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Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Delivering a baby is a lot of effort;after all those initial months of terrible morning sickness, acidity and gas till the last few months of leg cramps , sleeplessness and other difficulties, it felt like a I had crossed many long tunnels and reached a logical conclusion. In the software industry, when one developer puts in all that effort and dedication , the manager provides him/her with some recognition that generally feels great.It makes you feel good and satisfied-you have delivered a product after so much hardship and people around appreciate it .Unfortunately, in real life, that doesn't happen. Right when I was feeling all elated about the good job I had done, I was pulled back to ground reality by all dear and near ones who apathetically reminded me that -"It's no big deal.It was just your duty". I am not sure if they meant the same thing what Darwin did when they said "duty" in bringing forth evolution by delivering a hybrid gene combination which is, by virtue of evolution, better than its previous one...well don't think so..

I don't think I'd have run into rough waters if I had just gone with the flow (all I have to blame is my neurons and some conditioning that says "THINK" :-p) .. Even before the bun popped out of the oven, I could hear folks talking about whether the sun/moon sign for that day was favorable (As mine was an induced labor, Vinod n I were stressed that our families might ask the induction to happen on an astrologically favorable day. There is a story according to which, I was born under such calculated induction so that I was not born at a bad hour with a bad sun/moon sign.). Soon there were discussions on either side about the 28th day celebration and other ceremonies that should follow. (One of my good friends told me that in her case , after all the arrangements were made inclusive of the kind of dress she and baby should wear , she was given the option to call few ppl of her choice to attend the ceremony !). All kins seemed to be more excited about the function, the people who would arrive and all the fanfare rather than the newborn baby and the poor mother who needed some peace , food and help.

I fail to understand why the Indian society still fails to give any recognition to the fact that a woman spends months contributing physically and emotionally ,to bring a new life into this world and she is not even asked for an opinion before decisions are made for her baby.. Sadly,relatives around take the liberty to make decisions for everything from name, surname, naming ceremony, one month ceremony and what not.The mother is most often treated as if her "duty" is over (if the baby is healthy she has done a neat job,otherwise she can bask in some verbal abuse) and pushed to the back burner to let the old n wise pitch in to take control. Any attempt by the mother to try to participate in the decision making (for instance by saying- I don't want to celebrate any ceremony for my baby) is immediately stamped as disobedience.But my point is if I know how to buy the flour and bake a bun, I know how to eat it too !!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What's in a name?

I  am probably among the very few % of people in the world who has a surname inherited from my mother as part of a well accepted social law - the matriarchal naming rule. My mother got it from her mother and she from her mother and so on (well I am absolutely clueless of what my surname- Kavungal Konoor means;Name of a place ?house name?person's name?).So technically my son should be named "Aditya K K " but his offsprings wouldn't get that surname as males don't get to propagate it..

But even though certain communities in Kerala once followed matriarchal system, they have now slowly replaced it by the well-accepted patriarchal one.Thus, you can hardly ever find any surname propagation like mine.I must say I often get offended while filling those forms which asks for a section that says -"Father's /Husband's Name". Sadly noone asks for "Mother's/Wife's Name".It's would seem like the ownership or guardianship has shifted from father to husband and irrespective of whether one's mother or wife takes care of one, they are of no value. I was pleasantly surprised and touched when my baby's name was written as B/O Divya (Baby Of Divya) in his record at the hospital I delivered at. The discharge summary also says that. It made me feel that finally some system recognized the fact that I exist and I am someone worthy of being written in some form or record.

