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Lessons in life: a reflection on my birthday

First off, thank you to the awesome people in my life. Thank you for reminding me that kindness exists every where. Thank you for lifting me up. Thank you for brightening my life every single day. Thank you for being honest & straight forward with me. Thank you to my family, friends, my mentors & colleagues. Thank you for showing me a thousand ways to love & live in every moment.

I saw this video a couple of days ago and since today is my birthday and I am stepping into 37 and staring the big 4-0 in the face – it seemed like a good time to take a look back on what has been a rather interesting journey so far.

It’s been 7 years since I started blogging. Putting my thoughts out into the open, for others to see, comment on and debate. It’s scary. Very scary. Mostly because I had this hang up on an unconscious need for approval. As life happened, I learnt that I really don’t need the approval or validation of others to be awesome.

I am a round peg in a square hole and maybe I don’t fit in because I am supposed to help create a new world. And I am – in my own little corner of the world, in my immediate sphere, I am making a difference and that’s enough. I am kind (mostly), considerate (maybe too much), empathetic (again, too much), loyal & protective (but these are things that I never want to change about myself).  Most days I manage to retain a sense of humor – someday’s its more sarcastic & dry and that’s ok too.

I know in my bones that even though the night is darkest right before dawn, the sun will inevitably rise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and all I have to do is to continue putting one foot in front of the other, to keep moving forward. I have learnt to say ‘no’, draw my boundary and roll with the punches. I know that no matter how many times I fall down, I am capable of picking myself up, dusting it off and going on.

You never know when it might be the last time you speak to someone. As I lose more people who I love, I have learnt that death can come for any of us at anytime. It’s very important to tell the people you love that you love them. Let people know when you appreciate something about them. Give others compliments – genuine, specific compliments. Let people know when who they are, and what they do for you, lifts you up.

Love with gusto. I don’t get how people can love in half measures with a generous sprinkling of caution. That’s like saying I am going to the pool but I am not going to jump in, swim around or get wet in anyway. If you are going to love something, love with all your heart. I consider myself very lucky to have incredible people in my life, who care for me and show me that in a thousand ways.

Half measures & half-hearted efforts yield mediocre results. To cultivate high quality relationships takes time (sometimes years), sincere effort, devotion, honesty, integrity and most of all genuine kindness. You can’t do any of this in half measures, whether it’s your work or your people, give a 100% and more. Let go of attachment to results. The destination is important but it’s more important to enjoy the journey.

Be Grateful, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Give more than you get, spread kindness, happiness – the world will always need more of that. When someone helps you out, thank them. Smile at someone who isn’t smiling today. Say good morning, thank you, ask how are you & really listen to their answer. Sometimes we all need a ear and a shoulder for support.

Life isn’t black or white. Choices aren’t straight forward. Decisions shouldn’t be rigid. Be prepared to change as things changed. If you are stuck in a position, take a break. Breathe, walk, come back later with a cooler head. More often than not, I find that it makes me more willing to take a look at the opposing perspective. No one is all good, all bad, no decision or action is a person in their entirety.

Bad things happen to good people all the time. And that’s ok too. Being hung up on good, bad, fair, unfair only creates discontent and dissatisfaction. Take life as it comes, instead of resisting, flow the way water flows around a boulder on a river. Death isn’t fair and sometimes it takes the one’s who are too young or too loved.

If you let people screw you over more than twice, then I am sorry but you really are a moron. And I have been moronic – too trusting, too giving, too sympathetic, too forgiving. Funny thing is, I don’t think I lost anything. I gained lessons. I learnt to lose people and sometimes to kick off the one’s that hang on and suck my soul dry. I am ok with living somewhere in the shades of gray but I know now that some things can never be compromised on. I have a better idea of what my ‘deal breakers’ are.

Success is mostly hard work, with a tiny sprinkling of luck. The harder you work, the more your luck improves. However, there IS a big difference between being smart, working smart and just being hard-working. Sometimes the lazy way to get things done, really is the best way, it leaves one with more time to do other things.

