The alien women on shop windows

Shopping with the husband today for birthday outfit, I threw yet another glance at one of the dainty damsels on the shop posters.

Perfectly clad, no bulges marking where her bra straps cut into her flesh, sharp pleats and looking fabulous in the same outfit that a mere mortal like me would be tempted to buy, but find that the result is merely kneaded dough tied with strings and wrapped in colourful paper.

The man saw me watching her. I was quick.

“What should one do to look like that?”

Men are usually prepared for “Do I look fat?” This one was new.

After a smile and a calculated silence – “Baby, let me tell you this. No matter what you do, you can never be as thin as her. Our (He clubs himself so that I don’t feel alone in the fat club) basic structure is wide set (note how the words fat, obese etc are omitted out of political correctness).”

And he is quick to add – “You’re not fat baby. You’re err… slightly over weight…”

I knew he was sincere in his affections but not in the truth of the statement.

It’s okay. I am fat. I know it. And it’s okay. It really is.

Women like me walk into the likes of Saravana Stores or Jeyachandran or large textile stores catering to “family crowds” and look for trendy clothing to fit our sizes.

We can’t. Because this isn’t how family stores target our demographic.

The super cheap, highly colourful and attractive-to-the-point-of-tacky dresses may be tagged XXL but shy a size smaller than the XL I am already wearing. Those are for the teenaged daughters – the stick thin and skinny ones. In fact you can’t find even that XXL easily – most sizes are M or S.

Most western clothing from such stores falls into this category.

It’s as if I can almost sense the reproachful whispers behind the awkward silence and apologetic shrugs as they tell me confidently “This is the last size.” (In kids’ sizes you mean? I am tempted to ask.)

They all secretly conspire against us. They push us into buying the same old outfits. The negative reinforcement of the western section is bolstered by the positive reinforcement of the existence of the same sizes in the salwar kameez and long kurta section.

In their eyes, fat women are the moms with the dangling post partum belly and boobs, the women who suddenly gained weight after marriage and are unable to shrink their boobs and butts now, the shy ones who would anyway not dare to bare – so why waste time curating something society would anyway shame them from.

There are no other fat women. There are no independent fat women, loving their bodies who have come out here without tagging the sasuraal and wailing children along. There are no fat women who will try on different clothes and confidently say that this store doesn’t suit them instead of hanging their head and walking away gloomily like it was their fault and internally vow to reduce their size.

Fat women also have to go for more expensive options, even if the colours and fits are sober, unattractive and unflattering.

Yet it is an irony that these women, a major chunk of the population, never make it to the advertising boards despite paying for those very outfits in huge sums.

Fat women are only featured on plus size stores- those pariah hyper priced special places that make you feel even more socially misfit.

There is also the social perception of how fat women must dress.

The more you have, the more you cover. Skinny skin is somehow better on display than fat skin – even if it is all skin in the end – or maybe all humans have a surface area quota that fat people surpass when they wear sleeveless and thus offend everyone’s fundamental rights to see only trim arms bare.

But I realized that in twenty eight years of my pervasive fatness, I’ve come to grow over these barricades.

I’ve settled for buying online.

I’ve decided that a small pull in the hip or boobs is enough reason to reject that dress.

That I don’t deserve to be pushed into wearing shapewear in order to flaunt that bodycon dress and struggle trying to pull down those super tight long waisted undies trying to squat at Indian toilet in office.

I don’t deserve to settle into buying whatever will fit me because I demand better, more attractive and cheaper options.

I have settled for refusing to buy from family clothing stores – I am a person first and I need to be honoured regardless of my familial status.

I told the husband briefly of my analysis and added “See, this is why I never enter these family all in one stores. These may have more variety but only for the privileged thin girls. Places like Globus, Westside and Shoppers Stop, why the Reliance Trends next door are way better, even if not as stinking cheap.”

Poor thing could only nod. Sadly despite all the tall dialogues, I still had managed to bill him a grand amount. After all fat women can be wives too.

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My son likes sparkly pink shoes – so what???

Just recently my toddler outgrew his “beep beep” shoes (I mean the sound that’s made from the whistle embedded in the sole, not censorship).

So when we went to the baby shop to get him another larger pair, we had a lot of options.

Ever since he has learnt to babble, we love to ask his opinion on picking things- say a saree, or dress to be gifted to someone. Or his own pair of shoes.

Amid the usual blue, red and silver that’s typically shown when it’s a boy, I spotted a pair of cute sparkly pink shoes. I loved them at sight.

I showed my husband. He cringed. But we decided to let our son pick.

He has often seemed to have a preference for blue – he would always pick blue blocks or links or toys amid many others. He learnt to say blue first.

So while we expected him to pick blue, he picked the sparkly pink ones – easily the most attractive of the lot.

I jumped in joy while my husband accepted it gracefully. After all, the kid picked it himself! He can’t blame us later when he sees his photographs.

But what others had to say was very typical …

“Sheesh… that pink. Looks like a girl’s…”

“Eww why do you have to impose your pink everywhere…” (Yes i like pink but doesn’t mean others don’t get to like it)

“You could have bought blue or red…(and override what my son liked)”

I face this barrage of sexism on my son’s behalf. If he is afraid of a lizard, they say, “You’re male. How can you be scared?” (He is one. And he has every right to be scared of anything)

He cries, and some similar nonsense is said.

