Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Popular misconceptions which Tamil cinema has given us

“Kalyana Maalai” is an interesting series of debates which discusses social issues which have infested the society. This particular episode drove a clear point on why Tamil cinema has become an illusionary space. In this speech, the orator was quite indignant about repeated representations in movies that there is always a hero to the rescue to bash up villains, save the heroine, take up her goal as his own, and basically risk his life for her. This is not what happens in real life – but young, na├»ve girls with rose-tinted glasses place their trust in one of the common men they fall in love with, when only 1 in 100 of who have the kind of commitment showed in such scenes. There is no clear distinction between cinema and real life. In those times, cinema was strictly fictitious with dance, drama, historical stories, and that kind of fare. Following that, movies like Salangai Oli, Sankarabharanam and Mouna Raagam showed the harsh realities of life. But now, cinema seems to have mixed reality with fiction to deliver a product which constantly traverses boundaries just when we marvel at the truth of the scenes showed onscreen.

A link to the speech is provided here:

This makes us wonder on the number of misconceptions which Tamil cinema has offered, and the number of minds polluted by such false beliefs. The line between childhood and adulthood seems to have blurred when it comes to visual content, and just being 18 years old doesn’t provide the licence to watch adult cinema with copious amounts of violence, sex, disturbing scenes or bloodshe-d. Cinema equally influences children and adults. All of them are exposed to a very small word within office and home. Social gatherings are either thin on the ground or under the influence of alcohol; therefore, pointers for social etiquette are picked up from this medium, since there is no real life example to emulate. Here are a few of those ideas, which the society is rapidly picking up but is showing no signs of shedding:

1)      A girl must deny being in love with a guy even though she likes him (Raja Rani)

This is a typical trait which every heroine (at least those in South Indian movies) must possess. Even though she likes the hero, she has to make him follow her around for ages before she admits to being in love with him too. (After which, of course the guy can relax and take her for granted).

2)      The heroine must fall in love with the hero (Oru Kal Oru Kannadi)

 This is borderline harassment – the hero, with no kind of background, qualification, earning, or behaviour chases the heroine until she is forced to love him through threats and humiliation. The poor girl must finally give in to save a life, leave her home and parents or convince her educated parents to accept him as her husband, and after marriage, work both at office and at home (wearing only sarees) because the hero is too busy being a man and not doing anything with his life (this was not shown in the movie but would have probably been part of the sequel).

3) The heroine keeps smiling as the hero flirts and dances with multiple girls

Be it Suriya in S3, Vijay in Bairavaa, or Prabhas in Baahubali, they are free to dance around with girls and even flirt “harmlessly” with random girls while the heroine watches on without a trace of possessiveness or jealousy. She keeps smiling and waiting for the hero to come home and show displays of affection in spite of the boiling lava pit of anger in her stomach which the hero laughs off calling her a “silly girl”.

4) The only identity of the heroine is that she is the lover (or wife) of the hero

Read “Kabaali”. The heroine is an independent woman, who abandons her family to live with Kabaali who in turn abandons her when she is pregnant (which is not justified, whatever may have been the given circumstances). The heroine in turn gives birth to a baby with a bullet inside her and survives after that to wait 25 years as a servant and helper until her husband returns. She then tells the villain that she is “Kabaali oda pondaati”(Kabaali’s wife) in the climax scene. Imagine the girl’s potential if she weren’t just someone’s wife.

5) Hero saves heroine from rape even though he doesn’t know where she is until the last minute (Pokiri)

The hero has a sixth sense or intuition which leads him to save the heroine from being raped/molested just before she turns victim. Ladies, NO ONE is going to save us in real life except half an hour of exercise everyday (so that we can run fast) and pepper spray in our bags.

6) Smile remains unfazed on hero’s face even though heroine’s father displays cold behaviour (Theri)

The heroine’s father remains mute throughout the movie, expressing no opinion on his daughter’s marriage but remaining cold towards the hero, who patiently tolerates him and keeps smiling. But that’s probably why the father didn’t appear in the movie at all even when his daughter died. Ha. Who can cold-shoulder his/her groom in South India and get away with it?