Be open to new things. It really is amazing to stay open to new opportunities, adventures, places, people, culture, food, experience. Test your boundaries – life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Be alive while you are still living. My places to see and things to do list is ever-expanding. At this rate I have given up on any hope of being able to tick it all off. However, every time I do tick off something, I do my victory dance – the cross between my chicken dance and pointy dance. Find your rhythm and do your funky dance, celebrate your victories & success, celebrate people & their kindness.

I have learnt the value of quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s clothes, shoes, handbags or relationships. It’s better to have few very good friends, who lift you up, sing you the song of your soul when you have forgotten it. Then to have hundreds of friends whom you rarely, interact with. Small talk is over-rated. Don’t change yourself to fit with others. You are an original and it’s worth more than a copy. So be you, be awesome, be totally weird!

Commit to things but make sure that they are really what you need. We tend to confuse our wants with needs. I want a knight in shining armor who will ride off into the sunset with me, so we can have a house in the country with white picket fence and 2.5 kids. What I need is someone who will let me be the monk who meditates for a month in a remote mountain in solitude. Or go off in a grand adventure around the world with my friends. See the difference? Huge! What I think I want is what I have grown up with in fairy tales and the social expectations heaped on me. What I need is what my soul demands, the wanderlust in me who begs to be set free.

Don’t listen to other people’s advice, nobody knows what they are doing. People mean well – at least sometimes they really do. But if I wanted to run like the wind, I wouldn’t go to a turtle for advice. We are unique human beings and each one of us dreams of something very different from the others. If you listen to other people, they’ll either tell you what they have done, what has worked for them, or how you should or shouldn’t do what you want to do. So if you are going to take advice, better make sure that the people who advice you ARE where you want to be.

 Avoid toxicity – at all cost – in everything. You only have one life to live, one body to live in, one mind that will be with you for the rest of your life. So be kind to yourself, to your body, your mind. Avoid toxic people, junk food, negative thoughts. They take out more than they put in and in the end, it’s really not worth it. Cut out the crap, exercise, meditate, take long walks in nature, hold hands and hug your loved one’s.

The only person you should be competing with is yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t really know what they are going through. Also, you may not really want their life if you knew. What others have to say about you is none of your business – it’s a reflection of them, not you. Also what others do is none of your business unless it has direct negative impact on you (like a physical threat). In which case – hit first, hit hard, neutralize the threat and remove yourself from the situation.

Discard labels. Tags and labels are for stuff – clothes, shoes, bags, accessories. Not human beings. Do not allow others to label you – beautiful, smart, stupid or whatever. Good or bad – your life’s narrative is your own. You decide how you want to write it and do it your own way. If you don’t, others will. Choose your words wisely – the way you describe yourself – verbally out loud or silently within your own head – is what you project out into the world.

If you are stuck, keep hammering at the door to new opportunities. If it stays closed, then sneak in through the window. The only one who can really help yourself or change your life for the better is you. Pick your heroes and mentors carefully, they do shape who you become but even they can only show you the door, the decision to walk through is exclusively yours.

Be awesome, be kind, charity starts with yourself and in your own home. Be the best version of yourself.  Be your own best friend. Learn to love your life and be comfortable in your own skin. Believe in yourself and stop being your own worst critic. 

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My first ink – a symbolic commitment to myself. The phoenix symbolizes rebirth, courage – the strength and resilience to rise from ashes. Among the Chinese, the phoenix (fèng) is also the symbol of good fortune. The word on top is Meiyo – Honor, it’s from the code of Bushido. Warriors have only one judge of honor & character and that is themselves. Every decision is their own responsibility and how it’s carried out is a reflection of who they truly are. The word in the bottom is Yu – heroic courage, again from code of Bushido. It denotes the difference between living life like a turtle hiding inside its shell vs. living life completely, fully and wonderfully. Courage that is not blind but intelligent & strong. The word on the left is Ga or Hagane – meaning Strong as metal. The word on the left is Chi, meaning Wisdom. Honor is leading, therefore on top; courage is the power coming from deep down, and strength and wisdom are the qualities needed to tackle life, therefore under the Phoenix’ wings.

