Today I am reminded of a poem I wrote many moons ago in school. It was called “At the bottom of a tin-cup”, back in school I was a schizophrenia borderline, the poem was about me feeling trapped at the bottom of a rusty old tin-cup without the ability to get out. A couple of months ago into my adult life I was diagnosed with mild-to-severe depression. I feel like I have now lived through all the stages of mental despair there are in the book. In the end it is this constant sense of inadequacy that has eaten me away on the inside. In school I was hated for being weird, a loner, getting poor grades, being fanciful, being nuts and so much more. As a teenager someone broke my heart and caused me to nearly jump off a building. Now as a 34 year OLD woman, ugly and podgy, surly and irresponsible – I find I have little to live for. The tin cup has returned and I think it is time to go.
A couple of weeks ago, the newspapers were all full of advertisements about what to gift your daddy. This was followed by an invasion of my inbox, with offers of the perfect gift, for Father’s Day. Of course there is nothing that I could have gifted my Appa, and it wouldn’t have been any different had he been alive. What would have been truly Appa style, would have been to go for a long walk in the park and to ‘ruminate’ about life. Of course, I don’t ruminate quite so elegantly, under Amaltas trees. I ruminate in front of a computer, on wordpress.
At any rate, I have concluded, that I am slowly turning into him. It is quite startling. For example, I have developed as much of a temper as I once accused him of having, I worry about not having enough, ‘respect and integrity’ seem to be my top priority these days, I want my talent to be appreciated on its own and I find marketing oneself despicable, I’ve decided to become my own doctor and I dream that ‘one day my words will come chasing after me and eat me’.
While I ruminate, I have also come to appreciate, the many things that Appa tried to teach me. For example – Appa disliked Sambhar, not the concoction but what it stood for. He called it an unimaginative dish – dal and a bunch of vegetables thrown in together along with something sour. Sambhar is a testament to the ordinary and Appa always wanted to be and believed that his children would be extraordinary. In the same vein was his love of Palgoa; an almost sublime south Indian sweet dish and the Jalebi’s richer cousin called Jahangiri. I think Appa loved the name more than the sweet! Which brings me Appa’s insistence that everyone must read and understand history. I half think I became a researcher, because Appa insisted so much, that I read and learn and ask questions. It didn’t matter to him that I failed examinations, in fact, his proudest stories used to be of how he himself walked out of examinations. What mattered was that one was intelligent.
Appa disliked being old too, he was full of sarcasm for people who were too scared to learn computers because they were “too old” and certainly didn’t want to be dependent. One of the many things I learnt and keep learning from him is how to be Free, Frank and Fearless. The dimensions to this are mind-boggling. How to be free, as I have learnt, is not about free as in free-beer, but free as in free-thought, free of encumbrances, free to be and be with, free to do, free to learn and free to not be a slave to anyone or anything. Frank as in not just honest, but also honest and courteous, polite and firm, being ‘real’, being proud of who and what you are – past and present included. Fearless; this is a big one. For me, this is about being able to step-out in a new city, to be able to take autos in the rape capital of the country, to be able to stop being scared to take decisions, having the courage to apologise and own-up.
When I look at my son and think what a great time he and Appa would have had. Appa was full of stories and songs and they always meant something. And so this is how it is – the once young become the old, and I see myself trying to teach my son, all that Appa taught me and continues to teach me. Like a great big Banyan tree, you become what you once saw.
The things that make life worthwhile, I miss. I miss. Being at university, being a part of a movement. Debating and disagreeing and still being able to end the day as friends. Disco-lights and loud music, laughter and lots of wine. Having enough to order pizza every now and then. Being light. Being light. Knowing that there is still another lifetime of choices ahead, knowing that choices are not punishing. Being able to breathe. Breathe. Find the courage in the heart to be generous, casual conversation over tea. Not having to compete or excel, being that whose failure too was a success. Finding someone whose should you can rest your head upon, having a purpose that life was worth giving to. Where being cynical was not everyday, but the possibility of winds and stars and good things to come was. Being told to keep trying, having help and knowing that someone cares. Floating in a sea of love, not conflict. Wanting to run free and being able to be free. Be free. Be free.
I was born into conflict. Not external conflict, like bomb threats or having to live in a country that routinely violates human rights, no, I was born into in-the-family conflict. I could constantly hear people yelling and screaming at each other, even over 100 feet outside the house. Plates would be thrown, people would sulk and not to each other. As a child, I was routinely asked to choose between which parent I loved more. Then I somehow grew-up and ended up working in ‘Early Childhood Education’. Abstractly, I think, I always knew that the kind of environment one grows up in has a profound influence on who you become and how you behave. The work made that fact absolutely transparent.
Now I have my own 1 year old. He’s a darling. Good tempered, cheerful, hardly complains and definitely not someone who cries or whines. When he was born – I promised I would make sure that he would every thing that I didn’t when I was young. He would have new clothes (not hand-me-downs from richer cousins), he would have a million toys, the latest gadgets, everything shiny. He would have parents who were around. And I’m failing. Sure – he has wonderful things but he doesn’t have my time. Not enough.
But the bigger thing I’m failing at is the thing that didn’t even make it to my list — a-conflict-free-home. Just one year old and my son already knows that this is the “miserable household”. This is the household where people always say mean things to each other. This is household where everyone raises their voice. This is the household where kindness has no place. Where tolerance, empathy and “putting on someone else’s shoes” doesn’t exist. Its exactly like the household I grew up in. Everyone felt entitled to the best treatment, everyone worked very hard, everyone never had enough. Words and anger ruled. I’m guilty too of creating this violent atmosphere – television isn’t even a close competitor. I suppose I’m not surprised, I grew up watching the adults yell at each other, so I subconsciously learnt that it is okay to shout.
