Monday, August 31, 2009

The Storyteller - 2

Continued from Part 1

I don’t think I’m explaining this well. She was beautiful, yes, but more than that… it was the way she talked. She made you want to hold her close and take care of her. The stories she told – I don’t think I even remember much of all that now. But when she was in front of you, talking to you… she was mesmerizing. You felt like you were in this wonderfully exciting dream. But later, when you were alone… you usually felt a little ashamed of yourself, like you had behaved childishly. At least that’s how she made me feel.

So well, I asked her to move in with me.

Yeah, it was sudden. It’s not like me. I told you, it’s like… she had put a spell on me or something. When I was with her, I never wanted to go away. So after a few days, when she was telling me how hard it was to find an affordable place to stay, I asked her to move in with me.

I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment then. I liked living alone. In fact, I didn’t even like having guests. Yet I wanted her to come and stay with me.That was a mistake, I suppose. Living in such close quarters… well, it got too much. I couldn’t deal with the perpetual excitement. She didn’t even have a job then, and as soon as I came in, she would jump up, all excited, and want to do something. Maybe go out for a long drive, maybe make love in the balcony. At first, it was exhilarating. It was so exciting, so new. But I worked long hours, and I couldn’t do with just a couple of hours sleep every night.

She felt it, you know. She felt that I was growing, you know, distant. That I wasn’t as into her as I’d been at first.

One morning, I got up and she was gone. All her things were gone too. She had packed up and moved out quietly while I was asleep. I couldn’t believe it, at first. We had even made love at night. And in the morning, she had just disappeared.

I didn’t know what to do. This was about eight years ago, so well, she didn’t have a mobile phone. Though I’m not sure that would have made a difference. I went to Sia: she said she hadn’t heard from her in weeks. I asked everyone I knew who knew her. But I heard nothing.

It was maybe a year later that I heard about her, at some party. She had moved to Kerala, apparently, was living with some artist guy. I’ve never seen her since.

What’s the matter, you’re not angry, are you? It was a long time ago, and it only lasted a few weeks. She wasn’t my type at all.

Everything I remember about her? You want to use her as material? No, I don’t think you should. You see, if I read about her in a book, I’d think the character was unrealistic.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I haven't been writing much about what I have been doing, but I wanted to record here just how wonderful last night was. We had a party at home, and it was a most awesome one. There were seven of us, and we started only around 11. There was pizza and drinks and cheese and chips and music and candles. And drinks.

We started out by drinking and eating and playing music: I assured everyone that they need not be afraid of disturbing the neighbours. After some time, a couple of us moved out to the balcony for a smoke, and it was so wonderfully quiet and cool that soon everyone joined us there (except for one person who fell into our bed and didn't get up for a few hours.)

I got most deliciously drunk and ended up having four of the five kinds of alcohol on offer. We talked in our uninhibited way: the assurance of being with difficult-to-shock people loosens the tongue much more effectively than alcohol could ever do.

After some time the balcony began to feel cramped and we came back in. At around four in the morning, we had a very serious discussion about Friends of Children that put two more women to sleep, and we realised it was probably time for the party to end.

But it only changed direction. The Guy and I were keen to go out on one of our late-night drives, and we first dropped off one of the friends, while two others drove off home. Then the three of us in our car went for tea. It drizzled for a few minutes, and the sky had begun to grow light. We went off for a drive and then stopped for breakfast: bread laden with butter and an omelette that had more cheese than egg, and more tea.

When we came out of the cafe it was so sunny it hurt my eyes. We then dropped our friend home and went home ourselves. The last guest was just sitting up on our bed and rubbing her eyes when we got in.

The Guy and I cleaned up a bit of the mess our house was in. It was around the time most people start their day, and all three of us tried to get a little (more) sleep. The Guy and I settled into the guest bedroom, for that was the only one that had curtains on the windows, us having taken down all the other curtains to launder them. But I woke up in an hour, craving my own familiar bed, and went in there to lie down beside our friend. But sleep eluded me, so I went out and read the paper and waited for the daily help to come so I could open the door to her.

