The need to flout rules..

.. seems to be an Indian thing – or so some people I run into seem to believe.

On the day trip to White Scar caves, we ran into some ‘proud’ Indians. So proud they were, that they felt it necessary to announce it, ‘Rules are meant to be broken, yaar’, and ‘We are Indians’ – as if that meant that we could just ignore rules, or flout them, as we please. There was a rule of not taking pictures in certain places, and this group made it a point to ignore it, while loudly proclaiming that they could do it – because they’re Indians! It makes my heart break to see my nationality used as an excuse to not follow rules.

Sadly, this happens almost everywhere. We seem to have built up a reputation to not follow rules. I remember at a restaurant in Switzerland, the waitress coming and telling us very sternly that outside food is not allowed – we were not carrying food with us  – but clearly our compatriots have left such an impression that they felt the need to warn us. It felt really sad -but I could understand why she must have felt the need to say it to us. Clearly lots of people do things like this.

One time, we had a dance function, and they asked us mothers to stay out of the dressing area, while the dance teacher and other assistants would get the children ready. It was not big enough for all of us to fit in. Yes, we were not entirely happy, but understood it and  respected it. One of us,however, found a reason to go up there, and refused to leave. She said, she is ready to break all rules when it came to her child. That attitude makes me very uncomfortable. If you do not set an example to your child, how would you expect her to have a respect for rules and regulations? When as responsible adults we cannot respect rules, what can we expect from children who grow up seeing this?

If you have to break rules, I am sure nothing any of us say will make a difference – but please, please do not justify it by bringing in your nationality.

Relocating back to India..

.. and the cultural baggage that comes with it.

IHM’s latest post triggered this, but the ‘going back to Indian culture’ bit, I keep getting from people around here. We are relocating back to India this summer, and the most common conclusion that people jump to, is, that we are relocating because of daughter – so that she gets inculcated in ‘Indian values’.

We have some reasons to relocate to India, but daughter’s cultural well being, is definitely not on that list. If anything I worry if it is the best decision for her. In fact, I think for her, UK might be a better place to grow up in. The other day, I went to watch ‘Ek main aur ek tu’ with some friends. One of my friends remarked that it is going to be so difficult to bring up daughters when movies promote having boyfriends,sex and all that. She claims that it is easier in India -because of the ‘culture’. I couldn’t help asking her if she really thought that all this does not happen in India? Yes, people might keep things under the wraps – but it does happen. Just because parents refuse to acknowledge it, does not mean that things don’t happen. Yes, it is out in the open in the Western world – but as a parent, wouldn’t you prefer that you know what your child is up to, rather than live in blissful ignorance. And hopefully, she/he might be able to take you into confidence, and you might be able to explain why getting into a relationship at that time in life may not be the best thing.

Someone once told me that it is easier to ‘stay in touch with India’ than it was some years back because we get all the Indian channels here. She lets her child watch Indian serials so that she is comfortable with ‘Indian values’. Yes, those saas-bahu serials, those are just perfect, totally appropriate for 4 or 5 year old! Nice way of inculcating ‘values’, I should say! And what glorious values too!

One of daughter’s friends told her that they are learning Bharatanatyam to learn how to be ‘good Indian girls’. I was shocked when I heard that. I then explained to her that she is learning it because she enjoys it – not because learning a dance makes you a ‘good Indian girl’! Whatever that means, anyway! I had no ideas that there were such parameters to measure the ‘goodness’ of Indian girls!

But living here, I can see the tightrope some parents are walking, They want to do everything to prove that their children are as ‘Indian’ as people back in India. They live in dread that their children will compare unfavorably to cousins/friends back in India. So much so that they compare everything from cultural values(that they believe matters), to the education system. They also refuse to believe that India has moved on since the last time they visited.

They refuse to believe that in India we might face different challenges and sometimes the same challenges. Of a teenage child rebelling, of children testing their boundaries. At the end of the day, it is going to be the test of our parenting skills, no matter where we live.

