It’s only words…

This is, for the lack of a better word, a ramble. Recently, the man I love asked me what I expect out of the two of us. And I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure it out.

Short answer, I want to be the best of myself with him as he grows into the best of himself. For us to have each other’s back through everything- good, bad, ugly, neutral.

Now because we don’t live in an isolated jungle, there arises the issue of names and terms and explanations. I don’t want to call him my boyfriend and have it mean a certain set of things others have pre-decided for us in sitcoms and romance novels. He’s one of my best friends. He’s also my favourite person to sleep with, or gaze at, or work with. A person I talk to when I win a prize or torture myself in self-doubt. Someone I can spend hours in silence with. He mayn’t actually be the only person in some of these categories. But the fact remains that he exists across all of them. Is there ever then a “just this or that” in a relationship like ours?

We’ve spent several hours on multiple days, engaging our author-reader brains to come up with a word that does our situation justice. I am a sucker for neat definitions at times, not particularly for my own self, but because I do not have the energy to be incessantly bothered by a world used to compulsive verbalizing. He humours me in ways that no one does, and so we’ve delved into Bengali and Japanese, English of course, even Thai perhaps, tried and failed to come up with one blanket that covers all our curves and ridges in the fit we prefer between the two of us. The closest we’ve come is Bronte’s Wuthering Heights-

  ‘Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same

The trouble, much like for Catherine and Heathcliff, is that this is a concept a lot of people cross-examine to shreds but precious few understand. Earlier, they would insist on having me tick any one box only- boyfriend or lover, husband or maybe a friend with benefits. Even with improvements, all the 21st century has done is increase the number you can check off- you don’t get to go out of the box unless you really struggle. So, on the one hand, there are your societal markers of flowers and anniversaries, mandatory phone calls and meetings, sex frequencies and cunnilingus requirements, milestones and rings, and eventual babies. On the other, there is a dazzling world of no rules, no commitments, a do-as-you-please-whilst-(mind)fucking-people anarchy. Somewhere in the middle, people like me are left wondering why there doesn’t seem to be a better third option.

In a country like mine, we possibly have one of the largest proportion of science scholars knowing exactly how sex is an evolutionary tool and an act of pleasure, but somehow,  for generation after generation, marriages are still meant to reflect a divine component. You don’t really get to squirm out of it saying you’ve found your heaven in building separate positive lives together. Not even when the Earth is already vomiting humans past carrying capacity and could really use a break from fresh cute-faced angels of doom. Say you don’t believe in marriage and you will immediately be tossed aside into the category of saucy, impertinent “sinners” who live to defy. Apparently you can still only be a binary (mostly) when it comes to romantic relationships, even in an era where gender and sexual fluidity are catching on.

I’m sure he and I cannot be the only people crossing linguistic boundaries in attempts to have a back-up term we can use to tell people how we’re our own brand of normal and yet special. And yes, at some point or the other, because we’ve not perfected social indifference, we do feel like telling some people how there’s nothing wrong with not wanting what everyone’s running after. How it’s not a case of not being able to achieve the targets everyone sets, but more like, how we’ve never seen the point of those targets anyway.

Long story short, I don’t see why the internet still shows up results that equates label less to a lack of commitment, or honesty or hard work. I don’t see why formalized romantic relationships are supposed to be a watertight box of virtue when I’ve witnessed firsthand that they aren’t. I don’t see why friendships should be any less worthy of validation and protection, vis-a-vis romantic relationships, or why they should necessarily even exist in disjoint circles or murky intersections. I don’t understand why love only wears labels, when I’m a thrift-store person anyway.

Advertisements

First Dates: A Not-So-Cool Twenty-Something’s Guide

What (not) to talk about on the first date

I date a lot. (Mum, if you’re reading this, a lot is an exaggeration) By this, I mean that in the past two years, I’ve gone out on at least one date with ten to fifteen people, ranging from friends of friends to complete strangers carefully curated from dating apps, or in one case, someone I’ve run into in a cafe. These have included coffee dates, dinners, movies, bookstore visits, poetry slams, cookouts, and aimless walks or drives around town.

