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Gestures

I was 12 when I taught myself to be angry. When I refused to make tea one afternoon, dad picked up his leather belt and whacked my thigh. It left a thin line of red that I sat and traced all through the week. That evening when he took us to Pizza Corner, I sat in a corner and sulked. But I made sure he didn’t see.

Every time after that he asked for tea, I hid in the bathroom and faked menstrual cramps. It was in the bathroom that I learnt to sense his demands and navigate my way out of them. When I wore capris another day, he threw a fit and yelled at ma. Ma drew a blank expression on her face — it was calm. It is the same face that will meet me every time she knows that he is wrong but can’t do anything about – at least not right away. The doing anything about it will happen in private – when she will explain to him why he needs to back off. Like the time she took him to Jain College one day and showed him that he should be grateful that I am wearing capris and not halter necks and minis. That’s what she says but I am sure nobody who went to Jain College wore minis and halter necks. Not then, not now.

When I was 20, I sat with all the men in hall waiting for food. I had decided that the only way to kill patriarchy was by being the men. I didn’t like that every time there was a Pooja at home; the women would sit in the kitchen – even the ones who didn’t have to be there while the men poured into the hall and made loud small talk. Women I had occasionally seen at other poojas would turn up quite early to help in the morning. Their husbands and fathers and brothers would come later in the day- an hour or two before dinner. Two bed sheets would be laid out in the hall and they made a neat L.

That evening, I sat in the corner next to my cousin Prashant. Nobody said anything and this made me very angry. I had practiced a speech that wasn’t needed now. Crueller than that perhaps was the realisation that when the women started bringing in vessel after vessel of food, I didn’t quite feel the way I thought I should/would feel. It wasn’t liberating to sit with the men and eat food while the women served. But I also didn’t want to help the women. This continued to be a very big, very real dilemma for me. I would find myself asking this question to a whole lot of people – in classes, conferences, seminars, and in conversations. But there is no set answer to this question.

Until one day when I read NS’s piece on Feminism. It’s called ‘Feminism is why I don’t hate men’. When I finished reading it, I felt like I had just slapped all the assholes in my life – one giant slap across all their faces in one quick motion. It didn’t matter that I didn’t write it, it didn’t even matter that some of these assholes aren’t even in my life anymore. It was just comforting to know that at some point, she too had the same dilemma that I did.

Sitting in the auditorium at NGMA one day, Z asked me if I often wonder what NS would do in certain situations. I rolled my eyes – ‘all the time’, I said. Over the years, we have come to see NS as a rock star of sorts, somebody who has answers to everything. This may not be fair to her but I want to believe it’s true.

At 27, I have learnt more about feminism from stalking her writing than from any of the theories I was given to read. For somebody who believed aggression to be the only suitable response to assholes, NS’s ability to use humour to piss people off was both unsettling and intimidating. This was an approach that was new and confusing to me. What can be more aggressive than humour? What can the assholes say when you have taken a nice, long fart in their faces?

Over glasses of brandy in K, I pester NV to teach me to become independent like her. She lives alone, walks alone, rides like a maniac, cuts in between heavy vehicles, says no just as easily as she blushes and drinks like a fish. ‘Parents need to be taught how to grow up ya’, she says. In five years if I am anywhere close to living my life like NV, I will be a proud feminist.

The list of women I am trying to catch up with is growing. I don’t know some of these women personally. But I stalk their blogs and read them more than I read anybody else. The women that I do know personally are harder to emulate because I don’t want to freak them out. The child in me will only want to buy bags like theirs and clothes like theirs. In a simpler time, feminism just meant looking like the women I wanted to be like. And maybe now that I can look back without anger, it’s ok to derive inspiration from looking like them.

NM walks like she owns not just her body but everything and everybody around it. ‘Dress well, laugh and let them see you laugh’, says NM.

S and I often talk about Goddesses. The Goddess is an independent woman. She laughs sensually and cuts men down to size with humour and sometimes just a killer look. She isn’t beautiful but she has personality. Every time we deal with a situation using humour, personality, aggression, and style – we call ourselves goddesses. So far, we have never been able to do that.

