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.

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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.

Fit Freak Out

Yesterday, I had to haul ass from home all the way up north to Kandivali. I baulked at the thought of taking an Uber all the way there because of my tendency to get carsick, so I opted to travel in a local train.

Now, I actually love the local trains. They’re airy and spacious, when not crowded, and I spent 2 years and 7 months using them to commute back and forth to the office. So I am supremely comfortable in them. Train stations though? Not so much. I am unfamiliar with most of them, because I stick to Uber for the few times I go out these days. But they aren’t hard to figure out, so I was ok.

On my way back, I decided to hop out at Matunga Road station, since it is closer to home. My mum always made a big hoopla about how the overbridge connecting the east and west stations is a hotbed of drug activity. *rolls eyes* So this was the first time I actually walked across it.

No big deal really, because it was broad daylight. There were loads of people around too, and quite a few women to boot. The bridge itself is narrow, allowing for two lanes of foot traffic, one in each direction. The only, slightly disconcerting aspect of the bridge are the high, corrugated metal sheet walls lining it on either side. It was a tad claustrophobic, but not too bad since it wasn’t crowded.

In most situations, when I’m on my own, I tend to be hyper aware of my surroundings. This tendency is born of necessity and a series of horrible experiences. Mais, c’est la vie. I was walking towards the eastern part of the station, behind a middle-aged couple. Since I was looking straight ahead, I could see the oncoming people as well. Most commuters are focused on their journey really, or are preoccupied with their personal puzzles. It was the same story for this guy too.

He was a normal guy, although very muscular. He was wearing shades, and carrying a small suitcase. His muscles rippled under a tight-fitting peach-pink shirt. A significant amount of detail to remember about a random stranger at the station, right? Yes, yes it is. Why do I remember it then?

Because, as he moved towards me, oh about 3 feet away, he looked up. And his gaze fell on me. Presumably, he was wearing shades remember. His reaction was ludicrous. His jaw dropped. Literally.

I was watching all this with some surprise, safe behind tinted lenses of my own shades. But what changed surprise into terror was this: As he drew up alongside, he whispered under his breath: “Oh FUCK!” just loud enough for me to hear.

Now.

Nothing happened. Nothing untoward. No other contact. Nothing. Nada. BUT. I was shaken. Why? Because in that split second, I imagined being assaulted, and realised that, even with a little martial arts training [not enough!], there was no way I would be able to fight this guy off. Add to that, I have a bum hand, wrapped in a crepe bandage for the last week.

The guy didn’t do anything else. But I was so shaken, I got myself home, and practically dove into bed almost immediately.

I guess I’m not as invincible or strong as I like to believe.

Farming Out My Services

I am great favourite amongst my parents’ friends. This is a result of many things, but primarily because of my mother’s inability to keep quiet.

Growing up in Dubai, we had a steady stream of visitors. There was hardly a day when Daya and Mohan’s home wasn’t visited by someone, for a plethora of reasons: I was in the neighbourhood; I needed a chat; My child has a tuition class here, and I needed to kill an hour; Need a glass of water; and so on. My parents are warm and welcoming people, and never resented these visits, although I occasionally chafed at the intrusions.

The reason I chafed wasn’t because I didn’t like these people; far from it. It was because this was a strictly one-way street. There was no way this sort of thing could happen in their rigidly ordered lives, with kids going to school, and working members of the family. Oh no. This was reserved for our home, where I was stuck in a limbo between school and college, and my parents were trying hard to regain a financial foothold in a life that was rapidly turning into quicksand.

I didn’t have the option of shutting myself up in my room, because my mother has funny ideas about hosts and visitors. One of these funny ideas was that the whole family plays host. Including the teenager with pressing issues of her own: emails to crushes, chats with besties, and the sighing preoccupation with the latest cinematic heartthrob. So I was asked to join these small impromptu chats, regardless of what I was doing.

From there, it was a short step to doing the odd thing for them. How did this happen? Two words: my mother. Means: “Oh Karishma can do it for you in a jiffy!”

By this point, I was established as the most technologically capable person in the immediate vicinity. I had learned some level of software development, and sure enough all my parents’ friends piled on me as well. I once got a call from one of her friends: “Karishma, I’ve accidentally gotten Netscape Navigator bigger! How do I make it normal again?!” [It was in fullscreen mode.]

Thankfully this nonsense stopped when we moved back to India, and I went off to college, because now my absence was legitimate and being in another city altogether was extremely helpful. Moving back in with my parents though? Slowly the workcreep has started again. Just today I had mum’s friend send me a Whatsapp from Dubai, asking me how to tell another friend of hers to download a VoIP app from the Play Store, because that lady’s son couldn’t find it.

