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Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Muslim. The Hindu. And The FEAR

This is just the tip of the iceberg.
I am not a leftie; I am not an underdog-lover; But I do hate religious fanaticism.
Probably because I was born and brought up in Chennai, which is not communal in the way Mumbai, Delhi or even Bangalore is... And I had no problems with the Muslims I knew there... I found them no weirder than the rest of us. I married a Christian... though not the evangelical, the 'lord is my saviour' type.
And I've always had a problem with people who generalised about Muslims... including my father and my sister. I found it petty and unreasonable.
Now this is getting to a different level.
A friend of mine relocated to Mumbai from here. A techie, chilled out, totally in love with the city he calls home. Then his Hindu-wife tells me, every day there are subtle signs telling him he is different.
Only Muslim tele-marketing agents contact him; it was difficult to nail a job because of his religion... worse because he comes from the Gulf.
I know tonnes of people who would say they are getting what they deserve. Bullshit!
Discrimination can't be justified.
I live in a Muslim country, fanaticism is in my face everyday. I get totally annoyed by the unquestioning blind faith, and rejection of anything 'different'. I fear their narrow-mindedness; I fear the power their clerics have over them; In some of their eyes, I see a madness that gives me goose bumps; I hate the way they treat their womenfolk; but I still can't hate THE MUSLIM. Because I see many who don't fit into my fear parameters.
When I hear rabid comments from Hindu fundamentalists, I react with anger. When I hear it from regular folks, whom I consider reasonable, I pee in my pants.
Because whether we realise it or not, if we don't watch our thoughts, actions, words, we will cross the thin line that divides us from what we deplore.
That all that we accuse the Muslims of (almost all of which is true to only some, not all of them), we ourselves will live to bear.
That the greatness of India and even Hinduism, and the reason it has thrived so wonderfully all these thousands of years (despite its many flaws), should not be corrupted by the culture of non-acceptance and intolerance that other religions may follow. In condemning those ideals, we should not end up creating our own monstrous dictums.
I am scared. Terribly scared, that my daughter will be forced to identify with one of her parent's religion... that she will not have the liberty to imbibe all and create her own walk of life.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

whoopie breast exam

Watching The View today, I spent about 5 minutes examining Whoopie Goldberg's breasts.
Whoa, hold on. I don't swing that way, though I love Whoopie.

What I was trying to do was, point out the existence of her breasts to my 6-year-old O.

This is what happened: She kept staring at Whoopie and then asked me if it was a man or a woman.

I was surprised she even had a doubt. "Woman," I said.

"But she doesn't have the bump like other women. Like you."

"That's because some have it smaller than the rest. And she is wearing a loose shirt."

"Even then, there is that line on the bump (cleavage, I guess, is what she meant)... see the other women all have that line."

And yes, all the other women were showing cleavage. And I was showing mine too, in my loose house coat.

To her Whoopie as a woman didn't seem appealing, because she didn't show off her 'bump'.

I know I have a long road ahead of me, to explain to her that that's not what femininity is all about. And that it doesn't have to be on display.

I have started by asking her not to call it the 'bump', but 'breasts'.

That was an easy one...

The rest of the ride is going to be 'bumpy'!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

corny but true

Age seems so not-important to me.
Birthdays are important. very. but not age.
So much so, when someone asks me how old I am, it takes me a moment or two to recall the number... not because I have such poor memory, because for me age is a 'factor' only for a very few things in life. like:

1. when do you enrol your child in school. I don't believe in forcing baby geniuses into grade 1 at age 4! you need to think hard and long about the minimum age for a child to enter the school system. especially the Indian system.

2. when is it ok to start having sex. even for an adult, the first sexual encounter can turn out to be traumatic or overwhelming. so there is no way a 12 or 14-year-old is ready for it. you need to think about your age... are you quite ready to end your childhood or adolescent for crappy sex?

3. age at which to give birth to a child. you can't be 13. you can't be 50. though both are common. having a child is not about you alone... what role are you going to plan in the child's life?

Barring these 3 situations, age has little or nothing to do with who you are and what you do in life.
My dad studied law when he was 50, and on retiring from a bank, began his practice at 60. At 75 he is busier than most people I know. Age for him is at best a reason to cry off social functions, and at worst an inconvenience due to frailer bones!

Still I hear 40- and 50-year-old folks talking about how old they are! About how they're done with more than half their life.

There are people to whom I dread posing the greeting: "How are you?"
Because, what will follow is a long stream of depressing things...
"I am getting fatter, my back hurts, my boss sucks, my teenager is beyond control, did I mention I am getting fatter?, my husband doesn't understand me, I am getting old, my life is boring..."