When we went for our baby's first check up, the doctor while entering his data into the computer asked for the baby's name and I said-"Aditya Divya Vinod". She paused , looked at me and asked "Aditya Vinod"? I said-"Aditya Divya Vinod".
While we were discussing the name we would put for our baby , the most predictable would have been Aditya Nair (but considering Adiyta is only a 3/4th Nair by virtue of his mother being only a half Nair, the name Aditya Three Fourth Nair would have been more apt)..The other balanced name would have been Aditya Nair K K..(but considering we don't know who is Nair or KK, that would have sounded equally stupid)..Finally we decided to go for XXX Divya Vinod if it was a boy and XXX Vinod Divya if it was a girl. So here we are -parents of a boy who literally carries his family name !!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

To my Little Sweetheart

I  recently read a mother's day article which talked about how a woman goes through extreme pain (which is equivalent of 20 bones getting fractured ) to give birth to her baby. 20 of my bones haven't got fractured at the same time. So I wouldn't know the associated pain..but yes giving birth pains..for me it was like someone cutting my lower back with an axe every minute for 8 straight hours before the doctor decided to tear me up and pull the baby.But that's not the point.The article said that a mother's love is equivalent to all that pain and sacrifices she puts up...Now wait a sec..whom are we fooling here? I want to tell my 5 week old little boy that

My dear,

I decided to have you for my own pleasure (and that of my husband's)..some ppl have children because they are bored with their lives and want some activity..Some others have because they have a ailing family life and they hope to revive it .Most have it because of social/parental pressure.others have it because they are supposed..very few others have it because they think too much about the propagation of the human race..and a fairly large number have it accidentally.

You were heavier than most Indian babies.In the last scan you weighed 3.7 kg and it was way too difficult to walk with you in my tummy..but I want to let you know that tall parents have heavier babies and I was eating too much of food anyways (Amul ice cream, Amul milk Shake etc) and the weight wasnt your fault .So you dont have to feel guilty for that too..

It was way too difficult to deliver you..The pain was so prolonged and extreme that I thought it was better to die..and I didn't tolerate all that pain because I loved you (whether I love you or not is a different thing altogether not to be put into a directly proportional equation )..The fact is the doc never let me take epidural or go for C-section till the very end..All I remember yelling in the last few hours of my labor is "Doctor..epidural..pleeeeeese doctor..give me epidural" and "Can we do a c-section?Pleeeeease??"So I am not going to pester you for the rest of your life for all the drama I went through to give birth to you..

I don't remember the last time I slept for 9 hours straight..well it was almost 9 months back..nowadays I hardly get time to sleep, eat or even use toilet..Basic things like cutting my nails seems like a luxury..all my time goes cleaning your diaper, putting you to sleep and feeding you..
As of now these are the only sacrifices I can think of but I am sure as months pass by, there are going to be graver ones..

But my dear , I want to tell you that please don't confuse my love with my sacrifices...I hope I am able to remind myself everyday that 20-30 years down the lane I don't burden you with all the stories of all the labor pain and sleepless night sacrifices I made for you..The fact is I made all that just for my happiness..and sadly you had no choice in the entire matter..

The Yellow Metal

The first time I figured out that there was huge monetary value attached to gold is when I was probably 7 years old and I lost a gold bracelet that I was wearing . Every time  I went out to visit a relative's place , I was mandatorily made to wear some 'basic' accessories like gold mala , good pair of earrings and a pair of bangles or bracelet.I still can't comprehend why a 7 year old girl would need to go around wearing such expensive accessories but well..that's how it used to be. I had been trained to periodically check if each of the ornament was securely in place and the fear associated with losing any of it was heavy , making any outside visits or playing with cousins/friends rather stressful.

As I grew older, I obviously started detesting these accessories.They got bigger and heavier and more difficult to manage but then if you don't wear it, people felt it was their responsibility to ask-"why wouldn't your mother give you anything to wear" or "why is your neck and hands empty ?" Well..any mallu woman can tell you that these are just trailors before the actual movie, the actual movie is the big fancy dress day-the wedding !- the day all the highly profit-making jewelers in Kerala wait for to squeeze out of you your entire life's earnings . This is the day for which they put up all those ads on all those channels everyday . For eg. Bhima's ad says -"If you are a girl , you need need to be a pot of gold" (pennayal ponnu vennam).

