is there any other way to provide shelter to the poorest of poor in our city. Displacing them is unthinkable.

Lets call my girl ‘S.’ She  lives in a single room thatched hut – the walls are exposed brick work (and not actually muddy). She shares the meager living space with her husband and 2 grown-up children. Her In-laws occupy the adjoining room. She says there is a 4 feet verandah running in the sides where she has built a rudimentary toilet. Now that the government has installed for her a free hand pump, her water woes are solved. Earlier she used to run after the water tanker to fetch water. That went on for years. She suffered greatly with pained hips and excess bleeding in those times. The handpump is a blessing to her.

Similarly she was using wood/coal for cooking. I booked an LPG connection for her and got her the first gas cylinder. I did not know then how much it saved her money and energy.

A day in my maid’s life dawns at about 4 am. She cooks and cleans for her family, packs lunch, leaves food for in-laws (rich or poor it is a must in most families in India to take care of husband’s elderly parents; and parents prefer staying over at their son’s over their daughter’s). Later she comes to work for me. Returns to her home to do the dishes and wash clothes. Goes to sleep with the lights on by 10 pm. Her husband is the chief earning member. Daily he brings home 200 bucks which is big amount for them.

During monsoons, her husband who works as a house painter mostly and labourer of any kind in lean season, is out of job for over a month or perhaps longer. That is when the family suffers the most.

Husband and wife are hard and sincere workers. Whether standing in queue for hours to get their rations supply from the govt PDS shops or taking care of their children and aged parents, they discharge their familiar duties without a murmur. Beach and cinema happen once an year during vacations. Holiday means a 2-day bus trip to Tirupathi Balaji temple, a bi-annual pilgrimage.

Even if poor they celebrate all our festivals and are very religious. My maid fasts many more times than me, and her kind of unadulterated piety always impresses me. When I chant the Lalitha Sahasranama, she would adjust her work near my pooja so she hears me. She comes to work after showering, so makes fresh flowers into garlands for my Mother Goddess. She is always my temple companion. I tell her, Shakthi will be more delighted with her than me – because it is her devotion that is matchless. Mother sees what we the mortals cannot see. Mother notes what we the earthlings miss.

Even as she is steeped in such an abject poverty, my girl’s cheer and zest for life always bowls me over. There is so much to complain if she has to. But she never does that. And no gossip either. Virtues you find nowhere these days.

The family though suffers from a strange but severe stress: 

They sleep with their single tubelight on during the nights  – as otherwise they have to deal with rodent menace. Once their boy’s toe was bitten by a furry rat and he had to get a shot to overrule any viral/bacterial infection. Ever since the family does not dare switching off the light when its bedtime.

‘How do you manage to even get a wink of sleep’ I ask my girl and she says as a matter of fact, ‘now I can’t go to sleep with lights off!’

Sleeping with the lights on…

I have no tears left in my eyes to shed for my girl. The single factor that she and family sleep with the lights on was on my conscience for days when I learned of it the first time.

Monsoon times leave her place with damp walls, wet floors, drains overflowing. I try to help by giving out blankets, food etc. Whatever we do is simply not enough I know.

My heart goes out to millions in this country who jostle up in dungeon-like quarters for shelter that they call ‘home.’ My girl is a lot luckier – she has someplace to call ‘home’ and she owns her small plot of 600 sq ft which is still a good bet in a city like Chennai. Think about the homeless.

‘Kettaalum maen makkal maen makkale, 

Sangu suttaalum venmai tharum’

So said the ancient Sangam Tamil Poetess Avvaiyar who lived in the BC. Avvaiyar is stated to have lived over 1000-2000 years before the birth of Christ and her Tamil compositions are still well read. There is no Thamizh literature without Avvai.

The couplet translates as,

‘Even if the well-bred (people with character) are doing poor, they won’t stoop to lower levels.

Even if you heat/burn the conch, it will retain its original white colour.’

I am always reminded of the Avvaiyar verses when it comes to ‘S.’ Even in dismal conditions the girl conducts herself with such a dignity …. refusing overtly help from others (including me), managing with what they (she and her husband) make … What a decent people compared to some other shameless creatures we encounter in public life.

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Before leaving for Doha I asked ‘S’ whether her daughter was alright and back to normal. She looked tired the monday morning after the celebrations of sunday night.

‘She is still bed wetting!’ said she.

Her 12 year daughter, was in the habit of wetting the bed during sleep. I keep asking ‘S’ to refer to a doc but she says, she had had such an anxiety problem herself. Now combined with her menarche, the problem has worsened for the little girl. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I asked her totally perplexed. The girl’s bed-wetting had totally slipped my mind. I could see the agitation in my maid’s face. I gave her a bunch of blankets. ‘Throw away the soiled ones. Use fresh ones, how much ever you want, ask me’ I said.

‘Akka my hands are aching washing the sheets day in and day out!’ she said, ‘our little house stinks and everytime my daughter has to change her napkin, we all have to troop out of the hut. Even if its midnight.’

How many ever bedrooms and bathrooms and wardrobes we have, we want more. How much ever clothes and jewels we own, we want new. Is ours the latest car? Cell? Well now, welcome to poor and miserable India. Come meet my girl ‘S.

We all come across so many, many stories in daily life, media and internet, but nothing moves me like this girl’s. I would get her a washing machine but its not advisable given the nature of their muddy damp walls. Besides there is not a square inch to spare. As such they live like cattle in cattle shed. The single room-hut serves as my maid’s family’s bedroom, kitchen and living. There is a tv, a steel bureau and a cooking counter. There is barely any moving space and they sleep in the floor in a row. Any guests means, they have to squeeze them in that cramped hole they call home. They don’t even use a ceiling fan – only a pedestal is possible in the low-roof.

My heart goes out to the little girl who has just blossomed into a young woman. Where is the privacy she desperately needs in this hour. The girl is upset and crying because she knows her condition and she is ashamed about it. She has no control over her bladder having slept with the lights on since the day she was born. And now onset of the menstrual cycle complicated matters for her. She is still a child – of a mere 12 years. 

Surrounded by alcoholic grandfather and quarrelsome grandmother and an impoverished neighbourhood, the little girl seems to suffer from some suppressed emotions.

I remember my doc’s warnings to me when my son was an infant and I was a working mom. That was a long, long time back. His first advice was to strictly keep the lights switched off after 9 pm so the baby learns the difference between day and night. My son stopped bedwetting in night hours by 6-7 months. He started sleeping the whole night around the same time, not keeping awake, giving me complete rest and full night’s sleep that I badly needed in those days.

I said the girl would be alright with time. My maid who endured the same problem got okay only with her marriage. She was bed-wetting until her 18th year that is. Sudden thrust into married life must have done something to her psychologically. She says with her wedding night, she lost the bothersome habit unaware. I did not tell her, the reason was perhaps marriage freed her from her miserable existence easing her anxieties and giving her a sense of security. She needed no more to toil for hours in hot sun in farm lands and walk back the long distance home to slog the rest of the waking hours until she went to sleep. Urban life was easy neither but comparably less daunting.

On my advice and on doctor’s the mother tried many remedial measures with the little girl. Like not giving her liquid food from the evening hours. From rousing her from sleep to take her to toilet every 1-2 hours. Still nothing works.

I said may be her daughter’s problem is heredity. ‘Did you tell the doctor about sleeping with the lights on?’ I asked her. She said no, she never thought that could be a reason. I said perhaps that is the main reason. My maid is too scared and shy to approach any doctor or psychologist any longer on the issue. She feels her daughter has grown too old for that. She is concerned about what her neighbours might think,. whether it would later on affect her daughter’s married life. Howmuchever I try to convince her to come with me to a specialist, she refuses. She believes her daughter will be fine some day as she herself grew out of the habit over time  …

I shall be the happiest if that happens… Or may be she is right, we must try to ignore the problem. And the girl who is self-conscious up until now about the bedwetting would get alright on her own…

The mother and the girl – and their dreams and trials and tribulations… Its a moving story. I am ashamed of my nation, my society, of the class divide, of the insecurity of the masses, of the injustice they suffer from and more than all by the way they meekly surrender without a fight. They know they have lost it. What it is to be really poor and at receiving end in India – I am seeing before my eyes every single day.

The little girl’s menstruation coupled with the bedwetting habit totally funks me. Sleeping with the lights on…

Once I get back to Chennai, I have to take it up with my maid again. We cannot let it wait any longer. The girl is attending an English school. The silver lining in the cloud is that hopefully one day in the future she will become a graduate – the first woman to earn a degree in her entire clan. So its high time her medical or psychological disorder is dealt with with the seriousness it deserves. More than anything, hygiene is important. If a qualified expert says all will be well without treatment, I am willing to consider that. Or whether the girl should wait until she marries as her mother says… Is it alright to meddle in others’ life. These are the questions I ask myself now.

What are the long term effects on health of individuals who are deprived for years, fitful night sleep. Is it normal to be in light all 24 hours a day – in sunlight during the day and electric light by the night hours. What are the psychological side effects. Very disturbing thoughts.

I keep calling my maid from here. Looks like the little girl has adjusted back nicely to the school routine. She has gotten her 2nd month’s periods. But the bed-wetting continues… The young mother sounded tired and hopelessly sad. The men in the family – her husband and son are suffering in a way too. The little girl’s habit has now multiplied many times over. And then there are the grandparents to consider … ‘We all are keeping awake the whole nights for 5 days now’ said ‘S.’ Never have i felt more sick.

