2014: Time To Grow Up & Not Old!

“Aap baithiye aunty,” said a college-goer as I vacated my seat for her disabled friend. Between a bunch of giggly young girls with naive jokes about winters, warmth and boys I am being pushed towards a generation that I am not really willing to be part of. But every other day as I travel through the metro I realise that I am indeed growing old.

The 2nd day of the year and to be called ‘aunty’ right at the start is not a bad thing really. Especially when my son’s friends call me ‘aunty’. But hell, no.. this is killing me. Because really these girls aren’t my son’s age and I am not sure I will make friends of their parents.

The day has passed and the emotions have ebbed. I have realised that by pinning a younger profile picture on my blog or Facebook will not really make me younger. It will only deceive my virtual friends into believing that I am a stunner! :p

I have nothing against growing old. I love greying hair and I naturally dislike the habit of hair colour. I was born with paper thin skin that began wrinkling when I was in my early twenties. Appearances matter little to me…anyone who knows me will know its true. It isn’t growing old that I am worried about. I fear that as years roll by I am losing a grip of the younger me. The one who was a risk taker, an optimist, happier, confident and a go-getter. As I am growing old I am becoming someone I don’t necessarily like. And that is what worries me. An old grumpy, grouchy, wistful ‘aunty’…I definitely don’t wanna be that.

So perhaps it’s time to grow up and accept the vagaries of the mid-thirties. It’s time to brush away the cobwebs and clean the corners. Time to de-clutter and throw the baggage. Time to look up and not away. It’s time to begin where I never have. It’s time to change everything that I haven’t. The beginning of the year is a good time to dispel my mind’s fears and take charge of my life…

This new year I won’t set out my resolutions. I am not too good at setting goals. I give up too soon. I lack the discipline and motivation when it comes to achieving simple tasks. So no more resolutions of I will do this and that…a slight tweaking of priorities and life’s goals this year I hope to push out the negativity and weaknesses in my mind, heart and body.

So here you go…in no specific order a set of things I will NOT do in 2014:

1) I will not blame my laziness for every unfinished task in my life. That includes the cupboard!

2) I will not drown myself in self-doubt.

3) I will not believe anyone when they say “You cannot”.

4) I will not depend on someone to love me and make me feel important.

5) I will not assume that I am the centre of universe of another’s life…including my son’s!

6) I will not be apologetic for my emotions.

7) I will not be troubled by the voices in my head.

8) I will not be scared of risks.

9) I will not wait for help.

10) I will not give up the pursuit of happiness and good health.

So 2014…bring it on!

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I Have A Dream…

For as long as I remember, the word ‘dream’ translated into a beautiful song. A song from my childhood, from ABBA. Like any other kid of the 80’s and 90’s, I grew up listening to ABBA. And long before I actually understood the lyrics and meaning of songs, this one stayed a firm favourite. At one point of time, this song was also part of our school drill.

Some memories, some anecdotes, some dreams of my own…the best way to describe this song would be to call it the background score of all that I wanted to achieve in my life.

As I grow older, I have come to dream lesser. There is no longer an innocence of a dream. I no longer look at an unachievable goal in my life as sigh saying, “I wish I could do that!” I no longer hope and pray for anything in particular. Not for myself. But always for others. Let’s say, I think I have forgotten to dream. A little jaded and perhaps a cynical confession here, maybe it is time I bring this song back into my life.

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream

I Have a Dream–ABBA

 

 

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Dreams’.

Munch, Munch, Munch…

The heart crumples

The stomach grumbles

I eat

Munch, munch, munch…

To discard the hunch

To drive away the fear

The verdict as I hear

Oh! It’s painful

Hurtful

Disdainful

To be shunted out

To be booted out

I eat…

Munch, Munch, Munch…

Lunch from home

Hooking up to Chrome

To find a friend

To find a rope at the loose end

To talk

To hear

To think

I eat…

Munch, munch, munch…

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Soon it runs out

The food

The patience

Everything

Then I want more

To eat

Munch, munch, munch…

For comfort

To hide the discomfort

To please

To ease

The pain

The fear

Something sweet?

Oh! I want to eat

Munch, munch, munch…

 I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Food’.

