Wednesday, November 26, 2014


My brother got married on this day, 25 years back.
Yes, it is the silver anniversary of my relationship with my 'Bhabhi'.
Simple, pretty, innocent. Those were my first impressions of her.
Back then, all that mattered to me was that I was getting a friend within the family, someone my own age who I, a newly-wed myself, could bond with, over common post-marital experiences.
Well, we did bond over that and over babies and over movies and clothes and what not.
25 years of togetherness has rubbed off on me in many welcome ways.
Whereas I, as dictated by my sun sign, always take the melancholic view of situations, she brings in a fresh and light perspective. I have learned to drop my serious facade once in a while and laugh my heart out, especially while watching movies. Whereas I wilt at any show of anger, she effortlessly cracks a joke and moves on. With Bhabhi around, there is no way that we two stuffy pretentious siblings can stay serious and unsmiling for long. There is always a light fluffy joke around the corner!
Bhabhi shows immense gentleness and patience around young children and around the sick. In the days when I was a young mom, I could be very demanding and exacting. But from her, I learned to give in and pamper my children, going to the extent of pressing their legs off and on. All sickness disgruntles me like nothing else.I become irritable and sullen. But Bhabhi has always been the best person to have around when one is sick. She is gentleness personified, a true Florence Nightingale.
Another area of my life where I try and model myself after her is in my role as a daughter-in-law. Bhabhi has been the most perfect daughter-in-law to my parents. Each set of parents have their own idiosyncrasies and mine had their entire gamut. But Bhabhi has always known how to be there for both of them, investing a lot of herself in their well-being. She was the daughter that my mom always wanted me to be. They both sat and chatted and joked like best pals. Bhabhi could talk to my mom about her husband's, i.e. my brother's shortcomings and my mom added 20 more to the list. When Bhabhi gave him an earful about something, my mom cheered for her. Absolutely smashing trend-setting 'mil-dil' relationship. Except that I hardly found space for myself between them. What I could take solace in was that each one of them confided in me when they had a tiff with each other. Thank God for tender mercies!
With a strong foundation for our relationship having been laid in the early years, we were able to weather the troubled waters of my parents' illnesses and their respective demise. Misunderstandings and insecurities surfaced but we were able to put them aside. My brother's home is now my 'maika' and I am welcome to stay in it even in their absence. What more can a sister ask for!
Today as my Bhaiya and Bhabhi celebrate 25 years of their love and togetherness, I only wish them lots and lots of love to go around. Well that is sort of selfish, because I know that some part of that love is going to come round and wrap me too in its cozy warmth.
Love you Bhabhi and Bhaiya.
Happy 25th Wedding Anniversary!



Respect and 'Lihaj'

The other day we had a few friends over for dinner. During the course of the evening, the discussion veered towards children showing respect to elders.
A phrase that came up was "Bade logon ka lihaj rakhna chahiye".
In a complete sense, the phrase does not mean 'respecting elders'. It actually means 'showing respect to elders without necessarily feeling it'. Kind of a veil of respect for elders.
Children of yore were brought up with a whole notion of how every adult had to be respected and that the respect had to be displayed in the established ways of 'saying namaste', 'touching feet' etc.
Those generations of children who were brought up like 'sheep and goats' (do not question, just follow), put up their best behaviour for every uncle or auntie who visited the household. The 'Parivar ki izzat' was at stake each time there was a visitor and the child was asked to recite a poem, or answer a question asked or fetch a glass of water for the visitor. In society, the respectability quotient of the parents depended on the shiny black shoes of their child's uniform, on the remark of 'good' received in the notebook and on the rank procured by him in the exams. A child who brought disgrace to the family by not doing any of these things was persona non grata when visitors came visiting. 
Or rather, if I may say so, a child who behaved just like a child by speaking his mind, or by making mistakes in exams, or who had yet to overcome his shyness in front of adults, such a child actually was considered to be disrespecting his elders. "Voh maa-baap ka lihaj nahi rakh raha tha".
Come to think of it, isn't the idea of 'lihaj', useless and pointless? Isn't all respect to be earned?
Even a young child is able to garner an emotion akin to 'respect' for an adult he feels safe with. He does not have to be told to show respect. In his own way he will express his love and affection for an adult who engages with him. He may not reply to their 'hello', but he may give a shy smile. He may not touch their feet, but he may listen intently when they talk to him individually on any topic. He may not fetch water for them or may refuse to answer their question, but he may share his favorite book with them when they are willing to listen.
We adults often get caught up in our set ideas of how 'respect' should be shown. It could be a product of our own upbringing and the expectations out of us; it could stem from our need to conform in society; it could also come from our insecurities as parents, our urge to produce 'trophy children'.
Whatever the reason, the business of showing 'respect' and 'lihaj' can safely be left in the hands of our young ones.
All parents and caregivers these days are tying themselves in knots about teaching their young ones about 'trusting and not trusting adults'. In addition to all that has surfaced in a 4-year old's life, he now has to also deal with 'good touch and bad touch'. So the scenario has now shifted to where he reprimands his angry mother for treating him with a 'bad touch'.
Wouldn't it be simpler for all of us if we let our children develop their own sixth sense about whom they wish to show respect to and who they want to shy away from. If we do not interfere with their in-born ability to sense who they feel safe with, will they not be more confident around strangers. They will be better able to trust their instincts without relying on cues from their parents. If we Indian parents stop thrusting upon our children the decadent ways of 'showing respect' and 'lihaj', will we not be able to bring down the episodes of child abuse, especially by those within the family. When we help our children develop their instincts and then respect the decisions taken by them, we are nurturing independent and confident individuals. And that could be the way forward.
So next time your child says that he does not like to go to Uncle X's house, do not insist and do not give him your spiel about 'It is bad manners. Do not be disrespectful. We can't leave you and go. But he gives you a chocolate every time'. Your child may not be able to give you the reasons, but his instincts may be guiding him in making a safe choice. Trust him.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


