The Bride Who Would not Burn


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Young and smart Delhi girl Poonam Bajaj takes a chance at connubial bliss with Ravinder Arora, a small businessman from Delhi. The match is arranged by their families and the friendly neighborhood panditji, the marriage broker who is more interested in lining his own pockets rather than ensuring the compatibility of the individuals he sets up for a lifetime of togetherness.

An arranged marriage in India which celebrates the union of two families rather than individuals, is a potpourri of human expectations and this story is filled with the most ambitious ones, depending on which person you ask! The mound of expectations that make up this story are those of:

  1. Poonam, who dreams of a cozy future with her husband,
  2. Mrs. Bajaj, Poonam’s mother, who is in a hurry to get her daughter married and is also kind of broke but nevertheless promises a fat dowry to the family of a possible match for her daughter
  3. Mrs, Arora, who dreams of nothing but a big fat dowry, a daughter-in-law that would also act like a live in maid  and a never-ending sponsorship for her son that would help him meet his business goals
  4. Ravinder, the easily manipulative son who wants the excitement that comes with a pretty wife and a big fat dowry
  5. Papaji, the senior Mr.Arora, a truepenny and Ravinder’s father who genuinely wants his son and daughter-in-law to be happy
  6. Panditji, the marriage broker who pulls of the ultimate coup by bringing all the above parties who have nothing in common together

As a  result, we have a  wonderful book that takes a look at the compelling issue of dowry practices prevalent in modern India in the form of a plot that is filled with humor doused with a heavy dose of reality.

The chapters about Poonam pressing her mother-in-law’s feet while churning out of innumerable cups of tea and dusting most of  time reminds the reader of the umpteen saas-bahu serials that seem to run on cable all day. Then there is a dawn of realization that this is the kind of life that many woman face on a day-to-day basis in India.

The book is written in the format of a play, complete with notes on stage setups, props and costumes. The entire story is a conversation between a judge who would be presiding over the dowry case of Poonam Bajaj who thwarted an attempt to burn her alive by delivering karate kicks to her husband and mother-in-law, a public defender representing Poonam and a litigator representing the groom and his mother.

The author brings the reader’s attention to the double standards in our society as it applies to women very cleverly through the arguments between the judge and the two lawyers. What starts as a conversation of the usage of Section 498 A of the India Penal Code moves on to sensitive issues about how women and men are judged differently based on the way they behave or the various traits that they exhibit as a person . For e.g. A man who is well versed in martial arts would be viewed as strong and brave whereas a woman would be deemed aggressive! A woman with an extraordinary sexual appetite is judged to have a low morals whereas a man with the same desires is supposed to be normal and virile.

The book goes on to depict how weddings these days are more like business deals, ritualistic and a cheap display of wealth and one-upmanship rather than the spiritualistic celebration of love and harmony that they should be. If weddings are about the display of wealth and power, the marriages resulting from such weddings seem to be all about expecting the world of the new bride and her family. Nobody is happy if a bride enters her new home with jewellery and gifts for her new family because when compared to another bride in the neighborhood who probably got more jewellery and bigger, better gifts for her new home.

What started as a practice of a bride’s family giving her a wedding gift based on the capacity of the family during the days when the Indian law only entitled sons to inherit family property has now morphed into an ugly practice that makes it mandatory for parents  to send their daughters to their marital homes with fat wads of cash, gold and diamonds, silks and expensive gifts for her new husband and her in-laws. It seems like an entire country missed or rather chose to ignore the memo that clearly states that daughters can inherit family property too and that there is no need to unnecessarily compensate them in the form of a fat dowry!

The author describes this beautifully through the words of one of the characters that states the following: “only when this age old practice o dowry combines with modern day consumerism that the resulting concoction makes for a deadly cocktail

So what does a family who is not happy with their new daughter-in-law’s dowry do? They turn abusive and in many cases they do away with her for good! In India, women are still burnt to death when they don’t satisfy the dowry demands of their new marital homes and most of their deaths are made to look like kitchen accidents.

What’s worse is the fact  that even the courts of law investigate such cases from the point of view of the abuser rather than the victim especially when the victim does not conform to societal norms of being a woman. And that is precisely what happens in the case of Poonam. The puritan judge that listens to the arguments of the two lawyers believes that on some level that Poonam probably instigated her husband and mother-in-law to set her on fire and that she is probably the one at fault rather than those setting her on fire.

