Wednesday, January 16, 2008


i am currently working on a project for a foreign client. my team has mostly brown people, with a sprinkling of a few white people as well. most are very nice, but one specimen quite often makes me feel murderous.

for the ignorant white person who comes to india
(aka: why i'm wary of white criticism, aka: how you give other white people a bad name):

scenario 1:
you come here on work. you work with your brown colleagues and genuinely have a very nice time. you think quite a few of them are very intelligent and very professional. but you see nothing wrong with doing this:

you've all gone to a coffee shop together. you have to wait for your order longer than you like. so you start whining after the first 5 minutes, and your script is : "man... that's so inndia. you would *never* find something like this happening in *WonderfulWhiteCountry*!"

yeah. that so totally india. didn't you know it's how all indians are? slowness and inefficiency are hardcoded into our DNA. you say you don't mean us by that? i see. we look like what to you? fried sausage? we're part of inndia too.

scenario 2:
you perceptively ride down the obvious manifestations of colony mentality we still have and express withering contempt for the people here who suffer from it. then you dont wonder for one minute why people put up with your constant bitching about the country, climate, water, food, government, place, work and other subjects in the universe without questioning how you get away with assuming the prerogative to be ill-mannered, loud-mouthed, proudly and insistently insensitive and ignorant and always complaining.

people put up with that because you're white. because brown people have heard this crap for a long time from white people. the next time it bothers you so much that the place around you is immersed in colony culture.... remember to also be profoundly grateful that it is, because otherwise, people may even pull you up or take you apart when you deserve it.

scenario 3:
you're opening up to your brown colleague about the huge row you had with your boss and how he was acting like a sexist and judgemental shit over your social life. said brown colleague explains that we are still a patriarchal society (i'm beginning to lose belief that there is any society left on the planet that isn't). said b.c. explains that the guy is an arse that way, but you may find him professionally fair to you however personally unfair. you yammer on and say man... this would never happen in *WonderfulWhiteCountry*. you don't get judged for this shit. it is all so lousy only in india.

cough. yeah. in there's no sexism, no patriarchy in *WonderfulWhiteCountry*. and to top it, it's "indianness" not "patriarchy" that just bit you in the ass. your brown colleague happens to be a brown feminist. she happens to also identify herself with that indianness and that culture. you just wiped her clean out of the picture. because in your books, patriarchy isn't something that is also there and that seeped into brown culture, no.

indianness = patriarchy. it's so lovely to have your existence erased.

scenario 4:
you're wailing about the way you just saw people at work behave with their superiors. you label that so inndian and of course, that that isn't the way things work in *WonderfulWhiteCountry*. guess what, if you bothered opening your eyes, you may notice that there are quite of your colleagues who don't behave that way. that your own team, is remarkably bureaucracy-free. that your brown boss happens to be a singularly neat character who doesnt expect, want or demand that fawning of you or other brown colleagues.

scenarios ad nauseam:
you crib about corruption here, and how everything only gets done if you pay a bribe...and then you ask all your brown friends if they will write your thesis for you - and you're willing to pay well.

you call your "friend" home, and all the way to your house, you keep insisting that you're not rich. you're just a poor white student. before she has even stepped into your house, you hurry into explanations of why the rent you're paying isn't half as high as it would normally be, and how poor you are. what were you expecting? to get mugged by the envious, coloured savage?

all these gems of from someone who can be quite nice otherwise. it's really sad to see someone casually smack a culture, a whole people down without a second thought. wake up. there's simply no excuse for ignorant racism.

and it's not the burden of the coloured person to have to educate white people out of their racism.

the third world isn't your toilet.


Monday, January 14, 2008

i am back.

now that i've access to the internet and a machine to write from again, the biggest impossibilities to blogging have been cleared.

plus i am settling into my new work, so i no longer feel creatively dehydrated at the end of a work day - doing this ideas thing 12x6 leaves me mentally exhausted though i love such work.

and most importantly, i have been hearing such a lot of privileged trash talk that is making me hopping mad.

i am back. see you very, very soon.


