Category Archives: Unholy Matrimony
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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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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A few years ago, I wrote about navigating the boundaries of a friendship with a married man. My first guest contributor, The Single Married Man shared a firsthand account of the confusion of being in transition from ‘married’ to ‘divorced’.
I am finding divorce in every by lane of my social circle these days. Over the years, I’ve bemoaned relationship breakdowns with girlfriends and together we have learnt to deal with it. For some reason, when I was in my 20s, we tended to seek solace from others of our own sex. But these days I find myself in more conversations with men about their failing/failed marriages.
Perhaps it’s because the boundaries between the sexes are blurring. Maybe it’s because marriage is a complex universe involving families, landlords and the law so one can’t afford to be picky about where one finds one’s support. Or maybe like I once predicted would happen, the men of my generation are just finding it harder to cope with the realities than women.
They are all men in transition. They have been independent and intelligent, they’ve believed in gender equality and love and commitment. Now with their worlds tattered, they’re rebuilding how they see the world, life, the opposite sex and themselves. I can see them struggling to fit me into relationship models familiar to them.
One of them propositioned me. I deflected him gently so it wouldn’t bruise his ego. “But you’re the one who told me to get out and have some fun!” he said. I meant it would be good for him to loosen up and experience the lighter side of interactions with the opposite sex. That could include casual sex. But I didn’t like his taking it for granted that I was offering myself up.
Married people, especially those who were not single for very long, often tend to take a superior stance on the single life. Marriage is a lot of work, they tell us. What they don’t realise is that being single is a different kind of battlefield. It’s not all days of How I Met Your Mother/Sex and The City style apartments, hitting the town each night and regular Tinder hookups. It’s constant loneliness and never being sure, it’s eating for one, knowing total strangers have the ability to hurt you and constantly evaluating how lonely you are versus how little your options appeal to you. Recently divorced people have a lot to learn, this is true. Welcome to the world of ONE.
One friend threw a tantrum last month because he felt like meeting me for dinner and I said I was busy. I had to be firm, patient but also subtle in conveying to him that I was not obligated to meet all his needs. It really hit me even more painfully then.
Many of these men, even the most independent, thoughtful ones, by virtue of our Great Indian Family Culture have never been allowed to deal with difficulty on their own. They have been mollycoddled from disappointment and insulated from Nos. They have no reference for what to do in a world that does not have time to meet their every demand. Their families are older and possibly less able to be their shields. Often, the families are showing their humanness in bringing in their own prejudices. What is this boychild in a man’s body to do?
I am also noticing some of them lapsing into cynicism and active hatred of women. It’s a scary thing to be around. Most women know that a man who doesn’t get what he wants, is a dangerous man. At what point do I stop being supportive and decide to walk away? When does one decide that this person, this friend of so many years is more dangerous beast than friend?
Take socially sanctioned male entitlement, sprinkle in a vague flavour of independent thinking, throw in some outraged sense of betrayal and mix liberally with confused East/West value systems — that is the brain of today’s recently divorced Indian male.
I do not intend to fall into the common trap of playing mommy to any one of them. Life and the system has extracted its own pound of flesh from me. But they are becoming different people because of their divorces and our relationships are changing too. I guess I’m afraid of what that could mean for them, for us and ultimately, for me.
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There is a new breed of people out there and they are a helluva lot better to be around than the others. They are the 30-something war veterans of relationships. They are divorcees. They’ve lived in without marriage and borne the backlash from family, landlords, friends and service people. They’ve been engaged and sent out wedding invitations only to have to retract and learn to say something no one in their families had to say.
“It’s over. I’m sorry. No, umm, it didn’t work out. No, there’s no wedding. Sorry.”
It used to just be me and one or two of the other local urban legends (“There was something wrong with him always”, “She was always a fightercock”, “He must have cheated”, “She must have had something going on with the neighbor”). Now I’m losing count of the number of people starting to drift into this group.
