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Month: February 2015

A Doll for a Boy- Are we Stereotyping Gender Roles?

A Doll for a Boy- Are we Stereotyping Gender Roles?

On a recent visit to the market, my little girl, insisted on buying a “pink” Kinder joy- an egg shaped chocolate that sport a toy inside. The store didn’t have a pink one, so I picked up a blue one instead. My 6 year old was aghast, “I am a girl Amma, and I can’t have a blue Kinderjoy. I was momentarily taken aback. “Blue ones have a car inside and the pink ones have a doll. Girls don’t play with cars,” she said. I was quite surprised at what my girl had just told me. Hubby and I had never really made differences on “boy-girl” things or limited her in any way. So a statement like this was unexpected. I answered to her,” Well if girls can drive a car when they grow older, they surely can play with one.” Not sure whether it was the answer that convinced her or the want of a toy, she readily picked up the blue one.

But this incident kept lurking somewhere at the back of my mind. So yesterday, I asked Richard about this. Richard is my colleague and has a son of 7 years. “So tell me Richard, do you buy Danny a Barbie doll?” Richard gave me his usual perplexed look and said,” Of course not, he is a boy.” I didn’t leave it at that and asked,” But have you ever bought him one? Richard said, “Now Come on Ramya, he is a boy. He doesn’t play with dolls. Danny is 7 years old. He has played with stuffed toys at 2 or3. But that was it. He does not like dolls.” I butted in again, “But Richard, “If you have never bought him dolls, “how could you be so sure he doesn’t like them?”. Richard answered,” Because every time we visit the toy store, he runs towards the cars displayed. Now isn’t that enough to tell you that boys really don’t like playing with dolls?” I left the conversation here as I didn’t quite have a counter point.

I came home and did a great amount of Google reading and I figured out these things.

  • There are dolls available for boys. However there probably aren’t enough buyers. At least not in India.
  • There are instances of little boys playing with dolls and kitchen sets. But many parents often discourage them by saying, “Dolls are for girls”.
  • Some parents are concerned about gender identity crises if their little boys play with dolls. However there has been research that has disapproved this. I read an excellent answer given by Dr. Alan Greene on Gender Identity Issues. You could read it here

After reading up on this, I still have these questions looming in my mind.

  • When it is ok for little girls to play with trains, cars and guns, why are we not open to little boys playing  with Barbie dolls, kitchen sets, or dress up doll kind of games?
  • Toy manufactures bring out in dozens fantasy toys such as the princess collection, fairy collection etc… for little girls. Why are there only  toys such as soldiers and tanks for boys? Why are there no “prince” collection for boys? Or for that matter, why aren’t soldiers and warrior toys targeted for girls?
  • So are we stereotyping gender roles from a very young age?

I dont seem to have an answer yet.

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Am I The Atheist in the TamBrahm Household?

Am I The Atheist in the TamBrahm Household?

What’s the meaning of Atheism? The oxford dictionary defines it as “a belief that God does not exist”. However I often notice the term loosely being used, especially if beliefs are in contrast to traditional ones.

I am from a “Tam Brahm” upbringing. Every traditional, ritualistic Tam Brahm household must begin its morning with the Suprabhatam (a devotional invocation dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara). Daily “Shlokas” (couplets dedicated to the Supreme Being) are to be chanted, before starting the day’s work and at dusk when the lamp was lit. Not doing so meant wrath from the elders of the family. Regular temple visits are part of our lives. And on special occasions such as birthdays and festivals, dressed in finery, visiting the temple to seek God’s blessings is an absolute must. Dos and do-not were stressed upon on the basis of religious texts and scriptures. Things such as do not cut your nails/hair on Fridays, were strictly adhered to. I wasn’t really against these practices, but just that it never made much sense to me.

Somewhere in the quest to connect with God, I found people often mixing up spirituality and rituals. In reality they are distinctly apart. I did question the practices and the way we did things, for which the general answer I received from elders was, “This is the way you connect to God, as written in our holy scriptures. By doing so you would have a happy and comfortable life. As I grew up, these customs and way of spirituality became deeply embedded in my life even though my understanding still remained quite low.

Over the years, as I matured into a wife and mother, I gained a better understanding of the whole picture of spirituality.  In my home, i have a little prayer corner. I light a little flame every morning and evening, and the smell of incense sticks wafts through my home. I do this not because it has to be done, it is not a rule. I do it because it makes me happy. I do it because this prayer corner is my place to feel at peace, to help me with my thoughts, to drift into intellectual ideas and sometimes to meditate. The lamp for me is to kindle the positive energy within me.