It was a quarter to 11 and the Guy was back up by the time she came. I needed to get to some work with Friends of Children at 1, so we started to prepare lunch.

At around 12, the friend and I left, the Guy and I having had lunch: the night's festivities had not left the friend in the best of health, and the very mention of lunch seemed to make her queasy.

We walked out and found an auto, and I dropped her at the station so that she could catch a train home.

I reached the Friends of Children library just a few minutes late. We worked for a few hours, and my friend was most impressed at how steady I was in spite of all the alcohol and one hour's sleep. After working for over four hours, we went to her house for a cup of tea and more conversation.

I got home to the Guy sometime before sunset.

Well, the day is nearly ended and I should get some sleep. Hope you all are having a great weekend!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Storyteller - 1

I was in love with a storyteller once. No, I don’t mean a writer, like you. Your writing is magical: flowing and vibrant and insightful. But in person, you’re… well, you’re awkward and shy. Don’t get me wrong. I love you the way you are: in fact, I love you because you’re shy, I love it when you get all embarrassed when someone says they love your books: in fact, I don’t even mind much when you get all glassy-eyed sometimes when I’m talking to you and I know you’ve taken something I said and are weaving it into a story right while I’m talking to you and not really paying attention to what I’m saying any more…

She was different. She was a teller of stories.

Real life was too prosaic for her. So she would embellish it to make it more romantic, more interesting. You wouldn’t know, when talking to her, how much of what she was saying was true. Of course, I didn’t know that at first. It took me a few days to figure it out. And when I confronted her with it, it was like she didn’t understand. She didn’t understand that she had done something wrong. She wouldn’t accept that she had… you know, lied. To her it was simply that she was making life more beautiful than it was… I’m still not sure if she was wrong…

I really know very little about her. I don’t know, you know, exactly how much of what she told me was true. She did talk a lot about her childhood. She said she was an orphan, that she had been brought up by an uncle and aunt who didn’t much care for her, who refused to give her an allowance even when she was in high school and who didn’t congratulate her when she did well in her exams. She said she had a friend, Raja, who got her through those days, who supported her and kept her from doing something drastic, like killing herself.

But I later heard – someone who had known her in school had told someone else…. Anyway, this friend told me that she had actually had loving parents, an older brother, a happy childhood. One bit was true, though. She had run away from home when she was eighteen.

She sometimes told me that she believed she was a changeling: exchanged by the fairies for the human child her parents had. Sometimes she said she was exchanged by the devil. It depended on her mood, really.

I came to know her because she was living with the girlfriend of one of my friends. We were at their house to pick them up for a party we were all going to. It was a New Year’s party: a kind of fancy-dress affair. The theme was fairy tales. It seemed like fate, then, the way we met. You see, I was dressed as Peter Pan, and she… No, she wasn’t Wendy, she was Tinkerbell. She wore a short green dress and white gauze wings.

I remember spending most of that night talking to her. When the party ended – just before dawn, I couldn’t find Rohit and Sia. So I drove her home. When we reached her building, instead of going in, she suggested we go out for coffee. But it was too early, we couldn’t find anything open. I just drove around and we ended up driving all the way to Lonavala.

What did we talk about? Oh, many things. She told me she was looking for new rooms because Rohit and Sia were getting married, and she couldn’t afford that place alone.

She also told me she had just lost her job. She used to work at a boutique. She said the owner was jealous of her because customers preferred to deal with her, and the last straw fell when the owner’s husband stared at her when he came in to pick up his wife one evening. I had no reason then, for not believing her – you see, she was very attractive and I could very well imagine most men staring at her… But Sia told me later that she had been fired for turning up late to work most of the time and for taking too many days off – often without notice.

Oh no, I have no idea what she did with all those days off. She was a whimsical creature, you see. She would just take off at a moment’s notice. Like that day, us driving to Lonavala. You know me, I haven’t done anything like that in the six months since I’ve known you. It’s not like me. But when I was with her… it was like I was different. It was like she was imagining me into this more interesting version of myself.

