The past couple of days I have been part of a discussion that I never imagined I would ever get involved in and been hearing the types of arguments I thought happened only in fiction and films. But this involves very close family and shocked as I am, I cannot completely walk away.

I received a call from a very close relative who is the mother of two girls. The elder daughter is about to finish her engineering next month and already there was talk of a marriage proposal. Initially I assumed that she had found her partner and it was their decision. The mother quickly denied it and said it was a proposal initiated by common friends. I could not comprehend what the tearing hurry was if it was an arranged marriage as the girl wanted to do her management studies too. So the story unfolded. Apparently the girl's horoscope has a quirk whereby Venus sits in her 7th house (whatever that is supposed to mean) but the import is that this could affect her spouse. But...(as you know there is always a way out!) ya, but if they can find a boy who had a similar quirk in his planetary positions, then it would cancel out!
I heard a lot more on planetary positions and their effects and how we cannot afford to ignore them particulary when it would affect the spouse blah blah...which I sat through out of politeness but will spare you.
In my disbelief I checked the calendar. yes it is 2007 , there hasn't been a mistake and yes it was happening for REAL!
And hence the hurry to have her married as they have found a similar match!

In the course of this bizarre conversation I also heard that even a very famous Indian Beauty has a defect in her natal chart, only in her case the villain is Mars. Apparently she has had to do a lot of poojas and procedures to counter the effects and here comes the best: astrologers have advised her that one of the ways to overcome the problem is to get married to a banana tree. When the tree dies the planetary requirement is satisfied and the person is free to marry anyone of her choice! Imagine marrying a banana tree and getting a family name of Musaceae..or even better Mrs banana,heheheh!

Please, if you believe in the power of planets, at least don't make them sound like a 2 year old who can be cheated by such tricks like marrying a banana tree. And the good news is that the Planets don't care for our stupid lives.Guess what, it is true, but we ARE NOT important to them, not a tiny little bit, NO! Not even if you are one of the world's most beautiful women and not even when your fiancé's father is a legend in India! If any planet's position or changes are to have an effect on human lives it is the Earth and not Mars or Venus or Saturn. 2300 years ago some curious Babylonians observed the sky and tried to draw some links between our lives and their position. And today we still want to surrender our lives to these unverifiable hypothesis and speculations of some guys who make a living by peddling these fears and superstitions.

The following which I quote from an interesting article here: should be adequate to point out how willingly humans walk into the astrology traps:

"The famous French Astrologer, Michael Gauquelin, offered free horoscopes to any reader of Ici Paris, if they would give feedback on the accuracy of his supposedly "individual" analysis. He wanted to scientifically test his profession of astrology. He sent out thousands of copies of the same horoscope - and 94% of the readers replied that his reading was very accurate and insightful. What they didn't know was that the horoscope was that of a local mass murderer, Dr. Petiot, who had admitted during his trial that he had killed 63 people."

"So while it's handy to blame our misfortune on the stars, Julius Caesar was probably closer to the truth when Shakespeare had him say, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves..."
In recent times people have been reminding me that it is time for me to graduate to the status of a mother-in-law. When they approach me with proposals for what they consider to be "suitable" girls for my son, I do not know how to react.It seems so inappropriate. Some have even asked me what kind of a girl we are interested in (you know the slim, fair,"good" family line of criteria!) and I have had to disappoint them terribly by saying I have not thought about it at all. It seems beside the point what the parents want because ultimately what matters is what the boy and the girl want.I am convinced that arranged marriages will not work for the present generation young adults. They want to be the ones to find their partner and do not want to delegate it to the parents which is very good and very mature.And given the strong individualisms and egos of this generation, it is necessary that they know each other well before they take the plunge.

What interests me is not the matrimonial deals but the relationship changes in the two families after the marriage. Knowing that my turn would come sooner or later, I have in the recent years been a keen observer of the relationship dynamics between the young adults after their marriage and their parents. A few blogs I have visited over the years have also given me a perspective on some of the issues.But since there are more d-i-l bloggers and less m-i-l bloggers I find that we are underrepresented in the cause and decided to speak on behalf of my ilk.

While most girls seem to ensure that their closeness to their side of the family, especially parents remain as close after their wedding, parents do not seem to figure too much in the consideration of the boys.Particularly if the parents are financially independent,emotional dependence of ageing parents doesnt seem to figure anywhere in the considerations.They seem to only think of themselves, their career, the girl and their life together even when they are the only child of their parents. And when the sons themselves don't care the daughters-in-law do not make that extra effort to bond with their in-laws who become complete outsiders in many cases. One of my relatives with a similar experience told me "in earlier days we brought a daughter to our house when our sons married . These days we send our sons away to his wife's house."

