I love lipstick. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by it. In my childhood, in most conservative families this was a banned item. You could apply thick Kajal under your eyes which was considered very appropriate and even good for the eyes; on festive occasions grown-ups could use betel leaves and lime which reddened their lips which was completely acceptable. But applying lipstick was a strict no-no. My father said only ‘chattaikaris’ (anglo-Indians) used lipstick. – to my young mind it seemed like there was some sort of a law against non Anglo-Indians using it. And there wasn’t even the possibility of stealing lipstick from an adult’s cosmetic bag – none of my relatives used it. So lipstick came to symbolise all that I wanted to be when I grew up – rebellious, liberated and free to do what I wanted.

In my high school days whenever we participated in school plays or dances we were allowed to wear rose powder and lipstick which was all the make-up we knew about. The teacher in charge of these cultural activities had the budget to buy one container of the said powder ( cheapest of course – might have been Ponds in those days, not sure) and one bright red lip stick which was applied across the board irrespective of the colour of their dress and their own complexion. On those rare occasions I felt like Miss world and as Ugich Konitari mentions in this post, we always hoped we would be allowed to sleep with the make-up on. Most of us would be scared to close our painted lips for fear of erasing it. Imagine having to use words with sounds like M and P! That would have meant danger to the colour on the lips and we were quite sure that the teacher would not have entertained any request for a touch up. I remember rushing back to the house after the event with all the powder and lipstick on my face making sure that the lips were pursed inward all the way home. It might have meant trouble if any adult we knew had spotted me with lipstick on the street.

Lipstick and trouble seem to go together as though they were meant for each other. Remember the ‘lipstick on the pig’ remark by the American President-elect Obama during his election campaign? And of course ‘lipstick on the collar’ has always meant trouble for married men!! In ancient Egypt it was a source of much trouble because ancient Egyptian women squeezed out purple-red color from iodine and bromine, leading to serious diseases and hence it came to be referred to as ‘the kiss of death’. Cleopatra’s lipsticks spelt trouble too - not to her but to certain species of insects. It is said that Cleopatra’s lipstick were made from carmine beetles, which when worked with pestle gave a strong red color pigment. This was mixed with ant’s eggs, which provided the base. And in recent history, a certain Mr. Naqvi may not have had much peace since he mentioned the word lipstick..

I have courted trouble too with my obsession with the lipstick. When I was in the seventh or eighth grade, there was this friend in our class who was very fair and had naturally pink lips. She had this habit of biting her lips every now and then which made her lips even redder. I remember spending many an evening trying to bite my lips in the hope of turning them naturally red and finally I only ended with sore lips, blood and all. And then came the discovery of Asha. My mother used a sort of wax as the base before applying her kumkum on the forehead – it was called ‘asha” for some reason. Perhaps that was the name of the brand. Now this was a bright red wax much like today’s lip balm and a little of it was enough to give a bright red colour. For a while it became a favorite clandestine activity to steal ‘asha” and apply it all over the lips. Suddenly one felt all grown up and ‘sophisticated’ – there was a change in the way one spoke and walked with ‘asha’ on the lips. One fine afternoon, my father caught me red-handed ( red-lipped rather) and he asked me to wipe it off right away – he said I looked like a monkey .

I was twenty-one by the time I owned by first lipstick which was part of a make-up set gifted by my college friends for my wedding. And by the early eighties it was quite common for middle-class working women to wear lipstick though generally not among teachers, doctors etc. Just as the lipstick was coming within my reach there was a change in fashion which made the un-made-up look popular at the workplace unless you were in the entertainment or hospitality industries. Otherwise people wore lipstick only for parties, weddings etc. Or they wore shades that blended naturally with their lip colour which made it almost invisible. None of the maroon that actress Rekha sported and looked gorgeous and which I so longed to wear. Not that I'd have been able to carry it off but did I care? And on the rare occasions that I actually got to use a lipstick I realised that I simply did not possess the panache to keep it on. One glass of juice was enough to get rid of it all; and I don’t think I would choose to starve in order just to keep the colour on.So finally I have accepted that I was never born to wear a lipstick and yet, if you see me lingering in a page in any magazine it would most certainly have an ad for some brand of lipstick.

Now that I have established clearly that I do not wear any lipstick, Mr. Naqvi, may I shout some slogans against you?
Aarti sat on the steps that led from her drawing room to the dining space and surveyed the arrangement – new covers for the cushions in rich hues and soft fabric, fresh flowers in the vases, carpet vacuumed to look as good as new. The room looked warm and welcoming. She closed her eyes savoring the feeling of contentment. She loved to surround herself with beautiful things and worked hard to keep them beautiful. She was naturally gifted with the creativity to transform simple spaces into artistic niches by furnishing them inventively. Visitors to the house never failed to comment on how good they felt in her house where everything blended beautifully and harmoniously.

Except Karthik, Aarti’s husband. A busy surgeon at one of the best hospitals in the city, he spent very little time at home and even those hours were spent reading or watching the television. His skill, dedication and patience had made him very popular among his patients. It also helped that his father was one of the most respected surgeons in the city. With her too he was patient, willing to listen and respectful of her opinions. Their life lacked no comfort as they lived on an unlimited budget and he never questioned her about any expense however extravagant or unnecessary.

To all their friends theirs was the charmed life fairy tales were made of. Their lifestyle was something they could hope to have if they worked hard for another ten years. Many of her friends from college still lived in the city and they met every few months to share an afternoon of fun and laughter. Sometimes there were tears too about their husbands and their insensitivity or disappointment over their failures. A couple of them had even separated. To all of them, Aaarti’s life with Karthik was the model of a happy marriage. They openly told her how jealous they were of her to have someone like Karthik – handsome, successful and liberal.

Although she allowed her friends to believe that her life was perfect, Aaarti had her secret longings. Karthik had no romantic streak in him – if she said she wanted Romance, he might tell her to go ahead and buy it never mind the cost! He was down-to-earth about everything. He did not notice any of her efforts in beautifying the house and even when she deliberately drew his attention to these all he could think of saying was: ‘Nice, but I thought it looked nice earlier too”. After the first few months of their marriage, Aarti gave up expecting him to appreciate her efforts. But there were days when she longed that he would send her flowers or bring her a surprise gift or call her from work just to say he was thinking of her.

Those were the times she missed Anand. Anand who never forgot her birthdays, who noticed every little thing she did and appreciated it, who worshipped the ground she walked on, who made sure she was escorted everywhere. His family lived on the same street as her parents and they were also related in some distant way. Both parents approved of their friendship and there was a tacit understanding that they would be married eventually. Until Aarti’s grandmother decided to match their horoscopes! Everything went awry when the astrologer declared that his natal chart alignment signified an early death for his wife. So naturally the grandmother’s iron will prevailed and the parents were not so sure anymore. A disappointed Anand applied for a job overseas. When he found one in Singapore he disappeared from her life. He never wrote to her and eventually Aarti accepted that he was gone forever from her life.

She did not think of Anand often in the early years of her life with Karthik. It felt good to be married to the sort of man whom all her friends admired and wanted. And in any case it was tough to find anything wrong with Karthik who was kind and gentle and never demanded or complained. But after the first year she felt that Karthik and she were already like an old couple, married for 25 years or so and comfortable with each other – no surprises, nothing unpredictable, everything was a given. Life was placid, calm and ... she searched for the right word in her mind and found it - and... BORING.

It lacked the excitement her friends seemed to be having – the romance of struggling together , seeking reassurance and comfort in each other, joy in simple things. Often she thought of what it might have been had she married Anand. Life might have been full of spice –romantic walks in the park, saving for exotic holidays, candle light dinners, surprise gifts and cards, valentine days, fighting and making up (fighting just to make up perhaps) - she imagined all the candy floss from Bollywood and Hollywood. They would still be struggling financially but she imagined their love might have compensated for everything they lacked materially. When she heard romantic songs, especially from the past, she was reminded of him.

Now as she sat there on the steps looking at the room she wondered what Anand might have said about it. She knew that he would have noticed every minor detail and made her feel special. He always did.

She emerged from the reverie she had drifted into when the phone rang. It was from her mother who called to give her news that was music to her ears. Anand had come visiting his parents after all these years! Aaarti could not believe that this was indeed happening. She asked her mother a hundred questions about him – how he looked, how he spoke, had he acquired an accent, did he look happy, was he back for good, what had she told him about her, and about Karthik. Her mother laughed at her questions and simply said that he was the same old Anand they knew and that he had taken her number to call before visiting her.
Aarti felt strange after the call. She could not focus her thoughts. She felt nervous all of a sudden. She picked up a book to read but couldn’t concentrate. She tried to nap but was worried she might miss his call. She made sure she carried the handset along wherever she went in the house. Finally the phone rang.

To her relief it was from Anand. She tried to sound casual but her voice made her excitement clear. His happiness was palpable too. They made plans for him to meet Karthik over the weekend but she wanted to meet him before that. So they decidced to meet for lunch the next day.

