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Soldier Island of Misogyny

It was evening and the air was anxious with precipitation. I was expecting rain. Being stranded under the porch of nearby shop. What I didnt realise was that I am going to walk into a game of misogyny rush( like minion rush).

I was sitting with a bunch of new acquaintances. There were drinks and awkward anecdotes doing rounds trying to loosen us enough to so that whatever we were pretending to be, could be more genuine. We tumbled into talking about relationships as if that isnt awkward at all. Very confidently I said, to date me the guy has to be a feminist. I was wrong to think that its a norm amongst people with a decent educational background. But being wrong wasn’t so much of a shock as the fact that it was considered appropriate to try to school me on my choices. I was busy counting my stars that I have had the privilege of being a feminist compared to this young man who probably didnt have access to proper education in his obsolete little town where women probably dont  have the freedom to step out of the house(the little bourgeois in me awakening). But little did I know that its the Soldier Island of Misogyny and I am about to be more stranded than what I had originally thought.

Well all men are trash and a man being aware of feminism is barely short of impossible. But I thought my pool of acquaintances would atleast have women who are empowered. But I came across the ‘Cool Girl’. I never really thought Gillian Flynn’s monologue would be like a horocrux of this agony. But yes intelligent women think its cool to be sexist and its painful to witness. Their fathers have bred them well I guess (note the sarcasm). They think they are cool being the bros without realising that they are being considered unworthy as they are. The Cool Girl is reduced to nothing more than the Pavlovian dog.

But I felt that perhaps its all just internalised misogyny and any actual incident would not go unfettered. But then there was the Stockholm Syndrome and it aint pretty. I witnessed a sexual abuse victim cajoling with her abuser. I didn’t know whether to be disgusted, alarmed or concerned. Hence I was all. Who fucked you up honey? I have met victims sexual abuse which was more violent and physically damaging. But I pitied this one the most because her ability to think were probably put in some tijori along with the dowry for her wedding.

So I stood up for the poor hapless child. But I was supposed to not indulge in personal grudges said some. If a woman is abused anywhere on the planet, its personal and the reason why you dont think so is also why someone else is going to decide who you are going to marry as well. It should ideally be more personal to you than to me.

But the worst feeling was to see another feminist be a misogynist. ”

“Why do you treat women a certain way and men another”, I asked? The women are horrible and have personally done horrible things to me. Even if it were true, why does the man get a discount on being a douche and not the woman? If any, the discount should go to woman as she has been brainwashed into accepting misogyny as a norm.

That nearly broke my heart. Its so easy to go back to our misogynous past. That even the most educated, aware of and committed to feminism  have hardly any chance to remain so. I thought of this friend of mine who was all for feminism but her voice used to get several tones softer when talking to men. She had absolutely no control over it. Thats how deep patriarchy runs.

As I mulled over these thoughts, my mind mirroring the dark clouds forming above me,  I was pushed roughly by a woman running to get into a standing train to the burbs. Irritated, I snapped, “If you cant catch a train, why don’t you just sit at home and cook.”

(hullo internalised misogyny)

And then there were none…

 

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Shh

Shh let’s not say it,

it hurts but why express it.

its killing me and you,

but the roads were different for our blues.

let’s not think it too hard,

because its not approved until its an Archies’ card.

 

Shh lets wipe off those tears,

it doesn’t matter, those years.

that my shoulder was once your home,

but suddenly its an abandoned zone.

Was my love not enough?

or his or his or ruff?

 

Shh stop it already,

lest it be known to the wary,

that its as absurd to me as them,

that you left me in absolute mayhem,

without a message or a note,

you left me with a tragic anecdote.

 

– For Vijoy

Aside
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We Sell Experiences

We sell experiences,

We sell love in a jar,

travel to places afar,

teach you to appreciate nuances,

surprises by the instant.

We sell experiences,

to people far and near,

strangers who suddenly become dear,

not afraid of the distance,

seamless, endless without hindrance.

