Isolation

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They all see me stumbling blindfolded, scraping knees and elbows, dashing right into trees and rocks… And they think, for sure I am falling, falling into the valley below with no hope for survival. They look at me and wonder: I have my hands free, why don’t I take off my blindfold and open my eyes? Why don’t I look at the bodies below, the very people who had veered off the road and fallen to their destinies?

I have two options. I can meekly accept ‘my destiny’, this road that they have chosen for me. Or, I can suck in my gut and tell them that my chosen road is down that valley, to cross into new horizons. That I am not falling, but if I do fall, at least I tried.

What then, becomes of me who stands against this so-united world in their attempt to tame me, to rein the wildness within? Isolation.

Cheating, Deepika’s #MyChoice video & more…

Homi Adajania’s video ‘My Choice’ on ‘Women Empowerment’ featuring Deepika Padukone and 99 other women, has gone viral, which was what they wanted, but has created an outrage, which was not perhaps what they expected.

Deepika, looking gorgeous as always, says things like ‘My body, my mind, my choice’. She goes on to say that the kind of dress she wears, what time she comes home, whether ‘to love temporarily or lust forever’, ‘to have sex before marriage, outside of marriage or to not have sex at all’, is her choice. That, according to her is women empowerment.

I think everyone agrees that the video has nothing to do with women empowerment. She seems to have taken the opportunity to tell the world, ‘Yes, I am bold enough to think about running around naked, coming home at whatever time I want, choosing not to have a baby, or even having sex outside of marriage.’ The video has taken the word ‘empowerment’, and flung it far and wide, beyond the focus of the camera lens, where even Deepika’s billowing hair cannot reach.

That said, I may then say that the video was an attempt to make Indian women aware that they do have a choice, and to tell them to make their own choices. A choice to not have a baby if they don’t want it, to not have sex if they don’t want to, to dress the way they like as long as they are comfortable with it. 99 women are not in the video to simply fill up the edits in Deepika’s footage; they are independent women with strong personal opinions of their own.

People have focused way too much on the ‘having sex outside of marriage’ part. I did not hear Deepika say, “You should have sex outside of marriage.” She merely states that it is a choice. Yes, a choice to cheat is incredibly selfish, and will probably shatter your partner’s life. But it is, after all, a choice. The woman (or man) who chooses to cheat knows somewhere deep down, the repercussions of such a decision. I do not think Deepika meant to say that a woman can cheat and get away with it, or that a woman is allowed to cheat but a man isn’t.

It’s a choice. I’ve been on both ends of the cheating cane. It hurts, sure. A simple message expressing that he wants to be with her, how he longs to take her in his arms… is enough. Enough to realize you are faced with a choice to give him another chance, or to leave him. The choice to cheat is simpler. You don’t cheat if you’re happily committed to your partner. Making a choice to cheat, in my opinion, says you do not care enough, or that in your mind, you two are already broken up.

There is enough grey between being faithful and cheating. In the end it all comes down to what choices you make.

Extrapolate

Under society’s stern stare, I am the same person I have been for years. I live in the same house with the same disgruntled parents, I drive the same bike, pursue the same profession, and my look hasn’t changed much over the years.

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Society really isn’t complicated at all. It is set in its simple ways. Fashion trends may come and go, but it takes generations to have an impact on the thinking of the collective, especially the Indian minds.

If you ace a professional qualification, you’re right on the track. You’re in a relationship with someone from a good family, of your own caste, religion, profession, etc and they let you act as you please. You have a cultural hobby, such as singing or classical dance (in addition to the well-accepted profession that earns you good money), it means you’ll easily find favor with the prospective in-laws.

If there’s one thing society has perfected over the years, it is extrapolation.

extrapolate

ɪkˈstrapəleɪt,ɛk-/

Verb

  1. Extend the application of (a method or conclusion) to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable. “The results cannot be extrapolated to other patient groups”
  2. Estimate or conclude (something) by extrapolating. “The figures were extrapolated from past trends”
  3. Extend (a graph, curve, or range of values) by inferring unknown values from trends in the known data. “The low-temperature results can be extrapolated to room temperature”

Society’s definition has a somewhat different application. They measure up the past behavior of the kid, and extrapolate it to decide his / her future.

“The future happiness of one person can be extrapolated from past 10,000 years of Indian civilization.”

First thing they ensure, of course is that the kid hasn’t run away from home in his teenage years. Then they make sure he hasn’t dropped out of school / college to start off some business. Disinterest in academics and entrepreneurial spirit are big crosses on their list. Society does not bother with these types; they are outcasts. And in case the outcast makes it big on bright business ideas, then one by one, they come crawling back, eating up their words, and licking clean the crumbs off their plate. But that’s another story.

