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Graduate in Maths, Postgraduate in English literature. Worked as a medical transcriptionist, also as a teacher.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

A woman chief minister in Kerala, A woman President in USA.

Hi all,
                 My previous article about my late maternal aunt is 3 months old! Yes, after that I have not posted anything though I keep visiting my space everyday to check on visitors. Forget about other visitors, even my visits here reduced as the vacation bug bit me. Though I planned to write something during the break, as they say, it never happened. Yeah, there were lots of distractions also. The rains, shopping, minor commitments, travel etc kept me away from this space. At the end of each day I just wanted to hit the bed and sleep tight. Due to pleasant weather in Trivandrum, my hometown, sleep was not a problem and everyday was relaxing and so I came back refreshed.
                                         During the month of May, this year, Assembly elections were held in 4 States and one union territory to decide who will hold the reins for the next 5 years. Those 5 places were Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Assam, West Bengal. While BJP (or NDA) in Assam had to be content by forming alliance with Asom Gano Parishad, DMK party was able to lead in Puducherry but had to form alliance with Congress to get majority. But the same DMK party headed by Karunanidhi and his son M K Stalin could not convince the public enough to defeat the incumbent Chief Minister J Jayalalitha. Kerala and West Bengal are the strongholds of communist parties in India. Though communism is still strong in Kerala, its grip has loosened in West Bengal after the death of Shri Jyothi Basu. The people seem to be letting go the principles of marxism and communism as they feel it is holding back the state from advancing forward. The TMC party wins again and Mamta Banerjee continues to be the Chief Minister for another term. In Kerala, it was not just anti-incumbency but charges of corruption, Solar scam against the UDF Government paved way for LDF party to come in with Shri Pinaray Vijayan taking over the reins. Thus, out of 4 states, we have 2 states (Tamil Nadu, West Bengal) where women Chief Ministers ruling for another term. This is truly remarkable and there may be many factors why these women, Amma and Didi (Jayalalitha and Mamta) could continue to be rulers for another term. In Tamil Nadu, there are very less alternatives other than AIADMK. Though they are women chief ministers, their cabinets have negligible percentage of women with portfolios. In India, women active in politics is nothing new, but they are far and few in between. We had one woman, prime minister, one woman president and few states have/had chief minister as a woman. The answers for why women represent a negligible percentage are also not hard to find. The Indian Parliament, of which majority are men, continue to oppose women's reservation bill.
                                         Kerala, which is one of the most advanced states in India, in terms of standards of living, literacy, human indices is yet to have a woman chief minister. This state, whose political ideologies tilted more to left, is more conservative and highly patriarchal. Centuries back, when this state (Malabar, Travancore, Cochin) was ruled by royal families, women rulers had more say in the affairs of the State and there were powerful women rulers in the royal families. It followed the matriarchal lineage where women own the properties and men work in the fields. All these changed over the period of time with the breakage of joint family set-up. Kerala is famous for the love of yellow metal and women are sent to husband's house with kilos of gold keeping the ugly dowry system alive. The patriarchal thinking in people prevents many women from entering politics and to rise to the higher echelons. The one notable political lady who could have become a Chief Minister during 1980s was K R Gowri Amma. She was a Law student who took part in many political activities. Her most notable achievement was Land Reforms Bill and Agrarian relations Bill promulgated for the benefit of long-time tenants and workers. She has been elected as a minister during various years from 1960 to 2001. She was expelled from CPI (Marxist) in 1994 due to anti-party activities and she went on to form an organization known as Janaathipatya Samrakshana Samiti (JSS). Her organization merged with UDF and she became Agricultural minister.  She is still alive and kicking and into the wrong side of 90s. All through her life she has associated herself with various social and political movements and truly worked for the welfare of the folks of Kerala. I need not repeat why she could not become the Chief Minister. As the LDF and UDF alliances keep changing in the State, the possibility of a woman becoming the Chief Minister seems to be nowhere in the sight.
                                                     
                                                                           K.R Gowri Amma

                                                 
                                       The trigger for me to write this article is the Presidential elections that will be held in USA this November. I used to think that USA is another place along with Kerala, both more advanced places, yet to see a woman president and a woman chief minister respectively. USA had presidents elected from the year 1789 and in the span of more than 230 years, it is yet to have one lady president. Kerala is a relatively young democratic State. Many less developed countries and states have already seen a woman holding the reins of power.
                                                   
