Iron Fist, Velvet glove.

What would you carve on your epitaph? What would you want your eulogy to speak about you? How would you like to be remembered?

Mine probably would be a phrase I’ve always identified with, indefinitely. Iron fist in Velvet Glove.  In other words, a strong heart within a soft soul.

Often times, I’ve had people come up to me and tell me, that there seems to be a disconnect between what I come across as, in my writings, and what I actually am. My physical countenance is apparently a much, much softer version of my fierce, sometimes even fiery self, that one might encounter were they to read my work. So much so, I’ve even been told that one could never imagine that a naive, innocent looking face like mine could heart a sharp, strong mind.

Maybe this is a compliment. Or maybe its not. Yet, I’ll still take it with a pinch of salt. And some lime and sugar.

Looks can be deceptive, I say. Don’t judge a book by its cover, I say. Yet what I also say, is that passion need not necessarily translate to aggression. Just because you are very, very passionate about something doest mean that you need to have that written all over you. Passion must reflects in one’s actions. Not face.

My writings occasionally might portray me a hardcore feminist, an angry young woman, almost. Yet, in reality. I know I never will be one. Just like even the toughest of diamonds are enclosed in the softest of velvet cloth, so I too shall continue to be. An iron fist in a velvet glove.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A Letter to Robin Scherbatsky,

Hi Robin,

The moment I set my eyes on you, I knew it was love at first sight. Without me even realising it, you became my role model. For me. And an entire population of women, who carry stars in their eyes, and live on a diet of dreams, hopes and aspirations. For you symbolised everything what any single, ambitious woman could possibly dream of. A job I’d probably chop my right arm for. A fiery, adventurous spirit that revealed a warm and loyal heart within. A smile that made everyone from Ted to Barney (yes, even him!) go weak in their knees. And of course, five dogs for flatmates.

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From you, I learned that a life lived with passion is one that’s well lived. One where you let your heart and soul be your guiding star. One where you stumble a few times, only to rise back stronger. You taught me the importance of self-love. Of never ever feeling guilty to do what nourishes your soul, and eradicate what doesn’t. Of making mistakes, and owning up to them. You are living proof, that  behind every confident, independent, strong hearted woman, lies a vulnerable soul. One that’s afraid of being hurt and of being let down. Yet, one that will never compromise on relationships, only because it is scared to be alone. If there’s only one page that we can all take out of your book, it is to learn to revel in the pleasure on our own company. To reminding ourselves again, and again, and again, that we indeed are complete on our own. Men, jobs and apartments come and go. They’re the icing on the cake, in the end, it is your own self that needs to take the cake, every single time.

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Thank you Robin, for breaking stereotypes. Because scotch and guns don’t only have to be man things. And women who live for their careers and sense of identities can also seek home and family. And women can indeed build other women up instead of being sworn enenmies. Thank you, for making a generation of independent, free-spirited women believe in the power of following their passions and dreams. And fairy tales coming true. Even if you have to wait a little, for Prince Charming to show up at your window. Blue horn in tow, of course.Thank you for assuring me, that each time I have to take a leap of faith if life, all I have to do, is look at myself in the mirror, and tell myself, that if Robin can do it, I can, too.

Lots of love,

Loyal Viewer Fan-Girl

p.s.: Lets go to the mall, today. Shall we?

 

 

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

 

A Letter to my Former Self

Dear Former Self,

I know its been a while we’ve spoken. Maybe you think I’m unkind. Or selfish. That I acknowledge you so little. Even though I was essentially, created from you. And I can never allow myself to forget that you essentially are my motherland. My creator. My birthplace.

No, I haven’t forgotten you. You still remain tucked somewhere within some corner of my heart. In the grooves of my memory. Within the folds of my spirit. When they tell me my eyes glow when I smile, I know it’s your pent up laughter that they see. When my slightly restrained womanly demeanor metamorphoses into a child that’s been allowed to run wild, its your carefree spirit that dances within. And on nights when I lie in bed, a vision of you, in the form of my old memories, fleets before my eyes, refusing to leave. Even though you and I are no longer friends, probably rare acquaintances, you live within me. And I carry you within me, with a sense of ownership, pride and honour. even though I might not show it.

