Bits and Pieces

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Although I have a good excuse, I apologize profusely for neglecting this blog. Thanks for being patient, guys.

That said, after a short and sweet work trip to Singapore, followed by a short (and very un-sweet) spell of dealing with the aftermath of a hairline fracture, I am gratified to say that I have returned to my healthy, non-jet lagged, highly respectable self and that I can finally finger-fight again. Come on, ye!

Before I move on with today’s lecture, a word about our sista from anotha motha, C Manjula. It’s old news by now, but just in case you’ve been hiding under a Giant Clam Shell on Kiwi shores while pondering the meaninglessness of existence, she’s the one who’s been handling the report on the Morning Mist Home Stay attacks, as they are being called in the media. How well did she do? Well, she handled it horrend– that is to say, in a manner befitting an Indian politician appointed on the basis of ass-kissing ability, as opposed to other, somewhat more socially useful kinds of ability. Not one to be deterred by such things as facts, relevance and logic, she promptly reported that the party was in fact a rave party, that the decent folks who assaulted the partygoers were in fact nobly protecting the women from being misled, that the men at the party were in fact involved in human trafficking.

I guess Manjula and her band of merry thugs don’t quite get it – you can beat up people in parties (apparently), but even in India, you can’t beat partying out of people. The ‘victims’ only want to go it harder, and I say, rock on, folks.

Now, to bigger news. It turns out that Big Sister dear (edit
: that is to say, the non-thuggish one from my own mother) has finally decided to get married! Who woulda thunk it?

Considering that her husband-to-be is *gasp* a non-Indian origin guy who currently works as a *gasp* teacher in the *choke gasp* UK, this has brought in all kinds of reactions, from shocked horror to cynical estimations of the life-span of the marriage, to some solidarity and support (okay that’s just me and may parents at this point, but we’re working on it (and yes, for once, I’m not on the cynical side (no, honestly, I’m not))).

Depending on your point of view, the whole situation is either kind of funny or sad in an ironic sort of way, because the shocked horror crowd has crowed about her ‘settling down’ for a while now. I guess they were talking about a different settlement, cause I swear to Bleedin’ Chris’ on teh Bloomin’ Cross, they ain’t be too happy with this Brit lad. It all reminds me of E. M Forster’s novel, Where the Angels Fear to Tread (if you haven’t read it, do so. It’s great).

Family, family. Such goes life.

Overall, I’m happy with my sister’s impending marriage, but I’m also a little apprehensive about its aftermath, because it means I’ll soon have a nice, round target painted on my back. Let the games begin.

Indian families tend to follow FIFO queuing (that’s First In First Out, for non techies). The first kid in the clan better be pushed out by way of marriage (or failing that, by disowning him/her) before the second one gets a chance. This often leads to weird situations. Just the other day, there was this gag show on the radio where a frustrated woman roped in the radio station to play a bit of a practical joke at the older sister’s expense, who had presumably refused to tie the knot (or be disowned) for quite a while.

The gag was honestly pretty funny but the situation wasn’t. It was sad.

Part of the reason for gender relations being so skewed in India is that their whole interaction runs within narrow and largely irrational rules like these.

There’s a chocolate ad on these days where a student is depicted presenting some chocolates to his teacher on Rakshabandhan. When the teacher points out that most of his companions are out tying bands of brotherly affection to their crushes, and asks him why he isn’t doing the same, he responds that it’s Rakshabandhan, not St. Valentine’s day. They exchange pleasantries, and then there’s a happy ending because it’s obvious that our hero’s Internal Assessment is pretty darn secure, whether the teacher wants to admit it or not.

So what does this ad show? Well, for one, we now know that people who buy chocolates made by this brand tend to be smartasses. Second, some teachers do like smartasses. Third, a lot of people in India use Rakshabandhan as a substitute for V-day. It’s kosher to go out with your girlfriend on Rakhi, but not on Valentine’s. Parents know this. Teachers know this. But you know what? They don’t give a shit!

Mandooka made a post about this little trend, but I’m just using it to make a point here.

Our hypocrisy knows no bounds. Whether it’s C Manjula, her goons, my family members or ‘society’, we follow and enforce the rules senselessly, mindlessly, rules that are themselves senseless and mindless.

One thing we don’t realize, perhaps, is that these rules screw lives.

Let’s embrace change and uncertainty. Let’s acknowledge that things won’t be the same forever. You can’t live under hundreds of rigid, static rules in the guise of culture. Life on the third rock is dynamic, everchanging and responses must be dynamic too.

Dynamism is the key.

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Speaking of Career Women

Have you ever heard this kind of a remark?

Well, he’s a career man.

I haven’t. Not once in my twenty-one years of existence. There’s no such thing as a “career man”. Because men are just men.

How many times have you heard equivalents of this one, then?

