What's Your Story?

What's your story, Copenhagen?

I have been here for three weeks now and I'm still wondering. You never talk. Never attempt eye contact. Even when I look at you, you shy and look away. What's going on there, inside your head? What mysteries thrive in the criss-cross of your numerous lanes and  in the quiet of your green recluses? What does the wind carry when it blows over your cold grey-blue ingresses of water?

In my room, I can hear the cars zooming down the highway, all day. In the mornings, I can hear the birds chirp. Sometimes, late into the night, I can even hear the rain falling on the cobbled footpaths and the trees rustling with the wind. But, rarely, very rarely do I hear people talk, walking under the artistic street lamps.
Why are you so afraid of people listening in? Your privacy you guard with a knightly fierceness.

Yet, I've never felt so comfortable being out on my own in the streets, on a crowded bus, riding an elevator, visiting a mall or any of those places where you would typically find yourself surprised by a traffic of people. It's liberating to be just a part of that traffic: not caring about other people's business and, blessedly, not having to care about people caring about your business. Your privacy you can learn to prize.

Does it get lonely? I am waiting to find out. So far I have been too excited with the freedom to just enjoy solitude to worry about it.

Copenhagen, I may never fully know your story, but I must thank you for giving me the space to work on my own.

*Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia

Of Women and Fiction

In the year 1928, Virginia Woolf was called by the Arts Society at Newnham and the Odtaa at Girton to speak about women and fiction. The papers delivered by Woolf on the two occasions have since been compiled and expanded into an essay titled ‘A room of one’s own’. But, hang on, we’re talking about women and about fiction and this lady is talking real estate? Not quite. For a woman to be a successful author/writer or poet, she must have a room of her own and an income of so-and-so per year, Woolf asserted. The simplicity and directness of this statement makes one not take it too seriously. She said nothing about passion, dedication, discipline, creativity or any of those virtues we may expect to have an important role in the development of the writer. Instead, she drew my attention to two mere resources- a private room and a steady income. Why? The rationale took me back to a time where female writers were unheard of, right at the beginning of what we may call the dawn of women and fiction. The reasons presented in her argument collude and transcend all that affects, aids and discriminates against her sex. I found myself riveted to the essay, produced almost a century ago, but very much concordant with and inclusive of the notions of femininity and feminism that arrest me today.

To study about women and fiction, Woolf went back to the earliest of literature about women. But, here, we encounter an issue. There is no dearth of literature featuring women but only as a subject. There are plenty of books by men on a range of topics but no books written by women.  What were the women doing and why were they not writing but leaving it to the other sex to represent and document them? Even the books of history had a minimal mention of them, as if they had been invisible during all of the wars and revolutions. But there was no shortage of books written on or about women, studies on the character of women, on how to deal with them and understand them. At this point, I began to wonder- are we really two variants of the same species? Or did the women just show up one day, from Venus perhaps, and demanded that men study, tolerate and control them? There is also a certain vehemence with which men, irrespective of country, race or religion, have all rushed at some point of history to denounce women and introduce ideas of inferiority.
Forgive my unintended misandry for an instant while we examine the position of the average person: A person, to be successful in any industry, must possess a certain degree of self-respect and confidence. We must also agree to the fact that if the average person is communicated a notion of ‘being better’ than, let’s say, another person, this perception of self-worth automatically increases. Now, think of the average man and think about him being told that ‘he’ is the superior sex.  Oh, that would be a nice boost for the ego, wouldn’t it? An entire half of the population diminished and swept away in a matter of sentences. And this sentiment was echoed when Woolf tried to find the reason for why there were so many men writing their views on women. For a long period in history, the woman has served as a mirror to the man- a mirror that enlarging their self-image and feeding the idea of superiority. This is the premise of a patriarchal society.

On the idea of superiority of males over females- enough has been said and proven already. Yet, the idea never leaves us. It finds its way across generations and cultures to restrain the woman or to falsely implicate the man in to pre-defined, stereotypical roles. The worst consequence of this school of thought is obviously the mass prevalence of female feticides and favoritism exhibited towards the male child. It is how we treat the child that determines how society functions in the future.

However, going back to the era Woolf had me in; I find that the woman had not written any book to defend herself.

