Category Archives: Society

>A boy is more desirable than a child?

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There are some people who still do the things people used to do 15-20 years ago. Like visit a relative during a vacation. So, a bunch of five distant relatives from Punjab landed up at our place in the middle of April, to spend a week ‘holidaying’ in Lucknow (which, if you ask me, is an oxymoron, but they obviously didn’t think that). And honestly, they were quite a fun-loving group of people, very Punjabi in spirit, if you know what I mean, and not much of a bother.
One of the days, as was expected, the topic veered to kids and having some of your own. I understand the elders’ urgency to see us with a child, but when the child they want to see is a ‘son’, I get really irritated. Bless us with a child, if that’s the most important thing for you, but don’t wish at the same time for that child  to be a boy. But I was given the gyan that sons are must-haves, that life with daughters isn’t bad, that we bring up our daughters better than our sons and all of that, but that sons are what everyone looks forward to. That when you get old, your sons and their wives and their children make up your world. That daughters go away and are never to their parents what sons can be.
I tried telling them that my parents – parents of two girls – lived alone, but were not lonely. I tried to tell them that sons also go away – to study, to work. That often, sons turn their parents out of the house, and daughters take care of them. That girls were just as good. But how could the 50-year-olds believe that when a girl half their age refused to believe me. And that’s what appals me the most.
This girl, all of 25, mother to a 2-year-old girl, said emphatically that while some accept it openly, others don’t, the truth is everyone wants a son. And she’s not too wrong. In her worldview, that’s how people would be. But I could just stare at her. How will this world change if the mothers of a generation that’s in the making believe in something so totally redundant? These are educated people we are talking about – people who travel, who watch the news, who read, who are ostensibly aware. If they set so much store by a boy, what will our world turn out to be? Will our daughters grow up and fight the same mindsets we have to? I’m already impatient with a world that doesn’t understand that my gender does not make me less of a person; and to think we will go through all of this 25 years hence too, makes me livid!
It’s appalling also because in all my life I never heard my parents say anything like this. In fact, my grandmother, who belonged to a time when it wasn’t considered improper to wish for a boy, never let us feel that boys were more desirable as children than girls. I think she’s didn’t believe that either. My mom never forgets to tell us that while relatives would take upon themselves the duty to counsel my mother about perhaps trying for a third child, in the hope of a boy, my grandmother never expressed such a wish. How then can a 25-year-old living in this day and age think that sons are indispensable? Like me, she’s also one of two daughters. But probably, she was conditioned to believe that her parents would have been better off had they a son to support them in old age.
I sometimes try and think as objectively as the matter lets me, whether there is any justification for such a thought process. And I find none that’s convincing enough. Things like carrying the family name forward, or inheriting the family business – things that will happen once you’re dead – how can that be of concern to you when you’re alive? I mean, you want a son because you want the world to be what you’ve imagined it to be after you’re dead? How pathetic!
I don’t think men are unimportant. I’m not a man-hater by any chance. But I don’t think sons are important. Or more important than daughters.
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>We’re getting rich so quick, it’s scary

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The other day I was sitting with my 70-year-old neighbour who looks nothing more than 50, and who is such a wonderful conversationalist, full of stories and anecdotes that I wish I could spend more time with her. That’s just for the perspective, not the point though. She was telling me about her grandson, who’s getting engaged to his girlfriend sometime soon. So the young chap told his mom he wanted to gift his wife-to-be a diamond solitaire on their engagement, at least a 3-carat diamond solitaire. The family’s not a steeped-in-riches, leave-your-son-an-eye-popping-inheritance kind of family. So the mother refused, saying she just didn’t have that kind of money (3 carat diamond at the family jeweller would cost about 7 lakh rupees approximately). No problem, the son retorted and said, I’ve saved enough.

This young chap I’m talking about is all of 26! And hold on. The boy’s also bought a three-storey house in Delhi. Already! I mean, what is this if not a wow-inducing moment? Saved enough for a 3-carat solitaire set in gold? And a house to boot at 26? Wow indeed!

