An Illegal Citizen’s Letter to Her Teenage Self

I seldom read letters people write to their younger selves. Part of it is because they are something of a fad, and I have an innate aversion to faddish things. (I’m a secret stern-faced fuddy-duddy.) But mostly it is because letters are private things, and reading one not meant for me would probably make me feel like I am stealthily tracking mud through someone’s delicate Persian and porcelain.

However, yesterday, I read a very, very powerful letter written by a young person to her even younger self. I am a tiny part of this letter, but that is not why it felt so wonderful to read it. In fact, I have almost nothing to do with the letter. It is all about her strength, her vulnerability, her acceptance of how she was made, the battles she fought because of it, and the recent loss of her legal identity. And it is about finding happiness, despite it all.

Read the full letter here. It’ll be a wonderful read, and you might just find yourself between the lines. TBelow is an excerpt that is especially special to me, because it touches upon JUDE, the place where our lives intersected. In that time, it was a magical place. You’ll see why.

Dear Rhea,

You will be happy. First know that. You will be happy for three years in JU, which you will feel is home the first time you walk in.

You will read many books and learn many things. You will be taught King Arthur in the original and Beowulf, and Iliad by one of the best men you will ever meet. You will learn how to be friends with people, how to sit down on a patch of grass or a stone step and talk for hours about everything and nothing. The girl you love will break your heart and you will miss her like a wound, but you will be happy.

You will have friends and books and coffee and ridiculous conversations and long walks that will end in you getting very decisively lost. You will get a camera and realise that photography is a sort of solace. Years later you will watch a film and recognise yourself in a scrap of behaviour and the knowledge that others, too, use a camera to create distance will come as a relief.

You will be taught the ethics of photography by the man who will first teach you the Iliad, and Aristotle, and Plato, and then later the ethics of feudalism, and as he tells you that photography has to be an ethical practice, the girl sitting beside you will sneak a photograph of him surreptitiously on her phone.

You shall write and run a magazine and watch films and read comics for a test and your sister will look resentful and your parents confused. You shall have fun studying for the first time in your life and you will have friends.

You will be happy. First know that. Only know that. You are loved and trusted and depended upon, but the knowledge is yet to come to you; you will know it when you can bear the weight of it. For now, know only that you will be happy.

–Rhea

Lost Metres of Childhood

We were playing an intense game of catching squash at home this evening (and having a jolly old time of it), when it suddenly occurred to me that little pleasures like these – randomly throwing a ball at the wall and catching it, tripping siblings down the stairs, pretending to be an aeroplane and zooming about the neighbourhood field – have gone straight out of our small-flat-in-big-city lifestyles. A great many people my parents generation managed to mature and prosper in the locales of their birth, their children playing similar games in similar lanes and almost re-living similar lives. Most of us, on the other hand, have been evicted from the lands of our childhood without moving an inch, because the place we call home have changed almost beyond recognition. Gone are the fallow fields, the ponds, the little clump of woods, the birds and foxes and badgers and rodents. And the broken stone-lined roads, the slippery alleys, dull white tubelights matted with dust, ramshackle tin buses, and powercuts thrice a day.

And with it has disappeared the cache of aphorisms and nursery rhymes we used to carry in our heads, and use in conversations ever so often. No one really does that any more (except the occasional cliché-ridden journalist or internet debater). I’m actually rather good at aphorisms, both in English and Bangla. But my stock of nursery rhymes have been eaten away by years of neglect and grown-up living in these brisk, abrupt, prosaic times. Pooling our resources, my husband and I could come up with only a very tiny number of these, even though both of us had read reams of the stuff in our cuter days. Here are the ones we could recall: noton noton pairaguli joton bNedhechhe; laal jhuti kakatua dhorechhe je baina; khoka ghumalo para juralo, borgi elo deshe; khokhon gaechhe machh dhorte, kheer nodir kuule.

