Lazy Rainy Days

This morning when the alarm rang at 5.30, it was raining cats and dogs. We had gone away for the weekend and both of us (spouse and myself) were feeling too lazy to start the week. Both of us were reluctant to say so.

Me: It’s raining so heavily.
Him: Yes, totally pouring.
Me: Umbrella won’t save anyone from getting wet.
Him: It’s not healthy to stay in wet clothes all day.
Me: Roads will get waterlogged.
Him: Too much rain this year, they should declare a holiday for children.
Me: Are you saying we shouldn’t send children to school today?
Him: No, but if you are saying so, I would agree.

Of course, we didn’t bother to get up. Consensus is easily reached in such matters in our home. At around 6.45, the rain, the treacherous wet evil thing, it stopped. We hoped that it would pick up momentum again after a short lull, but no, it was going to be a bright clear day after all.

Now I started getting violent pangs of guilt. This month school has been skipped multiple times already. I am not adulting enough, not mothering consistently and my kids will grow up as if they have been raised in the jungle by wolves. (No offence to wolf mothers of human babies, they do a fairly good job.)

Believe it or not, this story has a happy ending. At around 8 am, I noticed this message in WhatsApp

Dear parents.

Due to heavy rain school is closed for all.

Thank you.

The shenanigans we had been up to over the weekend, included me dressing up in this treasure Telia cotton that I find so pretty that I almost forgive myself for having splurged on it

Diversity is Life

A discussion between my friends Samruddhi Bhartiya and Fatima A. Athar that was worth saving for posterity.

1.) Do you think that sex is biological, while gender is a social construct?

Yes, sex is biological and gender is a social construct. The biology of sex and the social construction of gender are both more diverse and complicated than we are typically told to believe.

2.) On what basis do you think that we can identify SEX of people?

In medical and scientific practice a lot of different methods may be used to identify the sex. There is no “one true method”. Broadly speaking biological sex is a tapestry, a mosaic if you would, of lots of different things. This includes sex chromosomes, hormones, phenotypes, anatomy, and so on.

3.) And how many sexes do we have, if we go by the markers based on which you believe that sexes can be identified & distinguished?
If there are more sexes than just males & females, then can you also name a few of them?

It’s difficult to count how many sexes we have because of the presence of numerous “intersex” conditions, a word which is itself a bit of a misnomer since it makes it sound like all the sexes that aren’t chromosomally & phenotypically XX or XY are simply stops in between these two poles. A professional in the field might be able to better help you with the number. Suffice it to say there are at least 4-5 combinations that I know of, probably more.

a.) Man/Woman/Demigirl/Demiboy/etc type classification (something which we see discussed a lot these days)?
Or does it mean
b.) feminine/masculine/neutral type classification (TERFs use this classification, and by gender, they often mean way of self expression)?

4.a. When we say gender is a social construct, we mean that the social identities and norms we associate with these sexes vary between societies, subcultures, and times. Our understanding of the world around us happens in our minds, our conversations, our thoughts/explanations, and the thoughts or explanations others pass on to us. This is how some societies recognize only 2 genders, others 3, yet others 5 or more. Think about how there was a time when early researchers thought homosexuals must not be men or women, because they understood heterosexuality as one of the traits of those two genders. In some forms this idea still survives.

4.b. Masculine, feminine etc are adjectives which is why different from the nouns above. They are not who you are but how you are. The point of this grammar lesson is that understanding these as descriptors is important because one, it does not limit the person to being 1 type of person and two, they can be combined and layered as ways of describing different norms, behaviors, subcultures and even people of any gender. There can be masculine women, feminine men, and androgynous individuals; there can be toxic masculinity and the feminine mystique; there can be performative masculinity or femininity; and the many culturally distinct permutations of these. For example, skirts can be symbols of dainty femininity in one cultural but warriorlike ferocity in another culture. In some cultures, being noisy is a feminine thing and in others it’s a masculine thing.

4.c. You absolutely can reject gender and all trans individuals do inherently reject the imposition of one form of gender: cisgender, or the idea that your gender is what your body appeared as to other people at the time of birth. Radical transfeminism has a wealth of insight into understanding different forms of experiencing gender or no gender whatsoever–the struggle is not against the subjective experience of gender, if any, but the prescriptive one. That being said, a “social construct” as explained in 4(a) does not mean “something that does not actually exist” but simply “something that we built up with each other”. Other examples of social constructs include morality, justice systems, and money. Think about that–even money is a social construct, given that it relies on all of us agreeing that something (bits of paper, bits of metal, shiny rock, cowrie shells) has some value to us (though we decide what “value” means and how much of that value this has). Economics is a science entirely devoted to the study of these socially constructed systems. Yet no-one argues that because money is a social construct the reality of class oppression or wealth inequality does not exist. Money is in fact a social construct so powerful that it can directly or indirectly lead to death, and death is probably one of the most absolute material realities possible. So gender as a social construct can and does still have both profound tangible impact on the individual and on wider society.

