#MoreToMe: Aham Brahmasmi — the Brahmin… the Brahma and the Brahmand…

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Hey guys, the title is a shocker I know. But so is the truth most of the times. In your face and stark. And that’s what #MoreToMe is all about. I feel there’s just so much more to me, that even I have no idea. That’s why Aham Brahmasmi: the Brahmin — a seeker of knowledge (I am the proverbial sponge); the Brahma — a creator (even if it is a new pasta recipe, why not?) and the Brahmand  — a vast universe of possibilities, oh yeah! Wait, something’s still missing. Let me see, hanh got it — “delightfully flawed” too. Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly how I choose to define ME. Someone even I am discovering little by little every day. It’s amazing.

At 40 plus, it’s like having this out-of-body experience, where you see yourself in a detached, un-bias light in great clarity. What is even more interesting is that you can actually see yourself in the future too, along the lines YOU choose to pursue as a woman of today — free and fearless. When I was a hosteller in DPS, R K Puram, my room-mate once gave me this innocuous-looking book mark that said: Whatever you think that you will be. If you think yourself weak, weak you will be; if you think yourself strong, strong you will be, with a picture of Swami Vivekananda on it. And I remember marvelling at the simplicity of the life-altering philosophy. Isn’t it so true guys? If YOU believe — You are not a drop in the ocean, but the entire ocean in a drop, as Rumi famously quipped. That is the power of ME — I’m a bitch, I’m a lover I’m a child, I’m a mother I’m a sinner, I’m a saint .. I do not feel ashamed. And as Meredith Brooks (bless her!) croons:

Yesterday I cried

Must have been relieved to see

The softer side

I can understand how

you’d be so confused

I don’t envy you

I’m a little bit of everything

All rolled into one…

Since we are at it, let me paint a picture for you: so I got 5 ear piercings as a 14-year-old, last year I added two tattoos too. I have NEVER lived in one place for more than 5 years at a stretch, which means I am an eternal nomad and I love it. Fiercely independent, an extrovert with a capital E, a pucca Leo and someone who “says it like it is” especially if you are my friend. Things that have got me into trouble a lot, but there you have the “delightfully flawed” bit. My friends and family have made their peace with it. Phew!

I can swear like a Jat on JD, especially while driving on Gurgaon roads, but I am also an incurable romantic. I love chunky jewellery. And loud music. And deep-fried pakoras with sugary jalebi.

What does all this tell you about me? What is the image that pops into you head?

Let me shine the spotlight on a Youtube video of Andrew-De-Leon at this stage. It’s my personal favourite ever since I chanced upon it a few years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=255qSgdEfqc&t=269s 

I must have seen it many, many, many times but each time, it gives me goosebumps. As does the Susan Boyle video. Two aspects that hit me each time — the condescending smirks of the judgemental audience and then the slap in the face, as these two go on to shine on stage, and how. While you are at it, also take a sneak peek at the indomitable Bhanvari Devi as she rocks the MTV Coke Studio with her powerful vocals in Kattey. This is not to say that I am anywhere near them, oh no, but just a re-affirmation that appearances can be so very deceptive. Hence #MoreToMe!

In this wonderful forum itself there may be grandmas in traditional saris who have been in the school hockey team once upon a time, so many mums who gave up lucrative jobs to embrace domesticity, deceptively docile women who are in fact black belters or bikers, petite teenagers who have climbed the highest mountains and generally some of the finest specimens of our species going about their task — whatever it may be, with a steely resolve, mindless to worldly appreciation or recognition. That’s the me I want to be. Unfuckwithable, as my tattoo proclaims. Someone truly at peace and in touch with herself, so nothing anyone says or does bothers you, and no negativity or drama can touch you. Amen!

For now though, I thoroughly enjoy my role as mum to my teenager. As also being a foodie with a twist as I experiment with recipes and ingredients and come up with my own protien-rich quick-fixes. A birder, reveling in the beauty around me and trying to capture with my amateur lens the elusive barbets, orioles, bush chats and an occasional Jacobin cuckoo. Right here at the bio-diversity park.

An artist, dabbling in folk paintings of typical Madhubani and Gond motifs, besides bringing the Enchanted Forest alive in my adult-colouring book. A lover of the forgotten craft of cross stitch and knitting, looks like our sisters at the convent made sure the SUPW lessons got truly ingrained.

A yoga enthusiast, a journalist, a traveller, someone who absolutely enjoys a good book, a blogger, an aspiring short story writer, a fledgling green soldier, an active citizen volunteer and so much more still. It’s like even I am confused aakhir kaun hoon mein? Who really is the true me?

Is it a Hindu trying to understand the deeper meaning of my chosen “ism” as much through S Radhakrishnan’s The Hindu View of Life as Khushwant Singh’s We Indians, even as I look forward to Tharoor’s Why I am a Hindu. Or a typical “housewife” going about her chores as a mum, wife, daughter… Or perhaps a woman at the cusp of a new awakening!

