Nominated for Indian Blogger Awards 2017 !


And it’s that time of the year again! Once again, we’re in the middle of a nail-biting race to the finish: This blog has been nominated for the Indian Blogger Awards 2017.

So if you’ve ever found anything relatable in it, if it has ever made you smile or sigh or touched you in any way, please do click on the image with the award and write a testimonial for The Reluctant Reproductionist on the page that opens.

I would be grateful !

The Indian Blogger Awards 2017

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Chapter 43 (i): Someday you’ll be a mom-in-law, too


mum in law

Relationships that come as appendices to the main wedding clause are perhaps the trickiest ones on earth. You could argue that professional relationships are equally difficult, but if your boss turns insufferable—no matter how cushy the job—you can stick your tongue out at him/her one day and call it quits. No such exit clause available here.

When a daughter is born, very frequently your mind shifts to that time in the future when she would be taken from you by people who would claim her forever. You often wonder how that new world would treat her—and hence the extremely common blessing for girls: ‘Allah naseeb achha kare’, or ‘Saubhagyavati bhava’. May you be blessed with good fortune forever.

And though it is meant to be a blessing, it is a profoundly sad one. Ever wonder why we do not bless boys this way? Because everyone expects boys to be able to create their destiny. A woman, feeble creature that she is, is bound to her destiny forever.  And so, perhaps, if I had a daughter, I would have blessed her thus: “Allah tumhein apna naseeb banane ki quwwat de.” May you be blessed forever with the strength to make your own fortunes.

In fact, I don’t remember ever hearing my father bless me with a prayer for “achha naseeb”. On the contrary, what he repeatedly quoted to us, me and my sister, were these immortal lines from an Urdu couplet:

Khudi ko kar buland itna

Ki har taqdeer se pehle

Khuda bande se khud puche

Bata teri raza kya hai

(Elevate the self to such a height

That before your destiny is inscribed

Allah himself would ask his slave

What is it you would have me write?)

He would repeat this couplet day and night to hammer into us one single thought: we are the masters of our own destinies.

Nevertheless, he was a rare Indian parent, an exception to the norm—because the norm comprises of people wringing their hands in despair at her destiny the moment a daughter is born.

But now, tell me, when a son is born, does your mind wander to the time he’d be taken from you by another? A woman, a rival for his affections, an idol he will worship—much to your chagrin? I’m betting, no. Pardon me for generalising—it’s not a practice I’m fond of —but most Indian moms are so attached to their sons, they place them almost at the pedestal of ‘man in my life’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not indicating some sort of Oedipal complex here. I’m talking of this—which was more prevalent in the previous generation than it is in ours, but it exists nonetheless:

The husbands were supposed to act superior to their wives—the whole ‘mardon ki shaan’ thing [The Man’s Pride] and not show their emotional side or the wives ‘would get too big for their boots’.  I actually know a person among my relatives who would tell his wife, “If I’m not criticising the dish you’ve cooked, it means you’ve cooked well.” Criticism or silence. Compliments be damned.

The woman, emotionally parched, unable to quench her thirst for approval and admiration, unable to express her physical desires for fear of being considered wanton, unable to find solace in the mere fulfilment of obligations, lives an unspeakable life of bottled frustration. And then, along comes the son. He loves what she cooks. Every son does. (Mine does, too.) And she finds herself showered with compliments. He is a baby. Babies express their love unhindered.

And then, slowly, as he grows up, he starts caring for her—for her happiness and her health. Sees his mother being verbally, emotionally, or even physically abused by either her husband or her in laws, and becomes that Man—the wall of support she always sought.  He becomes the mainstay of her life.

Then, of course, enters the other woman.

His wife. But he’s not the husband his father was.

He compliments his wife’s cooking, has eyes for her, cares about her well-being. And one day, he confronts his mom, taking the side of his wife—much like he had taken the side of his mother not so long ago.  And this woman, who had spent a major portion of her life fussing over her son—considering him her sole achievement, in the absence of all other avenues— feels cheated. Betrayed. For her to grudge the daughter in law’s happiness, then, is quite natural.

If you haven’t already, read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, and specifically go through the lines about Mammachi and her son Chacko. You’ll know what I mean.

Granted, all of this is rather dramatic, and not everyone had a life like that. But to varying degrees, most couples—small town, middle class, ‘Indian values’ type— fell within this range.  My father was an exceedingly romantic, mostly liberal guy who fed milk from bottles to his kids, changed their nappies and combed their hair for lice, frequently massaged his wife’s legs and back—something unheard of in his generation— because she suffered from a slipped disc and requested his wife to keep her hair loose down her back and her hands henna-painted at all times, because he loved to gaze at her beautiful self. He would take her out for a stroll by the river, and hire a cameraman to follow them and record their movements like a personalised romantic movie, while a chapraasi (man-servant) trailed behind them, holding the baby (me, one year old).

And this was in the year 1988.

But even then, my mother remembers being fairly intimidated by his quick temper in the early days of marriage, and watching, fascinated and thankful, as his temper completely mellowed down after I arrived:

“He would leave for office in a huff, angry over something, and be sure to not speak to me when he came back. But when you were born, and he came back still angry, he took one look at you and his anger evaporated. And I was so thankful for this angel in my life.”

