Nearly two decades ago when I came to this country, I was unprepared and unplanned. Consider my naivety of not knowing what it takes to travel to a foreign land or my enthusiasm to get out of a place that interferes into my personal matters on pretext of love, none to disgrace my failures for having deviated from the standard template of honorable education. I missed my parents and close friends sorely. First couple of months were a huge struggle, yet I got the opportunity to be grateful for the massive support, kind words and extraordinary help when I least expected, that too from unfamiliar persons.
There was a lot of chaos about the course, the campus, and the start date of the program I was permitted on the student visa. There so many that went out of their way to help, few of whom became my early mentors, friends for life and to whose presence in my life I am indebted for. My host families (also strangers at that time but took me in because I was practically homeless) had no obligation in my well-being but they ensured that I was adjusted in this new place.
There were times when I couldn’t keep up with the expenses and stood on the edge of the Hudson River contemplating if there were any options besides walking into it. I was so ashamed to ask my parents for more money knowing that they could not match the expenses in dollars. But some good sense prevailed, and I stepped back to keep chugging along. I wasn’t an immediate triumph, but my disappointments were never frowned upon. With the newly acquired freedom, I promised myself that I will make the best out of my life. And I did.
Sometimes, I am reminded that I am not patriotic towards my motherland, India. There is no other place I’d rather be born. While India gave me my name, I created my own identity in the United States. Love there was overwhelming but here I realized the meaning of it. I was petrified of making mistakes there but here accomplishments are nothing without them. I lived nearly two decades of my early life in fear of being wrong but here I taught myself the courage to do the right thing. I was brave enough there, but here I am applauded (mostly) for being me. “America is not just a country, but a way of life.” And I am very grateful for that freedom.
Years ago, I was coached for being an “Alligator in the room.” It wasn’t tangible feedback and I assumed that it was one of those gender blinds. So I ignored and continued to work on those that made sense.
Most women, who are assertive, are often tagged as being aggressive. Nothing wrong with that until the perception is translated to being arrogant and intimidating.
Some others that I talk to have said that they overlook and have developed thick skin to combat such comments guised as feedback. Nevertheless, each of us have learned to lean towards success in our own way.
There is no right or wrong way to tackle these situations because it is ultimately a personal preference on what we choose to fight for. But I wish more of us are able to challenge the status quo.
For those who’ve not been in these situations, it is hard to comprehend. And just because it hasn’t happened to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
I am reminded of a quote from Twitter by Jayne, “To the women who are aggressive: keep being assertive. To the women who are bossy: keep on leading To the women who are difficult: keep telling the truth. To the women who are too much: keep taking up space To the women who are awkward: keep asking hard questions.”
We don’t need a yearly commemoration to remind us that we can empower ourselves to challenge the status quo. Because, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” Maya Angelou
(Many have asked me to ‘move on’ from writing about DEI, women centric topics and get ‘competitive’ and focus on technical stuff. I promise, when I feel the time is right.)
It was always my fault. I wore full sleeves and was covered head to toe barring few instances of wearing long skirts, jeans and T-shirt. My freedom as a girl was confined to my expressions through my eyes and speech. My father was also increasingly conservative, not because he is one but he feared that something might happen to me. Eve-teasing at that time was the pandemic that killed many young girls’ characters. And there was nothing anyone would do besides blaming the girl.
I learned how to ride a motorcycle when I was in 6th grade and 4 feet 9 inches tall. My dad who was barely 5 feet 2 inches not only took the risk to teach me but also made sure that I was overly independent by the time I was 13 years. Perhaps because of that I didn’t have a conventional good girl reputation through high school. Not that it is any now, but I learned to take immense pride in my noteriety for the last two decades, thanks to coming to the United States without any support besides from my parents.
My parents let me ride my dad’s Priya (similar to a Vespa) until my 11th grade and then bought me my own. Those years were the toughest because my dad suffered from gout and I became the only means of transportation for all domestic chores, picking and dropping off my mom at train, bus stations when she traveled for work. And I even gave my grandmother rides to our relatives homes whenever she wanted to. While it was thrilling to experience riding at such a young age, I might have grown up sooner than I should have because of the experiences that came after.
We lived in a community that was infested with utterly narrow minded families with mostly lads who were established male chauvinistic pigs. And because it was a government provided housing, and was free, my parents may never have had the thought of moving to better accommodation. It was hard to pinpoint to the harassment as it was done in groups, in dark and usually discreetly. Those who grew up in very protected households or those that never understood freely blamed me for being in these situations.
