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Archive for the ‘And then I wonder’ Category

Life teaches us lessons in very strange ways. As each new year is added to the registry of my life, I find myself faced with more questions and fewer answers. And my questions get more and more difficult, so that even those older and wiser than me cannot provide me with the answers I seek. The recent experiences in my life have truly challenged me, but also pushed me to introspection and retrospection. The question I come against the most is a question for all the women of my culture and generation. And all those of similar cultures. Why do we accept and tolerate all that we do?

The last few weeks I have conversed with many sisters, sharing my story as I listened to theirs. This is not the first time I have heard a story and been shocked, surprised and pained to hear another’s experience. But it is strange how your own experience will give you a deeper insight. You suddenly wake up and say ‘how can this happen to me?!’ ‘This cant be happening to me!’ Suddenly your story becomes one of those stories women tell each other as a warning or as proof of how unfair the world is and our society is. Take heed, be careful…haven’t you heard what happened to xxx? You are an example now. And all those tales that seemed too cruel and ludicrous and impossible are only too real. They could easily be yours. Maybe they even are yours.

And as I relate my story and listen to theirs, the same helpless thought flashes across my eyes and theirs: why didn’t we do anything? Why did we accept it? Why did we tolerate as much as we did or stayed as long as we did?

For years I have campaigned for women’s rights and actively worked on women’s issues. Domestic violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse. I know of it all. I know of in law issues. The drama of the Indian bahu. Dowry issues. Of cruelty, of culture and tradition being used as an excuse to mistreat or malign or slander. Of hidden backgrounds, of husbands with secret addictions and secret illnesses. I have, unfortunately, grown up with these tales. Read about them. Sometimes witnessed it too close to home.

The irony of my situation in light of this background does not escape me. It does confuse me farther, however. I was raised with much love and affection in a family that empowered me. I grew up thinking I could be whatever I wanted, like my mother. I was raised to be strong but to be polite, courteous, respectful of my elders. I was raised to love and give affection. To be responsible, to own my actions and decisions. I could question, but politely. I was raised to know fairness and truth and to stand by it. I had to follow my elders but not if it was wrong, unfair, or unethical. I had every opportunity and did my best, worked hard, obtained a good education, worked to be the professional I had always aimed to be. I am not dependent on anyone for financial help. I have a secure future, a brilliant one. I have an amazing support system. My family and friends support me and their love is unconditional. I have traveled the world independently, worked jobs, adapted to many different lives.

So why didn’t I wake up sooner? Why did I refuse to recognize the situation? And if I did, why was I willing to do all it takes to save something that was only hurting me?

The women in my life may ask themselves this too and may wonder it internally but they don’t ask me this. They don’t judge me or question me. I think this is maybe because they understand it too well. Maybe they know that if the situation was reversed, they may not have been able to do anything different. We are caught in a vortex. A vortex impacted by culture, tradition, society, preset moral values and norms, family pressures, personal obligations, sense of guilt and responsibility, expectations, fear, etc. etc. We are carried on streams not of our choosing, regardless of how strong, liberated, independent we may think we are. Our grandmothers, mothers, mother in laws, aunts, sisters, are all slave to these same forces. It is difficult to break the chains, break the pattern. My mother, my aunts, even my mother in law, may have once vowed that they would protect their daughters, that they would never let their daughters endure what they endured. They may have vowed to warn, teach, support and empower their daughters. Each mother would have envisioned a future for her daughter free of the negativity of her own past. I know my mother did. At some point, she even fooled herself, like I did, into thinking that we had broken free. Extremely loving in laws, a husband that is an equal partner, open minded family, etc etc etc.

However, as I stand on the other side and look back at my journey, I can only see the signs we missed that would have warned us that my path would be no different, maybe worse. I can see where we covered our eyes and chose the nicer, naive perspective, where we hoped for the best without taking action, where we decided to blame ourself rather than face the truth.

Because in the end, I really could not break the cycle. Not only in terms of what happened to me and what I endured but also in terms of what I did about it. The many chances to step away and walk away, the many chances to protect myself and my soul, I ignored them all. Despite everything, I took it all as my cross to bear and my burden to lift, even though it didn’t have to be.

