Monday, 24 October 2016

Miss Vanity Insanity - When Did You Leave The Building?

Dear Previously-Vain Mom,

I know exactly what’s happening with you of late. It’s shopping season and yea babe, of course, it’s time to treat yo’self, to go back on all your Pinterest highlights and your impractical wishlists to pull them out of their wretched misery. It’s time to approach the pent-up towers of day-time fantasies that whizz you on the streets with your little daughter. You’re wearing matchy-matchy, hot-off-the ramp fall outfits, even though deep down you know there’s no such thing as fall in Mumbai. I can feel your dizzying excitement, your shaky hands reaching out for that icy blue, one-shoulder cape-top that you’d wear to theatre, friendly cocktails, brunches, what-the-hell, maybe even your kid’s cramped school parties, just to add a touch of wonderland to the whole meh set-up. I am with you woman, striding along with lace-up boots with pom-poms that nobody would really understand, even though I've taken care to make everything about them (and not the boho-tassled jacket that I almost got my spidery shoulders wriggling in).

I know love. As unlikely as it sounds, you haven’t had the time (or the inclination) to go to the salon for months at a stretch, growing out your eyebrows hoping that they’d be as “on fleek” as Carla Delevigne’s in the bargain. (Upper lips? What, isn’t it Movember already?)

We've all been there. A clumsy stack of wishlists and to-do beauty appointments all neglected — taking a hard blow with the ever-changing indices of time and money. You cross by a salon in a mall while getting your groceries and you’re wondering, “Oh can I go in there for five minutes, just for a pep talk if nothing else?” And if the pretentious stylist with the mermaid hair insists, perhaps a new haircut and whatever else will get your game face on.

Pff…just keep walking. Fast!

I know you think just how risqué it seems to place yourself above your family — even in your mind. Maybe you haven’t even had the chance to think about what your kid’s Santa wishlist is or just how much your loving husband needs a new laptop. You don’t want to even get to your “pocket-size” realities, wincing at the mounting holiday bills that won’t look the other way even while you do a furtive swipe.

So you do the most parent-thing ever.

You make a futuristic-looking budget sheet with Draconian red highlights for where you should be cutting back and cutesy green stars for where you just can’t. You make amends to your lifestyle. For that week, there’s gonna be no takeaways and no wine. Insufferable yes but you gotta suck it up. We’ll call it detoxing OK. You’re now close to blocking your favourites on your shopping destination. “Know what? I’ll go right now and swipe my credit card just to show just how much I want to marry you, red block heels.”

With bated breath, you get to the store, cross-crossing and shoving your way to your trophy. You’re through with the two stages leading up to a purchase -
1. Getting down on your knees and proposing.
2. Justifying your unadulterated love to an imaginary jury, one that features Morgan Freeman just for his intimidation quotient.

But then, out of the clear blue sky, there comes this creepy voice that sounds so much like your mom, “Drop the reckless heels and turn back right now!”

In your mind, you’d imagined a 5-piece orchestra to celebrate that moment when you get your hands on those seductive beauties. I mean just look at them. They’re elevating your naturally-distressed tee to glam rock status in one awkward slip. But that voice — uggh — as always, it’s a party pooper, right? Blinking back tears, you step away from the counter — dishevelled, sweaty, brow-growing, unhappy mom leading the way to a sweet teen, blinged to perfection.

Meanwhile, your cute little princess has wandered off to find impractical furry boots for herself. Now, it’s your turn to be that menacing voice. You look at her sternly, thinking, “Yea, yea, drop the act, Droopy. I invented it.”
“We’re not getting you furry boots!”

And you have the jury on your side. In a trice, her adorable pleading yelps have turned into blaring screeches in some kind of supersonic alien frequency. Everybody is staring at you. You’re a haggard mom who’s had her candy snatched away from her. You have every right to be made of stone. That sweet girl from the queue is now strutting towards you with her “Aww. Have a heart” look. You fight the urge to run with her shopping spoils. Before she can say anything to you, you say to her, “Wait till you have yours.” You vaguely expect her to giggle in understanding but she looks at you and says the last thing you’d want to hear, “Come on Aunty, it’s Diwali.”

Wait, what? Yes, you have a kid so you’re an Aunty. But biologically speaking, that girl was old enough to have a kid the size of yours. Arrrgh! So now you’re gritting your teeth violently and looking more and more like an addict OD-ing in broad daylight. Your kid continues to stare at you, clutching tight to her furry bunny boots, with Bambi eyes.

This was supposed to be a happy, self-pampering, shopping bags-swinging-in-arms sort of day. And there you are. Having a breakdown.

You take a deep breath and take the boots from her, white-noise in the background. You make a beeline for the counter. One short click and paper-rustling later, you’re on the other side. Without your block heels.
But strangely, you feel a heavy weight shedding away instantly. And when you look at your daughter now, you don’t see an annoying, clinging predator raiding your shopping lists and personal ambitions. You see a little girl, so much a part of you that her radiant smile is the only thing that matters. Sometimes, even before yours.

It’s Diwali and you may not have got even close to getting what you want for yourself. You may have had spells of longing and mood-swings thinking about how much you need to refuel your fashion and beauty lusts. You may even cut the detoxing short — it’s not your best “Happy Holidays” version but you do what you need to cope. Sooner or later, your husband offers to take you shopping, and you’re back to feeling loved and wanted and sane.

