Reputation, Reputation

IHM’s post on ‘izzat’ hit close to home for me  . On second thoughts, I’m sure any Indian girl would find resonance with the all-too-pervasive idea of her ‘repuation’. Actually, on third thoughts (I’ve decided that’s be a valid enough term), I guess there are very few women on this earth who have not had this concept of their ‘honour’ drummed into them.

The first story in IHM’s post was especially familiar.

I too had a classmate, R, who went out in a car with another friend G, whom she was dating.They were ‘caught’ in a compromising position by a busybody cop, who made a big fuss about wanting to take them to the police station. The matter resolved with G calling up some other friends from our college, who  drove over and managed to fob the cop off with 5k in cash.

Unfortunately for R, the matter spread like wildfire through the campus- through the guys who had gone over to ‘help’ them – and the rumours got worse and worse. In the girl’s hostel, she was practically shunned. In the boy’s hostel , she was the subject of intense discussion. People took delight in pulling her down- especially since she was better looking and more intelligent than most people who maligned her.

Not long afterwards, I was in a car with this guy G ( an okayish friend)  who had , by now, earned quite the opposite kind of reputation. The car ran low on fuel in a deserted area and we had to stop. Soon enough, a man walked by , saw us and threatened to call the cops- I suppose it’s a quick way to make money off college kids these days.

I remember being frantic about what they would think and make of the situation- instead of of thinking about my own safety or being practical about how to arrange for fuel.I was on-the-fence about calling my own girlfriends- they had been especially judgemental about the other girl. Eventually, he called his friends to get us, and the man stopped banging on the car and went away.

Instead of being angry about being threatened by a random stranger , I was anxious about known people would think. I was so worried about my ‘reputation’ after that , that I stopped talking to G.Even before the few (but inevitable) rumours

Stupid, I know. In my defence, I was too young to know better.

Luckily for me I soon learned to NOT give a damn . Still, I sometimes cringe at the thought of the silly things I’ve done, in a misguided attempt to preserve my ‘izzat’.

 

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RIP

Woke up today to depressing news that someone I knew (albeit as an aquaintance) was been killed in a communal clash in my  college town in Karnataka.

I’m shocked-I didn’t think something like this could ever happen to someone I know.Somehow the ‘riots’ and ‘incidents’ reported in the media remain just that- reports in the media. The feeling of invincibility never wavers- after all , ‘WE'(the educated/the middle-class/the politically inactive/the only mildly religious) never get mixed up in sordidness , do we?

Cruel irony also, that the hospital mentioned in the news, where the dead and injured were taken, was also the one where this guy once had saved many lives.

There are many ways to die, but surely dying from an act of random, senseless hatred, being STABBED to death by a communal mob no less, is the worst, most unthinkable way to go.

RIP CP.

ETA- happy to see that nobody is in the mood to take this incident lying down-read about it here.

Trousseau Talk

There’s a new word that does the rounds when there’s talk of any marriage.And it doesn’t begin with ‘D’. Granted it’s from France, but it’s ubiquitously heard all over India.

Yes I know, dowry is becoming passe. Everybody now asks for ‘gifts’. That’s horrifying enough. But a trousseau takes things one step further. Officially, it’s the stuff (saris, suits, sets, appliances,lingerie) that parents buy for their daughter. Unofficially , it’s much the same as a dowry (in the truest sense of the word) – it’s a sophisticated excuse for increased expenditure on the part of the bride’s father- also passed-off as ‘tradition’.

There’s no question of meeting the ‘boy’s side’ expectations here- just the expectations of the bride!

In a eglitarian and non-patriarchial society, the cost of the wedding should ideally be borne by the bride and the groom, not their parents. We desis will take a while to get there, but let’s focus on the present for now. If your parents are paying for your wedding- i.e the venue, the food, the bridal garments and your jewellery- they are already doing you a HUGE , HUGE favour.(Even if they think it’s their duty.)

So for once, BE the modern, independent girl that you claim you are. Accept that the wedding itself is your gift. Pay for your own ‘clothes to wear after the wedding’, your honeymoon, your honeymoon wardrobe, your make-up and the appliances you will use in your new home. Remember that a wedding is about the couple- and not about the size of your dad’s wallet, no matter how big it is.

