|HER WORLD||Sunday, August 24, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Spirit of enterprise
Symbol of continuity
Nirupama Dutt captures the ambience of a retreat in the hills where women bond with each other.
A question which poses itself before a single woman is that where will she live in the evening of her life? In the past, it was expected that a single woman would live with her relatives. If this was not possible then an ashram of some kind was the other option. However, with changing times women, who have had careers and some savings of their own, have started exercising other choices. A classic example of this is to be seen in the Himachal hills. Leaving behind the clatter of the city, a number of single professional women live in a commune of sorts in Sidhbarhi village, near Dharamsala.
The snow-capped Dhauladhars recline against the sky and melted-snow streams bubble down making music. Sidhbarhi is a village at the foot of the mountains on Rakkarh road some 3km from Dharamsala in the Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh. Dharamsala town has almost reached the village and many houses are being constructed. The construction, however, follows the concrete and brick patters of the urban plains. But just a little off the road is a cluster of mud-and-stone houses built as houses were once made in Kangra but with a contemporary design.
In a two-story triangular house with long and narrow windows lives Kishwar Ahmed Shirali, a retired professor of psychology from Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. As her retirement approached, she started wondering where to settle down in the twilight zone of life. "I was always a people’s person and I did wish for some kind of a community. I tried living in a mud house in Ganahati, a village near Shimla. I always wanted to settle down in the hills. I was exploring various possibilities and also visited a commune of sorts in Kumaon hills but nothing really worked out. It was then by chance that I met Barbara Nath Wiser at a health workshop."
Barbara was an Austrian and a doctor of medicine and she came to India some 25 years ago on a journey to search her spiritual self. Travelling all over India, she reached Dharamsala and here at Rakkarh, a village close to Sidhbarhi, she met Baba Nath who was the priest of an ancient Hindu temple. Not only did she find in him a spiritual mentor but she also fell in love with him, took on his faith and married him. She had two children and Barbara started running a dispensary from the temple precincts. After the death of the Baba, the small son inherited the priesthood of the temple and Barbara started devoting more time to tending the sick in the villages around.
When Kishwar met Barbara in 1993, the latter was running a small hospital and a non-government organisation called Nishtha. Kishwar recalls, "Barbara told me that her hospital had been built with local material by an American lady, Didi Contractor, who had married a Gujarati Indian. She also told me that Didi had built a mud house for herself in Sidhbarhi." When Kishwar reached Barbara’s home and hospital, she just fell in love with the place. There was a big Jamun tree right there in the courtyard and a cool passing through. She found Didi’s double-storey mud house so comfortable and pretty that at once she decided to buy a piece of land and get Didi to build a house for her even though there were still three years for Kishwar to retire from service.
So while starting to build Kishwar’s house, Didi got contracts from two women from Germany and one from England to build houses for them. And when Kishwar moved to her home in 1997, there was a single women’s commune of sorts in Sidhbarhi of mud houses all built with a special design to suit the needs of the owner. It is interesting to hear of Deedee’s choice of a career as an architect. After her children were all grown up and settled, Didi moved to Andretta in Himachal Pradesh where she developed smokeless mud stoves for the hill women. This work met with a lot of success. "What pained me a lot were to see the concrete buildings coming up in the hill towns and villages. Not only were they in complete contradiction with the environment but were a hazard to live in," says Didi.
The area around Dharamsala has the second highest rainfall in the country. It is also an earthquake prone area. In the massive earthquake in the Kangra Valley in 1902, more Britishers died than Indians. The reason for this was that the Britishers lived in pucca cement houses while the locals lived in their traditional mud houses with sloping roofs tiled with slate. Also the mud houses remain more cool in summers and snug in winters. Didi decided to experiment with sun-baked mud-bricks the art of which she had learnt as an adolescent when she had helped her parents build a mud house back home in the U.S.
