Eleven More Days in Lock Down

I am amazed at how the girls have risen to the challenge of this pandemic. The continue to be independent, cheerful, competent, and funny as they take incredible care of themselves and each other.

https://shishursevay.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/QAR-Jan-Mar-2020-1.pdf

Blogging the #Lockdown: 24 March 2020

The #lockdown has begun. Today was really the first official day of the forced lockdown that began in Kolkata at 4 pm yesterday but now is for all of India. The girls are really fine. They are on and off computers and phones with teachers. They are rising to the occasion of organizing and operating the technology. They are having fun and studying. The teachers also seem to be enjoying the teaching, more than any of us had expected.

For me it is mixed. I’m getting work done, and relaxing. I love being home with the children. But I’m also worrying a lot —

Police are stopping, harassing, and beating men on motorcycles. Bijay received a warning trying to get here. Our day guard was also harassed. I prepared letters indicating the importance of their jobs, but I also told Bijay to stay home and I’d call if there were an emergency. Our day guard will not return for now as his landlord said he either stayed home of had to find another place, and someone in his neighborhood may have the virus. Our night guard will stay day and night but sleep during the night in the outside hallway. I need him to manage the water pump and generator when power goes off. The massis/caretakers are here, or at least the ones who could stay here.

Food delivery has been arranged but that will only work if supplies come to this area. We may not be able to get milk. We have a month’s supply of the routine medications for the children and extra antibiotics if needed.

I guess the best words for how I feel are uneasy, a bit afraid because some of our children are medically vulnerable. I’m 77 but in good health, but still I’m vulnerable. I worry about safety as it becomes apparent that we are not guarded as usual and that Bijay is not here. It has been quiet here in recent years but before that were the years of riots and death threats, and the sense of vulnerability of being alone. https://shishursevay.com/2011/11/19/occupy-shishur-sevay/

Three weeks is a long time. I think of the people living without resources, old people who cannot get out for food — the day workers who will not get paid, all the hawkers, the shops, those hundreds of thousands of people who crowd the streets of Kolkata, bring their goods from the villages — how many of them will die?

I will ask whether the cure is worse than the disease because I’m a physician, trained in numbers and illnesses, and rates, and vulnerability, and all that leads me to question what we are doing. How do we decide what illnesses deserve this level of social and economic destruction? Life is always full of trade-offs and compromises. There will be few deaths from vehicular accidents. These are the thoughts that go through my mind as we move through this crisis. This is how I’ve always been, looking at everything from different angles and perspective and wanting to share my thoughts.

The Ancestors and the Babies

Part I: Boys will be boys; girls will be mothers

A baby girl has been born to a young woman in India. She wants to keep her baby. She writes to me for help. The boyfriend will not marry her, a reversal of past promises. In India it is nearly impossible for a single mother to raise a child. She cannot rent a place to stay or get a job if her status is known. For the child it is impossible to come through childhood unscathed by the names, insults, bullying, and exclusion because no father is present. For now though the baby nurses peacefully, unaware of the forces suddenly focused on her existence. She has no idea how her birth has turned a corner of the universe into chaos.

The issue is SHAME, the loss of the girl’s family’s Houour, which includes the presumed anger and sadness of the ANCESTORS. I step back in wonder. “Is it really true that one young woman’s birth of a child has the power to undo generations of respect and standing in current times and even causing anguish for past generations no longer here? Can 2 kg. of human infant wreak such destruction on families and community? And is it true that if the baby’s father “mans up” and marries the mother the baby is no longer the source of family dishonor and the Ancestors can go back to doing whatever ancestors do?

Part II: The Voices in my head.

