Some totally unconnected thoughts…

I have been meaning to put something down in words for a week now. But, every time I put my fingers to keyboard, I realize I don’t have enough material for a blogpost. You know? It’s one of those times when you have too much to say to fit into a tweet of 140 characters, but not enough to make a blogpost of! So, I decided to put all my random thoughts down into one single blogpost, instead of waiting forever to elaborate on them and basically kill the expression!

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The census guy was at aunt’s place last week. With apparent boredom he quizzes aunt about the names, ages, dates of birth of the members of the family. Getting to language, he asks what the mother-tongue was. My aunt says Kannada. He noted it down and asked, “Vera baashai?” Aunt said, Hindi, English, Tamil, and Sanskrit. The lady accompanying the man tells him, “Just write Tamil and English. Others are irrelevant.” Aunt insists for a moment, then gives up because the milk boiling on the gas is more important and the man taking the information down is refusing to relent. Then comes religion. He asks, “Hindu, Christian or Muslim?” And my aunt says Hindu. And that’s that! After a few more questions, he thanks us and leaves. This incident left a bitter taste in my mouth. First things first, you cannot and must not restrict the number of languages recorded in the census. For me, there would be at least 4 apart from my mother tongue, in which, incidentally, I am not fluent. Secondly, the issue of religion. Religion is a personal affair. People must not be forced to select their religion from a drop-down list, figuratively speaking. As an adult, I must ideally be allowed to declare myself as atheist, agnostic or Bah’ai if I please! Also, the religion of my parents must not automatically become mine! What about inter-faith marriages? The children should be allowed to remain sans religion until they are old enough to decide what they want to be. I don’t know if the census take into account such special cases, but I do know that the officials coming to collect information are very often quite rigid in their approach.

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On a different note, I finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Gut-wrenching, yet hopeful. Some scenes describing the Taliban era are scary, intense and hit you like a ton of bricks. What it must take for a man to write so sensitively about two female characters! For a minute, I was transported into a world where being a woman is the biggest curse of them all. I was so emotionally affected at times that I had to put the book down and do something else. But, the book is so gripping that you can never stay away for too long. I would like to read it again, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to stomach that again.

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Finally, now that the euphoria of President Mobarak’s exit has died down, can we please get a bit more practical? Egypt has a long way to go before it becomes a fully-functional democracy. Gloating over successes even before the success is total is not only premature, but also carries with it the risk of people losing focus on the task at hand. Let’s not forget that it is still the military that is ruling. And a military in power is never a good thing. For now, the only thing we can do is wait and watch. And hope that for their own sake, the Egyptian people manage to set up a functional democracy.

Literature? Or not?

A few days ago, I came across these two posts by Jai Arjun. Both are rather old posts, but the issues raised in them are still pertinent, especially in the context of the reading bug that has bitten me since the beginning of the year. Now, I am not expert in literature, but I do read rather a lot. My taste in reading ranges from Jeffrey Archer to Salman Rushdie to Paulo Coelho, and I don’t mind experimenting with books. Jai Arjun’s posts set me thinking on what books are deemed read-worthy and what are not. Personally, I would, as I admitted read any book once. If I like the genre and find the author even remotely interesting, I’ll probably read the second or the third. The first link is on the end of pretension in publishing. While discussing the democratization of publishing in India, he says that literary critics often tend to lose sight of the possible directions Indian Writing in English could take in the coming years. I agree that literary critics, especially those who critic for a living tend to be rather partial to what might be termed as literary works. But, beyond the obvious definition of literature to most lay minds as serious, even boring writing, the second post on literature being often considered as “pseudo-intellectual” provided much food for thought.

As a student of literature, I tend to agree that much of what we considered worthy of being classified as literature is serious writing. Rarely, if ever, is any book on the recommended reading list of a literature student unless it wins some sort of award. I also distinctly remember cribbing that Midnight’s Children was eminently unreadable despite having won the Booker of Bookers. I also remember telling a friend that no matter how interesting the style, it just did not cut it for me because it did not manage to hold my attention the way a lot of serious literary works have in the past. I also plead guilty to considering books by Chetan Bhagat and the likes of him (referred to by Jai Arjun as dude-lit fiction) as nothing more than pulp fiction. While I enjoy the occasional chick-lit, Devil wears Prada-type fiction, I really wouldn’t consider adding it to my must-read list. I suppose the authors Jai Arjun interviews would consider me a bit of an intellectual snob! And I plead guilty. While I don’t belong to that group of people who wouldn’t go near a Chetan Bhagat book with a ten-foot barge pole, I also don’t think he is worth discussing or taking seriously by anyone who really loves books. The other extreme that Jai Arjun talks of is even more interesting. This equating of literary fiction with pseudo-intellectual and therefore boring, is also something that I disagree with. A lot of literature is extremely interesting. One of my favourite books is not even a novel: it is a play. Andromache by Jean Racine is the one book I have read again and again over the past 5 years and it is not even in modern French. It belongs to the 17th Century and there is something so appealing about it that even 300 years later, there is someone who finds it interesting.

