A Burden



Even from the distance of five hundred and fifty kilometers I could sense sadness and a muffled insecurity in the voice of my father when he called me yesterday, a daily ritual of ours of one call in a day. After a bit of emotional jostling he told about the death of Gupta uncle, a friend from his senior citizen Club and a neighbour. It was not that the deceased was his close friend or they knew each other for long, but there were circumstances which troubled (or scared) him as well as me.

After he retired from a reputed position in the Central Government, Gupta uncle, a widower, moved in this double gated,  CCTV secured, residential colony in Gurgaon. Twice a year he visited his daughter and son who were settled in Pune and Chicago and once a year the children and grandchildren visited him. For rest of the seven and a half months he lived all alone, with an arrangement of a part-time maid who cooked and clean.  The most awaited part of his every day routine was the evening tea with his friends in the Club. And over the tea, the friends, all of them retired and old like him, debated on the political issues, made fun of each others arthritis or heart conditions but at the same time looked after each other.

However, despite all this jolly company, Gupta uncle died two days back in his 1.75 crore 3BHK flat. He breathed his last in the company of four walls, choking on that fine linen which his departed wife had once matched so tastefully with the peach curtains. He was 85. The maid discovered the body next day and informed the neighbours, who then informed the next of kin.

‘Everyone at the Club was saying that Gupta was so unfortunate to have such an uncaring son who left him alone at this age’, dad said.

Now this is the thing that troubled me.

Why blame only the son, why not the daughter too?

This is the social psyche I am talking about.

Here I am not arguing that boys’ parents do not face hardship. In some cases they do as well, but if they do then society blame the son and daughter-in-law. But this is not the same for girls’ parents because it is not considered the duty of a married woman to look after her parents. There is no (social and moral) obligation over a daughter and son-in-law. A son may leave his wife and children at home to take care of his parents, he may change his job, he may bring them home with him or he may fail and thus fall in the eyes of everyone but the same SECURITY simply doesn’t exist for parents of his wife.

When a son is born, mother and father heave a sigh of relief that now their old age is secured. Now there is someone to feed them when they are too old to cook for themselves, carry them when their frail limbs give away, talk to them when the loneliness starts eating into their head. And what about parents of girls, don’t they get old, feel lonely, fall sick. But do they also feel so secure that there will be their daughters to take care of them? No. They can’t demand that because this is against the traditions. It is an accepted norm that parents don’t burden their daughters. That is a SIN.

Father of a son worries for his falling health but father of a daughter has an additional worry – how will he drive car when his driving license expires after he crosses 75.

What do they want from us, from the daughters?

They just want us to look after them, to oversee things, to supervise that the maid is not cheating them, the watchman is not fooling them, to have small dinner talks with them and to ensure that when they are dead, their body is not discovered by a maid. Imagine the state of those who can’t even afford a maid.

Why is this like this?

Because that is how the society is constructed, re-constructed and re-re-constructed. 

Have you noticed that there is not a single advertisement, single chant, single hymn which emotes, which preaches that the old people, be it from boy’s side or girl’s side, should be taken care of equally. There are plenty of advertisements showing a boy on his motorbike travelling miles to bring his old mother along with him but not a single Ad showing a woman doing the same; instead we have portrayals of a grieving father on the bidai, marriage, of his daughter richly laden with gold. Yes there are some Ads where girls look after their parents but only before marriage.

How many movies do you remember on this subject? Not many? However there are so many movies which mock a man living with his inlaws as jamaai raja or greedy parents of a girl disrupting the marital harmony of their daughter.

Recently there was a popular movie trying to give an emotional connect on this issue – Piku. But in this movie too, the girl was looking after her father because she was not married and she was not married because she was looking after her father. Then she fell in love but did not commit because of her other duties. A happy ending would have been that she marries the guy and the couple then takes care of the father, as it is normally expected the other way round. But the Director didn’t want to create any ‘social confusion’, so he conveniently killed the father (an obstacle) and brought the movie to an acceptable end.

A mother will tell her son to take care of her when she is old but she will tell her daughter not to worry about them and instead look after her husband and children. Because with son she has a ‘Right’ and with daughter a ‘Duty’.

The day they will stop feeling themselves a burden over daughters,  the day they will start imposing that Right, start telling the daughters without any guilt, start Demanding them like they demand their son that ‘Daughter this is your duty too to look after us when we are old’. That day,  believe that day, the practice of female foeticide will stop.


Also published in The Hindu (27/9/16) as An Unequal Burden at Home

Thank you readers for taking your time out. Will appreciate your feedback in the comment section below:





Because It Matters


It was the sincerity and curiosity of two young men which saved a 3-year old girl from a possible cruel fate. The men, Shubham and Jasbir on a Sonipat train, grew suspicious of the activities of a man, Bhanwar who was squatting near the compartment door with the little girl. Not content with the explanation given by Bhanwar and the way he was behaving with the child, the duo chased the man when he got down at the next station to catch another connecting train. The man panicked and was caught in time. He had kidnapped the girl from outside her home in Delhi and was taking her to his village where he planned to rape her and traffic her thereafter. If Shubham and Jasbir had also got busied in their own private sphere like many us and not ‘spoken out’ when they sensed something wrong, the girl would have also ended into the endless list of ‘disappeared children’.