And one day, most likely during a Diwali wardrobe cleanse, you will stumble upon a completely impractical, utterly gorgeous, chiffon halter with choker beads. Wearing with pride an expensive price tag. Hesitantly, you’ll take the trip down the memory lane. You will chance upon the the impulsively-broke girl version of you in her early twenties with an empty wallet and a closet full of secret clothes she’s still to wear for her dreamy fairytale moment that’s yet to happen.

You’ll smile to yourself, hold the weightless relic from the past to the sun and wonder, “Miss Vanity Insanity — when did you leave the building?”

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Indian Parents, You Need To Talk To Your Kids About Sex

I've never had “the talk” with my parents. You know, the one about birds and bees. My mum passed away just as I hit puberty so I don’t quite know if she would've been the one to make me wiser. I do vaguely recall my older sister taking me to a quiet corner and telling me it’s time I know about the red river and its periodic flow and why it all happens, scientifically speaking. But I don’t think she went on to tell me about the parallel journey of an egg down to the fallopian tube — which may just happen to meet any random bloke of a sperm if I'm not too cautious. She merely gave me a hazy metaphor to suggest that I'm no longer a little girl and on to becoming a woman. Which to me read as “OH, I get to wear bras, revamp my wardrobe and put on make-up!” The cautionary tales of love and lust reached me in my family circle only in my twenties.

If you’re not from India, you may probably be wondering why. Were my parents negligent or perhaps, was it the idea of a dad talking to his daughter about sex just too awkward and bumbling to approach? I mean yes, we all know how awkward the talk is. Nobody wants to get a sex talk from their parents. We’d rather sit through the torture in school with our friends, mocking and pointing at each other’s ovaries. (Well, I got my first sex ed in a girls’ convent.)

But if you’re from India, you would know that this is absolutely normal. Parents just don’t look at their children as sexual beings and vice versa. So you wouldn't usually find homes where you see your dad briefly stealing a kiss on the lips from your mom. And you wouldn't find daughters or sons inviting their lovers to the dining table and holding hands with them openly. (Of course, that’s not a rule of thumb and things are beginning to change but speaking statistically, such seemingly natural behaviours are reserved for the liberal upper classes only.)

If you grew up in the nineties in an Indian household, you’d remember the family TV time memories where you’d stumble upon a condom commercial. Since you had no idea what that is but it looked interesting, you’d ask the only people whom you consider as encyclopaedic. But when you asked your dad about it, he was just being weird, mumbling words to the effect that it’s for grown-ups. Of course, when you grew up, it was your turn to blush during a condom commercial.

That’s the way it is. When I was growing up, all our sex education came from older kids. But they either glorified sex as something one should experience with someone you really care about or condoned it as forbidden fruit. Nobody gave you any insightful inputs to practical every-day dilemmas such as:
  • What do you do when you, as a girl, have all these urges to really go at it with just about anyone and because you've heard about pleasuring being just the terrain of boys, you think you may be a lunatic or a tramp for having such thoughts?
  • Should you, as a boy, be staring down directly at a woman’s breasts and drawing all kinds of conclusions about her from the way she’s dressed, whom she’s out with, and where she gets her dinner?
  • What do you do when you find yourself in a situation when you're in a relationship and one of you is ready and more than willing to go all the way while the other one is not?
  • What do you do when someone touches you in a way that makes everyone think that they’re only being affectionate when, deep down, you know that there was something seedy in that touch?
So in the absence of your parents offering you a practical word on a subject that is as taboo as the Nazi swastika, when you encounter the situations above, there is one dominant feeling, one that precedes over any personal harm that you may be unknowingly causing yourself by keeping mum about it. The feeling that you've let your parents down. That you’re doing something so sinful that if word got to your parents, you’d lose face. So you go on with your life without confiding in your parents as if nothing’s wrong, learning your own value lessons through mistakes and taking advice from your peers. 

As a young Indian girl, you must've probably been through this. An intrusive aunt first compliments you on how you’re blooming. And in the next sentence, she asks you if you’re getting some. Well, she doesn't exactly say that but the most popular euphemism used is “Is it love or is it Dove?". Then, she’ll give you “useful advice” on how you should concentrate on your studies now and that love is a waste of time and when the time is right, you’ll find your dream man — the one your parents like. But to your brother, she’ll jokingly say, “Beta, abhi time hai. Jitne maze karne hai kar lo par soch samajh ke.” [uproar of laughter] “Son, have all the fun you want now but be cautious.” Of course, there are many ways that a statement like that can be interpreted but something in the laugh that follows tells you that it was laced with a hint of coitus.

When I trace all these little casual sexisms that unconsciously set the wide gap between the vague and confusing love/sex lessons offered to girls vs the ones offered to boys by elders, it elucidates an important dichotomy. My parents may have surely not intended to raise me any differently from my brothers, giving us equal opportunities and undivided attention. However, there was a vital gap in one department that became clear as I was growing up. Sure, the elders were not comfortable with the sexualized nuances in our swiftly-changing personalities. But they could still get used to the idea that my brother was having premarital sex, or having a life that didn't strictly adhere to a traditional moral code as long as he wasn't causing himself or anybody else any harm.

