Friday, October 14, 2016

Becoming Family

Being the eldest daughter as well the eldest daughter-in-law is no piece of cake. From surviving on instant noodles to running a household of seven people, I have come a long way.  Being brought up in a nuclear family, where my father was the only male, I never had to deal with collective unorganized male habits. And  suddenly I found myself in a house with five grown-up male children, who were being used to waited upon hand and foot by their mothers and aunts.

Az's parents, Mom and Dad, stay abroad. The current household consists of the two of us, his two younger brothers and three younger first cousins (one girl and two boys, initially it was one boy). The five of them are students and so it is more like managing a hostel. Thankfully Az is of the helping (around the house) kind.

In the initial months of marriage, I was not working and the girl had not joined college yet. So she used to help me out in many aspects. But when she joined college, she could not help me in the same way as earlier. And with so many boys in the house, the house never looked organized and straight. I realized that I cannot go on like this. If you have watched the Bollywood flick called "Satte Pe Satta", the Indian version of  Hollywood's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", you would understand when I say that my condition was more or less like the eldest brother's wife (subdued version). So one fine day, I told the residents upfront that I am not expert homemakers like their mothers and aunts, and cannot keep on cleaning up after them. I would need their help in managing the house. And the sweet devils did oblige, with some push. 

As much as I had to adjust to the new personalities around me, the others too had to adjust to  me. I was not used to having so many men at home and they were not used to having an unconventional woman in the house. I am not really the "sugarcoating words" kind and would rather call a spade a spade rather than talking behind someone's back. So initially, there used to be some awkward moments. But all the kids are well disciplined when it comes to behaving with elders and unlike most families, there has been no rudeness with the daughter-in-law. And gradually, I became mother-cum-sister figure in the house (at least I think so!)

I feel the experience of staying in a hostel during my higher studies, and later on my own after I started to work helped me a lot in settling down in my marital home. But the most important factor was that we opened up our hearts to each other. The second important factor has been open communication. If there is any hard feelings in the house, we encourage each other to come upfront and make up. It is also encouraged that the kids share their problems, so that we can help each other to find solutions.

And it has been mostly fun. As all the residents are from the younger generation, there is not much formality involved. We watch movies late into the night on weekends, order outside food often, pull each others' legs and yet watch each others' backs. And with so many people, there is one thing or the thing always happening. Drama, action, romance, humour, games, tears, smiles; you name it and you have it. There is absolutely no dearth of entertainment in the house.

Over the period of time, I have growing as a person. I am also learning to let go of things which I cannot control like having the cushions straight at all times!. Still it is a long way to go. I still lose my mind from time to time. But all's well.  And today it feels as if I have been always a part of the Khan family. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Then and Now #1: Value of Money

After post-graduation, when we started  working, a friend shared that her female boss wore kurtas of some brand called "W". It was actually the first time that we became aware of the existence of such a brand. So "W" became a wish. Even today when I can actually afford, I still think twice before going for a "W" item, even on discount. I would stare at the item, evaluate if it really worth it and then decide. And today, my sister-in-law and her friends wear "W" to college.

Thankfully most of the kids we went to school or college with, were of the same economic class. And frankly, I rarely compared myself with kids who used or wore expensive stuff. As a student, I had one one mantra, "When I shall earn, I will own what I desire". There was a wishlist of small as well big things. Actually I still have a wishlist. Owning a branded jeans or a hair-straightener became a reality only when I started to earn. Today, such things are in necessary items list for the college going girls in the family. 

I tell the kids (whoever is younger than me!) at home that we should not forget where we come from. We should not forget our roots.  I see around me that even kids with humble backgrounds are becoming increasingly brand conscious. There are several factors. Peer influence and media exposure being the major ones. Increase in pocket money adds to the spending power of kids. 

Contrary to kids today, we got pocket money only when we moved out of our native place to study and started staying in hostels. And it was pocket money only in name. It was actually a fixed amount of money every month to take care of all expenses. In my case, my pocket money took care of my basic toiletries, notebooks and stationery, phone calls, photocopies, projects, outside food, minor college event contributions, local conveyance, etc. I used the college/university library and computer centre to the fullest so that I didn't have to buy books or a computer. And I also saved a bit from it to get tiny gifts for the family while going home during breaks. In our times, the aim was to save parents' money wherever possible,  and ask them for extra money only when absolutely necessary. Now I see students debiting all expenses related to basic needs and studies to their guardians. Their pocket money actually takes care of their material desires and wishes mostly. And even after they have been provided for, they still have demands.