Are there any more you could add to this list? We’d be ever so delighted. We’re especially keen on rhymes with khuki (little girl) in it, since all the adventures are always had by khoka (little boy). It’s khukis who chanted these “chhawras” gleefully generation after generation, memorised them, and passed them dutifully on to their sons and daughters… yet do you see a trace of them in the narrative? No. Indeed, the only presence I remember khukis having is via media, in the rhyme about the whiny cockatoo. Vain cockatoo wants a comb and a mirror, and raises a right to-do about it, whining and whinging. Not only is its wish not fulfilled, however, it is also promptly told that no one’s wants mischievous children [so it had better shut up and behave]. I’d take that at face value, but it never seems to apply to khoka, who gets up to whatever he wishes, and still gets to be the apple of the folk poets’ eyes.

“Khukir Shompotti”, by Jasimuddin

Genius Limericks for “Young Ladies”

My friend Monidipa has written five brilliant limericks illustrating and protesting the state of women in general and queer women in particular after the Supreme Court of India decided last week to keep Section 377 on the books for now. Section 377, for the uninitiated, was penned by young master Macaulay, and criminalised all intercourse that was against the nature of man, woman or beasts. In other words, he criminalised not-heterosexual intercourse amongst humans, and all cross-species congress, gender notwithstanding.

In an interesting aside – and a commentary on mass ignorance – people lauding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a colonial law think they’re “protecting Indian culture”, when ancient Hindu texts, of course, records ample instances of queerness, including the carefully-worded description of the relationship between Lord Krishna and his friend Sudama, the cross-dressing warrior Shikhandi, the king who was pregnant, and the life of the great masculine hero Arjun of the Mahabharata, who spent ten years in drag, earning his living as a dance and music instructor.

But here are the lyrics, the lovely little gems you’re here for. I’m quoting them in the order I prefer reading, saving the best for the last.

There was a young lady called Son
Whose parents had but only one
Offspring – not male;
Inconsequential detail;
They thought she was lesser to none.

God bless those parents – my parents, in fact. The “culture” of son-preference is a poison that goes far beyond the insidious idea of choice, and results in thousand of foeticide and infanticide the world over. It doesn’t help when we read reports of first-world parents preferring daughters over sons, because little girls are more docile and obedient and easier to “handle”. 

There was a young lady called Mister
Who might have been somebody’s sister,
Girlfriend or wife,
But she chose her own life,
So all of the people dismissed her.

Where have we faced that before? Right. ‘most everywhere.

There was a young lady called Dude
Whom boys at the school found so lewd
They ripped up her skirt,
Smashed her face in the dirt
And advised her not to be rude.

This has become so normalised that for a fraction of a second, the irony didn’t sink in. That’s right, even for someone who has faced violence for looking at a man straight in the eyes. That’s hegemony for you… thankfully just for a second.

“There was a young lady called Sir.
We heard from her angry neighbour
That she had been cravin’
Some three seventy-seven.
We closed in before she could stir…”

Think of this as a report from the local police, dedicated to keeping you safe. Unless, that is, you want to live outside the books of anachronistic sexual propriety.

And finally, my favourite, and a damned statement of existence for so many people, pushed to the margins and living through it all, because hope is brave like that.

There is a young lady called Man
Who will hold out longer than your ban.
She has stared at the face
Of your curse and your grace –
You have done to her all that you can.

Stench of the Uniform, #2

This is a remembrance special for Human Rights Day 2013, to show how safe and happy we are in the world’s largest democracy.

*****

Right, so I promised victims of similar violence I’d write about my run-in with the cops while working on this. It wasn’t anything major, and apart from brief moments of panic and a dull throb of helpless rage for about half an hour after, my colleague and I played it pretty cool, I think. So it was about two thirty in the morning, and ‘our’ car (the smaller car, usually an Ambassador or a Maruti, for the only two performers who lived in north Calcutta) had just dropped me off at my apartment gate and was starting up to turn 180 degrees and go out of the lane my house is on when this patrol car pulls up in front of it, a bunch of uniforms get out and block the way. I was still climbing the stairs when A, my colleague, called me. “Hey, the cops are not letting us go, could you get your dad down here to clear the matter up?”

“Sure”, I said, and ran up to our apartment, to see both my parents in the balcony, looking down. “I’m going down to sort it out”, I told them, dumping my bag but grabbing my purse which had my ids.

“No, don’t! Cops…” began my mother instinctively, but stopped herself mid-sentence. “No, I mean, wait for Daddy to put on a shirt and go with him…”. I was already on the second staircase down.