I’m sure you know at least a couple of these kind of youngsters – who’ve already been there, done that at 26 or some age nearby. But I don’t how to react to such awe-inspiring success stories (except, of course, to be a little in awe of them), because there’s some part of me still rooted in childhood memories of people using up all their savings of a lifetime to get a home. Remember, all those stories we heard of our grandfathers and fathers using their hard-earned money to build a house? At 40, if not post-retirement? People who owned houses were usually landed people, from families who could give their sons a house in viraasat. In India, owning a house is the surest symbol of social security. It’s great that we have social security so soon in our lives, but is it right? I mean, shouldn’t people in their 20s be living like they didn’t have a care in the world instead of thinking of EMIs that gobble up half their salaries? Weren’t we supposed to wait for our 30s to settle down and the 40s to look for social security? Such redundant concepts, eh?

It all sounds good, these fat pay cheques that can get you anything that money can buy. But up close, it’s not that rosy a picture. A friend’s husband is climbing up the corporate ladder so fast, it seems he’s taking two steps at a time. He’s bought a house in the NCR at 27. He’s second in command in his company. And he has no time for his family. My friend works too, but not like the workaholic that her husband does. And she complains that he wants to move up so fast, he has no time for her. Guys like him say they plan to earn enough by 40 to retire. Seriously, do you think such people can ever quit the race?

Contentment and satisfaction were considered virtues in our society. They’re looked down upon as cover-ups for complacency and lack of ambition in a person now. A person who comes home early from work is considered either to be wasting his time or downright lazy. That he may want to spend time with his family means nothing these days. What if someone did make the choice to be happy with just enough money and more than enough time and to be back home early? And what if that person was living in a rented house? How bad would that be?

And even while I say this, I realise that of the two kind of people I’ve mentioned – ambitious and not – more people will still aspire to be the ambitious sort of person. Is that what happiness has come to mean for an entire generation of people?

>The ‘F’ Word

>I mean Facebook, what were you thinking?

Anyway, ‘are you on Facebook?’ is not a question I’m going to ask. Because if you’re on this blog, most likely that you’re on Facebook too. So what I’m going to ask you instead is why you’re there.

(From the PostSecret blog)

For all of Facebook’s success, we are social networking rather purposelessly, I say. Of the 300-something people on my friend list on FB, I admit I do not remember anything about at least two dozen people from school except their faces. I admit that about 50 people on that list are people I’m in touch enough with in real life to make their presence on FB redundant for me. And I also admit that there are another 50-odd people out there who I couldn’t care less for. And then there may be those who put me in any one of the above categories. So who exactly am I networking with on FB?

Coming from someone who spends almost all of her working day on the internet (occupational hazard or perk?) and a lot of that time on FB, I’m assuming this is some sort of a pointer at how we’re on the FB bandwagon for almost no reason that seems worthwhile. Oh yes, I’ve gotten in touch with about a dozen people on FB whom I had lost track of after school and whom I’m really excited to reconnect with, but can those dozen faces justify the enormous popularity of Facebook?

It’s been a social revolution of sorts, I read, this coming of social networking sites and their immense popularity. And that Facebook’s status messages are iconic of this revolution. But where’s this revolution taking us – you and me, who’re hooked so hopelessly to this revolution without a direction? Where will I be after sharing with all of my friends my state of being in a status message? What will Farmville have changed about this world and what will peeping into people’s albums make us when the revolution is over? Because revolutions must end, surely they can’t go on forever!

And pray, tell me, what part do children have to play in this revolution? I mean, is it just me or is there something really wrong with children being on social networking sites? My nephew has joined a group called ‘I hate doing homework’ and takes quizzes like ‘What kind of a Kisser are you?’ on Facebook and he’s all of ten! What kind of a revolution is this that has precocious children to stand up for it?

Except for being a great marketing tool for companies and enterprises, I’m still trying to figure out why Facebook is such a revolutionary online tool. And come to think of it, the marketers came only after the massive numbers from all over the world were already there. So why did the massive numbers become addicted to a site to network when they didn’t need to network at all? Imagine, Facebook was actually invented as an intra-network site for Harvard students who could easily take a peek into each other’s room but preferred instead to peek into each other’s profiles! What does it say about human nature to you? Was Mark Zuckerberg just a lucky man or did he know something about human nature that we don’t?

The talk of Facebook becoming a paysite has been around for a while now but who’s going to pay for something that they may be hooked to without a reason? Unless of course, they are there for a reason. So let me go back to where I started: do you know why are you on Facebook, or any social networking site, and is it a good enough reason for you to pay to stay?