So why do mallus spend so many lakhs on wedding jewellery alone ? For two reasons - one , its customary, second they are scared; Customary , because all those guests who turn up at the wedding are there to see all that gold and if they don't get to see enough of it , they go around gossiping -"that girl wore hardly any gold". So, to avoid public humiliation, its better to go with the flow even if that means a big hole in your pocket ;Scared, because if the bride goes to her sauraal without covering her chest and hands with gold, there's a possibility that a different sort of treatment would await her and the concerned parents wouldn't want to take that risk.Our family is no different. Even though I very much wanted to have a simple n small wedding process, I , like others ended up wearing gold as expected under a lot of pressure and after a lot of debate. I remember my relatives reminding me on my wedding day about how I should be careful about not letting all the gold hide inside the saree pleats and my mother rather disappointed over how the expensive ruby necklace wasn't conspicuous on top of a same-colored purple saree.

We kind of drained our bank accounts to pay for all that gold which never saw the light of day after that.To me it makes more sense to buy some gold-linked stocks (if at all investment in gold was all that necessary).Few years after my marriage, I stopped wearing  the 'minimum' required gold and as soon as I stepped into my sasuraal, my in-laws could run towards me with a long gold mala and few gold bangles in the fear that some other relative would see me gold-less and the entire family would be humiliated. On the first occasion when I completely refused to wear gold , I was safely hidden inside the walls of my sasuraal so that the family did not have to deal with the shame associated !!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Middle Aged ? Not Yet !

Last month, I finished 30 years of my life and just when I had started to think that perhaps technically I have turned middle-aged, I corrected myself that I would be middle-aged only if my estimated life span is 60 years.I did a quick search and figured out that as of today's statistics , the average life expectancy of a mallu female at birth is 76 years, which means that I have at least another 8 years to get there :) .But I'd presume that by that time the life expectancy rate would have increased further and I would probably have few more years than 8 to be middle-aged.

I recall my days (in Kerala) as a kid, when women (by the time they turned 30) would have already had at least 2 school-going kids , a flabby belly and looked like they have already lived half their lives . As I write this blog, I can without much effort count at least 5-6 of my female friends (whom I went to college with) who have already turned 30 and have either not identified their life partners or haven't even started actively thinking of conceiving , which is quite a contrast to the earlier setup.

Few months back , a round table was conducted in my office where women with an experience range of  around 8-10 years were randomly picked up from different teams. The goal of the meeting was to take a peek on how women handled their personal lives along with work pressures and thus each of us had to share some basic information about our family. Even though only 10 women turned up, I was very surprised to find that every single woman had a unique status. For eg,. only half of us were married and within that there were women who had kids, no kids, expecting, one had decided not to have kids; in the unmarried set , one had decided never to be married, one said she's was thinking of adoption and so on.I was glad to know that today women have and exercise lot more flexibility than they did 30 years back.

Having said all about flexibility and joy of  celebrating youth even in one's 30s , I am not trying to paint a rosy picture. From what I see around , the marriage market still has a high demand for the young & the naive (not talking about men of course). One of my male friends told me that when his parents started bride-hunt for him (when he was 25-26), his parents went looking for a 21-22 year old bride.Even after 4 years, when he turned 29-30, the expected age for his potential bride remained static at 21-22. The justification is fairly simple. A 21-22 year old bride would have just enough education but wouldn't have explored the world yet or developed her own preferences or independent thought process. Such a woman could be easily moulded to fit into one's requirement and can be easily controlled .Then of course there's the added benefit of many years of the biological clock that can be used to space two or more offspring before she turns 30.

As I had already secured a job by the time I was 21 , my parents were more than eager to get me "married off" . I have only myself to thank for,for having resisted it. When I finally got married 4 years later by my own choice, I was considered too old by my potential in-laws to be considered for a dutiful daughter-in-law post and my age had become a factor of much negotiation and debate even though Vinod's age is 3-4 years more than mine. By the time I was 28, my in-laws , relatives and friends had shed all their modesty in reminding me that I was too old and that my chances of conception itself was meagre.Vinod and I often got to hear things like -"Her age is the factor. She's too old. Maybe she should be checked with a doctor ! "  .