Friday, October 12, 2007

note to self?

this morning we were discussing you, my place to scribble where i talk to myself and check if i can word some things, let off steam, think aloud.

he spoke of you with finality, though it was i who said that you were dead. but thats untrue. i haven't run out of things to say. i merely haven't yet safely negotiated a space to talk from. - now that there is another person who would be affected by what i say here, and affected moreover in a more direct way than my family would be, i need to be very sure before speaking. he says he wouldn't mind, but is that a chance i can take? i tend to think not.

i also need to rethink and see what i'll put under the cause of "openness and community building" and what i'll put under "private and personal". there are so many new things in my life now, and a different range of experiences. it's taking time to think through them all thoroughly. also, i never wanted you to be a journal sort of thing, being a mostly an impassive person in love with theory. but the way life is turning out, since this marriage thing, i have no time beyond office work and house work. i rarely meet people. yet there is much "happening". so it will turn out somewhat like a journal i suppose, if i do write.

there are some very big things for which if i look around to read and know what other women have done, faced, handled, i don't see indians. i want to know for my community. my group. there is too much that is too different from white women's lives. so for now i look through journal publications, but i keep wondering if there is an indian housewife - living in india - who writes a feminist blog. i would like very much to know what the hell is happening in our lives and how common some things are, what women do...

some day, i'll put down those things i've been thinking to myself, to my women friends and to him. until then, be patient. i haven't abandoned you. i think of you often, especially when we've managed to work something good out peacefully. or when i realise another thing about the institution of marriage, my perception of roles of husbands and wives, my family, my mother's support, my sister's perspective, housework, representation, the home, fights, peace, sex... i have needed and drawn on feminism, gender and counselling experiences more than i ever dreamt i would. i don't think my marriage is very representative in that sense, but that could also be untrue: i don't know what is happening in other women's lives. more than i ever, i deeply miss a strong, brown feminist community.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007


there's an awful lot happening offline in my life, hence the silence. BUT this is something i came across yesterday:

if you haven't already read, heard, discussed, prayed, done something about the jena 6, buck up and start now, because it matters.

- m.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

delirium and other stories

i don't know about you folks, but i go totally batshit crazy when i have fever. i start thinking verrry carefully - you know, squinting mentally and really trying hard to be logical - and coming to absolutely ridiculous conclusions. its like being soo close to your needle when you're threading it, that you've your tongue out with concentration and you're breathing heavily and all...but then you finally miss whatever it is.

yesterday my fever went up another notch. it showed. our geyser doesn't work. because of lack of time, inclination and money, rather than change it we just use an immersion rod. so my husband rigged that up in the bedroom (the loo doesnt have a big enough plug point), and went out of the room to see to dinner. i sat there in semi darkness, gravely considering the bucket.

hmm. now i have two options - i must think carefully - should i bathe here or use the bathroom. if its the bathroom, i'm too weak to carry that bucket into the bathroom. maybe i should just bathe in the bedroom. but it'll get so wet .. and all that froth of soap on the floor, tsk... i certainly wont have the energy to ....WHAT?! i'm seriously considering bathing in the bedroom?!

it was my compulsive tendency to do automatic Cleaning Required Assessment that saved me. so, having successfully handled that one, i bathed (in the bathroom) and came out feeling much better. oh yeah - a hot water bath with salt is great for colds! an hour later i thought i'd inhale some steam to clear my nose again. i carefully think about it, put the vaal pathram on the stove and am about to light it. something seems a little different. after 2 minutes... ah. water. i had forgotten to fill water in the vessel.

after which brilliance my husband firmly ordered me to bed and to ask for help with anything. sigh. i need to get well soon!

oh yeah... and since fever helps me randomly remember stuff, i just remembered something that happened about a month back. the husband and i were driving to work, and as we turned into the wee road where our office is, there was a guy merrily unzipping to piddle on a wall. usually, my tendency is to think "MEN! *$%&#!!" and just give up, but that day i lowered the window and yelled. the golden words were "dont be disgusting! - stop pissing on the road and find yourself a bathroom." and what do you know, he nearly blushed, zipped up and mumbled a "saary madam" and scuttled away.

