We Ain’t Bros

I recently came across a video titled Girls can be Bros too. For some reason, it irritated me. The video had beautiful pictures, an evocative background score and the best part- the syntax which went like this: IF being <good adjective> and <positive attribute> means being a bro, then your girlfriend is a bro too.

But, while I applauded the intelligent use of the conditional clause, I still felt a smidgen of irritation at the end of it all. Why?

Because see, I know girlfriends can be loyal and dependable and committed to having fun; and they will carry you home when you’re drunk; put you to bed, even take off your shoes before placing a thoughtful bucket by your lolling head. I have girlfriends like that. I have a girl group like that, or is the word in vogue “squad” nowadays, who will always have my back. But, for all of that, I’ve never felt the need to validate our friendship by calling them my “bros”.

Bro kinship is inherently a male domain. Something that guys have used to qualify their friendships since times of clandestine brotherhoods. It speaks of an easy alliance that doesn’t require too much effort to maintain; a safe zone for insults to be hurled at each other without unnecessary feelings getting in the way; a relationship where possessions are shared without fanfare and evenings are spent in gaiety. Bros are people that you can call up once in 6 months and they’ll still pick you up from the airport. They are also people who remind you that the world is full of shit and the best way to deal with it is to keep it simple. It’s a beautiful friendship to have in your life. But, it’s not the only way to have friendship in your life.

I have friends (mostly guys) with whom I have this equation. But, my friendship with my girlfriends is a little different.

With my girls, as much of a luxury as it seems to be able to call only once in 6 months, it doesn’t work that way. Our friendship takes a constant effort to maintain. It’s frail enough that if you’re not keeping in touch, you might lose the connection. It’s delicate enough to think before I say something mean. And it’s precious enough that I don’t even consider these things an effort.

These girls are my bastions of support and my relationship with them takes nurturing. Should that deter me? Should that make me go in search of a bro-ship? I think not. Because I need someone to call when I’m feeling down for no particular reason and I like having someone who thinks of calling me when they’re feeling down for no particular reason.

I’ve been a tomboy for most of my life. I’ve grown up with guy friends in spite of graduating from a girls’ school. Then, I went to college where 105 boys were balanced by 25 girls. It’s like the odds were never in the favour of my worried mother’s peace of mind. But then, much to her surprise, the first friend I told her about turned out to be a girl and she turned out to be my best friend in the 8 years since.

She was instrumental in the formation of the close-knit group that we have now and she was instrumental for my inclusion in it. While she educated me, through many trials and errors, in the ways of friendships where fights are fought and made up over a week, where you can insult each other but some lines can never be crossed, where nothing is limitless or without boundaries- except the ability to forgive (and no, we don’t forget), I discovered that I grew more comfortable with every disagreement, with every argument and with every surprise birthday party that was planned down to excruciating detail (including finding the least stinky corner of the bathroom to hide in).  I also discovered, while cocooned by these tumultuous relationships, that I don’t need to be a boy to be equal to boys. I learnt to be happy with myself when I learnt that equality doesn’t mean similarity. I can safely say that I grew into a woman because my friends weren’t my “bros”, rather they took on the roles of sister, brother, mother and father and even wizened grandparents at different times and different occasions.

We graduated from college a few years ago and went our own ways. But, in a world where emotions are seen as a weakness and where women are put under the microscope and watched for that one tiny step out of line, our friendship gives us the space to wear our hearts on the sleeve; it gives us people of whom we can make demands; it gives a safe zone where we can get hurt, get frustrated, get bloody effing pissed off and learn to deal with it. That’s what I want my girls around for.

So, yes. I’ll never call my girlfriends my bros. Even when we are all plastered and hurling abuses at each other while rolling on the floor laughing; even when we’re sitting around during our long-awaited holiday trip each one doing her own thing; even when one of us is getting married and we throw the best bachelorette party ever, I don’t need to validate us by calling them my “bros”. I’d rather call them my bitches.

 

*END*

07:47 hrs, At The Temple

My country is a land of 330 million gods, and over 2 million places of worship; that we know of. You might wake up one morning and find your favorite tree hideout covered in multicolored ribbons and worshipped and you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

We are a land of religious zealots, religious politics and religious riots. But, the majority of our people are just ordinary people searching for some faith and finding it in one of the various ways of life that are preached as a religion.

The reason I’m talking about religion is because, as the title says, today, I’ve been brought to visit a temple by my mother. I protested hotly. But, deaf ears. So, here I am, walking around the structure and writing this in my head.