The question of there being no literature produced by women in that period can be attributed to two factors- illiteracy and poverty. She was illiterate because there was no place for a woman of words and knowledge in a household run on patriarchy. The lack of education again guaranteed a disability for her to fend for herself. Also, the laws and practices of inheritance made it impossible for her to come in possession of money. Hence, she was poor and dependent. The force restricting expression of the female creative power was the patriarchal society.
When a society is governed by rules written by a certain section; the other section would always find themselves living within the confines of roles chalked out for them. The woman found that the masculine opinions of what she could and could not do- often unsupported by fact but flung casually at her nevertheless, blotted her formative years and carved holes into the pillars of her self-confidence. Could an artist be born this way? One may argue that the woman need not pay attention to these external factors so out of her control and focus on her own artistic intent itself. But, Art is born out of sense of self and , quoting Woolf, ‘it is precisely the men or women of genius that mind most what is said of them’. Even so, let us consider that she somehow ignores what is said about her ability and talent, but the lack of money and education coupled with the abundance of domestic responsibility were reasons enough to dissuade her.  It were only the distinguished, privileged and wealthy ladies  who could afford to write poetry or literature- but even then, other forms of Art were strictly out of her reach. Their works were marked with traces of feminism that were, without a doubt, necessary. Their creative energies could have been directed elsewhere, to other aspects of Life, in general, yet they chose to divest them on the more pressing issue, may be to reclaim their voice. The woman wrote neither philosophy nor odes to nature or love but tales about the injustice of her oppression. 
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the female author discovered that she could turn to the letter for bread. But, of course, no honourable woman could be found making a career out of being a wordsmith. Even Austen hid behind pseudonyms. But now her work was free from aggression directed towards men or pity on her own self. With the dawn of the nineteenth century, she finally began seeing writing as an art form, not merely as a tool for self-expression.  
To what extent can we disentangle the personal from Art? It can be argued that every creative endeavour attempted by a person provides an insight to that person- his views, memories, general ideals and ideas of life. Hence, in this context, literature can be said to serve as a sort of a mirror to society. Thereby, it makes sense to draw an analysis of literature over the years to gauge the trends in gender perception with time.

The relationship between women as represented in literature/Art can be compared and examined for its similarities with reality. A lot many pieces leave the reader wondering if two women can ever share the bond of friendship without jealousy and competition. Literature has had several examples of men as friends, bosses, helpers, etc. of other men. But, to sketch women in relationships other than those they share with men was a task not attempted as often. As Woolf wrote, ‘…seen only in relation to the other sex…how small a part of a woman’s life is that…how little can a man know, when he observes it through black or rosy spectacles…’. Hence, the representation of the woman cannot be deemed to be objective in such a scenario. Authors such as Mary Carmichael (among others of the likes of Woolf, Austen and the Brontes, etc) attempted to another dimension to literature by portraying the oft obscured domestic life. Great novels had been written about splendid events like wars and catastrophes but seldom about the trivialities that one observes in a household or about the aspirations of common women. So, May Carmichael, when she intended to write about women, had to set out on an expedition to explore, understand and grasp the vanities, peculiarities, ambitions and insecurities of her own sex as well as to observe the other sex and the relationships between them. She wrote about two women, their friendship, their respective domestic lives and refreshingly, their shared ambition outside of domesticity. 
I do not wish to promulgate a vision of books written by women, for women and about women. But, for a long period in history, we have gone without appreciating the complex and sensitive bond shared between two women which is not influenced by the men in their lives.

The great mind, I am convinced, is androgynous. The accomplished writer writes unconscious of their own sex. You do not read a great work of art and immediately conclude that it was the work of a man or a woman. Yet, if we observe the literary world around us, we would find numerous examples of gender being assigned to different types of literature and cinema. The great artist knows that men and women are the ends of the same spectrum, not opposing factions. If we see the truly prominent and lasting works of art, like Shakespeare, we would find that they have been the ones conceived by a mind unconscious of sex- the androgynous mind. (May be that is why there has been unending speculation over the Bard’s gender over the years.)
There is a great satisfaction in seeing the sexes as parts of a whole and none as an end within itself. The fully developed mind does not think specially or separately of gender. 

