Saturday, 12 November 2016

Stop. Hillary Losing Does NOT Equal Women Losing.

And proclaiming it with your social media loudspeakers blaring on ‘neighbour alert’ doesn’t make you a feminist.


I’m going to start with a quick disclaimer: I’m no expert on politics. People here to find bones in my soup of ponderment (let’s hope this phrase sounds believable enough to evade Googling) can bow out now—you will probably win your little battle.

My main mission statement here is less about the election itself, and more about social media’s extremely diverse (but unfailingly entertaining) reaction to yesterday’s damning results.

In what seemed like a surreal, lucid dream (or an episode of Black Mirror/South Park, to reference social media), Donald Trump was declared the 45th President of the United States of America last morning.

It’s safe to say it was in the internet’s job description to explode.

As much as the very thought of this man being the leader of the superpower that is America filled my chest with bile, the creative flicker in my soul was happy just to be a party to a segment of history that would go down in the books as something that truly shook the world.

And how do you relish in the very moment, and celebrate being alive to witness something so momentous (albeit horrific)?

You turn to social media, of course.

I chose to stick to Twitter—in my opinion, the closest to actual self-expression that social media can get (suffice to say, I’m still not an Instagram type of ‘gal’), and it delivered—the place was awash with hilarious cries for help, some genuinely heartbreaking post-election reactions, and, far more upsetting than anything, the odd Trump-ed Twit talking about how the ‘good days were on their way’.

Luckily, there were enough Tweets about this officially being the apocalypse to assuage my ebullient panic. Including, might I add, a hilarious George RR Martin—whose books I haven’t read, and the shows based on which I’ve never watched, but who’s enough of a cult giant for me to have garnered a small arsenal of catch phrases (“You know nothing, Jon Snow", and ‘I drink, an I know things’ being top of the pile)—to go ‘Winter is coming. Told you so”.

But none of these Tweets annoyed me quite as much as every woman in the fray choosing this time to go, “Oh, you know why this happened, right, right, RIGHT? It’s because Hillary’s a WOMAN.”

Wow. Um, No.

What’s upsetting is how a little a grasp of the situation every person who has Tweeted or Facebooked this has of what has actually been happening here.

I’m going to start by quoting Tim Urban’s post on WaitButWhy, because the moment I read this line, I felt a brother-from-another-mother feeling take over my body. He says, succinctly and bluntly:

I don’t believe that for a second [that we’ll never have a female president] and I don’t think you do either. Hillary didn’t lose because she’s a woman. She lost because Hillary is bad at campaigning and because Trump had a message that resonated with a lot of people and she didn’t. The country is unbelievably ready to elect a woman as its president and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in the next election or the one after. And it’ll be so awesome whenever it happens.

Straight off the bat, in said post, Urban declares that he was supremely crushed at Trump’s victory, but instead of going blind with seething rage, tried to analyse the situation for what it’s repercussions might be for the country, and the world.

The point he makes, however, is one I have been too wary to make because the world is currently up in arms, waiting to slice and dice anyone that toes the myriad lines of political correctness in the smallest of measures.

Regardless, as someone who may not be able to call herself many things with the kind of ardent axiom she can call herself a feminist, I feel like I can be candid.

I will be damned if you make this about feminism.

Has America screwed up? Yes, indeedio! Will it’s consequences have a catastrophic domino effect for generations to come? Probably! Did they just vote in (even though popular vote says they didn’t, but ah, semantics) a man who’s going to be the political equivalent of termites? They sure have!

But that’s the thing though? They didn’t do it because Hillary is a woman.

The people that voted for Trump did it because this man is out and proud about having the wildly bigoted, sexist and ruthless worldview he does (and believe me, ruthlessness is frightening enough in an intelligent man)—and because they like that about him. They don’t hate Hillary for being a woman, they hate her for her views on abortion, on letting in refugees, or racial harmony—and those views to them would have been as unattractive in the guise of a man (or so I’d like to believe).

