Sunday, December 14, 2008

The "M" word.

I was really excited about my holiday this year. I even had a count down on my desk.
The only thing that scared me was the fact that December is wedding season in India and I am a 25 year old Indian girl!
I don't know if I should really write about this on my blog. : Especially since my baba is my most loyal reader but everyone is entitled to their opinions, moreover everyone is entitled to MY opinion!!
Over the past few years, I have made my own independent observations about Marriage (wedding) and Indian girls.
Just the way there is a huge rift in the economic equality in India, there is also a significant gap in the power equations between men and women. I see my maid's daughter being beaten up regularly by her inebriated husband and at the same time I see "eligible-daughter-in-laws" dictating "my conditions to marry you". I recently went to Kolhapur to see my uncle who is looking for a bride (through match-makers) for his son. I was really amused when he said that they were excluding any "applications" from Pune because the eligible girls from Pune are really scary. :)
One of my mamis gave me an update about the recent "list of demands" from the girl's side in an arranged marriage system.
1. I will not stay with your parents. If you expect me to stay with them, I expect that you have a paid cook.
2. I work late hours in the office. So I would not like it if I have to take part in too much house work after I come back from work.
3. I want to know how much from all the collective property you are going to inherit (This is not an exaggeration. I have heard about and even seen girls who want to know these things before they get into an arranged marriage)
4. I am a progressive woman. So I would not like to take part in every other festival that your parents may want to celebrate.
5. My money= My money. (which later translates as "my-money-my-money-your-money-my-money")

Some of these things make me think that the "arranged marriage" system in India is gradually collapsing. There was a time when this system had turned into a prosperous business. I even remember my parents volunteering to pool their respective single friends and trying to match them! Thankfully none of that worked. =)
However, it was a really informal, cheerful and positive effort to match up people.

I understand that it is hard to be an "Indian Woman" all the time but I am completely against this "professional" way of finding a companion. Any relationship needs compromises. There is a bigger joy in giving up freedom to make people happy. I have seen my mother do all of that as well as have a flourishing professional life. We all did our bit to make the business grow. My dad took care of me while aai was away working in sugar factories. When she came back, she made up for her absence by cooking some of the most delicious food I have ever had. My parents married against my father's parent's wishes. So my mom did her extra best to win their hearts!
The reason this was possible I think was because both my parents, all their minor differences included, always lived a "wholesome" life. Even the everyday things that you do like exercise, cooking, gardening and shopping add character to your companionship and help in taking a lot of stress away.

Even in the West, marriage is still a very serious thing. People do not get married unless they are absolutely sure about each other and are willing to have a family together. Sometimes, they have kids in their late thirties and still end up having very happy families.

Indian girls are on the brink of a revolution. Our ideals (our moms) have come from a generation that accepted every marital obstacle with a resolve that they will make it work ( because they had no other choice). This has made them more powerful and patient than any other generation of women. Since we are faced with such ideals and have grown up in a relatively liberal world, we refuse to accept certain things that would only make other's happy.
Also, most of the girls who are getting married only think about the "wedding" and not the marriage that lies ahead, and for years to come. All the planning and expense goes into those three days when the wedding is going to happen but very few plan for the long (and happy) marriage that lies ahead.
My generation of educated women in their mid-twenties could turn into a "dream-come-true" for the Indian woman. The only thing missing that I find in almost every girl I meet ( including me sometimes) is the complete lack of patience and foresight.
Who you are is completely in your hands. That is the beauty of life. You are free to be whoever you want. Your everyday life is completely yours too. You are free to wake up with the Sun on a Yoga mat and skip dinners to lose weight. :)
You are free to go back to school whenever you want. Know yourself well and get used to your own personality. Know little things about yourself ( like you could have also been one of the greatest tap-dancers the world has ever seen) and be happy about knowing yourself well.
However, Marriage is one thing that is not in your hands alone. It is something that is almost a destiny and even the West accepts this with all their analytical thinking.
So sometimes these "professional match-makers" make me feel extremely claustrophobic and then I end up thinking that overcoming the fear of living a lonely life could be easier than falling in the traps of these matrimonial websites. :D

We definitely need to tame the alpha-woman gene around here though. ;)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Argumentative Indian -- Amartya Sen