Now this is a very loaded (offensive, too) statement, but I think this provided a major motivation for women to long for children.

I remember when I was pregnant and not very happy about it, my mum in law would reassure me saying: “Just wait till your son is born (the unborn baby is always a son for in-laws all over India). You will have a great pillar of support!”

What she could not understand, of course, was that I already had a pillar of support—my husband. Relationship dynamics had changed drastically over the previous generation. I already had a complete, fulfilling relationship; I didn’t necessarily need someone else to soften it.

But now, now that I am a mother myself, I often find myself sitting at the fence, wondering what lies on the other side. The side when I’ll be the dreaded law.

So when you are the mother of a son, tell me, do you ever wonder about the time you’ll have a daughter in law? More precisely, do you pause to consider what kind of mother-in-law you would be?

Because, to twist that line immortalised by Ekta Kapoor, the queen of soap operas: Kyunki Bahu Bhi Kabhi Saas Hogi.

The daughter-in-law, too, will be a mom-in-law someday.

 

(To be continued…)

Chapter 42: In-laws and outlaws


May 3, 2014

And so life continues as usual. Usual being, in the Indian context, amid the hot and spicy curry of relatives, social gatherings and, not to be forgotten, constant social scrutiny.

Right now I’m in a small village almost at the border of Western UP—the ancestral home of the in-laws. My existence post marriage has been a strange crossover between extremes—my urban, English-speaking family and my husband’s completely desi and robust, village-dwelling extended family—plus my own journalist-blogger self who feels happiest in the Metro city of Delhi. An interesting mix, if a tad un-mixable.

But never had the distance felt so glaringly obvious as when my little one appeared on the scene.

The birth of my son has literally landed me in the midst of a crossfire, a tragi-comic tug of war that never ends. This has, in fact, led me to conclude that all relatives—regardless of whether they are yours or your husband’s— should always be referred to as in-laws. For they are the ones always laying down the laws. In-LAWS.

Now, it’s a fairly normal occurrence in life—no matter how unpleasant—that mothers get shot down all the time for their alleged incorrect parenting. You child might be hyperactive, not active enough, too polite (hence a pushover), not polite enough, too fat, too thin, too addicted to books, not interested in books, too talkative, not talkative enough—there’s a whole variety of parenting flaws that relatives will only be too happy to point out to you.

This is irritating enough in the normal course of things, but the impact of being constantly belittled is magnified manifold when you are the only one at the receiving end, with no partner to defend you or even to share the blame. To make matters worse, people from both sides of the fence are having a go at you.

To my family, my boy is a junglee—a wild child absolutely bordering on the uncontrollable. Having been exposed to a baby after almost two decades, they have completely forgotten what children are usually like.

“What an atrocious kid he’s turning into! He just keeps upsetting things and throwing stuff and running around. Can’t you even keep him in check!”

Directly opposite this, to my extended in-laws from the village, he is a pushover, a whining mouse of a boy. They have a house absolutely teeming with kids who create a racket all day long.

“What! Is this what you have turned him into? You have a ‘mard bachha’ {male child} and this is what you’ve made him? He ought to be able to hold his own, he ought to be able to fight and run and kick and punch! Make him a man, not a mouse!” So on and so forth.

The worst part is they’re both correct.

My one and a half year old boy is a regular monarch when he’s in familiar surroundings amid people he’s more familiar with. But as soon as he’s out of his den, he clutches at his mom in terror, bawls at the slightest provocation and cowers in fear when faced with a bully.

But let’s not forget that he’s only a year-and-a-half old, for heaven’s sake—19 months to be precise. It’s perfectly normal for a little boy to be scared of the outside world, to be wary of strangers and to be intimidated by bullying. Except for one little thing: my boy is a little exceedingly possessed by stranger anxiety, and a little too unused to rough-and-tumble play. Which isn’t surprising, considering that he’s growing up in the absence of his father, with no ‘manly’ activities to speak of. What’s worse is that my mom has always had the chicken-soup syndrome: too much protection and too little independence. I’m nearly always over ruled when it comes to letting him play a little rough and go out there and explore. There’s always a set of arms nearby to either haul him up or haul him out. This constant hovering has created an additional disadvantage of him being a bit more uncoordinated than kids his age—walking and running only on his toes. Naturally, he keeps tripping and falling over his feet.

Now this becomes particularly terrible when you’re visiting a joint family (with not one but multiple joints) that boasts not less than 2 dozen members— and guests besides. Every time someone tries to pick him up, he bawls. Add to that the village courtyard with uneven flooring and his uncoordinated, running-on-toes gait—and you have a kid that falls flat on his face every half an hour, with his lip cut and gums bleeding each time.

A sureshot recipe for disaster.

A recipe for day long allegations of over-parenting, which is ironic since back home I am subjected to day long allegations of under-parenting. The constant whining, of both the boy and the relatives combined, is getting far too much on my easily-frayed nerves. In case you didn’t notice, though, there is a major difference between being heckled by your husband’s relatives, and being heckled by your own: with your own people, you can snap back and tell them to back off. No such liberty with the husband’s family—not by a long mile.

