The Dilemma

I am a fairly open person. I don’t mind talking about my life openly and frankly and I don’t mind writing about it in my blog. In fact, I find the act of writing about the aspects of my life that bother me cathartic. Right now, I so badly want to write about something, but I can’t because it involves other people. I don’t mind making myself look foolish or bad, but it’s kinda bitchy to say mean things about other people on the internet even if your blog is not widely read.

So here I am, just dying to put into words my experiences and share it with a few people, but I can’t and I won’t. This sucks.

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At the Verge of Becoming a Misandrist

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I grew up without a father figure. I have a father and we keep in touch. My mom and him are still together, but he always worked abroad or in a different state. I studied at an all girl’s school. I grew up at a church where the guys never spoke to me. My male relatives were a non-prominent part of my life. So I grew up not knowing anything about men. At around adolescence, I started getting attracted to men, but I guess that was more biological than anything else. Men were an enigma to me. A mysterious sub-species that I knew nothing about. I was drawn to them in an inexplicable way.

I completed my Bachelors at an all-girls college – 3 years at Women’s Christian College. I met a few guys, crushed on a few of them, crushed long and hard on two of them, was completely appalled by some of them. I lost my fascination with men at the end of three years. My professors and classmates and friends helped me build up my self-esteem, something that had long been destroyed at my school. I became one of the smart ones. These three years are what I call the Golden Age of Lebanah, the best years of my life. I thrived, I grew, I was happy for once in my life.

I did my Masters at an all-girls college and threw myself completely into the wonderful and strenuous world of English Literature. I forgot all about my fascination with the male of the species as I slogged away at assignments and tests and seminars. I studied some texts that irrevocably changed who I was. I settled for friendships with men. I met some strong, independent women. My Stella days are what I am proud of. They were two difficult years and I wish I could have had more of them.

I fell in love with the idea of love and married a man who claimed to love me. I thought I loved him too, but neither of us knew what love really was. Four years later, I think we’re finally beginning to understand what it truly means to love one another.

I started working at a place where 8 out of 10 people are men. I still work there. There are more men in my life now than I have ever had in all my life. Students, co-workers, my boss – so many men.

Maybe women who grew up having a proportionate number of men around them don’t find men strange. But the more I know about this half of humanity, the more outraged, appalled, disgusted and irked I am.

I never knew how strongly against men I had started to feel, until one day my husband gestured across the room at me and asked me to join a group of people at church. I started walking towards them, noticed they were all men, thought to myself “ugh” and gestured back at my husband that I’d rather stay where I was.

Most Indian men are sexist. They don’t even know it. If you point it out to them, they will be appalled. They’ll deny it, but they are. That’s what makes me so angry at my culture. Indian culture in itself is sexist in nature. The cherished traditions of our ancestors oppress women. The fact that it is so ingrained in the psyche of everyone makes it harder to recognise it for what it is. Most women are sexist too. Maybe if I had been brought up with a beloved sexist father at home, I would have easily slid into the role that was meant for me. But no, I was brought up completely by women. The number of adult men I encountered on a regular basis, as a child, as I remember them were:

  1. Pakkathuveetu maama
  2. paal podra Gopal uncle
  3. Paper edukra Balaji Uncle
  4. Christopher driver
  5. Conductor
  6. School terroriser/caretaker/supervisor – Pandian Uncle

I am starting to ramble now!

I don’t quite know how to put my frustrations into words. Let me try again.

Growing up with no men around meant that we women had to do everything by ourselves. Even now as an adult, I crinkle my nose at women who look around for men to carry heavy objects. I guess in a mixed school, boys would be asked to carry tables or chairs and put up charts on the wall. But we girls grew up doing these things by ourselves. We even got out of our school bus and pushed it a few times when it wouldn’t start.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I hate gender roles. I hate that society dictates what men should do and what women should do. I hate that most women bring up their sons to be irresponsible boy husbands, instead of strong, self-sufficient men who don’t need a woman at their beck and call. Some men are lost without their wives or mothers. Even though they may be well into adulthood, most Indian men are incapable of looking after themselves.

I have a theory about how this came to be.

The whole world was sexist. Most women weren’t allowed to be part of the larger society that men were an integral part of. The only place that a woman had any control over was her household. The only roles that she was commended for excelling in were those of wife, mother, cook, nurse, maid, caretaker and teacher. So she learnt how to play these roles even when they didn’t come to her naturally. Over the years, this became a norm. Women fiercely protected their territory to have a control over this small sphere of their lives. Most times, they did not allow men into this world and sometimes vehemently protested against the men entering into their own tiny spheres of influence.

