A-B-Conversation series: Happiness | மகிழ்ச்சி

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A: I feel sad.

B: That’s normal right. Everyone feels sad sometimes. Life isn’t a bed of roses. And it’s only human to feel sad when things don’t go the way we want it to. You can’t possibly be happy when your loved one is gone. Or when you’ve lost all your money. Haha!

A: That’s true. But, I can’t remember the last time I was happy. Yes, I smile. I laugh. But I don’t feel happy. When I look at the pictures of a younger me, I feel like I am looking at a different person. The girl in the picture has a wide smile that stretches to her glistening eyes. And then I look at myself in the mirror. Dark rings around my eyes. Wrinkles. Eyebags. I look exhausted. It must be probably due to the lack of sleep. Insomnia-that’s what they call it right?

B: Hmmm. But you still are that same girl…Why do you think you felt happy then? What has changed since then?

A: I don’t know. When we were younger, everything was so simple. I would get happy when my mum bought me a bar of chocolate. Or when I played with bubbles. Or when my dad bought me a Minnie mouse doll. Or when I got to go swimming with my cousins. Or when I got to watch a movie with my friends. Or when I got a star for getting 10/10 for the spelling test. Or when I…

B: You do realise that things can still happen. You can feel happy again. Your mum still buys you a bar of chocolate but you just don’t see it as something special anymore. Maybe because you think that it’s cheap or maybe it has just become a very usual act to you such that you don’t value it anymore. For some, they have neither the money nor a mother to buy them a bar of chocolate. The same goes for the other stuff that you were talking about. You need to be grateful. Practice gratitude. Count your blessings. “உனக்கும் கீழே உள்ளவர் கோடி நினைத்து பார்த்து நிம்மதி நாடு”. Remember those Kannadasan lines.

A: I am tired of hearing this.

B: Hearing what? Kannadasan songs? We don’t hear such good philosophical lines these days…

A: Stop! No! I am tired of hearing that I should think of people who have it worse than me. I do sympathise with them. They have their own set of problems. I do feel sad for them. And I definitely wish that they didn’t have to go through it. But that does not make my problems any less important/severe!

B: Are we still talking about the bar of chocolate?

A: No. Sigh. When I was young, I was told that if I studied hard, I would eventually get into a good university and a good job. Then I would be able to buy everything that I wanted. And I will live a happy life. But I am starting to realise that no matter how hard I work, there’s always going to be someone better than me and I am not going to reach my goals. I hate all those people who are born smart. I work thrice as hard as them and I still don’t succeed. All the bullshit songs that we watched in movies where the hero can just go from rags to riches in a song. That’s the stupidest bullshit that they have sold to us. It just never happens. It sucks to know that you’re never going to be enough.

B: Hey, I agree with you on this. But…

A: But what? Whatever I told you is just one half of the story. They told me that Prince Charming will come and he will sweep me off my feet. And then I will get married to him, have children and live happily ever after with him. That isn’t happening either. Does he even exist?

B: You seriously believed in that? Okay, they were just really bad storytellers. Terribly bad. They were too optimistic and hopeful. They have romanticised everything for you. Just forget about the stories that they have told you. Yes, maybe some dreams aren’t going to come true. Maybe none of your dreams is going to come true. But what has that got to do with your happiness? Why are you letting that affect your happiness? Because for all you know, maybe your dreams may come true yet you won’t feel happy. You don’t need to achieve something to be able to be happy. You don’t need to be a good person(by whatever measures) to be happy. You deserve to be happy for just existing on this planet. Happiness has no prerequisites. It’s not a module that you’re taking, dear! It’s a choice.

A: But I don’t feel like I should be happy. I am so useless. I am a disappointment. An embarrassment. I am invisible. Even if I was gone, no one would notice.

B: Well, I, for one, would definitely notice. If you so badly want your absence to be noticed, take a loan and then go missing. Hahaha!

A: Haha! Oiii!!!

B: Jokes aside, I do think that everyone has a role and purpose in this world. Remember 7G Rainbow Colony? No one is useless. You are going to slowly unravel that purpose and you’re going to take every effort in fulfilling that purpose. While at it, remember that you are someone’s daughter. Someone’s sister. Someone’s friend. Someone’s niece. Someone’s aunt. Someone’s cousin. Someone’s crush. You might take up more roles in the future like someone’s mother. Someone’s girlfriend. Someone’s wife. Someone’s grandmother. Your absence will inevitably be noticed. Maybe not by all of them. But I assure you at least one of them is going to miss you. Trust me. Please don’t do anything stupid.

A: Hey, don’t worry. I am not suicidal. Not in a conventional way, at least.

B: What do you mean?

A: When you think of suicide, you think of those lying in a pool of blood with a cracked skull. Or those hanging from a fan. Or foam bubbling from the corner of the mouth. What about those whose bodies are alive but souls are dead?

B: Ahhh. But can’t dead souls be revived? Some emotional CPR maybe? I don’t know.

A: Excellent. For the first time, you’re admitting that you don’t know something. Haha! I guess they can get some counselling/therapy.

B: Hahaha! There are lots of things that I don’t know. One can’t possibly know everything. Oh yes. Some counselling could help.

A: But sometimes I feel that it’s the society that needs counselling. They only care about the people with dead bodies not about the people with dead souls. They burden us with societal norms. To perform academically well. To be aligned with beauty standards. To not be a slut. To not be this and that. To be this and that. What happens when you deviate? You’re made to feel insufficient and like you’re a bad person. Ahh! Why can’t we just live and let live? Why can’t we just let everyone do whatever they want?

B: I think you’re oversimplifying the entire matter. If it was that simple, we would already have done it.

A: You’re right.

B: Sorry, what? I can’t hear you.

A: Hahaha! I said that you’re right, idiot! But it’s just a wish I guess. For things to be different. We can’t just change things in a snap.

B: We’re at least talking about it. So that’s a start. Actually, what if I could flip the entire thing?

A: What do you mean?

