Love…

Sometimes, when people ask me if S will “allow” this and that, it makes me wonder. Would you like to spend the rest of your life with someone who controls your every move, monitoring how you engage with the world, and what you do with your time? No right? Nobody would. Husbands who actively stop their wives from working, travelling, staying late and everything else belong in the same category: unpleasant to live with, and insecure in the relationship.

Why would you ask me if my husband with ok with all this? How would he have a say in whether and how frequently I travel, who I meet and how I spend my time while I am away? He does not and would not want to. The space is critical for the healthy relationship and he gives it to me.

Love is like that handful of sand that you hold on to. The tighter you hold, the quicker it will slip away, leaving you empty handed. If you simply cup your hands and let the sand be, it will stay within the confines of your palm, unresisting, forever.

I have said this before, and I will say it again. Love is free, it is accepting. If someone is possessive and controlling, they are not in love. They are in need and insecure that you will leave. And it’s not the same thing. They are not in love with you but in love with what you do for them and how you make them feel. If you really want something from life, love would let you go get it. It would stand by, waiting for you to come back. If it doesn’t or cannot, perhaps it is not love, and not what you need in life?

It is often said that the support of the family is paramount for a woman’s success. I would differ. The family matters much less than that one person who is willing to just let you be. That person who understand, empathises and stands by. That person who trusts your judgement on things even if he does not really understand what it is that you need. And perhaps, that’s why that person would be the one to make you happy.

If you do find that one person, don’t let him go. Hold him, as you would that handful of sand; cup your palms and let him be and you’ll find more fulfilment that ever before.

Of Father’s Day and other things…

It’s Father’s Day. And my TLs, both on FB and Twitter have been flooded with thoughts, wishes and expressions of love. But how do I tell my father what he means. We are not part of that section that celebrates days and anniversaries, real and imagined. We belong to that section that quietly goes about its work, save for a quick phone call on a birthday or anniversary. We don’t tell each other how much we care. It is assumed. It is a given. I don’t quite know how else to be. I haven’t spoken to my father today. I haven’t told him how much he means to me, not because I don’t care, but because saying it is too difficult.

That said, today is perhaps as good a day as any other to remember the childhood years when Appa was everything. When Amma was the villain of the piece and Appa was the superhero. My earliest memories of my father involve talking about everything under the sun. They involve lying down in the terrace, on a beautiful starry night and learning to identify the stars. I remember learning to recognise Venus, the Pole Star and Ursa Major. I remember finding the Pleiades somewhere in the distance and trying to understand what they mean. I remember trying, and failing to distinguish between Sirius and some other distant star in the galaxy. Much later, I remember the discussions around the meaning of life. On whether the scriptures really spoke the truth. Whether there was really some such thing as the absolute truth. I will never forget what my father told me that day. That truth is always relative. That reality is often a grey area between the black and the white. That every single thing, every single human, even the gods are some shade of grey. That between the black and the white lie a million shades of grey, each unique, each special.

A second, more tangible memory of my childhood years is the way he engaged with me. I remember the games we played. I never had dolls and kitchen sets and makeup kits. Instead, he bought me books and crayons and brushes. He bought me pens and notebooks. He played hangman and word building when children my age were playing car racing games. He taught me to teach myself, to learn, to grasp and to understand. The greatest gift I have ever received from him is the ability to learn something out of my own volition. He taught me to enjoy the written word, to let my mind wander, far into mythical and fictional worlds, to explore and to travel into the deepest recesses of my heart. He taught me that failure is not just acceptable, but actually encouraged. He taught me that unless you make an attempt, you will never learn. And for this, I love him.

To this day, he engages me in ways nobody else quite can. In his mind, I am still his 3-year old who doesn’t quite understand what she wants. Yet, he lets me be. Lets me make my mistakes. He lets me fall so that I can pick myself up and emerge stronger from the experience. And most importantly, he has never once said I cannot do something I truly want to because I’m a girl. And for that, he’s the best father one can ask for.

Beauty lies…

…in the eyes of the beholder. Then why is it that we judge ourselves by the impossible standards set by the beauty industry all the time? How many of us have been told we’re too fat, too thin, too dark? How many of us have been shamed for wanting that one extra dollop of butter or that extra paratha? How many of us have been asked, “Where do you buy your groceries?” in an attempt to shame us for being us. I have. And I’m sure that at some point, you have too. This should have been a tweetstorm, inspired by this thread by Naomi Barton. But, I somehow felt this deserved a more detailed and larger discussion in the form of a blogpost. So, I am going to take the opportunity to answer some of her questions concerning body image.

1) How old were you when you realised your body was not good enough?

