The men in corner offices

I was 22 and he was about 35 when we were introduced. Actually, I had no idea how old he was and only knew he was fairly high up the food chain. He was intelligent, charming, witty, interesting, fun. And then he hit on me.
And I went scuttling back into a corner. I was too young to know how to deal with his advances, I was in a relationship, I was intimidated by his seniority and in an awkward position, and I was not interested in him at all. Period.
And then I felt very guilty about it. About how uncool I was being. About misunderstanding what might have been jokes. But they weren’t. He was hoping I’d respond in kind. I cut off all contact. He got in touch with me again, about 2 years ago and I ignored his message. I was older and now very sure that he crossed a line he shouldn’t have.
He passed away a while back and while everyone was singing paeans, all I felt was resentment for how uncomfortable he made a young girl feel. How he ruined our mentor-mentee relationship, and denied me his friendship and experience, and turned it into something grubby and grimy.
A few days ago, I was working on a project, again, with a man who has been in media for more than 30 years. He was, once again, mentoring us. And there it was again – the inappropriate comment, the whatsapp messages at odd hours, the off colour jokes that I smiled painfully through because hey, I’m an adult woman and it’s okay, right? Because this is media. We’re cool like that. Until I decided it wasn’t cool. The best part is that I was shocked. I’m married, almost bloody 40, and have a soon to be teenage son. Am I still to be fending off advances at this age?! WTF!
I called my partner on the project and told her he was making me uncomfortable, that I was going to ignore his one-on-one whatsapp messages and would henceforth only interact with him when she was around, and in a strictly professional capacity. No jokes, no fun. Naturally, she supported me all the way, even if it meant losing his help on the project.
This is the problem with men in positions of power. They’re men, they’re in positions of power, they misuse them.
And we liberals, we people in media, we’re so forgiving of all their sins. Especially the men in media, who immediately band together in a fraternity. I feel particularly betrayed by them because I expect them, more than others, to understand concepts of consent, patriarchy, abuse of power, and yes, nuance. I don’t expect bullshit from them about not knowing when a feeble no means yes. If you and I are doing BDSM, honey, trust me, we’ll both know. Until then, let’s not be dishonest here.

//Women are unable to call out their harassers in real time for a variety of reasons — key among them the fear of being judged and disbelieved and the fear of losing one’s professional edge. And consent, like choice, is a loaded word in the gender debate, especially when it comes to a man who wields extreme power and a professional woman who is dependent on his approval to survive. Could Monica Lewinsky as a young intern have really said “no” to Bill Clinton? If a twenty something reporter’s much older boss maintains that she has a conflicted crush on him, is the onus on him or her to establish equality? In some cases, the violations are obviously coarse and need no debate. But when liberals become complicit in the conspiracy of silence that shrouds such cases, we only come out looking like weak and hypocritical frauds.//

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The gradations of a no

I’ve always been the irreverent, cheeky parent. My kids and I horse around, wrestle, tickle, have pillow fights. Naturally, for years, I’ve held back and not used my strength.
This evening, however, the Brat and I got into a tickle fight and just like that he caught my wrist, and I knew I couldn’t release it without giving it my all. I realised that I’m no longer holding back, because I’m actually his equal. Actually, strike that – I’m not his equal, I’m weaker. If anything, I could sense him holding back, and gently releasing my wrist so that I didn’t get hurt.
This is how early the male realises that he is physically stronger than the female. This is how much stronger the average male is, compared to the average female. A grown woman like me, who doesn’t exercise, can’t beat a 12 year old boy who does nothing but regular play in school. He’s not a sportsperson, he’s not big built.
We were both laughing hysterically, with the Bean jumping in periodically and getting a poke in on any side, just to keep up the tempo. And I gasped through my laughter, ok, you win, I give up, stop.
This is how early he has learnt that even when you’re playing, even if you gasp it out, a no is a no. Even if I initiated the fight by whacking him on the head with a cushion, stop means stop. Even if he’s stronger and can get away with it, he *must* respect my desire to stop . I don’t know why so many adult males find it so hard to appreciate this simple rule. So Mr Farooqui might be a great artist, but if he can’t understand that even a ‘feeble’ no, is a no, I have no time for him.
For now I’m going to go sob in the corner over this milestone. My baby boy is stronger than me.
Title courtesy my friend Thinking Cramps.

