Friday, July 29, 2005

Coming face to face

I don't think I actually became aware of the "caste" system in India until I was quite grown up. I mean I knew it existed and the associated implications on society, but being aware as in how it had any significance in my life was lost upon me until I was asked to come face to face with some rather disturbing thoughts.

I grew up in a family where no one really impressed upon me that one could judge people and categorize them on this crazy theory of "caste". Of course I knew that there were these things called "gotro" that you needed to know for Pujo purposes when the "Thakur moshai" would ask you. And I also grew up knowing that there were issues regarding some weddings that took place in our family which were opposed by my grandmother and some others "Brahmoner haater ranna chhara khete parbo na", " barir meye der aar keu biye korbe na" kind. But in my naivette I believed it was something that belonged to the past, when my great grandfather would have two wives because he was a "kulin brahmon" and people had their horoscopes matched and families lined up before they had any hope of tying the knot. I did not even come face to face with any such issue when I got married to someone I fell in love with and no one said anything about checking out horoscopes or castes before giving us their blessing. So this whole concept remained really insignificant and a thing that belonged to the middle ages in my mind until recently.

Of late a lot of people we have met come out right after the exchange of names and pleasantries and ask us what caste we belong to. I was so taken aback the first time that I must have mumbled something like "umm I'm not so sure" and totally withdrawn from the conversation. But after the first few times now I am more seasoned and can deal with questions that to me are rude, an invasion of my privacy and downright in bad taste. I had no idea that this caste thing does bother some people and there are regions in India where it is still a strong determining factor for so many things. May be it is not such a big deal in Bengal or may be I just grew up in a protected environment. Does it really matter what caste I belong to? Will that change the person I am or how I interact with you? Or will it change the way you decide to interact with me? Is it just me or does it bother others too? I am who I am without the tag of caste or religion. Accept me or ignore me, but please don't be judgmental.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

school days and Yeats

I never quite explained why I chose this particular url for my blog. The fact is it is something taken out of one of my favorite verses by Yeats: "Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams". It was one of the most romantic and sensitive lines I had come upon and I've held it close to me for many years. It has this vulnerability that defies everything else.

I cannot recall these lines without remembering SM. SM and I were in school together and were the best of friends during our 'plus 2' days at Loreto House. The funny thing was SM and I had been in school together since we were kids but we had not really interacted much until we entered the portals of Loreto House after the Class 10 boards. She was probably the best thing that happened to me in those two years. We became friends real fast, we shared the same passion for books and music, and we could talk endlessly on anything and everything. We told each other our deepest secrets and shared each other's success and failures. I think one of the most memorable times we spent together was a school trip to Chandipur where we lived, ate, slept together for two days and vowed to stay friends for the rest of our lives.

SM fell in love with a guy who lived two houses down the road from where she lived, except she was not sure whether this guy had any feelings for her. They were neighbors and family friends but he never showed any overt interest in her which made it all the more difficult to fathom whether he would reciprocate her affection. She decided to send him a card for Valentines Day. I distinctly remember us sitting down together in the LH library deciding what to put into the card. She was sure he would know her handwriting, so she made me write in the card and all I could think of was that line from Yeats and so that was it...tread softly because you tread upon my dreams. She dabbed some of her favorite perfume onto the envelope and posted the letter. He received it, had no idea who had sent it, and wondered....while she continued making blank calls to his house on the phone (this was before the days of caller id). On one such (fortunate) occassion when she had given him a blank call and had him on the other end trying to cajole the silent admirer into revealing her identity, a car drove past honking away, the way cars do in Kolkata. Mr M heard the car through the phone and the next minute he heard it right outside his window and knew right away! The rest is history. For those who would like to know how the story ends, SM married Mr M and they are living happily ever after.

So this post is for my friend SM and our wonderful days in school and yes, Mr. Yeats for giving young romantics a new meaning to love.