so what do you know, it works!

oh yeah... one of you wish me some hot soup, huh? :)


Monday, August 06, 2007

a view on "being different" and social conformity

take an old-fashioned feminist who doesn't like the attention that Being Different attracts, and doesn't think non-conformity has to have a high-visibility component. add to that a strong tendency to be a peacenik. i am very, very picky about what ways i will "stand out" from the crowd.

while sometimes non-conformity is intelligent and necessary for integrity to one's political beliefs, most times i hear it being advocated like a panacea. Being Different seems to be regarded as a GoodThing(TM).

especially if you are a feminist you are expected to Be Different by adopting certain (predictable) patterns of behaviour. other than the fact that these patterns are again dictated by an arbitrary someone who considers they know best as to what is liberating for the feminist in question, the reasons given for advocating non-conformity are almost half-baked - and any refusal to comply and obligingly Be Different in the dictated manner means you are sadly under patriarchal control still!

broadly speaking, i think there are two kinds of social demands.

the first are to do with respectability/decency/something-else-equally-vague; the second is to do with maintaining the social fabric.

the first kind is the set of demands that are made of us as individuals representing a certain group. society is full of competing groups that try to attain social dominance/power. when a group A that is more powerful than group B decides that group B is worth noticing or being allies with, group B's power increases.

historically, B groups try to sell their members as highly desirable members, who are "respectable", "decent" or whatever else is in vogue. the group makes social demands of its members, along the lines of "if you're decent you wouldn't do this". it's telling that most of these decency/whatever conformity demands are mostly only restrictive! the group makes these demands purely to make sure that you don't embarass it. so no, the group doesn't give a damn about the individual in its quest for political power.

saying bow-wow to these demands is a part of rebellion against the group's oppression of its members, but it's nowhere near enough. this sort of non-conformity is important in adolescence when you're (hopefully :D) determining your politics and practising resistance because it's a relatively easy way to challenge the way you live and think.

but carried beyond a certain age and in the absence of anything more profound than the purely symbolic gesture, it's quite pointless and peurile. it becomes pop-rebellion along the lines of "i do ganja and so i am liberated and very progressive!".

i also think that this is a kind of non-conformity that doesn't really demand much of you as long as you don't mind the occasional bursts of attention. all the confrontation of beliefs that happens at this level, is confrontation of others' beliefs. you don't challenge yourself at all. so when no one's watching, it may be quite meaningless.

there is the second kind of social demands. i think these demands are made of us as members of society at large (or humanity if you will) as opposed to members of a certain social group. these demands have to do with stability of society. such as not trying to take the law into your own hands, or keeping in touch with your kin. i think it's actually lots of stuff like the second that is about building up a robust social support system to ensure reasonably well that nobody goes too berserk.

it's true that these expectations can be rejected too. there are people who manage to live quite happily and independently of their kin. (there are also some kin who deserve to be kicked out of the network!) then by all means, don't conform.

however, i'm a little wary of non-conformity to these expectations because while that may not threaten those who do not need these guidelines, who are wise, able &/or capable enough to live on their own terms, the potential for damage in terms of less able/wise/capable followers is tremendous.

the systems needed for stability are necessary in order to protect those who are not wise enough to intelligently reject these norms and who may get into trouble of a magnitude that affects not just them individually but also society as a whole. many children of the hippie generation suffered bitterly because of parents who thought they were being progressive by absolutely disrupting all existing social systems but just ended up being flaky and broke. today we have problems of adolescents going berserk and killing, school kids committing suicide because of stress and soaring rates of depression. i think they're all indicative of system failure. (how much more unstable can a society get?!)

so am i advocating complete docility and conformity as a safe option? no. i just think there is a huge area between these two kinds of non-conformity, where non-conformity means challenging ourselves more than an audience (and is therefore more honest!), where rebellion is reasoned rather than attention-seeking. i rather think many of the madusar patis figured this one out pretty well. i know some in my clan who have seemed outwardly perfectly traditional, but have been very strong and progressive women.

the more i think about it, i think it would be fabulous to teach meaningful, questioned (as opposed to merely rejecting) rebellion as part of higher secondary schooling. we'd finally be giving people a chance to become sensible adults!

also on sthreeling


Friday, August 03, 2007

a m.m.! 8 things about m.

