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Month: September 2015

Do you Google Maami? – With Digital India

Do you Google Maami? – With Digital India

There has been no greater revolution than the internet revolution.  The internet has crept into our lives so much that it has changed the way we live, shop, socialize and work. And the ‘Maamis’ (the Tambrahm way of referring to an aunt) from Adyar are surely not to be left behind!!

In a recent trip to Chennai, I sat chatting with a few from my family. It was a warm and lazy Saturday afternoon. My eyes drooped as my ears tried to pick up the conversation that was going on. Come on… what could a bunch of 70 year old Maamis possibly talk about? “Nellikai urugai, maavadu season, Karuvadaam varieties, son in the States…”(Gooseberry pickles, mango season, dries chips varieties…).But minutes later I sat upright, to realize, they were talking about internet speeds, popular URL’s, smart phone apps and much more. Whoa….I realized the internet had sure taken them by storm.

Take for instance Maami ‘V’.

Maami ‘V’ is known to be the best cook in our family circle. Till date I rate her “murukkus and bakshanams” (spiral gram flour snacks and savories) the best in the town. Years back as a young girl; I would find her referring to “Samaithu paaru”, before starting off on make her delicacy. Samaithu paaru is a three volume bible of traditional Tambrahm food, written decades ago by Meenakshi Ammal. These books are almost a mandatory part of every Iyer girl’s dowry. Maami ‘V’s daughter recently married to settle down in America. I asked Maami if she had given her the mandatory dowry. “Ellai ellai” (no no). “Google is there na. She could just search for any traditional dish. So instead of the books I bought her an iPad as marriage gift!! Whoa…Google replaces Meenakshi Ammal. Ironically that evening I went on a search for the books in Chennai. After considerable hunting, I managed to get a copy in an obscure shop in Mylapore.

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Maami ‘K’s tryst

Well before the software boom happened, the Maami’s of Tamil Nadu had generously been exporting their engineering sons to the States. With a heavy heart and oodles of pickle bottles, ‘podi packets’ (flavored powder to be mixed with rice); ‘karuvaadam’ (dried ready to fry chips) wrapped in boxes…their sons left for the US never to settle down in Adyar again. A few lucky Maamis meet their sons once a year during year-end holiday season. For many others Green card and cost issues make the yearly visit much more difficult.

For Maami ‘K’ life is as happy as it can get. “I chat with him on Skype almost every day. He switches on before he leaves for office every morning and after he is back in the evening. I watch him have his breakfast and dinner. It is as though he is among us. I am planning to get him married and have lined up some Skype interviews with prospective brides”, she said.

Whoa Maami, ‘Ponpaakarthu’ (bride seeing ceremony) through Skype. Now that’s a sure revolution.

Maami ‘S’ loves to start every morning with her ‘kolams’(drawing made using rice flour at the entrance of homes). At the age of 60 she still religiously gets up early to draw these beautiful patterns outside her home in Adyar. “I check out new patterns for the next day with the help of Google”, she said. “I now know more than a 100 different styles of kolam, some depicting mythological events and some are simple floral creations.”

I was amazed at her sheer enthusiasm to learn at that age.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently took his ‘Digital India’ Vision to the Silicon valley. “I see technology as a means to empower and as a tool that bridges the distance between hope and opportunity”- This is what he had to say. I totally agree. The internet revolution has empowered and transformed millions of lives.

Should I really advice my daughter that there isn’t any difference in being a boy or girl?

Should I really advice my daughter that there isn’t any difference in being a boy or girl?

Sheela raised this question as we both scuttled for a seat in the crowded Delhi Metro. The one hour commute between Rajiv Chowk and Huda City Centre gave us enough time to share tidbits of our daily lives. “Of course you should”, I said. “Girls are leaving a mark in every field these days. Opportunities are aplenty and there should be no restrictions on the basis of gender”. “I thought so too”, said Sheela. “But off late I have begun to realize 100% gender equality is utopian and does not exist”. I was stumped to hear this from Sheela. I have always known her as an intelligent, well read and well-spoken person. An efficient mom of two kids and a feminist at times, she spoke vehemently about empowerment of women on many an occasion. But a statement such as this threw me aback.

Sheela continued without waiting for me to ask for a clarification.

“I grew up with two elder brothers. So tools, spanners and screw drivers co-existed among dolls, ribbons and laces in my room. My father always made me believe that there is nothing a girl cannot do that a boy can. And I believed this with all my heart and excelled in every activity as a student.

My first jolt however came, at the time of my college admission. I cracked the IIT-JEE with a fairly high rank. As my passion lay in tools and machinery, I decided to opt for the mechanical branch. And that is when, for the first time, my “progressive” thinking father questioned my decision. “Girls seldom opt for mechanical engineering. It is a boy’s subject. Why don’t you opt for electronics or computer science instead?” he said. I was surprised at my father’s words. He knew the workshop floor was my passion. Yet he restricted me from opting for it. Nevertheless after considerable coaxing he agreed. So there I was at IIT Delhi. In a class room of almost a hundred odd students I was one among 4 girls. Yes, that was the ratio 4:100 in mechanical engineering. But this did not deter me. I topped my semesters almost every single time.

The second jolt of my life came at the time of placements. The engineering based industries which were on campus for placements, did not prefer to employ girls.  Though this wasn’t communicated directly, the industries claimed there would be a lot of field work and such an environment isn’t at present conducive for a women employee. So despite being a topper, I could not get a job that I really had the passion for. I did manage to get recruited by a software company based in the USA, which made me forget my actual passion.

