What I learned from offering to help my mother cook

It has been three and a half years since I moved out of my parents’ house to work and live in a different city. I visit them every few months, especially for special occasions, like festivals or if my sister and nieces are also planning a visit.

Last night, during one such trip, I offered to cook dinner for all of us. Usually, my mum or grandma cook at home (more my mum of late, because grandma is getting old). I’m more the kitchen helper – hovering around chopping stuff, or handing out stuff, and getting out of their way before they get mad at me for being in their way.

I’m a decent cook and I cook for myself at my place (whenever I can). But I have almost always either lived alone or cooked only for myself. So, cooking for the four of us felt different last night.

For the first time, I appreciated my mum for being the person in charge of everybody’s nutrition and hunger (and ‘hanger’). I realised how much thought must go into planning each meal – from buying the groceries cheap and fresh, and planning the meals so that you optimally utilise everything you bought so that nothing goes bad or gets left over too much, to the kind of kitchenware you need, to planning a healthy balanced meal, to timing it all appropriately so that your family gets a hot meal just when they’re beginning to get hungry.

But I also realised how little help she gets from my dad and my grandma. Yes, my grandma is too old (and too orthodox), but for someone who ran a house for much longer than my mum, she is terrible at the job. Although she is eager to help at times (more to demand others’ pity than anything else), she only makes things worse.

As for my dad, I don’t know what his excuse is. About 7 – 8 years ago, I had praised him in one of my older blog posts about how he helps with the chores at home. I have since become much more educated in the theories of feminism and not as easily satisfied with men taking up any less than half their share of housework, and now I am appalled at my dad’s complete lack of interest or inclination in helping mum. In fact, he now expects to be waited on hand and foot which, irrespective of how hard he works at his office, is demeaning to my mum.

I also recognise the importance of having a well-educated mum. Substantiating the saying that “if you educate a man, you educate him alone, but if you educate a woman, you educate her whole family”, I see how she chooses what consumer goods are best for us (which soaps are best for the winter and which for the summer, what kind of moisturisers I must use for my oily face and dry body), how she coaxes us to eat healthy food, how she goes the extra mile to make healthy snacks available so we don’t resort to fast food, how she reminds me over the phone (when I’m away) to include some stuff in my diet so that I get this vitamin and that mineral. Being a mum (more like mum/nutritionist/miscellaneous consultant) in itself is turning out to be more than a full-time job for my mum. Goodbye while I go help out my mum in the kitchen again.

Existential risk

Incessant rains in the past week. Cloudy sky.

20:00 hours.

A two-wheeler. 7 km drive. Waterlogged city.

To go or not to go. That was the question.

For a start-up employee with a love of books, theatre, and films based on true stories and events, a stunted income and severely limited leisure time, I decided it might be well worth the risk to drive to the cinema hall in the drizzly evening to watch Tom Hanks’ Sully.

The movie was impressive, of course. But it got me thinking on a whole new level about how we calculate risks.

For instance, my parents and I probably would not see eye to eye on what each of us defines as “risky”; I’m not saying there isn’t a risk involved, just that it is below the “danger” level.

On Googling risk, it returned a variety of suggestions, such as risk assessment, risk management, risk mitigation, risk calculator, risk calculation methods, risk calculation formula, so on. Curious, I clicked on a link for risk calculation formula and found this:

Risk = Probability × Loss

Now, most of the things for which my parents are worried are intangible things, like my life or health – so for such cases, the “loss” tends to infinity. However, I argue that the probability is negligible.

Take, for example, last night’s movie. They think it’s risky to be out of the house past 22:00 hours. (When else am I supposed to watch movies, eh?) They also think it’s risky to be driving out in bad weather. Okay, got a point there, but there are millions of other people out driving, too, and the probability of something horrible happening (like me falling into an open drain) is really low. Besides, I’m not venturing into unknown or lifeless territory – I’m only out till 23:00 hours and there’ll be people around to help. So, let’s say I offer to take a cab instead – “Nooooo, cab drivers can be crooks and rapists! Besides, you should be saving money!” (Ugh!)

My solution? Tell them only what they can handle.