I am not saying that the girls should become outsider to their own family after marriage like our old customs dictated.It is wonderful that even in cases where marriage may put a geographical distance to the family the emotional bonds remain just as close. But why is it too difficult to see that the relationship between parents and children are the same on the other side too and make that little effort to integrate into the other side of the family? I have known girls who are extremely popular and affectionate with their own family and friends but who'd like to maintain a distance with their husband's family just so that they are not taken for granted. I understand that these may have been formed on watching some bad saas-bahu relations between their docile mothers and tyrannical grandmothers or in their neighbourhood or on Television serials. But isn't it unfair to prejudge a person based on her role even without giving her a chance? And when you approach the relationship with sucha prejudice, how much chance are you actuallly giving it?

One of my friends collected speciality saris from all regions of India for 5 years before her only son's wedding to present to her daughter in law at the wedding and the girl told her ,"No mummy, these are not my type of saris." Another had her gifts of jewels rebuffed in the same way. Why? what is the big deal? In official relationships we bend over backwards to please arrogant bosses and go out of our way to be good team players - why is it tough to give in a little to please an old lady who gave birth to your husband and perhaps played a large role in making him all that you love about him today? There are issues when you should learn to stand up for your rights or put your foot firmly down but emotional intelligence is also about knowing when to give in a little without feeling insecure.

If only the young girls would try to give the relationship with their husband's family a fair chance in stead of typecasting people based on their roles! and if only the boys would learn a lesson or two from their own wives on how to treat their own parents! Old age is not about comforts and luxuries but about feeling loved and wanted and it takes very little to please parents most of the time.So if you ask me what my expectations from my son's wife would be, it is just someone who would give me as much chance as she would give her mother in our dealings.
Is it too much to ask?
A recent visit to the bangalore palace and the courtyards there reminded me of the inner courtyard (called Muththam in Tamil - the atrium in English) in my grandmother's house where I spent many summer evenings as a child. And in a recent mail asha reminded me of this too - nostalgia made me go back to this post and the courtyard.

When they lived in joint families, the houses were always built with a private space for women . This was the inner courtyard. I remember the inner courtyard in my grandmother's place . It was after the kitchen - a squarish space where two thirds of the roof was covered by wooden rafters supported on pillars sloping into a open space with a well and a large space for cleaning utensils covered by grill work which let the sun light into the space throughout the day.

This was the space where the women of the house spent their afternoons, many times joined by relatives and friends from the neighbourhood to make spicy pickles and papads accompanied by spicier gossip. this is where they created beautiful lacework, embroidery and other handiwork as they shared their happiness or vented their anger and frustration and bared their souls and offered and sought comfort.

My favorite memories of this space are of those late evenings when grandmother sat with two large bowl full food. Moonlight flooding through the grills and forming patterns on the floor and the cool breeze of the spring evenings . About 12 of us - three of her daughters and six of us her grandchildren would sit around stretching our palms out where grandma placed balls of food in turn. Simple food, mostly left over from after noon meal accompanied by those divine summer pickles made from tender mangoes and fresh papads roasted on a coal fire placed on Mandara leaves before each one.We exchanged jokes, solved riddles, bantered with one another and before you knew it, the enormous bowls are empty and you feel fulfilled in more ways than one.
I have not found one restaurant, in all the places i have travelled to, to beat the ambience or the quality of food that we had in grandma's inner courtyard.
Sometimes you wish you had stayed 10 and not grown up at all!

P.s: Pictures are of a space in our house inspired by memories of grandma's courtyard.

And here is the atrium at the Alliance Francaise Bangalore where I have spent many happy hours in the recent years.
I told the auto rickshaw driver to drop us off at the Cottage Industries Emporium and got busy chatting with Gita on how much the seasons in Bangalore have changed in all the years I have been here. Suddenly the auto stopped and we found ourselves on infantry road outside Cottage Arts Emporium and my puzzled look was answered by the auto-rickshaw driver with a request to check out the shop as he would get a coupon for 2 litres of petrol for every customer he brought in. He also assured us that there was no pressure to buy. So we went in determined to walk right in and out of the exit in 2 minutes.But what followed was an amazing drama and a real eye opener for me on converting the mundane act of buying into an art of negotiating a deal.

We were welcomed very warmly by one of the partners of the store telling us which region each product was from , the material used and the type of craft it represented while casually inquiring where we were from. Gita's accent gave her away (she is half Italian and half Mauritian-Indian and has lived all her life in France) and the moment he realized he was dealing with a foreigner he knew where to steer us - the ornaments section, precious and semi precious stones set in silver.

