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You Made It Too Easy

Hello.

Old friend.

Should I say I’m sorry?
(Oh, but I’m not.)

You see, today was one of those days when the sun was relentless. I fanned myself a few times, but it helped me no more than that stupid broken fan that hangs from the ceiling.

I remember your red hair, plastered to your forehead as you complained about the heat exactly three hundred and sixty five days ago. Yet, you did nothing to fix what you broke, did you?

The air today was heavy with the positively delightful stench of sweat, and it was when I was searching for a cure for this suffocation, a respite, that the idea of, let’s say visiting you, entered my mind.

I’m sorry (again, I’m not) that I broke into your house. You see, I know exactly where you keep your spare key because it’s where I keep mine. It was far too easy to turn the key twice to the right, to let the door swing open, to take in the vision of your garish sunshine yellow washed walls. It was too familiar a sight.

I remember your midnight blue shirt, flecked with that hideous bright yellow. I wanted something less bright, more muted, but you picked the shade for my walls and we painted it one weekend, seven hundred and forty days ago. My walls are still the same, and now yours look like this too.

Your bedroom is no different. There is a window next to the bed, because you like to sleep facing the night sky. It’s why we bought my apartment in the first place, and these days, when I shut my window at night, I wonder if it’s because I can’t sleep facing the same sky as you do.

One two three
One two three

The same books. The same number. Isn’t that why we got along at first? We like the same books.
We like the same stories, so maybe, just maybe you’ll like this one.
The same fittings. The same number of drawers in the kitchen.
The same number of knives in the same wooden block.

It’s your bedroom again. Or should I say mine?
Your wardrobe. Your safe.
My wardrobe. My safe.
Familiar numbers dance on my fingertips. Of course I know your code. It’s the same as mine. It was far too easy to turn the dials, to swipe away all the bills you’ve neatly stacked, to think of it as alimony.
You made it too easy.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to clean you out, to take all your money.
But I need it. I have a fan to fix, dear ex-husband.


Note to the reader: This story was written in response to this prompt. Do check it out and tell me if I’ve done justice to the prompt.

Doppelgänger Alert

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The Funny Thing About Change

Image Courtesy- Google Images
Image Courtesy- Google Images

A few people who know me quite well will tell you that I fear change like Voldemort fears death. That I’m scared to Hell and back that something will disrupt the delicate balance that governs the present and the future. I found this idea too ridiculous to even take into consideration in the beginning, for I love spontaneity and recklessness. Unfamiliarity thrills me. I don’t like to make planned, calculated moves when it comes to many, many things, but now when I think about it properly, I guess I am afraid of change. Scared to lose whatever makes sense in a whirl of absolute unfamiliarity.

I’m not afraid of improvement, but maybe I am scared of some emotions I can’t handle too well. I can’t tell what frightens me so much, but perhaps it is the possibility that there is such a great chance of loss or rejection, and that I can’t ever be prepared to handle it. (I hate being told that I can’t do something.) It’s very visceral, yes. But such emotions always left me feeling far too lost. However, more recently I’ve grown sort-of comfortable with the idea that nothing is static and the only thing that’s constant about life is change itself. Adaptability is probably not my strongest point, but at the end of the day, maybe it’s all that counts. Because change does that. More often than not, it gives you the chance to adapt and even though I called it a ‘whirl’ before, but maybe it’s more gentle, more gradual, more like a swivel.

The thing about change, forgive my poor metaphor, is that it is like growing your hair. It happens so slowly, and you can’t make out the difference from one day to the next. You can’t feel it. It isn’t palpable enough. And day by day, it grows longer and longer, and you fail to realise it because the change is so so minute. But then, all of a sudden, someone comments on how long it has grown and you feel the full weight of the realisation that your hair has progressed from shoulder-length to mid-back and you haven’t ever felt it happening. Similarly, change happens little by little, so slowly that you sometimes mistake it for stagnancy. But it will happen and the understanding that something is different will probably only strike you once it is too late, unless you’ve paid attention to the signs.

