I had a chance to get this off my chest last year. I’m so grateful for the stage giving me a chance to voice things that had been eating away my insides for too long. I’ve been silenced by well-meaning friends and others who are just inconvenienced by anything other than my smiling face. I felt like I owed it to myself to get it out and start 2017 on a fresh note. Noting it here for posterity.
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The Crush has given me a book. The question is to read or not to read?
What if it turns out to be like ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’? What if it’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hain? I crushed but I still found it problematic even back in the 90s. Oh, what a grave falling there will be! Men, please note. If you’re calling yourselves modern and telling us you like ‘smart women’, you’ve got to be careful about twice as many things. Keep your shoes (and teeth and other vital body parts) clean. Smell good. Even intelligent women have noses. AND please, for god’s sake, have good taste! There is nothing worse than a snob-slob unless it’s a well-dressed guy who says he enjoyed Amish Tripathi.
Let’s come to the book. Goodreads and Amazon reviews offer some solace but I am a skeptic. Too many smooth-talking boys and too many well-written reviews of bad books, have me running to my Comfort reading shelf. I’ll take a well-thumbed copy of Harry Potter over all the fad ‘Best of 2016’ listicle books any day. At my age you cannot risk having your heart broken by yet another well-marketed book.
Besides 2017 has just begun and I’m still basking in the afterglow of ‘The Help’ (which I took 4 years to decide to buy, after enjoying the very excellent movie version). I don’t give my affections easily. Not to a man and certainly not to a book (and you know which one can break my heart worse).
On the other hand, there’s the supreme Male Ego and how pandering to it becomes directly proportion to said male’s interest in one. How can I say I don’t want to read this book because what if it’s really horrible or worse still it sucks and I can’t deal with omghowdoessuchalovelylikesuchahorrid and then I have to block you and scrub my crush-organs with bleach to obliterate any memory of you? No, it’s a lot easier to say, “No thanks, I don’t drink coffee.”
Better to lose a man than the fantasy of him. I’ll have a (potentially bad) book to keep me company. But what if it turns out to be really, really good OMiGawdIKnewItWeShouldBeBookSoulmates and he’s gone? Sigh.
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Welcome again to the Dating Guide! I feel like it’s time to bring it back. This time perhaps as Dating Thirty-Plus? Or perhaps, The Dating Millenial Part 2? Never mind the nomenclature. It has changed.
I’m dating again after the better part of a decade. Most of these years were wasted in a relationship, engagement and the aftermath of the break-up. A year or two before that was frittered away waiting for the world’s systems (social and technological) to catch up with my (and now, I realise many of my generation’s) needs. Some of the time since the break-up has been spent healing and relearning trust, humour and strength, all essential skills for the single person setting out to find a match.
What do we find here? The dating landscape of the noughties decade is acknowledged today (bravo, bravo India, we finally feel able to admit to it). Human relationships and their creation have gone digital (once again, cheers). We now have a clear picture drawn in line strokes. Black and white.
At one end, we find that matrimonial sites are now acceptable and mainstream. After all, our mums are today’s biggest Skype and Whatsapp users. So it’s possible to find Higher-educated, Attractive, Family loving, Travel-enjoying, Horoscope-matched, Career-aligned, Well-Recommended matches at the tap of a button.
Simultaneously, jostling for screenspace with the aforementioned are services that let you Swipe Right for Hells No, Swipe Up for In Your Dreams, Swipe Down for Sexchat But No Meeting and Swipe Left for Your Place or Mine?
Which side do I pick? Umm, neither. I spent my 20s deeply uncomfortable with the chauvinism of wedding rituals, protesting the patriarchial hold on relationships and being shocked by the gender disparities in the law about these. Marriage? Uh, wait a minute please. I now have names for those niggling worries. I have proof of terrible idea for these outdated social systems. And now justifiably, I’m freaked out by anyone whose life goal is to get married and approachs it with the same one-minded zeal as chasing a professional deadline. So, no thank you ShubhShaadi, TurantVivah, JeevanSaathiya. I think it takes a lot more than a matched horoscope, profile, three templatised messages and one conversation to guarantee a happy marriage. I don’t know what guarantees one to be fair, but these are definitely not enough.
At the other end is the icy-chillness of the space (ironically) named for fire-related paraphrenalia. I don’t get hookups, I don’t want hookups and I’m too old to lose my self-esteem over that. In my opinion, it takes far more effort to have only sex-no strings attached than to try and build a relationship. I’d rather stay home with a good book, my feet dry in this horrible weather and my body clean of all the nasty things that doing the nasty with someone you don’t quite know could acquire.
