Sunday, July 09, 2017

Welcoming Positive Changes in the Indian mindset !

When you are growing up in India, depending on the parenting styles of your parents, each of us get a very minor glimpse (so as to say the tip of an iceberg) of what it means to spearhead the running of a household seamlessly. But when you are married and on your own, nothing prepares you for what hits you straight on. If you want to continue having a happy, contended, and satisfying life for not just yourself but for those around you, there are several decisions that you will make that you may not fully agree with, one or both of us have to arrive at a compromise - the fondly called middle ground/road in our household - so as to not rock the boat. In such cases, some choose to keep their career on the back burner (which is what I did and did it willingly and voluntarily and had the complete support of my spouse), but there are others who do not want to. They give it their all to still hold on to both their personal job profile and a professional job profile but I feel are not duly appreciated/acknowledged. In some scenarios, women give up their career or take a short/long break from their career to relocate due to the demands of their husbands (in rare cases in India, and a slightly higher numbers in other countries, the reverse where the husband gives up his career for his wife's career progress).

In my case, when I decided to take a small break from my work to sort out my time and home management mess before I start looking for another job and add on the professional work management angle to the existing mess. Then I got pregnant and I saw no point in going back to work because, anywhere I join, my job will be evaluated based on my marital status, my pregnancy and my motherhood rather than my work output and capability. I know this to be true because, I have heard comments (made by colleagues when I was part of the paid work force and friends - male/female - alike) to the extent where it is discussed openly, without fear of being unfairly biased, about how marriage will reduce the productivity of a woman (sometimes - a rarity - even for men as they will have to keep up to the so called undue demands of the newly wedded wife and her family) as she will have to choose between home and work. I have also noticed that there is a kind of unwritten policy across most organisations (even in teaching profession) where, the promotion of a deserving woman might not happen either because she is pregnant and expecting or she is getting married and there is a possibility of her moving from the current work location. This is not so in the case of a man who is about to become a husband or a father. Despite having proven their capabilities by working twice as hard and delivering much better than their male counterparts, sometimes, the female employee gets thrown out of the promotion list (if questioned on this, they would be told that they were given a salary hike for their performance but were not deserving of a promotion) if they are pregnant or going to get married due to which they might anticipate a physical relocation.

I do not know if it was coincidence or there is a change in the thought process of people in general, advertisements these days have more progressive messages. Most of these advertisements have English subtitles as well.

The expressions on both the actors faces (the subtle pride in the face of the husband when he tells his wife about what her choice meant to him and the mixture of surprise and  gratitude - on her face is priceless to watch.

The concept of being thankful and acknowledging the choices that the woman had to make in her life for the man to be able to pursue his career (or vice versa where applicable) itself a welcome change. Personally, I think it is brilliant to bring about this change in advertisements as it reaches maximum number of people, different age groups and genders and will have the maximum impact to bring about the needed change in the thought process.

Other such advertisement series that caught my attention and are my favourite these days are

Myntra's "Bold is Beautiful" series - A couple of them that I loved the most:


The Move  Ad talking about how it is this society is skewed in thinking it is normal for women to always be ready to follow their husband's job relocation, irrespective of the impact it will have on their own personal careers as this is the "norm", but when the reverse is expected, the man does not feel obligated to support his wife and relocate if the situation demanded him to. The advertisement shows the decisiveness of the woman to go ahead with the decision to relocate in lieu of her career and how she explains it to him.

In The Calling  Ad, Radhika Apte being the pregnant executive having a conversation with an older, maybe a senior female executive, about how the hypocritical the decision to sideline her from the promotion that she much deserves by considering her pregnancy as a hinderance, despite the fact that it was her tireless effort in getting the deal/project for the company. The way she makes herself heard and at the same time brings forth the discriminative behaviour of the management with dignity, poise and confidence won my heart and filled me with pride to see that the thought at least is out in the open (or should I say, "the cat is out of the bag"), the rectification for the problem will surely follow through.
BIBA - Change the conversation series of Ads

This Ad talks about how a pre-marriage discussion turns into something quite delightful! The ad has English subtitles as well for people who do not understand the language spoken. 

