Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mothers , Fathers and Mothering....

Falling badly sick after decades,  and somewhere in between worrying about housework, delays, running out of provisions, and other mundane stuff you normally did without thinking, you lie in bed at some point, unable to sleep, stinking wet with perspiration, hot in a Mumbai summer, and you sink back to your childhood in time, hankering after that old reassuring hand on your forehead, and much needed rubs on your back,  a gentle nudge to sitting up , leaning against the pillows, and a magical wipe with tepid water that gets you feeling fresh again, fever or no fever. The little glass of limbupani-ginger, or chaas; the small semi liquidy portion of freshly ghee tadka-ed rice with turmeric and jeera, eaten slowly, under her watchful eye.   

Except it is only a memory. Because the reassuring hand as been gone for more than a decade.  And with it, a certain way of "mothering".

And then. Her story.

She lost her mother when she was a small child. She and her two brothers, one older and one younger were brought up by their father alone. This was the first quarter of the 20th century, and her father refused remarriage , because of his concerns for inflicting a "step-" relationship on his children.

From an extremely difficult, economically tough background, but with a great dedication towards learning, he became an engineer, and rose to a job in the civil services. He got married, had 3 children, and then suddenly was a single parent again.  His only daughter , a middle child, would talk about never missing out on anything the other girls did in school, despite not having a mother at home.   He was posted in Mumbai, and they lived in Andheri for a while. This was in the late 1920's , early 30's , and she would often talk about an certain type of hair braiding the girls would do in school; there was no one at her home who would do that. Her father quietly drove her one early morning to Bandra to visit her aunt, who did the braids for her before she reached her school.  I recall hearing about an elderly aunt who lived with them, and very clearly , for a girl coming of age, there were some puzzling things you needed to get answers for ,  and this worked well for everyone. 

While he indulged in his children, he  was very strict too, and insisted on taking academics seriously. His daughter loved academics , and he encouraged her , not just then but even after she had her first  child , in 1945, and suddenly got an opportunity to do a Masters at Columbia accompanying her husband who was going for Graduate studies in the US. He looked after his 1 year old grandson in India while she completed her stuff.  There were other family "mothers" around,  but few willing to step in like he did . Bringing up his children , particularly a daughter , in those days, when people still sneezed at higher education, he gave  her confidence to go forth and learn, getting her married, settled in, and then basically staying out of the picture as she adjusted herself to a another house with another thinking.

Was this "mothering" ?  Did the daughter imbibe her mothering concepts there ? Do you need to be born with  XX chromosomes to get the magical ability to mother ?   Does being a XY combination make you deficient in mothering ? Is mothering all about indulging ? Is mothering all about sticking and following societal mores ?  Is mothering all about believing in something, something tugging at your heart, and you moving heaven and earth, to ensure that not only does your child get what you think is the best, but also realizes  what went into it , so he/she values what he got?

Perhaps , an  XX combination predisposes you towards mothering,  but it would be wrong  to  equate a social concept like mothering, with  a goulash of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, Oxytocin, Prolactin , Estradiol, and Progesterone,  and possibly others , that we women all automatically get drowned in , as certified "mothers".

That daughter was my mother .  While her instincts might be her own, she picked up her Mothering concepts from her father.  Those of us lucky to have had both father and mother throughout our childhood , take so many things for granted.  

There are so many fathers who mother without us realizing it.

I have known sons who amazingly mothered their own mothers in the evening of their lives. Ensuring after a long day at work, that she didn't feel cold in bed as old people are wont to do, there would always be a hot water bottle waiting for her in bed, and sometimes even giving quick ankle rubs as she lay there, in a quiet chitchat, before he returned to his own different world of kids, projects etc.

And so  life continues.

Those who are not yet mothers also mother .

 I have had occasion to wake up during the  high fevers , to a ready, fresh hot simple meal, cooked by a very young family member;  you wouldn't know the pleasure of being given a cold cut apple in a katori, with a glass of something cool to drink, on a hot afternoon , when you don't know if it's the the fever or the weather that is heating you up, and turning over on your side is actually a chore, and you have just woken up drenched in perspiration.

