Category Archives: Relationships
The ties that bind and gag!!!
After he broke my iPod (and it was almost comical since he had to smash it several times and jump on it to break), and his own, he bought me a new one. This despite my never wanting to see one again. Why would I? His music taunted my lack of intelligence and I was too terrified to listen to music I used to like. He waited six months, not allowing me to buy him an iPod, not buying himself one, carrying the badge of the denied genius. Sharp at month 6, he bought one and paraded it around defiantly as if I had kept him from it. Six months, he told me proudly, six months I had decided I would go without an iPod. Six months where he taunted my lack of taste in music and when he didn’t, the empty iPod he bought me sneered. So precise and calculated.
I come from a tradition of music, of training and performing. But I have never owned a music player after that. I have since, won back my right to listen to music I like, even as I indulge this only sparingly. There are too many echoes of hatred and violence in anything I listen to.
His music was music, his self-flagellation was greatness. Mine was just shallow, stupid, worthless. And yet, he’s barely my worst offender when it comes to music. My sexual predator guitar teacher from age 11 and violent, abusive fan-boyfriend (from “Your singing drew me out of my quiz and I just had to come talk to the girl on stage.” to “You are so black and ugly, a guy would only be with you because you look easy.”) from age 22 lead this gaslighting, dangerous ex-fiance of mine.
But I will never forgive the wounds he scratched on my faith in idealistic people, my empathy for abuse/violence sufferers. I will never forgive him for turning me into the demons in his head and me into a monster. And in this, there is its own kind of music. You thought your music was angry?
This was triggered by the book ‘When I Hit You’ by Meena Kandasamy. Notably by a section where her violent abuser shuts down her poetry writing as vindiction but justifies his own poetry as self-flagellation. Just like my ex and the iPods.
AN UNEQUAL MUSIC – a true story After he broke my iPod (and it was almost comical since he had to smash it several times and jump on it to break), and his own, he bought me a new one. This despite my never wanting to see one again. Why would I? His music taunted my lack of intelligence and I was too terrified to listen to music I used to like. He waited six months to buy one for himself. Would not let me buy one. Sharp at month 6, he bought one and paraded it around defiantly as if I had stopped him. His music was music, his self-flagellation was greatness. Mine was just shallow, stupid, worthless. And yet, he's barely my worst offender when it comes to music. My sexual predator guitar teacher from age 11 and violent, abusive fan-boyfriend (from "your singing drew me out of my quiz and I just had to come talk to the girl on stage" to "you are so black and ugly, a guy would only be with you because you look easy") from 22 lead this gaslighting, dangerous ex-fiance of mine. But I will never forgive the wounds he scratched on my faith in idealistic people, my empathy for abuse/violence sufferers. I will never forgive him for turning me into the demons in his head and me into a monster. And in this, there is its own kind of music. #WhenIHitYou #domesticviolence #gaslighting #abuse #survivor #violenceagainstwomen #VAW #meenakandasamy #book #trigger #books #nonfiction #truestory #feminism #feminist
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This has been a lonely month. Housekeeping always is. I also didn’t get to speak to the people who keep me sane, often. Yes, I said that, the people who keep me sane. I can cope on my own but that doesn’t mean I want to or have to. Surviving alone is glorious when you’re 17; it’s just tedious at 37. I haven’t been able to speak to them because of summer. Summer seems to go hard on everyone around. It never did for me and I can’t explain it very well. I sweat and get headaches and heat strokes just like everyone else around. But I think, summer feels like the insides of me feel the rest of the time. A little too tight inside my skin, a few too many things inside my body, just one layer of rules too thick on my natural self. Summer feels like the universe and I am in alignment finally. But no one else seems to like it. I’m…well, I’m kind of used to it. It’s all I’ve ever been, after all.
I have been slower in my responses, though I did have a few flinch reactions. I’m learning flinches are necessary too. All in good measure, I guess. Not flinching allowed me to see that the guy I labelled ‘diltoot‘ was the epitome of a fuckboi. And once you’re spotted a fuckboi, the only thing to do is run, flinches be damned.
