The Marriage Certificate LOC

Yesterday evening I got stood up by a friend with the excuse being the spouse. The spouse is also a friend so this means I have been stood up by two people. Whatever was going on between them, they decided it was okay to go back on a word given to me and waste my time. The excuses were in place. But there is a pattern in this particular case. I just got fed up of seeing it, when (as I realised), it had nothing to do with me but still impacted me. I tweeted the following:

I can see a lot of single people nodding their heads at this while the coupled-up types bristle and prepare to call me names. The worst part about this? There are two of them versus one of me. Never mind that they also have the world on their side before I even speak. I am after all, just that annoying unmarried type Who Doesn’t Understand, Her Life Is So Cushy, What Problems Could She Possibly Have?

Last week I had an upsetting argument stemming from the following Facebook post:

“This is for couples who flaunt their love on Facebook, then go suddenly quiet after the break up. You need to tell us exactly what happened. We invested a lot of time, likes and comments on your pictures and posts. We need closure as well.”

I cannot even begin to explain how entitled, how selfish and disrespectful this is. But I’ll try so bear with me if this is basic (it seems to need to be spelt out).

  1. Nobody on Facebook is required to share anything with the others.
  2. No one is required to offer up palatable, perfect stories for other people.
  3. You may be entertained by what people share but they are not required to entertain you.
  4. Facebook allows you to Mute people, if you do not like their posts.

To compare what a couple invests in a relationship, to other people’s likes and comments is a horrible trivialisation of emotion. You may not like how a story ends or you may find yourself mildly irritated when a story you’ve followed on TV gets terminated abruptly. Does that really compare with the relationship ending? And given how devastating a break-up is, is it worthy to make a joke of it?

Image via Ambro on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

*Image via Ambro on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Earlier this year, I found out from Facebook that a friend died. I do not know what the circumstances were but given that he was young and had posted vacation pictures just a week earlier, it must have been an accident. A week later, his mother put up an update requesting people to stop calling to ask what happened because it forced the family to relive the trauma.

Do we forget that there is a human being at the other end and not a reality TV star performing for our entertainment? Yes, I think we do, on social media. In the latter, I’m sure a lot of you agree that making those demands was insensitive because we all dread and fear death. In the former, what happens to married/coupled-up people? Do they believe that somehow they are immune to the vagaries of emotion? Does marriage/comittment give them iron-clad protection from the devastation of separation? We all know that is not true. Then why, why are they so cruel, so judgemental?

The person I had that argument with, believed that I was shaming their happiness. It’s true that I said a lot of strong things, including comparing their attitude to racism. But neither is the calling out of racism, nor is protesting this joke about shaming another person’s privilege. Yes, that’s right. I said privilege, not happiness. Being in a secure relationship is a privilege. For someone in a position of privilege to make fun of someone who doesn’t have that, in a difficult time like a break-up does not strike me as funny at all. That is why this is no different from racism, for me.

I also understand where this attitude comes from. A lot of married people don’t think relationships and emotions are really ‘serious’ unless they’ve been granted the social-legal sanction of the marriage certificate. Apparently a break-up is trivial, a divorce is not. Domestic violence, abuse, rape, cheating – all of these the price to be paid for ‘having fun’; but they’re crimes if they come with the wedding label.

I know none of the people close to me (everyone referenced in this post is) truly believe this. Each of them has stood by me and shown more empathy than I’ve seen in married people. That’s part of what makes our friendships possible. And yet, just like with sexism and racism, there are worlds of unacknowledged/unthought of assumptions to be challenged. Till then, the marriage certificate is as political a boundary as the Line Of Control and human relationships across the border just as fraught with tension.

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The Doomed Relationships of India

I am not in dil-toot anymore. It was dil-toot, a phrase I’ve coined to denote a less-than-heartbreak, more like a heart-pinch, just painful enough for me to feel something and think about it but not so shattering that I can’t piece together a coherent thought or sentence. Did I ever mention how or why it ended?

It ended when he said,

” I don’t know what to say.”