Grin and bear it gets a whole new definition—only in my case it’s weep and bear it. Every time someone heckles me for my ‘insufficient parenting’, I go back into my own room and weep it out.

I hate and curse my son for being such a cry baby and a pipsqueak. I hate my mom for being such an overprotective hovercraft. And I hate and curse the father of my son for leaving me alone in this onslaught.

He ought to be here. He ought to be the one fielding these questions, he ought to be the one teaching his son to be ‘a mard.’ He ought to be sharing this responsibility with me instead of sprinting off to another country like an escaped fugitive, an outlaw. How I hate him.

More than anything, though, I hate myself for being incapable of properly bringing up my son. For being incapable of handling my own life and doing something about it. Wretched, contemptible, loathsome woman.

I feel it. I feel it again.

The rage that underlines my very being, the magma that bubbles and bubbles. Chokes me with its fiery flow, but finds no escape.

loneliness

 

Movies: Men love action, women love romance. Think you know why? No, you don’t!


(I break my narrative yet again, because this is something that just had to be said.)

Wonder Woman

So I finally got a chance to watch Wonder Woman (yeah, I always watch new movies way too late) and oh girl, am I thrilled! It is absolutely mesmerising to watch Gal Gadot aka Diana, Princess of the Amazons, unleash her raw power and true grit. Watching the movie made me realise a few things though—namely why I have never been a fan of action movies and prefer mostly romances. I just thought I didn’t like all the fighting —until I saw this woman kicking, punching, lassoing and sword-fighting away to glory. And it suddenly dawned upon me that the reason I—and perhaps most women— do not enjoy action movies so much is because 99 per cent of all action movies only ever have MEN taking part in all the ‘action’.

Think about it.

What makes a good movie —or any good story— tick? How much the audience/readers identify with the characters. When you watch a story unfold, you identify with at least one person on the screen—mostly, you identify with the protagonist. For that brief span of time, you are transported to the screen, you are the person experiencing it all—and you vicariously partake of all the pleasures and pains unfolding before your eyes. That is why women prefer romances—because the protagonist there, the focus of the story, is always a woman. However, in common discourse this is projected as: women are only interested in love and romance.

Not true.

Women are interested in adventure, intrigue, thrill and action as any normal human being, but one look at the ‘regular’ action fare you get on the silver screen (and the small screen too) and you’d know that women would find it hard to relate to. It’s actually not the ‘action’ that puts us off—it’s the fact that every single time, it’s always a man commanding and carrying out the action. True, the Y-chromosome is genetically wired to love combat and destruction a lot more than the X-chromosome—and women definitely prefer love to war any day—but hey, when it’s about being the hero and saviour and fighting evil and injustice, women absolutely love packing in a mean punch.

A pity then, that our choices are so very limited.

All the way through Wonder Woman, I found myself jumping up and down in glee beside my very bemused husband, and almost screaming—“Go Diana! Woohoo! ”

 

Yes, we love it when women throw the punches and absolutely decimate the baddies.

I remember whooping with joy many years ago when Keira Knightley clashed swords with cursed pirates and sea-demons in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. And I can never have enough of the way she and Will got married right in the middle of slashing up the baddies together!

Keira fight

But I was severely and utterly disappointed by the post-credits scene in the very same movie—where Will returns after 10 years on the Flying Dutchman, and Elizabeth has been waiting for him, bringing up their son all this while. I swear I felt my heart sink right into my shoes.

All that spunk—all that valour—all the sword fighting and dealing with pirates, demons and sea –monsters—all of that for nothing? No, don’t get me wrong. It’s not the child-rearing part that I had a problem with. Nope.

She got married, she had a kid, great —but nobody said she had to stay right there and give him a super traditional upbringing, did they? His dad was Captain of the Flying Dutchman, for cryin’ out loud! And his mom was King of the Brethren Court, lest we forget! She could just have brought up the boy on a ship, having adventures of her own and being the remarkable, doughty woman that she was! But the message we got instead was that once you’re married and have a baby, you really needn’t involve yourself with anything other than said baby.

But now I am beginning to digress. Where were we? Yes, women in ‘action’.

Women enjoy it when women protagonists ‘do the stuff’. When my husband introduced to me the popular TV series “The Arrow”, my favourite protagonists almost all the time were the fighting females —Sarah Lance aka the Canary, Laurel Lance aka the Black Canary, and most of all Nyssa Al Ghul — the daughter of Raas Al Ghul, Chief of the League of Assassins — but above all a shockingly lethal fighter if there ever was one. It was a real delight to watch these women in action. (Of course, Felicity was a great character too, but her fight was more of mental and digital warfare rather than throwing actual punches.)

Among my favourite kick-ass women characters though, right at the top stands the character of Teresa Lisbon from the hugely successful HBO series The Mentalist. Even though she’s not the central character—which is a man, Patrick Jane, The Mentalist himself—yet she’s not reduced to the status of merely a love interest. She’s a super tough cop—the Chief of the California Bureau of Investigation, a smart, fearless character who knows how to fight like a woman. Yeah, I said fight like a woman, because “fight like a man” kind of defeats this whole post—it indicates that only men can fight.

