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Saturday, 11 November 2017

A perfect Mom



My brain fried like omelette frying on a pan, spluttering and throwing tiny droplets of hot oil over the pan. "It must be checked," I thought, with resolve, "or it will blow me up." 

My daughter oblivious of my mental state went about with doing what she was doing. Ignoring me and not even bothering to listen, as she sat with her favourite book, in her room. A room which gave an appearance of a place, recently visited by a deadly storm, leaving behind the debris of destruction. And my little one sat on top of the pile of debris left behind, like a victorious soldier watching with satisfaction the favourable outcome of a Pyrrhic war. 

Aanya has always made the monster in me squirm, with so little effort, I have begun to wonder which is the real me: the cool organised woman of the world or the Mom who blows up at the slightest compulsion from her kid, rendered paralised by the sheer helplessness of being outwitted by a nine year old. 

I morph, in my mind, for a brief moment, to the mom of a new-born. The sleepless nights, the nappy changes, the endless struggle of the new mom, they looked like child's play now. Now was the time for some real matching of wits with a girl! Then it was the time for matching of wits with a new born. "They are both the same," I summarised at length. But the former was the war at hand. And therefore it manifested itself with more ferocity.

I shouted at Aanya one more time, "can you hear me? Please finish your homework!" 

She shifted just a little, for a moment raising my hope that she had heard me finally, I was ready to sing a victory song, but alas, she did not raise her eyes from her book. I was ready to pull my hair or to pounce on her, but I held myself back with a creative thought of a loser who refuses to give in, "isn't this what I wanted? For her to be a thorough book worm?"

And then the other sound in my mind raged back, "but she must do the homework!"

And then again the other sound quietened that devil again, "but she is so focused can't you see? This is just what you wanted for her, this is the precursor to some real success."

The other stern voice followed, "And what about her grades? She will downgrade!"

Then yet again the other voice said, "What are grades for, can't you see she is learning to take her own decisions?" 

My mind exploded, with the two mothers fighting over Aanya. Both right in their own way and none ready to lose the battle. Who has ever convinced a mother? And here in my mind I had two, equally confident and adamant in her own right. 

And I glanced at Aanya from the corner of my eye. Still reading her book with no notion of the war waging in my mind. 

And then at that weak moment, one of them won, I roared at the little girl, "I said home-work! Now!" And she raised her head just a wee bit and quite unimpressed with my blood shot eyes and maternal roar, sank back into her book. 

And then the other one brushed the brute aside, "okay 15 minutes and then you are doing the homework." I shouted submissively. Oh I remembered I had other things to catch up on!  I silently slid away from the battlefield, unsure whether I was vanquished or I had just won something very valuable. 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Don't let the Blue Whale Get Your Adolescent



I was in my teens when Mahabharat serial by BR Chopra was aired on television. The Jarasangh Vadh episode, (where Lord Krishna tears apart King Jarasangh into two halves) made a couple of eight year olds to split-kill a play mate in a fatal play. The news was everywhere. Some years later Shaktimaan was taking rounds and several kids jumped to their death emulating Shaktimaan. Superman has had much the same impact on kids.

It appears as though those very things which appear quite innocuous to us and sometimes even educational, for our children, can have fatal consequences. Mahabharat was an epic serial and parents in those days insisted their kids to watch it religiously. Shaktimaan was a serial meant for kids, aired on the national channel.

The debate then comes to this, how do we instil the right values in our kids if there is a stream of unintended distractions? How do we save the kids from themselves? Judging by the seriousness of the impact of serials like Mahabharat and Shaktimaan, I would not consider Blue Whale half as risky as it is being touted on news channels today. Because blue whale is clandestine, but these serials were being watched by children under Parent's persuasion!

Some kids play dangerous games because they lack the fear for life, some play them because they are disillusioned by life in their own way, at a very young age, yet some others just like to experiment.

Reading these crazy blue whale suicides, one morning I woke up with a start, I wanted to know if all kids are equally exposed to such threats. How can I protect my child? This being on top of my stack of thoughts. Like all other parents, solutions to some of my concerns, I realised, were not under my control. I cannot be spying over my kid for example. If my kid is on the internet, I cannot always chaperone her online activity. I have made her independent and I want her to be able to make the right choices. Am I being adventurous in thinking that my kid knows what's good for her? All the thoughts led to nothing. I was going in circles. I was not coming close to any answers. 

