Unwelcome

The first time a strange man groped me, it was in the afternoon. It was a busy street. There were about twenty people watching. There were about twenty people who stood still and didn’t blink an eye when it happened.

The first time a strange man touched my breast, it was through three layers of sweaters and I was barely an A cup. There was little to grab onto but he seemed delighted anyway. It was a few seconds before I could stagger back and quickly walk away.

The first time a strange man ran his hand over my body, I was angry and humiliated and scared. I went back home and washed my body for hours, I tried to scrub the skin off my bones but I learned to live with it. And my soul, though bruised, remained intact.

You, on the other hand, never even touched me. You never ran your hands over my undeveloped, pre-adolescent body to abuse me. You never stood in front of me in the middle of a busy road in the afternoon sun.

You simply looked at me. And it’s funny how no strange man with his eager, groping hands can touch me in any way that could compare to what you did. To how your look raped my soul.

On Being Indian and Being Afraid

My father tells me that violence is the very soul of a protest anywhere. That brutality is the very nature of opposition, no matter what great men say. He tells me that today, the police is right to beat up and fire at my friends speaking up against a law threatening the integrity of our Constitution.

In another 16 days, we are going to enter the year 2020. We dreamed of having flying cars and a robot in every home by 2020. We dreamed of a utopian age, of justice and prosperity. We dreamed of being alive and being happy to be alive. How come, then, that on the eve of this great year, we are not even sure of our most basic, most fundamental rights? How come, then, that my country is teeming with headless monkeys spreading a diseased, contagious ideology that justifies discrimination of the most inhumane kind?

India fills me with awe. It is a living example of how even education fails in the face of senseless hatred. Listening to my father support the new citizenship bill has robbed me of whatever little hope I had for humanity and whatever faith I put in education, whatever pride I felt in being the daughter of an educated man.

Perhaps this really is my fault. When he told me a few years back that I am not allowed to marry a Muslim man, I should not have simply rolled my eyes at him. I should have fought with him then as I am fighting with him now. I have let ignorance and intolerance and blind hatred brew in my own house for years and I am ashamed of myself for doing so.

And I thought it was just me but apparently I am not alone. So many friends have shared so many stories of the same kind. The poison of hatred runs deep within our own families and this is no longer just about politics or human rights. This is personal.

How unbelievable that even in 2020, the loudest voices of the nation’s media are bought by those who accuse me of being anti-national whenever I dare to question them while they themselves pass anti-national laws as if it’s all child’s play. Is India nothing but their sandbox, where they keep kicking up dirt to blind every other kid into submission? My father is sitting silently within that sandbox, devoid of all resistance, allowing this dirt-like propaganda to cloud his vision. In the corner, the idiot box blares falsities all day and he believes every single thing it says, worshipping it like a new god.

Perhaps this too is my fault. I have laughed and yelled countless times at the obvious stupidity that I witness on news channels. How many times did I expose the untruths they spread to my friends and family? How many times did I, myself, trust the media when it was convenient for me to do so?

The question today isn’t about whether the most popular news channels are warping news to suggest criminality on the part of student protestors. It is not about whether the government is orchestrating these riots for some messed up personal gain.

It is about you.

Yes, you. Your humanity. Your sense of justice. Your ability to turn deaf in the face of an uncomfortable conversation at home. Your ability to say, “Well, they deserved what they got.” “Some of them WERE protesting violently, weren’t they?” “The police was just doing its job.”

Maybe this government is not strategically targeting you today, you know. But it will be tomorrow. The circle of privilege seems to be forever shrinking. You are only safe if you are an upper caste Hindu in India and maybe not even then (especially not if you have a vagina, I’d say).

I am terrified to be an Indian today because in the midst of all this chaos, I have nowhere to go. If I turn to our leaders, I am met with nothing but petty self-interest. If I turn to our upholders of law, I am met with cold-hearted apathy. If I turn to our media, I am met with cashed-in lies. If I turn to my family, I am met with the most heartbreaking intolerance. If I turn to my God, I am met with my own insecurities of being part of a community that terrorises another.

i am horrified to be sitting at home right now while so many others are hurting on the streets of my country. I want to be fearless and join the protest but I am afraid. I am afraid of being the target of violence when I have done nothing to deserve it. I know that makes me a coward and I have no excuse for being so.

