Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What Would You Do?

(Photo Credit)

Some things set you thinking.

It was a usual weekday. My spouse stepped out of his office to grab a bite. As he was finishing his samosa standing outside the snack center, a couple approached him. The man explained his situation - his wife had a brain surgery in the recent past because of a tumour and he was back with her for a follow up. The person who was supposed to meet them with the money for the same did not turn up (Or I think the lost the scrap of paper with his details on it - I'm recalling this as the husband narrated) And hence they had no money for the check up which was important. I know - the first thought that comes to mind is, "Bullshit! There are dime a dozen such people out there to dupe you. It's just a ploy to relieve you of the contents of your wallet! Who believes them!!" My man thought the same too. So he started asking for details. This guy had hospital reports and other papers to prove the veracity of his claim. When the spouse still looked suspicious, apparently, the man started weeping and said they did not even have a place to sleep that night (it was already 9pm) And without any money they couldn't go to the doctor either for his wife's follow up.

What would you do in this situation?

We came back from our weekend dinner last night and found a person sitting on the pavement amidst some plastic garbage that seemed to need sorting. (I said person because we couldn't make out the gender. Seemed like a man with track pants and T shirt) As we parked and got out of the car, he (let's stick to male) stood up and gestured that he wanted food. Usually, we'd have some leftovers packed but we did not have any last night. The spouse started asking him questions about his house, job etc. He seemed to be a bit unstable mentally and we got garbled responses with different cities mentioned each time he tried to explain. One thing was clear - he was hungry and said he could buy food if we gave him money. The spouse told him to not spend the night on the pavement but try and get back to his home town (whichever that was)

Would you give him the money he asked for food?

Such situations leave me (and the spouse) quite pensive, wondering about the truth of these stories. And about the pathetic state of these people. Should we help such people or just shoo them away? Are we fooled if we choose to help them? We don't know. Would be it right to cast all such people in the same mould of deception and refuse money? We don't know that either. But giving them the benefit of the doubt, how helpless would a man be approach a stranger on the street and plead for money to save his wife? (I also wonder how he must have managed the cost of the surgery even given the penurious state) Would it be so bad to spare a little of what we have so that someone can eat a decent dinner before he'd find whatever comfort sleeping on the pavement? Lots of questions and no correct answers, I guess.

This is what we did: Gave money. Both times. Bear with me for a minute and I'll explain. My spouse, who is usually low on cash, thankfully had sufficient on him that night. It'd cover the doc's fees, a couple of meals and train tickets back to Nasik from where the couple said they were. (They said they'd manage sleeping at the hospital) And I say thankfully because it would be awful not to help them properly and treat them as beggars. The man on the pavement also got enough for 2 meals and probably a train ticket squeezed in. (I guess, I am not sure).

So are we world class fools who are stupid enough to get duped every time? Well!

His logic: If we can't share what we have with at least one person in duress, what's the point of being blessed! We take so many things for granted. And people on the street remind us that basic things like food and home could be a luxury some people cant afford. And when we come across someone so much in need, it is better to help them directly than give away to richer charities.

My logic: We are morally on strong grounds and our intentions were to purely help such people. In case they lie and cheat to extort money, Karma should take care of it. We keep our conscience clear and move on.

The spouse was a little skeptical the night of his encounter with the hospital couple. Since it was a sizeable amount, I think anyone would wonder if it was right to lend it. I have always supported him for my reasons I mentioned above. We may be fooled at times but we have also had people ask us money to buy food and bought it right there using the money. Other times, we don't know what happened. But I guess there's balance restored in some way.

I'd really like to know what's your take and what you'd do in such situations?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fighting Gender Stereotypes: Is It Possible?

The male nanny in FRIENDS is such an aberration! (Photo credit)

When Ross and Rachel hired a male nanny, everyone is shocked at the idea! It is so hard for the group to believe that a man would want to take care of babies out of choice. The men keep wondering - it's like a woman wanting to be.... - and the women, challenging - yes, what's the end of that sentence? The debate ends only with Joey's "a penis model". Although the awkwardness doesn't. Sandy - the male nanny - knits, plays an instrument and more importantly, isn't scared to let his feminine side show with free flowing tears. For a sitcom set in times when they are okay with even same sex relations, gender stereotypes still seemed to be deeply rooted.

No matter which culture we belong to, we are hard wired to believe that everything is gendered. Come to think of it, what befits a boy or a girl is decided right when the baby is born. I am guilty of never buying my nieces a car and always look for dolls and pink things! There are clothes for boys and girls and toys for boys and girls. And then when children play house, it's the girl who stays home to cook and the boy goes out for some kind of work. Reverse the role and have the boy make make-believe tea and that'll be insulting - that's a girly thing to do! "Are you a girl?" - is the rhetorical question the little boy is asked. (Although the kiddo might have no clue what the fuss is about) Because girls take care of home and boys go out in the world and earn.

The gender debate is more relevant in todays times when we are putting them on the spot and examining their validity more closely. There is so much talk on social media and elsewhere about how the new generation of boys need to be brought up with gender sensitivity. Crime against women is a huge issue we wish to tackle through well raised boys. We want to teach them that girls can have the freedom of movement as boys do irrespective of time of the day or night. Girls are out there asserting themselves and the boys need to play catch. While those lofty goals are great in the larger picture, I think it’s the individuals who’ll make a bigger difference. And a great step towards that is how we have become more aware of mindsets that are coloured with gender bias. This awareness is the key to changing them. Although many of them show we have a long long way to go before our world becomes truly gender neutral.

I was recently sitting with some people and one of them said that his colleague carries a tube of hand cream so that his hands stay soft in winters. And he found this very weird because it’s women who have soft hands while callused, rough hands are manly! I don’t think I would have paid attention to something like this a few years ago. But now the first thought that strikes me is how gender has nothing to do with soft hands! The skin of a person is just that and needs care in winters.

