Sunday 15 November 2015

Being a mom...

My latest Being a mom... in Sakhi magazine. Here's the link:

Loch Lomund in Scotland

My latest travel piece on Loch Lomund lake in Scotland published in today's Kannada Prabha newspaper. Here's the link:

Monday 9 November 2015

Yes, my in-laws tortured me for money and gold

Are you around 25 years? You are waiting to get married to that Prince Charming and bump into a guy, okay a good looking if not handsome like Salman or Hrithik. He makes you feel that he's the one, the right guy, made for you, sent from the heaven. He weaves a dream world with his promises. You trust him so much that even if your parents, especially your mom, sense something wrong about the guy, you convince them that he's a nice guy and you want to spend the rest of your life with him. 

So you both talk over the phone always, literally always, for more than 8-9 hours a day, in fact, you sleep less and talk more over the phone. You are completely smitten by him, ready to do anything and everything for him. You are ready to sacrifice your hobbies and passion, whether it's writing a novel or a blog or dancing or singing. You don't stop just there, he impresses you in such away that you are even ready to quit your job. What's the need for a job after marrying him? He earns well and makes you feel that you are his responsibility and never a burden. You trust him, yes, blindly trust him and give in. 

You are floating in the dreamland, you feel like you are a bird flying high and high. The wedding is fixed, and no one can stop you and your joy knows no limit. You have your own aspirations and wishes regarding the marriage. You want yourself to look the best on your D-day. You purchase nice saris, nice dresses, nice jewels and hire nice makeup artist to decorate you for the occasion. 

You discuss everything with the guy, from the color of your sari to the jewels you would be wearing. And when you know it's a custom that the bridegroom's family has to present a sari for the wedding or the reception, you request the guy to get a sari of your favorite color. The guy cleverly says that he can't sadden his mom by refusing her choice of color for the sari. Though you love pink or light blue or maroon, you end up wearing a dark green or a dark blue or a magenta color sari, the choice of either the guy's mom or his cousins. When he knows you are upset about the color of the sari, he promises to buy you a sari of your favorite color, but with a condition: you should never tell anybody in his family that he bought a sari for her, because he doesn't want to hurt his mom or cousins! You silently agree...

You are looking good with the makeup and waiting to enter the Mandap to get married and one of his cousins asks you if you are wearing your mom's jewels as they look old fashioned. You nod your head silently and the cousin says that the jewels are not matching the sari and should have bought something else. You ignore her comments and throw a smile at her. 

At last you get married and enter his house to start a new journey, a new life. His cousins are still in the house and your mother-in-law seems to be very fond of them. She quotes their example for each and everything making you feel wrong at everything, wrong in dress sense, wrong in makeup, wrong in cooking, wrong in sleeping habits, wrong in everything! 

Cousins continue to mock at your jewels even after the wedding. They taunt you by asking if they are original or fake ones, why they are old fashioned, why they are light weight, why they are dull and so on. Your mother-in-law joins them and makes fun of you, your mother and father. You listen to them silently, patiently, as you don't want to be rude to them, as it's still your first day in the house. 

Slowly, you get to see their true nature. Mother-in-law is greedy, father-in-law is henpecked and husband is an obedient son, who trusts his parents blindly. He's so blind that he laughs at you when his parents physically and mentally torture you in front of him. Father-in-law is so shameless that he talks to you by touching you either at your back or holding your wrist. He praises his wife and insults you in front of his family and relatives. He roams half naked even in front of you and your husband supports his father's behavior. 

Your husband's cousins keep a tab on your Facebook activities and regularly show them to your in-laws. Your mother-in-law mocks at you for wearing skirts or jeans and attending parties. If those cousins wear similar dresses your in-laws praise them. You can't even have friendship with those who have the habit of drinking alcohol, because your in-laws question your upbringing, but any of their relatives drink, they laugh and say drinking alcohol once in a while is good for health. You are fed up seeing their double standards but choose to keep quiet, because every now and then you are reminded by your husband that they are his parents and have all the right to say whatever they feel like.

