Friday, 19 October 2007


A few weeks back, I found myself in the midst of an argument with two ladies. One of them went on to write a blog on its behalf and I feel honoured. I have subsequently responded with a comment on her blog. I feel the whole debate makes interesting reading. I am cutting and pasting from her blog and my comment follows her writing. She has chosen pseudonyms (to protect our identities I presume) – Nishan = Adithya. Here goes:

Choices - We Make

Late one Sunday evening a couple of weeks back, Shaina – a close friend from college came to our house as she was in town from Bangalore on her way to Dubai on work. Nishan one of my husband’s friends happened to drop by, that evening and joined us for dinner. While the two men nursed their drinks, over old Hindi music playing out of the laptop in the study, Shaina joined me in the kitchen while I fried “pakoras” to go with the drinks and finished preparing dinner.

In the kitchen we caught up on each other’s lives and had a heart to heart on our lives as women – Wife, Mother(she has a five year old son), Career woman, Daughter and Daughter-in-law. Both of us conceded that life was indeed very difficult and there really was no choice that we had in the matter. Balancing everything, left us with little time for our-selves but compromising on any of the responsibilities would not fulfill us either .
As we sat down to dinner, Shaina concluded the long conversation that we had been having with “ I am a superwoman !!!.” Nishan who is a divorcee for over a year now after a eight year marriage promptly commented “ That’s your choice”.

Shaina decided that she would rather not discuss the matter further and so fell silent, but I jumped to her rescue with - “ As if we women have a choice”. Now I am very touchy over this subject as I feel I am a “ Super, Super-woman”.

Shaina remained very calm and wore the expression of nonchalance but I set upon this passionate debate on “Choices " and so said “what choice does she have but to play all of her roles as a women to perfection. We work as many hours, if not more than our husbands but is it not our responsibility to ensure that we also have a well wheeled and running house-hold, a well stocked kitchen and refrigerator, regular change of all bed and bath linen, timely food on the table and the responsibility to look after the well being of the family.”

Nishan’s reply to that was “it’s your choice to get married, to stay married, and do the things you do - you make the choice between staying on or leaving”. I was infuriated and thought, now here was a guy who was not only a chauvinist but an impractical, arrogant one at that. What he was truly implying was that all women should either sing songs to their happily married lives or pack their bags and leave. I could not help wondering how one could work out a marriage with those views and though I did not intent to, I landed up saying – ‘‘I don’t really blame your wife for leaving”. Later on the drive to the airport on her way to Dubai, Shaina and my-self thought to our-selves that what is worse than being super-woman is this attitude of ungratefulness. Honestly with some appreciation, gratitude and understanding women will not totally mind the super woman role.

After this incident the word “Choice” stayed on in my mind and again and again, I found my-self thinking of all the choices women make. Added to my pre-occupation with the word was also my having watched the movie “Laaga Chunri mei Daag” – literally translated means “Stains on my Scarf(Dupatta)” in which Rani Mukherjee plays the role of a small town girl who goes to Mumbai in the hope of finding work to get her family out of financial crisis.

She looks high and low for work but does not find anything as she has no academic qualifications and has only passed class ten. Finally she gets to reach the interview stage where she is told that the only way she could qualify for the job was if she spent the night with her interviewer. She walks out in a shocked state and calls her mother who was actually counting pennies out of a container, to get together money to pay for her fathers hospital bills, after a heart attack. In the state of mind that Jaya Bhaduri, Rani’s mother is, she tells her daughter to do what she feels is right on being told that she has to sleep with a guy to get the job. Which mother if she had a choice would give such advice to her daughter even at the spur of the moment and how difficult giving such advice is for her as she has to carry the guilt of it for ever.

Rani goes ahead and does just that, but just after she has slept with him she is told that she still does not qualify for the job but is given ten thousand rupees. She leaves the money and walks out of the hotel room and finds her-self being counseled by a worldly wise woman who tells her that instead of being used by men, she should go out and use them in return and be a high class, expensive call-girl. She takes the advice and becomes one.

Here is a woman, who actually had no choice, but a guy like Nishan and most guys I know will say that she did. They would easily say that she had the choice of going back home and starving, being on the roads, having her younger sister stop her studies and in all probability together light their father’s pyre out of not being able to pay for his medical bills. There are so many women in the world who do what they do as they do not have a “real choice”. Like one would say, between the devil and the deep sea which would a woman chose.