This guy would dramatically open a box, peep in and pick out a piece saying "This is something very special" and place it on the velvet tray as though it was an antique piece of sculpture and then he would admire it himself from all sides. And while we are looking at it or trying it on, he would open another murmuring "I think I know your taste now. Here I have got the one that is perfect for you." As the pieces kept coming out,I kept looking for the price tag and not finding any, asked the guy for the price. And the response was a gentle "Make your selection madam. I will give you a good price." Trying to make a selection without knowing its price always makes me nervous but Gita was'nt worried at all which made me think that she was really going to be ripped off her Euros.And if she expected any help from me, she was going to get none as I had no idea about their worth or their price elsewhere.

So she selected 3 pairs of earrings and finally asked him "How much?". In the meantime we had been served Kahwa with saffron and my instinct told me that this was going to be along afternoon.
He picked each one of the pairs and after describing the stone and the place it was from he assured us that he was giving us the Indian price and quoted the price for each.
Gita :Is that your price if I take all three pairs?
He:ah if you take all three I will have to make a deal of course.
(He picks up his calculator and after some detailed calculation takes 200 off the total.)
Gita:No, I don't want them.
(And I pick up my handbag.)
He:No madam. I want to make you happy. Ok, you go ahead and quote your price. Don't you like them?
Gita: "Not at that price, no, I don't like them."
He:This one is real sapphire and that is garnet and that one aquamarine.
Gita:No,the sapphire one is not finished to perfection. I just noticed a couple of defects. I have enough garnets. I am more interested in the aquamarine.
He: ok, I really don't want you to go away unhappy. Tell me how much you will pay for all three.
Gita:No, I don't want all three. I only want the aquamarine.
(I put the bag back on the counter and sit down.)
I notice that he is keen to know how much she is willing to pay and she is not willing to divulge it. Not yet! Later I learn that it is bargain etiquette that if you have stated a price you cannot go below it. It is understood that if he comes to that price you will take it.And once he knows your price his whole purpose is to make you go higher than that.And so you should never let him know what you are willing to pay.

He:Ok, tell me your price for the aquamarine.
Gita:See if this was less than 1000, I don't even think about it because I like it. But if you say 1000, I begin to think of whether I need it and of all the other stuff I could buy at that price, may be a Pashmina or something.
He: Ah Pashmina? You like pashmina? We have some excellent pashmina. let me show you. You don't have to buy. It is just to show you our quality.

And so we turned around to the pashmina section and he asked us if we would like some more kahwa. And I knew the afternoon was going to be even longer than I had originally thought.
The pashminas come down from the shelf, different shades and grades and we get explanations on which part of the sheep the wool came from in each case. He still wont tell us a price until we have selected what we like.Finally she picks up five and he starts with an asking price of Rs 14,500 for 5 and she refuses to budge from her offer of 10000 for 5. Meantime, an American couple have bought 3 pashminas @ Usd75 per piece right there under our eyes!

But closer to me the chess movements were being played to perfection by both, neither missing a single step or giving away any advantage to the other.He wants to wring that extra 50 per piece from her and she will take 5 or none if he doesn't agree to her price.

After 20 minutes of haggling over the pashminas, he agrees to Rs 12,000 for 6 but complaining it was his fault to have quoted us a fair price to begin with. He is only concluding this deal because he wants her to refer him to more of her friends visiting Bangalore.And he wants her to be happy!
She retorts by saying she doesn't really need them but is taking them only because she likes the quality even though she knows she can get it a little cheaper elsewhere if she looked around!
He tells us that if we can find it less than 3k in any shop in bangalore we could go back and he will reimburse our payment and we could keep the stuff for free!

And finally he throws in the aquamarine earrings too at Rs.500 (even though his break even price is 650!)and adds a gift of a pack of saffron and a papermache handpainted jewel box, all the time insisting that this was a deal in which he made no profit whatsoever. But of course, he says, one can't always do business with people, there are times one loses for gaining a relationship!

We walked out of the shop one hour later. I was completely dazed by this total new approach to buying while she explains to me how it is the same in Africa, Egypt and Turkey where the merchants are actually offended if you do not bargain. Since it a piece of handicraft or art, they do not believe in fixing a price. It is all about how much the buyer estimates it to be worth and whether the merchant is willing to sell it at that price. So the price differs between individuals and it is not dishonest at all. She tells me that they really appreciate when you know the real value of their ware, its quality and its worth. I guess this goes back to the time when the seller was also the maker of the goods he was selling! It must have given him great pleasure to talk about his ware and see them appreciated whether they were bought or not.
While there is practical sense in going into a fixed price shop and picking up what you want, this is sheer adventure. We seem to have lost out on an art for the sake of the security of a fixed price.

