Dark Girls Have All The Fun

Last week I was at a Body Shop outlet. Two women were waiting at the counter. I walked up to join the queue and smiled at them. Both of them looked me over — my short hair, the lipstick swatches on my left wrist, my minidress and they turned their faces away. I might not have noticed it. But my attention was momentarily captured by a gloss on the shelf on the side. I bent down to examine it, then changed my mind and straightened up immediately. I turned just in time to catch them both eyeing me curiously. They turned their eyes away immediately.

Fifteen minutes later, I was at a coffeeshop and the same two women came up behind me at the counter. Their reactions were exactly the same. Looking away or right through me as if I were invisible. But at least twice I caught them staring at me with a curious expression of disbelief and what? Awe? Resentment? Anger? Wonder? I know I’m not imagining it because I had a friend with me who wondered why they were behaving so oddly. They behaved differently with her — the vague half-smile one gives strangers in shops followed by casual indifference, only stopping to make way for other people but with no eye contact.

It struck me when I watched ‘Queen’ — the character of Vijaylakshmi (played by Lisa Haydon) in her glorious rejection of the Indian stereotype of womanhood. I only caught the obvious things in the first viewing — her smoking, drinking, open sex life and single parenthood. The second time though, I caught something so obvious, I was stunned that I had missed it. How could I have missed the fact that Vijaylakshmi is a dark-skinned diva? It’s the ultimate rejection of everything India believes about women — that we should aspire to be attractive sex objects and that there is only one definition of attractiveness.

Rani’s shock, fear, then awe and finally respect for Vijaylakshmi was a richer story when I realised this. Rani is the kind of girl who has grown up being awarded brownie (sorry, pun-haters) points for fitting that stereotype. It would be inconceivable for her that a woman like Vijayalakshmi exists, is not just unperturbed by it but actually proud and happy about the way she is.

If you think that might be taking things a bit far, look at another role where Lisa Haydon does pretty much the same thing to the protagonist (except the princess there doesn’t have Rani’s strength to grow). Aisha’s pampered princess is jarred by the presence of Arati, who owns her caramel skin even better than the rest of Delhi high society wears their Prada and Gucci.

What stands out about both Vijaylakshmi and Arati’s characters? It’s not just the fact that they are dark-skinned girls. It’s the fact that they wear their skin with pride, not defensiveness or fear. Neither character acts as if she needs to apologise for having extra melanin. They don’t hide behind the dull browns and maroons that get assigned to dark skins as ‘best suited for this complexion’.

How many dark skinned women do you see wearing shorts, singlets or backless dresses? How many of them have short cropped hair? How many wear colours like neon pink, bright orange or parrot green? In short, how many dark skinned women do we see in India who are comfortable enough to wear their skin and not hide it behind cloth, hair or drab colours?

I don’t have any facts and figures for that but I am a dark skinned woman. I do all of the above and I get noticed more because of it than because I’m striking in any other way. Fair skinned women often react to me in one of the two above ways — either with secret admiration growing to respect or with undisguised resentment. In the instance that I mentioned at the start of the post, both those women were milky white. My friend is what we call ‘fair skinned’ too. I was wearing a pair of bright yellow shoes, maroon shorts and a singlet. I also had on my trademark blazing lipstick and short, cropped hair. None of these speak of a woman who feels like she has to hide her physicality. I imagine that comes as a big suprise to most people.

I didn’t grow up being told I was nice-looking. I often got told how my dark skin was a liability. It still gets told to me, by beauticians, by fashion bloggers, by Bollywood songs that deify the ‘gori’, by fairness cream advertisements, by distant family members, by an ex-boyfriend, by well-meaning friends who suggest that I quit swimming. At some point of time, I realised nobody was every going to think of me as beautiful. But I had to live with my own body  and see my face in the mirror every damn day. I couldn’t live with hating that for the rest of my life so I decided that I’d learn to see myself as beautiful. And I did. Now I find I’m past the outrage of being discriminated against for my skin colour. I know I look good. I feel it in my head. I just know with utmost certainty that something looks good on me because it looks good to me. Everyone else’s opinion is just that. But I realise that this self-knowledge scares a lot of other people. Their cruel words and angry gestures come from a place of fear and that’s something I have to pity. It can’t be easy living your life inside an constricting view, then discovering that someone who doesn’t do that but looks happier than you feel.