The underlying problem, though, is that none of us is taught how to assess and handle risk, despite life being a risky proposition. Partly, this stems from constantly being told that we have something to fear and not being told enough that we need to nurture a growth mindset, where risk and failure are an integral part of learning and just as likely an outcome as success.

Dear Future Life Partner

My conversation last week with my friend about choosing romantic life partners and what it feels like to find someone got me thinking further about what it is that I’m really looking for in one.

Some great starting places to think about love and life partners are here (article on How to Pick your Life Partner by Tim Urban at Wait But Why) and here (article on compatibility and chemistry by Mark Manson). (Mark Manson also has a lot of other great writing on the topic – Fuck Yes or No; his articles on why vulnerability is the most important key to relationships; toxic habits people think are healthy; healthy habits people think are toxic; etc.)

Also, two songs about love, in particular, inspire goosebumps in me. One of them is the song ‘For the Dancing and the Dreaming‘ from How to Train your Dragon 2.

The other one is not an entire song but one line from a Telugu song, that says:

Janmantha nee adugullo adugulu kalipe jatha unte, nadakallo tadabatayina natyam ayipoda

My attempt to translate it will be shoddy because it is such a beautiful sentiment and I’m convinced even before I attempt it that I will fail to capture its essence in the translation.

Anyway, here goes:

If you have someone to walk beside you and follow your steps always, even your stumbles will become a dance the two of you create.

These love songs aside, what is it that I’m looking for?

Well, I actually think I made a list once for my parents for them to help me look, back when I was a proponent of ‘arranged’ marriages. I seem to have misplaced that list now, though. In any case, that was quite a while ago, and I have changed much since then, as have the things I consider ‘important’.

I think Tim Urban’s ‘Traffic Test’ is an excellent filter to start with, along with the understanding of compatibility versus chemistry that Mark Manson talks about.

Some good guiding questions, in general, are:

  • Would I be friends with this person?
  • Would I rather spend time with my friends than with him/ her?
  • Does he/ she engage with me at an intellectual and an emotional level?

More specifically, here are some things that are must-haves:

  • Emotional maturity and a willingness to be vulnerable.
  • A willingness to see the humorous side of things: As Tim says ‘the ability to extract fun out of un-fun situations’ is a blessing, one that becomes increasingly evident as you spend more time with a person.
  • No double standards or fragile egos: Pro-feminism, pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-choice. The humility to see privilege for what it is. The ability to walk away from a rejection without taking it personally.
  • Challenges the other to grow in the best way possible, without shaming them, or pointing out that they are less than, or thinking that they are a project to fix.

Dearest Friend

(aka)

Reflections on a conversation with a close friend about life partners and the Dos and Don’ts of it

I turned 27 today.

In the year that has gone by – I learnt some, forgot some, made a whole bunch of mistakes, found some peace and lost some, uncovered some wisdom, stumbled on some hope, and have been working on making my own formula for happiness.

happiness

If you’re nearing thirty and are not in a relationship, that surely is one constant topic of conversation with close friends.

And last week, I was talking to a close friend about finding a romantic life partner. After much struggle, she finally found someone she has dearly fallen in love with.

And then the talk turns around to me.

“Are you seeing someone? How did you meet? Is he a nice guy? Does he understand you? Is he emotionally available to you?”, she asks. I tell her what’s going on.

The talk turned to compatibility, the inconstancy of people’s opinions, feminism, and so on, but she said a few things that gave me the chills.

“If a man doesn’t want to get married, he does not value a woman’s sensitivity.”

(Uhmm.. no. That is a super sexist comment to make.)

Upon telling her that I believed that marriage is a sexist tradition and a remnant of the times when women were viewed as property, she went on to say:

“We’re not property anymore. Hard-working, intelligent, smart women are not kept – we do the keeping! Bear that in your mind.”

(Ouch ouch ouch! Sexism and classism alarms going off in my head! At this point, all I can think is – she’s your childhood friend, you love her, please be kind, don’t go all Viking on her!)

So I gently remind her that many of us are still treated as property by so many people and each day I fight to assert my right otherwise.

