Friday, March 31, 2017


A speciest, like a racist or a casteist, is someone who believes in the superiority of their own species. Like cats, for example. They have no doubts- they rule. Most of us are speciests. Even the ardent animal lovers like me, who kill ants or mosquitoes without remorse, exhibit speciesm. It's not just that we place a higher value on our lives than we do on, say an insect, we also actually value our comfort more.

There's an ant epidemic in my house. The fiery tiny red ant with a bite that's worse than an injection. The chalks and the pastes have proved ineffective; they simply take a different route. Once they got into my clothes cupboard, I bought a can of bug spray and unleashed it with all the fury that only a person with itchy bumps in unmentionable places can muster. I felt better, for a while. But you see, I stood and I looked at the surviving ants running around later that day. I remembered everything I've read about ants- their highly social nature, their dependence on each other, their hard work and commitment to their colonies. I also remembered why I killed them; the seeming impossibility of coexisting with these creatures who invaded my food, clothes and bed sheets. I kept zooming in and zooming out. Let me explain what that means-

The thing about human beings is that we not only evolved intelligence, we evolved perspective. This gives us the unique ability to 'zoom out' or to see the big picture, as some would say.

What happens when you zoom out? The details become unimportant and invisible, the edges begin to blur and fade, generalizations become easier, priorities jostle each other and a few emerge victorious. Zooming out is the single most used technique to sway entire populations into following propaganda. That Hitler could create an army of wanton killers was because of his skill in helping them zoom out and see what he saw. That empires flourished at the cost of mass killings, slavery and oppression was because men and women, with families, with love in their lives, zoomed out and saw a form of twisted success that they wanted.

That's what zooming out can do- it can absolve you of responsibility, of having to think about your power and the individual you wield it over, of his pain, her anguish, its freedom. If you zoom out far enough, you can justify anything. You can be selectively numb. And you can be very dangerous.

When the jallikatu (bull-taming) issue swept over Tamilnadu, the media guided the people beautifully into zooming out. Suddenly, even animal lovers were supporting the cause, citing the dastardly evil intentions of foreign corporations. What the media neglected to mention is that the species, which existed in about 30 different varieties had already dwindled down to just a handful of surviving strains, mainly because the use of bullock carts- the horrid cruel practice that the same afore mentioned animal lovers hate with a passion- have dwindled due to vehicles. Almost all villagers today utilize artificial insemination to impregnate their cows. So the extinction was already happening at a fatal pace, thanks to the altruistic attitude of our brave and glorious Tamilians who don't keep things around if it serves them no purpose. But let's gloss over all that- it's a detail that becomes invisible when you zoom out. The foreign 'milk invasion' theory may very well have been true. But in that issue, as in others, what about the individual in question?

So, let's do what I did with the ants.

Zoom in.

You're an animal with five senses. You eat, sleep, procreate. You are capable of giving and receiving affection. You feel fear, you feel love. Suddenly, one day, you're guided to a wooden enclosure. All around you, you smell the sweat and adrenaline of hundreds of humans. You hear their noise. You are agitated. You are slapped in the rear and in an instant, you are engulfed by this mass of humans pressing against you, hands grabbing your body, some not letting go. You run in fear, terrified by your inability to understand what is happening to you. Are they predators? Will they hurt you? Will they kill you? You try to shake them off your body- you don't like being touched and grabbed like that. You try to protect yourself, swinging your horns this way and that. You are violent, because you are so very afraid...

But all that is okay. Because the solution to shutting down those evil corporations lies only, only, only, only, only with continuing this practice. Big picture! The feelings of the individual don't matter, especially when they're of the four legged kind. You see - it's for their own good. Not the individual, but their species. It's for their own good. Big picture, see? Congratulations. You've zoomed out.

I think we would have a very hard time living with ourselves if we zoomed in all the time. We'd all have to be committed. If we could feel the anguish of an ant that walks over the ruins of it's entire colony, going from one body to another to see if someone, anyone survived; if we could feel the pain of a chicken that has never touched soil, sitting in a coop so tight that it cannot move, injected with hormones, eggs whisked away even as they fall; if we could feel the helplessness, the hunger and misery of the homeless and the destitute....

...if we allowed ourselves to zoom in, I think then, and only then, would our evolution continue. Until then, as we have daily proof, we are all numb. And dangerous.

Monday, March 6, 2017


Sci-fi isn't a far-fetched genre. Most of it is becoming fact. We see the seeds in technological advances and inventions, a few of which have already left the drawing board and are in the prototype stage. Too many unrefuted, credible reports of alien existence have been making the rounds for people to scoff with any certainty. There is a growing sense of interconnectedness that humans are waking up to. Besides all this, I am fascinated by the cultural, socioreligious aspects of this as well.