I’ve discovered a secret and there’s no going back on knowledge. Instead of fewer colours ‘suiting me’ as the beauty magazines say, I think a lot more of them do. Colours that usually get called ‘outrageous’ don’t jump off my skin like they are plastic/amoeboid life forms. My unfashionable skin colour carries vivid violet, bubblegum pink and Fanta orange in exactly the same way as it does muted browns and maroons. This is great for someone who enjoys colour the way I do — like the company of a close friend. And finally, this knowledge gives me the confidence to wear what I like, which I believe is the only real ingredient there is to looking good. I think this knowledge was for me, a breaking free of one of the invisible boundaries society places on women’s bodies & minds. There’s nothing but freedom beyond that.

collage_20150429153040488_20150429153145043

Me and my love of colour

If you’re a dark skinned woman, lock away your browns, maroons and greys and pick up a tomato red, a sunshine yellow, a tangerine or a neon green. I dare you. You’ll thank me when you join the party of dark divas laughing at everyone else who is conforming. I think I’m beginning to understand Arati’s cool composure and Vijayalakshmi’s laughing nonchalence. Dark girls really do have all the fun.

In The Last Chance Saloon

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.

Anybody Out There 51exLoliN0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

LCSThis 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.

 

Why I’m Not Protesting The #IndiasDaughter Ban

I woke up to find Twitter screaming about a new ban. This has been a week of outraging about bans, the last one being the ban on the production & possession of calf, cow and bullock meat, better know as #BeefBan. Today’s outrage was over the Indian government banning the BBC India documentary about the 2012 Nirbhaya rape. Much had been getting made over the fact that it included an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the rapists.

My first instinct might have been to cry ‘Down with the ban!’ given we’re rapidly becoming a country that bans things for reasons that seem unjust, biased and regressive. But something held me back, possibly a couple of conversations I had earlier this week. So this is what I posted to Facebook this morning. I’ve spent the day defending this stance, trawling through the sewage of male bullying online (#NAMALT, regionalist abuse, patriarchal statements etc). I’ve had heated conversations with people, mostly outside this country whose stance sounds convenient and armchair philosopher style apathetic. I’ve debated with friends and peers within this country who hold other viewpoints. And I’m so worn down by this.

Three hours after I stopped watching the Twitter streams, I still can’t stop the ringing in my ears that says WE FAILED HER. WE FAIL WOMEN. THIS COULD HAVE BEEN ME. THIS COULD BE ME. I’m going to say no more. Here goes –

I don’t think the ‘India’s Daughter’ film should be available for viewing. True, this is censorship and as a writer, I should oppose that.

But this is a country where politicians say women should not be given mobile phones, where godmen decree that eating chowmein leads to rape, where girls who were raped & hung, are accused of enticing the perpetrators. We prove time and again, that we are a culture that hates women with a passion that surpasses all logic and justice.

We are also the same country where hundreds of young men drew lit matchsticks across their tongues, in blind imitation of a fictitious character in a Bollywood movie.

Rape culture & misogyny are deeply embedded in our psyche. I think this documentary will be seen for what it is, by a few who already think that way, so it’s just preaching to the converted. For the rest, I think it will only humanize a monster and glorify his actions. I fear to think of what a world of me-toos will look like.

Can’t you just see the average boy on the road thinking, “Usne to saaf bola, girls deserve this for going out after 9″? I can.

Edit: I found the actual documentary as well as number of excerpts & analysis about it on Youtube. Take a look down the comments there to see how India responds. It’s sickening.