I think I’ll latch on to that last thought. A thought that holds so much promise, power, providence and positivity. Bahut bhari ho gaya na? So on a lighter note let me end by raising my glass to the poster on my door: Yes I am — temperamental, classy, bitchy, hungry, messy, stylish, unpredictable, cool, offensive, sarcastic, original: it’s called being a WOMAN. Cheers girls!!!

(Written in Momspresso)

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Talking Period with My Teen & Prepping for Padman…

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Hey guys, lovely to be back and wishing y’all goodness and peace in 2018! This is my very first blog in the super snazzy Momspresso and I thought I needed to do something worthwhile as a teenager’s mom. Something impactful that’ll set the tone for things to come. Enter Padman — New Age Hero, Sanitary Savant — perfect role model for a generation so cloistered in cold gadgetry that they unknowingly develop a phlegmatic apathy to the real world and its real issues. Consider this: 70% of 16-24 year olds, says the Economics Times are in such a “tech trance” that they actually prefer texting to talking! 40% of people, it seems have some kind of internet-based addiction. Tut-tut.

What now? How do we as moms, try and stop youngsters from becoming smartphone zombies. Of course assuming we ourselves aren’t one already. One of the ways I found out, besides the obvious tech monitoring, is giving our kids a dose of harsh reality. A very real lesson on things that matter, issues that rankle, people who make a difference. In our times it was Panchtantra ki Kahaniyan  and Jatak Kathas that did the job brilliantly, today, Ted Talks that way serve a valuable purpose. Going a step ahead, I’ve actively, in the past few years, started zeroing in on the lives and works of change-makers in society, be it my good friend diligently volunteering time at the Community Library in a Sikandarpur slum, my neighbour collecting used toys to distribute among the less privileged kids on Christmas, the local green brigade planting trees OR youth icons Malala Yousafzai and Virat Kohli!

In the same vein, we — my teenage son and me — have embarked on Project Padman. I remember reading somewhere about the indomitable Arunachalam Muruganantham aka Menstrual Man ages ago in awe. At that time I was struck by the fact that a man had come up with such a revolutionary idea even as women simply accepted the age-old sloppy sanitary regime of hand-washing their crude, home-made and more often than not unhygienic cloth pads every month for lack of an inexpensive alternative! The one thing that I distinctly remember from my growing years was my mom’s clear diktat on the use of clean, hygienic sanitary napkins even though it was an expensive addition to the monthly budget. No wonder I was one Carefree teenager in more ways than one!

Now my teenager is going to turn 15 soon and he has a fair idea about periods and such, but I remember not very long ago when he commented he’s very happy to be a boy as “girls have to pee blood every month!” Since I share a very open relationship with my sweetheart, I was mighty amused. Goes without saying that I went ahead and did all the explaining in detail to clarify once and for all that that wasn’t quite the case. Poor guy probably rued the moment he made that comment, but jokes apart, kids need to know what is what in clear terms. This is why I am eagerly looking forward to watching Padman with him.

In preparation, I dug out my copy of Twinkle Khanna’s The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. In fact I think I even wrote a Facebook post on the lines of making it part of the middle years programme in schools.  And last night my little guy read the story of the incredible Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land, his trials and tribulations before his obsession with sanitary napkins made him a world-wide success. Not surprisingly, kiddo was quite impressed. We went on to have a glance at a few articles on the life of Muruganantham, before I explained to him the sheer economics of the sanitary pad: the general cost per pad of a Whisper with wings, how many pads are, on an average, used by women when menstruating etc etc. It was on eye-opener even for me — the per pad cost analysis as compared to Muruganantham’s revolutionary innovation.

Some of the other things we ‘ll be doing as a precursor to going for  the movie next week are: watching together Muruganantham’s Ted Talk on the issue where he explains his vision of making India a 100% napkin-using country even as his award-winning project generates millions of jobs across the country for rural women. Maybe even a documentary on the menstrual nightmares of African women. As for the mood swings and general discomfort, I think my kiddo is very aware of that aspect of his mom’s life, something I outlined earlier in https://www.momspresso.com/parenting/50-shades-of-me/article/i-am-having-my-period-back-off — by the tone of it, I was probably PMSing then! : )

It’s just that I firmly believe today’s kids — boys and girls — kind of cocooned in the luxuries of metropolitan lives, need to know all of this. I mean even I am shocked to read that a whopping 91% of Indian women apparently do not use sanitary napkins! Last year, Toilet Ek Prem Katha, was a brilliant effort to bring home the crude reality of open air defecation, especially for women — the shame, the harassment and the helplessness over this very basic human right in the 21st century was explicitly depicted for all to see! The more you delved into it, the uglier it got from corruption logistics to blatant sexual harassment.  This year it’s another equally potent issue. And we are all set to open our eyes and minds to the harsh reality. To be aware of the very fundamental problems that the  majority of Indians face daily. And what better medium that watching movies — one of the best ways to bond with my teen: https://www.momspresso.com/parenting/50-shades-of-me/article/bonding-over-bollywood-with-my-boy

Hopefully, it will widen our perspective in life, make us more empathetic to other’s troubles and give us points to  ponder as we set future goals for ourselves — as moms, as teenagers, as responsible humans. In the immortal words of Muruganantham, “no human being ever died because of poverty. Everything happens because of ignorance.” Words that effectively apply as much to a woman struggling with menstrual sanitation in a village in Tamil Nadu as a yolo teenager in Gurgaon! Harking back to Herodotus, knowledge most definitely is the “only good” and ignorance the “only evil!” Think about it before you — the parent or the child — let yourself get sucked once again into the tech trance, oblivious of the REAL world you are so much an inherent part of!

