Sexist Jokes and Wife-Bashing Forwards in the Times of Coronavirus

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I have always found jokes which portray negative stereotypes of women a little bit irksome but lately the onslaught of these kind of forwards and a general social acceptance of this kind of humor infuriates me. I feel compelled to vent by writing a blog about it.

Let me give you some examples in case you have missed reading these. First, we have a picture of a man whose hair is standing up and his ears are enlarged and the caption reads, “Five days at home listening to the wife”. Then, we have a picture of Modiji with his hands in a namaste pose and the caption reads, “It is our request to women to stay quiet so that men can stay home”

Forget jokes, the Malaysian government went one step further when its Ministry for Women, Family and Community development issued a series of posters for Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #WomenPreventCovid19. The message advises women to stop “nagging” their husbands. In addition, they are also requested to refrain from being “sarcastic” when they ask their husbands to help them with household chores. This is not the end of it. The ministry also suggests that women should dress up and wear makeup while working from home.

I was shocked at these sexist and condescending messages. This is not acceptable. In the middle ages, a woman was made to wear a scold’s bridle (a mask like device made of iron to keep one’s mouth shut) as a punishment for nagging. This is the twenty first century, for crying out loud, we cannot perpetuate such prejudices towards women. This is no laughing matter. The myth of the nagging woman and the poor hapless henpecked husband needs to be busted.

In reality, nagging is a two-way street. Men nag too. I am reminded of the scene in the movie Queen where Kangana Ranaut’s fiancé is drilling in her ear about instructions on how to behave and all the things she is doing wrong. I don’t remember exactly what the fiancé’ said but I do remember that it sounded a lot like nagging. Yet, we never hear of jokes where husbands nag. A wife’s request is always interpreted as nagging and it is a deliberate power play on the part of men. We women dread being called nags and men use the word “nag’ to undermine our requests and trivialize what we are trying to say.

I know a lot of women who are quiet and have the attitude of live and let live while their husbands are always in their business asking them not to nap too much or asking them to exercise. There are men who complain about the house being dirty or the kids being unruly. Nagging is more of a personality trait rather than a gender based phenomenon.

It specially bothers me when women forward these jokes or find them funny. We cannot be a part of forwarding jokes which instigate biases towards our own gender. We need to call them out despite the risk of being told that we lack a sense of humor. It is not okay to throw wives under the bus. Wives would never do that to their husbands.

The ever wise Amitabh Bacchan has rightly said, “We post/say funny jokes about wife and laugh and always post respectable quotes for mother…The only difference I can see is one brings you into the world… and other makes YOU her world, but men always take their wives for granted and often ignore them in important talks, matters, decisions, plannings, etc. because they think that they are inefficient to handle them.” I agree with his thoughts completely.

Meanwhile, I am so relieved to hear that the Malaysian government has issued an apology for its sexist advice after it received severe backlash online for its unfair and  unthoughtful depiction of women.

I am hopeful for a world where we have gender equality and respect for both men and women. We have to acknowledge that sexist jokes aim at ridiculing women. We are normalizing sexism by sharing such jokes and laughing at them. In these times of home quarantine my advice would be to appreciate your spouse and bond together and create wonderful memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections From The Reference Desk

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While deep in thought searching something up on my computer at the reference desk, I heard a voice say, “Angel!” Awaking from my reverie and collecting my senses, I asked the good looking man in front of me- “Are you looking for books on Angels?”

“No, you look like an angel”, he replied. I really do not like to flirt and I said a bit curtly, “I am here to help you with reference questions, do you have a question I can answer?” He stared at me in awe, shook his head and said, “Wow, professional too, a professional angel!” and to my dismay and his happiness, I burst out laughing and so did he. I do not know why I laughed but that is the most unique compliment I have ever got and this is a true story. (The good-looking part might be a stretch but everything else is real.)

I love my job at the library. I get to answer reference questions in person, virtually and on the phone and sometimes people just stop by at the desk and start chatting. The questions can be as simple as where a particular book or electronic material is located in the library to something more labor intensive as helping someone build and format a resume or finding several primary and secondary sources for someone’s research paper. There is a woman who calls every evening (yes, every single day) and asks for the weekly weather forecast complete with highs and lows and the percentage chance of rain.

 Once, a lady called me and said she was researching from a book but she did not write the citation down and she did not remember the title of the book for me to pull it out. She had jotted down the information by pen, if she had made copies, she would have had the title and page numbers at the bottom of the page which would make it easier for me to find the book. I asked her if she remembered what color the book was and after thinking for a while she said that it was bound in green and there were several volumes of it. I went and looked in the reference 920s as she had researched some biographical information on a fairly unknown woman. I found the series, found the exact volume and article she had looked at and gave her all the information needed to cite this reference source. She was delighted and it was such a thrill to be able to help her, almost felt like I had won at a scavenger hunt or something.

