Archive for ‘September, 2006’

By Amrita Misra

It was an overcrowded bus, during rush hour, in Manhattan. I felt literally drained and was more than happy to have secured a seat. To my courtesy’s luck a young girl (about 13yrs old) stepped into the bus with her mother. The girl was holding a piece of pizza on a paper plate. And the mother-daughter combo drifted through the crowd and found a place to stand right in front of me. Oh well! I had to give up my seat. There were no elderly, pregnant women, or anybody with canes around & .so I thought this young girl (balancing a pizza slice) would be more deserving than me to have a seat. So I offered her my seat. She was delighted and thanked me profusely. And as we were exchanging our positions, the bus braked and my backpack hit the girl’s paper plate &..and plop! The pizza was on the floor, twisted, and a pepperoni piece landed on someone”s shoe. I bet I looked like I had seen a ghost at that moment, and the girl’s face was blushing. I said sorry and she said its ok. It was the courteous faux-pas of the year and it was not ok. I said sorry over and over, and the girl’s face turned sadder and sadder. I could think of only one thing to do, be courteous again. Before my stop, I offered her 3 bucks, and said have another slice, it will make me feel better. The sparks in her eyes were back and she gladly accepted the greens and I alighted the bus feeling better about myself.

Studying in a catholic school for the first 7 yrs of my school life, I learnt most of the courteousness rules that I was supposed to from my Anglo-Indian teachers and sisters (desi -nuns); “thank you”, “sorry”, “excuse me”, “to smile”, “eat with closed mouth and less noise”, and “greeting” being among the must knows. Now I feel, it was more an arduous effort to imitate our masters than becoming good human beings. At home, my parents also had their notions of being courteous, i.e. use common sense. For example, if there were a big stone (or banana peel, more importantly) in middle of a walkway it had to be picked up/kicked away from the path, lest someone should get hurt. Well, I figured out “simply being nice” could be the way to go. At times I would not want to be nice but something within would force me to become courteous, e.g. with bosses or despicable people, damn me! But then there are instances when I would not know what courtesy would demand, so it is much simpler to be just nice.

However, defining nice is a difficult task, as different individuals would have different view points about being nice, depending on their personal experiences and social location. So, I switched to courtesy reluctantly. What should courtesy involve? For me, I guess, it would be providing needful (probably legitimate) assistance to someone other than oneself and acknowledging such an action verbally (or otherwise) when bestowed onto oneself by others.

I feel saddened and angered (more often) when I see that courtesy is not as common place as I expect. And I do not mean the lip service “thank you” “how are you” kind of statements one could hear echoing across the civilized populace. I mean the genuine instinct to be nice and feel good about being nice (rather than feeling proud).

According to a recent report, Uncommon Courtesy, by Reader”s Digest, NYC proved to be the most courteous city (among big cities in 35 countries). Well, a quirky smile escaped my lips, since it was not “Great” Britain. However, living in NYC since last couple of months, I was a little dismayed by the standards upheld by RD. And my dismay springs from witnessing (mostly in the public transport) discourteousness being displayed shamelessly in the city in public by alarmingly high number of people. One would see people with canes standing by the subway-train doors, while young men and women listlessly drooling on seats marked “Priority seating for disabled”; or for the matter a pregnant woman standing in front of a man dressed immaculately in a suit (apparently without a physical disability) sitting with a Metro newspaper and acting as if he cannot see the woman.

I feel that such instances are a reflection of how people feel towards others (strangers) in general….i.e. indifferent. Although we are all huddled in almost the same condition we have mastered the art to shelter our individualistic interests even when the situation demands otherwise and we do not see anything wrong in it. No wonder then that we are living in a country which is at war, and we do not even feel the pinch of human suffering. Our daily chores are not interrupted, we are reporting to work ceaselessly, and losing our consciousness in the sole pursuit of protecting “me & mine”.

Courtesy is mauled when I see hundreds of homeless sprawling the city streets and in subway stations. It is mauled when I see women, the elderly, and people with disabilities on the trains and buses begging. It is mauled when artists offer their skills for pennies on the stations or streets. It is mauled when I witness people with disabilities coming in at my workplace for “vocational rehabilitation” or “vocational evaluations” and being judged by the standards of the “non-disabled”. It is mauled when I read about violence being unleashed on women and children incessantly”.. and courtesy is going haywire, but it doesn’t hurt enough I guess.