Mostly I hear adoptees talking in my head and mostly they are Indian adoptees. My daughter is an Indian adoptee which is how I came to be here in Kolkata to care for the girls rejected for adoption. She doesn’t say much, mostly because she has seen and experienced too much of the pain of women’s lives here. But others ask:

“Why couldn’t people help my mother keep me instead of adopting me?’ This is a frequent question I think of when faced with an unmarried mother who wants to keep her baby, The biggest barriers are not financial but social and now we are back to the family HONOUR and SHAME, and the wrath or sadness of the ANCESTORS — the ruination of generations by the arrival of a baby without proper papers! She will be banned from her mother’s home. Her friends will turn their backs. Others will simply be to afraid to help because then they too will be stained by protecting a baby who has no proper papers

The only way for a baby to have proper papers is to have a father who is married to its mother. In India, the choices for the baby are to be raised by a single mother which is almost impossible, and unlike the US she will not be able to find a place to live or a job, and will find that many schools will not accept her child. The child will be subjected to teasing, bullying and social exclusion. But the child will still have its mother.

The second option is adoption, domestic adoption in India where there are thousands of families on waiting lists for infants free for adoption. This may be successful in that the child is raised as a natural child of the family, or not. The child may be told, or maybe not told, or maybe have a sense of secrets about its origins or may be told by others. When the child discovers it is adopted it will also wonder why it was given up, why it was not loved, what it had done wrong. I hear these voices in my head because these are words told to me over and over by adoptees.

Am I against adoption, not at all. Sometimes it is the ONLY option, but the adoptive mother, including myself, is the child’s second mother. We may wish we were the first, just like the child may wish it bad been birthed by us. A solid identity must be built on truth, not half-truths or lies. We owe that to our children. And if it is difficult to us to manage emotionally then we are doubly obligated to sort it out and come to a comfortable place about our motherhood. Children read our emotions. They should not have to bear our pain.

I stand, holding the baby in my arms, wondering her future, feeling sad and impotent and torn apart but clearly not as much as this young college girl, now a mother, still hoping maybe the father will marry her, give her and the baby the papers, still hoping her family and community will accept her and her baby without the papers, and torn between what she is told will be a “better life” for her baby — but wondering how she herself will survive the pain of loss.

Part III: Why? Why? Why?

Whether one believes in evolution, or God, or Gods, or G_d, or a god force within all life, none seems to require that newborns come with passports or papers. We arrive naked, without accessories. Honor and Shame are about culture, about people making rules, about beliefs – because if papers or passports were required for new life, then why are babies born without them?

Why? Why? Why?

“Two Old Ladies with Nothing to do All Day”

MH AssochamOvalTwo Old Ladies with nothing to do all day.”  I didn’t know what he was saying at the time, but he was trying to push me away from an office entrance at the school.  He spoke in Bengali, still difficult for me. Sometimes it’s better not to know what people are saying especially when I am making a disturbance.

I’ll skip all the details because even as I wrote them I was bored.  I was at a parent’s meeting where our six year old attends.  I was meeting with the Coordinator when a big man came into the office and tried to have his meeting and I refused to let him take over.  But after the meeting another man tried to burst into the office as our neighbor was having her meeting. I was blocking the entrance.  He tried to push me away and I refused which led to the outburst.  I was with Seema Gupta our Vice President, and retired Joint Registrar of the Calcutta High Court.  She was horrified.  He probably said even worse.  She holds back on telling me the really bad stuff.  He was aggressively saying he had to to go office and we were two old ladies with nothing to do with ourselves except stand around talking.

But here is the kicker!  I called aside one of the women officials who had seemed sympathetic and said I was upset about the men just taking over.  She said, “Maam, this is India and you have to follow the culture,”  I told her I wouldn’t.

Back home at Shishur Sevay I was telling the teachers and one said, “Yes, and I have to go through this at my child’s school next week.”

Why do I make a scene?  I have nothing to lose.  The women around me have too much to lose.  They accept it because they have no choice.  I resist openly just so other women can hear that someone thinks this is not OK, that they should not have to live as they do.  Living in the West we don’t really get it, because it’s not about incidents, but about living as a lesser person.   And for women like me, transposed from a sense of freedom and empowerment, these insults hurt.  They make me want to go back and pull out my accomplishments, to say I’m not just an old lady with nothing to do.  But he would never understand, neither of those men would.  To them I really am just an old lady.

This is hardly the first time, and certainly not the last, and I tell myself to ignore it, but in truth, I feel bad.  I feel devalued, and that was exactly their intent.

 

 

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