thewilltoholdon

As I breathe and think and dream


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‘Meat’-ing Expectations

I have always been a non-vegetarian all my life. I like meat (both lean and red), seafood and the works. Being a Hindu, I should probably not be eating beef on religious grounds. But I have never really been a conformist and while due to health reasons I reach for lean meats most of the time, I love to dig into my occasional meatball sub and lasagna. My husband, on the other hand, comes from a very traditional and conservative Indian family. And they are ALL vegetarians. And very strict vegetarians at that. The rules of their household are – No meat. No fish. No eggs. Not even garlic for a number of his family members. Now for those who do not know much about Indian dietary rules, please do not ask me why garlic is clubbed with the rest of the non veg brigade. It just is.
When my husband moved to Australia in his early twenties, he was a vegetarian just like the rest of his family and he planned on staying that way. However he found it difficult as there were not too vegetarian options available at the time. There was just one burger joint that offered a decent vegetarian burger and he had that so many times that he soon became sick of it. He tried cooking at home. However that was not possible everyday with his study and part time job schedule. Besides his flat mate and best friend was a non vegetarian who loved cooking biryanis and chicken curries. So this meant that my husband had to cook vegetarian meals just for himself. It all became too much. His well-meaning flat mate suggested that he should ‘try’ eating chicken as it would make life a lot easier for him. My husband agreed and they went to a KFC joint where my husband had his first original recipe fried chicken. And he loved it. He took to eating chicken as the proverbial duck takes to water. From then on life in Australia was a lot easier for him and by the time I met him, he could cook a mean chicken curry himself. With me urging him on, he started liking lamb and goat too. He could not develop a liking for seafood as the ‘fishy’ smell was too much for him, he said. Also he did not like beef or pork. Still in our household, we had reached a happy compromise. Say, if we ordered pizza, it would many times be half and half – pepperoni on my half and chicken on his.
So all is well in our tiny world. The only problem we now face is that my husband’s family has no idea that he is no longer a vegetarian. My husband has never really ‘come out’ in front of them in this aspect. When we got married, my in-laws knew that I was a non-vegetarian but they assumed that I would mend my evil ways and embrace vegetarianism. Now my husband might have had something to do with them thinking on such lines, as in a bid to get me ‘accepted’ into his family as soon as possible, he probably took a few liberties with the truth. Since we live half a world away, we have never really been caught out till now. I just need to remember while on our weekly telephone conversations with my hubby’s family, that if someone asks me what’s for dinner, I need to quickly substitute words like chicken or lamb with mushroom or cottage cheese.
When we visit my in-laws in India, we of course have to live like vegetarians for the duration. This can be a little bit of a bummer because we expats always crave food from back home while abroad and it does not seem fair to be missing out on all the yummy non vegetarian options available when in your home country. I do put my foot down at times and insist on sneaking out of home and eating at a non-vegetarian restaurant. Like when in Hyderabad, I wanted to taste the incredible biryani the city is famous for and in order to escape from my sister-in-laws house, we had to cook up a false story of having to meet up with a friend for lunch.
Of course, things will be much more difficult when some of my in laws come to visit us in Australia. I guess we will have to empty the freezer and the pantry of anything vaguely resembling meat or fish. And probably get some new cookware for cooking vegetarian food as my in-laws are known to have noses like police sniffer dogs. That is the reason they avoid eating at restaurants which serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare.
However the thing that is threatening to blow our vegetarian cover is not the imminent arrival of my in-laws from India – it is my toddler. My daughter loves her chicken and fish (“chick-chick” and “fishie” in her speak). And I can just imagine that day not very far away when she will blurt out on the phone or video chat that she had tandoori chicken for lunch. I imagine my mother-in-law will probably faint on the other side then! However that is not the worst that can happen. A friend who has a similar situation with her in-laws, tell me that her 4 year old has sensed that his mom and dad do not want non-vegetarian stories to leak out to his grandparents. Conniving devil that he is, he now routinely blackmails his parents and tells them – If you do not give me such-and-such, I will go and tell grandma that you made roast lamb for dinner. Gosh! These kids! I guess I now have a few months at most to start saving in order to meet future ransom demands. Or to get my husband to confess to his family about being a meat eater (and that will probably lead to my being branded the ‘evil wife’ who lead her pious husband astray). Or to really switch to vegetarianism.


