Letter to A Brand New Human

Amrita is the newly born daughter of one of my (male) cousins. She was only a couple of hours old when I got to meet her at the hospital yesterday – possibly the youngest human I’ve ever met. The name is only provisional and the debate is currently on to decide what name would be better. The fact that she is insanely cute complicates things – there are no names worthy enough. 😀

My dear Amrita,

First off, welcome to the world!

We have all been waiting for you on tenterhooks for days now. I suppose you do not know it at this point of time, but by the act of coming into existence, you have already brought boundless joy to so many people around you, from your parents, to your relatives, to the sweet-shop owner who is now several thousand Rupees richer. 🙂

You arrive at a time when change is sweeping through the land.
In many ways, this is the best time in history to have been born. Today, you are almost certain to live longer, better and healthier than ever before. You are much less likely to be tortured or murdered. You will not be stoned for some silly offense. You will travel more comfortably, more quickly and more safely than ever. You will grow up in a world filled with technology to protect you, to cast a coocoon over you, to save you from harm.

And yet, little Amrita, these times are also challenging times.

Today, you are a child with two wonderful, loving parents who will want nothing but the best for you.

But in no time at all, you will grow up. And when you do, you will have your own choices to make.

Choices that will define your life.

Choices that will define who you are.

Choices that will make all the difference between a lifetime of bitterness and a life of contentment.

Choices that will define the choices for your next generation as well.

You will choose your career. You will choose your husband. You will choose whether you even WANT to have a husband. You will set your own pace in life.

You will choose between the road less travelled and the beaten path.

You will choose between being yourself and trying to fit in.

You will choose the identities you want to carry as your own.

You will choose what facet of humanity you’d want to represent.

Some choices will be easy.

Others will cause much heartbreak and tears. But it is at such times, that you must not forget that in the end, it is you who has to live your life. No one, absolutely no one, can know you better than your own self. No one has more information than you to come to a decision.

Information! Such a precious thing! Information is what you must have. See, hear, learn, feel, understand and analyze. Go on, and enjoy free flights of fancy! Try looking at the world from another lens! Listen to what others have to say! Sip from the brew of life! Let your mind soar free. Let the collective wisdom of humanity rain over you.

Soak in the various colors of your universe. Taste the diverse spices and mix them all together in the melting pot of your mind to create beauty for yourself. To make your world amazingly pretty.

But be careful!

Opinions are like chewing gum. You must chew them until you’ve sucked in their flavor, but you must not swallow them whole.

You have a mind for a reason. It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to go wrong.

Life is not too easy for anyone and will not be easy for you.

You will have to be confident, for there will be people who would try to put you down for the choices you make. You will have to be humble, for there will be people who know better and genuinely want the best for you. You will have to be smart, for distinguishing between the two would be no easy task.

Above all, you must retain a sense of self. You are not a puppet or a commodity or a slave. It is shocking how easy it is to forget that.

You are unique and always will be.

Be brave, be strong, and catch up on your sleep now, for you have a long way to walk tomorrow.

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey and bask in the sunshine when you get your chance.

Toodles!

Uncle N.

How to Cope With an Aunty Attack

So here’s the scenario:

It’s a sunny Sunday and you’re chilling at your parents’ place. You’ve got the following agenda:

a) Sip your latte
b) Take a nap
c) Make the rest up as you go along

Idyllic stuff.

Suddenly, the doorbell rings.

At first, you relax, thinking it’s not your problem. It’s not YOUR house. There’s a maid to open the door and your parents to entertain whoever it is and there is no pile of underwear lying around on the floor that you need to pick up double quick. All good.

Or so you thought until you peeked into the drawing room. It’s an Aunty. And she’s already seen you. Before you can say “oh, F*ck”, you are summoned into the room for a little tete-a-tete.