I like someone. Or I did. Well, I still do. Or maybe I do again. It goes in waves, which is probably not that odd for a Cancerian. When I’m feeling good, it’s wonderful. Through most of April, I have not. I’ve been starving. A lot of the times, I was able to ‘understand’ why that was happening. And at other times I didn’t and I tortured myself with the kind of thoughts that some of us get used to. At the moment, I’m in a nice-ish place.
I am learning that I can be me, independently, regardless of the love I feel for another person. This is a very big realisation. He told me once, very gently about the kind of dressing that he finds attractive on a woman. I had to discipline myself to not reach for that outfit in my wardrobe the very next time I met him. My style is such rich personal expression, carefully crafted and it is navigated through choppy seas of social disapproval. I am programmed to please men, especially a man I like. I squelched that urge several times. I relented only once and after much soul-searching, I decided to add my own personal dash to it with green lipstick (unconventional choice even on the edgiest of outfits and this wasn’t one). His reaction was wonderful. He was appreciative and respectfully. Which is not to say he worships me but his eyes seemed to be saying “Thank you for considering pleasing me.” Vulnerability invites more vulnerability. I’m learning that as well.
May seems a little gentler. Enough to let me catch my breath and acknowledge that this has been a tumultuous year to say the least. 2017, I don’t abhor you (that was 2012, what a wasteful, depraved year) but I am uneasily fearful of how powerfully you’ve uprooted my beliefs and kept me on my toes. Be kind, if you can.
As with any other time, I don’t know where this or I am heading. The future is a blind mystery. But I’m not playing Sherlock. All will be revealed in good time. And for now, I’m just glad for affection and love as I find it, even if doesn’t always look familiar.
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It’s housekeeping time in the relationships corner of my life. I find myself going through this periodically. I unfriend people on Facebook that I don’t even remember ever interacting with. I withdraw from groups and communities that I do not find myself engaged with. And hardest but most important of all, I draw boundaries with people who have drifted into my life.
I live a very porous life most of the time. For the past seven years, I’ve been sharing so much of life online. My work is inextricably linked to the other things in my life. And I’m an active part of the large creative-intellectual tribe both online and offline. All of these mean that boundaries are constantly being dissolved and frequently, new ground is broken where no structures exist. I hate labels, after all.
But the downside of this is that I find myself frequently sapped by the world around me. People presume too much. People give too little back. Situations spiral out of control. And everything crashes as I scream ENOUGH! I bounce back from these pretty quickly and usually back to a life that has very few of its original inhabitants still standing, the rest swept away in the outburst or shellshocked. I’ve done it enough of times and now I know this is not something I need to be ashamed of. It still is tiring, though. The alternative is to live the kind of cloistered, rigid life that would suffocate me before anyone else.
In the past week, I have exploded at this completely awful person. And that is the only way I am able to think of him. If he had shown just a bit more spine, things would have been different. But maybe I also only got as much as I believed I could get. I was glad he didn’t hit me or abuse me. Those are really low standards to hold a human relationship to and I know better now. I ask more from relationships and people now. If a person needs so much game-playing to acknowledge that they like me, maybe that’s not going to turn out great and I deserve better. Equals do not play games; they have conversations.
We know that men are socialised to take and take and take and never give back. And as women, we have been socialised to give, give, give and never question. We are now learning to identify this earlier, call it out and hopefully start teaching the next generation of men to not be so parasitic in nature. But what makes us think men are the only parasites? There is a new breed of Alpha women who think they have to be like men to succeed and that includes being self-centered, manipulative and toxic. They give their admiration quickly and voluminously. They shout it out from the tops of buildings. And they crash spectacularly. Then they lash out. Viciously.
One of them (who in the past, has woken me up at 2 in the morning to discuss her relationship, in whose support I have judged and turned my back on people who didn’t do a thing to me) told me,
“Oh I didn’t notice what was happening to you (right before her eyes). I have problems. I’m selfish. And I didn’t know we were ghosting each other’s exes.”