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It’s The Thought That Counts! Yeah, Sure!!

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The major gift giving season in the world is, no prizes for guessing, Christmas time. However for us, Christmas or any other festival does not come close to matching the amount of gift buying we need to do before our annual or, at times, biennial trips to our native places in India. It is an exercise that requires time, imagination, perception, tact, forethought and last but not the least, deep pockets. It has to be handled carefully or else the fragile balance between the different components can go off and things can blow up faster than a minefield.

Before we go in to the details of this military operation, let us take a moment to understand why this is necessary. Now if you are an expat living away from family and friends, you already know all about this and you can skip over to the next paragraph. If you are still reading this bit, then let me tell you that there is this unwritten rule that a person living abroad should bring back presents for all those left back home – this is as a gesture filled with love, remembrance and a desire to enable the recipients get a small taste of the donor’s life on foreign shores. I remember when I was a teenager in India fifteen years ago and my sister immigrated to the US, I used to wait eagerly for her visits not just out of sibling love but also for the gifts she would bring as they unlocked for me a world I had never experienced before. I fell in love with Reese’s peanut butter cups, fluffy bunny ear slippers, and cute fridge magnets of places I had only read about in books. Now of course the times have changed. The shoe is on the other foot. I am an expat living abroad and as such my role is now that of the gift donor and not the recipient. That is not the only change. India has changed enormously in the last 2 decades and people are no longer impressed by snow globes or Lindt chocolates. That makes things a little challenging of course.

Whoever thinks gift buying and giving is not a big deal, should buy themselves some magazines around Christams time and just count the number of articles telling people how to deal with prezzie time stress ! Gifting is not just a little magnanimous act of love – it is time consuming and head bangingly stressful.  Ideally the planning for this whole exercise should begin well in advance. The best time to start planning for the next round of gift giving might even be when you are actually doing the first round. Taking note of preferences, interests, ages and headcounts always helps. At times people even tell you what they want when you come around the next time. Mind you, you might get some weird or super expensive requests in such a case. I have definitely filed the request from one of my sisters-in-law under ‘Weird’. During our last India trip, she asked me get her a set of kitchen knives. I do not know if that is because she has been planning a homicide or has just read a glowing review of Australian knives.  (Pssst  … does she know most of the stuff available here is made in China anyways?)

My sister has made an art of this whole gift giving business. Of course, she has had 16 odd years in perfecting this art. However what she does is still very admirable. She has a huge list for people she buys gifts for – I guess the numbers are range anywhere from 50 to 80.  With this mental list, she is on the lookout for appropriate gifts 24X7 throughout the year. In the last one month before her travel, she starts on the task of wrapping the stuff gathered. When she and her husband finally land in India, they have designated suitcases filled with colourfully wrapped gifts, each neatly labelled with the recipient’s name. And as we are Indian and not Greek, she is welcomed with open arms everywhere!

I wish I was half as organized as my sister. With around one and a half months left for my upcoming India visit, I have not started on my shopping for family and friends. All I have are all half formed thoughts and questions circling in my head. How old is the second child of Cousin X again? Is Cousin Y’s newborn a boy or a girl? Female relative Y would probably like some kind of make-up stuff (she was giving some broad hints the last time!) – but the question is what kind (eye makeup, lipsticks/glosses, liquid foundations or maybe even generic lotions)? What can you buy for a pre-teen boy? It is tough enough choosing for one’s own self – but buying for countless others  whose tastes you don’t know too well is taxing in the extreme.

