Sunday, October 12, 2014

Because I am a girl?

“Don’t be a girl!” – I heard my 9 year old neighbor Prashant tell his friend. Both boys sniggered at this, exchanged hi-fives and continued with their game of football with the “gang”.

I was 12 years then and pretended to not hear them as I whizzed past them on my ladybird bicycle. I am not sure of the exact emotion that went through my mind at that precise moment. I think it was anger “how dare he say that!?” or maybe a hurt ego although it was not a comment directed at me. Or maybe it was the fact that they didn’t even notice me, a girl on the cycle. All I remember of that incident was that more than wanting to ignore them, I had wanted to get out from there as soon as possible and had sped away on my cycle. Was I ashamed or just angry? I had just heard a line, and a laugh, and knew nothing of the context of the statement, but I had just wanted to disappear. I was 12 and they were 9, but for some strange reason I felt like the smaller one that day because I was a girl…

I remember thinking about it as I pedaled through the dusty roads that hot summer day. What could Prashant have possibly tried to imply through that statement? He couldn’t have possibly meant that girls are weak, he had a grandmother who had lost her husband at an early age and raised 4 children single handedly.. that isn’t weak. He couldn’t have possibly meant that girls cry.. the principal of the school we both studied in was suffering from some incurable disease which everyone called cancer (I had thought it was just a sun-sign) and she had to sit every 5 minutes when she took a lecture.. my classmates told me her husband had left her, but no one had seen her shed as much as a drop of tear. Maybe that is why this disease was so deadly, it makes tear glands stop working!
Could he have meant that girls cheat in games, they were playing football afterall. No, that doesn’t sound practical, cheating is an attitude, a state of mind, what does being a boy or girl have to do with that. No maybe he meant that girls nag,yes that could be what he meant. But then, when his uncles go out at night and party and come home late and drunk, all of his aunts quietly remove thei shoes and put them to bed and they never spoke about it to them the morning after.. when I asked mom, she would just say ssshh! So no not nagging either.

I crossed a bend as I rode back home, it was getting dark, I had to get home early. Why? I thought to myself. “Its not safe for girls to be out in the night” I could hear my parents’ voice in my head. I found myself pedaling faster, once again I felt smaller because I was a girl…

“Oh well , she is that kind, you know the kind that always hangs out with boys!” I turned my head to see who they were talking about. Yes she did hang out with boys , but I had not thought it was a big deal. Maybe growing up with an elder brother and his gang of guys had made it easier for me to interact with boys although I spent 12 years in an all-girls convent school. If anything surprised me more than the comment itself, it was that it was made by a girl.  I smiled at the girl they had spoken about, she smiled back. I noticed she held her head high. She joined the girls for lunch at the college cafeteria, but she ate in silence, without making eye-contact .. even as they whispered to each other and sniggered from time to time. I noticed she was feeling smaller, because she was a girl.. and ironically the girls made her feel that

The CAT result was out and I had made it into the coveted IIM. The feeling was ethereal, it had not even begin to sink in. My phone buzzed with congratulatory messages and my dad and uncle were in an animated conversation about my future. As I sat in a dizzy slightly tipsy state (not drunk , just that floating feeling when you feel like you are in a dream), a man in his mid-thirties walked towards me. He shook my hands and congratulated me, and added that the IIMs are placing a great emphasis on gender diversity and increasing the ratio of girls:boys this year. He signed off saying obviously this meant I have a great future ahead of me. Even as I was trying to understand how this “gentleman” was related to me, I heard my uncle say  to my dad “ It is going to be difficult to find a groom for her, what with the post graduation that too from an IIM!” I am not sure of the exact moment when I stopped feeling elated and instead started feeling smaller again, because I was a girl…