She put the phone down and suddenly she was all frazzled, feeling like a teenager before her first date. She couldn’t decide what she wanted to wear. She wanted to look perfect for this meeting but at the same time appear casual. Suddenly her wardrobe seemed inadequate. She wished she had more time and then she wished she didn’t have to wait till next afternoon. She wanted to cry. For once she was happy that Karthik did not notice how nervous she was.

After the longest 20 hours of her life, finally it was it was time to leave. She could still not think of the perfect thing to say when they met. She knew this would be a Kodak moment in her memory and she wanted this to be perfect for both of them. No blunders.
She did not want him to be disappointed in anyway either.

When she entered the restaurant he was already at their table and got up to greet her. He looked just the same and she said that. He laughed and then said:
‘But you seem to have graduated to the contented Indian housewife look. Your husband’s prosperity shows on you, you know ’ he winked and then he laughed.
In the past she had never been offended by his references to her appearance and weight. It was true that she had added a few kilos since her marriage but she was by no means fat and in any case this was not warranted.
She excused herself and went to the restroom and when she came back he announced that he had already placed the order for starters.
“Hey I know your taste and I am sure you will like what I ordered”, he said and she tried valiantly to hide her irritation.
He updated her on his job, life in Singapore etc. She relaxed soon and asked him whether he had lost his way all these years and finally strayed back home.
He laughed and announced he was back to find a bride : ‘ There’s no substitute to a good Indian girl for a happy married life”
“How so?’ Aarti asked a bit confused.
“Someone who’d be content to take care of the husband and house, who would put her family before her career you know, like you for example. No feminist nonsense for me. In any case I make enough money so there is no need for her to go out and work.”

‘What do you even know about my life to make these comments?’ Aaarti thought and it suddenly occurred to her that Karthik had laid no conditions about her decision to have a career or not. She was free to do what she wanted. She tried to recollect if he had ever attempted to force anything on her – be it books or food preferences or clothing. Never.
It had always been “whatever you want to do.”

As the afternoon progressed and they talked more she was struggling to figure out why she was ever in love with this person. He still made her laugh but it was not the subtle , intelligent kind of humour but of the adolescent and boisterous variety. She found it loud. And he was dominating and sometimes insensitive. It seemed to her that you need the naïveté of romantic love to dull the edge of selfishness and oppression and make them seem as protectiveness and attention and care.
“I am glad we finally met again after all these years. I feel so much better now” she said while parting and meant every word of it.

She got into the car and suddenly she couldn’t wait to get back to her boring life.

P.s: This is a real story from a friend's life. She dreamt of her college boyfriend for 5 years after her marriage and then when they met again, she couldn't wait to take the flight back to her husband. And then she lived happily ever after. I have used it here upon her suggestion.
It has been a depressing few days for the nation as a whole. We have been as sickened by the sounds of gunshots and explosives as by the incessant voices on the various channels especially those of politicians. It was something you wanted to run away from and yet could not. It seemed that sitting before the television and hoping for the drama to end soon was all you could do to express solidarity to the people who were trapped inside, engulfed in horror and for the brave men who were going about their job unaffected by the cameras and mayhem surrounding the scene of action. Over the 60 hour period, emotions changed from shock to horror to gratitude to relief but catharsis came finally through tears. Copious tears shed for the loss of some of our best officers and the young commando from one's own city, for all those who came to visit this country and never went back and for the staff who took care of their guests till their very last; and for baby Moshe who doesn't know the immensity of his loss and all children for whom living with terror might become a way of life. Heart-breaking stories and tales of real heroism.

It is all finally over but somehow you know your world has changed forever. When you wave goodbye to someone and say 'take care' it is no longer perfunctory, you mean it. When people are unduly delayed or when some one is traveling, you do tend to check the television news often and there is a feeling of unease until they are safely home. Nothing is certain anymore except NOW.

And then there is anger, a lot of anger:

- at the evil gunmen and their masters. Their death came too soon, you want them rot away slowly pleading for mercy. Did the lone survivor say he has no regrets? Oh, we will see about that and by the time we are through with the investigations you will have plenty of that don't worry!

- at those who had intelligence of the plot and chose to ignore it. Why? How could they take something like this lightly? Every false alarm is worth investigation. You can never be too sure considering what the city has suffered recently.

- at the men who groveled for our votes but now choose to sit in their comfortable chairs and say that in a big city such things are bound to happen. Really? So remind us again why do we have a government and why do we pay our taxes?
I'd be happy to see their heads roll and that is not in figurative terms.

- at the politicians who try to get some bandwidth out of a brave young man's death and making a mockery of his funeral disrespecting the sentiments of his grieving family.
No wonder his father could not handle it anymore when the Kerala CM and home minister came visiting. He simply ordered them out of his house.

- at our neighbor - who still refuses to see that it is in its own interest to act on evidence presented and not hide behind rhetoric. How many such incidents do they need to see that terror is no longer a local phenomenon and collective action is needed to confront and quell it or it may be their turn next. How long will they turn a blind eye to it?

- at the media - well not exactly anger but irritation at the way you all went overboard with your reporting. yes,we heard that you were risking your lives to bring us footage of the scene of action. But I am not sure if we needed all the information you gave us. Frankly, what was the need for a minute by minute report - it wasn't a match happening there. So many media persons around might actually have been a distraction and added stress on the administration. Even otherwise, you could just shown us the pictures and let the camera speak. We could have done with less of your incessant chatter. Arnab, Barka and Rajdeep, your lung power is simply amazing. But next time, follow the simple rule: If there is nothing new to report, that is your cue to shut up. And you don't shove microphones before worried and grieving people to give you a sense of what is going through their minds. Not done. ( edited to add: Gnani Sankaran, Tamil writer raises some very important points on the lopsided media coverage of the attack here.)

So did we hear the politicians say that the nation stood united in those moments of terror? That moment is apparently over as they have gone back to their old bickering and pettiness. Calculations must be on to see how this disaster can be converted to votes or seats. Looks like life is back to normal.

Only normal is not so normal anymore for the man on the street.
Many of my friends tell me that they find haircuts,facials and pedicure very relaxing. One reason could be the feeling of well being that is born of looking good. Another could be the primitive sense of bonding that dates back to primate life.
“social grooming” is a common practice of primates. They “spend hours each day ruffling through each other’s fur, removing bits of loose skin or burrs caught in the fine hairs”The frequency with which any two individuals groom each other appears to be a reliable index of the closeness of the social bond between them--that is, the extent to which each can count on the other for support.

(source:article here.)

Reading this took me back in time to a long forgotten memory of women of the household combing each others hair, checking for lice and cleaning them in the days when beauty parlours were rare and expensive and even shampooing was considered harmful to the hair. Washing hair was a weekly ritual. Thick and long flowing tresses could not be handled on one's own and usually they helped each other in washing it off. Oiling and combing of hair was usually kept aside for the leisurely afternoons; Snarls would be delicately untangled with least damage and then the hair oiled with pure coconut oil or delicately perfumed Tata oil or the strong keshavardhini or cathredine for special occasions. Finally it would be carefully plaited ensuring that all the hair stayed in place and every plait was of equal tension resulting in a symmetric design. And the finishing touch would be a strand of fresh flowers. All of this was done with ritualistic care and involvement with women of the family helping each other in combing and plaiting. A lot passed between the women during these times - shared gossip, confidences and counsel and plenty of laughter. I had an aunt who would always insist on combing and plaiting my hair whenever she came visiting and my grandmother did this too - this was their way of showing that they cared. Any hair damage that they noticed would meet with severe disapproval and by the end of the stay they ensured that the damage was fixed.
It now occurs to me that they did this only for their favorites - not to all the women and children in the house. Grooming to express alliance!

Have you noticed that it makes you feel good when someone ruffles through your hair? In fact we even have an idiom in Tamil when two people bond closely they are described as scratching each other's backs - yet another allusion to grooming and bonding. With the break-up of joint families and opportunities within the family to bond, we seem to have found the closest alternative in parlours. A famous hairdresser had once said in an interview that a lot of his regular clients confide in him when he treats their hair. Not every one uses the hairdresser as their confidante but there may be a reason why they find grooming relaxing. And the article quoted above tells us why:
Being groomed is reported to be a very pleasurable experience. As Dunbar points out:
"In fact, we now know that grooming stimulates the production of the body’s natural opiates, the endorphins; in effect, being groomed produces mildly narcotic effects."

