Thursday, December 19, 2013

Yule Time Dissonance

Christmas and New Year’s Eve were almost on them, and it was the time of year everyone knew she would party, and party hard. This was the woman known for her parties, whose home was synonymous with pot lucks and crazy gatherings of a weird cross section of people. The sure stop for fun that people made their way to, almost every evening. The one place you were sure to find something happening, every weekend.

“Yeah! Right!” She scoffed internally, “wouldn’t they be surprised now?” these days, she was lucky if she got to go have coffee more than once every six months or so. Dancing? The last time she even thought about going to a pub was at least five years ago. Sad little western party clothes sitting in her closet bore morose testimony to her complete lack of social life. “I suppose I could throw a party at home, like I used to.” But who would she invite? Her entire friends circle, once some 50 people in the core group, had shrunk to one and a half person. One and a half? Yeah… the sole friend who had some kind of regular schedule of visiting had become too encumbered to be able to get out to see her even once in a while. And the half? Well, he was around, officially, but the occasional phone calls were about the size of the interaction these days.

How had this happened? She wondered. Was it just chance? Circumstances? A change of location? Probably a combination of all of those. Moving to a new city had definitely put a dent in the partying, and in the curtailment of the friends’ circle. The old guard from the old city, ready to party at the drop of a hat, had been lost, and contact had diminished. Then there was the “settled” syndrome. She, herself, had not succumbed to it so much, but the other seemed to have. The other was now in the phase where staying at home of an evening, even on the evenings when the offspring was elsewhere, rather than get dressed up and step out on the town.

She, she was bored. Yes, she enjoyed solo time, drinking and dancing and talking with her other. But did it always have to be at home? What happened to the date night? To those evenings at crazy, semi seedy establishments staggering out at the end of the night, after last call, after closing the establishments? What happened to getting thrown out of pubs and discos at three in the morning? What happened to dressing up and going to brunch?

Money was a factor, sure, and going out had become much more expensive than it used to be when they were first together. But surely, they were not broke enough to make it impossible to go out once in a while? Every couple of months or so? How about just meeting somewhere for coffee? Was that too much to ask? Domesticity was nice, and comfortable, sure, but she was getting too much of a good thing for certain. As a result, she was becoming more and more morose, disinterested, disconnected. Functioning perfectly fine as far as anyone else could see, perfectly fine, smiling and laughing and carrying on as usual. But she knew. She knew the disconnect she was feeling, and the dissonance she was experiencing.

Not that there was anything one could do about it. Not like it was possible to wave a magic wand and create a whole new group. Not like one could just turn someone else’s mind around, back to a time when they were more fun, more outgoing. If the other had decided he wanted to become the typical middle class domesticated person, that was a decision she could not get them to change.

Where did that leave her? Precisely nowhere. With the season of holidays and parties fast approaching, she could look forward to evening after evening of sitting at home, alone with the other, getting drunk, and watching TV. What amazing ways to have fun!  Throw a party? Sure, she could do that. But as of now, the possible guest list stood at precisely zero people. She had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to invite.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Indian Male Privilege

A lot of the people I chat with, or interact offline with, especially men, keep telling me I am being too unfair, too caustic, too aggressive in my blogs, comments, opinions. Many of these people believe feminism is outdated, no longer required, because the world has changed, and “these days such things don’t happen, and women have all the rights” (to me this only means that these people don’t read the news, or have any idea of current affairs/reality). Most women would tell them they are living in a fool’s paradise. Any woman knows the reality of how patriarchy treats women. Even privileged, upper class, educated women, from loving, supportive, egalitarian homes (like mine) face enough social discrimination on a daily basis to never be fooled. Women in India re-realize every day of their lives, at home and outside, what it means to be a woman.

For the men who think Male Privilege doesn’t exist in India, who think everything is all rosy and heavenly now. Here is a small checklist of things you DO NOT have to face… because you are a man and not a woman.  

