To Breed, or Not to Breed, that is the question

 ‘What’s your plan?’

‘When are you going to do the “other” tasks?’

I’ve been married for 2 years 9 months now. The random inquiries about having a baby have become more frequent. The problem is, neither husband nor I, like children. We are OK as long as the baby is happy, having fun and doing the cute stuff they show on YouTube videos but I don’t think we have the patience/inclination to do the dirty stuff and the sacrifice stuff. We love our lives just too much, we love the status quo. We have a short fuse for crying babies and we haven’t had enough fun in our lives, to begin with; to stop having it now.

I, for one, don’t feel maternal. At work, I dress like a man and for most part of the day; I’m trying to decode men, their behavior and politics and trying to one-up them. I’m guarded. I’ve consciously done away with the delicate, vulnerable and innocent side of me.

People tell us that a child will bring us closer. We are too close for comfort. Why solve a problem which doesn’t exist? I have a married female friend, who’s a mom now. The only thing she ever asks me is when I am going to give birth? When I tell her my point of view, she sends me the mouth-ajar-in-disbelief smiley.  We are 7 billion plus people on this planet. Is there really a need for one more? People my age are already reproducing, so the continuity of human race is guaranteed for one more generation, at the very least. I can therefore quietly escape this task. I don’t owe it to humanity, to reproduce. For this, people have a counter argument, they say that 7 billion people aren’t yours but your child will be yours alone. Duh! Wrong! They say it takes a village to raise a child. Plus I’m not going to stay at home to look after him, s(he) is going to go to a day-care and will make friends and people of his own. S(He)’s never going to be just mine. That’s the sort of thinking which makes moms over-possessive for their children.

Older women in the family, my mom included, tell me how they gave birth just one year into the marriage. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Yes! Why not! You had no idea what you were doing or getting yourself into’. Being a parent is a life-long commitment. Everything else has an escape route..jobs, marriages. Giving birth and being a parent are entirely different things. You are responsible for him! It’s so intimidating. First they make you responsible for your spouse and then the kid.

I’ve asked many people who are parents about their reason for having a kid. Most of them say, ‘A child gives you so much love, you will be his center of Universe, he will look up to you for everything, you become a better person etc.’

I don’t know about you, but I sniff selfish undertones in the above reasoning. You want love; the child will give it to you. You want to feel important and validated; the child has no option but you. You want to become a better person; the child will turn you into one. You want certain things from life: acceptance, validation, importance; which you aren’t getting from anybody else and therefore you use your apparatus, put the child through this misery called life and for all the years to come, you act like what a sacrificing person you are! Sure the child will be dependent on you but as soon as he turns a teenager you will be the most loathsome people for him. How well can you take it after having given a decade of your youth to his upbringing? And God forbid, if it’s a girl child in a country like India. Eve teasing, molestation in crowded places, acid attacks by jilted lovers, gang rapes and murder, sexual harassment in offices, emotional torture after wedding by mother-in-laws, pressure to produce babies, the physical toll of producing babies.. Why would you want to put your child through even one of the above and which has a good chance of happening, if it’s a girl child in India?

And don’t even get me started about Indian parents. They are the vilest people. Majority of them! They do everything for returns. They pray for a male child because he will take care of them in their old age. It’s a trade. Give and take. And they leave a lot of mess, in their wake.

Parenting requires no prior knowledge and it is arrogant and foolish to believe that just because you were able to give birth, you will also be able to raise him well. Your only merit was having a functional reproductive system. How does that guarantee that you will be able to raise him into a well rounded, smart, ethical and loving individual?

I, don’t, even for a minute, assume that I will be able to raise a child. I’ve so many of my own confusions, biases, hatred and cynicism to deal with! I don’t know what the next two decades are going to look like. What kind of jobs will there be. Will there even be jobs? Will banking exist? People say the world as we know, is going to change in ways we can’t imagine! And I got to ready the child for that? I know only one method of doing that: the one which was followed with me- You shine your flaws and qualities on them for at least 18 years. You load them with your dos and don’ts and make all decisions for them and then suddenly, one day, ask them to choose their field of studies and career.

Every child is the same during birth. It has no fear, no discrimination, no prejudice, no opinion. Parents get to color them with their own views making the end product either liberated in mind or damaged personalities or confused. What if you raise him to be too ideal? S(He) will be eaten by the other sharks. Too cunning?  S(He) will become a con artist! There’s no method or protocol to be followed for the most important job one can have?!

Some people tell me that they had a kid only because, they didn’t want to regret later in life, about being child-free. So they just went ahead and had one, when it was biologically possible. What a semi-wanted child! But I get it, some people really do want a kid of their own. Fine! But is it necessary that ‘every’ married couple, must feel that way? People don’t ask you, ‘do you want a child’; they ask you ‘when is it coming’, assuming that you do want a child, in the first place.