Over the years, these qualities came to become the virtues of womanhood. They tried hard to keep the men in their lives (their husbands, and sons who would become their future caretakers) under their thumb by being doing everything for them, in what everyone, including the women thought was love, but was actually just a vigorously fierce assertion of their importance. This is the only thing they had, they didn’t want to lose this.

It was difficult for most women at that time to feel important anywhere else. I don’t know how it started, but somewhere it did and it grew to be the norm all over the world.

This changed in the Western World after World War II. Most of the world was at war and most countries sent every able man to war. During those 6 years between 1939 and 1945, women started working and were employed in the army, they filled the roles of men at desk jobs, they were also working at home to provide for their families.

Women soon realised that they had the capacity to do so much more. Women who got jobs during the war kept their jobs even after the war ended. They demanded more rights and had become highly independent! They wanted to work, and the divorce rate rose.

Feminist movements became rampant and as always the influence of the West spread to the East as well. But since Indian women had no such cathartic experience, we are still stuck half way between here and there.

Dowry is still a problem in India, instead of finding a way to eradicate this social evil, instead of elevating women to a status above that of a glorified slave, we abort female foetuses and kill female infants. This country truly disgusts me.

As an only child and daughter whose father always spoke as if he regretted that I wasn’t a boy, I can say that I am more than just outraged.

I see men with fragile egos, who fail to realise that they cannot demand special treatment, simply because they have genitals that distinguish them as different from women.

I was talking with a group of men about how I support a woman’s right to divorce her husband in case of marital abuse and I got a remark from a man who said, “We men have problems with women too”.

“What problems?” I asked, genuinely interested in his reply.

“Women talk too much!” he said sniggering flippantly.

“What? Seriously? I am talking about men who beat their wives and you’re telling me about how your wife talks to you?”

“Yeah, and then she expects me to talk to her too!” he said still sniggering.

“What do you men want?” I asked him.

“Men need love, respect and admiration” he said.

I blew my top. I completely bit his head off and tore him to pieces! I hadn’t lost my temper like that in a few years!

“You don’t want to spend time with your wife, you don’t want her to talk to you, you don’t want to talk to her but YOU want love, respect and admiration?” I demanded!

Men like this irritate me! Men who are flippant about the sacrifices their wives make for them. Men who talk about how their “freedom” is gone, now that they are married. It irritates me because as a married Indian woman, I know that we women make greater sacrifices than men do in marriage. And if marriage upsets you so much, why did you get married? Why do you stay married? You want a slave who will do everything for you and question none of your actions and expect nothing in return! You dear sirs, are assholes.

For those of you who still don’t understand what equality means, treat a woman as you would a fellow man. Would you hand a man an empty plate? Or a dirty cup? Would you interrupt two men who are talking seriously to make a stupid joke? Would you ask a man who is busy to come and serve you food that’s an arm’s reach away from you?

Indian women are also to blame for this! They enable their husbands to continue to be sexist and teach their sons to do the same. We need to change this! One woman at a time, one husband at a time, one son at a time.

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

Usually these kinda sayings make a lot of sense. They’re full of wisdom and knowledge that comes only from experience. But this one, about sticks and stones rings completely untrue.

I remember the times when I have hurt myself physically. I’ve never broken a bone and it has neither been sticks nor stones that hurt me. I am an unabashed klutz. I’m not proud of my clumsiness but neither am I ashamed of it. I’ve just come to accept it as a part of who I am. I often find myself walking into doors and walls and furniture, not only in unfamiliar places, but also in my own home. I guess I’ll never be elegant or graceful. And I will probably never learn how to look suave in a pair of heels. I stumble about like an idiot in stilettos – okay I don’t own a pair of stilettos, I’m not suicidal, but I have tried them on in shoe stores because they are so pretty, but yeah, I don’t own any.

What I am trying to say, is that I’ve hurt myself plenty of times. Most times, they’re just scratches or tiny bruises that I don’t remember incurring, but sometimes it’s bigger – like the time I chopped off the tip of my ring finger with a chef’s knife, or the time when I skid on some sand and fell like a fool on the side of the road.

I even bear scars on my body that serve as monuments to my clumsiness. But the scars on my heart are much deeper. Some haven’t healed completely. They bleed at the slightest touch.

