अपनी घभराहटें किस assignment में बयाँ करूँ?



I wonder if people consider the philosophical and moral implications of bringing up a child.

One of the most common arguments I've heard for having children is the continuation of the family line. If a family wants to extend their lineage, why not write a well-researched account of its oral history instead? I would imagine it would problematise and enrich notions of who is a Muslim, etc., who is an Indian, etc. which we need desperately. It would take away academic (and by extension class, caste, geography and gender) monopoly over who writes these histories, and what kind of histories are heard.

But I digress. Not everybody cares about knowledge monopolisation and that's okay.

Another argument is having someone to take care of you when you grow old. This is a justified anxiety since not many of us care to die alone and it's comforting to have someone with whom you have an intimately shared history with. I imagine the economics of raising a child take care, partly, of this requirement. I think we may have enough to provide for ourselves when we grow old, were we to not spend on raising children. Of course, emotionally we may choose the intimacy of having our own children to share our old age with, rather than friends or other relationships. But that is not reason enough to have children, since it doesn't account for the personal liberty of the child.

I also want to protest against the hypocrisy of this justification: a parent-child relationship is considered emotional, and is operationalised emotionally, but the justification (particularly this one) to have a child seems rather transactional. In this sense, rural families who decide to have children so that they can pitch in economically seems to me a more candid approach to having children, although it is equally unjustified for the same reason: children are not a means to an end, just as much as parents aren't.

A third argument is that children are a source of company in an otherwise lonely world, or relationship. Let's not consider the latter situation, since children are not a means to make a parent feel better about themselves or their relationship with their partner. To the justification that children are a source of emotional joy and security, it's harder to apply the utilitarian critique because theoretically, parents also lend emotional support and comfort to their children. But does this always happen?

The question now is: once I decide to become a parent, do I also think about how to become a good parent? (By 'good' I mean, a parent who is emotionally caring and looks at a child not just as a source of emotional solace but also as an individual with rights.)

To understand just how difficult parenting is, let's compare it with teaching. As a teacher it is possible to have access to resources, planned training; to have the luxury of experimentation and personal space while working with children. Teachers get paid, too. As a parent, on the other hand I have almost nothing except anecdotal advice from almost everybody, de-contextualised resources, discontinuous support and a stupendous invasion of my private and/or professional life. What kind of support, really, do parents have on how to raise a child? Why does our society not acknowledge this lack?

There are some people in this world who have really made a muck of being parents. Their children are trying their best to be well-adjusted despite their upbringing. Their parents, in turn are trying to cope with dark moments of feeling defeated and self-betrayed. Both children and their parents have to eventually find support systems elsewhere. This process is immensely difficult because of unnatural and unjustified expectations that society places on parenting and children's relationship with their parents.These expectations also make acknowledging this social failure almost impossible: bad parents are rare and their children have bad luck.

In fact, I think it's really hard to be a parent because although they are encouraged to be one, they are hardly given any pragmatic support once this irreversible deed has been accomplished. Parents are left stranded and unprepared to handle the enormity of laying foundational groundwork in a child's life, entirely on their own. Is it enough that women can fertilise eggs and lactate, that men can generate sperm, that they have a stable socio-economic arrangement, that they get along with each other? Where is the child in all of this biological and economic preparation?

Perhaps people who decide to be single parents have had the opportunity to think a little harder on the philosophical implications of bringing up a child, since it isn't a natural extension of their current state in life. It is not enough to think about the potential changes in one's personal life (given that that is also a crucial component of the decision-making process) simply because being a parent is not entirely about you.

We need to free parenting from its essentialist trappings. Being a parent is not natural, simply because procreation is. We need to think of it as a choice, as a role that people need support and preparation for.


freedom and democracy

Excerpt from The Diary of a School Teacher, by Hemraj Bhatt (trans. Sharada Jain)

While watching T.V., I came across a news item about a Madhya Pradesh teacher who had advertised in the newspapers for a female friend to massage him and fulfil his sexual needs. The police, on reading the advert, conducted a sting operation on the teacher and took him to the police station. Here, they asked him vulgar questions again and again – just to enjoy themselves at the expense of his discomfort. The teacher, on his part, was visibly ashamed and kept apologising, saying that he would never do something like this again.

