Are those two people your parents only because they are married?

 

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With Yazhini and our awesome ob-gyn Anshu Bansal

 

We write this to those friends who responded so to the news of our baby, Yazhini, “OMG! When did you get married?” and to those friends who quietly assumed that we are married.

NEWSFLASH: Yazhini’s parents (Muthumoorthy and Me) are not married.

What does making a baby have anything to do with marriage? Marriage is, after all, a social contract. And weddings, the face of marriage, are displays of social status. This is why the interpretation changes with religion, government and culture. One can decide whether they want to get married or not. This has nothing to do with creating themselves a family. Sadly, most people find this hard to believe.

 

Sex, similarly, is also a choice. Consensual sex is an erotic and biological act, which has to surpass many societal judgements about body-image and body-joining to become enjoyable. In case you didn’t know, there are people who engage in premarital sex, extra-marital sex, swinging sex, orgies, non-monogamous sex, queer sex, masturbation, geriatric sex, and even no sex at all. There are all kinds in our beautiful species. Married people are not the only ones doing it.

Basic biology teaches us that sex (sometimes protected and most of the times unprotected) can result in a pregnancy. Feminism 101 teaches us that a woman can before, during and thereon choose what is done with her own body.

 

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After the fourth pregnancy test turned positive pink, I made it clear to Muthu with a strange and silent stare, ‘This baby is going to happen. You can be as involved as you want to be.’ This is a line that could confuse even the very feminist boyfriend, because life plans will be changing. We had a short argument and decided together to learn how to do this day by day. Before that, we had to tell our parents!

My parents are cool, okay. But, pregnancy is always a bomb of a news. We asked a family friend for some advice and she wanted to cushion the fall. She said that the man must first ask for the girl’s hand and then reveal the news of the baby. We did so and parents were so happy. Maybe, it was their drop out, job-skipping, kind-of-artist girl baby finally settling down in life that overjoyed them or also the prospect of a grandchild. They did have their worries about this choice of mine, but they kept their disapproval to themselves and spread joy.

Both of us never wanted to get married, but we decided it wasn’t a very bad idea if it could  allow us a peaceful pregnancy with both the families support. However, what we faced was long days of drama on how live-in-relationships imported from Western cultures cause such unwanted mess, on whether we should simply register or have a ceremony, but how could we have a ceremony with my baby bump, then should I just anyway get an abortion and avoid stressing out others, and were we just throwing our lives to the dogs. Meanwhile, I was growing bigger, gassier and sprouting my own species of mood swings.

The need to get married started sounding stupid to us. Who were we trying to make happy when the baby and us were pushed in to such distress? Pregnancy, by itself, is difficult. So, we endlessly postponed the marriage and gave vague answers to those family members who tirelessly inquired us.

 

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The Family at the Valakaapu

 

Around the ninth month, we agreed to my aunt’s request of a valakaapu (a traditional baby shower). She said it would be an auspicious event for the baby. We know jack-shit about auspicious cos-pee-shee-yus things. But, I did tell Muthu that celebrating the coming of the baby would do us good after so much tension. I was insanely scared if the baby would be fine and if I could actually survive the ordeal, and felt a few good vibes and pampering would do my pregnant soul good. Muthu warned me that it must not involve any rituals. We made it clear to everyone again and again that it would be a celebration and a house-warming ceremony. But, there were some societal demands. Some were smartly subverted (men and women drew moustaches and beards with sandhanam on me, and my sister embraced Freud and garlanded me instead of Muthu). Some chances were missed (apparently, I could have dressed goth, because pregnant women get to dress anyway they want). This was followed by a vegetarian ela saapaadu that everyone enjoyed, but most friends gave me a disappointed look, “We expected biryani and beer from you.” Left to me, I would have arranged such a feast. But, my grandmother was the chief guest.

She came with her own demands. She gifted me a karugamani maalai (mangalsutra worn by some Muslim sects and certain North Indian Hindu sects) and asked me to wear it. I should have said no, but you don’t say no to gifts. I wear it when I meet her and she knows this. She also informed us that she will tell all her friends that we had registered our marriage, because she finds it very hard to explain our choices to them. Again, I should have said, ‘No, Paati.’ I was, like, even if I say no, you are anyway going to go ahead and say so, and I also don’t really hang out with your friends and maybe this shouldn’t matter. Until…

Last month, we went to Muthu’s parents house at Peravurani for a wedding. Everyone there also believed this fantasy register marriage; parentheses with the belief that I am a Brahmin city girl. I must write about this latter part later. Muthu tried telling one of his grandmothers that we are not married and was immediately reprimanded by a sister who lives there as she did not want to receive the clout for it.

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Yazhini and the saree-clad me ready to rock Muthu’s cousin’s wedding outside her grandparents house in Peravurani

Sad part is that your discomfort with us not being married in the current social situation is understandable. How would you explain it to yourself or others? So yeah, most of our families lie to themselves and others that we are married. Once in a while, they sigh that how nice it would have been to have a wedding and do all of this with so much peace.

