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I Don’t Celebrate Halloween, Can I Leave?

I thought about him yesterday. Not the angry, violent, horrible monster that the later times have made me need to remember of him, but the early times. I had to. He’s the source material for my romantic imagination. And my imagination is the only thing that rescues me from the quagmire of emotions.

I am trying to remember how love used to be, how I used to love. I have a better understanding of the second, including the ways in which my unbounded affections become toxic for some people. This is the reality of it. It’s limiting to think of myself as bad or weak or love as a poisonous thing in total. Some things suit some people and they cause others to erupt in blisters or choke or turn into monsters. Who knows that better than an allergy-sufferer?

“I don’t think he ever actually liked me,”

I told a friend last week. Incredulous, he asked me, then why was he with you? I think (I reasoned as I spoke) that I fit a picture of what he thought he wanted – slightly older and dark skinned to annoy his family, bantery enough to feel like he was an intelligent guy, pedigreed to suit the Kolkata intellectual aesthetic and as a last consideration, packaged adequately well to not terribly annoy any lingering physical consideration. I scan myself mentally the way Hollywood films show men scanning women – body, background and messy human traits to be managed.

Some times this helps, being able to put myself inside what I think of, as that cruel, unforgiving, utterly unempathetic, uncaring eye of the person I loved. It helps me re-establish him as that person in my head.

But other days like yesterday, it’s harder. I must admit that most people do not look that deeply into another person, even people they claim to love. Men, least of all, given their boundless capacity for self-absorption and erasure of women. Men, especially in their twenties are not even required (by fashionable politics or by experiences with women like me) to think that much about why they chase who they chase.

Maybe there is some romance in that uncaring, naive, selfish, superficial glance. These adjectives are all things I’ve associated with romance, any way. Which completes my circle of thought, then. Do I want this? Did I ever? No.

Companionship seems to be a different thing but I keep getting pushed into the romance bazaar to look for it. I was looking for some cooling balm and I’m in a place hawking Halloween masks. That is a problem with the world and I have to find a way to get out of the wrong store. It is time to leave the monsters behind.

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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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The Gifts of February: Surviving Triggers

February brought a lot of gifts and a lot of lessons. Hear that, 2017? Lessons don’t all have to be hard and suffering-riddled. Well, perhaps not true. The #MeToo movement has been gaining voices and echoes all around the world. And last month it hit really, really close to home. This time the pain was not mine but like an old fracture that aches in certain weather, my experiences echoed in the voices of the women who came out with their stories of being coerced, bullied and harassed.

I found myself standing at a crossroads. I could drown in the pain of remembered trauma and let 2017’s horrors (and 2012 and 2002–03) stay alive. I did what I do after every bad decision I make. I decided not to let it define me. These were things that happened to me; not things that are me. And every experience I have had, I have been able to turn into a lesson. So why not these?

I think that is why I was able to live through February without the rage that destroys every woman who has experienced violence of some sort by a man, and finds herself triggered over and over again as it continues in other women’s stories. No, it has not been easy.

I found myself wanting to throw a chair across a room, when I found myself sitting next to stories of violation, inside a room where some of those violations were probably perpetrated. I felt my breath catch as I watched a young girl clutch an inhaler as she spoke, back ramrod straight. Yes, I know what that feels like. I live in that pose most of the time. Determined and petrified, both at once.

In the weeks to come, I found myself seeing fear under people’s skin, prickling up as noticeably as goosebumps. Every man I know — in their wary glances that they probably don’t realise makes them look shifty. The damning silences in forums where hard truths are finally emerging from women’s insides. The brittle bluster that left me as disturbed as usual but seemed to leave them spent and a little scareder of me. I had one exhausting discussion where Papon’s actions were defended and where I screamed down the mansplaining and silencing being done to me. Whew.

And yet, February had gifts. I have survived it without falling prey to the mental darkness that plagued me in late 2017, without succumbing to toxic conversations and associations and habits. And that tells me something about that the old fears that surfaced in December when SXonomics addressed the issue of domestic violence. I have lived for a long time with the effects of gaslighting, not the least of all being the damning guilt that it was all my fault. December prised loose what I hope was the last of residual trauma and I spent weeks after that falling sick. But when I began February, I found myself on the other side, washed clean of the lingering effects of a poisonous person. I was never one. Could I be blamed if my skin burnt when it came into contact with toxic substances? I am not a violent person. I never was. I’ve borne too many things in my past, with grace to know this. Gaslighting made me forget. No more. So thank you February, for reminding me about who I am.