For me, there was no pride in spending my parents' hard-earned money to fulfill my personal desires. Today, my pride lies in the fact that I am capable of fulfilling my own wishes as well as that of my parents.  And I am proud of my parents as well as my grandparents that they made me the woman I am today. Fortunately, my close friends are of the same class of society, with similar upbringing. So I had never actually felt the peer pressure of brand consciousness or the need to meet any peer standards. I strongly feel that if one fulfills his/her own desires with his/her parents' money, what excitement will be left for when you can actually buy things with the money you have earned!

When I was a child, I had a couple of pairs of shoes. When Ma was a child, she had just one pair of shoes,  black in colour. And the same pair worked for school as well as other occasions. Deta had walked either barefoot to school (a distance of around seven kilometers) or wearing open rubber sandals. He and his siblings used to get one pair of new shoes during the Durga Puja festival. And if the new pair were small for him, he would rather manage with those (by soaking them in water to stretch them out) instead of giving them back because there was no guarantee that he would actually receive a fresh pair in the right size. During our times, things had changed of course, and we had more than a couple of pairs.  But humble stories like that of my parents' childhood helped to keep us grounded, to remember to be thankful for what we had.

I completed my basic education in small town in upper Assam. For graduation, I went to Kolkata. When I came home during my first semester break, I bragged in front of my granny that I watched a movie with tickets which cost over a hundred rupees in black. I thought she would be surprised at the  cost. Instead she reprimanded me right away saying that my parents are working hard and making sacrifices back home so that I can have a good education, and I was wasting money on movies. Her words brought me back to my senses. So this was the way I was raised. I have been taught the value of money and hard work by my elders and that has kept me grounded.

P.S.: As I was growing up, I remember my parents and other relatives sharing stories starting with the opening line, "In our times,....." And now that I am a grown-up myself, I have started doing the same thing; comparing things how we used to do as kids and how kids do them now. Since I have decided to start my post series called "Then and Now", I am actually feeling somewhat old already. These posts are not aimed at reprimanding today's kids and their value system, but merely reminiscing about the bygone time and to accept that outlook on life changes over the generation. Also please note, you may or may not be able to relate to the post. But if like me, you had a typical middle-class upbringing, you most probably will.

And yes, I am definitely feeling much older now.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Reign of Delhi Auto-Wallahs

As I woke up to the alarm-clock on my cellphone today, my auto-wallah (auto-rickshaw driver) called to inform that he is not well and would not be able to drop me to the office today. I said it's okay and told him to take care. I was grateful that he didn't ditch me at the last minute. I left home a little early as I would have to catch an auto-rickshaw on the road.

I didn't anticipate any problem as auto-rickshaws (popularly referred to as 'auto') are usually available. I waited on the road for some time. Not a single vacant auto came by. A couple of vacant ones came by but refused to take me to my office location. I decided to reach the nearest auto stand. I hailed an e-rickshaw. As my luck would have it, the auto stand was devoid of even a single auto. Once again filled autos passed by while vacant ones refused me. I walked ahead. I opened a cab app on my cellphone on the go and booked a cab. It reached me in under seven minutes. The fare was around thirty rupees more than the auto fare.

Last month the auto unions and taxi unions of Delhi went on strike. Their main issue was the local app-based cab services like Uber and Ola, who offered their services at low fares. They called off their strike after three days. A similar strike happened earlier this year in the month of April. During both times I made use of the app-based cab services.

My regular auto-wallah had been fixated a couple of months back (God bless him!). He doesn't charge me extra for being a regular. There had been a couple of regular auto-wallahs before him for short duration, but they had demanded extra over and above the actual fare. During the month of Ramadan, I requested him to drop me home in the evenings as well and he made sure that I reached home in time for Iftaar. But auto-wallahs like him are a very rare kind in Delhi.

