I am

It scares me when
someone asks me to ‘describe myself’
in short bios, for I’m
convinced 140 characters
can never be enough to
catch all the nuances of
my muchness. I do not
know whether to wrap myself
in carefully decorated enigma
that only
your Sherlockian gaze is capable
of lending closure to,
or to pluck my most beautiful pieces
and serve them to you in a platter,
with the rest of my insecurities
waiting to be scanned across barcodes of
validation and appreciation.
I am more than the
lives and deaths of dreams etched
in my skin, but less than the
in-betweens that go unseen,
I am more than adjectives made of
oxymorons, but less than the
layers of ifs and buts that wrap
my life in smug comfort,
I am more than a silken scarf of
possibilities but less than the malicious
noose of sensibilities,
I am more than my secret attempts
at finding love but less than all
the times I gave up  thinking
I’ll never be able to.
When the rest of the
world makes satires out of my
failures but I find myself
less than my hopes
that maybe someday somewhere
everything will be alright.

So when someone asks me
to describe myself in 140 characters,
I think, I smile and
then I just go with,
‘I’m a panda!”

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Never

I never wanted to fall
In love with
you.

I never wanted
it to happen that
way, never meant to
let the news of your
existence spill across
my being, never meant to
let my heart thump
against my ribs when
you smiled like that
from across the
coffee table. I never
meant to let you
sew the strings of
my heart to yours, never
meant to delve into
the depth of your eyes
when they twinkled with
anticipated mischief, never
meant to look at you
so bemused, like you were
a piece of art only I was
capable of looking at, and that
if I didn’t look hard enough,
I’d never figure it
out. I never meant to try
and fix you, mend
your cracks, because even
though I wanted to be
your Wonder Woman,
you never wanted
to be fixed. I never meant to
lock you in poetry scribbled
across cheap paper, or in
the ink that died on my fingertips,
or in a secret room
in the back of my mind.
I never meant to let
you light a fire in my
loins, never meant
to count on my
fingers the number of
freckles on your face that I
could kiss, never meant to
press my fingers in your back
like wet paint, when you leaned
forward to kiss me. I
never meant to frame that fleeting
moment in the walls of my
heart because since then,
every kiss has just
been a shadow of
that one.

But I did.
I never wanted to punish
myself for it,
but just like all the other things,
I couldn’t stop that from
happening either.

Brave

Life is easy for
those who live
with eyes closed,
lips pursed,
arms clasped to the chest,
with the heart carefully
caged within the
prison of their bones-
with brisk steps and
quick glances,
measured smiles
and calculated giggles,
fine sensibilities trickling
off their bodies like
unsolicited teardrops,
Pages scribbled on, crumpled
and tossed into bins,
words unfinished and unsaid
that creep slowly into
oblivion.
Brave are they,
who let their hearts
be warmed by the
naked flames of passion,
and when burnt,
stretch their palms out and
let the rain wash
their scars away.

Verification codes

I hate verification codes.

What a mere cluster of alphabets
and numbers that
hold no existence anywhere
but a screen. So ephemeral. A
mere cluster of randomly
chosen letters that are so
utterly incapable of
holding the profundity of meaning,
incapable of making our lips twist and turn and
press against each other,
incapable of
reminding us of memories so fond,
of kisses and breathlessness,
incapable of making it’s way
to the yellowed pages of a diary or
old letters that speak of love
and longing, a cluster of letters
incapable of holding
within itself the power of
expression, the power
to cage the agonies and beauties of the
world and it’s abstracts,
of memories and moments,
of feelings so covert or not so,
incapable of giving
shape to everything that exists, or
everything that appears to,
a cluster of letters than can hardly
take the beautiful and powerful form
of ‘words’ and hence
majestically falling short
of giving life and lending our hearts
the profundity of catharsis.

And yet powerful enough
to validate or not, the verity of
us being
human.