It ended because he assumed it was all about what he thought and what he had to say. It didn’t even occur to him that a conversation is between two people and that the other person might have something to say. It ended either because he assumed that or because he did not want to face what I might have had to say.

I’ve weathered the deep sadness, the now-familiar disappointment. I’ve even been able to see how this was a life experience that bothered me just enough to learn from it and also feel very good about the good parts. Being in love really is a wonderful feeling. I have remembered something I keep forgetting when my heart shatters – that love is that undefinable experience that goes beyond attraction, logic, compatibility and shared interests. It falls in the realm of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink moment and everything that follows is an attempt to explain it. I don’t have to, anymore. And that frees me up to look at the future with the hope of more love and other adventures.

I am tickled, even charmed by the surprised wonder in a boy/man’s eyes when it first occurs to him that I’m paying attention to him. I’m not even the most beautiful or desirable woman around but just the fact that I am listening to him and could it be – I like him? What’s worrying is that a lot of men never seem to get past that. That wonder takes on the quality of suspicion, fear even. And that’s part of what turns into slut-shaming, into cheating, into harassment or treating women badly. It’s the inability to handle any reaction from a woman but her derision or fear. Men who cannot deal with a woman’s appreciation or interest – is that not a poisonous problem?

I remember the deadend expression on his face, the frantic tone of his voice in the last moments as my dil-toot‘ed. I have seen it before on many men’s faces. I’ve assumed that it’s coldness, cruelty, selfishness and many other such things. But I’ve come to realise, this is something else. It is the outer limit of a man’s ability to feel, identify and express emotion.

Last week I watched Bramhan Naman, a disturbing movie by any account. It left me deeply sad because among other things, it exposes how woefully ill-equipped the Indian man is when it comes to dealing with the world of myriad emotions that make up the framework of relationships and adult life. In the movie (and echoed in real life) the verbose protagonist yearns for an intangible fantasy but can barely speak to the woman who spawns it. He treats professed, open affection with viciousness and is paralysed by his guilt and fear. When he encounters a woman with the right mix of attractiveness and vulnerability, he cannot bring himself to even respond, let alone initiate interest. So he settles for gestures like getting her food (the last), showing off his family business (the second) and stalking her (the first). These are the actions of a socially inept child, not a completely functioning adult. That adults with their freedom and power do this, is what makes it dangerous.

I complain long and hard about how Indian men (men in general but particularly, brutally Indian men) are infantilised and stunted in their emotional growth. This is what it looks like. They are barely functioning adults who are unable to deal with normal human emotions. Unable, not unwilling.

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This outer-limit expression comes after bewilderment and panic. It’s not even resignation since that requires an ability to see that something is bigger than oneself and experience giving up. It’s literally like a very small baby who has not developed sight yet, running into a wall and being stunned, unable to figure out whatwherewhyhowohisthispainshouldicryuhwhatwait. Most men live in that place the whole time they are in love or a relationship. Boy, that’s scary. Add to it such nuanced, problematic ideas such as guilt over sex, Madonna/whore syndromes, mama’s boy dependency and toxic masculinity. No wonder Indian men are such a mess.

I cannot help but feel deep pity for them. And then great sadness for us women and the kind of futile relationships we have to endure as a result. Is there any hope for us all?

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Scarlet Woman

I am in heartbreak.

It’s a crack down an old wound and it hasn’t festered so that’s good. But it still hurts.

It’s a lesson, I tell myself. I’m struggling to learn it, though. I started this year resolving to learn gentleness, be gentleness and already I have broken that twice. I have lashed out, I have let my words, my worst, most potent allies run ahead of me. And then I smashed it.

But I’m realising I’m Scarlett O’Hara pining for the virtues of Melanie Wilkes. Well, I’m not a character in a book set in whatever script has been laid out for me (please don’t talk to me about the frightful sequel). But for now, the way to gentleness seems to lead me further into my own raw, animalistic, volatile nature. I must embrace it, I must accept it. I must stop suppressing it or it will burst out again as it has these two times. And I cannot have that. Fire must be tempered.

