Thursday, September 17, 2009

Small-mindedness: One of life’s biggest tragedies

Last week’s blog post evoked an interesting, variety of responses - a revealing ride into human mindsets. We all know that it takes all sorts to make the world. And I feel that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. My parents have always said, “Personal experiences and conscience influence how people express themselves in any situation.” I couldn’t agree more.

Constructive criticism is key to growth. To be honest, my “curious” gray cells would perish, if I didn’t get alternative viewpoints, in a civil fashion. No one knows everything and nobody in the world can always be right. Only a schmuck can afford to believe that they know best. And, as clich├ęd as it may sound, there are two sides to a coin—meaning two perspectives, at a minimum, on any given issue. To remain grounded and to evolve, we all need intelligent and honest people around us, who can expose us to an angle different from what’s integral to our own belief system.

That said, as a writer, what I took away most, from my blog last week, was a revelation: How fortunate am I to be blessed with a family that is open-minded – on both my side and my husband’s side. These are people who have nurtured astuteness and encouraged inquisitiveness. My family has always been cognizant of the knowledge-hungry, philosophical, sociological, and human rights activist side of me. I, almost never, accept what’s presented to me unless it’s backed with logic and reasoning. At the same time, I have been taught to NEVER discard the garb of respect while expressing my curiosity.

When my brother and I were kids, he would tease me that I should wear a chain around my neck with either a mini dictionary or an encyclopedia as a pendant. That way I could find answers, to my umpteen questions, in moments. ☺ I remember, even as a pre-teenager, this one time, I was extremely upset to find out that one of my widowed aunts had to give up non-veg after her husband passed away. Not because she wanted to but because the society expected her to. Really? Like eating meat would translate to her mourning any less? It seemed iniquitous, so I discussed it with my parents. My father patiently answered my questions and conceded that the system was insipid, but in the same breadth he explained the expectations of the Indian society and why this ritual was carried out. By the way, respect was never lost in this communication. Neither did my parents think, that as a person from the younger generation, I had no right (or mental capacity) to question the norm nor did I express my disagreement, with the societal rules, in a discourteous fashion.

To me, the world would be a mundane place, if there was no desire to know more. How do you progress if people were mentally content with what was presented to them? Homo sapiens are where we are today because few of our ancestors weren’t satisfied with what they had. And thank you for not accepting what you had and thinking progressively! If Steve Jobs hadn’t thought of revolutionizing the available technology and inventing chic Apple products, the world would have never known what an iPod or MacBook Air feel like (As an ardent Apple devotee, the one fact I can tell you is that they are divine!)

I am deeply indebted to my family for cultivating a non-judgmental and sound outlook. It helps me remain objective through a lot of situations. I know that intimidation and fear can’t earn you respect and neither can, “Do it because I told you so.” When my ten and seven-year old nieces say something, I hear them out and don’t dismiss their stance just because they are decades younger than I am. In fact, I learn a lot from them because their side represents their generations’ viewpoint. It nudges me to think beyond what I know or have experienced. My father has always taught me that everyone has something to share so hear him or her out. Age, gender, race, and class shouldn’t be used as a discriminating factor against opinion.

More until next time.


Copyright © 09.17.2009

“I am not young enough to know every thing”
- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How can we feel guilty when you started it?

When I was working on my master’s thesis at Columbia University, I did extensive research on the dynamics of “empty-nest syndrome,” amongst Indian parents whose children live abroad. Empty-nest syndrome is the name given to a psychological condition that can affect a woman around the time that one or more of her children leave home. [1] For women in their 50s and above in India, the syndrome affects a little more adversely because majority of women from my parents’ generation were housewives. They were trained to take care of their homes and families. Most of them took a great deal of pride in what they cooked for their families or the crochet pieces they made for their furniture or the blooming roses in their garden. 

But time flies. Children grow up and husbands get more involved with their career. With husbands still busy and kids away, the same women begin to feel redundant. The basic duties and acts that made them feel important their entire lives, in some ways, diminish with age. The children don’t need their moms in the ways their mothers would like to be needed. All of a sudden, the women have too much time on their hands and an underutilized brain. And this is when things begin to go downhill. The expectations begin.

Every family is different, and I feel blessed for not facing certain pressures, but I have very dear friends who are constantly emotionally blackmailed about living away from India. Every phone call to India translates into, “You should move back now.” Again, this pressure has nothing to do with parental health issues or any tragedies back home (THANK GOD!); it’s about the women in the older generation feeling forlorn. But weren’t you the ones who sent your children abroad? So why do you call your own children selfish? Why did you teach them to dream or aspire if you wanted to dictate their date of departure and return? Is the guilt of creating “nuclear families” catching up with you now that you are at the receiving end?