 The proof of the pudding is how wildly the same people slammed Obama, asked for his birth certificate, and called his legalization of gay marriage ‘a straight move to landing the country in hell.’ I speak of those that genuinely think #MakeAmericaGreatAgain is a stellar idea, and now there is nothing to do but watch from the sidelines as the country unravels, and its whole foundation of liberty comes apart at the seams.

The fact is, the America she was standing for isn’t smart enough, or liberal enough, to want her.

But to peg that on the fact that she’s a woman demeans not only her, but the idea of feminism. The one kind of woman I detest, is the kind that uses feminism as a shield, at the ready. ‘Oh, you don’t like my poem? You’re just hating on me because I’m a woman?’ ‘Oh you think I’m not funny? Is it because you think WOMEN aren’t funny?’ ‘The only reason I didn’t get that promotion is because I’m a woman.’

I’m sure there are lots of circumstances where that’s true—but there are many where it really fucking isn’t, and to pretend that’s why it’s happening makes you pretty despicable. The whole idea of feminism is to stand level, not to try and use it to get a leg up. In this case, you are boiling everything the person that is Hillary stood for with her gender—which is a part—not the essence—of who she is. To say she lost because she’s a woman is a cheat, a low attempt by someone who either knows nothing of, or has totally misread, the election, and wants to feel included in the conversation.

Hillary didn’t win because America doesn’t deserve for her to win. And I’m pretty sure Hillary is woman enough to know that.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

You ‘Allow’ Your Wife What?

Hello, men. I figured it was about time I wrote to the gang. This is not to all of you, because there's a whole bunch of Radcliffes and Ruffalos out there who'll know exactly what I mean. But for those of who flagrantly fling about the aforementioned 'A' word, I feel like we need to chat.

This has been plaguing me since this one, fine Thursday that I was at lunch with some colleagues, and when that most ‘buzzworthy’ phrase from the millennial dictionary of trending shit (it is, in fact, the hot, hot 'feminism' I refer to) was brought up, the men at the table find themselves having to reluctantly contribute.

“Oh, but you should know that I let my wife wear whatever she wants,” quips a man well above a decade older than me, his voice dripping with pride for himself. “I allow her to go out late, wear short skirts—there's nothing I don’t allow her to do.”

The table is abuzz with murmurs. Everyone is terribly impressed. 'What a feminist man', they are thinking. 'How good of him, to let her do things her way What a lucky gal'. And I find it a slightly redundant exercise to try and make a point that’s clamped it’s hairy claws tight over my heart.

Because, um, who the flying fuck are you to ‘allow’ her anything?

It’s a hard point to raise to a table that’s all over itself for its progressiveness already. To them, they have taken a giant leap towards a liberal utopia, and it feels unfair to inform them of how skewed their views really are.

Men, not at this table, though—I feel like we can speak freely. The idea that it is your right, as a man, to ‘allow’ or ‘disallow’ a woman from making her own decisions essentially ties in to the belief system that the buck does indeed, stop with you. As the male figure, the figure of 'authority', you have chosen to afford the woman/women in your life certain freedoms.

But the truly fucked-up part of all this is that you look at these distributions of partial autonomy as some major benevolence on your part. “Look at me! I’m so terribly enlightened, I let my wife out of the house in a pinafore! I didn’t scream at all that she wasn’t wearing a salwar kameez. I didn’t beat her, or call her names, or cut off her allowance. Aren’t I fabulous? #McDreamy.”

The trouble, see, is that our notions of freedom are still so deep-fried in patriarchy that it becomes a natural phenomenon to work from it as a starting base. It seems the natural ‘prerogative’ of the man to either choose to give a woman—or withhold from her—her rights.

That’s the thing, though. You have nothing to do with those rights.

It’s comes clad in the couture of progress, sure—it has the fine-ass threads of gender-equality free trade all over it. You feel like you deserve a Costco-sized bag full of kudos for saying it’s okay for your ‘gal’ to gallivant till 2 a.m. or have a hemline that flirts with fate.

Not to sound militant about it, or anything—but hi. You actually don’t own her. Your marriage certificate doesn't double as a proof-of-purchase. She is not your pre-teen child, or your handheld device that you get to decide what she can and can’t do.

