Where identity ends and crisis begins

“Anitha suicide: Death of innocence busts NEET myth as the great leveller of India’s medical education” said the FirstPost. “Dalit girl S Anitha, who filed a case against NEET, commits suicide” said The Hindu. I’m not here to argue or justify either headline. My qualm, however, has always been about whether or not to identify a person (dead or alive) by their caste.

On one side, it is right to use the caste tag. Because, who’s going to bother otherwise? Who’ll know what amounts of importance to attach where? Which one of us cares enough to take a second glance at a suicide story otherwise?

On the other side though, is it really necessary that the caste label be there? Isn’t it bad enough anyway? Should we bother only because someone’s a Dalit or a Brahmin? Oh wait, scratch the latter. The white-crosses can go to hell!

It’s never easy getting the better of either side of this argument.

While some wept over the crushed dreams of this poor village girl who had big dreams, some argue over the cowardice of the extreme step she took in killing herself.

More than debating on the departed soul, the whys, hows, and the insensitive, it’s probably time to address the side of the society that resorts to bashing each other based on caste. The caste tag, when used, is probably to bring to attention the agony the marginalised go through; and when neglected, is to bring the issue to the forefront regardless of caste.

It is painful to watch a well-educated friend make public a Facebook post on the ‘elitist’ Brahmin class, while another comments on how Dalits use the ‘sympathy card’. It’s 2017. When will we ever go past the caste boundaries and start looking at issues for what they are?

I was born a Brahmin and was conditioned for 25 years of my life that this is my identity. It’s largely visible from what I eat or how I talk. Now, it doesn’t really sound right to assume that everyone who was born a Brahmin, eats like one, and talks like one has to be an elitist, or anyone who was born a Dalit, eats like one, and talks like one uses their struggles to gain some sympathy from someone.

I know what you’re thinking now. No, this is not my version of #NotAllMen. Anyone who wants to create a divide based on caste should be called out and that shouldn’t be particular to one caste, whichever that may be. But not being allowed to have an opinion because one is perceived to be from a so-called elitist background/ ideology is just as bad.

When I look at these Brahmin-bashing posts on social media, I often find myself wondering where I stand. I don’t subscribe to the view of this caste I was born into being the superior and others being inferior, just how some men don’t subscribe to the view of them being superior and women being inferior. But, how do I tell anyone my opinion without them labelling me an ‘elitist Brahmin’ when I disagree with them, or an ‘educated and understanding Brahmin’ when I agree? It’s disheartening to know that some will cringe even whilst reading this part and probably think I’m some monster who is just a pro-Brahmin activist supporting casteist ideas.

So, should I strip myself off the identity that has, in part, made me, me to show the world I’m beyond one of the many walls? Walls we’ve made for ourselves. It’s difficult for anyone to dissociate from their caste, gender, or orientation when it becomes an integral part of their identity and lifestyle. We’re now at a point in time where it’s all about unapologetically embracing our own selves– our gender, sexual orientation, food habits, culture, tradition, and what not! So why resort to branding one in the process of ripping the label off another?

This kind of branding not only takes away the cause we’re all fighting for, it makes us mere firewood that the government so loves to kindle and stay warm!

Is it right to silence the voices of those who belong to a particular caste just because they do? Isn’t that what we are fighting against, rather ironically?

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‘Distract yourself’

“I think I’m sad.”

“Why? You have a happy family, a good job. You’re following your dreams. How could you even be sad! Stop overthinking.”

And I did. Stopped overthinking. Tried to shut my thoughts. My mind, like a puppeteer, kept controlling, overpowering, and diminishing my every last ounce of sanity, self-worth, strength, and energy. 

“Hey, can I tell you something?” I ask my midnight-friend. 

“Go on”, he says. 

I tell him my self-destructive phase, my sleepless nights, my loud thoughts, and my wretched self.

“I’m scared for you”, he says.

So I stop. 

I don’t want to scare him. Or anyone. I try to distract myself, break free from my thoughts, trick them somehow into happiness. I tell everyone of my perfect life. Everyone, including the midnight-friend. He’s sceptical at first but soon buys into it.

