Thursday, December 29, 2011

0 Beauty heavens

I visit the parlor once every 45 days to get basic services done - waxing and sometimes pedicure. I really dont have the patience to go there - I just wish it was sophisticated for women to have hair in the hand like men and eyebrows as unruly as a pony. Alas.. times have changed and you are expected to follow some basic routines. All these parlors expect you to book an appointment and also ask for your preferred service personnel - I never ask for one. I expect all of them to have some basic knowledge. And waxing is basic.

At Chennai, I struggled initially to find a service that would suit me. I am quite finicky when it comes to donating my body for the plucking experience - I expect a separate room, undisturbed and calm, clean sheets, well-spoken,efficient & aware staff AND a relaxed approach.

'Not relaxed' is when you are made to feel you are a wooden piece that needs to be cut and polished by carpenters who have to grind 1000 pieces in the next few hours. The lady provides me with a change of dress and rushes back in a minute. Usually, there are two women who simultaneously set out on the task of honing my skin. There seems to a lot of time crunch. Fata-fat - Apply powder, the wax (sometimes ridiculously hot!), place the tissue and pull. and Pull. Apply and PULL. Just PULL. My skin is treated like a product - not like a human being's skin.

In the middle of it, when you are gloriously sitting half-exposed and feigning to read a magazine while wincing in pain, there are other ladies who keep interrupting - 'Give me the wax, the powder and tweazer'.  
Give me a break - I am not yet ready to expose to everyone and appear as a sensational cover piece.
To top it all, they keep talking in languages I don't understand - Are they saying "Oh look, how fat she is", "Look at the legs, they are like pillars", "Just be done fast, she will not give us more business", "Lets sell more, Try the dupe strategy". It might not be so bad but I find it rude when they chit-chat most of the time oblivious to my presence - again exactly like I am senseless furniture.

There are others who are incredibly slow - either because they are amateurs, scared to hurt you or simply want to please you. You can be assured that waxing will take an hour and what is left is half-mowed hands. These ladies either try to act knowledgeable or don't know anything about the product that they use on me. They are inadequately trained on the benefits and cannot answer if asked about the difference in price or time. Coming to the 'Acting I am a beautician' types - they try to put maska saying 'your hair is nice but ... ', 'the skin is so soft but...'. And after the but is the sales pitch. If you ask them further questions they are caught.

There is a definite difference in attitude when you spend or appear classy. You are given the most-experienced hair dresser, clean towels and meted out superior treatments.

But I also wonder how much these women earn and how do they feel when pretentious women squander their money?Some beauty treatments might cost half of their month's salary. Are they jealous?
Its like catering to a queen's wish - sitting on a pedestal, pampering your legs, removing the dirt. Do they find it demeaning? Ofcourse, if they had chosen the profession by choice, the question of self-respect will not arise. But still envying, comparing, fantasizing is women's nature, at least a wee bit.

I have been parlor-hopping for quite a while - but have settled on one that is less torturous. For the other folks out there, hope you have found that perfect place where you dream of relaxing when they work on you. For those of you who have found that lady or house that lets you sit back and enjoy - I am jealous.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

0 Dear Mr. Prime Minister

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Hope you are on your way to Delhi and creating as much excitement as the one on your visit to Chennai.  I cannot thank you enough for making yesterday a memorable day for me - actually for many Chennaites.

I can completely understand the police engrossed only with ensuring that we do not cross roads illegally and not reach office on time - the time spent on our glazed roads is very much appreciated.

The prolonged relaxation on the roads brought out the best in people - No one was reticent in showing their street-picked behavior to fellow men. There was free cacaphonous music exchanged between all, overthrowing the margazhi season songs - you could hear cribbing, screaming, teasing, warning and threats as the machines (men included) tried to be the first to blend into another packed set of vehicles caged by a set of policemen who were of course being sincere about their duty. The gridlocked arrangement of cars, autos and vans encouraged people to drive on pavements - again an invention for creating more travel space.

If you had observed the income graphs of autos during this time, you would have noticed that it peaked, almost double the normal levels - how thoughtful of you to keep in mind the aam-auto aadmi. Chennai autowalas struggle with low-income and the measly amounts that passengers pay for a walking distances. You directly addressed a voting lot. Somehow, my auto managed to meander through an alley and reach some place from where I could catch a private mode of transport.   Since I am with you in solving auto-wala's problems, I empathetically parted with twice the normal amount to reach a place where my office bus does not bother a pick-up.

And here too it was "Surprise! Surprise!". The road looked so clean and empty - I have never seen this particular road like this and the sight was overwhelming. I cannot attempt to describe the deafening silence only interrupted by occasional cribbing by a bystander on his inability to reach office - I fail to understand why he could not appreciate the beauty of Chennai in broad daylight and was wasting his time in complaining when such a beautiful visual was in place - I tell you, some people are thankless.

Anyway, as I chose to stand and look around, I realized that I need a train ride to reach another part of town which seemed to have the normal daily life and connectedness to office - another 300 rs spend for one more autowala. I travelled with 2 total strangers so as to share the measly spend among us.

You have made me grow as a person and Indian citizen. To be patient, to be ignorant, to meticulously plan spend and be generous to others - Invaluable lessons. If anyone can teach all this in the mere 3 travel hours (instead of the boring hours journey I would have had on my bus), it can only be bureaucrats such as you.

We welcome more VVIPs and aristrocrats to teach us how to spend our time productively in Chennai.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

4 Ordinary vs Sexual touch - How do you know?

Child abuse is common - but so is women abuse. It is difficult to trace child abuse because children either do not understand the touch or fail to communicate out of fear or shame. Women abuse is confusing and subtle - even for a well-informed women. It is a way of life for women but it still leaves a stain.

Once when I went for a Hair spa (an exception), and since it was an unisex spa, a male hair dresser was assigned to the task of placating my hair. It was expensive but the guy did a good job of massaging the head and the shoulders. But when it came to the shoulders and the back, I was extremely uncomfortable. Even though, I wanted to think that it was ok, it was not ok for me to let some random male touch me even under required circumstances. Some conflicting thoughts due to cultural conditioning. Add to it the fact that this guy was smiling at another guy periodically - as if to say "See .. I am touching her". I decided for all my modern thoughts about men-women, I am not going to get a massage done by a guy again.

My paati (paternal grand-mom) had seven children all of whom were delivered with the help of a male doctor. She talks about this doctor in a reverent manner - she still wishes that he is alive so that she can solve her ailments in a second.(Do we have doctors like this anymore?). In the US, I have heard that male gynaes do an excellent job. But how do I trust - I have equally heard of horror stories of doctors capturing patients in hidden cameras. I also have a doctor friend who told me that one of his acquaintances (a dermatologist) asks patients to remove clothes to examine even small complains - just to feel them. He had openly admitted this but not much could be done. He warns me against going to any male doctor.

On a visit to Delhi to my maternal grand-parent's home, I had a severe skin infection on my breasts. We went to well-known female doc and she referred us to a male dermatologist just to check that this was just eczema and not a symptom of breast cancer.(Yes. Breat cancer can also start with a skin infection on the top layer). I had no way out but to get examined by this person. He was a middle-aged man but I made sure that my aunt stayed in the room when he performed the analysis. It was really embarrassing but we got through it fast. I had some trust because I trusted the other doctor who had referred us.

And for all the men who are 'Ladies tailors', whenever they start measuring the breasts I become all tense. Some exploit at this stage - they touch the breast or the side or the hips. Can I just start screaming right there? No I cant. Was it intentional - I will never know.

