Category Archives: I’m An Indian Woman

To The Guy Who Likes Long Drives

Dear ‘I like long drives’ guy,

This will be the one and only time the word ‘dear’ will ever be used in our conversation. We both know you think that saying something makes it true so try being quiet for once. That’s a more honest representation of who you are.

We need to talk about this long drives fetish of yours. By ‘we’, I mean I because of course you think a conversation involves only you speaking. But I’m in the driver’s seat and you know the rules about disturbing the driver. So yes, car fetishes. What, you don’t like my calling it a fetish? You got your idea of romance off a car advertisement. Let’s not even get started down the road of used car salesmen. No, let’s not even go down there.

What’s that? You thought listing ‘long drives’ on your dating app profile would make you sound cool? And just what makes you swipe right on women’s profiles? Ah, how they look. Is that why your profile has the following pictures:

  • a long range shot/weird angle showing your right ear
  • a famous landmark shot at the most well-known angle
  • a quote about hearts, friendship, love, life that Hallmark greetings made their fortune off in the 90s

Enjoying long drives is not a personality trait. It’s not even a hobby. Not in India and boss, how often do you drive internationally? It’s not even a masculine thing. I know lots of women who like driving and they don’t act like it’s a thing that people do together on a romantic date. I know you think the front passenger seat is made for female butts but bro, a steering wheel is made for any kind of human hands. And we’ve established I’m driving this. But unlike you, I’m willing to let my passenger be something other than a silent object. I’m not a collector; I don’t even like stuff on my dashboard. So tell me, exactly what about this experience makes you think it’s an amazing offer to a woman you don’t know?

It can’t be the conversation. Those can be had literally anywhere. But in a car that you’re driving, you get to shut the other person up, right? Shush, don’t touch the driver. So yes, you were saying? The umm, aah, uh.. Yes, that’s what I thought. Don’t bother whining that you’re bad at speaking. A car is not a translator.

It is however, a trophy. That’s it, isn’t it? If it wasn’t, you’d be fine having a date in an Uber. Ah, there’s the rub. A car is a trophy where you get your prey (uhh…date) in complete seclusion and totally under your control. I grew up in a time when one of the first SUV models was inadvertently rebranded ‘the kidnap vehicle’. No, you don’t remember that?

Aww okay, let me play you a song I think you’ll like. This is how I think of you.

Sincerely yours,

The reason I swiped left

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

In The Court Of The Bombay Begums

If you haven’t already seen Bombay Begums, consider this your spoiler alert. I approached the show with trepidation and a lot of thoughts. For one, it falls squarely into what I recognise as a Netflix India formula. A cast made of a yesteryear star, a sprinkling of Bollywood also-rans and a variety of character role new darlings. Queer people (and bi women are cutting edge because gay men are so passe) and a precise/antisepic quota of cultural differences for ‘diversity’. Gratuitious nudity & sex scenes that go on forever, around 1/3rd into the start. Lots of dark interiors with an occasional too-bright scene (usually an unpleasant situation) and soft-focus (blurry) shot to convey relief. Yes, I have been watching A LOT of Netflix in the past year.

raniLet’s start with the prime Begum, the one in all the promos, 90s bad girl Pooja Bhatt. My generation saw her enter public limelight as a mere teenager and thanks to the movies she was cast it, her trajectory as a spoilt/confused adolescent, a pampered diva (Poo but from the 90s) and some kind of awkward young woman not very comfortably cast in the traditional glamorous/sanskari Bollywood heroine mold. The last I heard of her is that she moved on from a rollicking and very public sex life with numerous starling boyfriends and married the Haryanvi farmer from the MTV promos. On one hand it’s startling to see her play the dignified CEO, Rani. On the other hand, the composure that is hard won, the quiet inner turmoil, the shrewd/soulless compromises, the jaded emotions feel real because we remember a younger Pooja Bhatt. I have no idea if this is how she is in real life but it would make sense to me if she was.

I remember steeling myself not to faint or double over in menstrual pain while making an important presentation. I was surrounded by men circling like vultures, waiting to pounce on the slightest stammer or hesitation. At one point, I said, “I’ll hand it over to <vulture colleague> for his thoughts” and bolted to the bathroom to puke my guts out. Then I washed my face, took a deep breath and walked back in, with a mug of coffee pretending I’d done it on purpose. All the times Rani masterfully tides over hot flashes to push through the boardroom made me feel seen, heard and most importantly, lauded.