These are just a few examples. The reality of life is that none of these scenes is what happens in everyday lives. But movies play a large role in influencing people, especially youngsters, in terms of behaviour, habits and sometimes even decisions. It is probably time to start thinking about more responsible cinema, and learn from some of the more practical movies like “Papanasam”, “Pink”, and “Dangal”. It is important to educate the audience that normal people do get caught in crime rackets, girls do get objectified and molested and have nobody to help them, and that sometimes parents do impose their dreams on children because in a few cases, they know what’s best for their children. One rule cannot be applied to all. One movie doesn’t depict life.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Links to my work on external forums

Under the name "Neharika Rajagopalan", I write several articles on public and external forums other than my blog, including The Hindu and The Deccan Herald. Have a look at the links referred below to access these articles! (I will keep updating the page as articles appear on such forums).

1) The dynamics of universal basic income (Business Line on Campus)

2) Why a play school like KCIT is the need of the hour for children of this era (Facebook page, Kids Campus International, Triplicane)

3) Rupee: Show of strength (Business Line)

4) A wake up call for the education sector (Business Line on Campus)

5) Dear Sasikala: Please Hear What Tamilians Expect From the New TN Government (The Better India; opinion as a common citizen)

6) How Arranged Marriages Work (The We are Tambrahm blog)

7) The Iyengar Vocabulary (The We are Tambrahm blog)

8) Incubators and Corporate Social Responsibility in India (Sattva)

9) Green Mechanisms for Sustainable Development (AP Vision 2029 - Swarnandhra; Co-Author)

10) More than just a dream (The Hindu and University of Warwick)

11) The Warwick Economics Research Lounge Blog

12) Website Editor-in-Chief, Warwick Economics Exchange & Dissertation Colloquium (2012-13)

13) Indian flavour abroad (The Sunday Herald)

14) A summer in snow (The Sunday Herald)

15) Battling the heat - the science way (Education Plus)

16) Marina Musings: Bajjis on the Beach (The Hindu, Internet version; Co-author)

17) Jottings from a daily diary (Metro Plus; Co-author)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When love stories became fables

Recent news has revealed that reasons for separation have shifted dramatically from infidelity to filthy reasons like "lack of tolerance", "not enough money", or "it didn't work out". It is utterly shocking to see such reasons - I recently came across a case where a husband wants to divorce a wife because she ate chicken after visiting the temple! (One more reason he stated was that she fought with him because he didn't take her out for ice cream). In such an era, it is extremely gratifying to come across stories of commitment which make us believe in the strength of true love. In this write-up, I present a few stories which I personally came across in different walks of life which reinstate our belief in the Indian institution of marriage.

Image result for old couple

Tale 1: Until death did them apart

A bank manager with a plump figure works endlessly, with a smile on her face always. At times, she does lose patience and snipe a little. But very little. I have been associated with her for the past one year. When I met her just a few days ago, she was laughing and talking jovially with everyone. During the course of our conversation, she told me that her husband had passed away just three months ago, without anyone expecting it. She told me that he had been ailing for 17 years, but the death was supposed to be slow deterioration, and therefore was a shock to everyone. She doesn't have children because of her husband's health condition. She lived with him despite all that, treated him without her smile vanishing one single time, cooked his favourite things for him everyday before coming to the bank, supported him financially and co-habited with her in-laws. She continues to stay with her in-laws for now, and says "I have to live alone now. What to do? I will prepare myself". She smiles merrily, but I saw the pain of her loss in her eyes. When we see all this, we think "To hell with the stupid clause in the marriage act that the presence of a disease is a reason for divorce!"

