I follow this blog-in-Facebook-updates called LABYRINTHS. Its picture-stories trigger off ideas, feelings and on occasion, memories. Today’s story is titled The IVORY BOOK CLUB and is a conversation between two people about the quality of literature. It felt like an instant frame capture from my own life and here’s what happened in the real story.
Years ago, I inadvertently fell into a tussle with someone (let’s call her LMN) about Chetan Bhagat. She kept insisting that his writing was ‘honest’ while I reasoned that this was no measure of quality. It was quite literally a good 15 minutes of,
“But Bhagat is so honest, yaar!”
“That’s not all there is to a good book.”
“No, but I mean, it feels like he really lived through that.”
“Honesty? I am not going to debate that. But that’s not a measure of how well it’s written.”
“It’s straight from the heart. So honest.”
And then, this conversation was liberally mansplained and hijacked by the person who introduced us – my abusive now ex who was her friend. Among the many things he said were, “Pick on someone your own size” and something he called ‘The Principle of LMN’. In the months to follow, this incident would be alluded to often, by him or by me. Of note, the two also had a creepy relationship (2am phone calls asking if we had broken up because a photo had been deleted, secret messages that got shared with me ‘by mistake’).
All in all, I think it’s fair to say raging debates about culture, language and such things are never quite about the subjects on hand themselves.
I found gratitude in February. Here are all things that were life last month.
A conversation on safe spaces – One of Mumbai’s performance/art spaces and Shamir’s former employer hosted a discussion on safety in performing spaces. We shared experiences, fears, ideas and some hopes for this landscape that we are all committed to.
SXArena: The Third Wheel, UnValentined! and Digital Dil – We decided to try a new format that included poetry, conversations and some simple games to explore ideas of sexuality and gender. The topics of our day were polyamory, relationships outside the primary romantic one, love in the times of hookup and connections beyond the commerce.
The SXonomics Show: Touch Me Not – We were invited to conduct a gender sensitisation drive for The Habitat. We rolled this out as a series of 1 hour shows that combine comedy, satire, music, poetry and dramatic performance to address hard questions. Our first show addressed sexual harassment. It received a good response and this very encouraging review. We have since done one more show on gender (im)balance and have another four coming up (every alternate Monday at The Habitat, 7:30PM).
The SXonomics Show is a 6-part series of stage performances, roleplay and conversations. Each show addresses an issue of gender sensitivity. The first, this Monday is about sexual harassment and safe spaces. When: 7.30PM, 17 Feb 2018 Where: The Habitat, Khar West @indiehabitat #spokenword #dramaticsatire #stage #stageshow #stageperformer #safespace #sexualharassment #sexuality #sex #harassment #consent #consentviolation #consentawareness #sexualpolitics #gender #genderroles #abuse #rape #rapeculture #gendering #feminism #feminists #patriarchy
We, The XX Chromosome: Women’s Web and SheThePeople hosted a two day Women Writers’ Festival 2018 and invited us to do a show themed ‘We, The XX Chromosome’. Our 45 minute performance addressed gender stereotyping, the casting couch, rape culture, outdated fairytales and consent violation.
We're proud to be on the line-up at @shethepeopletv Women Writer's Festival 2018 with our new set 'We, The XX Chromosomes'. 4pm-4.45pm, Max Mueller Bhavan, Sat 24 Feb. We'll be addressing media narratives, sexual politics and self-image in the experience of being a woman. #feminism #feminists #feminist #patriarchy #consentviolation #consentawareness #ConsentkoMaroGoli #bollywoodstarlet #castingcouch #sexualpolitics #sexualharassment #sexuality #sex #womanhood #women #feministfairytale #SXonomics #shethepeople #womenwriters #wethexxchromosome
I started a new friendship and that person came to one of our events just as a show of support. Their presence and their ideas expanded our world view on gender, sexuality and love.
I wasn’t nearly as good at the old friendships. I think after 2017, I found it hard to remember that there were still people who liked me and wanted to spend some moments of their lives with me. But friendliness came knocking in gentle, sweet ways. I went to another old friend’s birthday party without a gift because I had just had no time to get one. But on the way, I stopped and picked up a lily because it reminded me of her. She thanked me so many times, I felt bad that I had categorised our friendship as needing the commercial validation of a store-bought gift. And yesterday she told me that the flower had continued to bloom and spread its fragrance all across her house. This is so lovely.
