What I Want

I want to spend the day weaving words with you. I don’t care if they are gigantic words like “procrastinate” or tiny ones like “too”. I don’t care if they are long sentences or empty and incomplete phrases. We must weave words together. Words sprayed randomly across pages in different colours and moods. 

I want to hear the gossip at your workplace. I have bored you enough with my work stories; I now desire to hear yours. Who is pregnant? Who is dating whom? Who is likely to get a promotion? When is the next appraisal? I want to hear about it all.

I want to eat a dish cooked by you. I want to witness how you prepare to make it. I want to see you in a bright coloured apron and see you grin at me as you wipe tears from your eyes while chopping onions. I want to see you work doubly hard on garnishing the dish that you make. And I want to see the eagerness in your eyes as I take the first bite.

I want our house to be never lacking of fresh fruits and vegetables. I want to see you bargain at the grocery store as you pick and choose items for our kitchen.

I want to have never-ending discussions around topics that irk you and me. I want to engage in a debate where we lay bare our politics and grapple with it. 

I want to argue with you on mundane and everyday things: which earring to wear, which jacket to buy, which book to donate, which book to keep, which biscuit to buy, what kind of milk to purchase everyday, which song to hum and whose turn is it to clean the toilet today.

I want to sing a song we both like under a hot shower. 

I want to write an ode to the white hair on your chin beard. And read it out to you in bed.

I want to hear you moan more often. Louder. Longer. Sharper. And I want to be the cause for the moans.

I want to be hugged and held in bed every single night that we spend together. Until we naturally drift apart.

I want to kiss you till eternity. And never find a reason to stop.

Inspired from this post.

Of conquering fears and insecurities in an alien land: Part II

There is nothing more rewarding and satisfying than figuring out the way in an alien city. Personally, I have lived and survived in six cities so far and each city has been challenging in its own way. But the day I helped a fellow foreigner find his way, I remember giving myself a little pat on my back. There’s a certain pride in answering: “Oh, R K Studio? Walk straight. Take a left and then a right. It’s right next to so-and-so building,” to a lost pedestrian/driver. Finding out the way in Prague was a little different, of course. Firstly, I was there for a limited period of time and wasn’t going to be living there for long. And secondly, I was prepared in the best possible way I could. I had maps of the city and print outs of the city’s metro and tram stops. But just how prepared can you be in an alien city? It’s certainly easier in a cosmopolitan city like Prague as almost everyone understands English (the local language of the city being Czech). But for someone like me who can never figure our routes and always gets lost (especially after sunset), this was a challenge that I feared. While Prague is much “safer” than several other cities with the roads and lanes usually buzzing with people, I knew I’d hate the clueless look on my face and the feeling of helplessness in my heart every time I’d be on the street on my own. I had figured out everything—walk for 0.8 km from hostel to the metro station. Take metro line B and get down four stops later. Take the right exit and then walk 300 meters more. By my sharp calculation, I should have reached the venue in 20 minutes. I reached the conference venue in 60 minutes instead. The initial 0.8 km turned into 2.8 km as I kept encircling the same spot somehow! And though I got down at the right stop, I ended up taking the wrong exit and started walking in the opposite direction. By the time I could muster enough courage to ask a local, I had already made three mistakes and was running late by over 15 minutes! Thankfully, predicting my dismal performance, I did leave the hostel way earlier as I knew something like this would happen. And I did not want to arrive at the venue fashionably late and being “so Indian” about it. This was Day 1 and I had enough backup plans. Personally, when I am walking on the road in an alien city, my hesitation in asking a fellow local is not about what its consequences might be—Can I trust a stranger? Would he/she even know the route? Does he/she look like a local? It’s more about what the perceptions might be—Would he/she think I am lost? Would he/she judge me for my poor understanding of routes? Is he/she silently laughing at my hapless state? And that’s what stops me from taking help, or rather, asking for help when I am lost.

