She is a woman.

As you read this, imagine you have a blank paper in front of you. If you feel any respect for a woman, throw some paint on it. I hope at the end of this you paper is filled with color.

Right from when we are born, there is a moral code placed on our shoulders, even without our knowledge. Girls are “supposed to be” a certain way. I won’t say its all men who place this heavy sword on us, sometimes there are women too. Till around 11 or 12, I think we are ok. We get away with a lot of things we do. But even at that age we have to protect our vaginas. We have to learn what a bad touch is, our parents are always circling us like hawks to protect us from physical and emotional trauma. As we start menstruating, we have probably read why it happens, or are told by someone the why of this phenomenon. But what nobody can tell you is how you will feel. The pain that starts either in your back, or your lower abdomen, or legs, or head, it can be anywhere. It lasts for hours while you feel like your insides are crumbling. When the sanitary napkin gets soaked, you have to run to a restroom, to change. Wrap the used one. And for a fleeting instant, you feel the freshness of a new sanitary napkin. Every night you sleep uncomfortably, waking up to check if you have stained the sheets or your dress. There is a constant thought lurking in the back of your mind, are you staining? This cycle of menstrual stress repeats every month from age 11/12 to age 55/58. Fucking 45 years, we bleed every month.

As we start menstruating, the boobies grow and now you have to wear a bra to support them and not show your nipples. That is another lifelong commitment we make to our bodies, hide them forever from public eye. It is another piece of cloth we have to wash and maintain and wear every day. And those straps never stay in place. I am sure who haven’t not seen a woman sliding her hand into her top and pulling those straps back in place.

If periods and bras weren’t enough torture, there are UTIs, PCOD as accompaniments. You use a public toilet and pee starts burning the next day. I never asked for ovaries in the first place, now you give me cysts in them, which make it so difficult to lose weight. If nobody in my ancestral generations had abnormal levels of blood sugar, PCOD will definitely alter my blood sugar. These are internal mess ups, there are the external ones too. Hair for example? How many ways can you cut this thing, then there are 100s of shampoos and conditioners to choose from to make it look pretty. Pretty for who? Did someone say face? Dont even get me started. Moisturiser, foundation, concealer, blush, powder, the list is endless. People have taken the face as a prime research material. Why not just let it be? How much can you decorate 2 inches of skin above your eyes.

Well, coming back to the woman, we haven’t talked about the mother of all fucks, pregnancy! Whoa, the first 2 minutes are blissful, but then that tattoo on your face, is PERMANENT. You eat, you grow, the being inside you grows. Yes its wonderful, to feel this little human inside you, but let’s look at the things nobody tells you. It hurts! Hurts like hell! You are lying there with your legs in stirrups, opening up your entire being to whoever walks around looking at down there. It is a very come-see-me-naked experience. You have no idea what you are passing out, just baby or something else too. After your tummy shrinks back, never to its original form or size, you look at the mirror admiring yourself, patting yourself on the back and see these tiger skin marks on your tummy. If you cannot look inside, well this is a visible sign of what my body just went through, it expanded to its maximum and shrunk back. Depending on whether you had vaginal or c-section, the doctor’s artwork on your body deserves a special mention. Down below, you cannot pee, it burns like hell. And if its c-section, you just cannot move until it heals.

Breastfeeding. Yes have a good laugh. Amazing experience, agree. But this is when we understand the feelings of a cow. You are nothing but a cow, ready to milk anytime. You feed and feed and feed and feed and feed and feed, sometimes for a year, sometimes for more. Note that the first two evils of periods and bra still exist along with stitches.

While we go through all of the above, we are expected to go to office, work, earn money. We are also expected to cook and feed the rest of the (useless) people in the house. We are expected to drive to our doctor appointments. We are expected to keep the house clean, car clean, baby clean, and ourselves clean. Maintain relationships with people in the world. We haven’t spoken about feelings, have we? Oh yes, we feel too. We get angry, happy, sad, cry, frustrated, scared, apprehensive and what not.

I don’t think we should fight for equal rights, there is something more basic that is missing, respect. So all she asks for is respect, not because she goes through all of this, because she is a human being. If you cannot give her that, leave and let her be. She will survive and thrive because she is made of sterner stuff.

One evening..

Naina had been standing at the bus stop for over an hour now. The sky had turned pink and red and blue and violet. The sun was slowly moving to yonder shores. She looked around nervously. First to the left. The stores were still open. A lady was standing at the counter of what looked like a medical store. When the lady looked at Naina, she looked away. To the right, across the street was an open playfield. Children were kicking around what looked like an old football. This was the edge of town. She had covered her head with a scarf and wore dark glasses so no one would recognize her. She looked left again, there was no one at the medical store. She knew that next to the medical store was a vegetable store. Last minute shoppers were buying vegetables before they headed home to make dinner. Her mother must have started looking for her now, she thought.

