I know the way you can get, by Hafiz


I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:

Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
And nose.

Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.

Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
The innocent
And into one’s self.

O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:

You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.

You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.

You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once
Trusted.

I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love’s
Hands.

That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
And Wanting,
Just Wanting to help.

That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me.
For all I care about
Is quenching your thirst for freedom!

All a Sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!

From: ‘I Heard God Laughing – Renderings of Hafiz’
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

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What will the neighbours say?

I screamed yesterday at our ‘thief’ friend. We had been trying to locate him for a few weeks as he was looking after a beautiful writing desk of mine and we wanted to begin efforts to get it back. Unfortunately he sold it. To finance his lifestyle and he was not in the slightest bit sorry.

I was on the balcony when I realised he was on the phone justifying his actions. I literally screamed “you thief” and ran inside and took the phone and said “you thief, you disgust me”.

Today my actions are being reviewed.

The big concern seems to be what will the neighbours think and say about my actions.

No matter what I do, think, feel or say, the only issue ever that must be a priority is not being judged by the neighbours.

I kind of have had three years to get to know the rules, and still I find it hard to adapt.

If you are molested by my drunken friend, you must say nothing. If my friend steals money from us, you must say nothing. And ultimately, if a friend of ours, steals our furniture and sells it for a profit, and refuses to give us the money, you may not speak out. You may not be outraged or offended.

You as a woman, must not embarrass society, and clearly speak out when a person needs to actually hear the truth. You may not scold, or reprimand a thief.

Men can drink, dance and be Merry till dawn. Women may not express utmost fury or upset. It is all about agreements.

The woman must agree to let her man be. I can see that in many stale relationships, agreements are made over time. A woman may start to avoid having sex with her husband after twenty years and she may make excuses and retreat to the world of her children. The darling I have a headache, becomes a rejection that the man has to concede to. The many Gentle man that has been thwarted in this way, finds his solace in the world of ambition, work, money and a few pegs at night before he rests his tired head on the pillow. He has stopped reaching his hand out for a loving connection, and he has long stopped hoping for a tender touch of his wife’s hand.

These agreements have been made in the silence of the night. She prefers to not have sex, and she is at peace to let him be and have his few hard won pegs of whiskey each night. She no longer has to pretend and kiss his stale breath. It becomes a win-win, despite the slightly tragic lose-lose at the heart of it.

Personally, I have not yet made these agreements, nor did I ever imagine I would have to. We met later in life, and it was a blessed, holy-temple town prasad, truly a gift from the gods. We came in peace, to create something new, something of our own determination. A love marriage by definition breaks the rules of the past, and gives way to creating a way of life built without the rule book handed down by the ancestors, the elders, or indeed the neighbours.

We have a friend in Jaipur that I basically now see as the proverbial nosy parker neighbour. He is a well respected man, with a lot of self-given leadership qualities and rights, and he has repeatedly stated from his unchallenged pulpit of power, that I, the Western woman am an unsuitable match. That my problem is my defiance of ancient cultural entitlements. He has often declared that I refuse repeatedly to show understanding. That I do not grasp that a succesful marriage is based on these silent understandings.

That my refusal to live with relational understanding is the problem. If only I showed some real understanding, as a woman must, I would understand, and deeply respect that my man requires my approval and acceptance of his tendencies. I must understand, and not question his desires. If he wants to enjoy and participate in online porn, that is his frustration and I must show tenderness. That he does not wish to have sex with me, and that he feels no desire for me, I am supposed to simply show humility and understand that in spite of this, he is still a good, kind and gentle man and that I must find understanding within myself that my desire or expectation to have a private sexual life, is simply a wrong, faulty expectation.

It is a little joke with a couple of our friends that Sir has to be correct no matter what.

I am starting to see that whilst I may not agree, he is the ultimate over-reaching neighbour. I will find him wherever we run to. We can pack up and move to a different town, and start again, but the Moral Policeman archetype will soon come knocking on our door in another guise. He is the conscience that speaks to many. That says, What will the neighbours say. Do not try to make a life based on modernity, and do not try to make a life based on new ideals and hopes. Here, I am the life sucker of your dreams. I am real, and I have a lot more power than you will ever be able to reconcile.

I knew this archetype well in my earlier life. I knew the dream-buster well. The strict father figure, that we could project all our own small failings onto. If something lacked the strength and guts to see to fruition, there was always the imagined dream buster that could be blamed for the thwarted efforts. It was mean Daddy/Mummy that could hold in their steadfast hands the basket of blame. Thankfully, there comes a time, where those parent figures are seen for what they really are; our caretakers, who become old and frail, and simply offered love. They did not stop us, and we are gifted that true recognition, a grace, that the only person or thing that has ever stood in our way, is ourselves.

I know that when my bags are packed and it is time to move on, Mr Pulpit will rejoice and say, “See I was right, she was incapable of understanding”. He will see it as a personal victory, and be triumphant that another foreigner was reduced to the ultimate indignation of being exiled and discarded as just another bit of white trash.

I find myself asking again and again, at which point do I have to concede that this society, will continue to highlight that this man cannot choose me.

Whose life is this?

No Sex Please!

 

Big wake-up call.

Women of a certain age are not supposed to want/need or enjoy sex!

Men just want to relax after a hard day and have a couple of pegs and have a good night’s rest. They want to be left alone, do their own thing, and follow their own dreams.