But our parents did it too….

I didn’t share the video of the little girl being beaten, not only because I thought it violated her privacy, but because it upset me so. Years ago I whacked the Brat once and I’ve never been able to forget it, or forgive myself. It was an unacceptable loss of control.
But I’m following the conversation on every FB wall and almost everywhere I see people saying – but we all got whacked and turned out okay. Yes, we did. Because our parents didn’t know better. And maybe this mother didn’t know better either. And maybe we’d have turned out more than okay if we’d not been whacked (btw, I didn’t really get whacked, and the jury is out on whether I turned out okay or not!)
Our parents also let us go off with this driver bhaiyya to buy samosas, sleepover at that cousin’s place, and curl into bed with this uncle and listen to a story, never realising that we were being sexually abused by people we trusted. I have often written about being abused by the errand boy at our place, from the age of 4. He was a young boy himself and probably didn’t realise how much harm he was doing me. It’s why I don’t keep male househelp and won’t allow my kids to go anywhere alone with a driver. We know now that there are sexual predators everywhere, so shouldn’t we try harder? Only yesterday I got into a debate on a whatsapp group where one of the parents was planning a sleepover and had invited the Bean. I am not comfortable with her staying over in homes I don’t know well, with people I don’t know well. It wasn’t right to debate it on the group that the invitation went out on, but the conversation just flowed that way and before I knew it, I was knee deep in that one too. And yes, someone trotted out the good old – but our parents allowed it too.
The fact that we did it, or our parents allowed it, isn’t a good enough reason to do ANYTHING. Even animals can give birth. It takes a lot more conscious thought to be a halfway decent parent, and even then, life mein jitna bhi karo, saala kam pad jaata hai. Every day, ask yourself, can I do this better? Maybe it will contradict the way I parented yesterday, and I might even feel a little stupid – but can I reassess my stand? Should I always fall back on the old – My parents did it, so it much be okay, line? Our children are growing, evolving, and so are we.
So no, it’s not okay to justify such a tiny kid getting beaten up over a few numbers. We know now that corporal punishment does more harm than good. And the fact that it happened to us, sexual as well as physical abuse, is exactly why we need to protect our kids better. Even if from ourselves.
Yes, I’ll get off my soap box now.

Goodbye, Justice Seth

Within a week I’ve felt the loss of two people I loved and admired in very different ways. Vinod Khanna. And Justice Leila Seth. I found it hard to post immediately after each loss because it hit really hard.
I interviewed Justice Seth shortly after Jyoti Singh died, while she was on the Justice Verma committee. After we spoke about the rape and the law for the story, we also chatted about much else that didn’t make it to my piece.
One of the things she said about parenting, is something that ever after, guided me. She spoke about how her son Vikram spent 7 years typing away in a little room above the garage, writing his first book. (Reminder of what goes into a great book for those who think anyone can write one!) And how neighbours and well-wishers wondered rudely and aloud, how they could ‘allow’ their son to fritter his life away so. And would he ever make a decent living as a writer? Tsk tsk. What a waste of a child, coming from two such successful parents.
Her point? That we need to stop projecting our fears on to our kids, along with our aspirations. Even the most evolved parents say very proudly – I told my child, be a sweeper if you want, but be the best bloody sweeper. Err – why? Why best? What is the best?
The one that earns the most? Why not the happiest? (This was in context to her son’s sexuality.)
She went on to say that we also worry needlessly about our children needing to be successful in conventional terms, to maintain the lifestyle we’ve raised them in. We assume that it is a guarantor of happiness to earn more than your parents, and marry traditionally, into the safety of your own community. That it is our own fears that we need to let go of, and trust them if they choose to be unsuccessful but happy sweepers.
As long as you ensure that you equip them to accept the consequences of their choices, whatever those might be. They might never own a four wheeler or a flat in the suburbs (conventional markers of success), but if they’re happy on a cycle meant for two with a partner of their choice, then it’s your own fear and ego that you need to deal with. Not theirs.
I also got her to sign a copy of her book  We, the Children of India, for the kids (you can check out the review on our ever dependable Saffron Tree). If you don’t already own one for your babies, this is a good reminder to pick it up. RIP Justice Leila Seth. A few hours with you shaped me in so many ways. I don’t know if they will make more like you.

