Friday, 28 February 2014

Wrinkled Skin, Toothless Grin

When I was a kid, whenever I returned home from a visit to the local market with my parents, there was one question that I could always count on my grandmother to ask.
'Market gayi thi? Mere liye kya laayi?'
Every single time, this question trumped me. When I was very young, I would look up at mom for help. Gradually, I learnt to answer that question by giving her some old toy or trinkle, confident that she would believe me when I told her it was new.
You see, I loved my dadi so much I just couldn't stand the pout on her face which indicated she was upset. In fact, as a kid, I shared that kind of a bond with all four of my grandparents.
And how couldn't I? They were always there to save me from the wrath of my parents when I broke stuff. And I remember, when I was in kindergarten, my dadu used to pick me up from the bus stop, and I would always convince him to take a short detour to buy me a packet of Cadbury Gems. (Except I had no idea they were called 'Cadbury' Gems. To me they were just Gems.) On reaching home, my dadi would bathe, dress and feed me, which would be followed by my shout of, 'Potty!' And after having pooped to my heart's content, I would dutifully shout, 'ho gayi!', so that anyone who heard me could come wipe my ass. (Then one day my mom told me I should learn to do that myself and I had to let go of that luxury.)

Whenever I visited Nani Ghar - as we so fondly call my maternal grandmother's house - nani would give me and my cousin sisters an old tea set she had, and all three of us would gather on a chattai in the verandah to have a tea party. I was always the first to get bored of tea partying. The next thing I would want to do was, 'something new'. So while my cousins continued to pour fake tea and pretend-gossip about their pretend-families, I would yell, 'koi toy nahi hai nani aapke paas!' knowing full well that nanu would be listening. He would then quietly put on his slippers, offer me his hand, and briskly walk out of the door with me running to keep up. We would go straight to the toy shop, where he would wait for me to take my pick. The moment we got home with my new toy, I would yell for my mother to take me back home, not wanting to share the toy with my cousins.

So yeah, as a kid, the most wonderful people in my life were my grand parents. The only things I, in turn, had to do for them were:
1) Fishing out their chappals and juttis from underneath the bed/couch/sofa.
2) Easing my dadi of her joint pains by sitting on her back or standing on her shins, while she lay on the bed guiding me to the exact point where she required me to sit/stand. I always felt great doing that, because it made me feel needed. In fact, my cousin brother and I would often fight over who got which leg to stand on.
How awesome were those days!

Gradually, as I become a teen, my pampering days came to an end. My grand parents suddenly realised that I was their height, and started having expectations of me, just like my parents always had. With my grand parents siding with my parents, I was left to face the 'all adults' team alone. Then little things about them started annoying me.
For instance,
My Dadu: When I come back from school on an exam day, the first thing dadu asks me is, 'Paper kaisa tha?' And dare I say that it went badly! 'Changa nahi si? Kyu? Number kithe katte? Tuition laen da ki fayeda hua?'
To avoid explaining myself to him, I make it a point to put on a smile, and say, without missing a beat, 'Achha tha.'
Then he would respond with another question, which would make me feel a pinch of guilt for lying to him, 'Full aayenge?' As if it were the most granted thing in the world.

My Dadi: All dadu's expectations don't stop my dadi from insisting that I should go out and 'play' when I'm preparing for my exams.
'Saare din kamre vich bayi rehndi hai! Baahr jaa k tappa kar! Jado mai tere jiddi siggi roz khed-di si!'
You have no idea how much I would love to go out and get some fresh air, dadi. I would, if I could! Can't you see I don't have enough time?

My Nani: Last Rakshabandhan, I went over to Nani Ghar one day in advance, just like I do every year. On Rakhi-Day, I put on a new top that I had bought specially for the occasion, and a pair of black jeans. My cousin, on the other hand, just had to wear an Indian salwaar-kameez. She just had to. When we came out of the room, ready to go about doing the usual Rakhi things, nani was sitting in the living room, and she looked up when we entered. Her eyes passed over our get-ups, and when her gaze settled on me her expression turned disapproving.
'Kadi te kudi bann litta kar! Jean-na paaye rakhdi hai saare time.'
Why lord, why me? Look, I have nothing against Indian attire, and I put it on when there's a wedding or something. But tbh, it's not very comfortable. So, sue me if I don't bother to put on a suit at every festive occasion!

My nanu, at least, doesn't nag anybody. Well, nobody except nani. You keep doing your thing and he'll keep doing his. Sitting on the floor in his usual latrine-pose (I have never seen him not sitting like that when he's in his own house), sipping his tea, watching cricket on television and cursing the players now and then. Bliss.