Rani is not so much a grey character as a complex depiction of Strong Woman. She’s not damaged or broken but she isn’t quite whole. She is hyper-functional, never once losing her cool but we see the toll it takes on her health, her relationships and sense of self. She looks sore from carrying wounds that will never heal. She hasn’t made peace with her past as much as struck a kind of grim truce with it. And that’s real.

two

It made me really happy to see another depiction of the strong, successful corporate woman in the form of Fatima. Like her, I’ve struggled to look for mentors. I have also grappled with the guilt of not having it as bad as the women before me, anxiety that I’m not doing better (or for that matter, even average), been bewildered at how little the conventional gender expectations fit me, been a success in things that I’ve wondered if they were worth it. All the regrets as well as the helplessness that regret would be a part of any scenario, no matter what decision was taken, that’s Fatima. It wasn’t comforting to see it spelt out on screen but it was relief to know I haven’t been alone.

Shahana Goswami is a brilliant casting choice, especially fresh off her role in A Suitable Boy. After playing the flighty, society madam, she brings real dignity & restraint to her performance. Fatima (BB) & Meenakshi (ASB) both have adultery play a big part in their storylines but it is as if one is watching different people and it never occurs to you to compare because they’re played by the same person. I don’t know if every woman who has worked in a cutthroat corporate environment can relate to these two characters but I could. I could see myself in scenes of both these women.

I only want to mention the child character Shai because she’s presented as one of the ‘begums’ of this story. She wasn’t memorable except for her annoying voiceover narrating between scenes. What 12 year old talks like that? I can’t see the sense of depicting the inner lives of complex adult women in the writings of an unrealistically articulate brat. I think she’s less a character and more a prop to detail Rani’s life.

lilyI quite enjoyed Lily and her cheery, never-say-die personality. But I am aware that her story looks exactly the way someone like I would think of it. I only have hearsay references for what life really looks like for a single mom commercial sex worker in Mumbai. I have a feeling she was in the story to ensure that it was taken seriously and not written off as a saga of ‘high-class auratein’. I’m not sure it does people like her justice but it probably was a valiant effort anyway.

Which brings me to the character that troubles me the most. Ayesha *deep breath*. I loathe this character so much, I got into a bad mood every time she appears on screen. She’s exploitative, inept and entitled. She sleeps with anyone who can help her but considers herself superior to Lily who does the same but also bears social judgement. Ayesha enjoys the privilege of middle-class respectability but doesn’t value it in the least. She smokes up in her PG accomodation that doesn’t allow it, sleeps with the ex-boyfriend she’s staying with even as his girlfriend sleeps in the next room, leads on a colleague so she can live with him but also cheats on him. She carries out the same horrible behaviour in her workplace, getting fired for ongoing ineptitude, being reinstated in a bigger role, sleepwalking through the work & pretending she’s destined for better things. The only people she values are the ones that draw clear boundaries with her – a lesbian friend who sleeps with her but tells her they’re not exclusive and a senior manager who takes sexual favours from her in return for a (completely undeserved) promotion.

ayesha

I needed some time to digest the story because of this character, so visceral were my reactions to her. But now I’m realising it’s because she represents a very uncomfortable question. Does any woman, whoever she is, however she is, deserve rape? Can we consign such an unlikable character (and similarly real people) to that horrible fate? She falls prey to a system designed to exploit her. The moral policing that calls any independent action, rebellion. The objectification that reduces women to their bodies and their bodies to sex objects. The rape culture that prizes aggression in men and victim mindsets in women.

As far as female archetypes go, if Rani is the Queen Bee, Fatima the Rising Star, Lily the Amazonian Warrior and Shai the Fragile Princess, then Ayesha is the Professional Victim. She is not a good person or even a sympathetic one. She has no redeeming qualities. The best we (and other characters) feel for her is pity and even that is easily gone when she blunders into her next selfish move. She’s not a begum and never will be. But she’s who most people become when faced by life’s hard questions. Being a woman, makes these questions harder, louder and many more.

This wasn’t intended as a review so I won’t post any recommendations to watch or not. But if you have seen the show, post a comment. I’d really like to hear more thoughts on this story and its characters.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Enthusiastic Yes

Desire is a powerful, intoxicating force. We can easily let ourselves be blinded by what we want. We assume we know better, are quicker at making decisions or are righteous in what we want. Oh yes, I know what we want can come ratified by logic, social approval, even wisdom. But none of these cancel the fundamental human right to choose. This includes the right to make mistakes & the right to be confused.



