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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.

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

A post shared by Ramya Pandyan (@ideasmithy) on

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Wake Up And Smell The Bruises

I was with a friend last evening, driving around within a residential area’s bylanes, when we saw something. A couple was standing by the side of the road, clearly arguing. The guy, who was much taller and broader than the girl, was holding both her hands, while the girl seemed to be feebly protesting and trying to shake him off. They were both dressed well and looked like they were in their 20s. The girl was not shouting, screaming or crying. But she was not smiling or laughing either, which is what made me think that this wasn’t friendly fooling around.

My friend noticed it as well and after a few seconds hesitation, we doubled back. As we watched from a slight distance, the pair seemed to join in a hug, after which the girl broke free. I saw her push him back roughly and quickly cross the lane. The guy didn’t seem perturbed and the girl didn’t run. But she turned several times and the look on her face was one of fear. It was past 11 at night. There were several autorickshawallas on the road as well as stray pedestrians.

My friend had a brainwave. Instead of outright butting in, he stopped and asked her for directions to a restaurant close by. She seemed startled, then collected herself and shook her head and said she didn’t know. The guy, who had been watching this, crossed the road immediately and demanded to know what happened. My friend repeated his question. The guy just turned and walked away. We waited till the girl walked on and turned into one of the gates in the lane. The guy continued walking further down the road.

My words don’t prove conclusively that the guy was harassing the girl. But I know what I saw. I know the sense of danger I felt emanating from the situation. I know that unmistakeable instinct that women develop, that I felt, about trouble. There was definitely something off about the situation. The girl’s expression and then the look of relief on her face even in answering a simple question were one clue. The guy’s instant intrusion, demanding to know what was going on and then his turning and walking away, as if he had only wanted to check we weren’t interfering and that done, he could walk away – that’s another clue.

It’s possible that they might have been a couple and arguing. The girl did not ask for help. And none of the people around offered or even seemed to notice that she might need it. But this is a problem. I have been in that very situation. Just because a man is your boyfriend, friend, lover, colleague or acquaintance, does not mean that he might not pose a threat to you. In all the autorickshawallas around who were watching the ‘tamasha’ when it got a bit louder, I saw the same thing. I sensed it in my own self in those few seconds before my friend and I decided to turn back to see if the girl needed help. It was this thought:

“Why interfere in a couple’s problems?”

I am glad that we did. I am glad that I had a male friend with me. I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to interfere otherwise. If I had done so, I don’t know if I might have courted further danger for myself and for the girl. And finally, I’m very glad for my friend’s diplomatic but careful management of the situation. His action registered in a non-threatening, unobtrusive way, that somebody was watching. I’d like to think that’s why the guy rushed to find out what was happening and then bolted, albeit feigning nonchalance.

I’d love to believe that all of this was in my mind and I was seeing evil where there was none. Unfortunately, I see too much violence on a daily basis and too much unseeing all around. Something else occurred me, right when this was happening. I remember seeing this video about a social experiment, which revealed people’s unequal attitudes towards violence against each gender. It showed how people noticed and offered help when a woman was attacked by a man but didn’t care or laughed when a man was being attacked by a woman.

What struck me even then, was that in India, it wouldn’t happen. In India, people do not interfere even when they see a man committing an act of violence against a woman. It’s not even equal opportunity violence tolerance in India. Violence against women is actively encouraged (what, you haven’t seen the latest Salman Khan movie?) and nurtured. It’s cherished as a show of masculinity. And the reverse, no, I’m afraid it’s not tolerated. The same all-influential Bollywood movies also show how a hero loses his head, after he is slapped by a woman, in a justified manner since ‘she must be put in her place’.

I have been beaten, slapped and punched by men, men who were supposed to be close to me. Some of these have happened in public. Not once has a person ever interfered. I’ve even been told that I should not be such a feminist, that I should learn to forgive and forget. And memorably, two so-called friends badgered me for a month about my hostile attitude to men. When I told them that I had been subjected to violence by men, both of them shrugged and said, “So?”

I don’t want to end this post as a rant. But let me propose a few ideas instead.

