Odds and Ends

Household bulletin: Lakshmi's sister had a baby boy and is okay. Her mother-in-law brought the money for the hospital, so Lakshmi returned what I had given her.

Household bulletin 2: We are suffering terribly from mosquitoes. I sent Chinnaraj, the gardener, to buy pesticide, and he said that I would have to write a letter for him to carry: drinking pesticide being a favoured form of committing suicide among the poor, the shopkeepers sometimes refuse to sell it. (I know this, in fact: our very first gardener, Karumegam, had a fight with his wife and drank pesticide, and died as we were taking him to the hospital.)

From The Guardian: Language dies with woman
Yang Huanyi, China's last woman proficient in the mysterious Nushu language, died at her home last week. She was thought to be 98. Yang learned possibly the world's only female-specific language from seven sworn sisters as a girl. Nushu characters are structured by four kinds of strokes, including dots, horizontals, verticals and arcs. Linguists believe her death marks the end of a 400-year-old tradition in which women shared their innermost feelings through codes incomprehensible to men.

From the Pakistani weekly, The Friday Times (free registration required):
Slaves away!

It’s not surprising that Pakistan is a dictatorship when one considers how we treat our servants ...

...It is amazing how quickly one becomes first used to, and then reliant on the idea of being waited upon hand and foot. Surely it is not healthy to wield the amount of control over another individual that people here do over their domestic staff. They say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I would contend that as each of us becomes a tyrant in our own home any reasonable notions of inter-personal relations are corrupted and lost.

Those children who are fortunate enough to be born into relative affluence are tended to from their earliest days by their own personal maids...

...What is lost then, and from a young age, is the concept of relationships between equals. People come to develop a sense of entitlement over not just their servants but all those they perceive as inferior to themselves. They are also irrationally submissive towards their supposed superiors. One body language habit, which may serve to illustrate the point, is the manner in which people here seem to almost bow down in supplication when shaking hands with someone they perceive as a superior (knees and body bent, eyes down, hands held high). It is also the case that no matter what your position there is always someone more important than you are...

Although the article refers to Pakistan, it applies to India as well (although the central premise doesn't hold true: India is a democracy, even though the society is hierarchical). I have very conflicted feelings about having servants; yet I don't want to do without them -- at least not here, where many ordinary things are more difficult to accomplish than they are in America. I felt a little creepy, reading this article -- my own relationship to our staff is far less dictatorial than what is described (partly tongue-in-cheek) in the article; yet there always is that thing of having power over someone else's life. One has to watch out for that sense of entitlement, which inevitably tries to creep in, again and again.

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