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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

For pocket, planet and a happy period: Nirmala talks about the menstrual cup

In Field Notes on 5 April 2017 at 10:41 am

One form of untouchability that we must work to eradicate is menstrual untouchability.  Unique to women, this oppression is based on the idea that a woman’s body is defective and dirty, and can pollute people and spaces if not kept in check.  A recent incident in a school in Uttar Pradesh highlights the need to fight the notion that menstruation is a cause for shame or punishment.  The principal of Kasturba Gandhi Residential School in Digri village made 70 girls strip and be searched for menstrual blood.  Following complaints by students and parents, the principal was fired.  Parents and teachers of  girls should help them to manage periods comfortably and to value the vitality in their bodies, including their menstrual blood, which makes it possible for a woman to nourish new life.

It is good that the community in Muzzafarnagar took decisive action against this outrage; yet menstrual untouchability persists in stark and subtle ways, not only in far flung villages but also among the urban educated.   In the march to consign menstrual taboo to the dustbin of history, one important step is to make periods more comfortable.

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Saves water, saves money, is comfortable: The Menstrual Cup

In What on 22 March 2017 at 8:00 pm

A couple of years ago, my friend Nirmala, who lives in a village in Srikakulam district decided to try the menstrual cup.  Recently I got a chance to chat with her about it.  She was quite happy with it – one of her first comments was that it really saved water.  They get their water from a pump – fortunately the pump is in their own front yard, but still, every bucket saved helps.  All the more so for women who collect water from a distance, especially in times of drought.

Today being World Water Day, here is a short excerpt from our conversation about the menstrual cup.  Stay tuned for the longer clip.

Priceless Birthday Presents

In How on 12 June 2016 at 2:43 pm
As I was sending out invitations for our daughter’s birthday party, the question of gifts crossed my mind.  A long time ago I read in one of Miss Manners’ advice columns that it was bad manners to expect a gift.  Therefore, it followed that it was was not polite to offer any instructions about gifts to give or not give.  Although Miss Manners made a slight concession for children’s birthday parties, I agreed with her logic and simply kept gifts out of our vocabulary when inviting friends for parties.
Her concession, as I recall, was that one could, for example, decorate the invitation with images of say, books or trains, as a hint to parents wondering what to bring as a gift.  From the perspective of a parent of a child attending a birthday party, I can appreciate that it is nice to get such a hint.  But surely we can do better than that?  Can we not take the time to give a gift from the heart?
Also, let’s face it.  It’s 2016.  We know the Story of Stuff.


No one wants birthdays to be about accumulating more stuff.  But what is the alternative?

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On Not Paying Attention to What “They Said”

In Art, Poems on 11 April 2016 at 4:30 pm

At the 4th annual conference of Swashikshan, the India Homescholers Association, children got the opportunity to work with the Space Theatre Ensemble from Goa, and all of us were treated to a show by the children, followed by performances by the teachers: Andrea Pereira, Heidi Pereira and Katheeja Talha, and the director, Hartmann D’Souza.  They were not so much drama as dramatic performance of poetry.   They vividly brought the poems to life.   One of the poems was “They Said” written by Uma Narayan who is a Philosophy Professor at Vassar College.  The Hindi version is called “Aisa Kaha Unhone.”

I tried to upload this earlier but with the internet speed in India it would have taken all day and slowed down all other internet activity till done, so I never got around to uploading it.  Now having at last uploaded it, I came across this article about a young girl named Hilde who perfectly embodies the spirit of the poem.  She writes and edits her own newspaper and recently faced criticism, very much along the lines of “They Said.”

More about Hilde later.  First, listen to the poem:  “Aisa Kaha Unhone.

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Nine picture books (and the winner is .. .)

In Books on 6 December 2015 at 8:00 pm

On the heels of one picture book spree I intrepidly went into the library for another.  I had not set out to do so when I left home.  One thing led to another … it happened like this:  Late in the afternoon, I stepped out to take in the atmosphere of townsfolk streaming out of downtown after the Christmas parade, while hundreds more stayed at Shamrock Park for the sing-along and tree lighting.  Normally among pedestrians, persons of color are the majority even though we make up only 10% of the population of Bel Air.  But on a few days like today and the fourth of July, we can take to the sidewalks and experience the sense of being a visible minority in our charming little town.  Nothing dramatic, all very subtle and on the whole pleasant.  (But still.)