Yes I know , parents actually INSIST on buying the bride stuff. I’ve seen it all. But you are a sentient being, with your own mind and tongue. You can say NO .Really. Yes, you are the apple of their eyes, etc etc- but , seriously, if you think about it- what does your guy get in all this wedding hooplah- does HE suddenly get new chuddies or a brand-new blender from his parents? If HE is expected to buy his own underwear, why should it be any different for you?

Your parents have brought you up, paid for your education, and seen you to adulthood.They’ve actually already done their bit.No matter how rich or how generous your parents are, they are not there to sponsor your new life as someone’s wife.

Pretty/Simple

This post by My Era got me thinking.

My preteen and earliest teen years were spent being a total tomboy. I had a ‘proper’ boy-cut, wore boy’s clothes and generally was very thrilled when people mistook me for a boy. I have no explanation for my behaviour- I have no idea what was going on in my mind, but anyway, that’s how I remained till age 13. Not to mention the fact that I had acne AND really thick glasses AND braces:)

My interest in looking like a girl began in 8th grade, specifically, after I fell hard for a boy. Predictably, he was older, REALLY good looking, and reserved nothing but the faintest acknowledgement for me. It was around this time that I grew my hair , started treatment for my pimples and bought ‘girly’clothing , much to my mother’s delight. It was also the golden age of msn messenger, and I wasted no time IM-ing my crush.

Unfortunately for me, this was no american high school movie, and this boy promptly also fell deeply in love with my (very pretty) best friend. What hurt the most though, was his ‘revelation’ to her that he knew I liked him, but I was ‘too ugly’ for him to date. Ah msn, wish I could have unseen those words.

So there I was, fourteen years old, certified  ‘ugly’ by the then love of my life who was snapped up by my best friend. To say that it was the defining event of my teen-age would be an understatement. I was hurt. I was angry. I lost my best friend of 3 years. Some obnoxious classmate wrote a poem about me(!). However, to my credit, I resigned myself to the new state of things- it’s truly wonderful what looming Board Exams can do to heal broken hearts.What didn’t go away was the belief that I wasn’t good looking.

Time passed by, and by college I had shed the braces, donned contacts and was feeling better about my looks. It also helped that I was in a smaller town , and in a medical college with a decidedly smaller female population. As a ‘fresher’ , I was suddenly considered ‘beautiful’. I gained my first ever admirer in the first week of college- it was flattering and also amusing. It would definitely gone to my head had I not also simeltaneously befriended my hostel neighbours- who were without doubt, two of the most stunning girls on the campus. Call it the ‘cheerleader effect’ (re: barney’s theory) or my own belatedly blossoming beauty (hah!) but my years in college redefined myself in  own eyes- I gingerly came to believe that I was also pretty in my own way.

I began to date my current BF in the pre-final year of college. At that point of time, exams and academics were literally my life (as it so happens when the exams are around) and I really had let myself go- I’d stopped putting any effort into dressing up and had put on so much weight that I had to buy new clothes. My boyfriend on the other hand, was tall, lean and dimpled. There was no doubt in my mind why he was attracted to me ( I was reasonably smart, considered ‘bindaas’ and was the reigning public speaker of my batch)- but I did wonder , in the initial days, if he considered me physically desirable. I was , after all , short, plump and un-dimpled, and our ‘match’ was the butt of several good-natured WTF jokes.

Anyway that’s all water under the bridge now. I’ve gotten wiser, as also the ‘friends’ who thought he deserved better.I’ve grown thinner , he ‘s grown fatter, and we’ve both grown so much as individuals and as a couple that me worrying about how I look is now laughable.I’m glad we’re together,like two contented cats, (though taking photos together is still a challenge , given the vast difference in height.)And I’m glad I’ve reached this point of being comfortable- with myself, my body, my looks and my personality- relatively early on in life.

What I’ve learnt so far is that how is see yourself is heavily influenced by how other people see you , which in turn in affected by which sort of people are around you. So you can either surround yourself with people that evaluate you based on your looks, or choose to be with people who like you for who you are-it’s that simple.