#Padman #ArunachalamMuruganantham #TalkingPeriod

(Written for #Momspresso)

The Italian Wedding & The Whole Point Of Getting Married…

 

anushka-virat-759Hey guys, I have spent the last three days simply looking and re-looking at each and every delightful photo of THE wedding. And I am not one bit apologetic. From the shaky video of the jaimaal to the Insta post of Kholi singing Mere Mehboob Qayamat Hogi for his beautiful bride Anushka (sigh!!) to the final tweet officially announcing the new relationship status — Today we have promised each other to be bound in love for ever. We are truly blessed to share the news with you.This beautiful day will be made more special with the love and support of our family of fans & well wishers. Thank you for being such an important part of our journey.

OMG… where are the tissues when you need them. It’s all just too cute and I am kind of like family, fan and well wisher rolled in one. Family, coz bhai Phase 1 is my adda: Mother Dairy for sabji-bhaji, Sweets Corner for delicious jalebis, Qureshi – when I crave kababs, Midland for the latest Murakami , Kith & Kin – the place for cheap factory rejects, Sindhi Sweets when I want gajak, HDFC to pay for all of that, David for this season’s best betki and Gopala to round of with the most delicious rosogullas — so you see I practically live there as does our sona munda Virat Kohli, so I am a legit ladkewala. Also I had read somewhere that Anushka has a pahari angle, her large nath certainly confirmed that, so that’s a double connect there. Fan and well wisher? No need to explain that I guess because don’t we all just love Cheeku puttar’s chutzpah on and off the field (the guy certainly is ballsy, pun well and truly intended), and Anushka, without a doubt, is one of the finest actresses of new age cinema — unassuming, natural and spunky — just like her character in Band Baja Barat, PK, Ai Dil Hai Mushkil and When Harry Met Sejal.

No wonder the Vicks ad — yeh mujhe nahin dikhi, agli tujhe nahin dikhegi and the Nimbooos Masala Soda ad are quite an extension of their individual personalities, culminating finally in the Manyawar ad, where they quite clearly hint at things to come. I am telling you I knew it then! They just looked so right and ready every time I saw them together on the large PVR screen take their “new age” marriage vows, tum mujhe cutie, sona, baby nahin bulaoge... love that one in particular.

The reason I am going on and on about all of this is that I’ve been meaning to write a little something on marriage since a very long time. It started on a laid back Sunday morning when we were discussing the relevance of marriage today. Is it even necessary? Why marry when you can live in? Isn’t marriage another word for compromise? What’s the whole point of a good old-fashioned marriage actually?

Just day before, the Friends re-run added its own take on all of that when Monica, who is having pre-marriage jitters, goes: “now I can’t sleep with anyone else…. EVER!” Point to be noted in an era of proud polyamourists — ie: those who have more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved — a definition used by California polyamorist Morning Glory Zell, who coined the term in the early 1980’s.

On top of all that, this friend quipped with a resigned sort of sigh, “ya, ya, I remember my heady days back when we were newly weds. All dewy eyes, stolen kisses, tender touches and non-stop romance! Wait for some time. It all just vanishes I tell you,” she wriggled her finger for added emphasis.

Got me thinking. Thinking hard about the whole deal with marriage. “A man is incomplete until he is married,” they say, “after that, he is finished!” Also, “Marriage is a relationship where one person is always right, and the other is the husband.” So is it all about such flippancy ultimately? Or, is it actually about “finding that one special person that you can annoy for the rest of your life,” because marriage most definitely “is not when the perfect couple comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”

Wow! Isn’t that well said now and quite bang on, besides the fact that you do find a friend, confidant and soul mate to share your life with. The great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once famously quipped “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” Absolutely. And the fact that the misplaced emphasis is on words like — the one, forever, total commitment, expectation trap and making the relationship divorce proof — rather than basic respect and care. That’s all you need come to think of it. To expect certainty in a world full of uncertainty is foolish.

On the plus side, we have a host of TIME articles directly linking marriage to good heart and brain health. A study by the University of Missouri confirms the positive effect of marital quality to personal well-being ie: happier marriages make happier people. That IS good news.

From the era of institutional marriage, we have come a long way to more self-expressive marriages today. You take your time, get comfortable, get to know each other and then arrive at a mutual decision to “be there for each other.” To say “I do want to be with THIS person. Yes!” There are no guarantees here. There isn’t all peace and quite always. But that is the whole basis of a healthy relationship. A study of married couples by Berkeley psychologist, Robert Levensen and John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute, revealed that couples who fought and thrashed things out managed to stay together in the end. (Psst: these guys need to come visit me sometime!)