They like and enjoy the terrain of pretty young things, and the decency that comes with simply appreciating the sweetness of flirtatious fun. It is less demanding, less exhausting, and far, far, less boring, stereotypical bullshit expectations, and therefore a curb on their freedoms.

Good Morning 2017

I spent 500 days in Jaipur contemplating my navel! Cooking, cleaning, resting, wearing pretty silk kurthas, reading, writing, hoping, and trying to learn patience. I did two blazing hot summers where it realistically gets to forty seven degrees on a daily, rather than a rare occurrence. And am now embarking on Winter number two that gets so cold, my toes go numb!

I made not one single friend, which may be a record! I saw most of the sights, spent three afternoons with visiting friends that was a joy, and of course there were the extra couple of days from the crazy visitor we had to ask to leave. I did go to and attend lots of lovely parties where no-one spoke English, some of them were actually in my house! I did meet some lovely people, and they have all been lovely to me. I still laugh, two of Anil’s dear friends, have finally managed to break the habit of calling me Madam, and can at last, say, hi Jojo.

500 days without a single friend to meet for a coffee, or a walk is madness when I think that the most stark of meditation retreats only lasts for ten or twelve days. I sat at a little table somewhere, with my sketch book, and phone, and sometimes had wifi, and sometimes did not. I must have gone to “Beaneries” more than one hundred times, to sit and wait whilst the boys played pool.

During the extreme hot weather, it was hard to actually think, let alone put all, or any of my good intentions into action. I did not make it to yoga classes, or join the public swimming club, and I did not do circuit walking in Central Park. By night, when the mercury started to drop, those are not the things that you can do, here, or anywhere really, with the exception of walking Pradakshina around Arunanchala which can and does happen literally throughout the night.

To mark the first 100 days, I wrote a list of all the things I was pissed off to have not seen, and slowly we worked through the list, and saw mirror-halled palaces, and forts, and visited museums, gardens, and garden centres. It all started so innocently, we bought four or five teeny tiny plants for our sun-drenched terrace. So much happened next, we ended up learning about potting, pruning, watering, fertilisers, composts, turning soil, re-potting, and soon had two garden tools, a hose, and we were suddenly more serious about this than we could have imagined. By last August, we were already here for close to 400 days, and the garden took on a life of it’s own. My partner, had sketched, designed, measured and been contemplating for months how to design a garden room. In less than a day, fabrics were cut, sewn and delivered, and bamboo poles cut to size, polished and delivered, became an indoor-outdoor oasis.

I have been gifted this true soul medicine garden. Roses blooming, and jasmin trailing and frangipani pushing themselves towards the sun. Tomatoes are transforming from seeds to flowers, and eventually towards a teeny, unripe baby. It has been my world, it was my entire 2016.

I flew back from Sri Lanka at the start of 2016, and was stuck in fog on the runway at Jaipur airport, and the flight was supposed to go to Delhi where a taxi was waiting. It kind of sums up the chaos of this year, being in two worlds constantly at the same time, and mostly having not much way to know which is which. Eventually, a few passengers made a break out at Jaipur airport! And had to sign lots of paperwork, and then of course pay the cabs at Delhi who had their time delayed and ultimately cancelled. It was typical of the many confusions that the year would bring. We missed flights in Goa, and we seldom take expensive flights, but we lost our money. We took flights to Nepal for a visa run, to be turned away at the counter, because the rules for Indian travellers had changed, and at 8am we overpaid to get on a long, long, overland bus-ride.

There were many things in my life that I had going on in the background that worked well, and I had got used to a small, regular income, and could literally tell the time by the regularity of the tenants. That changed, and they wanted to leave early. They refused to honour the contractual marketing period of two months and that left me three months rental income down. They trashed the flat and it was left in a condition that actually was as close to squalor as the photos could convey. Filthy water stains on curtains, mould infested walls, and carpets, and every single appliance possible broken and in-need of repair. The tenant was one of those executive types, with an above 150,000 pound a year income and was a high ranking compliance officer in a multi-national company. Compliance officers, don’t they usually comply with terms and conditions? Oh my idealism was wearing thin. I was starting to see the truth was that a legal document would be used not to help me, but would be used aggressively to ensure that I would submit without redress to this mess. A fifteen hundred pound bill for repairs and damages, three months loss of rent, and a currency rate of exchange now 22% less than the last eight years in a post-Brexit adjustment.

Still, there was the garden. Stay focused. Forget spending money. Forget it all. Find a corner and sit quietly and read, and breathe and just keep going. That was the only thing, I knew to do.

There were so many other mini missions that could not be accomplished in 2016 that I lost count of my frustrations with reality. We spent five weeks in a guest house in Kerala waiting for a lawyer who kept saying tomorrow, when in fact he was on holiday, far away and really did not mean tomorrow at all. Then we tried to go back again, and finish the documentation, and came back empty handed but actually more hopeful that it would happen. The final bit of paperwork that we needed to be able to travel to Nepal, was applied for and we thought that would be a simple procedure and the documents would follow in the next three weeks. That was more than three months ago, and no, they have still not arrived.

There were lots of false starts for work opportunities. There were schools and colleges and universities that were eager and hungry to fill vacancies, but not actually offer contracts. Zero hours, and hourly rates that an auto-rickshaw driver would sneer at. The final creative collaboration of the year in true Rajasthan style was an incredible money-grabbing process. You do the work, and we take the money. It was tiny amounts, not worth fighting over, and yes, they presented us with a bill for two lime-sodas after 16 hours of two adults working, serving, and making something great happen. It may have been what I thought was the final straw, but you know, 2016 was not like that, it would not stop, just because I was laughing and saying Enough Already. It was just not that kind of year.