Taking help of local artisans, Didi built her house with mud bricks and stone—building just one pucca strong room for her books and papers. A garden with shrubs and fruit trees surrounded the home. "The work was labour intensive but I preferred to spend money thus and give employment to local skilled workers rather than wasting it on a monstrous concrete structure," says Didi. Other environmental factors were also taken into consideration like using solar energy to heat water and make a burial ground for plastics.
Didi’s was the model house but each of the other houses have a special character keeping in mind the interests of the resident. Kishwar got a big verandah with a view of the Dhauladhars on her first floor. For Miriam it was a built-in settee and fireplace and for Sadhna Verma who later joined the gang of the mud house owners it was split-level arrangement with the living room all round to resemble the womb. While working on the traditional mud hut pattern of the hills, Didi added other features like windows aplenty so that ventilation would be adequate. However, many others who chose to make a getaway home in Sidhbarhi like Kalpana and Romi Khosla, daughter and son-in-law of writer Bhisham Sahni, and journalist Prafulla Bidwai, have chosen pucca structures. The local people too prefer modern-day conventional materials. Kishwar says, "The people here say that a mud house is a luxury on the rich can afford. They feel more secure with pucca houses. But one wishes they were making sloping roofs to avoid seepage and structures that would blend with the environment."
Sidhbarhi is becoming a chosen spot with more single women and some couples choosing to make homes here or rent out the existing ones. The foreigners are those who have chosen Buddhism or Hinduism as the chosen religion. Didi, for instance, is a practicing Hindu like Barbara. Recently, Sidhbarhi lost one of its residents. Stephanie Faber, a German writer who believed in Tibetan Buddhism, had a beautiful Didi-designed house surrounded by tea bushes died of cancer. Irene Hartel, a spiritual healer, now lives in Stephanie’s house and plans to set up healing centre in the shadow of the Dhauladhars.
As for as community life
goes, the ladies living here do have differences now and then but in
case of an emergency they come to the aid of one another. And life is
certainly not lonely here for the lone women.
More than 80 per cent of France's judges are female, and the government is considering ways of correcting the imbalance, says Adam Sage.
FRANCE is considering positive discrimination to bring about a more equal balance of the sexes among the country's judges. The eyecatching aspect is that the aim is to attract more men into a judiciary dominated by women. When French Justice Minister Dominique Perben visited the national college for trainee judges this year he noted that men have become a small and endangered minority in the French judiciary, with woman comprising more than 80 per cent of those entering the profession."If this continues, it could cause a problem," said M Perben, adding that he may have to introduce quotas into the appointment system despite the lack of appetite in France for positive discrimination.
Women apply in far greater numbers than men for judicial posts, and they perform better in their examinations and interviews, M Perben said. "The women are more serious in their approach, harder working, more determined and they are stick it better," said M Perben. "All in all, I have to accept that they are of a better standard."
Last year, for example, 1,576 women and 477 men sat the entrance examination to the Ecole National de la Magistrature (ENM), the college from which all would-be judges and prosecutors have to graduate in France.
The women's pass rate was 11 per cent and the men's eight per cent, meaning there were only 38 men among the 220 on the course. Nathalie Gavarino, who graduated this year, said: "I think the girls are better prepared and don't waste so much time with other things. Basically, the boys think about girls and the girls think about working."
An egalitarian appointments process for the judiciary, based on examinations, was introduced at the end of the 1950s. Change was slow, largely because women thought they had no place in what was then a male-dominated profession.
But gradually they started to outperform men and by the 1980s, women were in a majority and the proportion has gone on rising since then. M Perben declines to elaborate on why he thinks the imbalance creates a problem. Mme Gavarino, who is 38, says: "I think the ministry is worried that if all these new judges become pregnant and take maternity leave there could be an administrative headache and they would have trouble finding judges to sit in the courtrooms."
Francoise Toillon, 40, who graduated with Mme Gavarino, completed the final stage of her course as a trainee at the children's court in Lille, northern France. She said: "When a man is accused of sexual aggression, for instance, often his lawyer is a woman, the judge is a woman, and the prosecutor is a woman and he comes away thinking that all this is a women's conspiracy against him.
