Family Stories: Family Adoptions

Following my last post, I started thinking more about what makes a woman a mum. I have also been watching this drama where a woman is forced to give up her five-year-old daughter to her sister-in-law (husband’s sister) who is childless. She has another, older daughter and is pregnant with her third child, which also happens to be a girl. Her husband had taken loans from his sister’s husband who also pressurises the couple for the adoption. The woman’s mother-in-law also forces the issue as she wants her daughter to be happy since the daughter’s mother-in-law is forcing her son to divorce her since she is childless. The only person who is on her side is the woman’s brother-in-law (husband’s brother), but he is silenced by the others in the family. At this point in the drama, the child has been handed over, but everyone is miserable. I am sure the ending will be positive, as it happens in all dramas, but this got me thinking about something that has happened in my own family.

My mum is the oldest of four girls, and when my grandmother was pregnant with her fourth child (maybe in the hope of having a boy), her sister-in-law (my grandfather’s sister) who was married, but childless offered to adopt the child if it was another girl. My aunt was born and was informally adopted by her aunt. Why informally you may ask? This was because she was betrothed at birth to a cousin who happened to have the same gotra as her aunt. Now because marriage within a gotra was prohibited, the aunt could never formally adopt her or even have her call her mum. She lived with my mum’s aunt all her life, a mere 10-minute walk from her mum’s place and used to meet her sisters often. She always knew who her parents were and used to call them mum and dad and her adopted mum and dad as aunt and uncle, but she didn’t go to the same school as her sisters and perhaps in a small way resented the hold her sisters had over her.

When she got married, it was my grandparents who gave her away and this rankled my grandaunt all her life. She was incredibly jealous of my grandmother and my mum and her sisters and would resent anytime my aunt spent with them. This went on for around 60 odd years until the grand aunt died last year.

She was a mother to my aunt in all ways that mattered but never heard her adopted daughter call her mum, while she had to hear her sister-in-law being called mum all the time. I would think the resentment she had within herself was completely justified.

Then I started thinking about my grandmother. How would she have felt, having to hand over her child to someone else, even though she was her own sister-in-law? Would she have felt pressurised by her family to give her up? Or did she do it with full consciousness?

The person who was most stressed was my aunt according to me. She was constantly under pressure between her mum and adoptive mum and had to play a balancing game all her life. It is only now, when she is past 60 and her adoptive mum has passed on, that she is planning a holiday to stay with her birth mum for a month. How sad is that! She had to always watch her thoughts, words and actions in case her adoptive mum took offence in something she said or did, especially when it related to her birth family.

This situation was something I’d lived with my whole life and was not something I really thought about till now because this was normal in my family. But watching the drama and then relating it to what happened/is happening in my own family made me see it in a different light, one that is more emphatic, I hope.

I hope sharing this family story helps you see adoptive families, especially those who have been adopted by their own family a little differently. Life is never black or white and this is one situation where the shades of grey are more prominent.

World Book Day

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On Sunday (April 23) we celebrated World Book Day. I’d not heard of this event till a couple of years back, but since then, I try to commemorate it in some way or the other.

I’ve blogged about it in detail some time back, so if you want to know more about why this particular day and what happens on this day, click here to find out more!

2017 is the 20th year that UNESCO is celebrating World Book Day.

book-quote-world-book-dayEvery year, books are chosen as special world book day books and the selections this year are:

  • Peppa Loves World Book Day (for pre-schoolers)
  • Everyone Loves Underpants by Claire Freedman (for pre-schoolers)
  • Where’s Wally? The Fantastic Journey by Martin Handford (for children aged 5-7)
  • The Famous Five: Good Old Tim and Other Stories by Enid Blyton (for children aged 5-7)
  • Horrid Henry – Funny Fact Files by Francesca Simon (for children aged 5-7)
  • Princess Mirror-Belle by Julia Donaldson (for children aged 5-7)
  • Butterfly Beach by Jacqueline Wilson (for children aged 7-9)
  • Blob by David Walliams (for children aged 7-9)
  • Island by David Almond (for children aged 11-14)
  • Dead of Night by Michael Grant (for children aged 11-14)

The World Book Day website has some really interesting resource packs for your child, be they in pre-school and nursery, primary school or secondary school. Click the link in the respective age group to access the resource packs.

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Every year, UNESCO and the international organisations representing the three major sectors of the book industry viz. publishers, booksellers and libraries, select the World Book Capital for the year, effective from 23rd April each year for an entire year. This year’s World Book Capital for 2017 is Conakry, Guinea on account of the quality and diversity of its programme, in particular its focus on community involvement as well as for its well-structured budget and clear development goals with a strong emphasis on youth and literacy.

Governments, schools and libraries across the world celebrate this year to encourage people to read more! So did you read something on Sunday? If no, don’t fret! Just read a book today and celebrate World Book Day today! Go on, read a book now…

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What makes a Woman?

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Today, worldwide we celebrate International Women’s Day, but is it really necessary to just devote one day a year to half the world’s population?

Women today have reached the pinnacle of what they can do, with many women breaking records in achievements. At the same time, in many countries, including what is known as a first world country, women still don’t have rights over their own bodies!

