Saturday, 12 October 2019

My one-sided love affair with Hyderabad

Dear Hyderabad,

This comes a little too late, and I wonder if it would make you question the sincerity of it. I left without stopping to say a heartfelt goodbye. Today, however, sitting thousands of miles away from you in this foreign city, I miss you a little too much, a little too deeply. And, when I miss people and places, I do the only thing I feel I do well…I bleed words. 

Five years ago, when I came to Hyderabad, little did I know that you would become home. Before I realized, you started feeling more like home than Allahabad ever did. I know it makes me sounds like a traitor of my native place. What sort of a person loves another city more than their native place? But, hear me, will you? I think Allahabad confined me and never really let me be myself. I felt trapped by considerations of the length of my skirt, of secluded roads that need to be avoided post 9 PM, of having a guy friend drop me back home, of being decorous being more important than being happy. And then, when I came to you, I felt for the first time what being truly liberated feels like. I could for the first time care more about the colour of my dress than its appropriate length, about the parties and not who would drop me back home, and when I had to bike back home at 12:30 in the night after rehearsals, I knew I would be fine. You empowered me with independence, and I felt like I finally found myself there. 

You welcomed me with open arms and introduced me to people, places and activities that became a part of my being. I found people who didn't push me away for not knowing Telegu or for my Hindi being too far from ‘Hyderabadi Hindi'. They loved, deeply and fondly.  As I was falling in love with the people, you introduced me to theatre. Theatre, that opened arms to amateurs. Theatre, that was not elitist and did not sit on a high horse turning away people who did not start acting when they were 3. Theatre, that understood, almost always, that a different job may put the bread on your table while theatre may be the jam you spread on it occasionally. You introduced me to art and gave me something to feed my soul with every time I felt empty. How can I ever thank you enough for making theatre such an endearing part of my life!

Thank you for the ‘Biryani', Hyderabad. The Biryani, Haleem, the Irani chai and the Osmania biscuits. Why are Osmania biscuits orgasmic and how do they make it perfectly porous to let just the right amount of tea soak into them? 

Did I ever tell you that you are paced extremely well, Hyderabad? You never made me feel like I was lagging, even when everyone seemed to run past me. You always had space to let me stop for a while and breathe, and tell you that I have had enough and I cannot run anymore. I could lose myself on one of your rocks beside the magnificent lakes and just stare into eternity. And, when I wanted to get back to the grind, I could get back to the crowd again!

And your forts, how can one not get smitten by them? Standing tall and strong, telling stories lost in History books. Would it be too much if I told you that I miss your roads? But I do…the roads, the pathways, the cafes, the clubs. I feel like I have left pieces of my self there…on the stalls, at the signals, at the cafes, on the dance floor, at the theatres, and dare I say, on the stage? Pieces of my liberated, complete self. 

Today, as I sit here, yearning too deeply to be around you, I fear only one thing. I wonder, if you ever, at all, loved me back Hyderabad? Will you, ever, if I choose to come back to you, be as delighted to have me back as delighted as I would be to be back? Or would you smugly tell me that you were never mine to love? Would you tell me that I was pretentious to have claimed to love you without knowing you in your entirety? I never asked you, if ‘outsiders' were allowed to love you deeply and what qualifies one to be a ‘Hyderabadi'. It scares me, but then I tell myself that maybe, just maybe you would be able to see my love beyond my disappointing ‘Hyderabadi Hindi' and also understand that love does not necessarily need to be a function of time. 

I love you, Hyderabad. Not in a colloquial way, but the way when you love someone who touches your life so profoundly that you are never, ever the same. And I hope someday, you would love me back!  

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Women, age and the ticking time bomb!

“So, when are you planning to get married?”, I was asked for the 126th time or was it 127th? I usually laugh away these questions but this time they came from a dear friend, so I gave it a thought. “4-5 years, maybe.”, I said after thinking for a while; “What about you? When does marriage fall in your life plan?”, I added. “Same – 4 to 5 years”, he responded. “Goodness gracious! We will be 31 by then. Damn! You would be so old, Charul”, he said.

“What do you mean by I would be so old? We would be the same age. Do women age faster than men?”, I responded with my signature eye-roll.

“I mean…you are a girl. 31 is quite old for a girl to get married but not so much for a guy”, he replied in a seemingly matter-of-factly tone.  I rebuked him and called him names, something like a patriarch, an asshole or a sexist. I think I called him a patriarchal sexist asshole.

Even though I rejected my friend’s words, the conversation with him got me thinking because he clearly reflected what a huge fraction of the Indian society believes in. The thought urged me to write this piece hoping optimistically that maybe it will drive the point home to at least 1% of my meager blog audience.

I want to start by deconstructing the famous ‘Girls mature faster than boys’ notion. This notion is highly unhealthy for young girls to be fed with.  It is popularized and even encouraged to justify women handling more emotional labor than men are ever expected to bear. Girls are conditioned into believing that they are more mature than their ‘naughty’ brother, and hence more qualified candidates to help mother with the household chores. This grows into women being expected to remember birthdays, keep the groceries stacked, organize parties and maintain family relationships.

This notion is the reason why men are often encouraged to engage in romantic relationships with much younger women(in which there is a substantial power gap) while women are often rebuked for dating men much younger to them. This notion excuses boys from being held responsible for their actions but holds women accountable from a much younger age. There is little to no scientific evidence suggesting that emotionally girls mature faster than boys. Yes, girls generally hit puberty sooner than boys but there is no substantial scientific inference to link early puberty to early emotional maturity. More than science, this is more of a gender-stereotype passed on from generations without being challenged leading to girls and boys essentially responding to behaviors that are expected of them.