The article discusses the interesting theory that language evolved as an alternative for grooming in the effort to socialise and form alliances - as grooming was individual bonding and required more time. It seems that language evolved basically to fulfill the urge to gossip. Anthropologists at the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) in Oxford, UK, say chatting on the phone is the human equivalent of social grooming among chimpanzees and gorillas. Could it be that humans are constantly in search of an alternative to fulfill the early needs met by the act of grooming? perhaps there lies in the deep recesses of our subconscious an unsatisfied urge: ah,If only we could sit in groups and look for lice in each other's hair!!!
So next time you swipe your card at the parlour for that fat bill, don't be filled with guilt. You probably just gave in to a basic primitive instinct - blame it on our common ancestors:

(Pic source : via google images)
Sujatha asked me to answer this in a tag she passed to me. I have earlier spoken on what feminism means to me and expressed strong views on issues such as female foeticide, virginity, gender bias, rape as a means of subjugation,
genital mutilation, women's sexuality etc.
But this time around the question made me introspect more and honestly define the kind of feminism I practice.
Am I a feminist?
Would I fight for Equality – political, social, economic? yes.
Do I believe in equal opportunities for men and women everywhere? yes.
Do I fight discrimination in every way between genders? – yes
So can I define myself as a feminist and feel good about being on the politically correct side of an issue and go back to playing hangman?
Something was holding me back – a little niggling at the back of my mind. Like an itch in the throat that you can’t reach and scratch.

So I decided to face it headlong. Was I being totally honest?

At fifty, I am at a stage in life where I am fairly independent - economically and emotionally – where I am not often presented with situations where I have to make a feminist choice. Very rarely do I have to interact with people from outside the educated, upper middle-class where people hardly see me as a woman but mostly as a person. In professional dealings too I am fairly high on the food chain to be open to any kind of gender-based discrimination.
So from my comfortable sofa it is easy for me to look at feminism as an issue that is out there, or say what I think is the right position to have if one faces gender-based discrimination.

My early years were spent in a milieu where a girl was considered a responsibility and a boy an investment or asset. Girls were given the same treatment materially but there was a clear difference in attitude. There was definitely less freedom of speech and movement to girls than boys. One did not know there were other ways to live and so the discrimination did not hurt so much. Obviously I was not born with a natural sense of justice because I did put up with this kind of discrimination without even noticing it.

In my twenties and thirties too, as I look back, I think I have taken a lot of crap in relationships. I have been a doormat in some imagining it to be patience and love or sacrifice needed for a greater purpose. I have endured a lot and seen it as bad karma.. Allowing myself to be maneuvered, exploited by people, perhaps reinforcing their belief on why women deserved to be doormats.
I could blame it again on my upbringing but where was my independent thought – I was educated too, wasn’t I? I can only say that I chose to allow them to treat me badly. I did not stand up for my rights or my dignity as a person. I was not confident enough, I needed acceptance at all costs. I wonder if I symbolised reasons why women are considered the weaker sex. So in that sense I probably was not a feminist – but I was the reason why such movements were needed. :)

I believe I became the person that I am only when I turned 35. By this time, I had developed enough confidence and ideas and begun to see me as a person rather than defining myself in terms of others. I am outraged when I see discriminations of any kind – particularly on the basis of gender and let out steam here.I try to talk to younger people and make them see the flaws in their reasoning or areas of weakness in their relationships with men. I try to give them the confidence that they do not need men as emotional crutches but as equal partners in their marriage. And in this space I try to register protest against discrimination when I see it hoping to reach out to a handful of younger minds with my thoughts and hoping to provoke some discussion on sensitive issues affecting women or at least prod them gently to think about these issues.
But by the time I was 35, my life and station had moved to a place where there was less room for exploitation on the basis of gender. Have you noticed that Indian men begin to treat other women in a sexless way when they turn 35 or 40? They do not mind having bosses of a certain age, somehow they do not seem a threat. They do not make passes at them. Not as a norm in any case. They are not objects any more but respectable behenjis and auntys. And I am not complaining. The point is that by the time I was 35 or 40 there was no need to fight for any feminist reasons because there was no cause – no one was looking at me that way. I mean , at least most of the time.

So the answer to the question ‘are you a feminist?' would be a “yes’ without a trace of doubtsince it is in the present tense. But the point is that I was not one when it could have made a difference to my life. And even today I am not constantly treat one another fairly and without bias.
And would I be a feminist if I had to risk life and limb for it? Would my safety and life be more important to me than my individuality and rights? Would I be a feminist, for example, if I were living in Afganistan today? I am not sure. Would I even notice the discriminations if I were born in Saudi Arabia and lived there all my life? I don’t know. I would be a different kind of person then. And since I know from my experience that a sense of justice is acquired rather than genetic, I cannot answer for the kind of person I would be under different conditions.
So I guess the answer to this question in its entirety would have to be “I DON”T KNOW.”
I am comfortable only with doctors with a sense of humour - who can make you laugh about your condition by seeing the funny side of it. A friend even goes a bit further and declares that the most successful doctors are those with a sense of humour because in a profession where you deal with so much of suffering, you need it to cope and be successful. I am not so sure because I have come across doctors like the ones you see in films who look at you gravely, remove ther spectacles solemnly for effect and declare that you have Acute viral nasopharyngitis as if it is a terminal illness and you want to know how many days more you have to live.

My trips to hospitals take this to the extreme - I find each experience more hilarious than the other. Not too long ago, I shared this with you and had another of the kind yesterday and today. DIL has been complaining of a pain in the gluteal region and I assumed it was an allusion to her boss. It turned out that she had a huge abscess in that region and the quack she went to initially treated it like a pimple and gave her a couple of painkillers which did nothing to reduce the pain. For a couple of days we waited for it to burst on its own and it just grew worse. So finally we decided to go to one of the fancy hospitals closer to home.

We completed the registration formality and she was sent in to see the doctor while I waited in the waiting area. The doctor examined the affected area and explained that it was an abscess and asked her if she knew what that meant. She replied in the affirmative (Let me kiss the hands that created Google). Then he recommended an I and D procedure to drain the fluids and she said "ok." May be he expected her to panic or react a bit more. The unperturbed OK seemed to have confused him. So he again asked her if she knew what he meant. At this point she thought that probably there was more to it and she did not know what he meant and called me in. But the doctor was too busy initiating the admission procedure to notice my entry on the scene. After several phone calls to surgery, admissions, registrar and back to surgery, he finally noticed me and said "we are admitting her." I asked him why and he explained that the procedure was the only way she was going to be rid of the pain and there was no way the abscess would comply with our wishes and burst on its own. 'But surely there was a way to do it without admission?' I queried.
'Then you won't be able to claim insurance. I am assuming you have insurance?' he said.
"Ok. you go now and get admitted. Don't be fussy about your choice of room. Take whichever they give you. Then you can have it changed tomorrow."
All this seemed like a huge emergency - getting admitted even before we knew who the surgeon was. May be the surgeon was going to be paged to come and perform the procedure right away.
'So when will the procedure be?'
"oh the surgeon will be in tomorrow morning. Dr Bhat will do it."
But of course, Dr.Bhat for an abscess in the butt!

So we went to the admissions counter, still a bit unsure of why she needed to be admitted and what the huge hurry was if the surgeon was coming in only in the morning.
Counter no. 5 or 6 , we were told and we asked the young man the procedure for admission.
"you pay 10000 and get admitted and before surgery you pay 80% of the operation cost" and then he went on to elaborate on the forms required from the insurance guys.
My thoughts went: '10,000 for a boil - ok ok that is trivialising it a little. It is NOT a boil but an abscess but 10 k for an I n D procedure?'
"And can we have the type of room we want?" asked DIL sounding like she was booking rooms in a resort.
"No ma'm, we only have the general room that is shared by 3 people."
"And the bathrooms?" asked DIL probably hoping every bed had a bathroom attached.
"They are shared too."
That was the clincher. We did not want to go in with a boil and pick up more infections sharing rooms with people with other ailments. And certainly not share bathrooms with strangers.
So we decided to have a chat with the surgeon and take a call on the admission while making a booking for a separate room.
We went back this morning and the surgeon simply drained the fluid without so much as local anesthesia and neatly dressed the affected part and told her she could go back to her normal life. Total cost:consultation Rs.350+ RS. 320 toward lab charges for the Pus culture and Rs.303.21 toward cost of medicines.
We still do not know why we were being hurried into admitting her with an advance payment of 10 k. May be the first doctor missed the classes on the day they taught A for abscess. Or may be he gets his bonus based on the income to the hospital from his clients.

We do see a lot more cases of surgeries that people undergo these days - I wonder if the instances of surgeries have increased since the availability of insurance claim. At least there are a lot more cases of by-pass surgeries these days. Is surgery becoming the first option in most cases just to be on the safer side? And because insurance covers the costs anyway? What about the side effects of surgery etc?
I do know a lot of people who prefer to get admitted rather than be treated as Outpatients even for simple procedures - so that it is covered by insurance. Otherwise they would have to pay it out of their pocket. No wonder there is such a demand for beds.
And what about cases that really need surgery but where people cannot come up with 10k+ 80% of the cost of operation immediately? It could be a Saturday and banks do not open till Monday or one of those many bank-strike days or festival holidays - what happens then? We could get away laughing about the hilarious encounter but I am not sure it is so funny for many people who go to these hospitals.
In a comment on Mystic Life’s post dealing with stereotypes quite some time back, I had offered to do a post on the stereotypical ideas I grew up with. And then I got bogged down by so many other things that this kept getting postponed. Well, I could have blamed in on that stereotype - 'a woman's work is never done' but knowing me, you wouldn't believe it, would you?