And so my question is still unanswered. Why? Why did I? Why did all the women who did?

I think this is a question only stories can answer, and so I will keep listening to them and keep telling mine. And maybe one day it will make sense.

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Ek woh din bhi the,
Ek yeh din bhi hain…

Ek woh raat thi,
Ek yeh raat hai…

Raat yeh bhi guzar jayegi…

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Here’s something i only just started wondering about.

What does one pack up when one moves out of a significant others home and life? How does one pack up? What do you take and what do you leave behind? How quickly do you move? Do you ask for help or do it yourself? Do you pack carefully or just throw it in boxes? What do you do about the things you share? About the things you bought?

For some reason, i had three sets of pads in the bathroom drawer. Three large bags of Always sanitary pads in the third drawer of his bathroom I had just reorganized two days ago. Why would I have three bags? Two for heavy flow, one for light days. Do i pack all 3? I don’t have room. But what will these do here? You can never have too many pads. And these aren’t cheap. Should I combine half and half in one bag? When was my next cycle date? Will i need to still take birth control? Should I refill it here? Would he distribute them to his female friends? That would be odd. Would he think of me when he opened this drawer? Did i even want him to think of me when he looked at a bag of Always sanitary pads? When would he think of me?

I spent twenty minutes staring at the drawer, until my thoughts were swarming around me, forming a dense, confusing wall of images and words and phrases.

And then I shook myself, picked up a half empty bag of overnight heavy flows and stuffed several light days in it. I shut the drawer and I continued to pack.

I like to think that whether heavy or light, i’m prepared for my destined flow right now.

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gawande failure and rescue

Especially after the very disappointing commencement I attended at my medical school for this years MD class. Im really looking forward to my graduation next year, but id like to have a speaker who inspires, motivates, and pushes me as I step into the world as a new doctor! Not someone who is carrying a political agenda, blowing their own horn, or are just awful speakers.

Gawande’s speech should go in the annals of awesome graduation speeches and also as part of those compilations for medical students and residents. I mean, everything that drips out of his wise mind should. This is an eloquent, excellently written description of one of the key features of medicine that we in the field ourselves like to avoid. We don’t like to think of failure, but the truth is that a plan is necessary at all times, and it is always a possibility. The bigger failure is not having a plan and not being able to pull off a feasible rescue, especially in this time and age.

I like to think that in a few years when I am in that position, I will not hold on to ego and useless vanity as I’ve seen others do but instead aim to have a stepwise plan for every possibility.

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With the majority of Indian men.

Jugni, by Rabbi Shergill (aka the only Indian male voice that I can bear right now)

This is an angry rant. A very, very angry rant. I’ve been nursing a headache all evening and sleeping, occasionally waking up and trying to understand what’s really bothering me to persistently cause my brain to hurt like this. Today was not an overtly tiring or busy day. I had a presentation in Tsim Sha Tsui, checked out progress on a suit I’m getting tailored, ran some errands and came home just as my head started to ache. But somewhere in the night I realized the same thoughts are running through my head and the same images, and the culmination of all of it has been so overwhelming that I’ve had to wake up to write this post and get it all out.

I realized that I’m pissed off because something that I never thought really got to me that much has finally gotten to me, and justifiably so. I am sick and tired of being leered at. I am sick of being stared at by every freaking South Asian man as I make my way through Tsim Sha Tsui. I’m sick of lecherous, creepy looks and of stares that make me afraid. I’m sick of ‘hello madams’ and ‘can i have your number’ and smiles that make my skin crawl, smiles from men who are clearly thinking at that very moment that they are the hottest stuff to grace the earth and this woman should be grateful they’re flashing this horrible smile at her.

I’m sick, disgusted and exhausted with it.

Let me make something clear for all the arguments that not-rape is all about (though I shouldn’t have to). For all those idiots who think that its about the way a woman dresses, let me tell you that I am a very conservative dresser by any standard. On most days I walk around the city in business clothes, full sleeve shirts and business cut pants and skirts. I don’t usually wear make up. I don’t walk around suggestively or smile at random strangers. Almost every time I’m in TST I’m running from a meeting or to a meeting, and I always have my headphones on to block the world around me. I’m not a gorgeous woman. By most standards, I’m quite plain in my looks, and my figure is very Indian in its curves.

