Goodbye, Justice Seth

Within a week I’ve felt the loss of two people I loved and admired in very different ways. Vinod Khanna. And Justice Leila Seth. I found it hard to post immediately after each loss because it hit really hard.
I interviewed Justice Seth shortly after Jyoti Singh died, while she was on the Justice Verma committee. After we spoke about the rape and the law for the story, we also chatted about much else that didn’t make it to my piece.
One of the things she said about parenting, is something that ever after, guided me. She spoke about how her son Vikram spent 7 years typing away in a little room above the garage, writing his first book. (Reminder of what goes into a great book for those who think anyone can write one!) And how neighbours and well-wishers wondered rudely and aloud, how they could ‘allow’ their son to fritter his life away so. And would he ever make a decent living as a writer? Tsk tsk. What a waste of a child, coming from two such successful parents.
Her point? That we need to stop projecting our fears on to our kids, along with our aspirations. Even the most evolved parents say very proudly – I told my child, be a sweeper if you want, but be the best bloody sweeper. Err – why? Why best? What is the best?
The one that earns the most? Why not the happiest? (This was in context to her son’s sexuality.)
She went on to say that we also worry needlessly about our children needing to be successful in conventional terms, to maintain the lifestyle we’ve raised them in. We assume that it is a guarantor of happiness to earn more than your parents, and marry traditionally, into the safety of your own community. That it is our own fears that we need to let go of, and trust them if they choose to be unsuccessful but happy sweepers.
As long as you ensure that you equip them to accept the consequences of their choices, whatever those might be. They might never own a four wheeler or a flat in the suburbs (conventional markers of success), but if they’re happy on a cycle meant for two with a partner of their choice, then it’s your own fear and ego that you need to deal with. Not theirs.
I also got her to sign a copy of her book  We, the Children of India, for the kids (you can check out the review on our ever dependable Saffron Tree). If you don’t already own one for your babies, this is a good reminder to pick it up. RIP Justice Leila Seth. A few hours with you shaped me in so many ways. I don’t know if they will make more like you.

On bleeding

Living this ‘American Dream’ where we’re doing our own cooking, cleaning, laundry, has meant that the rest of the family is pitching in with a lot more help. The OA does the relaxed brunches and extravagant dinners when he gets home from work. I mostly do harried and hurried breakfasts, tiffins and lunches.

The Bean and Brat have been making coffees, chopping fruit, decorating cheese platters and shining wine glasses, and laying the table. And yes, doing the laundry.

I mention this because I am scarred by a friend once telling me that she always dried her underwear under a towel. She’d been taught by her mother that no one should know what a lady’s underwear looks like. I have always assumed that meant no one should see it while it’s on you. But isn’t it interesting to see how being a lady means a lot more work? She went on to say that she had been forbidden from staining her bed while having her periods. Forbidden. That only an animal would sleep so unselfconsciously. I want to parse that sentence for each unacceptable word but I think my brain would explode in outrage.

Telling a twelve year old to lie still and not have her nightie hike up, not to twist in her sleep so that her pad twists and she stains… would that not count as cruelty?

To say nothing of how all this affects the men in the family. Men who grow up imagining that a woman’s body and it’s workings must be shrouded in mystery. And that it is dirty.

The Brat has been given the responsibility of hanging out the wash and bringing it back in, and everyday he is hanging out socks, shirts, bras, panties, jeans, everything. And he sees the difference between the unisex vests he and his sister wear, and the bras his mother wears. And there are no questions.

Actually there is only one question – Does this run colour?

What inspired this post? The Sabrimala drama over menstruating women. That they will only allow women in after a machine to scan and identify menstruating women has been invented. I am always amazed by how people conveniently cherry pick and choose from modernity. I will use modern technology to uphold a backward notion. I will take flights to places while shrouding my wife in fabric.

And have you all been introduced to the wonderful Rupi Kaur? If not, please go follow her. This one of hers, on menstruation.

 

No longer sorry

amy

I saw this on Pinterest today and it spoke to me.

