Monday, June 22, 2009

My Mother, Head Cover, and Education

My mother used to wear a sari many years ago. She would have only two or three kameez salwar sets-that too when she had to go to her in-laws’ village or her own native village. It was perfectly normal for us to see her in a sari. In fact we associated her sari with her office-formal wear it was. She never used to cover her head with it.

Then she started to wear a kameez salwar and with it, a dupatta over her head all the time. I took some time adjusting to it, but then it was the call of the day and she being the ultra-flexible person, took to wearing what was the demand of the times. Sari had suddenly become a lewd and un-Sikh like dress. She stowed her saris away in trunks and cupboards, only to take them out seasonally to air them. We would wear them for some functions and flaunt our grown up selves in a changed attire. I still have not overcome the scare of having a sari coming untied down to my feet in the middle of an important presentation or a class, so I avoid wearing it. Mom still wears and carries well a sari for some functions where she does not want to cover her head.

Yesterday, we were at a friend’s place. Mom took two of her books for that friend’s family to gift them. The family’s daughter-in- law C and our relative H served lunch. Mom kept talking to the grandmother of the family. Mom wore a white cotton suit and a white dupatta and she kept her head covered all the time. H knows my mom quite well, C was meeting her for the first time. C kept talking to mom quite condescendingly, even sympathetically. After lunch when the customary seating pattern of men sitting separately from the group of women was repeated, we sat in one of the many bedrooms in the house. I left them for a few moments to check on the kids sitting in the kids’ room. When I returned, H was just short of ROTFL. She said, “Didi, C asked aunty (my mom), Thora bahut parhey likhey wi ho? (Have you had any education?)” I was aghast. Mom is a Ph.D, for dear God’s sake. This was the first time mom had been asked a question like that. I didn’t like it, but tried to smile and asked C whatever made her think that she was not? She said it was because of the head covering (dupatta) she wore. She tried to apologize but I didn’t want her to feel bad. She had a right to her opinion too. Mom turned it into a light one by quipping, “No, I aint educated, I just wear them spectacles to give a semblance of an educated woman.”

*****

Below is a video of my mother speaking on Jalandhar DoorDarshan on Female Foeticide. It is a fragment of the program that lasted an hour. Kindly adjust with me for the poor quality of recording. Mampi to be blamed for holding the phone rather awkwardly.



42 comments:

D said...

I'm sorry I don't understand Punjabi, but having your Mom on national TV is so cool!

Coming to the point of the post, it's very common for people to be judged according to the clothes they wear. Like your mom got stereotyped as an uneducated, probably orthodox, woman, women who dress in skirts, dresses and pants get slotted as oversmart, fast or something like that. The lesson, I guess, to be learnt here is an old one - never judge a book by its cover!

Sidhusaaheb said...

“I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.”

- Barack H. Obama, President of the United States of America

(The entire text of the speech that the above quote has been extracted from as well as the video can be accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/04/obama-egypt-speech-video_n_211216.html .)

Pradip Biswas said...

People are not educated enough tp know why the head of persons are covered. Hindu religion is scientific and it is more of a social science than of a religion. The spread of infection is maximum through one's hairs of the head where they occur in the densest possible concentration. The women are still looking after children and cooking for a major part of the time. To minimise the infection the head of women are covered. In many hindu religious places it is mandatory that you cover your head. In such religious places many people accumulate. So chance of spread of infection is maximum. Where it is not, there you must have a bath before you enter. By the same reason the cooks cover their head, partly also to save the head from the effect of heat.Like that there are many social rules. Only those who are really educated still follow it and I feel others not following these ancient rules need to be "Paddi- Leekhee"

monikamanchanda said...

oh we are obessed with judging by looks... at different times (depending on what u are wearing) one will be treated differently by the same person... wearing a western dress means u are hep enough for respect (even hotel waiters behave in that way) and if u have sun glasses on ur head then even better... but incase u turn up in a salwar kameez than its a totally different issue... u are just another normal person and not worth the attention

we are obsessed with what we wear

and ur mom speaks really well... kudos to her

laddu said...

oh wow yaar....ur mom came on tv..cool yaa....
and regarding C so i dont think its her fault..its natural to think like dis abt any aged women covering her head..i should have seen C's face when she would have realized that how much educated ur mom is....

Pinku said...

aunty looks cool on TV....and she looks superbly elegant and shophisticated in life.

Anyone who thinks she isn't educated just cause she chooses to cover her head is not right in their own head.

My MIL was recently asked by a delivery boy to 'angutha lagao' the receipt when he came to deliver a courier...she just took the pen and signed.

We all had a good laugh.

Veena said...

Nice post.. Its funny how we judge people by the clothes they wear, the way they wear it .. The truth is , the appearance of a person is no way connected to the knowledge he / she has..

Its not C's fault Mampi.. You and I could have done the same mistake ..