I seem undecided. I haven’t bought enough good things for myself, to spend my money only on the kid. I’ve heard when the kid takes an exam; the parent gets tensed like it was her own exam. I’ve taken enough of that stress during my own academic years. Can’t have a replay!

A lot of things which were considered taboo earlier, have gained a reluctant acceptance in the society. Example- gay marriages, live-in relationships, open marriages etc. I hope being child free gains such acceptance too, but by the time that happens, my kids will be reading this blog and I will be trying to hide this post from them…

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Oh, the places you’ll go!

This is a poem by Dr Seuss. It’s supposed to be a children’s book. Such a lovely poem!

“You have the brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself,

Any direction you choose.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know.

And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care.

About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”

 

With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,

You’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any,

You’ll want to go down.

In that case, of course,

You’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there

In the wide open air.

Out there things can happen

And frequently do,

To people as brainy

And footsy as you.

And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew.

Just go right along.

You’ll start happening too.

 

Oh! The places you’ll go!

You’ll be on your way up!

You’ll be seeing great sights!

You’ll join the high fliers

Who soar to high heights.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.

You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.

Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

 

Except when you don’t.

Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so,

But, sadly, it’s true.

That Bang-ups

And Hang-ups

can happen to you.

You can get all hung up,

In a prickle-ly perch

And your gang will fly on.

You’ll be left in a lurch.

You’ll come down from the lurch

With an unpleasant bump.

And the chances are, then,

That you’ll be in a slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,

You’re not in for much fun.

Un-slumping yourself

Is not easily done.

 

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.

Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.

A place where you could sprain both your elbow and chin!

Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?

How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…

Or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?

Or go around back and sneak in form behind?

Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,

For a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused

That you’ll start in to race

Down long wiggled roads at break-necking pace

And grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,

Headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting place…

…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go

Or a bus to come, or a plane to go

Or the mail to come, or the rain to go

Or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

Or waiting around for a Yes or a No

Or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite

Or waiting for the wind to fly a kite

Or waiting around for Friday night

Or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

Or a pot to boil, or a better Break

Or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

Or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

 

NO!

It’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape

All that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bright places,

Where the Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,

Once more you’ll ride high!

Ready for anything under the sky.

Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

Oh! The places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!

There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.

And the magical things you can do with that ball

Will make you the winning-est winner of all.

Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,

With the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

 

Except when they don’t.

Because, sometimes, they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times,

You’ll play lonely games too.

Games you can’t win,

‘cause you will play against you.

All alone!

Whether you like it or not,

Alone will be something

You’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance

You’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.

There are some, down the road between hither and yon,

That can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go

Though the weather be foul.

On you will go,

Though your enemies prowl.

On you will go,

Through the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many,

a frightening creek,

though your arms may get sore

and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike.

And I know you’ll hike far

And face up to your problems

Whatever they are.

 

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

As you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with great care and great tact

And remember that Life’s

A Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with left.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

 

Kid, you’ll move mountains!

 

So..

Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So..get on your way! ”

 

 

 

 

Everyday Things I Find WRONG

  1. Working out in the gym but not doing household chores
  2. Finding time to hang out with friends but not having time to talk to parents
  3. Finding time to read Facebook updates but not finding time to read a book
  4. Wearing expensive clothes but reading pirated or downloaded books
  5. Splurging money on clothes/cosmetics but eating inexpensive junk food
  6. Ending and starting the day looking at others’ lives on Facebook
  7. Wasting money on cosmetics
  8. More pictures, fewer memories
  9. Faster and plentiful means to communicate but negligible will to talk
  10. Equal inclination towards obedience and rebellion
  11. Using technology to remember birthdays of close friends/family
  12. Requiring coffee to wake up and alcohol to doze off
  13. Driving to gym to walk 4 km per day
  14. Running on the treadmill – keep running while staying at the same place much like our lives itself
  15. Frowning at home-cooked poori and dosas for high oil content while gorging KFC junk which is high in re-used oil and sodium
  16. Preferring less sugar in desserts and coffee but having huge quantities of artificially sweetened aerated drinks
  17. Applying egg/curd/banana to hair or skin instead of eating all those
  18. Inviting people to your home but not wanting them to come
  19. Doing everything for Facebook likes
  20. Making a big deal of birthday/ honeymoon/ wedding/ graduation/ travelling/ child birth
  21. Following your favorite stars on Instagram while neglecting the person talking to you
  22. Bargaining for discount with vegetable vendors
  23. Having three or more pairs of shoes for a pair of feet
  24. Air fryers
  25. Phones which need to be updated every now and then
  26. Apps which need access to all your personal information just to install.

bos yrots

Writing has always been cathartic to me. Yet, I have never written about the darkest things that trouble me. Why? I’m afraid to go to that place in my mind where they’ve been securely locked away in a black box. In order to be able to write about those things, I would have to unlock it in its entirety, with abandon, instead of the usual practice of carefully pulling out a ribbon of memory, stashing the box shut immediately and then torturing myself with that figment of memory, which instantly wraps around my neck, crawls up to my hair and starts pushing its weight down, giving me an immense headache.