(Part 2 here)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In-Law Advice: What Husbands Should Do

In case I didn't make it amply clear in this post, there's one person I blame if a woman's in-laws aren't nice to her: her husband. So if you're an (Indian) husband, I hope this post will help you ensure that your wife isn't unhappy because of how your parents treat her.

First, make sure you know how she's being treated. Not just when you're present, but also when you're not. Listen for clues: how do they speak of her when she's not there? How do they speak of her to neighbours/friends/other relatives? Do they show consideration for her likes and dislikes when you're invited for a meal? Do they ask about her day, or just about yours? Do they talk to her as a person, or just as a part of the couple the two of you form? Do they refrain from commenting on her fashion or lifestyle choices (whether she wears short skirts, or drinks, or works late) even though they might not agree with them? But just listening is not enough: ask your wife what she thinks of your parents and how they treat her. Don't wait for her to seethe and hurt and finally tell you when the dam bursts.

Second, when they say anything in the least disparaging or rude, stand up for her at once. For instance, if they say, "If only you would wear a sari..." say, "Oh no, saris are so uncomfortable! I think she looks lovely in jeans!" If they say, "It's sad that you have to work such long hours, my dear," you say, "Why? She's successful and she enjoys her work. I'm so proud of her!" Make it clear that you approve of her choices, that you support her lifestyle and her decisions, and that you will not brook criticism of her.

Third, block their attempts at interfering in your life. Suppose they say: "I know Asha thinks it's too soon to try for a baby, but..." You say: "Asha and I have talked over it and we agree." "I wish you would move back to our city." You say: "Asha and I agree living in this city is better for our careers. You know you're always welcome to visit."

Fourth, make sure you always treat your wife with respect. If you raise your voice at her, you are sending the message that it's okay to treat her that way. If you don't listen when she's speaking or greeting her with a smile (at least!) when she comes home, you're belittling her presence in your life. Be extra careful about this for the first year or so (after which I hope it'll come naturally), when your parents are trying to know her and gauge your relationship. Once they accept how much you respect her, they are much more likely to respect her too.

The bottomline: always make it clear that your wife is the most important person in your life. Your parents should realise that insulting/hurting her will result in you liking them less. If they continue to disrespect her you should shut them out of your life: but if you make it clear from the beginning that you'll go that far if need be, you may never need to.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back In Action

I am, that is.

Whaddya mean, you hadn't noticed I was gone?

No, I wasn't away holidaying. (Though if you didn't know, my life is one long vacation right now.) The laptop had conked out, after a long healthy life of nearly three years. But it didn't die: after a few days of near-death, the Guy brought it back to life. (I'm so glad I married a geek.)

So what have you all been doing?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Guru Dutt's "Pyaasa"

We had bought DVDs of Pyaasa and a couple of other Guru Dutt movies when we were embarking on a course of cultural edification some months ago. We started on it, but found the first half hour less than overwhelming, and stopped. Lately I suggested we go back to it and finish it before we forget the beginning and have to watch it again: we suspected it would be a boring two hours and didn't want to prolong it.

It is with great satisfaction that I inform you that we were
very wrong. It truly is a great, amazing, interesting movie.

And for a movie made half a century ago, it still seems revolutionary. It starts off a little slow, but as the movie progresses you realise those slow first bits helped build up the characters. The acting is superb, and Waheeda Rehman is at her most luminiscent. The story is a bit melodramatic, especially towards the climax: but you could take much of it as metaphor. It reminded me of Main Azaad Hoon (which of course came much later).

The songs are beautiful. I have always loved "Jane woh kaise log", but "Jinhen naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hai" gave me goosebumps. The poet-protagonist "sings" it (of course, this being Indian cinema, the great Rafi does the singing) when he finds himself in a red-light area and is shocked the fate of the women there. The lyrics are so hard-hitting I wonder nationalistic types hadn't tried to get the song banned. This song should be made mandatory hearing on Independence Day.

Pyaasa had the most sympathetic treatment of sex workers I have ever yet seen in a film. Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) is easily the most sympathetic, heroic character in the film. And the song I just mentioned points out the hypocrisy of a society that allows sex workers to be treated the way they are.

