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Saturday, 10 December 2011

4. 92 YEARS AGO: THE WOMAN THAT WAS PHOOLO ( A REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE)

It was a chilly winter evening. She sat there on the cold floor by the side of her husband, lines of anxiety getting darker on her young petite face. He lay there almost immobile looking listless and sallow. Slowly his lips quivered and she bent forward in an effort to hear him.

"Where is Baru,” he whispered.

“He too has a high fever ….. he is lying in the other room,” she replied trying to hide the anxiety from her trembling voice.

A few minutes passed in silence.

“How many more are gone,” his voice was weak and almost inaudible.

“You don’t worry. All are recovering,” she tried to put on a brave front.

The charcoal fire in the angeethi was slowly turning into ashes and losing its heat and the young man lying on the cot was also turning ashen and cold.

The small hut suddenly reverberated with the long wails from the neighbourhood.
“Oh God! Babu Lal is also gone. Looks like, it is my turn now,” he whispered in a voice thick with fever and exhaustion.

“Don’t speak evil. You are not leaving me and Haria and going anywhere. You have to live for him,” she chided him affectionately.

“No, Phoolo. I think my end has come. Please remove me from the cot and help me lie down on the floor. I think…grr….grr…..grrr…” his breath rattled for a few seconds and his head rolled to the side.

“Nooooo….,” Phoolo screamed pushing away her four-year-old son Hariya from her lap but her voice was stuck in her throat. She could only utter, “Baru Bhaiyya, come here quickly.”

Almost instantly, a distraught Baru rushed into the room with his eyes red with high fever.
“What has happened to Bhaiyya?” he said trying to check his pulse. He checked the other wrist too and tried to check his breath shaking his head from left to right and then he became numb. Totally shocked, he slumped on the floor without uttering a word.

It was the winter of 1919 and the small village Girahoo was inflicted by the epidemic of plague. Hordes of people were dying every day. Not a single house was spared the wrath of death except this small house of Ram Prakash where he lived with his wife Phoolo, four years old son Hari Prakash whom they fondly called Haria and younger brother Baru Prakash. And today Lady Death had walked mercilessly into this humble abode also taking away the only bread-winner of the family.


Baru was sitting on the floor motionless looking blank and staring into oblivion. The world for him had come crumbling down. It was his elder brother only who had been taking care of him ever since he was 8 years old when his mother died. Father could not take the shock and had left this world within six months. But Badke Bhaiyya did never let him feel the absence of the parents even for a day during these last 12 years. He could never imagine the world without him.

Young Phoolo kept staring at the dead body of her husband for a few minutes and then started howling uncontrollably. She did not notice when Baru stepped out of the house.

Few minutes later, as young Haria kept pulling at her arm, she lifted her head and noticed Baru’s absence. Phoolo was made of strong stuff. Who could she call at the dead of the night, she wondered? In the next house, Babulal had just expired but she picked up Hariya in one arm and slowly stepped out of the small hutment. Standing at the door against strong winter wind, she saw Ramu Kaka going to the neighbour’s house.

“Kaka,” she said covering her head with her pallu and started sobbing.

“What happened?” Ramu Kaka asked sounding concerned.


“Hariya’s father….” she sobbed wiping tears from her eyes “…..also gone.”


“Hey Ram!!!” he took a long breath as he came in with her, ”Where is Baru?”


As Baru was not to be seen around, Ramu Kaka called others and shifted the dead body of Ram Prakash to the floor. Phoolo kept staring at the figure which once was her husband and father of her only child but was now only a dead body which will be cremated tomorrow.



Some neighbours walked in and sat down around the body of Ram Prakash. They were counting the number of villagers who have already been swallowed by the epidemic and how many were in the critical stage. At this rate, the entire village may be wiped out, they were saying. But Phoolo was sitting on the floor staring blankly at the walls. How is she now going to handle the life alone? Where has Baru Bhaiyya gone? He is so attached to his Badke Bhaiyya. How will he take it? But where is he? It is so cold outside. And he is suffering from high fever.