I know a lot of you are thinking why doesn’t this silly female simply pick up the phone and ask the relevant people what they want instead of dithering around? Well, my friend, it doesn’t quite work that way. The presents are supposed to be surprises for the recipients! Yes, they are expected and almost mandatory (unless I wish to become a social outcast back home) but still outwardly there will be the usual ‘Oh, dear girl! You shouldn’t have gone to all this effort!’ from the people getting the gifts.  If I call up and ask people, most will say ‘You need not bring a thing.’ Well, take that statement at face value and you are doomed.

So it is crunch time. I need to get cracking on the shopping lists and the actual shopping both at the same time.  For I know if I delay any longer, I will have a complete brain freeze in the end and then in a moment of madness, I might even end up buying Australian knives for everyone! I wonder what the airport authorities might make of it if I am discovered with suitcases full of boning knives and meat cleavers!


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Second Chances in the Land of Arranged Marriages

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These days a good friend of ours is going through a tough phase. On the surface, one would think that the guy has everything to be elated about – he is newly married with a pretty wife and they are very much in love. However all is not well. The guy is gutted as his marriage has created a rift between him and his family. When he had introduced his girlfriends to his parents, his family took exception to the fact that the girl was a divorcee. They told him in no uncertain terms that such a girl would never be accepted into the family. Despite that, he decided to honor the promises he had made to his girlfriend and married her in a simple civil ceremony. Ever since, his family has cut off all ties with him. All his overtures have received nothing but cold silence from the other end. Needless to say, he is pretty cut up about this. He is trying his best to lead a normal happy life with his wife in Melbourne but he cannot help but worry over the situation with his parents back in India.

You see love marriages are still a rarity in India. In a recent wedding survey conducted by the Taj Group of Hotels, it was found that 75% of people in India still prefer arranged marriages. There is no doubting that such marriages are convenient – especially in a culture were marriages involve whole families rather than individuals. Arranged marriages are fixed by the family who choose the best bride/groom based on caste, class, financial and family background. It is somewhat like a recruiting the best candidate for a vacant job position. The channels used are also similar – there are the matrimonial agencies just like recruitment agencies that have hundreds of CVs of prospective brides and grooms with them, then there are print media advertisements and matrimonial websites and last but not the least, there are the special referrals brought in by helpful extended family members, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances.

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In the arranged marriage market, there are a number of things that determine the worth of an individual. Youth, good looks and a milk-white complexion make a girl very desirable. For a guy, looks do not matter much. It is more about the number of zeroes on his pay check and whether he owns a house and a car. So what happens if the bride is dusky or if is she is pushing thirty? Well, her chances of a ‘good alliance’ go down drastically. An investment banker can expect to get the prettiest maiden to have walked this earth in marriage while a ne’er-do-well is most probably destined to remain a bachelor. And yes, all matchmaking is usually done within the boundaries of one’s own community. For example, an alliance for the North Indian Punjabi groom will be sought within the North Indian Punjabi community. Likewise the Marwari community of businessmen will only marry their children within their own caste.

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So what of the matters of the heart? Well, these days you do have lots of love marriages too. When I say lots, I mean in comparison to, say, the 70’s or 80’s, when alliances based on the bride and groom’s own choice were exceeding rare. In fact at that time when one far-removed third cousin married his lady love, the whole clan would talk about nothing else for years and that too in very scandalized tones. Nowadays a number of parents give in to the demands of their offspring when they want to wed the person of their choice. There are of course greater numbers of parents who forbid their children from marrying their beloved because they do not approve of them. Then in the rare minority (thankfully!) are those horrifically psychotic parents who have even been known to get their children and/or their partners killed for having married outside their own communities.

So I am sure it comes as no surprise to you that in such a societal setup, alliances with a person who has been divorced or widowed are an absolute no-no. The society does not forgive or forget. The best a divorcee can hope for is a balding widow with two grown children and heaps of debt. Seconds chances are seldom given. So now you can understand why our poor friend is so torn.  