At the library, when I look at the people around me, I can see that it is a microcosm of society. People from all walks of life- the rich, the poor, the middle-class, the homeless, they all visit the library and we treat them equally and respectfully. It is interesting to me how we can gauge the personalities of people just by talking to them very briefly. There are the nice, gentle folks who thank you twice or more just because you told them where the restroom was. There are the impatient, rude people who are drumming their fingers on the desk while you are looking up answers to their questions and you print them some really good information and they snatch the papers from your hands and leave without a backward glance or smile, let alone a thank you while you sit there in shock listening to the click clocks of their pointed high heels fading away.

I simply love and adore children and sometimes I regret that I did not choose to be a children’s librarian. When my kids were younger I sought a break from them and talking to adults was refreshing and desirable but now that my children are older, I realize that I want to work with children.  Once, this sweet little girl who came to the desk with her mom told me, “I like your shirt!” I was wearing a flowery blue and white shirt and she had a little kitty t-shirt on. I said, “I like your shirt too” and not to be outdone she said, “I like yours better!” She said she loved my black hair and asked if she could touch it. I seriously wanted to bring her home with me. I have one girl and two boys and I have always thought having one more girl in my family would be so wonderful.

I also feel very sad when a mom comes in to do homework on the computer with four kids in tow and they do not sit patiently (we do have puzzles, books and crayons for them but it only holds their attention for so long) and she is yelling at them. It broke my heart when I heard a mom say to her six year old- “Sit down right now, you do not deserve any Christmas gifts, I should cancel everything!” I do not blame the mom as she is working full time, studying and taking care of her kids which can be so stressful but it makes me feel despondent to hear these things being said to little ones.

The library is usually a quiet place where people come to read and research but once in a while we get some excitement/entertainment too. The incident I am going to narrate is real and I am going to name it ‘Love in the Library!’ The heroine is a voluptuous homeless redhead who was with her homeless African American boyfriend when apparently a White homeless guy started flirting with her. I do not know what happened but the two men were scuffling, one on top of the other on the table and then whilst trying to punch each other they rolled off and fell with a thud on the floor with that loud noise reverberating in the whole library and startling everyone. Of course, our security guys came running and separated them while they were still yelling and cussing at each other with the choicest of bleep words. People had gathered around and were watching in shock and disbelief and the two guys who were fighting were escorted out of the library. I had been a witness to the whole incident too from the sidelines and when the guys left, I turned to get back to my seat at the desk when my eyes met with an older distinguished looking Caucasian gentleman standing next to me. I told him “That was quite something, wasn’t it?” and he said “Yes, Welcome to America!” and I burst out laughing. Nothing like a good laugh to dissipate all the nervous tension from watching such an incident!

I was helping a lady who wanted to print some recipes of cakes and cookies for a tea party. She was homeless, had dirty nails and was smelling really bad and so I knew that she did not have a house to throw the party at but I went along with her as in her head whatever she was planning was real. I have so much empathy for the mentally ill, it is the worst kind of disease when you lose control of your mind and the thought of that ever happening to my brain scares the living daylights out of me.

It is amusing to me that when people misbehave, for example if someone is talking really loudly on their cell phone in a public area, sometimes, they will not listen to you but if you call security they immediately hang up. It reminds me of how the traffic slows down when people see a police car on the side of the road.

There are so many more anecdotes to tell but I do not want the blog to get too long. Let me sign off by talking about my encounters with Indian folks (my people) who do visit the library a lot. I usually get two kinds of questions, the first one being a very disdainful look of why I am not an engineer or a doctor and they cannot believe I actually had to get a master’s degree to get this job. The second kind always think it’s so cool that I work here and they ask me if I can find a job for their wives at the library which I cannot, I am not involved in the hiring process at all. With this, I end my reference desk sagas and maybe I will write a sequel soon as there are a lot more interactions in my inventory.

Forty Five

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45

 

No, this blog is not about Donald Trump who many people call 45 as they do not wish to take his name! Its about the age I turned this June. I had been anticipating this birthday with some apprehension. Birthdays come and go and the milestones are always those which end in 0’s. People tell you that 40 is the new 30 or 30 is the new 20. Thankfully, 20 is not the new 10. I am sure nobody wants to hear that at 20! When we are younger, we cannot wait to grow up and when we are older, the best compliments are those which tell you how young you look. The decade birthdays are brimming with bouquets and brouhahas while the ones which end in five do not get as much attention.

My youngest son, all of eleven, gets really excited about my birthdays and he kept asking me how I felt about my fast approaching special day. I told him that I was kind of sad as I am getting older. He gave me a hug and said, “Mom, look at it this way, 45 is a good birthday to have, at least you are not turning 54!” He eagerly told me with all earnestness that I look about 25 to which my almost fourteen year old son replied, “Armaan, you are such a suck up, sheesh, Mom looks like she is 38!” I smiled and thought to myself, “How did he come up with 38? 35 would have sounded better but I will take it” My sixteen year old daughter told me, “Why do you care so much about how you look? It’s not even important”

I keep telling my children that I adore chubby and cuddly babies and I may have another one soon and it really mortifies my 16 year old as she does not want a sibling that much younger to her. I am definitely not having another baby, it’s just  wishful thinking out aloud on my part but once I start my monologue on how much I love babies and how wonderful it would be to have a cute little toddler at home while the older three go off to college, she gets annoyed. So, this birthday,my daughter told me in her usual matter of fact way, “Mom, you cannot have babies anymore now, can you? You are 45 and menopause will be soon, right?”

