Thursday, February 27, 2014

When did Feminist become a bad word?

My brother spat out the word "feminist" as an epiphet the other day. I was horrified. When did feminist become a bad word?

I am proud to say I am a feminst- and I disagree that it is a bad word. I also wanted to clear up some misconceptions while I'm at it.

No I don't hate men, I don't think women are better than men and I am not anti-men. As a feminist however-I believe that the feminist movement was ment to free people from gender-dictated social constructs and patriarchy definied 'traditional roles' to discover what gives them a happy, meaningful life. And I believe this applies to men and women equally.

I know what many people think- then why call it feminist? Why not humanist. Let me put it in context- feminism did begin as a movement focused more solely on issues related to being a women. But women do not experience their lives in a gender seperate silo, and in the 200 plus years that have passed from the beginnings of feminism- the world has changed significantly. Today women can attend school, vote, hold political positions, choose to work inside or outside the home, decide if and when to have children, and choose when, if, and to whom they get married. This has profoundly impacted families, created whole new values of respect and inclusion, and most importantly contributed in a very significant way to the global econonmy.

But more importantly, feminism isn't irrelevant- even in this day and age. These enlightened times haven't stopped sexual assault, street harassment or domestic violence against women. Women still have to cotend with a popular culture that teaches them to be sexual objects, to focus on their appearance and to undervalue their intellect. There are still men who believe an attractive woman must want attention from men even if she says she doesn’t. People still judge a woman’s value based on how much they want to have sex with her. They still blame a woman for getting raped. Employers are still firing women because they are pregnant- or refusing to hire a married or pregnant woman because she is percieved as 'less productive' than her male counterparts.

But more importantly- we are reaching a point in our history where laws put in place to protect women have become our crutches. Women are exploiting these laws and protections, and men are suffering for it. Men too are victims of violence, harassment and abuse- but are not afforded the same protections- in fact in many cases they are afforded less protection against their abusers because societal norms have not caught up with broader feminist thinking.

I am not ashamed to say I am a feminist. I am a feminst because I believe in a society where your worth is not  judged by your gender- regardless of whether you are a man, woman or a transgendered individual. I don't say that men and women are equal- because biologically we aren't- but I'd like to think generations will thank us for brining our ideals, and our history of breaking barriers, and redirecting that towards creating a world where gender is just a bilogical tag and nothing more.

A pipe dream- but I think I am allowed to have one or two ideals.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yes I like to cook.

Let me state for the record, that I enjoy the fine art of cooking. I won't go on to say I'm good at it because I am still on this incredible journey of learning, but I do enjoy putting flavours together and watching a satisfied smile at the end of the meal.

What I don't like however- is being put in a box because I enjoy cooking.  The moment I reveal this fact- people seem to take on a conciliatory tone. The implication being- oh she just revealed she cooks- I don't think she's capable of intellectual discourse.

Since when were the both mutually exclusive? I am more than capable to discussing Kant while I do a stirfry- and I am even capable of doing both at the same time. I also box for a hobby. Does that make me a violent sociopath?

And while we're on the subject- can I just call out those who ask me if I know 'proper' cooking (Indian food in my case) or some variation of that. Examples include "When will you cook me a proper meal" and "This is all well and good but it isn't proper food".

Thank you for the insult asshole. Your disrespect for the work I put into my meal is really classy.

I don't ask you to praise my cooking- but respect what I do. Preparing that Indonesian curry- or a Thai Tom Yum soup involves a lot of research, a lot of experimentation and a lot of time.

For the record- I grew up eating 'proper' Indian food, I watched my mother (an exceptional cook) make this food everyday, and I have learnt much from her, so recreating 'proper food' isn't rocket science.

Making something that isn't from my parent culture however is hard work. I have to go outside my comfort zone in terms of ingredients, flavours and preparation methods, and I have to create something that is completely new to me. Its hard work. And by dismissing these efforts you not only insult me- but the wonderful culture I borrow from when I make the dish.

That said- whether or not I cook proper food or improper food- respect the fact that I have made you a meal- enjoy the meal because a lot of love was put into it- and try to hold back your disrespectful commentary questioning my intelligence and my cooking abilities.

Its called good manners- you can look it up in the dictionary if the meaning eludes you.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm Scared of Being Indian

I've never felt more frightened of being Indian Singaporean than I did two days ago when I read the papers.

That was when I read that article announcing the Ministry of Home Affairs' new bill, which gives the police enhanced powers to 'deal pre-emptively with potential threats to public order in Little India'.

These 'enhanced powers' include the power to strip search people for alcohol, or raid any place within Little India without a warrant. The police can even ban people from entering Little India for up to 30 days if their presence or actions are 'likely to threaten public order'.

