Tuesday, March 30, 2010

what is it that prevents us from self caring?

i have not been exercising for the last five months - before that i have been a regular gym person with a personal trainer and i felt great.  every morning going to the gym was a chore but i dragged myself there and went through the rigorous routine.  at the end, i felt energetic and good.

i have also not been singing - for a long time - i have the harmonium at home - no one tells me not to. in fact friends complain and nag but i don't.  my vocal chords have not given up on me, they still sound great when i sing, but i have, on them.

i learnt yoga, meditation and chanting and when i practice them, i feel great but i have never been able to do them continuously for even five days.

i am supposed to take some vitamins and other medication to keep up the general well being (especially at this stage of my life) and i don't take them regularly.  the only medication i take regularly and without fail is my thyroid medication because it is otherwise i will become "fat".

i have often not understood the nature of this resistance. this resistance of not looking after oneself, of not  being regular about keeping one's own physical well being as a priority.

and i have seen this in so many women, younger, older, earlier generation, my generation, next generation, cutting across economic and other social classes .... very similar.  they have manifested themselves in many ways --- through no regular or no medical check ups, addictions, ignoring early warning signs of impending illness, not providing enough nutrition to oneself,  demanding or seeking very little emotional nurturance .. i can go on.

it is perhaps easy to dump all of the above only to the social coding for women, to patriarchal systems, values and frames.  And to a large extent it is so, but i think that this is a fairly simplistic way of looking at this issue!

some of my own inferences about this are:

1.  perhaps partly based on some of the social psychological conditioning, some women have not learnt to value her own life as much as she values the lives and well being of her loved ones.  it is easy to look at her as the ever sacrificing mother but may be it is more than just sacrifice.  Sacrificing one's life is a matter of giving up something which is of value, only then the sacrifice makes sense.   But here i am arguing that the question of sacrifice does not even arise as here the life is not valued much, here it is others' lives which are of value.

2. what is valued are perhaps what some of us seek:  whether we are needed or not, whether we are desired  or not, whether we are of service or not, whether we are loved or not, whether we are important to others or not, whether, whether, whether??

3. i also believe that simultaneously in the modern urban educated class we have learnt to value our products, our competence, our intellect, our ability to create, our ability to provide for, to support, to demands and protests on behalf of the system, our ability to build; a lot of our power we have learnt to value.

4. When it comes to caring for the self, there is perhaps  a sense of shame attached -  although for me and for a lot of other women I know this concept of shame does not manifest itself when it comes to our sensual and sexual parts ... taking care and embellishing ourselves come relatively easier than actually looking at ourselves as a human being who is important enough to be taken care of.  In so many of our cases, this taken care of is expected from others or it is relegated to one of the least priorities in our lives.  I wonder whether there is a fear (perhaps not even known to us) that if we do take care of ourselves fully, then we may not need anyone anymore?  is this a way of making ourselves a little more vulnerable than we actually are?  Is this our way of keeping ourselves "a little less than" to ourselves, lest we forget what we have been taught over centuries and find our own internal voice?

5. The last inference that I am making here is about being born as a woman and it is based on an ongoing discussion with a friend and some data from the lab that we have been running together for the last six years on gender.  In most of our work and also from my personal experience i see that there is a tremendous anger and resentment of having born as a woman, of being the disadvantaged one.    No doubt that given the social system and the history, this is a reality for many of us that stems from our personal life experience, but in today's context for many women, this is not a personal reality.  For many women today, certainly in the urban education part of our society, the experienced reality is more about being treated as an equal, of having opportunities, etc, and hence it may become even more difficult to even experience this disquiet as one's own.   During my work in corporate forums, with students from management schools, with professionals from NGO sectors,  from many conversation with women, I detect a sense of helplessness, a sense of choicelessness, and a sense of resentment and rage.  What is important and scary for me is that more often than not, this feeling is either not recognised or  denied or projected onto others and perhaps pushed deep down in our unconscious,  only to surface to propel us towards acquiring more power and prowess or towards blackmailing oneself of not being good enough in one's own esteem or holding conventional targets like the social system, patriarchy as solely responsible for our victimhood.  

I wonder how many of the above are linked to our sense of self neglect or whether there is a link at all? whether somewhere there is a fear that if we do make ourselves as priority number one then we may actually not need anyone anymore? perhaps there is a fear of actually owning up how self sufficient and complete we are in more ways than one? is this a way of making ourselves a little more vulnerable than we actually are? Is this our way of keeping ourselves "a little less than" to ourselves, lest we forget what we have been taught over centuries and find our own internal voice? Is there a fear of losing the world that we know of as of today and being 'home'less? i don't have the answers ...only have some guesses ... what about others who read this? what do you think?