They are scars that were caused by careless tongues, callous hearts, mean spirits, ignorant perceptions, foolish thoughts, flippant attitudes, selfish loved ones, hypocritical morality and negligent husband(s).

Bob Marley said, “Everyone will hurt you, you just have to find the ones worth suffering for.” So true. We are, all of us, made up of scars. Our scars make us who we are today. How we reacted to the pain, how we handled the hurt, how we made sense of our heartaches, how we bore our agony, how we learnt to cope with our misery – that’s what makes us who we are today.

There are certain slights that we never forget. There are some wounds that never truly heal. Some talk about the power of forgiveness and the ability to let go. But do we ever really forget?

My school days were the worst days of my life. I studied in the same school for 14 years. Only the library, 3 teachers (exactly) and the friends that I made there are worth remembering. Everything else is so painful to even think about. I’ve visited my school again a few times since I passed out, but each time I step into that familiar territory, all I feel is dread, apprehension and a feeling of inadequacy.

Sometimes I think back to those days and I think, what if what happened to me then, happened to me again today. And the answer surprises and confuses me. I wouldn’t be hurt. I would handle it differently. And it most definitely wouldn’t be as big a deal for me today as it was for me once upon a time. But when I look back into old painful memories, as I remember my alienation from the world, my desolation at being un-understood and misunderstood, it still hurts.

If you smote me today with the same harsh words and the same heartless actions, I will stand up against it and weather it like the strong woman I am growing up to be, I will hold my head up high and carry on. But when I remember the first time something was said or done, it still hurts. Sometimes it hurts so much, that if I let the pain in instead of numbing it with fantasy, I curl up and weep till my whole body is racked with sorrow for the little girl who once was.

I don’t know why it still hurts. I don’t know why I still cry. Maybe I weep for the lost innocence, or for the dead optimist. I really don’t know.

But I do know that the older I grow, the more cynical I become. Maybe that’s what it means to be an adult.

The Dark Place

I’m a bit of a poet, but sometimes I just can’t write. It’s been years since I wrote a poem. But I thought I’ll share with you some of my old ones. Maybe inspiration will flow from them. I guess I just don’t have time to stop all my work and give creative vent to my random musings, now that I am an adult.

paperback-emotional-traumaI don’t usually share my poems. Because sometimes people don’t understand that most of my poems come from a place that is deep within me, a place that I find hard to understand myself. And so when I’m done, I can barely believe what I’ve written. Words and my dark place have some connection that I’ll never understand.

But for starters, here’s an excerpt from Yunus Emre’s “Thirsty Fish”.

This is how it always is, when I finish a poem. A great silence overcomes me and I wonder why I ever thought to use words. 

This one is dated 5th July 2011.

Oddity

Tears threaten to overflow

But a smile

that comes out of nowhere

drives them away.

They do not spill over.

Because, deep down inside,

I understand.

I don’t understand,

how I understand what

I understand.

But, I do.

Pain and peace,

An odd amalgamation

that stirs my soul.

The Greatest Love of All

I was thinking about love today, inspired by Adele’s song, “Someone like You”. It’s an immensely beautiful melancholic song. It’s about a guy she is in love with, but he has moved on with someone else, and she talks about how she still loves him and wishes the best for him.

What is it about the song that drew me in? There is a whole world of break-up songs out there. Most of them talking about how I don’t need him, how he is an ass for breaking my heart, about how he will never know what he is missing… blah blah blah. BORING.

So here is a song about a girl who loves a guy who has moved on! How rare!

Is the guy really that great?

Or is her love what makes him seem great?

Are humans capable of such great love?

Loving someone when that love isn’t reciprocated… Isn’t that the greatest love of all?

A Pact with God

So today, as I got off my bike to open the gate to my house so I can get in, I saw a lady sitting on the side of the house opposite mine, crouched with her face between her knees. Another lady stood by her. Both of them are part of a crew of about eight people who work for the government I guess – they have now been digging up the road to enable metro water connection for us. I don’t work on Mondays and Praveen (my husband) was sick on Tuesday and Wednesday – so they came to get drinking water from us as they worked in the sweltering heat.

So when I saw this woman, I assumed that she was just dehydrated or tired from the toil of her labour, but when I asked them what happened, she said she was vomiting and there was blood in her vomit. Oh God, that does not sound like fatigue I thought. I am no doctor, but vomiting blood is not merely a sign of weariness.

