Sunday, July 21, 2013

Story of Seema and Meena . . .


I met Seema few years back when we both were working in an NGO. She worked as a receptionist there.  And like every other receptionist – Seema was beautiful, cheerful, enthusiastic, confident and efficient.  I always admired her independent nature.
As our interactions grew we started sharing personal issues. From our interactions I understood that she had lost her father early and her mother brought her up by doing odd jobs.  As soon as she completed her XII grade, she took up a pre primary teacher’s job. She handled her job so well that everyone was impressed with her personality. With getting a teacher’s job financially she took large part of responsibility of her family. Eventually she got married in a family who were distantly related. Her husband was a part of family business.  
One day I was praising her. I said she has come a long way as coming from humble background today she is independent and confident lady who is in complete charge of her life. Suddenly she burst crying and I was unable to control her. I was flabbergasted.  After settling down, she said, ‘Sumati, I have created this fa├žade of being independent and strong lady but in real life I am neither independent nor confident.’ I waited for her to explain. 
She explained that immediately after marriage she conceived. When the good news was shared with the family, they did not see it as ‘good news’.  They did not know how to react to this. Both, mother and father in law decided that it was not a right time for the couple to have a child so they should go for abortion. The husband did not utter a word. Seema underwent an abortion.  Tears in her eyes Seema said, ‘so you see, I am neither independent nor confident.’  I was stunned. I did not know how to react.
That whole day I kept thinking about Seema and the incident she narrated. Her face crying with pain kept coming in front of my eyes.  I kept thinking how a girl who emerged strong from such struggle against circumstances could not stand the pressure of in laws. I was convinced of the adage - truth is stranger than fiction!
Same day evening I met Meena. She had called me and said she wanted to share something. Meena coming from a small village, humble background, with ‘average looks’, was a student in university. She used artificial limb. She was very meek, docile and hardly talked with anybody. In Indian society marriage of handicap girls is a big challenge. Parents often compromise and end up giving huge dowry so that their daughter is married off.  So Meena’s marriage was a big issue and was being discussed often at her home and even in university by her well wishers.
Meena started. She said Ravi sir had called her and suggested to meet a possible groom. The boy suggested was from same caste and came from a well to do family. Meena was open to the idea.  So she, Ravi sir, the boy and his parents met.  The boy she realized was hardly educated, 15 years elder and also an handicap. The parents of the boy explained, ‘Meena if you are convinced of our son, I assure you both don’t have to bother to earn. We have saved enough money and have a home of our own.’ 
She looked straight in my eyes and said without mincing words – ‘Sumati, I don’t consider myself a handicap. I hate the sympathy which I get for being handicap. I am handicap but I won’t compromise on basic qualities I look in my partner.  I want my partner to be earning his living and I will be living mine. I don’t mind living in humble circumstances but I want to live with self respect. I might end up marrying a handicap person tomorrow but I will make a choice. I will decide what I want to in my life.
On one hand there was Seema who appeared so confident, independent, with metropolitan background could not stand for herself and on the other hand there was Meena, from a rural village with 'average looks' and who appeared ‘unconfident’ girl stood for herself.  Meena stood for herself. It was a day of enlightenment for me. Never judge a person on outward appearances.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Micheal Jackson

It doesn’t matter baby if you are black or white ….

I first heard the name ‘Micheal Jackson’ in class V. The boys in the class were discussing abt his latest concert at Mumbai, his idiosyncrasies, his terrific dance moves … all this was being discussed in highly animated voices … expressions of sth ‘near to impossible’ … I did not pay much attention to what I heard coz pop, disco, western, break dance, were alien and absolutely not of my concern… I thought I could never identify with them or may be not worth identifying …

Boys had multiple versions to explain how MJ transformed himself from black to white … according to one he had peeled off his black skin … while according to others he slept in a gas chamber … according to third version, he underwent a skin treatment … each one was striving to prove his version to be the most correct and from the most authentic source…

I thought how atrociously irrational… how can someone do this to himself? Since that moment I switched myself off to anything abt MJ …

On eve of his death in June 2010 the media was full of MJ life, dance, songs, interviews and news … just to understand the MJ ‘craze’ and the enigma around him, I randomly searched youtube … fortunately the first song I saw was the earth song, and as I was watching it I knew this was an important moment in my life… His voice, the emotions, the video, the picturization, the lyrics and overall impact of the Earth song was so electric that for next 6 months I surfed every possible sight and devoured every word written on and by him… for next 6 months I read anything and everything abt him… I got hooked to MJ… I fell in his love and I became another crazy fan of his.