Traumas have a way of lingering on and triggers are sneaky things. But the healing can keep going on too. It’s a lot like addiction, really. Every day is a fresh battle with darkness. The world does not understand, cannot understand and possibly does not want to understand. But when the voices die down, it’s possible to find a minute of silence inside yourself. Mourn the death of all that you lost. And then, in that death, find peace. It is not entirely ugly.

February felt full of love though it wouldn’t look like that to someone from the outside. All I did was work. But if you’ve known me long enough, you know I live well when I have the opportunity to work well and vice versa. It’s good to be the person I love — Me.

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Gender is fluid. Yesterday evening, @IshmeetNagpal and I performed a one hour show titled 'Balanced Voices' about gender imbalances in the popular narrative. Voices are gendered and so are narratives but suppression and silencing of certain groups (women, LGBTQIA, people of colour, non-savarna people) makes the world an deeply unjust place. My lips reflect my politics. They're a bit smudged as this was shot after several hours of application. But I even like the blending that happened as a result. That reflects the politics of gendering too. #IWear #lipart #lipstick #bluelipstick #crossgender #genderpolitics #gendering #genderedcolours #feminism #feminists #feminist #patriarchy #BalancedVoices #SXonomics

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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.

Aziz Ansari And The Missed Cues

Another man joins the ranks of predators and this time it’s a brown, woke man. Here’s a well-written opinion in tweets. And here’s why I don’t agree.

Blindly vilifying the man in a situation is definitely problematic. Justice means every party deserves the benefit of doubt and is innocent unless proven guilty. There’s a reason sexual harassment cases are grey and that’s because they happen behind closed doors. This means nobody knows for sure.

But consent (like assault) is also grey. As a woman I have felt pressured into doing things I didn’t want to, and by ‘nice guys’. I didn’t protest actively because it felt easier to let him go through with it and get away. Disagreeing with men often carries a disproportionately heavy price (slut-shaming, friendzone accusations, acid attacks). It’s exhausting trying to judge the risk in every case and often in such a situation, there isn’t enough time.

Letting someone do something to you that you don’t like, for fear of danger or retribution or punishment magnifies everything. In addition to feeling disgust (at having to do something you didn’t want), one feels violated and imprisoned. Not only did you have to do something unpleasant, you were also not allowed to say you didn’t like it. Imagine being forced to eat a neem cake and being made to smile through it all.

The timing of the allegations feels unfortunate or convenient, depending on how you see this. It’s definitely possible to read it as opportunism, given Aziz Ansari’s success. But also, triggers are a thing. As an abuse survivor, I largely live my life carefully avoiding my gaslighting, abusive ex. But it gets really hard to stay quiet when I see him positing himself as a feminist or decrying violence against women, all while calling me toxic. There is no justice in idolizing a man just for saying he’s feminist while ignoring his history of abuse and violence, especially when every feminist woman is savagely attacked.

#MeToo did more than call out Hollywood’s sexual power/exploitation structure. It forced out conversations about abuse and sexual violence by men against women. I don’t think the Aziz Ansari case is unrelated. Sexual power politics are so intricate, this is part of their unraveling.

Men are not taught to listen to women. Even so-called woke men don’t realize respect, consent, equality and feminism have to exist in every minute, not just on Women’s Day and in trending topics. Most of them slip up and often. And being men, socialized to behave badly with zero fear of consequences, they react often in bad ways. Aziz Ansari just reaffirmed the stereotype of the brown man being hypocritical, sleazy and disrespectful of women. Why should I protest it? I’m a victim of this exact kind of human being.

For everyone referencing the fact that he acknowledged it – “Yes, I did it and I’m sorry” does not nullify a wrongdoing. Would you treat a woman equally kindly when she said sorry? Two words. Monica Lewinsky. What happened to Surpanaka from Ramayan (the closest parallel I can draw to consent violation by a woman) when she wooed Lakshman?

Plenty of men are complaining that they worry about every interaction with the opposite sex. Good, I say and welcome to a woman’s life. You are complaining that you can’t be thoughtless, selfish, privileged anymore without facing consequences. Yes, it’s hard to stop being that and learn a new way of being. So what? Get with it.

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

From #PillowTalk To #ItHurts

Every piece of art or performance that I work on, is an emotion-mining experience. December has been an intense one, with SXonomics (my feminist collaboration with Dr.Ishmeet Nagpal).

