Insomnia

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The World Will Always Have Crying Children

I was watching Greenleaf, the Netflix show about Black Christianity. The episode showed a young child born with health complications and having to undergo numerous operations to live and a family struggling to let him go and be released of pain. Every time the sleeping child was shown on screen, I cried. The series also tracks a serial child predator. Nothing gory has been depicted (yet) but these seem linked. The child on the operating table was probably just the story giving its viewers a chance to cry and grieve over the fate of children.

In a life where nothing seems to be real or honest anymore, the only thing I feel moved by, is children. Children in hope, children in pain. I carefully avoided writing about or thinking too much about Asifa Bano earlier this year. I know I was being self-preservationist. That was okay too lately it hasn’t been feeling right.

Last week I was reading a book called Rust & Stardust, a true crime account of the events that inspired Nabokov’s Lolita. It brought up so much and I think that is still continuing. I always thought triggering things took a person back to an experienced past trauma of the same nature. I did not expect to be reliving violence, gaslighting alongside the sexual abuse I’ve experienced. It was a lot.

I remember where the story of my abuse stopped. The actual actions had ended years earlier and with minimal pain. Now that I know other survivors, I know I was lucky — I was not related to my perpetrator, he did not penetrate and my family believed me when I told them what my guitar teacher was doing. I was so lucky that gaslighting was not added to the trauma. Years later, I saw my guitar teacher at the doctor’s clinic. And he looked so old and tired and fragile, I could feel nothing but pity for him. Pity. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo about Bilbo that

“Pity stayed his hand. Pity probably saved his life.”

(I can’t find the above quote in exact in the book so I guess I’m remembering the movie). Pity definitely saved me from living a life inside a horror movie. I know this because I lived with someone who does that, who can only see monsters in love and has turned into a monster themselves.

Back then, I also remember reading Lolita, possibly around the same time as my run-in with my music teacher. The book also changed my life. It allowed me to see him as just a man, a human being and not a larger-than-life demon. It allowed me to stop being afraid, if that makes any sense.

 

 

 

 

 

I was silent for nearly a decade, probably because I really was okay after that and maybe that’s also my way of processing. Ten years later, The Vagina Monologues triggered the memory again, allowing me to take it out and examine the feelings at work there. When I said Lolita had helped me get over it, I encountered a lot of upset reactions. People got angry, people felt self-righteous then remembered I was a survivor too so got self-conscious.

Speaking to Harrish Iyer was one of the saner parts of this journey and possibly how we became friends — because we had each made decisions to not be victims in the situations that we found ourselves in.

When I read the story of Sally Horner, I was horrified at a whole new level. The story Lolita is a tidy, sweetened account in comparison to what happened to the actual victim. I felt I owed it to her and other victims like her to read the book.

It is making me go all volcanoes and lava inside and then the exhaustion of tears. It’s bringing up memories of other traumas I’ve suffered. And the world around is not made for dealing well with it. This week someone I considered a close confidant (who had sat with me as I cried through the book while reading it) told me that I was being paranoid and negative and imagining that the world was against me.

 

 

 

ALWAYS MAKE ROOM FOR THE FLOWERS This was shot at a 2012 Open Mic at IBar. I was neck deep in a bad life. I had quit a respectable life 2 years earlier. I had wandered into Open Mics that had just begun and quickly fallen into a relationship with someone I met there. Before I knew it, I was stuck inside a cage, tiptoeing around the explosive emotions of someone who did not really like me, hated anyone who seemed like competition. I stopped performing (or reading since that's what we used to do then) because it was just easier than dealing with the punishment. I also stopped going out and meeting friends, stopped talking to people. This was partly because he didn't like it but also because no one in the world was interested in knowing that a human being still existed under the label of 'girlfriend'. I had committed the crime of being single till 30, then dating someone younger than me and living with him before marriage so I was made to feel like I should be grateful I was not getting whipped in the street. My only outings beyond domestic chores were the fortnightly Open Mics where I was grudgingly tolerated so long as I played his adoring audience. On one such Monday, I waited all day for evening to come. It had been a very difficult few days, struggling to cope with his family's 'Hum to ladkewale hain' misbehaviour, his gaslighting abuse and my own financial worries (I couldn't work but all expenses were still split in half). We left in total silence and walked to the road. As he hailed a cab, I said, "Wait" – the first thing that had been said all evening. I turned and bought this flower from a seller on the road. He raised his eyebrows, smirked and then fell silent, probably deciding to save his barbs for his rap set coming up later. I know it's a weird thing to carry a flower in your hand just because. People assume that a woman with a flower has been gifted that by a man (everyone at the venue cooed over how romantic he must be, noting the engagement ring on my finger as well – also visible in the picture). But that night, this flower held my hand like no lover or friend ever has. #nostalgia #flower #memory #abuse #gaslighting #IPV #GBV