To go or not to go? That is the question

To go or not to go? That is the question

After my carefully executed pilot, I took the risk of leaving hostel a little later on Day 2. Since I had made the mistake of encircling the same spot previously, I knew which turn not to take. I took the right exit. Reached the venue on time. One mission accomplished. Day 2 was the day of my paper presentation. So, there were other fears and insecurities that demanded attention. I had heard enough speakers by Day 2 and had got an idea about the variety of content people were bringing to the table and the kind of critique and questions to expect. Since I was going to be presenting a paper on something so specific and regional—21st century South Asian erotic literature—I realized I had a certain epistemic privilege. In a room full of people from all over the world, I was the only Indian who had read literature emerging from the Indian subcontinent. And that gave the much needed edge to a nervous 25-year-old MA in a room full of 40-plus PhDs and research scholars. I presented my paper to a really interested and engaged audience that looked eager to know more about English writings around sex and sexuality coming from a region struggling with the demands of its customs, cultures and traditions. It was a fantastic experience of sharing insights of a society and culture that I represented, familiarizing others to it and looking at it together with an objective eye. The participants enjoyed hearing what I had to say and I was more than happy with the content that I presented and the comments that I generated. Another fear of feeling an inferiority complex conquered. Mission two accomplished. By Day 3, I had somewhat become a pro. On the last day of the conference, I took the same route back, this time reaching back to my hostel from the venue in a record 15 minutes. No unwanted detours. No wrong exits. No wrong turns. No wrong purchasing of the metro ticket (yup! I did that too once). And no encircling the same spot. I entered the hostel with a big grin on my face. I dumped my handbag on my bed. Had a glassful of water. And played the entire three days in my head. I knew I had achieved and won a lot of things in the last few eventful weeks. Got selected to present a paper to a global audience. Planned the whole solo trip alone. Financed it entirely with the help of my well-wishers. Handled all the expenses on my own without splurging anything extra anywhere. Gave the presentation. Interacted with a well-read and welcoming group of academics. But none of these made me feel as proud of myself as this: I learned how to use public transport in an alien city and did not get lost. Mission three accomplished.


Read Part I here


Of conquering fears and insecurities in an alien land: Part I

A solo, self-financed trip Prague. Every term has a heavy ring to it. I am possibly one of the privileged ones to acknowledge this was to be my second visit to the city, albeit alone. However, it was a trip of many firsts—the first time I undertook this long a journey without any travel companion, the first time I was travelling with the map of the city’s metro route in my pocket, the first time I was figuring out public transport in an alien city, the first time I was living alone in the mixed dorm of a backpackers’ hostel, the first time I explored a city on foot walking over 8 km in a single day and the first time I was presenting a self-authored academic paper in front of highly global and well-read audience. Each of these firsts produced an obvious feeling of fear and intimidation that turned into thrill and satisfaction once they were accomplished.

It all began with an official e-mail in July informing me of the selection of my paper into a global conference on the theme “Erotic”. I had sent in my abstract with faint hopes of a callback. It was easy to pitch as my paper was ready—an excerpt from a larger dissertation I wrote during my Masters. While I was happy with the final shape of my first-ever academic thesis, I was restless to present it to a wider audience for further critique and feedback. Given the fact that it is on contemporary erotic literature, I was more than eager for it to be published or read out in bigger and greater forums. My topic of research was time and context specific—21st century South Asian erotic literature. I figured the sooner I present it, the better for my research and retaining its freshness and relevance.

While I was elated at being selected for an academic writing (the kind of writing I am not a great fan of and still struggling with) that not just presented me with the opportunity to present but also be published in an eBook, I got the much-needed bolt from the blue on knowing that none of this was to be funded by the organizers; I was to bear the cost of all expenses. A ten-hour flight to a destination 5,700 kilometers away, paying the registration fees, hunting for the cheapest accommodation available, bearing food and travel costs—all this translated into an estimated expenditure value of 1 lakh rupees (100,000 INR). Not that it needs to be stated out loud but, no, I do not have that kind of money. I’ve never handled so many zeroes at the same time, frankly!

I did the math to figure out just how much of cut backs I would be required to do to reach anywhere close to the target amount. And it was a hard pill to swallow that no matter how many deductions I do (I even considered turning vegan for four months to cut dairy expenses), I could not save that many 0s after 1 without some external donation to Mission Prague. I did some more math to count how many people I could ask for their generous contribution and how much I could ask/expect from them. I had to generate 100,000 INR in 120 days. I had no savings. But I had friends and well-wishers who were happily and/or unhappily employed. Mission Prague seemed a lot closer than it did before.

