Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A Woman Second

I have tried for a long time not to write this post. Mostly it was because I had very strong feelings on the subject and was not sure I wanted to put these thoughts out in a public platform. But I have realised off late that it is because I am a little embarrassed about how I feel.

I am talking about being a feminist. Even as I defend my right to work, pursue a pastime, not be tied to a kitchen etc I find I explain myself to all and sundry. I feel solely responsible when my house is dirty and guilty about uncooked meals. Even as I defend my right to wear what I want, I worry about impressions I make. Even as women and wife jokes repel me, I have spent endless hours listening to people I know crack such jokes because I am not sure I want to be "that person" - the spoiler of fun.

Any other group of people that are discriminated against can generally go home and find themselves in a safe environment to express anger against such discrimination. Being a woman I find I am still a kill joy when I do the same. This is not to say that I do not have a supportive husband. But that I feel like I am expressing anger against him every time I complain, which is not my intention.

Inside me is a ball of resentment for all the times I have quietly let people tell me what to do. For all the times I have kept quite while I have listened to educated men pass what are callous comments about the women in their lives. For all the times I have heard women judge other women. For all the time I have not asserted that I am a person first, a woman second. I have the same desires, ambitions, insecurities that any person may have regardless of gender.

I am ashamed of what I am becoming, have become - a silent enabler of my own mistreatment. This piece for me is just a step towards being more at peace with myself.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

More Adventures Back Home - Shopping In India

In addition to all the time and money we spent eating in India, the husband and I decided to also spend some time and money on things that we could not shove down our throats. The husband began by being a more reluctant shopper and always insisted that he already had way too many of whatever it is you were offering to buy him. I, on the other hand was thrilled no end at the opportunity to pick up clothes at the fashion streets in Delhi/Mumbai, or paintings, gem earrings, pottery at Rajasthan. As it turned out things soon changed.

So we started at Udaipur, at a government run fair called Shilpa Gram. My mother in law who had come us on our trip to Rajasthan was also with us on this day. Shilpa Gram charges a small entry fee and so is able to provide the craftsmen with shop space free of cost. Inside, there were performing artists who danced and sang for all the visitors, painters and potters who explained their craft, huts built in the style of villages. I was afraid that it might be a little too touristy but I really enjoyed myself and would highly recommend the place to all.

As we ambled in and started to take in the shops, I shooed away my husband. Armed with a digital SLR camera with all the bells and whistles including a change of lens and three filters, I thought he would hurt our chances of getting a good price. After expressing his indignation and hurt with mock anger and sad faces, he walked off more than a little happy to be free of the talk about bandhini sarees and unglazed pottery. In fact, the next time I turned around, he had put a suspiciously large distance between us. He was well out of hearing range while being within visual range. He smiled and waved charmingly at us and looked happier than I have ever seen him look at a shopping expedition with me.

I, on the other hand, was following my mother-in-law around in the saree stalls area and was awed at how this sweet spoken lady was able to bargain with the most experienced of shopkeepers without ever being even slightly impolite. Year after year of shopping at malls has left me rather unprepared for the deft exchanges that I watched my mother-in-law exchange with the shopkeepers.

Determined nevertheless to try, I walked over to a line of pottery shops and stared intently at the pots. The women tending the stores took one look at me and seemed to disregard me almost instantly as a potential customer. But as soon my mil walked over to join me, there was a swarm of activity around her as all the potters clamored for her attention. I tried valiantly not to let there estimation of me discourage me and managed to find the one potter who had missed my mil's arrival. Fortunately, he was bored enough to show me a few of pots and I bought a couple things to take back with me.

We had a few more minutes before the place closed for the evening and in this time my mil picked up a couple of sarees and my husband came back with a gorgeous scroll painting. We all left Shilpa Gram rather contentedly.

My husband still smarting under the insult that had been heaped at his cameras ability to drive up prices was very proud of his bargain.

"He wanted 450 for the painting and I was able to talk him down to 200"

My mil on the other hand had also bought a couple of sarees for almost 40% less than what the shopkeeper had wanted.

Husband looked pointedly at my bags and said

"What did you buy?"

"I bought a pot for dahi and a terracotta water pot."