While we are trying to work on changing gender stereotypes in our heads, instances like the above point out to how deeply ingrained they are in our minds. Something as simple as a hand cream has gender implications!

Like I said, we have become more aware of gendered mindsets now. I was raised in a family where I don’t remember my dad ever being in the kitchen. And now I am married to a man who’s culinary adventures are limited largely to a biannual event of spreading dosa batter on the pan proudly displaying the result on a plate! (Below) Cooking, in my head, is mainly a woman’s job! (Yes, I am a work in progress too!) Sunday chefs I know of - men who cook a special dish once a week! But its hard to believe that a man might take care of an entire dept of running a household!



And it was eye opening to get to know such men who can manage the entire show independently and rustle up proper meals!! Such men amaze and surprise me. I still sometimes find it hard to wrap my head around a friend who cooks as an everyday chore. He plans the menu for the week, shops for groceries and is completely in charge of what happens in the kitchen!!

Another heartening instance is of a stay at home dad who does exactly what people would call a woman’s job - running the household, taking care of his kid while his wife has a full time job. He’s the odd one out when mommies take kids to play in the park but that hasn’t deterred him from wearing his #SAHD status on his sleeve. And I think this is such a huge dent in the stereotypes we propagate.

I am thrilled to personally know these people and applaud them for what they do. We still haven’t changed as a society. But these men have thrown all gendered caution to the winds and have done exactly what suits them. And that, I think, is a great thing in creating a gender neutral world.

Although some examples have made long strides in the positive direction, are we ready to change with these change makers. How easy is it for us to dissociate ourselves with what we call girly and think of it as gender neutral? And I question this based on something that actually happened. If you ask me, this friend who cooks everyday is setting a great positive example for his son. But when the kid wrote an essay on what his dad does around the house and mentioned that his dad cooks, the teacher made him erase that information from the essay. I am not sure if Dads are still supposed to sip tea and read a newspaper around the house. Teachers are a very important influence in our lives. And I shudder to think of many many more such teachers who still tell their students that girls cook and boys, and by extension dads, don’t. That girls are docile and boy don’t cry.

Just I was about to finish this post, the same friend pointed out the most atrocious thing related to this topic. Needlessly gendered is what I'd call it. And I think it is so wrong at so many levels, reinforcing exactly what we are trying hard not to! Silly toys for boys and girls even though either gender could play with a bike!



And that is why I said that before making any changes in the outside world, we need to change from within. Challenge the notion that soft hands are feminine and callused hands are manly. There are tons of such things that I hear often:

Women cant drive
Women don’t build muscles
Men can park well
Women can’t park well
Women don’t understand finances/investment
Men are tech geeks
Women don’t drink whisky
Husbands are better decision makers
Boys don’t cry
Girls cant fix leaking taps

The change has to start from within. If we are serious about creating a gender neutral world, there are a few things which we must do:

- Stop saying its girly/not for boys and vice versa. Let games, toys and clothes be just that

- Set the right example as parents. We pick up our first cues about the how the world works right at home. I learnt men don’t cook because my father never did. What messages are you sending to your kids about gender roles at home?

- Challenge the teachers at school if they are set the wrong example. I can’t even begin to emphasize how important teachers are in shaping our world view.

- Get out of the blue and pink mindset

- Stop telling women to watch what they wear. Teach boys to look beyond a woman’s clothes and look at her as a person she is.

 - Think of boys AND girls being out at any time as normal. Let the boys know that as people, everyone has the freedom of movement.

- A woman covering her body or the lack of it doesn’t define her. So stop judging her

- Stop accepting any reason as valid to bring a woman down - her dress, the time of the night she was out, her inebriated state. Its okay for men to be out and drunk at 2 am. Why not women!

If men can be perpetrators, they can be equal partners in fostering equality too. Change the notion that a man encountered on the street is definitely going to be a perpetrator. He can also be someone who responsibly ensures the woman gets home safely. How we achieve this seemingly impossible change is up to us - maybe, one tiny step at a time. We need to take off our gendered glasses and get a fresh perspective on things. It is great to see campaigns against notions like boys don't cry and lets hope that there will be a world where girls will be kings and boys can be nannies! No eye brows raised! :)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Chuck Those New Year Resolutions!

Break your new year resolutions! (Photo credit)
Now that you have spent almost the whole first day of the year, I guess you realised that it was pretty much like every other day. I bet you did not even make it to the gym. What did you say...you'll start from tomorrow? Well, let me tell you that if you expect to hit the gym consistently thrice a week, stick to your diet all year, be well organised, give up negativity and become all positive - it is not going to happen as perfectly from today as you imagined. You aren't going to be the perfect version of yourself just because it's the new year. Why, you ask? The year changed, not us. And although we imagine that we are going to turn a new leaf all of a sudden, the goals we strive to achieve in the new year are going to be one step at a time. 

We all want to be the best and every new year gives us a hope that we will be. While chasing perfection is an ongoing thing, I think the new year can be a great time to do so many exciting things - other than, of course, worry about how imperfect we are. Some of the things I can think of are: 

Start with a brand new DP on all your profiles
Try a new hairstyle 
Change the way you dress for something you haven't tried before
Combine the clothes you have in a different way 
Workout with new people
Try heels if you wear flats 
Get adventurous and travel alone 
Say hello to the guy you see working in the cafe all the time (I did)

The year changed overnight. We didn't. We won't. So don't bend yourself out of shape hoping you'll wake up tomorrow in an ideal state through the magic of the new year. Pick your goals wisely and work on them gradually. 

So what are your new year goals? Resolutions break, so why make them!