I began crowdfunding and in three weeks, my bank balance crossed the 100,000 mark. This was the first time that I had consistently received “your account has been credited” messages from the bank. With the money all set, I began taking care of every expenditure step by step. Buying flight tickets. Paying Visa fees. Registering for the event. Booking the hostel. Getting the currencies converted (1 INR = 0.36 CZK). And of course, polishing my paper every day so it sounded less juvenile and more classy in keeping with the audience. I had print outs of my flight ticket, a city map of Prague, city metro map, my travel insurance, booking confirmation from the hostel and the invite letter from the organizers. In fact, I had a print out of all the items I had a print out of! I was all set to fly [pun intended].

To be continued…

आशा से गुफ़्तगू

आशा से मेरी मुलाक़ात मेरे दफ़्तर में दाखिल होने के दूसरे दिन हुई | उनसे मिलने से पहले उनके बारे में अपने साथियों से काफ़ी सुना था | इस वजह से मैं थोड़ी बहुत तैयार भी थी ऐसी हस्ती से मिलने जो, लोकप्रिय राय के अनुसार, मिलनसार और खुशमिजाज़ थी | किसी ने शायद सही कहा है: जनता कभी ग़लत नही होती | जैसा सुना था वैसा ही पाया | मिलने के आधे घंटे के अंदर मैं उनसे हँसने बोलने लग गयी | मुझ जैसे अंतर्मुखी इंसान के लिए यह एक परिवर्तन था | मिलने के कुछ घंटों में ही हम दोनो ने व्यक्तिगत और पेशेवर स्तर पर कई सारे चर्चे कर डाले | नारीवाद सोच से लेकर गैर संस्कारी संस्थाओं का योगदान, लिंग, जेंडर और लैंगिकता से लेकर काम के प्रति प्रतिबद्धता: इन सभी विषयों पर हमने ना सिर्फ़ चर्चा बल्कि आलोचना भी की | उनके साथ बातचीत करने में मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगा | जिस आसानी से मैं उनसे संवाद कर रही थी, ऐसा लगा मुझे एक ऐसी सहेली मिली है जिसे मैं बरसों से जानती हूँ |

उनकी व्यक्तिगत ज़िंदगी इतनी कमाल की है की सुन कर मैं दंग रह गयी और उनके होसले को मैने मन ही मन दाद दिया | बी. सी .ए. (बाचुलर्स इन कंप्यूटर अप्लिकेशन ) में तीन साल विशेष रूप से पढ़ने के बावजूद, एक लड़की होने की हैसियत से, आशा को कंप्यूटर नाम के साधन से दूर रखा जाता था | अपनी खुद की आर्थिक स्थिति और सीमित विकल्प के कारण उनकी शिक्षा भी सीमित रूप से ही पूरी हो पाई | अपनी ही कक्षा में आशा अल्पसंख्यक थी | ऐसे माहौल में ना तो कंप्यूटर या तकनीक के प्रति रूचि हुई और ना ही इस ज्ञान को आगे बढ़ाने का ख्याल आया | कंप्यूटर में ग्रॅजुयेट लड़की ने अपनी ज़िंदगी का पहला ई-मैल फ़ैट (फेमिनिस्ट अप्रोच टू टेक्नालजी ) में आकर टाइप किया | इस सच्चाई को सुनकर मैं हैरान रह गयी | जिस लड़की ने इस विषय को अपने तीन साल दिए और जो सामाजिक पूर्व धारणाओं की वजह से अपने रूचि को कभी जगा ना सकी, आज एक गैर संस्कारी संस्था में ना ही कंप्यूटर से संबंधित काम करती है बल्कि टेक सेंटर में आने वाली किशोरियों को कंप्यूटर और तकनीक से संबंधित विषय सीखती भी है | आज ना ही उन्हे रूचि एवं दिलचस्पी है बल्कि टेक सेंटर को एक “वोमन फ्रेंदली” रूप उन्होने ही दिया है |

