This morning, I woke up convinced that I was going on a much-awaited trip... until I realized that it was a dream and my much-awaited trip was cancelled last week due to the Jat agitations and road/railway blocks. For a few disoriented moments, I sat up on the bed staring at the bag I had packed for this trip (that I still haven't had the heart to unpack). This would have been my second solo trip, and the month of February has gone by without me stepping out of Delhi/NCR (blasphemy, in the mind of an unemployed person who likes to travel). 

My mother has always been amused (I think) with my interest in going out of town this often. Now that I'm married, she asks 'ippovaanu oorsutthardha nirutthen!' (why don't you stop loafing around/travelling at least now?) I don't know what marriage has to do with travelling, but my parents are to be complimented for instilling in me the confidence to be out (often by myself) and take public transport (and by extension, I took it to exploring). 

When in school, I took the public bus back home, and the walk from the school to the bus stop is something I will always remember fondly. Together with a bunch of close friends - all girls, or sometimes alone, the walk was always full of nonsense, laughter and thoughts. On the way was a beautiful cemetery - lush with greenery and beautiful white stone angels - that I wanted to enter, but never managed to, in the seven years I walked that route. I only stopped taking the bus a couple of months before I finished class 12, when two boys from a college nearby stalked my friend and me for days together. I wish I could tell 17-year-old me to confront them.  

Singapore was a blessing to the loner that I sometimes become. In my college campus, and later the areas where I lived, I would often walk alone, mostly with the iPod and ice cream, turning over thoughts (and sometimes story ideas) in my head. I only need to close my eyes, and images of the long lonely stretches, clean pavements with an odd pedestrian or cyclist, and the orange lighting in the road, fill my head with nostalgia.

Of course, unfortunately, such worry-free walking is not always possible on Indian streets. The few times I’ve tried it in Delhi at night, I’ve been annoyed with the idea of being ready to dial a number at short notice and tired of constantly looking back or slowing down to let a ‘suspicious’ person or car pass before I walk again. That doesn’t stop me from trying, though – I deserve my right to solitude and public spaces as anyone, and should be able to trust my gut instinct (and NOT be blamed if something, god forbid, goes wrong).

I truly owe it to my parents for trusting my senses and giving me the freedom to travel by public bus, walk or cycle alone during my school years. For not constantly harping on adult company or asking me to call as soon as I reached a friend’s home. For teaching me that it’s not beneath me to travel by public transport (as is the idea I get from many in Delhi), and for encouraging me to figure out maps, interchanges, ask for help and understand bus connections (something that becomes very useful in international trips!) Aided by this upbringing and the exploratory freedom that Singapore gave me, I casually roam around in Delhi without hesitation. I can take informed risks to access public spaces and tut-tut concerns of going to ‘shady’ places.

Perhaps my parents realise this too. Amma doesn’t chide me for going to look at monuments by myself. When I told her about my now-cancelled solo trip and she asked me questions on where I was going and when I’d be back, her voice didn’t betray even the tiniest bit of worry or anxiety. Nor did she once discourage me or ask why I had to go alone. It may be because she thinks I’m beyond redemption when it comes to travelling, but as I was talking to her, I swelled with pride. Amma truly trusts I can go by myself.

Managed my 'Pakkathaathu Ponnu' post-of-the-week on the last day of the week! I also wonder if  I should rethink the 500-word limit. I always seem to have a lot to say and cutting down on my typical way of writing doesn't seem fair. Let's see what next week brings! 

Yesterday, I chanced upon The Guilty Feminist podcasts, in which the first episode was on a ‘nu6ity challenge’ that the hosts took up, where they went in the nu#e someplace and posed for people to sketch or photograph.

As they talked about the discomfort they felt with their bodies while posing so (hence the ‘guilty’ feminist tag), I thought about my own experiences with the concept of nudi|y.

I’d say that the average Indian woman has a very confusing attitude towards being less clothed (forget naked). We’re asked to hurriedly throw on a dupatta when a guest (or any man!) unexpectedly visits home, and b!kin!s aren’t even in our typical line of sight. But in a few carefully selected environments we also let our guard down without much thought.

