Monthly Archives: October 2014

Why LGBT Rights Are Also A Women’s Issue

Today opened with this news coming up on my timeline.

Sec 377 slapped on Infosys techie after wife catches his gay acts on spycam

Now where do I start on this? I can see enough of people going “Look how Section 377 helped this women get justice against her cheating husband!” Is that really true?

A gay person should not have married a straight person. It began a relationship on the premise of a lie. And he continued being involved with other people after he was married, constituting cheating. Real justice would have been if he was punished for his sins of lying and cheating.

But section 377 doesn’t punish lying or cheating. It criminalizes acts of sex that are deemed unnatural. Which means if the husband had been sleeping with other women instead of with men, this case would not have worked. This is about punishing the man for being gay, not for lying and cheating on his wife. Is the latter a lesser crime in the eyes of the law then? Is it even seen as a problem?

The woman says her in-laws blamed her for their ‘perfect’ son not being attracted to her. If the spycam had shown him sleeping with other women, wouldn’t this chauvinistic opinion have continued? ‘He went elsewhere because you weren’t good enough for him’ would have been the refrain. Thus, woman-shaming for the man’s faults.

If the law is inadequately equipped to address an issue, should it erroneously use something else to punish the perpetrator? For one the inadequacy remains. Secondly, it facilitates other wrongful convictions. And finally, in this case, it only sustains the idea that a straight man is perfect and everything else is someone else’s fault. That ‘someone else’ in most cases is usually the woman closest to him.

Discrimination hurts everyone, not just the discriminated against. This story shows how LGBT issues are also women’s issues. If human rights aren’t equal for all, we’re only going to be running around in circles using the wrong laws for the wrong things.

Red Lipstick Is My Superhero Cape

When I was small, lipstick was fascinating. It was a delicious tube that needed to be rotated and a magical colour would rise out of it. It would touch lips that made as if to bite it off (it looked so delicious!) but never did. And discreetly, its power unleashed, it would slide back into its case.

My own mother never wore lipstick and I didn’t have sisters so there was nowhere to experiment. Instead, I improvised and begged for a pack of Phantom cigarettes. I licked the ‘lit’ end of it gently. Then I carefully smeared it over my lips. When my mother saw it, she yelled at me and took me to the bathroom to wash it off. But my love of red lipstick was born that day.

I went through most of the teens hiding under the cover of Intelligent Girl, the one that was too smart for makeup, that was too busy thinking about life and poetry and philosophy and maths to care about dressing up. My standard issue clothing was white/black/grey teeshirts with blue jeans and sturdy boots. There was no room for the frivolity of colour in my life.

It was many, many years before I was allowed to own a lipstick (being that good Tamilian girls don’t wear lipstick, only moodevis do). And when that happened, I had been sufficiently Tamizhed enough to be conservative and prudent. Dark skins, I was advised did not look good with pink. Red was out of the question (refer aforementioned moodevi). Brown wasn’t a colour to wear on one’s lips because it made one look like one smoked. But maroon was suitable. After all, lipstick was only ever for special occasions. And maroon went well with everything.

The following year, I found the courage (or perhaps the stifling boredom) to rebel against conventional career and education choices. And I rebelled in every way I could think. Gloss entered my cupboard, then brown, then I teamed them both up, a la Toni Braxton in Unbreak My Heart. I discovered the delights of matte and the further intricacies of powder matte versus cream matte. I learnt the differences between lip crayon, lip stain, lipstick, liquid lip colour, gloss, base coat and lip pencil.

Around the same time, nail colour also opened up for me. (Moodevis did not have any say over nailpaint but school principals did.) And since experimental colour came back into vogue, I went black, blue, red, pink. Then I tried a different colour on each nail. And finally, all of them on every nail — stripes, polka dots, designs. The 90s were the birth of amateur DIY nail artists.

And finally I reached my third year of college and my last on campus. I had dropped out, signed up for a Fashion Design course, gotten admission, fought with my family, changed my mind and returned to science studies. I was determined to not just conquer that hated world but to vanquish it and lay it to rest, once and for all. And my choice of colour matched it. During the first month, I bought a brand new lipstick. It was a Revlon, my first. And it was innocuously titled ‘Bali Brown’. But a swish of the tube yielded a pair of red lips! RED!