The next thing you need to do is ensure you’re not (publicly) a drunkard / smoker / stoner, and also do not possess any knowledge / special interest in sexual matters other than what is taught in school sex education. Of course, there are ways and means to lead such lives in secret, and as long as one knows what you do, you have a place in society.

If you haven’t fallen off the grid by now, then this is what will, or must have happened to you. This is your future, as the graph must, and will, extend to:

  • An accepted level of education

They really prefer it if you are an engineer, doctor, CA, lawyer. Such degrees ensure step 2. If not, a graduation level education is a bare minimum. That ensures a paying job at the least.

  • A stable earning job

Here it’s better if the company you work for is known among social circles. Better yet if the company is located in some IT park and you have a company cab / bus picking you up right near your doorstop. Bonus points if your company gives you a laptop / car for your personal use!

An MS degree from the US is the new rage. Studying in the US, and then staying back to pay off the loan means stability, independence, respect, and a good match for marriage.

Once things are well established on the career front, the focus turns more personal. Skip the next step if you are in a relationship that’s accepted by the folks (Instead of accepted, read: date fixed for marriage)

  • Searching for a prospective bride / groom

This is probably the most complicated aspect of Indian society. They start the process early, so as to give a couple of years’ margin to find just the right person you can spend your entire life with. It usually means you register yourself on some matrimonial service, and even fill out a form specifying the kind of partner you are looking for.

Believe me; they have specifications for height, weight, and color. I’m not lying, I’ve seen it. The whole process is comparable to a commercial market … imagine a showroom for cars. You specify speed, color, model, make, price, average, fuel, dealers, discounts… Get it?

I can go on and on… but I’ll reserve this topic for another day.

  • Engagement

A formal engagement is really an invitation for people to comment on how good the young couple looks together. It’s also an announcement to the world that the two previously-eligible bachelors are no longer in the market.

  • Marriage

The excitement, the extravagance, the costs, the reception, the drama, the tears…

And thus begins the married life, which, for the girl is a new life in a different set of closed walls, with a different narrow society of in-laws.

If you’ve done it right until now, a big whoops. It’s not easy till here, and it’s not getting any easier.

  • Kids!

That’s right, what’s coming up, are kids. Right after you manage to fulfill basic expectations like own house, own car.

And then, your life is an upside down tangle of adhering to society’s expectations, and once you do that, soon you’re on the other side. In a few short years of watching your kids grow up, you begin to heap your own understanding of society’s expectations on them, and the cycle continues…

Simple, isn’t it?

Talk to me. If you have managed to break out of society’s barriers, or wish to, let me know. I’m sure it can be done.

Those growing up years

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When I was a little younger, I used to crave freedom. I used to crave going out with friends and staying out late, going for parties and dancing and drinking, without any restrictions and while still living under the parents’ roof. The coming home curfew and endless worried phone calls by the time I reached home irked me. It got much worse when they knew about the boyfriend. Typical middle-class Indian parents. They wouldn’t allow me on stayovers unless it was an all-girls no-drinking strictly pajama party. Drinks and alcohol were an unspoken taboo and the idea that their daughter might wish to familiarize with an occasional glass of wine or a dip into the stronger stuff would have come as a shock to them.

imageSure I rebelled and begged and wheedled and lied, but somehow I got through the teens without giving my parents much cause for worry. Which simply means that I made sure my parents never found out the truth about all those times I said I was helping a friend study for his paper, taking a baking class, volunteering at an NGO, attending study circle lectures, learning graphology or face reading, or the most-used cover-up: sleeping over at a girlfriend’s. Because those occasions became important memories etched forever into a teenager’s mind. A lot of firsts. First sleepover with the boyfriend. Getting dressed up and attending a party. Four friends sneaking the car out in the middle of the night for a long drive. Making out in a car parked on a service-road off the highway and getting caught by the police. Getting started on that glass of wine, slowly graduating to the good stuff, the vodka, rum and all those cheap pitchers of beer. Finally understanding what the fuss is all about after going through those wonderful phases of high, tipsy and then straight, plain drunk.

I’ve done my share of crazy, but it was simply easier that my parents didn’t have to know any of that, so they wouldn’t lose their precious winks staying up worrying about a wayward daughter. But things change as we grow older, and I can’t tell the exact moment my parents began to think I’m not a kid any more, but it began sometime during their understanding of my academic failure and the end of my first very serious relationship. Their way of looking at me changed, especially when they realised others took me more seriously than they did.