I am honestly baffled. In some ways, isn’t all this solitude self-invited? Wasn’t it my parents generation that adapted the concept of “nuclear families” and held it close to their heart like the sacred testament? Didn’t their generation popularize “Hum Do Hamaare Do?” In their youth, they left their families behind in small towns and villages and moved to bigger cities and sometimes countries to find opportunities. Why? Because every generation wants to provide the generation after theirs with the best. They wanted to make a better life for themselves and desired to give the best to their children. And we all express our gratitude for it.

I cannot emphasize enough that I am not blaming anyone here. I am trying to understand the altered outlook of the people, who started the trend of moving away, in search of a break. Why is my age group expected to feel culpable for following in the footsteps of their elders? Aren’t we doing what we saw growing up - working towards a good life, so we can provide for the family back home and for our children?  The deed remains unchanged, so don’t call us avaricious and yourself as the sacrificial goat. If anything, my generation keeps the parents more involved than they ever could with their own families.

At the time when our parents were starting their lives, technology wasn’t on their side, so they weren’t able to communicate with their families back home for weeks and sometimes months. Lot of people didn’t even have telephones at homes while my generation, irrespective of their family's location, talks to them a few times a week. Technology allows being able to see each other too! And enables the ability of being involved in each other’s day-to-day activities.

Today, the only difference is that geographic boundaries have dissipated so instead of moving from Bareilly to Mumbai, the move might be from New Delhi to California or London.  It’s the same action; just a different generation. Don’t call it abandonment when we do it and sacrifice when you did it.

More until next time.

Copyright © 09.10.2009

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes, they forgive them.” Oscar Wilde quotes


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Are we killing our parents?

No culture is perfect. It’s up to us, as individuals, to pick and choose the best elements representative of the east and the west. For instance, I respect most of the values of the east and cherish the feeling of familial-bondage. In the same breath, I also admire how age isn’t a deterrent for any dreams in the west, and I am beginning to appreciate what the west teaches you about dependency.

I am reading a book by Daniel Gilbert called “Stumbling on Happiness.” The author mentions an interesting study in which elderly folks, at a local nursing home, were given a houseplant and divided into two groups. Half the residents were told that they were in control of the plant’s care and feeding (high-control group), and they told the remaining residents that a staff would be responsible for their plant (low-control group).

End result: Six months later, 30% of the residents in the group with lower control died compared with only 15% of their counterparts with high control much sooner than their counterparts in the low-control group. According to the study described by the author: “Human beings come in to this world with a passion for control, they go out of the world the same way, and research suggests that if they lose their ability to control thing at any point between their entrance and exit, they become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed.”

I don’t get why kids treat their parents and their parents’ generation as old. Sometimes I understand the feelings behind their emotions, but I still don’t get it. People start giving their parents permissions and disallowing them certain acts because they think it’s not safe for them. And why, because they feel they are getting old. Caring is one thing but overdoing it by treating them like invalids, even if unintentionally, is another. Respecting your elders doesn’t mean you have to map their lifestyle for them. It bothers me when my generation decides when they can start telling their parents what’s best for them. Or constantly obsess about how they need attention and their health is failing. And most of us don’t even live with them. Who gave us that right? A friendly reminder: Our parents are older than us and like it or not, they are entitled to their decisions. And the repercussions of those decisions.

A substantial number of my husband’s aunts and uncles live in the west. Knock on wood; they are all agile and so in tune with the world. They understand and participate in what their children are doing. They have an opinion on what Iran’s policies are or whether Obama was the right choice for the presidency. And shouldn’t it be that way? Their children don’t treat them like old or constantly remind them that they are dependent. Society expects them to chip in with their bit and reminds them age is a state of mind. They are sixty plus people working jobs, managing homes, social lives, and family and all with minimum support. I swear, they look ten years younger than their relatives, of the same age or younger, back in India. They know they are important and age has nothing to do with their desires or dreams.

And how do you define old? To me, anything below 75-80, isn’t old. In our Indian culture, when we make people dependent on ourselves, aren’t we insinuating they aren’t self –sufficient? Why keep suggesting they need to relax and calm down? It’s their life and if they want to go parasailing at seventy, who are we to stop them?

I loathe conversations that center around treating parents as six-year olds. I am sorry, I refuse to. My parents will always be my parents. I will always argue with my father and get into cultural debates because I always have. What’s changed today? That he’s older than sixty? So I should watch what I say? Baloney! The day I stop being his child and start to act as his parent, it’ll perish him. Of course, as my parents get older, (so do I), I feel more compassionately towards them. Endearing maybe but not sympathetic because there is nothing to commiserate. Age is nothing to be mourned. Do we not realize that we stifle their existence by smothering them with our fear? Fear of losing them. In the process, we kill them even before they die. I know, even at my age, when I am sick and people nag me to do things, it aggravates me. Neither am I stupid nor am I ignorant. I understand my responsibility towards myself and the people in my life so don’t treat me like I don’t have a brain of my own. What makes you think our parents feel any differently?

More until next time.

Copyright © 09.03.2009

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." ~Mark Twain