Vijay, the protagonist, seemed a little too loser-like for my liking at first. But as the movie progressed, I realised he was not meant to be perfect: just an artist. His love deserted him, so his work was all that drove him - and that being unappreciated became the tragedy of his life.

As we watched, the Guy pointed out the similarities with Devdas: a protagoinist who is jilted by his love and finds solace in a prostitute. Yet there the similarity ends: Vijay is a poet, he observes and remarks on society, and has none of the self-absorbed indulgence that marks Devdas's character. Vijay does not sleep with Gulabo to feel better about his manhood, and he does not ill-treat the women in his life: in fact, throughout the movie he is unfailingly courteous and not just to women (except for one unfortunate scene in college where he serenades a fellow-student with a poem - and of course the other student proceeds to fall in love with him: women can never resist their molesters in Indian movies, as long as the molester is the hero).

While Gulabo sacrifices her wealth - and seems ready to sacrifice her life, though thankfully the movie does not call for it - for Vijay, Vijay does not treat her badly. After the initial meet-cute sparring, he always treats her with respect, and even when every other person in his life betrays him, he trusts her and comes to her at the end. Meena had been his muse, but Gulabo is his confidante, his partner.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

An Independence Day Post

Happy independence day to all us Indians!

Look what I finally got this year! I mooched it off my mom on our last visit. It's small, and somewhat old and tired-looking, but I like it even more for all that.

What reminded me that it was Independence Day when I woke up this morning were the patriotic songs playing loudly outside. I like the kiddie ones - "Nanha munha rahi" and "Insaaf ki dagar pe" and "De dee humein aazadi", but I can do without hearing "Mere desh ki dharteeeeeeeeeeeee" at any time of the year. (I also like "Bande mein tha dum" but they haven't played it yet.)

It's hard to be patriotic though, when you see what kind of idiots this country is infested with. Last night on the news we saw very enthusiastic Janmashthami celebrations in Pune. (I couldn't find the video, and I'm afraid I don't even remember which channel.) The journalist asked if it was wise to have so many people gather when the H1N1 virus is spreading so dangerously, and the man (an organiser? or just one of the revellers?) said that since no one, including the doctors, could figure out how to check the menace, they had come to ask Lord Krishna to protect them from the flu. Well, I suppose he won't go to the doctor if he does get it, but stay home and pray to Lord Krishna.

It made me extremely angry that with all the talk of shutting down the city, that such celebrations were allowed to continue. On TV we saw people wearing masks and dancing together. Yeah, that's gonna help you, you idiots! Rub shoulders against as many people as you can: you're protected if you're wearing a mask!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Of In-Laws

I read the Mad Momma's post on disapproving (to put it mildly) in-laws and looked at the comments: and it wasn't the first time I found myself wondering why I have so rarely seen a story in the blogosphere praising in-laws. Are all in-laws, especially women's in-laws, selfish and manipulative?

But they are not, because mine aren't. And I wanted to write about them, if only to put up one story about nice in-laws in a world that seems to be full of horrible ones.

I am from Assam, the Guy from Gujarat. When I told my mom that I planned to marry him, she only asked if I was sure. I hadn't expected any different: my mom had long treated me as a grown-up and left me to make my own decisions.

The Guy was sure his parents wouldn't object either, but I couldn't help being a bit apprehensive. We knew we were going to get married, but we would much prefer to do it knowing that everyone we loved was happy.

The Guy told the GuyMom about me and then invited me to meet her at dinner. It was a pleasant evening, barely awkward at all. After the first couple of meetings, I realised that the GuyMom was as apprehensive as I was: it is a big transition when any mom realises that her son has a significant other in his life and wonders whether this will change him, draw him away from her.

Before going back home, the GuyMom promised her son that she would talk to his dad. Apparently, when she told him, the GuyDad said nothing in reply. That left her rather nervous. In day or two she gathered the courage to ask him what he had to say, and the GuyDad said, "He has made his decision, what do I need to say?" (paraphrased)

And that was it. The GuyDad came over within a month - ostensibly to visit his daughter who also lives in Pune, but actually to meet me and formalise the engagement. And within a few months we were married.

