No Disclaimer

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If I could direct a short film, I will base it on  the theme ‘Respect.’  In the Canterbury tales, in her answer to what a woman truly wants, the old crone says, ‘autonomy over her life’. That is the version which has come to my notice anyway. To put it simply, ‘Respect.’

Going by my own life lessons, that was the toughest examination question that life posed: ‘how long will you stay without respect?’ It happened many times- in both personal and professional relations. Every time, the litmus test was the same.

Every time I made the fundamental mistake of being naive and expecting that the world was full of respectful people. So from one situation to another, I would march right on, without ever pausing to check the environment first: the subtle learning forgotten-‘find out what you are getting into.’

Why the Universe  had to expose me to the same  lesson multiple times has become clear to me by now. I was the  quintessential poor student, who kept failing every time and the Universe had no option but to force me to retake the examination many  more times: in different circumstances, with different characters playing in the scenes, but with one underlying core test.

‘Can you understand why you are in the midst of this drama?’

Now after a series of failures, I am confident to state the answer .

‘I know, sir! Oh, yes. Because I was dumb enough to not check the waters first. There is no respect anywhere in the treacherous vicinity, M’Lord! And every second I stay, my lifeblood will be sucked out by the negativity and pettiness. I shall now check carefully the environments where I invest my life and time and never compromise on my self respect.’

And thus I take up my pen . To write a note for those who might benefit from my mistakes.

Cardinal Rules of Life:

1. There is no love or growth without respect. It can be anything else, but disabuse yourself of the falsehood that love or growth thrives without respect. It does not.

2 . If someone gets a kick out of seeing you play small, making you look small, ensuring you stay small, either get ready to be a bonsai or step away. To grow into what you were meant to be.

3.  If you have tasted gutter water all your life- metaphorically speaking- you will find ‘respect’ a strange sort of drink at first! But get used to this heartening elixir, and you find yourself strong and alive again. For that, pick work, friends, and environments carefully. Else that old addiction to gutter water can take over and you will again find yourself in circumstances where respect is a word that is banned.

4. Nothing matters except your dignity. No one has the right to humiliate you or degrade you. No hidden agendas are powerful enough to hurt you; if you can see through the elaborate set up. The game of thrones is always at play in the friendly neighbourhood of one’s own life; but a wariness about the intentions of the other  actors might make you less vulnerable to hurt. You can step away, detached.

5. Be graceful as you step away from abusive environments. But listen!If needed, fight hard . If someone reads your quietness as weakness, and tries to harass you, do not hesitate before taking action. File a complaint.  Have your lawyer’s number on your speed dial.

**

All life’s lessons are totally my own. No disclaimer.

An Exercise in English Composition

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So the teacher said:

Dear children, develop the following outline into a small story.

Her eyes were red

I noticed.

“Fox, grapes, jump.

Fail, try again.

Fail, fail, frustrated.

Grapes are sour,”

She smiled at us wanly.

Hey, she said,

Try this children!

Give a good title,

” Fox and the Grapes!”

I made a hobby out of that outline game

And tried playing it often:

a) Try this children:

Woman,exam,

Win, happy

News in papers

Man scared, angry

Man’s father  furious, screams

Your name in it, not ours?

Bad woman, not respectful

Did not give us credit!

Title?

Hiding the Newspaper!

b) Better fun? Try this children!

Not beautiful,

Plain and ugly

Thin and small

Not good to be shown out

Stay inside home

Family get- together

Not for you

We will be back soon

Open at the first knock

Grand mother is deaf

And will not hear.

Title: Going Out

3. Try this too children:

Family, support

Thank God the children

Do not take after

You,

Hahaha!

And then the honey,

After the snakebite

Your hair is not

That bad, by the way!

Title:Speechless

4.Try this children

Life

Hiding newspapers

Hiding self

Enough!

Freedom!

Title: Past

Alternate title: Truth is stranger than fiction

Like it, teacher?

*****

Accepting Sickness

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My relationship with sickness, is strongly conditioned by the women in my family.