Many of the stories I heard in my childhood reinforced the belief that suffering was the sure path to glory. They were always about endless trials and tribulations on earth and at the end of it all promise of eternal bliss, stardom or godhood. There was even a time when, as a child, I used to be suspicious of all rich people – if they had so much on this earth they couldn’t be good, could they? Or at least I was sure that they weren’t getting a place in heaven after their good time on earth. Women who were happily married did not get to merit the status of a great woman – you had to suffer like Sita, Draupati, Ahalya, Nalayini, Damayanti, Chandramati. This stereotype was further emphasised in my adolescent years through the films I saw. A good woman always suffered – she was usually married to some good-for-nothing alcoholic and/or wife beater with a good measure of paranoia . And how her patience and perseverance and faith finally help her reform this worthless specimen is the measure of her greatness. If only she had the good sense to send him to rehab, she and the audience could have been saved of a lot of misery. I was rather disappointed to see this same old concept used in some of the TV serials in recent times.

Another fallacy these childhood stories emphasized was the importance of sacrifice and self-abnegation. You needed to forego things, even when they were rightfully yours, to achieve greatness. Ram was great because he did not argue with his father about the stupidity of Kaikeyi’s demands. Lakshman was great because he followed Rama to the forest. Bharath was great because he would not ascend the throne. Bhishma was great because he renounced his claim to the throne and any prospect of marriage so that his father could marry someone he loved. There was this story which was popular in every Tamil household about 40 years ago. It was also popular because it had a funny tagline – ‘amma, amma Kozhakattaikku kannu undodee?’ (Mom, does the sweet dumpling have eyes?) This was about a girl in Cinderella-like situation. Only there was only one step-sister in this case. One day the step-mother, probably in a PMS moment, throws the girl out. And the girl wanders to the forest and finds a cottage where an old lady lives. After the initial introduction, the old lady asks her if she is hungry and what she’d like to eat. The girl settles for left-overs but the old lady protests and makes hot and tasty food for her. Then she asks the young girl where she’d like to sleep and the girl opts for a mat but the lady insists on giving her the softest mattress and pillow. You get the drift, don't you? While the girl always chooses the most austere of the options the lady insists on giving her the finest and the best. The next day she returns home laden with gifts from the old lady and the step mother is pleased. Now the step-sister decides to go and grab her share of goodies too from the old lady. So she goes to the old lady and demands the finest and the best but all she gets is some leftover food and a night on a torn mat . She returns home with a lot of advice and nothing more. Moral of the story, children: “Always set your heart on the basic necessities. You will be rewarded with the best if you are good and if you deserve it” I think this story was single-handedly responsible for creating a generation of children who were afraid to want the best for themselves.

And that brings me to the other stereotype – the wicked stepmother. You saw them everywhere - in fairy tales, in films, in stories. Stepmothers who spent all their time and energy persecuting their step daughters. One of my classmates had a step mother and the other girls spoke in whispers about her. We assumed that the girl was being beaten up everyday and starved and locked in a room. When my aunt died leaving 4 children behind, her husband decided to remarry and brought home an angel. She loved my cousins as her own children and worked really hard to bring them up on her husband’s limited income. She went without so many things but made sure that they didn’t go wanting for tasty food or nice clothes or a good education. But one of her step-daughters never accepted her because as a child she had heard that all step mothers were evil.

Many of the gender stereotypes that I had seen as a child are still around, although many of them are in the process of being thrown out. Ideas like it is not possible for a woman to be happy without a husband and a family or that women are genetically designed to take care of children and the family.('Biologically and temperamentally, I believe women were made to be concerned first and foremost with child care, husband care and home care' - Dr. benjamin Spock)
One of my vivid memories from childhood is hearing an adult dismiss a woman as being unwomanly because she whistled. No she didn’t whistle at anyone – she just whistled a song in the privacy of her bedroom. He happened to be visiting and heard it and that was enough for him to pronounce her ‘unwomanly’ – not un-lady-like but Un-woman-ly!! A ‘good’ woman did not whistle, wear revealing clothes, drink alcoholic beverages or smoke,; She did not swear; she put her needs after everybody else’s. She was seen ( mostly as another man’s shadow) and hardly ever heard to assert herself.

While many of these traditional stereotypes have been left behind by the current generations , there are other stereotypes today on what constitutes being ‘cool’ and ‘uncool’, what is ‘hot’ and what is not and above all, what constitutes physical beauty. In earlier times it was society that had a stake in creating and sustaining stereotypes but today it seems to be a multi-billion dollar industry. And perhaps that is what would make these stereotypes that much harder to reject.
Thank you all for the warm response to my previous post - When I read those comments some of them felt like gentle pats on the shoulder, warm palm squeezes and hugs. This spontaneous and unselfish display affection in the blogosphere never ceases to amaze me. Reminds me of the words on a poster I saw somewhere -'There are no strangers in this world - only friends we haven't met yet.'
I am fine thank you. The tone of the post may have been a bit misleading - a bit of a head fake.

Head fake? I just learnt this term and am showing off actually. Apparently this technique is used in basketball where the player looks in one direction while actually moving in another with the intention to mislead the opponent. I recently read Randy Pausch's book "The Last Lecture" where he talks about this technique:

When we send our kids to play organized sports -football, soccer, swimming, whatever - for most of us, it's not because we're desperate for them to learn the intricacies of the sport.
What we really want them to learn is far more important: teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship, the value of hard work, an ability to deal with adversity. This kind of indirect learning is what some of us like to call a 'head fake."
There are two kinds of head fakes. The first is literal. On a football field, a player will move his head one way so you'll think he's going in that direction. Then he goes in the opposite way. it's like a magician using misdirection. Coach graham used to tell us to watch a player's waist. "Where his belly button goes, his body goes," he'd say.
The second kind of head fake is the really important one - the one that teaches people things they don't realize they're learning until well into the process. if you're a head fake specialist, your hidden objective is to get them to learn something you want them to learn.

Pausch who was a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2006 and all treatment failed to arrest its spread and in August 2007 he had been given nothing more than 3 to 6 months good health. At 45, married for just 8 years and with three children 5, 3 and 1, Pausch decided to make the most of what was left of his life by living everyday to the fullest possible extent. Accepting the fact that his children would have to grow up without a father he decided build some wonderful memories with them in the short time left which would help them remember their father later in their life. And yet he agreed to devote a lot of his precious time to do a lecture for the students at the university. In reality he intended the whole lecture titled 'Achieving your childhood dreams' to be his talk for his children containing all the wisdom that he wanted them to have from their father's life and beliefs. That was the head fake.

On September 18, 2007 Randy Pausch delivered his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon. His book 'The last lecture' was published in April 2008. Randy Pausch died on July 25th, 2008. The book is a simple narration of the high and low points of his life and a tribute to people who influenced the course of his life. The mood is so positive at all times that it is easy to forget that the speaker has a few days left to live. Another of his famous head fake techniques perhaps.

P.s: So what was the head fake in my post? I had seen some mother-in-law bashing around the blogosphere and I thought I might get people to see things from a new M-I-L's perspective. Just hoping that would let them view their own a little more charitably.
I am always amused by something or other when I go for for the annual medical examination (which, by the way, I do once in 3 years when threatened at knife point by my Gynaec). For me it is just a chore to be completed to keep my physician quiet for another year (or three) but when I look at the others in the same room I suspect that this may have a far profounder significance - like some sort of a war against disease or something. My amusement starts when I watch people deliver samples of urine and stools. Most people put them in plastic covers and then add a good length of BOPP tape to make sure that the contents don't spill out and then put it in another plastic cover which they staple neatly. Only thing that is missing is a gift wrapping. Outside the room for sample collection, they carefully unwrap the package and deliver the contents. It was the same this morning but even I was shocked when two Kissan Jam bottles emerged out of one such package - I was quite curious to know just what quantity the person decided to give for the test! I think he did not want to take any chances and brought the entire output of that morning!

Ultrasonography is technology's revenge on human beings - that scanner moving on cold gel applied over your abdomen, tickling you all over when your bladder is full is sheer torture. I usually go through it by switching off from my immediate surroundings and letting my thoughts wander to scenes which have nothing to do with water. Normally the doctor asks a few routine questions and goes about his business without engaging the patient in conversation. This one today was also the same but all of a sudden while taking the scanner over my navel he decided to ask me "Actually where are you from?" The question did not register initially and I blurted out: "What?"
I think when you lay on a table with your fat belly and all the abdominal tires exposed, you do not think of manners and politeness. Normally my response would have been "pardon?" or "sorry?" but I said "What?" As plain as that, and the doctor repeated the question. "Actually where are you from?' I do not know why he decided to ask me this question. was this his version of navel-gazing? or did my navel reveal something which made him suspect that I might be an alien creature or something? Did he suspect I was hiding something? I would never know but I gave an honest response and went back to wondering what might have prompted this strange question. Someday when and if I meet the doctor in more pleasant circumstances, I will perhaps ask him for an explanation.

