To Be Or Not To Be Intimate

I keep thinking that every I feel overwhelmed, things will even out, and I won’t feel like that. But the fact is that it becomes my new baseline for normal, and work and other commitments blow up some more in my face. Which is why I have the tiniest shred of sanity left, the most tenuous grip on that shred, and finally powder keg of temper underneath the surface, which is instantly triggered by bullshit. Or any horrible behaviour really.

All the above is the reason behind why I let someone get under my skin today, and why there was suddenly a red mist where the atmosphere used to be. And when I opened my mouth, red hot lava poured out. I wasn’t shouting, but I had no idea I could decimate anyone that easily with just words.

It started off innocently enough, where we were talking about our families. From there, we got into a mild discussion about siblings, where this someone [let’s call her Maria, for reasons I will forget shortly] said – I partially agreed – that it was easier for a girl to have an elder sister, as opposed to a brother. The third member of this lunchtime discussion of course disagreed. He is just one of those chronic firestarters, pedantic and inquisitive. [As an aside, also the star of this post.]

Maria argued with him, and then made the following astounding statement:  sisters and brothers always kept each other at arm’s length. Mentally and emotionally, they may love each other, but physically it would be weird for them to be close. In fact, those siblings would were prone to hugs and embraces were not normal, and just plain weird.

I was naturally flabbergasted with this point of view, but I wasn’t mad just then. I merely said that it was perfectly normal, and it really depended on the individuals in question. And if one was to look at it in that light, then mothers and sons, or fathers and daughters, shouldn’t exchange hugs and kisses, or embrace each other unless there was an occasion [her sole exception to this diktat]. Because I said this nonchalantly, expecting sense to prevail, I was stunned by her response: Yes, they shouldn’t. It isn’t normal.

Which is when I lost it.

I didn’t lose my temper visibly, but I did point out that that was a highly judgmental point of view. And that just because she found it uncomfortable personally, didn’t make it abnormal. In fact, human relationships have a degree of intimacy with actually cements the relationship further.

She argued that everyone was judgmental on some level, and while I agree that everyone is, it is based on an internal moral compass that assesses the harm in a situation. When it is about affection between two consenting adults, who is anyone else to judge? Basically, she reduced loving relationships between people and their near and dear ones to something ugly. Just because she is uncomfortable with intimacy?

She continued to say that what was normal for her forms her opinion. I agree, however what she considers normal cannot be the baseline on which she judges other people. She countered with why couldn’t it be, and I said that it is the very crux of xenophobia and discrimination to separate people into normal and abnormal.

Finally, I looked at her in abject incredulity, because I couldn’t believe I was associating with such a bigot, and said that intimacy was a integral aspect of human relationships. In fact, it is one of the things that makes the effort of working through these things worth it.

I considered sexual abuse playing a part in her mental makeup, but then I’ve been through that too. I have been through a phase where “all men suck!”, but I grew out of it. Individuals suck, and within their minds, it is their complex personalities, characters, experiences, limitations, and much more that makes their behaviour good or bad.

I hug my friends, regardless of whether they are male or female. Not all of them, because everyone gives off different vibes. But quite a few. I don’t flinch when one of them touches me inadvertently, because they aren’t contagious or impure. They are human beings. There is no malice or lust in their touch, but simple companionship. They are human beings too.

Midnight Awkwardness

During the first few months of us being together, I confided in my ex about being plagued by importunate men, who refused to back with just hints. I had to choose between bombarded with constant messages and hints, or choose to be brutally honest and block the guy. There was no middle ground, and for me, it was hard to shut down someone who wasn’t really doing anything heinous. [Just sexist and uncomfortable, but since that is a gradual scale, it is hard to find a concrete point to say STOP.]

I loved (still love?) my boyfriend at the time very much, and well he knew it. He didn’t try and interfere with any of these ridiculous situations, until I asked him to. I wanted my word to be respected, regardless if there was a man in the background. But he did offer me a tip: Don’t entertain calls or messages from these guys post-9 pm. Friends and like, family: all fine. Just not these guys.

Hm.

I did that, and lo and behold, it worked wonders. No lonely boys after work, who pleaded for a little time to chat. No midnight messages. Nothing. Just zip. And for 5 years [4 in the relationship + 1 getting over the relationship], I lived in this blissful realm of no encroachment.

Until yesterday.

Of course, being me, I had forgotten how it felt to be on this receiving end again. So I reply to messages when I receive them, unless I am otherwise occupied. I also signed up with Tinder, and well that requires a certain flexibility. And last but not least, I had lived in the comforting embrace of a relationship for so long, I forgot how little my refusal counted for anything with these romeos, with the lack of a supporting boyfriend/husband.

