To Knot or Not

In my last post, I wrote about the confidence I receive from learning to be independent.

It seemed to have raised doubts among my readers about how I view the institution of marriage — that’s right, with a dose of skepticism and lots of amusement. Growing up in a broken family, the failure of marriages in my small sample space was almost 100%. Now, anyone with a decent school education should ask me the question “How do you define failure?”

In the interest of not getting stuck in a philosophical loophole, let us quickly move on and for that, I will clarify that my skepticism of marriage does not stem from its failure rates.

At its inception, marriage was about the union of two families or about property arrangements. Now, I wonder how relevant it is to the broke millennial me who Whatsapp calls her mother about once a week.

There is a misconception that people who call out regressive practices in marriages and do not believe in monogamy do not want fruitful companionships or families. I am in-fact, quite on the opposite end of the spectrum.

I have been in a solid relationship with my partner for over two years now that involves a mixed family — my partner and his child from a previous marriage. In a truly modern sense, we are all civil and in an almost far-fetched sense, we might even like each other a little.

The first time I broke the news of my partner having a child from his previous marriage in a casual off-handed conversation with my mother(yes, I am great at breaking good news!) — my mother burst into tears and told me that during her times, only women without any social/economic capital would agree to become a “second-wife”.

I asked her if women without any social/economic capital used to become a “second-wife”, what kind of woman would become a “first-wife?” The answer was all kind of woman but thank god (for an atheist, I do say this a lot) that this is changing now.

It did not help that I followed this with “What if I never marry him ?”

“Would they stop counting and not put a label and a number on me?”

My mother was miffed that I used free-choice to sign up for a deal that was just not good enough in her opinion — but then again, what do I tell her? People all over this world use free choice for things like wearing a burqa, defending how Hinduism is indeed a way of life, or eating pineapple on pizza.

My problem with the institution of marriage is that — if I entered into this contract, this outdated institution either directly or indirectly labels me many things that I am not — a young second wife, a cruel stepmother, a homewrecker, and whatnot. Inside this institution, so many women are pitted against each other — the mother-in-law, the sister-in-law, the ex-wife — fighting for a common prize, the man (jumping to the end of the story, hint, no man is a prize).

I admit that marriage is no more a mere “happily-ever-after” — I have started evaluating marriage from lenses, 16-year old me did not even realize existed — do we pay lesser taxes? Is it patriarchal? What is the exit clause?

Even if someone is not in the situation I am in — marriage today has become something you need to carefully evaluate before jumping into. My thoughts towards marriage are similar towards my thoughts towards men — I am not saying I like it or that it is for me — I am saying that there might be some potential but well, I could be proven wrong. I am a good while away (my mother is currently typing — “How Long???” as she reads this sentence) from evaluating whether marriage is for me.

Having said that, all over the world, I see young couples navigate marriages happily by bending the rules of this very regressive institution. I see healthy young couples make this institution a more breathable and livable structure.

And then there are still some, who would furiously type to me after reading all this and say “Things are not the same anymore! My husband also washes the dishes”.

Baby Steps – On Having Children

I read articles by intellectuals who say that they do not want to raise a child in times of a crippling water crisis. I think back to the times my mom claims that she had me because “why not” and picked my name off little paper chits that my aunt wrote.

Children require time, effort, incredible patience, deliberation, and lots of money to raise. Two years ago, if you put me in quarantine with an annoying baby, only one of us would make it out alive. Mostly me. Having my partner’s kid around for a while has helped.

People laugh about marriages that happen over zoom during Covid19 — however, the tragedy has left people co-parenting over phone screens today, raising their children from hundreds of miles apart. Even without extenuating circumstances, there is a lot to worry about when it comes to children.

Fully-grown adults with massive financial commitments to their name and little family support are living in new cities with the hope of trying to make ends meet — Goodluck fitting another human being into the equation. I have always secretly loved the idea of raising (not birthing) a kid. I never believed it was pragmatic, though.

My aunt said, “You will be fine once you have them” I have imagined this script in my head in which I finally have a child and don’t feel “fine” like my aunt promised me. I then wrap my pristine-looking infant daughter in a little bow and leave her outside the said aunt’s doorstep as a return gift for her unwarranted advice. My point is — this is a personal journey and anyone’s rant, including mine, is best taken with a pinch of salt.

Recently, my partner and I got into a full-blown-out argument about adopting a dog. As my partner listed multiple reasons as to why we just cannot afford one— given how much I work and how much he travels, I had an epiphany. I wasn’t fighting to prove that my life was compatible with a dog. I was looking for tangible support to make my life consistent with a dog. And in the light of this, my heart sank as I thought about more children.

