Category Archives: men

Even if you’ve been hit just once

The other day I saw a man speak very rudely to a woman at a supermarket. There were other people watching but that didn’t stop the man from being rude and mean to his wife. I couldn’t understand the language they spoke but their bodies and expressions spoke a lot louder than their words. In the end, when it looked like it was dying down, the woman grabbed the shopping cart jerkily and started to walk away. The husband, however, took that as an insult and raised his hand as if to hit her. Suddenly, becoming aware of his surroundings, he dropped his hand without striking and she, after flinching instinctively, walked away quickly, face red in embarrassment and, perhaps, rage.
This took me back to a place more than 10 years ago where I had gone to Rajasthani neighbour’s house. She had invited me over so I could get henna put on my hands, she specialized in it. There were other women and my turn finally came. Midway, her husband returned home and their toddler son went up to him for attention or whatever. He gave him a rude shove, the kid fell over, took it in his stride and ran around naked as he was doing before. And in five minutes, he went back to his father only to be rewarded by a slap across his face. The kid started bawling. The husband said something to his wife, even though his mother and sister were hanging around, about taking care of the kid. She, ‘modest’ in her veil, didn’t raise her head from what she was doing and said something quietly back. He responded. She kept quiet. In a burst of controlled temper, he walked up to her, took his slippers off and started beating her with one. To say that I was outraged and frozen in shock would be an understatement. Nothing prepares you for that. What was more horrifying is that this woman didn’t budge or raise her hand or cower to protect herself. She just sat there taking in the beating, not letting go of my hand on which she was giving way to her art. When he stopped and threw away his weapon in disgust and walked away, she mutely continued painting intricate designs on my hand. All I could see was the top of her head. And then, I saw silent tears of humiliation splashing her sari, wetting the soft cotton.
In an earlier relationship in my life, there were a couple of instances where I had been hit. I hit back too but it’s not half as effective when the guy is taller and stronger than you. Rage alone is not enough to do someone serious damage.
I grew up, like a lot of Indian kids, getting a sound smacking every once in a while. While my brother got it worse, I think, he now lives with having made complete peace with it. I, on the other hand, have never been able to do that. I believe a lot of the anger that still resides in me comes from there. I can’t quite tell. Maybe I am just discontent as a person, maybe I make excuses for my temper, I don’t know. But the truth is I have a pretty nasty temper. And on more than one stubborn occasion I’ve had to use a couple of hard smacks on my nearly-three-year old daughter (hands and legs only) to discipline or … dare I use the word… punish. I believe she’s a bit immune now and I worry seeing that. And it really hurts to see her flinch when I move suddenly in tense moments. And my brother, enlighteningly once said, “If physical abuse damaged you so much, then you wouldn’t as much touch your kid in a violent manner.” I felt chastised and saw he had a point. But then recently, it has dawned on me that it could have gone either way. Just like anything else – some people swear they’ll never beat their kids; others perpetrate the violence. As of now, unwittingly, I’ve chosen to do the latter.
Ever since this realization hit and I put my finger on my ill-inherited temper (my grandmum – who I love to bits – was a terror to my mum and her siblings. There are stories of her punishing them by placing a steel spatula heated over a flame on their legs, for lying to her) I have been looking at ways to change. And I lasted a good three weeks or more before the control broke and my daughter got a whack from me for scribbling all over the walls in my hall with crayons. She’s done it more times than I can count and I know all kids do it. But limits are limits. I’ve put her away in corners, not given her crayons for weeks, have spoken to her about it more times than I care to remember but nothing makes an impact. So I am left to assume that this bit of mischief holds so much wonder for her that she can’t resist. And at some point I may have killed some creative spirit but I hope not. If I have, I am not going to think about it now.
But I digress. In an earlier post, I said I much prefer a fist fight as a resolution to a problem than a silly cold war, if a confrontation and spilling of painful truths is not an option. It seems a bit immature but I find it the easiest way to get rid of all the negativity hanging around. When I wrote that post, I was convinced it was the way to go. But soon it began eating at me, and I wondered how someone with a brain and a thought process could prefer such a base way of dealing with things. How can someone who wants to get rid of the violence in her system prefer this way? How can someone who has an appreciation of beautiful things prefer this instinctual, violent way of handling a situation? I got no answers. I left it alone so that I could come to it later.
And today, while talking to someone, this whole violence thing came up and I was told, “If you’ve been hit more than a couple of times, by different people then it’s because it’s your fault.” I am a little offended. I know I drive people up the wall. I can be very exasperating, I’ve recently realised. But does that allow the blame to fall on my shoulders? (I use I and my in a general sense. I am talking about the person who is at the receiving end of any kind of domestic violence.)
Premeditated hitting is one thing, but can a person be faulted for the being hit in the heat of an argument? I don’t think so. I believe no matter how annoying someone is, no matter how exasperating, domestic abuse is not the victim’s fault. Just like rape or molestation. So when this came from someone tremendously close, I was forced to examine exactly why the person was saying this. I see that sometimes people will snap but what is it that makes some people walk away from a situation and some hit back?
As a means of control, physical violence works. It builds tremendous resentment and hate in the victim, but over time, it is an effective way of getting instant obedience. Abused women have been known to snap after years of being beaten and kill their partners. Abused children have been known to develop deviant personalities. Recently, I was having this conversation with my really wise sister in law and she said she had never been beaten by her parents, or even yelled at. And for me that’s a miracle because she’s so well turned out – sorted, organised, patient, never has a mean word to say about anyone, gentle and kind. How, then, did her parents manage to discipline her? Soon, she went on to say that her elder sister now whacks her son once in a while when he gets completely out of hand. And my sister in law and her parents are amazed that she does it. “Where is that coming from,” she said aloud, completely lost for an answer.
Indeed, where does this natural violence come from? And how does one undo the damage it has caused?

