Thursday, July 16, 2015

A promise to a friend on her birthday 2 years ago

15 July 2013: I remember the times when we were in a starry-eyed hurry to grow up and become everything we ever wanted to be. And now that we are all grown up, we want to go back to the days when we didn’t let a silly thing go by without rewarding it with laughter. I remember making a pact with you, to remaining silly, even when we are 40. That was 2 decades ago. So much has happened, so many miles and years and experiences later, I still know that I can be absolutely silly with you, yet have soulful profound conversations about life with you. Whether we want to go back to the sepia-toned era of carelessness, or we want to stay here and be all the things we wanted to be, I know that we have come a long way, and I always want your presence in my life. You are a blessing my dear, you are such joy, happy birthday to you! I hope God keeps you well, and I hope that He enriches your life with experiences and love, and friends and family are always around. Until we are 40 and silly, and friends still, I look forward to sharing a lot more stolen moments with you. Hugs and kisses

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Thought provoking Saudi Arabia

When I visited the middle east in 2007, I found myself on a wall about the idea of “women’s oppression”. While the limitations on women driving a car, having a job, or voting are what news and media analysis continually remind us of, what impresses upon you, and sets you apart from them when you arrive, is the women’s attire and outdoor conduct. A woman in Saudi Arabia, is typically covered in at least three layers of clothes, each progressively looser and more opaque than the other. The dense and hefty cloak (abaya) that covered any shape or aspect of the female form (think internet trolls about the hijab-spectre-penguin) seemed stifling, to say the least. Add that to 45 degrees of burning desert sun, and none of it seemed fair. Especially relative to the men who seemed to enjoy a better deal in the mandated dress code: a wispy white robe, headgear and loose pants. Things got interesting in the mosque (I was in the ladies portion of it of course), where the women would “de-robe” to their splendid finery and perfectly groomed dazzling beauty, complimented with artful jewelry and watches. After prayer ablutions their heads were again obediently covered. Their gregarious chitter-chatter as they caught-up, mellifluous laughter and a wand of lip-gloss here or a re-touch of kohl there made these women seem achingly “normal”. And yet, it was easy to discern them from me, as I felt oppressed in my hijab and they appeared glad in their multi-layered oppression. Women in Saudi Arabia are very warm and generous. Which made for some interesting conversations over kahwa. Every woman I spoke to was a content soul. She actually liked the imposition that her brother/father/husband needs to accompany her wherever she may fall in the company of a male stranger. She finds intimacy and pride in the fact that perhaps the only men who will know what her face looks like are her brother/father/husband. She derives a sense of pride in the knowledge that no man apart from her husband has ever seen her form, and does not identify with women who would like to be physically desirable (read sexy) to men “out there” when they find all the love and protection they may need in one man. Their hijab gives them a sense of being treasures that need to be hidden from the public eye, which I dare say they found liberating. They felt protected, respected, and loved in the conditions that I imagined to be oppressive and throttling. Without trying to say that absolutely no women in Saudi Arabia feel shortchanged, or trying to define what delineates their sense of liberty from mine, my curiosity made me accepted the suggestion from a young girl to try their attire during my stay there. Although I did not venture into the restraints of the abaya, I started small and tried on the hijab. I went from the salwar kameez and head-gear clad girl, often the only “female face” visible in any room, to one of the crowd. Surprisingly, the opaque black cloth offered some relief from the sveltering heat of the day. Mingling in the crowds on foreign land actually made me more comfortable. The invisibility of my face took some getting used to, especially where I didn’t speak the language and often used expressions to communicate. After a while, I felt like I could get used to the men not staring at me (if you are an Indian girl, you will probably cringe at a recollection of that ogling you were subjected to barely a few hours ago). Towards the end of my visit, I actually began to feel underdressed unless I had my hijab on. I did not feel any of the pride and protection the local women in a hijab felt. But I didn’t mind it so much. The hijab was not an inconvenient garment that I could not wait to discard as soon as I got home. That bit of the culture of this country was not so hard to imbibe while I was there. A lot changed after that year, a flight back to India and familiar civilization made the hijab seem like a distant and improbable part of my memories from the past few months. But although it would never “fit” to wear it here, it did not seem to represent women’s oppression. Or oppression of any kind. Yet, although I never resented it there, I knew that it could probably never be part of me here. Gender roles in Saudi society come from Islamic law (Sharia). From my understanding of it, this primarily “unwritten” law prohibits all that is not decidedly addressed in the Quran, deeming it potentially forbidden (Haram). Indian or western cultures see true justice only in equality of every kind, and will never understand the sense that the women of Saudi Arabia see in this same Islamic Law. There may be a lot left to be said about the rights of woman employees, drivers and voters (or the lack therof) in Saudi Arabia, and I stand ill-equipped to comment on any of that. But I can comment on the hijab, only to say that while in their country and their cultural territory, the hijab and its conduct, to me, did not define women’s oppression.