Tale 2: Reliving a bitter past everyday

I know of a couple who got married in very troubled circumstances. They were not intended to be married at all! The bride was slated to marry another guy, whom the police whisked away in the last minute because he had already made another girl pregnant. Our guy here was pleaded by elders to marry the bride, lest she stood alone without being able to get married at all in the future. The guy did not ask the bride for her consent, and neither did the bride open her mouth in that occasion. Thirty years later, the woman still blames her husband for marrying her without asking and forcing her to live a middle class life which she never wanted. The man maintains that he did a favour to her by saving her from an embarrassing situation. They relive this bitter incident everyday and fight every minute of the day. But at the end of the day, they're still together. If she is unwell, he takes over the cooking, shopping and administration. If he feels down, she makes the best dishes she can to cheer him up. They never let each other down. Where in the world now has the word "mental cruelty" come into the picture for initiating a divorce? 

Tale 3: In sickness and in health

I heard of a young couple living in the US who got married just a few years ago. The girl got affected by some neurological problem, which made her hysterical, difficult to deal with, and also incapable of consummation of the marriage. The husband didn't get wary of her shivering, or her mood swings, or wasn't bothered one bit that he couldn't consummate. He took her to the best doctors he knew, put her on tablets, took care of her like his own child and treated her for two years non-stop. They're now living happily together. Where now, are the clauses "lack of consummation", or "neurological/mental disease" which are valid reasons for divorce, according to the so-called "law"?

I know many other such tales, all similar in nature to the above three. None of the clauses for divorce or separation in legal terms is valid to separate two people really in love. No person can come between two people who really want to live together. Such tales which I see in everyday life inspire me to no end. When I saw these people, I realised the true meaning of commitment - thousands may play villian, hundreds of reasons may lead to differences, words may lead to havoc, the couple might be staying away from each other, or even be divorced. But real commitment is truly loving each other no matter what comes between them, and holding that last shred of hope, lasting memories, and living on with the sweetest of moments which led to their love in the first place. If those moments weigh more than all the unpleasantness even if the former is visibly lesser than the latter, it is true love. It is not being able to find a reason to hate the person we loved so intensely at some point. Even if there are a thousand reasons for separation, true love is finding at least one reason to hold on. And true love is, after realising all this, letting go of the other person if he or she has somehow lost that last shred of hope, all those memories, and has exhausted every reason to stay back.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ahoy, Pregnancy!

To all the blushing brides who have become blushing moms-to-be, congratulations!

*Celebration dance*

Once we get beyond the happy realisation and the unbelievable feeling of wonder at hosting another life, the reality sets in – which is both overwhelming and a little scary. To all grandmothers and mothers who have sailed through the period without as much as a little fuss, hats off! I remember talking to my grandmother and asking her how she dealt with it. She said, “I was doing house work as usual, then realised that my water broke, and went to the nursing home. Before the nurses could get their equipment ready, the baby was born”.

Sigh. I just wish it was as easy as they said it in this era, both mentally and physically.

Stage 1: Mouth popping at the realisation

After the “Oh my goodness! My period is delayed”, stage, the first reaction is disbelief. Every single day is filled with voices in the head saying, “Okay, I am going to get my period today”, and the visits to the bathroom only to find, with a mingled feeling of happiness (if you want the baby), nervousness and excitement.

Stage 2: The first trimester

The first visit to the gynaecologist is quite a unique experience, and the sight of round bellied women and some mothers clutching new born babies with raw, pink faces to their bosoms causes a shiver of anticipation coupled with a warm feeling. I have to say that the number of husbands accompanying their wives to every doctor visit has indeed increased in this era – which is a gratifying development. Unless you are a very strong person, the presence of your life partner during this stage is a definite bonus – like a confirmation that your partner will be a participant in the child’s life throughout, instead of saying “Women are best at raising children, we should leave it to them”. Hmph. Then why do you even call yourself a father? Just earning money is not a contribution to raise the child – sharing responsibilities, showering care on the wife and child are necessary aspects of a happy and healthy pregnancy. Some other men are wimps – “I can’t handle seeing her suffer/in pain”. Well, men, just learn to do it – you can’t send somebody else in your place to face this period with your wife, can you? In some cases, mothers accompany their daughters, but I feel sorry for them. They look so tired and exhausted, but neither party has a choice since the pregnant woman needs the best support she can get – which is obviously from her mother, who understands her inside out. Even if the life partner is present, mothers are the best source of comfort at this stage.