Now, the one thing I should mention here that because we had the entire floor to ourselves and didn’t have anyone watching us, none of us bothered to ‘dress for work’, as it were. We mostly went without even basic jewellery, wearing chappals and jootis, an old skirt that hadn’t been worn in three years, bermudas, faded tees, track pants and a top with frayed hems and in one desperately yechhy case, the same bleeding outfit for three months (I remember Sue describing this person to her friend as ‘a white zombie warmed up in the microwave’). So that particular evening, I was wearing a long skirt that can be comfortably gathered around if the AC was too cold with a blue peasant top of thin cotton, and A was wearing a halter top with pink track pants. These details are important, so keep them in mind.

Right, so she was already out of the car by the time I was down again, arguing with the cops. The driver sidled up to me. “Please medam, West Bengal Police hai, aap please kuchh mat boliye, who medam to baat nahin sun rahi hai… West Bengal Police bohot denger hai medam…aap thanda kijiye unhe…” (“Please madam, this is the West Bengal Police, don’t get into an argument with them, the other lady isn’t listening to me…West Bengal Police is big trouble, they’re dangerous, please calm them down…” and here I might as well add that the general local consensus in my neighbourhood is that if you’re in trouble, stay away from the WBP. They’ll make it ten times worse and convince you that you deserve it.

The last phrase of calming the police down did make me think fleetingly of what the driver was hinting I should do, but only fleetingly, because one policeman planted himself in front of me suddenly, and demanded to see my ID. I had my university id card, but A didn’t have a photo id. Anyway, they barely glanced at mine. What they did do was confiscate it. The sub-inspector who took my ID casually bent his head, leaned inside the patrol jeep, and put my ID card o the dashboard, out of my reach. A definite threat.

“So, your id?” he asked me idly, like this little episode of card-snatching hadn’t happened.

“The one you kept there, you mean?” I asked, calmly pointing.

He didn’t even look in the direction. “Let’s see the id, then”, he drawled in Bengali, holding a hand out. “So that’s your game”, I thought. And all thought of making nice left my head. Between the two of us, A is a bit of self-styled desperado, and while it hardly ever shows, I’m trouble too. And I detest bullies.

“Come on!” snapped the man, impatient.

Just then, my dad made his appearance, stage left. “Ki hochhe?” he asked. What’s going on?

“He’s playing cat and mouse with us, he thinks.” I drawled, deliberately in English. I do excellent arrogant drawls. Wrong move, you say? Well, yeah, in a manner of speaking, but you cannot be prudent all the time. It was a quarter to three, we were bone tired, hungry and sleepy and five sordidly unattractive men who wanted our money were checking us out, lingering on my breasts and A’s belly button. Apart from everything else, there’s a wrongness of principle in leering at women you intend to extort.

“Who’re you?” asked the sub-inspector rudely, clearly not happy to have an adult male in the happy company. Young unescorted women dressed ‘inappropriately’ at three in the morning – I imagine he thought his walkover game was about to be interrupted.

“My father.” I said, not removing my eyes from his face. “My id card.” I held out my hand. He chose ignored that.

“Daughter?” he asked, with as much disbelief and scorn as he could put in a word. “Really?”

“Yes”, said my amiable dad. “What’s your problem exactly?”

“Let’s see your id.”

“It’s upstairs”, said my dad, indecisively, looking up at my mother in our balcony looking anxiously down.

“Fine, let’s go upstairs.” Said the bastard, making a gesture of movement.

“Absolutely not.” I cut in. “I’m not letting a sub-inspector without official documents to come anywhere near my house. The question doesn’t arise. And I’d like my ID.” I grinned nastily. “Please.”

The guy looked like he’d refuse, but then he reached in and brought out my ID card. I jerked it out of his fingers and stuffed it in my purse.

“Right, so, sir, how long are you planning on keeping me here?” yawned A. “We actually have work to do, so I need to go home and sleep.”

“Yeah, sure,” said the cop. “I suppose your kind of work is rather tiring, coming home this late at night…”. Applause, ladies and gentlemen, for the wit in the house.

