1858

What hope did we have,

to speak of courage

and bravery and strength

when the mouths of our ancestors had been sewn shut because the colour of their skin didn’t match the colour of your beliefs?

Then when we came along, they couldn’t tell us any stories

of courage and bravery and strength.

Only lead by example of a hidden silence

decorated as politeness, manners and peace.

But now that we can speak,

we don’t know what to speak.

But now that we can speak,

you disappeared.

Distanced yourself from the chaos pouring out of our bodies. The chaos is poorly constructed words, administered to one other in a foreign language

that was, never will be ours.

And we will keep constructing, decorating our homes and streets and children with your language, in the hopes that their

unsewn mouths with someday set us free.

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Exulansis

n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness—which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.

It’s not the tendency, it’s the inability to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it. I can’t explain to you why I identify as whatever it is. It’s harder than explaining to a child why she can’t a kilo of candy. Because the child has no previous experience in eating a kilo of candy. A child of that age, of that context and of that biological make up, does not understand the consequences of her instant gratification. I can’t explain to you why we need to stop discussing what I used to identify as, because I just don’t care. I don’t care that you don’t understand. Culturally, I am not expected to question you back, because you’re normal, and I’m slightly darker, slightly larger eyed and slightly frizzer haired. I can’t ask you why you wear pants when my people wear saris and kurtas. I can’t ask you to explain the cultural significance of wearing pants.

Are chinos for special occasions? Do all the women wear dresses to a wedding? What’s up with the weird pasta shaped tie men wear sometimes? Is that a religious thing? Can you eat that since it’s not organic? 

Oh, I’m sorry. Is that offensive? I didn’t mean to be offensive. I mean, I am just trying to learn and understand your culture through these questions.

And yet, you feel so comfortable asking me why women put a little sticker on their foreheads, and why we wear saris and kurtas and why we every Indian person seems to always smell like curry and whether or not we eat curry everyday and if we don’t like artichokes or asparagus or kale because of religious reasons, and where we are really from.

Let me be the millionth person to point out. Statistically, there’s more of my culture than yours. Please stop treating me like the alien, when you’re so outnumbered that you should be the statistic.

The hardest part of all this foreignness is that no one ever asked if I wanted to be the ambassador for my culture. You have always assumed that since I am slightly darker, slight larger eyed and slightly frizzier haired that I am the epitome of representation for millions and millions of people. You have never found that problematic. But god forbid, I make a generalised statement that goes something like “Americans something something something,” because then the uncultured swine that’s me is taught that all Americans are different and there’s a vast difference in culture from the East to the West to the South to the North, but you forget that the millions of other aliens that resemble me have a vast different in culture and language and food and clothes and traditions and religion and race from the East to the West to the South to the North.

So, what do we do? We don’t tell you our experiences, or if we do, we make fun of our own experiences because you found Apu funny. We become removed from our own cultures, but continue being the ambassadors, who inevitably, misrepresented themselves and the millions and millions of other people. Eventually, we feel out of place and out of sync but the fog will never lift, because we can’t seem to come to terms with ourselves.

Breeze

Broke the world in half, hit rock bottom face first

tried and tried and tried to check all of the boxes to be simple, but complex person

to fit the contradictory mould we have created for ourselves.

You draw and paint and write and sing and dance

to show the fire in your heart

to show the passion in your expression

to show the uniqueness that is you.

Not realising there is only of you, and so many of us.

You have let 150 characters rule your life

perfected that question, you know which one

“describe yourself in three, five, words”

Innovative. Creative. Collaborative.

All the while your fiery hearts beats to the rhythms of

Insecure. Repressed. Lonely.

So you draw and paint and write and sing and dance. Hold your tongue. Fake it till you make it. Pretend and you will really feel that way.

9 ways to increase your confidence.

12 ways to love yourself again.

But none of those instructions tell you that out of everything your genes could have been, you were designed.

You’re artisan.

You’re custom-made,

or whatever the buzz word for that is these days.

You’re in war against yourself.

You’re in war against yourself while everyone else is fighting against you as well.

Hold your tongue.

Stand up straight.

Is that what you’re wearing?

What would Jesus say?

What would Beyonce do?

It’s okay to not know what you want to do. But you’re not allowed to do things we’ve labeled uncool. But if you do

we will either bully you

or on the rare occasion

call you

Courage.

Maybe Brave.

But what if

you didn’t hold your tongue?

What if you started to

fight for yourself?

Don’t worry.

You’ll never run out of enemies.

You’ll never run out of

people who want to fight against you.