I've been tagged by the eloquent Laurelin for the 8 random things about me meme. So here goes again:

1. i'm emotionally quite impassive a person. i have to sometimes remind myself to show a reaction.

2. i tend to catch myself making the fundamental assumption that if i know it, of course you do. or you should - even i know it!

3. there's no such thing as eating too many vegetables. however, copious amounts of raw green leafy stuff makes me mean and desperate! i hate lettuce.

4. i have a mole on one of my soles that keeps disappearing and reappearing.

5. i love the osho tarot pack (about the only thing i like about osho!) because the cards are beautifully designed. i can vouch for at least the air suite being uncannily accurate. i think someone did some fanstastic people watching when they designed that pack!

6. i am developing road rage. i feel very frustrated that i don't know enough swear words in tamil. the stint in south africa totally cleared up my language - i didn't have to drive, so i didn't swear. simple.

7. i think i have briefly bitterly hated almost all the people i love the most.

8. i believe it is perfectly fine - even good - to judge, to discriminate. the only clause attached, is that you should do a good job of it, and follow the profession's ethics!

let's see. i tag these people: senthil who hasn't written in a long time. neither has sriharsha, so i'll tag him too. the happy feminist appeared briefly and vanished again, so here's tagging her as well!


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

sex and PG

through college, i kept talking to women who would sooner tell their parents they were going to jail for eternity, than that they had a boyfriend. parents were - and i think for the most part, still are - generally considered a cross between gorgons and medieval purists.

this is for them (the women!) and because this troubles me:

(before my mildly delayed honeymoon)
m : ma, i kept saying i wanted to go to the gynaecologist before we left for () no? i went in the evening.
ma: ah okay. good.
m : i wanted to go because whenever we had intercourse it hurt a lot for me, and i've heard that some women have this extra thick hymen and stuff, so i just wanted to check with the doctor.
ma : oh...
m: and she said i was normal only, but that it would pain the first times anyway. and that i had to remember to keep my hips down
ma : and relax. thats the main thing. she would've given that lubic gel no? its a lubricating gel, so it helps to reduce the pain.
m :yeah.. she said i was getting very tensed. i'm scared of pain ma!
ma: dont worry... the first few times are painful, but not killing! it's very sensitive in the beginning because you're not used to it no.
m: i felt a little awkward about discussing it with i went to the gynaec first. but this is so nice ma, to be able to talk so comfortably!
ma: yeah, see, i'm not the kind who would bring up the topic... but if you ask me it's not like i feel embarassed to discuss it or something. i assumed everything was fine because you didn't say anything earlier. :)
did you have time to pick up the gel? shall i get it for you?

lingerie tends to make my feminist skin itch. a lot of the designs and patterns of stuff you see seems a little objectifying and not quite merely only about harmless frilly stuff. but i'm not getting into that right now. what i did want to share, was this conversation with my father:

pa: listen, why don't you buy something nice? do you have everything you want? i'll take you to any shop you want to go to. have a nice time... this is very special. sure you'll have sex a million times again, but you'll always look back and remember the first time.
and keep an open mind okay? both of you will keep hesitating and feeling awkward, so reacting strongly may make him think he's horrified you, or you him. did you buy condoms? don't get pregnant as yet. get used to each other first.

before someone dismisses these as memoirs of a freaky family, let me assure you that my parents had set rules for me which were as strict (or sometimes a little more so) as those set for other kids. i had a 10 o clock curfew for getting home up to when i got married. i have never been to a night show. i have never been to a discotheque. until i was 22 i didn't drink alcohol unless my parents were present. contrary to possible expectations, it wasn't an awfully oppressed life! save the curfew, the other two didn't bother me. there were things that i did wish for more freedom in, but honestly, for this kind of support and relationship.... it was all totally worth it!