Little India is now a designated mini-war zone! In the meantime- the Commission of Enquiry hasn't completed their investigation. And yet this call for new powers is quick to pinpoint the fact that all the rioters were Indian, because these powers seem to centre on the area that the community congregates.

I have enough battle scars from racist slurs at school, the workplace, and even from a few selected crazies in public. But government sanctioned racism?

What is happening to the Singapore I know? Has the phrase "regardless of race, language or religion" become meaningless?


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lessons in Brevity

One of the hardest lessons I need to learn is how to be brief and get straight to the point.

I was trying to write a story the other day. It was about one the more memorable men my parents introduced me to back in the day. I hated the end product. It was too long, it was too pompous, and the more words I poured into it, the worse it got. Words were becoming my enemy.

I'm still trying to edit that piece of crap.

But I must be honest, there's only so much editing can do. I have a major issue with over thinking. I spend all my time trying to pre-emptively appease people who could be offended and hence pour more and more words into over describing things, adding qualifiers, and other bits of window dressing.

I'm busy diluting my thoughts and opinions to the point where they're barely recognizable anymore. The words lose their power and the story is buried.

I must be an idiot to think I can write but then I am just foolish enough to believe that if I tried hard enough I could become good at it. I just need to get all that bad writing out of me. ;) (At least that's what the other writers say)


Monday, January 20, 2014

I married a man who doesn't read. And won't read this.

I married a man who doesn't read. He doesn't read literature. Or paint works of art, or compose music on his electric guitar. I initially thought I was taking the safe and boring option- falling in love with the man who I thought was as predictable as his spoon-fed television with predictable plots, canned laughter and happy endings.

I realize now that this makes me sound so cynical and two dimensional. I am the unpredictable one- driven to moments of high drama. And for me to communicate in a space that didn't include overcomplicated words, sartre quotes, or hedonistic references to rap culture was difficult. It was like speaking a different language, one that involved switching off the witticisms and turning on the truth. It isn't easy to exist in a state of pure emotion- especially for someone like me who has deep trust issues.

And yet- this was a journey in discovering that feeling safe wasn't a bad thing after all- because in learning to trust, and learning to feel safe, I learnt to love. And now, I feel safe in letting my heart beat faster when I see the curve of his smile, or hear the timbre of his laugh. I feel safe when I say what I feel in the knowledge it is reciprocated.

I always thought love had to be dramatic, filled with grandiose confessions of love, torrid letters and tears. But nothing prepared me for the quiet moments; a single text asking you if you've eaten, a song hummed at the bottom of his voice that you recognize and love, and even words of wisdom and comfort when you've gone completely around the bend with worry.

No one prepared me for this kind of love. I'm not complaining however- its a good feeling after all. And I don't really mind that he won't read this- because he already knows.

Who'd have thought it? One year can change so much.


Friday, August 16, 2013

My Love Letter to Mumbai- my motherland.

My Dear Mumbai,

I am writing this long overdue letter to tell you I love you.

Of course you didn't notice when I left 28 years ago- you were preoccupied with many other things. At the moment my mum swung me into her arms and walked onto that aircraft at the Sahar airport, there were teenagers groping each other furtively at one of your public parks, a pani puri wala was wiping his sweaty brow and a phoolwala was stringing together fragrant jasmine for the evening prayers.

And anyway, someone is always coming and going in Mumbai. How many come and go every day? Do you know? I always wondered because you always seem to welcome everyone. You don’t care what their last names are, what they look like or what skeletons they carry in their closets. You don’t seem to care if they come with a pocket full of wealth or just the clothes on their back. They make their small mark on you and you just seem to expand to accommodate them.

When I was 16 I learned that your patron goddess is Mumba Devi, the great mother.  I always wondered if you are the great mother herself- because- like any loving mother, you seem to selflessly give whatever you are asked for- you give hope, you give shelter, happiness, money and even rain. You make people feel like they can do anything. When my paternal grandfather showed up in the 50s with a wife and scars from the war, you just expanded and made room for this growing family. And when my maternal grandmother died of smallpox a few years later, you absorbed the tears of her young children and nurtured my grandfather through this difficult time giving him the courage he needed to bring up his young family alone.

Mumbaikers- your children, with their spirit and their determination to thrive no matter the circumstances, are magnificent. I wish I had even a small portion of that spirit. But alas, I was just a wee one when I left your embrace and came to the shores of my chosen home country. I’m not sure when I started loving you so deeply. It was definitely not when I was a child vacationing in Mumbai with terrible bouts of food poisoning and jostling along in a cramped car for two hours to visit every boring relative in every far flung corner of the city.

But who cares when I got besotted? Because right now, everything about you is a discovery - of flavours, stories and unexpected experiences. Getting on a train without a ticket and then getting caught and fined, hearing a nonchalant discussion on gun violence, and even swapping make up and clothing tips with a hijra woman on the train, all vignettes in an amazing adventure. You show me your deepest underbelly and your brightest achievements. And you seem equally proud of both.  And I, who is only afforded only a tiny glimpse of your magnificence, keep wanting to come back because even that small glimpse is worth any amount of time, money or anguish.