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Two years ago we had been in an almost identical situation. I was the divorcee with a past and my then boyfriend was the guy who had to break the news of our relationship to his ultra conservative Indian family. My boyfriend belonged to a family who lend a new meaning to the term ‘Boston Brahmins’. In fact they were the real deal: South-Indian Brahmins who had impeccable pedigree and wealth. Had I not had a past, even then I guess there were very slim chances of my being accepted as a daughter-in-law into such a family – I spoke the wrong language, came from the wrong region, belonged to the wrong caste. It did not help that my boyfriend was a good looking young man who was doing pretty well for himself in Australia. How could such a good family allow their beloved youngest son to marry a lowly divorcee? Surely he deserved much better! Though both of us were adults living far away from home, we were Indian enough to seek our family’s approval. Our genes dictated that my boyfriend would not be happy without his family’s support – nor would I be happy having been instrumental in taking him away from his family.

What happened thereafter seems unreal to me even to this day. His family accepted our relationship without any fuss. Of course there were lots of questions from different family members. But no-one was as horrified as I had imagined they would be and certainly no-one tried to dissuade my boyfriend from continuing with our relationship. We got married within months and all of his family was there at the wedding. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly and so far removed from the cold forbidding individuals I had imagined in my head that I almost felt ashamed!

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So it seems that the ties of blood and love can actually transcend all the rules imposed by society. I suppose globalization, increased media exposure and education have all a large parts to play in this change that is gradually becoming apparent. Many times if you scan the the classified matrimonial advertisements in the Sunday newspapers these days, you will find advertisements that state  ‘Caste no barrier’ and there are a fair amount of second marriage alliances being sought in these newspapers. There is even a website for second marriages called http://www.secondshaadi.com (Shaadi is Hindi for marriage). These are small things no doubt but they are indicative of how India is changing – slowly but surely.  So when our friend talks of his sadness and feeling of helplessness, I tell him repeatedly that he need not worry. His parents should be coming around soon. 


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God, Religion, Babies and Head Tonsures

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We are planning on visiting our native places in India around the midyear mark to visit friends and relatives. This will be a very special visit as it is the first time we are going with our baby daughter. Needless to say, there is a lot of excitement on both sides and already loads of plans are being made about places to visit whilst in India, the shopping to be done in preparation for the trip, all the things we need to carry for our infant, etc. I was really looking forward to it – till my mother-in-law dropped the bombshell. In one recent phone conversations, she mentioned that she would like to take her granddaughter to Tirupati for a head tonsuring ceremony.

For my non-Indian friends, Tirupati is a major pilgrimage place for Hindus as it houses the temple of Lord Venkateshwara. This temple is the most visited place of worship in the world and on an average, around 30 to 40 million devotees visit the temple each year. One of the most significant features of the temple is that thousands of devotees get their heads tonsured here and offer their hair to the deity. Over a ton of hair is collected each day and this hair is later auctioned to international buyers to be used as hair extensions or in hair products.

I had always considered this act of head tonsuring to be weird, not to mention faintly barbaric. I could never understand what God would do with all that hair – surely he has loads of his own!!! So when told that my poor baby daughter is to be tonsured soon, I was appalled and I admit I have secretly been worrying over this ever since.

I did not mention anything to my mother-in-law at that time. I know she means well. However subjecting a ten month old baby to this seems like extreme cruelty to me. I fail to see how sacrificing my infant’s hair is going to provide her good karma for all her life. Besides doesn’t the word sacrifice mean giving something up of one’s own free will? How is that relevant for a baby who cannot make any decisions for herself?

I admit I have some shallow reasons too for balking at the hair tonsuring. My daughter would be having her first birthday shortly after the India trip. Do I want her to be sporting the bald look at one of the greatest milestones in her young life – her first birthday party? Not really. Besides my baby was born with very little hair and I had worried a bit about it when I noticed other young babies with full heads of hair. Now she is getting lovely silky hair of her own and I am so proud of that. To think that would all be gone again makes me shudder.

