For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.
For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.
I bought a car recently. I am remarkably good at wriggling finances around (having become good via necessity). I am remarkably decent at finding out what I like and buying it without getting ripped off. Wound up at a decent dealership. They were quite nice, except…both the saleswoman and the financial representative spoke to my companion (male companion) about the car and the pricing. I was the one paying. I was the one buying. And in the end, when the car was ready, the saleswoman gave the car keys to this male companion of mine.
I work at one of those fast-paced software firms. They liked (initially) handing the mathematics-heavy and coding-heavy bits to my male colleague, though he had far less of a background in mathematics and computer science than I did. I got handed the drudgery. Unlike the car situation, where I cared enough not to make a fuss out of it before my male companion, I quickly amended the work situation by reminding them of the reason why they hired me (the mathematics and the computer science). There is a lot of drudgery, but it is evenly distributed these days.
I go out to dinners with male companions. I usually pay, because I have one of those reward cards. It doesn’t matter. The waiter brings the male companion the cheque, the waiter takes my card (which has my photo on it) with a smile, bills the meal, and brings back the card (my card) and the receipt to the male companion. And it is all taken as acceptable by most men I have had dinners with. There was Sibelius, who is rather perceptive, who gently and politely told the waiter at Cafe Jonah that the card was mine, and that it would be nice if the cheque was placed halfway between us or discreetly to either side, without making it a point to place it right before him. The waiter changed his ways after that, at least when serving us.
I know men, even today among those whom I associate with, who still think it best that women stay at home after giving birth, to make sure that the children grow up with good values and such. I remember Babylon called a woman’s commitment to career after giving birth a selfish choice. I have a mother who stayed at home. I rather think everyone would have been better off if she hadn’t stayed at home. She didn’t have a choice, given the family and the society. I don’t think I will cease work for such a reason, though I like the idea of a child at some point, perhaps in the never-will-happen future where I can afford quality childcare. I find it appalling that many men (or women) assume that children might automatically become priority for me (priority enough to set aside other things in life), just because it is so for their wives (or for them). Apparently, it is too hard to not assume. “You can take a break and return to work,” they tell me. “Any time spent with your child is rewarding and fulfilling. A mother’s role is the most important. Genetically, physiologically, a woman will want children and want to take a break from her career to bond with her children. It is all worth it.” Might be, for them, and I am glad it worked out. I wish they let me be, though. There is no reason to try validating their choices by convincing me to attempt the same formula.
“So you are taken?” is a question men (or women) often ask me. Other times, it is “So you are off the market?”. I’d love to tell them that I was busy taking and partaking while they likely were still stuck masturbating to posters of actresses (or mooning over posters of actors or sports-men), fantasies of school-teachers, and porn-videos. I don’t tell them that. Instead, I change the topic. I have little patience for small-talk, particularly if it involves such questions that I consider a bit discriminatory. When men are asked, it is usually more politely, with a better choice of words.
“You must change your last name after marriage!” is another problem. Women tell me that I must, because they have done so and they like it (or don’t). Men tell that I must, because it is tradition, because it is part of showing how much you commit, because it is good to have the household under a single name, because they don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to, and the list goes on. For some reason, intentionally or otherwise, these arguments which usually become increasingly shrill, pleading and demanding in turns, go on despite my attempt to explain the concept of preferences (‘It’s okay if you change it. It’s okay if I don’t.’). It took me years before I settled on my last name. I quite like it and can think of no reason to contemplate a change. Commitment, to me, is monogamy between the sheets, and financial/other major decisions taken together. This expectation of a name change sits ill with me (‘it is only a name!’ ‘but if you can’t even make this small compromise…’).
I’ve had enough of family (mine) to last me a life-time. I am unlikely to put more investment into this business of catering to other people’s families. In India, the process is called ‘adjustment’, and it is expected, at least in my society. The man is not expected to ‘adjust’.
Most of the men at my workplace are full of virtues. They don’t set out to discriminate, unlike the peer-group I know from India. Discrimination here, at least at my workplace, happens more due to a lack of awareness than due to intention.