The relationship with the in-laws seemed difficult for the first year or so: I did not know them very well and cultural expectations were very different. I don't mean cultural differences due to us belonging to different communities, but more differences in style of communication: the Guy and his siblings and parents behave very politely to each other - a politeness that had seemed to me overly formal, but that I now realise is perhaps a measure of their respect for each other. Also, I am no good at small talk and bored stiff by housework and other similar topics of discussion: so I had often found family gatherings somewhat uncomfortable. Of course it did not help that much of the discourse took place in a language that I can barely understand now and have not learned to speak (and probably never will).

Given how respectfully the Guy's family treat each other, I have been treated with even more respect. The GuyDad addresses me as 'aap' instead of 'tum', and not in an ironic way. The sister who lives nearby also does the same, and never has she or her husband banked on the proximity or the relationship to make unreasonable requests (and rarely even reasonable ones: they have been unfailingly considerate).

Never have the Guy's parents expressed any disapproval over our lifestyle choices. Never have they raised an eyebrow when they saw me in shorts or other "in-law inappropriate" clothing; when the Guy first cooked a meal for his father, the GuyDad tasted it and remarked proudly that I had taught him to cook. The GuyMom often tells me not to tire myself doing housework, which should be enough to tell you how much she likes me, because she has seen how little I bother with housework anyway.

This isn't to say that we get on famously: the fact is that we are too far apart to understand each other. But we treat each other with respect, and we care for each other, which is enough to make us family. I wouldn't like to live with them, but then I wouldn't like to live with anyone except the Guy.

I had written about my in-laws here, where I said that much of the credit for my in-law-problems-free life goes to the Guy. We have always presented a united front to our relatives, so that no one would feel comfortable criticising either of us in front of the other. We always made our decisions together, and would talk things over until we agreed on them before making an announcement to relatives.

Yet life could have been much worse if our relatives weren't as nice as they are: if his parents and my mom hadn't accepted us and appreciated the happiness we bring to each other.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

15 Books I Love

I looked at this at Deborah's, and as it was about books, I went, "I have to do it!"

Here's what she says about it:
The idea is that without thinking about it too much, and within the space of 15 minutes, you name 15 books that will always stay with you.
I confess I couldn't do it in 15 minutes: I had to think about books I love rather than just ones I've read recently, which would otherwise be at the top of my mind. 11 out of 15 authors are female: all except three have female protagonists.

