Monday, March 07, 2011

'Women's Day' musings

In the lead up to International Women’s Day, I am beset by doubts as usual about why we really need to have this one day (just one?) for women. It is a good way to get initiatives begun for women who have no clue that there is such a day but clearly need to benefit from these well-intentioned and successful initiatives begun by men and women alike. But all this reinforcement and symbolism, events and awards and articles and talks and discussions - all on one day - is just becoming - well, noise. And then I start getting a little cheesed off with the whole commercialization around the day – Buy yourself the Gift you deserve – ad nauseum. Women’s films, women’s books, women’s clothes, women artists, women leaders, women in business – need a man-breath by the 10th of March – always. As you can see I’m not getting into all the reasons why I am or am not a feminist right now and here – that’s for the rest of the year. Right now I’m kind of ranting. Triggered off by a friend wishing me Happy Women's Day and when I tell him 'that's everyday', he responds by telling me to accept the appreciation and say 'Thank You'. That's the problem, I want to say, appreciation is not doled out on a per-day basis. You just appreciate. But the man is only responding to a hype we've all contributed to. And I'm too tired to set him right.

Like I'm tired of those articles and blogs about how wonderful it is to have a daughter – your life is not complete without one – a son is a son till he gets him a wife / a daughter is a daughter for the rest of your life – no one cares for you like a daughter – no one brings you more joy or support. I’m sure. I love girls. I am one. I loved my mum and she and I were the best of friends forever. And hopefully, I was a joy to my dad. And yes, it would have been good to have a daughter too.


I have this wonderful son, and really, he is not less than any girl I would have had. To be fair, he is the most marvelous child, the keeper of my soul – and it has nothing to do whether he is a boy or a girl. This is seriously not a gender thing. My brother was a wonderful son to my mum and dad. My husband is a wonderful son to his mum and dad. I love the women in my life. But hey, I love the men as well. And the ones I don’t like – are both – men and women.

Yes, I will be a feminist and fight for women where they are abused and discriminated against, and that’s pretty much in a fair share of life – but I don’t think I’m fighting men as much as I’m fighting society and prejudices and systems and hunger for power and vested interests that propagate gender hierarchy that restricts women to non-life and to pain. But if I were to fight all this by fighting men, I wouldn’t be fighting for women at all, would I? For it is not about being better than, is it? It’s just about the freedom to be the best of who we are. Who all of us are – regardless of gender, race, nationality, economy, creed and all the other external layers. And its about a degree of what's fair and loving and human.

So, Happy Day to you – whoever you are & wherever you are.

8th march 2011

Back from a City of Women

I come back from a 4 day holiday and realize I remember it by the women I met. Yes, I did go to just unwind and sit in the sun so there was no sightseeing or shopping or eating out or partying – just some serious sitting in the sun and the shade and strolling around the club and mending even as I unraveled. And yet when I return and rewind and tell them back home what my trip was about I find myself talking about the smiling eyes of the woman on the train who I befriended even before we spoke to each other in the last ten minutes of our journey - a woman who had worked and created a life for herself and got tired and stopped working and enjoyed the days of leisure only to discover that she needed to work again to redefine her relaxation – so, why didn’t the world get slower and companies not offer flexible jobs to women who would anyway give it their all – in 4 hours or 9? I smiled – this was my territory.

Then there are these two young girls at a salon where my friend has blocked me for a manicure and a pedicure – such indulgence. Its an all-women space, they are expecting us on time (surprise!), and we begin without fuss but with great care – a cup of coffee? Water? A magazine? Not too much talk, thank god; gentle firm hands massaging my arms and legs with soothing lavendar oil, de-stressing all those reflex points, sweeping me away in healing wax and fullers earth and warm aqua without any signs of wanting to stop, no hint of ‘your hour is over’ and then calmly colouring my weary nails so that they look almost new, almost pretty. No hanging around for a tip, a soft towel, a quick payment, a shy smile and we’re out. And I want to go back again to ask where they live – these small, slim, strong women who you could easily miss and who blend into the background - are they married, who looks after their children and do they have to cook and clean when they reach home and then who will massage their tired arms and legs shyly, gently yet firmly with healing? And I want to go and say thank you once more, and mean it some more.

We walk and drive past stores and boutiques and bookshops and restaurants owned by Dolly and Neelam and Sahiba and …, and my friend tells me stories of the women who own these places, and who they are and why they do what they do, and they all have lives which sound full of – well, life. Not just their work, but full-bodied families and errant or good husbands, and children, and laden tables with recipes they exchange over the phone, and dogs that romp around abundant homes, and gyms they frequent and golf games they play, and old parents they care for and who are demanding of their time, and the active god-fearing life of community. I am awed and made little – in this city of women with an appetite for life. In a nice sort of way.

march 2011

The fragrance of D

The first thing I discovered when I met D was that despite my ‘open, completely non-judgemental’ attitude, I’m just as presumptuous and prejudiced as Nina, Meena, Tina. Sure, experience and age does teach you what to expect, but it should also teach you to expect to be surprised – every time.

So, I wait, expecting another one on the ‘holistic healing’ bandwagon. This one was aromatherapy. I lost my sense of smell some 20 years ago, so that makes me more skeptical than most. Yes, I remember the romance of fragrance and perfume, of heady earth smells and day smells, the scent of fear and passion, the aromas of the kitchen . But if you think you are going to put this into a charming little bottle with one really pretty price tag and I’m going to buy it, uh, uh. Perfume – I understand. Potpourris, diffusers, scented candles, pine floor cleansers – okay – but there are so many of them on the market. What’s different, D? I’m not ready to be sold something again.

So, what is it about D that animates me as we talk, what lingers with me after she leaves?

She is collected and calm, yet her eyes are alert, her posture elegant and she glows. She looks like a woman who owns her own life. She takes in the room as she walks in, making a few adjustments in preparation for this conversation making sure she has what she needs and she can sit where she will be seen and heard clearly, even as she smiles to acknowledge us waiting there. And she begins to tell us about aroma and essential oils and healing and about us. As much at ease in her skin as she is in that saree and shawl, she leans forward gently and talks about the things she knows so well, the oils she truly believes heal people, the blends with which is helping to heal people, the way nature has blessings within itself. Her smile reaches her eyes and did I tell you before, she glows. Yes, she uses her oils and serums. Yes, she has healed herself – out of what sounds to be a really debilitating illness that didn’t respond kindly to long allopathic treatment. Yes, her kids turn to her aromas for their anxieties and their acne. And, yes, she will call me with a special solution for my own little problems.

I realize later what I like most – She Cares – about what she does, who she speaks to and how, who uses her products, why, whether it suits them, do they like it, how can she make it better. In my book that makes her a true professional – and that’s big.

feb 2011

Women I Meet

After spending an entire youth talking and thinking about the men I met, I’ve grown to really enjoy the women I meet far more in many ways. My words will only make this banal and so, instead of trying to describe the diversity, the learning, the nuances of life, the range, the depth, and yes, the fun of laughing and crying and listening and talking and living with women, I’m just going to try and tell a story every time I meet a woman who adds something to my day.

These stories don’t belong to a ‘world of women’. I often wonder what that means – for isn’t the world of women the whole world? Does it not include everything? And its only where and when it doesn’t that women (and men, sometimes) question and ask, why not? As indeed we would if the world of men were not to include some portion or the other. As indeed we do when the world of a people excludes other worlds.

Mostly the stories are about the women, but often they reveal more about the world and others around them, and yes, frequently, they’ve shown me a thing or two about me. I bet the women in your world do that as well – at work, at home, in the marketplace.