That was indeed a real shopping experience for someone who does not have the ability to get 50ps knocked off the price of a kg. of vegetable. This is probably the longest time I have spent shopping but I simply loved it. Next time you are in Bangalore call me, I could take you there, all for another delightful experience of 'making a deal' on a carpet or a shawl. But be prepared to spend an entire afternoon for this.
I had not focused on the issue of officially sanctioned massacre of street dogs in Bangalore as my previous posts on animals had drawm lukewarm or no reaction.But I am posting this today in response to a request received from the animal lovers of bangalore who have been active in protesting this cruelty against innocent animals. It is a sin to be silent when such things happen. Sometimes what is tragic is not the "strident clamor of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people."

In this e-mail,Jeremy d'souza, an animal lover describes this operation:"thousands of animals have been subjected to death by strangulation, crushing their skulls with boulders after bleach thrown in the eyes to make the animal blind and docile."

These bloggers here tell you about the stories they heard during yesterday's march in bangalore protesting this cruelty in this post
"Everyone had a story to tell. Horrible stories. Dogs dragged out of their homes and taken away. Dogs killed in brutal ways. One man would block the drain once pups were inside and light a fire at the entrance. There is no need to describe what happened"

Animal lovers are not condoning the recent killings by stray dogs - but all we are saying is that there is a more sensible and humane way of solving this. Dogs have been on our streets forever? why is this problem so huge all of a sudden and why are the measures so cruel? Please also read a lovely post by Anita here on this. Sushruta's updates and startling revelations here.

If you feel that such extreme measures are uncalled for and with proper vaccination and sterilisation, it is possible to co-exist with dogs,please go and sign the petition here.

I have said this before in a post and say it again:
"Please raise your voice in protest against cruel treatment of animals for they cannot speak."

If you don't agree with me and are happy with the way the corporation and governement are going about this, I respect your opinion. But I am switching off comments as this issue is not open for a debate here.

I will leave you with a poem by Oliver Goldsmith:

Elegy on the death of a Mad dog
Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song;
And if you find it wondrous short,
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man,
Of whom the world might say
That still a godly race he ran,
Whene'er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes;
The naked every day he clad,
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found,
As many dogs there be,
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends;
But when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad and bit the man.

Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wondering neighbours ran,
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seemed both sore and sad
To every Christian eye;
And while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.

P.S: Other sites of interest:
Watched an iranian film - Leila. A very insightful portrayal of a woman who is forced by her mother-in-law to share her husband with another woman because she cannot bear him children.Her husband finally gives in to her pressure only on condition that she would not leave him because he loves her very much. But in spite of all her strength she is unable to stay in the same house when he actually brings home another woman as his wife, even though she herself had given him her approval. The plot would fit as well in any Indian televison serial or film except that in this film all melodrama had been totally avoided and the feelings of all concerned portrayed sensitively.

Being a woman I could relate to Leila very well - her sense of guilt ( though entirely stupid) at her inability to be a mother and her inability to share the man he loves with another woman.But my son who watched the film along with me was completely outraged at the idea and the stupidity of the women and their whole approach to the issue. He could not believe it when I said this was as common in India even among the Hindus.

I remembered a story that my friend A had told me about her grandfather. She is from U.P. and this happened in the later years of the 19th century. Theirs was a family of rich landlords. Apparently her grandfather's first wife could not bear children. So she insisted that her husband marry again but the man loved his wife so much that he said it was impossible for him to love another woman.But his wife kept insisting until finally gave in on condition that the woman should not expect him to love her the way he loved his first wife. So they found a young girl from a poor family (one of the many daughters of a clerk who worked in their house)and fed her well and raised her in the house in order to get her married to the man when she became a woman. In`a few years the marriage happened and she gave birth to a child within a year. The child was immediately taken away by the first wife - she would be the mother of this child and bring him up. What could the poor gilr do? She knew this when she consented to the marriage, didnt she?And in the course of years, she gave birth to more children too but all of them called the first wife as mother and their own biological mother as "chhoti ma". And whatever she wanted she could not ask her husband but had to ask the first wife as that was the husband's instructions! Finally she was 60 when the first wife died, this is when the second wife became the lady of the house. By then her husband was gone too!
I have often thought about the two women and wondered whose sadness was worse -
the first wife who had to let her husband have another wife and live in the same house or the second wife who had everything and still could call nothing hers!

Perhaps for many who are in their 20s now, this might all seem like fiction. Sometimes real people are much stranger than what fiction can come up with! And guess what, the first wife in my friend's story was also called Leela, Leelavati!