On bleeding

Living this ‘American Dream’ where we’re doing our own cooking, cleaning, laundry, has meant that the rest of the family is pitching in with a lot more help. The OA does the relaxed brunches and extravagant dinners when he gets home from work. I mostly do harried and hurried breakfasts, tiffins and lunches.

The Bean and Brat have been making coffees, chopping fruit, decorating cheese platters and shining wine glasses, and laying the table. And yes, doing the laundry.

I mention this because I am scarred by a friend once telling me that she always dried her underwear under a towel. She’d been taught by her mother that no one should know what a lady’s underwear looks like. I have always assumed that meant no one should see it while it’s on you. But isn’t it interesting to see how being a lady means a lot more work? She went on to say that she had been forbidden from staining her bed while having her periods. Forbidden. That only an animal would sleep so unselfconsciously. I want to parse that sentence for each unacceptable word but I think my brain would explode in outrage.

Telling a twelve year old to lie still and not have her nightie hike up, not to twist in her sleep so that her pad twists and she stains… would that not count as cruelty?

To say nothing of how all this affects the men in the family. Men who grow up imagining that a woman’s body and it’s workings must be shrouded in mystery. And that it is dirty.

The Brat has been given the responsibility of hanging out the wash and bringing it back in, and everyday he is hanging out socks, shirts, bras, panties, jeans, everything. And he sees the difference between the unisex vests he and his sister wear, and the bras his mother wears. And there are no questions.

Actually there is only one question – Does this run colour?

What inspired this post? The Sabrimala drama over menstruating women. That they will only allow women in after a machine to scan and identify menstruating women has been invented. I am always amazed by how people conveniently cherry pick and choose from modernity. I will use modern technology to uphold a backward notion. I will take flights to places while shrouding my wife in fabric.

And have you all been introduced to the wonderful Rupi Kaur? If not, please go follow her. This one of hers, on menstruation.

 

Kids not allowed

I know I haven’t posted here in a while, but I have posted elsewhere. Here’s a sneak peek –

A few weeks ago, a California restaurant put up a sign saying: ‘No strollers, no high chairs, no booster chairs’. Parents seethed and frothed with outrage on the Internet. How dare their precious progeny be barred from a restaurant? Wasn’t fine dining every family’s right?

No.

Now hop on over and read the rest at Yowoto.

 

Speaking for myself

A few days ago I was standing at the bus stop and waiting for the kids when one of the mothers showed up with her toddler in a stroller. All of us cooed and fussed over the baby (heck, this is the last year the Brat is in single digits!) and she rolled her eyes. ‘I haven’t slept in days..’ she sighed. And she had an older one in school, so she had early mornings whether she liked it or not.

The other mothers all had one child only.

They turned to me with the usual – how did you manage with two kids and such a small gap?

Honestly, if I had not blogged in those days, I’d have no memory of it. The days and nights are a blur. Off the top of my head I can’t recall when one walked, when the other potty trained. Who started solids happily and who hated them.

I was tired, at times I was frustrated, at times I was sleep deprived, at times I was uncertain. But those were few. Most of the time I was happy, I was content, I was absorbed, I was fascinated, I was proud, I was learning – and that holds true for every single day even now. Be it the Bean creating a beautiful piece of art or the Brat telling me that there are more than 20,000 people over the age of 100 in Japan, everyday they give me something to be thrilled about, something to marvel at.

I look back on how I managed them and I realise that I managed because its what I expected. We all know that babies will cry when hungry or sleepy or wet. We all know they will sleep for short periods of time and eat ever so often. We all know they are curious little mites who pull down low hanging table cloths and put their hand in the toilet bowl. We can laugh, we can cry, we can roll with the punches. But we can’t say it’s not what we expected. Not if we’ve seen even one child grow up among close friends and family. And not even if we haven’t.