"What did you pay for it?"

"100 rupees."

"That's a good buy. What did he want for it?"


A stifled giggle later - "Well, at least you did not give him 120."


Edited to Add-

I wanted to add a few pictures of Shilpa Gram - the pictures are courtesy the camera toting husband.


And this continued for the rest of the trip. At Palika Bazaar in Delhi this exchange took place between my husband and a belt seller.

"Ye belt kithne ka hai?"

As usual, on spotting a well fed couple armed with a touristy DSLR camera, the man promptly replied -

"Only 450 saar."

Then he proceeded to twist and turn the belt to show us how indestructible it was.

I had been told to counter at 50 to 60 percent of quoted price. But after seeing the feats the belt could perform had decided that 350 was a very good price for it. I was about to whisper my suggestion to my husband when-

"100 doonga."

The man looked aghast, insulted, almost speechless.

"Kya saar. First class belt hai."

He then took out a lighter and showed us that even fire was unable to damage this prince among belts.


In the meanwhile, I started looking around to try and map the clearest route to the exit so that if the poor shopkeeper decided to resort to violence to counter my husband's insulting bid, I would be able to get away relatively unscathed. Clearly early success had gone to his head.

Three minutes later, husband had the belt tucked into his backpack after paying shopkeeper 100 bucks, who is now smiling almost guiltily at my husband.

After we walk away from the shop, husband turned around and confronted me - "You realize you took a step away from me when I was bargaining with him. Were you going to run away?"

No, no honey I would never do that. I would have walked confidently into the crowd and pretended that I did not know you :).

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Thoughts On a Winter Day

It is a sunny winter day in New Jersey almost like the days in New Delhi. When the glow of the sunshine belies how cold it is. The similarity ends there. What strikes me is the sensory deprivation I am experiencing. After the crowds, the opinions, the busy streets - the organized lives of my peers here seems too tame. Like a controlled space where life is being allowed to enter in small controlled bursts.

When I landed in the United States 7 years ago, it was a bit of lark. I wanted to study and see a new place. It was about new experiences and opening my horizons. I liked what I saw. I felt free, independent and motivated. 7 years later I feel a little trapped, in a rut and a lot less inspired. On the other hand a trip to India has left me feeling more positive and motivated than I have in some time.

If I did not know better, I would think I am using major life events as stimuli to keep the drama in my life going. If I'd only listen to myself when I say that source of inspiration must come from within ;).

Monday, 30 January 2012

A Trip Back Home

I am back from a 4 week long trip. The trip which included visits to Mumbai, Rajasthan, New Delhi and Singapore was among the most fun I have had in some time. This, despite the fact that my husband and I have a decent vacation budget. Even as you find us reaching for the recesses of bottom shelf for the cheapest in department stores, vacations and bars are where we like to see our monies going waste. So that, at the end of it all, we have nothing but a sun tan and a hangover to call our own (hmm maybe we need to revisit our fiscal strategy).

This trip to India was my first in three years and I was a more than a little apprehensive about the whole thing. Back home is, unfortunately, not just a physical space but also a space in time. And, I did not want to go back to India and find myself unhappy or bored. I was worried that I would forever taint the memories of my childhood and youth. I was afraid the place would have changed too much, the my relatives would no longer feel a bond with me, the my friends would have no time for me, that I would be an outsider in my own country.

As it turns out, India had no time to notice that I had changed. Apart from me, nobody else seemed to notice that I was gone for three years. I had the most fabulous time. The streets, the people, the food. I loved how when my husband and I pulled to the side of a street and asked for directions, people would argue among themselves before telling us the "besht way" to a place. At one point we found ourselves stuck in our car in an extremely narrow road that was probably two wheeler only. Stuck in the front of a traffic jam with everybody behind us honking away, the pedestrians actually smiled and pulled the parked bikes on the side of the road out of the way and then guided us out of the street. I have not felt more at home in a very long time.

I also spent quality time visiting some friends and relatives, chatting up my cousins and annoying my ma by leaving the wet towel on the bed. Just like old times.

