My History Of Fat

I think I was seven when my aunt looked me up and down

and took me into a corner and frowned
before taking a deep breath only to exhale
the word ‘fat’
then she stared and stared and stared
waiting for a wounded respond and maybe some tears
till I replied, nonplussed, ‘I’m aware?’

You see, at 7, fat was just a word
fat was just a new adjective I had learned
‘fat’ itself didn’t weigh much in my head
it was just another firefly I strung onto a thread
and wrapped it around myself
because if I were a dictionary it would be
just another word to be read
off the skins that I had shed.

A year passed, now I was 8,
and my father sat me down and said just
‘beta, we need to discuss your weight’
and this was the first time I realised
that something, somewhere, wasn’t alright
and that realisation didn’t begin from inside
it painted on my with bold strokes
by people who had no right to do so

over the years I changed dieticians
faster than my city changed seasons
and every time someone charted what I could eat
I ran into the bathroom with a handful of sweets
the thing is that nobody realised what’s happening
as plans were made on how to shrink my body down
to reduce it to ‘acceptable’ from ‘people stare at her when she walks around town’
the gaping hole in my heart started widening
the conflicts in my head grew so much more more maddening

It became a demanding force
asking for validation in terms of carbs
and I gave in. I gave in so easily
because I was never taught of negotiations as an art-
in my world, there were only yeses and nos
only commands and directives to be followed until they tore me apart
I never had a choice in the way words were thrown with such ease
I had to stand there and feel them splatter my skin
in colours I would’ve never painted me

the words grew heavier in my head
till they draped on me like carcasses of my confidence
and as my body bloomed and ballooned
I stuffed it with more hate and more food
till I was caught in this brutal tug of war
between the cacophony in my head
and the broken silence of loneliness
so I layered my insides with more cake
thinking that if I ate enough
the fat would insulate my body
and my heart from the barbs thrown at it

But that’s not how it works, is it?
it’s never as simple as the good old avoidance shtick
so eventually, I grew tired of the pain
because it’s so difficult to nurture and sustain
so much anger and hatred against yourself
that I decided it’s time to reclaim

The word reclamation is not just the Bandra extension
it’s having to undo so many painful perceptions
it’s having to untell yourself lies you passed off as truths
it’s asking for forgiveness when the other person is still you
it’s having to undo years of being less
it’s having to learn how to love yourself

so I invited the word ‘fat’ for tea
I refused to let it barge in and instead
welcomed it gently into my body
we sat and discussed years of misunderstandings
and wondered when we went from friends to where we were standing
I asked it if we could love again
and it asked me if I had any left to give

it’s still a brand new friendship, you see
we’re still figuring out the other’s needs
but the word fat doesn’t hurt me anymore
it’s what I am, and what I have been
it’s just a new adjective I have relearned
it’s a brand new word I’m wrapping around my tongue,
I’m tired of reducing myself to ‘fat’ because

I’ve learned to be so much more than that,

so while fat is an important word
and I refuse to let it control my world.

hk

A Piece To The Indian Woman Who Says She’s Not A Feminist

A Piece To The Woman Who Says She’s Not A Feminist

Before I begin this piece, I offer an invocation.

My people have a long history
of calling out names in front of holy fires,
of reminding deities of their power,
of demanding reluctant blessings,
a gentle nudge to force them to pay heed.

Today, my invocation stands a little different,
for I offer it in front of you; tiny sparks of revolution
and change, fires simmering, angry, looking
for cracks to burn through, just looking for
a hint of gasoline in the air to burst forth.

Today, my invocation is less a call for help
and more a rallying cry, it is tinder thrown
into your slumbering embers, it is anger
smeared on your pale faces, it is courage
spelt out for you and me.

This invocation is incomplete, it is unsteady,
it is marred by names history has relegated as
‘anonymous’- it is unfair in its arbitrary namings,
and it is so little in its capability to encompass
all that it should be capable of saying.

Today I invoke Rani Laxmibai, Jind Kaur,
Quidisa Begum and Rani Chenamma- women
bound by tradition and its trappings, regents
never given their due for the way they changed
lives with power that was never named their own-

Today I invoke Leila Seth, Meenakshi Arora,
Indira Jaising and Flavia Agnes- firebrands
that took law, a man’s law, and broke it down,
taming a dragon till it stopped asking for a woman’s
sacrifice, till they could ride it across the sky.

Today I invoke Kavita Krishnan, Nivedita Menon,
Reetika Khera and Bela Bhatia- mistresses of words
and the witches they would’ve bound at stake had
they known the magic of knowledge they sprinkled
like a matchstick thrown at a petrol station.

