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Angry Girl Of The Indie Rock Persuasion

I was fascinated by the saree as a child. Unfettered by stitches, lacking the artifice of buttons, a saree was freedom.

I’ve struggled with gender boxes my whole life. Every damn thing, a fucking war. Short hair. Tattoos. Red clothes. Short clothes. Boots, not sandals. Science projects. Marketing jobs. An analytical mind. Single status. Silver, not gold. Diamonds I paid for. Sci-fi. A love of graphic novels. English poetry. Silent performance. A business. A band. A breakup. A failed engagement. Boundaries. These became my trophies.

Warriors don’t wear shyness, they wear war paint. I RAGE, oh how I rage. I rage with the eloquence of Alanis Morissette. I rage in the shriek of Gwen Stefani. I rage with the mellow harshness of Tracy Chapman. I rage in all the ways of women who refuse to be pretty.

But sarees, these speak of modesty, of tradition, of maternal memories, none of which identify me. I’ve struggled to find my self in a saree. Should a love of this garment mean I trade in my warrior card? Must I pay for the respect accorded to a saree with my right to rage?

How do I not lose the essential me in the drapes? How do I keep a palluv from stifling my scream? How can my inner supernova burn through the folds? How do I keep my steel from drowning in cotton? Always a war.
I found my saree self in the bitter eloquent long locks of Alanis Morissette, the dark chocolate wrath of Tracy Chapman and Gwen Stefani saying don’t speak in red lipstick.

My colours are clashing screams. My patterns are silent drama. My folds are parodies of shame. This is who I am, in a saree, in a dress, on stage, on screen, on a page, in relationships, in my sleep. It looks like in the next second, I’m going to turn & run sat you so you want to get out of the way real quick. You won’t want to be caught in the fire gaze of those eyes. Someone called this a superhero pose. I’ll name it Angry Girl of the Indie Rock Persuasion. I wear the label, it doesn’t wear me.

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ANGRY GIRL OF THE INDIE ROCK PERSUASION I was fascinated by the saree as a child. Unfettered by stitches, lacking the artifice of buttons, a saree was freedom. I've struggled with gender boxes my whole life. Every damn thing, a fucking war. Short hair. Tattoos. Red clothes. Short clothes. Boots, not sandals. Science projects. Marketing jobs. An analytical mind. Single status. Silver, not gold. Diamonds I paid for. Sci-fi. A love of graphic novels. English poetry. Silent performance. A business. A band. A breakup. A failed engagement. Boundaries. These became my trophies. Warriors don't wear shyness, they wear war paint. I RAGE, oh how I rage. I rage with the eloquence of Alanis Morissette. I rage in the shriek of Gwen Stefani. I rage with the mellow harshness of Tracy Chapman. I rage in all the ways of women who refuse to be pretty. But sarees, these speak of modesty, of tradition, of maternal memories, none of which identify me. I've struggled to find my self in a saree. Should a love of this garment mean I trade in my warrior card? Must I pay for the respect accorded to a saree with my right to rage? How do I not lose the essential me in the drapes? How do I keep a palluv from stifling my scream? How can my inner supernova burn through the folds? How do I keep my steel from drowning in cotton? Always a war. I found my saree self in the bitter eloquent long locks of Alanis Morissette, the dark chocolate wrath of Tracy Chapman and Gwen Stefani saying don't speak in red lipstick. My colours are clashing screams. My patterns are silent drama. My folds are parodies of shame. This is who I am, in a saree, in a dress, on stage, on screen, on a page, in relationships, in my sleep. It looks like in the next second, I'm going to turn & run sat you so you want to get out of the way real quick. You won't want to be caught in the fire gaze of those eyes. Someone called this a superhero pose. I'll name it Angry Girl of the Indie Rock Persuasion. I wear the label, it doesn't wear me. ———————————————————————————– 🎶: BITCH – Meredith Brooks #theideasmithy

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Where We Preen And Talk About Our Hair A Lot

I’m a vain peacock in the most obvious way possible.

I love my hair. Unlike skin and other organs, it has never given me reason for worry. It’s straight, silky and has stayed black longer than most of my peers. It echoes my personality remarkably well (distinctive, shiny, healthy). It’s malleable to all my commands. So I’ve had several different hairstyles over the years.