Considering the age-related personal experiences I had, I am now sure that even celebrities like Aishwarya Rai would have a story to share about her struggles to balance a career and personal life , both of which closely revolves around her age (esp. because she is is in the showbiz industry).I am sure that the doctors and other medics reading this post might subscribe more to the school of thought that it is best that women deliver babies in their 20s as they are physically tuned better at that age but as Vinod puts it - There are two graphs in everyones life -  the physical one and the mental one.Both the graphs need to intersect , whether it be marriage , kids or anything else in life ,even a vacation for that matter !

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Caste Shadow

I am not sure if I have mentioned this incident in any of my previous blogs. If I have, forgive the repetition . Couple of years back, when we visited Jaisalmer and took a taxi to Sam Dhani desert, the driver informed us with great pride that he was a Rajput and insisted we let him know if we were Rajputs too. We were obviously taken aback but responded saying that there was no caste named Rajput in South India, where we came from. But he was adamant and asked if our caste was at least equivalent to Rajputs :) .. As we traveled through the desert in the blasting heat, he showed us at a distance few huts and informed with contempt - "Those are the Achooths (untouchables) ". Till then, I had thought that India had long time back shed the concept of untouchability !

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised for I can easily related to similar behavior been exercised to the so called 'Harijans' back at my mother's maternal home. From a long time, a family of SC/ST has been working at my mother's home; they are dark-complexioned as opposed to their wheatish/light-skinned Nair employers and can generally be easily recognized by their names which are like 'Valli' , 'Mundan' , 'Chatappan' etc. Their entry to the house is restricted to the back door and food is served in separate plates , which shouldn't be touched , used or washed by the other family members. Even though they stayed close by and their kids often went to the same govt as as my cousins went to, their kids were not allowed to mingle with the Nair kids.

It might be interesting to know that by virtue of my father belonging to a caste that falls under Backward  Hindu (or BH) , I don't fall into the category of a complete Nair and could easily be given a separate plate/glass at my own mother's ancestral home .Even interesting is the fact that until about 14 or 15 years of marriage ,my mother wasn't even aware that she was married to a non-Nair  and none of her relatives are still aware of that ( i e if they don't read this blog). Even after my mother knew about it, my parents thought (considering the grave consequences associated with it) it was better that all of us kept mum .

However, when I finally found the man I wanted to get married to , (whose surname ends with a 'Nair' ), my father felt it was important to communicate the 'strange case of caste mess up' to my then potential in-laws . Now, my in-laws hail from a orthodox Nair family and they didn't have any reason to have me in .So they resisted and made it clear that they are clearly not interested in "taking in" a bahu from a lower caste , irrespective of the education and other things.Well, to this day, that's another secret that's maintained by my in-laws ( i e if their relatives don't read this blog). My in-laws probably spent the entire wedding fearing someone would ask my caste and how they could distract them. They are unable to imagine the deterioration in their social standing and the associated shame , if their relatives and people in the social circle got to know about their half-Nair daughter-in-law !!

Now ,let's go back to our Jaisalmer illiterate driver who was adamant about knowing our caste.He might have asked me to get out mid-way , considering my 'lower' social standing but considering he is uneducated and illiterate , I would have let it go. But what can be done to improve the conditioning of a society and the people in it, who boasts of being wise and educated ?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

That's how it is supposed to be !

Now that I have the time and opportunity, let me thank Google for coming out with their search engine. The more I think , the more I feel grateful to Google. I am taken back to those days when searching for something was a misery and then out of nowhere came this super-fast engine that makes one want to learn new things because it provides a solution to the thing that annoys everyone the most - IMPATIENCE ! Coming back to the real topic - in today's world, information has become so very accessible. It's like you are literally connected to a huge library that can cater to almost any sort of information that is available around. So its no longer like old days when you either have to travel kms to find the right library with the right book or need to rely on a few arrogant intellectuals to get answers (which could be right/wrong). This has led to a huge social revolution, for the world can now be broadly divided into two categories - the one (mostly the older generation) who doesn't get to access the internet and the those who gets to do that.