When I see the way daughter is growing up here, as a confident person, who is never told that she is different because she is a girl, exposed to age appropriate things – I sometimes, wonder if I am doing the right thing, by moving back. Of course, there are other compelling reasons to move back, and I do believe that she will be fine, even if we have some initial hiccups. One thing is for sure, it is not because of the ‘cultural benefits’ that we are moving back.

All I know is that I want her to be a confident young woman, who is in a position to decide for herself what she wants in life. That I believe would be the same, no matter where I live. I certainly do not want her to be a puppet who does things because they are expected of her. I want her to know that any relationship she gets into, she should be happy and that she need not be a doormat to be happy. That any relationship that expects her to change into some other person, is probably not right for her. That things change, and if one has to walk out of a relationship, it is not the end of the world. And that no matter what, her parents will be there for her. And these things, I think, should not change, no matter which part of the world we live in.

Deadliest place for a girl

So India is officially the deadliest place in the world for a girl child. Apparently

Newly released data shows that an Indian girl child aged 1-5 years is 75% more likely to die than an Indian boy, making this the worst gender differential in child mortality for any country in the world

And I am sure most of us are not even surprised. Of course not, it would have been more surprising had it not been the deadliest place in the world! After all, don’t all know people who say,

– Don’t worry, next time, it will be a boy

– If the first born is a boy, then it is a huge relief

– My first is a boy, so I am comfortable in this pregnancy

– We want a three child family. (This statement when they are told that they are expecting a second daughter. Funnily, when the child was born, and it turned out to be a boy, they were immediately happy with two!)

– You have a girl? And you don’t want to have another child? Don’t you have pressure from your in-laws to have a boy?

And all this from professionals, people who are educated, well-traveled, and who you would think would know better! And all this from people my age. Not age old aunties or older people set in their ways, but young people, who have had the benefit of education, and awareness, who have no real excuse for thinking this way! Despite the circumstances, the preference for a male child remains strong across classes. When we have such negativity, it is not difficult to understand why the girl child’s mortality rate is higher than a male child’s in India, despite the fact that biological factors actually favor the girl child.

Is it any surprise that India is a country where we would do anything to not have a girl?

We can pull it off by Suresh Taneja

A book review that I should have done a while ago. This is the first requested review that I have done.

‘We can pull it off’, is author Suresh Taneja’s debut book, and is about corruption, which is something the author is passionate about tackling. The book is even more appealing given the fact that corruption is something that just about everybody agrees, is one of the biggest problems that India is facing today. Eradication of corruption could effectively resolve most of the other problems that India faces today.

The book starts off in 2030, where a group of four friends(G4), are meeting up in America. An America where Indian brands and India itself seems super-powerful. The story goes back and forth between 2009 and 2030, tracing out the revolution that changed India and helped make it the most powerful country in the world.

The four friends,Vikram, Yuvika, Manisha and Akshay  whose parents were close-knit friends themselves, came across instances of corruption that made them realize how badly corruption affected life in India. How the innocent could be framed. justice denied and life could be made complicated by corruption. They decide to tackle it and come up with an idea to eradicate it completely. They harness the youth to tackle corruption and change the way India looked at things.

The concept behind the book is excellent. The author’s passion for the subject is evident in his writing. The book is fast paced and a very quick read. Despite all these factors, the book did not work for me. It fell flat. There was something missing. The story seemed too easy. too good to be true and it could certainly do with better editing. Spelling mistakes, grammar, cheesy dialogues and some unnecessary sequences/events made me cringe a few times. It could have been a more hard-hitting book had it been edited better. While the intention of the author is commendable. one can’t help wish the story was etched out better.

As it is,I would give it a 2.5 overall, which is a pity because it is on a subject that really matters today.

All you need is a son..

.. to enhance your position in your family…

Remember the baby shower I had mentioned some time back? One of the women had her baby. She had been told it was a girl, but the baby turned out to be a boy instead. She already has a daughter.