Menopause occurs in women anywhere between 45 to 55 years of age. The Ancient Greek roots of the term menopause are: “men” + “pauein.” The word “men” means month which is closely related to the word for moon, “mene” because the months were measured by the moon.  The word “pauein” means to cause to cease or stop.  At 45, you are definitely beginning to experience perimenopause. As your estrogen decreases you may experience mood swings and fatigue. So the next time you succumb to the urge of crying uncontrollably just know that it’s the side effects of your hormones going out of whack and all is really well with the world. I never had pimples as a teenager and now they are erupting everywhere. I work at the library and I have always worn a light cardigan or jacket there, even in summer as the air conditioning made me cold, but not anymore. For the first time in years, I am not cold in the library. At home, when I say, “Oh God, I am so hot, I feel so hot,” my husband will smile and say “yes, you are, I agree” and I will laugh but there is no pun intended. I go over and decrease the temperature in the air conditioner settings.

45 is a pivot point, half time in the game of life, a time to reflect on how the previous years have been and how you want to live the rest of your existence. I feel an increasing awareness of my mortality, an urgency to live the best life I can because I have wasted enough time already. For the first time in years, I am serious about taking care of myself both physically and emotionally. I had fallen off the exercise wagon and so I went back and started Zumba again. There is nothing more exhilarating and enthralling than dancing with a group of women to catchy songs complete with clapping and woohoos at the end of class. Endorphins are released,calories are burned and camaraderie and companionship is formed. I am trying to eat food rich in omega 3s like fish and nuts and also more of fresh fruits and vegetables. We, as mothers, take our kids to the pediatrician, the dentist, the orthodontist, the ophthalmologist and so on but every once in a while we forget to get our own checkups done. We need to go to the doctor for regular physicals and other recommended exams. We need to have a good intake of calcium and vitamin D to prevent the occurrence of osteoporosis later in life.

I read an interesting quote that in your middle age when your body starts falling apart, your head is finally coming together. That could not be truer. I feel like I have grown into myself, I am stronger,  I am bolder, I know what I want and what I don’t. I don’t have room in my life for toxic people. I have a very low threshold for tolerating other people’s bad attitudes.I feel an impending sense of “what would my legacy be if I were to die tomorrow?” To that end, I wish to do more for my community, to volunteer more, to be a better daughter, wife,mother,sister and friend. In my twenties, I was very insecure and I would get upset when my husband was not expressive enough or when my friends would unknowingly say something hurtful. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore, I really don’t. I have complete confidence that my husband loves me, he doesn’t talk the talk but he walks the walk. He is always there for me, we work as a team and he makes me laugh every day and for that I am so grateful. I have three beautiful children and for that I feel extremely blessed.

In my twenties, I was a cautious driver staying mostly in one lane and I would feel scared driving to new places, fearing I would get lost. Now, I am one step away from getting a speeding ticket and I am more adventurous when it comes to driving to places I have never been before. My patience for irresponsible drivers has decreased. I get really annoyed and say some choice curse words when people cut you off and slowdown in the left lane or when they make a daring/foolish left turn and you have to slow down for them else they would get hit by you.

As I am getting older, I am realizing that time does not heal some wounds. When I lost my dad in my teens and my older sister when I was 24, everyone told me that with time, the pain would get better but it doesn’t. I still miss them a lot and think of them often, especially on my birthdays; I am swept away by the flooding rush of memories. However, I did have a good forty fifth birthday. My children made me some beautiful cards, my middle son baked me a heavenly Tiramisu cake, my friends treated me to lunch and I had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my family. I am surrounded by love and I cherish and treasure those who love me. I am proud of how far I have come, lucky to be alive and excited about the future.

Now that the kids are older, I am also inspired to travel more, to visit new countries and discern more of this world.. My children motivate me; my daughter grows her hair and then gets it cut to donate it for making wigs for cancer patients. She has donated it a few times and inspired by her, I am planning to do the same later this summer. I enjoy spending time with my children as I know that they will go off to college soon and I am also trying to make them more independent and ready for the real world. Going forward, Maya Angelou’s quote comes to mind, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style”

(I wrote this blog in 2016, republishing here from my now extinct blogger site)

She is Fat

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            I reconnected online with a childhood friend of mine after a long time and after catching up on her life, I asked about her older brother. She told me that he is doing well and is married with kids. I asked, “Who did he marry? How is his wife?” She replied with some disappointment, “She is fat, she was big boned to begin with and now she has put on some more weight.” I was taken aback. Why is that the first adjective which came to her mind whilst describing her sister-in-law? Why does the physical attribute of fatness take precedence over all the other amazing qualities one may have as an individual. You could have a beautiful smile, a kick-ass attitude and a great sense of humor but the first thing anyone notices or defines about you is your weight? I gently chided my friend that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and if they are happy and she is nice, let’s not worry about her bigness.

