An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling

Dear J.K. Rowling,

I probably discovered Harry Potter when I was all of 11. The same age that Harry was, when he received his letter. The one that took him from a mundane, meaningless existence into a world where he became the writer of his tale – a hero, a winner, and a character that generations of readers would admire and come to love as their own. Call it the innocence of childhood, but that summer, it wasn’t just Harry who embarked on a life-changing journey. With him, I did, too. I too, went to Platform 9 and 3/4, boarded the Hogwarts Express and went to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an adventure that would eventually serve as my getaway whenever I wanted a break from life. A would where I learned about magic, and friendship, and many other life-lessons. Like Harry, I too experienced an entire roller-coaster ride of emotions. I remember doing a victory dance when Harry won his first Quidditch match. Crying my eyes out when Sirius Black died, mourning the loss of the only family Harry had even known. Feeling the same fuzzy warmth, during the times Harry spent with Ron and Hermione, connected with that thread of emotion that makes friends, family.

I could potentially go on and on and on. Yet this would all take me to the same conclusion.My childhood would have never been the same without Harry Potter. My muggle friends would often laugh, even tease me at what they mistook as some absurd level of fandom. But only I knew that this wasn’t a temporary fad association. Rather one that would continue all the way up to adulthood, only to make me realise how Harry Potter was so much than a character. It was an entire universe of life lessons and experiences packed into a series of stories. One I know I’ll take with me to my grave.

As a reader I reveled in the bliss of the twists and turns of tales. As a writer and a woman, I learned that when a great story and a woman full of dream, passion, and resilience come together, they truly do create magic. I’ve been told that when you started writing the series, you were broke, starving and homeless. And maybe that’s why I can’t help but marvel even more at how you were able to create an entire universe from scratch, guided by nothing, but hope and a pen. I’ve even been told that you were rejected by many, many publishers before one decided to take a chance on you, and my heart skips a beat even to imagine what the world would’ve lost, had you given up on your dream midway.

As a reader, writer and storyteller, I can only aspire, to somehow half-replicate your success. But I know, that in a world where your story stand tall as an example of what one can achieve, should they choose to relentlessly follow their passion. I’ll always have big shoes to fill.

Thank you, for giving us, the Boy Who lived.

With love,

A Lifelong Potter Fan

 

The World Seems Unsafe Tonight

Ma, my tears go unnoticed
My cries, unheard
My dignity, hurt
I’m sorry you brought me into a world
That doesn’t even pretend to care
Ma, can I climb into
Your womb for a while?
The world seems rather unsafe tonight
I’m tired, Ma. I’m tired
Of fighting,
Of struggling,
Of begging the world
To for once, be kind
Please let me climb into
You womb, just for a little while
The world seems just so unsafe tonight
I feel like I’m being punished
For a mistake I never made
I flee like a wounded animal
Only to find a spot that’s safe
But alas they find and hunt me
However hard I try
Ma, I promise I’ll only
Stay in your womb for a while
But please do let me
The world seems
Very unsafe tonight
(On account of India being declared the most unsafe country in the world for women)

Masturbation, Menstruation, Mental Health – We need to Talk

This is not a rant. Or passive commentary. Or even a mockery. All this is, is a realistic reflection of the times we live in. As much as I am proud of being Indian, there are times when my own culture and society has failed me. Even in a modern, free, independent India.

For instance, should I dare to commit the inconsolable sin of kissing my partner in public, I will be booed, arrested, lynched even. On grounds of being socially immoral. Yet, no one will bat an eyelid at the lines of (not-so-gentle)men who publicly take out their manhood to urinate. Because even though that is (technically) socially immoral, it is still socially acceptable.

A country that proudly declares itself secular, imposes a beef ban. Which is when I must accept the unfortunate truth that if I had to choose between being a cow and a woman in India, I’m better off opting for the former.

And if that wasnt enough, may I also take the opportunity to remind you that , that in the same breath that I declare with pride that foreign conglomerates acquire Indian homegrown startups,  under Section 377, having a same-sex partner is still legally a crime in this country, and marital rape is not.

On account of this, I dedicate this blog post of mine to three widely misunderstood topics –  masturbation, menstruation and mental health, especially in the desi context.

Masturbation. A recent Bollywood flick, one which that braved the sanskaari junta to show a woman masturbating publicly on-screen, resulted in the actress being trolled all across social media. As if she, instead of her character had committed some kind of crime by expressing her right to self-pleasure. Is it because a society, we’ve conned ourselves into believing, that a woman’s right to sexual pleasure is an offence? And maybe a bigger offence, is fulfilling it without a man.