Oh, her? Well she’s always been a bit of a career woman, you know.

It’s pretty common.

Apparently, there is such a thing as a “career woman”.  And she scares the bajeezus out of traditionalists.

It’s not hard to imagine why that might be. A career woman is strong. She has money. She’s independent. She’s ambitious. She’s smart.  She’s not a blond Barbie doll. She’s got interests far beyond a husband, kids and a clean kitchen. In short, she’s all the things that your average chauvinist DOESN’T want a woman to be.

Ergo, the prejudice.

The Bullshit.

The Generalizations.

The put-downs.

I’ve heard them all.

“Never marry a career woman”.

“She’ll quit when she gets married”

“She’ll quit when she has a second child”

“Career women are great in bed but they make terrible wives”. 

“Forget about kids if you marry a career woman”

“Women just aren’t meant to be career-oriented”

“Career woman are just deceiving themselves”

 

The whole rigmarole of unsolicited “advice” from playacting macho idiots who never learned to make  their own tea. The whole truckloads of sneering, contemptuous, condescending comments, which I’m supposed to support, by virtue of being male.

The juggernaut of prejudice grants no quarter. It takes over the imaginations of millions of people, esconces them in it’s own cozy comfort, and  builds a beautifully simple world-view which needs no effort to understand at all.

 

I am sick of it.

And I proclaim my irritation here.

Want to know what kind of woman I really like?

It’s NOT that cute brunette with an IQ lower than my microwave.

 

It’s that woman who doesn’t fit in.

It’s the woman who doesn’t feel the need to dress up like a helpless doll every day, just to impress a biased, blinkered society.

It’s the woman who has confidence enough to flip the finger at the same society.

It’s the woman who can be a REAL partner, not a doormat.

It’s the woman who’s got that intense, burning, searing FIRE in her belly.

It’s the woman who’s got that NEED to do well.

It’s the woman who can understand MY own fire.

NOT support it. Understand it. Feel it. Live it.

The woman who can completely chill out when it’s time to.

The woman who DEMANDS her due.

 

The chauvinists can have their Barbies.

All I need is a sparkling mixture of strenuous work and strenuous fun, and the sharp,bespectacled girl who can do full justice to that heady cocktail with me.

Losing a Cousin: The Sequel

Sequel to Losing A Cousin To Society.

She bends down low to serve the tea to me. Awkwardly, I grab a cup, some biscuits, and try to avoid eye contact. It’s not easy because she’s looking directly towards me.

The place is right out of a prime time K-serial. The family, seated around an implausibly elegant drawing-room. The outwardly smiling, “stern” Mother In Law. The aloof, unconcerned husband. The subservient parents of the bride. And, of course, the coyly gracious bride herself.

The mother in law goes on and on about how she saved the world with a matchstick. Polite smiles are exchanged. It’s all sickeningly sweet, just like the tea I’m trying to finish. I don’t even WANT to be here. My presence is merely a logistical necessity.

The husband gets out of his ostentatious aloofness and cracks a spouse war joke. More polite, rippling laughter. He’s allowed to crack these jokes now, to prove how hen-pecked he is. To prove how much he supposedly bends to his wife.

How gracious of him.

I clamp down on my annoyance. No point getting upset. There’s nothing I can do about this, and getting angry isn’t going to serve any purpose. Calm down.

There’s a clink of bangles and jewelry. The bride’s gotten up and she’s heading into the kitchen. I see my excuse to get out of the room and follow her. Awkwardness be damned, I’m going to talk to my favorite cousin.

As I enter the gleaming, surgically clean kitchen, I catch sight of her face. She’s looking radiant in the blood-red tones that the setting sun casts.

She looks at me. I look at her. I go first.

“So…how’s life?”, I ask her

“Oh! Good, good. Yours?”

“Just the usual.”

“Mmm hmm”

She gets some samosas out of the fridge and pops them in the microwave.

“How come you deleted your Facebook account?”, I say, by way of casual conversation. as we watch the lazy rotations of the turntable.

“Well, I’m married now, you know.”, she replies

“As is something like thirty percent of the Facebook population. As are my parents, for example. As is your husband.”

“Shut up, N.”

“Is it because ‘He’ doesn’t like it?”

She pulls the plate out of the microwave and begins to arrange the triangular delicacies on a tray. Her expression is inscrutable.

“Well, YES. Happy now?”

Not particularly

“Relax, I’m just asking!”

God. I REALLY need to calm down. Keep this friendly, I remind myself. She’s the victim here, not the culprit. Don’t chew her out.

“Okay, so now you know. Are you going to help me with serving this stuff?”

“Sure”

I pour out the chutney in the bowl and watch as the former corporate exec flits across the kitchen like a hapless, newly minted Domestic Goddess. God knows I’ve always been a better cook than her.

“S, just listen to me, okay?”