Stop calling it "eve teasing". You are being molested, not teased.

Update:  


Last evening, I took my toddlers out to play. We stay out a long time because a) the outdoors are a great way to get healthy and find wonderful new things and b) I like to tire them out like that so they sleep well. Because, really, as a mum and a working one, there’s only so much you can take in a day. But that’s a different story.


It was a Friday (as you know it’s the Arab world’s Sunday). We usually play in a grassy little patch a bit away from my home. Today, as I saw it was really lonely there, I decided to stick around in the empty parking lot of a large government building near my home. I usually have my help or my husband with me because managing two toddlers who don’t understand road safety very clearly yet is difficult. Today, it was just me and the kids. 


A while into play, a Honda Civic began to cruise up and down the road adjacent to where we were. I didn’t pay too much attention because assholes like that usually drive away if they see you aren’t interested. Soon I saw the car had turned into the parking lot we were playing in and had parked nearby. I calmly gathered the kids up and moved to the other side of the road, where there is a place to play but is pebbly. As soon as I did that, I noticed the car pull away and I decided that was the end of it. 


After a few minutes I noticed a man walking up and down the stretch of pavement we were playing on. He didn’t pay us any attention so I thought it was a resident on his usual evening walk (I am new to the area). When it got dark, I took both the kids – carrying the younger one — and walked towards home. Most of the area is pretty well-lit and busy; there’s just one patch that’s dark and dodgy. When I got there, my older child spotted something on the road and stopped to marvel over it and ask questions. I moved closer to the pavement as she started discovering more god knows what on the road. And suddenly stepped smack into this tall hulking guy standing way too close to me. It was the same guy who was walking. Silly as I am, and disturbed as I was by his closeness, I didn’t quite realise it was the same guy who was in the car. He came forward to pet my son, who I was carrying, and I took a couple of steps back. He began asking them their names and the niggling warning bell got louder. Before I could grab my daughter’s arm and head home, he had reached out again to touch my son’s cheek and in the process brushed his hand against my chest. I saw red, gave him a hard shove and started shouting and charging at him but he fled and there was only so much I could do with the kids around. 


My blood boiled as I went home and told my husband what happened. He stepped out immediately to see what could be done and I saw the bastard drive past our house again. I don’t know if he was keeping an eye or he just needed to go to the end of the road to turn around his car.


I most definitely intend to report this but I am getting feedback like expatriates will not be helped much in case it gets reported. I’ve been told to go through an Omani friend or colleague who is well connected. Have any of you living in Muscat reported any such incidents? I know a lot of women face such crap. But have you reported?


*****


Eve teasing


I don’t know how many women can safely say that they have never been molested in their lives. If they’ve been out in a public space, it doesn’t matter what they are wearing, whether they are in great shape, whether they’re lovely to look at or just plain, they will have been grabbed. 


Very often, when the question of molestation comes up, everyone loves to label a city safe or unsafe, depending on what frame of mind they are in. I find it astoundingly silly and baffling that the basis for deeming a city safe (or unsafe, as the case may be) depends on incidence of reported rape and other attacks. In a city like Bombay, which I will vouch for as more or less safe for women, for the most bit, I was molested in more ways than one.

Once, I stopped to ask for directions and this creep, who would have been barely 20, said he didn’t know what I was asking about, stuck his hand out, grabbed my breast and ran. Unfortunately for him, my reflexes are still in decent condition. Couple that with roar-inducing rage, I chased him down, got him by his shirt and beat him up in every way I know. Kicked, slapped and punched him with one of these in my hand. Not only is that a hair-ornament, but it’s my most effective protection against molestors. He got away after a bit but I think I damaged him enough for him to remember not to touch a girl for a while, unless she wants to be touched.