The woman’s mother was elated, apparently because now her daughter’s position in her family( read in-laws’ family) was cemented. Apparently they were worried because the in-laws never ‘accepted’ her completely( their’s was a love-marriage). Her mother was worried that they(the in-laws) might persuade her son-in-law to leave her daughter and marry someone else – just because she had two girls! Now that she had a son, all was nice and rosy.

I couldn’t believe my ears. This was from a woman whose daughter was independent, she is a doctor – totally capable of taking care of herself. And yet, the mother worried about her daughter ‘staying married’.

And equally important, isn’t it insulting for a man to be thought of having no mind of his own? Surely, a man who chose his wife, would stand up for his wife and his children? Surely, he can’t be brainwashed by such nonsense, especially when he is a medical doctor himself? Especially, when there was no reason to doubt his intentions. And if he were indeed the sort to turn his back to his wife and children, because she had 2 girls, is it worth staying in the marriage at all?

I don’t know what makes me more wild, the mother thinking like this, or other women, educated, well-aware, understanding her sentiments, because that is how society works! That having a son, does indeed, makes all the difference to their ‘position’.

More on adjustments, compromises, and a woman’s life.. Post 9

Commenting on Iya’s and Roop’s posts made me realize that there was so much more that I wanted to say on this topic…

Last year, someone we know got married. She was barely 22, not financially independent. The worst part was that she was getting married to an extremely conservative family, who lived in the same village as her parents. This also meant that she would not be allowed to drive her scooter(which she did before marriage) or wear anything apart from a sari even when she visited her parents. We had tried dissuading her parents and convincing them to let her get an education, and gain financial independence. But to no avail. They wanted the ‘responsibility’ out of the way. They wanted to get her ‘married off’ so that nobody accused them of ‘keeping an unmarried daughter at home’.  They believed that a daughter has no place in her parents place.

Not even a year down the line, she is back at her parents place. She has been verbally/mentally abused badly by the husband. He wants ‘money’ to shut his mouth. Things have got so bad that, she even tried to commit suicide a few times. Finally she is now back at home. Her parents are supportive of her, but they are still trying to see if a ‘samjhauta’ can be reached. I can’t help wonder what ‘samjhauta’? What compromise can be reached when the husband is not even concerned about her. When all he is bothered about is money.

Last year, I had met her when we were in India. She was newly married, and had a few concerns at that time.  I heard her mother/aunts explain to her that we, women cannot expect everything to go our way. We have to compromise, adjust. Don’t have high expectations. Just learn to be a ‘good daughter-in-law’ and everything will be all right. Having known her, I know that she is a sweet person, soft spoken, and someone who generally toes the line. Not someone who will try to make a fuss out of nothing. Knowing this, if she is unhappy, surely, someone should be listening to her rather than pretend that everything will be alright if she ‘adjusts’.

I can’t comprehend the huge rush to get her back in her marital home. What if her in-laws decide to make her life worse for going and talking to her parents about what she faced? Why, why do people think that an abusive husband is not a big deal? Isn’t it better for her to get out of an abusive marriage now, before she has children and gets even more trapped in an unhappy life?

Clearly, nothing matters apart from the perception that the daughter is married. What is of utmost importance, is that an unmarried daughter is not at home, so god forbid, if the married daughter comes home. Lets find the quickest way to send her back. Lets talk about adjustments, compromises, whatever,  lets just get her back where she belongs. After all, she is the paraya dhan. So what if her next suicide attempt is successful. All that matters is that she is in her marital home. Nothing else, apparently, matters.

Adjustment – The magic word?

Couple of years back, we had friends staying over, and as usual, we spent the better part of the weekend, talking.

One of the topics that came up was of their niece who had just started working. Apparently, the family was trying to get her married off and she was being rather stubborn -according to them. They were lamenting about how girls these days have ‘fancy’ ideas and have their own demands before getting married. On asking what these demands were, it turned out that she wanted to continue working after getting married. The family was trying to get her to ‘adjust’ because obviously ‘getting married was far more important than having a career’.