Again, the remarkable thing about this series was that they didn’t have to show the hero Patrick Jane as a super-macho guy, just because his leading lady was a tough-as-diamonds (why don’t they use that phrase, though? Diamonds are the toughest substance on earth!) cop who really knew how to use a gun. He, on the other hand, never even carried a gun. His super strength was his mind– the punching, shooting and capturing part was well taken care of by the lady.

Eventually, of course, Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon declare their love—and then comes the part where, for the first time, I felt really annoyed and angry at Jane, because he suddenly begins asking Lisbon to quit her job as an FBI agent—which she had by then become. No, of course, it wasn’t because of some kind of inherent chauvinism. He kept saying he didn’t want to ‘lose her’ given her high risk job and the fact that he’d already lost once a woman he dearly loved. Which felt entirely pathetic to me, because she had been a cop and a detective long before he even met her. And all these years that he’d been hunting the psychopath serial killer who murdered his family, she had been his partner and closest friend, always taking the lead in this high risk job. And now suddenly when he declares his love for her, he wants her to throw away all she has built up in life just because he’s insecure about losing her? It made me hopping mad.

Thankfully though, Lisbon was a woman after my own heart and she refused to budge. My most favourite, absolutely cherished scene from this series—and in fact my most cherished scene from any series or movie ever, period—is that of Lisbon in her wedding gown, in typical law-enforcement posture and fearlessly holding a gun at another serial killer.

lisbon gun

A smart man isn’t scared of loving a strong woman

That moment, to me, symbolises the very essence of being a woman: she doesn’t say no to love, she doesn’t say no to marriage, she doesn’t say no to femininity either—but she refuses to let go of her passions, of things that are important to her; refuses to let go of who she truly is. She dons the intensely feminine, sleek and classy wedding gown, but as soon as the baddies appear, she gets all-out in cop mode—whipping out her gun and confronting the psychopath. Even though there’s a whole law enforcement team there, she doesn’t sit it out just because it’s her wedding day. She remains true to herself and her work, her duty.

That one moment will forever be the essence of femininity to me. Femininity is not about being a damsel in distress—it’s about being a damsel that can remove distress.

And that’s who we fantasise about being when we find doughty women in action onscreen.

This reminds me of exactly what I felt when I watched Jean’s character blast out her mutant powers with full force in the climax of X-Men: Apocalypse. Every pore of my body felt like that woman who is trying hard but frustratingly failing to harness her true powers, that somewhere in me those forces are all accumulating to rip out in one great explosion of fearsome power.

X-Men_Jean_Phoenix

Whether it’s saving your home or saving the world, we vicariously fulfil all our dreams of superhuman strength and fighting power through these characters. But when those characters are only men, we can just salivate or drool over them as fantasy love interests! (Or just appreciate them as interesting characters.) We can’t actually identify with them —obviously.

So here’s my last word on the subject.

Movie makers, you’ll be opening up a whole new demographic if you just create more intrepid, fearless ‘women in action’ characters. That way, you’ll know that it’s not just the romances that draw women in. We love action too— only you’ve got to have the right person doing it.

Chapter 35: Lands without Lines


TRR Pi.jpg

A line: A straight continuous extent of zero thickness, that extends infinitely in both directions.

That’s what we were taught when we first learnt geometry. But the line in its pure form is always an abstraction, because the human existence is bound by beginnings and endings. Infinite, limitless existences confuse the human mind. The line segment and not the line therefore, is what suits human nature better. But given our expertise at aligning abstractions with everyday concreteness, we turn all line segments into a line. So you have telephone lines, electric lines, notebook lines, scratch lines, laugh lines, and the horrible bank lines. The humble, every day ‘line’ carries no semblance of infinity whatsoever, but we refuse to add the word segment to it. Doing so makes us feel better about our own segmented existence—makes us feel infinite as a line.

Despite that, the line segment is an enormously more productive entity than the limitless line itself. Why? Because the line segment connects two specific, finite points. Hundreds and thousands and millions of line segments connecting countless points. Connection is the greatest boon of life; it turns the planet into a network of heart and breath.

Like interconnected arteries, we pump blood into each other. Disconnected, the planet is a morgue.

And that’s why life itself needs a line— lifeline.

January 27, 2014

The worst part about someone you love being in a separate country on the planet is that you know so little about it.

Oman, apparently, is a country that rather detests visual lines. Don’t get me wrong, from what I’ve seen of the pictures Sajjad keeps sending me, Oman has breathtaking shore lines, steep hill lines, and impressively historical architecture lines. Nope, that’s not what I mean. What it blocks are video-calling lines. Skype, Viber, and rather ironically, Line.