I have written about My car driving stints here. This is when I attended the classes for the second time in Bangalore. I chose a guy instructor because lady instructors did not train on weekends and on Santro. The first few classes were good. When I was learning the reverse drive I could not get the vehicle to move in the right space. This guy steers the car suddenly and the problem is there is not too much space between the steering and me! He touches me and I know its intentional - but I did not want to create a scene. I just made sure I dont go driving with him after that. But the incident was already past.

Some questions
1. How many of you are completely comfortable getting styling services from men?
2. How do you know that a man is not exploiting you when providing any service?
3. Are you comfortable going to a male gynecologist and letting them guide you during the pregnancy?

Monday, December 12, 2011

0 Marriage Market - Harnessing Parent's fear

Advertisements always address the emotional need of the audience. It is not enough to merely talk that Complan is a great, nutritious drink - it is not enough if you just say that it contains Vitamin A, B, C, D, E, K, M (yet to discover) and all the minerals. All these letters do not connect to the common man. But when it shows that your child feels inferior because of his height AND because the other child is taller because he drinks Complan - it connects to you - it hits hard on your brain that your child is feeling bad and you need to compensate immediately with Complan - Call for action.

This is the Call-for-action to parents who have children in Marriageable age
Commercial for a matrimonial website. A dad sees his daughter leave with a guy on bike and he immediately loses it. [The guy is shown with unruly long hair which translates into not from a good family]. He discusses this with the mom who both blame each other for not finding a quick match for the daughter. They have no doubts in their mind that she is planning to elope and marry this guy. Ahh.. and look at those relaxed faces when they discover the website - a quick way of being/making  a bakra.

Lesson 1:
Try to find a groom for your daughter as soon as you think she is ready for marriage - this can be from 14 years to 25. If you do not do that, she is going to run away and marry a crazy man definitely. She cannot make a good choice with the priority being family tradition and culture.
Lesson 2:
You daughter cannot travel with other men on bike. Definitely these are not her friends. How can she have genuine guy friends? We are telling you, she is tricking your clan. Be careful.

While waiting at the train station at 4'o clock in the morning. Most people around are drowsy and falling off their seats trying to catch some interrupted sleep. You hear this screeching voice "Muhurtha pattu" - Bridal 7. And the ad keeps repeating 100 times. I am left wondering as to who in this crowd is so interested to look at sarees at this time of the day. There is so much emphasis on the wedding day and its rituals and when you are someone who has dared to step out of the madness you will be made to feel wasted.
Lesson 3: 
Sarees and gold make daughters do crazy things. They will agree to even get married to "whom so ever" of your choice and perform all the rituals to get the mad bonding done.

Another Saree commercial:
Here the bride herself explains the seven part marriage. You can clearly see she represents the majority of Indian women - prides in going the arranged marriage way with her parent's blessings (!), follows all traditions and finally believes in a fairy-tale wedding and am sure expects life to be like that too.
Lesson 4: Its a reinforcement of Lesson 3. Dont you still get it? Hurry up.

The ads are a reflection of the MAT.
Marriage age Threshold (MAT): Applicable only for women and set by the marriage market. Girl's worth in the market is indirectly proportional to her age.
5 - 18 - Highly suitable for marriage and other activities too
18-24 - Ripe time for marriage and to start producing lineage
>25 years -  Not yet married? Shady character, less worthy because genitals are old. Higher dowry for compensation.
> 30 - Forget it unless the girl is another name for dollars

[Edited to add this video of a really funny arranged marriage setting. Wish girls had the liberty to make guys perform different acts and choose given sufficient time. Sad part is even now in India, its the other way round. Girls perform all tricks to impress guy's parents. Note it: Not necessarily to impress the guy]

Friday, December 2, 2011

2 Religion - To each its own brand

Recently, Coke came out with a winter edition of its cola cans - Coca-cola in red fonts in a white background. Here is the link to see the cans - I like the polar bears on it.

This was the consumer's reaction
1. The coke in the white can tasted different from the original red can [Is there any logic here, or people consider themselves stupid enough to beleive this?]
2. Consumers got confused with the diet coke cans [One genuine reason. Coke should have thought about this a bit earlier]
3. People just thought the idea was ridiculous and unacceptable.[How humans cite reasons when there is no reason at all]

Somehow this episode resonates with what is happening in my life right now - the arguments, logic, rituals, god, temples, women slavery, pati-parameshwar - features of the grand brand/product called Religion. Any change or comment is exactly perceived in the same way as if I was condemning Coke.

Is Religion is a product? Each product is identified by its needs or creating needs in the market.
Here is how the concept called "Religion" developed into a "Product"
  • Generate fear in human minds
  • Answer all questions that arise out of fear in a mysterious way
  • Unexplained phenomenon that was solved using science but was against religion will always be suppressed. Scientists had been ostracized, murdered and their ideas killed.
  • Create a lot of confusing features - rules, rituals, traditions
  • Identify target segments - species with weak minds, money-deprived, peace-deprived, money-cunning, power-thirsty
  • Build accessible stores for sales, creating a social community [Facebook is so copying this idea!] 
  • Step on anyone who challenges the rules and label them 'Offensive'. You will find the meaning here.

 And look at the excellent brand management. We should be given marketing classes based on this.
  • High brand loyalty - Look at the number of followers
  • Clear brand differentiation - Do you have any confusion between the different brands. Are you allowed to have any?
  • Murderous competition among brands  - Anyone heard about Honor killings? Did I also hear it right - that peace was supposed to a feature?
  • High brand value for all its ambassadors: Being religious has great value in the community. So, you would want to associate with the fashionable brand.
  • High switching costs between brands - Can you take up your neighbor's religion? In all possibility, your family will abandon you. Tried an inter-faith marriage?
Has Religion kept up to its Brand promise?
Even if God created religion, any change of rules is considered blasphemous. It should be followed the way it was interpreted by men to suit their needs.  
Humans started believing in the brand promise and will continue to do so.

I rest my case.
1. Human beings are highly irrational
2. Even after the brand promise of each individual religion has failed, the brand becomes stronger each living day
3. You better stick to a brand, otherwise you will end up with no brand at all!

[Note: I respect people with other beliefs/opinions and as much expect others to do the same. This post does not intend to condemn any particular religion but rather bring out the idiosyncrasies of the idea itself.]

Thursday, December 1, 2011

0 Undermining my "Education credentials"

What is Sin90?
1/2 ?

What is cot (theta)/Tan (theta)?
1, 2, nothing, infinity?

How many toes does a cat have in its paws? (Me: Was I ever taught about this??)
4 or 5 ?

Do you remember the joules law? (Remember the term from somewhere)
I definitely remember Newtons third law - For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. (And for asking these questions, you are going be slapped by me)

What is the Fibonacci series?
Trying hard. I toiled hard on this for CAT - not very long back!

Hmmmm.. I studied all this for 16 years and more. Studied hard, wrote exams, and created all drama in between (for passing!). There has been excitement, fun, disappointment, friends, canteen, crush, assignments, hostel, bus rides and plenty. When we narrow down to what was actually the objective (which was obviously studies and marks), I seemed to have scored well too.

But trying to reason why they gave me the scores, Priceless. I dont know whether to blame my memory, my teachers, the education system or myself.

Monday, November 28, 2011

0 Fearry Rides

There are some fears that you can never get over with, partly because you are vulnerable, a women or a human being - makes you capable of being irrational.