B: What if people who dread living and wish they were dead, could just pretend that they are indeed living their last day every day? That would mean that they could do whatever they want. Kind of like having a bucket list of things every day. It could be as simple as doing something they did as a kid. It could be getting wet in the rain, maybe. Or it could be going on short holidays every day. You don’t need to be in a foreign land to act all touristy. You can have that same curiosity(see what I did there) in Singapore too. I get it that you find it hard to practice gratitude (though, I do hope you do get on with it eventually). But what if you could do something nice for someone every day. It doesn’t have to be really big stuff. But little things. Something that might be little to you, might be big to someone. It could be a really simple compliment. It could make someone’s day.

A: I really think you’re a nice person. Genuinely nice. I like you. Your humour, your positivity and everything. I enjoy my conversations with you and I want to be able to do that for the rest of my life.

B: Hey, it doesn’t have to be to me or people you know. You can give compliments to anyone. Even strangers.

A: I like how you completely ignored what I said.

B: Oh, you like that? Is that like a compliment? Haha!

A: Hahaha, what even? Did you even hear what I said?

B: Yes, I did. I like you too. Scratch that. I love you. But I want you to learn to love life before you learn to love me.

A: Wow.

B: Am I freaking you out? Are you going to run away?

A: No, silly! Okay, how about this? We can meet for a cup of coffee and see where that leads to.

Till my next post, stay curious!

By the way, did you see the new logo? Designed by the very talented JS Sasikumar!

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Personal reflections on 2017: the year of Jimikkis, and Takkalis.

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A day to a new year. 2017 will be over. Finally! I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. To put it bluntly, this year has been a veena pona(bad) year. As much as I had tried to be positive in everything that I do, there were days where my demons got the better of me. I did not want to go to school, get out of my room, talk to anyone or do anything. I think I eventually snapped out of it after receiving some help of course. I owe it to my family and friends for having my back. And I feel proud of myself for being brave enough to make decisions and stand by them. I know that even when I am old, I would look back to 2017 as a milestone year in my life. When I started this year, things were very different. My sense of right and wrong. How I viewed myself. My future aspirations. The people that I spent the most time with. My circle. Everything was different. As cliche as it sounds, it’s almost like I am a different person now. I never thought a year could change a person so much.

This year has been exciting too. This year is one of many first’s. The first time being in the limelight in Sangae Muzhangu. The first time experiencing snow. The first time spending more than a week in a foreign land. The first time participating in a sports competition(which wasn’t compulsory). The first time participating in a poetry recital event. The first time trying out online dating(Tinder). Yes, that was the funniest first(Note to self: Never again). Haha! There are so many other first’s which shall not be mentioned in the interest of time. Haha! I did so many things that I would previously have judged myself for. Where did all the guts come from? The YOLO spirit. Or just plain stupidity. I don’t know. Either way, this attitude has got me here and I have no complaints. Along the way, I have met some kind souls. I think I have made more friends in this year than I have ever made in my entire life(excluding this year). That’s one of the key takeaways from this year.

Oh and I have another takeaway. A realisation. A realisation that came from the most unexpected places. Black and white. Wrong and right. There’s this one way that we should lead our lives. When you try to draw a line without a ruler, there will be certain parts which won’t be straight but you would return back to drawing the line straight after those parts. Similarly, if you stray away from that right way of life, it’s a mistake and you should learn from it and return to that right way of life.  That’s just how it has been all my life. But this year, I started thinking about how such a system came to exist in my head. I wasn’t born with it. I learnt from what I saw and heard. Maybe if I had heard and saw something different, I would have believed in something else. Maybe if I was born in another place, I would have believed in something else. It’s a really simple thought. But it shakes up everything. I felt completely lost. Because everything that I have believed to be facts and right were just interpretations. I had to figure everything out for myself. It’s a slow and long process of exploration. It isn’t over yet. It has been a liberating one. I finally don’t have to worry about the four people. The faceless four people who represent the society. The four people that I have been warned about since young. They would speak ill about me if I deviated from the societal norms. They wouldn’t be there to pick me up but they would be there to shame and shove their views down my throat. I was finally breaking free from the invisible shackles that had been weighing me down for the longest time. Well, firstly, in the general sense, there’s no right or wrong so whatever they’re preaching is just fluff. Secondly, sometimes, the four people are in your head; they don’t exist in real life. Most people have a lot happening in their own life and have no time to think about others. Even if they hypothetically do exist, them being more concerned about your life than theirs means that you’re better, so you have already won. So pongada dei! Haha! Do whatever floats your boat and don’t intentionally sink another’s boat. This. This realisation and clarity that came with it is another thing that I am bringing forward to 2018.

There were some sunshine and rainbows too. After consecutive years of not accomplishing any new year’s resolutions and bringing them forward, this year I managed to achieve one of the five resolutions that I had set for myself. You’re looking at it right now. It’s this blog. I did it. The best thing that happened to me this year. Okay, for a moment, 2017 doesn’t seem that bad. 2018 is going to be a great year too. Another exciting 365 days. I wasn’t excited but someone reminded me that I am graduating next year and I am going to enter the next stage of life; working adult. Sigh. Bring it on!

Happy advanced new year everyone! Continue reading my blog in 2018(and all the subsequent years) too! Haha! Oh and stay curious!

Death.

Every end is a new beginning. That holds so much truth. What about the end of life? Death. What begins after that? No one knows.

We know that we aren’t immortals. But why is death so difficult to handle? It appears to happen too abruptly. When we least expect it. Without scheduling an appointment with us. Without allowing us to give a four-week written notice at work. Haha! What we often forget is that the clock is ticking. We’re all dying one moment at a time. Take a moment to process that. Yup, that moment that you took to process is gone. You’re a moment closer to death. You are dying. I am dying. We’re all dying. At different rates. In different ways. Some know that they are dying. Others pretend not to know. But in the end, everyone has to go.

No one has given a clear and reliable account of what death feels like. The journey to death maybe. But the description of the exact moment someone dies is unheard of. Some say that in the last moment of your life, your entire life will flash in front of your eyes. Like in Invisible Monsters. That would be cool. All these speculations. You would never really know until it’s your time.

