Have a good weekend and Jai Hind

After the post on beggars, reproductive rights, what safety and a good childhood constitutes, comes this link via Mona. Called Where Children Sleep, it’s a project by a documentary maker who wanted to avoid the usual cliches. He breaks your heart nonetheless as he takes you from the home of a rich child in Kentucky to a little housemaid in Nepal.

Next up comes a piece on what is wrong with kids today with via MGM. Again, closely linked to the last post I wrote on things like manners, discipline, the sense of entitlement, where we’re going wrong as an entire generation of parents by not teaching our kids what is clearly wrong and what the meaning of authority is. Read on.

And finally, we’re off for the long weekend and I hope you are too. If you aren’t and would like to, but are out of ideas, do stop by Gypsyfeet. To quote them, they are travel enthusiasts who believe that travel should lead to deep impressions and experiences – they do this through home-stays, through local cuisine, and through participation in festivals, as well as interaction with the communities where we travel. The North-East region of India ( Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Sikkim), and the adjoining country of Bhutan is where they currently operate. It is blessed with abundant natural beauty and an interesting culture that is vastly different from the rest of India. For a photo-journey through this land, click on their PhotoGallery. National parks, wild life sanctuaries, festivals, hiking – they’ll give you the experience you crave. Look through their  trip plan, and see what activity is to your liking.

Gypsyfeet believes in responsible tourism, read about their best practices here.


The great leveller

It’s a 180 second wait at the signal and the OA switches off the engine and we wait, chatting. The windows are rolled down and we are shaking our booties in the car to some Punjabi hit. A pleasant breeze is blowing, the moon in the sky looks like a shiny new dish all set to run off with the spoon.

The next moment we are besieged by beggars. An old woman with her glasses tied up with string, a young kid selling flags, a man with a missing arm. Ever since AC cars became de rigueur their pickings are poor.  It’s easy to ignore the snotty face and grimy hands plastered against your window if you turn the music up. Not so much when your windows are down and they reach in and pull your dupatta and try to grab the packet of chips in your lap.

Anyhow, we’re waiting and shaking our heads firmly when I see another one approaching us. And this time I am torn by the familiar dilemma. Should I keep my purse firmly locked and discourage begging or should I give her something to keep her going. She’s a young girl in a filthy ghaghra and a tight shirt, the buttons below her breasts opened up to accommodate a very pregnant belly. Skinny and malnourished she’s clearly close to her due date. And unlike the missing arms and burnt body parts, this cannot be faked.

A split second before the light goes green I dig into my purse and grab some money to give her. We drive away and I ask the OA why such a poor young girl who can’t feed herself is bringing yet another mouth into the world to feed. He shrugs. The answer of  course is clear. Procreation is such an animal instinct.

It’s such a luxury to have a choice. To be able to choose when to have a child. To say you will only do it after you make CFO or after you’ve bought a house and created a retirement fund. After you’ve had your folic acid and worked out to get to your optimum weight. After you’ve been bungee jumping and done that trip to Peru. After you’ve bought your parents a second sedan and a flat screen TV.

I wonder what it’s like to have no idea where your next meal will come from. To live under a plastic sheet on the roadside. To have two torn shirts and no certain bathroom or source of water. To stand at car windows and knock, hoping for some mercy. And yet have the strength to go ahead with a pregnancy.

I know the government and NGOs have birth control drives and help them with sterilisation too but they still pick choose to have that child. They didn’t get an epidural or a private delivery room. They have no idea if they’ll be able to nurse the child, so malnourished are they. They’re not reading Spock and worrying about timely potty training. They will not be able to educate them, they have no means of keeping them warm and safe on cold winter nights, but they’re sure they want them.

But they’re doing it anyway. For the joy of holding a child in their arms – just the same as every single one of us.

The many thoughts that rushed through my head – It’s funny how we have the cheek to believe we should have an opinion on their reproductive rights just because we’re richer/educated.

On the other hand, who will take responsibility for all these poor starving kids on the roadside.

Do they have a right to bring another child into a world full of suffering, hunger and poverty?

