Saturday, 20 October 2018

To all the women I met in the restrooms!

I must confess that I have an affinity for restrooms. They remain some measure of home to me, probably because the largest chunk of my self-reflection took place in the restrooms. Some of my favorite conversations and life advice came from them. Sometimes it was me reflecting in the restroom mirrors and telling myself that I can do it, sometimes it was other, mostly drunk females.

It is surprising how few pegs of alcohol and the comfort of a restroom can turn women into such thick allies. I have been extremely lucky to have had real, uninhibited conversations, and exchanged some real, uninhibited hugs. Destiny ensured that I met my amazing ladies at a time when I probably needed to hear those words of advice and hold on those hugs. Considering that all these women in ways big and small added a lot of wisdom to my life, I feel that it is only fitting for me to express my gratitude to them through the only medium I know best - words.

Here’s to the lady who told me that I don’t look okay and asked me if I would like to talk. I didn’t know you and I am not sure why I opened to you, but it felt so relieving to be able to talk and not be judged. I want to let you know that you lending your ears mattered, so did your advice and most importantly your embrace.

Here’s to the group of girls who told me that I have the most beautiful hair in the world and that applying some extra red lipstick is totally alright.  I remember fixing each-others hair, helping touch up the make-up and checking on whether each one of us is alright. These little gestures that were so heartfelt made me wonder who these imaginary women are who just hate each other, the ones the world keeps talking about.

To all the women I hugged too hard and told how much I loved them times too many, I want you to know that it was not just the alcohol talking. If I could, I would say it every day but it probably makes you look goofy to keep uttering “I-love-you’ s” on random evenings. I cannot forget this girl who told me that I should dump the guy I was dating and that he was an asshole. I didn’t listen to you then but in retrospect, I realize how I should have taken your word for it.

The girl who’s shoulder I cried upon after a failed performance, who held my hand and told me that I have so much potential and that failure helps us grow, I want you to know that it meant a lot to me. It made a difference to my life, so thank you for that!

Washrooms are these private spaces which somehow have the power to enable people to confide, apologize and confront. I couldn’t muster enough courage to apologize to this girl I had wronged, but the other day at the restroom I could drop off my wall and tell her that I was sorry. I am not sure if it seemed sincere to you then, but I want you to know that I meant it.

It has been mildly surprising and deeply heartening to come to terms with my vulnerabilities and emotions in the comfort of the cohort of women who surprisingly emerged to have my back. It makes me wonder how beautiful this world would be if women continue to be as comforting outside the walls of the restroom. I think maybe the world requires us to wear blinkers, swallow tears and embrace stoicism to align with the expectation of strong women. I think restrooms are kind to us – they don’t judge, they let us be and we take our time there to let our emotions flow. No wonder we spend way too much time in the restrooms.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

My momma don't like you!

If I got a penny for every friend of mine whose partners were turned down by their parents, I could finally go on that Euro trip that I have been planning for five years now…actually seven. The thing with being twenty-five is that most of your friend circle is of the ‘marriageable age’ and although your relationships never lasted long enough to bring up ‘that question’, you always know these couples who are just right for each other. I often covetously admired their relationships and wondered how blissful it may seem to have found your significant other.

I know couples who were just right for each other – ‘sanely’ in love, great jobs and enviable compatibility. One friend of mine envisioned her entire wedding; everything was picture perfect– the dresses, the food, the venue, the honeymoon, until the day the girl decided to tell her parents about the relationship. The picture-perfect wedding plans fell apart when two critical questions were asked – what’s his caste and what’s his ‘rashee’? I was told that their castes and ‘rashees’ didn’t match; in fact, they were of the two opposite castes – the Brahmins and the Shudras and there was no way in hell that they could be united. I thought 67 years of Independence and innumerable History and Civics lessons would have done away with this discrimination, but I couldn’t be more wrong. So, some 365 days and 462 melodrama sessions later, their relationship was formally and finally butchered by their family. 

