Tag Archives: Mother’s Day

Is Dad Doing The Laundry?

As families celebrated Father’s Day in June, I was reminded that a month ago when moms were being feted, some dads were playing true to type – and not the kosher kind.

On Mother’s Day my WhatsApp group chats were overflowing with fulsome messages from male high-school friends who were paying tributes to motherhood and to schoolmates who were mothers. 

Messages ranged from simple salutations like ‘Happy Mother’s Day to all the lovely moms in this group,’ to warm, fuzzy images of new moms holding babies.   

The very next day, the same Whatsapp chats were overflowing with contradictory comments; ‘Party over, back to the kitchen ladies!’ and clever little jokes about ‘witches going back to their brooms.’  I must confess some were funny and made me laugh.  

But without exception all these comments were offensive to women.

In India I went to a small, progressive high school with a small, somewhat homogenous student body. Many of my schoolmates, though well-intentioned, came from relatively conservative and old-fashioned families. In our class of forty, perhaps just two mothers drove their own cars and maybe three mothers worked outside the home.

Given this context, I put the whole Mother’s Day kerfuffle down to ignorance or lack of exposure and moved on.  Over time, I thought to myself, as the younger generation gets more educated and aware, things will change.

But the COVID crisis revealed some uncomfortable truths.

As families were forced to quarantine and share close quarters as well as household chores, I began to realize how deep and enduring the sex-based biases are.  

My Whatsapp chats closely mirrored the reality of real life between men and women, roles and expectations.

There were the usual jokes about men being imprisoned with their wives and corporate big-wigs being stuck washing dishes.   And yes, they had a comedic element and ought to have been taken with a pinch (or mountain) of salt. But nonetheless, the comments struck a nerve, especially as women have long borne the greater burden of child rearing and housework, even in so-called equitable societies.

Many of my liberal friends who went to college with me have competed head-to-head with women, fully respecting their talents and abilities. They have been nothing but supportive of their wives having an independent career and life and have raised their girls and boys to be equally empowered. 

And yet the same open-minded individuals posted artless comments that left me wondering about unconscious biases.  Several complained about helping with household chores that were now a big part of their daily routine. Arguably, in many of these households, couples are taking on responsibilities that usually are left to their domestic help who are now sheltering at home themselves, and who normally are a luxury taken very much for granted. 

But the underlying assumption was clear – household chores were the wife’s responsibility; the husband was only expected to help when he could (even though both spouses had equally demanding jobs), and they were all uniformly proud about being great husbands.

Closer to home here in New York, my ex-husband was visiting our children at my house and started offering me tips on loading the dishwasher – he said he had picked them up from ‘years of experience’ loading that particular appliance.  I was fully cognizant of his dishwashing skills during the course of our marriage and asked how he came by that expertise.  His response – he had done a lot of thinking about the matter (unlike me), while doing the loading during the lockdown, ‘over five days!’

In another astounding episode, a friend who is a longstanding human rights activist and a self-declared feminist, announced on a webinar about the impact of COVID-19, that while he appreciates the many men who have stepped up to help their wives at home, corporations should do more to support the women in remote working environments, as they are primarily responsible for the household. 

He meant well I suppose, but his assumption left me absolutely shocked.  Even as COVID upends roles and responsibilities at home, why is the basic presumption that domestic work is a woman’s job?

This is a man who looks after his own home and cooks for his family. He is fiercely proud of being married to an independent woman who is a highly placed corporate professional.  Coming from a man who sees himself as sophisticated feminist, I expected differently.

Perhaps deep-seated biases are embedded in our cultural DNA. It made me wonder – will things ever really change?

While society seems to have moved forward when it comes to equality between the sexes in the household, some men who espouse liberal views appear to remain fundamentally sexist when gender roles are disrupted, especially in a crisis like this one.  

But then, something extraordinary happened.  Recently I was helping a male friend ‘G,’ with a home renovation project. The building contractor was dismissive of me and flatly refused to answer my questions unless G asked them. He was extremely responsive and respectful to G.  

I asked G to deal with it.  He looked straight at me and said “why do you need me to talk to him?  You have straightened out dozens of people in your life who have been disrespectful.  Give him a piece of your mind – you are no victim.”  