·         You were not killed before you were born simply for being the wrong gender.
·         You were not killed immediately after you were born by your father/grandfather/uncles chucking you in a well, stuffing you in a pot and filling it with salt until you suffocated, or drowning you in milk.
·         People congratulated your parents when you were born. Nobody consoled them with, “don’t worry. Try again, and you might just get lucky and have a girl.” Nobody asked  “What will become of you once you marry him off?” No one will comment about your parents “itne bacche hain inke….magar ek santaan nahi.” No one will be sympathetic to your parents about not having the child of the right gender to perform their funeral rites, ensuring their entry into heaven.
·         Even if you were the second or third boy born to your parents, you felt no less loved and cherished. No one treated you like crap because you had dared to be born. Your parents, especially your mother, did not get stigmatized as the bearer of only sons.
·         It was a foregone conclusion that even if your parents could only send one child to school, you would get an education.
·         You could say what you wanted to be when you grew up, when people asked, and people acknowledged your ambition, saw nothing strange in it, and encouraged you to achieve anything you wanted. Nobody laughed at you.
·         You had lots of role models, Tata or Birla or Sachin or whoever. You didn't have to search to find someone of your gender in your desired/chosen field to serve as a role model.
·         Growing up, you could choose from an infinite variety of children’s media – books, TV shows, Cartoons, featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of your gender. You didn’t have to search for meaningful male protagonists, they are the default.
·         There are numerous festivals around the year for the women in your family to give thanks for your existence, and none for you to give thanks for the women in your life. Clearly, you are precious and important enough but they are not. You don’t have to fast, and pray for the well being of, and worship, your sisters in festivals like Rakhi, and bhaiduj, or your wives in festivals like teej and karwa chauth.
·         As a child, if you misbehaved, and got into trouble, you were scolded only for your behavior. Not because you would make a bad prospective groom or son-in-law for some random unknown people 20 or so years in the future.
·         You were not constantly told to speak softly, laugh softly, sit properly, and behave like a “gentleman”, even when you were five or six years old.
·         You were not only allowed but encouraged to play outside. Becoming dark from the sun was not a problem for your future, and learning how to do household work, again for the benefit of random future spouse/in-laws, was not a priority.
·         You could dream of having a high flying career, earning big bucks, owning a fancy car and a big house instead of just a red lehenga.
·         As a 5, 6, 10 yr old, you could learn to dance, if you wished. No one stopped you because “in our house boys don’t dance like bazaru mard” or because “in-laws don’t like boys who dance; it creates the wrong impression about his character”.
·         You could wear shorts as a child, continue to wear them as a teenager and still wear them as an adult, at home or outside without fear of repercussions from your wife, your in laws, and society in general.
·         You only had to go to school/college, and relax when you got home. You were not expected to look after younger siblings, or serve your sisters hand and foot while they sat around like lords of the house. Neither did you have to help your mother in the kitchen, in household work, etc as a duty, and as training for your future.
·         You were never the one who had to stand around, waiting hungry -- with fathers and uncles -- while people much older than you ate their meals. You were never the last to be served, eating whatever was left. You did not even have to think about hurrying through the meal, sharing, or saving a little bit for the siblings of the wrong gender who were waiting for you to finish. You ate your fill and took your time. If nothing was left for them to eat, or if they had to wait hungry for a long time… well, that was not your problem. If there was one egg in the fridge, you got the omelet. If there was one chocolate, you ate it.
·         You could talk to your friends, even brag, about the changes brought about in your body by puberty. Your mom never asked you to keep it a secret, or to pretend you had no idea what others were talking about when they discussed it. You weren’t ashamed of the changes in your body and didn’t try to hide changes in loose fitting clothes. Puberty didn’t curtail what little freedom you had, and didn’t make you more of a prisoner in the home. In fact, puberty made a MAN out of you, and gave you more voice in the home, more power to make your own decisions, and to participate in those of the family. It didn’t seem like the beginning of the end, as a signal for the end of your life and the beginning of life as a lowly spouse/son-in-law.
·         You were not, henceforth, excluded from the kitchen and prevented from worshipping, for a particular few days every month.
·         Temples, like the Ayappa temple at sabarimalai do not exclude you from even entering their premises for 40 yrs of your life.
·         Your mother did not keep track of your physical processes, counting days and asking pointed questions if you were ever even a day late
·         If you have a bad day or are in a bad mood, people don’t automatically say “men are so moody, who knows what they will say/do”. They also don’t automatically assume that all irritation, anger, and negative reaction to their asinine behavior that you show or experience is because of “that time of the month”.
·         Your ability to make important decisions and your capability in general will never be questioned depending on what time of the month it is.
·         You were not expected/trained to “hold it” in to an unhealthy limit, no matter how badly you needed to go to the bathroom. This unhealthy practice, leading to severe health problems in many cases, was never forced on you. There are adequate public toilets for your use. If there isn’t one, you are encouraged to just stand up anywhere.
·         There are enough toilets for your gender in schools, so that you do not have to drop out of school when you hit puberty.
·         No one leers at you and makes nasty lascivious jokes loud enough to make sure you hear, when you go to a store for pads/contraception. Buying contraception does not automatically make you available for the men behind the counter to fantasize about and leer at (since it proves that you are sexually active)
·         You have never had to do a gauri vrat, or a series of 16 somvars, fasting and worshiping specific gods/goddesses to get a good spouse in the future.
·         You were not married off to an old woman in your childhood “for your own protection”.
·         Getting and staying married is not the most important priority society assigns to you.