I would run out of fingers if I try to list all my friends and colleagues whose perfectly beautiful relationships were forcibly broken by their parents for one of these reasons - their families did not like each other, their castes were different, their horoscopes did not match, or they simply did not like their children’s partners. Indian parents believe that they love their children way too much to ever take a wrong decision for them. They raise their children believing that they are always right and that their children can never grow old enough to take mature and informed decisions. I remember having conversations around love marriages with my mother. They always ended with her bringing up her the infamous diary of ‘101 love marriages that failed’ and reciting case after case of picture-perfect marriages that ended in either divorce or separation.

I tried to understand why Indian parents tend to be so controlling when it comes to their children’s love life and I came up with a hypothesis based on my observations. I think Indian parents are way too involved in every decision that their children take – the courses they should opt for, the friends they should make, the dresses they should wear and most importantly the career choices they should make. Not surprisingly, the control does not end at determining the career and goes on in selecting the right life partner for their children. In event of their children selecting their life partner without their discretion, the parents are understandably heartbroken. They are not able to make peace with the fact that their kids, who did not even buy their underwear without their approval, have taken one of their biggest life decisions without their consent. ‘When did they grow so old’, ‘I raised you for 25 years, why do I not get to decide your life partner’, ‘I know how marriages work better than you do’, ‘Why would I not want the best for you’, are common arguments that the parents bring up with whenever the ‘I am in love and I want to marry him’ situation comes up.

Control is often confused with love and emotional manipulation is justified because ‘I love you too much to want anything but the best for you’. Indian parents make their children’s marriage more about finding the right child-in-law and less about finding the right partner for their children; them liking the suitor becomes more important than their child liking his partner. The situation is analogous to your friends not approving of your date; while it is good to have a date whom your friends love which would mean that you can all hang out together and have more fun, it should not determine whom you end up dating. Even though we share a lot in common with our social circles, we are unique individuals and the choice of selecting a partner should lie with us and not our social circles.

I often come across people who would voluntarily break up with their partners because they don’t want to hurt their parents. ‘This is the only thing that my parents have asked me for’, ‘They asked me to choose between them or him’, ‘I cannot betray my parents’, and the list goes on. We have been conditioned to believe that sacrifice is the essence of love and that standing up against our parents or having healthy debates are blasphemy. We have never questioned our parents’ views or believes and most of the times happily adopted their beliefs’ as ours. Hence, when we suddenly stand up for our choice when it comes to our life partner, it is not only hard for our parents but also for us to accept this anomaly. We, together with our parents have fostered a culture where dissent and arguments are considered sacrilegious and obedience is an essential component of love.

At the expense of my mom cutting the phone on me sometimes and me throwing my phone in a fit of rage on other times, I have dared to venture into the uncomfortable conversation zone with my mother on a multitude of occasions. I have spoken to her about love, sex, marriages, relationships, my expectations out of life and my perception of the right and the wrong. Even though very few of our conversations concluded fruitfully, I still feel that they helped in establishing healthy dissent in the family. These conversations help in transforming the family structure from that of a dictatorship to one of a democracy. They help in establishing that rebellion is not necessarily evil but could be an essence of growth and progress.

I think it is important to separate love from conformance and respect from submission. I think it’s high we stop glorifying (wo)man-children to be the epitome of parent-child love and start respecting the fact that adults can take important decisions on their own, including that of choosing a life partner. I hope we can together take small steps to make parent-child love less suffocating and more liberating. We can begin with having more conversations with our parents and bridging the ‘taboo’ gap – talk more earnestly about our lives, our dreams, and our understanding of love, happiness and grief. We should let our parents know that their worldviews may sometimes be wrong and their perceptions flawed, and together we can help each other grow into our better selves.

Hopefully, we can work together to create a more tolerant and accepting country for our children and maybe if we try too hard, for our younger siblings. I believe conversation is pivotal in creating an environment more conducive to healthier relationships. I hope we encourage more conversations, both as children and as parents. If not, there are always these new dating apps on the store that let you filter by caste (I am not kidding). My Jain friend confessed to having used the caste filter for finding her latest date, “If I am not dating a girl of the same caste, then I feel that my parents will anyway not approve of her and the relationship will never last!”.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Knock, knock! Are you my soulmate?

