I was at dinner with three male friends yesterday. We were at a tiny, local restaurant known more for its cheap, tasty food than its ambience or refinement. All around us were people in groups talking, laughing and eating. The proprieter sat at one of the tables counting money while the waiters buzzed in and out of the kitchen door, mingling their words with the diners’ conversations. The place was so tiny, that we could practically hear the rumbling of stomachs from nearby tables. Yes, that kind of place.
I only became conscious of it about half an hour into the meal. The friend who was wedged in next to me would keep going,
“Shh! Shh! Softer! Don’t talk so loudly!”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I have a loud voice and a personality to match and when I’m excited, it tends to rise. In addition, I live in a very noisy part of a very crowded city. Most of my conversations have to be conducted at a high volume just to cut across whatever cacaphony the restaurant/cafe deems is ambience music, the bandwidth my phone service provider is able to give me at peak hours and horns blaring on roads where one’s importance is expressed by how loud and often you can honk. Wait. I don’t need to explain. I’m loud. Period.
His relentless shushing had its effect and I fell silent for a bit. It is like being slapped hard on the face everytime someone turns to you and tells you (politely) to SHUT UP. And the noise around me immediately crowded in to cover any possible space that had opened up by my falling silent. That’s when I realised it. The others at the table were talking just as loudly. The people at other tables were talking loudly too. We could even hear the horns from outside. But I was the only one being made to shut up.
It took me back to many, many years ago. I had a boyfriend/friend who was a lot like me — gregarious, popular, enjoying attention and revelling in it. He was fun to be around. He said I was fun too. But when we started dating, something new came up in our conversations. It was the word SHHHH, alternated only by SHUT UP. It even led to some truly terrible fights.
Fast forward memory. A friend telling me that I should wear more muted colours, and oh, lower your voice please, it is considered very ill-bred to speak so loudly.
And finally back to present where I realised that the man who had asked me to SHHH had gone silent. I realised he didn’t have a lot to say. But he wouldn’t let me speak either. I tried again, this time a bit more watchful. Entering conversations, starting one with the person sitting across. And there, as I had anticipated, it came again.
“SHHH!!!! Everyone is looking at us!!”
“Where?” I asked him, “Who is looking at us? Who can hear us in this bedlam?”
He fumbled at that, obviously taken aback as he realised we weren’t sitting in the Queen’s court. Before he could come up with an answer, one of the other men added,
“THE OTHERS ARE LOUDER THAN WE ARE!”
Our man nodded but offered up a feeble,
“But…if someone complains…?”
Now here is the thing. I don’t like being apologetic for my existance. I find it hard to respect people who are apologetic for theirs. And it’s infuriating for someone to be apologetic on my behalf. It is obnoxious and degrading.
I don’t think this man any more than the boy I dated all those years ago, realises he is doing this. I chalk it down to yet another one of those sins men commit against women, while talking loudly about how much they respect women — mansplaining, interrupting, gaslighting and just not taking us seriously. Shutting women down is yet another of those things that men seem to do instinctively in our culture, without realising they’re doing it. This man is a nice guy and my friend. But he did not dare to or care to shut down any of the others at our table or at the other tables. The guy I dated had no qualms being the OTT foghorn himself but he had a big problem with his girlfriend being the same.
I am not arguing for obnoxious behaviour. I am displeased when a stranger complains or asks me to be quiet because I’m disturbing them in a public place. But I apologize and comply with their request. Because that’s a stranger and in a place like a library, bookshop or a movie, I have no call disturbing them. But shutting me down in a raucous environment, especially when the same muffling isn’t happening on the men around, is not acceptable.
I am a woman with an opinion and a loud voice. I don’t feel the need to apologize for that. And if it embarasses a man, he probably has no business hanging around me.
Empowerment begins with taking responsibility for yourself. Reema points out some common misconceptions around women and fitness regimes. If you’re a woman, take charge of your body. It has been your prison for so long. It’s high time you make it your personal vehicle into a better life.
