Tag Archives: women

The Rise of Heart

Had enough of the negativity and the ugliness that is popping up everywhere? Do you believe that the world is on the brink of an apocalypse? Do you really think that all the good is gone and only dark days lie ahead of us? Then this one is for you.

In the midst of death, despair and devastating loss, I’ve seen ordinary people do extraordinary things. Now it’s easy to open your heart and show kindness to less fortunate folks when everything is going plum good in your life. However, it takes a different kind of heart to shift your focus from your suffering to the plight of another.

A friend’s friend, who is recovering from a serious illness with prolonged complications, is constantly in pain and sometimes unable to perform day-to-day activities. In the midst of her health crisis, she managed to rescue two injured cats and even opened her home to a dog recovering from surgery. Mind you, she already takes care of five cats and an ailing relative. She truly has a big heart and is a blessing to all the animals she cares for.

When my parents returned from Sweden after visiting my brother, their house help quit due to ill-health. Luckily, my mom encountered this lady who used to work for my grandma and later for her before relocating to another state. She couldn’t afford the rent in Chennai and her step-son asked her to vacate under the pretext of renovation. Being a widow, she is entitled to the widows pension granted by the state government and visits Chennai every month to collect it. Now when word got out that she was not residing in Chennai anymore, the authorities refused to pay her. To make ends meet she decided to work for my mom. She found a temporary place to stay and was provided two meals a day. My mom packed breakfast for her in the morning and also gave her a cup of tea and snacks in the evening.

All was well until the landlady started acting up after a couple of months. She made it abundantly clear that she wanted our house help to leave. Poor lady had no where to go. My parents decided to let her stay with them. In her retirement years instead of living a quiet life with a roof over her head and enough dough to sustain her, here she was homeless and forced to earn her living.

Recently another lady who worked for us and is now unemployed showed up and my mom took her  in as well. She now cooks for my parents. They really don’t need two people to help out around the house but they couldn’t turn her away because she has to support her family.

I think everywhere everyone’s heart has opened just a little more. I was surprised when my mother-in-law offered to feed our kitten – the one we had to leave behind. We raised it as an outdoor cat although we fed it a few times a day. She knew how to hunt for lizards and mice so we resigned ourselves to the fact that she could survive without us. But the fact that we may never see her again after we left for the U.S. broke our hearts. Seeing how distraught the kids were, their grandma decided to do the least she could do to make the kitten stay.

Then there are some brave souls who are in a vortex of adversity and still look out for others. A friend of mine suffered a loss, was sick and had to fend for herself. She had endless paperwork that had to be followed up and submitted and had to deal with uncooperative staff. She still found time to call and check on me and give me hope during what was a very dark year for me. Her dad’s friend’s sister was in the hospital and she offered to cook and provide meals for them to the extent of neglecting her very own health.

So is there still hope for this world? I’d say YES! It may not be obvious and it may not be breaking news but in small ways, small people with big hearts are showing us that love and kindness are alive and well in the world.

Womanly Woes

I caught a glimpse of a serial on television the other day. This was the scene – a blind wife throws herself at the husband’s feet begging to be allowed to stay with him. Her disability is seen as a major hindrance that prevents her from doing her wifely duties and chores. Well-wishers urge the husband to dump her at an ashram and find a new wife to take care of the house and his child. With tears streaming down her face she begs this stone-faced man who scolds her and tells her to make her way to the ashram.

She painted such a pathetic picture of herself, wailing uncontrollably, helpless and totally at the mercy of her husband that it stirred something in me. This was no modern day soap but inklings of such desperate behavior do show up in pretty much every television offering. Forget television, in the back drop called real life a lot was going on. The triple talaq debate for one. Raping an unconscious woman gets a Stanford student a light sentence to protect his future. And in another part of the world a woman gets on the wrong side of law for reporting sexual assault. A Bollywood star (I’d rather call him scum) compares the rigors of shooting his film to being raped and if history is to be believed he will get away with it thanks to his celebrity status and blind fans who will back him up unashamedly.

Where is the justice? I wanted to reach into the screen and shake up that waling woman and tell her she was better off without that jerk of a husband and to stop treating him like some Greek God that needed to be appeased. Known for people pleasing, we women take it to another level when it comes to men. We deny ourselves in order to please our men. Oh he doesn’t like me wearing make-up. Oh he likes my hair short. Oh he doesn’t want me to work. What the hell do you like woman? Does he honor that as well? I hope so or he is so not worth it. Some women deny their own needs to the extent of living in loveless or abusive relationships. You deserve to be loved and honored for what you are. You deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. It is sad that so many economically impoverished and uneducated women are left high and dry by men who use and abuse them. It is sadder that many educated, highly capable women suffer in silence instead of walking away from abusive or adulterous husbands.

