Monday, December 24, 2012

The half hour before dusk is safe. Or is it?

I told myself  I would not do this. I would not write about the atrocities happening in Delhi. I told myself that I needed to separate myself from the pain. Yet, as I read and reread what was happening, I have not been able to sleep peacefully for the last three days. What this has released inside me are all those memories, that have come back to haunt and taunt. Of those hundreds of minor insults that add up to growing up female in India. Yes, it is not a single incident that has fueled this rage- mine, or any other Indian woman's. It is a lifetime made up of a million incidents that happen everyday. I have been reliving them for 3 days now. And then I realize, the only reason I am reliving them is because I am in the US. Otherwise, I would still be living them. Everyday.

One of the most horrific ones I remember was when I was very young. Young enough not to have grown breasts. A friend and I were playing in the park in front of our house, and then were walking home since it was getting dark (maybe around 7'ish). Not a long walk, we only had to cross the road. This in a small town, small campus residential neighborhood. In those few moments, the electricity went off, like it does all the time in India. We were plunged into utter darkness. Out of nowhere, a cyclist came by, and a hand grasped my breast tightly. Then it and the person was gone. Before I could even realize what had happened. Only the memory of that 10 year old me remains. 

Another one was when I was even younger, around six years old or so. We were traveling, and as trains in India are always overflowing, there was no place to sit. An 'uncle' kindly offered to squeeze a bit and my parents plonked me next to him. This uncle then placed his hand under my thighs for the remainder of the journey. 

Of course, things only got worse and I grew older. Some of my worst memories and experiences come from the place I studied in, for undergraduate school. Flashers on the roadside next to the lake, grinning at us and masturbating in open view of all of us group of girls. Flashers in the small park that we had to cross to reach the hostel safely. If it was even remotely dark, the peril of staying out was your own. Thank goodness, our hostel was locked at 7:00 PM so that we were never "out late".

I don't think anything can equate to the terror of walking on Indian roads, streets or parks as of being a girl alone. The fast beating heart, surreptitiously looking around, walking really really fast to get to one's destination as soon as possible. Because you never knew what could happen. Because a hand could come out of nowhere, touch you, pull a dupatta, caress a bum, fondle a breast and leave you stunned. Shocked. And promising yourself that you would never stay out after dark again.

I was one of those who always carried a safety pin when traveling in public transport. I always traveled home from school in state transport buses. How many of you remember (in the case of men, even noticed) that there was a small gap where the seatback ended and the seat began. That small gap from where toes and feet and hands could enter and grope and touch your backside? Yes, I carried a safety pin to prick those hands and toes. Another slightly worse one was when we were, by some unfortunate chance, sitting on the aisle seat. The guy(s) would come and rub their "private parts" against our shoulders. Perfect height for it, you know? All you could do was sit silent and hope the "thing" atleast wouldn't get hard.

For those of you who blame western clothes, I was one of those who NEVER EVER wore "western" in India. I think after I reached 12-13 years of age, to the time I came to the US at 26, I must have worn jeans probably 3-4 times. If even that. Yes, I only wore Indian suits and was always covered head to toe, with my dupatta firmly in place. And no, that did not stop anybody.

Once, a friend and I went to visit the yearly Flower Festival, celebrating the coming of spring. And as we boarded a rickshaw to take us back to the hostel, a group of 'celebrating' men pounced on us. Yes, I do mean pounced. They started touching us everywhere, and both of us were screaming. The stupid rickshaw-walla wouldn't move. We screamed at him, "Bhaiyya, chalo" (move!!), he was just sitting there staring at the tamasha. Finally, he started and these men backed off, catcalling and jeering at us. We both were shaken but so happy to get away safely. I think we mostly forgot about this incident later, it was so run-of-the-mill. And after all, we got away, didn't we?

A friend was once groped at by a passing motorcyclist, but in his haste he got his location wrong. He smashed his hand into her face, and shattered her glasses in the process. The shattered glass injured her face a bit, but atleast did not enter her eyes. She very narrowly escaped blindness that day.

These are but a few (or maybe the more horrifying ones) incidents that I have written down here. Because you know what, we can't remember each one of them otherwise day to day living will be an effort. This happens in every single train journey, every single bus journey, every single rickshaw ride, every single walk, every excursion outside, to EVERY WOMAN in India. I know so many of them, and I don't know anybody who has not faced this, to a higher or lesser degree. Yes, I even know of some really bad cases- where a classmate never came back to school again- but lets not even go there.