We sell experiences,

taste food from lands unknown,

reap of what others have sown,

get service without the petulance,

without lifting a finger hence.

We sell experiences,

but prepare to be broken,

prepare to do things best left unspoken,

prepare to do the dance,

cannot avoid the askance.

We sell experiences,

Afraid, it’s not much of a choice,

and you would leave none the wise,

the effort on this appearance,

will make you want the interference.

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Ingredients of Comfort

That time between summer and fall. No I don’t mean monsoon.  Even after monsoon. There is this listlessness and emptiness about it. Everyone is either falling sick or in the process of recovery. We are just longing for that first fallen leaf of autumn, the first symbol of the end of the tyranny of summer. Funny how soon enough we would be waiting for spring and an escape from the harsh cold of winter. Oddly, we are always running from one oppressive reign to another. Our very own Stockholm syndrome. So while in the lull, we pretend. We pretend that the lackluster of our hair is just an issue with our diet. The backache is from working long hours and not because we have had those sleepless uncomfortable nights. Some of us take a hobby, inebriation seems like the latest fad. Basically any form of distraction from reality.

Food has always been my poison. On this listless and particularly depressing saturday morning, I armed myself with a ladle and pan. Butter, pasta, fresh beautiful vegetables and chicken ham. Whats not to love? Did I mention butter? Butttaaahh. Its not good for you they say. But the smell of butter melting in a pan has to be therapeutic. That sweet smell almost like pine trees on the mountain side. I automatically get a smile and a certain tint to my cheeks(few inches to my waist). that reminds me. Have you ever had butter on the hillside? It feels so light and comforting. Hence the logic that no food can be comfort food without butter in it.

I put that along with a beautiful creamy white sauce with some scotch whiskey(I was looking for white wine but i couldn’t reach it being the tiny person I am). I absolutely love putting alcohol in the food. It pretty much compliments every cuisine in one way or the other. Its like this magic potion. It brings softness and moisture while sharpening the flavours a tad bit.

In the end I had this bowl of comforting pasta which would remind you of your mum or grandmum even if they never made pasta. Comfort is a flavour we dont really have a finger on but we know when we have it that this is it. No matter how fancy we go, we are always going to crave for that tiny whiff of comfort. Even if comfort is a facade for oppression..

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Red

To all the strangers who have been the angels that I needed them to be

She was alternating between picking at her chili sauce noodles and fiddling with her grandmother’s ruby ring. Feeling so listless. Life seemed so aimless. She was tired of the same routine. It was wake up, get ready, go to work, come back, sleep and repeat. ‘Art classes or Dance lessons.Hmm’ she wondered. She tried calling an old girlfriend, Scarlet. No response as usual.

Giving up on her futile attempt to ‘shake up’ her life with Chinese food, she asked for the cheque. As she was settling her bill, she noticed a broad heavy set man. He had a thick beard while his head shone like polished marble floors. He seemed to have been observing her for a while. ‘How rude.’ she thought to herself. At that precise moment the man gave her a smile. ‘Pervert!’ she thought, decidedly appalled by the gesture. She hurriedly left the restaurant.

It was a clear night with stars lighting up the sky which had a tuscan hue. There was a slight nip in the air, she pulled her crimson coat closer. ‘Definitely not a night for my pretty dress.’she mumbled sadly wishing she had a date.

“Miss!”

She turned around and saw it was the same man from the restaurant and with the same creepy smile.
“Oh Dear! I shouldn’t have come to this lonely part of town so late. I am so stupid.” she reprimanded herself as she increased her pace to avoid the man. But the man’s longer limbs were closing in the gap between. He continued calling out still.