“Oh, no, but that not what we meant…” you might think to yourself, branding me a touch hysterical. I’ll clarify—I’m not trying to be callous or over-analytical. I’m simply exposing the dark patch of patriarchy that's been cauterised onto our minds, and how it’s impacted how we view the world. In your head, it may be a woman’s prerogative, but it exists in a ‘man’s world’. The minute you remove yourself from the equation altogether, though—ding, ding, ding!

It’s as simple as just realising that the freedom was never yours to give. You may be her husband or her lover, but she is your partner, not your property. She should be wearing her clothes and drinking her drinks because she’s okay with it, not you. That all-pervading skin of ownership that makes you believe you are making a decision to afford her her God-given freedom is precisely what you need to shed. The minute you realise that you can’t 'decide' if your wife can do XYZ, only support it, is when we can claim, for our cause, a small (albeit vital) victory.

So the next time you’re at lunch with people talking about how your wife chooses to dress, drink, drive or do whatever—drop the ‘A’ word. Makes you a little less of an ‘A’ word yourself. Thanks for listening, and, you know, for 'allowing' me to speak. 

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Person I Judge the Most...

It took a while to admit to myself that I didn’t loathe the idea of love—when you grow up in a space as academic and judgmental as I have, you’re wont to pretend like the lesser emotions of human existence ricochet off you, for you are Saran-wrapped in higher, intellectual ideas. You can’t allow yourself to feel or ponder things as base and plebeian as 'romance' and 'love' (two things that sparsely have anything to do with one another), because you need to be busy contemplating the noise in silence or writing a paper on how pointless the writing of papers is.

Working with this life-brief, I often found it hard to admit to myself that I liked certain things, or felt a certain way—I would categorize and box them up under the labels ‘liking ironically’ ‘pop culture research’ and ‘silly, vapid thoughts’ and cart them off far back into the deepest recesses of my mind. I felt thoroughly disappointed by myself if I made it through a romantic comedy without a snarky comment or seven. If I didn’t dismember the tepid plot-points and overflowing nausea-prodding romance at regular intervals, I was just like ‘all those other girls’, watching and hoping for the Obviously-Going-To-End-Up-Together couple to overcome their quirky little non-obstacles and end up together.

I found myself constantly measuring myself up to some invisible benchmark that had been set by myself, for myself, when I hadn’t been looking. I was terribly pleased with myself for not taking to ‘trashy’ cinema like Transformers or The Terminator (though it’s a minus five in most relationships, I’ll attest to that—boys like girls who like watching cars turning into clunky metal stragglers that disrupt the town’s lifestyle). I smiled to myself at being able to call out various TV show and film plot devices well before they happened, fancying myself an auteur. I would revel in little things like working in a see-and-be-seen profession and never doing my eyebrows, or not owning any designer clothes. Those were things that didn’t matter—they were tantamount to vapid and superficial, and it was something I was fiercely intent not to be.

I found myself being grateful that I organically enjoyed French cinema, that I could devour boundless Capote novels (I still think he wrote too few), and that I could taste the difference between cinnamon and nutmeg in a dark chocolate soufflé. I was glad that I vehemently hated Chetan Bhagat of my own accord, subscribed to feminism in it’s purest, most non-negotiable form and thought the Kardashians were essentially spray-tanned tubesocks with an attitude problem and anatomically incorrect arses (except Kendall, she seems less heinous a crime against humanity than the others).

At the same time, I was deeply embarrassed about certain aspects of my personality—there was this constant fog of uncertainty that clouded my judgment about them—should the veil lift, how will the world see me? Will I be less intelligent, less interesting, more common, more ‘basic’? Was it okay for someone with a Masters in film to watch bad, Bollywood dramas without hiding behind the smokescreen of ‘doing it for a paper’? Was it problematic that I had a Justin Bieber song on my phone, and I panicked at the thought that someone might hear it filtering through my earphones? Was it normal to be so afraid that someone might find out that for the brief period of 12-14 years of age, I read a fair few Mills and Boons (which even in this burst of honesty I will insist are formulaic, derivative and a goopy enough puddle of glub to drown a small cat) and actually didn’t mind them at the time?