I’m afraid if I open that box, I may go into another depression and have some more sleepless nights Oh! I already hear it snapping open. It’s too late. It’s going to out pour and over flow here. Sorry readers!

He was the class joker. I was the studious and always tensed one. His work slot was next to mine during the Chemistry lab work. That was the only time he would be close to me physically. I would wear my elder brother’s lab coat and look dowdy and geeky in it. It was oversized and stained with chemicals. I once had a coughing fit after inhaling bad fumes from a chemical; he got all worked up and ran to get me water. I thought it was sweet. I would then walk to the city bus-stop to take a bus to my tuitions. I would learn later from him that he would follow me on his bike, a little behind me, to be not noticed. He wanted to make sure I was safely reaching the bus stop. I had no idea he liked me. He never let it be known and I was far to occupied with exams and what subject I would choose to graduate in. He made funny noises and comments while teachers were teaching serious Physics or Math subjects. I didn’t take him seriously. He was somebody who I thought wasn’t serious about his life.

Few months later, I found myself in the Engineering college and course of my choice. I was far away from my friends. He was studying to be a merchant sailor in another state. I lost touch with all my friends and he was never a friend to even begin with but he would call me every evening. I was confused. I didn’t know why he was calling me because I was too unattractive to even consider the fact that a guy would like me but it felt good to talk to him. Slowly I started looking forward to his calls and getting interested in his life and studies. He would end the call with ‘love you babes’. I reciprocated it with an awkward silence and disconnected the call. All I would be interested in was studies, food, sleep and his calls. I never tried to mingle with people in my class. A year passed and like all star crossed lovers, I admitted to him I was in love with him too on Valentine’s Day. Few weeks after which he told me that he will have to go on an onboard training. This meant going away for 9 months on a merchant ship. Until that point, I had no idea his course was designed as such. I wonder what we used to talk about! His course had first and fourth year of theoretical studies and second and third year of ship travel. I had committed to be his girl friend just before his second year started. It felt unfair. My first relationship was going to be a long distance one. How would I get through the day without his calls? I cried a lot. Finally he left. We didn’t get to meet. I felt committed to him like he was my husband. Like I had to hold the fort till he returned. I felt bad looking at the couples on campus walking hand-in-hand, going to movies, eating out, making out.

He would call me from his ship’s satellite phone. A merchant vessel usually has no more than 25 people as crew. Everybody has to sweat it out during their shifts. His earliest ship would ferry coal between Brazil and Guatemala. He would also call me from various ports when his ship docked from Seafarer’s clubs. He was the lower most in the hierarchy then and would clean the huge coal slots with mops. He sent me pictures via email. There was no WhtsApp or FB then. They would play cricket on the ship and have elaborate meals on Western holidays. He taught me some ship jargon like starboard side, hull, rolling of ship, galley etc. I used to be very insecure those days because Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the prettiest women on Earth. I remember his calls would come at the oddest hours (between 3 and 5 am) and yet I would be so excited when my phone rang. The calls didn’t last long because he would be very tired of the physical work and would want to go to bed immediately. He once sent me a picture of dolphins leaping out of water just near the ship’s side. I would come back from my classes, sit with the world map spread out on my bed, mark his ship’s path and predict the next call basis the previous calls. I would often complain to my friends morosely, ‘the last call came 23 days back, why isn’t he calling?’ I would wonder what is going wrong with my predictions; I would frantically see the desk calendar and all the circled dates (when he had called) and try to work out a pattern. I would then get worried, angry and hopeless at the same time and pray for his next call. E-mails would sometimes go unanswered too. I didn’t have a laptop then. I would write to him from the Internet lab of the college.

He was my obsession. When I prayed, the first prayer was for his safety and happiness followed by pleas to make my breasts larger, followed by my worry of upcoming exams. I remember this particular night when I had an assignment due the very next morning but I was too tired to do it. I set my alarm for 5am the next day to finish the assignment. He hadn’t called in a long time and I was expecting his call. I had been thinking of him the whole day. When the alarm rang in the morning, I thought it was him calling me, I got up with a start and said hello into my phone several times before realizing it was the alarm and shutting it off. I pined for hearing his voice. I would imagine falling off from the college building, changing form to become a bird and then flying off to his ship. I wanted to sit perched somewhere on the ship and watch him go through his day.