UK fell or was hurtled out of Europe. It was a close vote, and those that really wanted it to happen have been unbelievably harsh to those of us still saying, Sheesh, my entire identity has gone. I grew up with a British passport, and a British identity and was a European. It felt confusing to suddenly not be that after a whole life time. But, we were called, Liberal Fucktards, Communists, Snowflakes, and were just not given space to re-configure the who am I. That was harsh. I did have two eminent Indian intellectuals argue with me, no, wait, not argue or discuss, insist and dismiss that I was an idiotic woman who had NO clue what I was discussing and that Britain had never, ever joined the EU. That was one of the more lucid moments when I could see the crazy-making for what it is.

I have seen grown men, throw their heads back and laugh when they can see that they almost got the foreigner to cry. I have seen men in vests laughing and jeering at a woman three floors down in the street facing some personal confusion. I have seen so much this year, I have no idea how to archive my experiences. I have seen the global rise of nationalism play out, and I have seen it on a daily basis in my own very small domain. I have seen friends repeatedly point to me as ‘the foreigner” who is a dumbo who cannot ever understand Indian culture. I have seen myself be defeated a thousand times by a thousand strong community of facebook friends and family stand in opposition to anything I am about, anything I say, create or think, with the swift response that I am crazy, and that I simply do not understand.

I do actually. I do very much understand that there are differences in our cultural frameworks. And I very much understand there was a past and there is a now. I have seen legendary Indian woman shift their paradigm and welcome me right into the heart of family life and say to family and friends, She is here, I love her and you can all take a running jump off a short pier if you have a problem with this. I have seen leadership and total respect given and received far more times than I can count or write about. I have also had 500 days of enclosed, isolation to ponder on these cultural differences. I can only repeat, repeat and repeat again and again, that it never occurred to me in my entire life to see life though a feminist lens. I was the woman who loved to wear girly Nicole Farhi cocktail dresses and satin Mui Mui shoes. I was the one who kind of sold her soul to work in marketing and Business development and use every ounce of being a woman to earn my keep and pay my mortgage. I did not burn my bras and demand equality. I never even so much as expected it. I grew up with old fashioned values, that Boys would earn more than girls, that girls should get married, and men should take care of them. Well, some of that was just bollocks. I never did marry, but I also never ever expected to be treated as an equal. It was futile, and it was not the cultural norm, so why bother.

It is funny, it was only the first time I really committed to a relationship, and suddenly the real issues of equality and fairness arose. For many reasons. Mostly because I wanted to ensure that I did not demand of this incredible man, that he tie himself in knots to be some parody of a man, that would work in some soul-destroying corporate job to play the role of the Good Man. I knew with every fibre of my being that I wanted my man Alive and Kicking, not a dead robot. So, I was willing to really take a look at what did it mean to be half of a partnership. I have had more than a thousand days and nights to enquire into this, and every-time I think I have found some sincere truth it turns out I am wrong.

I have been wrong about my revelations, and I have overlooked the Orwellian nature of 2016. Truth is lies. Lies are Truth. If I am to survive in Indian society I will be greeted with full and deep Namaskar if I am wearing impeccable silken clothes, and matching duppatta. I must live my life under the scrutiny of not personal integrity, but Neighbourhood Watch. It is the most powerful social network that exists. I may not comment, or express any opinion whatsoever on any matter, public or private. I may simply, show, dazzling transcendence. The idea of a personal self is still for many Non European peoples, the most absurd, idiotic, illogical thing that they have ever heard of. The society, and the approval and the merging within the culture is far more important than an individual self. As a woman, I have been told countless times that the things I have commented upon in my personal life make me the Crazy Woman. I am not right. I was recently asked, Do you have an opinion about everything? Well, to be honest, as an alive, breathing human, not on life support equipment, Yes, I do.

My opinion may well be, I do not know, or I do not understand, or please tell me more, but the sarcasm that underpins that question really tells me all I need to know about 2016. It has run through every single day, issue, struggle of my life. From Estate Agents, unanswered emails, trashed home, Brexit, the derision of progressive ideals, loss of income, every single day I have to face this very real culture that is saying, Who do you think you are to say that? To ask that? Be quiet.

The cultures that I meet are robust, intelligent, intellectual, learned, accomplished, political, astute, and deeply sarcastic. They express their contempt for being stifled in their art, sculpture, poetry, politics and life style choices.

The young women at Baroda that party all night on several bottles of Imported vodka, wear short skirts and experiment with casual lovers, are the same ones who will say to me as a foreigner, Who do you think you are? The men who depict rape and pornography in their public art will say, Ah she is crazy and does not understand our traditional values. The divorced women, or tinder seeking afternoon sex players, will say, Who does she think she is, not respecting our culture.

The liberal, progressive friends will demonstrate for transgender friends and rights, but if I say, Why are you dismissing my opinion as a woman, will get furious, raise their fists, clench their teeth and say, Who do you think you are?

It is time to actually start answering these questions. So far, into 2017, my plans for how I wished, shared and requested to spend the day, got trashed, and disrespected, but that is okay. The whole point really was to say, Why Should I. Who the fuck are you? You are simply a foreigner dumbo, and we will not ever do, agree, respect, honour, enjoy a single, idea, wish, hope that you ask for. We will not honour your talents, skills, writing, or your culture. You are a foreigner, and you have NO place here with your demands and requests.