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This time round, I know what to do. I ended that conversation. I was angry with this person that day but now I am not. They are unable to deal with a world that is so ugly and I do not judge them for it. But I do not need to bear the trauma of their gaslighting in addition to my own.

I also think (and I can only speak for myself here) that we must be mindful of triggers but we don’t all have avoid them. I must face these triggers when they occur — maybe slowly, selectively and in my own ways. To avoid them would be to live fearfully which is not something I want to be, a creature of fear. It also dishonors the traumas faced by people to avoid and thus invalidate them. I’ve had it done to me so many times, I am not about to do that.

Sally Horner died in 1952, Asifa Bano in 2018 but what happened to them, happens to countless other people in hundreds of different ways, every day. Adults hurt children, men hurt women physically and emotionally. I cannot change the world (though I want to think I’m damn well doing my part with XXFactor, SXonomics and more). But at least I can make sure to honour what happens and bear witness to these lives.

 

A little ornament for my mirror. This is my Upsy-daisy to remind me that at least my reflection will smile at me. It has been a hard two days. First I made my way through a very triggering book on child abuse, for work. It brought up so much baggage, I'm still bruised internally. Then I was cut out of two different conversations about a trauma I had suffered. I met another friend to take my mind off the wounding stuff only to realise they were going through something very hard. And finally someone I considered a confidant who I had spoken to about being abused tried to convince me that I was just being 'negative' and 'paranoid'. Okay, this is not okay but I am. What does that mean? It means happiness and trust in this horrible world are distant dreams for me. But I'm not letting the people around me project their fears onto me. Maybe we are all monsters inside but some of us can live with that. This is for the flowers that still blossom in this city, regardless of its hate, its greed and pollution. #crochet #flower #flowers #daisies #crafts #craft #craftsmanship #craftswoman #craftswomanship #needlework #crafting #Ideart

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Let the tears flow. Let the flowers bloom. Let the children cry.

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Always Make Room For The Flowers

This picture was shot by a sweet young photographer at an Open Mic event in 2012 when she spotted the flower in my hand.

Photograph by Iza Viola for Big Mic gigs

I was neck deep in a bad life. I had dramatically quit the respectable corporate-endorsed life two years earlier. I had wandered into something called Open Mics that had just started and very quickly I fell into a relationship with somebody I met there. Before I knew it, I was stuck inside a cage, tiptoeing around the ego and explosive emotions of someone who did not really like me, hated anyone and anything that seemed like competition. I stopped performing (or reading since that’s what we used to do then) because it was just easier than dealing with the punishment. I also stopped going out and meeting friends, stopped talking to people. This was partly because he didn’t like it but also because no one in the world was interested in knowing that a human being still existed under the label of ‘girlfriend’. I had also committed the crime of dating someone younger than me and living with him before marriage so I was made to feel like I should be grateful I was not getting whipped in the street.

My only outings beyond shopping for vegetables and domestic chores were the fortnightly Open Mics where I was grudgingly tolerated so long as I played the adoring/subservient audience. On one such Monday, I waited all day for evening to come. It had been a very difficult few days, struggling to cope with his family’s ‘Hum to ladkewale hain’ misbehaviour, his gaslighting abuse and my own financial worries (I couldn’t work but all expenses were still split in half). We left in total silence and walked to the road. As he hailed a cab, I said, “Wait” — the first thing that had been said all evening. I turned and bought this flower from a seller on the road. He raised his eyebrows, smirked and then fell silent, probably deciding to save his barbs for his rap set coming up later.