On the local train, if I ever got into the compartment where there were also men, more often than not, I dragged an offender out with me. The thing with these guys is most of them don’t start on you till the train stops at a station, when the crowd is moving and shifting. They grab you just as you are getting or they’re getting out, hoping you don’t realise what happens. So I usually am prepared for an attack; drag them out and starting hitting him and/or abusing him till a crowd gathers and takes over. Which is why I love Bombay. A woman’s word is gospel. At least in my experience. As opposed to Bangalore, where the men look at you as if you’ve just offended them by even existing. What a hostile mean city Bangalore has been for me. 

Another time in Bombay, a friend sat alone in the first class compartment a little late at night, going towards Town (South Bombay). For those who have done that will know why it’s a bad idea. First class is the perfect option during peak hours but a really bad idea late at night because it’s practically empty. Also after 8 p.m. (or is it 7?) men are allowed in ladies’ compartments as well. So there she was hoping to reach home without any incident, when a man comes and plonks himself opposite her, whips out his penis and starts masturbating in front of her. I can’t remember if I have mentioned this here before but it is the most disgusting story of molestation I heard from someone I know. I am not including child abuse and incest stories because that is way beyond molestation. 

Yet another time, I’ve been kissed by someone in a senior position who I worked for. He had joined me and a friend for dinner, conversation went very well. I don’t know if we had similar interests or he was just being polite and attentive. But the evening ended with him insisting he drop us girls. I lived really far off from where we were having dinner and after much protest (I really was perfectly okay with going home alone at 1 a.m. Still am.) we decided it would be churlish not to accept and so we were dropped back. My colleague was dropped off first and as I lived farther, I was alone with him till we got home. We chatted about this and that, I got told I was charming etc etc. And then, just as I said goodnight and was about to step out of the car, after a cursory, polite thank-you peck on the cheek, I was at the receiving end of a full-on adult kiss, with a little tongue thrown in. To say that I did not expect it at all is understatement. To my shame, I didn’t report it. Don’t ask me why. Maybe because there was no violence, maybe because he was always so polite and gentle before and after. Maybe because he did major damage control after that, but I didn’t report it. I am still confused today as to why I didn’t.

And I am not even talking about things like talking to my breasts instead of talking to me, exposing yourself to me or texting me to say when you are drunk that you want to “fuck me” (a colleague in Bombay called Manoj did this. And he found my number through someone else. Unfortunately, I forgot his last name. His poor wife had gone off to have a baby or something), and being hearing lewd things being said as I or some other woman walked past. 


My questions are these: 


1. What is it that makes some men violate a woman’s personal space and touch her? Who gives them the right to do that and think it’s bloody okay?
2. What is it that separates a molester from a regular man? What makes two men look at a woman and react in two different ways: One checks her out, finds her appealing and stops with that, while the other one reaches out and touches her? What is that essential difference? Lack of control? Lack of decency? Bad upbringing? A disdain for women?
3. Do they also look at the women in their home with the same filth in their eyes with which they look at my breasts or butt or thighs? I mean to ask do these men who touch women without their permission on the streets also touch their women — mothers, wives, sisters — at home? Are these, in effect, perpetrators of incest? Or is it just other women they feel comfortable grabbing?
4. Are women responsible for these men having absolutely no fear to touch, grope, or expose themselves to women? Have years of “just ignore him” behaviour emboldened these men to do as they please? Would a man think twice if he had been beaten by a woman for touching her or passing a lewd comment at her?
5. If I have some male readers, can you please come out on this and tell me what treatment — extreme or otherwise — would deter a man from molesting a woman?
6. Is this restricted to developing countries and others such as Oman alone or do developed countries see molestation in such a daily, on the street, everyday manner?


A blogger friend recently told me that one of the reasons he likes Muscat is because it is safe, that things like the above don’t happen here. 

Fact: The first time I saw a man’s penis: Here in Muscat, when I was about 13-14 years old. A man close to where we were playing was hanging around exposing himself and trying to get our attention
Fact: The first time I saw a man masturbating: Here in Muscat. Late evening I was hanging out clothes to dry on a stand in the balcony and this guy was parked perhaps 20-30 meters away from our home, jerking off. I didn’t realise what was happening till I almost finished with the clothes.  
Fact: The first time I was grabbed: Here in Muscat, in Ruwi, while walking with my parents when I was nine years old. A man walking past grabbed my then non-existent right breast.
Fact: The first time I got surrounded by a bunch of guys and seriously groped: Here in Muscat. Age 12, cycling home from my dance lessons when a bunch of tween-to-teenaged Baluchi boys surrounded me and brushed their hands against my butt, my chest, my legs while saying things that to this day I haven’t understood, in Hindi. 
As a result, when I walk alone, I walk with all my senses on alert. I walk with aggression and hold a bag or something protectively against me, with my elbows ever-ready to shove someone in case they touch me. Do you know how stressful it is to walk like that, protecting yourself constantly, without letting your guard down? Do you realise how painful it is to think that you can’t enjoy a good walk alone for the fear of being touched by a creep? Do you realise how restricting, how rage-inducing, how utterly defeating it is to be that way every day? Do men understand why some women in countries where roadside molestation is rampant hold on to their men tight? Why they ask their men to ask for directions, buy a pack of cigarettes or walk half a step behind, very close to their men? 