Many of the sci-fi plots that touch on this dimension envision a society of the future that have elements of what we have today, but that have morphed and combined with each other in numerous ways.

As Wikipedia so beautifully puts it-

"Science fiction will sometimes address the topic of religion. Often religious themes are used to convey a broader message, but others confront the subject head-on—contemplating, for example, how attitudes towards faith might shift in the wake of ever-advancing technological progress, or offering creative scientific explanations for the apparently mystical events related in religious texts (gods as aliens, prophets as time travelers, etc.). As an exploratory medium, science fiction rarely takes religion at face value by simply accepting or rejecting it; when religious themes are presented, they tend to be investigated deeply.
Some science fiction works portray invented religions, either placed into a contemporary Earth society (such as the Earthseed religion in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower), or in the far future (as seen in Dune by Frank Herbert, with its Orange Catholic Bible)." 
I've read these books and others which touch on this, and I cannot emphasize enough how much they expand the mind even as they fascinate it. When I stated in the beginning that these concepts are not far-fetched, I meant it. Not only does our past provide innumerable examples, our present itself is proof. I am thrilled to be able to see an example of this for myself, which is what prompted this write-up.

It's a phenomenon that's creeping into the poorer sections of the population. A religious amalgam of sorts. These are 'recent Christians', if I may call them that. Usually, this is how the conversion happens- These people are traditional Hindus. They go through a tough time and a neighbor tells them to go pray in the church. 'Good things will happen,' they are told. They do happen. Full of gratitude and relief, the family starts going regularly and begin to identify themselves as Christian. However, generations of Hindu customs and rituals cannot be given up in a wink. They follow them to the tee. But ingeniously, they tweak it just enough so that both Gods have no cause for offence. Also, the extended family is usually still Hindu.

I've seen many families who have 'converted' in this fashion. My family usually employs individuals from them in some capacity. When they say they've been to the temple on Sunday, they mean the church. The word 'church', you see, is still too new and full of diagraphs (ch, fl, tr) to be comfortable. They still wear holy ash on their foreheads in a decidedly Hindu style. Most of the women wear a bindi and their marital symbol is still the thali, though they do exchange rings.

I went to a funeral recently. The father had passed away. As the relatives started pouring in from remote villages, they brought with them garlands, plates of rice, legumes, coconuts and other offerings, clothes for the family- all according to Hindu custom. Then right at the end, a Christian priest turned up, did his blessings etc. and they put the body in a coffin and buried it in a Christian graveyard.

If this isn't sci-fi turned reality, then I don't know what is! A 100 years, 500 years down the line, these religions are going to be so blurred, it's going to be hard to differentiate them. It's what's happened throughout our civilized history.

Alchemy was practised for centuries before science evolved. They co-existed for a long period of time before science, having absorbed the most logical parts of alchemy, discarded it completely. Shamanistic magic, similarly, was assimilated into festivals and branches of medicine, and then shunned.

Touching on custom in this context, no other example is as powerful to me as the evolution of the Indian sari. Let's pretend civilization started with women covering their torso in some fashion and begin there. Down south, the sari was worn over bare breasts. My grandma still refuses to wear a blouse. Let me tell you, however securely she wears it, it bunches up or loosens from time to time... which means she flashes the world occasionally. Even if she doesn't, her arms, her stomach area and most of her back are still uncovered. Funnily enough, not one 'traditional' man bats an eyelid at all this, and yet tank tops, evening gowns and such 'scandalous' Western clothes have 'degraded' 'Indian culture'. Decades from now, I predict it will be seen as primitive to want to cover oneself completely. Full circle. Let's repeat that for effect. Full Circle. Human memory is that easily corruptible, and that short.

Granted, times are different. Our history was more malleable to change because it could be conveniently forgotten: a universally accessible database of rules did not exist, nor did a reliable method of recording facts or customs. Even the most sacred religious texts have been obviously modified at different stages.

Today, though, we have the Internet. However, I think that even with the internet and it's factual, almost unforgiving recording of what is and isn't, change of this nature cannot be arrested or prevented. Time WILL create change, for as much as human stubbornness seeks to retain belief systems as they are, progress will push through and open too many windows. Inter religious marriages and the children they produce, conversions that are incomplete (retaining the flavor of both religions), people who wish to rise above the restrictions of a single religion and embrace more than one faith, people who create their own path by borrowing from established ones... The present that we live in is not just the 'now', it's a fascinating, breathtaking unfolding of the future, where anything is possible. Let's savor that.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Yada yada yada...

My favorite sitcom (ever) is Frasier. This clip would most definitely feature in my list of the top 5 scenes in the show.