 

 
(Author’s note: This poem was written at a time I was filling out series of online forms and typing out these irksome verification codes and somehow getting frustrated. This poem is entirely to let out steam. :3 )

Why male empowerment is just as important as female empowerment

I’m a feminist, have been so for quite a while. And here’s the thing about feminism. The name itself appears to be so gender-specific and women-centric that right at the very inception of the term, men started feeling alienated. Somehow, the concept of a movement aiming towards gender equality and yet being named after the fairer sex didn’t seem so, well, ‘fair’ to them. And that’s perfectly understandable.
Now the very clarification of the term feminism is very important. As I said even in my last feminist blog post, feminism is the radical notion that everyone, irrespective of sex, color, sexual orientation or any other societal segregation is entitled to fundamental human rights and dignity. However it is called feminism and not equalism or egalitarianism because it’s the female qualities that are ridiculed, shunned and considered inferior and women are still devoid of many rights men are born with. Even though activism is an integral part of feminism and achievement of equality, an even more important part of achieving this is empowering women- and men- to rise above patriarchal oppression.
It’s very very important both men and women are empowered equally to truly achieve equality.

Now you may ask, how can we possibly empower men? They are already so empowered. Well, explicitly, it really does seem so, and in many cases, they feel a lot more confident of themselves than the average woman is. But here’s the deal- more often than not, we miss out all the cases where men feel pressured by what patriarchy expects of them. Expressions of virility so trivial, like fondness towards beer, sports, a perfectly sized up body and the unfairly extra pressure on them to succeed professionally are the very implicit but unjust forms of patriarchal oppression men face nowadays. Among other ‘masculine’ stereotypical qualities involve stoicism, athleticism and a default fetish for the STEM subjects. These rigid boundaries that lock the space a man can call his own are toxic and often lead to detrimental results. Boys raised to fit these stereotypes end up embracing other harmful stereotypical qualities- like a inclination towards acts of violence, insecurity of his own body and most importantly the belief that he’s born superior to females and hence a lack of respect towards them.

Hence, needless to say, women empowerment must be complemented with male empowerment for a truly egalitarian world. Men, just like women, should be given the choice to either join the workforce or not and the pressure to succeed owing to him being a man (read: sole bread earner of the family) must be done away with. Men must be reminded that it is not for society to chalk out what their career choices, likes and dislikes should be, but it’s entirely their choice and they would be worthy of respect no matter what they choose. Men must be reminded to be comfortable in their own skin and not to strive for toxic body standards propagated by popular media, but strive to stay fit instead. They should be reminded that the lack of a beard doesn’t make them any less of a man. They should be encouraged to be vocal about their feelings and to not be scared to ask for help. Men should be encouraged to participate in housework; in fact, statistically speaking, men and women who participate equally in housework and childcare share a stronger bond and are less prone to divorce. And last but not the least, they should be taught to respect, be kind and hold in equal esteem their fellow human beings irrespective of their sex, sexual orientation and color.

It is hence imperative both men and women be adequately empowered and loved and respected for the person they are, not for the social construct they belong to. Only then will feminism hold true to it’s meaning and the world can be made a better and more peaceful place.

Vices

I quit smoking.

A lot like I quit you a few days back.

I still remember the day you
held my fingers and slipped one of your
king-sizes between them; lighted it
as I watched you
in awe. You asked me to
breathe it in. In
silent acquiescence
I closed my eyes and
felt the cool air crawl down my
throat into my lungs;
charging my nerves like you did.
Days after you left, the same
breath didn’t seem so nice anymore.
I remember how you taught me
the interplay of light and shadow
with my fingers, and watched me
with affectionate pride
as I killed myself slowly with
every whiff.
That night as we lay in my bed,
our naked bodies intertwined, you
taught me how to
blow rings of smoke.
I smiled, my lips
and finger tips stained
with bits of you and the nicotine.
I tried so hard to let myself
be sullied by your vices.
Maybe then you would
have loved me. Maybe
a little more.

Days after you left
I still used to puff out
smoke rings like prayers,
ardently waiting for you to
follow the traces of nicotine that
wafted in the air and
come back to me.
You never did,
so I snubbed my last cigarette
into the ash tray
and swore to not crave for it
again. I don’t crave for it
anymore.

I don’t crave for you either.