The TV channels played this clip on loop. Several questions came to my mind. What do these channels want to convey by showing such news? What is worth showing and what is not? What was so great about conducting a sting operation on a poor teacher?

In a country and in a society where nothing is immoral if done on the sly, who gave the police and the TV channels the right to define morality?

This teacher could have fulfilled his desires without the advertisement. Then the police and journalists would not have known about him. But he expressed his feelings. What does freedom mean in a democracy?

Hemraj Bhatt (1968-2008) was a assistant primary schoolteacher in a government primary school in Uttarkashi. He was the only official teacher in a school for 51 children, ranging from classes 1 to 5. He began keeping a diary which was translated and published after his death. His reflections provide insight not just on his daily struggles to provide meaningful education to his children but also on the entire education system itself. Read the full diary here.


a friend and a therapist

Friends you can count on are rare. Friends who help you through depression are an even rarer subset. But should your friend also be your therapist?

I speak for myself when I say no, she should not. In the throes of depression I cannot see things which are fairly obvious. She makes the decision to be the calmer of the two and attempts to show these things to me. But this decision comes at a cost--she has to overcome her own fear and shock and try, at all costs, not to display it to me. She has to discard everything she's doing and concentrate entirely on me. No matter how she's been feeling, she must rally enormous emotional forces from within herself and use them to systematically counter every argument my corrupted mind throws at myself, at her.

But every time this happens, she is put in a terrible position of grappling between love and helplessness. Unlike my therapist, she has had no training in clinical psychology; any strategies she comes up with are ones she creates on her own, based on her intimate knowledge of me, the connections she makes from the history we share and her learnings from previous conversations. She never stops learning, she never stops trying for me.

But she's my friend. She's not a therapist. She comes from a position of love, and it is this same position which overwhelms her each time these conversations happen, because it is beyond the scope of our love to provide me with ways to cope with depression. Her love convinces me that I need these strategies, but it cannot always provide them to me. There is nothing right or wrong about this, and neither is this a limitation: this is a fact.

If you have someone like this on your life, don't take them for granted. Talk to them whenever you need to, but if you want help, go to a therapist or a doctor. Just like self-medication, forcing them to be your therapist is harmful and unfair on both of you. Remember that every breakdown you suffer from, they suffer with you, and somewhere it is worse for them, since they do not have medication or therapy to fall back on. You should.


thoughts on childhood in India

An interesting question came up today in our Child Learning and Development class - is childhood a social construct?

I'd like to read your thoughts.


'Zindagi Gulzar Hai'

There comes a time when you realize that you have surrendered a part of your heart to a book, film, television series or a professor because they leave you moved. The writer, the artist becomes a presence in your mind separate from your experience of their work.

With each redefining moment of watching Kashav's story I feel a complicated mixture of love and alarm at its intensity. I sometimes cannot believe this story has actually been written.

Sultana apa, you have my heart. Don't let me down; I won't be able to bear it.

[No spoilers, please.]


can we be counter-imaginative?

It was half past eight in the evening. I was cycling back from university to my hostel. (The road approaching my hostel is hardly a road; it has bumps the size of small hillocks. I usually stand up and ride this rough stretch.) I was emerging from an unlit, dark 400 metre stretch of this road when a group of four men suddenly jumped in front of my cycle, shouted "Ha!" and ran away, laughing. 

I stopped in my tracks and tried to understand what had just happened. Was this an issue of safety, human dignity, violence against women? Why did they do this? And suddenly, a thought entered my head: what made them behave specifically the way they did? This wasn't a spontaneous outburst; it was a planned, unwelcome flash mob. Even if it took them a couple of minutes, they had obviously devised their scheme carefully. It had been executed with perfection. In addition to this, it takes a fair amount of controlled recklessness to jump in front of a moving vehicle in the dark. It was imaginative.

Which brings me back to the idea of using imagination to devise strategies which can counter, or attempt to counter sexual violence. This is, of course, applicable only in situations where the survivors of sexual violence wish to put themselves out there, once again, without any guarantees of safety or success. Apart from the survivor's personal choices, it also depends on the kind of sexual violence we are trying to devise strategies for. It may seem exceedingly difficult, for instance, to come up with a strategy to counter rape as it is happening. But can we come up with a way to respond to being ogled?