I was shocked to hear this from a seemingly modern couple. They went to explain that they even tried to make her understand by giving my example. ‘My example?’ – was my reaction. Apparently they said that even career women like me gave up their jobs and adjusted. I tried explaining that I did not ‘adjust’ – it was my choice – I worked when I wanted to , I took a break when I wanted to, I was not made to ‘adjust’ at all – by anyone. I did not adjust, I just took a decision based on a lot of factors, but I certainly did not ‘adjust’.  All she wants is to have that same freedom. Why should she be expected to give up her way of life? Why not look for a man who has the same expectations as her. Why expect her to enter a relationship starting off with compromises and adjustments that she does not want to make in the first place. Of course, that fell on deaf ears.

It makes me wonder why a man can lay down expectations of wanting a working wife( or a non-working one, for that matter), but a girl having the same(or similar) expectations is told to adjust? If anything, I would think that it makes more sense to have all these thing on the table – right at the beginning, than expecting one person to give up all their expectations, and then have a frustrated life- all their life?

Last time, in India, I met a newly married girl. She had got married within the same community, near her parents. Her mother wanted more for her. She was hoping that her daughter gets married outside the community so that she gets a different life, but that did not happen because the mother does not have much of a say in matters like this. This girl, after her wedding, is now confined to wearing sarees, she can’t ride her scooty anymore, she can’t step out of the house without her in-laws permission. And to make it worse, most girls, apparently get a little freedom when they go to their parent’s place, but because her parents live in the same town/village, she has to go around with a ghunghat even when she visits her parents! And when she voices her frustration, she is asked to adjust, because that’s what married women have to do. She is told that she will get used to all this after some time. It wouldn’t surprise me if the cheerful, bubbly girl is transformed into a woman with hardly a smile on her face, the next time we meet her. Her husband’s life on the other hand, continues just as before.

Another girl, I know, married into a joint family. All the ‘family’ responsibilities came onto her. Including waking up before everybody else, cooking, getting breakfast ready, and even taking a bed-tea to her sister-in-law! On the weekends, her husband would go out with his old friends, while she stayed at home, looking after her in-laws. And this girl, in question was a professional, before she gave up her job because of all the pressure on her. When her husband went abroad on work, she was asked to stay back to ‘look after her in-laws’. I wonder how they would have managed had their son not been married? Oh wait – that is why they got him married! To get a care-taker! Is she happy with her life? Well, lets just put it this way – I would not have heard about all this, had she been happy.

The reason ‘adjust’ and ‘adjustments’ have become a dirty word, so to speak, is because more often than not, it is the women doing most of the adjustments. More often than not, a woman is expected to become part of a new family, take up responsibilities, live life according to other people’s terms, while her partner gets to lead his life just the way it was.

On the other hand, if both partners were to adjust, compromise, and work towards their marriage, one would feel less annoyed with the word – ‘adjust’. Of course, life is full of adjustments, compromises, but people would be happier doing it, if they did not feel forced into it. None of us will get everything on a platter, and we all have to work towards it, in some way or the other. All of us are fine with certain adjustments, but might draw a line at others. I guess a happy relationship is where both partners are not expected to make those adjustments, that they don’t want to make. So if a girl is clear about having a career, then don’t make her ‘adjust’ and get her married off to man who has made it clear that he doesn’t want a working wife. What is the worst that could happen? She might get married a little later – isn’t it better than a life time of unhappiness for both partners?

Like I tried explaining to my friends, if I had been forced to leave my job, I would have felt frustrated and annoyed. Today, because I have the option, I feel at peace with my decision. And if more women want that, the choice, – what is wrong with it? Unless both partners feel happy and secure  in their relationship, it can go nowhere. And an unhappy relationship affect both partners equally. Eventually.

This is my contribution to ‘The Great Adjustment Story‘ at http://www.womensweb.in.

Managing Expectations

In continuation to my previous post, I wanted to add a few more thoughts.

