Alert – If you are a religious person please STOP, don’t read any further.
A few months back a very close friend of ours invited us for a puja at their place. I got the call while I was at work and happily made my way to their place directly from work, Buzz in tow. Time for puja was set for 6:30 P.M. and we made it by 6:20. Only a lot of other people were still to come. The wait went on till 7:15 and then started the puja.
I know what followed is my fault and I should have planned in advance even when I did not get a lot of notice. But in my defense I was clueless on what was to happen, but I will not pass on the blame. It is mine to take. After having spent her day in daycare Buzz generally comes home hungry. I get her through bath time and the 20 or so minutes it takes me to cook by giving her some fruits and milk as soon as we come home. Even then 7:10 in dinner time.
On this particular day as is her way, especially since she did not get her fruit or milk, Buzz started asking for khaana (food) at her usual time. My friend told me to go get Buzz something to eat from the fridge when another guest at the puja stopped us.
Milk was part of the puja (since it was a Shivji puja) and so was water, fruits were also kept as part of the offering and the prasad made up of some vegetables, puri and halwa. This meant all food groups were covered, which further meant no one could eat till the puja was done.
No matter how much my friend tried to argue, ‘God comes before everyone’ stood firm. Anyways the puja started and went on for an hour. No shortcuts allowed.
For that one complete hour Buzz was heard crying for ‘khaana’ without a break while my friend looked on helplessly and I cursed myself (along with getting really mad) for not having fed Buzz before I came by.
I grew up in a house where prayers, a temple inside the house, pictures or idols of God, or even visiting a temple regularly were not part of life. I was taught to respect beliefs of others no matter the religion but more importantly having a clear conscious as I went about my life was the bigger thing than praying every single day. So I can except that I don’t get the customs that others follow. And as a Mom whose kid was screaming with hunger in this situation, I get that I don’t understand the entire point of marking all food as inconsumable till the puja is done. I somehow got Buzz and myself through that hour, fed Buzz and let things be.
A few days back, another invitation to another puja on another weekday. Having learned my lesson, on my way over I stopped at a grocery store, bought two bananas and some yogurt, feed them to Buzz knowing they would even do as dinner if need be. We got there to have a repeat performance. Wait for people..Puja starts late..A child cries out of hunger..Some lady with same ‘God comes before everyone’. The only difference was the child was a 6 weeks old baby and her mom was going to breastfeed her.
Well the other difference was a super mad me.
You want to deny a 6 weeks old baby.. SIX WEEKS..milk? Really? And this is breast milk.
Oh but milk is milk and milk is part of the puja.
How can they not be part of the puja. That is disrespect to the God.
And you think God will want the baby to go hungry, crying all the while?
Fed up with all the useless argument, my friend and I asked the new mom to step into another room and feed the baby. Turned our back on this lady and started the puja.
I got to hear a lot of snide remarks about having no concept of respect for God, look at the way I came dressed in Jeans and T-shirt, look at how I wore no mangalsutra or sindoor, look this, look that. And this is where I draw the line. I respect your customs and what you do. I don’t comment on things that don’t even make sense to me. Can’t I expect the same curtsy? But more importantly, I do have a practical side which thinks before blindly following when there is a kid screaming from hunger. Or for that matter when you/me/we are harming someone or something as we follow our beliefs. For example I got equally sad and mad when I read this even when most people went about liking it on FB.
I want to know, would God really want a kid to stay hungry in his name. Does wearing so-called ‘suhag ke nishaani’ make you more of a wife? Will polluting and in turn destroying a fragile natural habitat please the Gods or provide moksha to the dead? Is the main reason behind praying not to attain a few minutes of calm in our hectic lives? Were religion and customs not started to show us a way to lead a good life? When did we become so rigid in what have been handed down from one generation to another that we forgot the human aspect of it? When did we forget to use our brains to question right from wrong all in the name of God and will God really be pleased about this?
