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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Pregnancy in Hindsight

“I’m tired, moody, irritable, hungry and I can’t find a thing that fits. It’s called pregnancy” – Anonymous

I looked at the calendar today and all of a sudden it struck me that at this time one year ago, I had been suffering from terrible morning sickness. Amend that – there was also evening sickness plus car sickness plus any-sort-of-motion sickness plus most-food-smells-make-me-puke sickness. At times it felt as though I was throwing up all that I had eaten for the last 2 years. Well, I know it wasn’t all that bad – certainly it was not like a certain Duchess’ hyperemesis gravidarum. But it felt bad enough at the time. 

What irked me most was how alien my body felt during pregnancy. I thought I had become pretty acquainted with my body in my 32 years. However pregnancy made me feel like there had been some sort of astral projection and my soul had been mysterious plunked out of my body and put into someone else’s. What else can explain all the aches and pains and pins and needles in places that I did not even know existed? I love walking and used to walk marathon distances over weekends before. But now I would have to flog myself to cover the meagre distance from the station to my workplace. And when I did walk, no matter how much I flailed my arms and legs still I would be the slowest thing around!

Third trimester brought with it a fresh woe. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. The doctor prescribed insulin that had to injected into my body before dinner and each day I had test my blood sugar level 5 times – each time pricking my fingers. My finger tips would become sore with the multiple tiny wounds. And on top of that, there were the dietary restrictions. I could eat only the most minuscule portions of carbs or else the glucose readings would spike up. I have always had a sweet tooth but now even looking at cupcakes in the shop windows was forbidden. The only thing allowed was protein and I soon grew sick of all the ways in which one can cook chicken – roast, grilled, satay, tandoori, curry, kebab! I have fairly disciplined and stuck to the recommended diet plan to the best of my ability. However even that was not enough to escape the wrath of the endocrinologist. He would look at the logbook where I diligently noted each blood glucose reading and then he would set out to circle in red all those times I had slipped up even in the slightest. All the while he would tut-tut and shake his head sadly, making me feel as though I was a naughty child summoned before the school principal.

In all I could not wait for delivery day. That was a blessing in a way. While other pregnant women worried about the delivery, labour and pain, I had no time to focus on all of that. All I thought was, no matter how painful, at least there would be an end to my present problems and I would be on my way to getting back the normal me!

So when I hear that there are some women who love being pregnant, I can’t really say that I agree with them. The feeling of anticipation and the cute ultrasound pictures are very nice no doubt. And also who does not like the glow and the full head of hair that you have during the nine months? But other than those bits, I cannot really think of anything I enjoyed about the physical state of pregnancy state.

I have talked to friends and colleagues about this. It seems most women who love pregnancy actually love the feeling of being special for the 40 weeks. This is the one time many people make a fuss of them and make them feel important. Their husbands wait on them hand and foot. Hmmm … that alone I guess has tremendous global appeal!

I have a cousin back in India who is a psychologist. She lives with her husband and her in-laws. Though they are a modern family (her hubby is a psychiatrist and her father-in-law a chartered accountant), at her place there was this tradition (enforced by her mother-in-law) that the men in the house got the best of everything – the larger pieces of steak, the bigger servings of puddings, the juiciest of mangoes! My cousin who had been brought up pretty pampered by her family initially found it really hard to digest this bit. When she became pregnant, her mother-in-law turned over a new leaf (temporarily!) and started ensuring that her daughter-in-law got good food for the sake of the baby. So, as you can imagine, my cousin definitely loved being pregnant.

This sort of a thing is common in the Indian patriarchal society, where gender discrimination is rampant. No expense is spared for the education, food and upbringing of the male child – but when it comes to the girl child, its a different story. This outlook is at the root of many evils – dowry deaths, girl foetus abortion, low girl child literacy and many more. It is true that the situation is now improving in many places due to measures taken by the government, NGOs and the media. However it will still be some time before all of India embraces the idea of gender equality. Till then women in many households are brought up to treat men as superiors and they dedicate their lives to making those of their menfolk easier. The 40 weeks of pregnancy is a small window of time when such women get attention from their families instead of the other way around. That is when they are the vessels carrying ‘the heirs’ (hopefully the much-prayed-for male child!) and so they get special attention and good food so that the heir gets proper nourishment.

