My very own pride and some prejudice

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One of the dictionary meanings of pride is “consciousness of one’s own dignity”. Of prejudice is “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”. Well, I am not thinking of reviewing Jane Austen’s famous book by the same name. Nor am I turning to English grammar lessons to fill in my blog posts. The reason why I thought this caption for my post is based on  a very relevant experience which I want to share with you.

Recently, we had been to a very hip and hep flea market.The place was filled with people casually strutting in designer clothes, designer shoes, designer sunglasses and selling other forms of designer stuff! After roaming around for quite some time, we sat down in the dining tents. The table next to us had a group of young women close to my age, who, needless to say were one among the designer wear group( not that I have anything against this, but what I wanted to stress upon is the fact that these were definitely people who had basic education,access to social media, television, newspapers and books). One among these had a small child of say about four years, sitting in a pram. Also a part of the entourage were two young servant girls, one to push the pram and one to hold on to all the shopping bags.

The women ordered a large amount of food and started to eat. The mother of the child (rather rudely) called on to the hired help(somehow I find the word “servant”, extremely creepy) to feed her son. As any child of four, the boy was restless in his pram and fussy due to the heat. The girl tried in vain to feed him, but was largely unsuccessful. The mother then asked the girl to chuck all the uneaten food in the waste bin. I cringed, but kept looking. Both the girls looked longingly at the food but did as was instructed. Then the mother gave some money to the girl. I was a little pacified that she was feeding them, but then I realised that she had sent them to buy a bottle of cola. Till everyone finished, both the girls stood next to the table. No one offered them a seat. (There were plenty of chairs around). The girls also did not think of it as out of place.They kept standing till the very end, when the mother and her friends finished, got up and took the child. Then, both the girls sat down on the lawn, opened their small tiffins and ate from them.

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I consider myself very just and therefore was suitably upset at this gross injustice. I was fuming when I mentioned this to my husband. He just told me that I was an equal party to the injustice. The least I could do was to get up, take a chair and offer it to the girls.This took me aback. And made me sad. And question my sense of ‘just’ness.

It seemed to me that he was right. We have such deeply ingrained notions of how our domestic help should behave, that even despite all our understanding and education, we subconsciously consider ourselves somehow superior to them. There are small things which almost all of us practice.. eg. Not allowing the domestic help to sit on the sofas, expecting them to wait for us to serve them food which they have cooked for us in the first place, feeding them leftovers which we do not eat ourselves, not giving them a room in the house ( most end up sleeping in halls and corridors or kitchens), and expecting them to wait on our every whim!

And worse, most of our help even believe that this is what they deserve!None of them rebel. Even though we know it is wrong, we allow such things to continue. We excuse ourselves saying that we continue on with this practice because we cannot afford to upset everyone in the extended family(labelled in laws, parents, grannies and the like)  or that the maid does not mind or that we have never asked the maid not to sit on the sofa. (But we didn’t ask her to sit on it either!) In the process, we become party to an important human rights violation!

Recent International labour organiztion(ILO) estimates based on national surveys and census in 117 countries, place the number of domestic workers at around 53 million. But experts say that due to the fact that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered, the total number of domestic workers could be as high as 100 million. The ILO also states that 83% of domestic workers are women and many are migrant workers.In India itself, there are approximately 4.2 million domestic workers.To put things in perspective, this is the population of the whole of Bangalore!

There are no laws to protect their rights, no minimum wages, no minimum or maximum age limit, no freedom to express anger, frustration or any other emotion and no actual definition of what their work does not include!

Even people whom we have chosen to represent our country internationally, have been offenders this way. Though there was a huge hue and cry when IFS officer and doctor Devyani Khobragade was strip searched by the US officials, not many went into the fact that she had in fact committed a fraud by taking a servant disguised as family, probably so she could pay a lesser wage (the excuse being that anything she earns here would be more than what she earned in India), and made her to work really abnormal hours without respite even during times when she was ill! But there were only few protests in Sangeeta Richards favor(that is the maid-I bet not many knew her name either). So getting an education really makes no difference.

This took me back to Arvind Adiga’s “The white tiger” which tells a rags to riches story of a small town boy who works as a hired help. He ends up becoming a goon and exploiting people whom he had served, in spite! In short,he got turned from an decent person into a sociopath!

There is a concept in psychology called “learned helplessness”, which says that when someone is made to face trouble constantly without the sight of an end, over a period of time, the person learns to accept that problem without rebelling or trying to find a solution to it. In short, he becomes a zombie!