500 days sitting on a bedroom floor, makes me look back and see how hard I tried to be an accommodating, smiling, pure, feminine, loving, perfect you can take home to your mother kind of woman. I guess the thing I had to do once I first saw the tiny windows of the ancient Havellis in Jaipur was try to understand and grasp the society, the underbelly, the unspoken rules, the culture, the glue that holds it all together at the intersection of modern life and ancient history. I wanted to know, what would it be like to simply surrender. Become a pampered woman, protected and shielded from the grubby outside life. It made me feel less safe. It made me feel afraid. It made me believe that I had no voice, and no point, and that I had been stripped off my beauty, power and soul.

My experiment with Purdah is not yet over. I am more trapped than I have ever been. I literally do not have 100 rupees to my name. I cannot run and hide in a coffee shop. I can not go and eat Sephardi orange cake at Anohki to cheer myself up. I cannot go to the shopping mall to be frivolous and buy kajal and mascara. I can not even afford an auto ride across town to the park that I love to walk in. I cannot. Finally, It came to this. Stop making a noise. Stop, your very existence, stop your desire to be seen and heard. Stop celebrating who you are. Just, stay home, like a dog, and be quiet.

I can count the days, until I travel to Nepal. I can not pay for food and accommodation there for at least nine days, until some rent may or may not arrive from the UK. I will in some ways become a humble beggar. I will have to trust that the Tibetan and Nepalese people of Boudanath will see right into my soul, and they will see something that tells them exactly who I am. They will not ask, Who the hell do you think you are? they will see that I simply am. And to be fair, if that requires the humility of a beggar, to be seen, to be honoured, then I get back more than I could ever hope for.

I don’t think I am anything. But thank you so much for asking, and giving me this opportunity to discover that I am the foreigner. Thank you to so many hundreds of people that for 500 days have told me “she does not understand”, “she is a dumbo”. Tell her simply, show her, teach her, to be quiet, and not make a noise.

I am not ‘an artist” and will never be accepted within the art community of India, but I did sketch some ideas today. If I could, I would. I would create an installation of panels, and doors that would represent my labyrinth journey. I would build a huge door, and I would barricade it with all the reasons I may not enter. I would depict all the obstacles to getting deeper into the heart of the people I have loved. I would dedicate another three years of my life, if I could, to decorate these panels with the mixed messages that were the neon pointers of these past 500 days. I would decorate those panels with tiny fragments of clay pots, and mosaic tiles, and the emblems of Rajasthan, flowers that bloom in the desert. I would tell my story in silence, in pictures, and I would invite my fellow artist friends to take a walk through my India.

These are not ‘my troubles”. I do not really have a troubled heart or mind. And I am far, from from crazy. I would invite my Beloved Indian friends, and colleagues, to see through my eyes, how deeply I cared. How much I have loved. How very much from my own baseline of knowledge, and insight, that I have understood.

I bow in sweetness to those neighborhood ladies that offer full Namaskar to me. That always say, Good Morning dear and Good evening dear. I thank them a thousand times, for their upstanding, elegance and refinement. For their full possession of sensibilities and the clear-sighted way they live without any confusion. I thank those seventy-five year old Amma’s that have checked every seam of my clothing, that have scrutinized every inch of my face, and looked into my heart, and said, Welcome Daughter. Welcome.

I did not know when I started writing this, it would of course, simply be another story, another vignette, in the collection of already written anecdotes. Here it is, 2017, and this turns out to be Leaving the City of Men, Part Three.

Roast Potatoes

Seems to have been a year of examining so much of what we are not!

Brexit raised all sorts of unexpected questions, that I absolutely thought I knew the answers too. I was British, and we were European. And we welcomed Jews, Indians, Caribbean, and Commonwealth people. Hey, I came from one of those immigrant families. I knew all my life what my part of being British meant. Suddenly that all changed, and I was literally being told, I am not European, and the trolls would tell me that ideal was a Leftist plan and that I had lost the vote and no further right to confuse being British with being a European.

Scotland of course, voted not to go for Independence, but now are re-considering. Which in time will mean, that Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, will be entirely un-nited, and at best I will be English. I don’t even know what the English Flag looks like, and to be honest, have no clue who St. George is and who I am supposed to now pay my allegiance to.

The same enquiry process has been hard at work on a personal level. I was safe in a loving relationship with a modern sensitive man who supported the rights of the Gay and Transgender community. He was you know the progressive man, I search for all my life. I felt safe to explore those dusty feminist theories now, with the safety net of now living in a culture immersion pot of academia. I loved my husband, and I still wore pretty elegant silk Kurtas and tight jeans and make-up, you know this was okay. This was not about being angry or a fem-bot in biker boots.

I spent months being this kinda tamed Tiger and learning how to be not quite a domestic goddess, but certainly a softer, more feminine version of myself than any former time or place had governed. Hell, I even baked cookies, and hot chocolate muffins!

I spent a lot of this period of my life, gazing at the giant Neem tree, and giving my forever thanks to the Giant of a Man that had found this property, with it’s wall wandering peacocks, the dream safe and many windowed light penthouse for his sweetie-kutie, and I padded around in my shorts, loving those plants, giant creepers, and blooming roses that he built by hand a bamboo and net five hundred square foot garden room for. Everything was thriving. All I could see and register was this Abundance.