Edit 2: Watched the whole documentary. Utterly sickened. First by reliving the incident and then realising that the entire video is just one long ‪#‎PovertyPorn‬ saga. It doesn’t present any new facts, needlessly highlights tear-jerker sequences around the rapists and offers no real value except repeating the dysfunctional mindset of this country. Watch it if you enjoy real life tragedies being exploited for a privileged audience’s entertainment.

You’ll find plenty of material about why the ban should be lifted. Here’s just one more voice that matches what I had to say and this time, it comes from a man: A Short Rant On The Longest Known Evil.

The Game – Neil Strauss: Negging & Begging

I first heard about ‘The Game’ by Neil Strauss on one of the American sitcoms (5:30–5:59). And then in another. Always the mocking tone, always in the context of battle-of-the-sexes jokes. It piqued my curiosity and ignoring the raging negative feedback online, I bought the book. I told myself that it would be good research into the psyche of the kind of man I need to avoid.

51S6+Vw3yGLThe Game is written in an autobiographical style by Neil Strauss who claims to have stumbled onto an underground society of pick-up artists, while researching a story. He then goes undercover and becomes one of them, seemingly to explore the world from within. Very quickly, he (now called ‘Style’) rises to one of the ‘top guys’ in the community and began conducting workshops and mentoring other aspiring pick-up artists. The book does not actually provide a logical how-to for men but rambles on like a travellers’ journal in a foreign world. This was my first clue. What does it say about the author if he’s claims to be a star in a world that he’s constantly trying to detach himself from?

Very quickly the book’s protagonist is identified and formed, one Mystery, self-styled pick-up guru. In truth, this character is needy, diffident, emotionally stunted and unable to function without constant mollycoddling either by a girlfriend or Strauss/Style himself. There is neither any evidence within the plotline, of Mystery’s abilities nor any explanation for his supposed successes with women. He dresses like a buffoon, opens conversations with inanities and spends much of the book throwing tantrums, being depressed or making a fool of himself in public. This was my second clue. Is Mystery based on a real person or is an alter ego of Strauss himself? Fight Club flashback, anybody? Nah, Strauss does not have Palahniuk’s flair.

Just as the mutual male whining begins to get to the reader, an occasional female pops up, having been waylaid with a whole gamut of performing monkey style tricks and ridiculous lines. A couple of these tricks seem intelligent enough, from the most manipulative point of view. ‘Negging’ or paying a woman a backhanded compliment/insult to throw her off and have her seek validation from you, is probably the most famous of these and the one that made it into pop culture references. But for most part, the pick-up artists’ so-called art appears to be nothing but a series of actions that scream “Please, please, please pay attention to me. If you don’t, the other boys will make fun of me!” They may as well have called the book ‘A little negging, a lot of begging’

And just as abruptly the story swings into a ridiculous fantasy called Project Hollywood, a mansion whose sole function appears to be to host parties overrun by beautiful women and alcohol. How they manage to set this up and realise this is not very well explained but its descent into seediness is well-chronicled. Magically, Strauss/Style himself meets the Perfect Woman (intelligent, beautiful, smart, vulnerable etc.). Her perfectness only comes from the fact that she changes character every couple of pages to suit whatever revelations he is having. There, clue three. Who here believes that this woman is real?

The book ends with the ‘bad guys’ getting their comeuppance from the tax collectors, other competitors being vanquished by their women leaving them, Mystery himself narrowly escaping his doomed fate and Strauss/Style jetting off into the sunset with the Perfect Woman. Hoo boy, if this is what male fantasies are like, no wonder so many of them are so angry all the time.

Read The Game if you:
– enjoy female fantasies of vampires & werewolves and have read all the available books around them
– want to to throw in ‘The Game’ references to sneer at men who trying negging
– are concerned the pick-up artists are intelligent, powerful men who may take over the world (you’ll sleep better after reading ‘The Game’)

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —  — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —  — — —

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.

