Don’t worry, mothers are apparently solely responsible for the children

In this whole year of having Yazhini in our lives, the only two nights I have taken off has been when I’ve been totally consumed by a work project with unnecessarily tight deadlines that I stared at the computer so much to get fatter eyeglasses. One of those nights I crashed like a dog. Then I spent two weeks guiltily holding my daughter close to me. 

My partner (a musician) has listened long enough to my confusion about this subject. Every week, he gets invited to jams, meetings, band practice, and parties…all late at night. Despite my moods, I still just let him go 95% of the time. I can’t be a setback to his career. He anyway pitches in and tries his best to take care of Yazhini when he is around. So what am I so riled up about? 

In this whole time, whenever someone gives me work or calls me out, their first worry is, “What about the baby?” For the last three months we’ve got a baby sitter who adores Yazhini. If I say I am going to leave her with the sitter, people ask, “But oh, how can you leave her there for so long?” 

But in this whole time, not has one colleague or friend who has invited the father, especially on late night outs, asked him, “Oh, but what about the baby?” They just silently assume the mother will take care. The mother could be running a fever like tonight or she herself could just have loads of work to do or just not have too much interest in constantly nursing the child. She might be trying to be wean baby off. But, no, people just comfortably assume the responsibility of taking care of children primarily falls on the mother. Society is just soaked to its toes in patriarchy that it leeches in to your sleep. 

I am also encouraged to assume this and settle with reality. Sigh! And for Yazhini, I will wipe off the trouble from my soppy face and continue with my responsibilities. Because a mother’s career and sanity is to just be there for her child. F*** you. 

I refuse to tell my child that I sacrificed parts of my life for her. Neither parent’s career or sanity must be jeopardised for a kid. That is one of the most cruel things to do a child. I dread the day Yazhini will anger us an adult and we will retort, “Oh, but look at what we gave up for you.”

I will party alone with a cheese sandwich to this conundrum. 

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Can we talk about sexuality ? 

Last week was about long conversations on sexuality, sex, porn, and ‘private parts’. Such wealth of conversations is a rarity. 

This was triggered by Memories of a Machine a beautiful Malayalam fictional monologue, in which an adult recollects how she began exploring her sexuality as a child. I urge you to take ten minutes to watch the film and then continue reading. 

As the credits ran I kept repeating under my breath: “Finally someone said it.”

At school we had our first discussion about our bodies and sexual abuse when we were in seventh standard. Though the forum avoided thoughts on same sex relationships or gender-determination, there was only so much that could be taboo. A lot had already transpired in my life, barring puberty, with little or no talk. Halfway through the discussion a classmate asked, “But, what if I like it when I have watched something sexy on TV? I sometimes switch to such channels when my parents are not around.” I joined the mob at sniggering at this girl until our teacher shut us up for trying to ridicule someone for opening up. So I immediately bit my tongue and apologised. Then I added to the discussion, “I know adults are not supposed to touch us like that. I know it’s sick and some of it is abuse and that you are supposed to say no. But it was very hard to say no, because I didn’t know what to do when I liked something or it felt funny and good in a weird sort of way. And what to do if other children touch you?” My teacher then told me that this confusion of whether something is good or not and the secrecy that goes along with these things is precisely why we should protect ourselves until someone comes along when we are older to have an intelligible conversation about sex and then if we consent we can explore. Bless that teacher. She helped me survive a lot of abuse before and after. 

Memories of a Machine has been bombarded with a lot of criticism, especially from Kerala. A state where Premam was such a big hit. Did someone miss who Nivin Pauly finally ended up with in the film? Okay! They were adults when they finally got married, but even then… Sigh! All my stupid touristy notions of Kerala crumble as I read the comments section in YouTube. 

The critiques say that the film normalises paedophilia. However, what this film does is to force open a dialogue on a child’s body and sexual experiences. Eras have gone by without talking about this. Too many will suppress a nod when asked if they experimented with cousins, classmates and friends. This film normalises a child’s curiousity and physical feelings. It does not justify any adult’s intention to violate a child physically or emotionally. 