Her words sliced through me. Was I being selfish? Was I being needy? Was my problem (getting attacked) that trivial? I realised she was doing exactly what my abusive ex did – gaslighting me.
Another one’s callousness cost me a paying project for no fault of mine. She did not apologise. She sounded annoyed when I called her out on it. She said I should ‘understand’ because I run Alphabet Sambar. When I told her no one had ever lost work because of me, she threw out,
“You’re just so perfect, aren’t you?”
She did the other thing my abusive ex did. Reeked resentment and rage at my successes and tried to make me apologise for her shortcomings. It wasn’t even the first time she had done so and I had forgiven her for it.
I had a sudden realisation. Both these women remind me of this other person I cut out last year. I felt the same vague unease each time they announced to the world that they were ‘such good friends’ with me. I winced each time they parrotted out speeches about my strength, my style, my personality and my writing/poetry. I know now what this is.
I was not their friend. I was a trophy. There is an insidious kind of label that I’ve been unable to avoid because I didn’t recognise it as a label. That’s the ‘I WANT TO BE HER’ label. This label marks me off as a benchmark or trophy but not a human being. This is not normal appreciation I’m talking about. It’s an onslaught of starry-eyed compliments that are being heaped in the hope that I will like the giver. It’s trading flattery for validation. And worst of all, it absolves the other person from the responsibility of being an equal – a friend.
I know this now because of two things. One, I do have actual friends who express their appreciation of me but also treat me as an equal. They call me out when I’m being stupid or weak. They joke with me. They step up when I need them. They do not resent my needs. They do not react violently at my imperfections. And finally, they never throw my achievements back at me. And two, if these women remind me of the abusive men in my life, then what they’re doing is not friendship any more than what those men had for me was love.
I finally realised I enable all of these. I allow people to seep in. I allow people to call me friend (what a hateful term it has become, to cover all manner of sins) without thinking about whether our bond is that strong or that equal. I have not yet learnt how to gently put deflect such forced labels. I do not want to hurt the people who attempt to hang it on me; they do it from a deep hungry need and a misguided sense that I can satiate that need. But I cannot allow myself to be preyed on by the endless, one-sided neediness. I want to be able to give boundlessly but only to people who do the same back. I want fulfiling two-way relationships, not a fan club. Maybe I can learn how to deal with these women the way I learnt to deal with those men.
Once again, equals do not play games; they have conversations. Whether those games start with trading insults or excessive compliments, I guess they’re still games.
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Love. It got so much harder with age. The finding of it, the keeping of it. But mostly, the being okay with it.
We are the generation that’s living life in flinch-decision mode. Swipe Right, Unsubscribe, Alt-Tab, Mute, Disconnect. No wonder our biggest addition to the world of relationships is “It’s complicated” and “ghosting”. Do we give up too easily? An entire generation of us cannot be uniformly more cowardly, weaker or superficial than the generations of humans before us.
No, I think the world is changing faster than it ever has. It’s already a universe different from the ones we were being groomed to enter. Nothing makes sense. And no one taught us how to deal with getting hurt. We don’t even allow each other (or ourselves) time and room to heal. Get over it, snap out, set his letters on fire, flush her pictures away, we say. Quick, quick, instant heal, instant burn, instant crash. It’s exhausting.
I decided not to react but live instead. I decided to hold off on flinch reactions for as long as I could. So I did not write reams of hate posts or heartbreak poetry about the diltoot (well, not too much). I briefly lashed out but I set it right. And before I knew it, we’re already three months into 2017, taxes are being computed and the world is making plans for the future.
In between all that, this nightmare happened. I got rescued, which is a novel experience for me. Nobody was around to even offer a kind word when an asshole was abusing me in college or when a ‘feminist’ fiance was beating me up and collecting accolades for singing about it. I got used to not being rescued, then I got used to being suspicious of anyone offering refuge and finally, I forgot what rescuing or even kindness looked like. This only happened because well, too much happened and I crashed. I would never have set foot on stage again, if it hadn’t been for this rescue. And instead, because of it, I went back onto that same stage and I led the orchestra. (Metaphorically speaking, that is – I opened an event that’s gone viral and then curated and hosted the follow-up event that got such a response that the venue got mobbed). I’m very tired.