The rules were very clear while I was growing up:

  1. Women do not fall sick.
  2. Women have no right to fall sick.
  3. Women never accepted themselves as sick.
  4. It was sick, if a woman dared to call in sick.

So I grew up seeing women, from all clans around, maternal and paternal sides, synchronising beautifully  and exclusively- only on this sick issue, denying the reality of falling sick.

It was as if the whole vital organs of the family would break down, if the woman admitted that she would rest for a day. What would happen to the tea/coffee/dusting/cleaning/shouting/bathing of kids/cooking/living/dying…if she, she, she the woman, called in sick?

So I saw grandmas dragging their engorged feet all around the compound, sweeping dead leaves  of jackfruit trees, as if showcasing that their feet and their brooms were born to be tied up together. I saw aged aunts shivering with fever, taking baths at four in the morning in cold water, and lighting up the hearth to make tea for men, sleeping under warm blankets.I saw mothers, their backs bent in pain, groaning quietly, cutting vegetables  and stirring the pans.

During those times, words like “Hospital, medicine, doctor”, were treated with such disdain that the coconut oil in the frying pan could flip over in furious denial. The men could not be blamed. They accepted the easy excuses lamely enough.

I could never understand the psychology behind this self-sacrifice, this utter disregard of one’s own health, this cloying need to somehow work harder on such days.

Later, I discerned a pattern of justifications.

  1. Women wanted and craved for attention inside, when they were sick.
  2. In a rather perverse manner, they actually wanted their male kith and kin to disregard the strong verbal denials of “This is nothing. Are you joking?A doctor for this head ache? I had jaggery tea.” They expected the men to understand through body language!
  3. Men, since they cannot understand such “Non verbal communication ” even if you were to flag it red and wave before them, usually ignored the unsaid, and accepted the said words. They thought that the lady was not really sick. End of the matter.
  4. That made the women mad, bad and so, she worked harder. ‘Martyr, martyr..no one to see thee,’ drama begins…

Well, it took me half a life time to accept that it is absolutely ok to fall sick.

I encountered my mother recently, when she was obviously unwell.

“Take rest, ma. I will get it done,” I said.

“You? You are here for two days- you expect me to make you work?”

“Amma, I am not a kid anymore. I have two kids myself. Let us go to a doctor.”

“Big deal you know of looking after them! I have planned something special for them. This is nothing, blah! A doctor, haha!”

By this time,my patience is running out, my mother is obviously obdurate about her perfect health, and my father has quietly disappeared from the scene. That is his typical strategy in the battle field of  mother- daughter duels.

One hour later, my mother has served breakfast, refusing all help, and I am feeling so guilty that I cannot eat any of it. My father enjoys his breakfast.

“But why does she do it?” I ask him plaintively, ” I could have cooked or we could have got food from outside, if she so liked!”

“Can you make a crow fly upside down?”asks my father simply, with a grin.

There was something in that logic.

In the evening, when she was better, and reciting the Lord’s name mellifluously, I take the risk of venturing forth.

“Amma, have you ever rested in your life?”

She smiles, and calls Krishna to come to her aid.

“I mean, have you ever allowed yourself some sick leave, ever?”

Krishna comes to her aid. The light conks off. She scurries to make alternative arrangements.

“What do you think will happen if I fall sick?”she calls from inside a dark room.

I have no answers to that one.

****

When an aunt died, unexpectedly, a few years before, someone told me that her sons never realised that their mother was so sick. Apparently she would always be there, smiling, serving food, five varieties for the five of them, sharp at eight. They were defending themselves that the mother never complained of any pain or discomfort.

The laundry woman, the maid who helped in the chores- both knew. On enquiry, the women said, “She would rather die than admit that she was sick.”

She ended up getting her wish.

***

I have decided that it is time to break the sick chain of nay-saying in my own life.

‘I am unwell. Please take care of yourself.

And daughters, switch off that light as you skip past.

I am taking my rest.’

***

For My Daughters: A Letter

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My daughters,

One day, amma might not be there to tell you all these tidbits. Not pleasant to hear, eh, but then, we will start with discussing some home truths.