Another story which I found very captivating was the story “Eleven Minutes” by Paulo Coelho where he so sensitively describes the life of a Call Girl who becomes one, by no choice of hers as she is picked up from her home town as a child and sold to a brothel far away and always nurtures the dream of someday giving it all up and returning home but gradually with time she actually enjoys what she does and remains to be one as that’s the only life she has known. Can she be condemned for trying to be happy, the only way she knows how to.

How I wish that people like Nishan would realize that often in life a woman makes a choice be it to become a call girl or stay on in unhappy marriages, either because they love their husbands, want the security of a home and family to make the lives of their children secure or simply because they love giving and in return the least they want is understanding and appreciation from the people they do it for like in the case of Rani’s supportive family who acknowledge that she did everything she did for them.

I also hope that there would be more men in real life like Abhishek Bacchan in the movie who marry women like Rani because they see a woman for what she stands for and appreciates the causes, for the choices she makes. Women often take on as much, or more than their strong shoulders can carry and all they want is acknowledgement, appreciation and a hand to hold on to along the way so being Super-Woman is worth the while.

-My comment-

Hi Shuvashree,

You sound allergic to the word choice. I realize that you view Nishan’s thoughts as chauvinistic and impractical, but is it fair to say that your thoughts are better because they originated in your mind? Perhaps Nishan has a point here. Your reaction in the face of Shaina’s silence could just be an unconscious defense move to safe guard your stance for after reading your piece, Shaina does not come across as someone who was as passionate as you are on the topic of Superwoman. Maybe Shaina was forced to agree with you in the kitchen while you were making ‘Pakoras’ and this prompted you to speak up while the topic of Superwoman came out at the dinner table. Maybe Nishan touched a raw nerve on some hasty decision you made and you wanted to feel absolved by feeling that you really did not have a choice.

Now that we got that out of the way lets turn to procedures of conduct from the days of the cold war knowing fully well that both sides have ample nuclear arsenal to turn the situation into something ugly. Let us reserve mudslinging and hitting below the belt for losers, so no more, I don’t really blame your wife for leaving”. The appropriate way is to have a good debate. I would like to argue in favor of Nishan.

Let us assume that Shaina really is on your side and now let us define what we are arguing about. It is apparent to me that the issue in disagreement here is that ‘all decisions taken are made out of choices presented to us’. Nishan said that the stance of Superwoman is out of a choice that the woman makes and you say otherwise, which in effect means that it is thrust upon them – unfortunately your piece does not say that. There are only two ways that a person can end up in a situation. Either they are forced into it, like in the case of rape or they do so, out of their own free will. When a person makes a decision out of free will, he or she will have a set of choices. The final choice that he or she makes will be a result of which option they see as being the best in the set. Let’s take your own examples to clarify this better.

Example one: Rani Mukherjee in “Laaga Chunri mei Daag” – for the purpose of clarification I will suggest one option out of the choice list that she would have had at each juncture.

  1. She makes the choice of going to Mumbai for work as opposed to say going to Patna.
  2. She then makes the choice of attending the interview instead of say going to a construction site to scout work as a labourer.
  3. When she is offered the indecent proposal, she makes the choice of telling her mother about this instead of say asking the interviewer to go offer the proposal to his sister.
  4. Rani Mukherjee’s mother in turn makes the choice of advising her daughter (Rani Mukherjee) to do what she (Rani Mukherjee) thinks is right as opposed to say, telling her that her (Rani Mukherjee’s) chastity is far more precious than the old man’s life. (I haven’t seen the movie but your description of it sounds like this is the worst screenplay ever.)
  5. Rani Mukherjee then makes the choice of sleeping with the interviewer as opposed to say let her old man die.

What this means is that she did have a choice at each point but she used her intelligence to choose what she thought was the best option at that given point in time; probably out of compulsion but then she did have a choice. In your own words, Rani Mukherjee chose the devil (or is it the deep sea?)..

Example two: The girl in Paulo Coelho’s, “Eleven Minutes”. Wrong example as she was forced into it. She had no choice here. The choice she made came later when she decided to enjoy what she was doing instead of say becoming a nun.

You go on to say, “How I wish that people like Nishan would realize that often in life a woman makes a choice (*) be it to become a call girl or stay on in unhappy marriages, either because they love their husbands, want the security of a home and family to make the lives of their children secure or simply because they love giving and in return the least they want is understanding and appreciation from the people they do it for like in the case of Rani’s supportive family who acknowledge that she did everything she did for them.”

(*) Makes a choice?