In many ways, it’s like evolution, which is a constituted of a series of smaller mutations.  Life did not jump directly from the single-celled organism to human being. There were several stops along the way, signs that something else; something much more complex was ahead. It’s the same with degeneration as well. You will see it coming. Still, it’s funny how we sit and wait for the smaller changes to multiply, or maybe accumulate in the patterns of geometrical progression (?), before we are completely ready to open our eyes and see that it has compounded into so much more than it should have ideally been. Do we always need to sit idle till the storm strikes?

I’m not going to make sweeping generalisations and give you certainties, but there’s a great chance that change will leave breadcrumbs along the route, little signs and blinkers that it is on its way; and when it does hit, it may hit you with a pat before a blow, giving you ample time to be mentally prepared and to adapt to it. Maybe waiting for the full after-effects isn’t the wisest way of telling if something has already happened.

So, I think I do seek some amusement in how this works, because if you look at it from the ‘micro’ lens, not much has changed from yesterday to today. And not much will change from today to tomorrow, or from tomorrow to the day after. But when we look back, years from now, everything has happened. 

Women’s Safety- A possibility or mere hope?

In war torn Afghanistan, a journalist observed that women were walking ahead of men. Assuming this to be a symbol of women’s empowerment, he asked one of the men if this was a step towards equality. The man replied, “No. Landmines.”

This small incident is a very realistic representation of the bigger picture. Women, even today, are often viewed as disposable commodities. We believe that we live in an era of equality, where men and women are equal in all walks of life, be it employment, education, lifestyle or financial independence. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Even today, the levels of discrimination are shamefully high.

Historically, the idea of ‘The Woman’ was used to symbolize strength, justice and independence. A popular example of this would be the French revolution where ‘Marianne’ was introduced into the freedom struggle as an allegory of liberty. Closer to home, people like ‘Mirabhai’and ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ have assumed a similar role.

The idea of equating women to ideals like liberty and strength is quite ironic, simply because, in reality, women are related to qualities like dependence and servility. This representation has dominated the mentality of people everywhere and as a result, women have assumed the tag of being ‘the weaker sex’. Most men believe that women are weak and cannot take care of themselves, or fight when necessary. Men regard themselves with power and authority and often believe that women can’t or are in no position to stand up to them.

This notion transitions itself as well to the woman’s mentality and this in turn resonates a feeling of inferiority which translates into an insecure environment for women caused by both a mindset that’s submissive amongst women and a thirst for power in men.

Women’s safety is an issue of major concern, all across the world. Cases of rape, domestic abuse, abduction, murder, etc are countless. Women are viewed as powerless beings and are seen to be dependent on men.

In a country like India, women’s safety has become a raging problem. It isn’t just rape, abduction or murder. The root of the problem lies in something as mild as eve-teasing or hooting. It is sad that our country has come to such a state that these things seem mild to us, however that is the status quo.
Eve-teasing has seeped into our mindsets to such an extent that it seems quite normal when it happens. It has become ingrained in our minds that it is not ‘wrong’ or ‘unjust’. The most common reaction being, “It happens to everyone” or “He stared at me, he didn’t actually touch me”. And thus, we end up looking at the matter in a purely physical sense. We tend to think that some wrong or injustice has been done only when the woman’s body has been violated. Nobody treats a woman’s dignity or self-respect as a part of her that also requires protection.

Women’s safety is a broad term that refers to the security of women in general. The term covers both physical and mental aspects of safety. It is not just the woman’s body that requires protection, but also her personality and mind. Experiences like rape or physical abuse, not only violate a woman’s body, but may also cause mental trauma and may result in psychological or mental disorders. At the same time, it also taints her image in the eyes of society. It becomes hard for her to lead a normal life, or to be accepted as a normal human being in the eyes of society. She is shunned for no fault of hers. She loses her dignity.