Hilarious! Though I find Friends and The Big Bang Theory to be brilliant shows, this is the one that I would want playing on loop if I were marooned on a deserted island. It's unique in both its humor and its depth, and it's actually helped me through a few rough patches. I cried when I saw the last episode :D Why do such good things have to come to an end?!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Why I am unmarried*

Indians prefer the term ‘unmarried’ to ‘single’ because it sounds more damaged, and insulting; just the way we like it! ;) So moving on,

According to the astrologers:

The Family Curse!
My grandfather was a stalwart fellow, a man of the soil with muscles of steel. But he wasn’t the best of men. He married twice. His first wife, my father’s mother, was an imposing woman with the worst luck. We were told my grandfather’s roving eye decided she was too much of an obstacle.  She was found dead, and he married again. Though my relatives accept it as fact, no one has actually come forward and corroborated the story, but astrologers do say that she was killed and that in her final moments, she laid a terrible curse on her husband, one that had to do with his progeny. Hence, I am unmarried.

According to astrology:

The Flaw!
My horoscope is hilarious. It’s like the cosmos couldn’t decide whether I should suffer or not. So in one of the ‘houses’ they placed the dreaded Saturn, which would automatically make me ‘flawed’. For those of you who know, it’s called Chevvai Dosham. But hold on! They went ahead and placed another planet, our lofty neighbor Mars, in the same house. So yippee-yippee-yay-yay, the evil has been negated! Or has it?! There’s no consensus on this. Some of the learned pandits scratch their heads and say I’m good to go. Others look at me with a piercing eye and shake their heads- it’s hopeless. Hence, I am unmarried.

According to my late father:

No Daughter of Mine!
My father was a tortured soul. He had one of the lousiest childhoods a person can have. He emerged strong in some ways and weak in others. He wanted to be a ‘good’ person, in the deepest sense of the word. He mostly managed to, with his generosity, integrity and kindness. But he was still a man of his times. Women could not and really, should not aspire to be equal to men. Which basically meant our relationship was doomed. When one of the ‘grooms’ he lined up reported back to his parents after talking to me, he said that I was ‘not fit for family’. My dad agreed with him. Hence, I am unmarried.
According to my mom:

The best!
“When will you get married? No one is good enough for my Poorni.... There must be a guy out there....Are you looking?...Who will be with you in the end?...If you don’t marry and have kids, where is the proof of your existence after you’re gone?..... Understanding is important....You must also adjust...Look at that couple on TV- such a good relationship....When will you get married?”

She tries so hard, my mom. She’s a darling, the very best. But she was miserable throughout her marriage and I never could save her. Hence, I am unmarried.

According to my relatives:

Does not compute!
There are two main reasons why I am unmarried, according to my relatives.
  1. Thimuru – this is a unique Tamil word that marries headstrongness with pride. I have plenty of it, they say. I want to say they’re wrong...but hey, when I extend my eyebrows to their fullest height and look down my nose at them when I’m telling them I’ll take care of my own business, I can’t really blame them. They’re not used to this weird thing called ‘independence’.
  2. Valarpu- basically, faulty upbringing. I can’t count the number of times my parents have been told, “But she can’t say no if you insist. Just fix the marriage and tell her.” It’s shocking that in this day and age,  there exists a large section of the Indian population who think their kids are to do with as they please. Like possessions or pets. “What kind of girl is that, who won’t listen to her parents?” The kind that has a brain, folks, the kind that has a brain.
So, summing up, thimiru and valarpu. Hence, I am unmarried.

According to my siblings:

Hell Spawn!

My sister's nickname for me is 'Cinder-villi' as in a Cinderalla who, granted, does her chores but is too villainous for words. She believes I was spawned in the cesspools of hell and I searched for her through the worlds before finally finding her and orchestrating my birth. My brother wouldn't go that far, but he wouldn't exactly protest it either. Sometimes, I believe it all. Hence, I am unmarried.

According to my friends:

“It’s a shame, really. Come, let’s go eat.”
And they say they care! Hmpf! Not one accidental encounter with an intelligent, well-read guy they just happen to know. Hence, I am unmarried.

According to my pets:

“Stay with us forever and ever and ever and.....” The lights of my life. I would give up everything for them. People say I love animals more than I do humans. They’re right. With every fibre of my being, I do. Hence, I am unmarried.

According to me:

Dealbreakers. I think that when you have an actual list, it grows as you age. A less fancy way of putting that would be- the older I get, the less bullshit I’m willing to put up with. Hence, I am unmarried.