Today I invoke names I don’t know- the many
women who have been relegated as punctuation
marks in the history of man- women on whose
broken backs and twisted arms I can climb to
rise up and demand what is my due.

Today I invoke my mothers and grandmother
and their mothers- soft magic that learned how
to attack when it had to protect its own, shackles
that became adornments as they were worn down
with each throw of hand and each jump of heavy skirts.

Today I invoke all the sacrifices made, all the
hopes shattered, all the dreams carefully undreamed
and locked into boxes for people like me to unlock
with the keys made of blood, sweat, and bones plucked
from the exhausted bodies that marched before me.

Today, I invoke the anger I am made of, the revolutions
I am shaped of, the stories behind the fact that I can
stand up here and be heard louder than just my voice-
today, I invoke the very struggles that allow you to
think yours, and hence my, feminism is merely a ‘choice.’

Dangal, Beyond Binaries.

​(Dangal Spoilers Ahead)

After much trepidation, I was dragged to a 5:30 show of Dangal today by my sister. I went in with a lot of preconceived notions of what the movie is. The premise itself seemed a little jarring, and I’m not a fan of Aamir Khan’s ability to turn himself into a messiah in every role he portrays. I’m especially not a fan of big bad male saviours swooping in to save the day (Pink, anyone?) for female characters. So yes, I did go in with prejudices. 

It took about an hour of the film for me to set them aside. Dangal is not a feminist movie, despite what the trailers would have you believe. It’s also not a patriarchal movie (well, any more than all movies are, at least) like a lot of reviews would have you think. Dangal is a biographical account of the triumph of human spirit in a context that boggles the mind, and that’s about it. When someone watches Dangal hoping for feminism front and centre, they assume the movie is about the women in the movie. It’s not. They prop up the man. 

The first scene of the movie is where this demarcation is made clear. Mahavir Singh Phogat is shown defeating a man younger to him, and that’s where he’s established as The Man in the movie. For the most part, the movie is about his hopes, his aspirations, his struggles. Even in the most pivotal scene, where he’s locked away from his daughter’s moment of triumph, the focus is tilted towards his anguish, not her tangible, physical struggle. When his daughter defeats him in a bout, the audience is made to sympathise with his loss, not cheer for her win. 

Having kept that aside, Mahavir’s character was fascinating to me. Despite his sadness brought about by a lack of a son to carry on his burdens, he’s kind to his daughters. He never mistreats them, and in a raw, unfiltered moment, he’s shown helping one of his younger girls with her homework. He’s a good father, and he accepts his own inability to be a ‘guru’ and father simultaneously. This felt like a commentary on the Indian idea of parenting itself. Parents are untouchable, unreachable paradigms never to be questioned, just obeyed. Mahavir’s vulnerable moments flout this idea, albeit very fleetingly. 

The biggest, most encompassing ideal that feminism espouses is ability of choice. If a woman is equipped to practice her agency, she is a beneficiary of feminism’s struggles. Dangal portrayed a very crucial question for me. Where does Mahavir’s own thrust end, and where do the girls start with their own struggles? At which point does their own autonomy come to play? There are three moments I can pinpoint. One, when they attend a 14 year old friend’s wedding and realise that despite their father’s methods, he’s creating an escape hatch for them. Secondly, when Geeta gets a taste of her first fight, and decides she wants more. These are unequivocally feminist moments. The last moment is when Geeta tries to reclaim markers of traditional femininity without giving up her position in a male dominated world. While this attempt fizzles out, it’s important to take note of it.

I think this brings us to an even simpler question. What is feminism? What is feminism, more specifically, in this movie’s context? Legal terminology has two concepts which I’d like to bring here. Mens Rea and Actus Rea. The former represents the thought behind the action, and the latter, the action supplementing the thought. While Mahavir’s thought wasn’t feminist, driven as it was by his own selfish need for glory, can we completely discount his actions? He pushes his daughters into flouting rules of the society, protects them from the backlash, and indeed, stands guard for their attempts at breaking free. In this context, however miseducated, his actions are, most definitely, feminist. 

This actually is why I had a huge problem with that feminist spiel he gave about how Geeta represented so many women still shackled by preconceived notions of womanhood. Mahavir Singh Phogat probably never thought on those lines, and that’s okay. The audience doesn’t need concepts fed to them in such literal terms. They see the impact on screen themselves. Mahavir is not a feminist man. And that’s okay. He’s not a faultless protagonist. And that’s okay. He doesn’t need to be. A biopic is never about perfect people. It’s always about real, flawed, ordinary people making extraordinary choices. 