But I also understand what is causing this widespread negative feedback to this film. Many people are just shit scared. It is already hard enough to keep your child safe. It is already awkward enough to talk about body hair growth. The majority of people lack the provisions to have conversations around the body and sexuality even with other adults. Sex related talk and thoughts, even though we know this is not true, is assumed the domain of the bedroom and a reason to procreate or keep the husband on a leash. There are people who lack the language to talk about their bodies even for health reasons. For instance, I spent hours at the hospital trying to deliver a baby, while two nurses staring down at my vagina refused to call it that. They just kept referring to it as ‘down there’. 

So is it too soon for this country to handle such a film? Are we incapacitated to dialogue or just plainly reluctant? I think no time is so soon. It is the right time because a filmmaker made this possible. 

 But how to talk about this film? Shall we just get cranky and harass the filmmaker and actor for giving us hard things to do? How dare they urge us to think of our children as beings with natural urges? Aren’t kids just supposed to be focused on getting top grades in classes? The sarcasm in my words might fly over your paranoid head if you are one of the parents or just one of those deeply concerned public that wants to harass the makers of this film. Well…we can only try to open the grounds for you and hope for the best. 

Rewatch this. Please talk about it at home, work and the tea kadai. Force yourself to have uncomfortable conversations. They will cease to be uncomfortable soon. If talking with children is too hard, begin with asking your parents, friends or your partner. 

In the first two weeks of our relationship, Muthu and I hardly spoke about anything other than our sexual adventures since childhood. If we hadn’t, I couldn’t have felt the least bit comfortable letting him describe to me how my vagina had changed post delivery. 

Please for the health of your children and yourselves, stop repressing your thoughts and questions about sexuality and pleasure. Stop being shit scared. It’s alright. 

Here’s just a few more videos you can use for information and perspective (unfortunately none in regional languages! See, the obvious necessity for a film like Memories of a Machine):

Pattaani, Sundal, Popcorn and Cinema

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Rajnikanth, Thalapathi 1991

This is the first image I remember watching on a big screen – my one way ticket to Rajni fandom. I was two years old and fell flat in love with cinema and this man. I swore Yazhini’s (my daughter, already introduced in previous posts) first cinema experience would have been Kabali da. Then Joker (a film that has created a spark of hope in the Tamil film industry and its audience) was released and I decided that the first actor Yazhini will see on the big screen would be Guru Somasundaram who stars as Janathipathi Mannar Mannan

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Poster of Joker 2016

The last film I had watched in a theatre was Baahubali (2015), seven months pregnant. I pester my partner (Muthu) everyday to take us to the cinemas. I was really down to – it can be any film! Every time I shared this verve to watch a film, close friends retorted, ‘What about the baby?’. A few days back, a friend had shared an open letter by a mother:  Dear Parent, with the noisy kid at the movie, please stay at home. So, I sighed and celebrated piracy before sharing it forward.

She puts across a good argument explaining how insensitive such a parent is to their children and the others in the audience. Your child shouldn’t be watching everything you watch. And if you’re not sure if your child makes noise and if you can’t hire a babysitter, sit at home and watch it on TV in your private space. Wait, an obvious issue with the letter is that it is written to the multiplex audience.

Today, I gambled with taking Yazhini, who is now ten months old to watch Joker at Aaradhana this afternoon. She has already watched three plays with little noise, so small gamble in my heart.

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Find us in this selfie if you can

My parents did not act as my censorship board, but I somehow learnt from them to critically consume media. In my early childhood, we lived in an apartment complex at KK Nagar. Udhayam, Vijaya, Surya, and Indira were the cinema theatres we frequented. When we moved to Besant Nagar, Thyagaraja and Jayanthi joined the band wagon.

My elder sister and I had a great love for watching devotional films, with strong goddesses and the height of melodrama. When Amman released in 1995, our friend Dhana’s mother took us along with her children to Vijaya theatre. We managed to get the thara tickets. The theatre was so crowded that we sat behind rows of women on the floor. Incidentally, the theatre had also announced gifts to those women who danced under the goddess’ trance. We witnessed an aadi thiruvizha in front of the screen. We would rewatch this movie with the same enamour for many years.

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Poster of Amman 1995

Apart from this, few cinema theatre experiences of my childhood have had this much drama. I vaguely remember turning around in my seat for the entirety of Jurassic Park (1994). And then the one time I convinced my aunt to take me to Minnale (2001) in Vetri theatre, where a group of college students incessantly chanted, “Gili gili gili gili gili gili hoo haa hoo haa.” She returned home with a massive migraine.

