Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki: Everyday domestic apartheid in middle-class Indian homes

As I walked towards the kitchen after waking up at 12pm in the afternoon to ask for a cup of tea to begin my day, I saw our househelp sitting on a small stool on the floor, drinking her own tea in a steel glass. Completely unperturbed by this, I said casually, “Aunty, apni chai peene ke baad mere liye bhi bana dena”. At this, she immediately stood up, kept her glass on the kitchen counter and began making my tea. I tried to tell her to finish hers first, but she brushed it off with a “arey koi nahi” and continued to make it for me.

This was an ordinary occurrence. My attempt at being nice to her was my benevolence, an added dose of kindness that wasn’t really a requirement of our social contract. But her willingness to put her needs aside certainly was. It wasn’t anything ‘extra’ – it was expected from her to put our needs before hers every single time. Perhaps she had become desensitised to it too. This small interaction always made me feel good; it made me feel like a good person.

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the blatant human rights abuse that takes place inside middle-class homes in the supposedly modern and developed cities of India. Right from demanding househelp to leave their slippers out of the house to having a separation in every possible space – each middle-class household screams apartheid. Unfortunately, even a scream as loud as this is drowned by it’s normalcy. How do you know it’s a scream when everyone does it? In a lot of ‘societies’, there are separate entrances, lifts and alleys for residents and domestic workers. People keep separate utensils, chairs, seating areas and bathrooms for them. Sometimes, they aren’t even allowed to eat the same food and drink the same beverages. In summers, while residents drink cold water, domestic workers have to drink regular water because cold water is a ‘privilege’ they don’t deserve. When they are employed as live-in workers, more often than not they are made to sleep in areas such as kitchens, extra rooms, living areas and sometimes even balconies. They are given the bare minimum – a mat to sleep on and a run-down blanket. 

The above are instances that I’ve seen firsthand. There are severe cases of physical mental and sexual abuse that go unreported and unheard. Househelp in most homes work over-time, are overworked and under-paid, and suffer abuse on the regular. Even the most forward-thinking, liberal people turn a blind eye to this sustained abuse. 

In a video by ScoopWhoop unscripted, the host Samdish Bhatia walks around a park in Delhi, candidly speaking to middle-class men and women who have househelp in their homes. A middle-aged woman very sincerely asserts, “We don’t let them use the same utensils and crockery as us”. She sounds completely convinced that her classist, casteist attitude should be the norm. When asked about the current scenario, she further asserts that “good people are being pushed down while people from lower castes are coming up”. This type of rhetoric doesn’t come from a place of self-awareness; it’s a form of entitlement that has been passed down generations. Most people don’t even realize that they’re being discriminatory. For them, segregation on the basis of caste and class is the right way for society to function. This is based on continued dehumanization of the ‘other’ – anyone who isn’t of the same caste, class and even color. 

I grew up listening to the women around me, relatives and aunties, brazenly bitching about their househelp day in and day out. 

“Uff, she wants a raise again. How is Rs.1500 not enough for utensils, laundry and cleaning of the house?” 

“She asked for more tea yesterday. These maids are just going from bad to worse”

“Do you know how much money we spend just on her food? We pay her salary and pay for her meals too”

“Our maid is the worst. She can’t do anything right. Ask her for tea and she’ll take years to get it”

Talking about househelp related woes was everyone’s favorite hobby. For them, people who worked in their homes weren’t entirely human. They were partly robots who needed to be pitch-perfect at everything, and partly nuisances that the ‘high’ society’ had to tolerate in order to keep their houses running. Interestingly enough, the same people who perpetually bitch about domestic workers, are also the people who unequivocally rely on them. The world that they have constructed for themselves, rests squarely on the shoulders of the men and women who take care of their homes. A single holiday demanded by a worker threatens to derail everything. In the words of a man in the ScoopWhoop video – “Humein toh saaton din sewa chahiye, isliye to rakha hai maid ko”.

What is truly fascinating is the complete ignorance that engulfs the lives of so many middle-class people. Despite their reliance on househelp, they truly feel they’re the ones on the moral high ground because they have offered full time employment to someone in need. Not just that, they have also offered to feed the poor workers while they are on duty. How much more do the poor need? Food, some money and a shelter, that should be enough for them. 

Rights? What are those?

Respect? Poor people don’t deserve respect.

Dignity of labour? That’s a joke. Anyone who works as househelp is a piece of trash.

Fair contracts? Why do we need a contract in the first place?

Men tended to stay out of these ‘homely’ discussions unless something affected them directly. However, lately I’ve seen men increasingly participate in this form of bashing, becoming allies with women on the basis of shared hatred towards the ‘other’. People who work as bathroom and drain cleaners receive an even harsher treatment, with house owners lumping them in the same category as unwanted pests. Even though untouchability is illegal, I’ve seen it being shamelessly practiced by many. People avoid coming too close to them and remain in different rooms when they’re cleaning their bathrooms. While housemaids are allowed snacks and beverages in separate utensils, people who clean bathrooms and drains aren’t even allowed to enter the kitchen. When put in perspective, it’s all very shameful. It sheds light on the shockingly low value we, as a society, have assigned to the weak and vulnerable.

Paid leaves, medical insurance, off-weekends and travel allowances should be a part of any employer-employee relationship. But the poor workers in India only get scrapes of charity, that too in the form of documented favors. In fact, anything done by the employers (in this case, homeowners) is an act of benevolence that ought to be remembered by the worker forever and repaid in kind. This is a very clearly defined, strictly enforced one-way street of demand that does not have any destination.

Body shaming in Indian Schools: A can of worms that needs to be ripped open

In one of the scenes from the exceedingly successful 2019 film, Kabir Singh, the titular character says to his love interest, “You know these healthy chicks, they’re like teddy bears. Warm, loyal. Good looking chick and healthy chick – trust me it’s a great combination. This friendship will work”. He body shames the girl and reduces her existence to her physical appearance. This is one of the numerous examples of legitimization of body-shaming in popular media, especially films, within the context of an educational institute. Over the last few years, mediatized representations of bodies, and especially female bodies, has come under scrutiny for promoting a specific type of body as beautiful, desirable and lovable. But is it only the media we need to blame for propagating and sustaining these standards?

There is a depressing dearth of research available on the culture that exists within schools in India. Like most formal institutions, the school’s aura, status and image precede it’s reality. It exists within a bubble. What happens at school, stays at school. I grew up hearing things like, “school time is the best time”, “school friends are for life” and “school memories never fade”. Never did I come across a critical anecdote, leave alone a critical discourse. Not surprisingly, as an adolescent struggling to cope with body dysmorphia during a time when it was changing rapidly, I found myself extremely conflicted between what I was supposed to feel and what I was actually feeling. I remember being overweight for most of my years at school because I was never allowed to forget this fact. “Gendi”, “Moti”, “Saand” were just some of the words used to address me. In a study published in 2020, author Rahul Gam and others found that a total of 44.9% of participants (students between the ages 14-18 at a school in Lucknow) admitted to having experienced body shaming at least once in the past year. 

For a lot of school-going adolescents, the environment of school can be toxic. Not only are they expected to perform well academically, but also look physically appealing and ‘presentable’ while doing it. While body shaming is largely perpetrated by fellow students and peers, participants also include teachers who protect, promote and validate it publicly. While I was researching for this article, I found no recorded evidence of teacher-to-student harassment in India, which for a moment made me feel like my lived experience wasn’t real. Not just mine, but of many others who were told to just ‘suck it up’ and move on. Teachers would openly comment about students’ physical appearance. It wasn’t just limited to comments about general appearance either, the scrutiny was specific and directed. Girls would get remarks about their thighs, breasts, arms, waists, faces, necks and even fingers. Boys, too, were targets of this form of bullying by teachers. The comments were snarky in nature, which granted permission to fellow onlookers to laugh and pass more comments. 

