Monday, March 24, 2014

Finding my religion

Yesterday something happened to me. I took the bus after work and nestled myself into a corner and pulled out the book I wanted to read. Next thing I knew the conductor came and told me to get off the bus because we had reached the last stop. Essentially I had missed my stop by several kilometres. And it's not the first time that's happened to me. Not the first time when I have lost track of time reading a book...

Books are my best friends...they are who I turn to when my faith is tested. Where I feel the safest..where I am home. I remember when I was just over two years or so old. My mum bought an illustrated and abridged version of Gulliver's Travels. Sure, I didn't have a clue what the words meant or even how to read. But I looked at the pygmies and an illustration of a giant and I was hooked. To this day it remains to be the clearest and earliest memory of my childhood. We didn't have a lot of money growing up and my grandparents lived with us. It was cramped to say the least. And summer vacations didn't mean travel as both my parents worked. But it never mattered to me. My mum would come back from her school (she's a teacher) with at least 20 books to satiate me through the two months. I would finish them in two weeks straight.

When I look back on my childhood, I remember sitting in the balcony with a cup of snacks that my grandmother made and my head buried under the latest Enid Blyton book I was given to read. Faraway Tree...Famous Five...Secret Seven...Naughtiest Girl in School series...these were my gateways to adventure. I would finish reading a book and then rush to tell my grandfather and my friends exactly how amazing it was. I was able to get more than my share of friends hooked onto the same books I loved.

As I grew older, my thirst for books didn't quench. I graduated to reading Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Pickwick Papers and Pride and Prejudice. They were not set in my time but I understood the emotions. I read RK Narayan and imagined what it would be like to live in Malgudi. I devoured Jane Austen's Emma in one reading. Then I turned 11. Harry Potter entered my life. We can often remember that moment when our lives changed forever. It happened when I went to my granduncle's house and found out I had no company. So had to settle with the book they had lying around - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I remember reading the last line of the first chapter and distinctly thinking - I never want to put this book down ever. I didn't like the series much after the fifth book and I am not the fan of the writing at all in the final book but the series grew up along with me. It was my security blanket. I hoped and prayed for Hagrid to come knocking at my door bringing my acceptance letter to Hogwarts. The books mattered to the 13 year old me more than I can describe.

Of course along the way many other books changed my life. I introduced myself to Charles Dickens (my favourite writer of all time). I read Catch 22 and was fascinated by a new kind of writing. I wept through Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and I saw a different face of humanity when I sat down with Dostoevsky. Most recently it was Hilary Mantle's series on the Tudor era that has kept me up at night and taken me to the world of imagination and political intrigue. Of course not to forget writers like JRR Tolkien, George R R Martin, Camus, Kafka, Haruki Murakami, Christopher McDougal who have all come into my life and changed it for the better and countless others.

There are those who think childhood should be about rolling around in the mud and being outside. I don't disagree. I have had my fair share of the outdoors but given a choice, the scrawny little kid in me preferred being alone to my own thoughts, my own imagination and my books. My books introduced me to new ideas, a different way of thinking. They pushed me to question the status quo. When the rest of my classmates where arguing about the latest movies, I sat and wondered if there was a purpose to life if even family members could desert you (Metamorphosis). I learnt not to judge people and their choices (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina) and I learnt that no matter how bleak a situation might be, you have to stand up for what you believe in (To Kill a Mockingbird).

I venture out to the world and compare my own experiences to what I read in my books. I see betrayal, comedy, moments of love, chances for redemption and people being brave every day of my life. I also love the fact I can quietly run into the arms of my latest book and stuff more fluff into my mind and fill it with even more different ideas. But I don't want my life to be like the books. A book no matter how epic and realistic (100 years of Solitude), still comes with a clear beginning, middle and an end. Life on the other hand is longer and probably even devoid of purpose. But that's perfectly fine with me. I can write it any way I want. I like the uncertainity of the future. I like that I may be the hero in someone's life but the villain in some other person's existence. My life is messy unlike my books. And I like it that way. I am wholly aware that most of the time, I have no control in how it pans out (even on a daily basis) and anything can change its course. I like the excitement that brings. I like the curve-balls it throws. I love my friends and family and I also love how those relationships can change in a dime.

But most importantly I love that on any given day, I can walk into a bookstore and just stare at all the books I have yet to read. All the worlds I could get lost in. All the adventure that lies in front of me. They are always there. My friends.

- A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies (George R R Martin).

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is a feminist really?

A Facebook acquaintance posted this highly offensive advertisement on his wall today and called on his male comrades to respond on its brilliance. I saw it. Got quickly offended and immediately protested to the woman in the advertisement being turned into a commodity for a man's pleasure. Of course that meant that the man and all his friends ganged up on me for my perceived lack of humour. One of them called out of the society's ever increasingly intolerance for all things politically incorrect and how it is killing the world. And of course my favourite insult of them all - you are such a feminist.

That had me thinking. What is feminist? Feminist as a being has been long defined differently for decades now. The feminist is a thing that burns its bras...attends rallies. Screams when a man cups her publicly. Goes to the police and starts demanding equal rights, equal pay and does not shave its legs or arms. The hairy feminist is also a party pooper ready to literally poop on everyone's fun by offended about everything. The feminist is also a negative and angry being. So this young chap when he described me as a feminist, it wasn't a positive pat on the back but rather a derogatory kick in the face. Why can't you be chill woman and let the men have some fun?, he seemed to ask.

To be honest, I do not know what a feminist is. I don't know if I am one. I like things that are pretty and shiny. I like pink and purple and yellow. I am a regular at the parlour and I have never burnt a bra in my entire life (I like them and I support their existence wholeheartedly :P ). I am independent. I work. I earn. I pay for the things I like myself. I am not afraid of doing lunches or movies by myself. But I also am sensitive and vulnerable and not at all like the hardened female feminist figures that have been portrayed by the media over the years.

But I don't think this is an issue about being a feminist. I think it is a matter of being a woman at all. It is a tricky tricky thing to be. You like sports and video games, you get branded one of the boys. If you wear your hair short and walk around in jeans and t-shirts, you become a tom-boy. If you are conscious about what you eat, you become a stick in the mud. If you wear makeup, then you become barbie doll. When do you get to be yourself? 

I am at loss for words. But for now I have "unfriended" this person from my life. I don't want such men polluting my life. I don't want this person to tell me that the "only offensive thing about this advertisement is that Aston Martin is far superior to a hundred women" (I hope his mother or his wife never reads this comment  because man is this an insult to them!).

For my part, I want to figure out for myself what being a feminist means to me. I get angry when a woman is compared to a car, a perfume, a she is something that is for sale. I don't like it when someone tells me to "be a man." They should try being a woman for few minutes to know what it takes to be us. But for the most part I just want to hug all the women in my life. Every day we show up to take on life, we are already ahead of the race. Happy women's day.