You wonder where did all those promises made to you before the wedding vanish? You wonder if he's the same person whom you wanted to marry, for whom you gave up your job and hobbies. Still you remain silent, because somewhere you feel that things might fall to their place and you should not take any hasty decision. 

Your husband comes to know that you have lakhs of rupees in your account and he humbly asks you if he can use it and pay you back later. You feel embarrassed and give your debit card to him. He uses your money to fulfill the wishes of his parents and splurges on them to buy new things. Your mother-in-law praises her son for buying new things and tells all neighbors that you didn't take any dowry and you are eating her son's salary. You are surprised hearing it and confront your husband and ask if he's not told his mother that he's buying new things to the family in her money. Husband gets upset and screams that it's not her money, but their money. If he tells his mother that he's using wife's savings it would hurt his ego and hurt his mother as well. You agree and remain silent, for after all he's your husband and you think it's really our money, not just your money. 

As days pass by you realize that your husband has lost his job and he had taken a loan for his studies and the whole burden of clearing it is on his head. Your mother-in-law keeps taunting you that you should seek your dad's help in clearing the loan and after much though and mental harassment you budge and get money from your dad. You want to pay the installment and your father-in-law wants all the money you got from your dad to be transferred to his account and you silently agree. Your mother-in-law asks you to hand over your jewels to pledge and take a loan to clear another loan taken on the house and you silently agree. 

In spite of all these, your mother-in-law is not satisfied. She keeps torturing you for money. In a bid to torture you she asks her son to sleep in her room and makes you to sleep alone. She orders her son not to sleep with you! To get rid of you she hatches a plot to kill you, but fails in her attempt. She pretends to shower love on you in front of her son and in his absence treats you like a slave. 

When you conceive, she doesn't even bother that she's becoming a grandmother, all she wants from you and your family is money and gold. To make you get more money and gold from your parents she locks you up in your room, which has no attached bathroom, and keeps you hungry and thirsty whole day. You take your medicines without water and are forced to vomit and urinate in the room, as one cannot control puking and urinating during pregnancy. 

If you return the money or gold given by your parents, your mother-in-law will become a beast by pushing you down and killing your baby even before it sees the world. She orders her son not to help you and your husband obeys his mother and you are left alone bleeding. Nobody is concerned about the death of the baby, not even your husband, who was supposed to be a father in a few more months. He supports his mother even in this act. He openly says that whatever his parents do is correct, even if they are wrong, they are correct! 

Your husband thinks that you should never reveal the family matters to others, neither by writing a novel or through blogs or by sharing it with parents. He feels that once a girl is married, she should forget her parents. He says forget parents, but not their money and gold, they should keep giving them as and when demanded. 

You spend years and years and there's no change in the attitude or behavior of your husband and his parents. You have had enough, you feel like a puppet, a lifeless object, having lost your own identity and existence. They have examined your level of patience and this time, one last time, you sum up your courage and rebel against them. You raise your voice against them. You question them. You question their demands and behavior. You refuse to bring any money and jewels from your parents. You think it's time to leave them. You feel there no need for such a spineless husband who questions your character and asks how you got pregnant in the first place. You decide to leave back everything and everyone and go away.

You leave the house and husband and the past behind and want to move ahead. But is it that easy? If you have faced any of these situations, then you can easily identify yourself with Meera, the protagonist of Avantika Debnath's debut novel - 'The Bridal Pyre: Nainam Dahati Pavakah' (2015). If you haven't faced anything like this, consider yourself very very lucky. But don't ever dare to call her a lier, for it's not a fiction. This is happening in your house, in your neighboring house, in your relatives' house, in your friends' house, it's just happening around you, all you have to do is open your eyes and see it and accept it. 