The average person reading this may either not understand what the fuck I’m on about—or relate completely. My heart goes out to the latter (which I can only hope are a scarce few in number), because we’ve been living a lie our whole lives. And the strangest part is, the one thing that causes unease with lying in normal circumstances—the all-pervading fear of getting caught by someone—isn’t in play. Suddenly, there’s an aspect to this elaborate life-ruse you hadn’t quite counted on; being found out by yourself.

If you tell a lie often enough, a part of you starts to believe it—it becomes as organic as the truth because the two are such routine guest stars in your narrative. In much the same fashion, when I tried to convince myself certain things were ‘acceptable’ while others were ‘not’, I did a reasonably good job. I began to indulge the ‘intellectually dissident’ aspects of my life in secret—I would watch a rom-com like a God-fearing teenager would watch girl-on-girl; with shame, guilt and a healthy serving of self-loathing.

This seeped into everything I did—I found myself growing overtly defensive of my life choices when people would say ‘you’re too good for this’, and I’d smile and try to make my choices sound feasible and worthwhile, all the while wondering ‘am I really too good for this?’ I didn’t know which reality was more terrifying—that people disapproved of my decisions because they believed I deserved better (and inherently was better), or that, one day, the façade would unravel in one fell swoop and they’d realize I wasn’t, in fact,  better at all.

I got so wrapped up in the idea of myself, the lines started to blur. I had been a different girl in school, at Christ, during my masters and in my work life—and it was hard to decide which version of myself was most like me. What could be termed 'evolution' was something I kept thinking of as trying on new skins. At some point, I wasn’t sure what I liked, and what I aspired to like.

It was in the little things—I felt like wearing a pencil skirt was a betrayal to the version of myself that wore sneakers and carried a backpack. When I started going to the gym, I felt like a hypocrite—in my glory days as a pseudo-Marxist in college (too frightened to let my inner capitalist monster rear it’s ugly head), I had called the gym a ‘corporate cesspool of sweat for worker drones’. Now, years later, working in a glass temple that reeked of corporate smarminess, drops of my perspiration were adding to said cesspool, and I hung my head in shame about it to myself, hoping this drastic change would go unnoticed by spill-over counterparts from That part of my life to This part of my life.

I’d like to believe this phenomenon was fresh, but the day I dared to let myself really examine it, I realized I’d been a fraud for quite some time. Cloaking myself in the veneer of a certain charade, of the kind of person I had, for some set of reasons, started to respect, I had begin to enact the role I had cast myself in. I respected the idea of a woman that liked poetry, that wasn’t hurt by men, that found simplicity abhorrent. I respected certain tenets of an atheist ideology, I respected women who understood and stood the principles of feminism, I respected women who chose career over having a family. 

There was no right or wrong, but over time, I had waywardly grown up with this cast-iron mould of an ‘ideal person’ and, instead of acknowledging that there were some qualities I possessed and some I didn’t, I feigned ignorance enough to convince myself I was all the things I thought highly of. When it came naturally to me (the works of Dorothy Parker, reading the New Yorker), I almost felt like patting myself on the back for ‘getting there’ without trying. In other cases (watching Splitsvilla on the down-low in the gym I once spoke such ill of), I felt cripplingly let down by myself, almost as though I were cheating on someone.

Even now, after acknowledging the faux skin I’m living in, I feel like all I have done is figure out it’s there—shedding it could take years...maybe it’s not even possible. But I keep trying to trace back my own roots–what do I really know about myself, I often wonder? What do I really care about? What would I do with my life if fear of judgment weren’t cock-blocking me? Do I really like/dislike something, or do I feel like I need to?

It seems a bit self-indulgent, sometimes, in world that keeps on spinning with more ‘pressing’ problems, to even give this idea thought—and then, I can’t help but muse if it's actually self-indulgent, or seems it because of the construct I’ve created? It’s scary to get out the shovel and start digging because I don’t know what bones of my personality I’ll find—questioning what the hell you really are is possibly the most destructive thing a human being can do; the one thing most people cling onto for dear life is their sense of self, and to give yourself the third degree about if you ever had one unearths some frightening revelations—and even more frightening mysteries.

