HER WORLD Sunday, April 21, 2002, Chandigarh, India

Why women get addicted to alcohol
Smita Ray
heck this scene out. You are at a party and having a blast. You, of course, are a woman. You've gone to the party with a friend, husband or colleague. It's been an evening you looked forward to, when you know you will be able to let down your hair and relax. No stress, no spillover of your responsibilities.

Village belle excels as beautician
Roshni Johar
hen I was thirteen years old, I looked into mirror for first time in my life. I had stood on a piri and was so taken aback at my reflection, that I fell down," says Neelam Sharma, recipient of prestigious Blossom Kochhar (famed beautician and aromatherapist) Award which is given to the saloon which performs the best.




Why women get addicted to alcohol
Smita Ray

Check this scene out. You are at a party and having a blast. You, of course, are a woman. You've gone to the party with a friend, husband or colleague. It's been an evening you looked forward to, when you know you will be able to let down your hair and relax. No stress, no spillover of your responsibilities. Just some good fun—interesting food, some dancing and great company.

What you probably don't take into account is the drinking. The excessive drinking. When the first cocktail is pushed into your hands, it seems churlish to refuse. What would it matter anyway? It only had some 10 per cent of alcohol - negligible really when you see the neat whiskies being tossed down with such abandon. Besides, it has such a lovely name - Bloody Mary, and tastes like salted tomato juice. So you accept the drink gracefully and start sipping.

Then comes the next drink. You are a little hesitant, but what the heck, you had the first and nothing happened. You are a big girl; you can handle it. And so goes the next one. And the third. When a Screwdriver or a gin or a peachschnappe replaces the Bloody Mary, you don't notice and frankly don't care. You are simply having a blast.

Next morning, you have a hangover the size of hell. You suck lime, you leer blearily at the world, tsk-tsk sympathies away, but inside there's a happy smile. You've proved a point. To yourself and your friends. Whoever thought you were a behenji with no sophistication had finally seen the real you. And wow, were they impressed!

It usually starts this way. Drinking and socialising for peer acceptance. To fit in with the crowd. To be a part of the 'in' crowd. Whether it' s for men or women, a drink in hand has become a status symbol of the upwardly mobile people. Unfortunately, it has also given rise to an alarming increase in alcoholism amongst women.

There's an old Japanese proverb that goes like this: "First the man takes the drink. Then the drink takes another drink, and finally, the drink takes the man." Looks like the particular adage has to be modified to include women as well, going be recent studies.

A psychiatrist who has worked closely with the rehabilitation of alcoholics for a number of years in Mumbai, says, "I wouldn't call it alcoholism as yet, but yes certainly, over the last three or four years, alcohol abuse amongst women has increased. Alcohol abuse is when their drinking pattern and frequency interrupts their social activities. Like in men, amongst women too, alcoholism is a disease that cuts across all socio-economic barriers.

"While the lower income women take to country liquor and the likes, it's the upwardly mobile yuppie women influenced as she is by a western culture, by peer pressure, by the aggressive marketing on the television, where liquor advertisements show gorgeous young men and women living life king-size, that finally gets to her. Sometimes, these liquor companies sponsor major events where complimentary drinks are served. Or three to four women meet together go to a pub and drink. Initially, it's the need to conform with their peer group that put pressure on them."

"But after a couple of years, it's the compulsion to drink to avoid the discomfort that rises from drinking, that's dangerous. Doctor's call this the graduation phase. The most difficult aspect of dealing with such patients is their extreme denials in accepting that they have a problem. It's the attitude that say's 'Yes, I drink, but I can give it up any time I want.' This is most damaging."

The doctor's observation is that the young urban woman has taken to alcohol as a way of knocking down social barriers and gaining accepting amongst her peers. Coming equipped with a strong academic, professional or family background is no longer enough. Alcohol has become the unisex leveler, an equaliser that promises instant entry amongst favoured circles. This is true of girls and women who have come from smaller towns to make a name and fortune in bigger cities.

Swati Gupta is the daughter of a senior army official and has lived in a number of cities during her growing up years. Four years back when Swati finally landed a dream job at a top ad agency in Mumbai, she was jubilant. A thick pay packet, rented digs, an instantly enriched lifestyle. Weekend parties, pubs, discos, and hep colleagues. The booze was only incidental. Sounds like some seedy story in a backwater women's magazine? Well, today Swati is making a slow and painful trek to recovery after a long and tiring battle with alcoholism.

Back in her parent's home in Gurgaon, near Delhi, Swati still shudders at the memories. "One day it was fun, a hard but very satisfying job, great partying friends, a super boyfriend and a good life. Initially, when my colleagues spoke of their high-flying contacts or related their personal success stories, I felt totally inadequate. Though my boyfriend was very supportive, I could sense his impatience at times. The only times I could really relax were at these parties. I no longer felt out of place and could really mix around with the crowd."