Menstruation. This brouhaha about a woman bleeding for five days of the week amuses me, then makes me sad, then makes me angry – in that order. Don’t touch the pickle. Stay out of the house. Because we have to make a tamasha about everything. Literally everything. Which includes even a perfectly normal biological process, whose onset should make women and their families sigh out of relief. But we, on the other hand, must treat it like some kind of warped interpretation of human anatomy.

And finally mental health. Sadly, I’m living in a society that’s decided to framework and yardstick how it defines success and happiness. Anyone who sticks to the code is accepted, anyone who doesn’t is ostracized, Maybe even if we just allowed more people to live their life, the way they want it to, we wouldn’t be losing Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdains to depression and eventually suicide. Why just celebrities, we’d have an entire population of happier, fuller, more content people. Because they weren’t living their life on a pre-decided, dictated social roadmap.

I think sometimes, my relationship society feels like the one with a human significant other. Where on more than one occasion, you want to take a stand and say the following words. We Need to Talk.

 

 

Attack Mental Health. Now!

I remember buying my first Kate Spade bag, a few years ago. At an age when I had earned enough to splurge on a designer bag, at a stage where I was seeking confidence and identity disguised in fashion. I still have that bag, and while nothing can replace the confidence and poise that comes from within, I can’t deny the fact that there are magical things a great accessory can do to your outfit, and ultimately your self-esteem.

Which is what makes it even more heart-wrenching, that the woman behind a brand that symbolises coming-of-age, should take her own life, driven by mental health issues. Sad and ironic at the same time.

And what’s unfortunate is that she isn’t the first, and she wont be the last. Strange I should say this now, because minutes before I decided to publish this, the internet was inundated with news of celebrity chef Anthony  Bourdain taking his own life.

While Spade and Bourdain are well-known names, there are many, many more who grapple and struggle with mental health issues, ones that often drive them to take their own lives. An instinct supported by rather grim statistics. According to a study done by the John Hopkins Institute, approximately about 18% of people ages 18- 54 in a given year, have an anxiety disorder in a given year. Anxiety disorders include: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia).

What is it that drives people to take their own lives?

In my opinion, a world that constantly demands we succeed. At our careers. At our relationships. At life, in general. A world which is slowly waking up to the reality that mental health issues are as detrimental as our physical ailments, yet the work being done to address this is far from the optimal. And I wonder where the solution lies. Possibly, in creating more therapists, and professionals who are trained to address the needs of a society falling prey to conditions that may not be conventional diseases and ailments, yet are even more harmful thanks to their invisible nature. In playing a more active role in redefining the traditional definition of what a holistic, happy life looks like, so that people who don’t conform to the yardstick-esque definition dont necessarily consider themselves failures. Or maybe, just opening up our hearts, doors and couches, to our own kin who might be needing nothing more than a warm hug or a heart-to-heart conversation?

I think it’s time we collectively addressed this issue. Even if we’re not certified therapists and psychiatrists.  And like charity, we need to start this at home. Remind our children constantly, that good grades aren’t necessarily an indicator of success. Check in on that friend you haven’t spoken to in ages, and ask them how they’re doing. Occasionally surprising the neighbour who lives alone by bringing them flowers. Because mental health disorders exist. It’s a conversation and subject, however taboo, that needs to be accepted and propagated. For if we’re not doing anything as a society to address this, we’d better hang our heads in shame. Unless you’re prepared to be waking up someday, to news of death by suicide, of one of your own. Very likely due to an internal war they were fighting within, and couldn’t bring themselves to share with the world. I’m not.

 

Post Veere-di-Wedding thoughts

This could almost be a follow-up to a piece I’d written earlier, on the evolution of the quintessential Bollywood heroine. If you haven’t read it already, find it here.

When a film starring four female actors, hashtagged #NotaChickFlick revolves around a plot of reunion of friends on the occasion of the wedding of one, you know you want to watch it. Irrespective of what reviews and critics say. Out of enthusiasm, and curiosity.

So, for a 27-year-old, single woman, one who has made several bold decisions in life, yet is far from claiming that she’s figured it all out, a movie like this sends several thoughts down her spine.

