Little ‘Great-Expectations’

It is no mystery that we live in a biased world. A world which is driven by stereotypes. This word has become so common these days. It finds a reference almost everywhere now. Articles, texts, movies, blogs, interviews, etc etc. Why I still decided to write about it was because of how apparent it becomes in our daily lives. A few days back I had attended a workshop which talked about people’s life stories. The idea behind it was to discuss how everyone has multiple stories and how stereotypes reduce their lives to single stories. It made me relate this discussion to an incident which had I had witnessed some time ago.

I had enrolled myself in a course where I had met a woman. Since she lived nearby, we would go back home together. The classes would end late in the evening and she would always be in a hurry to reach home in order to be with her children. On this one particular evening, the session went on for too long and exceeded its limit by an hour. This woman got really panicked because she was worried for her children. This made me sympathize with her. Till here everything seemed usual to me. Here I had a mother who was worried for her children being alone at night. Anybody would feel the same, right? I could picture my own mother going through this if she was in her place. It seemed like a narrative I knew. I completely understood the reason behind her concern. What surprised (and angered) me was the reason behind her fear.

Soon I figured that apart from getting worried for her children, she was being troubled by how her husband would react if he learnt that she had not reached home on time. In fact, trouble seems like a very mild word to use here. She was rather frightened. Her anticipation of the husband getting angry kept increasing her fear of reaching late. What added to my absolute surprise were the ‘solutions’ being given to her by this other woman who was also travelling with us. She advised the former to buy a few vegetables so that she could go home and tell her husband that she got late because she was getting them, and not because she was attending the session. Why all of this appeared silly to me was because everyone at her house knew that she had been going for these classes and that travelling from one place to another, with all the maddening traffic, takes time! So why go through all this trouble of arranging excuses? It did not even occur to any of them to ask the husband to try coming home early so that he could be with the kids. I mean, couldn’t he do it for just one day?! I could not help but tag this entire episode as ‘senseless’.

It took me a couple of minutes to come out of this judgement zone and try to understand her perspective. As the impulsivity washed out, a new concern started to emerge within me. It made me realize how this woman’s (and of so many others who live in this world) life has been reduced to a single story. She was a mother (in this particular story) who was supposed to be home on time, so as to be with her children. It was her responsibility to do so, not her husband’s. Since of course she was a ‘house-wife’. Now on the face of it nothing appears to be wrong with this expectation. It is so harmless. But as I thought more deeply about it, I realized how limiting this ‘harmless’ expectation can be. Since she was a mother, which by the way is just one of her multiple identities, she was expected to keep her children above her own self. And that too all the time! I thought to myself, “So what if she got late today? Can’t she at times do things which she likes?”.

I soon realized that this happened because ‘self-indulgence’, in general and especially for women, is so shamed in our society. It is viewed as being selfish. What we fail to notice is that everyone in this world is selfish because its a natural human trait! But because we pedestalize being a ‘mother’ so much, after a point we stop considering them humans. We stop looking at them as being as prone to all these ‘negative’ traits as the rest of us are. Thus, we end up putting the weight of all the moral responsibilities on their shoulders. This is apparent from the characteristics of a mother which have always got popularized in the discourse. Some of these include, ‘all-loving’, ‘self-sacrificing’, ’emotionally strong’, ‘morally accountable’, and etc etc. All heavy words! These expectations somewhere get internalized which make women feel guilty about doing things for themselves. It is painful to know that some of them actually consider themselves as ‘bad mothers’ at the thought of putting them above their children and family. Even if it is just for a few moments.

Maybe after reading this one would think, “Its not that bad. Not every woman thinks so dramatically. Most of them are quite chill these days. They do so many things for their own self”. Well, I think this picture needs to be questioned by not just superficially looking at overt behaviors, but the underlying implicit ideology of ‘motherhood’ which we keep propagating in one form or the other.



To Be Questioned…

‘Rakshabandhan’ is something that I have been religiously celebrating for the past 22 years. It is a festival of love, togetherness, and a little fun between the siblings. ‘Rakhi’ represents a bond of protection. Of course, it’s important for the sisters since they get to ask for amazing gifts from their brothers. It’s all nice and fun. At least that is what I had always seen it as.

I was just watching this particular advertisement which tried to use the ideology behind ‘Rakshabandhan’ in order to sell its product. That got me thinking. I realized something which may have crossed my mind before but I had never given it much importance.  After sitting with this thought for a while, I happened to ask myself, “Why do we only tie rakhi to our brothers? Or even fathers in some cases. Why don’t we tie them to our sisters or mothers?” I mean, our entire family wants to, and works very hard to, protect us. I am sure even my mom and my sister would go to great lengths to save me, if I am in some sort of trouble. I am sure my friends would do the same. So why does this festival (well, like many others) have a particular skewedness involved?