More than the cosmetic reasons, what irks me most about this whole thing is that I do not even believe in these rituals. I have visited the Tirupati temple in the past. There is no doubting that the place is place has a grandeur of its own and it is amazing to find people from all walks of life there. However it was so crowded that it took us ages to reach the sanctum sanctorum and when we did, in the place of prayers the thought of a possible stampede kept preying on my mind! 

I confess that I am not an overly religious person. Sure, I believe in God – but I like to believe that I have a personal relationship with my God and that does not require much outward trappings in the way of rites, rituals and ceremonies. My parents are Hindus and they brought me up as one, acquainting me with all of Hinduism’s myriad gods and goddess and its zillions of festivals. However they never imposed the stricter rules of the religion on me – there was no pressure on me to fast on certain days or be vegetarian on others or visit the temple every so often. Instead they drummed into me the fact that the basic tenet of any religion and all religions is that one should be good and kind to one’s fellowmen and that is the surest way of pleasing God.

When I got married, it was into a family of devout Brahmins. I had no problems getting along with my in-laws as such. They are really nice people – caring and affectionate. Everyone went out of their way to welcome me into the family. We spent a happy ten days with my extended family of in-laws after the marriage. It was mostly great fun except for one thing. Everyone in my new family was very religious. My mother-in-law visited the temple twice a day and also spent hours in veneration at home. Everyone else too followed elaborate daily rituals and special ones on the auspicious days. I felt like a fish in the Sahara. I had no idea what I was supposed to do and I was scared of offending my new relatives. When my ignorance became glaringly obvious, the females in the family took it upon themselves to impart as much knowledge about the household rituals as possible within the limited time I had with them. They took me to numerous temples, explained what offerings I needed to make to particular gods on certain days, also taught me the use of different veneration items like the vermilion, the rice grains,the camphor and the lamps. To be fair, I guess they abbreviated the rituals quite a bit for someone who knew nothing and would be living far away from India. However it still felt like an information overload to me as I was an absolute novice in these matters. And of course there was that tiny voice at the back of my mind all the time – Do I really believe in these trappings of religion?

Once I reached Australia, it was not that bad. My mother-in-law would ask me over the phone to follow certain rites at particular times of the year. I would try to follow her advice as best as I could (with some modifications of my own!) but of course things were not difficult as there was no one around to really judge me. My husband knows my limitations and he generally has no outward demands in this – though at times when I slip up in something he considers really basic, I feel he does get a bit disappointed. 

Now this head tonsuring issue is hanging over my head like the proverbial sword of Damocles. I cannot decide on what to do. Should I stand up for my convictions and tell my in-laws that I do not believe in ritualistic worship and thereby hurt their feelings? Or should I keep the peace and go ahead with the whole thing , choosing instead to shed a few private tears with my baby after she is tonsured?

This whole thing is also making me wonder about a bigger issue. What sort of religious teachings am I going to impart to my daughter? Shall I teach her the notion of a flexible religion as my parents taught me and have her lead a life that has less piety and rigidity? Or should I try to push her into the excessively religious ways of my in-laws in the hope that she gains loads of good karma for this life and the next one? There are no easy way out. Me and my husband have divided opinions on this and I am sure you can figure out what our respective stands are! Maybe we should just leave the choice for our daughter to make once she is old enough. 


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Grandpa, Can I Please Have A Dirty Granny?

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This is for all my non-Indian friends, co-workers and acquaintances in Australia, UK, mainland Europe and everywhere else.  You have made me generally feel very welcome in your respective countries ever since I have migrated from India. Over the years I have picked up a number of wonderful things from the culture of my host countries and have made those a part of my own life such as pasties, panettones, the Henley Royal Regatta and the Melbourne Cup.