The terrible thing about growing old watching Bollywood romance and reading dozens of love stories is that you have a larger than life expectation out of romance. You grew up watching Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ where Rahul and Maya eventually find the soulmates they had envisioned throughout their youth. Aishwarya Rai in ‘Taal’ found love in Akshay Khanna and their love stood the test of time, class conflicts and rivalry; it conquered it all because they were soulmates. Veer found his Zaara and Raj finally got his Simran. Oliver Barrett and Jennifer Cavilleri found each other in the ‘Love Story’ and taught you that love means never having to say that you’re sorry. All of them contributed to the content of the mental ‘soulmate’ booklet that you consulted way too often.

Having spent your childhood soaked in romantic movies and novels, you were aware of your hopelessly romantic expectations out of love. You wanted to feel chills down your spine at each sight of him, have breathtakingly romantic dates along the beach by the moonlight and write poetry till the ink cannot bleed more love. Your first ‘love’ or whatever you call it when you’re fifteen did obscurely met some of these criteria – there was poetry, breathtaking romance, 12-hour-long phone calls, there was ‘I love you’ written boldly and deeply on bits of paper every time you felt a surge of passion, there were decisions about the future, names of the kids and there was madness. It was followed by jealousy, heartbreak, betrayal, and devastation. ‘How do you destroy 16-year-olds? What do they even understand about love?’, you may ask. I think you break down their beautiful idea of love, tell them that they were delusional, and love doesn’t exist in the form they imagined it.

You pick up the broken pieces of your heart and put them together. You tell yourself that you cannot let one heartbreak take away your entire belief out of love. You reassure yourself that your soulmate exists, and you will find him in time. You grow up and so does your understanding of love and attraction – you understand that sometimes the chills down the spine are overrated, that sometimes your guy wouldn’t know wordplay well enough to stitch together a beautiful poetry for you, but he can still love you the same. You start familiarizing yourself with apparently a more mature idea of love and manage to find someone who fits into this idea. ‘He is probably the one’, you tell yourself and the years that follow reassure you of the same. There is again the spiral of love, laughter, cute-fights, not-so-cute fights, decisions about the future, names of the kids, I-think-we-are-not-the-same-people-we-were-three-years-ago, I-think-we-want-different-things-out-of-life and I-don’t-think-we-can-work-out-anymore. Gradually, the differences take over the love and you don’t feel like soul mates anymore. You sigh and tell yourself that you’re still young and maybe the right person and has not walked in just yet.

You grow older and hit that age when it somehow seems alright for you to be unapologetically reckless and have more drinks than you can handle, go to more parties than your schedule allows and fall for more quintessential wrong guys than you need for your mandatory ‘wrong guy lessons’. For some strange reason, they felt like your soulmate, albeit for a very short time. You wipe off tears, bandage your bruised ego and tell your naïve self to become pragmatic and not mistake a life lesson for a soulmate ever again. You tell yourself that it’s alright to fall for the wrong guys sometimes because they make you strong and give you more content for the ‘Things I will teach my daughter’ booklet.

Enlightened and emancipated with the life lessons that the wrong guys brought along, you continue your pursuit of the ‘soulmate’. Your thoughts have been widened to understand that sometimes you need not attach tags to love. Your supposed wiser self now stumbled upon the more liberated souls, unconsciously looking for a piece of the jigsaw that was supposed to fit just right. There were some who seemed just right – the thick-rimmed spectacled guy who read Kafka and the singer who made you the central theme for all his lyrics thereon. They seemed right – maybe this is what a soulmate would feel like – great conversations about the complicated theories of love, life and beyond. You pretend to understand Rumi and maintain the intellectual snobbery of being better than ‘them’, the mere mortals who could not think beyond the norms. It seemed beautiful for most parts when you felt liberated and realized relationships make you a prisoner of love and love is too beautiful to be caged. Months passed, and you realized that maybe you also want to belong to that cage. Your free-thinking partners, however, continued with their absolute rejection of anything closely linked to commitment. You strike off some more points from the soulmate booklet and move on.