Buzzfeed’s Imaan Sheikh & Rape Culture

A few years ago, I dated someone who got a lot of attention for his loud views on women’s rights, gay rights and child abuse. He also frequently said things like ‘faggotty shit’ and ‘Don’t be such a vagina’ and ‘stop PMSing all over the place’. When I pointed out these fallacies, he called me uncool because I didn’t get it. And when I pressed on, he insisted that joking about something reduced its sting.

This afternoon, Imaan Sheikh (Buzzfeed’s current darling) got into a conversation on Twitter. I’ve been a fan of her take on popular Bollywood. But this screenshot of her tweets from 2012 stopped me dead in my tracks. It made me want to throw up.

I tweeted about this tagging her and she replied. Here is the conversation we had.

Let’s talk about rape humour. Rape is an act of extreme brutality and violence carried on women in systematic and fully-supported ways, in every part of the world. It is aimed at and usually succeeds in leaving a woman stripped of health, self-esteem, dignity, emotional stability and security. Rape culture is all the conversations, rituals and social practices that simultaneously encourages the propagators and demonises the victims. Joking about rape makes it exactly that — a joke. It trivialises the victim’s trauma, minimises all the work being done to overturn it and permits propagators & supporters to go along in the notion that their actions are ‘cool’ or okay.

Now let’s look at Imaan Sheikh. I got the distinct impression that I was being indulged the way a troublesome but not quite trolley minion would be, on Twitter. Imaan’s attitude to the whole thing seemed to be “What that again? Aren’t you guys over it? How uncool of you. Still, I will deign to respond because you know, you guys do read my stuff.”

All of us have things in our past we aren’t thrilled about. But aren’t there degrees to even what parts of that can be brushed away as ‘I was young and stupid’? I cannot imagine rape humour ever being okay, especially when propagated by an educated, savvy woman.

This last because, the onus of standing for women’s rights falls to us even more than it does to other factions of society. Women on the internet, especially highly influential ones, enjoy the kind of freedom that is a privilege, not a basic right for most women. These women also inevitably become role models for younger women and prototypes for the image of strong women. What does it say about strong, influential women when one of them supports rape culture?

I’m afraid Imaan, this is one of those massive blunders that you are going to have to keep apologising for, for the rest of your life. I hope this happens because if it doesn’t, it means our world continues to believe that rape is a minor infraction. And that is not going to be a good world for either you or I to live in, Imaan.

#SixWordStories: February 13th

Happy anniversary, lover.
Happy anniversary, liar.

roses

Baby Invisible: On Sex, Emotional boundaries & Identity

Sex is a complex act to share with another human being — in action, in thought and then, in words. I find it has gotten easier to talk about it the more I’ve done so. In writing too it gets easier the more I write though the words come awkwardly when they do. And finally, in performance poetry, the kind of open vulnerability and authentic sharing that it demands — I haven’t been able to do that. Until now.

This piece originated in a workshop over a month ago. Since then it has shifted in form and in idea. My feelings have swirled and changed and doubled back as they do on things that are that internal. But also because of the conversations that this piece has provoked, when I shared it with friends, male and female. Conversations on performance, on poetry, on the relationships between men and women, on sex, pleasure, love, pain, resignation, defeat and emotional barriers.

I spent today in an awful state of mind. I was running low on sleep having spent the night talking to my favorite aunt who had dropped into town to meet me. Then I awoke to the news of a death in the family of close friend. And finally, just thinking about this piece all day kept me in a state of quivering, confused, dark confusion. I finally decided that this was the best possible starting point for me emotionally to perform this particular piece (writers are such masochists). So here it is, from the Poetry Open Mic at the Hive, Bandra.