I like my rescuer. It doesn’t go anywhere. Should it? Should I? What else? Have I lined up options? Have I protected myself? Am I looking at the big picture? Am I missing any details? Who’s SuperLiking me on Tinder? Is my Snapchat account still alive?
I don’t have to make a decision. I guess I don’t have to do anything. I have to remind myself of that often. I just have to take a deep breath and live through whatever happens. At 37 and single, I’m not really as raw as I was at 22 and abused or 31 and gaslit/dumped. But my reactions come from a place of habit. These habits don’t serve well. I’ve always prided myself on being able to acquire and drop habits easily. But how do you drop your flinch reactions without flinching?
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I am not in dil-toot anymore. It was dil-toot, a phrase I’ve coined to denote a less-than-heartbreak, more like a heart-pinch, just painful enough for me to feel something and think about it but not so shattering that I can’t piece together a coherent thought or sentence. Did I ever mention how or why it ended?
It ended when he said,
” I don’t know what to say.”
It ended because he assumed it was all about what he thought and what he had to say. It didn’t even occur to him that a conversation is between two people and that the other person might have something to say. It ended either because he assumed that or because he did not want to face what I might have had to say.
I’ve weathered the deep sadness, the now-familiar disappointment. I’ve even been able to see how this was a life experience that bothered me just enough to learn from it and also feel very good about the good parts. Being in love really is a wonderful feeling. I have remembered something I keep forgetting when my heart shatters – that love is that undefinable experience that goes beyond attraction, logic, compatibility and shared interests. It falls in the realm of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink moment and everything that follows is an attempt to explain it. I don’t have to, anymore. And that frees me up to look at the future with the hope of more love and other adventures.
I am tickled, even charmed by the surprised wonder in a boy/man’s eyes when it first occurs to him that I’m paying attention to him. I’m not even the most beautiful or desirable woman around but just the fact that I am listening to him and could it be – I like him? What’s worrying is that a lot of men never seem to get past that. That wonder takes on the quality of suspicion, fear even. And that’s part of what turns into slut-shaming, into cheating, into harassment or treating women badly. It’s the inability to handle any reaction from a woman but her derision or fear. Men who cannot deal with a woman’s appreciation or interest – is that not a poisonous problem?
I remember the deadend expression on his face, the frantic tone of his voice in the last moments as my dil-toot‘ed. I have seen it before on many men’s faces. I’ve assumed that it’s coldness, cruelty, selfishness and many other such things. But I’ve come to realise, this is something else. It is the outer limit of a man’s ability to feel, identify and express emotion.
Last week I watched Bramhan Naman, a disturbing movie by any account. It left me deeply sad because among other things, it exposes how woefully ill-equipped the Indian man is when it comes to dealing with the world of myriad emotions that make up the framework of relationships and adult life. In the movie (and echoed in real life) the verbose protagonist yearns for an intangible fantasy but can barely speak to the woman who spawns it. He treats professed, open affection with viciousness and is paralysed by his guilt and fear. When he encounters a woman with the right mix of attractiveness and vulnerability, he cannot bring himself to even respond, let alone initiate interest. So he settles for gestures like getting her food (the last), showing off his family business (the second) and stalking her (the first). These are the actions of a socially inept child, not a completely functioning adult. That adults with their freedom and power do this, is what makes it dangerous.
I complain long and hard about how Indian men (men in general but particularly, brutally Indian men) are infantilised and stunted in their emotional growth. This is what it looks like. They are barely functioning adults who are unable to deal with normal human emotions. Unable, not unwilling.
