The Ends Justify The Means

September 7, 2010

I’ve never bought that line of thought, but…

There’s this woman I know, we’ll call her S. Her version of her story is like this. She had an arranged marriage and had two kids. About 10 years ago, her husband started mistreating her and took up with another woman. I don’t know the details of “mistreating” and I don’t know whether he left home or he threw her out of the house. But S found herself destitute and had to start working as a domestic help to support her kids. She initiated proceedings in the Family Court, hoping to get maintenance from her husband. I think she also filed for divorce. It took several years and most often the husband never showed up at court. He filed a counter claim that she had mistreated him and taken up with another man. Some time last year, the Family Court decreed that her husband should pay S Rs 3000 as monthly maintenance. Of this, 1000 was for S, and 1000 each for her son and daughter until the former attained majority and the latter got married.

I have no idea how much time and money went into getting this order and I suspect that her lawyer jerked her around in the process. In any case, after the order was passed, S still did not get any money from her husband. She got hold of some local politician who took a stiff fee for the job of shooting off letters stating her case to half a dozen political dignitaries. The letter to the President of India, surprisingly enough, did yield a result! S got a reply directing the CM’s office to look into the matter and ensure that justice was done.

Meanwhile, almost a year after the order was passed, her husband filed an objection stating that he cannot afford to pay S 1000 as monthly maintenance. Moreover, he said, since the daughter is now married and living with her husband, and the son has attained majority, the order should be modified to state that he does not need to pay any maintenance for them.

On the face of it, it looks like a trivial objection, because the order already limits maintenance payment for the son and daughter till they attain majority and get married, respectively. So it looks like the husband is just buying time, or being obstructive.

S added a new dimension to the whole situation by revealing that her daughter had been seduced by her husband’s sister’s son (her first cousin) and had gone off happily to live with him without stopping to get married. This, despite S’s warnings to steer clear of that family. Things turned out the way you’d expect them to, with the daughter being mistreated by her mother-in-law and S’s two grandchildren, 3 and 5 years old, suffering grievous bodily harm.  What’s worse, S’s husband then attempted to bribe his nephew, S’s son-in-law, by promising to buy him a car if he would swear in court that S was living with another man!

But in this case, somehow the errant son-in-law did a u-turn and said, “Nothing doing!” He sobered up (yeah, that too), moved in with his common-law wife and kids and turned into a decent husband. (Hard to explain. Maybe the kids had this effect on him?)

That was when S’s husband filed his objection to the maintenance order passed by the Family Court. Notice was served on S to appear in Family Court on a given date. She received the notice just a couple of days before the date of the hearing. Since she’d already had it with her previous lawyer, she didn’t have a lawyer to represent or advise her and she was worried. What’s worse, the person who served the notice told her that she should consult a certain person (lawyer?) in Jayanagar who would help her, and she must bring Rs 5000 in cash. And if she did not turn up, she and her son and daughter would be arrested.

No wonder the poor woman was frantic by then. She obviously didn’t have access to Rs 5000 in cash. Periodically, when she needs money, she checks in some of her jewellery with a money lender. Currently I think most of her jewellery is already with the money lender. I advised her as strongly as I could against shelling out a large chunk of cash to an unknown shyster lawyer, and Amit called a legal friend for advice. He assured us that the Family Court can’t arrest anyone – S was quite relieved to hear that – and put us in touch with someone who would take up the case on “humanitarian grounds” for a “nominal fee”.

Meanwhile, though, S’s daughter and son-in-law had got hold of a lawyer and since time was short, S decided to go along with this lawyer. Apparently this lawyer ignored the Family Court hearing altogether, hauled them all off to the Criminal Court and slapped a case on S’s husband for domestic violence and abuse! He also implicated the husband’s employer in the case! The allegation was that his employer was enabling him to take voluntary retirement, so that he would get a lump sum payment and be freed of the responsibility of paying monthly maintenance. If true, this could explain why he was stalling by filing trivial objections in the Family Court close to a year after the maintenance order being passed. Unfortunately, the lawyer has no indication of this being even slightly true. What’s more, he stated the husband’s salary as at least one-and-a-half times what S thought it might be. When S expressed some hesitation, he said, “Look lady, you have to say it’s this much, ask for half of this. Then he will be forced to show his payslip to show that he actually gets less. Let him show his payslip. You went to Family Court and said he earns 7k. What did you get? 3k, of which you will now get only 1k. And you haven’t even got that yet after so many years. With this case, you will get a decision within three months. You ask for 20 k, he will say he doesn’t earn that much, at the end of it you might get 5k. But this time he can’t lie, because his employer is also implicated. Get it?”