Edited to add: A friend wrote in to tell me molestation is an issue that needs to be told again and again and again. Men, just ask the women in your life how it makes them feel, even better, think about how you feel when one them is attacked. Women, the more we talk the more courage we can instill in those who won’t retaliate. Will women who read this please take two extra minutes to just comment and not leave before they do? Only for this post, please. If the men (if there are more than three) also can take the time I’ll be very grateful.


Edited again to add: If I have any Omani/Middle Eastern women as readers, could they please tell me their experience; anonymously is just fine? I am just trying to understand if India, because it is so varied, has such elements and because by and large we don’t have dress codes, that this happens to women. Does wearing an abaya, being brought up in a mostly segregated society and not having as many freedoms as women from other places have its advantages as far as molestation is concerned?

An eye for an eye. Then let’s go shopping for glasses together.

Every time someone has said women are their own worst enemy, I’ve shaken my head in vehement disagreement. Every time someone’s said (usually a woman) that men are “lessy bitchy, more honest and less complicated” I’ve found arguments to counter each of those adjectives. I’ve quoted mother-daughter relationships; I’ve flaunted the example of my aunt who raised two stunningly-behaved boys with the express intention of making comfortable the lives of the women these boys would eventually choose to be with. My biggest example has been the shining picture of all those brave, hurt naked women protesting against the army in Manipur after the rape-torture-murder of Thangjam Manorama. What exemplifies better the fact that we are all sisters than mostly middle-aged, probably not very educated, women shedding clothes and any vanity to create a voice for the wrong done to one of theirs?
But over the last year, that conviction has defeated me more than a couple of times. I find the reason women need men, will always be dependent on them – apart from the usual, natural ones — and claim to have better friendships with them is because they are willing to first blame a woman in any situation, even if there is a man involved and in a logical, non-PMSing world you can see that he is as much at fault, if not more.
I am no saint: I’ve been guilty of it myself, squarely blaming a woman in the situation rather than seeing the contributions of other people involved, generally speaking. But that was before I got my wits around things, a few years ago. Ever since, especially if there’s a man involved, I’ve found that while I see how both have contributed to the situation, I do more or less successfully condone both their behaviours; or condemn, as the case may be. (That said, I am no one to condemn or condone but I am not sure what other word I can use without diluting the sense of what I am trying to say.)
Even when it comes to kids, I find other women will first question the mother’s integrity, involvement and love when they perceive a kid is uncared for or misbehaving. I remember a woman asking my then not-yet two-year-old, because her nails were a little overgrown, “You haven’t cut your nails? Mama doesn’t cut them for you?” Maybe I am being oversensitive but I took that as a subtle dig at me. Surely, my young daughter can’t have answered that question, so perhaps it was meant for me. And typically, this is from a mother who is insanely involved in the lives of her kids, with rarely an interest outside her own offspring. Most women with other interests wouldn’t worry about slightly overgrown nails too much, I believe. Blame the guy once in a while, ladies. Remember how difficult it is for you to do everything. It’s the same for the other girl.
Or for that matter, how liberally mothers and sisters will blame the woman their son/brother is married to for any behaviour that they don’t approve of. What makes them think their boy has suddenly lost the ability to think independently? He could equally be responsible for that really ugly – perhaps, cheap? — sari that he gifts them or crappy things that he says. Why call the woman he is married to controlling? (If you ask me, I  have so much faith in women that I think men’d do loads better to be controlled some.)
Look at situations where women are the boss. Women subordinates will bitch and moan about every aspect of her being – her fashion sense (or the lack of it), her perceived inability to run a team, probably her husband and kids too, and not to mention what they see as favouritism to a male colleague. I don’t see these women complaining when a male boss favours them over men colleagues. Neither do I see them nitpicking at his mismatched shoes and belt or his dirty fingernails. Heaven forbid the otherwise well-dressed woman boss who walks in with cracked heels or chipped nail paint.
In a complex, messy situation, involving both the sexes, the thin veil of civility and politeness will necessarily be worn when two women confront each other in front of a man. (I am talking about reasonably intelligent women who sadly believe calm words are stronger than fists. You might come across as more sophisticated with the former but a fistfight is immensely satisfying. You should try it sometime, girls.) Take the man away and it’s likely to go two ways. Either they’ll be cold and ignore each others existence. Good way to go, I think, but leaves you with no closure and an avenue to constantly bitch about yet another chick. Or they’ll call each other words, enlist their own army and cry war. This is good also. Because you aren’t repressing any of the anger or hurt that you are feeling. And a bitching gang-bang always makes you feel superior, right? Except, this approach requires you to be prepared for defeat – either by the same coin or by silence. Either way, you have a war-ravaged entity to clean up afterwards.
My sympathies will always lie with the woman. Always. It’s a promise I made to myself in my effort to create the sisterhood that I see around me. A sisterhood that I see is in the same existential pain as me.  This incessant need to retain their bodies according to an ideal of beauty, the crazy race to be a better mother, a better sister, a better girlfriend, a better everything, not just a good something. Always better in comparison to someone else.
I may not like her, I may see through her and I may tell her exactly what she is but if she’s been wronged, then that’s where my sympathies will lie.
I have tried to understand what it is that makes us so ridiculously competitive in the minutiae of our lives. Is it because the majority of us don’t play sport seriously? Yeah, I know it sounds silly, but think about it. Playing sport or following it passionately builds an attitude of resilience, partnership and appreciating someone exactly like you. It gives you that famous spirit of being a good loser. And you’ll admit most women are sore losers for most their lives. Or until they reach their 40s and have accepted themselves. Sport I believe gives you a little more than your little world to focus on.
Is it because we are, since childhood, encouraged in subtle ways to compete against everything – including the boys? For affection, attention and approval? Is it because we are taught we are “little princesses” but then we grow up and find out the princesses are common as pimples? That we have crooked teeth, bad hair and not the greatest sense of humour when we are out fraternizing with other princesses?
At risk of sounding like a violent person, which I probably am, I’d much rather sock someone’s nose in, receive a black eye, be bereft of fistfuls of hair and leave scratch marks on someone else’s pretty face than war coldly.
I, a feminist, say this sadly, in the end. Ladies: 0, Gents: 10