Ever since we returned to Chennai, Muthu has been asking me to write this and tell the world that we are not married. In fact, he has been asking me to write down our entire story beginning from one random November night that we met for the first time in our lives. Umm.. but I am a well-seasoned procrastinator. I write this now, because I am actually supposed to be editing something else.

We are never going to get married. Hell, we don’t even think we will be monogamous. Now, how is Yazhini going to deal with this and what societal pressures will she experience because of our choices? I suppose, she is going to learn that she can make her own choices.

When I was a little child, I used to tease my father that I would just for the sake of it rebel against them and have an awesome garish ritualistic wedding. He would try to reason with me and I would insist with my silly arguments. He just patiently let me come to my own senses about it. Today, sometimes he is confused about my choice, but somewhere trusts me or in liberty to let me be myself. (Now, we are arguing about homeschooling vs schooling. This too, I shall write about later.)

 

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Throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we anyway go through a variety of identity crises. This is good. There is no point in trying to protect your child from all the possibilities out there thinking that it is going to confuse her or cause her societal pressures. It is more important to be there when she is confused and explore that territory with that same confusion. Read with her, travel with her, question the world with her, sit with her and tell her to go ahead, take her time and make her own choice. I just got to make sure that she can handle a crisis. There is no point in avoiding crisis or simply waiting for the rest of the world to become an accepting and peaceful place. That is not going to happen until we first make our choices and continuously challenge status-quo. Indirectly, this is what my parents gifted me, though they sometimes interpret it as failing to protect me.

The Layered Apology

the raw onion smell freaks me out nowadays. last weekend, I peeled a few sambar onions. the tips of my fingers still smell like them. the hands have been washed a minimum of fifty times in the meanwhile. so randomly, thinking about it today I remembered I forgot about this blog – or actually pushed it to the back of my head.

I was actually waiting to set up my kitchen and actually get to a bit of cooking before I wrote anything. the truth – the kitchen is still a random bunch of boxes with a shelf full of colourful ingredients, I just don’t go to see anymore. something is keeping me away. as clutter gathers, the body becomes an onion.

this onion can walk and just mooches off the next best thing. an already clean house at offer somewhere else. it can’t find a single layer to clean its own clutter. clutter-free is an etiquette. clean counters come with it.

simultaneously, my mom is training me to become a junior Mr. Monk at her house.

so clearing a part of my head, by kicking up this space and hoping it will guilt me in to making a meal or two.

to beat the heat, here’s a story a friend made for a college project.

conversations about what and what not to eat

Vegetarian: So why do you eat non-veg?
Me: I inherited my food. I am never going to quit meat.
Vegetarian: Don’t worry, I am not going to convert you.
Me: Please worry, I am a proud converter of veggies in to pure non-veggies.

***

“Two people ate a dog in my office. Dogs are eaten in Indonesia. They hadn’t eaten one ever since they moved here and it has been a long time. So they hunted down a street dog and ate it. My office fired them because it might affect the company’s reputation,” said V.

***

“Convert to a Hindu. Whatever festival it is, all you Christians eat are chicken and mutton. But in each Hindu festival we can eat something different. Koyakattai, paal payasam, ada pradhaman. The list is endless,” said P to his lover.
“You’re saying this as if you are going to cook for her. Or does it rain food like this during Hindu festivals?” I snapped back.
“Human beings biologically, naturally, are not, sorry, are carnivores,” said S to her lover.

***

to be continued…

Meal-based pet peeves

  • Make sure there is enough for everyone, especially the greedy me. Otherwise I will just order or cook more than I can consume.
  • Don’t you dare clear the table and put away the food, while I am still around my plate (yes, even if it is empty).
  • Please try to stay away from topics like gastric trouble, bodily fluids and so on. My tolerance has not yet reached Zen level in this respect. I will squirm and get snappy. I once kicked a guy on his shin for saying the fish curry I was eating looked like menstruation blood to him. Away from my plate, I am okay with your associations, I actually enjoy them.
  • Don’t you dare make yucky noises at something someone else is eating. It is their food. I hope you understand such a simple concept.
  • If you’re inviting me over for a meal, make sure you have enough ever-silver bowls and plates. Plastic kills my appetite. And I like to keep my side dishes separate from the main dishes, unless and until they are meant to be put together or the feast and its availabilities demand it.
  • Don’t force anyone to eat. Don’t starve yourself for them. If they enjoy watching you wallop a meal, do it in style.
  • Don’t go on pointing out mistakes to the cook. Though it is customary in some cultures to enjoy a feast by saying something good and bad about the food to ward away omens, try to put your superstitions aside and make the chef feel good by wiping your plate or leaf clean. After all, they fed you.
  • Try not to blow cigarette smoke right on to my face when I am eating, unless we are on the beach or in a tea shop. It confuses my sense of taste.

I am sure that I have more pet peeves, but these are the ones that immediately came to mind. Do you have any? Are yours personal or culturally rooted?