That fire you mistook for passion will die so you won’t be raging hot. You’ll be the breeze that you

needed

all

along

just

to

exist

with

a

little

peace.

Just the same

I remember you just the same.

The day I walked in, I remember your tiny pale yellow flips flops sitting under your bed, as if you never left. All your clothes still in the closet. The photos of your family replaced by photos of you. Your bed untouched but pristine. I put your flip flops on and wept, sitting on the corner of the bed. I could never fit into them. You had these dainty little feet to match your dainty little self. I never wanted to leave that bed. The room, tucked away, bright when necessary, dark when needed. The walk in closet you hoarded up with memories for everyone, except yourself. I remember standing at the bottom of the stairs and looking up at the kitchen, the uneven worn out stone steps and running up and down them as a kid. I never expected to see you up there. I walked up, knowing there was just a large empty space and you weren’t crouching over in the corner somewhere churning butter. I knew you wouldn’t be there around the back, near the shower, ready for your hour long scrub down after a day of work. They put a table in the middle of the kitchen, trying to reclaim the space you left behind. An entire dining table and the six chairs around it obviously didn’t help. Your tiny little body loved that one edge by the stove, but your tiny little body was all over that kitchen, and you had left the imprints of your movements everywhere. No number of tables and chairs can remove the ghosts you left behind. All the tins and jars of sugar, salt and spices just sat there lazily, being ignored.

And that was it. I remember your movements around the kitchen. I could have stood there all day and envisioned your activities from sunrise to nightfall. The way you blindly added spices and salt with your hands. You owned one spoon, that sat next to the stove, ready to be used for when you tasted your food before you served it, which never happened. The spoon grew rust and the rust spread onto the white marble counter top and you got annoyed and threw away the spoon and complained that everyone just left spoons everywhere. I could have sat in your room just the same, and you’d be right there, talking away, growing tired and letting me chat away while you dozed. Then one day, you gave up being tired altogether and left. They burned your body and collected it in the form of ashes and freed you over the river, while I missed it all. We didn’t get to chatter away, but the last time I saw you, you let me pick up your tiny body and whirl you around and I remember thinking how your frail bones and thin skin coped. They didn’t. I remember you the same because I wasn’t there to witness you being any different.

The day I walked in, I remember her tiny pale yellow flips flops sitting under her bed, as if she never left. All her clothes still in the closet. The photos of her family replaced by photos of her. When I started to weep, you pulled me into your chest and we didn’t speak until I stopped weeping. I have been sitting here trying to remember you just the same, because I no longer want to have witnessed you being any different. I want to remember your wrinkles, your old songs, your disapproval of the world and everyone that inhabited it. Well, everyone but one. But I remember the day you stopped being the same. Now, no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember you anyhow else.

You just stood outside the doorframe, nodding solemnly while you accepted the hundreds of condolences that spilled out onto you. Hours later, when everyone had done their part, you wept and wept and wept for your love. You wept a storm that drenched your face and soul. When it passed, there was no physical damage, just a lingering disheartened understanding that you needed to continue surviving, for others. So, you recreated her room, pretending she was still there. But you couldn’t recreate her kitchen, because there was never anything but her little body and ungodly amounts of food on every counter, so you forced in a table and chairs that would never be used, not even by the dog. You spent your days in silence, awaiting death. You lost weight, probably because you stopped eating all that homemade butter. Counting down hours and days until you two could both be swimming together in the form of ashes in that river, starting a whole new love story.

Sometimes I think it might have been better for the both of us if I had managed to remember you just the same too.

India’s Daughter

In case you have been living in a cave, you would have come across the online storm the documentary, India’s Daughter, created on social media, causing news desks to pick up the story. India has banned the documentary, and we are all supposed to be surprised and backlash against it now.

Let me be clear, anyone and everyone should take some time to watch the documentary. There will be many who will agree with me, and others who will stand firm in saying that the documentary only glorifies rape and rapists.

You know what glorifies rape and rapists? The fact that marital rape is still not recognised in India, despite the Criminal Law Amendment of 2013, which was all to please the protestors, the press and the otherwise mute public that the government is going to have a better handle on punishing and recognising rape cases. Let’s couple this fact with another – 94% of rape victims know their rapists. How much am I, personally, willing to bet that most of those victims are raped by their husbands, considering women are just reared for marriage? They set up a committee that took suggestions from the public so they could strengthen laws surrounding sexual assault, rape and so forth. That committee received over 80, 000 suggestions. Eighty thousand suggestions, and we are to believe that not a single one of those suggestions had the words “Make marital rape legal?” written on them? Eighty thousand suggestions, and not a single one wanted to identify the various types of sexual crimes committed on the bodies of men and transgender individuals? Eighty thousand suggestions, and not one single Indian citizen thought to improve care and protections of domestic violence victims?