I know it’s a weird thing to carry a flower in your hand just because. Most people assume that a woman with a flower has been gifted that by a man (everyone at the venue cooed over how romantic he must be, noting the engagement ring on my finger as well — also visible in the picture). And of course, it’s an odd accessory to bring into a bar. But that night, this flower held my hand and my hope like no lover, boyfriend or friend ever has.

So when Iza Viola smiled at me and lifted her camera, I held out the flower to her. Always make room for the flowers.

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Torn

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Masks

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Everyday Mumbai

This photograph came up on my Facebook memories. I remember this moment. I was on my way back from town though I don’t remember where I had gone and why. I also remember being in a train that was unusually empty for that hour.

I remember the feeling of uneasy relief and thinking how odd that was. Isn’t relief supposed to be peaceful, something akin to contentment? And it was but it also felt bittersweet, like something that was hard-won and felt not quite worth the struggles that came before.

It has to do with living in this city. Mumbai demands everything from you. You cannot be of anyone or anything or any dream else. All you can do is surrender to it unconditionally and trust that it will hold you.

The Mumbai train is a perfect illustration of this. You battle mind-killing traffic, deafening sounds, lung-stopping pollution. Then you make it to a station thronging with people ten deep, straining to hear an inaudible announcement, read an illegible signboard to try and figure out which train you need to take. And then you look around at the crowd on the platform, waiting for the same thing. In that moment, Mumbai asks you to decide.

Will you die a little at the thought of fighting (yet again)? Will you strain and struggle and risk falling through the gap between the footboard and the platform? Will you push and shove and add a little more chaos to the desperate millions?

Or will you surrender to the city and be one with its messiness? If you choose this, when the train arrives, the crowd will pull you in with them. If you’re still a little outside the compartment, magically, there will be hands, strangers’ hands that will hold on to you. As they curse and frown, the others in the compartment will bend and twist to make some uncharitable room for you. Mumbai will rescue you and it will hold you.

I remember this moment. I was on my way back from town though I don't remember where I had gone and why. I also remember being in a train that was unusually empty for that hour. I remember the feeling of uneasy relief and thinking how odd that was. Isn't relief supposed to be peaceful, something akin to contentment? And it was but it also felt bittersweet, like something that was hard-won and felt not quite worth the struggles that came before. It has to do with living in this city. Mumbai demands everything from you. You cannot be of anyone or anything or any dream else. All you can do is surrender to it unconditionally and trust that it will hold you. The Mumbai train is a perfect illustration of this. You battle mind-killing traffic, deafening sounds, lung-stopping pollution. Then you make it to a station thronging with people ten deep, straining to hear an inaudible announcement, read an illegible signboard to try and figure out which train you need to take. And then you look around at the crowd on the platform, waiting for the same thing. In that moment, Mumbai asks you to decide. Will you die a little at the thought of fighting (yet again)? Will you strain and struggle and risk falling through the gap between the footboard and the platform? Will you push and shove and add a little more chaos to the desperate millions? Or will you surrender to the city and be one with its messiness? If you choose this, when the train arrives, the crowd will pull you in with them. If you're still a little outside the compartment, magically, there will be hands, strangers' hands that will hold on to you. As they curse and frown, the others in the compartment will bend and twist to make some uncharitable room for you. Mumbai will rescue you and it will hold you. #train #mumbai #mumbaitrain #mumbaiker @mymumbai #my_mumbai #city #citylights #citylife #cityscape #urban #urbanlandscape #selfie #throwback #selfienation #selfies #selfiepoint

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Stars Under The Rust

I haven’t said much these past few months, have I? Most of my time and creative energy has been taken up in the shows that SXonomics has been doing on various themes of gender sensitivity. It has been intense, time-consuming, demanding and emotionally draining. I also fall into habits of writing a certain way and in a certain rhythm.

I remember when I first chanced upon 55 word stories and took to them with such passion that all I felt about to produce was them. I had to push myself to say things with more words or less and stop myself from counting if they had gotten to the exact 55. Something similar happened when I first started writing fiction and I found myself unable to write the poetry that I’d spent most of my writing life producing. Now, three years ago I started performing and more recently gender-politicised commentary in a witty form. It’s proving to be difficult to come back to blogging, this way.