I am sharply aware of discrimination. I grew up in a society that enforced it. I was expected to study well until I was married off. I was expected to take interest in babies and kitchen-talk and cooking and clothes once I had hit puberty. The living rooms were for the men, who spoke of more serious matters. The women ate only after the men had eaten. I had had a difficult time of it then, since I have never been overly interested in other people’s children (they all looked the same), or their spouses (a Bell curve), or cooking (I prefer food cooked for me, will cook when necessary, and have no interest in trying to cook other people’s recipes) or clothes (I am rarely interested in your clothes. Sometimes, I am interested in how you look with your clothes off).
I went to an undergrad university where men ganged up together during electrical lab experiments and did not let me participate, giggled amongst themselves and ignored me when I tried to communicate, and in the end looked smug when I asked them to at least give me the experiment readings so that I could go and calculate the output. There were better men there, but they preferred to ignore the whole male chauvinism business. It did not affect them, after all. I wish they had ignored me, just as they had ignored the chauvinism. They didn’t. They tried to flirt, conveniently skirting this real problem which badly affected my education there. They believed themselves better than the rest (they were, of course), and because of that they believed themselves entitled to attention and fawning over. My room-mate, extremely world-wise, had pinpointed the issue long before I got around to it.
I feel strongly about all of this discrimination business. I think I have come to embrace a lossy way of dealing with these things. I have, through necessity, turned rather resilient to this, though I still feel frustrated each time this happens. I feel strongly about all of this, because to this day, the most impressive person I’ve known (intelligence, kindness, sensibility, courage, technical acumen and raw ability) remains a woman. She was brilliant and she left the technical industry because of discrimination. I loved watching her exclaim in joy when she had cracked a mathematical puzzle. I feel strongly about discrimination because she was brilliant and she loved work (technical work) and she was forced out of it all (by society, peers, men of her acquaintance, and teachers and many, many others).
I went to a Farmer’s Market for the first time in Portland last year. I came back enamored with the idea, and frequented the local weekend markets in Sunnyvale and Mountain View for the rest of the summer.
I had the good fortune to finally introduce my Galatea to a farmer’s market. I had long wanted to. I was ecstatic at the prospect of today.
It was rather wonderful. I’ll remember it for a long time to come. We gamboled to our heart’s content, people-watched, ate crepes, slurped down honey straws, drunk limeade, had the sun bright and warm on our backs, and came back happy.
Thank God for farmer’s markets.
Now I am in such a fine mood that I must write.
The hostel in my undergrad had cells that passed for rooms. You had thin double doors painted blue, and a walkway as narrow as economy airplane aisles. The room was roughly 15 feet long, and roughly 10 feet wide. You had slabs on each side of the walkway that passed for cots, and on these you spread your mattresses. There was another set of slabs at the other end of the room, set into the wall, to act as shelves. There was a metal desk (green) and a metal chair (green) placed between the bed-slab and the storage-slab.
For most of the year, it was stifling hot due to a lack of ventilation. A window opened out into the corridor. Unless you wanted to overhear the conversation of everyone passing by, unless you wanted everyone passing by to see you changing clothes, you kept that window shut tight. A window opened out onto the railway tracks. It being India, unless you wanted to smell human waste all day along, you kept the window shut tight.
In the little cell, I lived with my room-mate. We had curtains (consisting of bed-spreads swung over clothes-lines tacked onto the window bars on either side of the room). The curtains granted us a modicum of privacy and divided the cell into three narrow strips (our respective little cells and the walkway). Both of us treasured our privacy, and respected the other person’s wishes enough to let her be most of the time. We had protocols for communicating. We had never decided upon them. They sort of sprung up organically and we adhered to them automatically. We never barged into each other’s little corner of the world, and rarely interrupted each other while we worked or gamed or watched Youtube videos or whatever activity we indulged in.
