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.

But no.

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.


  1. That is another amazing post. Simply amazing. I would love all your posts in a book. How can we make that happen I wonder. They are just so wise, so clever and so well written.I like to read them a few times for fear I may have missed something.

    I think it is true, the younger generation have many material possessions but dont have a lot of the same spiritual possessions that older people do. I feel sorry for our youth today. The world is in a mess and they will be left to do something with it. I dont blame them but somehwere it all has gone wrong. We have forgotten to pass on 'the gift' and have been too busy pursuing the the almighty money god. Take Care.

  2. Dear Madam,

    Brilliant,great post.

    I believe every body who has commented on this blog has at one time or the other requested you to start putting all these great posts in a book form.

    Well, the first two were inspiring stories. Among the three Audabai is definitely the luckier, smarter and happier person. In spite of the circumstance she is who she is currently. She made it happen with her courage, conviction and wisdom.

    Suman is good person and she adjusted to her circumstances well. She ought to be applauded for handling the family situation in a great manner.

    Anandita's problems are of her own making and mind. If she can shed some of her preconceived notions and prejudices she can have a better life. Adjustment is the name of the game. Life is never perfect or as we want it to be,but if we learn to adjust it will definitely be far better if not perfect.

    Happy new Year to you and your family. Hope your daughter is doing fine now.

  3. Oh Suranga, That was a wonderful post as usual, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and like Lilly and Ganesh I am sure it would along with a lot of your other blogs make a fantastic book.

    Your friends are very lucky to have in you such an inciteful, intelligent and sympathetic ear.

    Sending Best Wishes for a Happy and Peaceful New Year from this small part of the world. May we have 'more please' of the same intelligence and good common sense in the year to come.

    Love Kate x.

  4. very beautiful and amazing post ! i wish you would give guoidelines also for everybody in a similar situation.
    i feel that Audabai and Suman both ar ehappy because they always thought of others also and Anandita is a typical example of today's girls.I ,me, myself and my parents, no we. Sometimes i wonder..was it not better in our generaion with fixed ideas, we never thought of living with our parents, rather took to Husband's family like our own, and faced good and bad both equally with the same.Life was much simpler.
    Life is a game of give and take, one can give more and take less..it would be happy but do the vice versa, be sure of in a mess.

  5. This was one of your most interesting posts for me. I loved the comparison between the three women and their lives. I think in some ways we are to blame for our children wanting the material things in life because we tried to give them so much. We wanted them to have more than we did. Now, we have created a generation of unhappy, materialistic, people that don't know how to cope with life. It is sad. Suman is probably the happiest of the three women and feels the best about her life.
    Wonderful post. Really makes you think.

  6. Hm. I am about Anandita's age, a little older maybe, and living in the "first world".

    I will share with you a little story. In a very famous French magazine we have recently had feminists of the previous generation complain about my generation. We are ungrateful they say. We choose to leave our jobs, forget about our education and their battles, and go home to take care of our kids. We prefer washable nappies and organic homefood. We accept less pay and part-time jobs. Very sinful.

    Well, if you don't mind me saying this, I don't judge the previous generations (I try not to at least), I am very thankful for what they did, but I also ask for the right of not being judged. I ask for the right to choose my priorities and make mistakes. Mistakes are important.

    I think you cannot compare different generations. When you are 20, 30, 40... you have to face some life challenges. When you are 50,60 other challenges, and later yet other challenges. Can you be happy at 30 ?

    Maybe what feels right now for Anandita, is not what feels right for Suman, Audabai, or Mrs Jones now, but she is the only one to know.

    Also I am sure you know this famous quote by Francoise Dolto, a famous child doctor ; "don't educate your children for the world of today, educate them for the world of tomorrow".

    In the end maybe the greatest challenge in life is too understand our parents and children.

    Happy New Year, and thank you so much for your posts !

  7. I would be very interested in what you would advise Anandita - for I am not in a very different situation myself! I don't feel guilty for wanting to live independently though, but all the other worries and confusions are there...

  8. Lilly Thank you for all the kind words. And maybe at some point before my fingers start shaking, and knees hurting, (all from sitting at a PC and pounding a keyboard), I will compile it all together and send it to you......Just saw the Sydney celebrations last night on TV and remembered you and June....happy New Year to you, and Des and your family....

    Ganesh Thank you, and yes my daughter is progessing fine. Stitches came out yesterday. Happy new year to you. Am very happy to know that you are now a pucca blogger. have sent you something on your blog. A maharashtrian delicacy... :-)

    Kate Hope I have an insightful ear and not inciteful, though the latter certainly feels more exciting. But thank you for the kind words, and I hope you have a great year.....(and hope your tooth is better..:-)

    Renu Thank you, and a Happy New Year. Its all a case of "I" vs "We" isnt it ? Whether its nature, people, families, or countries, the "We" works, and "I" does not....

    Judy Thank you for your comments, and one feels enriched having known all these ladies and their lives. I hope you are free of your tooth-troubles by now, and are able to enjoy your new Year with TW.....Happy New Year to you and yours..

    Helene H Thank you. It is so interesting and educative to get a Western/European perspective on these things ... I hope you have a wonderful, safe and healthy new Year 2009.....

  9. Devaki,

    Anandita should should stop being an entity that tries to define the rules. Independence is of many types, material, mental, emotional, financial, and so on. She is currently behaving like an independent "set" that shies away from intersecting with other "sets". Life isnt like that. Its about set-intersecting experiences enriching your life, and life has stages. A child, A sibling, A bride, A mother, a caregiver, a caretaker, and so on.