‘Ubuntu’ and how it applies to our narrative on poverty

Desmond Tutu talks about the concept of Ubuntu, in the context of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process that they embarked on after apartheid. He says it means, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours; we belong to a bundle of life.” A bundle of life. The Truth and Reconciliation process started by elevating the voices of the unheard.

In a world torn apart by wars, in the face of our humanity decimated by our greed to control precious resources, we have lost our ‘Ubuntu’. We lost it when the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy had to wash ashore for us to wake up and notice the plight of the refugees fleeing wars. We lost it when Charlie Hebdo created yet another cartoon mocking this death in the name of freedom of speech. We lost it when our headlines continue to be titillating news of latest celebrity scandals instead of the very real scandal of how we are collectively failing humanity.

The refugees, the poverty, the wars, the fight over control of resources, the new wave of colonialism that is sweeping through, it is cleverly disguised. Cleverly labeled as economic migrants looking for the easy life, a war to install democracy by bombing out entire cities, their citizens nameless, un-reckoned casualties, the news swept away, tucked somewhere in page 12 in a small column in international news. The number of these casualties unrecognized, unknown to the general population. The new colonialism that talks about integration, globalization, ensuring access to resources, for who? to what end?

We talk about the Millennium Development Goals and what a huge success it has been. So now we are talking about Sustainable Development Goals and how certain things need to be prioritized in order to ensure quality of life for everybody – “To leave no one behind”. Our narrative on poverty however has hardly changed. A large portion of our actions are still top-down, driven by political agenda, prioritized towards winning votes for parties, influence within the country or in international sphere. We cater to political leaders, to speeches to be made in parliament, to achieve goals that will look good when put up in a billboard. We cater to specific themes because that’s where the money is – that’s where the funding is.

In all the South-South talk and the North-South cooperation, how many specific areas for development were targeted because that’s where the real on the ground needs are?

I don’t know… maybe because I haven’t looked enough.

I want to know though. I want to know it the way I know the SDG’s. I want to see real life solutions coming out of grass-root movements, that impact on the people whose very lives we claim to want to change for the better. The people we don’t want ‘to leave behind’. Maybe the way we see things has to change, maybe that’s still a long way to go, maybe we’ll get there in one generation or ten. Maybe the change has to start now, with us, in this moment. Maybe we have to filter what news we consume and how we allow it to shape our narratives. Maybe we have to start questioning everything – including our deep-seated assumptions – even on issues that we believe to be ‘written in stone’.

If we are to live up to our promise of working for the people, with the people, for the greater good of humanity, then we have to rediscover our ‘Ubuntu’ and live up to it. And in this thought provoking talk by Mia Birdsong, she invites us to do just that.

The ability to be vulnerable

Brene Brown is a social researcher who thought she was researching “connection”. You know the thing that holds us together? whether its society, community, family, work or relationship between two people. It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert, all of us needs connections, a sense of belonging, a sense of self-worth which is intrinsically related to our well-being. Take this sense away and each person is an island of desolation. Keep it alive and you are part of a much wider picture and together you are beautiful.

So there she was starting what she thought was going to be a one year research, except that it turned into a six-year stint, during which her assumptions were thrown right out the window and at one point, she was forced to seek out a therapist because she was struggling with accepting the result that was staring at her on the face “Vulnerability”. The people with a strong sense of belonging, of self-worth, were the people who were willing to be Vulnerable. Now admittedly that’s scary. It scares me. I am so good at being self-sufficient and strong that the idea of allowing myself to be vulnerable to or with another person frankly gives me the heebie-jeebies. I am not sure if it’s something that I am willing to do deliberately.

So maybe this should go on the list of things to which I challenge myself over the next four months of this year …. open myself up to the possibility of being vulnerable – knowing full well that it’s going to be damn uncomfortable and freaking scary. Now let’s see how that goes 🙂

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable,nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing.They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees … the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.