Nervously she looked at her watch. It was 6.45pm. She saw a bike approach. As it came closer she realized it was someone else. She thought when you are waiting for someone, everyone around starts to look like them. She had to take off her dark glasses soon. Nobody wore dark glasses in the night. She didn’t want to be traced so she had left her phone at home. As time passed her anxiety got the better of her. Many questions ran through her mind. An accident? Abandoned me? She clutched her bag a little closer to her and continued the rhythm of looking left and right. The boys had now retreated from the playfield. A biker passed her and slowed down staring at her. She turned around. Through the corner of her eye she saw that the bike slowly drove away.Something must have gone wrong she thought again. Tears started rolling down her cheeks. She wiped them off trying to tell herself to be brave.

She looked at her watch again. It was 7.45pm. Her feet were hurting. She wanted to sit down, but there was no place to sit. She thought she should go back home, pretend that nothing had happened. Suddenly she saw a vehicle approach her. It was not a bike, it was a car. The headlights were piercing through her eye. The car came to a stop in front of her. And then she saw him. At the same time someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around, took one look and screamed.

“Naina.. Naina.. Nainaaaa. ” she heard her mother’s voice.

Wait..

Waiting is a cruel game
there is hope
yet despair
it will happen says a voice in your head
but what if it doesn’t
then life lingers on hope
hope of a new dawn
of spring
i hold hope in my heart
waiting for you…

In or out?

I have heard of these experiences where friends distance yourself when you file for divorce. I didn’t quite understand it until I experienced this first hand. Its like a hard line that is splitting up a bunch of people into three categories. The open, the hidden and the forgotten.

The open ones are the ones who believe you, root for you and pray for your happiness. They genuinely care and make you believe that a divorce is a new beginning to your own life, not the end.

The hidden ones who support you and do everything the open ones do, but not in the public eye. They have their reasons and I am just glad for the support.

The forgotten.. wow! this is a class apart. People you spoke to almost everyday, take sides and leave you hanging. This is the most valuable lesson one learns during this process. It’s like someone said, you know who your friends are during difficult times. And boy, have I seen some fade away as quickly as receding waves.

Pretense is something I absolutely hate. Everything is either black or white, there are no grays. The forgotten ones try to put up a show and pretend they are onto something here. What they don’t realize is that the one going through the divorce is dealing with something much bigger, its life changing, that the pretense is easily called out and becomes a joke.

I can go on about these forgotten group of people, but I just want to count my blessings for open and hidden ones in my life. Grateful.. thankful.. blessed.

How do you decide?

It’s quite a known fact now that I am getting a divorce. I have been thinking of writing about this for a few months now. Never knew when the time was right. Be assured, I am not going to reveal the details of my divorce, I don’t believe the reasons for a divorce is public material. Since I am in the middle of one, I think I can get into the minds of others who have crossed this path before me. One thing I know for sure is many (if not most) women think of getting a divorce at some point in their marriage. Maybe men too. And many of these many women find a reason to stay or justify to themselves why they should stay. It is usually because as nurturers it is woven into our fabric to put the happiness of others in front of ours. We (read as most women born in the 70s and prior), will prioritize to sacrifice our happiness for the sake of our parents, or children or security or money or whatever reasons. Note that I don’t mention the spouse, yeah of course, that’s why I am writing this and you are reading this.

Like how water fills up the dam, we build our resentment at our circumstance one drop at a time. When it is too overwhelming we release some water in the form of tears, or anger, or lashing out or any which way. Gives some solace and then the cycle starts again. This goes on and on till one fine day, something snaps. Looking back, I don’t think anyone can pinpoint what actually broke the camel’s back. All the pent up water, comes gushing out as energy or some force to get yourself out of the situation. At this moment, nothing matters, all the lies you told yourself, all the reasons you formed in your head to stay, all the people you thought would matter, nothing, absolutely nothing. You spread your wings and decide to soar. For the first time, in a long time, you decide to listen to your inner voice that has been screaming in your head to set yourself free. You flap and flap and flap. Is it scary? OH HELL IT IS!! The longer you’ve been in the marriage the scarier it is. Will you get stuck in a thunderstorm, what if there is lightning, what if you hit a plane, what if your wings get tired.. Now that you have taken that step, all these what-ifs start circling around your head.

It is confusing. All your justification devils popup like moles asking you, was it necessary? Then your soaring self tells the justification devil, you remember this, you remember that? Isn’t this more peaceful? At the end of the day, are you at peace. The soaring self wins. You go to bed.

Once you find that tiny strength to overcome the devils in your head, or that last bone snaps, that strength builds onto itself. Each day, it builds a new skin. Over the days, weeks and months, you are surrounded by a shell built entirely of your strength. It is not easy! It takes time. It takes patience, with yourself. The new mental health lingo is – be kind to yourself. It is exactly that. Through the little kindness you show yourself day after day after day, the strength builds. I don’t know if the justification devils ever die, I know they phase out. Like another saying, time heals everything, which I strongly believe in after my mother passed, I think the devils in my mind will die too.