But the least I can do, at the moment, is speak up against the voice of hate inside this very house. The least I can do is fight from inside if I cannot fight outside. The least I can do is try to reverse whatever corrupted mindset this government has forced into my home. And do that, I shall. Perhaps you should too.

To All the Fucked Up Definitions of “Cool”

My first year of college, I made a friend who knew almost everybody in our handkerchief-sized campus. And while we sat at Stoners’ Spot, he sketched out the hierarchy of the popular for me.

In a nutshell, popularity in our college, if not our whole university, is “borrowed” and based off a complicated web of associations. Nobody cares about how smart you are, how talented you are or how funny you are if you aren’t already in the “In” circle – if you don’t already recite the daily, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ to the “coolest” people in campus. And there’s no way for you to be considered “cool” by every single other student of this “In” circle doesn’t publicly validate you.

Okay, sure. You need to be social for people to see how awesome you are. But since when did being cool become an exclusive commodity that you can only acquire if you know the so-called popular people in college? And why the fuck are we this obsessed with the idea of extroversion being the superior personality type?

My university thrives on its reputation of “encouraging” extracurricular activities and non-academic talents. And even though admission is based upon a ridiculously high academic performance, students are regularly called out for being ‘nerds’ if they attend too many classes. You’re very, very far from “cool” if you actually care about your grades. Or if you don’t study last moment like every other student. Do you even have a life if you’re not part of the dance, music or drama society?

College life is supposed to be about exploring your capabilities, right? It’s about discovering who you wanna be? Wrong. Based off everything I’ve seen, it’s about being boxed into the same old categories and spending way too much time figuring out how to become the top dog. It’s about pretending to care about things just for the sake of caring about something because you’re so goddamn afraid of wasting time doing nothing in your three years of undergrad. It’s about the very real, very unvoiced horror of wondering whether who you really are might not fit in with the rest of the world and then scrambling to imitate others so you’d be seen.

And that’s how the world works in general. You can keep telling yourself that you’ll be more true to yourself when you graduate, that it’s all just about surviving college but you’re lying. You don’t need to find a box to fit into, you already know that. You already know that you are cool. And no self-proclaimed “cool” person you meet at Stoners’ Spot can help you find a place on any shit-show hierarchy in college.

There is no hierarchy. We’re all just a bunch of child adults kicking around, trying to be heard. And as long as you don’t make your voice extra sugary or extra deep, as long as you just say it like you really, really want to, you’re cool.

Just Another Morbid Rant

When I was nine years old and death loomed over our home, my mother won’t let me eat any of the food in the house. She said it wasn’t pure, wasn’t fit to be consumed. There was death in the food. It had to be thrown away. And even though she bought me all kinds of my favourite snacks, from the shop that day, especially strawberry cream biscuits, I still went to bed hungry.

Sometime that day, my mind created a new meaning of death. A meaning that has stuck with me through all these years. A meaning I can physically feel like the pangs of hunger in my belly. Death is emptiness. And today, I feel so empty.

It’s been a few days since the body was found not far from my new house. I didn’t know her. But I had passed the scene of her death so many times before. Strange how we never sense how a place is going to feel suddenly different one day. Strange how hungry I felt after finding out about her death. Strange how I could smell strawberry cream all night as I thought about her last moments.

Sometimes I think death follows me around wherever I go. And I know I shouldn’t feel that way. It can’t be true. I’ve been fortunate, never really lost a loved one out of the blue. I’ve never seen anyone die.

But I can feel death. I can feel it every night right before I fall asleep. I can feel it every time it rains in August. I can feel it every time I walk past my old home. I want this feeling to go away but the more I wish for it, the more it seeps into my pores like a layer of grease settling over water. Impenetrable. Like a trap.

I want to go on a walk but I don’t want to feel her death anymore. I don’t want to pass the spot where she lay for days before they found her. I don’t want to fear bumping into her murderer on the way.

I want to move again.

But You Need To Earn Money

It’s true, I spent all my savings on food and books last semester. I was on a happy binge and I told myself it was to improve my mental health. Well, my mental health is still broken and now, so are my finances. And I just remembered that that’s why I needed an internship this summer. To gain experience in content writing as well as earn some cash to support my healthy/unhealthy lifestyle next semester.

But well, I ain’t got no internship and I ain’t got no cash.