Sometimes, I feel that we are responsible for turning our household help into either sociopaths or zombies, just because of our pride and prejudice. No law can help unless the change come from within our hearts to accept them as our equals(sometimes superiors- my help can make better dosa batter than I can ever expect to!)and to give them the dignity that they deserve.

This post was because in my sense of misplaced pride that I, could not interfere in someone else’s affairs, I did gross injustice. If I can reduce the prejudice any one mind, I think I can consider it my repentance!

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The super women around me!

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Inspiration is essential to all of us. When we get up each day to the same old routine of living, we need someone or something to make us enthusiastic, happy and wanting. To me, inspiration always came when I read about women who have braved the odds to make a mark in life. When I would feel  low and  dejected, reading inspirational life stories worked well as antidepressants. Reading articles on facebook of women who made it big past the age of 35 made me even happier! No, I would not call that feeling happy exactly. But, it was a mixture of anxiety, happiness and hope that maybe I could do more. On talking with a few friends, I realized that a lot of them used the same tactic to go through the drill of a busy working mother life.

So, stories of Malala Yousafzai, J.K.Rowling,Laxmi (the acid attack victim), Sunitha Krishnan(the activist working against child traffiking) and the like were a part of my staple diet.

Lately, I have been realizing that though there are many women who have been celebrated and awarded for their great achievements, there were many more whom we met in our everyday life who do not even realize that they are worthy of such honors.

Long struggling wives of alcoholic patients who suffer domestic abuse, manage work and educate their children, mothers of mentally challenged children who harbor part guilt and part hope that their children may be part of a miracle cure, women who go in for reversal of tubectomies at their families’ behest because one child died ( the trauma of surgery as well as the loss of the child with them to bear), wives of men who live in the middle east  who have to live separate from their husbands within days of marriage only to stay with and care for their in laws and children without a thought for their dreams, and so the list goes on.

Early on in my married life, any activity apart from my routine which I undertook  would make me crave for attention, a small pat on the back and a golden star to be given by my husband or the benefactor of that deed for the extra effort that I put in. I would put on my martyr act (as though I had sacrificed my all important time without anyone appreciating it)with a long face and all if it were not forthcoming.

In comparison, an average Indian middle class working woman, who apart from working hard in her office or workplace, also manages to take care of a household full of elders and children, cook for them, micro manage finances, socialize, make sure that her children are studying well, perform ritualistic poojas, and manage to balance herself on a two wheeler in a sari with vegetable bags in front and two kids pillion. All this, without feeling that it deserves accolades. It’s all in days work!

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This, despite the injustices meted out to them in multiple ways. A household of archaic orthodox rules, a husband who does not speak one loving word, postpartum periods when they have to leave their children with mothers who stay in far off villages to report back to work,handle pestering mothers in law, battling bad vibes from relatives if it happens to be a love marriage(strangely these vibes do not apply to the boy in concern, though he is very much a part of this marriage!) etc, etc..

Hence, nowadays, my inspiration has changed. Every morning I see inspiring faces around me.. from the road sweeping municipality worker to the maid in my house to the women staff in our hospital to the vegetable seller and to all the fantastic women I am related to. All of them seem special and worthy of the highest acclaim in the world. Each has battled their own odds and come out successful and smiling!Now, I don’t have to look far for my daily fix of enthusiasm. Thanks to all the super women around me!

The happiness project…

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It is called thought diffusion in psychiatric lingo. It is that weird feeling you get when what you thought was already there in the world as a part of someone else’s thoughts. It was as if there was a doppelganger who was living your life and suddenly, you got to know about him/her.

Recently, I was in a phase where I was utterly disappointed in how I was handling my life. Life seemed regular, mundane and so very average. I craved for newness, was always cribbing about how life was not what I expected.If someone told me to be thankful for the blessings that life had given me, I would have gladly snapped their head off. In short, I was having a mid life crisis. Or what I thought was midlife crisis. In my twenties, I had thought about a life of social service, idealism and  simplicity. And here I was now, not even close to what my dreams were. Yes, I  have a very comfortable life, a great job, lovely children and am not in dire need of money. So logically, I should have been happier, more comfortable and appreciate what life had given me. Instead, I was cranky, irritable and not sleeping well at night. Whenever I read things about how people had followed their dreams and now were ecstatically  happy about it,my mood would worsen.

