The Waiter at the Hotel and his blow for Women’s Rights

I have blogged earlier about the feminist audit of restaurants, a practice of looking at how restaurant staff treated the women customers, what were the roles they were expecting from men and women and how equitable was this.

 

I think at this point, the undoubted winner on my feminist audit is a little roadside stall in Coimbatore. I was there a few months ago with my husband. This  is a little shop with just maybe four tables, but he does roaring business. We were staying for a couple of days at a nearby lodge and we pretty much had every meal with him.

Like many little places in South India, food is served on banana leaves. Some of the restaurants also insist that the customer clears away the banana leaf themselves. Its probably a labor saving practice, and also the concept of ‘Ecchal (or Jhoota) is very powerful in Tamil Nadu, and some places may therefore feel that everybody clears up their own plate and food remains.

As customers, sometimes we forget to do this, not because we think it is wrong, but because one generally never thinks of cleaning up the plates in a restaurant. I had myself forgotten one morning during breakfast and he had to come and remind me as I was washing my hand, that I had to put my plate away.

This is what happened when my husband finished eating and walked away to wash his hand. He forgot to pick up his leaf. Two waiters were standing nearby, and one of them called after him to pick it up. Even as my husband was turning, the other one indicated to his colleague that I was at the table and I would probably clear up both our plates. But the first waiter gave a sharp rejoinder. Its his plate and he clears up. We cant expect her to clear it up for him.

I am not saying this man is a great feminist. I dont even know what he does at home. Does he wash his own plates or expect the women in the family to do it. And I have also seen men who may be doing all household work and not expect anything from the women, but still have their own notions of patriarchy and male superiority. But it was nice to see a public upholding of men and women having to take up equal responsibility.

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Reflections of a almost five year old on Fairy Tales

I have recently introduced Migu to popular fairy tales and now our bed time reading as well as meal time stories are generally Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

As I have blogged in the past,here and here  Migu does not like to consume stories in a docile way. She has to constantly comment or critique a story. So this is how our story telling session on Snow White went.

Snow White had a step mother who had a magic mirror.

Migu : Wow step mother and magic. Is she like the fairy godmother? Will she wave her want?

Me : Well, no step mother and fairy godmother are different, sort of very opposite to each other. Will you let me continue?

As I continue we come to the bit about the mirror.

Me : The step mother asked the mirror, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

Migu : Wait, wait, I am the mirror, you are step mother, now ask me.

Me: Ok, Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Migu : Goldilocks

Me : Not Goldilocks, Snow White.

Migu : But that day you told me Golilocks was also beautiful.

Me : Never minds, its another story. Can we continue.

After some time, as we come to the bit about Snow White falling after eating the apple

Me : How do you think she revived?

Migu : How? How?

Me : A handsome prince came and saw Beautiful Snow Whites Body. When he kissed her, she revived.

Migu : Thats not fair. Thats what happened to Sleeping Beauty. You are simply saying this.

Me : No that is the story.

Migu : Why is it always the prince?

Me : I dont know, can I continue?

Migu : Ok

Me : The prince and Snow White got married and lived in a castle

Migu : No, that is what happened to Rapunzel

Me : So its a different prince, and it was perfectly OK for him to marry Snow White.

Migu : Getting irritated, there is always a prince (She said it in Tamil, so all who follow Tamil can truly understand the impact of a line like Eppopathalum Prince, Eppopathalum Prince.

After some time,

Migu : I dont like these stories, I only like Red Riding Hood.

Me : Why

Migu : There is no prince, only a wolf.

The Feminist in Me : You go girl, yes you dont need a prince.

Like I have written before, I didnt really question any story while growing up. I dont not always fantasize about a life similar to the one which I was reading about, but I accepted it and never thought to challenge their choices. I am glad Migu is growing up, questioning stories, and maybe unconsiously breaking stereotypes and challenging possibilities and choices.

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Adventures in Trichy # 1 : Trichy Paruthi Paal

Paruthi Paal refers to cottonseed milk. Its a mix (like horlicks or bournvita) which you can add to milk and consume. Its considered a very healthy drink.

I never knew about paruthi paal before. Frankly the thought of cottonseed milk is a bit disconcerting. Particularly when Paruthi Kottai (cotton seed) has always been seen as livestock feed. When I first heard of it, I was like, can humans even eat this.

But I have grown to really appreciate this drink and I even have some packets of the mix at home. My daughter adores it. She sometimes prefers it over her usual milk drink.

Though I got familiar with the drink, I never realized this was a Trichy special. Untill I heard an adorable PA announcement next to a cycle vendor who was selling Paruthi Paal for 5 bucks. The announcement translates to something like this,

Trichy Paruthi Paal, made from pure palm jaggery and cotton seeds direct from the villages. Only at 5 rupees, you will wonder how we can afford to give it to you so cheap.

Just like Rockfort temple (a famous landmark in Trichy) symbolizes the spirit of Trichy, so too does Paruthi Paal.

Just like Jigar Thanda is for Madurai, so too is Paruthi Paal for Trichy.