I congratulated my colleague as he exclaimed “ I am going to be a father !” Someone asked him if he wanted a boy or a girl. “I would be fine with either, but I wish it is a girl “,he said. I tried to keep a calm and straight face, but my mind was racing. He wishes its a girl? Maybe I was wrong, maybe times have changed and being a girl is not something to feel small about any longer. He was talking and I forced my thoughts out so that I could listen to what he was saying. “Well, look at the cost of gadgets these days, my son is 5 and he is already asking for an i-phone. Girls are easy, they just need a Barbie”! Another one chimed in even as the others guffawed “And with all the funds coming in from various bodies supporting women, she will probably get scholarships and a free education”. I opened my mouth to speak, but felt little point in doing so. I turned around and silently walked back to my cabin. The feeling was familiar, I tried to not feel it, but I felt myself growing smaller..

The lady who swept the office floor stopped me in the hallway. She seemed to be roughly the same age as me. She offered me a chocolate and exclaimed with a feeling of pride “ My daughter took her first steps today madam!” I saw her eyes glistening with tears, and I found myself searching her eyes for answers to the questions that were pounding in my head. She continued “ My times were different madam, today there are so many opportunities, I will make her study and stand on her own feet. She can ride horses, become a police officer, or open her own business. It doesn’t matter, she took her first steps today and she can achieve many things in life with our support. She can do anything she wants madam, we women have that power within us, you tell me madam, what can these men folk do without us? I will teach my daughter to be brave and confident madam, and to be proud about being a girl. I will tell her that she can do anything and go anywhere and not hesitate because she is a girl, rather I will tell her that that is why she should do it. Because madam there is no such thing as “being just a girl, is there?“. I felt bigger than I had ever felt before.. I smiled at her, took her hand in mine and walked with her down the hallway. 

Through the looking glass

What do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror? What are you really trying to see when you adjust your hair or put on that extra dash of lipstick? Well a seemingly stupid question I suppose? I mean of course the mirror reflects how we look and we want to look our best of course!

We have all at some point or the other spoken about or atleast thought to ourselves about how wrong it is to be judgemental, to be a critic without knowing the other person or just how inhuman it is to not put oneself into the other’s shoes when we raise a finger at someone. And yet for those few moments before the mirror, we become the toughest of critics, the most judgemental beings and become objects of scrutiny by our own selves. Every crease on the face, every dark patch below the eyes, every blotch on the skin and every tiny detailing of the hair comes under the toughest scrutiny and oh! How unforgiving we can get to be !

When we stand in front of these adorned pieces of glass, we somehow cease to be the identity we have created for ourselves. The degrees we have worked so hard for, the achievements at our professional frontiers, the sleepless nights to realize our dreams and the tireless striving for life-changing relationships, they all cease to exist. And we become victims of our own invigilating eyes, examining for mistakes that can shatter our confidence, looking at how we may be looked at by those who would see us and stripped off to our bare bodies by eyes that only seem to look outside and seldom within!

The mirror then goes a step forward. In that moment of shame, yes the shame of not being good enough for our own eyes, the mirror reflects the blotches, patches and wrinkles of our personalities too. Suddenly it shows us the self-doubt in our own abilities, the diffidence in our attitudes, the reluctance in our actions and the disapproval of all those around us. The mirror at this juncture ceases to be a friend and instead torments us forcing us to look away. Until the next time we look at it and wait with trembling eyes for its approval.

Today was different, I woke up and stared at the mirror. What I saw was quite troubling. My face was puffy having slept little, eyes looked droopy , tousled hair and a new blotch on my skin. But something overcame me, I refused to look away and stared back at my reflection instead. I realized I was not looking at the reflection in the glass, I was instead looking through it, to a spot right behind it. As though I were looking back at myself through the mirrors eyes. I felt a little dizzy as a zillion thoughts went through my head in a flash second. What I saw left me breathless: The last 25 years, through school, college, post-graduation and work; through pillow fights with siblings , squabbles with cousins, and cold wars with friends; through illness and farewells; through birthday parties, anniversaries and funerals; through crushes and heartbreaks; through painful failures and overwhelming successes; through loneliness and companionship; through ups and downs…

I stared without blinking at the imperfect image of my reflection. Here was a 25 year old, on the journey of becoming an adult and yet refusing to let go of the child within; with fears and doubts; with more questions than answers; confused, unclear and a trying to find her way, and yet undeterred and ready to take on the next challenge hurled at her. Sometimes it takes a stir to settle a disturbance and smoothen the surface. In that moment of sudden clarity, it hit me that the mirror was itself a reflection, a reflection of my mind and the thoughts within. I was the controller here, not the mirror, hadn’t I just looked through the glass and seen myself through the mirror’s eyes?