5.) whether there are disagreements on what sex/gender means, or how they can be distinguished, and how many types there are, one place where i have seen TERFs agree with intersectional feminists is, that the way one dresses, or whaterver interest someone picks up, has got nothing to do with sex, like they dont think that wearing dress/make up, or having an interest in cooking/stitching/etc, has got anything to do with gender, THEN, on what basis do ppl think that they were born in wrong bodies, if their interests have got nothing to do with their sexes?

The idea that behavior may have nothing to do with gender which in turn may have nothing to do with sex does NOT in turn mean that behavior *must* have nothing to with gender which *must* have nothing to do with sex. This is the difference between expanding vs essentializing our understanding of human diversity. A woman with facial hair is not a less authentic woman — a woman without facial hair is also not a less authentic woman. Depending on the moment in history and the culture, one may be socially validated more than the other. But it doesn’t change that basic premise and to dictate to either one that she is only more real if she can resemble the other is what the problem is. Similarly there are at least two ways to arrive at a society in which gender as a concept holds no influence: force everyone to conform to an androgynous ideal (and what is “androgynous”? Why t-shirts and not dresses?) OR ensure everyone has the necessary personal freedom to define themselves however they want without it leading to any systemic incentives or punishments. To this end not all trans people feel they are in the “wrong” body. Some of them might, just as some gay people feel their experience of sexual abuse contributed to their orientation. But the whole point of self-definition is that you get to decide about yourself.

6.) do biological differences affect our abilities/skills?

What biological differences, which abilities, how do we decide something has been “affected” and is not just part of the spectrum of variation in the skill? These are important questions that should not be taken for granted before answering or asking this question. The science is still out on this but we do know two things: the first, that the brain is a highly adaptive organ that is molded by its experiences; and second, the body’s survival depends on adapting to the demands of its environments. This why for nearly every difference that has been studied so far, it has been impossible to assign causality. There are other differences — for example, it’s not possible to gestate a human baby inside your body if you lack a uterus, whether you’re a man or a woman. (And just to add, it’s not only trans women who may lack a uterus; cis women can be born without one too. So if in #2 you had said women/female is the sex that has a uterus, those cis women would suddenly fall outside your definition as would cis women who have had hysterectomies. Interestingly, a very patriarchal line of thought already does insist that a woman without a uterus/breasts/vagina/menses/fertility is no longer a “real” woman.)

7.) if so, should trans women and cis women be allowed to compete against each other in sports?

The entire field of sports is based on the idea that people’s bodies can be trained or can be naturally gifted or BOTH to be included in a competition of physical excellence for the entertainment or inspiration of others. That’s about it. No male athlete has ever been thrown out for having an unfair natural physical advantage over his peers — that is the point of the competition. Personally, I’m of the opinion that separate categories for men and women are an archaic hangover from the time women were not expected to participate in (or be biologically capable of) physically vigorous activities. Yet at these same times and in these same societies, there would be working class and slave women engaged in massive physical toil for the benefit of their male masters. Nobody seemed to notice (then or now) the biological unfitness of these women for that backbreaking labor, or offer them comfortable cushioned parlor sofas to rest their delicate womanly bodies on. Now that women want to be in sports, there’s hemming and hawing about their physical capacity for them? Some people, including some trans people, do disagree with this — they argue that cis women with naturally higher androgens may have an unfair advantage and that trans women (who often have *lower* than average cis androgen levels during and after transition) may be at an unfair disadvantage. The reasoning doesn’t hold up, as far as I’m concerned. Anyone able to qualify should be able to compete.

8.) i have always denied admitting biological differences having any link/correlation with our abilities, bcos historically, it has been used as an argument to either push a lot of responsibilities on us, or to restrict our access to certain fields, but if at all you agree with 6th question, then keeping that in mind, how do you plan to combat ppl who use our disadvantages against us to restrict us more? (this question kinda takes away from trans ppl and their struggles, and i am sorry about that)
And do we also have somethings which give us an advantage over men, as a result of biological differences?

My plan to combat people who use other people’s natural or systemic disadvantages to deny them rights and restrict them against their will is feminism. That’s about it. That is all of it.

Bol ki lab azad hain tere

I had completed MBBS, never once having had to do public speaking. Whatever we presented in PowerPoint or extempore, it was only before 5-10 batchmates.
During MD, my head of department suddenly announced that first year student has to ‘compere’ a particular weekly awareness program we had started for General Practitioners. It was like a physical blow to me.
I went to HOD and requested that I be allowed to do backstage work. It would have been so easy for him to give this work to the seniors. He said no.

