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.

Love, and No Script

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“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see”
The Merchant of Venice, Act II Scene VI.

I never imagined that love would feel like this. It seemed like a high; a feverish, wild dream that would break fast and ugly. I’m a romantic in that I believe in love, but I don’t believe that love can last. How can it?

If this is love, I don’t understand it. It’s slow and gentle, and I am utterly terrified. What is this tight softness in my belly when I look at you? Where are the fast-beating heart and sweaty palms and the painfully shy glances from the corner of our eyes? Where is everything the books promised me?

I ask, not because I want those, but because they’re all I know. I had a script, a timeline of romance, an how-to love manual in every trashy romance I’ve ever read. But we followed no script and yet broke no rules, because there was really nothing to stop us.

I don’t feel blinded; this is no fever, there is no high; I’m not delirious. I see myself as clearly as I did the night before I met you, the hour before, the moment before you smiled and I heard your voice. I see you more clearly than I once did- your little mannerisms and your smile. The way you chew back words when we breathe between kisses. Your unceasing chatter. Your silences. I see you more clearly, and you are radiant, my darling, and I can’t even dream of being in your arms until I actually am.

My biggest fear is that you’ve blinded yourself with pretty glasses that paint me the colours of beautiful. That one day the wind will blow them off, and you’ll get your first good look at me since we met. That’ll be the day you take your heart back from me, but you won’t be able to return mine, because of ‘ownership issues’. I’ve signed it away, you see, and I’m terrified that yours is only on loan.

But until then, I suppose you can be mine completely. Till that day, I can breathe softly as we part from a kiss and smile at you before the next one. Our clock’s ticking down, but I can ignore it. Let’s celebrate, because we actually have a clock.

Break my heart gently, when you do, if only because I love you so much.

 

She Was A Girl

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“She was a girl who knew how to be happy even when she was sad. And that’s important.” ~Marilyn Monroe.

Much to my mother’s disapproval, I’ve been on a Marilyn-Monroe-inspiration-spree recently. About being a woman, being beautiful, smiling, laughing and some of the more flippant things she said that just sound cool. I like them. Being a girl with (yes, be surprised if you know me) crippling self-esteem and self-image issues, I admire tremendously any woman who is comfortable with her body and sexuality, with her looks, with her femininity and womanliness- any woman who is as comfortable in her skin as I’m not. Quotes like Monroe’s give me the strength to get through the day with a facade of confidence and security and freedom from self-doubt. Yes, darlings, the lack of self-consciousness that characterise Malavika is just that: a facade.

And why? Had I been able to answer that five years ago, I would not be writing this today. I would not dread the hours spent with peers outside the four walls of my room. I would not dread judgement from my own parents despite knowing in my very bones that it’s impossible.

And again I ask myself: why? I’m not ashamed of my attributes: I’m smart, sarcastic, witty, friendly, funny and a nice person to be around because I have to be. I’m not pretty, I’m not beautiful, I’m not sexy. My hair doesn’t fall perfect and straight; my stomach juts out, not in; my skin has monthly eruptions; my teeth aren’t like Snaggletooth (Sophie Kinsella? I forget) but they aren’t the best either. In short, I look like Miss Bingley’s description of Elizabeth- you know, the one where she provokes Darcy into calling Eliza gorgeous.

I was a tomboy for so long that by the time I remembered that I am a girl, I’d forgotten how to be one. Sometimes I think the rest of the world had forgotten what I really am too. I came to makeup as an extension of dance, or as something to fool around with and play ‘disguise’ with (Five Find-Outers, I blame you). I came to heels because I realised that I was the only girl in my seventh grade class who’d never worn a pair. I came to clothes when my male friend had to explain peplum to me- with a diagram. Before, I’d thought it was a dress material.

It suddenly comes to me (as it does every morning when I give myself those li’l pep talks) that all this sounds so shallow and nothing at all to do with the woman I am. Something I once read, like, ‘just because I’m not a lady doesn’t mean I’m not a woman’, that was pretty cool. That was true, too. That is true.

It’s just so hard to remember when I stare into the mirror at night.