The 18th March Project – Post 20

Do we make it easy for the strong to prey on the weak?

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the men are strong and the women weak, though victims and perpetrators come from all genders and all age groups and all races and religions.

We teach our girls that they must resist and be chaste and virtuous.

We teach them guilt.

To be otherwise is not to be a good woman.

We teach our boys that they must chase and not take no for an answer.

We teach them entitlement.

To be otherwise is not to be a man.

What if we reversed the lessons? Or better yet, what if we taught them all the same things?

What if we taught our girls entitlement, and our boys guilt?

What if we taught them that they are entitled to their own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual spaces, but not to someone else’s? That when they invade other people’s personal spaces, even after they’ve been told not to, they ought to feel guilty. Guilty enough to apologise and to change, and not to let someone else do it.

What if we taught them that pushing the boundaries to get more out of work or study or play is alright, but not if you are shrinking someone else and taking away their power.

 

There’s so much work to be done.

Happy birthday to Cousin E, who like the other good men in the family, is capable of being both caring and strong. May we help Little K, and those who come after, navigate a better world than the one we find ourselves in.

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The 18th March Project – Post 19

Today marks 30 years since I was christened.

I recently had the chance to be a tour guide through my version of my faith.

I bumped into a colleague of mine while I was on my way to church. He asked if he could tag along. Of course I said yes; is our faith not meant to be welcoming?

He is a curious person, and never hesitates to ask questions. I’m sure our filters are set to different levels. Perhaps some of what he asked would be considered offensive to some people; I don’t think I found it offensive because, to me, faith and religion should be open to discussion.

I’m hardly the most religious of people, yet when he asked why I go to church if no one was watching, it felt like I was exposing a little piece of my soul. I answered honestly – I go to satisfy the part of my soul that needs nurturing from time to time. I don’t go every weekend, though I do try to.

Why isn’t there a big cross on top of the church? Because, from what I’ve been told, we are not allowed to have one. We have freedom to worship; we don’t need to advertise further.

Can he hand out Bibles at the metro? Er, no, we wouldn’t want to get in trouble for attempting to convert people.

How come you have to pay for food inside the church compound? Why isn’t it free? There might be more Christians if it were… Ah well, we’re already the biggest parish- perhaps we don’t need to bring people in that way. And anyway, hasn’t Christianity used that tactic already?

I told him a little about how a Mass is structured. He wanted to know if the priest speaks, or if it’s only readings from the Bible and singing. Does the priest only tell people what to do, or speak of fire and brimstone and judgement? Yes, the priest speaks, and there are readings, and there is singing, and there are some formulaic prayers. Priests- well, each one is different. But most speak with a thought to context. Some things never change, some rules are constant. The wiser priests know how to bring the lessons from the old days to life for us today.

It’s always interesting to see an outsider’s point of view.

 

The 18th March Project – Post 18

I love History.

I remember facts quite easily, and History is full of them. That’s not to say that I remember every detail of a treaty, or battle, or assassination, just enough to recount the bare bones of the sequence of events.

I started out, like most people, I assume, studying History as prescribed by the syllabus. It wasn’t enough- I like to know more. So, I started to do my own research (which at that point, was limited to flipping through the pages of the encyclopedia, sometimes at random), and read more than I needed to know for the exams. I can still remember some bits of trivia about the major wars- the World Wars, the American Civil War, the Indian fight for independence. Most of what we studied revolved around the West, and didn’t focus enough on the pasts of countries that have existed for centuries more than the European countries that later colonized them.

While we did cover some medieval Indian history in school it was mostly in relation to the spread of religion and or the kings and emperors all Indian children learn about: Ashoka, Chandragupta Maurya, Babar, Shah Jehan, Jehangir. It was only in college that I learned a little about the empires of Southern India, among them the Rashtrakutas, and the Chalukyas.

It seems to me that I didn’t learn very much about Goan history, barring a slim volume in the Xth standard about Goa’s freedom struggle.

So now I try to read books that delve into the experiences of those affected by colonial powers, whether fiction or non-fiction. I read counterfactual history, because the what-ifs can be more entertaining than the actual sordid past. For instance, if Hitler had become a painter, would the world look like it does today?

I wish the grandparents who were old enough to register what was happening during World War II were still alive- they would have added a subaltern colour from the colonial past.

 

The 18th March Project – Post 17

 

For my recent round birthday, my Danish colleagues gave me a couple of books. One of them, the one I’m already done reading (for the first time. There MUST be a second!) is The Year of Living Danishly by a British journalist, Helen Russell.

I guffawed several times while reading this book, because there were so many things that were either perfect descriptions of ‘my’ Danes, or diametrically opposite to them.