There are several Meeras in the society who have become scapegoats in the name of wedding and dowry. Everyday, every minute one or the other woman becomes the victim of dowry death in India and it's very unfortunate that people are mum about this burning issue. Women who dare to come out in public are mentally harassed and are called liers, fingers are raised on her character. Instead of sympathizing and supporting the victims, her family, relatives, friends and the society always try to point out her mistakes. 

Nainam chindanti sastrani
Nainam dahati pavakah
Na chainam kledayantyapo
Na sosayati marutah

The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind, preached Sri Krishna to Arjuna. But several women's heart, soul, dreams, wishes, aspirations, hope, existence, pride, identity is burnt in the offering given to the holy fire during their wedding ceremony. Marriage is for only namesake, in fact it becomes the funeral pyre which consumes them there and then itself. Meera was burnt in one such pyre.

Protagonist Meera is well educated, works in an MNC and earns a handsome salary. She bumps into the profile of an NRI, Abhijit, on a matrimonial site and initially refuses to accept his proposal. But after talking to him over the phone and Skype for nearly three months, without even meeting him in person even once, she readily accepts to marry him. Yes, he brainwashes her in such a way that she gives up her dance, which was her soul and even quits her job to marry him. 

Meera realises that the castle Abhi had built was merely of sand and all his promises were fake. His parents, especially his mother, taunts her every day and make her life a living hell. Abhi loses his job in the US and stoops down to misuse Meera's savings. He goes on to support his mother and father who mentally and physically harass Meera. 

Abhi watches silently when his mother pushes pregnant Meera downstairs. Meera suffers a miscarriage and she loses faith on her husband completely. After 11 months of pain, Meera rebels and questions her husband and mother-in-law about their greed for money and gold. Abhi's mother, who had killed her own mother-in-law, who had earlier attempted to kill Meera, tries to kill Meera again. But Meera escapes by rushing outside and saving her life. 

Meera goes back to her parents and decides to face the society and fight for justice.  Did she succeed in getting justice? What are the hurdles she faced after leaving her husband forms the climax of the novel. Readers are treated with several expected and unexpected twists and turns in the later half of the novel. 

The language is simple, and yes the narration wins the hearts of readers. Readers feel that Meera is an old childhood friend who is narrating her story to them. At one point or the other readers, especially women, can identify themselves with the protagonist. The story of Meera is sure to haunt readers for several days. 

A last note for spineless men like Abhi: "A man must first find himself before he finds his woman. Otherwise he will continuously damage every woman he comes in contact with along the way." 

Sunday 8 November 2015

Book review: The Bridal Pyre

My latest is a book review on The Bridal Pyre by Avantika Debnath in today's Kannada Prabha.

Sunday 1 November 2015

This is why I didn't tell you he was beating me...

Every sentence in this article rings so true and memories gush in, reminding me of the shame I felt and the excuses I always use. Wish I had one such friend who could have felt like the friend of this victim writer. For those of us who are facing a Domestic Violence, most of our behavior can be explained in this one article…