Seriously though, it isn’t the easiest question to answer. I’ve always shied away from an ordinary life. Not that it is less, but simply because I wither away when I try to conform. Also, no one can say I’ve made a success of anything- I don’t have anything tangible to show for having lived the way I want to. I am not even deliriously happy. But I am at peace- which is the only thing that really matters to me (in my internal world, that is.) Finding a partner, a marriage that doesn’t destroy that peace, that only adds to it, implies a compatibility on so many levels that, to me, this question of why I’m not married yet is not really puzzling at all. I’m astonished instead, that so many people are!

So much so, that I think that should be the new question for this era- why are you married?

I think I’m onto something here!  ;)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Oooh, The Bubble!

I got cut out of a friend's life recently, because I did what I usually never do- after she indulged in a bitching session about her husband with me, I actually asked her if she trusted him. Here's the thing with a female friend in a relationship- she can say all that she wants to about her partner. All you must do is nod sympathetically. At the most, you can make a few noncommittal sounds. Just don't use words. 

Women seem to prefer delusion when it comes to their partners. The bubble must never be breathed upon. Because the shitty stuff will never happen to them. Their husbands, though somewhat flawed, are still beyond reproach, especially when it comes to fidelity. 

As a single woman in her 30's, I've personally come across a lot of married men who cheat or who want to cheat. Just download a tinder app on your phone and you'll see for yourself. They have every excuse under the sun. I always imagine the poor, hapless wife at home, sitting there believing her husband is the kind of guy who'd never do that to her. In the case of the friend I mentioned, I'm pretty sure he's playing the field.  

It's not just cheating. Most of the woman I know are with men who don't deserve them. Men who are emotionally unavailable, whose egos overshadow their personalities, whose stealth at cheating on their partners is quite remarkable, who are downright immature and selfish, who believe they're entitled to a wife-slave, and who are outright misogynists. And for all this they are each rewarded with a woman's compassion, companionship, selfless care, delicious meals, a warm body, admiration, friendship and fidelity. 

Apart from the obvious question, 'why do women settle for so little?' this issue begs for the answer to the far more pressing question- 'What's wrong with men?' 

There's a gender based empathy test called the Lemonade test and the results are quite amusing. 

Just to clarify, I speak also from experience, not just observation. For a former 'friend' I was with, there were innumerable safety catches in his mental relationship agreement. (FYI, these usually kick in after the honeymoon period of a relationship is over.) Sure, you can set up a hot water bath for me to ease my pain, but just because you're doing it for me, it doesn't mean I ever will or that I ever have to do so for you. After all, I never asked you to. If you expect it, it means that that's why you're doing it, so that you'll get it back, ergo you're not being selfless at all.' At the end of all that would be the ever present pride at the 'logic' of it all. I know why I was silent (why bother?), but what I wonder is- why did it take so long to get out?

I think that with women, it's not easy to give up on a relationship. That's why the actual break up so often turns messy. And that's why we stay in it for so long, when the rational parts of our minds are frantically screaming for relief. It takes courage to stand still and try harder and then it takes courage to face the truth and walk away. That's assuming one has the initial courage to look at the relationship and see what's wrong. Many prefer to  keep their eyes shut tightly, like the friend who cut me out. 

Beneath it all is the conviction that it just shouldn't be that hard. Which brings us back to 'What's wrong with men?' Is it the emotionally stunted childhood (boy's don't cry), coddling (my son won't do chores), entitled upbringing (boys will be boys), media brainwashing (men take, women give), stereotypical gender roles (I wear the pants here), primitive dominance (I'm a man),.... in fact, very little is right. This is why female empowerment is so important. 

When a woman takes a submissive role in a marriage, she's demonstrating to her son what his future marriage can be like- basically, what he can get away with. When she raises him without teaching him personal responsibility and self-sufficiency, she's setting up a woman somewhere for a really disappointing relationship.  When she lets slide even one opportunity to point out a common, yet misogynistic thought, belief or action, whatever the source, she's letting herself down and saying to him, yet again, women will take crap and it's okay. 

Why is a gender neutral society so long in the making? Since Adam and Eve, (figuratively speaking) we've been here a long time. But I guess most of that time's been spent mucking it all up, and the cleaning up part is relatively recent. Change is slow. Be it colonial rule, racism or male dominance, history tells us that oppressors apparently enjoy it too much to let it go, even when it's so blatantly,  painfully wrong. Sometimes, it seems like that rib of Adam's was the best part of him. 

Disclaimer: When I say 'men' in this write-up, I refer to 90% of the Indian men that I have come across or heard of. It does not mean men in general/all men, Indian or otherwise. And by 'women', I mean my female friends, acquaintances and women they know. And yes, women cheat, have their own flaws etc. Just not the women I know and have written about here- they're bloody amazing.