And the food. Oh the food!!. The husband and I ignored all warnings and spent all our time there eating street food for almost every meal (that we could manage over the constant protests of his parents and my mother). And with such food available constantly and so cheaply, I am surprised that everybody there does not weigh a 100 kg. The highlights were - vada pav in Bombay, samosa and kesar kulfi in Rajasthan, tikki and golgappa in Delhi.

In the last week of my trip away, I spent a few days in Singapore visiting with my brother. Singapore is a beautiful, friendly city that I really enjoyed visiting. My brother and I also spent some time catching up. Our bonding, apart from chatter over large drinks served in marmalade jars ( courtesy very nice bar called Nueva Cuba with live music in Clarke Quay) , consisted of shared stories about the disturbingly similar aches and pains that we had both noticed - clearly a result of the defective genes that our parents had managed to pass on to us in a predictably consistent fashion. I am a couple of years older than my brother and while I seemed to have missed out on the genes that makes my brother a successful, socially well adjusted, confident young man I do seem to share those that resulted in flat feet and flawed skin. My brother seemed to view my physical ailments as his future. Somehow, I found it in my heart to push aside the obvious insult in that and warned him gravely about how his body was about to let him down. Being an older sister is a tough job but someone has to do it :).

I came back yesterday and miss India ,my mother and tikki quite badly. I also feel a new energy and a certain lightness that I have not felt in a long time. The husband and I are going to have to start shopping in the dollar store - so we can make room in our budget for more trips to India and cocktails served in jars.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Game day and gender wars

This incident occurred about 6 months ago and only came to my mind yesterday during a chance conversation. The husband and I had been invited to a game day type thing at a friends house. The Indian cricket team was in the quarter finals and things looked rather promising. The cricket match was held overseas, started at 5 am local time and stretched into the afternoon. It was us and four other couples in the house with the best cable package. We had all trickled in starting at 4:45 am on a work day to watch match.

After a few hours the Indian team's chances looked very good and it was decided that the drinking should commence since it was 5 pm somewhere in the world.And in fact it was close to 5pm in the stadium where the match was being played. So the margaritas were rolled out.

Tequila!! My nemesis!! I like drinking as much as the next boozer but I have more than met my match in Tequila. Tequila and I are not friends. We eye each other warily, pretend for the sake of company that all is well. I will take a tentative sip and smile. The Tequila for its part will slide down my gullet, warm my insides and pretend like it will make me feel better. But I know better than to be fooled. Well, I know better now. Since the couple of nights I did not know better, are remarkable in that I do not remember large parts of them. What I do remember are the mornings after. So to cut a long story short Tequila and I are not friends.

So after a couple of sips so nobody was the wiser about our tenuous past, I decided to call it a day. My husband not suffering from a similar experience with tequila (his nemesis for a while was brandy) polished off his margarita with much gusto. Day time drinking on what should be a work day while the Indian cricket team was doing everything right.. it was the stuff that dreams are made off.

The wives and husbands still in various makeshift beds, since the early hour that the match had started at had warranted blankets, comforters and pillows. All this and more were piled in front of the TV. The mood was one of contentment and cautious excitement. The sun streamed into the room as the day progressed. The early rising coupled with the margaritas and the afternoon sun was making everyone just a little drowsy. The Indian victory seemed imminent.

Watching my husband put his glass down, I thought I would volunteer to be the designated driver on the way back. So I poked him with my finger to get his attention and said "Feel free to drink up , I can drive us back today".

The husband looked delighted for a moment and then probably realizing that it was still only 11 am reluctantly said "It's fine I think the one was enough for me. "

And suddenly, just like that, all hell broke loose.
"See she lets him drink when he wants to. Even drives him home after."
"He knows when to say no. I don' t see you turning down a second one."
"I don't see her nagging him about it."
"He probably doesn't drink at every given opportunity."

I and the husband, sidelined by this time just gaped at one other. I, for one, secretly felt just a twinge of pride that our degenerate ways coupled with enabling each others vices was finally paying off, even if it was for only a little while.

And well, the rest of them cheered up soon too after the pizza arrived to soothe our Tequila tummies and the Indian team delivered a much anticipated victory.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Lights Off

This is an exercise in telling a story with just dialogue.