And then the night arrives and with it come the fears, pressing deep into my chest. Deep enough to break my ribs. And I cry. Cry until I can’t cry anymore. 

“Here, drink some water”, said no one ever. ‘Cause nobody can ever see me cry. It’s weakness to cry in front of someone. 

It’s hard not to be vulnerable when that is all you ever are. 

If only I wasn’t alone. 

I distract myself once more. 

Letting go

It’s almost midnight. The rain still softly falls on the windowsill, the blades of the ceiling fan turn slowly just enough to keep the buzzing mosquitoes away. 

The trivial noises fill my ears for they don’t know my thoughts are narcissistic. My thoughts demand to be heard as they keep getting louder with every spin of the fan. 

What did he mean by ‘who’s the settler?’. Why do I still have feelings for him? I am in a happy place, in a happy relationship, getting married in a few months. 

Do I still love him? Him who has always been rude to me, who has been nothing but hurtful, who’s never felt any kind of love for me. 

Why does my heart still flutter when I see his name on my phone? Why are there butterflies in my stomach when I respond to his messages? Why do I put all else on hold only to reply to that one text when I know he might never continue the conversation? 

Do I still love him? This can’t be love, could it? I’ve tried to tell him off. I’ve tried to hurt him with my stinging words. Remorse, remorse is all I feel after hurting him. Why does the text message I sent him months back still haunt me? I recollect every word. Should I apologise? You were right in telling him off though, says angrily the voice of reason. 

Closure. Maybe closure is what I need. Maybe that’s what I don’t have. Should I tell him that? It’s still raining, and it’s almost 30 minutes past midnight. 

Does he ever think of me the way I think of him? Skipping a look at his WhatsApp picture as I scroll through my contacts doesn’t help much either. Did he ever have feelings for me? Did he ever think of me as someone he could spend the day with and not just the night? 

*Delete chat*

Lights dim, patter of raindrops reach the eardrums again, silence of the buzzing mosquito. Letting go is an art meant only for a few. 

Are our ‘heroes’ endorsing stalking, violence against women?

All of us know of the horrifying murder of Infosys techie Swathi, and the immense manhunt that followed to nab the killer. The 24-year-old was allegedly hacked to death by Ramkumar, an engineering graduate from Tirunelveli. According to police reports, he was stalking her for over a month in pursuit of love.

Sounds filmy, doesn’t it? Because it is. It is exactly the stuff some Tamil films are made of. Going by the number of films, it seems like the dream storyline of several commercial-filmmakers.

Right from the times of Rajinikanth to Kamal Haasan to the modern youth icons Dhanush and Simbhu, films and heroes have glorified stalking. The concept of stalking has become so synonymous with romance that we can’t even tell them apart anymore.

13689543_1058254340889752_1664540993_n.jpgKamal, the most celebrated romantic hero of south Indian cinema, has stalked his fair share of beautiful heroines in films. In ‘Singara Velan’, he went to the extent of modifying a childhood picture of his “lady love” to find out what she looked like in the present. He then found her, stalked her despite her disinterest, and just couldn’t take no for an answer. He ultimately managed to woo Khushbu — with lewd lyrics.

13694135_1058254357556417_2073388786_o.jpgSuperstar Rajini is no exception. His stalking of Soundarya in ‘Padayappa’ to ask for her hand in marriage is seen as mild persuasion. The comic “vaanga pazhagalam” dialogue from ‘Sivaji’, where he stalked heroine Shriya Saran’s family, was not only irritating, but creepy. He found out where the family lived, went to their house, and ultimately got Shriya to agree to marry him with his persistence.

Vikram followed suit. In ‘Sethu’, he was seen harassing a shy, helpless girl, going to the extent of kidnapping and threatening her and forcing her into “loving” him.

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Thanks to Dhanush’s ‘Kolaveri di’, the latest trend is the ‘soup boys’, as the rejected men are officially called now. The song is about a ‘fair girl’ with a ‘black heart’ rejecting him, and “spoiling” his life. The film ‘3’ in which the song was featured, is about Dhanush falling in love with Shruti Haasan. He followed her after school hours, joined the same tuition centre as her and even followed her home.