A prospective bride groom and his family visiting a prospective bride's family to meet her and then decide if the families can move forward with the marriage proposal. A typical first step in any Indian arranged marriage scenario. The bride is apprehensive about how this would go and below is the conversation between the father and daughter and the rest of the gang assembled in her living room (have tried to translate the Hindi conversation below)

Father: Aren't you ready yet? Everyone is waiting for you downstairs.
Daughter: Papa (Dad), how can I decide over a samosa and a coffee that he is the one with whom I can spend my entire life with?
A stern stare from the father followed by " Come soon" and then he turns and leaves.She sighs and follows suit and joins the rest of the family in the living room.
Boy's mother: No Thank you. You have liberally fed us. (Transliteration. Intended meaning being,"Your hospitality is overwhelming"). We like your daughter, Payal, a lot and are happy to agree for this marriage proposal from our end. Do we assume that it is the same from your end as well?
Payal's father: Of course! But we would also like to visit yor in your home.
Boy's mother: You are most welcome. But why?
Payal's father: Our daughter would also like to see if your son can manage a household or not? If he can cook or not! Only then can we decide on giving her hand in marriage.
Boy's mother: (laughs) He doesn't even know to boil water. On rare occassions, he makes noodles in a microwave.
Payal's father: I am sorry, but my daughter cannot live her entire life on just noodles.
A pregnant pause. The boy himself speaks up.
Boy: Sir, why don't you come to our home after 10 days?
Payal's Dad: Why in 10 days?
Boy: Sir, by then I will learn to cook / create something. You can then come to meet the boy!
Smiles all around.
The scenario is very different and refreshing in comparison to the traditional norm of the Indian society.

Preganews Ad: Another brilliant ad film on how the corporate is being sensitive to the life of a professional woman/asset who is pregnant instead of making her life more difficult by excluding her out of major meetings quoting her pregnancy, and the challenges that it bring with it, as a reason.

Here is the script for the benefit of those who do not understand the language that the Ad is in:

Two collegues are discussing in the conference room when one tells the other that something needs to be done about the staff cost as the result of this quarter are very low. The other is deep in thought and enquires about a specfic staff named Swetha to the peon for which he answers that he is going to get her things next. The executive instructs the peon that from now on in every meeting he is to bring in water for her every 30 minutes.

This specific staff's cubicle is cleared after office hours, all her things are placed in a box and moved. A lady staff asks the peon if the fan does not give out smell and another lady staff talks to someone on the phone instructing them to place the new chair ordered downstairs and leaves for the night. Next day morning, you see a lady climbing up the stairs and coming into office. She smiles and wishes someone good morning only to turn to her desk and find nothing. She asks, "Where's my stuff?"

A colleague answers, "Go down and talk to the HR".

She talks to herself, "How could they do this to me when I am pregnant?" She assumes the worst under the circumstances. She lets out a frustrated sigh, turns around, and walks back down the stairs towards the HR, while she passes a cabin that lights up sensing movement. She turns and on the door sees her name and enters. The rest of the conversation is in English.

Even some of the Tamil daily soaps are interesting. A daily soap called "Maapillai" on Vijay TV talks about how a man marries and goes to live in the house of his wife with her 4 sisters and parents. The emotions, feelings and thoughts that a woman goes through after marriage while trying to adjust into a new family and their routine is now the norm for this man who has moved into his wife's home. A revolutionary thought in itself considering that the norm in Indian marriages is for the girl to move out from her parental home into the in-laws home after marriage. This soap also talks about the general parenting mistakes (like how the boys are completely pampered by their mothers to the extent that they cannot function independently even to get their own coffee or clean and iron their own clothes) and touches upon the other societal stereotypes that are not so nice.