And she agreed that she did have to go through that. She told me about some of the prospectives who gave her a lot of grief – the guys who didn’t really want to get married, but their parents were forcing them to; the guys who were only there to ‘score’ girls under the pretext of matrimony; the guys who were too egotistic and narcissistic that they cared little for others; and so on.

And then, she says:

To the right man, you will never have to assert these… But now that I have met my man, I will tell you what it feels like to find the right man.

(Umm.. oookay..)

The right man will be your mom. He is an extra mom God sends us. He will fill all those voids and clear all your doubts about your life and men in general.

(Good heavens, no! I DO NOT want another mom. I do not want the person I choose to spend the rest of my life with to be like my mom. I’m not his child. Nor will he be mine. And no. I don’t want somebody ‘to fill all those voids’. I do have voids, but I’ll fill them myself, thank you. I do have doubts about life, but I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be the one who answers them. And yes, I’ll also admit to having doubts about ‘men in general’. But I’m unlearning them, slowly. I don’t need ‘the right man’ to answer them.)

He will give you support where you need it and will always be available to you, no matter what…

(I will be grateful for any support I receive – but I will certainly not hold him accountable for all my needs and wants. I am a complete person, with or without a life partner. And again, no. I do not expect him to be ‘always available’ to me, ‘no matter what’. I do not believe that is possible or even that it is something to crave. There are a lot of people in my life – they have different relationships with me, and there are different aspects of my life that they enrich, and it is not only foolish but extremely selfish, to ask all that of one person.)

He will earn your respect, never crave it.

(If by ‘never crave it’ you mean he will never go about the easy way to try to earn anyone’s respect, yes, I agree.)

Yeah, I must say, I feel I am blessed beyond my imagination I found a man like this, especially in this generation.

(Well, congratulations! I’m glad you’re happy!)

I sort of believe in miracles now.

(Aww… I’ve always believed in them! 🙂 )

And I will tell you one thing – do not ever lose hope; wait for that one person who will be the right fit for you.

(Hahaha! Thanks, honey… I have no intention of losing hope or of ‘settling’.)

And then, you’d think this was it – it is done.

But you’ll be wrong. Because she went on:

From what you tell me about who you’re seeing now, I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t think it will work out. He should respect all women, not just you. People’s nature doesn’t change, so if he doesn’t naturally respect you or other women, chuck it.

(Well well well! Summoning up the greatest level of compassion I have to say this – I can’t be dating someone without giving them my full attention and my full hope that it will work out. It wouldn’t be fair to go into the game expecting to fail. And what matters is what the two of us think, not what you or anyone else thinks. Secondly, I’m a little hurt that you’re questioning my choice and judgement – would I really not know if someone is respectful towards me and other people around us? Even if I couldn’t tell, it shall be a learning for me – something that I can only learn from experience.)

You should test him – like, not just ask him stuff – because he can say anything, but practically test him. Like, would he just say he is there for you, or would he literally be there for you even in the middle of the night if you needed him? Would he chuck everything aside just to comfort you over the phone because you need someone to be there for you mentally and morally available? At some point, if you were working late – it is dark and you are alone. Would he stay up and talk you home; wait until you get home and then sleep? I’m not saying he literally needs to do that – but just imagine if that scenario played out. Because I’m telling you, in situations like these, only those who truly love us are concerned.

(Did I actually hear you say ‘test’ him? I will pretend I did not hear you say that. Moving on.

I’m not sure I would want him to chuck everything aside and be there for me. I don’t expect him to do any of those things for me. Especially if I’m not willing to give the same in return. Like I said earlier, there are several people in my life and saying that he is the one who should be there for everything diminishes the role of the other people in my life. It not only challenges the idea that I am a complete human being with complex relationships and needs but also reinforces the false idea that I need to be dependent on my partner for everything. I work even now. I get late at work. I don’t need someone to stay up for me or talk to me on the phone while I’m going home. I get what you mean about concern regarding my safety – that can be talked about and sorted out without him having to ‘be there always’.)