Stage 3: The second trimester

This is the stage where we notice a definite bulge in the stomach – and walk around flaunting it happily, with some people thinking that we just maintain our figure badly, and other, more experienced pookaara ammas and paatis realising that it is because of a “visesham”. How they can understand this from one look at the face of the pregnant woman is just a mystery to me. My helper, for instance, spotted the pregnancy symptoms in just 27 days. Coupled with this are the usual symptoms of nausea (ugh, ugh, ugh), heartburn (which makes us want to yell in frustration as we brush our teeth every morning and almost feel the raw red flesh from the chest all the way to the stomach), and sleepiness (“Yeah, you were sayin-zzzzzzzzz”). We can’t sleep on our stomach, and neither can we lift weights. Yes, we feel quite like the damsel in distress. Towards the end of the second trimester, one of the best parts comes in – we can feel movements inside our tummy! Kicks, punches, grabbing, pushing, and what not. But, the baby is shrewd enough to stop kicking whenever someone else places a hand on the mother’s stomach. Movements in this time are reserved specially only for the mother – so enjoy them as much as possible! Also, we can no longer lie down straight on our backs as well, unless we need to be overcome by bouts of breathlessness and an uncomfortable feeling in our stomachs. Leg cramps, aches from sleeping on one side, and small flutters of fear of delivery start setting in. Then there are, of course the mood swings. Sometimes, the very sound of somebody calling for you can even be irritating – when we are in a half-drowsy, half-grumpy state. There is also a curiosity about the gender of the baby – not that it matters, but there is a burning desire to know when the doctor shows us the baby moving his/her little hands and legs in the scan. Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God soooooo cute.

Stage 4: Final Trimester

Well, I haven’t reached it yet, but the early signs are sure starting! That suffocating feeling in your sleep when we realise we have to go through the pain which is touted to be the highest ever in a lifetime, like bones breaking, and worse than cancer? I think social media websites should really stop sharing posts like this:

We know, we know. Please don’t rub it in! It is a natural process which every mother chooses to undergo. Why create so much hype around something which millions of women have undergone over eons, which in turn creates an unnecessary fear in the minds of mothers-to-be in this era? As Dumbledore says in the Harry Potter series, “Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself”. Of course it is not to be taken lightly. There should be almost zero stress in the mother’s mind and tons of support from her family – both her mother’s family and her in-laws. One has to be very sensitive with the emotions of a pregnant woman (thanks to the hormones playing havoc inside her) and give her as much company as possible. This should help her get through the delivery – that is always something to hold on to – the knowledge that the ones we love are there for us! Plus, times have changed. Doctors perform miracles and there is always the C-section if there is no choice left. Instead of sharing posts like the above and scaring the woman, just be as supportive as possible! Also, my aim in life is to never share this labour pain with my child unless absolutely necessary – all mothers have to compulsorily go through this natural process, and most of them willingly do it to get the child, and of course that creates copious amounts of affection on the child. But telling the child that we had to go through so much pain to deliver him/her is just like a business deal, like we expect something from the child just because we have delivered him/her! Mentioning it to a daughter to prepare her or to a son to help him be supportive of his spouse is what is required from our end. Like Sadhguru of Isha Yoga says, we are only the media for the child to reach this world, not the source. Anyway, lots of time left for that, and let’s see if I can live up to my aim.

Having said all that, here is a message to all moms-to-be out there: Relax, breathe, and enjoy the pregnancy. Even the pain. It is not that easy to bring a life to this world, and once we have chosen to do that, we have to go through all the natural processes which our body takes us through. Of course, the mood swings, mind monsters and hormones need to be handled with the support of the surrounding environment and people. It is important to enjoy life to the maximum in this period, and take one day at a time. As our grandmothers say, it will all probably be worth it when we see the baby’s face.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Obata Stutiyi, Sri Lanka!