Hostel Hypocrisy

So, the New York Times blog did a piece the other day on the inane rules of colleges in India. As anybody who went to college in India can attest, these silly ‘Indian’ rules are mostly applied to girls, not to guys.

My college had these rules for the girl’s hostel-

-A curfew of 9 pm

-A ‘punishment’ period of waiting outside the gate for half an hour, after which a ‘late register’ needed to be signed  in order to be let in

-No male visitors ever

– Unless you were permanently moving out after completion of the course and it was your dad/brother/cousin moving your stuff out

-Not leaving the campus during Holi

– A curfew of 7 pm on New Year’s Eve

-Notifying the warden before overnight/out of town trips

As usual it was for ‘our own good’ , and for our ‘parents’ peace of mind’ and to protect us from ‘bad reputations’.

Contrast this with the one and only rule for the boy’s hostel-

No female visitors unless mother/sister 

Here’s where it gets really screwed up-

Since it was a medical college, we had on-call duties-day and night- as final year students and as paid interns- for a total of two years. The on-call rooms in the hospitals were ancient- small rooms , with two single beds. There was NO segregation based on gender- we had to share these rooms with guy classmates  (some of whom were friends) and male seniors (most of whom were strangers).Not to mention the common washroom.Yes, apparently, parents and reputations fly out of the window when there’s work to be done and people to treat.

In all time I was there- never was a single eyebrow raised at this arrangement- not a single awkward joke or the slightest inappropriate comment. In the hospital, we were complete equals amongst each other and the other staff. (the patients were another matter, many of whom had trouble comprehending that I, the doctor would be the one stitching them up, and the guy with me was a nurse). We girls were expected to perform all procedures, even if it involved handling bits down there- conversely the guys were expected to master gynaceological procedures without being squeamish.

In rural postings, we spent two months in  houses in distant villages with male classmates.

Yet , when the day/night was done, and we stepped out into the real world,that mirage of equality vanished. Once back in the campus, we were miraculously somehow ‘girls’ as opposed to ‘students’ or ‘interns’!

That being said, we girls observed the rules mainly by breaking them. If we were late , we made sure we were really late-closer to midnight- so that the watchman (bless his soul) snuck as in. Or we would simply stay over at a friends place- there was no dearth of classmates wanting to ‘help’ us out 🙂 (bless their souls as well!) The Holi, NYE rules were ignored en-masse. And nobody ever REALLY notified the warden when they were taking off- In short, we lived our lives as free as the boys did, and the rules never stopped us from having fun.

BUT this is the thing- we had to sneak around and lie and hide to have any semblance of freedom. It was bad enough to have these rules, but what added salt to our wounds were that the guys got off scot-free.They had no restrictions, absent warden and did pretty much whatever they wanted to inside and outside campus. Yes, us girls ‘breaking the rules’ and ‘being rebels’ was exciting but also on some level …humiliating …the cheap thrills of the disempowered.

As the rules started to get tighter, I started spending more and more time off campus. With my first salary as an intern, I moved out and convinced my best friend to do the same. (We took neighbouring single rooms in a building- the best decision I’ve made in 5.5 years of college) A lot of other girls also had similar ideas, and by mid-year quite a few of us were established outside.

We managed for that year, at age 22, to live the way the ‘boys’ had done their whole lives- answerable to no one.

It was a glorious year.

Of disposable males and dispensible females.

The BF and I got into an argument over this article, on the website Role Reboot.

The article basically examines death v/s gender from a historical persepective, and questions whether ‘dying for someone’ is an instinct to protect the ones you love or whether it’s a gendered ‘role’ played by men. I agree with the former , and pooh pooh at the latter suggestion- most mothers, of most species will risk their lives to save their offspring.

It also touches upon the concept of ‘male disposability’ – the notion that men’s lives have had less value than women’s- because men in times of war/sinking ships/natural disasters have had to ‘give up’ their chance at survival to save women (and children).

As the article ends up proving, this concept is utterly laughable at- simply because childbirth has killed more humans than wars ever have.