So much for courtesy! I will be content in being nice (and angry), as and when necessary.

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By Amrita Misra

My sister (a software engineer in India) had an essay competition. The topic was “Career and Marriage- Can women have best of both the worlds?” She wanted my opinion on it and I opined:

I will not answer this question; I will simply try to critically analyze it briefly instead. I feel that the basis of the question is flawed. It indicates certain assumptions that should be discouraged; for example

1. assuming men have the best of both worlds
2. assuming women need to struggle disproportionately in order to achieve the best of both worlds
3. assuming that career is an addition to the (traditional) role of women
4. assuming that women have not found a way to juggle home and job duties satisfactorily

Secondly, who defines what is “best of the worlds”? And whose aspirations are we discussing:

1. of the chauvinist husbands of the “career-women”
2. of the patriarchal society, which dictates what’s family and what’s happiness for women
3. of the “career-women” who have “circumstantially” attained education and job, and yet adhere to the traditional notion of marriage which cannot provide an equitable position to women

The question is not only pitting the condition of women against men from a very sexist and conventional lens, it is also overlooking the social conditions that are maintaining the subjugation of women. The question is a very male centric question, which showcases a very natural concern of the male centric society.

Why should it be any less/more difficult for women to have the best of both worlds than men? It is a great matter of concern because we are unwilling to break the cocoon of our knowledge/expectations of what the role of men and women should be.

If work is a part of life, so is marriage; may it be the work of a homemaker or moneymaker or money-cum-homemaker. Traditional marriages are more of an economic subjugation of women, than the need of women to be “homemakers” or the belief that children need the mothers to be at home.

What kind of careers are we talking about? If you remember/notice that we always had women around us with “careers”. The housemaids, female-laborers, female-farmers, and female-construction workers etc., have been juggling home and work (for ages) just like men, and owning more responsibilities than men. Nobody showed any concern to their well being? Then we had teachers, secretaries, nurses, clerks etc., making a little more than the ones mentioned above, who always have been a part of India’s economy. And most of them had families.

Thus, viewing it from another angle it might seem that, as the earning power of women is increasing, and the range of careers they are infiltrating into is broadening, the apprehensions for the wellbeing of the family unit and the ability of women to secure the best of two worlds is growing. The women are marching on to claim their economic independence; however the basic societal unit, i.e. the traditional family structure and roles are not keeping up with the change. Additionally, the government and the corporate sectors, which are primarily male-dominated, have not been able to restructure in order to accommodate the changes that are required to re-weave the social fabric and make it more favorable for women and children.

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What Do I Write About

He asked me why I don’t write poems anymore
I wondered myself
I realized I was often sad as a teenager
Sad for reasons that I created within
I hunted for loneliness, spent time in darkness
I loved being by myself in the night on the terrace for hours
Not a moment of stillness though
I used to lose myself in thoughts
Thoughts, at times, which I would not dare to think in the daylight
I discovered a lot about myself & the extent to which I could imagine
I could have become a writer, a novelist…but I was content thinking
My mind was shrouded with conventions
Few choking experiences and many unfulfilled desires
Few mundane things that seemed natural, were nevertheless shackles
I was breaking free in my imaginings,
However, only because I didn’t like them
I did not understand why I didn’t
And in this confusion I minced words to form poems
At times the poems stated obvious desires
At times vicarious pain, very individualistic
At times meandering purposefully to attract attention
To the fact that all’s not well
They said that I was rebellious
They said I was belligerent unnecessarily
I was like that with those who were mine, family
I wish I were like that with others
But I couldn’t learn to, they made me cultured
Many a times it is still difficult to say what I feel

Who do I blame?
I feel my heart sinks with each pulse
I blame my work, people I work with
The conditions I work in
The reasons I work for
Yet, I have what one would “kill for”
I have to search for reasons to be sad
And I find them
Family, friends, obligations, responsibilities, aspirations,
Expectations, work, money, future,
Others, war, war mongers, innocent lives on the line, selfish sectors, diseases, poverty, oppressed, opulence, indifference, deceit
Nothing has changed, history of human emotions and sufferings
Long before me and now things still echo deja vu
Sadness is for tomorrow which shall carry over the echo

We know perhaps
Maybe poems can help
At least help me vent my frustration
Or others’ frustrations through my words
Just some more strokes in the history of resistance
Soon to be overpowered, yet again, by those who have money, those who have power, those who need to protect what they have looted & those with God by their side
I know, yet I write



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