·         You are not expected to forget 20+ yrs of upbringing, lifestyle, beliefs, freedoms, tastes, and completely change your personality to become someone else.
·         Your parents have never been relegated to second class citizens in your life. You are not expected to forget about your own home, family, parents, siblings, and serve those of your spouse, even if it hurts or harms your people. You are not supposed to love someone else’s parents more than you love your own. You are not restricted from helping or taking care of your own parents unless your spouse/in laws allow you to do so.
·         You will never be expected to change your surname, and sometimes even your first name upon marriage. If you don’t, you will not be questioned by family, friends, and mystified strangers why you don’t change your name.
·         Your in-laws don’t dictate how you dress, what you eat, and whether you can go out to work.
·         You are not required to publicly advertise your marital status, marking you as someone’s property, with sindoor, mangalsutra, shakha, pola, noa, thali, etc.
·         No one else can dictate or control your body. No one else gets to decide when you conceive, what sort of protection you use, if any, and whether or not you have an abortion. Such decisions are made for you, BY you. Not by your spouse or in-laws.
·         If you decide not to have children, your masculinity, and your humanity will not be questioned.
·         If you have children, you will not be expected to provide primary care for them, and your masculinity and humanity will not be called into question if you choose not to care for them.
·         If you do provide primary care for your kids, you will be held up as an example of extraordinary parenting – even if you are only marginally competent. Regular, boring and repetitive jobs such as changing diapers and feeding will be considered your partner’s.
·         If you have children and also choose to have a career, no one will think that you are selfish for not staying at home to take care of your kids.
·         If you are straight and decide to have children with your partner, you can assume this decision will not affect your career in any way whatsoever. If career sacrifices are needed to raise the kids, chances are much higher that the career sacrificed will be that of your spouse.
·         Household chores, by default, will not be considered only your domain, especially the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks, they will be relegated to your spouse.
·         In a household where both partners work full-time, you are not the partner who is expected to cook and clean when they get home after a full day’s work, even if your job is more demanding than that of your spouse.
·         After work, you will not be expected to go straight home to look after your spouse, kids and in-laws. You can go to your friends’ houses, to parties, to clubs, or simply to hang out and relax, without being branded a selfish person, and a bad spouse, or a bad parent or a bad son in law.
·         If you and your partner have to live separately for some reason, like different places of work, it is assumed and considered normal that the kids will stay with their mother, regardless of her workload, available free time, etc.
·         If you go to a doctor specializing in “your” complaints, even as a 40 year old, they do not ask for your wife. They consider you capable of making your own decisions.
·         You can adopt a child. Within a marriage, you cannot be prevented from choosing adoption as an option by either your spouse or your in laws. The law also recognizes your right to adopt. While your partner can only “give consent”, she cannot apply for adoption.
·         If you are straight, you are not very likely to be emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by your partner. Nor will you be told, by your family, by cops, by courts, and by society in general to continue living in an abusive household for the sake of your children.
·         Marital rape is not an issue for you. You can express desire without being called a whore, and can say no to sex without being called frigid or being forced or beaten into submission.
·         Domestic violence is not a huge likelihood in your life. Unlike 70% of Indian women, your spouse will not regularly degrade, insult, and beat you. Neither will people assume that this is normal/ok/justified/deserved behavior on their part.
·         You don’t have to pretend to be dumb to stroke your wife’s/girlfriend’s ego. You can show that you are smarter.
·         If you earn more than your wife, or are promoted to a bigger post than hers she will be proud. This will not lead to ego hassles, domestic trouble, or divorce.
·         When your friends ask you why you won’t do something, your answer is never going to be, “Because my in-laws/husband won’t allow me to do it.”
·         You have far more choices even in choosing your spouse in an arranged marriage.
·         Losing your spouse to divorce or death is not the end of your entire world and your way of life. You are not expected to change all lifestyle upon the death of your spouse (giving up colored clothes, eating insipid, vegetarian, non exciting food, etc), and you will not be stigmatized for divorce.
·         If you are a widower or divorcée with kids, you don’t have to give up all hopes of companionship/ love/ remarriage. In fact, chances are that you will be remarried before the year is out.
·         Sexual harassment is not a constant reality of your life.
·         You can walk aimlessly around without having to plan your route and avoid certain streets/areas, at certain times of day/night. Nor do you have to ask people to accompany you even in broad daylight, if you have to go to certain places.
·         You can be certain that no woman will suddenly walk up to you and try to fondle/ pinch your privates on the street. Faceless entities will not constantly grope you in buses, trains, and everywhere else.
·         When you pick your outfit for the day (assuming your mom isn’t the one doing it), you don’t have have to run over your mental list of to-do’s for the day and wonder if it involves being around a certain kind of men or in a certain kind of area or returning back to home at a certain time of day, and then wonder if your outfit is appropriate considering all those factors.
·         You can dress how you want, without your character being questioned, and without your dress sense, or outfit being used as a defense for your rapist.
·         You do not live your life in the constant fear/expectation of rape. You do not have to constantly mistrust anyone and everyone of the opposite gender. If you are walking alone down the road, and someone of the opposite gender just happens to be on the same route, you need not automatically feel anxious/ threatened.
·         If you do get raped, you will not be expected to kill yourself or become a “zinda laash” whose life is as good as over.
·         No one will make assumptions about your sexual availability based on whether you drink or smoke or party or on the basis of the gender of your friends.
·         A total stranger upon seeing/hearing that you smoke, drink, or have friends who are primarily not of your gender, will not accuse you of being a blot on the name of Indian-ness. Neither will they insult you for it.