Nothing was off-limits. Somehow, the body became the representative of the person. The body shaming became conversational, so normal that one might mistake the bullying for being a general discussion about the weather. The teachers were cruel with impunity. Highlighting the physical attributes of a student that didn’t fit into the acceptable prototype seemed to be a little less than a recreational activity for them. In a video released by Brut India on 17th February 2021, Mansi Poddar, a psychotherapist, shared her experiences of bullying by teachers that led to a nervous breakdown and suicide ideation. Many comments below the video resonated with her and corroborated that this was the prevalent culture in most school environments. 

The one friend I had in school faced body shaming by teachers too, and it led her to crash diet throughout her first year of college. It only stopped when she fainted at a metro station and realized how dangerous that could have been. She often shared with me how she remembered every single taunt she had to endure at the hands of teachers and students. I’m sure there were many others; a few months ago I wrote a facebook post about a teacher who was particularly brutal and someone from the same school reached out to me saying that she too had been body shamed by this teacher. 

The body shaming itself wasn’t just limited to fat, thin, tall and short, it included skin color, body hair and facial symmetry too. India’s obsession with fair skin (Mishra, 2015; Thappa & Malathi, 2014) doesn’t park itself outside the doors of schools. In fact, schools breed and harbor different forms of discrimination with much lesser scrutiny. Afterall, the people populating its space are products of the same social constructs that exist outside its boundaries. The purpose of education should be to empower young minds to question and eventually break the shackles of regressive social structures and practices, including discriminatory thought-processes. But what happens when the teachers responsible for being the catalysts of change collectively become the force holding it back?

After a decade of leaving school, I’ve finally gathered the courage to question its culture. Why do teachers bully their students? Why is cruelty, anger, criticism and judgement the norm rather than compassion and empathy? Why does school as an institution place so much importance on physical appearance? Why is harassment in all its different forms so normalized? 

It’s important to understand that school happens to be the place where different social, cultural, economic, religious and physical identities converge. India is a diverse country. There is diversity even within a city. Therefore, each individual comes with their own built-in configuration and way of understanding the world. Educators and practitioners of pedagogy need to be sensitive towards each individual and what they bring to the space. That of course, would require them to first educate themselves about issues that affect children and adolescents, mental health and physical wellness being some of the many. Unfortunately, teachers in India tend to become a part of the same cycle of abuse that we as a society need to be fighting against. They may not plant the seeds of intolerance and hate, but they do water them instead of trying to weed them out. They may not be the initiators of abuse and harassment in a child’s life, but they do participate in it rather than protect against it. Perhaps they don’t realize that these experiences shape children in semi-permanent ways. Some struggle to overcome the trauma they experienced in school for many years to come. (Arzt, 2019)

In an article in 2019, author Rohit Kumar wrote “In the case of the classroom, while it is imperative for the bullied to stand up to the bully and for the bystander to get involved – show solidarity with the victim and also stand up to the bully – the onus for dismantling the culture of bullying in the classroom and replacing it with a culture of care and empathy actually lies with the class teacher”

He asserts that it’s only when the teachers want it to stop, that the bullying actually stops. If they don’t, then they’re complicit in promoting this toxic culture. 

The first step to initiate any change is to engage in a dialogue. It’s time to smash the privilege and its benefits that schools at large enjoy in society, and critically question the culture they promote. They need to be held accountable for their treatment of children and adolescents far more than they are. Kids aren’t just future investments or possible toppers whose ultimate goal is to have their faces printed in newspapers for scoring well or getting a good job, they are complex, multi-layered and highly perceptive human beings who deserve respect, love and compassion, and do not deserve to feel threatened in the very environment they’re expected to excel in.

Islamophobia

Islamophobia: a term liberals like myself grew up tip-toeing around, carefully choosing our words while talking about Islam lest we slip into the territory of ‘Islamophobia’. So what is Islamophobia? Wikipedia describes it as ‘fear of, hatred of or prejudice against the religion of Islam or muslims in general…’ Does this mean that nobody can ever, criticize Islam? Does not agreeing with the idea that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ amount to Islamophobia?

One of the downsides of free speech is that you might have to hear things that you don’t agree with, or even things that offend you. You have the right to put forth your own point of view, but you can’t demand that the other person shut up. As long as someone is not promoting hate speech (All muslims are terrorists and deserve to be thrown out!) and promoting violence (We need to unite against outsiders and erase them from the map of this country!) – you really cannot do much. If someone goes on a platform and talks about how Harry Potter is their god and they would like a day to celebrate the death of Voldermort, no matter how outlandish it may sound to you, you can’t do anything about it. Similarly, if someone goes on a platform and says that they don’t agree with Islam and think it promotes bad ideas, you cannot go on a rampage, call for this person’s arrest and term it ‘Islamophobia’. If, in the eyes of Islam, free speech is allowed to the extent of praising the doctrine and singing praises about it’s teachings, then perhaps its best not to call it free speech in the first place.

In October 2020, a teacher was beheaded by a radical muslim for showing cartoons (published by Charlie Hebdo) of Prophet Muhammad in class, talking about freedom of speech. Thousands of muslims across the world joined protests against French President Macron’s decision to protect the rights of a magazine to publish these cartoons. Note that it was not the beheading of a teacher that they found blasphemous, but the cartoons of an alleged Prophet. France is known for it’s secular fabric and discouragement of any religious expression in public. Freedom of speech is considered sacrosanct and nothing is above it. So the question is – why should islam get a special right to be excluded from this fabric? Why should, as Christopher Hitchens put it, muslims be allowed a divine right to bigotry? Why shouldn’t Islam be criticized, questioned and even mocked like anything else? What makes it ‘special’? The cartoons offended you. Well, too bad. Deal with it.

It’s ironic that muslims in democratic countries rally behind the idea of expression of religion, when their own doctrine does not permit leaving and/or adoption of another religion, or dropping of religion entirely. When questioned about laws regarding apostasy, they’re quick to claim – ‘it’s not the faith, it’s the culture!’. Well, no. It IS the faith as the quran explicitly talks of killing people who leave islam. 12 countries have death penalty for apostasy by law. Others, including Pakistan, have the death penalty for blasphemy. Ex-muslims across the world (even in western countries) fear for their lives when they leave their faith. Some are even killed brutally by their own families. Some go into hiding. Richard Dawkins very famously asked ‘What is the punishment for apostasy?’ to a Islamic representative during a debate, which he tried to dodge and avoid for a very long time before admitting that it is the death penalty. The fact that some muslims are able to talk about ideas like ‘expression of religious freedom’, ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘freedom of clothing’ is precisely because they live in democratic countries where the state is separate from religion. In most islamic countries, ‘choice’ is an alien concept that is often termed as ‘western immorality’. I can go on about the various other barbaric and regressive ideas promoted both in the Quran and the Hadith but I just might have to write a book for it.