Ten pieces of (unsolicited) advice for everyone trying to figure themselves out

  1. It will be okay. Even if you flunked your exam, or got left at the altar, even if rock bottom feels like home..things will get better. All you need is the mere belief that they will..and they will, really. And darling, slicing your wrists off and seeing your life bleed out of you will not make things better. Throw your blades and pills away, and walk and out and smell the sunshine. Breathe. It’ll be okay.
  2. Be selfish. Love yourself unconditionally and without recourse. Love yourself more than you’ve loved anyone or anything before, more than what you are even capable of loving so forth. Love yourself in moments you wish someone else would, love yourself in moments when you’ve been drained of all the love you could possibly give away. Have a whispered conversation with the darkest corners of your soul, just like you have with the sunlit ones- and embrace them.
  3. Never, ever undermine the healing powers of chocolate. Or anything that keeps your stomach happy, be it chicken soup or a crème brûlée. Cooking is a life skill, make sure you have mastered it well enough to make yourself that dish your Mom made for you when you cried yourself to sleep or the dish you crave for every time you step into your favorite restaurant. Being able to nourish oneself is one of the greatest forms of independence.
  4. Words are sacred. Words are what can build bridges..or burn them. Words are not meant to be thrown around in relentless carelessness, words are meant to be wrapped in righteous candor and handled with care. Mean what you say, or don’t say it at all.
  5. Read. Wisdom is hidden in the unlikeliest of places..but  more often than not within words sketched across the yellowed pages of a book. Reading is a virtue, and for all your darkest times, even the most fictional of characters can light the way.
  6. Perfection is a mirage. And the only way you can catch hold of it.. is by letting it go. You might be tempted to strive for what others want of you. But here’s a secret:
    they don’t matter. You do, and your happiness does. Strive for what you want of yourself. You’ll stumble and fall on your face while you do..but never stop believing you’re enough and you’ll get there.
  7. We humans have mastered the art of pretense really really well, so make sure the people who you believe will be by you till the end of time, are really the people you think them to be. You’ll get stabbed, hard, in the back, maybe more than once and you’ll bleed dry. And when you’ll realize Superman isn’t coming, you’ll put on that damn cape  yourself. And, no, revenge is not the answer. It is a sinful pleasure alright, but it will stand on your cape and not let you fly until you push it off the cliff. Hold close to yourself the people who have been with you when you had not even an ounce left of yourself to offer them. They are for you to call your own.
  8. Laughter can be the solution to everything, if you let it. Okay, maybe not Donald Trump. But it can be the solution to your period cramps or fits of sheer anxiety or stress- so never undermine the magic of some good stand-up comedies or comic strips that can light up your day in an instant.
  9. Everyone has a true calling. And believe me when I say everyone. Find it and sketch out a blueprint for it. Grope for it even in darkness and moments of despair, and it’ll come to you. It can be anything- from solving math problems, taking pictures to writing short stories, playing an instrument, or even having a knack for something not too conventional. Work at it and keep working at it until it becomes a part of your identity. Not only can you fall back on it every time you hit the slump, it can actually hold the power to make everything else fall in place.
  10. Keep yourself happy. Treat yourself the way you’d want others to treat you. Practise kindness with yourself and others, little steps can go a long way. This world can make it hard for you to stay happy but the best way to punch it back is by being that ray of sunshine. Life is an ephemeral beauty, make sure you catch it before it slips away.

 

~

My tryst with ‘Bangaliana’

Bengal.
I didn’t quite relate myself to the word or its connotations, until recently when I sat down to contemplate my prospects of leaving home for studies. It is a known law of the universe that you are capable of realizing the value of something you have been served on a plate for a long time only when it is being taken away from you. Bengal, to me, is not just a state but a state of mind. A color palate strewn with the red smear of our vibrant history, with the hues of our art and culture and the marks left behind by those who make Bengal what it is today. Bengal is the magnificence of the Northern mountains and the blue of the Southern seas, it is the rivers that cascade down the lush meadows, it is the azure of the autumn sky… It is the debate of the morning-walkers in a tea-stall, it is in the adda of the college-goers in Coffee House. Bengal is the celebration of colors in spring, and the celebration of the Goddess in autumn. It is the cacophony of College Street and the buzz of Sector V.  It is the dancing Santalis of the red soils and the love birds strolling by the Ganga.

My first tryst with Bengali culture was when I was four. It was when my mother used to try and make me commit to memory the quintessential Bangla essay on Durga Pujo, that I finally put the elements of Bengali culture in sharp focus in the realms of my own vision. I was left awed. Durga Pujo was not only a celebration of the people, but also as if of Mother Nature. Having been raised in 21st century urban surroundings pretty much since my birth, Durga Pujo appeared to me as the sole and predominant element of Bengali culture. It is a wonderful concoction of tradition, art, spirituality,  music, food and festivity. It was a grand fusion of people hailing from all classes and religions and races and backgrounds.

