Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Handmaids Around Me!

Been watching The Handmaid's Tale slowly for the last 10 days. Savoring is a better word. Just finished the last episode of Season 3 yesterday. So sad to say goodbye to a friend, because that's what June Osborne has become to me.
For those of you who haven't seen it, it's about dystopia in a new ultra-religious country carved out of the US in the times of rising infertility and consequently, extremely low birthrates. Women in this world are relegated to being wives, maids or handmaids (whose sole purpose is to produce children for the husbands of the barren wives). None of the women are allowed to read or go out without chaperone or contribute to society in any way. They are left with no agency/influence of their own. The only women who seem to have any power are cruel bullish women, who train other women for their roles and punish them for any transgression.
Thinking about the suffocating stifling world of these fictional women, I just realized that this dystopia is not all that fictional. I personally know women here in my town, who were married off in their teens before they even finished schooling, have no financial freedom and so are at the mercy of men in their homes, are watched like hawks when they step out of the house, are expected to give birth to boys, and are nothing but glorified house maids (not even that because they are not paid for their daily toiling). To top it all, they are controlled by cruel bullish mother in laws! The same story with girls with college degrees. The only difference between their reality and the world where June is trapped is that they get to keep their babies.
Did Margaret Atwood visit our village before she wrote her novel?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Chandrama 2020 - As Beautiful as the Moon and as Loony too!

Every time I write something, it is like gathering ideas and thoughts scattered all over, bunching them together and shaping them to somehow makes sense. But this process also brings a sort of finality to the ideas. Once they are captured, they stop being the very things that inspired me to write in the first place. 

Maybe that's the reason I can't write about my mother. I do write about incidents involving her, but I can't write generically about her. The thoughts I have about are too many and scattered too randomly over the years of my life - gathering them is nearly impossible. They are hard to capture also because they are evolving, changing, growing every day. Also, gathering them will mean there will be a finality to these thoughts, and I can't allow that. She is a constant source of inspiration and self-knowledge and I need it to be like that. 

Today is her 82nd birthday. For the last 7 years, it has been my absolute pleasure of living with her in her favorite Dharamshala. The thoughts I have tried to capture here are bits and pieces about what I have learned from her. But no finality or boundaries here- there is lots more that I haven't even figured as yet.  

From her, I learned to be the best in anything and everything I do. And this was purely by example- we never discussed it. I just had a mother who was great at her work. She was the star. How can you be her daughter and accept mediocrity for yourself. You just don't.

From her, I learned the meaning of being truly happy. I have never seen my mother being moody or depressed, despite whatever was happening around her. I have always wondered how that is possible but because she is a living example, I know it's possible and can hope to achieve that life-state one day. 

From her, I learned to be brave. I have never seen her scared of any challenge that life throws in her way. She took up a WHO fellowship in her early thirties and lived in the US alone for a year. It was her first trip abroad, working with absolute strangers and getting used to a totally different lifestyle. If that didn't require bravery, I wonder what did. Once when she was the Principal of LHMC and there were student demonstrations clamoring  for her dismissal, I was shaking but she was unafraid. She was not even afraid at 60 of  moving with my dad (who needed a lot of care) to a small town and starting a new life. When he passed away, she was not afraid of living her life alone on her own terms. And even now, she lives her life as she wants, doing what she likes, despite having her bossy daughter live with her!

From her, I have learned how to have fun. When I was six, she blew my little mind by playing a trick on all of us- she returned from her year-long trip abroad with short hair. This was early 1970's and decent Indian women were not supposed to cut their hair. Her short hair caused so much turmoil in the family- my brother refused to hug her, my grandfather, her father, called her a "Par-kati kabootri (wingless pigeon)" and the elders on my father's side found it scandalous. Then a couple of hours later, she took of her wig and exposed her still long lovely hair! She created a memory that hasn't faded in 40 years and triggered a certain mad streak in all of her kids.

From her, I learned to love travel. My earliest fondest memories are of our travels together to hill stations, where she made us walk crazy distances, sing songs and eat express no-nonsense meals that she would cook. Later, she filled our heads with exciting stories (coupled with slide shows) of all the cities and country she had visited in the one-year fellowship. I grew up believing that the purpose in life was to travel and live in exotic places, meet new people and then talk about these experiences forever! I still believe it. 

From her, I got my gaming genes. In early 2000s, my dad rang me in Singapore and complained about mom' computer game obsession. In his typical funny-serious way, he said "Puja, apni mummy ko samjha. Sara time games khelti rehti hai! (Puja, please drive some sense into your mom. She is always playing computer games)". How could I tell him that at that very moment, across thousands of miles, she and I were playing an online boggle game together!

Nowadays, she plays Sudoku, Rahjong (a solitaire version of mahjong) and 4 pics 1 word type of puzzles on her iPad that I bought for her 7 years ago.

Much like her, I play till I drop off to sleep. She is a true role the picture shows!
From her, I have learned to embrace change and go with the times. My beautiful mother, who for over thirty years, wore the best sarees in the whole of Delhi, and nothing but sarees (even a Salwar Kameez was too casual for her), now wears pants and t-shirts that she buys from the trendy stores in Singapore and Delhi. My super popular mother, who was once the life of parties in Delhi, now spends her time walking the mountains, playing computer games and painting. My smart mother, who once surrounded by intellectuals and professionals and spoke in an impeccable polished accent, now finds joy in talking to simple village people, using their language and sharing their concerns.

From her, I learned to love music.  My mother sings beautifully and prolifically. As young children, we would sit on her bed, listening to her sing with gusto inside the bathroom as she got ready for work. Even today, there is no greater pleasure for me than to hear her sing her (and mine) favorite Hindi songs and ghazals. Unfortunately, I don't have her singing voice, but I enjoy listening to the songs I grew up and with and spend hours trying to play them on my keyboard.

From her, I learned to go out and appreciate the beauty of nature. My mother is an avid walker. In the last 15 years, she has climbed every mountain and visited every village in the neighborhood. I have heard all the stories and now it is my aim to recreate those experiences. We walk to every village that she has talked about, climb every mountain that she had climbed, enter every dhaar that she had visited.

Happy birthday Chandrama, my cool as the moon Mommy, and quite as loony. May you have a great great day today, with your butterflies and flowers and mountains and the khudd and the sunset. May you live fully in health for at least another 20 years so I can learn more from you and get a chance to enjoy your company even more.