So this is it. I’m cutting to the chase. I know I’m going to be completely out of line. I know I’ll be going out on a limb here. But I will say what I have to say. Maybe I’m being stupid, but I think it’s important to say it.

She doesn’t respond. I know I have her attention, so I plod on.

“Look, S. If you ever feel you need help, if you need anything at all, I want you to call me. If you don’t want to call me, or if you think a woman might understand it better, call my mom or my sister. I think you’re too perceptive not to know how we feel about this whole thing. Still, we will respect your choices. I promise you that I will respect whatever you choose and I’m ready to fight for it. Just remember that we’re all here for you. That’s all, okay? Just don’t ever feel alone.”

She’s quiet for a second. Someone calls out her name from the drawing-room.

“It’s really not that b–”

“I’m not suggesting it is. Just remember, okay?”

A slow nod.

I turn around and walk back to the room, once again struggling to clamp down the anger and irritation. There’s nothing more to say.

I’m not even supposed to be here, like I said, much less get involved. But the heart does not listen to rationalizations of that sort. the heart does what the heart wants. And right now, it just wants to bro-fist its favorite cousin again and see that spunky confidence ONE more time. That’s all.

The Thing With Chivalry

Here’s the sort of thing I run into very often:

Guy: Women are trying to be too much like men these days, man.

Me: Getting your chauv on, are you? 

Guy: What?! Me? A chauvinist? I open doors for my girlfriend. I carry shopping bags for her. I drive her around. I pull out chairs for her at restaurants. I PROTECT her. I do all these things even if she doesn’t ask me to. I RESPECT women. How can you call me a chauvinist?

Me: *shrug*

Guys like the one above are all too common. And they’re not faking it. They really believe that they are not chauvinistic. They really DO respect women in their way. They really, really think they’re doing their bit for the feminist movement. But none of that changes the fact that their views are still pretty chauvinistic.

A lot of people mistake “respect” for empowerment. They mistake the age-old concept of chivalry for feminism. They think that by opening doors for women, they are somehow empowering them.

It does not work like that.

Feminism is not about exaggerated, patronizing “respect” for women as a group. It’s not about opening doors and carrying stuff for them. It’s not about giving them special treatment and “protecting” them.

It’s about EQUALITY, first and foremost.

It’s about understanding that women are individuals.

It’s about realizing that women can open their own doors, can carry their own stuff, and are people who have their own likes and dislikes, their own limits.

It’s about respecting them as much or as less you would respect any other person of your own gender.

It’s about letting go of the group mentality.

It is about unlearning the idea of “we men” and “you women”.

It is about unloading the burden of a society’s perceived honor from women’s backs.

It is about refusing to subscribe to a fake, discriminatory morality.

It is about standing up to the cultural norms that define set places for men and women.

It is about a worldview that is free of the stereotypes and clichés and labels from a bygone era.

 

That’s what MY feminism is about. That’s the kind of society I dream of.

 

Open doors for women if you so wish, but do it WITHOUT the condescension. That’s all I ask.

What’s with the accent, dude?

When I arrived in India about eight years ago, I was pretty typical for my age. I was your ordinary, garden-variety, pimply, scrawny teenager complete with the standard hormone-induced craziness.

It was a bit weird adjusting to the new school life, but one school and two years later, I was pretty much in my own private Valhalla. Things started going well. My marks improved. My sports participation became better. I joined the debating club. I learnt to play cricket. And then, there were the GIRLS. THAT was something which had never happened before. They looked at me. They talked to me. They were INTO me. Even a grunt like me could see that.
And I had no idea why. I may have been good at math, but I wasn’t a Rockstar by any stretch of imagination. I didn’t think I was that handsome. I wasn’t even the Cricket captain, for god’s sake. There was something weird about it, alright, but I didn’t care that much. I was too busy enjoying my new and improved Casanova persona. My parents chuckled at my experiments and gave me the usual reminders about setting limits etc etc. Life was good.

By the time I was halfway through Ninth grade, I had a steady girlfriend. Everything became cooler. The sky was a deeper blue. The evenings were mellow and sweet. I don’t think we had that much in common and I had no idea why she even liked me, but the experience was amazing. And, like most things which are that awesome, it didn’t last.

One afternoon, during dinner, I had the following convo with my elder sister.

“Hey, N, are you DATING that Niharika girl from your class?”, my sister said through a mouthful of rice.

I raised my eyebrows. “Um, yeah. So?”

She laughed at that for some reason, which, of course, irritated my teenage self.

“What’s your problem, S?”

More laughter

“God, you’re such an idiot! Can’t you SEE?”

“See what?”

“She doesn’t even like you! She’s just showing you off. One-upping her friends. I overheard her on the bus today.”

I stared at her like she was crazy.

“One-upping? Why would she do that? Why me?”

