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.

 

Kids not allowed

I know I haven’t posted here in a while, but I have posted elsewhere. Here’s a sneak peek –

A few weeks ago, a California restaurant put up a sign saying: ‘No strollers, no high chairs, no booster chairs’. Parents seethed and frothed with outrage on the Internet. How dare their precious progeny be barred from a restaurant? Wasn’t fine dining every family’s right?

No.

Now hop on over and read the rest at Yowoto.

 

Speaking for myself

A few days ago I was standing at the bus stop and waiting for the kids when one of the mothers showed up with her toddler in a stroller. All of us cooed and fussed over the baby (heck, this is the last year the Brat is in single digits!) and she rolled her eyes. ‘I haven’t slept in days..’ she sighed. And she had an older one in school, so she had early mornings whether she liked it or not.

The other mothers all had one child only.

They turned to me with the usual – how did you manage with two kids and such a small gap?

Honestly, if I had not blogged in those days, I’d have no memory of it. The days and nights are a blur. Off the top of my head I can’t recall when one walked, when the other potty trained. Who started solids happily and who hated them.

I was tired, at times I was frustrated, at times I was sleep deprived, at times I was uncertain. But those were few. Most of the time I was happy, I was content, I was absorbed, I was fascinated, I was proud, I was learning – and that holds true for every single day even now. Be it the Bean creating a beautiful piece of art or the Brat telling me that there are more than 20,000 people over the age of 100 in Japan, everyday they give me something to be thrilled about, something to marvel at.

I look back on how I managed them and I realise that I managed because its what I expected. We all know that babies will cry when hungry or sleepy or wet. We all know they will sleep for short periods of time and eat ever so often. We all know they are curious little mites who pull down low hanging table cloths and put their hand in the toilet bowl. We can laugh, we can cry, we can roll with the punches. But we can’t say it’s not what we expected. Not if we’ve seen even one child grow up among close friends and family. And not even if we haven’t.

On the other hand, there are those who constantly whine about how parenthood has sucked the joy out of their lives, the adventure, the ability to get up and go, the ambition. Who is to deny that adding something to your life will naturally reduce space for other things? And who is to decide which is more important? Only you.

I read this post in the Hindu today, about the lies regarding parenting and while five years ago I would have been enraged at being called a liar, I felt only sorrow for the writer. She’s stating the obvious when she talks of there being good and bad – but I think she is wrong in choosing to speak for all of us and calling it a lie. That parenthood is a joy, a pleasure, a privilege, is the truth for many of us. We also speak only for ourselves.

I understand that a lot of parents (here I speak of both fathers as well as mothers) made their choice under social as well as parental pressure. But of them, a lot of enjoyed the choice. On the other hand, there are so many of us for whom parenthood was a happy and natural choice. I don’t judge those who choose not to have kids, and hope they do us the same courtesy. Many of us have had not just one kid, but gone on to have another and some even a third or a fourth, because of the sheer joy it brings us.

So when I see something of this sort, a rant that many of us might have been guilty of at 1 am, I am a little saddened to see it make its way out of the annoyance of a sleep deprived night into the clear light of day and into print. If anything, these last few lines reeked of a sort of bitterness that made me feel very sad for her and for any kids of hers that might have read the piece.

“At the end of the day, parenting is merely foisting the responsibility of finding your life’s meaning on to someone else. It’s the reason why parents — especially mothers — have to continue with the narrative of “this is the best thing I’ve ever done.” Besides giving them an excuse to do nothing else with their lives, it also gives them a lofty platform from which to preach.”

Is parenthood a cakewalk? No. Is anything a cakewalk? No! Not planting a garden, not climbing a mountain, not building a business empire.

Jobs, relationships, friendships, they all take a lot of work. Somedays they are good, somedays they are bad. I’m in a happy marriage and that takes a lot of work too. But if you ask me what marriage is like, I’d say its the second best thing to have happened to me – the kids would be first!