I don’t identify myself as an atheist. Because, even if I don’t believe in ritualistic religion or a god with form and name, I do take some comfort in blaming a higher power when things go wrong in life. Like my mother said, when something is out of your hands, don’t you ask for divine guidance? A miracle?

My answer to that is: miracles don’t happen. At least, not in a divine sense. The miracles that I know of occurred because one person decided to care about a fellow person. And so, a village becomes self-sustaining in spite of the drought; a cardiomyopathic patient receives a young beating heart; an orphan gets adopted and a child on the streets gets admitted to school.

Now, if you want to see divine providence in the kindness of people, that’s your prerogative. But, I prefer trusting in what I see and what I see is that, as much as we complain that the world is going to dogs, it’s not really.

Yes, neighbours don’t know neighbours; there are too many selfies and kids talk back more than they ever used to. But also, social issues are able to be discussed and argued in an open space, medical care is flourishing by leaps and bounds and ever since demonetisation happened in my country, I’ve been feeling a sudden kinship with my fellow broke countrymen.

My philosophy is: having faith is not wrong. Having beliefs is not wrong. But, when your faith or when your belief system is coming in the way of your humanity, then, something is surely wrong. When your faith justifies the killing of your fellow people; when your beliefs make you insensitive to the grief of someone who lost a loved one; when your “God” apparently lets you sleep peacefully at night even after the role you’ve played in the violent destruction of something or some one, then, please take a good long look at yourself- because something is very very wrong.

A person’s average lifespan, as of now, is 79 years. And throughout these 79 years, the innate survival instinct that we are all born with, keeps reminding us, however subconsciously, that in the end, we are alone. 79 years is a long time to live with that kind of a reminder. So, it’s understandable that we turn to a higher power who knows all, who sees all and who has the ability to grant wishes. It’s understandable that we make up rituals and prayers and protocols that will, allegedly, bring us closer to that higher power. All of this is understandable. But, when you shell out a hundred bucks for the temple priest without second thought, but, turn your face away from the one-legged beggar outside its gate, I don’t understand. When, in your hurry to make your prescribed rounds around the sanctum, you push and pull with scant thought for the rest of the devotees around you, I refuse to understand. And when people start killing people in the name of god, I’m horrified, I’m furious, I’m heart-broken, but, in no way am I close to understanding.

See, I’ve been told by my mother that faith can bring about miracles. Religion makes me question faith. So, I refuse to be a part of any religion; I refuse to indulge in rituals and rules. Instead, I’ve decided to place my faith in people. In the miracles I see happening everyday: when an old man is helped down the stairs by a stranger, when an older woman gives up her seat for a young pregnant lady and when a friend stands up to bullies for her friend; in these, I will place my faith.

For any act of kindness, that you’ve ever shown, I thank you.

 

*END*

 

23:55 hrs, Among Thoughts A-Wandering

Where I come from, we have this expression which says marriages are not between individuals but between families. Where I come from, marriages are also arranged and paid for by parents. Where I come from, love marriages are not advocated.

Just in case you’re still in some kind of a doubt, let me reiterate, it’s a big NO to love marriages.

Especially, if the boyfriend/girlfriend is not from your community.

Does it sound medieval to you? Because it does to me; in spite of the fact that I grew up here, haven’t been anywhere else and the biggest cultural difference I’ve experienced is eating Roti for lunch instead of rice.

But, the thing is, I find it illogical.

At the tender age of 3 or 4, we’re sent off to school; where we’re encouraged to mingle with all the kids. Nobody asks about caste or community or religion before making friends.

When you turn 17, parents vie with each other in sending their children to the farthest possible college. After all, the best educational spots are all these large campuses cut off from the world and all with their own diverse communities.

Then, when you’re finally churned out by the system, degree in hand and dreams in your eyes, ready to integrate yourself into the world, suddenly, everybody’s asking questions that you’ve never really been asked before.

I mean, if I’d wanted to be defined by the hometown, by my parents or by my surname, why on earth did I spend these last 20-odd years slogging my rump off? I want to be a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, an artist, a writer. I want to be a person. I want to be more than my name and that’s what I’ve been taught to want. So, why is this job application or that nosy uncle at the wedding asking about my caste?

