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Wearing The Pants & The Apron In The Family

I have a friend, a guy who loves cooking and sometimes talks about the gender stereotype that he faces. He opines that men cook by rules, follow recipes to the step… wouldn’t know that you can dilute coconut milk powder in water if there is no coconut milk and so on. The argument states that women are more instinctive when it comes to cooking.

Come again? I think that is a sweeping generalisation. I hate following elaborate recipes. Most of the stuff I cook up, are by instinct, visualisation and a sense of balance of spices. And I know that I am not the only one.

I’m the mirror image of him in that I’m a woman who struggles under the assumption that I’m a good cook while he opposes the idea that as a man, he necessarily isn’t. The kitchen, in my mind, is reminiscent of the dungeons of Harry Potter’s Potions class – warm, dark and full of alien smells and eerie bubbling noises.

My earliest lessons were of learning to turn the pressure cooker off and on and landing the weight right at the top. I was petrified of fire but my parents weren’t too sympathetic with my fears and learn I did. Tea and coffee and rice came next, followed by sambhar and dal.

I must add that to this day, I consider Indian cooking extremely indulgent and wasteful. I mean, patriotic sentiment aside, we just don’t have the time and effort to put into soaking spices, boiling the dal, frying the tadka, chopping and stewing the vegetables and then bringing them all together for the grande finale. It just is too laborious and all for something that disappears in about ten minutes. I carry over that attitude into the rest of cooking as well. I’m a Mumbaiker after all, I’m always looking for the shortest, fastest way to get things done. Three hours of preparation for a ten-minute result and a subsequent clean-up ritual of another hour is just not sensible, no matter what anyone says.

Of course, there is the fact that I’m not exactly a foodie and consider food, simply fuel for the human body to be able to do other, more meaningful things. I can tell you this attitude of mine has not been well-received at all. My otherwise liberal father showed his disappointment in my lack of interest and talent in this field over many years with what he thought were funny lines like…

“My daughter can burn water very well!”

I don’t think he even realized that there was a fundamental chauvinism in that statement till I stood up to him and pointed out that I cooked every time my mother was not around. Not just sandwiches and Maggi but full Tamilian meals complete with sambhar, curry, salad, rice and home-set curd.

I even managed to pack lunches for both of us. Admittedly I did not enjoy it and I was nowhere near my mother’s expert cuisine but my food never sent anybody to the hospital. I dramatically concluded with,

“If you don’t think that being a girl entitles me to special treatment, then why do you assume that I should possess any special talents in the kitchen just because of my gender?”

He didn’t like it but he didn’t reprimand me for backtalk. He taught me to think for myself, after all. Needless to say, the jokes have stopped and each time my mum has been unavailable, dad and I both share the cooking.

Other men, however, are not so accomodating (which brings me back to the premise that there just is no one like Dad!). I remember an ad a few years ago showing two girls on a moped, meant to show off the ‘modern-girl’ attitude where one of them asked the other, what if we start asking the boys questions like

“Do you know how to sew? Can you cook?”

It struck me as a brilliant thought and I actually did do that. The first man I asked that to, gulped and goggled at me like I was an alien from outer space. And then – would you believe – he had the temerity to say,

“But why do I need to know?”

That date didn’t go very far but my confidence in the question increased as did my patience with men’s answers. I realized that most of them had never been exposed to the idea of being truly independent.

A career was all very fine but they had always had doting mamas, subservient sisters and later, girlfriends and wives to pick up for them. Well, that’s a little bit of another story but to come back to the point.

All of us eat, don’t we? It’s a human need, non-specific of gender. Isn’t it just as important that a man be able to fend for himself as a woman? Women are learning to take care of themselves in the physical rigours of the outside world. And really, truly, it isn’t because we’re trying to take away something from the men. I think all of us really see it as taking responsibility for ourselves and burden off the men’s shoulders. In turn, should the men also not start shouldering responsibility for their own upkeep and needs? And hence, why should a man not know how to cook too?

Of note, when I raise this question, I’m often hit with the argument that most of the world’s best cooks are men. That is so not the point. I am not talking about finesse in an art, I am talking about possessing a basic survival skill. It does not matter if all the best cooking in the world is done by men.