‘You’re adding to experiences. Nothing beautiful comes easy. At least now you know what you don’t want!’, you tell yourself. You pull out pages from your soulmate diary which spoke about madness, passion, Kafka, pseudo- intellectual-masturbation and liberated ideas of love. Then, you meet this guy, the all-famous best friend whom you get romantically involved with because apparently, best friends make for the best partners. You think you have finally found the one when you realize that you understand each other perfectly, do not go through the ‘couple’ drama, have no pretense and have the potential to maintain a real relationship. Only when you started getting comfortable with your regular fights and not-so-cute name calling and try to establish it as a critical component of any healthy relationship, he breaks it you, ‘I can’t handle these fights. They drain me of all emotional and mental strength. I think we are great friends, but we cannot work out as a couple.’

It hurts to know that something which you established as a healthy component of the relationship was a deal breaker for someone. Nevertheless, you go ahead with the quest of the soul mate because you were certain that when you find him, he would fit into the spaces of your life so beautifully that all the undulations would smoothen out.

Then, one fine day you come across that guy. He ticks off everything from your updated ‘soulmate’ booklet and also brings in more additions. The smart guy with witty jokes, the cute nerd, warm, affectionate, passionate, ambitious, sensitive and adorable. He texted just the right amount, made phone calls of the right length, wasn’t painfully jealous of any of your guy friends, understood your idiosyncrasies and need for space. He didn’t reek off toxic masculinity and understood that men do cry. He didn’t seem like someone out of a romance novel because he seemed real and his love, believable. He didn’t sweep you off your feet or inspired you to drown in poetry. You didn’t mind it because you thought that maybe the real deal gives you peace and not butterflies. He seemed like the one who would make all the wrong guys worth it. You believed that finally, you had it all figured out and realized that peace and not chaos is the answer to it all. You basked in the perfection of it all, until one day when he tells you, ‘We are too ordinary, dear. There is no magic. It is important for me to be insanely, passionately in love with you and I don’t feel that. You don’t inspire poetry or madness. Lukewarm is no good.’ You took a deep breath, smiled, told him that you understand and maybe you’re not the one for him.

As you tear off all the remaining pages of your soulmate booklet, a billion questions throw themselves at you. What all qualities do you look for in a soul mate? What do people without a soulmate do? Are they supposed to spend the entirety of their life waiting for someone to come and complete them? Also, does your soulmate need to necessarily be your romantic partner? Does it necessarily have to be one person? Does it have to be a person at all?

I thought about it all and wondered that maybe I have pieces of my soulmate lying across different people, places and things. Maybe one part lies in my best friend, another in my mother, another in the guy who made me believe that my darker upper lip is actually quite sexy, another in my best friend who can take a bullet for me or so she says, another in my childhood journal, another in my mentor and another in the cat whom I used to pet as a kid. Maybe all of these parts together are my soulmate. Maybe it’s unfair to expect one person to bear the gigantic expectations of my soulmate booklet.

Yes, it definitely makes so much more sense now!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Hopping on to 25 – the less glamorous other side!

There is something unnerving about pre-birthday nights for me. I have been telling myself for the past five years that I have outgrown birthdays. Apparently, I had dropped the expectation from people to treat me like the almighty’s choicest creation and turn their lives around to make me feel special. Only that, I hadn’t outgrown them. It is in equal parts ridiculous and egotistical to expect people to spend time and effort to make the day you just happened to pop out of your mother’s womb, special. However, my heart and mind rarely choose to live in harmony.

My extent of making people feel special has been only stretched to pouring the contents of Knorr soup in a cup of boiling water and offering it to a sick friend. I had almost reveled in happiness and gave myself a pat on the back for exuding such compassion. Despite embodying such shallow standards of affection; hypocritically enough, I still expect people to drop everything and invest the entirety of their time in the glorious event that’s my birthday.