On January 7, 2015, two french muslim brothers killed 12 members of staff of the Charlie Hebdo magazine for publishing cartoons on Prophet Muhammad. The magazine had been threatened before for it’s satirical portrayals of Islam, but it refused to back down. On January 11, 2015, Journalist Rana Ayyub published an opinion that said ‘French have my condolences, not my apology’, where not once did she mention the importance of upholding ideals of free speech and the right to dissent, something she so truly believes in herself. All she talked about was her frustration at being asked to apologize on behalf of the terrorists who did this, along with the famous ‘they’re not true muslims’ argument. First of all, it’s not necessary for you to apologize on behalf of anyone. What IS necessary, however, is that you (and others like you) stop dissociating extremist elements from Islam entirely, thereby halting any possibility of any discussion about the teachings of the faith completely. It’s quite easy (and rather cowardly) to run away from facing any criticism of the faith by claiming – ‘that’s not islam!’ – well, then WHAT is islam? An overwhelming majority of muslims across the world want sharia as the official law of the land (pew research center) – are they true muslims? Majority of the muslims believe that apostasy is wrong (to say the least) – are they true muslims? Muslim countries (and even non-muslim countries) saw riots against Charlie Hebdo – are they true muslims? Or are you the only ‘true’ muslim who understands the teachings of the faith? Read: No true scotsman fallacy.

For any other religion, or even atheism, an article such as this one would be considered abhorrent. For it to surface days after this ghastly attack and the author to take a defensive stance is downright inhumane. But, as we have established earlier, Islam has procured for itself a special right to be immune from any form of criticism or questioning. If it gets too much, people end an argument with ‘My faith is private and I do not need to explain to anybody’. In that case, perhaps it would be a better idea to not reveal your religious identity in the public domain at all. You cannot claim to be a ‘proud muslim’ and then shut yourself off of any questions. If I publish an article saying ‘I’m a proud Harry Potter fan, but it’s personal so please don’t talk to me about it’ is ridiculous to say the least. What is truly private remains private. End of story.

Ultimately, this systematic propaganda to whitewash islam is damaging sections of society such as women and LGBTQ massively in Islamic countries. They have no avenues or platforms from where they can seek help. Very few of them manage to escape and seek refuge in other countries. Their voices are lost amidst the ‘proud muslims’ debating their right to ‘wear a burqa’ when most of the women and girls in islamic countries don’t even get a say in it. What we should be focusing on is the human rights abuse that happens in the name of Islam, rather than slapping it’s critics with ‘Islamophobia’.

Landlords ki dadagiri

Most of us have had a relationship with a landlord (or landlady. Here I use the term ‘landlord’ for both) at some point in our lives (unless you’re super privileged and have lived in your own house forever) – and I am yet to meet a person who did not have a single issue with his/her lanlord. Renting a house in India isn’t easy, not to say that it’s easy in other countries, but here it’s not just the legal paperwork that’s exhausting, it’s the tyrannical and dictatorial attitude of landlords towards their tenants that’s even more exhausting. As a tenant, your life doesn’t become easy the moment you sign that lease; the misery continues for as long as you live in someone else’s house.

Although I have had and heard many horrible experiences, I’m only going to focus on the ones that enraged me the most. Technically, once the lease is signed, the house belongs to the tenant for the time period mentioned. The landlord cannot enjoy the freedoms that he/she used to in regard to the house, i.e, cannot dictate the tenant’s schedule, who they meet, what they eat, who comes to the house or ask to keep a spare key to the house. Let me reiterate – this is illegal. Infact, even to visit the premises the landlord needs to give a 24-hour notice to the tenant, and make a visit only if it is convenient for both. However, in reality, this does not happen. Recently, a close relative of mine shared her horrific experience with her ex-landlord with me. Initially when they (she and her friends) rented the apartment, the landlord and his family seemed nice, but life became hell for them when they started living there. They kept an eye on everything they did, and poked their noses whenever they could. “Too many friends are visiting”, “Too many get-togethers”, “Too many boys”, “Too many beer bottles” etc. This bickering and interference became a daily routine. Note that a landlord cannot impose social or moral restrictions on the tenant. They can only raise concerns if permissible noise levels are being crossed, or if severe damage is being done to the property. That too, has to be communicated in a respectful manner. Trying to moral police a tenant simply because he/she has rented out one’s premises is not just illegal, it’s plain wrong.

The landlord also charged them more on the electricity bill than he should have. If the government electricity bill states Rs. x/unit of electricity, he charged them Rs. x+3/unit of electricity. Which, once again, is illegal and also a form of bullying. The point that is being made here is – ‘it’s my house, so I will do what I want, when I want and how I want’. Eventually, they decided to vacate the house, but on the day they were supposed to vacate, he locked them inside the house until they cleared all the dues. All this amounts to harassment, and ideally they should have filed a police complaint against him. But due to our conditioning and social pressures, we generally avoid getting involved with the police.

In another instance, a girl was refused to be given a house on rent simply because she is muslim. Rejecting someone on the basis of their religion sounds unfair, disrespectful and shameful, but then there are also people who reject prospective tenants on the basis of the food they eat. Some landlords don’t want tenants who eat non-vegetarian food. Some don’t want single men/women. Some have a problem with drinking and smoking. Some have a problem with the company people work at. Some have a problem with caste. Some don’t want friends of the opposite sex to visit. Some don’t want pets. Some have a problem with skin color. Some have a problem with living.

What irks me the most is the amount of entitlement that exists within every landlord. Most of this behavior is illegal, and if not illegal then just plain wrong and disrespectful. But unfortunately we live in a country where owning a property makes you a king (or a queen) and automatically grants you powers you ought not to have. If laws were implemented properly, and tenant rights were taken seriously, then a lot of us wouldn’t have to compromise on a daily basis with our self-respect and way of life. Unfortunately, even the cops side with the landlords in most cases. It is always the tenant who is harassed and bullied.

I am not trying to dismiss the fact that even tenants misbehave and sometimes cause destruction, but the problems I listed above are not a result of bad experiences, they’re a product of a shitty mindset propagated through generations. Patriarchy, misogyny, racism, classism, casteism, ageism, colorism – they all exist in our society and are deeply rooted. So naturally, these social evils come out even in transactional relationships like the ones between a landlord and tenant.

You would think that it’s 2020 and we might have made some progress. But in reality, we’re decaying as a society everyday.

Feeling roadblocked as an artist?

Lately, I’ve been feeling extremely frustrated and upset. But it isn’t a feeling I am not familiar with. As an artist, I have gone through this phase many times. It never gets easier or better though, and I always end up throwing a tantrum and shedding tears while slumped against the bathroom wall.

I feel roadblocked when, despite having ideas, I cannot find a way to materialize them. I  think about my idea, write about it, talk about it, dream about it – but I can’t make it a reality because there are so many variables that I can’t control. It’s extremely frustrating when you can see your destination, but cannot find the means to wade through the blockages along the path. I struggle with finding the right dancers, fixing a suitable schedule, making sure I have all the equipment for the final product etc. But most of all, I struggle with finding an audience for my work. I simply don’t know where to take my work.

When I get an idea for a project, it’s like a freshly lit fire. The more I dwell on it, the bigger it becomes. My reason for investing all my creative energies in this idea is simple: I am passionate about it and I want to see it materialize. But unfortunately, that alone is not enough for an artist to survive. We need an audience to subscribe to our work and consequently some remuneration. What does an artist do when he/she don’t get that? They quit.

