Category Archives: Femina

Our right hands, our left hands. – How our relationships empower us.

Castaway. The movie.
Man alone on an island.
Scary.

Instantly I gave thanks. For family, friends, nieces, sisters, boyfriends, bosses, neighbor. Yeah, even though she’s planning my marriage without my permission.

Of course we’re millenium women. With careers, independent minds and a hunger to achieve. But it’s relationships, the people we go home to, that make it all worthwhile.

True, they may nag and point out that your top makes you look too thin/ fat, but they also hold a towel for you when you come in from the rain.

And however dysfunctional, or loud their snoring, there’s a reason why – even if we don’t see it immediately – each one of them is in our lives. Each, like a different vitamin providing the emotional nutrition we need. Providing the balance to career, money, fame.

Let’s begin with the parents. Well, besides the obvious, they were given to us to argue with. A chance to voice our opinion, and sculpt out our identity. But below the surface drama of ‘Who changed my channel? and ‘You should eat more, sleep less, go out and meet some guys’ runs a lode of love and nurturing, structure and security. Advice that comes from experience they inherited from the beginning of time – Hell, my mum advised clove for a toothache long before I read it in any book.

Would we be able to pursue our careers without much interruption, make big-shot decisions if not for them handling the cooking, taking care of the baby? Guess not.

Boyfriends or husbands? Yup, they contribute to the Dept of Love, Sex and Teaching us patience – especially when they leave their clothes on the floor. But most importantly we should give thanks for the male point of view, for balancing your ying with his yang, for the massage, for when he appreciates your behind, for listening, or is just there for you – even if he’s just snoring sweetly on the couch.

Our kids bring blessings that would need a whole book. But hugs and innocence rate high, sustaining us, giving us hope. Of course, as they grow they challenge our perceptions, our pronunciation, our fashion sense. But you wouldn’t want to turn into a dinosaur, would you?

And if you need someone to take your 2 am phone call, there’s two kinds of people you can turn to. Siblings and friends. The shoulders to cry on and an ear when you need one, even if just for small talk. Of course, they’re also there to tell you that you look terrible in that skirt. But look at it the right way, and it’s an opportunity to learn to handle criticism. To look at our flaws in a ‘safe’ environment.

They’re the ones we can ask for a loan. The ones who will happily share recipes and clothes. And the ones who will point out that the man you’re in love with isn’t right for you and has a scar that’s unaccounted for. They’re there to baby-sit, and stand by you like angels at weddings protecting you from ‘When’s your turn?’


Every one of our relationships help us examine our lives. Sometimes showing us our imperfections in cinemascope-size reflections. Sometimes, like earthquakes, shaking up our comfort zones, to create new landscapes. Inspiring our successes, and applauding while we celebrate ours.

But it’s not just them being there for us that empowers us. It’s also the fact that we’re there for them. In being the daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend we become someone they can turn to. Putting us in a place of importance. Letting you be the one who manages their kids when they’re ill, or listen to their secrets, allowing you to learn from their experience. Giving you the opportunity to help, to teach them what you know.

In their health and their sickness you’re given the power and the chance (and therefore the satisfaction) of being able to nurture. The power to change, to mould, to affect their lives.

At the end of it all, every one of them give us the power to love and forgive, and options to be better women and human beings.

So yes, go out and conquer your Everest, but know that it puts a bigger grin on your face when you have your base camp waiting to welcome you back.

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(Essay published in Femina (March 2007).

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Feel free to quote from this site without permission, staying within the normal fair-use conventions, as long as you do me the courtesy of linking back to the relevant permalink and also letting me know. (You can get the permanent link to a particular post by clicking the time stamp below the headline.)
If you’d like reprint rights, please mail me at huanita@yahoo.com

 

Untying the knot.


Through sickness and health. Through burping and farting. With bad friends and good. Through world cup football and otherwise. And then of course, till death do us part.” That‘s the way the vows go for many of us women.

Yes, it could be funny. But when you begin to give up the very essence of who you are; your very basic freedom in life, just because you’re in a relationship, that’s when the phrase ‘tying the knot’ becomes suffocatingly literal.

And sadly many of us slip into that fog easily. Giving up our identities. Buying into the V 2 R 1 concept. Letting social conditioning and many romance novels make us believe that the path to happiness is finding a man. That all we need to do is love him, and we’ll have nirvana. So we give up our freedom to go out with our friends. Give up thinking for ourselves. In some cases, don’t even tell anyone about the relationship, only because the man says so. Fooling ourselves all the time that it’s ok, so long as we are lucky to be in a relationship.

What is an even sadder fact is that many of us don’t even know what freedoms we are entitled to. Simply because, we’ve never cared to think about what we want. Of course, we may know one day when resentment festering invisibly like a wound under the skin erupts into confrontation.