There was goodness. I got to do things that I have been too cautious, too fearful to do for years. One notable thing was writing for him. The first time I ever wrote for another person was over a decade and a half ago, for the person who first told me my writing was special. He hurt me and then he turned my writing into a trophy Both hurt me in ways I could not articulate then, the second must worse. I never wrote for another person after that (or at least I’ve never let them know). But that’s limiting, isn’t it? Love, affection, pain, anger, rage, jealousy – each of these are colours to be expressed and my palette is screaming oil paint. I wrote something I really like. And I think the person it was written for, liked it too. Pretty sure he did. 🙂

Now, I realised most men cannot handle this. I think I burn most men out emotionally. At least the kind of men I’m drawn to, the brooding introverts, the shy thinkers, I imagine they have depth but even they don’t seem to have enough. Well, they are mostly paper and straw; they go so easily. Still, there is hope. Maybe this man was not meant to be the one hearing my words. If there are words created and a mind to build them then there must be the ears and heart to receive them too, somewhere in the world. Someday, I’ll meet someone who is warmed by my fire instead of being burnt by it.

Till then, bright red words will drop from my fingers and my lips for everyone and everything in this world. Because that is how I am.

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Poem For An Ex I May Have Told You About

I had a chance to get this off my chest last year. I’m so grateful for the stage giving me a chance to voice things that had been eating away my insides for too long. I’ve been silenced by well-meaning friends and others who are just inconvenienced by anything other than my smiling face.  I felt like I owed it to myself to get it out and start 2017 on a fresh note. Noting it here for posterity.

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Trials Of The Girl Who Reads

The Crush has given me a book. The question is to read or not to read?

What if it turns out to be like ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’? What if it’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hain? I crushed but I still found it problematic even back in the 90s. Oh, what a grave falling there will be! Men, please note. If you’re calling yourselves modern and telling us you like ‘smart women’, you’ve got to be careful about twice as many things. Keep your shoes (and teeth and other vital body parts) clean. Smell good. Even intelligent women have noses. AND please, for god’s sake, have good taste! There is nothing worse than a snob-slob unless it’s a well-dressed guy who says he enjoyed Amish Tripathi.

Via Book Riot | Facebook

Let’s come to the book. Goodreads and Amazon reviews offer some solace but I am a skeptic. Too many smooth-talking boys and too many well-written reviews of bad books, have me running to my Comfort reading shelf. I’ll take a well-thumbed copy of Harry Potter over all the fad ‘Best of 2016’ listicle books any day. At my age you cannot risk having your heart broken by yet another well-marketed book.

Besides 2017 has just begun and I’m still basking in the afterglow of ‘The Help’ (which I took 4 years to decide to buy, after enjoying the very excellent movie version).  I don’t give my affections easily. Not to a man and certainly not to a book (and you know which one can break my heart worse).

On the other hand, there’s the supreme Male Ego and how pandering to it becomes directly proportion to said male’s interest in one. How can I say I don’t want to read this book because what if it’s really horrible or worse still it sucks and I can’t deal with omghowdoessuchalovelylikesuchahorrid and then I have to block you and scrub my crush-organs with bleach to obliterate any memory of you? No, it’s a lot easier to say, “No thanks, I don’t drink coffee.”

Better to lose a man than the fantasy of him. I’ll have a (potentially bad) book to keep me company. But what if it turns out to be really, really good OMiGawdIKnewItWeShouldBeBookSoulmates and he’s gone? Sigh.

how many books do you want to read in 2017? my goal is 25 😌✨

A post shared by jen 👩🏻‍💻 (@myriadinklings) on

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I’m Looking For Love But Not Really

I haven’t been my prolific self of the past decade, in 2016 and I intend to change that. It’s not that I haven’t been sharing. I’m realising that I am the kind of being that needs to share. It feels good to let it out, to bleed in the open air. It feels good to care, unabashedly. 2016 brought me the opportunity to do that in a space that used to be inhabited by fear – the stage. 2016 allowed me to reclaim it and make it a place of power and acceptance. So I think this blog will forgive me for not being as present.