Most of us have come close enough to the point of tipping over before mustering the will power to take a step back. But there’s no denying that it gets tough more often than not. I’ve seen a lot of artists trying to juggle their full-time job and passion, hoping to find a break through in the latter so that they can quit their jobs. But that never really happens. In the times we live in, financial security is an unavoidable need. Our country, unfortunately, cannot provide artists that security. Artists fizzle out without reaching their maximum potential because there is not enough infrastructure, opportunities and revenue to support them. We have reached a stage where artists are doing work for free, just to keep themselves alive in the industry. I don’t think it is possible for us to see a worse time than this for our community. The performing arts are dying.

Performing arts in our country are mostly supported by the Ministry of Culture, that has set up various bodies across the country to support the arts: The sangeet natak academy, Indian council for cultural relations and seven zonal cultural centers to support the arts in their respective zones. But most of their funds go in the upkeep of the existing state infrastructure, which hardly leaves any funds for the promotion and welfare of artists. Their grants and schemes offer meager amounts and are hardly enough to sustain an artist for a few days, leave alone an entire month. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of culture does not even utilize 100% of it’s allocated budget because of it’s refusal to modernize it’s procedures and become more accessible to newer, upcoming artists.

Other avenues such as private corporations, do not feel the need to include promotion of the arts in their CSR programs because of it’s low ROI. Given that the audience for performing arts is shrinking, they have an even lesser incentive to invest in them. Most of the private bigwigs are moving towards cinema because of it’s massive outreach and profits. Even when they do fund festivals, they promote performances by well-known artists to attract audiences and media attention. I personally have gone through a similar experience where my dancers and I went all the way to Bombay to put up our piece – “Earthworm”, with a lot of hopes and expectations. However, the limelight was hogged by a famous performer who was specially called in to give a concluding performance. We ended up being just one of a 15 odd performers on the list. The show belonged to someone else.

There are bilateral agencies, funded by foreign governments and private funds, such as the British council, Goethe institute, Swedish council etc that are slowly gaining momentum across the performing arts landscape. They support and promote cross-cultural exchange of artists, ideas and performances. Some of them even support performances within India, but their outreach is extremely limited and hence their support is availed only by a select few individuals or organizations. The Gati dance forum is one such example of an organization supported by these agencies. Foundations such as Tata trusts have been offering support to the performing arts for the last 15 years, but they too, hardly have any visibility and only a select few artists are even aware that they exist.

Overall, I probably know more about some random app, which is of no use to me that recently released on google play store, than I know about these agencies, trusts and foundations that offer grants for performance making and sharing. Unless one sits down to dig information out of their websites, no one really knows they exist. There is not a single database that covers all the grant providing schemes and/or sponsors in our country, so that an artist can conveniently apply for one. 

Why don’t these agencies, trusts and foundations make themselves well-known and accessible to artists? Why are they repeatedly supporting the same artists/organizations (tata trust has been funding attakkalari for 15 years)? Why is an effort not being made on their part to market their presence more so that more and more upcoming artists can realize their potential?

We have arrived at dismal junction in the history of performing arts in our country where artists have started to refer to themselves as being a part of the “entertainment industry”. Well trained dancers are turning towards ad shoots, corporate shows, weddings and school performances to earn their livelihood. These are platforms where they’re treated like expendable commodities and are not compensated fairly. Nothing is streamlined or well-regulated in the industry, which leads to a lot of abuse and exploitation. Due to lack of work and money, artists don’t bother to follow professional channels of communication and go along with verbal word, which leads people to not take them seriously.

Most of the artists are freelancers as there is hardly any company that can afford to have artists on regular payroll. They survive on a project-to-project basis and more often than not undervalue themselves. There is no body that regulates and ensures the welfare of these freelancers. There is no where they can go in case of exploitation. Subscribers of bollywood dance are increasing both domestically and internationally, leaving no room for other forms like Indian classical, ballet, contemporary and folk. Even ICCR is now sponsoring bollywood extravaganzas to be performed overseas. Experimental artists who want to work on new and original ideas are practically abandoned. Their ideas won’t sell without commercialization.

As I said before, I don’t think the performing arts industry and specifically dance can see a greater low than this. People with new and original ideas are slowly diminishing, and no one cares.

Research: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-creative-arts-in-india/$FILE/ey-creative-arts-in-india.pdf

Nestaway – Stay Away

I had rented an apartment with Nestaway back in February this year, only because of their tall promises about helping bachelors find homes easily. At first, it all seemed perfect because of their swift response and action time. I found a place and was told it would be “fully furnished”, that I would be provided with facilities such as gas cylinder, washing machine etc and that they would get it cleaned up and everything would be bright & shiny before my move-in.

Seemed quite the offer. Reality, however, was quite different.

First of all, the so-called ‘clean up’ included a one time lousy attempt at dusting the place in broad strokes. Even after they had supposedly ‘cleaned-up’, it was horribly dirty. I had to run an extensive cleaning operation of my own to make the place look remotely livable. Despite my efforts, the rotting sofa set, dining table, switchboards, TV table, coffee table, kitchen walls, balconies, kitchen drawers, stove, chimney (literally broken) – all remained the same. Dirty, dusty and not important enough to be given a fuck about by Nestaway. I was promised that there would be a gas cylinder and a washing machine before I moved in, but neither of them was there. I had to order food (including tea and coffee) from outside for days before I went ahead and simply arranged a cylinder myself. I also had to pay the maid extra to wash clothes by hand.

Added to that, was the drain blockage in the kitchen sink, broken toilet seat and a huge bee hive in my room. Suffice to say, I was very comfortable (/not).

I raised lots of service requests from my dashboard. But now it seems they get loads of those from tenants every single day, so they probably make jokes about them over their morning cup of coffee. I followed up as much as I could, and the only thing they really fixed was the toilet seat. Everything else, I had to get done myself and not to mention, pay myself too. And here I thought I wouldn’t have to pay for service requests raised within 7 days of my move in (one of their bogus policies).

After I got everything fixed and functional myself (including the DTH and wifi), fast forward to when other flatmates moved in. Nestaway executives told them that they didn’t have to share the installation fee for DTH and wifi because both these services were provided by them and were included in the rent. Talk about lying through your teeth. Speaking of executives, this company has the most useless, uneducated and uncooperative executives ever. They only respond swiftly until you pay your security amount in full. Post that, all you get to see is a massive middle finger.

When I was discussing the security amount, I asked the executive if it was okay to pay it in two installments over two months, he assured me that it was perfectly fine and it wouldn’t be a problem. So I paid one month’s security and one month’s rent and thought I was good to go (I moved in 5 days before month end). Clearly not.

On 1st of the next month, I got an email from Nestaway saying I needed to pay the rent. I was taken aback and tried to get in touch with their customer support time and again. True to their reputation, they were assholes and didn’t give two farts about my concern. I tried to get in touch with that executive, who told me and I quote – “Pay the rent including the late fee. I will come and return the late fee amount to you in cash because of the inconvenience this confusion has caused”

It would come as no surprise that that cash never came.

Fast forward again to July, when I got an email around the 18th saying that the property was going to be off-boarded so I had to move out. It also said that since it was being off-boarded by Nestaway, the move out charges would be waived off and I would get my security deposit refund within 7 working days. The property was off-boarded on 2nd of August. It has now been one month and 8 days and there is no sign of that refund. I have been diligently following up but their customer support executives always have one thing to say in their robotic voice, “Your refund is with our finance department. You should get it soon”

Now, according to their policy, if you don’t pay rent on time (on or before 5th of every month), a late fee of Rs. 500 will be charged. Post 10th, a late fee of Rs. 200/day will be charged (added to the Rs. 500) until 15th. Post 15th, your booking will be cancelled. So now that you haven’t given me my refund within 7 working days, how much interest will you pay me, Nestaway?