What is worse is, most Indian men- even the liberal, educated, 'open-minded' ones, don't get it. They don't know the extent or the all-pervasiveness of the problem. They grow up in a different India, an India that does not tell them to be home before dark, to make sure that no body part is showing, to never walk, breathe, talk  freely. In my early days after landing in the US (when the horrors were still fresh), I was talking to a guy about this. And he said "Does this still happen? I don't think the problem exists at all. You are making it all up." I stared at him, aghast and open-mouthed and angry! Much much later, when I got over my anger, I realized the truth of his statement. He really did not know! He had no idea, because he did not grow up in the same India as I did. He grew up as a male in India.

Yes, most people don't get the sheer helplessness of growing up female in India. Nobody who has not faced the relentless multi-headed thousand hands of the monster that is Indian misogyny will ever get it. Be it a male growing up in India or a female growing up in most other countries of the world. You know what it means? I have been in the US for eight years, and I go for a walk most days. Every time a guy crosses me on the sidewalk, I automatically raise my hands and cross my chest. The habit is so deeply ingrained that I can't stop myself. Eight years, a few thousand walks and I still do it. Because I need to protect my breasts. That is what it means. 

Yesterday, I was speaking to a friend and she had studied and lived in Delhi. She said it was really bad there, since she took public transport everyday. I said no, the city I studied in was worse. Or maybe the cities we both grew up in. Or maybe, just maybe, it was everyplace. When terror climbs up your throat and stays there every evening after dark. When panic seizes you if you overstay at the party/park/library by half an hour. When helplessness is an accepted way of life. Yes, that is what it means. When every single decision is made based on where you will be at dusk. When a half inch tighter or shorter dress, a half kilometer detour, a half hour bus delay, a half hour of working extra can mean the difference between safety and assault. And you never know which half hour. Yes, that is what it means. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

TV and Me

I was thinking about my general disinterest in watching TV, and wondering where it came from. Given the kind of television programming there is, I am not surprised at my current loathing of TV (in general). But the fact is that I have never been a TV fan since my late childhood. I would always rather just read a book.

I am old enough to have grown up when TV was not as ubiquitous as it is now. In fact, my family got our first TV when I was around 6 years old, and then our first color TV when I was around 10. At that time, all we had was Doordarshan, with limited programming. Cable TV came to India when I was probably in my teens. It was an awe inspiring jaw dropping deal at the time. So I guess the really young age when kids get addicted to cartoons, I did not have a TV at home. And then later, there were books to read, and games to play, and gossip to gossip, and lastly, studies as well ;-) TV kind of took a backseat in my life.

I went to undergrad hostel, where there was enough squabbling at any time about what to see on the one TV set in the entire hostel- in our TV room. While the majority always won, I was never invested enough to sit there in those uncomfortable plastic chairs and be a passive observer. Besides, this was college- a whole new life to be lived, and a whole new set of people to gossip about. The same more than held true at my graduate school too.

At home, my mom ruled the roost when it came to TV viewing. I could not bring myself to see all those regressive saas-bahu/ joint family soaps that dominate Indian television. Ohh, I tried, but found the tripe indigestible. Then I came to the US, and did not own a TV for the next five years.

It has been a mixture of not having access or having limited access to TV, coupled with a general dislike of what is being aired, coupled with a love of books- and I now have very little interest in actually watching TV. I feel it is the most massive passive waste of time. TV is usually my last resort, sometimes not even that. 

I have tried being interested in shows. But nothing captures and retains my attention long enough. I can read books big enough to weigh a ton, but can never sustain interest in a half-hour TV show. That is how I am. Which is lucky in our house, because there are no fights for the remote!

(Image source:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Siren Song of the Beauty Salon

There are uncountable websites, forums and blogs dedicated to R2I. People have innumerable reasons to go back to India, or stay in the US. There are miles-long debates on how much money to make before going back. Heartrending accounts of helpless parents that need to be taken care of back home. Endless discussions about children growing up here versus there. Scary stories about immigration hassles and visas and legal complications. Heated arguments about spouses and meddlesome in-laws and food and grocery shopping and family vacations and even Indian vs. Western clothes. In my quest to understand the challenges and issues of R2I, I have read them all. And yet, not one has talked about one of my primary- and very important- motivators to go back to India. The cheap cost of the beauty parlor!

It was effortlessly easy to get all my beauty needs met in India. Homemade beauty parlors have sprouted in every gali-nukkad in most every city there. Usually, some enterprising woman has converted her verandah/outhouse/ garage into serving as a makeshift beauty salon, where inexpensive, but almost always great, service was rendered. Body hair irritating me- step in for a quick waxing session. Need eyebrows done in an emergency, walk around the corner to the parlor. Ladke-waale coming over to meet without prior notice - one quick phone call, and the parlor lady cycled home. Within an hour or two, I was transformed from a hirsute disheveled mess into a well-groomed gleaming specimen of womanhood.