As for this other thing: Why marry when we can do all of that by just living together? Two things, and I’ll not quote any great philosopher or professor here, just me thinking:

1.  Why not? when you are sure of yourself. Think of it as a celebration of a life choice that you made. A sharing of your joy with people who matter. An owning of a decision if you may. A stamp of confidence on your ability to take charge. Look, there are no guarantees I repeat, so why the hesitation.

2. This is only if you plan to go ahead and have children (your own or adopted), then it is also a promise to the little one! You owe it to the child to provide him/her a comforting family.

To me, this is the plain thought behind the whole marriage thing and you go ahead if you are aligned. It’s not to say married people have it easy, it is not to deride divorces or separation, it is not to point fingers at single parents and those who still choose to NOT marry for reasons best known to them. It is simply to say that if you stay true to the spirit and do find someone to share your life with, marriage per se is a wonderful journey. But like every journey, it comes with its own planning, baggage, security check, milestones, nomadism, rush & calm, maps and GPS, spurts and stumbles. It’s how you walk, fly, hike, swim or ride along that matters. “Never marry the one you can live with, marry the one you can’t live without,” quite neatly sums up all my rambling.

As I once more ogle at Sabyasachi’s out-of-this-world gorgeous ensemble on the happy couple (cannot for the life of me get around to calling them Virushka…eeeekks!) and admire their lush rose garlands (those babies are giving our own phool gobis a run for their money), I wish oodles of love and warm companionship to the new innings. Restores my faith in the relationship called marriage — a mosaic you build with your loved ones, millions of tiny moments creating your love story! Howzatt?

(Written in mycity4kids) (Pic courtsey social media)

Chai in one hand, confidence in the other…

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Hey guys, long time no see. God Lord, have I just revealed my age by saying that. I guess I meant Yo Man, or whatever hep acronym is going around these days. It’s just that the mood has finally struck and I have to write. Write about this thing that I simply call Learning to Say Yes That’s Me! And I am Loving it! Let me put in a disclaimer at the very beginning here that I hold no official “degree”, but the very fact that life itself is a learning process gives me some creative liberty to propound on my own experiences and life lessons.

So, as usual I was on FB, laughing away at the enormously funny Michael McIntyre stand up acts and also keeping a constant eye on the royal rom-com When Harry Met Meghan. Quite a delightful tale there isn’t it? I can literally visualize “…and they lived happily ever after!” in the puffy dream clouds. That’s the kind of hopeless romantic I am. But coming back to the main topic, I accidentally chanced upon this wonderful Bystander Revolution: Own your Mistakes talk by the very stunning Salma Hayek. I have to admit here that I have a huge soft spot for everything Latino — music, food, clothes, art and the people —  they are beautiful, vivacious, immensely talented and overall ooze a very friendly vibe. Plus that accent, ouff! In one of those overwhelming moments of camaraderie, I even went ahead and got meself a permanent 4.5 inch Despacito tattoo on my right arm. That’s a saga in itself.

The video I was talking about had Hayek speaking in her endearing manner about how “your mistake belongs to you!” Do not let anyone use it against you, own it! she said, going a step ahead and suggesting we throw it back on the face of people who mock us for erring. As I listened to the 1.06 minutes of powerful word flow, I was reminded of an incident that happened years ago when I was just a teen. It’s not about a mistake per se, but kind of taking charge of life’s slippery situations. We were at the Railway club playing in the evening as usual, when this bunch of boys accosted my little brother at the TT table. “Kyon be, do you have only one nikkar, kal bhi yahi pehni thi?” jeered one of them as the rest snickered in tandem.

Now I am this fiercely protective badass elder sis and having overheard the comments, I was swiftly off the carrom game and on my way to give the group of rascals a goodish piece of Gunjan didi’s mind, when something quite dramatic happened. My baby bro just looked up at the smirking big boys and quipped: “Haan bhaiyya, hum log bahut gareeb hain, mere pass ek hi nikkar hai!” 

I cannot describe the shocked look on the boys’ faces. It was like an ego balloon just deflated. The boys couldn’t believe a little kid could say such a thing. Plus where do you go from there? It was the most royal comeback I had ever seen and for a moment I just stood in admiration. I mean what Do you say after THAT? It’s not rude, so you can’t retaliate. It’s not typically smart alecky, so you can’t retort. It’s a junior simply owning his situation so completely, so matter-of-factly, so confidently! The delightful dis!

I was toh bhai maha impressed! And did a u-turn back to my carrom table with a smile on my smug face. The boys never ever did bother my brother again. The fact that even though the youngest, my brother grew to be the Pahari Jinder Mahal may also have a little to do with it. But the invaluable lesson I learnt there has stood me in good stead. Of course there are times when you are low, off guard, vulnerable and people do manage to poke fun and shake you a bit. However, there are equal, if not more, number of times when you get a kick out of  just owning the situation, mistake or YOURSELF!