We laughed for more than two and half years that we might one day buy an oven. It was terribly commitment-like and we whispered long forgotten recipes that we would make for each other on cold winter nights if we ever got one. Our finances ebbed and flowed, and our commitment fear was real. Many months we simply would choose something entirely not home and hearth related to blow our cash on. We could afford it. We just kept quietly, peacefully averting the we really are a domesticated couple moment.

We did. It came. We romanced ourselves these past few months on a feast of oven hot great wonders. Sugar dusted ginger snaps, and oozing spicy pizzas, diced coconut fragrant Kerala tender oven roasted beef and stuffed peppers, bakes aubergines and endless chocolate cakes, lemon cake and anything possible cake that may rise, burn, or somewhere in the middle. And then there were the Roast Potatoes.

I have been away from the UK for nearly a decade, and there is very little I can bring to this All India celebration of Lights, religions, ancient traditions, modernity. I cannot go home to Kerala and try to invent the wheel. There is a huge two thousand member family, alive and kicking and there is a heirachy, this feisty Tiger knows well enough to not bring her Western woe or ways to try to change it. The bravest thing I ever did, was ask if I may have my tea in a larger cup!

I do not need to flaunt my Western ideals, and I mostly wear extremely conservative Indian clothing. I am pretty much most of the time, not only covered up, but looking respectable, charming and elegant. The old baggy jeans and tee shirts are strictly for out of India dusty bus rides now, and family and friends have no idea that part of my life exists. Seldom but not never do I put Corrine Ray Bailey on the sound system and blast and dance to Put your Records on, and mostly we listen to exquisite and ancient Karnatic violin and tabla. And yes, I even watch Tamil and Malayalam movies and laugh at the punch lines!  There are a few moments of brazen Western nakedness, and on our entirely discrete, covered, private, enclosed terrace, I may once a month run to hang some washing on the line in knickers!

Sometimes, I actually forget I am Western. I wear Yellow silks now more frequently if that is possible than a confirmed Europhile wears Grey and Black. I slowly, slowly, learned the rules. When to wear a sari, when to not. When to speak out, and mostly, when to not. I learned to buy enough books, and pens to hide in the bedroom when the men came for dinner. I mostly learned not to expect please, or thank you, and that to argue, or make a noise would lead to days of partner induced penance. I learned it all.

The thing about my husband, who says he is no good, is actually that he is very good. At everything. He was a National Kabbadi player. He is fast. He knows attack and defense. He is a gifted artist, and has been feted by the Newspaper for thirty years. Crowds flock to see his cutting edge Performance Art, and he is held in loving esteem from one end of India to the other. That is no joke.

In spite of his fame, he possesses enormous, almost biblical humility. A quiet, shy, persona that takes nothing from people, expects nothing from people, and gives everything. Truly, what is not to love about that.

He has become the better than me at everything kind of guy. The kitchen has always been his domain, and I was the sous-chef. I cut the vegetables, and peeled the garlic cloves, and I watched and took moment by moment instructions how to use certain spices, and how to run an Indian Kitchen. I had to learn how to wash rice, and which of the eighteen different lentils needed soaking and which did not. I learned how to wash clothes in buckets and had to learn the real art of rinsing. Likewise, I was trained, scrupulously watched over by a Mother in Law how to wash a plate and never, ever cause shame by leaving an infinitesimal trace of soap on any surface. Mostly, anything Western, was obviously, unskilled, useless and not spicy or tasty or relevant in this culture. There is some truth to that, and actually I have been okay with that.

I have very few weapons. And I have tried very hard not to use them. Really, hand on heart, my only really powerful weapon of love was a super creamy spinach and nutmeg pasta served steaming hot that could diffuse any drama, and the smile on that man’s face would fill my heart with that thing, that thing, you know, only love.

Recently, we went to visit family in the South. I achieved an epic qualification and was fully granted permission from the Mother to clean the kitchen after one of those days when breakfast, lunch and dinner have been an endless, seamless, variety of perfection. She had stood nose to nose for weeks and was satisfied I had grasped the knowledge to wash and rinse plates, and was elevated to this prideful position of having free reign in HER kitchen.
I got it. I enjoyed it. I kept mostly quiet about, but maybe, I ruined it by telling him about it.

Soon back in our own home, I found myself feeling that Amma was here. Right by my side. Checking everything. I kind of joked that he had become his Ma but we both thought nothing much of a moment of kitchen sarcasm. He told me I did not know how to wash spinach, and he meant it. He refused to eat my food, and he unknowingly broke my heart.

I was happy to put the Kitchen Closed sign up and relax into this end of the year unwinding, unraveling and make myself a less frazzled person and let the power of forgiveness do its’ thing, and allow grace and burning Hannukah candles to burn off our mis-understandings and ignorance.

We made it, 365 days to the end of the year. I stand here filled with both regret, confusion and thanks. It has been a year of non-stop wrestling with what I think, feel and hope and then comparing it to the actual feedback life gives me.The gap between those two places, my experience, and the Indian reality has at times been so vast, I imagine I have the wisdom to accept this shortfall, and in truth, there is no wisdom and instead huge ache. The ache of alignment has been 2016 every single waking and dreaming day and night. So it might seem like there is anger and bitter disappointment, and there is , and yet, still I must, and need to say, offer and share my sombre, sober part reticent Thanks.

