Mere Nas Nas Mein

After watching Titanic for the first time, I told my sister that the locket that Rose threw into the Atlantic goes down and lodges itself very neatly around Jack’s skeleton-neck. The truth of their incomplete love was too much for me to deal with. Or maybe I just couldn’t stand the thought of the locket being thrown away like that. I had to make up a story that would make me feel better. I was 12, Mintu was 10. She believed me. Two years between us wasn’t big enough for her to think of me as wise and not small enough for her to completely ignore me.

As a child, I had a bed-wetting problem that continued well into my teens. I was embarrassed and this made me a very insecure and bitter child. I could never freely sleep in other people’s homes, much less mine. Rubber sheets were thrown under my mattresses. And it always seemed like these rubber sheets were sticky and dirty, no matter how many times they had been washed. Things like these never stay within the family. Relatives are always over –eager to let you know that they are not embarrassed by your bed-wetting problem and the only moment they choose to tell you how cool they are with it is in front of other relatives.

Rubber sheet togondenamma? – became a question that every well-meaning aunt asked before I left with them for a sleepover with cousins.

Mintu was a chubby, dark-haired, second-rank student. She had no bed-wetting problem and was always very respectful of elders.

Over one summer, I don’t know how but to make matters worse, she got taller than me. It was at this point that I invented ‘Kamoon’ – a flying spirit that was my close, personal friend. Kamoon was green, visible only to me and shy. He didn’t like my sister very much because he thought she was too proud and first and foremost – she didn’t wet her bed. I showed Mintu the green in my veins to convince her of his existence. It didn’t take much time. After she believed Kamoon – giving him a story wasn’t difficult. He lived in my veins when I summoned him and left only after I had wet the bed.

I found her one day, sitting near the washing machine and weeping quietly because she didn’t have a spirit-friend she could share her feelings with. She begged me to make Kamoon her friend. She bawled when I said that it was simply not possible. That she couldn’t just start bed-wetting to become friends with Kamoon.

The next morning, mother was furious because there were two maps of urine on the bed sheet. One Sri Lanka and one Africa.

Fine, I said. But I cannot give you Kamoon. I can give you Kummi, his brother.

And so it was that I gave Kummi to my sister. Every now and then, she would look at her wrist happily and whisper to it. Kamoon and I watched with great delight, sighing a great big pity for her. Soon, Mintu stopped bed-wetting but I continued to. It took her a while to figure out that Kummi wasn’t really living in her veins—that I had never really passed the order of transfer – that Kamoon was a lie – that a large part of her childhood was a lie.

Over the years, Mintu and I will grow apart and come close and grow apart again. Kamoon has never visited me after that but I think of him very often.

Bombay Diaries

Pachi* found my diary once. It was a white spiral bound notebook that said ‘My Diary’. She said she wanted to read it. When I gave her a dirty look, she promised she wouldn’t tell ma about it. After I handed it over, she scratched the ‘Diary’ out and wrote in bold, confident letters ‘Dairy’.

She wakes up at 5:00 every morning to do Pranayama and Yoga. It all began with Baba Ramdev 10 years ago. That evening after he demonstrated how to grow hair—ma, aunty and everybody else at home sat and rubbed their finger nails. They have been doing it since. They do it while watching TV, in the theatre while watching a movie and in restaurants while we wait for food. Dad joined in when he realised that all the ‘grow hair in one week’ medicines were failing him.

Pachi lives in Andheri, Mumbai. She has lived there since Mumbai was Bombay. A man who lived in her building used to be secretary to Juhi Chawla and then later to Hrithik Roshan. When they got Juhi Chawla to come to aunty’s home one day, my cousin L – Aunty’s son, picked a strand of Juhi Chawla’s hair and put it in a plastic cover. He hid it in his cupboard and never showed it to us.