Apparently, they have another bogus program called the ‘3 Days Trial’ program under which, you can decide to cancel your booking within 3 days of your move-in without having to pay the lock-in breach charges, notice period shortfall charges, renovation charges (insert LOL emoji) etc. The ONLY money that you will have to pay is the rent for the number of days since the start of the license date, calculated on a pro-rata basis, move out charges (999 bucks) and cancellation charges (=token amount, which is 25% of the month’s rent. So if your rent is 20k, 25% of that is 5k, which would be your cancellation amount)

Quite an expensive ‘trial’, I must say.

They will deduct this amount from your security deposit and ‘process’ the refund. Rest assured you will never see the face of that money ever again. Ever. It’s gone. Into the chamber of secrets of Nestaway.

If you choose to go ahead with this fraudulent company, you will burn a hole in your pocket paying for things and services they promised to provide. To add to the injury, you will not get your security deposit refund on time, if you get it at all. The only thing you will end up doing is raising endless service tickets, which to all intents and purposes are useless.

I have been reading up on their social media accounts ever since I moved out and all their accounts are full of nothing but complaints and abuses. They have cheated countless people, who are now left with no option but to hound their social media with complaints. But to no avail, obviously.  If there was ever an epitome of not giving a duck – Nestaway would be it. It’s really inspiring how consistent they are in copy/pasting the same response to every person – “Hi [Insert name], we apologize for the inconveniences caused. Please inbox us your registered contact details. We’ll help you”.

They literally say this to every single person who posts a complaint. And then nothing happens. I find it hard to believe that this company is not just still afloat, but is managing to get funding round after round after round. They’re raking in money left right and center and leaving a trail of angry customers behind.

If you’re considering renting a place with Nestaway, DON’T. Kindly read their FAQ before taking any step: https://faq.nestaway.com/docs/faq-center.

If you’re currently a tenant in one of the Nestaway homes, well, good luck.

For people who have moved out – can we plan a class action suit?

 

Dear Indian Parents, why so entitled?

Now this is something I feel I need to talk about, especially in the context of our society. I haven’t written in a while and my writing skill has become quite rusty, but I have been feeling extremely confused, hurt and misguided lately and I needed to vent. So, coming to the question I am trying to pose – Dear Indian parents, why are you so entitled? Why do you think that you are entitled to your kid’s love, respect, obedience, compliance and support? Why do you think that your kid, in some way, is obligated to make you happy?

Because you went through pain to have them? Because you invested time, money, emotions and energy into raising them? Because you made sacrifices and compromises? Because you fought with others to keep them happy and safe? Because you put their well-being above your own? So now that they’re a little grown up and have a mind of their own, you expect something in return for everything you did? Wait. Was this arrangement supposed to work in this investment-ROI like fashion? Why wasn’t I told?

Before addressing the core issue here (which is extremely unhealthy and screwed up) I would like to pose another question – Why do people decide to have kids? Is it because you are already in a happy place in life, and feel emotionally, mentally and financially secure and strong enough to be able to share love with another human being without expecting anything in return or is it because you’re extremely unhappy with your life and feel that a kid will make it better? or because you’re lonely? or because you’re too bored in life and want a ‘project’ to work on? or because you can’t stand your spouse and want a reason to stay in the marriage? or because you are concerned about your old-age? or because you want someone else to fulfill your incomplete dreams? or because you want to fill a void in your life?

What is it?

I truly feel that people don’t decide to become ‘parents’ for the right reasons, especially in our country. Even if we exclude the people who are pressurized into having a child, the remaining percentage don’t have very healthy reasons either. That is where the dysfunction begins and keeps spiraling out of control. If you decide to have kids for any reason other than unconditionally sharing love and raising a healthy human being who will be (and should be) independent enough to make his/her own choices, then you my friend, have a problem. You are invariably going to download all your problems, issues and sorrows onto your kid and expect him/her to somehow a) either give you a solution or b) be the solution.

There are so many parents who tell themselves – we will not end up being like our parents. Well, bullshit. You are your parents plus more issues. It is so difficult to dissociate ourselves from our parents’ identity and personality in our culture – it takes a lot of awareness and almost an entire lifetime’s work to achieve that. Why? Because most of us are brought up within enmeshed relationships. Boundaries? What are those? Our parents have a right to know and interfere in everything. Free will? What’s that? I can only go out with friends that my parents like and marry the love of my life as long as my parents approve. Questioning parents’ decisions, opinions and beliefs? Prepare for a crash landing, kids. That’s never going to fly.

We’re never taught to be individuals with our own separate set of beliefs, opinions and principles. We’re always an extension of our parents. Any form of disagreement is seen as disrespect. (Because ‘respect’ is gulping down your opinion and putting your parents’ happiness above your own) Respect is a concept that only works one way, because parents will never respect our choices and decisions. And if those choices fall way beyond their radar of “what’s ok” – then you’re officially a rotten kid and have given them so much pain you should die in a pool of guilt. In short, the term ‘Indian parents’ should officially be synonymous with ‘insecure’. They’re so insecure about themselves that they cannot stand their kid being too different, or else – a question is raised on everything they did based on their belief system so far in their life, and they cannot be in that uncomfortable position of accepting that they might have been wrong at some point. (The horror)

You see, part of being a secure and mature human being is the ability to empathize and accept your mistakes when you make them (everyone does). In my understanding, Indian parents are neither. But the blame isn’t just theirs, it’s a dysfunction that has been passed down generations.

Coming to the core issue – if you think your kids owe you anything in return for your love and care, then you have issues that need to be dealt with before assuming that you deserve to be parents. Love, respect and care are mutual emotions that should be given unconditionally without expecting anything in return. If you are going to guilt trip your kids about your sacrifices and financial investments – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to use the victim card to get what you want – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to expect your kid to support you emotionally – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to shove your beliefs and opinions down his/her throat – Don’t be a parent. If you have a problem accepting your kid as a separate individual who will have different opinions – Don’t be a parent. If you cannot accept the fact that your kid will not always agree with you – Don’t be a parent. When you bring a child into this world, he/she needs you and depends on you for physical, mental and emotional well being and continues to need you until he/she becomes an adult. You do not, and should not, need or depend upon your kid for any of those.

You don’t have the emotional bandwidth or maturity to be a parent. Please deal with your issues first. Also, if you do your parenting right – your kid will shower you with unconditional love and support, without you having to ask for it. A child’s first impression of the world is his/her parents. If you have truly loved your child without emotionally fucking him/her up – he/she will always stand with you and before you. Try it.

A kid’s love is a precious gift. It’s not your right. You chose to have a child and bring another human being into this world. If you’re putting your best foot forward to take care of him/her, it’s not a favor or a debt the kid has to repay later. If you have problems, they’re your responsibility, not your kids’. In US, if you put undue pressure on your kids or raise them in unhealthy households, the social security services will come and take your kid away. They have an accountability system in place. Raise your kid in a healthy environment or lose your right to be parents. Unfortunately in India, just having given birth to a child is enough criteria to qualify to be a parent. You can do whatever the fuck you want with that child. Because maa ke charnon mein swarg hota hai.

If a kid is being abused emotionally and physically in a house, there is absolutely nowhere he/she can go to seek safety and protection. We just have to wing it. And the number of kids being raised in abusive and unhealthy homes in our country is shocking. What is even more shocking is that most of them don’t even know they’re being abused.