In the end, it is important for each of us to remember that we are all different and that we will all have different choices and preferences. Out of all those, the choice of whom we choose to love and live with is not only the most personal but also the one most fraught with doubt – “Did I choose wisely?” Let us not make it any more difficult for each other than it already is.

compassionate

Breaking free

A week ago, I did something really stupid. And because of that, a friend and I almost drowned in a small reservoir-pond in a nondescript little village.
We didn’t – but for the tiniest fraction, I thought we were both done for. A second later, I managed to break free from her panicked chokehold keeping me under water and break the surface. I breaststroked forward, and turned around to try to help her, but help was already pulling her to safety.
Ever since I recovered from the adrenaline rush, I have been trying hard to recall what my thoughts were during those moments that I believed could be my last, even if for the shortest moment.
In those brief moments under water, I had imagined being part of a small newspaper report in some inside fold, with a headline that said something to the effect of ‘Two girls drown because of stupidity’ and I imagined how people who knew us might lament about how our talents were wasted and debated about how we came to make such poor decisions that led to the ends of our lives.
I think I secretly hoped to discover some long buried instinct for a skill or that the brush with death would give me a renewed purpose for fulfilling a destiny which I would’ve discovered during the struggle for breath.
I expected a sense of poignancy, or urgency – a profoundness in the meaning of life or an unexpected wisdom, or even a sudden surprising revelation about who the love of my life might be.
Without further ado, let me introduce you to my disappointment.
It was not mere disappointment – it was betrayal. I had a brush with death! And all I got out of it is disappointment?
To add insult to injury, I wasn’t just disappointed, I was also embarrassed – what if we had died and people learnt it was because I was stupid?
I think, in general, people that know me assume that I am an intelligent and a responsible person.
Honestly, that is more or less true. But I am also stupid at times, or goofy, or irresponsible, or wishing that I could be more irresponsible, or at least that I could care less about what others think.
If you have read any of my previous posts, you will know that I have recently had a kind of ‘my world turned around’ experience after learning about Dr Brené Brown’s research on shame, vulnerability, and authenticity. And therefore, as I recognised my embarrassment, I realised it was shame.
I was ashamed of being found stupid. I was ashamed that I didn’t find any wisdom or appreciation. I was ashamed that my supposed final thoughts didn’t turn to my loved ones. And I was ashamed of that shame.
As I slowly learn to call out shame, I’m discovering the importance of stopping shame in its tracks. If there is any wisdom for me to takeaway from this incident, it is that I must refuse to be defined by what others think of me.
As a wise person once said, “What others think of you is none of your business.”
My only job is to show up as I am and be seen.

Be on our side

Betrayal is such a strong word; yet simple in meaning. Nobody defines it better than Jeanette Winterson in the quote below:

One thing I am certain of, I do not want to be betrayed, but that’s quite hard to say, casually, at the beginning of a relationship. It’s not a word people use very often, which confuses me, because there are different kinds of infidelity, but betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it. By betrayal, I mean promising to be on your side, and then being on somebody else’s.

Jeanette WintersonOranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Betrayal, however, is not reserved for the romantic relationships alone. It can and does occur in all kinds of relationships.

When a girl grows up in this society, she faces betrayal.

This betrayal comes from many sources – from her friends, teachers, siblings, family, society, all the way to her parents.

They secretly hope to beat her in every way possible while appearing to be her well-wishers; they feed her myths about menstruation and sex, dating and what boys want; they convince her to be ashamed of her body, its functions, needs and wants; they subject her to patriarchy and sexism; they dismiss her skills and wave off her interests; they keep her dreams locked and her hopes fettered.

They got to her mother, they will get to her too. They sweet-talk her and coax her into believing that she should keep herself small, and stay from being too smart or too successful, dusting their hands off when it’s done, all the while making it look like these were her choices all along. They teach her to play the weakling, for they cannot endure her strength; they invalidate her anger and rage, for she is supposed to be sweet and nice, and they keep her from expressing the full range of human emotions.

And they do all this in the guise of love, under the pretext of well-meaning.

And you know the kind of betrayal a boy faces?

They treat him like a God, instead of as an equal to all others; they feed him myths about menstruation and sex, dating and what girls want; they subject him to patriarchy and sexism; they mould his skills and interests to fit the society’s expectations; they place heavy emotional burdens on him that he is never allowed to show or succumb under and convince him that he is the saviour and the breadwinner.