Give me a break, unless you are living in Darfur, there must be some joy in your life? There must be something good on TV that made you laugh? A book that got you thinking of the good things in life? A friend who makes you feel good, a dress you bought that you love...

There are people who claim to have so many ailments, they could single-handedly demonstrate Gray's Anatomy!

Here is a tip: When someone says "How are you?", it's a greeting, not an invitation to complain.

My mum at 67 lives the most vibrant life. She has an ischemic heart, high BP and diabetes... but there is never a reason good enough for her to turn down a chance to socialise or travel. There is never a reason for her not to don her best cottons and a dab of max factor powder to go on a jaunt with her siblings. There is never a reason good enough for her to blame her ailments and not enjoy life. Age for her just happens to be. Masha'allah!

And then I have this dear friend. Her husband cheats on her all the time. She has a whole load of hormone-related problems, she can't practice the trade she trained in because of allergies, she has little in terms of savings... but ask her how she is doing, and she always says "Great V! Smashing. The kids and I just returned from the beach/ we are on our way to the park..."

So during those self-indulgent moments when I wish to mope around, or worry about the future, I remind myself of all that is there to see, to experience to enjoy... and that's when the 4th factor about age worries me... how much can I pack into this lifetime?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

breadwinner? buttered, dry or plain stale?

I was reading this very interesting post.
Something that I have thought of and discussed so often.
Why is it important that in a relationship, the man be the breadwinner? The woman takes care of eggs for the weekend...
The man buys the house, the woman buys the blinds?
My father was the 'sole breadwinner', my mum the bread maker.
It worked quite well for them.

But for their legacy of 4 daughters, being taken care of or not being a substantial income earner just doesn’t cut it.
The idea of not working, or looking for a man who would 'take care' of home and hearth never crossed our minds.
At this point, each of us could independently be responsible for running our home. It is fortunate that we are not.

Coming from this sorority of rather fierce financial independence, I am probably the least independent of us 4. In the first three years of marriage, I did not even have a bank account, I would actually give my salary cheque to my husband (and totally hog his debit card). I am a nagger by nature, so regardless of whether I am earning or not (a 2-year maternity break), I would nag about money.

How much I earn is all about the value my work gets... there is no personal ego here.

And if I am doing an honest day’s work at office, I find no need to go overboard being a homemaker too. For that I employ help.

Yet, I know so many highly successful women, who are so damn apologetic earning well or more than their husbands. I know husbands who make their wives accountable for every last penny they spend. Earning is her duty, saving and spending is his right. Most of the saving/investment is not even a joint decision.

These women, some at the very top of their professions, try desperately to convince everyone around them that they are perfectly capable of catering to the needs of husband and child. Fresh food, laundry, school activities. What’s wrong with hiring help, take away and dry cleaners?

Haven’t they heard the latest? Our much praised ‘multi-tasking ability’ is a joke the men are playing on us, to get us to do more.

And I know women, who are so proud of the fact that their income makes no difference to the family. My point is -- if you are working, your skill and time need to be remunerated without gender-bias. You earning a lot less than your husband, or your husband earning 10 times what you do, is not a moral victory.

Here in the Gulf, where a bulk of the income is sent back home to take care of family, 9 out of 10 times, it is to take care of the guy's family.
Of course R and I are totally reasonable about this -- neither of our families benefit from our income; to the contrary, we tap on their resources for small change :)

How big a Secret is it really?

Though I've been hearing about The Secret for a while, it was only last week that I got a copy for myself.
I am not greatly into self-help books. There are books I've read now and then -- Who Moved My Cheese, for instance, about 4 years ago. It kind of shook me out of a stupor, to get me moving and find my own opportunities.
Then more recently Eat, Pray, Love. Good read. Funny. And basic common sense approach to dealing with problems.
Now The Secret. While in principle what the book purports is simple enough, the specifics are way too simplistic.
I am reviewing the book, though I have not completed it yet.
You are supposed to read the book, or at least finish the book without doubting its essence or truth. But for someone who can't even read a Dilbert strip without critiquing it, that's a tough task.

The Secret is The Law of Attraction.
You reap what you sow. You sow positive thoughts and you reap positive action. I agree.

It also talks about Gratitude. When you are grateful for all that you have, then you get more of the same. I totally agree -- after all 'thank you' works like magic. Say Thank You to your child, and she wants to earn that gratitude again, and again. Same goes for the guy on the road who let's you cut him, and you wave back a thank you. He is going to be equally accommodating of the next nut-in-a-hurry.

The Secret talks about giving back. Not sacrificing. But giving. And that rings true. The more you give, the richer you feel. And more comes back to you.

It talks about lists and vision boards. Very practical. Very do-able, helps you focus on the job at hand. Be it getting a promotion, bringing out a magazine or just making your marriage work.

