“What does Converse with Kurti mean anyway?”

As a celebration of this blog’s anniversary, I’m going to try to explain why I chose the name Converse with Kurti.

Some cultural enlightenment is in order. A Kurti (pronounced koohr-tee) is an Indian traditional tunic, often decorated with colors and patterns and other ethnic symbols. Kurtis are often viewed as a diminutive or short-handed version of the salwar kameez, or churidar which come with their own scarves (color matched) and their own trousers/leg-wear (again, color-matched). The Kurti is a single shorter unit and is versatile at being paired. This has led to its increased popularity, especially with the college student demographic as it obeys the dress codes imposed at their institution and allows them to be flexible with their fashion. Ethnic patterns meeting skinny jeans was comfortably the last resort option when the comfort of a school uniform disappeared.

Growing up in a concrete jungle means that I obviously had a wider range of college-wear to choose from, but the Kurti remained a classical favorite. In my school, the only time that girls wore the Kurti was when they wanted to appear traditional or ethnic or even patriotic in some way. Wearing a modest Kurti would instantly earn you brownie points from the parents of your friends who may or may not draw unfair comparisons. Wearing a Kurti came to be understood as a symbol of chastity, the willingness to show that you were still bound to the heritage that you grew up with, even if you are equally comfortable flaunting Lees/Levis/American Apparel jeans under them. A kurti simply made people appear shy, feminine, mature, dressed up, modest and comparatively “more Indian” than anything else.

Combine that with the other contrasting brand image, as supported by Converse shoes. When you wear Converse shoes, your peers may or may not peg you to be that cool, low-maintenance girl who doesn’t care what people think but wears a fancy brand anyway, possibly even a gamer or a wannabe punk and almost certainly a tomboy. Your parents might either think you’re very childish (the thing has laces on it like a school-kid’s shoes) or practical (Well, at least she can walk in those) or unnecessarily an adolescent indulgence. (Why waste so much money on Converse when any other pair of sneakers can suffice?)

And what of the girl who wears both? What categories does she fit in? Is she destined to fit in at all? Which milieu of identities shall I claim as my own or is this haphazard mess of perspectives supposed to find a niche for itself?

I used to wear Converse with Kurtis to offset my femininity, to somehow provide a strong, if not equivalent representation to the sci-fi loving, dubstep-jamming punk that continues to code away. To me, it has evolved beyond a simple question of couture, but then what had/was I to become?

Searching for answers began this blog.

Guys with feelings

This is the story I’m going to talk about: http://www.apex-magazine.com/karina-who-kissed-spacetime/

I read this beautiful story today. Honestly, I don’t even know why I think it’s beautiful. But the fact is, once I had finished reading it, I was crying and feeling very quiet inside. Perhaps the realization that a work of prose is capable of reducing me to this state made it so beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not neurotic. Really. I am sensitive and emotional, but because of several school experiences, I’ve learned to suppress those instincts till I’m in a space where I can be myself. So, I am far more comfortable with emotions than my cyberpunk-obsessed-robot-building-geeky-tomboy-dubstep-persona will have you believe. Perhaps that would be one of the reasons we could become friends; if you could see past that for who I truly am and understand that I am inconstant as I evolve.

The story is very simply about a young Indian student falling in love with a Russian senior at a university in Pennsylvania. Already there are several reasons why this resonates with me. I too am an international student in the United States. Through the narrator’s emotional experiences, it appears that space-time appears to rupture and the protagonist is in some sort of visionary limbo, where he can sense the present and know that the future is to come. They fall in love, or rather the protagonist does and he can even foresee the failure of their relationship and how much it will hurt him, but he will not let go for fear of not having tried.

The English is charming. Literally, there were so many themes and experiences that I have felt that were so sensitively portrayed that I was rather moved. The imagery is profound. The metaphors are deep. But these reasons are not why the story made me cry.  I have been suppressing some very important questions about myself and my relationships for quite a while and this story seemed to dig up something that I had been ignoring. I don’t know if it was for better or for worse.

