Sunday, September 26, 2010

patriarchy,clan, people, organisations ... not in that particular order

No, this post is to not bash either patriarchy or clannish culture. I have not posted for quite a while and have been busy with my consulting work with organisations. As I was looking back at some of the experiences in the past, I was struck by certain themes that seem to be repeated in many organisations, in groups of people and in our daily lives.

theme number one is "Hierarchy" - Socialism or communism or many other isms may be spreading the word of classless system or society, the concept of hierarchy is exceptionally strong in people's mind. Many people and organisations that I come across, do dislike the idea of hierarchy when they look at the concept on paper , at least they consider it to be less desirable over other qualities. However, in their own behaviour with their own people or even among themselves, the idea of hierarchy remains very strong and it is all pervasive. It is present in the way they control information, they way they compete with each other, the way they would seek or demand services of who they believe are service providers, etc ... and the list is endless.

Hierarchy does provide us with a sense of structure and consequently the safety and security of a given structure. It also binds our freedom, movement and choice making as per the norms of the structure.

What I have been finding interesting is how people perceive hierarchy from an outside in location where most find it less desirable, and how most people are almost blind to it when it resides in their own psyche. It seems as though the safety and security of the hierarchy are internalised but the rigidity and the oppression are externalised or projected out. This way, others can always be blamed for holding us captive while we do not have to take responsibility of our own captivity simultaneously.

The second theme seems to be "benevolence": this in a way is a by product of hierarchy - benevolence can be shown in many ways. In most work systems, some of the ways benevolence is shown are by being socially polite to people, by being supportive in times of crisis, by offering facilities and social stature and by providing a patient hearing to people's complaints and grievances. Often, in many organisations and system I have experienced, these are held with high degree of positivity and pride and so they should be as these are well intended gestures and intentions. However, in many organisations and in many groups, there runs a subterranean culture which often demands in return of those above, absolute obedience and silent acceptance of lack of justice. Often people in this culture are treated like "less than" but they will rarely be dignified by stating that up front. Resultantly, people will sense the indignity but since the above ground culture is strongly protective and benevolent, they will feel confused and will have self doubt or would blame themselves for not being good enough for the system; because they believe a benevolent system can not be unjust. Hence the culture of "not being good enough" can be a strong stick to beat people with in a benevolent culture while "we will be there for you in crisis" or "we are like one big happy family" will be the carrot to keep people within the fold.

I am watching some of these processes with avid fascination as these keep people in a stronghold and consequently finding an identity for the self as also for the group becomes synonymous with betraying the system, be it family, be it work organisation and be it relationships. Finding an identity would mean that one has to simultaneously look at the self, its own need, potency, desires, sense of respect for self and at the same time has to take into account the systemic need for compliance, conformity, collaboration and respect for systemic authority. It therefore is not very easy to straddle both the horses and often many people, groups or organisations find it easier to ride one rather than holding the tensions of the opposites alive.

what are your views on hierarchy, benevolence, etc? what other processes do you see in your respective systems? I would love to hear your stories and insights.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Amazing women in my life - part 4

This story is about B .... she was born in erstwhile Bangladesh, eldest of three sisters. She grew up being educated in the village school and finished her Matriculate. The stories that I heard from her about those days, were full of her liveliness, her feeling one with nature, her writing poetries, her curiosity about people, life and the world in general. She loved teaching and did not really care about getting married.

But this was not to be ... being the eldest of three sisters and remaining unmarried and blocking the queue was not a conceivable idea for a girl some seventy five years ago. To top it, her father was not really a very efficient person who looked after the family well, hence the mother grew more and more anxious.

B was quite a plane jane to look at and she was dark. But one asset that she had was her hair, which went below her knee, long, black, thick, shiny, straight hair.

Being poor, her parents were worried about getting their daughters married off and in came a proposal from another family of the same community. The man was slightly older, very fair, could hardly speak Bengali, was a city bred and a practicing criminal lawyer. The only taint that he had was that his family had a kind of ill repute vis-a-vis marriages, etc and people were not very keen to send their daughters to this family.

However, B's parents could not say no to such a proposal as he seemed too good to be true. Besides, they had other two daughters waiting in line. Hence, to clear the line, B was married off much against her wishes and she gradually accepted her fate.

She came to Kolkata with her husband and discovered that while he earned a lot, he had almost zero savings and would spend his earnings with his friends drinking and playing cards, etc.

She decided to change the state of affairs ... it was not an easy task but she did not give up. To make matters worse, she became pregnant and slowly discovered to her horror that remaining pregnant was the order of the day as she often was forced into marital rape as per her account.

She tried to look after the children - all nine of them - as much as possible - she did not allow them to go astray, she did not leave them and went away with her mother which could have easily been done as her mother could not see her daughter's condition deteriorate any further.