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Growing up in a conservative, yet liberal household, I was always told that I can do what I want (within reason) and there was nothing that was beyond me. I remember when I first started college at the age of 16, I found out about the British Council library which was in the Central Business District in Mumbai and wanted to join it. My dad asked me to find out what was the membership fee and where it was. I did so and he handed me the money and told me how to get there and I was on my own. I went with an older friend who had also not gone there before, so we lost our way and had to ask around before we found the building and I became a member. I held that membership for almost 10 years, right after I started working and could not go to the library during work hours. I also became a member of the United States Information Service (USIS) after I started my undergraduate degree as it used to be free then for students. So every month while I was in college, I used to lug my 8 books (4 from each library) to college and after lessons ended around 11 am, I’d travel down to the libraries, before coming back home around 4 pm. My parents never held the view that since I was a young girl, I could not go to places which were far from home. I was probably the only person I knew back then who used to travel so far to get her book fix!

women-power_storyAt the same time, I always knew that I’d get married at some point and take my husband’s name. It was not done for ‘girls like us’ to show off our independence like that. But fast forward some years and I’ve done exactly what I’d never thought I’d do. I have kept my name – the first name and last name that was bestowed upon me at birth and will do so till the day I die. I’ve written about this in a post around 18 months back. As an aside, I also would like to see a world (if that’s even possible in my lifetime) where we do not take a family name which is most likely patriarchal in nature. Why do you need a last name in any case? If it’s that imperative to have one, why can’t it be that of your mother? After all, maternity can never be disputed, but paternity has to be proved, right?

1f8d4f2959f76c7420303d7a940b0b8eA woman today can have it all, and in many cases, is expected to have it all. She is judged constantly – whether she is a homemaker or a working mum and if she is not able to handle both to the satisfaction of the world, then she gets commented upon. Walking down a street in many countries for a woman means running a gamut of catcalls and comments, most, if not all, are sexual in nature. This is seen by the men in those countries as being complimentary to the woman, but for the said woman, it a creepy and extremely offensive.

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So what’s it like being a woman today? I honestly do not have an answer – my definition of being one means allowing no distinction between a man and a woman. I want to go back to the first sentence of this post – why now in 2017, do we even need a day in a year to celebrate womanhood? Shouldn’t every day be a celebration? We don’t celebrate International Men’s Day, do we, then why one for women? Women are more or less half the world’s population, so why this distinction? Why are women still perceived to be the weaker sex? I’d bet if any man had to undergo a natural delivery or even have periods every month for close to 50 odd years of his life, he’d acknowledge with loads of humility that women are indeed the stronger sex (not to mention, all the hidden pink taxes that women pay which would be a thing of the past).

Anyway, that’s all wishful thinking. I’d love to hear from my women readers – what you think makes a woman? How would you like womanhood to be celebrated?

Festivals of India: Thiruvathirai

 

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Chidambaram Temple..Source

A festival unique to the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Thiruvathirai or Arudhra Darisanam is a Hindu festival celebrated on the full moon night in the Tamil month of Margazhi (approximately in December–January), which is also the longest night in the year. The Thiruvathirai vrata is one of the eight significant vratas dedicated to Lord Shiva as it is considered to be the nakshaththram of Lord Nataraj and is the longest night of the year. The word

 

Thiruvathirai or Arudhra in Tamil means “sacred big wave”, that was used when this universe was created by Lord Shiva about 132 trillion years ago. The famous Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu, celebrates this temple with great pomp and splendour and has been celebrating for more than 1500 years, as evident from literary and historical evidence in the form of stone inscriptions.

 

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Main Statue of Lord Natraj at Chidambaram Temple…Source 

The festival celebrates Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance of Natraj. The cosmic dance of Lord Shiva represents five activities – Creation, Protection, Destruction, Embodiment and Release. In essence, it represents the continuous cycle of creation and destruction. This cosmic dance takes place in every particle and is the source of all energy. Arudra Darshan celebrates this ecstatic dance of Lord Shiva. Arudhra or Thiruvathirai signifies the golden red flame and Shiva performs the dance in the form this red-flamed light. Lord Shiva is supposed to be incarnated in the form of Lord Nataraja during the Arudra Darshan day.

 

Lord Shiva never took birth and therefore there is no nakshaththram dedicated to celebrate his birthday. It was mentioned in the Hindu mythology that once Lord Vishnu was resting on the great serpent and Adhi seesha felt that He was in some deep thinking. On asking Lord Vishnu told Adhi seesha that he was remembering the dance of Lord Shiva. This answer invoked the desire in Adhi seesha to witness this great dance. He asked Lord Vishnu how this desire could be fulfilled. Lord Vishnu then urged him to do rigorous ‘tapasya’ at Chidambaram’. Adhi seesha followed his advice and devotedly prayed to Lord Shiva for a very long time. At the same there, a muni and devotee of Lord Shiva known as Viyaagra Paadha also lived in that same place. He worshipped to Lord Shiva to obtain the legs of a tiger in order to pluck flowers at the dawn, without being touched by the bees for offering to the God. He also observed ‘tapas’ to see His great ‘Nataraj’ dance. Finally, Lord Shiva was pleased with their prayers and devotion and he showed his ‘Nataraj’ dance in Chidambaram on the day of Thiruvaadhirai. From then onwards the ‘Nataraaja’ image of Shiva is worshipped here with great fervour on this day.