The year ended well. I loved, I spoke, I lost, I won, I drifted, I grew. Everything taught me something. Nothing broke me. Several things healed me in surprising ways.

There were men and boys. There were almost affections and fleeting intimacies. There was even Tinder, that went away without any burn marks.

Somebody threw out a, “You’re looking for LOVE” at me in a way that made it seem like an insult, an accusation even. Was I? Am I? Yes, yes I am. But not in the way the world understands love. Love is not committment. Love is not relationship. Love is not even relating. Love is not companionship. Love is not sex. Love is not duty. Love is not family. Love is not friendship.

I am looking for love in the way I experienced it when I was 20. So engulfed by it, it took my breath away. So consumed by it, I ceased to exist, the object of my affection ceased to exist. All that was, was a universe clouding, blinding, covering everything else in wild rush of colour.

I am looking for love the way it swirled into my life, possibly around the time I turned 16, though I’ll never really know, it was so insiduous. Love that curled its way into my being and wore the disguises of lust, friendship, combat and many other names.

It wasn’t him. It wasn’t about him. Maybe it was, a little bit. But mostly it was about who I was, who I was becoming and how quickly this was happening so ‘I am’ and ‘I’m becoming’ were both the same thing. It was the age, it was the universe at that very moment. Maybe it was the magic of the 90s. Maybe it was just love.

Love is more than an emotion. It’s that experience, that universe that settled over the planet I called home a decade and half ago. I thought it shattered when he broke me. But it left such tenacious fragments embedded in parts of me that I’ve bled everytime I’ve encountered one in the years. I’ve hated it, I’ve feared it.

And now I am ready for those pieces to knit themselves together. Or maybe a new universe to form itself around me. I know it did once so it could again. I can feel it, drawing from the fluid, strong nature that has become me.

I am looking for love, like the kind that is making me write this right now. Anytime now it’s here. Already.z87vi9zhlra-jason-briscoe

*Image via Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Relationship Status: Between Swipe Right & Made In Heaven

Welcome again to the Dating Guide! I feel like it’s time to bring it back. This time perhaps as Dating Thirty-Plus? Or perhaps, The Dating Millenial Part 2? Never mind the nomenclature. It has changed.

I’m dating again after the better part of a decade. Most of these years were wasted in a relationship, engagement and the aftermath of the break-up. A year or two before that was frittered away waiting for the world’s systems (social and technological) to catch up with my (and now, I realise many of my generation’s) needs. Some of the time since the break-up has been spent healing and relearning trust, humour and strength, all essential skills for the single person setting out to find a match.

What do we find here? The dating landscape of the noughties decade is acknowledged today (bravo, bravo India, we finally feel able to admit to it). Human relationships and their creation have gone digital (once again, cheers). We now have a clear picture drawn in line strokes. Black and white.

At one end, we find that matrimonial sites are now acceptable and mainstream. After all, our mums are today’s biggest Skype and Whatsapp users. So it’s possible to find Higher-educated, Attractive, Family loving, Travel-enjoying, Horoscope-matched, Career-aligned, Well-Recommended matches at the tap of a button.

Simultaneously, jostling for screenspace with the aforementioned are services that let you Swipe Right for Hells No, Swipe Up for In Your Dreams, Swipe Down for Sexchat But No Meeting and Swipe Left for Your Place or Mine?

Which side do I pick? Umm, neither. I spent my 20s deeply uncomfortable with the chauvinism of wedding rituals, protesting the patriarchial hold on relationships and being shocked by the gender disparities in the law about these. Marriage? Uh, wait a minute please. I now have names for those niggling worries. I have proof of terrible idea for these outdated social systems. And now justifiably, I’m freaked out by anyone whose life goal is to get married and approachs it with the same one-minded zeal as chasing a professional deadline. So, no thank you ShubhShaadi, TurantVivah, JeevanSaathiya. I think it takes a lot more than a matched horoscope, profile, three templatised messages and one conversation to guarantee a happy marriage. I don’t know what guarantees one to be fair, but these are definitely not enough.

