Monday, February 22, 2010

The irrelevance of gender in everyday life

I've been tagged by Usha to participate in the International women's day contest held by Indus Ladies. (Category- relationship issues)
Please click on the link above for details. Starry, Parul and Rayna, please participate in this.

My title sounds Utopian, and it probably is.
And yet, the perception of gender roles within the family has a huge impact on relationships.
Some men cannot imagine making a cup of tea for themselves, or even fetching themselves a glass of water. Some women do not even try to balance the cheque book, cannot dream of a life free of dependence.
Gender is part of our biology, yet it tends to rule our societal norms and behaviour far more than required in this day and age, where reproduction is now a matter of choice, where most men are not engaged in hunting and gathering, and where greater or lesser muscle power doesn't matter in most spheres of life. As parents, we need to break out of our own gender stereotypes so as not to perpetuate unnecessary stereotyping or gender role anxiety.
As a parent, I need to teach my children to be self-sufficient. At each stage of their growing up I have to guide them to do what is age appropriate for them
Ultimately, both boys and girls need to take care of their own physical and mental well-being.
This would include personal hygiene, the ability to keep their surroundings and possessions clean and organised, the ability to repair their garments/sew on a button, cook for themselves, clean up after themselves, deal with bank accounts, shopping, financial responsibility etc.
If we succeed in bringing up a generation of self-sufficient adults, who are free of gender roles and assumptions, life would probably be a whole lot simpler. Apart from actually bearing and breast-feeding babies, there are very few roles that are actually gender specific.
Let us make both our sons and daughters all-rounders in dealing with Life. Let us instill in them the confidence that they can achieve whatever they set out to do without putting barriers of gender or caste or class in their minds. No job should be beneath their dignity, no career beyond their dreams. They need the freedom to choose to live according to their abilities and interests, not determined by age-old notions of gender.
Both boys and girls need to be protected from sexual abuse.
Both boys and girls need to be protected from emotional abuse.
Both boys and girls need to be cherished, and allowed to spread their wings.
Both boys and girls need to feel rooted, to feel secure and cherished in their homes.
Both boys and girls need to be taught all necessary skills for adult life.
Both boys and girls need to be taught sexual and reproductive responsibility.

What is different?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Long time no Nash

Tough times require a little sprinkling of Uncle Ogden's wisdom, methinks!
What I find particularly fascinating about his writing is his insight into the feminine psyche, despite him being one of what we women often disparagingly refer to as 'these men.'
This is from a collection of his poems called The Primrose Path, published in 1935.
Not much has changed since then!
I dedicate this poem to my young friend Lavanya who is still learning these almost universal truths about men and matrimony.

What Almost Every Woman Knows Sooner Or Later

Husbands are things that wives have to get used to putting up with.
And with whom they breakfast with and sup with.
They interfere with the discipline of nurseries,
And forget anniversaries,
And when they have been particularly remiss
They think they can cure everything with a great big kiss,
And when you tell them about something awful they have done they just
look unbearably patient and smile a superior smile,
And think, Oh she'll get over it after a while.
And they always drink cocktails faster than they can assimilate them,
And if you look in their direction they act as if they were martyrs and
you were trying to sacrifice, or immolate them,
And when it's a question of walking five miles to play golf they are very
energetic but if it's doing anything useful around the house they are
very lethargic,
And then they tell you that women are unreasonable and don't know
anything about logic,
And they never want to get up or go to bed at the same time as you do,
And when you perform some simple common or garden rite like putting
cold cream on your face or applying a touch of lipstick they seem to
think that you are up to some kind of black magic like a priestess of Voodoo.
And they are brave and calm and cool and collected about the ailments
of the person they have promised to honor and cherish,
But the minute they get a sniffle or a stomachache of their own, why
you'd think they were about to perish,
And when you are alone with them they ignore all the minor courtesies
and as for airs and graces, they utterly lack them,
But when there are a lot of people around they hand you so many chairs
and ashtrays and sandwiches and butter you with such bowings and
scrapings that you want to smack them.
Husbands are indeed an irritating form of life,
And yet through some quirk of Providence most of them are really very
deeply ensconced in the affection of their wife.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

From Chacha's keyboard!

My father's family has always been fond of language- we always have lots to tell each other, and like to express ourselves as well as possible in which ever language we are using. From my grandfather's times, English is our preferred medium of written communication. My grandfather (Dadaji) wrote a great many letters, sometimes on postcards, in a beautiful copperplate script.
My Dad's Nanaji (maternal grandfather) also wrote beautiful letters. I have photocopied some of the letters he had written to my father over the years, some of which are truly poignant.