Times when maybe you have put on  bit of weight and there is this one annoying person who just has to comment. Times when you look absolutely fine, in fact gorgeous, but one Komolika clone has to go “aaj bahu thaki hui lag rahi ho, sab theek hai?” Immediately puts you on the back foot, and typically you go to ridiculous lengths explaining how everything is fine, you are well blah blah blah… maybe even rush to the loo for  quick touch up. It’s all quite stressful and you realize you don’t even really like that person and owe her no explanation at all. What if you just quipped instead: “haan yaar dysentery ho gaye thi!” and coolly walk off flicking your curly locks for good measure!

What if, as soon as the neighbourhood Cruella de Vil goes: Moti ho gaye ho last time se…. yack..yack…

You go instead: “Haan Aunty!” That’s it! Agree completely, wholeheartedly and SMILE! Mean it, own yourself. No argument, no blabbering explanations and no cringing as you bite into the buttery paneer tikka and ask the waiter to come back with some malai kabab! (NB: fitness definitely comes first girl, but at your own pace, in your own time!)

Gradually you’ll arrive at your own awesome dises. There are times I feel like kicking myself, coz I think up the most quirky dises in hindsight. But I am training. And getting there slowly. Like this one time recently when right in the middle of a super fun session with the girls at one of my favourite cafes in the Gaon, Ms Lalita Pawar had to rear her ugly head with “hey your chehra is looking quite peela today!” Out of the blue! Complete silence followed. All the laughter just evaporated.

I dismissed it with “I am like this only”that day, but driving back home, Red FM on full blast, I thought why didn’t I just say: “haan darling, kal raat haldi doodh jyada pe liya na!” and clinked my glass of Chardonnay in her face! Would have done Shobhaa De proud.

In his bestseller The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson argues that “Human beings are flawed and limited—not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault,” so why not know your “limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.”

The point really is this: revel in YOU — imperfections, mistakes, shortcomings et al. YOU are unique, and no one, absolutely no one has the right to make you feel any less! Like Hayak said: Your mistake (imperfection) is a valuable tool for growth and for life,” learn to say “so what?” to the face of those making fun of you… “If you say yes! so what? they are powerless.” Remember, Tomorrow will be another day, next year is another year! What an empowering thought! Happiness after all, is being yourself, in a world that is trying to change you, I constantly remind myself, hell bent on “embracing the glorious mess that I am,” and also working on that wit in hindsight. Yo! Chai in one hand and ….

(Written in mycity4kids)

O yes! O yes! O yes! Let’s talk Big O…

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Hey guys, one of the plus points of being a “stay-at-home” mom with no “office schedule” constraints is that I can travel at the drop of a hat, which means I have a most eclectic mix of female friends scattered across the globe. And even though we all do not talk with each other everyday, we end up having very interesting chats whenever and wherever we meet up. It’s like time stands still and we simply begin from where we left. Social media obviously plays an important part in nurturing the bonds and conversations flow seamlessly across shared photos of kids growing up, books read, articles liked, tweets and daily moments captured in pithy two-liners.

And so it was that I bumped into this friend I had met in the Bedouin deserts of the Middle East, and we started talking about kids, school, pollution, extra curriculars… the usual stuff. How that conversation meandered from there to sex I just don’t know! But that’s what happened and soon she was telling me all about the MIL’s role in her sad sex life. Please realize that at 40, we were not giggling slyly and dissecting 50 shades of sexual fantasies, but discussing the often sidelined preliminaries of the raasleela. Or, in her case, saasleela, that included the “in-laws” diktat on when you should and should not have sex. In 2017 mind you!

Having delivered the goods – a boy and a girl — by her early-30s, my friend had been condom-ed, err condemned to a sex-less life dedicated to simply providing “service with a smile” to humanity aka neighbourhood aunties in general and the immediate family in particular. Her job description only hovered around hot phulkas, spotless surfaces, starched clothes and a “can-do-will do” attitude even if that meant packing tiffins of home cooked puri-sabji for all the — chachastaus, third cousins, Bareillywali mausis — on demand, and adjusting on the communal bed, spread out on the drawing room floor every time relatives visited the family in the Gaon. All of this besides her full-time job.

The scene was such that she had actually been told in no uncertain terms that “there was absolutely no need for her to share the bed with her husband, now that the deed was done! Beti are you going to do it for FUN, hein!!!??? she was asked aloud with much collective rolling of eyes and tittering. There you have it the sanskari KLPD! Now what?

All I could do was lend a sympathetic ear to my friend. But it did make me wonder about the pathetic state of female sexuality in this supposedly “modern” era where fundamental, legit physical needs of a woman are frowned upon by totally misplaced notions of propriety. And talking of propriety, the biggest taboo comes in the form of discussing female orgasm. Any wonder then that the female species is caught in the “orgasm gap” — i.e. men orgasm-ing more frequently during sex than women. This skewed orgasm equality, caused mainly due to socio-cultural factors, is resulting in more and more sexual dysfunction among women.