Here are some of the fun/funny things I’ve learned:

  • Danes leave their babies outside in their prams while they shop or eat
  • Legoland, Billund closes for winter. The word Lego comes from the Danish Leg godt, which means play well.
  • The Danes drink 10-11 litres of pure alcohol per person per year. Or thereabouts.
  • In the smaller villages, it’s possible that the kindergarten/nursery teacher will bring the class over to the house of the child whose birthday it is for some ‘cake and chaos’.
  • It’s okay to burn the Danish flag, but not that of another nation in Denmark
  • To mark the New Year, Danes jump off a sofa (onto the floor). They also smash plates against their neighbours’ mailboxes.
  • The Danes don’t believe in epidurals. Or paracetamol.
  • Confirmations are a big deal. Some kids – sorry, young adults have nonfirmations.
  • There is Christmas beer, Julebryg. It’s available for only 10 weeks of the year.
  • There are more divorces post the summer holiday than during the rest of the year. It is suspected/assumed that this is because people are forced to spend several weeks together – longer than at Christmas.
  • Skat is the word for tax as well as the word for honey. 

The 18th March Project – Post 16

To a number of people I currently interact with regularly, my excitement leading up to my birthday was hard for them to understand.

It’s childish or childlike, depending on who you’re speaking to, and possibly also on how much they want to protect my feelings.

It’s not even a question of age – some of these people are younger than I am. Their apathy isn’t justified.

I just don’t understand why people don’t want to celebrate their birthdays.

Maybe they just aren’t doing it right.

A good birthday celebration to me has:

  • People: ones I like. I’ll take a sprinkling of the ones I don’t like, only because their remembering to wish me is a form of validation. It upsets me when people I love forget to wish me (but I’m getting better at dealing with that as I get older)
  • Cake: the more cake, the merrier I am. Chocolate, carrot, fresh fruit – any kind. Candles, a knife, and the perfect combination of cake and icing = bliss (and, possibly, a sugar high). I’ve sung for myself too, though it’s obviously nicer when you have other people to sing for you
  • Presents: If you’re getting me something, it doesn’t need to be expensive or large. It does need to be heartfelt and useful.
  • Peace: I will not entertain arguments on my birthday. It’s a day that is all mine – if you want to fight, let’s reschedule that to another day. Don’t even try to make the day about you, because it’s anything but.
  • Activity: I don’t think any of the birthdays I classify as good had me sitting at home by myself all day. I need some social interaction, I need the stimuli of different environments. Maybe this will change as I get older, though I doubt it.

Happy birthday, khuxall zolmdis, joyeux anniversaire, janamdin pe shubhkamnayein, parabens, tillykke med fodselsdagen, eid mawlid saeed to all those who share the 17th of November with me, especially Second-Cousin-Once-Removed, K.

The 18th March Project – Post 15

A train of thought that keeps stopping in the station of my mind:

We think that if we don’t fight for our side, nobody else will. And we’re not wrong. But fighting for ourselves doesn’t have to mean destroying someone else, does it?

Brexiters, White Rights believers, Hindu nationalists in India – they are trying to protect themselves from an Other that exists, fully-formed with distinct characteristics, in their own minds.

No enemy is ever as bad as we think, no ally ever as good.

Everyone has a back story, a justification for the actions they’ve taken, for the course they’re upon and the cause they champion.

But some causes are unjust.

Some causes are cruel.

Some causes should be allowed to die, and those who champion them should be forced to watch them writhe with death pangs, and shudder into oblivion.

No one has the right to lynch someone. No one has the right to rape in retaliation. No one has the right to force their religion down someone else’s throat.

I can’t understand how we’ve reached the 21st century, and this isn’t common practice yet. How is it not par for the course that people treat each other like human beings?

How is it that I can steal your land because I have better allies, or bigger guns, or more money than you? How can I make you feel unsafe because of the colour of my skin or what’s between my legs?

We don’t need the dystopias presented to us by so many young-adult fiction authors today – we’re living in them already.

The 18th March Project – Post 14

I come from a country where begging is a business. Yes, you do have the odd person who is genuinely down on his/her luck. That person doesn’t follow you around, or pester you till you give him/her something. That’s the genteel beggar. The norm, however, is the career beggar. Often it’s the woman swatting flies away from a sleeping baby, looking at you with eyes so sorrowful you could drown in them. She could possibly find work (most likely manual), but she’s trapped in a network that keeps her at the mercy of others. That baby is probably not hers, and has probably been drugged so that it won’t be nuisance instead of a prop. There are horrible stories of children being maimed so that they can use their tortured bodies to gain the sympathy of passers-by. I have an aunt who recommends that if you see a child begging, give it biscuits, not money.