Now, I may not know the great mythological history behind this festival. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter to me. Why should I care about something which ‘apparently’ happened  gazillion years ago? I would rather not complicate life by these constructed notions of the past and just do things which make sense to me. So, in a very simple manner, ‘Rakshabandhan’ means a festival which you use as a way of acknowledging the people who have been there for you. Tying a rakhi on their wrist means that you appreciate their efforts and would continue to trust them in the future. It is just a way to thank them for being a part of your life and symbolizes a promise to continue this bond further. Thats it. Gender does not come in any of this. Of course you can, and should, tie rakhis to all the amazing people in your life. Why should it always be associated with brothers, or even sisters?  It can be for anyone. We do have friendship’s day for our friends, don’t we? If we don’t follow gender specific approach on that day, why should we do this here? ‘Rakshabandhan’ can be seen on very similar lines. It is simply a way of respecting and valuing the other.

I don’t want even this to be a subtle form of patriarchy which runs so solid in our veins that it does not even get noticed. This festival constitutes just a small part of a dense network which we all keep feeding in our daily lives. I am not saying that we should completely stop such practices. No. But we can begin by questioning them. At times, the basis and the current execution of things can be very different. We will never realize it if we just remain ignorant to how we function as a society. A suitable modification following such critical thoughts is all we need.

So yes, we all have to keep our eyes open and just question things before we accept them!

National Autism Awareness Month – April 2017

I believe that is is going to be a very important post. As everyone should already be aware of (but many won’t because well, we are ignorant as a society), April is ‘National Autism Awareness Month’. The major goal behind having this is to promote autism awareness and increase its acceptance in our society. In an attempt to do the same, I would try and explain what autism is. First, it’s officially referred to as ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’ which represents that it is a condition ( yes, I have issues with the word ‘disorder’) which has various manifestations. Hence, the word spectrum has been employed here. It is characterized by certain developmental delays and deficits in skills such as social interaction, emotional reciprocity and communication. Not going too much into the symptamotology, we’d instead try to understand what happens when someone has autism. Having it’s basis in neuro-biology (basically the brain and its parts), it makes it difficult for an autistic individual to engage in emotional exchange and other social skills like having conversations with others. Being a pervasive condition, it affects the person’s overall functioning. It won’t be very easy for them to meet and hang out with new people, to express themselves, to carry out certain daily activities like taking care of self and others, to immediately understand and respond to other’s feelings, etc. Of course this differs depending upon the degree. There are some people with ‘high functioning autism’ who have amazing cognitive abilities but probably fall short on the social skills.

Why autism awareness is important, especially in a country like India, is because there is already so much stigma attached to mental health and it’s issues that it gets very difficult for people with conditions like autism along with their families to live a dignified and peaceful life within a hostile society. People not only not accept them, but exercise marginalisation wherein they are excluded. People don’t want to engage with them in any manner. Instead, they’d either be scared of them or make fun of them. This indeed is very hurtful and shows how insensitive as a species we can get. Here comes the role of awareness. If people knew what autism is all about, they would realize that autistic children for example are not ‘dangerous’, ‘dumb’ and ‘mad’. They are just like other children. In fact, some of them are so intelligent and capable.  You just need to understand and accept them as they are. The ways in which they learn and respond to you would be a little different. You would probably have to be more patient around them and modify your ways of interaction according to their needs. But that’s it. Not such a big deal. I am sure this much all of us can do. In fact, I am not even asking everyone to especially go and spend time with them but, at least there could be a level of inclusivity on which we operate.

One of the most beautiful experiences which I’ve had with children was, in fact, with autistic children. While interning in a school, I happened to work with special needs children and would spend almost the entire day with them. The center had children with learning problems, autism, cerebral proxy, and other developmental conditions.  This was actually the first time that I was working with children so to say. I can still recall how nervous I was on my first day because I had always believed that being with children is not my cup of tea. I never took myself to be that patient, sweet and polite, all of which one needs to be with kids. I am so proud to say that on my last day there, I was crying my eyes out because I didn’t want to leave. First time in my life I had formed bonds so strong that it was almost impossible for me to even think of not seeing these amazing children everyday. When I left, it felt like I was leaving a part of me behind. Those kids still constitute one of the best memories I’ve made in my life till now. Just being with them, spending time with them would make me feel so happy. Their presence often had a calming effect on me somehow. I am so glad that I got to experience that.

Hence, I urge all the readers of this blog (and people they happen to discuss this with because that’s how it’ll spread!) to read more on autism. Try to understand what it is. This would help you in identifying the early signs through which you can suggest appropriate educational and skill developmental programs for such children.  If you can, visit schools and centers working so amazingly with autism. I, myself, am so proud of some of my friends who do absolutely brilliant work with autistic children and adolescents. Go ahead, spread awareness, and help India to fight the stigma attached to autism.

And as you do that, do spread the word!

Why so ‘formal’?!