I decided I needed to go down to their level to find why they do it. So I started thinking how I was in their age. I had a turbulent childhood and teenage, I waded past due to the presence of some very sensible friends. So my life is not exactly much of an example.

In those days the dangerous games were: Guys smashing glass pane with bare hands just to impress a girl, love letters written with blood, kids running away from home, a secret expedition to swim in a river and getting washed away. Teens are challenging adults, trying to prove they are better. At times these renegade behaviour cost them their lives. I can worry all I wish, but how can I stop my kid from being her age? 

I have walked on a parapet at the terrace of a 4 storied building at 2:00 a.m. all alone. I was very desperate then to prove to myself that I was not afraid! I remember the stress and pain I was going through at that time. One part of me did not care if I lived and the other, the basic human part, was scared of falling and dying. 

I know that, the lack of unconditional love during my childhood, left me without a solid base. I took risks because I believed no one cared. A lot of kids grow up with much the same emotions for various different reasons. Could that cause them to play dangerous games? 

Let’s not assume. I don't think there is one single reason for this crazy behaviour, I have known my most well-adjusted friend to take risks beyond her capability in a quest to show off her smartness. The thing is, her parents made sure that she understood what the consequences of her action could have been. Within a few years I saw the difference, she was far more cautious and mature than I was and she had lost interest in dangerous games altogether, while I was still fidgeting with the same thoughts. 

I have really invested in trying to be a good parent, I did not have the examples to make me a natural parent. I see my husband absolutely naturally be a good parent, I have to learn. But like all parents I suffer from many limitations. One of them being my own habits and responses! For someone who has been beaten as a child several times a day on a daily basis, scolded and humiliated as a practice, I have come a long way. But my impulses are counter intuitive to my desire to be a good parent. I realised that I was confusing my daughter, I realised it when she was still very young. 

I decided if I cannot change much about myself at least I can explain the reason for it. I spoke to my daughter at length, even when she was three and four. Eventually this is what she said to me one day, as I was speaking to her on our drive to her pre-school, "Mamma I know you love me, but you get angry sometimes. I don't mind it." I was touched by her wisdom. She was just a baby, but my efforts were paying off. Goes without saying I felt my eyes moisten. Was I really getting to wipe off the curse of my abnormal childhood? I have learned to control my impulses better, I am still learning. But that should not come in the way of my child.

And talking to her is just what I do always. Every time I have a concern, I just voice it to her. She talks to me openly. I tell her how happy I feel when she is happy, how sad I feel when she is sad. She has cried on my shoulder at age five over a boyfriend. She knows there is nothing she cannot share with me. Sometimes when her friends tell her to hide something from me, she tells me all of it under the pledge of secrecy. It is difficult for me to not pounce on her with my idea of good and bad when she shares these things, but my restraint has paid off.  

Parenting seems to be the ultimate act of daring. Let’s not forget that more adolescents die in India because for poor marks in board exams, than due to fatal games. There does not seem to be any quick fix solution to the Blue Whale problem, or the Choking Game problem, or any of such fatal games, but as parents we can take the place of our kid's greatest well-wishers. We can guide them at their pace and hope that they will tell us everything which bothers them. And if they are confident to do that, let’s hope no one else takes that place till they find the right person for it. 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Puberty: the rituals and the shame

Seetha is thirteen, a Tamil, she just can’t wait for it… 

"Not yet," her mother said, one afternoon, “Sometimes it comes late.” 

"Akka (Elder Sister) got it at thirteen," Seetha said, with slight impatience creeping into her voice.

"Yes she got it early. It might take you longer. Don't you think it is good, you are saved all that hassle a little longer?" comforted her mother

"Oh but the ritual, I am looking forward to it. Akka decked up like a princess, she got such awesome gifts. I can’t wait for that lavish banquet. Get me the grand, blue Kanjivaram saree we saw the other day." In one breath it was all out! Seetha has fantasized a fairy tale ceremony. Probably grander than akka's. Seetha is innocent and impressionable!

