What I Don’t Want

I don’t want gifts on specific occasions that you mark on your calendar. No birthdays, anniversaries, couple days, valentine’s day, lover’s day, women’s days. I don’t want you to be subscribing to the cliché.

I don’t want you telling me my that my cleavage is showing. Or that I need to show some cleavage. Or that my legs are unwaxed. Or that my lipstick colour is too “out there”. I don’t want you to be telling me what suits my body and what doesn’t. Sure, I want your opinion. Sure, your views matter to me. But I don’t want you to be my moral police. I don’t want unasked and destructive criticism.

I don’t want you to be writing poetry about my perfect eyes, my perfect lips, my perfect breasts, my perfect waist. My body isn’t perfect. Neither am I. And nor are you. I don’t want a perfect life with you. It doesn’t exist. And I don’t want to be chasing something that does not exist.

There will be times when I wouldn’t want to drink with you. I don’t want to dance a dance with you. I don’t want to dine with you. I don’t want to go to a club wearing “appropriate clothes”. There might be days when I wouldn’t want to be accompanying you anywhere. And that ought to be okay. I don’t want you to be clinging on to me every single time. I have a life. With you. And without you, too.

I don’t want to spend sleepless nights apart wondering what the hell did I do wrong. I don’t want to reach that stage of our relationship where I spend every night making a list of things that could have happened differently if only.…
I don’t want to think about the “If only…” scenario. I don’t want unfinished sentences. I don’t want those three dots at the end of an unwanted thought.

I don’t want to spend mornings craving for a fuck. And blaming my PMS for my unpredictable cravings. I don’t want to blame my vagina or my uterus for my mood swings.

I don’t want to stare at the ceiling and count the cracks on the wall while you are busy working.

I don’t want to hear your rants about life being unsatisfactory, especially when you claim I am a significant part of it.

I don’t want you to be thinking I have too many wants. And if you do, I don’t want to care that you think so.

I don’t want to justify why I wrote this.

What I Want

Of turning 26 and being unmarried

In a few hours, I will turn 26. Anything extraordinary about it? Not really. But I am not just a 26-year-old woman. I am a single, 26-year-old woman. I am also educationally qualified, happily employed, doing work that makes me happy and satisfied, in a happy relationship with my friends and family, financially independent, ostensibly in control of my life, content with whatever I have achieved so far. Anything wrong in this picture? But, of course. I am single. Unmarried. Uncared for. Unattended. Unbelievably stupid to be shying away from the pure bliss of marital life.

This post isn’t a rant against marriage. Or one against people who are married or choose to get married. This post is a reflection on how much societal pricking of one’s unmarried status exists even as you achieve greater heights of success and satisfaction. Got a promotion? Well, career can wait, marriage won’t. Got an increment? That’s fine but no one marries a woman who earns more than the man. You finished your PhD? Finally. You better get married; who marries an overly qualified bride? You are attending your best friend’s wedding? Wow. What a hypocrite! You are dating someone? Hmmm. When do we get to hear the wedding bells? You broke up? Oh dear, he was the never the right person for you. Shall we venture into letsgetmarried.com now?

Cartoon by Surendra. Picture courtesy The Hindu

Cartoon by Surendra. Picture courtesy The Hindu

No matter what you do, what you achieve, what you derive pleasure out of, no marriage certificate means no happiness. That’s what our society would have us believe. Of course this pressure to get married and “settled” operates differently for men and women. But it’s present nevertheless and manifests itself in myriad ways. The way marriage, its centrality and its grave importance is presented, one is never allowed to enjoy any other achievement without any guilt. Every time I have paused to reflect on something praiseworthy in my life, I have also been forced to embrace the stark reality of my spinsterhood.

I have been, interestingly, involved in the curation and execution of a soon-to-be launched campaign against early and forced marriage that will be run by the girls at Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT), an organization where I work, learn and unlearn from. FAT has been working on teaching young girls from disadvantaged families photography and filmmaking so they can use their technical skills to run and anchor a campaign of their own, using the film that they direct and produce. These girls’ realities are very different than mine: they are daughters of domestic workers, construction workers, who wake at 4 in the morning and struggle to get educated in schools and colleges. I, on the other hand, am an upper caste, middle class, literate and educated woman of the 21st century. However, what binds us together is the same society whose products we all are. The same pressure. A different manifestation. That I feel the same pressure that a 19-year-old girl from an urban poor settlement faces is testimony to the fact how penetrative the matrimonial market has become.

Perhaps, I would also like to see myself married someday. Someone I truely care about and have chosen to spend the rest of my life with. Maybe in a less pressurizing and more prideful way. But I am very much against coercion. If I am 19 and wish to get married, I have every right to do so. Just like being 26 and not wanting to get married. It might to obvious to state this but let’s reiterate the fact that no one can tell if we’re ready to get married. Except our selves. Let’s respect choice. Let’s bless a couple who wants to be together despite or in spite of their backgrounds. Let’s celebrate individuals who are happy to be ticking the ‘Single/Unmarried’ box on official forms. Let’s break boundaries. Let’s be revolutionary. Let us honour the one thing we have always denied people. Choice. Freedom. Agency. The simple right to be ourselves. :-)

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.

Read What I Don’t Want

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.