A walk in the rain? I’ll ride a bike, thanks.

I once had a wooer. I found him when I was in the college union and had to find a judge for one of our festival competitions. He was in the Indian navy, looked lovely, and sang like a dream. For those of you who know me, you should know that the only reason I didn’t rip his clothes off and devour him whole was because I wasn’t really interested in sex till much later on in life and thought men no different from women. There was only one saving grace. Actually, two. He was overenthusiastic and he was short. Why saving grace, you ask? Because I was 16. And if he was really smart, played it just right and was way taller than me, I’d have eloped with him and had his babies the day I turned 18. He was that yummy.
So I forgot all about him for the longest time. But as has happened to many of us recently, I found myself at the end of a friend request in my inbox the other day. From Orkut, the ghetto of social networking and a place I had deserted long ago. Enough reason to have dumped him, in hindsight? I, of course, eagerly checked him out. He had put on a little weight, looked like he’d been drinking too much and was still short. And all sorts of memories came back to me. Let’s park that for now.
I recently had a little exchange of ideas about what romance was. I don’t think I am a romantic woman. In the sense, I doubt greatly I go all out to overwhelm my man. I have a romantic soul, laced nicely with a cynical scarf that surprises even me, sometimes. I see romance in the breeze, in heroism and in tenderness. None of this has to do with sexual romance, or man-woman romance. It has everything to do with the beauty and valour of the world around me. And the people that live in it.
The two – my wooer and the discussion on romance – are thus connected. This man went all out to woo me. He probably has been the only one. I’ve never had to be wooed because if I found I liked a man more than the others, I’d usually tell him. I’ve been rejected just once. I said, okay, cool, where do you want to head out for a drink. And we’re best friends now. That’s the kind of girl I am. But back to the wooer. I, of course, didn’t realize it then, that he was pulling out all stops to woo me. He’d come to the college hostel often to visit me (yes, I regularly received a wooer in the guests parlour of my college hostel, I can’t believe it myself now), and when I could get out he’d take me out for coffee (when I say coffee, please imagine some silly date at a café where we drink anything but that beverage) or a meal, he’d send me flowers and cards. Real ones. Out of which pastel flowers or lipsticked primates peeped. He’d buy me trinkets which were in appalling taste but what a sweet gesture, no? None of that constituted romance to me, though.
The event he came to judge in our college was a musical one. As part of the judging and conducting, he had to sing a couple of songs. I remember dressing up to impress him that day. It’s a bit of an embarrassing memory but I swear to be honest on this blog and I will be that. I think I went through five different outfits before deciding on a rather becoming red and white salwar kameez. Anything else would have been instant warning to the nuns that I was having it on with the judge, so I played it safe with a salwar kurta, which is considered modest. (These nuns have no idea how immodest teenagers can make it look.) The first song he sang was Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye… It stopped my heart for more than a few seconds. Already distracted to bits by his presence, I was cursing that I had to be in the wings while he was on stage, instead of sitting in the audience and melting. But when he began singing, it was like out of a movie. He turned sideways just a bit, looked straight at me all the while and sang. The.whole.damn.song. I swear I’ve never blushed that furiously. My face, it is said, by my close watchers, rivaled valiantly with my red dupatta. (The number of clichés in this teenage memory appalls me. But anyway, moving on.) And a 2000-strong audience of girls witnessed this. That was romance for me. To be made to feel like the only woman in the whole world. Till this day, that song gets my pulses racing just a bit. I suspect I even blush a little, unconsciously. And I am way past the age of blushing at anything apart from severe embarrassment.
A few minutes later, he was required to sing once more, for another segment of the contest. This time the ass chose, Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke charche… This too looking and smiling at me every once in a regular while. I could have walked out onto the stage and killed him with my bare hands. Or kissed him.
***
We went out to the cinema once. I don’t remember the film – a Kevin Costner one with pelicans or geese or ducks or something flying poetically in the end. A Perfect World? I can’t remember. I was just too distracted by him sitting next to me, trying my best to not let him hold my hand or something. Which he did. And I think I froze. Because having grown up with male friends who failed to notice I was a girl beyond the initial few hours of introduction, I had never had a boy do that to me. Hold my hand in a dark theater. So I promptly asked him if I can have my hand back. He handed it to me and we both pretended nothing happened. He looked suitably chastised, which was not my intention. And sent me a sorry card the next day. Like I said, OE* cutlet. But after the film, we went out for a meal. I can’t remember the place or what we ate but I remember the bike ride across the bridge into Willingdon Island and how he turned his head and asked if I liked the light-studded, boat-filled view, enjoyed the breeze in my hair and was I comfortable. That was romance for me.
It was that evening that he offered to teach me to ride. The evening I fell in love with motorbikes. He didn’t complete his tuition but that, too, was romantic.
Speaking of bike rides, another wonderful, wonderful friend of mine had me ride pillion once, just before I left Madras for Bombay. He drove down the stretch of the Marina on a hot, empty afternoon just because he knew I enjoyed both. Bikes and the sea. That was romance, too.
But the most romantic nights of all had to have been when then boyfriend, now husband, stayed over on one of his trips to see me and spent all night singing to me. Gorgeous, sensuous, soulful lyrical songs he sang, as I lay on his arm and heard his song fill my room, drifted over my skin, seeped into my soul and escaped through the warm windows of a moonlit room.
I believe I have had but a few moments of romance. Possibly, I have never given any of my men romantic moments. I will never know. But the ones I’ve had – romantic moments, not men – have been worth a lifetime. And I am thankful I am a woman and the men I’ve been with have treated me like they’ve never known anyone like me.
On that really mushy note, I should also say, I think romance is a waste of time after a while. Two people should just go around a beautiful place and take pictures of everything, as well as each other. But then, if they are in love, that too will turn into a romance.
Share your stories with me?
* Overenthu – madras speak.
*** This was the point I realised I was writing a post on romance in February. All hail the cliche queen. FML.