This tiny insect has enough power to make me leap like a frog and howl like I have seen a ghost. My parents have got used to this scene but I am yet to give a respectable glance to this creature. I have been tortured by nightmares where I am in a room full of cockroaches or am being chased by one. The other day one of them emerged from the clothes and I ran into my room at lightening speed - God save my soul!
Yesterday I killed a small one (the size of my little finger nail) - one side of me was happy because of the accomplishment; the other side guilty of the murder instinct.
What is it that scares me - I have tried to logically tell my brain that it is but an insect. But the mere thought of its wings and flight and my brain tells me, he can approach and conquer you in an instinct. Hmmm.. finally recognized that it is their unpredictable flight combined with the desire to attack me. Same goes for the grass hopper.. they have joined the gang too.

Talking to a stranger is not acceptable but helping people on the road is a huge yes. And mostly people who seek help are strangers? The other day, a man appeared in a bike out of nowhere and started pleading for money - all in excellent English. His plead was that he did not have petrol in the bike and he has to go far. If I could just give him some change, he can manage. Now the mind goes like this - Is this an act or am I getting over-worked? After all some money, why dont I just give it? Wont I feel guilty if I dont help? I decided to hand him some change - traded money for guilt - and decided to walk away. Suddenly he started asking me weird questions. Do you live here? Are you a punjabi - you look like one. What is you name? Blah Blah. I realized I had made a mistake giving the money and quickly walked away. Luckily, my house was a step away. The mind likes to imagine the worst - is he trying to dupe you? Kidnap you? Observing you?
I decided the next time a stranger approaches and if I am alone I am not going to help. It is too risky. The victim of my decision was an old man yesterday - I refused to him five rupees when I was alone in the bus stand. Guilty or not.

Chennai autowalas are famous - but there are good and bad ones. All the stories that you read in newspapers seem to enhance an auto ride when it gets dark and sometimes the drivers decide to take you through short-cuts which are isolated. The mind comes under fear again - lonely, dark - dangerous. I start praying and offering bribes to god;-). But the other day, I got into an auto whose driver spoke excellent impeccable English. He was could talk on a wide array of topics - politics, traffic, policemen and the arguments were pretty good. I wondered as to why this guy was in an auto?But I was warned(by my mind) not to trust him and to stop talking too much.

Fear drives a lot of our decisions - Do you exercise because you are afraid that you will fall ill, dont want to be ridiculed as round or because you want to stay positive and healthy? Fear smiles when you pick that costly deo, that tasty fiber biscuits, pray to god willingly or unwillingly, go by car, get Pediasure and when you want to kill insects.

Friday, November 25, 2011

0 Kids, marriage and curiosity

Some incidents you cant forget. These moments always brings a smile on my face - either the embarrassment, the genuineness or the innocence.

One time when I was in Delhi, I was chatting with my 6 year old cousin. Her mom had told me that she is not concentrating on studies and getting low grades. I was speaking to her about school and the subjects that she likes, the teachers she adored et all. We came to the grades part. I am not the one who believes that a child has to do well in studies to manage in life - so I was not going to advice her with a lie. When I asked her what was the reason that she had no interest in three of the subjects, this was the reply "Akka, whats the use of studying what I dont like? Anyways whatever I study, earn, do at last I need to get married and settle down with my husband". ;-)

Years back, 4 of us, cousins, were huddled together - 2 of around 10 years age, me and my another male cousin of 17years - discussing some astrological signs. Suddenly, the 10 year old asks - "What is a virgin?". We look at each other and tell her "A person born in the virgo sign is a virgin". She says no, that is not what I meant. I read in all these books about being a virgin. Again, there is a strange silence. My male cousin looks at me and tells her "She will explain to you later" with a huge smile!

When I was a kid, my mom's explanation to me about making babies was "Guy and Girl get married.As soon as marriage is over - you get a baby". Sweet and Simple. So in all movies, my idea of happy ending was marriage and the baby!

Another time, my cousin and I, who were about the same age of 12, were discussing secretly about sex. After making some absurd conclusions, my cousin asked me "I dont understand one thing. Cant an older woman have sex with a younger man?". Me, trying to tap all my intelligence, replied vehemently "Ya ya. It should be possible." Then she asks me "Why do they stress that we should get married to an older man? I should ask mom" . ;-). Great thought process. Now, she is married to a person a year younger to her.

All you moms out there will be having a great time with your kids and their ideas. I wonder how these explanations have evolved now:) ? Do you manage to get embarrassed or give a satisfactory answer to them?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

0 My car driving stints

I decided that I should know to drive the car before my professional life started. There was this long vacation between completion of engineering and the time to start work - about 5 months.5 months break sounds like paradise on earth now :-(. I joined a class based on my friend's recommendation. The class was excellent.

How much people manage to scare you before the test - they will make you perform an 8, go round and round, drive near a bus and maybe perform some gymnastics! I imagined the worst and got into the car.
While giving the demo to the traffic inspector, the vehicle conked off. I was all tense. But the inspector was extremely nice:). He just waited for me to start it again and proceed with the drive. He asked me whether we have a car at home and I answered in negative. So his question was - why are you learning - are you planning to drive your neighbor's car?!!! I got my liscence successfully. That was back in 2004.

After a long hiatus, I touched a friend's car in 2006 and it was a total mess. My friend was sitting next to me on the drive and I almost managed to hit a lorry head-on. Somehow, when I was turning the corner, the car wheels refused to move to the side of the road. And I ended up in the middle with the lorry guy wondering if I was a lunatic.

I ventured boldly again into the car driving world in 2008. This time for a second class:-). By then I had completely forgotten which was the accelerator, brake or the clutch. For this, I had to drag myself out of bed early at 6:30. I kept promising my sleep that I would compensate by sleeping more once I learn driving. The dream was to sleep more, get up late, leave late to office and come back early - all this was held back by my car-handicap. But I managed to learn driving yet again.

And managed to fall out of touch yet again. The year was 2009 now. It was high time. So I forced my dad to teach me. Lets look at out time-tables. My dad wanted this early in the morning - means 6 am. For me, this was almost impossible. For every other reason, our cancelled classes continued. One fine morning I got up unusually at 6.  Gulp! My dad was not happy - danger itself was approaching his car. [He was terrified because once my bro had taken the car for practice and collided into a stationary bus..guess it runs in the blood:-) But he is a great driver now]

But still, the mandatory condition had been met. He could not avoid it. We decided to practice on the beach road. This road is 4 km from my place and what do you expect to find on the roads so early. But my dad would not have any of this. He would drive me to this place and I can drive ONLY on the beach road. Agreed. When we reached there, I took control and rode happily for 2 minutes. But the happiness was short-lived. We had to take a left turn and soon there was a traffic signal. I could see that dad was extremely careful and every second doling out a benevolent warning - 'theres a cyclist', 'theres a women,'ohh.. signal is approaching', 'hold the brake. hold the brake'. That day I realised I am an 'epitome of patience'! A bus approached and was waiting next to the car in the signal. And thats it - my dad had had enough. His face was all pink and struck with fear - all my brothers doing! He got down and flew to my drivers window and exchanged the seats. We managed a 30 minutes drive with my practice restricted to 2 minutes. Phew!

Now its 2011 and almost 2012 - I travel on my Scooty or office bus or in the famous Chennai autos. No more attempts as of now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

0 When you use the electric switch

You are in need of a hot water bath. You switch on the heater and let it over-heat for an hour. Afterall it has a thermostat and the geyser wont get spoit. How does it matter?
You are in your room and mom is calling you for dinner. You leave the lights and AC on when you step out. .How does it matter - you can pay the bills when they arrive.
Washing you clothes? There is the wonderful machine. But you leave the power cord connected to the socket when done. Should you bother? This is convenient for the next usage. Otherwise next time, you need to again lift the plug and fit into the socket. Huge work.

Everything that we do is electricity - its a currency for everything.  Name it and electricity comes to the rescue - the stairs, washing, calling your friend, commute, work, movie...

