S***

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“They… they’re saying you’re such a slut…”

I was thirteen, and the above line was murmured to me by my then-best friend, whom I’ve rather lost touch with and I hope is doing well. At thirteen, I wasn’t very shocked; not because I’d heard worse, but because I didn’t know what it meant.

“Papa, what’s a slut?”

“It’s a sexually promiscuous woman.”

Well, I didn’t know what ‘promiscuous’ meant either, but rather than talk more during a tense CSK match, I sought out the next best source- a dictionary.

In the columns of the gigantic, moth-eaten Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary Of The English Language, I found that I’d been termed someone who has sex with any man who asked. Please don’t run for the dictionary; that’s not how it’s phrased, but my copy’s halfway around the world.

Which, I reasoned, was rather ridiculous, because we were thirteen; who wanted to have sex anyway? It sounded like an uncomfortable business.

(It had been the late Khushwant Singh who had contributed greatly to my sexual education. I don’t recommend it)

That’s not to say it didn’t sting, of course; which teenager doesn’t dread being gossiped about? On the other hand, a whole new world of insults now opened up before my slightly-shocked eyes, although it took three years for me to actually use any. When I did, though, it was to a boy: with the air of someone delivering her coup de grace, I informed one of my classmates that he was, in fact, a man-whore.

“You should say gigolo.” He replied. I was late to the party, it seemed, and not fashionably.

You might wonder why I’m writing this now. And yes, while there’s a part of me that’s gleefully typing up words like sex, whore, gigolo, for all and sundry, I still feel something like a bee-sting when I type the word slut.

There it is again.

That’s one word I try not to use. It may have slipped out at some point over the years, but I try. There’s something particularly filthy about it- and even, I feel, something maliciously female. I can now easily call a man a whore without tacking the ‘man’ to it, but slut always seems so pointedly female.

Slut-shaming. I hate the term. I hate the practice. I hate the casualness of it, how easy it is when the target is a ‘she’.

A sexually promiscuous woman. But a man is just a playboy. A Man.

This isn’t a rant against slut-shaming; honestly, I don’t quite know what this is, even. I don’t often dislike words in and of themselves- even stuff I’ve made my peace with. But slut is one thing I’ve never been able to find middle-ground with. Maybe it’s personal. Maybe society’s ease with it. I don’t really know.

At any rate, it’s a good word to dislike.

Chennai Woes

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Brother dear, you’d beg to differ, but Chennai is an awful city.

We moved back to Chennai after five years in two other places, the first of which had been fun and enjoyable. The second one wasn’t too bad, either, and if it hadn’t been for my grandparents and the rest of the extended family, the move back to Chennai would have been seriously depressing. Well, more than it was, anyway.

I was twelve, on the threshold of puberty. A new school is bad enough, but ostracism in that new school, within a month of joining, was infinitely worse. As you can imagine, it did absolute wonders for my self-confidence.

Not.

And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but the only language I can really speak is English. Now, of course, being in Delhi, my Hindi is improving, but it isn’t my mother tongue. That is Tamil, and I can barely speak it. When I do, I sound like a foreigner. I stammer, trip over words, and generally, sound incomprehensible.

So, moving back to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, wasn’t exactly the happy homecoming my family expected.

In my mind, Chennai isn’t a city. It’s a closed vessel, where I keep my worst experiences and deepest shames. It’s a memory of the worst of me. Its warm, salty, sticky air speaks to me of darkness, shame, bitchiness, stupidity and everything I’d rather forget.

Chennai is everything I’d rather forget.