Perhaps one of the things that struck me was that the protagonist was male. It seems massively surprising that human males (especially adolescents) are capable of expressing this depth of emotion. In part this stems from the extremely unjust social stereotype that men have to have their emotions bottled up somewhere in order to earn respect. But all said and done, it is a social stereotype that has taken me a very long time to digest. I have spent years of my adolescence coloring my limited knowledge of the male psyche with my bias, and only now that I am no longer as angst-ridden do I realize it was unfair. It was unfair of me to think that guys/boys/men do not feel anything, or that they do not share the same intensity and passion as girls do.

I was somewhat moved because this male protagonist proved to me that emotions, especially of love and security, transcend gender boundaries. As do many of the stereotypes in our life. But this was one that I was guilty of giving in to and to have this one simple story shatter it made me feel oddly humbled and sympathetic. Some part of my brain breaks the sudden deafening silence by saying that this is obviously a work of fiction and therefore whatever earth-shattering revelation I may or may not have had can be attributed largely to creative genius.

This is not to say that I never believed guys could have emotions or would have emotions. I mean, I understand as human beings we all share certain emotions and that for most guys, or at least most of whom I know, they tend to possess hearts under that cold/stand-offish exterior. Maybe I am being horribly hypocritical here when I say that they don’t exactly make these cores very easy to access. Personally, I have always been attributed with being warm and open. This is a behavioral trait that developed in school shortly after I discovered that my own recycled secrets were being used to spin stories about me. I promised myself that I would never ever abuse someone else’s confidence in me and I’ve been very good with that promise. This has led to me being the confidante of several people in my friend network. But somehow, very few guys if at all, approach me emotionally.

I used to think it was my fault. Perhaps I was too loud, too non-conservative in my views, too forthright in my communication? Perhaps I was <insert adjective of choice from immense list of descriptors>? After failing in several attempts to modify my own persona to make myself understand the male psyche, I arrived at the rather lazy and immature conclusion that the only reason they were not confiding in me is because they probably had nothing to confide in me.

Several things happened that have changed that remarkably, and even though I fundamentally know that this postulate is wrong, I get surprised every time something happens to disprove it. A brilliant isolated classmate whom nobody would have thought had a life beyond homework and coding secretly confided in me of his artistic endeavors. And he actually made a joke. To me. Which was truly, appreciably funny. At some level I am hugely pleased with him for opening up to me but at another level I’m disappointed as to why I had assumed something otherwise. A distant acquaintance has now become one of my closest friends, and actually bothers to check in on me more frequently than my own room-mate does. Another friend shared with me that the biggest reason for his depression this semester was the demise of a close friend in a car accident.

These people have shared in me, which means it is high time I abolish the archaic gender-based stereotype I (unconsciously, mind you) was propagating. Perhaps people will share their emotions with me when they’re ready to do so and if they don’t it’s not for any specific “fault” of my own. Again, kudos to a great story for supporting my decision to clear out what I knew was wrong.

Gossip

The following is a guest post from a very insightful friend of mine. He has recently graduated from high school, and this post with it’s beautiful literary  structure and fresh earnest voice, seems to capture succinctly some of life’s lessons that he has learned and would like to share. May I present Gossip by Siddhant Dubey.

Let's talk about gossip. Image credits: http://idilsalihakuntuz.deviantart.com/art/gossip-60888863

Let’s talk about gossip. Image credits: http://idilsalihakuntuz.deviantart.com/art/gossip-60888863

GOSSIP.

Is it a noun, or a verb, or both?

Is it futile, or can it stir oceans?

Is it a whisper, or is it a war cry?

GOSSIP. GOSSIP. GOSSIP.

It’s all we do.

It’s all we’re capable of.

It’s all that’s engineered within us.

We can’t help ourselves.

We can’t help ourselves at all.

We need to know what he did a moment ago.

We need to know what she did ten years ago.

We constantly: Need. To. Know.

It’s a joke for some – an ordeal to engage in.

It makes others take their lives.