How many of us even bother to spare a moment to think of the lives of our house helps or drivers or cooks. Many times I think about helping the family with their housing needs but I decide, helping with the children’s education is more important. The family as I said, is very proud even if poor. Any extra help you may want to give them, they shy away with shame cursing their own helplessness. They are the kind of rural folks who can be easily wounded. They don’t want help – beyond a certain point. I am actually happy with that. How much they value self-respect, honour and dignity even in their desolate living conditions unwilling to compromise. What a difference from our politicians. ‘Akka when my son starts working, he will raise a loan and build us a proper home’ says my maid.

There are things money can never buy.

I have tried to sleep with the lights on – never succeeded.

The only times I had the lights on during the entire night were when my parents passed away and my FIL died. Unless it is exam times for my son, lights on in the night always brings back tragic memories to me.

India’s issues are very complex, complicated. Poverty and gender discrimination and illiteracy compound to our woes. Those of us who are lucky are so very insensitive to care for those on who we tread over. Our greed snatches away the poors’ just share. Every 2nd or 3rd flat or house we buy, we are pushing the unfortunate into a further cramped dark corner.  Their petty world is bleak and hopeless. The day my maid told me she washed as many soiled sheets and mats of her daughter in their dirty bathroom after the night bed-wetting by her daughter on her getting her 1st periods, I could not sleep in my comfortably bed. I tossed and turned for hours thinking of the girl, the family sitting or lying with the lights on, and mother and daughter making numerous trips to their dingy bathroom… the whole night… If I don’t feel guilty after this, I am not human.

Modi government, please think twice before land acquisition. This is my hearty, earnest request to you. We can beat the mute and the invisible black and blue and they can take it, but it breaks my heart to see this happen to them. Industrialization, urbanization is necessary, but please do it without trampling upon our poor and squashing them into pathetic pieces. There is nobody to take their sides, nobody to argue their cases, they will give up easy – but think of the spirit we crush, the hopes we dash, the lives we crumple… I am certain my government will have some humanitarian considerations… If you have to uproot anyone at all, relocate them favourably.  Ambanis can have 27 storied palatial houses. The poor of India are not clamouring after big bungalows. All they want is to be left alone and not disturbed.

Quote Unquote :

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Life gives the poor very few concessions – and one among them is their ability to celebrate the smaller joys. Something most of us are incapable of.

If I ever get to go on date with Shri Narendra Modiji (!), for even 5-10 minutes, this is the real and only life story I want to tell him. I think I will cover everything I may want to tell him with that.

My heart feels so heavy you know… ? I thought I must share this story.

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PS: It’s over 5 years since I wrote the original story. Finally my maid family had a hearty housewarming this Nov 26th and the family have moved into their little heaven of a home. A beautiful warm nest. Yes, this time I did not hesitate to visit them on their D day. My maid sent me special breakfast and lunch and dinner ordered from a restaurant because she wanted to give me back something that day. Even my mother-in-law was moved. My maid’s neighbours surrounded me. I asked her the next day whether she slept fitfully in the new house. She said, ‘yes akka, for the first time in all these years, with the tubelight switched off but sleep is somewhat eluding, because sleeping with lights on is 20 year habit!’

The family is super excited about their new home with running water and taps and tiled bathroom and open terrace built with their savings of a lifetime and a little loan. Ever since, they are trying hard to sleep in pitch dark with the lights switched off which is new to them!

The little girl is now in college but attending classes online because of corona pandemic. Hopefully she grows out of the menacing habit soon in this newfound peace and harmony of their lives.

Posted in Women & Family

Gender Specific Crimes

Watching ’47 Natkal’ once again on tv, i wondered whether crimes against women have in anyway gone down in our society. Made in 1981, directed by K Balachander, this is one more picture that I remember my mother discussing with our neighbours. The novel was published as episodes in a weekly. By the way, I love the way the picture ends, with Jayaprada telling Saritha, ‘at least marry me off in the film/story!’ It was Jayaprada’s debut film I guess before she became popular in Tamil films and then moved over to Bollywood. Chiranjeevi who went on to become another megastar in Andhra played a very convincing role with Delhi Ganesh lending him identical voice. Saritha’s naive tone for Jayapradha, another plus for the movie. This is one of the pictures that moved me to the core. Rare one that I got to catch up with very late in life although I’ve read and heard about it more often. Its exploration of depths of sadism in men always got me thinking. The cunningness, the sleaziness of it all. Remember this was an era before the arrival of mobile phones and computers.

It so happened that this picture also was somewhat a reflection of the lifestory of my mother’s neighbour and schoolmate in Mylapore from 1960s. The first time ever this friend went to the cinemas with her newly married beau was for watching ‘Palum Pazhamum’ in which Shivaji Ganesan played the lead. That night the young husband had burnt his post graduate wife with cigar butts because she admitted to ‘the mistake of adoring the hero Shivaji’ who was the heartthrob of many in those days. This friend of my mother was well qualified among their peers and was also working as a teacher. In 60s divorce was rarest and unheard of in Hindu community. But this woman won her independence from her physically and mentally abusive spouse and moved over to a hill station with another man who she fell in love with (someone who witnessed her tragedy in person). Someone inter-caste broadminded enough, or may be i must say progressive enough, to share his life with the unfortunate woman deserves applause (by 60s standards).

I saw this aunty for the first and last time in 1982 when she came visiting us on my mother’s demise. She last had seen my mother in 60s. My granny told me her traumatic story and how she braved through it even if she was ostracized by the very society and family she was part of. The picture had been released just an year before, that refreshed memories for everyone. The lady was living life on her own terms which was considered heroic then. I admired her guts even though now I cannot even recall her face. Hardly she was there with us for one hour mostly holding my granny’s hand and crying over it. I believe the forward thinking couple had a son of my age. She had severed her roots but had sounded strong and contented to me. That was all that I retained of her. But her story got imprinted in my mind forever.

Many times I have wondered whether this friend of my mother could have been the influence behind Sivashankari’s ’47 natkal’ with appropriate additions and changes. The torture sequences match at least. Such a coincidence, especially given the timing.

It was a time when novels printed in weeklies as a series made a huge impact in our society. We were subscribing to a number of Tamil weeklies ourselves, Kumudham, Aananda Vikatan, Kalki just to name a few.

(I discovered a cache of bound books after my mother passed away in a zealously guarded wooden almirah locked and safeguarded from prying eyes. My mother from her teens tore the novel pages and got them bound into huge volumes. She thus had ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ to others, all in sepia tinted volumes from the pages of Tamil weeklies through ’50s and ’60s. She never shared them with anyone. It was a private collection.)

Another friend of my aunt in Mylapore was a teacher as well. Although she was not divorced, she was separated from her husband. She had a single hidden patch of leukoderma in her body that brought her marriage to an abrupt end even before it started, on her very first wedding night. She lived a lone matronly life ever since raising her siblings. Not a single paisa by way of alimony, because there was no legal separation on paper. The husband went on to remarry and have a family. Even as a teenager i felt indignant over her sad state of affairs. What bothered me more was how the poor lady resigned to her fate without putting up a fight.

If you were a teen upto 1980s, you could never have missed the ‘mottai pattis’ either. They were part and parcel of our landscape, a blot on our conscience even today. Sometimes I think our entire nation is drenched with their silent tears. Think of the Vrindavan widows. We had a similar patti in my husband’s side. Widowed even before she bloomed into womanhood. But she was blessed with slightly broadminded folks for her times who saw to that she was not confined to white saris but only to white blouse. No question of remarriage.

There was this lady married to a gay man. In those days, these things were never spoken of. The wife was a lifelong unpaid servant to her husband and his family without a word of protest. The husband, well, carried on in the sides (as it was rumoured). One more suffering in silence.

Women were denied rightful share in family estate. A widowed woman who i knew, worked as a housemaid to raise her children even as her affluent brothers split among themselves valuable inheritance.

It doesn’t always have to be gang rape or molestation. Women have been humiliated and abused far worse psychologically, emotionally in this country. The latter cases are life long inflictions. Life sentences.

KB was already into making pathbreaking films by 1970s with the heroines as protagonists against these very sophisticated and subtle social evils masquerading as passable or tolerable relations and situations. Well, they are not. I wouldn’t want to draw inspiration from films for everything but I guess it is easy to make my point clear this way.

For one thing, I noticed kind of rebel wave with the films, for starters. This gave me awareness that otherwise could have taken years.

I think, it was only in 1960s, 70s and 80s that the media behaved responsibly – be it the mass media such as film industry or the print media. Their influence on the public was enormous.

One more thing from those days was the very common symbol of inverted triangles that you found on every wall in the street. It was also there as tv commercials. Family planning, that only worked too very well. Even though if belatedly we realize, the targeted community was merely the Hindu. It goes on to show that if you relentlessly keep drumming up a message to the masses, it can have a far reaching effect after all. Look at our family sizes now. Media can learn a lesson or two here.

The bold streak that I found in KB women is much more pronounced in this generation women. But what is disturbing is that, there is no dearth of scheming men or crimes committed against women since. In all these intervening years one would like to think, we have evolved into a better society.

But here we are today justifying rape, alleging ‘selective enragement.’ How many crimes against women in last 2 to 4 weeks. Public apathy to crimes is shocking. Media overplaying the gruesome acts of violence is vulgar and irresponsible. Please just stop replaying the tapes. Its very disturbing.