The extent of eve-teasing at one point became a threat to my life and my family My parents were older and I tried not to bother them. On the other hand, there were many that insinuated that my bad character was the reason why I was being eve-teased. These guys from the community or someone who loathed my spirit used to fill my gas tank with sugar or sand or water almost every other day. When the motorcycle stalled, I would push it on busy roads for miles at a time. My 11th and 12th grades were a disaster. As any teenager would, I survived that too.
This one time we had torrential downpour and I had to drop my mother off at the bus station. She couldn’t cancel or postpone her plan to travel to another state. Little did I know that someone had punctured the petrol tank and it leaked all the way. I still thank my stars that the vehicle stalled after I dropped her. Lugging it against dirty down drift of gushing waters was the most difficult physical task I could’ve ever done. I lost my sandals too, had bruises from the sharp objects on the road and I barely escaped an open pothole.
Sometimes, I used to cry myself to sleep not knowing why someone would do this to me and so often. Once, I surrounded myself with guy friends from outside the community, the things to the motorcycle stopped but physical abuse had begun. I still look at my bruises in great honor because not once I gave up on myself. To live, despite the disgrace was the best gift of life I gave to myself. I could have thought of ending the eve-teasing many other ways but I didn’t. But I did skip town for my undergraduate the first opportunity I got to get away from the tormenting.
Eve-teasing was not identified as a crime back in the 90’s. While it was harassment, it was much harder to prove than a physical manifestation of an abuse whether be sexual or domestic. And the offenders would be discreet with their harassment. To date I don’t know who those people were. I suspected many around me and believe in all sincerity that karma may have caught up to them. But I do regret not seeing a face, and teaching them a lesson. There were no cell phones back then and I never had a camera either.
Eve-teasing diminished my morale those years and it took me decades to build it back. It impacted me emotionally and psychologically. For many years, I couldn’t stand up to other forms of abuse because I was reeling under the effects of what those men considered as flirty and fun. Positive thinking ended up being a superficial mechanism of coping and much later in adult life, I had to take deliberate measures to address the real problem. “Step into my shoes and walk the life I’m living and if you get as far as I am, just maybe you will see how strong I really am.” Raise your voice against the menace and call it what it is – Sexual Harassment.
It is not easy to raise a child. There is no good parenting or bad in that case. And there are hundreds of books written for the uninitiated. But when it comes to raising an elder there are few. We have to rely on our sensibilities, empathy and situational awareness. For those who are trying to do this right, it could be emotionally and physically draining to take care of an elder, protect their basic rights, ensure their health is preserved to the best, and be witness to their dwindling legacies. Still doesn’t give any care giver or those that are surrounding the elder a plausible excuse to resort to abuse
While I always weave in personal stories because of extreme hurt, I have no shame in pointing out instances that are not acceptable by my standard or any other. Because what we feel is simple yelling or logically arguing, when it translates to the older minds it is toxicity l, nonetheless. Sometimes, the same, we do to our peers, or those younger to us is considered bullying or harassment. And if proven is punishable by law. In school, there are strict anti-bully laws that govern the environment. When it comes to elders, laws are very weak and lost in translation as many time we are unable to prove the abuse.
I’ve heard horror stories from my friends and colleagues about the elder abuse. It is gut wrenching to hear about some elders who muster all their energy for the last lap of their life just like a marathon runners, so that they can get to the finish line with certain pride and dignity. But no, some just won’t let it happen. A friend’s grandmother died from internal bleeding after her daughter-in-law beat her to to pulp on her death bed. That daughter-in-law could not even wait to let my friend’s grandmother die in peace. My own grandmother suffered from a lot of indifference from her brood, their spouses, and her grandkids except from my mother, and my uncle. Rest are all culprits.
WHO has global strategies in place to help countries adapt laws against elder abuse. They recorded elder abuse as the most repeated action or or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This type of violence constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.
I am personally very motivated to address psychological and emotional abuse, abandonment, neglect and deliberate impairment of dignity and respect to an elder person. Anyone that is 60, in some countries it is 65 or older and defined as an elder. Now, there are so many positivity promoting pseudo-influencers who keep telling me to ignore and focus on ‘good things’ and that everything is be fine if I meditate or do yoga. But one thing they may never comprehend is, if elder abuse is happening right in front of me and to my own mother or those I dearly know, how is positive outlook or a yoga pose or ignoring is ever going to help? Makes me wonder which world they live in. If people like me don’t make a strong effort to intervene, snub the ridiculous behavior of the offenders and teach them a lesson, their sadism is bound to perpetuate. And they might continue to have this wrong impression that it is okay to do what they do.