But I am in awe of the fact that your mom is a Ph.d. wow ! Also she came on the national t.v.! wow again !:)

Solilo said...

I am so proud of your Mom, Mampi. I can understand Punjabi..not too much but just by listening carefully.

This stereotypes! people have images of all sorts. If someone wears a head gear then uneducated, if someone wears sleeveless then loose morale etc.

Even so that person shouldn't have asked such a question.

Mampi said...

D-absolutely thats the point of the post.

SS-I remember you did a post on the Obama speech. This post of mine was the one that I had referred to in the comment space of yours.

Pradip-Its a matter of personal choice.

Monika-sometimes the tables are turned, hehe. Westerns sometimes lead to trouble in some cases. but as D said, judging a book by its cover is a fallacy.

Laddu-Yeah, C was embarrased to the core.

Pinku-She looks awesome, I love her voice on radio and Tv and any microphone.

Veena-Our problem is that we form opinions before we know facts.

Solilo-Great to know you understand Punjabi.

nimis540 said...

:) Prejudiuce overrides common sense..


You should be proud of your mom ,not just that she appeared on tv,but that she talked about FI...

Phoenixritu said...

She is a very gracious lady. I like the way she put every one at ease with her small joke!

She has a very good presence on TV, so gracious and elegant. It really impressed me. Please convey my appreciation to her

Life Begins said...

Excellent!!
It was great to see your mom speak on such an important topic. we surely need many more such gracious women to come forward and deal with this topic.

Judging by attire is perhaps the most common thing. People always end up having an oipinion of a person based on clothes. And many a times it turns out to be quite hurting and insulting. It was wonderful how your mom dealt with the situation.

soulsafar said...

I was reading this news today about the French Government wanting to ban the burqa.. and I was thinking, why are there such connotations to the way we dress? If a woman is a burqa.. it is "subservient".. maybe it is convenient? Who is to say? And why is there a need to judge? But then, the truth is, I'd be guilty of making the same assumption.. and in 80% cases.. it would be true.... so I'm confused about this one.

These things, the burqa, the ghoonghat, the bindi... these are all symbols. And I think we have a tendency of reading too much into them.

Your post was thought provoking! :)

Sneha Divakar said...

poor girl C, must have felt sorry for being judgmental if she read this post

Imp's Mom said...

looks are always deceiving and when we judge by the looks we fall flat!

have terrible connection and couldn't see the video, but I bet she is one gracious lady, from the way she handled the whole situation...

do give my regards to her.

Imp's Mom said...

btw what happnd to the radio?

Mampi said...

Nimmy-Yeah I am proud of her. Appearing on TV is not a big deal for her, talking about these matters is something after her own heart. She is an activist in her own right.

Ritu-Your appreciation conveyed. Makes me feel good to receive compliments on her behalf.

LB-I am sure you understood everything that she said.

Soulsafar-Yeah Sarkozy's comments caught my eye too. I also thought of them in the context of this post.

Sneha-that is the real fun of it. C is not computer savvy.

Imp's Mom-Oh she is a wonderful person. She can tackle anything. The music on the blog has been disabled due to video. Will enable it with the new post.

oceanic mirages said...

wow.....
ur mom rocks...
and you rock too.
sorry for not bveing thr will xplain sum other time.
take care.love.missed u...

UL said...

howe proud you must be of her Mampi...it is beautiful to see what rather who made you....greetings to your mom, tell her she has a lovely daughter....

Sucharita Sarkar said...

You are lucky to have a distinguished mom like yours. Education and tradition CAN go hand in hand...much of the younger generation do not seem to realise this.

Quirky Indian said...

There's not much that I can say, considering that a bald man with a earring has been called a villain in my latest post. How's that for going by appearances? Though I will probably get away with it since he's a politician. He has to be evil!

But that doesn't take away from the fact that I am shallow and superficial. :-)

Cheers,

Quirky Indian

PS: Your Mum rocks.....

indianhomemaker said...

Your mom was really dignified in the way she handled this!

Hats off to your mom!
Appearing on national television and speaking against FI is so amazing Mampi, you must be so proud of her!

dipali said...

Great post, great mom, great daughter! Proud to know you, Mampi!

my space said...

Hey can`t get the audio at all...m anyways severely technically challenged..
Well thats a problem faced by many...unfortunately we are so caught in stereotypes that we miss individuality completely..honestly even I have been guilty of misjudging people completely , simply by assuming things about them just by looking at them!
Poor C must b maha embarassed...
and u must b so proud of Mom...Phd!! wow..thats really cool

Gurinderjit Singh said...

Lol! Really enjoyed reading through!
Congratulations for having a great mom.



It happens very often though..
"Bha teri padai khatam ho gyee? Hun ta conductor ban gya hon..."

Hilton said...

Accept everyone not just a select few, and it works both ways, even for their faults and failings. Both parties are judging each other??? She blundered out of not knowing...
Lets hope you will experience a day when everyone will socialise together?

