india

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?

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Up-ending Patriachy

For most of this year I have blogged in secret or had pseudonym pages where I could gather my thoughts without condemnation.

I lived with the powerful ultimatum, that “my friends think and know you are crazy”.

So i gave them less fuel. I played nice lady and stopped saying out loud the things you do not say in polite company.

However. It is NOT 1974 and I am not nine years old. And in my very adult, property owning, mortgage paying world actually the rules have thankfully been upended.

In polite twenty first century society, men who rape small children are called pedophiles not miscreants.

In the 21st century, men who put down women, tell them they do not know what they are talking about are called very rude abusive men.

People get away with everything when the weapon is that you will be exiled if you speak out. It is a tactic of ownership, possession and control.

It works. Very well. It is never easy in polite society to say Good gods, how utterly ignorant.

But from now on. I am calling it.

India is a remarkable society. They love fiercely. Indian women friends have excelled in every field in the world so these stories of not treating women well are not true. They are all earning money and participating fully in life.

The people who pretend India is not fully educated, or not ready for change are the ignorant ones that are holding people, and themselves back. It is the men who refuse to live alongside the success of women. It is men who pretend women are going shopping or nagging. It is men who downplay their wives accomplishments.

I see Indian women chief ministers, doctors, scholars, curators, authors, celebrities, home makers, mothers, artists all thriving, laughing, living full and rich lives.

It is these men who dis-empower and long for the days when they could drink all night and watch girls by day.

Male entitlement in India is the problem. They are so damn busy beating their chests, they have not seen or refuse to see what women have achieved in the last forty years.

Little boys not wanting to face the greatness of women as their equal counterpart.

It is these men downplaying rape. It is the men refusing to be vocal. It is the men not protesting in the streets or changing laws. It is the men not upholding women feeling safe in public parks. It is these men who do not want life to change.

Really. Thank you great, astonishing India that exists. To the millions of parents and grand parents that stamped out inequality and educated your beautiful daughters. Your fight is still our fight and thank you for teaching us to be seen and heard.

The life-throb of ages

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

Rabindranath Tagore
Gitanjali. Stanza 69

Indian Christmas

When you commit to living in another country, you have to do a lot of things that are entirely out of your comfort zone, and you have to just get stuck in and find the heartbeat of it.

Last year, my Xmas was flying to Sri Lanka and wending my way by public bus through mountainous countryside, and arriving late at night at a hostel run by a Muslim family in a Buddhist country and smiling at the Christmas tree and decorations.

This year, for some strange reason, I really had a pull to visit a church and be part of something familiar but not necessarily religious. i guess a nostalgia, or a touch of home-sickness and a sweet longing to hear Christmas carols, and be with other foreigners and slightly, for a moment pull myself back from the Indian Hindu and Indian Muslim and Indian Jain dominant faiths of Jaipur. It is an old city, and there are landmarks of old British era churches, stone built, with walled gardens, evocative of all I know really.

I could feel the Xmas spirit vanish, and we are stuck in a horrible financial quagmire with literally no funds. Kind strangers have helped put some cash in the pot that will enable me to get to a neighbouring country to do my visa, and we are absolutely having to manage the tensions, dance with despair and count the days till our circumstances begin to improve. it is definitely a time to keep the faith. we wandered into a local shopping mall, and actually we loved the no money, no shopping experience; it was hugely fun, and we got to try on silly hats, and make believe shopping baskets filled with all the things we would buy if we were credit card enabled people.

Tiny handmade clay panels were painted in garish glittery colours, and at the last minute instead of being used as hanging Christmas decorations, they became teeny Hanukkah candle pedestals; each candle resting on it’s miniature menorah, and we even made an upstanding shamesh to light the candles. A teeny tiny eight inch Christmas tree arrived, with ready made-in-china decorations, Dairy milk chocolate, bundles of bhakti-blessed temple rose petals and a slightly wild, disheveled gypsy bunch of flowers graced our studio work table. not so shabby really.

The plan was roast chicken and roast potatoes, but that, along with the old picturesque chapel did not actually happen.

I got restless, and frustrated, and a sense of urgency overtook me. I really needed to keep the faith and knew how easily these best laid plans can drift in and out of reality, so I threw on my British Barbour jacket, and hailed the first auto-rickshaw I could find, saying, Christian Church, Christian Church, Christmas, C-Scheme.

