Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Women can't have it all

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So much uproar over Indra Nooyi’s statement that women cannot have it all. Such a bunch of hypocrites we are, hiding behind loud rhetoric, and louder statements about how she, of all the women, should not have put out that message that we still have a long way to go. Don’t we?

I had just cleared my tenth standard exams. It wasn’t a shining report card, but good enough to get me admission in any Junior College across the city, in a subject of my choice. I chose Maths. For three nights, my father did not come back home. I saw my mother break a bit, every day. For me, it was about deciding the course of my life. For him, it was ego, a jab at his masculinity, and a questioning of his “owning” his female child. I had known he was unhappy about my decision. I hadn’t anticipated a grown person’s ability to destroy a child’s sense of security and justice. When on the fourth day, my mother tearfully mentioned a threat of Divorce, I gave in. I went and returned the Maths books, and reluctantly bought thick books of Biology, a subject I hated.

Years later, when he was dying of Cancer, I admired his fighting spirit. I felt bad for him. He had been a proud man. And he never depended on anyone for anything, all his life.
But I did not forgive him. Not for what he had done to me, because frankly, I turned out fine, and went ahead with my life, exactly the way I had planned it. I did not forgive him for breaking a good woman who worked hard for her family, and who loved unconditionally.

Women can’t have it all. You can be an admired academician, with the love and respect of thousands of students. You can be a revered, soft spoken Principal of a Post Graduate college. You can be a talented singer, whose voice is the life of every house party. You can be a wonderful wife, who chose to put her family and marriage before herself, every single time. But a man will threaten to divorce you, because you could not get yourself to stoop to the level of destroying your daughter’s sense of self. It’s no coincident that soon after this, my mother started withering away.

So yes, I have seen the ugliest aspect of what even an average woman, who in the eyes of the world hasn’t gone through trauma and tragedy, goes through in her own home. Would my father have even dreamt of doing this to his son? I am afraid not. The sad bit is, that later on in life, he did try to make amends. When he saw the single minded ruthlessness of my focus and drive, he realized that the only way to keep me was to let me go. But I think my mother never forgave herself for something she wasn’t even guilty of. Of course, I can see all this, years later. Years after both of them are long gone. But I learned a lot about the place of women in this world from my own household. 

That is not to say that we are a lost lot. But the truth is, we have a long way to go. And remember, we are the privileged lot, with our education, our empowerment, our opinions, our professions. To millions of women across the world, women’s rights are just a myth and a fantasy.

Let’s be realistic. In today's world, women really can’t have it all. Which is why, we need to try harder. So our daughters won’t have to live with this lament. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Piece Of Me

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What I miss are the simple joys. My fridge is stocked with some of the nicest ice-creams, but what’s missing is the good old “chuski”, made from crushed ice, and cheap, syrupy, flavoured liquids in different colours. I miss waiting for dad to come home, knowing fully well, he’d bring home some snacks to munch on. I miss Phantom Cigarettes, a politically incorrect but juicy candy stick shaped like a cigarette. I miss the Pan Pasand candy, and the samosa guy, who’d bring hot samosas on his pushcart, while we all sat in our small gardens, mothers knitting, children playing. I miss the first rains when my friend Payal and I would rush out, getting drenched, till someone’s mother lost patience and dragged us inside to hot milk and some half hearted scolding. I miss driving around on her scooter, discussing our secret crushes, and eating cheap street-side Chinese food. I miss feeling all dolled up and glamorous when Dad got me these uber-chic Jumpsuits, made of the finest Mulmul cotton. I miss scrubbing the tiles and the floor of my pristine white bathroom, and hearing my Mother boast about how beautifully I kept my room. I miss opening the East facing windows in my first floor bedroom, overlooking the massive garden, or stepping out into the balcony on winter mornings, breathing in the crisp air, hearing the loud chatter of the parrots that invaded a large tree nearby. I miss jumping behind little frogs as they sought to escape a bunch of noisy kids out on summer nights, with two months of post school vacations.

None of these things cost much. Most of them cost nothing. But, such joy! I read a quote today that said that maybe the emptiness we all feel inside comes from leaving a bit of ourself inside everything we ever loved. Perhaps which is why, my mother claimed, that people who love often and love a lot, exhaust themselves faster. She must have known. She was, in my opinion, comprised solely of love. Now that I have seen the worlds beyond my own little life, been to other countries, savoured so many experiences, that a generation ago were nothing more than wild fantasies, I feel so empty. Add to that, this constant pressure from the world to feel “happiness”. We all know what that means. You open your Facebook every morning, and you will know what I am talking about. Everyone seems to be on a vacation. They all have better jobs, better homes, better spouses, better kids, better clothes and better skin than yours. Or do they?

The world is full of Joneses, trying to keep up with each other, and forgetting that there is a life going past them, un-lived, unacknowledged. And when you are done with it all, you are left with this all occupying emptiness that no amount of material goods in the world will fill. Because that’s not what created the void in the first place. Bring back the candy, the singing frogs, those mud filled puddles, horse rides, childhood pets, secret hideouts, girly gossip, street food, worn out slippers and old dolls. And maybe a piece of you, long lost, will be finally found. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Good grief, bad grief

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I hate the way the world makes you feel guilty about grief. I read a lot of articles that talk about the stages of grief, ways to handle it, ways to deal with it. First of all, people might lose their loved ones all the time, but my grief... is personal. It's as much a part of me, and your sense of loss is a part of you. And I try to stay away from the generalisations, the rationalisation, the "science" of grief. It's not a "process". Not to me. 