Nowadays (most days of the week) I behave like a ‘professional’ and go to work (most days of the week). And every other weekend I’m out trying to make up for the fact that I have to work as per someone else’s instructions, with the justification that at least for 2 days a week, I’m living my life. And at least I tell my parents half-truths such as the people I’m with, where I’m going, whose place I’m spending the night. The parents do still yell and throw an occasional fit for all the hours spent out of the house, and friends being more important than family shit. I figure that is a given when I’m living in my parents’ house post turning 20, and I’m just going to have to deal with it.

Maybe someday I’ll admit how little they really know about my teenage and growing up years. In my defense, I was simply sparing them the mortification. If I tell them after some 10-odd years, I don’t think they will ground a 30-year old right? But for now, if I’m drunk and partying, at least my parents can begin to look for me. And preferably they won’t find me lying in a ditch somewhere; I’m sure I have better friends than that. At least it’s a start, makes me feel a little more responsible this way.

Conversations over coffee

A rainy evening strolled lazily
Into the open arms of a café
Where sat four spunky young lasses,
dressed in attires almost passé

The conversations were lilting
and the rain paused to listen
to the melody of their laughter –
So spirited in its composition

Their lives no longer inextricably weaved
But they embroider a beautiful pattern
on time-worn fabrics, a soft array –
of tears, smiles and tender heart’s burn

The taste of friendship lingers long
after the last dregs of coffee are gone

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Reunions with old friends are always the best. There’s that sense of familiarity that washes away all awkwardness accumulated with time. There’s the closeness and comfort that comes with knowing each other for so many years. These are friends who will know in an instant if something is wrong, or if you’re holding back something.

This poem is for my friends who made this weekend so much fun and interesting! Linking up with dverse, it’s Open Link Night! 🙂

The frog’s no Prince, but I’ll marry him

Sometimes a girl may have to kiss a lot of frogs before she finds her prince.

I’m sure the frogs agree. One or two might even be daring enough to use this as a pick-up line.

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Pucker up, baby!

To my surprise Indian parents also seem to agree. Parents anxious to marry off their well-educated, beautiful, hard-working and independent daughters into good families of their choice, overlook the fact that while they are opposed to the idea of the girl finding her Prince Charming on her own, they are willing to let her mingle with a lot many frogs who are brought up the right way. Continue reading “The frog’s no Prince, but I’ll marry him”

Nomadic June

Incredible India: A Himalayan experience 

The train journey

I turn my face away, away from the stench and the suffocating heat, the hawkers and the little beggar child performing to the drum’s beat. I drown out the low complaining voices and block out the train compartment to my senses. I glue my head to the window to watch the shadows in the water below that keep changing as the sun dips low. I watch the corn and rice fields whistling merrily in the wind, and the stretches of land left bare by summers that forced the rivers to rescind. At each bend I watch the train till it is replaced once more with plain terrain. We jump up with unabashed delight as we see on the rail tracks a peacock taking flight.

The growing dark stares back as the wheels run steady on these age-old tracks. The train whisks us through villages and across states but it’s a two day journey even at this rate. I feel the miles grow longer and I know the nights will get much colder. I count the passing days as time takes me further and farther away.

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Journey to base camp (8,250 ft)

Even two days of second class non-AC travel eventually takes it’s toll. The sweltering Delhi heat had us sweating to glory as we dragged the heavy rucksacks and luggage from one station to another, and running wistfully past McDonald’s, only to reach Kathgodam, to find that all the non-vegetarian restaurants had closed their kitchen for those of us dying for some chicken. And then we persuaded a kindred chef to open his kitchen just for us 10 hungry friends, and within 20 minutes he had prepared chicken curry, Rotis, Rice and, believe it or not, 3 plates of steaming hot, delicious Chicken Momos, served with a smile. I can’t remember food ever having satisfied me more.

Next day took us to base camp at Lohajung after we had braved 240 kilometres of continuous, winding road up into the mountains, where, by some miracle I didn’t throw up.

As the three days of non-luxurious travel neared an end we called up home as our phones weren’t expected to get network for the next 6 days. We were walking, not exactly ‘into the wild’, but certainly away from civilization.

The Hike 

Day 1: We had 8 kilometres of moderately steep climb to reach Didina. Not a very difficult climb but tough, being the first day of the hike.

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IMG_0026 The camp at Didina

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Day 2 was a steep 12 kilometres climb to Bedni Bugyal (11,500 ft). Bugyal means meadow and here we came upon beautiful pastures of lush, never ending green. This day was my solitary walk and one of the most memorable days of the hike.

Keep on climbing and never look back down or the mountain will seem to have grown. Ignore your aching shoulders and the blistering feet and follow the steady rhythm of your heart beat. I had found my own pace, this was no race but there was resolution etched on my face.