Take, for instance, the few Hindu temples that allow women to take a dip in holy waters. In the changing room, it’s a sudden show of camaraderie, with women not caring to cover up – it’s like they suddenly realized that all women all have b00bs and, well, fat! And then there are the female family members who, in a common changing room at home, spring their uncovered selves upon an unsuspecting you, while you wonder whether to look away, or pretend not to care because hey, what’s there to be shy – we’re all women here?

Having never really swung either ways, looking back, I went through my own rites of passage when it came to ‘exposing’ myself to a stranger.  

Massages were a great place to start. While I’ve never been a fan, the friend I often travelled with loved massages, so I ended up getting a few just to give her company. Once in, you have no choice but to give in as a bored masseuse holds up a towel and asks you to roll over so she can massage the other side (after the towel covers strategic body parts, of course!) Being someone who gets tickled oh-so-easily, I had to focus more on not laughing than on my uncovered body.  

The second burst of ‘growing up’ happened in a Turkish hamam. Lured by images of women sitting gracefully in towels, I went in, changed and emerged unclothed in nothing but a towel that I held on to for dear life. As the woman who would give me my luxurious bath got in, she yanked my towel away, and I stared in stunned silence. When she saw me cringe and try to cover up, she said ‘I old lady. 60 years old!’ I eventually came to terms with it, because that was the only way I could enjoy the luxurious soapy bath she was giving me while singing ‘Que Sera Sera’ and ‘Aawaara hoon’ (which she sang when she realized I was Indian).

But nothing made me more feel body positive than being in a Japanese public path. I’d escaped through two onsens, having had no one but me in the heated pool for a luxurious soak. In Kyoto, however, I went to a public bath, which meant there’d be many women using the facility. I entered the changing room gingerly, wondering how I’d handle it. But the second I entered, I lost my inhibitions. It was a glorious moment of enlightenment that I will always remember. Inside were women of all shapes, ages and sizes, with scant regard for body hair or fat – there was simply no space for shame – and through them came my lesson in respecting and enjoying my body, no matter its flaws. For all of 250 yen (125 rupees), I soaked in one pool after another thanks to two Japanese women who taught me the Japanese public bath regimen (cleansing shower --> hot pools --> mineral salts pool --> sauna --> cold water pool --> rinse).

All my experiences baring it all have been in front of women, so I have a long way to go before I can declare that I’m absolutely comfortable in my skin. Also, thanks to my genes, for now I have a body that doesn’t fall close to either ends of the body weight spectrum – so I recognize that socially I’m in line with the current ‘ideal’ body type, which makes my battle ridiculously easy. That doesn’t stop me from wishing my body would somehow fit the curves that clothes come in. But call it age (or maturity or pure ‘I don’t give a f*^k’), I’m increasingly comfortable about my body. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll muster the courage to wear a b!kin!.
For some background to what Pakkathaathu Ponnu means, see this.

Growing up, nothing quite infuriated me more than the words “aathula illa”, literally “she’s out”, an annoying euphemism for being on your period. My grandma would generously “warn” folks visiting us about my "condition", lest they unknowingly touch me, while I would be quietly seething with anger in a corner of the house.

In case you’re lucky enough to not know what I’m talking about, many families believe that menstruating women are to be kept separately so as to not “pollute” the place. At my place, we were made to sit, eat and sleep separately, not enter the kitchen or the puja room/space. Worse stories are of rooms that the woman walked through being cleaned with water, and just the thought of this makes me want to cry.

Needless to say, there used to be frequent arguments with my mother about this subject. She’d claim that these were days of rest from the household chores that she enjoyed. “These customs came about to give women this break, and also because it can be quite difficult to work through those days” (sure, so let’s have her sleep on a mat in a hut outside the house?) While rules were strict when my grandmother was around (we all lived together), I got a period “holiday” when my grandparents were traveling. My mother would let me eat at the table (yay!) and we’d generally be a little less fussy about the “no touching” rules.

