of death

The phone rang just as I was about to step out. I almost didn’t answer, but the I saw his name flash. D never calls me.

How are you? He asked, not caring how I really was. His voice was vacuous, as though the smile that filled it was gone from his life.

I’m good. What’s happening? I said, unable to dismiss the sense of foreboding.

I thought I should let you know that mom’s no more.

I felt as I do when I expect there to be one more step on the stairwell, but instead my foot crashes against the cold, hard ground sooner than I expected. Of course I expected to hear this eventually; just not so soon.

I proceeded, over the next few hours, to try not to think about her. I had a dance class to be at.

Mister asked for my hand. One, two, cha cha cha. Three, four, cha cha cha.

You’re not really here, are you?

Just feeling bad for D and his dad.

The class crawled to an end. Mister held my hand tightly as we walked out.

Are you okay, baby?

Yes. No. I’m not sure. I know how it feels when a loved one dies. But right now, I’ve got nothing. I don’t know how I should feel when someone I didn’t like very much dies. Am I supposed to keep thinking of her as someone I didn’t like very much, or should I be thinking back to the good times and scrounge for good memories with her?

I don’t know.

Later that night, I caught myself thinking about all the things I hated about her.

Everything I did was wrong.

No no, don’t slice bhindi lengthwise. Cut it into round pieces instead.

What kind of bharta is this? The onions are undercooked. It tastes sweet!

She always thought I was capable of cheating on D.

With skirts that short and a propensity to work late, it’s no surprise that you keep getting promoted, she had said to me when I got home late one night after work.

Why? Have you found someone else, she wanted to know the day D announced he wanted to split. It didn’t matter that I was as shocked as she was.

Mister broke that train of thought with his question. Maybe you should skip the chautha ceremony tomorrow and go meet his dad at home next week?

No. I’m going.

Okay, I’m done with this shit.

Recently, one of my domestic helps took a couple of days off without calling me first, and I instantly knew something was wrong. She showed up at my doorstep the third day, with a blue-black eye and a swollen lip.

Apparently, her drunk husband beat her up because he wanted sex, and she asked him to wear a condom, or fuck off. She took a beating because she took a stand, and he fucked her anyway.

This, coming from a man who was filled with rage when he heard about the Nirbhaya incident. They had no right, he had said to his wife, over and over, shaking his head. And yet, he thought that marriage entitled him to use his wife’s body however he wanted, and therefore he felt entirely justified in hitting her. I am a good husband, I deserve good sex, he told her in the morning.

What bothers me is that this is not an incident that took place in isolation.

I grew up in a household where it was normal for mom to cook and clean even if she was unwell or tired. The children were her responsibility, too – and trust me the three of us didn’t make it easy. Dad would just come home and start making demands – tea had to be ready within five minutes of him asking for it, dinner had to be served at nine, and mom had to run from the kitchen to the bedroom (where he ate) with hot ghee-smeared chapatis on a small plate. Then she would clear his plate, and give him water. Next, she would serve us dinner. She always ate in the end.

Now, it would be unfair to let you assume that dad wanted hot chapatis. He said, hundreds of times, that he’d prefer it if all of us sat together and ate, but she kept doing it anyway out of a sense of duty. I remember him getting so, so angry because he had left some documents on the dining table and then couldn’t find them. Somehow, it was mom’s responsibility too – never mind that he had actually kept them elsewhere!

If mom was traveling for work, I was given clear instructions on what he does and does not eat, how much ghee he likes on his chapatti, and where I should keep his documents should he forget to file them.

See what I’m talking about?

In our culture there is an implicit assumption that men are somehow superior to women and they deserve good sex, hot food, an orderly house, and well-behaved children. Men, just because they are men, deserve female nurturance, whatever the circumstances, throughout their lives.

Think mother, sister, wife, daughter – we’re all just side actors in the story of a man’s life. He has prerogatives and we have obligations within the family structure. We exist only because He needs us.

Enough of this shit. Things change, TODAY. I’m letting my six month old son know as soon as he’s able to understand.

What about you?

