Being Grateful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Sniping Away

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

During a chat about having kids in the future:

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

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

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.

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.