The excuses are many. Kids. Society. Financial dependence. But when a man does the same thing no one questions him. He can wash his hands off his kids and get away without paying child support or alimony. But women? Oh no! Walk away from an abusive relationship and you have ruined your child’s future, marital prospects, psychologically damaged them and what not. And guess what? It’s always the woman’s fault!

If educated women can’t stand up against these atrocities then what hope does a poor housewife who can’t read or write have? Her fate is sealed and she can be cast out on a whim or just by uttering a word three times. Or worse held hostage and made to do the housework while the husband carries on with other women. Victims of aggression and insatiable lust, these women suffer unspeakable horrors. Some pay the price for standing up. They are burnt alive or marred for life by acid attacks. When will this end I keep asking myself. Sometime soon I really hope and then even the media will reflect that change with empowered women who hold their own without a man hovering in the background.

Unleash the Goddess Within

Whenever I think of Goddesses incarnating on earth I fondly remember my grandma. She was a powerful matriarch with an iron staff (or should I say sword?) She was fearless and stood up to most anyone – die-hard patriarchs included – who saw her as a hapless widow. She owned her power. She was kind, generous, loving and very shrewd. She saw through facades and flagrant unctuousness although she appeared to revel in it. She was like a fierce lioness with a brood of cubs that she guarded vehemently. She was definitely a Durga. There is this picture of her taken on her birthday. She is dressed immaculately in white, brandishing a sword (thanks to her indulgent brother) while sitting on her bed with her dogs languishing in the background. On her nightstand she had a picture of the Goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura with his decapitated buffalo’s head and body lying under the goddess astride a lion. The lion is mauling the remains of the demon while blood drips off her trident.

I was reading the book, “Awakening Shakti” by Sally Kempton and it was all about the different goddesses and their powers. It even had a fun quiz at the end – Which Goddess are You? The author didn’t want the readers to take it too seriously and just wanted everyone to have some fun. I took the quiz in that very same spirit but slowly it took on a serious turn. I related to different Goddesses with very contrasting qualities. Of course everyone is a mix of qualities and it’s not always possible to fit in one particular category. In my case however, I saw how I was dominated by one Goddess during one part of my life and others during other parts of my life.

Every woman goes through a phase in her life when she feels like a goddess, oozes charisma and a dizzying fragrance that others find irresistible. In fact some men fear the power of such a woman and demonize her as the femme fatale. The evil one that seduces one and all. Some patriarchal societies don’t encourage women to flaunt their beauty. They want it kept under wraps and want women to feel ugly about their bodies. In extreme cases they mutilate women as a way of punishing them for embodying the beauty of a Goddess. Look around you and notice how people make you feel ugly or unworthy or encourage you to hide your inner beauty because they are afraid of it. To be a goddess you must see beauty within you and appreciate beauty around you.

At one time widows were expected to shave their heads and wear drab or white robes and no jewelry so they would not tempt other men into entering into a liaison with them. Which brings me back to my grandma. She wore white saris but was the epitome of style. Probably the years she spent in England made her realize that not everywhere are widows treated as outcastes. But she did not discard all of her Indian upbringing. She somehow molded the two and made white her fashion statement. How empowering is that?

Remember Sita? The beautiful goddess who married the handsome Prince Rama. The divine couple were a dazzling sight and people could barely take their eyes off the two of them. But later on in the story the beautiful Sita follows her husband to the forest, suffers untold miseries and then gets abducted by a demon king. She waits for her husband to come rescue her while ugly demons taunt and torture her. Ravana, the demon king waits for her to join his harem. She refuses until one day he can take it no more and attacks her with the intention of molesting her. Only then does the timid Sita take on a fiery persona and forbids Ravana from touching her lest he gets burnt by the intensity of her Shakti or power. Ravana backs off, sensing the intensity of her power and not wanting to risk his life.

To cut a long story short, Rama kills Ravana and rescues Sita but refuses to accept her since she has lived with another man (Sita suffered the changing seasons and was at the mercy of the elements in the Ashoka garden. She never stepped into Ravana’s palace nor did she wear any of the silks and jewels that he offered her.) She had to pass the test of fire to prove that she was chaste. Only then did Rama accept her as his queen.

So many women I know fall into the Sita category. They sacrifice their joys, ambitions and dreams in order to support their spouse and always put themselves last. Why even I am guilty of being a Sita during the early days of my married life. Isn’t that what every mother teaches her daughter consciously or unconsciously? I was reading my journal from many years ago and one of the entries struck me. I was told to “act submissive” during the wedding ceremony. It incensed me now, but my 23 year old self was willing to comply with that absurd request!

