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.”
“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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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.
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
So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete.
Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the pictures! And thank you, Neha.
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A strange thing happened. I only noticed it recently but I think it began several months ago. Back in the summer, at an event, some people thought that Adi and I were dating. I knew a couple of them slightly so I was surprised they didn’t know I was single. I put it down to the overhormonal college canteen-type atmosphere at the time where everyone is crushing on someone or about to break up or about to fall in love or something equally melodramatic. A couple of weeks later, I was having coffee with one of them and he couldn’t believe that Adi and I were ‘just friends’. What does that even mean? As if friendship is a trivial relationship, (such a redundant assumption in our current times of urban families).
“You guys seem so close!”
We are, I assured him, but why would that mean we had to be dating? I don’t think he really believed me but I put it down to his having been a nerd most of his life and marrying a family friend early in life (by his own admission). Maybe the concept of close friendships between men and women that were just that, was new to him.
But I was alarmed when a friend of a few years wondered if I had ever dated Adi or had had a crush on him or currently had a crush on him. No, No, NO, I said, why is this even a question? Just think about it then, she said. It made me want to scream. If this is not a thing, maybe it is never going to be a thing. I’m a pretty intelligent person and so is Adi and if we aren’t a couple, maybe that’s by design. Being in a relationship is not such an obscure idea that it couldn’t have occured to at least one of us in the eight years we’ve known each other. And finally I hit the panic button when two close friends mentioned it on my birthday.
I spoke to Adi about this and he’s as mystified as I am. I am one of his many close female friends. Apparently in the last year, he has been subjected to similar questions about us. He’s stumped by this, having never had to deal with this his whole life. He reckons it’s about (his) turning 30 and everyone else’s need to couple the world up neatly.
For my part, I’ve seen this through college and to some extent in my 20s. The latter came from concerned family that wanted to see me ‘settled’ in the traditional sense of the term. I understand that the relationship references for their generation are different from mine so it never bothered me. But I can’t fathom how people in my generation are choosing to make these mistaken associations. Have the generations regressed again to a time when a friendship between a man and a woman can’t help but devolve into sex and romance? ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ and ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya‘ both came out nearly 30 years ago and it’s a poor call if we’ve gone back to the kya-ek-ladka-aur-ladki-dost-ho-sakte-hain mindset.
I find this deeply unsettling. First of all, it makes it clear to me just how much peer pressure probably goes into making romantic relationships. What is the value of a relationship that you get into because your friends & family think it’s a good idea? Suddenly, in all the popular narratives around me (namely movies, both Hollywood and Bollywood), all I can see is the tug-of-war of two people’s denial and the rest of the world coaxing/forcing/manipulating them into being with each other. Cupid may look cute in paintings but his real life manifestations are just plain annoying. I have never needed the world to push me into reaching for what I want. If I like somebody, logic, wisdom, good sense be damned and anyone who has known me for a few years should know that. Adi is the same.
“How do you know??”
comes the infuriating question. Should I explain exactly when, where, how many times and in what words Adi and I have reached that understanding about each other? What is this thought that one knows better what’s good for two people than they do themselves?
“But what if he’s not telling you how he really feels?”
which is when I’m ready to burst a blood vessel. This assumption is so ridiculous and so disrespectful. A less adamant person or a weaker relationship might allow doubt to come into their interaction, at this stage. And that really, really bothers me. People who ask you questions like these wear smug, holier-than-thou expressions like they’re doing you a favour when what they are doing, is poisoning your existing friendship.
Secondly, it is such a judgemental, limited view of human relationships. Admittedly most people don’t think that much about other people but these are friends and close ones we’re talking about. It’s a bit hurtful that these folks would rather slam us into convenient, superficial boxes than deal with the reality that every relationship, just like every human being, is unique and follows its own narrative.
Adi summed it up in his less angry but still very dramatic way when he said,
“A relationship is something two people build together. You and I have built this, over the years. And we like it the way it is. It’s like we’ve built a museum, exactly how we want it. And the others keep trying to get us to turn it into a house. I mean why??!”
So dear world, it’s great that you’re so interested in other people but how about allowing them to live out their own fairytales the way they like and you focus on getting your own right?
