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*

To My Little Nephew, From Your (Kinda, Sorta) Old Aunt

25 July, 2016

 

My darling sleepy Baby,

 

Some time, as you grow up, you’ll hear the words “like a boy” and “like a girl”. What is like a boy or like a girl? People can come up with a lot of answers.

Blue is for boys, pink is for girls. Skirts are for girls and pants are for boys. Boys play with monster trucks and Barbies are for girls. Girls will enjoy cooking, sewing and the finer arts while boys enjoy driving, sports and roughhousing.

Don’t let them fool you. More importantly, don’t let these arbitrary differentiations limit you.

IMG-20160730-WA0001The amazing thing about being born a human in this world is our ability to make our own choices. But, society and its preconceived notions may sometimes come in the way of that special ability. We are all born as unique beings and then, we spend the rest of this blessed life trying to squash that uniqueness out of ourselves and each other and become one of the crowd.

Isn’t that sad? In fact, I believe it would be the saddest thing if you, our dearest baby, the apple of our eye tried to squash the uniqueness out of you.

I’m not saying don’t listen to people. Certainly, listen to people. But, after they are done speaking and you’re done listening, remember to make the choice that suits you best. You are under no obligation to keep any promise you haven’t made or fulfil any dream that’s not yours. So, take advice from the grown-ups around you, but, make the decision by yourself.

Of course, when you make your decisions, you will also be responsible for any and every consequence out of it. But, that’s a topic for another day.

For now, all I want to tell you is whether you like pink or blue, pants or skirts or it be monster trucks or Barbies, remember that the world is at your feet and the choices are yours to make; and whatever the world may say, I’ll always be in your corner. Be kind, little baby and be you.

 

Cheers,

Your ridiculously wise aunt.
(No, really, I am!)

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*

 

The Witch And The Prince – Chapter 1

 

He lay before her. A prince that looked every bit a prince. Handsome, well-built, popular and currently, her captive.

She sat there watching his princely countenance, trying not to feel jealous. Because, she was a witch that didn’t look anything like a witch. She was small, dark and had kind eyes.

And then, the prince woke up.

“Where am I?” the bleary blue eyes did nothing to diminish his beauty.

“You’re kidnapped, Prince!”

“Kidnapped… Are you going to kill me?” sharp and directed towards her; she resisted the urge to flinch in the grasp of those eyes.

“Kill you? Why would I do that?”

“Ah! That’s a relief! Well, I’m going back to sleep then.” An unfathomable smile creased his lips as he lay his cheek down on the ground as gently as if it might have been a soft pillow. His demeanour stirred confusion in her belly.

“Shouldn’t you be attempting something heroic by now?”

“Heroic? Why would I want to be a hero?” His eyes snapped open and held her in his gaze. She pulled herself up to her tallest self in response to the challenge in them.

“Aren’t you the Third Prince of Rathgar? You’ve been kidnapped, Third Prince of Rathgar, by an evil witch- me! Now, it’s your turn to bravely free yourself and return a hero.”

“If all you wanted to do was return me, why kidnap me in the first place?” His wrinkle-free forehead creased perfectly in the centre, “Or was it not you that did the deed?”

“It was me! Don’t be fooled by my small stature, Prince!” She bristled at the mockery written in those lips, “I stand before you, Vilia, the Evil Witch of the Northern Glades, on the cusp of my entry into the Witches’ Coven. I warn you, it would not be in your best interests to take me lightly!”

“Vilia…That’s a pretty name.” he smiled and brought an unwelcome flutter to her heart, “I’m Belmont. It’s my greatest pleasure to make your acquaintance, Evil Witch! At least, it would be, except these ropes biting into my skin are spoiling it a little.” He grinned at her dropped jaw and disbelieving eyes, “Ah! Don’t stare at me like that. You’re making me blush!”

Her jaw snapped shut as the flutter was replaced by stirring annoyance. “Are you sure you’re a prince?”

She thought she saw his smile turn down slightly at the corners, “Yes, unfortunately, I’m sure.” But, before she could be sure, he had it hitched back up, “But, it’s because I’m a prince that I got to meet you. So, I don’t feel too unfortunate right this moment! Now…about these ropes…”

His bright smile, his sparkling eyes, his complete nonchalance at being a kidnapped captive of an Evil Witch were what, she was certain, brought all this blood to her face. The unrelenting heat in her face was making her angry.

“If you think you’re charming your way out of here with all that sweet talk, you’re mistaken, Prince! I’m deaf to your flattery and blind to your sugar-coated lies. Talk all you want and then, some more. Talk until you realise that you are all alone in the woods, a witch’s captive and there is no help coming your way. Talk as long as you like to these walls that won’t listen nor reply. Because this is where you are and where you will be until my entry into the Coven!”

“You’re rather dramatic, aren’t you?”

“…………………………………….”

“But, you did a superlative job on these ropes, I tell you. I’m pretty sure, I’m bleeding already. Ah!”

“Stop struggling then, you moron. You’re chaffing your wrists.”

“Aww…are you kind after all? I thought you looked kind!”

“I am an Evil Witch!”

She had had enough of this un-princely prince.