In her hurry, she turned into a lane and realised she had hit a dead end. She turned around and saw the man now walking towards. She had no escape.
‘Oh look at those big crazed eyes beneath those bushy eyebrows.’ she noticed, ‘And those crooked teeth!’
Feeling more and more desolate now she told herself, ‘Honey, you are done for. Look at those big paws, he is going to crush you.’ That’s when she noticed her red purse in his right paw(as she had called it).
“Miss that was some workout.” he said between pants. “Here you go.” he handed over her purse. Feeling embarrassed, she apologised for scooting off the way she did and thanked him for returning the purse.
He laughed heartily and said,”That’s alright. You remind me an awful lot like my kid sister. To be honest, she made me run quite a lot as well. Haha!”
She blushed.
“There must be some way for me to repay you for your kindness.” she implored.
“Yes! There is one way. Join my family and some friends for lunch this Sunday. Rossa, my wife makes amazing roast.”he answered.
She smiled.
They bid adieu. She reached home and when she happened to have a glance at the mirror, she made a mental note, ‘I like this red.’

Note: The author does not advice roaming around in lonely streets and befriending seemingly strange people.

4

Romancing the 60’s

Shalini woke up to excitement bubbling out of her.  It was the day. She jumped out of bed. She started her morning regimen. It wasn’t so different today as any other morning. Only more vigorous. She carefully dried her long wavy locks. It were more of a headache than an accessory to beauty for her. Yet, that is how Deepesh liked them. She brushed them carefully till they shined. Phew! now that is done. She lined her big round chestnut brown eyes brimming with anticipation. As usual her excitement got the better of her and she found a raccoon staring back at her from the mirror. She quickly fixed it and got ready. He is coming. He is coming He is coming!!!

It had been four years, more than excited, Shalini was scared. How is it going to be? Will it be the same? Would he even remember me?He had promised to send letters, but she hadn’t received any. The post is very unreliable Baba used to keep on saying to ma when she didima(grandmother)’s letters got delayed. Didma is only in Darjeeling. Deepesh on the other hand was in England. So the mail had a lot of places to get lost. But he was coming today. She had heard he was. How come his letters to his Baba and Ma never got delayed?

She wore her favourite lilac cotton saree. The softness of the lilac set off against the bright fury of her cheeks. She sneaked out before Baba and Ma could notice. They of course would have noticed the heavy noise as she pulled the Fiat 1100 out. She stepped on the gas and drove out for Dumdum airport.  it was a humid Saturday morning. Hawkers stood fanning themselves under the mercy of the trees lining the road. The drunken lovers of the alley were just waking up. As Shalini waited at the signal, she observed a slum boy and his dog playing, laughing, barking, totally oblivious of their own misery. As she passed the Saturday shoppers and retailers, she suddenly wondered whether it was just her or was there a strange hum going around in the city. Her heart was becoming louder than the Fiats engine as she neared the airport. Even the protesting Marxists seemed so much at peace.

She finally reached the airport. She must have parked oddly because a man getting out of his Imphala remarked,”Women driving. What is happening to this country?” Or he was just one of the many who did not like seeing women empowered. Usually Shalini would have a sharp retort for such people, but today, she wanted to be as graceful as possible and ignored him.

She straightened out the pleats of her saree and run her hand through her hair to look presentable. Soon she noticed Deepesh, with his thick short brown hair, deep-set dark eyes, his brows furrowed as they always used to and his neat mustache. She smiled to herself. It was like nothing had changed. Like when they were still in Presidency College arguing about Marx and Kant.

He hadn’t noticed her yet so she started moving towards him. He suddenly stopped and turned around and extended his arm. A pretty girl in trousers and a jacket took his extended arm and he pulled her towards him. Shalini stopped in her tracks. The girl seemed bengali with her soft features and beautiful dark hair, but something indicated that she was not from here. Shalini suddenly became aware of cool tears trickling down her warm cheeks. She turned around and started slowly walking back to the car. Her face now would be traced with tears and kohl, she thought. She revved up the car, trying to drown the voices inside. The strong independent woman in her that she had so lightly brushed of a few minutes ago was suddenly crumbling all around. She suddenly felt like being carried to bed as Baba used to do when she was little and she slept off on the divan. She took a deep sigh and pulled herself together and started pulling out from the airport. She drove back through the same streets. The hum was definitely melancholic this time. It was just her. He was gone.