Entry in the 2011 CIPE Cartoon Contest by Indra Baatarkhuu from Mongolia
Entry in the 2011 CIPE Cartoon Contest by Indra Baatarkhuu from Mongolia

But the biggest jolt came after I got married.  Though Ajay was a loving husband and my in-laws caring, I realized after a few years into matrimony that there are unwritten rules and expectations specific to me. For example, the home front is always to be my department. So it is entirely my responsibility to ensure meals are on time, kids have had their tiffin, the laundry was done, the maid comes in, get the groceries, ensure children have done their homework, and do the other odd errands that spring up on a daily basis. Not that I cringe from taking care of home, but wish Ajay would share the load too.

Though my in-laws never openly discouraged me from working, yet every time I returned late from work, I was given hostile looks and a frown. It was different when hubby dearie returned home late from work. The thought was…well… he is earning for the family; hence he isn’t really expected to pitch in do the house work.  So I try to get home early from work, so that I could cook a decent dinner for the family, plan the next day’s meals and tiffin’s, get the grocery for the home, handle the maid, sit with the children’s homework and yes do the odd errands that suddenly spring up at home.

It is always like I have a double shift at home. I avoid work related travel and have had long career breaks to take care of family. All this has had a negative impact on my career growth prospects. If only we could bring up our sons to share the home responsibilities…. Till then I prefer not to teach my daughter that there is no difference between a boy and a girl.”

At that moment, the metro screeched to a halt at our destination. As we both gushed out onto the crowded platform, I let my eyes wander around at the sea of women waiting to get in- from young college students to independent office goers. I thought to myself. There are everyday struggles for each one of them. Sheela had a point. There still are gender specific rules, and stereotyped gender roles that prevail in society. Probably it is time we start to teach our young boys about the non-existence of gender differences.

Getting Chosen as a Life Partner- The Tambrahm Way

Getting Chosen as a Life Partner- The Tambrahm Way

This post made it to the top three in YeahWrite.me non-fiction weekly challenge.”

“Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws.”

That’s the definition from Wikipedia!!! Now if that sounded pretty complex, in reality, the institution of marriage is far more complex in India. Chunk of marriages in India are arranged. It begins from the “yes my child has reached the marriageable age”, to the actual event and beyond…. (Well I really don’t know when weddings end in India. The responsibility gets dragged on probably till the couple has their child).

The elders in the household get the ball rolling by spreading the word in the immediate social circle. Once a prospective groom (read family) is shortlisted, then the whole rigmarole of marriage begins.

Image source:www.penciljammers.com
Image source:www.penciljammers.com

I was recently party to one such event in my over enthusiastic “Tambrahm” household. Tambrahm is the nick name given to the Brahmin sect living in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. They have a reputation of not only being intelligent and well qualified, but also traditional and orthodox, conforming strictly to Vedic practices. My aunt made the announcement that her dear son had reached marriageable age. He had a very typical “IIT-IIM” Tambrahm degree, and the only thing she wanted was a girl who was smart, homely, and God-fearing.

Well that’s not too much to ask for… Just that the meaning of smart, homely and God-fearing in the Tambrahm dictionary is “a girl with at least an engineering degree, can drive a car, speak good English and debate on current political issues. She should be able to cook up a 3 course meal, make snacks and sweets in ample quantities during festivities. She should adhere to strict religious practices as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures, wear a sari and when required the elaborate 9 yards sari too. She could work…but should be home by 6 pm before the evening lamp is lit and be prepared to retire from work… when the first baby comes. She should also be able to sing during functions such as Navratri and other social gatherings, and make great filter coffee. Oh I also forgot to mention… Follow echal, pathu, madi, accharam … (well these are just different terms a common TamBrahm household uses for rules regarding hygiene cleanliness and general living).

So anyways the hunt was on and finally the chosen family was to be met on a Sunday, after the horoscopes of the boy and the girl were matched by the family astrologer. Being a ritualistic person my aunt decided it not appropriate to allow her son to meet the girl before she had met her. So an entire platoon of our family landed up at the girl’s residence. After the customary greeting, the girl whom I shall address as “A”, walked in with a tray of piping hot filter coffee. All eyes were transfixed on her. Did I imagine my aunt ticking off a checklist in her mind? I did see a twinkle in her eye.

“Can you sing?” my aunt asked her. Surprisingly most TamBrahms are blessed with a beautiful voice. I must admit “A” sang soulfully. The melody wafted through the air and I noticed my aunt’s smile deepen. When it was time to leave, I noticed “A’s” parents had a look of anxiety. Was it a yes or a no? My aunt held their hands and said, “I will get my son the next week. Let the youngsters talk while we proceed to the next step- the nithchaithartham or the formal proposal to marry.” The parents beamed.

A Tambrahm wedding had just been fixed.

On our way back home, I asked my aunt what made her say yes to the girl. Here were her reasons.

Reason 1: Their horoscopes matched extremely well. They will surely have a happy married life.

I find it quite surprising that many parents even today give more importance to horoscopes instead of actually focusing on compatibility. I wonder if horoscopes really reflect compatibility in marriages.

Reason 2: She did not use any make up. Did you see that?  She is surely a simple girl.

Well, use of make up or not, it is purely a personal choice related to dressing. Simplicity lies in one’s heart. I have always known the dislike Tambrahms have towards any sort of makeup. But little did I know that it is a vital criterion in getting a groom!!!

Reason 3: She can sing well despite being a qualified engineer.

I’d definitely give my aunt a point here. I truly appreciate a person developing their talent, skill, passion or hobby, apart from having their professional life. It is commendable in today’s hectic world. But wondering if this would make someone a good life partner.

I finally asked my aunt the question that had been gnawing my mind. “Would your son like to have her as his wife?” She retorted “Well he must… I know what’s good for him I would not take no for an answer.”

I pondered to myself. I am not against the system of an arranged marriage. But wish parents would include their children in their decision making process and not force their choices on them.

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