I  have also been admonished by the same family member for not closing a tap properly , thanks to my tired finger muscles.  

Yes. I think she is learning well.......  

 And then I often wonder about "mothering",  why every single dictionary specifies the inclusion of "mother" while defining it, and things like FB suddenly flare up with mothering "dares", with mothers posting photos with their kids.

Perhaps there are all these imminent Days that we are supposed to celebrate.

Perhaps a presence on social media in an appropriate forum proves something, to God knows who. 

And then when everything is done and "posted", and the brouhaha has subsided, some truths still remain.

It is possible to not have a uterus and still mother . 

It is possible to have a uterus, but insufficient infrastructure, and still "mother".  

Mothering, truthfully, doesn't have much to do  how the child was born. It has much to do with how the child was cared for, and is being cared for.  What the child has imbibed , and taken forward.

This post is dedicated to such folks who have opened my eyes and pointed me to what mothering really is.

It's tough.  Like algebra.  Whether you are XX or XY.  

But if you try hard enough, there is always a great solution.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fevers, Dreams and Crocodiles

I don't get fevers too often.  I mean, in the last four decades or so, while one has battled all kinds of colds and random infections, even surgeries, there have been no opportunities to lie down reeling with high temperatures, sweating it out every 6 hours , as paracetamol concedes defeat and defers to some antibiotic.

The last time this happened , I was in school. Class 9.  I wrote about it here.  

Coming home from school with a high fever one evening, I had everyone running around in concern, with tepid water spongings, ice-water strips on the forehead, lots of fluids, and the fever refused to abate for four days. I kept going deeper into sleep , and had even our family doctor worried.  Then one morning as they debated about calling in for a second opinion, it seems I suddenly  I started muttering something in a sort of disturbed way, broke into a sweat, and opened my eyes, saying "I'm saved, I'm saved"....   (My mother's version) .

Despite the relief at my awakening, my mother wanted to know what was going on, and it seems I told them of a dream , which was continuously happening. There were two hills on two sides of a valley. The entire valley floor was populated by crocodiles and alligators wandering about in a "lunch" mode. For some reason I was doing continuous desperate jumps from one hill top to the other, across the valley.

I must have been at it for a longish period and gotten complacent. Because during one such jump, I missed out and started descending into the valley, heart in my mouth, terrified, and shaking my head wordlessly screaming NO, NO! .....I could see the greedy alligators below , maybe licking their lips , and suddenly, something held me in a big hand, and stopped the fall. The entire shock must have been too much for the fever, because that's the point at which I opened my eyes, saying"I'm saved! I'm saved !".

I would have left it at that, and attributed it to an extra fertile mind then growing wild under the influence of exciting books .

But it happened again . And made me wonder about my crocodile connection.

After so many decades, last week, the fevers revisited. A week of 102 degrees fever, fatigue, loss of appetite , and loss of taste due to paracetamol, and the prescribed antibiotic did not work. The meds were then changed . Most of the time I was half-asleep, alternating between heat and sweat.

 Very early mornings would be the time when some decent sleep happened,  and one morning, I had a dream in which I looked up at a sunny window bar up on my right, to see a crocodile sitting there. Don't ask me how it got there. I was too stunned to see it. The interesting thing was, as I watched, the crocodile recreated itself in kind of "transformers" style, and continued to sit there, looking at me.

I was relieved to get up and notice that nothing was sitting on the window grill bar.

The dream repeated the following morning.  Once again, the "transformers style" reconstruction of the crocodile. Once again the looking down at me .Once again, I did not question anything, just watched. Possibly I was between two fluid states ; dream and half-awake.

My fever abated that day, and the dream has not reoccurred so far.  I am now on mandatory medication for 14 days, fever or no fever.

But I wonder about my crocodile connection. Between my 2 crocodile dreams , I have lived majorly on the banks of a lake, infested with crocodiles, that occasionally come out to sun themselves on protruding rocks in summer. I have never come face to face with a croc except in my dreams.  (I am not sure I want to come face to face with one anyway ). 

I read about dreams that mention being chased by crocodiles, eaten by crocodiles, fighting a crocodile. But really nothing about crocodiles calmly sitting at a height , of all things, on a window grill bar, itself a circus like situation.