I was so used to taking these luxuries for granted. Imagine my shock when I landed in the USA and found out that eyebrow threading would cost me $20, as opposed to Rs. 20 in India. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. As a poor grad student, I quickly learnt that waxing, facials etc. would now be done once a year- on my yearly trip back home. I became adept at using tweezers (or as we call it in India, the plucker), for everything from stray eyebrow hair to my budding moustache. I managed to survive on that one solitary yearly facial, umm, two now, one the day I landed in India and one the day I flew out.

However, as I grow older, I find the need to add more and more stuff to my beauty regimen. Regular hair coloring, for one. My growing beard, for another. Monthly facials to firm up that sagging skin. Bi-weekly eyebrow threading- can’t turn up in office looking like a frowning bear. Not to mention the manicures and pedicures to have decent looking hands and feet. Cleaning up hairy arms and legs (this atleast gets a brief respite in winter).Throw in an occasional massage, a few bleaches, a couple of face scrubs, and the bill can run to hundreds of dollars.

Yes, aging is expensive business. But it is all the more expensive in this country, where I have to spend $300 to look like I did naturally 3 years ago! Women in India, count your blessings and thank your stars. Last time I was there, I spent a total of Rs. 2000’ish for everything (yes, you got it. Every single thing mentioned above, and a few unmentionable ones as well ;-) ). The joys of living in a small, inexpensive town in India! I would have spent upward of $500 for all the same stuff here.

I know that as more time elapses, my reliance on my beauty parlor will only increase. As age spots show up on my skin, more grey hair gives me minor strokes, when I see crow’s feet emanating from my eyes, all I will do is run for help. Straight into the nearest beauty salon!

Which is why I wonder, why is such an important topic not being discussed? Given the high cost of living in the US (I live in Silicon Valley, CA, which is ridiculously expensive), every little thing matters. When we talk of saving money, how can we not account for the fact that this aging business will make us spend much more over time (ever noticed how expensive hair color is)? This is the one thing that will matter more and more as time goes by.

Cheap beauty salon services are not to be derided at. Spending that kind of money in the US always feels criminal to me, because in my mind I am always comparing it to the costs in India. Yet, I have no choice at the moment. So this just might be the tipping point for me to R2I, if not right now, a few years down the line. But maybe, by then, I’ll be comparing the relative costs of Botox!

Image sources:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cross-Posting from SCN

I just recently published a self-introductory blog post on SAP Community Network. So head over there to read it! Here it is:

And let me know your comments here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ladies' Driving Agency

A number of my posts here focus on women, and what empowers/disempowers them. As I was driving to do some chores yesterday, I realized that driving, or being able to drive, is such an important source of power. It gives you the ability to do things, go places, get stuff done, without relying on anybody else! I love driving in the US, with Hindi songs blaring in my car, as I sing along loudly (and often get strange glares). It gives me a feeling of empowerment, ability, control!

It is almost essential to drive in the US, as public transport is often not very time efficient. Sometimes, it does not even exist, and a car is the only option. However, this is fast becoming the case in India as well. Driving yourself gives you so much power to do things on your own, you don't have to wait for unreliable drivers to show up, or get groceries or even go meet friends. Even though one can always take a rickshaw/auto, it is often safer to have one's own transportation.

Yes, driving gives us all Agency, men and women alike. Agency, that one thing that most Indian women have to fight for, or live without. So all of you out there who drive- what are your stories? I was chaperoned by my mother, who would sit in the back seat for all my driving lessons. After all, I could not be allowed alone with a strange man, even if all he wanted to do was finish his driving lesson quickly and go to his next paying customer.

Isn't that true? For every triumph that Indian women make- be it as small as learning to drive, or going swimming (yes, I was chaperoned for that too), there is a small fight, a small victory or a small surrender. That is what life is as an Indian girl/woman, a series of victories and surrenders, against a society and a culture that does not believe in women's agency.

For all that, I'm grateful I learned to drive. And learned to swim. Because I don't need somebody to drive me everytime I need to go get some groceries. Or get some clothes, get a pedicure, get a life. I can drive and get it on my own!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Masala Mundanity

As a housewife, there are a number of soul-sucking endless repetitive chores that one has to do, and do and then do again. Like cleaning, and cooking and sorting the clothes and making the bed, and then redoing them all over again the next day, or the next week. However, in my experience as a housewife, I have found some chores that are more mindnumbingly tedious than others (though they all are). And the winner is: (drumroll here)- refilling the Masaledaani.

That small little round box, which has those even smaller compartments in which you fill your namak, lal mirch, haldi, jeera and whatever other spices you use. First fill it with the masalas you use daily, and then replenish time and again as and when they get depleted. Mine usually takes about a week or ten days, depending on how much I've cooked in that time. Pick up the larger spice receptacles and restore the masaledaani to its former glory.

