Sunday, October 25, 2015

Purposefully Peripatetic


I have spent the last month deleting unpublished drafts of posts which did not pass. I even accepted for a short time that all of this is over. Writing, blogging, reading blogs and being a part of all the writers' platforms available online. 

But writing was getting difficult due to my self imposed filters. I had decided that I am not going to go down the "mommy" road. It is very tempting to write about what's constantly on your mind. And for a while, after the commencement of motherhood, your baby is the only person you want to talk about. It suddenly becomes obvious why there's an imaginary line between parents and non-parents. No matter how "cool" you try to be, you can never go back to your pre-parent days. 

I could've blogged about a million baby related things. But now that I look back, some of them were just momentarily overwhelming. 

Something that hasn't become easier with time however is, getting back in shape! I don't really subscribe to the "getting your body back" school of thought. Because I don't believe motherhood has in anyway taken away my body! It's still very much here and is perhaps more obvious now than before!

But during my experiments with different work outs, I made a really good choice. I bought an activity band. And it has changed my life. An activity band something you wear on your wrist, which syncs with your phone and diet apps such as myfitnesspal. You can put in your diet diary and your workouts and know how much over or under you are for your goal. The ideal activity goal is taking 10000 steps every single day. To put it in perspective, if I don't exercise, even after running behind my crawling son four hours a day, I manage to take only 4000 steps. So 60 % of my target activity has to come out of purpose and intention. 100 % of my food intake has to come with purpose and intention! 

I use the Jawbone UP (move) tracker. It has a computer generated Smartcoach, which keeps egging you on, without nagging you. The effectiveness of this way of losing weight or staying fit is the statistical analysis that goes on everyday about your habits. It has three sections, sleep, food and activity. It monitors all three parameters and draws charts to show you where you need improvement and where you're doing great. 

If you're meeting all your goals, there's a software generated "pat on the back". If you're slowing down, there's a friendly concern, or just an observation posted on your home screen. It's far better than actual humans trying to give you advice on how to lose weight. 

So now, if I have to walk across the street to get something, I don't just rejoice in the thought of upping my step score, I also take the stairs! I look forward to beating myself at my own game and I take weekends as an opportunity to eat extra healthy and build a bigger step score. It has given my exhaustingly busy life an amazing new purpose (yes! Even beyond all the greatness and satisfaction of motherhood). 

And on that note, let me also confess that motherhood is anything but that delicate Johnson & Johnson advertisement you see on TV. This Friday, after spending a entire day agonising over whether to take along my son to a party, I got stuck with him in traffic on my way home just before the party. And by the time I had gone through the usual drill of changing and feeding him dinner, he just decided to fall fast asleep with no care in the world for any party. So I decided to go by myself leaving him in the care of my mother. I called a taxi after a really long time. And the feeling of being in a quiet transit, with old Hindi songs playing in the taxi, wind in my freshly washed hair -- best 30 minutes of my recent life! :) 

And I still managed to miss my son all the while I was at the party! 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Feminism in 8 minutes

There's much talk going on about Barkha Dutt's rebuttal, when she was trying to defend India at an international conference. 
Is India safe for women? 
Yes. It is. If we go into the statistics of reported rapes, India fares much better than some developed countries. But is safety the only thing we aspire for? We must be safe. It shouldn't even be a point for statistical analysis. But more than safety, it is the perception of a woman's role in the society that desperately needs a change.

The link above is from a Marathi movie released in 1937. In the 8 minutes above, one gets a lesson in how domestic violence against women works in India. It's not just a man Vs woman fight. Sadly, women also encourage violence against other women. In the clip, the aunt in law instigates her nephew to beat his wife, convincing him that it is okay because she got beaten up by her husband too. And when he hesitates, he is considered "weak". 

The movie tells a story of Nira, a young orphaned woman who is married off by her relatives to an old man. She rebels against it in ways which would be considered too radical even today. But it is a fight on principle. She wants people to be terrified of marrying old men to young girls lest they all turn out to be like her. 

The song following the scene is one of my all time favourite songs. So glad it has subtitles. 

First of all, women have to stop playing a part in holding other women back. I think when older women try to push men to control their wives, it stems out of envy. Sometimes it hides under the mask of religion or traditions. At others, it is just a psychological power struggle. 

Last week, one of our neighbours in the adjacent complex heard a woman wailing out of pain. It sounded like someone was hitting her with sticks. My mother was called immediately as she is the secretary of the complex. The person who called her left when the wife beater opened the door, leaving my mother alone. Inside, she found a man and his mother, next to a crib with a two month old baby. When she asked what was going on, they said nothing. She asked them to call the mother of the baby into the living room. When she came out, she was shaking. She looked like she had been crying all day. When asked why she was crying, the husband replied that they had got into a fight because her parents did not pay for the delivery of the baby. When asked if she had been beaten, she started sobbing helplessly. Then the husband took her inside and when she returned she said, sobbing all along, that she was very happy being a part of the family and she had no complaints whatsoever. My mother left them with a warning that next time they hear a similar noise, the society would call the cops. 

The bride's parents are supposed to cover all the costs of all the ceremonies from the wedding leading up to the birth of the first child. If they fail (or refuse) to follow any of the expected duties, they are met with an unexplained grumpiness (at best) to serious domestic violence (at worst). Even if the bride isn't financially dependent on the groom's family, her family is supposed to follow the "traditions" designed in an era where women did not have a separate existence from their husbands. 

