Thursday, April 21, 2005

a year later

This time last year I was hunting for work desperately. The whole process was made so much more difficult because of the hazaar restrictions I had. No corporate job. Only NGO. Not too far. Must be in a recognized place. Should accept me with my bizarre background and lack of experience. Should preferably be a communications based job. Should preferably be counselling…

After hunting and a lot of thinking, I narrowed the options to 3 NGOs I’d heard of. I got picked by one. My mother was dubious about the work I had chosen. “Are you sure you want to do this? You maybe biting off more than you can chew…. Supposing listening to all these depressed people brings back your troubles? You have just found your peace of mind – this may push you back into turmoil. Think carefully.” My father said “Chee! Enna vellai idhu! I can get you a nice job in ____ uncle’s office. Why do you want to do this kanna? It’ll be so depressing! Again you’ll feel upset. Why don’t you take up marketing? You like that so much…”

(I am sure most of you too would have been through that phase in life where you are very disillusioned with the world around you, where you ask some very basic and simple questions and are deeply disturbed by the absence of answers. I had just been through my own ideology crisis and was stabilizing slowly.) I thought hard after the conversation with my parents. Oh, how much I worried! Was I being a pseudo toughie? (Or much worse, a martyr?) Was I “askin’ for it”? Was my reasoning sound, or was it warped? Other than falling apart again… would I harm someone else? How would I justify this sort of job to my next organization or college? What rationale did I have? What do I think about sex? About life? About living and dying? About god? About counselling?

Once I had answers to my questions and was about as sure of my motives as I could be, I told them my decision. I was going ahead. After that they were completely supportive about the job I had chosen. They did not question my need for doing it again. So started one of the weirdest phases of my life! I was talking about sex nonstop from 930 am to 530 pm, and some days at home with my sister in the evenings as well. (Mind you, even in school and college, I was never too interested in the topic but a week of orientation had me rattling off the terms and slang fluently! :-)) My parents would listen but quietly go their way whenever they chanced to hear us tossing ideas about women, men, sex, ethical dilemmas, feminist theories, Hinduism, violence against women... They never interrupted us with inane “why are you talking about these things” sort of rebukes. At worst they were silent, at best they would join us.

I resolved that my parents should know what I was up to (like they had always upto then). I faithfully told them the day I did my first condom demonstration. My father laughed disbelievingly when I told him I had gone to ___ Bank (an international one) for a HIV awareness program, and did a condom demo for a roomful of 30 year olds. “You? They had to be told these things by a pipsqueak like you? Ha ha ha!” My mother listened interestedly to the questions they had asked… the ideas I had and what I had learnt about them from their questions that I couldn’t voice then, but was slowly working my way through at home. Talk about cool open-minded parents! :-)

They asked if I wanted to shift only twice after that. The first was when I shifted next to the laboratory, where they cultured different bacteria and handled the infected blood. I had just explained how I found it spooky to learn about the blood borne pathogens and precautions we had to take in that wing. That worried them rather a bit! The second time was when this nice offer came along… someone held out a juicy carrot and beckoned. Good pay, nice workplace (- and no sick people!). But since the stubborn mule that doubled as their daughter refused to consider it, they dropped the matter.

I’ve seen many dirty things the last one year. I’ve felt awfully helpless. I’ve seen some terrific and terrible people. I’ve learned SO much about some strange things. Had access to resources I didn’t know existed? Learned about my attitudes and myself. Listened to people around me and learned more about them. I saw shady ethics and manipulative policies and laws. I learned about my ways of looking at people, and the things I expected of them. Good things and bad things about the way I think. I learned of the different problems and ways of thinking that different socioeconomic backgrounds created…

It was also so interesting seeing people I knew personally react to the work I was doing. More than anything I dreaded that my friends would throw the “counseling” I was doing if I tried to draw them out to talk about something. They were ultra cool about the whole thing. Not one of them had an “issue” with my working in a HIV clinic. Some adults used to back off when I told them. I still remember being shaken and dragged into my room for a scold by a very concerned family friend who was aghast at the whole concept. Also the way someone at a reception suddenly took their hand off my shoulder and looked at it uneasily, and stepped a few paces back, soon cutting off the conversation after I had explained what I was doing. (All this for merely working in the place. God knows what stigma positive people actually put up with every day…)

Now it’s a year later. I am winding up work. I am quitting soon. (Speaking to my boss tomorrow - hope it goes well!) For a while I shall drift. I shall treat myself to only spotlessly clean environments, celebrate that I don’t have to wade through the filth of a hospital in rainy weather, make polite conversation when I want to be quiet… I shall have a holiday! Music, art and sunshine shall fill my summer. And again the old cycle will start…. What shall I do next? Where am I headed? Why do I want to do this?…. :-)



Blogger sensiblystoned said...