I used to love putting kajal for him, and again the same – “He will turn effeminate. Now you should not drive him out of the house if that happens because it would be your fault.” (I can’t even begin to explain how utterly stupid that was)

We dressed him in a frock when he was a couple of months old, complete with a ribbon in hair, bindi and all. The same mockery followed.

Why can’t the society spare him? He is just a baby. Even if he is grown up, isn’t it his choice?

And what’s so wrong if a boy baby looks like a girl baby? I’ve had some people ask me “Is it a boy? He’s so cute he looks like a girl.” (Hello, babies are pretty much unisex facially except for the private parts- and no, cuteness isn’t a way to determine gender. What did you expect, he would have a moustache?!!)

It’s a baby after all. Come on world! Spare him the horror you’re capable of. Let him bask in the joy of childhood before you ruin his untainted mind with your disgusting gender stereotypes.

The Aasifa in our homes

I am writing this post not as yet another angry verbal diarrhoea “condemning” the #Aasifa #rape case (which is useless, because the ones on FB aren’t those who support the rape, and this anger is useless anyway). This “online protest” is nothing really – because we already have one of the most stringent #laws in the world as regards rape and #molestation. It only serves to get this uncomfortable feeling out of our system so that we can lighten our burden and go ahead with our lives.

No, I am here to talk about how we think and behave once we scroll this Aasifa news up.

How we look at this girl in our friend list on a beach vacation, wearing #beachwear of course, and go, “Jeez, does she absolutely have to flaunt that much #skin? It looks so indecent.”

How we switch on that TV and stare at the #actresses while eating food #cooked by and served to us where we sit by our moms or wives, and comment -“That girl looks so pretty here, but you know what a sxxx she is? It was written in xxx magazine that she would sleep with her #director for a role. Slxxx they all are…”

And suddenly we notice the #food – “Hey what’s this, it has too less salt. Can’t you do one thing right?” and land the plate on the table with a thud.

It’s about how we firmly believe that fat girls ought not wear #sleeveless or dare turn visible.

It’s about nodding when you are too tired and afraid of what will ensue when you #protest against that uncle or aunty or daadi who firmly believe that “in our days there was no rape because women didn’t wear #jeans”.

It’s how you plug in your earphones and try to glance away when you see a middle aged #pervert sticking his pelvis into the backside of a tearful teenage girl in a crowded bus.

It’s about many of us saying “Hey, what about false accusations on men…” when there is an effing eight year old raped and murdered. Or a five year old. Or a toddler. Or a newborn. How we can even talk about false cases RIGHT UNDERNEATH a post in which a woman actually says, “I was raped.” Ah, that’s nothing because hey, “false accusations are 90%…” so you are invalidated and a liar and the #man is the victim.

And how we never investigate half baked #statistics. That the percentage of false rapes thrown around social media pertain to JUST ONE COURT IN ONE CITY AND A FRACTION OF THE CASES ACTUALLY FILED (and we know for a fact that most rapes are never reported). That they club ALL rape accusations in which the accused was acquitted, which can be due to any reason aside from non committing of rape.

But no, because hey, women are liars and always lie about rape. Maybe this Aasifa too was bribed with a cotton candy…

It’s about how we force women to endure households that thrive on her slaving away sans any positivity. How we applaud a court ruling that calls it “cruel” for a wife to “separate a son from his parents” but has no words for what #men have been doing to their wives for centuries together. Or like a male friend of mine put it “hey, you are talking like he kidnapped her or something. He only #married and brought her here…” but when I apply the same logic to women he goes “That’s your mistake. You don’t know the value of family.”

It’s about the #women of a household talking about their own very daughter -“what’s the use of putting her in an engineering course when ultimately she is only going to hold a ladle? (karandi pudika poravaluku edhuku engineering ellam)” and how we just absently nod.

It’s about that #mansplainer in office who says – “What’s the problem with you women not changing to your husband’s surnames? You’re married, remember.”

It’s the way we force our #kids to entertain uncles and aunties and sit on their laps and brush them off with – ” oh he was only cuddling you like his own kid” even when the child is clearly uncomfortable (they have sharp instincts, unlike us).

It’s all about us. Not them. There is no them. It’s only us.

Drowned in a lotus pond

Another day of browsing files. Death after death.

Some old. Some young.

Some drunk.

Some not. Some of those not sober anyway.

And something caught my eye. Written on the front cover’s upper right hand corner in neat Tamil was “Drowning” – that’s where we write the apparent history of the case.

And inside it was a young teenage girl. It made me curious because the most common victims of drowning are males trying to swim in lakes, beaches and rivers, sometimes with alcohol in tow. The next come older men and women who may have missed a footing. The physically reckless and the not so nimble footed. Teenage girls usually are neither.

I have this habit of mentally picturing the incident as it’s written in the FIR because that helps me get involved in the case. So I visualized a teenager upset over her exam scores or parents’ reprimand, having jumped into a pond in anger.

Until I saw the post mortem details.

Contusions on the frontal portion of the body? Um, perhaps she took a hard fall.

And then…

Hymenal tears. The next shocker – perineal tears.

