Friday, August 20, 2010

Pension Sarees and Security Blankets

                                                           For 2011 : 

V. was my mother's friend.

A thin, frail lady, with a hugely strong mind, she was a teacher in government schools when I was a child, and spent almost all her working life, at postings in far out rural areas in the state. She had lost her husband early on in life, had a daughter, and both of them would set up house wherever she had a posting, and the young girl would attend the local school. Whenever such a school didn't exist, she would stay on with relatives in a place where there was a school, or travel big distances. Back in the 50's and 60's , society did not look upon favourably on 2 women saying alone in way out places, that ran mostly on the say of the local big chap, who invariably went into politics to further his clout. V was invariably transferred frequently, till at the fag end of her career she settled in Pune. Prudent savings and careful investments along with a sparse lifestyle allowed V to get her daughter married , and she too lived in Pune.

We were in school then, and many afternoons and evenings were spent in V's small flat, doing drawings, and learning different techniques, while she made delicious snacks for us to enjoy after the "class"; her daughter would always admire our work (regardless of how ordinary it was) , whenever she happened to drop by. V was always interested in our academic achievements, always had little prizes for us when young, and this attitude continued well into her old age, even after I got married and had children. (After which I was roundly ignored, naturally).

After a lifetime of being a government teacher , predominantly having worked in rural areas, V was given the run around before her pension kicked in. She spent 15 years chasing her pension papers, as various offices would throw up their hands and say the papers were at some other office, for some one's signature. It almost became a project for my mother and V, and there was this multi year effort, when they would go meet some official who looked like he understood the problem, promise to do stuff, and then nothing would happen. We stayed in Mumbai , and since it is the state capital, V came and stayed with us during her various visits, and my mother became an integral part of her Pension campaign.

Many people advised that things would move faster if money exchanged hands, but this angered V and my mother, who continued sending letters , reminders, copies of required certificates and stuff, to no avail. Well into her seventies, I once heard V laughingly tell my mother, that even if she was desperate enough to agree to "paying money" to get things moving, she didn't have a clue how one went about it ; what euphemisms did you use, how did the clerk understand, or did a frail lady in her 70's , developing a cataract, simply land up and the table of some clerk, and ask him out for a tea ?

The pathos was overwhelming. A woman, widowed early on, faithfully teaches entire generations of rural children in school, without complaining of the facilities, often non existent, cajoling parents to send their daughters to school, lives a very sparse and prudent life, and now finds humor in visions of herself trying to ask a clerk out for tea, so her papers will move .

Thanks to a relentless chasing up of papers through offices, her pension was finally operative, with arrears, and she celebrated by going out with my mother, her faithful ally through all this, and buying her a wonderful cotton saree, which was always referred by all of us as the Pension saree, and frequently worn by my mother. There was so much more in it besides cloth.

In the early 90's V passed away. Today both V and my mother are no more, but V's daughter , a mathematics professor, and I are in frequent touch, and spend many enjoyable moments remembering the older ladies and their friendship.

Why am I telling all this ?

Because that was what came to mind when I read the most shameful and preposterous news about the Members of the Indian Parliament voting themselves , a 3 fold raise ( in place of a-wished-for 5 fold raise), the government dilly dallying in view of possible public outrage, in a season when all the news is about corruption, and the entire ruling party and opposition MP's uniting as never before to see this thing through. After an initial hesitation, the High Command of the ruling party has spoken in favour of the raise, and the rest, as they say, will "meekly" fall in line.

The things that angers me the most is that any MP with a single 5 year term and nothing more, is entitled to a lifetime pension, with his spouse getting 50% after his death.

And what has the MP done ?

Being a political goonda(bully) is probably a prerequisite for being elected. The more scruples you lack, the more bright your future is. If you have a wife, son or daughter capable of supporting you in all your questionable endeavors, you are supremely qualified.

Gets elected, by fudging qualifications, cheating on educational qualifications, possibly age, and declaring his assets which seem to all be in his wife's name. Funded by vested interests who cash in their IOU's once this guy is elected.

He then spends time in the Capital, fighting for more and more luxurious accommodation, asking pointed questions in Parliament often for a consideration, participates in junkets to foreign countries basically to learn nothing but enjoying the high life. His time in the august chambers of Parliament is spent nodding and chitchatting on some back bench, that is, when he is not staging a walkout along with his party leaders.