Each choice is a complex navigation of emotion, impulse, opportunity & other social rules. In a basic world, we’d all communicate in simple YESes and NOs. But most life choices are not that binary. A firm yes or no needs us to understand ourselves perfectly in that moment. Most of us are not able to do that immediately. We are not always clear what we want & how much we want it, how we want it.

Getting what one wants almost always has to do with dealing with other people’s decisions & choices. I pride myself on being decisive. So it frustrates me to deal with other people’s ambivalence. I hate to feel thwarted or confused by mixed signals. It helps me to remember how often I’m not able to express my own boundaries myself.

I think we all fear that we will never get what we want. Impatience is always a sign of that. Is what we want worth the toll we pay? I find myself asking if I would want anything that wasn’t freely, willingly given. I know how corrosive resentment is. It’s a given in any situation that didn’t have all people fully on board.

No. I would not want to go anywhere I’m not wholeheartedly welcome. It’s too humiliating & hurtful to recognise that lack of welcome in another’s eyes. It cannot be hidden. Nothing is worth that. This isn’t ego, it’s respect for the self & the other.

True, people play games because it makes them feel more powerful or secure. That’s a setup for toxicity. It doesn’t take a big personality or fancy speech to express enthusiasm. Human beings manage to convey it in a variety of ways & also understand it. I say it’s worth waiting for.

This isn’t about villifying desire. It’s human to want. The real question is in whether you’re defined by what you seek or by how you receive it.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

A Voice To Shatter The Glass Ceiling

I became a singer in my student days. I was on workaholic track but some classical training & 2 years of guitar lessons had me considering my vocal potential. Bollywood competitions were respite from classroom debates & projects. So I became a regular on the college festival circuit.

The ability to carry a tune I discovered only got you past selection. Audience response was a big factor in a win. My 2 friends would be no match for the big contingents of the other colleges in attendance. How would I compete?

The host asked which songs we’d sing. The usual suspects came up- Kishore on a bus to Goa or inciting a dance revolution to Meera’s ghungroo, Sonu Nigam bemoaning the luxury of loneliness. Big dramatic songs to match the cinematic scenes they’d scored.

I told him, “BAS ITNA SA KHWAB“. The host frowned. “You can’t sing that. That’s a man’s song.” & moved away. I had no time to point out that the song was about ambition & what did gender have to do with that? Instead I chose “MANN KYON BEHKA“. The host’s introduction was a jeer-the girl whose mann was too behko’ed so would everyone be patient? That night, I trashed my setlist. Lata Mangeshkar’s repertoire of demure tunes would be like carrying dolls to a gunfight.

Next time I went up, eyes downcast, smoothed my dupatta & crooned “HAI RAMA“, that scintillating siren call from Rangeela. First prize hands down. Another time, clad in kurta & jeans I belted out “MUNGDA“, the rustic, raunchy charms of the forgotten Mangeshkar sister brought forth in Helen’s seduction. My song literally brought the faculty & staff to the yard.

Later a boyfriend would assault me for singing ‘slutty songs’. The pattern would repeat in the harassment following my feminist poetry. In protest I’d deliver a silent performance. A male comic would ridicule even that. But I never forgot what real winning tastes like.

At my alumni meet, someone requested ‘MUNGDA’. As we got down to dancing, my classmates began cheering my name. A friend said, “Ramya, you gave us an anthem.”

That’s really all I ever dreamed of. Bas itna sa khwab.

📸: @alivehive
📢: Sing like your heart beats

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.


Men Who Feed Me

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.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Men With Dark Pasts – Indian Matrimony’s Vyasar

Indian Matchmaking – the show that has Twitter India all abuzz. Self-styled matchmaker Sima jetsets between Mumbai, Delhi and various parts of the US to match up Indians of various backgrounds (though all from a certain economic background) in unholy desi matrimony. The family-approved biodata, the faux pas questions, the awkward first meetings, the dealbreaker-or-not pondering, all topped with a generous dose of casteism, racism, body shaming and patriarchy because it wouldn’t be the Big Indian Wedding without these. So many thoughts.