But I can give you a clear and reliable account of what a death of a loved one feels like. He is pronounced dead. /dɛd/ Confused. Shocked. Pain. Lots of pain. A waterfall of tears. Confused. Shocked. Anger. Angry at God. Angry at myself. For all those times, I ignored his chain messages. Haha. He forwarded that message to ten people but that luck didn’t save him. Sigh. Angry. For all those times that I forgot about the nice person that he had been. Wait. Maybe the luck did save him. The luck had saved him from the misery of life. He is in a better place now. Oh wait, they said that the spirit doesn’t leave until the funeral is over. He hasn’t even been cremated. Are you here? Can you hear me? I am sorry. I look around. No. No signs of his presence. I stare at his body. He looks different. Very different. Hmmm. What would have his last thought been? Did he know that he was going to go today? Did he want to live? I’ll never know.

I thought Aatha’s death had prepared me well to handle grief. But I don’t think I will ever be fully prepared. But okay, he’s gone. No amount of tears would bring him back.

I look around and I see the family that he’s left behind. And again a gush of emotions. The dreams that he’s left behind. The things that he will never get to see. Memories come in. One of the first few people who said that I write well. It was just a short message on a Deepavali card. Again a stream of tears runs down my face. A chain of funeral rites that has nothing to do with who he is as a person ensues. Floodgates open. Relatives arrive. Mostly with garlands. Some with an agenda. Everything after that is a blur.

I reflect long on the life that he’s lived based on stories that I have heard from my mum, aunt and my cousins. Maybe things could have been different if… All the what if’s kicked in. Is there something that I could have done? Suddenly, everything seems orchestrated. By who? Bigg Boss of course. Haha! Sorry, I mean God. Like we are all puppets. We have nothing within the realms of our control. Yet we try so hard. A brief moment of complete clarity. My phone interrupts. Reality kicks in. I have treasury work to do. A missed call. “Are you coming for ……. ” Hahaha~

Why do such demeaning funeral rites even exist? Why do other women encourage that these be done? She lost her husband. You don’t have to share the sorrow with her but you could at least not add on to it. That sent me on a spiral of questions on every practice and belief that I have had in my life. And then it happened. The lightbulb moment. I wanted to plan my own funeral.

I am not suicidal. I mean if I died in my sleep today, I wouldn’t complain. But I actually enjoy living too. That made more sense in my head. So I am going to put the fun in the funeral. Yes, I just quoted This is Us. This is also inspired by P.S. I love you. A dream funeral. In the spirit of Chandralekha with the spirit of Chandralekha. Haha! I haven’t had many birthday parties but I get to plan my deathday party aka my funeral. Firstly, let me dish out the dresscode. Please don’t wear black and white. That’s so boring and dead. Wait I am dead. Everyone who attends must be in purple. If you don’t have anything purple( because you have bad taste), you will wear the purple scarf which is actually the door gift for coming for my funeral. Get me the cheapest coffin. Put on the darkest shade of red lipstick for me. Please don’t hold my funeral in my house. I have seen how dirty a house can get after a funeral. So please book a decent and affordable place to hold my funeral. Can I have the wording, “This too shall pass” in italics to be printed in huge fonts and pasted on one of the walls. Here’s the fun part, I want people to sing a song and then deliver the eulogy(if any). A karaoke would be perfect. I will be there listening and dancing along. You can’t see me. But I can see you. Also, play some nice Ilayaraja songs in the background before the event starts, please. Can we also have some laddoos for everyone who’s come to bid their final goodbye? I know you’re scared that I will haunt you if you don’t do it the traditional way. Yes I would haunt you. But only if you don’t follow my dream funeral instructions. I will haunt you with special effects and scary BGMs. Hahaha! Death is not just something that happens in a moment. It’s an end of my X years of life. Doesn’t that call for a celebration? Yes, you can cry. Not because I am gone but because you’re reminiscing warm memories that you have of me and with me. You’ll miss me definitely. Maybe when you smell my perfume somewhere. When you hear someone sing badly. When you see someone laugh hysterically. You’ll be reminded of me. But you’ll move on. Cos this too shall pass.

And then you’ll come back to this blog to reread the stuff I have written. You’ll find new meaning in my words. And we would have come a full circle. Quoting my Forensic Accounting Prof Lam, the distance between KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and Mandai Crematorium is 14km. That’s really all it is. So our life is really not about the destination. It’s about the journey. There’s no pause button. It’s happening real time. Increasingly, people die even before they are actually pronounced dead. Void of love. Void of wonder. Void of joy. Dead relationships. So what are you going to do today?

P.S. Hereon, I am going to write about people while they are alive so that they can read it. Gratitude posts.

Also, here’s one song which has stood the test of time. No other song sums up death as well as this song.

One last time: On racism, Superior Indian men, and Indian women.

Prologue

I started writing this blog in February this year and this is my 18th post. I had not planned it out. I started out with a jibber-jabber. My purpose of writing was to document my thoughts and little snippets of my life. My story. It wasn’t long before I had people telling me how much they can relate to what I write. Particularly, a blog post I wrote garnered over 30,930 views from all over the world. But it doesn’t make me any happier/satisfied than a post with 30 views or 3 views. To me, numbers don’t matter as much as the impact it creates. Even if it’s just one person. “Don’t scale wide; scale deep. Quality over quantity.” (Lessons from my Social Entrepreneurship module that I took this semester). The most heartwarming thing that I have heard was a random person telling me that by sharing my story, I was actually giving a voice to many others who were not brave enough or just too tired to share their similar experiences.

So I am going to do this one more time.  This post is going to be quite long. Brace yourself. Kindly note that I am not an expert on such issues and what I share is only an opinion and a recount of experiences which is supported by facts where possible. There are three sections namely, I not racist, The Superior Indian men/#karuppusuthuvellaikaaran, Indian women are ugly. Oh and there’s a bonus section at the very end. Haha. They are all related but they don’t exactly flow so feel free to jump to the section which interests you more.