Why is Sushant case hogging so much publicity anyway. Why is his lady secretary’s untimely and unnatural demise any surprise or reason for mystery when Jayalalitha’s was not? Sridevi’s was not? Sunanda’s was not. So easy getting away, doing away even women who wielded power in India, is it not. Where is hope for poor rural rape victims in the circumstances. They are far down the line, they just don’t matter.

If you are a woman, you are taken for ride by everyone for everything: from the men who take orders from you to the men who you have to take orders from. Sometimes this is sickening. We women grow up deep in this knowledge.

Men forever want to bind us into this moralistic windowless cocoon from where there can never be an escape without character assassination. We live in a society where yardstick for men and women is still different. I have never personally come across a man who thinks of a woman as 100% his equal. Somewhere we fall short in the eyes of men. There is simply no such perfect man.

I have honestly lost track and count of the number of rapes happening in this country. I am even more perturbed that men in social media politicize these crimes against humanity in a bid to gain mileage without an iota of sensitivity. Who really is bothered about the tortured body or soul. It is all finally a mudslinging blame game for vested interests with an agenda, with the victim shamelessly and heartlessly denied dignity even in death, for gaining an upperhand in the endless tussle for supremacy.

My request to media is to stop this relentless coverage on gruesome crimes. I understand truth needs to be exposed, but there is a limit to portrayal of negativity and gory details. Before the acid attacks on women in Pakistan was covered in a big way in India, there were hardly such crimes happening in India. Some crimes need no publicity, especially the horrific minute details for the sake of mere TRP ratings.

Here is a leaf we can take out of the Arab book as to how to under report crimes in media (only). This is good for the general welfare of the society. For our sanity and peace of mind.

Let law and order deal with crimes. Let the media not run the case delivering judgment. This is wrong, whatever be the nature of crime.

In today’s world, we need more stories on positivity, hope and happiness not frustration and despondency.

My heart goes out to the suffering women. Into my 50s, there is almost no injustice or inhumanity that i have not heard of concerning women: from female genital mutilation to female infanticide. The latter used to be the scourge of even rural Tamil Nadu. I think we need tougher laws to deal with this now and we need to educate masses. There is no single over-the-counter recipe to settle down with.

But then watching ’47 natkal’ brings me back to square one. What makes a man hit a woman. A silver line in the cloud is that, the closing dialogue at least proved to be harbinger of things. A lot has changed now. I have friends who are divorced, single (spinsters) and widowed living with dignity in our midst like never before, completely independent. Sometimes I feel like, why at all men when we have mastered cloning. May be for that extra spice we have the male sex, otherwise their very existence in universe now has been proved redundant! Don’t get me wrong: i am no feminist. Just a thought (shrug)!

Finally it is all up to the individual. How you respect women, how you treat women – these need no tutoring. What can literacy or economics have to do with one’s commonsense and sense of righteousness. You just have to know.

It angers me to think that we women have to even think of something absurd as ‘women’s safety.’ Why at all the pepper spray? Why not ‘men’s safety.’ Until we come to a point when we coin such a term/phrase, i guess we won’t be a mature society. Meanwhile let’s brace for more crimes against women…

Posted in Women & Family

Face Of The Bharathiya Naari

Style or Substance?

I am sick of the so-called feminists who are trying to beautify even acid-attack victims with brush and paint. Why should rich and spoilt chicks continue to represent Indian women.

I downloaded this picture from the Facebook page ‘People’s Archive of Rural India.’

This is a farmer woman from Vellore district in Tamil Nadu. Has any feminist group that makes it its mission to fight just for women’s rights featured a face of this dignity and pride ever. Shame on you ladies!

These are women who do NOT conform to the kind of womanhood you seem to associate with or project – the face of millions who are India’s daughters who will not probably adorn your pages.

Thanks to the archives, I get to see some real and beautiful women of India than the fake plastic ones. Aditi Rao Hyderi, Priyanka Chopra, Neeta Gupta, Sushmita Sen – I never saw/do not see anything common as a Bharathiya Nari, with any of these women. TOTAL DISCONNECT. You are more a feminist in India if you are an unwed mother who will not reveal who fathered your kid or if you have had your nude picture published in the media. Or if you are a bollywood star braving the men in celluloid screens who will make headlines with startling statements and outlandish views. Or if you are a no-substance Page 3 celebrity whose sole credentials could be the socialite parties which you cannot do without. Or if you are in (and out of) live-in relationship(s). Or if you take out banners and placards in Left rallies but would later step into a beauty salon to take care of the ‘tan’ you got with it.

For women to think of themselves at par with men, first you have to come out of this ‘beauty’ obsession. ‘Beauty’ is a relative term. It has to be earned rather than be inherited by gene or cosmetics. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I dare the feminists to share a face like I have posted here. So brimming with happiness, contentment, completeness and pride.

The beautiful face of the Bharathiya Naari. #Respect with an R capital.

Posted in Women & Family

Why India does not celebrate the International Women’s Day

I am the daughter of a working mother who taught the deaf and dumb high school girls (they were still called that then, not referred to as the speech and hearing impaired), earning her living as a bold and fiercely independent woman since 1964. Yes, half a century before, my mother was a teacher who was trained to teach special kids. She passed away in service, working until the last day of her life. I am enjoying the fruits of my mother’s sweat and labour by way of investments to the present as she secured our lives the best she could when she was around. This woman I hardly knew. She is kind of a stranger to me now, yet she is one woman who can bring me to tears right this moment even as I blog away about her. I cannot pass through her school 36-37 years after she left, without breaking down. That is her powerful presence that shadows me forever. She is there with me when she is not there. What I love most about my mom is that, she made her own decisions. She shopped, she went to cinemas and plays, visited temples, enjoyed good music and food and books (Tamil) and lived it up. She was also a smart investor. My mother was clearly ahead of her times. She missed only one thing: looking after her own health. A big lesson for my generation women here. Women tend to neglect their health, but its a huge, huge mistake. Family suffers for this lack of foresight. Women must take their health rather seriously because they are the backbone of their families. Their indisposition may have a cascading effect on our entire systems – for worse. My Women’s Day message is always for women to take better care of themselves first. The short life of my mother that was rich in every other way is a reminder to me as I pledge to eat right, exercise and stay healthy as long as I can.

Women who can manage their homes well only can shoulder further responsibilities at national level.

Our External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj became the first woman minister to speak as Guest of Honour from India at OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) summit this week. Sushmaji went on to quote from sacred Hindu texts the Vedas and Shri Vivekananda, the world renowned Hindu saint who attended the Chicago World Parliament of Religions over a century before.

Hindu women remain the most underestimated ladies in the world because we don’t give up our traditions and customs, and we refuse to get anglicized/westernized or ‘arabised.’ Clothes or accessories or  your English language prowess have nothing to do with who you are. Strong and bold women from India emphasize this naked truth every time they are on world stage. Thank you ministers, you did India proud! India is your responsibility – this 1.3 billion nation. Our PM Shri Narendra Modiji cannot have better ambassadors.

“If women are gifts, then the sari is the best gift wrap”

Indian women abroad are also representatives of the Hindu Dharma outside India. Indian culture is something that must never be compromised. Wear your heritage and pedigree proudly on your sleeve. Do not succumb to the temptation of becoming a cheap duplicate of the West or Middle East. We are Indians, we are the Hindus, and we are what we are.

This is how women are described in ancient Sanskrit scripture. The Shloka was penned thousands of years before when women did not work outside their homes.

  • Karyeshu Dasi: dutiful like a servant
  • Karaneshu Mantri : gives intelligent advice like a minister
  • Bhojeshu Mata: feeds like a mother (in this context, feeds her husband the same way his mother would have fed him)
  • Shayaneshu Ramba : Pleases in bed like the heavenly beauty Rambha (celestial courtesan in Hindy mythology)
  • Roopeshu Lakshmi : Beautiful like Goddess Lakshmi (beautiful and bountiful like the very Goddess of Wealth Lakshmi – lucky omen for her husband)
  • Kshmayeshu Dharitri : Having patience and forbearance like Earth
  • Shat dharma yuktah: woman who has these six virtues
  • Kula dharma Patni : woman married into the Kula (family) (Kula is a family tree/clan; each Hindu is born with a Kula and Gotra which was why conversion was impossible. Only in recent years, Hindu Dharma sees voluntary conversions in large numbers from around the world) (the family tree grows with the woman becoming part of a specific Kula once she marries into the circle)

Feminists may disagree. My kind of feminism is not that of the placard holders. My idea of feminism is practical. Building a happy home, raising a responsible family (our children, future citizens of the nation) are more of a woman’s responsibility, the way I see it. For the simple reason, I don’t trust men for the role except in very extraordinary circumstances. Women continue to get pregnant when men don’t. Courts still give custody of children to mother over father on priority, in divorce proceedings. I wouldn’t want to deny my biological factor which shapes me the way I am. Men and women and equal in some ways and different in others. In the name of feminism, no woman can still take off her shirt in public and parade topless even in America. Being feminine today earns you the label ‘sexist.’ Being Tomboy has come to mean ‘feminist’. This is such a wrong and ill-conceived notion. Where I come from, women are an intriguing mix of everything. Indian women at least, are an enigma. Why should we fit into stereotypes.