Every few days that I do this, I feel like this has to be the most mundane of all tasks that fall into the oeuvre of household tasks. And yet, I remind myself that no food can be cooked without spices. This boring little task is what adds taste to everything I cook. However and whatever I cook will be incomplete without spices and salt.

That is the lesson that I need to apply to my life as well. It is the boring and mundane tasks of everyday life that work together to create something complete and appetizing, that add taste and spice to everything I do. Things that are bright and brilliant are but a flash in the pan. They are not sustainable, it is perseverance and persistence that yields the best results. Yes, I need to realize the importance of the mundane.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pain and Sharing

Living a private life versus living a public life is a result of our cultural environment, even more than our cultural proclivities. I was thinking about how my life was lived out almost in the public eye- by public, I mean ALL my relatives, extended family, friends, half of their extended families, the entire neighborhood, school, undergrad and grad school friends (and their parents)- when I was in India. I never thought much about this at the time. Everybody kind of knew what problems everybody else had, how they lived, how they ate etc. Mostly, people shared their problems, issues and sob stories with each other.

After living in the US for the last couple of years, I find myself trying to always portray a happy front to people (at least the people I do not count as close friends). I now seriously have a lot of hesitation before I share my pain or problems. Mostly, I just don't. I always say that I am okay. Even when I'm not. Even when I'm facing huge problems. The US has made me a lot more private. There are probably four people in the whole world who know my current pain. Unlike in India, when every person and their dog knew about it. 

What changed? For one, my cultural environment has had a huge impact on me. I share so much less of my problems now. Secondly, I always feel that nobody will be interested in my pain, since everybody has their own issues to handle. And lastly, I have lost touch with so many of my close Indian friends, and not made such close ones in this country. We've all gone our different paths. Yet, the closeness of school and college friends is irreplaceable. 

And of course, Facebook happened in the last few years. With it, came this need to always have the best me on show. An image, a facade, that is displayed to the world. A facade of a life lived to the fullest, of a life lived with the best of everything life has to offer. Facebook is all about pshopsha (the Punjabi readers should get this). So now, I am perpetually on display to the world and I need to uphold this happy, smiling, carefree, Super-self phantasm that I have created. 

I was thinking this morning about all this. About how I can no longer share my pain and sorrows easily. Mere halak mein mera dard atak jaata hai... and I swallow it back and in, and smile. I'm good, I say. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm not sure anymore. 

Yes, at some level maybe even I swallow this pill I'm giving the world. Even I think life is okay. It is sanitized and harmless and hurtless. Maybe I need to peel off the blinkers and strive for more honesty with myself. Maybe, I can become my best friend again who will listen and talk and understand and encourage. Just maybe, I need to begin sharing with myself again before I can do it with the rest of the world.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Bhartiya Naari and the Bitch in Bollywood

How many of you out there remember the song "Wo Mera Hoga" , one of Ila Arun's superhit songs? I think it came out sometime in the 90's. About this guy who has two girls fawning over him, one an Indian 'modern'  woman who wears revealing clothes, drinks and smokes, and the other the gaon ki gori who is the 'good Indian girl'. The guy is promised to the modern woman and takes her back to his gaon for a visit, where the song actually happens. And the good girl's bhartiya sanskaar make the guy ditch his 'modern' girlfriend for the good girl. Moral of the story: Girls who drink and smoke do not get the guy.

So it is a bit discouraging that even after fifteen or so years have passed, the same idea was repeated in Cocktail. Yes, the good bhartiya naari who is religious, does puja regularly, does not drink or smoke or wear revealing clothes and washes ALL THE DIRTY CLOTHES in the house, is the one who gets the guy (yes, I kept wondering about the washing dirty clothes trope in the movie). Our patriarchal ideas about the women Indian men want to marry (as opposed to the women Indian men want to sleep with) does not change. Girls who are promiscuous, and indulge in such sins like drinking, are not the ones they want to take home to Mommy dearest. No matter that the girl is one of the most giving large-hearted generous and kind souls you would ever meet.

The sad part of the movie was Deepika trying to fit into the mould of the "good desi girl": wearing salwar-kameezes, doing puja and DOING THE LAUNDRY (yes, after all, that defines a good girl). Seriously, it is time to stop adapting to some impossible ideal of womanly goodness and virtue, and let the world accept that girls do party, like to drink and sometimes even sleep around (did I hear a few thuds and gasps!). And she tries to reform herself for a guy like Saif Ali Khan's character, who is basically a major sleaze/scumbag.