I’m sorry you had to go through what you did. I know you weren’t exactly expecting all the disappointments, the tears, the failures that came your way. You had set yourself up for the skies, yet all you met with was the musty ground. You were let down by those you thought would never desert you. You were burned down by strife. By discord. By struggle. Your porcelain doll-esque spirit was shattered to pieces. In a way you never thought you would heal.

But you did. Only to fill those cracks with gold. Like the kintsugi potters in Japan, who believe that broken pottery is more beautiful that its original self, for the scars tell stories of all the wars the samurai has fought, only to return, recover and grow stronger.

And surprisingly, I don’t sympathize with you. Because the older, wiser me has come to understand, and appreciate that, as Destiny’s child, you had to go through all of this, for you to become me. The version of myself that I have become today. In your destruction, lay my birth. My wisdom came at the cost of your naivety. My maturity could only have been born from your innocence. Your ashes were my first cries. Your graveyard, my womb. Your tombstone, my cradle. As  the Phoenix  self-immolates itself, before it choses to resurrect itself from its own mortal remains, so did you have to be destroyed, so I could be formed.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was I. But it was built on ruins.  And so was I. Recreated on my own ruins.Just like water changes form, based on the utensil it finds itself in, I had to, too, change. But lets not call it change. Lets call it evolution. For despite the fires, storms and roads I had to walk through, I have no regrets. Diamonds are created under the harshest of conditions, and so did my soul, have to walk through Hades to find its own Heaven.

There are days I remember you. And like I said before, there are traces of you that still remain within. But having said all of this, I know that in no circumstance, am I going back to you.

Adieu, former self. I hope, with the purest of intentions, that we never meet. For its taken so much of you to be me, that I fear returning to who I once used to be.

Much Love,

Your Future Self

Impower, not empower

Female empowerment isn’t just a buzz word anymore. Or a fad. It’s a way of life. And a cause one doesn’t not want to be associated with. One that’s found enough takers, for everyone to find some reason to jump on to the bandwagon. The commercialization of woman empowerment, I call it. Ad commercials that propagate the notion of equality repeatedly. Ventures ranging from lingerie, to plus sized clothing to media channels, focusing on women of various segments. Corporate policies across the globe evolving to recognize the biological, financial and social requirements of women. All steps towards empowering more women. Yet, somehow, I have an issue with the term empowerment.

Empower. The dictionary defines the word empower as the act of giving someone the authority or power to do something. And I begin to wonder why one an individual that is talented, capable and high-performing in her own way has to be ‘empowered‘ by another individual. Especially when the so-called ’empowerer’ happens to be a counterpart, except a difference in gender.

Maybe there needs to be a slight tweak to this term. Instead of ’empowering’ women, I’d like to change the term to female impowerment. Allowing more women find their purpose, through self-discovery of their abilities. Where through opportunities and avenues, we assist them in finding what already was within them. I’ve almost begun to associate the term empowerment as a hierarchical notion, where someone at the top allows power to someone below him. And the question that arises in my mind is why the apparent ‘allowed’ party even needed permission in first place. In a world that’s working towards equality and inclusivity,  that’s where we might be getting it wrong. Power lies within. It shouldn’t have to imparted externally.

And maybe that’s what should be our mantra this Women’s Day. To Impower, not empower. 

A Tribute to the Neighborhood aunty

I remember studying about the North Star in geography class. The star that’s always there. But that’s in the sky. On the earth, and in India, if there’s anything that comes even remotely close, it’s the neighborhood aunty.

The neighborhood aunty comes in multiple shapes, sizes and forms. The  ‘enthu cutlet’ type who has taken over the responsibility of moderating the neighborhood whatsapp group, where her daily dose of optimism and enthusiasm is clearly visible in the ‘Good Morning’ messages she broadcasts every day(never mind that her benevolence is blocking up the internet). Or the sanskaari version, where every neighborhood mata ki chowki is a roaring success, thanks to her efforts. Or she might even be the ‘high-fi’ types, the kind who you only see when she comes out in the garden to admire her precious orchids and dahlias, or when she’s shouting out to her driver to get the car out fast, she’s running late for her kitty party.