Now , I don't want to make it sound like black and white. I don't intend to say that just because someone can access a search engine, he/she has suddenly become wiser and just because someone (of the older generation) missed the accessing the internet, they are less wiser.All I intend to say that the free flow of information and its accessibility has definitely made a huge impact. You might say I am prejudiced but I am sure all of us would have at some point of time heard this from an older relative/parent- "You haven't grown enough to teach me " or "I have eaten more Onams than you have (intending that I have lived life more than you have)" or "Who's the mother(or father) here ?" etc etc..I completely agree that every new experience makes one wiser but I don't agree that merely age/years make(s) anybody wiser and I have often found that certain people (though not all) carry around a false air of authority and arrogance in the pretext that they know it all because they have lived life for X number of years... and the social revolution I was talking about earlier helps break this air. It grounds all those souls who hold knowledge tight and creates an environment of opaqueness merely to feel a sense of importance.

Gone are those days when one had to completely rely on blind traditional practices propagated from one generation to another (mostly orally and via memory). Thanks for accessible information available around, we are in a position to learn and understand the implications associated with our  actions. Having said that , I don't mean to say that the age old wisdom has no fact I feel its invaluable but incorrectly used. The practitioners of  traditional customs are mostly clueless of the context in which they should be practiced or the real intend associated with it. Every time I have raised a question on a specific practice , I have heard -"That's how it is supposed to be". If I follow it up with a second question like "Why? Why is it supposed to be so?", it generally sparks the ire of the speaker who replies with something like "Haven't your parents taught you how to be obedient ? "or "Do you always have to ask so many questions " . It is easy to guess that all those age old rishis and munnis would have spent years learning and experimenting before they arrived at those ancient practices .But every practice is associated with a context and a reasoning (scientific /social) and to blindly follow it as an instruction would be equivalent to living life with a body that's devoid of heart and soul. I fail to understand why people stopped asking questions to understand the reason associated with a practice and what led them to believe that it was okay to pressure the next generation with the same old instructions that they have been following, without even considering whether those practices hold any value in the current day.

As my husband and I wait for our first baby in a few weeks time, we have been under immense pressure to follow different traditional practices, the advocates of which seem to be clueless of why it is followed.All they respond with is - "You cannot be so modern ". Some of the more interesting ones have been listed below:
1. After delivery, if you don't tightly wrap your flabby tummy, your uterus would fall off
(fall off ??@$@$$$#)
2. Husband is not allowed to sleep with newborn baby or wife after delivery (Why?- Ans: That's how it is)
3. After delivery, you should avoid/restrict drinking water as much as possible . The more water you drink, the lesser the chances of your flab recovery(???)
4. Gynecologists are ignorant of age old customs .They will try and mislead you. So don't listen to them when they ask you to eat balanced food. Esp. after delivery eat lot of fat.

The list goes on and I can list hundred more..

Friday, May 4, 2012

Emotional Happiness

Though I was always aware of it, the experiences in the past few months helped me realize how much people alienate emotional health. When we talk of health , it is always the physical health.Talking about one's emotional or mental health is like making a fuss about nothing. I recollect the time I visited one of my female relatives at a hospital and found her in a state of depression.The doctor referred her to a psychiatrist ; her husband immediately stepped in and said ,"No, that won't be required.She's absolutely fine'. Meeting a psychologist or a psychiatrist still considered a hush affair , something that should be performed only if one is totally insane.

An older friend of mine told me that after the delivery of one of babies , she was suffering from severe post natal depression(which is not uncommon) and her exact words were -"I did not even tell my husband". When she said that I was too young to understand post natal depression but now i keep wondering why she felt it was anything to be hid at all.

Couple of years back, I attended a training at work on Emotional Intelligence , which talked about different concepts like emotional self-awareness , emotional quotient etc. I am happy that even corporate environment consider EI of significance during professional interactions. While I was in my 20s (when most of the people I interacted with were also in their 20s), I have met many people esp. men , who took pride in projecting themselves as emotionless 'cool' entities and heard them tell their prospective girl friends how they prefer to be in casual fuss-less relationships .The same men (being my friends) have often confided in me their emotional turmoils / conflicts.It could be because there is a general perception that if you are emotional , you are weak or less manly. In fact, whenever I have discussed my emotional problems with relatives and friends, they have many a time told me that they feel I am emotionally unstable and should consider doing some yoga.;the problem as I perceive it clearly seems to be that people , probably due to the general social conditioning , do not admit that emotions and mental health are is an integral part of one's being .