Section I: I not racist. 

Generally, Singaporeans do know that racism is wrong. The pledge that we recite in school highlights Singapore’s stance in support of racial harmony. I don’t think anyone would carry the label of racist with pride unless they have some insecurities or traumatic experiences themselves. So what is the problem? The problem is that most people are completely unaware of what actually constitutes racism. In the case where economic disadvantages, physical abuse, and/or an intention to discriminate is clearly involved, it seems that people do know that that’s racism. On the other hand, they’re quite unaware of what casual racism is. This unawareness stems from various factors. Firstly, upbringing plays a huge role in causing this unawareness. We learn what is right and what isn’t from our parents. It is unfortunate that parents err too. Some feed their kids with negative views against people of other races. I remember one of my friends telling me how his mum told him not to play with the Indian kids in the playground because they’re black, smelly and dirty because they don’t shower. I was one of his first Indian friends at the age of 17. Negative biases coupled with a lack of interaction with people of other races further reinforce a preference for the own race and sometimes, a dislike for the other race. Such preferences can start at a very young age. These preferences and biases will continue until they are put in a situation where they’re forced to interact with people of other races. This could be National Service for the males or the school. By interacting through classroom conversations, or doing a project with someone from another race, they get to slowly learn more about that person and unlearn what the parents have taught them. However, for some, they are not gifted enough to have these interactions in school because they go to schools where there are few or no Indians. Their only exposure to Indians, if any,  is from the Indians in the media. That usually refers to Russell Peters and Ra Ra Kumar. Hence, they end up thinking that all Indians are jokers. Hence, at their first encounter with an Indian at a later stage like in the university, they say all kinds of cringe-worthy(if not racist) jokes. The standard operating procedure for a Singaporean Indian has always been clear. When someone says something racist, laugh it off. You can complain and draw attention to yourself. But you should be prepared to be accused of being overly sensitive and/or playing the victim card. But how many times do you want to complain? You’ll eventually get exhausted. You have to just learn to live with it. Kill them with kindness.

 

இன்னா செய்தாரை ஒறுத்தல் அவர்நாண

நன்னயம் செய்து விடல்

If others harm you, do good unto them, so that they are shamed into realizing their mistakes.

That’s one of my favourite verses from Thirukural which literally means Sacred Verses. That’s generally been my response to racism and any other kind of discrimination. I don’t think I am alone in adopting this approach. However, when I started thinking about the future, it hurt me to think of how I would have to teach my kids to allow other people to say discriminating things to them and get away with it. Just because…. Regardless of whether what I say would make a difference, I should and I will say these. Starting the conversation is really important. Another reason why calling them out and having the conversation is important is because by not doing so, you’re denying them(the ignorant people) the chance to actually learn about their own biases. In fact, by not calling out on them, you teach them that what they said or do to you is acceptable and they would continue saying such stuff to you and others. Then again, it is unfair to impose a duty to teach and correct them on Indians. This is because it gets tiring after a while. Furthermore, in schools/situations where there are few Indians, how many people can we expect that Indian student to teach. Besides, sometimes he gets tired of having to listen to such jokes that he starts making them first even before others say them to him.

Section II: Superior Indian men/ #karuppusuthuvellaikaaran

The superior Indian men aka Karuppu Suthu Vellaikaaran(KSV) literally means a white man with a black butt. It’s supposed to be a stereotype of a specific type of Indian men who are Indian by birth but do not identify themselves as being Indian. I know I sound like a hypocrite. I was complaining about the Anjadi Kuppeh label in one of my previous posts but here I am creating another one. Firstly, I am not making a sweeping statement that all Indian men are KSVs. I do know of Indian men who are proud of their roots and identity. In this section, I am specifically talking about a subset of Indian men who aren’t. Secondly, yes, I agree with you that I could have given them a nicer name. But this name is as raw as it can get. Besides, I am not the one who coined this term. My close friend did and I decided to just use it in this post instead of thinking of one from scratch. My apologies if you find this offensive.

KSVs are not born. They are made. The general consensus is that parents only want the best for their children. It is with this intention that some Indian parents tell their children not to hang out with other Indian kids because they might end up useless and they would not reach the peaks of successes. If you think about it, it’s really sad that they would think lowly of their own kind. The logic behind it is worthy of a discussion on its own. They think that you can’t be successful if you have the Indian identity. You have to conform to the majority identity. They would intentionally put their children in schools where they would be the minority and they would have a lot of interaction with non-Indians. Some would go the next step and get them to learn Mandarin as a subject as well. They would pretend to not understand Tamil. It’s no surprise that we need a festival to promote Tamil language use. Sigh. Some would even pretend to be a Chindian or Inlay because they’re not proud of their Indian identity. Those that do identify themselves as Indians(perhaps for political reasons, haha!) would qualify that statement by saying that they are not Typical Indians. They are not like the other Indians. They are not Anjadi Kuppehs. They are the exact opposites of Anjadi Kuppehs. Anjadi Kuppehs are at the very bottom. KSVs are at the very top. They see themselves as a superior Indian. They won’t engage in activities outlined in the Anjadi Kuppeh post.

Naturally, when the golden ticket presents itself, they would use it. As highlighted in the recent article, there’s a general preference of Chinese and Caucasians in inter-cultural romance. This is something that we have already observed but now we have hard statistics to support it. KSVs intentionally or unintentionally love Chinese and Caucasian women. They consider having a Chinese or Caucasian wife as an indicator of their standing in life because any Indian man can marry an Indian woman. But only a successful KSV can score a Chinese or Caucasian woman. Thus, it also doesn’t come as a surprise that of the 1,364 civil marriages with an Indian groom, 448 were to a non-Indian bride. That’s about one in three Indian men choosing a non-Indian woman over an Indian woman. In comparison, of the 1,066 civil marriages with an Indian bride, 150 were to a non-Indian groom. That’s about one in seven Indian women choosing a non-Indian man over an Indian man. See the difference? But to be fair, these marriages are born out of love. Perhaps, not all these men are KSVs. But what makes it interesting is that these Indian men who marry out of their race tend to be well-educated. In fact, I only started seeing a lot of KSVs when I started uni. It’s almost like saying that they have reached a level of success and status to marry/date a Chinese or Caucasian woman. That they have reached a level of success and status that’s too high for them to marry/date an Indian woman. Of course, there are other issues, like religion, involved in the decision to date/marry. I hear you. It’s not that they are intentionally discriminating against Indian women. It’s a free world. Everyone has the right to marry whoever they want. In fact, marriage and dating are matters of personal preference. True. There’s a thin line between preference and “discrimination”. Perhaps, they themselves are not aware of their inherent biases. They don’t intentionally want to discriminate against Indian women but they end up doing so. Nevertheless, it does highlight some subconscious biases and a subconscious social hierarchy where Indian women are at the very bottom of it and Indian men are way above.