So, go watch Dangal. It’s not about how flawed his parenting was. It’s not about feminism taking centrestage. It’s definitely not about Geeta and Babita. Hell, it’s hardly about honesty either, considering the real Mahavir Singh Phogat was never locked up in the Commonwealth Games. 

What Dangal is about is a rare glimpse of Indian cinema trying. Trying to break stereotypes, trying to break limitations, and trying to break a string of jarring masala movies. Is this the most gritty, hitting, impactful movie of the year?

Probably not. 

Is it a great watch, despite its flaws?

Yes.

Reclamation

​Ten things I’ve done to reclaim my body. This includes life changes, perception changes, and just…good old loving. 

1) reclaimed the word ‘fat’. It’s not an insult. It’s a descriptive term. When I was on tinder, my profile said ‘yes, I’m fat. Get over it.’ That allowed me to reposition myself wrt my equations with people, especially men. 

2) stopped trying to hide. I still wear loose clothes, but that’s because I have overly sensitive skin and even cotton chafes at me. I have rolls, my skin sags in places because of weight loss. Sue me.

3) cut out sugar from my diet for most part. I’m less sleepy, less cranky, and my overall productiveness is better.

4) got my blood work done. Turns out, contrary to popular belief, fat people can have non-fat related problems! My body is anemic. Slowly getting that back on track.

5) I refused to hide my being. I’m a public person. I’m building a brand. I perform. Sometimes, I’m getting on stage and realise I’ll look huge from the angle I’m at, but I’ll take a deep breath and get on with it.

6) letting people love me. I’ve been in fulfilling relationships of many varieties, I’ve undone years and years of conditioning to understand that someone else can find my attractive, desirable, and special. They can. They do. They will. I’m not an aromantic being because of my body.

7) eating well. Years and years of crash dieting and hating myself later, now I eat what I want to. Sure, not fat and cream laden foods (lost a taste for them along the way), but I eat vibrant, tasty foods from around the world, and I love doing so. Food is joyous. It’s sustenance, it’s art. No one gets to take that away from me.

8) standing up to fat shaming. There’s a trend of coercing fat people into hating themselves so that they lose weight, and it’s done with the sole altruistic motive of ‘helping’ them. No. If I lose weight, it’s because I love my body enough to change it. Not because I was bullied into hating it.

9) calling my parents out. I’ve had long, screaming matches with my parents about how they messed up their parenting. It served a few purposes. Catharsis. It made dealing with a traumatic childhood easier. It erased the victim-aggresor mentality I was working with. When you’re 8 and given sprouts for lunch, it’s very easy to hate your parents. Understanding that they were as impacted as I was is important to feel less helpless. I also hope it’ll eventually make me a better parent, getting these insights. They’re painful, uncomfortable, and exhausting. But call your parents/guardians out.

10) smiling. I smile. A lot. I’m trying to let go of anger. Of pain. Of trauma. It’s not a linear process. I’m fumbling around. But God, do I smile. 

I’m learning not to hate myself. Slowly, I’ll learn how to love myself too. Some day. 

2016: 10 Lessons. 

​10 lessons from 2016. There are quite a few, so bear with me.

1) you should never have to force yourself to keep someone in your life. If holding on gives you more pain than happiness, let go. It’s okay.

2) your networking shouldn’t be a selfish, solitary activity. Actively try to add value to someone else’s life as you try to draw them into yours. Make friends who inspire you, support you, and teach you. That’s the best network to have.

3) don’t sell yourself short. A passion to learn and a relentless pursuit of betterness is probably more powerful than all the skills you may have on paper. Constantly try to improve, and constantly reach for something you may think is a little out of reach. Who knows, you might just achieve what you never thought you would. 

4) humility is a misunderstood virtue. To be truly humble, you need to move beyond a coy smile every time someone praises you. Be humble about how much you know. Be humble about your limitations, and your inability of context. Be humble, not because you must be, but because you learn a lot when ego is not in the way of your pursuit of knowledge. 

5) create. Create, because you are. Create, because the world needs you to. Create, because it allows you perspective into your definition of yourself. Create, because you must leave behind a rich legacy of experiences and memories. They’ll be important to someone, I promise.

6) not all relationships, platonic or otherwise, are meant to last. And that’s okay. What ends, ends. You don’t need to chase it. You gave your best version to someone who needed it. Cherish that and move on.

7) your family, both by blood and chosen, are important. Remind them that they are as often as you can. Invest time, love, and patience into bonds like these, because as you grow up, the amount of emotional investment you can make reduces. Please start now.

8) if you’re someone who always says no, say yes. Say yes to things that seem a little scary. If you, like me, always say yes, learn how to say no. You don’t owe your mental health and emotional stability to anyone.