In my working life, one of the things that I used to stress to my team was on the importance of managing expectations. There were several instances where people would commit to more than they could deliver, or to time lines which were just not practical or possible, for that matter. It did far more harm to then have to go back to the client and tell them that the work item that was promised could not be delivered on time.  We have an unexplicable urge ‘to please’ people. So many times, people say ‘yes’ to things, to avoid conflict, but then end in bigger conflicts than what would have been, if they had handled it right the first time.

Managing expectation, in my experience, is the crux of all relationships, be it professional or personal. It makes much better sense to set expectations right, rather than set high expectations and fail to deliver.

And it works both ways. Some children have a sense of entitlement that is mind boggling. I remember having a conversation with somebody who was angry at his parents, because he needed money for something and his parents refused – they said they did not have it. Now this fellow is well educated, in a well paying job, surely time to stop expecting handouts from his parents? I feel it is totally fine for his parents to have refused, but he kept saying that they had enough to spare. Whether they had enough or not – surely, it is their decision. Can’t they decide what they want to do with their hard earned money? Does being somebody’s son or daughter entitle us to everything they own? I think once parents have brought us up, given us an education, we really cannot expect handouts from them. If they have money, I would rather that they kept it and used it for something they like. Have some fun, go on holidays..

There are other instances of parents assumed to be ready made, free, babysitters. I find that really unfair. Even more so, when sometimes, they are uprooted from where they are comfortable, and brought to places(sometimes abroad), where they know nobody, have no life for themselves, and have the job of looking after the grandkids.  It is perfectly acceptable if the parents want to do it, but sometimes, they just do not know how to say no and end up in a situation where everybody is unhappy.

The same goes for parents. Just because they have brought us up, does not give them a ‘right’ over our lives. I am sure that most children would love to be there for their parents, but it works much better when expectations are managed and set.  There are families where the parents live with their son and have a miserable time, because they cannot understand why their daughter-in-law comes home so late from work.  Their son coming back late is perfectly acceptable, but not for the daughter-in-law. It really helps if expectations are set right in the first instance. The fact that both of them hold down jobs and that both their jobs are equally important is something that is best understood at the beginning rather than after things spin off into a point of no return. Pixie’s comment on this post is one such example.

Unreasonable expectations from all quarters can be equally de-stabilizing. Be it from the younger generation or the older. It makes life so much easier, if we could all set, manage and handle expectations at all fronts. Although I have to admit, managing expectations in professional life is a cake-walk in comparison to the managing expectations in personal life.

Sacrifice? Really?

I decided to take time off from work, 3 years ago because I found it difficult to balance everything to my liking. I am sure, a lot of women would have managed better in my situation, but I decided to take it easy, because it worked for us as a family. And the reason I say this is, it was my decision. It was not a sacrifice. It was a well-thought out decision and my daughter (at one year of age)was one person who was not party to the decision-making process.

Why this statement? IHM’s latest post. The post touched a chord. It is a topic I feel rather strongly about, so I can’t help but pen down my thoughts here as well.

Given my background, how fair would it be if I say to my daughter – ‘I sacrificed my career for you, now it is your turn to pay me back’? She, who did not ask me to be born, she, who was not party to the decision that we made,  should she be made to bear the brunt of my expectations and my decisions in life?

As parents, I think a child gives us so many joys.  Those things itself make our life richer. Just her presence, her hugs and her love makes me glow with happiness. All I want is for her to have a happy and content childhood. For her to grown up into a good person, who is mature and sensible. I had her to enjoy being a mother – not as security for my old age.  She made my life complete – I did not do her a favour by giving birth to her. There I think is where the crux is.  In an older generation, people had children(read boys) so that they had security when they aged. Childhood joys and bringing up a child was more matter-of-fact, something that had to be done.

A child had only so much to say. A child had a lot to do though. A child had to make sure that all the expectations were met, that parents are always obeyed, irrespective of how old the children themselves were..