I personally thought it was betrayal. I could not believe I had pledged allegiance to research, where our job — you know, the definition of research is to control and predict, to study phenomena for the explicit reason to control and predict. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. This led to a little breakdown — which actually looked more like this.  And it did.

……..She said, “What’s going on?” And this is a therapist who sees therapists, because we have to go to those, because their B.S. meters are good.  And so I said, “Here’s the thing, I’m struggling.” And she said, “What’s the struggle?” And I said, “Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And I think I have a problem, and I need some help.” And I said, “But here’s the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit. I just need some strategies.” So she goes like this. And then I said, “It’s bad, right?” And she said, “It’s neither good nor bad. It just is what it is.” And I said, “Oh my God, this is going to suck.”

 

 

The beauty that connects us

In this awesome Ted Talk photographer Jimmy Nelson talks about his journey to photograph tribal people around the world. The lessons he learnt and  how he was affected as a person by the interactions he engaged in. Well worth the 17 minutes to watch this talk 🙂

When Jimmy Nelson traveled to Siberia to photograph the Chukchi people, elders told him: “You cannot photograph us. You have to wait, you have to wait until you get to know us, you have to wait until you understand us.” In this gorgeously photo-filled talk, join Nelson’s quest to understand — the world, other people, himself — by making astonishing portraits of the world’s vanishing tribes and cultures.

What does it take to brighten a day?

What will it take to brighten your day today? A smile, a hug, a friend, a random act of kindness?

The good thing about most of these are that you cannot give one without getting one.

When I hug my friends, I get a hug in return.

When I smile and tease my friends, I get laughter in return.

When I love without calculating whether the love will be returned and how much, I get loved in return.

There’s a bunch of street kids near my university who seems to have figured out something quite well. They pick up trash and trade in garbage. In their line of work, where they exist in the fringe of society, in the space where most people are trying to avoid looking them in the eye or if they do, they don’t know how to react. I have seen them being treated with disdain, pity and a plethora of emotions which we would never consciously expose our children to. These are kids in the age range of 5 to 10 years old.

Not my group of kids but similar 🙂 Photo credit goes to my wonderful colleague, Carel de Groot. He sees beauty in the mundane and does a wonderful job of capturing the human spirit 🙂

What they seem to have figured out is that kindness among themselves work to keep them boosted above their drudgery. Last year, I refused to hand out money to this kid who came around begging. Instead I offered to buy him what I was eating – a chicken roll and a soda. He gleefully accepted but then went around to tell his other friends that the crazy lady at the shop was buying kids food. So next thing I know, I am swamped in this mêlée of kids, 3 deep, smiling at me and talking all over each other.

This kid could’ve taken his food, stayed right where he was and relished it. Instead he went and called his friends. If I had refused, he would’ve shared it with his buddies. But he wasn’t going to eat it alone. For them it was a treat they didn’t often get. The requests ranged from beef roll, chicken roll to egg roll. Most of the kids chose juice over soda, which was really amazing.

What struck me was that they were willing to share, even though they didn’t have much to begin with. They called on each other to share this good fortune (crazy lady doesn’t come by too often apparently). They knew what they wanted and they really enjoyed the moment, the food and each other’s generosity.

 

The love that buoys over everything else 🙂 Photo credit: Carel de Groot

 

In case you are wondering – the food for the entire team costs me less than what it would’ve cost to take my son out to KFC. And they enjoyed it far more than my son would’ve. The contrast was so stark, it was humbling. My son takes it as his right to eat out in places like Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, KFC, etc on a regular basis, at his whim. He never thinks of the food, cost or the experience, because its no less than what he expects.

That’s the difference between what we think we can do and what we can actually do.

