Monday, December 31, 2012

An education

My mother held up the bright yellow, hard binder she had bought me to file my college notes. I had just finished school and I was moving back to India to live with my grandmother and go to college. My father was worrying about convincing Delhi University that my class 12 grades from an American school were acceptable so that I could go to Stephen's, my dream college. My mother worried about that too. She wanted for me what I wanted. But more than that, she wanted me to use that yellow binder.

"Here, hold it this way," she said, positioning it across her chest, clutching it like a shield. "And keep it this way while you are on the bus, especially if it's crowded."

It had been over 2 decades since she travelled on DTC buses, but she was afraid nothing had changed. She was right. She told me about her weapons - her hair pin, stabbed into a groping hand; her high-heel, slammed into the instep of a foot standing too close; her elbow, thrust into a flabby stomach.

But she never told me to use my voice as a weapon. Never imagined, that I could raise a hue and cry to get justice. It just wasn't done, unless you wanted to see the men snigger at you, along with the horrible man who was using your body, your presence, for an illicit thrill.

So I did as she had done. I refused to wear sleeveless shirts those 3 years of college because I didn't want men to stare unabashedly at my armpit as I hung on for balance on a crowded bus. I refused to wear fitting clothes because I didn't want them to undress me with their eyes. I refused to make myself attractive, so that I would not attract attention.

Did it work? Let's see. There was the man who offered me his seat on a packed bus and then rubbed himself against me as I shrank into myself, and finally, when I could take it no more, smirked as he saw me get off the bus (two stops early). There was the man I caught looking down the neck of my shirt as he stood next to my seat.  There were the many many men who whistled, touched, sang, winked, blew kisses. And each time, I asked myself, how could I have prevented it. I berated myself for whirling around in surprise at an unexpected whistle only to see a lewd gesture. I hated myself for missing the top button on my t-shirt when I realised someone could look down my shirt and see more than I wanted to reveal. I scolded myself for looking up, for making eye contact, for not burying my nose in a book, for not feigning sleep, for not stepping away sooner, for everything. I blamed myself.

I  now know that what gets a sick mind excited is not my problem. I will wear what I want. You can mock my sense of style, but you cannot question my judgement. I will choose where I draw the line on my body - what I reveal and what I protect. I will laugh loudly. I will talk to be heard. The older, wiser, sleeveless-wearing me knows that I hadn't asked for it. I never did. I never do. I never will.  I ask for respect. I ask for courtesy. I ask for equality. Hell, I demand it. 

Friday, December 28, 2012


I had trouble falling asleep last night. Now that rarely happens, and as I tossed and turned, wondering why my eyes would not stay closed, it came to me. I was sad. Deeply sad.

It's been a fantastic year in so many ways, and as an absolute optimist, it's the good that I've carried with me. I love and am loved, I love my job, I'm learning so much everyday - a whole new world has opened up for me through the kind of facilitation work I'm doing and hope to do more of.

But when one thing gets you down, suddenly you start counting all the others that are niggling at your sub-conscious, and that's what had happened to me. I've been hearing bits and pieces of bad news through the year. The year began with my best friend coping with loss, far from home. Soon after, another very dear friend moving far far away from India and while we are in touch, I miss having her around. Then I lost someone just as I was starting to get to know them - a relationship I'd had great hopes for. And several people I am very close to, or fond of, or both, are battling change, loss, sadness and despair right now. A city I love is spiralling further into darkness, as are the people there (and elsewhere). I think it's the cumulative weight of all that which was pinning me down last night, refusing to let me escape into deep sleep. I've been pushing it aside in all my self-important busy-ness, but it's stayed with me, sinking deeper and digging its anchor hooks into my being. And somehow it revealed itself to me last night.