Bleary-eyed from our all-night journey, we crashed into bed as soon as we reached our hovel for the week – Cinnamon Bey, Beruwala. Salty air wafted across our faces, and the distant sound of waves crashing against the shore greeted us in the wee hours of the morning. We checked into our high-ceilinged, wood-panelled room with the backyard open to the sea. A few hours later, breakfast greeted us with a medley of foods – continental, regional, Indian, and, of course, Sri Lankan. The island country has a charm of its own, and, for Indians, feels like an infusion of Kerala and Tamilnadu, with the sweet sound of Sinhalese in the atmosphere.

A spot of local shopping awaited us on our first day there, and we encountered quaint shops, with row after row of souvenirs, clothes, jewellery and food, throwing up vibrant colours which is a treat for the eyes. The next day saw us hit the road to Colombo, a city which is a cross between regional flavour on one side and more urbane life on the other. Chain stores, food joints, and other elements of a typical market furnish one part of the city, while the other part beckons us invitingly with lush green fields. Perhaps the most breathtaking of what the city has to offer is the area around the Parliament building, its most charming feature being the calm, rippling body of water (the Diyawanna lake) surrounding it. The Asokaramaya Buddhist temple is a magnificent monument, with regal statues of Buddha which grace the main hall. A small but awe-inspiring temple, there is something about this place which emanates an infinite calm. A delightful inclusion in our day trip to Colombo was a visit to the Rio Ice Cream Parlour located on the sea shore, with a delicious collection of over fifty flavours and combinations. The ice cream was a treat for our taste buds and was the perfect end to our tiring, but eventful day.

The highlight of our trip was the journey to Nuwara Eliya, the place which is believed to be where Goddess Sita was held captive by Raavan. Changing landscapes zipped past as we traversed plains to reach the mountains, where a pleasant silence filled our ears, interrupted only by the chirping of birds and the sounds of occasional vehicles passing by. Accompanying us was a driver who spoke Sri Lankan Tamil, which was a welcome change to the Tamil which our ears were accustomed to. We ascended the mountain slowly, stopping at a quaint little restaurant for tea. Hotels were characterised by large steeples and towers, nestled amongst eucalyptus trees and fading slowly in and out of sight amongst the speeding clouds. We finally reached Seetha Eliya, a quiet little temple with shrines of Lord Rama, Goddess Seetha and Lakshman, and also Hanuman. It was raining softly, and through the curtain of raindrops, we saw the dents in the rock behind the temple, believed to be the footprints of Lord Hanuman when he landed to see Goddess Seetha for the first time. We watched, enraptured, as rain filled the cavity caused by those footprints, beyond which there were endless trees and silence. There is not much else to see in this town, unless you count the beautiful scenery and the peace of mind which is attained on visiting this temple. Another long, winding journey back later, we were ready for a day full of rest and toying around in the swimming pool in our resort, which overlooked the sea. 

Our last trip was to Galle and Mathara, both of which are laid back little towns with gaiety and a lot of activity by the beach. Mathara is the southern tip of Sri Lanka, and is no different from other towns, except for maybe the more treacherous sea and a number of snack shops dotting the sea shore. The highlight of this town is a swaying bridge which leads to a small Buddha Temple, where a constant, pleasant spray of water gently caresses our faces as we stand there. Galle is home to one of the most beautiful stone forts we had ever seen, which looks down on the town and is an ideal place to unwind, with breeze from different directions creating a cool and pleasant atmosphere on the top of the fort.

The last part of our trip was a small boating expedition on the Bentota River, which is habituated by a number of species like crocodiles, snakes and birds. At one point, we met an old, regal man sitting on a small wooden jetty, stroking a baby crocodile on his shoulder. The creature was as cute as it was also menacing, when it opened its mouth to reveal pointy, but not sharp teeth. On the very same day, after a sumptuous lunch at Kandoori, the only Indian restaurant at Beruwala, we headed back to Colombo. We boarded the return flight from Colombo to India on the same day, with a lot of memories to remember and nurture, and also lessons on almost impeccable waste management, which was obvious from the minimal litter on the roads of Sri Lanka. The most important lesson was to learn, from our experience, that it is important to embrace the beauty of cultures across the world while attempting to preserve our own. Every town, every place, and every person we meet has a lesson to teach us, and by incorporating the positive aspects of any culture into our own, we only enrich it, and do not embellish it. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How do arranged (PS: Brahmin) marriages work?