One thing that I grapple with is understanding how Indian men who aren’t KSVs(they embrace their Indian identity) also sometimes exhibit similar behaviour when it comes to dating and marriages. Perhaps, it’s just love. Perhaps, while embracing their Indian identity, they view Indian women as inferior to other women. This issue is not something that’s unique to Singaporean Indian men. Even on screen, we often see brown men fall in love with white womenThe pursuit of white women: Brown actors like Aziz Ansari have reduced brown women to a punchline is another interesting article on that same issue. You should never place your worth on external validation. But you can’t help but wonder whether Indian women are really inferior to women of other races.

Section III: Indian women are ugly.

This is an extension of my post, Men shall eat first and other stories. As an Indian girl, I believed that I was ugly from quite a young age. Sometimes it was because of a remark by a classmate. Other times, it was owing to other subtle things.

Why is your skin so black?

Only barbarians pierce their nose.

Your curly hair looks like my pubic hair.

Is that dot in the middle of your head a button for the bomb?

I know this didn’t just happen to me. Ask around and every Indian girl will share with you stories of the stupid remarks that they have been on the receiving end of and how they felt that they were ugly. How their self-esteem slowly crippled. And how they at one point started internalising such remarks that they were hearing. In Growing up as an Indian woman in Singapore, and Fighting with colour: The struggles of a dark-skinned Indian girl by Hemma, these issues are further discussed.

Basically, our dark skin colour, an abundance of hair, curvy body shape and curly hair just does not fit into the mould that Singaporean beauty standards have. In a systematic way, most Indian girls were made to feel that they were ugly. That they were inferior to say, a Chinese girl which was what the Singapore beauty standards revolve around. I am not saying that Chinese girls are ugly. Definitely not. What I am saying is that as long as you have them as the baseline for beauty, Indian girls can never be beautiful. This is simply because Chinese girls are not better than Indian girls, and vice versa. They’re just different. Period.

But to be fair(I mean fair in the sense of just and fair not in the sense of fair and lovely, haha), this is not something limited to Singapore. Globally, fairness seems to be the yardstick for beauty. Journalist Esther Honig’s project to see what beauty looked like all over the world highlights the unanimous craze for a lightened skin. Naturally, you would see almost no cosmetic products on the shelves which suit the Indian skin in mainstream shops in Singapore.

What is accepted as beautiful in Singapore, is largely based on what the media shows. In 2010, there was almost no Indian females representation in the mainstream media. It’s hard for anyone to even think of Indian women as beautiful if they don’t even see them. Indian women were invisible. Invisible in media. Invisible in politics. Invisible in business. But this is a chicken and egg problem.

Luckily, this has been changing at least in the media scene. There was Bharathi Rani as Priya Moorthy in Faculty and Eswari Gunasegar in Tanglin. In Miss Universe Singapore, we had Rathi Menon clinch the title in 2014. That was after a 21-year hiatus. The last time was in 1993 where Rena Ramiah Devi won the title. I am also glad that we have super cool social media celebrities like Preeti Nair(Preetipls).

I hope that more representation of Indian women(and women of other minority races) in mainstream media helps us embrace different kinds of beauty. We learn a lot from what we see on TV. As Vernā Myers puts it, the media does not have an obligation to reduce bias but it has the opportunity to do so. By telling more diverse stories, and having more TV shows about people in the minority, we can become aware of our own biases and isn’t that the first step to reducing bias? It’s also imperative that when we represent them, we represent them with respect and dignity that everyone deserves. In other words, it’s not just about representation but also how they are being portrayed. It should not be perpetuating negative stereotypes because what’s the point?

[Again, to be fair, I acknowledge that even in mainstream Tamil/Indian movies, there’s a lack of representation of dark-skinned women. A change needs to be effected there too. It’s so obvious. Casting a British woman who doesn’t understand Tamil to play the role of a Tamil woman doesn’t even make sense.]

Relating back to my post, Men shall eat first and other stories, the lack of successful Indian women, could be owing to how they’re being brought up and the patriarchal society which is far more pronounced within the Indian society.

Conclusion

So what am I trying to say? What am I convincing you to do?

Nothing.

Okay no. I just want everyone to be aware of these issues. Don’t perpetuate this further. Be a good parent. Stop telling your kids negative stuff about other races. Stop telling your kids negative stuff about your own race. Don’t be a KSV. If you’re an Indian woman, credit yourself for the little and big struggles that you have overcome. You’re beautiful. You’re intelligent. You’re important. I am proud of you. If you’re in the position of power to effect some big changes, act on it! Peace out.

Bonus section: Glossary

Since this post talks so much about Indians, I thought it would be good to clarify some terms once and for all.

  • Indian can be a race or a nationality depending on the context. Either way, it may define a person’s identity. Being born to Indian(race/nationality) parents makes someone Indian. In this entire post, when I talk about Indian men and women, I am referring to Singaporean Indian men and women.
  • If they have ancestry which traces back to India, there can be further subdivisions like North and South and even by various states like Tamilnadu, Kerela, Telangana, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, etc.
  • There can be different languages: Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujurati, Urdu, Sinhalese. ( I don’t speak Indian; I speak Tamil.) While I use the word Indian throughout this post, I do acknowledge the fact that Indians are a heterogeneous group and what I state here might be more applicable to Tamils than Indians per se.
  • There are different religions within Indians: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism. There are further subdivisions within each religion. (Not all Indians celebrate Deepavali. Only Hindus celebrate Deepavali. Not all Indians celebrate Hari Raya. Only Indian muslims celebrate Hari Raya.)
  • There are also different castes. In the case of Singapore, some common castes are Chettiars, Menons, Nairs, Naidus, Pillais, and Reddys, etc.