This outer-limit expression comes after bewilderment and panic. It’s not even resignation since that requires an ability to see that something is bigger than oneself and experience giving up. It’s literally like a very small baby who has not developed sight yet, running into a wall and being stunned, unable to figure out whatwherewhyhowohisthispainshouldicryuhwhatwait. Most men live in that place the whole time they are in love or a relationship. Boy, that’s scary. Add to it such nuanced, problematic ideas such as guilt over sex, Madonna/whore syndromes, mama’s boy dependency and toxic masculinity. No wonder Indian men are such a mess.
I cannot help but feel deep pity for them. And then great sadness for us women and the kind of futile relationships we have to endure as a result. Is there any hope for us all?
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I am in heartbreak.
It’s a crack down an old wound and it hasn’t festered so that’s good. But it still hurts.
It’s a lesson, I tell myself. I’m struggling to learn it, though. I started this year resolving to learn gentleness, be gentleness and already I have broken that twice. I have lashed out, I have let my words, my worst, most potent allies run ahead of me. And then I smashed it.
But I’m realising I’m Scarlett O’Hara pining for the virtues of Melanie Wilkes. Well, I’m not a character in a book set in whatever script has been laid out for me (please don’t talk to me about the frightful sequel). But for now, the way to gentleness seems to lead me further into my own raw, animalistic, volatile nature. I must embrace it, I must accept it. I must stop suppressing it or it will burst out again as it has these two times. And I cannot have that. Fire must be tempered.
There was goodness. I got to do things that I have been too cautious, too fearful to do for years. One notable thing was writing for him. The first time I ever wrote for another person was over a decade and a half ago, for the person who first told me my writing was special. He hurt me and then he turned my writing into a trophy Both hurt me in ways I could not articulate then, the second must worse. I never wrote for another person after that (or at least I’ve never let them know). But that’s limiting, isn’t it? Love, affection, pain, anger, rage, jealousy – each of these are colours to be expressed and my palette is screaming oil paint. I wrote something I really like. And I think the person it was written for, liked it too. Pretty sure he did. 🙂
Now, I realised most men cannot handle this. I think I burn most men out emotionally. At least the kind of men I’m drawn to, the brooding introverts, the shy thinkers, I imagine they have depth but even they don’t seem to have enough. Well, they are mostly paper and straw; they go so easily. Still, there is hope. Maybe this man was not meant to be the one hearing my words. If there are words created and a mind to build them then there must be the ears and heart to receive them too, somewhere in the world. Someday, I’ll meet someone who is warmed by my fire instead of being burnt by it.
Till then, bright red words will drop from my fingers and my lips for everyone and everything in this world. Because that is how I am.
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I was watching Sex and The City (the first movie). This story with all its flaws and shortcomings, served as a reference point for my early feminism and navigating gender politics and relationships. I saw the film when it first released in 2008 with the mild boredom and indulgent disdain of someone who knows she has outgrown an early affection. I saw the movie a few times again in the later years but it was tainted by my opinion of the second film. I swore off, relegating Carrie (whom I never liked that much) into the bin of my cringeworthy-taste-in-my-younger-years bin. All I saw was the whitewashing, the self-absorption and the deep flaws in the central character. But today, today I saw her pain. And it brought back my own.
My wedding ended, quite the same way as Carrie Bradshaw’s. After years of toiling and struggling and stiff-upper-lipping, just when I was ready to believe that I was getting my dreams, it shattered. It was abrupt, cruel and deeply humiliating. And it ground me down in a way that I couldn’t ever imagine I’d be ground down. It has been over four years since that happened.
The first thing that struck me, stung me, was the fact that Carrie Bradshaw had a rock-solid fortress of her friends that she could retreat into and let herself shatter. I did not have that. I had a family that took me back, yes. I have lived with feeling immense gratitude for that. After all, I am part of a culture where daughters are killed by their own parents, in the womb, at birth and even as adults to protect their honour. My family did not do that. But they do not think that a ‘relationship’ is the same thing as a marriage. They believe a breakup is a silly, minor thing, not to be compared to the devastation of divorce. I do not blame them. They’ve gone far beyond what their generation and our culture has taught them.