As with most things about my personality, my hair preferences wage war with popular notions. Most Indian men like long hair. This preference is less about aesthetics and more about conformity to the Indian demure little woman kind of beauty. It also fits the Saadgi concept. I’m always surprised by the fear women show in trying out a new shorter hairstyle. So what if it doesn’t look as good? It’s hair, I say, dead cells, it’ll grow out soon enough. I know because I have gone short and lived to tell the tale. And I prefer short hair. It’s fun, low maintenance and lends itself to more variation than long hair.

Here’s something I got from watching America’s Next Top Model: Short hair and/or completely slicked back hair shows confidence because a person can’t rely on wild hair to mask facial blemishes or imperfections. The TV show Glee pointed out the distraction value of hair in an episode titled ‘Hairography‘. Given my dark skin, most people probably think I should be hiding behind long tresses that at least fit the popular standard of beauty. And why not? Hair’s primary use in beauty tactics, is as a concealing device or distraction measure. It is never celebrated for itself.

Anyway, earlier this month, I decided single or otherwise, I wasn’t going to use my hair as bait to trap men. If a man liked me, he’d have to like me with whatever hair (or not!) I had. Besides, it’s part of my body. I don’t think anybody, let alone an unknown man from the distant future should have any say in what I do with it. So I went under the scissors. And I’m very, very excited with the result! I don’t know if I’m more or less or just as attractive to members of the opposite sex but it doesn’t matter. Not in that angry I-don’t-care-about-what-men-think way but in that I’m happy because I’m doing something that delights me. Look at me fab!

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Fun fact: I got my hair chopped off at Mad O Wot, which run by Sapna Bhavnani. Look at what she posted on Instagram a little later! 😀

Crown Of Thorns

Crown of Thorns

Over a year and half ago, I bought this accessory on a whim. It comprises a red flower made of net and fabric, attached to a thin red headband. Like all things bright and red, it caught my fancy. I wore it several times in the next few days. It made me feel like a queen. After all, a headband is a sort of a crown and this one is in my favourite colour.

The reactions that wearing this provoked, continue to this day. At first there was astonishment. I didn’t pay it heed. There was outright gaping. I ignored it. Then came the laughter, right to my face. It didn’t bother me. When I refused to get angry, the jokes got mean.

People stopped me to ask what manure I applied on my head, so a garden would grow there.

Someone sent me an anonymous note asking what was wrong with me, wearing that red flower on my head.

Two strange men on the road stopped right in front of me and refused to budge. I walked around them. They turned around and returned to walk next to me, pointing at the flower and laughing.

I wore it to coffee with a close friend who kept insisting I take it off and put it away. Two others refused to walk on the same side of the road with me, until I took it off.

A female friend would not stop telling me how inappropriate I was being, by wearing this. We were at a play and most of the time before the play and the interval after was spent in her trying to get me to remove it.

Recently, a friend who hasn’t seen me in over a year, forwarded a fashion pundit’s claim that ‘flower crowns are a major fashion faux pas’.

I want to know what about this innocuous red headband provokes such violent sentiments from people. Why do friends and colleagues think it is okay to badger me about a minor aspect of my appearance? These are intelligent people who consider themselves forward thinking. Do they realise the meaning of their actions?

I am not breaking a law by dressing indecently. I am not wearing anything that could offend anybody’s religious sentiments. Beyond that, why should what I wear be anybody’s concern? I realise that most people do not like the way it looks. They have a right to their opinions just as much as I have the right to wear it. Why are they allowed to get away with statements like ‘it offends my eyes’? I find men peeing in public far more offensive. And I find the attitude that other people dictate what I wear, most offensive of all.

And finally about the fashion faux pas bit. I refuse to conform to what a fashion pundit or a style magazine says. Why does that give everyone the right to deride me?