The circle of suppression continues almost as a revenge. The mother in law relives the position of power that her mother in law enjoyed when she was a young bride. When a daughter in law quits her job after the birth of her child, it is also partly due to psychological pressure to follow in the footsteps of her mother in law, who never ventured out of the house. 

Why can't the revenge happen at the right time with the right people? Why should you seek it against the same gender in the next generation? Why can't to stand up for yourself like Nira? If you do that, you would never let that happen to your daughter in law. And this is exactly why victims should try to get out of their victimhood. 

And the first step to not being a victim of domestic violence or marital disrespect is to be financially self sufficient. You don't have to earn a fat pay cheque every month. But women who step out of the house to earn a livelihood are not just doing that -- they are also earning respect. And it is much better to rebel against idiots when you have your own money in the bank account. 

Another reason why women put up with this is the fear of being a divorced woman in a society full of big noses. But like our neighbor who left as soon as the wife beater opened the door, the society seldom does anything to stop your suffering. And when you start looking after yourself, you just need a few trusted friends to start over again. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

XX or XY?

I have been reading Rujuta Divekar's "Women & The Weightloss Tamasha". I expected this book to enlighten me about a well balanced diet to get back in shape after pregnancy. But it turns out, that it enlightens you more about the being a woman in the Indian society. For the record, only the crème de la crème of the Indian society are in a position to afford a nutrition consultant such as Rujuta or "RD" -- as she's lovingly referred to by her following. So I was expecting her clientele to include all the non-famous Sonam Kapoors or Kareena Kapoors of the nation. I was surprised when I read about the kind of lifestyles all these rich women lead. Feeling guilty about preparing a food item specially for oneself, taking all the "cow" jokes cracked by their husbands in a lighter vein but feeling utterly defeated inside, giving up work to be a stay at home mom and then feeling worthless because of the choice, being okay with the male members of the family not contributing anything to the housework, and numerous other similar last century habits. It was saddening to find out that this still is pretty much the norm in India, even in the rich classes where women can easily afford professional domestic help. And it was a relief to realise that I am miles away from any of these impositions. 

Being pregnant also brought forth insights into the society into which I was going to let my unborn baby mingle. The news itself was received by praising my choice of "not delaying it too much", implying that we are a society that looks down on women who delay motherhood or do not want it. Then, as months progressed, everyone including strangers in the supermarket queue took a shot at predicting the gender of the baby. Some well meaning aunties advised me to eat certain foods to "get a boy". It didn't matter that I was already in my fifth month then, and the gender of the baby was decided! 

Every time I would lie down for a sonography, I would stare into a mandatory legal declaration in the consultant's office. It screamed in a bold font that sex determination is a punishable crime. The offenders could get up to three years in jail along with a Rs. 50,000 fine. It was always a comforting sight. I had even saved the toll free number given alongside so that I could report people who were surreptitiously trying to do it. 

Every time I touched an old lady's feet out of respect they would bless me and say out loud that I may produce a son. I always retorted, "Take that back! I want a daughter". I am the only daughter of an only daughter. I wanted to continue that desperately. I guess it was partly because I wanted to relive my own childhood and partly because I am a crazy feminist. I absolutely, from the core of my being hate being treated second to men. And I hate men who condone this kind of behaviour. And more than anything else in the world I have a big problem with women who consider producing sons their boarding pass to the flight to heaven. It is a sad fact that women are just as guilty of perpetrating this crime as men are. If men treat women as second class family members, women treat other women, especially the women married to their sons, as second class family members as well. 

And you don't have to go to the extreme of sex determination to see this attitude. Little gestures go a long way in showing you that you are not equal to your husband, even if he himself honestly thinks you're more than equal! If you come home from work and start cooking, it's no big deal; but God forbid if you sit down with your computer and the husband cooks, all hell breaks loose! You're expected to stay home way past the time you take for nursing because "the baby needs mom". But nobody has ever even thought of leaving that job to dad. I think a child would equally benefit from having a relaxed dad at home who would indulge him/her when the crazy disciplining mom is out to work. Bedtime stories would be so much sweeter in baba's voice than they are in aai's voice! And wouldn't it be a great Facebook cover photo where the mom is seen cooking and the son and father are helping her chop vegetables? Or better still the mom is seen working on her laptop as her babies bring her coffee? 

I was never very sentimental about these milestones. But somewhere I expected that motherhood would make me at least a little bit of those gooey-emotional-mommy types. But the only emotion I felt strongly all through my pregnancy was an urge to win this battle by having a girl! But I lost. And how! Even in my spinal anaesthetic high in the OT, I heard someone say that it is better to have a boy first. Then you can decide calmly if you want another child. If I wasn't so numb, happy and high at that point, I would have given that man a black eye. 

I can't not like my little guy just because I wanted a girl. Ultimately, girl or boy, mommy always loves them to bits. But now I realise that life has given me a tougher challenge than just raising a girl without this social bias. It has given me the challenge of raising a guy who would treat the women in his life with utmost love, respect and fairness. To teach him that no matter what old ladies say to your mom about having you, life would have been just as easy and happy had you been born as a girl. You would still get that extra piece of cake, and you'd still be dragged into bed at 9, whether you wanted it or not! 

Just like marriage, motherhood is also a personal choice. And yes, it is a choice. You are free to choose not to have a child. And I think our society also needs to learn how to respect that choice. However magical and fulfilling it is for you, it is still a universal phenomenon. Of all the sons born with "the blessing of the almighty" very few really turn out to be as ideal as Lord Ram -- the epitome of an ideal son. But we still see a lot of Seetas finding solace by giving up into the arms of Mother Earth, because they are not trusted by this world!