Next day early in the morning, the villagers arranged for the funeral of Ram Prakash along with four others who had succumbed to plague that night. Baru Prakash was still not to be found anywhere.

Two weeks passed, but there was no trace of Baru. Villagers’ efforts, to search him, yielded no result. On the fifteenth day, Phoolo was sitting in the dimly lit room. The dusk had set in early. The house was dark and silent like Phoolo’s life which had also suddenly become dark. And then they brought him in. Baru had lost his speech and memory out of sheer shock. The next-door neighbour Goolha told her that he found Baru roaming in the nearby forest. He had not been able to take the shock.

Baru stood still with his eyes fixed on the floor. Phoolo stood up and caught Baru by his arm, “Where had you gone all of a sudden?” Are you the only one who has lost his brother? Have I not lost my husband? Has Haria not lost his father? We are all missing him, but you have run away leaving both of us alone here. You are always so irresponsible,” her voice was rising with anger but suddenly as if remembering something, her voice softened, ”How is your fever?”
By some miracle, Baru’s fever was gone but he was weak and cold. Phoolo gave him a quilt and said, “You lie down now and take some rest. I will fix up some dinner for you.”

Phoolo was a strong woman. She knew what she had to do. Next day, she took Baru to the nearest doctor some 14kms away from the village. The treatment yielded no result. But the persistent woman that she was, she had not learnt to give up. She took him from one doctor to another, from one tantric to another, from one temple to another and from one village to another in search of some remedy for her brother-in-law whom her husband loved more than his life. She took him wherever she saw any hope until her efforts yielded result. In about six months’ time, Baru got his speech back though he had become quiet forever and lost his effervescence at the young age of twenty-one.

A year passed. And they all sat down in the village temple for the ritual of the Barsi for Ram Prakash. Soon after the pooja was over, the Sarpanch of the village called Phoolo and Baru to Panchayat and announced that the panchayat had decided that they should get married. Phoolo resisted, “He is younger to me and has been just like a brother to me. I can’t even think of being his wife. Why can’t we stay like we are staying now?”


“No…It cannot be. Ram Prakash is gone and we cannot not let a young man and a woman live under the same roof. This is the way it has always been done,” the Sarpanch had given his verdict.


The Sarpanch and the other villagers would not listen to her protests and pressurized her and Baru until he put four red glass bangles on her wrists and put sindoor on her forehead. They were declared man and wife by the village priest and sent home. In due course, Phoolo bore two more sons.


Phoolo in old age, 
a rare photograph
Knowing about them, I wonder what kind of couple it must have been. He was soft and tender-hearted whose heart melted seeing anyone in trouble; she was a strong woman ready to take the world head on. He was selfless and willing to donate anything if he saw a needy person; she was practical and knew that she had to take care of her three sons within the limited means they had. He was simple-hearted and straightforward but she had experienced the cruelty of the life time and again. He was satisfied with whatever little they had in the village; she was ambitious and wanted her sons to study and rise in life. Poverty has to be shed off in the village, she advised her sons even before they grew up.

This true incident took place 92 years ago. Perhaps this was a practical solution provided by the elders of the village which helped the young widow to resettle in life. She was saved from the sharks of the village and the baby got a father who was related to him by blood and was saved from the trauma of having a step-father.

As a woman, I at times wonder whether a woman of today would have also accepted a similar verdict in similar circumstances? Or would she rebel? Everyone’s view would vary. How do you think a woman would have tackled this today?




*****

Saturday, 15 October 2011

3. FASTING ON KARWA CHAUTH ( THOUGHTS)


Today is Karwa Chauth. Every married woman worth her salt in North India is fasting today for the welfare and longevity of her husband. My mind is riddled with a lot of questions and I dare not raise it to the believers, which most people are, for fear of being ridiculed and mocked at.
  • WHY THIS GENDER-BIAS? The first question, that pops up in my mind, is why is it that only the woman has to fast. Why is it that the husband is not required to fast for his wife’s well-being? Is it that a woman needs her husband more than the husband needs the wife? Is it because she is financially dependent on him? ...or is it because her importance is linked to his existence and traditionally speaking, she as a widow is a persona non grata in the society? So she would better fast, pray and invoke all the Gods to ensure that the husband lives long. I am not against wishing well-being for the spouse which every married couple would always desire, but against the gender-bias attached to this particular festival. Here I admire some of the new generation men who also fast along with their wives for the mutual welfare of each other. 