We see that, in recent times, there has been a hike in the number of cases of rape, domestic violence and physical abuse towards women. To add to this, there are many cases that go unreported. The current situation is ruefully dismal.

To understand the gravity of the situation, we can look into the rape case that took place in Delhi on December 16th 2012. Two people, a girl and boy, boarded what was believed to be a public bus, only to find that the bus already contained six men, who were not afraid of getting on the wrong side of the law. The boy was beaten up brutally and thrown aside, after which they took turns and raped the girl. They did not stop there. As if that wasn’t enough, they physically abused her. They broke her, made her bleed and left her, with her guts spilling out. She and her friend were then hauled out of the bus and left on the roadside, naked and bruised. Nobody came forward and offered them any assistance. All the passers-by just went by them without being bothered enough to stop for a second, even if it was just to contact the police authorities and medical facilitators. The police men themselves, when they finally got there, had an argument about jurisdiction.

This incident unified the people of India in a manner like never before. Protests took place all over the country. People went on strikes, made demands and fought for the rights of their sisters, wives and mothers. The battle raged on for several days, with support from all corners of the country. Soon, the matter went international, with protests taking place in London, Melbourne, Toronto, etc. It was the first time that the matter of women’s safety was being taken this seriously.

The girl, who battled for her life for nearly two weeks, could not make it. However, her struggle became a personal matter for every Indian. She was given the name ‘Nirbhaya’ for her fearless attitude and for the bravery that she displayed till the very end. As mentioned in the examples before, once again it was a woman who was given the role of representing the struggle for safety and freedom.

It was this wave of much-needed anger that pushed people forward to make themselves heard. It was the wave of change that India needed.

A woman’s attire, conduct or company cannot be blamed for the injustice that is inflicted upon her by the doings of such men who turn to rape and murder as a manifestation of their power over the weaker sex. A woman’s behaviour or choice of whereabouts cannot be questioned. Her rights are equal to that of a man’s. A woman has as much freedom of choice as her counterpart.

What must be done to ensure women’s safety? Who is to be blamed? How can this issue be solved?

Just as you cannot kill a plant, unless you cut off its roots; to solve this problem, we must take a look at its basics or ‘roots’. The basics of the problem, in this case, refer to the mindset and attitude of the entire population. How can we expect to stop graver violations of justice like rape, if we continue to let the smaller ones like eve-teasing prevail?

The first step towards ensuring women’s safety is a complete change in the mentality of the people. Actions like eve-teasing, verbal abuse, hooting, wolf-whistling and the likes must be taken seriously. Incidents of rape, domestic abuse, physical violence, etcshould not go unreported. Sensitization, education and exposure will mark the way ahead. Boys must be taught to respect women from a young age. All women should make it a point to learn some basic self-defense techniques. The situation must not be downplayed. The law should ensure that offenders are heavily punished for their wrong doings.The mentality of the mass needs to be altered, with time. These are just a few of the many measures that can be taken to ensure the safety of women in future. This is just the first step, over time, we must look into the workings of all sectors and see to it that necessary policy changes are implemented to pave the way ahead for a safer country, and eventually world, for women.

As Alice Sebold said, “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”

It is in our hands now. We must keep the momentum going and ensure that WE bring about the change that we need. Only we can save ourselves.

(Written for an assignment on Women’s Safety)

Beauty

They walked on the mud road.

Their sandals, slapping against the wet red clay, made soft by the rains.

The girl, on one side. The boy, on the other.

They maintained this distance, of an arm’s length, throughout their walk.

A minute…

Two minutes…

Thirty minutes…

An hour…

And then two…

The boy couldn’t break through the wall of her musings.

Her concentration was impenetrable.

He finally asked her that, which had been on his mind for far too long.

“Are you beautiful?”

She looked up. For the first time, he had managed to break that barrier.

She did not meet his eyes.

When she spoke, her voice flowed out, musical and soft. So soft that had it not been quiet enough to hear the crickets chirp, he might have never caught her words.

“I’m as beautiful as you want me to be.”