Arranged marriages. Scary for some, normal for some, and absolutely crazy for some others. In fact, arranged marriages in the Brahmin community belong to a different category itself! Where these types of marriages are concerned, the term “arranged” has a deeper meaning. “Arranged” here refers to subservience of the bride’s family (forever and after) to the groom’s family, while accepting that the latter will be the supreme overlord of all decision making with respect to the wedding, and also the couple’s life after that. Does decision making entail investing in the same ideas? Of course not.  The bride, her father, her mother, their fathers and mothers, and their fathers and mothers, and their fathers and mothers are indebted (financially, morally, physically) to the bridegroom’s family, for no particular reason whatsoever. Oh wait. There is a reason. Because the groom is a man. Because he is capable of reproducing. Because, by virtue of some miracle, he was born with the Y-Chromosome.

If you think this post sounds really old-fashioned in an era like this, you’re mistaken. If you think “Oh well, maybe this is something which happens in remote areas”, you’re seriously mistaken. If you think “how many educated people in urban areas will behave this way?”, please revise the theory of parallel lines from Class 8 Mathematics. “Parallel” means “occurring or existing at the same time”. Similarly, both broad-minded and absolutely irrational narrow-minded thoughts occur at the same time to the same person, who thinks “Oh, I want a well-educated, fair, beautiful, intelligent, independent working girl for my son”, who has also “not loved before, has traditional values, wears only pattu saree at home (with original golden zari, otherwise her parents are so dead), lights lamp every day at home, and takes my permission to talk to my son”.

In the middle of all this is a poor guy, who has been brought up as the well-oiled machine who can work with a lifetime guarantee and produce money until the end of his lifetime, the oil here being “We are your parents, so you’re indebted to us, our ancestors, our family, our house, our cat, our dog, and even the ants that run around our ancestral home”. This ill-fated person’s future is written by his parents the moment he enters this world, bawling at the top of his voice. “Ah. He has to study engineering, do MBA, earn Rs.2 lakh per month, and take care of us when we are old and waiting for Perumal to take us away”. This little soul is raised with a continuous rant of “I gave birth to you, I am funding you, I am taking care of you…so, once you grow up, you and the girl you marry give birth to a child of my choice, raise him/her (preferably him, since the family line will die if a girl is born) like I say, fund me, and take care of me”.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is precisely why arranged marriages are a cause of major concern, especially in Brahmin families. For one, the entire wedding expenses have to be borne by the bride’s family, but have to occur according to the groom’s family’s wishes (for example, groom’s family will eat Saravana Bhavan sambhar with two onions per spoon, but will not eat onions served in dishes in the reception “Perumal nammala mannikka maataer!”). It doesn’t end there. The groom wants the girl to be independent, intelligent, loving, caring, and bold enough to take army officers by shame. The groom’s family wants the girl to be all of the above (so that their son is happy) and also, from the minute she enters their home, wear a bindi (because otherwise their son will die), wear a saree (because otherwise their relatives will die), wear toe rings (because otherwise the society itself will die), and wear a permanent smile on her face (I am surprised how the bride is not dead by this point).

This doesn’t mean that the couple doesn’t love each other. Of course they do. And, believe me, they want to be left alone for some years until they have healthy respect and understanding for each other and have the necessary resources to take care of someone else. And seriously, the guy doesn’t care if the girl runs the house her way…in shorts or in maxi gowns, with or without his help, with or without her mother’s help, or in any way. He just wants to love her and wants her to love him (and pamper him) and wants three meals a day. His needs are simple, but his parents complicate them. And extrapolate them to an extent that his wife not consulting them for running his family is akin to the girl imprisoning him for a lifetime so that he doesn’t belong to anyone else. Seriously, doesn’t this girl have anything else to do other than “trapping” the guy? Even if she had trapped him, and is torturing him, wouldn’t he be running to his parents for help? He isn’t. So he’s fine. He is not in an asylum. Frankly, he is a little relieved to have someone share his responsibilities and thinks it’s cool to have a life of his own and have someone by his side always.