Again maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe because I don’t pray every day or can’t remember the last time I went to a temple, I should not be the one asking all these questions. All I know is my beliefs stand in stark contrast to a lot of super religious people (and here I am not saying all religious people. I know enough people who are religious but not rigid in their beliefs). And that it does not seem to upset me one bit, even when I am called names. And I would do the exact same thing if there were to be a next time.
About 3 or so months back D was washing the car, while Buzz stood at the window of the house looking out in amazement. She called out to her Paa every few minutes wanting to go out to him. D thought about the near freezing temperatures and water and getting Buzz wet. Having made up his mind, he came in, dressed Buzz up in warm clothes, took her outside and made her sit inside the car. For the first time sitting in the car without her car seat, Buzz went exploring with delight. She hopped from one seat to the other. Once the novelty dwindled out, she finally settled for the driver seat..hands on the steering wheel, moving it one direction and then the other, mimicking how she sees us driving.
We were at a one year olds birthday party in a kid’s museum. Buzz ran around, playing with one thing and then the other. Till she turned a corner and came to a stop. Eyes huge, she gaped at the front of a real life truck. Scrambling up the stairs, she got to driver cabby and then waited patiently for the kids sitting on the driver seat to get up, to get her chance. Once there, she sat and pretended to drive, fiddling with the various dials, turning light on and off. She gave the seat up for other kids that came in, but that was where she stayed for the rest of the time we were at the party.
D parks the car after coming home and opens the straps of Buzz’s car seat. She points to the front of the car. D nods his head. With a smile on her face she makes her way to the front of the car, holds on to the steering wheel, drives the car, presses the buttons, plays around. The automatic light of the cars goes off. She stands up on the seat. D opens the door. Out she jumps in his hands. Dad and daughter, mutual admiration in place, walk inside the house.
Driving is so much fun and we can’t wait to get driving.
For the past month or so, getting Buzz dressed is getting increasingly difficult. Not because she has started picking out what to wear..YET (she does say ‘Yeah pehenna hei’ as I am dressing her up, pointing to the clothes I have set out for her), but because she has suddenly shot up and the trousers are a tad bit short, the T-shirts are a little bit of a struggle getting past her head. Every time I come across a dress or trouser or T-shirt that she has outgrown, I make a mental note to not dress her in those again. End result being the difficulty in dressing her up, since well there are not too many options left. Every week I promise myself to go shopping for her over the weekend, but come weekend I find myself caught between running errands and social obligation and trying to catch shut-eye. Shopping gets postponed for another 7 days. Well to be really honest with myself, I know there is a part of me who is not ready to pack up the now outgrown clothes. There are stories attached to every single one of those clothes, there is love in how each of them came to Buzz. I still am in shock that they no longer fit.
Back home, a new born baby is not dressed in new clothes. For the first 9 days of his/her life s/he is dressed in hand-me-down clothes. The thought behind this being that the clothes have been blessed by the baby who had worn them before and the good health and amazing growth is being passed on to the new born. On the 10th day a hawan is performed, the baby is dressed in green clothes (don’t ask me why green) and from then on they can be dressed in any clothes, new or hand-me-downs.
My SIL very lovingly send across my niece’s hand-me-downs. A very pregnant me sat and listen to every story my SIL had to tell..she smiled for the first time when she was wearing this..she turned over for the first time when she was wearing this..see this mark.. I could not help but count my blessings.
D went to India on a business trip while I was pregnant. As I hugged him, happy to have him back, he opened the suitcase and started handing me clothes sent by family for the little one no one had seen yet, but loved no end. At the very end came a green shirt and pajama. Something my MIL had bought years and years ago for D’s future child-to-be when she first figured out she would not stay around to see the child. I have always been emotional about the 4 gold bangles that she had made for me, even without knowing I existed, but nothing can ever come close to my feelings on seeing that green dress.
Saturday afternoon I opened the front door to go out, only to find a box waiting. The from address told me it was from my SIL so I picked it up and walked back in. With great excitement I opened the box to find sweaters and clothes Maa had sent with them on their trip back home and hand-me-down clothes from my niece. I spent the weekend, reorganizing Buzz’s closet. Old clothes were kept aside. Clothes that just came in were washed and put in place. Now every time I open her closet, I have a smile on my face. There is so much thought and love in those clothes.
