Category Archives: Confessional
I had a bad relationship with food & men. Being female meant being food provider. Social rules turned to acid in my stomach. Eventually they’d pour out of my mouth as bilious words, undigested pressure. I asked shaadi boys if they could cook before their moms could ask me. No answers.
I had a boyfriend I’d meet in hipster coffeeshops that boasted antique furniture & wine lists. He introduced me to rose wine, said he was bisexual, and that it was a test. Clearly I passed. The first time I stayed over, I awoke worried. I could play the part of stylish date but the morning after? Relax, he said, I’ll make breakfast. What would he present? Silver cutlery? Obscure Swedish fish? He brought out toast covered in melted cheese, topped with raw capsicum. I hate capsicum. “Is it ok?” he asked, nervously. I took a bite. It was horrible. “Lovely” I said. There’s more to romance than taste.
A friend & I went to lunch. He placed an order that prompted me to say I was a small eater. Even for a guy with huge muscles it seemed A LOT. I smiled, remembering a college superstition that a man’s appetite is an indicator of his libido. 30min later, I realised I’d eaten all his food. He grinned. He’d heard the superstition too. He’d send me pics of his cooking when we couldn’t meet.
“Spend the day with me at home” said another date. He spent the afternoon cooking as we talked. He let me chop garlic. Come evening, I said I was hungry. The slowcooker would need another hour he said. I settled for leftover beef. When the slowcooked chicken ishtew was ready, I was still eating. It was a quiet pause after the drama of beef. As I chewed, I found the salt. The onions he shooed me out of the kitchen for so he wouldn’t have to see me cry. The garlic I’d chopped. I looked up. The cook must be fed with validation. “Perfect” I said. He’d ensure there was beef each time we met. That act of consideration sweetened the bitter words that passed between us later.
Learning to receive was a gift that opened me up to the joy & generosity of someone cooking for you – traits I never associated with men. Men & food feel more wholesome now.
There is a sense that the Saree Wearers’ Club is an exclusive one, limited to women who are married or of a certain age, have a certain body shape and even they wear it in certain ways & on occasions only. Any variation from this invites attack.
I’ve been exploring drapes & styling methods for the saree, YouTube, Instagram, my own creativity as guides. I love the saree for how versatile it is. It is after all, just a length of cloth, modified to body type, region & occasion. The saree is my newest palette, my body an eternal canvas.
I’ve received mixed reactions.
The saree blurs social boundaries as security guards & autorickshaw drivers (who don’t usually target women in my class) jeer & whistle. It confuses middle-class men who make way for me on public transport but stare resentfully.
Many feel my English-speaking, short hair flaunting, liberal self doesn’t fit the saree wearer mold. There are those who ask why I ‘need’ to wear a saree when I’m slim, as if the garment is an apology for a body that doesn’t fit western standards. The takedowns build, listing how my look doesn’t adhere-pallu wrong, shape weird, look funny. “I can’t understand this!” I’m told as if my apparel is a request and as if they get to decide if I get entry to the exclusive club. And I don’t.
I was slut-shamed for wearing a saree to a condolence visit (as reaction to my calling out a sleazy man). The shamer, herself a woman, was saree-draped. Her reaction showed she values only one kind of woman (that I’m not). In her eyes I didn’t merit entry into the Saree-Wearers’Club.
People box women into limited roles. How we dress is one of the labels of the boxes we’ve accepted. My experiments break boxes just by existing. If the very act of dressing is political, this single length of cloth has become my flag. It’s versatile, it’s practical, it has a history but it adapts and it stands for something. Me.
In the picture, I’m wearing a colour-blocked kanjeevaram with a corduroy jacket and boots. I call this the fish-tail drape, pallu doubling up as neck scarf. Like it? Join the club. Everyone’s welcome in mine.
How many things shall I grieve?
I was watching THAPPAD. I thought about the people who have hit me. In plural. I had experienced enough of it before I touched adulthood. Yet, at 23, when a man I loved hit me, I knew something was wrong.
Was it the force of his blow, right across my face so my ears rung for six minutes straight, giving me a full stop in time to register the wrongness of it? Or was it the public nature of it – a movie theatre, yes in the darkness but surrounded by hundreds of people? Trying to reconcile all these thoughts with the ringing in my head, the stinging on the side of my cheek and jaw. Or was it the desperate humiliation of it because a second before I had been kissing him? It was all of it.