But for me, as a girl, that was a total abomination. And not just to my parents. To everybody who knew me. Even when my dad didn't strictly define different social rules for my brother and me, the neighbours did. Or the extended family offered advice on how I should not be frequenting places where they serve alcohol or smoke or dance for they’re no place for a girl from a good family to be in. Or someone anonymous suggested to my dad that if he let me come home late at night after partying with friends, he wouldn't find me a good suitor for marriage and that I would be a “lost cause.”

I think of all the times I was told by even the most random of people how to dress, how to talk, and how to sit in a lady-like manner. I think of the times when I was coming home late, alone on my bike, and the entire journey, I kept thinking, “You know this wouldn't have been half as terrifying if I were in my brother’s shoes right now.” I think of all the cautionary tales that came with a moral that girls should never make the first move and girls should never give themselves away freely.

And no matter how progressive a nation we are in the path to become, no matter how much we laud our girls for doing us proud, no matter how much we march on the streets with anti-rape culture slogans, it is this very absence of sexual freedom that’ll continue to be a contributor to sexual frustration, sex crimes and a deep misogynistic culture in India. 

Until we develop a sex-positive atmosphere in our homes, talk to our sons and daughters openly about their sexuality, they will continue to phase out important themes such as rights to their body, consent and personal responsibility. In the absence of sex-positivity, the boys of the family, who subconsciously grew up with women-morality themes will butcher a girl’s character by the way she dresses, where they meet her or how open she is with them. They will draw the line between the girl they take home to meet their parents and the girl whom they openly flirt with, stare lewdly at, stalk, harass, abuse…cos, well in her case, she was asking for it. And the girls of the family will have two options. They’ll have to put up a fight against all that to be labelled as feminazis or “lost causes”. Or they’ll lead a dual life, develop self-esteem issues, use sex as a weapon, trivialize the right to their own body and complain about falling for assholes, well, if they’re lucky enough not to get physically and emotionally scarred for life.

I recently watched a movie called Pink that’s got everyone take to the social media to rave about it. As a film, it brought forth the sharp divide between the way the society looks at a rape victim and the accused perpetrator of the crime. It shone a torch on the questions that run through the mind of most men and women alike when they hear of another sexual crime. “When and where did it happen?” “If in a hotel room or an isolated place in the middle of the night, what was a girl from a good family doing there?” “In whose company was she?” “Was she under the influence of alcohol?” “What! She lived independently. OK, so we don’t really what goes on in her life. Maybe she’s a prostitute.” Pink is an important movie because it has started a dialogue about the divide between the way girls and boys are raised in India. I watched the movie with my mother-in-law and we discussed about everything that was wrong with our society. We talked about sex of all things! For me, that was a novelty, even though I'm a grown woman now with a sex life of my own.

While in rural places or very conservative families, a dialogue around sex may not even be an option, it helps to see that in urban India, families are opening up to the possibility that girls and boys in their adolescence are most likely going to enter into relationships and explore their bodies. It helps, if you, as parents, talk to them about the roadblocks they will encounter and the tough or tricky choices, especially around consent, they’ll have to make, no matter what the situation.

To reject the notion that your children are going to have sex before marriage is not protecting them, it’s failing them. It’s failing humanity as I don’t think there could be a greater education to a young child as the right to one’s own mind and body. And that education — it has to start from home.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Start From Scratch - With Cardamoms

For Lalitha, there was hardly every any time for an uninterrupted cup of hot chai in recluse. One would think that for a woman of over fifty who lived alone in her self-imposed exile, it shouldn't be such an ordeal to find alone-time. Surrounded with lush mango trees and mogra bushes in blooming white and yellow clusters, she rarely found an urge to leave her idyllic environs. Everything from dairy to vegetables to expensive silks and rare-blue china found its way to her doorstep. Lalitha was an avid buyer with an eye for details. She had learned early on in life the art of buying from her mother, a shrewd, poker-faced lady who never let an emotion surface while haggling with hawkers. It was this heirloom quality that had served Lalitha more than anything in the world - the ability to keep a calm exterior in the presence of the most turbulent tempests.

But while her power of negotiation helped her pluck the choicest of material possessions by merely a stretch of a hand, it came to no avail in relationships. After her husband passed away prematurely to malaria, she had provided all of the hands in raising her son, Viraj, who was at a tender age of nine when they were struck by the blow of death. Perhaps, it was this callous shadow cast by an early loss of a life partner that made her distant to the family that lived on. Slowly, she had moved away from her husband's family as well as her own to find sanctity in the house she had built lovingly with her husband. But to her son, Viraj, she clung on. He was the last relic holding her close to her husband, the memories of whom were waning, as if he had never existed in her life, not even in her large bed.

Eventually, Viraj too moved on to pursue his higher studies abroad. He fell in love and married, slipping away little by little to the prolific milestones and ambitions of life. Lalitha, even though embittered by the prospect of loneliness at first, took the blow of it in a stride. Viraj urged his mother to follow saying that a new life awaited her with open arms.

"I may be getting too old for you to understand me, Veer. But for me, life stands where I am. Right here, right now."

