Category Archives: Gender

Temples, faith and dissonance

We were on this road trip with our parents to this temple called the Garbharakshambika literally translating into the Goddess who is the protector of the womb. It is located near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and believe it or not, is very easy to find using Google Maps.

Flashback: We have fielded many suggestions around applying some kumkum from some temple to wearing some thread on the left hand. A visit to this temple was something that came up over and over from relatives and it was something we never acted on. I was able to park it aside with the excuse of undergoing treatments and therefore not wanting to do road trips. But once we decided to stop all treatments, we lost that excuse and it was hard to ignore the plea of “there is no harm in trying”.  So off we went with a seething husband waiting to connect his fist to the face that made this suggestion in the first place.

What is strange about this temple is how new-age it is. There is a dedicated website (feel free to look it up. I have no intention of ruining my day with sponsored ads by posting the link here) explaining the history, instructions on how to consume the prasad and most importantly, how it can be couriered with blessing to U.S, UK, Canada etc. There are also testimonials but again all by NRIs as though domestic clientele is not worth bragging about.

As we were entering the temple, the lady selling flowers on the other side of the entrance, yelled out saying buying flowers as an offering is great for putrabhaagyam (fortune of having a son). That got the ball rolling.

Outside the administration room (where one goes to pay for the rituals and prasad) there is a board in Tamil explaining how there is no need to stop on-going medical treatments in order to make an offering at the temple. In fact, it strongly encouraged continuing with medical treatments.

Walk further in, there are cows grazing and women in three clear categories:

  • Category 1: Women here to pray to have a baby
  • Category 2: Heavily pregnant women who are praying for a safe birthing experience
  • Category 3: Women with babies who have come back to offer thanks

As everyone stands to look at the deity, the main priest offering prayers inside the sanctum summons the Category 1 women to line up with the ticket bought, a 5-rupee coin, a small bottle of nei/ghee (clarified butter) and a coconut. This isn’t some discrete announcement or a tacit understanding but more like an angry man bellowing at a room of about 50-60 people.

Then in groups of 4, we were asked to sit at the threshold of the sanctum and the priest took the stuff from our hands to rest it at the feet of the deity. Sitting there it is hard to not notice things like the palpable sadness in the women around me, the fact that our husbands are not expected to sit alongside us, that the priest is churlish to a point that makes me wonder if he is mad at us for not being able to do the one thing that is expected of us.

I was also incredibly conscious that I was basically sitting at a threshold of a temple asking for absolution. As a feminist, was I disrespecting the way paved for me by all the work done in the past? As an educated woman, did I fight hard enough against this? As an educator, am I no longer a role model for my students when I preach rationality? But what if this works, would I become a statistic on the website in the favour of this ritual? Was I going crazy thinking this would work?

The four of us were then asked to put some kolam on the threshold of the sanctum and place the 5-rupee coin on the design. Now the other three women drew a star with two intersecting triangles and in my head, I was like everyone obviously has seen/read the Da Vinci Code. But I cannot draw straight lines with a pencil let alone rice powder so I drew a basic flower imagining that I could place the 5-rupee coin at the centre. Clearly, I didn’t meet the brief since the priest scowled, redrew a star on top of my flower and placed the coin on top of it, not trusting me with anymore tasks.

We were then given back our small bottles of nei/ghee and sent on our way with instructions on consuming it for 48 days.  As I walked back to my family, I was struck by how even though I come from incredible privilege (caste, colour of my skin, ableness, education, economic background, access to medical care, voice, you name it) in this temple I shrunk my presence without being explicitly asked to do so. I walked slower, with lowered shoulders, I struggled to find my voice when the priest barked something at me and most importantly, I experienced guilt.

Fast forward: The 48-day thing didn’t work. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt. The rational part of me, of course, didn’t think it would work. But clearly miracles happened to someone right?  I was just hoping it could have been me.

