Thursday, September 10, 2015

The battle with the name!

I am Shweta Hardikar married to Deven Kher.

My marriage certificate says so, my passport says the same. I have a joint account with my husband just to prove that we are indeed together in the eyes of the lawmakers. In the eyes of the God, we are already together no matter what names we choose to use. I always believed that the choice of retaining your maiden name or choosing to accept your husband's name is a personal one. It's a choice, which I am not gonna defend or oppose. It's a choice, not a prerogative, which should be enforced by anyone.

I chose to retain my maiden name for personal reasons. I knew that I am not going to change my name even when I wasn't sure who I was getting married to. I was always sure that I am and will always be known by my name given by my parents. Some can say that it is after all a man's last name even if you chose to retain it. The big difference is that the name I retain is of someone who has co-created me. He supersedes the one who is now sharing my life.

It took my husband some time to support my decision. Everyone, including my mother, asked me why am I doing this? My husband and his family were worried that I might land into issues with the government institutions. Their concern was more for the legalities, but I could sense their unease. Thankfully, my husband, though a little uneasy initially, didn't bother me much to change my last name. Five years later, we haven't had a major issue with the name yet and now he has seen that a name doesn't change how I feel about him.

I still face some unexpected reactions from my friends, relatives, and strangers the moment I say I have retained my name. The only person who had wholeheartedly supported my choice was my doctor. She had retained her name and assured me that she never ran into issues almost 20 years after getting married.

I feel the entire unease with a woman not changing her name or rather not accepting her husband's last name comes from the belief that a woman doesn't become a part of their family unless she has the same name. How does a name change what I feel for my new family? I always liked them and grew fond of them over the years. I will always take care of them no matter what my name is. The feeling of one family doesn't come with a name. We see so many cases of daughter-in-laws troubling their parents-in-law and vice versa. They have the same name. We don't see dowry cases being resolved because of the same name. So what's the big deal with taking your husband's last name? Unless it's some patriarchal image imbibed in the man where he needs to own the lady completely. As one dear ex-boyfriend had once told me, he wanted me to take his name because he wanted me to be his completely. Thank God I never married him.

Indian government institutes still find it difficult to accept that women choose their names. This is surprising considering we allow people to change their names based on their whims and fancies but a woman retaining her name is almost a sacrilege. I also had my fair share of problems, where I had to convince an officer at the passport office that I am X married to Y, and here's the marriage certificate. He still used it as a ploy to extract a bribe. I've heard stories of my friend whose son's birth certificate contained her name and her husband's name, which was not the same and the municipal corporation refused to accept a form with parent's name not matching. My friend went thru some personal agony and bureaucracy before getting it done her way. Even my election card has messed up my husband's name. Because some genius (and I say this with as much sarcasm that I can use) accepting the form didn't understand or bother to understand the difference, my election card now reads my husband's name as Deven Hardikar, a hilarious mistake by him, evoking an almost a blood-boiling kinda reaction from me.

The battle has just begun. It surprises me that a country who allows me to chose my education, my job, my career, my life, my husband, and rest everything in my life is still uncomfortable when I chose my name. No fans of Shakespeare for sure!

All I ask for is the choice to decide my name. Is it really a tough one?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Coming out - Freedom to love

The best teacher is the one who teaches us things outside the syllabus.
Source: Arjun Kamath - Coming out.

Growing up, I didn't know much about homosexuality. All I heard were strong objections against homosexuals in India. A film being banned, posters burned, ancient scriptures quoted by both who were for or against homosexuality because let's admit it - our ancestors were far more progressive than us so definitely left some widely contradictory things written in the scriptures. Homosexuality was never discussed with parents, friends, peers, or teachers. I knew I liked boys, so I didn't think about anyone who likes girls instead.

I always believe my thoughts and my perceptions about things happening around us were widened and changed radically when I was doing my masters. A time when I had teachers of such varied personalities that it was an experience in itself to adapt to their teachings. On one end, we had a teacher who made us ask his permission even if we needed to go out of the class to pee and had a strict roll call before starting the class and on the other end we had a teacher who didn't even ask our names for one entire year and never stuck to the syllabus. That was also a time when we were treated like adults. We were learning, but were no longer thought about as a bunch of kids, but rather made to think like individuals, citizens, and a new generation.