          The social stigma of obesity is a reality. Fat people not only bear the burden of their physical weight, they are also crushed by the weight of society’s sarcasm and disdain.Overweight people are stared at, laughed at, called names like fatso, fatty etc. and we as a society do not realize that we are being mean and hurtful. It is somehow okay to make a face if a heavy person sits next to you on the plane or laugh at negative stereotypes of fat people in movies.

           When friends in an online group responded with laughing emojis to a video which had an overweight woman dressed modestly in an orange sari and a black cardigan dancing to a Bollywood song, I shook my head and thought to myself, this is not right. We cannot normalize making fun of and mocking such videos. I felt relieved and reassured when one of the friends in the group wrote that the lady is dancing very gracefully and she admires her self-confidence to go up there on the stage despite her weight and dance alone in front of a big group of people. Dancing is really not just the prerogative of slim people, talent and graceful dance moves can be exhibited by people of all sizes.

        In today’s society, it’s not just the morbidly obese who bear the brunt of fat jokes. You could be a few pounds overweight and still have micro aggressions thrown your way. I have put on some pounds over the years but I have no health problems and I am confident enough to know that I look and feel great for being in my forties and being a mom to three teenagers. You cannot be expected to look the same as you did when you were younger. There is such a thing as aging gracefully. Age adds character to your face.The curious case of Benjamin Button is not a reality. However, it’s interesting when people who meet me after a long time expect just that and literally lament that I have let myself go and woefully remember my yonder days of slimness and slenderness.

           Scrolling through Facebook, I always shake my head with some annoyance when I read comments such as, “You look so pretty, have you lost weight?” as if you cannot look beautiful without losing weight. The perception in society is that if you are slim and toned it means that you have self-control, self-discipline and you have it all together. If you are fat, then by default you are perceived as lazy, unmotivated and unworthy of adulation. Sometimes, you are not fat because of your habits, you could have a thyroid imbalance, water retention problems or just a genetic disposition towards weight gain. All slim people do not eat healthy, they could be on a diet of fatty foods and desserts and yet have an active metabolism which burns all their extra calories.

        In the world today, when I see actresses who looked gorgeous being an average size aspiring to be slimmer, I wonder, how slim is slim enough? Is it just about health or largely about vanity? It is so refreshing to read an interview of Vidya Balan who is secure in herself and in her talent and is unapologetic about her weight. I completely agree with her when she says that she does not need unsolicited advice or questions about her weight, it’s really nobody’s business.

     The body positive movement in social media is a welcome start and it needs momentum and acceptance. What we need more of, is positive connotations attached to the word ‘fat’. In Bollywood, instead of a stereotypical Tuntun providing comic relief, we need a big beautiful heroine completely confident of herself, who knows she can do anything and be anyone she wants to be. Such a heroine should be portrayed as totally worthy of the love of a dashing hero.

     I am not advocating that people should put on weight or be unhealthy. What I am advocating is that we as a society should change our attitude. Let’s not be so harsh and unfair. Let’s not judge human beings on their weight alone and lose the chance of knowing them as people. A fat person should not be an embarrassment to their family and friends. Let’s celebrate their qualities and talents without focusing so much on their physical appearance.

 

My Year as a Reading Tutor

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In the last week of April there was a celebration of the students and volunteers participating in Midlands Reading Consortium at Harbison West Elementary school. During the school year we tutored a child once a week, helping him or her read and comprehend. While it is a joy to volunteer and it gives you a certain peace and contentment to know that you are doing something useful not for money but out of the goodness of your heart, I couldn’t help but feel thrilled and happy when we were given our choice of free MRC goodies like a tote bag, a cup, bookmarks, water bottles etc. as a reward. 🙂

I used to spend time with my second grader every Monday morning at 9:00 am. Now that the volunteering year is over, I miss spending time with him during that hour. The year started a little rough, it was hard to hold his attention, he would look at other kids passing by, yawn a lot, ask to go drink water or use the restroom and found it difficult to focus. I really wanted to do things he was passionate about so that I could hold his attention and he would feel awake and excited about what he was doing. I discovered that he loved to play memory card games (one with matching despicable me movie characters was his favorite), connect four and tick tack toe and he, like every child I know, loved to win. I started the session playing with him and letting him win more often than not, and then we moved on to reading. He is a good reader and I always let him select the books he wanted to read. Some books he liked so much that he would read them every chance he got till I felt like I knew them by heart and could not hear them one more time and I needed to add new books to his reading log. By the end of the year I was so proud of him as he was reading loud and clear and answering my comprehension questions too.

In the beginning, I felt like I was not connecting with him as he wasn’t a hugger, and not too expressive. However, once, I missed a Monday as I was not well and then when I saw him next Monday, I told him I was sorry I could not make it and he told me, “I was waiting for you last Monday” and my heart soared with happiness. I was reminded of something that we forget ever so often; just because someone doesn’t express, doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings.