What I find intriguing, and perhaps even a wee bit distressing, is that authors would want their books to be priced low because it shouldn’t eat into the going-out-with-girlfriend-to-coffee-day-budget! And even more distressing is the intention behind writing easy-to-read books: sells thousands of copies, make a lot of money! I agree that a lot of people do not read because they find it too boring to read. I also agree that the likes of Chetan Bhagat have brought the reading habit to people who wouldn’t have touched a book in their lives without a gun held to their heads. But, this trend of writing books just to make a quick buck is something I will never be able to understand or empathize with. I want to write a book some day. I don’t know if this is going to be fiction or non-fiction, humorous or serious, literary or pulp fiction. But, I do know that when that happens, how many copies my book sells will be the last thing on my mind. Much like writing a blogpost, I will be happy if just one other person in this world (apart from my publisher and editor of course) took the trouble to read the book and give me feedback. Maybe because, for some of us, writing is not a profession, it is a passion. Pardon me if I am being ranting right now because the idea of equating books to cup of coffee with girlfriend, as some of the writers themselves seem to be doing, is too much for me to take. And yes, if I have a thousand extra bucks to spend, I’ll probably spend it on books rather than on coffee….unless am having coffee with someone like Ameen Merchant! 😀

On marriage, dowry, blogging etc…

This morning, I came across a new blog. Delighted to discover a blog I had never read before, I scrolled down and what do I see? A letter from a “concerned” mother. Before reading this riposte to the mother, I suggest you read the letter itself. This strikes me as wrong at so many levels that I do not know where to begin. First things first, the mother blaming a blog for her daughter’s attitude is a bit much. She says she spent sleepless nights agonizing over the fact that her daughter of “marriageable” age was spending time reading Tbg’s blog! I mean, what the hell? So what? Is this a case of passing the buck?

However, the letter brings up more fundamental, social issues that must be addressed. First, she refers to her daughter as being of “marriageable age”. Now, is there no other identity for that poor girl, except that she is of marriageable age? And that brings me to my point. What is marriageable age anyway? To me, marriage is a commitment. It is not about the wedding ceremony, the money or even the house and the car. It is about wanting to spend the rest of your life with someone. And to get married simply because you are of a certain age, and not because there is someone out there with whom you really want to grow old, is a crazy notion. I am 28. My parents are retired. They want me to get married too. But not because I am 28 and it’s time for me to get married, but because they want me to be happy with whoever I am going to be married to. If that person takes a few more years to surface, so be it. I do appreciate her concerns when she says that they need to get her married before they retire. Money is definitely an issue once they are retired and it will not be so easy to get her married after that. But does that mean you push her away to the next person who comes along? Whatever happened to compatibility and all?

Second, she says that her daughter finds something wrong with every person she meets. I am extremely sorry to admit it, but it’s true that very few men are actually marriage-material. In the past year, I have met about half a dozen men. All potential grooms. But, each has some problem. One was commitment-phobic, the next was insecure about himself and my intelligence, the third only wanted a singer-wife, and not necessarily in that order. You can’t settle for someone simply because he wants to get married to you can you? If the daughter says no, I am pretty sure there is a valid reason for it. And the mother must try and understand why things are the way they are.

Third, and nobody seems to have pointed this out. The father dumps the blame on the mother. “She is your daughter. Explain!” So, she is your daughter when there is a problem but his daughter when she gets that big, fat pay cheque? Convenient excuse this! Does the mother really want a man who would pass the buck and blame his wife for something that should actually be shared responsibility? What kind of message are you sending to your daughter? That she must settle for a husband who will only claim ownership/responsibility for successes and not for problems?

Fourth, this attitude that women must adjust with husband and in-laws come what may, is total crap! Adjustment is required in any relationship, but it must be mutual. And we must understand that adjustment is different from compromise. You can adjust about the food, the mattress or the TV, but you cannot, and indeed, must not compromise on basic value systems and equality within a relationship. Why do so many families bring up their daughters telling them they are better off miserable in their in-laws’ place than happy in their own homes? Being a woman does not mean sacrifice or being willing to do so. Being a woman means being loved and cherished for being you, being respected like you would respect the other, being treated no differently because of your gender. Why can mothers not get this simple fact? Why do we have to martyrize our daughters just because our society expects them to be all-giving and all forgiving? I just don’t get it.

In the midst of all these accusations, the personalized attack on Tbg (which seems to have escaped unnoticed as well) is unforgivable. Whether Tbg is married or not, happy or not, has angels or demons for in-laws is irrelevant to the current discussion. I think someone should teach people to disagree without insulting.

