Tag Archives: gender equality

The Full Stop and The Comma

The Full Stop and The Comma
(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A panic struck voice shouted on the other end of the phone: “Doc, This is Neerja. My husband suddenly cannot remember anything. Not my name, not even the kids. I am rushing him to the hospital. Can you please see him now?”.

Mrs. Neerja Dev was my old patient, under treatment for migraine. Actually it was late and I was done for the day, but when faith and trust calls, a doctor cannot say no. I drove back to the hospital.

Her husband Mr. Alok, a young and handsome software engineer in his early thirties, was placed in a big multinational. He was his company’s blue-eyed beloved, groomed for a long-term high flying career. His salary much exceeded that of the President of India. I had met him earlier, when he accompanied his wife. Quite brilliant, he had an arrogant attitude to go with his achievements. Neerja had often complained in privacy that she had a lot of stress as her husband worked excessively, had too much responsibility upon his shoulders, and growing up two daughters was left to her. “He loves me and the kids, but he has no time to spend with us” she had often complained.
“There’s cut-throat competition in the software industry, I need to work hard to be where I am” Alok had replied curtly whenever the topic came up. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I reached the hospital and examined him. Indeed, Alok was blank. He could just answer his name, and yes/ no to some questions, but he could not even complete a sentence. As he struggled to find words. Neerja was devastated, and could not stop crying. Their sweet daughters, aged fourteen and seven, boldly waited outside the casualty.

“Did he have fever? Did he take any new medicines? Did he fall down? Was he fasting?” I went on with a long list of questions. Nothing should be left to chance, every bit of information must be collected for an accurate diagnosis. There were no clues from the history. His pulse, heart, and blood pressure were normal. He was able to move well, and had normal sensation all over the body.

We rushed him into the MRI. Alok had many large white spots all over his brain in the MRI, a condition that is called “demyelination”. This usually happens in young patients after viral infections. Some other abnormalities in the immune system can also cause this. I explained the situation and its uncertain outcome to Neerja.

“There is no threat to his life right now, but we cannot comment anything about the recovery”. I concluded.

“What now? Will he recover at least enough to remember me and our kids? What will we do?” She broke down again.

“High dose Steroids may help some patients, but this treatment may increase his blood pressure, sugar levels, and also his chances of developing an infection. Are you ok with this risk?”

“I will leave it all to you. I cannot understand anything now.” She replied.

We started the injections of high dose steroids. His heart rate, blood pressure and sugars were continuously monitored, fluctuations treated promptly. The ward doctors, nurses stayed upon their toes, informing me every hour about him.

Friends from his company and even his boss visited. The boss just asked how long it will take for him to recover. “You know, we have deadlines and our clients need to be informed” he said.

After three days, Alok started to gradually recognise family and friends. In about ten days, he spoke well, and even started understanding what had happened. He was shocked.

“What about my job? Can I work from the hospital? They are dependent upon me. My boss has immense faith in me. Many high end projects need my supervision” he asked impatiently. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

As controlled mental activity is good for recovery of brain functions, I allowed him to work from his hospital bed for an hour or two.

The next day he was all depressed: “Doc, I cannot remember many things necessary for my work. I cannot afford this. Please don’t tell anyone from my company. How long is this going to take? Will I ever completely recover?”

I wished I could reply, but I had no answer. Every doctor is frustrated when explaining uncertainty about outcomes.

“This is going to be a long process. I cannot say how much recovery is possible or how long it will take” I explained to him. His wife and friends requested my permission and sent his reports to various specialists in the developed world, and were reassured that the ongoing treatment was correct. Finally, they accepted the situation.

Alok followed up every month. After first three months his company fired him. His boss who he treated like God, refused to even meet him, and did not reply to his emails. For him Alok was dead. Word spreads. Although recovering fast, Alok did not get any new job. Neerja took up a job, and they divided the housekeeping chores and babysitting among themselves.