9) be unabashedly proud of all you are, all you’ve done, all you have the potential to be. You’re okay. You’re good. You’re safe. You’ve reached so far, and you’ll climb back up if you’ve ended up sliding down. Eventually, things do get better. 

10) ask for help. You’re not alone. Ask for help, for mentorship, for perspective. You’re allowed to ask for support, because that itself takes courage. Ask for help. You’ll always get some. 

2016 has been incredible in ways both good and bad. 2017, you’re already shaping up to be quite the year. 

Bring it on. 

In Defence of Beauty

We’ve inherited a difficult earth. It’s not an extremely pleasant place to live in, and despite the jokes about Mars, we’re limited to this world. It’s made us angrier. We’ve grown up a wary, uncertain generation, bombarded with unprecedented amounts of information, most of which, at least in recent times, has been a somber reminder of how terrible the world can be. We’ve grown up preparing ourselves for an inevitable war. Every generation has its conflicts, and we’ve had the dubious privilege of knowing that ours are vaster, deadlier, and more destructive than ever before. We are acutely aware of what’s at stake, and crippled by this realisation as much as we are empowered by it.

In this flux, I have a small request for you. I implore you to chase beauty. Not in people, not in the ways media tells you beauty manifests. No. I beg you to chase what calls to your heart, what makes your blood sing, what forces you to close your eyes and sigh softly because of the sheer impact it has on you. Chase colours that elude you. Hum half remembered pieces of music till someone joins you in your search of the other half. Trace ink splatters again and again till they brand themselves into the muscles of your fingers.

You’ll be told that this a waste of time. That, in a world where people are dying, where you might be next, it’s not wise to spend time looking at things, even creating things, that can’t double up as weapons. You’ll be told that it’s only the most utilitarian of skills you’ll need, because anything more is wasteful, is a crime against the doctrine of pragmatism you’ve been forced to memorise since the day you were made to turn away from your inherent instinct to search for colours in a world determined to exist in dullness.

But please. All I ask of you is to pause. To look at art, maybe, and sigh, not because of its historical value, but because it tugs at you. To read poetry and find it nestling in the crevices of your heart that need warmth. To smile, because you feel. Humanity has, since its inception, made art and reveled in it. It has, without fail, tried to seek out beauty, and has tried so hard to commemorate it. The world is very keen to make a hardened soldier out of you. Be soft. Be receptive to love, to excitement, to joy. We’ve inherent a difficult earth. But it’s still earth. It’s still soil, fecund and fragrant, waiting for roots to wrap itself around.

Plant yourself. Breathe. Bloom.

Gulon Mein Rang Bhare (Translation)

I was bored. I did some translating. Ample poetic license was taken. Don’t kill me for the same.

gulon mein rang bhare, baad-e-naubahaar chale
chale bhi aao ki gulshan kaa karobaar chale 

The flowers need to flush with colour,
The winds need to blow in the change,
Love, would waft in like the spring?
The flowers, they need to bloom again.

qaffas udaas hai yaro, sabaa se kuchh to kaho
kahin to bahr-e-Khudaa aaj zikr-e-yaar chale 

The cage around us is still, and silent,
Please, speak of kindness into the breeze
For god’s sake, fill the quiet around us,
With beautiful descriptions of my lover.

kabhi to subh tere kunj-e-lab se ho aagaaz
kabhi to shab sar-e-kaakul se mushkabaar chale 

Someday, somewhere, my day will start
From the corner of your smiling lips,
Someday, somewhere, my day will end
With the heady perfume of your hair.

bada hai dard ka rishtaa, ye dil garib sahi
tumhaare naam pe aayenge gam gusaar chale 

The bond that pain forges is strong,
Though we, alone, have broken, weak hearts,
But we will wait, in anticipation of you,
Your call pulling us through the haze.

jo ham pe guzari so guzari magar shab-e-hijraa
hamaare ashk teri aaqabat sanawaar chale 

What we have felt, and we have borne,
Will end as this evening of separation will,
Maybe my tears will drip on your soul,
And washed it clean for your next life.

huzoor-e-yaar hui daftar-e-junoon ki talab
girah mein leke garebaan kaa taar taar chale 

We welcomed them as friends, but their
Greed was a vast, unquencing thirst,
And they tied us up, preparing our bodies
For how they carved us out into pieces.

maqaam ‘Faiz’ koii raah mein jachaa hii nahiin
jo kuu-e-yaar se nikale to suu-e-daar chale 

Unfortunately, Faiz could not find any
Solace in this exiled wanderings, home
Was nowhere to be found, nor love, and
So, I chose to find death at the gallows.