When do we stop obsessing over this approval for men, and their mothers? When do we realize that true goodness does not come from what we drink or what we wear, but from what we are? Aren't most of the women who are the perpetrators of female foeticide/dowry etc. all dressed in traditional Indian garb most of the time? Does that make them even remotely GOOD?

And when, oh when, do we stop this need for male approval? I was listening to the superhit song 'Tumhi ho Bandhu' from the movie.

And it says
"Jab yaar kare parwaah meri, mujhe kya parwaah iss duniya ki". 
Right. As long as my guy/man gives me love, care, validation and self esteem, I don't care about anything else. Bas my lover should care for me, and that is all that matters!!

This reminded me of another song that I have always had a bit of a problem swallowing, from the 1962 movie 'Anpadh'.

"Aapki nazron ne samjha, pyaar ke kaabil mujhe, dil ki ae dhadkan thaher jaa, mil gayi manzil mujhe" - Since your eyes now deem me worthy of your love, I now feel I have achieved my objective/destination.

Well, since I was/am nobody without your acceptance, thanks for the validation, guy! However, I've always controlled my irritation with the song because this movie was made in 1962! Also, the eventual premise of the movie is about the importance of women's education.

1962 and Cocktail in 2012! What has changed in these fifty years? Why hasn't Bollywood grown up? Or atleast, shaken off the shackles of the good bhartiya naari and shown us that the Bitch can win too? Isn't Bollywood itself being the demure, coy desi girl who craves the validation of the Indian masses and will therefore not let the Bitch triumph? Oh, but a time will come when the heart and what truly matters will shine through, when sanskaar will mean more than just dressing and behaving a certain way. I'm rooting for you, the Great Indian Bitch. Every dog has its day, and so does the Bitch!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Revenge of the Shoes!

A long time ago, I had talked here about my shoe addiction. How obsessed I was with shoes, and how I could never have enough. I had the chance to revisit this conversation with myself lately. You see, I've been doing a lot of shoe-shopping over the last few months (the benefits of finally FINALLY having a job). I went a bit overboard buying shoes of all and every design, shape and form.

Then I realized that I needed to think this through. Why this atavistic shoe compulsion? Sudden as a flash, I got my answer, an answer that was hidden in the depths of my yesterdays. I was (and still am) a tall, big girl (yes, that is a euphemism for fat). But there are enough fat people in India, so that is not the issue here, the issue was my height. I am very tall for an average Indian girl, a bit more than 5'8". And that means big feet. All my growing up years, I never could find pretty shoes/slippers/sandals for my big, fat feet.

Oh, I remember the snide insults of all the shoe-shop owners, "Ab itne bade pair hain to kya hi milega"... The only kind of shoes that I could get were the ugly broad black ones, made for somebody thrice my age. No amount of hunting would get me nice shoes-and if rarely I did find shoes that were my size, and pretty, they were inordinately expensive (atleast back then).

I am a shoe size 9, which is just fine in this country. I get every sort of style and design for my feet size, and nobody tells me that pretty shoes are not made for my big fat ugly feet. Nobody tells me that I can not wear heels because I am already so tall (there are tons of taller women here, and lots wear heels). Nobody tells me that the only shoes I can wear are the ugly ones.

Yes, that is why I buy shoes all the time. Pink ones and orange ones and red ones and heels and higher heels and Mary Janes and pumps and wedges and everything else! Because they fit, they look good and they are pretty. Because despite my big feet, I can still get any style I want. Because finally, this is my revenge on all those shopkeepers who broke my young girly heart back then.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Hope at the End of the World

There comes a time in life when everything seems bleak, dark, despairing and over. When you feel that it is simply the end of the world. When even taking another breath is painful, when every pore of your body wants to scream in protest, when all you want to do is curl up and never look at the world again. Have you ever had that happen? When the pain is so intense, the hurt so deep, the wound so raw, that all you could do was sit and whimper? When tears don’t come, when all you have is a frozen, numb heart and soul that simply hurts…and hurts some more?

Indeed, the end of the world. I faced my own version over the last few days, and I have to admit, all I could do was sit and stare. Blank-eyed, frozen. I prayed for tears, for tears would thaw the numbness inside me. A cathartic washing that would make me feel something, anything, again. They came in fits and bursts, never the cascade that I was waiting for. They are still there, waiting for a vagrant word or image to begin the defrosting. Or maybe, just maybe, a warm hug…

Yes, the end of the world came. And went. And I decided to stop the pain, ignore it and get back to work. Square my shoulders, straighten my spine and gather my courage. Maybe it was some form of denial. Maybe it was the only way to survive- by not thinking about it. By not dwelling on it. By smiling, and being strong. And by hoping for a better tomorrow.