Other things I noticed:

  • This temple is dedicated to a goddess who is dedicated to solving only the women’s problems. There is another section in the temple with another god for men but guess what, that God deals with “general health problems”
  • There is an ecosystem around the temple where there are flowers to please the goddess and chappal stands. BUT there are also a few stores on the parallel street to the temple selling porn. Loving how this “ecosystem” is committed to the whole experience
  • All the paintings in the temple explaining the story have incredibly fair skinned people. Because you know, if you are dark-skinned and struggling with infertility then even God cannot save you
  • How the word “luck” was thrown around so many times and most of the women in Category 3 came with twins. Awfully coincidental?

temple-clipart-kovil-5

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Not everything starts on a Monday

To set context for this rant, let me begin by stating that I am a bit finicky. No surprise there.

I am someone who will continuously miniaturize my handwriting so that I don’t spill into the next day in my weekly planner. If I had days-of-the-week underwear, I wouldn’t wear them out of order. I organize my To-Do list (when I have a choice) in the decreasing order with most to do on a Monday and then Friday being reasonably chill. I think it is sacrilegious to take a Crocin from the middle of the pack instead of following the line (across or vertical – I am chill and very open like that) or to stack books with only some of the spines visible.

I guess you get the picture.

But coming back to my story/rant –

After multiple cycles of Clomid + Progesterone, I willed myself to start IUI. I showed up at the clinic ready to knock the cycle out of the park but a quick scan revealed that my follicles weren’t looking great and the doctor predicted that the eggs will be of poor quality.

This was infuriating for two reasons:

1) I re-read my emails thrice before sending them out and here my unsupervised follicles were doing a shoddy job.

2) I had pushed back a month of work travel so clearly while I am busy clearing my schedule to make this work, my body was not being a team player.

Anyhoo…the doctor recommended a month of oral contraception and regular scans as a performance improvement plan for my shady follicles. So I went to the chemist armed with a new prescription. Side note – in most parts of India, the chemist bhaiya/anna is an integral part of any journey you are on. If you stop buying pads for two months, he will suggest a Pregasure test when you go to buy Combiflam. So when I went from buying ovulation sticks to progesterone to birth control; his surprise was legit and as a stakeholder in this decision, he did vocalize it. I explained everything and now we are cool. But I digress…

This is the pack and before you yell about its expiration date – it is an image off the internet.

28414-loette-levonorgestrel-ethinyl-estradiol-packaging

Observe closely. This pill is supposed to begin from day 1 of the cycle. The design assumes your cycle would obviously start on a Monday. I mean which woman’s body would dare to be rebellious enough against the very artificial markings of time? Further, scans are prescribed based on the days of the cycle therefore days of the week have little meaning. Now you can tell me that not everyone who is on the pill needs to plan for a scan and I will say, “Excellent point my friend, but would you rather not check your weekends on iCalendar instead?”

Besides, what happens if I need to start on a Wednesday? Do I even then begin from Monday or worse break pack from the middle? *gasp*

I really want to know what could have led to this decision of using days of the week instead of the number of days in the cycle. Is it a “differentiator” that 3 men in a room came up with?

Man 1: Well, everyone has days in numbers on their packaging. We should stand out in the world of contraception and help women calendar their week

Man 2: That’s a great insight!

Man 3: Great! Beers everyone?

Am I being catty? Yes. Am I making assumptions about someone’s gender? Yes. Am I falling back on stereotypes to make a point? Yes. Is it unfair to the men who want to be helpful and actually care? Probably Yes. If you reversed the situation and deployed the same logic, would I be mad? Hell yeah! But who are you kidding? Men willingly using oral contraception? Ha!

But as a valued customer (for the sheer number of times I have had to go on this pill!) I can tell you that it is fucking annoying to see this pack and count the empty blisters to know when to go for a scan!

But for all this ranting, each time I had to start a new strip it HAS been on a Monday. So either my brain is so nitpicky that it willed my body to sync with a poorly designed pack or maybe those three men were onto something.