Monday, July 07, 2014

A few hours in Istanbul

I know of two kinds of vacations. The first is the kind where you have each day and hour planned to the minute. This kind of vacation rewards you with a warm satisfied departure. You know have seen everything that was worth seeing on unforeseen land, without losing any time. It also makes for a great confluence of conversation amongst fellow-travellers who have seen it all too. And then there’s the photo-journal-like facebook album that gives you that “great use of my time and money” feeling even months later. There’s the other kind of vacation. Unrehearsed. Beaming with an ignited wanderlust. And that twitchy restlessness when you leave, one that comes with the knowledge of all the untread earth and unheard stories you are leaving behind. Knowing that there’s a part of you that you have bartered there, in ransom for the wealth of experiences you are taking away. Equipped with only a hotel reservation and two days, Istanbul for me was all this. I stepped onto Turkish soil (well, tarmac, if you are a stickler for facts). I remember closing my eyes and inhaling deeply when I landed. As I stopping to smile at the cliché, it occured to me why travelers do that upon arrival. It is to indulge that voracious appetite to explore an unacquainted land that takes over your senses like a narcotic. Istanbul's easy-breezy airport left a warm first impression. I believe that a lot is to be learnt about a country from its airports. I half expect to be regarded as foreigners are: with a distant, intimidated curiosity. But in Istanbul I experienced a palpable warmth. These were people who were proud of their country and excited about you discovering it. Before I even stepped out of the airport at Istanbul, I was in love. I got a visa stamped on my passport and found my way to a cab that cruised through a neat and spaced out city. In my unbridled excitement I found myself clicking so many pictures of the road itself that I could have assembled a frame-by-frame photo map for directions to the hotel. After a quick check-in, and a surprising ebb of inter-continental travel exhaustion, I found myself in my walking shoes, on the cobblestone streets of Sultan Ahmet. When on foot, the most striking feature of Sultan Ahmet Square is a panoramic view of a centuries-old past and the glittering big-city present. Handy tour-books quickly remind you that everything around you dates back to the times when Istanbul was Constantinople. A walk around the hippodrome shows you a German Fountain, a Greek column hoisted by a Roman emperor, and an Egyptian obelisk, making for a curious case of history and belonging. Within minutes of being in Sultan Ahmet Square, you begin identifying Byzantium and Constantinople as Istanbul, a city that has changed names as it has changed eras. On my right was the only monument I expected to see there, the Blue Mosque, standing in quietude. I made a note to visit it the next day, and to find out why this magnificent white structure before me was named the “blue” mosque. A walk down a bustling park was a treat for the eyes and nose. Stalls selling colorful souvenirs, carts offering pretzels, warm steamed chestnut, and sticky-chewy rainbow candy on a stick thronged the cobblestone walkways through the small park. The sights and smells of the lazy park gave way to a very chic avenue. A walk down the street seemed like a romantic odyssey between contemporary Europe and the Middle Eastern. Great looking and impeccably-dressed folks, quaintly designed cafes, baklava and tea houses, continental food restaurants, a royal graveyard followed by a multitude of stores selling Turkish lamps, devil’s eye mementoes, carpets, and upholstery,a Turkish bath house, an old pillar doubling up as a feeding post for pigeons, and some distractingly handsome Turkish men left me at a loss of adjectives I can use to describe a city street in Sultan Ahmet. A mouth watering Mezze dinner coupled with an engaging chat with a charming waiter at the Beydagi restaurant later, I walked back to my hotel. The changing moods of Sultan Ahmet from the lively city street to the idle cobblestone walkways to the hotel had me captivated. Istanbul has a way of nudging you into history, century by century, and hauling you back into the present in a charming unpretentious way. In the few hours that I had known it, the mystifying montage of images and tales that was Sultan Ahmet had me up late that night, like a girl new in love anxiously waiting for the next day to come so we may meet again.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The audacious curiosity of an outsider

What moulds us, what brings kindred spirits together, what makes cultures territorial? What makes one an outsider? Can one REALLY ever blend in if one tried?