I have not forgotten the Roast Potatoes by the way. When I said I came without weapons, bar a bowl of pasta, I was not completely telling the truth. When I said, I had no wily Western-ness left, I was not completely honest. All of my homesickness, longing, and imagining of the life I left behind had the potential to be transcended, and shared when we actually did buy our tiny toaster oven. All of what I have been, my whole life, was a Jewish Mama in waiting, a balabushka, that spent her life in sales, marketing, and thriving on the good company of others and well to be honest, knowing from age three how to work that room. I earned my living doing that! And I prided myself on running a kitchen home that fed the hungry, and impressed the cynical. I could woe and wow with not only wafer thin baked deserts and tarts, delicate soups and unusual wines. I could always, always, make beyond decent Roast Potatoes.

A testament to my spuds has been Indian guests refusing to eat Western foods and moments later finding an entire oven tray finished. I have softened angry, upset, tired and discontent fools with my pre-dinner treat. That wild and much loved Tarragon plant that grows on our garden, is my I remember who I am damn it Moment! Wrapped up in that moment are all those Mui Mui shoes, those promotions, those meetings, those delightful cocktail dresses wrapped in chorine free tissue paper. Those Potatoes are everything I have been. That woman who walked Tiger Leaping Gorge in China alone, and ate bones in a refugee camp on the Thai Burma border. Those potatoes are that kid with braces that was shocked to be in a ghastly purple nylon bridesmaid dress, that twerp whose flower bouquet fell apart, those tears shed and all the life of not knowing with certainty anything at all.

Those paper garlic petals that fill my potato tray and my magic touch of taking brown soft spuds to crispy on the outside and soft on the inside is my magic mixture of olive oil, and butter. It is my ability to still make alchemy, and share it with others is my humble thank you, I love you.

We talked about having a quiet New Years’ Eve, and making dinner together and him making Kerala beef fry, and me making Roast Potatoes. We laughed that we could get some rum and watch a movie and fall asleep in each others’ arms, drunk, full and fat.

I was a bit shocked when lunch was served just now. It was semi roast potatoes and beef. There was no coconut. I checked to see if this was lunch and dinner was something we would do later, but he explained this is it. This is tonight’s’ dinner.

This independence thing is so vast, so huge. It is a lifetime of defiance. Not wanting to ever be dependent on another. This fight of his is real. To conquer time and to be a master of his own heart. He must, like a Kabbadi player, only win.

I feel myself a ghost. I have no place here. There is nothing I can bring to this party. He has finally even, usurped my role as the roast potato queen.

He knows how to do everything now.

 

The terrible, terrible Indian Wife

I am shocked. And sad. For I became truly the Bad Indian Wife.

It started out that it was a play on words, that my fierce, non stop loving and passion was what made me the unconventional Bad Wife. That I did not nag, cry, become desolate and manipulate with tears. That I was so aloof and uncompromising and unusual, that alone was going to keep my man.

But actually I became the terrible, terrible wife. Call off the visit to the lawyer. We will not make it to man and wife. Every single relationship threshold has been trashed, and mostly by  me.

On the whim of everlasting romance, I said yes to moving to Jaipur for a three month work visit. We set up home and I was excited to visit the archeological wonders of this paradoxically ancient and modern city. I took photos of the mirrored halls of the Havelli’s, and the majestic doorways of the city that capture the most electrifying sunlight. I photographed every single bouquet of flowers adorned on the city walls, the city palaces, the rooftops and I wrote everyday inspired that one day I might have a story to share at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

I wore sari’s and placed rose petals at our guru’s image. I hung heavy curtains in the winter to keep out the drafts, and I cleaned the bathroom floors and walls with the dedication of a brahmin in the making. I went to male only parties and ate boiled egg for dinner and I choked back my tears when the men mocked me and laughed at me.

I tried to be firm and have boundaries with the boys that forgot to turn up to classes without a word of apology and I tried to keep my manners when groups of men came to the house to drink, make merry and speak in Hindi only. I was the Bad Indian Wife that smiled, made fat home-made fries, and trays of roast potatoes and NEVER, never showed my upset.

Most of this eighteen months has been an archive of photographed moments, that look mighty impressive. Each photo though was a patchwork of lies, covering up that yet again that morning, that evening there had been a fight. One way or another there was always a fight.

He blamed me for most of it. For raising my voice and being an embarrassment in a society that is always looking, peeking and poking their nose. He tried so many times to warn me, that socially it was unacceptable to make a noise about many things that should remain private.  The more he asked me to not make a noise, I am afraid, the more damn noise I chose to make. Yes, I screamed at him. Yes, I threw some glasses at the door in my frustration. Yes, I threw the desk photographs of us at the wall.

He repeatedly told me that his friends said I was crazy. That they knew it, and they were right. So, I carried on writing on social media that I could handle it, that I could absolutely not give a flying fuck that his friends thought I was crazy. I removed them from having access to my personal musings, and found secret, private places to write. Then they called me crazy for removing them from social media. See she really is crazy.

We did a bit of travelling, the usual three day trek by train to Kerala, a few times. Many of the trips were marred by more fights, more inconvenient culture clashes, more disappointed expectations that I would mismanage. I could not be anything but the Bad Indian Wife. I liked to sometimes wear my hair loose and wild, and laugh wildly and reveal my bad teeth. I liked to wear Western clothes that did not hide my middle aged weight and I brazenly wore bare arms, which was not a culture mistake but an aesthetic one as my arms are not as toned as a taught twenty four year old.

