Wednesday, April 29, 2009

*Finishing* school for women...

Special attention to bolded portions please. Valuable lessons for a good life are hidden here.


Deepti, 18, recently cleared her class 12 examination. And that, her parents decided, was enough education for a girl. Four months ago, they fixed up her marriage. Deepti is now training at the Manju Sanskar Kendra in Bhopal to be an ideal wife to a boy she has only seen once, and with whom she occasionally chats on the telephone with her parents' permission.

Six days a week, Deepti attends sermons at the Kendra, an institution set up to train women to surrender to the more powerful in the family -- in this case, the husband and in-laws. Aildas Hemnani, the Kendra's head, coaches his students in a spacious room that doubles up as a prayer hall for the Sindhis in Bairagarh, a Sindhi-dominated residential area on the outskirts of Bhopal.

"Aildas bhau [brother] is teaching us how to keep our minds and bodies pure and our tempers in check," says Deepti. Among other things, he also ensures the girls know how to always keep their heads covered and ensure the pallu doesn't slip off.

A retired Madhya Pradesh government employee, Hemnani's idea to set up this 'unique institution' evolved during a discussion with Sant Hridayaram, who is highly revered by the Sindhis.

"I was distressed by the constant bickering among families all around me. At times, it led to divorce. I told Sant Hridayaram that families are breaking up because girls nowadays have too much ego. Parents don't have time to train their daughters properly. Girls must shed their egos to build a happy family. Sant Hridayaram suggested I start a training course."

In 1988, Hemnani made the rounds of local schools and persuaded one of them to let him use its premises for two hours every day before the regular classes began. He lectured for two hours in the morning, six days a week, to the few girls who cared to attend.

Hemnani has authored three textbooks for his students, drawing inspiration and information from Geeta Press, a publishing house that prints Hindu religious books. Hemnani distributes these textbooks free of cost to his students.

One of Hemnani's textbooks, Grahasth Mein Vyavaharik Jeevan (Practical Married Life), claims: 'Science has proved that when menstruating women touch leaves and plants they wilt and decay faster.' However, when asked about the source of such a study, Hemnani becomes defensive, "I cannot give you proof. I have heard this and read it in the books that have been published by Geeta Press. What proof can one have of the truth the mahatmas have said?"

The books are studded with many other such nuggets. 'Too much sex,' avers one, 'is the cause of diabetes and tuberculosis among men.' Hemnani's books lay stress on abstinence within marriage as a contraceptive measure and advise women and men to engage in sex only for procreation. Care during pregnancy includes elitist, regressive advice such as not looking at blind, disabled, deaf and 'unattractive' people!

The three-month course is free and does not follow any fixed calendar schedule. It includes lessons in Gurmukhi, the script for the Sindhi language, recitations from the Granth Sahib and teachings culled from Hindu religious books, including the Puranas and the Bhagvad Gita. It costs community donors Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 a month to keep the course going for a handful of girls. The expenses include distributing booklets, cassettes of hymns and light refreshments like nutritious drinks for all devotees who use the prayer hall on Saturdays.

"Men build society and women build homes," declares Hemnani. Towards this end, the girls who attend his course are taught to sew, cook and pray -- in theory. "We don't have the facilities for practical training."{Ms. Tic: ROFL} More importantly, they are taught how to conduct themselves in their in-laws' household.

Nisha, another alumni, attended the course for a whole year before she was married off to a businessman whom she hadn't seen before marriage; she had not even been shown his photograph. Nisha claims the Kendra taught her to 'adjust properly.' She elaborates, "Sometimes when I get angry, I remember what bhau taught us and my anger vanishes."

Nisha has also learnt how to protect her and her husband's health and to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. "That is taught only to older girls when they are about to be married. I know I should not sleep with my husband during menstruation. He will fall ill," says Nisha.

Women's groups first heard of the Kendra two years ago when a local newspaper published a feature on it. "All they teach is subjugation," says Kumud Singh, secretary of the Bhopal district committee of the National Federation of Indian Women. An attempt by the All-India Democratic Women's Association to engage Hemnani and his students in a dialogue has been rebuffed.

Sandhya Shaili, president of AIDWA's Madhya Pradesh chapter, wonders how long the girls will follow such retrograde ideas. "They are teaching girls how to attune themselves to the demands of a patriarchal society. The girls are young and immature. I wonder how many will stick to the teachings once they start having problems."

