A woman’s lot in life

I’m at an international airport to check in for a flight, I then go to passport control and finally through security. ALL the employees are women and all the security staff are muslim women.

At a different airport almost all the employees are men.

There’s quite a different atmosphere and vibe between the two.

The former was Phuket Airport in Thailand, the latter Bangalore in South India.

This difference was also reflected in my day to day experiences: most of the people serving in shops, at restaurants, hotels and their local equivalent of the auto rickshaw (a two wheeler with a walk-in side car for passengers) in Thailand were women.

I most often meet working women in Mysore in India in the banks and my accountants office, otherwise it’s almost exclusively men. Women’s presence is at home, in the office and behind the scenes.

While I’ve been away there’s been another shocking rape in India. But this is not the way to deal with it……

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as summarised in this article

It will not solve the problem and exacerbate the situation with more macho male culture…

this will also NOT solve the problem

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The attitude and dominance of men and their way of doing things, society’s patriarchy and women’s inequality is at the core of this. Equality and acceptance of diversity in terms of gender, race, religion, sexuality, class and caste is the only way forward.

Maid in India 6

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So, its probably 2010, Manjula the maid is now working for me at Moksha Marga. She’s an experenced Maid working for Indian families but what is her view of foreigners?

this quote is taken from a series of recordings made by Manjula in her own language and details an incident from before she met me and started working here….

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” I lived at my brother’s place. Once my brother’s wife and I were out to purchase something from a shop, it’s a small village, it comes after Hassan, it’s called Salgami. On our way back home we saw two foreigners, a couple, they were cycling. My brother’s wife said in astonishment, “Look how these English people are cycling in our village. I think they like to see villages.” She continued, “If you work at an English person’s house you will earn well enough, they’ll offer you good food, nice and rich food. Imagine, if I was not married, I would have worked at an English person’s house. I would have eaten the same food as they did, I would be happy and jolly. “
I said, “Ayyayappa! English person’s house? A big NO to their house. They eat insects, they eat all kinds of meat, they eat cow’s meat, pig’s meat and what not! And a few also eat insects.” I said this as I had watched in television; in a few shows which showed them eating many creatures “

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these are previous guests Simon and Fiona and we’re reliably informed that they don’t eat insects in Cheshire.

She said, “It’s not necessary that everyone eats. The ones who eat will eat and there are the ones who don’t eat at all. “
Later we reached home.

After 6 months, I came to Mysore. Look what happened with me? The same thing what my brother’s wife had said, I got a job at an Englishman’s house. I remember Stephen had asked for a maid for this house, a girl or an old lady. I was lucky to find his house and he was lucky to find me.
I was wondered thinking about all kinds of meat I might have to cook. Later I heard it from Vasanth that Stephen was looking for only vegetarian food to be cooked. “Thank God!” I was relieved.
I eat chicken, mutton and fish. I can cook them all but if it was any other meat I wouldn’t have touched it. I would have reluctantly said “NO” to cook any other meat.

Farrell Footnote

Vasanth with his trusty auto rickshaw (not its not a tuk tuk!) provides a great ‘Fare’s Fare’ service to our guests. I met him hustling for a fare when I arrived in Mysore on my very first trip after a few days in Bangalore. He’s become a great friend and an invaluable source of help and support.

Maid in India 5 plus one

img_0170we’ve had requests to provide a bit more of an explanation.

So this was over seven years ago, maybe a few months after she’d started at ‘Moksha Manor’. good old enlightenment street!  She came every day for two hours, had to make lunch and a range of other jobs for the princely sum of 1000 Rupees per month. In theory with one days holiday each week.

Starting from the top left and working clockwise in a sort of spiral. Some jobs were daily, weekly or monthly…

floor sweeping, sink cleaning,  pooja, dusting pictures, cooking, cleaning work surfaces, tables, f (special one this, looking after her skin. she was having a reaction to something, it worked out to be the sun, after a few false trails), watering flowers, cleaning toilets (yes cleaning toilets, more on that one later), being friendly to the dog, teaching me Kannada (big failure there, on my part, obviously) feeding the dog when I’m not there and bathing her, washing clothes, daily time keeping, cleaning the grills (anti crime and Monkeys) at the windows, floor cleaning, dusting and washing shelving in ‘hall’, cleaning bathroom.  Clearly this was also supposed to be fun! and there were a few other more complicated concepts such as trust 😉 believe it or not and it did take the involvement of a few friends but we even managed to discuss egalitarianism (using different words, obviously) so what had she let herself in for?

women’s role models

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From a few months ago….