Doing the hipster thing with my bestie @adityabidikar #friend #friends #fun #TagsForLikes.com #funny #love #instagood #igers #friendship #party #chill #happy #cute #photooftheday #live #forever #smile #bff #bf #gf #best #bestfriend #lovethem #bestfriends #goodfriends #besties #awesome #memories #goodtimes #goodtime
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Earlier this month, I tweeted the following:
“More and more it becomes obvious that testosterone and machismo are the biggest problems this world faces. Can we just ban men?”
The reactions I received proved my point and make me firmly NOT apologetic for it. Personal attacks. Rape threats. Attack threats. Abuses. Trolling. It went on for over four days.
One woman badgered me about the sexism (tweets deleted now) and said I was as bad as the men I had complained about earlier, who indulged in casual sexism. When I tweeted later about the attacks coming my way, she called it ‘convenient victimisation‘.
Men who did not attack me badgered me to ‘prove’ that these were rape threats. I was asked how I felt about women drivers. They demanded that I prove these were attacks.
Two male friends got involved and how? By talking down to me, by mansplaining and by telling me not to attack all men. One of them unfollowed me when I retailiated. Another one posted a sly complaining tweet and has not bothered to have a conversation even after I’ve reached out. Why really should I care about men and what they feel? Because if I don’t, I’ll be punished over and over again.
Four people reached out, on the phone. That’s it.Not one of the causes and people I’ve supported over the years said a word. Everyone else continued tweeting as per usual, outraging about the fashionable causes and intellectualising about movie censorship, women’s rights and comedy.
I felt an immense sense of betrayal and shame for days. Why do I want to stand up for the cause of women when they won’t support me but actively take part in attacking me? Why should I support gay rights, transgender rights, environmental activists, social change drivers when not a single one of them gives a f&*( about my safety? I’m just a number to add to their support figures.
I am so disappointed in the world. And every time I express this, I get versions of ‘But why are you so hard on men?’ and ‘Not all men are like that’ and ‘Arre, you are just unlucky. Ignore the trolls, na.’
I don’t have a way to end this post because I don’t want to spew curses on the world I’m superstitious enough to believe that all of it will only rebound on me and well, do I really need any more problems? I’m already a prisoner of a lifetime sentence of being a woman with a voice. No further punishment, please. I’ll learn to STFU eventually.
Update: The trolls have followed me to this blog. What kind of a farce allows people to call themselves feminists while also harassing a woman who said something that men didn’t like?
Update 2: Over a month since the original incident happened, I am still getting slammed for that tweet (see some of the comments to this post itself). It just makes men SO angry doesn’t it, that a woman refuses to apologize for saying something they don’t like? To be clear, I’m not denying that the tweet was sexist. But reverse the genders in my tweet and you have the kind of things that get said often but rarely called out. How is men’s needless aggression any superior to women’s (so-called) hysteric reactions?
Today is World Menstrual Health Day. I wonder if they chose the 28th of this month because of the 28 days that are a cycle average. Well, there is certainly a lot to be said about menstrual health and I think I do a lot of talking (and writing) about it already. But it appears to fall to the few of us to keep it going. So, if you are a woman or if you truly care about at least one woman in your life, think about what this means and contribute to the conversations.
There are a lot of myths around menstrual health. My favorite ones (to poke holes into, that is) are:
1. Menstrual blood is dirty! Heh, Adhyayan Suman anyone? Witchcraft and evil galore. Well, no. Menstrual blood is not shit or urine. It’s not ‘dirty’ in that way. If anything, menstrual blood is the raw material that makes up a human being. It’s what would have been left of you, had your daddy’s sperm not fertilized your mummy’s egg. It’s no more dirty than you are.
2. Menstrual health is about getting your period on time. How cute. That’s like saying a movie is about the two hours that you see it on screen. The female reproductive system is intricately organised (entirely internally). It is also self-regulating and self-cleaning. And it involves a lot of hormones, their production and their dispensation. Hormones are chemical and anything chemical is complex and involves hundreds of things that could potentially have concern areas. Honour the most important system in your body, ladies and know it.