A Tiny Tale for the Hopelessly Romantic II

I do not usually write stories dripping with such corniness but I bad been aching to get pen on paper again and this happened. I like to tell myself it at least made good writing practice. Please forgive me, I have been on a diet of Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives (though the housewives were at least capable of murder). So, if you were able to suffer through this, here is, what you may call, a part two...

Nothing would have felt better than wrapping him in a tight embrace and hunting between those lips for sugar, Emily contemplated. Kissing him was the one things that had the power to transform and uplift every thing- her mood, her day, her messy schedule- it was like an instant fix trick. Just go up to him, lock lips and everything would be better.

Yet, there she was, watching his silent profile, not daring to make a move, not being able to traverse the two steps that lay between them. The air was laden with the weight of the argument the room had just witnessed. Echoes of their angry screaming resounded off the bare walls, the darkening windows, the cold dinner...

It had been the fifth day in a row. Fighting seemed to be the only thing they were capable of, lately. Their house was a mess and they were always too edgy and irritable to do anything about it. It was just heartrendingly sad, thought Mark. He was so certain that this woman and this relationship would be so much more than unrealistic expectations and angry nagging and broken vases. He was sure he had found the perfect mix for a calm and happy life. How could he have known that he would find himself staring at a cold, hardened face at the end of every day in spite of everything he had done to make sure he wouldn't end there? They had been so perfectly happy. Not even the grimmest of cynics would have predicted such an outcome when they had decided to move in together three months back. But, then, that was the rosy period, wasn't it? Even cynics see cupids at that time. If only they could find a way back to that carefree happiness again- back to the stage when just being there for each other was enough...

He looked at Emily. He could see tears forming in her eyes. No, he couldn't let her cry- she'd always use the hurt as a weapon, always to get him to concede. He must look away and not melt with the droplets making their way down her cheeks.

Every now and then it'd fall apart. Over 'nothing'. It would be 'nothing'- only it carried with it the weight of countless disappointments and broken promises and emotional outbursts that they had gathered over the past few months, Like a small rock sliding down a snowy slope- a little nothing in the beginning gathering force and momentum to transform into a destructible.
Emily didn't want to cry. She was sad, yes. And angry. But, most of all, she was tired of facing the menacing avalanche of their mutual pain again. Which was why the tears fell anyway. It wasn't a way of establishing control but, on the contrary, an expression of her relinquishing it. She wanted somebody, anybody to come fix this. She wanted Mark to come over and hold her, as tightly as could be.

He was watching her from the corner of his eye. He could stay put and wait for her to concede and apologize. Or he could go over right now and put an end to this himself. If he stayed it could possibly register a victory of sort for him- a deterrent to future arguments on similar grounds. If he went they'd be stuck in this grey area again. No victories, no conclusions. But, it would make the crying stop.

Emily felt a gush of warmth through her being as her wish was granted. As much as she'd wanted it, she hadn't expected it to happen so soon. She looked searchingly at his face, trying to find a way into his thoughts.

'I'm sorry, Em. I...', he began.

'No, it really wasn't your fault, Mark', she sobbed, 'I was too vicious in my attack.'

Mark paused. Now that the words he had been wanting to hear for the past five days had been offered to him, he felt neither relief nor closure. Yes, he knew that it wasn't his fault. At least, not entirely. It didn't make him feel any better to hear it from her. It wasn't about finding and proving where the faults lay...

'I'm just a horrible person. I did not mean to pick on you like that, but I just... I just felt so angry, Mark... because I feel so helpless... It's just so hard, these days...'

This was where the problem was. This bleak, self-defeatist view of life. It wasn't about mistakes or promises or fulfilling expectations- it was this insecurity about dealing with something that had turned out to be much more complex than they had bargained for. It was about fear and their helplessness at not being able to escape from it...

'Hey...', Emily blew her nose and turned his face to hers, forcing him out of his reverie.

'Do you... do you sometimes think we're making a mistake?'


'Because all that we ever seem to do is fight!'

'Every couple fights, Em!'

'I know... But, I never wanted us to be like any other average couple. I thought we were different. I even took pride in it...', Emily went on, giving voice to the very fears that had been tormenting Mark a few minutes back.
Mark was silent, lost in thoughts again. What if they too were meant to be only another addition to the nameless collective of failed and unhappy relationships? Maybe there wasn't anything like a perfect relationship. It's all the stuff of fairy-tales. Santa was a lie, after all. Did that mean that the satisfaction they had been seeking for through much of their adult life was going to elude them forever?