Maybe 8 or 9. Every time my cousin told me that I could be beautiful if only I scrubbed more and became whiter, every time someone called me gundoos or fatty. Every single time. Maybe, just maybe my body wasn’t good enough.

2) What’s the one thing about your body you’ve been wanting to change forever?

Unwanted body hair and height. I wished forever that I could be one of those beautiful women who’d just need to wash their faces and be ready. I wished I didn’t have to subject myself to the torture of having eyebrows tweezed and legs waxed each month. I still sometimes, but can live with it. The second was my height. I wished I weren’t so tall. Being mistaken for a 20-year old when you’re barely 12 isn’t fun.

3) What item of clothing are you forbidden from wearing Cuz ‘it doesn’t suit your body type’?

Anything tight I suppose. I used to shy away from wearing fitted clothes because I always felt I was too fat to carry it off well. Anyway, that’s history now and I’m happier for it.

4) What is the weirdest, most demented thought you’ve had about your body on a Fat Day?

I don’t think I’ve had such thoughts, except for an all-encompassing sadness about being too fat.

5) If you had a girl child and she came to you with that thought, what would you want to tell her?

I’d tell her she’s beautiful. Every single person on the face of this earth is beautiful in their own way. I’d tell her there’s no ideal of beauty, no matter what fairness cream commercials tell you. She needs to believe it. And believe it way sooner that I did.

6) As fucked up as it is, what are the things, on the fat days, that you tell yourself about why you are worthwhile to exist? Your mantra?

This too shall pass. Every time.

7) What do you want to see in the bodies billboards and hoardings and magazines and music videos, to make them look like yours?

I want to see fat bodies, thin ones, dark ones, the ones with stretch marks and cellulite. Every type of body. Every single type.

8) How many of you have stretch marks?

Am I even human if I don’t? I do. Because I’ve gained weight and I’ve lost it. I’ve been through changes, biological and emotional. I’ve binged, I’ve starved. I have stretch marks and happy for it because they tell me I’ve lived.

9) If you have to choices – one where you have the perfect body, and one where you no longer had to give a fuck, which would you pick?

Do you have to ask? The latter. What I wouldn’t give to be able to not give a fuck! I’m trying. I’m getting there. Slowly.

10) Do you think you are beautiful? Why?

I’m beautiful because I’ve lived. So have you. Each one of us is here after having fought our own battles. And that’s what makes us beautiful. I’m also beautiful because I’m happy. For myself and for those who care for me.

Of love, hate, passion and fury

Have you loved someone so much that when the relationship breaks, or is refused, it turns to hate? Love and hate are but two sides of the same coin. If you relate to this or think this sounds about right, you should probably read Andromache by Jean Racine.

A masterpiece of 17th Century French literature, Andromache is a story of love and hate. It’s a story of rage, fury and passion. For the most passionate are also the most ruthless. For we know that an object of affection can very quickly turn into an object of rage. It is a story of a heart torn between love and hate. Of a heart that refuses to recognise or respect one’s duty. Filial, national, royal duties mean nothing compared to the passion its characters possess for the people they love. A son can be murdered, a brother beheaded. Doesn’t matter. All the heart knows is love. A love so dangerous that when spurned, it could turn to murderous rage.

Andromache is a powerful story of human emotions, both fascinating and terrifying. For, how many of us have the ability to rein these emotions in? Not me. Not a vast majority of my fellow humans. Perhaps that’s why this resonates so deeply within our hearts even 300 years after it was written.

I was 20 when I first read it. I fell in love with the story, the raw honesty of the emotions. I could relate. I’ll even go so far as to say that I am probably the Hermione of Andromache. Capable of love and hate in equal intensity. Capable of destroying what I once loved. Age and experience may have tamed that fire, but hasn’t quite extinguished it. For the heart always wants what it wants. Right?

For the love of the written word…

This is a special day. This day, 10 years ago, I began a journey that became one of the most important journeys in my life. What began as a protected blog under the name of “A Space of One’s Own” evolved to what it is today. I’ve blogged under my real name, moved on to a pseudonym, slowed down, written furiously, then slowed down again, and even considered quitting. Yet, this space is something I could never complete let go of.

The journey that I began ten years ago has been adventurous, exciting, depressing, and difficult at the same time. Yet, I’ve never really felt the need to stop or turn around. Maybe it’s love. Maybe it’s a need to express things I wouldn’t dare speak about in person. Whatever it is, it’s an important part of not just my life, but a part of my growing up.

As a 24-year old, I was idealistic, full of zeal. I wanted to change the world and believed that my writing had the power to do so. I wrote furiously, and with a frankness than amazes even me when I re-read those posts a decade hence. I wrote in sheer outrage around what’s happening in the world around me. I wrote, because I didn’t know any other way.