Im not going to say hats off to you or praise you for that matter, because you did what you wanted to do and not because you wanted to be proud of it and praised by others. Two things that have affected me when I grew up was the situation of mentally challenged kids and HIV affected patients. Ive had the opportunity to interact with mentally challenged kids often. HIV affected patients, Ive only heard about their plight through my cousin. I helped out my cousin doing her dissertation on HIV and TB affected people in the tambaram sanatorium. The thing that kept hitting me repeatedly was awareness or lack of it. Its the same thing when dealing with mentally challenged kids too. I think the next step where awareness should be raised is in software companies. With the stories that I have heard, they should probably be the first to be taught about condoms. I knew feminists could be hard nosed but never imagined to what extent, this is enlightening!!!

9:47 am  
Blogger ~phobiac~ said...

Well....tell u what...most people dont dream.....some have dreams....a very few chase them...I am at the same very position didn't want me to be, some 5 yrs back !.....not that I 've given up.....may be someday twill workout....U must consider urself lucky to have had the courage to what u wanted to do with ur the time when most people chicken out....

whatever u do...never care or even think twice, what others might think bout what u do...I think u've done jus that !

2:49 am  
Blogger Vitalstatistix said...

You must consider yourself lucky that your parents are so supportive. I wouldn't imagine the average Indian parent allowing their daughter to take up a job that has your work profile.
Enjoy your vacation.

10:41 am  
Blogger m. said...

@SS - yup. awareness is a big problem. were hampered by its being taboo to discuss so many things, but i think things are slowly improving.
"I knew feminists could be hard nosed but never imagined to what extent, this is enlightening!!!" - huh? im completely lost!

@phobiac - :) thanks. best of luck to you.

@vitalstatistix - im aware. and thanks, i fully intend to!

1:40 am  
Anonymous Shashank said...

Good to knopw that you have followed your dream.
But maybe you did it for yourself and not the poor victims with whom you interacted.The thing is that when we help someone, we feel good about it.It seems to give meaning to our life. So it has nothing to with social service or anything but how it makes us feel.
Sometimes the fact that everyone else is against your job may have made it alluring.
I am always wary of people who join NGOs for this very reason. Understanding our real motives matter supremely. Else the whole thing may end in bitterness or disappointment.

4:40 am  
Blogger morpheus said...

well shashank....maybe its a bit of both. ive had this question arise in my head quite a few times...when we 'supposedly' do stuff for others, no one can possibly claim that its entirely altruistic, we always land up taking satisfaction from the fact that our efforts has made a difference or atleast set out to.even in the worst case scenario, helping someone else whilst helping urself is a better option than just the latter!...and knowing M, i dont think her vacation's gonna last very long...she has bigger things planned...wht say M ???

5:05 am  
Blogger m. said...

@shashank: how true. maybe i did. maybe i didnt. each to his/ her own....

@morph: shoo... dont say such things about my vacation even before it starts da! like the board in mylapore says... nonstop until goal reach! :d

6:22 am  
Blogger Eroteme said...

See? I am here... :-)
I am impressed at the way you made a choice, lived it fairly fully and now are prepared to revisit the whole thing. You sure are fortunate to have such parents...
Yup, people like to sympathise about the ill and unfortunate/careless people but when it comes to actually getting down and doing something most people find "genuine" reasons for not being able to... I remember once in school, we had this waterway clogged and we were supposed to have someone clean it up. Those guys never turned up and something had to be done. None of the teachers were ready to do a thing (why get their sarees dirty?). A couple of us worked out a way of cleaning it without having to descend into it. We were later praised for our creative skills!!! :-o

Hope you have a great vacation. Any locales in mind? Enjoy...

8:15 pm  

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