When HOD says something, we get up from our death beds and do it. It was because he was a deeply respected and admired name in our field all over the country. With every passing year, I realised how much he deserved the respect he had earned.

So compere I did. What sounded like a stuttering, fumbling, trembling voice to me, sounded all right to HOD because he nodded OK to me at the end. At that stage in life, it was my biggest achievement that I had not let him down.

Today, I have come light years away from that person who I was. I hear a calm, erudite voice coming from deep inside me every time I speak in public about my subject. I find myself becoming the voice of the voiceless, the mentally ill, who rarely get a platform to speak about their lived experience.

I increasingly find myself destroying a rare bigot in the audience with the calm confidence of a nuclear missile. Most people have never heard mental illness spoken about with clinical AND compassionate attitudes. I teach how to be non-patronizing, how to respect patient autonomy, how to shed biases.
There’s no greater joy in life than when one’s work is it’s own reward.

Draped the cotton Telia yesterday for one such talk

The Mind Witch

I rarely write about my line of work for fear of crossing confidentiality boundaries. I have about 5 new stories of the human condition every day. Someday I will figure out how to tell the stories that would benefit others without harming those who lived them.

The stories I can tell now are the ones where I am the protagonist.
I reached a hospital for a reference, walking with my nose in my phone, I looked up at the nursing staff brother and said, “Mr Jaitley just died”. He stood up pushing the screeching chair in panic – “have they called me to the Emergency ma’am? Sorry I dozed off”.

At my own clinic, my reception person is a young handsome fellow with a dashing beard. He is young enough to be my son, had I not waited till eternity to get married. So don’t get any ideas here.
He is newly in love. This I know because his caller tune changed from patriotic song to romantic songs recently. Also, there is frequently a pretty lady hovering around my waiting area.

So I keep calling him to listen to his music. He speaks mostly in grunts and groans. If I ask him an open ended question like “What is the day today?” He scratches his head to aid his memory and says “Oh no, I have to go now”.
We get along very well with such communication skills, I can always check his caller tune “Tumhari nazar kyon khafa ho gayi..”

The profession has its moments when my heart stops beating. A kid pointed to my window and asked how many floors up does one have to be so one can be certain of death when flung over.
A blank screen, I am not. Sometimes I have to take a day off to replenish my resilience. A whole day to remind myself that I can take more without flinching.
Not seeking to be a hero here, it’s just my job that I happily and gratefully do.

Needed to drape this pure love Khadi ponduru that Anupama so kindly helped to buy. It’s got her touch, a hug sent from so far away

Of Old Dogs and New Tricks

The past two days I’ve had to dress up for formal functions. It was so difficult deciding what to drape.

I ain’t gonna get no rain on my tussars. No way.So the droopy mood of my hair and the monsoon needed the starched crispness of this Assam cotton delight. This one always rescues me from having to expose my precious silks to the elements.

Another of my first world problems is waking up early to get the little one dressed for her events. Groggy eyed me, downing tea by the tons, can’t distinguish my facepowder from my legpowder.

I had a vague idea that there is more to makeup than lipstick and kajal. But have you ever dressed anyone for a stage performance? It’s not easy and the sample pics were so intimidating that I have roped in two more mothers to guide me.

It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. Particularly if the old dog is a mommy. In the past week, amidst the fish market peacefulness of my life, I have managed to learn basics of mehendi and makeup and the Bengali drape style. I do deserve a standing ovation.

Hormone Joy

The climate of the mind was cloudy last week. Every time this happens I wonder if I should consider divorce, or I should get myself coloured eye lenses. Or maybe I should buy some more books or sarees. Don’t look for logic here, there is none.

Then today, the spouse seemed almost lovable, I dropped the divorce idea. He does take on an interesting hue every time my period ends. Its like he got a soul-lift done or something. I am not rolling my eyes at everything he says, just admiring his adorable crow’s feet and greying sideburns.

The children too seem quieter and the madness of extracurricular activities, seem like new learning opportunities for the mother, instead of chuck-it-all-run-farfar-away situation.

Now that I think of it, if I had in-laws, I might even have smiled weakly at them, or maybe that’s going extreme. I will just contain myself outside Yashraj films format into smiling at the sky.Draped this peacock purple mangalgiri cotton on an overcast day, there is sunshine in my heart and a smile on my lips and glamour glow filter on my phone

Perfect Dress 3

Perfect Dress 3

Yes I have more to say on this, hehe.
I have noticed that my most popular posts are those in which I talk about stories of strength and success. I don’t talk about all the times I give up, all the times that I fall flat on my face, all the times that I cry in my pillow.

I understand that it’s not fair. To project a half truth, is as good as telling a lie.
Oftentimes I hide behind innuendo or I speak about my shallow pursuits as if they were life changing events. That’s because I lack the ability to convey the depth of ordinary pursuits. I’m not going to be defined by a dress or a saree, but I am going to try and define myself.