Women are viewed as a declining asset whose worth post 30 in the marriage market exponentially drops. There is a constant pressure on women to figure out themselves and their career as soon as possible – there are hard deadlines imposed on schooling, college and settling down in the dream job. All of them need to be met precisely on time and there is little to no negotiation allowed in the timelines. In most Indian families, you are expected to achieve these milestones by 24; if you are from a more liberal family you may be blessed with 3 more years and if you have been extremely lucky you may be allowed to touch 29.9 but not 30…30 is blasphemy! Women bear the pressures of these deadlines from a very young age. These are not only unfair but may also restrain them from realizing their full potential and living their dreams. While men get more freedom and breathing space to achieve their goals, women are forced to accelerate their career timeline to stay relevant in the marriage market.

Another argument often sought when debating in favor of early marriage for women is that their fertility may go for a hit if they marry too late. It is important to understand that women are more than baby breeding machines and their fulfillment and happiness is more important than that of the life they will bring into this world. Their priorities and expectations out of life may be beyond having the perfect family or maybe their perfect family does not have children or maybe it has adopted children or maybe the children are produced through frozen eggs. All of these expectations and priorities are important and correct in their own regard.

Can we just let women be? I could have referenced ‘people’ but the world’s sometimes a little harsher to women, so I chose women for this article. Can we give them the space to breathe, to figure themselves out and settle down in life when they want to and not when they ought to? Marriage can wait and so can children, but personal goals and dreams cannot. If women require those three, four or how-many-ever years to be at peace with themselves, can we please stop shaming them for it?

The woods are lovely, dark and deep but can we not for once hold people accountable for the promises they never made and let them venture into the deep, dark woods to their hearts’ contentment.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The curious case of Dadda

It's been way too long…six years, I believe. I was looking at your picture and reminiscing about how you were so peculiarly adorable. You were anything but a regular father. I remember talking to my friends about their fathers and I always wondered how you were nothing of those sorts. I wondered sometimes if you were even cut out for marriage or for having kids because sometimes you did not seem to fit in…your world seemed more fit for solitude. I am not sure if you were actively my mentor or my guide, but I do know that you taught me a lot about love, life and embracing my individuality.

I think I would miss our tea-time conversations the most – I wish there were more of them and I wish I had the opportunity to know you more. Regardless, I was looking at your picture and felt the need to write about your colorful personality, your ideologies, and quirks.

In a world where nothing but selflessness is expected out of parents and the most sacrificing parents are placed on the highest pedestal, your focus on self-care came as a welcome change. You taught me how it is not selfish to have your own opinions, choices, and idea of life and to not change it for anyone. You taught me that it is okay to care for yourself first because one cannot pour from an empty cup.

You taught me that you must always keep the child alive in you. You taught me that you're never too old for jujubes, gifts or stealing toothpicks from restaurants. I remember you getting mad at us for not getting gifts for you on your birthday. You taught me that we must say ‘I love you' to each other and say it often. "I love you the most, Charul. I will live with you after you get married. You must clearly lay this out as a precondition with your boyfriend". Later, you would add, "Also, don't get a boyfriend at this age. All men of this age care about is sex."

You taught me that it is okay to embrace your individuality and not blend in for the comfort of others. I remember how you would much rather sit with the women and discuss food than get into the men's room and watch cricket matches because you did not feel like it(much to mother's embarrassment, though). I admired how you valued people for who they were and how beautiful their souls were, rather than attaching importance to their social status. I remember how you would become best friends with some taxi drivers and spend hours talking to them and conveniently ignore certain VIPs because you just did not like them. I am dazzled by how you loved without bias, loved often and loved intensely. You always stood up for the people you loved, even when you were at your lowest. “You need to be there in people’s grief, Charul. In their happiness, they can still do without you. In grief, they need more support.” I still remember how your students doted on you and how everyone loved you too much. I covet the candor with which you could just be who you were, love the people you want and do the things you love without caring about the world judging you for it.

You taught me that it's okay to be brutally honest (I still believe in being kindly honest, though!). I remember asking you how I looked on my farewell, to which you replied (much to my displeasure), "You look ugly, Charul. You have a terrible dressing sense." I did not feel like talking to you then, but I do laugh about it now. I remember asking you what your hobby was, to which you looked me in the eye and said, "A poor man does not have a hobby. Hobby is a privilege." You taught me the importance of money, albeit in a harsh manner, "The day I stop giving you money, you will stop calling me your father." I loved how you did not believe in pleasantries and small talk, how you spoke what you felt and felt what you spoke. It was almost funny how you reacted at demises and said ‘Everyone dies', ‘It was due time' rather than the usual euphemisms.

I admire your zeal to be the best at whatever you chose to do. You didn’t believe in second places and you were unapologetically blunt about it, “There are no second places, Charul. A miss is as good as a mile. You just lose the first place.”

You taught me that men can cry, feel pain and be hopelessly vulnerable. You showed that true strength lies in embracing our weaknesses. You taught me that it was okay to ask for love, affection and even gifts. It was funny and adorable how you would cry even at Ekta Kapoor serials. I loved how you could laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously. "Why did you choose to become a teacher, dad?". I remember you laughing and saying, "It was a mistake. Never become a teacher, Charul."

Most importantly, you taught me to believe in destiny, stars, magic, and love. You taught me to never give up on life and to make the most out of it every single day. You traveled to your favorite destinations till your last day even though your health was critical. You traveled and lived life with the vigor and excitement of a 12-year-old. You lived the phrase, "It's not the years in your life that count; it's the life in your years." There was so much life in every moment that you lived, daddy!

You were beautiful, charismatic, unique, and stood out as a shining star in my life and the lives of so many. You will always be missed Dadda and your idiosyncrasies cherished in fond remembrance.