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.

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.

The fledgling

Academic question. Not at all personal. *koff koff*
In fact, I’m asking for a friend.
At which point does one cut the cord and stop missing one’s parents?

Years ago I would sob every time I left for college and my parents spoke to one of my professors about it. He was very nice about it and told them an anecdote about how the eagle keeps removing the feathers it lines its nest with, until the nest becomes too uncomfortable for the fledgling to stay.
My parents are failures clearly, because it’s been twenty years and they’ve only made the bloody nest more comfortable. Of course it is all their fault – raising their child to be dependent and dysfunctional when she is not within an 800 km range of them.

I have a couple of plans in mind now

  1. Act increasingly nasty when I next see my parents, forcing them to fight with me, vitiate the environment progressively so that by the end we’re all happy to see the back of each other.
  2. Be nasty to my kids starting today so that they hate me. This nips the issue in the bud and they don’t end up being miserable babies at the grand old age of 37. This whole business of being a good parent is overrated and misunderstood. You must raise them to hate you so that they don’t miss you too much.

If you have other ways to handle this mess, please give your solutions in the comments box. The winning comment will get – oh, I don’t know. Tear-free evenings?

Exposed. Now what?

I’m here to rant. To rant about everyone, who when they heard we were moving out of the country, came up with the cliche – ‘It’s so much better for the kids – they’ll get such exposure.’ [May I toss in a wee rant about that word exposure? It’s an over-exposed word. Used for cameras, starlets and kids being displaced.] There’s always been that little bit of attitude when desis and their kids come back on vacation. A little arrogance that they’re somehow better for having moved away from home. (The biggest challenge is to ensure that they don’t go home too big for their boots, picking fault with everything, praising clean roads but unable to appreciate the glorious, chaotic, warm mess that their home country is.) They’ve been exposed. So? We’re exposed to malaria and measles back home. There’s something to be said for that too, you know!

I didn’t understand what this concept of exposure meant when I was back home and now, six months down, it still seems like a lot of gibberish. One of those incomprehensible lines that you pull out of storage and offer to anyone who is leaving home, wrenched from the bosom of all that is comfortable and familiar. Torn from the arms of motherland and thrown into unfamiliar food and driving on the wrong side of the road. Yes, of course I like drama. Why do you ask?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s always great to shake things up a little. Keeps one from getting too complacent. But to imagine that getting ‘exposed’ is a better way of life than being, well, ‘unexposed’, is to my mind, a little bit of bullshit. And also, extremely patronising. Eventually it boils down to how open-minded you are. If you plan to carry your pressure cooker, your thepla or your dosa rice everywhere. If you seek out the local desi sanghs and committees. If you insist on speaking your own language at home instead of practicing the new ones around you. Then you’re really just struggling to keep your own culture alive. A few meals, a few concerts, a visit to the local library and three playdates do not give you more insight into a culture than regular travel would.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s your choice if you choose to close ranks against outside influence, and I don’t judge you for it. But eventually the amount of exposure you get is really limited. Limited to a wee bit more than the average tourist gets while sightseeing. Whether you are open minded or not depends on you. Not on whether you’ve moved six countries in the course of your career or died in the house you were born.

Hell, you want me to concede and say you’re getting huuuuge exposure to another culture, I’ll grant you that because I’m in a generous mood and don’t feel like quibbling. You might have learnt a language or an art – and that is great. But I draw the line at the implication that it is somehow preferable, or superior to the alternative (PS: many languages and arts to be learnt within India too!). It is, if anything, a different way of life. Like choosing not to have kids. Or to stay single. Do you know what it’s like to be a married woman and a mother of two at 27? Nope? Well, neither do I know what it’s like to be a single woman at 40. We’re even.

A few years ago, some friends moved back from South East Asia complaining that it was uncomfortable for them because they didn’t find enough Indian food, that there were too many strange animals being cooked, that it was too immoral a society, that it wasn’t as religious as India. They pointed out that the OA and I were good candidates for a move because we’ll try anything once, eat every type of food and not have to worry about kosher, don’t follow any religion and usually eschew religious gatherings, avoid get togethers that are based on community or caste, avoid speaking an Indian language if even one person around us doesn’t understand it, and so on. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted by the picture they painted of us! But they were right of course. We’re fairly ideal candidates to be comfortable out of the country.

Except that unlike many, I really like being in my country – and if I get to choose, then I prefer Delhi over other Indian cities. It bothers me that a person who has lived in four countries is somehow considered to be ‘more’ than a farmer in Vidarbha or a middle class housewife in Calcutta. Richer, maybe. Better traveled, maybe. But better life experiences? I think not.That a little old lady who has seen hunger, or famine, or buried three children, or suffered through riots is somehow seen to have experienced less than our privileged kids in their fancy SUVs, shopping at the closest Indian store. It’s rather patronising to believe that one experience is somehow better.

A few stamps on a passport, learning a new language, trying a new food, seeing a different fort, are all great experiences, no doubt. But so is growing up in a certain locality, building lifelong relationships, seeing a sapling grow into a tree and shade you and so on. There is much to be said for stability, familiarity, and being one of those pillars of society that people can depend on.

Having lived away for a while now I can claim to speak with a little experience. And eventually it all boils down to the same damn daily lives. How we manage our relationships, what the kids are taking to school for tiffin, the bills to be paid, discord in the family, that nagging pain in my knee that casts a shadow on all that I do through the day and so on. The pain of death, the pang of death and loss, the joy of holding your child in your arm – these are things we all experience regardless of geography and they shape our lives far more than anything else.

Here we have cleaner streets, shinier buildings and better traffic. The kids have settled in as best as they can. The OA is busy with work. Fortunately my job moved with me and I am busy during the day. But at night, when the lights go down and we shut the outside world out and gather around the dining table, nothing much has changed. There are still worries at work, still bullies in school. Still bills to be paid. Still new places to visit. The more things seem to change. The less they really do.

PS: Since I can’t answer all the mails I got in response to this post, I’m editing it to add my responses here – Yes, we’re more or less settled and as the Bean would say if you asked her – it’s comme ci comme ca.

There are some positives to being here, infrastructure and order wise, and availability of a variety of things as well as the opportunity to travel to neighbouring countries. And there are the negatives such as homesickness and lack of a social support system. Most of all though, we’re unhappy about the kids having to attend a mainstream international school. They’ve just had their first report card and while the Bean is doing fairly well – the Brat is soaring high. We’ve never known how well they’re doing in India since their school didn’t do comparative marking. So we know that their education was good in India and that their fundamentals are strong. But most of all, the system was good and we’re not very happy with the competitive attitude being instilled in them in a mainstream school. And no, before you ask, we already did a thorough check – there are no alternative schools here.