It’s strange, and I’d never expected it, but the world went on. Why didn’t the world stop spinning with the intensity of my pain? Why did my sorrow not stop the sun from rising, the moon from shining and the stars from twinkling?  Because while the sun rises, the moon shines and the stars twinkle, there is hope. Hope that touches us with its delicate wings and flutters around us, weaving a delicate web that slowly and softly sews the heart together. Hope that ripples into our soul and mends the gentle cracks. Hope that hugs me, and makes my frozen tears thaw and flow out, so that they are frozen here in words instead. These words take the pain from inside me and onto these pages, pages that hold me and hug me and make me cry. Pages and words that mutely listen, and comfort and record.

I’d written once about a line from the movie Om Shanti Om, “hamari zindagi main bhi, hamari filmon ki tarah, end mein sab theek hi ho jaata hai…Aur agar theek nahi hua, to ye The End nahi hai...Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost..."

I hope so. I seriously hope so.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Joys of Lipstick

Lipstick is my tool of choice. Yes, the word "tool" is used deliberately. I don't wear any make-up on a daily basis, but lipstick. I love the way it adds a small dash of color to my face, enlivening my entire look. It is also my armor and my shield. I feel less vulnerable with lipstick on, because if I think I look better, I feel better.

It wasn't always this way. I was one of the really late adopters of make-up/lipstick. In fact, I started using lipstick after I turned 21! That was the defining year, the year that my love affair with lipstick started. Before that, I had no clue about the wonders and power of make-up or looking good.

I was doing an internship at the time, in Surat, Gujarat. A fellow intern was an Avon representative, and she was the one who introduced me to lipstick. Of course, she did it for her business, but I was hooked. I learned about the gazillion different shades, what to use, how to use, skin tone matching, etc. Most importantly, I learned that a little bit of lipstick looked good- and not girly or primping, as my pseudo-intellectual snobbery was wont to believe.
Indeed, I was- and to a large extent, still am- the kind of person who believes that sheer brain power and intelligence will overpower and outlast looks any time. But I've learnt that good looks plays a huge role in the process as well. Even though I still don't wear make-up, I guess this lipstick thing is my brief nod to the realities of life.

Over time, I have understood exactly what looks good on me (I chose some horrendous stuff when I started this journey). I have learnt to color match with my outfits. I now understand what shades and colors make me look young/old/haggard/cute/pretty. Now, I agonize over exact shades, I mix and match 2-3 shades to get the exact look I want, I dab and powder and paint. Lipstick application is an art, and I am still but a novice in the same. What I have learnt, however, is that appying it heavy handedly (potoing it on, in Indian parlance) never works.
To this day, though, I have not learnt not to eat it. I don't know how it stays on on some people, even after they eat and drink. Mine fades away very quickly, even if I don't eat or anything. Wish I knew how to keep it on- I've tried many many brands, and so much for long-lasting! Mine always goes away in a couple of hours.

So lipstick is my choice of tool. It makes me feel better about myself. It adds a dash of color to my life, quite literally.

Image Sources:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Perfection

Indeed, that is what the US of A is all about. The pursuit of perfection, and never quite getting there. It is very much in the water and air of this country. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have picked up this bug, this incessant voice inside me that keeps goading me to be perfect in everything I do. And when I don’t match up (I’m already Superwoman, but still I fall short) the guilt and recriminations are endless.

Every day, I strive to be really perfect at my work. I expect myself to work hard and produce excellent content. I want to be able to write excellently, create well, and all in all, basically be perfect at my job. Yes, I know there is a learning curve, and I will take time, but still, I am driven to be really good. Anything less, and my internal voice keeps saying I need to do better. Work harder. And maybe get back to work instead of writing this blog post!

Every day, I strive to be the perfect human being. One who never gets emotional, has crazy outbursts, cries, gets sad or feels anything but upbeat and happy. Needless to say, I do all those things. Still, there is this perfect person I want to be, who is happy not only for herself but for the people around her. Who is bright and shiny and bubbly and cheery. Oh, I am all of that a lot of the time. And then I explode, tearing to bits myself and the people caught in the explosion. Then I feel massively guilty. For not controlling my anger. For being this awful tantrummy person.

Every day, I want to go to the gym and exercise. I want to do this because a) it’s good for my health b) I need to lose weight. Scratch that- I need to lose massive amounts of weight. I want to live up to and become this impossible ideal of beauty. And when I don’t, I hate myself for it. I hate myself for not going to the gym. I hate myself for not taking the time out to do this for myself. I hate myself because I blame myself for not doing this one thing for myself.

Every day, I want to be the perfect wife. Loving, caring, sweet and gentle. I want to make breakfast and dinner for my husband. I want to be there for him. I want to be nice to him. I want to be a loving , kind, wonderful person who listens to all his problems and shares his concerns. And I do this- most of the time. Except for the explosions.

