Father’s Day 2018

Yesterday, in some parts of the world, it was Father’s Day. My entire Facebook and Instagram feeds were flooded with messages and photographs, mostly of daughters posting about their fathers. Wishes, joy, and love abounded. It was lovely. It was also gut-wrenching.

I managed to stay calm throughout the day, reacting appropriately to posts and any jokes that came my way. Of course, the reminder that my father wasn’t around was omnipresent, but it didn’t overwhelm me. None of my friends or acquaintances was out to hurt me with these reminders of Father’s Day, and I kept that thought firmly fixed in my mind as I reacted to them.

Finally, I thought I was past the danger zone of having a breakdown when today dawned. But naturally, the universe wasn’t as obliging as all that. Because I came across this Bored Panda article.

Not going to lie, tears welled up, as I scrolled through the photographs. The emotions writ so large on each father’s face as he first beheld his daughter in a wedding dress. It was magical. And I am still fighting back tears as I write this.

When we lost my father in 2016, I told my mother that I couldn’t conceive of having any milestones without him: my wedding, my first child, perhaps some more children, my first home, etc. He wouldn’t meet my husband, and my husband in turn wouldn’t have met this all-important figure of my life. My children wouldn’t know their grandfather. It was all too raw and impossible to grapple with in that time of grief.

Over the months hence, I have accepted many of the changes that comes with losing a loved one. There were many moments where I have stopped for a fragment of a moment and smiled at what I imagine would have been my father’s reaction, if he had been around. The moments are always sweet and filled with love, but tinged with undeniable loss and sadness too.

I can imagine my father’s face if had seen me in my wedding outfit. He wouldn’t have cried, no, but looked at me fully with those great big hazel eyes, filled with emotion. He wouldn’t have said that I looked beautiful to me, but turned around to my mother [who WOULD be crying or exasperated with me] and said that I looked amazing. He would have stepped forward and hugged me, and told me that he wouldn’t give me to anyone and my waiting husband-to-be could go take a hike. [It sounds better in Hindi.] And we would have laughed a little because that was our equation. Oh, he would have also said something about how lucky I was to “have his face” too.

Even though I feel sadness that I will never get to experience this scene in reality, I count myself fortunate that I knew him well enough to play it out in my mind. I feel fortunate to think I had a father that loved me so much that when he saw me, even as an adult, he saw a curly-haired 5 year-old instead. I feel fortunate that, being a daughter, I had a relationship with him that I would never had if I had been born a boy. [Yes, he was really not cut out to be a father to boys. Awful critter. smh.]

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful fathers in the world. Wherever they may be.

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Book Review: The Vegetarian

Vaguely, at the back of my mind, I remember hearing about this book in 2016. It was about a year and change after I had turned vegetarian [lacto-ovo-vegetarian, more specifically], and I thought it would be an interesting read. However, this was not a factor in my decision to buy the book, or to read it.

I just liked the cover. A white bird’s wing, on a background of pink and black. The note in the corner saying it was a Man Booker prize winner did my impression no harm either. So I bought it.

And then I read it.

Author: Han Kang

Story: Yeong-hye is a young woman, who is afflicted by violent dreams one night. As a result, she becomes vegan from the next day onwards. Her decision rocks her marriage, and the book chronicles her descent into what appears to be mental illness through the perspectives of first her husband, then her brother-in-law, and finally her sister.

Writing: The original novella is in Korean, so I obviously read a translation. Having read translations of Indian works, and seeing the cultural tones denuded in the process of literal meanings, I am reluctant to form any opinion at all of this book. That being said, there is a stark simplicity to the writing, but often it feels detached and somewhat cold.

Characters: Practically all the characters have demons; whether they acknowledge them or not. There are very few likeable characters, including Yeong-hye herself, who inspires pity rather than empathy. Yeong-hye is such a fragile being, almost a shell of a person rather than an actual person, it is hard to understand anything of what she is going through.

