It’s been three years since I had a good haircut. And I finally got one close to my house in Chennai. What went wrong before you ask? Well…I was in the US that’s what!
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that Americans are perfectly capable of getting decent haircuts in their own country. Most of them have long lasting relationships with their barbers – or hairdressers as they’re called. And I know for a fact if you want a specific type of haircut or know exactly what you want, you can get it. It’s just that for an Indian, having a haircut is an exercise in frustration. That’s because over here, you don’t have to give the barber every single detail of what you want.
Even if you’ve never gone to a certain place before, you can just sit down and choose from three styles:
That’s it. No more questions. You get your hair cut, you pay (no tip), and you leave. Hasta la vista baby.
Now here’s how my conversations with barbers went in the US:
Me: Hi, I want a haircut
Sylist: Sure, sit down. Now tell me how you want it
Me: I want it short
Stylist: You want me to use scissors or the machine?
Me:….??? I…I have no idea. Machine is easier I suppose right?
Stylist: Ok we’ll use the machine then. What grade do you want?
Me:…??? Grade? As in?
Stylist: The grade. How long or short do you want it?
Me: I want it short
Stylist: What grade?
Me: No clue. Well, last time I got a haircut I think she used 4 or something
Stylist: Oh, that doesn’t mean anything. There are many standards and my grade may be different from what was used last time.
Me: I see. Well..
(I demonstrate with my fingers the length of hair I want)
Stylist: Let’s get started.
(Pauses every now and then to ask me more questions to which I respond with a blank stare)
Stylist: Ok done.
(I go home and Anupa opens the door)
Anupa: What the *^$& happened to your hair?
Me: I have no idea. They asked me some questions for which I didn’t know the answers and this is the result.
This happened to me every…single…time. That’s because I don’t know what I want – I just want my hair cut! I’m not a barber and I can’t be expected to know whether they should use a scissors or the machine or the grade or whatever. Now most people in the US obviously have a set routine and know what they want. Probably even go to the same place each time. And that’s the problem.
In general, this is indicative of the different way of doing things in the US vis a vis India. In the US, there is choice. A CRAPLOAD of choice. Sometimes so much choice that you don’t know what you want. Getting a coffee is much of the same thing. I don’t know how much cream (milk), how sweet, what beans, what temperature, what type of milk etc. I just want a coffee. Like you go to a roadside shack in Chennai and ask for a cup of tea. No questions, no choice. Just tea.
I like that. I don’t want to bother my head with thinking about stuff. Now I understand that this can be terribly inconvenient if you want your tea or coffee made in some other way. Luckily I have no such preference. I just want what everyone else is having!
She’s not a slave. She’s not a prostitute. She’s an EQUAL partner with all of her rights intact
I’m still astonished at the number of people who feel that a husband is entitled to sex with his wife regardless of her wishes. I think it’s obvious from the language that these individuals view their life partner as a glorified prostitute (that I banned this guy later for abusive language just shows the degrading way people view women in general).
I think this arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of what marriage means. Many men seem to think that marriage is a contract where a man takes care of a woman, provides for her needs, shares half of everything he has with her…and in return he gets sex whenever he wants. This is not conjecture on my part. I’ve spoken to many men and heard this argument not just on my blog, but from many people who you expect will know better. If you view marriage this way, then a wife is indeed a prostitute. With the big difference of course that it’s illegal to rape a prostitute! From this perspective, a wife has even fewer legal rights in India in this matter than their sisters who work the streets.
For the most part, such people make up these arguments devoid of any legal proof. They assume the nature of marriage based on some half understood fantasy, sometimes bolstering their argument by references to “the good ol’ days” when the evil feminists weren’t around to demand uncomfortable stuff like equal rights etc. So let’s debunk some marriage myths.
Myth 1: Marriage is to “Take Care of the Woman”
To my mind, this is the biggest marriage myth in India. Many people of both genders view marriage as a support system for a woman as she transitions from the care of her parents to that of her husband. For this, she needs to fulfill her duties, one of which is on-demand sex.
The reality is that marriage is a contract between equals. Whatever personal equation exists between a husband and wife has no legal bearing. A man can privately agree to care for a woman in exchange for something or nothing. That’s his choice and whatever arrangement they work out has no force of law. Whether the woman takes care of the house, produces babies, or sits at home doing nothing is between her and her partner. The law assumes no such default maintenance. Consequently, the woman maintains all of her legal rights including the right to her own body. It’s a different matter that it’s an enduring shame and a huge blot on the Indian legal system that marital rape is legal here in stark contradiction to every other civilized country on the planet.