Every day, I want to be the perfect housewife. I want an immaculate clean sparkling house, where everything is in its proper perfect place. Where the bathrooms sparkle and the kitchen sink dazzles. Where the floor and walls and d├ęcor and curtains and bedspread are all clean, and matching and beautiful. I work towards this endlessly.

Every day, I want to cook fresh delicious food. From scratch. Every time I use frozen food I feel a little bit more guilty. About not providing fresh and healthy food to my family.

Every day, I want to be the perfect daughter. I want to take care of my parents, who are so far away and alone and unhappy without me.

Every day, I want the perfect life with perfect vacations in perfect locations looking perfect with my perfect husband.

Every day, I want to be there for my friends. Listen to their pain and share it with them.
Every day, I want to take my vitamins on time.
Every day, I want a well stocked larder and fridge. I want my grocery shopping to be comprehensive.
Every day, I want to give and get great sex.
Every day, I want to dress up well and be perfectly turned out and with great hair.
Every day, I want my laundry all folded and put back in its proper place.
Every day, I want the beds made.
Every day, I want my electric toothbrush cleaned.
Every day, I want to be in the office by 9:00 AM.
Every day, I want to make and take lunch with me.
Every day, I want to be perfect in every way.
Every day I fall short. Every day, I inch a little bit closer to going out of my mind. Every day, I hate myself a little more. Every day, in a million small ways, I die because I am not perfect.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review: The World We Found

Title: The World We Found
Author: Thrity Umrigar
ISBN: 978-0-06-193834-4
Pages: 305
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year: 2012
Genre: Multicultural, Drama, Indian

Review: I have read almost all of Umrigar’s books, and loved them all. This is her latest book that came out recently, in January 2012. And being a big fan of Umrigar’s work, I knew I had to read it. She is one author who can simply reach into me and twist my gut and make me feel as if I have been through a cloth-wrencher (if there is something like that, but that is the only way to describe how I feel). The only way I can put this is that she gets pain. And she knows how to pen it down so that pain leaps up from the written page and gets deep inside your soul and erupts there. Her books leave me thoughtful, pensive, sad. I only wish I could write like that one day.

She writes about four women, Armaiti, Nishta, Kamala and Laleh, who were incredibly close friends in college. Life takes them into different paths and ways, and they all but lose contact with each other. Armaiti goes to the US for graduate studies and stays there, Kamala becomes one of Mumbai’s top architects (and is a closet gay), Laleh marries well and Nishta- well, Nishta is where the book centers. Nishta is the change when a girl becomes a resigned woman. Nishta is the slow resentment that comes from giving up bits and pieces of yourself over time. Nishta is the triumph of indifference over spirit. And yet, in the end, Nishta is hope. Nishta is resurrected?

The book begins with Armaiti finding out that she has only a few months left to live. And she wants to meet her friends from college before the end. The book traverses this journey, of how her friends get together and get ready to go. It goes through the stories and histories of each of these women, their lives, their families. How their pasts were gradually eradicated by a merciless present. How life, culture, society and religion changed them.

The center plot of the story is about Nishta, whose husband does not allow her to go to the US to visit Armaiti. The other two women do not give up and somehow make it happen. The scheming, the plotting, the constant terror of him finding out is played out superbly. A beautiful description of how a spirited and feisty young woman is now a resigned, scared, broken housewife. In the end, how she manages the courage to escape. For the bonds are of love and a lifetime together. Yet, they are bonds that hold her down and stifle her.

Armaiti’s gradual degeneration, Nishta’s struggles, Laleh’s obstinacy, Kavita’s bitterness- all combine to form a tapestry of intense emotion. Emotion that will take your heart hostage and make you sob for them. Make you realize that life is not black and white, just unfair. Just horribly unfair and painful. Because bad things happen, and we are colored by them. Our reactions are results of what happens to us. How things change, how dreams change, how people change. How the world we find is the world we create.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Neanderthal Man: Bitchfest Episode 2

After a long time, here I present to you the next version of Bitchfest. Been a long time coming, but then I am such a sweet and tolerant person that it really takes a lot to infuriate me ;-) (oh, the sarcasm and irony! Especially when I have documented here my long time struggle to conquer anger). Anyway, I digress. Lets go back to the point of this post, ranting ;-)

So I recently had the (mis)fortune to meet this guy. And he has been kind enough to express some of his views about women and their "duties" to their husbands. He often talks about how women need to cook for their husbands, no matter whether women work or not. After all, it is a woman's duty to cook for the poor guy, since he can not be expected to do so himself. When I tried to point out to him that maybe this thought process was not completely correct- men need to contribute too- he shot back at me, so don't you cook for your husband? Since of course, in his mind, that was the clinching argument.