Waiting on the road in Delhi to hail an auto is a nightmare. Eight in ten refuse you. And when they agree, they quote an exorbitant fare and refuse to go by the fare meter. Autos in a stand are the worst kind. They are goons. In Delhi, there is a rule that auto-wallahs cannot refuse a commuter especially a woman. My brother-in-law suggests that I should hop into an auto and ask the driver to take me to my destination. And if they refuse, I should call the traffic police to complain. That is what the men do. But sincerely, I am scared. What if the auto-wallah takes me elsewhere? What is the guarantee of my safety? Once a traffic policeman compelled an auto-wallah to give me a ride, and he had grumbled the whole way.

When an auto-wallah refuses to go, I usually don't say anything and move on to the next. I don't have the time for the heated words. But sometimes when I am infuriated, I say a few angry words. Few times, I have dialled the given complaint number, but I seriously don't know if that helps.

The other day, when I stepped out of the metro station in the evening, it was raining hard. So I could not take a rickshaw. Az usually picks me up from the metro station but he was out of town that day. I saw a couple of autos across the road. I opened my umbrella and went up to them. The auto-wallahs were sitting in a single auto and chatting animatedly. I asked them if they would go. One of them spoke to refuse saying that there was a jam ahead, and they all broke out into a laughter. I didn't understand what was so funny. Unfortunately my internet was not working, and so could book a cab. The sight of the laughing and gossiping auto-wallahs infuriated me. I dialed the complaint number, but it went unanswered. I dialed several times, but alas.

Most auto-wallahs act like ass-holes (pardon the language but can't help it) and they have the audacity to go on strikes. They harass us, charge us inflated fares, leave us stranded on the road, refuse to charge by the meter and refuse to give us a ride. Yet they think they are kings of public transport. Why wouldn't we book a cab? It charges only a few rupees extra (except the surcharge cases), but it comes to our doorstep, it is comfortable, it goes by the meter, it doesn't refuse to give us a ride. When I visited Bengaluru (Bangalore), I saw that app-based cabs are the most convenient means of transport there and they are actually preferred over autos. 
But every coin has two sides. Once, an auto-wallah was telling me that the base fare being low, they are not able to earn enough and they have so many responsibilities. So they are bound to charge extra. I have seen commuters abusing auto-wallahs, treating them like crap. A few days back, there was an incident when a couple of men refused to pay the fare after reaching their destination. When the auto-wallah resisted and insisted that they pay, one of them shot at him. Luckily it was not fatal.

For a commuter, auto is always the easiest to hail an auto on the road. If the auto-wallahs have not been bullies, it is the most convenient mode of transport. I have chatted with several auto-wallahs during my rides. They are mostly the hard-working kind, have dreams for their children, have families and are God-fearing. Several times, I have hailed an auto near an auto-stand and they had put the meter down. And I ask them, "You are not from this stand, na?" They reply, "No. How did you know?" I answer, "You are charging by the meter. These stand ones don't do that". Most of them don't even want to go on a strike. They lose out several days' earnings during the strike and they can't afford that. But such auto-wallahs are bullied by their peers. They are forcibly stopped and abused. But again, when they are not stopped, many of them demand exorbitant fares from commuters, taking advantage of the situation!

Again a couple of weeks back, I left my cellphones in the office cab. When I realised the blunder, I took an auto to go after the cab. The auto-wallah lend me his phone to make the necessary calls. And before I left his auto, he asked me to delete the numbers I had dialled including my own. I was amused and taken by his truthfulness and kindness. I paid him a little extra.

So I am not saying that all auto-wallahs have negative attitude. But yes, most of them are not nice people. If the authorities are more stringent with laws and rules, the auto-wallahs can neither exploit nor be exploited. Also, we the public has to become more aware of our rights and laws. The handful of the honest auto-wallahs are a flicker of hope though. After ten dishonest insolent auto-wallahs, if I encounter an honest and kind eleventh one, my faith is restored. Only if the entire auto community operates honestly, the auto will become the true public's transport.

You can also read my earlier auto-rickshaw post "The Luxury of an Auto Ride"

Read about a woman's account of trying to hail an auto at night here.

Know more about Delhi's auto-strike here.

Here are 5 Ways in which you can Register Complaint against Auto Rickshaw in Delhi.