We Will Travel Without Each Other 

​{My sister demanded I write some prose dedicated to her, since ‘you write poetry for everyone, and I’m not everyone. I’m your sister.’ Happy 18th birthday, pupper. I can’t believe you’re an adult}

We will travel without each other 

someday, soon, I suppose, and we won’t have to measure boxes and airbags to decide who will have to carry the toiletries kit in her bag. We won’t have to adjust ourselves in a shared bed, with a single quilt we’d never agree to at home, so that we’re in touching distance, but not close enough to actually touch. The fluffy white towels in the bathrooms will not have black crescents of kajal smudged on them, half moons still clinging on to the day as we shed it off. The shampoo bottles will probably have their caps on, and the conditioner will last for more than two mornings. 

I probably won’t get the half eaten chocolate you couldn’t savour beyond a nibble because you forgot your teeth are too sensitive for its sweetness. I won’t get to laugh at your mouth curving into a sea shore as your emotions crash against it, and you hold it steady, stoic, with the smallest wavering at its corners when you see an animal and its ears tug at yours. You stand next to it, nose to nose, forehead to forehead, kinder than you thought you could be and fearless in the ways that truly count. 

You will travel with someone who doesn’t know why you sip water slowly, small, quiet sips that move like guilty confessions. Who you travel with won’t know that you usually can’t stand messes just as you don’t know how not to make one. You’ll have to teach them how you see yourself, how much sunlight your hair can weave through itself, and how tall you think you are, so that they can capture you in the exact shade of orange you like to exist in. 

The music in the car will change every day, with no friction of my scratchy old records rubbing against your well ordered, regularly updated playlist. You won’t grudgingly hear soft sounds that grow on you, and I won’t get to half-remember names of new ones you never seem to know the names of. You probably won’t have to think before deciding where to sit, but maybe you’ll have to teach them how you can never be on the left side of anything, conversation or companions. 

I wonder if the people you see the world with will know how easily you cry, and how it’s not sadness that breaks your heart- it just can’t carry all the worlds that slosh inside you noisily, and sometimes it tips over. Your cheeks streak with rivers of grey and black and your face looks like the planet that toppled out of you. That it makes you feel too large and too small, and sometimes you’re vast enough to swallow the moon and sing it out till our air is shimmering. Sometimes, however, you’re too narrow and anxiety courses through you like a freight car you were never built to carry.

I think your hands were always calloused, and plucking at strings just melted your masks away. They’ve known hardness, they’ve held it close through every terrifying sojourn into your own head. That’s when your ground trembles and each breath you take feels like an earthquake shaking your very foundations. It moves like a dizzy spell that storms through your mind leaving your hair tousled and tangled, and you, too tired to comb through the waves. 

But you did. You washed and smoothened your hair every time too much sand weighed it down, and you went back to the edge of water, taming the waves till they hummed the harmonies you needed, and you cracked the shells of crabs that tried to nip at your heals. You could have killed them with just a twist of your foot but you didn’t. You never did. You never could.

We will travel without each other, and you will see every world you can touch, and I promise you can always come home to me. 

Ten Lessons Writing My Book Taught Me (IYC Chennai, September 2016 Speech)

​​You know, whenever I do these speech events, I speak of ideology. I speak of abstract concepts and try to build tangibles out of them. These concepts might come from personal experiences, but they’re not about me. They’re just free-floating ideas I try to collate. So, when the team asked me to come here and speak about my work, I was a little stumped. It’s odd, for a poet, to speak about herself after writing so much. There comes a point when there is a schism in how you look at yourself as a person versus as a creator and bridging them both takes a certain amount of self reflection…and that’s not a pleasant experience. When you write, sometimes you find yourself writing about what your audience wants to read. When you write, often, you stop identifying with what you write. You snap back, of course, and promise yourself you will never fall into the trap of pandering again…till you do. It’s a constant cycle of learning, unlearning, relearning till you reach a point where you think…hey ‘Hey, maybe I’ve managed to balance these two expectations’ and ‘hey, maybe my work can be appreciated and remain relevant to my context.’

I haven’t reached there yet. Definitely not. There are days when I wake up and think, ‘well, today’s the day everyone realizes that I’ve been pulling off a very intricate fraud.’ There are days when I think…why am I doing this? What do I get out of writing poetry? Why do I put bits of myself out, consolidate my perspective, and wait for people to judge it? Seems rather counterintuitive, no? Instead of trying to protect yourself, you actively lower your defenses and override your sense of self-preservation. You actively search for critique, and you constantly straddle the fine line between hating what you write, and being unwarrantedly defensive about it. It’s not easy to be unbiased about what you write. Of course, people older, wiser, and more experienced than I am can do it, because they’ve honed their ability to disassociate from their work long enough to perceive it as a third party. I haven’t. I’m young, and stupid, and often half grown-I might know the technicalities of writing, but sometimes the crux of it is lost.