They teach him he has to be in control, always – for, not being in control, showing emotions or vulnerability is not considered ‘manly’. They teach him to show rage and violence, even contempt for others of his kind who are considered ‘soft’, instead of teaching him to be in touch with the full range of his human emotions. They raise him with a fragile ego which cannot handle competition or rejection – for he is taught that he is not allowed to lose or to take ‘no’ for an answer.

So, you – yes, you, reading this blog post – stop doing it. Now. Stop betraying others and stop betraying yourself.

The rules of the game

For many years now, I have stringently maintained that there is nothing wrong with arranged marriages, as they have evolved nowadays, with arranged ‘dates’ and Skype calls and other stuff the parents honestly have no clue about. Let me now tell you why I’ve changed my stance.

I grew up in one of those stereotypically middle-class, conservative-liberal mixes of families, with an equally stereotypical set of relatives. My lovely family is constantly nudged by my even more concerned extended family to ‘find me a groom’ soon, because:

  1. I am almost 27 years old (which according to my family means I should not only have been married by now but also have popped out at least one baby) and I weigh a 100 kg (which means I’m ugly and no groom’s side will want me as part of their family).
  2. What that means, is that all of them sincerely believe I can never find a guy to marry unless my extended family helps out my family in finding me a guy who is overweight enough that he cannot find a ‘beautiful’ (read: skinny) girl to marry him, so he will be ‘willing to settle for someone like me’ (I refer to this as the ‘fat filter’), and I should take any such alliance as a God-send and not dare to say no, because I’m supposed to ‘adjust’ to anybody even mildly okay with marrying me.

Why do I have a problem with all of this?

  1. Because I am a self-respecting human with a fair sense of knowledge as to know when I am being put to shame.
  2. Because I sincerely do not believe there is an age limit to marriage. “There is no right age to marry the wrong person and no wrong age to marry the right one.”
  3. While I decidedly struggle with my self-worth because of my excess body weight, it should never be a factor for others to judge my worth as a human being.
  4. Because I can never decide whether or not to marry someone solely based on their body weight. (And neither should anyone. But, if you do – I’m willing to give you a second chance because I know how messed up societal expectations are.)
  5. Because being a certain body weight does not mean I am ‘less than’ or ‘more than’ any other person of any other body weight.
  6. Because I want to marry someone who consciously makes a choice to be my partner throughout life and its experiences, and not just because his family told him he wasn’t going to find a skinny girl to marry him so he better say yes to me.
  7. And because when I decide to marry someone, it will quite possibly be the most important decision of my life and I want to be asking a lot more meaningful questions than, “Is he fat enough that my weight will be a non-issue?”

And, imagine, when after I (at least try to) bring up most of these issues with my parents for discussion, I meet my shrivelled old grandmother, and she asks me about a recent alliance and I tell her the guy decided not to go ahead and that I agreed with him, and she asks, “But I heard he was also fat. Then why did he say no?” And then, on top of that, you have your extended family calling your mother and giving her advice that she should convince me to talk to the same guy again, and try to convince both of us to marry each other, simply because we both are fat and the family thinks I will never get a chance like this again. (Like, seriously? Such confidence in me, you folks! Way to go!)

In addition, my parents are also concerned about how much it would cost them to get me married. Because tradition! Tradition dictates that the bride’s family bear all costs of the wedding ceremony, in addition to being treated like doormats by the groom’s side for the entire duration – from the initial contact between the families till until after the wedding, and often, even during later visits between the families. All because they ‘gave away’ their daughter to this family. (Okay, I know I’m going to hear a lot of criticism for this one. But folks, let’s be honest – this is not even the worst case scenario. Though, I admit, it is also usually a lot better these days. But trust me when I say I’ve seen enough weddings where this has happened – and it hasn’t changed depending on whether I’ve been on the groom’s side or the bride’s.)

