My Empowerment

The documentary India’s Daughter is based on the the Delhi gang rape (16 Dec 2012). The documentary, apart from narrating that gruesome event, consists of many interviews. Among those interviewed were the victim Jyoti Singh’s parents, one of the convicted rapists Mukesh Singh, defense lawyers and many other people related to the case.The most appalling statement that sent me reeling was made by one of the defense lawyers: If my daughter or sister engaged in premarital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”

Bhashkor Banerjee, a seventy year old man played by Amitabh Bachchan in the movie Piku believes that only a woman of low IQ would get married and dedicate her life to taking care of her husband and his home. He doesn’t want his emotionally and financially independent 30 year old daughter, Piku, to commit that folly. In fact he actively dissuades interested suitors by letting them know that his daughter isn’t a virgin and is sexually active, and ruins her dinner date. He has no qualms about disrupting her life by being a constant nag, and feels that the only person she should take care of is him.

Both the above views about the role of a daughter in a family and what she means to them are extreme. Because they are so extreme it is highly visible too. In most of our cases since it is subtle we either miss it or ignore it except for few smart ones who cleverly manoeuver their family views to work in their favour.

I was shocked speechless in my thirties by my mother’s statement to me that only my dad and my brother have the right to take decisions pertaining to family matters. So what was I to my family then,  a “convenience”?? I had actively participated in and supported all my family affairs may it be financial, emotional, physical, social…… I think somewhere there I was under the impression that I had earned enough brownie points from my family to be looked upon as a very important member of the group. So my mother’s statement came as a rude shock. I felt betrayed! I felt used and thrown! I felt angry and bitter!

Today I realize that what I actually wanted from them was MY EMPOWERMENT. How naive and stupid of me to have believed that power given to you by others is empowerment. It took me this incident to realize that I was looking in wrong direction : outside instead of WITHIN.      

 

1000 Lamps

Gayathri flings her handbag on the sofa as she dashes towards the kitchen, pulls the refrigerator door open, feels the sweat run down her face on to the floor as she  blindly reaches for the bottle. She gulps down the cold water and slumps down on the kitchen chair . She stays there for a long time looking defeated when her eyes fall on the silver lamp placed in her pooja room and immediately her face lights up.

She jumps up from her chair, skips to the bedroom, opens the closet, reaches back for the small package, unwraps the old newspaper cover and with a smile places a black coloured simple but elegant looking oblong shaped oil lamp on her palm. She moves her hand up and down enjoying the feel of the lamp against her palm while noticing that though the lamp is traditional in nature it has a modern flair to it.

Yes!! This is the ideal return gift for the guests who will be attending her house warming ceremony. She had bought the beautiful lamp from Shravanabelagola few months back while touring with her family on her fortieth birthday.

Over the next few days, she hunts for the lamps in her city, Chennai, until she is guided to look for it in Tiruvannamalai by a vendor in Vadapalani. She manages to get in touch with a vendor in Tiruvannamalai who has those lamps but almost drops her phone when she hears the price. She hits a dead end but soon comes up with another idea! She painstakingly calls one hotel after another in Shravanabelagola asking if they could help her in procuring those lamps.

At last one of them hurriedly informs her to wait for a call. Next day she gets the call from Muthiah who is eager to craft out those lamps for her at a very reasonable price. But the issue is that he has no bank account to which she could transfer the money and he doesn’t have a clue as to how to deliver those lamps to her. So Gayathri decides to collect the lamps in person.

As soon as he lets her know that the lamps are ready to be picked up Gayathri sets out on her journey to Muthiah’s house. She catches a train from Chennai to Bangalore and then hires a car to Shravanabelagola.

She soon finds herself in front of Muthiah ‘s house. As she steps out of the car she is hit by the scene of small children, dogs, cats, goats, hens all sharing a very tiny front yard with a young lady washing clothes beside them. She sees a man around 60 years old accompanied by a lady rushing towards her with a huge smile to greet her. She identifies the man and the woman to be Muthiah and his wife.

Soon the children gather around her and she wonders out loud as to why they aren’t in school for which Muthiah replies that his grandchildren have taken leave so that they could meet her! It is now that she realizes that they are celebrating the day.

