Little things

I am not here to write about Trump. Or about India’s demonitisation. About the war raging in Mosul. The terror attacks in Pakistan and Iraq. The Phillipino president. The death of Leonard Cohen.

Here I am, a girl of 20, trying to navigate through the prediction of world destruction and chaos. It’s scary, it’s intimidating. If you’re anything like me, you do recognise the anxiety inside you. I am not well-read or qualified enough to preach about how to stop our doom. But I believe in certain things that add sparkle to my life. As I write this, I hope they work the same for you.

Buy yourself a flower

Give someone else a flower

Stare at the moon at midnight

Remember your first kiss

Have mint green tea

Read a worn out book

Go play with some puppies

Remember to get yourself some sleep

Youtube videos of kittens and babies

Buy a homeless person a meal

Work out, go swim, take that cycle out for a ride

Eat that brownie

Plan a trip to Seychelles

Doodle your heart out

Cuddle with a stuffed animal

Run yourself a hot bath with rose petals

Light those candles tonight

Listen to your favorite music from the 80’s

Spoil yourself and get that item on your wishlist

Message an old friend

Strike a conversation with a stranger about clocks

Do your hair up like Cinderella

Cook yourself a good meal

Smile at the little amusing moments on the train

Give your sibling a hug

Make some bracelets with your friends

Go for a late night drive

Camp up in the moutains

Or, build a fort in your living room

Share stories of personal adventure

Try your hand at origami

Write down your dreams on a post it

Love – yourself and others

 

 

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Parallels

Looking at every inch of my body, I stood in front of the mirror. My hair dripping wet, I criticised my uneven tan, my arms, and I almost smirked at the scar on my waist. There it was, refusing to fade away. Everyone who knows me knows the story of the cheetah hurting me and the aftermath of it all. I am convinced it was one of those stories people end up narrating to their grandchildren. I, for one, am debating if it’s worthwhile to include it in my resume.

I turn, and there it is. Another scar, the one I avoid looking at. Even after all these years, I’d rather not acknowledge it. In all fairness, though, the scar I refer to are two marks from a man, one who felt entitled to my body. My physical pain, my helpless dissent, nothing was enough to stop him. And although I recovered well, better than I expected, I can’t deny the influence those moments had on my life.

But today, on the day where Hindus celebrate the defeat of evil (my darling firangs, it’s the festival of Dusshera), I celebrated my personal win over evil. However, the irony of the scars struck me. One scar I have  been showing off – guilty of basking in the attention, I admit. I have posted, talked, and talked some more about the cheetah. The other scar, though, I am not so confident about. I haven’t pointed out to it, haven’t talked about that experience, which was arguably equally terrifying as the former. I have been unable to publicly post my experience, to let comments in, uncensored. Because I have internalised the stigma. I know I will be blamed for what happened. Why would I wear a skirt, why couldn’t I fight it off? Not one, not a single soul questioned me when I told them I went up to a wild animal rather carelessly. The same naive trust would be the reason for my scrutiny when it comes to a man, a human, hurting me.

When the cheetah hurt me, it was shooed away, far away from where I was. Three handlers and a friend all rushed to my aid. There were calls made, I was taken to a doctor, I received free medical care. People offered to help me carry a camera bag, asked me if I was okay, ensured I had everything in place. Friends asked if I needed to talk, and made sure I wasn’t traumatised or shaken up. They ensured I had enough dinner for the strong antibiotics I was on, that I was hydrated enough and could go about my life without risking my health. I didn’t have to fight for some basic care and attention. I received all of it, and I deeply appreciated it. But when I’ve tried to talk about my experience with sexual assault, it hasn’t been the same. The focus shifts from care to question. I am grateful I wasn’t gravely hurt because I know medical care would be a struggle to have access to. Emotional care was far fetched. Because let’s not forget, my own mother assumes it’s the clothes that cause the men to lose control.