Imagine a world without this power - how will you manage? Its impossible.
Then why dont we treat it as a precious commodity? There is a finite amount of gold but the same goes for Coal too which is main reason for India's electricity. According to the International Energy Agency(IEA), worldwide coal usage has doubled in the past 30 years an would keep increasing. This usage is propelled by developing nations with China leading the pack. But India is not too far behind.

And there are side-effects too - 60% of carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions come from the energy(electricity) sector. The clean power delivered at home which comes in colorful cables is not so adorable to make. You are directly causing waste of power + more carbon-di-oxide. Are you a nature-lover? You cant be if you waste electricity.

There have been numerous movements, demonstrations and videos portraying how Global warming would bring the wrath upon us. Given our usage, a 6 degree Celsius rise in temperature is predicted for this century. This would mean death of several species, rise in water levels, huge climatic changes -  we are soon wiping ourselves out of earth.

Ultimately it is not about which country consumes more or which country is developing - when we see the disastrous results its going to affect the entire world. Ultimately its up to individuals.
Next time when you step out, try to switch off those lights and tell your family members to do so.
Next time you want a hot bath, use your geyser for only 10 minutes
And when you are done using a gadget, disconnect the power cord from the socket. There is static electricity that gets wasted.
Biggest change would be when children inculcate these habits from their parents.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

0 Safe(ci)ty for women

From the place where I board the office bus to my house, its hardly a 2 minute walk. Its a very busy road and it is a challenge to cross over when needed. One of the days, a young boy who must be around 16 years tried to grapple me when I was entering my house gate. Somehow I managed to wriggle out but my screaming was totally dampened by the traffic. There was so much anger that I wished that I had at least slapped him or kicked him. But it happened so fast that I had no time to react! From then on I am quite anxious when a motorcycle or a cyclist comes too near.

I have heard this from friends that Chennai is comparatively a safer city than Delhi and Bangalore.
But is this safety measured only on the number of rapes? Do women feel unsafe only because of rape? What about the stares that we get, the attitude with which men address you and the work culture at office? What about the innumerable instances when you feel helpless and wish you had some supernatural power to attack or curse a man?

I know that Delhi is pretty unsafe but when it comes to Bangalore its not so. I have lived in Bangalore and not had too many unpleasent experiences. I can dress the way I want and not too many people stare at me. There have been instances where men have misbehaved. But when it comes to Chennai, even if I am covered head to toe (extra toppings like duppatta are also added), men find enough reasons to make me feel that I am not covered at all.

There was this taxi guy who used to call out names everyday. He used to stop in front of the bus stand (I used to be all alone in the stop at that time) and lower the car windows and just look at me. I ignored this for another 2 months. But it gave me quite a scare when one day he got down from the car. That is when I informed my parents and my dad had to become my savior for the next few days. Its nothing embarrassing but I hate the fact that we need men to protect us from other men. When I am totally independent this thought arouses some kind of inadequacy.

Then there is office itself. You will find that women have to take pride in covering up. Women who dress in western formals or sleeveless are pulled by managers and advised on how to dress in a better manner. This is what they mean: As a women you are supposed to analyze your breasts and accordingly fold your dupatta in the right size and in a v-shape. This should be put across the shoulders and held using safety pins lest they expose your precious stuff. And if you dont do this you are giving permission to each and every man to ogle at them.It is their privilege since they are men. And you are being provocative.

I noticed the cafeteria lady today. She is using her dupatta like a pallu of a saree - going from the right shoulder onto her hips - similar to how you tie a dupatta during dance practice. But here she is just distributing tokens.

Throughout, the illusion of 'Safety' is provided because you use safety pins, dupattas and have men who accompany you everywhere. Despite all this, if something goes wrong, definitely its because of the woman who is careless in dressing and miss the daily dose of safety pins.

Monday, November 14, 2011

0 Gender-equality: a word with no Indian meaning

Sunday morning newspaper and the first headline snippet reads "The Unsafe sex".
As I read more, the story of the some Indian women and rape victims were creating some kind of helplessness in me. The state of women in India is disgusting, sad and hopeless.

In a rape case, the accused gives his justifications to the rape as "She used to talk on her phone about private matters in front of me. I felt if she's doing that, then she's become mine (Woh meri apni ho gayi)."
So Men actually OWN a women, it means you can sexually enjoy her without her consent . Its like owning a dog or better a toy that does not have any choices in life.
What private matters - what max could the girl have talked outside her place and what a decent value to eavesdrop on others and think they are stimulating?

And then we come to the family and the society support part - our Indian society, the culture, values and the family system protects us right?  Sure. That is why the blame game also finds the victim as the perpetrator of the crime - because she is too liberated and she has invited it all on herself. Parents are more bothered about the shame on the family and what to do with their daughter.

"Women have become more assertive and men are not able to accept that and use heinous ways to punish them.". Why have men suddenly become the justice-bearers especially in women issues?

It is also shocking that rapists have been known to the victims in 97% of the cases (reported ones). Women trust and this is the price they pay.

Another statistic shows that even though overall Indian economic wellness has increased that of women taken separately has reduced. The number is lesser than even countries like Pakistan. We are worse off than Afghanistan in representation of women in governments.  

What worsens the problem? Our most talked women problems.
Seeing marriage as the destination for women
Seeing women as Parent's burden and responsibility
Treating women as an object rather than a human being

The solution involves a turnover of mindset of lot of Indian men and women too. It has to start at home where boys and girls are treated equally, taught that house work needs to be shared and parents are equal responsibility. Kids can be caught early. There are books where the plot does suggest gender-neutral roles. Why not have a hour each month at school about gender-issues- based on some activities and real examples children can go a long way in teaching and correcting others at home too.  

Many corporates have mandatory training on Gender equality and sexual harassment. There are mailers sent on these but are these paid heed to? It would be great if corporates have appraisals linked to regular courses on gender-equality not only at workplace but also at home. After all, the wife at home is an employee somewhere. The husband needs to respect that and learn to balance the work-home equation.

Most bloggers would be aware of child abuse but have we taken the step to educate our children clearly about child abuse  - there are some special videos on You tube for this. Why not conduct a simple session for the neighborhood kids too - their parents might not be too aware or are too busy?

There is a lack of compassion and empathy in our minds towards women. Especially when it comes to women victims. Most of us feel that will never be 'Me'. Most of us do not take action unless we are the victims ourselves. Our small steps might help someone in the future to treat women right.

Friday, November 11, 2011

4 The "Cute and Innocent" reality

Reality shows have become a part of life with the entertainment industry banking on them completely for revenues. Any time of the day you can find people dancing, singing, cooking, debating - some with sense, some senseless - but definitely TRPs are soaring high.

Some participants have managed to become stars. Others have made their careers. They are a good avenues for talent search but not the only one. Stars and careers - shouldn't these words be associated with adult or max the teen phase - why childhood? Shows that involve children are nice to watch - lets say "Cute" (the most often word in these shows). But do these shows let the children participating and those watching it remain cute and innocent?

What do children gain and what do they lose? We can talk about a lot of positives - Children open up, gain confidence, become popular, start earning money. All of these qualities are admirable but are reality shows the only path. They are also learning that competing is good, very good. They need to be a winner no matter what. Winner here is only when you get the title. At that age, you cannot expect the child to be level-headed when parents themselves are out of tune. In the name of support, this is what happens.
Yesterday they showed a girl who was not selected and she ran out apparently upset with herself. Her entire family was there to support (really?) her outside. A minute passed and the camera zooms in on this family - her mom is screaming at her - "What is this aeeee.. aeee singing? I told you dont do it that way.. Look at what has happened" and the child clings to her dad even tighter. The level of maturity in the child seemed to be greater than the mother. Of course, the mother would have put a lot of effort into training and supporting her but is this the way to treat her when she herself is feeling let down?