We started with a visit to Delhi, a place with which I’ve always had a complex relationship. I was born there. All my life I’ve associated it with stifling familial pressures and oppression. My early 20s brought me a horribly abusive boyfriend from this city and taught me that men would use my skin colour and my body to violate my being. What happened to Jyoti Singh wrecked the mind of every woman in the country. Delhi, for me the woman, for me the feminist, for me who breathed my first there, has worn the face of a monster.

But we were invited by the Love Matters India team to participate in a Durex event themed ‘Pleasure is a human right‘. For a band with ‘sex’ in its name, we sure took our time getting to it, in our work. But we scripted and performed a set called #PillowTalk addressing libido, attraction, orgasm, sex positions and the questions we carry into bed with us. It got a fantastic reaction from the audience and we had a blast doing this.

We had barely touched down in Mumbai before our next event had already grabbed us. From sex talk to exploring mating rituals, partner searches, relationship milestones and landmines, SXonomics was onto its next chapter. #RelationshipsRedefined was a 2 hour interactive workshop/performance with BeHiver that addressed the universal quest for love and its speedbreakers. Ten people allowed us to guide their journeys through performance, exercises, improv and discussion. After all, our name comes from ‘The economics of sex’ and we transact in hope, expectations and actions, don’t we?

And now here we are, nearly at the end of December and we find ourselves in a dark place (because love and relating take you there too). Every relationship in the world starts with love or at least, with hope. But what comes after that? What does ‘happily ever after’ look like? I’ll tell you. It looks like a naive hope that often gets dismissed as an unrealistic dream in the rigors of the ordinary here-and-now. In our transacting hope and expectations, we also find ourselves unearthing things like disappointment, inconsideration, negligence, fatigue and selfishness. Somewhere before we know it, from making love, we’ve gone to making war. We war with looks, with sighs, with silences, with words and finally with actions.

Ishmeet and I have spent days thinking about this, reading, writing, talking, watching, listening. I’ve dug deep into my writings across diaries, poetry and blogposts. I discovered how much I’ve buried in my hurry to be okay again. The depth of the lies we tell ourselves is astounding. I imagined the violence I experienced to be a two time occurrence. But in my digging, I found the abuse, the gaslighting, the lies, the control games that I’d been living in and with for nearly the entirety of that relationship. It made me bleed all over again to remember how many of those had felt off or wrong and how much pressure I had been under from supposed friends and family to shut up and play the happy girlfriend/wife. I had been lied to so actively and relentlessly, the lies hitting me like attacks from all corners that I don’t even know when I surrendered and started lying to myself. Love (or whatever it is supposed to be) can do that. That, and fear. Maybe there isn’t a difference. But it is the price to be paid to understand the hard lesson of love. What else are we here for, as artists, as writers and as people?

Today SXonomics brings you a 1 hour session titled #ItHurts. We use performance, poetry readings, music, audience exercises and interaction to trace this journey from love to blood. Our session is part of a larger event #YforViolence, aimed at building awareness around domestic violence. Following our session, there will be a panel discussion on domestic violence. Hari Kotian (Landmark seminar leader), Vandana Patil, Ishmeet and I are on the panel, which will be moderated by Chhavi Sachdev.

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In the past few days, @ishmeetnagpal and I have read, listened to stories of, written about and thought through the dark, dark area of domestic violence for the #YforViolence evening. Because this is part of the truth of love and sex too. It has been a difficult journey and we've both been sickened, as we've beholden the ways human beings hurt each other. But we've tried to distill this experience into something that furthers us and the world. Today, we bring you #ItHurts, a one hour @sexonomicsband session involving performance, readings, poetry, audience interactive activity and music. The talented Karthik Rao joins us today with his guitar. And following our session, Ishmeet and I will also be part of a panel with Landmark leader Hari Kotian and Vandana Patil, moderated by @goldenbrownchhavidazzle. This event is free and open to all. Please consider taking a couple of hours to think about this dark issue and the way it impacts us all. #ItHurts #YforViolence #domesticviolence #abuse #IPV #GBV #sexonomics #sexonomicsband #sexonomicstheband #sex #sexuality #lgbtqia #feminism #feminist #feminists #feministperformance #poetry #spokenword #music #improv #workshop #gender #patriarchy #love #relationship #relationships

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#YforViolence – #ItHurts: SXonomics session
This event is free and open to all.
At: 5:30PM-8:30PM,
On: Sat, 23 Dec 2017
In: Bombay Connect, BKC, Mumbai.