The world in which you live has both darkness and light. Like your favourite movies and books have villains and villainess abounding, our little earth has her share of these horrid creatures too. Dementors, Soul-suckers, horrendous evil- name them what you may- they exist.

Remember the scene of those froth dripping mouths of evil when they attacked Frodo and Company in the Two Towers?They were trying to stop those monsters from getting to the innocent women and children.

Evil exists, in both myth and reality. In fiction, fantasy and our daily lives. In souls so dark that a six month old flesh and seventy year old flesh and twenty year old flesh are all flesh to them- to be attacked and devilled and destroyed. Hence, caution!

Amma does not want to frighten you. But awareness is the first strength. So start being aware that all things that smile need not be the Kind GrandMother. It could be a wicked wolf in disguise too.

How can you make out the deadly swamp from the pure river?

The great intuitive power which the Divine has vested in you, will serve you well. But for that, you have to value that gift, and respect it.

It is called the Ïnner voice.

By the way, there is a word called “Bestiality” in the English language. Among the various meanings are “being like an animal” or “being depraved or brutal”.

I want you to listen to this very carefully.

There is not a single living animal, bird, insect or fish…any non-human living thing which is capable of “bestiality” as much as the human being- man or woman. Animals might kill, but they kill to defend themselves or to satisfy their hunger. Even the wild lion, tiger, bear…they do not commit acts of unimagined torture on another living being. They do not rape and insert rods into innocents. They do not throw burning acid into beautiful faces claiming to love them.They do not shoot a child because she went to school. They do not hammer the head of a three year old because her parents pray to God in a manner different to theirs.

So, only human beings are capable of “bestiality”. We defined the word in the first place- no animal did.

That is a very important lesson to remember as you grow up in this world.

Have I frightened you? Sometimes, fear is a good companion, provided we let her sit afar and tell us her tales.

Does that mean, all the bright, beautiful, brilliant little souls should hide themselves away?

No.

It means that all the bright, beautiful, brilliant little souls should stay wide awake in their awareness- of light and dark.

Listen with a smile to the cacophony around you– telling you what to wear, what to dream of, whom to desire,what to yearn for,how to worship God,which job to do, what vacation to take, how to be hot, how to be cool..go ahead, listen…but then decide for yourself.

That is another lesson, by the way. (Have you wondered on that phrase- by the way? By life’s way, as we travel..:)

Decide for yourself – all your life choices. You will make mistakes, but they are yourmistakes.

Be proud of the fact that you chose for yourself, even if you failed.

Dust yourself up, cry a bit, but then simply go ahead and choose again.

That is thousand times better than primping that you never made a mistake at all.

There is the story of an old crone in the Canterbury Tales.  Someone is tasked to find the answer from her on the greatly discussed question: What do women want?

The old crone gives the answer : Sovereignty over their lives.

How do I explain that conundrum to you?

Hmmm, let us put it this way:

Women (as well as men) have the right to dream of living their own lives. They have the right to choose their destinies. They have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. They have the right to let their inner light shine forth in whatever creative way they might choose for themselves.

Basically, they can dress, dance, walk, sing, dream, work, study, climb mountains, play football, mess around with clay and wet earth, fall in love, make love, have children, watch them grow, live happily, die gracefully…I hope you get what I mean.

But then, my girls, sadly, even after millions of years later, having been evolved from primitive animals, our world seems to be having difficulty about this simple proposition.Especially when it comes to women, let alone groups and sub groups of apparently “different” characters.

Remember the phrase ” Live and Let Live”.

It is also one of the greatest spiritual principles enshrined in all religions of this world.

It is based on one word- respect.

I have a right to live and shine in this world- as much as you have. As much as a butterfly has. As much as that evil creature has. As much as the mango tree has.

Yeah.

So, where were we?

Somewhere on the way, Amma lost track of what she originally wanted to tell you.

Does not matter, right now- the sunshine is bright enough.

And remember as you run off and play- be kind, be tolerant, be accepting, be yourselves.

Dare to be.

Bless you,

Your Amma