I have never been a fan of wearing formals. In fact, I absolutely hate them. I somehow feel that they stripe me off my individuality because that’s just not me. Being at a point in my life where I sit for interviews, very often I am advised by others to dress up ‘appropriately’ for them.  Wearing my usual clothes is not accepted. Jeans and shirt could be an issue but oh yes, if you wear a kurti probably, it’s cool with them. I love wearing both equally. At times when I feel ethinic, I do go for the pretty Indian attire, but I also love wearing my usual jeans and shirt. What I don’t understand is how people equate one’s clothing with their efficiency or even discipline. Why would people think that someone wearing shorts would not be as hard working or as capable as someone who dresses up in formal pants? I mean, shouldn’t you instead be concentrating on their achievements, interests and the subject knowledge? Beats me. But of course, being a very small part of the system, though I try to fight and question this ideology, I can only cause change in my life. So individually I don’t really apply to places which follow this strict dress code because I don’t see an organisation-candidate fit here at all. I mean, I won’t be able to work in such an atmosphere where I am not allowed to express myself freely. What you wear is an expression of your personality no? It’s as much a part of me as my opinions or actions are. Though I am not satisfied with it and of course it means loss of good opportunities for me, I (try to) deal with it.

But there is a larger ideology here. Having studied it closely, I have come to realise that we are a society which opperates on symbols. This is reflected in almost all spheres. Take politics for example. Unless you given an explicit proof of your ‘nationalism’ either by standing up for the national anthem or by a compulsory shouting of “Bharat mata ki jai!”, you aren’t seen as having any sort of national identity. Instead, someone who doesn’t believe in showcasing their love for the county through overt means is tagged as an ‘anti-nationalist’. Similarly, someone who doesn’t hug their loved ones or say “I love you” to them regularly, is termed as not having feelings. There are many such examples in all fields. What they inherently showcase is our obsession with symbols. Acts described above become physical proof or validation of our thoughts. Anyone who doesn’t display or use these symbols is seen as deviant. And it doesn’t come as a surprise that we don’t like deviancy. Now whatever is not ‘normal’ is ‘abnormal’. Having uniforms in schools, though has its own merits, also comes from a similar ideology. It is generally believed that if the students wear same clothes, they can be kept on a common ground and that would promote cohesiveness among them. This seems alright on the surface but eventually what this unconscious priming also does is take away the liberty of expression. In the race to achieve uniformity, we kill the uniqueness present in everyone. These are subtle attacks on one’s freedom which might in the future take a form of a bigger issue wherein as a society we lose the ability to appreacite differences. Deviancy makes us uncomfortable which may lead to the road of intolerance.

Apart from the dress code, these symbols also come to be applied on the ‘behavior code’. You are supposed to sit a particular way, talk in a particular way, smile in a particular way and God knows probably even breath in a particular way.  Honestly, I don’t even understand some of these norms because they are so baseless most of the time. So yesterday I was taking an exam. It was an online exam so we were sitting on those metallic chairs, in front of our PCs. With absolute no intention to destroy the decorum of the room but only because of the constant mosquitoe attack on them, I put my feet on the chair (my own duh). Half way through the exam my invigilator came up to me and whispered, ” Ma’am sir keh rahe hai ki normal tareeke se baith jaayiye. ” First I was confused as to what was this ‘normal’ way of siting which he was referring to and what was so ‘abnormal about the way I sat. Upon realising that he wanted me to sit with my feet down, I had to explain to him and his senior that I had to sit this way because the mosquitoes would probably eat my feet otherwise. After much conscious effort on their part they realised that my reason for breaking the ‘behaviour code’ was legit and ‘allowed’ me to continue sitting that way. Now what this incident points towards is the structure that we have created as a society which symbolically represents the ‘correct’ ways of behaving in different contexts. Again, deviation is not accepted. Because well, of course sitting with you feet up, even when they are clean (yes, they were I swear) and the chair is metallic hence not subjected to getting dirty or something, is not ‘formal’.

With the new ban on wearing jeans in government offices, I wonder if we are leaving any room for choice and creativity. People would argue that corporate places have always had a culture of wearing formals so why would I suddenly have a problem with this ban. Now having a ‘culture’ of something and ‘banning’ something are two very different things. In the former, there is still a possibility of negotiation but in the latter, compulsion kills the alternative. When you make it mandatory to dress in a particular way, it becomes a forced evil for individuals like me who do not identify with the set standards. Being in minority, eventually their voices die down and things continue to work in the ‘mainstream’ manner. I am no one to decide what is right and what is wrong. I can just control (to only an extent) what happens in my life personally. But as a society, I think it’s time that we not only notice but also start to question these paradigms which operate silently. After all, it’s our life! Or is it..?

Why ‘TheConsciousChatter’?

The idea behind this blog is fairly simple. How many thoughts do you have in one day? Probabily infinite. I do so too. A reoccurrent one however, is to somehow document and share my thoughts. There are so many things which I want to discuss with people and get their opinions on. Looking for a medium of expression, I stumbled upon the idea of making my own blog. Hence, I went ahead and did it. 

The contents of this blog would be quite varied. I would talk about general life issues, movies, books, daily struggles, etc etc etc. Oh, and of course, mental health. But yes, it won’t just be about disorders because mental health is much bigger than that. Being a psychology student for the past seven years, I have realised that there is a huge need to speak about issues related to mental health. Unless we talk about them, we won’t be able to deal with them effectively. Using this as a platform for it, I’d be doing just that. I know that this isn’t a counselling center, so I won’t preach. Promise. 

Looking ahead for loads of fun, I’ll just keep my fingers crossed for now!