I hope I will see you there. I really do.

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

An Unequal Music

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?

~O~O~O~

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.

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

Fuckboys & The Support Fuckboys Brigade

I saw the fuckboi yesterday. He is part of the same circles and I refuse to acknowledge him anymore so his presence in isolation is not such a bother. But I am surrounded by his manipulative behaviour, in the form of other women who look as starry-eyed as I *cringe* probably did back in December. (Notice how I feel ashamed of myself for a positive emotion and a pretty good performance; thank you, fuckboi.)

Some of them are women I know and I’m caught in a quandary. Should I warn them, risk the heavy ugliness that society and men thrust on a woman who dares speak (including from these very same women themselves)? Or should I stay silent and let other women fall prey to the same fuckboishness that makes them doubt themselves and cripples them in male-dominated spaces? I need more women like me in the spaces I frequent and I can see how behaviour like this costs our kind dearly. What a catch-22.

Maybe it’s highlighted by the fact that I’m watching Mad Men right now. But doesn’t “Oh, he suffers social anxiety” just feel like a modern, fashionable version of, “He’s deep and brooding” (Mr.Darcy), “His parents didn’t give him enough attention as a child.” (romcoms featuring white males and Manic Pixie Dream Girls) and other such excuses? A fuckboi is a fuckboi. There is absolutely no excuse for treating another human being badly and making them question their self-worth. Women have problems too (rape culture, online harassment, salary disparity, biological clock ticking, unsafe spaces) and most of us don’t get to use that to tread all over men and get applauded for it. No, fuckbois, I don’t care if this is politically incorrect but I’m not buying it.

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*Image via sarcasmlol

I am thinking about whether this particular fuckboi and my strong reaction to him is just a symbol of my deeper feelings for my ex, the longest running fuckboi in my life. That one issued a vague apology last year on Twitter that could have been aimed at anyone but that I suspect was about getting in on the ‘I’m a reformed man, applaud me’ trend. I wish my friends had not bothered sharing it with me. I was going along in my life, having put that particular nightmare behind me. But with that screenshot fed into my inbox, I was forced to think about him again.

His apology was public and got him a lot of positive attention. He never once said sorry to me, in person or in any form of private communication. He did not even acknowledge my existence. I concluded that he was no different from who he was in 2011-12 when he isolated me from my family and friends, stopped me performing or working, hit me, gaslighted me, abused me, allowed his family to subject mine to dowry demands, ended the engagement when I called it out, said “It’s not my problem” when my period was delayed and then “So what? Breakups are difficult.” If that apology was aimed at me, I say

“Not good enough. Too little, too late. Wait, was that an apology or your version or Being Human?”

But no one cares, do they? The truth has not changed but I’m forcibly pulled into this Fuckboi’s drama every time he feels the need for attention. And everyone who knows either or both of us even slightly, is looking at me expecting me to hand out the bouquets like the gracious woman I am supposed to be. I lose every way I look at it. Is there any escape from the land ruled by Fuckboidom?

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The current fuckboi of course, didn’t get to do a fraction of what that one did. He vanished, then when I stopped, he reappeared with gifts and love poetry. When I relented and agreed to have a conversation, he pointed out that “You come across as having very strong anti-male sentiments”. When I refused to take note of it and him beyond that chat, he took care to message me and remind me that “I listened to your work. No, you are not anti-male.” Back-and-forth, back-and-forth till the unpredictable approval could be distracting enough to be all I would think of. So familiar. He’s just another in a long line of fuckbois who don’t care or even really see the women around them. Not  in any way other than breasts, butts, vaginas to grope, ears and arms to receive their existence and words only to validate them. I am still grappling with how to deal with so many men being this way. The challenge grows exponentially considering that they’re surrounded by women who fall prey to them and enable their fuckboi behaviour, even to the point of hurting other women.

I asked a friend yesterday why I was attracting such nastiness when I tried to steer clear of people and focus on my own writing only. He said,

“You know what you want. Not many do. That creates a dichotomy between you and such people. My advice, if you want it? Not worth engaging. It will tire you and they will not understand what you are saying.”

My friend is right, in part. The tricky thing is identifying the handful that are willing to let me live, from the vast hordes that want to pull me into fuckboiness-and-support-fuckboidom.

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

Poem For An Ex I May Have Told You About

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

There’s No Sane Way To Grieve

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.”

