I am a Woman

I grew up in a country where palm lined beaches and backwaters along with the beautiful misty hills earned it a title ‘God’s own country’, Kerala. A place with 100% literacy where my hair colour, choice of clothing and not having children after 4 years of marriage concerns the general public much more than my basic right as an individual, as a woman. Although Kerala is much more liberal compared to other parts of India, its still a patriarchal society where women and men have different set of rules.

I spent 2 weeks in Kerala last month and I came across different types of men who stood out to me during my trip.

1. A man who is terminal, who has fear in his eyes, who had made a lot of wrong choices in his days pushing people away yet the love he has, love he had, connects all those near and dear to him.
2. A man who has no fear in his eyes, who is making a lot of wrong choices by drinking and smoking everyday and withering away bit by bit.
3. A man who followed 3 girls (2 of which under aged) back from church, in the dark, and parked his fancy bike in a dark corner and started helping himself and said obscene things.
4. A 17 year old young man (who was meant to accompany the girls on the way back from church) who ended up blaming it on the way the girls looked and behaved upon hearing the incident involving the man from point 3.
5. A 33 year old professional man who married his college girlfriend and has a child with but somehow thought it was OK to behave inappropriately towards his 15 year old cousin-in-law after having couple of drinks

Some of these men I’m related to by blood, one is a stranger who decided that he had the right to be ‘himself’ when in the dark and thus violate the rights of others (of women!), latter is someone who is married to someone dear to me. All these men have something in common. Choice. They all have a choice or had a choice. A choice to be yourself, a choice that may or may not cause (or have caused) harm to yourself, your family members or strangers. A choice I or the majority of the women don’t have.

I am a woman. A woman with rights, with skills, with desires and ambitions. Being able to walk anywhere without fearing anyone or without a male family member accompanying and not getting harassed is not my pride, my ambition or my arrogance, it is my right. My basic human right. But I’m denied that right. And when I do voice my dissatisfaction with that, I’m ‘sushed’ from left and right by own kind, the females.

After effect? Immense amount of anger built up for the innate inability to not do anything to those who misused their choice. You get affected by the incidents; angry for not having a choice to react, for not having a voice. But then out of nowhere, it occurred to me, I’m demanding a choice and a voice from others, from strangers and not from myself. I may not have the innate inability to react to others misusing their choice and my right, but I do have the choice and right to react in a way that does not give them any more power. Mulling over what had happened and being affected by someone’s perversion is still giving power to the perpetrator. The days where the woman gets sexually abused in the Indian movies and her life is distraught till a good Samaritan guy decides to ‘give her a life’ is over. Its not needed any more. Reason? She is a woman.

I am too.
I am a woman who made the choice to spend time with the man who may not have a lot of time. The reason for my visit.
I am a woman who feels angry when a man turns to alcohol or other substances and do not tap into his inner emotional strength,
I am a woman who said ‘F you you a******, go F your Fing mother’ when I caught a stranger masturbating in the dark,
I am a woman who said ‘Blame it on the way a girl walks or dresses, not the way a man behaves inappropriately’ to the 17 year old who blamed her for ‘looking nice’,
I am a woman who used careful words to the 33 year old man to let him know that he is not invincible,
I am a woman who knows a man no 6, who lets the woman be a woman, a real man. I married him.

I am also a woman who chose to focus on the above points and nothing else or no one else. I have rights. I have choices. I do not give men any power or control. I fixate on my choice, not their wrong choices. I am a woman.

Can ‘Saibol’ fix the Kerala floods?

T & C-1

The resilience I’m blessed with or the deep appreciation I have for nature and its beauty probably stems from the first 10 years I spent in the most amazing place called Alappuzha. With her seductive backwaters, lagoons and canals, and plenty of other picturesque features no wonder Lord Curzon called Alappuzha the “Venice of the East”.

Our family, belonging to a middle-class Christian family, was settled in a place called ‘Chungom’. Our house overlooked our paddy fields and canals. I proudly bear the scars of my childhood – from climbing trees and falling repeatedly, running the fields bare-feet with friends during summer,and by getting stomped on by a vast amount of people during ‘Mullakkal Chireppu’ (local carnival) . My fathers pure passion for ‘vallam kali’ (Nehru Trophy Boat Race) and competing in the Nehru Trophy as a captain of their boat for one too many years also meant that Nehru trophy, ‘kuttanadan punchayille’ song, the competitiveness and the innate resilience from constantly losing the first place (Sorry daddy!) are all well inherited by me and my sisters.

There was one other thing that was a constant companion during these 10 years- ‘Saibol cream’. House built near acres of paddy fields meant that, during monsoon seasons fields flooded, and in no time, the water would be inside our houses. Us kids loved it- swimming and “trying” to catch fish, why would we mind it?!.

Even though we ‘loved’ it, every morning when you had to get out of bed or go to the bathroom, it took sheer amount of will power and a good couple of minutes before putting the feet down in the cold water. And at night, it itched like there’s no tomorrow.

We grew up with our Ammachi (grandmother) during these years. Shed be walking in the water all day running the house and at night, her toes would be itchy with all the bacteria and she would rub ‘Saibol’ in between her toes.