The worst part?

I sent her the app link. This will end only with my demise.

The Question of Children

“Don’t you want children?!” This is a refrain I have heard for many years now, usually second in line after: “Aren’t you ever planning to get married?”

My answer to both, depending on the twerp asking, varies from “No.” to “Hell no.” to “Mind your own business.” The truth is far more complicated, and only my mother has hitherto heard that version.

I never ‘planned’ to get marriage or have a family. My relationships, when they were happy, naturally moved in that direction. With each of them, I imagined a future built by the both of us, with a home, kids, pets, family, and the many things that go into what is traditionally considered a ‘family life’. Of course I want those things.

But. Life eh?

I’m 34 [in less than a month], and riddled with health problems. Many of them would go away with proper care and diet. But who has the time? [Don’t answer that, it is a rhetorical question.] I am trying.

I don’t have a partner. And I don’t mean a husband; I mean a partner. The ex came close, because he was willing to shoulder my responsibilities alongside me, as far as he could. Just as he knew I would pour my heart and soul into his. Someone who would love and cherish my family, just as I would cherish theirs. Become a part of each other’s life’s fabric. Make our own fabric. A tapestry woven with love and threads of joy and sorrow. That hasn’t happened.

Legal cases. Two to be precise. Still going on. Responsibility squarely on my shoulders. Not fault of our own, by the way, just the sort of shit that gets stirred up to mess up the lives of ordinary folk by those who can.

Crumbling home. I can’t even responsibly adopt a pet right now, because the house is dangerous.

Health issues. Not mine, mom’s. Myriad problems.

Day to day living. Cleaning, cooking, errands, banking, taxes, bills. The list is endless.

Work. Trying to support the family financially. Ensure that we have food on our table and a roof over our heads. Doesn’t come easily. Don’t have easy clients, nor easy coworkers. Don’t have a job. Trying to set up a business from scratch with zero knowledge about how to do it.

And yet, I am so grateful for what I have. So what do I tell myself? Maybe my destiny doesn’t have that tapestry I thought of before. And that’s ok. I still fall into the trap occasionally, of having dreams and of building castles. But common sense and practicality win the day.

The truth is that my life is not conventional or easy. I would love it to be so, but it isn’t. And that’s not a bad thing. And the answer to the question above? Yes, I do want children, but only if that’s what life has in store for me. I want children after finding the deep, abiding love that binds two people together regardless of circumstances. Because that kind of marriage yields happy children. [I should know; I’m a product of it.]

To condense all this verbosity into one rather sad nugget: I had a list on my phone, of potential baby names that I loved. But I deleted it. I still remember some of them.

[I’ve been meaning to write this post for many weeks now, but it just didn’t happen. Yesterday, I heard someone remind me that I don’t want kids. It felt strange to hear my own glib bullshit repeated to me as fact. And thus, this post practically wrote itself.]

Having a Pla..

Remember that scene in FRIENDS, where the girls are having a massive meltdown about not having a plan? I remember having several of those meltdowns at various points in my life: when I had to skip two years after school because of visa issues in Dubai; or when I thought I never go to college at all; or when I thought choosing writing as a career over software development was a huge mistake; and a million other times.

Adding to this general sense of “going nowhere in my life” was all the productivity and go-getter style content I consumed on the Internet. So-so achieved this-and-this by planning everything out to the last period point and crossed T. And not only was this malaise affecting my professional life, but also personal. My love life was in its death throes, as this all happened before I met my ex.

I don’t know what exactly changed in the last few years. I think I finally started hearing what my mother used to say: do your best, because the outcome isn’t in your control. True that. I thought life was set when I came back to Mumbai: stability, family, love, and a future. I thought the trials and tribulations were finally slowing down. I thanked every aspect of God that I could think of, profusely and with all my heart.

Then it all started falling apart. But this time around, I had the minimum number of meltdowns. I did question what our next steps would be, seeing as our options were limited. Having a plan hadn’t worked out as planned.

It wasn’t that my plans weren’t good, or achievable, or sustainable. They just didn’t anticipate the suddenness with with life can do an abrupt volte face. So what did I learn? To listen to my mother. [Ha. She would love this!] And not to make plans.

It is harder that it seems. It isn’t that I sit around twiddling my thumbs, waiting for things to befall me. The upshot is more that I try and do my best in every situation as far as possible, and stop banking hard on the results. This doesn’t mean that life has gotten any easier; it hasn’t. But it has become slightly less arduous.

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?