Buzz has been blessed all over again.
Here goes my list of 10 things that I have done which I am not supposed to as a woman:
- I kept my last name after I got married.
- I was forever the first one to climb trees and climb the highest. Roll in the mud and come out the dirtiest. Take a fall and come back with scraped knees.
- I have stayed alone in an empty hostel which generally bustles with 100+ women and not cared there was no one around.
- I was the resident ‘Chipkali Chaser’ during the hostel days.
- I have travelled alone more times than I can count, taking both domestic and international trips. One of which included taking a 3 month old baby to India and back. The number of raised eyebrows for that one where too many to count.
- I hate shopping with a vengeance and am known to avoid it as much as I can.
- I don’t go the whole makeup/jewelry route. Most of the makeup stuff I got (read was bought for me) during the wedding has not been opened yet (read one lipstick and one eyeliner got opened and are now eating dust as well). Same goes for jewelry. The only jewelry I wear is my wedding band.
- I work late, weekends when I have to. I have been known to come home way past midnight when work takes over.
- I am the official ‘read the instruction manual and figure out how things will fit together’ in the assemble it yourself gadgets and furniture that we buy. And am known for finishing most of these task by myself.
- I love to drive and can never be one of those who will not drive when a guy is around. I like the sense of being in control, at going the speed I want to, at taking the route I want to take. No inputs required. Thank You very much.
I would like to tag Misty, Piyu, DI, Rani, Sonia, Geeta, AHK, Chatterbox, Doli, Dido, Dew and Maverickshree (that is 12 of them right.. Phew). So go on ladies take up the tag.
The blog world is full of rants about the in-laws in general and Mother-in-law in specific. Every time I read them, I shake my head and sympathies. The Indian system of living with the in-laws and if not living with the in-laws then having them a whole lot of say in your life is not for everyone and anyone who wants to write about the trauma is perfectly within their right to do so. But the more I read such posts, I want to write about the things I see happening on the other side. Things I see but never read about because people in that generation are not a whole lot in to technology and hence are not writing about the going ons. What I am writing is my experiences are from here, this land far away from India, where the ILs come for a visit, not for long stays and hence it is not like you are living with them day in day out all your life.
The scenario goes thus: Baby is on the way. Want to keep him/her home for as long as possible, because they get sick oh so much in daycare. So parents and ILs are lined up to come stay for as long as they can. When it comes to grandkids, grandparents are willing to bend backwards. So they come, take care of the baby while the new parents head to work. And since they are home, they take care of the cooking, cleaning, laundry along with the baby.
- A friend got in to this huge fight with her MIL on the way she cooked food. It was too bland.
- Another I know was constantly miffed with her MIL for not folding the clothes after washing the way she wanted them to.
- One was upset that her MIL did not tell her things were about to get over because she likes her fridge and pantry always packed (which means things over just beyond the half way mark need to be bought and stock replenished)
- I heard of someone who was irritated with the clothes the baby was made to wear at home.
- Someone was in tears because no one helped her out with the baby at night.
- Calmed a friend when she did not find something in the correct place in her kitchen.
And I always think to myself:
- Our parents (and ILs) are set in their ways. Can’t we mold ourselves a little or let go a little. And if we can’t, how do you expect 60+ year olds to change themselves overnight?
- Our parents (and ILs) are old. We are in our 20s and early 30s. When we come home, we want to sit in one place and have things served to us. All chores finished. A shiny happy baby handed over to us. How is that fair? When you can’t move your 30-year-old backside because you are tired after a long day of work, how do we expect the 60-year-old to keep going? And taking care of a baby all day is not easy. It is a lot of work and I am totally exhausted when I am home over the weekend. So why not move it a bit and do your part when you come home.
