Can't BUY a House? RENT IT!!!

Can't BUY a Car? RENT A RIDE!!!

Can't BUY Furniture? RENT THAT AS WELL!!!

Why would you SELL your SOUL to  BUY Stuff that you can RENT???

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My relative’s bride seeing ceremony that was showing a lot of promise suddenly nosedived after the bridegroom’s family finally introduced what, in marital terms, is one of the biggest elephants in any room– the DIVORCED elder sister. The sister in question was working in a high paying corporate job. But that didn’t matter! And looking at the way the bridegroom’s family was ready to negotiate on most of their “demands” in this business called marriage, it was obvious that we weren’t the first family to have rejected the marriage proposal on these grounds.  While it took me around two years to even wake up to the fact that we had committed nothing short of a crime, I can still recall the justification that the ELDERS echoed: “The divorced sister would be eternally dependent on her brother and it would become an unnecessary liability. We are not taking any risks when it comes to our daughter’s life!” Such irony how one girl’s life becomes a convenient excuse for destroying another’s!

The case in point elucidates why financial independence of women doesn’t translate into - let’s call it SOCIAL INDEPENDENCE - the ability of a woman to exist in this SOCIETY without being dependent on a man. Of what use then are employment opportunities if every woman has to be still tied down socially to her closest male relationship – be it husband, brother or father? What are truckloads of money worth if it cannot buy her freedom from social slavery?

Considering that marriages are fixed on the basis of nothing more than flimsy astrological predictions and dubious hearsay, it is a miracle that most of them survive the test of time! After all, you can verify a person’s employment, horoscope, family background, assets etc but how do you verify a person’s character? End of the day, a marriage is nothing but a leap of faith and a lot of prayer! Why then, in a failed marriage, is the woman alone held responsible for something the astrologer couldn’t foretell, the parents couldn’t corroborate and most of all for a mistake she most likely didn’t commit? Considering that even the biggest blunders are redeemable and the deadliest sins forgivable, why should this mistake alone be without any scope for redemption? Given that the same predicament can befall any woman, what gives the society the nerve to hold the holier than thou attitude?

Lets for a minute walk in the shoes of the DIVORCED elder sister -  Aren’t we, as a society, ostracizing her and blaming her for something that was totally beyond her control? With every failed marriage proposal for her brother, won’t she be forced to the conclusion that she is far more useful to her family dead rather than alive and divorced? Aren’t we the ones pushing her to that brink? Thank God for small favours though - Thank God this woman had a family that was supportive enough to give her the courage to go ahead with the divorce! Think of the thousands more, who are holding on to their marriage by a whisker, just because they don’t have a supportive family to go back to or are wise enough to realise that it is far better to stay put and endure the atrocities of one rather than opt out and be subjected to the atrocities of an entire society!

Agreed, financial independence does put food on the table and helps to make ends meet, but it can never be the means to end this social stigma! Lasting societal change requires a collective change in mental perspective. That being a humongous task, let’s begin with an awareness on what needs to change - the seemingly innocuous habits and tradition that keep reiterating our long held derogatory perceptions about women:

    •  Controlling your actions starts with controlling your thoughts and controlling your thoughts boils down to the words you use – your vocabulary!  Fir galti kyun sirf MERI hai?(Why then does mistake take only feminine gender?)

    •  Blind obstinacy in keeping alive age old traditions such as Raksha Bandhan and Karva Chauth without realising that the anachronistic concept of female dependence that these traditions signify don’t hold water in this digital age.

I agree that this is just the tip of the iceberg, but a conscious awareness on the innumerable habits and traditions that shape our perceptions and a persistent effort to make them more meaningful ( How about a Raksha Bandhan with a mutual vow of protection? How about a Karva Chauth where the husbands fast? ) could go a long way in bringing about the much needed social independence for women.
P.S. By the way, if I did hurt any literary/religious sentiments, please do forgive! Galti toh MERA hai!!

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"Fruits for me" exclaimed the child as he waylaid his mother coming back from the puja room.

"Yes my dear!" replied the mother "But first you have to learn this shloka by heart. Repeat after me- Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana"

"Karmani vadhiraste..." stuttered the child.

"Ma Phaleshu Kadachana" she repeated, moving her hands in tandem with the rhythm.

"Ma Phaleshu Kadachana" he recited, his head tracing her hand movements, eyes never leaving the fruit bowl.

"Perfect!" she exclaimed placing the fruit bowl in his hands "and that is for being a good boy”

She left under the illusion that she had incorporated the essence of Bhagavad Gita in her child and he was left with the expectation that every deed bears fruit!