According to a survey, there is a lot of stigma attached to “women initiating sex and openly expressing what they want sexually.” In fact in most relationships, very little is known about the “sexual behavior, sexual attitudes, sexual fantasies and marital functioning of women.”

In the light of all of this, the latest photo series on breaking taboos around the Big O was like a breathe of fresh air as I flicked through the news reports today. Dubbed Project O, this tastefully captured photo feature-cum-video on female sexuality by Brazilian photographer and film director Marcos Alberti, along with Smile Makers, shows 22 women in four stages of pleasure – before orgasm, while masturbating, during climax and after orgasm.

The aim of the project? — to empower women enough to control their sexuality and fight off the “shame and silence” surrounding female masturbation.

As I went though the pictures and the video, the “fun” reaction of all the 22 women, from different nationalities, as they wholeheartedly participated in the campaign, laughing at their own reaction was striking. I think their courage in sending this “strong message” is truly commendable.

The project also throws light on the physical as well as emotional benefits of an orgasm, including stress reduction, boosting the immune system and promoting relaxation due to the release of oxytocin.

All the more reason then to discuss the Big O in the open, especially in the Indian context, where sexual matters are generally brushed under the carpet. Data collected since Independence clearly shows that Indian women often “lack authority for the control of their sexuality or reproduction” and suffer sexual disharmony in silence. Things are, however, changing, ever so gradually and the new line of thought is aligning itself to sex and female pleasure too, as opposed to pure procreation! Though a whole lot still needs to be done in the field of female sexual dysfunction (FSD) that continues to afflicts a vast percentage of today’s women.

Besides, myths like “Male orgasm is primary and female is secondary” and “No woman wants to have a quickie” also need to be debunked to promote an equitable and healthy sexual environment. An environment where my now 40 year old friend does not have to sneak cuddles with her husband in her own house. An environment where a teenager does not feel embarrassed talking about masturbation. An environment where each individual’s sexual rights are respected. An environment where the audience does not need any prodding to say “vagina” out loud by the cast of The Vagina Monologues. An environment that does not foster the female eunuch!

In the immortal words of Germaine Greer: “It takes a great deal of courage and independence to decide to design your own image instead of the one that society rewards, but it gets easier as you go along.” O yes! O yes! O yes! Time to talk the Big O… Open…Objective…On top!

(written in mycity4kids)

Of fasting, fuming, fidelity & farmers…

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Hey guys, being a stay-at-home-mom I often get this craving for assessing my self worth. What is the sum total of my value right now? I wonder. For answers I look at little things like a “thumbs up” for something new I cooked or a genuine compliment for a “dot painting” I made while mandala meditating. When I was a student and later a journalist, these reassurances came about automatically with every report card, medal, letter of appreciation, bonus or promotion, and I took them completely for granted!

Today, I even get a kick out of acing Facebook quizzes: How good is your grammer? Can you identify these famous paintings? Is your eye-sight prefect? Hey Bhagwaan! That’s how I chanced upon some interesting “personality-type” quizzes and most, I have to admit, were quite spot on. So naturally I was game for the latest Gretchen Rubin quiz too.

Acclaimed author of The Happiness Project, Rubin broadly categorizes people into FOUR types: the Upholders, the Obligers, the Questioners and the Rebels. The answer, in my case, would be a fight off between the questioner and the rebel I knew that. Ultimately the questioner won! And the tick tock began…

The freshest debate on the block was obviously Karva Chauth. Gaining momentum with every new blog post, every opinion piece, every new Tweet, and my questioning mind also got into major action. For every Twinkle Khanna going Scientists studying longest living mammals, bowhead whales found for a long life what is needed is a slow metabolism & not wives who fast:); there was an Ayushmann Khurrana celebrating “equality” with the chant “join her if you can’t dissuade her from fasting.”

Another chirruped: Under influence of @Bdutt ;if yr wife doesn’t keep #KarwaChauth fast ; does it amount to criminal conspiracy with attempt to murder? (Frankly, I found it quite hilarious, purely from the sense of humour point of view, taken with a dollop of salt of course). To counter that sentiment there were the sanskari quips on fake feminists, cultural bigots, misogynists, regressive patriarchy @ #lovealbum#ladyboss!

Though I thought the “gadhe ki yoni mein janam etc” was quite over the top, one fasting husband’s “this is hard” was a rather sweet tweet, leading me on to the 5Ws and H of KC.

First up: What is fasting, any idea? (hunger/search/discipline/prayer)

Next: Why are YOU fasting? (pressure/pleasure; by choice/by order)

Where are the rules? (clearly delineated/blind faith)

Who decides the rituals? (self/other)

When does rationalism end and ritualism begin? (pure introspection)

How do you react to the stimuli? (opinions/starving/thirst/materialism/societal norms)

The Jain texts describe abstaining from the pleasures of the five senses (sight, taste, touch, smell, sound) and dwelling in the self in deep concentration as upavāsa. In Islam, fasting isn’t just refraining from eating and drinking, but from every kind of selfish desire and wrong-doing. The fast therefore is of the body and spirit as well, with the physical fast being a symbol of the real, inner fast.