Write Tribe

No Maid Of Honour

The evolution of man – isn’t it such an oxymoron? You know, that humans have travelled three million years from treetops to civilization, is debatable today. How else will you explain the fact that a 29 year old dental surgeon asks her maid to lick food from her plate and not use her hands? It’s difficult to distinguish between the two women actually. While Jagriti Singh in her sense of reality may believe that her maids are animals, can we please ask her to look into a mirror? Because in the tales of sordid, animal-like treatment meted out to house helps that are emerging all so often now, the animal clearly resides in those who employ these women.

Just for a moment imagine your home without these women. They leave their homes, sometimes separated from their kith and kiln to make your home their own. Or so they imagine. In an ideal world they would like to consider you as family and your home as their home which they laboriously sweep, swab and sparkle every day. They would serve you meals with as much warmth as they would their own family. They would look after your children as if their own. Care for the elderly as if they were their own parents. Except that this idyllic world is just a mirage. At least it was for Rakhi Bhadra, the maid who was discovered dead in Jagriti and husband MP Dhananjay Singh’s home on Diwali day. If her co-worker Meena Sardar is to be believed that then the beastly tales of torture and inhuman treatment are far from over. 35 year Meena Sardar was discovered from with marks of beatings and burn injuries. Left with a broken hip, Meena is receiving treatment at RML Hospital in New Delhi. After they discovered that Rakhi had succumbed to her injuries, and afraid that the cops would find a much battered Meena, Jagriti and Dhanajay Singh had bundled the latter off to a friend’s house.

domestic maid - HinduPhoto Courtesy – The Hindu

India – it is no country for women. If rapes and stories of hostility project a dismal picture of the country’s women folk, it is really no country for the poor either. God save you if you are a poor woman! Or else what explains the barbaric stories of human trafficking and abuse that are emerging of the homes in the city? Incidentally, last week was the birth of the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN) – a federation of representatives of 42 countries, including India. But India does not recognize its maids and house helps as workers. So even though the term ‘domestic worker’ continues to be abused, India is not a country that recognizes the home as a workplace; neither does it consider house helps as workers because they are usually engaged in personal service.

It’s been three years since the National Council of Women (NCW) drafted the “Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act 2010” Bill highlighting the exploitative nature of domestic work by spurious placement agencies. The draft policy reads – “All domestic workers, employers or service providers shall be registered, within one month of the commencement of the employment of domestic worker, in the household, with the ‘District Domestic Labour Welfare Board.” It also has provisions for registering part-time domestic workers and migrant domestic workers.  Apart from this, it clearly mandates that no child shall be employed as a domestic worker or for any such incidental or ancillary work. The bill is yet to be passed.

There is also the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008. In spirit is covers domestic workers but some critical elements like maternity benefits and disability remain to be effectively put into practice. Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have welfare boards but the states’ population of domestic workers is unaware of their rights.

5th September marked another historical day. It marked the birth of ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers or C189. This groundbreaking new treaty sets to establish the first global standards for the working condition of more than 50 million domestic workers worldwide.  The treaty aims to bring domestic workers at par with other workers, entitling them with weekly offs, minimum wages and vacations. India voted in favour of it but we don’t know if it has begun working on it yet.

Lest we forget…exactly a month ago another startling case of domestic worker abuse emerged. A tribal from a village in Jharkhand was found with an open wound on her head and several wounds on her body. The teenager told the police that her employer left her in a semi-naked state such that she wouldn’t run away. She also said that her employee would attack her with broom and knives. In all the months she was employed, she was never given leave for paid a single month’s salary. The employer in this case was a 40 year old senior employee in French multinational company and lived in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.

In between the Vasant Kunj incident and the death of Rakhi Bhadra came also the story of a 13 year old girl who was left locked up in her house while her employer, an airhostess went off to Australia. This story was again strikingly similar to the story of another underage maid in the city. In March 2012, a 13 year old girl was rescued from a flat in Dwarka. Her employers, a doctor couple were holidaying in Thailand while they left their maid with no food except flour and salt. The food and ration, they warned, was marked and they installed CCTV in their house and if found stealing, they would beat her up when they returned. The almost starved girl was rescued when neighbours and other domestic workers in the neighbourhood found her crying on the balcony.

