We’re running out of things to say to each other. It seems as if you don’t like me very much anymore.
You hate my car, my home, my gadgets, my life – everything that makes me successful. You want us to go back to a simpler life, for me to work harder for lesser. But I have for centuries and millennia and time eternal. Now it’s time for pleasure. It’s called progress. You see green, it was never my favourite colour. I like steel and grey a lot better.
So you turn moody. It’s just like you to want to ruin my day. Starve me by burning it all up. You know, nobody likes someone who’s always raining on their parade. And yet I try, with I love yous and other peacekeeping tactics. Earth Hour. World Environment Day. Special days. Everyday used to be special. Do you remember? I do.
Summer days where you’d wrestle me to the ground and we’d make hard, mango-scented love. Winter nights kissing me lightly awake, keeping me up talking poetry. Endless evenings standing still on the beach so still, like God stopped breathing and look, that sliver of blood moon, the tip of his big toenail as he says Peace Out.
How bold we were, how brave to play these toxic games of evolution and success, pain and pleasure. We were baiting danger at leisure. We managed to keep love, quite at bay.
Let us try to believe that even when the eyes are cold, the visions behind them are not. We are, after all, the casualties of Life’s war against itself. But you are still angry, your moodswings have given me a cold. I’ve cried all I want to, for you. And you’ve exploded far more than you can afford. But we my love, have never learnt to speak. My poetry, I see, won’t touch you any more. It’s too late to salvage what we had.
So we’ll go back to talking about the weather and you can blame it all on me again. And some day perhaps, long after I’m gone, another lover, another child, standing with you under a different sun, another season, will find lined across your body, the stretch marks of our life together and wonder whether they were not your first love.
I read a sentence in a book that went, “She tried to be the kind of person that interesting things happened to.” And I thought that was such a pretty line. But what did it mean? And because I was enjoying the book, I immediately applied it to myself wondering if I’d ever done that.
I don’t know if interesting things just ‘happen’ to people. You have to go looking for things that will grab you by the neck and demand that you expend breaths, thoughts and emotions on them. That doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? Interesting things rarely are. There’s a reason ‘May you live in interesting times’ is a curse and not a blessing.
It is true that I grew up in Mumbai with multiethnic influences so perhaps I didn’t have to look very far for the next adventure. Just finding an identity and holding on to it continues to be the biggest challenge. But spiritual soliloquy aside, what are the things of interest that can happen?
Romance. Friendship. God. The next BIG idea. A flash mob proposal. A near-death experience. A chance to rescue someone. A celebrity spotting. A spiritual epiphany. A lottery. How does one become the kind of person these things happen to? It’s simple. You open your eyes and you breathe. In, out.
In seeking these experiences (finding some, discovering other things and still seeking a few), I realised that I became that interesting thing that happened to somebody else. Inspiration to a student dropping by an open mic. Book recommendations that changed someone’s college major. Crazy makeup for a person seeing people beyond their masks for the first time. The first claps that started the round of applause for an uncertain performer. The uncomfortable thought that made someone who wanted to think of themselves as kind…think differently. A broken rule to demonstrate it could be done.
So what interesting thing are you going to be today and whose life are you changing?
I was a diarist through my teens. When I was 24, I discovered blogs which I learnt was short for ‘web logs’. And my diarying transitioned online. Because I wrote under the then anonymous identity of IdeaSmith, I could pour my unvarnished feelings into writing, things I didn’t feel at liberty to say in my daily life.
These were my 20s and I was accumulating new experiences faster than I could process (post-graduation, first job, recession survival, new love, matrimonial pressures). There was fear, worry, anguish and grief for what I’d left behind – things that I was not ‘supposed to’ feel or dwell on. Writing anonymously allowed me to examine each feeling and experience at leisure.
Before I knew it, I had readers and IdeaSmith was a personality, an entity built by me but also by what my readers wanted to read. Possibly because my dark emotions and experiences were not permissible in my offline life (Nobody wants brooding, angry, grieving or annoyed women even in 2019), these writings were more poignant than my cheerful work. Maybe they just suited the mystery persona of an unknown woman on the internet better.