Another incident which really touched my heart happened around Martin Luther King’s day. He told me he wanted to show me something and then took me towards a display board outside his classroom which had pictures of notable African Americans. He pointed out pictures of Michael Jordan, Dr. King, and Barack Obama to me. He told me that he wanted to grow up and be somebody famous. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that he liked and trusted me enough to share this information with me. I also have so much respect for the teachers who work hard everyday and inspire students by doing these projects on positive role models.

Towards the end, he had opened up a lot and would tell me stories which were very imaginative. He told me that his dad is disabled and stays home and is looked after by their pet monkey who is trained to get dad, juice and food from the kitchen! I generally believe things kids say but this one seemed too far-fetched to me. Still, I came home and repeated it to my husband and asked if it could be true and my husband shook his head and smiled. We were reading a story for St. Patrick’s Day, the Monday after and he told me that he had gone to see the parade downtown on Saturday and he saw a leprechaun. The leprechaun cleaned his shoe and gave him a gold coin which his mom sold for a hundred dollars and got him a new dirt bike from Walmart! I did find his stories endearing and I do hope he gets a new bike.

I am not tutoring during summer but I look forward to teaching another child next school year and I hope I run into my old student too and I hope he has a great summer. I am so grateful  to MRC for giving me this opportunity and giving each child a bag of new books to take home.

Purrfect Companion

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“I have lived with several Zen Masters- all of them cats.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

I have never thought of myself as a cat person. However, never say never. There are stray cats which visit my backyard. Once, a cat curled itself up and slept on my swing on the deck and I knocked on the sliding door to wake her up and shoo her away. Her eyes opened from the noise and without batting her eyelids she scornfully looked at me as though saying, “How dare you wake me up” and she refused to budge right away. So I left her alone but I was amused and chuckled at her attitude.

It is interesting to see how some cats gather together in a group in my backyard as though they are gossiping/holding a town hall meeting, and one or two are shy and always like being loners. There are cats on either side of the creek in the forest staring down at each other down from across the water and sometimes I wonder if the Warriors series by Erin Hunter, books on cats and their clans, which all my kids read in elementary school could possibly be true.

A stray cat which probably came from the forest in my backyard ended up being friends with a neighbor’s outdoor cat and the two of them hang out together in her driveway. For some reason both my sons love this cat and play with him. The cat loved the boys but would run away when I would come out to the driveway. My youngest son Armaan plays with him after school every day on his way home from the school bus, he just claps and the cat appears. I enjoy watching them from the window, the two of them interacting with each other. Sometimes, the cat follows Armaan home.

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I don’t remember exactly when and how but the cat got comfortable with me. Armaan had told me that cats need time to open up. The cat came up to me while I was sitting on the front porch steps and moved around me and I was able to pet it. His eyes are so expressive, reflecting his emotions, everything from inquisitive to scared to happy and excited. He snuggled deep into the space between couple of pots in my front yard at the base of the porch steps where we were sitting. I was perplexed as to what he was doing. Bewildered I asked Armaan, “Why does he look like a hen trying to lay eggs?” Right then, the cat peed, it sprayed out as a small fountain, like a meteoric shower! It was so unexpected and dramatic that Armaan and I both burst out laughing. Armaan told me that when cats do this they are marking their territory. I felt like he put on this show for us, right in our direct view and so close, luckily Armaan and I  got up and jumped back to avoid getting wet.

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Now the cat even does tricks for me. It was so exciting that he stood up when I moved my hand up. When Armaan comes inside the house , the cat sits on our driveway and waits for him to come back out. One of the most blissful and relaxing moments in my life is sitting on the porch with Armaan and playing with the cat. He is such an elegant and majestic creature with great personality.

I have some really cute videos and pictures of Armaan playing with the cat, the cat following him home, the cat coming up the porch steps, but Armaan did not want me to post those publicly so I am refraining from doing so.  It warms my heart to see how nurturing and loving Armaan is, when I hear him pet the cat using positive words such as, “you are a good kitty”, “such a nice kitty” “do you need space” “do you like the camera” and so on. I think my child will be a good parent when he grows up.

The cat has not been seen in the past week. We are missing him and hope he resurfaces soon from his hiatus.

Happy 18th Birthday Mansi

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Elegant, effervescent, exuberant, 18! Its senior year and Miss Mansi is so eager and enthusiastic about college, applying to schools near and far, standing tall, ready to embrace life while I am a worried mess, nervous already that she may fly the nest next fall. The years are passing by in the blink of an eye, and for some reason it makes me cry. I am so proud of the brilliant and  beautiful young lady she is today but memories of her as a little girl never go away.