With those words, they had drifted apart, to meet every year with nostalgic warmth and presents on Christmas holidays. Every year, she knitted for Viraj a red sweater, for his wife a tasteful crocheted blouse, and with a new addition to the family, her grandson, she had gone far and beyond to include blankets, shoes, socks and everything that she could get her ageing eyes to carve out for her only remaining flesh and blood.

She had made some close friends in the neighbourhood, all of whom, flooded her house on the weekends for an extended sangeet sandhya, her signature freshly-made buns and butter chicken , and house-sangria smelling of a gorgeous blend of citrusy, jasmine hints. Her house to her friends was a welcome haven. Even though bare of the sound of the hustle-bustle of family or the noisy chuckles of kids, her house had this impeccably clean, non-judgemental sort of aura and the only foul odours that would cross you were those that came from her pets.

"Ramshankar, you're really not yourself today. Work with me, will you? Veer is on his way from Nashik. He should be here in the next half-hour." Lalitha's voice boomed across the vacant two-story edifice that was looming with a touch of ghostliness as the podgy neighbourhood set about quietly to retire for an early afternoon siesta.

"Yes bhabhi. You don't worry now. Sit here and relax a bit."

Ramshankar, Lalitha's loyal man-servant and overseer of things, lightly held her hand and escorted her to her armchair resting by the white wooden porch that ran all the way across the entrance to her house. This arm-chair was Lalitha's favourite spot in the entire house. In the day, it was awash with combed sunlight that also delicately dazzled a small pond set right across the front yard of Lalitha's  bungalow. The trees, with its leaves touched golden, swayed erotically to the light breeze that made this sultry part of the day bearable. Lalitha reluctantly sat down to catch her breath and dry her dark, wavy hair with red tints where it should be grey. Her hair was glorious when it was drying so she never fussed about it that much.

She made an attempt to awaken to the cause for celebration that was evident in the lavish fare that she'd been slaving to prepare for her son since dawn. She'd taken care to tone down the spices, keeping in mind Veer's metamorphosed palate that could neither handle a generous hand of spices nor her favourite herb, coriander.

It was perhaps the intoxication of the predictability of solitary life, that made her miss Viraj less than she cared to admit. Moreover, as the years went by, she realized she couldn't permeate through the profound barriers set since Viraj's resisting adolescence days. She accepted the gulf between them as fate and let him go, replacing his slipping youth with friends, plants and pets.

Lalitha heard the sound of tyres on gravel before she saw the taxi come to a dwindling halt at her doorstep. Her first instinct was to run to her son, bare-footed and expectant. But a sinister feeling of being a victim of fate took over and she continued to sit. With palpable breathing, she craned her head to see Viraj. She could see, even from a distance, his lion-like, slanted eyes, blazing with fire in the sun. His thin lips set into a wide smile as he waved to his mother. She couldn't help but blush as she found herself staring directly at a ghost from the past - her husband. Just as he ran towards her, the kheer that had been simmering in the kitchen, sent a loving whiff of sweet cardamoms to usher him in her memories. In that moment, her hostility faded away a little at a time, forever. She was unsuspectingly sailing towards the long-abandoned shores of the past.

Veer was seven years old. It was a Sunday. Her husband and Veer sat by the family table, manipulated to be directly in front of the TV. Mahabharata was showing the episode where Bheem was going to wolf down an entire vessel of kheer made by Kunti. Just as Bheem wiped the vessel clean, Viraj would also sit with his cauldron of kheer. She watched in disbelief, cheering violently, as her son emptied the contents of a family portion of kheer in less than five minutes. He emerged from inside the vessel, bathed in milk and cardamoms, with a victorious smile.

She didn't know how long she sat in the gleaning arms of the past for when she pried her misty eyes open, she saw Viraj, kneeling before her, holding her hand tightly, never wanting to let go of her again.
This short story was written as my entry to the Tata Literature Live MyStory contest. If you enjoyed reading this, I request you to vote for my entry here on or before 2nd October:

Thank you readers! XOXO

Monday, 29 August 2016

New Motherhood - The Spoilers (Series)

There are these defining moments in your life when you realize you've finally got your shit together and you're doing the best you can in your microcosmic world and it makes you feel elated.

If you're a mom and you're reading this, I know what you're thinking. "Pfff...Like that ever happens." 

But if you're going to be a mom, I know that you've been struck by this feeling more than once. For starters, the moment you entered into that comfy zone where you openly started expressing an interest in going at it unarmed (without your birth control ammunition) it was greeted with an unreal enthusiasm and wild cheers from your entourage. Some of them said ," Oh I'm so happy for you dear!" or "I'm gonna be such a cool aunt!". The rest, the ones who were already on the other side, immediately got to the business of referencing formula feeds, stroller brands and words you'd heard for the first time like 'epidurals', 'doulas' and 'lactation' were tossed around. Despite all the mumbo-jumbo, everyone gave you the general reassurance that you're already on top of your game and you're gonna be a great mom! No wonder then, you start anticipating, a bit too obsessively, for those two pinky-winky lines, looking forward to your first pee and candle-lit ovulation nights.

But it also gets you wondering, "Well, I've been an aunt before. I know what's coming. But I mean do I really know what's coming? What are these mums with their dark secrets and darker under-eye pools not telling me?"