I had a revelation in the early 2010s. I realised each time I wrote or spoke or even read a piece, I relived that memory. So in my dark, brooding words, I was keeping my pain alive. Writing, I concluded, was cathartic, not healing. And in 2014 after abuse, a broken engagement, a nondescript startup, I decided I needed healing. I needed levity & light. Words matter so much to those of us who wield them. It’s hard to bring them to destruction. But the image of a paper plane flew into my imagination.
And from that came a healing philosophy and a tattoo for reminder. This was my first performance as a stage artist, a wordsmith with flight, a new me.
We’ve spoken. You’ve looked at me and I, at you. You probably thought of me later. Weeks or months later, remembering, wondering why you remembered. If that thought made you smile, and I think it did, yes, I’m that one. And if it worried you, don’t anymore. It was just my perfume, a light scent that you barely notice but it lingers. Just like me.
We’ve had a conversation. We both listened. We both heard. Except you were listening to a recording. And I was listening for the raw, rough notes of being human. I found it in your breaths that were too loud and the sighs that weren’t. I know how to do that. What you heard was just the white noise before a song begins and then you don’t notice it anymore. The song you wanted to sing, that you were always going to sing and I let you. I spoke a lot but I never said a thing.
We’ve touched in ways minor and dramatic. We’ve collided. We’ve danced. But you won’t catch my fingerprints anywhere in your life. Only inside your mind and maybe not even that. You never looked at my hands.
You may think this entails an understanding between us. That’s partly true. You see, I understand you. I wanted to. But you never dived beneath the surface, never peeled back a smile layer or listened beyond my words to my pauses. You don’t know me. You don’t know me at all.
I wish learning were about curiosity, not a degree. I wish I didn’t live in a world where questions were deemed stupid, caring was uncool, interest was intrusive and curiosity killed. Because my curiosity is my compass, leading me mind-first into every path that makes it possible to be me.
When what we know is bartered and doled out like so many bowls of pitiful, tasteless soup. No wonder then, we treat it with hatred and fear. Information as power and knowledge as currency keep us all fearful and stupid. The most richly bound Bible is still just a fancy paperweight, unless you open the page and read. And we’re meagre in the knowledge of ourselves, scared to go inward and read and suspicious of anyone else who wants to.
The quest for knowledge has always been driven by all-consuming passion. Marie Curies and Galelios strayed blind into the valley of death, in its pursuit. Van Goghs and Sylvia Plaths soldiered against pain, in a quest to understand, to know more more MORE.
I wish we didn’t have to beg fearfully for answers, veritable Oliver Twists begging for another bowl of soup. Because knowing, unlike possessions, is free. How can you put a price on the experience of meeting an idea, welcoming it into your mind, turning it into thought and finally giving it a home inside your life in the form of knowledge?
Knowledge is not power. It is life, sustenance for hungry minds.
This was also published to XX Factor awhile ago since it deals with gender politics. But this post is also about who I am becoming or maybe who I’ve always been or maybe that doesn’t matter.
Last week India’s #MeToo / #TimesUp movement rose (again), sparked off by Mahima Kukreja’s outing of standup comic Ustav Chakrobarty sending unsolicited dickpics and badgering underage girls for nudes. It set off a chain reaction examining the complicit parties, the enablers and patterns of predators. Thread:
Since then it has spread to other performance spaces, to advertising, to media, to journalism, to publishing and more. All these alongside Bollywood’s own filth outing with Tanushree Datta’s allegations against Nana Patekar. And across the ocean, the US is grappling with the same issue over a man named Brett Kavanaugh. Sharing this video here as the only positive note of this story:
On one hand, I am so glad that these stories are finally finding their voices. I cannot even begin to comprehend the trauma of carrying these toxic secrets for so long and there are so many, so many of them. Every morning I’m waking up in fear over which man I’ve known, read, watched, applauded, appreciated, spoken to, smiled at will be outed as the next sexual predator. We are in so much pain.
It’s forcing a mirror to all of society and not just its toxic males. A few men I know have been outed at predators. Did I know? Did I suspect? Was that action that I shrugged off, actually an indication of something more sinister? Should I have laughed at that joke? Should I have warned this person? I introduced these people; what if one person took that as a trust guarantee and do I carry some responsibility if anything happened? What am I missing in the world and about the people around me, today?
So many of the stories I’m hearing have not even made it out yet because the victims fear that they are too young/unimportant/powerless and that their predators are too famous/rich/powerful. I am grappling with recognising that the victim of an assault or harassment can build an unreal sense of the perpetrator’s power while trying not to invalidate their feelings. How can you say “I believe you” and “No, that’s not true” at the same time?