In India, Navrathri – the 9 day Hindu festival that culminates in the 10th day Dushshera-Vijayadashami, is women-centric. Hindu Goddesses constitute equal and 50% of their male counterparts in our culture. I am a She Worshiper as much. An all-male God is unthinkable for a Hindu. The International Women’s Day makes no sense to us. It is for those who deny women equal rights. India has had a woman Prime Minister for 17 long years in the past: the charismatic Indira Gandhi, the woman who led India to a crucial war against Pakistan in 1971, who took on the likes of the then US President Nixon and Henry Kissinger bravely and defended the nation from foreign aggression.

Who says we have patriarchy in India. They cannot be more wrong. No society can be more matriarchal in reality than India.

Yesterday was still a time to recap little things from grassroots. Of how my friend who went to work in scooter in 1994 some 40 km up and down during her pregnancy – until she had her normal delivery. Roads then were potholed and a week before she went into labour, she even met with an accident and fell off her two-wheeler. Miraculously neither the mother nor the unborn daughter of hers got hurt.  An other friend is a single parent who has raised her son amid hardship, who is excelling in his chosen field of study today. She is an innocent divorcee, from her son’s second year and a working mother who never remarried. Another one is a widow but is always on road to earn her living. She tended to her husband who was ailing for years with ‘cerebral atrophy.’ My friends are made of steel. My aunt who served as a teacher too for a whopping 35 years, has had a double mastectomy – yes she is a cancer survivor. She has also had a double knee replacement surgery. She is a fountain of inspiration when it comes to women’s health – and in fact used to counsel breast cancer patients.

My bosom buddy from school was paralyzed head to foot thanks to JBS (a syndrome that affects our nervous system) virus for 4 years, soon after her delivery when her bodily defences were low. She not only recovered fully with physiotherapy, she continues to light our way as a beacon of hope by leading a normal life like any of us today, a good 15 years after she was afflicted and confined to bed.

Every woman has a story to tell. Every woman has a story she can relate to. A woman i know takes care of her mentally and physically retarded son from birth. The boy is now 7 years. The infinite patience and love of this young mother will break your heart. Another elegant septuagenarian lady, my friend’s mother, raised her younger daughter who was born with Down’s syndrome. She is a retired school teacher who tours the world with her 35 year old childish daughter in toe always. Together the mother and daughter have a whale of a good time. The daughter can take care of herself, a rarity given her condition. The mother trained her in personal hygiene through grueling years. Only a woman can be this, can do this. The half-child daughter of hers is in her fertile years. She leads a physically normal life without help which is a feat.

I doubt how many men have this kind of patience, tolerance, love, affection. Women are gifted by nature with these incomparable qualities. It is easy to tag some of us as ‘housewives’ who do nothing productive. Is it. I have always believed we women, and more so we housewives, function as catacomb binding and securing the family together under one roof. Our rewards are not financial. We get paid by way of quality life for our family.

Indian women are extremely strong and made of sterner stuff. There is substance to our women, not mere exterior sheen. Let us raise a toast to our womanhood – I see my Devis (Goddesses) in my friends, in my mother-in-law, in my nieces and cousins, in my sister, in my aunts. They are the living goddesses who enrich my life. I do not know of others. As far as I am concerned, I can gel well only with women friends of mine. Making male friends is still difficult for me, and is probably too late. With my women, I can be myself. With men – even if their intentions may be good – I have to be formal, i have to even watch my clothes. I am comfortable in women’s company. I cherish my women friends and feel blessed they are part of my life.

My friends do not frequent beauty salon. They do not hide their age. They take care of their elders. They have raised beautiful families they are proud of. In this hour, I wish to remember my two friends who have not lived to see this day. They both passed away due to cancer two years back. The girls who attended same class with me. One sat next to me for 2 years in standard 11 and 12 at school. She ran her own school for autistic children and was an exponent of classical Carnatic music. She was also a double PhD in teaching children with special needs.

My women are doctors, engineers, directors of companies, accountants, fitness instructors, teachers, journalists, lawyers and of course housewives. India teems with brilliant womenfolk. Our Chennai-born Indra Nooyi was world Pepsico boss. Indian born and Indian origin astronauts have flown into space. Women drive trains in my country. I have been flown twice to Doha by women pilots in an Indian airline. Sky is our limit. Literally.

We are proud of the outgoing Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi who has asserted in many interviews worldwide, how she is a mother at home to her daughters, wife to her husband and daughter to her mother.

Today is also the day to remember our housemaids, women nurses, janitors, farmhands, tailors, factory workers, bus drivers, women masons, cooks, street hawkers, vegetable, fruit and flower vendors, sales girls, receptionists, clerks, beauticians, women in armed forces, actors, etc., who make our life more comfortable. There is dignity in labour.  If not for these sisters of ours, rest of us cannot be having it this easy.

And finally everyone of us is a worthy woman in her own right. We may be singles/spinsters, lesbians, widows, divorcees, childless – but we are complete by ourselves. Lord Shiva is also called the ‘Ardhanaari’ because He absorbed Shakthi as His other Half. In Tamil we say, ‘Shivam illayel Shakthi Illai, Shakthi Illaiyel Shivam Illai’ – it means ‘There is no Shiva without Shakthi, and no Shakthi without Shiva.’ I beg to differ even in that. Shakthi is wholesome on Her own. If Shiva can complement her, fine. Bonus.

This year we school girls are celebrating our golden jubilee – all of us girls are 50. Most of us have also celebrated in last few years our silver wedding anniversaries. We look forward to bat to 75 not out at least! That’s our spirit as we work out, practise Yoga, eat healthy, go on all-girls tours without spouse/family, party yet philosophize (are we that age already?!) and generally stay healthy and happy! We shop till we drop and we drink up on life! Kudos to womanhood! The Feminine.

Posted in Women & Family

Definition Of Rape In Different Countries

Recently there was this media report that claimed, consensual sex between a 11 year old girl child and an adult male (in this case a man in his 30s) was deemed to be perfectly legal in a Scandinavian country. Girls as young as 12 or 13 can marry adult men and bear their children in certain states of the United States, as per law.

Shift the scene to India: A boy and a girl (whether under 18 or over 18 years is immaterial) fall in love. Boy refuses to marry the girl but has consensual sex with the girl before they fall out. Under IPC the Indian Penal Code, the man can be held for rape by way of cheating. This is Indian law. This is how Indian constitution defines rape (partly at least).

Suppose the boy and girl do get married albeit without parental permission from the girl’s side. The girl’s parents can still file a criminal case of abduction against the boy with the law enforcement agencies and get the boy booked for kidnap and rape (!)  so this is India, where law is on the women’s side mostly and the onus of proving innocence always rests on the Indian male. Parents of girls who do not approve of their daughters’ choice of boys have been known to exploit this legal provision to rein in their rebel daughters.

And if a girl must end her life, God forbid, leaving a note that her lover broke her heart abetting her suicide refusing to marry her, then he is finished. Chapter closed.

If a woman commits suicide before the seventh year completion of her marriage, then again not only her husband but his entire family can be remanded for non bailable criminal offence, pending RTO inquiry. 

Marital rape is another common crime as per law in India which can get a man behind bars. Also statistically counted as rape.

So this is how the crime of ‘Rape’ is defined in India. Any man who refuses to marry the girl he may be courting is automatically vulnerable to legal suits and harassment and rape charges in India. Asian values, no more word.

I wonder what those who argue for women’s rights and equality for women have to say on that.

India counts these cases as Rape statistics and these figure in a big way in sum total crimes committed against women in the country. In a nation where parental approval is still viewed as a must, and a majority until today opt for arranged marriages, imagine the power some disgruntled parents may exercise upon young men they disapprove of for their daughters.

Girls as young as 10, 11 and 12 have been becoming mothers in America. I am not only talking of black or mexican girls. I am talking of the so-called literate caucasian girls as well. The US boasts of one of highest number of teen pregnancies and marriages in the world despite their advanced economic status unlike a third world country like India.

Whereas marriage under 18 years is deemed illegal in every district of India and the husband/man who enters one with/without legal sanction is dubbed rapist by Indian law and media. Consummation of marriage with an underage girl below 18 years constitutes statutory rape.

This is one of the reasons for high rate of rape statistics reported from India.

Where is the scope for rape when law permits pre-teen girls to have sex with adult men in Scandinavian countries. Where is the scope for rape in Europe or America where girl children lose their virginity before they turn 12 or 13. How can you even compare these countries with India where most of the girls remain chaste until they marry even in this 21st century. And by the way, chastity is not only a girl’s prerogative in India, it is also as much a boy’s. If you think the west will understand this, you are doomed. Yet divorce stats in India is poor and almost negligible compared to the west. Why. Which countries record maximum broken homes?

Who defines parameters for what is permissible, what is emancipation, what is development, what is decent, what is individual’s right to anything. Who defines women’s rights and equality.

Most of these so-called developed nations also have legalized prostitution, same sex marriage, euthanasia, single parenthood using partner/unknown donor’s sperm/egg (even if he/she may be alive no more), marijuana etc none of which is legal in India. Every town and city in India too has a red light area, but this is strictly illegal business. Another reason for high incident of rapes in India.

Rape of foreign women tourists is a very common crime in coastal Italy. Under reported, naturally.

