Category Archives: reflections

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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30 Day Blogging Challenge : Day 13 : How comfortable am I in my body

Either I am very comfortable or I don’t really care.

I suppose I have a decent figure (above average height and fairly in shape, in fact, downright thin in recent months, the effects of running behind a toddler). I have very short hair, which I maintain with no great style. I am adamant about not wanting to grow my hair, because its easier to maintain this way, and at some level I like the way I look like this. I do have body hair which I dont particularly try to hide. In fact, I dont even do regular threading for facial hair, which I get, as a result of some hormone issues.

Like I said in the beginning, I don’t have the energy to motivate myself to make extra efforts to look good. Most of the clothes I wear are baggy and shapeless, because I cant be bothered to wear fitting clothes, which I need to keep altering every time I lose or gain weight.

Yet, paradoxically, despite my avowed lack of interest in my looks, its in small details relating to routines of dressing up that I see a proxy indicator of how much time I am giving to myself. I have shared before about how becoming a mother with a preparation time of less than one week really threw me off balance, and made me lose my sense of self. It was in my grooming that it was most obvious. I was never perfectly groomed, and now I even did not seem to brush my hair regularly. Worse, if my husband used to take time off from parenting responsibilities to focus on grooming, I would get irritated, wondering why is he so focused on himself, while I care nothing about how I look. As I struggled to cope and gradually grew comfortable with the role of a mother, there we little changes in behavior which suggested I had reasserted control over my life.

The first, more than three months after my daughter arrived, I started wearing a watch again. I dont know why I stopped. I am terribly attached to my watch, but somehow, while coping with a child, I almost never seemed to remember to wear it. I was always stuck trying to figure out the time, but the watch was never there. THen one day, I consciously decided to wear it. That act had an internal symbolism for me, which I find it hard to explain. From that day on, I always try to ensure that I have the watch on. I have ruined a few watches, because I forget to take it off while bathing the child. But thats ok. The watch stays, because it is an integral part of me.

The second, this winter, I decided, I will not tolerate dry skin on my face. I bought some aloe vera gel, which I wanted to use twice daily. For more than one month now, I have stuck to it. I do it, no matter what office, household or mothering responsibilities I have. And it makes me feel good. The result of this activity is not for everyone to see, only I can see/feel the difference it makes. And it makes me feel good, not because my skin is better, but because I proved to myself that no matter how much your role demands, no matter how much you are drowned in different responsibilities, you can always find time to do small things which matter only to you.

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How free are you ? Social Roles get you one way or the other

Recently, I heard that a young couple who had gotten married fairly recently were expecting their first child. My first reaction was, “Of course I am not surprised. The girl is not working.”

This reaction and all the judgment it involves set me thinking about the fact that as an educated working woman, I have spent so much of my life trying to fight the social role of a conventional woman, which is usually imposed on us, but at the same time, I am replacing one social role, with another, and judging a lot of women by whether or not they measure upto it. My new ideal woman is someone who has a fairly decent education, is capable of working. But this is only a superficial description. Underneath, I also assume that she will be aware of family planning, willing to follow family planning and capable of doing it.  If anyone therefore got pregnant right after marriage, she was not really educated or concerned about a job. That a woman, educated or otherwise,  may choose to have a child soon after marriage is not a possibility I was willing to grant anyone.

In that way I exclude many possibilities for educated women. I wonder why someone would choose not to work (even if she has no commitments like children). I wonder why someone gives up a chance for a productive job to dabble in some kind of hobby. Actually, I exclude many possibilities for myself. Though there are times when I find the dual responsibility of motherhood and a job physically and emotionally exhausting, I don’t even consider quitting. There are days when I feel, I would love to not have to do a job, so that I can read all the amazing books which this well stocked library possesses, but I know that is totally fantasy. There are days when I feel I want to quit all these jobs, and pursue yoga seriously, but again, I know that thought is going nowhere. I dont mean to say I work unwillingly, but I acknowledge that my decision to work is not wholly a ‘free decision’. At some level, it is influenced by my expectation that a woman should work.

This is not just my expectation. A scan of matrimonial ads will show that in most cases prospective grooms desire working women, preferably, professionally qualified.   A lot of recently married women tell me something like, my husband would like me to work, So I will settle into the new place and start looking for a job. He does not want me to be a house wife. Now I wonder, and I want to ask them, “Do you really want to work there, or do you just think you want to or your husband wants you to. Would you prefer to settle into married life without the additional responsibility of finding a job. Would you prefer to pursue some hobby which you never had the time to for now. Would you continue to value and respect yourself if you dont take up a job. Or will you feel like an underachiever every time you hear of a career progression of a friend or erstwhile colleague.

So is this where my personal empowerment has led me?  Replacing one set of ideals with another. It was far easier fighting the other role of an ideal woman as a ‘good and dutiful wife, mother, daughter in law etc etc’. It is so much more difficult to fight this role, since its something I created myself. I will need to shift my empowerment drive to a higher gear, where I really make free and informed choices, with no pressure to fulfill any social role.