Friday, March 19, 2010

do we really listen to others?

last night a dear friend stayed over ... in our chat many things floated in and out, relationships, man-woman, culture differences, kind of work we like to do, passion, being a maverick, death, life, love, parents .....

in one such chat, among many other things, my friend told me that she experiences me as someone who does not want to really listen when others tell her something positive about herself.  she also experiences me as someone who wants to hold on to a picture which is sepia coloured,  old, dog eared and tearing at the corner - worse, does not even look like her any more, but she insists that that is the only person that she recognises as herself, irrespective of what others are saying to her.

all of these rang true to my ear and i thought none of these are new and yet they are not causing any  distress as they do when i hear them from A.  As though receiving truth from someone in whom you have a high emotional stake is like taking bitter medicine and the responsibility of turning the medicine into sweet elixir or vanishing it into thin air lies with the other individual.

that set me thinking that when we are talking to people with whom we are very deeply involved, lovers, spouses, bosses, parents, friends, and whoever else - do we really listen?  I mean, do we have the emotional wherewithal to listen at that point of time when truth is being told, be it in a matter of fact way, or in anger or in resentment or in love ... do we really listen?  Or is it so that at the moment of listening, we are actually busy matching what is being said with the script that is running in our mind and feeling frustrated when it is not matching line per line?

I know i certainly do that most times.  Hmm,  well, i wonder whether this realisation will provide a little bit of peace to poor exasperated A? ha, ha, ha!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

of women and for women-domestic help - are we at war?

I have been living in a new building complex for a while now, about five months. This place has about 400 apartments and only about 40 families have moved in so far. Being a new place, naturally there is a scarcity of helping hands and all of us have been having a bit of trouble. the domestic help is hard to come by and even if one comes in, ends up asking for R.s 5000 for a part time job of 2 to 3 hours. People are settling down to Rs. 3000 to Rs. 4000 a month in front of such demands.

while this may sound like a crib club but i am not cribbing about the money -- my point here is that i do believe that the domestic help ought to be paid fairly and justly for their time, effort and for the emotional investments and that both for us and for them it is a up close and personal relationship. however, increasingly in many places what i witness is a relationship of mutual need with a underlying tonality of mistrust and resentment.

in my personal experience, both in Calcutta and in Bangalore (these are the only two cities i have lived so far), i have experienced domestic helps (all of them have been women for me) who are in dire financial needs. Some of them work because they have to earn money because the man in the house is an alcoholic/deserter/wife beater/waster/drifter - the children either studying or not working or if married, are still largely dependent on the mother for some sustainability. I have also experienced women who wishes to better their standard of living, to improve their living conditions and who is working alongside the husband/father/brother to generate the additional income.

when these women come to work, they come prepared to be treated as only a pair of hands and nothing else - and if by chance they are treated as something more than that, most feel overwhelmed, don't know how to receive and some even feel resentful about it.

when I look around me and talk to other middle class/upper middle class women, more often than not, i find many of us as apathetic and almost hostile to these women. some of us believe that these women are out to only extract and are to be treated as such. some believe that since we have to use their services, we may as well extract as much as we can, some of course believe that they should be treated well but only to the point so that they don't cross their boundaries. i do sense fear, resentment and anger from most women that i talk to.

I must also admit that this is not the only thing that i hear, i also hear from women about understanding them, helping them, working with them, etc, but rarely do i hear about a relatedness that comes from a connect between two women, irrespective of their social status.

i wonder whether some of these are legacies of our feudal heritage, our class consciousness, and whether there is something more to this than just the class and feudal system. May be there is our unexpressed anger about having to pay more than we believe they ought to be paid? is it the fear of being merged and being classless? Is it the fear of identification with these women which can evoke our own victim identity as women in our personal context?

I have both personally and professionally, come across many women in the middle and upper middle class whose victim hood is very similar to the stories that the other women tell, albeit the events unfold differently. the intrinsic processes of victim hood of a women and patriarchal social system is the same for both classes of women.

I believe some of the difficulties we are facing today vis-a-vis the domestic help issue is part of a struggle that we upper class women are afraid to touch - i.e. our own victim hood - that we face either personally or experience it on a daily basis through other women, in our social life, in the communities and in the world. the media brings it up close and personal at every moment, we face it at work, at home and even internally every time we feel shame and guilt because of who we are.

May be, if we were to own up our hidden shame and guilt about being the victim directly or indirectly, we could actually then identify with these women and regard them as part of our gendered community, who shares the same pathos, same sense of shame and guilt and same sense of helplessness, as also the same sense of resilience, same grit, same willingness to push through adversities, same sense of joy and the same emotional world . We would of course have our different ways of dealing with our victim hood in our lives but to acknowledge that at the core we are the same, may actually make us gain friends and compatriots rather than just a pair of hands, who we must be watchful about.

May be the other disconnect that some of us are facing is that it becomes difficult for us to accept that they too wish to upgrade the quality of their living process ... that they may also wish to work for that additional income, that they may also be aspirational just as much as we can be.

I also share and acknowledge that living in today's world, our identity is not just gendered, it is also impacted by our belonging system such as class, work place, community, language, educational history, etc, etc. and against this backdrop, comparison and identification with our domestic help seems distant and a bit impractical.