None of this is a lie. It’s just that the good overwhelms the bad. And if anyone is foolish enough to believe that it’s entirely angels kissing spring and strawberries and summer wine, well then, they’re just fools.

If anything, the last bit seemed like a bit of a desperate attempt to justify one’s own negativity towards parenthood (although I don’t know if she’s a parent). In this day and age of live and let live, when you see such ire against people who are happy with their choices and make no bones about it, you can only wonder – why this kolaveri di?

By the by, we’re planning our annual vacation and my parents as well as inlaws suggested for a number of reasons, that we leave the kids behind with them as we did for our trip to the US in 2012. I was inclined to agree with them because we have a lot of work to do on the trip. But the OA, note, not me, the OA – refuses to go without them. After years of taking an annual two-three day trip without them, we’re down to the father cleaving unto his kids and refusing to let go. It’s quite funny, because its usually the mothers who feel that way. Of course once he put his foot down with a firm hand (I love this mixed metaphor!) I was sure I didn’t want to leave them behind at all. I love watching their eyes widen at the shiny newness and chrome of the airport (they’re poor Gurgaon kids who are never taken to the mall), the gasp of breath as the flight lifts off, the excitement of the new and the different.

I read this other article in the Guardian and it made me want to cry. I’ve been hugging the Brat, squishing the Bean… aware that my days as mother to carry-able babies are numbered.  So putting aside that woman’s silly rant that I couldn’t relate to at all, I turned to this one and felt it speak to me. I leave you with the first bit of the article. Do read.
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There is one song I simply cannot listen to because it upsets me too much – Turn Around by Nanci Griffiths. It is a song about the ephemerality of childhood – the velocity with which you will lose your children to time and growth. Recorded first by Harry Belafonte it begins with this stanza:

“Where are you goin’ my little one, little one? / Where are you goin’ my baby my own? / Turn around and you’re two / Turn around and you’re four / Turn around and you’re a young girl / Going out of the door.”

Even without the tune it brings a lump to my throat. I have watched two of my children “go out of the door” – one is 18 and one 20 – and although my pride in their independence and achievements is overwhelming, knowing that the children they were can never return is sometimes sharper than a serpent’s tooth.

 

PVR and Children’s Film Society tie up

Isn’t this good news? Would be a very good change for a kiddie birthday party or a class outing.

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The Children’s Film Society, India has tied up with PVR Cinemas to release three of its latest films, on book-a-show basis. These are Gattu (directed by Rajan Khosa), Gopi Gawaiya Baja Bajaiya (directed by Shilpa Ranade) and Kaphal-Wild Berries (directed by Batul Mukhtiar).

This facility is available to all schools, NGOs, corporate houses and individual groups. You can book-a-show at an average rate of Rs.100 a ticket, for a minimum of 100 people at a PVR cinema nearest to you, at a notice of 2-3 weeks.

For further details, please contact Ms. Amirbanu at chairperson@cfsindia.org. CC ceo@cfsindia.org and marketing@cfsindia.org

Mohalla mobs

Years ago I lived in the now infamous Khirki Extension. I had just begun work, couldn’t afford more and wanted to live in South Delhi. My brother had moved to the US and I was left without a flatmate. After living with a succession of girls who things didn’t work out with, I moved in with a childhood friend. It might have raised a few eyebrows at that time, but our families were comfortable with the arrangement and that is all that mattered to us. His grandmother was my grandmother’s mentor and friend. His mum and mine grew up together. And then, he and his sister and my brother and I. Three generations of friendship.

His mother figured her son would be kept on the straight and narrow now that he had me as his flatmate. I’m known to be quite a prude and very determined. My mother was grateful that I wasn’t a single girl out in Delhi, alone. We got along like a house on fire, had the same friends circle, worked in the same office and had many of the same interests. In fact, he was one of the first to notice the OA’s growing interest in me and teased me mercilessly about him.