At the other end is the icy-chillness of the space (ironically) named for fire-related paraphrenalia. I don’t get hookups, I don’t want hookups and I’m too old to lose my self-esteem over that. In my opinion, it takes far more effort to have only sex-no strings attached than to try and build a relationship. I’d rather stay home with a good book, my feet dry in this horrible weather and my body clean of all the nasty things that doing the nasty with someone you don’t quite know could acquire.Digital choices

I don’t believe I’m an exception or a misnomer. I am looking for meaningful relationships. Someone I can laugh with and talk about important things with. I want to feel cherished and desired, but not in the flashy, Instagrammable romantic gesture way. I want to care about how someone’s day was rather than critique and optimise their itenerary. I think these are the stuff of life itself and just like life, don’t follow rigid schedules and previously agreed upon boundaries. I want a connection, not the Terms & Conditions document of Tinder nor the 30 year merger plan of Shaadi.

I want to think that this is true of most human beings because how can it not be? This is the driving need of every generation for centuries. I know that there is an entire generation of Indians just like myself. I think perhaps the ones venturing out into the digital space are just louder and even they are probably being cautious. It’s easier to navigate a straight line drawing; much harder to explore the grey that relationship-building is, especially if one has been bruised in the past.

It makes the dating game as tricky as it has always been. When I connect with a person, how do I say please don’t treat me like a piece of meat because I won’t treat you that way but also please don’t think I’m your Manic Pixie Dream Girl answer to all your problems just stop and breathe and give me a chance to be me and you a chance to be you and let’s see if maybe you and I could have a conversation and a walk together and see where that goes?

No, there’s no easy way to say all that. The Tinder types have lost interest at ‘please’ itself (rudeness is considered cool, isn’t it?). The Shaadi sort has lost their hearts because the English is correctly spelt.

Sigh. Patience. Maybe the next decade will be better for the grey zone of those looking for love.

*Images courtesy David Castillo Dominicio and sattva on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

There’s No Sane Way To Grieve

I was watching Sex and The City (the first movie). This story with all its flaws and shortcomings, served as a reference point for my early feminism and navigating gender politics and relationships. I saw the film when it first released in 2008 with the mild boredom and indulgent disdain of someone who knows she has outgrown an early affection. I saw the movie a few times again in the later years but it was tainted by my opinion of the second film. I swore off, relegating Carrie (whom I never liked that much) into the bin of my cringeworthy-taste-in-my-younger-years bin. All I saw was the whitewashing, the self-absorption and the deep flaws in the central character. But today, today I saw her pain. And it brought back my own.

My wedding ended, quite the same way as Carrie Bradshaw’s. After years of toiling and struggling and stiff-upper-lipping, just when I was ready to believe that I was getting my dreams, it shattered. It was abrupt, cruel and deeply humiliating. And it ground me down in a way that I couldn’t ever imagine I’d be ground down. It has been over four years since that happened.

The first thing that struck me, stung me, was the fact that Carrie Bradshaw had a rock-solid fortress of her friends that she could retreat into and let herself shatter. I did not have that. I had a family that took me back, yes. I have lived with feeling immense gratitude for that. After all, I am part of a culture where daughters are killed by their own parents, in the womb, at birth and even as adults to protect their honour. My family did not do that. But they do not think that a ‘relationship’ is the same thing as a marriage. They believe a breakup is a silly, minor thing, not to be compared to the devastation of divorce. I do not blame them. They’ve gone far beyond what their generation and our culture has taught them.

But my friends and everyone else around me? That’s a whole well of pain. Time and again, over four years I’ve heard various versions of,

“Who cares about him? Forget him.”

“But you are a strong woman. Get over it.”

“Snap out. You’ve got a great life ahead of you. Live it.”

I have been shamed for being upset. I have been judged for wanting to hide. My anguish has been brushed aside in favour of shopping expeditions, party plans. And I’ve been logicked to prove that I must not feel anything.

I am so angry.