- But most importantly our parents (and ILs) are here to help us out. They are not unpaid maids to cater to our every whim and fancy. They are here to help out while you go to work. They should get a break once you get home. So get up and take care of your house and your baby.
Hence here is what I think
- If you don’t like how the food is cooked. Get up and cook something when you get home. And please don’t force your husband to choose which meal he wants to eat (am saying because the same friend got boiling angry when husband did not care which food he ate, the one his mom cooked or his wife. She wanted him to take her side).
- If you don’t like the way how your clothes are washed, please do the laundry yourself, rather than telling them ‘Oh I am out of undergarments. Do the laundry today’, before walking out the door.
- If you like your pantry always full, take 5 mins out over the weekend to look through the kitchen to see what needs to be replenished.
- If you don’t like what your baby is wearing, take 2 mins out before you leave to take a dress out that you want the baby to wear for the day.
- If you want help at night with the baby, ask your husband. Don’t look at your parents (or ILs). They have done their part during the day.
- If you like things a certain way then work on putting them back the way you like ever so often. The simple fact is the person who works in the house does more things around based on their convenience.
Let me talk about myself since that is easy to talk about: My parents were with us from a month after Buzz was born and the time Buzz was about 6 months till she turned a year old. The simple fact is that once you have lived on your own for a while, it is difficult to live with someone. Your sense of privacy and personal space in invaded by your parents. It is difficult to see things a different way than what you are used to (and these are my parents so I am used to them doing things the way they do and kind of do things the same as them just a little different). And after I come back from work, having been gone all day, it is not that I want to help (though I kind of don’t, I am tired and I see that work is getting done so why do I need to pitch in), I want to spend as much time as I can with Buzz. She is my baby, I love her, and I have been away all day, so ofcourse I want to spend all my remaining time with her. But my Mom is tired and needs to rest too. It is morning in India, so my Dad wants to get online and read the Indian newspapers and relax a bit. So we came with a strategy which worked for all of us. Where there was give and take and the final product worked. And every time I did not keep my end of the deal, Mom came up and told me straight up.
Now imagine a MIL doing the same. Telling a DIL that she was tired. Or saying she needed a hand. I have heard enough DILs crib and call their MILs insensitive, rude and a myriad of other things, to know how that goes down. I have seen MIL will dark circles under their eyes, exhausted with all the work that needs to be done, bending backwards since they are here to help and don’t want to be labeled that kind of MIL.
Leaving with a couple of other incidents:
- A friend’s kids first Birthday party. All the food is being made at home. I volunteer to help, so head over to their place. Do my part of cutting, chopping, frying with Aunty while my friend flutters around counting plates and cups and who knows what else. One of the items on the menu is ‘Bhel Puri’ which aunty has no clue how to make and I am deemed the expert. So I get everything ready. Since the party is in the evening, and this is around 11:00 in the morning, chopping onions, potatoes, tomatoes are deemed too early (mostly by the my friend). When we get to the venue of the party in the evening, my friend asks me to mix the ‘Bhel Puri’ to get the proportion right. I start mixing everything, ask for the onion, tomatoes..there is none. My friend turns to aunty, gives her a nasty look and says ‘List banaani chaniye thi naa’. All I could think of was, what were you doing? Why did you not make the list and ensure that everything was there?
- A friend gets a bulk load of stuff from her ILs via someone who was coming from India. She cribs non-stop about the fact that ‘X’ was not send when she specifically asked for it, while ‘Y’ was send. Followed by throwing ‘Y’ as not to be used. I look at her and say, “but ‘Y’ would be something you would buy since it is much to your taste, so why would she not use it”. Her reply: “Since my in-laws sent it”.
Again I am not saying that all the in-laws horror stories one reads are not true, or that everyone treat their ILs as above. Just saying that it is not always their fault. There are a lot of us who are less tolerant to our ILs and are of the mindset that whatever they do is wrong and with malice.
And this is not the post about the clash of modern and old-fashioned thinking. This is about work and its doing. Day to day stuff.