But my friends and everyone else around me? That’s a whole well of pain. Time and again, over four years I’ve heard various versions of,
“Who cares about him? Forget him.”
“But you are a strong woman. Get over it.”
“Snap out. You’ve got a great life ahead of you. Live it.”
I have been shamed for being upset. I have been judged for wanting to hide. My anguish has been brushed aside in favour of shopping expeditions, party plans. And I’ve been logicked to prove that I must not feel anything.
I am so angry.
Last week I spoke to Xion after several months. And he told me he would always be grateful to my ex for pointing out that I cared about him. Am I supposed to applaud my ex for pointing out the obvious? Is he to be deified for ‘not saying anything bad’ about me? I didn’t cheat on him. I did not gaslight him, abuse him. I did not curb his friendships, his art. I did not ask for dowry. How does his behaviour get compared with mine, when our provocations have been so different?
For my own sanity, I’m learning to walk away from the terrible relationship that I fell into and struggled and sank in. But I have not been able to get past the profound sense of betrayal I feel from people who were around me then and should have been my support. Why not? After all, I’ve been there for each of them. I’ve not thrown ‘tough love’ at them. I’ve not tried to jolly them out of their breakups, their familial problems, their health issues, just because it’s inconvenient to me. I’ve listened, been as gentle as possible. Why do I not deserve the same?
And what is this ‘Strong Woman’ business? My ex threw it at me all the time as a way to shrug off any responsibility towards treating me nicely, being on my side in front of the world or even doing his share. This tells me that the people I thought were my friends, are not different. It’s not convenient to them, to have me down and out.
Four months after my ex threw me out, without warning, without even the courtesy of an explanation, I was on my feet. I had a job. I went and made new friends, found new interests. I didn’t go to pieces or burst into tears at the drop of a hat. A year later, the pain started to ooze out as I watched my ex exploit what he put me through, into a glorification exercise for himself. I crumbled and tried in vain to patch the leaks, with Landmark Forum, with new friendships, with Tinder, anything. And still, my friends said,
“This is so undignified. Get over it.”
“You are so negative. Look at him, he doesn’t even care. Why are you wasting your time?”
Last year, my insides just collapsed and all that was left was a hollow darkness. I lost my way, lost myself, just lost track of what light looked like. Reema and Adi stood by me, wading into the muck of my emotional gutters and carrying me out when they could.
I ran into my ex unexpectedly last month. It was strange. I didn’t feel a thing. The person in my memories, the monster who ravaged my universe, has nothing to do with the person who walks around by the same name. It was heartening. My ticket out. Validation of the thought I’ve clung to since 2012 that I would not, will not let this horrible experience become my identity. I refuse to settle into the label of the jilted woman, the abuse survivor, the damaged abla nari.
So it was a shock when I found myself reduced to tears today, watching an old, not-even-that-good movie. Reema lit a candle inside my crying. She told me it was okay to feel pain. She told me that this wasn’t about wanting to get back with a bad ex; it was about processing grief. And she said, that takes its own time.
We are in a culture that only allows for grief processing in certain circumstances and for specific situations. If I had been married and my spouse had died, I would have been allowed to grieve for years. If I had let myself descend into fits of crying, into broken fear, I would have been petted and cared for. But because I refused to let this defeat me, because I took it head-on, the people around me decided that my pain was not worthy of their compassion. Adi says most people find other people’s pain inconvenient and that makes them behave like douches.
Well. I’ve spent the day crying, then speaking to Reema, then putting my cupboard in order, speaking to Adi, doing my chores, doing my work, speaking to Reema, eating an icecream, speaking to Adi. I am still walking, still writing. A little compassion did not hurt either of them to give but it took me a long way.
I suddenly feel no guilt, no doubt anymore about letting go of pretty much everyone from my past. My pre-2012 world let me down, very badly. I deserve better – people who can stand through my pain as well as my joyful affections. And people who do not punish me for breaking down suddenly.
Pain, it demands to be felt. And there really is no sane way to grieve. I’m just glad it’s finally happening. There will be a morning after that and perhaps that one will have more kindness.
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