Last week I spoke to Xion after several months. And he told me he would always be grateful to my ex for pointing out that I cared about him. Am I supposed to applaud my ex for pointing out the obvious? Is he to be deified for ‘not saying anything bad’ about me? I didn’t cheat on him. I did not gaslight him, abuse him. I did not curb his friendships, his art. I did not ask for dowry. How does his behaviour get compared with mine, when our provocations have been so different?

For my own sanity, I’m learning to walk away from the terrible relationship that I fell into and struggled and sank in. But I have not been able to get past the profound sense of betrayal I feel from people who were around me then and should have been my support. Why not? After all, I’ve been there for each of them. I’ve not thrown ‘tough love’ at them. I’ve not tried to jolly them out of their breakups, their familial problems, their health issues, just because it’s inconvenient to me. I’ve listened, been as gentle as possible. Why do I not deserve the same?

And what is this ‘Strong Woman’ business? My ex threw it at me all the time as a way to shrug off any responsibility towards treating me nicely, being on my side in front of the world or even doing his share. This tells me that the people I thought were my friends, are not different. It’s not convenient to them, to have me down and out.

Four months after my ex threw me out, without warning, without even the courtesy of an explanation, I was on my feet. I had a job. I went and made new friends, found new interests. I didn’t go to pieces or burst into tears at the drop of a hat. A year later, the pain started to ooze out as I watched my ex exploit what he put me through, into a glorification exercise for himself. I crumbled and tried in vain to patch the leaks, with Landmark Forum, with new friendships, with Tinder, anything. And still, my friends said,

“This is so undignified. Get over it.”

I buried myself in work, created a new dream and made it happen. I made new friends, developed new interests. And again the pain crept out, staining my writing, my interactions. And again,

“You are so negative. Look at him, he doesn’t even care. Why are you wasting your time?”

Last year, my insides just collapsed and all that was left was a hollow darkness. I lost my way, lost myself, just lost track of what light looked like. Reema and Adi stood by me, wading into the muck of my emotional gutters and carrying me out when they could.

I ran into my ex unexpectedly last month. It was strange. I didn’t feel a thing. The person in my memories, the monster who ravaged my universe, has nothing to do with the person who walks around by the same name. It was heartening. My ticket out. Validation of the thought I’ve clung to since 2012 that I would not, will not let this horrible experience become my identity. I refuse to settle into the label of the jilted woman, the abuse survivor, the damaged abla nari.

So it was a shock when I found myself reduced to tears today, watching an old, not-even-that-good movie. Reema lit a candle inside my crying. She told me it was okay to feel pain. She told me that this wasn’t about wanting to get back with a bad ex; it was about processing grief. And she said, that takes its own time.

We are in a culture that only allows for grief processing in certain circumstances and for specific situations. If I had been married and my spouse had died, I would have been allowed to grieve for years. If I had let myself descend into fits of crying, into broken fear, I would have been petted and cared for. But because I refused to let this defeat me, because I took it head-on, the people around me decided that my pain was not worthy of their compassion. Adi says most people find other people’s pain inconvenient and that makes them behave like douches.

Well. I’ve spent the day crying, then speaking to Reema, then putting my cupboard in order, speaking to Adi, doing my chores, doing my work, speaking to Reema, eating an icecream, speaking to Adi. I am still walking, still writing. A little compassion did not hurt either of them to give but it took me a long way.

I suddenly feel no guilt, no doubt anymore about letting go of pretty much everyone from my past. My pre-2012 world let me down, very badly. I deserve better – people who can stand through my pain as well as my joyful affections. And people who do not punish me for breaking down suddenly.

Pain, it demands to be felt. And there really is no sane way to grieve. I’m just glad it’s finally happening. There will be a morning after that and perhaps that one will have more kindness.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Shame In My Belly: Body Image & The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Of the many wars a woman fights, body image issues are some of the hardest to tackle. Because they’re always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of one’s mind.

I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don’t fit. Do I believe it’s harder because of this? After all, I’m not large, I’m not small, I’m not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don’t we?