A point worthy of note is that all the employers in these stories are well-placed individuals. If education and one’s place in society is anything to define a person, then surely doctors, a well-bred professional and an air hostess are epitomes of good behavior…at least to the public eye. What happens behind closed doors is another story. The bestiality and animal behavior unleashes itself, leaving the defenseless and poor house help at the receiving end.

If Meena Sardar’s narrative is to be believed then this is the nasty end to the squalid state of affairs in our homes. Beaten, stripped, starved and killed…is there really no other end?

In a country divided by class, the feudal notions of the employer and employee in our minds are too rigid. The employer by nature assumes his role as the oppressor and the employee accepts his position as the oppressed. What else can explain maids being made to stand out of restaurants or being made to cramp inside the boot of a Wagon R car? Or drivers who are asked to sleep in the garage? Or maids who have to sleep on the cold floor in winters with a torn blanket? Spare a thought for that woman and in fact all those who make your life simpler. Consider those people who do your chores of you. Consider your rights as a human being and see what they get in turn. It is not enough to treat your own house help with dignity and respect. Not so long ago, we were all gushing about the Tanishq Ad that showed a dusky woman getting married for the second time. We all went singing praises for it. But does anyone remember another ad, the one that claimed to change the air?

The ad showed a maid being appreciated for her culinary skills. Her employer asks her to join the family at the table. She watches on gingerly and sits down apologetically…would you do the same?  Hawa Badlegi?

Long time back when I was doing my postgraduate studies, one of our professors chose to give us some life lessons. We kept the curriculum aside and discussed what it takes to make a career. He told us about passion, determination, ambition and all that matters. But the one thing that struck a chord with me that day is when he said, “Learn to buy time.” We cannot do everything. No matter if you are a man or a woman, there will be thousands of things that you will have to do; sometimes as a professional, at others as a member of the family. And many times you will need someone to fill in for you. These people, who look after our homes and families while we are at work, are the people we buy our time from. Someone is traveling a distance to drive you in your car, so that you don’t have to bother about the traffic and can use the time instead to check your emails. Someone is willing to clean your dishes because you choose to sleep a little late. Or because you want to have an enviable garden, someone comes to your house to prune your bushes. And because you want to have a career, someone else decides to leave her kids behind to raise yours. How are these people different from you? To my professor’s lesson, I would add my own…one that I have lived and learned.

“Learn to respect the person who is selling you his/her time.”

Respect. Don’t we all want that? How is your domestic help any different?

A Reason To Pray

My oldest recollection of praying goes back to the dark days of my childhood; or rather the dark nights. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just that Jamshedpur in those days would often bear the brunt of constant load shedding. It obviously meant that books could be wrapped up and we kids could go out on the street and play. Mothers would catch up on gossip, life and recipes and fathers (if they came out at all) would pretend to talk sports, politics and business with neighbours. It was the time when heat, sweat and deadly diseases like dengue were unheard of. Come to think of it, we kids actually liked it! It was only when the hours of darkness would wind up endlessly it got troublesome. Dinner times were pushed, bed times would be delayed and parents worried about our school the next day. A times likes these my parents coaxed me to pray. You see, I went to a Convent school and right from the junior class prayer was made to be an integral part of our routine. Excited as I was about “Our Father in Heaven” and “Angels of God” I had just begun to enjoy prayer. I was told it was like a private conversation with God. So on some days when my parents asked me to pray for the lights to come back, I prayed from the bottom of my heart. On some nights I refused. My parents say that I acted ‘pricey’ and was being plain and simple naughty. But maybe I was trying to not sound frivolous to God. I mean, who prays for electricity all the time? Well, let me tell you, the lights always came back. 🙂

I still see prayer as a private conversation with God. I don’t understand why does one have to do grand rituals for it? Why does one have to fear God? Why can’t I look at God as a friend, one who knows me the best? One who throws challenges at me and the one who also helps me deal with them? I look at God as one who punishes me when I am wrong, like the way I know he rewards me. So much so for my relationship with God…so don’t be alarmed when I say that this is how I converse with God:

“Okay, so today all I ask of you is to keep everyone happy. A has an important day coming up, make sure he isn’t disappointed. And V has been getting a cold all too often. It’s tough to give him those antibiotics every time. So, please boost his immunity. I trust you to keep all the elders healthy. See to it that life isn’t a pain to them. ”

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Prayer for me is usually a list of instructions to God. Interestingly it’s the same for my mother. She keeps her Thakur Ramkrishna on a shelf inside her cupboard next to my father’s home clothes. My wedding card, my son’s annaprashan card are still before him. Maa says he is still blessing us. I believe her. My grandmother has prayed all her life. Her praying sessions, twice a day run into hours. She has been a fairly religious person and as a child I enjoyed her charade of keeping all things connected to God untouched. But that didn’t last long. So when she began asking me if I was having my periods, I retaliated. “It’s your God who has given me the periods, what do I care about being unclean before him?” I still believe in that.