She walked out.

**

Picking Up The Pieces

“What were you thinking?” squeaked the mouth on the floor.

“What were you thinking?” Colonel Batra shot back.

An entity with one arm and half a leg dragged itself over to the mouth, “I’ve often been told that I should stop running my mouth.” A toothy grin flashed from the mouth now nestled in a dirty palm.

Batra sighed. “What was I thinking?” he thought to himself as he looked around. His butt- a piece of his butt was missing and as a man rather fond of his butt, he was determined to find it.

He walked past two fingers and a kidney. Something that looked like a Gluteus beckoned to him from the left and he pounced.

“That’s mine!” a severed hand clamped over his leftover finger.

He jumped. “How on earth are you doing that?” he whirled towards the one-armed entity and snapped.

“I’m using the force,” the solemnity in the mouth’s voice didn’t match the twinkle in its eyes.

“Damn kid…dead and still joking around…” Batra grumbled as he pulled his hand away.

The entity was now beside him and offering a piece of flesh with its single hand. “Why don’t we think of this as my version of an olive branch?”

“My butt!” Batra snatched it from the hand and pressed it into his torn behind. It merged seamlessly into its place as if it had been waiting for the opportunity.

Batra sighed in relief. “I always thought my butt was my best feature,” said the 50 year old army officer.

“It is a nice butt. Felt quite meaty,” replied the 23 year old terrorist.

Once upon a minute, they had come face to face- gun to grenade. The officer was defending his base from the bomber; the terrorist was promoting his belief through the bomb. There was that split second when their eyes met. Then, they were dead.

Later that day, a terrorist cell will make a legend out of the young man’s name. Later the same day, the old officer would be honoured as a martyr that died in the line of duty. Neither had wanted to die. But, in that split second none of these thoughts entered their heads.

“Seriously, what was I thinking?” Batra mumbled as he hopped towards the wall, his leg tucked under his arm.

“The question should be: why didn’t you think?” came the cheery voice from behind him. The head was now re-attached to the torso and the entity ceased to be an entity and became a person. He slid down the wall beside the now fully-reassembled officer. “Don’t you need your fingers?”

“I only need one,” Batra held up his hand with the single remaining middle finger.

The terrorist snorted and opened his mouth. Then, closed it. The smile slipped from his face as he looked up at the officer he killed.

“Do you hate me?”

Batra moved the facial muscles to rise his eyebrows.

“That looks very weird when you don’t have eyebrows.”

“And whose fault is that?”

The young terrorist’s equally hairless face flushed. “Sorry…” he mumbled.

“What’s your name?”  Batra asked to break the silence that had fallen between them.

“Abrar,” came the quiet answer.

“Age?”

“23”

“First gun?”

“.22”

“Mine too!”

Abrar looked up with wide eyes at the excited officer. Slowly, his face creased into a smile.

“I used to love my rifle. I was only six then, so it was almost as tall as me. But, I would clean it every day and I would love to hold it, even if I wasn’t shooting!” Abrar fell back against the wall as the memories assaulted him.

“Ah…I know that feeling.”

The silence that fell between them now was more companionable.

“Do you hate me?” the terrorist’s question thickened the air again.

“I did. I hated you so much I would have shot you without a second thought.” The air became thicker.

“But…you didn’t.” the small voice almost lost its way in the miasma between them before reaching the officer.

“I know. I was surprised too,” Batra shook his head and shrugged. “But, what does it matter? I’m dead now. So, if it’s anything to you, I don’t hate you anymore.”

Abrar nodded. “At least, you died a hero,” he whispered.

“So did you,” replied the martyred colonel, “Just…to a different set of people.”

The air lightened and the companionable silence returned.

“You know, I read the Koran,” Batra started.

“Oh?”

“It’s a book open to interpretation,” he turned to look at his partner in death, “Just like any other religious book.”

Abrar nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”

“Then, did you ever wonder how it would’ve been if you had adopted a more peaceful interpretation?” Batra’s lopsided eyes didn’t leave the young man’s lopsided face.

“All the time,” came the reply, “But, it didn’t matter. Because good boys don’t ask questions. They follow orders and I wanted to be a good boy.”

“Ah! People-pleaser, aren’t you?”

“That’s my weakness.”

“So, let’s say you meet Messiah now. What do you think you’ll say?”

The dead terrorist guffawed. “What were you thinking? That’s what I’d say!”

Batra laughed, “I thought good boys didn’t ask questions?”

“I’m dead now. What does it matter?” Abrar winked. “So, what would you say?”

“Ah…” Batra let out loud sigh, “I’m not much for talking. But, I believe it’s a sign that the only finger left on my hand is the middle one.”

The terrorist placed a hand on the officer’s shoulder. “You have a lot of growing up to do, old man.”

“And you have a lot of Sorrys to say, young terrorist,” Batra shrugged off the hand from his shoulder, “Let’s go. It’s time.”

 

 

The mourning comrades had lit the fire, one in consecration of a martyr, another in desecration of a terrorist. Leaping flames consumed the remains of hero and villain alike and nobody noticed a well-shaped butt and a toothy grin walking away.

 

*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*