So here are mine:
  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Of course. It was the first "real grown-up" novel I ever read, and - like every other teenage girl - fell in love with Mr Darcy. But as time passed and I reread it over and over again, I grew to like opinionated, spunky Elizabeth much more than the relatively colourless Darcy.
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: There is so much to like about this book, but that bit where Scarlett says, "As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again" (quoted from memory) is probably the best. For once a heroine who didn't wait for a man to rescue her, but went out and created the life she wanted. The funny part was I didn't really like her - she was too self-absorbed, too petty. But I sure admired her, and by the end of the book (or rather around where I came across that quote above) I realised that she really was a heroine.
  3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Atticus Finch seemed like the perfect man to me, and I would have married him, old as he was, and teenager as I was when I read it. The character of Scout was outstanding though: and again it didn't hurt that she was a fiery little girl who gets into fights and hates wearing dresses.
  4. The Blind Assasin by Margaret Atwood: This is one of only three books on this list that I've read just once; having become acquainted with it only last year. But it's about time to reread it, I think. I love how the story is told: there's a story in a story in a story. I love the vulnerability and courage of the heroine, I love the slow exploration of the characters.
  5. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy: This is my favourite Hardy book, both because it is less gloomy than any of the others, but also because the heroine is smart and bold inspite of being pretty and frivolous.
  6. Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott: Mary Westmacott is actually the pen name under which Agatha Christie wrote her six non-crime novels. I wish she had written many more: I like them even better than many of her detective novels. This novel is about a middle-aged woman who is travelling through the desert and has to spend a couple of days alone in a hotel in the desert because of some transport breakdown. With nothing to do, the protagonist spends time thinking about the past, and discovers a great many things about her own life. You could call it a psychological thriller! And apparently Christie wrote this book in three days flat.
  7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Heathcliff must be one of the most interesting and mysterious characters ever created. His was a love that was all-encompassing: yet he was such an unsavoury character. But I love this book because of the two Catherines: the mother who marries a man she does not love, and the daughter who pays the price for her mother's mistakes.
  8. Emma by Jane Austen: Another favourite by Austen, and sometimes I think I like it better than any of the others. A heroine who is smart, almost arrogant, yet sport enough to laugh at her mistakes: Emma is definitely a favourite fictional character.
  9. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker: I wrote about this one recently, so here's a link.
  10. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: The first time I read the book, I found it revolting. I suppose I was too young then to appreciate the ending. Then I read it again. And again. And still wonder at the line "Rules about who should be loved. And how much." (Or something. I paraphrase from memory.)
  11. The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: This is my favourite Dickens book, and I remember developing a crush on Sidney Carton when I first read it. Madame Defarge was a fearsome villain, lovingly sketched.
  12. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: Another one I read not so long ago. If you haven't got hold of it yet, do.
  13. Vanity Fair by W.M. Thackeray: "A novel without a hero", the cover says. For a long time, I considered this meant that the novel was about the two women in the story, Becky Sharp and Amelia - who was so wishy-washy that I don't remember her last name, before or after she married the handsome young idiot. But apparently the phrase referred to the fact that there were no upstanding moral characters in the story: every human is ultimately revealed as petty and lacking, even the stalwart Dobbin. The complex characters - and the ambiguous ending - made the story curiously lifelike.
  14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I've already written about this one here.
  15. Jill the Reckless by P.G. Wodehouse: My favourite Wodehouse book: a romance as opposed to the comic stuff he is so famous for. Jill was a perfect heroine: pretty, smart and courageous. But I loved Wally, who is not only smart and successful but also makes Jill laugh and is a great friend, and he stays by Jill's side until she is ready to love him in return.
  16. Death by Chick Lit by Lynn Harris: I had to put this one in: a very funny book set in contemporary New York about a female author who becomes involved in a series of murders of other "chick lit" authors.
Here: a post on fictional characters I love, many of them from the same books as above.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Do You Believe in Love?

As a result of all the books I had read when I was quite young, I looked eagerly towards growing up and falling in love - sometimes, in fact, the former seemed less inevitable than the latter. Books - fairy tales as well as the 'grown-up' books I had read - and movies often positioned it as the most important event of one's life, the culmination of one's existence.

When I was a little older - a teenager - I began to have my doubts. The idea of romantic love seemed so melodramatic that I wondered if it was a magnificent con job perpetrated by writers and filmmakers. Little can be less convincing than the idea that two strangers meet and, propelled by circumstances and their own understanding, recognise each other as their true mate. And if you have just one soulmate, might you not miss meeting him due to circumstances? Even if you ignore the absurd concept of 'love at first sight', the idea of falling in love itself seemed far-fetched , and my wise teenage self toyed (dismayedly, I confess, but I never wanted to believe in fairy stories just to feel better) with the opposing idea that each of us essentially goes through life alone.

It didn't take long, I think, for me to come around to the idea that a soulmate was essentially a very good friend: a life partner should be basically a friend whom you also find attractive: someone you talk to, laugh with, be yourself with and want to sleep with. In fact, that last part never seemed particularly important. If you have a friend you respect and admire and love spending time with, I suspect it would be very easy to find him hot.

Today is the four-year anniversary of the day that the Guy and I consider most significant in our relationship. That evening four years ago, I called him to resume our friendship after a hiatus. I called him to tell him I could be friends with him again. Somehow, I had never doubted that he would accept: greedily, I had always considered that our friendship was mine for the taking whenever I was ready to resume it. And I was right.