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Oh to be twenty again

Do you remember the time when you heard someone talk about a 20 year old and used to think that being 20 was like the end of the world (or a lifetime)? I distinctly remember myself believing that a person who had reached 20 was ancient, prehistoric, OLD. I'm never going to be 2o, I thought. I am going to live my life to the fullest so that when I do turn 20 I will be able to look back and smile and end my days (or something to that effect). For me living was for the moment, for my teenaged years.

And looking back now, I wonder how the hell did I fixate on 20, when 20 is just the beginining? What I would do to be 20 again!! Compared to now 20 seems like paradise. Paradise lost I mean. It was wonderful to be that young without a care in the world. I was out of school having fun in college, had loads of friends, my only damn responsibility in life was making sure I passed the exams, could go out every evening, could do as I please, not a care about rent or bills or groceries, had enough guys expressing an interest in me to satisfy my ego, could flirt and get away with it and feel young and beautiful and desired.

And now I wake up each morning and look hard in the mirror to check if I am getting lines on my forehead? Hmm may be I need to get that firming lotion or that under eye cream for the dark circles. I need to run for 45 minutes (and then pant for another hour) to get the fat from creeping up my hips. I have to make sure I pay the rent, pay the bills, have food in the refrigerator, wash the clothes (and iron them too), get my job done straight, along with getting straight A's in school (yep that still remains). Then when I go out in the evening I have to spend like an hour dressing up to make sure no one can see the lines or the dark circles under the eyes. And after all that I look wistfully at my hubby hoping to get the same kind of compliment that I was used to from my college days but he is busy looking up something esoteric on the internet. So I go up to him and pointedly ask him "sweetie how do I look?". I can see all you guys grimacing. This isn't that unfamiliar territory and I'm sure so many of you have actually been in situations like that. But now you know where the question is coming from. It is just that desperate struggle to feel reassured that yes you still look beautiful and young and desirable! And my better half knows the routine by heart and will mumble something like "you look great" and I know right away that nope it ain't working honey. You are not 20 anymore!

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

It's a girl

Isn't it such a shame that even in this day and age we have people who actually differentiate between having a son and a daughter? I would like to give civilization a bit more credit than that. But it exists in the minds of a lot of people which manifests in several different ways. There are folks who make no pretense whatsoever about their preference of a son when it comes to having a baby, especially if it is a first born. I would come across hundreds of women and their families when I was working in the Ob-Gyn department in a Park Circus hospital, who would literally cry after a delivery on finding out that the baby was a girl and not the much desired son. It would make me indignant but I used to fool myself into believing that the mentality had something to do with social strata and education of the people I was encountering. I soon realized that it was not the case. I have met highly educated, well ranked officials and their wives who are equally qualified and educated and finacially independent, who have explicitly expressed their desire of having a son and not a daughter. "Bongsher naam rokha" and all kinds of crap get tossed around.
And then there is the other kind of people who harbor similar desires and yet pretend to be liberal when it comes to the sex of their child. I spoke to a couple last week who are expecting their first baby and just found out that it's a girl. I heard the news and called them up, excited, wanting to share my joy with them. Except, this guy tells me something like oh yeah he's happy and excited but his family back in India think that he is disappointed because it is a girl. And then he went on to add that he did not think there was any difference between a girl or a boy. The mere fact that he mentioned all this really jolted me and I realized here again was the same thing, the same old story of girl/ boy except now it was being robed in hypocrisy. It made me sick.
Wouldn't people be better off worrying about whether the baby will be healthy and normal rather than festering their prejudices regarding the sex of the child? I would like to imagine that our education and advancement has been able to enlighten our mind and broaden our perspective enough to be able to rid ourselves of ancient prejudices and be worthy of being blessed with a child.
Then again I should not be generalizing because there are a lot of people who have uplifted themselves from these social pressures and are genuinely glad to have a baby, no matter what the sex is. More power to them!