Sima Taparia, the matchmaker from ‘Indian Matrimony’

But I want to focus on one particular person only, the one that seems like a unanimous favorite. Opinionated Aparna (with pushy/protective mom Jotika) has her detractors. A lot of people could relate to Nadia but I found her kind of bland and generic in her preferences. Do I even bother with the men when they’re the likes of Akshay’s mom (since she is his whole, entire personality)? Or the every SoBo/suburban Gujjuboi I’ve ever known, epitomised in Pradyuman? Claps all the way around for Vyasar, he of the jolly, teddybearlike personality and the one who saves this show from being a roundup of Indian men’s worst faults.

At first glance, I can see Vyasar as not being the cream of the ‘good catch’ crop. He doesn’t have an impressive career, chiseled features, fair skin or symbols of great wealth. You’d think someone like Ambitious Aparna would reject him right out but I actually think if you could get past her overbearing mother, these two might actually work. Or maybe that’s just because Aparna reminds me of myself in my 20s – in a tearing hurry and under so much pressure. It took nearly a decade before that sharp smile cracked to start to uncover who I really was.

And I liked Vyasar from the get-go. Student counseller, respected & beloved by the young people he works with? Loves comics, paints figurines? Check, check, check. There’s so much we could talk about. Then comes the kicker and here’s your spoiler alert if you haven’t already seen the series and plan to.

<Spoiler Alert>

Vyasar has a really dark past featuring a criminally violent father. Should he bring this up or not – a question they leave with the viewers. Alongside we see other singles facing the issue of withheld personal information. It’s easy to respect Vyasar for wanting to be honest and just as easy to say, “Don’t punish him for his father’s actions.” But hold on a minute. When did we conclude that to say no is a punishment? A woman’s affection is not something that’s accorded to the most deserving and taken away if found wanting. Honesty is not to be bartered for brownie points; it’s a hygiene factor.

I’m starting to wonder how much of the popularity wave for Vyasar is a sympathy gesture. Sympathy is not a good foundation for a relationship because it’s contingent on one party being in distress. What happens when they feel better? The sympathy giver feels like they’re not needed anymore. They either lose interest or will subconsciously or otherwise attempt to keep the other person distressed. Hello, abuse.

I have been thinking about what my decision would be if I were part of this group (because many of them are relatable and I think I even saw one of them on a dating app). Vyasar would be the only one I’d even consider. But after learning about this, I would probably want to step back.

I’ve learnt the hard way that love does not conquer all. And it is naive to believe that our pasts do not impact us in big ways. Men, in my experience, do not recover from trauma as well as women do. Perhaps its because they are allowed no room to identify and take charge of their own feelings.

In addition, women, especially romantic partners are held responsible for the problems that men bring into the relationship even from before. I was informed by a boyfriend that I’d have to ‘solve’ the problems of his family, which included a runaway cousin now separated from her husband and estranged from her parents, a mother playing politics with her siblings with said cousin as a pawn, a father withdrawing from his marriage into his own career, sundry other meddlesome relatives and friends. I was all of 23, an only child from a nuclear family. What did I know of these things? I was deemed unfit for the supreme honour of bearing the burdens of that dysfunctional family.

It’s true that Vyasar appears to have a less co-dependent relationship with his family than Pradyuman or Akshay. But even in the far chance that it were possible to have a relationship just with the Indian man only and not his whole goddamn family, what would it be like? I’ve been there as well. The woke dude, promising ‘brutal honesty’, preaching feminism, loving comics even. It resulted in my getting thrown across the room twice, having my nose almost broken, his family accusing me of causing trouble, his mother wanting to use our wedding as a cleanup PR effort for herself, wanting my family to pay for a 5 city circus. Apologies? No. I’ve been called toxic for this by the same woke man and his brigade of pseudo-woke people. And his daddy issues did not include prison or murder threats.

Indian fatherhood ranges from the Instagram/Facebook-ready pictures on Father’s Day to outright abusive but they’re all uniformly absent parents. The majority of the work of parenting falls to the women and there’s just no open for the offspring when the mother happens to be weak, manipulative or toxic herself. It may explain why the norm for Indian men is to be cardboard caricatures of one value at best and failing miserably even at that. Boys learn how to be men from their fathers/father figures and Indian fatherhood is not even a real thing. Daddy issues abound, only in India, it’s men who experience these. It is also a reason why I wouldn’t even consider a Delhi man. Even if he’s really nice, the culture that brings him up in the absence of one parent, is openly violent and misogynist. You cannot escape that no matter how loudly you decry it. What has been normalised for you as a child, becomes a foundation of who you are.