             Lately, Mansi has been reading a lot on Psychology, her interest piqued after taking an AP course on it and reading voraciously on this subject this summer. She is so fascinated by the study of human nature that her original love of Quantum Physics has taken a back seat. Her dad and I were talking about how many more scholarships are available for girls in science and technology and she is in a magnet STEM program and gets those subjects and makes good grades in them but we also know in our hearts that we do not want to be stereotypical Indian parents wanting our children to be doctors and engineers.
             It amazes me how someone as sweet as her can also be so stubborn. I constantly butt heads with her when she asks me to look over her college essays, she wants my opinion but then refuses to take most of my suggestions! I am grateful she asks me to read as I am learning so much about her , what she thinks of herself and what she wants to do with her life. It was so difficult for her to write those personal statements for applications as she does not like opening up and talking about herself but colleges want to know and I am so very proud of her for finally writing so beautifully about her authentic self. She is an amazing writer but she will not let me share her writing on Facebook. She is so private, she has a blog on tumblr with a pen name theorizing on her favorite Japanese manga series and it gets quite a few comments and likes.
            She also keeps imparting me with little nuggets of wisdom in her usual matter of fact way. The other day, we decided to go for dinner on our way from an evening walk at the lake. When everyone decided on a somewhat fancy restaurant I suggested we could go to a casual place as we were not formally dressed. I had no makeup on and my hair was a wiry frizzy mess. Mansi told me that it doesn’t matter, we were fine as we were and then she said, “Mom, I think you suffer from the spotlight effect.” “What does that mean?” I asked.  She went on to tell me that suffering from the spotlight effect means that you think everybody is noticing you but in reality very few people are. In short, I am not a celebrity! She also said that when people are so focused on themselves and are acutely aware of their appearance, they think everybody else is equally focused on them but they are not. Her observation stumped me and really made me think. Maybe she is right. I also admire her for not seeking attention, she does not feel the need to take selfies, and she is not on Facebook or Instagram.
             She is our first born , our only girl, our pampered princess and yet she is very grounded and never demanding. She exudes a quiet strength, never affected by peer pressure, she is a great big sister to Arjun and Armaan. Armaan is her boo, her baby, her sidekick and her minion, its really cute to see them cuddle together.armaan
            Right now I can hear her laugh as she is hanging out with her friends at home and it is the sweetest sound, I always love to hear the children laugh, each has their own distinctive laughter. Very soon she will cut her favorite carrot cake made by Arjun. As she blows out her birthday candles and makes some wishes , I hope all of  those come true. I love her so much.

Patron Interactions At the Reference desk

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I have been working as a part time Reference librarian at Richland library in South Carolina for about fifteen years now. It is a beautiful 4 floor building with glass walls, open spaces and piano shaped balconies above the escalators linking each floor and I absolutely love working here. Over the years I have met so many people when they come to the reference desk asking for help or just stopping by with a comment or suggestion.

I am originally from India and brown and so many people come up to me and say “Do you speak English?” and in my mind I go “Of course I do, why would they hire me if I do not know English” but the inherent polite customer service values kick in and I smile sweetly and say “yes, how can I help you today?” And then, there is this curiosity about where I am from and one time a patron asked me “Are you Hindi?”, “No, I am Hindu, Hindi is the language, Hindu is the religion, I cannot be a language, I am a person” I replied. “Are you India?” he persisted, “No, I am not India, I am from India, I am Indian” I said at my clarifying best.  He replied with a bewildered look on his face “what did you say, you are Hindian?” I give up, lets just forget who I am or where I am from for a minute and tell me what I can help you find at the library today!

 Since we are located at downtown Columbia, we have a large group of homeless people who visit the library regularly. God bless their hearts, the thing I admire most about them is regardless of their misfortune they have so much confidence in themselves that they hit on the librarians constantly and actually think they have a chance at winning the hearts of these beautiful women. Some days I enjoy the compliments I get and some days I do not have the patience to listen to all that. I am always complimented on my hair and earrings and smile.One person told me ” you remind me of this beautiful Mexican actress in a movie I saw when I went to Mexico” and that day I was so happy to hear that I could look like an actress and my dormant desires of working with George Clooney in a romantic comedy were awakened and I was on cloud nine for a while thanks to this man but later my husband who is so skeptical said, “I do not think he could ever be in Mexico, he totally made that up.” I can always count on my dear husband to bring me down to earth with a big thud.

A number of mentally ill people visit the library too and I feel sorry for them because mental illness is the worst disease you can have. Physical ailments can be managed but it is truly tragic when you lose control of your mind. I remember this patron who felt she could never leave her umbrella anywhere but with me as she thought I could keep it safe for her. A man walked by me one day and said “please do not ask me for autographs, I am really busy today” and I was like “huh ,okay, I won’t Mr. celebrity.” A woman addresses me as Ruth and when I asked who Ruth is she told me that Ruth was a character in the bible. This lady refuses to believe my name is Mona. Later, when I found out that Ruth in the bible is kind and nice and honest it made me feel better.

I am always terrified of the impatient, arrogant, loud mouthed divas when they visit, we had a lady who came in and wanted us to announce on the intercom that her boys needed to come to the parking lot and I told her that we do not provide this service for the patrons. She was so angry that she actually would have to go look for her children herself and find them herself!  As she was being very difficult a library security worker came to my aid and said he would find them. She just walked out clicking her high heels and told him to tell the children she is outside waiting in the parking lot!