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I still chant small little Shlokas which I teach my kids. Not because God would be happy with me, but because I love the rhythm that they carry. A rhythm that soothes my nerves and keeps me relaxed at most times of the day. I still visit a temple, not as a duty, not for favors and not because the “deity in the temple” is all powerful. I choose a temple that’s generally less crowded, where I can sit down on the stone floors to soak in the serene and calm atmosphere.

This is spirituality for me. There is some unknown energy in the universe. It is a positive energy, one which we call “God” or Supreme Being. We attach a physical form to it, to make our minds relate more easily to it. I believe we all carry a part of this positive energy within us. And rekindling this energy could be done in a way one is comfortable with.

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4 Main Reasons Why Indians Prefer a Son

4 Main Reasons Why Indians Prefer a Son

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “First Light.”


To Prime Minister Modi’s “Beti Padao Beti Bachao” scheme.

As a mother of two girls, all through the years, I have had people telling me, about the importance of having a son. So last week I decided to chat up with people I know- both young and old- to understand what the actual thought is. And I must say I was appalled at what came out of it.

When I was expecting my elder one, the “renowned” elderly women of my colony would often judge the shape of my pregnancy bump “Mubarak ho, lag raha he pehla bachcha ladka hi hoga”, (Congratulations, looks like your first born is going to be a boy). I used to brush this kind of statement with a smile. Hubby and me never really bothered about gender and were more concerned about sailing through pregnancy and delivery smoothly. Of course I proved their prediction wrong and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Their first reaction post delivery was, “Yeah kaise ho gaya? Tumne Krishnaji ki puja ki hoti tho aaj Bal Krishna tere godh mein khel rahe hote.”(How did this happen? If you had worshipped lord Krishna, today he would be in your arms).

When I was expecting my second one, my household seemed tensed (except for hubby and me). My parents-in-law wanted their dear son to have a son. It was of importance to them. Hubby and I of course seldom bothered. When the second girl was born, no one said anything. The celebration was kept minimal and the air of disappointment could be felt.

This is probably the story in many more households. People don’t really neglect the girl child once born, but a male child is often preferred. And these kinds of individuals are present in every strata of society-doesn’t matter whether they are educated or not, doesn’t matter if they are in their 30s or in their 60s. The thought still prevails.

So here are the reasons people resonated.

  1. Economic factor: The traditional social set up focuses on the son being the main bread winner of the family. He is expected to earn and take care of his parents in their old age. When I mentioned the fact that girls are financially independent today and earning their own living to a 60 something Mrs. Tiwari in my colony, here is what she had to say, “Beti kama bhi leti he, tho usse thodi paise lenge. Damaat kya sochega?” (Even if the girl works, how could we take money from her? What would the son-in-law think?)
  2. Higher financial liability on the daughter: Here is another ridiculous reason I heard. It is more expensive to bring up a girl child. Not only do you have to educate her, you also have to save up for her marriage and may be for other occasions in her future life.
  3. More responsibility and more cautiousness with a girl child: Ok so this reason beats it all. Girls are an additional responsibility. With the number of rape and eve teasing around, there is an additional responsibility of protection of the girl child. One always has to be on tenterhooks when she goes out.
  4. Reasons resonated by the elderly. Continuing the family name and the task of doing karma has always been on the shoulders of the son. This is still something people are concerned about, despite girls now coming forward to do the last rites of their parents. At least I was happy that the young educated individuals I spoke to didn’t advocate this much.

I have learnt one thing after this exercise- Schemes will be launched in plenty by the Prime Minister. Schemes would come and go. But what really needs to happen is a change from within each one of us. At the grass root level we need to evolve new thought processes and advocate these to our next generation. It is only then would issues such as gender biases cease to exist.