>A partyholic’s existentialist dilemma

>Whither to? I assume every partyholic must ask this question at least once in her hectic social life. It’s the partyholic’s existentialist dilemma and I’m asking myself this now – to what end are we partying?

I don’t know if anyone of you know what I’m talking about: this stance where you step back from your active social life and wonder what purpose all this partying serves. Oh yes, I’ve enjoyed it for the last six years but how much longer must I preen and prance like the social butterfly I’m so sick of being? I mean really, except for being such a great pastime, it’s mostly as inane as you think it is.

Sometimes I get the feeling I’m being sucked into this vortex, this unending cycle of inviting and being invited, of being polite and tolerant of people I have nothing to do with at all. And try hard to end it, but it just goes on and on.

My social life is made up of friends’ birthdays and anniversaries and now their kids’ birthdays as well. And then there are birthdays and anniversaries in the family – all of which are unmissable. I love the quiet/fun dinners with my immediate and extended family and my dearest friends, the catching up over coffee and films, the discussions and the interactions with intelligent/funny people. But the rest – those friends of friends whom I must be nice to by attending their soirees – I am tired of them!

And the gossip that’s such a natural fallout of the socialising, I do not enjoy any of it anymore. I positively do not enjoy the desperate posing for page 3 and the silly talks about one or the other kitty. Please spare me the horror of listening to who didn’t invite you and who did!

I do not like the feeling of being lost in a maze of inscrutable personas that hide behind clothes, jewellery and money. Show me an interesting, intelligent person and I’m all attentive. Show me money and you’ve put me off.

Sometimes, I just under-dress for an occasion so as to not live up to expectations – I love getting dressed because I love getting dressed not because someone else wants to see me dressed up. Don’t slot me even as well-dressed because there’s so much comfort sometimes in being sloppy.

And don’t ask me to be politically correct. I don’t understand politically correct people. They irritate me because they’re so pretentious. I can’t stand the idea of partying with someone I don’t like but in a place like Lucknow, you’re often thrown in with such group of mismatched people, you must either appear rude or be tolerant.

I have a strong suspicion that I party so much just to fill up a vacuum in my life and that consciousness makes me feel utterly tetchy. I also have a strong suspicion that partying so much has created a huge vacuum in my life by taking me away from all that I shouldn’t be away from. And in either situation, the answer is definitely not more partying. The answer is to learn to say ‘no’ when ‘yes’ is just a reflex response.

Disclaimer: The writer is an avid party-goer and may be suffering from the side-effects of excessive partying at the time of writing this piece. This post cannot and should not be used to prove a point against the writer’s (probable) incessant partying in the future!

>Wrongs and Child Rights

> I don’t know if any of you in other parts of India have come across this news items about how an 11-year old girl was brutally beaten black and blue by a doc in Lucknow, but if you haven’t, you must go read it now. The little girl was working as a domestic help at the doctor’s place and had apparently been sent there by his uncle who wanted her to earn a quick buck for him when her parents died. She was rescued by a neighbour.

I know what most of us find appalling in the story is the way she was beaten, but what’s sadder is that we don’t feel sad or surprised that a child like her would have to go to work at an age when she should be in school. And that’s because we’re just so used to seeing child labourers around us, we don’t even stop to think about them when we see one.

Last weekend, my friend celebrated her daughter’s third birthday with kids and mommies. In a conversation I can’t get out of my head, a young mother of a one and a half year old told me ruefully that maids for children were so difficult to come by. Her daughter was accompanied by a six-year boy at the party to take care of her! To quote what she said, “There’s so much awareness among maids also these days that they don’t want to send their daughters to work and want them to study instead.” “Good,” I said. “Ya,” she replied, “But bad for us. We don’t get any young girls to work for us.” I don’t think I can have another conversation with this woman who is educated and yet not enough to know that education is a right everyone should have.

First of all, I can’t understand how a parent can entrust their child to another child and think the latter will be equipped to take care of her. And I can’t understand how people can get over the guilt of exploiting an underprivileged child’s situation to serve their purpose. How do they do it?