    There is a time your professional and financial sucess is paramount. There is a time when your responsibilities as a child towards your parents are paramount. If it means "suffering" inconveniences in lifestyle, Anandita needs to look at the broader picture. Anyone who gets so attuned to a western mindset in a couple of years, to the extent that she forgets the entire ethos of a girl growing up in India, over , say the last 20 years, has a BIG problem.

    HHG has a wonderful article on her blog which may be you have seen. If not please read it.

    I write as a person who has , as you guys say, "been there, done, that"; HHG's article really says what I want to, in a very wonderful way......

    Have a great new Year, and best wishes for, what I know , is sure to be a happy future .....

  10. Another post that makes you wonder and ponder ! The ability to make others think is not universal and you are truly blessed.

    Your post left me pondering for some time. Somehow there is a lurking feeling in me, that the correct answer to your questions may never be known. For each of us, depending on our age, background and who we identify with, will take to a perspective !

    Generations are different. With very many different challenges. And with a very different outlook toward life and living ! And the ways of the world in its current form shape it too.

    To stay sensitive to that fact, is arguably tough, but necessary !

    That was what i thought...

    And then read a comment from Helene..! And somehow could connect..!!

    As i close this comment, i must tell you, i am still thinking and pondering. And thats the impact your posts leave me with !

    Wishing you a very happy new year !

  11. !!!! WISH YOU AND YOURS A SUPER 2009 !!!!

  12. Happy new year to you and your family. May 2009 be a safe and a prosperous year !!!!

  13. You write the most interesting posts. I love reading them and agree that a book should be forthcoming.

    It sounds like Andanita is rebelling against her upbringing and is torn between the way she was raised and the modern Western lifestyle she has adopted. This is causing great conflict for her. She should never throw away the old for the new, but adapt and meld the best of both worlds.

  14. Hi Suranga, I'm getting to be a 'right numpty' you knew I meant insightful (full of insight) and not the one I typed... my spelling is getting worse by the week !
    OOOOPPSS - sorry! Kate x.(just have to put it down to old age I'm afraid)...

  15. Suranga,

    A Happy new year to you and to all your friends and family. I truly wish that we all could do what FEELS right in the coming year and see the change it makes in our lives.

  16. Another of your wonderful, wise, and beautifully written accounts of life! Thank you so much.
    I grew up in a similar environment, up in the Alps, where people care for each other – family or not – and don’t need an invitation to visit each other, or to go make a fire in the stove, so the owners can come home to a warm house – the house doors are still not locked, and if they are, the neighbours know anyway where the keys are. I miss these values, especially here in North America, where life seems to be always on the fast track, and things have to be new, new, new and please, lots of them. That puts enormous pressure on people. And even though it seems that’s what the younger generation wants, Anandita’s example shows that obviously they are unhappy have problems to find and lead a balanced life. I don’t envy them!
    Oh, I just read the answer you gave Devaki – there’s nothing more to ad!

    You are truly an amazing friend to your friends! A very happy New Year to you and your family!

  17. Kavi Sometimes "the ability to make people ponder" is redefined as "fukat me lecturebazi karna" :-)....but somethings sometimes have to be said, when you get to be my age ..:-). Happy new year, and one waits on your contribution Here....

    Magic Eye, Hitch Writer Thank you and I wish you a happy, safe, and wonderful new year too....

    Darlene Thank you, and I continue to be amazed at how quickly you are back to active blogging after your recent tough surgery....Keep well, and safe, and I wish you a very Happy, healthy, safe, and wonderful new year....

    Kate Not to worry. Americans fooled around with English spelling, we introduced "pucca" words in the Oxford dictionary, and its only right that folks from Scotland get a chance to do their bit....Happy new Year..

    Sucharita Thank you for the wishes, and heres wishing the same to you and yours. Currently what feels "write" is This.........have a look.

    Fida Thank you for your heartfelt comments. Greatly appreciated. At the end of the day, its not countries, or colors, or states, but the people who must live in peace with each other at the local level....happy new Year to you and yours (in Canada and Suisse)...Ich wünsche Ihnen ein glückliches Neues Jahr !

  18. I think it is natural that anandita shud be the most stressed and unhappy.there is a joy in sharing and caring and of planning before spending.these days children think that they should get everything at moment's notice.well they certainly can't get happiness that way.they have to work towards it.

  19. Three generations - such pictures, such lessons Suranga!
    The beginning of the year is a good time to look at our choices and make value changes that can be far reaching. Why not?

  20. I feel for anandita the most because even though she is capable and succesful and has everything going yet she is not in total control of her own life and the way she wants to live it. It is controlled by her in laws to some extent because she has to give up her dream or whatever she has worked for and go back home to take of them. If it would have been her decision and was not forced to make changes in her life because of the circumstances with the in laws she would have been happy.

    Even though happiness is a state of mind people become unhappy and frustrated when they no control over their own life and decisions .

  21. Hello, Call me cynical, but my guess is that with the 2nd lady who's taking care of the grandkids, in another 20-30 yrs time there will be no need for her in her son's family, and she will not be valued. She would have been better off taking care of herself financially when she still can, and maybe also take care of the grandkids in her spare time.
    As for Anandita, I believe that marriage is between the husband and the wife, and not between families. Yes, families of course come into the equation, but marriage is first and foremost about the man and woman in the marriage. As such, decisions relating to the marriage, and decisions that affect the husband and wife, need to be taken by the couple, and not by families/friends/inlaws etc. Respecting the families(whether the wife's or the husband's) is very very important, but not at the cost of the marriage. As a commentor mentioned here, Anandita is unhappy because her right to take decisions concerning her own life are being taken by somebody else - that is never a reason to be happy!I hope all 3 of the ladies mentioned here are happy, and hope Anadita's in-laws stop interfering in her life!


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