When elite America can legally permit a 12 year old girl to go ahead with pregnancy and become a mother, when Norway or Sweden can look at sex between a 12 year girl with an adult man as consensual and legal, what right these nations have to prescribe what defines rape. Who are these men sitting on a high pedestal thinking they are the most civilized and liberal people in the world when much of what they are practising is scum. Nude beaches and orgies are the norm of these societies that frown upon arranged marriages in the other side of the world. If consensus is what is meant by equal rights for women, then a 6 year old girl child too can be coaxed with an ice cream into sex. Sometimes the word called ‘pedophilia’ loses its meaning or relevance. World’s worst pedophiles or the child sex offenders are Europeans and Americans who prey on Thai and Filipino and Vietnamese and Sri Lankan and other Asian girls by way of child sex tourism. Europe and America also record the highest number in statistics when it comes pedophiles/pedophilia. What a nerve to advocate to others on social/economic issues. Very soon these nations will be legalizing even pedophilia , with their human rights activists proclaiming that it is every little girl’s legal right to sex and that oppressing it equals suppression of women’s rights. Women’s Lib and feminism is all about this for these sick people!

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/welcome-to-the-child-sex-capital-of-europe-1.339827

How many stories do we come by on perverted European pedophile predators in CNN or BBC. How many on male rapes in UK that is chart busting.

It is more important for these first world nations to be politically correct than morally or ethically which is not the case with India.

Seriously, every culture, every society goes by its own norms and customs. In India, we have a 10,000 year civilization. We need none to advise us on how we have to take care of our women.

The US or UN or Europe cannot be the ultimate authority in defining what is what. What is rape to us Indians is fine for these countries. If we have to measure rape in these countries the way we take stock in India, there won’t be any male left to walk on their streets.

Even so, the total number of reported rapes in India/US (recent statistics) (copy paste job from a source) (note: India’s head count is 1.3 billion whereas US population is less than one third of ours)

HARD DATA (no perception): 
Total number of rapes in the US – 84,767;
in India – 22,172

Are CNN and BBC reporting each and every rape case with its gory detail as Indian media is projecting without a care in the world? What is Indian media upto? Simple: Indian media (both print and visual) is mostly owned by the foreign church, funded by America and Europe. Defiling India is yet another way of brandishing Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) they would like to dismantle from the Indian soil.

One way of giving them back is for the Indian government to build a strong Indian broadcasting station on the lines of Al Jazeera, that is now a name to be reckoned with.

Propaganda has to be fought with propaganda.

Such a vibrant and strong and powerful Indian media must routinely beam the crime stories of America and Europe with all the dirty deeds exposed round the clock.

Brit girls are the toast of grooming gangs of Pakistan men in UK. White meat. So what could Britain do about it. How many reports in mainstream global media on the sensitive issue that could undermine the future of the British children. Aahhh, meanwhile our BBC guys are busy shooting the slums in India and scourging the Indian media for latest rape cases reported from Delhi to sensationalize their news bulletins.

An overwhelming majority of Indian men are decent – and you cannot judge my nation by a handful of the rapists publicized by your dirty media, understood? I have no respect for western culture either where women copulate (cohabit?) with any number of men and vise versa and bring children irresponsibly into this world who turn to drugs and low life. Is this the case of India. Just come and see Indian families. How much we love our culture and traditions and how we lavish love on our family. Materialism alone is not the meaning or end of life. Individual rights and freedom are not suppressed in India by/for our women, rather SACRIFICED in the interests of the family. It is never I, mine. It is always us, ours.

I and a majority of us Indian women cannot even wear jeans for a whole 24 hours. I  worship my Desi God, not the imported Gods from Israel or Arabia. 800 million Hindu Indians live the way I do. Are we fools. When I cannot even accept your God or your food or your clothes or your music or your way of life, how will I accept your set (double) standards about anything and everything. I stand by my native Hindu culture. To hell with others opinions and judgments!

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Note: The purpose of this blog post is not to play down the crime of rape in India. It is to point out how biased and mischievous world media is who seem to have a vendetta against India. Not even Shariah countries where swift justice is awarded for rape by way of death sentence are clean and free of rapes entirely. Crimes happen everywhere.

Posted in Women & Family

Health Watch For Girls & Guys Under 35

Recently someone conceived through IVF (which is as normal these days as normal conception whereas normal conception is now like a miracle for urban Indian couples by the way) and the first thing her gynaec asked her to do was to stay away from restaurant and processed food, insisting on home food and fruits and nuts. In fact, the girl was asked to stop eating out right away when she approached a fertility clinic after being married for a couple of years. Until then the girl had been practically eating out almost every weekend. Working for a multinational IT company made matters worse with coffee machines and carbonated drinks and potato chips and fast food available aplenty to the staff working at all odd hours round the clock – sleeping through day time and keeping awake entire night going against the biological clock. How do you expect these stressed young couples always panicking about deadlines they have to meet in work – to engage in any act of procreation. They drop dead in their bed the moment they arrive home. The lucky ones have parents or in-laws to take care of their homes. For the rest, it is restaurant take-aways or home delivery for dinner.

No wonder not just this girl but many in Chennai today, women under 35, happen to come up with polycystic ovaries or fibroid in their uterus. This is the direct implication of foods loaded with chemical preservatives served in restaurants: with artificial colours and synthetic flavours. Reheated oil is not new. How many meat eaters are aware, even the top-of-the-line restaurants may procure poultry/meat mostly frozen that are shortly about to expire their shelf life. The day the restaurants serve you the menu, the meat you may consume already could be beyond the date of expiry, but the restaurants still tend to get away because they are violating no law of the land. Frozen food fast approaching expiry date are sold by supermarkets at throwaway prices which are bulk-purchased by restaurants. Now take into account the steroids injected into the poultry along with vaccines… If at all you have to have meat, look for country chicken or mutton.

Rather than wanting to be young, we ladies who are 40 or 45+ today are relieved we had a narrow escape living this kind of precarious life in our 20s and 30s.

Admittedly even vegetables and fruits and greens today contain residual pesticides/sprays but hopefully a good rinse in running water or Indian way of cooking at very high temperatures in direct fire helps in warding off most of the harmful chemicals.

Today if our children are fine, it is because we parents ate healthy food when we were young. We preserved our bodies and kept out toxic substances that could have had a damaging effect on the physical and mental health of our children.

What a harm the Pizzas and Colas and KFC chicken are inflicting on young Indians. Already in last few years there is a big spurt in children born with learning disabilities and other impairments. A good percentage of kids born after the millennium especially after 2005 are at least mildly autistic. With the air and ground water polluted to the maximum, what is happening to India’s future generations?

Whereas today, for younger generation, it is fashionable to eat out at the latest trendy restaurant – never thinking of future implications. It is not a one-off dining experience. It is year round, for every weekend, for decades. What happens with the cumulative effect.

Already we have pumped too many vaccines into our kids – that they have as such only a 50-50 chance for natural conception, the understated side-effect of life-saving vaccinations. Not to speak of the perils from radiation emitted from gadgets like mobile phones and laptops and appliances including microwave ovens… 

The wrong kind of health and food supplements promoted in this country is further worrisome. Energy drinks are nothing but steroid and sugar 200 times over. Soya, the much touted super food, is GM (Genetically Modified) basically that can have a detrimental effect on the hormones of young men and women. Under 40 while you are in your productive years, it is not advisable to consume soya on a regular basis. It could make one go sterile.

Its true India has made remarkable strides in last 20 years, but often makes me wonder at what cost? Our men are dying of cardiac arrest at the age of 25 and 27 years and our women are reaching their menopause by even 29 these days.

The side-effects are felt like after-shocks after a mere 20 year since the opening up of the Indian economy.

What is making us forego our balanced, rich and diversified traditional food and opt for junk from the west? Is that affordability?

Recently I got my hair treated for severe hair loss. For the first time in my life I stepped into a unisex salon where the hair stylists gave me multiple options including going for straightening but out of the lot, I selected Keratin because it was stated to be organic, from Brazil. I am uncertain how far this is true but the word ‘organic’ worked for me. Not that keratin is helping in anyway. But after research I found that it is believably a better option than other chemical treatments. (On double-checking it is scary to note that any kind of hair treatment involves administering carcinogen in your scalp even if the names of chemical compounds may differ.)

Next to me I saw young girls tweaking, colouring their hair with chemical dyes (even if its Loreal it is still chemical). One was undergoing straightening. She said it was her second time and she could not have been over 20. I understand, the process involves a lot of chemical use, with the strong serums rubbed into your scalp to be absorbed by your skin cells. What a toxic thing to expose your body to, at such a tender age. I shuddered – even at 48, I was nervous about hair treatment. I am still wondering about the side-effects although I was assured mine was totally organic. Is it worth it. What if like Angelina Jolie, we are carriers of BRCA gene predisposed to cancer?

What about the long term effects on young girls subjecting themselves to such an unhealthy (formaldehyde) treatment?

What about the girls who undergo facial? Got my first at the age of 36. Upto 35 years never been into a beauty salon. Yes, we girls are old world plain Janes and we have poorest dressing sense and we are terrible in grooming and accessorizing, but it is also a fact that we the ladies on wrong side of 40s are much more fitter and looking a lot younger to heavily made-up and cosmetic-dripping 20-35 girls of today. Our faces have not matured beyond our age. One main reason is staying away from chemical cosmetics and relying heavily on coconut oil, henna, egg, haldi, sandalwood, neem etc that are our cheap and best and natural beauty aids. The other reason is our healthy dietary habits. And even if some of us do not get to work out on regular basis, we still undergo physical exertion by way of domestic chores, always on our feet to serve our families. No word to add for working women.