*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 Don’t Want To Be A Mother

Last year I went to see the gynacologist. I was 35, an age I’d heard was when precautionary tests would need to start being taken. I asked her what were all the things I needed to know from now on. She talked about breast examination, about cervical cancer vaccinations, about calcium supplements, about hormone fluctuations. She pointed out that I was now closer to menopause than I was to the start of my first period. And then she asked me what I thought about freezing my eggs.

I’ve had a lot of complicated thoughts on parenthood since then. I still don’t have a real decision. But writing helps me pull out difficult emotions and examine them. So here it is.

I decided I would not bear children, quite early in my life. I had seen a lot of ways in which parenthood served as a cover-up for monsterliness. I did not have the confidence that I would not succumb to the same monstering. Violence, manipulation, disrespect, deliberate humiliation, bullying, abuse — yes, these are things that parents routinely do to children. In this country, parents, especially mothers are deified to a point where there is no question of holding them accountable for the very important job they do. In addition, the wards (the prisoners? the victims?) are too young to know their rights and are uniquely trapped at the sole mercy of their guardians’ actions. I did not want to even risk being a part of this scenario, in the position of power that I might abuse just like so many other ‘normal’ people I know.

Through the years, the several unhappy and quasi-abusive relationships I’ve been in, have suppressed my right to an opinion on this matter. Social pressures already condemn me for being unmarried at my age. Imagine how horrific they’ll get if I also say I’m voluntarily bowing out of parenthood? So I kept my thoughts to myself. One idea that I have spoken about, to my partner when we were in a close relationship, was adoption. I had an entirely foolproof explanation for this:

  • We are a dangerously overpopulated planet. This impacts each of us INDIVIDUALLY. We’re fighting for the same jobs, the same food, the same money, the same space, the same right to power. To add one more is just sheer irresponsibility.
  • Many, many thousands of children over the world go hungry, homeless and/or lack education or even a basic safe environment to grow up in. If even one of those lives could be given a better chance, I would feel like I was giving back for the privilege that I’ve received.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also managed to turn the ticking biological clock into a supporting argument. Why risk a health hazard to me and to the child because of my age, when plenty of readymade human being without homes were available to adopt?

I’ve managed to keep this decision at bay too. I have been single for the better part of my life. I know single parents and their children who have turned out wonderfully. But if possible, I think a child deserves at least a chance at two parents. Parenthood is too great a responsibility and the consequences of going wrong, too grave to bear. I do not want to take this on, without a partner.

Today, I’m in a quandry of sorts. I am coming to realise the full impact of being an Indian woman. In all these years, I have not known ONE single man that I can count on to stay responsible after a length of time. I know plenty of earnest, intelligent men who want to think of themselves as feminists, activists and thought leaders. They probably are. For men, that is. But we live in a culture that meticulously, systematically discourages men from taking responsibility for their actions. They are coddled all their lives, disappointment is kept as far away as possible, their shortcomings are blamed on others (women) or even celebrated. I hesitate to call them overgrown children because children do not have the physical strength and the social influence that adult Indian men do. And more often than not, this strength and influence is used against women, either unconsciously because the man picks his own agenda or deliberately, to please people (his mother or his friends). In sum, I do not trust an Indian man to be an equal, reliable partner for an important undertaking. Parenting? Ha!

How about the egg-freezing then? I’ve grown increasingly independent over the years and it is possible that in some time, I will feel self-reliant enough to not need a partner. This is a logical possibility, not one that I can actually imagine. But hypothetically if that were to happen, it would be good to have the option, wouldn’t it?

This is what I realised. A lot of the times I’ve managed to get my way out of default. I managed to not stay in an abusive relationship because he got bored and ended the engagement. I had no choice or power to voice my dissent. I managed to not be packaged off and sold to the lowest bidder in the marriage market because there weren’t eligible prospects for my particular geography/education/age/ethnic background at that time. These did not happen because I was able to fight all odds and establish my stand.