And then you think, maybe I'll Google about it, you know, just to get a heads-up. But Google's known to freak you out. Remember the time you typed "Headache" and "Symptoms" into it and you were led to believe you may potentially have meningitis?

Here's what your mommy friends may be telling you: "Motherhood is challenging." Here's what they aren't telling you: "On occasions, it is bone-crushing. And nerve-wrecking." What they're telling you: "Motherhood is empowering." What they're not telling you: "Ever tried negotiating with a toddler for basically anything? We don't know shit girl!"

The truth is we, as moms, may pretend to hold ourselves together, not need help, know everything and have everything under control. To a would-be mother, motherhood looks calming, serene, like in the movies, sitting in a plush garden in the lightness of delicate breezes and baby talc scents. But in reality, you're constantly imploding from within, the cracks of which may come to the surface once in a blue moon, if not in the presence of your loved ones, maybe, in a dark, undemanding closet.

"Becoming a mommy is like being reborn," a wise woman told me in my last few, painstaking weeks before labour. But I didn't get time to reflect on that statement as I was busy lounging in my own hell, like a turtle on its back, all pines and needles, my mind getting bogged down by labour horror stories and medical trivia I didn't need to know about.

From one woman to another, it sure gets unnerving to step into a new role, especially when you're suddenly getting privy to all this information that you don't know what to do with right away. But just for fun, while you carve out your own presence in this anything-but-dull gig of motherhood, I thought I'll give away my top spoilers. Just in case you were wondering what mommies aren't telling you.

Warning: Spoiler Alert!
Disclaimer: But again, this is my experience so it may not be true for you. At all.

1. It's not about you anymore (and yet it is):

When you're in your pregnancy, everyone's wondering if you're well-fed, even if you look like you've eaten for four, and everyone's complimenting you of how your skin's got the peachy glow and how motherhood is doing you wonders. Well, hold on to that. Record it if you want to. Cos the moment your hatchling is out, the universe moves on. The good news is, so will you. You'll be happy to give away the spotlight and everything else (and a little more) for your tiny wonder, whom you're mostly terrified of. But there will be some days you'd hear yourself screaming from within, "Yea, yea, you're cute. But can it just be about me for a little while? How about you give me five minutes to take a shower?" But then again, you feel the tender searching hands of your baby at night, smiling ear-to-ear in her sleep in response to your touch. You overhear your dad saying how much HIS little girl has bloomed and transformed into a responsible adult.

And you know you're not invisible after all.

2. You're gonna hate breastfeeding (at first):

Sure you've seen those pictures of moms oozing with Ambrosia-like energy with their babies latching on, the happy sucklings they are. And you've found yourself, mostly just before labour, staring down at your nipples wondering how it all works. You don't have a goddamn clue but you still think you're internally thriving. Brushing past the awe-inspiring miracle of birth that's left you in a glorious high, when you get to the point of actually attending to your bawling baby's hunger pang, guess what? Neither one of you knows what to do. Enter the lactation specialist. (Thankfully mine was a woman.) She's this stone-faced person who's been assigned and designed to humiliate your upper anatomy any chance she gets. She manhandles them at least ten times a day, prescribes you lactation powders and watches you suffer as you figure it all out. But stay put. Cos once you get the hang of it, you'd find it's the easiest, the most gratifying thing in the world to do. Just pop open your shirt and watch your wailing baby turn into a monk. (Potentially a disturbing visual.)

3. You'll never pee alone.

And I don't mean that figuratively, like "Hey, I can't mentally tune off my baby even for ten seconds to take a piss". I mean the moment you feel a biological urge, it'll be sucker-punched with an equally life-pressing emergency in your household. So, you tell yourself you've been doing Kegels religiously and you can hold it for some more time. You comfort yourself with the thought that you'll make a mini-vacay out of your next bathroom break. You glide into the bathroom after everything has quieted down, the smell of strawberries luring you to wash your hair. But the moment you reach your sacred sanctuary and peel your pants off — I hate to tell you this —you will hear a shrieking voice. Your toddlers will be barging through the door cos they have lost a crayon or your husband will need a baby wipe or when you're alone, the doorbell will ring.

And that is a universal truth you just have to deal with.

4. The moment your baby starts moving his limbs, it's apocalypse now!

Oh what a miraculous thing to witness your little one explore the world on her own! Before you know it, they're already up and about, running off wherever their little feet can take them. Except, they won't be running as much as they'd be running into things. That harmless glass-top table with easy wheels —it's now a death trap. Your open window on a high-rise ushering in that lovely monsoon breeze — now whizzes in an air of premonition. You'd be tempted to gasp every time they just try to cover ten feet of floor space without toppling over like a pile of dominoes. But please. Save the melodrama cos there are still unexplored staircases to fall from.

5. Welcome Guilt trips (And Chocolate-binging)

Mommy guilt is the most common syndrome plaguing mothers. I thought it'll pass as time moves forward. But I'm pretty sure as the years go on, the pain of it becomes overbearing. Some mommies realize that maybe it's time to channel that guilt and pass it onto their kids. That's when you'd hear your mum say, "You don't know just how many sleepless nights I've been through with you." Or, "When you become a mom, you'll know what I feel."
Here's the thing. Most moms feel what they're doing is not enough. If you're a working mom, you're hampering your child's need for affection. If you're a stay-at-home mom, you're not challenging yourself enough. Right from the point when you choose an epidural over natural pain, you invoke raised eyebrows all around you. Even a ten-second elevator ride can have you emerge from the elevator sobbing hysterically cos a neighbour observed  how your three-year old daughter ought to be wearing slips underneath her white tee.