1. Get yourself a gynaecologist you trust. You probably already have a trusted hair-stylist. This is just as important, if not more. Visit them for routine check-ups (and not just pregnancy scares or UTIs). Ask them how you can care for your body better. There is a reason there’s an entire branch of medicine devoted entirely to women’s bodies. Use it.
2. Monitor your menstrual cycle. This doesn’t just mean knowing when your next period should happen but also tracking how your moods, your energy levels, your blood pressure and your blood sugar fluctuate during the month and during the period. PMS is a real thing but if you know your body’s downtimes and special-requirement phases, you’ll be able to plan and work accordingly.
3. For the love of whatever God you believe in, if you are sexually active, use protection. The consequences of unprotected sex and all the so-called solutions are too horrific for you to put your body through. Emergency contraceptives are harmful if used often. Sex without condoms can spread STDs (not to mention pregnancy). You’d treat your car nicely, even if it was second-hand. Why settle for less with your own body?
4. Eat right. Nutritionists, doctors and the Internet exist for good reason. I won’t preach about smoking, drinking or drugs, if you enjoy those. But remember your own body is a factory that produces potent, mood-altering chemicals. Be prudent about mixing intoxicants (see point 2.)
5. Find a fitness regime that matches your body type, your schedule and lifestyle. I’ve tried yoga, aerobics, swimming and the gym and I find my body’s needs have changed and evolved over the years. Exercise in some form has always helped, not just to keep me slim and flexible but also sane and grounded (endorphins, watay drug!). A body that is kept physically active enough to balance out its 18-hour mental activity, is better looking and more productive.
Remember that women’s bodies go through many more changes and far more dramatically through the course of our lives than men’s bodies. We also live lives of greater pressures and scrutiny than our male counterparts. Keep yourself prepared to meet the challenges of being a woman, by having a healthy female body.
I’m a vain peacock in the most obvious way possible.
I love my hair. Unlike skin and other organs, it has never given me reason for worry. It’s straight, silky and has stayed black longer than most of my peers. It echoes my personality remarkably well (distinctive, shiny, healthy). It’s malleable to all my commands. So I’ve had several different hairstyles over the years.
As with most things about my personality, my hair preferences wage war with popular notions. Most Indian men like long hair. This preference is less about aesthetics and more about conformity to the Indian demure little woman kind of beauty. It also fits the Saadgi concept. I’m always surprised by the fear women show in trying out a new shorter hairstyle. So what if it doesn’t look as good? It’s hair, I say, dead cells, it’ll grow out soon enough. I know because I have gone short and lived to tell the tale. And I prefer short hair. It’s fun, low maintenance and lends itself to more variation than long hair.
Here’s something I got from watching America’s Next Top Model: Short hair and/or completely slicked back hair shows confidence because a person can’t rely on wild hair to mask facial blemishes or imperfections. The TV show Glee pointed out the distraction value of hair in an episode titled ‘Hairography‘. Given my dark skin, most people probably think I should be hiding behind long tresses that at least fit the popular standard of beauty. And why not? Hair’s primary use in beauty tactics, is as a concealing device or distraction measure. It is never celebrated for itself.
Anyway, earlier this month, I decided single or otherwise, I wasn’t going to use my hair as bait to trap men. If a man liked me, he’d have to like me with whatever hair (or not!) I had. Besides, it’s part of my body. I don’t think anybody, let alone an unknown man from the distant future should have any say in what I do with it. So I went under the scissors. And I’m very, very excited with the result! I don’t know if I’m more or less or just as attractive to members of the opposite sex but it doesn’t matter. Not in that angry I-don’t-care-about-what-men-think way but in that I’m happy because I’m doing something that delights me. Look at me fab!
Fun fact: I got my hair chopped off at Mad O Wot, which run by Sapna Bhavnani. Look at what she posted on Instagram a little later! :-D
Let me start with this bromance joke that absolutely cracked me up:
Do guys in a bromance get each other flower
“Dude, here I got you some broses”
“Oh man bro, you read my mind I got you some daffodudes”
I’m in a bromance. It’s with another woman. No, we are not BFFs. We are not almost-sisters. I loathe these terms and I’m pretty certain she does too. I don’t need to ask her that. I assume, reasonably confident that my assumption is right and also that I don’t overstep when I assume.