Worse was ‘Adidaa avala’, a cult hit of sorts among the youth, from the film ‘Mayakkam Enna’. The film’s lyrics are a ‘clarion call’, so to speak, to physically abuse and kill a woman who rejects a man. Once again, it’s our youth icon Dhanush who does it for us.

13713417_1058254347556418_2024148692_n.jpgHow can we forget Simbu’s hot pursuit of Trisha in the top hit ‘Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya’. They lived in the same building and were neighbours. Our hero fell in love with the girl-next-door and couldn’t stop following her wherever she went. I’d be creeped out if I had a neighbour who walked behind me all the time.

13689494_1058254354223084_417110198_n.jpgEven the ever-so-charming Madhavan has had a faux pas. In his debut ‘Minnale’, he went as far as posing as the man whom the girl’s parents had found as a match for her. In his much adored flick ‘Alaipayudhe’, though there were no violent threats involved like in many other films, Madhavan followed the heroine, Shalini, on her train journeys every day to and from college, and ultimately got her to fall for him.

Oh, is our dreamy Surya any different? In ‘Vaaranam Aayiram’, he set a new benchmark in stalking by following his dream girl all the way to US — with blessings from his own father. Does this mean parents encourage it too? The father character too had stalked the mother, Simran. Seems like “romantic” stalking transcends generations.

Ultimately, the male lead is always the aspirational character who turns the odds against him to prove to the female lead who called him ‘porukki’ (rogue) for following her, regret her decision. All’s well that ends well when the heroine finally gives a nod to the relationship and they live happily ever after.

But is it really a happy ending for us who carry pepper sprays, Swiss knives, and a look of panic on our faces?

As I walk home from the station everyday, I’m repeatedly looking over my shoulder

It was another night after a long day’s work. The bus was late and I reached Nungambakkam railway station at 9.20 pm — the time I usually walk home from my destination railway station. Concerned calls from my family come every single night ever since that fateful day poor 24-year-old Swathi was hacked to death on the very same platform that I board my home-bound train every day.

Ramkumar was stalking her, the reports said. Shudders ran through my spine the moment I read that particular statement. Why, you ask? The memories of being stalked as a school girl rushed back to haunt me. Those days of riding a bicycle home and being carefree were daunted by senior boys who bicycled behind me.

“Don’t you understand? He loves you,” a friend of his told me once. I never understood. I was all of 15 anyway. “What does love have to do with following me around,” I mused, until I realised how scary the whole situation was. Was I supposed to swoon over the fact that an unknown person, who not only studied in the same school but knew where I lived, could cause me physical harm, or worse yet make me the reason he committed suicide? I remember being scared, and the distinctive feeling of making my friend (lest he get the idea I’m interested in him) look over our shoulder every corner we turned.

Why I’m a feminist

Who is a feminist?

Women who hate men? A male basher? I don’t know what other crazy definitions there are out there. But I do know that feminism is not any of those.

So, let’s get our basics right. Feminism is when you want gender equality. Gender equality between male, female, and transgender. I know you’ll argue that the ideology started off as pro-women. But, even then, it sought only equality.

Coming to my point…is feminism really such a bad word? If it indeed is thought of as a bad word, doesn’t it prove that we’re still living in such a patriarchal world?

My parents never gave me any less importance because I’m a girl, or my brother any more importance because he’s a boy. I never got an extra roti because I’m a GIRL, and neither did he because he’s a BOY. I did not grow up with any gender discrimination. My parents never had to differentiate between their son and daughter. I had a healthy environment where I had the liberty to do what I wanted. So, why do I need feminism? Why do I need to fight for gender equality when I have it already?!

It’s not just about oneself, is it? Don’t we have the responsibility of fighting for those who are unseen, and unheard? Don’t we have to voice the problems of the marginalised and less fortunate? Well, to me, that’s what feminism is.

There’s always an exception to every rule. Not all men are bad, and not all women are good. I should be safe to say that there’s equality there!

When there’s a larger than life celebration of women’s day, I’d definitely question the absence of a men’s day; and vice-versa. If there were days for men and women, but none for transgenders, I’m pretty darn sure I’d question that too.

