Monday, June 15, 2009

To Work or Not to Work

Kuputro Jayet kvachidapi Kumata na Bhavati
(A son might be bad but a mother never is)

I know of no mother who has not the best interest of her child at heart. How she goes about it could vary and sometimes be far from perfect. But her intentions can never be suspect.

I touch upon a taboo topic.I was afraid to do this post. I do not want to hurt anyone. I sincerely hope I won't. It is after all a very touchy topic of the New Age - To Work or Not To Work. For the mothers of course. Any kind of opinion can turn controversial and loved or hated by the two opposing thoughts.
Anyways this 'issue' came up (though its a in your face problem of modernism) when one of my friends put this on her status update on a popular social networking site....

" Y travelled on the school bus this morning and then in the noon again to check out the bus route...felt so envious as she watched Mommy's pick up kids from the bus and hug them tight... wish I was there for 'X' too when he gets off the bus each day..sweaty, tired, half asleep and full of stories... :-("

The comments that followed were definitely in nature of are not alone, don't beat yourself about it, you are the best mom, you are doing a great job. All very true and well deserved. Out of the 12 comments only 2 dared to write that they dropped everything to do just 'that'..see their little ones talk and say their first word. Then there were 2 comments which got my goat.

One said " its not half as glamorous as it seems...... the hot sun, standing for like ages...... when you can do something more useful...... the kids also are not so happy everyday...... they would be grumpy & dump their bags on us...... believe me, its not as great as it looks!!!!!!

And another said "its the quality not the quantity of time you spend with your kids"

I am not here to judge either the working or the non working mother. I believe that just as we are our own best competition, we are our own best judge. But having said that I find the debate of glamorous vs. unglamorous and quantity vs. quality ridiculous.Its like saying I had the best meal ( read quality) in the world and yet since it was way too little I remained hungry. Or I had plenty to eat (read quantity) but the food was almost inedible. I will still remain hungry. How can we talk of either quantity or quality in isolation???? Isn't motherhood about BOTH!!! It is then for us to work out the right balance for ourselves and then live with our decision.
I spend the whole day with my kid. But all I do is put him in front of the idiot box or beat and abuse him...But hey!! I am a stay at home mom and I give the kid quantity.
And on the other hand as a working mom I spend 2 beautiful, productive hours everyday with my kid or a week in his 2 month long summer vacation and I am giving him quality. The kid is hungry in both the case scenarios. So how can it be either or or?? Go Figure for yourself I say!!

Glamour?? Looking for glamour (as we see around ourselves) in motherhood is like looking for the Masai Tribe in Iceland. Motherhood is about living in sweats, covered in baby spit, bad hair days, sleepless nights, dark circles and an increased pulse rate due to anxiety. A few extra pounds with little time to work on those once upon a time surfboard abs.It is about forgetting that there is a pretty woman behind the mother of all messes and chaos. Its about sweaty dirty fingers, wet kisses, meltdowns and more. You are on call for 24/7 all year around and for a lifetime.

This debate is becoming a reason for women to resent each other. The underlying seething emotion is palpable. Its like two warriors of the opposing camps sizing each other before going in for the kill. The working mom is fed up with the 'holier-than-thou' attitude of the stay-at-home mom. And the stay-at-home-mom considers the working mother selfish and self centric, a slave to objective happiness.

Who is right and who is wrong is not the point of my discussion today. I think the final loser is the woman herself be it from either club. I will not get started on what it does to the children and the family structure at large. Seriously, how does a woman who is juggling both a demanding career and family and another who is at home but questions her decision constantly do any good to anyone.

I have seen working moms riddled with immense guilt. They are physically and emotionally exhausted. Every mis-step their child may take, or his/her every failure as deemed by the society will rest upon her fragile shoulders. They will love her now since she brings in the moolah but will not hesitate to peck her at the faintest sniff of trouble. She dreams of giving it all up. Playing house, being a mom, being a woman with no strings attached. She cannot most of the times..for she might really need that extra money, or they have become used to the fringe benefits of a double income household. And also because it is certainly most difficult to give up on the dream of a career,and success as has been taught to her all through her growing years. When she was growing up all they told her was to study and work hard and get a respectable job which gets a good salary. They said her self esteem depended on it. Its not easy to break free. And yes, it does break her heart when she catches her child say a prayer to God "Please make my Mamma not go to work today".

I have seen stay-at-home moms emotionally and physically high-strung. She is of course doing the most challenging and important work ever. But no one tells her so. This work does not pay after all. She is often asked "Do you work?" She does not know whether to laugh or cry at this question. She is the anchor but still feels adrift. She is indispensable at what she does but no one makes her feel so. It is after all becoming the most taken-for-granted roles ever. She is either dismissed as a wannabe loser who never made it so stayed at home or someone who wasted her potential. She cannot shake off the sense of incompleteness. She feels depressed when people pity her or compare her to successful and earning counterparts.It breaks her when people say to her "Kuchh kaam kyun nahin kartee/ why don't you work?"

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is feminism in regression. We are in an illusion that we have more freedom than ever before. Maybe some of us do. But many still don't. And those who think they have it, are unaware or have forgotten what true freedom tastes like. It comes with no extra baggage. It brings peace. Not a sense of burden,doubt and guilt. It does not tire but rejuvenates.It spreads joy. It is not transient but stands the test of time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Why is Modernization confused with Westernization?

