Sometime back I wrote on Facebook that I need counseling as I seem to have the hots for Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda, Mohit Raina. While all these celebrity men are definitely dishy , they hail from Haryana, a state that has the negative image of being anti-women. So, it is taken for granted that the average girl/woman there is not literate or financially independent. Dark acts that include female infanticide and ‘khap panchayats’ rise disturbingly in the mind. On the lighter side, the resident majority population of Jat men, are supposed to be all brawn and no brain. While I was studying in JNU, the word ‘Jat‘ was the acronym for ‘Just avoid them’.
The above is caving into stereotypes. Margaret Mead says “Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.” The same goes for adults and especially for me.
Let me tell you the story of a family originally from Jhajjar, Haryana, but now settled in Gurgaon, that broke so many of my pre-conceived notions.
Prem Singh works in my office at the lowest echelon, although he is a graduate. He is about 27 years old, soft spoken and with the uncanny ability of getting any ‘tricky’ work done. I am totally dependent on him for getting the tickets for the first- day- first show movie release, movements of my boss, where one gets the best gol gappa, not paying late fees for mobile/ electricity/ water bills,monitoring ( and snipping) the romance between my maid and driver , ensuring I drink two bottles of water in office, making the perfect black coffee for me etc. Yesterday, he asked me whether he could be given a day off as he had to attend a function in his wife’s workplace. I got curious because most wives of his colleagues and especially those from Haryana do/would not work. I asked him what his wife did. ”She is a teacher, Ma’am. She has done both BA ( Bachelor of Arts) and B.ED( Bachelor of Education).”
I was intrigued.Kierkegaard’s words “Once you label me you negate me ” rushed through my mind. I wanted to know more about him and his family.
He lives with his mother, wife and two children in Gurgaon. His father , who also had a Government job,died when he was very young. He had to struggle hard and long, with many sacrifices to get his present job. It seems he actually wanted to be an engineer. His mother has studied only till Class 4 but she wanted an educated daughter-in-law. Dowry was of no concern and also wasn’t taken. It was his mother who encouraged his wife to take up a job soon after her son was born! So much for the oft quoted tyranny of a mother-in-law!
The couple’s second child is an adopted daughter. The idea to adopt the child was his wife’s. They had gone to attend the marriage of a distant relative.Amidst the festivities and laughter, a little girl sat forlornly. Her mother had not dressed her up, like the other little girls, for her mother was no more. Her father served in the Army and was hardly ever home. She lived in the ancestral home, most of the times forgotten by all. Troubled by this, Prem Singh’s wife asked him and her mother-in-law whether they could adopt her ? Both said yes. Apparently, Prem Singh was taunted about this by his cronies. Regarding his virility ! His mother also received flak from relatives for adopting a girl child. At least, you should have got another son, she was told!
So, here we have : 1) A young man not bothered about taunts/gossip for opting for adoption rather than relying on his ‘mighty’ semen.2) An un-educated, traditional mother-in-law who insists her bahu works, smilingly handles the household chores and supports her desire to adopt a girl child.3) A young mother of a son who doesn’t believe in producing yet another son like most of her friends and peers, but prefers to adopt a lost little girl. Her womanhood and maternal instinct are not insulted by such an act 4). All this happen in patriarchal, male dominated, phallocentric blah blah Haryana 5 ). All these decisions are taken by a family with a relatively low income, education and status in society.
I celebrate the true meaning of freedom, the bigness of their hearts, their courage and grit. Thomas Hardy says “The beggarly question of parentage–what is it, after all? What does it matter, when you come to think of it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care. That excessive regard of parents for their own children, and their dislike of other people’s, is, like class-feeling, patriotism, save-your-own-soul-ism, and other virtues, a mean exclusiveness at bottom” ( Jude, The Obscure)
( From Left to Right: Shakuntala Devi, Renu and Neha)
( Neha, Renu & Jeevan)
I spoke with both the kids on telephone. Neha chirped excitedly.She loves mangoes, potatoes and lady finger;her favorite colour is sky blue; she loves to play kho-kho and read books; she wants to be a doctor. Jeevan, like a typical boy, muttered that he loves playing football and worships Messi.
This Saturday I have been invited to have lunch at their place by Renu & Shakuntala Devi.
‘Ma’am, mujhe pata hai ki aap hamara ghar nahi ayenge’, Prem tells me.( Translation: I know you won’t come to our house). I wish I could quote Shakespeare to him : “His life was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a man “. Instead, I tear up a little, smile at him and ask him to ensure he keeps Coke Zero, with lots of ice, for me on Saturday.