It still doesn’t cost me much to feed these kids who line up whenever they see me on a break outside the university. They wait patiently to see if I would offer to feed them whatever I was eating, not clamouring, not demanding, just waiting. Yesterday I shared my ‘chotpoti’ (a popular street food) with a five-year old. He was so quiet from the rebuffs of life that he didn’t say anything when I asked him if he would like some. He nodded his head and stood waiting with his sack over his shoulder. As I pushed a tool towards him for him to sit down, I couldn’t help noticing his eyes  – they were sad, quiet, muted. When his plate was served, he picked gingerly at the shaved eggs dusted on top and savoured every bite of it. We sat side by side, eating in silence.

For me this was the moment that brightened my day. A random act of kindness, accepted by a child, who consented in silence to share that moment.

 

 

The spirit of the kids 🙂 Photo Credit: Carel de Groot

 

The Locust Effect: How everyday violence undermines efforts to alleviate poverty

In the development discourse, violence is an issue that is discussed in terms of wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing, gender, ethnic minorities etc. but perhaps not enough in the broad strokes of everyday violence in the way it affects the 2 billion people who live on 2 dollars a day. Not in the very tangible way it keeps people enslaved in poverty. We discuss violence against women in the household and outside as a factor to address in our march towards equality and economic emancipation. But are we really addressing the multi-faceted nature of everyday violence that is a part and parcel of the reality of the very people that we are trying to help? Are we shining a light on the daily instances of violence that pushes people deeper into poverty?

When law enforcement systems are broken, when access to justice is paved by payments unaffordable to the poor, where does that leave them and where does that leave us?

In The Locust Effect, Haugen outlines the catastrophic effect of everyday violence on the lives of the impoverished, and shows how rampant violence is undermining efforts to alleviate poverty.

 

Sufism: love & acceptance

 

I have always been attracted to Sufism for its openness, its loving, accepting nature but also partly because of the most celebrated Poet and Philosopher, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. I have quoted him in my blogs and devoured his book  “Maṭnawīye Ma’nawī“.  I wish in my search, I could say that I have walked away sated, instead it’s like a thirst that refuses to be quenched. He talks about the madness and calmness of longing for one’s beloved, of doing what is right even when it’s not so clear that the path you are on is in fact ‘right’. I am mesmerized by his faith in the Lord, in the fact that our relationship with the Lord is a direct one, that if we search, we’ll find God wherever we will look. His longing, his devotion, his love comes through in his writing in such a way that it pulls you in and takes you on a journey too.

And then there’s such devotion in Sufi music and I am specially loving these two songs right now (took a while to find videos with English translation)  🙂

 

 

Changing lives – one child at a time – Jaago Foundation

Paradox of religion and celebration

This is NOT a rant, rather an observation if you will.

Today is the 3rd day of Eid and for the past 3 days we have had this bunch of hooligans boys in my neighbourhood playing loud music on the street. Now this would not be irritating if it were not for the fact that they play it all hours, extremely loud, its last years hottest club mix (the street don’t look like no club to me) and the sound is transmitted over mike’s and loudspeakers that cannot handle the base of the music. So what we have had to contend with is JLO & Lungi Dance music, cracking at cranked up volumes. Enough to give anyone a headache, don’t you think?

Maybe I am cranky, I have been running a fever for nearly 6 days now BUT that’s not the reason for this post.

Here’s the Paradox – Eid is a religious festival. You are supposed to be celebrating the end of Ramadan, the month of patient fasting and all the lessons of empathy and sympathy, which we are supposed to have relearn over the past 30 days. It’s a time for family and friends. I wonder where Lungi Dance and JLO featuring Pitbull on “Dance again” features in that occasion.

I am all for partying, but this … 24/7. giving everyone else in the locality headaches, where’s the empathy and sympathy, or any tameez for that sense … in there? For a country that is conspicuously moving away from being Secular, how is this Islamic? What does that word even mean anymore?

I used to love Ramadan, the chance to practice patience, empathy with those less fortunate, to place yourself in another person’s shoes. But the truth is I don’t like this month anymore. Every single day I have witnessed at least 1 act of violence, a non-sensical reaction, which is then attributed to the fact that the person is fasting and has therefore less patience. Don’t fast then. People work less because they are fasting. They are late to work, because they are fasting. They leave early, because they are fasting. People scream and shout abuse in the roads at the CNG’s and the buses because they are fasting and are at a hurry to get home. Don’t fast.