Says Dr Jean Kirkpatrick, an ex-alcoholic and founder -member of an organisation working with alcoholic women in the US, " It took me five years to cleanse myself totally. But I realised there is a vast difference between men and women, even when they are recovering from their addiction. Men are essentially groupies. They group together in clubs, sports teams. Women don't have any such activities. For generations they have been conditioned to vie with each other to attract the man's attention. Wear good clothes, be well groomed. they distrust other women instinctively. I find that women in our group are constantly surprised to find that they can bond with other women. It's important for women to network amongst themselves. This will drop a lot of socially built barriers amongst them."

Anxiety, it is said, is a great cause for compulsive drinking. And this anxiety need not be a spin-off from peer pressure alone. There can be other reasons too, like it happened with Radhika. When she became pregnant, her husband Rajan and she felt that the unborn child was top priority. It was decided that Radhika would take up freelance assignments from home, while Rajan would bring home a fixed salary. But within a few years, there appeared to be a dramatic change in their lives. Rajan was swiftly climbing up the success ladder while Radhika found that home and child took nearly all the time, leaving her very little time for her career. Frustration, depression and envy set in, deepening with time. There was anxiety too that he would one day leave her for a woman who was in this professional league. One anxiety fed another and soon Radhika found that social drinking was becoming a habit.

Dr Helen De Rosis, who is considered an international authority on anxiety causes amongst women, has written a book called The Book Of Hope that says that the best way to deal with anxiety is to get upfront with it. That's the first step towards de-addiction. Of course there are a number of organisations and rehabilitation centres that can help a woman help cleanse herself. That's of course the external factor. The real victory is the one that she wins within.

 Nine golden rules that help an alcoholic take charge of her life

  • I take responsibility for myself and my actions; I am in charge of my mind, my thoughts and my life.

  • I have to remove negativity from my life.

  • Happiness is a habit I will develop.

  • Problems bother me only to the degree I permit them to.

  • I am a capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman.

  • Life can be ordinary or it can be great.

  • No longer will I be victimised by the past; I am a new person.

  • Enthusiasm is my daily exercise.

  • I am a competent woman and have much to give life.

— Courtesy Women For Sobriety, Inc



Village belle excels as beautician
Roshni Johar

"When I was thirteen years old, I looked into mirror for first time in my life. I had stood on a piri and was so taken aback at my reflection, that I fell down," says Neelam Sharma, recipient of prestigious Blossom Kochhar (famed beautician and aromatherapist) Award which is given to the saloon which performs the best.

Nostalgically, she reveals her earlier life. As a village belle, she had never used, even heard of shampoos and only used lassi to wash her tresses. She had never used toothpaste or a toothbrush, only a datun. Forty-five year-old, Neelam belongs to a remote village, Fatehgarh Panjtoor in Moga district. Even though Neelam’s father was in the Army, the family lived in the village to look after their ancestral home. She attended a co-educational Punjabi medium school and squatted on gunnybags while attending classes. Neelam learnt English alphabets only in class six. She had to tend to cows and make dung-cakes after school. Stepping out of a village when she was eight, she saw lit-up electric bulbs for first time in Jammu and thought they were stars because in her village only lanterns were used since electricity came five years later. At 21, Neelam saw her first movie.

When her father got posted to Delhi, he brought his family there. Someone suggested she do a beautician’s course which was spurned as naiwala’s work and moreover, they were Brahmins! However, Neelam took six months training to become a beautician at Ms. Surinder Bedi’s famed Mirror saloon and found that she had untapped talent. Later on Neelam worked in Plaza Saloon under a strict employer, which was a ‘real learning experience’.

Initially, she was paid just fifty paisa per day, which was her bus fare. Neelam, however stuck on and was determined to learn the hard way. She had immense confidence in her own ability and believed: "Learn it. Do it. Let people laugh". She learnt to handle forks and knives, speak English, shaped her eyebrows, used make-up and wore modern dresses and even had a stint in modeling! And it paid dividends.

After marrying engineer Surinder Sharma, she opened her own parlour. She sold her earrings for Rs.1,000 and started her own parlour modestly with two folding chairs and a mirror. Now her parlour accommodates all the conceivable paraphernalia of beauty culture. A believer in destiny, she named it Naseeba meaning ‘lucky’. At this time, Naseeb, a popular Bollywood movie was running to packed houses. If it could click, so could her parlour, she thought.

With a three month babe-in-arms, Neelam went from door-to-door distributing leaflets and requesting ladies to visit her parlour, which they still do. She specialises in make-up for TV and stage artists.

The road from a village belle to Capital’s successful beautician was not an easy. It was a path that was paved with hurdles, but she achieved her goal with courage, grit and sheer determination. She is grateful to her supportive husband and encouragement from her illiterate mother and armyman father. The transformation is complete but Neelam remains a simple and a sincere person at heart, endearing many to her.