"In French courts, about 80 per cent of defendants are men. If 80 per cent of the judges are women, then I suppose there is a problem" Yet both Mme Gavarino and Mme Toillon reject a quota system. "There was never any question of quotas for women when a majority of judges were men," said Mme Gavarino.
Veronique Imbert, the vice-president of the Magistrates' Union, agreed, adding: "There is no evidence that women carry out their role as judges in a different way to men." But she added: "I have to accept that it is not healthy when a profession is overwhelmingly single-sex, whether it is men or women. We must find ways of getting men back into the judiciary, but quotas is not one of them. We must encourage them, but we must not appoint any old idiot just because he happens to be a man."
Gilbert Azibert, the director of the ENM, who has commissioned a survey in a bid to discover why he had so few male candidates, said: "Men seem to be shunning the judiciary, and that is worrying." He pointed out that male students were in a minority at law faculties in French universities, and where men graduated, they tended to become lawyers, a different career path to that of the judiciary in France. One reason was pay, with lawyers tending to earn up to three times as much as judges, whose salaries start at about `A3 25,000 a year and reach `A3 40,000 after ten years' experience.
Mme Toillon said women were attracted to the job security of the judiciary—including paid holidays and maternity leave—which has a status similar to that of the civil service. "For the men, the remuneration is important. But if you want to become a judge, the most important thing is to want to serve the State, and perhaps women are more motivated by that idea. If you are a lawyer, then you are a private practitioner and you don't have those benefits."
However, the picture is not absolutely straightforward. While the lower and, increasingly, the middle echelons of the profession are occupied by women, the upper stratas are not. Among appeal court judges, for instance, men are in a majority. One explanation is that such judges tend to be older, often in their 50s, and often having entered the judiciary 30 years ago, when there were still more male candidates than women. If this explanation is correct, the women should come to dominate the appeal courts in the decades ahead.
But Nathalie Gavarino, who, like Mme Toillon, is about to take up a post as a judge, has her doubts. "Men are more ambitious and careerist. They tend to hang around late, even if they've not got anything much to do, just to impress the Chief Prosecutor, for instance. Promotion is much more important to them."
AS you hold the squealing bundle in your arms, alarm, tension, anxiety surface one by one and you are non-plussed, confused as to what the "devil" really wants. It is middle of night. The entire world is blissfully asleep, humans, animals except for this fifteen inch of a howler. Finally, cajoled he falls in a beautiful slumber, while bleary-eyed you wait for the sleep which has now flown away.
The monsoon clouds gurgle and call me outside. There is a faint luminous line of the moon visible in the dark clouds.. As I gaze upwards the heavy, full clouds remind me of their motherhood as they embrace the pristine, divine, rounded orb. The breeze outside takes a pause as a quiet realisation dawns- the greatest of miracles is not through science and art but life- when life begets life. The mango tree in my backyard gave clustered flowers, which turned into tiny, green, ambis which again silently grew into big, luscious mangoes and each mango a mother holding the precious seed in its womb. The same is the case with that little sparrow who prepares, twig by twig, a home for its fledgelings. The whole day it wanders for food to fill the clamouring beaks and fluttering quills. Motherhood is universally giving and perhaps more important, it is the great equaliser among the various forms of life, be it human or animal.
Where did I read that for God it is the same when a bird or a human falls. Here, the love is unconditional , more in the animal world where when they let go of their young ones they really let go whereas most of us end up blackmailing our children into doing things which the children don't really want to. The happiness at this stage, the feeling of being indispensable and having one completely dependant on you never comes again and is complete by itself. Why ask for more?
I came inside and gazed at the peaceful Buddha. How lost is he to the world, how soft is the expression. The entire life we make plans, struggle for them, are pained when we fail to accomplish them, happy when we succeed and in the process bypass the real pleasures of life.
Stress is not relieved by
joining the stress-relieving programmes but by doing simple things and
then savouring and valuing them — things like watering your plants and
planting new ones, gazing at the rainbow in the freshly washed sky,
getting wet in the mild drizzle and inhaling the smell of freshly bathed
mud. Closer home, watching the black, monsoon clouds gently float over
the moon and the razor lightning streak across the sky and light it up
as enlightenment , or simply doing what your heart really wants to do
The key is getting out of yourself and that is precisely motherhood is
all about. Didn't somebody tell me spiritualism is the same story?