As for the narrators, her husband is a shit-head. There is no other way to describe his utter lack of empathy and total self-absorption. Her brother-in-law is conflicted and troubled, tortured by his artistic obsessions. Ultimately, a weakling. Her sister, though. She is the only person in this book with any degree of character. She has depth and dignity, and yet she is so fundamentally human – which is strange in this collection of one-dimensional people. I would say that she is the true protagonist of this book. [Of course, this is because I can only empathise with her.]

Pace: Short and therefore quickly read. It was a riveting read, because I could barely comprehend what I was reading at all.

Conclusion: As I mentioned before, my experience of translated novels has been far from satisfactory. I don’t think any one can get the right sense of Korean culture via this book, as it is firstly a story with a narrow focus, and secondly it does paint the culture in an extremely poor light. That being said, coming from an Asian background, I can see that the elements of patriarchy are more than plausible. It is the lack of love within families and the extreme reactions to vegetarianism that strike me as off the mark.

When I finished this book, I was very confused as to what the takeaway was meant to be. It is a harsh story with horrific elements, but there was no conclusion or resolution. Each section rests in mid-air, and the reader is very much left to imagine the end results on their own. I am not against this type of storytelling, but then such an extreme case leaves me wondering what the point of writing the book was at all.

The book has left an indelible mark on my psyche, as evidenced by the fact that I finished it over a month ago and I can still remember the arcs. I initially spent some time looking for someone to talk to about the book, in the hope that it would make sense to me. However, the book is meant to remain as an abstruse puzzle, where I cannot fathom the point at all. I did visit a few Reddit threads about it, but the conversations usually devolved to comments about the translation.

This article, though, was an interesting take. I found some measure of relief after reading that someone else disliked this acclaimed book too.

Rating: ✩✩

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Food Harassment

For a while, I was rather taken up with the Answer this question thing on Facebook, because it was like a mini writing prompt. One of them was:

Not because I particularly love cake, but because of my predilection for baking. I wanted to bake because my mother wasn’t a fan. Growing up, very few of my friends’ mothers baked, but those that did made the most amazing stuff. [In retrospect, it wasn’t that hard. My mother just doesn’t have the yen for it. Fair play.]

Then the whole cake fairy nonsense erupted at work, and I was repeatedly harangued for food. The demands moved from cake to just about anything that my mom or I cooked, because cake became too specific for many.

The food harassment, as I like to call it, took on some hilarious proportions. There was a time set aside for this machinations to take place: my lunch time. The way the office worked is that people could go have lunch in the office cafe any time they wanted, so that was logically the best time to corner me. There were scouts posted [well, those who worked near the cafe] who were meant to send off alerts to the main perpetrators when I went in for my meal.

In the beginning – the first 2 days at the most – this was protocol. After that, it was largely scattershot. Having said that, after spending an hour AFTER I had finished eating, literally cornered by 3 boys, I started sneaking in to have my lunch.

The cafe was in the shape of an L, and the large part of the L was visible from the pantry area. The little part though was not, so if I sat there, no one could see me, unless they walked the full length of the L first. There was more security this way, so people in the pantry wouldn’t suddenly spot me, and make the most of the opportunity.

This plan, for the most part, worked very well. It did mean that I ate my lunch alone, but I had podcasts to keep me company, and I could come and go in peace.

Until one fine day, when the founders came to the cafe for their lunch, and they decided to pick the table at the end of the cafe. Yup, the only place you could see me from, and the way the tables were placed? It meant that although we were at different tables, they were sitting right next to me.

I groaned inwardly because, knowing them, they would attempt to converse with me out of courtesy. But at least, I could make good my escape when I was done eating.

However, the first question out of their mouths was: “Hey! Why are you eating here on your own?” and the second, before I could reply to the first, was: “Are you hiding?”

Now, I was known for being a bit of a cartoon with a sarcastic tongue. The founder I reported to – my boss – knew this, but his counterpart didn’t interact with me on a day-to-day basis. Basically, I should have chosen the words of my response more carefully. Because my reply was: *smiled* “Yeah, I’m hiding from AP, DG, and RP. Last week, they kept me here an extra hour till I promised to bring them cake!”

In my defence, I laughed a little, and shrugged. It was not something to be taken seriously. However, not in my defence, I should have noted the widened eyes that followed my remark. My boss laughed too, and I assumed that was the end of that.

Um. No.

The next day, I got called in for a meeting with the head of HR. I had no idea what the meeting was about, because there are many times I’ve been asked to edit policies and generally support their function. In no way did I connect my lunchtime conversation of the previous day to this.

Hooboy.

She sat me down gently, and asked me whether I needed water and how I was feeling. Now this in itself took me by surprise, because I have been at the office longer than her. I know where the water is. I said I was fine, and then it occurred to me to ask what the meeting was about.

“Oh, the conversation you had with Nakul (the other founder) yesterday. He said that 3 of the engineers are harassing you, and I should sort it out. I also had a word with the guys about it.”

After blinking in astonishment for about 20 seconds, I burst into peals of incredulous laughter. I only stopped laughing long enough to explain the utter ludicrousness of the situation, where I would complain to a co-founder about my petty bickering with 3 of my office FRIENDS. Not colleagues, friends!

The HR was relieved too, although she was slightly miffed about the misunderstanding. I calmed down finally, and explained that she knew the equation that existed between me and the engineers. We bantered and fought, but it wasn’t ever serious. She agreed, and suggested I have a word with Nakul to lay the issue to rest. I acquiesced and the meeting ended.

I looked for Nakul, and found him next to one of the guys, DG. And without preamble, because this needed sorting out, I launched into a short speech: “Hey Nakul. You know what I said about food harassment yesterday? I was kidding! They do harass me, but it is just a bit of fun. I wasn’t upset or anything!”

To his credit, Nakul accepted that he misunderstood, but I see that he was just making sure everything was on the up and up in the office. I can appreciate that. However the other 3? Still haven’t let me live down my “complaint to management and HR”.

Bloody idiots.

Being Grateful

I have had a shitty week. There are many reasons for why I had a shitty week so far, the vast majority of them are trivial, except for one painful thorn in my side.

It involves my problem client again. This time, she’s managed to make my life even more hellish than normal by not depositing the tax she’s deducted on my invoices against my PAN. This means that my income is going to be considered 100% by the tax department, and I will lose a further 10% on it, in addition to the money she has held back.

Sigh. I’m trying to sort it out, but it is a painful process. The last invoice I had to get settled involved a shouting match with her husband for 45 minutes. Actually, it wasn’t a shouting ‘match’; he was shouting because he is a miserable turd, and I was trying to de-escalate the situation as far as possible. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

This is the worst thing that has happened this week, and in all fairness, it isn’t that bad. Worse stuff happens to people on a daily basis. This is a part of business. People suck. All this, I know and appreciate. But of course, bad stuff, no matter how trivial, takes a mental toll.

Now, the way I deal with the mental toll is to talk to my mother. She is my confidant and best friend, and she tells me all the uncomfortable truths of things which I do not want to hear but I really should. She has forced me out of my self-inflicted melancholy and abject feeling-sorry-for-myself mode countless times. This time was no different.

I explained what happened with the problem client, and we talked about it. I wasn’t upset; just pensive and trying to mentally grapple with the situation. This, in itself, is huge progress for me. I have a tendency to go completely off the rails for some time [in the privacy of my home though, obviously] and rave a lot about unfairness and unethical behaviour and the works. I didn’t do any of that this time; in fact, was not inclined to do so at all.

But, there are other things on my mind. Important things, which I haven’t been able to be so calm and collected about. And as my mother always says, it boils down to the outcomes that I want and expect for the work I put in. Outcomes, by the way, over which I have no control. So I am miserable when something I have worked for falls through with a fizzle.

And this brings me neatly to the point of this post: being grateful. I have a lot of stuff in my life that I will be eternally grateful for. What I have today is more than many people have, and I might find deficiencies but another person might find it paradisical. I AM grateful. There is no doubt about that, but my learning in all of this is to let go of what I want.

I have wrestled with the concept of letting go many times, as I have consumed article after article where people extol the virtue of hard work and graft. All of which is true, undoubtedly, but spirituality [in the form of my mother] has taught me that I can only do my best with the best intentions. I cannot control the outcomes at all. And that has been a difficult lesson to learn.

But I’m getting there. For which, I am truly grateful.

The Practicality of Wedlock

It is a transaction, really, isn’t it? It is a transaction between two families in this crazy country that is supposed to happen at a certain point in one’s life, and meant to fulfil certain criteria, and yield specific results. The most bonkers part of this epiphany I had today is that I was blissfully unaware that this transactional model affected me in any way. But holy crap it has. It always has; I just never realised it. Till today.

I grew up with the vague idea that I wanted to marry another Indian. Same culture, similar background, a sense of belonging to the same homeland. [This, by the way, in spite of being born in another country, and being called a firangi most of the time.] I rail and rant against the “Indian male” syndrome of being patriarchal and narrow-minded and being unable to see that a woman is a being in her own right. She has dreams and desires and wishes of her own. And yet, I want to be with one of these very specimens. Strange.

In my previous relationships, I modified myself, my very identity, to conform to the transactional nature of marriage. Thankfully for my continued existence and mental stability, it never got as far as marriage. I fell blithely in love over and over again, not realising that the cookie cutter mould of a wife is what my dear exes would have dearly loved. Oh no. I thought it was ME they loved. Goodness what a bloody fool I am. [Note: present tense.]

I WANT to get married and have a family. I’ve admitted this so many times recently, because it was a revelation for me after my last breakup. I’ve said some of the things I am about say before, but there is stress pent up in my chest and I need to let it out. [A difficult conversation with mum in the morning is the root cause of this outburst.] Here is what *I* in my infinite stupidity thought marriage was all about:

Two people meet. They become friends and/or fall in love. One of those things comes first; and the other follows. The order doesn’t matter. What matters is that both things happen. You are one of those people. You are now in love with your best friend. With me so far?

You fall in love with that person. With their unique beauty of mind and soul, their heart, their thoughts, their dreams, perceptions, their flaws, their problems, and a million billion tiny and huge things that makes them who they are. You decide that life without this person by your side is not worth a second’s consideration.

Next, families come in. There are people who have perfect, loving families. There are those who aren’t speaking to their families. Families are complete, incomplete, difficult, trying, loving, accepting, welcoming, and much more. Configurations vary, but the goal is the same: be a support to your partner. They are close to their family? You become close to their family. They have trouble with dealing with their family? Stick by their side and deal with them. Support. Amalgamate. Absorb and be absorbed. Their family becomes your family.

It would be nice to have assets going into any relationship, but hey life isn’t a balance sheet is it? You cannot consider assets and liabilities when in love. Because that doesn’t make that person; it is just a thing they have to grapple with. Again, support. Be there. Just, be there.

Finally, and this is my biggest issue with marriage in India, forget what you are supposed to do. Life has no guarantees. You marry someone picture-perfect, with credentials down pat, and he turns out to be an abusive head case. She has affairs left, right, and centre. He gets mowed down in his car by a rogue truck. She goes blind. Your beautifully planned little life goes fucking kaput. What will you do then?

Yeah, so I was prepared to make compromises in myself and give off myself, because I loved that person on the other side. My partner was always my best friend. The person I looked to for unstinting support. The person, who if the roles were reversed, I would be there for with every fibre of my being.

I want to find love like that. I thought I had, the last time around, but it turned out to be an intricate web of manipulation and lies. But I loved like that. It took a long time to unlearn that love. That friendship. The desire to shoot off a text to say: “Hey. I’m sad. Just thinking of you makes me happy. Thanks for being in my life.”