As time passed, my blog evolved. From speaking of politics and society, of the ills that we face and the injustices of life, it evolved into something more personal. It gradually became a refuge from the world. A place where I could cherish the small things, and speak of things close to my heart. Of art and literature. Of love and life. Of desire and longing.

Today, ten years older, and slightly more mature, I no longer blog because I’m outraged. I no longer react as spontaneously to news or happenings around me. I watch, I wait. I observe and analyse. And most of the time, I choose not to speak. I don’t speak because I feel I have nothing to contribute that hasn’t already been said a million times over. If I do feel like adding something, the 140 characters usually suffice. I find today, as I look back over my journey, that my blog’s tone and content is actually a reflection of how I have evolved as a person. And I am happy to say that it’s no longer the quantity, but the honesty and the intensity of my writing that’s become important.

Here’s to the next decade of writing. May this love for the written word never fade!

Seven random things…

I wasn’t planning to write today. I wanted to pick up a book and read, until I finished at least a couple to justify the reason for my leave. But I happened on Lakshmi’s post detailing seven random things about her. It’s so much fun to read, and she insists it’s revelatory as well. So let me try.

  1. I used to be an extrovert. The kind who forever seeks out human company. The kind who can’t be alone with herself. Over the past decade, that’s changed, slowly but surely. Now, I no longer crave company the way I used to. Of course, I continue to socialise, meet people, go shopping and the like. But, I am no longer an extrovert. I call myself a selective extrovert. Perhaps the term ambivert will suit me better.
  2. I am a compulsive reader. I read anything from bus tickets, to newspaper clippings, to literature that comes packed with medicines. If something is written, I’ll read it. I’ve always been this way, but over the years, I have also begun to try reading something every day as a deliberate step. Books, articles, poems, blogposts…nothing is off limits.
  3. If someone hurts me, I pretend to move on and forget. The truth, however, is quite different. I tend to hold on to the hurt. I become resentful of the person. I realise it’s not good for me, but the hurt me has a great difficulty in forgetting. I may even forgive, but I tend not to forget. And to certainly never trust that person again. Like a broken glass that can never be mended.
  4. I have an innate curiosity about things that makes me need to know. For me, ignorance is not bliss. If I don’t know something, I’ll make an effort to find out. Not knowing something that directly affects me or my life is just not acceptable. This could be the side effects of a medicine, the workings of a light bulb…anything really…
  5. I don’t particularly crave for children. I don’t have any, and it doesn’t trouble me. Of course, I’d love to have them if I can. But, if I can’t, my life wouldn’t collapse. It annoys me, nay, makes me furious when people say motherhood makes a woman complete. I’m complete in myself, thank you very much!
  6. Art makes me emotional. I can’t draw or paint or sculpt. I’m not remotely artistic. My creativity is purely verbal. But engaging with art in its myriad forms makes me feel things I can’t quite explain. Given a chance, I’d spend the rest of my life in art galleries. Not the techniques, not the theory, but art itself makes me crave for more.
  7. Friendships are sacred to me. I may not speak to my friends on a daily basis, or engage with them regularly. But, if they really need me, I’d drop everything and run. I have a handful of friends I truly care for and I wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world.

Phew! That was hard… So, what are the random things about you that people don’t know? Go on…do share!

The power of art…

Have you seen the statue of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre museum? Or David in Florence? Or Venus de Milo? There’s something about art, particularly sculpture that makes you want to lose yourself in it. I’ve never been a great connoisseur of art. Primarily because I could never remember all the different styles and textures. Although I’ve been a student of art history for over 15 years now, I’ve never really bothered with the technicalities of art. But, there are days when I see a piece of art and wish I could lose myself in the beauty. I wish that time would stop. That I could just stay there taking in the piece of art in front of me with a sense of awe and wonder.

Each of the sculptures I’ve mentioned inspires a different emotion. The first time I saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I was awe-struck. I felt small, insignificant in the presence of something so powerful. With Venus de Milo, it’s pure love. The kind of love that makes me want to stop time. The kind of love that makes me want to experience life all over again, just to relive that moment I first saw Venus. David is a different matter altogether. It’s a marvel, a testimony to the sheer genius of Michaelangelo. David. The perfect man. Created by Michaelangelo. The perfect artist. And then there are dozens more, sculptures, paintings, even charcoal sketches. Pieta, The Last Supper, and many more.

Sometimes, I wish I could at least reproduce these beautiful works of art. I wish I could paint. I wish I could immerse myself in the world of art and lose all sense of time and space. For now, I will have to content myself with just the written word.

On love…

I need to say this. Love is not what holds you back. It’s what sets you free. Far too many people, young and old alike, confuse possessiveness for love. If someone tells you not to do something or go somewhere because they can’t bear to be away from you, that’s not love. That’s the need for you. And need is certainly not love.

