The hurt of being a woman and seeing the results of the U.S elections

I spent an entire day yesterday in sadness and quite frankly bewilderment. I was torn between thinking about writing this and wondering if it is my place to do so – considering I am an Indian citizen, an able-bodied, cisgender, Hindu, upper-caste, heterosexual woman in a same-race relationship where both of us are college educated, employed and come from privilege in a country that is going through its own tumultuous growing pains.

I am writing this from the core of my identity as a woman because that is the part of me that feels most beaten and bruised right now. I am at a stage where I am yet to get to thinking about how we will explain this to children in schools or at home because quite frankly I do not think I understand it enough for me to be able to explain this to anyone else with that level of conviction or hope.

I am feeling a deep rooted sense of disgust by how this win has legitimized sexual assault. It makes my skin crawl to read Nigel Farage’s statement which mocks at the idea of Trump being a sexual predator when he says, “don’t touch her for goodness sake” when talking about meeting with Theresa May. It is NOT amusing to hear this when you are a part of a group that experiences microaggressions each day around touch, consent and space. I am not saying that all of this didn’t happen before this election but it has now become the new “normal” and that makes me sick. I am appalled by how “guy talk” is now an openly acceptable defense for conversations that actually could be construed as criminal offense. I am extremely worried for friends who may now need to think of getting an IUD before January 20th

As someone ensconced in their own bubble of beliefs and values, I take full responsibility for not connecting with the other side and being blindsided by the ideological divide that runs so deep. But I definitely do not shoulder responsibility for signing up for this – I was ready to have arguments about pantsuits, being “emotional”, how being a woman doesn’t excuse you for corruption, on why anyone should not be expected to smile more to be “likeable” and more such. I was not ready to go back redraw the basics tenets of decency.

To all those in India who are reading this and wondering why I am taking all of this so seriously considering I don’t live in the U.S or to those who take pride in us electing Indira Gandhi and therefore do not see this as our issue – I am equally disgusted and sickened when Mulayam Singh Yadav makes comments on how boys make mistakes (while referring to rape) or when I hear senior members of the police force talk about how if during rape fighting back is not an option, it is best to lie back and enjoy the experience. It is just as bad when you express a political opinion not aligned with the popular view and the trolls immediately threaten sexual violence or begin the diatribe with body shaming, slut shaming or any form of abuse that belittles who you are as a woman.

I am not one of those who looks blindly to the West in aspiration on issues of gender but it truly sucks to be a woman and see all of this play out across the world in far harsher degrees than what it ought to be in 2016.

Fuck breaking the glass ceiling – it is back to feeling grateful if your body, your voice, your intellect, your being is respected as human and not some second rate “creature” and if you can escape each day feeling unscathed or a little less dirty.

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More parents bother me than their kids do

Before I begin, let me state that I do not have kids yet and I disallow you to dismiss me off as a carefree, millennial with no responsibilities, tons of cash to spare and probably a frigid soul. I honestly do respect your decision to have children, I really do and I expect you to return the favour.

Now that we have that out of the way -let me share my two cents on this whole Indigo “child-free” zone fiasco.

Over the past few months, I have been irked multiple times about Indigo’s need to monetize every single seat, leaving only terrible middle seats on the rear end of the aircraft. I also think that this whole zone idea in a budget airline in India makes no sense considering there aren’t any physical barriers to block sounds and neither is there any distinguishing service (no, getting a dried out sandwich and a MinuteMaid doesn’t count). Lastly, I do think it is discriminatory if you are a parent, who is willing to pay and still doesn’t get seats with more leg room. If you have a toddler or an infant, you deserve to board first and get the necessary space to feed and rest with the child.

But there is a slightly different issue here – I have been seeing responses that talk about how adults aren’t any better and there is a litany of woes about mobile phone usage, manspreading, getting up from seats before the plane is done taxiing, misbehaving with women passengers and the crew,  leaving toilets unclean and what not. Yes, it is true and it is terrible but that still doesn’t make the behavior of many kids on flights any less awful.