How does the rejection play in the child's mind? Are we bothered?
 And who gave the network permission to amplify the emotions of a mother and child? Why should they play on this emotional spectacle? The manipulation and use of emotions - Is it any better than a saas-bahu story.

My cousin, who is all of 11 years old, already has it drilled down his brain that he must enter IIT. He is not allowed extra-curricular activities that are un-related. But he loves to attend CV Raman science institute classes twice a week. His parents are extremely proud becuase in these classes he gets to learn 9th class problems while he is in 5th. I dont understand what he will learn when he is in 9th - maybe some IIT course. Yes - parents are doing this because they want a good life for their child and want the best for him. Is joining IIT the best for him? According to society - a resounding YES. Why not a marine biologist or a doctor or an artist?

Ultimately, the shows and the child's career are a refection of what the parents want rather than what the child wants.

Would you force your child to participate in such shows?
Would you allow your child to do it because he wants to? How will you handle if the child is really dejected because of this - it requires an understanding between the child and parents. The child needs clear signals that his winning or not winning does not make a difference to you.

Parents of children who were not selected should pose in front of the camera and say "I am proud of her". Pride does not have anything to do with winning. Children do not owe it the parents to make them proud.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

4 Making sense of society-approved marriages

Discriminations that percolate our lives are countless. Common ones when it comes to marriages are caste, religion, money, skin color and the Gender. These dividing factors hide behind the facade of religion, culture and even some scientific reasons like men are physically stronger than women. But such marriages are loved by our society - after all only because of their unabated approval do they thrive.

1.Forced marriage into wealthy family - with total parental approval 
Wealth makes this family highly-respected . You will realize that many of the conditions are dropped. Wealth overpowers caste and regional differences.

The girl(G) was in love with another guy for 6 years. The boy from this wealthy family notices her at some marriage and decides that she is the one. Goes back to his mom and the family decides to pock her as the DIL. Wait - it is more of a demand to the Girl's parents. But our G's parents are one with typical Indian values (Does Indian value tell you to ditch a person you love and get married to another?) Never mind. She is forced to give up on her love and agree to this marriage. She has a kid now and seems to be very happy. Recently when spotted in a wedding we couldn't differentiate between the gold and her:-).  

Is this a 'love at first sight' marriage? Atleast for the guy - physical love or maybe it was intuition or 'purva janma bandhan' at work.But lets dig a little deeper into the highly-respected family's relationships (conditions are totally relaxed.) The MIL has two husbands. So now, our G has 2 FILs. How lucky:). There is nothing wrong with polyandry- when men have so many wives and also mistresses at least the MIL has the audacity to legally marry both of them. But if this had been a love marriage scenario - can you even imagine the opposition that G would have faced. Here the only game-changer has been Money.

2. Arranged to finish parent's responsibilities
S got married at 23 not because she wanted to but her parent's wanted their duties to be done. Pakka arranged marriage. Now, she is 25 with a baby in hand. For the past 2 years, she has hardly spoken to any of her friends or family - even her own mom. She has restricted access to the outside world be it the internet or the telephone - her MIL is constantly monitoring. (Does't it sound like she has some health condition or is in Jail?). She confides to her friend last week that there are too many problems. Worst is her FIL misbehaving with her. And she has been strictly instructed by him that she should not share this with anyone. And who is going to believe her anyways - her MIL or her husband? They will be too concerned about preserving the family honor lest this issue leaks out. This is another kind of highly respected family.

3. Arranged but struggling to stay married
I have written about C in this post. She is pregnant now but with her husband having extra-marital affair and exchanging messages throughout the night. She will stay put there - the baby is due anytime. And its the rule that women have to adjust always.

Even in an choice marriages(Arranged/Love) these situations are possible but support sources are stronger. Either the lady has supportive parents (because they were in the right mind to let her choose) or best she has a supportive husband. Parents often say "If you marry according to our norms, we will always be there to support you" - what can parents do in these scenarios?
In these life snapshots, what is the Indian culture that we are upholding? What is it that irks people about a choice marriage? Why should elders decide everything - from the sex muhurtham to when to molest a DIL?

What is the use of family if women have to sacrifice everything - time, money, self-respect, love - to keep it in place?

Monday, November 7, 2011

4 The uncalled match-makers

I recently attended a wedding because someone had to accompany my mom. I usually avoid social gatherings especially marriage scenarios where I feel that I have been put on the showcase. Most people I met dint know me but were anxious to know about my marital status. And my toes are the most prized possessions during this quest - people expect you to wear the metti (toe ring) if you are married.

After my toe is scrutinized, I can see that they are facing some difficulty examining my neck. This is a huge task - after all the same group expects me to be wrapped in cloth head to toe. Second, the neck is covered by ornaments. The result is that the black beads or Golden mangalsutru is camouflaged. Finally, they see none of the wedlock indications. Still, this has to be verified thoroughly.

Person: Hello. How are you doing?
Me: I am doing good Uncle. How are you? (Not even in my dreams do I know this person. Nor am I interested! Excited "I am related to you" tone. Not good.)
Person: Good Good. So you are the bride's paternal Grand-mom's cousin's grand-daughter? You look so much like your mom.
Me: (Tired trying to understand the relation.. nevertheless trying to make my brain connect the dots. And this was really the relationship at this wedding!) Hmmmm
Person: So, what are you doing? Still studying?
Me: (Little happy - Do I look like I am still studying.Great I am looking younger. Yippee! Brakes... you know what this question is leading to) No Uncle. I work in an MNC doing "you cannot understand the work" job.
Person: Oh.. thats nice. My niece works in the same company. Do you know her? She works in Area5 in Chennai.
Me: (My company has a strength of 1 lakh +.. and how does it even matter? The conversation is entering the danger zone) No. I dont know her.
Person: Are you married?
Me: (So blatant.. who the f*** does he think he is, acting as a mediator or saviour to help poor me from singledom) No
Person: Are your parents looking for someone?
Me: (Can I say No? what does he expect? I am going to marry someone - you have a problem?) Yes
Person: We are looking for one of my nephews - He is blah blah. What is you birth year?
Me: 83. (Loved this part)
Person: (Trying hard to calculate my age.. after done his expression becomes a little tense.Oh! 83?
Me: We are leaving. Take care. (Abruptly I leave my seat and find one somewhere else)

The entire attitude of the couple changed. His wife joined in giving me a stare and in wondering why has the girl not yet been married? How can he ask a personal question in a crowd. Is this being decent? Who gave him the authority to question about my age? Society makes you feel inadequate and answerable for your intensely personal decisions.

I dint escape with one such conversation that day - there were 2 more which I deftly avoided. Most women get married because of this pressure and to avoid situations such as these. Most Indians cannot draw the line between a personal and a public issue. A marriage is a joint public decision - a long as it remains that way we can see a lot more volunteers plundering the system and its relationships.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

0 If I can frame the Society's rules ulta-pulta

The title of the post is reminiscent of kid's essay topics like "If I were the Prime Minister" or "If I were the President of USA":). Days when you could run wild and your imagination can take your lead.