We are not lesbians. She’s happily married (to a man) and I’m actively single. We’ve each been these things long before we even knew each other. We haven’t known each other that long so no, this isn’t one of those chaddi-buddy things either. We do not talk everyday or fill each other in on every last detail of our full lives.
We took an instant liking to each other at our first meeting. We ‘get’ each other and we also get that the other one gets us without the explanations, caveats and defenses that need to come up with other people. This is true whether we’re talking about digital marketing, lipstick, books, astrology or family.
Each of us has dozens of friends, shared and otherwise. We’ve hung out in groups and we don’t stick to each other on those occasions. But yes, most other people realise we’re closer to each other than we are to most of the others — that knowing nod or nanosecond eyecontact that signals ‘this is bullshit’ passes easily between us.
So what makes this a bromance rather than a regular friendship between women? Well, for starters, there is no such thing as a ‘regular’ friendship. Especially not between women who are the more emotionally expressive and collaborative, relationship-building gender. Yet, associations between women are laden with as many labels as there are for women. The bitchy besties, the babe and the ugly friend, the two peas in a pod, the ‘married to each other on Facebook’ types, the Veronica and the Betty, the girlfriends, the list goes on. I’ve been in some of these relationships and I know she’s not any of them.
What’s a bromance? It’s a close association between two men, much closer than their usual friendships. It also acquires the pseudo-romantic tag since this is a pair that is comfortable being public about their closeness to each other. Notably bromances are usually between straight men who are not otherwise known to be very expressive in their sentiments, especially to other men.
Other than the fact that neither of us is male, we fit all those criteria. She’s more my ‘bro’ than any of the other labels. We’re both macho girls in some way, turning our noses up at the princessy kinds of women. It’s not quite kosher for us to be sappy. Yet, it feels totally okay to get her an impromptu gift or to receive an unexpected ‘Random hug because I miss you!’ from her.
Women frequently ‘explain’ their relationship with other women in conversation. It’s usually, “You know my best friend was telling me” and “Rita, my office buddy was saying” or “I borrowed my younger sister’s dress. I notice myself dropping her name in conversations with other people without bothering to explain. It’s not really easy to explain and to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it till now. Isn’t that rather bromantic too, a closeness that just happens without your planning it and that you can take for granted (without taking the other person for granted)? This is something traditional female friendships rarely do. Ergo, we have a bromance.
Yes, let me be the first to admit that I’m the kind of feminist that enjoys yanking things away from the traditionally male bastion and going “ME TOO! NOW I’M GONNA HAVE ONE TOO!”
Now I’m off to get her some of those broses.
I picked out a book by one of my favorite authors. I have all her other books and each of them has been lovingly thumbed through at least 5 or 6 times each. Every single one except this one. It usually gets missed because it’s a bigger size than the others, an unwieldy hardbound edition size but with a paperback cover. So, it has to get jammed against the side of the bookshelf, away from its natural place along with the others by the author. Why do publishers like torturing us?
The first time time I read the book though, I didn’t like what it did to me. Which is not to say that I didn’t like it. One of the main characters spends a long part of the story being tormented by an abusive, manipulative man. It was torturous to read because it relived my own nightmare of 2002. The lies, the subtle put-downs, the unwillingness to acknowledge the relationship to friends, the indirect questions to friends about other boyfriends when the back was turned, the withholding of approval, the taunts, the backhanded compliments, the jealousy. Everything was so familiar it made me want to throw up several times through the book. Such is the power of a good story, when it forces you to face things in your own life.