Update:

Sarahah

Since someone actually asked this question, I thought I should answer it in this post since it’s related to this.

What do Singaporean Indian girls think of local Chinese guys in general?

I can’t answer for all Singaporean Indian girls but I can speak for a fraction of them. Perceptions are usually influenced by personal experiences. If the discriminating remarks in their younger days were made by Chinese guys, they might completely disregard Chinese guys as an option because it might open up some wounds. That is to say, even if that Chinese guy was flirting/ with that Singaporean Indian girl, she would probably think that he’s joking. Hence, you would need to probably make her understand that you’re really interested in her and that it’s not some kind of joke or prank. Other than that, the way local Chinese guys are perceived by Singaporean Indian girls is not very different from Singaporean Indian guys. They might look out for certain physical attributes(e.g. a genuine and cute smile or dimples), or characteristics.  This varies across individuals. It’s a very generic answer. But the question is generic too. :X

Colours, sparkles and lots of Murukkus!

It’s Deepavali tomorrow! The one public holiday for Hindus in Singapore. My second favourite time of the year after the new year’s day of course. This is the first year I didn’t actually buy any new clothes for Deepavali. Okay I am still wearing new clothes just that they were purchased for last year’s Deepavali. This is also the first Deepavali where I didn’t even step into any of the bazaars in Little India. Not a single cent spent on Deepavali shopping. It wasn’t intentional. I just happened to have no time. Did I just say that? Did I become one of them? Too busy for Deepavali. I almost forgot about Deepavali too. I was going to schedule a project meeting on Deepavali and my non-Indian friend had to remind me that it was Deepavali. Haha! Well done Chandralekha! You’re setting new standards for yourself. Well, I wasn’t always like this of course.

Did you get my Deepavali card?

The way Deepavali is being celebrated now is very different from how it was celebrated when I was a kid. The Deepavali Expo used to have a wide range of Deepavali cards. I got one for all my friends. I would carefully choose one for each of my friend based on their favourite actor/actress. I used to get cards featuring Vikram and then later Suriya(after Ghajini came out). If you didn’t get one from me, you’re not my friend. Lame! I know. My mum would also carefully write and mail out Deepavali cards to all our relatives. These cards would double up as Deepavali decoration. They would be sticked on our walls and when we go to their house for Deepavali Open House, we would go and look for the one that we sent out. Oh that’s when I learnt the shortform for family, fly! We received no cards this year. To be fair we didn’t send out any either.

Which movie are you going to watch for Deepavali?

Movies play a huge role in adding to the festive mood. Golden Village Yishun was showing more Tamil movies then. It was very convenient. I miss that quite a bit. But that isn’t the main change. It’s the kind of movies that are being released. 2001 had Aalavandhaan, Nandha, Paarthaalae Paravasam, Shahjahan. 2002 had Bagavathi, Villain and Ramana. 2003 had Anjaneya, Thirumalai, and Pithamagan. 2005 had Majaa and Sivakaasi. 2007 had Azhagiya Tamil Magan, Kannamoochi Ennada, Polladhavan, and Vel. 2011 had 7aam arivu and Velaayudham.  It was interesting and fun because you basically had to make the tough decision of which movie to watch. After watching that chosen movie, you would have that completely useless discussion of which movie was better with relatives and friends who watched the other movie. It’s different now because you have an easy choice-Mersal.

Even if you weren’t watching a movie in the theatre itself, you had to make the decision on which channel and movie to watch. Padaiyappa which is always advertised as the latest movie even after 10 years since it’s been released or some other new movie. We would even try to guess which movies will be showed on television. However, it’s quite an easy guess nowadays. And you probably would already have watched that movie already unless you’re one of those people who haven’t watched any of the Baahubali’s-like me. Haha! The excitement has been diluted.

The Deepavali mood

Yet I managed to get the Deepavali mood without even heading to Little India. Simply by watching and listening to the songs below.

Unnai Kandu Naan Aada

Call me old school, but nothing gives me the Deepavali vibe as much as this song.

Thanaku Thanaku Thina Thaiya

There have been multiple Deepavali MTV songs. But this is really pretty good. The best that we’ve had in my opinion.

Kuih Tarts and Murukkus

Here’s a fun fact. One of the blog names I considered was Thoughts and Murukkus. I love murukkus. I wasn’t able to join the Murukku making this year owing to my busy schedule. Sigh pie. Every year, there’s some new cookie/biscuit. But Kuih tarts and Murukkus will always be GOLD. Okay this section is the most redundant. But it feels wrong to not talk about Kuih tarts and Murukkus in a post about Deepavali.

What’s Deepavali for anyway?

I remember receiving a message from one of my friend wishing me a Happy prosperous Deepavali. Another asked me why the Indian new year came so late in October/November. (Note: Deepavali is not a new year.) I burst out laughing. But that got me thinking about the purpose of celebrating Deepavali. Is it for collecting ang pows? Or is it for playing with the sparklers? Or is it the perfect excuse to dress up? Or is it for loading on the standard biriyani? Or is it for just lighting up the oil lamps? What’s the significance of it all? The festival of lights, they say. Light over darkness. Good over evil. Get rid of the evil thoughts, fill yourself with positive thoughts and energy. But is there anything that’s all good? Aren’t we all shades of grey? What is good anyway? It sometimes feel like it’s all just a zero-sum game. Alright, that’s enough thinking for a day. For me, the most important good that comes out of Deepavali is just the quality time spent with my family. It’s really that simple. Alright, I need to go and do up the Kolam outside my house now.