A few days ago, I met him again as part of a large group, and he started talking about how men work so much more and have more tension in their lives, as compared to women/ wives! Oh well! Men who work less hours than their wives, come home sooner, and sit on the couch watching TV, waiting for their wives to come home and cook and clean. When we (me and some other infuriated women in the group) told him that actually working women work a lot more- since we work both at home and office- he said that of course we could give up working. Outside the home. Not that men could contribute more so that women's lives could be a bit easier, but women who had problems handling both should just give up work. He then added after all, that it is the wife's duty to take care of the husband. Since men work outside the home (and of course, women need not).

Now, this guy is planning to get married soon, and his parents are looking for a girl for him. So he was talking about that, and said that he was ambivalent about marriage, because, once married, he could no longer party/ hang out with friends (yes, that was his reason!). So I suggested that he could party with his wife, and/or take her to the party with friends. His answer- of course I can not, because she would not drink. So I asked her how did he know she would not drink, since he has yet to meet anybody. Well, he answered, because obviously the girl my parents find will not drink. Okay, fair enough, so I suggested that he could initiate her into drinking socially. To which he responded that it was better if she did not drink!!

After that, I just gave up talking to him.
All this, coming from a decently educated guy working in the US. It is saddening, disappointing, but most of all, infuriating. Is this a problem peculiar to Indian men? Who grew up so mollycoddled and worshipped by their families that they don't think helping their wives in housework is important? More so in the US where there is nothing like household help? Who think that it is a wife's duty, DUTY, DUTY (I feel like screaming that word) to take care of the husband? Whatever happened to taking care of each other? Wasn't that what marriage was supposed to be? Where does this sense of utter entitlement come from?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Fat but not Powerless!

A few days ago, I saw this Indian movie called “Desi Boyz”. And I have been seething ever since at one particular dialogue in the movie. Of course, I probably should not expect even a modicum of sense from such an inane movie, yet I am completely and totally incensed by this one thing. In the movie, the good for nothing dumb and useless male protagonist goes back to school (since he could not be bothered to finish first time around) and one of his classmates of earlier days is now his Economics professor. She obviously harbors a huge crush on our macho man, and sets out to get him. He fails to recognize her in the beginning, because she was ugly and fat, with braces etc. when they had last met. This time around though, she has metamorphosed into a super-duper hot attractive smart babe to end all hot babes. And she says to him, (I quote here) “last time we met, mai moti aur bechari thhi. Par ab this is not so” (or some such claptrap to that effect).

Right. “Moti aur bechari” (fat and powerless). That is how fat people are perceived. That is how fat people perceive themselves. Because being fat renders you helpless, powerless, useless!! Can you even think of something more self-esteem annihilating? What self-worth do we talk about when we buy into this idea that being fat makes us powerless? What about being smart and intelligent- the woman in question was smart enough to be an Economics professor at Oxford, for heaven’s sake!- and all she could say was that she was fat and powerless. She still had the same brains, if inside a fat body.

Yes, I know that this is the ugly truth. That being fat is perceived as ugly, powerless, as something/ somebody to be looked down upon. Fat people buy into this idea as much as everybody else. This is something that is ingrained in our culture. Beautiful is thin, and vice versa. Beauty may be only skin deep but we live in a shallow world.

As a fat person who has had self-worth issues all her life, I know the pain. I know how difficult it is to maintain a modicum of dignity. To find some shreds of self-esteem in the annihilated remains of self. I have been there and am still struggling. To believe that my complete sense of self does not come from how much I weigh. That I am a smart, intelligent and good person who deserves a good life.

It is not easy to accept myself. To forgive myself. To love myself. People who have never had to struggle with being fat don’t know the pain. It is not merely the physical aspect, but an entire societal and cultural construction. And fighting, not for acceptance, but for the right to live a life that brings us dignity and self-respect is something that we all deserve. Being fat does not render us automatically powerless. We have to fight this mindset in our culture, but first and foremost, battle our own inner devils of doubt and anger and pain. I am my own greatest enemy, my own lack of self-worth allows me to feel powerless.

Which is why I am angry at this movie. Because they brainlessly translate being fat with being powerless. The two are not the same. In fact, it is against all human dignity and self-respect to even think so. As Eleanor Roosevelt had once said, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”. And yes, we consent. We agree that we really do not deserve better. We agree to be powerless.

Today, this is what I want to start my New Year thinking. That I may be fat, but I am not powerless. Or helpless. Or useless. I am good, and powerful, and yes, even beautiful. Mai bechari nahi hoon!