For the uninitiated, the hymen is a piece of tissue present in the vagina, kind of covering it. Of course, a lot of people know that, given our cultural obsession with female virginity. Hymenal tears are not out of the blue though, and can occur due to any vigorous activity, not just sexual penetration. But they usually don’t warrant mention in a post mortem examination, unless there is a significant amount of injury.

Perineum is the stretch of tissue between the genitals and the anus. In women, perineal tears, promiment enough to make appearance in otherwise bleak post mortem records, occur mainly due to two reasons – childbirth, which is unlikely given the victim was a regular schoolgoer gone missing during lunch hour.

The second reason is sexual assault, usually forced and brutal.

She was coming back to school after eating lunch at home. Her school bag was still in her class.

She was wearing a school uniform, walking in broad daylight, along the usual path she went to school from home.

As if that ever mattered. To those who uphold our ‘culture’ perhaps yes. To the aggrieved parents of the girl, it didn’t.

For the case was registered merely under unnatural death, not suspicious. The girl’s father had stated that he had often reprimanded his daughter against going into the pond to pluck lotuses. This had, he supposed, been that wretched day she didn’t listen and ended up in an unfortunate accident.

She would have been appearing for her public exams soon. She won’t. Not anymore.

They often ask me why I am into this women’s empowerment, women’s rights and all that nonsense – why, #women have their rights, don’t they? Aren’t they going to school and work? Are their husbands beating them? Don’t we have laws against harassment and #rape?

Well, that’s because we think rapes happen only on movies, and if they do in real life, only women, and only those women who wear short clothes, talk too much, especially with men, roam in unchartered places at uncharted times – only that random girl on a newspaper is ever a victim. How can we, the utterly careful and culturally and socially appropriate, ever be a victim of sexual harassment or assault?

No?

Okay, maybe, we rouse our anger at the sheer ugliness a rape poses to our tranquil existence under the illusion of “all is well with the world”. We do candlelight marches. “Castrate him…!” we shout.

And we come home.

We tell our daughters that they have to learn to cook, clean and keep the house while their brothers get a free pass.

We expect dowry to be given and received. We tell our girls to ‘dress right’.

We don’t bat an eyelid at the numerous vitriolic and violent women bashing songs belted out by “jilted” male lovers on cinema – why, we may tap a foot or two.

We herd our girls to school and academia because education can keep them off the temptation of getting boyfriends, and we push them into careers, only to later add that the groom’s side would rather have them stay at home.

If she still braves work, she is told that if she can manage to go to work despite the household work and cooking she is supposed to do then that’s up to her – good for her really.

Kids are her responsibility of course. So is the job of not having kids.

A non alcoholic, non abusive husband means she is lucky. If not, she is simply regular, not abnormal.

We teach our girls to be sweet, not assertive and our boys not be girly.

Wayward girls are prostitutes. Wayward boys are… Err… “Galti ho jati hai…”

In a nation, where every student memorizes the beautiful lotus as the national flower, the throne of Goddess Lakshmi, a woman herself – a poor girl died trying to pluck one. Drowned no less.

The saga of the bleeding woman

From cowsheds to store rooms, there is nary a place a menstruating woman isn’t stowed away, lest she pollute the pristine purity of the house, its members and its belongings.

Women with PhDs, or without education, career women or housewives, blue or white collar, fat or thin, teens or middle aged, since the dawn of humanity to its end- we all bleed every month.

It’s not a mere 20-30 ml blood loss (for some women, much more than that). It’s much more, biologically, socially and culturally.

We, perhaps, are the only species that penalize women for being women.

Any Indian woman would attest to the ‘special’ treatment given to her during those four days (again, sometimes more), and it’s often not the ‘good’ special. From cowsheds to store rooms, there is nary a place a menstruating woman isn’t stowed away, lest she pollute the pristine purity of the house, its members and its belongings.

When I first had my rather unpleasant bump into menstrual taboo, I was already in my twenties, had acquired a Masters degree and was far too opinionated to be conditioned into believing that period blood was radioactive. The relatives I had gone to stay with were the hyper religious kind, you know, the ones who would rather keep the house cluttered and messy than sacrifice time off their “religious purity rituals” to actually clean up. The red wedding came earlier than expected and I was caught unawares, and marooned to the floor accommodating my feet lest I touch and ‘pollute’ everything else. The furore that came up when I unknowingly sat on the mattress was so ugly, loud and blasphemous, it was the top gossip at all family functions for the next few months, as if screaming at the top of the voice about a house guest behind her back wasn’t enough (Oh, yeah I heard it alright).

Post marriage, I was heaped with the responsibility of upholding religious and cultural values, no matter how much of an “uncultured atheist” I had been as a single woman. My husband and I were to shun cinemas and instead haunt temples together and pray (for a baby most likely, because our lives are useless anyway if we don’t pop one out). And full blown menstrual isolation.

My mostly male friends who had long forgotten my gender were made conspicuously aware of my menstrual cycle, as i was forbidden to enter the kitchen to even get water.

I was curled up on a polyurethane sofa, as plastics and non permeable materials are resistant to menstrual radioactivity. Everything else in sight, including the curtains, clothes hanging several feet above my head, why everything made of cloth that was in a 5 metre radius of my impure self was to be washed by me on the fourth day.