Then came the mammography test. While I was in an unseemly state of undress waiting for the mammogram to be inflicted on me, the technician walked in along with three or four other young girls. I do not know if they are medical interns or apprentice technicians or just some school girls on a trip to the hospitals. I think it might be the last because one girl actually asked "ma'm , is the mammography test only for the breast or is it done for other parts also?" Can this be from a doctor or a medical student? If yes, I am worried about the future of humanity. Anyway, during the mammogram and the mammo sonogram which followed, I found myself becoming a specimen rather than a person who had paid through her nose for the test. Midway through the sonogram, the doctor would stop and tell the girls: "look at these lymph nodes. But presence of these does not necessarily confirm Cancer." And in my mind I would go: 'WHAT? Did she just say CANCER?" and make a mental list of all the things I should do in the little time I may have. When this went on for some time I wanted to protest but then endured it all in the cause of the medical profession. As my reward the doctor cleared my case as having 'no problem'.

Anyway after spending 5k and wasting 5 hours in a million tests, undressing and redressing a few million times, the doctor pronounced what was standing between me and perfect health : 9 kgs.of excess baggage, I mean body weight. As if I did not know that already. This is precisely why I am sceptical of these annual health check-up s (checks-up?) or whatever. I think it is a ruse devised by hospitals to make you pay and then become a 'specimen' on their tables to teach other interns and apprentices. Ok ok, not really but you understand my frustration, don't you? I have had a hard day, please don't argue with me.
There is this yuppy couple in my neighbourhood. Their life represents all the aspirations of today's younger generation - dream jobs in which they are successful; a large house fitted with the most modern equipment, art on the walls, dream kitchens (used by the servants and cooks) and elegant bathrooms, a small gym and a mini swimming pool in the basement. Their cars are large and one of the two, ofcourse ,is an SUV. Their weekdays are packed with them coming home just in time for dinner. Their children get the best of everything that money can buy. Only thing they cannot afford them is time of which they have so little. Their weekends are busy too with getting ready for the next week and obligatory socialising. They hardly know their neighbours nor seem to care. There are times they are face to face with you but forget to smile - either they are too preoccupied and do not recognise you or they are hurrying from or to something. They have two small children and this family of four uses the services of a cook, a live-in domestic help, a part-time domestic help, a driver and a guy who comes to walk and groom their dog.
Yes, a dog to complete the picture of perfection. And not just any dog - a dog from a line of superior dogs. He is a dog who loves people and craves human company. He is a bundle of energy, highly intelligent ( his comes from a breed of highly intelligent dogs) and a gentle soul with the sweetest temperament and of course a very alert guard. Like their kids, he gets the best money can buy - imported food, best veterinary care, shampoo baths in dog care clinics, an ex-policeman to come and train him. But does he care? No, all he wants is a little socialising - a little ruffling of his luxurious coat, a few minutes to bounce the ball to him and to sleep at the feet of his master. And he tries telling them that in the only ways he knows to communicate - he barks and furiously wags his tail to catch their attention every time they walk in and out of the house and all he gets is a firm "NO." When they are inside the house he waits outside the door, stretching his ears to catch any sound from inside and when they are out of the house he waits at the gate for them to return. Hoping perhaps that one day they will notice him and give him a hug. Not realising that for him they may be his family but for them he is just a worker.

And then last month, the man of the house had to leave on his new posting abroad. And so the wife and two children have shifted to another apartment they own just a km away, along with the domestic helps. And he is left all by himself to guard the house - they have employed a person to feed him, groom him and take him for a walk but it is heart-breaking to see him rush to the gate every time there are footfalls on the street outside his house. When I wake up I see him at the gate patiently waiting and when I go to bed he is there hoping they'd come and may be take him with them. Does he wonder where everyone has gone? Does he wonder why they have abandoned him?

I am reminded of Ulysses and his dog Argos. I think of a colleague who was transferred to Mumbai where he could not take his dog because of the apartment rules and his dog stopped eating and died in 3 months' time. I go to him and try to talk to him as often as I can but I can see it is not the same. I have been angry - the kind of anger which harms you because you are helpless to do anything about the cause. I offered to take him in or to find him a house but their response has been rather vague perhaps because they have invested so much and would like him to guard their house now empty.

Why do these creatures have to be so attached to their masters? Haven't they lived long enough with humans to learn of their selfishness and to expect a lot less from them? I think there ought to be strict laws on who can own a pet and their obligations towards them which should cover a lot more than just giving them the best money can buy. But then, I do not blame these people too. It seems that this is the way they treat people too, their own children and parents. Their way of expressing love and care is to buy expensive gifts for them. Only difference is people seem to be ok with it while dogs still seem to have different priorities. Too bad fellow, learn the rules.
Never get attached to one employer. This will stand in the way of your growth and progress.
Loyalty is passe. It is all about the best deal you can get for your services.
And above all, don't have high expectations from your masters. They are , after all, human.

P.s.: Ok, rant over. But I had to get the steam off my chest. This was bothering me so much for the past week that I have been rather depressed. I hoped to feel better after putting it down here but I don't. I suppose this whole situation could be just a matter of perspective - how I perceive it vis a vis the reality. May be the dog feels no such separation anxiety and I am just anthropomorphing my anxiety about the situation as the dog's. Perhaps he is happy to wait at the gate forever and has no perception of the passage of time. Perhaps he seems to have lost weight because he is gaining in height. Perhaps I am totally wrong about the situation, I sincerely hope so.
Further reading optional...


This is an email forward that made me feel better . Read on and you will know why:

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead. After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road.. It looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight..

When he was standing before it he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side.

When he was close enough, he called out, 'Excuse me, where are we?'

'This is Heaven, sir,' the man answered.

'Wow! Would you happen to have some water?' the man asked.
'Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up.'
The man gestured, and the gate began to open.

'Can my friend,' gesturing toward his dog, 'come in, too?' the traveller asked. 'I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets.'

The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued back the way he had come with his dog.

After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.

'Excuse me!' he called to the man. 'Do you have any water?'
'Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there, come on in.'
'How about my friend here?' the traveller gestured to the dog.
'There should be a bowl by the pump.'

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveller filled the water bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog.

When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree.

'What do you call this place?' he asked.

'This is Heaven,' the man answered.
'Well, that's confusing,' the traveller said. 'The man down the road said that was Heaven, too..'
'Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope That's hell.'
'Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your good name like that?'
'No, we're just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind'
Jodha Akbar – a tale of tender love in the jungle of politics ridden with conspiracy, maneuvres and strategy where marriages were more like business deals and kinship ensured loyalty. Despite the glaring liberties with historic accuracy, I loved the film and wished it were true. It seemed so right for Hritik Jalaluddin to have a wife like Aishwarya Jodha. Not that I wanted to believe that she was the woman behind all that made Emperor Jalaluddin earn the title of ‘Akbar’; but because they seemed so right as a couple united by a love that made nonsense of every difference in their union to start with.

Then I read ‘The feast of roses’ by Indu Sundaresan – a story based on the lives of Jahangir and Nurjahan – how the emperor surrendered himself and all his authority at the altar of love for his twentieth wife Meherunnissa. She was practically the ruler for the next 16 years of Jahangir’s rule. While the work itself is fiction, it is a fact of history that Jahangir depended on Nurjahan’s advice on every matter of administration and she was the most powerful empress among the Moghul dynasty.

And then Shahjahan whose name is readily recognised for the monument he built as a dedication to his Love - a tomb for his wife Arjumand better known as Mumtaz mahal. The Taj has remained on top of the Love charts for over 350 years and has become another synonym for love.

Looking at these Moghul kings, I have wondered what gave them this ability to love with such intensity and devotion, while most other kings were too preoccupied with running their kingdoms while paying little attention to their love life or even to their wives. And it seems natural too, given their responsibilities. Do we even know the names of the wives of Ashoka, Harshavardhana or Chandragupta Vikramaditya? Or Babur and Aurangzeb?

What made these three men different? Was it something in their genetic composition - a romantic streak? Were they men who cared more for their women and hence knew how to make them feel special with their love? But then one remembers that they all had several wives and singled out one special wife for all this special attention. How come we remember them for their one special love while we do not think of their neglect of or indifference to all those other wives? In fact singling out a wife for such extravagant attention and love must have been terrible, even cruel to all their other wives, some of them princesses and women of great substance perhaps. Imagine not getting so much as a footnote in history while one wife gets 20 pages!

Or perhaps the credit should actually go to these three women who were so special that the kings could not treat them like just another wife? I am sure that one has to do a lot more than just bear 14 kids to an emperor to merit a Tajmahal. So what was she like? Any thoughts?