The lyrics of the songs were something that appealed me the most…I think being a sociologist by profession, I could not ignore, his voice of dissent, protest and social concerns expressed through his songs. MJ had used his art to address issues like the global warming, war, racial discrimination and many others. He used his songs to convey his beliefs to his fans and very few artists are able to successfully achieve this through their arts …

MJ was always alleged of undergoing treatment to become ‘white’… so even if he has had undergone skin treatment to make himself ‘white’… if thought critically, this itself is a comment on the racial system of the USA…an black artist cannot feel comfortable in his ‘black’ skin… so much so that someone as sensitive and immensely talented as MJ had to take this drastic step.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson stated, "I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin. It's something I cannot help. When people make up stories that I don't like who I am, it hurts me." (cnn.com)

‘The reality’ I think is irrelevant … Its doesnt matter if you are black or white... don’t want know… whatever may be the reason of his becoming ‘white’ what is important is the message he conveys through his songs… MJ’s life has always been mysterious… there has been mystery around everything about him and that’s sth make him more enigmatic … RIP MJ.. I love you and will miss you always…

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

random thoughts... on dowry deaths

The other day one of my friend Anagha came home crying inconsolably .. after pacifying her for long time, all I could gather was that her sister was no more… her sister was burnt to death for a want of dowry… I went numb ..

… Media everyday is replete with news related to dowry deaths. Dowry is a sad reality of Indian society, and the cruelty with which a young bride is murdered is heart wrenching. According to the unofficial estimates put the number of deaths at 25,000 women a year, with many more left maimed and scarred as a result of attempts on their lives.

In discussions and debates on dowry deaths, the focus usually is on discriminatory attitude of in-laws, economic dependence of women, patriarchal attitude of men, and change in legal system etc. What often gets overlooked is the role of victims’ parents and her extended family.

Parents of the victims lose no time and hold in laws or husband as prime actors in their daughter’s death. In most of the cases, the in laws are guilty and they should be punished. Yet, all this cannot absolve the victim’s parents for the passive role they play in their daughter’s death.

When a woman finds herself in such a situation, she usually confides to her parents and the extended family about the mental and physical violence she is facing at her in laws home. Now, if the parents had a fair idea about their daughter’s condition why do they not act earlier? Why do they not offer her protection and the much needed emotional security? Why the girl had to go through all insult, humiliation and violence instead of seeking haven at her family residence? Is it not their responsibility to stand by the daughter? Does their responsibility end with the marriage? Are they not indirectly responsible for their daughter taking this drastic step?

In patriarchal society like India, parents often consider daughter as ‘other’s property’ and therefore a burden which must be shed off as soon as possible. Once the girl has left for ‘her’ home they consider that have fulfilled all of their responsibilities towards her. The saying in Marathi states ‘ubhi ja advi ye’ literally means that a woman enters her in laws home after marriage and comes out of it only when she dies. The society puts pressure on women by attributing their ’place’ only in husband’s home. Parents yields to social pressure and they too reinforce the same.

This perception towards daughters is not predominant only among the ‘poor’, ‘rural’, and ‘illiterate’ people, but it is very much a part of the psyche of ‘urban’, ‘educated’ and ‘well to do’ people.

So when parents come to know about their daughter suffering, they invite the daughter to stay over, counsel her but only to coax her to go back and adjust with her in laws. The daughter too leaves the home and never come back understanding completely that she can no longer can rely on her parents’ for any support. So nowhere to go, she embraces death.