Given this, I fear that a time will come when other people will decide that they want a baby popping out of me that I will be expected to care for. If the option to have that baby still exists, my opinion will not stand, will be overruled, cajoled, forced and hammered away. I think it’s easier that I just let the eggs die out of their own accord, isn’t it?

And finally, what if I do get pregnant in between now and before my body stops being capable of it? I will have either a boy or a girl or a trans baby.

A trans-baby? I stand for equal rights for every human being. But the world doesn’t. The only human being to be treated worse than a woman is a trans person in this country. Children live danger-fraught, complex lives anyway. I do not want to think about what it must be like for a child born with a body that popular science is unable to categorize.

A girl? You already know the answer to that. I hate being a woman in this country, I hated being a girl. I live my life like I imagine prisoners of war do. With resentment, with fragile strands of hope that is constantly being dashed and with growing despair.

A boy. No. Indian men are mama’s boys. This is that bizarre description that’s cutesy and demented both at once. Mama’s boys are big, burly men who watch quietly as their families ill-treat their wives, then yawn and change the TV channel. Mama’s boys are important executives who cheat, lie and break engagements and marriages at will because their mothers said it was okay. Mama’s boys are monsters and their mothers are the monster-makers. This is probably because most Indian mothers are so deprived of actual respect and true affection that they manipulate the one human being they have control over, to turn him into a perpetual source of their own power. And I am an Indian woman. No. I don’t know how strong I will be once a baby spurts out of me. I will not take the risk of becoming another monster-maker.

So, by a combination of consistently bad experiences, social pressures and depressing observations I come to the default conclusion that I do not want to even consider being a mother.

And here is a much more balanced view of the same decision by a friend.

————————————————————————————————-——————————————————

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.

Out On Singles Town

Out On Singles Town

Something interesting that happened to me in 2014 was meeting two different guys and deciding NOT to pursue relationships with them. I remember an Ally McBeal episode (does anybody even remember that show?) where she says,

“I don’t actually date, not for the fun of it. I audition potential husbands and if I don’t see any potential, I don’t waste my time.”

This is what I spent my 20s doing. I may have missed out on a few good men but I definitely missed a whole lot of fun. Fun, dating should be that. It’s about meeting a new person, about getting to know them, doing fun things with them and maybe chasing a dream of something nicer. I enjoy all of those things. The trouble with this husband-audition business is that it becomes too much like a work goal and when that happens, fun is the first one to exit the door.

This is not about random hook-ups. I am not that person. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing random about my interest. I value my time and mindspace so why would I want to throw it away on people who actively do not want to matter? The real fun of people is when they are being people with their unrealistic hopes, their politically incorrect desires, their lovable vulnerabilities and their unpredictable flaws. I’m looking for people to experience, not cucumbers.

I’ve done the girlfriending thing several times over and the till-death-do-us-part style partner once (and that probably was ENOUGH). Being the female half of a comitted couple is not fun. It’s about having to put yourself and your relationship into limited roles and explanations that everyone feels able to digest. In my experience, it has been about stifling boredom and disappointment, pretending public approval is enough to make up for squelched fantasies, dealing with neglect and taking-for-granted, trying to live up to ideals of Independent Fabulous Perfect Indian Woman and never pleasing anybody else. Oneself? Ha! Where is there space for me? Nobody wants to know that there is a ME under all those roles and restrictions.

Complaints aside, maybe there is a solution. After I hit 30 and especially after my engagement ended, the pressure to commit to one man has eased. This does have a lot to do with most of those pressuremongers giving up on me. Their snide comments have not just dropped, I’ve become invisible to them. That’s okay. Because beyond their judgemental, oppressive gazes, there is a whole world beyond.

This world is called Singles Town. It’s got good health and glowing skin from waking up early after a good night’s sleep. It’s got turning in early or spending a weekend tucked away with a book. It’s also got daring makeup, on-the-whim clothing and shopping sprees with girlfriends. And yes, it has men. Men who find their attention captivated, who want to have conversations, who want to impress, who want to hear what I’m saying.

