I am not in dil-toot anymore. It was dil-toot, a phrase I’ve coined to denote a less-than-heartbreak, more like a heart-pinch, just painful enough for me to feel something and think about it but not so shattering that I can’t piece together a coherent thought or sentence. Did I ever mention how or why it ended?
It ended when he said,
” I don’t know what to say.”
It ended because he assumed it was all about what he thought and what he had to say. It didn’t even occur to him that a conversation is between two people and that the other person might have something to say. It ended either because he assumed that or because he did not want to face what I might have had to say.
I’ve weathered the deep sadness, the now-familiar disappointment. I’ve even been able to see how this was a life experience that bothered me just enough to learn from it and also feel very good about the good parts. Being in love really is a wonderful feeling. I have remembered something I keep forgetting when my heart shatters – that love is that undefinable experience that goes beyond attraction, logic, compatibility and shared interests. It falls in the realm of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink moment and everything that follows is an attempt to explain it. I don’t have to, anymore. And that frees me up to look at the future with the hope of more love and other adventures.
I am tickled, even charmed by the surprised wonder in a boy/man’s eyes when it first occurs to him that I’m paying attention to him. I’m not even the most beautiful or desirable woman around but just the fact that I am listening to him and could it be – I like him? What’s worrying is that a lot of men never seem to get past that. That wonder takes on the quality of suspicion, fear even. And that’s part of what turns into slut-shaming, into cheating, into harassment or treating women badly. It’s the inability to handle any reaction from a woman but her derision or fear. Men who cannot deal with a woman’s appreciation or interest – is that not a poisonous problem?
I remember the deadend expression on his face, the frantic tone of his voice in the last moments as my dil-toot‘ed. I have seen it before on many men’s faces. I’ve assumed that it’s coldness, cruelty, selfishness and many other such things. But I’ve come to realise, this is something else. It is the outer limit of a man’s ability to feel, identify and express emotion.
Last week I watched Bramhan Naman, a disturbing movie by any account. It left me deeply sad because among other things, it exposes how woefully ill-equipped the Indian man is when it comes to dealing with the world of myriad emotions that make up the framework of relationships and adult life. In the movie (and echoed in real life) the verbose protagonist yearns for an intangible fantasy but can barely speak to the woman who spawns it. He treats professed, open affection with viciousness and is paralysed by his guilt and fear. When he encounters a woman with the right mix of attractiveness and vulnerability, he cannot bring himself to even respond, let alone initiate interest. So he settles for gestures like getting her food (the last), showing off his family business (the second) and stalking her (the first). These are the actions of a socially inept child, not a completely functioning adult. That adults with their freedom and power do this, is what makes it dangerous.
I complain long and hard about how Indian men (men in general but particularly, brutally Indian men) are infantilised and stunted in their emotional growth. This is what it looks like. They are barely functioning adults who are unable to deal with normal human emotions. Unable, not unwilling.
This outer-limit expression comes after bewilderment and panic. It’s not even resignation since that requires an ability to see that something is bigger than oneself and experience giving up. It’s literally like a very small baby who has not developed sight yet, running into a wall and being stunned, unable to figure out whatwherewhyhowohisthispainshouldicryuhwhatwait. Most men live in that place the whole time they are in love or a relationship. Boy, that’s scary. Add to it such nuanced, problematic ideas such as guilt over sex, Madonna/whore syndromes, mama’s boy dependency and toxic masculinity. No wonder Indian men are such a mess.
I cannot help but feel deep pity for them. And then great sadness for us women and the kind of futile relationships we have to endure as a result. Is there any hope for us all?
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Last year I went to see the gynacologist. I was 35, an age I’d heard was when precautionary tests would need to start being taken. I asked her what were all the things I needed to know from now on. She talked about breast examination, about cervical cancer vaccinations, about calcium supplements, about hormone fluctuations. She pointed out that I was now closer to menopause than I was to the start of my first period. And then she asked me what I thought about freezing my eggs.
I’ve had a lot of complicated thoughts on parenthood since then. I still don’t have a real decision. But writing helps me pull out difficult emotions and examine them. So here it is.
I decided I would not bear children, quite early in my life. I had seen a lot of ways in which parenthood served as a cover-up for monsterliness. I did not have the confidence that I would not succumb to the same monstering. Violence, manipulation, disrespect, deliberate humiliation, bullying, abuse — yes, these are things that parents routinely do to children. In this country, parents, especially mothers are deified to a point where there is no question of holding them accountable for the very important job they do. In addition, the wards (the prisoners? the victims?) are too young to know their rights and are uniquely trapped at the sole mercy of their guardians’ actions. I did not want to even risk being a part of this scenario, in the position of power that I might abuse just like so many other ‘normal’ people I know.