The first day you find yourself alone is euphoric. It almost unreal. The surroundings – did they really change, yourself – did I really do it, devils – why are you happy? Sometimes, actually most times, it feels like a dream. Like somebody could wave a wand and reverse your strength, cut through the layers you’ve built so painstakingly, shushing the devils. Even after months it feels unreal. I guess this is also directly proportional to the longevity of the marriage.

Then there are the nightmares. Gosh those devils. They creep into your mind in the darkness, and they flip the switch on you, what the devils tell you during the day, becomes real at night. You wake up, scared; only to realize that it was a dream. It is hard. I don’t think anyone has said divorce was easy.

I don’t know how many stages there is to this thing. I think I am somewhere in between. After initial stages of bitterness, why me, how could i, why did i, and all those sanity check questions, you get into the path of accepting the reality. Another mental health jargon – owning your journey. You tell yourself, yes this happened, what did I gain out of it? Maybe there are too many losses, but there are some good things, there is always something good, even if a miniscule. You start owning your journey. Accepting where you stand, looking into the horizon and thinking now what? The answers start coming to you, not of the past, but of the future. You start asking the right questions, where do you want to go from here? There is a lot of help available on the internet, in the form of facebook groups, support groups, videos. One such interesting video tells you to set boundaries. That is essentially the first step. Not just with that one person, but with everyone. Because now you want to guard yourself and not be vulnerable. Again, I have no clue what stage I am in, but this just seems right. You want to be sure of yourself, the justification devils have played in your mind for way too long. So it is about time, you set yourself right, by realigning your beliefs, your priorities, your soaring self.

At the end of the day, you grieve, I don’t know for how long. Yes, it is hurtful, it is sad. The best thing I have read so far is, what you grieve, is the image of the life you thought you would have had. In this grief, you learn to let go. Of the past.. of the bitterness.. of the whys..

There is no recipe, life doesn’t come with a book of instructions, and the least of all for a divorce. It is unexpected. It is sad, yet happy, it is confusing, yet brings clarity, it is a bold step, and takes so much of your strength. But then..life.. it goes on.. one day at a time. The happiness at the end of the day is worth it.

Family

We are taught, right from the day we have some understanding of our surroundings, that family is your parents and your siblings. Then you have an extended family which is your aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. For many years I believed this. Family to me was always father, mother, children. It was an etched-in-stone kind of definition.

The world as we know it as moved away from this definition. There are many women who choose to be single mothers, there are many men who choose to be single fathers. Then there is the gay community, where family is either father, father and children or mother, mother and children. Families now come in all shapes and sizes. Not every family fits into the age-old definition of father, mother and children.

I grew up in a middle class nuclear family. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, grandparents were people we interacted with during the summer vacation. My core was my father, mother, brother and paternal uncle who lived with us. This was my space in the universe. In this space, I was allowed to feel, I was allowed to talk, I was allowed to be me. If I said something out of disrespect, I was corrected. If I said something out of anger, I was given the space to calm down. If I did something wrong, I was told why it was wrong and I was given the opportunity to apologize. My family had a lot of friends and we called them family friends. These were people who lent a hand financially when my parents were struggling to pay my school fees or were short handed at the end of the month. They were there with us emotionally, by encouraging us to push a little higher and have some success in the print world. We participated whole heartedly in each others family events, marriages, death, birth, etc. I have seen more of my parents friends come to our house, have a meal of simple chapathi and curry or whatever was there, than my aunts and uncles.

My concept of family developed through these people. They were family to me, not just family friends, because they were there for us. They didn’t tell my parents that they were trying to do something impossible by trying to set up a print shop. They didn’t judge my parents and say why are you sending your children to the best and most expensive school when you know you cannot afford it. They didn’t comment on the clothes we wore, or the humble living quarters. They sat cross legged on the floor and ate what my mother served. Without asking they brought money and handed it over to my parents. I owe these people a lot and remember them fondly. Many of them have passed, but they were placed in our lives for a reason.

I am a movie buff. A few movies have left a lasting impact on me. One such movie is English Vinglish. After learning English, at the end of the movie, the protagonist defines what a family is, and those words have stuck with me. She says, ‘a family is not judgmental’. That’s precisely how I was raised. My family and everyone around my family, our support systems, never judged us. So that is my definition of a family. A group of people who do not judge you and with whom you can be you.

As I go through my divorce, I have been re-drafting my age-old family definition of father, mother, children. Now my family is mother and children. And that is okay, because for single moms, mom and children is family. My son recently asked me what is family. I told him from my experience this is what I have learnt – a group of people who don’t judge you and let you be you. He said, you took the words out of my mouth. I am glad, rather proud, that my child is not stuck to age old family definitions. That he understands, family is not judgmental.