I’m a feminist. And a proud one at that! Because, to me, it’s never about what I have or don’t. I’m lucky enough to have parents who don’t discriminate. I’m blessed with amazing friends(male and female) who don’t treat me any more or any less because I’m a girl. I’m lucky enough to work alongside my bosses who don’t discriminate me based on my gender. But, I’m just lucky. There are thousands who aren’t as lucky and blessed as I am. I take it upon myself to fight for them because it’s my responsibility to do so.

I need feminism because it’s not always about me.

Where to stay in Sri Lanka

Well, this is quite a late post. But I promise it’ll be useful to you guys. I’ve been meaning to put this information together for over a year now but somehow never got to it. I visited Sri Lanka last year with a couple of my friends and it was an amazing experience. You can read about it all here. If you’re travelling from India, like we did, then keep in mind that Re 1 INR is equal to Re 2 in Sri Lankan Rupees. That literally makes life much simple and easy for us! Budget travelling, for the win.

We went almost during their peak season time, in February, so we booked everything at least four months in advance. The round-trip flight ticket booked during the month of November, cost Rs 9,000 INR (which is cheaper than a round-trip to Delhi or Jaipur). There’s visa on arrival and that costs about $15-$20 and contact the Sri Lankan High Commission for details regarding the documents required for the same, as it varies depending on the ties between the nations. We only had to carry our passports and print outs of our return tickets for the visa. It’s a smooth process and ideally doesn’t take more than five minutes.

Now, I’m gonna give you all the information regarding the accommodation we used during our visit there. We went to Colombo, Galle, and Nuwara Eliya. So, here we go.

In Colombo we stayed at a dormitory called Colombo City Hostel as all other options that were available on TripAdvisor were expensive for us. It is located in the heart of the city and is close to the Pettah market and other places of interest you might want to visit. They charge USD 15 per night per bed (exclusive of tax), with complimentary breakfast of bread, eggs, and tea/ coffee, and free Wi-Fi. It’s a clean facility and has lockers for storing your backpacks or trolleys. The showers and toilets are also neatly maintained. During the humid evenings you can hang out at the terrace where drinking and smoking is allowed. The same people also have similar accommodations in Kandy and Dambulla. Check out their website here.

Wall art at Colombo City Hostel | Image subject to copyright.
Wall art at Colombo City Hostel | Image subject to copyright.

The next place we went to was Galle. This is a scenic place with a lot of blue-green beaches where you can scuba-dive, snorkel, and what not. We found a cute little place called Galle Center Home on booking.com. Excluding tax, this place charges USD 30 per night for a triple-bed room with free Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, this stay does not come with a complimentary meal and you will have to fend for yourself. However, it’s a walk-able distance from the Galle fort which has many cafes and restaurants, and very close to the local fruit market with friendly shopkeepers where fruits are available for nominal prices. Check out their Booking listing here.

Nuwara Eliya is a beautiful hill station with tea estates everywhere. It also has a quaint little downtown with a colonial-influenced post office where you can get postcards for a steal! We booked our stay here as well on booking.com, and it happened to be warm home-stay. Located somewhere on top of the hill is New Sun Shine Holiday Bungalow where you’d rather wish the sun shone a tad more than it does. It cost us USD 22 per day for a triple-bed room with an attached bath, an extra USD 2 for Wi-Fi (which did not work due to some issues, and the manager did not take money from us), and extra USD 2.5 per meal for the food. The bedding and the quilts were clean, and the manager ensured we were comfortable. The food deserves a special mention! As it was home cooked, it was the most delicious and authentic Sri Lankan food we had during our trip. Make sure to ask for rice and curry for lunch, and coconut roti with tea for breakfast. Check out their website here.

Rice and curry dinner at New Sun Shine Bungalow in Nuwara Eliya | Image subject to copyright
Rice and curry dinner at New Sun Shine Bungalow in Nuwara Eliya | Image subject to copyright

Our trip ended with these three places. Hoping for more travel in the coming months. Will post other experiences here. So, watch this space for more.

Cheers.