I got married into a family that has a strong connection with God. My mother-in-law prays, my father-in-law prays everyday before stepping out of the house. But they have never forced me to tow their line when it comes to God. And I live them for that. Maybe they look at me as a non-believer. But I really am not. I have trouble displaying my connection with God. I too had a small nook for God at home, but it was duly put away when the baby arrived. God is still packed at home. I don’t need a God to be there physically before me. For me, he stays in my heart. I don’t need a shelf for my God. But maybe I would like my son to choose it for himself. Every time my land lady blows a conch, he joins his palms and closes his eyes. He of course doesn’t know what it is to pray but he has come to recognize Ganeshji and Maa Durga. So unless these Gods remain to mean festivals of the calendar, I think it is a good idea to see what praying is. He deserves to make a choice for himself and see how he wants to converse with God.

So this Diwali, I hope to pray to Goddess Lakshmi with this ultimate DIY pack . I don’t know if my prayers are as pure as they were when I was a little child. But it’s time my son tests the power of prayer for himself.

This post is written for a contest run by 
Cycle Pure Agarbathies in association with Ripple Links.

Of Language, Thoughts and Semantics

Are you multi-lingual? What language do you think in? Is there a language you are most confident about? Are there different languages in which you dream, think and talk in the head? Is there a different language for your thoughts and another for speech?

How important is language and semantics for you? I discovered it is very important for me…

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I went to the book fair recently and picked up a hoard of books. No, these books aren’t the ones I picked up. Not all of them at least. I bought books mostly for V. Board books, picture books, funny books, colourful books…all kinds. As V turns two later this month, as a parent and book lover, I hope he grows up to love books.

What I really want him is to enjoy stories. A well-told story is a joy. It is a lesson, an experience that promises to stay forever. There are stories that one revisits from time to time. There are stories that are worth re-reading. A story sparks imagination. It takes one into a world of possibilities. It gives shape to thought.  To reason. And language.

When I was much younger, I had a stammering problem. It wasn’t severe, but it was enough to have some of my cruel classmates laugh at me. I remember being hurt that I couldn’t read a sentence without stuttering. I remember elocutions were extremely painful. There wasn’t much self-confidence to talk about. Until I decided to shake things up a bit. I started reading aloud. I read my story books aloud. I read them to myself, imagining an audience before me and mostly aloud. By and by, it helped. And I found that I could read without a single stutter.

I read mostly in English. Mostly fiction, because when you work in the field of non-fiction, a little make believe is very good! For your mind and your well-being. I have a working knowledge in Hindi. As in, I can read and write. But if you ask me to read a Premchand or Harivansh Rai Bachchan today, I am not sure I am game. Similarly, ask me to write a script or story in Hindi, and I will definitely run away unless my job depends on it! Bengali, though it is my mother tongue is the most alien to me. At 32, perhaps it is too late to begin, and maybe I will have to reconcile with the fact that Bengali will remain a spoken language to me only.

So when I was picking up books for V, I discovered some amazing titles in Hindi. The stories were short, simple and the pictures beautiful. I couldn’t resist but buying a couple of books for him. The ones in the foreground are the ones I bought for V. But there was a few precious minutes that were spent thinking whether I should buy the Hindi ones.

And here is why…

By 2, an average child speaks 200 words. Until two months back, V barely spoke 20. And that got me very worried. I am a talkative parent and my mother assured me that there is no way V would grow up to be a man of few words! As a parent, I am keen my child understands language. I am keen, he understands instructions. I hope he grows up to be articulate and communicates well. But I am also keen that he doesn’t get confused between languages.