Or not. Cos, you just have to tell yourself everyday that you're doing the best you can. And the only person that you need to be is a happy mom who has it together and knows, or at least pretends to know, what she's doing. Just throw in new statistics in your favour to old-time, judgemental moms and watch them get baffled.

I'd love to go on and tell you more things about what's in store for you. But maybe, you don't need to know this after all. All you need to know is that beyond the dirt and labour, frustration and mood swings are doting scribbles and finger paints, random giggle loops and first words that start with “Ma”, and tiny hands and toes that latch on to you for your every approval. Beyond the wall of judgement, there lies a renewed bond with all mothers and you may find that you have more things in common with your mom than you had ever imagined. 

So brace yourself. For your world is going to go upside down. But then again, maybe it's because you're looking for monsters under the bed with your toddler :).

If you enjoyed this, I'd love to hear from you readers! Be my guest and write in about your experiences and your shared wisdom.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Your Love Is A Slow, Sweet Poison

Your love — it comes to me like a slow, sweet poison,
Creeping under my skin, latching itself to my bones — light, unseen,
Smoothing me with its luscious, bittersweet kiss of melancholia,
Ruffling me with liquid desire — the highs of first love, feverish and pristine.

Your love — it gives me away, bit by bit, unravelling the yarn of my existence.
Set to motion, my longings run asunder, from my soul to meet your body in midsummer.
Call you repeatedly. Kiss you in dark alleyways. What's to hold me back?
The air between us is made of fireflies, blazing with our locked lips, fulfilled then, now unremembered.

Your love— it is a potent drug; it has me living on the edge of reason,
And off your caresses, your tender words, your signatures on my body’s blank canvas.
It is a white onion, peeling away its stinging layers to reveal nothing but itself,
While undressing me slowly, stripping me of all that was mine, in a state of tingling otherness.

Your love — its first rain on me was an unexpected shower in midsummer.
The taste of it was everlasting, dripping like honey, unctuous to my quivering mouth.
It lay me gently on a bed of thorns, hooked on a feeling, wrapped up in my own arbitrary nothings.
Your love — it came to me like a slow, sweet poison; its perfume still clings to my fingers, to my black shroud.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Let's Redefine Manners

“Now sweetheart, let’s revise this. What will you say to every one of your guests as they leave?”
“Thank you for coming. I really enjoyed your company.”
“Good girl.”
“But dad…”
“No buts.”
“It’s my birthday party. Why do I have to invite the entire neighbourhood? I’m pretty sure I’m not going to have fun with the Mathur brats. They’ll mess up my toys any chance they get.”
“It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to be polite to our guests. Now let’s do this again. This time, do it with a smile.”

I gave him a forced smile and then stretched it all the way to stress upon the fact that it’s mighty fake.

My dad, as we were growing up, always told us how important it was to keep up appearances, maintain relationships, avoid slander at any cost and always be accommodating and respectful.

It is an important time-honoured lesson to teach your kids as they’re growing up. Manners are of utmost significance. They’re a mirror to good upbringing. They’re the one thing that you can depend on to bail you out of most social crises you encounter in your adult life — and, mind you, there’ll be situations aplenty where they’d give you a fighting chance to win.

As Indians, as an inherent part of our culture, we’re just taught to suck it up and be respectful. To mince our words. To open our houses to uninvited guests. To share our small plate of food. To never say ‘No’ to elders, and if it’s absolutely necessary, to soft-cushion the impact of it. To run errands against our will for the pados waali aunty, even though our schedules may be running as crazy as that of a political candidate during elections.

I have grown up keeping this valued, sometimes stifling, lesson in the back of my mind. And it is only now, as an adult raising a child of my own in the big city, that I have to say with gloomy realization: It is time to toss this universally accepted, age-old attachment to manners in the trash.

It’s not because I think my parents were wrong. It’s just that I don’t necessarily think that manners are awfully significant in today’s context. My parents lived in quaint townships most of their lives, with their own circle of people who’d be ready to bail them out of life-altering emergencies (or help them babysit while they enjoy a movie date). They had job security for life, a good work-life balance with no tweets to answer and no self-perceived social media pressures, giving them enough time in hand to volunteer for charity work, social obligations and cultural events. More importantly, getting from point A to B in the towns we lived never took more than fifteen minutes, unless we were visiting another city. Time hardly came into the equation when we had to step out of the house. The only thing that we had to worry about was to be fashionably late cos getting held up by traffic was a rarity.

We had house-parties over the weekend spent playing dark room and Pictionary with our friends, while our parents swayed to the sound of oldies, roaring laughter emerging from the living room as we tried to keep as quiet and still as possible, in the backdrop of large, lavish spreads of home-cooked buffets and shandies. You get the picture. Of course, come Monday and our dads would be dutifully back to their eight-to-five jobs and our mums would be back to their gruelling groundhog days of clearing the aftermath of hosting parties and making mundane life happy and easy for us — while also finding enough breathing space to gossip about Mr.Sharma’s sleazy drunken comment and Mrs. Roy scandalously “smoking with the men”.

