Here’s a humble plea…let’s co-create a better, equal, world.
At an engagement ceremony in the family on Sunday, I witnessed, helplessly, as gender inequality played out. The mother of the groom, a single parent, was discouraged openly by the priest, from leading the ceremony from her family’s side. Her friend and the friend’s husband were “allowed” by the priest to lead the ceremony though. The implied message was that a male member and his spouse alone could lead this “auspicious” event. Single mothers (separated or widowed) may not, I inferred, lead. Interestingly, neither the groom nor his mother protested.
I didn’t volunteer to offer my perspective to the groom or his family because I am not very close to them to have known if they would be open to my “interference”. From the way everyone was so “comfortable” with the conduct of the ceremony, I am quiet sure they may have resented my “intrusion into their space”.
Even so, I am sharing my thoughts here to highlight the responsibility each of us has to throw out archaic practices which, in the name of religion or tradition, disrespect a woman, take away her dignity and treat her with a contemptuous bias. I don’t understand how an unrelated male leading an engagement ceremony is more appropriate, relevant or acceptable than a single mother – for heaven’s sake, the boy’s own biological mother! – leading it? I seriously don’t get it. This incident only reiterates in me the belief that a lot, lot more has to be done in the area of gender equality – and a lot of it begins in our homes. I wish the groom, a strapping young man, had stood up for his mom – who has given her all for raising him and his sister – and invited her to preside over the ceremony. It would have ushered in a progressive, refreshing, new egalitarian era.
I am not suggesting here that we turn activists at all family dos and social events. Activism is not necessarily required in all contexts; we also don’t have to be belligerent and aggressive. We can and must learn to put our foot down firmly on such practices that are clearly outdated, distasteful and stupid. I am sure if someone from the groom’s family had told the priest that the groom’s mother would lead the ceremony, he would not have had a serious problem. And if he had had a problem, he could have been reasoned with – either by talking him out of his regressive logic or by reiteration that he must conform to his client’s brief and expectations. Surely, the priest could be made to accept that choosing to accord dignity to a single mother is not blasphemous; because without her, there would be no son, no groom!!
Lest I sound preachy and hypocritical, I must disclose and reiterate here that I do have a dysfunctional relationship with my mother. I talk about this openly. Yet, I have not disrespected her at any time; I may not value what she has achieved or agree with what she has done or does, but I do respect her for always going out and doing what she believes in doing. I am also very grateful to her for having brought me into this world and for having raised me and for teaching me the alphabet. We have different outlooks to Life, our values are not in sync and so our chemistry has never worked. My way of according her respect is to let her be who she likes being without intruding into her space with either my presence or opinions.
Sunday’s incident leaves me very baffled. I am not sure how we can garner support towards changing attitudes and mindsets. So, I make a humble plea. I wish, as a people, we have more conversations on this subject. I wish people stand up for gender equality instead of being button-holed by shallow reasoning in the name of God, religion, tradition, culture and society. I just wish we all co-create a better, equal, world…
My conversation with international para-swimming champion and DGM, CTS Research Centre, Justin Vijay Jesudas, for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan
“My happiness is eternal”
Two qualities in Justin Vijay Jesudas strike you when you meet him. Self-confidence and equanimity. Those are the reasons why Justin’s been able to pick up the threads of his Life after a car accident left him paralyzed neck-below in 2009. He’s a wheel-chair user alright, but he lives a full Life – he drives a customized car, he wins medals at international Paralympic swimming championships and at national rifle-shooting events, he surfs and he’s always beaming his electrifying smile! I seek to know the secret of his persevering spirit and positivity. “After the accident, when the prognosis reported that I wouldn’t be able to walk, I never asked ‘why me’. I simply got down to training myself to walk. But 18 months later, I decided that let me not try and control what I can’t. Instead I focused on what I could control. My shoulders were strong, my elbows and wrists worked partially, so I adapted myself to driving, swimming and shooting. I chose to be happy with what I could do instead of complaining about what I could not,” says Justin.
Despite keeping a day job how does he manage to find time to do all the other things he does? “The accident reminded me that all we have is one Life. So I decided that it is only in this lifetime that we have to do all that we want to do. It’s not the medals and accolades that excite me. It is the joy of being able to compete at an international level, it is the journey, of going out and giving Life your best, that makes me happy! I believe I may not have been so ‘alive’ had it not been for the accident and my disability,” explains Justin.
Doesn’t he ever grieve over what has happened to him? He confesses that he does feel grief, but only fleetingly – it doesn’t linger for too long. “My happiness is eternal. I see emotions such as grief or reasoning with the fate theory as a complete waste of time. I have faith in myself and I believe in enjoying each moment. And I know, as long as I am moving, feeling content with what is, the possibilities are immense,” says Justin.
Life may have dealt him a debilitating spinal cord injury, but Justin’s ensured that it hasn’t crushed his spirit or taken away his happiness! Bravo!!
Going numb with a Life situation is a natural response; but it pins you down and makes you unhappy!
A reader’s comment on my Blogpost yesterday invites me to clarify between two different states that we can possibly be in when dealing with Life. One is when we are unmoved. And the other is when we are numb. The two are distinctly different states of being.
Let me share what I have learnt from Life about these two states.
Being numb is an inactive state. It signifies a resignation. There is a detachment here, a let-go too, perhaps. But all of it is passive, inanimate, almost as if you are feeling dead and are just going through the motions.
But being unmoved is a very alive state. Here you are conscious of everything that’s happening to you, but you are choosing not to respond. You can feel pain, you can feel the weight of whatever is being thrust on you, but you are choosing not to get snowed down by any of it. Being unmoved is a spiritually evolved state. Here too there is detachment, there is a let-go, but you are letting go while fully trusting the process of Life.
In our case, Vaani and I going through this decade-long bankruptcy. In a physical sense it is numbing. It has incapacitated us materially. It has slammed us to the ground and pinned us down. Yet, we are unmoved by the situation. We soldier on unmoved by the gravity of our problem or by the debilitating nature of our circumstances. We awaken each morning to live a Life of Purpose – of Inspiring Happiness among all those who care to pause and reflect – but we are unmoved about whether we are successful or not, we are unmoved about what people think of us and we are unmoved about how much longer we have to go through this phase of our Life.
Going numb with a Life situation is a natural response to a shock, when Life deals you a crushing blow. When you are numb, you are unhappy. But choosing to be unmoved is a lot of work. You have to, over time, train your mind to be alive to the moment. You have to make an important, intelligent, choice to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. And only by being unmoved can you be happy!