I struggle with this everyday, it has become a modern ‘health’ problem. I first became conscious of it, when my doctor during child-birth classified me as a hypertension patient, even though I had absolutely no heart or blood pressure problems. The thing is – its challenging. I live with people who hate each other, on sight. They are strong-headed and refuse to change or yield. All my efforts at mediating or requesting peace are failing. I don’t think this is a unique problem. There is probably a simple explanation i.e. different cultures. Different people have different ideas of what being respected is and what and when to give respect. Its hard to make them see eye to eye.
The real problem is how to mediate my own anger and unhappiness as a result of this situation. The sadness and anger eats into my mind and heart. I find, increasingly, that I have less and less love to give. I’ve become hard inside. I no longer empathize, I’m no longer as generous or as kind with words or things. I no longer get joy from just tickling my baby. I look forward to running away to work where I don’t have to “engage” with familiar faces and have conversation. More than once, the rooftop calls to me with promises of freedom. I wonder if I should go.
I think its a dying right and ought to be protested, Loudly and vociferously. I’m going to go ahead and say this potentially offensive thing – all women (urban-rural, tall-short, old-young, literate or not, bright-stupid, pretty-pretty ugly) have the right to undiminished self respect and regard from fellow human beings that is NOT contingent on their accomplishments.
From the moment they are born till they die women are in a race – a race to cook the best, look the best, remember and execute perfectly, if educated then be a top 10 percenter, if working then earn enough and be a top performer at the same time. Women also need to ease themselves into being great partners, great bosses and great mom’s without the slightest friction. They have to be great caregivers and know directions as well as an awesome Smartphone navigation tool. They need to be musically talented, intellectually stimulating and rise early. And they have to be this ALL THE TIME. This is the stereotype of the ‘modern woman’. The ideal we are all quietly pressurizing ourselves into conforming to.
And what if you’re not IT? Your body isn’t perfect, you have a tyre or two, your eyes buldge and are bloodshot a little. You read but don’t necessarily remember and accurately recall every word. You cook because you have to but aren’t the next Master Chef contender. You remember as much as you can but also forget a lot. You make lists then you forget where you put them. You won’t get lost but you can’t necessarily divine a destination and drive there unprepared. Then you are what you already know you are. UNACCOMPLISHED. You are a slob bemoaning the fact that work never finds you and you live in pyjamas. Lo and behold – you have turned into the very thing all modern women are socialized into running away from. You are just not worthwhile. You will never be one of the women who are saluted to subtle shades of pink on the 5th of March every year. You just aren’t there. You are not IT.
Pull up your socks woman – what will people think of you? Even the partially accomplished are better. Take a look around. Your neighbour who is both pretty and pretty-accomplished. She makes a divine South Indian cuisine despite being absolutely East Indian even if that is all she does. This is the type of woman you must emulate. And your pyjamas — get rid of them. Where is your womanhood? Women are meant to be IT – quiet, sweet, ordered about, never scatter-brained- you are less than a woman. Did I mention less than a woman? I meant less than human.
Same place, different year. Slightly worse circumstances. I’m turning nearly thirty in a couple of days. For all it is worth, I haven’t done much to be proud of in these thirty years. I don’t have a great list of publications, I don’t have a great network I can leverage to find a reasonable job. I’m struggling to fulfill the demanding requirements of a house loan- a house I haven’t ever and never will live in. I am also struggling with a car that I don’t know how to drive. I don’t pay rent and I routinely poach of my family. I am also fat, lethargic, incapable of producing a baby and frankly don’t care enough to do anything well. I might also be entering into a series of legal battles that will consume the rest of my life. This is not what I wanted to have on my birthday.
An uncle tagged me in an unflattering photograph. Extremely unflattering. And I thought “Wow, so ugly”. Then I checked myself. Am I actually letting someone’s poor light and composition skills drive my self-worth. Yup. Actually it is more than the picture. It is also snide lunch-time conversations expounding the virtues of being “vegetarian”, the virtues of “working out” and surfeit of salads. Alright – so I am fat. So what?
I want to ask men this question. Married men. Is there anything you actually want to learn from your wife? In the heart of your hearts – is there anything at all that you respect about her and think you could learn from? Do you actually think it might be, for example, to learn how to cook up a fabulous meal? Or how to study/read? Or how to work very hard? How to love? Anything at all?
Question two – is there anything that you would change about yourself for your wife? Or do all married men actually think they are perfect? Is there even an inch, in your relationship, for an alternate perspective?
I got asked this question today. Again. For what seems like the millionth time in a fairly short span of time. Here are my top 5:
1. Love, devotion, time, conversation, laughter…
2. Books and book shelves
3. Food, cooked and uncooked.
4. Party hostess service, good humour and flexibility
…that, I think describes it best. Sometimes in a fit of enthusiasm you imagine that colors don’t have to be similar or even complimentary. Go in for the absolute mismatch. The ridiculous. That is “brave”, “bold”, “new” and then, of course, “the right thing to do”. The quiet voice in your mind that used to tell you not rush-in, got shushed in all the euphoria and all the estrogen. For a while there was some ridiculous thing clouding your judgement – people call it love. Then one day you wake up and it is all gone. Nothing you do is right for the other person. No gifts, no household contributions – it is all about the imperfections. Like acid it eats slowly into the fabric of your relationship. The edges get weaker, then, the center weakens. Then you start asking – how did I end up here? And the other question. The big one. How did we get from there to here?
Hypothesis. It was the wrong color. Period.
1. You like the intelligent life, books, technology – he couldn’t care less.
2. You like to be cuddle to spend time – he couldn’t care less.
3. You invest/save/insure at least 75% of your income every month – he couldn’t care less.
4. You hate your job – but sharing that makes him feel like you do worthless work.
Not the same/complimentary colors=ruin.