What things about myself do I know for sure? Am I the same as I was three years ago? Have I changed? Have I changed because I wanted to, or out of pressure? Where is this pressure coming from? Who is this girl I’m trying to be? What the hell makes her so special?

I feel like I’ve opened a can of worms that was gasping for air, and I’ve never been so pleased with the insect-riddled mess around me. Everything is in shambles, because at a point where I thought I knew everything, I realize I might know nothing and that cripples and delights me in equal parts. 

And maybe, this time, when I rebuild from scratch, I’ll come to terms with who I am even if she doesn't measure up to what I thought I'd be

Friday, 22 April 2016

“For Use By Married Women Only”

Yeah, 'Oh dearie me'.
It’s an impressive, rigorous effort women (and a fairly progressive collective of suits in advertising) are making; to break down all the stereotypical negativity that festers like flies around the idea of ‘the period’. Whether it’s a campaign that tears apart the simultaneous usage of the phrase ‘I’m down’ with having your period, or companies like High Tide—a box that sends you everything you need, from panty-liners to pain relief gel, to get through your period in peace—have been conceived by a man, the notion of it being this cursed, taboo monthly monster is fast dissipating. It’s quick and heady progress, the real stalwarts of the journey having coming about only in the last couple of years or so.

However, amidst the laudable headway we’ve made is one little factoid that always pisses me off royally (call it PMS. Lulllzz. Except, don’t. Ever). Because while the thresholds of temples are being crossed by women on their period—and rightly so—and period cramps have finally been recognised as a legit enough medical condition for several companies to realize it might render an employee unable to work (it’s called Dysmenorrheafor further reference), we’re still ludicrously backward in one little part of this endeavour to surge ahead.

Tampons. What the FUCK, guys?

The Indian attitude to tampons, in our current climate of understanding and change, seems as ill-fitting as Kim Kardashian at a Fellow Sufferers of Low Self Esteem Convention (This isn’t real, but if you’d like me to found it, just say the word). We bandy on and on about how attitudes to sexuality need remedying, pronto.  And yet, the tampon stands in front of the firing squad of Indian society for it’s mere existence.

What, in the Wild West, is considerable a convenient—and more widely used—alternative to the ‘pad’ (which, in my VERY PERSONAL VERY HUMBLE DO NOT ATTACK ME opinion is an archaic concept regardless; Tampon convert since 2012, thank you very much) is, in India, almost a non-option.

While in countries across the globe, a local department store will display with gay abandon the proud array of tampon types—wide, slim, cardboard-applicator, plastic-applicator, NO applicator (go rogue, ladies!) cheaper, mid-range, expensive and luxurious—the scope on this side of the grass is nowhere near as fist-pumping and embracing about them.

Here, you get ONE brand. That makes TWO alternatives—the ‘Do you bleed a lot?’ or ‘Do you bleed two hours less than a lot?’ And discounts aren’t really offered on the real price you have to pay—hypercritical scathing from a 60+ shopkeeper, the person you will have to awkwardly ask for a box of these, whilst trying to slip it in between asthma medicine and Chloromint, like a smooth operator.  

In my head, I often equate tampons with a tiny box of judgment missiles, spewed at me with a sous army of disparaging, glare needles.
Why, are they handed out, you ask? Why can’t you just sashay past the scented phenyl bottles, mammoth puffy bags of cheeseballs and Sexy Man deodorants and pick one up yourself? Why can’t you just ring the local Modern Bazaar and have them casual toss in a box or two with your bulk order of Bourbon biscuits and Kitty Litter?

Oh, that’s right. Because you don’t get them at stores.

Tampons, a product that's so niche and under-used in this country are, in parlance with the fact, incredibly under-available. You can only pick one up at a chemist (hugely under-stocked with any women, or chill-looking men—basically anyone you’d prefer to interact with about the matter, instead of aforementioned crusty shopkeeper ‘uncle’, and are thereby not at liberty to pick one up without announcing it. EVER.
I wonder, perhaps, if in this moonwalk of progress, we’ll have to start providing prescriptions for it, in due time.