We are different. Our battle scars don’t just define us. They’ve made it necessary for us to shape lives that have no references. We are the generation of Indians that had limited career choices imposed on us. We are the ones who began speaking English earlier, went abroad earlier, dressed ‘like MTV and Hollywood and don’t you know that is not our culture??’. We celebrated Valentine’s Day and got into political trouble for it. Then we succumbed to arranged marriage or love marriages with twenty thousand rituals borrowed from Bollywood and ageing family matriarchs/patriarchs. We sank or swam in the open sexuality of new media which swept away the prudish touch-only-spouse-and-only-in-private attitudes we had been brought up with.
The compromises we made in our twenties, were supposed to be our prodigal returns from the rebellion of our satellite TV/internet bedecked 90s adolescence. Things were supposed to turn out fine. We were not prepared for dowry disguised as expensive rituals paid for by the girl’s family. We didn’t expect to have to compete with pornography or gaming, for our partners’ attention. We didn’t think we’d need to decide between dual-career-no-marriage or single-career-resentful-marriage. We didn’t forsee that mismatched libidos and opposed political views would enter our kitchens, our bedrooms and our relationships.
And we are dealing with who we are becoming in the dealing of these things. We are so different.
Yesterday I asked out to dinner a woman I had met a couple of times. “Just you and me?” she asked. “Well, why not?” I replied. We talked about mothers who called if it crossed 11PM and we weren’t home. We spoke of bitchy colleagues making our lives miserable when they heard about this. We discussed unsatisfactory exes and what made a woman good in bed and why this should mean we had to do things we didn’t want to. We brought up menstrual cups and younger men and how wonderful it was to have a conversation with someone who used the word ‘schism’ casually and correctly. And then we clinked our Cosmopolitans (what a throwback!) and went home.
Last week I met a man who once wore the tag of ‘boyfriend’ and has always brought along an air of fresh cologne and protective warmth to our friendship. Right now he’s walking around under a cloud of messy divorce and alimony induced gloom. I hugged him. He shrugged and told me,
“I’m looking at it as the price for my freedom.”
I hugged him again. I understood and I know he knew I understood. Only someone who’s been in that war will ever understand all the nuance in his statement. Then we went out to the shops. He helped me pick out a new pair of shoes. I stood with him while he smoked an only-during-bad-times-cigarette. And we enjoyed our meal more than the hundreds we’ve shared in the past decade. Because, who knows what poison might infect his system or mine soon?
Yet another friend has climbed his painful way out of that abyss, quit his corporate job and gone off to chase a longtime dream. Last year I asked him out. He didn’t say yes. He didn’t say no. Now, he may never return from the place he has moved to. But he sends me photographs of his life there. We both know something that people who aren’t like us, do. There is relating and that goes way beyond relationships. It took divorce and abuse and alimony and broken engagements to learn that.
We’ve seen too much to believe that rituals are romantic. We’ve borne too much to pretend that families always know what’s best for us. We’ve been through enough and more that something deeper in us, even the least aggressive of us, has sat up and said, “Enough.” It’s the amiable friend who remarried and didn’t invite anyone because he was done with the tamasha. It’s the ‘good wife’ who shed her burqa for a high-low dress and finally got herself a business card telling the world about the business she had run for six years. It’s the quiet colleague who moved to another city to start a bar and live with two bachelor friends.
This for me is the new India. It didn’t have to live through Independence or Emergency or most of the big wars. But it has had to make its way through outdated social rituals, oppressive familial references and being thrust into a volatile international economy that it was not prepared for. It has been on Shaadi.com as well as Tinder. And guess what, it hasn’t crashed as yet.
There are more of us and we are all around you. You’re related to us. You’re dating us. You’re working with us. You’re falling in love with us. You’re living next door to us and borrowing daal from us. You’re sharing parking space and theatre seats with us. You’re asking us for advice on what to wear, which college to go to and if we’ll give you a reference at your next job. You’re selling to us. We are not the others anymore. Many of us are the ones making pathbreaking choices and while they’re not comfortable, the generation after us looks up to us because we’re displaying the rebellion they’re losing in their twenties.
Divorce is not an evil word anymore. Living in is not a sin punishable by death. Sex is not a bad word. Virginity is not a prize. Men are not freer than women. Women do not make better parents. In-laws are not the same as parents. Big weddings are nothing more than expensive PR campaigns. Older people are just older people, not wiser people. Rituals do not ensure happiness. Intelligent people are not sorted-out people. An IIT or an IIM degree does not guarantee a good spouse or even a good life.