 

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Temple processions during Thiruvathurai….Source

Tamil hymns of Maanikavasagar’s Thiruvasagam (particularly the hymns Thiruvempavai and Thiruppalliezhuchi) are chanted in temples instead of Sanskrit mantras. On the very day of Thiruvathirai, the idols of Nataraja (Lord Shiva) and his consort Shivagami (Parvati) are taken out of the temple premises for a grand procession. It is one of the major events in almost all the Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu.

 

In Tamil homes, during Tiruvathirai, a special dish called Thiruvadhirai Kali is made. The kali is made with rice, jaggery, moong dal, coconut, cardamom and ghee. The kali is usually eaten with a special curry called Thiruvathirai ezhlu curry koottu which is made out of seven vegetables, that is cooked and served on this day. The vegetables used for this kootu include pumpkin, ash gourd, raw bananas, field beans, sweet potatoes, colocasia, potatoes, eggplants etc.

 

 

Sumangali Pooja Part 2

Please read Part 1 before continuing to read Part 2

Before the sumangalis come, the house is decorated with rice flour rangolis and the lamps are lit in the home altar. Two separate big silver lamps called kuthu villaku are also kept ready to be lit just before the function starts.

When the sumangalies come, we welcome them and give them haldi and kumkum as well flowers to keep in their hair. Then the lady of the family (aka me) lights the big kuthu villakkus. We kept each lamp next to an altar, one each for a sumangali and the young girl. The altar was made using a small low stool (called palagai in Tamil) which has some rangoli done on it. On this is kept the nine-yard saree (which has been made madi in the morning) and the pavadai (for the sumangali and the kanya) and then a mirror is kept behind it in such a way your reflection is seen. This is so that any sumangalis or kanyas of the family who are dead, but who are present in the house at the time of the function can see themselves. We also decorate the mirror with a comb, haldi kumkum, flowers and some gold ornaments like chains, bangles etc. A small pooja is then performed and the entire family (including men if present) offer prayers to the ancestral women of the family and seek their blessings.

We then invite the sumangalis and the kanyas to sit down to eat on plantain leaves. Two leaves, one on top of the other lightly apart, is also kept for the God (called Swami Elai) which in some families, one member of the family would then eat. Before the women sit down (they have to first stand in front of their leaves), the lady organising this function will call the names of all sumangalis in the family. If no names can be found (like in our case), we just call for all known and unknown sumangalis of the family to come and partake the meal. The invited sumangalis and kanyas are actually eating on behalf of the departed souls.

While serving, the food served has to be served to the swami elai first and then to the others in a clockwise direction. In my place, what we did was everyone helped in serving the dishes and then just before the rice was served, the sumangalis sat down to eat. After the rice is served, all the women and girls will have to be given a drop of water from a silver cup called Panchpatram which is a small silver cup with a spoon which men usually use for their gayatri mantram and sandhyavandhanam after they have their sacred thread on.

The menu is fairly traditional and so I prepared Paruppu payasam, sweet mango pachadi, grated cucumber pachadi, raw banana curry, beans curry, ash gourd kootu, snake gourd kootu, bitter gourd pitla, mor kozambu, Mysore rasam, plain white rice, urad dal vadai, boli, panagam, neer mor (like a thin buttermilk) and a chutney made with curry leaves. My mother-in-law made the pitla at her home and also the dough for the vadai and boli which we then made in my home. A mix of sukku podi (dry ginger) and jaggery also will be kept, which is given to all after eating to enhance digestion.

Once the food is served, the lady organising the function willl do neivedhyam and show karpooram to the pudavai ilai and all the people from the host’s family will put flowers on the pudavai ilai and do namaskarams to that. Generally while putting flowers elders will tell us to pray for a wish to happen and then do it. It is strongly believed that the wishes made during this time will be fulfilled.

Once the lunch is over, the lady of the house has to clean the leaves used for eating. Then the women are given pan to eat and also asked to apply the specially prepared turmeric and mehendi and also given flowera again. We also offer them haldi kumkum again and give them the saree/blouse/pavadai. This is actually optional, but since this was the first time I was doing this, we decided to buy sarees for all plus pavadais for the little girls. I also gave them some money to make up for the lack of providing them with the oil, soap, shampoo that morning.

After this, the four of us (BB, GG, S & me) bowed down to the women and did namaskar to them and they blessed us with akshadai (rice made yellow with some turmeric which is very auspicious). They also blessed BB for his poonal and then left. We then sat down to eat.

By the time everyone went home and I was able to put my feet up, I was up on my feet for almost 12 straight hours! I was super exhausted that day.

I hope with this post, I’ve been able to shed some light on the customs of our community. This post is also a reminder for me if I have to do this another time on this function and also for BB & GG in the future. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below….