Now if you’re smirking at the fact that I call this “dating a lot”, well, don’t read ahead. If you’re still here, good for you. If like me, you’re less than bothered about not having Angelina Jolie-esque looks, are “not here for hookups”, have only ever awkwardly danced at weddings, and swear by hot coffee instead of chilled beer, well there’s still a date for you somewhere. So, after you’ve crafted a bio, swiped left and right, and found a person you enjoy talking to, what next? Well, you need to meet them. (In a public place, please.)

You could choose not to, of course, but most of the time, a date turns out to be fun, interesting and a genuinely pleasant experience, very different than the perception created by a stream of Romedy Now movies and our very own Karan Johar. There possibly won’t be any love at first sight, or second, but let’s be honest- don’t we often go on dates only because we’re starved of human company? Treat your first date as an experience firmly rooted in the present, instead of the beginning of a pre-planned progression and you’re likely to end up with a smile and some food for thought. (Or just some food, which isn’t bad either.)

There are a lot of articles out there that talk about dating etiquette- who pays, where you meet, etc. What I’m going to talk about here, is what not to talk about. It’s not just the obvious taboos- sex, your ex, their ex, sex (I wonder why), your baggage, their baggage, etc. Apart from my own dates (most of which have been fantastic, thanks to some really intuitive people), the following points come out of significant work experience in eavesdropping on date conversations in cafes and restaurants (Writers are a shameless breed, it’s how we make our living.) –

  1. The Weather: A sentence or two on how hot it is getting is fine, but if they really wanted a blow-by-blow weather update, they’d rather have a chat with Siri or Cortana or whichever AI they prefer.

Overheard on a first date: “When I went to Gangtok, it was October and it was 11 degrees…” “No it couldn’t have been 11 because when I went I’d to use the fan, and it was 10.5 only in February and 9.2 in January…” and so on. Unless you’re both co-workers in the Met department, no. Actually, not even then.

2. Bodily Fluids: Puke stories are funny, but only with your best friends at 2 a.m. For a first date, it’s best to steer clear of any kind of…umm…discharges, and project a really clean image of yourself. If they’re meant to know all your (literally) dirty secrets, then save it for the fourth or fifth date, or maybe even for the actual relationship if it happens.

3. Distance, Time and Speed: Unless you’re a Math teacher, and they get turned on by quantitative details, it’s best not to sit down and compute in detail how long it took your date to get from their office to the cafe you’re sitting in, and whether they could have taken a route that is 650 meters shorter. Google Maps, bro.

4. The “What did you eat for *Insert previous meal* today?” conversation filler: Yes, I understand some awkward pauses are likely, but they don’t need to be filled by this question. Save it for the “sweatpants and farts” stage of the relationship. Ask them what cuisines they prefer, if you’re that into food.

5. Sartorial Discussions: In eight out of ten cases, if someone compliments what you’re wearing, it is a polite ice-breaker(the remaining two might imply that you’re out with a fashion designer). A simple Thank You works.

Narrating your entire sartorial history and the three possible options your tailor offered before making the blouse in this cut- err, no. Trying to be casual whilst saying “ Yeah, it’s from *Insert expensive brand*” doesn’t work either, unless they’re a brand snob and you’re playing it up. (In which case, more power to you.)

6. Obscure Relations: While most people steer clear of mentioning family troubles on a first or even a second date, a funny story about a distant relative can become significantly less funny if you’re spending ten minutes explaining how it’s your mother’s second cousin’s third-oldest grandchild. “No not that cousin, the other one who lives in Gujarat.” Details. Save them for married life, period.

At this point, if you’re an introvert bordering on ambivert and obsessively plan conversations in your heads before they happen, you might be looking really pissed off wondering which weird questions are actually allowed. Yes, contrary to what those other articles will tell you, you do have the right to ask some unconventional questions if you so please, but this comes with a disclaimer.

If you end up making ordinary, polite conversation, you’ll definitely have a peaceful first date, which is what most people want, and possibly even get a second one. If, however, like me, you’re not sure whether you’ll have a second one (for me it’s mostly because I’m never in one place that long) and if you have the unabashed directness of a four-year-old on roller skates, you can ask the weird ones. The disclaimer is that this will scare away some people. But not all people.

(If anyone, at all, is reading this and wants me to do a piece on potentially awkward questions you should try asking on a First Date, please leave a comment.)

Ode to consent

*Written in response to Nandini Varma (Airplane Poetry Movement)’s prompt “Shall I compare thee…”*

Shall I compare you
To a cup of tea?
And wait for his reply,
“But I only drink whiskey”
Or shall I liken you
To a monosyllable “No”
To be called arrogant or
Plain old boring, just so.