Meanwhile, our project coordinator was in Goa on holiday, phones of other important numbers were all switched off, so finally, I got another colleague – male—on the phone, instructing him to act like he was the project coordinator. It didn’t work, of course. Because nothing was meant to. We were accused of being prostitues, basically (there was this extremely tiresome verbal speed-volley where the cop just shot off questions at Daddy, Aditi and me – “who’s she?” “who’s he?” “how do you know he’s her father” “how do know she’s your daughter?” “what if she isn’t your OWN daughter?” – yeah, the last two were asked, and the former was asked thrice), either coming home or arriving at a client’s place, and of course our quaking driver was our pimp, and therefore the it’s the righteous cops’ RIGHT to bleed us dry and fuck us in the bargain, if they can. Or gang rape, if he and his ‘patrol’ were into that sort of thing. A nice little warm up on a winter’s night.

Finally, my mum couldn’t take it any more. She called me on my mobile. “Tell them I work for SR”, she said. “Let’s see how they deal with that.”

I did. Not outright, of course. The cops were anyway getting edgy, since apart from yawning in their faces, we showed no signs of cowering, or more importantly, parting with our cash. So, suddenly galvanized, the sub-inspector called the three constables – all stinking of strong country liquor – and asked them to “get these ‘madams’ in the jeep”.

“I’d like to see you try”. Said A, bristling. “Touch us, and you won’t…”

“One minute”, I said. Turning to my dad, I said, “So, since there seems to be no way out…let me call SR, then…” Daddy picked up the hint. “Yeah, wait, even better…I have AN’s direct number…”

Now, as smart readers have figured out, AN, who is SR’s relative, is the local rep of the ruling party in the state. The cops are his lapdogs and part of his election machinery. And local elections of some sort were either coming up or just over. The iron was still hot.

The rest, they say, is the tale of a tail securely inside the crack of a cop’s arse. The guy went from suspicious to full of futile rage to leering threats of “these girls come to us sooner or later…we’ll pick you up some other night” and slamming their jeep door shut.

“A,” I said loudly, “get in the car and get out of this jurisdiction. We’ll keep them here for a while. And don’t hesitate to call if…”

“Sure” Said A. “See you tomorrow. Oh, sir, we’ll be coming home at around this time, perhaps later, tomorrow. You’ll be on duty, perhaps? See you then.”

I leaned on the jeep’s bonnet, setting the alarm in my phone for the next afternoon, when I’d get up and bathe and eat hastily and leave for work.

“Is this the decent time for women to come home at night?” said the now-petulant cop. “If you didn’t mention AN, I swear (here he looked at me with malicious yearning) I’d have picked them up for the night. For the police station, you know.” And he smiled a lecherous, yucky smile and deliberately, it seemed to me, licked his lips.

By then A’s car had a five or seven minute head start, so we – my father and I – walked in to our building and climbed up to our apartment. The jeep revved a couple of times, then the cops were gone.

Should I tell you the truth, though? Beneath all that cold contempt and all that cockiness, I was terrified. Had we not had AN’s name to toss about, what would have happened to us, do you think?

HuffPost Lauds Man For Telling Woman to Eat His Dick

Yes, it’s a bit hard to believe, what with the indie pro-oppressed groups rep HuffPost has build for itself. But this is how it promotes its story about Elan – a chap who allegedly produces the shows Bachelor and Bachelorette – antagonising an irate woman during a flight, invading her personal space multiple times, and when she retaliates with a slap, tells her to eat his dick. He has since called upon his Twitter fans and fellow-cunts to tell people like this woman to eat their dicks. From this I presume he’s talking only to the male of the repulsive and hopefully small community.

Was the woman – a Diane – a nice person? Hell no. She was one of those who complain incessantly about the inevitable, magnifying their own problem to such an extent that there is no room in their heads to accommodate the rest of the world. Of course, our only access to any info on Diane and indeed the whole incident is from Elan’s testimony, and as we’ve established before, he’s something of an immature cunt, so one can’t quite take his word for the absolute truth. But let us assume this happened, and he was at least right about the fact that when an attendant tried to sympathise with her Thanksgiving flight delays by saying he was being kept away from his family too, she said, “This is not about you”. Had a fellow passenger reminded her politely but firmly, that the staff was suffering just as she was suffering, and they had to work through it in the bargain, I’d be all for them. It’s very difficult to tolerate entitled people throwing fits at other people compelled by the wage and social hierarchy to smile politely and put up with them. It shows a flash of the ugly, selfish underbelly of humanity that makes the bile rise.