He looked at her.

He really looked at her.

He looked at her dark eyes.

Her luscious black hair, braided into one thick plait.

Her face, dabbed unevenly with talcum powder.

The gap between her two front teeth.

Those golden hoops, dangling from her small ears.

Her wrists, lined with glass bangles that shone in the light.

The saree, that was draped around her.

The smell of jasmine, that he knew only as her own.

The sound of her laughter, echoing through the air, resonating with unfathomable happiness.

He smiled.

Her’s was a simple life.

The pleasures that gave her those moments of happiness, too were as simple.

The sweetness of a mango, as she squeezed its flesh, while biting into its pulp, juice dribbling down the corner of her chin.

The laughter when she saw the children play on the street.

The innocence with which she looked at men.

The honesty in her eyes when she spoke to him.

The trust which she had sold to him, at the price of her life.

The reverence that she associated with only family.

The fear of loss. And, of regret.

The wonder when she looked at the stars, scattered across the night sky.

The playfulness with which she gathered the cool water in the palms of her hands and splashed his face.

The naughtiness with which she climbed trees.

The awe with which she spoke of her big city dreams.

The care with which she added spices in the food she cooked.

The love in her eyes when she smiled.

The childishness that she embodied.

The unadulterated glee that he heard in her voice, whenever she spoke.

And how he wished that she would speak more often.

The musicality of her voice, and in her words.

The colours that burst out of her, more colourful than the brightest hues of any Holi celebration.

The bravery, coupled with kindness.

The lives she inspired.

The pale shadow of the moonlight, on her face, when she snuck out on full moon nights.

The sunlight that illuminated her face in the early mornings.

The life in her when she danced under the crying skies, during the first rains of the monsoons.

“They are only tears of joy”, she would say.

The little quirks that defined her.

Her spirit that said nothing would stop her.

Her ideas that were far beyond her age.

The simplicity that underlined her upbringing.

The determination that she would be someone.

The ethereal sight that she was in the depths of darkness.

The lessons that he had learnt from her.

The friendship he had found in her.

The need that she had instilled in him.

She looked at him, and smiled, barely.

But that alone was enough for him.

“How beautiful am I?” She whispered.

“As beautiful as beauty can be.” He breathed.

Confined Creativity

Image Courtesy- Google Images

I have a brother who is twelve years old, and like any typical twelve year old, he spends all his time playing video games, watching TV and annoying me. I remember asking him what he wanted to be when he grows up once- about five years ago- and he promptly told me that he would be a super-hero. When I ask him the same question now, he confidently says,”Either a game designer. Or a professional cricket player.” And I believe that maybe when I ask him the same question five years from now, he will tell me that he wants to become an engineer. Or some other mundane, safe career like that. Of course his bank balance will see some action. But where’s the fun in that? The adventure? The stories to inspire his own children? They say, throw a stone at random and the chances are that it will hit an engineer. And there is no doubt about this. Every second person is one of them.

In another instance, I asked my cousin the same question today. Being seventeen, she is about to make this decision herself. I have asked her this before and her answer has always been the same. It is today, what it was even three years back. I don’t know whether to applaud her on her keen sense of decision making or bang my head against the wall in frustration. YES, ladies and gentlemen. She wants to be an….. ENGINEER!

And then I begin to wonder what the world will do with about 4 billion engineers. There are after all only so many technical problems to solve. What is the fun in living like that anyway? You spend roughly four years getting your degree. Then you get a fancy job from the campus recruitment, usually. Earn some money. Marry an engineer/bank manager/doctor (yes, those are your only options). Earn some more money. Have two kids. Earn more money. Spend all this money to buy a house, on education, insurance policies, vacations, etc etc etc…. marry off your kids… work work work and finally retire. At the age of 65, your life FINALLY begins. But by now you have arthritis or diabetes or some other problem. Hence, you buy two rocking chairs and all the newspapers in town and spend every single day in pretty much the same way, reading newspaper, drinking coffee and rocking away!

