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It’s a long, lonely afternoon. The sun beats down with all its might and the people wither and wilt. I manage to fold my legs in the swiveling office chair and stare at the heads bent over their laptops.

This is not where I belong.

I begin at the no. It’s a nice, round ‘o’ sound that carries into the silence. I begin here, not at nothing, but at something less than nothing.

Each no I utter shoves me deeper into a stone cold pit. It’s not bad, I quite like it down here. But then those voices begin shouting my name. Then come the search parties, stumbling with flashlights through the dark undergrowth. Worried, concerned voices, searching for me in the wrong places. I remain silent. I let them yell and they get louder each night. The voices, they comfort me. I want to be sought, yet I want to remain lost to the world.

I am lost, even now, to the world that represses, the world that sits in judgment and the world that drowns out perfect harmonies.

And so I run. Wind-whipped hair and a gasp of air, hear the beat, feel the heat, run fast, lose the past, hit the wall, break the fall, take a plunge, fill your lungs, forget what you know and just let go.

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Stupor

In a daze I stumbled back to my dorm, stoned on some of the best hash the country had to offer. I crept inside my blanket and began tripping to the breathing of seven men into the silence of the wind. I had surrendered to the daydream delusions and fantasies of my drug-addled brain, when I heard a sob from the bunk above mine. One, then another, until great heaving wails rocked the entire bed, yet the others continued breathing and snoring, as if I was the only one alive or sane enough to hear the sound of grief. Listening to the drunk little boy shaking with tears, I froze within my stupor, unwilling and unable to reach out. I pretended to be asleep, and he continued sobbing into muffled pillows. These are tears of self pity, I thought with disdain. These are not tears where you feel sorry for a three-legged dog or a poor beggar kid; these aren’t tears of losing someone dear or missing someone who is far, far away. These tears were because he felt sorry for himself, sorry for the way he is, sorry for those that were no more in his life, and because he never knew the love of a mother. I knew, and I understood, but I was hardened and he was weak; I despised his tears, I hated a man who could cry unabashed for the man he could not become.

Strangers in sync

It was the fall of 2016. While the temperatures in the Valley were moderate, after sundown, the wind picked up and howled through the trees, making them shiver and shed their autumn foliage. We were bundled up in our winter jackets and scarves, and in search of whiskey to burn our throats and warm our innards. Up in the Himalayan mountains, it is a question of survival; it doesn’t really matter whether you ordinarily drink or not.

It had been a rough hike; with the sun beating down on our backs and sweat soaking through the layers, it was hot enough to experience a stroke. We occasionally sat and cooled off, but this part of the Valley had scant greenery, and sometimes there was not a single tree for miles. We were walking through a landscape of endless mountain ranges of brown and grey, a deserted trail beside a frothing white river and a clear, blue sky; despite the hard terrain, it was achingly, breathtakingly beautiful.

The population of the entire Valley was in four digit numbers, and the locals played host to weary travelers with undisguised delight. Food, water and shelter – your basic needs got taken care of with hardly a dent in your pocket, and beyond that, there was not much you needed, for travelers in the Valley never care for luxuries, rather, they are on the run from it.

After the day’s hike, we had chosen a small hostel on the outskirts of the village; it was cheap, promised decent food and had 5 rooms for rent. We were a strange group – me and my boyfriend, a girl with glasses who wrote poems and skipped stones, two musician guys from Mumbai who had been roaming these parts of the mountain for more than a month now, an American super-athlete couple and a young German girl and her Indian boyfriend who had been volunteering for the past year at a blind kids’ school in rural India. Incidentally, it so happened that that night would be the last time all of us met together in the same place, for the next day, we would all be going different ways.

Our search for a warm beverage proved more than fruitful, for the two Mumbaites not only had a bottle of scotch saved for some such occasion, but also produced some good quality hash, a souvenir of their travels. And so that night, a group of strangers gathered in one of the rooms, lit some candles, poured themselves some scotch, lit a joint, and sat in a circle to swap stories.

Matchmaking

The concept of ‘matchmaking’ has begun to greatly interest me. I’ll roughly define the term for you guys:

Matchmaking

Noun

The act of finding the right match / partner / spouse for a relative, friend or acquaintance*, and including negotiations between families till culmination of the same into marriage.

*Acquaintance for this purpose includes friend of a friend, colleague, neighbor, neighbor’s dog, watchman, Life insurance agent, salesman / grocery storekeeper...

This noble profession is usually taken care of by bored middle-aged aunties, who have perfected the necessary skills over the ages, such as:

  • Sharp hearing sense – Their ears prick as soon as the word ‘marriage’ is uttered or whispered in households in a radius of 10 miles
  • Analytical sense – They will give the candidate a sneak, keen once-over as they pass by, and collect a bio which includes height, weight, skin tone, income, fitness levels, artistic talents, cultural views and even the ability to cook.
  • Marketing skills – They are born saleswomen when the product is an eligible bachelor / bachelorette.