Hmmm…

P.S: Other thoughts in my head as I stared at this each night – what is with that logo? What pose is it advocating for? Why the pink arrows? Why three arrows from Sunday to Monday when everything else is two? Is it because it feels longer? Sigh…so many more thoughts! Ugh!

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What Not To Say – a handy festive season guide

Festive season is here. You will be meeting family and friends. Even if you are some part Indian, you will be curious about the child-free status of some of the couples you meet. Here’s my Diwali gift to you.  A checklist of ‘What Not To Say’ to these people even though you think you are helping. I wish I could tell you I made this list up but I have personally heard each of these and surprisingly from unexpected quarters.

In an unfortunately mixed group

  • Any good news?
    • Different prefixes include – you are looking so healthy, you have a glow, you look tired, you look unwell, you have put on weight, you have lost weight, you are wearing an Anarkali/Angarkha/anything that doesn’t cut off circulation
  • Your parents are tired of waiting to become grandparents
  • These days you people think your career is your baby
  • Who will take care of you when you become old?
  • If you travel so much for work, how will you give <insert random kid’s name> a cousin to play with?
  • When we were your age, we didn’t think so much before having a child…your whole generation overthinks decisions
  • I saw on my Whatsapp group someone had posted that if you do deep breathing like Pranayama, it will help clear all your tubes for pregnancy
  • I saw this medicine on Facebook…
  • I saw this video where these liberal, feminist types are refusing to have children, are you also?
  • If you don’t increase our numbers, we will get run over by all other religions and communities
  • These days adoption has become fashionable

One woman to another

  • Have you tried <insert obscure herb>? It is supposed to help
  • Don’t drink too much coffee/tea/alcohol
  • Drink green tea
  • Don’t exercise too much
  • Exercise more
  • Have you tried yoga?
  • Don’t do CrossFit – it won’t stick
  • Try losing weight
  • Try meditating on the days of your ovulation – visualize your egg being fertilized
  • Have you tried veganism? I read it is helpful for getting pregnant
  • He will leave you for someone else <insert uncomfortable laughter> if you don’t do something soon
  • Isn’t ironic that you didn’t want kids before…
  • Don’t your in-laws say something?
  • You both work at home and even then it’s not happening?
  • Keep your legs up in the air after you have done it
  • There is this app you can use to track when to…
  • This is why I didn’t go on the pill
  • Go on a vacation for 5 days – but go on the right 5 days
  • When you go to <insert name of any Indian state you had no plans of visiting> there is this tree you can offer water to
  • You can go get this thread from this temple to tie on your right hand
  • That aunty’s daughter in the US also had the same problem, she quit her job and now she has twins
  • Don’t let him spend too much time in the bathroom if you know what I mean
  • IVF try kiya? There are some really good packages these days
  • There is this doctor (best said in Tamil) – avar kai vechaale porum. Translated – if he lays his hands on you it is enough
  • These days everything is so complicated. I toh got pregnant by accident
  • We also really struggled for two months
  • Are you really trying? I mean trying hard or chumma?
  • Which direction are you facing when you are….? North or East?

What you can say instead

  • Happy Diwali
  • You look great!
  • Here eat some mithai/sweet

See…not difficult at all 🙂 Happy Diwali and don’t be an asshat.

Image result for diya png

 

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The Day After

It is the next day.
Pink pamphlets torn,
Full price mani-pedi &
Fewer floral messages
On my phone.

Their job has been done,
Their purpose served.
What more do you want –
A pat on the back or
For me to lower my gun?

Stop whining and playing your card,
Waving your flags fighting for a cause.
You have it easy at every turn on the way-
Climbing the ladder,
Sleeping your way.

Go back into the box I drew for you
Say the words I spoke for you
Feel the feelings I told you to feel
Give me your body,
To choose for you.

You are afterall defined by me
A wife, sister or daughter
Or a slut if you are free.
Come on my dear, don’t ask for more
You have a whole fucking day that I don’t.

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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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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.

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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