And the "transformers" aspect of the crocodile. It was fascinating yet frightening to  see the rough exterior of the crocodile cracking up and rejoining and reconstructing itself as I watched.  Unlike the earlier childhood fever dream, there was no element of fear .

 The last crocodile dream was almost 55 years ago.  Clearly, I am not going to be around for my next crocodile dream, even  if it might be 20 years from now.

First it was jumping across valleys infested with crocodiles. Now, in keeping with my senior citizen status, there is no jumping , but a sedate watching of crocodiles reconstructing themselves in various avatars on my window grill.

Who knows, the next time around, the crocodile might just digitally smile and sit next to me as i do a blog post , deleting as I write.

I have had it with fevers and crocodiles.  Can we have some dreams with flowers and icecream, and  stuff ?   

These dreams. I wonder what they mean .  I was looking up dream interpretations regarding non violent crocodile appearances.

One site  mentioned that it simply implied that "Seeing a crocodile in dreams indicates that you have not found the meaning of your life yet."

Sometimes they can be so spot on , na ?

Monday, April 04, 2016

Insula Devi of Pain.....

Insula Devi of Pain.

Regardless of religious persuasion, she resides in all of us.  Actually,we actively participate in her life;  an amazing life, which she shares with someone called Prince Amygdala .  Together, they keep watch on how we feel pain, how we interpret stuff happening around us, how we react,  how we learn from what we see and experience , what kind of temper we exhibit,  and how , sometimes, they are helpless , and end up activating the 'gunda' side of things.

Growing up inside our heads, she is very alert, and learns from many things. Mainly the environment in which we grow up. 

If it is an environment where we are constantly threatened , or constantly viewing altercations , whatever the cause, she tends to believe, that's  the way to go, and Amygdala rubs his hands in anticipation.

Sometimes, it is an environment you are helpless about, for whatever reason; social pressures, economic pressures, perceived slights, and even peer pressures.

These actually define the makeup of the Insula Devi in your head, and the simplest thing she can do when a decision is to be made, about any pain, is to let go, mindlessly, with some unnecessary encouragement from Prince Amygdala.

And so if you have battled all your life to get where you are, left your family to keep house and company with those who struggle to maintain a semblance of life amidst inhuman conditions and tweaking morals , earn something which is never enough, and all the while, seeing others do well all around you, the Insula Devi in your head becomes a militant type, given to knee jerk reactions. 

But sometimes, you grow up, in an environment, where you feel secure; there are skirmishes, of course;  but there are reasons discussed, lessons learned, and people around , who ensure that ,  any action is always preceded by some thinking.  Sometimes, you are only human (pun intended) , and you still do knee jerk reactions; but then you are firmly told off, and penalized in some thoughtful way.  You learn not to be intimidated by someone else's successes, or someone different from you, who seems to have a happy  life laid out on a platter.

The Insula Devi is such people's head, is in a much happier situation, she takes decisions regarding pain perception in a different way.  She actually thinks, and also encourages the Amygdala to follow her.  Yes, there is pain, often due to no fault of yours, but there is a stopping-and-waiting-to think-and work-it-out attitude that is present.  Something the Devi learns by habit.

Which brings to mind the Delhi Dentist's case. A young Dentist, home a bit late from work, finds his child waiting to play a few balls with him; they toss around a bat and a ball in a small compound, and a ball, suddenly finds its way out, hitting a passing bike rider.  Altercations ensue. The bike rider goes away and returns with a gang of people with hockey and other sticks. They attack the Dentist and beat him to death.

The law will take its course. As they say.  5-6 people will see even worse environment, in a place populated with everyone even worse than them. They will be decreed, hopefully, a stiff punishment.  So the Insula Devis in other heads might learn.

In the meanwhile, a family stands shattered, a  young mother and a son left to fend for themselves, confused and worried about life and the future.  They too slogged for a future. Studied, passed exams, followed a profession , and, like everyone else ,  had dreams.