I am so thankful that I am blessed with a wonderful family that showers me with love and a husband who takes very good care of me all the year round. Yes, he was very caring when I was pregnant but he is normally that way even when I am not. Thankfully I do not need a popping belly to get someone to cook dinner for me or to carry my heavy shopping. I wish this was the case for everyone. Every girl deserves to feel like a princess every day!


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Kangaroo Country

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I have been living in Australia for the last 15 months. By and large, I have loved it here. This is partly because of a phase of personal happiness in my life but mostly because both Australia and Melbourne, the city that I live in, are likeable and liveable in equal measures. I moved here from a fairly longish stint in the UK. So right at the beginning I fell in love with the weather. I moved here in spring and experienced a glorious summer, the kind that is equivalent to a dozen UK summers. The people here are nice and friendly – barring a few exceptions. But then I guess if you take any cross-section of society, you will get some not-so-nice people. After living in a rabbit hole sized apartment in London and paying through the nose for it, I love the spacious house I am currently living in, in the eastern suburbs. I have a front yard and back yard and the living area is almost equal in square metres to my London pad. Of course, living expenses are horrendously high here and for the first few months I kept comparing prices to those in the UK and wincing. However salaries here are much higher as well and so I guess, I cannot complain on that front either.

So all is well, except that till recently I had this one niggling sense of disappointment. The reason behind this was that I had not seen a single kangaroo in all the time I have been living here. Now to the external world and I was a part of it up till 15 months ago, Australia is in some ways synonymous with those large hopping creatures quite unlike other animals everywhere. So when I moved here, it was with a sense of excitement that at last I would be seeing kangaroos in the wild. Whenever we would go on long drives out of the city and I would spy one of those yellow signs with the picture of a kangaroo and the word ‘next 2 km’, I would lean forward in my seat and scan all the surroundings. But I met with no success. A couple of times, I saw some movement amidst the trees and I almost whipped myself into a frenzy, only to realise that it was a horse or a cow. I did not want to go to the zoo or to one of those petting farms; I wanted to see kangaroos in their natural element. I read up about where to see kangaroos and came to know that kangaroos were generally visible at dawn or dusk. We tried to follow guidance provided (it was a little difficult I was pregnant at that time and at the mercy of raging morning sickness most times – still we tried our best) – still no luck.

Then my parents came to visit us from India. The main purpose of their visit was to see their first grandchild. To a lesser extent, they were also here to see another thing – kangaroos! Hadn’t I mentioned that the external world is besotted with the notion of Australia and its kangaroos? Still our dry spell continued and my father would provide a grim sort of countdown ‘It has now been a month and we haven’t been able to see any kangaroos’ , ‘Two months now and still no kangaroos’ and so on.  My mother started to despair about what she would tell her neighbours back in India. There was talk of buying a bunch of kangaroo post cards and distributing to all acquaintances in advance just to stall the dreaded question ‘So did you see any kangaroos?’ It is not easing going kangaroo chasing when you have a fussy infant who does not understand road safety rules and hates her car seat harness with all her heart. I started toying with the idea of giving in and taking the whole family out for a day at the zoo.

Then I had this discussion with a colleague who apparently sees kangaroos the minute she steps out of her house (well, it sounded that way to my kangaroo-starved senses!). She mentioned the Wilson’s prom, the Grampians and Apollo Bay. I decided to give it one last try. We had already tried Apollo Bay with no success earlier. The weather prediction for Wilson’s prom was not too favourable.  So we planned a last minute overnight trip to the Grampians.

The baby was fussy throughout the long drive and for most of the drive westward, we saw only miles of dried yellow grass. I began to get the feeling that this trip too was doomed. However once we reached Halls Gap and checked into our lodge, we saw our first living breathing kangaroo. What an exciting moment that was for all of us!  At dusk, Halls Gap town centre filled up with kangaroos by the dozen all grazing unperturbed by the humans goggling at then. Next morning we went on an early morning stroll and saw more herds of kangaroos having breakfast or jumping about. We took enough pictures to fill a dozen albums. And we saw not just kangaroos, but also emus, cockatoos, wallabies, deer and a lone magnificent stag.