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Reflections on Motherhood

Almost two months into this life as a mother, what has been my primary learning? It may sound funny or cliched, but I truly learnt what it meant to be child centered. 

I had always intellectually understood this concept relating it to the idea of client centered counseling, a term I use repeatedly in my professional life. I had always wanted to be a child centered parent. But when the child was given to me, I suddenly became very me centered. I was a completely unprepared mom, I had always had this  notion about myself that I am not good with kids and kids dont like me. Having a kid given to me within one week, everything I was doing for her suddenly became a reflection of how good I am as a mother. Her bath, her feeding, her sleeping, none of it was about whether she enjoyed it, but whether I had fed her or bathed her well. 

Funnily enough children do sense this anxiety and resist in their own ways. My little one resisted while taking a bath. She would scream the place down, whenever she was taken for a bath. It took a couple of bath sessions with her father for me to truly understand why she did that. Karthik taught me that its not nice for a child to have two people pounce on her catch hold of her hands and legs and start giving her a massage. But its nice, if she is allowed to play with the oil and smear it all over herself. Its no fun to have water poured over you suddenly. But its fun to have water splashed on you by a doll. Its no fun to be with a mommy who is worried about whether every inch of your body has been scrubbed. Its fun to be with a mommy who will play in the water with you and to hell with it if one patch of your skin has been ignored for a day. What he taught me was not ways to make her enjoy the bath, but a whole paradigm on how to engage with her for anything. Suddenly play was not confined to what she did with her toys, but every activity could be playful. Suddenly, everything I did for her was not a task which needed to be completed, but an opportunity to bond more with the baby. 

Performance anxiety is probably very common among new moms, specially in Indian contexts, where there are always a million opinions within and outside the family on how something could have been done better. So probably, first lesson, there is no one way to be a parent, and no one is a bad parent. You can choose a way which suits your own personality. I am a person who always treated kids like adults, so for me that works, I will prefer to reason with the child and set up mutually acceptable limits on behavior. 

And I guess most important thing for a parent, is to first just feel good about ourselves as  parents. Its quite challenging, specially for the parent who is taking primary care (mostly the mother, but let me concede that things are changing) to separate themselves from the child. When so much of your time goes towards someone else, then its their acheivements and milestones which you cherish and hold as a reflection to your own efforts. So if the child does well, its a reflection on the self, and if the child does badly, its again a reflection on the self. My advice, its ok to be inconsistent, if the child does well, be proud of it. If a milestone is delayed, or behavior is inappropriate, give yourself a little more time. She will get there. 

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Political Correctness or just sensitivity??

Political Correctness has become one of the most damned phrases in English language. It is taken to mean everything from superciliousness, hypocrisy, pandering to a minority to outright lying. Its cool to be ‘politically incorrect’, but of course we  never stop to wonder how politically incorrect we routinely are in much of our speech and interaction. 

Take an example, Manmohan Singh bashers jokingly call him Manmohini Kaur, presumably to show his powerlessness and obsequiousness to Sonia. But what does this mean, that ‘women’ are powerless and spineless and Manmohan Singh a man, is powerless and spineless and therefore a woman. Today, I heard that he was referred as Shikandi (Shikandi is a warrior in the Mahabharata, but in common parlance today is taken to refer to a eunuch). I saw a post on FB which said ‘Jab Tak Suraj Chaand rahega, napunsak PM tera naam rahega.’Again, does it mean that eunuchs are spineless. Without even realizing it, isn’t there a hierarchy here of the assertive alpha male, and the ‘submissive’ female and ‘gutless’ transgender. I know its a joke, I know we are not expected to over-analyse this, but if jokes routinely promote such stereotypes, what is the message we are giving.  

While on the subject of Manmohan bashing, maybe it is time for his critics to reflect on whether he draw so many brickbats because he, as the elected Prime Minister listens to Sonia, who holds no political office, or that he as a man and as a elected Prime Minister listens to Sonia, who is a woman and holds no political power. This is not to justify any of Manmohan’s or UPA’s actions, I am not politically astute enough to critique it. But as a woman, I am able to pick up the some element of gender bias in this.

Its not just gender, I am sure our everyday language is full of idioms, which, while not intending to be derogatory, paints a negative, or patronizing picture of some group. I have been lucky that I am a member of the majority community in my country, I come from Mainland India and I come from a relatively privileged socio-economic background. Apart from gender, I cant really pick out any of the other stereotyping idioms. But millions of others are not so lucky.  

Political correctness is a jargon, simply put, what it means is that we are sensitive to what other people feel. That if we truly aspire to be a society where people of all castes, religions, ethnic identity can interact as equals, through our words, through our behavior, we constantly reinforce our equality. Not just when we are interacting with people from the other groups, but routines, as a matter of practice, so much so that we are not really aware of it. Its not easy to do this, equality is not an inherent value for any of us. But can we start by reflecting on what kind of impressions- intended and unintended- we convey through our words. Can we stop making ‘political correctness’ a dirty word? Can we stop making people who are aspiring to be ‘sensitive’ feel like they are a bunch of hypocrites?

 

 

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To all my male friends

I use the term friends relatively loosely, to include friends, brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews etc etc. Of course I write within an Indian context, but what I say may have a larger relevance too…..