What I do have, however, is that tiny voice inside my head telling me that writing a novel this summer is not gonna help me achieve anything at all. I’d probably have wasted a lot of time and sacrificed all of that mental energy that I could have put into developing a rocking CV, just for one lousy book that would probably end up in some publishing intern’s trashcan some day.

There is no career in novel writing, they say. And you need a way to pay the bills. There isn’t a way for me to not pay them or to not have those bills in the first place. It’s life. And there isn’t a way for my writing to start paying bills right in the beginning of everything. Especially for a slow writer like me, only 700 words into this first book I’m trying to write and already questioning it all.

Balance. Work during the day, write at night. A strategy. But just the way one person can only function after a minimum eight hours of sleep and another can be energetic after just four hours, I cannot write like that. The only way I can write is in a semi-dark room, absorbed in the poetry and music of a thousand words for hours and hours on end. I need that hermitage – days on end spent leisurely strolling through the streets of my make-believe world. Unless I have touched every nook and cranny of every house on that street, I cannot begin to write. Unless I am the words and the words are me, I cannot begin to write.

It feels like the biggest gamble of my small, uneventful life to commit to novel writing for two whole months and do nothing else. No running after the same-old, same-old of the big, scary world out there. No preparing for the future.

It’s just me and my story right now. And I gotta say, I don’t think I’ve felt this happy since eighth grade.

How To Spend Summer Break Productively

It’s been kind of a slow and kind of a disappointing summer for me so far. While I’d hoped to have started on a journey of self-discovery and career growth through an amazing internship by now, I’m sitting at home, about to click Play on yet another been-there, seen-that web series for the sole purpose of crossing it off my Watchlist and allowing myself to feel like I’m not completely wasting the last two-month vacation I’ll probably ever get to enjoy for the rest of my life. Third year of college about to begin and to my horror, I have next to nothing to show for it.

This is not how I imagined my life would be like at twenty.

Yeah, yeah. I can hear the chuckles and imagine the smiles and the mental reiteration of, “Who ever does?” and I agree, who ever does imagine their life the way it actually turns out? But get this, eleven year old me? She had HUGE plans. And twenty year old me? She hasn’t even STARTED on these plans and I’m beginning to get a teensy bit worried that I never will.

Also, the twenty-first century’s obsession with ‘productivity’ is really stressing me out. Do I always have to be on the go all the time? Am I the one taking this too chill or has everyone else just forgotten to live for a while? What’s so wrong with spending the summer focussing on having a great time instead of slaving at an internship to add another line in my CV? Or is there, perhaps, a magical middle ground?

Turns out my stressed-out, wanting-to-chill-out ass is sort of a low-key genius. She found the mystical middle ground. She came up with a brilliant idea – all by herself, may I add – to embark on a beautiful trip of writing a novel to cheat her way out of choosing between a good time and slavery. Writing is therapeutic for me and at the same time, it gives me a sense of achievement. Voila! Problem solved.

Or not. I forgot I’ve had writer’s block for nearly two years now but this summer, I’m gonna fight it tooth and nail. My first novel deserves all the effort. Any tips?

Also, would it be totally, off-the-rack presumptuous of me to think that you guys would actually like to hear how I get along with my experience of trying to write an actual book, all of my own, for the very first time?

Imprint

photo-1525328101278-f02944f35d27

 

his relentless fingers
follow an unbroken trajectory
of lusty greed
over my feverish skin,
smearing impossible daydreams
like a vibrant painting
bathed in hues of red
over my flawed body;
an immortal imprint
searing through my flesh slowly,
tendrils of heat
spreading tantalizing
through my veins,
mingling my blood with his essence,
leaving on my tongue
the scorching taste
of his maddening presence
like a permanent after taste
or an inescapable memory
of skin against skin,
of body against body,
united but never colliding –
an everlasting reverie.

Reminiscence

photo-1534530343039-5d8a7466e6d3

 

it’s funny how it’s the little things that remind me of it. like the chill of the August rain pitter-pattering on my naked feet at the doorstep. like the taste of strawberry cream on the tip of my tongue. like the little spots of red, yellow and green in the darkness as i close my eyes against the sunlight.

it’s funny how the memories resurface out of nowhere. like an uninvited black cloud suddenly overshadowing a bright day. like an inescapable reality casting a darkness upon every soul that toils under it. so unlike the calm shade of a cheerful, happy reminiscence. so unlike the happy nostalgia of a gentle, radiant day

it’s funny how some words stay with us forever. and every song we ever hear is like an echo. an echo of those same old syllables we fail to forget. a long lost prophecy foretelling our destructive destiny. like a happy high note melting into a melancholic low lullaby.

it’s funny how before and after works. how easy it seems to conjure up dead realities and yet how impossible it seems to ever be able to touch them again. how easy it is to remember and how impossible to forget. how easy it is to wish it wasn’t real and how impossible to realise how real it really is.