How different would the world be if rules were framed keeping women in mind or better advantageous to them? Here are some samples.
  • A girl is born: Its celebration time.Girls should be treated like a Queen the moment they are born.
  • Maturity: When women menstruate, men should be secluded in the room and provided meals when required. They should just isolate themselves and stop annoying women in the household. Women can definitely take care of themselves during this period not bothered about how to satisfy every man's need.
  • When a guy ogles at a girl: Do you think this will be possible at all? But if at all it happens, women have every right to embarrass the guy. She can scream, slap right across his face and demand that he pay her in dollars. If not demand whatever she wants if caught. Its rule of the land that men cant escape - they have to pay back.
  • When there is a rape: Again, do you think this can happen? But there will be exceptions. So here, if found guilty the women can right away kill the person if she wants it. The decision lies with the lady.
  • Marriage: The girl gets to choose between staying with her family or independently. There is a huge amount of dowry involved when marrying an educated and 'lots of attitude' girl. This had to be paid by the grrom and conditions are set by the bride's family. "You need to get 3 sets of diamond necklaces for our daughter. 4 cars of the latest model should do. And make sure that your son knows to cook paneer sabzi and Aloo Bindi. She like them a lot." (Are we too far from such conversations?)
  • Pregnancy: Husbands, you have a tough 10 months ahead. You need to go to office and take care at home - completely. Maybe, you should opt for work-from-home option.
  • Children: Offices should have nurseries where men can take care of their children. The wife can choose to leave her child with the husband and just roam around or take care of her work.
If these were the rules, this is how daily life would be:

Ads in Matrimonial Column reads:
"Wanted groom for a Girl 5 ft 8, 28 yrs, Highly educated and independent. Groom should be a good cook, attended courses on emotional intelligence (EQ), should have mother/sisters/cousin sisters - highly educated and working moms, willing to work-at-home when needed"

Times Now Headlines reads:

Politics: Reservation Bill to be passed today by the house
The Progress party (Congress seems to be a con. Since women are in power they would have changed it to a pro) and the BMP (Bharatiya Mahila party) have voted in favor of the reservation bill. This will allow men to show restricted participation in running the country ('Restricted' is better than 'Equal').Over the period of 20 years, the dwindling population of men and their misbehavior has ensured that very few have reached the peak in politics. This was closed in by the law passed during the Progress party tenure which states "An MP should have basic qualifications (degree in law, education, medicine, social service or experience in any relevant field)" - Since most men are not encouraged by parents to study, many have not reached this level. The Bill aims to reserve 20% of the seats for eligible male citizens who are really interested in building the nation.

National: Sex Ratio in Uttar Pradesh
7th billion baby 'Nargis Vinita' was born today in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh to proud parents Vinita and Ajay. The nation is overjoyed by the fact that this number has been associated with the female child which represents the power of India. Over the years, mothers have ensured that their children are born equally and hence deserve life equally. This is seen from the numbers in UP's sex ratio. It has improved considerably from 899:1000(M:F) to the current figure of 968:1000 (M:F).

Careers: Men are worried about Bottle Casings
A recent research reveals that in the corporate world, women outnumber men in key positions. The representation of men in the board is a meager 10% in the Fortune 500 companies. Ever since the realization that women are better at decision making, handling complexity and emotional situations their rise to the top has been phenomenal. On the other hand, the popular notion about men has been that they worry too much about competing rather that working together, rely on numbers rather than intuition and are incapable of juggling between home life and work. Their constant struggle to climb the corporate ladder has been constricted by the Bottle Casing. Lots of men work at lower level (inside the bottle) but are unable to prove their worth to be at the top to make it big in the outside world.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

6 When are you tying the knot?

The famous question.. and while I am uttering "Not yet" I am mentally answering "It does not concern you" or "Right now, I dont want to get married".

This must be the most frequently asked question that I encounter and if Life was on Facebook, I would have pressed "Unlike" 1000 times! Every second person who meets a girl who is of sane mind and marriageable age (difficult to mention a number here.. In India for a women this could be from 5 - ? .. I don't have a problem with the ? but with the 5!) has to be
1. A match maker 2. a well-wisher who is concerned 3.knows a 'fair, tall, handsome, working in MNC groom' who would just fit the bill.
Now, this question has gone beyond just being mentioned during meetings to even over the mails and on social sites. People are really interested in my life. I guess I am a celebrity.

Its plain embarrassing when 2 mamis (ladies) meet and start talking about a bright groom from Stanford living in the USA but with traditional values. About how their parents are in India searching for a suitable homely bride with high qualifications (means an MBA or PhD) who is rooted to the Indian culture and respects elders and should come from a highly-respected family. NO one knows what high-respected family means here. Its one of those words that is subjective and confusing. These mamis are very confident that  since the parents are religious and cultural, the progeny follows the same. Somewhere during our evolution from childhood to an adult, when we learn to grow independent, the values of parents differs from ours. Here the Progeny become a Congeny ;-) for the parents.

But our mamis are oblivious to this.

There are no second thoughts - If you are single you need to be married immediately. Its their duty. What if I am committed, despise arranged marriages, or simply want to stay single and happy? Why should I sacrifice my career and move to the USA?

Ultimately, girls and their parents are made to beleive that marriage is an essential stage to be happy and successful in life. Atleast, once married these questions will not arise - "Is something wrong with your daughter", "Is she impure", "Is she planning to run away"? Harsh. But true.

So parents heave a sigh of relief when the occasion happens. But, we are women - the inquisitiveness over our life does not stop here.  
The next stage is "Any good news?", "When will I become a grand-mother?". My sister-in-law faces this every other day.  This question is never posed to married men. Making babies is the woman's business.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

0 Smells that carry you away

My evening bus journey takes me through a narrow street dotted with small tea shops, cycle repair centers, and all things crowded . Yesterday, one whiff of air and I was transformed to the place where I had bhajjis the last time. Smells, especially one associated with close friends and thus packed with emotions, have a strong way of tugging at the heart.

There are fragrances that make the wheel turn back and for a moment you wish it will stay that way forever. Yesterday it was Mulagai (Chilli) Bhajji at the tea stall combining effortlessly with the pouring rain. And you would imagine relaxing in your huge balcony sipping nice warm masala tea with the bhajji.. hmmmm.. heaven. Or the local vendor who packages the bajji with Podi (a traditional bread) and you share it with a friend near a jetty.

Another strong catalyst for "feel-good" is Coffee. The images are Baristas and CCDs and the special coffee chocolate that my brother brought. Its synonymous with the comfort of my gang, those late night outs with the guitar in barista (none of us knew how to play it though) and the subsequent gliding on Bangalore roads in the crisp chill air.

The smell of "just blessed with rain" mud and grass doesn't spare me either specifically when I look at the rain enveloping a wide grass field. It pulls me to another wonderful life stage when I graduated. Rampant rains that used to pamper nature for most part of the year, the rivers, the beaches, the boats. The time when four of us were drenched with surprise rain but thoroughly enjoyed, and we had nowhere to run because we were in the middle of nowhere. It would be just a strong breeze one second and the next you could see that you are being being approached by a curtain of water.

And that favorite old shirt or sweater that smells just that - favorite. Its warmth is unprecedented by any fancy new wear. You don't want to give it away. Its almost like your identity - they seem to define you and your memories.

What are your cherished fragrances? You don't need a time machine to remember. The humble nose does the job in an excellent manner.

Monday, October 31, 2011

2 Why do we visit temples?

Is it about God? Is it about dressing up? about community? about the journey or about mental peace. As children, we are led to places of worship by devout parents, taught to pray and bask in the glory of god. Its a practice that is initiated and continues till death for many.

For some, a pilgrimage is an outing that they cherish - they have a valid reason to step out, travel, interact with peers - have all the fun that youngsters can have on a road trip - there is nothing wrong with this apart from the fact that all this is done in the guise of religion/god/culture and the same people have a problem when their children do this without these labels.