This Is Why I Didn’t Tell You He Was Beating Me

When I fled my abusive relationship for the last time (yes, I left and went back), one of the first things my well-meaning friends and family asked was why I never told them what was happening to me.
“Why didn’t you say something,” they’d ask, looking concerned and confused.  “I could have helped you. I could have done something!”
And I believe them. Had they known how horrible my life had become, I have no doubt that they would have done their best to help me. But all this happened more than twenty years ago. Today, I’m healed, emotionally healthy, and over it—and have the clarity of hindsight to see that my friends and family would have helped me.
But back then, not so much. Because when you’re in the thick of things, in the middle of a Hell that you’re convinced is of your own making, you can’t see anything clearly. Fear and shame consume you—they’re your constant companions. And when you look at your family and friends, you often can only see judgment and derision. You know their opinions about women who stay in abusive relationships.
Consider this scenario: You have a childhood friend with whom you’ve always been close. Lately, she’s not around as much as she used to be. You assume it’s because she’s all wrapped up in her new relationship. And at first she was. When things were new, she couldn’t get enough of him. They spent nearly every waking moment together.
But back then, you still heard from her—she called you. And even though she mostly just bragged about her new love, it didn’t matter. She was happy.
Then the calls became less frequent. And when you called her, she’d rush off the phone, sounding hurried and distracted. Mutual friends casually mentioned that they hadn’t seen her in a while. “It’s her new guy,” you’d tell each other. “They’re never apart these days.”
Soon you get used to her absence, to not talking to her as often. You miss her, but you don’t want to be that friend who seems like she’s trying to sabotage her new love.
One day you bump into her at the grocery store, and you’re shocked by her appearance. She’d always been so meticulous about how she dressed, especially in public. And now she’s wearing sweat pants—she’d never be caught dead wearing those outside of the house or gym! Yet here she is, not only in sweats, but they’re stained, and she’s wearing a baggy T-shirt, her hair, usually perfectly coiffed, now pulled into a sloppy ponytail. Her fingernails are ragged and unpolished.
She looks tired.
But you’re so happy to see her you pull her into a tight hug. She stiffens in your arms, as though she’s in pain. You let go—surprised. And then you take a really good look at her face.
She won’t meet your eyes.  Her mouth trembles a little, and her lips are chapped. Is that a fading bruise on her cheek? You’re thinking. No, it must be the lighting.
You exchange pleasantries, but you can tell she’s not really engaged in the conversation. You get the feeling that she wants to leave … that she’s not really happy to see you.  You feel uncomfortable, but you can’t exactly put your finger on why.
“How are you?” You ask again, only this time you mean it.
“Fine,” she answers briskly. “Really, I’m fine. Just in a hurry. I need to get home.”
“I won’t keep you, then.”
Something tells you she isn’t fine at all. You have an inexplicable urge to pull her into your arms again, but you don’t. Against your better judgment, you ignore your instincts and send her on her way. And in your gut you know that something is terribly wrong with your once outgoing, vivacious, beautiful friend.
Here’s what you don’t know: Your friend would love nothing more than to fall into your arms and ask for help. But she won’t. She can’t. She’s too ashamed. As awful as you think she looks, she believes she looks even worse. In a relatively short period of time, her boyfriend has gotten into her head and convinced her that she’s ugly, stupid, and worthless.
Your friend no longer puts any effort into her looks because he’ll either accuse her of dressing up for some “other man,” or he’ll just tell her she looks like crap anyway—so there’s no point in trying anymore.  
Sweatpants are her new best friend.
She doesn’t call anymore because she’s embarrassed by her life. That wonderful guy she bragged about in the beginning has turned into a monster. And she knows that if her friends knew how bad things were, they’d think she was just as stupid as he says she is—and maybe she is. After all, she still loves him. So maybe she’s getting exactly what she deserves. At least that’s what she thinks.
You don’t see her as much because that’s what abusers do: They isolate their victims from friends and family. They do it subtly, though. He’d never go so far as to say that she isn’t allowed to see you—that’s too direct and he’s much smarter than that. Instead he manipulates her into staying away by doing things like picking a fight with her when she comes home.  That way, the next time you invite her out, she’ll decline in order to avoid another fight. Or he’ll accuse her of loving her friends more than him. So that she’ll stay home instead of upsetting him. He uses her love for him like a weapon.