I saw the petition. It states that S was criticized, beaten, abused, and driven out of her husband’s home – all of which is true to a greater or lesser extent. It also states that she was “carrying her child” at that time, which is patently untrue, considering her youngest is now 18 and the date for this specific act is given as April this year. Any way you interpret “carrying” won’t hold for an eighteen-year-old. And you have to only look at S to know that she’s beyond the age of “carrying” a child in the normal sense of that word.

I pointed this out to S, and she agreed that this little detail would have to be changed. Then I asked her how she felt about lying about her husband’s salary, and tried to point out that lying to court was not a good idea. I tried to explain to her that she might not have much credibility in court and might come across as a greedy or opportunistic woman, instead of the innocent and naïve victim that she really is, if she is tells a lie of this magnitude. Though normally a reasonable and honest person, she got really worked up and launched on a long tirade about all the wrongs her husband had done to her and how he was even now flouting the order passed by Family Court; how he was living alone in luxury while she struggled to make ends meet and provide food and education for her son, daughter, and grandchildren. If telling the truth hadn’t done anything for her so far, then it was time for a change in tactics, she felt. And after all the lies he’d told the court about her, shaming her by accusing her in public of living with another man… this was nothing.

I can see her point. I do feel bad for her situation, for how she’s had to fight her way through life, for the battles I see her fighting every day even now that her children are (almost) grown up and she’s a grandmother. After all she’s gone through, I do feel she’s entitled to a bit of comfort, a bit of security.

Yet I sit in my fantasy world, believing that you shouldn’t lie on moral grounds; and that the ends don’t always justify the means, the means have to be fair to begin with; and that you can’t resort to the same dirty tactics as your opponent; and, of course, that lying in a petition to a criminal court might not be a good idea in a purely practical (and legal) sense either. I sit here with all the very good reasons for her to not tell this kind of lie in these circumstances, yet I am not sure. In her position, what would I do? Would I also say, eff it, enough is enough, if I have to lie to get what I deserve, then so be it?

Honestly, what would you do?

Leave Education to the Schools

July 30, 2010

It’s all very well when you don’t have kids and you think: “Oh, when I have kids, I’ll teach them this and I’ll show them that, and I’ll share the other with them, and I’ll always do this and (especially) I’ll never do that,” and so on.

When the kids are there growing up in front of your eyes, you really have to pin down and put in words practically your entire belief system – and that’s not so easy.

One thing I’ve realized I do believe – if for no other reason than out of sheer laziness – is that it’s best to leave teaching to the schools. I’m a lousy teacher anyway. They, hopefully, know what they’re doing.

My mother was probably a good teacher. At least, I hope she was, because she taught tiny tots in school for a while. She likes to talk about her unconventional – for that time – approach to teaching. I remember her sitting with me while I painstakingly learnt to read. As one of the most impatient people I have ever known, the thing that stands out most is her patience while I struggled to piece the words together. (According to her, I was mildly dyslexic.) The other thing that stands out now, in retrospect, is that she didn’t try to teach me to read; she just sat there and let me learn it on my own.

Once I’d mastered reading, I don’t remember my mother ever working with me on any school-related task – from homework through projects, and, later on, even to issues with teachers or other students. She never glanced at my homework to see whether I had done it or even to know what it was that I had to do. She never tutored me for tests and exams and she never questioned me on the outcome. She never even told me to go study. But somehow I knew that I must do the work I was given to do, in the time I was given to do it, and I must do it myself, without help from parents, sister, or classmates. I knew that if I had questions, I should ask the teachers and no-one else (and from that I eventually learned that most teachers didn’t like to be questioned and often, especially in higher classes, didn’t actually have the answers.) I learned to be disciplined and conscientious and independent, qualities I now – strangely enough – value highly.

But how did this approach help me? Did it help me excel in school, or in life? Not really.

In school, I was a good student. I was not great; I was never top of the class; I was not even good enough to get a seat in an engineering college – or at least, the only engineering college I did get into was the one my parents didn’t want to send me to (Thapar, in Patiala); and I wound up doing English Honours (which was probably really the best choice for me anyway)… So I was not a great student, but whatever I did, I did well enough.