This is a regular scene at certain vantage points in our layout in the afternoons. Maids who have finished work at the respective houses drift towards these points where they exchange betel leaves and areca and plenty of gossip. This is perhaps their equivalent of blogsphere, where they recount,share,counsel and of course, gossip. Nothing is sacred, no privacy restrictions - whether it is about their private lives or that of the people in the houses they work. Their network is a source of more detailed and authentic news than the ladies' club or the men's network where information is shared in bits, implied rather than explicitly stated and where everyone likes to gossip while seeming to be least interested in the private business of others. I do not know if it is because I am not part of any of these networks that my maid feels the need to relay local news to me every now and then. Most of them I switch off after the headlines except when it is about a birth or a death or illness. But it is never just the news as it is always padded with their views and opinions and I am fascinated by the simple set of rules they have for everything to decide if it is good, bad or awful.

This morning she told me about another maid who was working in the next lane. She worked all day in their house and very often a person calling himself her brother used to visit her. Last night she went away with him leaving her family. She called her employers to inform them that she had resigned from work! She is married to a person with one dysfunctional leg and has three kids. My maid was furious and peppered the whole narration with many curse words and finally pronounced "With this kind of behaviour does she really think she is going to be able to live happily? she will starve without anything to eat and she will die of a horrible disease for doing this to her husband and children."

I asked her if she knew if that woman was in an abusive marriage and if she was very unhappy. My maid did not know but said that all this was irrelevant after 3 kids and the woman should have stayed back for the kids and thrown out the husband if he was abusive. 'Why did she need another man?' was her question.
My maid herself was abandoned by her husband a few years after their marriage and has had to bring up her 3 children all alone. She never had another man in her life for the past 20 years. She accepts it as her fate and the correct way of life. So I totally understand where she is coming from. And having grown up in a milieu with similar values and norms, I cannot pretend to be shocked or surprised by her take on the woman.

"why does she need another man?" - the implication was that she was after sex. It is sad that it is still not considered ok for a woman to want sex. It has always been accepted that men needed sex and so even if their wife died, they were encouraged to marry as soon as the grieving period was over. One of the arguments handed out for legalising prostitution is that a lot of men do not have the opportunity to marry or stay with their wives and they need outlet for their sexual desires. A woman's sexual needs are still frowned upon and they are quickly dubbed as nymphomaniac if they are open about their desires or needs.It is even considered something to be ashamed of. The number of children that a couple has had is hardly an indicator of a sexually fulfilling life. Today we know that even without proper intercourse, conception is possible if the sperm manages to reach the egg. A drunken husband using her to satisfy his needs is hardly fulfilling for a woman. Many women still marry early and hardly know their husbands before marriage. It takes a few years for them even to be comfortable about sex and realise whether they are actually compatible at all. By the time they are sexually aware and awake most women have already been married for a few years and mothered a few children. I am not talking about the urban elite here but this is true in most rural and semi-urban settings and lower economic strata and even in the urban areas among conservative families.

Many years ago an incident happened in our extended family. This was a family of three brothers. The youngest died a couple of years after his marriage leaving his beautiful wife and a one year old child. As was the custom in those days, she stayed in the house of her parents in law along with the other brothers and their wives. One of the brothers was attracted to her and she was young too and they ended up in a relationship. When the boy was old enough to go to high school the uncle shifted them to the neighbouring city where he 'visited' them frequently. One afternoon the thirteen year old boy returned home early and found the mother and uncle in bed. That night the boy hanged himself.

This story has haunted me from my teens. I have always tried to justify the woman on the grounds of her vulnerable position and her dependence on the brothers-in-law for financial and moral support. She was not college educated and did not possess qualifications required for an employment. She needed them and hence she could not antagonise the brother in law's advances. This seemed a good version as it justified her behaviour in my moral framework. A helpless woman, a predatory man - that was ok. A woman whose sexuality was waking up and who needed a man to satisfy her desires? NO, that would have been terrible, preposterous. In my books then, "Good women" didn't do such things. And certainly not when they had a child to think of. "Why does she need another man?" that would have been my question too then. But now I know better.
A Tamil writer (perhaps Thi janakiraman) said in a story that there must be a strong reason for a woman to go astray. Is her sexual need strong enough reason, I wonder?

added after 4 comments:
I am not passing any value judgements on the two women as I do not know why they were motivated to act in the way they did.
In the first case, it could have been forced marriage and the children happened because she did not have access to protection and perhaps her husband was forcing her into sex which she never enjoyed. Obviously there was a strong motive that encouraged her to take such a step even while being aware of burning all her boats.
In the second case it happened about 50 years ago. She was in her early twenties in a house where two other young couple lived. She could not even have dreamt of remarriage even without a child. Was it wrong that she had the normal desires of flesh?
If anyone had a business to object, it was the man's wife and she did not. Remember this was a time when men were openly flaunting their affairs with concubines and mistresses as a mark of their virility?
This was also a time when young widows living in Benares were sent to rich zamindars houses in the night. So what exactly are we objecting to? The fact of a widow having sex or wanting it?
Even today if you were to pose the question 'why does a woman need a man?' the answers would be 'for emotional and moral support' , 'to have children', 'for financial support', 'for love' etc but the fact of a woman needing man for sex is never mentioned. Try asking the same about why a man needs a woman and no prizes for guessing the top answer!
One of the regular readers of this blog enquired about the lack of posts for a week now. When I said that I didn’t seem to have anything to write about apart from being a little busy, she said “writer’s block? That must be because of all the drishti. You just boasted about 500 posts and see it has affected you immediately.”
Of course she was joking as neither of us believe in all this kann drishti/ buri nazar/ evil eye theory and find it amusing when not being irritated by it.

While growing up in our house in Chennai, we had rented out a portion to a family and every friday evening , they had a ritual to remove the effects of evil eyes that may have been cast on the members of the family. The grandmother of the house made them all sit together and held some chillies and salt in her fist and made circles in front of them – 3 times clockwise and 3 times anti clockwise, all the time murmuring something about defusing all bad eyes . During this process no one was allowed to speak. After this, she threw the chillies and salt on some live coal kept in the backyard. While we choked over the pungent smoke that wafted from the backyard into our side of the house, she always commented , “see, so many chillies and yet no trace of any pungency. That is all the drishti (evil eye) that has made the chillies so bland.”

The funny part was that we did not understand what was attracting all these alleged evil eyes to the members of their house – they were very ordinary people in every way, nothing exceptional, no super achievers. Apart from this weekly ritual, there were extraordinary drishti removing sessions if a child was sick or had a decreased appetite or if anyone came first in class or wore something new. Basically it appeared that the whole world had its evil eye focused on that family and every event in their house was something they looked upon with jealousy. The rest of us in the house were even scared to look at them properly or compliment them on anything for fear of being accused of casting drishti on them. Among ourselves though, in our irreverent way we called it ‘eye-putting’ (as a literal translation of the term in Tamil which was ‘kann podradu’ meaning casting eye). It was all so amusing to us that while playing if anyone sneezed or fell down we would make them sit on some steps and pronounce that people have kann potufied on her. Then one of us would imitate the ‘nazar utharna’ process of that old lady and we would all go into silly giggles. We were a wicked lot!

We were chided for this by the older people in our houses too who did not completely dismiss the power of evil eye in bringing distress to the object of the negative feelings but mercifully they drew the line at putting a black dot on children’s cheek or forehead to neutralise anything negative. I considered the old lady of the neighbourhood as a bit of a freak but over the years, I have been surprised that there is a similar superstition in almost every part of the country and across all levels of society – black dots, a string of chillies, crushing a lemon, burning camphor, breaking white pumpkin, hanging a scary face drawn on a pumpkin or made of papier mache and so on.

It is interesting how people fear losing their wealth, health or happiness by becoming the object of jealousy. In all this fear and insecurity they become incapable of accepting genuine appreciation without fearing that they are about to lose whatever it is that invited the appreciation. In fact, sometimes, I am scared to offer open praise about how beautiful and healthy a child looks or even how lovely someone’s house is. I don’t want them to blame my evil eye every time the child sneezes or has loose stools or there is an air- crack on their walls. Why should people be so insecure about what they have earned or achieved? Why do they fear losing something they know they deserve? or don’t they feel they actually deserve it?

At the root of it all, there seems to be a kind of acceptance that misery is a natural state and happiness is temporary even if you have worked for it and earned it; and an inability to have pure happiness with one's successes and prosperity without a tinge of guilt or fear. It seems that there is only so much supply of happiness and prosperity and you should feel guilty about having cornered a big chunk of it! So one fears losing one’s good fortune by flaunting it openly and attracting the evil eye through jealous thoughts. Perhaps these customs evolved to temper overt exhibition of wealth and conspicuous consumption so one did not increase the misery of the have-nots through comparison. It also became a convenient excuse to explain away failures and losses and sudden fluctuations in one's fortunes – ‘it is sombody else’s doing, not mine’.