Cross your heart and tell me that you really believe that ONLY kids who have earaches or any other physical need cry on flights. I have been on multiple flights where I have had my seat being kicked by a child constantly. When I look behind, I see the parent either completely disengaged or worse look at the child with eyes filled with pride and joy. I have had conversations with parents who think it is really cute when their kids pull my hair and I think otherwise. I have had moms who say “Beta, why is this aunty not smiling at you? Let’s make her smile! <insert strange baby talk and face touching> ”  I have seen kids mashing bread with water and then spreading it on the seat – this maybe a great kindergarten activity to build motor skills but it is disgusting when you are on a non-stop 12 hour flight. Once again, conversations with parents lead to shrugged shoulders, quick assertions on how “kids will be kids” and worse an argument about how they have paid equally for the flight and therefore anything goes.

You recall the never ending list of terrible things that adults do? Well yeah, when those very adults have kids and their kids behave like mini versions of their parents – being callous, discourteous and conceited, I have a problem with that. When I hear the idea of a kid-free zone, I get dreamy because I envision a zone where both those adults and their kids are not around when I am crammed in a wafer thin seat.

Also you cannot possibly believe that my existence centers around you and your child. So when I pull out a laptop and am furiously typing, it is not to show you up but to finish some work before a crazy deadline (Also side note: check gender bias when you rant about corporates and working people. It may not necessarily mean men or black suits).

Flights are hard for kids and I am happy to help with reading a book, figuring out a quiet game, walking the aisle or just holding a baby while the parent on the adjacent seat needs to use the restroom or eat. I have met amazing kids while travelling but I most often see them with parents or guardians who are considerate individuals themselves.

When space is so less, we are bound to get into each other’s nerves. Being less obnoxious whether you are a parent or not can help go a long way.

Would I pay Indigo more for a kid-free zone seat? Absolutely not! But would I pay to get away from obnoxious adults and their kids? Hell yeah! If I can afford it.

Notes for the movie Pink

I watched Pink last evening and more than the movie itself, I could not help dwell on the snatches of conversations I overheard during and immediately after the movie as people were leaving the theater. I made some notes for those who saw the movie and for those who are thinking of seeing it soon.

  • The movie is a bit too close to reality for many urban, working women at some point in their lives (especially if we are/were from the NCR region). So when you sit in the theatre and say things like “bahut social hai yaar”, “thoda aur entertaining hona chahiye tha”, “slow hai” etc. it is hard not to take it personally and wonder if you want our struggles to be more fast-paced or glamorized
  • If you feel like the movie makes a bigger fuss than necessary, talk to the women in your life. Just have the courage to ask them what goes on typically when we go out for a run, when we go to get dinner with friends, when we are at work, when we are just trying to be. Don’t be surprised, if you hear some really raw, jarring stories. But also don’t be surprised, if you hear the echoing of your sentiment of how it is too much of a fuss really. Many of us women don’t even realize or choose to be numb on how we construct all of our actions around not getting raped.
  • If you feel like you keep circling back to the question “did they take the money or not”, just pause and remind yourself that you are probably missing the whole point of the conversation
  • If you think “No means No” is too complicated a message because many times of course women just say things and don’t mean it. Take a pause – it is hard to dismantle decades of indoctrination through movies and every other system of information dissemination. You don’t need to be transformed at the end of 2 hours 15 minutes, you need to be able to have the capacity to accept the hypothesis that women do mean what they say and try to see what it could mean for the interactions with those around you. Treat it like an experiment if you will.

Lastly, I know it is just a movie, there is a lot to be done, of course the “system” needs fixing and of course “some women also sometimes really exploit the situation to make the most of it”, which makes for great post movie auto/car ride conversation. But also remember the following:

Right from the time in the morning we have the momentary hesitation of going downstairs to collect the newspaper without a bra under our t-shirt, to the way we hold our bags in public spaces when we go to work/college, to telling a joke and then replaying it at least a few times over wondering if it was unnecessarily “forward”, to looking at a picture of ourselves and think if it can be misused or morphed easily, to making sure different guys drop us back to our PG because we don’t want to be linked with just one but at the same time making sure it is not too many different boys lest someone thinks you are not the ‘right’ type, to quickly scanning men around you in elevator spaces and check off if you are feeling safe or should you get off on the next floor and just take the stairs – all of these are few of the many many thoughts that are fleeting, unconscious and so natural to us as women that it doesn’t even seem crazy  to have them.

Pink could be many things and I don’t mean to rule over your movie choices but the one thing to remember – it is not exaggerated.