She is talking about her impending puberty. Dear readers, you be the judge, don’t just take her words.

Custom has it that, her first periods will be a knockout event, with unprecedented celebrations A.K.A Puberty Rituals, culminating into a lavish feast. Everyone must know that this girl is now a woman! She wears the saree for the first time, with jewelleries that enhances her beauty like never before. No kidding, this young lady is now fertile and feminine and she and the rest better respect her for that! Respect her? How?

There is a spectacular grind to be gone through which includes- Offering her a frugal existence, in isolation, over probably just a mat, for 6 to 15 days. Number of days is a choice by custom or practicability. She will sit, sleep and eat on this mat alone. Feeding her traditional diet, believed to prepare the body for menstrual cycles. Rice, ragi and pulses being the main ingredients of food cooked at this period, supplemented with Sesame oil and Ghee. All food rich in vitamin E is to be offered, as this is the puberty vitamin. How? It helps strengthen the uterus walls.

Mother Counsel’s her, on the significance, the precautions, the frequency, and yes, the restrictions. Particularly those menstrual restrictions, will be spooled into her mind for future replay. “Your body becomes impure during periods, you need to restrict your movement,” a message every girl is given. On the 7th, 9th or the 16th day: as decided, her aunts will give her a bath, followed by a haldi (Turmeric) ceremony in which both men and women participate. They will apply haldi-neem paste on her face and hands- a cleansing agent!

Don’t forget the feast! One akin to a marriage reception. The girl’s Mama (Mother’s brother oh don’t mistake it for Mamma!) plays a major role in this ceremony. He is certainly the guest of honour and the main convener of the puberty ritual in most southern states. He plays an important role in matrimony of the girl later. Expensive gifts will be showered upon her, by family, relatives and friends from her community only. She will thus be initiated into the magical world of the sinful pubescent. This ceremony of Saddangu (Tamil Nadu), Aashirvada (Karnataka) or Tuloni Biyah (Assam) will let the community know, she is ready for marriage. The gifts in this party are primarily a preparation for her dowry. (Note: In Assam, men don’t partake in the haldi ritual, mama does not play any particular role either)

Hereafter, every time she has periods, for three days, she will be relegated to the same mat-at-one-corner. Rendered untouchable, she will be unable to touch most of her own belongings even.

Somewhere else many, many kilometres away from Seetha’s home, the scene morphs:

Anju has no idea why she has red spotting in her panty. Red like blood and with an unbearable stench. It could be cancer, she thinks, with a sense of urgency. At thirteen and a half, she is petrified. Should she tell her mother? Hailing from a small town in Utter Pradesh, she has not been exposed to puberty education in school. She gathers courage to whisper in her mom's ear, “I saw blood in my panty, I think I am seriously ill”

“Shh!” her Mom hushes her up as she tugs her by her arm, into the corner-most room of the house. She latches the door from inside, with a dramatic air. She gives her a pack of sanitary napkins, the ones Anju used to see in TV commercials.  

“You will need this, you have periods,” Mom whispers even behind closed doors. “You will get it from now on.” And that is that. With those few hushed words, Anju is initiated into a life time of secret-period-act, no drum beats, no fanfare, no adequate initiation, no sympathies either. Anju’s thoughts are fixated to the blood stench and nature’s abject unfairness towards her body. She has questions. Her mother’s face is contorted with shame, her words curt and precise, coming from another realm. Anju keeps quiet, attentively listening, cautious not to ask questions. She might check with her friends later. Scared sick and quite uncertain, she wonders, did her mother tell her the truth or does she indeed have cancer?

One country, two cultures, exact opposite! Complete overtness versus abject covertness. We the people of India, intertwined into single fabric of nationalism, yet so in silo.

I did not know, my Telugu neighbour, from Andhra Pradesh, celebrates puberty rituals. Despite living in neighbourly harmony for over 12 years. Having been part of each other’s functions and celebrations. How little we know our own neighbours!