Do I want to bring/raise more children in this world when I am not sure we have the resources for it — both at a macro and a micro-level (had to use my degree somewhere!). Yes, I probably do.

However, there were certain things I had to tell myself for this one thought to not become an existential crisis in the time of a lockdown.

Understanding that biology is the least of what makes anyone a mother — to a certain extent removes the time pressure of a ticking biological clock. I have no pressure to sort out things tomorrow, the next month or over the next year. I have time and space to think and re-think my decisions.

The next part, which is harder, is to accept and embrace is the fact that if I were taking any route other than the “I don’t know how many eggs are left” path, there would be no divine interventions to know when the right time is. It is only with open communication and introspection that I would ever conclude.

And on another unwarranted note with an air of privilege, sometimes when something that you want looks impossible given how things are in your life, you must work to change your life instead of moping around about said impossible thing.

And lastly? It is putting to rest the children thought for a while and thinking about how to adopt a dog.

Ironically, this is what I call baby steps.

Kaala Is An Important Movie: It Makes Us Rethink What Our Feminism Is

Kaala will always make the news because of Rajinikanth’s presence, but there is more to it than that. Here’s a look at its women, and how they question both caste and gender oppression.

This post contains a few spoilers.

More often than not, I find that discussions in the theatre lead to more introspection than than the movie itself. As I sat in the theatre waiting for them to play Kaala, I could hear people chatter

The lady in front of me remarked, “Didn’t some minister say that if a woman called the rapist her brother, he would stop raping her. What rubbish is this. Why should I make ‘some random creep on the road’ my brother? Should I call every cab driver and delivery boy my brother to save myself?”

Lights off and the movie starts. An hour or so into Ranjith’s movie, we see an urban woman (who is getting a manicure done) casually remark, “60% of Dharavi people are criminals!”

The woman in front of me, with her anti-poor language casually asserted her right to gender equality while forgetting that she was oppressing someone else in the same sentence. This is not very different from the reality that Ranjith tries to portray in Kaala.

And this is why, Kaala is a very important movie. It sets the tone for intersectionality. It sets the tone for the urban feminist woman to explore what her role is in the shadow of caste and religion. It sets the tone for a privilege check.

While most scenes stayed with me longer and made me think, there was a few scenes that particularly stood out, especially in terms of examining feminism through the lens of caste and religion.

Breaking stereotypes of who is oppressed…

Ranjith shows us a bunch of men and women in Dharavi discussing about the facilities they would need and women boldly point out to the lack of space and how it affects their sex lives.

“Kaipudikardhe Kashtam, Idhula mutham, sutham!” (it is difficult even to hold hands, forget kissing) a woman says tongue in cheek, as the crowd erupts into laughter. Besides, in the scene mentioned above, a Muslim woman boldly voices out the need for space and sex. This is breaking more than one stereotype of the ‘poor oppressed Muslim woman’!

A few scenes later, we are taken to the house of Hari Dada where Hindu women with a certain ‘demureness’ that the other characters lack are shown in the frame.

Often, urban and upper caste/class woman believe that they are more liberated than the average rural or the urban poor woman – this sharp contrast from Ranjith is essentially a view into how the upper caste Hindu woman is put in the shoes of a goddess and kept protected or rather ‘arrested’ at home.

True to this, the woman at Hari Dada’s house do only three things throughout the movie – eat, pray and serve the men in the family!

In one scene, Kaala’s daughter-in-law, who has lost her husband is shown. She doesn’t look broken and neither is she reduced to sitting in a corner, mourning her husband’s death. We are shown that she is wearing a pottu/bindi just like how she did before her husband’s death and she is also seen urging her father-in-law to move on by saying, “Vaazharavangla yaaru paakaradhu?” (Who takes care of the ones who live?)

This goes downright against the usual portrayal of widows in movies and perhaps it is even a dig at organised religion that tells us to treat widows in a certain manner. This leaves us with introspective questions such as – how would a widow be treated in a household that vehemently practises an organised religion?

Caste and Religion…revealed through the eyes of women

Hari Dada’s grandchild, a young girl, is seen walking around the house and engaging in talking with the grandfather once in a while. One look at how children are treated in the two households and a lot will be revealed.