The idea of having to ask a bloody chemist for a box of tampons is galling for three chief reasons (IMHO).
The first, I do not need this man to know I’m on my period. Sure, my inflated, cartoon-esque PMS with full-on screaming, quickly switching to crying, and smashing boxes of PediaSure in the shop will probably tip him off that I’m PMSing, but I shouldn’t have to part with this information should I not want to. Sorry, but that’s my prerogative.

The second, is that it is an automatic admittance to these strange men, leapyears away from my socio-cultural wavelength, that I have (or am continuing to have) sex. Because, while you can use a tampon even if your hymen is in pristine condition, it’s statistically unlikely that you will. The process is made smoother if you are ‘sexually active’ (a detestable—but fully apt—phrase. Sorry, anyhow). 

I don’t know how much I would care—the little, feminist bird in me, beating against the shackles of my ribcage thinks I shouldn’t care. It yearns to be unfettered, and scream from a ravaged four-poster about how I do it, I like it, and I get it all the time. But as much as it might be in my list of freedoms to be open and vocal about sex, it is also my prerogative to dispense of this information as I see fit. If I want to blog about it, great. If I want to toot my own horn (only figuratively, thank God) over cocktails with my friends, don’t mind if I do. However, if I want NOT to let this possibly whore/Madonna complex-bred man know about my sexual whereabouts, that is as much my right.
It is the same fuel of indignation about that right that brings me to my chief issue with tampon treatment in this country.
So, in a random bout of boredom, I decided to examine the little sheaf of ‘How To’ paper that comes in the teensy tampon box. Amidst instructions, directions and cautions, I caught a little line that ran so deep into the cesspool of our cultural mire, it was deplorable.

“Product for use by married women only”

Thanks, tampon peeps. The idea that the sole producer of this niche product that actually allows for a woman to bleed monthly in peace without sticking a mini-diaper on the ALMOST ALWAYS too skinny crotch-strip of underpants (who are these pads made for? The BFG?) feels the need to add this socio-political coward of a disclaimer is quite disconcerting.

God forbid we should say ‘sexually active’, a phrase, in this case, that I prefer despite it’s notorious parental-lecture-esque badge value, because at least it doesn’t propagate the equating of ‘having sex’ with ‘being married’.

There’s a part of me that (albeit disparagingly) understands. How, in this nation run amok with moral police and Shiv Senazis does one simply put the idea out there—even if it’s in something as clinical as Directions For Use—the idea that someone (anyone) who’s having sex can use a tampon. But naturally, the form should be used to subliminally suggest that using a tampon whilst being unwed is an idea so unfathomable, ‘we daren't put in on the packaging.’

An article on India Today shows the shocking results that India is the leading country statistically when it comes to unprotected sex.
“As many as 72 per cent of sexually active young people across the country have had sex with new partners without any protection, an international survey says. At least 40 per cent of the youth polled in India say they had problems accessing contraceptives when they needed it, while 36 per cent said they knew a close friend/ family member who has had an unplanned pregnancy. Nearly one-third of them got wrong information about contraception from friends.”

Another survey by IPAS, India (an international NGO working on increasing access to safe abortion services) mentions that, according to their estimates and calculations, unsafe abortions are killing a woman every two hours in India (which is approximately 4000 deaths a year). A Lancet paper in 2007 said there were 6.4 million abortions, of which 3.6 million or 56 per cent were unsafe. IPAS has calculated this based on the latest population and crude birth rates (CBR) which peg the number of induced abortion at 5,007,932. It’s safe to say that amount has probably increased exponentially over the last nine years.

A survey conducted by Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC) found that STD cases had jumped from 1 to 4.9 per cent over the past four years, with diseases ranging from Viral and Bacterial STIs, HIV, Molluscum Contagiosum, Cyanea Acuminate, Herpes Genitalis to secondary Syphilis, where, from the test group of over 1,000 people (mostly teenagers), two of the teens had partners with high-risk behaviour in the form of multiple sexual partners. Seventy-five per cent patients had used barrier contraceptives during their last sexual intercourse while the rest had a history of unprotected intercourse. Three boys had indulged in sexual activity with commercial sex workers and the doctors said that, "Five of the 15 males (33.3 per cent) gave a positive history of homosexuality."