Occasionally, he feels he needs a change from all that sedentary life, and he gets up and runs down to the well of the House to shout slogans at the speaker, along with several of his party colleagues. Some even stage a sleep-in on the floor, and given their considerable weight, need several marshals to carry them out.

The more enterprising folks rip out microphones, and fling them at the opposition, unconcerned about their aim. In life as well as in Parliament.

In the meanwhile, some (read Laloo), are shameless enough to oppose the 33% Womens' Reservation Bill, and use that as an excuse to canvass for enhanced Pension (no doubt a result of enhanced salary and perks) , because now their places will be occupied by women if the Bill is passed. They openly trade their votes for power and money, and no one gets caught, simply because no one is chased.

Five years of doing this, living at subsidized rates, devaluing the country , and the guy is rewarded with a lifetime pension. We wont get into benefits for spouses on the death of the MP. Sometimes there are more than one. I mean spouses, not benefits. Shhhh.

And so I remembered V and my mother, and that fight to get her rightful pension, after a lifetime of educating the nation's children in rural areas.

When my mother passed away, the Pension saree had reached a state of wonderful softness, often seen in greatly loved cotton sarees, which are worn often and bring a great sense of comfort to both the mind and body. On winter visits to Pune, we would often use her old soft cotton sarees to line the winter blankets from inside.

Today, there are not too many winter visits, because there is no one to visit. The Pension saree is one of my prized possessions today, both for the memories it carries, as well as the softness of its protection.

Its not just a piece of cloth.

It gives me a sense of hope, that at some point, things in this country will change. People with some scruples and principles will be respected. There will be the greatest concern for the common man or woman. There will come a time when I will, hopefully look UP in respect, to the people who purport to rule us.

Its almost like my Security Blanket.


  1. such a wonderful anecdote. V is truly an inspiration for all of us today. Our country is suffering from deep rooted corruption problem. But all we do is - talk about problems we face. what we should be doing is to find means to fight those problems. I have mentioned this on I do not know how many blogs, but I strongly believe that each individual can make a difference. everywhere people ask question - I want to do something for society as a whole, but that's possible only when the whole society acts responsibly. as an individual, let's not pay bribes, let's keep the environment clean, let's not litter the roads, let's not waste natural resources, let's save electricity, let's educate at least one poor student for free, let's make our profession useful to those who need us and cannot afford to spend money behind it - the list can go on and on and you don't even need to put in efforts to do such things..

    the only difficult thing in this list is - not to pay bribe as things work that way only these days. But if each one of us does not pay bribe, it can be solved as well.

    yes, there is a hope, hope for a better tomorrow and a hope for a perfect country.

    PS: Sorry, I got carried away :)

  2. You know, Suranga, when I came to Mumbai and got a job as a lecturer, I was informed that I was one of the lucky last people to be eligible for pension, since the Maharashtra Govt has stopped the pension facility since October 2005.

    But I have always felt that the pain in pension sometimes superceded the gain.

    And if MPs are getting pension then it is a travesty of justice. Because pension means 'reward/payment for service', and I am yet to hear of any MP who has really served his constituency.

  3. A wonderful post.. Life of a common man is in stark contrast to the one in power! And where all these people wield power is beyond our scope of imagination. The growing disparity between the rural and urban segment isn't helping much.. But, more people like your mom will make a difference:)

  4. Suranga, this story of your mother's friend is an all too common one, unfortunately.

    It is so sad that such hardworking genuine persons are penalised while our MPs, most of whom are out to grab whatever they can, get such 'raises'.

  5. Obviously, your Parliament shares a great deal in common with our Senate and House of Representatives! Regardless of what is happening to so many in times like these, those people never suffer or lack not just the necessities, but the luxuries. Enjoy your weekend, my friend! Ah, love your new header, as always!


  6. Wow, it sounds very familiar. I guess human nature is human nature around the world-- not that that is very encouraging...

  7. very well written, and it's just so sad...someone should make those money-hungry MPs read this.

  8. I salute women like V and your mother who decide to take the longer route and avoid short cuts just to prove a point

  9. I read your post with happiness of the relationship with your mother and sadness about other issues. You are an excellent writer.
    Again, thank you for my poem. You truly touch my heart.

  10. ....'that even if she was desperate enough to agree to "paying money" to get things moving, she didn't have a clue how one went about it.'