It’s time you revised your myths.
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Last month I had a conversation with a friend I was meeting after a long time. My failed engagement came up. It would, of course, it’s one of the biggest things to happen to me in the past ten years. The good thing is it’s not THE biggest thing, only one of the big ones. Others have been quitting my job, writing two books and a column, going freelance, losing a grandparent and an uncle, getting a business partner, being an entrepreneur, changing professional streams, becoming a spoken word performer and moving houses thrice.
I talked about all the things that I thought might have gone wrong. Then he asked me something that stopped me midway through food as well as through the “I’m okay” trajectory I seem to have been on since the breakup. He said,
“All these warning signs. Why did you go through with it? Why did you stay with him?”
I sputtered at first and said, what what warning signs? I can’t see them. But I know what he sees as warning signs. An abusive childhood. A product of a broken marriage. Dysfunctional relationships with the family. The angry activism. No, I’m still not seeing it. These are not a person’s fault. Would it be fair for me to walk away from someone because these things had happened to them?
Yet, after everything I experienced, I often wonder whether this relationship was my punishment for being empathetic, for wanting to look beyond a person’s past and family and love them for who they were. It’s convenient to say that it’s not. But I’m left with a broken relationship with someone who doesn’t have the capacity for respect, let alone trust or love. And none of that is my fault, so why should I be bearing the social stigma, not to mention the humiliation and heartache of this?
Then there’s the other side of it. Let’s say I start heeding the ‘warning signs’. Where shall we draw the line on what comprises these? A person who has had many relationships before? A manipulative parent? (Hah! Find me one Indian with ‘family values’ who doesn’t have this). How about a fluctuating career graph? Well, I’ll need to blacklist myself then.
Suddenly, I’m finding a lot of people in my age-generation are getting divorced. They were living the ideal dream of my generation. This is the breed of people that emerged into adulthood in the millenium, grabbed up the professional avenues that the internet, IT, offshoring & mobile telephony offered and married in their mid-20s. A lot of them had been ‘average’ or even underachievers but the millenium brought new promises in the form of foreign shores, multinational employment, early entrepreneurship etc. It brought its own problems too — displacement, several culture shock, stress, opportunities and motivation to cheat. So, I’m not actually that surprised at this happening.
Many of them are friends and there’s even an old boyfriend or two in there. Suddenly, there’s a new pool of people available to me for friendship, relationships and more. I say friendship too because this group of people just like their more traditional counterparts sunk their lives and time within their marriages, leaving no room for other interests and associations. But they’re all citizens of the world and they’re surviving the shocks in a multitude of ways. One has reverted to the bachelor lifestyle, sharing ‘a pad’ 90s Friends style with two flatmates. Another has gone on a rampage of the classical wildchild sort with red hair and serial hookups. In addition to these so-called vices though, they’re also starting up new ventures, quitting deadend jobs, taking off on solo trips, signing up for marathons and rallies. The flash-and dazzle has not gone out of my generation yet.
A part of me is heaving a sigh of relief at this happening. Obviously, I’m not happy that something like divorce is happening at an individual level to people I know. But I feel a little less alone in my own unconventional choices. I have people around me who suddenly understand that relationships are not bedrocks of reliability and that life is too short to waste on one company or profession.
In addition, the twenty-somethings I’ve been dating for years are starting to feel like a compromise I’m not required to make anymore. There is nothing wrong with them. But they’re working towards goals that are not mine, struggling with life choices that I’ve experienced enough to know they’re not important. I cannot impose my lessons on them. These are experiences one must live through and be shaped by, on one’s own. But people who’ve faced these the same times as I have, they’re coming back into the space of being available and accessible.
We’re a new kind of people with our own never before seen problems and challenges. We’re having to redefine who we are, let alone what relationships and other people mean to us. Now, what are the ‘warning signs’ I’ll need in order to navigate these people with care? I can only tell you after I’ve been down the road and put down the markers for the ones who come after.