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. 

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.

Do we have the “luxury” of ignorance with workplace sexual harassment?

It was another busy Tuesday at work. Between the could-be impact of GST and Trump’s “tyranny”, I’m sure the newsroom was buzzing with action — the newsroom I used to belong to until someone thought it was better for the Social Media desk to be a separate entity. As I sat alone in this new lonely, dingy office away from all the action I was missing, my new boss calls for me from his oh-so-huge cabin. And the first thing he sees, are my breasts.

Discomfort descended. How is someone supposed to react in this situation? There’s nobody witness to this to support my claim if I raised an alarm. Moreover, what haunts me is, does this even qualify as harassment? As I stand there uncomfortably, he asks about news, work, and what not with his eyes wandering to my chest every now and then. Quickly getting up, I tell him I have something breaking to tweet out and run out of the cabin.

I’m a woman in India. I’m used to the staring. Sadly, aren’t we all? It doesn’t even bother us anymore when on the streets! Well, as long as he doesn’t do anything physical to you, why bother? Right? Because that’s how much of a commonality it has become. But, do we have the same “luxury” when it comes to a workplace? The place where you spend most of your day, where you meet the same person every single day, where the person knows when you come in and go out.

If you’ve stayed this far into the rant, then you should know I’m not writing this after one ‘isolated’ incident of him staring at my breasts (he has been doing that on every occasion he has seen me at work for the past one month), but after an epiphany of what I felt when I learnt he has a daughter younger than I am (I’m 25).

Last week I learnt from a colleague that he has a daughter who is preparing to go to college. Well, when I learnt that it evoked a new kind of anger, disdain, and disgust in me. How can a man do this to a woman who isn’t much older than his own daughter? I realised the problem with my thought process much later, and I’m glad I did.

Why does it matter whether he has a son or a daughter? And why should it? Did it matter that he was married? Did it matter that he was probably behaving the same way with other women colleagues of his? Although those things bothered me, why did him having a daughter anger me more? I gave it a lot of thought. It’s because it’s “culturally” impossible for such a man to behave the way he did. He’s the “ideal man” we so glorify — a married, family man, fathering a loving daughter. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? How deeply etched is it in our mind that these ideals make for the perfect man who does women no harm?

When are we changing all of this?

When rudeness becomes the workplace norm

Insults, rudeness, sadistic sarcasm, personal attacks, incivility, yelling, belittling, and demeaning remarks at workplace can hold back anyone who’s otherwise a hard worker. 

The self doubt ritual that arises from the aforementioned behaviour of a leader or a boss, overshadows all the confidence one has accumulated little by little over a period of time.

A leader should be a place of safety, a friend once said. When realisation strikes that the same leader you look up to, does not trust you or the team anymore, the psychological trauma it causes is inexplicable. I’m no psychological expert to provide my views on it but workplace environment does play a major role in how our days shape up.

Negative energy spreads quicker than positive energy ever can. Once this rudeness in the leader’s tone becomes an everyday affair, the team’s efficiency gets reduced to half or probably lesser. The team breaks up into groups of its own with each spreading and discussing the stinky work environment, only making it worse. Shifting blame, unwillingness to take responsibility or discuss new ideas, fading away of passion, indifference to work, etc are some of the many worst outcomes of this infectious attitude.

Individuals who work extra hours just because they love the work they do, clock their shifts and run out as quick as they can. When experienced bosses and leaders who are there to motivate us, end up doing the exact opposite, nobody wants to get up every morning wanting to go to work.

Maybe this is unfair on the leaders’ side. Maybe the leader thinks the team is undependable, and maybe the team has let them down more often than not. But does that call for yelling and being hysterical day in and day out, is something that ought to be reflected upon.

(All of this has been written from personal observation.)

​The demoralised and demonetised desi millennial

I am a millennial. One of the loathsome, entitled, rebels born in the ‘90s. And in the Indian context, I’m the most conniving, self-indulgent adult-kid (one who’s not allowed to make decisions but is expected to decide and not be taken seriously all the same) who knows not to respect people, let alone money. According to my parents’ generation, I know not money’s worth. 

Thanks to PM Modi’s decision to make Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes illegal tender for all transactions, today, I’m demonetised. The same as every other Aditya, Kavitha, and Aarthi (excuse the Indian cliché of Tom, Dick, and Harry). 

As we raid our boss’s piggy bank for coins to have the ceremonial evening chai, little do we notice the underlying nervousness in each others’ laughter. Laughter that acknowledges the absence of big money- anything between Rs 10 and Rs 100- and that which also acknowledges the possibility of an empty wallet tomorrow.

Chatting and giggling, just like yesterday, I stand in a long queue for some money. Yesterday proved to be unlucky. Today, I still hope and as do the two friends who stand along with me almost penniless. We got lucky.

Today, I have Rs 2,110 at hand. But I cross the road hoping to be able to take my usual bus, for the ticket costs me Rs 13. The new and crisp magenta 2,000 note is merely a security blanket; the 100 a luxury as much as the 10. I miss the bus and it’s time for the next hope. 

Now, I hope the share-auto wala has change for the last green note of 100 bucks I hold dearly and managed to keep for five days without spending. As I hesitantly part with it at my destination, he grins and hands me the change. Phew! 80 bucks should be good enough for the next few days.

For an adult-kid who doesn’t even have herself a postpaid cell connection, this is the most amount of cash I’ve ever held in my wallet till date. Two thousand rupees: it slowly sinks in as I hold on tight to my bag. 

What value does this money hold? I can’t buy a glass of tea with it for the poor roadside teashop will not have change to supply. Even if he is kind enough, what does it hold for him? How’d he use it? Maybe for a wholesale transaction?

Entitled, you say?