I may not be a human child’s parent, but I am a pet parent to a wonderful and amazing dog called Brownie, who I adopted out of my own free will. It is my responsibility to make sure that she receives care, love and a safe environment. I didn’t do it because I wanted a watch dog or because I was lonely. I did it because her being there truly made me happy. Sometimes I have to put up with messy situations, she poops and pees anywhere, she tears everything apart, she whines for no reason and doesn’t listen to a single command, she demands too much attention, interrupts work and hardly shows any affection in return – I get annoyed sometimes. But I have to remind myself that I signed up for this. If I wanted a picture perfect dog who would sit when I asked her to sit, stand when I asked her to stand, mingled only with the dogs I liked and showed affection to me all the time – I would just sit and watch Scooby Doo on TV.

Even after 4 or 5 years, if I give her too much stress or take away her sense of safety, she will either show me aggression (biting) or simply run away, and I wouldn’t be able to do a single thing. She felt threatened and left to preserve herself. Is she obligated to stick with me despite the stress and abuse, just because I took care of her for so long?

NO.

I am just glad that I have a dog who will bite me if I cross her boundaries, as compared to a human child who will continue to suffer in silence thinking it’s okay just because I’m a parent. Nothing scares me more.

 

Are all lawyers assholes?!

Why? Seriously, why? Why do all of them believe they own the ground they walk upon and every person who even breathes in their presence is obligated to pay them money? I am yet to come across a lawyer who actually treats his/her clients as people and not ATM machines. When you walk into District court, Saket, the courtyard is brimming with lawyers literally jumping at you like taxi wallas at the purani dilli railway station.

“Madam, affidavit banwana hai?”

“Madam, koi case handle karwana hai?”

“Koi deed banwani hai?”

“Koi agreement karwana hai? Settlement karana hai?”

It seriously feels like you just stepped out at some local station in UP and the most uncouth and boorish taxi/rickshaw/auto wallas are ready to attack you. It’s saddening to see the way these “educated” lawyers put their integrity and self-esteem on a hanger and make a mockery of it in full public view. They’re ready to surrender themselves to you more and more with each 500 note that you pull out in their favor. Rs. 500 = Bas ek stamp milega. Rs 1000 = Court mein appearance kar denge. Rs. 2000 = Appearance + Petition. Rs. 3000 = 2 appearances + petition. Rs 1,00,000 = Private lap dance. Rs 2,00,000 = Private lap dance by their entire family.

A profession that finds it’s roots in words like integrity, justice, right vs wrong, morals and ethics, courage and fighting spirit, has become worse than the business of prostitution. All lawyers are puppets in the hands of money. All they want and care about is money. The more you pay, the better and faster justice you’ll get. It’s like the difference between business class and economy. So in case you’re an economy client who just got molested on the road, you will have to wait for years before you get your so-called “justice” (which is probably only going to be a settlement forced down your throat by the judge who only wants to decrease the load of the cases) and if you’re a business class client then justice will be handed to you pretty soon. And if you’re a first class client then not only will you get justice on a silver platter but also an autographed champagne bottle by the lawyer.

Paisa phek tamasha dekh was probably made for lawyers. They walk into your office as though they are doing you a massive favor by gracing your office with their golden presence. They sit in front of you and start giving advice even though they have no effing clue about what your case is or even glancing at the file. Pfft. Why would they do that? They’re too smart and “experienced” to do something as trivial as getting to know about the actual case. A few IPC sections here, a few citations of latest amendments there – their job is done. They just summarized your entire case without asking you a single question or reading the file. Now isn’t that genius? Next thing you know you have been sent a long invoice of their “services”. You must pay them for throwing around a couple of IPC sections, which you probably could have read yourself with half an hours worth of research.

Now isn’t that an honorable profession? I so will become a lawyer one day.

I actually remember a hilarious experience where I went to a lawyer’s chamber once to get a couple of notices drafted. He drafted the notice in front of me and my god, what a brilliant example of legal practice that notice was. What english! what attention to detail! And that man has a LLB degree and runs a firm. Ultimately, I had to draft the notices and all he did was stamp and sign them. And guess what? He still charged me. They have some nerve to be such unabashed bastards. Basically if they invest even one second in your case, you owe them money. Even if they don’t do jackshit, even if they’re the ones who screw up, even if they gave you wrong advice – you still owe them money. Why? Because they gave you time. And their time is more important than the Prime Minister’s time himself because you know, they have so many bad people to prosecute, justice to serve to the grieved and so many other noble things (=mint more money by raking in as many settlements as possible)

Lawyers are smartasses. They know the Indian judicial system is slower than MTNL broadband on it’s worst day. So the best way to make loads and loads of money is to make sure that each case stretches out as much as possible. That way they can spin money on each date. Our system is notorious for hanging every case for a minimum of 2 years. Sometimes justice is served to the grand grand children of the complainant/plaintiff. I honestly do not remember the last time justice was truly, truly served in our country. So like I was saying, lawyers take full advantage of this gaping blackhole in our system. They dish out all sorts of crap to convince you why it would be best to let the case hang. And mind you, they’re pretty damn convincing. Lawyers are multi talented people. They do business like sex workers and possess mad marketing skills like a top class salesman and pretend to be compassionate like SRK in Swades.

Which brings me to the next point = their ego. So even though our system is churning out lawyers faster than mosquitoes breeding in the summer and even though most of them are useless and don’t have brains to fill a teaspoon, their egos are bigger than the Tatas and Ambanis. They think that a black coat gives puts them at a pedestal higher than the normal civilian. If you hire a lawyer, you better listen to his advice and you better make time for him when he has time, and you dare not ask him too many questions and you dare not contradict him or tell him that he’s not working hard. How dare you tell a lawyer what to do? Who the hell are you? Just another ATM? He will probably go find another one. There are plenty he hasn’t exploited yet. If you do any of the above, he will walk out and leave all your cases hanging midway without any further advice and that’s not it, he will even raise you a bill and demand money for “services rendered”!

Oh I forgot to add one point in there: If you ask them to invest more time than what has been agreed upon in the agreement, then it’s going to be chargeable. Even if it’s just a minute above. They will make sure they mention that extra minute in their bill. Incase you refuse to pay, then “you are an exploitative client who doesn’t pay lawyers for their insane amount of hard work, blood and sweat that they put into your cases. You monster!”

Lastly, lawyers are always on sale. So even if you have a lawyer who is involved in one of your cases, and the other side happens to offer more money he/she will happily waltz into their arms and perform a screw-you duet in front of your face.

The reason I’m ranting so much is because I’ve had it with lawyers and their SOB-ish behavior. I’m done with them hanging out their tongues at the sound of money and salivating like dogs. I’m done with them having no integrity or respect either for themselves or their clients. I’m done with lawyers not wanting to put in any work in a case and just breeze through it like it means nothing. Heck, I’ve become half a lawyer thanks to my varied experiences over the years. I’ve not met one lawyer that I can actually look upto and respect. They’re all greedy, selfish, money-minded businessmen who don’t give a rats ass about the client’s problem. I’m sick of being ripped off and still being treated like horseshit.

Lawyers, I suggest you to the market and buy clothes from a store called “Balls&Respect”.

Who says prostitution is illegal in India?