And oh, how to I forget about justice and the aftermath? That when a cheetah ended up hurting me in her playfulness, an entire organisation was on its toes. I could effectively ask for the cheetah to be caged up for her entire life, and my wish would be granted. I could claim to be traumatised and scared of cheetahs, and people would be understanding enough to shield me from all kinds of cats, big and small. That the legitimacy of my phobia wouldn’t be questioned, oh no. Perhaps I would be suggested therapy to better adjust in the cat-obsessed-internet-world, but my trauma wouldn’t be reduced to something you “get over”. On the other hand, I would have to prove a sexual assault with medical tests and witness testimony. I would have to file a case, find a lawyer, fight my case in the court and possibly in the society and media, and the best I would get is that man going to jail for 6 months and being released in 3 for “good behaviour”. If I had the audacity to claim that I don’t enjoy a man’s touch without consent, that it’s a legitimate fear of mine to be stuck in an awful situation again, people would chuckle. Because it can’t happen that often, that I’m just blowing things out of proportion. He just wanted an innocent hug, he’s a nice man and wouldn’t harm you, they would claim. The world would immediately try to argue back with rationale and statistics, forgetting that my thoughts and emotions don’t need justification.

Yes, the parallels I have run seem ridiculous. Maybe they are. But so is how sexual assault is treated in this world. No, Donald Trump, it is not just a minor distraction. It is a violation of my basic human rights, and I refuse to let you or anyone else treat this as a minor issue. You know when a freak animal attack is handled better than a persistent problem most women face in some form or the other, it is a shame for humanity as a whole. It is high time that we reevaluate the way we handle sexual violence – the way we educate children, the way we prevent it, the way we punish for it, the way we help people cope with it.

But until we address these issues, millions like me will continue to hide their scars in shame. And that is not okay.

My wish for you

You told me that you don’t think you’ll ever love someone.

I wish I could change that. I wish you knew how it was to love, to love someone until it seems like it would be physically impossible to love her more, and then love her a tad bit more. I really hope you find someone who makes you want to get up every day and makes you stop in your tracks every single time you think of her.

Maybe then you’ll understand what it is like to love. When her favourite colour is the one you adorn your canvas with, when her voice is the one you hear all the time and you think you might just go crazy. When she has on the outfit you love, and you can’t resist looking at her until everything fades away. The way she scrunches her nose at kittens or sneezes when she wakes up, you will adore all of that and more.

You will find that love is gentle and fierce. That she might seem so fragile when she tells you about that childhood bully but so brave when she helps you confront your fears. And some nights you might have it rough, some days you might argue and refuse to talk like the stubborn individuals that you are. But at the end, you both will meet again at an amusement park and scream your problems out and go home with three tubs of ice cream.

That someone who might make getting old and wrinkly seems not that bad of a deal, considering you’ll have her by your side. She will make you watch the horror movies that she likes, and maybe you both will equally suck at a sport. And perhaps you’ll pick up each other’s gross habits, and not really mind it, because now you know it’s something so special only between you two.

And maybe it’ll last forever. And maybe it’ll break. Maybe you will have your heart crushed over, and it will feel like colliding suns and collapsing moons. You will be miserable and cook her favourite meal, hoping she comes home and grins like nothing ever went wrong. Maybe you’ll spend countless nights at bars and wander about the lonely roads, taking risks because nothing matters anymore. Or you might just lock yourself up and cry, cry until you drown in yourself.

All of this, just my tender wish. That you love again. That you live again.

Then you’ll know how I feel about you.

Friendship Day

So, I found out at midnight that it was friendship day today. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against assigned days for some relationship. Valentine’s day, mother’s day, father’s day, dog’s day. They’re all good, man, they’re all good. I’m all for people keeping out one day of the year to express their love and gratitude. Because as much as we all would like to, we just fail to be kind to everyone every day.
My problem with friendship day though is the amount of messages I get from people I don’t really consider friends. You might be my acquaintance, you might be my classmate or we may have trained together. We may have known each other for years or perhaps we just follow each other on twitter. But you see, most people who messaged me, you’re not really my friend. Because when I am up at night, in desperate need of someone, I wouldn’t even think of calling you up. When I am drunk, I wouldn’t text you about pink dolphins. When I’m happy, you wouldn’t be the one I treat with a pizza and coke.
And I’m sure, you wouldn’t do that for me either.
It’s all good, though. I know that when I was younger, it was cool to have hundreds of people on Facebook friends’ list. It was even cooler to get multiple friendship bands and show them off for days together, and never wanting to take them off. They did give a fake sense of self-worth, made me feel like I mattered to the people around me. Because they got be a band, we had a bond.
But now I know better, and perhaps you know better. So the bands are just emojis, and the hugs turn into words on my screen. It’s just that I’m not up for this. I’m not good at faking a smile and even copy pasting a message to all my contacts, because honestly, I couldn’t care less. Yes, I like to known what you’re up to every now and then. I’d be happy to see you get an internship or travel to Paris. But I’m not sure I can call you a friend and pretend to always be there for you, when I won’t be. Truth is, I won’t be thinking of you for most my time and that’s fine.
Anyhoo, for the friends that I do have. I love you, and you know I am all there for you, anytime you need me to. Chances are that we’ve known each other for years, and some for months (shoutout to team Zambia) but I do genuinely care about you. And I hope you know that I cherish your friendship every day, though I may not be the best at expressing it. And so, here we are. Perhaps we don’t talk every day but nothing will ever change.