When one of the sons wants to have a conversation with Kaala and another son forces the playing children to go back inside, Kaala immediately says, “Let children be children!” We see the sharp contrast to a little girl in Hari Dada’s house who is trained to serve water in a glass to the guests and seek their blessings. Would the girl be taught to keep the glass aside after Kaala drinks from it, I am left wondering. Selvi, Kaala’s wife, who we think does not seem to have much of a political opinion is quick to point out that Hari Dada does not even drink water at their house – she does not shy away from pointing out what has been a caste atrocity for years together.

The difference in upbringing doesn’t end there. Kaala asks his wife if she didn’t tell their children the tale of a brave woman from folklore. And we are shown how the children in Hari Dada’s family grow up listening to the tales of Rama.

Zarina, another important female character in the movie is not left alone – Hari Dada listens keenly as they utter her Muslim name and raises his eyebrows. He then goes on to discriminate against her when he realises that she is a single mother. He even hints at her ‘needing money’ – does he assume that every woman without a man in her life must be a prostitute?

The camera zooms in, to show Zarina, and then Hari Dada and then to the idol of Lord Rama. In just a few seconds, is this a Lord Rama worshipper, putting Zarina through a purity test?

All these women will stay etched in my memory for the years to come but Puyal as the activist woman who chooses to pick up a stick instead of her pants and beat up the men who stripped her will perhaps never leave my mind. Perhaps because this emotion of putting strength and fortitude ahead of everything else including the so-called woman’s ‘modesty’ is something that every woman irrespective of caste, creed or geography can relate to.

Through snippets of love, strength, humour and ideology, the women of Kaala stay on a little longer with you. But I am left with a few thoughts that linger. Was Hari Dada oppressing the women in his life or was he merely carrying forward the message that was given to him through generations?

And more importantly, can the Indian urban woman truly understand feminism without understanding the different lenses of caste and religion?

Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam Hides Its Women In The Shadows Of Men

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When I was a teenager, I would obsessively read the princess trilogy by Jean Sasson that talked of beautiful, royal middle eastern princesses who had a lot but lacked the very freedom that is required to taste life.

Similarly, the breathtakingly beautiful women in the movie Chekka Chivantha Vaanam somewhere irked me because of the deep-rooted patriarchy.

The women in the movie are ones that l looked forward to – after all, the film has women who have essayed bold roles. However, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam does very little for these women. Each of the male leads in the movie (except for Vijay Sethupathi) have a female lead cast opposite them – I don’t know why but these women cruise the screens for a reason and a purpose that isn’t fully discovered until the end.

As I take a stand that these women are not empowered, it also means that this movie has portrayed a slice of reality – you are saying things like “she should have done this” or “why could she not just walk out?” However, this is also the reality of many, many women.

Some spoilers ahead.

Men’s masculinity in alcohol and women

I walked into the theatre a little late and saw Arun Vijay dole out a sexist dialogue to his wife (Aishwarya Rajesh) about the bikini-clad women who surround him. Obviously, how else do you ensure that a man is portrayed as masculine without alcohol or women with hourglass figures around him?

Aishwarya Rajesh’s character doesn’t have much screen time, but it’s interesting how one of the most profound dialogues belongs to her. When a few thugs enter her house and ask her where her husband was, she says “Neengalam enga poreenga nu pondatti kitta sollita poreenga?” (Do you men tell your wives where you are going?)

Here is a woman in the middle of the night, threatened by thugs and it is entirely possible her life is at risk, and yet this is her exact choice of words. In just a few sentences like this, we know what this outwardly modern woman’s life is reduced to and what her biggest frustrations are.

Patriarchy playing its role

One of the few women characters that has the most screen time is Jyothika – she is a woman who would go to any extent to protect her family. However, it is interesting how her power is well-defined within the patriarchal structures, as she still measures her words while cursing the brother-in-law who had killed her father.

Is it because a bride belongs to the new family and her loyalties automatically become tied to that of her husband? Why doesn’t she wants to protect her father with the same fierceness as she wants to protect her husband?

Another interesting aspect is how Jyothika reacts to her husband’s affair – is she the archetype of many Indian women who are afraid to confront their husbands just because they don’t want them to leave? She is also shown grumbling here and there in the movie about his affair, but she has made her peace with more than one thing – just like her mother-in-law who raised her.

It is interesting how patriarchy plays out in the movie at different levels – a devoted daughter still picks her husband over her father, a dedicated mother picks her sons over her husband and ‘the other woman’ loves and supports the man who in reality does not offer her much.

Respect deserved by the ‘other woman’

The most problematic character for me was that of Aditi Rao’s. The talented, beautiful, young, ‘journalist’ who is shown having an affair with the hyper-masculine Arvind Swamy. Aditi is somewhere in her late twenties or early thirties – independent, seemingly stable and no strings attached. However, I kept wondering “What is even sexy or appealing about this affair?”