I buried myself in work, created a new dream and made it happen. I made new friends, developed new interests. And again the pain crept out, staining my writing, my interactions. And again,

“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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I’m Looking For Our Normal, Mr. Everyday

I was Youtube surfing when an 80s playlist came up with an Amrita Singh song. It made me want to read, listen, watch and know more about her relationship with Saif Ali Khan. And why not? I am an older woman who was in a committed (and what I thought for awhile, was loving) relationship with a younger man. I was an established professional in a field that he had just entered awhile earlier. And I had already achieved the things one tends to want and moved on to something else. These are the kind of things people usually wonder about when it comes to a relationship of this sort.

I’m finding this episode of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal rather interesting. It was shot in 1999, right in the middle of their relationship.

Amrita and Saif both talk about the concerns (expressed by everyone else) on Saif getting married at 21. Saif says,

“If you’re looking for reasons to stay in a relationship, there are a thousand. If you’re looking for reasons to get out of one, there are a thousand.”

That really struck a chord. I know my Mr.Everyday really, really did not want to fall in love, did not want a relationship and did not want to get married. But it happened. I didn’t push it, I truly didn’t. I was the one to say, let’s take some time to think about it. He was the one to suggest getting engaged if we were together in a year, the one to say let’s do this, the one to propose. At the worst of times between when we discussed marriage with our families and the time he actually proposed (eight months later), I held back my fears, my feelings because I thought he needed time. And I wanted to be sure that it came from him. Not out of ego but because I knew there was ample space for the relationship to turn into a bitter war of “You dragged me into this, you coerced me, you pushed me into commitment before I was ready.” He was the younger one after all and the man. These are things one comes to expect from men, from younger people and well, I recognized those behaviors from my own in my earlier years.

I wrote last week about missing respect in my recent relationships and realising that from meeting one man with whom I’ve had a happy, mutually respectful relationship. I’ve been told often that I get stuck in the past and that I refuse to move on. Maybe that’s true. But I am also realising that I’m the kind of person who needs to process and live through every drop of what happens, especially things as deep as relationships, in order to move on. Maybe the reason my relationship with that first boyfriend is so peaceful is because we acknowledged that there was affection (still is) and that there were differences and that it was best we transitioned from the relationship label we had (boyfriend-girlfriend) to a new one.

I think I keep boomeranging between extreme venom and tenderness towards Mr.Everyday because everything is unresolved. I know we had issues and the magnitude of many of them is overwhelming. But I have no real idea why it ended when it ended and how it ended. We have also not been able to have an adult resolution by which I mean, accepting that there was love and fondness once and it isn’t anymore. All I’m left with is a lot of ugly question marks.

Question marks can be ugly when they’re leering at you saying ‘He never really loved you’, ‘It was all just a joke to him’, ‘You suck; you’re a horrible person and men will always treat you that way’. Resolutions are important precisely because they give you and the other person the space, freedom and ability to lay those doubts to rest and move on. Else, there is just an endless echo chamber in your head which is always going to reflect back the nastiest memories and most brutal things you said and did to each other.

I learned recently that he is back in town and the thought hit me with absolute panic. Why? He is not a stalker. I do not want to be with him anymore so I can’t put it down to that nervous feeling of being near someone I haven’t gotten over. But I really don’t know how to behave when he’s around. Act normal? What is normal? I’ve smiled like a lovestruck idiot at him. I’ve thrown things across the room at him. I’ve argued politics, film, books and life with him. I’ve discussed grocery bills, medical expenses and maid problems with him. I’ve made love to him and I’ve fallen asleep next to him, before him, after him. I’ve cleaned him up and mopped up his puke after a drunken night (and he’s done the same for me). I’ve yelled and said and written angry things about him and to him. There is a staggering range of what constitutes ‘normal’ between us. Where is our new normal?

I don’t know and I am not able to find a satisfactory answer to that on my own. A healthy resolution really, really needs both people for it to happen. And this relationship, as with a number of other messy ones in the earlier past, has me left holding the baby. Only it’s an ugly, dead baby that neither of us wants and it died because neither of us wanted it. I just wish he’d do me the courtesy of giving it a proper burial. Ugly or otherwise, we created that together and it deserves a funeral.