It ‘livens’ up a conversation.

It gashes someone’s self-esteem.

It generates laughter.

It disintegrates dignity.

It’s a quick exchange of opinions and statements.

It’s incessant.

It’s cruel.

It’s a burden that will explode if we don’t pass it on.

It’s the same burden that will destroy someone’s pride and possibly their life.

It can make you cry.

It can make you scream.

It can make you regret.

It can make you scheme.

It can make you shatter.

It can make you howl.

It can make you shiver.

It can make you scowl.

THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH IT IS TO IGNORE IT. Yes?

ABSOLUTELY.

THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH IT IS TO DISPOSE IT. Yes?

COMPLETELY.

THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH IT IS TO GENERATE IT OR PASS IT ON. Yes?

NO. HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE WORD ‘DISGUSTING’? THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE.

Some people don’t bother – The best option to keep.

Some people falter – Stop it, you’re not that weak.

Some people dismiss – that’s the way to be.

Some people cause – You have no right to be bleak.

__________________________________________________________________

Thousands of people kill themselves out of depression, out of being the centerpiece of judgment, out of not living up to expectations and out of sheer morbidity caused by the comments generated on their race, gender, sexuality, and other things that serve no basis for judgment.

GOSSIP IS A WEAPON.

It must be handled with care.

Disposed off when received.

Unloaded when aimed.

Enucleated before the intention of being made.

I gossip too. But with so many people taking their lives because of not fitting in or being accepted, it sucks that I’m contributing to even a fraction of pain in this world.

This is going to sound sappy to you (it most certainly should not, though) but you have to pledge with me:

I will not judge from this day onwards – be it on the basis of race, sexuality, gender or ability. I will not engage in incessant talk about other people and most definitely will not continue a piece of hurtful information for the sake of ‘fun’, ‘fitting in’ or even under ‘peer pressure’. I will not succumb to it.

Trust me, the world will be so much better when everyone stops gossiping. But this thought and idea has to take birth by itself, inside of you. Just regarding this and stopping at that will not do.

I do not know how many of you have heard of Amanda Todd and the terrible life she suffered. But if you have time, please look it up and empathise with the fact that there are so many people like her who need help and don’t know what to do except give up entirely. All of you who say “suicide is for the weak” are shallow-hearted fools who cannot, for the love of this world, see that suicide is a terrible, terrible act that anyone can succumb to when situations and people in their lives lash back on them with hatred.

I will also take a moment to talk about body image.

Being overweight myself, I know what it’s like to be conscious of body image.

It makes you feel awkward and uneasy and terrible.

There are people around us who may seem confident and poised, but that may not always be the case.

And so that gives you no right to comment on anyone’s body image.

Bulimia is just one of the very few social and emotional issues that we come across and disregard as “gross” or “disgusting”, but we need to understand that people are driven to this because of other people’s comments and expectations and that is the most unfair thing I’ve ever come across.

No one should ever be able to dictate over someone else’s body image.

Everyone’s aim should be to get healthy. Not to get skinny or be pretty.

Lastly, to everyone who’s having problems right now, be it regarding body image or sexuality or acceptance or anything at all, please consider talking to your parents about it. They may not seem like it, but they know their stuff, and they will understand. Your close friends (trustworthy ones) are also worth confiding in. For everyone who feels like that isn’t an option, feel free to drop me a message. Because no one deserves anything like this happening to them. Don’t let this emotion of self-doubt hover over you, because that’s not going to do you any good.

Thank you.

– Siddhant Dubey

Is “Sixteen” not sweet anymore?

This trailer is for a movie that is soon to be released. The description of the movie says that “Sixteen captures the life of these teens, as they go through their loves and heartaches, dreams and destruction in their school, home and the outside world. Sixteen is the story of their friendship and turbulent route it takes through the growing up years.” With such a noble theme, a close friend of mine (Gayathri Raj) and I were discussing what we think about the movie’s possible message.  As people who have spent a large section of our teens in India, we have several mutual objections to the content portrayed in the movie. Here is an excerpt as follows:

Self: So, what did you think of the trailer? What specific aspects in terms of its message came across to you and why?