The announcement had my heart. A city which wants to define itself with its food. What more do I want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Like a Small Town : Adventures in Trichy

 

This year, i moved to a city in Tamil Nadu, Tiruchirapalli. Its not really a small town. Its one of the major cities in the state. Its a huge trading centre. But in my head, it was very much a small town. It was also a bit of a come down because as a Tamilian, I was going back to the heart of Tamil Nadu. I started thinking where I lived would no longer be exotic. I would no longer try to understand other people’s cultures, their world views. Because everyone would be just like me.  Never mind that I have never lived in Tamil Nadu and actually have a very poor understanding of Tamil culture. That my understanding of Tamil culture was limited to an elitist brahmin culture and Tamil Nadu had much much more to offer. But for me, Trichy just didnt seem exciting enough.

And the food. I had lived in Ahmedabad, which I thought was foodie paradise. What could trichy offer other than Idli or dosas. ANd I dont even like eating them. Definitely not at hotels. How could my food devotee image survive in Trichy.

I tried my best to think positive, but I came here with deep misgivings. Maybe it was good I had those misgivings. It made me overcompensate in trying to find joys in Trichy. So I am now going to start a little series – of little things I love in this city. Its my gratitude journal for this place. For people who know me, you will not be surprised to see that most of these little joys are to do with food. But beyond that also, Trichy continues to surprise me.

My First post on this series will soon come up : Trichy Special Paruthi Paal (cottonseed milk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga and Me

I recently had a rather startling realization that my public persona is very much defined by yoga. Our public life is now almost exclusively on social media, and around 80% of my posts on social media is about yoga with photos of me doing yoga.

And it is funny because none of the conventional yoga narratives seem to suit the relationship I have with yoga. I dont claim that yoga is both a physical and spiritual exercise (for me at least). I dont necessarily feel more at peace or connected with myself after doing yoga.  It is not even a social exercise any longer, because it has been more than two years since i stepped into a yoga class (or yoga studio, to use the new term which has even caught up in small town India), and for me yoga is largely a family exercise.

In fact I came into, and continued to practice yoga for probably all the conventionally wrong reasons. But here I am, with over five years of experience, so something must have worked for me.

To start with, I started practicing yoga based on the advice of a gynaecologist, who suggested that if I were trying to get pregnant yoga was a good way, since it generally keeps you relaxed and fit. I dont know why I latched on to this particular advice, since there were many other suggestions she gave which I ignored. A yoga class was happening very close to home, at times which were convenient for me (I never could stand early morning classes, so these evening classes suited me). So I signed on.

I know what I should have been doing was to focus on yoga and not worry about pregnancy. But that is exactly what I didnt do. I would constantly google about pregnancy related yoga, and try to learn and perfect all the poses which were supposed to aid in pregnancy. Yoga was simply a means to an end and I rather felt very self righteous that rather than go for any medical treatments, I was doing yoga to aid pregnancy.

This continued for many months. I did not invest in yoga for myself, but my body seemed to take to it very well. I used to slouch very obviously, and even though my posture now is not perfect, the slouch is much less pronounced (one friend remarked that I seemed to have grown taller). I felt good, even looked good.

I have never been a physically active person. As a child, I was pathetic at all games, and somewhere along the line I cultivated a self image that I never could not anything physically challenging. As an adult, I had had some forays into aerobics, hip hop dance and even swimming, but none of them lasted. Yoga seemed to be the only physical activity at which I was good. Yes, I know in yoga you are never good or bad, you just keep doing whatever your body permits you to do. But hey, we all have egos, and whenever my teacher praised a certain asana of mine or when I pulled off an asana, which other students could only gape at I preened like a peacock. Finally I was able to come out of the self image of being limited physically. Yes, I could be clumsy when it comes to certain activities, but hey, there were many at which I excelled as well.

This continued for a couple of years. I finally started enjoying yoga for itself and at one point even started wondering if I would miss yoga when I finally became pregnant and had a child. That was not to be, since we ended up having an alternate route to parenthood. Our daughter came into our lives at about a week’s notice, a wilful, independent 8 month old whom we adopted.

The adoption threw me off yoga for about a month. I think as a major life event, it threw me off life for almost a year. I had to suddenly cope with the needs of a totally different person, focus on her full time and in the initial days, I didnt have a moment for myself. Within a month, I had to return to yoga, and in that period, perhaps for the first time, I was doing yoga as it was meant to be. It gave me a space for myself, made me feel a bit relaxed and offered a temporary break from the hundred and one demands of motherhood which were suddenly on my head.

I continued to have anxieties and doubts about motherhood for a long time, even after I cracked the routine tasks associated with it. I was deeply insecure, kept wondering if my daughter would bond with me, and more importantly find me fun. To myself, I presented a dreary serious picture, hardly playing, hardly watching TV, hardly having fun. Why would a child ever like my presence, specially when I was also the stern disciplinarian in her life.