So I did exactly that.  I told the builder that I liked his ideas and budget but his attitude made me hesitate.  If we were to work together, he had to learn to cooperate with me or he was not getting the project.  It took seconds to assert myself and for the builder to reset his attitude, and after that the project went on smoothly 

In the face of deep rooted sexist biases women need to move the needle by asserting ourselves and being firm and direct. The pandemic has created an imbalance in what may have been a level playing field for some but it’s also presented an opportunity to reset our roles and expectations. 

I am used to asserting my position in professional settings but this casual incident was a revelation. As a woman, had I absorbed the same biases myself? It’s not always easy to combat sexism in one’s inner circle, whether it appears in schoolmates, my contractor, my feminist friend or my ex-husband. But it’s important to command respect in all settings in life.

We must take a stand and stick to our guns – not wait for someone else to do it for us.  


Svati K.S. writes about gender inequities and works in the legal field.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Félix Prado on Unsplash


 

To Ma, From Your Daughter

ma

To the woman who loved

what had not yet become, making promises 

with unfolding fabric: 

We shared skin, but from you I grew into

my own — an inherited thing

inhabited, but never out

grown.

You hollowed a home 

within yourself, doorways 

forged from flesh, walls

 shifting soundlessly

with each passing breath. 

There is a forever in the spaces 

between you and I — it stares back

at the two of us, a daughter’s love

opening its luminous eyes 

for the first time.

—- 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Can “I Love You” be used within an Indian family?

Rain lashed on the windshield as my mother navigated our white Fiat car through the flooded streets of Chennai, the erstwhile Madras. I sat in the front seat craning my neck trying to watch out for any danger as she drove back home late in the night. Her simple courage in driving through flooded streets alone in the night was something I took for granted then. That’s who she was and is to this day. We’d just watched the famed actress Jalabala Vaidya perform at the Museum theater – a one-woman show on the Ramayana. A versatile actress, she sat in one place, and changed voices and characters as she brought the epic to life. I was probably ten or eleven years old at the time. Some of what was said on stage went over my head. And yet, I was there in that darkened theater with my mother because she knew that I would soak in everything I could from that theatrical and artistic experience.

Somehow, even though words come easily to me, I don’t feel like writing a long essay about my mother. My best memories of her were and are made as we sit side by side in an auditorium. We turn to each other with upturned eyebrows and a sigh when we both don’t like what we see, smile in appreciation at other times, and sit in a companionable silence that has bound us together for years. The discussions we have while coming back home and over dinner have always energized me in unexpected ways.

As a child, I loved to read books. She told me often, “When we read a book, we get to stand on the author’s shoulders and look out at the world.” That was an image that stuck with me and one I used often with my children when they were little. When she gave me books to read, took me to innumerable plays, dance performances and talks, that’s what she did for me. She helped hoist me up on the shoulders of artists, thinkers and creative minds so I could see far and wide.

Many years ago, when I first moved to the United States, I wrote a letter in which I said – I love you, Amma. On our next call, she admonished me saying – “What is this? An American way of saying that you love me?” I guess she’s right. To tell her that I love her would truly reveal how words can fail.

Happy Mother’s Day to my Amma and yours!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing Editor of India Currents.

Lust For Life

I must have looked aghast at her bare feet, for Ajji smiled her widest, toothless best, and said, “Back home I never wear chappals. If I did, I’d probably leave it somewhere and forget about them.”

But I was thirteen and as with most children at that age, I was stubborn and set in my ways. Moreover, this wasn’t just another stroll around the block. I was taking her to meet my English teacher who’d wanted to meet my “grandmother from the village,” and she had even tempted me with the offer of a “really nice book” that she had set aside for me.

The offer for a visit to my reacher’s home had come about because of an essay I’d written after my annual visit to my grandparents’ house in Hassan. My teacher had loved it: the tiled roof cottage, rickety gate, wood stoves, eccentric grandparents, their neighbors, and a crazy garden that snuck up to the cottage after every monsoon. The essay was full of sensory details that fascinated her.

Ajji shuffled her feet in my Hawaii chappals as we walked to my teacher’s house. Usually garrulous, she sat on the sofa with her checked sari wrapped tight around her, nodding and smiling like a Dassera doll in response to my teacher’s polite enquiries. How I wished she’d impress my teacher with her knowledge of plant remedies or festivals. I began to have this uncomfortable feeling that my essay now read like a string of lies.