I think it’s a rare Indian man who has the ability to be a functioning, independent adult. It would go into the realm of fantasy to expect him to be these things while carrying around baggage of this kind. So, Vyasar? Sorry dude, you seem like the one spot of humanity in the putrid mess that is still a reasonably accurate depiction of Indian matrimony. But that’s not enough and it’s not an unfair punishment to say so.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

A New Solidarity

#BoysLockerRoom presents an idea of solidarit as a quality used to protect wrongdoers from consequences. Everyone is made to participate as a virtue. I want to reclaim this idea of solidarity. It’s not a fortress meant to protect privilege. It’s a context of support that nurtures people’s better values.

Women are told other women are the enemy, that we can’t be friends, that our relationships with each other can only revolve around a man. We’re encouraged to suffer in isolation. The bonds between women are downplayed, disrupted, even villified. This is because female solidarity opposes the idea of protecting privilege.

For a woman, identity is a tug of war between a world hellbent on erasing us and one fragile body, a delicately built identity, a sensitive set of senses, a limited brain. What do women’s issues have to do with identity & solidarity? I’ll tell you.

My sense of self does NOT come from protecting men’s privilege to be monsters. It does not come from competing with other women for validation from that male idea of solidarity.

My existence is constantly challenged by men whose entitlement I reject. Also by women who benefit from patriarchy by compromising their self-respect. Every nasty barb, every attack by a rejected man, every thoughtless word by a distracted friend, every malicious act by a stranger is designed to remind me that the world doesn’t see me as a human.

But I’m healed by female solidarity. Men cannot do this because they do not have our context of struggle. A woman who knows the fight, can see past it really sees me. This validation between women doesn’t say anything about how strong we are. It doesn’t seek to rescue or make excuses for faults. It affirms & heals our best selves.

You deserve to exist. You are good. You are beautiful. You are love. You are power. You are joy. You are peace. You are all. The universe has a place for you. These matter when a woman says them to another.
We hold up each other’s best selves. Women who understand this are challenging the toxic idea of solidarity by making it about support, not protection. 

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A NEW SOLIDARITY #BoysLockerRoom presents an idea of solidarit as a quality used to protect wrongdoers from consequences. Everyone is made to participate as a virtue. I want to reclaim this idea of solidarity. It's not a fortress meant to protect privilege. It's a context of support that nurtures people's better values. Women are told other women are the enemy, that we can't be friends, that our relationships with each other can only revolve around a man. We're encouraged to suffer in isolation. The bonds between women are downplayed, disrupted, even villified. This is because female solidarity opposes the idea of protecting privilege. For a woman, identity is a tug of war between a world hellbent on erasing us and one fragile body, a delicately built identity, a sensitive set of senses, a limited brain. What do women's issues have to do with identity & solidarity? I'll tell you. My sense of self does NOT come from protecting men's privilege to be monsters. It does not come from competing with other women for validation from that male idea of solidarity. My existence is constantly challenged by men whose entitlement I reject. Also by women who benefit from patriarchy by compromising their self-respect. Every nasty barb, every attack by a rejected man, every thoughtless word by a distracted friend, every malicious act by a stranger is designed to remind me that the world doesn't see me as a human. But I'm healed by female solidarity. Men cannot do this because they do not have our context of struggle. A woman who knows the fight, can see past it really sees me. This validation between women doesn't say anything about how strong we are. It doesn't seek to rescue or make excuses for faults. It affirms & heals our best selves. You deserve to exist. You are good. You are beautiful. You are love. You are power. You are joy. You are peace. You are all. The universe has a place for you. These matter when a woman says them to another. We hold up each other's best selves. Women who understand this are challenging the toxic idea of solidarity by making it about support, not protection. 📸: @shrinkfemale 🎶: GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN-CYNDI LAUPER #theideasmithy

A post shared by Ramya | IdeaSmith 🎤🌱📚💄🏊🏽‍♀️ (@ideasmithy) on

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

We Should All Be Nightiewali Aunties

I saw a trio walk down the main road that I face, last night. Slow, ambling gait and a shapeless collective shadow. As they passed under the street light, I caught a flash of familiar fabric swathes across their bodies. Dupattas, hijabs, masks – who could say? Immediately the thought sprung to my mind – ‘The Nightiewali Aunties’. Because they haven’t been seen for two months. I haven’t actually ever seen them on the main road before in all the years I’ve lived here. And it was too far away for me to see their faces so I’m not referring to any specific person.