What happened next was, I now believe, inevitable: we talked to each other often and long until we had bared our souls and drawn closer to each other than we had ever been to anyone else. Until we realised that it was a rare and special kind of friend whom you feel that kind of affinity to, whom you share so much with. And we finally recognised that while we were dissecting and rationalising and cautioning each other against making a decision based on emotions, we had gone ahead and fallen in love.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Why I Am A Feminist - I

I was born into a household with lots of books. So it is hardly surprising that reading has been my greatest pleasure since I - well, since I could read. I remember when I was in Class 3, and my teacher was explaining the concept of 'hobbies'. One of the hobbies listed in the book was 'reading'. She said something like, "Some adults like to read books." And I was very surprised that she had classified it as something grown-up people do, for reading was the only activity in that list that I actually enjoyed.

I also started fantasising at an early age, conjuring up imaginary people and places and events. I had a whole host of imaginary friends and even enemies when I was about four, I think. But as I grew older, I realised that in my dreams - whether sleeping or waking - I was usually male. It disturbed me slightly at times, especially when I had dreams about saving some damsel in distress - and I wondered about my gender identity. It was only after I grew up that I realised that my assuming the male identity in my fantasies was little about my sexual (or even gender) preferences but only about the stereotypes embodied in the books I had read.

You see, in all the books I had read the heroine merely "waited to be rescued" (courtesy Shrek 3), while the hero did all the rescuing and adventureeing. And I wanted to be the one having adventures. I wanted to be climbing trees like Julian and Dick and George (though George was mocked for wanting to behave "like a boy"), not boiling water in a kettle for a picnic lunch like Anne (in the Famous Five series). (And I felt for George when she was made to help Anne cook and clean rather than join the boys in their activities.)

As I grew older and could understand better, I revolted against these constricting stereotypes: girls could have adventures too! There is nothing gender-specific about being bold and brave. You don't need a penis to stand up for what's right. Women can be heroes too, and not just by staying at home and knitting sweaters for the men who have gone to war.

Added two hours later: I just picked up the Second Sex to resume my reading, and came across this:
Thus the supreme necessity for woman is to charm a masculine heart; intrepid and adventurous tough they may be, it is the recompense to which all heroines aspire; and most often no quality is asked of them other than their beauty.
(emphasis mine)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

On Raksha Bandhan - and an Insurance Ad

Have you seen the Future Generali insurance ad? I love it. Insurance is a difficult thing to sell, because it's a difficult thing to talk positively about. This ad does it so well. It takes the very sexist tradition of Raksha Bandhan in which the sister ties a rakhi on her brother, symbolically asking for his 'protection', calls out the sexism, and ends with the brother tieing the rakhi on his sister's wrist.

My dislike of the sexism embodied in the Raksha Bandhan tradition explains why I never go with the Guy when he visits his sister on this day. But even apart from the sexism, I find the allotment of specific days to celebrate specific relationships rather absurd. I don't need a Mother's Day or a Friendship Day or a Valentine's Day. I would rather celebrate my loved ones' birthdays and anniversaries and let them know all through the year that I love them.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Reading Simone de Beauvoir

I picked up the Second Sex over a year ago, but I'm still plodding through it. The points she makes are laboured at times, and the book seems encyclopaedic in its scope: she takes many prejudices directed against women (as the 'inferior' sex) and dissects them one by one. This makes the book seem much like a textbook, a textbook on how women have always been treated as the other, the 'second sex'. Some of the points she makes are of course, outdated - yet our 'modern' world contains so many prejudices within it that it only occasionally feels like you're reading history.

Sample this:

Monday, August 03, 2009

I Am Tired of Waiting for You...

I am tired of waiting for you to become the person I want you to be.
I am tired of reaching out only to get burnt each time.
I am tired of inventing excuses for you; of waiting for you to come around.
I am tired of remembering the friend who could have been.
I am tired of being blamed for what's not my fault.
I am tired of giving you yet another chance, when you don't trust me at all.
I am tired of imagining that you know me. That what we have is special.
I am tired of telling myself fairy stories. So now I'm going to stop.

Call me when you grow up, I said.
But I know you never will.