But as soon as I was done with my first Durga Pujo, I was introduced to Diwali- the celebration of light. And I observed in awe as the Bengalis along with the ‘non-Bengalis’ celebrated it with fervor. The festival fever didn’t end just then. Soon enough came December, and Bengal joined the rest of the world as they celebrated Christmas. Spring was heralded with the popular festival of Dol, when the young and old would smear color on each other as an expression of love. The warm and inclusive nature of the ever enthusiastic Bengali rendered me fascinated.

Growing up eventually exposed me to the other facets of the diverse Bangali culture. Say for instance, cinema. Be it a commercial film like Paglu or a National award winning film like Nirbashito, the movie-buff Bengali shall ensure Tollywood remains a force to be reckoned with. Literature too is an inseparable part of the Bengali soul, Thakuma’r Jhuli and Khirer Putul leaving their eternal essence in our childhood.Tagore would then hold our hand and guide us through the agonies of adolescence  and adulthood- his words and tunes resonating with our hearts. And the quintessential Bengali detectives in the form of Feluda, Byomkesh Bakshi and TeniDa shall challenge us to a game of intellect as they solve crime after crime. For those who embrace literature like their clandestine paramour even later in their lives, there shall always be Srijato, Nabanita Dev Sen, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay et al as their refuge. And for those who can’t imagine their lives without the gramophone or iPod, maestros ranging from the likes of Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey to today’s Shreya Ghoshal and Lagnajita Chakraborti, genres ranging from Rabindrasangeet, Nazrulgeeti and Atulprasadi to the styles of Kabir Suman, Anupam Roy and Jeet Ganguly, our culture wonderfully caters to the music-loving Bengali. To me the most important aspect of the Bangali culture however, would be the food, not just for its gustatory brilliance but for the sentiment that all Bengalis share with it, especially with their ‘Ma’er haat’er ranna’ (food cooked by one’s mother). To the Bengali, ‘Ma’er haat’er ranna’ is a matter of immense pride, as if like a legacy of their family name or an exclusive cuisine characteristic of their household. This pride would originate mostly from the debate over whose tiffin is more delicious, as the Bengali woman would whip up delicacies to keep their children nourished in school. The celebration of ‘Ma’er haat’er ranna’ would extend to the grand feasts in family gatherings and even the occasional ‘mangsho bhaat’ on Sundays. And last but not the least is the quintessential Bengali enthusiasm of sports especially in football and cricket. If one takes an evening stroll through the lanes and by-lanes of any locality s/he would invariably encounter a fervent group of boys immersed in their game of gully cricket or football- come rain, come storm. And who can forget our very favourite Dada– Sourav Ganguly- when one speaks of sports in Bengal? A stark example of the fervor with which Bengalis celebrate sports would be the famous IPL match held in Eden, between the city team Kolkata Knight Riders and Dada’s team Pune Warriors. Almost every TV set was tuned in to the match, as Bengalis passionately voiced their support for the city or for Dada or just in celebration of the sport.

While writing this I realized what a minuscule part of the Bengali culture I have truly been able to absorb and make my own, and how much was left to discover and explore. No one can be quite done with Bengal and what it has to offer, which would be enough to suffice a lifetime. It remains deep in our core like an inextinguishable flame, molding us into the global citizens of tomorrow. It remains in us like a teardrop of a probashi Bangali  (non-residential Bengali) when he Skypes with his mother from across the seven seas and the delight of a little child when he hears the fascinating tales of Apu and Durga from his grandfather.It is in everything that makes us want to come home even when we leave it behind. Bengal is truly one of a kind.

To the men who mistook our womanhood for their pleasantries

 

Our flesh inflamed, frenzied, and moist-
a fervent appetite for you scorching inside.

The curve in our bosom an inadvertent invitation
for you to dig your claws
in us.
Your gape an unsolicited validation of
the verity of our womanhood.

The cake on our cumbersome
concealer because acne is
for boys.
Striving for pretty
because it is an imperative
of being woman.

So this is to you,
who thinks that
our womanhood is for yours to devour
and ravage
and to leave in vanquished ruins.

It is not.

It is not the answer to the clandestine
midnight cravings of
your loins.

And  we shall not
drape our form over you
and paint our tender flesh
to catch your eye.
We shall not wait
for you
to make meaning of us.