There is some work being done around this idea by Blank Noise

The question of context is never far behind when thinking of issues of sexual violence or really, any social issue. There are no universal values, and there can definitely be no "10 Ways To..." counter being forcibly objectified. That said, we definitely can benefit from imagining, visualising, discussing and hopefully experimenting with strategies to counter this kind of daily violence against women, within our specific contexts.  


Initial thoughts on possessing a shaved head

1 The slightest breeze feels like waves of wind flowing over my head.
2 I still have to shampoo! Because dandruff doesn't go away with hair.
3 The kajal in my eyes and earrings seem to stand out more - maybe there is a facial proportion answer to this.
4 People, known or unknown, are franker with their reactions - they laugh or widen their eyes in a way that I cannot miss.
5 I have to rearrange the way I dance to hindi songs because I can't use my hair anymore.
6 It really does feel light up there.
7 Looking at my reflection in the mirror is an exercise in self-discomfort. It's sometimes hard to get used to the way my face has changed.
8 I don't feel nice when my roommate says, "you look like a boy!" And I wonder why.
9 There is a slight but significant shift in the way most men see me. It's as if I have become an object of curiosity instead an object of sexual overpowering, if only momentarily.
10 Women come and tell me how they have been wanting to do the same thing for a long time now. I know how that feels, because it took me three years.
11 I sometimes forget I don't have hair anymore, when I absently run my hand over my head.
12 It surprisingly doesn't annoy me when people stroke my head, but I can imagine it must be for others.
13 I suspect people ask women a lot more questions than they do men, when women choose to shave off their hair.
14 People ask a lot of questions.


dirty talk

Like sex, hygiene is something that people don’t talk about often enough. Everybody has their own personal definition of hygiene. Maybe we don’t need to talk about everything, you say. But when you share a bathroom, you do, I say.
We have our personal definitions of hygiene that we strangely believe everyone is aware of, and shares with us. We silently but irrevocably judge people based on how they leave the toilet, the sink, the floor, the taps, the drain. It is a testament to their character, their parents, their community and/or religion, the place they come from.
Notions of invisible ‘purity’ which form the basis of Hinduism and Sikhism may be hard to believe since they are, ultimately, abstract concepts upon which some people are alienated, murdered, sexually violated, exploited by other people in positions of power. But it’s interesting to note that while something might be visibly unclean to me, it might not be to someone else.
I live in a 2BHK flat with four other women. One of my friends in the other bedroom constantly complained how her roommate, K left the drain clogged with her hair every morning. To me, this is unforgivably inconsiderate.
After three days, I jumped in the middle of what was, technically, their dispute, because each bedroom has its own bathroom. I confronted her as soon as she came out of her bath. I spoke to her unkindly, asking her what she thought of herself to leave the bathroom in such a terrible condition for her roommate. I said a lot more, too, assuming that she was doing this out of laziness or disgust. (Eww, who picks up hair from a drain?)
She was stunned. She simply assumed that the cleaning staff was doing the needful. I sharply corrected her, no, it’s your roommate who’s cleaning up after you.
That night, I happened to eat alone in the mess; my roommates had finished before me and had gone upstairs. I realised that my friend had never mentioned having spoken to K about her discomfort. She, as I, had simply assumed that K was at fault because she didn’t share this common code of hygiene with the rest of us. Neither of us had stopped to think that we had never verbalised this code to anyone.
I hadn’t pulled up K for leaving the bathroom dirty. I had attacked her for not reading our minds.
Why can we not talk to each other about hygiene? Just because four women happen to follow a particular aspect of this all-important code doesn’t mean it becomes obvious. The bathroom is one of the most crucial spaces in a house—unlike the kitchen, it’s a space that everyone uses frequently. It’s a private space that we are forced to share. We confront our uglinesses, we let go (forgive the terrible pun), we strip ourselves bare in that room. It is impossible that each of us does this identically. Even when I was living alone, it was the bathroom that made me feel most vulnerable when a guest happened to use it.
I think it’s time my roommates and I overcame our shame and disgust and spoke to each other frankly about hygiene. In matters of dirtiness, the bathroom is no match for the mind.


Life, this endless conversation with yourself

Silent in sanity, audible--
In madness.

Zohra Sehegal, The Telegraph, 2004


Ab ki baar...

And a close favourite:

Seeing there is no place left for reason or humanity.