None of that matters. South Asian men will spot me from a mile and give me a look, a wink, a smile, try to talk to me as I pass by. I may as well have transported myself to any town in Punjab, UP, or Bihar, or some village in south India.

And that bothers me even more. What do I worry about the most when I go back to my motherland? These men. These stares. The leering. The eve teasing and the smart ass comments as you simply walk down the streets. A big part of what made my trip back home uncomfortable last April (and in December) was this same thing. My brother would walk with me, fuming and bursting with anger at all these men, ready to kick the balls of each of these idiots, muttering in anger, until I made him stop telling me. Stop talking to me about it. Stop telling me how low this is, because I know. I could feel the eyes, I could feel the thoughts behind them, and it left me feeling abused. It left me feeling dirty and troubled and unhappy in my own birthland.

And the same thing happens here, when that same class of people get lifted and trans located, and the same mindset and thinking prevails. Its okay to stare at women like this, as long as they’re not your mother or sister. Its okay to behave this way. Who gives a damn what they’re feeling like? Its a consequence of a sexually repressed culture, and of much more that’s wrong with the country and the culture today, that I just can’t begin to explain and understand.

I am so amazed at the women who live like this day in and day out. What I value most about my life in the States is my relatively higher level of comfort in this aspect. Sure, these men exist there too, but as long as you steer clear of certain areas, you could walk out in a bikini and not be assaulted by a million eyes. And yes, the same problems exist there, but I don’t associate it with my culture directly. I don’t go to Little India in Houston or the Indian areas anywhere in the States and expect to be leered at or stared at or whistled at. For some reason, it just doesn’t happen. Is it the fear of repurcussion that’s greater? Is it the fact that in general the culture isn’t so sexually repressed? I don’t know. But I feel safe in the States. And I can’t imagine how women deal with this on a daily basis throughout the year and their entire lives.

They do, and then shit like this happens. The Mangalore pub incident is a perfect example of the hypocrisy of the country. Men are free to do whatever they like and behave in any rotten manner, but women must follow this ridiculous moral policing. Jug Suraiya discusses it in his column:

“Both radical Islamists and what might be called radical Hinduists, share one thing in common: their deep-rooted fear and antipathy to anything that smacks of the empowerment of women. Women going to schools, women getting jobs and becoming economically independent, women joining politics and become politically independent, women going to pubs and showing that they are – or at least, want to be – socially independent.”

It makes me so angry. My blood boils when I think of the different moral codes a**holes have set up in India for the genders, and how these incidents show a very low, absolutely illiterate, disgusting side of India to the world. Quit complaining and whining about Slumdog and whatever underbelly it shows the world. How about we first see just a simple day when a woman can walk in the street in six yards of cloth and not be raped in the mind of almost every man she passes? Men can treat women as objects of lust wherever whenever, but as soon as a woman steps into a bar she’s verbally and physically abused? Or the policing gets far enough to control who she talks to?

What kind of messed up, deranged world is this?

Every Indian woman I am friends with has stories to tell. We have stories to tell of childhoods marred by incidents of eve-teasing, molesting, behaviors that would make any father’s and brother’s blood boil. We have stories to tell of teenage years whose innocence was destroyed by men who made sleazy comments, committed lewd acts, who stalked and whistled and winked and leered at every corner. They vary in their extremity, but we all have a story to tell of how we were routinely made to feel low and dirty in our own country, by our own countrymen.

I know that in my anger I am generalizing and stereotyping all men. I wish I could be more rational about it, but unless you’ve been in the sandals of an Indian women, you could never understand. You can’t understand how it feels. After finishing a meal with a group of American friends I left a restaurant and as I was leaving a middle aged South Indian man gave me a lecherous stare I will never forget. I quickly averted my eyes and started talking frantically with a friend ahead of me. She’d noticed, however. She asked me if I had and when I nodded with frustration she said “you should have stared back at him girl! Shown him how it feels!”

