One advantage I had with my French teachers was that many of them were closer to my age and we developed a bond as friends outside the teacher -student equation. One of my teachers used to come from a residential school outside the city and I used to pick her up halfway and the drive to and from the Alliance Francaise used to give us a lot of time to discuss issues as parents and she also brought in her perspective as a teacher.
Once we were discussing child abuse and I spoke about it as if it was a western problem and we in India, of course had no such problems. Then she told me how rampant it is in India and even in rural India. She told me of an instance where one of her students, an eighth grader, used to be very happy in school and reluctant to go back home on vacations. And whenever she came back from vacation she was always moody, quiet and upset. So once C, my teacher decided to talk to her and after much coaxing the girl revealed that she was being sexually abused by her father's brother and she was scared to talk about it to anyone in her family as he was respected by everyone in the family. C was furious and she summoned the parents and told them what the girl had revealed to her.
Now here comes the part that makes my blood boil. The parents refused to believe it and called the girl a liar and attention seeker. They labelled the girl difficult and were furious that she would come up with something so perverse about someone who was like a father to her! And they were angry that the girl was ruining the family's reputation. This is what happened when you sent girls to such fancy schools, they said!
The girl went back home at the end of term and never returned to school. They took her out of the school.

I wonder how many young girls are being assaulted with the connivance of the family and the fact suppressed in the name of family honour. I hope not many but when have hopes been true in such matters! And this is the country where parents do not want sex education in schools as they feel the child's innocence will be lost.Perhaps they feel it is better for their girls and boys to learn it in this way from perverse uncles and servants and god knows who else.

And the statistics are scary. As The Rational Fool says in his comment:
Usha, I thought that you and the readers would be familar with the study on Child Abuse INDIA 2007, sponsored by the Ministry of Women and Child Development Government of India. Here I quote some relevant findings on sexual abuse from a survey of 13 states with a sample size of 12447 children, 2324 young adults and 2449 stakeholders:

1. 53.22% children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse.
2. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest percentage of sexual abuse among both boys and girls.
3. 21.90% child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse and 50.76% other forms of sexual abuse.
4. Out of the child respondents, 5.69% reported being sexually assaulted.
5. Children in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest incidence of sexual assault.
6. Children on street, children at work and children in institutional care reported the highest incidence of sexual assault.
7. 50% abuses are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility.
8. Most children did not report the matter to anyone.

And those of you who are parents, teach them about "good touch" and Bad touch". Answer their questions scientifically and truthfully. please give your child the benefit of doubt, whoever it is that he/she is accusing. There is no family "honour" at the expense of of the crushing of a child's soul and having her scarred for life.
Speak up - against these wherever you find them!


On a related note, it takes tremendous courage and a lot of support for the victim to stand up and make the issue public and seek redressal. It need not always be physical - it could be innuendos, sexist remarks or anything that offends one's dignity as a woman. There is nothing that needs to be treated as a a joke and tolerated. if you find it offensive and uncomfortable you do not have to put up with it. I do not know how many working women are suffering in silence as they do not know where to turn for justice. I am proud to direct you to a fellow blogger who has set an example herself and also gives you information on your rights at the workplace and what you can do against gender discrimination and abuse at work place.
Please stand up for your rights and your dignity - if you don't you are not only suffering in silence but you are colluding in a perverse crime and perpetuating it. This is your duty to yourself and other women.
Speak up!
In the past week many of us wrote about the kind of things we are judgemental about which also included what we cannot stand, what makes us avoid people,what grosses us out, what we positively detest in people. It is funny how a lot of us cannot stand something and yet there is a large chunk of humanity that continues to do that very thing blissfully unaware or insensitively insistent.Not much one can do- especially if one is married to a card carrying member of the opposite camp.Well, you can blog about it and take comfort in the fact that you are not alone if anyone bothers to leave a comment agreeing with your peeve. There is nothing more comforting to the human heart than the fact that you are not alone in your misery and someone else is equally or more miserable. Life seems so fair.You might even look upon the perpetrator of the misery with a little understanding next time.
Anyway that was not the purpose of this post.

