Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Let's love her

This was written for the "point of view"
Last week was “catching up time” with old friends. Some of us are already mothers were discussing the pros and cons of raising kids, taking the second chance and sabbatical from work. During the talks, we learnt that two more friends were blessed with daughters. We cheered at the thought of the newest addition to our tribe. Clap, clap! Someone joked if He had his finger pressed on the button for “girls,” (like the TV commercial), because suddenly all we knew were proud, beaming parents of chubby, cute, pink faced baby girls.
While others were chatting and laughing about “girl power,” I remember a spine-chilling conversation I had with another friend.
This friend had always dreamt of having lots of kids. So it was no surprise that she took the second chance after her first daughter turned three. This time around her family members wanted the “perfect family” -- husband, wife, one son and his sister. A second girl child didn't fit into their scheme of things. And, to ensure that they don't have another granddaughter, they pushed my friend to go in for the sex determination test, which is illegal. She just refused. We will have what we have, she said in a way everyone understood.
The family, which my friend is married into, is upper middle class and highly educated. So one wonders why such people should push for a “male heir.” Perhaps because the birth of a girl spells “loss” in the family balance sheet, while a boy maximises the profit. It sounds cold, calculating and cruel, but that's how life is for the girl child -- those who are lucky to complete the nine-month term in the womb and live to see this world. Of course, there are families which welcome the birth of daughters with joy and warmth, but they are far outnumbered by those which see the birth of girls as a “liability.” For them, sex determination is a practical way to get rid off the liability. Perhaps they don't see it as cruelty. But, who knows, how they might react if this test was applied to boys. They might cry hoarse, “cruelty cruelty.”
Don't get me wrong. Never make the boys the victims for female foeticide. But why not welcome both with equal love, warmth and bless them and prepare them for a wonderful life. Celebrate the birth without discriminating against a gender. Perhaps I am a bit too optimistic, but if all women say “No” to kill one of their very own, like my friend did, we will have more reasons to celebrate.

Butterfly at her Best

I wrote this review for the Sunday supplement.

Tender Hooks
By: Moni Mohsin
Pages: 250
Publisher: Random House India
Price: Rs 199

The first few lines of the book made me crack up: “You know Jonkers, na? Oho baba, what's happened to you? Everything you are forgetting. I think so you must have got sterile dementia. Like poor old Uncle Cock-up.”
Still chuckling I start reading again to giggle at few more gems and malapropisms: “I put on green contacts (blue is so past it) and my new Tom Fort red lipstick and now I am just looking like Angelina Jolly. But like her healthier, just slightly older sister. I know I shouldn't do my own praise, but facts are facts, no? Pity Janoo isn't Brad Pitts. But you can't have everything in life as Mother Rosario used to say at my convent school.”
Full of wit, wickedness and malapropisms, Tender Hooks continues from where The Diary of Social Butterfly left off. You get a hint of what is there in the chapter from the introductory lines which are in fact the newspaper headlines – from terror attack, to surveys about love marriages - covering the Pakistani society and polity.
In the sequel, the Butterfly has a dilemma – to find a bride for plain, bald, divorced and awkward, Jonkers, her cousin. Butterfly isn't excited at the prospect, but left with no choice she has to accompany Mummy and Aunty Pussy to weddings, dinners and teas at prospective in-laws families.
In between, these meetings, she also has her kittys and GTs (oho baba, get togethers) with the “rich, sophisty Lahoris”, and shopping for diamonds and badgering Janoo (her husband) to holiday in London or move to Dubai permanently.
Butterfly is the “socialist” type, while Janoo is the anti-socialist, zinda lash. Janoo, serious, intellectual, landed and Oxen (Oxford educated!) is the perfect counterfoil to scatter-brained, flitty and gossipy Butterfly.
Although, Janoo is the “thinker”, it's the Butterfly's seemingly, “ignorant” remarks that strike as sensible. For instance, when bomb are bursting everywhere in Lahore and Butterfly wants to move to Dubai, Janoo wonders what will she do there. The Butterfly answers, “Live.” Her encounter with the “beardo fundo” also shows that she is no weakling.
Of course, there are times when she thinks of her own fayda and moving up in the society and hence tries to push Jonkers into marrying powder pasha's dwarf daughter (she can go and stay in their London flat if the alliance is materialised). She tries to dissuade Jonkers from marrying Sana Raheem, who is the manger of a travel agency. The marriage won't get them any benefits. But in the end, Butterfly is convinced that Jonkers has made a right choice with Sana – just like Janoo and her – and hosts his wedding at their kothi.
The book ends with Butterfly relying on her “sick sense” to predict that Jonkers, Sana, Aunty Pussy and Uncle Cock-up will live happily. There might be a few fights first between bossy Aunty Pussy and not taking – it quietly type Sana, but they'll get along fine.

