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.

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Day 5: Tempest and Tranquillity

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“Sometimes I feel like my life is someone else’s dream”~ ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’, Kate Tempest.

Last time, I told you about Nabokov, the man who squeezed the bottom of my lungs and forced a gasp out of my throat. This time, let me tell you about hypnotism.

It’s not of the slow you are getting sleeeeepy pendulum kind. I wasn’t sleepy. I was awake, alive, and frozen.

When Kate Tempest said Imagine, I did; when she said Jemma and Ester and Pete and Zoe, I saw them come closer and closer and melt into my limbs. I’ve no doubt that if she’d said we stand here and grow roots, I’d have stood up, grown roots, and become an amaltash tree.

Kate, do you realise that you gave us no choice?

I sat there, breathing only when I heard her breathe into the mike. That was the only chance I had to catch my breath, as she piloted us, brakeless, weightless, into a journey from which we all came back more than a little ragged. A little broken in the best possible way.

I come away from this year’s Jaipur Lit Fest with books, few photos, and other things more important- Lila Zanganeh’s happiness, Kate Tempest’s chaotic brilliance, Sholeh Wolpé’s sweetness, Rosalyn D’Mello’s courage, among others. I leave with more goals, a desire to build and grow, to engage in passion more. I leave with the idea of working at writing, of getting better by working harder and every day. A lesson at once simple and confusing.

I leave with a knowledge of living with people I don’t know, in an unfamiliar family scene. I came expecting a hotel, and when I found a family home, I was shaken and a little afraid. But somewhere in between my first makki ki roti and preparing the child for an upcoming test, I found comfort, and a space that I could, for five wonderful days, call my own.

I leave hoping to come back some day. Hopefully, soon.

Eyes From Trains

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So there’s a boy. And yeah, there are some feelings. But this post isn’t about the boy, or about the feelings.

This is about the eyes of the people I see beyond the boy’s shoulder. The eyes I see, when I look up from his texts with a small smile, a small smile that slides lifeless to the ground when I see their lifeless eyes.

The eyes, starved of dreams, of the children crossing train tracks to pick up wet plastic, or of men waiting, by the tracks passing by a hamlet, for the train to pass by. The eyes of young women of my age, who should be twittering nervously to friends about nonsense, about things that don’t matter but really do, because you’re a girl and he’s a boy and there are little glances and touches and smiles and things and didyouseethatmovie ohmygodRanveer and ‘haan ma, I’m coming’ accha suno did you know-? But their eyes run lonely, begging for a sliver of a hope that they can’t hope for, hoping for something that they know will never come, for something that they don’t know how to hope for.

The eyes of mothers who rail all day and cry at night, hamara kya hoga, kya hoga, bacchon ka kya hoga, kya karen kahan jayenge aage kya hoga? The eyes of mothers who love their children just as much as ma loves me, but money means more than kisses when you don’t have enough to eat.

I see them, waiting by the tracks as my train flashes by, their eyes catching mine for a second that isn’t really a second but a lifetime or twenty. I see them, bundles in hand, leaning on pickaxes or shovels, squatting on their haunches in a boredom that reeks of hopelessness. I see them waiting for something, waiting, waitingwaitingwaiting for whoknowswhat. Who cares now, because when your days run blood and your nights buried without sleep, who cares about dreams and hope and fairy things you can’t touch, except little girls with dying smiles and parted lips, rich little girls with distant sympathy and troubled eyes staring at you from trains?


Hindi terms:

haan ma- yes ma

accha suno- okay, listen

hamara kya hoga, kya hoga, bacchon ka kya hoga– what will become of us, what will happen, what will become of the children

kya karen/ kahan jayenge/ aage kya hoga?- what do we do/ where will we go/ what will happen in the future?


A Journey In Despair- Part I, by ValyrianWizard

A Journey In Despair- Part II, by ValyrianWizard