Shall I signal with my frantic eyes
Until he blindfolds himself between tries?
Or shall I scream, and shout, and claw my way,
Losing a familiar ally in an unlikely fray?

Shall I tell you
What you have sometimes meant?
I lie against his body bent,
And after a while, he does relent.
Then I get up to make a cup of tea,
And pen down clever thoughts of consent.

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi

While India may have legally recognized the third gender in April 2014, a majority of the country’s transgender population is still widely discriminated against, be it in terms of being insulted on public transport or rejection in job interviews. India’s first transgender college principal, Dr. Manabi Bandyopadhyay, despite being competent and qualified for the job was forced to resign in 2016 after less than two years in office owing to non-cooperation of the staff and a section of students. This was a case that only came into the spotlight owing to the individual’s privileged status- there are numerous transgender individuals whose everyday struggles for existence never make it to the papers.

Amidst the bleakness of this scenario, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender rights activist and trained Bharatnatyam dancer who identifies as a woman, is an inspiration. Born male into an orthodox Brahmin family, Laxmi faced ostracism and abuse at a very young age, despite having a relatively supportive family. She was the first transgender individual to represent Asia-Pacific at the United Nations in 2008 where she spoke about the condition of sexual minorities.  She also represented her community and India at the World Aids Conference, Toronto.

Laxmi has served on the boards of several LGBT rights organisations and in 2007, she started her own organisation called Astitva. She has been associated with the Hijra community and actively campaigned for the inclusion of the third gender along with journalist and LGBT activist, Ashok Row Kavi. She has been featured in a documentary on LGBT Indians titled ‘Project Bolo’. Despite criticism from her fellow transgenders on account of being “elitist” and failing to bring about any real reform, it is undeniable that Laxmi Tripathi is a figure that stands out for being unabashedly herself. As she says in her autobiography “Me Hijra, Me Laxmi”-

“Every morning I wake up, look in the mirror and say that I love myself. If every woman would love herself as much as I love myself, this society would cease to be patriarchal,”- Laxmi Narayan Tripathi

Optimistic perhaps, but food for thought, don’t you think?

Watch Laxmi at TEDx Mumbai-

Deepa Vasudevan

“Those who have come out for the sake of visibility and activism have often faced a lot of harassment and experienced difficulty in finding work and housing afterwards. There is a huge amount of moral policing of women in our sexually hypocritical society. Public spaces are still unsafe for women-loving-women in Kerala. Safety comes in private spaces.”- Deepa Vasudevan

In a ‘democracy’ where a law such as Section 377 exists, criminalising homosexuality as “unnatural” and the fear of societal ostracism compels people of queer orientation to conceal their sexuality, Deepa Vasudevan, a Malayali Canadian immigrant, is trying her best to create a safe space for lesbian/bisexual women and transgender individuals in Kerala, a state relatively more conservative in this respect, despite high levels of literacy.

Her organisation, Sahayathrika, is named for a Malayalam word roughly translating to “Women undertaking a journey together”. The organization mainly works on counselling, community-organizing and survival of women from gender and sexual minorities, as well as raising awareness on LGBT issues. Deepa founded Sahayathrika when she realised that there was practically no support system for LGBT individuals and this perhaps was one of the major reasons behind a high suicide rate for lesbians in Kerala. With its first project inititated in 2002, it became an independent registered organisation in 2008.

“Many LGBT people tend to migrate to other cities. And people living in Kochi tend to be more private”- Deepa Vasudevan

A study by the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum has also highlighted that most development initiatives by the government excluded sexual minorities, including the pioneering Kudumbasree programme. Through its activities, Sahayathrika seeks to bring to the fore the marginalisation and harassment of the queer community in Kerala often leading to migration to other,more tolerant states.

PROMO EVENT PIC5.jpg

The kind of dialogue that Deepa Vasudevan’s Sahayathrika, Queerala and other organisations are trying to raise in society is a very important lesson to the sizeable proportion of the country’s population that still judges and attacks people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Read more about the experiences of India’s LGBT community here-

http://www.thealternative.in/lifestyle/love-search-purple-rainbow/

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/a-prayer-for-understanding/article6243192.ece