Feelings and the lack of it – Part 2

So I guess you all know about how MFK has absolutely no feelings for anyone right? Well, wrong. Turns out we do have a lot of feelings for this one person called S and if one were to let Facebook put a label on this relationship, it would definitely read ‘It’s complicated’.

So a few weeks back MFK called me up and again began with the whole spiel on how there are no feelings and more people from our class have fallen into the abyss of what they believe to be love, but surely is nothing more than their pituitary gland acting up (her words not mine). I just asked if she was just resurfacing this conversation over and over again because she was walking straight off the cliff with feelings for someone. There was silence followed by a shrill “Didi! How did you know?”

What followed was a battery of questions from me as a pseudo-parent/teacher/friend and she just begged me to come to Bombay so that we could speak about this in person and far far away from her mom. So go to Bombay I did.

I landed at her house and she wasn’t there. Her mother complained that this is the fourth time she is trying to get her hair right  and hence is at the neighbour’s place. Her mom then worriedly shared that MFK has been distracted for the past few weeks and her grades both in her school as well as coaching classes have dropped. I would be lying if I said I knew what was going on.  While her mother was complaining, MFK walked in – her hair done in a braid I could simply not fathom. She looked beautiful and I realized that in my head I kept seeing her as my 5th grader while she has grown up to be this awkward girl-woman. Her eyes welled up when she realized that her mom had told me all about her recent grades. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was not pleased. She kept her quiet as her mom and dad told me about how she barely listens to a word they have to tell her and how it is always as though she was mentally checked out. They did admit that she was putting in a lot of effort but they also didn’t miss to tell me that she was their only hope – their ticket out of this way of life.

While we were leaving to go, her mom called me to the side of the one room they all lived in and whispered, “Please talk to her, she is just not the same and I miss her”  I am pretty sure MFK heard it but we both pretended like that didn’t happen and left. In the auto, I couldn’t help but ask what happened. Her eyes welled up again, she told me about how she has been distracted for just three weeks and how she is now back to being herself, she told me about how she felt her parents only noticed when she slipped up and not when she was doing great, how she didn’t care about what they thought because she knew she was going to do well. This was the kid I knew – my friend, my insanely level-headed kid and my kick ass student.

When we were walking, I asked her about S and her face lit up. He is very sincere and good in studies, she replied (as D said, if we had the brains to use these as criteria for crushes when we were 16, we would be far less embarrassed about our choices!). She began to like him when they were sitting in the same row next to each other at coaching class and soon enough (in one day!) realized that she is losing focus. She asked to be moved to sit in the back of the class and all was fine. She would think about him only while walking back from class to home and during dinner because that’s when she had the time. But then soon S realized that he liked her too. He began to ask her for pens to write his test, asked her stupid doubts in chemistry which she just knew he already understood and worst began walking to the back of the class (to where she was sitting) during tests to take extra supplements when he didn’t have to! She was getting really flustered by his weirdness and THAT’s what has been happening for the last three weeks. It took a lot of effort on my part to not want S’s head on a plate – how could this guy not see what he was doing! I know he is 16 as well, but I am on team MFK and if any boy is messing with her head, well then – he has me to answer to.

So now over chocolate cake, she declared that she has decided to completely ignore him as well as stop thinking about him. She has given herself time till end of September to get over this whole thing because she is aware that you cannot turn feelings off like a faucet (and also because it’s her birthday end of this month. Her point being she would grow out of it because it is her birthday after all). I just sat there listening to her, just thinking how this kid has grown up to be this amazing girl-woman who is so hard on herself and so admirably with her eyes on the game. We then moved on to discussing other things such as the Olympics and her dislike for trains but somehow in my head I kept circling back to the fact that how much ever I wanted to fight her battles for her (move S to another state), she is on her own now. She is figuring out this world and is doing a beautiful job at it. While we were getting the cheque, I just asked her about the situation with her mom – she bristled and said that her mom doesn’t understand anything. I reminded her that her mom has no clue about S (for the better!) so it is kind of hard to figure out what all of this is about. She didn’t say anything but changed the topic to some other girl who likes S’s brother and how that was panning out (not too great apparently). It was a relatively quiet auto ride back to her place and while getting down from the auto, she just said, “I am going to let Ma braid my hair the way she likes it for today” and hopped off to run back home.

All I was left with was this immense sense of love and a voice in my head reminding me to not go looking for S for a ‘talk’.