If fasting makes you behave like this, don’t fast. You are not learning anything. You are not practicing patience. You are using it like a crutch, an excuse to act out the anger and apathy that you carry around otherwise.

The biggest paradox perhaps is the way religion and its various facets have been commercialized. In a country where half the people live under or near the poverty line, we have shops that are open until 3 am to facilitate shopping. At cut throat prices, I wonder who buys the glittering things that are displayed on shop windows. I wonder how many people instead concern themselves with making sure that they have calculated their zakat correctly and given it to someone who needs it.

Celebration is all very good but at the end of the day, why can’t we just say that we are doing what we are doing, because we like to have a good time. That would certainly be a good enough reason to celebrate our family and friends, every single day of the year, instead of just a couple of times. It would also be a good reason to practice the art of giving – gifts, zakat, sadka – throughout the year. We have been gifted with life. Life is a gift. And it is worth celebrating every moment that we breathe.

Powerful monologue by Kalki Koechlin

Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin wrote a strong monologue for a solo performance at the 13th Indian Today Conclave on International Women’s Day on March 8. The monologue, which she dubbed as ‘Just Another Rant’, is a frustrated ode to women everywhere chained and bound by traditional patriarchy.

Here’s the full text of her monologue:

You remember in the beginning?

In the beginning God made man.

God made man in his own image.

And then that’s was it. ‘Man’kind, hu’man’ity, wo’man.

Man, man, man.

What chance in Hell did we ever have?

We were sidelined from the Big Bang.

You remember Draupadi?

Draupadi married off to all five Pandavas.

She garlanded only Arjun

But they told her you got to marry all of us.

Five husbands! That can’t be fun.

God know I have enough trouble with one.

Or what about Eve and the apple?

Blaming one woman for all mankind’s evil?

Soorya and Kunti,

The Virgin Mary

Do you know Gaia?

The Goddess Mother Earth

She’s the one we all trample on.

And remember Aphrodite

Goddess of love and beauty

Lest we forget, she was also

The patron of prostituting.

Persephone,

She was less known

Raped by Hades

She became Queen of the underworld,

Not even goddesses were left alone.

You might not know A’isha,

She was one of the wives of Prophet Mohammad

She challenged a Califh for power

It created quite a ruckus,

It led to war in fact,

All because of one woman’s fuss,

And so was born the tradition Islamic

That women should not engage in anything politic.

But of course they did,

Thank god they did.

Women have their ways,

As somebody once put it.

The Queen of Sheba, Empress Theodora, Rabia al’ Basra,

Cleopatra, The Victorian Era, The Mona Lisa

The Suffragettes, Marilyn Monroe, The sixties and burning bras,

The unpopular Thatcher and our own Indira

Et cetra et cetra and now here we are.

Here we are,

We’ve survived this far,

Thanks to seduction, perhaps some manipulation,

But mostly thanks to Mother Nature and ovulation.

Now look at all the queens and goddesses of history,

No prince came to the rescue,

No king ever went down on one knee,

No deity was even that trustworthy,

Yet all we’ve be told since we were three,

Are fairytales, adverts, and pretty stories,

Telling us to pray, hope,

And wait to be saved.

Here we are today.

Here we are,

On International Women’s Day,

With some minor disappointments,

And a few little things to say.

The woman in red,

The girl in pink,

The widow in white,

The Burqa in black,

The colour of lipstick,

Viva Glam, Lady Danger, Fresh brew, Faux, Frenzy, Hot Gossip and Sweetie.

Ramblin, Siss, Crme cup, Paramount and Modesty

Fetish, Spice it up, Naked Paris, Honey love and Odyssey.

Apply, line, smack, seal, pout,

And you’re ready to go out.

Ugh!!!

Sometimes I just want an oversized T shirt, boxer shorts, unkempt hair and unibrows.