Embodying a Goddess of Leftovers

Me – I had an awesome meeting. Is there anything to eat?
Amma – I don’t think there’s anything much to eat.
Me – Ayyo, I’m very hungry. Didn’t you have lunch?
Amma – Yeah a bit.
Me: Didn’t I tell you I was coming?
Amma – Not really. I didn’t know when your meeting will finish.
Me – Adadaa, I am very hungry.
Amma – See what is there.
Me – (opens fridge) Oh there is quite a bit of leftovers, but no rice.
Amma – I’ll keep rice. What’s there to eat?
Me – Swordfish curry, mutton curry, vengaaya thuvaiyal, sundakkai poriyal, wow! And…
Amma – There’s some potato curry that Asma sent over. This is how her mother used to cook them.
Me – Awesome! Then there is periya kathirikkai sambal, siru keerai poriyal, and Grand Sweets potato chips.
Amma – Can you wait for ten minutes for the rice to be done?
Me – Oh sure!
(Four whistles and ten minutes later. I arrange all the food around me. Amma heats the mutton curry)
Amma – The rice might have kozhanjufied.
Me – It will be fine ma.
Amma – Will this be enough for you? If you don’t finish it, I can have some too.
Me – (settling down to eat and looking around at the spread) But, can I finish everything?
Amma – Sure, sure, sure!
(I eat for the next hour when Amma makes tire cushions with Mani)
Me – How can you say there’s not much to eat, when there’s so much?
Amma – Ha ha, you eat just like Gowri, concentrating only on the food.
Me – Yes, yes, yes. I lovve eating leftovers out of dabbas like this. What’s not for the trash can is for my stomach.

***

The south Indian Dalit Goddess Matangi, Ellamma’s associate, is popularly known as the ‘outcaste goddess’. Protecting communities from drought and disease, and epitomizing power of domination, freedom, speech,  transgression, music, inner thought and pollution are among her responsibilities and virtues. Matangi is venerated by an elaborate performance by a storyteller who when possessed tells the myth, lives it in to reality, and makes it in to a ritual. Her story is about ‘the sacrifice of animals and humans, as well as about sacrifices themselves’. She is said to be offered leftover or spoiled food, loose change and such used and done goods by her devotees. Negative x Negative kind of logic. The pure in the polluted. As all assimilation exercises in Hinduism, Matangi is later assumed as the Tantric form of Saraswati. Today’s an ode to the goddess of leftovers…

Here M.I.A tells you the story of Matangi. Listen to the song below and let me know what you do with leftovers

…she represents the hood because her dad is an untouchable…Well he was an untouchable and his name was Sage Matanga, and he was the first guy to get enlightened without… Because the way Hinduism was set up, when you’re reading the mythology and stuff, the rules of it is that you have to be reborn again and again and again—you know, because they believe in reincarnation. And every time you’re reborn, you have to, like, overcome Maya. And once you overcome the Maya you get born again at a higher level. So basically there’s like levels to being, reaching spiritual enlightenment… It’s like a computer game—actually that explains it better—you get stuck in a level for a long time, and you have to keep redoing it. And so Sage Matanga basically broke all the levels, got to the top, cracked the game without restarting. Because Brahmins in Hinduism are elitists. They are like the corporations of today. They basically acquire the right to own knowledge and spread knowledge and preserve knowledge. They document and they protect and they keep it and they use it however they want. And to be a Brahmin you can only be born to it. They think it’s a gift when you’re born a Brahmin. And they’re the ones that owned temples, you know, so they can own how the information went out. It’s sort of similar to like extremely rich people today who acquire the church or the information within it… So anyway, Sage Matanga wasn’t a Brahmin and he overcame that. So he got given a gift of goddess. She was reborn to him and she was already a goddess of music and she always represented the hood and the untouchables and people that lived in the ghetto. The untouchables had their special neighborhoods and nobody else went there. They were like dirty people because their jobs were to clean streets. They were hunters, they cleaned animals, meat, corpses. They were funeral people who worked in cremation grounds. So they had the worst jobs that society could have. And nobody talked to them and they were basically like the dirty people on the planet. So she liked representing them because of her dad, but also because, in that zone is where you can tell the nature of pollution and how environments get polluted. Because she is the goddess of music and spoken word, she fights to keep the frequencies clear, unpolluted. She finds a way to study the levels of pollution by living in a very dirty place.

Story telling with food as…

Making a meal, eating it, sharing it with others, or plain hunger are the first gestures of your desire to live. This is probably the basis of why food studies and critical eating studies look at the human body as ‘the site of social and political struggle’. A recipe, a cuisine, the kitchen becomes the story of a people, in fact their rich subtext.

As a writer, I search for places where subtext is in abundance, where the flow from thought to conversation to action is seamless and needs investigation to unravel.

A basic growing list of ideas:

Food as a story teller’s point of view
Food as inheritance, heritage and history
Food as the basis of survival and struggle
Food as choice and availability
Food as a gestural activity

The following short sketch ‘Dinner for One’ was watched over coffee time with a past-roommate. This is example number one of how food makes stories.