Her days would pass trying to organise and keep her family together between her husband's psychological disturbances, to his erratic earnings and frequent non earning phases. She kept up feeding, clothing, educating all nine children and perhaps treated them a little too harshly lest they went astray. She succeeded, most of her children became well educated and became successful professionals in their own right.

Then slowly nature started taking its toll, gone was the free flowing, determined, life loving woman and was replaced by a angst ridden, neurotic person who lived either in the past regret or in the fear of the future. Her children for who she spent her youth, started turning away from her as they too could not deal with her anxiety, her neurosis of keeping some fights alive among her children, her paranoia about outsiders which prevented her children from brining any friends home or having any fun at home. She even prevented brothers and sisters playing with one another.

The time I got to know her, she was in her fifties, and obviously she did not take kindly to me as i was dating one of her sons and later married. My relationship with her remained tumultuous as she could never trust me with her well being, nor did she make any effort of providing me with any affection. While this made me feel angry and unhappy with her, I later realized that she did not have the wherewithal to trust anyone with her well being, not her husband, nor her children, nor her own sisters. Continuously dealing with anxiety and uncertainty had pushed her into such a corner, that coming back was very difficult.

I got to see her for about 15 years during my courtship and later days and there was these rare moments when I would get a glimpse of that teenager who loved to be one with nature, who would be curious like a child and who would want to write poems and show them around shyly and would dream about better days. Those were the days that I really loved her, though I never told her that as she would have never believed me and would have created a new drama from her paranoia.

I sometimes wondered, what would have happened had she received a different life where she could have steered the ship herself and made her life worthwhile. It was a pity to see a talented person filling her life with regrets and bitternes while there was a huge potential for her to be a great teacher, a poet and a philosopher.

B died suddenly, one afternoon in a heart attack, as though that was the last game that she played with others.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

to deal with ghosts of the past!

Had a chat with a few colleagues and friends this evening.  The chat was intended towards finding an arrangement for a business proposition, but before that it was focused towards looking at the emotional tonality lying around.  What came about were the past hurts, reactivity and mistrust that were lying around, willingness to bring in some clarity about the way forward and some new resolutions.

This process evoked many things in me .... some relief, some clarity, some resolution, some understanding of where others are located in their mind, and some emotional turmoil with a certain intensity.  I chose to not engage in an emotional drama but to engage with the process of clarifying and understanding what was happening and what issue belongs to who or to what context.  I also acknowledged that while I had a greater intellectual clarity, I have to let the emotional turmoil take its time to settle down, and find a new level of balance within myself.

At the end of it all, it has left me with a sense of internal control that I may not have experienced earlier.  What threw me off balance internally were the past ghosts of perception about me by others.  These ghosts don't need too much time to jump up from their dark shadowy corners to jump at me, crowd around and fill me with their whispering bitter voices that say " see this is what others think of you ... we told you so, how dare she/he ... blah, blah, blah ...

Usually there are two unsuccessful ways I deal with these ghosts.  One is to listen to them and allow them to overpower me with bitternes, remorse, anger and reactivity; the second is to tell them to go away and then tell myself that they don't exist, but simultaneously keeping a small voice alive inside which whispers:"may be some of what these ghosts bring are true.  is it true?  can it be so?" and so on and so forth.

today I decided to do neither.  I listened to the ghosts and asked them stand aside and did not shut the door on them;  I also listened to the other voice of the critique which usually commands me to get on with life, to move on, to not make an issue out of anything; I asked it too to stand aside.  I then became my spokesperson who was compassionate to both how I was feeling emotionally and understanding and accepting what my rationality was telling me.  I also looked around - these people were my friends and colleagues - they were not my enemies - they were expressing their deep sense of anguish and hurt and disappointment and anger over something that happened to them and it involved me to an extent.  Could I understand and grace that?  Yes, I could.

Could I also grace my frazzled emotional state rather than telling it to shut up and critique it?  I did.  I felt what I was feeling, did not hide it, neither did I let it take over the entire reality and paint it only with its intense emotional tonality.

Then I spoke to my friends telling them how I understood what they had felt and went through.  At the same time, there was an intensity of feeling that I had and tht I needed time to let it take its course, take time and settle down.  That I did not intend to let the feeling dictate my action, nor did I allow my dry logical critical self override my emotional self.  I accepted and graced both and I felt good towards myself.

I am writing this post to also put this out in the open to all of you as this process helps me to reach out to others without filtering or without shame.  

I would love to hear about your experience; do you encounter old ghosts?  What do they tell you?  What is your relationship with them?

How do you deal with them?




Sunday, September 05, 2010

What is your idea of peace for yourself?

This question is not about the macro context, of what is happening in the wider context, in the community, in the country or in the world.  This question is asked more from  a fantasized dreamy personal point of view, i.e. when we think of peacefulness for ourselves, what is the idea, thought, imagery, visual for ourselves?

for me, peacefulness for myself brings up imagery of water, shades, trees, nature, quietude, alone amidst modest facilities or infrastructure. lots of sky around, sound of water but not with a sea in front.

place would have red flooring, old styles, may be tiled roof, coconut trees, (sounds like Kerala, na?) - cool breeze, birds chirping around, play of sun and shadow.

what is or are your dreamy peace visuals? 