Except for being born in the state of Haryana and the initial year or so, I have never really stayed there. What I have done, is visit the state at least couple of times a year, visiting family. And I have looked at the state as an insider, visited various cities, but more importantly visiting the villages..the prosperous ones close to Delhi and the not so forward thinking ones in the interiors and ones with desert soil close to Rajasthan border. And not once, but a couple of times every year, for years till I moved out of the country.
So when people talk about Haryana and their views of the state, to me they come out as stating peripheral views, facts gathered from what is printed or broadcasted by the media. So when people talk about abortion of girl fetus prevalent within the state, there are so many things I want to add. Why? Because there are so many sides to a story, so many angles that get missed.
But before I begin, let me state a very simple fact and get it out of the way: Haryana is a state obsessed with a Male child.
No questions asked, but then that is true for most of the other states in India..so why does Haryana get such a bad rep? Well because the state has the most recorded number of sex selection abortions or at least the most reported.
Let me tell you a story that I saw repeated over and over again as I made my yearly visit to my ancestral village. The women were different every time..the story, exactly the same.
Picture this: A woman about 2-3 months pregnant sitting on the floor surrounded by a couple of other females from her family. On the Khaat or pidhaa, sitting a social worker. There is talk about family planning..Hum do, humaare do..The big mantra of the 80’s. The social worker trying to convince the pregnant lady to not have another child after she delivers the one she is carrying. The pregnant lady has a girl child already, so all other women in the family insist that a boy child is important and the pregnant lady can’t stop till she has one. And so goes the discussion.
Till the social worker, who I guess has a quota to meet or something, says why don’t you go to a doctor and check what you are having? If you are having a girl child, you can always get it aborted. This will be economical in the long run since you don’t have to take care of the girl child, plus if you have an abortion right now you can get back to making that male child all the more sooner.
Now you have to remember that the pregnant woman and all her relatives are illiterate, with no exposure to the outside world, no TV, not even a radio. So they don’t understand most of the what the social worker is explaining, but questions are asked, answers patiently given. Finally a doctors address is handed over to the pregnant woman, with a promise that a van will come pick her up the next morning. And if everything goes well, she will be home in a couple of hours, secure in the knowledge that she will have a boy. Else she will have her abortion and be back home to cook dinner.
So many times I saw this, so many times I saw my mother rant and rail against all of this, so many times my dad tried to explain how things really worked, so many times I saw a black Jeep stop outside the village and a pregnant woman step inside, so many times I saw her come back having terminated her pregnancy.
Now that I am older and have my anger in check and really know how things work, I feel deeply saddened at all the misinformation fed to these women. At 2-3 months pregnant, the chances of knowing that you have a male fetus are about 50%. Even at 5 months there is a chance that a male fetus can be misinterpreted as a female. So really along with getting a female fetus, a lot of male fetus were getting aborted too. Which is not to say that the statistics make the abortion any better or the intent behind it all right.
Anyways cut to current times. What happened to after all the sex selection abortions? Well simple. The male to female ratio got skewed. And like everything there are repercussions when you mess around with the natural order of things.
The repercussions in this case is that there is a dearth of women to marry those sons that people so desperately wanted. Plus the thing to remember is that Haryana is a farming community and marriages are fixed based on the amount of farm land the guy has to his name. More the number of sons someone has, more parts the land gets divided in to, less the guy is desirable as a marriage partner. And when there are lesser number of women to choose from things get really interesting.
So now marriages in Haryana have gone the opposite route than most of India. Marriages are happening without any money spend by the bride’s family. Once yes is said by both sides, a sweet is made to be had by everyone, 1 Rs given to the groom and a quick ritual takes place in front of all the people present at the time of the yes is said. Done. No big wedding, no grand dressing up, no dowry.
Again none of this makes what happened all right, but at least the current generation is learning from what happened in the past. At least the current generation is not going overly crazy about having a male child. There is hope and with a little more education and with correct guidance things can get a lot better. The first step has been taken. Now we just have to ensure that we continue to move forward in the right direction and not regress.