We are all taught to be Sitas. To be docile, in the shadows, ever serving our Lord (husband!) Made sense in Sita’s case because Rama was really the Divine incarnate. Now how many husbands treat you the way Rama treated Sita. And even Rama wasn’t perfect!

I was happy to play the domestic goddess. To cook, clean and care for the kids while my husband worked for a pay check. After a few years my domestic goddess felt disempowered. I could no longer play the role of a supportive, self-sacrificing Sita. The Durga in me emerged – fierce and seated on a lion – ready to pounce on anyone who doubted my power. I had to find a balance between nurturing others and myself and that came only from knowing where to draw the line and having the power to defend it.

When I don’t take good care of my needs the Kali comes out in me. Now Kali is the shadow side of the goddess. Dark and menacing with a necklace of skulls and a thirst for blood. Some call it PMS  which to me stands for Protesting Matriarchal Suppression! No one wants to be around Kali. She strikes terror in the hearts of men. And yet she is needed every now and then to restore the balance when it is too far gone to humanly restore.

Is the female of the species deadlier than the male? Occasionally yes, if you push her buttons too hard and too often!  But in a balanced state she nurtures one and all, imparting beauty, knowledge, protection and creativity. So which Goddess are you or which Goddess do you aspire to be?

The Other Side of Shiva…

Blue and pink. Fairies, princesses, ballet and gymnastics. Legos, pirates, superheroes, cars and trains. Even before they are born, our babies have their whole lives planned out – what color their rooms will be, what clothes they will wear, what toys they will play with and preferred activities and games. We put our babies in neat little boxes painted blue or pink and label them boy or girl. When they try to crawl out of the box and get into the other one we push them back into the box we think they should be in. Think about it. Do we truly honor our children and see them as unique marvels of creation? Nope. We thrust our preconceived sexist ideologies on them.

Try dressing your baby in blue even if she is a girl and take her out for a stroll. I did that! Everyone went on about what a beautiful baby boy I had. Keep your girl’s hair short and again she gets mistaken for a boy. Once in school, girls with short hair get bullied for keeping their locks cropped. When boys grow their hair long it is cool – except in India. Schools out there don’t like boys with long hair. I’ve heard that they send some of them with their hair tied up in rubber bands just to make a point.

I recently dug up some old tapes with footage of my kids as toddlers. My son was walking around with a pink baby doll and kept calling it “baby”. As much as I encouraged him to play dolls with his sister, somewhere along the way he got the message that dolls are girly. It makes me sad to see my kids drift apart and do their own thing when at one time they used to play together for hours.

But this kind of bias runs deeper than just the color pink or dolls. It is like a subliminal undercurrent that sometimes catches us by surprise. Like the time when I was talking to my kids about growing up and having families of their own. My daughter who decided pretty early in her life that she wants to be a doctor asked me, ” Ma, who will take care of my kids if I go to work?”. It never occurred to her that her future husband shared the responsibility of raising the kids. I was stumped by her question and instead of telling her that raising kids was not solely a woman’s job, I offered to babysit while she worked!

While women have been excluded from boxes labelled ” A Man’s Job”, even if they were worthy and competent, men seldom crawled into boxes that had roles specifically for women. Remember Ben Stiller who played the male nurse in “Meet the Parents”? He was constantly ridiculed for his career choice. In my own life I theoretically believed that I (being a foodie and all) would love being married to a chef. In real life I turned down an alliance from a chef who worked in a five star rated hotel. So somewhere deep in my psyche I felt women needed to do all the cooking, maybe?

Back in my grandmother’s days women were not allowed in the kitchen because they had male cooks. My great grandmother who shares my name must be tut-tutting – two generations down the line her infamous great granddaughter has surrendered to the patriarchal system.

Born in the 70s I must have imbibed some of the energy from the Women’s movement. I grew up with a brother and we got treated differently, especially in our youth. He got to stay out late, go to clubs and discos and New Year’s eve parties, while I had to stay home. Anytime this happened,  I would raise a red flag and rant and rave (till I was blue) about discrimination of the girl child and women’s rights. My parents married me off young lest I go rogue.

After I got married my husband and I took on traditional roles – he worked and I stayed home and cared for the kids. I didn’t mind it at first but over the years I felt like I was taking on more and more. I was resentful and constantly nagged him about doing more around the house. Fortunately we both realized that our relationship is constantly growing and changing and that to make it successful one needs to adapt. Now I get more help from my husband and sometimes I don’t even have to ask.