It was finally the birthday eve. It was 12 AM; I was half sloshed and cutting my overly priced ice-cream cake, half of which would be thrown away next day because there was no way it would get over. The next thing I remember was making forced attempts at having fun and making everyone around me to do the same. Alcohol is supposed to do that, right? Only that sometimes, it doesn’t. It doesn’t when you have been shoving gallons of it within yourself since the past two days of the extended long weekend because what else is 24-year-old frustrated IT folks excuse for fun? However, my friends still tried with all their might to fabricate fun out of their exhausted bodies, to swing on ‘Taarein gin-gin yaad main teri’, and periodically shout, “Shots, shots”. I glared at their sleep-deprived eyes, alcohol bloated bodies and decided that maybe we could do without more ‘fun’ that evening and called it a night.

I wished everyone a good night and thought of hitting the bed. “Oh God, let me turn my phone to silent mode. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with all the calls and messages. And Facebook, shit, I thought I will remove my birthday this year. All the unnecessary wall posts, man – so many notifications. I can’t handle them.”

I woke up the next morning and suddenly the realization seeped in – I am 25! Everything that followed, reiterated it, in not so fancy ways. I picked up my phone expecting at least a dozen missed calls like every year. It’s funny how I tried to mask my embarrassment from my own self when my phone read ‘2 missed calls’ and one of them was from mom. Then, I opened Facebook and pretended to nonchalantly browse through the newsfeed. I heard something break inside me when I saw only three notifications. I tried to rationalize it in my head by telling myself that those ‘HBD Charul’ posts are the ones I give two hoots about, but deep within it pained to know that I am not even getting those irritating ‘HBD Charul’ posts. It’s like that feeling you get when the creepy guys stop making passes at you-you never wanted them in the first place, they were outrageously annoying, but it makes you stop and wonder for a while if you’re attractive anymore.

25 is a rather funny age. You’re old enough to understand the things that shouldn’t matter anymore but still too young to stop caring. It gradually dawns on you that the attention and affection that became too difficult to handle at one point in your life has gradually moved out when you were busy growing up. That Skype call from friends settled in the US did not happen this time. I realized that along with me, they grew up too and finding jobs and looking after their fiancé became more important. The birthday messages in the ‘Others’ folder also shrunk down to three from thirty-three. The creepy guy who religiously sent monthly poetry to my inbox also seemed to have found another muse. I judged myself so hard when I almost missed that weird poetry.

My old friend from college called up, I acted cute and asked him to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, he blatantly refused and asked me to grow up. I spent a significant amount of time wondering how old one is supposed to grow in a year because he did sing it last year. I laughed; a light, hollow laugh that was meant to mask my inner chaotic battle. My mom called next, “Baby, Deepali aunty asked for your hand in marriage.” “Mom, I need 5 more years”. “Honey, who do you think will be interested in marrying you after 5 years. The rate at which your beauty is deteriorating, do you think that even you would consider marrying yourself after 5 years”, she said, matter-of-factly. I stared at myself in the mirror and my growing acne and weight seemed to suggest that mom wasn’t just trying to be sarcastic and funny.

Gradually, it sunk in – the horrible realization that I am now on the less glamorous other side. Life is a bit harder this side, you may end up looking less pretty and your likability radar may shrink, one bit at a time. The less glamourous side may not seem as amazing, but it is more peaceful. It throws you out there amongst the crashing, fast waves. However, I believe that eventually, you learn how to swim and reach the shore stronger than ever. The other side is intimidating and often sprinkled with spells of loneliness. You learn to find comfort in those spells. You explore the forgotten, uncharted spaces of yourself and serendipitously discover solace in them. The extras get trimmed out and the constants remain, and they are the only ones who matter – the only ones who ever mattered. The next morning, with the maturity of the first quarter sinking in, I happily welcomed myself to the other side.