But is “well enough” good enough? Is, for instance, English Honours good enough?

Now the question is, of course, what do you want for your children. For some people, it might be a difficult question to answer. They might be torn between “doctor” “engineer” and (hopefully) “artist” (either creative or performing). For me, the answer is none of those. I don’t care whether they become doctors or engineers; writers or violinists; Wimbledon finalists or movie stars. I don’t care whether they ever achieve greatness in any field or not. I don’t care whether they have a job and a career or they are destined to penury as struggling artists or activists. I don’t even, really, care whether they make themselves rich or not. What I want for them is something more difficult to define. I want them to be balanced, determined, confident, secure, and independent people. I want them to have the foundations for strength, peace, and contentment. I want them to have integrity, at every level. I want them to be able to take on the world without blinking.

I want them to be people I can look up to in respect, even in awe – not for what they might achieve, but simply for who they are.

How am I going to help make them that way? I have no idea – but certainly not by helping them to learn whatever their school wants them to learn. Not by holding their hands to teach them to write. Not by pinning them to a study table while they struggle with numbers and letters. Not by pushing them to learn faster or better than others in their class or school or neighborhood. But maybe, just maybe, by letting them be whatever they want to be.

When they went on stage a few weeks ago, I was so proud of both of them. Mrini, for obvious reasons – she was unfazed by the lights, the sound, the audience, the strangeness of everything, and she stood in her place and did her part and enjoyed it. She can hardly wait to get back on stage. (I probably should get her into a music and/or dance class soon – she so loves to sing!) She had courage and elan. But Tara – Tara was bewildered by the set-up. The too-loud music troubled her. So she covered both her ears with her hands and just stood there, looking bemused. She didn’t cry. She didn’t run away. She didn’t even look scared; just puzzled. She stood her ground and did what felt right to her and she was not in the least bit embarrassed or upset by her performance.  That takes a kind of courage and confidence too.

Academic performance, good or bad, is not going to turn them into the people I want them to be. Excellence at academics will of course give them confidence, but that is a confidence limited to only that sphere, and based on only that success. I want them to have the confidence to go against the flow, to not excel if they choose not to. To take their own time and do their own thing.

And that’s why I’m so happy with the Montessori system and with their school in particular. They let children learn at their own pace, and they have confidence in kids’ ability to learn (as much as in their own ability to teach). At the end of last year, their teacher said, “Well, they should know the number symbols from zero to nine by now, but they haven’t completely got it yet. You can work with them on it over the summer holidays if you want to. Otherwise don’t worry, we’ll do it when school resumes in June.”

That, exactly, is what I want to hear. I want to know where they stand, what they need to work on, and I want to know that there is absolutely no need for me to “work” on it with them. I did talk and play with numbers a bit with them during the holidays, but I didn’t “work” on it. And they seem to have got it now anyway. Ok, they are a couple of months late. Should I be worried? I don’t think so.

I have little enough time with my girls as it is. What time I do have, I want to spend enjoying them. I want to watch them play, and talk to them and engage them in all the things they don’t learn in school – making cake, listening to music (as opposed to nursery rhymes), watching (and playing) tennis, telling stories… And in all of this, if I can somehow impart to them some bits of my desired philosophy, my preferred outlook on life, so much the better.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s all very well to say this now, when they are not yet four years old and they don’t have tests and exams to pass. Can I stand by this when they are 8, 10, 14 years old and studies become more challenging and the rat race becomes more competitive? I don’t know – but I intend to try. And if their school means to continue along the path it has started out on, I imagine I might have some chance of success.

So here’s my plan: as school continues and they learn to read and write and then go on to arithemtic, geography, history and all that other stuff, I’m not going to be studying with them. I won’t “go over” what they’ve learnt in school each day or each week. I won’t be checking that they’ve done their homework or studied for a test. And I’m not going to stop them if they want to spend their time playing games instead of working. I spent the day before my Xth Standard English Board exam reading Tolkein (which was, sadly, not part of the curriculum) and my parents weren’t in the least bit perturbed by that. They trusted that I’d done my work for the exam – and I want to pass on that trust to my daughters, starting, oh say, a year or so ago. If they don’t do well academically, that’s ok – in the long run, they will learn that they are responsible for their own lives and that is a lesson well worth learning.