Girls, throw the ‘Dove’ soap out of your windows. Along with the shampoo and conditioner. Lipsticks have lead content while dyes contain arsenic or its equivalent substitute. Go desi, switch over to Margo, Chandrika, Himalaya and/or even Pathanjali brand neem soaps, sandal soaps, haldi soaps etc that are not only desi but come laden with least toxic chemicals. The more international you may go like Loreal and Pantene, the most toxic substance is what you end up buying. Desi cosmetics like Lakme are known safe players. Go for Lakme Kajal and skin care, if at all you have to. Do not use anti-ageing concoctions even if its Olay: these are very complex formula, remember they are very addictive and your skin could get even more elastic if you stop using them.

And if you can, wear loose fitting clothes that can breathe – like cotton if you are in a tropical country like India. Tight fitting clothes such as denim restrict blood flow to vital organs of our body and raise our body temperature.

It angers me to see mothers get their daughters as young as 6-10 years for haircut and grooming for weddings, birthday parties etc. Well, none of my friends did that to their daughters! Do not use anything other than a mild moisturizer in your face until 35 years. Even that light application, do not start before 20 years. Coconut oil before you shower will do.

Our health is in our own hands. Distracting little girls diverting their attention towards grooming will prove to be counter-productive. In an age when the girls have to achieve academically, they will instead start focusing on trivial, banal issues. They will grow up more conscious of superficial appeal.

Eating out and grooming: attractive to everyone not mere young ladies. Just ask housewives, how much we long to go out and eat and shop because we are bored of eating our own food day in and day out? It is not entirely possible to stop eating out – but make a conscious effort to cut down the number of times you may eat out.

Make a serious attempt to eat at home during weekends and shift the eating-out day to mid week for starters. Gradually it must be possible for you to minimise if not quit eating out even in midweek.

Eat a rich diet of vegetables, fruits, greens, nuts, sprouts, whole grains, pulses, millet and fish and lean meat that are a good source of minerals, proteins and anti-oxidants. Avoid the processed and baked and the deep-fried. Would you believe that we in the third world nation called India,still eat a lot better and balanced and healthier meal than those in the west? Our milk is fresh and pasteurized for not longer than 2 days. Most of our fish and meat are fresh and not frozen. Our vegetables and fruits plucked are barely a few days older before they reach our dining table. In reality, we are having a feast at home, fit for kings. Sadly, not many Indians reckon this truth. None in the world gets to taste the 5 rasas in their tongue like we Indians do: salt, sweet, sour, bitter and savoury. And which other cuisine combines and infuses the benefits of a plethora spices and seeds and exotic veggies and roots like ours does.

As for cosmetics, just quit it. Enough is enough. I am more worried about the powerful chemicals that may enter our body through hair dyes, face creams, shampoos etc. Shampoos: go for the mildest and desi.

Even those of us with cleanest habits still get cancer. I am not saying this is a 100% foolproof method of staying healthy for the rest of your life. But at least let us make a sincere try.

Recently got to check out Pathanjali toothpaste : full lavang (clove) like I have never tasted in any foreign brand toothpaste like Colgate, Closeup, etc. Many of my friends have moved over to Pathanjali.

There is no harm in parents telling their sons and daughters the harmful effects of junk food and chemical cosmetics. It is time we have a frank word with our children: it is time girls learn how anything and everything they do in young age will have an effect on their reproductive system in future. I don’t hesitate telling my son what I have to on the subject.

After 40, when your domestic duties are at least 50% accomplished, you may feel free to freak out, but even then keep a limit. By this time, your kids will be in high school or college, still you will be doing them a great favour by staying healthy.

And finally, WORK OUT! Exercise! Do anything that you are comfortable with: walking, swimming, cycling, aerobics, dance fitness, Yoga, Pilates, etc. This truly is the only beauty aid that cleanses your system from within. Keep your body and mind healthy reading books and with other interesting hobbies like music and art. Fitness is wholesome when you give it a holistic approach.

Last word: A happy mind is a healthy mind. A healthy body and mind is a reflection of your inner beauty.

Posted in Women & Family

Five Sixers And One Dot Ball…

Recently two Indian American kids hogged the limelight in social media for winning the annual Spelling Bee contest in the United States.  A regular phenomenon now that’s no more a surprise. After all, this is the 9th consecutive year an Indian origin kid has claimed the prestigious title in America, one more feather to our cap, given that we are increasingly acknowledged now as a nation of human potential over anything. Gone are the days when foreigners conjured up images of snake-charmers and elephants whenever and wherever the name ‘India’ cropped up. It is undeniably an exhilarating feeling that the NRIs in the Middle-East may as well concede. The global Indian has arrived. It started with the IT boom in the ’90s and as India started churning out record number of physicians, scientists, engineers and techies to service around the world and we became the world’s largest ever back-office even as China became the universal shopping front for swiss knives to cell phones.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/nri/us-canada-news/Two-Indian-Americans-joint-winners-of-US-Spelling-Bee-championship/articleshow/52470573.cms

So it is no coincidence that Chennai-born Sundar Pichai is heading Google or Indira Krishnamurthy Nooyi chairs the world Pepsico. Or that Satya Nadella of Microsoft is from Andhra Pradesh.

The Indian footprint is there even in outerspace – from the moon to Mars.

Successful Indians have raised the bar for rest of us mere mortals to follow suit, especially the younger generation. Only resources are shrinking faster than ever before and the rat race is killing already.

As accolades for the young wizards of Spelling bee poured in at both international and desi media, there was finally a kind of oasis like sanity amid the blare of all the pomp – which read like the most sensible thing I laid my hands on in quite sometime. Basking for too long in the glory of Nadellas and Pitchais, the latest updates on Spelling Bee had bored me down with its insipidity and stale content until there was this break that came as a breather (though probably from over an year before):

http://www.indiawest.com/letters_to_editor/the-problem-with-indian-kids-winning-spelling-bees/article_ffff7a3a-1518-11e5-bfc5-ffcd73e827d3.html

Follows on the heels of Abhishek Bachchan trolled not long ago in Twitter ‘(Five sixers and One dot ball’)  (the dot ball referring to him obviously) in the awards ceremony of the recently concluded World Cup T20 Cricket, for sharing the stage with stalwarts like his father Amitabh and Sachin Tendulkar, the doyen of Indian cricket. Now, why should Abhishek turn out to be as successful or as exactly as his superstar dad? The two men grew up in entirely different set of circumstances, so the environment that shaped them must have had a marked difference. Bachchan junior won my sympathy for the unrealistic expectation the nation pinned on him, trying to cast him in the same mold as his father. Very unfair comparison and cruel to an extent. Let him be him. Just him. Why are we Indians obsessed with the father-son succession story? Fathers may leave impressive footprints that sons may sometimes willingly follow, but why should the younger men have to travel the same journey as their illustrious fathers.

Not that I am a fan of Abhishek or his ilk including the Kapoors. The junior Bachchan is equally to blame for the embarrassing episode, for taking his undue place in a stage that did not befit him.

Still, extrapolating the single Bachchan story, it is easy to generalize the prevailing panorama in the Indian diaspora. Indian parents are pushing their kids beyond a decent boundary ‘to go and get’ and the strain is showing.

The unabated suicides at Kota, Rajastan of IIT aspirants among young Indians is a trigger for this post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/06/01/life-and-death-in-kota_n_10232456.html

There is not a month that goes by without a fresh suicide story from the otherwise nondescript dusty town in the desert state of India that shot to its fame with its ‘distinguished feat’ of creating record number of IIT entrants. The heart-wrenching suicide notes penned by promising young talents to their over-ambitious parents underscores the insensitivity of us parents. The case of a young girl ending her life on clearing the IIT-JEE part I, qualifying for the advanced, raises troubling questions. There is a huge emotional cost to pay here.

But Kota hardly surprises me.  Witness to equally grueling round-the-clock rigours of IIT coaching centers in Ongole, the head quarters of Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh where children from the surrounding villages and towns got enrolled for months and at times years bidding to crack the IIT-JEE, the very arduous exercise of trying to tackle the entrance in a dogged manner would make me think. Coming from a city like Chennai, I least expected a laidback ‘taluk’ like Ongole to boast of IIT calibre children, and by this I mean no disrespect to rural communities. To my utter surprise and shock, not only was Andhra teeming with IIT aspirants, their success rate was also much over and above what you may generally expect to see in urban metros like Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai.  The key to the puzzle lay in the grind the teenagers were subject to. The preparation was not scientific as it was laborious; it was more like kind of systematic, a foolproof method by which you just couldn’t go wrong.

A mother myself of a young man who is pursuing his higher studies, I am painfully aware of the stress the younger generation are subject to, at a very early stage in their lives compared to how we ourselves fared in the same age. The shocking statistic of over 15-20 fresh engineering graduates from his class sporting a receding hairline highlights certain socio-physical factors that desperately seek our attention, the primary reason being environmental degradation and resultant poisoning and pollution of our soil, air and water; the  other equally important cause is the accumulated stress. The pressure starts right from high school. But hair-loss is hardly something we need to worry about when we have more pressing issues on hand: more than 3-4 boys had elevated blood pressure levels and type-2 diabetes when they had to undertake medicals in their final year, when they’re hardly 21 years old. It is this vital observation that upsets the cart, a clear pointer to the health of our nation. What kind of young India is in the making?

If we dig deeper, pressure for Indian kids starts right by 3 years. Indian school curriculum is heavy right from the start and it is not a surprise that by the age of 5 years in primary school, our kids can not only read and write full sentences in English language along with doing some basic arithmetic like addition and subtraction, they are also ready to learn a second language and move on to writing answers to printed questions in exam halls. The second languages are invariably local tongues such as Tamil etc which are tougher to master with advanced grammars. From standard 6 joins the third language as per the 3-language formula. Some say, this is the reason Indian kids perform well in foreign universities. The grueling exercise prepares them the best to stay ahead of many of their peers from around the world.