This post is dedicated to Dadiji.
Well actually, she is my husband's grandmother whom I have adopted as my own.
And today is her 95th birthday!
We wished her a very happy birthday on the phone this morning, and she managed to do what she does each time I get in touch with her..... she infused me with life.She laughed and accepted our wishes. She mentioned that these days she was enjoying the company of her newest great-grandson, "Main toh lalla khila rahi hoon".
Even before I got married and became a part of the family, Dadiji was someone whom I admired. White starched sari, silver white long hair, a friendly welcoming smile.
Once I got married, I heard from Sharad how Dadiji always spoke about getting a fair bride for her first grandson. But never did she let me feel that my dark skin came in her way of accepting me as a fitful bride for her precious grandson. She was forthright when the need arose and was loving at most other times.I remember the time when she visited us at the birth of our first-born and very plainly told me that she did not like the loose khadi kurtas that I wore. She evoked such respect in me that I started wearing something else, even though I was not entirely comfortable in it. At the same time, she aided me in preparing a simple meal of dal-chaval, just so that she could complete the ritual of 'roti-karai' and give me a token gift for it, two years after my marriage.
Dadiji came and stayed with us for a day or two whenever she was in Delhi. She made an instant connection with our two-year old son, making him laugh at the sound of 'Happoo'. He ended up calling her 'Happoo Dadi'. She often brought wooden toys for him which were very different from the gifts that he usually got. A small lattoo that she gave him was treasured right through his school and college years. When our daughter was born, Dadiji landed up at our doorstep unannounced, with her heavy steel 'baxa' and just a slip of paper with our address on it.
We got a peek into the life that Dadiji led when we visited her in Varanasi. She had made a life for herself in the Theosophical Society Of India campus. At age 80, she lived independently, a working woman who was in charge of a lot of things, including the kitchens, in the campus. She proudly took us around and introduced us to the people she had adopted as family. She lived frugally and simply but found contentment in her packed days.
Dadiji made a special effort to travel alone by train and visit us whenever we invited her. She came to the 'Griha Pravesh' ceremony of our new house and stayed with us for a couple of days once we had moved in. I was spending the whole day at my new job and felt uneasy about leaving Dadiji alone at home all day. But she reassured me that she would be fine and in fact took on the responsibility of preparing lunch for the children too. Being a working woman all her life, she could completely relate to my travails.
Dadiji came from a large well-educated family of Etawah. Her cousin brother had taken part in the freedom struggle and was closely associated with Gandhiji. Her father, contrary to the times, made sure to educate his daughters. Dadiji had learnt swimming and horse-riding in her growing up years. She got married to the educated son of a zamindar family. She was supported by her husband to study further,post-marriage and post-children. She home-schooled her children in the initial years, taking care to run the house with a tight hand to make both ends meet. She herself taught in a girl's intermediate college. After her retirement, she refused to settle down with either of her children, choosing to live independently in Varanasi. She stayed there for nearly 25 years, relenting to stay with Chachaji only when she broke her hip bone and needed to be looked after.
I have formed a strong bond with Dadiji over the years. She always inspires me to stretch myself and give my best to whatever I am doing. She motivates me to remain active, physically and mentally, so that I too can be such a "Cool great-grand-mom". Her quest for knowledge is addictive. She takes time to read and understand the news items, wanting to know more about things that are not a part of her reality. She discusses topics with passion. She shows child-like fascination for the present day mobile phones and their features. Technology amazes her and she often says, "Yeh hamare time main nahin tha. Nahin toh seekh lete". Each time I drive her around town,she tells me, "Hamare pitaji dekh kar khush hote ki parivar ki beti gaadi chala rahi hai. Woh hamesha kehte the ki ladkiyon ko sab kuch aana chahiye".She treats me like a daughter and is completely open to hearing about the shortfalls of her grandson. In fact, she goes a step further and reprimands him when he is being unfair to me. We talk on different topics and, despite her failing memory, she is able to give me another perspective to my thoughts and opinions.
Of late she has been keen on seeing her first great-grandson, our son, married. When we let her know that these days youngsters got married late in life, she told me two things. Firstly, that I should set a deadline, say around 30 years, by which time he should have made up his mind. Secondly that he should agree to marry a person even though he may like her only 80%, because there is no such thing as a perfect spouse.
Hats Off to you Dadiji.
What words of wisdom for the present generation.
You really are a treasure.
I love you Dadiji.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Loved ones or acquaintances