That’s the background. The second bit of background is: remember this guy? He messages me at 1 am; after two years of radio silence and removing me off all his social accounts, here is the highlight reel of the cringe-fest he sent me on Whatsapp:

KD: Looking out for someone
KD: Was scrolling through my contact today when I got to see u
KD: Feeling awesome to get in touch with u again
KD: Let’s be in chats until then
KD: Would love to know u more
KD: I mean things u like and all
KD: Shall wait for ur ping then
KD: And well please let me know if you have a nick name
KD: Really sleepy or can spend some time with me here
KD: I was feeling alone
KD: Let’s date if u r ok with it
KD: Let’s give it a try
KD: I find u romantic
KD: Especially love ur nose ring
KD: I use to observe u a lot

NO. OMG. I said no 4 times. And yet, I get a ‘I find you so romantic’. *shudder*

Hello from the Hinterland

Thanks to an ongoing project, my circadian rhythms have changed quite a bit. I can no longer get up before 8 am, without feeling like a truck has rammed into me. I do, on occasion, clamber out of bed around 7:30 am, but only if I’ve made a concerted effort to sleep before 2 am the previous night.

All of this boils down to me being rather unpleasant when I am unexpectedly woken up at oh-no-o’clock. Which happened this morning.

In India, I have learned to deal with three things I absolutely hate: the lack of personal space, the disregard for anyone else’s time, and complete absence of any sort of etiquette. Usually, I am able to handle behaviour symptomatic of this with mild irritation, and brush it off. Today, I nearly exploded.

My phone started vibrating in the morning, indicating that there was a call. I was fast asleep, so was surprised to hear it at all. I answered the phone, only to hear a voice peremptorily demanding: “Who is this?”

Another one of my triggers. If I had been awake, I would have calmly told the rude asshat that he had dialled the wrong number. But I just disconnected, thinking he would get the message. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.

He called twice, and I turned off the ringer. Again he called twice, and I was so cheesed off, I answered the call both times, and presumably he shouted into thin air. The fifth time, I disconnected and turned off my phone.

When I finally woke up, I turned the phone back on again. It was a good hour after the calls had initially come in, so I assumed that anyone with a modicum of a life would have gotten on with it by now. But I was wrong.

I got another call. This time, I was so furious I gave the phone to my mother to answer. [I would have yelled if I had answered.] She answered and told the idiot on the other side off. Finally the calls stopped.

Unfortunately for me though, I was so annoyed with the casual crassness of this individual, who thinks it is absolutely fine to call early in the morning, constantly pester someone with calls even though they clearly are not interested in speaking to you, and have the temerity to demand who they are calling.

I know I cannot change the world to suit my preferences, but today I would happily beaten down on this specimen of Indian village mentality till he got my point.

Relative Relationship

One of my favourite pastimes is to look at old pictures, and allow myself to be transported back in time. Especially after losing my dad, I find a bittersweet solace in looking at photos of him, and imagining his voice and expressions.

It was on one of this expeditions down the path of nostalgia that I came across a folder of wedding photos. It was a second cousin’s wedding, on my mother’s side, and my parents and my mum’s sister had attended. I had forgotten the folder altogether, as it was hidden away in another folder called “to be sorted”.

When I did discover it, it was like finding treasure. There were many pictures of my dad, all dressed up and looking exactly as I remember him. I felt I could reach through and reclaim some of the micro interactions we had: him smoothing out my hair, twitching a shirt into place, me hooking an arm through his elbow, him putting an arm around my shoulders, us sharing one of our innumerable conspiratorial grins, and just generally finding comfort in each other’s presence. Of course, I shed a few tears, but overall I was ecstatic.

I zeroed in on a photo of my parents; a beautiful one taken by my aunt, with them seated side by side with the utmost ease that comes with 40 years of togetherness. My mum was looking into the camera, posing with her jewellery and smiling slightly. My father was placidly awaiting someone’s arrival, and was thus looking off in another direction. The photo reminded me of the sparkle that lilted in our hearts, as we loved and lived with each other.

I posted the photo to Facebook. I tagged my mother in the picture because Facebook suggested it, and I was far too lazy to do much else. Thus, all her friends could see the picture too.

The picture was inundated with likes, and garnered a few comments too. I got the usual condescending ones from people of my parents’ generation, advising me to “look after my mother” or exhorting me to “keep God in my heart”. I ignored these comments, because I don’t need to be reminded of what is essentially my life. I am used to this brand of bad manners, and laughed it off without a thought.

But then one comment took my breath away.