However, what i am trying to point out here is that when these people come to work at our home, don't we consciously or unconsciously expect them to treat our home as theirs, take care of it, look after its inhabitants and be respectful to it? to put it simply, we are expecting them to invest emotionally in our context, and i believe that most of them do. What they do at our home is in a way replacing the woman of the house (in a traditional sense) become her substitute; and doing that without any emotional involvement day in and day out, is a very tough job.

The question i am asking us, is what emotional investment apart from offering them help and aid, are we willing to make? What kind of relatedness are we building if we are not willing or not aware of this possibility of an emotional connect? do we even believe that it is necessary?

As for these women, perhaps for them to claim a little more space in our emotional world and simultaneously to allow us to be part of theirs, would be a first step.

the day we connect with them not just as employers and employees but as people of the same gendered community who share similar stories of love, longing, passion, desire, happiness and sadness, we may actually start liking ourselves better through their eyes and vice versa.

of women and for women

so the women's bill got passed in rajya sabha. feels good and i am quite impressed with sonia gandhi. the way she has been handling power is quite unprecedented certainly in that family but also among other politicos in india.

read one of the comments about the above by geetanjali kirloskar and she says she believes men and women are equal. i wonder when people make these statements, what are they really saying? from which point of view and what do they really mean? what does equality mean?

i just don't get it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

am I a good host?

recently had a chat with my cousin who sounded positive disappointed with my absence from the city while she is going to be around. in earlier times, i would be in a tizzy and obsessed about whether she judged me or whether she should have judged me, etc, etc. today i asked myself where does my priority in life lies?

today is one of those rare days when i am feeling nearly good! yippy!!

Monday, March 08, 2010

illegitimacies and identity

there have been countless times in the past when i have written my blog, in my mind, organised my thoughts, even put the lines the way i thought they ought to be; but never really "typing" them on this page, as i am doing now. why do i do this? well, in some ways, that is what i am going to write about.

i believe i am a woman of substance. I am over 51 years of age, live in India, been married, had a child, raised her, been divorced, been in relationships, worked full time as also loved, fought, claimed, offered, received, rejected, accepted, reached out, ran away, denied, acknowledged, hated, ignored, cared for and been loved.

i have had a difficult and a very interesting life .... difficult because that is how i feel about the experience, and interesting because it still fascinates me.

the idea of illegitimacy can occur in people's lives in many ways ... through owning and disowning, by status and power, and by being rejected and by rejecting. legitimacy in the sense that i am talking about is not about social status but also of what belongs where in our emotional world.

i remember as early back as when i was 3 years old, the status that i received from my father were that of "being his wife" and "his companion". my legitimate status of being his daughter was held in strong evaluation by him and was never approved. in fact he did not know how to approve as he always looked up to others for approval of himself. His legitimate role of being a father to me could not fulfilled by him emotionally and psychologically. he would use me to fulfill his aspiration of being approved by his highly disapproving family members and as a result, no matter what i did, it was never enough; i could never be a "good, desirable daughter'. what i mean by "his wife" and "his companion" is that he expected from me (as a child) to understand his pathos, his grief, his loneliness, to approve of him, to be his friend and companion and to redeem himself to an utterly unforgiving and insensitive family system.

the primary roles that emerged for me in my mind were as follows:

- the resourceful one and
- the rebellious one

they are a trifle contradictory to one another as being resourceful is not good enough if they are not being put to proper use in a context, and being rebellious did not offer enough scope to me to be a part of any context and put my resources to any use. in the world of action, thus, i remained a whole unto myself and kept testing, flirting, toying with the idea of being a part of a larger whole.

in the world of relationship then, being a rebel would mean always looking at what am i deprived of, and being resourceful would mean negotiating a place for me by being useful in the context. so metaphorically i would offer endless possibilities in a relationship, but in reality would block every avenue of any actual union and merger and a movement forward.

this is the illegitimacy of the identity that i am writing about. the illegitimacy is about not knowing what is your rightful place in a context and even if that is spelt out, how does one experience it the way it ought to be as i have had no positive experience of it in my growing up process from my primary and only care giver.

so i stumble, i fall, i get up again and start all over -- only to realise that i repeating the same thing over and over again -

what i have figured out as of now are some of the blocks ... one of them being a cruel and utterly insensitive attitude towards myself. when i am faced with a negative situation, i turn to myself like a hired assassin, a cruel and hostile killer, a tormentor, and i tear myself into pieces with a pervert glee which screams "you deserve it, you bitch".

i know when this entity came into my life ..as early as when i was 6 or 7 years old. i used to be beaten up by my aunt and other relatives quite mercilessly and at some of those moments, i would turn to them, tears in my eyes but with utter contempt on my face and would tell them "how much more will you beat me? at most, you will kill me, right?, go ahead, do it, but i will not listen to you...". i can see the same entity today who is saying the same thing today but this time, to me, to my other voices which are seeking a fundamental shift.

as of now i don't know what to do with this one .... except to be patient and loving to it. it has blazing eyes, its mouth curled cruelly upward, fists are clenched and the heart is beating fast, really fast and it is not ready to forgive anyone.

i can only wait, with love .....