On our way out, my teacher pressed Irving Stone’s “Lust for Life,” in my hand saying, “You must read this.” Ajji took the book from my hand and smiled. “You read so much. Just like your Ajja did till his eyesight weakened. What’s this book about?”

I had no intention of telling her anything. What on earth could she make of a passionate painter? In fact, I read story books hidden up in the guava tree during my grandparents’ visits to avoid answering questions from my grandfather who’d want me to read them aloud to him. Moreover, I was still irked that she’d refused my teacher’s offer of coffee and snacks. I hoped it wasn’t because of the “I didn’t know what caste those people are” nonsense I’d thought I’d heard last year. But we quickly made peace when she explained that she never drank coffee from a ceramic cup, and she had in fact been too shy to ask for a steel tumbler. She said my teacher was a really nice lady, and that she’d enjoyed the visit. To show I’d forgiven her, I asked her about her father, and for the umpteenth time she reminisced joyfully about the handsome man on a white horse with a purse of gold tied to his waist that jingled when he rode off to work.  

It was only when my hair had streaks of grey that I realized what Ajji had in common with Van Gogh: a lust for life. She’d have definitely understood his story, if I had narrated it to her then.

The door to her home was shut only at night, and all day long friends and neighbors walked in and out, sharing food and gossip. My grandmother offered a lot of unsolicited home remedies, and never thought twice before plucking a flower or fruit from her neighbor’s garden. She shared food and possessions with unreasonable generosity. Her day began at 4 am, with multiple chores, which included caring for my grandfather who was homebound because of poor eyesight and ended only at 10 pm. She managed visits to the temple, attended discourses, visited relatives, cooked, cleaned, and still managed to stay within earshot of her somewhat belligerent husband.

I wish I’d told her Van Gogh’s story. She’d have liked that. She’d been a patient storyteller when I was young always demanding “new” stories from her. She’d unearth stories in Kannada magazines and newspapers when I began to dismiss her made-up stories as “boring.” But when I discovered the library in our locality, I shut her out of my world of English books knowing she couldn’t read the language, and I’d assumed that she couldn’t fathom their contents.

Ajji lived to be ninety-two, washed her own clothes, used the bathroom without assistance, and never owned a walking stick or a pair of spectacles till the end.

While I’m unsure if any of those traits are genetic, I pray that I’ve at least inherited her lust for life.

Jyothi Vinod, an Electronics Engineer, quit her job in 2013 to pursue her desire to write fiction. She won second and third places in the India Currents Katha fiction contest held in 2015 and 2016 respectively. She has written for various blogs, and her short stories have been selected for the following anthologies in 2017 – The Best Asian Short Stories by Kitaab, The Other (curated by Mona Verma and Abha Iyengar), and Fellows of Nature.

 

 

An Unusual Love Story for Mother’s Day!

Crisply starched cotton saris. A hand kerchief tucked at the waist.  Hair in a top knot. Bustling with life and laughter. Her belly laugh lit up the room and caught everyone in its unique charm. She was Sundari“The Beautiful One”.  Aptly named, for she was indeed beautiful, and endowed with a generosity of spirit that could move the most ornery person in her orbit! I was a girl of 20 when I first met her. Young as I was, I  didn’t stand a chance. I fell in love – with my husband’s mother! 

It was, needless to say – an unusual sort of love story. All around me were examples of badly soured relationships. And yet, there we were! She was nothing if not welcoming and refreshingly so. There were days when I found myself thoroughly flummoxed by her son – my brand new husband. But never by her! Taking me under her wing, she championed my cause with every decision I made, no matter how foolhardy it seemed; always sticking up for me over her own daughters. She had the sensitivity to put herself in my shoes, because she herself had been a young bride once. And she declared that she would see to it that I did not suffer the same trials she had. A brave stand which endeared her to me through all the years to follow! 

She had a clarity about the things she liked and disliked. And she absolutely abhorred the label, ‘Mother-in-Law!’ According to her, that particular label was coined by a heartless, bitter sort of a person, and it was designed to make any strained relationship break with the weight of its hyphenated formality. The very first thing she said to me was, “I don’t expect you to address me as Amma. You can call me whatever you’re comfortable with. And I don’t care much about what the world thinks.” That floored me. I settled for ‘Aunty’, and it suited us just fine – because the label which I used to call her didn’t really matter.