The message from this post?

“Dear groom’s parents…please back off. Just because your son is a man, the girl married to him is not indebted to you. Neither is she the one responsible of taking care of you. Your son wears pattai or naamam when he comes to visit you, but doesn’t care tuppence about it at his own home. Your son is very chamathu at your home, but parties and drinks hard where he lives. Your son takes your permission to be with his wife when he is at your home, but can’t wait to be with her each minute of the day and even skips work deadlines to meet her. He loves her. She loves him. He likes her family and entertains them for her sake. She likes you and entertains you for his sake. He will take care of her family if need be. She will take care of you if need be. They don’t want a big wedding. They just want a silent promise of comfort to be with each other for a lifetime, and probably a small party later to announce to their friends and family that they’re together. Your son lifts bags for her. It’s okay. Your son waits in the sun for her. It’s okay. Your son thinks she is beautiful. It’s okay. Your son thinks she can do anything for her. It’s not a crime. She feels the same way, too. He tells her things he has never told you before. It’s fine. She is his companion, as he is hers. She is the one, coming from some corner of the universe, who has the magnanimity to accept him for who he is. He accepts her with all her faults, too. So, relax. Breathe. Share the wedding expenses. If you want something, pay for it yourself. If you want your son to have something, ask his wife first. It’s her home, too! Sure, your son likes having an elephant at home, but it might be a wee bit too taxing for her. Because your son won’t take care of the elephant. He will talk to it and greet it. But she will be the one taking care of it, because she will do it for him. And finally, focus on not being the elephant in his and his wife’s home – huge, out of place, taking up too much space, making deafening noises, and trampling everything, including them and their life. Please be like cute little teddy bears (in hibernation, and coming out only when needed. Your son and his wife are cute little teddy bears, too. They will come out if you need them. And they know when they need you or when you need them). And please remember, she has a family, too! (Also, don’t rub her on the wrong side. Much like the girl’s parents maintain a good rapport with her husband so that he takes care of her well, you have a responsibility to do so, too.)”

PS: Being an elephant is possible at close quarters, or even if the couple is in the US and the parents are in Mayavaram. Trampling can be literal as well as virtual!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why the book "Two States" is as real as it gets.

To be frank, I was quite skeptical when I picked up the book “Two States” to read it. I am no big fan of the author or his stories, which ride on a value set totally different from mine. But, as I read deeper into the book, its relevance even in today’s world became more and more prominent to me. And, being typical me, I read into the book around 200 times and decided to write an article about it.

Though some parts of the book, like the protagonist’s relationship with his dad and his account of his previous romance were quite specific, the author’s description of an Indian man’s way of thinking, and their rapport with their mothers is shockingly true. The story illustrates the relationship between Krish and his mother, who showers affection on her only son. Kavita, Krish’s mother, has a rocky relationship with her husband, but sets it aside to bring her son up. Naturally, Krish has a huge soft corner for her, especially since he has watched her undergo physical and mental abuse all these years. The general layman’s thinking would be that the right path for Krish would be satisfying his mother’s wishes and giving in to all her emotional whims since she has ruined her life for his development.

At this stage, however, the same layman would forget to notice the presence of Kavita’s relatives throughout the story. Appearances of these relatives are mentioned cursorily; however, on close observation, it is seen that Kavita’s feelings are accentuated by her continual discussion of her personal issues with her sister, a character called “Shipra”. At all stages in the book, Kavita’s insecurity of losing her only son is fuelled by this character. Though external elements cannot be blamed, the societal construct around Kavita forces her to have all traits that any average Indian man’s mother would have. All these traits stem from the fact that the character Ananya (Krish’s girlfriend) rightly articulates – Kavita has a chip on her shoulder for being from the “boy’s side”. The book further goes on to beautifully illustrate how a mother, who considers her son to be the best, goes to any extent to not give up on her maternal rights on him, when he is, however, already old enough to get married and lead his own life. This feeling, combined with opinionated relatives, and the fact that she is not able to accept her son choosing his own partner, pushes her to behave in the worst manner possible.