All these issues and more are brought to the forefront by the simple words of the author, Rajesh Talwar. The play manages to keep the reader’s attention throughout and even manages to raise a lot of relevant questions in the reader’s mind. By doing this Mr.Talwar has managed to educate the readers about a very serious issue plaguing the country and has also initiated a thought process on what we could do rid away with this ugly practice still practiced in all echelons of the society.

Since I am someone who feels very strongly about such issues, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend this to anyone interested in reading about some of the cultural practices that plague India. At 223 pages it is a quick and easy read about a sensitive issueIn fact, it would be a great idea to have a student friendly edition of this play to made available at schools all over India to educate our young minds about the practice of dowry and its effects on the lives of the people involved.What better way could there be to nip this process other than making the next generation of young people to seriously think about such issues?

I won a review copy from The Tales Pensieve as part of Reviewers Programme. Register on #TTP for lots of #book fun and activities

Wise Enough To Be Foolish


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I would describe “Wise Enough To Be Foolish” as an Indian version of Eat, Pray and Love. However there wasn’t too much eating or praying, but this was compensated by some amount of drinking and our protagonist Gauri did not have to take a year long sabbatical to find herself. Nothing against one of my favorite authors Elizabeth Gilbert or her amazing book “Eat, Pray, Love” which I loved, but I found “Wise Enough To Be Foolish”, a more believable journey of  young girl who transforms into a woman of strength while being bold enough to make her own choices without compromising her individual beliefs or independence, while striving to make her place in the world, discover love and happiness, and finally make peace with herself.

 The book is a fictionalized account of the author’s life from being a difficult middle child and the quint-essential black sheep of the family, to a rebellious teenager, to a career woman who falls in love with who she thinks is the perfect guy only to have her fairy tale end in divorce. The book starts off where Gauri discovers that her husband has been cheating on her and from there it flashes back to her childhood and moves ahead in a pretty quick pace describing her life until she turns 40 packing in as much information as possible without being too preachy or boring.

It seems that the goal of the author has been to share her experiences with the world. The book seems to strive to give other women hope and help them believe  that everything works out in the end. And for that Gauri Jayaram needs to be appreciated. It takes a lot of courage to talk about the difficult process of finding love, one’s failures (especially in relationships) as confidently as she has and some humility to give credit where required for her successes. By the end of the book it is heartening to see a woman accept the things that she cannot change and charge ahead to achieve the goals she believes are possible. She places emphasis on the fact that you attract what you want in the universe and it is up to an individual to think right thoughts and pursue their passions in the face of all adversity. And the mother of all lessons, the fact that is perfectly normal for an individual to live life by his/her rules. That, it is perfectly acceptable for women to be non-conformists and protect what they consider their own identity and independence.  What seems like a foolish choice to the rest of the world would actually be the best choice for YOU!

What I did find strange about the Gauri was the ease with which she always comes out of every situation looking like the better person. She even declares the same in her characteristic forthright manner to her ex-husband during a conversation with him. Is this  even possible? How can one only always emerge as the better person after being hit by every curve ball life throws at them? Maybe she is a saint or maybe this is where a fictionalized part of the memoir comes in 🙂

The book also scratches the surface of serious issues issues such as child abuse and the gender equality in India. In fact, it converses on great details about the later.

The language is conversational and the entire book is laced with humor, a writing trait I always enjoy. The cover of the book is stylish – makes you wonder where the woman is off to! 🙂

Pick it up if you are in a mood to read a story about how it always works out!!

The “Feminist” Tamasha


The words Feminist and Feminism have been thrown about a lot lately and frankly it seems like you might be evil if you declare yourself as one. Don’t feel relieved if  you don’t think of yourself as a feminist. If you have the courage to accept it, it makes you a door mat or still worse, insensitive to the needs of the women in your life and around you!

In between the girl who refused to accept the offer of a sanitary napkin from a woman who wanted to help her handle / hide her stains , an actresses who declared that she did not want to be career feminist because she wanted to cook for her husband and kids and those that say that they support equality of women, those who clarify that they don’t hate men etc., but don’t consider themselves as feminists, I just wanted to understand what it means to be a feminist.

Per the dictionary at merriam-webster.com, the simple definition of feminism is

  • the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

  • organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests

Per dictionary.com, feminism is:

  • the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
  • an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
Per urbandictonary.com, feminism is:
The belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual equals and social equals to men. These people can be either male or female human beings, although the ideology is commonly (and perhaps falsely) associated mainly with women

 

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I especially like the last definition as it clearly states that feminists can be male or female. And none of these definitions indicate that feminists hate men or that they don’t want to be married or that they don’t cook or take care of their homes or don’t do anything that is traditionally considered the job of a woman in a patriarchal society.  It also implies the vice versa i.e. a housewife, the help or the fruit seller cannot be a feminist. In fact a feminist could love the idea of men in general and maybe even dislike some of their own gender!! Feminists can be single, married, divorced or LGBT. A feminist can be a young 5-year-old who stands up for his/her mother’s  or sister’s rights or as old as 80!!  