The OA would often drop by to visit us, as did our other friends. While there was no loud music or drugs, we did enjoy our little get together. They never ended well, though. We’d walk our guests out, only to find that all their tyres had been deflated. No, they were not parking in anybody else’s spot, but far out.

It’s difficult to explain the concept of Delhi’s many villages to those who haven’t seen them. Khirki was lal dora land. A maze of lanes, squiggly streets, piles of rubble, pink, green, purple houses decorated like confectionery, haphazard parking, houses built cheek by jowl, precluding any trace of privacy, paper thin walls, rooms built like train coaches so that you had to walk through one to get to the other, dingy shafts that hummed with the sound of pigeons cooing and smelled of their shit.

There were empty plots scattered across this mess that most of us used as visitor parking. We’d invariably stand around the car and stare in dismay at the four deflated tyres, while sanctimonious neighbours would stand at their windows, glaring at us, challenging us to take it up with them. There was nothing to be done of course. There was no way to pinpoint the culprit – if there were only one.

If it were too late we’d have the owner of the vehicle stay back at our place, else the boys would chivalrously roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Our landlord was a sweet old grandfatherly gentleman who either assumed we were husband and wife, or didn’t care, because we paid our rent on time, kept the house well and didn’t create a nuisance. He lived on the floor above and would painfully take the stairs, stopping to pant after every second one. Often he’d sit down at my doorstep to catch his breath and if I happened to see him, I’d invite him in. He always refused, but would smile and say – How hard you work, beta. My wife is fast asleep – always is!

I worked with a news channel, so there were shifts. I’d often walk back late at night because the car would drop me at the top of the main road and I’d negotiate the lanes by myself. I look back and wonder how my parents let me do it, but I guess that is what makes me the person I am today.

Khirki was rumoured to be full of ISI agents, plotting, planning, building bombs. We never saw anything to confirm that rumour but it was a running joke that they were too busy plotting about blowing up parliament to bother with us. They’d get their 72 virgins there and weren’t interested in women like us. We were probably haraam!  The streets were full of  young people coming back from work, TV channels, call centre agents. We’d just fall in line with any group headed into the dark lanes and walk home. Oh no, it wasn’t the ISI agents we were bothered by.

It was the local men of the village who were the real problem. Young single boys who thought of us as fair prey, waiting for their mothers to move out of view so that they could pucker up at us. Married men who would step out to pick up groceries and far from their wives’ watchful eyes leer, stare, pass comments. Often the outsiders, the boys who were renting apartments just like us, would defend, support, or simply walk up to the girls and chaperone them to their doorsteps. They were far from home, too. They knew what it was like to be alone. They worked alongside women in their offices and knew that the fact that we were single girls in jeans didn’t mean we were fair game/cheap/anything the local guys imagined.

The months went by and then one night I was fast asleep when I heard a noise at my door. Banging, shouting, abusing. I rushed to the door, to see that my flatmate had already got there. There were a bunch of drunken men outside, screaming abuse. I peeped out of the window and recognised the familiar faces. The guy who lived across the road and often stood at the door scratching his belly over a cup of tea. The creep two floors above him. The bearded guy who always stood at the chai shop down the road and stared. They’d united over a bottle I suppose and demanded that I come out.

I remember the look on my friend’s face as he went out to talk sense into them. I remember them getting violent. I remember rushing out to stand by him. I remember him hurrying back in, because it was the only way to keep me indoors and safe. I remember him barricading the door as best as he could, knowing he was the only buffer between me and those louts.

Those lovely, self respecting middle class men who believed I had the morals of an alley cat because I was sharing a flat with a man I wasn’t married to. Who believed that if I was his wife, I should be home cooking for him, coming out in my nightwear with a dupatta covering my modesty, only to bargain loudly and rudely with the subji wala. That I should  not be working odd hours and wearing sleeveless kurtas. Who were sure this was a den of vice where we solicited men and sold drugs. Who believed that the way to deal with this ‘problem’ was to get drunk and scream filthy abuse at my door.