The youth of recent times, however, seem to have more faith in Matrimonial Services, which are efficient and impersonal, and can cast a wider net in deeper seas. You can simply access their secure online database (which has pictures), and just filter through categories such as caste, language, religion, location, education, mansion, perception, inception, hypertension, suspension, acceleration…

A third party matchmaker like these matrimonial sites, forces you to apply your judgment in doing a rough character assessment, based on which your whole life will be shaped. You need to accurately assess if the potential match has all the qualities you look for in an ideal life partner (Yes, all candidates know EXACTLY the qualities that their ideal match should possess). And if you find a match, in matchmaking terms it is a success!

In case you’re thinking THIS is scary, just hold on.

As if online marriage databases are not enough, China has a “Marriage Market”. The Shanghai Marriage Market. It is a very real & tangible market, in which “parents of unmarried adults flock to People’s Park in Shanghai, China every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 pm”.

If parents don’t do this, how else can their only child, their little baby, find a wife and have kids, so as to continue their family’s lineage, oh dear Lord!

Mail-order bride

A mail-order bride is a woman who lists herself in catalogs (online or otherwise) and is selected by a man for marriage.

“Women in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other Eastern European countries are common white mail-order bride candidates.”

This concept is still present. Wikipedia is not kidding!

Well, where love is blind, arranged marriages pull your eyes wide shut.

Interesting, right? I’m fascinated. Already flicking through mental catalogues of deliciously well-built mail-order men in swimsuits!! Do I need to make my intentions clear before placing an order? And how do I pay, in cash or in kind? 😉

Isolation

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They all see me stumbling blindfolded, scraping knees and elbows, dashing right into trees and rocks… And they think, for sure I am falling, falling into the valley below with no hope for survival. They look at me and wonder: I have my hands free, why don’t I take off my blindfold and open my eyes? Why don’t I look at the bodies below, the very people who had veered off the road and fallen to their destinies?

I have two options. I can meekly accept ‘my destiny’, this road that they have chosen for me. Or, I can suck in my gut and tell them that my chosen road is down that valley, to cross into new horizons. That I am not falling, but if I do fall, at least I tried.

What then, becomes of me who stands against this so-united world in their attempt to tame me, to rein the wildness within? Isolation.

Cheating, Deepika’s #MyChoice video & more…

Homi Adajania and Deepika Padukone’s Vogue ‘My Choice’ video has taken the word ‘empowerment’, and flung it far and wide, beyond the focus of the camera lens, where even Deepika’s billowing hair cannot reach.
Yes, a choice to cheat is incredibly selfish, and will probably shatter your partner’s life. But it is, after all, a choice.

Homi Adajania’s video ‘My Choice’ on ‘Women Empowerment’ featuring Deepika Padukone and 99 other women, has gone viral, which was what they wanted, but has created an outrage, which was not perhaps what they expected.

Deepika, looking gorgeous as always, says things like ‘My body, my mind, my choice’. She goes on to say that the kind of dress she wears, what time she comes home, whether ‘to love temporarily or lust forever’, ‘to have sex before marriage, outside of marriage or to not have sex at all’, is her choice. That, according to her is women empowerment.

I think everyone agrees that the video has nothing to do with women empowerment. She seems to have taken the opportunity to tell the world, ‘Yes, I am bold enough to think about running around naked, coming home at whatever time I want, choosing not to have a baby, or even having sex outside of marriage.’ The video has taken the word ‘empowerment’, and flung it far and wide, beyond the focus of the camera lens, where even Deepika’s billowing hair cannot reach.

That said, I may then say that the video was an attempt to make Indian women aware that they do have a choice, and to tell them to make their own choices. A choice to not have a baby if they don’t want it, to not have sex if they don’t want to, to dress the way they like as long as they are comfortable with it. 99 women are not in the video to simply fill up the edits in Deepika’s footage; they are independent women with strong personal opinions of their own.

People have focused way too much on the ‘having sex outside of marriage’ part. I did not hear Deepika say, “You should have sex outside of marriage.” She merely states that it is a choice. Yes, a choice to cheat is incredibly selfish, and will probably shatter your partner’s life. But it is, after all, a choice. The woman (or man) who chooses to cheat knows somewhere deep down, the repercussions of such a decision. I do not think Deepika meant to say that a woman can cheat and get away with it, or that a woman is allowed to cheat but a man isn’t.