These are not bad men. They are not even necessarily the kind of limited men I’ve dated before. They are intelligent, independent, smart and fun. When I stopped mentally measuring their appropriateness, their compatibility with me, their fit with my social circle and a million other things, I discovered how much fun they could be. 2014 has been a year of some very, very fun dates and conversations that went nowhere. And so what? They were fun.

Of the two men, one of them turned mean and the other went flaky after I said thank you but no thank you. Well, they were only human. I think it would have been a lot harder for me to accept these flaws in them, if I had started off thinking of them as potential longterm partners. Instead, because I approached each one just as a new person, it felt a lot easier to let them grow into who they would be in my life. This is such a new notion for me! I didn’t even realise I had the ability to not jump at a man offering commitment, as if he were my last chance at a happy life. To any of you who think I deserve your pity, ask yourself if you feel you would be able to do that? Hmm, I thought so. Well, saying NO to what might have been everlasting happiness, because I want to see if there are other kinds of happiness — that’s a kind of freedom that’s worth more to me.

Yes, I have to worry about my own safety each time I’m out. Yes, I don’t have anyone to care about my health and well-being (well, come to think of it, none of the men I dated ever did, even while I was with them; most Indian men, not trained to think about someone other than themselves, I think). Yes, I don’t know what the future holds for me. But you know what? I wouldn’t know what it did, even if I were in a committed relationship. People lie, they fall out of love, they weaken, they cheat, they die. All kinds of things happen that a commitment cannot insure you from. I’d rather not live my life under a mushroom, fearing storms and floods.

MeMaybe I will regret this. But I don’t think so. I see no point in regretting doing something that seemed like a good idea at the time. That’s the only reason I don’t regret sticking to the straight and narrow through my 20s. That’s what appeared to make sense then. Life is such a mixed bag of tricks coming at you, there isn’t much sense you can make of it, except post facto anyway.

Commitment in all the forms I see around me is limiting. I haven’t yet gotten to a place where I can envision a comittment model that gives me the same inspiration, freedom and joy about the next minute, that being solo does. And what’s more, I know even if it exists, it will need a lot of work and effort to build and sustain. I think I’ve worked really hard for all my adult life at this and I deserve a break.

2015, Singles Town, here I come!

————————————————————————————————-

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 Was A Manic Pixie Dream Girl

freshly-pressed-circle*This post was featured on WordPress Freshly Pressed picks on March 27, 2015.

Remember when I wrote that I felt like a character in someone else’s coming-of-age story? I was only scratching the surface with that. I’ve been long intrigued by a stock character in popular fiction – the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. For the non-literary of mind, this is a female character that is quirky, bubbly and helps the male protagonist grow from his limited state to a more liberated, mature place. She is immensely likeable and for awhile, it’s easy to confuse her for independent. It’s just that she is such a PERSONALITY, you tend to think of it as a strong one.

MPDG

*Image via Reluctant Femme

It turns out I’ve been a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in many of my relationships with men in the past 10-odd years. No man who has been around me in this time would accuse me of being boring. Even the most hostile of them will admit that things tend to be exciting, in flux and unpredictable when I’m around. I’ve challenged their beliefs, railed against their ways of being and blurred more boundaries than most people do in their turbulent teen years. The nicer ones among them will admit to being charmed and even changed for the better because of my presence in their lives. The others would probably roll their eyes and thank their stars its over. I don’t tend to get moderate reactions. Collage Who I am draws from and defines who I draw to me. I thought I was breaking a pattern by moving to younger men, these past four years. But it turns out, I’ve stayed true to the pattern. Twenty-something men have had enough experiences to know the worries of the world. They are also not wise enough to have made their peace with them or found ways to address them in a way that doesn’t disrupt other things in their lives (health, family, society etc). That’s the exact target audience for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She intrigues them because she is quirky (and not just pretty in that shiny object way) and unpredictable. Plus she is flawed enough to not intimidate their still fragile sense of masculinity. I suppose the other choice I had among the pop culture/fiction archetype pantheon was the Child-Woman. MPDG seems like a more nuanced character with only a few flecks of the immature, broken child-woman. So it was Manic Pixie Dream Girl then. I still like how colourful and vibrant that title sounds (not to mention verbose). So what’s the problem? I thought I was a boring kid and if there was a way to send a message back to that depressed little girl I was, I’d say,

“Mission accomplished! Boringness slayed. Achievement unlocked!”