She was from the North East. I went home every weekend. We had five days and four nights together each week. We had only one language in common. We were Christian, both of us, but she believed and I didn’t. She was worldly and extroverted, but still willing to give people chances. I was hopelessly shy, naive, but still unwilling to believe most people. I spoke crudely. She was classy. I slept early. She was an insomniac. I ate no meat. She loved dog-meat. She was lovely. I believed a few more minutes of sleep was more important than combing my hair. She was patient. I have been never accused of such a thing.
I had no interest in men. She liked peculiar kinds of men, and I disapproved of all of them. We had a pattern, of highs and lows, as she was courted by men always, and sometimes she took an interest, and then I disapproved, and then it crashed on the rocks, and then I went on with my ‘I-told-you-so’s.
She was patient and polite with most everyone. In fact, the more she disapproved, the more polite she became. I would backtrack very quickly once she started waxing politeness. I quite loathed being at odds with her.
She was heterosexual. I had nothing against men, or women, but I loved maturity, specifically the kind of maturity that is usually only born of suffering. At that point, I had only known a handful of women to have that, and no men. It took me quite a while longer before I could learn to appreciate a man’s looks. We were young, but my room-mate was wiser than most, and she was very accepting of what I liked. There was the occasional teasing reminder to keep my eyes off her.
She was a bit mothering. God, I had needed that, though I vehemently railed against it then. I vehemently railed against most things then.
She was an amnesiac. She locked me out one day. I was furious, because I was stuck outside after a journey long. She hurried back, but I had worked quite a head of steam by then, and she maneoeuvred around that as gracefully as she did everything else.
She knew the futility of railing against the inevitable. I didn’t. I am slightly better now, and I attribute that to what I learned from her during those years. She was patient, in explaining to me why certain things are. I like to think she learned from my idealism too, and became less jaded.
We had our own language. Elizabeth yelling that she was her father’s daughter, “my dear” said in a hundred, different tones, NC-17 rated conversations most of them, and the gentle teasing nudges to remind me of the bright summer day when she had patiently explained to me the resource allocation problem. It was the only day when she had understood something with numbers faster than I had, and I did not grudge her the glory at all.
There was her PhotoShop mania. There was Skillet. There was passion (hers) about Christianity. There was her railing against the grading system after a jaunt to the re-evaluation cells. There was her irritation when my dupatta stayed on my shoulders while hers didn’t. There was the scent of her Garnier shampoo, and the scent of my ayurvedic oils. There was laundry hung on the clotheslines, stifling the ventilation even more. There was her dressing up and me offering mostly silly judgements. There were often frank and hopeful conversations during nights, of the past and of the future, of sex and of family, and of each other. There was encouragement. I think I write better today because she encouraged me to write while I was with her. She was quiet when I wrote, and often seemed to know intuitively when to let me be. I was never afraid of having my thoughts broken and my writing flow broken.
She knew intuitively (I don’t know how) when to let me be, and when to push me for answers. In that, she remains unparalleled.
There was DSP. There were endless nights of patience while I worked on my DSP problem sets. The hyacinth, I remember, saw a photograph my room-mate had once taken of me while I had been doing my DSP. The hyacinth had said it was the most focused she had seen me, and that I must really trust my room-mate to be so engrossed and lost to the world. I did trust. Sometimes, coming back to her in the evening was the best event of the day.
That small cell was the smallest living space I have lived in, but it was the safest too, I think, because I could just be.
We were in a cell, too cramped and poorly ventilated, but we were gloriously happy anyway. We lived in a cell (divided) but we lived together.
I went to the city yesterday to meet family. Dear God, it was heaven to hear the lilting melody of Thrissur Malayalam again. It took me back to lands lush and verdant, where I had grown up listening to the hymns and music of the Syro-Malabar churches. I was overcome by how much I had missed it all.
I had missed being cosseted by family as a child, never put down for a moment, carried around like a treasured possession and shown off to all and sundry. I had been first-born, and there was nobody else for them to lavish their time and attention on, though I had been a girl. I had missed the high ceilinged-churches, the nuns arranging beautiful bouquets of white lilies before the Virgin’s statue in the grottos and a hundred voices raised in song when celebrating the Holy Mass. I remember the glorious processions of the perunaal at my grandparents’ parish church, the firecrackers, the candles and the furious competition as families strove to outdo each other in spending on church expenses. It had all been so wasteful. It had all been so grand.