So that sums up all that I agreed with.

But what I could not agree with, and was angered by, was what the book claimed about illness -- that from cancer to paralysis, your illness is because of your negative thoughts, and the only way to be 'cured' was by sending out positive signals to the universe.
Which sick person doesn't want to be 'cured'? And how do you account for babies falling ill?
The book or the message talks about 'focussing' on something to get it. Ask. Believe. Receive.
So if you know how to ask and believe, you will receive? It doesn't matter what kind of a person you are? What about Karma (I am a big believer of that).

Way too much focus is on material wealth. On acquiring unexpected million-dollar cheques, merely by wishing for it. It talks about not focussing on debts... but on wealth.
I would love to get those cheques too... and I would love for all my debts to magically disappear, merely because I am grateful to the bank for increasing my credit limit! If wishes were horses... The Secret would probably say: Wishes ARE horses and Beggars COULD fly.

It even talks about weight loss. Focus on your ideal weight, and not on losing weight, and voila, you are a perfect 10!!!!!!!!

But like all thoughts, advice or philosophies, you can only take what suits you, what strikes you as genuine.
This is where the book fails miserably (though I haven't come to the end yet) -- it's making a promise. A careless promise (like those over the top advertisements) that it is the key to all your successes -- financial, personal, emotional. And it almost at every step absolves itself of any responsibility. If this is not working for you, then you haven't followed The Secret 100%. So if I follow it only 50%, will I get half a million instead of one in the next lottery? If I followed only 70 percent, can I lose at least 10 kgs?

Many of those who stood testimony to the Laws of Attraction, are those who have had a great fall or risen from the very depths of misery. Maybe that's when it works.

And I would rather not plunge to that depth, to reach GREAT heights. Because, what I have now seems pretty great. A fantastic and huge family, great friends, enough money to buy me my books, even expensive ones like The Secret, health...

Of course I want more -- to travel more, to not feel the NEED to work or earn, to drop my 25 excess kilos in a jiffy.
I still recommend that you read The Secret. It's not foolproof. It's not a magic wand, though there are some who say by merely watching the movie (that came first) their lives have changed. As Oprah said, it opens a door -- which is itself a big step.

I must add, since I am a big fan of the Big O, she barely could hide her scepticism of The Secret, though she did agree in principle with The Law of Attraction. Good attracts good. And big people think alike.

Monday, August 11, 2008

one upmanship by any other name

why is it so difficult for us to take a relationship as is? to not compare it with another?
you are not happy just being loved by your mother, you want to know how differently she loves you, how much more, did your sister get a bigger/better piece of the cake, are they more proud of your achievements than your siblings'...
but it's not just about vying for your parents' approval or attention. it happens at every stage of life.
is your bum-chum a little too pal-ly with the other friend? are there secrets that you are not privy to? does he/she have more fun with other people than with you?
then at work. it's not enough to be thrilled with your appraisal or bonus, you need to be more thrilled than the next person. your happiness is not necessarily pegged to the nature of your promotion or the hike in your pay, it is also influenced by how much more you've earned than your colleague.
and all those insecurities and fear we transfer to the most important relationship in our life... with our children.
it's not enough if he/she is smart at school, we search for a position, for a reference point... smarter than x, y or z's child? but if you catch on to this early, you would be wise to put a stop to it -- to not weigh down your child with your unrealised ambitions.
it's fortunate that i don't come from a polygamous society (though, i live in one) -- i am the only one he has, so apart from some wishful thinking, there is little else he can do. and i can be complacent in the knowledge that he has only me to come home too...
or am i being naive?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Weekend Wordsmith-II: Searching

Life is one long hunt... searching for real, hidden and imagined treasures.
You search for affirmation as a child
Self Confidence as a teenager
Success as a professional
Love as you grow older
Your waistline and toes, after childbirth

And as I stare into the mirror, I search for that insecure youngster who thought all the treasures lay around the bend. I want to travel back in time and say, treasures are in the small gestures, kind words, good friends... the big stuff? that's not always a treasure.

Prompt from here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

who the hell is that beef for?