And somehow, between all this doubt, both self inflicted and from external sources, confusion, and chaos…I managed to write a book. I’m not sure how it happened. Every time I pick up a copy and flip through it, I’m like ‘woah! A book! A book I wrote?!’ it’s brilliant, because I’m always surprised that I could manage to sit down and actually create something so tangible and real. It’s a wonder that doesn’t cease, because as I wrote the book, it wrote parts of me. I’m not the person I was when I printed out 150 sheets of poetry and sent them off to the only publisher I wanted to work with. Each draft of the book, and there were 8, mind you, became drafts of me. I learned so much by reading what I wrote, by delving into the space I was when I wrote that, and by stepping back and analyzing how someone else would read it. Writing a book is, in equal parts, a creating a journey for your reader, and going on a really strange one yourself.

As I was on this journey, I stumbled a lot. I definitely made a lot of mistakes. But I learned a lot. I learned so much, in so many fragmented, wondrous ways. So I today, I’m going to give you something that took me nearly two, now three, years to collect.

These are the 10 lessons writing my book gave to me:

1.     Trust yourself. You can’t doubt every word you write, you can’t hate everything you create. When you wake up in the morning, look into the mirror and find courage to write about what you truly believe in. never stop writing because of doubt. If you feel like you’re faltering, write through the doubt, write about it, if nothing else. Your number one resource is you. Make sure you never second guess it.

2.    Respect your work. It’s very easy to dismiss your own work as something lesser than what it is. It’s also very easy to not realize the scope of what you’re achieving because you’re so focused on the next poem, the next book, the next project, the next photo series…whatever. Sometimes you need to step back, look at the body of your work, and say ‘hey, I’m actually pretty happy with what I’ve done now.’

3.    Never delete. You know, now it’s easy to get rid of what you’re writing, clicking, creating. It’s very easy to keep your finger on that backspace button and just letting that particular train of thought dissipate because you don’t know where it’s going. Stop. The half-baked idea of today can germinate into your best work tomorrow. Stop deleting. Go back to those ideas days and weeks and months later. Use them. Make your creativity self-sustaining.

4.    Find critics you trust. Mine were my closest friends and my mother. She edited my entire book with me. Remember that a critic isn’t someone who’s ‘mean’ to you. Ample people can be mean to you. Actively search for people who call you out on your bullshit, and give you some constructive feedback about where, and how, you’re going wrong.

5.    Don’t always listen to the critics. Counterintuitive, isn’t it? That you spend so much time looking for someone who can critique you, but then you don’t pay heed to them. But sometimes, just sometimes, you need to let your gut instinct take over and you need to go ahead with that stupidly sappy poem, or that ludicrously ambitious project. You have literally nothing to lose, I promise.

6.    Edit. I hate editing. I hate it, so much, because what once looked like a near perfect poem, or article, or short story, becomes this little bouquet of mistakes. I think of how I could’ve written better, or done more research, or generally just a better creator. When I say ‘edit’, I mean edit yourself. Position yourself as the consumer of your work, and see how it impacts a person without the internal context you have.

7.    Adapt. Do not, under any circumstance, be afraid of change. This is something that tends to happen. You find your little corner, and you decide ‘yes, this is what I clearly CAN create, so I’m going to limit myself to this’. You basically position yourself as a creative boulder against an unending, unrelenting river of ideas and inspirations. They bombard you with possibilities, but you stay still. But you know what rivers do to rocks? They beat them down till they’re smooth, and often, incapable of disruption. As a creator, your goal in life is to disrupt existing narratives and to create new ones. The only way to do that? Learn. Evolve. Try out new things that make you uncomfortable. If you write about love, write about politics. If you think you only understand sport, work with economic. We have the capacity to learn and unlearn and relearn at the swipe of a screen. It’s a good time to create. So go ahead, take risks.

8.    Humility. as much as I like to believe that I know everything, I don’t. and that’s okay. I’m young, right? So are you. Have enough humility in your to put your ego aside, accept that there are people with more experience around you, and learn from them, when I say learn, I don’t mean copy. I mean observe. Understand where they went wrong, and understand where you’re going right- I assure you, you are. But knowing the plausible pitfalls and paths can help you, right? So whenever you enter a conversation with someone you think you may learn from, do so with complete humility. Do so with the idea of learning and growing. This will take practice. We’re a brash, cocky generation. But try it, you might find yourself learning some amazing things.