On the other hand, the woman could have been ill, in the middle of an emergency, of an anxious disposition, or not capable of dealing with changes to schedule due to a differently tuned mind. Let us also assume, for Elan’s benefit, that she was not any of these things.

Which in no way excuses what he did to harass her all throughout her flight. After his Twitter updates, which were fine and dandy and richly deserved by someone who was being mean to service staff. Then he started sending her successive little notes, boasting later that he enjoyed goading her immensely, and had wine delivered to her with the comment “Hopefully if you drink it, your mouth won’t be able to talk”. After that, when Diane retorted via a note of her own that he had no compassion, he tried to have two little bottles of vodka delivered to her, and when the attendant refused, walked past her, leaning into her personal space to drop them onto her table. He then recorded the sort of thrill and fear this act brought to him, not unlike the excitement of a truant child who throws a rock through a neighbour’s window.

By Elan’s own admission, she was seeking help for this harassment. “She is pressing the call button a lot”, he reports, after his harassment first began to escalate. Then she wrote him a second note, asking him to stop interfering with her and threatening to involve the authorities. Probably realising how little support she would receive from any kind of authority, Elan disregarded her completely. Finally, at the point of exit for this flight, she walked up to him and slapped him for what must have been a horrible flight for her. And then what happened? Well, of course the guard at the point immediately restrained her, and urged Elan twice to call the cops on her.

The thing about her violence is this. Supposedly an entire long flight of harassment across the United States – during which she was supposedly extended no support, because Elan gloats that the male attendant “making a ‘let’s just pretend this never happened’ face” at him, and “shaking his head a lot” – because the woman was annoying and dismissive of the service staff. This is unbelievably out of proportion with her offence, and a terrible retaliation besides, because it does nothing to make the woman realise how awful she has been and inspire her to make amends, but instead fuels her belief that the universe is conspiring to mess with her. In return for the absurd harassment and emotional assault on her, Elan gets a slap in the face. Given his idea of vengeance, I’d say it was perfectly in proportion.

But because of his jackassery, someone who was just an irksome person escalated to becoming a potential jail-bird for at least a few hours, while he, the agent of this change, gets away scot-free, admitting his delight with himself and being lauded on media. And lauded on media is right, for the promotion of this piece on HuffPost’s side bar is this: “LOOK: Annoying Airplane Passenger Got Exactly What She Deserved”.

He later says, apparently, that it was class solidarity that made me him do it, because he had had low-level jobs and suffered women like Diane himself. It’s a pretty excuse, that completely doesn’t hold. First, as we said, he didn’t say a single thing to make Diane aware of her entitlement or rudeness, instead escalating the matter till violence erupted. Second, if anything, the incident shifted attention completely from a classist slight to a provocative harassing ‘prank’, and the self-adulatory playing-to-the-gallery on Twitter. If social justice was somehow served in the process, it has passed completely under my radar.

In short, on the day America unwittingly celebrates the massacre of its first people, Elan and fans of his little vigilante escapade can proudly add institutionalised immaturity misogyny to the list.

Girly Power in Book Week Scotland 2013 Quiz

This quiz has been doing the rounds on my social media circles the last few days – a book personality test released for Book Week Scotland, 2013 (take it here). The root may or may not be true – I’ve learnt not to trust much of what circulates via a quick “like” or “share” – but hell, it’s a booklovers’ quiz, so I thought I’d take it anyway. And hey! Look! A bot with simple checkbox algorithm thinks I am Aragorn! Whoopee-dee!

With your decisive and fast-paced approach, you are an asset to any team or rabble of hobbits. Your personality is quite unique with your rare blend of self-drive, assertiveness, confidence and competitiveness.

Like Aragorn, your ability to see the big picture and strategise while directing and motivating others make you a natural leader even if you don’t feel ready for it. At your worst you may judge others harshly and not consider the emotional impact of your decisions, but your slighted followers will soon feel inspired again by your actions.