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Being Female!

I was quite stirred by an article called “Unwanted daughters” by Harsh Mander in the Hindu Sunday Magazine dated 29th August, 2010  on a major recent study done on female feticide in India by Action Aid India and International Development Research Centre, Canada. 

The article among  disturbing facts like methods of killing the female child, neglect, illegal connivances of doctors and nurses, etc also talks about some interesting explanations cited up by the study that they believe perpetuate this evil norms in India.  The explanations talk about the paradox that how some of the progressive policies of the Government such as inheritance rights for women, higher age for marriage, etc make them much more of an economic burden to the families as further expenditure on the girl and any property owned by them would only benefit the husband’s family after marriage as also that the woman’s physical capabilities like child bearing, productive abilities, caring abilities become the property of the husband’s household.  Hence the article goes on to say that the female feticide is taking place  more out of economic and material reasons rather than a desire for make child over female ones. 

The articl  then goes on to suggest as to how only through long term social reforms such as society changing their view of women, parents willing to live with their daughters in the old age, stoppage of dowry and other practices and enhancing the social and economic power of women within families can bring about any changes in this most heinous  and inhuman practices in our society. It also brought the fact to the fore that some of urban areas and the educated class are also very much part of the female feticide trend. 

After I read the article, I was with two contradictory emotions, one was of understanding and some empathy for the families who were killing their female infants (understanding and empathy would not tantamount to supporting them) and the other was a slight hopelessness and shame as to whether our society will ever be able to look at itself differently and even if it does, how will it take for us to bring any changes in these customs and how aware are we, the so called educated and progressive part of the society which has at least in paper, the capacity to influence positive social reforms through activism, practice and awareness. 

While pondering over these, I also thought another incident that I was a part of in the recent past. 

I was working with a multinational organisation where large number of men and women work together.  The group that I worked with had the following demographic data: their average age is between 25 to 35, average education qualification ranges from postgraduate to MBA from prestigious institutions, most of them come from middle or upper middle class, most of them live in metros and have lived there for most of their lives, their take home salaries range between Rs. 15 to 30 lacs per annum.   The group had about forty percent women and sixty percent men. 

While working with this group, a particular narrative triggered off a question for them to explore the psychological status given to femininity in the organisation and we suggested that perhaps the status given to females and femininity in the minds of people (both men and women) were lower than the masculine traits and qualities.  This created a furore in the group and many of them, especially some women were outraged that we could even hint at a possibility like this in their organisation context, while some others agreed with the hypothesis.  

During a subsequent dialogue some of them argued that they never experienced any discrimination either during their growing up years nor do they experience any discrimination in their work places.  What was hard for them to understand that even if they did not personally experience this differentiation, that there was a strong possibility of its presence in their organisation context and that it was probable that they themselves would be blind to their own biases and prejudices.  The data that they presented in the context of the workshop, however, pointed towards a generally held psychological bias more towards masculine attributes and qualities as more desirable as compared to feminine attributes and qualities.  The argument presented to them was that since both men and women would possess both masculine and feminine attributes in themselves, whether it was worthwhile for them to explore whether such a bias existed in the group and the repercussion of it in their work context.  

This has been my experience in not only this organisation but in working with groups both within a work context or outside, that while most  people  condemn the overtly displayed patriarchal norms of unjust and  inhibiting practices, they often remain blind to their own biases and prejudices.  Most do not take into account that most of us in the world today are products of the patriarchal culture, values and norms and that our belief system, biases, assumptions and practices would be highly impacted by the super structure of the context.  Hence injustice towards  anyone who is weak in the eyes of the powers that be in any context when happening somewhere else, is easier to condemn but when it is happening within me or in my personal context by me towards others, or vice versa or towards others, we are often blind to it. 

If I were to talk about myself, I became painfully aware of my own biases towards femininity when I was looking at strong biases held by people and by me shortly after the 26/11 incident in India.  It is in my blog post called "Communalism Revisited" (   

I believe that today being female is not just about having a strong voice, opinion, capabilities, competence, financial power, status and power, but also about being self reflective, being sensitive to the larger context and towards oneself, having a sense of respect towards self as well as towards others irrespective of their social class or milieu and above all, living with a sense of conviction, commitment and responsibility towards oneself and towards the context, and living with this question: How do I wish to live? What is the quality of life that I wish to build around myself and around others, what responsibility do I have towards the larger context and finally what am I owing up and what am I disowning?

And needless to say the same argument holds true for men as well but I believe women of today need to be more aware of what is happening within as much as they need to be aware of what is happening outside.  

What has been your experience?  I would be interested to know and be happy if you share.  :-)