I picked up the book around three years later again, knowing that I had been avoiding it for this reason and determined to make my peace with it. It wasn’t any easier the second time round. I decided that it really wasn’t a great book anyway. After that however, I chanced upon another book by the same author and devoured it. And then I was hooked and in quick succession I went through all her other books, discovering my favorites and setting aside the one that I didn’t like all that much. This last one gave me an uncomfortable twinge because it made it clear to me what a book I didn’t really like was like and it reminded me that I was avoiding the first book for other reasons altogether.
I’ve managed to ignore that feeling for good while. Life has brought its share of dramatic highs and lows and I have managed to keep myself sane without tipping over into any vices like alcohol, smoking, drugs, random sex or overspending. Some of it comes from not trying to escape but some of it also comes from not deliberately picking at old wounds.
And now, ten years after the book came to me, I find myself in need of comfort reading again. Marian Keyes features prominently on this list, along with JK Rowling, Kamila Shamsie, PG Wodehouse, Neil Gaiman (only The Sandman!) and Fables (the graphic novels). I sift through my book collection and rearrange them for the order that I’ll want to read them in the next few days. I only notice Last Chance Saloon when I am putting it back. The neat pile of Marian Keyes’ books – the entire Walsh family series as well as standalones looked like something was missing. Last Chance Saloon with its larger-than-normal size, its slightly browner page edges and lavender cover – you can imagine the extent of my escapism that I didn’t even notice it as it was lying on my table a few minutes ago.
I frown, considering. I was really looking forward to Anybody Out There? which is one of my two favourite Marian Keyes books except I know by now that it needs an appetiser before starting. Rachel’s Holiday which is my other favourite, has just been devoured and is being put away at the bottom until my next comfort-reading need. But this time was a bit different. Rachel’s Holiday is the book that showed me the inside of an escapist’s head. It stayed with me when I went through the difficult relationship, whispering what I knew about addiction as I lived through betrayal, neglect, lies and fights over excessive gaming. It gave me some balance even if it didn’t ease the heartache when it helped me realise that I was in relationship with someone who was refusing to deal with adult realities. This was the first time I was reading Rachel’s Holiday since then. In all my readings so far, I’ve only related to Rachel even if I never fell into addictive substance abuse. I could relate to the fear, the confusion and the desperate chasing after anything that would make the pain go away. Maybe a lot of my bad relationships came from the same place that addicts addiction does. But this time round, I could relate to Luke, to Brigit and even Mammy Walsh. There’s only one thing worse than living the damaged life of an addict and that’s living the life of someone who loves one. Needless to say, reading the book was an intense experience this time round, in a different way.
I look back to the large book on my table. I’ve not even wanted to touch it since I realised which book it is. My abusive relationship of 2002 is an old festering wound that comes back to haunt me in dark times even now. My more recent bad relationship of 2011 – I can’t say that that is worse or better. Two different men, both damaged and flawed, both hurt me intensely in very different ways. But with the second, I was older and more aware of my need to heal and how I could. I have been. Still, my hand stays clear of the book.
Then I take a deep breath and let myself open up to the memory of this book. It was a gift from her. She always loved reading what I thought of as trashy romances. One day, she handed me this book and said,
“Read this. I think you’ll like it.”
I did read it. I am nothing if not dutiful and obedient to the people I love. And she was my best friend. I felt sucker-punched by the book when I read it, like it left gaping holes inside me. When I handed it back to her a few days later, she said,
“It’s for you. Keep it.”
She must have known. Of course she did. She was always perceptive. And she’s the only one who knew the extent of my abusive relationship.
This makes it harder for me to even look at the book. I cut her out of my life in January this year. I still haven’t had a chance to process everything I feel about that though my reasons are crystal clear. It feels too soon. My way of dealing with things is usually to go numb when stuff happens and only pick up the terrible memories much later to deal with them emotionally. That’s why my poetry, my breakdowns and my terrible choices happen much after something awful has happened. But, maybe that’s my way of escaping and it’s not doing me any favors. Besides, I’m not as young as I once was and maybe I don’t have the luxury of prolonging my problems as I once used to.
Surprisingly, my hands don’t even shake as I shut my bookshelf and pick up Last Chance Saloon. Wish me luck. A storm is coming.