It’s simple, isn’t it, that you wouldn’t want your child to go working somewhere even if life put you in the worse possible situation? Then why would you think you are “helping” a family by employing their child? When you let a child work for you, do not deceive yourself into believing that you’re actually supporting the child. You are not. You’re just encouraging child labour. Imagine for a moment what would happen to the child if you did not allow him to work for you? He would go and work some place else, you will say. But what if no one allows the child to work? Will the child not return home? Will the parents not be compelled to take care of him and provide for him? If they’ve brought the child into this world, they must take his responsibility.

Also, if you really want to help the child and his family, you can do it without bringing the child home to work. Send him to school, for instance. Pay his fees and it’s a paltry amount to pay in a government school. It may not cost more than what you spend on the cake on your child’s birthday. And surely, there’s enough surplus money in rich people’s pockets to feed a single child.

I would like to mention here that these are not just my personal views. Organisations working with street and working children also say that the only way to ensure that children get treated as children irrespective of their socio-economic background is by stopping their parents from sending them to work. Even though they don’t know it, children have rights too.

I have been working with one such organisation in Lucknow since its inception five years ago – Ehsaas, (the website is still under development). And I have never spoken about it here because the NGO was started and is run by my sister and she doesn’t need me to talk about her; her work speaks for itself. However, I thought it was pertinent to talk about the work that the NGO has been doing because it is through their work that I have been sensitised to this cause. I was as clueless as any one of you about what to do with children who’re out there working to make ends meet. But I was made to realise that paying them for their work isn’t going to solve the problem. Because these children laugh and smile and seem happy does not mean they are getting what’s their due. Without an education to help them in the latter years of life, we are ensuring that they never become part of the social mainstream. We are ensuring that the government continues to ignore them.

Sometimes, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and say that even though it makes me feel good to hand a ten rupee note (sometimes lesser) to the boy who works at the tea stall, the child who sells bottles at the railway platform, the girl who sells balloons at the crossing, it’s not the best thing for that child. And believe me when I say it’s not. What can you do instead? For one, be part of efforts to rehabilitate such children. Find out what social organisations in your city that work for them. And let them do what is best for the child. Also, as privileged sections of the society, we must force the policy-makers to take cognisance of these children. It will not happen overnight but gradually – by creating awareness and raising debates about the issue. After all, they’re as much citizens of India as you and I.

Don’t take a selfish shortcut. Take a stand.

>Beg, borrow, or steal?

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My Dad and I share the kind of relationship where we can read each other’s mind, understand it and accept it without asking too many questions. We turn to each other for advice, for affirmation of our beliefs in what’s right and wrong. A few days ago he asked me a question that fit into the latter category.

Uncle V – a childhood friend of his who used to be a rich man once but has gone bankrupt for whatever reasons – was in dire need of a large amount of money. His wife is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and he doesn’t have any money left now to afford that treatment. The sad bit is that he can’t get a bank loan because he has no earnings to repay it. Of course, Papa being Papa wants to help him out and not for the first time. He has already let out a large space in his office on zero rent to Uncle V so that he can pursue some commercial activity there (even though it brings in too little, it brings in something at least!) and also pays for his electricity bills. Now dad wanted to know if it was a wise thing to help him with more cash, knowing all too well that he would never get it back. It’s quite another thing that Papa had already made up his mind that he was going to lend him that money and was only asking me a perfunctory question. And that, because of two reasons: one, that he won’t always be able to help with money and two, because he doesn’t want to make Uncle V financially dependent on him or anyone else. My dad isn’t a millionaire, you know, and he works hard to earn every single penny he brings home. Isn’t it normal for anyone in his shoes to think twice before loaning fifty thousand rupees?

But of course, I said he should go ahead and help out his friend because this was a matter of life and death. But I had the same questions raging in my head: when is it okay to lend and when is it okay to refuse? And can you still call it “lending” when you know you’re never going to get it back? How much is too much when it comes to lending?

You never know when Fortune will turn its tables on a man and before you know, a king is a pauper and a pauper is a millionaire. So it should suffice for us to say that we must do our karma and help out where we can. But it doesn’t suffice, because everyone who borrows isn’t always needy. And everyone who lends isn’t always rich. You may not pause for a moment to think when a domestic help turns to you for five hundred rupees, but when there are larger amounts involved and there are closer relationships at stake, it becomes a difficult choice between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It’s not that there isn’t a willingness to help. It’s that there’s a fear of your hard-earned money being misused that sometimes holds us back.