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I'm left, hooked into poisoned questions Holding BREAKUP like dead babies no one wants Wish you'd give us a burial. ———————————————————- This is for the ex who proposed to me and then threw me out of my home, his heart and his life without explanation, 6 weeks later. I wrote this for @certaincharm's #wordrage20 challenge that asks us to express in 20 words or less, our fear, hurt, bitterness and pain. Thank you, for giving me a chance to say this. #poetry #poem #poet #poetsofinstagram #writersofinstagram #writing #poetsofig #writer #poetrycommunity #poems #wordporn #writersofig #words #spilledink #instapoet #typewriter #prose #poets #creativewriting #instapoem #writers #write #writerscommunity #instapoetry #writingcommunity #spokenword #poetryisnotdead #igpoets

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Open Heart Surgery

I think I’m finally ready to talk about this.  It has been a strange, choked three years for this blog. I’ve not been anonymous, an issue I’ve been struggling with on all my other social media channels too. But specifically on XX Factor, where I talk about relationships, where other people’s emotions and involvement are present, it’s harder for me to speak. And I’ve been in a serious relationship and then the equally heavy fallout of the break-up after that.

Let’s talk about what went wrong, why we broke up, I and the man I called ‘Mr.Everyday‘, the one I was engaged to.

We were very different people to start with. In time our differences became too great to deal with. No, that’s not quite it. True and yet, not what I want to talk about.

It ended because it was a toxic, abusive relationship. Yes, I said that. Abusive. Violence. It ended because voices were raised and at some point of time, hands too.

Take a second to digest that, but only a second, so you don’t have the time to jump to a conclusion. Let me tell my story.

At some point of time it just got to be too much for me, the things that hurt me so much (which I won’t get into now, I’m determined that this one post won’t be about villifying him). When that happened, I stopped being who I want to think I am. I gave up my lifelong battle against anger and let myself go.

I broke a teacup. I tore up a book I’d gifted him. I set the torn fragments on fire.

Things settled for a bit, cooling off like the burning shards. And I naively believed that our problems had gone too. We started talking about marriage a few months after that, a stupid notion, now I know.

The next time the pressure built up, it went a little further. I don’t even remember the sequence of events now, it’s all such an angry, teary blur. But I do remember screaming,

“If you say that one more time, I’ll slap you”

I don’t remember what his words were that incensed me so but whatever they were, despite my warning, he did. And I slapped him. Then he hit me back. I remember flying across the room, hitting the wall and falling down, surprised, very surprised.

Stuff after that blurs again. Another memory. Similar. I slapped him. He lunged back. This time I staggered back and fell onto a sofa and everything was a red blur for a bit. I lost a few seconds before I figured out my nose was bleeding. And still a few more seconds before I realized he was pounding his own fists into the wall. My nosebleed turned out to be a minor internal cut, not a fracture as I had feared. And his fists had bruises on them.

The rest is, well, the rest is just words. I still maintain that there was undue interference from outside which put a severe strain on an already troubled relationship. But truthfully, the rot in our relationship were sown by the two of us – him and me.

It was an abusive relationship. We stopped respecting each other and began hurting each other instead. A handful of incidents changed the course of our relationship from ‘difficult’ to ‘non-existent’.

Why have I chosen to come out with this now? This is not personal vendetta against him. His crimes to our relationship are numerous. But I can never forget that I raised my hand first, an act of violence that would set the tone for the future of our relationship. I need to acknowledge that, to myself and here, in this space where I talk about my relationships, who I am and how I love. This is me then. I love passionately. But also violently. I’m dreadfully ashamed of it.

I don’t want us to be together anymore (and understandably neither does he). My next thought is usually to wish I hadn’t said this or done that. But I honestly don’t see how my reactions could have been anything else. At that point of time, I just got pushed too far.

Today, I know a little more than I did then. I’m not as proud about never backing down from a challenge. I want to believe that I think before flaring up to anger. I’m still learning. In all fairness, that ‘being pushed too far’ situation has never risen after that. But perhaps one of my lessons is in avoiding those situations too. I’ve learnt fear, a difficult lesson for me. And this time, it’s fear of myself.

I don’t like who I was then and I hope I never go back to that place. That may mean that I never get that close to anybody again, never let myself love or trust so much again, never let myself be so bitterly disappointed again. Because if disappointment and frustration and hurt bring out such a monster in me, it’s best that the monster be caged and never taunted out.

But life is a long journey and I don’t anymore believe myself to be the strong, proud person I once thought I was. This hurt, this disappointment in myself has lain heavy on my soul for a year now. I don’t want to punish myself for the rest of my life. So I’m going to try to make my peace with this – with my ugly, violent side as well as the selfish, survival instinct that makes me want to love again.

That’s all. Thank you for listening.

P.S. – I found this blogpost very helpful.

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