We did not see much of Rajasthan. We kept talking about a trip to Udaipur, but all we actually managed was a few days in Pushkar where he found his Charas Wallah and I did not find my yoga school. I was always looking for the defining thing that would make it alright. Maybe I would join a jewelllery school in this holy lake town, and commute monthly back to Jaipur and we could be a grown-up couple both fulfilling our dreams. I visited those jewellery schools, and said, No, this is not real. What is real is facing the music, standing by my husband, and living our life day by day and getting through whatever it was that was happening.

My resolve was to stop running away every time it got difficult. I stopped packing my small overnight bag and booking tickets to Chennai. I stopped imagining I would just find a great teaching project, and I would lean-in to this life, and face the difficulties. I had no friends. And in a way that was part of being the Bad Indian Wife. I did not run out on the town with my girlfriends, giggling over new places to visit, and nor did I come home drunk on white wine and late-night taxi soirees with friends. I stopped playing the independent sassy woman role, and I just chilled.

I live with someone who smokes a lot of ganja so I thought I understood the rules of chill. But I got them wrong. Chill is a head-state. A mental landscape akin to Utopia. It is were the buzz of dreams and fantasies collide, those pretty girls, the great art conceptions, and all the universal questions are balanced with doped up sweet and tidy reconciliations. Real life is not really the same tidy peace-making entirely visual mental construct that we have in our chemically altered minds.
For one thing it is less attractive. Those flaws that get erased in magical marijuana moments are all glaring in our faces. The crooked smile, the slightly sad eyes, the slightly unattractive patch of dry skin by your cheek, and your frizzy, sun-bleached hair is annoying. It just does not look and feel like the airbrushed gloss of the artists’ perfect image of the world.

I have fallen for every single feel sorry for myself trick in the book. I have become desolate, scared, and insecure.

I have wanted validation, and become needy of love. I became jealous and spiteful. I resented those pretty boundary-less young nymphets taking his time. I complained when we went to festivals and he sat me down in a cafe and went to party for three days with his Kerala friends. I called him out when he would sit me by a door and then go and hang out with cool dj’s and divas and say I was just saying hello. I called him out that he was expecting me to live life in purdah and I could not do it.

I wrote of my unquiet heart. I felt my radar for untruth. I laughed at the deceipt that was so evident of those men telling me to my face All that was wrong with me. They told me I was in the wrong relationship because I wanted my husband to not put his joint butts out on the terrace floor. They lectured me that I was a petty woman and that I was not treated him right, or allowing him his masculine freedoms.

But actually, the Bad Indian wife was allowing it all. That is what made me so ‘bad’ was that I refused to stoop as low as the ancient bondage that really exists in Indian arranged marriages. I actually believed I was playing poker and even with an open hand I felt I was winning. I laughed because those critics had to go home to their deeply unhappy marriages, and mine was different. Mine was full of joy and we were living in some kind of superior truth.

But we are not. We have lost sight of everything. We are in stale and tired situation, where desire has not existed since the beginning. Where I have internalised every doubt and fear and no longer no who I am. I have lost any sense of inner pride, and I do not look in the mirror and see a beautiful woman looking back at me. We don’t actually have a mirror. Because I have allowed our home to become something where woman does not exist.

I have erased my own needs. I have certainly erased like-minded friends, and Western culture from our world. I have erased sexual desire. I have given up. When my husband smokes his last three joints to knock himself out into a deep sleep and avoid sex, I have stayed up on the internet till dawn, and hurled myself into writing, and exploring and trying to accept it all with some academic distance that keep me from my true feelings.

We went to the homeopath, and smiled and shared our difficulties, and we carefully took our dilutions daily, and if peace returned, we said Jai Dr Bhatia. But then would stop going.
I can NOT make another human being look at their stuff. And damn I have tried.

He blames me for my outbursts, and my emotionalism. And I blame myself for my stubborn and reckless ego driven fantasies that I was the woman that was so damn hot and amazing that I was, and would and should be enough for him.

I blame him for a lot of things. I blame him for being so damn intelligent that he must surely comprehend all that really is, and for avoiding addressing it. I blame him for his ability to look away, to not feel, to refuse, and to refute that Houston we really do have a problem. I blame him for his desires online, his search for fame, and his refusal to know me and avoid intimacy. I blame him for his quick temper, his stubborn moods, and his restless nature.

But obviously, I blame myself mostly. No matter how bad it has ever been, I blame myself for crying in silence. For not calling a girlfriend. How on earth did I think I could get through this alone? How did I think I could live for eighteen months in a city without work and without one single friend. Not a single person to share a coffee with, a walk or a smile with. How did I live for eighteen months alone. How did I allow such torture to happen? All I have done is sit and watch myself age. And become unhappy and afraid.

I doubt now, I will find love again. I doubt now I will be a fabulous sexy girlfriend, if only it was the right man. It is true what they say, all of this self-esteem, vitality, sexuality is, of course, an inside job.

I have searched and searched within myself, and I cannot find it. I can no longer find that woman who was happy and confident. I can no longer find that woman who feels that she is unstoppable and a giant of a Bad Indian Wife.

I became a terrible, terrible girlfriend, racked with doubt and fear. And blame. I no longer think we will kiss and make up. That we will make love all afternoon, and kiss, and whisper and feel like allowing saliva and sweat to soothe away our troubles. We have found other ways now. To keep cool and calm.

He will go to his studio. And I will write, or relax on the balcony. We will share some food and drink some rum and say Ah yes, Good wishes for next year.