At an individual level, are you able to manage your own needs without depending upon another person, whether you are a man or a woman? I’ve just admitted freely that I am not a great cook. I do not possess talent but I have sufficient skill that I can take care of myself. And that in my mind, is true independence.

And finally, the aforementioned friend has my sympathies for facing such blatantly ignorant stereotyping. I have great regard for people who can do things that I can’t and what’s more a man who cooks well, is someone who has overcome both the fears I have as well as social norms. Men in the kitchen, bravo!

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

An earlier version is posted here. A version is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty!

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Inherited Relationships

Compartmentalization is the one thing that goes out of the window when you get into a relationship. I think that’s what most of us struggle the most with. We’ve spent most of our adolescent and adult lives learning to organize the world around us in a certain way. Then someone comes along with their own set of rules and structure. Merging these two is never going to be an easy prospect.

Relationships to me, are like the baby plants in my window garden. They need nurturing, a lot of daily incremental effort. At some point of time, they can be left to their own devices but really, that takes a long, long time to come. Also you can’t grow a plant overnight by pouring twenty buckets of water on it and then forgetting about it for the next month or so. Every drop must be measured, every word pondered.

In a single state, every new person is like a seed and it is up to each of us to decide how and where we’re going to fit that person into the structure of our lives. But when you’re in a relationship, all of a sudden, you’re handed down a legacy of people. Friends, classmates, family, ex-es, colleagues, all kinds of people. You don’t have a personal history with them but you’re given an encapsulated bulletin of their background, which is really only a recap of your partner’s history with them. You don’t often have a choice of where to fit them into your lives. In some cases, you may not even have a place in your life for such a person.

For example, I’m an only child. I’m completely unfamiliar with the concept of siblinghood, having only seen it from the outside as it were. The finer nuances of brother-sister, twins, older-younger, same-sex-siblings etc are things I strain to discern from what I see of my friends. I’m completely unsure about how to behave with the siblings of my partner. The casualness of friendship may not be taken for granted with them but the strictures of family must be in place. It’s not as formal as a parental relationship, not as markedly opposed as an ex- and not as casual as a friendship. Respect, trust and liking all need to be established, proven and earned. And there’s no roadmap for this.

Then there is the manifold nature of friendships. Same-sex friendships are close in a way the opposite sex can never quite fathom. The relationship is inherited to some extent (I pity the person who doesn’t get along with the best friend of their partner). On the other hand, it isn’t a same sex friendship any more which brings in a new level of uncertainty. Should one treat the best friend of the beloved on par with one’s friends of the opposite sex? But the joking flirtatious tone needs to be dropped as it seems inappropriate with friend-of-beloved. Can one trust them as much, considering their loyalties necessarily must be to your partner first and foremost?

Opposite sex friendships take on an entirely different sense of diabolical. Should I like her simply because he likes her too? In fact, is that possible? Can he ever like my buddy knowing that the man was around for me at a time when we didn’t know each other? Even after you get past the jealousy bit, how do you recreate the friendship when clearly you are not the same person as your other half? Opposite sex friendships are very different from same sex friendships. I’m going to shoot down the theory that two women cannot be friends, on the premise that I have a number of close women friends. But can two women who care for the same man (albeit in different ways) form a friendship? Extend that question to two men who care about the same woman too. It should be possible, in theory. And yet, do we really see it happening?

As if being in a relationship isn’t complicated enough, dealing with the inheritance of people just makes life a helluva lot more complex.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Tangled Hearts

A friend of mine used to say that at his wedding, he’d play the following song by Julio Iglesias,

“To all the girls I’ve loved before
who’ve travelled in and out of my door
I’m glad they came along
I dedicate this song
to all the girls I’ve loved before”

What an excruciating move! Like the final, last blow to think of an old love on the day of one’s wedding and also, at that crucial moment of giving up everyone else for one person, to dedicate that moment to everyone else.

Human beings are strange and vulnerable. We need, so very desperately, to believe that we are unique, that we are special…knowing all the time that we are not. Maybe those of us who understand that best are the ones who most need to feel especially needed.