Would that have helped? I don’t think so. I think in the sick, deranged mind of this man, my bold stare would have just added to his feelings of self confidence. It would have fed his ego so he could continue to taunt other girls in this way. Whenever I’m walking anywhere in TST with any of my friends, I suffer the same embarassment. I don’t have to look to see the stares, I feel them, and I also know of them by the sympathetic glances my American friends give me. By their occasional “wow, that creep was really staring at you! eww,” or their quick realization that I want to get away from this place as soon as possible. The other night a friend and I were returning from a meeting in Wan Chai and stopped for the light to change. A group of Indian men stood outside one of the bars negotiating prostitutes for the night (I kid you not). We stood about five feet away and as we discussed with each other how uncomfortable the situationalready was, it became ten times worse as, and I could have predicted it, the men glanced over at me with a defiant look. The light changed and we rushed across.

Just as I would never travel or live alone in India, or let any girlfriend of mine do it, I don’t walk alone in TST. I avoid walking in any Indian-concentrated areas in HK alone at any time. And I think about how sad that is, that I should have to avoid my culture and my people like this. A walk into the Chungking Mansion to get groceries is troublesome. Not just for me, but for any young South Asian girl. She could be wearing a burkha and they would still be leering and trying to catch a glance of her face. I have walked past masjids with its crowds of Muslim men (who should stare at no woman in this manner) and have noticed no difference in the behavior (which reminds me of a joke by a female Muslim stand up: “In Mecca I felt someone grab my ass and told myself: I’m in Mecca, surrounded by my Muslim brothers. It must be God.”) I have been in mandirs and had the same experiences.

And some days it just gets me. Days like today, it overwhelms me and it swims through my brain, the images and the sounds and the words. On days like these, all the stories come back to me and flood my brain, and I’m thinking back to my mother, to my aunts, to my cousin sisters, to my girlfriends. I’m thinking about my daughters. I’m thinking about my future and about how the men who repel me the most in the world are men from my culture. I worry about this anger and this hatred within me, and I feel helpless. What can I do? Seriously, someone please tell me. How do you deal with this? The Indian men who pass by here who DON’T think I’m an irrational, exaggerating bitch who’s just dissing all Indian men, and who actually UNDERSTAND and KNOW (I know there are some out there, because I have family and friends I love and trust, but who I just don’t place in the same world that these men must come from), what should a woman do? How should she deal with this? How should she protect herself, what should she tell herself to handle this?

Because I’ve done the most obvious: just avoided it. I’ve also just tried to banish these incidents from memory (doesn’t work). I’ve tried walking with blinders on, in a sense, looking down or straight ahead, my music loud and my eyes refusing to flit around, but I tell you that is not easy. And you still can’t avoid it. I’ve tried the stern, cold, bitchy stare. I’ve tried the shocked, disgusted look. But how do I help myself? Do I block these memories with effort and continue to do that at a regular basis? Even if I do that, what about my fear and my repelsion of my own countrymen?

Something is very wrong with my culture and my country. When a woman can be respected as a Goddess in one breath and brought down to the level of a slut with a look that matches that same breath, then there is something very wrong with the very moral fiber of this country. When a woman gets unwarranted attention and fears for her safety and her well-being just taking a normal walk in a busy place in broad daylight, then there’s something that needs deep change. Indians have lost perspective somewhere. How can Bajrang Dal and Hindu fundamentalists or Muslim fundamentalists focus on policing the women when men can’t take two steps without being aroused by every woman that walks by? How can the males not need any moral policing? Azar Nafisi discusses in Reading Lolita in Tehran how the Taliban’s rules worked: the nape of the woman’s neck and even her wrist is arousing to men. Ergo, a woman must cover these up. If she doesn’t, if it peeks out and comes to the attention of any man (who, poor thing, is aroused), then SHE must be punished. Its HER fault he was aroused. A man behaves in a disgusting, degraded manner, and the woman is to blame. What freaking justice is that? The same that requires women to sit behind men in certain temples (and follow after men in all the rituals), because if women sat ahead, they would ‘distract’ the men from prayer.