On the other hand, there are those who constantly whine about how parenthood has sucked the joy out of their lives, the adventure, the ability to get up and go, the ambition. Who is to deny that adding something to your life will naturally reduce space for other things? And who is to decide which is more important? Only you.

I read this post in the Hindu today, about the lies regarding parenting and while five years ago I would have been enraged at being called a liar, I felt only sorrow for the writer. She’s stating the obvious when she talks of there being good and bad – but I think she is wrong in choosing to speak for all of us and calling it a lie. That parenthood is a joy, a pleasure, a privilege, is the truth for many of us. We also speak only for ourselves.

I understand that a lot of parents (here I speak of both fathers as well as mothers) made their choice under social as well as parental pressure. But of them, a lot of enjoyed the choice. On the other hand, there are so many of us for whom parenthood was a happy and natural choice. I don’t judge those who choose not to have kids, and hope they do us the same courtesy. Many of us have had not just one kid, but gone on to have another and some even a third or a fourth, because of the sheer joy it brings us.

So when I see something of this sort, a rant that many of us might have been guilty of at 1 am, I am a little saddened to see it make its way out of the annoyance of a sleep deprived night into the clear light of day and into print. If anything, these last few lines reeked of a sort of bitterness that made me feel very sad for her and for any kids of hers that might have read the piece.

“At the end of the day, parenting is merely foisting the responsibility of finding your life’s meaning on to someone else. It’s the reason why parents — especially mothers — have to continue with the narrative of “this is the best thing I’ve ever done.” Besides giving them an excuse to do nothing else with their lives, it also gives them a lofty platform from which to preach.”

Is parenthood a cakewalk? No. Is anything a cakewalk? No! Not planting a garden, not climbing a mountain, not building a business empire.

Jobs, relationships, friendships, they all take a lot of work. Somedays they are good, somedays they are bad. I’m in a happy marriage and that takes a lot of work too. But if you ask me what marriage is like, I’d say its the second best thing to have happened to me – the kids would be first!

None of this is a lie. It’s just that the good overwhelms the bad. And if anyone is foolish enough to believe that it’s entirely angels kissing spring and strawberries and summer wine, well then, they’re just fools.

If anything, the last bit seemed like a bit of a desperate attempt to justify one’s own negativity towards parenthood (although I don’t know if she’s a parent). In this day and age of live and let live, when you see such ire against people who are happy with their choices and make no bones about it, you can only wonder – why this kolaveri di?

By the by, we’re planning our annual vacation and my parents as well as inlaws suggested for a number of reasons, that we leave the kids behind with them as we did for our trip to the US in 2012. I was inclined to agree with them because we have a lot of work to do on the trip. But the OA, note, not me, the OA – refuses to go without them. After years of taking an annual two-three day trip without them, we’re down to the father cleaving unto his kids and refusing to let go. It’s quite funny, because its usually the mothers who feel that way. Of course once he put his foot down with a firm hand (I love this mixed metaphor!) I was sure I didn’t want to leave them behind at all. I love watching their eyes widen at the shiny newness and chrome of the airport (they’re poor Gurgaon kids who are never taken to the mall), the gasp of breath as the flight lifts off, the excitement of the new and the different.

I read this other article in the Guardian and it made me want to cry. I’ve been hugging the Brat, squishing the Bean… aware that my days as mother to carry-able babies are numbered.  So putting aside that woman’s silly rant that I couldn’t relate to at all, I turned to this one and felt it speak to me. I leave you with the first bit of the article. Do read.
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There is one song I simply cannot listen to because it upsets me too much – Turn Around by Nanci Griffiths. It is a song about the ephemerality of childhood – the velocity with which you will lose your children to time and growth. Recorded first by Harry Belafonte it begins with this stanza:

“Where are you goin’ my little one, little one? / Where are you goin’ my baby my own? / Turn around and you’re two / Turn around and you’re four / Turn around and you’re a young girl / Going out of the door.”

Even without the tune it brings a lump to my throat. I have watched two of my children “go out of the door” – one is 18 and one 20 – and although my pride in their independence and achievements is overwhelming, knowing that the children they were can never return is sometimes sharper than a serpent’s tooth.