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

oh joyous, joyous day!


what have you all been up to? i've been scrubbing, cleaning, washing, ironing, unpacking, sweeping and swabbing. and for relief, i've also been painting and decorating. and making up silly happy songs to sing to myself:

hip hip and hurray, i've got me a plumber to fix me drains -
out with the slime, the grime and the guck,
out with the filth that leaves me drains stuck!
hip hip and hurray, i asked the watchman (i used me brains)
to find me the plumber to clear me drains.

yes, the blasted plumbing has also been fixed as of 7 am today. all i need now is to find me a nice, honest maid to help me with the housework, and yaay. life vill be bliss, ya?

kindly excuse until then.

by the way, do any of you know any nice recipe sites? i am looking for nice vegetarian recipes that are ... you know, call-people-for-dinner-worthy. i don't like the whipped cream type stuff. i'm turning up absolute tripe in my searches so far.

*leaves, singing stupid jingle*

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

princesses, happy endings ... and patriarchial lies

hmm. i just deleted what i started with, because i wanted this to be openly personal, and had instead ended up talking from a distance (as usual!). well.... here goes:

if a face belongs to my childhood, i cannot categorise it in terms of good-looking or not. you see, i had grown up in a house where i was told that looks didnt matter. and more importantly, anything that ma told me when i was a kid, i believed - and internalised - totally. moreover, my mother (even today) seldom labels people as being good-looking or not. she speaks mostly of instances when someone looked beautiful or handsome. so, a wrinkled old woman like my grandmother was and could be described as beautiful without its seeming ludicrous at all.

from there, as i've grown older, i have learnt the media message moderately, on what's beautiful and what's not. of course i can rationalise that it's conditioning, that beauty is a currency for us to deal in a sexist culture. but intellect-shmintellect, what use is it when i'm able to look at my body and feel near-automatic inferiority, walk into a health and glow and come out with a complex, self consciously pick waaay looser clothes when i think i've put on weight, or angrily catch myself thinking "if only my cheek bones werent so high"?

i read somewhere that there's body consciousness, body unconsciousness, and body selfconsciousness. i generally dont pay attention to my body, but when i do, i certainly feel selfconscious. 5 years of depression and bingeing have done no good to my skin or figure. i knew it, of course, when i was bingeing, but i couldnt give a damn then - priorities! during that time, i generally dreaded it when anyone wanted to see old photographs. whenever my mother used to look at photographs of me as a child she'd worry herself into a headache about what i was then doing to my body deliberately and without caring.

while i stopped being an idiot as of the last 2 years, putting my body back together is a slow and difficult job. (let me clarify: that means achieving fitness and stamina again. it doesnt include spending time at parlours.) so yep. here i am, definitely overweight for my build, hair cropped short because i need to cut it whenever i'm stressed out, 3 piercings in one ear (i dont think it stands out terribly but it's there), one for my nose, a tendency to reach for bitter chocolate when i'm feeling down, a little prone to panicking, and my wardrobe slowly graduating from funereal blacks and dull shades to all colours of the rainbow - even reds!

i am going to get married wearing a traditional 9 yard sari, this on my nose, my favourite unfeminine anklet, and my cropped hair. i am not beautiful, as magazines, tv and every other screaming mouthpiece of society tells me. i sure as hell am not a "feminine" woman! i have been both, the dunce and the brains, of my class. i am of average intelligence, maybe a little up on common sense. i've always preferred living in my head than in the world outside. i'm not particularly well-read. i've dabbled in everything that has interested me. oh, and i'm pretty old-fashioned. and snarky. some days i can be as scintillating as a wet canvas shoe, and others i can manage pretty interesting conversation.

i'm figuring this is about as everyday, unfashionable and unremarkable as one can get.