                                                            Hillary Clinton

                                               While I was wondering whether I would get to see a woman becoming the President of the world's first super power, here comes Hillary Clinton. When rest of the first ladies were content enough to be glamorous to accompany their husbands, Hillary Clinton is a politician and a personality in her own right. Her parents, though conservative, saw that she grew up to be independent and strong-willed. Being a political science graduate, she was quite active during her college days and more of a Republican. But afterwards her views changed to become more of a democrat. She co-founded organizations for the benefit of Arkansas' children, foster care and families. It can be argued she is known more because she was first lady of state of Arkansas and then USA. But the qualifications and the exposure that she has towards politics from her college days to this day can be matched by negligible number of her peers. Except for her support of the Military attack in Afghanisthan and that in Iraq to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein, the rest are all commendable. She became the first female senator of New York in the year 2000 before becoming the 67th US Secretary of State. She unsuccessfully contested in the primaries in the year 2008 in which Barrack Obama won. One point which is not to be missed is how her marriage with Bill Clinton survived after the Monica Lewinski scandal. It was known that privately she was shattered, but publicly, she defended her scandalous husband. Now, she is back even stronger and contesting in the primaries against her democratic colleague Bernie Sanders. As of today, her lead is only thin with Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump of Republican Party is more controversial with his rigid policies like making laws strict and against immigrants. He is not favoured even among his party circles. Numerous factors favor Hillary Clinton compared to other candidates and it has to be seen in the following months whether she will successfully garner the primaries. If so, sooner are the chances that we may see the first woman becoming the president of the most powerful country on the earth.
                                             I do not know when I will get see a woman becoming the Chief Minister of Kerala, but I see more chances of a woman reaching that coveted post in USA. I wish her all the best to win the primaries against Bernie Sanders. This time, Americans do not seem to have much choice other than Hillary Rodham Clinton!!! If Hillary Clinton does not win, there are not much chances of another woman becoming a president in the vicinity as like K. R Gowri Amma of Kerala. Two parallel, powerful  and well-qualified politicians whose only fault is that of gender!

Deepa.

P.S.  Await the next article very soon!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My maternal aunt Lakshmi of whom I couldn't see more..

Hi all,
               A relaxed and a fresh mind paves way for the words to flow from a writer. And what better time one can get to write a planned article other than Saturday night, if one has relaxed the whole day and look forward for a lazy Sunday ahead. If I write something unplanned and out of instinct, I do not need a Saturday night. With all the ugly events in the name of nationalism or anti-nationalism in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and that which took place in the name of caste in Hyderabad University (death of a Dalit student Rohit Venmula), it is natural to wonder where our country is headed. With the words like sedition, jingoism, caste, anti-nationalism looming over us like demons, it is understandable that if we want to voice our opinion, people like me will think twice before putting down in words out of fear that it might offend somebody who may read these lines. Among all these depressing events, one incident which brought me to tears is the death of a private employee Harish Nanjappa in Bengaluru. Last week, he was hit by a truck when he was riding his bike, and his body was cut into half under the monstrous wheels of the truck. Even in his dying moments, he requested his organs to be donated!! Can anyone of us imagine ourselves in that situation and thinking about organ donation? As his organs were badly damaged, only his eyes could be donated. I wish that any street, hospital or any organ donation institution to be named after him so that he is never forgotten. He was just 26!
                        Well, talking about the age of 26, I had a maternal aunt who passed away at that age. She was younger to my mom, and when she died, I was too young to even understand the concept of death! Naturally, I have few memories of her, though powerful ones. Because she keeps living in my mind even today, I feel the following words will flow out easily. Many of us will have some or other close family member who died early or disappeared and continue to remain a curiosity. I have not seen my paternal grand parents  because they were dead before I was born. We do not have a photo of my dad's mom and so I do not know how she looked like! Well, my aunt whose name was Lakshmi, was different in all ways compared to rest of my mom's siblings and parents. She was born in the year 1954 in Trichy (Tamil Nadu), while rest of the members were all born in the years ending in zero, ie. 1930, 1960, 1970 etc. She was already an odd 'woman' out in that way. From the time I remember, she was known to me as 'Lakshmi chithi-Delhi (chithi-mother's younger sister), as she was staying in Delhi. My grandpa is a strict disciplinarian and very protective about his daughters (that includes my mom and other maternal aunt), but he had more faith in this aunt and believed that she is bold enough to survive anywhere. 1970s-80s were years when women in India considered themselves great if they finished graduation, let alone going for a job. Yep, there were women who have started plunging into careers to carve a niche for themselves, but they were still far and few, and of course, marriage was the topmost priority. My mom and my two aunts were all graduates, and if my mom had tried a little more she would have got into a promising Bank job. Now, coming back to this Lakshmi aunt, she was described as intelligent, outgoing and a strong personality. When she was doing her graduation in Govt Women's College in Trivandrum, my grandpa, who was working in BSNL, got transferred to Chennai and so she had to move to hostel to stay back and complete her degree. I have not stayed in any hostel throughout my life and I do not know what it is like to stay in a hostel.