They take her through a small verandah leading to the only room in the house  where she sees her 1000 lamps stacked up against the wall!  They ask her to verify that there are indeed 1000 of them before they pack it for her. She doesn’t bother to count because she wants them to know that she trusts them as much as they had trusted her to turn up at their doorstep.

She hands Rs 25000 to Muthiah which he accepts with gratitude. He holds the money against his chest and looks up as if to thank god for giving him such a blessed day. Muthiah’s wife’s eyes mist over and she asks Gayathri to let her know as soon as she reaches her home safely with her lamps intact.  

Gayathri stands in front of a huge shelf in her house that holds all of her 1000 lamps. She runs her hand over a lamp thinking about how joyful she is going to feel when she gives these lamps away to friends and family but more so in sharing her incredible story getting them!!

Book End

Photo : incrediblethings.com

I used to volunteer at a place called Book End. Book End is a small store which raises funds for the public library by selling refurbished books and CDs at a very nominal price.

The process involves cleaning up the shabby looking books and CDs discarded by the library, evaluating and labelling the new price on the books, stacking them on the shelves and billing the books at the sales counter. There is also an administration department that deals with communicating with the  sponsors, processing the donations, and organizing thank you parties.

I hung out in the administrative department most of the time but also got many interesting opportunities like refurbishing the books and CDs and trimming brochures with a paper cutting machine.

One fine day I was asked if I could man the billing counter for a day the following week. At first I accepted but soon found myself wondering If I could manage it. So in order to boost my confidence I went down the next day to observe the billing procedure.

I was very impressed by the person who was manning the counter that day! She did it with so much ease that that I felt incompetent. I pictured myself floundering and struggling to do the same. I was afraid I would be criticized by a customer for being too slow or racking up a bill or  short-change. I suffered from performance anxiety so much that I called up the co-ordinator to let her know that I wouldn’t be able to fill in that day and that she would have to find someone else to do it.

I felt like such a loser. For years after that I cringed at my cowardice. I regretted having wasted a beautiful opportunity to learn a new skill, to experience something different and new. Above all, to prove to myself that I could cope and adapt to any situation that life threw at me.

Now I know that nothing can be learnt if I fear failure.

Now I know that nothing can be learnt if I fear making mistakes.

Now I know that nothing can be learnt if I fear getting hurt.

Now I know that nothing can be learnt if I fear change.

Now I know that nothing can be learnt if I fear the unknown.

Now I know that regret won’t get me what I want. I have instead replaced fear with curiosity and trust in myself and life.

I am ready to learn.  

Kashmir

Photo : Rediff.com

Few of our friends questioned our decision to visit Srinagar and spend a few days there. Frankly speaking even though I knew we would be safe there I was uncertain about the ambience. We landed at the Srinagar airport right on Eid.

As we were waiting with our luggage to be picked up I think to myself

this airport looks like any other small airport in India

During the drive from the airport to the hotel there weren’t many vehicles on the road because of Eid. I saw

ooh!  so many policemen. Are those sandbag barricades on the roadside?

As we reached the hotel

this area looks like any upscale neighbourhood of any city in India

We asked the hotel manager to suggest a  place where we could enjoy a leisurely walk. He suggested Dal lake. We  flagged down an auto and asked him to take us to Dal Lake.

Man! I can’t believe the amount of traffic on the road.

Stroll ! Here! In this crowd ! Forget it!

We bypassed the lake and  asked the auto driver to take us to a less crowded place.He took us to Mughal gardens.

More people!

We tried walking in that crowd but it was very frustrating.

Abort walk! Let’s go back to the hotel

Next day we drove to Gulmarg. We were assigned our cottage and a caretaker.The cottage was on a small mount with a rough path leading to it.

Interesting.

After spending some time in the cottage we went on to  pursue our longstanding wish of taking a leisurely walk.

Plenty of People, Horses, Shit, Shit and more Shit everywhere !

No one bothered to clean the horse shit.

Stopped walking and returned to the cottage to find it very cold.