GR: To be very honest, I hate it. I don’t think it is a very admirable thing they are doing by targeting teen audiences with this sort of a message, which depicts the absolute bastardization of Indian culture. Man, I was 16 in Delhi, and fine I was always in control of my life unlike these characters and I was also “staid”, but seriously there is no need to glamorize this.

Self : But don’t you think their story deserves to be told?

GR: Definitely every story needs to be told, but since cinema in a country like India deeply affects society. I find that this sort of a story line which depicts the Indian bourgeoisie teenagers getting up to no good, does not give us (students who have not been astray) any credit.

Self: But surely, people will understand that the content is purely fictional? As former students of esteemed institutions, I don’t think we can deny that there is some truth to the elements depicted?

GR: This film seems to rightfully flaunt a glamorous unreal lifestyle for most of us, as if claiming some sort of social independence from what is right, for example, the “I want to sleep with you” coming from a 16 year old. Indeed there is some truth in the statement, because one look at the Youtube comments tells me that there is a lager subsection of the Indian population living a very “teenage” “I want to try this out” lifestyle and all of them nod affirmation at this trailer. But I find that if indeed this movie is a barometer for our social “teenage” life then it falls upon us to reflect on what kind of a life we are leading.

Self:  However, as a society, we haven’t been very comfortable dealing with sexuality. Also, we cannot deny that most of us begin our first awareness of sexuality when we are 16. So are you saying that this is a wrong message to portray because of its dominant sexual themes? Wouldn’t that mean that we are still shying away from accepting the apparent?

GR: and what is the apparent here?

Self: that natural processes force us to come to terms with taboo topics at such an age because of curiosity?

GR: There are two-three factors here. One is that yes, puberty is wild wild west that needs careful navigation or can go wrong. Adolescence hits you and overwhelms you, but the thing is I feel that this entitled view of “I am just trying it out” is incorrect because while we might be curious as hell, we don’t necessarily have the liberty to act upon it. For one, we are not legal at 16, we live with our parents and they provide us with shelter food and comfort etc. So this blatant disregard for all our Indian filial/familial values is off-putting, because we tend to be a close knit society. And while I don’t strictly object to others having casual sex, I take an issue if you are going to get yourself knocked up, etc. Do what you want, but with a knowledge of the consequences would be my take. So,  in this trailer when you see the young girl lying on a hospital bed, you know that she is getting an abortion or something, because she is the one who triumphantly claims “we did it” and then if this film is claiming the ultimate social liberation, it does not at all talk about alternate sexualities. Because if 16 is the age of everything hitting us biologically etc etc where is the sexuality confusion in this debate? This film toes a very safe line actually- it shows an indulgent hedonistic lifestyle without ever really asking the right questions about the teenage experience.

Self:  You’re saying that we do not always have the liberty of experimentation, which is true. But then, without testing all possible alternatives, how can we expect these confused souls to find some direction in their life? You also speak about alternate sexualities, but at that age, can people really definitively decide how they express themselves?

GR: So you just asked me two contradictory questions- if indeed you are testing “possible alternatives”, why aren’t there sexual alternatives? And if one is unsure about their sexuality, how can one act confidently?

Self: My question was about testing to discover them, yes. Without testing, how can they know what works for them?

GR: But they don’t seem to be experimenting, which seems to be the film’s chief hypocrisy. They seem to be all “Okay, I am straight I need to shag someone, oh f*** I shagged someone now i am in deep shit.” Even though they are in a circle of hell, they seem to be evading the seventh circle of hell by making all the characters very sure of their sexuality. It is really a question of minor and major vices really.

Self: You’re right. They seem to be very decided about what they want to do with their lives. An example of the character Anu, who points to the magazine and says with complete certainty that “she wants to be there”. Since their decisions seem to be made, why is trying out not socially condoned? Do you think that these children, given their unique circumstances, could have come to their “coming of age” realizations through any other way than depicted in the story? I don’t mean that we compare them to us.