Some day, in their own way, they will take on the world. And I’ll watch from the audience and say with pride, “that’s my girl!”

For me, that’s good enough.

Five Random Things I Can’t Do

July 2, 2010

I’d better start with a disclaimer: There are not just five, there are about a zillion things I can’t do. Maybe even a gazillion. But these five deserve mention because I really wish I *could* do these because they would either earn me a load of good karma, give a huge boost to my ego and self-image, or make me immensely popular — or at least vaguely “with it”. Plus, they might contribute to saving the world, one drop at a time.

Yet, despite all of those extremely powerful motivators, I just can’t bring myself to do these things.

    I can’t commute to work by bus. Not even by A/C Volvo. Not even the one that goes directly from home to office. The thing is, I love my car. Not as much as I loved my bike, but still, I mostly enjoy driving, and trying to outwit every other idiot on the roads, and I love the sense of independence and freedom that it gives me. It’s expensive and it’s ruining the environment, but as long as I am earning and can afford to drive, I’m going to drive. And honestly, what’s a few litres of petrol every day when billions of gallons are being pumped into the Gulf of Mexico for over two months now?

    I can’t curb my sweet tooth. The truth is, it’s running rampant. Somehow or other, I find a way to indulge it at least once or twice a day. If I could get off sweet permanently, I’d probably shed a few of those extra pounds, but then… would life really be worth living any more? (Oh and there are various other categories of food I can’t do without – all unhealthy stuff, like coffee, chocolate, ice cream, beer, non-veg…)

    I can’t have a cold water bath. I used to – as a child, I used cold water for far more days of the season than anyone else in the family. In fact, when most of the kids in my class were bathing in hot water, I could still boast of cold water showers. But not any more. I need warm water most of the year now. Again, it’s doing untold damage from the global warming perspective, but well… I do turn off every electric thing whenever I remember.

    I can’t get up at 5.30 a.m. unless there is a decent prospect of playing tennis. I know I should get up even if only for a walk or some stretching exercises, but I can’t. Not even if I slept at 10.30, with every intention of getting up early.

    I can’t get interested in the World Cup. Shocking, I know – the whole world is talking about it. But there are way too many countries, way too many matches that go on until way too late at night, and I don’t know any of the players. Did I mention way too many players? 30+ in a team is just too many men to get excited about! It’s too much work! And India isn’t playing anyway (and never will, it looks like), so I don’t even know whom to back. And besides, I can never spot an offside, not even in slow motion, and Amit is always trying to convince me that there is going to be a penalty corner, when in fact it can only either be a penalty or a corner, and I never know which one or why. The fun part of the whole match, the shootout business, comes after 90 whole minutes of running around and hardly getting anywhere – two, or four goals of the blink and you miss it kind. In short, thank god it happens only once in four years! (There, I’ve said it! You can go ahead and stone me to death now.)

My Days in the Sun

April 6, 2008

It is probably a dangerous thing to say, because, strangely enough, I have to admit to a superstitious belief that saying so might change it, but I’m going to risk saying it out loud anyway: I’m in a very happy place in my life right now. After a very, very long time, I realize that I’m not desperately wishing or waiting for anything any more. I wouldn’t describe my life as perfect, but this is as close as it gets.

  • My family is complete. The twins absolutely light up my life. There is immense satisfaction in doing all the mundane motherly chores for them. And satisfaction in seeing them grow in confidence, in ability, and – of course – in size.
  • Amit is a delighted, devoted and doting father – as I always knew he would be, but getting him to believe it was one helluva task.
  • True I’m not working, but at last I’m working on a project that I’ve always wanted to work on but never had the time – my travel website. I can only spare a couple of hours a day to work on it, but that’s enough – I know that if I keep at it, I can take it to some kind of completion by the end of the year. I’m in no hurry.
  • I can pick freelance projects to work on. I can reject work that’s not interesting enough. I am fortunate enough that I can afford not to work for pay if I choose – either not to work, or not to get paid. Currently, I’m somewhere in-between: I’m almost not working, and I’m certainly not getting paid; but either aspect might change sometime in the future.
  • I can, hopefully, find the time to resume – and, eventually, complete – my online Archaeology course. This is one of my few longest-standing desires still pending.