And finally, the daughter’s demands don’t seem all that unreasonable. She wants a man who will stand by her, allow her to be herself, not ask for dowry and agree to a relatively simple marriage. I am sure such men exist. This is the basic minimum any self-respecting woman will ask for. As for dowry, any man who asks for one or condones his parents’ demands deserves to be castrated (ok…am getting a bit carried away…but still!) for his attitude. A man should want to marry this lady’s daughter and not the money, the car and the house she will bring along! Is it such a bad thing?

But as Tbg points out, this lady has been adjusting (even compromising) with an unhelpful husband and in-laws for 27 years. Does she not wants things to be different for her daughter? Or does she, like so many other mothers, think their duties are over as soon as the daughter is married off? What about the rest of her life? Is it ok that she be asked to compromise and adjust with someone or the other for the next 40 years? I don’t understand why we are so obsessed with our daughters getting and staying married that we lose sight of the real goal: happiness. I am not a mother, but I am a daughter, arguably of “marriageable” age! I do want to get married, find that special someone to grow old with, have children and a family of my own. But, all this cannot and must not be achieved at the cost of my self-esteem, my independence and my career. Happiness is not a destination, it is a journey. And for that journey to be comfortable, we must allow our daughters to first be comfortable in their own skin and not expect them to live up to the expectations that this society has from us! We’re are in the 21st century and it’s time we started behaving that way!

Memories…

…are dicey things. Sometimes, they are delightful, making us happy and content. And at other times, we desperately wish to forget and move on. Yet, we can’t really really forget instances that are sometimes branded in our minds like a hot iron rod. Sometimes, I wish I could turn the clock back to two weeks ago, when she was still alive and well. Sometimes, I wish I could reverse the happenings of the last two weeks and pretend it never happened. Sometimes irrationally, I wish I could bring her back so she can spend just a few more months with me. It’s been two weeks now that my grandmother, one who I called Amma till her last breath suddenly decided she had enough of all of us and went away, so far that she cannot ever come back. Although I have lost someone very special before, it did not hit me with as much force as this loss has. Maybe when Nandini died, I was younger and stronger. Or maybe it is because I never ever imagined I would have to face a world without her to run to for comfort.

In the past weeks, I have tried verbalizing my loss to family and friends. Tried telling them that she was my mother in every sense of the word, except that biologically, she was my grandmother. She fed me, nurtured me, scolded me, pampered me and even blamed me sometimes when things went wrong. I wouldn’t call her my second mother. In many ways, she was my first mother. Before I was old enough to understand that behind my mother’s tough exterior was a genuine love for her child. My earliest memories of Amma involve wailing and crying that she was going away somewhere without me. As a child of five, I couldn’t imagine spending a single day away from her. My parents were free to go where they wanted. As long as Amma was around to take care of me, I would wave a happy goodbye to my parents. Those memories have suddenly turned from delightful to bittersweet. Never did I imagine even 15 days ago, that very soon I would have to face the prospect of spending the rest of my life without her constant and reassuring presence. My last conversation with her was on a Saturday 2 weeks ago. I called her from the car showroom to tell her I had booked a car. I will never forget her delight at hearing the news. Neither will I forget her promise that she will take that first ride with me in my brand new car. That was not to be. Barely 4 days later, she decided that the knowledge that I was buying a car was enough happiness for her, and passed on quietly. And totally without warning.

I am perhaps being completely incoherent right now. But, while my mind accepts that at the age of 75, she was bound to go some day, my heart still yearns for her presence. I now wish I had been just a little more patient at her constant badgering about the house, the car, my finances, my marriage and everything else she deemed important at any given point. I now wish I hadn’t brushed off her concerns quite so callously and at least taken the time to explain why things had to be the way they were. I am certain she knew how much she meant to me, but I now wish I had told her at least once in her life that she was not just my grandmother, she was my mother. People tell me that I should be thankful that she felt no pain, no suffering. I know that. My mind accepts that a painless and quick parting is much kinder than a long-draw, painful one. I know, rationally speaking, that this is how she wanted to go. Without pain or suffering. I also know that no matter what happens to the soul after death, I still have her blessings and all the love she has to bestow on her beloved grandchildren. And yet, the heart refuses to accept that she is actually gone. Irretrievably.

I know that this will perhaps make no difference to her. But it does make a difference to me to say this. She was the best grandmother any child could have hoped for. I know that all I have left of her are my memories of her to carry through my life. But loved, she was. By each of us. All of us. I choose to write about it because this is the only way I know to pay a tribute to someone who meant the world to me. And the best tribute I can possibly pay her is a promise that I will be happy. Just the way she wanted me to be.