Where’s the excitement?
“Oh hi honey. I’m home! You know what happened at work today? A server crashed. And I fixed it. Woohoo!”

Where’s the risk?
“Guess what? I decided to take an extra hour off during lunch today! What an adrenaline rush!”

Where’s the fun?
“I sat and typed out twenty different codes today. And now my wrist hurts, my back aches and I’m pretty sure my eyesight is going to the dogs. But I like the noise when I type.”

Oh. And most importantly. Where’s the time to… live?
“I have a holiday tomorrow. Which means I have to work only from nine to four! YESS!”

See. This is what I’m talking about.

I’m saying ‘engineer’. But it could refer to any other such career, requiring only a degree and a willingness to give up your life.
Yes, it is safe. If you get fired today, you’re likely to find a pretty decent opening very soon.
Yes, it’ll give you financial security. Your pay hikes will come faster than those mounting expenses.

But the real question is, will it make you happy?

All I’m saying is, don’t confine creativity. Don’t be afraid to dream. Dare to do something different.

Make mistakes. Crazy ones. But be happy.

If you really want to do something, whatever it is,  give it your best shot and do it. You can never be bad at doing something you love because you will end up giving it all you’ve got. If you want to become a painter, dancer or writer, then do just that. Don’t waste your life sitting in a cubicle, doing something you don’t love, enjoy or aren’t good at. Because, you might never be happy.

I’m sure that if you’re doing something for ‘the heck of it’ or because ‘it’s what everyone is doing’, then someday, you will wake up miserable and you will think back on those days when you dreamt of being a… An astronaut or  a writer or maybe even… a superhero? Then the realization hits you. Your dreams have died. The child within you is buried so deep inside that you cannot even feel its presence. It is probably the most terrifying feeling. Like something within you has died.

So wake up before it’s too late. And let your creative juices flow. Do whatever you’ve always dreamed of doing.

And even after all of this, if you still want to be an engineer, then go ahead!

I, for one, am taking the unconventional road. I might never be ‘The Richest Woman on Earth’, but I will find happiness.

Because I refuse to bury my dreams.
Because I refuse to kill the child in me.

Because I refuse to confine creativity. 

Can “Magic” repeat itself?; The Casual Vacancy- A Review

Image Courtesy- Google Images

First things first, ‘The casual Vacancy’ is NOT in any way related to Harry potter. It is not a sequel, spin-off or anything else that might indicate any sort of connection between the two.

     

SUMMARY:

The Casual vacancy is J.K Rowling’s first adult novel. It takes place in a quaint little village called Pagford. With its cobblestone streets and community feeling, Pagford comes across as your typical English town. However, the village atmosphere itself is essential to carry forward the main themes of the story- War, Death and Social Hierarchy. And how in the greater scheme  of everything, we end up compromising on things that are far more important, just to win our own personal battles.

The book is divided into seven parts. It opens with the death of an important man called Barry Fairbrother. His death is discussed, as if it were gossip, with both grief and morbid enthusiasm among the inhabitants of the small town. This leads to revelation of underlying bitterness in the minds of Pagfordians. The book is filled with petty wars and secret desires, which are brought into the open as a consequence of his death.

Pagford contains an area called ‘The Fields’. The Fields are notorious for being home to the poorest members of Pagford’s society, who live in dilapidated homes and indulge in shady activities to make both ends meet. The elite of Pagford are ashamed at the thought of having to include them as part of their lovely town and wish for The Fields to be delegated to Yarville, a large town, sharing borders with Pagford. This issue is the main concern of the Pagford Parish council, which remains equally divided on the matter. That is, till Barry Fairbrother’s death, which creates a casual vacancy for his place in the council.

Chaos ensues and a battle breaks out, with each party trying their best to get one of their own to fill the seat. The Anti-fielders argue that The Fields cast a dark shadow over Pagford’s perfect reputation and wastes too much of the town’s resources. The Pro-fielders oppose them by saying that the members of the fields can be helped.  They say that  Bellchapel Addiction clinic in the fields is of utmost importance and can give these so-called delinquents a new lease on life.