While I was reading the long lists of what we cannot stand, some totally irrational, I realised that we humans have a tendency for the exact opposite too - to be fascinated by some habits/ attributes/ mannerisms/ types of behaviour. Not heroic virtues but simple habits which you are attracted to for no reason.
For example I am extremely fascinated by fastidious eaters - you know the type who completely ignore the elaborate description on the menu card and tell the maitre d' how they want their salad? the ingredients, the dressing and the way they want it arranged in the bowl/plate? or how they want their ice cream with hot chocolate sauce around not on top and nuts on top not around etc?
Like the scene in the film "When Harry met Sally - remember this conversation?

Waitress: Hi, what can I get ya?

Harry: I'll have a number three.

Sally: I'd like the chef salad please with the oil and vinegar on the side and
the apple pie a la mode.

Waitress: Chef and apple a la mode.

Sally: But I'd like the pie heated and I don't want the ice cream on top I
want it on the side and I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it
if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real if it's out
of a can then nothing.

Waitress: Not even the pie?

Sally: No, just the pie, but then not heated.

Waitress: Uh huh.

Well I am the type who, like Harry, says "I'll have a number three" and eat it with a smile and leave a 20% tip and leave with contentment. So I am extremely fascinated by those sallies who can be so clear about what they want and how they want it.

And I get fascinated by watching people who handle their food like it is a piece of art. Once I went to a restaurant with this friend from Portugal and he ordered some fish steamed "just so" and then topped with butter. Then he ate it so beautifully that anytime you looked at his plate it seemed lovely - you know the way work in process pieces of art sometimes have a way of looking lovely all the way to their finish? It was like that - only in reverse! You could have taken it and served it to someone else! When he was done there was just the beautiful unbroken skeleton of the fish on the clean plate, still looking lovely. As i write this I can relive how delicious it felt just looking at that plate although I have no clue how that fish tasted.

This is why I love watching meal scenes in films - remember America's sweethearts where Julia Roberts decides to indulge her depression by hogging pancakes and butter in the restaurant? ummmmmmmm, made me drool so much that I went and made a couple of pancakes,slathered butter on top, drowned it in maple syrup and ate it at 10:30 in the night while watching the film! I am crazy that way!!
But remember,NOT any meal scene. It must be eaten beautifully, just the right amount shovelled into the mouth and eaten with mouth closed and no talking with food in the mouth and the right expression indicating bliss. Not the way Joey attacks food in Friends. Food must be treated like a piece of art -not like food, for me to want it!! Didn't I tell you I am crazy?

I am also fascinated by some friends who come to parties and eat parathas and oily gravy with their fingers without even staining the tip of their nails and their lipsticks remain intact throughout. And here I cannot drink a glass of water without wiping my lipstick clean!!I sometimes have a suspicion that they don't eat but just hold their plate as they are worried about their lipstick and fingers. Perhaps they go home and mix a large bowl of rice and sambar and attack it with abandon and then lick their palm and fingers clean for a good measure. Must be such a release!

These "fine" dining habits may actually say nothing at all of the other person - outside of this one fascinating habit, the person could be a total Bush or Osama Bin Laden which you might realise later. But then I always remember them with a little lenience because of this. Totally unreasonable, wouldn't you say? But hey, no one is perfect!
10,000,000 female infants killed in the past 20 years in India.
There are states like Haryana where there are just 760 females for every 1000 males.
Causes: sex selective abortion, female infanticide.

Why is there a preference for a male child?

1. You need a son to carry your family name , to ensure continuity of your family line.
What family name and lineage are we talking about when one is struggling to provide two square meals for everyone in the family? The only things that are being continued are more misery, poverty and perhaps some genetic disorders.

2. The belief that you need a son to perform your last rites so your soul will attain peace.
If they really believe in the above, do these people think of what punishment there may be for killing a child? or do their scripts give them a justification for that too? ( I do not believe in heaven and hell but I do hope they rot in something close to hell. I would like to invent a Hell for them right here as a deterrent for others.)

3.A girl means expense as you have to pay dowry and get her married.
Educate the girl please and she would take care of herself without necessarily needing a man to support her. Or she will find a man who is willing to marry her for what she is and not for what she brings.And how many years is it since dowry became a punishable offence? Please make the punishments more stringent.

4.You need a son to take care of you in old age while a daughter goes away to another's house after marriage.
Well there are good for nothing sons who have no means to take care of their parents. There are drunkards who are a constant source of trouble. There are those that leave their parents in old age home as the parents and wives do not get along.
So how can you be so sure that your son will? Make sure to stand on your two feet at any age.