Yet, almost a decade later, older, carrying the confidence of having lived through that experience, I didn’t register the wrongness of being hit when it happened again with a different man. Not even when he threw me across the room. Not even when I hit the wall, my head a mere two inches from the corner of the glass shelf I’d cleaned that morning. Not even when I slid to the floor, registering dimly that this doesn’t happen in slow motion like in the movies but in an ungraceful bounce, even with my low-fat boniness. Not even as I sat, breath knocked out of me, thinking the bones in my butt were broken and remembering it’s only one bone – the pelvis.
I didn’t. Because I was too preoccupied with him punching the wall, having to worry about how I’d carry him down three flights of stairs to a hospital if he broke something? Finding a way to get up and pull him back, push him onto the sofa, sniffing in irritation, hating that my nose runs when I’m upset, only realising I was bleeding when I saw the drops on the floor.
I still didn’t see it. There was never time. I went from caring for him to cleaning up the mess, readymade ran-into-door excuse in place, Google search for ‘self emergency procedure’, dig out emergency money stash in case it was needed for medical expenses. And then there was reassuring him, reassuring my family, explaining why we were having difficulties, begging him to let me come home because I’d been standing in the sun for 6 hours on my period and I was afraid I’d faint, crying as he began screaming about the garbage smelling the minute I walked in to the house. I don’t evem remember coming to where I live now. Only the screaming voices, demanding to know what happened, judging me for not making it work, calling me names for a failed engagement, saying I would destroy other people’s marriages, calling me jealous when I said don’t joke about bad relationships. There was no time to hear the voice in me saying, it hurts, this is wrong.
I didn’t register the wrongness. I can register how wrong it feels to be shamed for it, to be blamed for it, to be villified for it. But I am still in shock about not registering the wrong of it when it happened. Was he just that good, better than the ones before him, better even than a small child who could hold the idea of dignity despite numerous attempts to punch it out of her? Am I just getting weaker as the world convinces me that I am wrong? This is what fear looks like.
This is a very different kind of pain from sexual violence, another grief I know too well from 11 and from 22 and from 38, secondhand as I held dozens of MeToo stories.
This is also different from the wounds of speech, from mouths that have carried poison that lingers. It blurs into the body of the man that threw me across the room. It sounds like the man who violated me, then called me dark, ugly and that the only reason a guy would want me was because I looked desperate. It swells into the words of all the people screaming at me since then, telling me to be dignified, to shut up, to not be a man-hater, not be a feminist. It’s a world of screaming pain and I’m disgusted by it all. This disgust is the only thing that lets me distinguish that this is a different grief. I am not disgusted by the people who hit me. I am frightened of them.
I don’t know if rage, fear and disgust are all forms of grief but they feel like it. I can only carry one at a time. And tonight I play chariot to the one that punches, kicks, shakes and throws. All I am is blood.
I used to think of myself as ‘one of the boys‘, because I didn’t identify with how femininity was practised around me. I wanted to own my intelligence, my independence and strength the way I saw only boys do. I walked, talked and dressed in a close approximation of my male peers – dirty jeans, chunky boots and a loud voice steeling myself to incorporate crude speech. I didn’t get a lot of acceptance because gender roles are too deeply embedded in people’s minds. Other girls still saw me as competition for their boyfriends and the boys treated me like I was a defective female.
Once I started working, I was able to experience my personal power without having to dress it up so much. People took me seriously and held me as accountable. Through my 20s, I was able to embrace my softer side – sitting with my legs crossed, caring for my appearance, smiling over snarling, compliments instead of sarcasm. I had discovered I could be/do these without giving away my power.
Now I meet more women who practise my kind of femininity. Not the coy, simpering, bitchy-to-other-girls, defining oneself by one’s boyfriend/husband kind. But smart, independent women who don’t feel the need to hide it or tear me down. They’re also emotionally aware, not just apeing ‘maleness’. This kind of femininity is more acceptable now.
Occasionally a woman expects me to be her knight in shining armour – this is the old toxic femininity, acting helpless + expecting women to do all the work. It’s not perfect.
But I have more fulfilling conversations with other women now than I did before 30. Careers, health, poetry, architecture, sexuality and yes, men too – we talk like two humans would, not like scripts mouthed by strictly controlled prisoners.
Men, in comparison are rarely this interesting. There are exceptions but they’re a scant few. Conversations wth men often have to be ’emotionally dumbed down’. It’s tiring and not worth it when there are other more evolved humans called women.