Things are far from equal when we compare the two genders but in an ideal world we’d be equally balanced. There is a story in Hindu scriptures of a time when the mother of the universe playfully closed the eyes of Shiva. The entire cosmos was shrouded in darkness and all living beings suffered and perished. When the mother removed her hands, Shiva chided her and pointed out the destruction that she had caused. It broke her heart to see the suffering that she had inadvertently inflicted on her children. She set off to do penance and obtain Shiva’s forgiveness. At the end of her severe penance, Shiva and the mother merged as one so they would never be separate. The story is symbolic of the oneness of the male and the female aspects of the universe but we find it hard to picture that as humans. So the result of the merging of the mother and father of the universe is depicted as below. All we can do is hope for a time when we would honor the male and female aspects of ourselves instead of suppressing one or the other. For one cannot flourish without the other and they are inseparable.

The Work you Do…

This one is for all you unemployed and underemployed people out there. Even all the homemakers and stay-at-home moms. I was there and I know what it feels like. Sending out countless applications that get sucked into the cyber space blackhole. Shamelessly asking friends to find work for you. Begging your spouse to forward your resume to his or her boss. Feeling helpless and totally worthless. Yes, I’ve been there.

On the flip side I’ve also been vain enough to gloss over plenty of jobs because I thought they were beneath me! Luckily, I had a choice. Working was an option. My husband put food on the table and paid the bills. So I could afford to be picky and choosy. Unlike the CEO who got laid off and had to work as a pizza delivery guy to feed his family. One day he was a millionaire and the next day he was bankrupt. Or the Iraqi doctors who had high flying careers and ended up as refugees in the United States. They couldn’t practice medicine and did odd jobs just to survive.

When no one would hire me for jobs that fit my profile because I didn’t have enough experience or had taken a long break to raise my kids, I got frustrated. I started applying for jobs that only needed a high school diploma and not a Masters degree. Guess what? I still didn’t get hired because people thought I was over qualified! The frustration mounted and when I couldn’t even get an hourly or part time job I started believing that I was beneath it all. Something was wrong with me.

It dawned on me that I did not have an impressive resume or the experience required. People mistook my resume to be me. I could have cooked up a very eloquent resume but it just wasn’t my style. I realized you needed to know someone in the company you wanted to work for just to get your foot in the door. So finally I got to a place in my life where I knew someone and I approached them with my resume. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’m glad I did it because it paid off. I got the job. Now its not the kind of job that one would be jumping in joy for but I’m jumping in joy all the same. I’m back on the workforce after a long hiatus. I wasn’t hungry, in debt, homeless or desperate. I was well cared for and I could have continued being a stay-at-home mom that volunteered like crazy! But I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t broken. That I could find employment. That I wasn’t what I had become. I have potential. I can add value to any place that I work for. I have something to offer.

It’s funny but this I-am-not-good-enough lie continued to shadow my life. Especially at work where I kept thinking I’m not good enough and that I’m doing something wrong. The fear of getting fired overwhelmed me. It isn’t just me, every woman or man who goes back to work after a really long time has these baseless fears. But with time and a lot of overworking and trying to impress (God knows who!) we get over it. The question we need to ask is – Is it worth it? Most of our assumptions are not true any way. It’s just a bunch of lies that we keep feeding ourselves. Or something we start believing after we have been told the same lie over and over. We believe it to be true and let our towering selves be diminished. Finding a job, finding a spouse, getting whatever you want on your wish list aint going to heal that wound. Chances are it will still nag you and in extreme cases will make you lose all that you worked so hard to achieve.

When I realized I was going to sabotage my own happiness I quit worrying. I replaced my worry with a sense of pride in the work I did. Wish I had figured that out years ago when I was home doing the most important job I ever did – raising my kids. No one ever patted my back. No holidays or bonuses. No remuneration. Sometimes lots of criticism. But nevertheless it was/is a labor of love. One with high dividends. It’s not easy and many women wallow in self-pity (like I did) thinking the work they do doesn’t count. It does count. Fixing meals for your kids, putting them down for a nap, bathing them, feeding them, caring for their boo boos – yes someone else can get paid to do it while you chase your dream career but no one – NO ONE can do it as well as you or with as much love.

Again I’ll be the first to say I don’t want to victimize women for making the choices they make (knowing firsthand how horrible it is to be judged for being a stay-at-home mom). No two families are the same nor are their circumstances the same. So how about we change how we look at work. All work is sacred. Paid/unpaid. Gets you laurels/goes unnoticed. A job well done is a reward in itself. So don’t look outside of yourself for job satisfaction. You won’t find it. Take pride in all you do and respect the work that others do for you as well. You never know when the tables will be turned and then the prince will become a pauper.