I like going to temples - but to temples that are not noisy, clean, dont have big queues and make me feel calm - that is my purpose. When I walk into such a place, I feel relaxed and at peace. But each person has a different purpose and reason - Agreed. It can be for meeting like-minded people and building a community. There are definitely good aspects too - such as Annadhana - the donation of food, community activities that give a sense of belonging and entertainment.

The place of God - Where does it stop being about God?

When there is discrimination based on caste, religion, money:
 "Only Hindus are allowed inside this shrine". Oh yes, there are lot of arguments for this - "the others are impure, they dont know our ways, they do not respect our God." In the futility of these statements, where does the Hindu tenet of "All in One. Everything is the Brahman" stand? Why pin point on Hinduism - the case is similar across religions - Will god differentiate between believers and non-believers? Does that mean that everyone who comes to the temple or church are believers?
 Money plays a role in your access to your god: This is across 90% of temples. "Pay Rs 100 and you get express entry", "Pay Rs 1000, and you can personal perform puja to god". How does money make one devotee's time and effort smaller in comparison to another?

Performing rituals to alleviate doshas: So we beleive that chanting some mantras will remove sins - committed in past, now, future - and secure you a happy place on earth. Here is another barter system - do something and you get something else in return. It undermines the belief in self.
Animal sacrifice: Prevalent among hoards of temples in the rural areas. Goats, hens are donated to be sacrificed. How can anything Godly have killing in the picture?

Coconut, milk, curd, honey - tasty nature given bounties wasted - I never understand this ritual. During abhishekam these are used to anoint the idol and some of this is collected and distributed as prasad. But most of it gets wasted. Why cant these be given directly to the people in need?

You respect God but dont respect nature: Hordes of devotees throng temples - but what are they devoted to? You will find plastic bags strewn across the roads, empty waste baskets but mounds of garbage at every corner. There is nothing left of the Sanctum sanctorum - people take bath using soaps in natural rivers, throw plastics, banana peels into it, spit and-wash clothes - but one holy dip is supposed to cleanse your soul. Some dips really make you question your beliefs - and one such place is Varanasi. It is weird, scary, holy, dirty. Experience it first-hand and you can vouch for all these adjectives!

I am happy meditating, being alone in the comfort of my home and connecting with myself and peace. This is luxury and a necessity. Going to temple is a nice-to-do thing. Nothing more for me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

0 Fuss over the red dot

"Have you kept a bindi?" - a simple little question that irks me a lot. Not keeping it can signify many things as you will find in this post.

What is it about this red dot that is so commendable that it has to adorn a women's forehead.

A colleague who had been working with me for 2 months suddenly asked on one fine day - Are you a Christian.. a Muslim maybe? I was stupefied by the question ..Of course I am fighting to get married to one;-) but my name prominently emphasizes my Hindu roots. But what made this lady doubtful? She said "You never keep a bindi. So I thought you are not a hindu". Not that I have a problem being categorized into any religion but the fact that this little red dot dominated my identity was worrisome.

Some people advocate that it should be only "maroon" in color because a black bindi will bring ill luck. I have seen that serial ladies (on TV) flaunt all colors - blue, violet, green - some of it looks ugly but nevertheless traditional right. It signifies marriage and the husband's longetivity is threatened by what you keep on your forehead. After all, women are forced to shed their identity after marriage and again forced when the husband dies to metamorphose into "no needs" widow.  And our symbol Bindi does just that - steals identities.

To give an accessory unnecessary importance is nothing new to the great Indian culture - the flowers, the Saree and way its tied, the bangles. I have heard some explanations as to why this is good - "In earlier times, bindi was made from turmeric and other herbs (pure kumkum). When kept between the eyebrows, a bindi warms the nerve/area below it. This nerve contributes to concentration and brain power". Agreed, this might be true. When you press this area you do feel some relief and when you perform yoga too, concentration on this area is emphasized.

But our bindis are different - they are made out of plastic and tiny in shape and even if the above argument is true, our new bindis dont serve the purpose. And what about men - dont they need the intelligence too? Why are they not forced and why does nothing change for them before and post marriage? And pat came a reply from one old lady "Men dont need these symbols. They are more important for a women". 

Any answers please??

Monday, October 24, 2011

10 Being untouchable during periods

A child is considered a "Bundle of joy" (male child?) and "A gift from the divine" but the production process and pain that women have to undergo years for this valuable gift are sins - this refers to Menstruation and its associated untouchability.

This tradition prevails across the hindu society irrespective of class and caste. Seems in Nepal, the practice is more inhumane and rigidly practiced despite human rights groups protesting against the issue.In Tamilnadu (and most other Indian states) when a women reaches maturity, its a sign that she is ready for marriage and should be shown to the world. The girl is considered untouchable for the first 4 to 5 days but after that its celebration time! Arrangements are made in mandapams (halls) and the entire town is invited(especially in the rural areas) - they print invitations and have video and photography sessions! I guess even my marriage wont be that lavish:).

This topic is important enough to be discussed when selecting a mate for marriage in these families. During "ponnu-paakardu" (arranged marriage setting when guy's family comes to scrutinize the girl.. similar to when you go to a pet-store or vegetable market to buy things that suit you). There is usually a discussion among the prospective mother-in-laws, where its assessed whether the bride has been taught to follow the practices. More on these conversations later.

I had revolted against this entire practice at home - I dint want to follow it. Note that I come from a highly educated brahmin family but alas a conservative one. I used to cry all night when they would seclude me   - (seclusion for me meant I slept on the cot+bed and mom on the floor on a mat.. it should be the reverse.. he he for heaven's sake I cant sleep alone!) - still I would make a huge issue. I created a havoc when they said I cannot sit on sofas, have to eat separately, cannot touch anyone, not enter the kitchen, pooja room and a long list of rules. I find it very embarrassing that every person in the family knows when I get my periods and I suddenly become untouchable. In a neighboring apartment, the lady would be isolated in one small room and no one can even see her! She had to live in that cage like an animal and would be given meals when needed. Atleast, my condition was not that bad! So ultimately, my family settled for this - I would not touch dad nor the cooking utensils and pooja items. For anything else I said - Go to hell.. am not following them. Still, every month I get disgusted when I have to share(!!!) the news.

No one tries to understand the reason behind why some traditions are followed. This is especially true when this has to be levied on women - Older women and men force them to fall in line. During the olden days, women did not have sanitary pads nor detergents and antiseptic soaps that would help in hygienic living during periods. They had to use clothes/cotton and live in separate rooms. But one advantage was that they got total rest and could relax - after all in those times, gender-inequality was more prominent - men dint help at home and women had to do all the work.
When I asked my mom for a reason, this is one I got - " Women have bad vibrations during this time and they are weak. These bad vibrations should not interfere with Pooja or other people's vibrations. Their energy will come down". Hmmmm.. wish I was gullible and lame enough to believe this. People go for work, meet women, travel, need to work with women - how will you ever know that you are touching someone with periods? And men have not died when they did this. What is the use of practicing something half-way? - there are no explanations!

Over the years, many families (urban and some rural) have stopped following this but it still prevails. The worst part is these are handed down by women to women and the men folks hardly understand what happens during this phase - but please they want to protect their lives from the bad vibrations - they would not care less if women feel ill-treated or discriminated.

Friday, October 21, 2011

0 Swapping self-esteem for marriage

Typical day at work. After the honking bus journey, it was finally time for breakfast:). Yes I quite look forward to this because I get to meet my adda friends.

I have noticed around me that many of my colleagues are caught in marriage fiasco at this stage. Either its parents not agreeing, arranged marriage tension, relationship problems - everything revolves around the pressure to get married and of course this one is dot on Girls!