This bit about childbirth REALLY is close to my heart- so I decided to blog about it.

The proof that pregnancy and childbirth are inherently dangerous comes from the existence of a statistical indicator – the Maternal Mortality Ratio.

The MMR , simply put, is the death of a woman, while pregnant or within 42 days of birth, from a cause related to her pregnancy or labour. It’s usually expressed in terms of 100,000 live births – that is- number of mothers dying to the ratio of babies born.

(Also- and this fact is vitally important and glaringly obvious- there’s no such thing as a Paternal Mortality Ratio- nobody has ever died from becoming a father- simply because nobody dies from having sex!)

A little bit of digging yielded the fact that in 1946 , the estimate of MMR in India was over 2000! By 1990 , this had improved to 570- and is currently hovering under 300. That means 2-3 women die in India, when 1000 babies are born- die not from disease, or accidents, but from fulfilling their biological role in the human species.

The most telling data , comes from the UK- from an MMR of 5500 in 1850’s – a steep decline to around 8.

It stands to reason that it’s not the pregnancy/labour that actually kill women- but the complications that arise from them. The complications have occured since the beginning of time , and still occur now, in much the same way- the only difference is that we can do something about them.

It follows that better manangement of these complications means more women now survive what would otherwise have been an potentially dangerous 11 month period in their lives.

THAT is why, in every culture, there is a best of luck type ceremony prior to labour- kubsa/godh-bharai/baby shower- getting through a pregancy safely was (and still is) laudable.

In fact,  if you think about it, nothing has improved the lot of womenkind as much as the modernisation of the field of obstetrics-simply because it has converted a universal, once nearly-fatal experience into a more benign and relatively less stressful one.

I mean that ‘relatively’ very very much. In India, the oh-so-cliched many Indias in one country- I’ve had the (mis)fortune to have worked in OBGYN in government centers only- where women are little more than breeding cattle in the eyes of their families.

I’m sorry to say, that in our country, people on the lower end of the social scale still have the kind of pregnancies and labour that are horrifyingly dangerous and unpleasant.These are sometimes fatal, sometimes just temporary setbacks to health, but always invisible amongst statistics.

I have personally yelled at a husband who refused to donate blood to his wife who was birthing his child (his mother yelled back at me) , I’ve delivered the baby of HIV positive women who screamed curses at absent husbands who had infected them,I’ve seen women IGNORED completely after they’ve birthed that precious male baby- suffice to say a female baby meant both mother and baby ignored.

In this melee, where a woman’s wellbeing and health is not even a priority for the husband/his family- there’s only so much even healthcare can do!

Of course, none of this applies to people like you and me with our mostly first world preoccupation with birth plans and water births and fancy hospitals- but if you were ever curious to see the true place of ‘average’ women in Indian society, just visit the OBGYN ward of any government hospital-I guarantee that the vast improvement in our MMR statistics will begin to look like a joke.

The Vagina Monologue

Just read this post by Rajyasree Sen.

She does a marvellous job of mocking a product- 18again, the advert of which promises to ‘rejuvenate’ your nether regions. Though I must say I doubt it deserves this kind of a fuss. It is , after all a niche product- and male versions of similar concoctions have been around for donkeys years. Still, I do see her point about the whole joint family being in on the private life of the couple.

On a tangent here-

I wonder why a girl/woman losing her virginity gets more attention than when a boy/man -the latter is seen to be just living up to the biological compulsion of his gender, while the woman/girl is held ‘responsible’ for actively wanting something that , in their perception, is ‘unnatural’ for her gender.

Is it because for the male, the first time is invariably pleasurable- whereas for the female, it is often painful and unpleasant?So, for her to proactively claim sex , despite that, is to somehow be more ‘sexual’ than her male partner who does the same?

…..

On a related note- there’s no such medically defined term as ‘virgin’ or ‘virginity’. I know our country is big on hymens  but you can technically sleep with someone and still have one, conversely, you could have held on to your virtue like a saintly leech and still not have one.Medically speaking, there’s no such thing as the proof being in the pie! (pun intended).