Most kids do adapt to the syllabus to various degrees, but there is also a handsome percentage in each class who cannot keep up. It is precisely this mass that is left behind in the rat-race that grows increasingly restless . There are now Montessories and IB schools that are steadily gaining popularity in Chennai and other cities. Although expensive, for those who can afford them the schools open a new vista of knowledge and holistic learning with a motivating curriculum. ‘Special children’ cannot be having it any better.

IIT may be worth it for those kids that have the aptitude. If children have the potential, there is no reason to stop them from applying the same to their advantage. But if kids show a lesser inclination to academics, it is unwise to put them through run-of-the-mill tech courses where 100% employment is still not feasible. The kids feel miserable and even depressed at times.

Where is the time to pursue hobbies like art or music these days for our children? It is only IPL that has saved cricket in India. Otherwise you won’t be seeing so many boys out there in the hot sun playing street cricket. IPL is a money spinner, a game-changer, so when I was talking to a kid he said, he did not want to play for Team India but said he wanted to pursue his dream of a stint in IPL! It is enough if you reach up to first division, you will be in for reckoning for IPL teams. Other than that, interest is waning in sports and other extra-curricular activities in Indian children. After standard 9, all other avenues are closed to them forever.

The news that the Swiss were voting for a fixed income as per government provisions came as a pleasant surprise last week. Even if the citizens voted down the referendum, it is laudable that the state wanted to spare their countrymen the drudgery of structured occupation so that they would be able to devote more of their time, energy and resources in passionate, creative pursuits of what really make for a happy humanity. After all, ancient man only hunted for his basic needs although later on, he went on to make his life as well as that of his community more comfortable. Human civilization did not dictate work-life as a mandatory doctrine for ages and centuries that rolled by. This present 9-5 routine is a very recent evolutionary phase. Homo Sapiens are the only species on earth that have to ‘work’ in order to make a living.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/europe/Money-for-nothing-Swiss-vote-on-basic-income-for-all/articleshow/52603391.cms

What a refreshing perspective of life. If all us are going to have to become physicians, engineers and astronauts, who will do the masonry, carpentry, hospitality, nursing, teaching, tailoring, accounting, why even scavenging works for us? How can we still hope to run the show???

To every Indian parent who relentlessly pushes his/her kid to perfection, I would like to ask, ‘why didn’t you do it yourself???!!!’

 

 

Posted in Women & Family

A Ready Reference Handbook For Every Family

This International Woman’s Day Cultivate Awareness Ladies! Because Ignorance Is NOT Bliss!!

On Women’s Day March 8th, this is what I want every Indian woman to know: where exactly she stands and what is the corresponding status of her family in case of any unforeseen eventuality/emergency crisis. Well, I am not talking about something we are all totally unaware of. In fact, quite a few of us must have put into practice something like what I am going to suggest herein. I am blogging this piece for those who have not yet been as thoughtful.

So this is a winding post, I must caution but I hope it is worth a quick browsing.

An expat Indian worker died in service with his currency balances locked into foreign bank accounts in Middle East. That was when his wife (and the rest of us) came to know, there are no nomination facilities in this part of the world. The balance (that was substantial) in her spouse’s account stood to be frozen and later transferred to a welfare fund (that keeps swelling owing to many such an unfortunate and untimely death). The couple did not share a joint account and the lady did not know the card details of her husband either. The sudden demise of the head of the family dealt them a twin blow: emotional as well as financial.  Overnight the family found themselves at the mercy of others, having been denied access to what rightfully belonged to them. With school going children and the woman being a housewife, it couldn’t have gotten worse.

This is an eye-opener for all of us out there. A woman/mother/wife/daughter needs to know what is going on with the man of her life. I would suggest, it is imperative for even the children getting to know what is the family position.

The following is a check-list I am trying to make up. It is better if both spouses share all issues among themselves. They say, making hard copy and maintaining one is risky. I guess, it is a must to have a hardcopy, like a summary of all our savings and investments. Such a physical evidence can be taken care of personally the way we handle our passports and IDs for instance with diligent care.

Make a hard copy like a Diary with following entries (even if you have gone green completely) for the sake of your beloved ones. Who knows when it could come in handy (God forbid). Educate your younger children on the relevance and drop a hint where in the event of any unforeseen accident or health issues, they might find help in financial matters. If the children are over 18, include them in family discussions. Let them get the complete picture, it is high time.

A HANDBOOK  OF REFERENCE FOR MAINTENANCE OF FAMILY RECORDS/ACCOUNTS 

INDEX I

What the Hard Copy of Handwritten Diaries and Back-up of Soft Copies like saved Mails/Hard Discs/Pen Drives must contain:

  1. Make a list of all your bank accounts: SB (savings bank), NRI (non resident Indian), RD (recurring deposit), FD (fixed deposit) etc. Include the Account name, Number, Bank address, Debit/Credit card number, PIN, the 3 digit CVV code, the Internet Banking User ID, Password, Transaction Password, Registered Mobile No., Registered Mail ID, Phone Banking Code, Phone banking password. Update the Relationship Manager’s phone number everytime for quick access. This will enable your family to operate your account in distress situations when they could be facing crunch of funds.
  2. Make sure your register NOMINATIONS for all your Bank accounts. In India, one can still go for Legal Heir Certificate and Succession Certificate,  even if it is mandatory to register nominations in the first place. Update your nominations when your relationship status changes. That is, when you marry, you may update the legal nominee as your spouse and the second nominee as your kid (minor or major) etc. For each bank account you list, add the nominee names in the diary.
  3. PF (provident fund) accounts have to have nominations. Make sure you share the PF account and nomination details with your family through the diary.
  4. Make a list of your other liquid assets such as Shares in Equity Markets, Mutual Funds, Bonds etc. This is no more possible in physical form. Share your Demat account details with passwords in the diary you keep. Update password everytime you change it.
  5. Make a list of your Immovable Properties/Real Estate investments. List them one by one as per order of value and importance. Let each entry include, a detailed description of the property as to whether it is a parcel of land/plot or house/flat with complete address. Include the distinctive property ID, the date of registration, the address of the registrar’s office, the Patta No., the registered document no., the latest EC (encumbrance certificate no.) and in whose name it is registered. Add details if it is mortgaged with EMI commitments.
  6. Make a list of your Life Insurance policies. Update it on every premium subscription. Let the recordings include the date of maturity and premium amount. Include riders if any on the policies like Critical Illness apart from death benefit. This is very important. Now that we pay premiums online, add the User ID to log in to the insurers’ website with password. Save the premium receipts online either in mail boxes or in your computer. If you are in touch with your agent, include his/her phone number.
  7. Do not forget to file nominations for each and every of your life insurance policies.
  8. Make a list of the Health Insurance policies of the family members with renewal dates and risks/conditions and sum covered. Most urban Indians hold Cashless Medical insurance policies in which case, let the health cards be kept at an easily accessible and retrievable place of safety. Let the children know about the cards. Do not forget to renew health insurance every year when it is due. It could come handy if any of us should suffer a sudden heart attack or stroke or accident or such misfortune or mishap. However young the kids could be, they must be educated about the health policies and must be told about the health insurance cards for cashless and spot hospitalization. As health policies are also payable online, save the relevant mails in separate e-folders.
  9. Let your children know your health conditions: whether you suffer from lifestyle diseases such as Blood Pressure, Diabetes or Cholesterol or heart condition etc.  Write down your prescription medicines and dosages clearly mentioning at what intervals they must be taken. Please include details of drugs allergic to you. A short gist of previous history can also be included. Give the name of your doctor/hospital/consultant with address and phone number.
  10. Make a list of Vaccination histories thoroughly for each family member and update each new vaccine administered.
  11. Libel Suits if any also have to be brought to the attention of your children. Please do not leave any ugly surprise for them. Give details of your attorney and make a gist of the pending cases.
  12. Make a list of your Vehicles with their Insurances (with renewal date), RC book, Road tax details. Note down the phone number of your Car/Bike insurance agent and office.
  13. Make a page for jotting down all of your Driving Licence numbers – be it for bike or car. Add the renewal dates.
  14. Create a page for details of your PAN (Permanent Assessment Number) cards (for all adults in the family over the age of 21 years).
  15. Note down the details of your Ration (PDS) cards with zone number, serial number, issuing office, circle.
  16. It is now important to list even our Aadhar cards with distinctive individual ID numbers.
  17. Both spouses must be able to operate all Bank Lockers (the contents of which could be hinted to your children if they are minor). Ask your kid to sign for joint bank locker operation the day he/she turns 18. Take your adult children to banks and demonstrate to them the locker procedure. Introduction to ATM can be by pre-teen years.  Maintain a record of your annual visits for reference even if you sign in the bank register.
  18. If you are unsure about allowing access to your adult children to your bank lockers, allow them access to one of them if you have more and gradually introduce them to others. Keep the key and access permit to the other inaccessible lockers in the accessible ones.
  19. Make a list of Bank Locker contents briefly.
  20. A page mentioning the Bank Locker numbers is important. Let your know children where the bank locker keys are in safe-keeping at home.
  21. If you have a Will registered, let your legal heirs know of its existence. If there is no animosity/conflict of interests in the family, I see no reason to keep it hidden. Let them know where to find the will (whether it is safekept in bank locker or at home).
  22. Make a gist of Property Taxes paid. What corporation circle, zone. What is the property ID. Tax amount, paid upto which date. Update Corporation official phone number if possible. Now that the taxes are paid online, add the Login ID applicable for the corporation website with password for easy access. Make sure to save the paid receipts in e-folders either in your mail box or in computer or both.
  23. Make a list of Water taxes, Sewage taxes paid with details of corporation zone/circle and property ID. Add the Internet Login ID with password. Save the electronic receipts.
  24. A Jewelry list is a must. If you hold the purchases receipt, please note down the value of your gold/diamond ornaments. The jewelry list can include diamond, gold, silver, other precious stones and any other valuable ornament piece/articles.
  25. Do you have a House insurance. Share the details in case of theft, fire etc.
  26. Any debtors/creditors the family must know about
  27. Details of Pension policies with or without death benefits with maturity details. Remember to record your nomination for the policies.
  28. School/University certificates – date of registration/graduation, serial number, issuing authority etc.
  29. Work details like original Appointment letters, letters of appreciation and other service records
  30. Antique collections of any value with description
  31. Passport details updated periodically
  32. Have you delegated Power to anyone and registered the same? Details of Power vested in who, when, valid upto when must be entered. Are you standing in as POA (power of attorney) for anyone. Details please.
  33. LPG details with Consumer No., LPG agent number and contact phone and address
  34. Loan details. Housing loan/car loan EMIs, names of the banks/lenders, tenure of the loan(s), pre-closure if any, part-payment made etc.
  35. Land line phones/Mobile phones – connection/user name details.
  36. And aaawww, as a typical NRI on and off for last few years I have omitted including filing of your Income Tax Returns!!!  Most important of all in India! Make an entry everytime with brief particulars. A folder for IT returns filed.
  37. Any Fines/Penalties paid? Make a list.