  • WHY SUCH A RIGID FAST? Another question that comes to my mind is why is Karwa Chauth fast the most rigid? Most fasts are observed with certain specific restrictions only, e.g., Lord Shiva gets pleased with no salt intake on Mondays and Santoshi Mata is happy if her devotees do not touch sour stuff on Fridays. But in Karwa Chauth, not even a drop of water is permitted the whole day. What are women required to prove? Is this some kind of a test for them to prove their love for the Pati Parameshwar? If it is a test, why do we have to go on proving year after year, decades after decades of our good intentions for the husband? The practice of putting a woman under test (Agni Pareeksha) was prevalent in ancient times in Satyug also when Sita was asked to step into fire to prove her clean status.
  • WHY FAST ONLY FOR THE WELFARE OF THE MALE MEMBERS? The third question which is raising its head is why is it that the woman alone is expected to fast for the well-being of the male members of the family, first for her husband on Karwa Chauth and then four days later, on Ahoi Ashtami, for the well-being of her sons ? Why is there no fast prescribed in the religion for the well-being of female members of the family, daughters or daughters-in-law? However, some balanced mothers do fast now for children and not just for sons. The answer comes from an age-old saying that a woman is dependent on her father in childhood, on her husband in her youth and on her son in her old age. She is neither independent nor is she expected to be independent ever.
  • RATIONALE OF THE PROCESS? Another thought in my restless head questions the sanctity of offering water to the moon. Now all scientific explorations have proved beyond doubt that the moon is also another planet like any other planet and there is no mystery or romance attached to it. What is the sanctity of looking at the moon through the sieve and offering water to it from the “Karwa” (an earthen vessel especially prepared for this purpose)? The story of Karwa Chauth also does not explain the rationale for all these activities. It only speaks of a girl whose brothers out of their concern for their fasting hungry sister on Karwa Chauth misled her into believing that the moon had arisen by showing her a lamp from a distance so that she could take her dinner and how it jeopardised her husband’s life. The story does not enlighten you on the origin of the fast; it only talks about what can happen if one does not fast as rigorously as one is supposed to, thus instilling fear factor in the minds of gullible women.
I may be sounding eccentric to many of my readers who believe in the KarwaChauth fast, but that’s the way I look at it.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

2. ON QUITTING TEACHING ( A REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE)


Lucknow, May 1970. MA exams were over. My father asked me, “What will you do now? Why don’t you apply for Ph.D?”

“Noooooooooo…no way,” I almost screamed in my heart but prima facie I said very politely, “I want to get a job and work now.”  

I was yearning to work not because I needed money but because I was fed up of studying and proving myself continuously in every exam and wished to break free. The result was beginning of meticulous efforts for applying for jobs.  But what were the opportunities for a twenty-year-old? All the competitive exams were open to people above 21 only. There was no system of coaching classes which now mushroom all around for anything that you want to do. Those days there was only one coaching set-up, Rau’s Study Circle in Delhi which prepared a limited number of select candidates for IAS examination. “Who needed coaching anyway?” I mused. “These are for weak students who cannot work hard on their own…certainly not for me”, I argued within.

Newspaper ads were scanned, applications sent and lo and behold, there was this interview call from a Delhi University college which was being opened for women. Waiting for the interview, a tall and lean girl with dusky complexion flashing her charming smile asked everyone loudly, “How many of you present here are first divisioners?” There was none except yours truly who consciously raised her hand. “Then you are through,” she almost announced the result.

Later, walking into the interview room, my legs were trembling although I knew well that I was the most qualified candidate.  The fear of failure which is my Achilles’ heel was working on me.
  