Myth 2: A Wife is a Glorified Prostitute
In this fantasy, a wife has to pay her husband back for the “help” given to her by providing sex on demand – amongst other things. According to them, a wife who doesn’t cooperate is breaking a trade agreement!
A marriage has no “trade agreement” and no “give and take” from a legal point of view. Of course in any relationship the two individuals have to compromise and come to an agreement about how they’re going to live together, but this is strictly between them – between two individuals and has nothing to do with the government. A wife is not obliged to give anything to her husband that she doesn’t want to.
Myth 3: Marriage and Sex are interlinked
This mindset feels that marriage is the only place to have safe sex. Women “save themselves up” for their husband (the reverse need not be true!) and sex is the defining feature of any marriage. A safe haven for the man’s sexual needs. She’s basically a repository for his seed.
There is no legal link between marriage and sex. You can have sex without getting married and you can get married without having sex. Of course, if one party wants to have sex and the other refuses to do so, they can get a divorce. But the Indian legal system is beginning to realize that reasons for divorce are irrelevant. The court or the government doesn’t want to hear about your internal squabbles and problems. You want a divorce? Fine, here take it and go. Don’t regale us with your reasons for why you want to get divorced. Again, this concept hasn’t fully gained maturity in India unlike other civilized countries which list “irretrievable breakdown” as the only reason for a divorce. It doesn’t matter why the marriage is broken. Lack of sex, personal issues, adultery, or whatever the hell. The courts are not interested.
But these myths seem to be very persistent in India – and not just amongst the men. Even women are brainwashed into thinking that they can’t be self sufficient and need to lean on a man for financial support – and their worth as a person is so low that they need to “hook” the man via sex and without it, they have nothing.
First and foremost we need archaic Indian laws to catch up with the rest of the modern world. Marital rape is rape. We don’t need flimsy distinctions between the two.
What can you offer us?
Believe me when I say I’m sick of the Congress and the UPA. They’ve mismanaged the economy, haven’t protected fundamental liberties and have introduced some atrocious legislation as well as actively taken measures to block good judgments of the Supreme Court like banning those who have been convicted from contesting elections. So I want an alternative. Someone - anyone who can provide me with an alternative will do. And yes Modi, I’m looking at you. Despite your many flaws, your rhetoric, and even the misuse of state machinery to spy on a woman, I accept that we’re not going to get a fully “clean” politician at the center.
But so far you’ve given me nothing. Your speeches are full of attacks against the Congress – which I admit is a necessary part of any political campaign. But it can’t be the only part. For most of us, you’re preaching to the choir. We already know about the UPA’s misdeeds. We’re already convinced that we need a better alternative. But you haven’t shown us why you are the better alternative.
There are any number of burning issues in this country that need debating. We need a leader who has a clear vision for India. What’s your stand on fiscal policies? FDI in retail? Reservations? Climate change? Section 66A? Police reforms? All you and your supporters have done so far is say “Look at Gujarat”. I’m sorry, but that’s not enough. You can’t just say “Trust me. I won’t tell you what I’m going to do, but I’ll do something wonderful”.
Now to an extent I can understand that such policies don’t make good speeches. Fair enough. But speeches are not the only avenue for you to talk about your plans. There are other platforms more conducive to reasoned debate where your points will be more fully appreciated. Interviews and social media are just two examples. Come in front of us and tell us what you’re going to do.
Even those who support you simply parrot out the usual lines of “Congress is bad”. Great. Tell me something I don’t know. The elections are 6 months away and I’m telling you now that I’m already getting sick of this negativity coming from you. I’m beginning to get the feeling you don’t have anything else to say. I would love to be proven wrong. I would be thrilled to learn that there’s some real substance underneath that bluster.
So go ahead. Surprise me. Show me your platform is not based on merely opposing the other party.
Because I’ll tell you that as of now I’m going to opt for my new friend – the None of the Above (NOTA) option. That’s what happens when your only platform is to show the other fellow in a bad light. You’re not doing yourself any favors. It’s sad because the bar is set really really low. I need very little convincing. The Congress has made sure of that. But you’re not even matching up to this pitiful standard. I’ve heard nothing but negativity all the time from you. And that’s not what I want in a future PM.
Trust me, we’re not idiots. We’re not incapable of understanding the workings of government. If you’re going to do something wonderful for us, tell us how! We may agree or disagree but at least we’ll know you have some vision. Some plan. Something concrete. Without that, you’re just defining yourself by the opposition. Without the opposition you have nothing. You’re not standing by yourself.
And it’s not enough to make me vote for you.
The Modi stalking episode has highlighted the main problem with the defense put up by those who support him. Apparently no one is interested in denying it or saying that the tapes are fake. That’s usually the standard response of politicians – say it’s a forgery, that the footage is doctored, that it never happened etc. But this case is unique.