Do help me get into the bath. Can you please make sure the little waterproof pillow is nearby, and my magazine rack?

Yes Ann.

Hold my hand now. I hope you dried your hand love. Cold hands give me the creeps.

I dried my hands Ann. In fact I am wearing these fleece gloves. Don't worry.

Aah, the water feels lovely though the bath water is a just a little cold. Thanks you. Oh don't go away. Dim the lights and just put the remote next to me? Also can you get place my towels near the foot. Thank you so much. Turn on the fragrance diffuser also for me. That is perfect

Are you comfortable now?

Yes thank you very much. So nice to see you around home.

You are welcome Ann.

Sooo. Where were you last night? It is not safe to go all over town in that little car. Someone should know your whereabouts you know. You could tell me. So, I can call someone god forbid something happens.

I only went to pick up your prescriptions Ann. You were all out of the pills. The ones I just gave you.

Oh ! Thank you. I was beginning to worry about you. Will you sit read a book or something in the bedroom outside so I can chat with you?

Sure Ann. I am sitting on the bed. I can hear your every word.

It has been a while since you had any time. And you have been so quite since you got back. After all that travelling for 6 months when you came back I had so many plans. But there you were pottering in the shed, driving off at odd times.I was so relieved to see you up this morning making coffee. And just delighted when you stayed in today.

Yes Ann, I wrapped up all I had to do. Just a few remaining items and that's it.

Well, I am glad. I only want your happiness you know. But spending all your time, your money and your energy chasing what is past!!! Paying detectives, late night meeting, trips to ends of the world. You are just putting yourself through hell for nothing. If they wanted you in their life they would not have made it so hard.

Yes Ann.

What does that say about she just upped and moved like that without an address or any contact information. And to do it when you had gone to meet physicians for that ... child.

My child Ann.

Your adopted child!! And all that time you used to spend with that child and the doctors. Oh don't be mad with me. You were always wonderful with him. If he had stayed, if she had let him stay you would have done your best I am sure and the child would have been the best.. for what he was I am sure. But as it stands you can live again. They miss you at work you know.

MY child was autistic and he was diagnosed late because of all the time we spent at work. We did not pay enough attention. I should have known better. Work gets along just fine without me.

Fine, fine!! Fine is not what you wanted before, you know. When your parents and I opened that restaurant we did not want fine either. We wanted the best. And what do we have now - 7 restaurants and growing. Each serving only the very best. And when they died ,you stepped up and learnt everything almost overnight. We were great together. Even with that stroke I would have never left if I did not have you to take over. Well, it is never too late. Now that the search is over we can all go back.

Ann I am selling them. I am selling all the restaurants.

Selling them. What are you talking about? What is wrong with you? With the two of them gone we need to move on. We will be each others strength. You can move in next door again. I have so many ideas for the business. And you can help me and we can build something your parents would have been proud off.

My parents would have been proud if I had taken care of my son.

That boy again. Well it isn't as if you did not try with him when they were here. And you also tried to find them after they left. What will you do for a job if you sell the restaurants? And you know you cannot sell without my consent.

I am opening a bakery Ann. In Cochin.

In Cochin?? Cochin?? Wait why did you come back from your trip? What is going on? What are going to do? You think you know everything. You know nothing. You must not believe everything she says.

I know Ann. I know you promised my wife that my son would get all your share if they went away. I know you told them that the business would fall apart without me working everyday at your precious restaurants. That you showed them papers that claimed we would go under in a 6 short months. When it was not true Ann. I gave you my 15 years of my life Ann and you took my family from me. You told her that I would not be able to support them if I continued to spend time with my son. That the costs would be too much. You took advantage of a woman half out of her wits with worry. And she believed you. But how did you think that it would last? In a previous life she was our best manager. She wrote me a month ago Ann. You knew they went to Cochin?

Yes I knew. I sent them all those checks didn't I? Well, I am sorry to have cared. Leave your future and go to Cochin but you are not selling any of my restaurants. If you are too blind to see what you are doing wrong, I cannot help you. And where do you think you are going to have the money for the bakery. I need to get out of this bathtub. Don't bother helping me. I can do this on my own. This is a self sufficient house you know.You are not needed. I can take care of myself and the restaurants on my own. Where is that stupid remote for the lights. There it is. Let me get out and I can shut the door behind ...

