Saturday, 27 December 2014

Men Don't Cry

They can. They do. They may. And you know what you and I ought to do, we should let them. We as a society have been so engrossed in taking up the cause of women, of their oppression and their neglected rights that we became oblivious to the problems faced by men. 

As a kid, the fairy tales that were narrated to me painted two very distinct pictures of men and women in my head. The stories more or less circled around “A strong macho man sweeping the pretty princess off her feet, wiping her tears, making her smile, solving her problems and being a constant support system for her. The princess never did that for him; she never needed to, because the prince was never low, distressed or in pain. Even if he was, he kept it to himself and dealt with it like a man and never, ever did he cry because apparently ‘men don’t cry’.”

I grew up with this picture of men and women. It didn’t seem flawed to me in the initial growing years of my life; the only thing that was within my understanding back then was that I get to wear the beautiful princess gowns, and oh, I liked that! However, as I grew up it started to seem slightly odd to me when my parents and teachers would exclaim, ’Oh, she’s a boy’ every time I acted slightly violent, athletic, bold or brave. I did not completely understand it when my friend was asked to not act like a little girl when he came back misty eyed and bruised one day from school and narrated the incident of being beaten up by the senior boys. I saw his hands and face severely bruised another day; this time on being asked what happened, he told his parents that he had scraped his hands and face while playing football. I knew he was lying. He knew it too. He just learnt that day that it was not manly enough to succumb to tears and no matter how much it pains him he was supposed to keep it to himself and never vent it out or else he would be less of a man. I, on the other hand learnt that everything that has got to do with strength and valour fell in the category of men, and everything that has got to do with weakness, sympathy and fear fell in the category of women. Did I like the definition that the world was giving me? Oh! I abhorred it; but did I start accepting it, yes, bit by bit huge parts of me started accepting it.

As I grew up with this mentality, often in flashes of immaturity I have remarked and mocked many of my guy friends rather unapologetically ‘to not act like a whiny little girl’, when they have expressed emotions over trivial issues which they were ideally supposed to act all macho about. I did not know back then about the severity of damage that my words were capable of causing. Only when I grew up I realized what I did back then and what we as a society have been doing to men, not just to men, but also to little boys with our rigid ideas of machismo and masculinity.

I remember having a conversation with a friend notorious for his stoicism when I asked him if he has ever cried in the recent past. He took a deep breath and warned me that he might sound like a male chauvinist in his reply. He said, “When a girl cries, you can sense genuine concern in people’s eyes who feel like going to her and comforting her. When a guy cries on the other hand, people feel like mocking him. It’s disgraceful and shameful for a guy to cry, to express his emotions out loud. I am human, I have emotions and I do break down at times, but I keep it to myself because I cannot take it out.” I was quiet for a long time. I felt deeply, almost painfully sympathetic towards men. While we’re out there demanding women’s rights and liberation, I wonder how independent men are when they do not have the freedom to feel as strongly as a woman, when they are denied the freedom to express their emotions, when they are denied to expose their vulnerabilities for once and cry without being labelled as effeminate and weak! Oh, it saddens me, almost pinches me!

One of the major reasons why sexual and physical offenses against men and young boys go unreported is because we as a society refuse to see men as being vulnerable, victimized or weak. The victims of such violence suffer silently because we never gave them the outlet to express their susceptibility. A young kid bullied in school could not complain to his teacher because it was not manly enough to do so. A twelve year could not walk up to his mother and speak out about being sexually abused by his servant because it was shameful for a guy to go through sexual abuse. They chose to suffer in silence because they had to keep up the ideals of their gender above themselves. Yes, these are extreme cases that I mentioned, but it reached this stage because they were not for once allowed to be weak by the society.

We need to view and perceive gender as a spectrum and not just two distinct shades. We need to understand that the distinction in our physicality is the only definite difference, let us not impose restrictions on our soul. Our souls are free and liberated, they probably do not understand the specifics of gender and let us not force them to. We all have a soft side, a cruel side, an indifferent side, a strong side, a vulnerable side and a brave side; a few of these sides may be more marked in some of us as compared to others but it doesn't have everything to do, in fact it might have nothing to do with our gender. We need to accept that it is perfectly alright for a man to rest his head on a shoulder which could be a woman’s (pardon me for the blasphemy), shed a few tears and expose his weaknesses. At the same time, we need to understand that it does not make a woman any less feminine if she does not feel or express emotions as strongly as women are naturally expected to. A man cannot and need not be firm, strong, courageous and unwavering at all times, a woman cannot and need not be emotional, fragile, gentle and coy at all times or at any time, for that matter. Let us give each other the freedom to be ourselves and not be burdened by gender.