"The Sindhi community here is very conservative," she adds. "Two years ago they demanded that co-education in schools be stopped. We protested and stalled the move.

Singh, meanwhile, feels that boys should also be coached. "Training and restraining boys is necessary. If men learn to respect women, half the problems families face would be solved."

Hemnani says he would like to coach would-be husbands as well. "I wanted to train boys too but nobody is interested," he laments. He has also created a course that would train women to be ideal mothers-in-law but, like the course for boys, that too didn't take off.

A permanent address for the Kendra came up in 1994 when a rich Mumbai-based stockbroker, Sukhram Das Mehtani, spent Rs 1 million to provide a place for the 'unique institution.' His only condition was that the Kendra be named after his only daughter, Manju, who died before her 18th birthday. The centre is now run from a large, bare hall, with a tiny sitting room and a little kitchen in the compound of a public school.

Hemnani has been running the course for the last 15 years and it has been confined largely to the Sindhi community in Bhopal. Saturdays see the highest attendance, when 30-odd young women and a couple of matrons come to the centre.

But his ideas are now gaining popularity outside Madhya Pradesh. He recently held a 10-day camp for youngsters in Ahmedabad and Junagadh in Gujarat and will soon visit Jaipur in Rajasthan.



Have you seen this?

As if there's not enough in this world right now to depress us.

I know I sound like a broken record lamenting on how women are treated unequally in our society. But all my cribs about changing surnames and quitting a job for someone's sake pale in comparison to what you see on this blog.

Makes me wonder what the hell I'm doing with all the opportunities life presents to me. About time one gave back and tried to make a change. Hmm.

It starts now ...

You know how sometimes you have this wish that's somewhere inside and waiting to surface at the right time and make itself known? And you know that feeling (part relief, part anxiety) at having spoken it out loud? I'm feeling that now. I've finally put a wish into the system so to speak, and will now wait and see how things go.

Being a strong believer in the *wish-granters help those who help themselves* policy, I DID spend a good 5 or 6 months planning and paving the way for this wish to be granted much easier than otherwise.

But now, I'm going to sit back, relax (there's no need to laugh like that at the prospect of my relaxing) and wait. I've done my bit of sowing, and it's time to reap.

P.s: Behind the scenes lies an interesting story I will someday tell on this blog. After all wishes have been granted and the dust has settled on what has been a very interesting 2-3 years of my life. :-)

In the meantime, can I ask that you pray for me, kind reader? :-)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Is all I am capable of spouting right now since I am in the middle of a call AS i write this. Could this be the career limiting move I've always been afraid I would make? Maybe not, considering my boss just called me on the other phone saying "Kitni baat kar rahe hain, raat ko saade nau baje" (Loosely translated --> How much they talk at 9.30 in the night?)

I know that this new role is fabulous and is supposed to open up all of these very essential avenues for me personally and professionally. I know it gives me the chance to travel and meet people from all over the world AND the chance to influence a larger scope of business than I did earlier. I know I must feel indebted and grateful and bow in sheer gratidue and appreciation of what has been sent my way.

I know, OK?

But for a teeny tiny minute here, can i please pause and WHINE about how my back hurts and my body and mind are stunted from the series of pm meetings that leave me with ZERO time to myself? About how my social life has dwindled to meeting the Penguin for an hour every week and I'm so F&*^ing exhausted that the one day I missed setting the alarm, I slept off until 10.47 am in the morning and even then only woke up coz the maid knocked on the door? ME - with the silly body clock that cannot sleep beyong 8.45 am on weekends even. Also that work days are so busy that I have to think twice before I take a bloody pee break!!!

Phew. That felt good!

And they continue to talk .....

Edited to add: Ooooohh that was post no. 301!!! :D

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Going home!!!!

August 2008 was the last time I went home to Bombay. Now I've seen my folks after that in a different city, and I'm in touch with friends and all. But it feels incredibly nice to be going back after all this time. It's a new house the family's moved into, and are super excited for me to see. S will be a 10 min drive away and so will N's wedding venue. Bombay will be seen through very different eyes :)

AND I get to pass through Madras for 2 days before that! YAY!! :D

Cya at the end of the week!