.    A total stranger, seeing you minding your own business and quietly smoking in a corner, will not walk up to you and ask"do you want to talk? are you depressed? why are you smoking? can i help you?"
.    Strangers will not follow you back home from the neighbourhood cigarette shop, because they "know" that women who smoke are loose, so you must be easy game.
·         All the movies you ever watch will not portray characters of your gender –smoking/ drinking as evil, loose and bad.
·         Other movies will not show a youngster of your gender who parties, drinks, smokes, and stays out late, being “rescued” when the partner of their committed relationship asks for sex, drilling it into you that this is not something that a “bharatiya mard” will ever accept
·         You don’t have to be categorized into just two categories in your entire life – father/brother or slut/whore/loose (in fact there is no equivalent word for slut for men, and slut shaming does not have a male equivalent.
·         You can have multiple relationships (monogamous or otherwise) before marriage and not be labeled a slut or have your character questioned and your reputation tarnished.
·         Ghar/samaaj/community does not locate its izzat solely on your body. You can have a girlfriend without fear of bringing dishonor to the family name, and you can even have relationships outside marriage without fearing a disproportionate backlash. You will never be killed by your father/brother for being raped.
·         You can have sex with your girlfriend without ruining your chances for marriage in the arranged marriage market (should you be interested).
·         You will never be caned in front of the entire school for daring to like a girl, or weaving a few fantasies around her. (Said fantasies shared only with your friends, and you having never even spoken to this girl).
·         A decision to hire you won’t be based on whether or not the employer assumes you will be having children in the near future
·         For a position, when faced with a candidate of the opposite gender, you have a better chance of being hired. This will become more and more apparent the higher up you go. Ifyou do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement of the result has any subjective angle, chances are people will think that you did a better job.
·         Shopkeepers, bank employees, CAs will not talk to you in a dumbed down language of “baby sentences” . They will not automatically assume that you don’t know and can’t comprehend basic math, economics, etc
·         People don’t get uncomfortable, and seem unsure about how to handle it when – in social situations – you join in to discussions on politics, current affairs, finances/ economics and more.  
·         Magazines, billboards, television, movies, pornography, and virtually all of media are filled with images of scantily-clad women intended to appeal sexually only to you.
·         Pins to palaces, cars to concrete sellers don’t use half naked people of your gender to sell anything and everything.
·         Ads don’t constantly brainwash you to stay young, unlined, smooth skinned, no grey hair, to “keep your woman”, or to “keep the love young”.
·         You are more likely to be given a loan as sole applicant
·         When people hear that you run a business, they don’t automatically assume that it is a boutique, or a family business started by your father that you are now running, or that your partner/spouse "helps" you in it.
·         You can be careless about your appearance without worrying about being criticized at work or in social situations. Total strangers will not comment on your waxing etiquette. You are not expected to spend insane amounts of money on specific kinds of grooming, style, and appearance to fit in, even though you make less money than the opposite gender.
·         If you rise to prominence in an organization/role, no one will assume it is because you slept your way to the top.
·         Your clothing is less expensive and better-constructed than women’s clothing and tend to fit better without tailoring. So you can always find something readymade that looks good, and costs less.
·         You can go to a car dealership or mechanic and assume you’ll get a fair deal and not be taken advantage of, even if you don’t know anything about cars.
·         Expressions and conventional language reflects your gender in positions of authority, (e.g., “all men are created equal”, chairman, etc) and reflects the opposite gender badly (e.g., hysteria, “don’t be such a girl”, etc). Most curse words are not insults/comments on your gender/gender roles/body parts. (in India, most swear words you can think of are likely to be an insult to a female family member, or a part of the female anatomy).
·         Every major religion in the world is led by individuals of your gender. Even God, in most major religions, is pictured as male. You can practice religion without subjugating yourself or thinking of yourself as less because of your gender because most major religions state that a man should be the head of a household, while his wife and children should be subservient to him. While most of them also preach that women are born impure, evil, and so on.
·         You have the automatic social right to have your kids brought up in your religion, even if your spouse professes a different one.
·         You can be loud without being called a shrew, and be aggressive without being called a bitch.
·         You can ask for, and get, legal protection from violence that happens mostly to men without being seen as a selfish special interest case. 
·         Violence that affects you is labeled “crime” and is a general social concern. Violence that happens mostly to women is usually called “domestic violence” or “acquaintance rape,” and is seen as a special interest issue.
·         When you go to the cops to register a complaint about such violence, you can at least get a complaint registered. You don’t have to fear that they wont register, or that they will perpetrate the same violence on you.
·         You can eat as much as you like, in public, without attracting comment.
·         Complete strangers generally do not walk up to you on the street and comment on your weight, looks, appearance, complexion, clothes. Nor do they stand by the side of the road and pass lewd comments
·         Total strangers do not assume the right to say things like “you are pretty/goodlooking /hot/attractive. How come you are not married?” as if looks is all you are good forand marriage all you should aspire towards.
·         You can be careless with your money and not have people blame it on your gender.
·         You can be a careless driver and not have people blame it on your gender.
·         You can be confident that your coworkers won’t assume you were hired because of your gender.
·         Your gender does not make it less likely for you to get promoted.
·         You can expect to be paid equitably for the work you do, and not paid less because of your gender.
·         If you are unable to succeed in your career, that won’t be seen as evidence that your gender should not be in the workplace