Your irritation morphs into incredulous stammering as the Aunty slams judgement upon judgement on your hairstyle, your color choices, your profession, your CPI, your partner, your eating habits, your complexion, your laptop, your financial sense, your accent, your speaking style, your worthiness for marriage, your Indian-ness quotient, your batting average and other stuff that you never thought was up for judgement. You can’t get a word in. She’s like a ripping storm. She just won’t stop. She just won’t lose. And you’re caught in the middle of it. So what do you do?

You open up your Wi-Fi enabled phone that she thinks is overpriced and check out this page. Look at it. Applaud the funky graphics. And read the following tips from an old pro.

Tip #1: Nod a lot

Aunties love nodding. It shows proper respect. It demonstrates proper sanskaars. It makes her feel as though someone is listening.

“Bullshit”, I hear you saying. “I am a principled person and I cannot take it upon my conscience to fake agreement with statements that thrust oppressively patriarchal modes of thought and behavior upon our society”. Well yeah, I’m not telling you to fake agreement.

The good thing about Aunties is that they’re too busy judging to look at you closely. So you COULD, in principle, nod off, without her ever thinking of you as anything other than a nice Indian person. I think you’ve realized what I’m getting at here. Talking to an Aunty can be a good way to get rid of the jet lag.

There are many alternatives to this. I personally use an advanced technique which involves thinking about and repeatedly saying “ohhhh yeeeaaah” with a silly smile on my face. It works really well and brings me to my second tip.

Tip #2: Use THAT expression

There is one facial expression which will put you into any aunty’s good books immediately (which means you get to leave early). Aunties love this expression because it conveys the feelings of tip 1 graphically, which is much better than verbally. A picture is worth a thousand words and all that. So what is this expression? You’re about to find out. Watch carefully now:

🙂

Again:

🙂

Got that?

🙂

Couple this with a nod for maximum effect.

Tip #3: Keep your mouth shut

It works like this. Every minute you open your mouth makes the Aunty stay five minutes longer. Yours Truly once made the capital mistake of complimenting an Aunty on her cooking and was duly treated to a long, involved and highly esoteric lecture on precisely how her aloo-gobhi stir technique affected her son’s psychology to the good.

Unless you happen to be a psychology major, you DON’T want to hear that junk. So keep the compliments and opinions to yourself. Confine your talking to answering direct questions and saying random stuff about the weather.

Tip #4: Lose the handshake

The correct way to greet an Aunty is to fold your hands and say the following in a slow, solemn voice:

Respected Aunty, I bow to the divinity in you.

Of course, you could say it in Hindi like this:

Namaste Auntyji

The handshake is western crap. Don’t do it. Also, unless you want a lecture on how rootless the Indian youth is, you should wipe that smirk and put it in your back pocket right about now. I said SOLEMN.

Tip #5: Be Modest

Nothing irritates an aunty so much as a person trying to take credit for their own achievements. The best policy here is to credit everyone except yourself. Think of it as accepting an Oscar. You thank your family, your friends, your SO, your gardener, your neighbors, your driver, your computer, your pen, your pet cockroach, your favorite political party, your government, all the aashirwaad, that aloo-gobhi recipe and Ronald Reagan for good measure.

And God.

You did nothing. They made you do it. Say that and she’ll pretend to believe you and she’ll leave.

Modest people are boring.

***

Okay. You’re now ready.

The place is here.

The time is now.

Flatten your hair, put on a pleasant expression and take that Aunty head on. Go, matey!

Godspeed.

Honor and Masculinity: How Patriarchy Warps Your Thinking

One of the more delicious ironies of traditional male society, is that inspite all of its talk about chivalry and respect for women, possibly the easiest way to incite a brawl is to compare one of its members to a woman.

I have known countless chauvinists who make tall claims about thinking of woman as goddesses
but bristle at carrying out any action that might have the slightest risk of being perceived as feminine.

In a world of increasingly blurred gender boundaries, one can legitimately ask – why?

Why, sir?

Why be ashamed of being yourself?

Why be so petrified of being seen as doing “feminine” stuff?