 

But we all have one. Or two. Or three.  And irrespective of age, size, shape and background, they all have a few common characteristics. A nose for gossip. Your neighborhood’s answer to every news outlet on the planet. For she has the latest scoop on everything that’s going on in the neighborhood, every tiny detail. What time Mrs Sharma’s daughter came home last night. Which store Mrs Ahluwalia picked up the diamond set she was wearing at the last community soiree. Where the Mehtas are going on their next holiday.  Not only that, she has the ability to start rumors that spread faster than wildfire. Shall I tell you one little secret, just don’t tell anyone, okay,  Mr Gupta’s son is, you now he is (in hushed whispers), gay. Oh, and most important of them all, an insatiable interest in your matters. Right from where you bought that dress you’re wearing in your Facebook profile picture to whether your friend’s sister’s classmate’s baby is doing fine. 

 

She plays multiple roles. Occasional babysitter. Frequent moral police. Supplier of dhaniya, mirchi, aloo, milk, everything your household has run out of, including gossip. Local Google. Because who else will know which darzi you should go to when you want that same lehenga you saw Deepika wearing on Instagram? And what makes her give this search engine a run for its money, is that for every question you ask her, she asks you ten more. Did you get that promotion, beta?. What you were doing with that ‘So and So’s son last Saturday night?’ On days where she’s feeling rather adventurous, she might also ask you about the status of your ‘virginity’. And with enquiry, comes advice. On your sense of fashion, never mind her own. On how you should think about marriage. For beta, everything should happen at the ‘right time’, you know. Every bit of advice, ending with a corny, beta don’t mind, I’m just like your mother. (You’d better stop minding, because even if you tell her that you do mind, the constant outflow of advice shall never stop.)

 

Another defining characteristic of this woman is that she has a son or daughter, (more than one, if you’re unlucky) who she thinks is perfect. This child is the usual yardstick against which every achievement of your life shall be measured. Which usually means you’re going to be scarred for life. Because somehow, this child is going to be that irritating board exam topper, debate club captain and Prefect, combined into one. Which means your parents will always berate you for not being anything like this kid. 

 

More often than not, I have a firm belief that aunty was manifested for me to be able to test my patience. Because coincidentally, on the day I’ve had a bad day at work, am feeling a sore throat attacking me any time soon, and have had a fight with the boyfriend, I shall bump into her, and she shall give me one of her idealistic speeches on how good girls of the locality shouldn’t stay out after sunset. And that is the day I shall lose every inch of my self-restraint and unleash years of pent-up irritation, and give her a piece of my mind. Remind her that I haven’t appointed her as my consultant. Or psychologist. Or counsellor. Of how I’m not interested in her sermons. And how it genuinely annoys me that she keeps poking her nose and leg into my supposedly private matters, which are, well, not private anymore because she’s made sure everyone knows. And all she’ll say is “It’s for your good, beta’. 

 

That same night, I’ve just gotten out of my post-dinner shower and ready for Netflix, feeling a slight tinge of guilt for having spoken to aunty so. And then I’ll hear mom call out to me. “Beta, look what Gupta/Sharma/Kapoor aunty has sent. I mentioned you weren’t feeling well, and she’s made her special haldi-wala doodh for you.” 

 

And then suddenly, I’ll be thanking the universe for her existence. Oh aunty. Why, oh why must you do this to me. Why is that I can’t live with and without you? A necessary evil. That’s what you are, aunty dearest. Making a mental note to send her flowers and a ‘I’m sorry card’ tomorrow.

 

P.S: As for my virginity, I lost it. At 21. And if you want to know where it went. you might want to ask your son.

Dear Seventeen Year Old Me…

Dear seventeen year old me,

I hope you’re listening. Because there’s just so much I have to tell you.

You’re probably wondering what lies ahead.  The road ahead might seem overwhelming. Scary. Even intimidating. Yet, I will tell you to savor these moments. For the world you have now is the best you can ask for.  Years later, when moments of solitude become a rarity, it is in these memories that you will find true solace. Memories of sleepovers, of high school crushes, of whining over pimples, the excitement of your first push-up bra, your first date, even tears shed on your first heartbreak. People will come and go, yet memories remain.