Now, coming back to my paternal grandparents. There's always the repetitive demand of being taught how to use their cell phones. Once in every few weeks, dadu or dadi would ask me something like, 'Ae dass, number kive kaddan aede vicho?'
And more often than not, I'm happy to oblige. But, sometimes I have more pressing matters to attend to and I have to admit (not without guilt) that it bugs me.

My point is that as I grow up, their habits annoy me more and more. Even the parts when they're just showing their love - like when my dadi forces me to eat desi ghyo vaale parathe - get on my nerves. I have grown wary of their remarks that, more often than not, are prejudiced and ancient. They have orthodox mindsets, and I sometimes feel like it's too much. I notice the little triffles my mom and dadi have, and I can't help but think that my grannie is being more than a little unfair.

But, when I think of all the things they did for me when my parents were out working, it sort of warms my heart. Think of it this way. The opinions you call orthodox are the beliefs your grand parents grew up with. Until they reached middle age, nobody criticised their beliefs. Now, when they have lived for the better part of the century with those beliefs, how can you expect them to simply let go of those opinions? Their thinking is faulty, and it's great if your grandparents outgrew it and turned modern. But, even if they didn't, remember that they played a major role in your upbringing, and event hough they themselves are not modern, they allowed you to grow up in an environment where you have the ability to form your own opinions.

If nothing else, remind yourself of their smile, which cheered you up when you were bawling over a broken toy. When you were little, they used to have a crooked dark-toothed smile, and over the years it grew into a toothless one. Remember, too, how loved you felt, when they addressed you with those weird-but-endearing nicknames, the ones that you feel too embarrassed to share with your friends. Remember, that they are at a stage in life where they no longer have their elders to give them love. You and your parents are the only source of support and affection for them, whereas you still have them, your parents, your extended family, and your peer group.

Remember, before time makes a fool of you.

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Excuse the punjabi, please. You see, when you are a punjabi, and you're writing about your grandparents, it's very, very hard to resist the urge to throw in a few punjabi phrases.

Monday, 10 February 2014

A Few Words - On Words

Yesterday night, my phone rang while I was reading a book. Usually, when this kind of thing happens, I just turn off the ringer and read on in peace. But this time, unfortunately, I was reading an ebook. On my phone.
At first, I just cut off the call and continued reading.
This person, though, was insistant. So when, for the second time, the screen switched from ebook page to 'as****e calling' (or that might be just what I read, instead of my friend's name), I answered the call and utilised a series of words and phrases that I probably shouldn't write here. After having given him an earful, I asked him what the hell he was calling me about at 1 am. The poor thing, assuming I had been asleep, hung up after hurriedly saying, 'Sorry yaar, aise he call kiya tha, I thought you'd be awake!'
In my defence, I HAD been reading, okay? That's what you get for disturbing me while I read (and I don't care if you had no idea what I'd been doing). Unless you bother me in person, in which case you might also get stuff hurled at your face.
Yep, I'm crazy when it comes to books. Corny as it might sound, books complete me. They just do. Not just books, I like reading anything and everything - except newspapers, perhaps - poetry, magazines, Reader's Digest (because it's too cool to be called a magazine), blogs, books, you name it.
I rarely read poetry, but find it enjoyable when I do. I read it only when I stumble across it unintentionally in a novel, a blog, or when I'm editing the school magazine (which, incidently, will get published god-knows-when). It is an amazing form of literature, but somewhat less appealing to me than prose.
I mostly read magazines to pass the time while my derrier rests on a plush sofa of some waiting room - the dentist's, the hairstylist's, or any other -ist's. And I am not particularly choosy when it comes to magazines. I can read anything from fashion and celebrity news to sports and automobile reviews, and even business and marketing mags.
Reader's Digest, as I said, is like a classy relative to magazines. As a kid, I used to just flip through to the jokes section, but found them too complex to be funny. Then, I started doing the Word Power quiz - and here you have to excuse my boastfulness - going from scoring a zero to acing the quiz in a couple of years. Today, I can read RD cover to cover (skipping commercials, duh!) without getting even slightly bored.
Blogs. I have always loved getting to know different kinds of people from different parts of the world, and blogs provide an easily accessible path to do just that. I like all kinds of blogs - conceptual or random, serious or frivolous, non-fiction or fiction, conforming or non-conforming. A blog gives you an insight into the personality of the person writing it, and you never know when you might bump (virtually) into an interesting personality!
Books. Oh, what can I say!
Books are man's best friends, I've heard. I don't know about the general 'man', but they aren't my friends, for sure. Soulmates, more like. They are a lot of wonderful things - temples for the mind, hospitals for the soul, theme parks for the imagination; always giving, never demanding. There's only so much you can do in one life. Books allow you to live as many lives as you want to, in just one lifetime. Each book is a door - like Alice putting her gold key in the lock, like the secret wardrobe passage to Narnia, like Harry using Parseltongue to open the Chamber of Secrets. Honestly, half the time in my mind, I'm a Wizard/ Shadowhunter/ Dragon Rider/ crazy scientist/ gangbanger, doing some cool shit, when I'm really just a nerd, sitting in bed - reading.
Books are a refuge. The moment you open a book, all your issues and worries get pushed to a tiny corner in your brain, forgotten, as you jump into someone else's life. They're an amazing distraction when you are sad, angry, depressed, lonely, or simply bored. And when you think you are ready to face reality, you can jump back out, into your own life.
In fact, I read even when I am happy or excited. Reading, then, is like a celebration.