One of my mother’s cousins, someone we aren’t close to mind you, commented on the picture. She must have spoken to my mother about a handful of times in her life, and I would hazard that she never spoke to my dad at all. I would be hard pressed to remember if she ever met my dad, as a matter of fact. This lady comments: “Miss you .”

I am a kind soul, and I make a LOT of allowances for people’s inability to communicate, their difficulties in finding the right words of expression, and much else besides. What I cannot stomach is blatant hypocrisy. This lady was well aware that she had never spoken to my father, and yet chose to declaim on a public forum that she misses him? Misses him how exactly? Misses the concept of his existence? I cannot fathom it.

After my eyes bugged out, I laughed for a full minute. I called up my mum’s sister, because my mother was apathetic to her cousin’s behaviour, and waved it off like one would a mosquito. My aunt however shared my meltdown. She laughed at first, only to stop abruptly and say: “She didn’t even call to condole when we lost him! WTF is her deal?!”

My sentiments exactly.

No More Money Honey

In the wake of the demonetisation in India, my family was sitting fairly pretty. We have been salaried individuals for most of our lives, and have paid taxes in full each time. No evasionary tactics, no havens, no undeclared income, nothing. In fact, I have a pending refund with the Income Tax department, which will actually cost me more to get out that the actual refund itself. Therefore, the demonetisation was barely a blip in our daily life.

However, there is an old friend of my father’s who I instantly thought of, on hearing the news. He is a jeweller, and while he hasn’t explicitly spoken to us about black money, we know well he has oodles of the stuff.

Case in point: On a social visit one evening, he took me aside from the throng and quietly asked me to issue cheques to his daughter-in-law. For a bit of background, his younger son and he run their business, his wife does nothing mostly, and his daughter-in-law manages the household with the aid of a plethora of servants. His elder son and his wife both work with banks.

The daughter-in-law, a nice enough girl, has a fine arts degree. And I was asked to write out cheques, ranging from 10 to 25 thousand rupees, for a few months, apparently to pay for ‘drawing classes’. He would give me cash instead.

Although he never said so explicitly, this is basically money laundering. I am converting his black money with my hard-earned white money. I told him very nicely I would think about it, mainly because I hesitated to tell a friend of my father’s to fuck off in his own home. [My father would never have tolerated this, by the way. Always had this little pow-wow with me outside of his presence.]

Sure enough, about 2 weeks after the dramatic events of 8th November, dear old uncle money bags called up. I answered the phone, and cordially asked after his health. He laughed a little maniacally, and replied with a question: “How do you think I’m going, kid?”

With barely concealed glee, I passed on the phone to my mother. She chatted with him for a while, going into expansive detail about how demonetisation would root out corruption from our country, etc, etc. It was quite masterful really, and I tried not to laugh so she wouldn’t lose her stride.

Of course, he went along with this tirade for the most part, and then came down to the ground realities. Would she deposit 2.5 lakh rupees in her account? We could return it to them slowly later. My mum, poor thing, thought she could stave off this question with her lengthy eulogy, but no, he was purposeful. She declaimed all responsibility, and said that the family finances were handled by yours truly. [Which is accurate, although we have a consensus.]

She said that I would ring him back later in the day, after having a word with my chartered accountant. That was a ploy meant to buy me some time, because no matter what the chartered accountant said, I wasn’t going to launder this man’s money. He could flush it down the loo for all I cared.

I called him back a few hours later to say just that, but much more politely. He didn’t press the issue, and agreed right away that if I wasn’t comfortable, that was ok.

Only after I disconnected the call, did I realise that I had been holding my breath. Which is when I got angry. I was dreading turning down a request for a favour, even though I had every right to do so; I was following the spirit and the letter of the law; he was asking me to put my family in the cross hairs of the income tax department; he had no qualms about putting us in an untenable situation; he offered us no token for this request (not that it would have mattered).

I was in a rage. That man has been raided by the income tax department 3 times by his own account. If I knew how, he would have been raided the next day for the 4th time.

Waste Not Want Not

Of all things great and small that I absolutely detest is food wastage by an adult. [I added that last bit, because children don’t really understand the implications of food wastage.]

The other day, we had one of my mum’s friends from Dubai over. She has moved back to India permanently, and is currently settled in Vishakapatnam with her Air Force husband. She was on her way back from Calicut, and was taking a detour through Mumbai.

She had rung mum up, looking to catch up. She suggested lunch, and we decided to meet halfway. Our home is in Matunga East, and she was staying with friends in Andheri West. Her contention was that it needed to be accessible by auto rickshaw, so the initial plan was to meet up at Bandra Kurla Complex, where there are a plethora of nice restaurants.