See you tremendously contradict your stand on ‘choice’ in that passage. A woman makes the ‘choice’ (to become a call girl or stay on in unhappy marriages – or a marriage) because they love their husbands, want the security of a home and family to make the lives of their children secure or simply because they love giving. So it’s evident that she has desires in life, like ‘loving the husband’, ‘getting the security of home and family’, etc. It’s a situation she wants and hence she makes the above choice over staying single. Her expectation (..and in return the least they want is understanding and appreciation from the people they do it for..) is where it all goes wrong. You should do things because you like doing them.

Often women feel they are Superwomen because they feel they are juggling many issues at once, but stop and think for a moment. What are the activities that take your time and make you feel you are doing a lot? Humans love to control their immediate environment especially their homes and their immediately family especially their spouses or live-in partners. This is the place you come back to everyday and these are the people you sleep with everyday. People have a perception, a paradigm of how these factors should exist in their life; it is called ones ‘comfort zone’. A person who lives alone has no problem; he/she is the only one influencing and experiencing the environment and another individual’s thoughts do not have to be accommodated. When two or more people come under one roof, there will be expectations that are not fulfilled by the person(s) living with you but you still wish to maintain the decorum of your comfort zone and this drives you to do it all by yourself and in the bargain blame the other person(s) for not living up to your expectations. I would term this phenomenon as ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ (OCD), it’s a psychological problem.

‘Do onto others as you would have them do onto you’, I have another one, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t do for others what they don’t reciprocate’. The problem here is you. You do things out of your own OCD and then you cry foul. Stop being a martyr. You don’t have to be the aggressor but stop playing the victim. My advice to the ‘superwoman’: take off your red cape and red panties over those blue leotards – choose options that you like doing.

(My reference to ‘you’ in the last two paragraphs is generic and not aimed at Shuvashree)



Friday, 12 October 2007

It's my life

The last two weeks have turned out to be a philosophical pit stop. I learned of three deaths among people who were separated from me by just a degree. One death was due to a degenerative disease, she and people around her knew that the cancer was going to get her sooner or later and the only unexpected bit was that it turned out to be sooner. At sixty five plus, she was not very old, but (with no disrespect intended) she had outlived her productive age. Compared to this the other two demises were a shock. In one incident, a man due to turn 40 years in a day’s time succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest and in the other a girl in her mid twenties was killed in a car crash. I had known them both briefly for a few weeks. I am not emotionally affected by these incidents but they have worked like a wake up call.

I am ever so amazed at the way normal people are in India. Except for the small exception of Goans the rest of the country seem to be extremely serious about life but in the bargain I believe that normal people here don’t live but exist. There is a difference between living and existing. Living is when you are excited about each day and enjoy the journey. It’s when you walk the path less traveled and marvel at everything that you discover along the way. It’s when you do things differently and create your own epic. True you will have your bad days; you might get dumped, might have a bad illness, have an accident but at the end of it all a person who lives will see it as a unique experience.

Most of us live a predictable life by the user’s manual handed over to us by previous generations. What were the thoughts that ran through your mind the day the Tsunami hit our coast? All those thousands of normal people following the user’s manual had dreams that got washed away literally like sand castles on a beach. There were aspirations of parents, some saving up all their earnings and raising children to make them successful professionals, others preparing to get their children married and still others waiting to become grand parents. There also were aspirations of young adults married, trying to build a future, trying to build their nests. Is this what life is all about?

I don’t follow the norms of normal people. Normal people are so busy going about following the user’s manual or the life script as its called in psychology that they don’t even stop to think if it’s worth it or not. None of us know when we are going to die but the majority go about life almost certain that we will be around for quite sometime; time enough to execute the grand plans that we have embarked upon, building our own personal empire not realizing that none of it makes sense if we were to know that we would cease to exist in the next twenty four hours. Understand that not everyone gets to live the life script till its last scene. Through conditioning you probably believe that the script is the ideal way to life but it really does not matter.

Don’t take yourself so seriously, it is an obsessive condition in you that is refusing to let you see beyond the script’s frame work. Start enjoying yourself. You don't have to be a martyr, break out of unhappy situations and don't wait for it to change on its own else it might be too late. It is not a sin to be selfish because if you were to kick the bucket tomorrow at least you won’t have anything to regret. I'm not suggesting that you be a hermit or a hippie. I too have ambitions but like I had told a friend, I am not obsessed with achievements to the point that I stop enjoying the present. I live like this is the last day I am alive.

I want to end this with the words to the chorus of my anthem. Its from a song called It's my life by Bon Jovi:

It's my life
It's now or never
I ain't gonna live forever
I just want to live while I'm alive
(It's my life)
My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said
I did it my way
I just wanna live while I'm alive
It's my life