And this is why we have no right to smugly tell those who pick IVF, that its no big deal to give birth. Just adopt. For one, adoption is not the last refuge of those who tried and failed. It’s a happy choice. For another, it’s their choice and it’s a little rich when those words come out of the mouth of someone who got knocked up before they could say Jack Robinson.

Why would a person say Jack Robinson?


Trying to be a better person

The operative word here being, ‘trying’.

We all talk about being better people, but I’m not sure how that works. In fact I find it hard to make that general ‘better person’ cut and what works for me is picking up a facet of my life and working on it. Wife, mother, sister, friend, employee…

I am not much of an employee because work features at the bottom of my list. I deliver on time and as promised and maybe a little more than promised, but that’s about it. On the other hand, I try everyday to be a better wife to the OA. Not by cooking or cleaning or whatever else one might expect from 90% of wives across the world. But by trying to be a more understanding wife. Giving him more space, more time, more energy and more encouragement to be the person he wants to be. I try to be a better mother to the kids by doing as much as I can for them without smothering, guiding without leading and so on. Let me hasten to assure you that I don’t think I’m excelling at either, but that I am always trying, always eager to work on them and often aware of where I am failing.

But the one relationship I realise I haven’t worked on as much as I should, is the relationship with my parents.

Born to them, you grow up taking them for granted. If you’ve always been snappy and short tempered with them, if you’ve always been the indulged, whiny one, if you’ve always got what you asked for, if they’ve always stepped in when you need something, you continue in the same vein. How many of us make an effort to improve our relationship with our parents?

How many of us have begun to indulge them? I think back on my last post on parents and the pressure on them where so many people responded that it is unfair to expect people to give up their lives abroad and move back to a country where their ageing parents are comfortable. Very true. All expectations are unfair. And yet we so often do sacrifice for our kids. I look upon our move to Gurgaon as the worst thing to have happened to me, simply because I have no choice in this matter. I WILL give my children the education I think they deserve, even if it kills me. So why then are we never so generous with those who spent a lifetime doing stuff for us? I don’t say you should give in to unreasonable demands (heck, I say you should never give in to demands, reasonable or unreasonable – now requests, they’re a different matter). But I do believe that as children ourselves, we rarely stop to consider our parents and their desires and wishes and hopes and dreams.

We all carry baggage and so do they. My relationship with the Bean is a very easy one. We are so alike that I just need to look at her to figure out which bit of mischief she is getting up to. With the Brat though, I am usually reaching for a cyanide pill. He is nothing like either of us and parenting him is a challenge. Every choice we make, is an effort. Every time he does something the OA and I have to count to ten so as to not lose our cool. Without doubt, he is the child that challenges us and I can only see this getting worse as he grows. Inspite of being the cutest, friendliest, more adorable toddler, he is an introvert who has his own ideas, is uncommunicative and moody and unbelievably stubborn. Naturally this means we cannot parent him in the same way we do the Bean. That we don’t have the same easy relationship but a more careful, calculated method of parenting. We’re constantly thinking – ‘Will this upset the Brat? Do you think he’ll agree to do this?  Have you noticed him do X – do you think he now needs Y?’ It puts a huge strain on us as parents and often we’re drained with the effort because the easiest thing to do would be to just shake him up and the collapse.

And that makes me realise how tough it must have been for my mother to parent me. I am the exact opposite of her. So much my father’s daughter. So hard for her to have two of us hot headed types to handle. So unlike her in temperament and so much of an effort to understand. Even today we’re careful about what we say to each other and not to hurt each others’ feelings. My dad on the other hand, tells it like it is and I feel free to repay him in the same currency. Secure in the knowledge that he will forget by night, as will I. My mother, I know will nurse the hurt and recall it years later.

In the last few years I’ve begun to try but even I have to admit that I am not good at it. Some time during my pregnancy with the Bean my relationship with my parents reached its lowest ebb and I was shouting, banging doors and fighting with them. I was going through certain problems and felt that they weren’t being supportive enough. Four years down I’m trying harder. Even a few days ago my father and I had a showdown but this time I merely called him *koff koff* ‘mean and unsupportive.’ Yes, I can be  childish when I want. But we both stalked off,  cooled off and came back bathed and calmer. I laid out some snacks and the evening tea and then we looked at each other, grinned and put our arms out for a hug. I sat in his lap (did I mention childish?) and we made up. It might take time but I realise that like all relationships, we need to work on the one with our parents too.