India’s 11 week lockdown has just been lifted. From my window, I’ve watched the neon lit, car horn-infested road dwindle to a solo ambulance vainly blaring its siren, while flocks of birds (so many birds) fill up the air and even the ground. I’ve been outside my house, upto the end of the road to the grocery shops 3 times in this period. And I know most women, especially older ones have not set foot outside their homes in this entire period. Stir-crazy does not begin to describe it.

Why did the Nightiewali Aunties catch my eye? After all, long before lockdown was lifted, the neighborhood thugs have been slinking into lanes, defiantly turning up the volume on their tinny mobile phones. An odd couple or two has darted between street lights, snatching companionship, risking not just social censure but also the coronavirus. Two different elderly men have been strutting about the colony walking track, bare-chested at 7AM every day. Teenagers have played out games of cricket and even toss, glancing at the buildings around every few minutes and just a little quieter than usual. The gardener’s friends, usually invisible because of their social class and melting into shadows, have lounged on public benches. It has been 11 weeks of people grabbing public spaces in obvious defiance. Male people.

Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

After all, having our movements restricted, our spaces shrunk – this is not a new experience for any woman on the planet. But it is an entirely alien idea to almost every man. Even the ones who have experienced this as control from their families have had the permission to rebel, to flounce out in rage, to stay out longer than curfew knowing the most they’ll have to face is an upset person. 11 weeks have not been enough for the truth of an invisible, possibly lethal virus to sink into the minds of men.

The lockdown has been lifted, not because the curve was flattened but because life had to go on, people had to work, economies had to be restarted. The danger is far from gone. The question is just how many more people we’ll lose and for how long.

If the past 11 weeks have been any indication, I’m afraid we’re going to lose a lot more men faster. And because of the nature of the virus, infections are going to surge because they’re carriers – just like with HIV. I have much more faith in the Nightiewali Aunties taking precautions, following safety measures and prioritising community safety over their personal irritation. In the male of the species, especially the young, I’m afraid I have none. What a pity they’re the least vulnerable of all the human groups.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Saree-Wearers Club

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.

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SAREE-WEARERS CLUB 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. 🎶 CONFIDENT – DEMI LOVATO #theideasmithy #IWear

A post shared by Ramya | IdeaSmith 🎤🌱📚💄🏊🏽‍♀️ (@ideasmithy) on

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Feminine Strength

The sexes need each other and define each other. Patriarchy rejects this by deeming any form of need or interconnectedness as weak/feminine. But all society and relationships are built on the joint and collaborative strengths of human beings needing and fulfilling each other’s needs in balance.

I’ve been asked why I insist on reading or watching things that could be triggering. Some of these questions are neither pleasant nor objective. They are screaming rants and threats (of the “Don’t you dare talk to me again if you read this now” variety) which sounds to me like people terrified that I’d discover the truth. And the truth is what I’m looking for. I want to know why men treat women badly. I want to understand what was going on in the minds of the men who violated, hit, gaslit, shamed or attacked me. I am aware that these will not erase what was done. But by understanding what was going on, I am better placed to see the signs early (no, “all men are like that” is not a valid sign).

I realised something else. By knowing what about my behavior makes a man behave in a violent/abusive way, makes it possible for me to alter that behaviour or express myself in a way that will make him behave better. This is not demeaning to me. I speak in this language, use this medium because it is the best way for me to get what I want from you – your listening and your thoughts with minimal resistence and hate. That doesn’t diminish me, it makes me more. Adaptability and collaboration are strengths, not weaknesses.

Here’s proof. Reading, talking and thinking about patriarchy & feminism doesn’t make me hate my perpetrators. It actually makes me empathise with them. It makes me want to reject the anger-is-good school of thought that a lot of feminists & other activists follow. It even makes me feel strong enough to walk a path alone without the backing of these more vocal groups right now. I don’t feel stifled, I don’t feel vindictive, I don’t feel deprived, I don’t feel angry, I don’t feel hateful. I feel hopeful & inspired. How is that anything but strength? It’s because the truth really does set me free. All forms of other people’s anger and glorifying it, keep from the truth and walking away from it is a small price to pay for the sheer power of knowing.

I know myself beyond the traumas I’ve experienced. I know myself beyond my mistakes. I even know myself beyond what I have to do to keep other people from wreaking my balance. This knowledge is worth all the tears, all the backlash from the groups demanding total compliance.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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