Through my years at home, I made many little transgressions. Like not “revealing” the period on one new year’s day because I didn’t want to start the year with that idea. That day, as I marched to the temple with the family, I quietly wondered if I would be punished somehow. God, I hoped, please don’t take this out on my 10th standard results!

It wasn't always this clear-cut, though. I remember I burst into tears when I got my period a day before my birthday, because that evening, I was due to collect awards for class 10 performance (turns out God didn't mess around with the results!)

The day I left for Singapore for the first time, I got my period, but nothing was going to stop me on the most important day of my life so far! I told Amma, we arrived at a secret understanding to not mention it, and I hugged and shook hands with all the relatives who’d come to see me off. Of course I also didn’t mention it to the relatives who met me in Singapore and took me around (to a temple, again!), and this time I went in with a little more confidence. I still remember the way I ruffled all the clothes in my cupboard, only because I could rightfully touch them!  

Now, the period hardly matters for anything except the pain that comes with it and the PMS that announces its arrival. Whenever I visit home, Amma is also so chilled out that she hardly bothers when I tell her I’m on my period. I remember the wry smile she had on her face when I told her that I went to the temple with the friend who was visiting, because I couldn’t see a reason as to why he should know I’m on my period and hence “may not” visit a temple. For the first time in my life I swallowed period delaying tablets last year to participate in a family ritual (and the only reason I did it was because I found the idea of sitting outside while the rituals happened inside humiliating), and I swore after that I would never ever take those again – unless it’s for some much-awaited trip that involves water-related fun!

Very much aathulaiye iruppen, thank you.

(This post crosses my self-imposed word limit of 500, but like we'd argue with our English teachers, word limits come with a flexibility of an extra 100 words)

(literally, the girl next door, in Tamil typically spoken by Brahmins)

Let’s start off by saying I’ve lived a life of privilege: born into a middle class, Indian upper caste family, with parents who didn’t think twice about my education, or bemoan the fact that their second child, me, was also a girl, and gave me three massive boosts in life:

1    independence to go out on my own
2.   an overseas education at 17
3.   allowing me to marry someone I “found”

And this someone I married, right now, has never stopped me from doing anything I’ve wanted to. And gives no place for sexism in our house or our relationship. He’s been super supportive in my decision to quit my job to figure out what next.

For all intents and purposes, the most important stakeholders in my life have been extremely kind to me. And I recognize these are things I’ve taken for granted that unfortunately very few others can.

BUT – all the same, there are little pesky things that nibble at everyday peace, which purely have to do with my gender. These come from not just from family, but friends, colleagues, others who feel they have any kind of a say in my life. The expectation to cook, somewhere be ‘respectful’ to my husband, the idea that ‘it’s okay’ that I take a break from my job because I’m  a woman and can afford that luxury (again, keeping in mind the privileges I listed earlier).

I’ll be lying if I say I’m not co-opting into some of these privileges. Despite being a self-aware, independent feminist, I grant myself some privileges because of my gender.

This series is an attempt to write about some of these that cross my mind. I’m not giving a number to this series; just a few rules, to keep me going:
1.     Each post will be no longer than 500 words
2.     As long as I’m writing (and am voluntarily unemployed), I will have at least one post a week
3.     This is all based on true events, primarily things that have happened to me
4.     As far as possible, I’ll try to make it fun! While feminism is a very serious subject, and I FULLY endorse it, I want to make sure I also lead a sane life by giving myself a break, asking questions, making un-feminist decisions with as much cognizance of my basket of choices as possible. I want to raise questions fundamental to feminism, but not want to get into jargon.
5.     Oh, and this is intensely personal, so if you’re going to get squeamish reading certain things, you have the option to leave my page.
6.     Finally, family and husband, I love you very much, and what I write here does in no way express any doubts on the love you have for me.

Out of pure lack of confidence in my ability to follow such goals in recent times, I’m only going to start posting these when I’m done with at least three additional entries!

I hope you like it, if you’re still one of those who happens to check my blog, or are patient enough to click through a link on Facebook or Twitter and land here!