With Ma, I now try to say my words in my head before they spill out of my mouth to leave a scar that won’t go away. Mostly though, I am trying to stop thinking of it as my sovereign right to take them for granted. To stop saying, ‘But I am their daughter and have always been this way; they should have learnt to deal with it by now. But I am their daughter and they owe me this.’ I have to admit it doesn’t come easy.

At this point I must also admit that working on a relationship with your parents after you become a parent yourself is even harder. Everything begins to sound judgmental. If Ma says, ‘You should have done XYZ with the kids,’ I am most likely to turn around and snap, ‘Why? you didn’t do it for us.’ Not only do I end up feeling judged, I take a potshot at their parenting too. It’s not deliberate, but it is the instinctive reaction to being criticised. To hit out at the other and point out where they failed you. And everyone knows, the only people who can tell you where you went wrong in your parenting, are your children. I am so often carried away by my vile tongue that I am ashamed of myself. Yes, maybe they made some mistakes, but they were young and did the best they could. And while it’s okay to blame your parents for certain things in life, it is also time, that at 30, I take responsibility for the person I am and the things I say.

A small example is the way I trash my mother’s taste in clothes mercilessly – What is that crap, Ma? Are you planning on going out in public dressed like that? Because junta will just run for cover when they see that tee shirt.

She holds her tongue and either quietly submits to my better judgment or ignores me. The one thing she doesn’t deny is that I am always right. The one thing I can never forget is that I get my taste from her. Every choice in cotton sarees or crisp chikan kurtas with huge red bindis is one I learned from her and then fine tuned. But what I am yet to learn is to be nice while I go about it. Because the honest truth is that she looks awesome – I just want her to look better.  And so I have now begun to shop for her when I see something that would look good on her, regardless of whether I can afford it or not. I’m busy getting her packed for a family wedding in Australia later in the year. I was supposed to have attended but no passport yet and so I am deriving my joy from planning her sarees for the various dinners and parties. Knowing that she likes the clothes I choose for her, I’m doing this the other way around. Holding my tongue and simply buying what I think will suit her.

With dad, I’m just learning to hold my tongue. Period. At other times if we’re arguing over how much television the kids should be allowed, I simply find an article that illustrates my point and leave it on his bed. One evening he came up to me twice and said, ‘You’re right and I was wrong. I apologise.’ I almost collapsed in shock. But if he can do it, so can I.

We’re learning. It’s not easy as adults to re-work our relationship. To put aside our emotional baggage and treat each other with the respect due to another adult. And yet, even here, as I struggle to improve my relationship with them, I realise that I am only able to do it with their help and cooperation.

What are you working on today?

The plate on the mantelpiece

Placed on the mantelpiece in my parents’ living room is this plate. Unlike other mementos, this one can’t be bought. Like the Cadbury’s Bournville, you have to earn it. In other words, be a sportsperson. And everyone knows I couldn’t catch a ball even if you handed it to me on a silver platter. Clearly, it was not won by me.

It was won by someone who presented it to me in the euphoria of his win. Not with a flourish, neither with a disregard for what it meant. Simply handed to the then love of his life as an offering. A gesture if you will, of what she meant to him.

He wasn’t a jock. The hours others spent tossing a ball were spent strumming a guitar on the college lawns, so this was all the more unexpected and special. He got on the team as a lark and if I close my eyes I can still see the boyish grin, the sweat dripping off his forehead, the sheer exuberance as the team came in from a game jostling each other around, discussing who screwed up and who saved the day. When push comes to shove you’re unlikely to find a boy who doesn’t enjoy throwing a ball around and back thumping with his mates.