Education, economic independence and imparting life skills are important for any woman to live with dignity, but what is equally important is to give a daughter emotional security that come what may, her family will stand by her. It is important to reiterate that their daughter is precious for them and they love her. If this happens, not only there will be dip in such crimes but also married women will live with dignity.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lesson Learnt at the Bali Airport ...

In November 2008, I attended a sociology conference in Indonesia. On way back, I had complete three hours to spend on the airport. So I searched for a comfortable seat and lazily occupied it. I was dog-tired and so I decided to sleep for some time. I set an alarm and tried to sleep, but sleep kept evading me. I kept feeling anxious about the luggage so I gave up the idea of sleeping.

I started passively viewing things which came in the range of my vision. My mind was unoccupied and was too tired to even register what I was observing. It was afternoon time and the airport was pretty crowded. It was full of eager children, bustling travelers, and decked up crew.

Soon later, I could see a foreign couple entering the airport. I was passively looking at them but there was something about them which grabbed my attention. I liked the way they were engrossed with each other, the way they were enjoying each other’s company and the peaceful aura around them. The girl was wearing shorts and tee shirt. She was carrying a ladies purse and a sack on her back. The man wore long jeans and tea shirt. He too was carrying a huge sack and a long jean on a hanger in his hand.

As they neared me I understood from their gestures that the guy was asking the girl to change the shorts. Suddenly they stopped, the girl gave her handpurse in his hand, she removed her shorts, and wore the long jeans the man was carrying on his hanger and they walked out as quietly as they entered.

Here was I, a 29 year old Indian lady, always fuzzy about covering ‘parts’ of the body with right type of garments, obsessive about maintaining a ‘good girl tag’. For me, the ease with which the girl had removed her shorts and changed to a long jean in front of all on the airport, and who was literally on her inner garment for few seconds, forced me to take note of this phenomenon. My eyes had grown wider and I struggled to understand and give meaning to the phenomenon that has just happened.

For me this was the most illuminating experience of my life. The ease with the girl had come to terms with sexuality and her body was noteworthy. She had accepted her body the way it is, and had overcome shame and fear associated with it. Neither the onlookers nor the couple had felt anything odd about it.

For me the lesson learnt on the Indonesian airport remains engraved in the mind.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Unsung heroine…

I know V since last 8 years. She has been one of my friend, guide and philosopher.

V is ordinary looking, 35 year old woman from a rural part of Maharashtra, barely a graduate in arts, and presently living in a single room in the most crowded part of Pune. So one will wonder, what’s so special about her?

In our few early meetings at an office where we both worked, I had mentally dismissed her as someone not being worthy of ‘my’ friendship. But slowly as I got to know her better and better and as she unfolded her life story to me, I simply began to feel awe for her.

V came from a village in Maharashtra from a very modest family. Her mother had passed away early and father not very keen to take the household responsibility. So she did tailoring whole day and had managed to save money enough to fill the exam form of X std. She had got to know about a college in Pune which admitted such girls in their college and also provided accommodation for minimum charges. It was more like a charitable institute where such girls had to pay least minimum charges.

Once again V saved enough money and came to Pune and admitted herself in college. She did not have money to pay even the least minimum charges, so she enrolled herself in earn and learn scheme. For 5 long years she worked in bakery, at times even if she had high fever or typhoid. She braved all odds and finally became graduate.

One of her friend’s family was so impressed by her honestly and sincerity that they took initiative and got her married. V’s only condition was that she should be able to pursue her studies. But marriage proved to be more miserable. Her husband began to follow her wherever she went, and also burnt down all her books. She decided to herself that it will be better to live on footpaths instead with such a man who lacks any kind of integrity. Yes and she walked out keeping her integrity and sanity intact.

Today V is a divorcee, works in a small NGO, and lives in a rented home with minimum necessities. In spite of all this, she has not become bitter about people and about life. She is content, cheerful and satisfied in her life. She carries herself with pride that she did not compromise her values and principles in life…

Life of V inspires me and many others. She is an inspiration for me… whenever I feel low, depressed and lost in life, a talk to her makes me spring back in action … her life keeps inspiring me.. and I love u V