So here’s to my city of contradictions. Gritty and Glamorous. Secular and Devout. Antique and Brand New. You are overwhelming with your magnificent gothic structures, opulent glass skyscrapers and maidans standing side by side with horrific slums, narrow potholed streets and a train system that smells like urine. I love your filth and crumbling exterior, and the brisk scent of hope that underlies your signature scent of diesel exhaust, refuse, and something frying. I love your heart.

You may never read this- but that’s okay Mumbai meri Jaan. Know that I love you always.

Warmest Regards,


Thursday, August 01, 2013

Ruminations on Two Timing.

I just had a major paradigm shift over the past few months.  Women cheat in relationships. They lie, and they break hearts too.

In the past two months, I've come across four separate stories of women who were married/about to get married/in a committed relationship who thought their ex was still fair game, and then played out a Karan Johar melodrama that involved a love triangle, and a wedding that was about to happen, or a marriage that needed saving.

One of the heartbroken men even wrote a book about his 'experience', and this man could barely write as I found out first hand editing an early edition of his novel. The thousands of spelling and grammatical errors, bizarrely over flowery prose and poorly written out characters made me want to hurl my laptop against the ceiling at several points during the narrative.

But what to do? I had to read it all the way through- It was a compelling tale and I was looking for answers. What drives a normally rational human beings into such depths of stupidity? Who was this girl? Why did she think nothing about two timing a man?

She's the type of girl who bitterly complains about the complexity of her lives, about the rigidity of tradition that gives them no freedom to make choices, and even the need for someplace they can 'escape to', and yet are content to live in that limbo of two timing and cheating. She convinces everyone she's a paragon of virtue and lives crippled by the guilt of not being perfect. She's the type of girl who only makes hard decisions about her life when things reach crisis point.

Damn. That was me two years ago. I cheated and lied in a relationship too- on my relationship with myself. And I broke my own heart.

Two years ago, I too thought nothing about existing in a limbo and doing nothing to change my situation but complain. This blog bears testament to that. I too thought nothing of hiding my true self from people for some form of acceptance, from men, peers and employers. I had to be a paragon at everything I did and when I couldn't I just tried to 'escape'- even if it was into my own mind.

When my crisis point finally came around, the pain finally convinced me that existing in a limbo waiting for life to happen is not a good way to live. And the truth did set me free. My life is so much better for it.

Which begs the question- would I have cheated on a man if I was presented a chance to? I will never know, but there's a part of me that thinks I would never have been able to. Those lies you see- they'd never have sat well with me.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Voice

The day my voice died,
I didn't notice it, but I must have wanted it
Really badly since my mouth
Got me into to trouble all the time. 

You see- silence was a virtue.

So I embraced the virtuous life,
I remained without a voice for a long time,
And I wanted everyone to celebrate my sacrifice.

But no one cared,
Beyond attaching labels
And pegging me,
In their mental space.

And so I became Fat and Indian,
I was the girl who Loved Wine, who Reads a lot,
I was Boring, Pedantic and sometimes invisible.
I thought the labels made me fit in.

But I was mostly fat and or sad.
Everyone seemed obsessed with that.
I was okay with it though,

I just assumed I was easygoing that way.

Until one too many rejections,
One too many assumptions,
And one too many hurts,
Made my silence start to grate.

Why should I be mute,
In the face of self-imposed restrictions
Why should I be mute,
For every body else’s acceptance

So I opened my mouth and
I started to talk again,
And hoarse as my voice sounded,
It was the sweetest sound I ever heard.

Now, I will not stand by silent,
While you judge me erroneously.
You see, I have my voice back,
And I will say my piece.

I am not fat, and I am not thankful,
That people deign to love me "despite the way I look".
I am a magnificent, strong, and powerful woman,
And don't you forget it.

Naysayers and Gossip Mongers,
You have 5 counts,
To get the hell away
Before my fist meets your face. 

The sacrifice days are over.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Epiphany

When I was 16, I had a crush on my grandparents' neighbours'  son. He ticked all the boxes. He was very smart, and from my community. He rode a motor bike that may or may not have been a Harley. He also had a sneering way of talking that made my heart beat faster. He spoke french, and went to university in Europe.  When I was 17, he was unimaginably cool, and I thought he had the most awesome bad boy appeal.

I met this paragon of manly virtue again this week. He has done well for himself I am happy to report. But I was unmoved. In fact, I noticed quite a lot of other things. Like how he enjoyed putting down the women in his life (yes he treats his mother like shit), how he used snide commentary and name calling to 'keep women in their place' (he pulled that with my mother), and how he thinks women are intellectually and physically weaker than him- and then look shocked when proven otherwise (he tried to win an arguement with me LOL). He struck me as very immature, and blind to the world around him because he was convinced of his own superiority.