3. Gynacologists are to be visited when you’re pregnant or when you’re about to get married. Really. And you should probably see an eye specialist when you’ve completely lost your eyesight. Look at point 2 and think about whether it makes sense to assume that everything is okay until something is drastically different?
I don’t want to talk about any further myths because most of them have to do with social beliefs rather than scientific facts. I’ve also created two videos that may be of interest, while on this.
The first is the unboxing of a new menstrual cup. Reema has decided to try a different brand, given they all come in varying sizes and shapes. I’m considering a new one myself, after the somewhat decent experience I’ve had with SilkyCup. This is the She Cup and the video shows what it looks like and what else the package contains.
The second is the unboxing of a parcel from CossetBox. They’re a new service catering to women on their period days. Take a look at the magnificent box they sent me to try out. It contains a lot more than the usual suspects of sanitary napkins and chocolate.
All these are commercial products but they cater to women’s health and it is in all our interest to talk about them. It’ll be a fine day when we can discuss menstrual cups, vaginal wipes (not ‘intimate wipes’) and female condoms with the same unblinking confidence with which we speak of shoes and lipstick. Happy World Menstrual Health Day, ladies!
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I wore a saree to a poetry event today. Unlike the last time, it was a rushed drape of an unstarched cotton. I look like an amma. But I was on my way to a new poetry event. And I thought it would be nice to do gentle romantic piece. But on the train, there were three women who were travelling with an adult height male being. When I protested his presence in the ladies compartment, they abused me. The last time I tweeted a picture of such a male creature in the ladies compartment, I got abused by women on Twitter. It made me mad enough to bring out my vitriol from last week. Truly, mothers/sisters of men in this country have to be the most irresponsible, self-absorbed, cussed group ever. My deepest derision is saved for you. Here’s Mother’s Day, performed at Kulture Shop.
When I finished, I felt somewhat incensed. This country is what it is. And as a bona fide uterus carrier, I will live the rest of my life with men hanging their insecurities on me and blaming me for it. Where I can, I will shoulder that burden womanfully (yes, what is manfully? that to me, just means in a weak, undependable and entitled manner). So here’s something that I do do well – offer comfort and solace. Lullaby for your listening pleasure.
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I haven’t written in awhile, a whole month and nearly a half, in fact. I haven’t felt enough in love with the opposite sex, with my own gender identity or with the world to express an opinion on it. April was very hard, full of difficult lessons that I’ll write about when I’ve had time to sort them out in my mind.
And in the meantime, one continues to keep breathing. And with this one, the best of those breaths speak poetry aloud, even if they’re all fiction. Here are two pieces I performed recently, both of which are entirely fictitious. I’ve never had anyone that I felt enough hope with, to ride through an unglamorous season 2 with. That is the crux of the piece that I call ‘Patchwork Relationship’. Considering the response it usually gets, I imagine that enough of other people have felt this. I guess a writer’s job is to hold a mirror up to humanity, even if they can’t see themselves in it.
By the way, the night I performed this, I was very, very sick. I threw up several times before I went up on stage. And after I came back home, I spent the night dry-heaving, too weak to stand. I thought it was possible I wouldn’t make it through the night and that I might choke on my puke. As it turned out, I didn’t. The performance is the only time that stands out in that day as shining clear, feeling one with the universe and okay with life. The stage is my second blog now. I feel like the true me up there and like everything else is an act I’m putting on. Even when what I’m performing is entirely fictitious.
The second piece is one I wrote and read out at the Hive’s Great Indian Poetry Challenge. You’re given a prompt and one hour to come up with an original poem. My prompt was ‘Wrong Time’. A new friend observed that I usually wrote ranty, angry, feminist poetry and he challenged/suggested/coaxed me to try something different. And he was just so sweet about it that I wanted to go along. So here I am, fictioning it up again with ‘Wrong Time’. For fact, this is probably how my two steady relationships went – my holding up the glory and sparkle and magic above the mundanity that each man was trying to force upon me. I lost in both cases but the memory remains. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to do that again for any other human being (two is quite enough pounds of flesh that the universe has extracted from me, don’t you think?). Now I’m a writer, so I can make shameless use of all of it in poetry.
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