GR: I mean this is not the first movie we are seeing about the great Indian lonely teenage. We had Udaan which i think did a marvelous balancing act. Also one of the points that really rankled me, and I am sure you thought of this too is- 16 was shit and all that, but it was also a lot about discovering yourself rather than discovering others wasn’t it?

Self:  You’re right about discovering ourselves. However, as most children (and even adolescents must be excused to some extent for being children) learn about themselves from trying to mimic outside behavior, right? How can we expect them to intrinsically know what works for themselves?

GR: Well this is where I turn the spotlight on us.

Self: Personally, I would say that the only “boldest” thing I did during my adolescence was talk back to my well-wishing parents. I realized my folly almost immediately. But I managed to figure out a way of dealing with my frustrations with humanity by myself, mostly through personal acceptance.

GR: I agree with you entirely and I think one of the chief points of disagreement I have with this film is it projects rampant stupidity and bad decision-making without any parental interference on all teenagers. I didn’t have a rosy teenage or anything, but I definitely didn’t f*** up. I was too busy worrying about “Ooh I like writing”, “Ooh why do I feel this strange rush when I see this guy in the next class”. I feel 16 is like 18, and a bit of 18 on steroids.

Self: But, as some other posters of this movie claim, aren’t there some lines we must cross in order to “grow up”? Do we really have to let go of “innocence” as our “first casualty”?

GR: What indeed is our innocence then? Our virginity is our innocence? Our first cigarette is our innocence? This is a wrong perception at work.

Self:  I still don’t believe I’ve lost that innocence. It’s not about being naive. But I think, what childhood with all it’s fairy tales taught us, is to believe in happy endings. That optimism is our innocence. What about you?

GR: Yes, exactly. what is innocence but an absolute lack of self knowledge and optimism? So I think it is important to move away from innocence being linked to a girl’s hymen. Innocence is probably lost when you hear your first cuss word.

Self: Innocence is also probably lost when you take your first blow to your self-esteem and discover that it exists and it can be hurt.

GR: I mean at age 10 everyone hits the age of curiosity. But how we act upon it tends to define our life. At the risk of sounding too self-righteous or generalistic, most of us have better things to do.

Self: Also, given our hyper-competitive academic environment, it really seems a miracle to find time for anything else beyond that.

GR: Yes I mean aaj kal baap ka business sambhaalne ke liye bhi business degree chahiye hoti hai [In order to handle your father’s business, a business degree is mandatory]. So all those teenagers on the Youtube comment section saying “Yep, this is my life.  It is so accurate”, I’d say instead of feeling like you have been accepted into some secret hedonism cult, think about where you are going with this.

Self: Clearly, they feel vindicated at having their story on the silver screen.

GR: Exactly. This film shouldn’t garner that sense of vindication, but rather a contemplation of actions. Which I dearly hope it will, because it apparently has a tragic ending with a few attempted suicides, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse gone wrong case.

Self: To some it’s a matter of pride, even, how fast can you grow up? But I think most of them fail to realize that their childhood is something they will never be able to get back.

Selective permeability

I was reading some of my old journals this weekend. It was a refreshing experience to connect with the thirteen year old me. I didn’t know so much back then, and I spent several pages trying to convince myself that I was indeed ready to “grow up”. Perhaps what my past self meant by that phraseology was that I wanted to be taken more seriously. I was tired of being a baby. I was tired of having my stronger opinions laughed at. I was ready, indeed, for some respect from the adults around me and my peers. Evidently, I was not prepared for all the inhibitions and childhood constructs that I would have to let go, and how painful they would feel. It would be a cliched reflection to wonder why I didn’t stumble across some divine resource of wisdom entitled “Adolescence 101”. That’s when I wondered, do teenagers actually welcome advice? Maybe all that I wanted to know was around me, but I was too busy being angry and angst-ridden to listen to it. Or maybe, I learned through field experience.