Loved ones. Oh those very special people in one's life. They are the ones who make our world go round. The reason for our days being bright and sunny. Their presence brings laughter and mirth, love and security. The feeling they evoke is akin to a warm snug blanket on a harsh winter day.Loved ones are generally our family members -parents, siblings, spouse, off-springs, cousins, uncles and aunts.They are the people who we keep close to our hearts, their well-being is our prime concern, their opinions sway our decisions and above all their love and acceptance is one thing that we can count on at all times. It is this safety net that keeps pull-me-down feelings like loneliness and depression at bay and helps us stay positive.
Acquaintances. People who we know fleetingly. Contacts that we have acquired through singular or repeated interactions. We know very little about them and reveal next to nothing of our true selves to them. There are zero expectations of any form of emotional give and take between acquaintances. Only when the concerned individuals decide to enter into a relationship does the play of emotions come in. Then the potential of an acquaintance turning into a loved one arises.
Friends. People who may not be family and mean a lot more than acquaintances.They hold rites of passage to our hearts by virtue of how they make us feel - positively buoyant and effervescent. Our emotional well-being is linked to their very presence.They get included in our circle of near and dear ones.
We are all aware of and deal with these basic relationships.
So where is this post leading to?
Well, the point I wish to make is that all our relationships are in fact 'make-believe'.
We are all only acquaintances to each other.
Shocking! Depressing!
If one were to delve into the mechanics of relationships, one may perceive some truth in this thought.
Is it not true that one can never really know another person. For example- I may be married for 2 years,20 years or 50 years. But I will know of my spouse only that which he chooses to reveal. I will fill the gaps of my knowledge about him with my own impressions and stories, thus creating in my head, my version of him. He may in fact be a very different person and choose to go with the convenient perception. A mythical creature has thus been created!
Each one of us is prone to keeping secrets about ourselves from our near and dear ones. We may have several reasons for doing so, the topmost being 'insecurity'. "What if I tell him that I pee in the shower and he starts hating me", "What if I tell my mom that I hate the way she cooks pasta and she feels offended". The 'what ifs' going on in our heads lead us into keeping a lot of secrets in our closest relationships. We reveal only that which we are comfortable with the other person knowing. Make-believe!
I find it almost hilarious when people proclaim, "Of course I know what he is thinking. I have been living with him for the last 10 years". Or when media uses time spent together as a measure of the strength of a relationship. "The couple had been in an intimate relationship for 8 years". The underlying meaning being that just because they have been together for a seemingly long time, they know each other well. According to me, there is no 'knowing very well' in any relationship.One is constantly learning new truths about the people around us and there is no ceiling to the amount of time it takes to know another person.
The tenacity of all our relationships depends on abstract notions of trust and security. For example- I trust my loved ones to be there for me in any danger. But truth be told, I am not sure how my husband is going to behave in the case of an unforeseen emergency. Is he going to scurry for cover and save his skin or is he going to brave the bullets. Or how am I going to behave if my daughter were to be mobbed by a group of  marauding hooligans?  So what then is the basis for the qualities of trust and security that we project on our near and dear ones? Are we not snowing them down with our expectations out of them, making life a little unreal for them? Who is to tell!
All relationships are worlds of make-believe. Do we not hear of couples who are exceedingly happy with each other, planning on starting a family and then ending up in divorce. They were on the verge of creating a circle of love, trust and security. What if they had continued together, wouldn't their family life have had trust and love. And yet they divorced, they chose to take a completely opposite path! So what is the truth about them, about their relationship?
What is the truth about all relationships?
A whole wide web of make-believe!