Essentially, what I’m saying here is that for long-distance marriages (ugh, that word!) Oman likes to severe the lifeline. We’re scrounging around for life-support. WhatsApp chats and clicks, and very brief international calls. It’s never enough. How can it be, when you’ve loved, lived, breathed and for heaven’s sake made a baby together! Thoughts lose their tone in short messaging, time slows you down in typing—and don’t forget the bawling/snatching baby while you’re calling. Essentially, to be able to talk 10 minutes in peace, you should be sitting in the loo—and even then the baby’s bawling incessantly outside the door.

But that, perhaps, isn’t the biggest gulf in these conversations. There’s a continental gulf— a gulf of disillusion, a dread sea, a bay of delay.

“What’s the update on the family visa?” my favourite question.

“There are some… issues with the paperwork.” Always the same vague reply. “And I’m still struggling with the super tough driving test here.”

Considering that this guy has been driving cars—and I don’t mean remote controlled ones—since he was barely out of his shorts, this seems completely inconceivable.

You’re struggling with a driving test?”

“This isn’t India! The smallest wrong move gets you flunked. You have to change the gear precisely at the indicated speed, you have to remember who has the right of way, you cannot go slower than a certain speed, certain lanes are meant to be kept free for ambulances, certain lanes designated only for trucks and so on and so forth. We’re so used to lack of traffic laws here that the brain has to be completely reprogrammed. You have to unlearn everything you’ve learned.” He pauses, adding, “And importantly—this is a right hand traffic country—the steering wheel’s on the left.”

Uh-oh. That’s bad, really bad. Completely reconfiguring your driving sense.

“Oh…” I chew my lip. That still doesn’t explain why a driving licence is so crucial to me being there. I voice my doubts.

“Well,” he explains, “Oman has very limited public transport options. To be able to get around, you most definitely need a car. And with you and Hasan there, I don’t want to take any chances in case there’s an emergency.”

Hmm. That makes some sense, I reluctantly agree. But my Oman dreams are getting steadily replaced by apprehensions of all sorts— a land with blocked video calling, meagre public transport and a pronounced car culture. My heart gushes afresh with love for the Delhi Metro. Forget the Delhi Metro, my heart gushes afresh with love for the humble Aligarh Rickshaw too.

Sajjad is quick to assuage my fears. “You’re going to love it here,” he soothes me “Every place I go, everything I do, I just imagine you here with me, imagine us experiencing it together. Everything here is so pure and pollution free—I haven’t experienced the slightest ill health since I came. The food is absolutely unadulterated—and you should just taste the milk!”

Now that is a clever line, because adulterated food—milk in particular—has been a common concern for both of us ever since Hasan was born. Additionally, since the period from October to December each year is when Sajjad is plagued by bouts of seasonal asthma in India, the ‘not-falling-ill’ part is a masterstroke. I feel better already.

“And it’s really safe out here. People put up barbecues in the middle of nowhere—completely barren hillsides, even—and there’s not the slightest danger of being mugged or robbed or, you know, women’s safety concerns. I’m already dreaming of us having a barbecue once you’re here.”

Easier and easier. Better and better. The man has gained serious expertise in calming me down.

February 10, 2014

And finally, the day arrives. The man just cleared his driving test. We can officially drive around in Oman when I get there. There’s only one little problem, though. Nobody knows when I’m actually going to get there.

I cannot understand, for the life of me, what exactly is going on up there.

The company’s project for building culverts under a highway has gone down the drain—quite literally. The “vaadi”—valley—came down in a landslide halfway through the construction. Have they ever even heard of insurance, I ask? Apparently there’s been some tiny loop-hole in the policy that prevents it from covering this terrible setback. The company has been struck a major blow.

There’s only so much communication, and no more. Broken, dotted line segments that refuse to be entirely linked. Like a drawing in a children’s book that keeps asking you to join the dotted lines— without numbering them or ordering them in any way. So you keep trying and trying randomly with meaningless strokes to make sense of it and get the whole picture.

I see other, long distance couples, and they’re always—always—on the phone with each other, video calling, talking face to face. With no video calling available here, I am frustrated, unable to connect statements with expressions, unable to look him in the eye and get him down to explaining it all.

I’m beginning to wonder, now, if it’s really even worth it. Is it really worth sitting around, like the princess locked up in the farthest room of the tallest tower, waiting to be rescued? How long can one wait for a line to be cast, a line to grab on to when you’re drowning?

Isn’t there some way to cast your own line?

I can take other people’s advice and join Research at the University, working for my PhD. But that’s not the line taking me in a direction I want. It’s a line that keeps me right here, just “productively employed”. But there’s another line, pulling me in another direction. The one-year-old who’s completely dependent on me.

Shabnam, my godsend maid, has already escaped from the mad house—and who can blame her? I’ve been trying since years to escape this place myself. My mom’s already working full time, so if I opt to work full time too, who do I leave my son with? There’s always my firebrand Grandma Bazooka, of course, but a hyper-energetic, super-attention-seeking boy is too much for a septuagenarian to cope with all day—heck, I’m not even 30 and he drains the life out of me too. I could send him to his other grandparents’ home each day, but every time that happens he comes back with a completely soot-smudged face and blackened hands and I cannot stand the idea of him playing amid soot and cobwebs all day and then nobody caring a fig about washing his hands either. Paranoid mom syndrome. Inherited from my own mom, of course.