“Because you’re the… I dunno… hotshot NRI with the American accent and the ‘growing up in DC’ stories. Makes you popular”

“Oh, come on!”

She shrugged

“It’s the truth. Take it or leave it”

It turned out to be true, of course. I found out for myself soon enough and that was the end of it.

The funny thing is, I’ve seen that kind of behavior even from adults in India. They’re enthralled by the accent. They’re enthralled by the American-isms. Completely star-struck. Many of them pay lip-service to the “America is evil” school of thought, but their attitude doesn’t reflect that. I’ve recieved preferential service at posh cafes and restaurants for that reason. I’ve even seen people who’ve never been out of the country for any extended period, don faux accents, and consistently use the typical North American *kh* and *r* (“kharrrot”) or speak in an almost perfect RP. It’s cool to speak as though you were a foreigner and apparently, kind of attractive too. Makes you seem more intersting, it appears. Damned if I know why.

Darkness

 

They pushed me out,
into the light,
and all I saw was darkness.
Darkness in their faces,
Darkness in their faltering smiles,
Darkness in their unwelcoming gaze.

They did not hug me,
They did not greet me.
Why would they?
Do you hug a curse?
Do you greet a burden?
You do what She did.

You cry,
You lament,
bewail,
your misfortune,
at having borne not a child, but a girl,
at having brought not joy, but a mouth to feed,
not a working hand, but a commodity you do not want.

You do what He did.
You look on,
rage in your eyes,
despairing sadness in your heart,
you shut down,
and you blame her for it

I grew up in their home,
unseen,
unheard,
unneeded,
every morsel begrudged.
Biding time,
eking out the days,
waiting,
until I would be of age,
old enough to dump onto another.

And they did dump me,
dumped on him,
bought and paid for,
to do my duty,
to serve,
as was my destiny in this parched land,
barren from male footfalls,
starving for feminine gait.

Starve on, oh land,
for I will not come.
Dignity holds me here,
honor won’t let me go,
society won’t let me leave,
this cage of conventions,
this prison of a frozen culture,
frozen in time and spirit,
frozen ice cold in its cruelty.

I will stay here,
and wait,
for some little approval thrown my way,
for some scrap of affection,
for some precious moments of attention,
wait,
to bear a child, not a girl,
and dote on him, like no one doted on me

Image courtesy: the-nri.com online magazine

Man’s Man? No thanks.

So I attempted to have a nice, quiet Diwali this time. Without the crackers, you know. I’ve always considered Diwali a great festival for a lot of reasons, but the noise and smoke is not one of them. I dislike crackers with a passion, and I’d be lying if I said Eco-Friendliness is the sole reason. It’s very much personal – I simply don’t like the noise and the burnt-potash smell associated with most consumer grade pyrotechnics. Now, there are many who believe that such views are incongruous with my (perceived) identity as a twenty-one year old up-and-coming whippersnapper, including most of my relatives, some of whom had no qualms about telling me what they thought. They thought it was a girlish opinion.

I, uh, disagreed. Strongly.

I mean, really? Really, people? Why are so many people insecure about their gender identity? Why the hell is it almost compulsory to subscribe to the cheap pop sociology that tells guys they need to be unfeeling macho idiots in order to, I dunno, “earn” their place in the gung-ho male world. Why do they feel the need, the itch, to assert their “maleness” to totally random people who care to look?

News flash: If you have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome and have no issues with that state of affairs, you ARE male. That’s all there is to it. You don’t have to prove it. You don’t have to shout it from rooftops. You won’t get any trophies for it. You are not entitled to any special benefits for being it. You don’t get to order people around. Others don’t get to order you around. You are entitled to emotions. You are entitled to being human. You, sir, are just another self aware organic lump with integrated support systems, cognitive thinking abilities and the potential to do as well and better than any human has done before you. Nothing more and nothing less.

Needless to say, our culture has problems with that kind of thinking. You hear the same old counter-arguments all the time. You hear the same rotten, beaten, broken, anachronistic Victorian era crabshit all around you, every freaking place you go in this broad land. The same torturous definitions of gender turn up again and again AND again, like a bad penny. It’s stupid, it’s false, and most of all, it’s time is OVER. Done and over.

Embrace yourself, for fuck’s sake. Be yourself. Be who you are. You are not a definition. You are not a labelled entity. You are a person with thoughts, emotions, dreams, ambitions, abilities, needs, desires, wants, illicit thoughts, noble thoughts, gentleness, charity, ethical systems, virtues, faults, issues, good bits and so much more. Don’t get crushed under the weight of labels churned out by little minds with little to do other than sitting around in stuffed armchairs, doling out dime-a-dozen social commentary to everyone else with nothing better to do. Screw the images hoisted upon you by TV marketing. Begone with images and labels. Be special, be one hundred percent, be YOU. Because YOU, sir are quite unique in this world.