Being brave or not

When people ask me about what I have done till date, I give them a run down of my two and half years in corporate, two years as a teacher, two years as an entrepreneur in the non-profit space, one year again in corporate (well, almost) and now back to non-profit in education. Typically, this is met with comments around how commendable it is that I have left the corporate world, a few nods around how it is the right cause and sometimes a chuckle followed by “that’s interesting”.
After my first corporate stint, when I decided to do the Teach For India Fellowship, many people told me I was really brave to quit and try something so different (also known as lowly paying). I had a bit of savings, I was supported emotionally by my family & friends and I was in the deep end of the pool. I didn’t quite get how I was being brave simply because I knew the state I was in, when I was leaving the corporate world, and to me it was an act of self-preservation and not bravery.
Almost two years into my startup, due to personal reasons I moved back into the corporate world. To me, coming back was a far braver decision than leaving it in the first place. I had found something I truly believed in and then given it up. During the eleven months I spent there, I noticed that looking down on the corporate life was the new cool thing to do. There were articles on YourStory, ScoopWhoop and the likes – where people proclaimed their suffocation and celebrated their new found independence in their garage office (in Indiranagar, of course!). Their efforts were lauded and well, of course their stories read like a novella.
But what struck me most was how little we speak of the bravery of those who stick it out. The stories of those who have commitments that they cannot forego – home loans, education loans, aging parents, school-going kids, medical bills or simply life. Well, of course when one writes about these things it reads like drudgery – but keeping things going and staying afloat is an act of bravery as well. Sometimes it is easier to escape by breaking the shackles than by staying on and doing a damn good job at it.
Today, I am back in the space that I believe in and want be a part of. But I am also deeply conscious that the decision to be able to leave the corporate world is a privileged one. It is a decision in many cases that is possible because at some point in time, someone else decided to put themselves on hold so that they can support YOU.  It is someone else doing the heavy lifting, while you find your feet. Something about this tells me that, the badge of bravery in this case needs to be pinned on the other person’s lapel.
Of course, it feels good to read stories where someone felt like they were stuck and then they become unstuck. Also, who doesn’t being liked called brave? So I get how these stories are a win for all. But I also think we are getting a bit too loose with the word “brave” here.
If you are reading this and wondering how hard you struggled to get to where you are, how you jumped without a safety net to be able follow your dreams and how I am diminishing all your life’s work by writing this, then you should know that you are probably very brave and definitely don’t need me to tell you that.
But the voice in our heads knows us best.  Once in a while, we need to look within and truly ask ourselves, is it brave to be able to do what we love best or is it brave to stick out doing something knowing you could be elsewhere. The surprising answer (or not) is that it is for you to figure out and not a badge slapped on by anyone other than you.
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Feelings and the lack of it

So while I continue to say that I love all my kids equally, I secretly love some a whole lot more. It could very well be because I find more of myself in them than others but whatever the excuse, one of my favourite kids (MFK) called me recently and we had the most interesting conversation ever.

So MFK begins with the typical announcements on the books she has read and inquiring after my hair (if it is growing, what my plans around it are etc). We then had a power packed five minutes on how much she scored in all her tests, how she absolutely loves chemistry, the new elements in the periodic table and how no one in class is as excited as she is about those new elements (!)

But somewhere in all this, I felt like she wasn’t really saying what she wanted to say. Not wanting to probe, I let her stew in the pauses and then she suddenly piped up saying “Didi, I wanted to tell you something about our class. All our students have fallen into the TRAP.” I was suitably intrigued, and she continued, “Didi, these days all the girls they have feelings for boys.” The way she said the word ‘feelings’, I could totally imagine her disgust showing up on her scrunched up face. She let that information stay with me for a few seconds expecting a dramatic reaction. While I completely cracked up in my head, I projected a very calm ‘is that so?’ kind of demeanour. She could contain herself no longer and burst out saying, “Didi, I called to tell you while everyone has these feelings, I have absolutely no feelings whatsoever. Didi, I cannot feel a single thing! In fact Didi, I thought about these feelings and I realized I do not need these feelings also. I do not know why these girls and boys are like this. Unit tests are just over and they are still thinking about feelings only.” (Yes she did use the word ‘feelings’ so many times in one breath)

I was completely torn between cheering that MFK was exactly like me when I was in the 9th grade and ensuring that I give her balanced perspective or be that someone she could confide in. So I say, “You know it is completely okay if you do not have these feelings right now, but what is also okay is if you do ever have feelings and want to talk about it.” Yes, that’s how lame I was! I heard myself and I rolled my eyes over my own response.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only one because I could literally hear MFK’s eyes going to the back of her head. She shot back pointedly saying, “Didi! It is just hormones! These are not real feelings. I do not have any feelings and I will never any feelings for any boy.” I immediately caught on and reminded her it doesn’t necessarily have to be a boy and she again sternly brought me on track saying she is completely aware of the ‘choices’ she can make and she is not happy with the way I am digressing at each step of the conversation.