It is wise to prepare both soft copies and hard copies of the important particulars and mail them to your spouse/children IN GOOD FAITH. Hopefully we all are blessed with sweet kids not wayward ones. Trust is the main factor. If there is a trust deficit in the family, kindly do not share. Instead, details can be listed in the diary and the existence of the diary could be confided to someone trustworthy – with information of finding it where should any emergency arise.

Children need not be revealed the complete details either. It is sufficient if they are told about the diary and where to find it in times of sudden crisis.  Sons and daughters over 18 must be shown the book/diary/record and given a soft copy of their own.

Don’t take the secrets to your grave leaving your family stranded.  Weaving one’s way through legal tangles is a messy and long drawn-out affair. A drain of our time and energy. Rather than bereaving for the departed, the legal heirs could be cursing the spirits for making it hard for them!

Make 1 or 2 hard copy diaries and store them in your Godrej almirah or any other steel safe in the house which is fire-resistant.  Lock up one in your bank locker. Let your kids and spouse know about it.

Send the soft copy to your family members and ask them to save it with password protection. The same can also be stored in hard disc/pen drives out of reach of others who are not family.

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The Financial Security of a family lies principally in mutual and trustworthy sharing of information and proper planning.

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INDEX II

What should you put away in Bank Lockers:

  1. We Indians mostly reserve bank lockers for stashing gold/diamond jewelry. Now that property values have appreciated to sky levels in our cities, it is prudent to use the lockers first for safe-keeping your legal documents. If you can afford bigger size lockers, get them to put away safety the property files in proper order. File each property document neatly in individual labelled folder with brief description detailed on the front fly. This will make it easier for the legal heirs to retrieve papers, if it comes to that. Use different folders for each property. Let every folder include the original registered document with all other originals like the Patta and EC.
  2. All original Life Insurance and Health Insurance policies
  3. Original Pension policies and PF originals
  4. FD originals (if any) but these are mostly soft copies only now
  5. Any other legal paper pertaining to pending court cases
  6. Original School/University certificates
  7. Original Employment certificates
  8. Original car RC book, life time tax receipt etc. Make sure to change/update this folder every time you switch your car/bike.
  9. Any other original bank documents /share certificates etc if any
  10. Loan documents if any – property or car (original signed) with original receipts for pre-closures/part-payments
  11. Original POA if you are representing legally anyone and attested copies in case you have issued POA to any party
  12. One hardcopy of handwritten diary with the afore mentioned paritculars neat and legible as listed in Index I
  13. Finally if there is space remaining in your lockers, you may use it for stashing jewelry that you seldom wear!

Make a habit of recording physically your daily expenses if you have not so far. Let it be in Excel sheet if that’s how you may want it. 

An Excel sheet, by the way, is a precise and scientific method of maintaining family records like real estate holdings and bank account details.

INDEX III

What you must have at home in Steel Safe:

  1. Copies of all the above mentioned documents/papers you put into Bank Lockers. Just like in bank lockers, make a file folder for each entry separately. The only difference should be that, the bank lockers contain the originals whereas the steel safe at home has the photocopies. In short, copies of all listings under Index II.
  2. Bank locker keys in a distinctive pouch that the children must know about with numbers of the lockers clearly earmarked
  3. Minimal jewelry
  4. Taxes paid if any. Online taxes are applicable only in last 7-8 years. If you have any hardcopies from the past, put them away in bank lockers and store at home their photocopies. For property/water/sewage taxes paid – store the print-outs if you take one. I don’t.
  5. Original passports with multiple copies
  6. Original Ration cards with good number of photo copies
  7. Original Aadhar cards with good number of photo copies
  8. Copies of School/University certificates
  9. Copies of Employment certificates
  10. Old Salary certificates
  11. Copies of loan documents
  12. Copies of POA issued/standing in for
  13. Original Health Insurances Policies and Cashless Medical Insurance Cards
  14. Vaccination Records original
  15. Other Health/Medical records like previous histories/hospitalization 
  16. Original Driving Licences with good number of photo copies
  17. Copies of RC book of your car/bike and Life Road Tax paid
  18. Original car/bike insurance with third party cover plus some copies
  19. Passport size photos of all family members – multiple copies
  20. Original LPG booklet with copies, and one or two latest LPG refill receipts if possible
  21. Vacation ownership holdings – with copies
  22. Warranties of electronics, kitchen equipment, furniture etc
  23. Land line/Mobile phone connection Customer ID number/details
  24. Satellite tv subscription details
  25. AMC contract details for Water Purifier, Air Conditioner, Pest Control etc
  26. Lift Insurance/AMC details (if applicable)
  27. Maintenance charges records (in case of apartment residents)
  28. Club subscriptions
  29. Details of School/College fees paid with original receipts
  30. Any other substantial payment made/remittance received
  31. Original receipts of Fines/Penalties paid
  32. Rental receipts
  33. Original Agreements with copies made
  34. Income Tax Returns filed
  35. One hard copy of handwritten diary of all the listed items under Index I

It is better to file the details in separate individual folders with flaps briefing on the contents for ready reference and easy access. I prefer this method to huge box office files.

The keys to your steel safe must be kept in place known to your spouse and children but at the same time inaccessible to house maids/drivers/repairs persons/frequent visitors/relatives and guests.

Workings wives MUST share details with their husbands and housewives do have a right to know what the family stands to lose if faced with emergency crisis. I don’t see why children over 18 years should be excluded from sharing family particulars either. Under-aged minors can be briefed and told about the diary and precocious ones can be let into the ‘inner circle.’

Finally it is all for the family. Not many Indians are aware that an Indian male can leave more than one direct legal heir: his wife, his children and his mother. Bitter family disputes have since made the government and our banks strictly enforce the nomination facility. Unfortunately quite a few Indian men are in the habit of keeping their women in the dark when it comes to their economic standing.

Women’s Empowerment?

Ladies, you have every right to get the correct picture of your financial standings. If you have been kept away from these very important and necessary family details, demand to know of them. Educate your children and bring in an awareness. Maintain meticulous, systematic records in chronological order. Your future generations will thank you!

CAUTION FOR NRIs. 

How many of you are aware that nomination facilities are unavailable in some countries like in Middle-East for instance. Please repatriate your savings to mother country in that case for your own sake and the sake of your family, leaving a safe margin for comfortable living in the host country where you are a temporary guest (as employee). Share all account details with Internet Login ID, ATM password etc with your spouse and grown-up children.

Keep your loan commitments to the minimum even if foreign banks offer you attractive lendings at very reasonable rates of interests. Remember these are constraining traps which can prevent you from leaving the port of your employment at your will anytime you wish.

May there never arise an emergency situation in your life! But it is better to stay prepared in case of any eventuality, is it not.

How many diaries to make:

One for the Bank Locker, One for the Steel Safe at Home and One for handy reference that you can tuck into wardrobe for instance – for easy retrieval. It may be prudent to include even your e-mail IDs and passwords. But please take care that the sensitive records stay out the eyes and reach of any/all outsiders other than family members. Minors like under-aged kids can be hinted about the diary whereas the adults must have 100% awareness.

Soft copies to be password protected and saved in mail boxes in registered E-mail IDs or in Computer/Hard Discs/Pen Drives. Preserve them the way you take care of your physical IDs and Passports. Stay alert.

Before writing this up, I did reflect on the sensitivity of the information we could be sharing in diaries/soft copies. Is it worth the risk. I guess it is, because online transfers are safer with OTP (one time password)s generated with every single transaction in your registered mobile number. Still it will be prudent to exercise due caution and keep the material out of reach of anyone other than trusted intimate family members.