When I walked into class, two of my classmates took out their sunglasses and put them on. Stupids, I sniffed. The next day I was back with it. And I wore it every day of the term, carefully touching it up between classes. I became Red Lipstick Girl.

I fought my way through the year, battling integration and n-dimensional spaces alongside classroom politics, a scheming Head of Department, MBA entrance exams, my first cigarette, my first relationship and my first breakup. And I slashed every single one off my list with blazing red lipstick.

5660_232648115513_598080513_8499767_2893872_nIn the fifteen years since then, I’ve had many adventures. Love, heartbreak, betrayal, friendship and trust have come intertwined with success, anticipation, disappointment and achievements. I’ve gone from being the rebel, grungy teenager, past the tomboyish intellectual, the strangled Barbie, the frozen career girl, the Corporate Bohemian, the prodigal good-Indian-girl and the early midlife crisis breakaway (complete with each one’s distinct look).

Since 2012, when my world crashed all around me with a failed engagement and no career to speak of, my lips have been bare. Earlier this year, I resumed dressing them again. It started with a chapstick, then a slightly flavoured lip balm, an occasional brown lip colour but mostly nude. Nude. ‘That is not a colour!’ I had thought to myself once. But that has been the shade that has kept my lips protected from dryness and from the cracks of failure. Saadgi has felt safe to me.

Two weeks ago, I told my doctor that I was feeling my age, feeling old and hating that I could barely climb the stairs. I used to be able to swim 20 laps a day, 4 times a week without batting an eyelid, I said.

“So what? You’re not in a condition to do so now. Let it be,”

he said. But I wouldn’t.

He smiled and said,

“You’ve been through something very difficult. Most people don’t get out of it.”

“I did! I’m perfectly fine now.” I declared.

“You are. But your confidence has been shaken since then. You need to regain it. Your health will come back then minute that happens. Just stop worrying and embrace the confidence that makes you.”

That was a cheering thought but not one that did the magic trick of taking me back to my high voltage, boundless energy, nothing-stops-me self.

But this afternoon, shopping with Reema, red lipstick beckoned to me again. Flush in the warmth of friendship and affection and good conversation and peace-making insights, I picked it up and asked the salesgirl to bill it. Later, I shut my room door, uncapped the crayon and held it to the light. Then, deep breath taken, I traced it cautiously across my lips. The colour brought me a memory. That memory gave me strength. I went out to look at myself in the bright light. And I smiled to myself in the bathroom window.

Red Lipstick Girl is back. Well, maybe not a girl anymore. But red nevertheless. Well, what do you know? It’s a Revlon again, a lip crayon this time (my first). And it’s called STANDOUT REMARQUABLE. How apt. I belong in red lipstick, not in saadgi. And it’s time to say goodbye to the nude gloss and embrace that.

Red Lipstick Day tomorrow. The Red Queen is back.

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 (Thank you, my darling Reema for bringing it back to me!)

Speaking Of Why I Don’t Marry

A beloved uncle shared this TOI Blog by with me. (‘Whom Should I Marry?’). This was my response:

Dear uncle,

I liked where the article seemed to be going (this is how the decision/marriage model has worked so far, here’s why those references are not valid anymore) till it got preachy.

Have you heard of the term ‘friendzone’? I think it was originally coined in the popular US show ‘Friends’. It refers to a friendship between a man and a woman, where a man is expecting things to go further and feels betrayed by the woman because she does not. It has gotten quite popular even in India, among the urban connected generations. Recently the concept has been getting some flak because some women (at least the thinking ones) seem to feel that it points to a certain entitlement among men over what they can expect from a woman once they get closer to her. Here is a webcomic strip that got shared around a lot awhile ago (by me as well) that breaks this situation down well.

The second is something you know already since I often talk about it. Access to education, careers, exposure to digital media (hence international living references) and greater freedom has done a lot of things for women. It has also made the proponents of the old order much more fearful and violent (crimes against women, negative social patterns like the above mentioned friendzone etc.).