First of all, congratulations, you must be among the earliest generations of men who are living in a society where there is some attempt at woman’s empowerment (and I mean generations in a truly historic, generation sense, viz a viz the origin of man and woman).

Oh, did I say congratulations!!! Sorry, I should have said commiserations. For of course, most of you view power as a zero sum game. Therefore empowerment of women must of course mean dis-empowerment of you guys. This is a threat to masculine identity, to masculine authority, to man’s god given right to lord it over women. Of course, there are no possibilities of mutual respect. If you seek to empower women, it means you are snatching away our power and therefore you are enemy number 1.

Agreed, you have a difficult role to fulfill. You are perhaps not genetically programmed to accept women as equals. You have no role models. All through history, men have easily lorded it over women and no questions asked, and then suddenly to ask you guys to make the adjustment is ridiculous. Why shouldn’t you have your share of fun.

Some of the most shocking stuff you guys have to put up with (I am making a generalized list, I am sure with some variations, most of you have faced similar stuff)

1. Your lady classmate got better marks than you. Of course girls are muggers plus they suck up to teachers, what else do you expect?

2. Your lady classmate got a job offer before you. Of course girls always get placed first. The male recruiters are hoping to lay them.

3. Your lady colleague got a promotion. Of course, the slut is sleeping with the boss.

4. Your marriage proposals are rejected by women and their parents who demand that you have super duper education and earn a six figure salary. Damnit, instead of me asking for a dowry commensurate with my qualifications, how dare my qualification become a criteria on which my suitability as a groom is evaluated.

5. Wife expects you to help out at home. What the hell does she think? Lazy bum. My grandmother was not like that.

6. Laws like Dowry Prohibition and against Domestic Violence are all ok, but do you know how much they can be misused ????? Of course the lives of the women who succumbed to dowry harassment or live in daily hell of domestic violence need not be considered. Of course the fact that for every 99 percent of its correct use, there is one percent of misuse need not matter. Of course the fact that despite these laws, women face systems which are still shaped by patriarchal norms where it is not any easier for her to seek justice for domestic violence than it is for rape does not matter.

But you know guys, things are not so bad for you. Let me give you a small list of things to be thankful for.

Most of you are probably born in relatively affluent families at a time when your parents could afford to support even daughters. They were able to ensure adequate nutrition and care for both sons and daughters. They even ensured appropriate education for both. But in slightly different family circumstances…..

Your sisters may not have been born.

Even if they were born, they may not have survived beyond childhood.

That had they survived childhood, they may not have got an education.

Ok, so you think these are not reflective of your families. So here is a list of stuff from your own circumstances which must make you feel happy…….

1. Your wife is still far more likely to give up her job, or adjust her job based on marriage requirements than you are.

2. Wives who stay with the husband’s family are praised. Husbands, forget about staying, even if they are too friendly to the wives family are laughed at.

3. A daughters marriage still has the capacity to drive the parents to indebtedness. Parents of girls still need to save up for her marriage almost from birth. And the popular curse may you have a hundred daughters and may they all marry well, has not yet been changed to may you have a hundred sons. Having sons of course is the supreme blessing.

4. During the wedding you and your family still have the authority to demand things as ladke wale. You can criticize the venue, the food, the orchestra.

I could go on and on, but I think you will agree that your blessings are still considerable. Enjoy them, boys!!

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2011: The year of small pleasures

When I realized I am ending 2011 pretty much exactly where I started it (personally, professionally or any othe lly which we can choose to evaluate ourselves on, as years end), I was in great danger of getting depressed. Now, this list is a therapeutic exercise, as I embark on my first new year resolution (first even new year resolution actually) of cherishing the small pleasures…….

1. Our young garden. I know zilch about plants. I dont understand eveb 10 % of what our gardener tells me. But I will take a moment out everyday, to see these young plants bloom. And we will attempt to create hedgerows resembling the ones in the English country side which we so admire in so many TV shows.

2. Yoga. Its the daily dose of challenge we need to keep life entertaining. For me yoga is not about releiving stress, or being in shape. It is for the moment when I acheive an asana which I have struggled for days to perfect. I dont aspire to be a yoga guru, just want to be a person for whom the bar is just out of reach, as I push my body to newer limits.

3. Books. Yes, I have always been known as a reader, but over the last few years, the reading habit has been slipping away. Thanks to Kindle, I have now reconnected to reading, and spent many enjoyable hours rereading old classics. And realized Jane Austen improves as you age.

4. Bird watching. An activity as ego crushing as gardening for me, which again highlights how totally oblivious I am to my surroundings. But with pigeons and peacocks and parrots running amok in our garden and adjoining areas, it is hard to miss them.

5. Cricket : Again something I lost touch with for a few years now. But as I followed many close encounters throuch website commentary, I realized the joy of unobstrusive, internet based cricket viewership.

6. Food. I am a street foodie. And we live in Gujarat. Need I say more. I hope the next year brings me more opportunities to explore local cuisines across the country, as I attempt a staggered food pilgrimage across the country.

Wish me luck.

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