Then there was the outing of someone I knew slightly and hadn’t really liked (though not because I had an encounter of this kind with him). He was outed by someone who in the past, has enabled my own abuser despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The question that hung over me was ‘Should I support someone who did not support me?’. It was a time of personal reckoning, figuring out who I wanted to be. I’d thought these aspects of my character would be set and figured out by this time in my life. Clearly, character is a lifelong process of testing. I passed. I don’t know that I feel good about it. Is feeling like I was denied justice, a better feeling to live with than guilt and vindication?
This same person, along with a lot of other people also put out a call asking to be told if they were friends with an abuser. It made me really angry at first. And then I realised, people don’t know what they’re asking for, when they ask for that door to be opened. When the sheer magnitude of this truth hits them, many recoil and their reaction is to assume they get to judge whether they should take action or not. No, I say. The minute you ask for the truth, you are asking for the victim’s trust. And the minute you bring judgement in, you are violating that trust. Complete trust in return for total lack of judgement is the deal. Here’s my thread on this matter:
Having said this, I’m realising that maybe I invite confessions and sharing from people just by talking about these issues. Over a decade ago, when I wrote this post about child abuse, it provoked a volley of reactions that I did not expect and did not know how to handle. I considered quitting blogging. A friend told me that I had stood for something and that mattered to the people who were sharing with me and that I had a responsibility towards them. I interpreted that to mean I’d have to be a space of listening (since I’m not qualified in any other way to advise, heal, police or protect). If you read the above post, please also read this as the conclusion of that. I am rethinking this now.
I asked a close friend (a survivor and an activist) for advice. This person asked me how many people who were spilling their truths onto me and expecting me to rescue them, showed up for me back in 2012? I could argue that some of them were too young, some too married (like this is an illness that renders one incapable of logical and just thought towards unmarried people), some not strong enough (as if strength is a talent some are born with and which becomes public property to exploit). My answer was…NOBODY. I have tried hard not to become cynical about people since then and I’ll admit I often slip up. I cannot forget that I live in a world that enables and applauds my abusers for the same things that they attack and condemn me for experiencing. It is so hard to feel empathy for enablers, even harder than feeling it for the perpetrators.
And finally, I am realising how easy it is going to be vomit, to dump, to offload resentment and rage. Neither of these are logical or fair-minded. They just are — powerful and unstoppable. I’m trying hard not to talk about my own experiences partly because I do not want to co-opt the narratives of the people speaking up for the first time and partly because it might become a case of Chinese whispers with people blaming my perps for things they did not do as part of the pervasive ‘Men are trash’ feeling. As justified as that feels, I know I cannot live with those feelings. I just can’t.
Mercifully a friend who’s been away from all this rescued me in a single conversation last evening by asking me to remember to retain my capacity for joy. That’s all. We each have to live with the consequences of our actions, our emotions and our words. What’s most important in the long, long run of life? I choose joy.
I’ve been on a hiatus from the life I was leading through most of this year and the last. One notable conversation I had in this time made me realise the importance of boundaries in my life.
I’ve always been a boundary tester, a rulebreaker, a label hater, an opposer of all things that feel restricting. But now I think I also need to learn how to define and maintain boundaries in my life. It’s very exciting to be able to flow and ebb and dissolve and rise from chaos. But it’s tiring and now it feels futile.
I think all human beings and interactions need some kind of boundaries but most of our world is entrapped in boundaries set by other people that have become prisons. In that, I have no regrets over who I have been — in testing the world I live in and finding where I want to go, how far and in what way. Boundaries are only good when you set them yourself.
My boundlessness has caused systemic corrections like violent reactions from people, actions that feel like profound betrayals and my own sense of feeling drained and exploited. The cycles I go in are to love in a burst of passionate emotion and give and give because it just feels good to give — attention, affection, objects, time, energy, commitment. Unsurprisingly I’ve drawn takers, most notably the abusive men and a handful of manipulative friendships.
With complete objectivity, I can see how I fit their scripts as well as they fit mine. But even someone who enjoys giving runs empty eventually. And the fellow actors in my scripts have punished me for not being perennial while having reached a point of not giving anything back. Balance off whack. And the solution? Boundaries, defined better, well and early.