I have doubted myself far too much in the last couple of months than I have in all my life. I have pondered over meanings and meaning -making, gestures and behaviours and how seriously I should take each of these. I have, at various occasions chided myself for over thinking and then wondered if I have in fact been over thinking. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am tired. I am tired of wanting to become the woman who knows exactly how to deal with assholes. I want to be that woman already.

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A Room of her own

In The Ugly Truth, Abby hides in a closet because Mike is stealing her show and being a sexist asspan. But she has to be ok with it — her show is getting massive TRP’s and as producer of the show, she has to swallow her pride and allow the patronizing man colleague to run it.

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Picture courtesy aceshowbiz.com

In No Reservations, Kate goes to the cold storage room every time Nick is threatening to take over her job. Suddenly Nick is everywhere. He is telling her how great she is at her work, he is irritatingly charming in a way that we are told we will learn to love, just give it time, and he is even a better mother to Zoey. Kate’s daily ritual of returning home to find it quiet and empty is ruined one evening when she realises that she hasn’t picked up Zoey from school.

You have seen her in the cold storage room before. She goes there when her sister dies, and when she feels like her life is being taken over by other people – sometimes by Zoey, and often by Nick.

‘This place is my life’, she says.

‘No, it’s not. It’s a part of your life, Kate. This isn’t who you are’

After teaching her who she is, Nick quits his job as Sous-chef and walks out– but not before telling her that he was offered her job. Later that night when she returns home, he has left her a message.

‘And btw—I turned down the offer’

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Picture courtesy aceshowbiz.com

In Wake up Sid, Aisha has nowhere to hide when her boss tells her to make coffee again. Her face falls as she quietly withdraws the hand that held the first draft of her story. Her home is hijacked by Sid whose things are all over the place. So where does she go when she needs a break from her own house? The bathroom.

When she decorates her house, Aisha paints the wall a nice, mustard yellow; her bedspread faces the big window with white curtains.

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Pic courtesy pinterest.com
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Pic courtesy polkacafe.com

In Alai Payuthey, we are shown what Shakthi’s home is like at 8:00 in the morning. Sitting at the dining table, wearing a yellow chudidar and studying for a medical exam, Shakthi is fighting because her mother has made upma again. Her mother is irritated because Shakthi’s hair is dishevelled and not neat, like her sister’s. Late in the night, in their room, Shakthi and her sister talk about the boy who has been stalking Shakthi. Shakthi is not thrilled and shushes at her sister to sleep.

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Pic courtesy setbyus.com

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After the boy and Shakthi are married, they live in a house that is still under construction and make it nice and cosy. A yellow bed sheet is thrown on a tiny bed; brown jute curtains are drawn, a gas stove sits in the kitchen. Days pass by and their clothes are strewn about, Shakthi’s used bindis dot the only mirror they own, a basketball sits on the floor, and they have their own worktables.

When she is late one day, he doesn’t have the keys to get in so he sits outside, waiting for her, sulking. When she comes, they fight. Their home has never looked so intimate. Shakthi circles a day off on a calendar that is hanging on a brick wall.

‘One for every day that we fight. Proof to show how difficult running a marriage is.’

In Bommarillu, Hasini takes Siddu out for coffee to a shop called Minerva. When he asks her where Minerva is, she says Secunderabad. Siddu is partly afraid, partly in awe but he agrees to go anyway because he isn’t used to taking a bus to another city to have coffee. As it turns out, Minerva is a dingy old shop run by a Muslim man named Sultan Bhai.

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Pic courtesy booksmoviesandbeyond.blogspot.co

In Minerva, Sultan Bhai and Hasini beti chit chat about cricket. She almost forgets to introduce Sultan Bhai to her ‘guest.’ Siddu looks at all of this wide-mouthed and maybe a little disgusted as Hasini proceeds to tell Sultan Bhai to give them two coffees. Special, she says and Sultan Bhai orders the boys to clean the cups.

Later in the movie, when they know they are falling in love with each other, Siddu tells her not to go out late in the night to eat ice cream anymore.

In The Holiday, Iris returns to an empty home every night and when she leaves her city to find herself, she finds a man. When Amanda escapes to get over her break-up, she finds love again in the same home that Iris left – a man to complete a home, a man to complete themselves.

Iris cries. Amanda doesn’t.

Iris’s home is small. It’s called Rosehill Cottage. She sits at her table one night and cries her lungs out. The man she loves is getting engaged. Her dog looks sympathetic and bored. She makes tea. On the table is a Sony laptop, a packet of tissues and a mug.