But why wait till then. We are lucky to be in an age where many privileges come easy. Fought for and earned by women who’ve come before us. Who gifted us the vision of what we can have: The power to go out and earn and not be dependent on our partner. To wear what we want. To be able to define our own concepts of motherhood, of being a wife. To walk away or choose to stay in a relationship.

So yes, we should uphold them. And yes, you can have them without having to ask.

Freedom is what you give yourself. Once you declare yourself free, you are.

Truth is, before we ask for freedom in a relationship, we have to gain freedom from our own beliefs. The ones that say we aren’t good enough, don’t deserve this or that, that it’s wrong to want more.

So first, recognize what is important to you. And know that you deserve it, any of it, whether the freedom to be able to choose your friends, chew chicken to the bone at the dinner table, or to just have ‘me’ time.

And if you stay true to yourself, to what you want, all the time – whether within the room of your mind or at a presentation, you’ll have automatically given yourself the freedom to be you, in a relationship or otherwise.

The next step is easy. All you have to do is communicate what you want, clearly and compassionately. In most cases, your partner will respect you for it and nod. If he doesn’t, talk.

Talking –and listening- are vital to any relationship. And as necessary as love, understanding, respect, trust, and here’s a heavy one, responsibility.


As the head of any nation will tell you, freedom comes with enormous responsibility.

The freedom of speech gives you the space to say what’s on your mind, yet, not necessarily nag, be nasty or cruel. And ladies, it also comes with the freedom to think before you speak. Expressing ourselves does not mean flinging pots and pans.

Yes, it’s the 2000’s. But smoking and drinking come with the responsibility to take care of your health for the sake of the ones you love: you, your spouse, your kids. And earning and spending your own money is great, as long as you don’t incur distressing credit cards bills again and again, that will eat into the house loan.

Thing is, you can have any freedom you want, – even the freedom to meet your ex, now friend. But you have to trust yourself first, that you won’t abuse that freedom or your spouse’s faith.

How you own your freedom in a relationship demonstrates just how mature you are, and if abused, questions your right to have it. So let’s appreciate it, exercise it.

Like muscles, you need to exercise your freedom.

Today, thanks to progress, careers, our awareness of the importance of our roles as women and the resulting confidence, we have freedoms in our relationships that our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have: The freedom to build our careers, while our partner stays at home. To not cook and order out if we want. To chase our dreams, even if the income gets cut in half. The liberty to make decisions and have our partner’s support in whatever decision we take, whether it’s changing jobs, or buying a car.

If you lived in the 1930s, everyone and his cousin assumed that his wife was plain ecstatic just because she could cook his meals and wash his feet. Why would she want to do anything else. See a movie by herself for example.

Breathe happy because we have freedoms that many women in small towns and villages still don’t have. The space to travel to another country without our partner. To say what we want without being told to shut up. The freedom to stand up and not accept another woman or a second wife.

So let’s not take our freedoms for granted lest it erodes the love that builds our relationships.

True love and Freedom go hand in hand.

When you ask for freedom, you’re automatically making a pact that you’ll give your partner his. And you can only keep that handshake warm if you truly listen, love, stay compassionate and respect his needs and well as your own.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck in his best-selling book The Road Less Travelled, quite rightly says, “Freedom and discipline are handmaidens; without the discipline of genuine love, freedom is invariably non-loving and destructive.”

So then, dear people, freedom is also allowing the other to make mistakes, and the chance to make amends. My parents have been married over 30 years. They argue. They make up. And it’s because they choose their freedom to love over their right to stay simmering.

Kahlil Gibran puts it nicely, “Love each other, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” Translation: Keep it fluid, like dance, like a waltz. You step back sometimes and sometimes he does. Find your own unique rhythm, by growing, by experimenting.

Now while we assert ourselves, in capital letters no less, sometimes we need to cut a little extra slack. Having made big strides over the last decades we are changing quickly, even for men who are trying to keep pace. Should they open the door for a woman? Offer to split the bill? And that’s only the small stuff.

So let’s use our freedom to take the high road, and let them pass now and then.

Aah, isn’t freedom empowering?

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(Published in Femina. Yes, a woman’s magazine.)

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Feel free to quote from this site without permission, staying within the normal fair-use conventions, as long as you do me the courtesy of linking back to the relevant permalink and also letting me know. (You can get the permanent link to a particular post by clicking the time stamp below the headline.)
If you’d like reprint rights, please mail me at huanita@yahoo.com

 

Something she’ll remember – On Gifting

They must be two of the world’s best inventions, right alongside the light bulb: The online store Wish-list and the Wedding registry.

Surely they must’ve been the idea of some desperate woman who had had enough of receiving dessert bowls as gifts – one box for her birthday, another for her anniversary, and a third, prettily-wrapped – for Diwali.