I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. Add a layer of shame and another of silence to deep-seated complexes. Imagine a perfect well-shaped pot with a tiny hole in one side. That’s what body image is like. All the compliments, all the validation leaks out of that one part of one’s body that doesn’t fit. And that one part of you that feels imperfect becomes a clogged drain, lined with shame, resentment, fear and sadness. In my case, that place is right in the centre of me, in my stomach.

I have never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It has stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. I’ve been advised to give up eating rice, cold water, dairy products after sunset, fried foods. Nothing works.

I do want to say that nobody has ever shamed me for my stomach. Among all the insults and attacks that came my way, the stomach never featured. If anything a boy long ago called it ‘cute’, another one said it could make a guy feel better about himself knowing that I wasn’t a perfect marble statue and recently a friend called it ‘Madhuri Dixit chic’. While these compliments made me laugh and glow with pleasure, at some level I did not really buy into them. I just shrugged them off as affection for me/crab mentality/funny kink. My relationship with my body is tightly locked away inside my cells. It’s hard to see yourself the way others see you.

11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego.

Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to ‘hide my flaws’. I experiment a lot more with clothes now but I instinctively gravitate to looks that emphasize the things about my appearance, that are permitted to be called beautiful. Most days now, I don’t even remember my dragon tattoo.

But this Monday, I took out this top that’s been lying unused for nearly three years. It’s short and because it ties at the back, it (in my head) emphasises how rounded my stomach is. The words that form in my mind when I usually see myself this way are PODGY, UNHEALTHY, CHUBBY, FLABBY and that dreaded euphemism – MUFFIN TOP. Truly, I do understand what body image issues sound like inside one’s head.

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I draped on a trenchcoat over as a security blanket and travelled, my head held high, the body language I assume when I’m faking it till I make it. Then I met Neha and we stopped for a bathroom detour before proceeding. I ruefully and reluctantly stared at my stomach in the mirror in the ladies’ toilet and said,

“It’s not umm….flat.”

Neha didn’t laugh at me (like people often do when I admit to feeling uncomfortable). She didn’t tell me I didn’t have the right to feel diffident about my looks (again, like a LOT of people like to tell me). She just said,

“You know, most women don’t have flat stomachs.”

We spoke briefly about adolescent fears and things that we battled growing up. I mean really briefly, because it was just the time it took to climb one staircase. Maybe it was because it came from a woman as glamorous as she is. Maybe because she didn’t look at me any differently for having an unflat stomach. Maybe because she didn’t judge me for worrying about something as stupid as that. Maybe it was just because she was kind. But I felt a surge of courage go through me. Sometimes you need people to believe that it’s okay for you to be scared, to stop being scared. My dragon awoke again.

And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach.

Of the many wars I fight, body image issues are among the hardest to tackle. Because they're always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of my mind. I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don't fit. Do I believe it's harder because of this? After all, I'm not large, I'm not small, I'm not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don't we? I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. I've never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It's stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. Eventually, I gave up. 11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego. Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to 'hide my flaws'. Most days now, I don't even remember my dragon tattoo. But this Monday, I took out this top that's been lying unused for nearly three years. I draped on a coat over it for a security blanket. But @pwneha said something that gave me courage. And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach. So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete. Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the picture! #body #selfesteem #bodyimage #bodyissues #bodylove

A post shared by Ramya Pandyan (@ideasmithy) on

So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete.

Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the pictures! And thank you, Neha.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Why I Returned To Tinder After Being Burnt

Jab Tinder And I First Met

I first got onto Tinder in early 2014, when it was new to India. So little was known about it then that I didn’t even realise its reputation as a hookup app. You see, I’m one of those few people that keeps up to date on what’s cutting edge in India, not what was fashionable last month in Los Angeles or London.

It was a horrendous experience. Two people I met, acted as if sex was an agreed upon deliverable and like I was a defaulting small business owner. Yes, exactly as businesslike as that. They were both MBAs from top universities and their behaviour was the kind we usually attribute to ‘low education, underdeveloped social conditions, poor exposure, regressive social customs’. There was talk about no strings attached sex and open relationships but no notion of consent or respect. These were the two I met.