A little too long in C-scheme and it started to become obvious that Christian Church was not something the driver really knew about. We stopped and asked some passerby’s who gave us good clear, straight ahead, turn left kind of assistance. Several straight aheads and left, rights, and U turns later, I felt that wave of urgency again. I pulled my jacket close to my body, and jumped out the auto and started walking, in search of anything merry! Saint Xaviours School is the most prestigious Christian school in Jaipur with extraordinary standards and the graduates all excelling in every single subject. It is a huge, pristine campus, and I followed my nose until I found the school, and at the gates, bought a prayer candle, and asked, Is there a church here? It was a post-modern 1970’s designed church, sparse, and modern, and whilst not what I had in mind, it was just going to become exactly what I wanted. The families crowded around the garish lights in the garden, and took selfies with the cardboard nativity mural that included several sheep! Jesus and Mary were not really present in the Nativity scene, but there, low and behold, they were hanging together in a heart shaped garland of plastic bows on the alter wall. It was a solemn affair, no carols, no music, and some earnest folk, sitting on benches with clasped prayful hands. I kind of liked it. And I took some sparkly pictures in the spirit of all things sparkly 2016.

I walked the cold evening streets and found myself back near the part of bustling town I know quite well, and cheekily ordered a piping hot espresso coffee in the stunning well of the beaten track French cafe that I like. I was actually not at all sure I had enough cash to pay for it, and was relieved that for once all the delicious french pastries were sold out. My little phone photos get edited into something hazy and vague, but depicting some gentleness that I was desperate to mark this holiday with. Where I have been fierce, may there be more gentleness. Where I have been stark and blunt in my dislike, may there be some softness, some blurred edges. May I also see the sweetness, and dispel the harsh edges that seemed too real all year.

Chasing atms’ at 9pm was a perfectly normal Demonetization activity, and not even especially stressful. The big, giant Standard Chartard Banks, all displayed the now normal, photo-copied signs saying No Cash available. I smiled. I actually had one trump card up my sleeve which was the lesser known State Bank of Kerala that has a small hidden ATM that is really own known to Keralites. A sweet auto-driver took me there, and there was no queue. The limit now for withdrawals is 2500 rupees, but, that can not be dispensed as the machines only have 2000 rupee notes. So, the limit suggests one thing, the reality, that the lesser amount is what you will be granted, no matter the 58 different declarations by central government.

Whilst some imperative made me do this Christmas eve thing alone, I still felt ready and able to come home a gift bearing, satisfied to have mission accomplished girlfriend. I came home with cash, rum, Hanukkah candles, and a smile that said, See I can manage!

At the last minute, on Saturday evening we were invited to join a Kerala family for lunch. The tree was huge, and lunch was….. biryiani!

I am not sure what I was imagining. Roast potatoes, and smoked salmon, and turkey. Ya. I was. Biryiani and sliced cucumber and a small bowl of curd was Christmas feast in this christian family tradition. And, it was delicious. To be among laughing, friends, sharing a tipple of home-made wine, and eating Plum Cake filled, packed with dried fruits, soaked for months in sun-drenched rum.

like all Xmas traditions, we clamoured to the sofa to watch a movie. Slapstick Malayalam movie hour had the whole house in belly aching laughter. Whilst I knew it was to my norms, surreal, it was also absolutely filled with family and friends doing what we all do during this holiday; enjoying some wind-down time, not thinking about work, and problems, and just feeling thanks for food, warmth and shelter.

It was not the roast potato and roast chicken day I had planned, sharing a little Brit tradition with my other half. I actually doubt that will ever happen. It seems too far a leap, to celebrate Western traditions with people that despise and resent what my people did to their great nation. I cannot fix that pain and loss. Not in a thousand days, can I hold a candle to the Westernization of the world. I can not say, Yes, I robbed you of your childhood memories, of young girls bathing in rivers, and young lads jumping off bridges into rippling clear waters. I personally did not steal from your memory gentleman on bicycles and fine elegant ladies polishing rice and singing together as they braided their hair. I did not make time rush forwards. I did not fracture village life, and build shopping malls, and American cinema complexes. I did not ask for Coke over a lime sherbet or Limca. I came because I love this place. I came because it stands on the brink of modernity and yet holds the past in it’s big bosom. I came because religions merge, and worship is noisy. I came because thousands of gods hold up the sky, and I walk the streets and am repeatedly greeted with the humbling of a folded hand Namaskar.

I did not come to impose my British ways. But, after two thousand nights away from my home, I too wanted to share some fond memories, some bygone moments. I too wanted to fill the space, between the differences, and say, Ah, me too. Us too.

Searching for the moments that made us, broke us, remake us, the fragments of family life, of traditions past, are the delicate construction of this now. The narrative can be a big lie, or it can be a portal to a sort-of truth. The sort-of I wish to remember. The sort-of I wish it were so with all my heart. I come in peace. I come with love. I am not the enemy and I have no sword.

the perfect note

It is an old tradition in India that shopkeepers dislike slightly torn notes enough to refuse them.

Post de-monitization I am just not playing this lunatic game anymore.

We have no cash to the point of extreme discomfort right now. Foreigners pay up to six hundred rupees per transaction and we live in a second tier city that still only has empty ATM’s and/or dense long queues.
The smiling handsome rickshaw driver was not going to win me over tonight.

Money is money damn it.