The answer lies in patriarchal conditioning. Contrary to what some people think, men are conditioned by patriarchy too. Just like women, they are brought up to “fit in” with their preconceived gender role. And this conditioning certainly affects the way we look at the world.

One of the biggest expectations from a man is financial success. What image do you see when you picture a man who would be traditionally considered “successful” in society? No doubt, he has a great job, a big house, expensive gadgets, a fancy car and depending on your point of view, either a wonderful, loving wife or an ensemble of good-looking women hankering for his attention.

Notice how patriarchy plays into this. The more you earn, the more manly you are. Money makes you attractive to women. Money gives you power over women. Money gives you the power to dictate terms.
Money makes you stronger and more intimidating.

Of course, success is great in general, but for men afflicted by such a thought process, failure is NOT an option. This, I believe, is the reason why men take financial and professional setbacks more seriously than most women, even when it does not result in any immediate financial crisis. A smaller wallet makes them lesser males, apparently, and to a traditionally brought up male, there can be few things worse than that.

Linked to this, is the expectation that men should be aloof, unemotional and fiercely independent. Money gives you economic independence. Aloofness gives you emotional independence. And a lot of things stem from that. Men do not cry. Men do not commit. Men do not compliment. Men do not cuddle. Men do not baby-talk to babies.

Instead, you have the confident Man.

The aggressive Man.

The Man who overcomes all obstacles through sheer grit and an iron well.

The Man who, to his dying breath, defends his personal honor and masculinity with a zeal matched only by his own hungry ambition.

The Perfect Man who does not, and will never, exist.

By no means am I saying that it is a bad thing to have an iron will. It’s a great thing. It’s a wonderful blessing.

But not everybody has it. And no one should be expected to.

I tend to think of myself as a bit more aware of patriarchy than many of my peers. I am aware of how damaging it can be. I am aware of how much heartburn it can cause.

And yet, I have not escaped its effects in totality. At random points in time, I catch my thoughts wandering into the same old zone, and I have to actively stop them. I have to MAKE myself swallow my fake arrogance, and roll down the window and ask for directions.
But as Dumbeldore says to Harry Potter, it is the choices we make, far more than our abilities that tell us who we truly are.

Trying to maintain a perception of fitting into one’s “role” in life is a losing proposition. It is one of the worst things a person can do to themselves. It is the easiest way to kill your own individuality. It is the the quickest road to murdering what makes you uniquely YOU.

You are yourself, in all your glory and form, with all your strengths and weaknesses and issues. YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE ANYONE ELSE!

Maybe I can’t quite shake off the shackles of patriarchy completely, but I have made my choice. I choose to be free. I choose to be, who I really am.

The Liebster Blog Awards

So it’s a pretty bog standard evening.

The smell of a delicious Punjabi tadka hangs in the air.

The TV is on, and I can hear muted sounds of canned laughter as I aimlessly browse through my site stats.

And then I come across something unusual.

http://tashsn.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/the-liebster-blog-awards/, proclaims the interface.

Hmm.

Where did THAT link come from?

I’m pretty sure I didn’t comment on this post.

Am I mentioned here?

Is this a bug?

Is this — ohhhh wait.

Wait.

Was that —

Is it —

Awards?

Did it say… AWARDS?!

This can NOT be what I think it is.

But what if it is?

There’s only one way to know.

I almost hyperventilate as my internet connection takes its own sweet time to open the page.

I drum my fingers. I bite my nails. I fiddle. And when the article opens, I almost hit the close button in my haste.

It’s kinda interesting. Liebster is German for Dearest. I know THAT.

It’s an award bloggers give to co-bloggers whose stuff they enjoy. Uh huh, uh huh.

So where do I come in? I scroll, scroll, scroll until — ooh, wait.

Hold it.

Back up.

Back up.

A bit more. THERE! Cynically Engineered, it says, in kewl amber letters.

Cynically Engineered.

.

.

.