After a bit of driving rashly, Shalini felt a little better. But only little.

She got home. Ma had made some shorshe batar jhaal ( fish with chilli and mustard) and rice. There was Chomchom(coconut flaked milk based sweet dish) and mishti doi ( sweet curd) for dessert. That made her feel much better. She smiled a sad smile. Although she had a million questions and accusations for Deepesh, she knew that it was going to be alright. But not tonight. She held her long hair in one hand stretched as she ran the scissors through them.  She sighed. That’s one headache less.

1

The Floating Mountains

It was not a good idea to wear shorts. The brambles and the prickly thicket did not care much for preteen fashion. We were climbing up a random hill in Renuka, Himachal Pradesh around ten years ago and thorns were making themselves comfortable with my skin. When we had left the guest house(the only one in that area at that time), I felt quite dapper in my navy blue t-shirt and khaki shorts. I felt like an explorer. Indiana Jones probably smiling under his Fedora. But then as we set out towards the trail that we were supposed to be taking, we noticed a village lad climbing up a path. We took this road less traveled.

Ten minutes into this expedition and the slippery sheath and prickly bushes made me lose the Indiana Jones in me and turn into Fredo Corleone from Godfather II. The trail was steep and difficult especially if you are often associated with a cow, pig or any such being not known to lithe. Soon we reached this young lad who had stopped at a clearing, turned out he was as young as the mountain. The life of a hillbilly can do wonders for your waist and skin (as long as you learn to avoid the thorns).

I kept whining as we moved further up against the recommendations of the not so young lad. The closest interpretation of what he said in Pahari would be, “You are too fat for this trail.” I didn’t even need this discouragement. The heat and the thorns had done their business.

We did reach the top but I felt that I had no energy to enjoy the view which was indeed amazing. So I sat there with a grumpy face. All I could think was about the way back. I took a deep breath as we started our climb down.

We came across a village school which had just been let out. A young school teacher came out and was leaving for home. He looked like he was in his 20’s. But looks can be deceiving in the hills. He was wearing a crisp white shirt with navy blue checks and ink blue trousers. His hair oiled and set to perfection. He had kind eyes and a kind smile to match underneath his thin neat mustache. These features are quite common in Himachal. He asked us if we were headed to the town and if so if he may join us.  We gladly obliged. I have a feeling my parents themselves had no clue of the way back.

I don’t remember how Mr. Prim Mustache ( what I decided to call him) made me feel absolutely at ease and extremely chatty. It seemed like a blink of an eye and we had reached at the foothills. I wasn’t tired. Instead I felt charged up. I saw my parents were still huffing and puffing their way down ( the first and only time I beat them in a trek). We parted ways with Mr. Prim and went to Renuka lake after which the town has been named. As I dipped my feet in the mystic waters of the lake, tens of fish came teeming to my feet. It was as if they were kissing a welcome to my feet.

Strangers are always advised against but this tiny hamlet was all about the Indian phrase – “Athithhi Devo Bhavva” ( Guests are God). From the village school teacher to the fish, Renuka is all about hospitality.
Renuka also made me ponder on negativity and positivism. Was there any? Is there a depletion of resources or just a transformation? Maybe it is not about yin and yang, but the void in between. Maybe utopia need not be created as it already exists shrouded by the yin and yang of our perception. There is no end to capabilities, it is merely veiled by the limits of our motivation. The veil may be made of iron or lace depending on the level of motivation, perseverance and dedication one has. The mystical connotation to luck boils down to the permutation of certain hard to measure parameters.

The villagers say that the hills of Renuka are actually floating on the lake and not encircling it. Maybe we should just keep the magic alive. Let the illusion find its reality.

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