And since I would also pollute the water as i bathed, a ‘clean’ woman would have to pour the last mug of water over my head, thus making me a normal human again. Sleeping on that afternoon was again, forbidden as I apparently could have telekinetic nightmares that would materialize. Every time I drifted off, I was purposely woken and I would sit up screaming, “I AM AWAKE I AM AWAKE” only to drift off the moment the culture custodian left.

And now they say my baby either has to roam butt naked or wear new clothes every time he comes in contact with me during periods, because menstrual radioactivity is highly contagious.

No amount of education, literacy and awareness can and will help this case because in the end, we take orders from orthodox, obsolete and unscientific upholders of religion and culture.

We talk about modesty for women, but we advertise her highly private and intimate biological process for the world to see, to the woman’s embarassment, and usually without her consent. Irony is, while menarche is celebrated with elaborate rituals, flex board advertisements flaunting a well decked pubescent girl and thousands of rupees worth jewels, clothes and food, buying a pad from a chemist’s is a hush hush affair-that – if the man of the household approves of this “unnecessary expenditure”.

Perhaps that’s because menarche means the girl is old enough to be married off and bear kids – things that are of value to men – and menstruation itself isn’t men’s crap to deal with.

Oh but menstrual rituals were formulated to maintain hygiene and provide women rest, they say. Let’s break that down shall we?

  • Women get three days rest. Not all women can afford to or want to rest during their periods. Why not leave it to the concerned individuals, to rest or not to rest?
  • In those days, blood would stain floors, mattresses and clothes, hence the isolation. Nowadays pads, tampons, cups and the like make it easy to manage a stain free period. We have good detergents and washing machines that can help manage stained clothes. We have running water – we don’t bathe in wells and ponds anymore. And how dare you talk about hygiene when, you with your taboos, force women into unclean and unhygienic conditions during periods, some even resorting to using dirty rags, tree barks and paper to soak their period blood?
  • Women are mentally preoccupied and weaker during periods. Anyone can be any of these due to any reason.

Yet, despite Science throwing facts in the face, pickles are spoiled, newborns get infected, and gods get angry at the touch of a menstruating woman. The land of the menstruating Kamakhya goddess can’t stand its bleeding women.

Ganesh visarjan, Marina beach and desi bhutta

As I hastened to work today morning, mom-in-law pointed out a plastic bag to me. Seated inside was our Lord Ganesha.

“You said your office is close to the beach. Do the visarjan will you?”

That plain mud idol sitting on the sofa was a reminder of all the things I thought I would do but never did, all the promises to myself and others that I never kept.

This was the Ganesha I didn’t get time to properly pray to on Vinayaka Chaturthi, nearly a month ago.

It was almost as if Ganesha was repaying my negligence by refusing to go unless I dunked him in the sea myself.

Giggles all around as I took him to work and placed him on my table, to stare at case sheets all day with his beady red eyes.

“Why haven’t you immersed him yet?”

“Poor Vinayaka…”

“Did you even feed him?”

More laughter.

Resigned sigh.

As I slumped into my chair, I cast another glance. What a coincidence he should be in the Toxicology Division today! Eyes of Indian Jequirity, garland of Calotropis flowers – both poisonous. Ganesha, it seems, is an irrevocable part of my life even as my fickle mind shuttles between apathetic religiosity and all out atheism.

I thought I would rope in my husband who worked nearby and turn the errand into a sort of post partum visarjan date. As luck had it, my husband bailed out.

Bang at the end of the work day.

Grudgingly, I downed a hot glass of tea and a samosa at the local tea stall in our campus and began the long tired walk to the shore, lugging along my lunch bag, handbag, portable fridge (yes, i carry a portable friggin’ fridge to work! Ta da! Pumping mom for ya!), shuffling about in the traffic.

The days I had haunted the beach like a spectre flitted across – with grandpa, family, relatives, friends, my love, and sometimes even alone.

Every school summer vacation to Chennai meant going to Marina and eating puffed rice sitting on the sands and going home late in the evening, all drenched, sand and salt coating our skin, shoes and clothes.

Every time we cousins met, we would throng to the beach, eat bajjis and roasted Indian corn on cob with lime, salt and chilli rubbed all over, and roam about till inky bluish blackness washed over the skies.

The beach is a ubiquitous hangout, picturesque yet inexpensive. College time dates and meetings, when one could not afford a restaurant or club would be a fixture at the beach.

How and when did going to the beach suddenly become an errand?

How and when did I run so much out of time that despite getting to leave work at the perfect time, 5:30 pm, I never visited Marina, bang in front of my office?

The friends and cousins are now either married or working or abroad. The family is old and prefers home. The boyfriend is a husband now. I am a householder and a new mom.

And the ticking Simpson clock is the only thing constant.

I found myself at the edge of the sand and wearily started trudging the strip towards the water. Those leather sandals have to be carried. I waddled like an arthritic grandma going home after grocery shopping, all bags and balance.

What a sight it was! I perhaps didn’t even belong there anymore. Lovers tucked in every nook, cranny, abandoned stall or overturned boat crept their wary eyes up to hail my unwelcome presence. Ah, I am not judging you anymore folks. Not anymore.

You only need to fall in love once to suddenly develop an empathy for anyone in love. There is no right or wrong love – there is just love. And there is the beach.