And last … and definitely the most important, you have the privilege of being unaware of male privilege. You take all of these things for granted, while half of humanity has to fight very hard to get even a few of these basics.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Thin privilege

Just read and shared these articles (   and about thin privilege. While I recognize so much of it as real (as a fat person), and personally have the political awareness and language to understand what it is and where it comes from, I also realize that most of the people around me have no clue it even exists. Especially in India, especially those not involved in activism of some sort (and hence maybe not too conversant with the political/rights related language). In fact, sensitive, educated, open minded, concerned people don’t get it either. They don’t realize what is happening, and how it affects the person who has to deal with it on a daily basis.

Here are some regular things I face, practically every day, as I am sure other big women do too.

o   I am fat, therefore, it is a foregone conclusion that I am a food hog. People close to me know I don’t like huge portions, I don’t like oily or rich food, I don’t crave desserts and sweet dishes, and I naturally prefer subtler flavors and blander food, so that I can actually taste the ingredients. This is incomprehensible to everyone. How can I not be a foodie, yet be fat? How can I not be fond of fried, greasy, fast food, and yet be fat? How can I not like sweets, and still be fat? So, the conclusion is I must be lying. I must be a closet foodie with a secret life where I spend hours on the sly stuffing my face with all sorts of unhealthy foods…right? It is useless to explain to these idiots about things like metabolism rates, thyroid activity, and so on, let alone talk about the theory of fat but fit. If I reply to “what’s your favorite food” with a statement like “I like bland, light, non spicy food” the only response I can get is “so, dieting ha?” because, of course, fat people must live in a perpetual state of diet, and no one can really like the taste of oats and cornmeal over triple refined maida products dripping with ghee, right?

o   It is assumed that I must be unhealthy, just because I am of a certain size. Total strangers make that assumption, as do chat contacts who have never seen anything other than ONE photograph of me, as do many friends and relatives. This, I expect, and even forgive to a large extent. Media, quacks, new age fanatics, exercise equipment makers and sellers, slimming products makers and sellers, and all of society have spent millions convincing the average person that fat is always unhealthy. The message has been all pervasive in the west for almost a century, and has been getting louder and more omnipresent in India over the last five decades or so. It is irritating, especially from people you expect to know better, do their research, but not unforgivable.

o   However, it becomes unforgivable when doctors do it. They are the people who should DEFINITELY know better. They are the ones educated in the many facets of health. And they, of all people, should know that level of fitness is more important than the level of fatness. Yet, they don’t. Every single doctor I have ever visited has taken one look at me and immediately decided to check my BP. After all, a fat woman has GOT TO have hypertension right? It bugs me that they cannot imagine a healthy fat woman with a normal BP, let alone a low BP like mine. I tell them till I am blue in the face, I have HYPOTENSION, I have to dissolve salt in water and drink it, in summers, to get my BP up to the normal level. When I got gestational hypertension in pregnancy, it actually RAISED my regular BP to the expected 120/80. But no, check me they will, and be very surprised and mystified that I am not hypertensive! Every single time! Every single doctor!

o   I DO NOT have Diabetes. Never had, not even during pregnancy. Yet, they WILL insist on checking. EVERY time! That’s the second thing they think of, after my BP turns out to be better than fine. Viral fever? Must check for Diabetes. Headache? Must check for Diabetes. Skin rash? Must check for Diabetes. After all, I am fat. I have got to be diabetic! How dare I not? Regular people assume it too. Fat woman, refuses sweets when they are offered, “oh, you have sugar (blood sugar/ Diabetes)?” NO I don’t, I simply don’t like how sweets, especially most Indian/Bengali sweets, taste. For a doctor to make that same unfair, shaming, disgusting, automatic assumption, that a fat woman of 38 MUST be Diabetic… that’s just nasty!