However there is a lot of ground for me to cover. So please excuse me if I appear lost at times. My upbringing taught me nothing about footy, rugby, windsurfing or skiing. I had not tasted scones or cannelloni before. I have not attended the coming-of-age Schoolies at Gold coast, Byron Bay or anywhere else. I was quite surprised when I found that Dirty Granny was a brand of cider. In India, grandmothers are the most venerable of creatures and it would be almost a blasphemy to call such a person ‘dirty’.   So when such references come up in conversation, I have trouble keeping up and no doubt I make a fool of myself many a times.

In my defense  I know more now than I did when I first moved out of India but I guess it is difficult to get the knowledge of a lifetime in a few years. Some differences between the east and the west (or the east and down south in case of Australia) stemming from our vastly different upbringings and social climates, are difficult to bridge. We come cannot help but see the world with differently colored glasses.

In order to help my non-Indian friends understand  my psyche a little better, here is a random list of some rituals and rules that are commonplace  in your countries and yet they are not things an Indian would do whilst on his home soil, such as –

1)       Sunbathing- As a tribe, we do not sunbathe. Never. We are blessed with ample sunshine in our home country. We do not plop down on the beach, the back garden or the rooftop in skimpy clothing to soak in some vitamin D. Yes, we do go to the beach – to play in the water, gather seashells, to see the sunrise/sunset, to chill out at a beach shack. But never to sunbathe.

2)      Love tans – Nature has made us coffee coloured; café au lait in some cases, Americano in others. As it is human nature to desire that which you do not have, we are obsessed with fair skin. Pale skin is always in for Indians. A million products that promise to deliver perfect white skin are sold to the gullible in Indian bazaars. People arm themselves with umbrellas to escape from the melanin inducing effects of the sun. Fair maidens are prized above all in the marriage market. So in India, you will find no solariums or tanning lotions.

3)      Have dinner early – Indians do not dine at the time the rest of the world does. Dinner is always after 9pm in most households, with a fair number even opting to have dinner at around 11pm. So it is needless to say that when Indians come abroad, they are amazed to see restaurants packed to the rafters at 6:30pm. That happens to be the time for evening snacks back in India.

4)      Put children to bed early – As a corollary of above, Indian children are not put to bed by 7:30pm. They run riot through the house till 10pm. Yes, even on weeknights. Of course some children might be totally knackered by indulging in too much of cricket (the whole nation is cricket crazy!) and as such may crash out by 9 or 9:30 pm much to the delight of harried parents.

5)      Do his/her own washing up and household cleaning – This is one of the greatest luxurious of living in India and one that is sorely missed by all expats. Almost all households, middle income group onwards, employ one or many maids to do the menial tasks of washing up, vacuuming and laundry. Additionally many people keep cooks, nannies and drivers. These services are surprisingly cheap and one does not need to be a millionaire to enjoy these comforts.

6)      Have summer barbecues – Indians love their winter picnics. They carry pre-cooked lunches or else they take the cook and various cooking utensils along and set up a temporary kitchen at the picnic site. Elaborate curries, puris and pulaos are then cooked. The concept of barbecues in the back yard or in parks, where one char grills large amounts of meats in the open air and devours the same with sauce and buns, is completely unknown in India.

7)      Have wine with meals – Wine or other forms of alcohol are not an integral part of Indian meals. At the dinner table in most Indian households, food is served with glasses of water. Whisky, gin, rum , vodka and other hard drinks (wine is never big in India – one hardly gets decent local wine in India except at good restaurants) are consumed separately and accompanied by a variety of fried spicy calorie-laden snacks. Incidentally alcohol consumption is still not socially accepted in many parts of India, though that part is rapidly changing these days due to the upwardly mobile Indians.

8)      Take a ‘gap’ year –Indian youngsters do not take time of off from studies to visit faraway lands. The Indian education system is extremely competitive. One jumps straight from high school to college and from there on to jobs or further higher studies. Any sort of ‘gap’ between these logical stages is considered to be a sign of failure in making it at the first go. So Indian students do not have the luxury of dreaming of backpacking through South America or Australia for a year or two.