The Diary of Social Butterfly is a compilation of articles written by Moni Mohsin for Pakistani daily, Friday Times. The protagonist takes a detailed and wicked look at Pakistani high society – khandani Lahoris and paindu pastries.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What Lies Beneath?

This appeared in She on April 1.
I met a friend last month and amidst giggles and girly chat, she revealed that she had got in touch with an old crush from college. They chatted on the Net and even planned to meet when her ex-flame would come down from the US in the Christmas break.
The naughtiness was good for her. She radiated fun and happiness and her eyes sparkled. However, her happiness dimmed a bit when I asked if her hubby knew about this reunion.
“No... I haven’t told him as yet. Frankly speaking, there’s nothing to tell... it’s on a platonic level. My husband won’t mind, but I don’t want to talk about it now. It’s my harmless little secret,” she insisted.
How many of you would say that you’ve never told a lie? We are not talking about serious lies, but harmless lies or half truths that you may ocassionally indulge in. Women, like men, do lie and sometimes the smart, pretty girl does get away with a ‘big’ lie just by doing the sad puppy face or batting her eyelids. Says Anuja Kulkarni. “Of course, women lie. But, men are better liars because there are no emotions involved when they fib.”
Does that mean we aren’t as proficient as the men in the art of lying? Shares senior IB teacher, Satyajit Salgarkar, “It’s easier to catch a girl student when she is lying. But, boys on the other hand, come up with such convincing stories and they also ensure that their lie blends into the story. On the other hand, girls are spontaneous and instinctive.”
Techie Abhijit Kadle says that both men and women lie, but women are strategic liars. “Men lie to extricate themselves out of certain situations or just to cover up, while women are very intelligent and strategic liars. It’s very difficult to find out what she is thinking and what she wants unless the woman makes it clear. They tell the truth, they lie, they withhold information to achieve something in the end. For the female gender, everything is ‘means to an end’,” quips Abhijit.

All done in good faith 

Although what Abhijit says sounds clinical and critical, the womenfolk agree that there is a strategy involved and most of the times fibbing is done in good faith. “Sometimes we lie to maintain peace at home, or to protect a dear one from getting hurt. Of course there are women who indulge in backstabbing, but by and large, we lie to achieve harmony and peace in our lives,” says content writer Sonia Joshi. Affirms 30-year-old Shefali Vohra, “I indulge in white lies frequently. I lie to my mom  and mother-in-law — no discrimination here!” (she laughs) and continues, “When I was single I lied about my bank balance to my mom. She wouldn’t understand why I needed to shop so much. I would also fib about having extra work if I wanted to wriggle out of some family engagement. I lie to my in-laws about the prices of vegetables I buy. My mother-in-law insists on me buying from her trusted vegetable vendor while I prefer to buy from a different place. If I tell her that I pay almost double the price of vegetables, she will hit the roof.”
The equation between moms-in-law and daughters-in-law will always be complicated but we aren’t probing that. What we are probing is whether women are better at deceiving. Some feel that women fare better than men when they want to keep their shopping expenses or extra-marital flirting a secret. Shares Sonia, “Women are better liars when they don’t wish to disclose the additional expense they incurred while shopping. Also, they are good at keeping their extra-marital flirting under wraps. And there is hardly any female who hasn’t faked an orgasm to her  partner, saying that it was the best she’d ever had! And the men love to believe it because it pumps up their ego!”

When lies backfire

What happens when you are caught lying? Do you then do a U-turn or do you continue lying with a straight face? “If it’s a minor issue, I will come clean,” says Anuja. And what happens when your man discovers that you are faking an orgasm? “Every female knows how to judge her man’s reaction. So play it by the ear,” winks Sonia. 
When it comes to relationships, Shefali believes that it’s better to be upfront and clear about issues with your partner. By doing so, you’ll minimise the hurdles. “I was open about my past relationship with my husband. And since he’s heard it from me, he will not believe in any rumours or loose talk. However, I do tend to gloss over the finances like my bank balance or shopping expenses,” she quips.
So as far as fibbing goes, there’s no winner. Says Dr Madhav Ghate, Professor and Head of Psychiatry Department, Navale College, “This isn’t a gender specific issue, nor can it be compartmentalised. I would say men are more likely to lie more because as compared to women, they are more outgoing and involved socially. This is more of a culturally-influenced pattern, which will change because women are now seeking a life beyond the hearth.” But we wouldn’t mind taking a backseat here! What say ladies?