My friend and I started our usual conversation - the topic was a common friend (C) who was to deliver in another 2 months.
F: Know what! C was upset today. Her husband is messaging another woman at 2:30 in the night. Seems this has been happening quite often.
M: Really! Is she sure or just doubting unnecessarily? (Dint want to believe it was happening.. wishing it was not happening actually)
F: Nopes.. she has also seen them together multiple times and shes in a fix.

Oh Boy! Another marriage turning sour. C is a nice girl with a lot of common sense and this is what happens to her. Hers is an arranged marriage in the traditional Muslim community. Such girls don't even dare to think of other ways of getting married.
M: Hmmm. But I thought her hubby T was a good person.. thats how she used to portray him.. but a little too attached to the mother.. and their community it might be difficult to prevent this going further too. Why doesn't she tell this to her in-laws?
F: Birds of a feather flock together! His dad had two wives .. and T was from the first marriage. His step-mother would not dare to say anything against this nor his dad.

These conversations are nothing new we have.. its just that here the man should be totally heartless and is making use of religious laws to circumvent the wrong he is doing. It will be difficult for C to walk-out - her child is about to come, and her community will never understand her. For a person who is always put her religious and community views above their personal views, its difficult to come to terms with reality. C is like any of us - born in a great family, good parents, but lacking independence that many of us take for granted. I sometimes wonder how Muslim women (sometimes even other exploited women) reason with life - on gender-bias, on being treated like an object. Wont they envy others who can flaunt their jewelery, clothes (basic necessity for women).

This reminded me of Khaled Hosseini's novel "A Thousand Splendid Suns" - a beautiful book. This portrays Afghan women who lose their self-esteem in their struggle to survive. Ironically, one of the main character's name coincides with T. But in the book, T comes back for his love after several years, but here for my friend its left to real life.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

0 Religious discourses that make you wonder

Every morning, there are these religious lectures on television that pound their way into my ears no matter what. Today was no different - the coarse, methodical voice with some meaningless story. I prefer my mornings to be silent, just observe nature and be calm. Alas! no one listens to me at home especially if it has something to do with religion - I cant say God here because I feel God is lost in religion.  The rituals, fasts, festivals - you think god is interested in any of this..

The early morning discourse goes like this -
Person with namam (traditional white decoration on the forehead for a sect of brahmins) all dressed up in his white dhoti. Lets call him N.
 N: In life, if you have to get selected for a job you need to have qualifications beforehand. But if you have to be selected and loved by God you don't need ant qualifications. Just surrendering to him is enough and once you surrender he will pardon all your sins
I cant make head or tail of this comparison between Job and God! That means I can go kill anyone, slap them right across the face, bully people, do as per my wish and all I have to do is surrender to God. Everything is fine now. Wow.

N carries on with his logic: It is enough if you repeat the name of god everyday.. even telling his stories or telling others that Krishna stole butter from other households - means you are constantly remembering god.
So we do all these rituals, chanting for god to forgive our sins. So its more like a bargain. Religion according to him is a barter system - you offer prayers and God offers peace of mind through forgiving you. What have we reduced the concept of God to?

And N goes on like this each day - he shares small anecdotes from some purana but all with the same theme - you have to remember god, chant his name and everything will be good. He takes the power and intelligence we have been given as humans and replaces it with submission because we are all guilty and scared of our wrong doings. My dad wastes his one precious hour watching this rather than exercise which will do him a world of good. Ultimately when you go to a temple, they pray for good health, for curing their leg pain and back pain. I asked my dad "What use is it that you do take any effort to improve your health, spend that time listening to N and then again ask 'God' to repair you!? If you don't take the effort, then who will? Such questions are met with wide-eyed gestures - "How can you question God?". I feel like telling them that I am questioning their foolishness.

Oh ya.. and my mom has a lot to contribute here. She looks at N and says
"That man is supposed to be a chartered account.. and ohh look at him he is so devoted to God.." This is an indirect accusation at me - means that just because I have taken post graduation and working in a good position does not mean that I can ridicule matters of faith.
I wonder why he wasted his time studying at all! or maybe CA really took the soul out of him:)

Friday, October 14, 2011

0 Marriages that are Skin deep

"Beauty is only skin deep" - That summarizes mosts arranged marriage for me. I know that all these marriages are not bad - but these depend on variations right?

1. Some are love-cum-arranged - an ideal one to some. But I really wonder -- at least in the south this happens only if you belong to the same community. The funny part about some of these marriages is that parents hide the "Love" part from the society and project that they arranged the match. Everyone is happy - isnt it? What is so wrong in conveying that its "Love" .. Oh the society - BS.

2. Some are arranged where the couple gets a lot of time to choose the person, understand him/her , evaluate - this is when there is long time between the "first meeting" and the engagement and a great gap (ard 6 months - year) for the wedding. Parents try to be supportive and can empathize with the child getting married in the Big bad world. So this is the reason we hear about broken engagements - couples realize - Oops! I am taking a wrong step and the child's decision is final.

3. Then there is the typical one: You talk for 3-4 times (that too on the phone, skype!!) and decide "wow.. this is THE person I am going to spend my life with. His parents are nice, our horoscopes match perfectly, good job, education".... wait .. where is the character being evaluated - those 2-3 months before the marriage when everyone behaves their best! In most of these cases, road after the honeymoon phase is rugged.

In most of these cases, life goes on - the lady adjusts and spends her life in the married state with a husband. Notice I say "spend" here - not "share" - its the case with most marriages! Women settle into the safe zone mode and get their happiness seeing children but weighing them down by their expectations- this is a vicious cycle.

4. Some times, whatever be the case, its just pure luck that you end up with the right person and manage to adjust and share your life with him. Ya babes - you are lucky!

I am just talking about the wedding here.. marriage is an life-long endurance which some parents fail to understand. If parents are a little broad-minded, the step 2 arranged marriage might work perfectly - let the child choose. But how many parents really do this - they are scared to let you talk for an year (sometimes even 3 months!) and realize at the end of it that its not going to happen - It is a matter of pride!

We are caught between the "western dating, the fairy tales, the happily married state" and "traditionalist, conservative parents and society" giving us a quite an hybrid mind:) - the above combination are also hybrid arranged marriages. The intertwining of thoughts appears murky on the surface to the society, to parents and to ourselves.
I know there will be comments from people who have taken this path - you are welcome to share your opinions. This is not an argument about Love vs arranged but a situational analysis(what I have seen:-)).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

1 On Dreams that come true

Journey till 2008 had been great. I was quite an intelligent child at school. Took part in events, was good in painting and dance and have given a lot of proud moments to my parents. But seems that is not enough.

Its painful - to see that you have realized one of your dreams but losing out on another. Every girl would have this dream - at least some parts of it. Mine was simple and I was holding on to it like a child holding a kite flying - very dearly. I wanted to fall in love and get married - I can see eyebrows being raised. - Is it really such a big deal? Oh thats so simple... Not at my place, with my parents and their society.

Generally, I was on the lookout - really does love happen when you are monitoring? It dint.  The pressure to go for an arranged marriage was strong once I was done with the course. But so was my fear towards the system. I prepared mentally for the process - yes, love and marriage is a process if its arranged. But that gnawing feeling was growing - I had changed, I had become more of "Me" (people who have transformed will understand this) and less of what other people wanted from me. My parents dint know me but they thought they were the best people to arrange the match.

But suddenly there was this silent knowledge - like gentle waves lapping at my feet - I knew it and was consumed. The dream had come true and but now arose another type of fear. I have heard "Pyaar kiya tho darna Kya" (When you are in love, what is there to fear) as a child but now I understood the meaning. The fear of acceptance, the weight of attachment, the burden of duty - I could feel it all really

I am still on the journey and still trying to reason with parents and society - but its freaking tough.

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