All these spaces, all these women who make these spaces their own and then when they are taken away, they hide or escape to closets and bathrooms and make rooms of their own.

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What they told me

Living alone is a skill, like running long distance or programming old computers. You have to know parameters, protocols. You have to learn them so well that they become like a language: to have music always so that the silence doesn’t overwhelm you, to perform your work exquisitely well so that your time is filled. You have to allow yourself to open up until you are the exact size of the place you live, no more or else you get restless. No less, or else you drown. There are rules; there are ways of being and not being.                                                 ~ Catherynne M. Valente, Palimpsest

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Pic courtesy The Daily Mail

Somebody shared this on Facebook and I died. Even though I have never lived alone, it’s what I think about – at least once every day. Two months ago, I did a bit of research to find out what women think they need to do to become/feel independent. This is what a few of my favourite women from 2015 had to say:

NV:

  • Live alone
  • Travel alone
  • Walk alone
  • Masturbate
  • Cut men down to size
  • Say the words Vagina and Clit in public

NM: Learn to cook

SR:

  • Flip water-cans
  • Develop a tolerance for loneliness
  • Buy Condoms

ZG: Live alone

IA:

  • Read
  • Travel
  • Have a hobby

SA:

  • Save money
  • Eat/drink alone

I keep borrowing the final image of my living alone from movies. Konkona Sen from Wake up Sid! Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz from The Holiday are the absolutest. What continues to be the deal-maker however is this quote:

Then there’s the deep contentment of turning the key in your own front door on a Friday night, slamming it behind you, pouring a glass of wine and settling down to watch a favourite movie.

I found the quote here.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that the older I grow, the farther the dream seems. My fears grow horns on their own when I travel with my family. And really really scary horns. Like I start feeling I will somehow be pushed into their dreams and when that happens, I’ll be too paralyzed to do anything about it.

I want to say I haven’t made any resolutions but nobody will believe me. Not even my blog. It may just delete itself off if I lie to it on it. So maybe resolution number one should be to stop traveling with the family.

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Thiruvananthapuram

Traveling with the family has always been a messy affair for me. Dad has unhindered access to me and what I wear and what I eat and how I live; the comments ensue, the match begins. But this happens only now, although oddly enough it seems like there’s a history that’s older than me when I think of all the disagreements we have had. Our travel sprees were a lot different when I was younger. And so were the disagreements.

Back then, I must have been crouching in the back seat, playing referee to the two voices in my head – one his, one mine; making them disagree. In short, waiting to grow up so I didn’t have to travel with them to temples and other violent places children should never be taken to. 

Traveling all of South India with a joint family in a matador will therefore only remain a blur that I accidentally found while groping in the dark, looking for something else. Somebody mentions a beach, a temple or a hotel and I find myself donning my best cat behavior trying to locate the blur in my memory, now whizzing like a housefly to be caught, an answer to be found, a page to be filled up.

We covered the temple cities in less than 4 days, stopping very briefly at Trivandrum, which until last year I firmly believed I had never seen. Last November, I discovered the blur in my memory that was Trivandrum and everything did not come rushing back as I had hoped it would. It took me a while to realise that I was seeing 2 versions of a city. One of which is imposed on you by temple going freak shows in the family who turn a blind eye to everything else the city offers. The other is when you catch a passing glimpse of yourself, in a moving vehicle, a showroom, a granite wall, and you smile in whispers and curse your family, when you are out exploring the city all by yourself.

I saw myself, away from home, away from temple people, away from the prying eyes of my father, wearing shorts, carrying nothing but a little bag and waiting to be lost. I walked around the hotel, smiled at all the slopes, coconut trees and little brick homes that gave me all kinds of Mangalore flashbacks. I took random turns, and found out that it is not easy to get lost in this city. Either that or I was too scared to go all the way out and be lost. 

At the turn of every corner, I smelled fish curry and coconut oil, a smell that I shamelessly associate Trivandrum with even today. The city made me see and feed the small foodie I was beginning to take note of in me. It outperformed the beach person that I was throughout my life.