In the Scripture, the purpose of fasting includes self-control, and even though it means going without food, one can fast from anything — food, drink, sleep or sex — “to focus on a period of spiritual growth.”Fasting is actually an intrinsic part of the science of Naturopathy and Ayurveda as an “expression of self discipline and gratitude.” Contemporary Hinduism apparently has no fixed rules for fasting as it is considered a “declaration of faith and resolve to build character, strength and purity in preparation for liberation. It also helps practice detachment and austerity.” Absolute nirvana in spirit to be precise. But how many, I wonder, can truly claim to tick all the above boxes? (rhetorical question!)

My search for more answers was full on, when news just came in from Rohini that a 40-year-old man stabbed his wife for “not fasting on karva chauth” and then committed suicide by jumping off the roof, enunciating that school of thought which dismisses tradition as “an explanation of acting without thinking.”

Millennial icon Malala Yousafzai takes that debate a step further by suggesting that “we should not be followers of traditions that go against human rights… we are human beings and WE make traditions.” That’s it. That is the crux from a little girl on the fundamentals of tradition anywhere in the world.

The Hindu View of Life also stresses that “religion is not the acceptance of academic abstractions or the celebration of ceremonies, but a kind of life or experience… and this experience is of a self-certifying character (svatasiddha). If a tradition does not grow, it only means its followers have become spiritually dead.” Operating term for me personally was the “self-certifying” bit. Indeed.

In layperson’s terms that would mean we do not owe anyone any explanation for our faith and the traditions we choose to follow, as long as we can justify them to our OWN selves by questioning the higher purpose and re-working equations according to changing circumstances! “Tradition,” according to the great philosopher S Radhakrishnan,  “is something that is forever being worked out anew and recreated by the free activity of its followers. We rise from life to thought and return from thought to life in a progressive enrichment which is the attainment of ever higher levels of reality.”

The sad reality of today though: 20 Farmers Die Of Pesticide Poisoning In Maharashtra, a day before Karva Chauth! News reports say they were “not wearing protective gear”and would have been paid Rs. 200 per day for the hazardous job. What price human life? Even as twitter simultaneously explodes with #love memes, mushy telly promos and in-your-face ads for salwar kameez, facials, carnivals, mehendi, foodgasms, festival specials and cool contests. Blogs and articles continue to dissect: Why You Shouldn’t Break Your nirjala Fast with Fried Foods and Caffeinated Drinks! along with the many interpretations of the legend of Veervati.

Meanwhile change once again proves it is the only constant. And how? Five-year-old Emily Dover, from New South Wales, Australia we are told 3 days ago, “got her period when she was only four years old. And now, at the age of five, she is already getting signs of menopause,” Dover was a healthy baby, “but her body started maturing rapidly with time. By the age of two, she began growing breasts and developing acne.” My eyes nearly popped out. The point all this makes yet again is that ‘progress is impossible without change’ suited to the ever transforming world around us for good or bad — in other words, ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got!’

As attitudes change along with the sanctity of marriage itself, a CNN report, talking of Esther Perel’s new book State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, highlights a recent survey stating that, “since 1990, the rate of married women who report they’ve been unfaithful has increased by 40%.”

“More women than ever” apparently are cheating and “willing to admit that they are cheating.” And even though they love their husbands, “they felt in some fundamental way that their needs (sexual, emotional, psychological) were not being met inside the marriage.” INTERESTING! Yet again that question of the traditional role and the set gender equation that often perpetrates an unequal division of labour rears its head. An equation, the women now complain, that “does not take into account  the disproportionate amount of invisible labor that went into maintaining their lifestyle… and constantly managing the emotional heart of the family.”

Every situation clearly crying out loud for an attitudinal shift. Something on the lines of Sadhguru’s Inner Engineering for overall well being.”The way out is IN!” for the people of today, who are the “most comfortable generation that has ever lived in this planet… (yet) definitely not the most joyful, or the most loving, or the most peaceful.”

The tendency to “take instructions from the outside rather than the inside,” says Sadhguru, “is the only thing that stands between you and your well being.”

Quoting an interesting story from page 29 of Inner Engineering to elaborate the point:

On a certain day, a lady went to sleep. In her sleep, she had a dream. She saw a hunk off a man, staring at her. Then he started coming closer — closer and closer.

He was so close that she could even feel his breath.

She trembled — not in fear.

Then she asked, “What will you do to me?” 

The man said, “Well, lady, it’s YOUR dream!”

Your dream! Your search! In the environment of intolerance, insanity and irrational behavior all around, this example is actually quite like the  The Fight of Two Wolves Within You! – a beautiful tale my mother told me this morning when I called her to discuss something bothering me about blind fanaticism in human relations and rituals.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Clarity at last! For it’s ultimately all about feeding the right wolf within you. The questioner in me has got her answer for now.  Life, however, is very complicated “because when you find the answers, life changes the question.” Am I up to the challenge?  I ask again!