Brrrrrrrr!  Let’s turn on the heater.

We couldn’t  locate the heater or the caretaker, the only warm place was the bed which had an electric blanket.

Thank you electric blanket, our saviour!

Next day we took a shot at Gondola ride.

What a crowd! Such a mess ! looks totally disorganised!

Bypassed Gondola ride. Returned back to the hotel in Srinagar.

The following day we took an auto to Badgam, the local railway station. We were waiting for the train.

many policemen

One of the policemen eagerly chatted with us and was surprised to hear that we had come all the way just to experience the train ride.

Hurray! No tourists!

We entered the train, found three fairly clean seats and sat down.

more policemen with Ak 47 patrolling the train

The train travelled through different stations gathering the local crowd

so many policemen in every little station

We passed through Banihal rail tunnel.

Yeaaaaaaah! 7 miles long super long tunnel     

The train terminated at Banihal.

OMG! look at the rushing crowd

The compartment was jam packed.The train started its journey back to Badgam.

All the local boys in the compartment were staring at us.

Man ! this is awkward , a bit uneasy

Soon a couple of girls and a bunch of boys started quarrelling in Kashmiri.

What the hell is happening? Is it eve teasing?

A policeman with an Ak 47 appeared on the scene to resolve the issue. He humoured them into going their separate ways.

I was so caught up with all that was happening in the train that I had forgotten that we hadn’t dared to get down from the train at Banihal to buy the return tickets.

Will we get caught? Maybe! But man, this was one exhilarating experience!

 

Gracious Moment

Photo : Daily Mail

I was sitting on a bench under a tree waiting opposite the building where my daughter was having her classes.This has become a ritual by now, maybe I’ll call it our Saturday Chaos. Every Saturday my daughter and I take a long ride to our designated school where she attends her contact classes for the five subjects she has chosen while I wait on the bench under the tree. If we are extremely lucky then everything goes as planned and the whole ordeal gets over by little under 4 hours and we are back on our way home.

My daughter rejoices in the flexibility and freedom that homeschooling offers her except for the dozen or so Saturday classes she needs to attend. These Saturday classes are meant to help these kids with their internal assignments, to get them prepared for their practicals and to clear their doubts. Unfortunately the regular schools who support this program have no clue as to how to handle it and we bear the brunt of their ignorance, lack of interest and sloppiness one Saturday after another.

This particular Saturday was disastrous. The announced dates for the practical examinations were saying that we had only 10 days left to prepare which shocked everyone as we were led to believe until then that we had close to two months to do so. I knew from our experience till then that if  we don’t actively chase around and ambush the right people, press the right trigger then nothing would get done. For our luck, that Saturday not only happened to be a working day for regular school but they were celebrating Teacher’s Day. That meant that my access to everyone and everything including my daughter would be severely restricted. I had no option but to wait and watch.

I sat as usual on the bench under the tree, among few other students and parents, completely beaten by the situation I was in. I sat there for a while, lost in my thoughts when I felt someone tap my shoulder. I looked up and heard a voice ask tentatively:

“Kavitha?”

I jumped up and turned around.  

Me :  Reshma?

Reshma : What are you doing here?

Me :  My daughter is homeschooled and this school is her contact center. And you?

Reshma :  I am teaching music here.

Me (while wondering as to what this ambitious software engineer is doing teaching music in this school):  Wow! What a combination- Maths and Music!

Reshma (hesitantly) : You do know what happened with me, yeah?

My mind gets busy trying to guess what would have possibly gone wrong : divorce, cancer survivor…….

Me (warily) : No

A puzzled expression crosses her face.

Reshma : I lost my first one.

My mind scrambling to make sense of this statement- losing what?? What first one??

Reshma : My daughter.

Me : Oh

I sat back down on the bench and she sat beside me under the tree.

She joked about how my mother herself doesn’t know about my whereabouts. I laughed along with her and we talked  about mundane stuff like where we were staying then……

…my mind had almost come to the conclusion that she would have lost her 12 year daughter to some gruesome accident.

Me: If you don’t mind, can you tell me what happened to her?

Reshma : Brain tumour.