Do I have a point? I guess this post is to record that I told myself last night that it's okay and human to be sad and to just feel. But it's human and essential to also move on. There's just no forcing it. Which is why as soon as this heaviness passes I'm going to post something light. Because there is so much to lighten our hearts, and thank goodness for that.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Word picture

Bright blue rubber-bands held up the little girl's two pony-tails. She tried to clamber onto the train, her bulging, purple school-bag weighing down her tiny body. "Anna Montana", it said, in curling letters, with a pixelated picture of Hannah Montana. Her mother gave her a gentle push and the school-girl lurched towards an empty seat. She sat down quickly, guarding the space next to her in the few seconds it took for her mother to join her.

The let-out hem of her blue pinafore ended just on her scruffy knees, and the white socks drooped to expose mosquito-bitten skinny legs. She had stepped in a puddle and her shoes bore the muddy scars that August morning.

The train emptied closer to the last station, and she left her mother's side to sit at a window. Her mother used the extra space to offload her bag, and drew out a small powder compact - bright pink. She opened it and began dabbing at her face, undoing the harm the muggy weather had done her pretty face.

Her daughter abandoned people-watching from the window and returned to her mother's side - standing to peer into the mirror. Two identical pairs of eyes stared into a reflection I could not see, and a smile formed on both faces. The mother raised her eyebrows in a question - never leaving the mirror. The girl nodded, still looking into the glass. Her mother dabbed the sponge on the child-soft skin, as the young eyes closed to keep out the powder, the lips pursed out of long observation and imitation.

The mother stopped dabbing. The little diva looked in the mirror and nodded her approval. The compact snapped shut and went back into the recesses of a sequinned handbag. The train slowed down. And both left the train to carry on with another day. 

Friday, May 04, 2012

Chhoti si kahani se

Thu, 11.16 pm - watch pipe burst in bathroom.

11.17 pm scamper to gather buckets (2 nos.) to hold gushing water

11.18 pm - change and empty bucket

11.19 pm - change and empty bucket

11.20 pm - phone guard for help

(rinse, repeat till 11.30 pm, throw in SOS call to plumber-too-far-away-to-help, and decision to not call husband-too-far-away-to-help)

11.31 pm - get entire building's water source shut off

11.45 pm till Friday, 6.40 am - dream about water

6.40 to 6.45 am - whine all about it to suddenly wide-awake husband
6.45 am till 9.45 am (i) plead with plumbers (3 nos.) to come over asap

(ii) pray that neighbours don't break down my door and yell at me with morning breath

(iii) join work conference call and sound intelligent

(iv) pay plumber and resist urge to hug him

10 am - brush, shower, rush to work

3.34 pm - breathe, tell the world about it.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Kabootar ja ja ja

Dear Pigeons,

I'm sorry, but this is personal now. You used me. And I'm fighting back.

Two months ago, you were homeless, and I let you nest on the ledge outside my window. It was a pretty home, wasn't it - with flower pots, a pink, blooming bougainvillea that gave you privacy, and a paper lamp that I stopped using when I thought the light may bother you when you were trying to sleep and my party was just getting started.

I guess it was the privacy that did it - you were soon caring for 2 eggs, and this was a haven, no cats at this floor, fresh air but a protective grille, and a wide ledge where you could stretch your legs when you got tired of sitting on the eggs.

But you've been terrible house guests.

You pecked at all my flowers. You flapped around the delicate fern and destroyed it. You broke the smaller pots. And when you stretched your legs you also decided, 'what the hell, I'll just use this as a toilet too.' The spot by the window was the most coveted in all our tiny house. But sitting there was soon an overpowering olfactory experience. Human guests who didn't know about you sat there and sniffed suspiciously at the air before avoiding eye contact with me. If I left the window open on lovely afternoons you strutted in, did your stuff, and walked out.

Once your babies learnt to fly and left, we cleared up the nest and put a lot of effort into cleaning the ledge. It involved going through a lot of crap, believe me.

And now - you're trying to come back. Already? More eggs? I'm sorry, its not going to happen. Correction: It's not going to happen HERE. So if you're wondering why I keep coming to the (shut) window and hammering on the glass to shoo you off, now you know. Stay away. I mean it.