Monday, January 26, 2009

Foreign and Domestic Policy

Being a Pakameristanican can be a frustrating experience sometimes. Two animals jumping about in one skin, and even more confusing, two brains trying to co-exist in one head. The whole half-partridge, half-quail thing again.

Take discussions of politics. When I think about or talk about Barack Obama, my heart leaps up at the sheer "American Dream"iness of his rhetoric, and I am naively idealistic enough to hope that he can actually make real change domestically. But then I look at the drone attacks in Waziristan, and my stomach starts to turn. And holding both of those views simultaneously is exhausting enough. But trying to discuss American politics, or America, with anyone who can't at least see the possibility of both views is simply paralyzing.

My brain gets short circuited when I am told that Uncle Sam isn't much better than the Soviet or Chinese governments. For one, while I have always seen the world in shades of gray, there are definitely lighter grays and darker ones. And the difference is significant. So I find the comparison to be unjust, in terms of degree. But also, I see the difference in ideals as quite significant. And people in Pakistan are wont to view American ideals as mere rhetoric and hypocrisy. Which I know not to be true. American governments lie to their public, by omission, and by deliberate distortion of the truth. What the American people are actually guilty of is not caring enough to figure out when their government is lying to them about things that don't appear to affect them directly.

I am similarly dumbfounded when people talk about Pakistan as if it's turning into a hotbed of fundamentalism. The oversimplification in that is simply mindboggling. Of course, the fact that I am currently living in Pakistan means I have to put up with less of this sort of incomprehension and mindlessness than the anti-American kind.

How do you explain America to someone who has never been to the US and who has only experienced the US in terms of its foreign policy? So these are people who are by no means ignorant, who know more about more parts of the world than most educated Americans I have come across, and who hold America and Americans (as a group, not necessarily as individuals) in contempt because of their view of the US as imperialist.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Aadha teetar, aadha batair (half partridge, half quail)

I am so tired of being ticked off about how much more my career is affected by being a mother than my husband's is by being a father. Every few months I start to think that I've finally learned to deal with it, and then something throws me into a tailspin.

Fundamentally, of course, the problem is that I'm not really convinced that I should learn how to deal with it. A big part of me thinks that I should change things so that my husband and I have more evenly distributed responsibilities as parents ("The personal is political," etc.). But I also know that it's not something I can do unilaterally. I'm skeptical about how much people's opinions on these issues change with time, so I'm not too hopeful about my husband coming around to my point of view. And so the pendulum goes back and forth.

I think my ideas about gender roles in the home are pretty progressive (or radical, depending on who you ask), even by American standards. When you live on campus at a progressive liberal arts college, you tend to see somewhat unconventional living situations, e.g. stay at home dads whose wives are the breadwinners because they're both happy with that set up. You also end up meeting many couples who are less obviously unconventional, but have far more egalitarian households than is the norm: they both work, they both share the housework in an evenhanded way, they share childcare in an evenhanded way, and it's taken for granted that, of course, that is how things are done. And it is in the quiet taken-for-granted nature of the sharing of labour in which the departure from the norm lies.

So my experience of American couples was this egalitarian one, generally. There were exceptions, but they stuck out. More importantly, the fact of their existence meant that it was possible. Guys who were not "wusses" could, in fact, have the sense of justice to recognize what was fair, and the 'gumption' to step up to the plate and take on the responsibilities that follow from that recognition.

The knowledge that this is possible, that what I have always known internally, deep down in my gut, to be right and fair, actually exists in the real world, made concrete for me things that I considered non-negotiable in a marriage. I wasn't going to accept anymore the arguments I had always known to be weak: "well, it might be fair, but that's just not how guys are," "aisa to nahin hota," "women ALWAYS have to compromise in marriage".

Fast forward to 2009, and here I am, in a situation that is utterly conventional: my husband works an insane 70-80-hour work week, my career has come to a screeching stutter, and I am surrounded by housework (which I have always, and will always, hate. Make that HATE. There are SO many more interesting and rewarding things one can do with one's time.).

And the reasons for this are not entirely external. I would love to be able to blame it all on the sexism of those around me, but try as I might, I can't escape the voices in my own head, the ones that expect me to live up to my mother. I am assailed by guilt because I don't find being a wife and mother as fulfilling as she did, and because I don't want to be as devoted to the home as she was, and the sneaking suspicion that I would never be as good at it as she was. Are all women doomed to this constant tussle?

"..must I be content with discontent...?"

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Glory

The glory of the beauty of the morning, -
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart: -
The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty's presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?
Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?
And shall I ask at the day's end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.

Edward Thomas

I found the lines "... must I be content...with wings?" at the opening of a novel my sister-in-law left behind. They spoke so eloquently of a recurring feeling/thought in my life that I just had to track the poem down. And what a rewarding search. I have found a poet whose existence I was completely unaware of, although some lines sound familiar. And he writes such achingly beautiful verse. sigh.