While it may now seem confusing,  the next decade is going to be exciting. It is going to take you on this journey of self discovery, where you’re going to evolve in more ways than you’d ever imagined you would. You are going to go out into this beautiful world, and discover what lies beyond the walls of your school and home. You’re going to go to lands far and beyond, and meet people you never though you would. Every experience, good or bad, shall build on to you, and help you grow. And somewhere along this adventure, I hope you discover your purpose.  And once you do, I hope you grab it by the horns, protect and preserve it. And if you don’t, I hope you never stop seeking it.

Of course it’s not going to be easy. In a world that constantly judges you, and imposes upon you a set of standards you apparently must adhere to, in order to be accepted. There exists an entire industry, that thrives on your insecurities. The one that constantly shows you fairness creams, and flashy diets. The one that benchmarks you against pre-decided standards of perfection. And if that weren’t enough, there will always be those who will tell you that you don’t fit in. Or that you are too rebellious, or ambitious for your own good. But don’t you let that affect you. Create your definition of perfection, and celebrate it.  For every person that hurts you, there will be an army that loves you for who you are. Those are the true keepers. And the ones whose advice you should seek.

I hope you teach yourself, even in the darkest of times, to focus on the tiniest flicker of light. For even in tough times, there things to be grateful for, in leaps and bounds. Practice gratitude, and practice it often. Smile, and smile often. And above everything, I hope you never forget, to be you. Because you’re unique. And irreplaceable. And no one can ever play your role, on the stage that Shakespeare calls a world.

Love,

A much older version of yourself.

 

But beta, when will you ‘settle’ down?

Dear Uncle, Aunty & Society,

First things first. Thank you so much. For the constant concern that you show. For being so interested in my life. In a world where people are so wrapped up in their own lives, it genuinely touches me that I can count you amongst my well-wishers.

Initially, I have to confess. When at community events, neighborhood soirees, and every single social do, you’d pull me aside and ask me what my plans for ‘settlement’ were, I wasn’t sure what you meant. Now,  I’ve come to now understand that you use the terms settlement and marriage rather interchangeably.

It surprises me that you don’t congratulate me on my recent promotion, or share my excitement that my company raised additional funding, or seem happy about me pursuing my dreams of higher education. Instead, you tell me that I’m approaching the terrible thirties, and that I should ‘settle down’. For socially, it’s probably not acceptable to be single anymore.

To which I answer, that I have no plans for ‘settlement’.

You see, women like me, we see marriage as a milestone, along the journey. Not a goal towards which every life decision is steered. Maybe that isn’t how your generation, especially women, viewed marriage, but times have changed. And the sooner you accept that, the better.

We saw our friends getting married in their early 20s. Not for a minute do we say what they did was wrong, but that wasn’t for us. We had other goals and aspirations. Some of us pursued further education. Some of us poured all our time into entrepreneurial ventures and full-time jobs. Some, an inward journey into ourselves. And some of us, well lets just say we didn’t get married because we didn’t find the right person.

But every one of us has been up to something. I have yet to meet one of my late 20s sorority sisters who says they’ve been sitting on the couch waiting for Prince Charming to whisk them off.

You don’t ask the boys while they work out their twenties. But we get told that we have limited ‘shelf-life’. And somehow our presence only gets validated when we have a man by our side. And that if we don’t move fast on the marriage game, we’ll have fewer ‘options’.

Options. Seriously?

Which implies that if I view men as options, I could be someone else’s option, too. But I want to be someone’s destination. Not option.

I’m not against marriage. But I find the right person. When I find someone I look forward to building a life with. Someone who shares, or at least respects my goals and ambitions. Not someone because I want company at the parties where you bump into me. I’m seeking a life partner, not a plus one. And I promise you that when I do get married, you shall receive an invitation card, by virtue of having been someone who has carefully worried about me all these years. So now you may please stop asking that question.

Out of curiosity, when I googled the term settle, I was told that one of it also means ‘to give in’. But that’s not what I’m here for. You see, we’ve come a little too far with our lives, to ‘settle’.

I might end up single. I might end up married with two kids. But never will I ever ‘settle’

 

Much love,

Every 20 + millennial Indian female