o   People assume I am lazy/inactive/useless based on my size, and assume I have never had any interest in sports or other physical activity. That I enjoy walking, or was part of the school volleyball team are obvious lies to them. That I actually do three times the mental and physical ones of any of them, with keeping my own home (no cook, no child minder, no full time maid), practically keeping my parents’ home, working for my own clients, running a business (including a commute of one hour each way), and more, is immaterial. It cannot be… because I am fat.

o   I hate shopping. I have always been fat. Kiddy pics show a chubby child, teenage and school photos show a well rounded young girl, college shots show a woman much more well filled out than most of her peers, and the same applies today. the only time i have been anything near skinny was when i had ulcers. And so, I have always had trouble with shopping. I cannot find clothes in my size at just any store. The neighborhood market has nothing remotely in my size (including lingerie or nightwear), and even up-market, high tag, “tish” stores (like Biba, as I recently discovered), will have nothing in my size.

o   If a store does, miracle of miracles, have an article in my size, I will have no choice as to style or color. They will be in the most boring color combinations, the worst, shabby, out of date styles, and there is nothing I can do about it. Buy it or leave. Jeans will all be low waist, which will mean that I would require some insanely high number as waist size, which – obviously – will not be available (snigger, snigger, giggle, giggle from the skinny sales staff). To find something I might actually consider wearing I have to go to store chains that carry “plus sizes”. And even then, the choices are limited, styles are few, and prices are about twice what they charge for the same article in a “normal” size.  

o   After years and years of this humiliation, of trying on hundreds of things, per trip, that never fit right, of well meaning people making it worse, and more humiliating by picking out more and more items with a “this is sure to fit” and insisting I try it on, even when I say it won’t, even when all I want to do is leave the store and go home. After years of people buying me clothes off the street, or from smaller stores that “looked like they would fit” but never do (I have a suitcase full of them at home), I have decided I can’t do this anymore. I refuse to go shopping for outfits, preferring to buy fabric and get something tailored instead. That is not a pleasant experience either, with inept tailors who can’t make western clothes, and all tailors screaming out your enormous sizes to everyone within earshot, in the name of measurement, but it is better than the torture of trying to buy.

o   People, from total strangers to people close to me, will say things like “you have such a pretty face, if only you would lose some weight!” They may do it out of love, or from concern, or from whatever, it shows how society thinks, how pervasive this “you are not beautiful/good looking/ presentable if you are fat” mentality is. When people hear of my past relationships (yes, there was more than one) or my current love, it is always “oh you must have been/must be slim and beautiful”. Because, of course, fat women would never be attractive enough to have so many men fall for them, or have so many relationships. I have even had people tell me to my face that a particular cousin, who looks very similar to me "is so beautiful ya! why did you say she looks like you?" merely because she was thin, and i was not. 

There are so many other daily, many times a day, experiences that I deal with, that all big people, especially women deal with, that all stem from the PERCEPTIONS that society as a whole and individual people in our lives have about this one aspect of our lives… that we are fat. There is so much weirdness of attitude, and unfairness, that is meted out to big people. Frankly – it sucks.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

More evidence of complete lack of manners in Bengalis … or is it politics?

It has always fascinated me how what I consider basic manners seem so alien to most Bengalis I know. For a long time I considered this lack to be because of the kind of bongs I was looking at. Admittedly none of the people I was noticing was anything to write home about, educationally, socially, and in manners and etiquette, by any stretch of the imagination. First generation displaced, most of those people were the first from their families to leave the villages they hailed from, and venture out into the larger world. Back in the 80s, these people were eminently forgivable for their gaffes and lapses of social niceties, especially of global good manners. However, in their children, born into the information age, highly educated at the “best” schools and colleges, and growing up exposed to the way the world lives and behaves via TV, movies, books, and the internet, it is not so forgivable.

Add family relationships into the mix, and I would expect more consideration, better manners. But, I have learnt that’s just me, and I am in a very, very small minority. From twisted hindi/regional film logic of “no please and no sorry in friendship” to the feudal/filial structure of allegiances, our culture systematically teaches us to be rude, rudest to the people close to us. I may find this counterintuitive, after all, if I care about them, it is even more vital to show them that I appreciate or value everything that they do for me, but most of us just don’t bother to think it through.

So, something like this happens. First, a little background. My little family unit, my parents, my brother, and my man and I, have recently “divorced” a particular branch of the larger extended family. There has been no ongoing feud, no war, no screaming/ranting in public, no putting-others-at-a-discomfort, and no asking-others-to-choose-sides. We have simply, calmly, quietly, and after a lot of deliberation and consideration, decided to cut ties with a particular set of people.  Although the rest of the clan is aware of the rift, (we are not the kind to keep things a secret – especially when we don’t have anything to hide) they are not caught in the middle. We do not expect any of them to choose or take sides. And we have not the slightest expectations of them dropping their social correspondence simply because we have.