I shall leave you with a video that speaks volumes about the existing thought process. Brilliantly made by “Grey India”

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Love makes you do insane things

Love makes you do insane things

 I am participating in the #SoundOfLove activity atBlogAdda in association with Bluestone”.
 “Are you crazy? You have a flight to catch tomorrow night. This is not the time to be doing this,” said Kaila my roommate and buddy of 4 years. Kaila and I have been associated with each other since our engineering days in IIT Kharagpur. I being the impulsive kinds always looked up to her for advice. But not today. “If I don’t do this bus journey now, I may just lose Abhi forever. My onsite project is for 6 months and in this period I fear his parents would change his mind”, I said as I packed my last bag.
Things weren’t that easy. Abhi and my parents’ didn’t seem to see eye to eye. We were not from different religious backgrounds. Nor were we from different communities. Yet there were issues. Each set of parents looked at the other with suspicion, with a sense of animosity of having trapped their child. No amount of convincing seemed to work.
Now with me leaving for my first onsite project to San Francisco for 6 months, I feared the worst. If anything had to be done, I “Amrita” had to do it now. I decided to take the bull by its horns- to meet my prospective in-laws and put forth my last case. This meant travelling 270 kms from Calcutta to Jamshedpur by road, just a day before I was to catch my flight out of India. I didn’t inform Abhi, lest he stressed over it.
The bus reached pretty early at 4 AM. I quickly freshened up at the bus stand, pinned my dupatta in place and rubbed the creases off my kurta so that I looked presentable.  I waited till 7 AM and took a rickshaw to their home. What was I going to say and what was I going to do there, I did not know.
I saw Abhi’s father Mr. Ramvilas Sinha reading the morning paper in his lawn. He slowly lifted his head, when he heard the click of the gate. Abhi’s mom peeped from inside. Momentarily all our eyes exchanged glances, each wondering what was going to happen. Mr. Sinha broke the silence and said, “Come in first”.
 I took a deep breath and stepped into their elegantly maintained drawing room. They both sat stiff with eyes transfixed on me. It was my turn to say something. I found myself frozen, but I had to do this. “I am leaving tonight to San Francisco. I may be gone for 6 months”, I told them. I got no response, just a look that said, “Why was she here, the one who trapped our son?” I continued, “I am not as per your expectations. I cannot cook and nor do I know what it is to take care of a home. But I love your son and want to marry him and have babies with him”, I blurted out.
What the heck was I saying? I saw their jaws drop when they heard these words tumble out of my mouth. I had just jeopardized my love life. You don’t talk about babies to prospective in- laws, especially when they already have a negative impression about you. I couldn’t say more. I fumbled other things about work etc… and quickly left their home before they could say anything to me. I must have probably stayed for 10 minutes in all.
I took the 10 AM bus back to Calcutta. I reached on time to quickly wind up and reach the airport to catch my flight. My phone rang. I froze. It was my parents from Bangalore. “Amrita, have a safe journey. We got a call from Abhi’s parents and they have invited us over this weekend. All sounds good. They want the marriage as soon as possible.”  I couldn’t believe my ears. I could hear the beep of another incoming call. I glanced at my screen it was Abhi. “Hello… Amrita, where are you? You went to meet my parents??????? You didn’t even tell me????? How did you manage to do that? Will miss you come back soon.”
My onsite concluded in 4 months and I came back to a gala wedding with Abhi. As I sat one cool afternoon chatting up with my new set of parents-in-law after the wedding, I casually asked them what made them say yes, despite all the rubbish I had blurted out on that day. They said, “You must have been madly in love with our son to come all the way here to meet us, and speak your heart out. It spoke a lot about you.
I smiled and thought how love could make you do and say crazy things. But it was finally worth it, isn’t it?

Click and Forget

Click and Forget

I was recently on a short vacation to Chennai visiting my maternal grandmother. As I sat rummaging through an old brown box lying in the attic of her home, I came across an old monochrome photograph. Despite the fading and the curled edges, I could distinctly make out the picture. It had a little girl, not more than 10 years old, dressed in the traditional attire, with layers of jewels. What struck me was the deep frown on her beautiful little face. It seemed to have been clicked in an open field. A wooden bench seated the girl in the backdrop of a majestic house.

“Who is this paati?” I asked my 85 something granny.  Squinting her eye, she gave just one look. “That is me in our Chengalpet home. What a day it was. I still remember it. It was Mazhgazhi maasam (the Tamil month which falls mid Dec to mid Jan), and there was a cool breeze at most times of the day. There was a swing my Appa had made behind the house, tied to the Jackfruit tree. I loved spending time there, playing. That day Appa had called the photographer so that the entire family could be clicked. And the day seemed to be a mini festival for the family. I remember all the ladies getting dressed up in their best saris, powdered faces, and braided hair with fresh Jasmine flowers. Ram Anna (Anna is elder brother in Tamil) wore his newly tailored black coat and dhoti. But how I hated being dressed up. Those were the days, we were scared of Appa. Not like you youngsters. We could never say a no”. She paused for a while. Hmmm I thought, so that explains the frown on the face.