From what I’ve observed, I was heavily biased towards accepting advice from my peers than from my parents, or anyone comprising of the faction of adults. There were moments in which it seemed a constant struggle, the teenagers at clash with their elders, in order to prove some point that the adults really didn’t care about. I grew up in a society that had some deeply rooted stereotypes about teenagers. They’re supposed to be angry, confused, rebellious, arrogant, frustrated and closed off from those not going through the same emotions as them. I made it a personal point to prove a few of these stereotypes wrong. A weird trend that I noticed was that the more I tried to break out of a particular stereotype, the more I was reinforcing some other one. I was rebelling against the common stereotype of being a rebel and so becoming one anyway. And in our society, the number of stereotypes is not finite, so it became particularly hard to evaluate my score. There were moments when I gave up. The world thinks I’m an arrogant, self-obsessed frustrated being? So be it. It was tiring to combat opinions that have been established by generations of teenagers before me. But then, the intrinsic drive to be different and suchlike would take over and I would be back at the front lines of a 7 year long battle.

One of the reasons why my friends’ advice resonated with me was because I knew that they were going through the same tumultuous wave of change as I was. Some were a bit ahead of the curve and some were a bit behind, but we were still within a recognized isolated bracket. It never occurred to me to question their opinions. I reasoned with myself that sooner or later I would be going through what they were going through or had gone through anyway, so I might as well acquire as much information about the phenomena before it happened to me. By sheer virtue of age, I didn’t question the credibility of their world views as well. I know now that a few were really messed up, and I consider myself lucky not have been so enamored by it so as to pencil myself in as a member of their cult.

But the advice from all the well-meaning elders around me was passed through several filters before my mind took it up for consideration. They had prior experience with growing up, yes, but that was so long ago, that circumstances were widely different then. The generation gap was too wide to be bridged by some simplistic analogous comparison. Another one of the more (evidently) nonsensical reasons to discard their input was because my adolescent mind refused to understand that any adult soul could empathize with the magnitude of confusion I felt. How could they possibly understand the fine nuances until they were actually inside my head, or in my position? So, I inferred, that their input was actually just an educated guess.

Experience has served to prove that all of these miscellaneous perspectives were heuristics. Everyone’s growing experiences are different, so the only person who was fully capable of writing a manual customized for myself was me. The only problem was that by the time I was capable of performing the feat, I thought I would not need it anymore. This condition works only if we believe that growth stops when you’re an “adult”, which isn’t true. There’s a stage of maturity that follows when I realized that I’m actually waking up a version next.0 of my yesterday’s self.

However, to be duly grateful, those heuristics did give me a fair approximation of what I was to expect. More so, I came to realize that there are moments when it is more important to have company during disaster than actually be prepared for that disaster. So, I went on to try to confront the world with whatever supportive padding I could get from my peers and my friends and family stood by me whenever I was injured or letting go of the fight. It doesn’t matter now whether their advice was accurate to which degree. What matters is that they trusted me enough to share whatever knowledge they thought was valuable, and they hoped I would find it the same. I came to respect their gesture more than the actual content. It might seem a bit interfering at times when someone else offers their opinion, but I’ve come to know that it’s a form of showing that they care. After all, the people we care about are as helpless to safeguard us as we are susceptible to change.

Maybe I’ve inherited the same behavior myself. I try not to suggest solutions until I hear out the entire problem from all dimensions. I don’t know if the people who ask for it actually adhere to what I have to say, or maybe it just comforts them that someone out there is ready to hear them out. I like to listen people talk about their lives, because it’s an opportunity for me to get a sampling of the varied spectra of human existence. But I respect the fact that they trust me enough to let me know about the trials of their life, and I try to be as helpful with my limited experience as possible. I consider it a sign of personal growth that I’ve arrived at some point in my life where people respect me enough to personally allow me a glimpse into their lives. To summarize to my thirteen year old self, I think I would say, “Everything’s going to be okay. The universe is going to approach towards some equilibrium where everything, literally everything, will work out for the best. Keep the faith and stay strong until then.”