She relates with many of the tensions that the protagonists in the film experience. The conflict of an emotional heart with a rational mind. The challenges that arise from being in the no-man’s land between following your heart, yet wanting to match up to the social pressures of a society that occasionally wants to take charge of your life narrative. Dealing with plenty of first world issues, especially when you’re a millennial Indian woman balancing on yourself on the tight rope hanging between tradition and modernity.

She realizes that in many ways, she shares a note with all four of them. Kalindi’s free spirit that struggles with emotional baggage she’s trying hard to not bring in way of her life decisions, yet get in the way anyhow. Avni’s go-getter attitude that wants to be successful from every angle –  professional, personal and social . Sakshi’s impulsive, rebellious heart that takes her places, both wrong and right. And finally, Meera’s insecurities about life and love especially when the people unintentionally causing you grief are your own.

But her takeaway, is that like her, the protagonists in the film aren’t perfect either. And that everyone’s concept of a Happily Ever After varies. And that every girl needs her own little wolf pack , one she can count on, to make life a little lesser tougher when chips are down.

The film has its flaws, though. It restricts itself to a wafer-thin crust of Indian society that lives in posh bungalows with manicured lawns, and is able to whimsically take, off to Thailand when it wants to escape life’s harsh realities for a while. Multiple forced product placements that feel anything but natural (especially Air India. I wonder if the in-trouble airline is expecting a revival simply by featuring in the film). Few moments excessively over-the-top, right from the costumes to the dialogue.

However, what VDW essentially does, is bring to light, the multiple shades and undertones of the realistic urban Indian women. One who is confident enough to make her own choices when it comes to career and marriage, yet occasionally question her own sensibilities in making those choices. One who is paradoxical, ferociously guarding her sense of independence and identity, yet craving companionship. One who hides her insecurities and fears that arise as a result of her own life experiences, or others, to make sure her life is Instagram and Snapchat ready.

If you’re seeking a film that highlights women’s issues or brings forward women empowerment as a cause, you’re much better off watching a Chak De India. This film is feminine, not feminist. Watch it with your girlfriends on a casual Sunday, and make sure you play the game of who-is-which-character. And leave the theatre without over-analyzing what you saw. Though in my own sense of optimism, I do hope the film somewhere paves the way for mainstream Bollywood films featuring women. Ones where female protagonists don’t necessarily have to  inspire women to change the world,  scream girl power, or tell stories of women changed the world. Yet canstrike a chord by propagating the message that sometimes before you save the world, you have to save yourself. That’s not called being selfish, its called being sensible.

 

 

 

Evolution of the Bollywood Heroine – From Darling to Daring

A week ago, I had the absolute pleasure of watching a Bollywood film, Raazi, one based on Harinder’s Sikka‘s book Calling Sehmat. I term the experience a pleasure because it had all the elements of what great cinema should comprise of – a crisp storyline put into place with splendid direction, stellar performances by the cast and finally, that feeling that lingers on after you’ve left the movie theatre. One that starts as a lump in your throat, and stays on as that tug in your heart.

For me, that feeling entailed, a sense of unadulterated admiration for Sehmat, the protagonist. At the tigress esque spirit of a patriotic 20 year old woman, who decided without a slight inch of hesitation, to become a spy, cross borders and carry an entire mission on her shoulders. An female character which completly comflicted with my internal image of the quinesstinal Bollywood heroine. Remember, I was the 90s kid growing up in India, who was fed on a staple of Bollywood films which followed a cookie cutter plot. Girl and Boy fall in love. Girl gets kidnapped by villains. Boy recuses her and wins her heart. In a nutshell, it was the always the male version that was doing everything, while the female revelled in blushing, dancing and flaunting her designer wardrobe. No wonder we called him the hero.

Yet, over the last decade or so, the trend has reversed. Films aren’t just being made with women, rather, about them, with an entire list of exemplary films and characters who we’re not forgetting anytime soon. Jab We Met, where Geet a bubble, feisty woman decides to take her destiny in her own hands, and even bear single handedly, the consequences of  her actions. Or Rani from Queen, the jilted bride-to-be, who instead of shedding tears at being left at the altar, decides to fulfill a dream of a European honeymoon, sans her husband. Or Veera from Highway, who confides in her kidnapper about her childhood trauma. Or a daredevil Kaira from Love You Zindagi, who’s not afraid to confront a therapist about her dejection that stems from life’s many setbacks. Or even Shashi from English Vinglish, who takes on a seemingly mammoth of a challenge, one of learning a foreign language, within the realms of a city that’s alien to her, and waking up to a confident, capable version of herself in the process.