But then there’s another, equally important line segment, attached in another direction. My newspaper articles. From writing one column every week, I’ve gone up to writing two. That’s about eight to ten articles a month, and when you’re writing, researching is implicit. The work suits me perfectly; it’s what I find joy in. It fulfils me creatively, and I do not want to pursue any other thing professionally if it means letting this go.

So no, it isn’t that I don’t have anything “productive” to do—though heaven knows bringing up a tiny human being is productive enough in itself. No, it’s not that. The thing is that for me, as for countless other people in the universe, work cannot be a substitute for love. Creative fulfilment is separate from, despite being as important as, emotional fulfilment. Those who’re acquainted with Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Need know that the need for achievement is a separate part of self-actualisation than the need for affection, and the need for affection definitely comes first. The very basic needs occupy the base of the pyramid—so unless you have food, water, shelter and safety, you cannot really dream of achievements and freedom. And so too, unless your needs of love and belonging are met, you cannot completely rise to the phase of self-actualisation.

People who drown themselves in work often do it as a refuge from the feeling of being unloved. They seek refuge from a harsh world that perhaps refused them the love they deserved. But I’m not of those. I can’t ever stop seeking love.

And so amid all the line segments that keep pulling me in different directions, the one I seek is the one that most eludes me. Like the proverbial line of zero thickness stretching till infinity, the line carrying me to Oman has become an abstract geometric concept, one that can endlessly be visualised and theorised, but never morphs into an actual, tangible entity, a reality to be experienced.

My present, my future, my life as I know it, has all been turned into Pi.

An “irrational” quanity, whose “decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern.”

Infinitesimally approximated, never exact.

A life, quite literally, of Pi.

Is Feminism anti-love? {Feminism vs Fairytales-II}


fairytales-beauty

Lend an ear to a lesser-known tale, the love story of a real life Prince. This is a fairytale with a difference.

In the year 1936, Edward, the Prince of Wales, succeeded to the throne of Britain and became King Edward VIII. But his reign lasted merely 326 days— less than a year— after which he chose to abdicate his throne to the younger brother. Why? Because Edward, the Prince, had fallen in love. Wallis Simpson, an American woman, had become the queen of his heart, but the throne of Britain refused to accept her as the Monarch’s official Queen. Wallis was a divorcee, and it was against the Church’s decree to marry a divorced woman while her former husband was still alive. Edward couldn’t keep both the crown on his head and the woman in his heart—he would have to make his choice. The young King proposed various alternative options through which he could be both Monarch and lover true. But the Church— and the people of England—rejected each one of them.

And so on the 11th of December, 1936, King Edward VIII stepped down from his throne, with these words addressed to his people— words worthy of a lover and a king: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” Within a year, Edward and Wallis were married in a private ceremony in France.

Edward gave up what few men can claim to ever possess—a real crown and an actual throne. He gave up the highest title of his land; from the King of England he stepped down into the position of Duke of Windsor.

There’s always that thing, that little thing, which makes you renounce every treasure, yet leaves you the richer for it. The trivial, insignificant thing that makes you relinquish power yet leaves you the stronger for it. A tiny, inconsequential thing.

A thing called love.

“It was love, love, love, love, love alone
Caused King Edward to leave his throne…”

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Fairytales don’t go down well with feminists.

The argument is that you shouldn’t ‘need a man’ to get you happiness; you should be able to find it yourself.

I see it all the time—the web is full of it. The ‘we don’t need a man’ declarations. I swear I saw a poster on social media that declared ‘Fairy Godmother, bring us the perfect career instead.’ Which is absolutely fine, but does this mean that a career is supposed to replace love? More importantly, as a feminist myself, this is what completely confounds me—do the same rules apply to men; do you ever admonish men for going full speed in the pursuit of love? I know the classic feminist is supposed to hate fairytales; so let me bring you a brief, reverse rendering of two of my favorite ones—from the male perspective instead. (I’m using the Disney versions, of course, not the original Brothers Grimm tales.)

Cinderella

The heir to the throne, the charming and handsome Prince falls in love with a peasant girl—a girl without title or fortune or ‘provenance’, so to speak, and puts on hold every royal activity even as he sets upon a veritable wild goose chase— glass slipper in hand, seeking nothing but the foot that fits it—that one woman who ruled his heart. And when he finds her, ragged and dirty, amid the cinders, he gives no thought to social mores and princely conventions, but takes her hand and leads her to his palace—making her the Queen of the Land.

Beauty and the Beast

The Beast in his huge and haunted castle has been waiting years upon years for a woman whose kiss would save him from this dreaded curse that robbed his human form. When one day a brave and well-read girl arrives to rescue her father from the clutches of the terrifying creature, the castle is filled with hope. The Beast’s kind and gentle side begins to resurface and the two bond together. But when Belle goes to visit her father and is unable to return, the Beast loses hope and languishes in the castle, pining away for his love. In the end, it is only Belle’s love that breaks his curse and makes him whole again.