It was then, that I chanced upon this book “The happiness project”. Bingo! The first few lines of the book echoed what I was feeling exactly. The book, written by Gretchen Rubin, a lawyer by profession and a full time writer now, has chronicled how she went through life’s motions dysthymic, till she started on a happiness project for a year. Things which she could not change were left the same, but there were a million things which could be worked on in small tiny steps which gave a her happy feeling.

There were many things in the book which sort of did not apply to my setting. But the book and its concept held great appeal. The fog in my head seemed to clear and I was left with new enthusiasm where I knew that I was not alone and yes, there was a way to get out of this self made rut.

For those who have felt this discomfort and inertia in life, I would now think a happiness project of your own is a great idea. First of all, all that you have to do is to make a list of twelve important things that you mean to change in yourself to become happier ( well, yes, this project does not include bringing about change in others’ behavior unless you change yours first)and break it down to small directives that you ritualistically follow until it becomes a habit. For example, if you always wanted to be a clean, organized person, ten minutes of cleaning everyday with a goal in sight may make you feel  jubilant as soon as the goal is reached.

The idea is definitely not new. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, zen, and a million other religions have sure theorized on this, but to apply it to today time and social structure, that is the key.

Most of us keep materialistic goals like buying a car or a house or going on a holiday as a source of gaining happiness. This is true to an extent, but to keep happiness as an end goal and personally work for it with sincerity that you would put for say a job or a deadline, that is something new.

I am beginning my happiness project now on, let me know about yours.

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What makes a good read??

What makes a good read??

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Reading has remained an all time favorite past time of mine. Though I love the feel of a book in my hand, I am not finicky. I would not mind an e book, a magazine or any pamphlet that I can lay my hands upon! According to me, reading has not only made me happier, but has also helped me gain friends, get a sense of belongingness with a community of book lovers (whom I can immediately relate to anywhere and everywhere), loads of information and an increase in self worth. Apart from this, as I am a psychiatrist by profession, it has helped me enormously in building a rapport with clients of various age groups and different mental make ups.

Till quite recently, my taste in reading was based on the weekly bookseller lists available on the internet, supplements of newspapers or what others rapturously mentioned on facebook! Lack of good bookstores in the town which I live in, would make me buy books which were totally unappealing, but sounded great on the back cover, when I went to Bangalore. And then, there was this problem of being branded. The choice I made would be based on the author I had heard a lot of intelligent and well read people quote. I did want to be in the elite group of the well read, and spout book and author names which I had difficulty in pronouncing.

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Needless to say, I had to struggle through a few books waiting for things to end as fast as possible, and even in the end, would not know what the book was all about. Why would I not stop in between?? Partly because I was too proud to admit I did not understand and partly because I would keep feeling that I may understand somewhere along the way and grow a taste for it. Like cheese, which tasted vile to begin with and then gradually tasting better.

After some years of doing this, I finally came to the question – what decides that a book was good?? Was it the level of complexity, was it the fact that at the end, much was left to your imagination, or something which made things stir inside of you- in a good way or bad! Something, which after reading,  would make you more stimulated, happy or disturbed enough to want to change something!

Case in point, some books which have gained a lot of attention but failed to impress me in the least are – Ayn Rand’s books—which took me a while to read, but left me confused. What was it all about? This is the first time that I am confidently quoting that I did not understand the profoundness of writing in those books. Haruki Murakami’s books. They cost dearly, but were quite difficult to be pleased with. Another example would be the Lord of the Ring series. Too long, tiny print and all the patience in the world(which sadly I lack).

On the other hand, there were also several  books that I really enjoyed reading, but were considered condescending by the true blue book readers, writers and critics alike. Indian authors like Chetan Bhagat, Anuja Chauhan and Preethi Shenoy fell into this category. After a gruelling day at work, these were fast reads and gave me a sense of joie de vivre after which I could tackle another hard day.

I got the courage finally to write about my feelings only because I recently read an article from the New Yorker(apparently a hi fi newspaper) comparing E.L James of the fifty shades of grey fame and Haruki Marukami. And how there were a lot of people who did not understand Marukami. I finally felt normal. And read about Chetan Bhagat’s book sales. More normal.

To end with, I feel I have made accepted that the fact that I am really not one to read complex situations and unfinished endings. Books to me are friends. Some very close, and some others whom I talk with but do not really relate to. I take good reads to mean a good fit. The first few pages should make me want to never keep the book down, make me want to still time, and something which invigorates me. I have learnt never to judge a book by the cover. The style of writing, the pace and the content are what makes me hooked and that is my good read.

Do you agree?