And the list can go on. In my opinion, what makes these films winners is that they don’t necessarily focus on feminism, girl power, or even on making a statement of sorts. The protagonists aren’t exactly superwomen, rather refreshingly relatable. Real women living in real times. Ones in whose stories, we often end up finding our own.

The female protagonist has evolved, and how. She no longer is the Damsel-in-distress, who waits for her Prince Charming to rescue her from a bunch of villains. She fights her own battles, her own demons, sometimes even entire social institutions that dictate what she should do, wear and behave. Neither is she Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. She flaunts skin, drinks, goes on solo trips, even loses her virginity without being apologetic for any of it. And finally, she is an individualistic woman of substance. One who is comfortable with creating and living her own sense of identity, claiming her own sexuality,  and pursuing her individual dreams and aspirations. None of whom are dependent on labels, stereotypes, or man. She isn’t just part of the tale anymore, she is the tale. One she’s not afraid to write, rewrite and live. Herself. In her own words. On her own terms.

 

A letter to Hermione Granger

Dear Hermione,

After over two entire decades of knowing, admiring and wanting to emulate you, I finally pen down this letter to you.

I first discovered you when I was all of twelve years old. An age where I was still finding myself. I’d always been an extroverted, curious and over-imaginative child. One for whom being in control of situations came to, very naturally. Yet, some part of me always tried to validate the my inherent confidence, my sense of independence, my longing for adventure. In my world of conformists, I was the one whose heart desired the road not taken. The offbeat path. And for silent rebels like me, we were more likely to find critics rather than cheerleaders.

And then I met you.

You taught me that being a nerd, as opposed to stereotype, is a wonderful thing. That curiosity and a passion for learning can take you places. That a yearning for knowledge is a virtue few are endowed with, and the ones who do make use of their potential, are true game-changers. However, what you also taught me, was that it was equally important to apply the knowledge to good use, at the apt time. Whether it was remembering to use that spell you learned in class in a time of crisis, or making Polyjuice potion from scratch or remembering that phoenix tears were actually healing powers, I wonder how Harry and Ron would’ve ever managed without you. If Harry was the brave heart, and Ron the soul, you were undebatedly the brain in the trio. Like cogs of a wheel that were always made to fit together.

From you I learned, to be a strong woman. One who wasn’t afraid to stand up for her rights, her thoughts and her opinions. You taught me that activism is a good thing. Even when Malfoy derided you by calling you a mud blood, you didn’t flinch. Or explain yourself. Not because it didn’t affect you. But because your self-respect and dignity didn’t allow you to have to justify yourself to someone who clearly was way beneath you as far as thinking was concerned. Not to mention anyone who accused you of not being a true witch didn’t stand a chance against you in class.

However, above everything else, I learned from you. The value of friendship. Of standing up for your friends when they need you. Of being their rock. Of believing in their vision. Supporting them with your abilities, and sometimes, just with your presence. Maybe that’s why even when Ron left Harry momentarily, you didn’t.

I could possibly go on. Yet, I’ll conclude by saying that I’m so grateful I met you, and learnt from you, in my childhood, invaluable lessons I know I will carry way through to womanhood.

Love,

Your childhood fan-girl-reader

 

TED TALKS – Bite Sized Gems

If there’s one thing lifelong learners like me have in common, its a mind that thrives on curiosity, creativity, and variety. One thats always looking to expand and stretch its horizons. While there are a few subjects of passion I’m personally always scouting content for, I’m often very pleasantly surprised on how much invaluable knowledge there is the world, on topics and themes otherwise considered frivolous. Maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of watching TED Talks.

What makes the TED Talks concept a winner, at least in my opinion, is the combination of high-quality crisp content, combined with great delivery, boxed within a specific time frame.