I gorged on idiyappams and Kerala chicken curry in Statue hotel, downed jars of Pankaj Island Ice Tea, scooped chemmen fry with mounds of red rice and fish curry at Mubarak, judged soggy bits of meen pollichathu and forced its taste to match with the taste I thought it ought to have had, wolfed down puttu and prawn curry at Black pepper, all the while trying hard to drown the voices and faces of my part mallu-part mangy mother and her relatives. I could hear them echo loudly behind me. ‘Ti amgel vari khaoche’ – ‘She eats like us’.

Trivandrum’s streets are a marvel in themselves. An India coffee house, that looks like the leaning tower of pisa parked hazily around buses and bikes comes zooming back when I try to retrace my tour around the city. The buses looked easy to climb into unlike the whistling, red ones in Bangalore that are hostile bloody dynamites. At the far end of the street that I call Trivandrum is a little place that serves Biryani chaya – butter beer if I may. At the risk of getting kicked, I am going to say, drink it to know it. 

So when I go to Trivandrum, it is also to devour the best rice and kerala fish curry in the name of all that is fancy at Hotel Villa Maya, which, true to its name stands tall and quiet; unknowing of the city bustling all around it. I am no food expert but the food there is both sleep-inducing and exploding with taste.

This is how I remember Trivandrum, in its streets and food, in its friendly looking buses and pankaj island ice tea, but surprisingly very little in its beaches. However, nothing screams more Trivandrum than that familiar smell of fish curry and coconut oil when I check into its hotel. 

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In Between

Evil things and all

Luke: ‘There isn’t anything like family to screw up a marriage’

Lorelai: ‘Well in my case, there isn’t anything like family to screw up a family’

Between running around from film to film, venue to venue and from cheerfully waking up in the morning to grumpily entering the home a half hour before midnight, I stumbled upon the source of all human tragedy in life, family. People are miserable because of family. Either because they can’t stand them or because they love them to bits, so much so that they have to smother you with their love and couldn’t care any lesser for your life and its various demands on you. I had to juggle between 2 sets of worlds and deal with the tragedies in it by creating 2 sets of lies, just to be able to do something that I wanted to do.  I wanted to attend the Film Festival this year, absorb whatever little I was capable of and write about it like a mad woman.

Attend, I did. Write, I tried to but for reasons not entirely because of me, I couldn’t write much. I was tired from all the excuses I had to make, the lies I had to lie to try and manage the 2 different worlds that I live in to keep the people in it from tearing their hair out and mine.  Now that I think about it, I am sure that at one point those 2 worlds merged. And that’s when trouble began.  Maybe my boyfriend and I were able to manage without fights for so long because for 8 years I was able to keep him away from the world that was occupied by Emily and Richard. It was easy because he made no demands. But he is beginning to speak the language of the Gilmores now and that scares me.

I am 25 and I work. I am an adult. I don’t have to lie to attend the Film Festival. I shouldn’t have to micromanage my life and the people in it if they cannot deal with what I want to do with my time. I shouldn’t have had to miss a day of the film festival to go and nurse an upset boyfriend’s hurt feelings.  I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for missing my mother’s birthday cake cutting. For one week, I wanted to watch movies, talk about it and write about it. I wanted to stay back as late as I bloody wanted to on all those nights and not rush home like a mad woman, fearing a teary eyed mother, full of blackmail and menace.

I shouldn’t have to explain this to anybody. I love my life here, I love my job, and I love what I am doing right now. I shouldn’t be made to leave all of what I love and go someplace far away just to be away from these people. Why am I ranting when I can say screw you and continue doing the shit that I am doing anyway?  A 500 word post later too, I still feel screwed. I look at women, my age and younger, living lives their way and I want that.  I don’t know these women all too well but nothing stops me from constantly stalking them on twitter and face book and blogger.

So when I feel insanely jealous about the free lives that they are living, I feel better when I see that most of my friends from school and college are either married or getting married or have kids or are getting pregnant. It is sad and evil, I know. But you have no idea how great it feels to return home at 11:30 in the night after having watched 5 kickass movies one after another, battled a hundred different questions about the movies, asked them out loud, got laughed at, had conversations about the movies with people who know this stuff, made mental notes about how to write only to find out that that guy who sat in the fifth bench and was very rarely nice to you is married. And he is 25. Yes, I am an evil person, making judgments and everything, but what the hell, I am 25 too and not married so I get to gloat. Hee haww!