आशा फ़ैट की सबसे पुरानी सदस्य है और हमारे परिवार से तीन साल से जुड़ी हैं | वैसे तो उनका पद प्रोग्राम असोसीयेट का है लेकिन मूल रूप से वह एक शिक्षिका हैं | जो भी किशोरियाँ हमारे टेक सेंटर में कंप्यूटर और इंटरनेट सीखने आती हैं, उन्हे वो ही पढ़ती हैं | उन्होने खुद अपना ज्ञान अपरंपरागत तरीके से पाया है | फ़ैट से जुड़ने के बाद ही उनके अंदर कंप्यूटर आदि यंत्र के प्रति भय मिटा | आशा के पढ़ाने का ढंग किताबी नहीं है | वह बातचीत द्वारा लड़कियों को व्यस्त रखती हैं | भाषण देना उनकी आदत नहीं बल्कि लड़कियों को इस तरह प्रोत्साहित करती हैं की हर क्लास में वे ज़्यादा बोलें, ना कि वो | हर थियरी को प्रॅक्टीस से जोड़ना भी उनकी एक अदभुद कला है |

नारीवाद और नारीवाद सोच पर एक सेशन के दौरान उन्होने “फेमिनिसम” जैसे शब्दजाल को बहुत ही सरल रूप में समझाया: वह सोच जो हर मौजूदा अधिकार पर “क्यों?” का सवाल उठाए | मेरी सारी पढ़ाई एक तरफ़ और यह सरल परिभाषा एक तरफ़ | आख़िरकार, नारीवाद सोच तो यही है ना: उन सारे भेदभाव और सामाजिक अन्यायों के खिलाफ आवाज़ उठाना जो औरतों के सशक्तिकरण में बाधा बनती है | लड़कियों के उत्साह का शिकार मैं भी बनी | उस भरी कक्षा में आशा के एक नये विद्यार्थी का जन्म हुआ और अपने इस नये अवतार से मैं आज भी प्रसन्न एवं संतुष्ट हूँ |

मेरे लिए आशा एक ऐसी शिक्षिका हैं जो ना ही दूसरों को सिखाती हैं बल्कि दूसरों से वे खुद भी सीखती हैं | मेरा इस लेख को हिन्दी में लिखने का भी एक प्रमुख कारण है | वैसे तो मैं खुद को कोई लेखिका नहीं समझती परंतु जब भी लिखती हूँ, अँग्रेज़ी में ही लिखती हूँ | आदत कह लीजिए, या रूचि, या ज्ञान | यदि मैं आज हिन्दी में इतना कुछ लिख पा रही हूँ तो वो आशा की ही देन है | उनसे मिलने के पश्चात मेरे ज़ंग लगे हिन्दी को एक नयी जान मिली और मैं इस भाषा से और रूबरू हुई | हिन्दी में अपने विचार प्रकट करने का कारण एक और भी है: आशा खुद अपने अँग्रेज़ी के ज्ञान से ज़रा शरमाती हैं | अँग्रेज़ी के अधिकतर माहौल में खुद को सीमित पाती हैं | आज उन्ही पर कहानी लिखना हिन्दी में ही मुनासिब लगा | आशा से आशा करती हूँ की मेरी इस प्रयास को वो सराहेंगी और इसी तरह अपने अदभुद ज्ञान और उत्साह को हर तरफ बाँटेंगी | आपको ढेर सारा प्यार और स्नेह xx

A cheerful Asha at the Tech Center

A cheerful Asha at the Tech Center

I met Asha on the second day of joining office. Before meeting her, I had heard a lot about her vibrant personality. This is why I was somewhat prepared to meet someone who, according to popular opinion, was an affable and positive person. Maybe they are right when they say that the public can never be wrong. She turned out to be exactly as I had heard. Within half an hour of meeting her, I began to laugh and talk with her. For an introvert person like me, this was a major exception to the rule. Within hours of meeting, we had already discussed so many things both at the personal and professional level. Ranging from feminist thought to their identity in the development sector, sex, gender, sexuality and work commitment: not only did we discuss but offered each other our very own critique on these topics. I really enjoyed striking a conversation with her. The ease with which I was interacting with her, it felt like this is a friend I have known for a long time.