Through the years, the several unhappy and quasi-abusive relationships I’ve been in, have suppressed my right to an opinion on this matter. Social pressures already condemn me for being unmarried at my age. Imagine how horrific they’ll get if I also say I’m voluntarily bowing out of parenthood? So I kept my thoughts to myself. One idea that I have spoken about, to my partner when we were in a close relationship, was adoption. I had an entirely foolproof explanation for this:
- We are a dangerously overpopulated planet. This impacts each of us INDIVIDUALLY. We’re fighting for the same jobs, the same food, the same money, the same space, the same right to power. To add one more is just sheer irresponsibility.
- Many, many thousands of children over the world go hungry, homeless and/or lack education or even a basic safe environment to grow up in. If even one of those lives could be given a better chance, I would feel like I was giving back for the privilege that I’ve received.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also managed to turn the ticking biological clock into a supporting argument. Why risk a health hazard to me and to the child because of my age, when plenty of readymade human being without homes were available to adopt?
I’ve managed to keep this decision at bay too. I have been single for the better part of my life. I know single parents and their children who have turned out wonderfully. But if possible, I think a child deserves at least a chance at two parents. Parenthood is too great a responsibility and the consequences of going wrong, too grave to bear. I do not want to take this on, without a partner.
Today, I’m in a quandry of sorts. I am coming to realise the full impact of being an Indian woman. In all these years, I have not known ONE single man that I can count on to stay responsible after a length of time. I know plenty of earnest, intelligent men who want to think of themselves as feminists, activists and thought leaders. They probably are. For men, that is. But we live in a culture that meticulously, systematically discourages men from taking responsibility for their actions. They are coddled all their lives, disappointment is kept as far away as possible, their shortcomings are blamed on others (women) or even celebrated. I hesitate to call them overgrown children because children do not have the physical strength and the social influence that adult Indian men do. And more often than not, this strength and influence is used against women, either unconsciously because the man picks his own agenda or deliberately, to please people (his mother or his friends). In sum, I do not trust an Indian man to be an equal, reliable partner for an important undertaking. Parenting? Ha!
How about the egg-freezing then? I’ve grown increasingly independent over the years and it is possible that in some time, I will feel self-reliant enough to not need a partner. This is a logical possibility, not one that I can actually imagine. But hypothetically if that were to happen, it would be good to have the option, wouldn’t it?
This is what I realised. A lot of the times I’ve managed to get my way out of default. I managed to not stay in an abusive relationship because he got bored and ended the engagement. I had no choice or power to voice my dissent. I managed to not be packaged off and sold to the lowest bidder in the marriage market because there weren’t eligible prospects for my particular geography/education/age/ethnic background at that time. These did not happen because I was able to fight all odds and establish my stand.
Given this, I fear that a time will come when other people will decide that they want a baby popping out of me that I will be expected to care for. If the option to have that baby still exists, my opinion will not stand, will be overruled, cajoled, forced and hammered away. I think it’s easier that I just let the eggs die out of their own accord, isn’t it?
And finally, what if I do get pregnant in between now and before my body stops being capable of it? I will have either a boy or a girl or a trans baby.
A trans-baby? I stand for equal rights for every human being. But the world doesn’t. The only human being to be treated worse than a woman is a trans person in this country. Children live danger-fraught, complex lives anyway. I do not want to think about what it must be like for a child born with a body that popular science is unable to categorize.
A girl? You already know the answer to that. I hate being a woman in this country, I hated being a girl. I live my life like I imagine prisoners of war do. With resentment, with fragile strands of hope that is constantly being dashed and with growing despair.
A boy. No. Indian men are mama’s boys. This is that bizarre description that’s cutesy and demented both at once. Mama’s boys are big, burly men who watch quietly as their families ill-treat their wives, then yawn and change the TV channel. Mama’s boys are important executives who cheat, lie and break engagements and marriages at will because their mothers said it was okay. Mama’s boys are monsters and their mothers are the monster-makers. This is probably because most Indian mothers are so deprived of actual respect and true affection that they manipulate the one human being they have control over, to turn him into a perpetual source of their own power. And I am an Indian woman. No. I don’t know how strong I will be once a baby spurts out of me. I will not take the risk of becoming another monster-maker.
So, by a combination of consistently bad experiences, social pressures and depressing observations I come to the default conclusion that I do not want to even consider being a mother.
I’m reclaiming my right to write.
There’s much I’ve felt and been and heard and wanted to say but didn’t. A relationship, an engagement, a bitter breakup…aren’t all of these fodder for a feeling writer? And yet I’ve been quiet.
I’ve been under a self-imposed gag order that no one speaks of. That’s beautiful and ironic and perfect and ugly all at once.
A friend told me that I get lost in words, the beauty of my own words, that I hide behind them and now I can’t find my way back. Yes, maybe true. But I’m refusing to see my words as my jailors. They’ve been after all, firm and steady friends in a life of already wonderful friendships (even if love hasn’t been quite as, shall we say, gracious?). So I’m bringing them back.