Her husband was a neurosurgeon and it was him who first suspected that his daughter might have something more serious than indigestion. Her daughter was diagnosed with brain tumour. The next big task was finding an expert who was ready to undertake such a risky operation. Her husband managed to rally a team of doctors who were willing to tackle that very difficult task.

Reshma : God! That was a terrifying time. The probability of the operation failing was pretty high with her either losing her memory, or getting paralysed, or going into coma. Thank god! The operation was a mighty successful one, so much so that she became her normal self again.

“She was fine for more than a year and then she slowly started losing her coordination. She would trip while walking. She would stand in front of the wash basin with her brush in her hand looking confused and would ask me,  “Amma, what should I do?””

I fought hard not to break into a sob right in front of her. I was determined not to ruin her peace. She was so composed and calm. She felt relieved that the ordeal of seeing her daughter slowly disintegrate was over. She said with such compassion and grace as to how she took care of her baby girl  in her last days…

…right at that point I was interrupted by our program coordinator regarding the practical schedule. I was soon sucked into the world of our usual Chaos of arranging and organizing dates with different teachers. Till today I am surprised at how efficiently and coherently I handled those tasks at hand.

I didn’t cry till I started narrating  the incident to my daughter and husband. For the next few days, the only thing that I kept asking myself was “how did she do it?”. I selfishly was just thinking about me and my daughter and how lucky I was. Then the Saturdays seemed no longer chaotic but a blessing.

Today I marvel at the coincidence of that meeting. Or was it a coincidence? Was I made to sit there under that tree with my friend to witness the immense strength of humankind, the grace and beauty of understanding death? The trust in life that NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, I WILL BE OK!                                 

Warning

Can you guess what you are seeing in the photo above? The beach looks as if it has boils on it! Ugh! This is what me and my family saw on the first day of our week-long vacation at the Mobor beach, Goa couple of years back. We took a closer look and my daughter exclaimed, “yuck! I think they’re Jellyfish!”. We were guessing that they were jellyfish from what we had read earlier; that Mangalore beaches were being swarmed by Stingrays and the Bay of Bengal was washing up dead jellyfish onto the shore. We decided to stay away from the water and instead took a little stroll along the beach, shaking our heads in disbelief at what we were witnessing.

The first thing that we did as soon we reached our resort was to google up washed up jellyfish. We soon learned that it happens in south west beaches of UK but that year’s (2015) invasion of jellyfish was said to be unprecedented.The article warned beachgoers not to touch the specimen which despite not being considered dangerous to humans, can leave a sting similar to that of a nettle.The article also mentioned that their numbers have increased that year partly due to the warm spell and the changing chemicals in the sea.

Reading about this phenomenon had very little impact on me but witnessing it first hand shocked me. I began to wonder if this was nature’s way of balancing out the excessive population of jellyfish. Was nature warning us humans that if we make a nuisance of ourselves on this earth it won’t hesitate a moment to wipe us out?

Parents and Children

Statistics of my family

Current generation:                                                                                                                          My daughter

Our generation:                                                                                                                                     My husband, an only child                                                                                                                   Me, one of two children

Previous generation:                                                                                                                             My father-in-law, one of eight                                                                                                             My mother-in-law, one of five                                                                                                             My mother, one of nine                                                                                                                         My father, one of seven

One can see a drastic reduction in the number of children in our generation compared to the previous one.

According to Indian tradition, the son or sons are responsible for taking care of their parents in their old age and also to help their soul rest in peace by performing the last rites. Since the family size has reduced drastically within a generation we now have many families with only daughters and no son.

Have these families grasped the current scenario and come up with a practical solution in taking care of the older members of the family? Or are they turning a blind eye to this issue expecting time, circumstance and family politics to determine the outcome?

We are facing similar issues in families where all the children are working abroad in search of better opportunities for themselves and their kids. In such scenarios do parents and children sit together and chalk out a plan that is satisfactory to all?

Very important:  While strategizing caring plans for the elderly, one has to respect the fact that each one of us are unique and so is our family dynamics. This understanding will lead us to  genuine solutions with some grace and dignity.