When I am searching for the perfect dress, I am also delving deep in my psyche for say, why I can’t let myself wear sleeveless. I am therefore, looking at all the influences that shaped me, from the patriarchy to politics.

Just this last week, it brought me immense peace to understand that a search doesn’t really ever end. It’s a journey in which the personal can reflect the history of humankind itself. My discussions with my dress lover friend Shehernaz led me to this realisation.

My privilege as an educated empowered majority member of society, allows me to reject much that other women accept with unquestioning obedience. This gulf between them and myself is only make-believe. It doesn’t really exist.
Whatever century or continent we belong to, we have more in common than we have different.

A neighbour hinted to me that the elders in their family are pressuring them to emulate me, because I drape sarees everyday. That’s why I put up a profile pic of myself in a dress. I got the pic to breathe fire. So these women can now ask their elders whether they should do the same.
Of course, that pic attracted a lot of unsolicited messages and advice that I thoroughly enjoyed deleting.

Draped this Kanchi cotton that has horses and what look like little piggies to me.
This colour is called Parul M Green because it’s Paruls favourite colour. Remembering the happy day spent with you in Mysore, looking forward to many more such days.

The Perfect Dress 2

My post on ‘dresses’ gave me many new ideas on how to go about the search for the elusive ‘perfect dress’. So yesterday I dreamt that I have ordered it and when I opened the package, it turns out to be what we call a “nightie”.

I’m sorry, but I already have nighties. They are like one long robe, so we look like a tree trunk irrespective of our actual dimensions.

My school principal once ranted in school to us to tell our mothers to stop wearing them. It hurt her finer senses to NOT see mothers smartly dressed when they arrived to drop their kids.

They are the quintessential Indian Jugaad. They may not be the epitome of aesthetics but they are functional.
Nighties cover all important parts of body and if you throw on a dupatta, you are covered like our Himalayan foothills were once covered with trees.
And yet it was offensive to some.

I know that I too have the freedom to police other people’s life choices, but somehow it never interested me. It’s a birthright, that I chose not to exercise, mainly because I’d myself have worn one to school as a student, if they allowed it.

The only injustice that nightie manufacturers are not willing to rectify, is that they make them long enough for a 6 feet tall person. So I always have to get them altered which is like extreme hard work.
I choose to live and let live, in a tent nightie, why would I want to carry the burden of altering anything?

This dream is no nightmare, I was quite happy with another nightie, one can’t have too much of comfort.
Coming back to the “dress of my dreams”, thanks for all the suggestions and feedback. I will surely update you all when my search ends.
Until then sareeing on in this super favourite Odisha cotton that has elephants playing volleyball

The Perfect Dress

Ever since I developed a taste for ‘dresses’, I’m endlessly scrolling through looking for the perfect dress. My criteria are quite narrow. I have met the perfect dress in my dreams and now I must find it in real life.

It has to be a ‘sundress’. I think it means something flowery and happy and bohemian. The floweriness however, must not be too loud. No yellow, no big motifs, no figure hugginess.

It has to be made of natural fibres. It must have sleeves and length ought to be longer than knee length but not ankle length. I trip over stuff if it’s too long and I feel shy in too short.

It must not be something that a white slim person is modelling. I’m neither slim, nor white. I just have to know if it works for brown heavy people.
It must not, of course, be too expensive. Every time I see an expensive dress I like, I end up buying another saree because sarees last forever. I’m practical that way, dreams notwithstanding.

I know, most manufacturers will call the police on me, I’m so annoying a dress buyer. Conversation itself makes me feel that one day there will be a law to ban my kind of people.

Dress Website: You want a sundress in black?

Me: okay, grey will also do.

Dress Website: You have reached the end of the internet, search yielded no result matching your criteria. There is no way to recover from this. 404#”””!!!!***** server₹#@&

You think I will give up? The internet doesn’t know me yet. I take this as a challenge and keep on searching.

Draped this ikat cotton today, dreamy darling ikats, happily accomodating my ever growing dimensions

Still Waters

Ever since I mastered the timer selfie, I don’t know what to do with the spouse. Every few months, I find him a new project, like learning music, sorting taxes etc. Just so he doesn’t feel like he has nothing to do.

It’s been long since we’ve done anything together. After we jointly made the babies, we sort of developed on our own tangents. In the initial few years, I searched and searched for common ground. I found that we only connect when there’s a crisis. I decided not connecting is better than finding a crisis.

It’s my job to find peace, like literally, not just because I’m the wife. I happen to be a psychiatrist. I did find it, in letting people be. I take responsibility only for my own personal growth as a human being. Among the myriad possibilities that seem to slip through our hands with every passing moment, one possibility is to remain at rest, at peace.

Draped a Chettinad cotton today