When my son was about 4 months old he had a severe attack of bronchitis and he suffered from acute wheezing trouble. So his health had its waxing and waning phases every month. And my neighbours invariably advised me to do something to remove the effect of evil eyes. It was tough to resist when the issue in question was my child’s health but I refused to comply. He was cured by homeopathy and I don’t think the medicine had anything to do with defusing the drishti. But my good friends and colleagues often argued why I was so adamant about something so harmless which might, just might, do some good. This is why it is tough to get rid of superstitions because most of them seem totally harmless and if they worked, it was fine; if they didn’t, nothing lost. May be. But I wasn’t going to be party to something that cast a doubt on the rest of humanity as having an evil eye.

So there, I have told you, I do not have any problem about acceptance of your open praises and eulogies. So in case you have been holding them back for fear of being mistaken for kannu pottufying, please pull all stops and bring them on.
desires that I reveal 10 secrets about myself. I wish I had so many secrets - that would make me so mysterious and intriguing. But given my penchant to talk about everything in the open, I wonder if I can even dig up 2 or 3. But a tag MUST be respected - it is an unwritten code of blogging culture, an integral part of good blogging behaviour so I would rather invent some secrets about me than break the tag.
So some of the following are true and some aren't. Let us see if you figure out the false ones.

With all my bitchy posts about Karan Joker and Shahrukh Khkhkhan, I watch every program hosted by them.(the slime!)

I actually bought a tube of fair and lovely cream once to see if it would help get rid of the black patches on my arms! ( so sue me)

I lick the cake box clean before throwing it in the trashcan and the foil that covers the cornetto? mmm yum... Now of course I give it to Munni. Can't bear to see such good chocolate or cream go waste. (even the birds have a word for me. cheep, cheep!)

I am not comfortable eating with a knife and fork. I usually come back hungry after such parties. (Junglee, country bumpkin -ya,that's me alright. But then why do you think nature gave you fingers? and seriously, have you ever tried licking a finger after curd rice? losers!)

I was offered a role in a film once. ( well, I thought Sridevi needed it more than me. I could always find another career. Poor Shri!)

I never learnt to swim because I could not bear to be seen in a swim suit. (I was ashamed of my 36-24-35 figure. go figure!)

I feel bad to give an honest opinion when people ask for my honest opinion on some personal issue. I would sooner kill myself than say something to hurt them. (but tell me when people want your honest opinion on what I think of their fiance/e, how they look, how good is the glass painting they made etc. do they really want you to be honest?)

I always look at the prices on the menu before ordering in a restaurant. I can never buy something simply because I want it unless I know the price and know it is worth so much for me. Even if someone else who can well afford it is buying it for me.
(I know, totally middle class saar. what to do, we are like this only.)

I can't sleep without a blanket and my ears should be covered.(If I cant hear them monsters they can't hear me also right, that's the idea I suppose!)

I cannot count up to 10. I always say 10 after 8. So that is ten now!

This was tough. So I am not naming anyone to take it up. But if any of you like it, please feel free and do it secretly.
There was a time when the word Virgin was only used in the feminine. It referred to ‘a woman who has had no carnal knowledge of a man' as nicely puts it. But in fact it refers to ‘a person who has never had sexual intercourse’ as Merriam –Webster clearly enunciates. In many cultures especially in Africa, Asia and middle-east, a woman’s virginity is a matter of societal concern whereas it is a matter of individual choice in the case of a man. Most societies do not worry about the virgin status of a man before his marriage whereas for a woman it is a matter of honour – not only hers, but her family’s and the whole community’s; hence the practice of ‘honor killings’ among certain sects even today when a woman has sexual relations before being married.

While virginity has lost most of its sheen in the western world, even today there are communities where they look for blood on the nuptial bedsheet as a proof of the bride’s virginity. Many African communities go one step backward and insist on a certificate of virginity from their family doctor before the wedding. Since the revelation of not being certified a virgin could lead to dishonour, shame and in extreme cases ‘honor killing’ many young muslim women resort to surgical restoration of their hymens to pass the virginity test.
This article in NYtimes quotes a doctor saying that he performs this procedure 2 to 4 times a week. Such is the kind of demand.

‘So is virginity about abstinence or is it about having the hymen intact?” I asked a young man. He was outraged and said that one meant the other in his culture and so this was a silly question. I gently reminded him of the story of Madhavi, daughter of yayati from Hindu mythology.
Munikumar Galav, a student of Rishi Viswamitra was arrogant enough to ask his guru to name the gurudakshina he wanted. So the rishi named the impossible and asked for 800 white aswamedha worthy horses with black ears. There were 600 horses but in the possession of 3 different kings. Galav sought the help of king Yayati who was spending his life in an asram. Yayati’s daughter Madhavi was extremely beautiful and had been blessed with the ability to renew her virginity and youth when she wanted. She had also been blessed that every son she bears would be a powerful one, a Chakravarthy. Yayati gave her to Galav who then sent her in turn to all the 3 kings to get the horses in return for spending a year with each of them and bearing them a son. The last 200 horses were with Viswamitra himself and she had to spend a year with him. After helping him fulfil his promise, Madhavi goes back to Galav who rejects her as she has lived with his guru and hence cannot become his wife. *

I suppose the renewal of virginity referred to in the story is nothing but the restoration of hymen. What else could it mean? (Incidentally Guinea pigs are supposed to have this characteristic too – their hymen dissolves during their mating season and grows back when not in heat). So then virginity was not about abstinence but just about a mucous membrane forming the external lining of the vagina.
The young friend was agitated. “no, this was different. She did it for a noble purpose. She did not do it for her enjoyment.”
Now this was even more confusing. Was he saying that it was ok to have intercourse as long as the woman did not enjoy it? Did that somehow make her a “good” woman as compared to someone who indulged in sex for pleasure? So how were these vestal virgins who abhorred sex become active sexual partners the minute they were married? Would that explain questions in "ask your doc" columns: "dear doc, my wife is not very co-operative in bed. She performs mechanically. She refuses to try new stuff. My sex life is nearly non-existent" etc...

I remember a conversation many years ago with some male classmates on why they would like to marry a virgin. These were some of their reasons::
-I want someone who keeps her virginity intact for me as a special gift.
- A woman who has let her desires get the better of her cannot be a ‘good’ woman, a ‘chaste’ woman who can be depended upon to be a ‘good’ wife and bear ‘good’ children.
- A woman who has sexually experimented may be promiscuous even after marriage which isn’t good for the family.
- I cannot handle an “out of control” woman.

Well, it is a matter of personal preference and I know a lot of women who agree on the virtue of being a virgin (almost 99% of all women I know in fact). Sex is a very personal matter and how and when they want to have it and whether they want to have it at all should be nobody else’s concern. The only thing I find difficult to comprehend in all these arguments is that somehow it is supposed to make a person morally better than a person who is not a virgin. Why is a person’s goodness judged by their sexual life?
In my family, I have heard about some virgin widows spewing venom on the other women of the family. I wrote about one such in this post. Even psychologists agree that repression can be a source of frustration and anger and such people may be expected to be more hurtful towards others.

To me it seems that virginity is just a physical state which has no correlation with the person being good or bad, moral or amoral especially in today’s context where men and women marry late. It is perfectly alright if someone prefers a virgin as a partner but there is absolutely no reason to stigmatise people who are not virgins as bad, immoral, sinful, dishonourable, shameful or out of control. And the converse is true too - being a virgin doesn't automatically qualify one to be classified as a better human. It is just a matter of individual preference and should be their own business and nobody else’s.

* Read a wonderful review of the play "Madhavi " here. Story of every woman indeed!
A-kay tags me. This is so different from the tags I have done which are usually about me, myself.
So what are the rules of this one?
"Pick up the nearest book." - Yes, ma'm . here, what's this? Being Indian by Pavan Varma. (nice book)
"Open to page 123." - Okiee ( wonder where this is going...)
"Find the fifth sentence." - That's easy, I can count up to 10!
"Post the next three sentences."

In James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a young man, the character Stephen Daedalus expresses the anguish of an Irishman at having to speak English: '
The language in which we`are speaking is his (the Englishman's) before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.'
Indians have fretted too in trying to learn English, but their souls do not appear to have been in much anguish.

(I know that is more than three. There was a reason: Three sentences would have made no sense. So I posted the whole paragraph. Nice food for thought there, no?)

Now what?
"Tag five people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you."

I know Altoid would like this and Dotthoughts? I know I can always depend on JLT. Two more? Ok, where are you Padma, come to my rescue. I am sure you are reading something interesting. Itchingtowrite, I know you read a lot. Come on, take it up.