The tide seemed high today. I place my sandals at a safe distance from the waters and edge in, bags on, bit by bit, clasping Ganesha in both hands. I gingerly try to immerse him when the water ebbs, lest I wet my office clothes. But a huge wave suddenly comes in and I am drenched till my thighs.

People smile at me as I let out a little excited shriek – surprise, happiness, nostalgia and just the booming beauty of the tides rocking the shore. Ganesha leaves my hands to wash away into the sea. My hands raise in prostration, automatically.

I turn around and head to a nearby stall.

“Do you have Indian corn? Not the American sweet corn, no. The Indian one… (she nods approvingly)… Our corn”

“Oh yes, we just have four pieces left. We got it by pure accident. It came with the sweet corn… ”

“Why isn’t this sold much anymore…?”

“For 16 years I have sold corn but this American corn is everywhere now for the past three years. The Indian corn is usually fed to the cattle. The cobs that are left are usually too mature. There aren’t any tender ones left to eat… ”

” Hmmm… ”

I munch into the cob and begin the walk back.

Sand stuck to my wet legs and churidhar.

The crunch and grind of sand, seashells and garbage under my feet.

The excited screams of kids.

The rhythmic booming of the tide.

The kili josiyars, sundal sellers and busy kiosks.

The lovers gazing starry eyed at their beloved, shielded by the dropping drapes of dusk.

The breeze laden with a salty fishy aroma, and top notes of roasted corn, fresh bajjis and hot sundal.

And I, finally smelling the roses. Ganesha made sure I did.

NEET didn’t kill, we did

I remember my father telling me once that all he wanted to study was BSc. Physics but he was made to study #medicine.

That was a dream quashed yes, but my dad didn’t kill himself, or go into a depression, or curse his career for the rest of his life.

He moved on, just like the rest of the people in that entire generation did.

Something, I fear, our generation will never do anymore.

Sure, there are infrastructural issues in the way #NEET has been implemented in Tamil Nadu, but to suggest scrapping an entrance exam which the rest of the nation has no problem appearing in whatsoever is just another reflection of the juvenile thinking our present lot can conjure up.

Guess what, entrance exams were suddenly removed just when I finished twelfth, and hoped to get into a good college and course based on entrance exams because try as I might, CBSE didn’t award me ninety percent, you know, the bare minimum required for a general category candidate.

So you see, every change brings in upheaval and chaos. The scrapping of entrance exams did. Introduction too, will.

There, however, emerge a few issues that have been conveniently swept under the carpet of a highly emotional fiasco:

  1. TN is a part of India. That means the government run colleges are to be thrown open to every state in India, just as their colleges are open for you. The only way to ensure this is to have common entrance tests. Digest it.
  2. Look at your state infrastructure and education system instead of trying to tear down a national level exam. Your education system relies on memorization. I’ve studied three years with girls from TN state run schools and I am sorry to say, many of them, if not most, have been tuned to recognize and understand nothing and nothing but the absolute same sentence as written in the text, articles and prepositions including. Can you turn down a patient because they are out of syllabus?
  3. It is unfortunate and sad that Anitha committed suicide. She had an aeronautical engineering seat, which could have given her a fairly lucrative career if the prospect of poverty was the problem. Except it wasn’t. Neither was it a caste issue, in fact, we have reservations. It’s, instead, the story of every Indian student, who is bred to believe in the magical power of academic scores, who pressured by parents and society to feel like crap if they didn’t make it into IIT or medicine. It’s the blind conviction that every Indian school kid, sadly, follows – work hard, get good scores and life is all yours – only to have that faith broken after sixteen years of brainwashing. NEET is just convenient for us to blame where we have failed.

The generations before us lived through worse things than losing a medicine seat, such as losing a child or two to smallpox or cholera. They ploughed on. But we are a deprived lot. We may have post graduate degrees but we hardly match up to the wisdom and knowledge of an antha kaalathu metric pass.

A professor once said our entire lot is like a hungry dog biting chunks off several plates at once – neither sated, nor hungry anymore.

Our resources are poor quality. In turn, we lack the gumption to stand up to our failures. It’s a deadly combination that lays down a trail of madness, depression and death, be it Blue Whale or examinations. And what more, we are in denial as well.

That’s where our reforms should begin. Not at Marina.

To my little boy

As you sleep in peace, my little boy, I prepare myself for tomorrow.

It’s not going to be the same tomorrow it has always been since you came into this world.

I am not going to snuggle up with you and sleep in late, waking when you wake.

I am not going to be there to sing your special rhyme every time you wake from a nap, even if I somehow am here for the morning wake up.

I am not going to be around to give you a cheat feed off me because you so hate feeding off a bottle when you have mom.

I perhaps won’t be able to give you your morning bath, put a drishti pottu on your forehead choosing one of the six cute design impressions you have.

I won’t be able to take you on your stroller for that evening walk we both so love and cherish, and I won’t be able to see you gaping and staring at the world around you – the ducks, goats, buffaloes, stray dogs, cows, flowers, plants, buzzing vehicles and people walking past – stopping sometimes to grin at or play with you (you’re that irresistible).

I am bracing myself for more, my dear boy, and that includes maybe missing the first time you crawl forward, reduce your number of naps, potty train, take your first step, some of your school events and so many other things.