Their wives stood at their doors and watched openly. Their eyes filled with hatred and distrust of the other. They didn’t like their husbands staring at us girls, and this was one way to get back at us.

The show raged on for more than an hour and we didn’t call the police, because we needed to live there. We couldn’t antagonise the neighbours further unless we had other options. My poor old landlord shuffled down and begged them to leave. He didn’t want to lose a good tenant either. Thankfully they ran out of steam and went home. I sobbed through the night, in terror and shock and anger.

It was the first and last time it happened to me, because I casually let slip in the morning to my maid (who the neighbouring housewives had been persuading to quit my place because it was a den of vice) that I was planning to lodge a complaint with the police and would call in my TV channel to report, if I was harassed again. Maids love to gossip, the message was put across.

When the recent raid on Nigerians and Ugandans made the headlines, I knew that the nosy, moralising residents were at it again – and this isn’t endemic to this area – happens all over the country. Never mind that the cigarette shops sell Madhur Munakka packets for a few rupees, ensuring that most of the much married men roam around in a drug induced haze. Never mind that they get drunk and harass single girls. Oh no… only they are allowed to create a nuisance there. Only they are allowed to set moral standards. Anyone not meeting their rather dubious standards of morality is at the receiving end of such mohalla committees. What next? Set up a khap panchayat under a tree and order the women raped while their men watch. Something like this poor girl who fell in love outside of her caste and was raped by 20 men on the orders of the village elders. Put yourself in her place and ask yourself if you want to be at the receiving end of such mohalla, majority justice.

I find this form of mohalla moral policing, the xenophobia and the misogyny, outrageous – particularly because I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’m sorry I supported the new regime, if this is the way things are going to turn out. We wanted a more lawful regime. Not one where women are dragged out of cars at night, not allowed to use the bathroom, not arrested with a warrant, no lady police officer present. How is this any different from what a rather despised party in Maharashtra behaves around Marine Drive and Valentine’s Day?

I leave you with a piece by Aastha Chauhan.  

And one by Kavita Krishnan who I greatly admire.

Roar, young woman, roar

When I was a newbie in TV there was a guy slightly senior who spent the entire day making inappropriate suggestions, his conversation with me and a couple of the other girls always lewd, full of sexual innuendo. A simple statement like, Damn I have to go to X place and have no reservation, would result in him winking and saying, You can share my berth and we’ll have a lot of fun. In retrospect I realise he never did this in front of anyone senior to him.

None of us girls had the courage to speak up against him although we spent a fair amount of time talking about it and working out strategies to ignore him. The rest of our contemporaries would say, ‘Oh he’s harmless, just a lot of hot air, avoid him.’ Which we did. But how was he harmless when he made us all so uncomfortable, me more than others? What did happen though, was it made us unsure of our issue, we didn’t know if we were being too militant, we didn’t know if we should go to HR and complain (because the poor boy’s career would be ruined over a little joke), we didn’t know how to tell him to shut up (he had a powerful older brother in media)… and so it went. I still regret not having spoken up about it. Media offices tend to be rather casual and it would have been quite a tamasha.

Some time ago I was asked to share a room with a photographer on a shoot and I was finally strong enough to refuse, asking for my own room. Admittedly I am a mother of two but I don’t think that matters. Having to turn off the lights with a strange man I’d never even met before the shoot was something I couldn’t stomach. I lost out on that shoot and that particular publication never offered me any more work inspite of the good work I’d done for them previously. I was probably dropped as too fussy, but I’m okay with that. Would any other corporate/business send a man and a woman on a project and ask them to share a hotel room? Were they going to stand guarantee for the photographer? Would anyone have thought Tarun Tejpal would assault a young girl, one who is friends with his daughter, one whose father he is acquainted with?

There are endless cases of women being harassed at work, and media houses who stand up for the cause of the woman never stop to think of the woman working with them. Here’s hoping the Tehelka journalist stands strong and gets justice. I wish I’d had the courage to do the same.