They asked me if I know of any hospital nearby and I told them about Ramachandra. Then they asked hesitantly if they could borrow my bike. I was also hesitant. I barely knew them, but this lady looked really sick and I saw some of the blood she puked.  I was like “uh, I don’t have much petrol”, they were like, “it’s okay, it’s just nearby”.

My heart was all like “Dude, just give them the bike man, that lady looks really sick.”

My brain was like, “You don’t even know them.”

Heart: Their eyes look honest. I think they’re good honest people. They will give me back my bike.

Brain: Dude. Seriously. You can’t read their minds. And you’re not as much of an expert as you think you are in reading people, remember the time that you totally didn’t figure out that totally random thing that happened that one time?

Heart: Oh God, she looks really sick, just give them the damn bike, how can you be so callous?

Brain: God, if they steal the bike, they’ll have the key, and without the key, I won’t even be able to claim insurance. And we won’t be able afford a new bike and I have to use my dad’s old Scooty Pep. Oh no!

Heart: Dude, seriously. Have some faith in humanity. Look at his eyes. They’re honest. Poor. Hard working. And honest. Just because they don’t look like the kind of people that you usually trust with your stuff…

Brain: eh…

Heart (out loud): Here take the keys. Give it back to me when you’re back.

Brain: Shit. Praveen is gonna kill you girl. Everyone is gonna kill you. It’s a gift from dad. He’s never gonna let this go.

Heart: I guess brain may be right. But God, if these guys come and give me back my bike, I will try and help people even when every other sane thought I have warns me not to.

Okay, so I often have inner monologues like this. There’s a part of me that hates humanity. The Cynic. She can’t stand people. She often finds herself pondering over the shittiness of human beings in general. Sometimes she looks in the mirror and can’t stand herself. She’s no fun. She’s depressing. She struggles to see the beauty in the flaws of humanity. She enjoys movies where humans are suffering for the sin of destroying the Earth and for playing God. I mean, can you blame her? If you are at all aware of history, can you blame her for seeing all of humanity as inherently evil? The Holocaust, the World Wars, The Crusades, other horrible things… yes a group of people committed these heinous crimes – but they are in fact people. Human Beings. The Cynic is horrified that human beings are capable of such great evil under the right (maybe I should say wrong?) circumstances. She sometimes wonders, among such horrors, could there be a God?

Then there’s a part of me that sees beauty everywhere. The Romantic. She loves nature, she loves animals, she loves plants and trees and flowers, she loves the blue sky, the innocence and vulnerability of a child, the peaceful crash of the waves in the ocean, the rain, she loves cooking for her husband and others who are beloved, she can sit by herself and smile as the wind plays with her hair. She thanks God for the beauty that can be found anywhere. She knows God. She loves Him.

So yeah, there’s usually some sort of frenzy in my brain. My mind is a mess of chaotic contradictions.

I’ve always resented the “bad” people. The kind of people who have caused other people to withdraw into themselves in fear. There are a kind of people in the world who’re thieves, murderers, rapists, child molesters and human traffickers. And then, there are another kind of people, the kind who are in positions of authority, they look the other way for a fee to let the first kind carry on with their work unhindered. These people have caused such a lot of fear in the common man, that when a thirsty or hungry man in tattered clothes comes to our door step, instead of giving him water, food or an old shirt, we chase him away. “What if he hurts me?” we ask ourselves, “I was just protecting myself”, we reason.

Maybe I am just a gutless chicken. I want to help people. I want to help the man who looks hungry, or the lady who could use a change of clothes, but I don’t because I fear being taken advantage of. I fear being hurt. I want to smile at the impoverished hardworking man that I see every day on my way to work, just a simple act of human connection, but I pretend I never saw him and keep walking. What if he misunderstands me? What if he rapes me?

Good Lord, what is wrong with me? Can’t a girl just be nice and kind to someone without fear?

In the stories that were written millennia back, in the Bible, the Mahabharatha, the Koran, there are stories of how people were hospitable to strangers who were passing by. The Bible even says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Is it even possible to do something like this today? What have we humans evolved into?

It really vexes me.

But I did get my bike back. Today when I look in the mirror, I will not despise myself. And maybe, next time when my brain warns me of the impending dangers of helping someone, I will just look into the human’s eyes and trust my heart to know if I see truth in them. I am good at gauging people. I will not let my brain tell me otherwise.