What the hell was I thinking when I was 16? 

I also had an epiphany this weekend. I realized that I subconsciously always held this guy up to be the perfect example of what my ideal 'matchmade groom' should be like. I've always fallen for men like this even outside the matchmaking circuit. While I was 16, and a dumbass- it was excusable. But when I was older and burnt once I should have learnt. But here I am 28 years old with countless broken hearts under my belt, and only realizing this now.

I really am slow on the uptake sometimes. >_<

With so much of value placed on a woman's role as caretaker for a family in my community, a single woman is considered a personal shame for parents. And so when my parents set me up with various men, it struck me that I almost always risked my heart for this chauvinistic type of man, waiting for him to make up his mind, and then getting my heart broken and my soul ripped apart when he lands upon a flimsy reason to break things off usually via an insipid one line email or SMS just to prove his superiority over me after we get into an inevitable disagreement. And because these sample cases are such wits, and therefore viewed as perfect, I am often blamed and attacked by my family because I failed to be a "real woman".

So while I beat myself up for not being malleable, shiny, fair, smiling, warm-hearted, beautiful and intelligent enough, and while I felt like the most insignificant piece of carbon matter and struggled to retain some sanity and psychological stability, I continued to cling on to a 16 year old's notion of a perfect man.

Really Div- Really?

Sometimes, it takes a wake up call from a dick like this- to remind you that its time to grow up, and move ahead. Going forward, I'm rewriting my subconscious recognition of a potential mate, from asshole to nice man- you know, one who actually has a heart. I think I've run after enough shitheads for one lifetime.

I was glad to let that one go. One more load off my chest, and one more step up the ladder to regain my self, and my power. 2013 is shaping up to be an interesting year.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thought for the Day- Life is Beautiful

I saw this on the interwebs some time ago. 

"I spent my young adult years postponing many of the small things that I knew would make me happy ... I was fortunate enough to realize that I would never have the time unless I made the time. And then the rest of my life began."
It resonated.

I think it resonated because I for as far back as I remember, I always found pleasure in the small things. Of course as a child, we all do. I mean, most of us would have been happy with a ball, two sticks and our imagination. Or just dancing in the rain singing a silly song.  Most of us grow out of this child-like phase. However, with me, I think severe social isolation as a child and teenager never really allowed me to grow out of this phase.

In hindsight- I am thankful- for that childishness, as it was the only thing that kept me sane. I went to Cedar Girls School, and I loved the school. My school and I, we had our own secret world, which I regularly escaped into to survive the bullying, the bitching, the back-biting etc.  

I loved the misty mornings that used to coat the fields in a layer of white cashmere, and that odd plume of white smoke that used to curl out of Mount Vernon every evening.  I loved the shadows on the field cast by the the military aircraft flying overhead. I remember chasing after a few in the vain attempt to grab it. Alas- I never ran fast enough. 

I loved that corner behind the school canteen where I could eat my packed lunch in peace, on the floor and crossed legged, the way I would eat at home. I felt safe there. I loved that tree behind the tennis courts, which had the perfectly comfortable root protrusion to perch my bum on and read my novel of the day. 

I loved that old gardener who used to pluck rose apples from the bush behind the 1-7 classroom and give it to me on the sly. There was that one time, we even fed the graveyard monkeys on the sly. 

I loved my favorite nook in the library (it had 6 cobwebs, I counted) and the librarian who always had a kind word (and tissue for the days I needed it) for me. I loved the benches in front of the school's little hydroponic farm experiment, because it for some reason always felt 2 degrees cooler than everywhere else. It was where I studied for my O Level Physics.

The thing is, I had forgotten how to do that in the years that followed. Maybe because I wasn't so isolated anymore. Or maybe working inside a cold grey office with people waiting to back-stab you around every corner isn't necessarily something to find beauty in.

I'm glad to say I rediscovered my childlike love for the small things and actions I used to love before- and I have no plans for letting it go again. I now make it a point to sit beside a window at work- and spend a couple of minutes looking outside. The view isn't astounding, but the waxing and waning of the traffic jams on the AYE, and the slow grind of the giraffe like cranes in the port are  nevertheless a reminder that life is pulsing, leaping and jumping outside.

I wake up early in the morning just to see the sun rising, because in those 10 minutes when the sun comes up, it dapples everything with a sheen of pink and golden light so for a brief moment, I can imagine I am in a land where the roads are paved with gold and diamonds.

And walking in the rain. There truly is no pleasure more beautiful. And with those words, I shall conclude because I just spotted a rainstorm, and my feet are itching for a walk.

Life, dear readers, can be truly beautiful if you made the time to see and do the small silly things you always thought about, but never did.