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But what surprised me was despite granny’s fading memory; she remembered such minute details about the photograph. A photo not so clear in its truest sense bought back memories crystal clear in her mind. I insisted on clicking her photograph again on that day with my brand new Nokia 1520 with its 20 megapixel camera.  I showed the saved snap to her. She didn’t react much but just told me to give her a printed copy to preserve it in her brown box. “Now that’s not difficult granny, I will soon take a print out and give it to you”, I promised her. During the course of my vacation, I clicked oodles of snaps on my smart phone, every possible angle with cousins, selfies and other random shots.

A week passed by and I was back in Delhi, and back to office with the usual rut of life. Having set up an auto back up option, my photos were transferred to my computer. It lay within a folder tucked away in the hard disk of my computer. And that was it. The print out I had promised granny never happened.

In our world of smart gadgets, with all things happening in a jiffy, are we somewhere forgetting a human element? May be that emotional and personal touch?

Granny had no retakes in her times. The essence and mood of the moment was captured. She had just one copy, stacked away neatly in a brown box. But it stayed alive in her memory for years. In today’s times, when retakes are taken for granted, we click away, till we capture the mood we want. We also have a problem of too many. With multiple clicks, sometimes on multiple gadgets, we fail to live the moment, and fail to preserve the moment in its truest sense. Our clicks are limitless.

For granny, a single click in her life was valued for a lifetime. For us, there are numerous clicks…. but how many do we actually value? I wonder.

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He lived a good life, right?

He lived a good life, right?
Inspired by NDTV and Fortis Health4UCancerthon, this Sunday, Richard and I decided to do our bit for those, who have in some way or the other been affected by the disease- either as a patient or as a caregiver. Being a very informal thing, we stuck to those we know and would be responsive to our care.
During the course of the day, I paid a visit to dear Mrs. K, a 60 something lady of utmost grit and strength. After having lost her husband to colo-rectal cancer two years ago, Mrs. K recently was operated for a benign lump in her breast. She now partners with many NGO’s in and around Delhi providing care and financial support to terminal patients. More than all that she does, it is what she said that showed her maturity level, her strength within and her understanding of life as a whole.
“I lost my dad to colo-rectal cancer 4 months back and I am still not able to come to terms with it”, I said. “It’s probably not the death alone. What is really upsetting me is the way he suffered the last few months of his life and the week before demise. It wasn’t a pleasant sight at all. I know my father has to die someday, but I wish he didn’t suffer so much. The disease literally ate him up inside out. He was a mere frame in the end.” It was an emotional outburst from my end. She sat quiet listening, stoic.
After I had calmed down, she began,”How old was your father when he passed away?” I said 70. “And he fought cancer for 5 years, which means he was diagnosed at the age of 65, right?” she asked. Ok now that is not difficult mathematics. She continued,”How was your father’s life for 65 years?” “Hmmm”, I said, “Well the usual life, earning a living and raising a family”. She asked immediately,” So he had no ailments in his life?” I said no. “Then you have no reason to be upset, “she said.
I was shocked at her response. Here I was grieving my father’s death, and the one sitting in front of me tells me not to be upset.  She said,” look at it this way. He lived a good life, a life a lot of people may crave for but never actually get. A healthy, normal family life with beautiful relationships around. It was only the last five years of his life that he suffered. He did live a good life right?  So now, you decide which portion of his life you want to keep in your mind. The majorly happier one, or a few years of suffering? I didn’t have an answer. I left the matter there with a single acknowledging nod.
As I left her place yesterday, I kept pondering over what she said. It took me a while to sink in its depth. And when it did sink it, I felt different, – a sense of calmness engulfed all over me.
Is the glass half empty or half full,”? A very common theory of how people perceive. It kind of applied here too. I kept focusing on the years he didn’t live, I seldom looked at the numerous years he did. I despite having knowledge of the situation looked at it with a whole lot of pessimism.
Thanks Mrs. K for your warm thoughts. This blog is dedicated to Sunday’s sweet little chat we had over coffee. Glad we have people like you around inspiring others.