The defense of Modi has consisted entirely of pointing fingers at others. The motives of the Congress, how the Congress got away with worse, how they looted India for decades and so on and so forth. People who make these statements are missing the point.
For one thing, not everyone who opposes Modi is a supporter of the Congress or the UPA. It might seem hard to imagine that your pet boy is not adored by everyone. You may find it easy to believe that anyone who doesn’t support Modi is a Congress stooge, or wants to maintain the status quo. This is just a friendly wake up call. There are many of us on the fence. Many of us who aren’t sure about who to vote for (if anyone). There are those of us, like myself, who have repeatedly blasted the Congress for its misdeeds in various sectors, but haven’t decided to vote for Modi yet.
So don’t preach to the choir. Those of us on the fence already know about how terrible the Congress is. You’re not gaining anything. Quite the contrary, you’re making things worse by essentially stating that you have no defense other than to point fingers at other people. If your intention is to win over people like me who are just waiting to be sold on an alternative to the Congress/UPA, then you’d better start coming up with better reasons for why I should vote for your boy.
Now that the Supreme Court has allowed the NOTA (None of the Above) option, I am under no obligation to vote either for Congress or for your side. I’m willing to be convinced, but you have to do the job of convincing me! I don’t want a PM who misuses state resources to settle personal scores. You’re not helping by talking about how bad the Congress is and that it’s political vendetta etc. The main question…is it true? If so, is there a justification for it?
So don’t fall into the trap of assuming that everyone who doesn’t support Modi is an automatic votary of his opposition. If I find my choice to be between a piece of shit and a pile of vomit, I will choose neither. But I desperately want a good solution for India. And I’m waiting to be convinced. But pointing fingers at the other person is not the way to do it.
Life – There’s too much of it
Sometimes I feel tired for no reason other than being aware. Being conscious of the world is enough to drain my energy and I need to sleep to recharge. In fact, I think my peaceful lifestyle is my way of structuring the outside world so that I don’t have to deal with “all of it” for too long. I know it exists and can deal with it intellectually. But I want to keep it at an arms length lest it overwhelms me. Anupa is often puzzled when after going out for a while I say I’m tired. “But you haven’t done anything! You’ve just sat in the car the whole way while I’ve been doing the driving!”. I tell her I need to recharge my batteries and this, I think, is the reason.
I’m just too aware of the world. So much so that I can only handle it from afar. Being put into the center of it drains my energy.
I envy the animals. Whenever I see our dog just lying there on the bed, I wonder about all the terrible stuff in the world that she has no idea about. But it’s not just the bad stuff. There’s awesomeness and magnificence in the world that she can’t comprehend either. The fact that she’ll die one day. That the tiny lizard she just killed is a life form of its own that was probably born just a few days ago. That the sun will burn out billions of years from now and we could all be destroyed by an asteroid. She doesn’t know of the cosmos, the possible multiple universes. She doesn’t know that before her, our house resounded with the noise of three dogs running around and chasing each other. She’s oblivious to the past, and the future. She lives only in the present.
Man on the other hand, can’t avoid being aware of both. We know we’re going to die one day. “So what” is the not the point. The fact is that we know. And that’s just another thing we have to deal with. We live in the future as much as in the present. Some of us live in the past. We look back at our ancestors, trace family lineages, lovingly pore over photographs, and remember times when things were different. The burden of consciousness itself, of life itself is a terrifying one.
It’s a paradox really. On the one hand I’m harrowed at the thought of death and the fact that everything I know and love will burn out. At the same time, I can’t fully handle my own world that I live in. I have to structure it and filter it out through barriers that I myself erect developing a routing, structuring my life, and keeping my room neat and tidy. These are ways I keep everything from spiraling out of control. Because there’s just too much life happening everywhere, and I can’t face it.
If you think you don’t have this issue, consider this. Everywhere you go in India you stare poverty and hardship in the face. Do you allow yourself to feel the pain of every hungry dog and every miserable beggar you encounter? If you’re accustomed to India you know that’s not an option. You’ll be driven mad by the massive wall of torment hitting you in your gut as you absorb the cries and distress of millions of souls. Do you worry about every ant you step on, every mosquito you kill? Those of us who eat meat – do we agonize over the plight of animals being tortured for our meat?
We can try and do some good, work at a charity, or even dedicate our entire lives to helping others like Mother Teresa. But it’s never enough – it cannot be enough. There is a safety switch. A fuse that burns out when overloaded. For our own sanity, we need to block out the world.
Being too aware is a problem I face when I have little else to do. Occupations distract me and keep me from realizing the awful magnificence and terror of the universe. Boy, am I messed up or what?
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