My parents shout down every attempt I make at trying to talk them out of this mindset. They tell me it is their ‘responsibility’ to find me a groom (before I’m too old and fat) and to pay for my wedding (even if it is a huge financial burden as they grow older and, instead, could save that money for a rainy day or to travel and relax). In fact, they often quote this as another reason for why I should get married as soon as possible – so that they can pay off any loans they may need to take to cover the cost of my wedding before they retire.

And then, of course, there’s the ever-present needling for grandchildren. “When will you have kids if you marry so late? When will we have the pleasure of holding them and playing with them? You will be busy with your career, so if we need to help you take care of your children, you better get on with it soon, so that we are still young enough, healthy enough, and energetic enough to take care of your children.”

Firstly, you are not allowed to presume that I want to have kids (biological or not). Besides, you already have grandchildren (in my parents’ case)! Hold them, love them, play with them. Secondly, I’m tired of listening to your arguments about how it is not only easier to have kids when we’re younger but also more convenient financially – because our ‘responsibilities’ as parents will be done by the time we retire, so our ‘burdens’ will be lighter. Guess what? My body, my rules. Lastly, you’re not my children’s nannies. You’re their grandparents. I know you want to help – and you can. But I am not so selfish as to assume that you will drop everything to come be a nanny to my kids at my beck and call. You will have lives of your own, and I want you to have that – to be happy and to find meaning however you can. Because people and their priorities change. I will not begrudge you your freedom nor will I encroach upon your happiness.

When none of this works, there’s the ‘inevitable’ approach. “You should visit us more often – anyway, you’re soon going to be married and you’ll leave us and we don’t know where you’ll live or how often you and your family will visit us. You’ll be busy loving your husband and his family and taking care of them, you won’t have time for us then, so why don’t you show us more love and come visit us more often now while you have the chance?”

It has now reached a point where every phone call, every conservation is either about who I’m currently seeing, when I will decide who to marry, when I will actually get married, or about how I’m avoiding all of those topics of conversation.

You are not allowed to make every conversation about my marriage or my resistance to it. “But we’re your parents, we’re worried you will end up alone! Are we not allowed to ask you even once if you’ve found someone?”

Ending up alone is not a very bad idea. But I will not end up alone because I don’t intend to. No, you are not allowed to ask – you are to trust that I will tell you when something worth sharing comes up.

After evading all this, there’s the ‘divine’ intervention route. My grandmother had consulted some astrologists who have told her that I absolutely ‘have to’ shell out money for this one puja that I ‘have to’ get done ‘for my own good’, in addition to listening to the Hanuman Chalisa every day.

I am a religious person in general and have a love for the qualities embodied by some mythological characters and would probably listen to the Hanuman Chalisa every day anyway, but this ‘have to’ business is annoying as shit.

a-simply_beautiful-1455421

To all of this, my answer once and for all is that I am enough just the way I am.

I owe it to no one to get married and/ or have kids – unless I voluntarily choose to do so with my partner. If and when I choose to do that, it shall be on my own terms and with my own resources.

I will not stop being a part of this family when I get married – we just become a larger family. Nothing will change the fact that you are my parents and for heaven’s sake, stop talking like you’re sending me away on a lifetime mission to Mars. (I’m pretty sure SpaceX will be able to get me back from Mars, too.) I will not stop visiting you once I get married and nobody gets to tell me how often I can or cannot visit you.

You do not own me and you don’t get to give me away. You do not get to make choices for my body – who I should raise my kids with or when. You may or may not like it this way. But this is how things are. Get comfortable.

The reaction that caused me the most pain and hurt, surprisingly, came from my sister. When I tried to explain to my father that he and my mother did not really know the person that I’ve grown into ever since I left home, he listened. My hope is that he also understood. When I told my sister that she didn’t understand what my views on marriage were, she spat out in an alarmingly condescending tone, “Your views on marriage are bullshit.”

The hardest thing about learning to grow as a person and learning to live whole-heartedly is when the people that you love, the ones that you so desperately want to bring along resist it. When they refuse not only to make the journey with you but are adamant in their self-righteous disdain, it almost feels as if they are tantalisingly inviting you to give them an ultimatum. And I’ll be honest, I’m tempted to. But that is not how whole-heartedness works.

Watch the Q and A below (starts at 1:14:14) that addresses this very question.