9 months of his voyage went by painfully for me. He was finally back! Luckily I had my semester break at the same time. We were together in the same city. All our friends from junior college would meet. The mall and multiplex culture had gripped us. He insisted that our relationship be hidden from other friends. We watched some horrible movies in that period but I would always sit next to him, he saw to it and I would carry a huge hand bag which I kept on the armrest between us. We would hold hands below that bag. We once planned to meet a little before the movie and before rest of the people could join us. We had a nice meal and ordered chocolate mousse at the end. The bowl would keep slipping on the plate when we tried to dig in it, so I held it down with my spoon, while he scooped out some mousse on his spoon and he did the same when I scooped it out for myself. Velvet like mousse in his company. It was such a precious moment for me. I took a mental snapshot of it. It felt like there was nobody around us. Only us sitting across from each other. It remains to be the most romantic moment for me, so far. And I’ve not let myself forget that day. We had 9 days of fun (movies and lunches) to compensate for the 9 months. Those 9 days would play in my mind like a movie; I had to keep them living in my memory because he had to go away on another onboard trip for 9 more months. I had that movie reel in my mind to hold on to. I replayed it whenever I missed him, which was like 5 times a day.

My college was about to reopen. He would stay in the city for another month and join another ship. I remember the last day. I met him with a sullen face. He was silent too. It was pouring heavily. I was fighting back tears. We had a coffee and decided to part. We hailed a taxi instead of taking the usual train. I put my head down on his lap and wept the entire way home. He put his hand on my head but didn’t know how to console me except for saying that he hated his profession. When I reached home I had my own packing to do. I remember going to bathroom time and again to cry myself out.

His next voyage was equally bad for me. His calls would last longer this time around. He had moved up the ladder and received calling cards. This time he did a route around Cape of Good Hope > Gulf of Aden> Gulf of Oman and finally Jebel Ali in Dubai. He bought a Sim card at Dubai and we would speak for an hour. I would recharge for a thousand rupees and call him back sometimes too. My friends never understood my relationship. They thought I was too invested in a relationship which was hardly there. From Dubai he had to go to Belgium and then back via South Africa. My time with my world map had made me good with capital of various countries. He, on the other hand, would find out about those capitals by actually visiting them. Once while on call, a ship mate of his grabbed the phone from him and said that I was very beautiful and that he had seen my boy friend staring at my picture for hours on end.  I wrote my man several poems, made him art and bought a subscription of a ship tracking website. I borrowed a large sum of money for that from a friend.

His voyage was about to come to an end now. I was mad happy. He tweaked his return travel so that he and I could come back together to Mumbai. We made the return journey by bus. The best bus journey ever! We had so much fun. We listened to a lot of songs. When I listen to those songs now, I’m reminded of a very precious time in my teenage which gave me immense happiness and sorrow at the same time. We reached Mumbai and I couldn’t meet him much after that as my mom was very sick. I left again to college. He was leaving back to his college after a gap of nearly two years. I wanted to see him off and did the craziest thing ever. Some of my ‘firsts’ and superlatives of life were with him or for him.

I booked a train ticket back to Mumbai, he didn’t want me to come to see him off because he had a lot of last minute formalities to complete. I was adamant. I hadn’t seen him enough. I wanted just an hour of his time before we would separate again for months together.  I told the warden that I’m going to visit my parents. My parents obviously had no idea that I would be in the city again for a day but not visit them. I travelled general class as AC was all booked. All around me were men. I hadn’t travelled alone before and certainly not with all men around in general class in an overnight train journey. I was scared but put up a brave front and called him from the train. He said he won’t be able to meet at all. I was heartbroken and felt like a fool. Nevertheless, I reached Mumbai and he came to receive me, we hugged tight. Life was good! I had only 4 hours to spare before catching the returning bus to my college. Since he was pressed for time, I was running around with him while he was finishing his formalities. He dropped me at the bus stop and gave me a huge paper bag of Mc Donald’s food. I hadn’t eaten during the train journey and after that and didn’t realize how hungry I was until he left. He had worn a white shirt, brown pants and brown shoes. I took a mental snapshot of it again and his receding footsteps are like a gif stored in my cache. They are symbolic of what course this relationship was going to take but I would only realize it in retrospect.

That night while I was in bus I sent him a message signing off as ‘his wife’. He loved the message. We said our byes and he was gone. His mom happened to read these messages later on. She thought we had really gotten married! She did some research on me through our common friends and demanded to know my mom’s phone number. My friends were alarmed! They called me and informed me of this. They had no idea what was happening. I told them the story. They suggested I call her back because she was very angry. I didn’t know what could be the reason to be angry so I called his mom. I had decided to record the conversation so that he could hear it later too. She went off like a cannon ball! Ballistic! She called me and my family dirty names. She thought I was trapping her son because he was in a very lucrative job. She threatened me to back off else she would go to the Police. Called me some more swear words implying I was a lady of the night. She then started ranting about the other friends from our group as to how she didn’t like anybody, mentioning everybody by their name. I kept quiet and even tried to reason with her saying that I mean no harm to her son. His dad later told one of my friends that he could make me disappear overnight without anybody’s knowledge. I told all this to my friends as they were quite involved by this point and I also told him. He didn’t seem to believe it and there was no means to send him the entire recording.