As I wait for today’s cycle guests. I’m chewing the cud with one of my Ganjam friends who is aged around 11,  she’s a neighbour of Satish’s where I store my cycles. We’re wondering why in India, most girls stop cycling when they become women. There are plenty of positive women role models cycling around the world and of course on our MyCycle tours. There were two from U.K. and Australia yesterday, two from Germany and Switzerland today and some very slightly older women from the UK and Australia tomorrow. Well done to them for setting a superb example! its really noticed by the girls as we cycle around.

But it’s VERY rare (exceptions above, prove the rule!) to see Indian women cycling and when we do see it, its clearly a change in society that comes from the growing middle class. That’s of course superb but we don’t see it often enough. Why?

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Yes, why do Indian girls tend to stop cycling when they become women? Another conversation might help provide some insight.

 

 

Manjula tells me that part of the attractiveness of the opposite sex, (in addition to the usual rigours of determining suitability for an arranged marriage: caste, wealth, stars, parent’s occupation and much much more), there are certain physical characteristics that are looked for. (This doesn’t of course mean it applies across India’s diverse groups!) You know the sort of thing. Small feet for women etc. Well a novel one she’s just told me relates to foot arch. Men’s arch needs to be clear and distinct, women’s feet should be flat! really? its a patriarchal minefield.

My point is, this preoccupation with attractiveness and that includes all sorts of pressure to be perceived as ‘normal’ includes the barrier, the challenge, the tradition, the clear message that cycling when a girl gets older,  makes her less attractive or desirable as a poteniutal bride.

Another friend of mine, who will remain anonymous, as a young women, did some really innovative community projects, in terms of helping poor families. When it came time to look for a husband she had to ditch that work and commitment and hand over to others, to ensure she was able to find a husband!! Otherwise, she might be seen as less desirable with all that baggage!

So likewise, I reckon a woman’s desirability, eligibility, acceptability vis-a-vis marriage is enhanced if she DOESN’T cycle! What a shame! Its so the wrong way round.

Now I’m all for sensitivity to cultural difference, I pride myself on having designed and created many projects in tune and partnership with the communities they served BUT that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be critical of tradition, there are also many things that should change. Patriarchy and oppressing the ladies to conform is one of them. Here’s to the different approach for these future women!

but I do realise that there is such a long way to go…

To be fair its an intenational challenge, women around the world face barriers to taking up or maintaining cycling. A previous guest and our good friend Tiffany Lam has written on this very subject, please follow the link here

to find out more.

Strength to the girls. (and women)… keep on cycling!

It could be anywhere!

Could it?

We’re on Srirangapatanam at Satish’s house to join them for Pooja on his mother’s death anniversary.

It’s the usual laid-back affair. No particular timetable. We turn up to find a gathering of women in the hall (lounge). Children careering around in and out of the house. Three men: Satish, his brother in law and me.

There’s offerings in one corner and garlands on the family photos. Manjula and I eat next followed by the kids and finally the ladies who’ve been preparing it all and Satish. (It’s usual for hosts and those that have prepared the meal, to eat last)


I begin to wonder out loud whether it’s in India or UK that we have the bigger meals. I mean volume not calories, although that could also be interesting, of course.  I reckon that the meals are bigger here. Maybe that’s a future photographic project.

Poor Satish, who seems to be first mate on our rickety ship, has to put up with me bending his ear about my wishes for the next year….. More of those projects later! I wonder, does he realise I sort of throw out loads of ideas and that only some of them see the light of day. 🙂

I realise there’s an interesting conversation going on between the women. Of course I’m bordering on being completely hopeless in the language stakes so will have to wait till later for my debrief.

It works out it was about Manjula. Well this is the bit of the conversations and jokes I’m allowed to hear about! Crikey she’s either holding forth about her travels or intriguing them in other ways. Well they were talking about their size (big) and reflecting on their lifestyles, children, one or two hours sleep in the afternoon, and how trim Manjula was. It seems they all wanted to be like her. Could it be a conversation anywhere in the world between women or men for that matter?

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They being Village women and she being a city gal it was Quite the opposite to what I expected. There’s a sort of joke doing the rounds. Village women wanting to put on weight to look like richer city women and city women wanting to look more like the thinner country girls.

Is the grass always greener on the other side?