Do we even remember what the woman’s name was from the 2012 Delhi rape case? I feel as though that’s her name now – the Delhi rape case. Jyoti Singh will not be a name we will care to remember in the long run. Jyoti Singh has become yet another one of the hundreds of thousands of women who are assaulted, raped and thrown away until someone in the media picks it up and tweets about it.

Mukesh Singh is waiting to die by hanging in some prison. Mukesh Singh was the bus driver in the Delhi rape case. Mukesh Singh maintains the stance that he did not partake in the rape itself, but simply drove the bus while it happened. Mukesh Singh, that was you partaking in the rape. Mukesh Singh maintains a lack of regret. Mukesh Singh thinks women walking around town by themselves after sunset are simply asking for it.

Jyoti Singh is not India’s daughter. The constant confinement of women as mothers, daughters, sisters as a reason to not rape them is not acceptable. What if it was your sister? How would YOU feel if someone raped your mother? Women do not belong in India, not as your mothers, your sisters, your wives or your daughters. But what about your sons? Where did they learn this astounding level of arrogance and power that they own bodies? Where did they learn that somehow, as if by magic, women are weaker, in every sense of the word? Where are your brothers and fathers learning that it’s only a crime if they get caught? Where did your older brother learn that if he spots a girl walking around at 9.30pm, she deserves to be raped? Where did your father learn to slap your mother around, knowing she will not hit back let alone report it?

India is a state for sons: Mukesh Singh, Ram Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur and the unnamed teenager.

-SR.

Another dreaded question

There are many dreaded questions, spanning from your classic lover’s turmoil of “do you still love me?” to a phone call that starts off eerily silent and the receiver just asks “what happened?”

But there’s one question that came up time and time again over the last few weeks, and I have had to laugh it off, because I still have not come up with an appropriate response. Mainly because I feel any answer would create a unwanted certainty, or at best, a white lie with transformation capabilities. The question arose ever since I spread the news of my departure from London. The question generally takes the form of, “When will you be back next?” but sometimes, it is phrased as “When will we see each other again?”

I say it’s a dreaded question because I have no answer. There are perhaps a small handful of people I will see again in the next few years, but the sad truth, the majority of those people and I will never cross paths again. That was the end of an experience for both parties. With their own undecided futures, they ask so hopefully when I would be back, as if they were certain of their time in the city. The only life lesson you will never need to learn about cities like London and Hong Kong is that “staying the same” means something entirely different. The truth is, nothing is ever the same. In these cities, people glide in and out of your life like sneezes. Annoyingly present one minute… only to disappear and be forgotten in another.

Then, of course, there’s the soft call of death when older relatives ask you the same question. The reminder that all your pessimism is in fact, lethal to yourself and those around you, and that is probably why you spew bullshit about never seeing the majority of your friends in a city you could call home given different circumstances. And that is why you concoct lies about the uncertainty of the future and the vagueness of our lives and experiences, because putting in the effort to go and see someone would show that you care.

And we all know that we only start showing care on our deathbeds, when our loved ones have been misplaced from our lives for far too long at that point.

Removal

Of course, the minute anything gets too difficult or too complex to deal with it, my ultimate response is to simply remove it. It’s the ultimate kill the spider or buy a new house scenario. Time and time again, this removal strategy has failed me, to no one’s surprise, especially not mine. However, I think this time I’ve learnt my lesson… Ish.

My failed attempts at staying in London were met with complexities, so my natural response was to remove myself from London and start a whole new life elsewhere. India, to be specific. I’m still going to India. I’ve realised the possibilities are certainly greater, despite the fact that I probably will not survive an entire day without a body guard. All the researching and fact finding has revealed one glaring obviousness I’ve ignored for too long: Just because you’ve spotted an opportunity does not mean you get up and leave as soon as possible.

Like many of my decisions, that was my entire game plan. Pack up and leave as soon as possible. Coming from a family of planners, who have been successful mainly because of their organisational skills, it seemed like I lived in a warped reality where once I spotted something I wanted, nothing could deter me.

So, this is a memo, to future me, who will have planned the A to Z of a sustainable and manageable life in New Delhi before any packing happens. Because the chaos and stress of spontaneous relocation is just not worth it.

– SR.