I men-t to do this post some time ago.

I’ve meant to do this post for a while, and no, I haven’t I misspelt the title.

As you will doubtless know by now, I go through life with perennially failed brakes. I take very sharp turns and I almost always rely on my smile and my incredible good luck to keep me from becoming roadkill.

There’s never been an instance where I’ve slowed down, parked and said, wait a minute — look at the map, will you? Look and see if that’s where you want to go. I’ve just put on shades, folded the top down, turned the music up and driven on without watching the fuel gauge or for signboards. And where has that landed me? With a lot of fun. A lot more trouble. A lot of serious heartbreak. If I were the only one, I’d have just sucked it up and gone looking for the next shiny thing that distracted me. But life’s not a one-way road, right? More often than  not, things are a two-way street. On those, I crash into people, swerve wildly to avoid them or just run out of fuel, get off and say hello to whoever else is parked by.

Among those are the men in my life. I love men, as I’ve said before. And I think it would be safe to say they love me. As long as they don’t live with me or know me too well.

But we won’t talk about how they feel about me.

The first, most important and honestly the best man in my life has to be my father.
Before you think I have a huge Electra complex, let me make things clear. We fight. Big time. He speaks Greek in medium tones and I speak Mercurian very fast in a loud voice. And oh, he speaks turning to the wall and I speak loud in a vacuum. We just don’t hear each other. Never.

But for all that, he’s the best man I know. He’s taken all that his circumstance gave him and turned it around to his best advantage. He has every value that I determinedly brush off as not valuable. Only, I know I do it because imbibing those values would mean a lot of very hard work. He has every virtue that makes me scoff but only because I know if I were to appreciate those virtues he possesses, I will never be able to look myself in the mirror and accept the person that I am now.

My father is an intelligent man but he is also limited by his complete and utter respectability. His dignity is great and he’s much fun when he’s a little high. He absolutely loves to annoy a girl or two (me!) but he knows how to make me feel like a princess. He can cut me down, or into a million shreds, with his sarcasm (my wool is black these days, in the family) and his expression of complete resignation but he can also make me feel like a million planets with just one word of praise, a smile of approval. And at 30, I still crave it.