The Tamils, the Malayalis, the Telugus, the Kannadigas, the Assamese, the Kulu Paharis are some of the people in India who celebrate puberty rituals. All these rituals have the same undercurrent, with slight differences. Confinement, Nutritious food and a feast, are the bedrock of these ceremonies. Maharashtra till recently had puberty rituals at an austere level, similar rituals but restricted only to women, a four day ritual.

I asked my neighbour why? Why the ritual? Why the untouchability? She, a believer, knows no better way to initiate the girl into puberty. And the untouchability? That gives you the much needed rest! My Tamil friend concurs. Not my Kannadiga friend, she feels it’s an invasion of privacy. “Times have changed,” she tells. My friend from Kerala agrees to that. Reactions vary, not on the basis of state, these are personal preferences; that is what I am assured. In a larger scheme of things, this tradition is under scrutiny today. There are believers and non-believers in all pockets. The opinion on the extent to which this event must be celebrated varies like the colours in the spectrum.

A small community in India, the Vohra Muslims, have a coming of age ceremony, at 16 for girls and at 17 for boys. Coming of age rituals are the society’s way to include young men and women into the adult pool. In the island of Pentecost, situated near Australia, man-hood is proven through Bungee Jumping, this is where this sport emerged by-the-way. There are various puberty and coming of age rituals across the globe, some even gruesome, while others celebratory.

Most northern states of India, from Kashmir to West Bengal, my own state Bihar, the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, none of them have puberty rituals. Then again some of the North Eastern states, to the east of Assam, have similar rituals. A closer look reveals a pattern of puberty beliefs on the first three days of periods, month on month:
-         Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra – Mat-at-one-corner concept observed
-         Bihar, Bengal, Kashmir – Temple visits restricted
-         Punjab a definite exception – No restrictions whatsoever.

Why? The question looms large. The striking similarity of the puberty rituals across India, wherever it exists, matched by similar beliefs and customs in the whole country. Why did the rituals sever? Why did the customs sever? Let us leave the past to the past. Today we have other questions to ask.  

It is open to you dear readers, what do you prefer? Rituals or secrecy? Restrictions or relief? These questions have been opened up today. ‘Bleed With Pride’ movement, Haji Ali Dargah - high court approval for women to enter its precincts, Sabrimala temple - tussle over women’s age bar for entry, are cases in its favour. Who knows how stigma will finally be separated from this natural phenomena, sordid in perception, yet inevitable in perpetuation of the human race!

This article was first published in Women's Web: http://www.womensweb.in/2016/09/puberty-rituals-in-india/ 

Monday, 31 July 2017

Yes, It Is True, It Is Possible To Be Promoted In Your Role As Mother


At 8 years and a half (That's my daughter's age), I find my job as a mother beginning to transform into that of a Manager, from being a Team Leader for past few years. Let me explain this. It is possible for a mother to be promoted in her job as a Mom, like they do in corporate jobs. Yes it is true.

Here's how, let's track from the genesis. At birth, our babies are a full time involvement, minute by minute, we are hands on with them. If they are
awake we are too. In-fact we are up and at their service round the clock. In corporate-speak this is an Individual Contributor role. The most grass root level work in our journey as parents. Hang in there, those smelly diapers, and messy baby food are all just a passing phase. 

Then comes the Team Lead role, at about age 5 through to age 8 (of your kid I mean), we tell them to do things, but most of the time we end up doing most of their work. This is the stage where we are training our kids to do things they must be doing as they grow up, and they can easily resist doing them. And they are oh so cute we can't do much about it. These oh so cuties will fight us, throw tantrums at us and do nothing that we want them to do. Oh well they don't care, the universe seems to circle around them!

At about age 8 (The child’s), we turn into a Managers. We begin to delegate tasks and expect them to be done as per the instructions. We are not always involved in performance of the task, we mostly come in the picture, if there is a problem or a need for guidance. And, trust me, there are way too many of those problems and needs for guidance. This stage is the most peaceful of all parenting stages so far. We can boss around a bit and even receive adherence. For the first time we as parents feel, we also have some power!