The Insular cortex,  seat of Insula Devi and her sidekick Amygdala ,  in our brains, is the seat of feeling/deciding  pain, deciding emotions, and activating responses.  It sits hand in hand with the Amygdala, which more or less acts in a "listen-to-me" fashion. Across our brains, is what is called the Gray matter . Turns out that there isn't enough of gray matter with the Insula Devi , in those folks , that perform gunda reactions.  Researchers have found that youths with behavioural problems, obsessive behaviour, aggression issues and anger have noticeably less grey matter, particularly in their Insula Cortex and Amygdala areas.

So how do we work with that?

 Part of it is a a complicated issue of overpopulation, lack of employment and resources in rural areas, migration, quality of life in cities, and even pollution. It is reported that Toxoplasmosis , caused by a common brain parasite, that gets transmitted via cat feces, undercooked meat and contaminated water, is often the cause of what is called IED or Intermittent Explosive Disorder  , a big cause of road rage . 

While some are complicated huge societal and country issues, one may yet concentrate on something that can be worked on at the personal family level.  For one thing, the proclivity to attribute everything to "beta hai, galti to karega"  must be rubbished.  Gender discrimination must be deemed completely unacceptable at the family level. Parents need to give time to children, and be aware of what they are up to, and who their friends are. And a tendency to mindlessly violently respond must be noticed, recognized and some treatment/corrective action taken.  

A philosophy of constantly  endeavoring to keep up with the neighbor Joneses and trying to match up by any means however shady, must be  discouraged.  Somewhere , a deterrent must develop, that says , "wait, let me think..."

I once lived on a campus with lots of open spaces. And lots of kids, who simply enjoyed all kinds of ball games .  Batting, kicking the ball and running with it. Sometimes , it rolled out on to the roads inside, which we used to walk  to the market.  I was on my way once , amidst a lot of exciting games going on, and all of a sudden there was a quiet, followed by a big thud on my head. A big ball had accidentally fallen on my head. For a minute I was stunned, and then my own Insula Devi calmed me down. I was fine, still standing.  Nothing was wrong and no one had any khunnas against me. Amidst cries of "Aunty, sorry, we didn't see you; are you hurt ...." etc,  I simply turned, smiled at them, said it was just a game and it was OK, and then to every one's surprise, I  tried to kick the ball back to them .  (I've always secretly wanted to do that. :-) ),  much to their vast amusement; it is not everyday, that you see an old lady in a saree kicking a football. 

There have been other times. An ankle hit hard by a "season" cricket ball, while taking a shortcut through Azad Maidan in the monsoons, while Kanga league matches happened all over the place; a fielder kind of looking in worried anticipation, at an old lady noticing the ball, then bending down and performing an almighty throw  to him, and the team members applauding.  I mean when was the last time a cricket team applauded you ?  Actually, your Insula Devi ? 

But this was because right from childhood, sport was a greatly encouraged thing, assorted injuries were part of the sport,  and you did not make a fuss and kept playing the game.  It gave you a very balanced view about what was important. All children , male and female , were given the same careful bringing up where these things were concerned, without special considerations for females.There was no fawning and sighing over what are really routine injuries , we developed a great respect for our bodies' ability to repair and recover.  Yes, parents worried when we were hurt, but it only taught us how to deal with these things.

Your own Insula Devi needs to be nurtured and worshipped in your brain.  There are things one may do to empower her. Research has found that meditation  and stuff like Vipassana,  leads to increase in the gray matter in the area where the Insula Devi and Amygdala  live. Research has also found that  youth with behavioural problems, aggression, drugs habits etc, show a noticeable lack of gray matter in that area.

It is easy to say all this. It is not easy to initiate or implement this, given the problems faced in big cities today, the lack of facilities, various undesirable attractions, and outrageous costs of living.

But I think much can be achieved by mindful bringing up of children;  it is OK to act tough with them at times. Some do this in a binary fashion. They either fawn over their kids , and then lose tempers when something goes wrong ; there need not be physical violence.  Growing up is not about power play.

Today there is  so much politics about religious places,  and the residents of these structures are either forgotten, or used for winning violent arguments.

Why am I not surprised, and is it possibly a sign of the times,  that Insula Devi of Pain remains traumatized in growing number of minds today ?