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

All generalizations are dangerous

How many times have we taken one look at a person and formed some kind of opinion based on our generalized preconceived notions? Most people I know, including yours truly, are guilty of being judgemental by assuming certain characteristics based on appearance and first impressions. Just to give you an example, we recently moved into a new neighborhood and started to meet our neighbors and even before I actually talked to any of them, I had started forming opinions based on what I thought about each one of them. The man across the street with a strong Southern drawl had to be a white Republican who had racist tendencies; and his wife who was a stay at home Mom with 3 kids could not work because the guy was also a male chauvinist who did not believe in his wife going out to work. It turned out that Mr and Mrs B who live across the street from us are one of the nicest couples on the street and have gone out of their way to welcome us into the neighborhood and feel comfortable. Makes me one of those jerks who jump to conclusions about people before even giving them a chance to prove you otherwise. I have heard so very often people saying racially offensive things that it makes me cringe. People need to get out of stereotyping things and people. No that Mexican laborer down the road is not necessarily an "illegal immigrant", that young colored guy wearing a bandana and rapping is not a "criminal" and that person of middle-eastern/ Arab origin is not always a "terrorist". But we still do it, and we do it everytime we see a person. We have preconceived notions of people from another country, we even have preformed opinions about the people from different parts of India. No wonder we still have jokes about Sardars, Biharis, Marwaris and yes, even Bongs. Isn't it time we started to think with a little lateral perspective and gave people a chance to prove us wrong?
After all, all generalizations are dangerous, even this one.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Reaching out in pain

I hate when I get a long distance call from Kolkata in the middle of the day. That can only mean one thing. BAD NEWS. When the phone rang this afternoon, I was sipping my afternoon cup of coffee trying to get some work done. I looked at my caller id which said "Daddy" and I immediately knew there was some bad news. It was my Dad calling to tell me that one of my uncles had passed away.

"Bhalo Jethu", that is what we all called him, meaning "good uncle" (bhalo= good, jethu= father's elder brother). The name embodied the person. He was one of the sweetest, most affectionate, full of life uncles I had, who was always smiling, always helping people. I remember he would always give me a big hug everytime I visited them. And he would have such entertaining tales to amuse you. The last time I saw him was when I got married six years back. I knew he was not doing very well physically and that his health had broken down over the last couple of years. But the news of him passing away strikes a raw chord nevertheless.

My Dad was especially close to Bhalo Jethu. The fact that he had rushed over to Bhalo Jethu's house on hearing the news and amidst all the people and activity he wanted to call me and talk to me tells me how badly he was hurting. He was there, but he did not know what was expected of him. What does one do in such a situation? Comfort the family, deal with one's own pain, makes arrangements for the last rites? I guess one is too numb to deal with any of that and in all confusion reaches out for some solace in something, anything. My dad called me. He knew that I would like to know. He knew that I would be checking my email in the afternoon looking for the daily email from him and wondering why it was not there. He wanted to share the pain and the sorrow. And in reaching out, may be, just may be, he cried unshed tears and found an answer to his pain.

Life will go on.....and I will add another name to the list of people whom I will never meet again in this lifetime.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Of commitments

Just found out today that someone close to me broke off with his girlfriend after a long 6 year relation. It saddens me when I hear something like this. Not that I want them to stay together and be unhappy, but makes me wonder at what and how things can go sour in a relation that makes one take a decision like that. I have been married for 6 years now and I cannot imagine any other life than what I have now. We had known each other for 4 years before we got married and we had our share of fights and misunderstandings before we actually tied the knot. But we've hardly ever had a major disagreement or fight since. Are we the weird ones or is the world around us too complicated for us to understand?


Why am I blogging?

Seems kind of silly to be blogging simply because everyone is doing so. I've been toying with the idea for quite some time now. The concept is not that far fetched considering I maintained a diary for the greater part of my growing years ("growing" as in height which has stopped for quite sometime now). I guess the final shove came after reading an article about fellow bloggers from my home town of Calcutta, now renamed Kolkata. Not that I have much to say for the most part. But I love to write and may be this will be a way of keeping in touch with my inner voice in a world where stress and hectic schedules have a way of swallowing up our Random Thoughts.