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.

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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.

Cat-astrophic

Ok boys and girls, another rant coming up. Expect emotional outbursts and incoherence, all rolled up into one nice little post. Maybe not so little. We’ll see.

This morning, I went for my morning walk. After days of suffering from rahter painful indigestion, I was feeling quite a bit better. So with a big dose of cheeriness, I trotted off downstairs.

Now for the past few weeks, there have been kittens in the yard. Adorable pair, one white and one black and white. Skittish of humans, of course, so I haven’t tried to pet them. I figure their life on the outside is going to be hard enough, without being desensitised to horrible humans. So I mainly left them alone.

Just look at how cute they are! OMG.

Over the past few weeks, as they’ve been getting older, the residents of my building [a sanatorium] have been feeding them. Or at least I think so. In any case, they have the run of the place. And honestly, at least to my knowledge, they’ve done nothing wrong.

A week or so ago, I saw a little boy kicking at them, and pushing them with a stick. I asked him to stop, and tried to make friends with the kittens. But obviously they were more comfortable with the stick-wielding child they knew, rather than this gargantuan stranger they didn’t. Fair enough. I resolved to leave them be, because I certainly couldn’t look after them.

Cut to this morning. Remember the cheery steps with which I ran downstairs? Ha.

It was a little earlier than my usual time, so there were several more residents out and about, since the caretaker *rolls eyes* comes in around that time. [Why I despise this piece of human garbage would take a long post to explain.]

Again, the residents mostly stay away from me, as I am a permanent tenant. And I look very different from them. They are mostly from villages and have a sick child in tow, and thus are dealing with a whole host of problems that are way beyond my pay grade. Today was no different; it was I who accosted them.

I don’t know why Indians have issues with stray animals. Leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. Learn to judge animal behaviour, so you can tell the difference between threatening lunges and friendly overtures. I just do not see the need to kick them. I DO NOT. It makes me see red, and I am more than often afraid of saying anything, because in my experience the animal pays later for that human’s humiliation.

But this is my building too. My turf too. I was having none of it. If only my Hindi hadn’t failed.

I saw a couple of men put the kittens into a gunny sack. At first, I couldn’t see what they were doing, but I did see one carry a kitten out of the compound. I smelt a rat. Went up to them, and asked them what they were doing. Was horrified to see one holding a sack aloft, and a small kitten head poking out the side.

They didn’t understand me, because in my state of stress, I forgot Hindi altogether, and was speaking in English.

So I tried again, this time in the most NRI, broken, miserable Hindi you can imagine: What are you doing?

They replied that they were taking them away. Where, I asked. Far away, so they don’t come back. Holding on tightly to my temper, because I was already incoherent with stress, why I asked. Because they are making a mess of the yard.

I tried to explain that cats in the area help with the rat problem. I tried to tell them that they were far too little to be taken away from their mother, and they would die. Just leave them alone I said. And they did. I guess it wasn’t worth getting into a discussion with me about it. The kittens were left to their own devices, terrified and shivering under a car, but mercifully out of the gunny sack. I went back to my walk.

Then the caretaker then showed up. He was talking about the cats, and I saw the conclave. So I marched up to him, still shaking I might add. What are you doing to the cats? Again, Hindi failed me, and the man doesn’t speak a lick of English.

What I finally gleaned from this whole miserable experience was that the old lady in the back of the building, also a permanent tenant, had objected to their presence. She complained that they were making the place dirty, with bits of food and detritus from garbage.

Don’t feed them then, I said. But leave them alone. They will eventually grow up and leave. He misunderstood me to say that I wanted him to kill them, which of course I didn’t. Thank you broken brain under stress. Finally, I made him understand that he needed to LEAVE THEM ALONE. Stray cats are more than capable of looking after themselves, what with the ample supply of pigeons, crows, sparrows, rats, squirrels, and so on that live in the area.

I have no idea if what I did was right. I am perfectly certain it fell far short of adequate and well-handled. All I know is that an old miserable hag of a human wanted two helpless little kittens to be taken away from their mother just because she objected to random detritus in the yard, which may or may not be because of the crows and the actual humans in the area.

I was so upset, angry, and mostly feeling like a complete failure that, for the first time in my life, I actually cursed someone to suffer as they would have caused suffering to innocent beings.

Sigh.

Better Never Than Late

A few years ago, I think about late-ish 2012-ish, I had been with the ex for a few months. Maybe 6. [I’m obviously not clear on these details, but they aren’t pertinent to this story.] I was a heavy Twitter user, and interacted with numerous people on there. I had met quite a few of them too, in Goa and in Mumbai, when I visited. I had rose-coloured glasses with respect to these people, because my experiences of meeting them had been great till that point.

One of the guys off there sent me a DM, saying he would be in Goa and would love to meet up. I gave him my Whatsapp number, and said to ping me when he was in town. On reaching Goa, he did ping me, asking me out to dinner. I was a little nervous about broaching the subject [because really when is a good time to bring up you aren’t single?], but I said that we would be happy to join him for dinner any evening he was free.