Why oh why? I have been plagued with this question for quite sometime now and reading Fareed Zakaria's book "POST AMERICAN WORLD" (wonder if that will ever be a reality in my lifetime) has me obsessing over this trend which is on the rise.

What we call modern is sometimes just western. This has spilled over in both the public and private spheres. From the way we think, to how we dress, and what we drink or eat. I am no loony irrational rightist. I love some of the old western values. But today when the western world is being governed by a bunch of evil bankers, it(or the part we interact with politically and economically and culturally) has been reduced to a born again East India Company.

We are becoming the mirror images of each other. And that other is a culture being forced onto us from Wall Street and Corporate Boardrooms. Its not a mass pop culture. I prefer to call it mass hypnosis.

Gone are the days of Rooh-Awzah,Dabur drinks,panna,etc.Its always much easier and cooler to slug down a Pepsi or Coke. Coca-Cola is single-handedly depleting our groundwater resources. In Plachimada and Mehdiganj it tried selling its solid and extremely toxic waste to the farmers as fertilizers. But oh its so not cool to drink the local nimbu soda. Hum modern hain bhai!!

I dread the time, we will have Walmarts in all our cities. Reliance Fresh is anyways a kick in the stomach for the local sabzi wala..a once upon a time proud and independent small businessman. But so desperate to copy our NRI cousins, we would rather take a cart and shop in a climate controlled superstore, than be found carrying a 'jhola'(a bio degradable commodity our parents happily reused) and sweating it out in a sabzi market. Each one has their own justified reasons. Ignorance and lack of foresight being amongst them. We think its rustic and not done to drink tea from a 'kulhad'(an earthenware tumbler which again is bio-degradable and supports small artisans. We prefer to clog our drains and poison our earth with plastic cups/bottles because the Gora Man does it. DOwn with the 'suraahi'.

We are having to fight patenting of our very own basmati seeds and turmeric. Thank God for the fact that atleast some of us are fighting it. God Bless their souls. If the New Age East India Company would have its way, we would lose the right over indigenously grown herbs,crops etc. Do we know or rather do we care? We just go on singing the song of globalization without understanding its full implications and oblivious to the real hand who controls it.
Rice Tec’s claim on Basmati rice is said to be the most audacious instance of ‘bio piracy’ by Western transnational corporations (TNCs).The Indian government has successfully contested in the United States the grant of a patent on the commercial use of the traditional medicinal properties of turmeric.Another well-known example of bio piracy is the patent on the herbicidal properties of the ‘neem’ tree. Reference:
But heck, how does it matter if we have KFC,MacDonalds,Pizza Huts, in exchange of all this. Right? All in the name of modern and global?

The Saree industry is hit hard due to recession as well for other reasons for sometime now. The cheap Chinese imitations being one of them. Indian women still love sarees though wear it on some special occasions only...understandably so. But when we would rather wear a gown/or what have you, than drape a saree around us even when the moment demands it,(weddings,pujas) its baffling(to me). I am not sashaying in a saree all the time. But this growing trend of (celebrities in both national and international events) donning gowns is something I do not understand. Are we trying to prove something here? Are we saying that we become equals only when we talk,eat,dress,think alike? Personally I think Indian women look better in a saree versus a gown.What say you? Today evening I saw a 6 year old boy cycling,wearing the Muslim skull cap. He was just back from the mosque and he looked beautiful. He was who he is without having to conform to an accepted and popular but false ideal.

Hypnosis is leading us to imitate culture and the way we think. So I guess our school farewells will soon be called proms. The teenage parties will have condoms instead of candies. Oral sex will not be considered sex.The average age of sexual activity will be 14. Feminism too has become colored. I hate to dig skeletons out of the grave, but what was the Pink Chaddi Campaign all about? I have many friends who supported and celebrated the event but they could never defend their actions completely. I hate and condone what the Shiv Sena did but sending chaddis their way?? Its like a 2 year old spits at me and in anger and despite being an adult I spit back at him. Doesn't the illogicality of the approach and strategy of that campaign hit anyone? Are we copying the bra-burning movement of the 1960s which took place in America(which many historians say is a myth and no such thing ever took place. I am sure we gave some cheap thrills by sending pink chaddis, to whoever we sent them to. Calling ourselves pub-hopping,footloose and fancy free is a way of showing our emancipation?

We are 'The Modern Mother' who prides in the fact that our child does not say namaste or does the 'ancient'feet-touching-as-a-mark-of-respect-to-elders thing. I have taught him to say Hi or Hello and address elders by their last names like the 'Jones' do. "Hi Mr. Sharma, how are you today?" is more like it. We might change our mind though, if the Americans think namaste and touching feet, is the 'in' thing like Yoga and Indian Zoomba.

We prefer Eckhart Toole over Ishavasya Upanishad or Geeta(easier to read and who will bother with Sanskrit and the authentic translations when there is French and Spanish to master).Ballet sounds better than Bharatnatyam.Old age homes in the name of a fast changing and modern world. Spaghetti straps over dupattas. Grimm's fairy Tales is good but why give up Panchatantra completely? I come from an ethnic group which has lost its script. I know what that kind of loss feels like. Integration and assimilation is good but does it have to come at the cost of indigenous knowledge and skills and a certain way of life.How difficult is it to be modern and yet Indian?