Happy Deepavali folks and stay curious!

Dear Chandralekha

FreshPaint-0-2017.09.23-05.25.59
Yesterday was a special day. Maybe it was the last day at work before you start at another place the coming Monday. Maybe it was just special because it was a Friday. Maybe yesterday was the day you met your spouse/partner. Okay maybe it was not that special for you but I think after all the years, it still is for my family. Haha! Yes, it was my birthday yesterday. 23. Such a weird number. Anyway, I recently read a book titled “Dear me” which is basically a compilation of celebrities’ letters to their 16 year old selves. That got me inspired to write a letter to my 13 year old self. A letter to the Chandralekha in 2007.  A 10-year throwback.
 
Dear Chandralekha,
Happy 13th birthday! You probably just celebrated with your entire family. You got the surprise birthday party that you actually asked for. Since you actually knew about the surprise, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. But you still acted surprised. Haha! You’re 13 and I’m 23. I know that you see people aged 20 and above as adults. Age is just a number. Actually, it’s a word. :X Let me tell you this, they are not adults. Most of them don’t know what they’re doing but they just pretend like they have everything under control. Haha! I am not an adult. I mean yes, I do go to the clinic on my own and manage my monthly finances by myself. But I refuse to attest to being an adult. It’s boring and I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t want to give away too much in this letter but I just want to tell you some important stuff to see you through the years. It isn’t advice per se but just some things I want you to know. Some things that I think you would like to know.

Academics: You’re not stupid!

You will not fail your O levels. You will not drop out of polytechnic. You do make it to NUS and pursue a degree of your choice(maybe you should think harder when choosing the course or maybe not). Something known as the bell curve will irritate you and make learning less enjoyable in university. But you know what? You’ll survive and pursue an honours degree too. Stop worrying too much. You’re not stupid. You might have temporarily strayed slightly away from studies this year but don’t worry you’ll find your way back again.

Tech Updates: Bye Nokia!

Now that that’s out of the way, let me give you some updates. Your cool slide phone, Nokia 6288 will be out of fashion. Phones these days are not as cool in form but they compensate with substance. For example, the cameras are not just 2 megapixels but can be even 20 megapixels. Sorry to drop the bomb but Friendster and MSN will die off. Nokia too will kinda die off. I know it sounds unimagineable. But even the sun sets in paradise, doesn’t it?! Yes, testimonials and bulletin boards will become things of the past. Don’t waste too much time on that. Facebook and Instagram will take over. People will write on walls, like, share and tag. But don’t waste too much time on that too. And I know you seem to get lost all the time. With the advent of Google maps, you’ll get lost less often. Haha!

Self-image issues: You’re beautiful.

You won’t get the tattoos or piercings that you wanted except one piercing on your nose. I know you’re severely overweight now. But you’ll lose weight. For some people you’ll never be enough. Even if you’re skinny to your bones(btw that will never be the case), they will still call you fat. Ignore what others say about you. They are idiots. I want you to remember that you’re complete. Only one of the two teeth, that was extracted just two days ago because of a possible obstruction, will grow. That will leave you with a gap in your teeth even when you are 23. You will feel conscious about showing your teeth when you smile. But no one notices it. Actually, it’s cute. Stop being so over-conscious. The pair of white and green spectacles is a no-go. But I know that you like them for some weird reason so just wear them. You don’t have pimples now but when you’re 23, all that stress will leave its marks on your face. But as Lorde puts it, the pimples are like the craters of the moon, only adding to the beauty of it. Oh who’s Lorde? She’s a singer. You’ll get to know her in the years to come. You don’t like your curly mane that can’t be tamed. Your hair is pretty much like you. Stubborn. But do not rebond. Besides, curly hair will become trendy again. Oh and don’t bother about the hair on your leg too. Oops too much information right there!

Best friends forever? Not really.

I know you can’t wait to grow up and go to poly. But your 4 years in Yishun sec will be one of the best times in your life. Seniors are only cool because they’re older. Don’t put them on a pedestal. Do not put yourself on a pedestal. But do not let people treat you any less than you deserve to be treated too. When you’re 23, you won’t be talking much to any of those whom you identified as best friends when you were 13. And your life would have less drama without them and that’s good.

Complicated love.

There will be some people who will leave your life and then make a re-entry later. Do not forget why and how they exited the first time. You won’t get married at 23. You won’t even be in a relationship when you’re 23. You know that whole idea of meeting that one person, being in a relationship with just that person and marrying that person? Well, it doesn’t happen for you. The princess got to kiss a couple of frogs before meeting her prince, right?! That doesn’t make you tainted or anything like that. Go easy on yourself. You don’t have to take the difficult path. You can take the easier path if you’re not ready for it. Okay, I didn’t say that. It’s a line from the 2016 Hindi movie, Dear Zindagi. Haha! You’ll get your heart broken and break someone’s heart as well. The latter would hurt twice as much but both of it will be necessary for you to grow as a person. However, as with all wounds, you will heal.
Stop pretending to read during the silent reading sessions and actually go read some books. Don’t read too many depressing books though. Same goes with music too. Yuvan Shankar Raja is good but don’t wallow in those emo stuff. I know you feel like a misfit sometimes. You search for a higher purpose in life. That doesn’t really change much in the years to come. The search doesn’t end. But you would meet some nice souls in university who make you feel less like a misfit. Spend more time with your family especially Aatha.

Coffee and spirituality

I know you hate coffee and tea but when you’re 23, you’ll be loading high on caffeine just to stay awake through lessons and to finish assignments and projects. There will be other days where you won’t need caffeine to stay awake; your overbearing thoughts will do the trick. I know that at 13, you’re very pious with a thick layer of sacred ash smeared on your forehead everyday. That will change. You would reach a state of being at peace with everything you have and don’t have, and you’ll stop asking God for things. For some years, your spirituality will be like a swinging pendulum. That’s completely fine too. I know it’s funny but your conversations with strangers can be really paradigm-shifting, thought-provoking and sometimes spiritual even. Do that more often.