.

Oh. My. God.

I just got a blogging award. I just got a goddamn —
Someone, somewhere, switched on a computer and whipped up a post and listed out their favorites from the blogosphere.

And my blog is in there.

I blink.

I rub my eyes.

It doesn’t disappear. It stays there, my own screen name blinking at me in a friendly sort of way.

I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should do a jig. Dance. Sing a happy song. But I’m no good at that.

I can’t believe how excited I am. It’s like I just saved the world. I feel like a Spiderman on a date with Mary Jane Watson right after saving the world. I feel like I just scored twenty-six three pointers in a row. It’s like I just discovered a cure for cancer.

Don’t be so kiddish, says the voice of sweet reason in the back of my head. It’s just an award. No big deal. Right?

NO.

Screw that.

The voice of reason is talking through its cocked hat. The voice of reason can go fly a kite.

I KNOW I’m ridiculously happy with my achievement and my day (well, evening, really) seems like it’s just been made. Thank you, thank you, Tash!

I’m going to hold up on writing further until I complete my jig. Bear with me.

***

Okay, so I’m back. 😀

Let’s hear all about the Liebster awards.

Like I said, Liebster is a German word. It would literally mean “dearest” but the sense here is more like “favorite” or “most loved”.

The idea behind the liebster blog awards is pretty simple – there are so many blogs out there for which the traffic statistics fall vastly short of their awesomeness.

Not only does this award help drive traffic to lesser-known blogs, it also helps you show your support and appreciation you have for your fellow bloggers.

These are the rules as displayed on tash’s blog (which, by the way, is a blog I highly recommend for anyone interested in reading about intercultural relationships and just some cool, insightful slices of life):

  1. Showing appreciation of the bloggers who nominated you by linking back to their blogs.
  2. Choose your top 5 favourite blogs and award them by linking back to their blogs.
  3. Post the award on your blog.
  4. Lastly, enjoy the love and appreciation you’ve got and share the blogging karma!

Your chosen blogs should have less than two hundred followers.

If you get more than one award, you are supposed to name another five of your favorites.

Perfect! To work.

Now, there are so MANY amazing blogs out there I’d like to name, but the guidelines say five, so I’m going to stick with that. And here go my top five in no real order:

1. Kay In India

Kay is a Canadian of Nepali origin who currently lives in the North of India and is all set to get married to an Indian with roots in the south. If you think that’s a mouthful, wait till you take a peek at her blog.

Kay’s writing combines a vivid, vibrant energy with a beautiful background of empathy and a wicked sense of a humor.

Go ahead and take a sip of this heady cocktail, but use caution! It’s very easy to drown in there and if you do, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

2. Perspectives and Prejudices

She calls it “my own little space for my thoughts”.

I couldn’t agree more.

This blog is like one of those little log cabins in the woods with a cheery fire burning in the fireplace and languid plumes of smoke emerging from brick chimneys.

It’s cozy, it’s warm, and it is amazingly pretty in its uncomplicated simplicity.

Like warm water over weary joints.

Highly Recommended.

3. Mandooka

Mandooka used to be your average, nice Indian girl.

And one day, she decided she’d had enough.

What the world of Aunties and Arranged Marriages lost that day was gained by the blogsphere in the form of this fierce, yet sensible crusader for gender equality.

Mandooka blogs with a passion that’s precious rare these days and her own struggles with traditional society lend an extra layer of insight to her criticism of the status quo here. Add that to the fact that she has a brilliant way with words and an amazing, sarcastic sense of humor, and you have something really special on your hands.

Do check it out.

4. Intercultured

The journey of one inter-cultural couple, twisting and carving its way through the impenetrable maze that is modern India.

Brilliantly written, with a raw emotional intensity that you can feel right through to your bones.

Read it. It’s amazing.

5. pointsthruprose

This is the only one on this list that is not, strictly speaking, a personal blog.

pointsthruprose is a collective blog for artists, poets and writers to showcase their work in one place.