The only reasons I wouldn’t use the word perfect are:

  • I’d like to get out of the house more… if only for a daily walk, a bit of window-shopping, a cup of coffee.
  • I wish I had more time with Amit. Though I suppose that if after ten years of marriage I still feel that way, it can’t altogether be a bad thing…
  • Resuming my German classes doesn’t seem likely in the near future.
  • I still have to find a publisher for my travel book.

A couple of those might look like quite major areas of improvement, but they hardly make in dent in my general satisfaction with life at present. I’m sure things will change – after a while, I’ll probably start to miss working life. Or I might find it really stifling to be so extremely home-bound. Or… something. But right now, while the kids are well and everything’s going smoothly, I have to say that I’m in a good place in life, and I’m keeping my fingers (and toes etc) crossed that it stays that way at least for a while.

The Year That Was

December 31, 2007
In January this year, things were different. I was on hormones that were supposed to help me conceive. We didn’t know then that that was something that would never happen.

We’ve come a long way since then. And that progress has dominated this year for me. The whole process of infertility culminating in adoption was a difficult and unhappy one, but at last it has worked out for us. Now, none of the history matters any more.

Other things have happened in the past year. Most significantly, I quit my job and – most likely – ended my career of over a decade. That was a difficult decision, one that took a very long time to come to fruition, and one that – strangely enough – finally occured independent of the adoption. In view of the adoption, I have no doubt that it turned out to be the right decision, but I don’t know how things would have gone if the adoption hadn’t come through so soon. Would I actually have done the things I wanted to do, or would I have ultimately gone back to a desk job? And what about those other things that I wanted to do – will I ever get around to doing them now?

I traveled. We went to Bangkok, a first for me, and we went back to Ladakh and back to Nimaling, my idea of Paradise on Earth. The weather was perfect, better even than it had been the last time. If it is the last trek I ever do, I have no regrets – I have been twice-blessed.

I finally enrolled in a course on Archaeology! This, after about 15 years of waiting…

Looking back, at the start of the year I wanted to:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Improve at tennis – specially backhand!
  3. Go back to playing the violin
  4. Take the next level of German course
  5. Stop doing dull, boring, meaningless work and get involved in something meaningful – or at least exciting
  6. Make at least one new friend
  7. Read at least a book a month
  8. Watch at least two movies a month (at a movie hall)
  9. Travel
  10. Get a publisher for my travel book
  11. Create a photo book

Of these, I’ve made absolutely no progress on numbers 3, 8, and 10, and only limited progress on number 2 (but not for want of trying).

Next year, I want to:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Improve at tennis – specially backhand!
  3. Go back to playing the violin
  4. Complete another two modules of my online Archaeology course
  5. Work on a compilation of my existing travel articles for a website, book, or series of freelance articles

Will I be able to achieve even these few modest goals? I hope so, but only time will tell.

Achievements and Regrets

January 25, 2006

I had gone for my weekly walk (it’s supposed to be daily, but it sort of becomes weekly) and thinking about nothing, as one does when walking alone in the park, and I started thinking of all the things I had done that I was happy about. And one thing led to another and finally this is what resulted (in no particular order):

I’m glad that I

  • Took a break from work to go trekking in the Himalayas for 3 months
  • Finally got around to buying and riding a ‘guy’s bike’
  • Enrolled for a Master’s degree – so many years after graduation (and in a completely different subject)
  • Taught myself to whistle with two fingers in my mouth (after years of trying)
  • Learnt horse riding

    I’m glad I did not

    • Attend full-time college
    • Stay too close to family (or in-laws)
    • Stay on at KF till I lost my sanity (though it was a near thing…)

      I wish had (or I would still like to)

      • Continued learning music
      • Had kids. And dogs. (And horses. And a farmhouse outside the city. Ok, ok, getting carried away…)
      • Written a book that got published (and became a best seller in it class)
      • Learnt to sing
      • Learnt to play tennis at a younger age (I first tried when I was in my early teens – so many years wasted!)

        I wish I had not

        • Crashed the car I was driving. Twice. (Still haven’t fully recovered from those)
        • Given up the idea of studying Archaeology (just because everyone else thought it was a bad idea)
        • Been so thoroughly mal-adjusted in the US.

          The idea was to list the top 5 in each category. I’m happy to say that in two categories I could not find 5. (Ok, this has been censored a bit… that’s allowed.) This was an interesting exercise. Anyone else inclined to take a shot at it?

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