Plus, for women, we are a ‘newly liberated’ species. We don’t have the same references/mentors/leaders to look to for direction that our male counterparts do. In a lot of ways we are like explorers of a new planet. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to be extra cautious? Factor in the arguably biological instincts of women being more cautious and less testosterone/impulse driven than men and that makes for less ‘Let’s jump in!’ and more ‘Let’s wait, take stock before moving ahead’

Both of these things are factors in my decision to be exactly the kind of woman that the author writes about. I have a lot of close male friends in my life. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with any one of them. If there was, they wouldn’t be my friends. But I don’t see a romantic relationship as an upgrade over friendship. These are two different things. I do not subscribed to the adage that a good friend makes a good spouse. On the contrary, I see enough of good friendships around me destroyed after they became traditional romantic/matrimonial relationships. Jealousy is one of the big reasons that comes up often as does the inability to deal with each other’s vices. We’re never really that jealous when it comes to a good friend and we’ll put up with his incessant gaming, her endless shopping — but it would be hell to be married to someone like that.

And finally I, and a lot of other men and women (yes, both) like me are starting to think marriage is one of the many lifestyle options, not the big prize at the end of a rapid-fire selection. I think the writer may not have considered either this or the point I mentioned in my previous para. It’s a new world, our relationship references are different, that’s all.

🙂 I enjoy having these conversations with you.

Your niece.

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Connections

I began 2014 fresh from a post-breakup hiatus and feeling ready to go adventuring in matters of the heart again. I don’t have the MARRIAGE agenda looming high over my every interaction and the past is not weighing me down much either. I figured this made for the best possible me to come back into the single playing field.

Now here’s what I find. Like every other aspect of Mumbai life, dating over here is stressful. The big trouble is conflicting agendas. Everyone has one and they are very clear about how they want to achieve it, how to measure its achievement, how much time they want to spend on it and where else they’ll go looking. My result-driven city has made a corporate exercise out of the experience of finding connections!

I identified the model after meeting one particularly focussed specimen (what to do, my professional skills come into play too!). We only met twice. Our first date was at a fancy restaurant, flush with alcohol, good food, uber-cool converations and trading smart retorts. On our second meeting, I suggested doing something non-spectacular, like a walk or just a chat over coffee. He resisted then hung on uncomfortably and finally descended to all the tricks in the book (coaxing, wheedling etc.). And finally, he got nasty when I said NO. Such a pity, he seemed like an intelligent guy that I’d have liked to know better. But his one-mindedness was an instant downer.

From this, I deduce the following popular strategy for date-meetings:

  1. Establish common ground with pop culture references.
  2. Exchange intelligent opinions and cool jokes (internet-dictated).
  3. Meet at a coffeeshop/restaurant/pub in areas like Bandra or South Bombay. (Juhu or Andheri might work for a second date)
  4. SEX.
  5. Do all this while not getting personal, emotional, attached or developing any kind of expectation.

I have no problem with sex, immediate or otherwise. But I’m hard-pressed to find the appeal of this model. I’m not sure which bothers me more — the ritualisation of something that I’d like to be spontaneous or the immediacy with which intimacy is approached and expected.

How about the last item on that agenda? I don’t know how one is to approach the possibility of making a connection while shutting away emotion. And also, if I didn’t have expectations, it would mean that the entire human race was presented to me as one uniform, homogeneous mass. I could pick any one at random, it wouldn’t matter. Which brings me to another person I met.

He alternates between so-good-so-close and we-dont-really-know-each-other. One day, he’s full of witticisms and a ‘you and me against this ridiculous world’ attitude. And then suddenly, he cancels without apology, reacts oddly to being asked if he’d like to hang out or worse, doesn’t even respond.

My friend tells me he’s very likely juggling. I think so too and really, that’s okay. I’m meeting other people myself. But the coldness of these actions makes me feel like I’m one human object of many that’s being shuffled around on his calendar. I have a real problem with this. For one, people do matter to me. From experience I know that being around someone you don’t really connect to, is a hell far worse than being alone. Secondly, you can always sense when the other person does not really feel much for you. And I think I deserve better than to be someone’s ‘random pick from the human race’. I want to be special and I want to treat people special.

Lest this feel like a rant against men today, let me hasten to say that I see this in both sexes but mercifully not in everyone. I met someone a couple of months ago, in a very different profession from mine. But I liked him because he was nice. We meet from time to time. We exchange texts, emails, chats. We enjoy each other’s company when there is an opportunity to. The word ‘date’ has even come up and passed without any awkwardness. We connect, it’s great and that’s all there is to it. So I know it’s possible to do this without the pressure or ugliness of agendas.

I guess it’s not magical unless there are monsters and strange creatures in addition to superheroes.

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