Yes, I am luckier than most, having had nearly eight months with you, but it never is enough, is it?

I am the working mom, my dear son, and tomorrow is the first time you’re going to be introduced to that harsh reality.

You’re a happy baby, and you don’t cry so easily. That gives me some solace. But I know you miss me whenever your grandma tells me over the phone that you’re refusing to nap or fussing over a bowl of your favourite fruit.

I know you miss me when you rush straight into my arms with a huge toothless smile after just a couple of hours of separation regardless of how sleepy or hungry you are.

I know you love me when in the middle of a feed, you stop, look right into my eyes and go “Gwoooaaaa” and smile, and expect me to reply in earnest, following which yet another smile rewards my sleepless eyes.

I know how possessive you are when you see your dad near me and proceed to kiss me right on the lips, as if to establish that mom is yours, and only yours.

But the feeling that I can’t be with you always haunts me, much that I rave and rant about working moms and modernity – motherhood is crazy whichever way it is.

I know your father goes through a similar longing. Perhaps he isn’t even lucky enough to have held you within for nine long months. I’ve had the gift of growing and nourishing you with my body, both inside and outside my tummy. I have decent work timings and the luxury to sleep cuddled up with you – filling myself with your sweet baby scent.

But then like i said, motherhood is crazy. I thought only my mom was. Turns out even I am. And every other mom is.

Nothing will ever be enough when it is about you, my sweet child.

But yup, mom will not disappear altogether.

Your amma will be there to wish you a good morning when you wake up fresh from a night long sleep.

Your amma will be cleaning the poop you do immediately after.

Your amma will feed you till she is around and even when she isn’t physically there, she will nourish you with her love, albeit from a bottle.

Your amma will be there when you start your evening tantrums and hopefully put a rest to it.

Your amma will be doing your bedtime routine – oil massage, hot bath, dinner, song time and all.

Your amma will fastidiously preserve whatever it is that has become a routine in your daily life, compensating as much as possible on weekends and public holidays.

That I promise you, my dear son. That is a promise to myself, and to the heart of a mother that never has enough of you.

Celebrate life, not singlehood

In 2012, I finished my masters and by the end of the year, I was married to the man I had dated for three years then.

I was 22. I had several beginnings at once –  marriage, career, a new household and yes, the loss of an older social circle to a new one.

Losing my single status meant becoming an outcast. Because as my generation put it, my “party had ended even before it began“.

Now, four years later, I see memes and doleful articles from the same singles, lamenting how they feel isolated and left out, because all their friends are getting married or having babies.

But I’m not getting myself the last (sadistic) laugh because I’ve been there, albeit in a different journey. I feel them, even though many of these very people subjected me to that exact treatment four years ago.

Initially, I used to be extremely resentful of all the “fun” that I saw my single friends having, all the while musing, ‘If not for my marital status, I’d not have been left alone’.

It took me a long time, and a set of “real” friends to understand that it wasn’t my fault or something inherently wrong with marrying “early”.

It was just that my friendships, or shall we say, most relationships aren’t meant to last the tide of time and change.

It was simply my own mental block stopping me from finding happiness.

So I would like to tell these trolling resentful singles a few things.

You feel left out. I get it.

You face social pressure against a mounting “appropriate age of marriage”, and, in case of women, “a ticking biological clock”.

You may cover it up with jokes and memes but I sense the pain behind those trolling Facebook posts.

It’s okay. We all are in pain. Married life isn’t a cakewalk either.

Let’s come together and empathize. Let’s sit down for a coffee where you rant about Pammi aunty pestering you to get a groom, and I rant about my in laws or fussy kids. Let’s laugh about it together and get on with our lives – our choices.

Being happily married and having babies are as much an achievement (or not) as making a solo trip across the globe

I’ve made solo trips while in my teens. I’ve also experienced a lot more while still young. That was much before DSLRs were affordable enough to let me flaunt it all on Facebook. 

But I didn’t enjoy my single life half as much as I loved travelling with my husband. That’s me! I don’t have to be your version of what a twenty something should be, just as it is for you.

So enjoy what you’re doing. Run that marathon. Go to the Andamans if you please.

But don’t for a moment dare to spew pity on me. I don’t need it.

I made my choices just as you made yours, and all choices, including yours (no matter how much of an in-thing they are) have consequences (I’ll save this for last). Don’t undermine my life just to glorify yours.

Running a startup, writing a book, recording a blockbuster song, why, even partying hard on weekends don’t necessarily have to overlap with your marital or parenthood status.

Let’s get this straight. If you truly want to do something, you’ll mold your life to do it – married or not. No amount of bullshitting will get you there.

I finished my masters at a relatively young age of 21. I managed to get my dream job after a gruelling state level selection process at a young age –  yes, AFTER I got married. A lot of great milestones in my life happened AFTER my wedding, including the little one I am expecting now.

Even actresses in the fifties and sixties got married, had kids and still resumed their roles as heroines no less. So this misconception of marriage being a full stop in your life is a newly fangled one.

Moreover, I have seen my fair share of confused youngsters unable to hold on to a relationship, a job or even a college course.

Many singles I know haven’t even stepped outside their city for whatever reason, and they definitely aren’t “making the most of their life while still being happily single”.

