Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I'm [Not] Here.

When I was 25, I wrote this. Two years later, I wrote this.

Three years on, I have no words that work. I've tried to explain to friends and family why I've just shut down, but all explanations came out unconvincing, lame. I sounded as though I were making excuses to cover up my deficiencies. For a while, six months ago, I lost my words altogether and stopped talking. I stopped mailing, stopped posting and stopped taking phone calls. At home I would speak so rarely that my voice dried up.

I can talk now. I function fairly well out in the working world and sound clear and level-headed when I do speak.

What I sense within myself is a change. I got so tired of waiting for my world to change, for my people to change, I decided to change myself instead. Not to suit them, because those changes I made a long time ago; this time I'm changing to suit myself. I feel like I'm writing this mid-transition because every day there is something that I weigh about myself and choose to either retain or discard. I don't know when I'll be done changing and I don't even know if tearing up my old world was such a great idea, but waking up breathless, lost, lonely, waking up convinced I was dying -- night after night of being too afraid to sleep for fear of waking up breathless, that told me that whatever I'm living has to stop. It has to change.

Nobody holds me now, reassures me that I'm not alone. It seems to me that this journey has to be made alone because how else do I explain my definite steps away from Vicky and Rahul. How do I understand what makes me walk away from Rahul? I don't know why I stopped talking to my mother. I have tried to explain my choices to her but only because she asked. Despite appearances, I am not angry with my parents or even resentful.

If anything, it is Rahul who wakes me up from my daily reveries, reminding me, relentlessly, that he at least is a part of my life however I live it; that he must have my attention, some loving; throwing tantrums directed at me; being ridiculously mischievous just so that I will look up; crumpling at the faintest hint of harshness from me (and I am harsh easily these days); as always, my obstacle reminds me that whatever the other people in my life do, to him I have different ties, different duties. Sometimes I feel that I'm setting him aside and walking on, only to find him running very hard alongside me to keep up. When he wakes up he comes running looking for me. I hold him and cuddle him and send him about his business. For him, for now, I'm not really here. I'm sure I will be back but for now, I don't know where I am.

For My Children

When I seem unreasonable
Cut me some slack
You might not like me too much
But don’t push me back.

Life moved on to quickly
And then there were you
I was a girl and then a wife
And a mother; time flew.

I’m not yet used to any of it
By now I should be
But in caring for you
I forget to take care of me.

Sunayana Roy
11th January 2005

Written thinking of Ma. Also of myself as I know I will be.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Soooo goood!

As I type, I'm sitting at my desk occasionally digging my fork into the mixed berry linzers next to me.

Nutty sent me a batch of these, and a lemon syrup cake, via Sinamon, for a Christmas gift.

Here is why I'm writing this post: every so often I think to myself, I'm biased. Monika's a good friend of mine, as is Nutty. The thought of the gift in itself gives me the warm fuzzies and I love lemon cake. (And now, mixed berry linzer.) I probably dig into them when I'm hungry and anything would taste good. Every so often I tell myself these things. That they couldn't really be that delicious.

But you know what? They are. The lemon cake and the berry linzers are sublime. And because they were so beautifully packed, I got to see and admire them in all their beauty even becfore eating them.

I've been hearing about Sinamon's bakes for so long now, and I know Monika knows her food, but nothing, nothing at all, prepared me for how good this stuff is.

*goes back to the fork business*

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Broken Windows

In a conversation elsewhere, Starry said something that struck a deep chord:

"A house with one broken window... is more likely to have stones thrown at it to break more windows.
The Mad Momma pitched in with a link to the Broken Windows Theory.


The conversation resonated on both personal and public levels. 

Personally, for a long time now I have resented how my parents never stepped in when my family decided to gang up on me. It is only in recent years that they have begun speaking up for my brother and me. I was a legal adult before I realised that everybody constantly complained about me not because I was an amoral, mannerless and unkind person, but because they could. My parents always said that we had to manage our own relationships ourselves -- with the caveat that we couldn't 'misbehave' with our elders. So my entire extended clan to could make insinuations and in some cases, outright accusations (about the most ridiculous things, too) and I was told to hold my tongue and be the bigger person while the 'elder' in question was placated to maintain peace in the family.