The letter of appointment came two days’ later and thrilled to the core, I immediately reported at the college only to find that chirpy vivacious dusky complexioned girl ahead of me in the office. Flashing a warm smile at me, she hugged me, “Didn’t I tell you that you are through? I wasn’t sure of myself though.” Her smile was so infectious that I also smiled spontaneously. “I’m Divya*,” she said as she warmly extended her hand introducing herself. Then on, we became the best of friends and remained so for the next 16 months till I left the college in search of greener pastures.


Looking back, I feel this was one of the best periods of my life. Actually, life couldn’t have been better for me. I was staying with an Uncle of mine and had no responsibilities at home. In the college, I was required to take in a week some 8-10 periods of 45 minutes each which meant less than two lectures per day on an average. As the married lecturers found it difficult to reach the college so early, the Principal had magnanimously allowed them lectures starting at 10 am. So all the lectures starting at 8.30 am were religiously assigned to yours truly and Divya*, both of us being unmarried and without any domestic responsibilities.


Handling the early classes in the day had a lot of benefits. The students were fresh early in the morning and listened attentively to whatever I spoke. The younger of the readers, please don’t smirk. Will you believe me if I tell you that the girls those days were not allowed to stay out for late nights nor were they allowed to spend endless hours talking to their friends on the telephone. There was no internet, so they did not have to keep awake for live chats with friends or update their status on Facebook. Parents would not allow watching TV also for long durations. Anyway, most households did not have a TV. Even if they had, the only channel was Door Darshan which would be showing some regional dance performed by Song & Drama Division of All India Radio. Studying has never been interesting for anyone. Naturally, the girls had no option but to go off to sleep early. They got up early and came to college with a sense of freedom and excitement. Do you find it hilarious my young readers? Well, this is what the generation gap is all about.


“Early to come, early to leave” was the work principle followed in the college.  We would leave the college as soon as our lectures were over but not before relishing two hot samosas and a hot cup of tea. Having recently moved from conservative Lucknow to hep and fashionable Delhi, I was untouched by the ways of the contemporary girls in Delhi and was quite simple. In contrast, my friend Divya*, an alumnus of (Lady Sri Ram College) of Delhi, was totally independent and had a boyfriend to boot who incidentally is her husband now. She was full of life and knew the ways of Delhi and could come out of any situation without hassles. She discussed latest fashions, the crumpled saree of Mrs Bhasin* and cracked heels of Mrs Varma*, the college politics and explained lucidly to me the nuances of flattery skills of Mrs Saxena*. She also pointed out to me when our Principal’s expressions changed as she talked to the members of Executive Committee when they came to visit the college. All this was quite new to me and I listened to every word of hers wide-eyed and almost mesmerised.


The chai sessions had to last at least up to 11am because the markets in Delhi opened by 11-11.30 am after which we invariably headed off to either Chandni Chowk or Karol Bagh for shopping or for watching some movie in CP (Connaught Place). Both of us had DTU’s (Delhi Transport Undertaking now known as DTC) all-route passes and could hop on and off the DTC buses at will the whole day. Going from one shop to another and haggling for rates in Karol Bagh was the pleasure I had never experienced in my life before. After the shopping, we would land up at some eating joint to take care of our hunger pangs and satisfy our taste buds. Roshan di Kulfi was one such place where we hogged Chhole Bhature followed by Roshan’s famous delectable kulfi quite religiously. 

When we managed to get movie tickets, our expertise in eating aloo parathas and aam ka achar from our tiffin boxes without getting caught under the torch of the Cinema Hall Attendant was at its best. Food was banned in the picture halls those days, but we had to eat.  How to hide the lunch-box in the purse and to ensure that the mouth stops moving when the Hall Attendant came after the strong scent of aam ka achar, was so thrilling and exciting and we would giggle for hours thinking of that. Life was sheer fun!


All the catty talk and bitching about others, all the haggling in the shops, gallivanting around Delhi and finding our way in the most complex roads and alleys and wriggling out of difficult situations in DTU buses helped me to transform from a simple small town girl to a person on the move in the metro town of Delhi who started realising that the path is not always straight. Thank you Divya* for this important contribution to my life! 

But this highly enjoyable time did not last too long.  About a year ago, when I was in my “Search a Job” mode, I had applied for direct recruitment in a public sector bank. Out of the blue, I was surprised to receive an interview call and then an appointment letter.  Thrilled and excited about this success, I put in my papers. Seeing my resignation, everyone was concerned. The principal of the college counselled me hard advising me that for a woman, teaching profession and that too in a college was the best as it gave her ample free time for the family, a number of vacations coinciding with children’s holidays, there was no threat of separation from the family as there could be no transfers to far off places and ….and …in short the life was nothing but bliss.


My friend Divya* was equally concerned. She tried to persuade me to continue in the teaching career sharing with me all the drawbacks of working in the bank which she was well aware as her fiancé was working in the same Bank and kept her informed of all the pitfalls including daily confrontations the staff used to have with the Branch Manager in his branch. The staff unions in the Banks those days were at their worst nadir.


I pondered over all good advices, thought and thought but wanted to go, go and experience new pastures. Simultaneously, I had also started feeling guilty that I was being paid a princely sum of Rs. 865 per month without doing much, for eating samosas and shopping and watching movies. I was fresh from the college and being a hard-working student, did not have to study for taking the classes. Political thought of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau and Fundamental Rights and Duties of the citizens under the Indian Constitution simply flowed from my mouth and I never had to prepare for the lectures. ‘Chalk and Talk’ worked well for me. Checking tutorials and assignments was a child’s play. But this contrasted with the thought of teaching the same subject all my life repeatedly for the next 40 years, I was 20 then, started torturing me.


I was in search of my identity and the Banjaran (Gypsy) in me, who was yearning to move, won the struggle. I quit lecturership in November 1971, putting an end to my 16 months’ stint with a noble profession like teaching.

*All names mentioned here have been changed to camouflage identities.

*****

Saturday, 1 October 2011

1. MY INITIAL THOUGHTS


At long last, I have also decided to jump on to the Bloggers' bandwagon. The idea of starting a blog of my own had come long back and I had immediately created a blog then but it was the subject for the first blog that had been eluding me until yesterday when a friend of mine said, “Just start it. Don’t think too much. Simply write on anything, on any subject,” and here I am.

I thought that the easiest thing in the world would be to write about one’s own self because prima facie it looks that you know everything about yourself and the only thing you require is a little time, a laptop and some inclination. Language is immaterial because it is only a man-made tool for expressing your innermost thoughts and feelings.

These were my initial thoughts and gave me some comfort to start writing. However, the mind immediately countered this thought. What do you really know about yourself? Did you not read about JOHARI window? There are four basic parts to our personality, our attitude, our behaviour and our interaction with others:
1.  Open Self, about which you know well and others also know equally well,
2.  Hidden Self, about which you know well but others do not have any inkling,
3.  Blind Self, about which others know, but you yourself do not know, and
4.  Dark Self, about which neither you know anything nor do others.

In our inter-personal relationship, while the Open Self and the Dark Self are important, I think we can contribute tremendously to strengthening our inter-personal relationships by addressing the Hidden Self and the Blind Self more actively. The more we tell others about ourselves, the better they will understand us, our views and our psychological processes. In the same vein, the more others tell me about myself and if I am capable of handling that feedback positively and respect their opinions and views, I will be able to improve my own behaviour towards others. Both these activities will help me to increase the first part of my personality and will help in strengthening my ties with others. Exploring the Dark Self will help me to discover my hidden true self and strengths which will make me a better human being, a path which I plan to tread.

Having shared these initial thoughts, I plan to write in future about my experiences in life, various incidents, some interesting, some boring, some exciting, some thrilling, some mystifying as they unfolded in my life and how they affected me, my personality and my life .

Some of you might find them interesting, others may find them boring. But in case you are reading my blog, I will be very happy to have your views, good, bad or indifferent. This way you will help me increase my understanding of self, not just AS I LOOK AT IT but also AS YOU LOOK AT IT.
*****