All madly, madly disturbing facts.

You’re currently wondering why, exactly, I’m on this tangential rant about abortions, unprotected sex and STDs instead of harping on a bit more about social freedom and #womenslib. Or, if you aren’t wondering why, then clearly we’re on the same wavelength and should probably grab a drink sometime.

It may seem a bit far-fetched, but I believe it’s in subtle nuances like this line, “For use by married women only”, that the rot runs deep and starts to fester. While the idea that only legally wed women should be having sex is something a country like our tries to perpetrate, the reality is so shockingly disparate it's both shameful and unbelievable.

People so clearly in the dark about sexual how-tos and what-to-nots are doing things wrong, haphazardly and dangerously, because they do not know any better. Preaching of the abstaining-until philosophy eliminates the idea of choice—and creates all the calamities that come tumbling after it. It creates a situation where people are getting diseases (often terminal or catastrophic ones), or having to take drastic measures like an abortion, which, even if you discount failed-contraception related pregnancies and the incredibly sad female foeticide, is still an astronomical figure.

While sex education is a naturally-assumed prerequisite in western schooling, it’s in the nascent stages in this country—so nascent, in fact, it’s barely visible. It’s rise was even being blatantly obstructed by our own Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan. “In his 'vision' document for Delhi schools, Vardhan, himself a doctor, has said, "So-called 'sex education' (should) be banned." His website——also states the need to integrate value education with course content and put strong emphasis on exposing students to India's cultural relations,” said a TOI article, while the minister remained unavailable for comment.

It is this very notion—that sexual freedom somehow disturbs the pristine waters of our ‘sanskars’ that has brought us to this apocalypse of epidemic after epidemic. Because, really, there couldn’t be a vicious circle drawn with more geometric precision—try to cultivate a culture of sound, stable people (because their values are in place) and wind up with people that put their bodies and lives through immeasurable torture, rendering them anything but sound and stable.

The real kicker is that there is this unseen, undetectable moral force determining what we should and should not subscribe to. Sex post-marriage, permissible. Sex pre-marriage? See you in hell, girlfriend.
And you know what? All that gruesome info above may be unnerving. But it does confirm one thing for sure.

People in this country are CLEARLY having sex. 

They’re having sex young, they’re having sex wrong, they’re having sex perilously and regularly, in marriages, before marriages, outside marriages. We're running through the entire gamut of sexual options, and we’re so averse to acknowledging it, we still have the gall to put repulsive and grotesque statements like that one on the merchandise we buy of our free will.

The change needs to start so fast and much, it’s formidable. If we continue to tell people they shouldn’t use tampons unless they have husbands (‘Lesbians? What are those things? Are they from Lebanon?’) and believe that  "Condoms promise safe sex, but the safest sex is through faithfulness to one's partner. Prevention is always better than cure,” (another gem from our buddy Harsh Vardhan), we’re in trouble. The idea that it’s so widespread is daunting, but the phrase ‘one step at a time’ springs to mind.

Let’s start by reprinting that manual, shall we?

Friday, 8 April 2016

That Girl At The Party

So, I thought I'd renounce writing fiction for a while, because I haven't felt, recently, that I could it give it the time (and do it the justice) it deserves. But I took a swipe at it anyway. Any encompassing comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada will not be well-received. In any other regard, critique away.


She was still trying to find a position for her legs. “To look poised, you must feel poised,” her grandmother had often told her, but her grandmother was speaking from Pedestal du Poise—it was like a fish teaching a giraffe how to swim, and being confused because it wasn’t happening organically.

The air had that freesia-infused scent that these events often had, intermingling softly with the body odour of the nouveau riche, a fairly distinct strain of fragrance from the old-money crowd because of the underlying notes of desperation. The alfresco restaurant (or 'Bar and Kitchen, as they're now known as) was swarming with 'masquerading-as-20-somethings' that wore practiced smiles, a voice two octaves higher than usual, and dresses that clung too tightly.

