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.//

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.

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.

 

Not so attached anymore

I was a co-sleeping parent for practical reasons, not emotional. It was easy to pop open my nightie and nurse the kids in my sleep. I would then drift off to sleep, never worrying about having to get up and shift the baby back to the crib.

But once the nursing was done, I was very determined to get the spawn out of my bed and own my space. In fact, they moved to the nursery fairly early by desi kid standards. The Brat is a good sleeper, but the Bean has still not learned to sleep through the night, making sleepovers impossible. She wakes up and pads into our room at least once a week.

I’m told that the first two or three times she did this in the early years, I transformed into my Chandi ka roop, released my inner Kracken, breathed fire. I can’t tell you really, because I have no memory of this. The OA on the other hand remembers it vividly because it was left to him to console a horrified little Bean, so he brings out this anecdote for regular airing. The proof of this pudding is that the Bean refuses to come to my side of the bed at night, heading for her father like a homing pigeon, even in a hotel room. Suits me fine. I sleep best when the OA travels and I have the bed to my self. I call it my bachelor sleep. And somehow on those days the Bean stays in bed and doesn’t sleepwalk into ours.

The Brat is no problem. In more ways than one.

Anyhow, I travel for work once in a while and the Brat and Bean take that opportunity to sleep with their goodnatured father who makes a big picnic of it. He, on the other hand travels very often and the kids sometimes hint at coming to sleep with me but I need just raise my Chandi ka roop eyes for them to go scuttling.

These last few trips that the OA has traveled, though, we’ve all been a little low. New country, the house quiet and dull. No doubt I am the more active, noisy parent but somehow even one family member missing and there is a funereal air to the proceedings. The day is easy to get through, it’s the evenings that fall as flat as beer left open for an hour. And so it was that the kids caught me at a vulnerable moment yesterday and asked if they could sleep with me.

I can compromise on a lot else, but I need my sleep. A hint of moonlight, a couple of TV/mobile phone blinking lights, the fan raising the curtains or causing something to clink, and I’m up all night. When I travel I prefer to stay in a hotel because others’ homes are great for everything but I end up sleep deprived thanks to the street light, or the sound of the fan. Three days in a row and I’m in zombie mode. And trust me, it’s not a pretty sight.

So sleeping with the kids is my idea of a nightmare. They toss, they turn, they punch me in the face and they push until I’m clinging to the edge of the bed by my fingernails. The OA can sleep through an earthquake so this doesn’t bother him.

But last evening the Brat came to me with that little heartbreaker face of his (damn him!) and said – Can we have a special treat? Can we sleep with you because Dada is not here? Or should we wait and save this for a more special occasion? Like a holiday or a birthday?

Now the only thing I’m crazy about is a peaceful 4-5 hours of sleep. In all other matters, I’m a pushover of a parent. But he so rarely asks for something. And he did the Brat special – climb into my lap and give me access to his chubby soft cheek. So I caved like a fool. I mean what sort of hard hearted mother refuses to let her kids sleep with her? What sort of Cruella needs her kids to beg like it’s a treat? It wasn’t a play station they wanted – they just wanted to cuddle their mother.

So I said yes. By 2 am I was regretting it more than the time I got my hair streaked red. By 3 am I was begging for deliverance. The Bean does this thing where she shoves a hand under your pillow – yes, your pillow, not her own – and you find your head raised up by an inch or two with something like a rock under it – which is only her fist. She then shoves her fine silky hair up your nose and if that doesn’t work, she systematically kicks you in the stomach until you are ready to throw up your dinner.

By 4 am I conceded defeat and crawled to their room and fell asleep in their bed.

By 7 am I woke up and realised that we’d missed school because I’d left my phone by my bed and they had slept through the alarm. I of course had not even heard it in their room, so dead to the world had I been.

And so we’re drawing back the old lines. Sit on my head, kick me in the face, throw your food around the living room, pour milk down the television, it’s all good while I am awake. But when it’s time to go to bed, you go your way, I go mine, and we meet at that beautiful place called morning.