Of course the reply was pat: “Who is ‘we’?” “My fiancĂ© and I,” I replied equally promptly.

Radio silence.

Three days later, he pinged me again: “Oh I got late that day, and I guess I am late overall too. Lol.”

Hm. I was less than pleased and severely uncomfortably. I hadn’t given him any reason to presume that our acquaintance was anything more than mildly platonic, borderline nodding. Why would he assume I was single anyway? The upshot of all this consternation was that I blocked him on WhatsApp and stopped responding to him on Twitter. Good riddance.

A few times after that, he sent me a few messages on Twitter again. Since time has served its signal purpose in dulling my sense of outrage, I responded. [I know. I am glutton for punishment.] He asked if I was still engaged. I blocked him outright.

Many years have passed in between, and honestly I forgot all about this specimen. Until last week that is: I got a friend request from him on Facebook.

*facepalm*

Not Comatose

There has been a raging Internet debate on being healthy/making healthful choices vs. having body positivity. I have mostly been a silent spectator in all cases, because honestly I can see that both sides of the argument have merit. It is important to make good eating and exercise choices for your health, just as it is important not to be burdened by an unrealistic conception of your body should like instead of what it actually does. Ultimately, I have reached a point where I accept my [overweight] self as I am with serenity, but aim to do better in times to come.

Having said that, I do believe that only I have the right to make these judgements about myself. Everyone else can [and should] take a flying leap off a tall cliff, if they feel compelled to air their unsolicited opinions to me. Because that’s what they are: unsolicited. I didn’t ask for your opinion, and therefore please keep it to yourself. Covering up nastiness in a flimsy veil of “caring” or “tough love” is a bunch of bollocks. I can also serve up a searing indictment of your character, morals, and sundry other personal aspects, but I choose not to.

This post was borne off two things: one, a completely toxic ex, who eroded my self-esteem and confidence to virtually nothing AND had me believing that he was right; and two, a couple of conversations I had with two overweight friends. Both guys, incidentally, which just goes to show that anxiety about weight is not restricted to gender. [But y’all knew that already.]

The second of these conversations happened in Delhi, last month. I was chilling out with a friend in my hotel room, while I waited for a plumber to come and fix a faucet in the bathroom. I made a comment saying that only one person had observed that I had lost weight since the last time the group was together. And he responded by asking how I had done it. I described joining an MMA class, and sort of falling in love with the concept of fun exercise. There was also the part where I was trying to eat less, and avoid stuff I knew wasn’t nutritious, but without any ironclad rules.

But the point I stressed the most was that I had started and failed many, many, many times over. The needle of the weighing scale had stubbornly refused to budge for weeks, and when it did, it was a miserable tick of minuscule proportions. Essentially, hardly a dent in my weight. But the key was that I stopped feeling bad about it, and carried on with forming better habits and doing it for the love of it only.

He nodded, but sighed disconsolately too. And in that moment, I felt a rush of sympathy and empathy for someone who absorbs numerous ‘big’ and ‘fat’ jokes on a daily basis. He is taller than average, so does have an imposing presence. Comments and jokes from friends and loved ones are fine, but up to a point. And that point varies depending on person, mood, state of mind, and a multitude of other factors.

Which brings me to the first incident that summed it up so well for me.

I was in Bangalore, and I called up a college friend who lived there to catch up. I was horrified to learn that he had been in an accident and was in hospital with several broken bones.

When I went to visit, I met his parents too for the first time. We chatted for about half an hour, and he was telling me about his attempts to lose weight. [Tall and again considerably overweight.] He had tried exercise, gyms, nutritionists, diets, gotten tested for hypothyroidism, and so much else besides. I listened in round-eyed wonder, as he recited a litany of the avenues of weight loss he has attempted without noticeable success. The truly depressing part was when his mother chimed in to say that he hardly eats anymore. A fistful of rice and or a small salad comprised most of his meals. She sounded angry and sad at the same time, and I wondered why until he told me what was happening when his friends visited him.

In the modern hubbub of life, one tends to lose touch. So months, sometimes years, elapse before you meet old friends again. Any changes that occur in the intervening period stand out more starkly to those who haven’t been around in the recent past.

My friend had had his parents staying over for a few months, and he occasionally invited friends over to his place. The first thing they said on seeing an old friend again, after many years was, without variation: “Dude! You’ve put on so much weight!”

My friend sighed at this point of his narrative. I knew what he must have felt, having been at the receiving end of the same sort of thing innumerable times. And then he turned to me and said: “Don’t they think I know that already? I haven’t been in a coma for like 8 years, without looking in a mirror, and suddenly woken up that I can’t see that I’ve put on weight. Do they seriously think I don’t KNOW already?”

Well. Good point, isn’t it?