I have never believed. I had still been fascinated, by high ceilings, by altars elaborately decorated, by the Eucharist, by the candles, by the stained-glass windows, by the passion of those who believed in it all.
I would never choose to return to family. I still melt though, when I hear lilting voices raised in song, when they speak to me in Thrissur Malayalam, when I meet them and find nothing unchanged. That’s the saddest part of it. They haven’t changed. They still treat the women as property. Men have their every whim complied with.
They have changed, though, in subtle ways. Men still demand the same things, women still comply, but they have a few scant words of approval for me. It is likely I am mistaken about that. They are, after all, frightfully stubborn.
Then I think of my mother and her life, and poof vanishes all the warm memories that family evokes in me. Leaving was sensible. Grateful that I could.
Most residential areas in the South Bay area look run down. I have seen the same in the East Bay near Newark and Union City, though the suburbs of Fremont are shinier by comparison. The rents are appallingly high everywhere. One might think that the apartments would at least look nicer for all the rent that they charge. They don’t, because they don’t need to. Aesthetics is for the effete, after all.
In Atlanta, there were beautiful apartments in beautiful localities at half the rents. Even if you were in the suburbs, there were roads. Not the best of roads, and certainly not the best of traffic, but definitely better than those in the Bay Area. Driving on the Atlanta roads, even Peachtree Street at midday, was a better experience than driving on the California roads. With all the taxes that are paid to the California government, one would think at least the roads would be tolerable. Atlanta had lower taxes. Yes, there was crime. There were crime-free areas though, just as there are in any city.
And, best of all, I didn’t have to fret about evictions and evil landlords the way I must here. Am I moving into a place haunted by the ghosts of the evicted? Will they hate me forever or attempt to harm me, spurred by righteous anger? Will I have to keep moving from apartment to apartment to avoid the insane hikes in rent each time I attempt to renew a lease (and settle for moderate hikes every six months instead of a steep one)? What happens when the hike is steep enough to push me into localities farther and farther away from workplaces? What happens when the quality of life turns so poor and the best option is to move to cities like Seattle or Austin or Atlanta? Even the weather cannot compensate after a point for everything else.
That housing here is expensive is an understatement. I cannot have a little studio suite without sacrificing a mighty portion of my income. I could have had that in Atlanta, on my graduate student stipend. Here I must have room-mate(s) and make do with run-down looking localities to maintain a quality of living.
If there must be skyscrapers to make housing affordable and stop turning out people who can’t keep up with the insane rent hikes (and that segment of people who can’t afford housing will eventually expand to near everybody on a salary regardless of what industry they work in), then there should be. It definitely will keep the culture – the artists, the musicians, the writers, the actors, the thinkers, the darers et al – in the city instead of turning the souls out. Once they are gone, much of what makes this place appealing (‘full of character’) will be lost, and the companies will move their operations to regions around other major universities. And when that happens, with the lost tax revenue, it will be Detroit redux.
1) When I speak to my mother, I find that, slowly and helplessly, I am growing older and so is she. I had wanted to do a lot for her. I might never, I fear.
2) When I listen to Mendelssohn, I remember a time when I had been so devastated that only the solo violin could lull me to sleep.
3) When I am paid compliments deserving or undeserving, I remember a time when I had nothing, and wonder if today will make up for any of it.
4) When I see long virgin-blue skirts gathered upwards by the northern winds, I remember that there once was a year with a seventh month which had held more kisses than raindrops, even in Kerala.
5) When I hear the old whisper in my mind of having not done enough, I think back to that day in Sr. Patrick’s office and remind myself that I’d done what I could.
6) When I see the veins of my hands, blue and cramped, I hope that I’ll have written all that I want soon enough.
7) When I look at you, I know that weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.