5.I already have a few daughters. So I want a son so the family is complete.
Father, mother, daughter and son - looks like a perfect picture in photos but life is never perfect. Daughter or son they are your children. How many abortions will your wife go through? How many girl children will you kill? If you still feel that you need a boy, adopt one.That is a certain way of making sure of the gender of the child.

Half a million girl children killed every year and yet there are people who object to banning of gender detection tests. Why?
"I want to get my blues or pinks correct." "I want to start relating to my child from the time he/ she is in my womb. It would help if I knew if it was a boy or a girl." (why would you communicate differently depending on the gender of the child? is there something called bluetalk and pinktalk!?)
Anyway these are "nice-to-have" desires that need to take a back seat in the context of the larger issue which merits the banning of such tests.
And some argue that it is a "right" you cannot take away from the parents.
What about the "right" of that female child to live?

And this is a country where women are supposed to be seen as images of Goddess Durga and Lakshmi. What a country of hypocrites we are? We invoke our scripts and religion when it suits us and do what is convenient for us when it suits us.
With so many years of foeticide, Haryana already faces a situation when there are not enough brides for all the men. So men are buying brides from other States for as little as Rs. 5,000 - a state where buffalos cost more Rs. 40,000. These women are available to all the men in the family. A slave wife for the entire family - can their be a worse degradation for a woman?

I know it is futile to write about it in this forum as no one who reads this needs to be told all these facts. I am just steaming off - trying to see in what way we can stop this crime and injustice. We can inform our maids, perhaps sponsor the education of their girl child. We can make sure never to make gender discriminatory statements and counter them whenever someone says it even in jest.We can treat our sons and daughters equally. We can boycott films and TV programs that have gender discriminatory themes or dialogues. (protest loudly even when it is a "superstar" who says:"after all a woman!") We can be examples of what a woman can be and can do.We can help change the mindset.

we can simply ignore the statistic that half a million girl babies are killed every year and read the supplement on woman power that came with India Today.

P.S. For some more on the same topic here is a poignant and better researched post by The Rational Fool.
I get very worked up when someone makes a comment like "just the kind of thing THESE PEOPLE do". "These people?" What do you mean?How many of "those people" do you actually know who are like THAT? and what about the kind of things YOU PEOPLE do? I argue endlessly and I pride myself on my acceptance of people as they are for what they are. I consider myself non judgemental and as someone who defends the right of everyone to be the way they want to live their lives.And then The Madmomma decides to expose me by asking me to list what I am judgemental about.Me? judgemetal?? How dare you madmomma?? or wait a minute... may be one or two tiny little things. Let me think...

Ok, here's one. I judge my NRI cousins who come back on their 4 week vacation and grumble about all that is wrong with India.How they miss the old world charm of India and why must we have baristas and malls and all that. It is no different from being in the U.S.
(Excuse me, this is not a museum of 16th century life. We live here day after day and would appreciate some of these too in stead of having to fly over to NewYork for our shopping.)

2. I judge my cousins again when they say how much they miss "home" but "what to do?"they "have to" live in the U.S where the quality of life is so much superior and it is all a sacrifice they have to do so their kids can have the best.
(Do you know 1 billion people actually live here ? ya, children too and our mortality rates are declining! Guess what, we have hospitals and doctors and some top class educational institutions. internet? ya that too!)

3.I judge people who hit their kids. I think violence is an expression of their impotence.

4. I judge people who don't love animals.

5. I judge people who are too lazy to give their dogs a nice name and call them Jimmy or Rosy. I judge them when they use them as workers and do not spend a few minutes talking to them or playing with them.

6.I judge people who are in too many casual relationships as in sleeping around. I think they are either too insecure or too depraved.

7.I judge people like Aishwarya Rai whose smile doesn't seem genuine - you know a smile has got to be in their eyes ,from their soul and all that?

8.I judge people with an accent - not a tamil or telugu or malayalam or punjabi one but those who have lived in India all their lives and put on an american accent!Worse when they speak their mothertongue with an accent.( Enku Tahmeel saryA varAdu)

9.I judge people with flamboyant CVs.

10.I judge people who use too many buzz words in ordinary conversations.