The family is now far less stressed, the kids are far more happier now because their father spends more time with them. At a lower income, they have reached a higher happiness bracket. The kids took every effort to jog their father through the past memories,and that has helped him recover faster. There is no higher medical stimulus for recovery than love. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Yesterday, all of a sudden, Alok came over with a box of sweets, and a greeting.

“I have decided to start my own business. I feel confident now. I may have lost some bits of my brain, but my heart is still strong enough to dream big. I have decided to turn this full-stop into a comma. But this time I have decided that I will first reserve time for my family and then work hard. It is because of them that I am back. I just came to thank you for standing by. My daughter has made this greeting for you “.

The sweets were of course delicious, but the greeting hand-made by his daughter moved me.

It said: “Thank you, doctor, for giving back our papa his dearest family”.

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Please share unedited.

The Angry Husband Pandemic

The Angry Husband Pandemic

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“She can’t tell properly. I will tell” said the husband when I asked the patient what were her complaints. Right from the name, it was him who had answered all the questions for her.

“Does she have a speech problem?” I asked him.

“No” he replied, then the wife started telling her complaints.

The list was typical of stress related complaints: chronic aches and pains, sleep problems, lack of interest, tiredness, giddiness: a picture also frighteningly common among the youth today.

“What do you think is the main reason for your stress?” I asked, after I found that her examination was normal. The husband offered to wait outside, and she said yes.

Once he was out, the lady regained her composure, took in a deep breath, and folded her hands. “Doc, please don’t tell all this to him. I am terrified. My husband is a very angry person, and reacts very aggressively to small mistakes or whatever is against his wish. He was not this angry earlier, but he is under a lot of work pressure himself, so whenever he comes home, I think I have to accept this anger because he has no other place to vent his feelings. Even when he calls, he snaps at the smallest of things, scolds and insults me. On weekends he wants to be left alone and if at all I try to interact he has outbursts of anger. Earlier I thought that this was the beginning phase of his career, so I tolerated. But now my whole life revolves around this fear of his reactions. He treats other women very formally and mannerfully, but treats me like dirt”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

She wasn’t alone. The phenomenon of wife being intimidated by anger of her husband is one of the most common relationship statuses in India. Even when 70 or 80 year old couples visit, the wife usually requests the doctor to advise her life partner of over 50 years to control his anger. Superiority and validity of anger of a man over a woman is so commonly accepted in India, that if some husband treats his wife equal, questions are raised as to his being “man-enough”. Paradox: I know of a wife who told her husband in their terminal fight before divorce: “May be you didn’t know how to handle a woman. Maybe you should have slapped and kicked me and treated me like my father treated my mom. They never had fights, because he knew how to shut her up”.

The implications of applying the Global western culture to an orthodox society are many, and mostly disastrous where human relationships are concerned. While some women proudly boast about the anger and domination of their husbands, and how ‘secure’ they feel about this ‘manliness’ that controls them, only a few realise how far away from true gender equality we all are. Growing up with “Princesses and Damsels in Distress” being rescued by “Knights In Shining Armours”, we have probably conditioned our minds too much to notice whether the Knight treated the Princess well in the “Happily Ever After”.

Let us not even talk about the “he-works-and-earns-so-naturally-tired-and-angry” type, or the “Highly-praises-his-wife-in-public-but-treats-her-like-dirt-at-home” type. The blind acceptance of what earlier generations considered normalcy and words in lieu of actions are both crimes we are all equally guilty of. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Implications of this angry husband? A woman who spends her life never growing up being herself, stays a slave to his whimsical outbursts of love playing a hide-and seek with humiliation and anger. Some do this while working and raising children, while some others do it sacrificing the high education and training they have taken, in the name of making a family.

Making a family also means happiness and freedom of thought, speech and action for a woman, responsibility sharing and respect towards the feelings of each other, but this is yet to dawn in many societies, where the bread winner automatically becomes the master and the remaining family members his slave. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

To be just, one must also mention that there indeed are women counterparts of this phenomenon, where the anger outbursts of a woman hold the entire family for an emotional ransom, where the husband and kids never can feel ‘at home’ in the one where she dwells. But fortunately this is rare.