and according to everything from movies, magazines, fairytales to well-meaning relatives, that's about as catastrophic as life can get. because you see, there are no happy endings and fulfilled lives for unprincesses. there's no social recognition, let alone anybody actually liking them. ridiculous as the assertions are, that's still basically the message that patriarchy dins into us.

well, sucks to the patriarchy.

this is for everyone who was an ordinary girl. this is for every woman who resolutely ignored the conditioning, but started wondering if there was really anything for the unbeautiful. for every woman who sadly watched her friends "dress up" ("why is she doing that? doesn't she know she looks lovely?!") but restrained herself - and wondered if that was pure arrogance of some kind. this is for some women in my life who almost scare me with their slave-like devotion to make-up and costumes.

guess what? evidently there's love for the unbeautiful too, and it aint lesser or anaemic. somebody wonderful loves me.

in fact, it has been the way i've thought ideally love should be. right when we'd just got talking, one of our earliest conversations was about how vile the concept sold in mainstream culture as "romance" was. we were firm friends after voting the heart as a symbol of total commercial insincerity! (if one of us unknowingly ordered a coffee which was served with chocolate sauce squirted on top to make a heart, it was a gesture of loyal friendship for the other to swoop down with a spoon and blur it beyond recognition :D) we talked deconditioning. we talked stereotypes and expectations. and we kept practising looking at people as people. do you know many men who can notice and put words to a twinkle in an eye?

upto the time when i realised i was falling for him, most of our conversations had been abstract and theoretical. (i wont say impersonal because we were talking a lot about our politics.) even when we did realise we loved the other person, we didn't get "romantic" :) we continued to talk a lot, and politically. that means working on creating a space where we've the comfort to say anything we feel like, to being able to cough, be sick or tired, aroused, burp, puke, hug, whatever, without feeling awkward that its not an airbrushed-perfect image.

as soon as we thought of marrying, our first few conversations included gender politics. included domestic violence. included cheating in marriages, and our views on divorce. we have both resolved to test for hiv before getting married. "romantic"? no. but sure as hell reassuring, and realistic.

we've worked our way through several issues to keep our wedding as in line with our politics as possible. we've had long talks about what rituals we'll have, how we'll organise our house, our personal comfort levels in conforming to gender dictates - and those talks haven't just been between us, we've obviously had to talk to everyone else involved. a lot of hard work, but well worth the investment.

because we declare our politics openly, it also makes for lots of interesting discussions. i've learnt that i'm more bound to gender conformity than he is. and he feels very comfortable threatening to shave his legs if i do mine. (sigh!) i've learnt that my idea of femaleness is different from his, and still not clearly defined. we've talked about attitudes about sex, cultural mores, guilt, sexual politics, responsibilities, family planning... lots of stuff. i've discovered that while fighting society's gaze is one thing, being looked at in feminist appreciation and acceptance can even transform the way you see yourself.

no, it hasn't been all pleasant. the political is personal. we've had some flaming rows. but its all worth the space to be free. to have a place where we can shed layers of ourselves that are just to fit expectations and rules, to be able to look at, get to know and experiment with what we would like to be, left to ourselves. (to eventually build a home where my kids can grow up being savvy about the patriarchy and learning to be feminist! what, you thought i'd give up on world domination just because i was happy?!)

the kind of incredibly dismal fates that patriarchy paints, for women who treasure their intelligence more than their appearance, or for women who need their independence more than they need their acceptability to society, is staggering. every time i watch tv, i see conformity to patriarchal norms being rewarded with a totally contorted notion of love. but why just pick on the idiot-box, there's enough reinforcement in real life. i've heard discussions about women put up for display in the marriage market, and the belittling criticisms levelled at their body, skin colour, height, hair... godknowswhat. god help you if you're an intelligent woman with a sharp tongue, who speaks her mind. there's an equitable version of love that the patriarchy is hell-bent on keeping invisible!

so here's a true story for every woman who feels in need of it, every woman who started feeling weary or wondering if there was anything particularly worthwhile other than the principle of the thing -

"the unprincess lives happily, politically ever after".

cheers, people. i've a marriage to prepare for!


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