A sudden wave of exhaustion overtook me. I gently stroked my puffy face and brushed back my hair. This time not to make my appearance better or rectify a disoriented picture, but with pride and acceptance of all that has made me who I am…

The Race

I ve been running a long time
A race of whether its yours or mine
It did not matter if my legs were shaking
Or if my mind was numb with all the thinking
I had to run, lest I should be left behind
But I knew not for whom or what to find

I passed by green meadows of fragrant flowers
But I could not pause, nor did I have such powers
I felt myself grow older with each lap I ran
But I could not stop to think why it all began
I had to run, lest I should be left behind
But I knew not for whom or what to find

I heard a few voices, familiar they did sound
I glimpsed a few faces, cheerful and round
Stop and talk whispered my racing heart
No ! shrieked my mind, just run, jump and dart
I had to run, lest I should be left behind
But I knew not for whom or what to find

Another runner passed me, and another followed
Everyone was running, run faster my mind bellowed
It was a race where everyone was running
A little faster, a little further, I had to keep going
I had to run, lest I should be left behind
But I knew not for whom or what to find

The birds stopped chirping, the sun was down
The stars twinkled above me, but I had to look down
The night was silent, no familiar voice, no cheerful face
I paused for a moment reminiscing old days
I had to run, lest I should be left behind
But I knew not for whom or what to find

Perhaps I should stop, and look how far I have come
Perhaps I should walk back to where I started from
The voices, the faces , the reminiscences, make me think
The sun broke through the clouds, my eyes shut and I forced a blink
Another day had dawned , another race had begun..
Stop whispered my heart.. You ‘ve come too far now, cautioned my mind
I had to run, lest I should be left behind, But I knew not for whom or what to find

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I, me , myself

I put down the cup of steaming hot chocolate and licked my lips savoring the last drop of it. Absolutely delicious and sinfully pampering. I smiled and thanked the chirpy waiter who dutifully collected the whopping charges for the drink.

It was 6 pm, time to head back after a day of walking through the streets of mylapore, complete with a snack at saravana bhavan, darshan at kapali temple, a walk by the beach,a  splurge of shopping. and of course that sinful cuppa of the magical concoction they call "chocolate". I felt tired, but content.

I don't remember the last time I did any of these in the company of just myself. After all it is taken for granted that there s someone around always, parents, siblings, neighbors, that gang from school, your college buddies, hostel roomates, office acquaintances. After all any company is better than no company right? 

But today was different. I got up feeling refreshed and excited about the day. I was going to go out and have some fun, alone. I am not much of a shopper, but I picked 4 sets of clothes in the shortest time I ve ever taken, noticed the shells in the beach sand and the lovely sunset , felt the calm and quiet at the temple and savoured the sweet prasad. I felt an indescribable rush of joy, a spurt of confidence and a streak of independence, and in that solitude, I fell in love with myself all over again !

I guess company is overrated ,sometimes it is more important to know and understand yourself. To spend your time wisely, read a good book, write, sing, dance once in a while , rather than get together for a luncheon, watch a movie with the gang or spend hours on a virtual site with virtual friends who neither know you nor care to find out. I guess its not not having people around that makes you feel lonely but your disconnect with yourself that makes you feel a void. And you don't necessarily need a someone to fill that void, because people come and go.. can we fill it with ourselves instead? Next time you feel your being a narcissist, think again.. if you don't love yourself , who will?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

everything at once !