It also reminds me of another occurrence over ten years ago. When I started working in 2000, I began wearing scarves draped/knotted around my neck, with formal shirts and trousers. I had seen the style in a few international magazines and movies. Nobody I had seen in real life wore them and I had to go to some trouble to find those scarves. Later, I went back to college to get an MBA degree. I continued the same style of dressing. The teachers and students uniformly believed that sarees were the only appropriate wear for presentations. I was the first female student to wear trousers to a class presentation. The scarf around my neck had become my signature style. One of my male classmates said I looked like a ‘rowdy’. Another said it looked ‘raapchik’. The adjective got appended to my name. Then two of them asked me what my rate for a night was.

This incident may sound extreme now. You’ll probably think my friends and classmates were country bumpkins from back of beyond. But this was at a time when Indian women did not wear scarves to work. The only reason I stopped wearing them was because all the hospitality services (retail, restaurants, airlines) adopted the style for their uniforms. Today, the scarf-around-neck style is synonymous with a service person in one of these industries. Hence it is ‘normal’. But because I wore it when it was not, harassment came my way. It feels like history repeating itself.

I realise this seems like a trivial thing. Most people would ask me why I don’t just stop wearing it. But that is precisely the point. Would any man be hassled this much over a minor article of clothing? I posted a Facebook update about this. And while I was typing up this post, a friend responded to the update asking why people had lost their joy and whimsy. She nailed it. That is why I wear it. It makes me feel good. It cheers me up.

Her comment made me realise a broader issue. The only men I know who may have faced something similar are a few brave gay men. Earlier in the month, a man was hauled over by the cops in Chennai and beaten up, because they didn’t like what he was wearing (Read his account on Gaysi). I want it to say, it is the same thing. We are all supposed to follow rigid rules on how we appear and any deviation is considered punishment-worthy (even if the law does not explicitly say so). There is so much difference-shaming that is considered normal and anybody who refuses to be perturbed by it, is the troublemaker.

Here is a picture of the now famous headband. It’s unwittingly become a crown of thorns for me but I refuse to hide it away.

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Saadgi: The Indian Plain Jane ideal

Western feminism talks about the infantalisation of women. Childish behaviour is rewarded, glorified and in some cases, forcibly attributed too. I think the Indian counterpart is a bit different – but there is an Indian counterpart. The Indian culture, across states idolizes the Plain Jane.

In general conversations among my extended family, I’ve often heard disparaging references to women who wear make-up. There is a strong implication that a woman who cares about her appearance beyond a very antiseptic ‘clean and tidy’, a woman who actively beautifies herself is wanton, cold and manipulative.

Pop culture is a good barometer of social attitudes. Bollywood & television routinely typify negative female characters as painted, overdressed women. The heroine in contrast, is fresh-faced, virginal (untouched even by make-up brushes) and given to more dutiful pursuits than caring for her beauty. Saadgi is a shining ideal for the Indian woman. ‘Saadgi’‘s verb form is saada which translates to plain.

If you think this is an exaggeration, look at the number of acid-throwing attacks, a crime unique to India. They’re almost always perpetrated by men whose attentions have been scorned and who feel like they have to right the balance by taking away the woman’s power – her beauty. In their defenses one hears statements like, “She thinks she’s so beautiful. She needs to be taken down a peg.”

Beauty is required of an Indian woman, but in an unobtrusive, apologetic way. As a woman who loves dressing and consistently flouts fashion norms in favour of my own personal style, I can testify to the heavy disapproval I have to deal with. This isn’t just restricted to when I wear ‘revealing’ clothes but also colours, accessories or other things that just aren’t ‘what is usually done’. I feel the constant pressure to conform, to be punished with derision and mockery if I don’t. Indian women are not supposed to be individualistic.

Plain Jane is a non-threatening image for a woman. A woman who is not a Plain Jane indicates that she thinks, that she is able to see herself as distinct from the social structure & the role she plays in it. It shows that she is aware of her personal desires, her rights even – most importantly, that she is aware of the concept of ‘personal’ and feels she has a right to it.

This goes completely counter to the patriarchal system that sees women only as the roles that they play – their relationships & their duties. No wonder India loves saadgi and hates a woman who aspires to beauty.

Update: The Restless Quill writes a thought-provoking post on the appeal of Malayam TV personality, Ranjini Haridas and why she’s shaking the system up – What the internet gave to the Kerala man (apart from p0rn)

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