And then the answer came to me, and yes, once again it was yoga. Yoga was the one unique physical activity I could do which she could enjoy. Right from the beginning, when my yoga practice meant I could comfortably wriggle under tables and chairs and be with her and play with her, onto giving her rides on extraordinarily fit back, onto her being curious about the asana, looking at it from different perspectives, and trying to figure out their names (and yoga can be fun that way, crow asana, camel asana, lion asana, a veritable zoo of asanas), I was finally able to offer her something unique, something which we both could share.

My daughter is now 4, and we now have some brief daily yoga sessions, where she tries to match me. I like it that I am her role model in this one activity, and I like it that it is one activity we have taken to doing regularly as a family. Not because it is healthy (it certainly is), not because it is a symbol of glorious Indian civilization (it probably is, but I am not too concerned about it), but because it is a lot of Fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why did the tortoise not wake the hare? Questions on our popular fable.

I have been an avid reader all my life and it is safe to assume that as a child, I would have heard a lot of stories. However, I dont remember even questioning them. One could say I was too lazy or uncritical, or in a more positive light, I just accepted the story as someone’s worldview and did not think to question it.

In my thirties, and with a growing child now, I am now revisiting these stories, not as a listener but as a speaker and I am constantly questioned about them. My daughter is very unlike me. Every think I say in the story has to confirm to whatever she has been told or has observed and inferred for herself before. THis is how the rendering of the popular tortoise and hare story went.

 

Me reading the story from the aesop fable book : The hare would come near the lake and tease the tortoise.

 

Migu (my daughter) : Looking at the pictures, Where is the lake? I dont see any?

 

Me : They forgot to put it, but it was there.

Migu : BUt the tortoise I used to see in Aunty’s house (our neighbor had a tortoise) was always in water. WHy is this one not in water.

Me : It will go back to water soon.

Migu : But if it is in water, why should it do a running race?

Me : Good question, but somehow it did do running race.

We move on with the story till we reach the point of the hare sleeping

Migu : Why did hare sleep in running race?

Me : He was confident he will win, so he slept.

Migu : Did the tortoise not see him sleep?

Me: Yes he did

Migu : Why did he not wake him up then?

 

I dont want to overanalyze her thought processes while making these observations, but I do sometimes thin, Hey, that is a fairly nuanced understanding of equity (how is it even fair for a tortoise and hare to have a race) and fairplay (tortoise should wake up the hare) for a four year old.

 

 

 

 

Iftar parties and religious pluralism : Why Ahmedabad amazes me sometimes

Being vegetarians (or the more than ocassional egg eaters), it is pretty funny, that my husband and  I really long to taste Iftar food. Iftar is the meal taken by Muslims, during the fasting month of Ramzan, when they break the fast at sunset. Iftar specialities are most certainly non-vegetarian, and I am sure many squeamish vegetarians will totally avoid certain localities during Ramzan because of the sight, smell or even the knowledge of the meats around.

But we are not squeamish, and so we set out to explore the special street food places in Ahmedabad, to get a sense of the festival. We passed the famous Sayed Siddhi Mosque, went through Teen Darwaza and Lal Darwaza and all the landmarks of the old city of Ahmedabad. And we could sense, could smell the lovely biriyanis and the cooking meats. Surprisingly, for vegetarians, we find the smell very pleasant. Like my husband says, we enjoy being ‘passive non-vegetarians.’

When we asked a passerby to direct us to ‘Batiyar Gali’, he almost looked surprised. Maybe we just didnt look like the kind of people who would go to the most happening street food place of Iftar.

After seeing and smelling to our hearts content, we finally went in for dinner. While we still wanted vegetarian food, we did not want to eat in any of the exclusively vegetarian gujarati dining places which abound. We wanted to eat veg food in a non veg place. We find such food has a faintly exotic flavor to it.

And so we went into a restaurant advertising Iftar special, but also having a small sign saying Veg Food attached below. And then we come across a surprise in the menu. Under vegetarian section, there were some kebaba : hara bhara kebab, Veg kebab etc, and then there was a Jain Kebab.

Jains are an ultra strict vegetarian community in India. In fact, not only are they not supposed to eat meat or eggs, they are not even supposed to eat onions, garlic, potatoes and a whole host of other things. It is because of the influence of Jains (and some other strictly Hindu vegetarians) that Ahmedabad has a reputation of being a ‘non-veg’ averse place. This is the city where KFC opened a veg only outlet, where lots of the popular food franchises have veg only outlets. In fact it is a bit difficult to even buy eggs here, because one needs to go to ‘egg only’ shops.

But within Ahmedabad, it is understood that while the newer city is largely vegetarian, the Old city, which has historically been heavily influenced by Islam is definitely a non-veggie’s dream destination. My explorations on the Iftar walk had  definitely convinced me of this.

But still, here was a restaurant, almost exclusively catering to the non-vegetarian, who had taken the pains to add a Jain item to their menu. It was just one dish. It was probably sound business strategy to ensure that mixed crowds came in to the hotel. And most strict Jains may not even step into a restaurant which serves so much meat. I know a lot of my conservative Hindu relatives would not have stepped in there.  But to me it seemed like a delightfully inclusive gesture. It truly showed me how different communities continue to live together.