I will sell the restaurants Ann and my son will get your money. We will open a bakery in Cochin. I set up remote to short made easy when handled in a tub full of water. I only got to it this morning. But, I did not expect you oblige me so promptly Ann.

Made changes after some sharp critiquing by "friend".

Friday, 19 August 2011

Calling Out

Participating in Friday Fiction 221. The idea came to me almost immediately but I found this quite hard to write..


Raghu sat there a stone throw away from the top of the hill with this ankle nestled in his hands. The pain shot through this ankle and through his feet and toes as he tried to flex his foot. In addition to the pain in his ankle he felt another wave of misery sweep through his insides. This had been a terrible idea.

Three years ago today he had lost his wife to a road accident. It had been the worst three years of his life. Three years ago he was a whole man. A man with a job, ideas, hobbies, friends and a wife that he had loved, who had loved him. His two children were grown and settled abroad. He had made trips with his wife to visit them every alternate year and they had visited the other years.

The death had caught him unprepared. As a child who had lost parents rather early he had always felt that he had already paid his dues. And his wife, his wife. What is left to be said about shared domesticity. It had not been high highs and low lows as his wife liked to say. They had always been a calm couple. Married young, they seemed to fit together well, well enough. And after his initial reluctance to love anyone who could die on him he had opened up.

They had weaved their daily routines, hobbies, friends in out around each other for the past 35 years - a great giant banyan tree of a relationship. And her death had caught him with his guard down. Taken his breath away. Sitting on top of the sparse hill he took a deep breath. It felt like the first one after a very long time.

This had been his first hike after... In the three years in between life had been so hard. Simple things. Getting up, getting dressed, going to work, not screaming out in pain, eating lunch, coming home, eating dinner, going to bed. Maintaining this simple routine seemed to take all that he had to offer. He had dared not introduce any variations with the fear that everything would come tumbling down.

To begin with friends had called, his children had called almost everyday but one by one all had dropped off. His children still called him once every week at the weekend but for the rest of time he was alone. Alone just barely managing to keep up his routine. He figured sooner or later the routine would get easier and then he could start reintroducing all of the other people, experiences into his life again.

This hike in fact was a variation. The last two years on this day he had waited patiently for his children to call and then once it was over had fallen apart over a bottle of wine. It was in fact the only day of the year that he allowed himself any alcohol. With his perceived predilection for alcohol, he had been terrified to drink at all after she had died.

As he sat alone with a sense of despair growing Raghu realised almost for the first time that it was never going to get easier. He tried to stand up and get moving but realised that the pain was just too much for him even to limp with most of his weight on his other leg. He sat down again and check his phone, there was only a tiny bit of charge left. Raghu did not have anyone to call who would willingly drop everything and come and get him. There were still a few friends who would do it with some private grumbling but the thought filled Raghu with despair. They would do it because they pitied him.

This was exactly what he was hoping to avoid with his unwavering routine. This feeling of helplessness, of despair, of rage at the unfairness of it all. If he let everything in he was not sure he could cope.

He lay back against a bare rock and looked up at the sky. The mountains cleared his head slowly. As the breeze rose he felt himself start to breathe deeply. He closed his eyes and the exhaustion from all the emotions made his muscles go limp. He made up his mind and picked up the phone and dialed.

It rang and went to voicemail
" Hi this is Malini Raghu. I am not available at the moment but please leave your name and number and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Have a great day"

For the first time in all the time he had listened to her voice he smiled a little at his dirty little secret. Continuing to pay her mobile bill had been an indulgence to begin with but off late he felt guilt and shame at his inability to move on. Maybe he should have made a little more of a scene, cried more, drank more, been a bigger disaster. Maybe then three years would not have found him on a hike alone with no one to call.

He sat up and decided to wait for the two youngsters that had been in front of him through the hike. They had reached the top and had gone on further to visit the waterfall. The thought of inconveniencing strangers did not fill him with dread at the moment. He would make a scene. And when he got home he would call his children, cry some more, take a vacation, let it hurt some more.