I don’t believe I’m an exception or a misnomer. I am looking for meaningful relationships. Someone I can laugh with and talk about important things with. I want to feel cherished and desired, but not in the flashy, Instagrammable romantic gesture way. I want to care about how someone’s day was rather than critique and optimise their itenerary. I think these are the stuff of life itself and just like life, don’t follow rigid schedules and previously agreed upon boundaries. I want a connection, not the Terms & Conditions document of Tinder nor the 30 year merger plan of Shaadi.
I want to think that this is true of most human beings because how can it not be? This is the driving need of every generation for centuries. I know that there is an entire generation of Indians just like myself. I think perhaps the ones venturing out into the digital space are just louder and even they are probably being cautious. It’s easier to navigate a straight line drawing; much harder to explore the grey that relationship-building is, especially if one has been bruised in the past.
It makes the dating game as tricky as it has always been. When I connect with a person, how do I say please don’t treat me like a piece of meat because I won’t treat you that way but also please don’t think I’m your Manic Pixie Dream Girl answer to all your problems just stop and breathe and give me a chance to be me and you a chance to be you and let’s see if maybe you and I could have a conversation and a walk together and see where that goes?
No, there’s no easy way to say all that. The Tinder types have lost interest at ‘please’ itself (rudeness is considered cool, isn’t it?). The Shaadi sort has lost their hearts because the English is correctly spelt.
Sigh. Patience. Maybe the next decade will be better for the grey zone of those looking for love.
*Images courtesy David Castillo Dominicio and sattva on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
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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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Of the many wars a woman fights, body image issues are some of the hardest to tackle. Because they’re always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of one’s mind.
I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don’t fit. Do I believe it’s harder because of this? After all, I’m not large, I’m not small, I’m not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don’t we?
I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. Add a layer of shame and another of silence to deep-seated complexes. Imagine a perfect well-shaped pot with a tiny hole in one side. That’s what body image is like. All the compliments, all the validation leaks out of that one part of one’s body that doesn’t fit. And that one part of you that feels imperfect becomes a clogged drain, lined with shame, resentment, fear and sadness. In my case, that place is right in the centre of me, in my stomach.
I have never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It has stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. I’ve been advised to give up eating rice, cold water, dairy products after sunset, fried foods. Nothing works.
I do want to say that nobody has ever shamed me for my stomach. Among all the insults and attacks that came my way, the stomach never featured. If anything a boy long ago called it ‘cute’, another one said it could make a guy feel better about himself knowing that I wasn’t a perfect marble statue and recently a friend called it ‘Madhuri Dixit chic’. While these compliments made me laugh and glow with pleasure, at some level I did not really buy into them. I just shrugged them off as affection for me/crab mentality/funny kink. My relationship with my body is tightly locked away inside my cells. It’s hard to see yourself the way others see you.
11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego.
Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to ‘hide my flaws’. I experiment a lot more with clothes now but I instinctively gravitate to looks that emphasize the things about my appearance, that are permitted to be called beautiful. Most days now, I don’t even remember my dragon tattoo.
But this Monday, I took out this top that’s been lying unused for nearly three years. It’s short and because it ties at the back, it (in my head) emphasises how rounded my stomach is. The words that form in my mind when I usually see myself this way are PODGY, UNHEALTHY, CHUBBY, FLABBY and that dreaded euphemism – MUFFIN TOP. Truly, I do understand what body image issues sound like inside one’s head.
I draped on a trenchcoat over as a security blanket and travelled, my head held high, the body language I assume when I’m faking it till I make it. Then I met Neha and we stopped for a bathroom detour before proceeding. I ruefully and reluctantly stared at my stomach in the mirror in the ladies’ toilet and said,
“It’s not umm….flat.”
Neha didn’t laugh at me (like people often do when I admit to feeling uncomfortable). She didn’t tell me I didn’t have the right to feel diffident about my looks (again, like a LOT of people like to tell me). She just said,
“You know, most women don’t have flat stomachs.”
We spoke briefly about adolescent fears and things that we battled growing up. I mean really briefly, because it was just the time it took to climb one staircase. Maybe it was because it came from a woman as glamorous as she is. Maybe because she didn’t look at me any differently for having an unflat stomach. Maybe because she didn’t judge me for worrying about something as stupid as that. Maybe it was just because she was kind. But I felt a surge of courage go through me. Sometimes you need people to believe that it’s okay for you to be scared, to stop being scared. My dragon awoke again.
And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach.
Of the many wars I fight, body image issues are among the hardest to tackle. Because they're always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of my mind. I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don't fit. Do I believe it's harder because of this? After all, I'm not large, I'm not small, I'm not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don't we? I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. I've never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It's stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. Eventually, I gave up. 11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego. Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to 'hide my flaws'. Most days now, I don't even remember my dragon tattoo. But this Monday, I took out this top that's been lying unused for nearly three years. I draped on a coat over it for a security blanket. But @pwneha said something that gave me courage. And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach. So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete. Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the picture! #body #selfesteem #bodyimage #bodyissues #bodylove
So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete.
Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the pictures! And thank you, Neha.
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A strange thing happened. I only noticed it recently but I think it began several months ago. Back in the summer, at an event, some people thought that Adi and I were dating. I knew a couple of them slightly so I was surprised they didn’t know I was single. I put it down to the overhormonal college canteen-type atmosphere at the time where everyone is crushing on someone or about to break up or about to fall in love or something equally melodramatic. A couple of weeks later, I was having coffee with one of them and he couldn’t believe that Adi and I were ‘just friends’. What does that even mean? As if friendship is a trivial relationship, (such a redundant assumption in our current times of urban families).
“You guys seem so close!”
We are, I assured him, but why would that mean we had to be dating? I don’t think he really believed me but I put it down to his having been a nerd most of his life and marrying a family friend early in life (by his own admission). Maybe the concept of close friendships between men and women that were just that, was new to him.
But I was alarmed when a friend of a few years wondered if I had ever dated Adi or had had a crush on him or currently had a crush on him. No, No, NO, I said, why is this even a question? Just think about it then, she said. It made me want to scream. If this is not a thing, maybe it is never going to be a thing. I’m a pretty intelligent person and so is Adi and if we aren’t a couple, maybe that’s by design. Being in a relationship is not such an obscure idea that it couldn’t have occured to at least one of us in the eight years we’ve known each other. And finally I hit the panic button when two close friends mentioned it on my birthday.
I spoke to Adi about this and he’s as mystified as I am. I am one of his many close female friends. Apparently in the last year, he has been subjected to similar questions about us. He’s stumped by this, having never had to deal with this his whole life. He reckons it’s about (his) turning 30 and everyone else’s need to couple the world up neatly.
For my part, I’ve seen this through college and to some extent in my 20s. The latter came from concerned family that wanted to see me ‘settled’ in the traditional sense of the term. I understand that the relationship references for their generation are different from mine so it never bothered me. But I can’t fathom how people in my generation are choosing to make these mistaken associations. Have the generations regressed again to a time when a friendship between a man and a woman can’t help but devolve into sex and romance? ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ and ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya‘ both came out nearly 30 years ago and it’s a poor call if we’ve gone back to the kya-ek-ladka-aur-ladki-dost-ho-sakte-hain mindset.
I find this deeply unsettling. First of all, it makes it clear to me just how much peer pressure probably goes into making romantic relationships. What is the value of a relationship that you get into because your friends & family think it’s a good idea? Suddenly, in all the popular narratives around me (namely movies, both Hollywood and Bollywood), all I can see is the tug-of-war of two people’s denial and the rest of the world coaxing/forcing/manipulating them into being with each other. Cupid may look cute in paintings but his real life manifestations are just plain annoying. I have never needed the world to push me into reaching for what I want. If I like somebody, logic, wisdom, good sense be damned and anyone who has known me for a few years should know that. Adi is the same.
“How do you know??”
comes the infuriating question. Should I explain exactly when, where, how many times and in what words Adi and I have reached that understanding about each other? What is this thought that one knows better what’s good for two people than they do themselves?
“But what if he’s not telling you how he really feels?”
which is when I’m ready to burst a blood vessel. This assumption is so ridiculous and so disrespectful. A less adamant person or a weaker relationship might allow doubt to come into their interaction, at this stage. And that really, really bothers me. People who ask you questions like these wear smug, holier-than-thou expressions like they’re doing you a favour when what they are doing, is poisoning your existing friendship.
Secondly, it is such a judgemental, limited view of human relationships. Admittedly most people don’t think that much about other people but these are friends and close ones we’re talking about. It’s a bit hurtful that these folks would rather slam us into convenient, superficial boxes than deal with the reality that every relationship, just like every human being, is unique and follows its own narrative.
Adi summed it up in his less angry but still very dramatic way when he said,
“A relationship is something two people build together. You and I have built this, over the years. And we like it the way it is. It’s like we’ve built a museum, exactly how we want it. And the others keep trying to get us to turn it into a house. I mean why??!”
So dear world, it’s great that you’re so interested in other people but how about allowing them to live out their own fairytales the way they like and you focus on getting your own right?
Doing the hipster thing with my bestie @adityabidikar #friend #friends #fun #TagsForLikes.com #funny #love #instagood #igers #friendship #party #chill #happy #cute #photooftheday #live #forever #smile #bff #bf #gf #best #bestfriend #lovethem #bestfriends #goodfriends #besties #awesome #memories #goodtimes #goodtime
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