Then there were the married men. Men I knew to be in committed relationships, but who had no compulsions hitting on me when they saw me on Tinder. There were rabid messages. The guy who asked, “What kind of a woman is on Tinder anyway?” The ‘wanna sex’, ‘send nudes’ messages that are practically memes now but were new to me then. Shaken, I added one line to my bio that I wasn’t looking for hookups. The matches dried up instantly. Then a friend found my profile and demanded to know what ‘use’ I was to the platform if I wasn’t offering up sex. He poured an onslaught of hate messages at me till I blocked him. And then I deleted the app and swore off.

This is the Indian man I’ve encountered and learnt to be wary of.

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*Images courtesy David Castillo Dominicio and sattva on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Life Since TinderBurn

I’ve given Tinder a wide berth since then. But I’ve dabbled with some of the other upcoming dating and match apps. Most of them see very little activity. I struggle to connect with the few people I do see there. And it’s frankly depressing to think that men my age are so devoid of looks, language, social skills, hobbies or literally ANYTHING that could hold my interest. The

Then it occurred to me that I was looking in the wrong places. Any kind of matching activity is a game of statistics – the greater the base size, the higher the chance of finding something of interest, if not value.

A recent revelation was that Shaadi.com (and similar matrimonial sites) were no different. I say revelation, because back in the early 2000s, I was on those sites as well, a combination of a ‘marriageble age’ and a very techno-savvy family. I met quite a few people. No one really clicked but we either stayed friends or just moved on in not unpleasant ways. It’s a strange feeling to discover that a space that you were an early entrant into, has turned into a cesspool. Well, I can’t complain, that’s true of Twitter as well.

Getting With The Hookup Generation

Maybe the problem is not Tinder or any one platform. Maybe it is a behavioural trend across our generation. I guess ‘the hookup culture’ is a real thing, not just what decripit old people say about the younger generation. But I don’t think our generation necessarily enjoys it either.

I’m coming to believe that most of us have very simple needs. We all want to find someone that feels comfortable and comforting. We want to be with someone that likes us and who we like too. While many of us are distracted by the glitzy allure of variety, anyone who has actually lived this life will attest to how tiring it is. Human beings are exhausting. Who has the energy to keep drawing boundaries? This is the channel-surfing of relationships and it’s just as unsatisfactory with people as it is with TV programs.

Yet, we do it because we can’t remember how not to. We’ve bought into the belief that somehow this keeps us safe from the (admittedly horrible) danger of heartbreak. When the problem is a generational one, shutting it out means shutting out the whole world.

Strike A Match, Swipe Right

I’ve been hearing slightly better things about Tinder, from both male and female friends. I figured that this where the numbers were going. And Tinder’s mutual match access might be some sort of protective measure. So over two years and much dithering later, I signed up again.

I had forgotten how good Tinder is for a woman’s ego. Everyone I swiped right on, matched with me almost instantly. 😊 Some of them were even Super Like (which in all fairne2016-09-13-17-43-29ss may just mean there are still way fewer women than men here). I also saw more than one man’s profile that categorically stated ‘not looking for hookups’. The cynic in me thinks that’s just a lot of men’s way to get women to swipe right. Even if that’s so, it indicates an acknowledgement of what a woman may want and that’s the start of consent.

And finally, Tinder is the first and only place so far where it’s possible to reject a man. In real life, say NO and men get defensive, nasty and frankly scary. Everywhere else on the internet, displeasing a man (even by saying ‘No thank you’) means a woman can expect a disproportionate amount of hate. But on Tinder it’s as easy as swiping left and hopefully one never has to think about it again because the men don’t know.

Twenty-four hours in, I will say that it feels a lot like Turbo Speed Dating. Swipe left, right, chat up, unmatch, juggle – these require a degree of concentrated energy that I may not be able to sustain for long. But that’s okay. Socialising is high octane energy and I’m fine as long as there’s a protective shield.

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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