India se……chronicling the invisible bonds

Sea changes…..transforming filial roles

Retirement- it has been a recurring theme over the last few years!

In 2012, as I was brainstorming with my supervisor about possible thesis topics, I told her that I wanted to work on something relevant to migrants, specifically Indian migrants to Australia.  Zeroing in further, the topic that caught my fancy was retirement. I finally did my 2 year research and thesis on the factors that influence retirement decisions of 1st generation Indian migrants.

Over the 2 years I had several community workshops, interviews, surveys and sessions with service providers all offered different points of view for the same issue. During a trip to India, I met with a focus group there to understand how Indians living in India plan their retirement, to compare with what I was seeing here. As I finished my work on the thesis, there were several things that stuck me.

So many of the issues affect people the same way. The worries that keep people awake and concerns they have, these see no boundaries and nor do they particularly care for your bank balance- in a way it was comforting to see that migration had not changed people all that much!

One of the things that struck me immensely was the guilt that so many felt- people in my generation, men and women in their 40’s and 50’s who have older parents living in India. Many of my generation have moved overseas, many live in India- among both sets of people, there are many whose parents don’t live with them. And this is for a huge number of reasons.

Sometimes it’s not practical, sometimes its personalities or lifestyle or financial. For people living overseas, it is hard- you depend on extended family in India to be there for many things. And it can be hit or miss, while everyone has good intentions, life is such that you cannot actually do it all. And a throwaway comment can cut you to the bone. And simple statements over the phone from your parents keep you awake for days. And even more difficult is the gratitude you feel for your family and friends who do the hard yards- it is not easy and you can never re-pay the favor!

For people in India, it is even harder, there is every expectation that your parents will stay with you, if not from them, from others. So many families have 2 sets of parents to look after and their own children and work and home as well to manage- It is certainly not easy!

In all of this, it seems logical that many who can would plan their retirement and move to more amenable facilities- but it seems not.

It amazed me that many I spoke to said they could not imagine their parents moving to an “old age home, as if they had no one to look after them”. Others were more prosaic, “it’s easier to have them here, then you don’t have to rush across the country for every doctor’s appointment”. And elders in talking about a retirement village would discuss it in fairly somber, sympathetic tones ” X has put his mum in an old age home” or  “What option do they have, they have no one to look after them”

Where parents were staying in retirement villages, children would do everything possible to not refer to it as retirement living!

Words have such power, they normalise and rationalise things – we need to consciously change how we both think of and address these things. Even living overseas, it pains me to see many people casually mention that they have told their children not to put them in homes or that they will live in a outhouse in their kids houses or they have told their kids that they would look after their grandkids, so can they please stay with them! Really- while this may be in jest, it is scary!!  In one of my sessions, one respondent said- I have told my daughter, it is fine, go where ever you want to work, I am fine, but after I am in my 80’s you must come back to Melbourne- who else is there to look after me?

So, this daughter may have to uproot her family and her career- and who knows if the daughter has in-laws who may well have the same situation! This may have been a joke, the daughter was just 20 and the man 52, but I wonder….

A good friend once said that our gen is cursed – our parents are not happy with us and neither are our children! And she also said that the next gen will not face this issue as we would be better planned…….I sure hope so! Let us not test those filial bonds


Cultural baggage or simply uncultured- Changing perceptions

A couple of years ago, I was stunned to read that a judge in Australia, let a serial stalker off without a conviction after the offender maintained that his “cultural background” led to his disgusting behaviour toward women. He was being tried for stalking, threatening and intimidating women. The judge agreed with his defence that years of watching Bollywood movies where the “hero” stalks women, threatens self harm if she does not immediately fall in love with him had warped his sense of appropriateness!

photodune-2603408-indian-woman-l-1200x661-620x341On surface it seems like this guy had a hell of a lawyer, who spun a convincing argument and got his client a great deal. But, there is an element of truth in the tale- movies are a great cultural barometer- reflecting attitudes & behaviours, influencing thought & action and often giving fodder to our wishful thoughts. Maybe in a country, where a large part of the population live in poverty,  these celluloid fantasies are an escape from drudgery. And for the young, an aspirational guide- and if this is true, it is bloody scary!

Think of the role models they are getting and in a society where normal friendships with the opposite sex is frowned upon for a large percentage, perhaps films are their only avenue of getting to know 50% of the population.