It’s easier to loan money to people who obviously need it, who will make an effort to return it to you. But there are people who live off lent money – habitual borrowers. They will not break their Fixed Deposits but will expect you to cut corners and lend you an unreasonable sum of money. They take advantage of the fact that by virtue of your inability to turn down a request such as this, they can extract any amount of money from you and splurge it on unimportant things. If you need the money so badly, how do you justify cocktail and luncheon parties? Is that what you’re borrowing for – so that you can put up a show before the rest of the world that everything is fine you’re your bank balance? To such borrowers, saying ‘no’ should be mandatory. They are leeches that will bleed you and you need to shrug them off before that.

But even when someone desperately requires money, how much would you be willing to lend and how many times? Would you let your financial planning go awry to help someone? Would you be happy trimming on your own expenses to accommodate a loan to somebody else? It’s a tough call to make sometimes.

And come to think of it, how can people bring themselves to borrow stuff they don’t “need”. If you can’t afford to spend lakhs of rupees on your son or daughter’s wedding, don’t. If you do not have the cash to buy a property and you do not want to pay the interest rate on a bank loan, don’t buy that property. Why must you borrow to buy what you can’t afford?

When we were in school and forgot to take something to class that we ought to have, the teachers’ favourite retort used to be, “Beg, borrow or steal.” Borrowing seemed pretty easy then, because returning a pencil, paper or map was also easy enough. But now, neither begging nor borrowing nor does stealing seem a feasible option to me. I’d much rather not have what I cannot have, as long as I have only what I must. What do you think?

>Kill joy

>How late is too late for a baraat to arrive at an Indian wedding? When the time given in invitation cards is 8:30 pm, what time do you expect the guests to arrive? 9:00 or 9:30 or may be 10: 00 pm? And what do the guests do if the baraat doesn’t arrive till midnight? And surely, there must be a decent limit to which you can be late to your own wedding!

At the wedding The Guy and I attended last evening, the groom and his family and friends must’ve felt no compunction to be punctual. Perhaps, arriving at twelve in the night wasn’t bizarre for them. It certainly was for me! It’s not the first time I’ve heard of a baraat being so delayed, but being from the bride’s side, I couldn’t help but pity the girl who was ready well in time and had to sit through agonising hours of waiting. When the baraat did arrive, it was greeted by an almost empty and beautiful pandal – most of the bride’s guest had already had dinner and left even before meeting the bride. How pathetic – the girl spent days deciding her clothes for this occasion, spent hours getting dressed for it and in the end, there was nobody left to even admire her!

Luckily for us, there was another party we had to attend in the same vicinity and we didn’t have to twiddle our thumbs in anticipation for the groom to arrive. We hopped over to the other party and an acquaintance at the wedding kept us informed about the status of the baraat. Since the groom was nowhere in sight by 11:30 pm, the acquaintance also left. And it was after our party had winded up at around 12:30 am, that we thought we’d give our luck another try – perhaps we would now be able to meet the bride and the groom! We sure were lucky, because they were just exchanging garlands when we reached the venue. I was glad I’d finally be able to tell the bride how pretty she was looking. So, as the bride and groom posed for pictures, The Guy and I waited patiently watching all the commotion of a typical Indian wedding with repressed amusement.

Just as the garlands were exchanged, a man – probably the groom’s relative – in the middle of the small crowd – began to fire his pistol in the air. He was standing a few feet away from us, surrounded by lots of other people. And he fired six rounds of gunshots. But the first one was enough for me to turn on my heels and head for the exit. Call me paranoid or practical, I just didn’t want to be present at a wedding where my life or anyone else’s could be threatened by a brazen act of foolishness. Had I been in a more compliant mood, The Guy would’ve suggested that since we’d waited so long to meet our colleague, we might as well wait a few more minutes. But I seriously was in no mood to be in a potentially dangerous situation, even if that meant having to forego the chance to meet a friend at her wedding. And firing in the middle of a wedding crowd is creating a potentially dangerous situation for everyone present there.

To me, this kind of a celebration is as repulsive as it gets. Exactly what purpose does it serve? If it is meant to be a show of power, go shoot a canon ball! We’ve heard of so many tragedies caused by such foolishness, I don’t ever want to be at a wedding where I may have to see someone being killed because that someone could even be me. And why do anything that could turn a happy occasion like a wedding into something tragic? What does it take for people to learn from others’ mistake?