How can ANYONE find these arguments sane? How can anyone support them? I can’t fathom this kind of reasoning and I don’t understand what my sisterhood can do when this kind of fantastical rubbish becomes reality!

When you really begin thinking about it with all this in perspective, the women of the Amazon tribe really were onto something. I hope they really did exist, and to be honest, I can completely understand why they would.

(This rant makes me feel better, but thinking about another unavoidable afternoon in TST tomorrow doesn’t.)

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What hurts the most

Was being so close

And having so much to say

And watching you walk away


And never knowin’

What could’ve been…

(Rascall Flatts, What Hurts the Most)

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For What Its Worth, Buffalo Springfield, from the OST of Lord of War

There’s battle lines being drawn/Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

A brother of mine just sent me two speeches by Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, who is a peace activist and professor at Hebrew University. I did some more searching and found some essays that speak more strongly about a subject I recently talked about myself: what about the children? I know this is a controversial subject, but what should not be a controversy is the belief that a child cannot be killed for the sins of a nation. The murder of a child is cruel and unjustified and terrible, regardless of the reason behind it. It can never be right.

Perhaps people are shocked by Dr. Elhanan, perhaps they listen more because of her background, perhaps they are incensed, perhaps they open their minds to the idea of peace…I’m not sure. I for one am filled with deep respect and admiration for this woman, I am grateful that voices like these exist and speak out. Dr. Elhanan lost her daughter in a suicide bombing incident in Israel (she is Israeli) and she speaks for peace. She speaks for Israel-Palestinian peace, for the children of both sides, for her sisters and brothers in both Israel and Palestinian. She minces no words and she makes no apologies: she is strong, courageous and clear, and she is right. She knows the pain, the anger, the shock and loss of what Israelis feel, and she also knows that that is how each Palestinian feels: it is no different, and the solution does NOT lie in war.

Let Our Children Live

When they become soldiers, they see nothing wrong in killing Palestinian children “before they grow.” But Basam and Salwa and all of us–Jewish and Arab victims of the Israeli occupation – want to live together rather than die together. We see our children sacrificed on the altar of an occupation that has no basis in law or justice. And, outside, the enlightened world justifies it all and sends more money to the occupiers.

If the world does not come to its senses, there will be nothing more to say or write or listen to in this land except for the silent cry of mourning and the muted voices of dead children.

A Speech to Women in Black

But I, who lost my only daughter, know that the death of any child means the death of the whole world.  “Satan has not yet devised a Vengeance for the death of a young child” said the Jewish poet Bialik, and that is not because Satan has no means to do so, but because after the death of a child there is no more death for there is no more life.  The child takes the war and the future of the war into his little grave to rest with his little bones.

Today, when there is almost no opposition to the atrocities of the Israeli government, when the Israeli peace camp has evaporated into thin air, a cry must rise, a cry that is as ancient as man and woman, a cry that is beyond all differences of race or religion or language, The cry of motherhood: Save our children.

2005 International Women’s Day Address to European Parliament

We are all the victims of mental, psychological and cultural violence that turn us into one homogenic group of bereaved or potentially bereaved mothers. Western mothers who are taught to believe their uterus is a national asset just like they are taught to believe that the Muslim uterus is an international threat. They are educated not to cry out: `I gave him birth, I breastfed him, he is mine, and I will not let him be the one whose life is cheaper than oil, whose future is of less worth than a piece of land.`

All of us are terrorized by mind-infecting education to believe all we can do is either pray for our sons to come back home or be proud of their dead bodies.


Living in the world I live in, in the state I live in, in the regime I live in, I don’t dare to offer Muslim women any ideas how to change their lives. I don’t want them to take off their scarves, or educate their children differently, and I will not urge them to constitute democracies in the image of Western democracies that despise them and their kind. I just want to ask them humbly to be my sisters, to express my admiration for their perseverance and for their courage to carry on, to have children and to maintain a dignified family life in spite of the impossible conditions my world in putting them in. I want to tell them we are all bonded by the same pain, we all the victims of the same sort of violence even though they suffer much more, for they are the ones who are mistreated by my government and its army, sponsored by my taxes.

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