9.    Make mistakes. Make mistakes. Make lots and lots of them. Write terrible poetry. click the most hackneyed of pictures. Write the most cringeworthy music. But do it. Making mistakes is usually how you learn. Making mistakes is what you have to do because mistakes pile up like a little ladder, and you can climb them to your next destination. By allowing yourself the express permission to make the most grievous of mistakes, you’re allowing yourself permission to try new things, to experiment and explore, and to do all this with no fear of failure. Mistakes lead to masterpieces.

10. Love what you do. Love what you do. Love it in a complete, passionate way. Love it till it absorbs and consumes you, and nourishes you in return too. Bukowski said ‘find what you love and let it kill you;. I disagree. Find what you love and let it flourish under your hands. Derive pleasure, joy, happiness from what you do. Escape melancholy by creating, don’t drown yourself in it. It’s easy to create about sadness, anger, and hate. It’s a lot more difficult to infuse positivity in what you make. It takes practice and a dogged determination to be honest and kind to your work.

This may come off as the ‘11th lesson’, but this is probably the most important one. You could just imbibe this, and the rest will follow.

Be kind. Be kind to your work. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your detractors and to your support systems. Be kind enough to look at your peers as a community, not as competition. Be kind to your drawbacks, and definitely be kind to your strengths. It’s very easy to be hard. This world makes you so. It’s attacking you from every direction and worming its way through your defenses till you feel like the only option you have, is to he harsh and brutal. You don’t. You need to actively endeavor to be softer, kinder, gentler than what the world expects of you. You can create out of negative emotions, but that creativity is unstable, and unsustainable. Learn how to channel the happiness inherent in you. Revel in your power as a creator. Soak in the shine of your own words. Please, go ahead, and make magic.

Men in Feminism (TEDxFLAME University Speech Text)

​You know, at the offset, let me start by saying this. I am so, so tired of giving this talk. I’m here on stage, and I’m having such a sense of déjà vu because what I’m going to say here, is something I’ve discussed with so many men, in so many capacities. I’ve had this talk with my father, with my best friends, with lovers, with every single man who I could think of as a stakeholder in my life. I’ve had this talk with students at elite institutions, and with the Uber driver whose cab I was in last night. It’s a discussion that leaves me sapped to the very core, and yet, I’m here again, talking to you about this. I’m here to recruit the men here into the cause of gender equality. I’m here to talk to you about the big F word- feminism.

You know what the definition of insanity is? Albert Einstein said that it as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Do you know why this isn’t insanity? Because the results are showing. We’re making a change. Women’s issues are at a forefront, years of structural differences and indignities are being addressed. Issues of minorities- of colour, caste, creed, sexuality- are being given platforms. People care. People care, because finally, the stakeholder patterns are emerging. We’re realizing that the causes of inequality are far removed from their manifestations. We’re realizing how damaging the smallest actions that reinforce these structures can be, we’re accepting the fact that there’s a problem, and we’re putting our heads together to figure out ‘How can we solve it?’

It’s a hopeful time, and that hope has created an ability. Ability to empathise, ability to impact, ability to think beyond ourselves. And that’s beautiful. However, why am I speaking to the men today? Why am I talking about a movement that essentially speaks of men ceding space, and women claiming it, in the context of the men involved?

Now this is something that I struggle to communicate to a lot of people. Men think of feminism as gender equality, and that’s right. They think of it as women being empowered, and that’s right too. What they forget is that they’re not exactly left unscathed by patriarchy. Contrary to popular belief, ‘patriarchy’ isn’t a sword wielded by men against all other sections of society. Patriarchy impacts men, and does so very negatively. Patriarchy leaves men unable to emote, unable to make themselves vulnerable, and unable to reach into the vat of feminine ability that they’ve been trained to keep locked shut since the day they were told, ‘boys don’t cry.’ Patriarchy eats into productivity, it eats into healthy relationships, it eats into the very essence of humanity most of us possess, and are unable to tap into.

In short? Feminism is for men too. And it’s not just them being allies for the people who don’t identify as straight men. It’s about being active stakeholders, participants, and beneficiaries of the changes feminism is bringing about. It’s about changing the world sustainably, and without resentment. It’s about you realizing that feminism isn’t ‘anti-men’. It’s ‘anti coercion’, it’s ‘anti antiquated roles’. Feminism, at its crux, is very simple. It’s about giving people the ability to make their own choices, and the means and ways to make educated, positive choices when they’re at it. This right here? Is a part of that education. This is me getting through to you and listing out the reasons you should be calling yourself feminists very proudly. This is a lesson in how your life has changed, can change, and will change as the world around us does too.