Ceaseless

photo-1474533883693-59a44dbb964e

 

You know those things that have no beginning or end? That you imagine to be an intricately threaded yet chaotic web of destinies and fates surrounding the universe, your universe? Those things that appear to be nothing and everything, all at the same time?

That’s how I look at you and me.

Was there ever any love between us? Here? In my head? In another world? Because sometimes when I think about you, waves upon waves of a warm feeling washes over me. Like an overwhelming sea grasping my arms with reckless abandon and then soothing my frenzied skin with it’s surprisingly gentle touch, lapping over my fingers and toes, filling my pores with all the calm of the ocean. But then, just a moment later, the water recedes and you fall away with it, leaving just as unexpectedly as you’d swept into my life, like a mirage I struggle to hold onto, running my lost fingers through the wet, disorienting sand. It sticks to me, that sand, and refuses to let go. It numbs my fingers and reminds me of the absence of your calming ripples. And just when I give up hope of ever meeting with you again, you swell forth and drown me under a tsunami of feelings.

And yet I question if it’s really love. Or ever was.

How can I say I fell in love, when I never really met you? When I knew you long before I knew myself? When I can never pinpoint a day, an hour, a second in my life and yours when I fell for you?

This warmth in my heart, rising up in my chest and bursting out of my heart, it’s always been there. A lifelong companion to my uneven breath. Not a ‘falling in love’, absolutely not. That’s supposed to be much more, isn’t it? That’s supposed to begin somewhere. On some long, laughter-filled summer night, under our blanket of silly stories; in a hot cup of coffee, shared, like in a classic teen movie; in a song danced to in the rain, drenched in new sensations and unspoken confessions; that’s how we’re supposed to fall in love.

But we never did.

Then why do I circle back to you every time, like a frustrated traveller who’s lost his way? Why does the warmth never leave my veins, no matter how far behind you leave me? Why do my hands always search for yours in a dark room? Why do I still long for the waves?

You know those things that have no beginning and no end?

That’s you and I. And our ceaseless story of unlove and waves.

Ruminating ‘Raazi’

raazi-movie-dialogues.jpg

 

It is rare for a film that begins with dramatic, patriotic dialogue to end on a realistic note that truly questions war instead of glorifying it. Raazi accomplishes not just this commendable feat but also chooses to do so by portraying raw, personal turmoil instead of gruesome, action-packed violence.

The focus of the film initially appears to be on an individual’s duty to his/her country and the honour embedded in this duty. But slowly and gradually, the story unravels the ethical dilemma of the conflict of war:

Is the fight for peace really worth it when the very process to achieve it causes the complete opposite; when, to protect the majority, a few individuals are subjected to the very worst of trauma and suffering?

Yuval Noah Harari, in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, explains the concept of imagined realities which Raazi very poignantly yet subtly portrays. Imagined realities are ‘common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination’. A ‘nation‘ is an imagined reality – a notion based on invisible, manmade borders – and so is ‘family‘ – nothing more than an alliance of humans who share some DNA and consequently, some resources. It’s a gross oversimplication without the emotional context, isn’t it?

Emotion is where things start to get complicated and that is exactly what Raazi expertly uses to paint a picture of the conflict between nation and family – a conflict of imagined realities. To whom does Sehmat truly owe her loyalty – her motherland or her husband’s family? Her father’s legacy of honour or her own conscience?

A terrible moral dilemma, all in the name of patriotism, transforms a young, innocent girl into committing murders and becoming an agent in the death and grief of others, including her own in-laws, some of whom were simply innocent bystanders. Their suffering is a screaming testimony of the harshest truth: every person is a victim in war. The enemy is not a monster – just someone with a different viewpoint who suffers equally. There is no real winner.

Raazi‘s message is the irony of war – that the very structures that are supposed to provide us with peace, security and efficiency tear apart our lives to ensure their own survival. Sehmat’s screams of anguish are the voice of every war victim’s question: What was it really worth?