In Thyagaraja and Jayanthi, my sister and I watched a whole lot of films. We would buy our usual junk food – dry pattani, kadalai, panju mittai, soft cone ice cream, and dry masala popcorn. Sometimes, crane paaku. Parents, lovers, gangs, children and loners peopled the crowd in these cinemas. There was an aging scent of paan in the mustiness of the seats and floor. Large fans were suspended from a high ceiling. Neither the air-conditioner nor the fans managed to bring a breeze. There could have been rats. I think I saw one once. I don’t really remember all the films I watched, but I do still remember the feeling of going to these theatres rich with the noises of life.

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Jayanthi theatre, Thiruvanmiyur

Cinematic experience is sensorial. So while watching Joker, I did not mind that the guy in front of me constantly yawned and threw up his arms, that my popcorn came in a cover with wheelchips written on it, that a child was nagging his parents for attention, or that a woman was translating an already subtitled film minute by minute to her friend in English. Yazhini danced and watched the film until interval and then slept well for the rest of it. The only people we probably disturbed was the couple next to us who felt uncomfortable that they couldn’t make out with a baby next to them. Good!

Going to the cinema is much more than watching a film, much like how going to the beach is not all about the sand and waves.

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A recent meme, a satire on placard politics

The film, Joker’s clever dialogues were applauded with laughs. People swayed to the music. The film attempted to dialogue sanitation, women, health, euthanasia, mafia, governmental corruption, and insanity. One is to say the script tried to digest more than it could chew and another is to say it tried to show these things are connected. The end monologue that actually tells you what the rest of the story should have told you is a writing device I resorted in my recent play. Maybe, it’s because here we are good at writing back stories and story themes, but not good at turning it in to subtext. In total, with its dignified performances Joker is an ode to comrades who fashion placards, do demonstrations, file cases and do the brunt of social work. But by the end of this speech, people were beginning to leave the cinema.

The open letter’s only other misgiving is that it forgot to mention how the audience is insensitive to the artists who have put in work to create the film. Maybe, because we pay we don’t care? Countless times even the best of movies cannot keep people in theatres until the end of the title roll. Jackie Chan could with bloopers for certain films. Anurag Kashyap once managed that with the end of Gangs of Wasseypur I by screening the trailer for the sequel. Right before the movie started a mother asked her nine year old daughter to switch off her phone, for which the daughter reminded her she never bought her a phone. Where were they at the end credits?

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So, this is not a review of a film? This is my love letter to the crowded cinema watching experience. There could soon be a day when life will give people space to respect artists, silently watch a full film and then critically discuss it.

Until then… pattani, sundal, panju mittai… Hmmm… “What to watch next, Yazhini? Kabali da?”

Who are the beef eaters in India?

More than 80 million people eat beef/buff in India, including 12.5 million Hindus

The lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly storing and consuming beef a few weeks ago has sparked a heated debate about banning the meat. Predictably, battle lines have also been drawn around religious groups.

But data from the latest National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) round shows that around 80 million people—around 1 of every 13 Indians—eat beef or buffalo meat. That number is almost the same as Germany’s population and is spread across religions and states.

From Live Mint

Most of my ‘Hindu’ friends (even the Brahmin kind) eat beef. You might already know that I am a full-time atheist meat-eater. I think the right time has come to start doling out beef recipes (secret, favourite and from all communities) out here.

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Children don’t need to payback

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The number of times I have heard parents justify their hypocrisy with, “What have you done for us after all we have done for you?” And the way they expect this pressure to push their children to excel, earn, save and secure the parents’ retirement! Finally, someone replied to it. (From I am Ryan Henly’s Facebook Page)

Celebrating brave women and alternative relationships

Most friends have shared, called, or sent a message to give me a virtual hug or a ‘Power to you, Sam’ affirmation. Jedi Faerie Queen Dinosaur Kitten Witch & More is a friend I have been meaning to dialogue with at length about marriage over spirits, smoke and good meat. She decided to get married and I decided not to. Both of us come from spaces of the exploratory poly-amorous and queer. But, what better way for writers to dialogue than through written words. Thanks G! Lots of love, as always.