A rare confluence of people is taking place in the city at the moment. Cousins who live in the US, the Middle East, and off and on in other cities in India are, coincidentally, all here at the moment, as are my parents, who are the sort to never be in one place for very long. Given this happy turn of events, my mother decided she was going to have all the “kids” over for dinner. People were notified, preparations began in earnest, the relative merits of home/restaurant, cook/cater/order, were hotly debated, and a final decision arrived at. We were pumped up, happy, excited, looking forward to a really fun day.

And then, the legendary bong manners struck. My mother received a call saying her inviting all the kids other than the ones from “that particular unit” does not “look nice”, and hence no one was going to turn up, and she should cancel the party. Much as I am happy to be spared the expense, and the headache and hard, work of planning and executing the event, (given that my mom is particularly infirm at the moment and not much help other than in great ideas), I find this WRONG and RUDE on so many levels!

First off, if I am invited to a dinner, I would never even think of asking who else was on the guest list. I would consider it none of my business, I would consider it rude to ask, and I would trust that the host had his/her own reasons for asking everyone they had/hadn’t asked. Secondly, if I did know the guests list, I would not make the attendance of three separate but related family units dependent on the presence/absence of one person. Actually, presence…maybe… as in I personally may not attend a function/event where I know someone I intensely dislike or wish to avoid might be present, but absence, no. It is none of my business why the hosts have not asked x, y, or z to the same party as me. It is THEIR event, and it is THEIR right to choose who to ask. No one else has the least right to edit their guest list – No one – unless that person is a special friend/family member who has been ASKED to help with the arrangements and to SPECIFICALLY trim the guest list.

What happened here was more sinister. My mother was basically DICTATED to. She was told that she cannot choose who she wants in her home, or who she can/cannot ask to dinner on a particular day. She was actually asked to CANCEL an event by people who had absolutely no right to do any such thing! And coming from our “culture” that puts so much emphasis on respecting our “elders”, it is doubly rude!! To call up an aunt and say you have to ask X to dinner or none of us will come so you better cancel the damn event?! I cannot imagine EVER doing something like that.

Also, I have to consider the other side of the issue. When these same cousins will be invited to the house of the “particular unit” for something, as is inevitable (in fact a large event is expected next month or so), will they refuse that invitation as well? Will they make THEM cancel the event also? Somehow, I don’t think so. And if they don’t, then essentially they are creating a war where none existed. Just coming and having dinner at my mother’s invitation would not have been choosing sides. If anyone could be accused of partiality/unfairness, it would be my mom. But choosing NOT to come, and to have the event cancelled, puts them firmly in the OTHER camp, especially when (as I expect) they accept invitations from there, which don’t include us.

So, essentially, this part of the clan has decided to PLEASE, APPEASE, and side with the “particular unit” that too in a very clear, unequivocal, and in-your-face way. Well, good luck to them. But I would really have appreciated some better manners.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Basi Kapor – Yet Another Example Of The Double Standards Of Indian Culture

Talking and laughing about a good friend’s ma-in-law’s horror at her attempting to cook in basi kapor (stale clothes), I have to wonder again at the huge and constant double standards of this culture I belong to.

What is basi kapor then? Literally, it means stale clothes, the clothes you have slept in. But, hold on, why does this apply only to women, and only to married ones? And how does sleeping in some clothes make them so totally unsuitable for anything the next morning? So much so that the first thing you have to do is change out of them before you contemplate tackling your household chores and duties? Why can you not step into the kitchen, or the place of worship, in these stale clothes? It is when you begin to think about these questions that the truth strikes you. They are not the clothes you have slept in, they are the clothes you have had sex in, or put on after sex.

Given the overpowering, all exclusive emphasis that Indian culture places on getting and staying married, serving “every need” of your lord and master, and on being a mother (that is giving birth to offspring, preferably numerous, preferably male), it is quite amazing how much we denigrate, hate, abuse, and hide everything that has anything to do with these aims.

Be fertile the culture tells you. Being unable to produce children is the biggest sin a woman can commit. The baanjh, or barren woman, is the most inauspicious creature in this culture, excluded from all good/auspicious occasions and rituals for fear of her infertility blasting everything her shadow touches. Whether she is infertile or not is decided merely by the fact of her not having any visible kids, regardless of whether her husband is impotent, or infertile, or simply not interested (because a man cannot be at fault after all). And no…this is not some middle ages, long-outgrown-in-the-modern-world syndrome that I am talking about.

This mentality is so ingrained that when my partner and I chose to wait four whole years before reproducing, we got numerous enquiries, and offers of help and medication for me, not just from extended family and nosy neighbours but from almost strangers. I have friends in similar situations whose husbands get random colleagues coming up to them, people who they hardly even speak to more than once a year, to recommend some gynaecological magic worker they know.