So, keeping all this in mind one is either a feminist or is not one. There are no quasi or pseudo feminist statuses. By this I am referring to the groups of people who proudly declare something on the following lines:

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Image Courtesy: Internet

Example 1: “I treat my son and daughter the same way, but my son has never entered the kitchen! So I need someone to take care of him  as he works away from home and all this hotel food is spoiling his health!!”  To these people I ask, “Ever heard of a cook?”

Example 2:  “My daughter in law is a working professional but I have made it clear that she should cook breakfast and lunch for the family, put out the clothes and clean the house before she leaves for work. I have also strictly advised her to return by 6.00PM to take care of  a 3 course dinner”!!  Again I ask, “Ever heard of a maid or a cook?” 

It is very unfortunate that I have heard horror stories identical to the examples mentioned above from people  I have known.

The most essential part of being a feminist is that men and women should be confident enough to speak about all issues related to women and not consider any topic pertaining to women as taboo or use this to undermine each other in any way. Let me give you an example:

We usually order our groceries and other general items such as soaps and other cosmetics that a family of five 6 may need in a month from a local mom and pop type of grocery store. And this also includes sanitary napkins. The other day, the usual delivery boy was out on leave and the owner of the store sent his son to deliver the goods. Now this kid was a teenager of about 14 or 15. When he got home with the stuff, he meticulously categorized them and set them out for verification against the order. Everything was perfect with the exception of the sanitary napkins!! **smirk**

Apparently he had delivered a “Stayfree” in an orange color pack when we had actually ordered another category of these monthly saviors which comes in a green pack. (I could be wrong about the colors, I just don’t seem to remember stuff like that these days). Oh Boy! The mother of all blunders!!  🙂

Just when I thought he would turn into the shade of a beetroot, considering he was being questioned by two women, one old enough to be his mother and another his older sister, he calmly thought about what he had heard and actually went on to say how we seemed to be confused about the different varieties of sanitary napkins that “Stayfree” offered. He even threw in words like wings and overnight protection etc., and the different color packets they belonged to. He also went on to talk about other brands of sanitary pads and said maybe we were confusing “Stayfree” with “Whisper”. And throughout this conversation he displayed great maturity and showed absolutely no awkwardness.  In fact, by the end of our dialogue I was very impressed with this kid. I have never seen any kid his age display such maturity when it comes to topics like these. And this, according to me was a feminist in the making. Now, if only I could be assured that he’d be steered in the right direction through his growing years so that he could be a sensitive man, a good son a great husband , a doting father  and ultimately a good citizen.

What can be done to ensure that men and women don’t discriminate each other’s abilities? How do we end the argument about who is better or stronger? As easy as it is for me to say that we must cultivate the feminist streak in our children, I know that this would be the most difficult task to perform in this world, especially in a country which has been culturally skewed in  favor of patriarchy since the beginning of time . If a greater section of the society could lead by example, we would be attending to other more serious issues that rock this world than having to worry about going to court to battle brides being burnt to death, honor killing, dowry issues and harassment, sexual harassment or waste time, money and resources while our nation’s leaders come up with newer patriarchal  rules and practices. 

So let’s start within our homes and teach our sons to pick up their clothes, clean the spinach, make a cup of tea for themselves (if not for others)  and chop the vegetables. Let us encourage them to help our daughters perform so called “womanly” chores, so that in 20 years there would be nothing of that sort. At the same time let us teach our daughters to clean cars or change a flat tire (we could start with changing tubelights) play cricket and ride a bike. They should be able to climb trees to pick those mangoes if that is what their heart desires. If attitudes change there will be a domino effect leading to other positive changes. Ultimately everything would even out and the battle of the sexes may actually abate.

And the mother of all battles;  One day the sun will dawn on an India where all men will have no qualms to do the laundry  or the dishes or changing dirty diapers! Wishful thinking indeed!!

Ring the Bell – Bring in the Change!


Image Courtesy: Indi Blogger

Image Courtesy: Indi Blogger

Warning: Long post ahead!

