Happy Father’s Day, Daddy… and Mama


With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday I’d like to acknowledge the obvious individual…Mama.

She still laughs remembering Daddy’s funny stories. He artfully told his silly tales and endless supply of jokes to keep everyone entertained. Daddy could be truly funny and Mama was the first to laugh. After sixty years of marriage there’s no doubt she’d heard his material several times over but Daddy loved to see people laugh and Mama wouldn’t have him disappointed. She loved him and laughed hard at his jokes, chastised his colorful language, and coyly prompted him to repeat her favorites. Daddy enjoyed making others laugh and Mama happily served as the perfect straight man even if she occasionally found herself the brunt of his playful banter.

An aunt grinned and asked Mama, “How in the world do you live with him?”

“It ain’t easy.” Mama answered, shaking her head.

Daddy’s vegetable garden was perfection…

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The empowered martyr

When watching the character portrayed by Priyanka Chopra in दिल धड़कने दो, I felt a sense of familiarity. I have met this personality before. She is smart but confused. She is too sensitive, is hurt by the insensitive remarks made by the feudal males around. Forever overshadowed by a dominating father and later a passive aggressive husband, a mother who does not think much beyond her social circle and a mother-in law who has I-have-this-ailment-dialogues for every occasion, where can she express herself, where can she let her hair down? Her only outlet is her brother who understands without the need for words. She has everything, a husband who can provide for her, a job, she goes out of way to be supportive to all, but she is still the “daughter” and the wife who has to bow to everyone’s wishes.

No, this is not a film review. This is about this character, this person who a lot of us can relate to and maybe find within us and around us. And whether she is really empowered. The famous dialogue “I allow her to work so she is empowered” is so clichéd yet a fact we encounter daily. I kept on thinking about it long after I came back home. We made fun of it. “I allow you to make tea”. But the reality remains that you and I have heard this before. The world is changing. But the old world, with its own charm, had its own nasty viewpoints some of which still linger. I have heard my MIL remark “हम नहीं allow करते तो तुम कुछ नहीं कर सकती थी”, many years back. No, I actually respect her a lot, she comes from a generation where she was a pioneer in many respects having worked most of her life while most of her peers just cooked, slaved around at home and expected the same from all  बहू’s  around. I get the feeling that she says it more to herself, convincing herself that is the case and therefore holding her head high in front of the-esteemed-mom-in law-circle.

One of my friends from school days, I still remember, stayed right next door, when I would go to her home in the evening, she would be making chapatis for the family. – we were maybe in class VI at that time. Her mom would sit around not doing a thing. This girl, barely in her teens, had to make 40-50 chapatis before she was allowed to play with me. And if she resisted, her mom would give her a tight slap in front of everyone with dialogues like “चूल्हे में झोक दूंगी”. I have no idea where she is now and did she carry the same baggage in her next phase of life or she has changed. Would she be able to say No to her husband or she would remember that slap and comply.

My dad was a dominating husband, at times he would treat my mother pretty shabbily. She was a working woman, but had no say in any kind of decision-making in the family. She hardly ever had money to call her own and at times had to hide money from her husband in order to meet her social responsibilities. There were times when she would devalue herself so much, and declare she was dumb that is why her husband would treat her so. She could not even buy a saree without seeking permission. A generation earlier but I can see the similarities between her and this character portrayed by Priyanka. She would do great in her job, everyone would admire her, except her own family, who would treat her like dirt.

This is not about being a woman, it is about treating human beings with respect, not changing the level of respect because the person is a female.  My maid in Delhi would come to work beaten black and blue by her drunk husband and I would be more upset than her. Tell her, Let us go to the police and she would refuse. She said she had nowhere to go. I told her I’ll give her shelter, she still refused. She would laugh with a black eye and a broken tooth but still go and give all her earnings to him. Many educated ladies I know are in the similar boat- don’t have anywhere to go. So they deal with the sufferings- not silently any more- nobody does a Nirupa Rai, they fight, they suffer and they comply. I feel so strongly that females must be financially independent as far as possible, so when you have a strong need, you can step up for yourself and call it quits and move on. Priyanka needed an anchor before she could take the step. But are we so weak? A person I am very close to, is unhappy in her marriage, but she has a sick child and is not qualified enough to earn. So she survives in a loveless relationship with a husband who only comes home to eat and sleep, 7 days a week and gives her money to run the house and feed the family. Yes, he does provide for her. Maybe she should be happy in her silent suffering.

In Maharashtra, a lot of women work. And support their husbands. My maids earn more than their husbands and sons but still undergo the torture of being beaten at times and when they fall ill, there is nobody to look after them. But the social stigma still remains, the सिन्दूर  has to be there, the husband must be fed, even if they go hungry. Remember the character played by Sridevi in English Vinglish. Wasn’t that a classic example of a similar case. Someone who is gently smothered, unintentionally, who wants to break free, but within her social bounds. You need a will of steel and a heart of gold to be that and do that.

The biggest problem with us women is that we do not give ourselves the respect we deserve, we do not speak up for ourselves. In our mind we are still the commoners or slaves and our husbands and sons’ the Kings and the Princes’. The day we realize we are all equal, the world will be different. By treating your male counterparts as superior beings, we are not doing a favour to them. We are sending them the wrong signals and just when they get used to it, we will blame them for not supporting us in household work or other needs. But then kings don’t do that. Is sacrifice the way of expressing our love or our gratitude in being provided for?

Recently a woman employee in my office resigned. In a strange manner. Her husband called up to say she is not coming to work any more. When she was called, her husband picked up. She would not even come to the phone. After a number of discussions, she just came and said I can’t work for personal reasons and refused to elaborate. I can’t even begin to imagine the circumstances that compelled her to take such a step.