There also are rare pleasures of meeting some brilliant couples who have mannerful and respectful attitude towards each other (not a show). They hold hands, stay together, and laugh genuinely, whether in public or at home. Those are the definitions of love. An occasional tiff may be unavoidable, but there’s rarely anything that cannot be resolved when the two in a relationship know the correct balance between words and silence. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Sometimes some diplomatic men boast with too many chests about their success and achievements, while mentioning in their speeches how their wife was their strength and how she is an ‘equal partner’ in their success, how they could succeed because ‘she looked after the family and kids’, just looking at the wife’s face tells volumes about the reality. My stupid mind is sometimes tempted to ask “Did she choose that or was her duty taken for granted?”.

As I counselled the couple, I realised that so many times we cannot fight deep rooted socio-cultural notions of gender inequality. In the age of rabid egos where there are more break ups than patch ups, where we know more words than feelings, where winning verbal argument is considered a superior ability to healing actions, it is becoming perpetually difficult to imagine that marital relationships will evolve any further unless immediate steps are taken to educate children right from school about the correct interpretation of gender equality and the incorrectness of what is being accepted as normalcy: “Anger Outbursts” under the pretext of being stressed or busy.

For anger or the presumption that it is justified against one’s life partner as a ‘soul venting’ mechanism are both unhealthy for everyone involved: a disease that has now become a pandemic.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Please share unedited if you believe in true gender equality.

“Housewife, or Outwife?”

“Housewife, or Outwife?”
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Isn’t your wife working? She must not waste her education.. She has such good opportunity..” he asked.
“Yes, she is planning to, but after the baby is at least three months old. We have taken alternate leaves. What about your wife?” I asked. I knew his wife was a qualified postgraduate doctor.
“Oh she wants to stay at home and look after the kids. There is no one else at our home to take care of the kids. My mom has knee pain. She feels that once the kids grow up to 10 years, then my wife should join duty. I said okay, anyways I am earning enough!” he replied.
“Then why did you ask about the waste of my wife’s education?” I thought, but didn’t ask. I was used to these questions.

Although a single now, I was once married. My parents had gracefully lived like friends till my father passed away, so there always was a culture of true equality without any “culturally sweetened” excuses at our home. “If at all there has to be a preference, and you two disagree, prefer what your wife wants” my father always insisted. So naturally she studied and worked as she wanted, made her choices. There were no discussions about superiority, neither any hidden rules of dominance at our place. This has a compromise: when both are equal, and there is no “dominance”, fights/ arguments over differences increase. Still this was any day better than a traditionally hidden slavery system.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

But there were these friends, relatives and strangers, who kept on continuing the evergreen Indian business of “frankly poking their noses” in our affairs. From advice about what to eat to when to have children, they all had individualised suggestions for us, notwithstanding the knowledge that we were both qualified doctors!

One of my uncles was famous for spending his whole life at home before and after work reclining in a sofa. His day started with shifting himself from his bed to the sofa, ordering his wife to ‘paste his brush’, make tea, heat up water for his bath, keep his towel in the bathroom (all this while he read newspapers or watched TV), keep his office clothes ready, make his favourite dishes for breakfast, tiffin and dinner every day, and telling her and everyone else how much he loved her. Although she was an art graduate and sung well, she didn’t get any time for herself beyond his chores and raising the four kids. As aunty herself smilingly said she enjoyed doing all this, other working women in the family kept on speaking about her in ‘belittling’ words, of her being lucky to be ‘just a housewife’. Every other day, uncle’s friends came home for dinner / drinks / card games etc., and aunty kept serving their culinary wishes.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

This very uncle was once chatting with me at a marriage ceremony. My grandma sent some tea with my wife to the room where I sat with this uncle and many guests, most strangers. As she handed over the tea to me, my uncle, in a ‘classified diplomatic high volume” voice, started: “Rajas, she is a doctor. She is equally educated as you. How can you ask her to make tea for you and bring it? Is she your slave? You must treat her as your equal”. As the whole room and over 40 eyes stared derogatory at me, I expected her to reply, but someone called her and she left.