Having influenced somebody isn’t enough. It still twists your heart into a pretzel to see that they’ve moved on and are well and happy without you. And moving on and away also has a way of wrenching something akin to blood from within you.

Ah love, what emotional acrobats you make of us!!

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

An earlier version is here. Also posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

A Good Catch

I met a young man last year who was smart, successful, charming and good-looking. He was also single and he explained why, saying,

“There’s such a strong pressure on girls to land a good catch that I can never tell whether they like me for me or just because I’m a good catch. I like meeting women who are independent and confident because then, there’s an equal exchange of interest and affection, without the fear of hidden agendas.”

It made me think, aren’t men objectified just as much as women? A man has his own individuality, personality and unique traits that set him apart, over and above his qualifications and income. Just like a woman is more than a good daughter, sister, friend, lover, wife and mother.

Now, ‘good provider’ seems as outdated and offensive as ‘homely girl’.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A version is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

How To Break Up

I read an article which touched a raw nerve. The article had tips on how to break-up while avoiding the discomfort of the whole process. Now, having gone through this so very many times, I can attest to the fact that practice does not make perfect. There is no easy way to dump someone or get dumped for that matter. In either case you look bad. It is uncomfortable for both parties.

That should perhaps be one’s solace, that no one is the ‘winner’ in this. It’s a relationship that needs termination, not a race or a war – at least I hope it hasn’t reached that stage. Even in the worst, most unpleasant situations, try and remember that there must have been some nice moments with the person. That’s probably preachy and I can’t live up to that always, myself, so I’ll try another tack.

Speaking out of pure practical intent, if it’s over, the person and the relationship do not deserve any more time and attention invested in them. Make a clean break, it is really the simplest thing to do. Elaborate farces, heavy emotional drama all of them take their toll…or at very least require you to do SOMETHING…anything.

And finally I think anybody who has been close to you, even briefly deserves the dignity of the truth, at least. Leaving a person with empty questions is consigning a shitload of emotional baggage to their lot. Maybe that’s what you want after how they’ve made you feel…but really, how much do you gain over making a person think of you everyday, badly? I’d rather they don’t think of me at all than think of me maliciously.

Don’t bother with the blame-game (how does it matter who is responsible anyway? Believe me you’re going to feel just as shitty about it, whether you acknowledge it or not). And honestly, honestly it does not matter who actually verbalises it, partings are generally painful anyway.

As for how they are going to react, if you’re breaking up with them, why should it matter anymore? I tell myself that…and yes, I’m a person who can’t handle other people’s emotional scenes and tears. They are responsible for their behaviour but you are responsible for yours.

I’m all for a clean break, the simple truth, served up direct without frills.

Being at peace with yourself is often a function of how cleanly you’ve lived your choices. Think of all that, the next time you need to call a halt to a relationship.

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*An earlier version was posted here. One version appears on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Fallen Eve

To ‘the one special woman’,

You are the stuff of memories that never fade, rust or get forgotten. You are the overriding factor above everything hormonal, practical, emotional, logical and fair. Indeed, you must be special.

I’ve been thinking about you a lot. Do you know who I am? I am the one who he leaves to chase you. Or the one who battles with the insurmountable statue of you up on the pedestal. I am the real-world girlfriend. I spend the boring, traffic-laden, polluted days with him while he reminisces about the special candlit dinner-violin serenaded moments with you.

Actually we’ve met a few times. Once you were a good friend who toyed with the idea of him while I stood around waiting and then handed him back to me, slightly soiled, a few months later. The thing is you gave back to me his bruised ego to heal but not the fragments of his heart. That you kept for yourself and I’ll never be able to touch them.

Some other times you’re a stranger, nice and pleasant. You are never off-balance, never irrational, you never scream like a banshee. No, I do that….after all, security brings a level of peace and calm and I wouldn’t know what that looked like.

A lot of other times we haven’t actually met or even spoken. I’ve looked at photographs of you, heard about you from friends (and from him) and wondered a great deal about what you must have that I don’t. You aren’t prettier. Or smarter. Or nicer. Or more loving. But in his memories, you are incomparable.