Feminism has been commonly misconstrued as taking power from men, and giving it to women, as though power is candy and years of oppression, degradation, and dehumanization can be erased with a perfunctory ‘transfer’ of decisionmaking power. This misconception stems from the fact that your privilege has been so entrenched in your psyche by years and years of conditioning. It stems from the fact that you’ve been brought up to believe that you are entitled to these powers. That’s tragedy number one. The second? The fact that you’re not taught how to use this accorded power empathetically. You have been trained, over the years, to desensitize yourselves to harm caused directly by these powers. Behaviors that would otherwise appall you are made ‘fact of life’ and ‘truth you have to live with’. So, the first step you need to take? Observe. You and I are incredibly privileged because not only do we have the power of perception, but the ability to make some concrete change out of the same perception. You’re all going to go ahead and impact other lives substantively. You’re going to be the people who mould and shape perceptions, whether through media, literature, education, or policy. So, it’s imperative for you to recognize where we’ve been going wrong, and then move ahead.

Change, unfortunately, doesn’t always work on an altruistic basis, and it shouldn’t, in this case, because men are directly benefitting too. Whether it’s when they use technology that women have designed on an everyday basis, or the fight for equal representation of men’s issues- and here, let me clarify that men’s issues aren’t ‘feminism is impinging on my privilege’. There are bigger issues at play. The law of the land is against you, gentlemen, because it assumes you cannot be a survivor. Let me explain. Last month, a student of Banaras Hindu University was abducted and gang-raped. Usually, this would evoke not just sympathy, but the laws that protect people from sexual assault. The punishment, according to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, is rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to life and shall pay compensation to the victim which shall be reasonable to meet the medical expenses and rehabilitation of the victim.

However, the student who was assaulted, was a man. Since this law is not gender neutral, he will not get this legal recourse. Why is this law not gender neutral? Because men cannot be seen as victims. Why can’t men be seen as victims? Because in the patriarchal understanding of the world, men can only be aggressors. This, of course, is the worst case scenario of the kinds that no one should have to be afraid of. There are smaller, every-day instances that you’ve taken as the ‘norm’ which you shouldn’t. when a boy is bullied, he’s told to suck it up ‘be a man’. When a boy is sad, he’s told to ‘man up’. When a boy finds himself in the worst pits of depression? He’s told that ‘men don’t get depressed.’

And this isn’t an exaggeration, by the way.

In 2014, India had the highest rates of suicides in the world. In 2015, research showed that men, especially those who are sole earners of their families, accounted for 21% of these suicides. We’ve conditioned our men very well, ladies and gentlemen. They’ve learned to stay quiet for so long, and through so much, that they’re literally dying before they get a chance to speak. And why? Why do we allow this to happen? Why are we complicit in this oppression? Because it doesn’t look like oppression? Or because we’re too scared to question it? Or is it, because, we know that once we do start questioning thing, we’re going to have to face the real consequences we’ve been shirking away from?

One of the most fascinating side effects of the rise of feminism is that it correlated with a decrease in female life satisfaction, partially due to the fact that the expansion of women’s roles didn’t come with an appropriate shift in the amount of work they do in the home. What often overshadows these findings is that men’s happiness actually went up as a result of women’s empowerment. The happiness gap could be due to many factors, one of them being that women sharing the burden of bread-winning has helped men worry and spend less time at work, while leaving women with the double-day burden. And before you say that feminism has made women unhappy, research that shows that shows feminist women score higher on the happiness index. Feminism equals happiness for all. It’s time we face the facts.

The facts are these. Feminism treats men as more than their base instincts. Feminism demands that men be recognized as emotional beings, and hence men be recognized as capable of being vulnerable, of getting hurt, and most importantly, of healing. By undoing the assumption that men simply can’t break, we’re taking a step forward towards realizing they can, indeed, be healed. By accepting that men have an equal role in the private and public sphere, we’re not just demanding that you cede space, but inviting you to share space. It’s not about you giving up things, but about you experiencing a plethora of new ones.

We want you to join us as we build a new world. For anything new to grow, the past must crack and break. No seed can germinate unless it cracks open to let the sun and water in. No sociological order can be erased till its members actively take a stance against it.

The moment you call yourself a feminist, you’re gunning for a better, softer, kinder world where you’re growing into eat other, not away from each other, and it starts with you rising up and claiming, accepting, and acting out the fact that you’re a feminist.

This was my recruitment call, and I do hope you think about it.