Why?

Arvind Swamy confesses that their affair is about a power struggle and about making him feel like he’s powerful. So, we are left to wonder why a young, smart woman like her is stroking a half-baked criminal’s male ego? However, what left a cold feeling in me was when Silambarasan pulls Aditi Rao closer to take a photograph with her, and the theatre hooted at this mild coercion – why was this okay?

Was it because she was not his legally wedded wife? Would they hoot if he had coerced Jyothika? Why is the ‘other woman’ not respected? This ties back to another moment in the movie where Vijay Sethupathy makes a ‘joke’ about not having any money at the brothel. The joke was borderline dehumanising of the women at a brothel. A classic emphasis on which ‘kind of women’ deserve respect.

Untold stories of the women

Women need to be encouraged to be empowered but not within the patriarchal structure. If you’re sleeping around with someone who is married and making your life all about him, there is still an element of oppression – even if you’re a ‘modern’ journalist with a mic for a prop!

Every movie can be reviewed with a feminist lens and while the ultimate prerogative of what is right for the script is decided by the filmmaker, I walked out of the theatre wondering why I did not get to see more of these women. Why were their stories not told and why did it leave me with an incomplete feeling that lingered long after the movie was complete?

Is it the fear that the more stories I see of women who are only a shadow of their male counterparts, the more I worry about my life and the lives of many others? Perhaps!

The Story Of One (Too Many) Families

A letter to my 35 year old self

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30 questions | About the woman you were in love with | Before me

What Would You Do If You Are Not Afraid​?

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What Would You Do If You Are Not Afraid?

I read this question in a book in which the author asks a group of women what they would do if they were not afraid and the answers are astounding. Some want to start a business. Some want to travel the world. And some even want to change this world.

As I read all of those responses, I felt a lump form in my throat because I knew that my answer was none of those things. In fact, the very question “What Would You Do If You Are Not Afraid?” is set to receive answers of big ambitions and mine hardly meets the benchmark.

What would I do if I was not afraid?

If I was not afraid, I would simply live a “mediocre” life.

I say mediocre in quotes because despite the fact that I don’t believe that such a life is mediocre, I truly sadly think that it is how our society has come to define the kind of life I want.

If I was not afraid, I would live a life where I have a job that keeps the ball rolling. Nothing world-changing and perhaps nothing as boring as accounting but something that helps me pay my moderate bills. No chasing my dreams or filling my bank account or changing this world kind of job. Just a job that helps me pay the bills while I do what I want with the rest of my time.

If I was not afraid, I would admit to myself and others, that the idea of a small intimate family dinner where some homemade sauce is brewing on my stone kitchen counter sounds more exciting to me that backpacking across this world. If I was not afraid, I would admit to myself that soaking bread in a buttery soup and leisurely munching dinner under the stars sounds way more exciting than power-lunches.

If I was not afraid, I would be brave enough to “waste” a passion.  For every single time, someone says “Oh… you write so well!” I would deftly respond with “But… that doesn’t mean I have to do something about it right?”

If I was not afraid, I would earn very little money, and save just enough not because I like money but because I like how it can sometimes keep the ones I love safe. I would accept a “mediocre”” paycheque from a job that just isn’t passionate, world-changing or lucrative enough just so that I can have the time to make muffins and read Austen again.

If I was not afraid, I would get rid of everything I don’t need. It bothers me to no end how most houses have these little show pieces imprisoned in a big glass showcase that serves no purpose but just stare at you meaninglessly. If I was not afraid, I would grow up and give up my “adult” toys. Before you let your imagination run wild, I am referring to the houses and cars.

If I was not afraid, I would scream at anyone who asks me to travel the world and tell them that within the few thousand kilometers I have lived, I have seen enough kindness and enough malice and that I am tired. And then I would softly tell them that if I ever put all of those things that belong to me in a suitcase and get on a train, I am very afraid that I will never want to return.

If I was not afraid, I would tell this world that the only big desire I have left in me is to see a daffodil flower in all its glory. Although I have read the poetry a few hundred times, I have adamantly never googled to see how a daffodil looks because frankly… If I am not afraid, I will accept to myself that perhaps the most curiosity left within me is to meet a daffodil.

It is ridiculous to imagine that my last words if this wish is not fulfilled, would be incredibly selfish and sound something like  “I wish I had seen a daffodil” and not “I wish I had written a book that everybody loves or made enough money to change this world!”