I mean, imagine having received bowls three times in a row. Imagine your jaw going to plaster as you try to keep your smile. Imagine how you turn candidate for actress of the year as you sweetly coo, “Oh, how nice, thank you,” even while you want to let it fall to the floor ‘accidentally’.

Aah, yes, you’d take the Wish-list too – Letting people know clearly what you want and in what size and shape so you don’t have to spend twice as much returning it. That IS a good idea.

Yes, the Wish-List takes away the some of the surprise, but that’s better than the shock of opening a box that reveals a bamboo sparrow that peep-peeps to every sound in the vicinity. If ‘Made in China’ is bad for our economy, it’s particularly disastrous for the sanity of our people.

Think assembly lines carrying plastic mobile-phone holders (no, mobile phones can’t lie down by themselves), more plaster of Paris shepherdesses than you can accommodate in a meadow, vases that look like they’d survived Armageddon, frames that you wouldn’t put your dog’s picture in for fear of bad mojo.

Really, is it so tough to pick a gift that even Mensa minds and economists get it wrong? I mean, would you give a fish a walking stick?

All you have to do is think about your ‘target audience’. And ask questions. NOT her! What does she like? What TV programme gets her excited? Does she wear charms? Is she passionate about animation and movies? Or pottery and clayware? Or does she like bags in all shapes and sizes. Does she have a collection of Buddha statuettes you could add to? What’s her favorite color? Would she go sailing on a Sunday or read Rushdie in a window sill? As simple as that.

You want her to break into a big grin, jump around the room like a four year old, not stutter between ‘oh’ and ‘nice’.

Now people, hear me clearly. The line “It’s the thought that counts,” does not mean you have to have good intention. No, it means “Put some thought into it.” Ten minutes of grey matter invested equals to saving the world: less unused gifts taking up precious space in cupboards. Fewer grey boxes moving guiltily across the city from one home to another that doesn’t want it.

As an ongoing exercise you could ‘listen’. If someone points out a top or a pendant you’re wearing and says, “Nice where did you get that?” – and if it’s not her top you’re wearing – you just know something similar would make her happy. To make sure, check with her close friends. Of course, I mean womenkind.

Pay attention to what she’s been about recently. A friend got me the perfect thumb-sized Buddha statue – apparently he’d been listening to my passionate unending monologues on Buddhism. Another, knew I had Kerala on my travel-list, and gave me a book of paintings on the backwaters for inspiration.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask. “What d’you think about going to a Zakir Hussain concert?” If your target gushes, “Would love to,” you have your gift idea. Alternatively, you could go shopping with her. If she loves a skirt, step forward and buy it for her. You’ll get a hug right there in the store.

Well, if your birthday alarm goes off a day before the ‘day’, stick with the classic gift. The simple birthday card and two tickets to a movie. (One that the birthday girl would like to see) Or you could send a bunch of wildflowers. Oh yes, definitely not to that aunt who will sneeze till the neighborhood has vacated.

Or get a book. Those who know me well enough run to the bookstore as a last resort. And of course, they breathlessly ask the salesperson if it’s possible to have the book exchanged.

Which brings me to that Sacred Law of Gifting: Get an Exchange Slip. It saves relationships, the counselor said.

What would you do if a boyfriend gave you tea towels for Christmas. Of course mine mumbled they were for the family too. So there, that was justified. Then, in a wave of thoughtfulness, he pulled out another nicely wrapped gift – this one specially for me!! An imported highlighter and a Statue of Liberty paperweight. And no exchange slip. Thinking back now, that could’ve been one of the reasons he’s in the category called ‘ex.’

Of course, sisters sulk and mothers sniff when you mention the E word. But stop, don’t feel the guilt. Next time just write a wishlist.

Some folks suggest you just forget-about-it and give your sad gift to charity. Really? Take a moment and ask why a child in an orphanage would want dessert bowls, instead of a doll, or a tea set. A toy one!

Before I go, here’s something to announce at the dinner table: The perfect gift doesn’t need to be expensive. Something you painted (only if you’re more Klimt than Kindergarten art class), a CD compilation of favorite songs, a hand-knit stole could beat all the big gifts on the table. Of course, tell husband that if he sticks with thoughtful and expensive he’ll feel more loved.

Now, for all those who still feel nail-chewing desperation – especially having to gift someone who has everything – don’t worry, just smile as cockily as you can and slip them the gift voucher.

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(Published in Femina. Yes, a woman’s magazine.)

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Feel free to quote from this site without permission, staying within the normal fair-use conventions, as long as you do me the courtesy of linking back to the relevant permalink and also letting me know. (You can get the permanent link to a particular post by clicking the time stamp below the headline.)
If you’d like reprint rights, please mail me at huanita@yahoo.com

Gluttony

And the Nobel prize goes to ….. (insert your name here).

Surprised? Why? You work seven of seven days a week. You wear your toes off managing between husband, wailing baby and boss. Oh yes, let’s not forget the bai.