Most wannabe ‘entrepreneurs’, ‘wanderlusts’ and ‘passionate dreamers’ are in fact, still leeching off their parents, all the while throwing around the image of a cool, uncommitted twenty something, calling the rest of us boring old 9-5 office going married uncles and aunties.

I know married couples with wilder and messier lives than some bachelors even.

Guess what, being single or married doesn’t make you a “boring loser” per se (your words, not mine) – YOU ALONE DO!

Glossing over the attractive details doesn’t erase the ugliness

When I said earlier about all choices having consequences, I wanted to appeal to you to not get carried away by what the social media likes to (not) show you.

That exotic trip takes 25000 INR or more. It’s fine if you can afford it, or if you think it is a better spend than buying gold jewellery.

But that expenditure also means not spending on a possession that will fiscally appreciate over time, keep you insured, or save your back when you are no longer young, physically able and strong enough to earn your living.

Most twenty somethings can’t do that anyway, because with a budding career, they neither earn that much, nor will their workplace bestow them with so many vacation days. Some youngsters are paying off education loans or supporting their parents. Don’t push them into feeling inadequate about themselves.

And start realizing that no choice is all hunky dory.

If you want to marry late, don’t complain that “all the good ones are already taken”. It’s normal to fall in love when young, sometimes even in your teens, because that’s when your hormones peak. It’s also normal for some of them to end up staying in love or get married, leading to a mate paucity for you. It’s also normal for many thirty or forty somethings to become so fixated with themselves, there is no room for mutual adjustment with a new partner.

Decide to wait anyway, only if that is a conscious practical decision, not because some indecisive dimwit tells you ‘single is cool’.

If you want to not be “burdened with kids” until you’re ready, understand and know that the ‘ticking biological clock’ is pretty much real and doesn’t care about motivational quotes or Scoopwhoop articles.

It’s an established scientific fact that pregnancy gets more and more complicated the further you go from 25 for women, and 40 above for men.

Make the choice to not have or postpone having kids anyway, because that’s what you truly want, not because ill informed neo-liberals feed you hogwash.

Get good company. Keep the ones you already have.

I just read this in a post by a single woman – she was apologizing to her married friend, who had also had a baby some time ago, for not keeping in touch. The latter too was apologetic.

It turned out the author thought “there was so much happening in her life, what with a baby and all” whereas all that while her married friend imagined that she “would not find me in her league because I was a mom and no longer single”.

So you see, it’s all about making time and good conversation. Stop imagining things. Certainly stop getting life experience from online posts and pep talks. Your life, as it is, is experience enough and worthy of sharing with your friends and loved ones.

Feel genuinely happy for each other when you get married or have a kid or take a trip to Socotra islands or start a company or write a book or run a marathon or your kid wins the fancy dress competition.

Celebrate choice and happiness, not social tags.

The Great Indian Nighty Nightmare

“Tell her to wear a loose nighty instead of these tight clothes…” quips my mom’s hired help as I haul my 37 week pregnant belly around the house in my husband’s tees and (fortunately, my own) a pair of tracks.

She’s one of those ‘good-intentioned’ and ‘otherwise nice’ women I so feel uneasy being around. Can’t hate them, can’t ignore them!

Out of politeness and respect for her ‘good intentions’ I zip up my mouth, lock myself in the bathroom for a warm shower and manage to stay there till she leaves – no questions asked, no doors banged. Thank pregnancy for such small mercies!

That was the infiniteth time I’d heard this ‘nighty’ advocacy. For the uninitiated, this is the Indian women’s wardrobe staple ‘nighty’:

Image credits:Shopadda.in

Of course when worn by the likes of us regular middle class women, complete with a messy braid or a coiled bun, it doesn’t look even half as flattering, if this picture was really anything to go by.

The appeal of the nighty is more like this:

Image credits: http://www.radford.edu

Where age isn’t a bar… 

And this:

Image credits:Elpis kai Aceso 

Where all you have to do for a little more mobility is to hike up the hemline and tie it around your waist, all lungi style. Talk about equality!

This quintessential Indian women’s casual clothing that has successfully held the Indian society’s stamp of approval for a decade or two in almost all social strata, is so empowering that many women (the post menopausal ones almost always) actually dispense with the undies!

After all, everything is covered up, and with this nighty, which to be frank, is essentially a slightly tailored sack, you could let your bubbly girls (or lack of them) free as freedom can be. They don’t ask, we don’t tell!

It’s definitely more comfortable than the other patriarchially approved women’s dress – saree – far easier to pull over your head than employ monumental effort and skill at distorting the traditional saree so as not to bare even a sliver of the fastidiously forbidden female skin and form, especially a pregnant belly.

Hence, people are flummoxed as to why I should shun the unofficial Indian national female dress and opt for tees, tracks, shorts and all those ‘tight’ dresses.

I’ve been sold the nighty idea by almost everyone, in vain.

My mom tried to subtly initiate me into the nighty brigade before I was to get married so that I could find comfort even within the narrow ambit of propriety for an Indian married woman. She tried to buy me all kinds of nighties, even custom tailored ones but somehow I never caught up.

My mother in law went a step ahead and actually bought me bright, colourful and cheerfully printed nighties all the way from the cotton capital of Erode, though sadly, they all ended up a good couple of inches shorter. “But they told me it was standard size…” she would ruefully say every time I tried them on. I felt sorry for her. Apparently, women’s dimensions as set by Indian nighty-makers have a clear vertical limit not a horizontal one.