And how we love to make sacrifices and tell it out loud. We will eat after feeding everyone else (I do that too). We will not say No even if we have a headache. we will leave our jobs to accommodate the family. Someone I know has been cribbing her ever since I know her- All my life I am sacrificing for my husband and my children and I have done nothing for myself. Why didn’t you? If you had the will power and strong desire to do something for yourself, nobody would have stopped you. Being a martyr and blaming others is the easy way. India is a free nation, we don’t need martyrs any more, voluntary or involuntary, even empowered ones.

Bringing Parents home

My mom, 77, a cancer survivor and as tough as dough. She has taken to bed the past two years, gained a lot of weight, refuses to stand and only says “Maa”, when she is happy, when she is upset, when she wants something, when she doesn’t like something. You have to recognize by the tone and context what she is trying to say and deal with it. If she tries to say anything else, it gets garbled up by the time it comes out and you can’t make head or tale out of it.

My dad, almost 80, was fine till about a couple of months back and then suddenly  went into a mom-effect. He lost a lot of weight, needs a catheter and is pretty stubborn about- I don’t want to eat, I want to see a doctor, I don’t want to bathe, brush, and only want “Umaji” who has been their caretaker for the past 3 years. He sometimes believes he is 48, wants a ticket to Bihar, talks about everyone as “rascals”, calls someone called “Robinson” and insists that he needs to visit the washroom every 5 minutes.

Looking at this state, we decided that staying at Jodhpur was no longer a viable option for them and planned to bring them to Pune to be close to me where they can be better taken care of. (I heard that my dad remarked- I am least interested to go to Pune.) The journey was the longest I have ever gone through. And I am not even talking about the work that was needed before and after.

I don’t know why there are no direct flight between the two places. After looking at all alternatives- shall we bring them by road in an ambulance – it will take more than 24 hours, ruled out, shall we get a charter flight/ air ambulance – after looking at the cost- ruled out, what about train – same issues as road and their decibel level will not let anyone around sleep,- ruled out. So no option left other than our very own Air India Jodhpur-Delhi-Pune.

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So, come Thursday, having mentally prepared them for the journey- don’t talk too much, don’t shout too much, the pilot may refuse to take us, we loaded them into the car to get to the airport. Remember that every load- from bed to wheelchair, from wheel chair to car, and so on- is a herculean task in itself as my mom does not support her weight. If not done right, with proper strength and in one fluid motion, she will slip down and then it will be 15 minutes of “maa” in loud complaining tone.

Reached airport with no incidents, got attendants and wheelchairs comparatively easily, breezed through security check etc and waited for the flight. My mom was excited, so many people, so much ambient noise, so kept on excitedly telling me “maa”. My dad was depressed. Umaji was not to be seen. He kept on asking for Umaji in an undertone,with me shshing him every now and then to keep the decibels down. Jodhpur does not understand aerobridge, so it was “दम लगाके हईशा” to take them up the stairs to the aircraft, seat them on the aisle and window seat respectively with me in middle. So far so good. Dad slept through the flight, mom was her excited self and we landed at Delhi an hour later.

Exiting after everybody else is way different from standing up as soon as the plane lands and pushing and pulling to get out first. Found some easy-chairs to wait for the next flight. By this time my parents were getting tired. Fed them some खिचड़ी . By now the “Maa” had turned to a wailing tone as she kept slipping down the easy-chair, could not pull herself up and neither could I. My dad, in his hyper state of mind, started calling out to everyone around – “ओ  gentleman”, “ओ  सरदारजी ” even after my admonishing tones of “don’t bother others, tell me what you want”, he would calm for a minute and start all over again. Couple of hours later, time for the next flight. Holding my purse and a cup of tea for both of them and intermittently pushing their feet on to the wheelchair platform which kept slipping, while shshing them and saying sorry to all passerby’s who were called out in a loud voice by dad, it was altogether very noisy situation and I was just thinking, when people make a spectacle of themselves, I am relentless and blog about it, might as well write about us being a spectacle.

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Boarded the next flight. Air India, intelligently, had given us seats in row 18 and row 8, even though they were wheelchair passengers. After a big fight, we could get 1 aisle seat on row 3, and then 1 more after asking for consideration from other passengers, so two aisle seats. The entire flight I stood between them calming them both (with the air hostess banging into me every time and asking me to sit down) , who were really agitated by this time, my mom’s hat kept falling off and she wailed loudly every 2 minutes. My dad wanted Umaji to serve him in the flight and kept asking the people around to call her. They refused to sleep. I kept on repeating like a parrot- a few minutes more, we are about to reach Pune, then you can go home and rest. They would listen disbelievingly, look away and wail again. finally my dad slept for ½ hr on the shoulder of the next passenger, drooling on him. Poor guy, not a word of complaint. He would even put his head back on the headrest as it kept falling down.

Landing at Pune was quite eventful. We landed and the pilot announced, we cant get an aerobridge because it is allocated to a Spicejet flight, hence we have to take the stairs, as per ATC. It took them 45 minutes to sort out the mess before we could disembark. The last leg of the journey to home was uneventful. Reached home at 8 pm, after starting from Jodhpur home at 11.00 am. As soon as they could lie down on a flat bed, both were quiet and relaxed slowly.

Making a joke of all this is easier. It prevents me from being depressed and crying. Every time I look at them, remember how they used to be and how they are, I want to weep. To see your parents reduced to being totally dependent for feeding, sanitation and every little need, they are like children who don’t understand and all you can do is not lose your temper (guilty as charged, there are so many moments I get angry, want to give up, be a good boy, I will take care of you, when they don’t understand, it is so depressing), be patient and help them relax.

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