As things escalate, we observe that Krish, like a typical man, tries to achieve temporary solutions to all his issues, doing whatever he can to avoid controversies in the short run. He employs all kinds of methods to marry Ananya, trying to convince his girlfriend in the process that his mother is actually a good person at heart. At this stage, we also observe that men fail to understand that all relationships are not the same – they see their mothers as characters who have only lived to fulfil their wishes, which is true. However, a mother-son relationship will never be the same as a mother-daughter-in-law relationship. This is the universal truth which men fail to accept, denying to themselves the very thing which causes a rift between them and their wives. Justifications, fights, and arguments continue, and Krish finally resorts to manipulation to get his mother agree to his marriage with Ananya.

It is at this point in the story that it is revealed that the notoriety of the relationship between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law is not only because of a mother-in-law’s insecurity, but also because the son is not willing to entertain any negotiation when it comes to his mother. He continues to manipulate to satisfy and satiate only his mother’s emotions, and hurts Ananya severely in the process. The difference between the mindset of a boy’s parents and a girl’s parents is also shown wonderfully – the girl’s parents are only worried about her happiness and get over their caste mania; however, the boy’s parents (mother, especially), refuses to give in unless her ego and male chauvinism is satisfied. When Ananya finds out that Krish is also the problem, she breaks up with him. Her feelings are not articulated in the book, and only Krish’s point of view is mentioned, with him spoiling his health and moping around. However, this decision would have broken Ananya more, who, though is happy on the surface, is shattered inside. She swallows all her feelings to keep Krish aside, because she cannot bear to hurt her parents by destroying herself.

At this point, Krish tries to convince his mother to apologise for her rude and selfish behaviour, but she refuses to do so, stating that she has been falling at everyone’s feet to bring up her son, and now he expects her to fall at the girl’s parents’ feet, as well. She wrongly uses the choices she had made to bring her son up and resorts to emotional drama to generate pity about herself in her son to not budge from her decision. In the end, Krish’s father, though an insensitive person, travels to Ananya’s place to apologise for all that had happened – including his wife’s allegation that they had laid a trap for her son. Here, it is seen that a father-child relationship is totally different from how the same father treats his wife. As things take a positive turn, Kavita is shown in a better light towards the end of the book. She is seen refusing a car offered by Ananya’s parents as dowry, stating that a qualified girl is enough. However, even at this point, she is not the one who gives up her ego, and because of the choices that her son has made, she has no option but to go with him, because she can’t afford to lose him. It is sad how an Indian mother slams her husband frequently to fulfil her son’s wishes, and sadder how the son uses this at all stages in life. Every mother is attached to her son, but hates the fact that her son has affection to share with another woman. The mother is not willing to give up on her rights on him, thus making his wife’s life absolutely miserable by inflicting invisible control on her son through emotional exploits.

The reality of the book blew my mind away. However, it fails to answer several questions: The only relationship which continues until our last breaths is the one which we have with our spouse. Once we start leading a life with him or her, we make our own adjustments to please each other, and start living our own way. Why can’t a boy’s mother accept the fact that she can no longer hold on to her son? If she really loves her son, wouldn’t she be able to stop controlling and interfering in his relationship with his wife? How can she believe that her son will be happy if she considers her daughter-in-law to be someone who exists only to snatch her son from her?

Be it Two States, or any other book, no one can answer these questions except one person – the son himself, who needs to accept the fact that his wife is his partner for life, and that his mother can only travel with him for a short period of time. He is the one who can explain (however ruthless or controversial it may seem to him), that she has to back off and let them lead their lives. As long as Indian men continue to hesitate in this respect, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship will never change, for eons to come. 

(Yes, I know. I think too much into the books that I read. Hope you enjoyed the article!)