You might ask me how I plan to achieve it, I do have a certain idea in mind. I wrote about it, to start with. I hope it resonates with the thoughts of a couple of you and I hope you will imbibe some of it and carry it forward with you. I will make sure that the men and women I come across are not burdened by gender and do not have to be too aggressive or too meek to fulfill their conventional gender demands and will hope that you’d do the same. I will make sure that when I have a child and strongly hope that when you have one, we don’t teach him/ her what it means to be a guy or a girl, let us not impose gender upon them. Let us give them the freedom to choose the qualities they wish to develop and choices they wish to make. That way, we could move towards a more progressive and liberated society. I may be painting too rosy a picture, but then, it all starts with one stroke. It’s stifling to be restrained by gender, I want to be liberated, I’m sure you want to be too.

Monday, 15 December 2014

That Cat

I hate cats. I've always hated them. No, not always. I loved this one particular cat once. White and brown fur. She was beautiful. Not just beautiful, she was enchanting! Hazel green eyes, stunning yet frightening and claws so sharp that it could rip you off. She would come every day to our little cottage house in Nainital. I would give her milk and chapattis regularly. I know it is not the best food for a cat; but staunch vegetarian that my grandmother was, we did not have much choice. She did not seem to mind the vegetarian diet anyway. The bowl would be licked clean by her, not the tiniest bit of chapatti or smallest drop of milk sticking around anywhere.

She used to come over in the afternoons sometimes, sometimes in the evening. How I’d wait for her every day! I’d look forward to petting her, getting her a bowl of milk and chapatti, hearing her meow as she would walk around the house defiantly and making her sit on my lap (sometimes forcibly, because she disliked bondage even if it came out of love) as I caress my hands on her rich brown and white fur. Before I knew it, I was in love with her! The agile walks, the magnificently fearless jumps she would make and traverse several meters with just one giant leap of hers and those eyes, although I admit they could scare me immensely but I had never come across anything more stunningly beautiful! I would wait longingly, every day for her to come; sometimes I went as far as going to the neighborhood to check on her when she would not turn up until late evening.

I saw her hunt a rat once, a harmless little thing wriggling about playfully near the drains.  She approached it cunningly, not making the slightest noise as it cautiously walked towards it and when she was close enough to grab it, she thumped it with her claws which made it squeak out in pain. As the little thing was trying with all its might to free itself from her grab, she hit it for the second time and when it ceased to breathe, she tore it with her canines and chewed it away with the utmost ferocity. I saw evil in her eyes that day! A soft heart, I had. I was an animal lover too. However, that day for some reason I could feel no remorse for the rat. I almost reveled at the cat’s victory, took pleasure in the satisfaction that she got out of hunting the rat. Love, I tell you, is a tricky thing! It can make beasts out of us humans.

My admiration for the cat grew with every passing day. She continued coming over to play with me each evening. One day after feeding her, I was trying to pull her into my lap to pet her. She wriggled out of my hands one time, I tried harder and pulled her more lovingly towards me for the second time. She turned her head wildly towards me, clawed me sharply on the hands, gave me the fiercest look ever and jumped away. She went far off my cottage in leaps and bounds and was out of sight in a few seconds. I was left in devastating shock! How could she do this to me! I was just trying to hold her for a while to caress her lovingly. How could she claw me and give me that devilish look; I thought it was meant for the enemies, but she met me with the same look. How could she!

‘I would not play with her, I will just give her food and then she can go back from wherever she came’, I thought. It was 5 o’clock. She was supposed to come by now. Maybe, she would come a little late. 6 PM, 7PM , 8PM ,9PM… hours passed by, the cat never came. I was hopeful that she would come the next day. The next day passed by, and the next, and the next. The cat never returned. I went looking for her in the neighborhood where she used to hunt about, but no luck. I gave up the search in a few days, but every time I sighted a cat, I would get reminded of her.

One fine evening, I was playing Hide and Seek at my friends place where I was hiding at the backdoor and there, I saw her! She was there! I was not mistaken. The same brown and white fur, thinning slightly at the skull and how could I forget her eyes!  She was out there for a hunt, I presumed. She was approaching the kitchen door with the same cautiousness I witnessed long back when I saw her hunt for the first time. I was right. She grabbed the rat with its sharp canines and ate it off mercilessly. After having finished her meal, she walked back and then, our eyes met. I could sense an air of recognition. She walked towards me and stroked my legs amiably with her head. A moment later she jumped athletically on a tree and was gone! My friend told me later that the cat recently started coming to her place every day and she feeds it milk and biscuits. ‘Such a beauty, isn't it?’ she remarked!

I felt a sharp pang of betrayal for some reason. I sensed at that moment that she did not hate me, but she did not love me either. She was not bonded by emotions. She belonged to no one. She was wild, free and independent. She was probably capable of love too, but not attached. She was incapable of getting attached to people, things or places. I guess that is why I started hating them, because I got too attached to that cat, only to get to know later that I was replaceable, easily replaceable. It was not hatred, I guess. Probably envy, I envied their free spirit. I envied their independence, the way they are completely on their own, the way they can never truly belong to anyone, the way they refuse to be owned and bonded, even in love. I guess somewhere in a tiny corner of my heart I long to be like them-free, independent and wild!