It’s a choice. I’ve been on both ends of the cheating cane. It hurts, sure. A simple message expressing that he wants to be with her, how he longs to take her in his arms… is enough. Enough to realize you are faced with a choice to give him another chance, or to leave him. The choice to cheat is simpler. You don’t cheat if you’re happily committed to your partner. Making a choice to cheat, in my opinion, says you do not care enough, or that in your mind, you two are already broken up.

There is enough grey between being faithful and cheating. In the end it all comes down to what choices you make.

Extrapolate

Under society’s stern stare, I am the same person I have been for years. I live in the same house with the same disgruntled parents, I drive the same bike, pursue the same profession, and my look hasn’t changed much over the years.

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Society really isn’t complicated at all. It is set in its simple ways. Fashion trends may come and go, but it takes generations to have an impact on the thinking of the collective, especially the Indian minds.

If you ace a professional qualification, you’re right on the track. You’re in a relationship with someone from a good family, of your own caste, religion, profession, etc and they let you act as you please. You have a cultural hobby, such as singing or classical dance (in addition to the well-accepted profession that earns you good money), it means you’ll easily find favor with the prospective in-laws.

If there’s one thing society has perfected over the years, it is extrapolation.

extrapolate

ɪkˈstrapəleɪt,ɛk-/

Verb

  1. Extend the application of (a method or conclusion) to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable. “The results cannot be extrapolated to other patient groups”
  2. Estimate or conclude (something) by extrapolating. “The figures were extrapolated from past trends”
  3. Extend (a graph, curve, or range of values) by inferring unknown values from trends in the known data. “The low-temperature results can be extrapolated to room temperature”

Society’s definition has a somewhat different application. They measure up the past behavior of the kid, and extrapolate it to decide his / her future.

“The future happiness of one person can be extrapolated from past 10,000 years of Indian civilization.”

First thing they ensure, of course is that the kid hasn’t run away from home in his teenage years. Then they make sure he hasn’t dropped out of school / college to start off some business. Disinterest in academics and entrepreneurial spirit are big crosses on their list. Society does not bother with these types; they are outcasts. And in case the outcast makes it big on bright business ideas, then one by one, they come crawling back, eating up their words, and licking clean the crumbs off their plate. But that’s another story.

The next thing you need to do is ensure you’re not (publicly) a drunkard / smoker / stoner, and also do not possess any knowledge / special interest in sexual matters other than what is taught in school sex education. Of course, there are ways and means to lead such lives in secret, and as long as one knows what you do, you have a place in society.

If you haven’t fallen off the grid by now, then this is what will, or must have happened to you. This is your future, as the graph must, and will, extend to:

  • An accepted level of education

They really prefer it if you are an engineer, doctor, CA, lawyer. Such degrees ensure step 2. If not, a graduation level education is a bare minimum. That ensures a paying job at the least.

  • A stable earning job

Here it’s better if the company you work for is known among social circles. Better yet if the company is located in some IT park and you have a company cab / bus picking you up right near your doorstop. Bonus points if your company gives you a laptop / car for your personal use!

An MS degree from the US is the new rage. Studying in the US, and then staying back to pay off the loan means stability, independence, respect, and a good match for marriage.

Once things are well established on the career front, the focus turns more personal. Skip the next step if you are in a relationship that’s accepted by the folks (Instead of accepted, read: date fixed for marriage)

  • Searching for a prospective bride / groom

This is probably the most complicated aspect of Indian society. They start the process early, so as to give a couple of years’ margin to find just the right person you can spend your entire life with. It usually means you register yourself on some matrimonial service, and even fill out a form specifying the kind of partner you are looking for.

Believe me; they have specifications for height, weight, and color. I’m not lying, I’ve seen it. The whole process is comparable to a commercial market … imagine a showroom for cars. You specify speed, color, model, make, price, average, fuel, dealers, discounts… Get it?

I can go on and on… but I’ll reserve this topic for another day.

  • Engagement

A formal engagement is really an invitation for people to comment on how good the young couple looks together. It’s also an announcement to the world that the two previously-eligible bachelors are no longer in the market.

  • Marriage

The excitement, the extravagance, the costs, the reception, the drama, the tears…

And thus begins the married life, which, for the girl is a new life in a different set of closed walls, with a different narrow society of in-laws.

If you’ve done it right until now, a big whoops. It’s not easy till here, and it’s not getting any easier.

  • Kids!

That’s right, what’s coming up, are kids. Right after you manage to fulfill basic expectations like own house, own car.

And then, your life is an upside down tangle of adhering to society’s expectations, and once you do that, soon you’re on the other side. In a few short years of watching your kids grow up, you begin to heap your own understanding of society’s expectations on them, and the cycle continues…

Simple, isn’t it?

Talk to me. If you have managed to break out of society’s barriers, or wish to, let me know. I’m sure it can be done.