A whole 3 or 4 generations of Indian film heroes have wooed women by stalking them, terrorising them or threatening them. Some of the most popular song sequences are set around the stalk scenes and to top it all, the “girl” is most frequently portrayed as faking her anger while being secretly happy- A song that comes to mind is Dev Anand’s “pal bhar ke liye koi hamey pyar kar le….”  where he creepily peeks into several windows while Hema Malini is trying to change and as she goes around shutting the 5 million windows and doors she giggles and even starts humming the song!

One particularly disgusting stalk-love tale is a ghastly 80’s movie, Maqsad, where the super rich suitor Rajesh Khanna, stalks poor but gorgeous Sridevi relentlessly, to the extent of turning up in a car of the same color as the sari she wears. In the cult classic Tezaab, the protagonist dupes a girl into falling in love with him and then when she is heartbroken, he turns remorseful and threatens self harm “forcing” her to fall in love. These are a tiny, tiny sample of warped plotlines- there are literally hundreds more along the same vein.

While they give men the wrong game plan to woo women, they give women an even more warped sense of behaviour that is acceptable. Women have been shown to accept and even welcome terrible behaviour, waiting patiently for their man to reform. Rich, beautiful and successful women fall inexplicably in love with hoodlums, unemployed rowdy types- this was typical in all 80’s & 90’s movies. Women with “modern” ideas and behaviours learnt the error in their ways. In more recent movies,  successful and strong women have suddenly lost their independence when they fall in love. Inexplicably many strong female roles turn mushy to ensure the “hero” can come and rescue them from all evil in the end…

And to add to this mix, a whole generation of young girls see the super successful actresses gyrate to ugly “item” songs and do not even recognise that women are demeaned even further with disgusting lyrics calling on men to bite her like a chicken leg, stick to her like fevicol or have their merry way because she’s high on weed.

Where are we celebrating healthy relationships, equal relationships? Where are the role models of acceptable behaviour?

It has been 2 years since the Nirbhaya incident shocked the nation- there were candlelight vigils, songs written about her and a whole slew of stars who ranted about the injustice. But what actually happened, where is the change?

ANSWER: There is none- because until each and every person acknowledges, accepts and advocates equity and respect, there will be no change.

Parents have to teach their sons to respect girls from infancy, treat their sons and daughter’s exactly the same way. Men have to treat their wives, sisters and mothers with respect- demonstrating the behaviour they want to see in their sons.
The legal system has to get its act together and come down swiftly on any infringement. A young man does not go out and rape on day 1, he starts with smaller infractions- punish the small ones and prevent the bigger crime.
And more importantly, the message has to be constantly reinforced, not just when an incident happens.

In the aftermath of the recent Bangalore mass molestation episode, every single celebrity has come out and spoken against it, which is great, but why just now? Why not extol your fans and followers to demonstrate their respect for women at other times? Don’t tell men they need to “protect” women from preying men, tell them not to prey on them in the first place. Tell your fans and followers to not stand by quietly when they see an atrocity- ask them to speak up.


And please shaming does not work- all those images of women stripping and beating men with brooms are disgusting. Lasting social change comes about when the hearts and minds of people are changed. We all need to be part of the change- in small and big ways.

  • Do not employ underage children for home help and work, encourage their parents to educate them. If you can afford to, support them by paying for food or books or help with studies.
  • Support women run enterprises, there are many social enterprises like spice grinding, catering, stitching, floral work that are run by underprivileged women- often going against their families. Buy from them and encourage the work.
  • Ask your driver, office boys or other male employees if they are educating their girls.
  • Do not instil fear in your daughters, by telling them how there are big bad guys out there. Instead teach them how to stay alert and stay safe. Teach them to call out bad behaviour.
  • Call out bad behaviour, do not be reluctant to create a scene if someone heckles or cat calls. Bullies retreat when challenged.
  • Do not tolerate bad behaviour even among friends and family. If some one is nasty to their wife or children or demeaning to women and girls, call them out on this.
  • Don’t be critical of some one helping the women in their families, or tease or joke about them. Cooking and cleaning or child minding are things that need doing, not just by one gender. If you see someone helping, recognise that they are doing the right thing!
  • Support the art world- they are doing a lot in this space and getting the message out!

Hoping that 2017 will bring about the change that is long over due!