(written in mycity4kids)

Celebrating Gandhi with My Hypothetical Daughter…

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Hey guys, Happy Gandhi Jayanti. It’s a lovely morning, no Monday blues. The “very real” son and dad are off to do justice to the day. Not as Gandhi fanatics, but your typically ‘sleep-deprived’ teen and ‘objective-driven corporate’ dad simply enjoying a round of golf on a rare Monday off!

I am plonked on my couch, reading leisurely. But with this cool breeze cross ventilating my house and only the sound of a crazy Indian Robin and an occasional Kingfisher piercing the silence around me, I am gently drifting into lazy day dreaming. This is the thing with me, I read and then my mind begins to spin its own yarn.

Today I am imagining a day with my “hypothetical” daughter! She’s fun, fearless and full of energy, basically a fine specimen of her species, with a proclivity to reading (totally mom’s genes). We’re happily browsing the net with a warm mug of Ceylonese George Stuart in hand. Besides the generally crime, apathy, raving and ranting, there are a wide variety of women-centric articles to choose from:

Talking at an IIM-A conclave a BJP MP decries that “like EVERY Indian woman” she was “sexually harassed too,” 20-yr-old Senegalese model Khoudia Diop reveals “how she grew up being pressured to lighten her skin by using bleaching products and how she was bullied and made to feel ashamed for the colour of her skin,” 11 women tell us “what it is like to have big boobs,” there’s a list of things girls “wish they knew before losing virginity” and a shopper shows us how dress sizes mislead, so we shouldn’t blame our “body type” because it’s actually “the label” to blame! Hah!

If all of this isn’t early morning gyan enough for women, we can also read about 3 different ways to “get fuller lips with make-up” and go on to, I don’t know, get inspired/awe-struck perhaps by how Kim Kardashian almost bares it all, singer Neha turns up the heat in Bali, Esha Gupta poses in barely there lingerie and a BB 11 contestant very proudly gets “too hot to handle.”

WOW. Someone certainly knows what women want! And I am talking of mainstream media not some sleazy rag. This, my IB-educated daughter reminds me, in a country where Mahatma Gandhi once said “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior.” Hmmm… Suddenly our ginger-lemon brew tastes vapid, quite like the stuff we are reading. So we switch.

Daughter suggests she has something “much better” for me and takes charge. I am introduced to Button poet Blythe Baird and her Pocket-Sized Feminism — “Once, my dad informed me sexism is dead and reminded me to always carry pepper spray in the same breath. We accept this state of constant fear as just another part of being a girl…”

I meet slammer Lily Myers and her Shrinking Women, where a daughter learns to read ‘the knots’ on her mother’s forehead, “while the guys went out for oysters'” and though she never means to replicate her metaphorically shrinking mother, she knows that if “you spend enough time sitting across from someone … you pick up their habits…”

Once upon a time, long, long ago, Doris Day sang:

When I was just a little girl,

I asked my mother,

What will I be

Will I be pretty

Will I be rich

Here’s what she said to me

Que sera, sera

Whatever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que sera, sera…

That was the 1960s. In her modern day take, veteran Katie Makkai slam dunks that one, with her own version of today’s sad truth:

“Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty? But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dry add: teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long, and pox-marked where the hormones went finger-painting my poor mother.“How could this happen? You’ll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist.” “You sucked your thumb. That’s why your teeth look like that! ” “You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were six, otherwise your nose would have been fine! ” 

Suddenly all this day dreaming isn’t fun any more. I want to wake up, brush the remnants of cynicism aka feminism, and start my day afresh. Kind of like the Mahatma’s new I-phone toting monkeys propounding “Bura mat TYPE karo, Bura mat LIKE karo, Bura mat SHARE laro!”

I desperately want to be the “Point B” that American poet Sarah Kay talks about and tell my daughter too that “this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.”

Oh yes!  once again, the Mahatma was bang on when he declared ages ago that “a (wo)man is but the product of her thoughts. What (s)he thinks (s)he becomes.”  

Taking heed, I begin to search for new answers to the same old questions. Will women continue to suffer in silence in a scenario where obscenity has gotten so blatant that “even a dying woman is molested on a collapsed bridge?” Would women still crave a lighter skin tone, bigger boobs, fuller lips to ride the temporary wave of a facile Insta trend? Would girls simply be the sum total of the ‘likes” for their pubescent pout? Or.. Will we be the change we want to see in the world?

The startled look on my hypothetical daughter’s face is enough. It’s got “dah” written all over it, and I smile a satisfied smile.

In my day dream, each woman is her own body image, beautiful, unique, stark & proud…

Embrasing her SELF, she wields power with panache,

No more shrinking in the shadows of pocket size feminism, 

she’s ‘pretty’ sure of that, 

she’s above selfies, pouts, judgment and label,

coz finally she believes she can, and is able,

what’s with the thigh gap and curvy hips,

the premium on virginity, silicon breasts and fuller lips?

she asks, chucking the Botox and the fairness cream…

along with words like silence, tolerate, compromise…

It’s a new world guys…

& bloody hell, I too have a dream…

(written in mycity4kids)