So I let her take the reins and just listened. She told me about who is dating whom, who broke up and who is in the in-between stages of deciding their relationship status. She also magnanimously pointed out that someone’s writing has improved because of all the love letter writing, though she was disappointed that as a couple they weren’t really focusing on spellings. There is a lot of crying, breaking up in the corridors and missing school to mend the broken hearts.

MFK suddenly halted since her mom was in the room and she made me promise that I will come to Bombay soon so that we could catch up and discuss in detail why girls and boys are so weird and why feelings are such a waste of time. She reminded me again loudly (I am guessing for the benefit of her mom) that she has no such feelings and she is never falling into this trap.

As I imagined each of my kids being gangly and awkward, I couldn’t help but feel a huge pang of missing this part of their growing up. While I may not have been great at feelings and all that, but I would kill to be there for them and just remind them that it gets better.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how hard being 14 can be. MFK reminded me that being a teenager is chaotic, messy and mostly heartbreaking.

I cannot wait to go back to Bombay. It will be a session of coffee, doughnuts and high school drama – MFK is growing up and I just need to make sure, I play it cool and not let my feelings come in the way of our awesomeness.

You can read what happened next here.

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Multiple versions of me

Being self-aware and having voices in your head is a bitch. Truly. I am having one of those days when the grass pretty much looks greener on everyone else’s lawn. I woke up disbelieving that it is already Friday and a complete sense of dissatisfaction over what I have accomplished this week. I was supposed to have figured out some gym where I could work out balancing my new life, I was supposed to have had a break through at work, I was supposed to have helped someone I know with job hunt, I am supposed to have stopped eating wheat to get healthier and I was supposed to have done 4 days’ worth of laundry, which I have parked in the other room so that it doesn’t prick my conscience when I wake up. Yet, it is Friday already and quite frankly other than alarm icons on my phone, which remind of these things not much has changed.

As I was sleepily sipping on my coffee this morning and going through other people’s lives on Facebook, the wave of disappointment was palpable. I saw someone standing on yacht with arms outstretched and I immediately wished two things – being on a yacht and having gorgeous arms. I waved to no one in particular in my living room and my arm jiggle only made the voice in my head sharper. I saw another someone post about their graduation from one of the universities I had gotten into and the voice in my head again nudged saying, “that could have been you”. Of course, there were two articles on MAGGI followed by the indignation around processed foods which reminded me how I should not be using any “fast-cooking” solutions but only healthy alternatives, which take a couple of hours of effort. The final post I saw was on  ISIS cutting out water supply in some parts of their territory and I felt like absolute scum on the face of this earth for being so shallow and wallowing in self-pity while the world is in shambles.

I have Facebook “friends” who are on the boards of non-profits, who are getting funding for their start-ups, who are moving to countries I someday hope to visit, who are experimenting with new styles of working out which I would kill to try, who have amazingly bronzed legs and who are vacationing with their parents and kids in tow. It is a struggle to remind myself that all these are not one person and surely not everyone is cracking it. When I swipe through my phone, all these amorphous facts just come together as one big ball of things I am currently not doing. The rational me knows that lives on Facebook is just a sliver of most of these people’s existence. One voice in my head mocks me for being so full myself while there are kids who need a better education but the other voice also constantly claws me for not doing enough on any front.

I am not a hotshot racing the corporate ladder, I am not a passionate entrepreneur who is doing her bit to fix the world, I am not an effortlessly chic woman who eats vegan bagels after a TRX class,  – I am just me who knows that there are many, many more just like me but is also vain enough to wish that I was more.

P.S: This wasn’t a post to make me feel better about myself by fishing for compliments. I just wanted to let the other ‘Me’s know that you are not alone.

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