Because of the secretary connection, she claims that her gossip about Bollywood movie stars is 100% pakka. She is convinced that Rani Mukherjee drinks and smokes; that Aishwarya doesn’t; and that there really is something between Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan. Her maid who has connections too, tells her some of these things. When my sister and I were 13, 14, and 15 – we listened to all these stories with envious interests. We had to know if L had really hugged Hrithik Roshan or if Shah Rukh’s son was really promised to Madhuri’s daughter or if Salman really stood outside Aishwarya’s door every night, threatening to break it down, miles apart from how Amitabh stood outside Rekha’s apartment (My mother and pachi swear by this. They say that in all the award functions, they have seen nothing but true love for Rekha in Amitabh’s eyes)

When we became 21, 22, and 23 – we resisted these stories like we resisted everything else at that age. We were rude to pachi and back-answered her at every chance we saw fit. Somehow we were more vulnerable then than we were at 13, 14 and 15. We refused to believe that she even saw these stars close-up—let alone knew them in person. We were mad at ourselves for having believed the stories in the first place. At 25, 26 and 27 – we forgave her because we had learnt a lot about her life by then.

She is a mindless exaggerator of details, almost to the point where she knows nobody is going to believe her but she continues anyway – I have never been able to find out why.

When I was in Mangalore for summer vacations some years ago, she thought it was a good idea to drag me the Government College that she had studied in- to pull out some really old records. I tagged along hoping it would be an interesting expedition. We took a bus and at the college I witnessed what my aunt is really famous for – her negotiations. All the women in my family from my mother’s side bargain beautifully. Neither my dad nor anybody from his side of the family knows how to bargain. I think I have his genes. I sat at a long, oval brown table and watched as my aunt had them pull out record after record from the 70’s.

Innu swalpa nodi, tumba problem aagtade illa andre. Nanna maganige interview untu americadalli. Nanna doucuments sikkilla andre avanige visa illa.

In the train, on their way back to Bombay – my aunt sat in somebody else’s seat the first half of the journey. Neither of the four of my family members that were on that train had a ticket. They just got on the train and left. My aunt- her son; my other aunt and her son. When the man whose seat it was boarded the train and asked politely to see their tickets, she fought with him.When the poor thing kept showing his ticket to her, saying that he had paid for it, my aunt only said – Toh hum kya phokat main aaye hain?

*Pachi in Konkani means aunt.

Gestures

I was 12 when I taught myself to be angry. When I refused to make tea one afternoon, dad picked up his leather belt and whacked my thigh. It left a thin line of red that I sat and traced all through the week. That evening when he took us to Pizza Corner, I sat in a corner and sulked. But I made sure he didn’t see.

Every time after that he asked for tea, I hid in the bathroom and faked menstrual cramps. It was in the bathroom that I learnt to sense his demands and navigate my way out of them. When I wore capris another day, he threw a fit and yelled at ma. Ma drew a blank expression on her face — it was calm. It is the same face that will meet me every time she knows that he is wrong but can’t do anything about – at least not right away. The doing anything about it will happen in private – when she will explain to him why he needs to back off. Like the time she took him to Jain College one day and showed him that he should be grateful that I am wearing capris and not halter necks and minis. That’s what she says but I am sure nobody who went to Jain College wore minis and halter necks. Not then, not now.

When I was 20, I sat with all the men in hall waiting for food. I had decided that the only way to kill patriarchy was by being the men. I didn’t like that every time there was a Pooja at home; the women would sit in the kitchen – even the ones who didn’t have to be there while the men poured into the hall and made loud small talk. Women I had occasionally seen at other poojas would turn up quite early to help in the morning. Their husbands and fathers and brothers would come later in the day- an hour or two before dinner. Two bed sheets would be laid out in the hall and they made a neat L.

That evening, I sat in the corner next to my cousin Prashant. Nobody said anything and this made me very angry. I had practiced a speech that wasn’t needed now. Crueller than that perhaps was the realisation that when the women started bringing in vessel after vessel of food, I didn’t quite feel the way I thought I should/would feel. It wasn’t liberating to sit with the men and eat food while the women served. But I also didn’t want to help the women. This continued to be a very big, very real dilemma for me. I would find myself asking this question to a whole lot of people – in classes, conferences, seminars, and in conversations. But there is no set answer to this question.