Finally, he looked up with an air of certainty. 'Hey, look, Em, I'm as scared and clueless as you are. I don't know why we end up fighting like this. I don't know where all the viciousness comes from. May be its stress. May be its worry. Or disappointment...'

'I'm not disappointed in you, Mark, I'm disappointed in us...'

'Yes, but, you don't need to be. Not yet. This is the beginning. I know we've been programmed to look for happy endings but, I'm thinking, may be, there is no happy ending. May be we can only start our journeys faithfully and keep making efforts to stay on it... Let's not get too ahead of ourselves, looking for destinations, right?'

Emily looked at him silently, eyes urging him to go on.

'What I mean to say is, the fact that I made a mistake and let you down doesn't mean that I don't care about you or our relationship. Being in a loving relationship does not mean never making mistakes... We are bound to make them... But we mustbbe able to sustain through it... I know we have let each other down... It may not have been our intent... But it doesn't mean we don't love each other... As long as we remember that, we'd be fine... After all, it's only minor scuffles... Nothing we can't shake off...'

Emily managed a smile. It made sense. Feeling much lighter and happier, she asked, eyes twinkling, 'Know what kept going through my mind while we were fighting?'


'How much I wanted to just come over, give you a huge hug and shut those lips of yours.'

'Now that is what I was talking about!', Mark replied, chuckling.

Up the Stairs

It's an overcast day. We have been having a lot of these lately- dark grey clouds wander over to increase our rates of perspiration and excitement by threatening to burst, only to depart after a mild, blink-and-miss drizzle. Sensing a pattern, I decide to make the most of the cool evening air by strolling around on the terrace. It has been a while since I've been back home but the dismal weather had kept me from venturing out on the terrace. Plus, Carey and I have enough of a playground in the driveway & the leisurely evening walk. However, today, we hobble up the stairs to the terrace. Hobble, because the right hip has gone somewhat stiff (I read online that that's genetic in GSDs) or maybe because we have to sniff out the rats lurking around the old items stacked alongside the stairs. Either way, its one excited, yet slow, step at a time.

The terrace is a beautiful, large expanse of concrete and brick littered with Carey's hoard of items to play fetch with (three dried mango seeds, two chewed sticks, one empty cup of yogurt and so on...). Though the view is not of the lush green fields we had been habituated to in the old house, the Ashoka trees and flower laden creepers give us nothing to complain about. It is a quiet, peaceful neighborhood and birds begin to gather around as we start play. Carey acts as goalkeeper as I proceed to kick the 'ball' (in this case a mango seed) around the 'park'. You'd think an old dog would grow out of such behavior but this one's still a kid at heart (and shouldn't we always be, too?). So, it is kick and guard, kick and guard till I notice big, round droplets forming on the ground- Rain! Run for cover! Carey is loathe to return- she doesn't have to worry about drenched clothes and impropriety; and the showers add the zing to her game- but, return we must.

Now, I'm relaxing on a bean bag with the AC on for the rain died almost as soon as we rushed downstairs and the dog has gone to sleep clutching an old ragged cloth in her mouth. But, with the trip to the terrace, at least my will to write has arisen.

Carey is now a senior dog- she had her tenth birthday in February. She is happy and healthy and greets each day with a wagging tail. It is nice to have a dog grow up in front of you- you get to become acquainted with its habits and get a fair idea of what might be scheming in the old bugger's head. The wily pooch also learns to tolerate your moods and the household's charter of 'Crime and Punishment' gets firmly embedded in its head (along with the loopholes and clauses, of course). As for vision and hearing loss, I do actually recall Carey not paying much attention to instructions involving sitting still and not stealing my food from the table- but it may be a strange case of selective hearing or just good old doggy wisdom.

Anyhow, the point I am trying to drive home here is that your dog (or cat or parrot or whatever) deserves to grow old in a healthy, loving environment. That is the least you can do to repay unconditional love and undying loyalty. It pains me to see people abandoning their pets just because they get 'too big', 'too old' or 'too sick'. A pet is not a toy or accessory for your household- it is a member and when you bring one home, make sure the commitment lasts through its lifespan (unless it is a tortoise).

Respect Life- all of us have a one way ticket.