Queue up to the left, buddy. I’m recruiting an army! And then we’ll go on an adventure!

Here’s the interesting thing though. I only got Aragon because I am a canny little liar, and chose “male” as my gender at the beginning of the quiz. Because I knew, just knew, that a personality matching quiz which asks for your gender (and limits it to two choices) is going to sort your results by it. Which is to say, you’re not going to get the fictional character you’re superficially closest to, but the one you’re superficially closest to that matches your gender. And that which exists in their Anglo-centric archive, of course. And I was right, for when I took the test as a female person, my result was Batgirl. No just a lot less sword-swinging cool than Aragorn, but also less definitive, as is the fate of many side-kicks (and some heroes, like the Green Lantern) in the comicverse.

I mean, look at her arc. First, she’s Betty Kane, aspiring to be all wannabe crime-fighter, the better to snare herself Robin while Aunty Kathy ensnares Batman with the “similar interests” hook. In her next avatar, Batgirl is Miss Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. This is a more “empowered” version of the character – she stands up to an authoritarian Batman when he tells her to quit ’cause she’s a girl – but is still essentially his female version. In real life, she has a PhD in library science – the lords pinch me awake – and after a successful stint at an enormous and prestigious library, moves onto the House of Reps. Quite the achievement, but declined decidedly male, especially in the US. And then in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, she’s shot in the spine and becomes wheelchair-bound. Good work that, Alan, Mr. Anti-establishmentMoore. The token powerful chick gets it first. How very revolutionary and anti status quo.

Also, look at the language that the Scotland Book Week people, who doubtless love Batgirl and mean well, use to describe her. In contrast to Aragorn, who may have leadership thrust upon him even if he feels unready, because he is such a charismatic visionary, Batgirl is a natural leader because of her “competitive nature and fast-paced, decisive approach” which “programmed [her] to excel and succeed”. Somehow, that’s a lot less endearing – and humane – than a charismatic team-player who becomes leader by popular choice. He is solid stuff, while her words have the feel of a pushy, ruthless automaton. And they’re both fine things to be, except it’s sort or irksome to be made to feel so different about the exact same qualities with a tiny switch of gender. And that’s not even counting the cincher, which goes: “Friends and colleagues may find you over-bearing and aggressive. You’re programmed to excel and succeed and may ignore the emotional impact of your decisions. However, you’re Batgirl – enough said”. No fluff about slighted followers being re-inspired by her actions. It’s all take it or leave it, her way or the highway, cry in your own time you little wimp, bang bang!.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that this narrative of a successful female person – be she a politician or a librarian with a doctorate – is really a patriarchal appropriation of female empowerment simply because it feels like a man has simply been taken out of the story and a woman inserted in it… a slightly dehumanised and unlikable woman, because the people putting her in the story were not quite sure how to depict power and success in a female. Well, I suppose I am suggesting that. But what I’m suggesting more than that is that canon being as patriarchal as it is, and our current paradigms of behaviour being a little less gendered than that, perhaps a forward-thinking school of bibliophiles shouldn’t predicate their fun little personality tests on gender, and if they absolutely must, include a little footnote that says “Sorry the female characters are generally a lot less bitchin’ than the male. History made it that way… but we’re working on changing it!”

As Arthur Dent discovered all those years back, or forward, it does a body good to be said sorry to, even when said body has been dipped in a sodding mess, and left marinating there.

Plus, and this one’s for readers and writers both – folks who each hold up half the bookworld sky – it would be nice if awesomeness in fiction came packaged female too, and queer and trans and in some way disabled, instead of almost uniformly heterosexual majority-male. It might help people decide who they are like, or more importantly, who they’d like to be, based on the actual personalities, and not a little gender matchy-matchy. Of course, a girl might wish to emulate her fictional make hero’s distance-pissing skills and fail miserably for lack of appropriate appendage, but the point is that she at least try, and not be discouraged from such attempts by the idea of a lack. It shouldn’t be hard. After all, people like me abound – female and minority and abuse-survivor and mentally a little dented. I’ve met tonnes of them, and plenty other sorts besides. But alas, we seem to have passed most published authors completely by, for books about us are still the sub-genres, never the canonised mainstream.