A few days ago the Brat walked in with a recipe book he’d borrowed from a friend’s mother. The OA and I took one look at him carrying a book bigger than his body and fell over laughing. But here’s the truth – he loves food and he wants to learn to cook.

This brings us to an uncomfortable situation. I am home more often than the OA and most often it is I, tossing up a salad or a sandwich for a quick meal. And so naturally the kids are drawn to watch me cooking. If it’s on a slow day, I’m tolerant of their presence in the kitchen. If not, I tell them to get the hell out of my way if they want anything to eat, because I have to get back to work.

The OA on the other hand, enjoys cooking and encourages them to join him in the kitchen. Having the disadvantage of only recently taking up cooking as an interest, he watches and records hours of food programming and even after all these years, doesn’t know as much about food as I do, theoretically. How did this come about?

I grew up with a feminist grandmother who didn’t believe every woman needed to know how to cook. What every woman should know, she’d often say, is how to earn. And once you’re capable of supporting yourself, you can decide if you want to cook or hire a cook. And so she, my mother (who is a superb cook) and I, hired cooks and went out to work.

But no matter what your family environment, there is no denying social pressure on a woman to cook. My in laws were horrified that their son had not married a Havell’s appliance (please see the series of advertisements here if you haven’t already – they’re fantastic). And I cannot begin to count the number of women in my own generation who felt there was something wrong with a woman who didn’t enjoy cooking, didn’t feel her heart burst with joy at the thought of homecooked meals for her children and didn’t rush to pour out hot dosas every time a belly somewhere growled.

I was young and gave in to pressure easily so I bought recipe books, and cooked when I got a chance (less than most others because wild horses were usually required to drag me to the kitchen) and even joined cooking e-groups etc for the tips. I am now a competent cook, guests expect a fairly good table at my place and I know a good deal about cooking – but I still hate the drudgery of it. Still get tired thinking of even brewing a cup of tea, still hate joining conversations on methods of layering a biryani.

At some point I realised that the OA too, was fighting his own demons. He had a love for food and cooking that had never been discovered or encouraged. He’d walk into the kitchen while I was cooking and try to be helpful, end up bossing me around (because of course I *was* doing something wrong) and be sent off with a sting in the ear for his pains. And so I established a tradition – he began to cook our Diwali family dinner. It started out pure vegetarian, the entire family revolted and the next year it was beer batter fish. Over the last year as the kids have grown and he has more time on hand, he’s been cooking more and more and I’ve eased out of the kitchen almost entirely. The kids make their own sandwiches, the cook does the daily fare and if the OA wants something fancy, he makes it.

It took me years to get to this point where I could back out of what is a traditional female role and encourage the OA to step up to the plate and do what he enjoys doing. The patriarchy screwed us both over and yet we took so long to make this handover. It wasn’t easy watching the cook begin to take orders from him, guests turning to him to ask what was on the menu, and the kids coming to him with their requests. Particularly because working or SAHM, mums run the kitchen in most homes – I felt like a bit of a failure even though I hated the chore to begin with. I continue to handle the day to day running of our home since I work from home, stepping in when the cook is absent. But on the whole, if someone comes in bursting with the excitement over something they want to eat, they know who to take that excitement to, and its certainly not me.

And so it was that the Brat staggered in with his massive recipe book and a demand that we cook something out of it. I looked at him with deep love and much affection and said – You have to be joking if you think Mama is getting up to cook complicated stuff.

And sure enough, he and the Bean nodded and turned to their father, taking it in their stride. ‘Oh yes, Mama dislikes cooking and finds it boring. Dada, you enjoy it, so lets plan a meal. Anyway, you’re the cooker in this house. Mama is the doctor.’

And the three of them bent their heads and began to pore over the book. I turned back to work and heaved a sigh of relief. It is done. I am no longer the default cook in this home. And the next generation has already come to accept home cooked food as Papa ke haanth ka khaana and not Ma ke haanth ka khaana.

I feel a twinge of something and suppress it. I think it is social conditioning calling and I’m not home to receive it. It really was this easy and if only I’d stopped fighting my limits some years ago, I’d have not wasted time making elaborate meals and trying to ‘fit in.’

