“WOMEN HOME EXCELLED MEN”(Personal Essays)
BY HEMALATHA GNANASEKAR
About the book
The essays are written with humour and sensitivity. Each exploration captures the essence of seeking reasons for doing the things that we do, whether it is letting the child within us peek out once in a while or the realization of certain truths about ourselves.
The essays are everyday happenings, though unimportant, yet lend a moment of deliberation and leaves behind an important lesson, enriching the self. Truly enlivening, it is chicken soup for the soul !
Excerpt from the book
The KBC Issue
Even when I was in class eight, my father would bring home copies of the Reader’s Digest, a well-renowned monthly magazine, from his office library and ask me to go through it, during my leisure time. Though, I could not understand the meaning of each and every word, I would read all the articles and get a gist of it. Once again, during the vacations, he would advice me not to sit idle, but to read the newspaper fully, especially the editorial column, to develop my English vocabulary and also to keep abreast of things happening around the world. I would earnestly sit down with a dictionary and read the whole newspaper which would take me half the day !
I had wondered then why Father had instructed only me to spend my time thus, and not my other siblings. Today, I know the answer to that ! It is because, they would have hardly cared to listen to him ! For even today, when I am middle-aged, I look forward to his advice on trivial matters like whether I should send my daughter for the school excursion or not ; and I am made fun of for being so childish and dependent. But then, I have grown up with such love and pampering that I am unable to break free from those ties !
One day, I am going to be old too, and what joy it would bring me if my son or daughter confers with me on all matters and holds me in high esteem ! And I pride myself for having given my parents that unique pleasure. But the advice my father gave me one find day, turned my life topsy-turvy for a brief period of time !
It was 9 p.m. when he rang up and as I lifted the phone, he said, “There is an interesting quiz programme on TV, hosted by the famous Hindi actor Amitabh Bachchan. The questions are so simple and with your excellent general knowledge, you can give it a try !”
The programme he referred to was Kaun Banega crorepati (KBC). The quiz game show had fifteen multiple choice questions, and one who answered them all correctly was rewarded with a cash prize of Rs.one crore ! Of course one had also the benefit of three lifelines to seek help from, when one was not sure of the answer. Well, once again it was money that Father was after. I told him that I really did not have the time for it and I was not interested.
However, he kept reminding me about the programme quite often and urged me to give it a try. One day, I went to my parents’ home with my children and husband. After spending some time with us, Father went inside saying I have got a gift for you. He returned with a small package inside which was a quiz book meant specially for this programme. I just scanned through the pages and suddenly my interest in the programme was aroused. I decided to give it a try for a trial costs nothing. Thus began a mega project !
I talked it over with my husband and convinced him that if I had to take part in the KBC show, his cooperation was the most important thing. First of all he would have to let me watch the programme from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. everyday. He should also let me prepare for it, without grumbling. He gave his consent immediately ! I then assured him that, I would pray to God whole-heartedly and try my best to win the Rs.one crore-prize money, which he could spend as he liked. My husband was quick to interrupt, “Thirty per cent of that will have to be given as tax !” And I told him that seventy lakhs was not a small amount either.
I would first of all take my family on a world tour ! I would travel by executive class and sit amidst rich businessmen, famous actors and reputed politicians ! Looking at me, they would first wonder as to who this ordinary woman was. Slowly my face would appear a little familiar. Then they would recall everything. Yes ! This was the intelligent woman, who answered all the questions on the Big B’s game show ! And they would think how true it is that beauty and brains don’t always go together. Very soon they would all start staring at me and wish to have a conversation with me. Oh ! God, at that time, please make me feel humble and do not let pride or ego take over me !
The summer vacations had begun and I was spared from school work. Having time on my hands, I decided to take the plunge. The preparations began in earnest. My mind was always preoccupied with what I had to read and what reference books I had to buy. One morning, while going up to my office, I was so engrossed in my study plan, that I continued climbing till the fourth floor. When I realised my mistake, I turned back and walked down to the third floor, where my office was. I felt like a schoolgirl once again filled with dread – as though everything depended on my passing the exam !
I purchased a general knowledge book for rupees twenty from a bookstall at the railway station followed by a hefty Competition Success Review. Then, I jotted down important points from it. I requested Father to buy some more quiz books and very soon the table was piled high with reference books. I had almost spent a thousand rupees towards purchase of quiz books by various authors. I worried a lot that I had very little time to prepare and felt that had I been a housewife, things would have been much easier !
I watched the quiz programme and found that the pattern of questions varied everyday and they were set based on the participant who was sitting on the “hot seat”, his qualifications, nature of work, the politics and history of the place to which he belonged, his religion, language, culture and so on.
Hence, I subscribed to the magazine, India Today to have a fair knowledge of Indian politics. From the library, I borrowed the historical and religious comics, and read them over and over again. One day, I picked up about ten comics, and the librarian stared at me in great awe. I told him that I was taking it for some reference study and would return them within two days. I did not want to brag to him that it was for the KBC show, and wished to keep it a secret. When he watches me on the TV quiz programme he will probably think, well it was for this, that the lady had taken all the books that day !
My hands hurt as I jotted down the points from each and every reference book in front of me. Finally, the notes I gleaned almost became another thick book ! I also realised that whatever I crammed from these books, I forgot the next instant. Preparing for the show was becoming too much of a bother and I was also filled with confusion of what exactly I ought to do. Then it occurred to me that my own preparations were not going to be helpful and God’s blessing was all that mattered. I wrote the names of all the quiz books on different bits of paper and shuffled them in front of God. I then prayed to Him, “Oh God ! Only you are aware of all the questions that I will be asked on the game show. Now, tell me the one and only book from this lot, which will help me achieve my goal !” Closing my eyes, I picked up a chit and to my astonishment, it was the very first book which I had purchased from the railway bookstall for just rupees twenty. Had I known it before, I could have avoided buying the other books and saved a lot of money !