Do you ever peep into the shopping cart of the person in front or behind you at the checkout counter?
I do. Shamelessly. But am deeply offended when my cart is being peeped into. Double standards rule.
The 'meal-for-one' kind of shopper is easy to figure out -- bread in one hand and eggs in the other. Almost on every trip to the store, you find one or two.
Last week there was this guy ahead of me, and I knew immediately that he was in a polygamous relationship (or is really kinky), and had many daughters in addition to the badly behaved bunch of sons who were giggling into the trolley he was checking out -- filled with sanitary napkins, talcum powder and perfumes. (If you think this is made up or is an exaggeration, then you haven't obviously been to the gulf and seen men shepherd their women folk in the personals section.)
Then there are trolleys very similar to mine – bursting with skimmed milk, low fat yoghurt, whole grain bread, muesli, marzipan cake rolls, mangoes, bananas and potatoes. A struggle between the wannabe and what-i-am-now.
So today at the checkout counter, I take a curious look at the purchases of an absolutely stunning looking woman. She is tall, she is well toned, she has flawless skin – bloody perfect... and very unfair, I thought, when I saw her slap a tray of beef mince on the counter. "Red meat and perfection? And I a vegetarian who just bought a kilo of tofu!"
Then the truth slowly unravels. A box of fruits, a tray of fresh green vegetables, turkey breasts, fish fillet (she had the entire food pyramid on display), some energy drink (obviously works out), cans and cans of cat food (that explains it. no children or even a dog to take care of, and end up neglecting self. just a cat that is probably as self-obsessed as Ms Perfect Skin/Body/And All).
So as I reluctantly peel myself away from the line, having finally loaded all my food onto the cart, I decide the beef must be for the really ugly boyfriend or husband.
Then I see her meet her husband/boyfriend outside the supermarket, and there went my last hope into the trash bin... and to top it all, they were polite and helped me and my cart over a bump on the way to the parking lot.
I barely managed a thank you, forced a smile, and bit down the words on the tip of my tongue: "who the hell is that beef for?"

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Saturday Scribes-I

Prompt from here

She stares at me through the lattice that divided the garden from the car park. She squints to get a good view of the guy walking hand in hand with me... was he good enough for me? was he a catch?
Does he deserve my attention, my dressing up in laces and frills.
She worries. Is he good enough to take care of my little girl? Even as she thinks that, she sees me clutching his hand tighter. But that only worries her. I place my trust too easily in people. I don't judge people well.
After all, only the other day I got so chatty with that man who came to fix the faulty electrical wires and repair the converter at the 'big house', where ma works. In a matter 10 minutes the electrician knew my life history. He knew I was waiting for the right man to come by and rescue me from this 'darned' (ma's word not mine) life.
Ma feels if the man is good, the woman will fall in place. That's why she is particular that the man who takes me home should be the 'ideal' father. That's why she requests to see him alone. She hopes his wife would take ma's place with ease.
As I trip over a fallen branch and rip my new lace skirt, I glance quickly at ma, through the zigzag of the wooden grill. Instead of worry, I see her frown lift. And a smile surface.
The man is on his knees, wiping away the grime with his fresh handkerchief... he promises to get me a new skirt, a prettier one... I remember that well, because he did. I was all of 3. The promise of a skirt was enough to make me his slave or daughter for life.
That little gesture was enough to change ma's heart... and give me away.
I remember the lattice, and ma's eyes through it. I remember the promise of a new skirt. I remember ma's hesitant smile...
I imagine the rest. I imagine she would have cried herself to sleep every night, just as I did. I imagine that she still works at the 'big house' . And I imagine or rather hope that she regrets to this day, letting go of me so easily.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Weekend Wordsmith-I: Don't touch

Don't touch (the glass), it will break
Don't touch (the hot plate), you will be hurt
Don't touch (the computer), it's mine
Don't touch (that crystal in the shop), we can't afford it
Don't touch (the apple crumble), it will go straight to your hips
Don't touch (me), i have a headache
Don't touch...
A life of don'ts. don't touch, don't this, don't that...
the foundation we lay for your children to grow up 'don't-ing' all their life.

Prompt from this

mundiri, and other such precious stuff!

Here is my take on this.

Reading that post, just brought back memories of my own.

Mine is a huge family, with tonnes of visitors who dropped in unannounced for a meal or a snack.
There was always food at home.
But there was one precious ingredient that was rationed very carefully.
The maliga kadai (provision store) would give a small plastic packet with about 6 cashew nuts in it, as a freebee with the monthly provisions.
Apart from that cashews were bought sparingly. For festivals and special occasions.
But the privilege of being the youngest was that sooner or later, you'd be the only one left at home... so mundiris could be used with more abandon. in ven pongal and upma once a week...
mum used to break the cashews into small pieces (yes it's possible and is a skill), so that it gave an appearance of being plenty.
But the ingrate i was would call those piddly bits 'kannuku theriyatha kirimigal' (the name of a tv programme and it translates roughly to 'invisible germs').
However, now there is no rationing... i live in the gulf after all! the least i can afford is a steady supply of cashews for me and mum.
And the funny thing is, she still breaks it into pieces, and makes sure that every serving of my fave dishes is topped with some.

PS: By the way, the provision guy still sends that tiny packet of cashews every month.