I had started complaining a lot about the relationship now. And about how he didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. Calls had become infrequent now even though we were in the same time zone. He broke up with me saying I’d become very negative. I saw the blood leaving my toes. My nails became purple all of a sudden and I wanted to sit down somewhere. My body had never given me that kind of reaction until that day or ever since. I didn’t argue or yell. We had never fought or argued in 3 years. We had just silently understood and accommodated each other. I didn’t try to reason with him, he seemed to have made up his mind. I said plainly, ‘if that is what you want’. We cut contact that day. Cold turkey. I would have crying outbursts just about anywhere. My friends offered no support; they didn’t think it was that big a deal. I had become so numb of crying without the hurt reducing any bit that I decided to cut myself. I wanted to drown the emotional pain in a bigger physical pain. I would slash my thigh with a blade, squeeze it hard and then press it down to stop the bleeding. Then bandage it and leave it be for some days. Then slash elsewhere. I tuned to alcohol and to studies too. I stopped myself from thinking about him and I continued paying back the loan I took from my friend for that ship tracking subscription.

He turned to alcohol too. I don’t know what he was drinking because it triggered psoriasis in him. I can’t hate him, I’ve tried. I feel bad for him and for us. We were magical together. With him I felt a kind of love which I couldn’t believe was even possible in the realm of this physical world. His mother was detected with diabetes. Hallelujah! Sorry, I’m not very big-hearted. He got back to the city after his course, I sent him the recording and his love letters and our photos, I had burnt myself from the photos. How dramatic! He was appalled and embarrassed when he heard the recording. He regrets his actions now, he admits he wasn’t thinking straight and couldn’t stand up for us. Six months after the break-up he met a girl at a New Year party. They are married now. He recently confided in one of my friends that he and I never had any ego fights which he has aplenty with his new girlfriend cum wife now. I wanted to feel happy about it but I only feel bad. Such a loss for both of us! Such deep and intense feelings…for what! Nothing came out of it. And whichever man I met after that came across as so severely deficient in plugging that void, I only ended up judging him for it.

I wish I hadn’t felt so deeply for him and hadn’t put him and us on a pedestal because that way I would have been able to find happiness in all the mediocre men who came in my life after that. I haven’t been able to love anybody with the same intensity ever since.