At about age 10 (the child’s), we become Senior Managers, having done the Manager's job for 2 years, it’s time for a slight career advancement, without much change in the role, but most certainly better experience. Now is the time when the kid for the very first time realises that, the parents are the boss in the establishment and kids are not the ones letting them live in the house, but it is the other way round. Some of them go through an ego crash phase, but that is okay, as long as they keep getting their favourite bar of chocolate and their favourite toys and games.

At age 13 (child's age remember!) we become Directors, no arguments about that. Now is the time to set their backside on fire and watch them run right up to the finish line, from a safe distance. Oh they don't like anything about the establishment, not even their favourite bars of chocolate bring about the truce at times. But we as parents don't budge. We are quite clear in our perspective.

We then turn into the Senior Directors at age 16 (child's age again, now for sure we cannot hope to be sweet 16 ourselves anymore!). We become someone to be feared and respected and someone whose orders can't be ignored, or else there will be consequences. Yes, 16 year old's know very well the consequences and they break house rules only to test water. They are old enough to play a few grown-up games with their parents, but not old enough to totally ignore them. This is the time minor world wars are fought in the homes, leading to the teenager's gradual realisation that their parents are also quite cool in certain very restricted manners. These kids are still quite dependent on parents, and they can't do much about anything as yet.

And then we become Vice Presidents at age 18 (our Kid's, though not much of a kid), this is where our role changes to only ensuring smooth performance and focus towards goals. We do not do any work for them, we just watch them and ask for regular updates on what's going on. We make some mighty big investments in their education. And they make some mighty big real plans for their lives. This is the stage where our kids basically become quite independent and even self-assured. But they do need constant guidance.

We become Senior Vice Presidents at age 20 (Kid's, who is not a kid any more). This is just a transition phase. We have done most of our work and we need a brief period of monitoring, before we let go of our responsibility and move on. At this stage parents appear friendly to the kids (who are not kids anymore). They even appear intelligent to them and quite up to the mark.

The final stage is becoming Presidents at around the ages of 21 to 24, depending on the career your kid chose. Having a work experience of 21 years, we are now free of all mundane roles. Our children are part of the mainstream now, so all we need to do is give them wisdom from time to time. Rest is up-to them. This is the stage when we just look on at the good work done and watch our little ones (they will remain little for us for sure) fly out of our nests and become people.

After this we need not retire, we have our unfinished tasks and dreams we have been battling with all these years while we were also actively parenting. We can pour in our hearts and a lot more of our time to these pursuits and live our lives to the fullest. Being a parent no doubt is the most rewarding of all the tasks we will ever do. We also have that person in us to tend to and there is a significant other, our spouses, who walked every step with us and made the journey enjoyable. And then there are some wonderful friends we made over the years, we need to get to see them more often too.

Our lives will keep getting tangled with our children's, over and over even after those 21 years. But those will be a different experience altogether. Those birds who flew off our nests, are no more the carefree kids, we once had all to ourselves. 


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Healthy is Easy, No Wonder It's Underrated

Being healthy is not mandatory, therefore health is the most neglected of human necessities. 

Eat in time! 'Ah well too busy.' 
Eat Healthy! 'Huh but, who will feast on the cakes, burgers and chips.' 
Eat what you need! 'Oh no there is just so much food on the table, why waste it, let it go in and then we will see.'

Summary of all these little misdemeanours are the diseases, pains and physical discomforts which our bodies develop. Burppp... that is where it starts. 

When I read the discharge summary of my infant after her birth, it said, feed at regular intervals and burp after every feed… I laughed to myself as I read, it appeared much like a user manual to me back then. Ah but the point is, burpppp itself is not a problem, it is the very second thing one did when one landed with a thud on the planet, after probably crying out loud. The burppp of junk food is different. It has a life-cycle of its own. It is closely followed by gas, not the fuel for our expensive cars, nor even the LPG gas we use for cooking. It is the nasty, snarly gas, popularly known as acidity. Followed by the bile (the fluid released by liver to digest unwanted fat in the body). Bile is what does the trick, it slowly passes on the unhealthy contents in our food, into the tiny cells, each and every one of the millions, billions, trillions and gazillions of them. Bile makes the disease enter our cells efficiently!  