It feels like parents and teachers spend all our lives bringing us up on a healthy diet of the loftiest of values. But, when the time arrives for all that theory to be actually practised, it’s like they can’t pedal back fast enough. And you could reason it away any which way- you could tell me that these divisive practices have been around forever. You could tell me that I was wilfully blind and deaf to it; that it’s my fault I didn’t notice what was going on around me. But, the fact remains that when these concepts begin to take the centre-field in your life, it’s feels sudden; like a drunken whammy out of nowhere!

So, you can blame my ignorance as much as you like, but, I can’t stop being proud of having friends from any and every community. And I’m proud of my friends for willing to be my friends. And in the future, if the impossible happens and I fall in love, then I’ll be proud of my partner too; irrespective of where they’re from and what their last name will be.

You see, I came into existence before my name did. So, as much as I like my name, my identity extends far beyond that…and that’s what I want the world to know.

 

*END*

19:23 Hrs, At The Study Table

 

I’m a medico preparing for my residency entrance exams. For the last three years. I have an exam in two weeks.

My common sense tells me focus is key in these final critical days. My brain doesn’t seem to understand though. In the last few weeks, I’ve been distracted, disenchanted and completely disturbed.

Why? Because there are other things that I want to be doing. Because the one thing I’m supposed to do, studying, is the one thing I’m unable to do. Because I’m becoming increasingly unsure that this is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.

But, the question that haunts me is: Am I giving up?

A little bit about myself: I’ve always been a good student. Academically sound. Well on my way towards the scholarly path of a doctor. Nobody doubted my ability to accomplish what I had started, least of all myself. This branding of a “Good Student” is so ingrained in me that it’s become a part of my sense of identity.

“I’m not good at sports. I can’t sing or draw or play an instrument.

So, what?

I’m a good student. I have other pastures to explore.”

That’s what I’ve been telling myself all these years. Then, all of a sudden, I can’t study anymore. And if I can’t study anymore, what can I do? My extremely limited repertoire is already out of options. There is nothing I’m particularly good at. How am I to live? How am I to think of myself? What’s my identity now?

So, I begin to write. I write everything I feel, everything I want to say and everything I’m scared about. I write because if I don’t write, I will drown in an identity crisis that has no exit strategy. I write because every time I want to give up, I feel ashamed and that keeps me slogging, plodding my way through words that seem to make sense one instant and nothing at all in the next. I write because I can’t yet bring myself to confess that I’ve lost the ability to do the one thing I was good at and because the thought of my future depresses me.

I write because I feel like nobody understands me even while the practical part of my brain tells me that there are people out there who will; that there are people out there whose job is to understand; and most importantly, that to be understood I need to speak up in the first place.

I don’t have the courage to do that yet…and so, I write.

 

*END*

09:39 hrs, On An Unmade Bed

What’s my story?

I wish there was an archive of everybody’s stories. I wish I could go to that archive and take a quick flip through mine. I wish…I wish for a lot of things. But, if such an archive did exist and I did get to flip through my pre-written story, I’d probably scoff and do everything possible to not stick to it. Just out of spite.

It’s called contrariness of nature and humans have oodles of it. It’s evident in all those stories where the person finds out his destiny and then, does his best to fight it. I mean, wasn’t destiny supposed to give the purpose of one’s existence? But, that’s another topic altogether.

The reason I want to know my story is because I don’t know what I should do.

Should I continue doing what I’m doing now? What everybody and my parents are telling me to do? Or, should I stray off the beaten path?

Now, if I was writing a story, the answer would be simple: Stray off, away! Find your own way! But, this isn’t a story. It’s my life, I’m talking about.

Then, I start to think, isn’t life also a story? Chapter after chapter opens and closes and anthologies keep being written. Not by some great unknown hand either, but, by my own hand. I’m the author and this is my story.

Which brings me back to the question: what should I do?

It’s this confusion while standing at the crossroads that’s tempting me to hand over the pen to somebody else. Let them decide and I’ll follow. I want to hand over the reins of my future to someone other than me (Should there be a ceremony for that?). But, that’s scary too.

See, until now, all decisions regarding my future have been taken by me. Of course, I’ve been advised, suggested to, gently guided, blatantly manipulated and all that; yet, essentially, the responsibility of the decision, made with eyes closed or fully open, rested with me. If something went wrong, the blame rested squarely with me; which, ironically, gave me the freedom to mess up as much as I want.

I wasn’t bound to somebody else’s desires or dreams or to any sort of misplaced or displaced sense of duty. I walk the path I picked out and I’ll face the consequences of wherever it leads me willingly. All the emotions I’ll go through in the process will originate from me, directed towards me- happiness or sadness, frustration disappointment- and I can deal with me. But, such degrees of negativity towards someone else, that’ll turn me ugly.