All this is probably really obvious to anybody outside of me. But I can feel this understanding at a cellular level now. I’ve been figuring out what boundaries mean to me (outside of ‘prison’ or ‘control mechanisms’). I’ve been navigating the kind of emotions that rise, how many of them are remembered traumas and how I can proceed in spite of them.
So what has this looked like? It’s been about saying no to a work project, something that caused me a lot of agony because it runs so against the grain of my work ethic (kill myself if need be but deliver, deliver on time, deliver over the promise but DELIVER). I know this comes from a very early place of not fitting into the education and social systems (gender role, nuclear family unit etc.) and so overcorrecting in a bid to ‘be okay’.
It has been about getting off the stage. I needed to face my fears about the stage, I needed to break the victimhood of being gaslit, violated and hit for being visible and I’ve done it all. It was a hard choice getting off the stage once I’d fought my way to it feeling like a place of comfort. Especially so because I wondered whether I would ever get back on again and whether my entire life of performance would have to go hand-in-hand with reliving traumas. Saying goodbye to anyone or anything is always hard only because of this — because you don’t know if it’s the last goodbye. Thankfully, for me it wasn’t.
And then it was about learning to walk away from situations and people. This was actually the easiest thing to do, perhaps because I’d done the more visible things like work and stage before this. Years of not having a choice of escaping traumatic situations, of being blamed and shamed for those situations made me have to grow a Warrior whose motto was never back down, take everything head on, offense before defense etc. It was so exhausting and it never really felt like me. Worst of all was being related to by the world as if that was my entire being, not just one facet developed as a defense mechanism in certain situations. That’s what all the harassment of last year (“Manhater”) was about. I’m a Creator, not a Destroyer or even a Warrior. Now that I know I can be the other things if I need to, I can retire them until further notice. All I had to do was walk away from some situations.
I’ve found help in watercoloring. Oddly enough, this is the one artistic medium that never appealed to me, even though I actually had some formal instruction in it. Maybe that’s exactly why — anything that came from the system felt like an imposition, an imprisonment to me. I started on watercolours after a friend took it up and shared his works with me. There’s something soothing about working with water, about the gentle brushstrokes, the undramatic (I used to think boring) colours. And I’ve resolved that this will not be one more thing that I turn into a competitive, goal-oriented thing. I’ve been carrying my kit to events, coffee with friends and even meetings. I joked to a friend that this is my new hipster behaviour. He just smiled and said,
“It’s not a hipster thing, it’s just a Ramya thing.”
which is the nicest thing I’ve been told in a long time. I’ve been painting swatches, squiggly nothings, letters etc. Sometimes they look good, sometimes they’re unmemorable. And always, I feel accompanied, well-adjusted and complete with that brush in my hand.
The results have not been bad at all. I fell sick a fortnight ago — the kind of dark, no-end-in-sight sickness that afflicted my very soul. I couldn’t breathe sometimes and spent hours coughing or gasping or just passed out in some version of asleep. I don’t think this is a coincidence at all. An ex friend once told me that phlegm represents pain. It had to threaten to choke me before I could release it willingly. For the first time in I-can’t-even-remember-how-long, I spent an entire week in bed, not checking my email, not answering my phone, drifting between sleep and fevered wakefulness. The past week has been returning to the world and I’ve given myself permission to do it slowly and without apologising. It hasn’t been bad at all.
I’ve also been meeting friends. Yes, it turns out I do have a lot of friendships and people who are genuinely happy to see me. Some have even been from places I had labelled Trauma Points inside my head — Twitter and Poetry. But I’ve been doing all this with boundaries (as far as possible). Limiting my time, what I say, what I ask about, the things we do.
which also works, in my opinion. Please go read. It’s not a rant, I promise.
They also carried a collage of my lipart journey, to illustrate how I found my self-worth in colour. I’ve been a longtime fan of this website so I’m very happy to add my story to all the wonderful ones in their collection.
Yesterday I ran into a friend. The last time we met, this friend visited me at a new home I was building. I was also newly engaged. So obviously, that would be the starting point of our conversation, a picking up where the thread dropped off. I rolled my eyes wryly and said,
“So much has happened since then. I don’t live there anymore. I’m not engaged anymore.”
My friend’s immediate, almost urgent reply was,
“My good friend is close to him so I will not comment.”