What a wonderful, upbeat thing it was to grow in a small township. No wonder we have such good manners.

Cut to today. You live in a big city. You’re a parent who’s constantly racing against time to get your kid to school punctually. You hop on in the elevator of your high-rise building and some random guy holds it up cos his wife’s probably forgotten to pack pickles in his lunch box and she is sorting the choicest ones for him as her morning endearment to him…while we continue to wait. Another girl, probably an alien, is new to the concept of ‘no-network in elevators’ and starts to get really nasal and high-pitched with her Helloooos (which briefly takes you back to Adele’s version of it). When you finally make it to the bottom, as the doors open, anxious disaster survivors (I can only assume) are storming in before you can get out. You fight the urge to tread on their feet with your pointy heels. Anyway, you head out and the first thing you’re greeted by to start your conceivably uneventful commute is a giant stash of dog poop parked right in your walkway. Suddenly, the day is not so uneventful. Now, you’re an avatar in a game involving jumping over puddles, suspicious piles of gunk and in-your-face garbage dumps. As a mandatory Monsoon-level skill in Mumbai, you’re also required to twirl with your kid in your arms to avoid speeding car splashes over your kid’s crisp, clean uniform. You save your hot breath of fire, your choicest cuss words, for His Highness the rickshaw driver who averts his face like an angry wife on hearing where you’d like him to take you. But since you’re taught some restraint on your part, you start with basic manners 101, notching it up to kind pleas, and then in vain you try to reason with him. But hey, how do you even reason with a guy playing deaf? So out comes a stream of words you’d heard through your school cafeteria and road rages for his benefit.

Anyway, you drop your kid to school. Of course, you have been delayed by unforeseen forces and your caffeine urge is now soaring to the skies. So you think, what the hell, I’ll stop for some coffee. Your local barista comes immediately to mind with his “come hither” expressions. You get there, heaving and expectant, but what do you see? There’s a huge line. But you try to empathize. I mean you’re part of the crowd, right? People need coffee to get their motors up and running. So you stand in the queue. When you’re one person away from the counter, the young boy in front of you decides he can’t tear himself away from early morning social media traffic even to place his order. Come on, he’s very important in the virtual world unlike you. So he continues tapping away and smirking to himself. The seemingly miffed barista, who may just wind up accidentally spitting in your coffee instead of his, tries to rush with his order with pointed questions. You’re a well-mannered person. So you look the other way and give the boy a break. But the person behind you is now persistently nudging you to move further, constantly shoving you with their leather bag. Apparently, now it’s your fault that the line is not moving. You give them a nasty stare and a bonus grunt and continue on the journey to chase your golden caramel latte.

Phew…You’ve dropped your kid to school, against all odds, you've had a great cup of coffee, and now you’re back home. You've got that “what do I do next” sort of vibe going on. You gobble down your breakfast cereal with vitamins. And just when you’re settling down to use your precious me-time to do your own work, the bell rings. It’s the neighbour. Well, of course. You’re a stay-at-home mom and you can spare some time for chai and gossip. You nod curtly through the conversations and give monosyllabic answers. Not hint enough. So then you say you really should be getting back to work. “What work?” “Oh, the writing.” “How do you find time for hobbies,” comes the curious afterthought. You explain how it’s not a hobby and that it really is your work. “Well, so are you paid for it?” You’re not one to exaggerate so you’re forced to tell them you’re not. And suddenly, even though, your neighbour’s giving you a pitiful look of understanding, you’re really, really angry. But thankfully, good manners come to the rescue. You bite your lip and shrug your shoulders.

Now here’s the thing. I want my kid to be well-behaved. I do think it is important to reward kindness with gracious words, love with affectionate smiles and thoughtfulness with gratitude. I want them to follow the manual of good upbringing as we did. But I'm not a big fan of it. I don’t hold good manners above keeping your level of sanity or holding your ground. I don’t want them growing up to accept things and keep silent in good manners. I don’t want them to say they’re OK when they clearly aren't.

I don’t want them to be afraid of saying ‘No’ in the guise of not wanting to hurt sentiments, especially when it is imperative to say it. When manners come in the way of honesty, I think in the long run, it’s better to say bitter truths rather than not saying anything at all. Manners may be necessary in a lot of contexts, probably in also learning the art of shaping words that cannot be taken back, but I don’t think they’re the primal end we should be striving for in our kids for this time and age that comes with its own quirky stress inducers and self-proclaimed achievement indices.

So, kids of this generation, here’s a new clause to the manners lesson you have learned in school and at home. Good manners breed good manners. Most of the time. But watch out for assholery and douchebaggery. If you find them, f*** good manners.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Dodging the Creative Leech In A Digital Age

As an eighth grader, I hated writing essays, especially the ones that asked me to expound on an archaic social theory or convention, chock full of bizarre ideas, that seem as superfluous in present age as dial-up Internet access. Every take-home essay assignment on a Friday sat sulking in the nook of my study until it was stared at, shoved back under, and hastily brought back to surface on a Sunday evening. That’s when the bells of despair rang and the essay topic was clumsily moulded into a perfectly acceptable five-paragraph structure of cliches, paraphrases and cataclysmic arguments, unfortunately the tepid force of it all failing to rustle even a leaf in the world of literary debates. I didn't see the point of that whole ritual of forced writing. My English teacher, whom I both admired and avoided, rarely marked my assignments with anything other than “Good effort”, “Can do better” or “Work harder”.