A big part of the first year in my Masters was to watch films and discuss them (The best part of my life and something that made me fall in love with films as a medium). I don't remember what we were watching, but the issue of homosexuality was being discussed and I remember my professor asking us as a class that one question, which changed my perspective about homosexuality forever.

He asked us - Do you choose whom do you fall in love with?

Being someone who was always in and out of love in my young days, I took a moment to think and then come to a conclusion that no, I didn't choose any of the people I fell in love with. It just happened. I am not a scientist so I can never explain the chemical reactions or the physiological changes that happen in one's brain when one falls in love. The only certain thing I know is that I didn't choose with whom I should fall in love with. It happens. It happens that I like boys, but that's also why I can now understand how a girl falls in love with a girl or a boy falls in love with a boy. No amount of science and rationale can convince me that there's a formula for falling in love with a boy or a girl. It simply happens.

So if I naturally fall in love with boys, then why should I blame someone if she falls in love with a girl? I may not understand the attraction, but I have no right to deny, challenge, condemn, or even insult such a relationship. If two people fall in love, it's entirely up to them how they live, love, and care for each other. As a girl loving a boy I don't want any interference in my relationship, if my relationship is so personal, then so is that girl's relationship with her girl or that boy's relationship with his guy.

That day when my teacher asked us if we choose whom we fall in love with, he taught us that some things are beyond our understanding and that's why we should not tamper with it if we don't know how to handle it. Just because I don't understand a relationship, I am not allowed to disregard it. I learnt to be a little more human that day.

I want that freedom to love anyone that I want to, and I want that freedom for everyone around me.

This post was triggered by watching this beautiful picture story created by Arjun Kamath and shared by You can view the story here: Coming out
Also, this is how I want to celebrate Teacher's Day by remembering how my teachers contributed to help me become who I am today. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My happy place

This could be a long blog post about how much I miss the rains back home. Or this could just be the one stating my undying love for the rains and my home. I don't know what I miss more, the rains, a hot cup of tea, view from my balcony, the blooming garden, or just everything that comes with the rain.

My happy place
This is my balcony back home. The periwinkle at the far left is my forever blooming plant. The white lilies bloom like crazy when it rains and fill my entire container with their joy. The tiny elephant and a horse cart figurines retain and spread the aroma of the wet mud in the air. The one at the center is a tuberose plant, the only flowers which I adore. My husband planted this one for me because he knows how much I love tuberoses and every now and then he used to place a small bunch by my bedside. The palms are my husband's idea for creating privacy when we want to hang out on the terrace. At the far right is the tiny lotus pond, two lotuses bloom every alternate day, bright lavenderish violet shade.
White lilies

Butterfly Blue Pea
There's another plant here which I planted from the seeds I and a friend collected on our post-lunch walks. The butterfly blue pea vine, blooms beautiful blue flowers and is my absolute favorite flower after tuberoses. A type of wildflower and grows almost in any condition. Takes a long time to bloom, but when it does, it does with abandon.

It's said that when you are feeling sad and lonely, you should think of a happy place. This is my happy place. I can sit here for ages, till the stars come out, gazing at the plants, my terracotta figurines, the wet floor, the beautiful sky in the background. Many a moons have we spent on this terrace dreaming, talking, making plans, entertaining friends and family. This has always been a happy place and I can't wait to go back and enjoy the same view. 

So much depends on a red wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Monday, August 31, 2015

Don't put me on a pedestal

I refuse to be an ideal woman.

I am no longer going to juggle between my home and my work.
Some days, work takes a priority, some days my home.

I won't be the one to cook a meal because I am a girl.
I will cook because I love creating magic out of the mundane.

I am no longer the only one cleaning the house after a tiring day at work.
Some days, the mess is acceptable.

In my home, we have a rule - we work together, we relax together.
We don't let the other one sit and surf channels, while one is busy with the dirty laundry.

I won't be the home maker because I am a woman.
My home is shared with my partner and he will make it with me.

I love and honor my partner because he is my person.
He won't be my God just because he is a man.

I won't make sacrifices because I am a woman.
I adjust and adapt because it takes two to tango.

I refuse to bow down because I am a woman.
I change because love is always about accepting and changing yourself.

I will no longer be afraid of failures.
It's the challenge that keeps me going, and failures are but a stepping stone.

I refuse to stand on a pedestal for doing everything while killing myself.
I am gonna be deep in shit sometimes and still be real happy about it.