Jedi Faerie Queen Dinosaur Kitten Witch

Recently a very brave friend of mine decided to have a baby. This in itself, is something that I think of as extremely brave. Taking responsibility for a new human life and all that. She did something else alongside which made this braver in my eyes. She and her partner decided not to get married, and not even to pretend like they were married.

And so this post is dedicated to her. And others like her who have decided to go against the tide of our increasingly intolerant society and create a family on their own terms and in ways which don’t conform with societal expectations.
They did what I couldn’t do for reasons of cowardice*, sentimentality and practicality.

This brave friend wrote a funny, intelligent and delightfully experiential account of her decision, some of its consequences, confusions and the rationale behind her decision. Her account was reprinted on Firstpost

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Will I ever stop eating, breastfeeding and explain myself to the world?

Amma (mostly) and I created a very magical thokku tonight.

The Easiest Pork Thokku

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

Cook the following in a pressure cooker:

  • 1/2 kg pork
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 2 dried kashmiri chillies
  • A bit of kokkum puli
  • 1 spoon turmeric
  • 1 spoon sugar

Pick out the blanched tomatoes, skin them and drop it back in to the curry. Pick out the kokkum puli and throw it in your garden.

Mix the following ingredients in to the curry:

  • 1 spoon red chilli powder
  • 2 spoons dhaniya powder
  • 1 spoon garam masala
  • 1 spoon salt

Let the pressure cooker go for another five to six whistles. Drain the lard (don’t forget to store it for future meals) and serve with hot rice.

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On March 13, 2016 thanks to Firstpost my previous blog article announcing my decision to have a baby out-of-wedlock reached a larger audience (click to read). I hope you have as much fun as my family and me when you read the comments. It has been a constant source  of entertainment during an otherwise mournful weekend.

Yazhini has received a lot of love and concern of all kinds from all corners of the Web. Thanks to everyone who has read and taken some time to talk about how my life choice affects you. Especially, thanks to those who demand an explanation from this armchair feminist (is that what you called me, or was it choothiyaa?). There are no arms on any of the chairs here, as far as I can see. Mostly, I write once Yazhini has fed very well and decides to sleep for the night. Writing is a sensual act (read, masturbation). It must be done on a comfortable bed.

So, will I ever stop eating, breastfeeding and explain myself to the world? Do I choose not to get married only to sound cool? Did I write that just to show off to the rest of the world? How can I be so selfish? How can I not care about what my family or child will go through because of my selfish choices? Am I not being anti-national (these days, many of us expect to be asked this whatever we say)? Are you fine with so many anonymous people reacting to this? How will you send your child to a good school? Isn’t it too early to do such things in an Indian context? Did you read some of those epic comments? You are not reading the comments, are you?

Today – as a nation or whatever – has been added to that endless list of unhappy days where one witnesses violence unleashed in broad daylight on anything that challenges the patriarchal definition of ‘legitimate procreative desire’ (Menon 2012). In this light, the choice made from my all liberal, leftist, middle-class background comes with its own dangers. And so, I must first attempt an answer to one simple question posed by a supportive friend: Why did you have to announce this at all?

We just had to J! While you mean well and ask this from a space of genuine curiousity, in effect, it could mean why couldn’t we have stayed silent and allowed others the peace of assumption. It is true that we announced it because we were simply tired of correcting each assumption one by one. We also want to avoid being put in a situation where silence is demanded from us.

The fact that it has reached more people means that our choices already resonate with others and not ‘everyone’ is scared of this virilocal family breaking down. What immense relief that gives us! This could not have happened if we had stayed silent. Moreover, it is definitely an armchair act to not talk about such a choice today.

Of course, you have also been reading the comments and we both know many more assumptions are being made now. I, definitely, don’t need to personally answer to most of them. Especially, absurd ones like:

“Balochistan mange AZADI, AZADI, AZADI from failed state PAKISTAN”/
“You enjoy all liberalism you want but ensure homogenous society and do not allow migration, otherwise the aggressive immigrants (muslims) will swamp you in couple of generations and your phuking liberalism will end the moment you end up in minority.”

Phew! These just take this dialogue in to strange territories.

I am now spewing porky yawns and will soon be back with replies to the sensible questions and objections. Until then, cook some cheese mutton and enjoy!