The next day, I wrapped up all the quiz books together and placed them on a glass bookshelf. But whenever I went past the bookshelf I felt rather guilty. I had spent so much on these books and now they were gathering dust ! However, I had taken a firm stand and didn’t wish to muddle through these books again. I pulled out the package from the bookshelf and hurled it as far as I could into the loft where it would not be visible and from where it could not be easily brought down. I consoled myself that one day these books might be useful to my children and it was not a sheer waste of money, after all !
Day in and day out, I crammed the questions from the one and only quiz book selected by Him. Very soon, I was familiar with almost all the questions in it ! Everyday, I would sit on the floor with a notebook and pen and jot down the questions appearing on the game show. My children were too excited to even watch the programme ! Not that they understood anything, but they were happy to see how animated their mom got when she knew the answer to one of the questions. Also, they were thrilled to see their mother sit in one place for such a long time. My daughter would prop herself against me and my three-year-old son would lie on my lap, enjoying the closeness.
One find day, Big B announced that the phone lines were all open and the participants who wished to take part in the game show could try their luck.
Yes ! I am going to try this time ! Here I come, Mr Big B, to shake your hand and accompany you to the hot seat ! I noted with diffidence thatMr B shook hands with women too (instead of saying namaskar, the usual Indian way of greeting others, by folding, the palms together). I would have to be courageous enough to shake hands with Big B ! So, I was bent upon transforming my style and personality altogether. That weekend I went to a beauty parlour and got a U-shape haircut. On seeing me in the game show, the beautician will tell her assistant proudly, “This was the lady who came to our parlour a few weeks back !”
I dialled the number till my hands ached and finally left the task to my daughter. She sat by the phone and patiently tried the number continuously. Within a few minutes she succeeded and I ran over to the phone, with my heart pounding. A recorded voice said that I would first have to answer a multiple-choice question. Having not got over the excitement of getting the line, the question was neither audible nor clear to me. However, after evoking God’s grace, I punched the answer. To my astonishment, the recorded voice said, “well done, your answer is right ! Please stay by your phone on the 18th, and we will let you know if you are one of the lucky participants. And if for some reason you are not available on that day, we will move on to the next lucky contestant.”
That night, while watching the programme, I became restless. One participant had answered all the fourteen questions correctly. He had to answer one more question to win the jackpot. Meanwhile, Big B was asking him what he intended to do with such a large sum. And the participant started bragging about his intentions. Suddenly, my imagination soared very high.
“Hemji, could you please tell us what you intend to do with your prize money ?”
“Well, actually it was my father, who coaxed me into taking part in this programme and I would like to redeem his mortgaged house, and one of my brothers has got stranded in a foreign land and I would like to help him come back and my sister…..” and the Big B would cut in sharply, “let us continue after a short commercial break”, for the list was going to be endless !
On D-Day I pulled up a chair and sat down, beside the phone. The recorded voice had warned, “if you are not available on that day, we will move on to the next lucky contestant”. So I made it a point to stay close to the phone all day. It was just before noon when all of a sudden, I felt like going to the toilet, but quickly changed my mind. What if the expected call came at that point of time, when I was answering nature’s call ! I continued with my studies and waited in vain, up to 6 p.m. When the call didn’t come through by then, I was completely dejected.
But there was always a second chance and I tried the line once again, and this time too, I did not get selected. It was then that I lost all hope and my instinct warned me that the KBC show was a wild goose chase ! For, to be a participant on this game show, what mattered was a great deal of luck and not just hard work. Thereafter, I did not wish to waste my time on an enterprise which depended primarily on chance. I would rather slog over some befitting venture, where hard work really brought its own fruits. My children’s vacations had also come to an end, and once again there was a cartload of homework and monthly tests which I had to attend to. I resolved the KBC issue by covering the TV with a large cover, vowing never to open it again for a very long time.
The story which I had heard numerous times from Father came to my mind. Once, he had to work in the midst of a tribal community of Madhya Pradesh, in the late 1950s. The tribals had a very strange practice ! When any member of the family passed away, they buried the corpse at the top of a mountain. After this, all the members of the family got together and rolled a huge rock from the foot of the hill to the summit and placed it near the spot of the burial. The size of the rock indicated the status of the family. A very huge and gigantic rock, signified an affluent family, with a lot of clout and power over people which is why, they were able to push the rock, all the way up to the top of the mountain. The ignorant tribals did this just for fame and recognition ! On careful speculation, I somehow felt that my struggles so far, for a similar end, were also as foolish.
My mind was plagued with different questions. What was I really after ? Was it money ? Or was is fame ? Did I not know that both money and fame are evanescent and detrimental ! They give us momentary joy and very slowly we start repenting as to why we acquired them in the first place. For these, have there own pitfalls, into which we would be ultimately drawn ! With fame, we would lose our freedom to move around. It would also further result in our desire to be on top of the world ! There is nothing that gives one more joy than a simple life, to be one among the crowd, unnoticed and preoccupied with one’s own thoughts and ideas.
And did I not know that money ruined the mind, developing the desire to acquire more and more materialistic things. It would drive us with the urge to possess the entire world. A lot of money could make one lose the charm of living itself, for one would have everything in life. Life would become dull and drab ! There is nothing like being in need of something and working hard to earn it ! In fact, money could deprive one from enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
I had indeed arrived at an understanding about the futility of superfluous money and fame ! But even after this incident, the desire to do something useful, be it a simple or a tiny act, which would bring happiness to others was kindled within me. This book is a result of that desire.