Now, I am not really advocating a life where we have no responsibilities. The way I look at it, if children is brought up well, there would be no need to force responsibilities on them. They will be wise enough to take care of both sets of parents. The problem occurs when the expectations from parents are so high, that they might road-roll over what a child might have planned – be it career or choice of life partner. And when I say children – I mean both girls and boys,. Both girls and boys should be equally responsible. Why should only the men be burdened with it?

Another thing that keeps coming up is how the Western society lacks family bonding and has no family ties. After living in different continents in the west, I do think that it is a blanket statement, which we use to make ourselves feel better. There are issues everywhere, and there are exemplary families everywhere too.  Every day at Poohi’s school, I see lots of grandparents pitching in with the child care. They drop and pick up their grandchildren. They participate in school trips, volunteer at school activities. They don’t seem lonely and sad. Most of them live in their own homes, with or without a partner, and are yet very involved with their families. I had a landlady who had a 90-year-old mother, and she used to be quite involved with her mother’s life as well as with her daughter and grandkids lives. All this while living with her partner.

One of the problems is that the older generation in our country( a large percentage of them atleast) are not occupied, busy, with a life and circle of friends of their own. It is almost as if, the moment retirement comes, they have no idea what to do after that. So then sets in the dis-satisfaction and unhappiness. For some, of course, it sets in earlier when their children refuse to toe the line. Then they feel that all their ‘sacrifice’ was of no use. But then, ‘sacrifice’  means that it was a ‘selfless deed’, doesn’t it? So how is a selfless deed, selfless, when one wants something in return? That is more of an investment, isn’t it?

Driving to death..

India seems to have got itself the dubious honour being  the world’s road death capital.

I am sure that most of us are not even surprised at it. Apparently, we overtook China in 2006, to become the country with the deadliest roads.

There are so many factors that just add up to these scary statistics, starting from the bottom, the drivers. So many of us on the roads, have licenses that are not properly earned, but ‘procured’. People ‘learn’ to drive/ride as they go. I remember seeing little boys riding their dad’s scooters when we were growing up – people never felt the need to go by the rules and ensure that a child is old and mature enough to handle the vehicle, forget about getting a license the correct way.  Then again,  if you do try to do everything the right way, you could probably forget about reaching your destination, any time in the near future.  One of my cousins was quite a careful and polite driver. A couple of years back, we saw a huge transformation in his driving method, apparently being a nice guy in the traffic does not help.  Every body is in a hurry, every body tries to inch one bit closer when the lights are red, resulting in a big jam when the lights are green. I remember autos squeezing into a tiny bit of space between two massive trucks. God forbid, the trucks move sideways even a bit.

Then of course, there is the issue with the way our ring roads and flyovers are constructed. It almost looks like the planner don’t seem to think ahead. I remember a flyover in Bangalore, which was meant to reduce the traffic congestion on the road, but the entry and exit from the flyover was so bad, that it hardly helped. The congestion just moved from one place to another. Makes me wonder about how these are planned. Almost every high-speed ring road has pedestrians crossing on foot, as it takes their fancy. We cannot even blame them, because they have no other option. There are no underpasses or over head footpath to help them cross, so what option do they have? I remember being scared to death when a family decided to run across the road(a high-speed highway) right in front of our car. Thankfully, the driver managed to swerve and not hit anybody/anything. But the fact that this sort of thing is done and is acceptable is the sad part. Not every body would be as lucky. If the driver could have hit another car, so many things could go wrong, when something like this happens. Apparently it does not make financial sense to build underpasses or walkways. Does that mean that human life is so under-valued that it does not matter if a few people die on the streets?

Do our traffic policemen really fine drivers at all? Most people recount of how they catch you and you are let off with a bribe . They are, apparently, extremely reluctant to fine people the proper way. So how can we really get the people to follow rules when the rules themselves are not properly enforced?

Here, there is a part of a ring road I pass regularly. They had recently added traffic lights after somebody was killed crossing it. Somebody (from here) was lamenting that it took a person to be killed for them to introduce lights there.. I just wished that at least people getting killed on our roads would propel our governments to action to try to manage our roads better..