Working Moms & their Kids

A woman has to look like a girl, work like a horse, think like a man and behave like a lady. It is tough being a woman. It is tougher being a working woman because whatever you do, you must do twice as well as men to be thought of half as good. That is the truth I’ve been hearing from a working woman for as long as I can remember. She is my mother.
There are plenty of drawbacks of being a working woman’s kid but I will list them first because the ‘benefits of being a working woman’s kid’ is going to be a longer list and will consume more space. So they will feature later.
Drawbacks:
We had to eat a cold lunch – our mom would cook it in the morning before going to office. We would come home tired and hungry and didn’t bother to warm it. We would have warm food only on the weekends. Frankly, I thought this was the way everybody in the world ate, until I went to hostel to pursue undergrad studies. It was then that I compared notes with other kids, whose moms had been homemakers and served them warm lunch.
We lived the better part of our childhood in crèches or with baby sitters. We were lucky to have warm-hearted, cultured people looking after us, helping with school homework, making sure we would eat, go to tuitions on time and not mix with bad company. It might sound awful to some who’ve not experienced this. But it isn’t so bad. You just don’t come home after school gets over. You go to your crèche, change, have lunch, study, nap and make friends with other kids. It’s just that there are certain rules which your baby sitter wants you to follow. My baby sitter (we call her crècha, lovingly) asked us to leave the leftovers in our plates for birds to eat and wanted absolutely clean plates to be put in her sink. That was it..easy peasy. In return, she taught us Marathi free of cost, stitched clothes for my Barbies from my old frocks and would sell us alphonso mango peti at nominal rates. It is more like you have one biological mother but several other mothers who’ve raised you. My baby sitters have all been motherly figures to me.
Another drawback was, all the family events such as birthdays or marriage anniversary were celebrated on weekends irrespective of which day they really fell on. This was because weekends were the only time available with parents to setup the fanfare of birthday celebration. So when people asked us, ‘how did you celebrate your birthday’, we would say, ‘we are waiting for the weekend to celebrate it’.
We moved to Mumbai from a relatively smaller and safer place, Dehradun, at a very young age. Parents were working and they would be worried all the time that we would be kidnapped etc. So every morning we got a lecture of do’s and don’ts. Don’t open the safety door for salesmen. Don’t loiter around in building without having keys handy, lest you get locked out of the house etc.
Apart from this, I never really felt any pinch of having a working mom. Yes, in my teens, in undergrad college I would think I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her. But there are so many advantages to having a working woman that it more than offsets the drawbacks. To some extent, my mother had and has the guilt of not being around but she put that guilt to work. On weekends she would come to fetch us from school even though school was just a spit away from our home. She would make a lot of dishes on Sat and Sun. She didn’t have to because we had plenty of variety on the weekdays too. And she would intently listen to all my stories from school while cooking.
The other side:
Having a working mom teaches you to be responsible and adaptable from a very young age. We would have a set of keys to the house and would open the door ourselves (after we were slightly bigger and left crèche). Mother had made it mandatory for us to check if we had keys before leaving to school in the morning. Surprisingly, I and my brother have never lost a key in our lives, so far.
We will never be picky with food. We had to eat whatever mom had cooked and kept for lunch. She is an awesome cook and whatever she cooks is tasty but we couldn’t argue “why this and not that”. There was simply nobody in the house whom we could address that complaint to. 17 years of eating what is cooked for you, without questioning it, makes you less choosy..you learn to appreciate what’s on your plate. So I don’t understand how some people don’t eat cauliflower/spinach etc. Maybe they always had a choice. A doting, ever ready mom to cook another meal customized to her child’s palette.
We would get hungry again in the evening and couldn’t wait for mom to return. We found our ways to satiate the hunger. From a very young age we could boil milk, make a glass of lemonade, toast a slice of bread with butter, make patterns on it with sauce then graduated to make sandwiches etc. We spent a lot of time by ourselves so we were never homesick when we left home for college. We learnt how to handle money from a young age. We would be the only students in the fees payment queue. Rest would be
moms paying school fees.
I think having a working mom teaches you to be intuitive very early in life. We would see our mom deflated when she got back from office. We knew instinctively that it wasn’t the right time to demand anything. We let her be and kept those demands reserved for weekends again! Delayed gratification! Goes a long way in life! You learn to practice control over your wants and it helps you filter out things you need from those you desire. If one has learnt that, he will never be broke. So obviously throwing temper tantrums was out of the window. We were never aware of such a thing.
Mom also wanted help around the house. We were expected to take care of our uniform, shoes and grooming (cutting nails etc). I remember being shown only once which was the wrong side of the sock, by our house help, when I was 5. We had to contribute in minor household work. Filling water bottles, filling ice cubes, dusting study table, rinsing our plates before putting in sink, finishing school assignments etc. We would keep a checklist of stationery to be bought, after parents got back from work and arranged our bag for the next day. It would surprise me often when I saw my friends’ moms asking them, ‘pencil rakhi? Scale rakha?’ moms-woking or homemakers..nobody can replace them!
We were very independent from the beginning. But since the house was left to our wise judgement, we knew that freedom comes with responsibility. Friends weren’t allowed at our place in parents’ absence. We made sure they stayed away. We were required to keep a watch on the house maid. I would tail them wherever they went in the house and drove one away when I told her, ‘I’m going out to play, don’t steal anything from my house’. She got too offended to work and complained to my mom the following day.
Never saw her again.
Having working parents gives you a very different kind of childhood. It gives ample freedom, space, no restrictions but it also thrusts upon you responsibilities from a young age. It gives you some sort of confidence too -that you can be on your own, have fun on your own and take care of yourself. In boys, it develops respect for women leadership, they learn how to support a working wife and in girls it arouses self-confidence- that while they do need a husband and a family, they don’t have to depend on anybody financially. It orients them to be their own saviors! It teaches girls that working a full-time job is not a choice, it’s a necessity. If nothing, at least in the face of life’s vicissitudes, a job keeps your sanity in check.
It is a few years of training which preps children for life

Foot Binding and Some Contemporary Issues

The Chinese media doesn’t want you to know this. The practice of foot binding was followed for roughly 1000 years by the Chinese Han (ethnic majority at the time) women. I first read about it on social media and dismissed it as ‘this can’t be true!’ until I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘The Ascent of Woman’, which covered this practice in a tiny segment. I researched it more and would like to share with you what I have found. This is a topic which is not spoken about in China these days. It is a part of their shameful past. If you talked about it now, they would dismiss it as an obsolete practice which they have no clue about. This practice which was part of the Chinese social fabric for a millennium was abolished in 1912 by the Chinese but continued in secrecy till 1949. There are still women in China who used to bind their feet in the past. They are ridiculed now for this practice.

There are tales galore about how this practice first started and it goes back to the Song Dynasty which emerged in China in the year 960. There are tales that court dancers bound their feet for certain performances, the emperor got impressed with it and the practice then percolated to the Empress and courtesans and the working class females. Another tale goes that the wealthy women did not have to do any labor intensive work and hence it was thought that they had no use of normal sized feet, which is why their feet were bound.

