Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Honoring the Gift.......तिघींची गोष्ट .......
Three women. And some Questions.
Suman , 85 , bereaved, from a recent loss of her only remaining sibling, was visiting. I have known her for the last 50 years. An outstanding doctor, leader in her field, a much respected and loved teacher, I have been witness to some well known , grownup, professional people in her field, years after they have graduated as doctors, wishing her and touching her feet, on the Gurupoornima day (A special full moon day dedicated to honoring one's teachers in life), and she getting a bit embarrassed about it all, though quite happy.
She barely remembers her mother, who passed away early. Her father, a scholar of his time, didn't believe in stepmothers. His widowed sister lived with him, and both of them functioned as parents to the children. The girls did very well academically. Some , like Suman, were brilliant. All except Suman and one sister married. Suman was the eldest, and she remained single, presiding over various crises of the family type, helping out as an elder sister, doctor, aunt, academic, and at one time, as a person with monetary resources, thanks to her practice and reputation in her field. She continued to live in what could be called the precursor to heritage houses, with a great old world feel to it, ecologically sound, and a place of comfort for her father. She looked after her father and aunt , well into their 90's, respecting their old-world habits and customs, and those of us who visited her had much to learn from that. She learned money management, land management, but had a tough job in sibling management.
Probably superior to any candle that burns itself out while lighting the world, she sat and talked on a recent visit. Something that couldn't happen earlier, due to some terminal illnesses of family members, where she faced random,vicious, unforgivable and scientifically inaccurate comments from confused family members , as she continued her practice of the Hippocratic Oath, and brushed her upset mind aside. Sponged off, financially, emotionally, and otherwise, her mind's strong control over her body has now started shaking a bit, and she is beset with a few old age physical problems now. She spent a lot of time, pouring out her mind to me. She and my late mother were great friends, now its me. We connect. She talks about her friends dying. Attitudes of family, earlier and now. Gives me a new view on something which troubles me.
And I ask her, that looking back today, would she have done anything differently in her life ?. To which she remarked, that once it was understood that , (a) you were an individual, but within a family , (b) different people are different in a family and (c) you accepted responsibilities , it became very easy to prioritize, unfashionable and non-self-benefiting as the choice may be. She had the example of the previous generation, and there was something to learn. It was all about facing up and making choices for the common good.
Audabai from a previous post, has not been seen for a while these days. When Suman and I went to her vegetable stall, it was packed and shut. And so I inquired . The answer brought a smile to Suman's face.
From a battered woman (with a drunkard husband), who educated her son and encouraged him to start a vegetable business, then organized his marriage, to a woman whose education she valued and encouraged, in the face of snide comments from ill-wishers, Audabai has now taken a decision to shut down her stall. Business wise it doesn't make her dent as her son continues in the same business, in home delivery mode, has more orders than he can handle, and so her stock will disappear fast. I thought this was a decision of a tired old lady, wishing to sit back and enjoy her old age.
All the trouble that her daughter-in-law took, attending classes and studying , travelling chock-a-block in buses against various odds, has started yielding results. Her daughter-in-law now has a job in a college.Her husband and Audabai are thrilled. It involves a 90 minute train ride plus assorted connecting bus rides each way, which keeps her away from home from 6 am to 7 pm. Audabai's grandchildren are in primary school.
Audabai, who could teach our government something about priorities, decided to take up the children's education responsibilities. She is now staying home, ensuring that she walks the children to and from school daily, talks to their teachers, ensures they eat hot meals on time, play and do their homework. She keeps an eye , on who their friends are, given the slightly dicey area in which she stays due to economic compulsions. Closure of the stall, probably makes her lose "some" income, but in a life of constantly having to make do with less, Audabai is habituated to making such decisions......
Like Suman said, you were part of a family, you accepted and recognized responsibility, and prioritized. Facing up and making choices for the common good.
And I have just returned from lunching with Anandita. (Her aunt is an old friend).
Anandita is in her early thirties. A woman of the IT generation. Brilliant student. She always had goals. Strived to reach them. Mostly met them.She has a brother and a sister. Both married. She had a semi arranged marriage. She and her husband work. Successful executives. Gives shoulder-to-shoulder a new meaning. Her's is probably the first generation in her family where the girls were given unlimited educational facilities, thanks to the savings made by the earlier generations. Anandita and her husband are now abroad in the US. Doing very well. Even by US standards.
Her folks are very proud and happy. She is proud, but unhappy.
The problem is parents. Mostly his. Unlike upwardly incompatible computer OS's , it is very easy for humans from the third world to be upwardly compatible with the first world ethos. This upward movement involves, blindly reading sociology,politics, and urban lifestyle, relevant to a different society, and sometimes erroneously applying it to your life. Life is treated as a big picnic, where there are things to be used and thrown away, so long as you both sit ecstatically, looking away into the sunset. And all this despite the fact, that even in first world societies (with a presumed emphasis on the nuclear family set up), there are families with an intra-family lifetyle which is very unique, inclusive ,specific to their family circumstances, and very cognizant of parents and the role they play after they get the prefix "grand" or the suffix "in-law"......
Anandita has a problem of what to talk with her in-laws, when they visit. At this point it must be said that today, it is very common to have Indian parents visit their children in the US, and there is a certain smugness in coming back and telling everyone how well they are doing, materially, and careerwise. Not all parents can deal with a culturally different society, and the absence of a custom that allows unannounced neighborhood visits with chats; although some parents visit and join senior centers, and end up making their own friends.... (I dont think this even qualifies as a problem in India. You live together, and talking happens. You do not plan, for heavens sake.)
I am not sure this would have been so, had she and her husband remained in India. Its a problem of "them" and "us"; it used to be "we".
She poured her heart out about independence in her own house. Freedom to behave as she wanted to, in her own house, without the possibility of offending parental sensibilities. Stress factors include changing jobs. Possible return to the motherland. A continued stay abroad increasing anxiety about parental health. Hers. Continued apprehensive thoughts about how to face it if they have to live with the in laws on their return. The distinct possibility of the husband falling in line with a parental request, unpopular with her. And so there is this stress. Of what could be; or shouldnt be. And then there is the problem of children happening at the right age. Not because the prospective grandparents feel so, but because that's what she wants. The more she thinks , the higher go her stress levels, andd more haywire her hormones. In the meanwhile its back to vacations, new cars, and other consumerist happy feel-good stuff.
I don't know who is smarter. Suman, Audabai, or Anandita.
I don't know who is luckier. Suman, Audabai, or Anandita.
I don't know who is happier. Suman, Audabai, or Anandita.
I know the first looks back , at a life, nostalgically. Bygones have remained bygones and and she indulgently remembers only good things of those gone before her. Her knees hurt. But she doesnt let it bother her. She has taken up learning Sanskrit, and at 85, is doing just fine, thank you. It happens.
The second is thrilled to bits, about the daughter-in-law's new job. She is so proud. She can't run as fast as her grandchildren , but she tries to keep up with them as she daily takes them to school, and goes through a second innings as a mother, so to speak, as she wipes the sweat from her face, and respectfully covers her head with the saree end, on meeting the classteacher..
I am just wondering how to explain things to Anandita. While she has more than the others ever had, including a priviledged youth, she appears to be the most stressed and unhappy.
Maybe we need to give more weightage to doing what feels right, under any given circumstances. Than what is considered right and smart in the eyes of the materialistic and/or modern world of the Joneses, in this day and age.
One of our most brilliants minds, Einstein, had something to say:
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
So very true.