Some of the stuff (especially the artwork) on here is absolutely amazing and deserves to be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible. Appeals to my artistic site.

Do drop in sometime.

So there you have it.

Here’s wishing all you guys the very best.

And once again, my heartfelt gratitude to Tash for making this day so damn cool.

And So She Waited

I’ve been in a rather quiet, contemplative mood these last few days.

Now that the excitement and hullaballoo of placement season has all but died, I have had some time to sit back and end the crazy twelve to fifteen-hour work cycles I’d been running on. I have also had some time to write stuff that’s a bit unusual (for me). This one just sort of wrote itself out on a stray piece of paper, and I thought I’d publish it here.

She waits,
for it is time
For him to come,
For him to arrive.

The wait has been long,
and she has waited her turn,
dutifully,
as she was taught.

She waited,
with baited breath,
to grow up,

To meet her prince,
to be carried away,
to be swept along,
smiling and playing and laughing,
under foreign skies,
in strange lands,
to be a string,
vibrating in harmony,
with a man she’d call her own.

She waited, but he did not come,
and when he did,
it was not he,
He who came,
was not the prince,
he was stern and implacable,
like a human God.

She slammed into the jagged rocks,
of a reality too real,
of a world too harsh.

So she waited,
to bring life,
into her dead world

To be a mother,
to drown,
in the boundless joy,
that a child would bring,
to fulfill her duty to the world,
to be touched by the sacred pain,
of a brand new person,
brought into the universe,
from her being

And for a while, her dream was real,
for a while,
she was truly blessed

But then he grew up,
and left her,
for the foreign shores,
she’d dreamed of,
in another time,
in another world,
for the learning that she never got,
for a life,
to be a true product,
of these freer times,
of these better times

The crystal was shattered,
and pearls of sorrow flowed.

And so she waited,
with her fingers crossed,
for a grandchild she could call her own

She would dote on him,
and tell him stories,
of those very lands,
that came to her in her dreams,
of those charming princes,
who visited her in lonely thoughts,
and make him the things his mother could not

And so, she would wait,
until he came,
until they arrived.

The wait was her duty,
her purpose,
her being.

Portrait of A Woman

I met a woman today.

No, let me correct myself.

I didn’t really meet her.

I saw her in passing.

I glanced at her.

I brushed by her.

For one infinitismal moment in time, the curves of our lives were tangetial to each other.

I was intrigued by her.

Not in a romantic way. Not intrigued by her own self.

Intrigued by who she was.

Her dress was unremarkable. A salwar kameez. Perhaps a bindi on her forehead. I fumble for details. It is easier to remember the outré than the commonplace, easier to remember the strident than the somber.

But I remember some things about her. She wore a perfume. It was a strong one. The odor was familiar to me. How many times have I smelt its heady form on the streets of this country? The fragrant essence of duty and responsibility, taken head on. The sweetly toxic fragrance of unfairness accepted and discharged to the full. The misty fumes of guiltily held desires melting into the tortured smoothness of a worldview inculcated since birth.

She stooped a little, I think.
As though carrying something vast. Carrying something no human was ever meant to carry. Carrying something that someone just thrust upon her, without her even knowing it.
Carrying something vague and indefinable, that everyone insisted on defining anyway.

Carrying society’s honor on her back.

She strained under that load, pearl drops of perspiration on her face. She labored under the burden. But she knew of no other way. The gilded bonds of patriarchy bound her to her load, and she could not put it down. She must carry it as her own.

Her eyes were a striking black. They hid her soul behind the curtain of duties and responsibilities, to a husband, to a family, to a child, to a world. They hid the symmetric charm of a fundamentally good person. They hid the vagaries of her own personality under a crushing veneer of uniformity. She was a stone, crushed into a brick, to fit her place.