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"Roll No.35"

"Priyal Garg from Delhi"

"Thank You Priyaaal"

"Sir its not Priyaaal. Its actually Priyal. You know, you take Priya and add a L to it and then cut the a into half and you get Priyal"

"Insufferable extrovert" I muttered under my breath as I waited for the next Roll No. (mine) to be called. I was the only one from South India attending this training in Chandigarh and being an introvert, the last thing I wanted was to be the centre of attention on the first day of the training. However, this girl  wasn't helping matters with her animated introduction which was waking up an otherwise sleepy class.

"Roll No.36"

"Sir, Karthik from Er... Chennai"

A few heads turned and stared. I silently cursed the girl with the half 'a' in her name. The professor was too occupied with the attendance sheet in front of him to notice. I sat down as silently and as quickly as possible. Mission incognito accomplished. As the rest of the introductions finally came to a close, my worst fears were confirmed - I was the only person representing the other three parts of India, only person unaccustomed to this culture and with an insurmountable language barrier!

And thus began my sojourn in North India. These are my recollections, observations and learnings from my stay there - 

1. Within the first week, I had learnt that ego was an unaffordable luxury. With a language problem, I had to be dependent on someone or the other even to get a bar of soap from the shop across the training center.  I had to learn to lose that one thing I had prided myself in -  "Being independent". It was like being a child again and relearning everything from scratch and that meant leaning constantly on someone or the other for support.

2.  The question that was asked maximum number of times during the training - "Why choose a post which places you permanently (means till retirement!) in an alien land when you could have easily chosen a post with a home state posting?" Early on I decided that never would I let the place of posting determine my choice of post. Language I can learn. Culture I can get used to. People I can ignore. But the nature of job matters most! And I would any day give my right arm for a job that involves just writing, writing and more writing!

3.  The training itself was for a period of 2 months in Mahatma Gandhi State Institute of Public Administration (MGSIPA) under the visionary leadership of Dr.Sanjeev Chadda.  Over a career spanning 6 years, I have been in and out of four jobs and have attended numerous trainings, induction/otherwise. The trainings have usually fallen into one of these two extremes:

  • One, where the training is considered to be just a formality to be done away with and where the trainers are happy enough plod through the training material and the attendees are happy enjoying a paid holiday with their brain on snooze mode. The only take away from these training sessions are the tea and the biscuits.
  • The other where the training institute takes itself too seriously and is so pedantic that memos are issued at the drop of a hat (Any resemblance to any such institution in Delhi is purely coincidental. Might be slightly intentional!). We, at MGSIPA, were more worried about the quality of momos in the Sector 7C market than about being issued memos!
MGSIPA was different. I still remember the first words that Dr.Sanjeev Chadda spoke - " Make all your mistakes here so that you won't make any once you are posted". Bang on! A place that gives you the space to make mistakes and learn is the place where you grow. Dr.Sanjeev Chadda is the embodiment of the truth that if you are committed enough to make a change, you surely can! Red tapism or rigidity in a government institution is no excuse for failing to be innovative. If you are willing to go the extra mile, you can surely make a difference and it did make a difference for me! I might forget the noting and drafting that I was taught here, but the values I imbibed, I will take it to my grave!

4. I was cautioned enough about living in a place like Delhi where you will be lost the moment you set foot there. I was quite flippant about it having spent most of my life growing up in Chennai, a  metropolitan city in itself. I wasn't a village bumpkin after all! But unfortunately, my interconnnecting flight from Delhi to Chandigarh was from the Delhi international airport instead of the domestic one and I had to spend the night there. As I entered the airport at 1.00 AM on a Saturday morning, I truly understood the meaning of "being lost in Delhi". I had never believed that something as tenuous as tonnes of steel built heavens' high could have the power to crush something as indomitable as a human spirit. Well it did!

"As part of the training, we had a trekking session. As we were climbing down, I had an unexpected rendezvous with this Roll No.35. We had a lot in common. We both had switched four jobs. We both had worked in Canara Bank previously. That got us talking. "By the way, you are Priyal right?" My bad! Shouldn't have asked that.  "Are no! Listen. You take Priya and add a L and then cut the 'a' into half" she drew a line with her right index finger on her left palm. "Must be raving mad" I thought"Why would I cut your 'a' into half? Keep it fully if you want!".

5. Too shy to initiate a conversation or to be the first one to say hi, I had few friends back home and was considered to be aloof. .Somehow out here, the language barrier helped rather than hinder. People assumed that the language barrier was the reason I was reluctant to initiate conversations and were kind enough to take the initiative. The irony is that both ways, the assumption was wrong. But atleast here it got me more friends!