There’s much I don’t like about him but not as much as what he doesn’t like about me. And he still loves me incomparably. So what does that say about him? We fight, we’re rude to each other and we’re very very unforgiving for a few moments in the day, on bad days. But he can reduce me to tears with his great great love. Just like I can him. If there’s a softer heart I  haven’t seen one.

The other day I was thinking about all this and it struck me that the only person I’ve never had a fight with is  my best friend. He’s everything I could ask for — patient, utterly non-judgmental (which is a good thing or I’d  be sentenced so many times, I am that bad) funny, undemanding, giving, and most of all loves me, inconsistencies and all.

I will leave my husband out of this list of the men in my life because I’ve written about him often enough. And will continue doing so. He, after all, is the husband.

I cringe every time a woman says, “Men are bastards.” It’s embarrassing because that woman has for sure met many men who aren’t but she’s choosing to focus on the few that are. It’s funny because I imagine her saying to herself as she tries to look vicious, “Except my dad. And my brother. Oh, and my uncle. Oh yeah, my best friend too. Of course, my English teacher from school.” It’s just stupid because you can’t make sweeping statements of judgement like that. And while I’ve my share of complete and utter excuses for men, I am thankful for these men in my life for helping me maintain a healthy attitude towards men. And so, my list won’t be complete without two people who have contributed towards my constant and undying faith that we cannot, and should not, live without men.

My brother. We are very close in age. We grew up as partners in crime. Then we hated each other — short of killing each other we gave each other every kind of beating. Then he grew up and became stronger — and taller — than me so I couldn’t do as much damage. So we started being snarky and mean to each other. We went through tough times — we didn’t talk to each other for a bit, I threw him out of the house for some time, he messed up the folks with his ‘reading’ of who I was. And now he’s easily older than me in his head, has a reached a place in life after much struggle, strength and thought where I can take his advice, criticism and suggestions seriously. I have never loved him as much as I love him today.

Here’s why he reinforces my belief in the goodness of men.
1) When he hugs a girl, or puts his arm around her, he is extremely careful with his hands. Without being uncomfortable.
2) He has accepted my parents — who I struggle with — as they are and has managed to establish a beautiful, peaceful, trusting relationship with them.
3) He takes his wedding vows seriously. Very seriously. He says till then it was all excitement for him but when he vowed to do what he did, the whole impact of it became larger and reminds himself of it every so often.

Finally, the guy who decided to enter my life in the quietest way possible and stay there forever. No bang at the first meeting, no immediate connection. But I know for a fact that if I ever put my speed dial in use his number would be one of the ones. This friend would also be one of the five I would call if I found myself in trouble that I can’t extricate myself from. If I were to sit down and define a friend, I’d just point people in his direction. He judges without hurting, calls a spade a spade and knows what I am thinking without my saying a word. There’s no pretence, no what ifs, no “I wonder what he’ll think of me if I tell him…”. In one word, he’s what free feels like.

Thinking about these men in my life led me to thinking about what I like in a man. I know this should be a post for Judy or Revs but what’s wrong with a married girl talking about what she likes in a man? I am still a girl, red-blooded and fun at that. Just because I’ve eaten, should it mean I can’t check out the menu? If nothing else, a poor sod asking “What do women want” may actually chance upon this piece and take back something that will leave him less mystified.

Here’s my list.

1. I don’t like a man who doesn’t listen. If you’re saying that’s so typical of a woman because women talk a lot, then I think you’re running away from reality. Men talk a lot. Like a whole lot and nothing flatters them than a woman who listens. I am a good listener because I am genuinely interested in people. And by that coin, I expect the same from anyone, not just a man. In a man, however, it is very special.

2. I like a man to remember little things about me. It could be that I don’t drink aerated drinks or it could be that I love colours white, green and purple. It could be that I prefer sour orange juice over sweet. I’ve so far met only one who does that a lot.

3. I am not overly hung up over funny men. A man’s got to have a sense of humour in the sense that he needs to be able to laugh — at himself, at the world around him, at a joke from Readers’ Digest. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t have me rolling on the floor, catching my sides, laughing like it was going out of fashion.

4. I like a man who has a passion. Or two. Music, art, reading, riding, cars, cockroaches, forks, watches, mud, Sumo wrestlers. Anything. Just anything that gets him going. And moving.

5. Speaking of which, I like a man who’s active — who walks fast or plays a sport or something. I’ve known non-physical people and I know for a fact that their attitude in life could do with general improvement.

6. I like cheerful men. Not in that irritating blowing-sunshine-up-your-glutes kinda way but someone with a quick smile, on the ready. Someone who laughs at the small ironies of life.

7. A man needs to like alcohol. Really. The ones who don’t, I am very suspicious about.

Men, is that a tall order? And the lovely women who come here, what’s your list?