Eight

Childhood was so perfect! Sometimes I wish I could be eight again, she said. More freedom.

Freedom from what? I asked, curious.

Freedom from having to think twice about everything I say or do, of course, she giggled. You know how it is with in laws – they find reasons to get offended. I would fight back, but my husband does not tolerate that kind of stuff. Plus I can’t wear what I want anymore – can’t just step out to go meet a friend when I feel like it.

I understood.

R came from the ideal family – doting parents, independent children, enough money to keep squabbles at bay. I was jealous of the way her parents spoke to her, always lovingly and with concern. She married her college sweetheart and has the most well-behaved children but the most boring life.

Me, I come from a far-less-than-ideal family that liked to pretend otherwise. My parents hated each other’s guts, and ours. We were the reason why they had to stay together – this was my mother’s ultimate sacrifice, and we were painfully aware of the burden our existence was for her. But if you were to look at our photographs from back then, you’d see only oblivious children with glazed, glassy eyeballs. You’d have no idea how fucked up we really were. I grew up to become a socially awkward person with the decision-making ability of a saucepan.

 

And now, in my thirties, I am finally discovering what it is like to think and feel like an eight year old – a luxury I didn’t have in 1990. (Because when I was eight, I was battling agony, indignation, confusion, self-loathing, betrayal; and a few years later, even arousal.)

I am filled to the brim with love and contentment. I am truly happy for the first time in my life. Not because I have a family that loves me – but because I am finally able to understand and love myself.

Maybe my childhood is only just beginning. Maybe I was meant to live my life in reverse.

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What about you? Are you happier now that you are an adult? Do you miss your carefree childhood? Did you have a carefree childhood?

 

Fuck Sensitivity.

Recently, I fed my baby in full public view in a Starbucks outlet, and Mister clicked a picture of us. I loved how we looked in the photo, so I posted it on my real-life (for want of a better word) Facebook account. In fact, it is now my profile picture.

My newly-addicted-to-Facebook-but-not-that-savvy mom was quick to comment that I shouldn’t have posted the picture, which was expected because in her fifty something years, she hasn’t ever seen anyone do this. I politely (I hope) explained that there was a need to normalize breastfeeding so people get used to women nursing in public.  I think my exact words were – Breasts are meant to feed babies, not to sell cement and chips and cold drinks.

So far, life was good.

And then, I got “advice” from several people, which was basically smooth talk asking me to take the photo down because “it’s in bad taste” and because “feeding in public can make some men uncomfortable” and “can’t believe you fed him in a coffee shop where even kids go”.

Seriously?

You think you need to protect children from boobs?! The first fucking human contact that a child has is with breasts – there’s nothing sexual about that contact and your kid knows it. It’s you adults that have it all wrong.

Boobs are meant to nourish, not to lure/entice men OR sell lousy merchandise. The reason why you cringe at the sight of a breastfeeding mother is that you see women and breasts as inherently sexual objects.

Why else would you know so many (a) women with smaller breasts always looking for “push-up” and “maximizer” bras and (b) women with larger breasts forever trying to cover up?

Why else would you be ok with a man going shirtless, nipples showing and all, but recoil at the thought of a woman’s nipples becoming visible (nipslip) even by accident?

And pray, how do you intend to raise awareness about larger issues like breast cancer when you’re so embarrassed by breasts? By posting bra colors in a group restricted to women?

Fuck your sensitivity. My photo’s staying.

NIP
Okay, I went and changed the image. I’m supposed to be a woman without a face, remember?

Well, I survived!

The last time I wrote, my life seemed so totally and so utterly unmanageable that it filled me with anger. Not the kind of anger that makes you lash out, but the quiet, simmering anger that nobody tends to notice – which my angry mind quickly translated to nobody cares.

So I remained absent not only from the blog, but also from life. As my family and friends fawned over Z, I withdrew further and further into the shadows until suddenly, one day, my little man pulled me out. I can’t explain how he did it or if he even realized I was drowning and here I am, BACK.

I’ve missed you. What have you been up to all this while?