At least, this is how I’ve operated till today and I’m glad to say that overall, I’m a happy person for it.

There is still a part of me that wants to continue in the same vein. I’ll pick the riskier option, the better story. But then, there’s the part of me that started this piece which says talk to someone, let them tell you what to do, even though I already know what their answer would be.

It’s making me angry and confused. Right now, I don’t have the leisure to be angry and confused. So, what should I do? What should it be?

Can you tell me my story?

*END*

 

12:28 PM, Hunched Over a Textbook

Life is so short. Who knows if I’ll be alive tomorrow? Maybe on the way home today, I’ll finally run out of my lucky breaks and bite the bullet. But, my point is…there’s so much to do! So much that is possible just because you’re alive and you’re moving and you’re aware. That is the best gift I’ve gotten to date or ever will.

I want to go out, see the world, prove to myself that I deserve every single cell of every single gram of tissue in my body.

A queer sort of restlessness fills me and I can feel the itch beginning at the bottom of my gut. I need to be out there, looking at things in a new way, doing stuff I haven’t done yet and a lot of other wishes.

But, here I am. Hunched over a textbook now, a steering wheel later; plodding my way through monotony and traffic, instead of getting out there, living my life to the fullest.

A single barricade is standing in my way right now and pushing it down seems like the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do. But, I’ll do it. I’ll have to do it. Because, beyond that barricade lies my life. The rest of my life with its new challenges, new choices and new mistakes to be made.

Push, my dear, push! It’ll go down and you’ll be out there. Soon enough.
So, I tell myself every morning.

*END*

09:21 PM, A Sweltering Room

My gym instructor thought I didn’t have a voice, because a week went by with him giving me instructions and me responding by sign language. Like pointing. And nodding. And when I’m done, hanging around in his shadow creepily until he notices me.

Two weeks into the sweat-laden sojourn, I’ve just begun to add a vocal “bye” to the usual hand-waving. I feel ecstatic. A feeling that lasts until the next time I want to ask him something and he refuses to meet my eye. I know his name, I consider calling him out, but my throat closes up at the thought and the ecstasy of giving voice to my farewell the previous evening flies out of the unused window into the screeching traffic. To die a horrific death.

The thing is, this is not a newly acquired character quirk. (In such cases, it usually isn’t.) I had the same problem since childhood. Except I never paid it much mind. You see, when you’re a child and you’re stumbling over conversation, you move on from words to being cute. One way is to hide in your mother’s pallu the moment you’re stuck. Trust me, it’s acceptable behavior for a child. The most punishment you’ll receive is some unwelcome aunty pinching your cheeks. The other way is to make a face that’s so adorably lost that even Hugh Grant who made an entire career out of it will go Awww….

I graduated from the first to the second one quite early. But, as the story goes with early bloomers, my empirical rise in the channels of conversation stalling, stopped there. I’m currently still making cute faces, except that when you’re 24, it’s just called making faces.

The first time I actually noticed this “quirk” in the light of a problem was when I went to college and considered starving myself rather than calling out for a mess waiter to get me food. Because, there, I couldn’t call them by lifting a finger or pointing; I had to call them by their given name. Four years I spent in that place, I learnt all their names, they learnt to recognize me and with a couple, I even talked about their families. But, I would still be sitting at the table with a parched throat until a friend takes pity on me and calls for a waiter.

I don’t have stage fright, but, I wouldn’t dare go into a crowd of people without a friend by my side. I don’t panic while chatting on a social network, but if you call me, my first reaction is to swallow the ball of burning acid that gets lodged in my throat before emitting a hoarse hello. I’m not a loner, I don’t have self-confidence issues, I’m not a person who’s usually at a loss for words. But, in a social situation, where relationship between the talk-ee and talk-er hasn’t yet been fully compounded and boundaries haven’t yet been properly established, where a whole lot of strangers are watching you move for no other reason except that they are there and you are also there…that’s where I need a friend, a mouthpiece or even better, a book to read.

So, next time you go to a party and notice the person on the fringes or in the corner with a book or a phone clutched with knuckles whiter than snow, don’t dismiss the person as a weirdo. She’s probably just having a little trouble finding her place in the jigsaw puzzle that is social interaction. So, go there, say hi, strike up a conversation and maybe, you’ll realise she’s not all that bad; maybe, just maybe, you might even end up with an interesting friend.

Happy talking, mis amigos!

Cheers!