    Exactly my problem.And this is the only reason for my rejection in interview after interview for lectureship and the reason behind the examiner's reports for my Ph.D thesis reaching two different tables and the one I approached kept saying that the second examiner's report did not come in for 9 whole months.I think I'll do a post on it.

    V was a great lady and your mother's pension saree was just too special.You have it even now?Great.........simply great.Now I am beginning to wish I had met not only your mother but Mrs. V too in her lifetime. More so after being tortured by images of these shameless politicians on TV day after day.

  11. Wonderful post. I have visited this one at least 3 times before commenting as I couldn't get the post off my mind, kept thinking about it, but didn't have anything to say. So I'm going ahead and saying this.

  12. It is the people like 'v' that inspire us to live amongst Parliamentarians. 'v' are conscience keepers who keep us awake as well as hopeful. A great sharing, as always!!

  13. My aunt who retired as Lt Col from the army was given a pension. Years later when she was nearing her 80s they started deducting money from the pension, on the grounds that some arrears were withdrawn!! At 80, is it fair?
    And what have the MPs done. They may state that they were elected by the people of their constituency. But it by the votes they have bought or got illegally. They do not deserve a raise. They make enough money by being corrupt.

  14. Neha Thank you. After i wrote this post, the corrupt fellows in Parliament got another raise. God help us...

    Sucharita Congratulations on being in the State pension scheme. You know the attention span of the MP's is so short, they probably only saw "payment/reward" and forgot about "service" . No wonder they scream for more and more.

    lifeunderthesky Its tough keeping up the fight, and it was very tough for these two old ladies. But I think folks in the old days had a lot more guts than us....

    manju What you say is so true...

    Sylvia, Rain With all the stuff that divides us as citizens of the world, isnt it amazing that politicians everywhere are the same ?

    Chinkurli I doubt if any MP will understand.

    Lakshmi Thank you. They dont make folks like these two ladies anymore....

    One Woman's Journey Thank you . Your photos are a great inspiration for poetry....

    HHG Please do a post on the messing around with your thesis by the authorities. maybe if we publicise it enough, someone will do something. And yes, sometimes I feel like throwing up when I see these prosperous MP's braying for more and more ....

    Sandhya Thank you. For returning again and again...

    aativas Thank you.

    radha Shame on the army for suddenly deducting stuff at 80 like this, for someone who has been serving the nation. Here in Mumbai they act tight fisted when someone talks about raises for the police , who are short staffed, given the huge requirement of Mumbai. Let the MP's shout, and the crores start pouring in. Disgusting, is a very mild word here.

  15. Life can be so unfair.
    Your post made me realise how fortunate we are here

  16. Nice post but need to point out a few things here.

    1. The so called raise of 300% odd in terms of absolute sum is worth peanuts to an economy as big as ours. We moan about corruption and lack of interest of our young populace in politics but then want an MP to 'serve' the country. Why are we not willing to pay a salary to a MP because for a professional to even think of entering politics, he will think of the opportunity cost of missing out on a decent career within or outside our country. Critics may say that the current MPs are already corrupt and why pay them a hike. But a beginning towards the scrapping of this ludicrous concept of 'serving the nation as a MP' has to be made. So why not now?

    2. I happen to be in touch with a few professionals (IIT/IIM types) who are working in an NGO in an attempt to educate the MPs on the various economic and social issues facing the nation. What I hear from them is that most MPs are a decent lot who actually try and do a lot for their constituencies. The life of a 'normal' Member of Parliament is not as cushy and easy as is the general perception.

    I am not trying to say that our MPs are model citizens. But to put things in perspective the total bill to the nation for the salary hike is a few crores. That much money is generated by a corrupt guy for building one stretch of a road. So we might as well use this increased salary as an incentive for getting better/ more honest people in politics.


  17. such an inspiring piece.. and i can totally relate to "it's just not a piece of cloth"
    sometimes, such little things become so special for us.. cuz of the sentimental value they hold!

  18. Congratulations :) This post in one of the winners of 'Tejaswee Rao Blogging Awards - 2011' (TRBA 2011). We would like to create an ebook with all the winning entries in 47 categories on Feminism and Gender Issues in India (and one category on Animals Rights). Please do let us know if you are fine with your winning post/s being included in this ebook. ( Please click here to let us know).

  19. wonderful post. makes us aware of so much that needs to be done in our country and the chagnes each one of us has to make in our own attitudes. How much is possible?