Well I guess this story just proves that we as humans love our preconceived notions about places. Talk of Paris and we think Eiffel Tower. Talk of Netherland and we think of tulips and windmills. Talk of Belgium and we think of chocolates. Talk of India and we think of Taj Mahal and cows on streets and slums.  Each of these places is much much more than just the associations we make with it. But we love to pigeon-hole things by firmly sticking a couple of descriptive stickers on to them. With places it is perhaps not such a bad thing to do at times. But often we go beyond just that and try and label people or cultures or religions. That is when things go wrong. Pre-conceived notions should not prevent us from getting to know someone or some place better. There might be some truth in clichés but there is lot of life to discovered and lived outside of them.

For now my parents are a happy lot. When they go back home to India in another months’ time, they will have dozens of photos of them with kangaroos in the background to prove as they have indeed visited Australia.


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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.


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Smart Guy seeks non-working bride

Once upon a time long ago I used to be married to a man who loved to say– ‘I am not interested in your career, after all I gain nothing from it’. The comment alluded to two separate stands he had. One, he had a very (misplaced?) masculine pride in his ability to support his family. He would not generally take money from me for the general household expenses. Of course he would accept loans of large sums from me to help with buying a car or house. But he very carefully termed them ‘loans’. Two, he hated me working professionally.

He hated the fact that having a career put demands on my time, all of which he owned. He hated that I had to work in the outer external world with, horror of all horrors, MEN. He hated it when I had to travel for work. He hated it when I used to get phone calls from office out of office hours. He hated it when I tried to talk to him about my day at the office. He hated it right in the beginning of our relationship when, as an engineering student, I was applying for jobs on campus. He hated it when I said I wanted to do further studies.

Initially I had thought his opinions were so cute. Naive, silly me! I rationalised his unquestionably boorish behaviour, thinking ‘Oh poor dear! He cannot bear to be without me for even a second and does not want to share me with anyone or anything’. And so as a girlfriend and later wife, I tried my best to relegate my career to the very outer fringes of my life and make him feel like the king of my universe. I did not stop working completely however I did stop mentioning anything about it at home. I refused all assignments that would have required even short term travel on my part. Instead I accompanied him whenever he chose to relocate for the sake of his career. I abandoned all ideas of further studies, took long leaves of absence from work, quit promising jobs at the wrong times  and did all I could to commit professional hara-kiri.

Many moons later, I finally woke up to the fact that my husband was nothing more than a grown-up version of the playground bully. He loved stamping his authority on everyone and getting them to dance to his tune but underneath he was just a very insecure human being. He had no other way of making himself feel big other than belittling me and my career. He wanted me to be dependent on him as that made feel like a man.

Finally when that relationship floundered, I fell back on my career to support myself. By that time, I had already done what seemed like irrevocable damage to it and there were so many things that could not be undone. However thankfully I had never stopped working completely and after quite a bit of effort, was able to revive my professional life to a state where I could support myself in relative comfort.

My story, I have now come to realise, is nothing unique. There are millions of bullies walking this earth in the guise of husbands – especially Indian husbands. They pride themselves in stomping out any independent streak that their wives have and in relegating them to the status of mere chattels. Most women, like me, put up with it and brainwash themselves into thinking that their husbands are right and that they need to give up their work and personal space for the sake of their families.

My ex used to say ‘Oh, I admire Indra Nooyi (current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo). I just don’t want me wife to be like her.’ Men, that is so wrong! Please learn to let go of narrow mindedness and embrace the fact that your significant other is a living breathing intelligent being who can shine both in the bedroom and the boardroom. If you let her, she will make you and your family proud and that will not make you inferior in any way.

Women – there are things you need to do as well.  Do not let a man walk all over your dreams and aspirations. Know that a true man does not need to clip your wings, rather he will let you fly unfettered and he will help and support you as you will help and support him. That mutual respect should be the cornerstone of every marriage and will ultimately benefit our children, our families and the society at large.