Creditably, she has not forgotten her roots. "I often shut my eyes and imagine how at heart I am the same village belle," she says. Neelam has two daughters, Natasha and Itisha. While Itisha is doing hotel management, she wants her daughter Natasha, studying dentistry, to make a beginning by opening a clinic in their village. Only then can villagers proudly claim: "Look! This is our Neelam’s daughter." Only then will life have come full circle for this gutsy woman who worked on herself and emerged triumphant.Top



Glorifying retrogressive patterns

Apropos of Neelu Kang’s "Glorifying retrogressive patterns" (April 7). Gender equality in our society appears to be no more than an often-shattered myth because our approach to women has been one of suppression in the old feudal style. Some women in certain pockets of the society have retaliated and grabbed their ‘freedom’ with a vengeance, thus tilting the pendulum of equality on the other extreme. We, whether men or women, have always tried to tread the extremes, without even considering a balanced and rational approach.

Even the so-called popular and women-oriented soap-operas being telecast these days, present women either as a devi and a religious person given to self-sacrifice or as a hostile and jealous manipulator, always conspiring to break families. Both these role models cause an irreparable damage on those minds viewing these programmes. While victimisation of women may have receded in the background in these serials, the vamp model is dangerously catching up for different reasons amongst the various sections of our society.

We have not even tried to focus social attention on women from the common middle class. The average middle class woman is neither properly educated nor is she aware of her identity. The electronic media, instead of tackling issues like women’s education, a healthy domestic atmosphere and economic stability and security for women has presented only the unreal and wasteful glamour of the upper sections of the society.

If the electronic media is seriously interested in the awakening and well-being of women, we must come out with programmes that emphasise the need for education and which can instil self-confidence and help women to recover the lost identity.

Ved Guliani, Hisar.


The writer expressed only negative views throughout her write-up. I always feel that the scope of issues most feminists raise is always very limited. They don’t view the problem as a whole but keep women separately and feel injustice has been done to them.

All the serials mentioned, be they of Balaji Telefilms, Aruna Irani’s or Asha Parekh’s have always portrayed women very strongly. As it is, only a woman makes or breaks a family. They have to be strong but they should not break away from the norms.

Kusum in KKusum has been brought up in a middle class back ground and has always maintained her dignity, come what may. She has put her husband and his whole family to shame with her positive attitude. She did not malign her husband or sought revenge. She has rather helped him out and made him realise his mistake, thereby showing grace. That is where her real victory lies. Instead, if she had yelled at him and not helped him, it would have made her a very normal person. The family would have broken up and so many lives would have been at stake. With her actions Kusum has only tied them together. That is precisely what the Indian tradition and Indian girls are all about.

Women cannot establish themselves away from men. God created both equally and they both have to co-exist. If there are bad women there are nice men as well like in the case of Kasauti Zindagi Ki. In this serial, Anuraag did not marry his lady love only to save the life of his mother, but he still favoured his lady love in his own way.

No one knows what will happen tomorrow and what life has in store for us. It is not as if Anuraag planned to ditch Prernaa. If just happened.

Prernaa, in her own was brought up in a middle class background and only when Anuraag ditched her did she feel the urge to prove herself. In this way, every serial in its own way, has something special. If they have appealed to a lot of people throughout the country, they must have struck a chord somewhere.

It feels very nice to see that girls and women do something to prove themselves within the culture of the family. At least they manage to create an awareness in middle class people that instead of brooding over injustice done to them, they can really fight back and uphold their dignity. Changes in life always comes in small packages and not all of a sudden.

Sangeeta, Kotkapura.

Should a man have a right...

Vimla Patil in "Should a man have a right to his unborn child?" (March 31), poses a couple of very important issues which need to be debated as these cry out for a solution.

The most important issue which modern Indian society faces as on date is the custody of children when a marriage breaks down and separation or divorce follows. The issue has emotional implications for the mother and emotional plus ego problems for the father. My heart goes to the children who become unfortunate victims of such situations of broken homes. The children can neither be denied mother’s love and care nor can they be deprived of affection and protection of a father. Personality development and grooming of such children remains incomplete. How should the courts decide the question of custody of such children—in favour of mother or father?

One thing is for sure that who-soever separated/divorced husband or wife claims the custody of the children must give an undertaking that he or she will not get remarried and inflict the wrath of a stepmother or stepfather on the children. Thereafter, if anyone of them, whosoever it may be, having given such an undertaking, ventures to violate it, he or she should be punished heavily. The legal responsibilities and rights of both wife and husband who have opted to separate towards their children must be clearly spelt out. The role of grandparents (parents of both husband and wife) towards grooming of such children of broken homes also needs to be defined and legitimised.

Onkar Chopra, Ludhiana

Enemies of their own kind

This is with reference to Rashmi Talwar’s "Enemies of their own kind" (March 31). It is said that a woman becomes complete when she produces a child. The present-day scenario reveals that she is considered a complete woman only if she produces a male child. To fulfill this desire of theirs, is it necessary to kill that tiny angel breathing inside the womb?

If a mother can’t stop herself from aborting the girl child, aborting of female foetuses will never stop. It is only the mother with whose help this stigma of aborting females could be eradicated.

Sumit Sabharwal, Hoshiarpur.