Until one day when I read NS’s piece on Feminism. It’s called ‘Feminism is why I don’t hate men’. When I finished reading it, I felt like I had just slapped all the assholes in my life – one giant slap across all their faces in one quick motion. It didn’t matter that I didn’t write it, it didn’t even matter that some of these assholes aren’t even in my life anymore. It was just comforting to know that at some point, she too had the same dilemma that I did.

Sitting in the auditorium at NGMA one day, Z asked me if I often wonder what NS would do in certain situations. I rolled my eyes – ‘all the time’, I said. Over the years, we have come to see NS as a rock star of sorts, somebody who has answers to everything. This may not be fair to her but I want to believe it’s true.

At 27, I have learnt more about feminism from stalking her writing than from any of the theories I was given to read. For somebody who believed aggression to be the only suitable response to assholes, NS’s ability to use humour to piss people off was both unsettling and intimidating. This was an approach that was new and confusing to me. What can be more aggressive than humour? What can the assholes say when you have taken a nice, long fart in their faces?

Over glasses of brandy in K, I pester NV to teach me to become independent like her. She lives alone, walks alone, rides like a maniac, cuts in between heavy vehicles, says no just as easily as she blushes and drinks like a fish. ‘Parents need to be taught how to grow up ya’, she says. In five years if I am anywhere close to living my life like NV, I will be a proud feminist.

The list of women I am trying to catch up with is growing. I don’t know some of these women personally. But I stalk their blogs and read them more than I read anybody else. The women that I do know personally are harder to emulate because I don’t want to freak them out. The child in me will only want to buy bags like theirs and clothes like theirs. In a simpler time, feminism just meant looking like the women I wanted to be like. And maybe now that I can look back without anger, it’s ok to derive inspiration from looking like them.

NM walks like she owns not just her body but everything and everybody around it. ‘Dress well, laugh and let them see you laugh’, says NM.

S and I often talk about Goddesses. The Goddess is an independent woman. She laughs sensually and cuts men down to size with humour and sometimes just a killer look. She isn’t beautiful but she has personality. Every time we deal with a situation using humour, personality, aggression, and style – we call ourselves goddesses. So far, we have never been able to do that.

I have doubted myself far too much in the last couple of months than I have in all my life. I have pondered over meanings and meaning -making, gestures and behaviours and how seriously I should take each of these. I have, at various occasions chided myself for over thinking and then wondered if I have in fact been over thinking. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am tired. I am tired of wanting to become the woman who knows exactly how to deal with assholes. I want to be that woman already.

Romedying at 7:00 AM

This morning I sat in front of the TV with a glass of hot water and watched a bit of Gilmore Girls on Romedy Now. If I haven’t already said this, I am saying it now — Romedy Now is the best thing to have happened on television. Season 5, episode 14 was on — Luke and Lorelai have split because of Emily. Lorelai is broken and in bed with lots of junk food and chocolates and magazines, and Rory is being Rory – bringing tray full of more junk. When Lorelai is finally left alone, she can’t take it any longer. She calls Luke and leaves a long message. When she realizes what she’s done, she hangs up and runs over to Luke’s to get the tape. On her way back — she sees him, apologizes and hands over the tape.

When I first started watching Gilmore Girls, I was so much in awe of Lorelai that she quickly became somebody I could never become–she was that incredible. I think this is a mistake. I am always in such a tearing hurry to put women in lists and brackets that beyond a point they stop being human and become people I can never hope to be like. Of late I have been thinking about Feminism and how my understanding of it has changed over the years. There are too many women I want to be like but every time something dreadful happens, I forget about these women and just whine. When I watched Lorelai Gilmore today, she was a woman with flaws – who messed up and cried and apologized. Yes she was a woman with flaws even before this morning but something about watching this today put things in perspective. IMG_20160204_101520

Some days, all I need is perspective. ‘I am not that girl – I don’t break and call my ex-boyfriend to come save me’, she says. And then, even though she is hurting and pissed – she walks away a more believable Lorelai Gilmore. That was my moment today. And for sometime after that, I gloriously believed that nothing will ever go wrong if I spend some time getting perspective like this every morning.