If there was one thing that got her ire up, it was the plight of women. She railed at the injustice of antiquated social norms, and the expectations that weighed heavily on the side of women, especially within the confines of their roles as daughters-in-law. “How can women dare to judge other women so poorly?” This was her constant refrain. We would shake our heads and drink steaming cups of coffee in the afternoons. She brushed my hair, insisting that I wear it in the latest fashion; she rejoiced when I managed to drape my sari without her help. The icing on the cake was when, a month into my marriage, she packed me off to my parents’ house, so I could celebrate my birthday with them. That was unheard of in our circles! She was sensitive to the fact that my sister would be missing me sorely on my birthday, and she was secure in the knowledge that she was only doing what she felt was right. 

Her husband, my father-in-law was a quiet man of few words. He chose to listen and commented sparingly, always content to be with his ledgers and paperwork. She, on the other hand, was a whirlwind of action and opinions – firmly but lovingly delivered. She referred to him with a twinkle in her eye, as “Yajamaanru” – a Kannada term loosely translated to mean “Lord.” But he knew who wielded the power behind the goings on of the home! There was a gentle, teasing sort of camaraderie based on mutual respect, that came from sharing life experiences together. To observe them, was a revelation to someone like me, who was just making the transition into “wifehood.”  There was an “exchange of words” one afternoon, and she threatened to leave him to his fate. He responded very calmly, “Sure! I can’t stop you. Just make sure you come by to cook me your delicious meals!” The impasse ended with her doubling over with laughter at his absurd idea of a mutually beneficial understanding!

You could count on her to discuss politics, music, fashion, Bollywood, and spirituality with equal fervor and wit. We spent many an evening giggling over the madness whipped up by Salman Khan’s bare chested antics! But she was unfailingly devoted to her favorite deity, Hanuman! She absolutely loved window shopping, thrilling in each discovery as we walked the store fronts! As the years went by, she swapped the cotton saris she loved, to the more easily manageable Garden Vareili brand of saris. But she was always elegantly put together. Renowned for her famed hospitality, she opened her modest home to all and sundry with warmth and love. “They don’t come to see my house. They come to see me,” she’d say with a laugh! Whipping up delicious meals in what seemed to me, a matter of minutes, she would happily feed you even if you turned up unannounced. Every single guest walked away feeling like they had feasted at a banquet! 

There are so many memories I hold dear about her, who was in many ways a window into my husband’s mind. His love of music and nature, a childlike curiosity about the world, and a propensity for bear hugs – are the inheritance she bequeathed to him. And when he irks me, I remind him that he was not my first choice – his mother was! 

They say that the true mark of a person is his/her humility. On the eve of my departure to join my husband in the United States, I was in tears, anxious about the long journey and my future with a man I scarcely knew. She cracked up when I insisted we change my tickets so she could accompany me.  And then, she sat me down with a serious, somber look about her. I remember being suddenly afraid that I had said or done something wrong. In her usual manner, she got right down to it.  She apologized. “Sometimes I say things without thinking. If I hurt you without meaning to, I am truly sorry,” she said. And with that, she rendered me speechless. This was a trait I could spend a lifetime trying to cultivate, but fail miserably! 

In a cruel twist of fate, this spirited, loving woman was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It rendered a blow not just to her husband, children and siblings, but to every person who ever knew her. It left us shattered and helpless, watching on the sidelines as it stole her language, her memories and her spirit.  I was only thankful that I had managed to give her a special gift in the form of my daughter, while she could still retain that memory.

She lost that battle in 2015. And we lost a wonderful soul.

Even today, almost three years since she left us, I still sometimes expect to hear her voice on the phone. I see her spirit, in the way my child speeds and tumbles through her life. I see her smile in my husband’s face. And I hear echoes of her hearty laughter through her daughters. 

I am grateful that life bestowed an unusual honor on me; a rare and unique experience. 

The experience of life with a “Mother-by-Love”. 

 

A “Job” Well Done: A Poem For My Daughter

Finding you Fearless I taught you to  Fear.