Have you ever come across these statements that just seem to make perfect sense? A rhetorical question perhaps or just an offhand statement that jolts you out of your self-absorbed cocooned existence? Well, the choicest pick for me in this regard would be "one thing at a time" .

This is probably the first lesson that my kindergarten teacher taught me when she taught me to put multi-colored loops of decreasing radii around a stand , that I do it one at a time and break-down that mammoth task into a game that was almost fun to play!

This was also what my mother taught me when I tried to stuff it a handful of home-made banana chips at one go and nearly choked- pick one at a time, that way you can relish it and guess what , eat more too !

Throughout childhood, this became a mantra- focus on one thing at a time and the world seemed a perfect place and life a beautiful journey, until...well until we grew up right?

I wonder if it is possible to live life like the game of loops. No one taught us which loop to put in first when we have two or more of the same size. I guess we just chose the one whose color we liked better or maybe we did an "inky-pinky-ponky" on them and picked the one that ended with "ky". Either way it didn't matter as long as we followed the basic principle- biggest at the bottom and smallest at the top.
Sounds simple isn't it?

 But what if the loops kept changing sizes and you still had to order them with the biggest at the bottom? Familial ties, social interactions, professional network, hobbies, passions, can we really order these loops? Is it even possible to isolate our needs for each of these and objectively order them by size?

The need to fit in probably is the one biggest need that is commonly felt by all of us. This is very often a consequence of the need to please someone- a boss, a spouse, a parent, a friend and we find ourselves juggling multiple acts, whizzing past lanes without so much as caring for a glance at the rainbow that just cast itself on the rainwashed sky and walking brusquely past people without acknowledging their presence. In fact this compulsive need that we feel to please is what led us to play the game of loops in the first place. Would it really matter if you missed a few loops or arranged them in a different order? And yet we meticulously pick each loop and  run a bubble-sort on them in each iteration. We did it to please the teacher in kindergarten and we continue doing it in and gloat in the triumph of successfully ordering and reordering our lives so that the loops fit in !

I remember reading in my 8th grade about Entropy. The universe it said, tends to lean towards a state of entropy. I remember dismissing it as just another theory. Until I heard a poem at a farewell speech. Chaos the speaker said is everywhere- it is in the mixed emotion that we feel when we bid a dear one farewell, in the tearful smile of a bride, holding a newborn for the fist time... well at every milestone that we come across. Milestones- aren't these what we set? Why, relishing a hot cuppa in the morning, going for a jog in the park, talking to a friend who moved miles away, staying in touch with an old aunt, preparing a simple porridge, all of these could be milestones !

In fact at this very moment when I am penning done these chaotic thoughts, and reading through paragraphs that are seemingly in disarray, I am listening to music, skimming through account transactions, chatting and of course planning a list of activities i intend to undertake this week, reassuring a worried mom that i did indeed have dinner and ..  oops i almost forgot, milk on stove has nearly come to a boil.. gotta rush...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bittersweet Symphony

The night was dark, no moon, no star
Thunder raged on like a soldier in war

A streak of lightning stared me in the eye

I stared back, my eyes too dry to cry

The pain was fresh, the wound still raw

A fate so cruel, that never before I saw

My hands reached out and shook in fear

the wind roared "he is no more here!"

Why did you leave my side so soon!?

had not you promised to bring me the moon!?

Those kind eyes I longed to see, those strong arms that cared

If only I was taken and you had been spared!

It was a crash so deafening

yet I did not hear a thing

Except the silent tears you shed

Even as you lay cold and dead..

I lay on my bed, lost in a trance

my spirits rose though just a nuance

My lips curved into a tremulous smile

knowing you are watching me all the while

Dew drops on roses so fresh

soothed me like a mother's caress

the golden rays seeped gently in

as though to cleanse many a sin

Love knows no body , no form or time

Just two souls ,yours and mine

Like the night , will disappear, this agony

Every new day , a bittersweet symphony...