If I was not afraid, I would just be unabashedly mediocre. I will spend a few extra minutes after waking up every single morning. I will leave no property behind for children or no legacy behind for this world to gush over long after I am dead. I won’t become a millionaire or start my own big thing or change this world with my ideas.

If I was not afraid, I would do or rather not do a lot of things.

But I am afraid. More than anything, I am afraid of living a life well lived as most people define it today.

I don’t want to be your secret

shhh1I don’t want to be a secret phone call that ends as the sun rises. I want to be your early morning alarm that is allowed to be loud in your bedroom. I want to be your person.

I don’t want to be your secret. I don’t want to be your ink pen that is locked away, kept only for the days you want to get your hands dirty. I want to be that little blue pen you use on a bright afternoon to write your grocery list. I want to be your boring errands.

I don’t want to be your secret. I don’t want to be the letters you keep in locked drawers. I want to be those unread flyers that lie under the cracks of your apartment door days together for the world to see. I want to be seen.

I don’t want to be your secret. I don’t want to be the tattoo that is hidden away in your weakest spot. I want to be the watch that clasps your wrist like it belongs. I want to belong.

I don’t want to be your secret. I don’t want to be the song that plays in your iPod after the lights are switched off. I want to be the song that plays loudly on your cars stereo. I want to be heard.

I don’t want to be your secret. I don’t want to smell like the fresh breath mints you choose to camouflage the smell of smoke.  I want to be the perfume that sticks to your body for the rest of the day. I want to be felt in the air around you.

I don’t want to be your secret. I don’t want to be the sinful piece of chocolate on a cheat day in your diet. I want to be the lollipop you weren’t afraid to lick in daylight. I want to be tasted with unashamed passion.

I don’t want to be your secret. I don’t want to be pages from the dairy of an awkward adolescent, locked away from everyone’s eyes. I want to be the book you flaunt on your office desk to define who you are. I want to define.

I don’t want to be your secret.

I don’t want to be your muse. I don’t want to be your happy place. I don’t want to be your vacation. I don’t want to be your exotic.

I want to be your everyday order of Starbucks. I want to be the Chinese takeaway you love for dinner. I want to be the pen that stops working when you really need it to.

I want to be the cab that takes you home. I want to be those little threads of unease on your otherwise creaseless shirt. I want to be your overused favourite tie.

I want to be everything that is you and everything that you ever will be. I want to be your boring old routine that you do over and over again with a furrow on your forehead.

A Letter To My Daughter On Heartbreaks,

 

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The first time you complained a little too much about the boy who made fun of your braces and at the same time took a few minutes longer to get ready to school, I knew that you were smitten. I don’t think either of us remember his name right now. And that is precisely what I want you to recall every time a boy breaks your heart. This too shall pass.

The first time you fell off a bicycle, you didn’t break into dramatic tears. You brushed the dust off your knees and marched on because you all you wanted to do was ride a cycle. And I wish you can look at life like that. There is an adventure around every corner.

I have always treated you like a woman who knew what she was doing but I have always looked at you as a little girl with pigtails. I knew you were too young for your first day at school. I knew you were too young for your first sleepover. I knew you were too young for your first lipstick. I knew you were too young for your first drink. And to me, you will always be too young for a heartbreak.

Trust me, despite your denials and fake enthusiasm, I know when you are broken. I know from the way your spoon makes circles on a plate that is filled with your favorite dish. I know from the way you rush back to your room every time I bring up his name.

It doesn’t matter if you  say “No, I was not crying”. Remember, my job was to understand you even before you started speaking?

I want to tell you so much about love, life and boys, but I know that you are going to roll your eyes at the uncool mom and call the best friend. I wish I could tell you that she gives really stupid advice but we both know that would mean war.

As much as I want to protect you from storms, I know that you are a rainbow that shines amidst dark clouds.  I know that you need to see the world, but more than that, the world needs to see a star like you. 

I will tell you that heartbreaks make you grow. I will lie to you when I tell you that you won’t even remember his name in a few years but I sure as hell will mean it when I say that he didn’t deserve you in the first place.

You will brush me off and not believe these words for a very long time, but the day will come when you finally realize that your mother was right. And on that day, you will call me and ask me where I got all the calm and wise from.

And that is the day I will let you in on my secret. The day when I know that you have healed enough to listen to this from me and laugh.

I only stayed calm because you were huddled in my lap, exhausted from all the crying.

But believe me when I say that it was not just daddy, but also mommy who really wanted to kick his ass.