This results in a nasty game of politics, in which everyone is inadvertently forced to take part, irrespective of their stance or interest towards the matter.

In a nutshell, the book is one long dirty political battle.

REVIEW:

The Casual vacancy is J.K Rowling’s first attempt at a different genre. And a very adult one, at that. I bought this book, fully aware of the fact that it is nothing like Harry Potter. I fully believed that I would be able to accept that and read this book without drawing comparisons or building expectations. But in spite of this, the book was very different from what I’d imagined it would be. And I found myself constantly wondering why J.K Rowling would write this after writing something as amazing as Harry Potter. It’s not that ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is a terrible book. But it certainly isn’t the best.

As I was reading the book, I constantly sensed that it was J.K.Rowling’s attempt to prove that she can write something else, something very different to Harry Potter. It’s as if she’s trying, quite hard, to shrug off the stereotypes surrounding her. This book has it all- Rape, Domestic Violence, Drug Abuse, Dirty politics, Prostitution, Self-Harm and Smoking. She also touches upon the subject of teenage sexuality in detail. And throws about swear words in nearly every sentence.  Not all of it is necessary, to be honest. She sure could have toned it down a little bit.

The book certainly has its positives. It is beautifully written and I absolutely loved the characterization. I actually felt like I’d met the characters and it was as if I knew them in person. J.K.Rowling has once again proved that she has an imagination that is truly out of this world. The story is also well-drafted. It develops in an interesting way. And though there are reasons for you to stop reading the book, there are greater, more over powering reasons that ensure that you don’t. In spite of all the dirt that covers the main plot, you manage to uncover it all the same. And it is the story that manages to grasp your attention and tweak your curiosity to some extent. Though you will put the book down when you feel like you’ve had enough, you will end up coming back to it simply because you just need to know what happens.

The author is both the book’s greatest strength and weakness. For it is quite clear that, had it been written by anyone else, ‘The Casual Vacancy’ would have gone unnoticed. Gathering dust on book shelf counters. Only someone with a particular taste for a book of this kind would buy it, apart from a  few others who like to read or those who might want to read this book “just to see how it is.” Some might read the summary and decide to buy it. A few libraries would stock up. Some might buy it because it was on sale. But it is clear that it would certainly have not sold at 125,000 copies in just it’s opening week, if not for the author. But it  also means that most people out there have bought it only because of the author. Which implies that they have expectations and probably pre-conceived notions that will keep them away from being able to judge the book in fair light. That will keep them away from enjoying a moderately entertaining story that is hidden under layers and layers of unnecessary “adult-ness”.

VERDICT:

‘The Casual Vacancy’  is a very different kind of book, and it will certainly find its fair share of fans. But it caters to only those with a certain kind of taste. It has the ability to shock yet enthrall, appall yet entertain, disgust yet enlighten. The story itself isn’t great. But it isn’t bad. I don’t regret reading it. But I don’t think I’d read it again. The book is worth a read if you can stomach it’s content.

As mentioned before, it seems like a desperate attempt by J.K. Rowling to be associated with something different; to crawl out of the niche that the literary society has built for her. To disconnect herself from the tags that label her as someone who can only write fantasies built on clouds. (Although why one might want to disassociate themselves with such a Harry Potter-esqe tag is beyond me!!) And if this was what she was attempting, she certainly has been able to achieve it. Because this book faces reality head-on and maybe that’s what is hardest to take in, knowing that this is how it really is and this is what we live with. A dark satirical comedy surrounding the world of dirty politics is what best describes the book. But nevertheless,  it shows promise. Because she has proved to us, once again, that she is a great writer, with an amazing mind. She has stepped out to try something different.  And while there is nothing wrong with that, I definitely wouldn’t call this an improvement. Maybe all this book needs … is a little bit of magic!! 🙂