Press Clipping We live in a world that wounds us just for existing. And shames us for vanity, pride, joy and anything else that shows our independent personhood. Remember that the press is just that. Don't be flattened by other people's impressions of you. And don't be defined by the words they call you. Follow my writings on https://www.yourquote.in/ideasmithy #SXonomics #selfesteem #womanhood #feminism #feminist #independence #independentwoman #women #invalidation #personhood
Let me just say life is mischievous at times. 😋
There are days when I fear getting carried away and that this will all crash land. I do love how much I’m learning, though. After a recent show, a member of the audience told us that she had seen one of our early performances and we had come a long way from that. That just feels so, so, so very good.
Every now and then, Ishmeet says or does something on stage and I marvel at how a mind can work and how a gesture or a facial expression can be used to convey an idea. It’s like learning a new language and I’ve always enjoyed that.
I am still awkward in my transitions on and off stage. But stage fright does not cripple me as badly now. I’m learning to enjoy even the mistakes I make, laugh at the times I am clumsy. And that’s the same lesson as life itself, isn’t it? Look up at the stars but also find time to laugh when you trip over the stones. And always, make room for the flowers.
Here’s a handful of SXonomics laughs coming your way. This is our first video.
What does the future hold? Well, Aadhar card linkages and income tax returns. But also four new SXonomics shows, SX-on-Mics (our first community event on Women’s Day) and more videos. And a lily or two.
Late last month, LA-based GirlTalkHQ spotted SXonomics and carried our story:
They say of us,
“While SXonomics touch on topics that are universally understood, such as shaming other women for their choices, there are issues that are specifically directed toward an Indian audience. The two women have dissected the way sexism in India is deeply tied in with the caste system which discriminates against those of a lower socio-economic bracket. In this way they are reinforcing the notion of intersectionality, something today’s feminist movement can no longer ignore in order to stay relevant.”
They added to the Scroll.in story by also tracing our individual journeys through feminist viewpoints.
A stolen moment before #PillowTalk. Keeping an eye on the world's feminism and another on our own. PC: @lovemattersindia & @durex.india #Sexonomics #poetry #spokenword #performance #ramyapandyan #ishmeetnagpal #ideasmithy #genderpolitics #sexuality #patriarchy #feminism #feminists #performers #featureperformer #liveperformance #performancepoetry #drama #dramatic #gender #genderroles #sex #lgbtqia #lgbt #toxicmasculinity #feminism #satire #sexonomicstheband
In many of our conversations, I find myself saying, “I’ve thought/felt this for years and I thought I was alone!”. Protesting rape culture disguised as romance. Hitting back at misogyny.
Surviving hate labels like MANHATER, BITCH and SLUT. Coping with harassment, abuse, discrimination, body shaming, social pressures. Searching in vain for role models. Watching yourself go from person to battleworn warrior. Choosing to be the social outcast in an unsafe environment, because the other choice is unfit for human dignity.
So much of SXonomics is about solidarity, about finally feeling NOT ALONE in a world intent on turning us into mute sex objects/caregivers. Our individual journeys have made us who we are and now the stage gives us a chance to brew these together into a potent mix that fights back at an oppressive system. And beyond that, standing together has given us a chance to remember that we are human beings beyond being crusaders and human beings must have fun, pleasure and inspiration. SXonomics is all of that.
SXArena: Alt-Valentine: A series of short events that combine performance, poetry, improv, roleplay, readings and audience interaction. Please contact Mr.Aniruddha Chatterjee at +91-99769118555 for details. The sessions are: The Third Wheel, Un-Valentined & Digital Dil.
Glee actor Mark Salling was found dead a few hours earlier. He was 35 and was found hanging in the woods. He was also weeks away from being jailed after being found in possession of child p0rnography. There has been a slew of hate messages of the ‘He deserved it’ kind on social media, in the past few hours. Which makes this story all the more horrific to me.
Child abuse is a terrible reality of our species. Can we allow ourselves to be softened, within a story of a powerful man who was a perpetrator? And yet, in taking on the monsters, do we not risk becoming those monsters ourselves? Mark Salling is dead. What further punishment can be meted out to him? Any hatred expressed now, lands squarely on his friends and family. Does anyone deserve to be punished for the crimes of a person they love?
Also, while this is not a popular idea, it is the fair one. Even pedophiles, rapists, terrorists and villains deserve the right to live. I do not believe that justice extends to the right to decide whether a person should live or not. Ironically a lot of the same systems that allow capital punishment also oppose abortion. You can’t selectively choose to wield power over life and death.
What is justice? Is it not different from punishment? Human beings, especially in large numbers may decide the fate of punishment. But justice, that is a higher force. Punishment and reparations are very poor human imitations or rather, temporary measures until justice can happen. Because justice is a force of nature, that happens – a systemic balance that may take some time, after oscillations and upsets.