And those fights she’s so eager to avoid? “Fight” isn’t exactly the right word, not when she always ends up sprawled on the floor. At first, it was more yelling than anything. She could hold her own back then. She always did have an acid tongue. But then he became cruel, saying things that cut her to her core. And he twisted her words and used them against her.  And all the while, he was playing the wounded one who couldn’t understand how she could treat him so badly when he loved her so much. There were the accusations and recriminations, wild scenarios forged in the deep valleys of his twisted mind. Her smart mouth never stood a chance against his emotional brutality.
By the time the first punch landed on her jaw, her psyche had been beaten to a pulp. And don’t be fooled by the shell of a woman you just saw at the grocery store. She used to fight back. She even got a few good punches in, especially that first time. But he’s stronger than her. Bigger than her. He’s been throwing punches all his life and she never even got a spanking as a child, so she never stood a chance against him physically, either.
You ask yourself, If it’s so bad for her, why didn’t she say something to me? I was right there! We’ve been friends since childhood. Surely she knows that I would help her!
Does she know that, though? Does she really? Or does she look at you, her childhood friend, and remember the time you said, “I don’t understand why women stay with men who hit them”?
Remember when the Ray Rice abuse story first broke, and you all were having drinks? Remember what you said? You said, “If a man beats me once, shame on him; if he beats me twice, shame on me. That woman was an idiot for marrying him after what he did to her in that elevator!”
Your friend remembers those words. And even though she knows you love and support her, she can’t help but wonder how she’d change in your eyes if you knew what was really happening. Understand that she wants desperately to leave her current situation, but doesn’t know how. She may also be convinced her abuser will hurt whoever does try to help her. Remember, he’s in her head, even when he’s not beating her.
Trust your instincts, though. You know your friend. And from that encounter in the store, you know that something is definitely wrong. So please, don’t be afraid to follow up with her.
Start with a phone call. But ease into it: Don’t immediately launch into how you think she’s being abused, or anything like that. If her abuser’s at home when you call, she won’t say anything of substance, anyway. You simply want to convey the message that you’re concerned and want to help. Keep your words loving and gentle—and pressure-free.
Say something like, “I know you’re busy now. But when you have a few minutes to yourself, give me a call. I’m worried about you and want to help. I love you.”  Keep the call brief, but be clear: You’re worried, you want to help, and you love her.
If she doesn’t call back right away, call her again. Keep reaching out to her. Try to reach her when you know she’s alone or at least away from him. Remember, your goal is to help, not endanger her any further.
Be prepared for her denials. Shame, guilt, fear, and even worry for your safety will keep her from opening up to you. Just gently remind her that if she’s in the kind of trouble you suspect, she has no reason to be ashamed. You love and respect her, and just want to help.
The reality is that gentle persuasion may not work. Real intervention, possibly involving law enforcement may be required. If that’s the case, don’t attempt to handle this on your own. Involve other friends and family, and most importantly, seek professional guidance from the experts. Call the National Domestic Hotline at 1-800-779-7233. Let the experts help you help her.
You need to know that an abuse victim leaves her abuser on average seven times before she leaves for good. So, even if your friend leaves this time, she may go back. This is where your friendship will really be tested. You’ll be disappointed and even angry that, after all the work you did to help her escape, she willingly goes back. And your anger is understandable.
But an abuser’s most lethal weapon is his ability to manipulate his victim’s mind. Breaking his hold on your friend will take time, patience, professional help, and a whole lot of hard work on her part. You just have to keep loving and supporting her, even when she disappoints you. 
Try to resist judging her: It will only make things worse.
It’s painful to watch someone you love suffer domestic abuse. It’s also hard to understand why women stay with or return to the men that hurt them. But leaving is far more difficult than people think. Fear, lack of financial resources, and shame are just a few of the reasons women stay (or return). If children are involved, it’s even more complicated. Many women truly have nowhere to go. Shelters fill up fast and are few and far between. And sadly, as far as we’ve come in this country with regards to strengthening laws to protect women, it’s still way too easy for abusers to track down their victims and murder them. So some women just stay, hoping to survive another day.
As friends and supporters of abuse victims, we need to be more educated about the dynamics and mechanics of domestic violence. And most of all, we need to shed our own preconceived notions about the victims. They need our support and empathy. I learned that the hard way. I used to sit in judgment of women who stayed with their abusers, too. And I stayed on that high horse until the man I loved knocked me off with a punch.
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