Now that we just re-read the fairytales, what did we discover? A fairytale is not a tale of escape, it is not a tale of achievement and ambition; it is a story of finding love. Perhaps finding escape and redemption through love, too, but chiefly finding love itself. The actions of the heroes in the above-mentioned tales, or indeed, any other fairytale, are all guided by the quest for love. The thing to be noted is that the women they loved were not for beauty alone—they loved them for their kindness, intelligence, wit and charm. Perhaps, like Prince Charming, they cast aside social conventions and royal concerns, or like the Beast, they let go of their aggression and ego and open up for the healing touch of love. Like King Edward who gave up his throne— it’s love, love, love alone.

So to come back to my question—why don’t you ridicule, downgrade or put down men for casting the world aside in the pursuit of love? Why is a man not labelled as ‘disempowered’ when everything he does is for the sake of a woman? Do you ever hear men say ‘we don’t need a woman’? (Quite the contrary, of course.)

The reason a man never has to say this is because men seldom need to choose between ambition and love. Barring King Edward of course, who heroically tossed it all away—but is still considered a hero, not a disempowered sissy. (And that pretty much displays the inherent sexism in disparaging women when they give it up for love.)

For women, though, choosing love very often means an end to whatever other dreams they had. As Gloria Steinem and her ilk so succinctly put it in their slogans: ‘Sink into his arms and you may end up with your arms in his sink’. Because marriage would be, well, a dead end. Because women went into love expecting a fairytale, and then found that real life never lived up to it.

That was the reason why fairytales were so hated by the feminists: they wanted women to not sit around waiting to be rescued; they wanted women to stand up for themselves and rescue their own selves.  And that’s where it all started—the ‘we don’t need a man to be happy’ philosophy. Find your own happiness; be your own power, your own saviour.

Sisterhood of the liberated, I completely endorse your stand. But then there are different kinds of power, different types of powerful, and not all are the ones we’d want to be. Let’s just sit back and take note: fairytales are rife with powerful women— but they’re almost all evil. The Queen in Snow White, the Stepmother in Cinderella, the witch in Rapunzel. And that’s not sexism, sorry. Powerful men and women, in general, tend to choose the path of evil, simply because evil seems to pay higher—and faster. My point? Power is, in itself, a vile and terrible thing if not exercised for a noble cause. And in this regard, the heroines of fairy tales are far better ideals to aspire to, for they are kind and noble and brave.

The one really powerful and generous woman that springs to mind from fairytale universe is the Fairy Godmother. Think about it—how can you disregard her or forget her role in saving Cinderella? She’s that powerful woman who uses her gifts for positive ends. The sad part, of course, is that all she gives Cinderella are pretty dresses and slippers, and a Coach to get her to the Royal Ball. And this is where the reality of the bygone era steps in—the only ambition a woman could aspire to was a fortunate marriage, hopefully filled with love. Times have changed since then—drastically so. Why then do fairy tales still appeal to girls of all ages, in all generations, no matter what the era? Because, as I said, the fairytale is not a story of escape, it is not a story of ambition. It is a story of finding true love, and deep in the core of all our hearts—ambitious or otherwise—none can deny the desire to be truly loved.

So yes, little girls need to hear tales of women that rescue not just their own selves but others folks too—for that is the nobler thing to do. They need to be told that the purpose of their life is not just to be someone’s wife. Let them hear stories of real women, good and strong, who fought for a cause and either won or went down fighting to the last.

But let them also revel in the fairy tale, for in her heart, every girl is a princess.

Equally important is to let boys hear fairy tales too. When boys hear no fairy tales, they scarcely learn how to value love—and romance. A man that grows up hearing stories of a Prince that braved it all for his love would know much better how to love a woman and not let her down.

Here’s the little thing though—when we write the modern fairy tales this time around, let’s not make love the end. Let the stories step into the future, where the King and Queen both chart their noble paths, both ride their way to glory—side by side —lovers, friends, equals. Let man and woman both be each other’s support and realise their dreams together.

The need to be loved is as ancient and natural as life itself. To accept it is not weakness, to deny it is not strength. Ambition and love are meant to co-exist beautifully, boosting up each other.

Just like feminism and fairy tales.

Feminism v/s Fairytales- Part I


“We are becoming the men we wanted to marry.”

— Gloria Steinem

This post has been far too long in the making — four months to be precise; and has changed titles three times, always a little shy of perfection—until about twelve minutes ago, when I was driving my son to school and the perfect title just glided into my mind, fitting in there with a pronounced click.

Feminism and fairytales. There has been far too much of a discourse about this, far too much of fairytale-bashing in the halls of feminist fame. And the die-hard romantic in me couldn’t reconcile herself to it.

And then I read this line by Gloria Steinem—the one I’ve quoted above.

Every time I read feminist authors—or even just quotes from feminist leaders, I feel a sense of solidarity. The power of the sisterhood, so to speak. But when Gloria Steinem says that we are becoming the men we wanted to marry, I get a stupendously severe sinking feeling.

Really? Is that what we want to achieve? To become MEN?