The practice was to bind the feet of girls as young as 4 years of age with long strips of cotton cloth. Their feet were first immersed in hot water, massaged with oils, nails trimmed, alum was sprinkled to reduce perspiration and then all the toes except the big toe were curled towards the sole of the foot and tightly wrapped and sewn around with cloth strips. The girls were then made to walk long distances so that over time, with the weight of the body, the toes broke and kept curled inwards also breaking the arch of the foot. The ball of the foot and the heel would come impossibly close. The bandages were removed every couple of days and then rebound even tighter. It was customary for the women of the village to do this to young girls. The feet were bound until they measured 3 inches length wise and fit into tiny shoes specially made for them. Once a foot had been bound, attempting a reversal of the process was equally painful, even impossible, due to which girls continued to keep their feet bound as they had got accustomed to the pain or maybe because their feet had gone numb by years of this practice. Slowly it became a habit, a norm.

Women with bound feet had better prospects of marrying into wealthy families. The men of the time desired bound feet over large normal feet. Bound feet were a sign of sophistication, refined tastes whereas large feet were thought of to be crude and rural. An elderly woman who practiced this for the better part of her life was interviewed in the documentary ‘The Ascent of Woman’. She says, it was fashionable to have bound feet. Every girl and woman did it. You didn’t want to be left out.

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Beautiful granny, her bound feet
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Bound feet

This practice is very similar to tiny waists of European women. Tight corsets wrapped around waists which might have, in all certainty played havoc with their internal organs. Similar to veiling practices which were thrusted upon women, the practice of foot binding could very well be the product of man’s insecurities.  He did not want his wife to escape while he was thrashing her. He wanted her mobility to be restricted around the house and he wanted to limit her ability to take part in the economic, social and political life at the time, so the solution was to bind her feet, making it a fashion statement for all to accept.

This practice faded with the Communists coming into power very recently in 1900’s and asking men and women to do heavy labour to fulfill the day’s quota against which they got food. Women with mutilated feet couldn’t bear the pain of standing for extended hours and went hungry more often than not.

Extending, my thread of imagination and digressing a bit towards married Hindu (the largest ethnic group of India) women’s habit of wearing red bindi on forehead (between eyebrows): I have wondered many a times, what could be the evolution of this piece of adornment. I have come across reasons such as it awakens the third eye and red color augurs good fortune to the new bride. Pure bullshit! In today’s rapist world, we need third, fourth, fifth and even a seventh eye all around a woman’s head. A single dot just doesn’t make the cut anymore. And the red color doesn’t shield you against any bad luck, speaking from experience! My theory is, in ancient India, Hindus followed polygamy. There is a possibility that a married male laid his lustful eyes on a married female, rightfully inciting the female’s husband’s anger. The two men had a fight and the former said to the latter, ‘how was I to know she’s your wife, it isn’t written on her forehead that she’s married’. The two pondered over the issue and thought, ’let’s put a mark on her forehead which tells all the men that she’s married’. And that’s how married women started applying a red dot on their forehead to signify they are taken. Now in the 21st century we don’t have time to apply this dot so instead we carry red colored stickers which can be peeled out and stuck quickly on the forehead. We wear stickers to show that we are married! That is one among the many things we wear to show our marital status. As if being married is an achievement and you need markers to display it. No, but we know the real reason, to keep the other men away from you as you are taken territory. Just sad!

Coming back to the Chinese women: they endured this painful technique of foot binding to get wealthy grooms, to feel accepted by the society and to ‘fit’ in. They were told by the society that this is the ‘in’ thing and other women sneered at them if they didn’t follow it. Somehow, it sounds very familiar in today’s context too. Women today wear towering heels to make their walk look graceful, to feel sexy, to get approval from men and again, to fit in! Wearing heels is equally if not more detrimental to a woman’s posture and feet anatomy as was foot binding. This is a proven medical fact. There is awareness regarding this and yet a fashion ramp is not what it is without heels. Enhancing your gait and walk at the cost of your posture and bone structure is certainly not an intelligent choice. Whom are we trying to impress? Men? People? At the cost of your body which will last your lifetime?