There is a special dinner held for the sportspeople at the end of the year and after having spent almost every waking moment with him, I was really upset not to be there with him. He made up for it by rushing back to me the moment it was over with this plate. It should have gone back to his home and adorned his parents’ mantelpiece. One that I am sure is now crowded with many more accolades.  Instead it ended up on my parents’ mantelpiece. Eleven years down, the plate still stands there proud. Guests stop by to admire it. The hands that dust it, do so with care because they’ve been told it is precious. And precious it is.

Because it is a reminder of a time long, long ago. Of sweet nothings whispered. Of words unspoken yet expressed. Of the sheer joy of being in the same room. Of the fact that relationships are never about just the two people in them. They’re about everyone else who ever brushed past that circle of love. Of the parents of the girl who might look at that plate, smile and remember many happy evenings full of music and laughter and good-natured ribbing and a boy they pretty much loved the moment he strummed the first chords of an old favourite song. A reminder to tread with care because you never know how things will go. That nothing is black and white and there is always room for grey and always a welcoming smile should you drop by to say hello.

The plate is safe there, as are the memories. In fact, they belong there. To that time, to the young parents wondering how to deal with their even younger daughter and her love life and to the love that he was… Here’s a song that will take us all back to that living room in a flash.

So now, how many of you are still pals with the ex? And even if you aren’t, what do you still have, other than the memories?

Real Women

Please read this… pass it around, stick it up on your cupboard or bathroom mirror, send it to your mother, send it to your father, post it on your blog… take it away now girls and boys, men and women, all of you real.

From Hanne Blank’s Blog

{ 2011 06 23 }

real women

Excuse me while I throw this down, I’m old and cranky and tired of hearing the idiocy repeated by people who ought to know better.

Real women do not have curves.

Real women do not look like just one thing.

Real women have curves, and not. They are tall, and not. They are brown-skinned, and olive-skinned, and not. They have small breasts, and big ones, and no breasts whatsoever.

Real women start their lives as baby girls. And as baby boys. And as babies of indeterminate biological sex whose bodies terrify their doctors and families into making all kinds of very sudden decisions.

Real women have big hands and small hands and long elegant fingers and short stubby fingers and manicures and broken nails with dirt under them.

Real women have armpit hair and leg hair and pubic hair and facial hair and chest hair and sexy moustaches and full, luxuriant beards.

Real women have none of these things, spontaneously or as the result of intentional change.

Real women are bald as eggs, by chance and by choice and by chemo.

Real women have hair so long they can sit on it.

Real women wear wigs and weaves and extensions and kufi and do-rags and hairnets and hijab and headscarves and hats and yarmulkes and textured rubber swim caps with the plastic flowers on the sides.

Real women wear high heels and skirts. Or not.

Real women are feminine and smell good and they are masculine and smell good and they are androgynous and smell good, except when they don’t smell so good, but that can be changed if desired because real women change stuff when they want to.

Real women have ovaries. Unless they don’t, and sometimes they don’t because they were born that way and sometimes they don’t because they had to have their ovaries removed.

Real women have uteruses, unless they don’t, see above.

Real women have vaginas and clitorises and XX sex chromosomes and high estrogen levels, they ovulate and menstruate and can get pregnant and have babies. Except sometimes not, for a rather spectacular array of reasons both spontaneous and induced.

Real women are fat. And thin. And both, and neither, and otherwise. Doesn’t make them any less real. There is a phrase I wish I could engrave upon the hearts of every single person, everywhere in the world, and it is this sentence which comes from the genius lips of the grand and eloquent Mr. Glenn Marla: There is no wrong way to have a body.

I’m going to say it again because it’s important: There is no wrong way to have a body. And if your moral compass points in any way, shape, or form to equality, you need to get this through your thick skull and stop with the “real women are like such-and-so” crap. You are not the authority on what “real” human beings are, and who qualifies as “real” and on what basis. All human beings are real.

Yes, I know you’re tired of feeling disenfranchised. It is a tiresome and loathsome thing to be and to feel. But the tit-for-tat disenfranchisement of others is not going to solve that problem. Solidarity has to start somewhere and it might as well be with you and me.

You might also want to read this piece by Golda Poretsky.