Words have the power to change us. With each book you read, you learn a new lesson. In fact, for some books, each repeated reading teaches you something new - a little immaterial something that you can carry with yourself forever. And, if you are lucky, someday you'll be able pass it on - a priceless legacy.

* * * *

I began this post because of my annoying friend. In hind sight, it's just a monotonous allocution about MY likes, MY dislikes, and MY thoughts on reading. I'm too self obsessed, aren't I? Just to balance things out a bit, let's hear about YOUR likes, YOUR dislikes, and YOUR thoughts. Do give me some interesting stuff to read! :)  

Friday, 7 February 2014

A Son Who Loves Dolls

Lori Duron. Apart from being an American blogger who published her first book last year, she is the mother of two amazing sons: Lego-loving, football-playing Chase, and C.J. who, to put it in his own words, is 'a boy who likes all girl stuff'.

About two years ago, I stumbled upon her blog, Raising My Rainbow, and instantly got addicted. Now I know her family the way you know characters from a favourite book which you can read over and over again. In her blog, and later in her book of the same name, Lori writes about everyday incidents in her life and general issues in the lives of families having gender non-conforming kids. It is absolutely heartening to read about her 'adventures in raising a gender creative son', and you will be in love with her kids before you know it.

Her younger son, C.J., loves playing with dolls, twirling around in a tutu, designing his own dresses, and having all things pink and sparkly - stuff that our brain, being tuned to social norms, instantly associates with girls. This woman, though, does not care about making her son conform to gender norms, and I have come to respect her greatly for it.

Even before finding out about her blog, I had condemned gender norms. But back then, I had only ever come across stories of adults who were a part of the LGBTQ community. Her blog took my level of disgust towards homophobia to a whole new level, because it tells the story of a toddler having to explain himself to the world. No child should ever have to do that. Children should feel loved and safe from prejudice at home, at school, in the park, in public places, and everywhere they go, irrespective of their gender or sexuality.

One very important thing that Duron places emphasis on in her book is empathy. She says that if you think teaching children about sexuality isn't appropriate, you can at least teach them to empathise with all human beings, no matter how different they are. This mother is trying to create an environment for her sons where they are not only accepted but also loved for who and what they are. And after a great deal of effort, she has been - to an appreciable extent - rewarded with success. She could not have done all that alone, though. Her friends and family supported her - especially her husband, who was by her side every step of the way. And she's not the only such mother out there. There are several families like hers, families who consider it their duty to love their child, without trying to change him/her.

Unfortunately, they still find themselves at the receiving end of negative remarks from a number of individuals and organisations. Yet, they haven’t given up. They haven’t buckled under the pressure. They’ve stood tall and shielded their kids from the narrow minded society. The only reason they have been able to do this is that they understood that it it's not their child who is flawed; it’s the social conventions.

Makes you wonder - how many parents in a country like ours could do that? How many families would be ready to share their effeminate boy's life with the world instead of hushing it up like a dark secret?
My guess? Next to none. Not nearly enough.

Today, we have skyscrapers, funky automobiles, high-grade technology, and our economy is growing, if not rapidly. But as far as our mind-sets go, we might as well be living in the Stone Age. People see homosexuality as a weakness, a disability - an illness, even. They say it's just another trend - a phase - as a result of which we are exaggerating penny-wise issues. Well, ‘they’ need to open their eyes, as well as their minds. This is not a phase that will pass with the passage of time; this is our respect for the right of every human being to be who they are and love who they want to.

People shun gender non-conforming persons and believe that they are not normal, in the name of religion, nature, humanity, you name it. If you are religious, maybe you should remember that God created them, just like He created you, and contrary to what you might imagine, He will not reward you for treating fellow human beings like scum. If you think gender creativity is even slightly unnatural, let me remind you - these people are also nature's creations, just like you are. Their hormones, feelings and sexuality are no more synthetic than yours. And if you believe they are any less human, let me tell you - they are more human than you could ever imagine being, and they are that much the better for being true to themselves.

I’ll leave you with something to ponder over. Renowned author Ernest Gaines once raised this question: ‘Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable with two men holding guns than holding hands?’