Some final words

There’s nothing wrong with you. You’ll write a blog and you won’t be the only one reading it. You would have quite a following. The best part is that you would enjoy doing it so much. All I want you to do is to have some faith and believe that it’s all going to be alright. You will do great. Always be true to yourself. Now forget everything that I have said. You’re probably going to make the same mistakes again.
Lots of love,
The older you

Tinder Tales

Are you judging me?

Are you judging me? How dare you?! I am judging you for judging me just because I am on Tinder. Haha! Okay yes, I used to judge others who were on Tinder too. They’re so shallow. Swiping on someone just because of looks is so shallow. And why are they so desperate to find love? It will happen when it happens. Yet I am on Tinder now. Let me justify myself. One of my friends suggested it to me and I was in this phase of trying out new things. Besides, I figured that I would be able to better judge if I actually tried it out and find out how it works. What’s the worst that could happen? What follows is my musings and realisations while I was on Tinder. If you don’t understand how Tinder works, read this first. Haha!

Why am I not getting any matches?

Okay, this guy looks like a normal human. Swipe Right. This one’s okay too. Swipe right. I remember laughing so much for the live catalogue scene in Sivaji before the Ballelakka song comes. Tinder is almost that. Okay it’s not that bad. Haha! Oh God, put on a shirt man. This one looks like he’s here for fax.(If you don’t get what I am referring to, I think it’s better that way. Haha! :X) Swipe left. This one’s smoking. Swipe left. Wait, why am I not getting any matches? Am I that undesirable? Oh wait, Google says that it’s not instant matching. He might not have swiped on me yet. Anyway, I’m awesome-pawsome. If they don’t see that then too bad.

Tinder is such an ego booster

Oh no! Notifications from Tinder! I got to switch them off before someone sees them. How embarrassing! What is it? Oh, I have 20 new matches. Crap! I can’t handle more than 1 person at a moment. I hope they don’t start a conversation. “Hey beautiful!” He’s talking to me? He’s calling me beautiful. Tinder is such an ego booster. Oh no! Another one. “What made you swipe right?” What should I reply? I don’t know. I thought swiping left meant not liking. Sorry it was an honest mistake. Haha! Okay that’s mean. Another one. “Hey cutie!” I am not your dog. Don’t call me that. You cutie patootie! That’s it! I am going to delete my account and begin again.

Chitti Rajinikanth’s on Tinder!

Okay, you need to be more stringent on your swiping. Only swipe if you like them more than 80%. Okay let’s start. Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left. You’re doing well. Keeping your standard high. Go on. Wait, this guy looks super familiar. Isn’t he my friend’s boyfriend? Why is he here? Oh God. I feel so bad right now. Or have they broken up? No, she just posted a picture of them with a heart on Instagram recently. Maybe it’s a fake profile. Or an inactive account that he forgot to delete. Yes, that must be it. He seems like a nice guy. He wouldn’t cheat on her behind her back. Or will he? Well, that’s none of my business. It’s not like I like him anyway. Swipe left. I hope I don’t see any of my friends or cousins or my brother. Law of attraction is true! Hi friend. Swipe left. Oh my brother’s friend! Swipe left. Isn’t this the guy I met in my office lift the other day. Swipe left. Hahaha! Why is Chitti Rajinikanth on Tinder? Why would anyone swipe right on a fake picture? Especially Chitti Rajinikanth. :X Sigh. This guy must be a genius. Swipe left. Oh if you press on the picture, you can read the bio. Interesting. I am such a noob. Why hadn’t I figured this out earlier?! Hahaha! “Gym freak!” Swipe left. “Loves adventure.” Swipe left. “Loves sports.” Swipe left. “Enjoys intellectual conversations” Okay this guy looks good. And I can engage in intellectual conversations too. Swipe right. It’s a match! He says “Hi!” Okay, “Hi!”. I thought he liked intellectual conversations. But all he says is hi? Sighpie!

Blue Stars

Why is one in five people on Tinder interested in travelling, outdoor activities, climbing? Or drinking, clubbing, partying? These “cool” people are such turnoffs. I made up that statistics but you bought it, didn’t you?! Haha! Anyways, it could possibly be because of the scoring thing in that article. But what else can they be interested in? Reading, writing, singing, eating. Oh look there’s one. Swipe right. Oh it’s a match. (Update: like a couple of other matches, he doesn’t start a conversation. He just occupies space on my matches list.) Oh why is there a blue star? Google says that it’s a super like. You got to swipe up for that. You only have one super like for free everyday. And he used it on me. How sweet? But hey it’s a little creepy too. But I pity him. No, don’t fall for that again. Hmmmm. Swipe left. Why is there a bike on my Tinder? Oh so they have ads now. Annoying. Swipe left. This is a wedding picture. Why would anyone put their wedding picure as a Tinder profile picture? Wait why would any married person be on Tinder? Fax? Sigh. Disgusting. Swipe left. Oh a Tinder message: ” I read your blog. I admire your guts.” Awkward. What do I reply? Oh thank you. Conversation ends shortly after some small talk.

Verdict

Tinder either makes you feel really great or really low. You either get so many matches or so many rejections everyday. You’re just a few pictures and a couple of words. It’s bad. I’m not denying it. You’ll see a lot of people just there for fun and fax. You need to exercise some skepticism while swiping to avoid wasting time. It gets a bit uncomfortable when you see someone you know in real life, on Tinder. On the flipside, when you see someone you matched with but never spoke to in real life, it feels awkward too. It gets worse if you see more than one of them in the same place. Haha! To be honest, it gets boring after a while. There can be glitches too. There was once I matched with someone and apparently, I disappeared from his matches shortly, indicating that I unmatched him. I didn’t. But he messaged me on Facebook to clarify. So that’s that. Apart from that, hearts get broken. And I don’t like that part of it. But I think that’s inevitable- on Tinder and in real life. Anyways, I am gonna be out of Tinder for now. I am still a kid.
This has been the most purposeless and pathetic post that I have ever written. Nevertheless, thank you for reading. Stay curious! 🙂