Her own personal life journey is so incredible that I was stumped to hear about it. I appreciated her morale and self confidence as she unraveled her story. Despite enrolling in a Bachelors for Computer Applications and giving three years of her life to obtaining this degree, as a woman, Asha was categorically kept away from an instrument called the computer. Her own financial status only allowed for limited options as far as completing her basic education was concerned. A woman, and by extension, a minority in her own class, neither did she develop any specific interest towards computers and technology nor did she get an opportunity to expand her knowledge on the same. A graduate in computers, Asha typed her first e-mail in the office of FAT. I was surprised to hear about her reality. A woman who gave three years of her life to computers and disliked it majorly owing to societal assumptions about a woman’s capability in front of a technical instrument. Today, she was not only working in an NGO using a computer but also teaching computers and technology to adolescent girls at FAT’s Tech Center. Today, not only is she interested and zestful about it but is a major contributor towards making the Tech Center a “woman friendly” space.

Asha is the oldest family member of FAT who has been associated with us for the past three years now. Strictly speaking, she is a “Programme Associate”. However, I view her as a teacher as that is the identity I see her as. She teaches computer and Internet to the young girls who come to our Tech Center. She herself is a live example of having learned the unconventional way. It is only after joining FAT that her fear of machines like computers went away. Asha’s teaching style has never been bookish. She keeps the girls engaged through a healthy and friendly interaction. She is not the cliched lecturing woman. Instead, she encourages girls to speak more in each of her classes. She is incredibly talented in converting the theory that she has learned and understood into practice inside a live classroom.

During one of the sessions on feminism and feminist thought, Asha deconstructed the supposed jargon around feminism in the most simple and clear manner: that which questions authority and asks the question “why?”. My entire theoretical knowledge was one; her own understanding and definition was another. After all, isn’t feminism all about raising one’s voice against any discrimination and societal oppression that becomes a barrier in the path of woman’s empowerment? The enthusiasm among girls spread and infected me. A new student was born in that class and even today, I am extremely happy and satisfied with my new avatar as Asha’s student.

To me, Asha is the kind of teacher who not only teaches but also learns from what her students teach her. There is a reason why I chose to write this article in Hindi. While I do not consider myself to be a writer but whenever I do write (or have written), I have chosen to do so in the English language. Call it my habit, interest or sheer knowledge. But if I have mustered enough courage to actually pen my words in Hindi, it is Asha’s contribution. It is only after meeting and knowing her that my rusted Hindi got a new life and I met this wonderful language all over again. Expressing my thoughts in Hindi also has an ulterior motive. Asha is conscious of her Hindi. In a world where English is the norm, Asha finds her own knowledge and grasp over the language to be limited. But to write a story about her demanded that I write it in a language that she relates to. I hope that Asha would appreciate this effort of mine and would continue to inspire and encourage several people with her knowledge and enthusiasm. Lots of love and hugs xx

Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) is a a not-for-profit organization that believes in empowering women by enhancing their awareness, interest and participation in technology. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect that of the organization.

This article was originally published on Campus Diaries.

Draped in Questions

Sari is said to be one of the most complicated clothing that can actually be worn in the most simplest manner. Many who wear it deem it as nearly impossible to learn to perfect. Some find it difficult to “handle”. Some are selective with the kind of texture they prefer on the six-nine yard clothing. Many like themselves in it but do not have the time or energy to master its demands. To each their own.

I was never fascinated by the sari. This despite the fact that I grew up in a household full of different types of saris, a wide variety of colours and an exclusive blouse bag, for crying out loud! My mother has worn a sari practically all her life—she began wearing a half sari at the age of 14 and once she draped the sari as an 18-year-old, the only time she abandoned it is since then is when she hit the gym to exercise in a salwar kameez (though she is forever shy to embrace the stark enemy of the sari) or when she went trekking owing to some pilgrimage or religious commitment that required long hours of walking (everything is fair in love, war and God). I grew up watching ma wear sari with such ease that I was put to shame when I realized I took longer to wear my clothes. My father folded saris, ranging from chiffon to cotton to synthetic, with such speed that I wondered how long has he been “practicing” such a difficult task.