I want armpit hair long enough to plait,

I want a clean face without a trace of make up

I want to look the way I do when I wake up.

I want to scratch my head,

Dig my nose,

Lick my fingers,

Stretch my legs

And spread my toes.

I want to smile with my gums showing,

Bare my teeth and

Contort my pretty face into wrinkles.

I want my crow’s feet to look sexy,

Or my salt and pepper hair,

Or my sun burnt skin,

I want to be George Clooney basically,

But with breasts and a muffin.

Alas,

No…no…shhh…control, control!

Keep it down.

Stuff it up, bottle it in, switch it off,

Cross your legs, wear a bra,

Sit straight and smile sweetly for the camera.

I went to a party,

I went to a party where

I was looking for something real.

Glittering, flashing lights,

Sparkling clean glasses with something bubbly and expensive inside,

Stuck on smiles of painted lips and gorgeous, skinny, beautiful ladies all around,

I craved a touch, a caress,

But my senses were intimidated by cloned perfection.

I thought I could hear muffled wailing,

Nervous giggling,

Intoxicated complying.

I thought I could hear the buzz of millions, screaming out their instructions,

Sit down, stand up, stay,

This way, that way, go away

I can’t breathe, I’m choking.

This room is filled with smoke

From regrets and weak, nicely packaged cigarettes.

This room is filled with luxury and fame

And false dreams.

This room is full of fat sharks

With sharp teeth

Sliding through delicate skin

Like a hot knife through butter.

God I’m so hungry.

There’s nothing to eat.

No food except some frozen bits of fish

On a silver platter

I eat one. I’m still hungry.

I eat another and I’m stared at by the waiter.

No matter. I take the whole platter

Totter off to my little corner

Next to an old and and eat from my platter.

I’m stared at by the latter.

No matter. I continue to eat from my platter.

I wipe clean the crumbs from my platter.

I lick clean the whole platter.

What? What are you looking at?

Stop. Stop looking at me like that.

What? I was hungry.

Haven’t you ever seen somebody eat before.

Stop it. Seriously, stop staring at me.

Hey, I’m talking to you,

Are you deaf?

Stop staring at me!

Stop it. You’ll drive me crazy!

Oh god, I’m dizzy.

It’s that bubbly stuff they gave me

This is one hell of a party.

I have to leave.

I’m spinning and bumping into people and furniture,

I’m spinning and bumping into everything.

Bumping into shiny lies, through living ghosts,

Past sickness,

Ramming right into anger,

Into wastefulness, nothingness,

Bad times, endless sleepless nights,

Half dead daylights,

Violent bumps from losing loved ones,

Losing innocence,

Losing dignity,

Losing looks,

Losing, just losing.

I’m craving, I’m starving,

For something real,

Something breakable,

Something tangled,

Fragile, imperfect and free.

I am starving

To be me.

What am I complaining about?

What right do I have to complain?

I have money, friends and fame.

I’m not fifteen and married,

I’m not a little girl who’s been lied to that she’s a woman,

Who’s been told not to question

A stranger who shares her bed,

I’m not a little girl who’s been

Raped before she’s been kissed,

Who’s been made mother

Before she’s had time to play,

Does she even ask to be free?

Does she dream?

When her husband enters her

Is it Shah Rukh Khan she tries to see?

Does she feel sexy?

I don’t think so.

This is her job,

Twenty four hours,

Seven days a week,

Zero pay,

Just get through each day.

Do you think she cares freedom, rights, about politics or religion,

She’s fifteen.

She cares about food

And what her neighbors say.

Politics and religion are for the luckier,

The wealthier,

The stronger,

And in our country,

Politics and religion are enviable careers.

So your religion tells you to cover up,

Your religion tells you to shave your head,

Your religion tells you to be meek,

Keep your eyes lowered,

Keep having children,

Or keep your mouth closed.