I experienced this for 10 years..my Ammachi may be for over 60 years after marrying into a family from Alappuzha in her early 20’s. She was accustomed to floods and water and stayed fearless…till this monsoon season. After fleeing her house, going to her oldest daughters and then to her youngest (due to her oldest daughters house being also flooded), at the age of 88, I heard fear in my Ammachis voice for the first time and I could do absolutely nothing about it.

My family house was rebuilt 10 years ago so high from the ground that they never had water inside the house for over a decade. Water still went inside. It was over knee high of my uncle who is 6 ft high. He had to abandon the house, sell all their much beloved animals who were their family members and take rescue.

Now the mentioning of the class again, this is a middle class family who were able to have their house built appropriately according to the area. Now, for those who were unable to afford that..I will leave it up to you to imagine where their house is now apart from pointing out the obvious that ‘Kuttanadu’, a part of Alappuzha, rich with culture, characteristics and Love is pretty much gone. If you were to visit a house is Kuttanadu or Alappuzha..you wouldn’t have gone back home without a full stomach and may be some ‘tharavu curry’ to take back with you.

And if you know anything about a Kerala curry, you know that its a perfect blend and balance of spices and ingredients that just makes the most amazing curry- an imbalance of any one ingredient can cause trouble for instance, chilli or salt.

In the past few days, people have been extremely kind, generous and helpful in Kerala and outside Kerala. Regardless of cultural, geographical, relihious or scoial boundaries, people came together, like a perfect mix. From a kind Sikh individual from Perth, Australia who raised £1000 to School and University students who have given up whatever little they had in order to save Kerala, I have enough to restore my faith in humanity.

And the next time you eat a tharavu curry from Alappuzha (and I any other delicious kerala curry as I dont eat duck), I hope you and I both be reminded of how all the perfect incredients came together and made a good curry during this crisis (if you know, you know).

One thing people of Kuttanadu, Alappuzha and Kerala are good at is working hard. Like them, I along with my fellow British Malayali youth, we will commit to raising even more funds, to help rebuild our homeland, Kerala, as I think ‘Saibol’ cream is just not going to be enough to able to fix the damages of this flood.

https://www.gofundme.com/sy6kg-kerala-flood-relief-fund

Happy 21st Baby girl

 

When she was born, I don’t remember how she looked like
Nor do I remember the first time I saw her,
or the first time I held her in my arms.
I do however remember the first word (or one of the first words) she said,
And how chubby she looked.

Living miles apart from each other,
She was a holiday treat for us older sisters.
She walked funny and talked funny
But then again, what was I to know, I was only 5

Fast forward three years, she came to live with us.
A crying baby who missed the grandmother who looked after her all those years.
Since then, she became my possession, a personal project.
And my little person.

Ammachi carried her everywhere and fed her things
I didn’t mind at all.
After school, we rushed home to see her playing in the front garden.
It was an unusual but soon becoming a pleasing sight for us older sisters.

Soon enough, she started going to school.
To our school.
A tiny body in a tiny  cream blouse and a brown coloured frilled frock
With side parted hair and rather short fringe,
She was a fragile little thing lost in Carmel Academy’s school uniform.

Being always subjected to change, and having no one she can trust,
She cried.
Every time she felt scared.

It was 4 pm, and I wasn’t done with my exam
I went up to my teacher to ask her permission to go out for 5 minutes
Luckily, she allowed

I got out of the exam hall to find her
And I did.
Waiting under the big mango tree, weeping.
She looked so weak and fragile,
The 8 year old me felt crumbled
And the sight never faded in my mind till this day.

Birthdays, anniversaries and other  occassions, we celebrated them all.
Hide and seeks, House, and other myriad games, we played them all.
I grew up, Anji grew up, and she grew up with us.
Life kept on bringing us and her changes, a lot and lot of changes.

One of these changes left us in Belfast one fine morning.
She started going to the nearby primary school, St Josephs.
Mummy was so worried about  her that she went to the school at lunch time to check up on her.
She’d already made her first friend, and apparently shared her lunch with her new friend?

Fast forward few years, She joined us in our high school
Again, side parted hair, with no fringe this time, thank goodness
In a grey jumper, tie, blazer, skirt and tights,
A nerdy little first year Indian kid I saw

Being a green blazer myself, a so called ‘cool’ 6th year,
I avoided her every time she walked past me with her friends
and enthusiastically waved at me.

Then one day, I hear her speak at the school assembly
About how Christmas used to be in India

And saw her holding up an umbrella for a short guy,
from my health and social care class.

Again, time kept moving forward.
And it took me to  Scotland for Uni
And Anji to Liverpool
We came back home with plus ones.

Life hasn’t always been mild on her
It brought changes after changes into her life
But she didn’t crumble
In fact,
The fragile girl with the awful side fringe kept toughening up
Without anyone else beside her.

And today, she stands as a strong, independent woman,
With a mind that does not waver easily, annoying for some, especially me.
A family that is well proud of her
A best friend who dots her
Brother in-laws who fight for her attention and approval.

All these years, all these events and all these changes,
Left her to become an amazing young adult
However,
She is still  my possession and my personal project.

And forever my little person.

Happy 21st baby