I’ve thrown in the towel a while ago. I can’t compete with a memory. Or perceived perfection. I am real. Flawed, inconsistent, imperfect. I have acne, PMS, extra inches around my tummy, doubtful taste. I’m the real thing. Well…that can never compare with the poetry of a fantasy, can it?

Your position isn’t exactly a complete one either. For you do know what will happen the minute you succumb? You’ll turn into me. I guess you know. Which is why you let this state exist as it is. I guess it is better to be adored from a distance than ignored right to your face.

Do I sound bitter? Yes, I am. Very. I wanted someone to want to settle down with me, not settle for me. No one wants to feel like a consolation prize.

My Best Friend’s wedding‘ was about me. But I am not always like that. The platitude talks about wanting happiness for someone you love, even if it is not with you. I aspire to do that, even if I don’t always succeed. Believe me, if you think its difficult being friends with me, you have no clue what its like for me to battle envy and resentment and like you for who you are. Well, you are likeable. Which makes it even more difficult.

I won’t ever tell you this to your face. Why, I wouldn’t even admit to him that he’s important enough to me to colour my thoughts of another person. But I feel it. I guess all I have left is the thought that….

Eve’s greatest enemy isn’t Adam
But another Eve

Even if you are a better woman than I am, I love him more than you ever will. Now if only, he’d understand that. But that probably doesn’t matter.

Signed,
The ordinary woman

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An earlier version of this post is here. A version is also posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Press Cutting

You’re in trouble when you start believing your own good press.

But you’re a woman when you start believing your own bad press.

What we girls need is a little less guilt and tad more thoughtlessness.

A version is posted to Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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*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

To Marry Or Not To Marry, That Is The Question

Recently a friend explained why he doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. He can’t stand the political dynamics that are natural to any family, the complication of multiple opinions and agendas and the excessive rituals. I can’t say I agree. I know there is a common notion (further popularized by pop culture) that women are programmed to love the idea of marriage, due to the paraphernalia of weddings. But those aren’t my reasons for believing in marriage.

First of all, I distinguish the wedding from the marriage. The wedding is the formalization, the ceremony that symbolizes that two people are henceforth bound together, socially and legally. Customs may vary but this is the fundamental purpose of every single wedding ceremony conducted over the world. It is a ritual and like all other rituals, it only has as much significance as the people carrying it out, attach to it. It is true that no paper or custom can ensure or create a fulfilling union between two people. That has to be built by the two people in question, bit by agonizing, confusing, wearying bit.

Let’s look at marriage itself, beyond the rituals, beyond the superficialities of sindoor and rings. It is the meeting and combining of two people’s lives. It is the merging of assets, of tangible ones like money & possessions and of intangibles like career, eating habits, lifestyle choices etc.

Take the most basic human action of eating. Everyone does it. It’s difficult enough to decide on one meal to be shared by two people (eating place, seating, cuisine, taste, spice, vegetarian/non-vegetarian etc). How much more complicated it would be to repeat this for the rest of the two people’s lives? Multiply that several thousandfold for every other aspect of life above food.

This alone tells me that the only sensible way to start is to do it in an organized manner. Marriage signifies just that, with several of the supposedly meaningless rituals providing a framework for two people to undertake this arduous venture. I’d say that’s a template at best and can (and should) be customized to the couple’s requirements.

Considering what a massive undertaking this is, it’s only prudent to account for issues and breakdowns. I think it’s a fool’s errand to go starry-eyed into something as big as a lifelong relationship and assume blithely that everything will work out in a ‘happily ever after’ way. Marriages are not always happy. Unions are not guaranteed to work. Compatibility may not last. While a relationship should only be undertaken with the hopes of it working, the possibility that it may not should also be borne in mind.

What then of two lives that were joint together (or at least attempted to)? The division of those aforementioned assets is yet another complicated exercise, one that often consumes the people involved, completely and leaves everyone dissatisfied. There’s no easy way to unite or to end emotional involvement; that bit is always going to be bloody. It seems wise to at least sort of the relatively easier things like possessions and even that’s not easy. A formal ritual strikes me as the process that can be closed most cleanly. If at this juncture, the law must be brought in as an impartial third party, it is only fair to have it be a party to the union right at the start, which is the legal wedding ritual.