I was one with nature, my feet seemed to step of their own accord; one range to the other, nothing but a walk with my camera.

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After the pleasant walk through Ali Bugyal, the climb to Bedni Bugyal starts.

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Finally, relief as the campsite comes into view.

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It was a lovely campsite, one that will make me nostalgic for years to come.When the fog slowly lifted the campsite provided us our first glimpse at the snow-covered peaks of the Trishul mountain ranges. It was another unforgettable moment as we all waited for the clouds to disperse and the snow ranges to show us their spectacular beauty.

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The next two nights we spent at Pathar Nachauni. The climb for Day 3 was moderate, around 3 hours climb each day. The campsite itself was at 13,000 ft and was freezing cold, with fierce winds that changed direction at will. Our first tent at the campsite had a broken chain, and it flapped about in the wind like a raft tossed around in the storm at sea. And then luck came to the rescue with a red and blue tent for us three girlfriends. We set it up right next to the guys’ tents, and every movement or sound made in the night could be heard in the next tent, which had us rocking with gales of laughter at random hours in the night.

There was a Maggi stall at the camp, and with our increasing loss of appetite for the potato meals provided at camp, it was a lifesaver. That camp had special moments: the difficulties of open air toilets (which means no constructed toilets) and the hilarious tales it provided, the winds dragging the cold up and down our spines, those hours spent on the far out rocks listening to music, watching the snow eagles and the clouds that seemed to pass right through us, and dinners made all the more special with one person feeding 10 others so that not everyone’s hands would freeze.

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Day 4 we went to Baghubasa (14,000 ft) which has a shrine (temple) of Kalu Vinayak. After snow slides in a small patch of rough snow, we headed down and encountered hail and a soft snow fall. We literally ran down the 8 kilometres back to Pathar Nachauni in the rain, to avoid getting our gloves and thermals wet. No use. I eventually ended up stuffing wet gloves and scarves in my bag because they simply wouldn’t dry out there.

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Day 5 we climbed back down to Bedni. A bunch of us had contributed to get lamb for dinner. What we hadn’t expected was that the poor thing would be kept tied right in front of us, bleating its way into our hearts till some of us quite lost the appetite to eat it. I didn’t, though I was adamant not to watch it get butchered. However, when dinner was served we forgot about the incident and ate heartily, for it was tender and really well-cooked.

It was then that we realized just how accustomed we’d grown to Pahadi (mountain) life and immune to the trifles of city life. A couple of huge dragon-flies whose species had exasperated us right since base camp, landed into our plate of lamb and we almost didn’t see them in the dim torch light. But what experience might have sent us screaming had it been in the comfort of home, here my friend simply picked it up from the plate, threw it away and resumed eating.

Sleeping bags were a different issue altogether. Sharing a tent with someone with different sleeping habits is difficult enough, but it gets worse in such cold conditions where sleep hovers around and near you for a long while but never quite settles on you till it’s almost daylight. And then it’s a scramble for getting ready on time, brushing your teeth in the ice-cold water, forcing down that breakfast and tea and hoping you don’t get potty problems during your hike. Up in the mountains, we had a daily ritual where everyone could, and would, unabashedly discuss their shitty-doings of the day. Did they poop, was a dog staring while they did it, did they run out of toilet paper? It was as casual a chat as talking about breakfast.

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Day 6 was the climb down to base camp, through a village called Wan. It was a scenic descent through forests of tall trees. We had made friends with a local guide, who invited us into his home for a cup of special garhwal tea. We were so humbled by their hospitality and simple ways of life.

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Their home in the mountains

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From Wan we traveled 12 kilometres back to Lohajung by Jeep. I found myself squished in the back of a jeep between two guys from my hike and 7-8 other locals, who strongly smelled of booze and maybe weed and something else that smelled bad. The driver was rash and I thanked my stars when that half hour journey ended, and I once again knew what fresh air felt like.

Back to base camp, and then to Kathgodam, meant back to the wordly pleasures of sleeping in a bed, eating cooked food other than potatoes, and above all, having a bath after a whole week. Oh, and pooping on a real toilet. It all really makes you think about the things important to you. We had a day free in Nainital, which was a day spent sightseeing, hogging and shopping.

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We also had some free time in Delhi, so we wisely spent it roaming the capital. We tasted some amazingly yummy parathas in Paratha-galli, and then me and my friend dispersed from the group in search of the famous Sunday book market. It was time very well spent, as we picked up some rare second-hand books at Rs. 30 per book. Better than a bargain!

All in all, it was a wonderful hike, and we got to explore two cities as well! I’m already missing the nomadic spirit of the month…