                                                                  
                                                                           Lakshmi aunt (Lakshmi chithi)
  
                                                               She had good proficiency in English language as her letters showed. Once she finished graduation, she applied and appeared for the Assistant grade exam conducted by Staff Selection Commission of UPSC. Assistant's grade exams are conducted for recruiting in the middle level cadre, and if he/she is selected, they are posted in various establishments and offices of Indian Government. She passed the exam and got selected as an assistant(Supervisory grade) in the Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service, New Delhi. To give the idea of what this position is, if anybody passed the clerical examination and got into the Central Government, it would have taken 10-15 years to reach my aunt's starting position. She had to stay in a YWCA hostel in New Delhi to go to office. She worked from the years 1975-80, until her illness got better of her. Because death approached her much early, we can only make lot of assumptions. Had she continued in her career, she would have risen and reached the post of Undersecretary before she retired. Undersecretary post in India is 5 levels below the Secretary of India. It is one of the topmost posts anybody dreams of getting into. Well, our family could not see her as a married woman, career woman.
                                                 According to my grandpa, she could not bear the extreme weather conditions of Delhi and that maybe the reason she was struck with meningitis or brain fever. When she was 3 years old, she was struck with the deadly small pox and managed to escape from that to survive for few more years. As the brain fever attacked her, she started blabbering and she was shown to a neurologist in Chennai who diagnosed the disease. The doctors advised that if brain operation was done, there were more chances of recovery. The operation was, of course, done but it did not save her life. She passed away in the hospital itself.
     My memories about my aunt is very less. Her appearance was different from my mom and my other aunt. I have vague memories of her feeding me snacks, and taking me out somewhere when I was in Chennai during the holidays. We all had gone to Gandhi Mandapa in Adyar, Chennai. She always enquired about myself and my sister through her letters. She had gifted us both with nice and cute pink dresses. I remember vividly those dresses that we wore and the moments captured in the camera. My sister was very small and looked very cute in the pink dress. Had Lakshmi chithi lived, she would have shown lot more affection and gifted us more things. My grandpa described some incidents about her when she was a child. He narrated to me one incident in which there was a drug addict in the YWCA hostel in Delhi who was staying with her and wore by mistake my aunt's dress and disappeared. The image of her which I can never forget is when she was lying in the hospital bed wearing a white shirt and a piece of cloth below. We travelled from Trivandrum to Chennai by train run by steam engines, and from the railway station, we straight away went to hospital to see her. When we got to see her, I remember that she was staring blankly at us. My grandma was standing beside the bed and pointing to my dad, she asked my bedridden aunt who that was. She did not answer anything for a longtime. At the end she told my dad was chithappa (younger dad), when actually my dad was brother-in-law to her. My grandma again asked her questions and she did not answer anything. That was the last time I remember seeing her. Those days, we did not own a phone and our grandpa used to make trunk call to our neighbour's house. That one day still etched in my memory. My dad went there to attend my grandpa's phone call and he gave us the bad news. I still remember my mom crying a lot with my sister and myself on her lap. I was too small to understand what was going on, but to this day, I remember those moments clearly. My mom tells me even today that after her death, my grandpa burnt all of my aunt's letters. Had she lived on, she would have either become a great career woman or a great mom or both. She would have been an inspiration for all of us. With her death, we lost one branch of our family. My mom still managed to preserve a couple of her letters written from Delhi. I have read those letters many times over. She has described beautifully the acting of Rekha and her appearance in two plaits in the Hindi film Khubsoorat. I would like to share with you a letter written by her.

                             
                                                                                  
                                                   The 1st 2 pages of the letter (expand and read).

                                                        Below is the 3rd page of the same letter.
                                                      
                                                 


                    My grandpa's letter (below) to my mom describing his helplessness and sleepless                     nights during that time.
                                                  

Thanks to my parents and grandparents for the input and materials.


Deepa.

P.S-  I started this page on Saturday, hoped to complete that day itself but couldn't. So I am publishing this today.