Reading ‘Rust and Stardust’ recently helped. This book is a chronicle of the true crime story that inspired Nabokov’s Lolita. In 1948, a 52 year old Frank LaSalle abducted 11 year old Sally Horner by telling her he was the FBI and was arresting her for stealing a notebook from a shop. For the next two years he travelled with her, posing as her father and repeatedly raping and abusing her. The book actually begins earlier, chronicling Sally’s hard childhood with an embittered mother, herself a victim of a runaway husband, then a suicidal second husband and painful arthritis. Sally is literally starving for affection, attention and validation, not to mention a fundamental right to live. Her sad tale of neglect, abuse and prolonged torture was hard, very hard to read. I spent 5 hours reading through it in one go and crying at regular intervals. I told myself I was reading for research and because I had to review the book.

But also, in this emotion-searing act of reading, I found myself tapping into parts of myself I haven’t accessed in a long time. A place that feels deeply and profoundly. Writers and other creative people exploit their own traumas and personal tragedies for their art and gain, yes. This means as one, I also need to frequently clean out the internal machinery and remind myself to honour the emotions and experiences and not just run them through the creative mill to churn out material.

I’ve already written a review of the book itself here. But it brings up so much more that I don’t feel able to articulate in words. I relived my own intimate tragedies while reading Sally’s story. I lived through the moments that felt like I would not be able to breathe again, experienced anew the situations that held me down choking and I thought I would never see light and the world again. The despair, the desperation, the anguish — all of it sprung forth again. And then, they faded. Do we keep picking at our scabs or do we keep sifting through the mess of our insides trying to make better sense of it? I don’t know.

But today has been better. I met a friend for lunch. We met when we were both 20, through some acquaintances. We lost touch but she found my blog almost a decade ago and we’ve had intermittent conversations on social media and occasionally in person when we’re in the same city. It’s a delicious adventure examining who you were and how far you’ve come, along with another person. From the 90s down to today, we talked about love, about selfies, about the writerly identity, about toxic masculinity, about accents, about personal expression. I told her about being in love at 20 and in devastating heartbreak around the time she met me. Later she said,

“Why did you put up with it? You are so much more intelligent than he is.”

This is a question I’ve answered to myself several times so I had the response. And in its telling, I found a bit more of myself. I hadn’t lost these pieces of me. It’s just as though they had been sleeping (or maybe I was, if it is possible to be partly asleep within the context of certain memories and abilities only). Parts of me felt like they were waking up.

Last week, The SXonomics Show performed its season finale of its three month run. It’s been an exciting, gruelling experience. And in all this growth, all this living, I’ve put my head down and worked hard so as not to get derailed by the hostility, the hatred and negativity around me. Several people I know came to the final show — a teacher who changed my life, a friend who I didn’t even know was a friend until she asked me to come to her mother’s funeral, a former love and a couple. This couple have been my people, as individuals and as a couple, for years now. But I seem to keep forgetting all these people, that they exist in only goodness and goodwill for me. It meant so much seeing them there. Another room in my head opening. It’s been there all along. I didn’t even realise when it shut firmly.

What's next for me?

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I guess I’m just glad these doors are opening and I’m waking up again.

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Moonshine & Architecture

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Stance Podcast: Ep. 17: SXonomics, Modern Mumbai, A Ballet Collaboration with Zakir Hussain, Playwright Natasha Gordon

Last month, SXonomics met the Stance Podcast team. Stance Podcast is an independent arts, culture and current affairs podcast exploring diverse, global perspectives. Presented as a transatlantic conversation between broadcasters, Chrystal Genesis in London and Heta Fell in San Francisco, Stance aims to inform, entertain and inspire action.

We met Chrystal and her team on their Mumbai trip, to talk about collaborative performance, sex and gender activism and Mumbai. We are featured alongside our friend Praful Baweja and the podcast also includes stalwarts like Zakir Hussain.

This podcast helped me recontextualise the ideas I and we have been putting out in writing and in performance, within the global framework of important conversations around sex and art. This is tremendously validating and helps move past the misogynist attacks, the microaggressions and everyday hatred that comes my way.

Listen to SXonomics on the Stance podcast ep.17:

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SXonomics is a feminist content producer and a collaboration between Ramya Pandyan and Ishmeet Nagpal. SXonomics is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and SoundCloud. Drop us a note at SXnomics [at] Gmail [dot] com to chat about feminism, patriarchy, LGBTQIA issues, sex and love positivity!

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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