There seems to be a heart ache amongst some audience when strong people retaliate in the open instead of quietly suffering through and exhibiting their supposed strength. Such people are the cause of societal inequity and they might not even understand the concerns expressed in this podcast. Do we ever tell a physically abused younger victim to move on and find better things only to be abused again? Then why do we turn blind eye to elder abuse mostly subtle, verbally invasive and not acceptable, no matter how you look at it.
My mother’s sister, pedamma had Alzheimers. And suffered from abandonment, and in the end her death was most painful from dehydration, malnourishment, lack of hygienic circumstances and brutality that educated families don’t experience. Some others that were part of the extended family took devious pleasure in seeing that degrading humanity. In my heart, there is no forgiveness for such people.
I have a special mention of state of California. Under Penal Code 368 PC, California law defines the crime of elder abuse as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of a victim who is 65 years of age or older. The offense can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, and is punishable by up to 4 years of jail or prison. Specifically, emotional abuse (which can take the form of isolation or ridicule) which has been the favorite of some living in California and impacting my mother. Apologies from those individuals after the fact will never be accepted as it does not compensate for their preposterous actions. I regret twice not reporting elder abuse within 24 hours of occurrence. Moving forward, I will not hesitate. I sincerely want to teach those that are conveniently instigated to attack an elder person. I wish other states in the country and other country refine their elder abuse laws.
With awareness campaigns such as mine, STOP ELDER ABUSE, SEA, it does not cost a penny to propagate awareness. Not much is known about elder abuse and how to prevent it, particularly in developing countries. Because of booming technology, elder abuse and awareness is just coming to light. There are many improvements that need to be made, and sometimes law enforcement requires extensive evidence which is unavailable because the elder many not have the strength to pursue. May be they’ve just given up to their fate. Either case, that is the saddest that could happen to the those who’ve ensured our present is secure.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (#WEAAD), was yesterday June 15th. It is all about making it a mission that safeguarding the elderly is everyone’s responsibility. Around 1 in 6 older people experience some form of abuse. Recognise and report it. Hope each of us can work towards ending elder abuse and celebrate the value that older people bring to our families, lives, communities, and future. Show you care by taking a stand.
In his cruel immortality, I found solace for many of my pains. Neither was it a fangirl in me that was veiled because of his untimely demise a year ago, nor was it my sense of inseparableness with many others across the globe who eventually found their way for a shared cause for justice despite the benevolence of their variety. Regardless of exhibiting the conceit about being the biggest democracy in the world, or being the most prominent at social media, and by sheer strength in statistics, there seems to be bifurcation in how a premature passing is perceived.
There are many amongst us who proliferate superfluous positivity instead of focusing on the root cause. There have been days at a time, sometimes contiguous months, that I have felt a sense of emptiness. It has been a hard 15 months and I could possibly be confusing the departure of many near and dear because of COVID, my own personal misfortunes and the upheaval in emotions in exchange for the anxiety of one. And, surprisingly I won’t be the last in this conundrum.
What continues to baffle me is how nonchalant his own fraternity is. Through the rectitude of those that have not ceased to fight for him, have not rested a day without trending him, and linger much to the disgust of those who are watching from the bleachers, there is a certain tranquility that because of him, it was a better place . And perchance there is some decency left in this debauched world. Although, I have been counseled to see a shrink for matters of imaginary negativity, there won’t be a moment where I will distrust the few tenacities I am committed to.
There will never be another like him. He was an enlightened human being, with dreams bigger than the clouds, ambitions that could not be measured by an average mind, and was outrageously a societal outlier. Many more honorable than him have died leaving an abysmal hole in this creation, but millions seem to still care about exalting the virtues of this specific deceased man. This has become bigger than conviction or belief for his admirers regardless of Wikipedia audaciously gripping a suicide theory.
Well-wishers have snickered at my incompetence to grieve a flawed thespian but I can’t seem to give up remembrance of one of the paramount individuals that embellished the earth. Some influencers are spreading their shamefaced commiseration to rejoice his life but there is a convinced obsession to find the actuality. And people like me will not give up on him or themselves. Every morning, we make a choice to do complete fairness to our own lives without forgetting that there is a part of us that will need to fight till the end – whatever it may be, rationally.
It is hard to fight when the fight isn’t fair. It is hard to imagine that the person is going to come alive from all the memories. But, if the persuasion of verity is curtailed then there will be many more like him. Humanity will come to an end. Those who have caught the habit of being reprobates will remain to hound what is left of harmony. They will tatter the heavens into irredeemable smithereens. Yet, there won’t be another opportune moment to reinstate our reliance on valor, exactly the way he may have envisioned. The kind where we can never give up seeking the truth – not now, not ever.