Ever notice how everyone agrees and Facebook Likes generic statements on dowry? How half the nation sits glued to the screen, silently identifying with evil in-law stories? But not a single one of them ever comes out and says, “This is happening to me and dammit I don’t like it!”. Nobody ever admits to hating their partner’s families. No progressive woman ever goes beyond declaiming the horrid turdiness of Indian men in general. Not one of them ever says that the man she’s married to or in love with is one of those shitheels in question too. Why should I be the first to break that omerta?
Why do even the smartest, most accomplished and confident of us willingly put our personal power into the hands of men? Because falling in love at some level, is giving the person power over you. Trust, that foundation of a relationship, is about letting a person see that they can hurt you. And no matter how shackled our pasts have been, how cruel our social captors were, the only real living and the progress there is to be had is by going back and hoping. Hoping this boy will grow up to be a man, hoping ‘responsibility’ and ‘comittment’ aren’t banned words in this one’s dictionary and hoping that a relationship can be more than a stone around the neck, could be as much fun and comfort for a woman as it is for a man. Hope is hard but hard experiences are what brought me to a place of being able to stay I’m hurting but I’m standing. And I am.
But these are missions for a different time. For now, I’m just taking back my power to say what I will and what I feel in this space that’s truly mine. I’m reclaiming my voice and by God, it’s got a lot to say. I’m not even sure how to end this post since I’m only just beginning and the end is nowhere in sight.
Welcome back, old friends and beloved strangers. It’s unimaginably wonderful to meet me again.
A friend was saying that he’d decided that most women were cowards because they would not stand up to their families, not stand up for the men they wanted to be with. For a fact, I’ve seen a good number of relationships end because of familial opposition – on the basis of religious, caste, linguistic and economic differences. It is truly sad for a relationship to end, not because of the couple’s differences but because of other people’s views.
However, I must also say that I have always had great regard for women who take their family’s desires into consideration while choosing a life partner. This isn’t quite the same as the Mama’s boy syndrome where some men unquestioningly gulp down whatever is shoved down their proverbial throats. The women I’m talking about, make their own choices and these choices definitely factor in their family’s ideas too. I so much stand by that.
The fact is that few people will ever care as much as your own blood family, misunderstandings and irritants notwithstanding. That said, they are no more than human and have a right to their own foibles and prejudices. My greatest admiration in this regard is reserved for two women, one a neighbor and one a friend. Both women met the men they wanted to spend their lives with and had to contend with parental opposition – due to differences in religion and in caste respectively. The families of both women (the fathers most particularly) ran the entire hullaballoo from tearful melodrama to icy coldness. Both women stood firm and held that they would not marry anyone else. And in addition, would not get married without their families’ complete blessings either. Persistence won out in both cases. The first couple has two children, both the darlings of their doting grandfather’s eyes. The second couple celebrates their fifth wedding anniversary this year, blissfully in love..and peacefully so too. All was certainly well that ended well in these two cases.
I guess not everyone is that lucky or even that tenacious. If it really came down to having to choose, I can’t imagine a man would be ‘right’ for me unless my family was aligned to my choice as well. Family is one’s own after all, and their well-intended perspective could be very useful in such an important choice. Does that necessarily mean that I am a coward, unable to go against them? Or does it make me any less independent – or feminist? You tell me.
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The biggest propagators of male chauvinism are women. Yes, read that again. Why do a lot of men behave like they’re God’s gift to the world? Why do they live their lives in self-absorbed, unbelievably deluded over-confidence completely unrestrained by conscience or empathy for the opposite sex? Why indeed? Because they’ve grown up believing that they were crown princes destined to inherit the world.
Darling beta will forever remain the apple of his doting mama’s eyes, shielded from discipline by her, encouraged and ego-boosted to unbelievable proportions all his life. Bolstering a child’s ego is great but where do mamas get off, giving their boys a wholly unrealistic sense of self-worth?
Okay, hold on to that thought. Now here’s something I found…and it’s appaling. Motherhood has fallen off its sacred pedestal and lies in shattered fragments around our feet.
Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb
Mother do you think they’ll like this song
Mother do you think they’ll try to break my balls
Oo-ah, Mother should I build a wall
Mother should I run for president
Mother should I trust the government
Mother will they put me in the firing line
Oo-ah, is it just a waste of time
Hush now baby, baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you
Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing
She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing
Mama’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm
Oo, babe, oo babe, oo babe
Of course mama’s gonna help build the wall
Mother do you think she’s good enough for me
Mother do you think she’s dangerous to me
Mother will she tear your little boy apart
Oo-ah, Mother will she break my heart
Hush now baby, baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna check out all your girlfriends for you
Mama won’t let anyone dirty get through
Mama’s gonna wait up till you get in
Mama will always find out where you’ve been
Mama’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean
Oo, babe, oo babe oo babe
You’ll always be a baby to me
Mother, did it need to be so high