Aunts, grandmas, colleagues, housewives, working women, kamwali bais, why even some men have taken it upon themselves to wax eloquent on the many virtues of the humble nighty to me, albeit to deaf ears. It takes a certain stubborn rebellion to resist it, because make no mistake, that kind of sermonizing could easily put Amway and Herbalife salespersons to shame!

I hate wearing the nighty. Period!

First off, by swathing me in shapeless expanses of fabric, it kills off in an instant whatever little positive body image I may have acquired over the years.

Most of my childhood was spent wearing oversized and unflattering fits. Yes, the horrible nineties!

I’ve also always been chubby, or more. It was one less worry for my parents if I didn’t outgrow an outfit for a year or two at least. I soon had this idea firmly drilled into my head that being on the heavier side automatically meant wearing bedsheets and curtains and looking as unobtrusive as possible, and that conditioning took a lot of time and exposure to shake off.

Which brings me to my second point – I prefer to avoid clothes that don’t separate my thunder thighs with a soft fabric barrier especially when I am likely to be running around, doing chores, climbing stairs etc. I also sleep like a pig waddling in mud, which means, I could be least bothered with a skirt or a nighty hiking up while I toss, turn and throw my leg over whoever is unfortunate to sleep next to me – my poor husband that is! I take adequate precautions to avoid skin chafing  when I am wearing skirts, frocks and sarees. Why would I not humanly want to dispense with such elaborate shenagians in the comfort of my home?

Thirdly, although our women can be seen sporting the nighty almost everywhere, even at public parks and markets, there is yet to be a social consensus on whether a ‘nighty’ is appropriate as casual wear. Some scoff at the idea of letting even the doodhwala see them in a nighty. Some would wear it to Mars, on occasion, perhaps with a dupatta draped over the chest. Some set themselves nighty lakshman rekhas ranging from the apartment campus, or the doorstep to the local grocer’s, varying with the presence or absence of the above mentioned dupatta.

Me, well, it’s a night-y in the end, not a day-ie. And I am too lazy to change into appropriate clothing every time I leave the house. 
That way tees and tracks are ubiquitous though they aren’t considered ‘feminine’ unlike the nighty. I have been teased around by my husband’s side of the family with the moniker ‘douser paandi’ (a slang of trouser) because what a sight it is to watch a fat woman roll around wearing a patloon at home!

The irony is, if one wanted to look all womanly and by extension, attractive, more Indian women would have picked a nighty like this instead:

Image credits:Indiatimes

Since that isn’t the case, the issue isn’t looks. It’s about a super dress that falls into all these realms at once- inexpensive, utilitarian, robust, feminine, casual, covers-it-all, hides-your-figure, easy to wear, comfortable and most importantly, is socially approved.

Throughout my pregnancy, this nighty marketing has got even more obnoxious. People try to convince me to buy a set of front-open nighties because I am only going to be home as a milking cow anyway.

The perception hurts too. I’ve worn nighties and every time I look in the mirror, I only see a docile, “homely” woman who can’t step outside the house, and can’t take longer strides than her nighty would permit. Add to that a newborn, and I look even more drab and gharelu.

The track wearing woman at least appears physically active (if only… :-P), capable of running errands, climbing on to stuff, driving, going to random places (a gym maybe, eh?).

I might be wrong – heck, the Rani of Jhansi wore a saree to a godforsaken battle, and that too, on horseback – so there definitely are women who find the nighty the epitome of comfort and mobility.

However, comfort is a subjective feeling. And most nightivists are those who haven’t worn only shorts and tank tops to bed on a hot summer night. Or sheer soft lingerie. Or nothing at all!

Moreover, pregnancy time nightivism has more to do with camouflage than comfort.

I do agree that a waistband of a trouser or a skirt over a burgeoning belly may cause rash and irritation but I doubt if it is truly what the nightivists intend. That’s because when it comes to formal clothing, these same people constantly persuade me to wear sarees so that I feel ‘comfortable’ with the belly than ‘tight’ clothes like t-shirts, palazzo pants, leggings, kurtis etc. Tight, really?

The truth is – flaunting a pregnant belly, ironically enough for our great Indian obsession with marriage and kids, is worse taboo than flaunting a paunch, and sarees and nighties, apparently ‘hide’ both. 

Women can be seen everywhere draping a dupatta or pallu over the baby bump, as if one layer of clothing over that itchy big belly wasn’t enough.

It’s all about hiding your body, not merely covering it. A tee, no matter how oversized, can’t hide your womanly pelvis and ample buttocks, even if it does manage to cover the baby bump. Also there is no question of a dupatta or pallu assisting you in your belly camouflage.

All kinds of womanly curves, except the sheepish one pasted on your face while you’re being lectured on virtuous dressing, are taboo.

I continue to resist the nighty brigade with oversized tees, empire waist tops, why, even maternity nightsuits. The choice of dress and my comfort in wearing it outside or inside home is MY decision to make, certainly not anyone else’s, including those who have been pregnant themselves. So patloon it is!

As for the nighty brigade… 

“Ye who knowst not the kiss of a lover nor chased the will o wisp… “