Last year I turned thirty and had just about enough of this, so I stopped taking it. Even my parents have stopped asking me to be the bigger person now. My father, depending on his mood, occasionally still thinks the fault must be mine (why on earth would people accuse me randomly?) -- and it doesn't shatter me. It used to bother me, how my parents always said I must have been at fault somewhere, somehow, even when I knew I wasn't. My morals, ethics and principles are in place and some things I just don't do. I believe in myself even though my parents don't always. Especially because my parents don't always.

Do you know what that is? It's a mended window.


In the public sphere, I feel that the Broken Windows Theory is something like
how a woman walking with her head down, looking scared of her environment seems more likely to be harassed than one who appears comfortable with her environment and walks with a purpose. One has fewer visible boundaries than the other.

I speak from experience, of course. Most women who spend any time outside recognise that it is not the clothes one wears that gets her unwanted attention -- it is their attitude, their body language. This, unlike the earlier lesson, was one I learnt early. My years in theatre helped me learn to project confidence even when I didn't feel it. As I grow older I learn to pick my battles -- I also learn to stand by whoever looks like they could use some help out in public.

My experiences with Blank Noise helped me work out ways to bridge the divide on the roads so that despite my appearance (well off, middle class, English-speaking) I can mostly make 'local' connections that help diffuse tension. Take the last seven days. In that single week I have blended into crowds of parts of the city where I don't really belong, yelled at and cajoled a truck driver and drummed up support from local youths to move his truck and make space for my car, yelled at and laughed with auto drivers who blocked my turn. These were often potentially very ugly situations, especially with the auto drivers where the two policemen on the scene were looking the other way. Somewhere I have learnt to temper my frustration with laughter, remember that I am NOT an outsider, that my being a woman is less relevant than my being a citizen on that street, in that situation. It helps that I can speak Bengali fairly fluently now. When I stop thinking of myself in terms of gender it's easier to focus on the problem than get distracted by the fear of what might happen to me since I'm a woman.

Does this work everywhere, diffuse every unpleasantness, ensure I am never harassed? No, it doesn't. But it cuts the number of episodes of street sexual harassment down to a figure I can contemplate without wanting to lock myself into my room and never stepping out again. It ensures that I interact a lot with other people on the streets, whether it is thanking another driver for making way, thanking a policeman for waving me on, thanking a taxi driver or an auto driver when I get down, chatting with a shopkeeper or another customer at the shop or indeed, merely smiling at the occasional stranger. I try not to frown out on the roads. There are enough frowns. I try to look non-intimidating but also not weak. Because that is the person I am -- not intimidating but not weak either. If I were different, I would try to project that persona.

Our streets need less anger, less fear, less uncertainty. Those are the broken windows that invite vandalism.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Beginnings And A Funny Memory

I went to bed rather depressed on 31st December. Funnily enough, I woke up quite chipper on 1st January. I felt an inexplicable sense of relief that 2012 was over. It was a rotten year and I'm glad it's over. No doubt 2013 will rush to compete but just for now I can pretend things will probably be better.


In August my great-aunt was in town. She organised a memorial get-together for my great-uncle who passed away some months earlier. I heard about the proposed party for many months, always referred to as "Khurima's get-together". Now, finding a saree I want to wear and having a matching blouse that fits me is not always easy. I settled for a comfortable crepe in white, navy, black and brown. The matching blouse was 'backless', with just three ribbon ties on the back, so fit was not a problem. The trouble started when I walked out of the room, dressed to party, and my mother stared in horror and asked what I thought I was doing in a backless blouse at a memorial. I told her it was a get-together, she said it was a memorial. Either way, there was no time to go home (40 min away on a good day) and change. I could wipe my makeup off, but it didn't stop my aunt from putting on her most outraged expression when she eventually saw me.

Then my didi and her sister, the other two Roy girls, walked up the stairs in brightly coloured sarees, with makeup every bit as bright as mine, all ready to party too. My mother gave up and stalked away. My aunt's expression is one I will treasure for a long time to come.

We didn't do this on purpose but hopefully the older generation has learnt a thing or two about nomenclature.


Everybody is talking about inappropriate clothing and behaviour these days. We also need to keep our sense of humour firmly in place and remember sometimes fate has other plans -- even for the most ammama of us all!