Having Chacha around in this difficult time is wonderful, not just because he is great fun to be with and also loves my kind of music, but because we enjoy showing each other what we have written. He does publish his articles in his city's newspapers. Here is something of his, which I'm copying with his permission- it's as good as hearing him narrate the episode. (Yes, I will get him to revive his defunct blog).

My Ordeal at the Airport

I was waiting to pick up my briefcase at the exit side of the X-Ray screening machine at the Security Check of the Mumbai domestic airport, prior to taking my homeward flight.The briefcase had just disappeared.At this juncture somebody tapped gently at my shoulder. “Will you please come to the side?” I followed him meekly.He pointed out to my small briefcase kept on the sidetable. “Does this luggage belong to you?”, he said.I had a mixed feeling of relief on finding the briefcase, and a little trepidation on this unexpected development. I said, “Yes, this is mine. Is there anything amiss?”The man whom I later on came to know was a policeman in mufti, manning the X-Ray machine, assumed something like a menacing attitude, and said in an undertone, “I am afraid we will have to book you. You are carrying long bladed knives in your briefcase.” I was aghast and just could not believe him. There surely must have been a mistake somewhere. I told him so.He said, “OK, you want to see for yourself?” With this, he passed my briefcase once again through the machine. Sure enough, four knives each of different shape , but all of about six inch length could be clearly seen.I was now feeling thoroughly concerned. A cold sweat broke out over my whole body.Picture of what could now happen to me started emerging in my mind with sharp focus. A trip to jail, clips appearing in the newspapers, may be a shot or two in the TV channels who are forever hungry for sensational news, my hard earned reputation getting blown to smithereens for no fault of mine. I was sure somebody has framed me good and proper, and was restlessly figuring out how do I come out of this jam.I visualized in painful details a newsline screaming in bold letters, “ Retired government official caught with lethal weapons in his hand bag, trying to board an Indian Airlines flight at Mumbai.Detained.”with my mug shot thrown in for further emphasis.
Meanwhile the policeman, a Mr. Gupta as the name tag at his lapel proclaimed, opened my briefcase and extracted the offending packet from the box. I peered over his shoulder.and saw the printed label on the manila envelope, reading, “Oceanview Emporium –Souvenirs & Artifacts, Durban”. Suddenly the coin dropped in the slot with a loud clang. This is the packet which my colleague working with me at the project site at South Africa had given me the previous morning for passing on to his wife back home, without telling me the contents. I too, like an idiot did not ask him what the packet contained and slipped it into my briefcase, as the opening of the suitcase would have cost extra efforts.It never crossed my mind that a set of sharp deadly knives can be categorised as a souvenir for a docile vegetarian Hindu wife. “You unmitigated fool”, I muttered to myself, “what happened to your long flying experience which told time and again not to accept any article without ascertaining that it is not one of those evil things which airlines loathe to carry aboard?.”
But aloud I told my story to Mr.Gupta, and offered to ring up long distance to my friend, who must be sleeping at this time of the day ( late night at South Africa), to corroborate what I had said. As a proof of my journey from Johannesburg to Mumbai I showed him the stub of the boarding pass of South African Airways dated the previous day.
Mr Gupta now appeared to have mellowed down a little. He said ,”Mr Seth, do you realize what would have happened to you had the Johannesburg security staff been more efficient?” This sent a shudder up my spine. “OK, take this packet and run down to the check-in counter. I am asking the duty staff to allow you to put it into your check-in baggage, as I certainly cannot permit this in the aircraft cabin”, Mr. Gupta said and picked up a telephone to speak to the concerned people.I quickly intervened, “Please Sir, don’t bother. I have gone through the wringer long enough and do not want any more running around to the check-in guys. Please accept this packet as an humble gift from me. You have been extremely helpful to me and I whole heartedly thank you for leaving me as a free man.”
With this, I picked up my briefcase and ran to join the queue at Gate No.3 of the departure lounge, as the boarding had already been announced for my flight.

Written by : S.S.Seth

The tough times continue

My mother had another stint in hospital following a stroke which has paralysed her left side.
She can no longer speak, and is being fed hourly through a tube in her nose.
Her periods of wakefulness are mercifully brief.
My father is distressed and heart broken, and not well at all. My Chacha has come to be with him in this difficult hour.

I used the word 'intertwined' for their lives here: some more cheerful memories of my folks.