Personally, I may have the temerity to go against society and the strength to survive a messy breakdown, outside the structure of marriage. However, I cannot guarantee the same for my children. It doesn’t feel fair for me to thrust my life’s choices and their consequences onto my children, even before they choose it for themselves. Society still isn’t easy on the children of a single parent, especially an unmarried one, never mind an unmarried mother. Whether I ever have children or not is immaterial. This is far too important for me to overlook what might be even a remote possibility.

I won’t (and haven’t) run around desperately in search of a partner to sucker him into the grand party of a wedding. I’ve lived a reasonably happy single life for many years. However, if I decide to build a lifelong relationship with a man, marriage is the only way I’d consider going about it.

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A version of this article is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

You Can’t Hurry Love…Or A Man!

Phil Collins tells me that,

“You can’t hurry love, you just have to wait. Love don’t come easy, it’s a game of give and take.”

A friend’s mother imparts the following wisdom on men and marriage,

“Don’t expect any kind of sense for about 3 years. After that they kind of settle down.”

PATIENCE is a virtue, apparently a prized one for a woman. Me? I never met a man who didn’t make me, within hours, want to bang my head on the wall. Irrespective of how much I liked him. I think men are like that. Born to annoy.

How does thou annoy me? Let’s count. (In no particular order of priority, they’re all equally irksome)

  • Stubbornness
  • Bird-watching
  • Commitment-phobia
  • Juvenile jokes (toilet humour, anyone?)
  • Bad taste in clothes, furniture, colors, everything!
  • Complete cluelessness about the concept of ‘Conversation’
  • Hormone surges (okay, cross that, it isn’t always a problem)
  • EEEEEEGO (with a huge, big, monstrous, mammoth of an E)
  • Mixed-up priorities (“Let’s go watch the match now!”, “Why do you need to shop again?”)
  • The gall to comment on my taste (“Haha, your brown lipstick looks like you’ve eaten mud!”)

Phewwww..*Deeeeep breath* I think I’m forgetting. I’ve never been high on patience anyway. Some day, some day, some day I’ll learn to tolerate a man being a man. And not keep looking into those starry-eyes and asking,

“Okay, have we grown-up as yet?”

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An earlier version is here. A version is also posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

There’s A Woman Behind The Wheel!

So gender jokes and misogynistic statements are now politically incorrect. But few people seem to have any qualms bitching about women drivers. These are usually accompanied by rolling of the eyes and a knowing nod (from the listener). I find it hard to believe that in this day and age of rational thought and scientific evidence, people can still think that a person may be a bad driver simply because she’s a woman. Driving is a skill (just like swimming, cooking, painting, mathematical thinking), one that involves a sense of direction, co-ordination, space, speed and timing in addition to knowledge of using the vehicle. How could it be gender-specific?

One thing that is notable though, is the harassment that is meted out to a woman on the road, even in a so-called ‘safe’ city like Mumbai. When I’m trying to cross the road, I find drivers often speed up in an attempt to ‘scare’ me. I know this because when I jump, they usually laugh and often even slow down just to show that they were just doing it for a joke. To aggravate the matter further, when I then try to cross, the behavior continues and my only alternative is to wait for the boors to pass before trying to cross.

A woman behind the wheel, faces a vehicular version of the same thing. I’ve seen drivers swing in alarmingly close, try to cut off, lane-change and blare their horns unnecessarily when they notice the person in the driving seat is a woman. I know all of these are visible to any driver; it just seems a lot more when the driver is female. As above, these are usually accompanied by jeers, laughter and even offensive gestures. So the average woman driver has to contend with bad roads, traffic jams, pollution and noise and above all that, harassment too. How many men would drive well if they were subjected to the same thing, every minute that they were on the road?

There is any number of bad drivers on the road and yes, some of them are women. But it’s preposterous to label the entire gender as being bad drivers. The accident rates don’t show any discernable differences between offenders of either gender. That makes me want to think women on an average, may be better drivers (and not worse) since they handle a more stressful situation with the same degree of success (or failure). Male chauvinists, think before you make a wisecrack about lady drivers – this time the joke’s on you.

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A version is also posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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