I was reluctant, but one must never give up the wars for dignity.
“Why should she be a slave even if she is less educated or even uneducated?” I asked him. “Do you mean to say that a differently educated woman is doomed to be a slave? Why must your wife cook for you? Why must she be responsible for everything from your clothes to cleaning of the house to raising the kids, while you order her like a personal assistant? I have never even seen you getting a glass of water for yourself” I retorted. The ‘seniors’ in the room interfered, reminding me that this was not the way to ‘answer back’ an uncle.

Years passed by. We divorced. Kids with me, and an ever demanding career of a specialist doctor, I realised further more how difficult it is to attend to the house chores alone. From handling groceries, maids to schooling, how insufficient it is to have only two hands and only 24 hours. God helped, and I have survived.

This caused one definite change in my practice. While asking women the history, we were trained to ask “Are you working or not”? (and the usual answer used to be “No, I don’t work, I’m just a housewife”). Now I ask “Do you work only at home or also outside?” . Because I know the housewife works far more than the workwife, but without any remuneration or respect. The job of successfully growing up children is any day over and above any other!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Someone has to look after the family. I can earn and provide as much as she wants. I give her whatever she wants. She has to choose a career with lesser responsibility, so someone is available for kids. She loves taking care of me and the children. This is our tradition, our culture. Men hunt, women nest”. There are so many sweet excuses of murdering a woman’s career! Well what most men hunt are women’s dreams and where most women nest are prisons with golden walls. The immense clever deceptive wordplay that goes into hiding the simple truth “I think women should look after home and live a secondary life while men have a free will” is amazingly accepted by even the best talented men in our society!

Be it doctors or any other profession, a “lesser career” for a woman is taken for granted by those who claim to love her.

“She should be happy about it: she has to just sit at home and enjoy, while I do all the hard work” said the national level director of a telecom project.

The second side: “I like doing it for my family” some women say, and if they do, how perfect it must feel!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

It is not my business what others decide among themselves. But when people who “encage” their wives in the confines of a home start talking diplomatically about gender equality or why other people’s beautiful and able wives must start working etc., when they flirt with their officemates / colleagues while expecting wifey dear to keep dinner ready when they “return tired”, I cannot stop reacting without a sizzle in my words.

There are no easy answers for the ritualistic mindsets though.

One of my patients suffered with a very bad form of Parkinsonism, and was bed-bound for over five years. His perfectly healthy wife once broke down. “I have taken care of this man since the first day of our marriage, done everything he wanted. He was always busy, day and even many a night, outside the house, I have always been lonely all through so many years. I used to pray to God that I get some good time with him. The thought of making any friends, some other man never touched me. But he never talked to me about love. Never realised I was burning inside for true friendship with him. Now he is home all the time and wants me never to leave his bedside. But now I am tired. Now I clean him, feed him and just think: what had I done wrong to deserve this kind of a punishment?”.
When he passed away, we heard two reactions: “He is now relieved of his pain” and “She is now relieved of having to take his care”. What no one spoke was about the loveless, friendless 50 years of a woman’s life.

“You are so brilliant, hard working and yes, beautiful ,” said a senior professor, to a bombesque colleague friend of mine, gently patting upon her back, “you must make a great career.. Do let me know if you have any problems, I have many connections”. “Yes, Sir, may I ask what madam (your wife) does? Is she a doctor too?” asked my friend. “No, she stopped after MBBS. We married early, you see!” he replied.

Later that evening, as we sat at Nariman Point watching the sea, I asked her opinion about what the professor had said.
The breezes were noisy, and so was the sea, but the single word that she used for him made a hundred red faces turn towards us.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande