Kanpur-Famous

I have my doubts about the veracity of this claim, but my friends assure me that I must be famous in Kanpur. Of course, they are idiots of the first water, so I rarely take them seriously. But it is a fun story nevertheless.

All this transpired during a friend’s wedding in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. A fair few of us were travelling and attending the wedding together, although there were only 2 women in a contingent of 12. I was one of these women.

Just after the baraat [the groom’s entry], we were entering the reception area. Because the actual wedding was at the ass-crack of dawn, the reception unusually took place first. I hear this is common practice with North Indian weddings, but it seems a little upside down to me. At any rate, hair mussed with the humidity and dancing, and panting thanks to uncomfortable heels, we traipsed into the venue.

Of course the bride’s side was set to welcome the groom’s party, and there were multiple photographers capturing all the goings-on. As we entered as a group, there were several pictures of us like that.

Then, the photographer waved to the boys to move aside. They obligingly did so, because they knew the other girl was not my favourite person, and that I would set my teeth at being alone with her in a series of snaps. I did set my teeth, but I went along with it for the sake of politeness, and in the interest of not making a scene.

After the photographer clicked a few pictures of the both of us, he waved us off. Or so I thought. We thanked him, and prepared to step aside, when:

Photographer: “Not you madam, the other madam only.”

In some surprise, I looked at him, and then at the other girl. I shrugged, because I wasn’t bothered by this development and started walking away.

Photographer: “No no no no no no! Madam stay. Other madam, side please.”

To my absolute horror, and to the unending glee of 10 miserable boys who live for fodder like this, the photographer wanted solo photographs of me. I stood in electrified shock, smile frozen in a rictus of growing dismay, as the photographer proceeded to move around me for various angle shots.

Yep.

After a few moments, I collected my scattered wits and firmly put a stop to the photographs. But the damage was done. I turned in some consternation to the guys, and saw them brimming with barely suppressed mirth. Barking a ‘oh shut up all of you’ in their general direction, I limped off to the buffet.

A little later, one of them sidled up to me to tease me. I fixed him with a baleful glare, and accused him of putting the photographer up to that stunt to embarrass me. He chuckled and said: “Dude, this is Kanpur. It costs less to bribe people here.” A response that made me feel miles better, I might add, because at least then I know it was a prank.

Fast forward a month or so later, when the groom was back in office after an extended break. Of the original group, 5 of us had put together a hamper as a wedding gift, and we wanted to know whether he liked the coffee machine we got for him.

There was a little ribbing because turns out he thought it was a mixer-grinder, and was pleasantly surprised to hear it wasn’t. Silly ass. I was laughing at him when he comes out with:

UK: “Oh by the way Karishma, my relatives thought you were a foreigner.”
Me: *blanching, because this was said in the middle of a big group* “What utter rubbish. Stop making shit up UK.”
UK: “Seriously! They asked me whether I had invited people from our ‘foreign ka office’.”
Me *starting to beat a hasty retreat amid gales of laughter*: “Liar liar, pants on fire.”
DG: “Dude! They asked her to dance with them too, during the baraat. None of us were asked to join in!”
Me: “Stop it!”
AG: “And the photographer took SO many pictures of her on her own!”
Me: “Guys..”
RP: “Holy shit, yeah! He asked us all to move aside! Even <other chick>!”
Me: “Wait! DG bribed him to do that!”
DG: “No I didn’t! I swear!”
Me: “Screw all of you. I hate you all.”
UK: “Um. I’ve been through all the photos. There are no pictures of just Karishma.”

Pin drop silence reigned after this bombshell hit, as each of us grappled with the implications. I was the first to run off, sped on faster by the shouts of laughter from the table.

To this day, over 2 years later, I still get teased about being a foreign pin-up girl in some Kanpur photographer’s studio. I’m not kidding: I really hate all of these guys. 😐

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Fall in Love with the Worst of Me

I wrote before on feeling inadequate for potential mothers-in-law in a previous post. It was and is a fair representation of my state of mind when it comes to getting into a serious relationship with someone, but there is another aspect that also hamstrings me considerably.

There are a lot of things wrong with me; I prefer to think of them as flaws that I can work out eventually, but some are circumstantial. The latter, I have no control over. They are what they are. But one of my requirements for someone to be my partner is that they need to see me at my worst and still love me, before I move forward. There is background to this, so bear with me.

Way back in school, I was very much an awkward teen. I couldn’t speak to boys without stuttering and flushing a truly iridescent and unattractive shade of purple. My mother was less than amused with the ridiculous segregation that was part and parcel of living in an Islamic country, and of being in a starchy Indian school. So, when a boy in my year asked me out [through the aegis of a common friend], she drove me to accept.

Now the boy in question was an Adonis. The only difference was that he was Indian, and didn’t have the rippling physique. But oh my goodness was he gorgeous. He had brown hair, considerably lighter than the dark mops that usually adorn Indian heads. He had big green-grey eyes, set in an alabaster complexion. He was as fair as, if not fairer than, me. He was taller than I was, but not by a lot [we were young teens, so he had some more growing to do]. He was divinely beautiful, and I was not remotely attracted to him. [This story deserves its own post really, and I’ll get to it after I finish this one.]

Uday was a dreamboat, but he was a typical Dubai kid. Massive chip on his shoulder, attitude issues because despite his movie star looks, he was not a popular kid. [Our school culture placed a lot of emphasis on brashness, physique, and academics for social ranking.] His parents were separated too, which must have been rough for him, but overall he was something of snotty toerag.

I couldn’t for the life of me understand why any boy, let alone this gorgeous hunk, would be interested in me. I was the very epitome of uncool; and honestly, I still am although I am way chill with that status quo now. So when he wrote poems about my eyes [yes, really] I really had no wits about me to answer.

He asked me out on a date – again, had no idea what to do. His dad dropped me home later, and the common friend who set us up told me the next day that he had spent all his pocket money on the date. I felt terrible, but I had offered to pay my share, but possibly a timidly squeaking date wasn’t terribly convincing. So the common friend suggested I invite him over.

My mom was very cool with this plan, and she had me rent a movie, got us some snacks, and went out for a meeting, leaving us alone. [Have I mentioned my mom is a very very cool person?]

We watched the movie, and then we wanted to surf the web. Now, the computer was in my parents’ bedroom which also housed my extremely unfriendly dog of the time; a rather murderous white Alsatian. To get access to the computer, she needed to be shunted out of their bedroom into mine. She was not pleased.

There was a certain protocol that existed for this manoeuvre, and I forgot one of the salient points: remove the carpet rug off my room’s floor. Of course I forgot, and in her annoyance, my dog peed on the carpet.

Uday and I finished surfing the web, and I went to check on my dog. To my horror, I realised that she had expressed her disapproval in a rather large stain. So I had to clean it out pronto. I happened to be dressed in going-out clothes because of my gentleman caller, so I changed into home wear for the clean up.

I lugged the carpet into my parents’ bathroom to wash, and Uday caught sight of my erm ensemble. His eyebrows shot into his hairline and he sneered at me a little: “WHAT are you wearing?” At the best of times, I was not poised. At this? I bolted into the bathroom, carpet in tow. I scrubbed the thing, and dried it out in the balcony, my cheeks burning with embarrassment.

The problem was that for that instant, I looked like the help. In the social status-obsessed culture of Dubai, it wasn’t a good move. As a grown up, I couldn’t care less: Carpet > Superficial ideals. But at the time? I was crushed.

The date progressed thereafter, and I moved my dog back into her room after we were done surfing the web. We made out too, my first ever kiss [slobbery and wet] happening a mere hour or so after the carpet washing incident. [I still wasn’t attracted to him. I didn’t even like him at that point.] I just wanted him to go.

My mother thankfully returned, and his dad came to pick him up too. And I was left with a weird sense of what-just-happened.

A lot of what I have just described came back to me as I was writing the post, and it makes me want to unpack that chapter a little more for the sake of closure. But this post is about my takeaway: that I needed to be with someone who understands that life isn’t a pretty little fairytale.

Human beings are messy creatures. We have fluids oozing out of orifices, and our skins form thin layers between the eyes of the world and a mess of guts and bones. There are times when hair is all out of place, and we are covered in mud or dust or grime. Cooking involves effort, and it isn’t always prettified with a gingham apron and colourful pans. Having a baby isn’t romantic either; there is copious amounts of blood and ooze, and shit too on occasion. Vomit is a part of life too, and it sure as hell isn’t Instagram-worthy. As we age, our bodies start shutting shop. Teeth and hair fall out, and bellies flop out and skin dangles loosely in folds. Suppose illness strikes? Cancer isn’t pretty. Neither is malaria or typhoid.

Forget the messiness of the body for a moment, and realise that life too is messy. I live in a broken down apartment, with doors that have bits missing, and walls that are in parts crumbling and others losing paint. We try and keep the house as clean and liveable as possible, but circumstances have made it necessary for us to continue here. One of my exes would have baulked at the thought of sleeping on mattress in the living room, and complained incessantly of there being only one sink. [There are logistics involved with this; we are not unsanitary.]

I feel like that a person who judges me for what I look like, my circumstances, and how I manage to be happy in less than perfect surroundings is missing the point. The point is that these things are immaterial. A connection between two people, their hearts and minds, is beyond all this. It is to be able to see the goodness, the kindness, and joy within, and revel in a love that both create.

Uday was an immature kid at the time, and I don’t think, looking back, that he intended to sneer at me. However, because of my hypersensitivity to his reaction, I learned that I only want to be with someone who understands what lies beneath.

Compassionate Jokes

I have something of an unruly tongue at the best of times, but I learned today that I can control it on occasion.

Previously, when I went out with my family, I often uttered a famous TV dialogue which flummoxed my parents, as evidenced by this sorrowful Facebook post I put up years ago:

There is this celebrated TV show in India called CID. One of the characters, a policeman called “Daya”, is repeatedly asked by his superior officer to break down a door. Since my mom’s name is Daya, it amused me no end to tell my tiny mother to kick down doors. I got a lot of mileage [for myself] out of that quip, before I explained it to my parents.

So the other day, Mom and I had trotted off to the salon to get her a haircut, and we were accosted by a beggar lady on leaving the salon premises. Now, I am not an insensitive soul, but I have learned not to yield to their pleas for money. Food is fine, but money is problematic. [Definitely something I should figure out in another post.]

Now, there are many standard whines that beggars use to importune people into giving them money. This one said: “Please show some compassion.” That is a rough translation from: “Daya karo.

I didn’t say anything, although I was sorely tempted. Adult. *ahem*

Trigger Responsibility

Ha. Another rant. A potentially incoherent one, without a definitive outcome or conclusion.

Although the incidents described in my previous posts are recent, the sentiments they generate are not. The attention makes me feel sick, cheap, and dirty. I want it to stop because I hate it. I do not find it complimentary. I do not secretly revel in the attention. Nothing of the sort. I just abhor being the “other woman”.

It isn’t an indictment on other “other women”, by the way. Everyone’s situation is different, and apportioning blame is not something I can generalise easily. If I had to though? I would blame the cheating party. Because that’s the person doing the deceptive deed.

Anyway, when untoward incidents have befallen me, and thankfully the regularity with which they do so has decreased dramatically recently, I tend to introspect a lot. There is a lot of: “Why does this happen to me?” and “What can I have done to attract this attention?” and “Do I send the wrong signals?” and “Should I have done this differently?” and so on. There is much dissecting of my own behaviour that goes on and, even though on a cognitive level I know this is ridiculous, I look for where the blame is mine.

It isn’t that I don’t feel revulsion for the perpetrator and the incident; because I most certainly do. But a corner of my brain also feels revulsion for myself. In my more coherent moments, I know that it is terrible and wrong to feel like that, but in the moments of upset, it is inevitable.

I play the incidents several times in my mind, minutely examining decisions I made:

  • I shouldn’t have put up a status message on WhatsApp. -> He was emboldened to make a comment.
  • I shouldn’t have agreed to meet up with him. -> He took that as interest from me, whereas I was being polite.
  • I shouldn’t have worn that outfit. -> He thought I was dressing up for him.
  • I shouldn’t have responded to his midnight messages. -> He understood that as a signal that I was open to his advances.

And many more such thoughts. If any other girl said these things to me, I would have talked her out of this destructive thought process. I would have explained that this is a combination of rape culture and patriarchy, and that men need to be able to control themselves around women. I would have said that women need to stop berating themselves for making insignificant actions into major excuses for other people’s poor behaviour. We are allowed to dress up for ourselves, wearing what we want. Our appearance is not a signal to anyone, but how we choose to look for that moment.

And yet, I still think these things. I went through my PRIVATE Instagram account, and deleted all followers who were not personal friends. I have vowed not to put up status messages on WhatsApp. I stopped tweeting a long time ago. I didn’t do any of these things for attention, incidentally, but for the joy of reaching out to my friends and family with a random smile or thought.

I guess this blog is my final frontier of sharing, and that too because I have guarded the URL like national treasure. Ain’t no one getting a piece o’ me from here.

Kanchan Strikes Again

A few days ago, I met up with some bros from my old workplace. We were a tight crew, as we spent months sitting at the same table. This meet up was ostensibly because of my birthday, and it happens every year. It is great.

During the lunch, one of them asks me about this incident. [If you decide to check out that link, do make note of the date too.] I repeated most of it, reliving in excruciating discomfort the gushing comments about my face and nosering. Of course my friends were highly amused and grossed out at the same time. There was quite a lot of goodnatured ribbing, and I managed to laugh about it all too.

About an hour ago though, one of them send me this screenshot:

There are 2 things I realised from this screenshot:
1. He was married when he messaged me.
2. He is still married to the same girl today.

This sort of nonsense really has to stop. It wasn’t ever funny for me to deal with, but now I am actively sickened.

Creep Radar

I am reasonably certain that I am by no means the only female that has a strong creep radar. In fact, in addition to this hair-trigger warning system, I also find that I am hyper aware of my surroundings when alone. The sensation eases a little when I am with someone, but the underlying wariness of being in a public place is lingering.

As for the most part, I’m glad it is there. I haven’t suffered once because I reacted with caution, but I have had far too many unpleasant experiences of NOT being wary in public places. I am prone to classifying strangers as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ based on micro-behaviours and body language; something I thought was innate and borderline voodoo till I started reading this book. [It’s good.]

Another facet of this ability is to sense attraction in other people. Now, this ability is far from absolute. I tend to discount the people that I am attracted to myself, because I want to weed out wishful thinking bias. But the others? Hooboy.

[The story I am about to narrate isn’t going to paint me in a good light. I will appear paranoid and overly suspicious, and slightly delusional. But bear in mind that all what I am describing here is in addition to subtler body language nuances and expressions that I am not equipped to pinpoint with accuracy. It leaves one with an overall “feeling” that is vague and nebulous, but no less potent for the lack of substance.]

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a client. This particular meeting, as a matter of fact. The lawyer left a favourable impression, as I stated in my post. I did think he was looking at me a little more than strictly necessary, but it registered as a teeny tiny orange flag, as opposed to a major red flag.

Except, that wasn’t the only flag.

As we were leaving, I stopped to use the bathroom. He was half out the door, but stopped and came back in. And he used the bathroom after me, so the odd circumstance was satisfactorily explained. Ok, I thought, it is a reasonable thing to visit the facilities as a sensible afterthought. But the thought flashed into my head: is he lingering to walk back to the station with me?

We did eventually walk to the station together. And we talked, as one does, about the client and work, and how we each have gone about starting our businesses. I tend to take a self-deprecatory stance in most social settings, so I laughingly told him about my inability to network for prospects. And so on. The conversation moved smoothly forward, and we proceeded towards the station.

At one point, I happened to mention that I developed the content for the client website. He was visibly surprised, and turned to me to say: “Wow really? You wrote all that? It is really amazing!” Again, this is not an extraordinary remark to make. It was the accompanying body language that put me a little on the back foot. I did thank him, and saw to my surprise that he was almost glowing at me. Hm.

We reached the station, and parted ways. I obviously didn’t look back to see where he was going, so I have no idea if he did the same or not. In the train back home, it occurred to me that this situation had the potential to escalate further. I was getting major interest vibes from this person, and I wasn’t sure about it at all. Something was throwing me off. It didn’t “feel” right.

So I did what any person in this time and age does: I looked him up on Facebook. I found him without a problem. Aha. Married. My favourite peeve.

I reared back mentally, and stored this new information in a corner of my brain. It was important that I reevaluate my stance, and dial back the friendliness. It can be misconstrued, not only by him, but by his significant other. This interaction needed to be strictly professional.

In the days to come, there were more seemingly ordinary interactions which I was sure I was overreacting to. He asked for my number, and I gave it to him because it was necessary. I happened to mention that it wasn’t my WhatsApp number though. So a few days later, he texted me asking for my WA’s number. Only, the way he asked was: “Would you mind sharing your WhatsApp number with me?” Hm. Am I reading too much into the seeming hesitation for something so ordinary? Perhaps he was trying to be courteous. Perhaps he is a timid person. Perhaps he felt that I don’t give out that number easily. I don’t know. But it struck me as strange, and although I gave him the number [we are working together in a sense], it was with a strange sense of reluctance, because it felt like opening a door I didn’t want open.

None of these vague sensations was I able to justify. I only talked to my mother about it, because I knew quite well, from experience, what other people would say. She understood the discomfort I was experiencing. That was enough.

Yesterday, things sort of came to a head. I have this habit of posting random status updates on WhatsApp, without really considering my audience. Out of about 300 contacts, between 10 and 20 people bother to read those updates. I know because of the little eye icon. One of those people used to be my ex, but I soon put a stop to that by changing my privacy settings. To my absolute shock and horror, I realised that this lawyer guy was reading my updates.

Ok, so my fault for putting them out there; I get it. But WhatsApp is more often than not, a closed group of people. Mostly, my friends react to my updates with a comment or a laugh. It is solely intended to be random in that respect.

This crossing of a line between personal and professional threw me for a loop. And because I am a featherbrain, I forgot to remove him from the privacy settings. So yesterday, after days of posting nothing, I uploaded a picture of a family photo collage. Mom had asked me to reorder the photos because they were askew. And I had remarked, while doing so, that there were more pictures of my dog than anyone else. It made us both laugh, because she was the smallest member of the family, and she had such a large personality.

I thought nothing of sharing that moment. Until the lawyer commented: “Vivid, indeed.” Suffice it to say, my jaw dropped.

The collage had a few large photos of me, back from my college days. When I was thin. And pretty. And those were the prominently visible ones. My friends would have made laughing comments about me growing old, etc. “Vivid” though?

Don’t think any justification and disclaimer that pops to mind hasn’t already occurred to me. It has. I tried brushing it aside. I finally related this micro incident to my mother, as blandly as possible in order to gauge her reaction. Her eyes widened in surprise, and her comment was simple: “Why is he getting so personal?”

Good question, mom.

Kanpur Bulldozer

In March of 2016, I went with a bunch of people to Kanpur to attend a colleague’s wedding. He had invited quite a few people, and many of us went. 12 to be precise. The office was quiet for a few days. 😛

Now, Kanpur is in Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the states with the unofficial reputation of being a patriarchal, cow-worshipping, conservative, Northern state of India. I was really ok with going there because I was with a huge group. But UK (the bridegroom) felt differently:

UK: “Have you booked your tickets for the wedding?”
K: “Yup yup!”
UK: “Good. By the way, Karishma, I needed to tell you something.”
K: “Sure! Shoot.”
UK: “Do not leave the campus.” [The wedding was in IIT Kanpur.]
K: “What?”
UK: “Karishma, do not leave the campus.”
K: “Why? There must be other stuff to see in Kanp..”
UK: “Karishma, do not leave the campus.”
K: “Arrey, but I am with a bunc..”
UK: “Karishma, do not leave the campus.”
K: “You’re being ridiculous!”
UK: “Karishma, do not leave the campus.”
K: “FINE.”
UK: “Promise?”
K: “Yes.”

I didn’t leave the campus; except to go back to the train station and head to Delhi. Sigh.