The variegated scope of culture has always fascinated me. It is evolving. It is polychotomous, and multidimensional, and yet you can pretend to trace the roots to one origin. It binds. It divides. It is dynamic and yet its character remains constant, to "go back" to or borrow from. It is that safe place that you can retreat to, to calm the chaos in your life.

I have been drawn to new cultures and its people. I have been an observer and an implementer of cultures; always beginning as an outsider, trying to learn the ways of the people within, trying to take in what i can, in an effort to make it act with my own nascent elements. Its always been an exercize that involved effort, and left a rewarding soreness in the parts of my mind that I rarely acknowledged.

I've enjoyed being the outsider. I have loved the feeling of being foreign, unrecognized, unanswerable, and unpredictable. And then the feeling of being malleable, mouldable, adaptable, changeable. But then an outsider is a dirty word; someone who is a threat or a disturbance to harmony. The wanderlust in me usually places me in that spot. But somehow although it has been a setback, and a frustrating one at that, i have never been deterred by the stigma to hesitate from stepping into newer waters and pre-inhabited spaces. It has amused me that in new societies I am eyed with curiosity, disgust, wonderment, awe even. It scares me in retrospect that my defences are not in place where they should be in untread territory. A friend once called it courage, i believe it is naievete. Fed by curiosity. I continue to explore cultures unabashedly, with no respect for defences, impressions, opinions or consequence.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

...because i've thought of finishing what ive started

Day 12 – How did I find out about Twitter and why I’m on it?
I did not, and i am not. I have never been much of a "feel it share it" kinda person except in my own private circles, who dont need twitter :)
Day 13 – A letter to someone who has hurt me recently.
Well, honey, you have done some things and said some words that have felt quite hurtful, and although i know and understand that your sensibilities do not allow you to recognize that this behaviour maybe hurtful, I will take some time to filter all your words through this rationality. In the meanwhile, you may find me of dwindling temperament and confounding disposition, but soon, you should find me somewhere between great and super. Hope we see it through to that day, i would love to know you from a place where you cannot hurt me, because after all is said and done you have been one of the most real people ive come across.

Day 14 – A picture that says a lot.

Day 15 – Put iPod on shuffle: First 10 songs that play?
Something stupid. Better together. Pocketful of sunshine. My humps. Taking back my love. Brighter than sunshine. Blow. Where them girls at. Almost lover. Lucky.

 Day 16 – A picture of me

Day 17 – Someone I would want to switch lives with for one day and why?
Samantha Brown perhaps. Because all her days seem very interesting. :)

Day 18 – Plans/dreams/goals I have?
To stay purposeful and proud/to run over the rainbow/to stand at the end and feel a glow.

Day 19 – Nicknames I have; why do I have them?
Chim; haha! i wish i knew why i have this name. I guess it is a product of all the gibberish that an adult converses with a child in. But its adorable! :)

Day 20 – Someone I see myself marrying/being with in the future?
A man who can smile at me flying and laugh at himself.

Day 21 – A picture of something that makes me happy.

Day 22 – What makes me different from everyone else?
I often wonder what it is. I cannot answer this honestly.

Day 23 – Something I crave for a lot?
A constant kindred spirit.

Day 24 – A letter to the parents?
This one cannot be just answer 24. It deserves a post of its own. :)

Day 25- What would you find in my bag?
Chocolates, lip balm, keys, money, tissues and a smiley stress ball.

Day 26 – What you think about you are your friends?
Because this question makes no sense i am not answering it :)

Day 27 – Why am I doing this 30 day challenge?
Pushing thoughts around. :)

Day 28 – A picture of me from last year and now, how have I changed since then?
No, no no, im not doing this. I have changed completely and no picture exhibits that enough.

Day 29 – In this past month, what have I learned?
That nobody can be forced to "fit" with you against their will. Human will is quite obstinate.

Day 30 – Who am I?
There is no answer to this question, i am in a state of evolution i am not at pace with myself. :) someday, in a moment of clarity, i shall answer this.