Oh my god, I am a bigot. I am totally prejudiced. I am too judgemental... I need help!

Now all of you who come here who haven't done this already, tell me what you are judgemental about. Come on be a sport! I won't judge you. As you know I never judge...
I am looked upon like a bit of a stranger when I visit my relatives and it is coffee time. While their tastebuds are getting ready for a treat alerted by the smell of fresh decoction dripping down the filter and the smell of milk put to boil, I ruin the atmosphere by declaring that I want tea.The shock on some of the faces might make you think that I just announced that I was converting to another religion. People who know that I am a fairly reasonable person try to see the reason behind such a stupid choice. They gently ask me if there is a health reason.They feel let down when I say "No, I love tea." Silence follows as their thoughts trail along their stunned expressions in invisible subtitles: "how could you?" "You, traitor" "Et tu Usha?!" "Are you OK?"

Waking up to the aroma of true brew (NOT BRU!) South Indian Filter coffee is my earliest memory - perhaps this was a time I was still in my mother's womb. And this was a tradition I proudly carried on after marriage. One of the beliefs in our tribe is that a girl's culinary skills need no further proof than her ability to brew a good cup of filter coffee and a potful of Rasam. I passed with flying colours on both counts.Each time fresh milk would be boiled and fresh aromatic decoction brewed, I'd "warm the cockles of their heart". You should have heard the proud and smug look on my mother in law's face when visitor's would come to see the new bride and she would tell me to make coffee for them. I was their star daughter in law , a jewel in their crown.

And then fate intervened when i was posted to new Delhi for my first job. The first day at work and it was 10:30. The canteen boy placed a cup of coffee on my table and I hungrily took one sip of it and nearly threw up. What was That? It tasted like poison for sure! A spoon of instant coffee in a cup of thick milk and three spoons of sugar!I spent the rest of the morning fighting a head ache and contemplating the wording of my resignation letter. In the evening I discussed this with a close friend and she said ,"Try tea. It is difficult to spoil a cup of tea unlike coffee." So I cheated for the first time just to save my job.What started out of necessity became a passionate affair in the years to come and soon I could not stand the smell of coffee!

Now Tea, for me, is not a beverage. It is a mood, it is a spiritual thing. I drink it not to shake off lethargy or kickstart my brains. It is not a ritual but a rite and I drink it to celebrate, to savour the moment, to relax, to pamper myself. Tea moments are special when the world around me ceases to exist. Those are moments when I am there and tea is there and the moment exists. Nothing else.

As the japanese say "Zencha ichimi," - Tea is Zen.

One of the contemporary Tamil poets, Vairamuthu,my favourite, has written a whole ode to Tea. Please read it; it is called: Alukoru kOpai.

I have tried a rough translation below but it is tough to capture the essence of Tea or the beauty of Vairamuthu's words in a translation:

Ode to Tea
(Alukoru kOppai by Vairamuthu)

Tea times are flash festivals.
Teacup is a compact shrine
Tea is an accessible God,on call to grant your desires.

Firing up the lips and caressing the tongue with warmth
stroking each bud to wake up to its taste
Sweet and faintly bitter
as it descends down the throat
the blood vessels flare up like blooming buds;
brushing past the heart
like a romantic brush against
the fringe of a lover’s sari.

Arriving in the intestines, it ignites the switches in the brain
and the soul is near salvation.

Tea embodies the five elements.
Earth that has seeped all over the leaf through the roots
Water that has lost itself in the essence of the leaf
Fire that made the sweet brew
A waft of air announcing the aroma of the tender leaf
Sky that had washed the leaf in tiny droplets of rain
The five elements locked up in a cup that bubbles with Tea.

But folks
you do not know how to drink Tea.

You stare elsewhere without looking at its golden hue
You chatter empty words without listening to its bubbles

Drinking tea is not a ritual like kissing a wife of years.
Every sip is a hungry kiss of new love;
Should you not,then,close your eyes
and kiss your tea?

Locking lips with the loved cup
as you take a noisy sip
you must lose yourself and transcend the present
in a momentary death
and rise to the region between
the sky and earth and wander among clouds
and then...
fall back with a thud
again on this earth

You, who do not grasp the essence of tea
how will you understand
my poem
that waits last in your line
palm against its cheek?