And one uninspired weekend, I thought instead of fuming up my brain cells in the pressure cooker of my mind, I’d climb out of my languid mental landscape and find “inspiration” elsewhere. Since it was the pre-internet era, inspiration didn't come easy. I’d have to wear sneakers. I went to a senior’s house who was a Whiz at organizing ideas and making her words seem important and clever. I asked her for her thoughts on the subject of Capitalism vs Socialism. And help she did! She taught me how to draw up a convincing argument, cited examples from the Bible, quoted verses even. It was the best essay I had ever produced, the metaphors so far-reaching and profound. I was pretty damn proud of my work. Of course, it didn’t occur to my underfed ego that it was my friend’s work. Pfff! She didn’t actually sit through the pain of composing the essay, right? She just gave me a nudge, so to speak. I chartered that damn path on my own. I submitted my essay with a word of note to the teacher saying that I’d put my heart and soul into this one. As I anxiously waited for my essay to come back, after daydreaming at length about wide appreciation and applause, somewhere I found in myself a scratchy realization. I asked myself, “Would I have co-related examples from the Bible to socialism on my own?” “Is that what I really thought? Socialism trumps capitalism?” I warded off these as writer’s remorse and continued basking in the pre-glow of anticipatory fame. Like a delicate bowel that reveals itself one way or another, my moral compass soon rose above my delusions. My essay was returned ungraded with the hissing words, “See Me!”. I knew only too well the indictment that I was up against but had little to prepare for in my defence. The teacher called me to her office, gave me tea and biscuits and I sat there mindlessly, tracing jagged speed bumpers out of cookie crumbs to intercept the zipping motion of my honour.

I don’t recall what I felt at the time or each time when someone looked at my work and said it lacked originality except a jarring pang of shame. I have to say that as a writer who loves reading and one who is rather easily-impressed, I find it difficult to block out the beauty of words that threaten to cling to me with a permanent sticking charm, impossible to unfasten. Maybe some of these words found their way back into form in my writing. If done deliberately, with bonus adjectives and adverbs to masquerade as my own. Maybe, sometimes I had no damn clue what to say and in the process of working out how to get my factory up and running, I looked at what other people have already said, and it was funny how much their thoughts resonated with what I wanted to say. And I couldn't help myself but cloak their words in a new robe. Anyway, with so many people writing these days, the odds of two people saying the same thing had to be in my favour right? I turned to my non-judgemental search engine for an answer. A renowned linguist had already put that theory to test. So get this. Each time you use a word from an existing string of words already written by an author, the odds drop by a fairly large number. So the chances that two people would have unknowingly used the exact string of eight-nine words in a sentence (well unless it’s a popular saying) are fairly low, if not none. Put those words from the two sentences in a similar context, in a similar format and you really are pushing your luck there. If caught, the only thing that’d get you out of that one are the widely-underrated quotation marks. In their absence, you may try the words, “Wow, what an uncanny coincidence!”

I started getting my writings published several years ago. In my writing stint with a magazine, I was given a starting prompt, guidelines on how to cite sources of my findings, quote important people, gather data, ask questions… My first writing test involved, as one of the five key skills I was expected to be armed with, looking at a passage and paraphrasing it. It made me think, “ So what I am really doing is borrowing words from various intellectual pools and structuring them.” I felt a little cheated, kind of like being stripped off my own creative capacity. And that river of reinvented and recycled thoughts continued to pull me under when I started writing for myself. Instead of sitting and staring at my blank screen, I opened another tab. It was intoxicating.

Until one day, I just stopped. It wasn't because my moral compass was pointing due North. I found myself getting confused and intimidated by other people’s writing. Instead, I read books, enjoying the light breeziness of flowery prose in that moment without highlighting them for days when I run short of inspiration. I sat in a quaint, no-wifi cafe with my laptop, with only dull murmurs and the smell of hazelnut latte as my creative fuel, staring at my blank screen, not knowing which direction I’d run in my labyrinth of thoughts, whether I’d move ever at all. I rose to the challenge of finding myself in my words, even though they were not half as alluring as those of my writer idols.

Sometimes on Medium, I stumble upon a story or a poem like mine and I wonder, “How did that ever happen?” What are the chances that two obscure unconnected writers would find the same, seemingly original idea to write about nearly around the same time, especially when the inception of the idea is not based on the current state of affairs? It is then that I think there are greater cosmic forces at work. The world around us is both our writing pad and our writing prompt. And we’re probably connected in more ways than the wide tangles of the internet. For me, as someone who has previously stolen other people’s thoughts to define my own, there is but one thing that defines the delicate line between plagiarism and originality.

It is the scathing voice you hear after you have finished publishing your work.

Well, here’s to hoping that in the wide world of me-toos and already-done-thats, one day, my own work will shine through. Untainted.