I have navigated hundreds of such conversations in the past six years.
I had a (somewhat) public relationship. Given that I write about relationships and the fact that they form such an important part of my existence, I found it hard not to. Shutting up about that would essentially mean to quit blogging, which would be akin to losing a kidney, a limb and maybe a few other vital organs. But my partner was not an open individual (quite the opposite) and I felt I had to respect his privacy too. So I have never mentioned him by name and I have only sparingly offered details of our relationship, while trying to be honest and open about my own feelings and thoughts (these are mine and I’ve never felt the need to have anyone else’s permission to share them). This has been the trickiest juggling I’ve done in all my adventures with anonymity since I began in 2004.
I didn’t have a chance to think about how this would turn out, if we parted ways. And given how suddenly everything crashed, I barely made it out alive, let alone with enough stability to think clearly. The thing with sudden disasters is that you don’t get time to stop and collect your thoughts. The world hits you with life, even as you’re still lying on the ground with your heart ripped open, bleeding from wounds you didn’t even realise had opened up and were being systematically poisoned. You just learn to cope and hope to heal on the fly, as you get carried along on the rollercoaster ride called life.
In six years, I have run into, got back in touch with and in some way reconnected with possibly hundreds of people. Most people in my world have some connection to my narrative through my blogs, my work and having interacted with me on digital. I have tried to keep my narrative as true to myself but it has to be a filtered, edited one, for reasons of safety and respecting the privacy of other people connected with me. This includes exes, even the ones who have behaved in very, very bad ways.
Last year a friend screenshotted something my ex had put up and sent it to me. I wish she hadn’t. I was not even thinking about him and seeing this forced me to remember his existence in an unnecessarily immediate and close way. She said she thought it would make me feel better but it didn’t.
A few months ago, somebody else told me about someone who liked my ex. They said they were concerned about this person and that they were making a terrible choice. I get that concern. But I don’t get what I am supposed to do in this. This story has nothing to do with me.
“My good friend is close to him so I will not comment.”
I felt knocked for a loop by my friend’s statement. Because I was starting a conversation and their response was a very clear iron-curtain style wall. The last thing that was called that was part of something the world knew as Cold War. Why did my friend feel the need to rush in with that statement when I had not even asked for comment? Possibly they thought I was seeking validation, asking for them to join me in bashing my ex. I wasn’t. I was just telling my story.
But, in the very act of writing this down, I feel my balance restore itself to normal. I cannot fault my friend for not thinking this through. After all, they haven’t seen me in years. I can also see the good intentions behind the actions of the other friends. They were offering commiseration in their own awkward ways. They were also trusting that I would act with sanity rather than viciousness and while that is overwhelming, it is also inspiring. Maybe I can be that person if people think I can be. I write a narrative that is one that inspires me. And I can only write it if I live it. I am so glad to be a writer.
The difficulty in writing your own story is having to explain every word and every edit. But maybe that is also the best thing about it. Remembering the story, that’s all that’s important. The story of me.
I’ve written about this before. They’re nets of words around a dimly grasped idea. Dim, partly because I’ve been learning about myself and about men. Also because everyone around me conspires to keep me from finding this out and having chanced upon it, to blame it on me. Because it doesn’t look good. Let’s call […]
Play a game with me. Ready? Pick any one answer: QUESTION: What do you call a guy who makes a call at 1:30AM stoned and drunk to a girl who said she was having a bad day at 11:30PM? A. A thoughtful, considerate, caring person who is taking time off partying to help someone in […]
The struggle is real. This is the struggle to see men as worthy of empathy. No, they do not make it easy. And everyone and their brother and misogyny-internalised sister collude to shame me for not feeling more empathy. Who will explain that empathy cannot be forced? That shaming and attacking only create fear and […]
Last week, I was trolled about my looks. Some men friends said they liked how I look. The troll’s attack is based on the idea that a woman’s worth is in her looks and that anyone can boost/undermine it with words. My friends, however well-intentioned, were reinforcing that idea. Strangers like salespeople have felt entitled […]
I’ve noticed a pattern in the last few men I’ve dated, echoed also in some of my male friends of similar age. They open with WORK FIRST. They’re managers, they’re artists, they’re performers, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re chefs and architects and engineers. They’re all about how what they’re doing is priority, how it’s super important and […]