As a Bengali household, we usually speak in Bangla. I talk to him in our mother tongue and tell stories to him in Bangla too  I read his books in English and often find myself translating them to him…as if he doesn’t understand English. Actually, he doesn’t. There are very words in English that he is familiar with. There are few that he knows and uses in his language. But I am not worried about his English yet. There is still some time to go before he goes to school!

As a parent, I realise to my horror, I share my mother’s view of Hindi! As a young girl, if I spoke to my friends in Hindi, my mother would often get offended. It had to be in English! If I spoke to  my Bengali friends in Hindi, she was more cross! Why? I should speak to Bengali friends in Bangla or English, she used to say. I found her logic very funny! I mean, how does it matter which language I speak in? As long as I am articulate and communicate? Then, it didn’t matter to me that I wrote my Hindi essays by thinking in English. Today, however, language plays an important part in almost everything I do.

My job requires me to think, write and talk in English, something that it is not very difficult to do. I watch a lot of Hindi movies. And while I sing their songs, I don’t interpret them or dissect them in Hindi. And the same goes for Bangla cinema. There is very little Bengali music that I listen to and let us not get into reading yet. I try and read a few translations of Bengali literature. And here in most places I have discovered that English has failed me. Even though I cannot compare texts, and no matter how well texts are translated, I can sense that there is something missing. A distinct flavour, an accent, a nuance that can only come from reading a text in the original.

Hindi to me is mass. It is a language that I see V will naturally learn even if I don’t expose him to it. From television, from maids, at the park, in school, with friends…he will pick up his Hindi from so many sources. He already has many words in his dictionary. For the longest time, I have tried to control his use of Hindi. I have been very disturbed to see my 3.5 year old niece speak more Hindi than Bangla or English. Some days back she crooned, “1,2,3,4…Get on the dance floor,” I laughed saying that she’ll get an admission into school if she says as much English. What I said and feel about her use of language is by no means a critique on how she is growing up. It was in fact an eye opener. A child, much like an adult chooses a language that he/she prefers to communicate in. As a parent, I can must strive to see that my child learns to communicate first. He should understand what is pain. He should be able to tell me if a shoe is not fitting. He should be able to tell me if he has soiled his diaper. Or if it is time to go to the loo. Today, if my child achieves that, I will jump with joy than see what language did he use to communicate it in!

And so I picked up a book in Hindi, hoping that it would be a first step in dispelling the pre-conceived notions of language that I have. I have nothing against a certain language. And neither do I consider one to be superior than the other. But  like I think, articulate and communicate in English better, I hope my child grows up to equally at ease with all languages he knows.

Kinare ka Kirana

I was strolling around Indira Market in Noida today when I realised I need some bread and butter. I spotted a general store and walked in and is a habit with kirana I asked the shopkeeper to get me my items. The man looked up from his cellphone to point at something behind my back. “Wahan hai, le lijiye.”

That’s when I noticed that he’d arrange his floor like a mini departmental store…you know one in which you could walk around and pick up your stuff? Except that he didn’t have trollies and his aisles weren’t wide enough for them anyway.

I spotted more items. The new Quaker Oats, Tea leaves…and I was still looking around…when an old lady came in. What followed next is interesting, and very topical for those doubting what the FDI in retail would mean for these cornershops…

Looking around the shop the old lady asked, “Arrey, dukan kab khuli?”

The shopkeeper who looked up from his cellphone and greeted her with a namaste replied, teen hafte ho gaye!”

OL- Three weeks! How come I didn’t notice!

SK- *with a smile the shopkeeper replied* You must be getting things from the Mall!

OL – Yes, yes, my daughter-in-law insisted. She said Wednesdays are cheaper!

SK – Really? *clearly faking ignorance*

OL – I don’t know! There was such a huge line that I got really tired!

SK – *hitting the nail on the head* What’s the use of having such a big store when people have to wait?

OL – Absolutely! I went with her twice and gave up after that!

SK – No problem Mataji…we are up and running again. You can call me and ask for the items. I’ll have Chotu run to you with your things. ‘Theek hai na Mataji’?

OL – *visibly relieved* ‘Ekdum’! Now even you have shelves, clean and organised. I must get my daughter-in-law here.

So who’s worried about the your friendly neighbourhood general store? Not the shopkeeper for sure!

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