“I can’t believe they’re serving Absolut? I’m SO not drunk enough for Absolut!” spouted a skinny-jeans-and-corset-donning socialite, who’d probably have traded down said Absolut if she’d been footing the bill. “God, I swear. I heard these guys are making people wear paper bands because they’re so afraid a couple of randoms will come have a drink. Oof, yaar, so cheap!” said a designer, notorious for underpaying his staff, on the odd month he deigned to pay them at all.

It was a people-watcher’s Happy Sunday. If she could’ve played wallflower and coalesced with the fancy ricepaper from Zhangjiajie while sipping her Cranberry and (gasp!) Absolut, she would’ve. But here she was, playing imposter again. She excused herself from the grip of a pushy ex-editor giving her a liquor-tinted spiel about ‘Drivers these days!’ and beelined for the bathroom.

She walked into the loo (the kind with couches and potpourri), and, since noone was there, decided it couldn’t do too much harm to stare at herself in the mirror for a little bit. Her reflection was passable. If some wandering neophyte had caught a glimpse of her, he would’ve been well-fooled into thinking she belonged here.

She looked the part—and would’ve played it with crackerjack dexterity if she hadn’t made her start regularly advertising her ignorance. In turn, even the nuances and nuggets of skill and information she had accrued in her time there were now treated as novice babble.

The girl in the spotless glass had stark red lips, the colour of blood from movies with high production value. Her dress was black, cut in a style she wouldn’t have chosen off the rack, but worked for her body. That body went to the gym now, so it worked with more outfits than it had two years ago. She was wearing nude flats—or what she'd called ‘beige’ before this place had happened to her—and her undomesticated hair and eyebrows were the only things that hadn’t been moulded to fit the tenor of the evening.

It felt odd to recognise herself in much the same way she would an acquaintance she saw regularly. There was that surface familiarity—with a vague, egalitarian air to it—she knew that face like she knew lots of faces she ‘knew’. 

Her eyes darted instead of focusing—it had become the norm, nowadays. She could never fully absorb that image in doses longer than seconds. People wouldn't understand if she said she minded what it had become—"But you look so much better in your Facebook pictures," they'd decree.

If one skipped down past numerous ‘Load More’s perusing those pictures, one would find a cornucopia of photographs with a girl making faces that could hardly be described as ‘poised’, her template Fabindia shirt changing prints, colours and states of disarray. A world-weary bra-strap, fraying at the seams, often went rogue and peeked out at her collarbones (for extra glamour).

Her shoulders were always cut into by thick, black straps that would reveal a pregnant fossil of a backpack if turned to profile. The hair, still a riot of curls, had lost the thin halo of frizz it once had. Scrolling back upward, that hair found itself lopped shorter, then untamedly longer, then frozen at a length that ‘worked’ (this word was an inextricable part of her livelihood now—things and their most laudable qualities were quickly pared down to this phrase). And her clothes had ‘evolved’ from college-girl clumsy to middlingly urbane.

The chubbier, grimier ghost of her former self slow-clapped in awe at the size 25 waist and the semblance of cheekbones she now possessed—the very notion of those things had, in retrograde, seemed unfathomable. Yet here she was. Something she’d never imagined she’d be.


It didn’t seem right.

Her phone began to buzz with reckless abandon, throwing the thin, marble counter into frightened turmoil. The summons from her couture-clad-clan had begun. Her eyes swept over the gilt-framed mirror. The uncharacteristic black dress looked uncharacteristically good, and the ‘nude’ flats and red lips played their parts in the charade flawlessly.

Only one, ill-fitting bra-strap played peek-a-boo on her left shoulder.

As she slid her finger underneath the thin strip of fabric to tuck away and conceal it, she felt the roughness of jagged fabric—chewed on by her kitten to contribute to it's waning life. She realised how close the strap was to giving away and dropping the facade of her breasts being in perky place. The idea, itself, was scandalous.

She smiled at the thought as she sauntered out.