I am a feminist

A school mate of mine, who I think I’d like to be friends with now, told me on phone recently that she has been a stay-at-home mum for about four years now, since her daughter was born. This girl, as I remember her from school, was bright, sociable, dedicated, focused, had an excellent work-ethic and hovered somewhere at the top of our class. I think she had ambitions to do something in the sciences, or perhaps it was engineering, I can’t be sure now.

I recently spoke to her again and was very pleasantly surprised that she chose a more evolved stream and did her BA in English Literature. Moreover, after having worked in a bank here in Oman for a bit, she married, settled down and is now a very happy mother to a four-year old. The thing that struck me in the conversation was her saying, “You know,  I am not a very career-minded person at all.”

For me, that was surprising, because I know very few women of my generation who are not career minded. We were all raised on the ethic that we needed to conquer the world, we needed to stand on our own feet so that we could be who we wanted, so that we could make our parents proud, so that we could go live the life our mothers dreamed of. We were also raised on stories of women facing every kind of degradation in history.

Very often, without our realising, our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and indeed, the very idea of our Self was deeply tied together with having a career. And in second-generation working women, like me, it wasn’t enough if you were in one of the “easier” fields: beauty, teaching, clothes, if you hadn’t the smarts to become a doctor or an engineer. Somewhere along, we got the message that we had to go do the “tougher” things. I put easier and tougher in quotes because the jobs listed next to them, aren’t my definitions of those words. I don’t see what is tough about sitting in an air-conditioned office and doing a 350-word story on summer trends for glasses. You’re still a journalist but not doing a tough job. Similarly, I don’t see what is easy about being on your feet all day making other women beautiful; bending over to thread women’s eyebrows or waxing their armpits or massaging their pedicured feet. Beauty, you will agree, is not easy.

But coming back to my point, for most my generation of women it is very clear that the option of staying home was almost not there, unless you absolutely couldn’t help it. But this girl, who grew up in a single-income household, is very happy with her status. And while there’s only a hint of apology when she talks to someone like me who has a career (somewhat), she’s quite comfortable with the fact that her daughter, her family come first.

For a few days, I have been thinking about feminism. For some years now, I have been hearing women say, quickly and defensively, when they tend to speak up for women and their rights, that they are not feminists. And I’ve wondered why.

I’ve seen men say it derisively of a woman, that she is a feminist. I, on the other hand, proudly say I am a feminist. I speak up for myself, I speak up for my sisters, I speak up. I love being a woman, I really like men and I love my career as well as my kids. I strive hard to make my parents proud (whether they see it or think otherwise), I love finding out new things about me and just because I play other roles like daughter, wife, sister, mum, friend, and everything else, I am NO less myself. In fact, all these roles just add to my personality. So what exactly am I missing when people run away from the F word?

Thanks to the feminist movements, Men, your mothers, wives, sisters and daughters can vote, can inherit property and are considered citizens of a country. Thanks to feminism, there are laws where rape, molestation, sexual harassment at work are all punishable. Thanks to feminism, girls have a right to education just as much as boys do.

And women, exactly what makes you say, “Hey, I am no feminist but I really think women should…”? Even if you aren’t a feminist in the strict sense of the word, why do you have a problem with being labelled as one? Is it because you, like me, love pretty lingerie and are not willing to give it up? Is it because you think ‘feminist’ automatically means you need to call men words that a sailor would blush at? Maybe these questions are simplistic, but I am just trying to understand why you don’t like being called a feminist.

Because you know, us feminists, don’t burn bras anymore. We even get married (to men) and have children. Why, we go as far as telling people that we love being a woman and for us many times feminism means that I get to stay at home and there’s no pressure on me to earn for the family, most of the time.

Honestly, that is what feminism means to me today. One of my favourite writers (as she is with many women I know) Alice Walker has a beautiful word for it Womanism. For me, being a woman, being a feminist means now that I have most my rights in place — voting, education, property, the right to choose my last name, the right to be safe (?) apart from others — I have the right to choose. I have the right to choose whether I want to go to work and make a career, or I want to stay at home and revel in domesticity. Feminism, for me, means the freedom to choose the latter and not feel like I’ve betrayed my education and my talent by choosing  to stay at home and considering a family more important.

Feminism to me means having the choice to go to work even though I have children and coming back feeling good that I spent a productive day work while looking forward to time with the kids. It means not feeling guilty that I spent time away from them. Feminism means to be able to my buy my own car or designer handbag. It also means to have the grace to say ‘thank you’ if a man offered to buy either, once in a while.

Feminism means feeling comfortable to say that I asked my husband out; that I like to cook (I don’t; just an example) or crochet (which I like) or sew or bake without feeling like if I say it, people will think of me as domesticated, as a “typical” girl. It means feeling comfortable to say I love cars, gadgets and women without being thought of as a tomboy, or worse, a wannabe tomboy. Feminism means not thinking it’s a great thing if you own best bud is a man — it doesn’t make you any different from a woman who’s best friend is a girl. In my opinion you should have one of both.

What does feminism mean to you?