But next year is just a few hours added on to this year. It has been goddamn awful. I want to go kickboxing and kick the shit out of a wall, and say what a fucking terrible terrible year this has been.

I put all the house bets on being this dazzling Bad Indian Wife. I held my high high at those parties and wore those curvy-licious dresses. I pouted and played with make-up and big hair. The boobs are already big, and the waist small. But I failed.

He is one beautiful, sexual, sensual, creature of love. That is for sure. And it is me that is not.

I truly in every sense, of being a woman, I failed.

May his year bring him work and personal success.

I am de-railed. I am out of alignment. I am wrong. I am tired. I became ugly, inside and out.
I am both sorry, and not sorry. I accept that far, far from being the glamorous, almost famous Bad Indian Wife, I became instead, a very, terrible, terrible pyjama wearing, unsexy, unhappy girlfriend.

The End.

Stealing my time

Yesterday I was approached by private mail by two young Indian men. I am admin of a couple of social media forums, so to answer their calls, was not a search for fandom or to make new friends, but, in the line of duty, to respond to work related matters.

The first one announced that he was six foot two, had a degree in dentistry, and could send me a photo of his new car to prove that he owned it outright, and that he had a flat in Jaipur.
I smiled. And moved on.

Only to return to increasingly rude, and aggressive missed emails. He demanded to know why I had not replied to his messages, and they culminated in insults. Why you have big ego problem, and oh you not speak English?

I did not reply and explain my time was precious, and that his manner was beyond rude. Nor did I even hint that he could benefit from coaching classes that might help him gain some useful tools to approach women that would achieve better results. I heard this great truth that there is a delete button, and I gladly used it.

The second visitor has left me slightly more wary. Still slightly under my skin, and that troubles me. His first appearance to post a Travel Forum website in an events listing page on Social Media. It looked impressive, and I am guilty of not having taken time to read it thoroughly before submitting the post.

I shared a beautiful, short, well written article by the Former US President Jimmy Carter, that was an inspiring passage that spoke to my heart, and I hoped it may be read by other forum members with open-hearted, curiosity. The young man, retorted with a subtle, but nonetheless evident rejection of the ideas, and whilst there was no outright hostility, there was stealth like speed. I did not pick up the troll characteristic, it all happened so fast.

Like any of us who have ever in earnest tried to respond to a troll, I typed carefully edited words, that outlined why I felt that the response was misplaced. My instinct and my polite response revealed that I felt it was a subtle move to distract the other members from the sweetness of the OP and to shift the debate away from the calls for growing global consideration of women and young girls rights. Bottom line, he argued for mens’ rights.

My suggestion was that if he felt to write or share about Men’s rights, he might consider posting a new thread. He did, but it was a poorly constructed mess of ideas, suggesting Indian men do bad things to get foreign wives.

This young man had actually privately messaged me over several days, demanding I find him a foreign girlfriend and his age limit was up to 40 years. I went back to the inbox messages and had a quick look on his own page, just to gather my feelings. His own page declared he was standing as a Uttar Pradash political candidate. His inbox messages to me had become increasingly hostile and un-nervingly quite personal.

Initially he had made contact about his travel website and his endeavours to save foreign travelers from the perils of being cheated whilst in India. He was making salacious enquiries as to whether I was a lesbian and if I wanted to be a guest in his house, I would be welcome regardless of my sexual orientation. Wow, that was a bold opening question in a country that legally prohibits homosexuality. I tried my best at that point to get clear and firm, and said, My husband is sitting next to me and a little alarmed at your comments.

I did not take a screen shot of his comments, and over a few days his unread messages had piled up. They were warnings, that my husband would be cheating me, that men from his part of the world where known to steal from women, and that many Indian men had tricked women into marriage without declaring their marital status.

Any ex-pat woman will know this is quite untrue. Indian citizens have in their passports very clearly stamped, their marital status. So, they are unlikely to be already married and granted life-time visits and visas outside of India.

The realization came immediately, that this person could be a very cunning hacker, keeping people online long enough in time-wasting conversations to nab our Ip address and enter into our files with the ease and cunning only a thief knows.

Finally I thought to check his travel website and was alarmed to see semi-naked Western women claiming to be making elegant testimonials of his services. Please, book your stay in India with me, and do quickly send me your bank account details immediately.

Blocked and removed. And warning and apology posted in said Forum to other members.

Maximum of fifteen minutes of my life wasted. And yet, I still feel unsettled about this.

I want to know why we do not do more to call out these people? I am in many ways a far lucky woman to have simply got an offer to see a picture of his car, when so many women are sent without warning, naked dick shots of undesirable men.

What is going on the mental process of any man that for no apparent reason suddenly takes a photo of himself with or without boxer shorts, edits the picture, and then still in a trance like stupor presses send?

I guess in other countries, the law is very clear on what is, and what is not harassment. Yesterday a wise friend, clarified that in the UK, it has to happen only three times for a case to be made against the offender, and they will be found, tried, and punished.

I know here there is a huge amount of leniency. The theory that boys will be boys is deeply embedded in the old cronies sitting on the Supreme Court benches, and until that changes, unfortunately, nothing will change.

There is a sickness, that is palpable in their desire to intrude. These boys are not fools. They have been to the best of Universities, and they are the brightest of the bunch. They attempt to take hold, to have control of the situation, and they will quickstep any attempt to defy them. They maneuver with the might of a rapist. That you will be silenced, pushed, defamed, and afraid of them, is something they assume from the start.

They are predators, and they are stealing a lot more than our time.