Which is not to say boy-books are bad. Boy-books are great! I grew up on boy tales, although mostly because there were very few girl tales, or all-of-us-in-it-together tales, and it was wonderful to read about the exploits of interesting and quirky male central characters, weak and strong. Partly because I people like that in real life. I could totally relate. But all around me I also saw interesting women and girls, and occasionally the “different” boys and “different” girls, and yet they were nowhere to be seen in the books and comics and shows I had my head perpetually in.

And this was a problem, because it sort of warped my sense of reality for a bit. Never seeing these people acknowledged in books and television, or hearing their “oddities” talked about, I began to believe that they must be a little bit made up. Especially those bits that didn’t fit. This was ignorant and sad, but also sort of inevitable. After all, I encountered television and my books every day. I didn’t encounter difference all that often. Indeed, while I thought of my temporary lack of curiosity unfortunate, I realise now that there was a much more dangerous undercurrent to most of social encounters with difference. For those clearly at a disadvantage, such as the physically challenged, there was merely some malicious teasing, and some casual pity. For others, though, especially the gender queer and “uppity women”, there was a sentiment that the desire to be deliberately different shows disruptive intent, and disruptive intent must be quelled. For the greater good.

Let us take a minute to reflect upon where such sentiments might lead.

So, in conclusion, and returning to the matter of an otherwise inconsequential little quiz at hand, let us quickly summarise why the most ordinary and harmless things get my goat every now and then. One, because they’re indexes for a society so resistant to change that in its production of culture, it remains stubbornly, hysterically stereotypical, and blind to a diverse reality. That sort of thing gives people ideas, you know, because versions of reality in productions of culture are so much more attractive than the messy, non-conformist, discomfiting really-real world. And those sorts of ideas running about unchecked can produce the kind of ideas-blitz that leave ALL of us knee-deep in things a lot less abstract. It’s not pleasant. And two: as sensible (and rare) as a desire to have universally clean knees is, inclusionary cultural production shouldn’t stem from just that. It should stem from a genuine desire to be nice to people. I’m quite the snarling hell-hound sometimes you know, when I’m provoked and such, but generally, I absolutely thrive in being lovely and helpful, because it makes people relax and be sweet and helpful back, and where’d we be without self-affirmation and sunny good cheer in these days of poverty, drudgery and being tossed to the wolves? Dosed-up and gritty-teeth and road-ragey, that’s where. So the next time you see a person you want to instinctively smile politely and move on from, perhaps try a social contact? A little warmth and friendship? And then when you’ve known hir well enough, write a book about their special view of the world. It’s very likely you’ll make dozens of people clasp it to their chest and say, “Damn, that person’s just like me… finally!”

For Estranged Mothers on Middle-aged Dates

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Yesterday at dinner, we were sitting next to a couple in obvious dating mode… and that was quite unusual, since this is India, and the couple were in their late 30s or early 40s. The woman, it transpired, had two sons in Dubai, living with her former husband, a native of the land. She had been denied custody because, among other things, she decided to move back home after the divorce. Now, I can’t quite imagine myself a parent, but if I did have children, I wonder how I would have felt, living in a different country and unable to visit or see them for legal fucking reasons. Certainly, life as a single person is easier than life as a single mother, but would I be able to hold back from leading a doomed revolution for legal reform?
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When I posted this on Facebook, people quite reasonably asked if this case was perhaps not an exception, since custody was usually loaded heavily in the mother’s favour, and even if it wasn’t, there would certainly be visitation.  Now, this is certainly true. Not in the case of extremely patriarchal theocratic states, perhaps, but more generally. However, first, should one overlook individual cases of forced separation because they’re unimportant blips on the statistics radar? I think not. Most people who have cared for children in a parental capacity – even those who are not biologically related to said children, just so we’re clear – would, I imagine, be teeth and claws if someone told them dismissively their trauma didn’t matter in the bigger picture, because they were statistical outliers.
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Second, if one accepts that custody disputes usually favour the mother – and one must – one also accepts that it is biased against the father. Why? Well, one would say, because we’re socialised to think of mothers (and grandmothers, and aunties and older sisters, and female cousins) as the primary care-givers, and in a debate, would instinctively hand over the child to the female and the bill for its upkeep to the male. And “instincts” are not about to change unless there’s a social upheaval, and we become passably all right with gentlemen nurturing the fruit of their loins while also earning the bread, the way single mothers do (and let’s keep in mind that some of their estranged partners drift away without child support, too).
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But what then, though? At least now, women are socialised to want to be the primary care-givers, while men accept that visits and financial payments are probably a more practical solution for them. If we manage to uproot this gendered tendency, won’t we have even longer custody battles, even more scarred children, and even more hurt all around? With both parents being equally invested in primary parenting, and neither being encouraged to just weekend with the kids, people might just start wishing for the old ’50s model.
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Kidding. No one with self-respect wishes for the old ’50s model.
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But here we are then, in a world which disapproves of single fathers and intensely scrutinises all mothers, listening to a woman desperate for the children she was torn away from her by law and vengeful intent, trying to find a niche of love for herself in a society that looks down upon divorced women, doesn’t yet acknowledge mid-life dater, and treats estranged mothers as an abomination.
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Now you tell me if that isn’t tragedy wrapped in hope, on a bed of courage and defiance.
In the comments below are responses to my Facebook post about the encounter.