What if your religion told you to hate the other,

What if your religion told you to burn alive on a funeralpyre,

What if your religion told you to do whatever you felt like,

Spit, scream, gossip, fight, lose control, make noise, pollute,

Marry a child, perform an honour killing,

Rape, torture, discriminate,

Keep breaking the law,

Keep locked up,

Keep uneducated,

Keep submissive,

Keep ignored,

Keep under control.

Does God have a say in your religion?

Has God become a politician?

Dear men,

Dear powerful men,

I know you care about women.

I know you care about her.

I know you want her to feel like a princess,

I know you want to put her up on a pedestal,

Make her a goddess,

And give her a special day

International women’s day.

You want to carry her so she can’t walk,

Hold her, so she can’t be free,

Tell her, so she can’t know any differently.

But NO!

No. That’s not how works equality.

It’s hard work

To change a nation’s mentality

It’s hard work to go unnoticed,

Change the roots and the minds

Of a people who have been too long deprived

Of education and basic rights

Who are steering towards intolerance and misanthropy

Because of shameless inequality.

Dear men,

In all this will you give me the power?

Will you let me stand in your place?

Will you let me laugh in your face.

Will you stop staring, judging and accusing me

Or will you arrest me for blasphemy?

Label me as sexy, slutty, lose or crazy?

Call me Basanti, Pinky, Sweetie and whistle at me?

And wait a minute!

Wait a minute!

Not just dear men,

Dear auntie,

Will you stop gawking at me?

Dear Didi,

Will you stop telling me to shut up?

Dear women,

Will you, at least, stand up for me?

Enough of a woman who has become viscous from her environment.

Enough of a woman who has to become a man to compete.

Who has to weaken where she is strong and strengthen where she is weak.

Enough of a woman that has to make space for child and lover,

That has to occupy what space is left over,

Enough of uninformed teenage girls

Bleeding after losing their virginity and keeping silent after,

Enough of having to deal all alone with the morning after,

Enough of the disposed foetus,

Enough of the unwanted daughter.

Enough of girls in fairy dresses,

With bulimia and major complexes,

Enough of parents in denial, gender gaps and dividing sexes.

I’m tired.

You’re tired.

We are all tired.

We’re tired of waxing, manicuring, excercising,

Aborting, procreating, trimming, posing,

Smiling, threading,shopping, fucking, water-bursting,

The pill, make up, high heels, stainless steels, tampons, covering up,

Nurturing, caring and crying.

Ahhhh.

Sometimes I just want to breathe,

Sometimes it’s hard to even just breathe.

Like when a man is pounding incessantly on top of you in a daily routine,

It’s hard to breathe

When he turns away to sleep

Leaving you completely I satisfied sexually,

It’s hard to breathe

When your clothes are too tight,

The underwire of your bra is poking into your ribs,

It’s too hot to be wearing all this,

And it’s hard to breathe

When you want to stop being stared at but everyone always is.

The watchman, the rickshaw wallah, your neighbour’shusband,

They’re all watching your chest heave,

Everytime you breathe.

Sometimes, as a woman, you feel guilty to just breathe.

Of course we are going to be hysterical

Of course we are going to scream,

Of course we’re going to be unreasonable.

You think it’s reasonable to restrain somebody’s breathing?

Hello. Namaste. Salaam.

I am a Hindu a Muslim a Christian a Buddhist and an atheist.

I am twenty, thirty, forty and fifty.

I am single, married, divorced and half the country.

I am a mother, a daughter, a wife and a prostitute.

I am a stereotype, a trophy and a prisoner or patriarchy.

I am a woman in Indian society and I am not yet free.

But forget about all that for a moment and just look at me.

Look beyond my body, really look at me.

I am not a hardcore feminist to be very honest.

I am not a rebel as some would like to believe.

I am not even such an impressive celebrity,

I am not always made up and dressed up perfectly.

And my therapist assures me that I’m not crazy.

So look beyond all that. Look at me.

Look at what you’re seeing.

You’re seeing another human being.

You’re seeing another you in me,

And really there is no difference between you and me.

That’s all we need to grow up understanding,

To make ours a better society.

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