My first near brush with losing someone who meant something to me happened very young, when I lost my maternal grandmother. My parents, for reasons best known to them, decided to not let me say my final goodbye to my Nanna. I wasn't taken for her funeral. Maybe they underestimated a 7 year old's need for closure. Because it ached, and it ached, that I wasn't going to see that old, shrivelled woman with kind eyes filled with stories, ever again. I still wonder how she looked, which one of her hand-woven saris did she wear, who cried, who held back. 

And then, not too long after that, a young girl arrived at our tenants' place. One of her tear ducts was blocked, and she was supposed to undergo a minor surgery to rectify that. The surgery happened, and the girl was fine. We played, and became friends, and the summer vacations were special, because I had someone my own age to spend time with. A couple of weeks later, the girl and her family went to Haridwar for the sole purpose of thanking the Gods they prayed to, for her successful surgery. They went to Rishikesh as well. The girl was walking on a bridge, with her family. A wooden slot on the old bridge gave way, she fell in the angst filled Ganga, and was swallowed by the waves. They found her hours later, dead. 

All the grown-ups discussed how unfortunate that was. They discussed the unpredictability of life. They talked and talked about it. But no one asked me if I had anything to say. Perhaps they did not realise how vividly a 10 year old feels the confusion and pain of never ever being able to see someone again, when they were running around the garden with that person just a week ago.

My grief for my Nanna, and my little friend wasn't the same. The depth and intensity, and the comprehension weren't the same either. But I feel it, many many years later, and if I seek quietly enough, I feel it with the same hurt that I felt when I first got to know about the two of them. 

I wasn't in Denial about the loss of either one of them. Nor did I subject myself to Isolation, or Depression. No Bargaining with life happened, nor was there eventual Acceptance. So, the five stages of grief did not happen in that sequence for me. Years later, when I was to lose my parents in quick succession, grief sat heavily, but I had no choice but to embrace it. I wasn't depressed, but lonely. But here again, the grief I felt for the two of them, was so different. For my mother, I felt, and still feel, an insatiable longing, a heartbreak that might never stop bleeding, might never stop keeping me awake at nights. But with my father, I had so much more acceptance. I cried a bit, felt all alone, and then went on with my life. 

One thing I am clear about is that grief does not make me a weaker person. I am not nurturing it. No one wants to. But it's an integral part of me. It comes to me when no one is around, and in that sense, it has a permanence that very few things in my life seem to have, including the closest of my relationships. My grief does not feed off me, and make me weaker. It's, in essence. something as factual as my breathing and living, and I am quite unapologetic about it. The love I lost is known to me alone, and no one can judge me for living with the pain of losing it. And that is a very liberating knowledge. So weep if you have to, be isolated if you have to, or just put it behind if you can. Your grief is personal, it's yours to deal with, and to live with. No generalising. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

A new life

Four years ago, I started a journey which was meant to be life changing. I was able to connect with a lot of people, and I was able to heal a lot that had been hurting. And it enabled me to recover from my deep wounds and fall in love. So in that sense, the journey had been successful. But over the last couple of years, I felt that the physical and emotional clutter that I had struggled so hard to keep away from my life had crept up on me, all over again.

So, I needed to start over again. Not the same journey, from square one. But a new one, because I am no longer the person who set up lifein2suitcases part 1. I am now a woman much older, maybe not that much more experienced, but a little more sober that I was before. Or maybe not. I don't know. The trouble is, there is some wicked magic to this name - lifein2suitcases. I am not able to lie to myself here. Which is perhaps why it's so important for me to take this trip. 

I had to start today because a very significant thing has been unfolding in my life. On June 1st, I started a 30 days long challenge, called the Declutter Projekt, asking people across the globe to join forces in getting rid of the material clutter that has infested our lives. But today, I realized that I have let so much emotional clutter accumulate inside me, and that felt... terrible. So, what happened is this. 

Our car, which we park at this spot given to us by the building we live in, got damaged. Rather badly. I went to speak to the General Secretary about this, and the man was instantly dismissive, curt, refused to investigate, insinuated that we must have damaged the car outside the building, refused to let us see the camera footage, and told me that if I had so much problem with the parking, I was welcome to take my car out of the building. I was obviously disappointed. Now, here is the tricky bit. The bit that made me stop and think. This man has a name that could easily belong to people from certain part of India, against whom I have always been extremely prejudiced. 

I have had many interactions with people who might not be the best specimen's of humanity, but every time I come across people from that particular state of India, I find myself thinking, "Intellectual blowhards, with shitbag hearts and a tendency for perpetual whining." Seriously. That's how crudely my mind generalizes them. But today, I caught myself. It felt a bit odd. Not bad, just odd. I have faced prejudice in my life, and know how ugly that can be. And here I was, thinking about this man, and thinking to myself that he is the way he is because he is ABCD community. Our car is still damaged. That can be repaired. But what is shocking me, even as I type this post, is the fact that I still have this prejudice deep inside me. I have acknowledged it, and I know it's poor judgement, but it's there. I know it's not gone, and that it will erupt again. The fact that I don't have any real friends from this community doesn't help either. So how does one deal with it? I guess, the same way you deal with any kind of addiction. Because nothing is as addictive as rage. But the trouble with rage is that it consumes you. The people who damaged our car, and the General Secretary are, perhaps, sitting in their homes, watching world cup matches, or just relaxing with their families. And I am sitting here, wondering how to deal with this unnecessary prejudice and rage. 

So, a new chapter in my life has begun. Dealing with a different kind of clutter. Because, seriously, there is far major crap out there is the world giving people sleepless nights. Only if we all focus our energies on what's truly important will we be able to find real solutions to real problems. And I'd rather find ways to make a child happy, and make a woman give up fur coats than be worried about an old damaged car.