If I had to list 5 of my favorite talks, they would be:

  1. How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google manipulate our emotions, Scott Galloway
  2. Islamophobia killed my brother, lets end the hate, by Suzanne Barakat
  3. The genius of the London Map, by Michael Bierut
  4. We should all be feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  5. A taboo way to speak about periods, by Aditi Gupta

If you’re a TED Talks person, I’m sure you have your own list of favorites. And your own  takeaways from them. Here are mine:

  1. Powerful storytelling always triumphs: I’m probably not as interested in the topic of menstruation, as much as I am, in learning what a woman in rural India did to fight period related taboos. The human element. The personal story behind the topic. Every TED Talk is, in its own way, a personal saga of triumph. Which eventually makes the subject even more profound.
  2. No topic is too trivial to be spoken about : From the genius of the design behind the London tube map, to a heart wrenching story of how a woman’ brother was killed by a neighbor in a hate crime, they’re all tales, dying to be told. Like I once heard someone tell me, good stories always find their listeners. And not all of them must be about princesses in castles.
  3. Empathy. Empathy. Empathy : Possibly the most underrated human emotion, if you were to ask me. One that comes alive repeatedly in these videos, and convinces you, that all we need to at times is to think with our hearts. Maybe even feel with our minds. Empathy isn’t just an emption, its a strong forerunner of life decisions. One that the world can benefit significantly from.
  4. Big things come in small packages : It never fails to overwhelm me, how a 20 minute TED Talk can have a deeper impact than pages and pages of written content can.
  5. The world’s a stage: And we’re its performers. And storytellers. And artists. Despite our differences of geography, society, color, gender and class. What unites us, is way greater than what divides us. Our stories and snippets from life, our shared struggles, and the lessons we learn from them. We’re a global village here, no single being excluded.

If I still haven’t convinced you why you should be watching TED Talks, maybe you can check them out here for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

10 reasons I cant wait for #VeereDiWedding

Like any other Indian girl, we’ve been brought up with the notion that one day you will find Mr Right who will sweep you off your feet. And then you’ll get your big fat Indian wedding. And then you will live happily ever after.

Right? Wrong. Because if you asked me, Indian weddings are gorgeous, but a tad-bit overrated. And today I watched the trailer of Veere di Wedding. And it set my heart on fire.

All the girls who are reading this, I urge you to please go watch it here. Now. It brings to life a few truths of the big fat Indian wedding. So much so, that I could show it like a 101 on Indian weddings to my buddies in the West

veere-di-wedding-now-1

Things I already knew as a millennial Indian women, but were only reemphasized by  the trailer:

  1. Every girl’s standards of what an ideal life, husband and sex life look like are different. Being cookie-cutter about this is recipe for disaster. 
  2. The unfortunate harsh truth of our Indian samaaj: Irrespective of how educated you are, society validates you only when you’re married, if you’re a woman. 
  3. In one of the moments from the trailer, the guy asks his wife why she doesn’t get a job. To which her reply is that if she did, who would make rajma-chawal for him? Gender stereotype strikes again. 
  4. Marriage can start with the man going down on his knee for his lady love, but that’s just the beginning. In India, this goes from having to please his mother by wearing an outfit that can make you look hideous, to becoming chaachi, even acting like a clown on your own Sangeet
  5. Indian weddings are about everyone except the bride and groom. So much so that when the prospective groom suggests to his father than they limit the guest list to 200, he is met with a ‘Are you drunk on weed.’? The Indian dad had to mention weed as an analogy. This is how grave the problem is.  
  6. Even when the bride and groom look like they’re stepping into marital bliss, they actually have no idea of what the f*** is happening. 
  7. Girls. Ditch the mama’s boys. They won’t stand up for you if mummyji doesn’t approve. 
  8. A girl always needs her besties. even when she’s annoyed with them. And no-one but her girlfriends can help her get through the marriage tamasha
  9. Just because you’re married, doesn’t mean you’re happy.
  10. Oh and last yet my favorite, even I didn’t know what an orgasm is called in Hindi. (I genuinely hope my mother is not reading this). 

Judge me all you like, but an honest confession. Even if its a chick-flick, I cannot wait!

We Forgot Our Men

As a society, culture, and the world, here’s where we went wrong.

We empowered our girls.

Inspired, motivated, informed them.

Equal opportunity, we called it. 

We sent them to schools. To ballet class. Yes, even karate lessons

We taught them to break stereotype, day, after day, after day.

To rewrite their own fairy tales. To play with guns if they wanted to. To wear blue and not pink if they preferred that instead.

Yet we forgot our boys. 

While we stood up for the girls, we forgot to sit beside our boys.

And tell them, that the presence of a y chromosome, wasn’t their key to success. That it made them biologically different, yes. But not necessarily superior

That it was okay to cry. And shed tears. And weep, and wail. Convince them of a man’s right to a heart, emotion, and feelings.

That laying their hands on a girl’s womanhood, didn’t make them more of a man, it made them less human.

We taught our girls to fight. What we didn’t do, is teach our boys to not attack them in first place.