Written as a part of Indiblogger and Bellbajao.org Write the Change

Far be it for me to write about anything as serious as women’s lib, equality or any topic that might sound even remotely serious – I have always shared my thoughts only on subjects that I am passionate about – books, art, food and travel. I have intentionally stuck to things that make me happy at the expense of not sounding serious or not having anything valuable to say! But its time to CHANGE and time to RING THE BELL

I often hear of the ways of certain people our modern and educated society that pretty much gets my blood boiling! I have always believed that with education and good employment  opportunities  you can truly remove a man or woman from the cage of   old school thoughts and practices, prejudices and more. But what life has taught me is that you can free them from such a cage but never really remove the spirit of the cage from within them!

An email from IndiBlogger detailing their “Ring the Bell” initiative was all it took for me to a serious blog post. Someone should let the world know the ways of our country when we would like to think that “India is shining” – Shining?? Yes definitely but more because of the tears that most people and their families shed!

About the “Ring The Bell” initiative:

Laws alone are not enough. Ring The Bell believes in the power of individual and collective action to challenge the habits, norms, and cultures that perpetuate violence. One person adds up to one million; one million acts add up to change.

 You can be a part of the change by telling us how YOU will Ring The Bell, and inspiring your readers to do the same. What action will you take to bring violence against women to a halt? Blog about your experiences, your intentions, and make a promise!

 Blog about Ring the Bell, and for every 50 entries received, Breakthrough will put 1 lakh INR towards training self-help groups (SHGs), community-based organisations (CBOs) and youth in schools in the district of Gaya in the state of Bihar.

Is violence against women always physical? How are emotional assaults classified? If you ask me, these are the worst types of violence against women as affect a woman’s self-confidence and literally break her down. And of course many in our country, men and OTHER WOMEN, especially WOMEN seem to be very adept with this technique!

Every incident / story detailed below is a real story from the lives of people who I am close to ; the stories of those that won’t talk and this attitude frustrates me!  Today I speak up for my Indian sisters, mothers and friends and I promise that next time something like this happens in front of me I will try (yes again!!) to  educate such characters,stand up for the ones being victimized and of course blog about their stories!…I mean when no amount of counselling works, one just becomes a mute listener like me and writes about it with the hope that someone reading this can learn something, be more careful in the future, be more gutsy or just SPEAK UP if at all, god forbid they come across such situations.

How can we explain the following?

Case 1: Force and threats: Forcing Brainwashing  a confident girl with a great attitude about being single and a happening career (she is employed in a leading IT company) into a marrying into an extremely orthodox family when:

  • The girls parents know that she is not interested!! All this just to ensure that someone will take care of her when she gets old?
  • She is past 30 (??) – I thought we live in 2013 where the 30’s are the new 20’s! But then apparently that statement is just made for laughs!
  • She does not have much family support – Oh wait! She she has a brother; the issue is that the said brother is married and moved out ages ago and does not really care one way or the other. And his lovely wife does not do much to encourage him to be in touch with his own family!

I know this girl and I am sure that she is not into this to make herself happy, but has no choice as she needs to make her parents happy. My question: how will the parents be happy when their daughter is not? How will the girl try to make peace with herself when she is getting into a marriage with a heavy heart? She is looking at a future with conservative life styles and thoughts when she is the complete antonym of anything of that sort!! I still don’t get it…

Case 2: Dowry!! Dowry! More Dowry! Repeated and unreasonable demands of dowry in the form of gold, diamonds and cash from a boys parents to the girl and her parents! And this is a family where the men are educated with decent jobs (alas! They don’t have daughters else they would understand) but then cannot seem to get out of the clutches of their monster moms! Let me quote a few instances:

  • All gold jewellery that the DIL wore during her wedding has been locked away by the mother and co-sister in their cupboards! The girl needs to ask their permission to wear her own jewellery!  
  • The daughter in law (DIL) is not allowed to wear anything but salwars and sarees! No kurtis, short sleeves, net sleeves, deep back blouses and no jeans! All this when the girl wore everything before she was married. Her own husband got her a pair of jeans post marriage but then agrees with his mom that she should be dressed like a conservative maid now! 
  • Eating out is never allowed!
  •  Any sweets or snacks that her mom took for her daughter would be coveted by the mother in law and co-sister as if they have never had any food! The girl rarely ever tasted anything..
  •  Her co-sister stole borrowed all her accessories  cosmetics, deo-sprays when the girl was at work! We still don’t where all her gold jewellery is!
  • More gold jewellery (sigh! this is getting tiring) was demanded from her parents for almost every festival celebration in the first year of marriage and the ridiculous demands continue
  • The girl had a baby – time for celebrations!! Yes?? God forbid  – the baby is a girl! And now the husband and MIL have clearly stated that the little girl would also need to be raised as per norms and cultures that date about 1000 years ago! And more gold was demanded this time for the little baby!!
  • This takes the cake: Her husband ensured that his wife’s delivery charges were entirely handled by the girl and her parents (who incidentally had to take loans to cover the expenses), but was shameless enough to use the hospital bills to claim medical reimbursement at his office and then not give even a single penny to his wife or her parents! 
  • He demanded that his wife cough up the money to handle the expenses of the naming ceremony for their child while his mother insisted that her in-laws present their grand daughter with more gold jewellery….
  • The husband avoids visits to the pediatrician when his daughter gets her baby immunization shots so that he can avoid paying for the same – What a gentleman! Chivalrous to the core! (Typed with a sarcastic tone)
  • The girls mother-in-law insists that when she gets back to her husbands house with the baby, more gold jewellery should be given for the baby
  • They have made it quite clear that the girl or her family have no say in the upbringing of their grand daughter – its ironic considering that the girl is the mother of their grand daughter!