No, I do get it. I get what she means to say. I get the context of the time and place that these words were spoken in—times when the only ambition for women was to marry a ‘suitable’ (read ‘wealthy’) man and live a life of basked glory. So what Steinem really means is for women to possess ambitions over and above marriage, to actually earn their own glory and fame.  To rise and shine, to be all those things they want to be—instead of merely looking for those things in the men they wanted to marry. I get that those words have led us to where we are right now—where a woman leading an independent, successful life is not an aberration. I get it all.

But what I witness now, in the time and place that you and I live in, is that feminism is becoming more and more about women becoming men. ‘Femininity’ is becoming taboo. To be successful, you must be like a man—that’s the subconscious message being sent out. And that makes me sad, not to mention intensely furious.

I haven’t yet watched Aamir Khan’s acclaimed movie Dangal— where a wrestler dad turns his daughters into champion wrestlers. It is actually based on a real life story— of the Phogat sisters, three of whom have won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, while the others have won medals and accolades in other National and global championships. My sister went for the movie and came back gushing about it. But when she came to the part where the wrestler screen-dad Mr Phogat chops off his daughters’ locks because they were using their hair as an excuse to get out of wrestling, I felt hugely uncomfortable. There it was again—to be successful you must be like a man.

dangal

Part of my discomfort stems from personal reasons, I must admit. My long hair has been a very, very important, distinctive part of who I am. But then, there are lots of women who like to keep their hair short, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.

What felt entirely wrong was that it appeared like the dad forced the daughters to renounce their femininity—so that he could turn them into the sons he never had. (Apparently, in the beginning the movie shows that the family had an intense desire for sons so that they could take the wrestling tradition forward.) But ultimately it leads the women to success and glory—so all’s well that ends well. And everyone goes home clapping.

I would have actually bought that theory, too, if not for the little fact that this past year, Sakshi Malik, an actual female wrestler, brought home an Olympic Bronze for India—and she hasn’t chopped her hair off at all. What’s more, PV Sindhu, the Olympic Silver medal winner, hasn’t chopped off her hair either. In fact, there have been five women in all who have brought home Olympic medals for India: Karnam Malleswari, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu—and none of them has close-cropped hair. Deepa Karmakar who came whizzingly close to a a Bronze medal in the gymnastics category last year doesn’t have cropped hair either. And our very own home-grown Tennis World Champion Sania Mirza is the pinnacle of femininity: long hair, nose-ring, uber-cool and always stylish.

The reason I have chosen long hair to illustrate my point is that long hair is perhaps the most marked of feminine attributes. And by choosing hair, I want to point this out: you don’t need to renounce your femininity to be a feminist.

All the above mentioned women would surely be defined as feminists—breaking the mould with their endeavours. Sania Mirza famously even wore a T-shirt that proclaimed “Well-behaved women never make history.” The thing to be emphasised, though, is always this: feminism isn’t the opposite of femininity. You don’t have to be ‘like a man’ to be strong and successful.

In fact, when we make ‘manly’ attributes the standard of success, we are actually upending the years and years of protest and battle against the belittling of women. We are subliminally spreading the message that ‘womanly’ attributes are worthless and signs of weakness: that femininity cannot lead you to strength and success, only masculinity can. And that, ironically, is the reinforcement of patriarchy—presenting woman and womanliness as possessed of far less value than man and manliness.

Feminism evolved to give women their rightful place in society—so long denied to them. In effect, therefore, to be a feminist is to embrace your womanhood with pride, to wear your femininity like a badge of honour. In trying to be ‘like a man’ you’re merely succumbing to the kind of society whose greatest praise for a daughter is that “She is the SON of her parents.” That is to say, in transforming from daughter to son, she has reached a higher level of evolution.

That kind of mentality is precisely what feminists have vehemently opposed, but when we try to “become the men that we wanted to marry,” I am sorry but we’re playing right into the hands of the chauvinist brigade.

In the stages of evolution of a society, where misogyny is widespread with things like female foeticide being the norm, it is understandable why you would first need to prove yourself to men, just to show that not only are you equal, you can also be better. But as we move toward greater evolution, it is important for women themselves to value their womanhood, and not fall into the trap of woman-shaming.

In essence, what we need to become is the kind of woman we want. Let no one tell you what is womanly and what is the meaning of being a woman. YOU, yourself, are a woman—and YOU get to define what that means—not a man. So if your inner woman finds expression in short hair and wrestling, go for it, by all means. But if your inner woman loves both— long hair and wrestling— let nobody tell you that it can’t be done.

And if your inner woman loves all traditionally womanly things— long hair and cooking, for instance, that’s perfectly fine too—let no one tell you it’s something inferior.  The only thing is to be strong enough to decide for yourself and stand up for yourself—and for other, weaker people. That is the essence of a strong woman.

To be fair to Mr Phogat, though, I watched his interview on a TV show a few days ago, and perhaps by some cosmic coincidence, he was asked the ‘hair’ question. His reply was mighty impressive, I have to admit.

“Looks are fine,” he said. “I get that you want to look beautiful. But when you have done something substantial in life, when you have stacked up your achievements, only then you must focus on your looks.”

No arguments with that, Mr Phogat. No arguments at all.

{Stay tuned for Part II where we will actually discuss Fairytales.}