 

You deserve that prize. But well, since it ain’t coming for a while you should dig into the gooey layers of the black forest cake, cherries, cream and all. Lick your fingers, take another piece.

 

Yes, we’re suggesting, be a glutton. Oh, we know, gluttony is a sin. And that, at the mention of the word you see the image of a belly walking ahead of a man.

 

So how can we even think of preaching it? When all the world’s media is telling you to eat less, think thin, go on karela diets, be Kate Moss. But wait, we’re not saying turn into 200 pound blimps. No. We’re saying eat well. Eat goooooood.   

 

Women are working longer hours and squeezing in more meals away from home. Translate that as more convenience food: A dry sandwich, a tiny idli fry, 2-minute noodles. Funnily, as you’re earning better, you’re eating worse. Sigh.     

 

Which is why the crusade for gluttony.

It’s about craving the good things in life. An affirmation of pleasure and of passion. And you, woman, deserve exactly that.

 

Now, forgetting whatever anybody told you, indulging doesn’t mean you have to transform yourself into a sumo wrestler. You just have to eat nice. The European countries that eat the nicest food — Italy, Switzerland, and France — also have the lowest adult obesity rates, below 10 percent (International Obesity Task Force.)

Nobody calls them gluttons. No ma’am, they prefer the nicer term ‘gourmand’, which has come to mean someone who loves food and eats for pleasure.

 

So play up the epicurean side of gluttony, eating well, as opposed to eating excessively and greedily.

 

To begin with, taste what you eat. Really taste it. Not gobble. To be a glutton, is to enjoy your food fully. With all your senses. To let every flavor make love to every taste-bud, to feel the crunch of every salad and the juicy tenderness of every chicken leg.

 

Next bring home the ‘other’ woman. With your schedule, you barely have the energy or time to stir up anything. Yet, you have the right to eat tandoori pomfret when you feel like it. Solution: Have a woman come in and cook for you at least once a week. Alternatively, order a good wholesome dabba. And put your feet up.

 

Eliminate TV dinners. Ever had good sex while you had half your mind on the TV? ‘nuff said. 

 

Put the phone numbers of your fav restaurants and dessert cafes on speed dial. Just before your husband’s. Order something exotic, something you’ve never tried before.

 

Stock the fridge with cheese and olives and crackers and sauce from the gourmet store.

 

Nibble at the candyfloss at the fairground. Join the kids in getting their faces into a large ice-cream sundae. Don’t stay away from your friend’s BBQ just because you’re on a diet. You’re a responsible woman. You will go back to beans the next day, won’t you? 

 

Let go of the leftovers. We already deny ourselves too much. Held back by guilt and the need to be perfect mothers, wives, sisters, daughters. Besides, leftovers, eaten again and again, usually, have lost much of their nutrition anyway. Give them to the help the same day (or the next morning) and you’ll have cleaner floors.   

Deprive yourself, and you’ll go into tailspin, eating everything you see; the chips, the fries… Yes, we know comfort foods help, but it’s one thing to let them put their arm around you, hold you awhile, another thing to let them put the squeeze on your chest. Instead, consider the alternatives. The deliciousness of a spaghetti bolognaise, or a roast chicken and a glass of red wine (that my dear, contains anti-oxidants and is good for your heart).

 

 

Now since the characteristic of gluttons is being insatiable, you should immerse yourself in the good things, but… watch the clock. Even Cinderella’s chariot would’ve turned into a pumpkin.

 

Thank fully, because gluttony is generally a sin of the flesh, the flesh limits it. Consume too much and your body will let you know. So listen. Because as Orson Welles said: Gluttony is not a secret vice. And the evidence of this transgression – a round belly – is there for all to see.

 

The idea then, is to keep the balance. Don’t eliminate the food you love. Eat what you want, just quit before feeling like the turkey you stuffed. Or, here’s an example of what can happen: Shovel in too much strawberry ‘n’ cream at one go, and you’ll hate strawberry ‘n’ cream for a long time. (a similar treatment’s used to reform smokers.) You don’t want to renounce that pleasure, or shop for a swimsuit in size XXL, do you?

 

Now think back to the last good meal you really enjoyed. Slurped, licked the plate, sat back with a satisfied sigh and a smile. Doing it again would be good, wouldn’t it? So ignore Pope Gregory the Great’s – he created the list of deadly sins – warnings of fire and brimstone, and indulge. We promise you’ll take off first-class to your own heaven.

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(Published in Femina, need I say.. a woman’s magazine 🙂

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Feel free to quote from this site without permission, staying within the normal fair-use conventions, as long as you do me the courtesy of linking back to the relevant permalink and also letting me know. (You can get the permanent link to a particular post by clicking the time stamp below the headline.)
If you’d like reprint rights, please mail me at huanita@yahoo.com