To top it all the mother in law, Co-sister and husband constantly make sure that the girl and her mother are constantly aware of their shortcomings (Not enough dowry, no this and no that!!) and find fault with everything that they do along with newer fresher demands for more gold, cash and what nots!!

If I could have had a penny for the every instance the words “gold jewellery” appeared in case 2 I could retire rich!

Case 3:Big, Strong Men! Say What?? Men who want to actually help their wives and their families in general but then are scared to do so as his parents may not be happy if he helped the girls family!!  Seriously and these guys call themselves MEN!!

I can go on and on considering I have been hearing these stories for long now! I could keep writing till I fill a book, but then I am feeling disgusted already! What annoys me more is that most of these women(case 1 and 2) are smart and independent but do not want to fight for their rights or whats due to them. They seem to be prefer being martyrs though I do not understand their cause! Apparently suffering in silence is in vogue!

And the men in their lives? All that they do is stand by and watch as their daughters, wives and mother go through these never ending vicious cycles, as we end up with a country of more monster in laws,bitter women and , crimes against women….so how can we end this? Here is what I think we can do:

  • Education is the key – if a mother in law treats her daughter in law like her daughter, she in turn would treat her daughter in law well thus creating a generation of  happy moms, daughter in laws and mother in laws 🙂 And as an additional treat men will be happy too!! Just thinking about this makes me feel like I am in heaven!

  • Ban those serials – Hindi,Tamil, Telugu or Kannada – any serial that has woman abusing a woman physically or mentally should be banned! Enough of these saas-bahu sagas where the MIL demands a never ending dowry, where women call women cheap names and even plot their deaths, where MILs looks at their DILs as competition for their son’s affection, where MILS and FILS want to be in control of the lives of their children – again one could go on and on! If you are Indian you will definitely understand what I mean..Why don’t producers and directors do shows where the in laws are nice and friendly and actually behave like mature responsible adults??

  • Stop Objectifying women! I wish actresses these days would take their jobs more seriously and say no to “Sheila Ki Jawani” or “Muni”, avoid barely there costumes and stop draping the saree as if it were a hand kerchief!!! No wonder most of the country seems to equate women to a bottle of beer or some piece of chicken! Are actresses and producers listening? If none of you were do make movies like this there is no question of loosing to the competition

  • Treat your daughters like you treat your sons! Send them to those kick boxing classes! Allow them to wear their heels and skirts.  Teach them that it is no crime to be  ambitious or have dreams to achieve the impossible. Advise them, support them – just don’t smother them or be a hurdle! Teach them to be courageous and bold. I once read this on FB: “Do no harm, but take no bull shit either!!” Yes! drill this into their heads and watch them grow into spirited young women with the right values

  • Matrimonial Ads: News papers should stop accepting matrimonial ads that request for fair, slim, beautiful, educated and homely girls without spectacles! What if needs to wear glasses post marriage? Does she get dumped??
    • If you need someone to take care of your house work, get a maid
    • If you need someone to look pretty and hot and not have a brain, make sure you are handsome and rich enough to maintain such a woman!
    • If you want an employed woman who will give you all her money no questions asked, it’s better you invest in the share market and enjoy the spoils!
    • If you want someone who will be there for you, share your dreams and ambitions and  walk with you for life them find such a woman and get married to her. She might not be hot or be  great at household chores, but she will be there when u need her.
  • Can we ban dowry? Demands in any form (gold, cash, house, property, vehicles, furniture…)from a woman and her family when she gets married. Ok! Stop laughing at me, but anything is possible if we want it bad enough and try hard!

Best of all just respect and support the women in your lives. I think everything else will pretty much fall in place there after.