An act of evil in society, be it rape, kidnapping, littering or corruption, affects each one of us. Not everyone has that courage or a motivation level to be an ardent activist. Frankly, we have plenty of excuses or ‘reasons’ to complaint but not to act. I still believe, even if not all of us are ready to march the street holding torchlight, still there is at least some way in which we can contribute, however little, for the betterment of the society.

Last summer, I had visited a small but beautiful European city, Vienna. I went to a local shopping mart to buy some chocolates and as is the habit or the ‘inculcated’ habit of Indians, rolled out few Euros from the inside pocket of my jacket and gave it to the billing desk manager. The man, in his twenties, crooked up his eyebrow, then gave me a cursory glance that had disgust written all over it, and then smoothed out the wrinkles from that crumpled bill which I had just handed him. Later, a friend explained to me, here people think that disrespect to their currency is disrespect to their nation and seriously mind if the notes are crumpled or damaged. Back in my room, I fished out all the Euro bills hidden in all tiny-winy places, rolled in socks, pinned to the underlining of my jacket, taped to the inside frame of the suitcase and the false cavity of the makeup kit. I know many of you will find it ridiculous, but this is what I am taught, to divide the money and hide it in separate bags so that you don’t lose out everything in one go in case you are mugged. That look of disgust had sent across the message and I took out all the hidden treasure, smoothed out the wrinkles and kept it neatly in a wallet.

This is what I am trying to convey here, even if we choose to sit and not to do anything to stop a situation which we know in our heart should be stopped, then also we must make at least some gesture, a crook of an eyebrow, a wrinkling of the nose or a tch tch to send some sort of a message that ‘yes we know the truth and you are being watched. It is always better than sitting with a wooden face or lost in your mobiles and tabs in bus while a man standing just next to you is purposely falling on to a girl.

On a train journey from Jhansi to Delhi, I noticed a man continually staring a college girl, who was travelling alone. The man, who was perhaps some railway staff, changed his seat and sat across her so that he gets a good view of her. I could tell from his demeanor that he was waiting for an opportunity to take the seat next to the girl, which was lying vacant. You will find such people almost everywhere, with long experience and mastery in such acts they become so skilled that they carefully stalk their target without arising any suspicion with any sudden move. A woman who was travelling with her family was watching all this. She got up from her seat and sat down next to the girl and started chatting with her. The man got the message that his intentions are caught, and for the rest of the journey he sat quiet without any more games. If only all of us start ‘speaking out’ in whatever way we can, these evils will fade. Raise objection, if you see somebody littering the road; knock on the door if you hear a man beating his wife; get up from your seat to let an old person sit; carry a plastic bag in your car in which you dump all waste instead of throwing it out from the window; stop feeding the cows with food still wrapped in plastic bags; slow down your vehicle to let a bicyclist pedal safely; don’t jump red-light even if the one ahead of you just did; smile to the old lady whom you just crossed during your evening walks; strike a conversation with fellow passengers in train and buses. These are small gestures which will gradually send the message to others and people will follow. Isn’t it a common human tendency, you go and stand behind a person and automatically a queue will be formed. We hesitate to initiate but we like to follow.

The Administration may make endless numbers of rules and regulations to uproot the evils, but the social evils can only be uprooted SOCIALLY. A Swachchatta Abhiyan can only succeed when we, as individuals, inculcate this habit. We can never curb the menace of dowry deaths if we don’t stop socially boasting ‘how lucky a chap is that he got this or that’. The twenty crore ‘gift’ Salman Khan’s sister got upon marriage has set another scale for marriage ‘gifts’.

We must ‘Speak Out’ because it really matters. No, we cannot correct everyone, but we can at least correct ourselves, influence those around us. I am really surprised to see this addictive habit of Indians spitting everywhere in country, but these same people if happen to go abroad, are the most well behaved.

It is the attitude of Indians, it is in their blood and thus they cannot be changed’, somebody told me when I expressed my distraught on why we can’t keep our streets clean. Well, I am not sure whether things will change in my lifetime but when I throw the empty bottle in the dustbin and my 2-year-old follow the steps and don’t litter her toffee-wrapper then I am sure of one thing that I have just corrected at least one generation.

Sabhyata Abhiyaan …

I don’t mind the dirty streets, dirty bus-stands and dirty police stations as long as they are safe….they are far better than the ‘clean’ surroundings where every second a woman/girl is either burnt/molested/raped/acid-attacked or abused.
Kudos to Swachchata Abhiyaan, but what we need desperately is a nation-wide SABHYATA abhiyaan.

# Burning of a girl student who opposed her molesters in Varanasi reach the United Nations Human Rights Council after its pleas to the PM, CM and Police went unanswered.
# two police constables gang-rape a 14 year old on New Year’s eve.
# 31.07% jump in rape cases in Delhi NCR in 2014