Many years back , an older cousin of mine had visited us and in one of the conversation he had with my parents , he asked my mother- "Do you think you give your daughter what she wants?". My mother went on to explain about all the food , dress, books and other things that my parents make available for me. He listened to all that and finally asked the question again -"Do you give her what SHE WANTS?" I was only 15 years old then but that sentence was novel to me and kept me thinking.I wondered if that was possible at all..In fact , I realized then that even though I was provided with many things , I was never asked what I wanted !

A distressed friend of mine explained to me how her parents wouldn't let her get married to a man of her choice. I asked if there was anything wrong about the man. Apparently the man was a very good person who has been standing by her side through ups and downs but the only reason for rejecting him is that her parents felt that there was no reason she had to find a husband for herself when they were alive. Well, there's nothing too surprising about this case. Most parents around seem to give more importance to the standard traditional processes that involve social acceptance rather than thinking about the emotional happiness of their offspring. In most cases, there is hardly any effort put in by parents to understand the likes or dislikes of their children or how much an action or disapproval could affect the emotional health and trust of their children.

Emotional health is too vast a topic to be covered in a small article like this. But I sincerely hope that  over the years , society as a whole would understand and appreciate how much integral it is to one's existence and how emotional happiness is the key to any successful relationship.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reproductive Right and Justice

The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows:

Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

This is rather interesting and new concept to me. The concept is interesting because though I thought reproductive right should exists, I did not think it really existed and thus I am glad that one or more groups of people or organization (WHO here) thought that reproduction is not a private affair (for which no guidelines had to be defined).And it is new, because at least in the cultural circles I am exposed to, reproduction is more of a private and family affair that anything on which WHO-defined rights can be applied.Depending upon the socioeconomic status and education-level of a family, individuals and couples could be subjected to discrimination, coercion or violence and in most of the cases , it is easier to give in rather than resist and hold one's ground.

As is well-known, in Indian families , there is considerable pressure put upon a couple to deliver an offspring at the earliest possible. Most of my cousins (who stay with or within close vicinity of their family) have conceived within the first year of marriage itself . The pressure mounted upon a couple is so immense that there is hardly any scope to evaluate important things like financial feasibility to accommodate a new member,  mental preparation of parents etc. Anywhere after two years of offspring-less marriage , a couple esp. the wife could be subjected to vibes from anyone from a distant relative to the local house-maid, as a reminder that the individual/couple has yet not implemented the duty, that has already been delayed by a year.I am aware of many friends who prefer to remain abroad and not return to India fearing the period of harassment , associated with this.

I have been married for 4.5 years and am expecting my first born this May . And if someone asked me if WHO reproductive rights helped me, well..sorry I wasn't even aware of it.And even if I were aware of it, max I could have done is to have taken a printout of it and pasted it at the walls of different relatives and I am sure they would have used to clean up something.I went through 16 years of education and 7 years of work in a MNC and a total of 28 years of existence to have realized that a person like me could be as vulnerable to denial of reproductive right (or for that matter any other right) as an uneducated woman below poverty line. I vividly remember the horrible incident of visiting my in-laws a year back when I(and my husband) were put through verbal abuse and mental harassment for not having reproduced till then.I was forced to meet a gynecologist because my in-laws believed firmly that I was infertile and needed to be checked by a gynecologist of their choice immediately under their supervision , which I resisted and resistance is always met with further verbal abuse and emotional blackmail and my portrayal as a woman who doesn't even display the basic instinct of having children . To top it all, when I informed this incident to my parents, instead of extending support to my cause, I was advised to stop creating a raucous , forget about the incident and arrive at a compromise, because that was the most practical way to go forward.

 Well, according to WHO, I have the reproductive right to decide the timing of my children free of discrimination and coercion . If a person like me had to go  through such mental turmoil and harassment to  exercise my right, I don't see much hope for the millions or probably billions of women all around the women, who might not be able to hold their ground.