As for women (with supportive partners, of course) choosing to be childless! OH MY GOD! Every stranger, every chat contact, every relative, friend, family member, (none of whose business it is) will argue and persuade and try to convince her and her partner that a woman is incomplete unless she is a mother, that every woman dreams of being a mother (how would you know what she dreams, asshole?), that it is every woman’s greatest joy/pleasure/duty/desire to bear children. They will be called selfish, weird, unnatural, and so many other things.

And this is ONLY if she has a supportive partner, because without one, she has no choice in the matter. Her body, her womb, and the choice to use those as an incubator, are not hers at all, and pregnancy and childbirth will be forced on her by her husband, in-laws, and society at large. If this is how much our society wants each woman to breed, why do we feel such disgust, shame, anger, at everything that makes women breeders? Why is everything leading up to and contributing to fertility and pregnancy such a hush hush, hide hide, ugh, dirty, nasty?

From the day she first starts to menstruate, the girl feels the brunt of this shame. In milder form, she cannot let anyone become aware that she is bleeding. Not even her father or brother. Personal products (not surprisingly called SANITARY products) must be bought shamefully, in hushed voices, and wrapped in newspapers so no one, familiar or stranger, can know what it is. Staining is a matter of life or death, not because it ruins a good dress, but because people will KNOW that you are now bleeding, at this time. She cannot call it period, or menstruation. It must be euphemized as “shorir kharap” (being unwell), chums, that time, those days, or anything that does not directly reference the actual process or name.

The undergarments, that touch the sanitary products, even when washed and clean, cannot be hung out to dry in any place where they touch a growing or fertile plant. If they do so, the plant will supposedly stop fruiting/blooming. (Let me get this straight, the mere touch, at second hand, of something which is a sign that I am fertile/fruitful, will kill the fertility of something else? What kind of sense does that make?). a girl/woman who is having her period must not step into the kitchen or the place of worship in her home, because she is impure. How the evidence of her greatest power, that of bearing life, can make her impure, I have no idea. She cannot enter a temple. Even goddesses are not exempt! For HER menstrual period, the Ambubachi, the goddess Kamakhya has to endure days of no worship. Why? Because goddess or not, if she is bleeding, she is too impure to give or receive worship.

And these are the milder forms. In more severe forms, the first period, the onset of a girl’s menstruation is marked by a huge feast, for which she is dressed up like a bride and paraded around the village/neighbourhood (to display to prospective grooms and their families that she is now of breeding age and hence marriageable), and then confined to a “menstrual room” for the rest of the duration. I remember how shocked I was the first time a classmate of mine – in Chennai – first told me of her experience. This menstrual room, or menstrual house is a fact of life in many states and communities. All the menstruating women of the house/village are sent there for the duration of their period. These houses are badly constructed, and most often lacking basic amenities like running water, sanitation, and even decent bedding.

The same double standards, unhealthy attitudes, and woman shaming occur in anything to do with sex or sexuality. A girl is supposed to not exist from the waist down until she is married. After she is married, her body is merely the vessal of “service” to her husband, her lord and master. She cannot and must not have any desires or libido, and must actively dislike all sexual activity while willingly submitting to her husband every time he wants some, never enjoying it, but considering it her duty, and a stepping stone towards fulfilling her ultimate duty – the production of offspring.

And this is exactly where the concept of basi kapor comes in. Having sex with her husband makes a woman and her clothes impure. It does not do the same to the man…of course… for men are built for sex and have no control over themselves (the excuses given to rapists all the time). For the woman however, it becomes essential that she change those “sex” clothes, and bathe, before she participates in something as important as cooking or worship.

So, a woman can and should menstruate… because she has to have kids, but to menstruate is a sin, is dirty, is shameful, and a fact that must be hidden from everyone (presumably not the husband, because he has to know when to schedule his baby making activities, and god forbid an Indian male should wade the red tide. Come to think of it…that’s a good thing too, or she would have to bear the brunt of cleaning up, probably hearing scathing judgmental things while doing so.)

Being repeatedly pregnant in her effort to produce as many male heirs as she possibly can is her sacred duty, as is pleasing her husband in bed (like a prostitute as some of our scriptures and our marriage rituals famously quote), but she can not only not enjoy the act, she must be shamed for allowing it to happen (beaten and raped if she doesn’t allow it though). She must feel so unclean, impure, and ashamed that she must clean herself immediately upon rising, before she can do anything auspicious.

And then we wonder why women have such a bad time here, why we are such a rape culture, almost celebrating rape rather than condemning it, and considering marital rape to be nonexistent (obviously…since she is NEVER supposed to want it, so how can doing it when she does not want be a crime???) and why most Indian men grow up to be such misogynists, sexists, and chauvinists. It is a miracle that ALL of them don’t!