And as I was just about to press the publish button, Laksh tagged me for the same. Word has gone out about my expertise in tag posts and I am in great demand for tags as you can see. hm........the price you pay for fame. hehehe

P.s: Noticed that Fluff_n_stuff has tagged me too for this one.
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All through my childhood and teens I wasted a lot of time and effort in pleasing people around me. Somehow it seemed important to keep everyone else happy even if it meant neglect of one’s own happiness. Part of this behaviour could be blamed on nature but lot of it was nurture. In the environment in which I grew up a girl was never allowed to forget that she would one day go into another house and it was very important to be accepted by everyone there by winning them over with one’s kindness, generosity, and willingness to sacrifice and put one’s needs after everyone else’s. And the training began in one’s own house from a very young age. Looking around one saw that it was the norm in the family – women who slogged away from pre-dawn to late hours in the night for the family, women who suffered in the hands of in-laws and husbands and never complained. Living in a family steeped in traditional ways, the injustices were not obvious. It seemed just the way of life and a very normal one at that. And the irony was that these very same women who were victims of traditions were also its chief guardians and keepers of culture. It was their duty to ensure that the traditions were preserved and passed on to successive generations!

True, these traditions were attributed a lot of significance , symbolism and mysticism in order to make them worthy of being preserved. It is all about packaging right? Like a jihadi suicide bomber feeling important about his mission and expecting reward in the life after, women carried on the yoke of tradition and even felt proud of it.

I do not know exactly when but somewhere in my 30s I began to question traditions and began to discard practices which did not seem relevant to my life. I had no problem removing the mangalsutra or not wearing a bindi or not observing fasts (vrats) to ensure my husband had a long life. As for brahminical practices such as madi, echil, pathu and theetu, I discarded them the moment I had my own kitchen.
For the uninitiated , these are Tamil words and I only know the Tamil words for these practices and this is what they roughly are.
Madi is when you ensure purity of the occasion with a head bath and wearing washed clothes that have been untouched by anyone who is not observing madi. In case of accidental contact with someone who is not in a madi state, they bathe again and wear fresh madi clothes or wet clothes to renew their Madi. This is a superior form of untouchability not to be confused with the untouchability practised among castes and was constitutionally abolished.

Echil ( literally meaning Saliva) is mixing food from one another’s plate or touching anything with the same hand while eating food. For example while eating, if you touch the vessel containing rice with the hand that is being used to eat , you have sullied all the rice in the vessel with your echil. Consequence: it becomes unfit for consumption by others and has to be entirely consumed by the person who has sullied it or thrown away. So every time you have touched echil you have to wash your hand before touching anything else with the same hand.

Pathu: Cooked items are usually not mixed with uncooked items like curd, milk, salt, water, oil etc. You cannot touch them with the same hand with which you have touched cooked items. You touch the vessel containing curd with the same hand which has touched the cooked rice and all the curd becomes Pathu and cannot go back into the storage but has to be consumed or thrown away. One is supposed to wash hands every time after touching pathu items and before touching non pathu items. Complicated? ya, if you entered a traditional brahmin kitchen it would be full of people obsessively washing their hands between handling items pathu and non-pathu.

Theetu: This is the opposite of madi. It is a state of impurity when you have not had your bath. it is also observed for a certain number of days when there has been a death or birth in the family. During this period the family does not celebrate festivals or do puja (prayer). A mensturating woman was also considered impure ( theetu) when she had her monthly periods and was isolated. There has been a lot of discussion among Indian women bloggers about this practice in the past month and I am not about to add to all the fuss about a natural biological function in a fertile woman's body.
As far as I know it was essentially a practice among brahmins who were also great observers of madi. I refused to be isolated even as a 15 year old and if that made their gods angry, I was willing to face the consequences. But my sister in law told me how she had to sleep in the bathroom on ‘those’ days because they lived in a small house and there was no extra room where she could be kept isolated. As a teenager she spent those days in fear of cockroaches and rats that had a free run of the bathroom. That made my blood boil. I am not sure if God was happy with her family for treating her like that on her most vulnerable days. Enough said about my thoughts on the practice of isloating mensturating women.

Anyway as I said, I have discarded all these practices many years ago. I keep a safe distance from all these traditions in my normal day to day life and it poses no problem to anyone around me. But when there are occasions when I am forced to be part of functions which involve people who are deluded to be keepers of tradition and culture, I have trouble. I have a choice to pretend and follow tradition and please them or be true to myself and be unpopular. Not just unpopular but I also end up hurting their sentiments. Recently we had a family reunion and a wedding in the family was being discussed. I was shocked at the meaningless ceremonies people wanted to have and the amount of money budgeted for the same. I can understand their insistence on the basic rituals but when they introduced new practices because ‘everyone is doing it these days’ and justify it as a ‘new tradition’ I opened my mouth and became instantly unpopular.
N.e.w T.r.a.d.i.t.i.o.n? do you see the irony, the oxymoron?
If you do not, here is a definition of the word tradition:
1 a: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)

It doesn’t matter that I or the other person can afford the additional expenditure. It does not matter that by silent acquiescence I can keep a lot of people happy. I do not want to be guilty of being a party to some custom which may become part of ‘tradition’ in the coming years adding to the financial burden of some middle-class tradition-fearing parent in the years to come. simple? sensible? Why is it so difficult to get it across to otherwise intelligent people?

Traditions can be a security blanket when you need something to give you a sense of comfort and belonging. This probably explains the enthusiasm with which the Indian diaspora religiously celebrate festivals in their new homes - celebrating Holi, when it is not heralding spring in their country of residence and Sankranti when it is not harvest time. Tradition can provide a framework for one's life, it can give guidelines but the minute it begins to oppress a certain section of people, it requires re-examination. There is something seriously lacking in your tradition if it needs fear and authority to keep it alive and if it falls flat on its face when faced with rational examination. Such traditions should be questioned and it is ok to discard them if they make no sense in the world we are actually living in. They were observed for a certain reason in earlier centuries and are obsolete in today's context and it is better to shed the excess baggage. That is the only hope for what is good in our tradition in the 21st century. Or else the baby will get thrown along with the bathwater. But I guess that would be ok in the cause of Madi ! ( just kidding hehehe)
The madmomma wrote a very thoughtful and useful post on avoiding food wastage and how we could each do our bit to fight the food crisis. Readers of her blog know how difficult it is to add something to her posts as she has this habit of considering issues from every angle conceivable; and yet, she asks me to add my two cents worth and let me try.

When we go out to eat as a gang, I see some friends order a dish , have a few spoonfuls and then leave it saying they are full. If you were not hungry to start with, why order a whole dish for yourself? It is always possible to share when one is in a gang. Order enough while making sure that nothing gets wasted.

I have heard it said by my friends who are conscious of their weight that "It is better to let food go to waste rather than to your waist." I'd rather not waste it and work it out.
There are several reasons why I feel strongly about wasting food:
While growing up, we were not allowed to waste food. There were a few years when we faced shortage of supply and food rationing by the government. This was probably during the Chinese war. I remember standing in queues in the ration shop to get sugar and wheat and kerosene. So there is a memory of a time when there was a possibility of having to go without certain items of food. You realise the value of a thing only when you face the possibility of being without it.
I come from a family where they believe that food is goddess Lakshmi and we were taught to be respectful of Annalakshmi. I respect it because I look around and see those who do not have enough of it and what a misery it can be. So I appreciate what I have and show my appreciation by not wasting it.

It is easier for me to avoid wastage in my house because there are no children with unpredictable appetites and cravings. I cook a full meal in the night and use the leftovers for lunch for me and the maid just cooking what is needed to supplement. This reduces time and energy spent in cooking too.
I shop several times during the week for vegetables and fruits as there are several shops within walking distance. I usually pick up stuff for not more than 2 days. This not only ensures freshness but also reduces the possibility of their going bad and getting wasted.
If there is leftover food from the previous meal, I try to work around them by making a vegetable that can go with it rather than plan a totally new menu for the next meal. And of course there are plenty of innovative and tasty combinations that you can try with left overs.
It is better to cook a little less of everything and supplement the meal with fruits,salads,lassi etc which is also healthier.
It is always a good idea to take a look at the shelves and the fridge for an inventory before going shopping.
"best before" is not the same as 'expiry date". In any case, it is a good idea to look at both before buying.If you are not sure that you can consume something before its expiry, do not buy it.
I have noticed that many of the supermarkets do not stock many of the items like pulses in smaller quantities. They come in 1kg and 2 kg packets claiming to offer a reduced price. But it is no point buying them unless you can use those quantities within a reasonable time. It might be better to pay the normal price and buy lesser quantities so that they get consumed rather than being wasted.

Wastage is not only a matter of affordability ; it is also an environmental issue. Cooked food that is thrown as garbage ends up emitting methane which is a green house gas. So if you cannot eat it, do not cook it.

And finally if you need any further incentive to avoid wastage please have this photograph implanted in your memory. This is a picture of a Somalian mother holding her baby who died of starvation. There are people, babies, dying without access to food. We have it ( at least for now), let us not waste it. It is a shame, it is a sin.