It much like the Pokemon, isn't it? It grows and matures and it attacks in every stage. First is the 'burpp attack', then the 'acid attack' and then the 'bile attack' and then the 'disease attack'... the final blow! Those of you who do not watch Pokemon, oh well, think of the life cycle of a Frog. 

Ever so slowly, our body begins to dissipate under its unmistakable pressure. We ignore a little bit of breathlessness, a little bit of fatigue, a little bit of obesity, a little bit of indigestion, a little bit of acidity. But the body is unmistakably complaining - help me I need health! Why don't we listen? Because suicide is a crime, poisoning another person is crime too. Slow poisoning oneself with bad choice of food? Not a crime, not yet! On the contrary, it is fashionable to be uncaring for one’s health. It is interpreted as selflessness and therefore surest act of bravery.

Is it indeed an act of bravery or is it just fat-headedness? And the answer is: it is only, but only fat-headedness. There is no need for martyrs in peace time. No one will reward us for being diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, migraine, gout, ulcer, hernia, heart disease etc. etc. etc. Many will sympathise and many others will find our disease as an excuse to share their two cents of home remedies, to alleviate the trouble. But the trouble stays, never leaves. And we get to be the object of everyone's concern due to our suffering. No one wants to touch upon the delicate topic of our poor lifestyle choices. No one wants to blame us for our disease. That's sacrosanct! 

The truth is, we were warned much in advance, so many times. Listen to these... don't they sound boringly familiar? "Eat Well, Sleep Well, Breathe fresh Air, Think good thoughts, Be happy." Oh no those are just gospels, one listen’s to them under force, only just to be patient listener. There is no end to what one does out of social commitment, even listen to clichéd gospels, Isn't it? 

I hate to break it, most of these time tested, overused, clichéd, bits of wisdom on living healthy are significantly true, we cannot ignore them!!! Tchhh Tchh. My piece of cake, my chocolates, my chips, pastries, pastas, don't bid farewell as yet! We are throwing away our lives to packaged food industry, junk food industry, confectionery industry, pesticide industry, health care and health insurance industry. Such popular commercial successes, they even have annual revenue targets and they report year on year revenue growth. We fail notice our gullibility!

Living healthy is not mandatory, but each one of us have the right to seek health. That should be the most fashionable thing to do on the planet!


Monday, 1 May 2017

Pink, Dear Zindagi, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya and the Women in Them

There is a string that connects these woman centric movies. Treat women as people, with their own discrete idiosyncrasy, aside from social norms. I feel a little less burdened as a woman and also reassured for my little girl's future as I glean through these movies. 

As a mother to my eight year old, I have always questioned the wisdom of the social norms to teach to my little one. I wish that she will be self-reliant, yet enjoy the simple joy of being in a relationship, having a family and being just simply and inexplicably happy. In today's world, there is still a compartmentalisation for what makes a woman happy and what is expected of her. Being happy, it seems, is not the most important attribute expected of a woman. 

There is a patriarch in each one of us, men and women alike. That is the hallmark of a patriarchal society. And so when I watched Pink, I found myself adjusting to the thought process introduced in the movie. A thought process I had not adhered to, up until now! The idea that women have the right to say NO! The idea that a woman can't be judged by her appearance or by her choices. She cannot be coerced when she says NO. OMG I thought, no one told me that!!! 

When I watched Dear Zindagi, here was a girl, trying to control her life by suffocating herself! Completely engendered to social norms, yet believing that she did not care. Huh! That is the picture of a modern girl even today, just as much as it was for many centuries and millenniums in the past. Though, let me clarify, this is not the real purpose of the movie. 

Yet again, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil brought a different face of the same scared modern woman, taking life's decisions under the sway of patriarchy. The female protagonist comes to believe that marriage is the cause of all problems in a woman's life. She has no answer to it. So bingo! She chooses to keep away from marriage. This move portrays yet again that, while today's woman has a better sense of self, she is also weary of fighting back for herself, so she chooses a middle path. She chooses to keep away and safe from relationships that can hurt. She has the guts to give herself up for love, but no answer to the society's stereotypical approach towards her as the wife of someone! Why should she keep a relationship that takes away her originality?