Eternally Curious… I taught you Indifference.

Charmingly Honest… I taught you Pretence.

Openly Friendly… I taught you Caution.

Implicitly Trusting… I taught you to Doubt.

Clingingly Needy… I taught you Independence

…and considered it a ‘Job’ well done!

Now My Child, it’s your turn. 

Hold my hand and teach me to be…

Fearless.

Curious.

Honest.

Friendly.

Trusting.

Needy. 

Do your “Job.” 

Teach me to Love!

 Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.

A Life Crafted with Grit and Grace

 

One of my earliest memories of my mother, outside of the home, is on a badminton court. My father’s job as a doctor with the Indian Railways allowed us the use of the Officer’s Club. It was the norm for us to troop down to the club every evening, where we spent several hours actively engaged in the various sport facilities it offered. At the time, we did not realize how unusual it was for a woman of my mother’s generation in India, to be considered a sportswoman of some merit. Of course, I realize that there have been many celebrated Indian sportswomen through the ages. But it was certainly not a traditionally accepted role in a small town.  Draped in her sari, hitched up and tucked at the waist, bare feet, racquet in hand, long braid flashing behind her – she proceeded to vanquish a young man in a singles match while my sister and I watched from the sidelines. I will never forget applauding with everyone else, and the pride I felt when she collected her trophy.  We pored over scrapbooks she had filled with newspaper clippings of her victories going back through her high school and college years. And slowly, the idea that there was more to the woman we called ‘Amma’ – more than just someone who cooked our meals, and cared for our every need – took hold.

My mother Gita was born on March 26,1948. Maybe it was her birth amidst the exuberance of post-independence India that imbued her with the gumption to buck the established notions about the ‘proper qualities’ in a conservative, middle class girl. It blessed her with a stubborn streak. She was determined to pursue her innate talents as a skilled sportswoman, much to her dear father’s disapproval. We were often regaled with a story narrated by her aunts of the time when she was eight years old. In an effort to get her to practice music, they locked her in a room with her violin – which was of course, considered a proper skill for a girl to master – and she proceeded to break the bow to make her feelings clear.  Needless to say, this incident ended any chance of a bright musical career! Her older sister was born to fill that role. My mother was simply exercising her right to choose something else.

Although she has since hung up her racquet, the sportswoman in her has helped chart her course through the most trying time in her life – her separation from our father. Divorce among her peers is a rarity, and yet, she has managed to retain her essence through all of the heartache. She has, with grace, held on to another aspect of her identity – her creativity. Just as the tanpura or tamburi was synonymous with her older sister, the sewing machine is my mother’s personal crest – her very own coat of arms!

Her passion to create marvels of “upcycled” products never ceases to astound us. On each of her visits her one request is that I help her design the next in a line of beautifully crafted creations. Our favorite outings are to craft stores, and our discussions are usually about how she can embellish her latest project. From the minute she wakes, right up to dinner time, she is consumed by her need to create. And her greatest reward is when we share her creations with friends and family as gifts.

She has used her unique talent in creating memory quilts for each of her grandchildren. Painstakingly piecing together fabric from baby clothes I had saved, she spent hours making my daughter a patchwork of love sewn together with her strength and courage. It is a brightly colored legacy, and will be cherished for all of time.

My mother did not choose to be a career woman. She chose instead to devote her life to bringing up her daughters instilling in them her firm notions of right and wrong. And she led by example, that being female did not make us feeble, or less in any way. Her single minded devotion and support was the backbone of my sister Divya Raghavan’s singing career when she first started. She was, and remains ambitious for us hoping that we scale every path we traverse to achieve the things that she could not.  But the biggest lesson she has taught us, is in accepting her shortcomings while continuing to live with grace.  The label she affixes to every piece she creates speaks volumes:  “Crafted with Love”.

Much has been said about the bond between mothers and daughters. Having experienced nearly half a century savoring the many nuances of this relationship, I can only say that my respect for my mother has deepened with every day that passes. That much is true. On the cusp of her 70th birthday, it is only fitting that I acknowledge her fighting spirit, her creative passion and her ability to stride ever onwards – changing, evolving and nurturing.

This is a tribute in words during Women’s History month for a woman I cherish.

Happy 70th Amma!