A Kancheevaram silk sari

A Kancheevaram silk sari

As a young girl trying to embrace my “inherent” femininity, I did experiment with my dupattas draping it like a temporary sari but I never cared enough or had the patience to surround my body with a six yard long piece of clothing. It looked complicated—the way ma’s fingers intertwined with the folds, the way she made her pallu, I was just thankful for my PJs!

I was 19 when I wore a sari for the first time as an adult. As a 19-year-old trying to juggle with the pallu of a pattu sari at a cousin sister’s wedding, that several pairs of eyes had carefully devoured, I realized that consciously or unconsciously, I had openly declared a transformation—that I wasn’t a girl anymore, I was embarking upon “womanhood” (whatever that meant).

It was a blink-and-miss opportunity for me to even contemplate on the enormity (if any) of my decision to wear a sari. Several weddings and other “occasions” (read: excuse to wear a sari) happened afterwards and I think I wore it again maybe once or twice. In the meanwhile, I was beginning to pay more attention to my mother’s sari collection, how she maintained them, what colours she chose and the story that each of her possessed sari told. I began taking interest in these stories and began experimenting with the long clothing. Ma was secretly happy with me “embracing my womanhood” by gradually developing an interest in wearing saris. I don’t know how “womanly” this desire was but I simply decided to learn a little more about the so-called complicated piece of clothing. It seemed like an interesting puzzle to solve.

I took almost a year to understand the art of wearing a sari. During this time, I loved experimenting with any sari I could beg, borrow or steal. I played with its length. I experimented with different styles. I made mistakes with the folds. I angered dad every time I did not fold a sari after literally having played with it. But I finally felt I could drape myself with the sari without any external help. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough to be public and comfortable enough for me to stay put.

They say you look more mature in a sari. They say you look a “certain age” when you wear a sari. But I have simply looked it as yet another piece of clothing that covers exactly those areas of my body that I wish to cover and reveal exactly those that I wish to flaunt. At the most basic level, it is just another attire that one can choose to wear. Anytime. Anywhere.

Perhaps, the world doesn’t look at it so simply. Every time I have worn a sari since I came to terms with it, I have involuntarily invited a standard bunch of questions. Is it your birthday? Anniversary? No? Then, what’s the occasion? Something special today? No? Then what the heck are you doing wearing a sari in the middle of the day/night?  Perhaps these stray of questions are also linked to my marital status (I am unmarried).

It is amazing how, in today’s world, wearing a sari invites so many questions. Wearing a sari also invites yet another standard response: “Looking so good beta! Ab toh shaadi kar hi lo!” implying that the so-called level of maturity that you display while draping the daring sari is a reflection of your marriage clock ticking. A few decades ago, sari (for women) in traditional households was a compulsion. Today, it’s more of a choice, perhaps even a reflection of one’s lifestyle, if one could argue it that way. But, for an unmarried woman who chooses to wear a sari on an “occasion-less” day, the experience can be extremely exhausting. It’s just a piece of clothing. Let’s leave it at that, shall we? :)


This post was originally published on Campus Diaries

Staring is not the same as looking

When you stare, you pierce my face.
My body. Sometimes, my soul. Even my thoughts.
Can you read through my mind?
Can you hear my silent protest?
Can you feel my loathe?
Can you smell my fear?
Can you taste my disgust?

When you stare, you question my confidence.
As I walk on the road with my head held high,
your stare punctures my poise. My belief
that I belong to this space.

When you stare, you make me wonder.
Are my breasts too big for your pleasure?
Or too small to entertain your pervert thoughts?
Are my legs too hairy? Or too long
To let you imagine how you’d twist them
when you assault me sexually?
Is my bindi too distracting? Does it
make you wonder if I am married or loose?
Is my sari too bright? Allowing you
to get diverted and provoked?

You haven’t said a word
and yet I hear you.
I am filled with anguish,
as I interpret your leers.
I am filled with pain,
as I become an object for you to devour.
I am filled with regret,
as I doubt my own judgment .

When you stare, you question the reason for my existence.
I wonder why I am living this very moment
Of a piercing gaze penetrating through me
Your eyes overpower me. They strip me
with each passing moment.
And, suddenly, I am naked
in the split of a second.

No,staring is not the same as looking.