I’m off to sign off the cooking groups and sign up for a few more on my interests. When I get home, there’ll be a hot meal cooked by husband and kids awaiting me. Life is good.

So question it

An old friend and I were on watsapp this morning, chatting about what we’ve been up to this last week. I mentioned that the OA and I have been out till 3 am both weekend nights and that I’m pooped.

Back came the response – You bad momma.

A play on my blog name, and a joke no doubt. Not bad woman, not wicked girl, not party animal, not antsy bitch, not party junkie.. but a reminder that I am a mother above all.

Should the OA tell his friends that he’s been out all night, he’ll get cheered on.

We women on the other hand, will always be judged in the court of mamas.

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Halloween seems to be the next big thing to take over the country. I grimaced four years ago when kids came trick or treating at our doorstep. I sighed over it three years ago. Last year I helped the kids plan what they’d wear and this year I’ve accepted it as part of our celebrations.

And for every person who whines that it isn’t our culture, don’t we have enough of our own festivals and so on, I have a few responses.

Neither is exchanging engagement rings, raising a toast to an occasion, singing Happy Birthday and cutting birthday, wedding cakes, wearing jeans and dresses, Valentine’s Day, celebrating 1st of Jan as New Years, tossing up pasta for school, noodles at a roadside cart, I could go on. If you do any of those, don’t grudge the kids a day of running around dressed up as ghouls. It’s no better or worse than pitru paksh, has no religious rituals involved, is gender neutral and harms no one – unless they have a weak heart!

But.. but do you know the origin of the festival? How does it matter? Neither do the millions who celebrate festivals in this country. From Holi to Karva Chauth. I’ve had a different story from every person I asked. So clearly a story or origins can change and people will still celebrate, making the origin irrelevant. At the end of the day it’s just another reason to celebrate and in the times we live in, I’m happy to have more fun than war.

It’s interesting how people who otherwise only speak English, read only in English, don’t celebrate their kids’ birthdays according to the Hindu calendar and so on, have decided that this is where they draw the line. In fact we all choose to draw a line where we want, but who died and appointed us King to draw the line for others, citing cultural appropriation, when we are steeped in a culture that cannot claim to be pure anything?

Reminds me of the Shiv Sena on Valentine’s Day. Through the rest of the year they think nothing of Western imports like TV and mobile phones and the railway network.

A friend posted a few nights ago that she was sick of having spent an entire month praying for the men in the family via Karwa Chauth and Bhai Dooj and really wanted to celebrate something that was gender neutral, did not involve praying and was all about having some fun, with no food restrictions, no timelines, no order of events and no dire consequences predicted if not followed. This came after a riotous debate on my FB timeline, over fasting during Karva Chauth. It was amusing to have bongs declare Karva Chauth misogynistic, while claiming that Jamai Shoshti is kosher. Yes, husbands are being raised up on a pedestal in both cases, but at least we don’t fast, was the argument. Being blind to the flaws within one’s own culture is so easy.

I’m also on a food group where someone asked the ridiculous question – when did Indians start eating beef? A more relevant question would be, when did Indians stop eating beef? A war broke out on the thread and the lady who definitely didn’t ask it with any noble intentions in mind, deleted the thread when it threatened to overwhelm her.

It seems we’re in the midst of a churn and we’re asking questions. We’re just not always honest about the answers.

On Women’s Day

On why I’d choose to celebrate Women’s Day.

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In a world full of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and hated, it is important to celebrate. To choose celebration over hatred, everyday. It is also important for these celebrations to be universal and not be tied to a particular religion. It’s important they be celebrated with an open mind and in our own way, with no fear of divine consequences should we fail to do them in a particular way. And in a country where the female foetus is aborted, the girl child is starved at her brother’s expense and the sister kept home to do household chores while her brother goes to school, it’s all the more important for us to put aside celebrations and rituals that put the man up on a pedestal in his role as a brother or a husband, and choose to celebrate the woman for her inherent strength.

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Read the rest of this piece  on yowoto.