Back to Europe

Three months have lapsed since I was here. I had thought that when I would be back it would feel like an eternity. It should feel like an eternity. I’ve been through so much in these 3 months. My life has been turned upside down. I’ve had a surgery, been beaten up (over a parking issue!) and been through an emotional roller coaster ride. I released my first ever group choreography and shed tears when it was received brilliantly. But it feels like it was just yesterday that I was walking across the streets of Europe to find an open restaurant at 10 pm at night, trying to find the best possible route to class, cleaning the house and washroom myself, trying not to get lost (!), trying to find people who speak english (for the love of god!) and – trying not to look like an idiot.

That, honestly, is the biggest struggle. As an Indian you are brought up to believe that  the white race is superior. Every time that a white woman/man was spotted on the streets of a small town, the crowds would ogle them shamelessly as though they were aliens. I was a part of that crowd. I saw the firangs as people who belonged to a completely different world. When I was a kid and lived in a small town called Kashipur (a little away from Ramnagar), an american couple were brought home by my cousin uncle (we were a family of show-offs. Apparently he promised he would tell them everything they needed to know. He knew zilch, btw) and my god it was like Radha-Krishna had entered our home. Every single resource was devoted to making them comfortable. My entire family turned into Indian historians. I, too, was quite overwhelmed. I stood there like a darbaan waiting to salute them when they left. And that’s what I did.

Anyway, the point is that that experience is still very vivid in my mind. Out of all the extraordinary experiences I may have had as a child, this is one of the very few that is still as clear as it gets. The only reason being that we were noticed by foreigners. Wow, isn’t that a big thing.

That is the reason why the possibility of making a fool out of myself infront of these posh, highly sophisticated breed of homo sapiens causes me extreme anxiety. Having a cup of coffee in a cafe can sap me of all my energy. What if I pronounce ‘cappuccino’ wrong? What if I enter the cafe and then they tell me that it is already closed? Won’t I look like such a fool then? What if the owner/waiter doesn’t know english? What if I don’t like what I order? Would it be okay if I left it untouched? Would they think I’m insulting them by not liking their food? – are just some of the thoughts that go through my head when I undertake the simple task of ordering a cup of coffee. There is a plethora of other things of course – accidentally walking on the cyclists lane, not knowing whether or not it’s okay to cross the road even when there is no zebra crossing, not knowing where to buy the train/tram/bus ticket, not knowing how to buy the train/tram/bus ticket, not knowing whether to place an order in a restaurant at the counter or at the table, not knowing whether to settle the bill at the counter or at the table, whether to say “take away” or “to go” when getting food packed, not knowing if it would be okay to pee after 10:30 at night or the neighbor might call the police for making noise etc.

Yes, living in Europe is a struggle for Indians. Especially a lazy and lost Indian like me. Makes me realize how many things we take for granted in our country. Today, I went to a mobile store to buy a local pre-paid sim. I had to wait an hour before that guy could attend to me because he was attending to another customer. Had it been India I would have made an angry remark and got the job done in 10 minutes.

Despite my struggles though, I feel like I manage myself reasonably okay when I’m here. I wash my clothes on time and manage to put some food in my stomach. Sure, sometimes I have to eat utter garbage in the name of “vegetarian food”, but that’s when I thank the lord that I know how to cook and for Indian restaurants. I manage to figure out the public transport system and the lanes/streets (One thing I can never figure out is the lock system here. True story – I always forget which way to turn the key to open the door) Most importantly though – it keeps me on my toes all the time. I’m in zero chill mode in Europe.

I like being in the hustle mode. It gives me a sense of purpose and direction. It helps me overcome a lot of challenges. It isn’t always a party though; being alone all the time can get to anyone – but that’s why I hustle harder, so that it doesn’t overwhelm me. More than anything else – I get to focus on and explore dance to the fullest, which is what I live for.

This trip has been a rush so far. I went to Brussells for two days and now I’m in Berlin for a couple of days, followed by a yet undecided destination for a few days and finally to Amsterdam. No enjoyment anywhere though – just auditions, auditions, auditions!

 

Crash & Burn

“I swear to god; I will kill myself!” she cried whilst holding a sharp knife to her wrist.

“Mom, please! Don’t behave like this! Sambhalo apne aap ko!” screamed Vikas frantically. He couldn’t believe how quickly things had spiralled out of his control. At the outset, he had been so sure that he would be able to handle this well. He had been so sure that he would be able to get through to his mother. Little did he know that he hardly knew his own mother and how inaccessible she had become, surrounded thickly by her own grief and sorrow.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do! You have betrayed me all along! I trusted you so much, I thought you would listen to me!”

Hair unkempt, dupatta having slipped down onto the floor, tears streaming endlessly down her face, the frail and tiny woman shivered as she screamed each word. It did not seem as though her son had confessed that there was a girl he was in love with and wanted to marry, it seemed as though he had proposed to disown her. To her, perhaps, there was simply no difference between the two.

“Mom, please calm down! You’re really scaring me! At least try to understand what I’m saying. I’m your son!” Vikas screamed the last three words in a desperate attempt to make his mother understand.

She let the knife linger at her wrist a for a few more seconds before her knees gave in and she fell down on the floor, the knife slipping away from her hand with a loud clunk. She immediately started sobbing like a baby and held her head between her palms. Vikas slowly walked towards her and sat down next to her. He grasped her hand and said, “I’m sorry mom, I know I have hurt you. I know a lot of things have come as a shock to you. I lied and that is hurting you the most. But you must understand why I did it. I did it because I knew this is how you would take it. I cannot see you like this”

“T-t-hen wh-why dd-id you-u d-do it a-at all?” she asked in between sobs.

Vikas sighed, “I’m in love, mom. I don’t think that’s a crime. I do have the right to choose my life partner, don’t I?”

Although tears continued to stream down her face, she took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself down and said, “You’re doing your masters right now. Don’t you realize how much pain your parents have taken to be able to provide you with such excellent education? How much money we have invested in it, so that you can make a good life? How can you even think of marriage right now? All these things are a distraction!”

“Whose talking about marriage mom? All her family is suggesting is an engagement so that the commitment is final from both sides. We can get married whenever we want. I will focus on my career and so will she. This will validate the relationship, that’s all. Besides, I’m not a baby. I’m 25 years old. You do realize that we both have already committed to each other, don’t you?”

At this point, her temper rose and she said in a raised voice, “So is that my fault? Did you ask me before committing? Why should I bear the punishment and pain of something that I didn’t decide?!”

“That is not the point!” said Vikas in a slightly irritated voice, “I just told you that I have the right to choose my life partner. We fell in love. We didn’t decide to, it just happened. That does not mean that it will ruin my career or I will not be able to make a good life. We lived together when we were in US, mom. I think that speaks a lot for itself”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you do that? How could you take such a step without thinking twice?” she asked as she suddenly got up, “Is that what I have taught you? Didn’t you think about the family’s respect? About us?”

“I know that it sounds wrong to you, but what I’m trying to say is that we were able to take that step because we are so sure about our future. There is no doubt in our minds that we will marry each other one day. It was not a casual deal; it was a mark of our commitment. Please try to understand that”

Once again, she shook her head and said in any icy tone, “No, I don’t want to know. This engagement is not possible. We didn’t send you abroad to do all this. How can you get engaged to someone without even getting a job? Without standing on your own legs? I cannot allow you to make a commitment like that without having a financial backbone!”