  1. If you know a woman you believe to be strong, do not assume that she is invulnerable to threat. Do not judge her for needing your help. The world is not an equal place. I might go so far to say that the more openly ‘strong’ a woman is, the greater her chances of falling victim to violence. There just are that many men around who are threatened by a woman’s strength or independence.
  2. Do not feel that it is not your place or job to interfere. A crime is a crime, regardless of who commits it. Rough handling of a human being, without their consent is a crime. If you see it happening and you allow it to pass unchecked, you are accessory to that crime.
  3. This is one place where you can, should, err on the side of caution. If you interfere, the worst that happens is you are insulted or ridiculed. If you do not interfere, a human being might suffer violence and damage, something you could have prevented by didn’t.
  4. If you are not in a position to interfere for some reason, don’t give up. Be innovative like my friend was. The ‘Bell Bajao’ campaign was based on this idea. Disrupt the situation, make it clear that somebody is watching. At least, it should diffuse the situation at that moment. It always helps to have the police station’s number. Call and report what you’re seeing. The police do respond. They will not make life miserable for you, for reporting it.
  5. If it feels rough, it is violence. Don’t overthink the boundaries. It’s not that difficult. If the person does not seem to be enjoying it or looks distressed, assume it is an attack. Here’s an indicative list I found on ADaring which defines domestic violence: You are facing domestic violence if your partner:
    domestic-violence-300x128

    *Image courtesy ADaring.

    1. Calls you names, insults you, puts you down and does not allow you to go to work or school.
    2. Prevents you from seeing your family members or friends.
    3. Is too possessive and jealous and constantly accuses you of infidelity.
    4. Gets angry every time he consumes alcohol or drugs.
    5. Threatens you with weapons or violence.
    6. Hits, kicks, chokes, slaps or torchers you or your children or pets.
    7. Forces you to have sexual relationship with him/her.
    8. Blames you for everything and says that you deserve being punished.

I ask you this, as a woman who lives in a world that is dangerous for her. I am asking to share in the privilege you enjoy. I am asking you to help me have my basic right to safety. And just in case you need a reminder of how ‘normal’ domestic violence can look, here’s a Violence Awareness campaign that Norway is running:

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A World Of Pain

A thick sheet of plastic over a boiling cauldron of black, festering poison. That’s me. A year – that’s how long it takes to grow this.

I’ve been in a strange mood all month. I lost the entire month of February, being unwell, asleep and drifting in disoriented confusion through questions like,

“What are you going to do next?”

I don’t know and I don’t even know to explain how or why that is the case. Having been a burning force of desire all my life – bottomless want for a goal, an object, a person’s affections, an intangible like attention – has driven me and taken me to achievement as well as over the disappointment of not achieving. Now, I just feel empty. Desireless is dead, as far as I’m concerned.

But today somebody asked me, in a way that I had to answer because I knew the answer and I couldn’t lie,

“How are you?”

And all at once that non-biodegradable, suffocating sheet of plastic formed a little hole and a stream of blackish hurt came oozing out. I talked and talked. And he replied, stopping only when he saw a tear ooze out of my right eye. So I continued talking.

I’m so angry. I’m so, so angry.

I’m angry at myself for having being compassionate and kind and loving to somebody who only treated me with condescension, hostility and cruelty. I’m angry at the utter coldness that must have fueled this big tamasha that was done only to buy my silence for a few months more. I’m angry at the sheer viciousness that plotted setting me up in order to dump me publicly in the most humiliating, debilitating way possible.

I’m raging at so-called friends who shut me up by lecturing me on dignified silences, on the crassness of public whining and the censorship of my writing. I’m burning at the faceless groups of people who banded together with him, making my utter humiliation complete.

I’m seething at the roles of strength and endurance and patience and forgiveness and maturity that I’ve been forced into playing. I’m screaming at the gag orders, the handcuffs, the closed doors on and to my pain and expression.

I’m bursting with shame and indignation and fury at the thought of him speaking for women’s rights, against violence towards women, against homophobia. I’m biting on my tongue and choking back the bile when I hear about the accolades that his art gets when he performs ideas that I fought to bring into his consciousness, even words that were mine that he’s mouthing. So shamelessly. So remorselessly. So much without a conscience.

I’m beaten into submission by the sheer irony of life. A year to the day, he’s out celebrating accolades for something I first pushed him into pursuing. And surprise, surprise – it’s an event in honour of Women’s Rights. Life, you make me want to slit my wrists right now.

Is there no justice in the world? And if there isn’t, damn you for wanting me to crusade but only politely, for wanting me to champion causes being hypocritically championed by such offenders, for wanting me to be the Stepfordian crusader even as I bleed. Damn every single one of you.

I am in a world of pain, that’s how I am.

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