Random musings. I am blessed to be born in a family where I wasn't treated unfairly because I was a girl. I live with a person who doesn't believe I should do some things in the home just because I am a woman. He just knows I am better at some things and he is better at some. This pledge is for all women who are asked to sacrifice themselves in the name of marriage, family, home, and husband. The idea of an ideal woman, who manages her home and work successfully is no longer applicable. Let me be a human first.

The Recycled Book Store

I love the smell of a new book almost as much as Hermione loves the smell of a parchment. However, I recently discovered that I love the stains on the second hand books, the yellowed paper, nondescript scribbles, and broken bindings more than a brand new book.

After moving to San Jose, the only thing I really asked people about was a book store. Surprisingly, book stores are not easily available in this city. Yes, you will find the public libraries, I live in front of one, but the charm of a book store is very different than using the Kindle App. I asked my colleagues and the nearest one was almost 10 kilometers away. A little research revealed this small Recycled Book Store near my area, which I decided to explore with my husband one weekend.

The moment you step inside this book store, you receive a warm welcome from a pile of books, which are generally available for less than a $1. I always stop here. I enter and cannot take three steps inside without already picking a book from the welcoming pile. My husband moves on to the comics section.

The store is surprisingly well organised, by themes, and then alphabetically. One can get lost in the rows and rows of books, wooden flooring, and cosy corners to just pick up a book and read for some time. If you are lucky, the cats will graze by or stare at you. Cat lovers will love this place.

Recycled Book Store
I always wonder who was the original owner of the book, which I decided to buy. I always wanted to buy a Calvin and Hobbes volume and when I found one, it looked as if someone really used it well. Yellowed pages, brown stains as if someone spilled a little coffee, markers of the book being used, being read, being handled by someone else before me. The books invite me to not just explore the written words, but also guess work about who read it first. Did a parent read it out to their kid? Was a PG Wodehouse book passed on from grandparent to a grand child like my grand mom did? Was a book donated because the owners no longer had space or had grown out of the book? So many questions raise to my mind when I enter this shop.

A part of the science fiction aisle
There are also some rare finds that one stumbles across in this book store, like the one time I found an Asterix comic in French. I didn't buy it cos I can't read French, and my husband absolutely forbade me to buy anything just because it was in it's original language.

In a land far far away from my home, this recycled book shop give me a feeling of being closer to my roots just by helping me find my favorite authors, or favorite titles. It helps me realize that there are some common threads even when you are away from home. A Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, still gives you the same goosebumps that an abridged version gave you when you first read it probably in your teen age. The Lord Emsworth (from several P.G. Wodehouse books) is still that hilarious old forgetting man, which made you laugh not so long ago.

No matter how convenient it is to load a thousand books on your phone, when it comes to reading as an experience, I would any day pick a book, and now a used book over a new one.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Live alone woman, find yourself in your solitude

As I mentioned in my earlier post, my biggest regret is that I didn't live on my own in my 20s. I came to Pune for my Masters education and since we were not so great on funds, lived with my sister and her family. Two years later I was graduated and had a good job, which could have allowed me to stay on my own. My sister didn't kick me out of the house and I was so comfortable, I didn't step out. The plus point is that I got to spend a wonderful time with my niece so much so that I tell my husband that she is my first baby and when I have real babies they will have to compete with her - no questions asked! When my baby was two, I got married and went to stay at my husband's place. Now I don't want to live alone.

Call it luck, but when my husband moved to the US, I got a blissful period of two months on my own. When he had gone on business trips earlier, short ones, I used to move my bags to my sister's place. This time, I decided to stay put.

For the first time, I wasn't scared living alone. Except locking my bedroom door, I didn't feel like doing anything else. I didn't leave the lights of the entire house on, neither did I call my husband for all the time that I was alone in the room. Slowly, I started realizing the joys of living on my own.

I must say, living on my own when I was working is no doubt a great comfort than living when you are a student. For the first time, I made impromptu plans with friends, went for drinks, drives, and laughed like crazy. I shopped for my own food, planned my meals, luckily I have an excellent maid, so I didn't have to cook. I started going for exercises in the evening, bought groceries, paid the maid, the bills, met friends for dinner and had a great time.

I also learnt the joy of enjoying in your own house. This was the first time I celebrated New Year's Eve alone, with a drink, made myself some appetizers, ordered my favorite food and watched TV. Being alone and being lonely are two different things. I was happy being with just me.