Men talk

*Image via SparkNotes

But I’m not a little girl anymore desperately needing to prove something. And there is something terribly limiting about a stock character, especially a supporting one. Because Manic Pixie Dream Girl, make no mistake, is a supporting character in a man’s story. She is boxed and she has no real story of her own. She exists in a permanent state of desperate chaos, which draws men like flies to her but doesn’t do her many favours in the form of stability or happiness. Men eventually tire of her or grow away from her (Here’s a man who tells his tale using the MPDG lexicon: ‘Uh honey, that’s not your line‘). Even the creator of this title, Nathan Rabin, has tired of her (here’s his apology to the world for coining the phrase Manic Pixie Dream Girl). It occurred to me over a sandwich today (yes, how random, how MPDG of me) that perhaps the reason I was drawing exclusively younger men these days was not only because they were the only single ones around. Perhaps it was because I was being exactly one kind of girl that twenty-something men found themselves drawn to. There’s nothing wrong with twenty-something men, of course. The MPDG character draws a very specific kind of man and story. The men can think but they’re yet to gain mastery over emotion. They are also at a peculiarly specific kind of self-centered place in their lives, having gotten ahead of themselves and tasting responsibility for the first time. They do not have the ability to deal with a complex human being over a length of time, especially what MPDG would be, if she was a real person (which I am). The story that plays out – inevitably – is the same one. The sudden struck-by-lightening style attraction, the broad gestures and lavish promises, the unimaginably magical conversations, the sudden crashes, the melodramatic outbursts and the inevitable sugar crashes. Been there, so much done that. I so hope I’m over it.

rating_chart-600x450

*Image via TheFrisky

Before you go all people-don’t-change on me, let me tell you, yes, they do. We are constantly evolving creatures and this is extremely superficial, social behaviour that I’m talking about. That doesn’t determine me anymore than the colour of the pyjamas I wear to bed. I do have control over the kind of character I project. I can modify this without curbing any of my  natural spontaneity. I’m pretty sure it’s possible to express who I am fully, without limiting it to bite-sized quirk pieces that equally limited men can digest. I just have to figure out how to do this, especially considering the men and I are both so used to the familiar storyline, we fall into it by default.

405c755d77769392dcf26175446040c3

*Image via HVNG

I am not terribly alarmed at discovering that I’ve been unconsciously mirroring a fiction character type. After all, I am woefully short of role models. Besides, I’d rather follow ideas than real people with their limitations and flaws. Ideas can be modified or discarded more easily. Sigh, yes, that’s another very Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing to say. But MPDG is as limiting in real life as it is in fiction. I don’t want to be only seen that way. And I’d like to be seen by more people than the ones that this character was created to make happy. I have very little idea who I am going to be beyond my MPDG persona but identifying the box should be the first way out of it. Besides 2015 is a bare few days away. What better new year resolution than to be a different, new ME? Me I found several other pieces by women about throwing off Manic Pixie Dream Girldom:

ELIZABETHTOWN

*Image via Salon

Note: If you are intrigued by how stock characters can mirror our ways of being, go to TV Tropes to find others. If you find yourself relating to one of them, post a comment here telling me which one. It’ll make for a fun conversation!

Update: A reader took this thought and drew a more comprehensive parallel between her life and other TV Tropes. Here’s Rae M.Meadows’ post.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,168 other followers

%d bloggers like this: