Thursday, June 25, 2009

Male privilege and the little boy

Recently, Son who is a newly minted 5 year old has been flexing his independence and big boy attitude and defiance quite a bit. It has been quite irritating, but apart from minor corrections, I was hoping for this phase to blow over. Things like this usually do.

This morning at the breakfast table, Son was being extremely uncooperative and quite rude to me and Daughter. Milk and cereal was being spilled, shins were being kicked by excessive swinging of legs, and general defiance was being displayed. Ofcourse I got quite annoyed and told him off. I said that only polite kids were welcome at the table and I expected better behavior from him, since he was a big boy now after his 5th birthday.

He puffed up his puny chest, crossed his arms over his stomach, squinted his eyes and in a very low and growly voice said "But Mom I am male and I can behave like that".

Ofcourse I had to lecture him about how Daddy is a man too and Daddy is very polite. And have you seen any other men we know behave rudely? He listened and we went on to do our morning routine like normal. I hope what I said stuck in his head somewhere.

Where did he learn this from? This very equal opportunity, very liberal home of mine, has no boorish male role models. I cannot imagine his friend's homes being full of rude men. Is this from TV? Where is this from?

I think Daddy needs to have a man to man talk with him!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Aamchi Mumbai is not pretty like Shanghai

I was reading a blog by a well travelled woman where she asks why Mumbai is not pretty, planned, architectural heritage concious or otherwise orderly.

My first thought was... perfectly understandable but naive questions.

I can see the horror that an organic Mumbai greets the returning traveller with at the airports or the train stations. I smell it, I feel its grit, it haunts my waking nightmares as I run from one moss grown developers monstrosity to another in the puddles of a Mumbai monsoon. I feel its rough hewn unplanned edges underfoot as I travel the roads of Mumbai. Roads teeming with the weight of the unwashed millions all striving to make a living in this megalopolis. I risk my life crossing the street at Regal cinema or Linking road, barely missing being crushed by the insane traffic chocking narrow roads. This is the reality of Mumbai. No doubt about it.

It is what it is.

As someone with a modicum of a design education, at some level I do mourn the loss of a vernacular motif and am appalled by the general mayhem in planning the city.

However I also realise that Mumbai is an everchanging organism, chameleon like and ever morphing to absorb all its economic migrants and new opportunities for economic growth... both legal and illegal. There are few other cities that have not broken under such pressures as Mumbai has. Its strength lies in this resilience. It is because of this quality that I do not question constantly why Mumbai is not pretty, why Mumbai is not orderly, why Mumbai is not the city of my imaginative dreams.

As a design professional with an education in the vernacular motif of Mumbai, I dont see that Mumbai (yeah its Mumbai, not Bombay) had much vernacular architecture to lose after Mumbai became a metropolis in the early part of the last century. Everything had been lost already.

Mumbai is an organic city. Haphazard in the manner of burgeoning commerical capitals. Planning and controls is for seats of government not for morphing organisms where commerce is king.

To equate Mumbai with European world capitals or even Shanghai is an excercise in idiocy. Not because Mumbai can never aspire to greatness, but because Mumbai is Mosambi to London/Paris/Shanghai's apples or Asian pears or whatever fruit they eat.

Mumbai was not made and nurtured by despots. Mumbai also has greater pressures on it than any city has had for centuries, expect perhaps for Cairo and Mexico City. Mumbai happened for commerce and it continues to happen because of commerce. A great leveller and a very democratic in many ways. Mumbai never had a rigid planners like Hausmann to straighten the “goat paths of paris” and to create vistas with alees. Mumbai did not have a despot looking to place his stamp on the land he ruled. Every European city has for the most part been nutured and beaten into submission by despots. Shanghai has its despotic rulers very much in evidence. Mumbais despots have been salaried Municipal Commisoners that went in and out through a revolving door. That is nature of governance in the city.

Do I wish that Mumbai had more trees and prettier buildings and nothing was taller than the palm trees and we all drank tea with our pinkies in the air? Hell yeah, I do. But that is not the way Mumbai survives. Can we change things? yes and no. No mostly, due to both resources and will and ever increasing pressures on civic services and land.

Wanting things to be like London and Barcelona and Berlin and Shanghai(all of which have execrable architecture alongside the sublime) is for countries with better resourses. Not for mumbai and India as it is now. People need food and employment and standing room first. Yeah, even sleeping room on the pavement sometimes!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

To chutiya or not to chutiya?

On a blog I read today there was a reference to a word that starts with a C and has a H and some dashes for missing letters. It is obviously a word of abuse and I sat for a little bit wondering what it was.

While I drank my morning chai and contemplated how to decorate cupcakes for the birthday barbeque today, I had an epiphany and I realised what the word was. Now ofcourse I had to say it or write it. I simply had to. I had to say the word, and roll it around my tongue and maybe even use it in a sentence or two. Have you ever felt the urge? And how satisfying is that!

HAHAHAHAHAHA... my inner writers tourettes syndrome is forcing me to write the word!!!!
There I typed it. Relief!

I find desi verbal abuse so much more colorful and descriptive than the same words in English. Very satisfying to use them in a desi language. In fact when they are in a regional language they are even more satisfying and sound more... you know... naughty and bad boy/bad girl!

A few years ago on the way to work, the Husband and I were getting onto a very crowded subway car on a hot summer day. We were being pushed and shoved by a group of robust sardars probably newly arrived from India. Not wanting to exit/enter in a orderly fashion was a clue as to how newly arrived they were.

I am not sure who threw out a Chutiya first but the Husband matched them word for word with desi abuse words. There was several minutes of stunned silence. I had to laugh. This very proper and waspy looking bespectacled gora dressed in a suit, matching them... desi gaali for desi gaali. The dichotomy was wonderfully delicious!

As we were leaving the subway car, one of the men leaned forward and said to me in a thick punjabi accent... "Behenji app ne unko gaali sikhaya? Bahot accha laga is desh mein gaali sunke" (Sister, did you teach him these words? It felt good to hear these words, so far from home). I was laughing the rest of the day.

Actually I have never taught him anything like that. I guess his trips to India had stood him in good stead. He just absorbed!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bed tea (Ugh!) or hand feeding today?

So I woke early this morning and decided to blow off going to the 5 AM Spin class and 6 AM BootCamp Class and just sat on the couch with my laptop and a cup of chai (no sugar, small concession to no excercise). Will I go to my kick boxing class at 10 AM? Probably not. You see I have a birthday barbeque on the weekend to get ready for. Daughter and Son both had birthdays last week. Like all law abiding American families we reserve all celebrations for the weekend...hehehehehe.

The husband and kids are still sleeping. The house is silent. I can hear the incessant drippy rain. In the dawn light, my plants look sad and drowned. Even the deer that come into the backyard to forage at dawn, looked sad eyed and rain soaked. Sitting here contemplating life and reading blogs. Its been a while!

I read a lot of blogs by men and women in mixed cultural marriages. Desi/desi, desi/nondesi, nondesi/nondesi... the gamut... because I am in a culturally mixed marriage myself. It is very interesting to me, to see how others order and organise thier mixed marriages and lives. There are some blogs by expat men and women who make thier life in India, some of whom are married to desis. It is an eyeopener to read thier thoughts.

You see, I always wonder how my own non desi husband views and experiences desi culture. He can try and explain it to me (Hindi sounds phonetically gutteral to him... HUH?) but there is no way that I will ever see it the way he does. My views are colored by own experience of desi culture. I can never experience seeing my culture through western eyes, never mind how long I live in the west. I would have to negate my entire childhood, and existing ties in India to do that. Do you see why reading these expat blogs is so interesting to me?

There are any number of outstanding blogs in this category. Sharell has a really good one. Do read it.

Anyway, I read an blogpost on this blog about "handfeeding a son". There were many interesting comments all of which must be considered for the cultural context of the commentors. Some very good points were made. A thought provoking post. I have thought long and hard about this one for a very long time. It affects me in very fundamental ways because it says something about where we are as Indian women and where we hope to be in an ever changing world.

Here was my comment on that blogpost. Go on tell me what you think.

"Tradition bound Indian women have had very little decision making power in thier own households especially since they usually also live with thier own traditional inlaws.

The only power they have is perhaps over thier own children and they sure do weild that power robustly. Thier sons have also traditionally been thier long term care insurance. What better way to make sure that insurance is active and well, than to bind the child to them with shows of affection and pampering… hand feeding is just one the symptoms. An overt show of affection. It is something that has become an essential part of the fabric of a traditional Indian womans life. Are the sons totally to blame for becoming despotic, lazy gits? Not entirely. It is a product of thier memories and traditions. It is culture.

Personally I dont expect Indian men to conform to what western men do, when in the Indian cultural context… if they are a product of and still live in that environment. I know that my own mother would like it, if my husband lay around and was subjected to overt displays of fawning attention by me and her… as wife and motherinlaw… when he visits India. However he aint getting any of that buster! Because thats not the way my own household works.

Does all this annoy me? Sure it does, it makes me crazy because I know and have experienced the alternate reality. Is it unfair to expect a woman to labor for a lazy git? Ofcourse it is. However I cannot expect people who have never even imagined another way of life to conform to my expectations of behavior. They will all learn for themselves when thier own shoes bite. It will happen… in centuries perhaps, but change is inevitable.

In the big scheme of things, hand feeding a son, or making him chai (I hate that bed tea thing … stinky breath) is small potatoes, compared to being able to make decisions about killing or keeping thier female children and having access to healthcare and being treated humanely when widowed. If my son will support me in these endevours, I will hand feed you for life and make you a million cups of tea. Those are the real choices many, many Indian women face."