There was still a light in those eyes. A sparkling, shining, dancing, flicker of fiery flame.
The sparkle of dreams. Dreams she saw for the future. For her husband. For her children. Maybe for herself.
They would overcome.
She would learn to carry her load.
Perhaps someone would share it. Oh, how unbearably heavy it was! But she was young and she had the strength. She would do it.

In a few fleeting years, the light would go out. Extinguish. Forever.

The dress would be the same. Her perfume would be different. Oh yes, I’ve smelt that fragrance on the city streets too. The bitter musk of a cheerless existence. The dark mists of broken hopes making the world oddly wet in a chilly misery.

She was no feminist. She would never be one. Never be anyone significant. She would never go down in the pages of history. Never be toasted. Never even be seen by most of us.

And yet, in her own quiet, invisible way, she is important.

She is not just a she.

She is legion, for she is many.

She’s just an Indian woman. And yet she is so much more.

In a few seconds, she walked away.

Pulling a Fast One

In traditional circles, it’s considered a Good Thing for women to fast for the people they love and care about. A lot of men think it’s a Good Thing too.

I wonder if these men have ever thought carefully about what they’re REALLY supporting.

If you don’t get my drift, read on.

In principle, a (voluntary) fast can be a great gesture of love. If your idea of love revolves around sacrifice and Bollywood Romance, a fast can be a great way to express that.

I mean, let’s face it. Hunger isn’t a pleasant feeling. If your partner’s willing to take that unpleasantness just for your well-being, she obviously loves you a lot.

Logical? You bet. Correct? Hardly.

Look at it this way.

No one can tell whether your partner’s fast REALLY makes you live longer. I mean, it’s really HARD to tell, damn it.

Between your love for Havana cigars, your tendency to “eve-tease” the women at the Judo club and your Need for Speed on the highway, there’s really no telling when you might die, fasting partner or no fasting partner. I mean, who knows, right? One Judo slash to the wrong place tomorrow and shazam! You’re dead. On the other hand, you could get lucky. Even an insurance company wouldn’t bet on precisely how much time you have left and how that might change with (someone else’s) starvation ceremonies.

So let’s not assume anything. Let’s take both situations into account.

Either fasting helps or it doesn’t.

Let’s suppose it doesn’t.

If your wife’s fast isn’t going to help you live longer, the first question you need to ask yourself is, WHAT THE EFF ARE YOU GUYS DOING?!

Tell her to cut that jazz and stop wasting both of your time. Do something REALLY romantic instead.

Have a candlelight dinner.

Adopt a puppy.

Watch a movie with her.

Have sex.

Whatever the hell you want to do. The world might be a crappy place but there are definitely better things to do out there than sit around and watch your partner whine about starvation.
Seriously.

But what if it doesn’t work like that? What if the OTHER scenario is true? What if fasting really does work and your wife is sitting there, right now, fasting for your benefit?

The answer, my friend, is that you’re in deep, deep trouble.

Think about it.

One morsel of food is all it would take.

Your lifespan would be reduced by a fourth.

Your insurance premiums would rise faster than you could say “unfair”.

You won’t have the pleasure of deleting the names of dead friends from your phonebook at the age of seventy. Instead, you’ll get deleted yourself.

You don’t want that shit to happen to you.
But there would be nothing you could do to stop it.

Effectively, your partner has you tied into a chair, and is carrying a loaded gun pointed straight at your head. Of course, she promises never to use the gun, but who’s to say she won’t change her mind when you refuse to get rid of that silly mustache?

You’d have to bow to her every whim and fancy. If you don’t, she can just proclaim a fast and then eat breakfast as usual. It would be like murder without the mess.

And god help you if you get a divorce or if you break up with her. She’d have every single frigging thing you own out of your grip in a flash, quite literally on pain of death. You’d have to use cardboard for furniture, and that would only be after she’s made you purchase all the cardboard she’d ever need for the rest of her life.

So if you’re male, and your partner’s into the fasting thing, tell her, ask her, request her, beg her to STOP. You’re going to lose either way if you don’t.