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Downside of Being 21!

As you gradually approach the first quarter of your life, a whole lot of mixed emotions stir you from within. On the brighter side, you have almost a fourth of your life figured out for you and a lot of life lessons are learned along the way. You laugh over the things which had once made you cry, you realize which people truly matter in life and you learn one very important fact about all the happy and bitter faces of life that this too shall pass. As you’re maturing along the years and gaining a clearer perspective of life, somewhere the kid in you is clinging hard onto you and refusing to let go, making sure that the maturing process is pushed as much ahead in time as possible. When you’re expected to be your smartest, most mature self, exactly then you end up making the worst mistakes of your life and which is more, nobody has any consolation to offer. Some major spoilers of being 21 are:
  • You don’t have puberty by your side to save your ass when you’re acting full retard. You simply cannot blame it on the hormones, anymore.
  • You cannot go running to your mom sobbing intermittently as you narrate the story of the asshole who cheated on you, because you won’t get any sympathies anymore. You’re no longer the innocent little girl for whom it would have been acceptable to be naive and fall for a jerk. You, my friend are just expected to be a better judge of people and it’s your fault to have fallen for such a guy in the first place.
  • You are just expected to have at least the next ten years, if not your entire life, figured out for you. People give you dirty looks if you tell them, ’I am trying to figure out things for myself.’ The figuring out part should have been long completed by now.
  • Dating is serious business now. You cannot be unsure about the guy going out with, anymore. You’re suddenly expected to find out the ‘The One’ and be with him.
  • On a peaceful Saturday evening, you’re casually browsing through Facebook sipping your hot coffee and suddenly out of the blue your classmate’s wedding pictures pop-up and you get so startled by it that you end up spilling the coffee all over yourself. The next thing you know is that you’re trying to type a congratulating message to her, but you just cannot make yourself write ‘Congratulations’ and instead you feel like sympathizing with her because the whole idea of marriage scares the shit out of you. Then, gradually the feeling sinks in and you realize that you've grown pretty old too, and in years down the line you’d probably be wearing the engagement ring too. There’d be responsibilities to shoulder, there’d a husband to take care of and in a few more years there’d be kids too. ‘I am way too young for all this’; you shriek out in horror and break out of the thought process. ‘I am never going to get married’, you falsely reassure yourself.
  • You’re supposed to be responsible, mature and emotionally stable now. Being young, crazy and stupid are not valid excuses anymore. Sometimes, it’s just too much pressure to handle.

Growing old is pretty serious business and sometimes it might freak us out a little because the kid within us refuses to leave so easily and makes us act like twelve year old's once in a while. However, I believe it’s the immaturity, the imperfections and the times we screw up things real bad which make our lives so much more interesting. Moreover, like the years have taught us, this too shall pass!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


My earliest memories of childhood have been prominently marked with recitals of the list of restrictions. The list which only grew longer as I grew older. The list contained 'preventive measures' for lecherous groping, unasked stares and although it was never spoken openly, the most prominent reason was to make sure that go through my life without being raped. We've lived in constant fear...yes, all of us. Our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our uncles, our best friends, our teachers...all of them. They have all feared. They gave norms of female behaviour. Rules to follow if you want to continue being un-raped:
  •      Do not stay out till late in the night.
  •      If at all you have to stay out, stay in large groups. Never stay alone.
  •      Avoid travelling alone at all cost.
  •      Wear decent dresses.
  •      If you are eve-teased, do not respond. Ignore and move on.

I did not question any of them, they all made sense to me. A lot of sense. However, sometimes I do get a little annoyed when my mother would become completely paranoid when my phone went out of reach even for a minute when I was in a different city. How she started reciting the 'Crime Patrol' episodes to me and though she never directly said it, I know she silently feared that something similar happened to me! I remember feeling the need to urgently use the washroom at 1 AM in the train when I was travelling alone and the dilemma that I was caught in for twenty minutes because of a tragic episode of a girl which a friend shared with me a day back.

I remember putting my best friend's number on speed dial on my phone, clutching the umbrella with all my might, rehearsing mentally how I'll handle the situation because the auto driver seemed notorious and was passing obnoxious glances to a fellow on the bike. I was revising all the self-defence techniques I had read, seen or heard about. However, he was going through the right route. In five minutes, I reached my destination. I let out a sigh of relief. Not a rapist! I rebuked myself for over-analysing situations. This is how maniacal fear can turn anyone- it can make us label any man in a thinly populated area, beyond eight in the night as a potential rapist.
We all live with and through this fear every day...every single day. For our daughters, sisters, friends, students and sometimes for ourselves. We have lived in constant fear and we continue to live in it. The most painful part is that we do not find anything wrong about the fear any longer. We have accepted it as an essential part of our lives, an inseparable part!