I reached Shamrock Park and saw the tip of the bonfire flicker against the setting sun over the swarm of heads.   Only a few seconds after the countdown reached zero, followed by a coaxing, “hello!” the lights came on around the tree at the Town Hall.

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Whiteness, Food Colors, and Food Culture

In How on 4 September 2015 at 8:00 am

Food Colors and Food Culture

“No race ever yet ate black bread when it could get white; nor even brown, yellow, or other mulatto tint.”

Dr. Woods Hutchinson in McClure’s magazine, 1906.

In the mass conversion towards refined and processed foods that has swept much of the world over the past few generations, many foods normally occurring in a wide variety of earth tones, became white, as if a formidable fairness cream had descended upon the food industry.   White flour, white sugar, white bread, white spaghetti, white rice, white upma ravva, white urad dal occupied the markets.  At first a status symbol for those who could afford them, refined foods later became a status symbol for those who need not eat the coarser grains because they lived a delicate life and could hire workers to do their heavy lifting for them.  Eventually they themselves became cheaper than their whole grain counterparts, while the nutritious polish and peels were diverted to the livestock industry.

Thirty years ago, Sidney Mintz unpacked the social, economic and political context of food in his seminal work, Sweetness and Power.  The history of whiteness and power with respect to food offers much to explore.   While evolutionary biology may account for our predilection towards the quick calories that processed foods offer, taste and food habits evolve under a variety of influences and cultural messages.  Read the rest of this entry »

Black Gram Matters

In Recipes, When on 1 September 2015 at 2:04 am

Since when are idlis white?

Not more than a few generations.    And if you look at all things that have become white over the past century, one by one they are regaining their color.   White bread, white pasta, white flour, white sugar, white rice are now recognized as more or less empty calories and are being replaced by their whole counterparts, on the brown to black side of the color spectrum.  It is time for idlis to do the same.

Soaked Urad - bursting out of its skin!

Black Gram (Urad): Soaked and ready to burst out of its skin!  Urad or Black Gram attracts wild yeast from the air.  As it ferments, the yeast makes the batter rise.

What are idlis made of?  Black gram and rice.   Or black gram and millets. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Father’s Day

In How on 21 June 2015 at 3:21 am

With best wishes for father’s day, some inspiration from father of thirteen, Leonhard Euler:

Euler claimed that he made some of his greatest mathematical discoveries while holding a baby in his arms with other children playing round his feet….

Euler claimed that he made some of his greatest mathematical discoveries while holding a baby in his arms with other children playing round his feet….

Thanks to J J O’Connor and E F Robertson, School of Mathematics and Statistics, Scotland.

“Don’t Cry.” What does it mean?

In Why on 19 June 2015 at 1:37 pm

How-Tears-Work-2What does it mean when people oliday “Don’t Cry!”

Are they supporting you?  Dismissing you?  Or possibly, threatening you?

As an expression of sympathy, “don’t cry,” is meant to reassure a person that things will get better and that they are not alone in their sorrow.  It would be more supportive if one simply said, “It will be all right,” or “We’ll get through this,” but a comforting tone and open arms can override the hardness denoted by the imperative, “don’t cry.”

More often though, it expresses anything but sympathy.   I shudder when I hear “don’t cry.”

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What to say instead of “Don’t Cry”

In What on 18 June 2015 at 8:00 pm

Continued from Part 1:  “Don’t Cry: What does it mean?”

I remember once many years ago when I was holding my crying daughter a friend of mine came and told her, “don’t cry.”  I said, “It’s okay, crying is allowed.  You don’t have to tell her not to cry.”  She looked surprised.  “What should I say then?  Cry?” That conversation revealed to me that people may simply believe that the way to console or show concern for someone who is crying is to say “don’t cry.”   It is as if not to say that means that you want them to cry, to be unhappy.

Scene from Ezra Jack Keats, Maggie and the Pirate

Scene from Ezra Jack Keats, Maggie and the Pirate

I might have fallen into the same groove had it not been for two teachers who came into my life as soon as I became an Amma.  The first was Vimala McClure whom I have never met.   Read the rest of this entry »

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