Lest I be accused of insensitivity towards those affected by Mark Salling’s misdeeds, I’ll also say, I have experienced child abuse myself, at the hands of my music teacher when I was barely 10. It left scars. I saw him years later at the doctor’s clinic. He looked so frail, so tired and weak that all I could feel was pity. PITY. That’s all. And it wiped away any trace of other emotions I could summon up.
In The Lord of The Rings, Frodo tells Gandalf that Bilbo should just have killed Gollum when he had a chance. But, Gandalf tells him, pity stayed his hand and pity may have saved his life. I know this because it saved mine. The label of ‘Abuse Survivor’ does not define me or my actions. Abuse is just something that happened to me; it is not me. And I can trace it all back to that feeling I had when I saw my perpetrator. I allowed myself to feel towards him the way any decent human being would towards another, regardless of who they were or what they had done. And that allowed me to stay human, rather than a vessel of anger or hatred.
I also lived with an abuse survivor, years later and was in turn subjected to many forms of violence by him. My feelings about this are complex since the situation is so complex. In my better moments, I strive to see him the way I saw my music teacher. I fail, most of the time. Maybe we get weaker as we get older, or just more set in the ways we feel. It’s not easy living in a world that demands a black-and-white narrative. More than once I’ve felt pressured to admit that he’s a rogue, a villain, a monster deserving of nothing any human being would. But how can I forget that there is something human in him too? Monsters don’t toss and turn at night, plagued by harsh memories. Monsters don’t have breakdowns in everyday challenges. Monsters don’t struggle to breathe. Monsters don’t cry in the darkness when they think no one can see them. I think I retain these memories so I can tap into them when I’m feeling particularly hateful towards him and this happens often too.
Triggers are the worst part of surviving any trauma because they pull you back to the scene of the crime, long after your visible wounds have healed (or are supposed to have). Every mention or reference to abuse or violence takes me back to one or both of these men. When there have been too many such (and given that these are hot issues in everything from media, poetry, performance and law, it’s often), I explode into a mess of rage.
I cannot avoid triggers for long or realistically. It will mean cutting out vital parts of my life and that brings its own resentment. No, for me, redemption sounds like being able to look villainy in the eye and not be cowed by it. This means facing the villains and being able to see them as more. This is an ideal, mind you, and I fail often and badly at it.
Not to preach at all. But this is what I try and keep in mind: Be compassionate to the triggered. Be compassionate to the sinners. Compassionate is not weak. It takes something out of you to carry anger and to express it. Be compassionate because it means be kind to yourself.
— ~Ramya~ (@ideasmithy) January 31, 2018
In a perfect world PC: @lumographer07 More at https://www.yourquote.in/ideasmithy #error #humanity #flaws #experience #age #poem #poetry #poet #micropoetry #micropoet #wordporn #writeaway #instawriters #writersofinstagram #writersofig #writersofindia #igwriters #igwritersclub #poetsofinstagram #poetsofig #picturepoetry #picturepoem
It’s possible that John Green enthusiasts already come steeled to deal with heavy duty emotional toil, given that his past books place teenagers in cancer, fatal accidents and parental neglect. Still, this book is a different kind of monster and it’s a shock when you encounter it. The last time I felt so desperately bleak was when I read 13 Reasons Why and that’s a book that really should be restricted reading. Should this book come with trigger warnings? Yes. And here they are: Mental illness, OCD, Child abuse. These are spoilers but I think the need for trigger warnings trumps the need to entertain the reader.
My complaint with John Green is his stock characters. Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns were both about the same confused, entitled girl and a confused, enamoured boy. This book arguably gives you again the starring duo from The Fault in Our Stars except instead of cancer, one has OCD and the other has some kind of parental neglect-triggered anxiety. There is even the high-strung best friend you feel sorry for, except this time it’s a girl and she’s poor, not blind.
Still, if you like your familiar characters and can handle teenagers in horrific situations, this book reads quite nicely, showing off Green’s strengths. Say what you will, but the man is good with his words. The conversations feel familiar but never trite. All his characters seem overly obsessed with literary references but they’re vulnerable and grey.
True to his formula, the book does not end on the expected happy ending but still on a positive note. Also, if you’re wondering what the title means, you get the reference in the last quarter of the book (again on formula, just like Paper Towns and The Fault In Our Stars). Maybe teenagers and other audiences for YA novels need a certain level of formula, especially to deal with the kind of gristly themes Green takes on. And in that, he manages to pull off another successful story that warms your heart, makes you cry a little and wish the world were kinder and then get up and move on.