About turning 20

The exact moment I was born, I spent napping today. I honestly cannot think of a better way to spend that precious time.

Nah, I had plans. I’m just consoling myself for the kind of lame life I lead. It’s not as fun as my social media might lead you to believe. But a girl’s gotta keep up her game.

So, 20 entire years ago, as in 2 decades ago, I almost managed to kill my mother and myself in the process of being born. Maybe I was a lazy baby as well, but I was in a breech position and did it help us in the end? Nope. Damn, fetus me, you had one job.

Anyhoo, I was born and my mother survived as well (yay, medical science) and today I celebrate existing for 20 years. I don’t know how exactly I managed that, given the fact that I’ve had malaria, dengue, typhoid, fractures, ligament tears and spinal injuries, along with a weird af virus attack that my doctor is still trying to figure out. Not to mention the floods and the bomb blasts and the reckless drivers in India. It’s a minor miracle, as I have been stressing for the day. I deserve to celebrate this.

Today has been…decent. Some moment made me smile wide, like the entire class singing happy birthday to me. Wait, no, that was embarrassing. And then there were certain people *cough* my ex *cough* who low-key insulted me while wishing me. I don’t think he realised what his words meant, in all honesty, but I woke up to it and it made me mad for about 2.3 minutes. I came home after some canceled plans and a taxi strike in the city made travel eh, but the pasta was well worth it. And then, as aforementioned, I took a nice nap. It felt good.

Now that I have less than six hours before it’s just another day and someone else’s birthday, I have some reflection to do. Some people I expected to be excited and just be there weren’t, while others were surprisingly sweet and loving. And this is what makes me rethink everything I assume. Because some people aren’t meant to stay close forever, while others are part of your life. And as much as it hurt me to see them not care as much, for whatever reason, I came to accept it.

Because in 20 years (and that’s a long time, okay? I’m basically ancient) I’ve learned that not all people you care about are going to stay forever. Infact, very few will. Some come to show you what happiness feels like, the others to show you the people you must stay away from. Some feel like the gentle breeze and the others like raging storms. Some will have you thinking about them in the middle of the night and the others you’ll struggle to remember. That’s okay. In the end, all you have is the memories that make you the person you are.

And so, today, I decide to finally try and let go. To not cling onto people who are distant, and to not space away from those still here for me. To take life as it comes, and most definitely appreciate naps more.

Putting things in perspective

“Why are you so serious about this shit?” they often ask me. Do you really want to know why I get agitated when I hear about a clear violation of women’s rights? You want to know why I proudly call myself a feminist and fume when someone states everyone is equal in 2016?
 
Maybe because right after I was born, some family friend remarked to my dad that he would have drowned himself in alcohol if he had a girl child. I hadn’t even lived a few days before someone thought I, or someone who shared the same physiological makeup as mine, warranted certain death because it was oh-so-shameful.
 
Maybe because when I was five, my best friend’s mother thought a kitchen set was more appropriate of a toy for me than a football. That when we played “house” I should be serving my husband hot, delicious food and then ask him about his tiring day in an air conditioned office as I cleaned up after him and my child.
 
Maybe because in fourth grade, our principal stood on stage and said that clothes are meant to cover up bodies and not show them off and girls should always remain modest unless they wanted to invite trouble. When a model for hundreds of students sexualised bodies of girls from ages 3 to 15, nobody raised their voice.
 
