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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?"

"110"

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

Hmph!!

Edited to Add-

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



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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.

"100"

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.