Over the past few days, one particular post on Facebook has caught my attention. A “love story” where the boy calls the girl two days before she is scheduled to leave for higher studies abroad and tells her not to go. He tells her that he can’t live without her and she should stay back in India for him. And I see too many young men and women share and re-share this story as an example of “true love”.

Let me tell you this, true love would let you pursue those dreams. True love would strive to help you get what your heart truly desires. If someone tells you not to do something because they don’t want you to be away, it’s not love. That’s selfishness. They don’t love you. They love what you do for them and how you treat them. And that’s not true love.

I’ve never understood the term “falling in love”. How can something what trips you up and makes you fall be a good thing? Love should elevate. It should empower. It should make you want to stay by setting you free. As the saying goes, let it go. If it comes back, it’s yours. Otherwise, it never was.  

Questions of identity…

The elections have just concluded. Much discussion has transpired on the various things politicians said to get votes and seats, from free laptops, to Activas at half price. But, for some reason, one election promise hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream as much as I would like: that of giving primacy to Tamilians in Tamil Nadu. This election slogan of “Tamil Nadu is for Tamilians”  is neither new, nor entirely unexpected. What is, however, disheartening is the number of educated and seemingly sensible people who seem to think this attitude is acceptable.

I do not quite understand how someone can be so determinedly nationalist in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. I do not understand how nationalism and exclusionism is not a negative quantity in a world where most products we routinely consume are produced outside of the geography that we occupy. How can someone who boasts an Apple iPhone, a Fossil watch and a Ford car think that only people who “originally” belong to a state/region have the right to live there? How can anyone, in the same breath speak with great pride of Satya Nadella and Indra Nooyi, while simultaneously wishing to deport all non-Tamils from Tamil Nadu? What does nationalism or regional pride even mean in today’s world?

Questions of identity are extremely complex and difficult to resolve. This questions is one of special personal importance to me, as I have spent the better part of my life trying to give myself a single identity. And failed. Am I Kannadiga, when my knowledge of the language is limited to the dialect I speak at home, and that of the state limited to my few visits to Bangalore? Or am I a Tamilian, when my mother tongue is a language other than Tamil? Who exactly am I and what is my relationship with this place I call home?

When someone asks me where I am from, the first answer I give is, “Chennai”. Because, it is true. I am from Chennai and this is home. I certainly do not speak Tamil as a first language or mother tongue. I belong to a tiny community of Kannada-speaking people who migrated into this state several centuries ago. I am married to a member of an even tinier community of Marathi-speaking people who also migrated several centuries ago. If someone asked us to go back where we belong, where do we go? To Karnataka, whose language and people are so alien to me that I return from each short trip to Bangalore with the joy of pup returning home? Or to Maharashtra, which I have barely visited except for a few times for official reasons? For me, home is Chennai. Even if I were to go a few generations back to trace my origins, they would go no further than Coimbatore and Theni. Then, who am I?

If mastery of a language is the criteria for qualifying as a “Tamilian”, then would millions of my co-inhabitants of Tamil Nadu qualify? How many native speakers of Tamil actually know the language they call their mother tongue? How about this generation of urban youth, which is more comfortable in English than in their mother tongue?

These are questions that are extremely hard to resolve, or even attempt a resolution at. Yet, we do not hesitate to call someone an “outsider” just because we feel entitled. Can we try, at least, to build a more equitable world? A world that, in Tagore’s immortal words, has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls? Try?

Welcoming a new year…

I’ve always said that the new year is a tad overrated. That said, a new year is an opportunity. It’s a chance that we get, year on year, to start over on a fresh page, leaving the mistakes of the previous year behind. It’s a chance to look ahead, to hope for a better future. After all, what’s life without hope?

Like everyone else, I too have a bucket list. Many elements of this list have stayed on for years, even decades now. Some have been struck off to be replaced with other things. But these are not resolutions to be broken by the end of January. These are things that change with time, with baby steps, taken one step at a time. These are little drops that will one day form an ocean.

First on my list, is to forgive myself my shortcomings a bit more easily. I am perhaps my own worst critic. There are days when I look around me and see a messy house, an unmade bed and dirty dishes and curse myself for being worthless, constantly telling myself that I’m no match for others who manage to keep a spotless house. This year, I’d like to be a little kinder to myself and try not to feel inadequate all the time. 

The next on my list is to take some time off for myself every week. To start doing what I love to do: write. To spend time with my thoughts and words, because they’re important to me. 

And finally, to tolerate crap a little less. To speak my mind without being rude. To be strong without appearing insulting. This is perhaps the most difficult of my tasks. But I’d like to try. 

What’s on your bucket list?