6. Acceptance of something new, something different is always an issue. North Indians were like " You use your hands to eat. You don't use a spoon!" and I was like " You use both your hands to eat your roti. I was brought up with the notion that the left hand was for a solely different purpose, used only at the final stages of the digestive process!

7. The liberties people take when they know that you can't understand what they say! One month into the training, we were on a village tour. With a language barrier, I was sidelined and lost. A guy though had the temerity to say right on my face "Yeh bandha involve nahi ho payega (or whatever!). "Man" I thought "if you thought that I couldn't even understand that much of Hindi, either you are a fool or you think I am one". Not that I was any better but I ensured that my conversations over phone were always in chaste Tamil so that I could happily derogate the person standing right next to me without him having a clue.  

8. Generalisation is the crux of stereotyping! Anything I did that was slightly deviant from their sense of normality was always followed by the query " Do all South Indians .....?" Can't blame them though. Its human tendency! I used to look for distinguishing features in people and generalise it either based on their region or caste . I had almost 30 Delhiites to choose from! 15 Haryanvis! An equal number from UP. They had just a single South Indian. All my peccadilloes became South Indian stereotypes!

9.  It's surprising when you realise that even at the ripe old age of 29, you still feel as lonely as a school child on his first day at a new school and you still crave for acceptance! You search for a soul to confide in, a shoulder to lean on, a person to look upto. I was lucky enough to get many. Read about them here. Apart from them, Abhinav Pandey was the guardian angel I took refuge under and Sheersh was always my constant source of encouragement. People I will always be grateful to and without whom, my training period would have been one long nightmare!

Recently, Priyaaal started writing a blog . Guess what her first blog post was about? I could see it coming from a mile! If you didn't, you can read it here! What's in a name yo ask? Its something more than just that for her. Its a sense of identity. Its what you identify yourself with at the deepest level! What's the first thing you would tell about yourself. I identify myself with crazy! (And the craziest thing I have ever done? my own obituary!!)  From what I observed, most Delhiites identify themselves with having been born and brought up in Delhi. Therein springs up a sense of hubris, nonchalance, exclusivity! Though I could easily identify myself easily with people from other Northern States as having the same insecurities, passions, dreams and reluctance, the Delhiites were a breed apart. Their ego seemed to spring from the thought of having been born in a privileged city and by extension giving them the privilege to look down upon the people from the neighbouring States ( On whom they were dependent upon for needs even as basic as water!). Having been born in this privileged city somehow seemed to give them the thought that their life traveled in the pilot vehicles so prevalent in Delhi and they expected the commoners to leave way for their privileged souls. However, their notoriety for meanness confounded me for - 

"People are mean only when they feel threatened!" (Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, a gem of a book)

What threatens the people of Delhi? For all their chest thumping and identification with having been born in Delhi, they do seem to suffer from a unique identity crisis for no one really belongs here. All that you need to do is trace back one or two generations and the 'Delhiites' will end up in one of the neighbouring States! Therein lies a sense of insecurity in neither belonging entirely here nor there!

P.S. You can hold me guilty of stereotyping and presenting a skewed version of reality and I would readily admit to all of them. These are my personal opinions and you are free to disagree with them.
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BRIDEGROOM: Will you be the servant of my home & slave like a donkey while I laze around like a pig?

BRIDEGROOM: Will you bring enough dowry so that I can live like a King for the rest of my life even if that means your father has to file for bankruptcy?

BRIDEGROOM: Will you remain faithful to me under all circumstances and never expect the same from me?

BRIDEGROOM: Will you get kicked when I kick you and get beaten when I beat you?

BRIDEGROOM: Will you earn & support the family when I decide that I have earned enough?

BRIDEGROOM: Will you silently endure my anger, mood swings and drunkenness?

BRIDEGROOM: Will you forget that you had a family before marriage and remember that you don't have any self respect after marriage?

BRIDEGROOM: (In view of the above) I,________, take thee,______, to be my wedded Wife, for I have spoilt my life enough and need another one to spoil.
BRIDE:  I,_____, take thee,_____, to be my wedded Husband, for I have not much of a choice! I have two unmarried sisters in my family and some unwritten law in the society has ensured that I am better off rotting in hell with someone like you rather than living in heaven by myself!

Disclaimer: This is an issue that cuts across all religions. However, since the Hindu vows are in Sanskrit and I am not aware of the procedure followed in Muslim marriages, the above customised version has been used with the sole intention of highlighting the issue of "women unempowerment" and not with the intention of hurting anyone's religious faith(s).
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