One night I had a solid craving for Fish, if you know me, then you know how strong my cravings are, and they need to be fulfilled as early as possible. I called up a new place, ordered fish, told the chef to customize a dish my way, and asked his recommendation for accompaniments. That was one of the best meals I enjoyed in a long time.

Two months later, my mom joined me and I still had a good time with her. I realized I love to have people around but I am always happy being just by my own. This period of two months was very important for me. It taught me how to be happy on your own. It also made me realize that I was happy because I had a loved one in my life, he was just not in the same space, but he was there and I was going to meet him eventually. I learnt that there's a difference between being lonely and being alone. That's also a reason now I feel every person should try and live alone at least some time in their life. It teaches us so much, in such little time. It makes us realize who we are and what we want. The solitude makes us introspect and resolve a lot of troubled issues.

I still regret not living alone when I was single. 

And then she crossed the line...

I turned 30 this year. 

No, not today. In May. I moved to a new country and for the first time, was alone on my birthday. My husband had to work and since we didn't have a car, I cooked the birthday meal, something which I hate doing on my special day, because we couldn't go out. Before anyone feels sorry for me, let me clarify that my husband made the weekend special for me by taking me out to a sea-facing restaurant, with all my favorite food, and two glasses of my much-loved Red Wine Sangria. The gloom of being alone in a land far far away was too much to make me write until today. 

But this post is not about how I spent my 30th birthday. It's how I feel now that I am no longer in my 20s. 30s is supposed to be when you get wise, you become mature, in most cases, you have children and are too busy to even bother about what's happening around you. For me, 30 is just a number, but a number that kind of rings a bell. There's so much that I haven't done yet and no it's not just about not having kids. 

This birthday was special, as few friends and family reminded me that I am still childless, as if I don't know that. I have crossed THE line. My time is running out, my biological clock is ticking. I know all that. 

For an Indian women, by 30's if you haven't had a child, you are considered a rebel, or worse, you have health issues, which people make it a point to ask and give free advice too. For Indian women, having children is everyone's business. Your mother, your mother-in-law, your friends, your aunts, your neighbors, your distant relatives, your doodhwala, your bhajiwala and so on. Nobody asks you - Do you and your husband want to have children? Are you physically, mentally, and financially capable of taking a responsibility of your lifetime?

This assumption that since I am married for 5 years and now crossed the ripe age of fertility, I should be popping out kids is preposterous. I lament because majority of times, I am the one who goes thru the torment, not my husband. As if his part is so minuscule that it doesn't matter whether he is ready or not. I don't remember his father asking him about his plans to have a baby. Fine, I am a carrier, but isn't his contribution required? The worse part is, it's not even like we don't want a baby, it's just that we want it when we want it, not when the world wants it or because we are crossing an age limit or because our biological clocks are ticking. A point to be taken into consideration - it's only my biological clock ticking, not my husband's. I don't see his mother worried for him. I don't see his brother advising him to make babies. This is the stark difference that's so culturally ingrained in us, that we don't even stop to think as to why only a woman is harassed and I chose the word deliberately, harassed over having a baby.  

Before I am being considered rude for saying things like these, I would like to make it clear that I understand the love and concern of my loved ones. What I fail to understand and maybe make people realize is that life is not a time table. I am a 30 year old woman and if I count the things that I have done, the list of things that I haven't done is bigger. All internet articles tell you to make bucket lists of things that you must do before you are 30. I didn't have a bucket list, neither did I make one after realizing I missed a decade of my youth. What I did do, I am happy with. I didn't travel a lot, I didn't see my own country, I didn't go for treks, I didn't learn Yoga, I didn't live alone (biggest regret of my life), I never actually became independent even though I was earning quite well. 

As I cross the line from the 20s to the 30s, I want my life to be much more than having a baby. I want to be peaceful and happy in my relationship with my husband. I want to spend time decorating my home the way I always wanted. I want to cook and experiment with food to satisfy my palette and make my husband happy with his simple waran bhat. I want to read and write a lot more. I am already working, but I want to pursue a hobby, maybe think of learning a new skill. In my 20's my dream was to spend more time on my writing, learn, read, see new places, talk to people, and have a good time when I reach 30s. That's it, that was my goal - to have a good time and that's what I want to do now that I am 30 - have a good time in my life. Whether I have a baby or not, whether I change my life or not, whether I switch my career or not, all I want to do is have a good time.