I have had so many memorable patron interactions over the years, lots of stories, hard to fit into one blog. Most of the folks who visit the library are really nice, grateful , well mannered and soft spoken but then there are the few eccentric ones too! The incident I remember most fondly is when I helped this young guy and he fist bumped me to show his appreciation. An old couple were so grateful when I helped them locate a family member from our ancestry databases that they wanted to take me out to lunch with them and I declined. For some reason, I do not know why, it hurts my feelings when people offer a tip. I am just doing my job, and I love it and I love my library.

Didi

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March 5th is a day which is very close to my heart. If my sister was alive, it would be her 47th birthday today.If only I could call her and wish her and ask her what she has planned for the day and tell her what is going on with me and chit chat and laugh and talk as only sisters can, but I know that is not possible. When we lost her in a train accident in 1995, the first thing my youngest sister told me when I reached Delhi was , “Papa ke pass chali gayi, papa akele the na, isliye apne paas bula liye” ( She has gone to be with Papa, because he was alone, he called her) So, I am hoping she is with him and they are celebrating together and she is dazzling everyone up there with her warm, charismatic, vibrant, dynamic and beautiful personality.

 

When people told me that time would heal the pain, I believed that,but now,I know, it doesn’t. I miss her more with each passing day, and nothing anyone can say can soothe the pain, dull the memories or heal the chasm in my heart. I think about her often but the grief attacks with a vengeance on her birth and death anniversaries which are intertwined with the birthdays of my boys. Armaan’s birthday is march 6th, just the day after hers. Arjun’s birthday is August 19 and August 20th is the day she passed away.5b8df-fullsizerender2b2528122529

After I had kids of my own, I truly understood the depth and magnitude of my mom’s loss. It broke my heart when my mom sent me a letter all those years back informing me that she has contributed towards a monetary prize and a shield in didi’s name to our school to be awarded to a deserving student. I was heartrendingly reminded of the time when didi and I were in school, in our teens, we were the first ones to be there as our bus got to school early and we were looking at the shelves where all the trophies were displayed. There was a picture of a girl who had passed away and her parents had a trophy in her name, I remember my sister saying “Mona, look, this girl’s name is Sumona, isn’t it sad, she died and her parents have a prize in her name.”

Didi was very strong and my mom depended on her the most as she was enterprising, responsible and proactive. She did a lot of work around the house, whether it was standing with the workers and getting a water tank installed on our terrace, talking to the car mechanic, planning trips, getting someone to fix our leaking roof…… she did what needed to be done. She was so friendly and outgoing, she could talk with everyone- the vegetable vendors, little kids, aunties, older folks. She was an amazing older sister to all three of us, protective, inspiring, generous, caring and loving, she always had our back. She was financially independent and worked and thrived as a senior consultant in a reputed firm. Interestingly, only she got the didi status, my younger two sisters just call me Mona, to this day they have never called me didi. 🙂

Sometimes,I see her in my dreams and I love the happy ones where she hugs me but I have woken up with my heart thudding with fear and sweating when I have had nightmares about her being very sick in a hospital separated from us. Sometimes, her memory is triggered by watching someone who looks like her from the back and has the same kind of hair and it catches me unawares and the pain of her loss instantly flares and I think about her, her beautiful hair, her gorgeous smile. I miss her beautiful voice heard around our school every afternoon when she recited the prayer before dismissal. She is in my subconscious, most of my computer and various account passwords are some combinations of her name and birth date and I type those in everyday.

I regret the fights we had and wish I could tell her I was sorry for all the usual sibling bickering. I am grateful that she got to meet my husband and they formed an instant liking.I seek some solace from the fact that she died knowing that Ajay and I would be there for our mom and sisters, for whom she deeply cared. I can’t fill her shoes, I was happy being the second child, I can never be the oldest like she was but I am trying.9ec48-13754613_10153783109368527_2087749244307051335_n

Sometimes, when the whole house is sleeping and I am alone downstairs I think of her, and I can feel her energy and I hope that she is watching over us and is proud of me and the woman I have become, the changes in me she never got to see.Years back,in school one day, I was openly sobbing, missing my dad after he passed away, and she came over and scolded me and told me to stop crying like a fool and to be strong. So, I do, to this day, I draw strength from her in my moments of weakness.

I could fill pages writing about her but will stop now.I look forward to the day when we will meet again and hug again in a blissful, peaceful, serene and splendorful heavenly abode.

 

Don’t Act Too Smart

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I have so many memories of growing up in a small town in India with three sisters and a bunch of cousins. We had impromptu picnics at the Kharkai river near our house, we stayed up all night after exams to celebrate and commemorate with our little parties, we performed plays for the neighbors, and we had weddings for our dolls, long elaborate ceremonies with so much fun, frolic and festivities.