I picked this book up from Crossword in between my shopping sprees on Dhole Patil Road in Pune. Not even once did I imagine that it would enlighten me so much just a few days later.
This book, written by Amartya Sen is a beautiful work of extensive research written in form of essays. It talks mostly about the history of public voice in India and covers massive time-spans.
Some books come into your life at the right time and I think this was one of them.
I was reading about Rajput-Mughal marriages in between my travels in Rajasthan. Unfortunately all of India and the rest of the World was witnessing brutal violence going on in Mumbai at the same time.
This book systematically talks about various plagues that have been infecting India post independence. One of them is sectarian politics, which was started in India by certain political parties with abject irresponsibility.
India has seen and even conceived so many religions that by now she should ideally reach her religious "Moksha".
Amartya Sen talks about this journey by calmly presenting well-referenced facts about India's religious journey. If I see my mother-land from the wingspan of a beautiful peacock that flies across three millenniums, what is going on now not only disappoints but also fills me with sad frustration.
It also raises some interesting questions. For example, whenever there is a communal riot in India there is a tendency to label it using religion because that is what it is crudely based on. However, in all these riots, even the ones that occurred in 1944 before independence the majority of dead people came from lower income groups. People who live in slums and have no security against someone barging into their hut and raping their wives. We never see a Shahrukh Khan being killed in a riot and I think considering the extent of idol worship going on in Bollywood, I don't think they even think of Shahrukh and Salman "Khans" as Muslims. All the religious labels are carried around by poor people who have to go out everyday in order to keep their children well-fed. Even today as we watched live terror on our television sets, the first victims of random shooting were people who were returning home from work in the local trains.
When the whole of Mumbai goes to work the next day after a terror attack, there is also an element of helplessness in their courage. If they could afford to stay home, I think some of them would.
Another interesting observation made by Amartya Sen is the position of women in India. He gives statistical figures about the female:male ratios all over India, even including states like Rajasthan,Delhi and Maharashtra known for sex-selective abortions. It is not surprising that India fares badly in this respect as well as some areas like women's health. Almost half of the female population in India is anaemic and most of the cardiovascular disorders that occur later in life are a result of the fetus being undernourished during pregnancy. Apart from this, India also leads the camp when it comes to domestic violence, wife-beating,dowry deaths and deprivation of property rights for women.
Despite all these statistical facts, India has witnessed many powerful women leaders. India, Pakistan,Bangladesh and Shrilanka have all had female heads of state while countries that have had a much longer history of self-government like the USA are still to get their first female presidents.
Sen also talks about undernourishment in Indian children. It is shocking to know that India beats even the sub-Sahara countries in Africa in the number of undernourished children. There is still severe hunger in the lower classes in India although the State granaries are full of excess food grain. A lot of government money is spent every year just to maintain these excess stocks but none is distributed over the country where it is really needed. This is apparently because of the pro-farmer policy of the government. They refuse to sell food grains at a lower price because the farmers who produce it should get a better price! Sen calls it a case of "friendly-fire".
Sen invested some of his Nobel Prize money in reviewing the condition of primary education in some parts of India. The results are appalling. Lack of education still haunts us and various loop-holes have been found around the concessions made available for the poor which are then used by the wealthy and corrupt. He also talks about the various "unions", like the teacher's union for example, that initially worked against injustice but now as the primary teachers get paid well they have moved away from the poor students coming to them making them somewhat unsympathetic.
This book makes you realize that there are certain things that are just not valued enough in India anymore.
One of them is life. Since there are so many of us here, a few getting shot in a random terror attack is no big deal to the politicians.
Another is poverty. My Australian friends who came along with me to see Rajasthan would pull out money for every beggar on the street. Some of them had tears in their eyes when four year old kids ran towards us for money outside a temple. However, a few days later they realized that if they give money to every beggar on the street, they would probably have to go begging themselves after a while! You come to a point where you run out of sympathy and start thinking about yourself. Most of the Indians have gone beyond this line of sympathy and hence sometimes appear selfish.
This book however gives a strong message of the value of Democracy. All the progress that India has seen post independence is because India is a democracy. People still have a voice. Although sometimes they have to scream for attention. Governments have been ruled in and ruled out completely on people's will. The army has stayed within her barracks unlike Pakistan and the press is free. Although these days I think that the television media in India is fast turning trashy, pandering to the lower tastes of human mind. Newspapers in India are one of the best in the world.
Every generation reflects the effects of the atmosphere they grew up in. Today's "Jihadis" grew up in war-ridden Afghanistan in the 80s that could have filled them with irrational anger and extremism. However, the babies of the Jihad-ridden world would (hopefully) grow up into compassionate agnostics or better still, people who know that Religion was made for Humanity and not the other way round.
We are at the edge of another revolution and it is just unfortunate that some of us have to lay our lives to start it.
My sincere respects to all those who have given their lives in this terrible war.
And I am grateful to Amartya Sen for this book. Happier even to see that it reflects the fairness of work that a humane-scientist can bring about!