When I married you I thought love was true But the moment you threw A wet towel impromptu Onto a bed, clean and new At that moment I knew There’s nothing I could do Though I gawked, you’d no clue
When I hear you snore I hadn’t ever that loud before Not that I am going to deplore Your nose is playful to explore Gives me no choice to ignore For what’s worth, I swore There is so much in store To tolerate you all the more
When you look at me I can totally see Why you always agree As I’m that wisdom tree Who is the best to foresee Of what we would be Without I, there’s no glee You’d be left with a topee
When it’s meant to be, they say Hope they don’t mean until gray Being with you is no child’s play There’s so much to weigh You bring chaos to my everyday And stand by me, come what may Dear husband, I sincerely pray That you add fun to my today
He was a very dutiful father. And raised beautiful daughters and did all that he could to elevate his small family. There must have been a million hardships but the moment he came home from work, he was relieved and had nothing but relief and smiles. But when time came to get his daughters married, it had become a struggle because of all the conventional practices that he couldn’t plan for ahead of time.
His eldest daughter was smart, beautiful, witty and at that time it didn’t seem like she had a bad bone in her. She was a good human being. Destiny had its way and a boy from US came knocking on their door asking for her hand. The potential groom and his parents didn’t ask for dowry but just wanted a lavish wedding. The father of the soon to be bride was ecstatic and started all the preparations to fulfill the tiny demand that came from the groom’s side.
Even if the groom’s family didn’t ask for it, the father was going to do his best to make it memorable for the daughter, the groom and his family. Nearing the wedding, it was all festivities. The wedding was a huge success with bejeweled ladies with their zari sarees,’dhoti’ clad gentlemen, huge ‘mandap’, the scents from the flowers and the ‘attar’, scrumptious food, and the return favors that the guests couldn’t stop peeking at.
It was time for the ‘bidai’. The father and daughter held each other and cried. They were happy that they found a family that was going to accept and blend into theirs. And sad because they won’t be seeing each other every day. May be, if there is a chance they would hear each other’s voice once a week. The daughter was leaving for US the following month. Until then, she’d stay at her new in-laws’ place getting acquainted and serving her new family.
It was all great until she landed in the US. Her husband was staying with his brother’s family in a two bedroom apartment. Her dreams were shattered. She thought that she’d be able to make her own home with her husband but never did she imagine that she would have to feel like a maid at her brother-in-law’s home. The brother-in-law’s wife always took an upper hand and reminded them that they were dependent on them for every small thing. The money that her father gave her was all over, and she couldn’t ask her husband for more.
Time passed, and the newly weds slowly moved out and rented an apartment. In few years they got pregnant with their first child. And she really wanted her parents to help out. Everyone was excited to welcome this child. The parents came to the US and tried to do their best, first by getting used to the American ways of living and then by doing all the household chores. Only over the weekend, their son-in-law would take them to Costco. That was the only outing because they couldn’t go anywhere in their own. They couldn’t even talk on the phone unless their son-in-law gave them a calling card. Yet, they chugged along for the sake of their daughter and her unborn child.
In all of this commotion of expecting a child, having to stay with his in-laws, the son-in-law must’ve lost a couple of nuts here and there. He started acting weird. A year into his marriage with their daughter, he has moved them into an investment property as tenants. He felt invicible and felt like he had control over them. Who knows what demons came alive, he stopped talking to the wife’s parents. He would curl up and sleep at odd times. The father felt stuck and wasn’t sure what he could do or say. He would suggest that the son-in-law see a doctor but constantly got snubbed by his daughter to leave them alone. She was financially dependent on her husband and didn’t want to do anything to invoke his ire.
The father was never in such a dilemma where he felt unwanted. He always was self-reliant and self-sufficient person. To avoid the friction at his daughter’s place, he would go and sit at the corner bus stop for the entire day so he could sit in solitude. Sometimes passers by mistook him for homeless guy and give him a dollar or two. He wished that no one would experience such pathecy. For the first time ever, his irresponsible behavior towards his own parents came flashing before his eyes. He wished that he treated his parents, especially his mother better despite the stiff opposition from his wife and daughters.
There are many fathers like this one that are silently wailing psychological abuse. There is no manifestation of such exploit because there are no visible bruises. Neither there are tears in most cases. Some progeny don’t realize how their actions are agonizing thekr elders. Arti Honrao said, “Just because it is not physical, it does not mean it is not abuse. Verbal and Psychological abuses are real things; their effect is perhaps more damaging on the mind of the abused than the open wounds that can be seen in physical abuse.” I take it as my personal mission to SEA. Stop Elder Abuse. Hope you do too.