Once, we walked over five miles in the rain and lightning to our aunt’s house and her daughter almost had a heart attack seeing us all wet and shivering at her door but, for us, it was an adventure. The world was our oyster and we were naïve, bold, unafraid and willing to speak our minds. Our parents were not hovering around us as helicopters either.

One vacation , we were going out of town in an open jeep with the four of us in the back, it was just our trusted driver and us, our parents were already there ( I forget the name of the city but it was somewhere not too far) and we were joining them. A car with three or four young teenage boys who had their windows rolled down started following us and somehow it turned into a race. When we would be in the front we would start singing, “aa dekhen zara, kismen kitna hai dum… (a Bollywood song which means let us see, who is stronger)” and then when they would race ahead we would be badgering our driver Kujur to go faster. It was all meant to be in good fun and after sometime we stopped at a roadside store and we were in the lead and happy about it. Their car stopped right behind us and one of the boys came over to me and said in an angry, menacing way:  “Don’t act too smart, ladki ho, apni aaukat mein raho (you are a girl, stay within your limits)” That was enough for us to back off and leave immediately and thankfully we avoided any harm or retribution from them.

This incident happened more than thirty years ago and it came flashing back to me when, recently, I read what the Nirbhaya rapists had to say about the innocent victim, how they blamed her for fighting them. It makes your blood boil when you see that these deranged animals have no remorse or regret, they think that a girl should stay within her limits and how dare she has a voice, how dare she stay out late, how dare she have a boyfriend, and, if she speaks up then they have every right to silence her. These comments make me so angry; I did not watch the documentary “India’s Daughter” as I knew I would explode with rage at the unfairness of it all. It is deeply disturbing, disappointing and depressing to see that certain men have such distorted views on women.

This mean spirited, cruel mindset is a result of the way these men are raised, the way our society either elevates a woman to the status of sati-savitri (pious woman) or immediately labels her a slut if she desires to dress differently or act differently than what is expected. Looking back to the Ramayana, Laxman drew a laxmanrekha (line) around the house for Sita and she got into trouble when she crossed the line. Even though Laxman was very well intentioned and he was looking out for Sita’s best interests, there is still something so symbolic about a man drawing a line which a woman cannot cross.

I remember watching the movie “Hum Aapke hain Kaun” and the lyrics to one of the Dhiktana songs reads, “Pehli kiran jab se uge, Bhabhi meri tab se jage, sabka pura dhyan dhare woh, sham dhale tak kaam kare” Loosely translated, the lines mean that the daughter in law of the house wakes up earlier than everyone else, works hard the whole day and makes sure everyone in the house is happy. Our religious scriptures, our movies, they all emphasize how women should be models of selflessness, how they should always be serving others. Sons in law, on the other hand, are treated like God. Women fast for the long lives of their husbands, men don’t. It is because of this inequality that most people want to have sons and there have been so many cases of girl fetuses being aborted.

The sex ratio in India is 943 females per 1000 males. Eventually, women will be really important when there are not enough left to find brides for the men! The tides will turn for us, a change is coming and we are so ready for it.

The status of women is a problem worldwide. Even in America, some men feel that if a girl is drunk, wears short clothes and goes to parties, she is fair game for any kind of violation meted out to her and this attitude makes me fiercely angry. India has been in the spotlight so much but rapes happen with frightening and alarming regularity all over the world.

A lot of men are decent individuals who respect women and treat them with dignity. Many men took to the streets with the women to protest against the Nirbhaya rapists. Not all men, Indians or otherwise are male chauvinist pigs. Recently, Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India won the Nobel peace prize for his tireless and selfless work against child labor and he got far less media attention than the bad guys did.

I really feel that women empowerment can happen when women support each other. We have to have each other’s back. You cannot have a chip on your shoulder just because you have a son and you cannot be cruel to your daughter in law. We, as women can be so snarky and judgmental about each other. The stay at home moms look down upon those who work and the working moms sneer and sarcastically quip what the people who stay home do all day! In order to achieve gender equality all women have to be on the same team. Parents have to practice fairness at home by treating their sons and daughters equally.

The new generation does fill me with hope. Most young people today are bright, helpful, liberal, caring and considerate. My daughter, who usually never talks much when she gets home, was so moved by some videos she watched in her AP Human Geography class that she came in the door and started telling me about it. They had heard stories of young girls in Nepal, India, Africa and Egypt and those girls had been through many hardships and dangers and they wanted to go to school and have an education. My daughter expressed a desire to help these girls and she realized that the things she takes for granted like a safe home, food in the fridge, an education etc. are a luxury for so many girls around the world.

My two boys aged 10 and 12 treat their 15 year old sister with respect, they even do her chores for her if she has too much homework and they always make sure she is the first one to sample the foods they cook. One day, we were teasing the boys about girlfriends and my daughter said “Mom, if they find girlfriends who are mean or abusive, I will protect my brothers, I will always look out for them, nobody messes with my brothers!” and my heart was so happy that a sister was saying this about her brother instead of it being the other way around. I am really hopeful about a world when a girl or a woman will not be derided for being smart and she can make her own decisions without anybody telling her what her limits can be.