I’ve come a long way from ‘one of the boys’. Right now I’m every bit a women’s woman. Or maybe, I’m my own person.
Recently, I went out with someone who had just come off a long-term relationship. 20 year long term. First love, one and only forever and forever long term.
One of the frequently mouthed platitudes of my 20s was to avoid a recently heartbroken man. Another was steer clear of the one and only type. But well, if my 30s were about throwing all expectations into the garbage and breaking my own rules, maybe the 40s are about re-examining everything I’ve ever held important (inherited, learned and hearsay) through actual experience. So I went out with him.
The first thing he brought up when we became acquainted was his divorce. I asked if I might ask him a bit more about that (because make no mistakes, respect first and consent always). He agreed. My only questions were whether the divorce had been finalised and if so, when. Just from having lived four decades as a human, I know there’s no bigger emotional minefield than an unresolved romantic relationship. Especially when it’s marriage since families, society and the law collude to make this as complicated and painful as possible.
Our conversations thereafter were delightful. Perhaps I was just savouring the feeling of coming off a two year long hiatus but this time without the fears of my 20s, nor the acid-washed feelings of my post abusive engagement 30s. 40 seems like a decent place to proceed cautiously but optimistically.
So how was it? Let me call this a lovely ten day vacation doing things that I either couldn’t afford to or was too busy or scared to in my teens and twenties. Likewise for him. Rather abruptly (presumably because he’s unused to the rituals of consideration that any adult interaction should have), he said we needed to stop spending so much time with each other. When I asked what that meant, he didn’t seem to have an answer. And that was that. He did come at me, aggressively seeking experiences. And if nothing else, he learnt firsthand what it was to ghost somebody.
For my part, I decided not to rush into an immediate reaction of rage. After all, this is not the first time a man has chickened out of his emotions or gone back on his words. It’s not even the first time I’ve been ghosted. What would be the point of 40 if I reacted to it in the same way as I did in my 20s or 30s? So I waited. I found myself more disappointed than hurt, and even so in that distasteful way of someone hungry biting into what turns out to be stale papads.
By the time he called (as I knew he eventually would – those who run the fastest are the ones who run back soonest), I felt very little attachment to him. I realised later, it was only attachment to a clean-ish ending which his half-baked ‘less time spent’ statement wasn’t. I realised a long time ago that if you feel the need for closure, you most certainly aren’t going to get it because relationships that leave that acidic empty feeling in you are indicative of people who would rather escape than be authentic. Closure is your own problem. With this experience I realised that maybe closure doesn’t have to be a clean ending. Closure is when I decide I’m done. And I’ve needed to get to 40 to be able to say that can be when the other person is still waiting for an answer or still has feelings or there are injustices not yet punished. Closure is simply when I say ENOUGH.
And that was that. Now for a new chapter.
I met him at an event I was hosting. The growing crowds and reactions told me I was doing well. It was welcome respite from the morning’s fight, a common occurrence in the horror story I was living inside.
I was aware of him through the whole day, even as I juggled conversations and thoughts, feeling the headiness of a juggler who knows she’s good at it. He stayed in the corner of my vision, never intrusive, his questions informing the direction of my talk and my secret thrill at being understood powering me on. Then he stopped mid-question and said, “Sorry, I feel like I’m monopolizing your time.” That’s when I realised I wasn’t humming a solo.
When the event ended, I turned my back, willing myself down from the day’s high, steeling myself to return to hell. I turned again when I thought everyone had left. He hadn’t. He was moving to the exit, very deliberately not looking at me. He paused and said, “I feel like an Irish coffee. Do you feel like having Irish coffee?” That is the moment I want to pause. It contains so many layers. The climax of the day’s dance with words and looks. The culmination of things felt and not yet named. The promise of…well, just promise.
I saw him recently, our first interaction in many years. He’s married and a father. He looks happy. Still does. They all do.
It doesn’t bring me comfort or insight to think about how things are meant to be. I focus on the thought that something nice existed for one proming moment. That someone saw the possibility of attraction in my wit, my ideas and my personality rather than in what I could do for them or how I could make them look. It’s nice.
Are you wondering what happened back then? I told him, “No. I have to get back to my boyfriend.” And I went back to a man who hit me, abused me and told me it was all my fault. I didn’t succumb to temptation. I did The Right Thing. I always do because I never want to look back in regret. The thing is, I don’t know if doing the right thing and avoiding regret have anything to do with each other.