What am I complaining about and why am I complaining you may ask! Have I had a very hard life? No. Have I been deprived of any opportunities because of my gender? No. Am I not happy with my life? No, I am.  I have a very beautiful life, a great family, wonderful friends and a promising career ahead of me! So, what is wrong? Why I am cribbing. I am cribbing because of some UNNECESSARY(as you may call them) freedoms which I have been deprived of. Little cravings that I have of a solitary walk in the night having the breeze play with my hair. I wonder sometimes how it would be to travel all by myself to say, Pondicherry, to sit by the rocky beach at five in the morning and feel the waves splash over me as I think about the story of my first book. I have musings about dropping to my friend's place anytime of the night riding my bike without having someone to guard me. I wonder sometimes what it is like to be completely unguarded, I wonder what absolute freedom tastes like. I wonder what it's like to not ask my male friends to accompany me when it becomes late and to be completely independent. The thought of it seems very enticing, I visualise it and I fall in love with the idea of it over and over again.

I do not know how to go about making the change that I wish to see in the world around me but I know that I have to do something. I know for a fact that I cannot continue living with this fear forever. I know that I have to take steps, and I am unsure about what the first one will be but I know the solutions will come along. I need your help, of all of you, in stemming out the fear from each one of us.

I know the article sounds incomplete and the thoughts incoherent. This was a swell of emotions which had to come out. Pardon me, because I have no idea about what I have to do to make a difference. I just know that I have to do it and I will do it. I urge you all to help me and join me, we'll figure out a way. Trust me, we will!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Written in blood-debarred

Morning 7 o’clock: ‘tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tintintintin’, went my alarm-clock, the noise was blaring. I checked the time-7 o’clock.I told myself, ’I can sleep for 5 more minutes.’ I put it on snooze.

5 minutes later: I was in a beautiful orchard, a strawberry orchard, picking ripe strawberries and eating them with fresh cream. Oh, what bliss. When suddenly, a giant fat man came with a huge bell and started ringing it. It went like, ‘tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tintintintin’. It was my alarm, again-7:05, it said. I made a quick decision-‘No bathing today, it will give me another 20 minutes’. This thing within me kept shouting, ‘remember that red debarred sign next to 4 of your theories…GET UP. If you go on like this, you will bunk this class again. GET UP.’ I made that thing shut up and set the alarm to 7:25.

During those 20 minutes: ‘And, to all you wonderful sleep-deprived students who have to stay up late in the night for important stuff like ‘facebook’,’phone-conversations’, ‘watching-movies’ and ‘absolutely nothing’, I have an announcement to make,”I truly understand the significance of all these useless activities in your college life. They play an important role in shaping you all as NORMAL,non-Chatur (remember, 3 idiots) and socially un-deprived individuals. I understand that after staying up late for all these activities, it is difficult for you to get up early and go for your classes. Knowledge cannot be taught, it has to be caught. Moreover, since our vision is on granting knowledge-not marks, we have arrived on the decision of removing the 75% attendance rule. No student shall hereafter be debarred in any subject”‘. A loud applause followed. My friends and I in the audience went all misty eyed. ‘I am proud to be a VITian’, I exclaimed with joyful tears. Then suddenly, that giant fat man with the bell emerged again, this time with an evil grin,’ tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tin-tintintintin.’

7:25 AM: The alarm again, ‘I knew it, it was too good to be true. But still, I don’t want to wake up!’ That thing within me again started ganging up against me, ‘DEBARRED DEBARRED DEBARRED…it said in repetitive Bollywood style. ‘Okay fine’, I shouted back, ’I am waking up.’ Then, again, I started negotiating with myself-10 more minutes, if I miss breakfast. I can always have it in SJT canteen during the 10 minute break. ‘Don’t do it’, my mind was shouting again,’you will never get up, you are DEBARRED...if you miss this class, considering all attendance calculations you've made in the past, you will have to attend each and every class in order to make it 75%.Are you ready for it!’
I almost said, ‘Challenge accepted’, I have been watching too much of How I Met Your Mother, seriously! Then, with whatever little sense that was left in me, I told myself, ‘I will get up, promise…in 5 minutes.‘ Snoozed again.

7:30 AM: This time there was no,’tin-tin-tin’, the alarm tone magically changed to, ‘debarred-DEBARRED-DEBARRED-DEBARRED.’ Needless to say, it was way more effective. I jumped from my bed right on my feet.
And, in those 30 minutes, I managed it all-the brushing, the bathing, the breakfast and reaching the class (customary-five minute late, of course).

Certainly, the deadly red-debarred sign can work wonders.