Why just heels. The practice of hair removal followed by women is also a forced choice which women have come to accept as a part of grooming. If you think about it, somebody in the Victorian age thought that armpit hair, hair on legs and arms is unsightly and they decided to shave it or strip it off (which by the way, is painful as hell too) the practice then spread to the masses and is carried out even today. We make periodic visits to the beauty parlor or spend money on hair removal creams without once thinking how this practice affects the skin. The skin on arms and legs may be quite resilient with the constant exposure to natural elements but waxing and stripping of hair has reached the genitals too. It is a medically proven fact again that stripping your privates off hair is harmful for you: infections, cuts, wounds, bruises, scalding..do we need more reasons. There is a school of thought which says that women are pandering to men’s pedophilic fantasies by waxing their privates raw. And it could be true in many cases. Clean shaven is not how a fully grown woman’s privates are supposed to look like but it is fashionable to remove hair from your body, it is part of modern day grooming and it is just another way to shove a painful practice down women’s throats, much like foot binding. Have we really made any significant progress at all?

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Two forms of foot binding-self inflicted torture spanning millennia

Maybe a thousand years from now, women will pity us for having given in to this pressure of conforming to hair removing fashion and wearing heels. I wish women (myself included) were more discerning of what they choose to do or not do with their bodies and not let anybody dictate them grooming standards, fashion trends, what is in, what is out and the like. What we as women need to do is be accepting of ourselves and of our fellow sisters. Everybody is fighting their own battles, a little acceptance and sympathy goes a long way. Why judge other women? It is often said, a woman is a woman’s worst enemy. Older women judge younger ones for not adhering to culture, not looking like a ‘married woman’. I want to ask of these older women, what have they ever got by following the culture? A life which they lived for others on others’ terms, losing their identity and ending up with their own hearts going bitter and vengeful? Did they get a medal for being the torchbearers of their culture? If we keep each other engaged in these petty issues, the world will never see the contribution of half its populace; which is probably what most of the insecure (not all) men want. We are really playing into their hands.

Sickness Ridden Year Wrap

The last two months saw me at my most sick self. This started on 18th October. My brother had came down from Canada after securing a job there. He wanted to celebrate his last few days before joining the job officially and made a trip to India. He visited me for a day in Vadodara. I took leave from office and showed him around the City Palace. We then visited a nice restaurant but when given the option of regular versus mineral water, we went for regular water. There started all the trouble and we didn’t realize till the next day.

My brother left for Mumbai the next day and on the train he got bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. I was in my office and around the same time, I got loose motion too. I got prompt medical care here and continued with my office, he however had to fly to Canada the very same day. He took medicines and prayed for the diarrhea to stop. Throughout the flight and during the layover his ‘situation’ continued unabated. He finally reached Canada and slept for a whole day. I was OK for the time being but he developed flu like symptoms in just 3 weeks into his new job. He called in sick and was on leave for a week. Now both of us were OK.

In exactly a month’s time from his visit, that is on 18th November, our situation relapsed! I started having unexplained headaches and fever till 101F. My appetite had reduced to two meals per day. It still didn’t ring a bell. I couldn’t connect this to previous month’s episode.

On 20th November, my husband and I were taking a walk after dinner when suddenly I vomited in the garden. I thought indigestion. The next morning, I passed orangish brown urine. That shocked me but not enough to consider skipping office. I made lunch and breakfast, got ready and left for office. One hour went by and suddenly I felt I would vomit. I couldn’t even go to the restroom and vomited in my dustbin. Thrice. I was in the doctor’s office in sometime along with my husband. The doctor gave me some emergency medicines to control vomiting and asked a liver function test to be done. To cut a long story short, by evening, I was diagnosed with jaundice and admitted in the hospital by late evening. By midnight I started getting the IV fluids, vitamin injections and medicines.

I was discharged by 25th November. There were two upcoming weddings in the family. One was my husband’s cousin’s and another was husband’s sister. I didn’t attend the cousin’s wedding but had to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding. My mother was with me through the hospital and wedding. This wedding was in another city much colder than Vadodara and was the first wedding after my own wedding. So I was expected to look the part.

I had lost a lot of weight by now and my skin had shrunk badly. However, I still got decked up in the sarees and lehengas approved by my mother-in-law. Other female relatives gladly stole my limelight given my poor health. They all grabbed the opportunity to go to the beauty parlor along with the bride and got their make-up done too. I, on the other hand was looking under the weather all throughout. Needless to say, my pictures from the wedding are very ugly too. Never mind. After a 7 day sojourn, I got back to my turf, convalesced in my home for three days and joined office thereafter.

The next attack was that of cold and related fever which lasted 5 days. I took another set of medicines following which I got slightly better but much weaker and slimmer. I got another blood test done which showed that jaundice had subsided but could make a relapse in the next fortnight, if caution was not borne. I’m advised to follow diet restrictions until January mid. That was about me.

My brother developed typhoid. He was also troubled by Canada’s slow health care machinery. A simple blood report takes about two days to reach the doctor. His doctor suspected pneumonia for a week before rounding up on Salmonella infection (caused by water or undercooked meat). He took longer to get better, much longer and he was on his own there. I at least had my husband here. He is well now and has joined his office too.

We both wish we had never gone to that restaurant. We hope for a healthier 2017.