Symbol of continuity
THE sun, moon, star, lotus, peacock, conch, shell, leaf, snake, paisley, swastika and geometrical designs: the Indian woman is wearing them all on her forehead in form of stick-on bindis. For most women, bindi is now a part of her make-up kit, the grand finale to today's fashion fad. The bindi is much more than just another embellishment enhancing the charm of a woman. Originally being round in shape only, it is a reminder of Indian culture in its myriad aspects.
Having a religious significance, the bindi has been in vogue since Vedic times, finding mention in various ancient Indian literature. Since centuries, the bindi has been and still remains, the mangalaya or the sign of an Indian married woman, other ones being the sindoor, mangalsutra (also called ramnami) nose ring, bangles and so on. Once it was considered impertinent to ask a woman her marital status i.e. whether she was married, unmarried or a widow - her mangalaya showed all. During the time of Civil Disobedience in Chennai, a married woman who was deprived of her mangalsutra in prison, created a stir throughout the country. Eventually, the Law Member had to intervene to order the prison authorities to restore the mangalsutra to her.
Traditionally, a woman applies the bindi after a bath, even when she is seriously ill, with the right finger of her right hand. But today many women are sporting it in various designs as a mark of beauty.
After the Vedic Age, the position of women declined. It was Lord Buddha who emphasised that a woman be given a most honoured status in society. In a sermon in Banaras (Varanasi), he symbolised it by giving her the mark of the bindu (O, i.e. a drop or a dot in form of a circle) now called bindi, to married woman. In fact, he addressed every woman as bindumati. He felt that a bindumati represented eternity as she gave birth to a family which continued generation after generation. Thus the bindi came to symbolise the reproductive section of mankind i.e. a family as a distinct unit of society.
However, some modern feminists opine that the bindi proclaimed male superiority i.e. woman was a man's possession, a part of his dhan i.e. property. Mythology says that Lord Shiva had a third eye—the eye of wisdom. Those who worshipped him, symbolised his wisdom by applying the bindi—the mark of the third eye. It is believed that when man had not degenerated, he possessed the third eye, which later turned into two small eyes. Sages opine that human beings will regain their third eye when they able to conquer their desires.
As vital as the spot between one's two brows, is the top centre of one's head where the all powerful human eye used to exist in the days of Kubera, Arimaspes and Cyclops. Rishis and yogis symbolised God as a dot, at an infinite distance from mankind. They meditated upon this dot to keep their mind away from desires and temptations. They believed that this dot-like soul has its abode in middle of the forehead. Thus the bindi also symbolises man's quest for self-realisation, freeing themselves from the interminable cycle of births and deaths to attain nirvana. A bindi on a woman's forehead reminded men that a woman's physical body was a part of God's self and ought not to be considered as instrument for man's lust; it was primarily for procreation.
Another form of bindis is tikkas or tilaks worn by men and women alike. The ones of sacred ashes like burnt camphor, is interpreted as victory of senses over desires, thus leading to the third eye. Other ashes are supposed to burn sins, uproot dangers and protect from evil spirits all leading to attainment of spiritual enlightenment.
In South, the bindi is
known as gopi, pottu and kuri, materials varying from
sandalwood paste to red and black powders. The sandalwood paste,
smeared on foreheads, cools the vital spot between the brows, prevents
anger, thus soothing both body and mind, a necessary condition for
achieving peace of mind. Sandalwood paste is of two varieties. The
yellow one is known as Gopichandan (also Vishnuchandan)
because gopis smeared it on Lord Krishna's body. Red sandalwood
paste is used in rituals of worship. The red kumkum powder or sindoor
which contains turmeric is used to worship Goddess Parvati. Today
all colours of bindi whether liquid, powder, cream or stick-ons
are available to match dresses.