So next time you see us walking,
remember, that the sway in our hips
and the spring in our step,
The touch of our skin
the beauty in our existence-
you did not give meaning to them.

We did.

 

 

 

 

Defying gender roles: Feminism 101

I have been studying feminism for about a while now, trying to deconstruct what it really is and how the goals of feminism can be achieved. Before I go to the substance of what I actually meant to write about today, let me try to put into words what I believe feminism to be and why it is so important.
Feminism is the radical notion that every human being irrespective of sex, race or sexual orientation is entitled to basic human rights. What feminism tries to achieve is a society free from the oppression of patriarchy and what it dictates, a society where men and women are perceived as socio-economic-political equals and where human empathy prevails over narrow gender roles.
Now, feminism deals with a wide spectrum of issues and works towards finding their solutions, for the well-being of human beings in general, like body positivity, eradication of rape culture, LGBTQ+ rights, abortion rights etc. I want to write about none of that today, even though all of them are very, very important. I want to go down to the very core and crack the code to how we apply feminism in our daily lives and make our lives better by freeing ourselves of patriarchy.
And it all starts at this very basic step:
We must defy gender roles and embrace and practice basic human kindness.

Now let’s look at what gender roles really are. Gender roles are a list of requisites and rules set down specifically for each of the sexes to fit the poster image of that sex as chalked out by a society that has so gloriously segregated humankind into man and woman and made it an unnecessarily significant part of our identity.  As women, we are taught to do it all- be a nurturing mother/wife/girlfriend, be able to single-handedly manage the entire household, raise the kids and ALSO have a distinguished well-paying job and excel at it. We are expected to be docile, soft-spoken, compromising and outwardly (and inwardly) appealing enough to the male gaze and psyche. As men, we are taught to shun weakness that might manifest itself in in any form, always be strong and resilient, successful and affluent, be the sole bread-earner of the family and ditch creative pursuits or anything that might not be perceived as ‘manly’.

This has resulted in generations of men and women raised in unjust and unfair ways, with the bogus poster images of man and woman settled as the yardstick of their worth in the society. Women even now have been victims of chronic or terminal bouts of acute lack of self-confidence and the feeling of not being good enough. As soon as we fall short of ‘doing it all’ and/or the ability to have stable/successful relationships with men, we feel less of a woman and judge ourselves with all the cynicism that we can possibly muster. This has not only resulted in women being judgmental of themselves and systematically undermining their own abilities and opinions, it has led them to be judgmental and cynical of the women around them who apparently excel at what they are expected to be. This has fueled girl-on-girl hate, as defense mechanism of one’s own insecurities and shortcomings. For men, the shunning of emotional weakness and vulnerability and the unjust pressure on them to succeed has led to disastrous results. Patriarchal roles result in men feeling inadequate when not harboring an interest in so called manly pursuits or when they feel vulnerable to their emotions. They feel ashamed to ask for help or to speak up when they are victims of abuse, for society has made it seem like it’s their fault in not being tough enough to resist it. It has disillusioned men into thinking that their opinions are supreme,that they have some kind of ownership of females and their bodies and that a violent sense of dominance is the primary requisite to occupying a space called man.

Interestingly, the instruction manual of how to defy these gender roles is simple and common to all, and it starts with a very simple act.
And that is, to be kinder to one self.
Women and men should understand that it is not their moral (or gender?) imperative to fit into the roles they have been involuntarily assigned to. That it’s okay if they are women and they do not like cooking or wearing pink floral dresses. It’s okay if they are women and DO like cooking or wearing pink. It’s okay if a woman wants to voice her opinions or succeed in their career before they have a family.Your worth is not a measure of the number of men you have been able to charm. You do not need to change yourself for that, no. Similarly it is okay for a man to like poetry more than sports, it is okay to feel upset and ask for help, it is okay if you want to be a stay at-home dad. You do not need to pay the bill just because you are a man, you do not need to give up your seat just because you are a man. Chivalry is a thing of the past, but kindness and humaneness are not. Hitting people is NOT okay, irrespective of whether you’re male or female. One should always give up seats to whoever needs it more than him/her. Success is not gender-normative, neither is kindness, creativity or vulnerability.
In short do whatever keeps you happy and treat those around you with empathy and kindness. This I believe is the first step to achieving equality of sexes and for the betterment of this world.