Therefore when I watched Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, it turned out to be a treat of a different genre. This movie finally risks portraying the man as a human, not as a chaperone but as someone who needs love and also as someone who needs protection. This movie portrays a woman's insecurity just the same, but then it finds a unique solution to her predicament. She is insecure because men want to wield her and to hold her in thrall. What if a man understood his need for her to be in his life, just as much as a woman feels her need for him to be in hers? What if the two appreciate and respect each other's choices and therefore come together? Not for their personal needs, i.e. a homemaker for the man and a source of security for the woman? This movie finally brings out man-woman relationship as just that. Husband is not a person to give up ones being to and wife is not an instrument to wield in the household. They are both just persons to love. 

This article was first published in Woman's Web: 
http://www.womensweb.in/2017/03/women-centric-movies-of-recent/

Monday, 17 April 2017

Is Abandonment the End of Life for a Woman?



I almost mistook her for a seventy year old ailing old lady, as she laboriously made her way towards the swimming pool, limping, her hair white as silver, bent to one side, her hip dis-aligned and crooked. Climbing each step with palpable pain. She had gained more weight since I last saw her, and her hair had completely whitened within the past two years. Her face permanently contorted with pain. I decided not to bother her and to just let her be.

I made acquaintance with Kalpana just by chance, and I learnt from her that she was struggling with a knee problem that left her bed ridden most often. There was this one day when I had ringed her bell and she took inordinately long to open the door. When she opened the door, she was on her knees. She had walked on her knees to open the door. Embarrassed and jolted at seeing her that way, I composed myself with some effort and expressed concern. I tried to help but she brushed me aside. I walked away shaken and helplessly concerned. 

I did not know her real age. Judging by the age of her kids, she could not be more than five or six years my senior. But we looked twenty years apart even then. 

After that encounter, I met her once or twice on my morning walks, but soon I had forgotten all about her. So when I saw her after almost a gap of two years, I was surprised how quickly she had added a decade and a half to her age. 

Kalpana was living alone with her two girls, one 15 and the other 7. Her husband had abandoned them, but was sending maintenance. I learnt this from another neighbour. She was pining over the pain and making herself sicker and sicker. And so a lot of her sickness was from a mistaken sense of failure. She was just not accepting the truth. She was holding on to the regret and pain so dearly that there was little space for anything else in her life. 

And I cannot help thinking, if a woman was to abandon a man in the same state, and there are several such examples, do men also drain themselves out in pain? Or is the society sending signals to women to pine over the loss and therefore they comply?

There is a lot of truth in it. In fact when a woman is abandoned she is considered doomed. People feel free to sympathise but the society does not come out and support the woman to stand up for herself. What would it have been for Kalpana? Did she break down the day her husband left? Did she fall on the floor on that moment and did not get up for hours? Did she call someone and share her pain? What did they tell her when she was looking for solace? Did they blame her for the incident and did they ask her to keep trying to get him back in her life? 

She failed to notice that she was the only adult in her children's lives, yet so far from being an example for them. Nor did she notice that she was propagating palpable pain inside the four walls of her house, I had felt it when I went to her house. She was lying to her neighbours, telling them that her husband would be back soon! Not making any serious efforts to get on her feet. It appears that she was hoping that her sickness would bring the man back in her life. 

Why couldn't she understand that people do not leave to come back, definitely not when one weakens by that person's absence. Blaming her husband does not make sense to me. It is a broken marriage, what broke it is not for others to judge. I wish Kalpana would know the responsibility that she was left with, I wish she would rise to the occasion and let her daughters learn the skill of being a self respecting individuals. I wish so many things for Kalpana, but she seems to have stopped wishing. She seems to have lost the battle even before it began. 

She is not an exception, she is most ordinary in her seemingly extraordinary pain. Even her pain is not extraordinary. Marriages fail and some more miserably than the others. Some people are less trustworthy than the others. People will be people, civility is learnt by some while others find it hard to inculcate. We tend to judge them by their gender, but inability to keep a relationship is gender neutral, just as much as the willingness to keep a relationship going, is gender neutral.