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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.