Maybe because an acquaintance said to me that I wasn’t supposed to be trying to compete with guys in sciences and mathematics because that was a forte open only for boys. That’s why, he said, our teacher for physics was male. English was fine, he then consoled me, because that isn’t as difficult and girls can manage.
 
Maybe because when I walked on the streets after hitting my teen years, I was told to wear loose clothing and keep my gaze down. Ignore the stares, it’s the best for you. If you fight back, they’ll probably hurt you. The people won’t help you, I was told. That’s the way of the world and you can’t really change it. And so, here I am, shielding my body with my hair and my backpack.
 
Maybe because a distant relative defended honour killings and domestic violence. Women are, after all, honour of the family and they have no right to deviate (read: have their own independent thoughts, feelings, and emotions) and disgrace the family and community.
 
Maybe because in high school people stated that I had the choice between pleasing men by looking beautiful or never being successful enough because it was and always will be beauty over brains. And so came the heels and the winged eyeliner, and out went the self-confidence. How I dressed suddenly decided my worth in society.
 
Maybe because a taxi driver casually remarked that he didn’t understand why I went to college. But it was a relief that I was studying humanities because men don’t like to be married to girls who are over-qualified. After all, education for girls doesn’t have much purpose beyond ensuring the vegetable vendor doesn’t cheat them and that her children learn their spellings well.
 
Maybe because in college authority figures asked the one guy in our class to control the girls, and we were told to make sure we don’t ask for it by sitting on stairs or hugging our friends. That if I were to wear a skirt (gasp!) to college, I shouldn’t be too surprised to find men being distracted and provoked.
 
Maybe because even after all this, I am well aware that I am part of the lucky, privileged section of the society that gets to question, critique, and rebel. If that doesn’t put things in perspective, I don’t know what will.

My shoulders distract you?

Today we welcomed – and also scoffed at, felt pity and low-key judged – the first year students into college. As is tradition, the most important clubs and committees in the college are required to give a short presentation to the students about…well, basically we just brag in hopes of getting members and volunteers.

Some of you may know this, but for the one very loyal reader from the Philippines and other newbies (I appreciate you) I must clarify things before I continue. I am part of the core committee for the Gender Issues Cell, which deals with any and all aspects of, you guessed it, gender (and sexuality) issues. So, not only do we request people to join us but also assure them that they are free to approach us in case they are in distress. I was supposed to talk for the cell with another girl, and we were sitting there in the auditorium, waiting for our turn to go on stage and yap.

So our principal was talking to the parents and students, and I was trying to give a damn about what she said. However, when she mentioned the term “dress code” my attention suddenly came back to what she was talking about. It was the regular thing – dress like you’re going to a college, not clubbing. That shorts belong at the beach. And then she says “because some clothes are distracting to others.”

Yes, that’s what she said.

Now, let me tell you this. Not once has anyone told me that my shoulders or legs are distracting them from learning. If I’m not singing at the top of my frog-like-voice during a lecture, I’m not distracting you. The only way my clothes can distract you is if they have some siren blazing from them. Other than that, my friend, you’re good to pay some attention in class and maybe actually learn.

And you know what? To be fair, no boy has ever complained of being distracted due to my shoulders in class (gasp! I wear spaghetti straps to college, breaking the divine dress code). The only people who have called me out when they see my bra strap or shoulders are faculty and staff members. I’m sorry, you apparently can’t teach when you see my tan lines? That’s such a tragedy. Must be so difficult to have a few extra inches of human skin right in front of you, gah, I can only imagine.

How dare I, a girl, be comfortable with myself? How dare I show my skin to the world? I love how my male friends wear shorts to college, without ever getting as much as a second glance. The moment it’s me, all hell breaks loose. Because screw my comfort while getting an education, it’s all about what others think I should be doing. And this exactly perpetuates the hierarchy, the sexism that we all complain about. Instead of telling us what to wear, how about telling others to mind their own goddamn business?

What we need it to support and encourage young students to be comfortable with their own body. When someone, irrespective of their sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, decides to wear anything they want to and walk into a public institution, it’s their right. They are not in the wrong, and they are definitely not the problem you should be pointing your finger at. If you are sexualising random body parts, we are not the problem. You are.