In the country I live in, begging is illegal. You can report someone to the police for begging. You’re not even supposed to ask for contributions unless you have the necessary authorization. And yet, there are people who approach you of an evening towards the end of the month, asking for help to pay their rent or cover their expenses so they can go home after an unsuccessful job search. Perhaps they have sick parents. Perhaps they don’t know that they can get in trouble. Perhaps strangers don’t report them because they understand their struggles, having also survived them. I have a friend who’s paid for a meal for someone who looked down on his luck, but wouldn’t give him money for his ‘rent’.

In a country I recently visited, in the Caucasus, there were a number of beggars. Many were old people, some bent over so far they couldn’t see the money that was being put in their bowl. There was a war veteran, an older lady walking around the airport tugging at people’s shirts, and a few women with young children. People passed by many of them, hardly registering their presence. A couple of beggars were young, defiant, like it was their right to expect from strangers some token of generosity- and they were given food, a whole plate.

It all comes down to putting something in our bellies. We do what we can, some of us by ‘honest’ labour, some by playing on other people’s religious beliefs, morals or ethics.

Some of us are just luckier.

The 18th March Project – Post 13

Being a younger sibling means

  • Learning when you should fight back – it’s all about picking your battles
  • Retaliating every time your elder sibling tries to tell you what to do
  • Wearing hand-me-downs
  • Being compared to your older sibling
  • Being known as so-and-so’s little sister
  • Having people forget your name and use your sibling’s name instead
  • Feeling underappreciated
  • Being born knowing how to share- we never had a time when anything was all ours and ours alone
  • Being the smaller one in a physical fight (sadly, some of us never outgrow that)
  • Being expected to respect the elder sibling, even by people who are not part of your inner circle
  • Trying, and failing, to explain why it’s such a pain in the ass to be the younger one

The 18th March Project – Post 12

The only times it’s okay for an Indian to look for an Indian restaurant to eat at when s/he is outside India:

  • If you are vegetarian and are visiting a country where the staple food is meat. At least an Indian restaurant will offer you more options than two kinds of salad
  • If you need comfort food – nothing like hot tea and a masala dosa or onion bhajias or chole to make you feel better
  • If you’ve had a stomach upset eating something exotic and need curd rice or khichdi to calm your system
  • If you need to prove to the people you are travelling/working with that there’s more to Indian food than chicken tikka masala (because that’s not even proper Indian to begin with), butter chicken, biryani and naan. There’s so much more!

Happy birthday to W, who hates when food mixes on his plate, and advance wishes to AMD, who can cook anything.

The 18th March Project – Post 11

I recently visited Singapore for the third time in 4 years. I love that city-state!

I wasn’t inclined to post while I was there, which is why this one is late.

People ask what I like about Singapore. Here’s part of my list:

  • The food is amazing – the options are endless, the taste is phenomenal, you are (almost 100%) sure of hygiene, and the lower-end of the budget is easily catered to
  • Public transport is great – connectivity between modes of transport is almost seamless, the price is relatively low, the modes of transport and the stops/stations are quite clean, many are air-conditioned, the bus stops have signs telling you which one you’re approaching, signs that are visible from the top-deck of the bus
  • People are happy to offer help to tourists. And they give correct directions
  • The museums are amazing
  • So are the parks
  • Entrance fees to most museums and parks do not cost the earth. In fact, if you are a citizen or Permanent Resident, I believe they’re free.
  • It’s green outside! You can see birds and trees and flowers in the city, breathe air that is washed by rain and caressed by sun.
  • It’s easy to find something to drink when you need to re-hydrate
  • The airport is big, but not too big.
  • You can go from east to west in approximately two hours, riding the east-west MRT line. Next time, I’ll go north.
  • There is no little respect for rules and laws
  • They cleaned up a river! It took them 10 years, but they did it.
  • It rains regularly there. It’s the kind of rain that cools the day down. It can be torrential, I’m sure. Luckily, all I’ve experienced so far has been the mild sort. The biggest worry after a shower is what to do with your damp umbrella. But of course, they have little baggies you can put it in so you don’t drip everywhere
  • Seniors are actively involved in public life, volunteering or in paid roles.
  • They have their own brand of English, lah
  • The people are ingenious and innovative. Buying a cup of coffee, but want your hands free for your phone and bags, etc.? No worries – please use this special sling to carry your cup in
  • The taxi drivers use GPS/Google Maps to find their way
  • At the zebra crossing, there’s a countdown and a flashing green man to let you know how quickly you need to get across. Some crossings allow those with special needs/seniors to use their concession cards to tap for additional time.
  • Restaurants don’t close their kitchens at 8 pm.
  • Daiso’s cheaper in Singapore (when compared with Dubai)!
  • There’s kaya. And laksa.

Do I really need more reasons?