These ads and the new story-lines that are trying to break stereotypes, bring in hope that the change in the thought process will soon happen even where it matters and not just remain as advertisements or movies on screen or in words as blogs/books. More power to the positive change that is slowly but steadily taking over the society at large. Cheers to a better future in the making !

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Drawing Parallels - Could religious symbols signify similarities?

I recently had the opportunity to visit St. Mary's Church, Harrow (London) and had the pleasure to discover more about various Christian symbols and practices. It was an euphoric moment for me when I heard the narrative given by the church representatives and I just could not help myself but draw parallels to the Hindu Temples that I grew up knowing about. Below are some of them:

Tall Tower - At the entrance of the church we were introduced to the Spire (alternatively called the Steeple), the tall structure in the church. She explained that the presence of Spire was as a symbol to point us to heaven and heavenly things that makes us forget about the earthly things that surround us and we start concentrating on the beautiful sky and think about God and Angels bringing about a shift in our thoughts. This was the start of the euphoric moment that I mentioned about. As a Hindu (practising or by birth - I am not sure where I would put myself) I was immediately able to relate it to the Gopura Dharisanam (the Kalasam present atop the tallest tower or gateway tower in front of the temple is looked at in a similar fashion for almost the exact same reasons) symbolisation.

We went inside and sat down at the prayer hall where we were introduced to the other members present there including the Vicar (who was also the Chaplin at the school nearby), who was the highest person of importance as far as this church was concerned.

Design - The first explanation given was about the design of the church. She told us that all churches were built with a basic design of the Cross and this was common for all churches and this was to symbolise that Jesus Christ died on the cross and hence Cross represented the most important event in the history of Christianity and considered to be very holy. So that was the length of the church with the altar at one end and the entrance on the other end of the long vertical side of the cross while the short and horizontal portion of the cross had chapels for other important people/things. Over the years, other structures get built around this main structure (like hall of peace that is used as place of meditation or prayer for people from other beliefs) and hence it might be difficult to see the Cross on an aerial view of the Church but if you see from inside, this basic design will be present as a common element. 

This made me draw a parallel to the Hindu Temples and their basic structure of commonality of having a Sannidhi (or Sanctorum) for Lord Ganesha as the God at the entrance of every temple, and then a main sannidhi that houses the main diety of that temple. Then there is the Navagraha (that represent the Sun, Moon and the eight planets). In addition to these three features depending on the temple, there may be more additions to the temple in the form of halls for conducting prayers/poojas and functions.

Functionality - The next parallel I drew was in olden days, Church was the centre point for almost everything including reading, teaching, healing, spreading the word of the Lord and such. Similarly, Temples were the epicentre of power for similar reasons like teaching, lecture, healing, spreading spirituality and the teachings of Gurus (or Saints) to common people. 

Paintings & Carvings - There were tinted glass paintings that tell a story because in olden days, people did not know to read and write and hence art came to the forefront to spread the message. The roof of the church had wooden carvings of angels, saints, musicians and so on. Parallel to Hinduism is the carvings on the Temple towers and pillars, paintings on the inner walls and ceilings that each told a story and conveyed a life in that village/town where the temple was located.

The Holy Water Font or the Stoup - A Symbol to denote that the water is a cleansing agent and hence sprinkling of water is to denote the cleansing of the person/thing. 

The Temple Pond – A parallel to the Stoup - A dip in the Temple pond (Teppam – a pond found outside the temple) is supposed to cleanse one completely. If this pond is absent, the sprinkling of holy water (water mixed with turmeric, camphor, Tulasi - Indian holy basil) is supposed to do the job. 

A final tit-bit that I learnt about the altar was the significance behind the presence of the table present at the altar. This is to symbolise Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples.

These insights probably indicate that different religions indeed have similar notions and commonalities, adapted to local context.

Pictures courtesy:  Google search