9)      Pay for own at someone else’s celebration event– In India the person whose birthday is being celebrated always picks up the tab. Such a person invites friends to a treat at the restaurant or bar and pays for his guests. Many Indians when invited to birthday parties abroad, are confounded when at the end each guest pays for his own dinner or drinks.

There are many other differences that I can write about. But for the sake of adhering to a reasonable blog length, I have only put down only a few. Will keep to the rest for another day!

Note: Based on the above, it might appear to some readers that Indians are missing out on a lot of fun. That is not true. On the contrary, you will find Indians are a happy lot having a ball most of the time. No doubt it is a different world – one of dazzling colors and heightened sounds, where nerds are looked up to more than jocks, where there are festivals by the dozen and each is an excuse to devour enormous amounts of food and hang out with friends and family, where marriage ceremonies last for days and involve thousands of people, where movies are filled with song and dance.There are so many things that happen only in India! Maybe soon I will post a blog on all those wonderful things.


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The Choice of Children

Recently Helen Mirren raised a number of eyebrows when she said she doesn’t have children and doesn’t want any either as she has “no maternal instinct whatsoever”. Most of the world is besotted with babies and such people are definitely scandalized by the notion that a woman might not want children. I can almost hear them say ‘Why on earth would a women not desire children when it is motherhood that defines and completes women?!!!’

Indian culture as hawked by numerous matriarchs specially revolves around this notion of having children right after getting hitched. The mothers, mother-in-laws and aunts heap loads of concern on a girl who is of marriageable age and has not yet tied the knot. They sing ‘hallelujah’ when she finally does get married and then do not wait till the ink as dried on the marriage certificate to confront her to ask ‘So when are you giving us the ‘good news’?’ The particular term ‘good news’ is a specially concocted one and it refers to the announcement that the stork will be visiting shortly. Now I am not sure why this news should always be ‘good’ . In a country where the population is 1.24 billion and rising steadily, the idea of one more addition to the numbers can be a little worrying for some.

If the newly married girl does give the news within the first year or year and half, then all is well and good. However heaven help her, if she does not make the announcement within this stipulated time frame. Tongues start wagging and everyone starts pestering her with ‘well-meaning’ advise that she should really hurry up as the biological clock was ticking away. Note that no one ever asks if the girl wants children or if children would fit into her lifestyle, career and aspirations. Well, as I said earlier, if you are a woman, you have to have children!

I remember that once I had visited the house of a colleague some years ago. I had been married for about three years at that time and had no children. Her mother was there and though I did not really know the lady well, she immediately embarked upon a lecture about how I was leaving it till too late. Then she went into biological details about how a woman’s body accumulates fat as she ages and that makes conception difficult. Throughout I watched her with a kind of fascinated horror. Of course, in India, you do not interrupt an elder with a curt ‘Please mind your own business!’

I am not anti-children. i love kids almost as much as the next person. However I feel that every woman (or man for that matter) should have the right to exercise his or her right to choose what finally is an immensely personal thing. There should be no societal pressure to conform in this matter– unless of course the human species is on the verge of extinction. In that situation I guess women really might need to chip in and have kids for the greater good of the society!!!

Neither do I think that having a child is necessary for a woman to feel ‘complete’. I have a six month old who is as cute as a button and I love her dearly. I love spending time with her and love the feeling of discovering the world all over again with her. However I do not feel that her arrival has completed me. I was very much a finished product before she made an appearance, thank you!

More and more women around the world are deciding to forgo having babies and the number of such women is also on the rise in the Indian society. The reasons for this are many – some people think that a child might hamper their career aspirations, some consider kids to be unruly and disruptive, others like Helen Mirren feel no maternal urge to goo-gaa over a bassinet. Whatever be the reason, whether you decide to have a child or not is ultimately one’s own personal decision and should always remain so.