“What does my financial backbone have to do with this? I’m not being asked to financially support her or spend money on her in anyway. Honestly, she wouldn’t ask for that even when we’re married! The commitment is already there and has been there for the past one year! That’s what I’m trying to tell you! Her family got to know that we lived together in US, they know that both of us have to go back again, so if we went as an engaged couple it will simply make them feel reassured. Come to think of it, it should be reassuring to you as well! Would you want me to lie to you again?”

Vikas was feeling drained. Their conversation was simply going in circles. She was looking at what had happened in the past and what he proposed should happen in future as two disconnected events that were both crimes in her head. She simply wasn’t trying to understand that the natural progression of any relationship is to take a step forward, especially when the two involved are on the same page. He had hoped that she would at least understand, if not respect, his decision. But he had not even been able to get past the ‘acceptance’ stage.

Living together under one roof is an accepted norm overseas. In India, however, it’s a blasphemous idea, enough to make the immediate society shudder. So naturally when their parents found out, all hell broke loose. Her parents, however, came to the conclusion that if they had to be living together then might as well make the commitment official. “Let us feel safe and not unsure all the time”, was their argument.

Vikas had been apprehensive when that happened. He knew his mom would not take it well, but he also knew that he wanted to spend his life with that woman because she made him happy. She made him feel content. He had given her his word and he would keep it. It was the thought of her that gave him strength in difficult situations.

“My decision is final Vikas. If you want to be with that girl, you leave my house. I will never see your face again. You can do whatever you wish to with your life. I am already dead inside, so what’s the difference? How does it matter to you, whether I live or die?”

Tears started streaming down her face again as she continued to mumble to herself. Vikas realized that there was no point in trying to talk to her right now, he would have to try again later when she was saner and more mature. He took a deep breath and said, “We’ll talk about this later mom. Why don’t you have dinner and sleep?”

“I don’t want to eat anything. I won’t eat until you give up on this crazy idea!”

And with that, she got up and went inside her room, banging the door behind her.

Vikas sat there staring after his mom, trying to blink away some of the tears that were threatening to roll down his face. He was caught in a situation where he had no idea what to do. He wished his mother would stop reacting in such a childish way and using threats to manipulate him. He felt stuck and helpless. If he were honest to himself, deep down in his heart he knew what the permanent solution was. But he also knew that it would take a lot of courage to put it on the table. At that moment, his phone rang. He wiped a lone tear off his cheek and picked it up, “Hi Dad”

“Hi beta, is everything okay?”

Vikas let out a sigh, “No Dad. Nothing is okay. When are you back?”

“In about 10 minutes”

“Okay dad. I need to talk to you about something”

Vikas kept the phone down and tried to arrange his scattered thoughts. If he could convince his father, then he would be one step closer. It would be tough, but doing the right thing was never easy.

15 minutes later, when his father had arrived and had had his customary cup of coffee, Vikas sat across from him at the dining table and said, “Papa, we need to discuss Mom’s state of mind”

His father let out a defeated sigh and said, “Beta you know how she is. I have tried to channel her thoughts in the positive direction time and again, but she simply doesn’t want to. She is mentally very weak”

“Papa you can’t find a solution unless you identify the problem. The way she is right now is not something that has happened overnight. It’s the accumulated effect of all the years she has spent feeling wronged and cheated by everyone around her. She has started looking at herself like a victim in every situation Papa. Can’t you see what is happening here? It’s gotten to a point where she has started to threaten suicide!”

Vikas was trembling as he spoke. They had become so used to his mother whining and complaining all the time that they had accepted it as a part of who she was. “That’s just how she is”, was their usual refrain. They either tried to avoid triggering her or architected their behaviour to suit her wishes. They never really tried to tackle the root of the problem. This situation, however, was one too many for him to handle. It was neither avoidable nor designable. They would have to look at it for what it was and take a small step towards finding a permanent solution instead of band-aid ones.

“I know why you are suddenly saying all this. It’s because you don’t want to lose that girl”

Vikas shook his head lightly and said, “That’s a part of the reason, Papa. But mom’s behaviour has been raising red flags for a while and you know it. Do you think she has a problem with the engagement? No! she thinks that she will lose me in some way if that happens. She’s insecure and that’s why she’s lashing out. This is her fear talking, not her. She is trying to keep me clutched to her chest in whatever way possible. She will behave like a child, threaten suicide, will stop eating – anything to avoid facing that fear. And I can assure you that her passive-aggressive side will come out tomorrow in the form of depression and silent treatment”

His father processed what he said for a while and said, “So what are you suggesting?”

Vikas continued, “Look this situation seems to be the problem now, but it’s not. Today it’s the woman I love and tomorrow it will be my career choice, later my decision to buy a house or how to raise my kid. No matter what it is, she will react in the same manner. Except that it’s getting increasingly worse. She has no faith in either of us. She thinks if I don’t walk the path the way she wants me to, I won’t be successful in life. If you don’t comply with her wishes, her old age is doomed. She needs professional help. She needs someone who can make her face the fact that the real problem is inside her and so is the solution. She needs to stop expecting other people to fill the voids in her life”

“Are you suggesting that we put her in a mental hospital?” asked his father curtly.

“No, papa. And I’m not suggesting that she’s ‘mental’ either. All I’m saying is that her behaviour is alarming and scary, and we should get her some professional help. We can start with counselling sessions in either group or personal. Trust me, finding identification is a huge step in the healing process. Later, if it works, we can try suggesting something she can get involved in and commit her time and space to”

“You know she will never agree”

“I know, which is why we need to give her a dose of her own medicine and show her the mirror. We will suggest this idea to her and get it done the way she would get it done if it was her idea. Refuse to eat. Refuse to talk. Refuse to go to work. Keep complaining about everything. Tell her how dead you feel inside, how people in your life have used you. Be passive-aggressive. I will do the same. At some point, maybe a day, a week or a month later, she will realize what we are trying to put across. She will realize why we are suggesting this. She will accept it herself, Papa” said Vikas earnestly.

His father drummed his fingers lightly on the table and said, “Are you sure this will work?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that we need to do something drastic to get her to see what she is doing to herself and this family”

His father let out a sigh and said, “Okay then. Let’s do this. I am with you”

Vikas smiled and said, “Thanks Papa. We need to do this as a team”

His father smiled and nodded, “Yes we do. And what about this situation? Will you go ahead with the engagement?”

“Yes I will. If we want to find a permanent solution, we need to stop enabling her by giving in to her blackmail. There are healthy boundaries in every relationship, and its high time I defined them. If we do this together, I’m sure we can get through to her”

“Okay, beta. I trust you” his father said with a smile before patting his shoulder twice. Vikas smiled back and let out a sigh of relief. That’s one level down, he thought to himself. He picked up his phone and messaged her:

Baby, we will get engaged. I am happy this happened, because I could finally find the courage to do something I should have done long ago. I love you : )

 

 

 

She got up with a jerk and wildly looked around. She was in her bed, in her room, in her house. She quickly checked her phone for any messages. It reflected nothing but the time: 9:30. She opened her whatsapp contact list and scrolled down to V. She was still blocked by Vikas. It had been 7 days since they split because his mother threatened suicide and he couldn’t take a stand against her. She spent each day dreaming the same dream and waking up expecting the message she so badly wanted to read. But reality offered her nothing but the same disappointment every day.

She sank her head back into her pillow and let a tear roll down the side of her face. They were happy and content. If only he had done the right thing instead of the easy one. If only he had tried to fight the problem instead of giving into manipulation. If only he didn’t let her go so easily. If only.

All she had now, were her dreams that crashed and burned every single morning, taking a piece of her with them in the flames.