Woman’s Face Smashed With Beer Bottle at Posh Market

That’s India’s capital city for you. Or, let’s be honest, that’s India for you.

Here’s the news:

KhanMktAttack

Went out with her husband and EIGHT other relatives, and still had five ‘youths’ smash a beer bottle into her face and then successfully run away. Why? Because she protested against their ‘lewd’ verbal assault of her. Had I been the woman, I’d have turned around and smashed the faces of every craven bitch who sit back and watch this sort of thing, then congratulate each other on having the ‘civility’ to stay out of it.

As I told my local friends via Facebook, you’d better protest if you ever see me being harassed, people. Or pray that the vultures get me completely. Because if I survive the assault, I am going to come after you, come after you bleeding and studded with shattered glass and iron rods.

And it won’t be pretty.

Take the easier route. Stand up to bullies. Stand up for each other. Stand up for your own bloody safety.

 

Hello, Tigress

As you may have heard, Bengali women are occasionally referred to as tigresses. This may be because of our relative proximity to the Royal Bengal big-cats desperately clinging to existence in the Sunderbans, but I suspect it is rather more because of our famed temper and tongue. Bengalis may be patriarchal to their driest bones, but their women are a far cry from the standard-issue third-world stereotype — veiled, quiet and submissive.

Ka-ching!

So, last Saturday, out in the scorching sun visiting my tailor,  my foot caught a wooden stool left on the footpath by street vendors. I stumbled magnificently. Upbringing kicked in at the same time as pain, however, and I fulsomely apologised to the vendor for having hurt my foot on his carelessly-strewn property.

The vendor took the apology a little too literally. He and his five nearest neighbours promptly surrounded me, and began ripping me to pieces, asking me to shut my mouth and watch where I went. Opinions about fancy airheads who thought they owned the world were floated, and two male customers informed the vendors that they were too lenient with such uppity females.

This, as you can imagine, left me with only one course of sensible action. I picked up the stool, walked till I came to a gap between vendors, and smashed it on the ground. It broke into four unequal pieces. Then I sauntered calmly down the length of the footpath, to a flatteringly astonished silence.

What can I say, I have a temper. Everything you’ve heard about Bengali tigresses are occasionally true.

The Perils of Biology

Friend to me: Biology is ruining my marriage.
I to f: Whut?
F, distinctly: Biology. Is ruining. My marriage.
I, with a touch of asperity: By ‘whut’ I mean, ‘I’m amazed. Please explain’.
F, with a deep sigh: I’m stronger. I have a far higher pain threshold. I’m laid-back, easily adaptible and take orders better. On top of that, I’d *love* to do it — I wouldn’t be scared or anything, I’d revel in it!
I, sternly: Darling. To repeat myself, ‘whut?’.
F, impatiently: *I* should be the one having our babies. Not her, poor thing. And I’m not letting her do it, either, not with such nervousness  But had it been me being preggers… Rims, I tell you, we’d be doing it like a shot!
I, gently: But sweetheart, you’re a man.
F: I know! I *said* biology was messing up my marriage, didn’t I?

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