Your header picture is stunning. Is it old?

hitchwriter said...

some how i missed this post... dont know how...

thank god I came in time... !!

having your mom on TV is proud.. eh.. that too on this topic.. !!!

alas... people need to learn that clothes dont reflect peoples thinking !!!! whew...

Jagjit said...

Great ur mom on DD. lol @ thoda boht padhe likhe vi ho :)

Sudhir Khandelwal said...

Mampi, it just shows how stereotyped people are, and how much stereotyped their thinking is. And forget if there are things like sense and sensibility.

my space said...

mera comment kahaan gaya :-(

I had said that i too am guilty cos at some point or the other i too have judged people by their looks, their dressing sense etc and fallen FLAT on my face like C !!
Aunty rocks! Phd..bolo hamko bhi aashirwaad dey ki hum bhi itni oonchayio tak pahuch sake...
Cant hear the audio at all but its grt to have a Mom like that na?

Manish Raj said...

Forget words of C; carry the baton forward Mampi.

Best Regards
Manish

How do we know said...

:-) C must have been humbled and astonished on the same day. Am sure this is a day that she will remember.

Your mom obviously is a rock star, in fact, everyone around u seems to be a super achiever! :-) u included.

churningthewordmill said...

dont we all do this all the time? look at a person and quickly make assessments about who the person is, where she comes from, wat she does for a living etc etc.we are so baised in our view. your mom must have given C quite a shock!!
thumbs up to appearing on national TV...thats like fabulous..as is the ph.d. :D

The Rat... said...

ugh ugh.... judging ppl by clothes... darn... hey Gandhi wore just a loin cloth and he was a barrister...

i understand though, with my rather casual dressing sense i get detained at office gates more often than not...

but dont know how to handle these ppl... like we cant change who we are and wat we wear just for these ppl rite??

Smitha said...

Mampi, Your mother is so elegant and speaks so well! National TV ! Wow!

I am stunned that C judged so easily based on appearances! It is so sad that people judge just on appearances! So many prejudices - all based on attire!

Gazal said...

To judge people by the clothes they wear is a commen human error.But then arent we all gulity of it at some point or the other.

This incident just goes to show that maybe we expect such traditions to be followed by women who are uneducated and in rural areas where they are forced by elders.

Am in awe of your mom and the kind of work she does.am sure you must be really proud of her.

mummyjaan said...

Second time here, first time commenting.

Loved your mom's response.

Mampi said...

OcMi-Mom is my favorite gal. Miss you around. Email me at least.

UL-Thank you for your wonderful comment. I have told her that she has a beautiful daughter, hehe. But yes, I am really proud of her.

Sucharita-Yes, mom is an epitome of the education+tradition combo.

QI-We cannot help with our stereotypes, sadly. Passed ur comment to Mom.

IHM-absolutely. She is my first inspiration for so many things that I do.

Dipali-Thank you dear girl.

MySpace-Yup, ppl cannot help but judge. We are all like that-at different times

Guri-Lol @ conductor. I really hass hass ke doohri ho gayee.

Hilton-Amen to your wish. Yes the header picture is an archival photograph from the Partition days(1947). It comes from a BBC Website.
Welcome to my blog, Do keep visiting.

Hitchwriter-Glad you dropped by.

Jagjit-It was actually stunning first, then i laughed crazily.

Sudhir-Yeah. C was embarassed but did not know how to cope with any hurt that she might have caused my mother.

Manish-C will always live in our memory, we will always manage to laugh at this happening. But yes, I loved mom's approach and she is undettered from covering her head.

HDWK-You are so sweet to say that. But mom really rocks.

Mandy-But such people cannot help it somehow.

The Rat-Nope, my mom has hardly bothered for these kind of comments and queries.

Smitha-Your compliment passed to Mom. C and people like her are the slaves of their own limited visions, they cannot help it.

Gaz-exactly, its all about the set stereotypes.

mummyjaan-Most welcome to this space. Arey yaar, comment everytime you come. You do not know that I breathe by these words that you leave here.

Anonymous said...

hello di
i watched the programme on t.v as mamiji told dad abt it.i m surprised at C's question...u must tell her that she's the only Phd in our family.
RAMAN

Oreen said...

man, you must be kicked!! this is quite something...

indianhomemaker said...

See Mampi my comment is there :)

Mithe said...

Well, this is a common enough sentiment of many many people and I believe such people should be ticked off right and proper...just because you cover your head doesn't mean that you are not educated....Just forget such a comment. Its in bad taste...your mom is THE most elegant woman,Ma'am and this was reinforced on seeing the superb video!:)
Educated? C is not educated enough herself to know that head covering in Punjab and India signifies Dignity of Women. Our President Mrs.Pratibha Patil has never been seen without her head covered and she is always in full sleeved blouses..Does this mean she is not educated?I am sick to death of this mentality
(sorry ma'am,got carried away but actually this is something that I have been meaning to express myself about..)