Marriage is not about the wedding and the setting up of house and having children. It is all those things but so much more. Setting up your first home in a ramshackle building, with one bedroom and a tiny bathroom, but being happy. About coming home tired, and finding peace in each other’s company. About waking up in the middle of the night because someone’s parent has fallen ill, and rushing off together to the hospital with mussed hair and stale breath.

It is about cleaning your partner’s teeth when they’re too sick to do it themselves. About staying up all night when they have a report to file, just for company. It is about them paying the bills and you handling the groceries for the house, and taking over everything when one or the other is away. And being grumpy about it, but it’s ok because you are helping out your best friend.

It is about having fights about that expensive thing you bought without checking in first. And then you admitting it was wrong, and agreeing not to do it again. It is about laughing when you see someone else checking him out, and feeling pride at being his chosen one. It is about panicking about receiving a suggestive message, and him being the first and only person who you can talk to about it. It is about plugging in your ears with music, while he watches the game all through your carefully cooked meal. It is about kicking his ass, after the game is over, because insensitive much dude?

It is about all these crazy things that make you grow and him grow and you both grow together. It is about being complete with each other, and then building a family with that wonderful completeness. The joy of conceiving a baby, and the pain of bringing that baby into the world. Arguments about names, to arguments about why he should also get up in the night to feed his own spawn once in a while.

Ultimately, it is about growing old, knowing that someone has your back. My ex used to say: “I love you because I know when I grow old, and I forget to put my pants on one day, you’ll stop me from leaving the house and help me into those pants.” I would have. But I learned fast that he wouldn’t have. One sign of putting himself out, and out he would have bolted. Sigh.

My parents had a marriage like that, and I am starting to see why all their friends told my mother that they couldn’t imagine her pain, because she had a marriage in a billion.

Is it so crazy that this was my idea of marriage? Was is so insane that I never considered my single mother a “liability” like she said she was today, because I figured love conquers all? Granted with some difficulty, but yeah love still conquers.

Looks like I am destined to be unmarried and single. At least in this lifetime.

Target Acquired

I am not a special little snowflake. Let’s get that out of the way before I continue. I am reasonably certain that every girl get her share of unwanted male attention, because I have seen enough evidence of it online. [I sort of wish I had a girlfriend to talk over this stuff with, because there would be someone else who had that shared experience. I’ve entirely given up on male friends.]

So remember this guy? His opening salvo should’ve sent up red flags, but I am an idiot and quash every survival instinct in the interest of being polite and courteous. Plus, he hadn’t said anything rude. He continued to chat, asking me questions about where I was from, and whether I was married. [Yes, I am aware that is 0 to 100 in less than 60 seconds, but even so, not rude.]

I continued to respond, using my Indianness as a shield of conservatism, because I don’t conveniently have a man in my life to deflect unwanted sexual attention. It worked, to point. And then this happens:

Because why wouldn’t you ask a perfect stranger if you could send them nudes? Absolutely normal, I suppose. Sigh.

Sniping Away

I found an old Facebook post about a conversation I had with the ex, regarding having kids. Copying the whole thing here, because it really shouldn’t be tampered with in any way!

During a chat about having kids in the future:

Me: “I really just want girls. Don’t think I could handle sons. Might kill them in the heat of the moment, and regret it later. Not to mention the jail time. Plus, I cannot in good conscience release copies of you into this unsuspecting world.”
Anand: “I don’t mind either, really. Any child of mine will be awesome.”
Me: *snorting sound*
Anand: *ignoring me* “However, when my daughters grow up, I will have to set up a sniper’s nest on the roof?”
Me: “A WHAT?!”
Anand: “A sniper’s nest. To take care of boyfriends.” *smugly* “I am a crack shot with a rifle, you know. Part of our Navy training. Won medals and stuff.”
Me: “Really now? Does the Navy train you for being unceremoniously spanked by your wife for being an unconscionable hypocrite?”
Anand: *very small voice* “No.”

An actual, honest-to-God conversation. Still hilarious, so many years later.