On the day of, my mum was feeling poorly, so she asked her to come over instead. Now, since auto rickshaws are not allowed past a certain point in Mumbai, she offered her an Uber instead. Somewhat to my surprise, she accepted.

The lady showed up, and dove immediately into the laden table my mother had prepared. Since she was coming after a while, my mum had slogged over about 10 different dishes, all vastly different yet complementary. We were of course pleased to see that she was hungry, and I set about serving her, as is custom in India.

[As an aside, I follow customs up to a point. I prefer joining the meal too, instead of hovering solicitously, like a fathead, trying to be hospitable. I can be hospitable whilst eating too.]

Mum wasn’t hungry, so she skipped on food, and concentrated on making hot egg wraps. I am not being crude, but I piled that plate pretty high. I made sure there was a little of every item, and I had to set out bowls for those that didn’t fit on the plate.

After I sat down, I continued to push various dishes forward, asking if she would like anything periodically. She did take several helpings of various dishes, although she never once commented on the food or the spread. Mum did ask her whether she was enjoying the repast, but she declined to comment. I furrowed my brow a bit, but decided not to be judgemental.

After about 2 hours of lunch [yes, really!], she deigned to rise from the table. I saw in absolute shock that her plate was still mostly full of food. She has wasted almost every single item, even those she had taken seconds and thirds of.

In utter disbelief, my mum and I scraped food that I worked hard to earn and she slogged to make into a plastic bag for the bin. I was close to tears because it was effectively a full meal I had to throw into the bin. My mother was as stunned, but perhaps more collected than I was.

The rest of her visit passed in a red haze for me. And I was glad to be shot of her when she left, happily paying for a second Uber, this time for her to get back home.

I cannot begin to describe the rage and pain I felt when I saw that laden plate. Aside from the moral implications, income is not easily forthcoming in my household. My mother, despite being ill, worked very hard to prepare that meal. It is against our family’s culture to waste food.

Never want to clap eyes on her ever again.

Somewhere I Belong

[Refurbished post from the old blog.]

During a conversation with my folks, I was recounting a particularly amusing incident that had happened to mom and me, as we were migrating back to India.

Our last few years in Dubai were financially difficult for us, and because of a whole bunch of reasons, we had to come back in an amnesty. So to get our butts back to the motherland, we had to have our expired visas cancelled by the authorities. The process for this was not complicated, but it was separate for men and women. So one fine morning, mom and I went to the immigration department in Dubai to get our visas cancelled.

Without meaning to be classist or full of myself, we didn’t fit the mould of the average defaulter. So basically when we were in line, we stood out like sore thumbs amongst the housemaids, gardeners, cleaners, and so on. We waited quietly in line, and I was holding passports clutched in my fist.

My passport was a modest 2 booklets, because I was only 19 at the time. Mom’s, on the other hand, had 4 booklets. Don’t even get me started on Dad’s passport. I was holding both passports together, when one of the surtas (cops) saw my hand and exclaimed loudly.

She called us up to the table, and asked with incredulity, “YOU two want amnesty?! And for God’s sake, HOW many of you are there?”

A little confused, I replied: “I have only two passports.”

She snorted: “These are just two passports? How long have you people lived here?”

Mom: “26 years.”

Her jaw literally dropped open. She halted the queue (hard to believe she was from UAE, she was behaving just like an Indian government official), and called her colleagues together.

They jabbered in Arabic for a while, examined the passports carefully. All I understood were the exclamations of astonishment. By this time, Mom and I were fighting to stay serious. The whole situation was ridiculous.

One of the cops turned to me and then said: “But you were born in Sharjah! You are a UAE national. Why the hell are you going back?”

We laughed, answered their questions and finished the formalities. It lightened up a considerably stressful day. We were guests in someone else’s country after all, nothing could change that.

Returning to India gave us peace. No visas, no hassles – as far as we were concerned. We settled down to our lives here. When my Dad moved to Goa, we followed, and after a long LONG time, the family was together again.

When I was in Pune, I heard a lot of nonsense about “Maharashtra for the Maharashtrians”. None of my contemporary Marathis subscribed to this philosophy. I figured they were uncouth and ridiculous people.

I visited Bangalore, where someone categorically told us that they wanted no more people to move to the state. WTF? (Just as an aside, I have Kannadiga blood in me too.)

But the worst was reserved for Goa. Up to this point, all this happened to OTHER people – at least in India. I still considered myself an Indian – after all, what choice do I have with my parentage?

Somebody in Goa called me a migrant. I was stunned. A migrant? Till I realised that the Goans don’t want us here. I considered settling down in Goa, but now I am completely against it. I don’t want to stay anywhere where I am not wanted.