On being skinny

People never stop reminding me how skinny I am. Often it’s the first thing they say when they meet me. That’s brand new information ma’am, thank you. People often assume that I don’t eat and offer me to stay and eat with them for a month or two in the name of goodwill. They sound very concerned as if making me fat is the only way to stop global warming. They sound very confident as if eating with them is miraculously going to change the way my body functions. I hesitate to go for lunch/dinner with such people because they are quick to point out – Look how little you eat! That’s why you are so thin! Here have some more. And more. And more. Because this one gigantic hugely uncomfortable dinner can obviously do what 9125 dinners in my life so far couldn’t.

Some people go on to suggest that I would look so much better if I just start eating bananas and milk every morning. Thank you for pointing out I am ugly. Some people ask me if I go to the gym. Some people ask why I should go to the gym at all (as I obviously don’t need to do). Some people say that they are jealous of how I don’t ever have to worry about my weight. Such a blessing, they are quick to add, you can eat whatever you want and still not gain a gram? Wish I was like you! Being like me means being called a skeleton, a coat hanger, a feather, and a stick figure. Some people also like to call me two dimensional. Some people assume I am sick and weak. I have grown up with these wonderful tags. Not just random strangers, my own family has used them for me.

But skinny girls don’t talk about being skinny because if they do, they are a bitch.

People with an average sense of humour remind me that I might disappear soon. People who once aspired to be doctors but ended up being dentists call me ‘malnourished’. Some people defend me by throwing terms like ‘high metabolism’. I don’t quite understand that and I am sure neither do they. Some people recommend I should take protein. I recommend they should fuck off. Some people think I should be a model. I think they should not be career counsellors. People who want to show off their above-average vocabulary call me ‘anorexic’. I want to show off my creative vocabulary and call them dumbtards.

For twenty five years, I have listened to the same shit wondering what the hell is wrong with my body. And God knows how long this is going to continue.

Listen buddy, I have tried eating more. It doesn’t work. Bananas give me headaches. Artificial protein is exactly what it is – artificial. Being skinny is not a blessing. And yes, I am underweight. I KNOW THAT. But did you notice that I am functioning fine? Hey! I am happy. I don’t get why you are so bothered. So instead of criticizing me why don’t you appreciate your own beautiful three-dimensional body, and get a fucking life. Comprenez?

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The Absurd Struggles of a Writer

When I told my mother that I wanted to be a writer, I expected some kind of disagreement. She was not very delighted but she wasn’t angry either. I got a modest and an are-you-sure okay and soon we both forgot about it. Somehow, sluggishly, I finished college and I obtained a degree that said I was an Electrical Engineer.

Even though I had told a few people that I wanted to be a writer I wasn’t really serious about it. I fantasized about it yes –  Living in a big new strange city, lost and lonely among millions; I am sleeping on the pavements, cold, helpless and yet the fire in my heart kindles and I dream and I dream. Often I don’t eat, often I forget to eat, my writing is all that is and all that will be. I stay in my miserable room devouring two-three books I have, day and night, again and again. But those few books are my life. War and Peace, Madame Bovary, The Ulysses, and oh how I read! Like a demon. My room is built with bricks and rejection mails. And still, I breathe. And still, I write. No one in my family is talking to me. I have no friends. The fumes of my cigarettes and a glass half filled with cheap warm whiskey are my only companions. Yes, it is hard. It is so difficult that almost all kinds of poetry make sense to me. But I am on my way to be a great writer.

The reality, however, is that after graduating out of college I joined a company. We manufactured switchgear, did our bit in providing safe electricity to people. It was a normal 9 to 5 (or 7 or 9 or sometimes 10) job, which I grew to hate within two months. But I could have continued doing it for the rest of my life if it wasn’t for my family.

‘You don’t deserve such a job,’ my mother used to tell me. ‘You should do something else. Do you have anything in mind?’
In my mind, there was a dream that I never thought could ever come true.
‘I don’t know’
‘How about MBA?’ she asked.
Another trending degree that I am actually not interested in studying but I may get a better paying job with it so yeah why not.
A day later, she called me again, ‘How about English?’
That would be wonderful! Wait, what?

No, Ma, you are supposed to force me into choosing a ‘practical’ degree.
You are supposed to be an antagonist so that I could be a protagonist.
You are supposed to say things like – ‘Just because a few odd people praised your writing that doesn’t mean you could be a writer!’  Then I am supposed to leave home, burning with fury and ambition and say stuff like, ‘Oh but you are wrong Ma. I am leaving now. Forever.’ And out of this tragedy, a great writer shall emerge.

‘Why not study writing if you like writing so much?’, my mother told me instead.
You are supposed to resist my dream. You are not supposed to make it your own. What’s wrong with you! What kind of broad-minded dreamy mother are you who sends her daughter to study creative writing all the way to England?

They say that artists live wretched lives. They say they have the worst family. And that somehow contributes to their genius. I have a decent life, a supportive family, so does that mean I am disqualified?

And I wonder…

Do I really need to be Charles Bukowski or is it okay to be the way I am and still be a good writer? I don’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t drink cheap warm whiskey. I haven’t read War and Peace. And no, most poems still don’t make sense to me. Sometimes my own poems don’t make sense to me. I live in a decent apartment. I don’t have money in my bank account but I can’t call myself poor. I can afford to buy books. I have Kindle, Netflix subscription (which I just canceled), and a car to go to the nearby library (which I never drive because I don’t know how to drive). Such is my writing life – not ideal but still privileged, and the only real hurdles I face are mental. Hurdles like questioning whether I am actually a writer if I haven’t struggled enough to ‘know the reality of life’. Hurdles like – Can I ever stop wondering what life would have been as an engineer? As a management student? Can I really be at peace knowing how my social rankings have slipped now that I have switched to humanities, that I can no longer consider myself ‘smart’, that Engineering to me is just a paper in my folder, that I have no knowledge regarding that field anymore, that I never really had any, that I have no idea what I am doing right now, did I ever have any such idea, does anyone have any idea, that I am not designing any kind of artificial intelligence, but I am sitting here writing a dumb book. But I love writing that dumb book. So shut up.

*

The Bonus

The most annoying tune in the whole world is of my alarm. The most annoying time is 7:00 A.M. The most annoying things are the first few drops of the cold water assaulting my skin when I step into the shower. The very act of dressing up, dragging myself to the bus stop and waiting for that god damned cart while blinking at the idiot sky and homo sapiens walking around, when I should have ideally been asleep under the loving warmth of my blanket, has staggering vexation embedded right into its DNA. Our cart when it finally arrives, takes us all cattle to our farm – wherein we will munch on our fodder on the keypads of our laptops or on the calls on our smartphones and passionately quack over irrelevant topics (about which nobody really knows) or the spicy gossips (about which nobody really confirms) on the tea breaks. And then we will submit ourselves to be milked till our whole ‘work-life-balance’ gets completely annihilated or something and we will settle permanently inside the farm engaged in a perpetual day-dream of someday kicking our manager with our hind legs and leaving the premises forever with a two-legged swag. My cubicle, my sack of hay, my means of living, my catalyst of procrastination is dear to me and I hate it. I hate it when I have to come back here every morning and stare at it as well as at the face of a new disdainful day. I hate it when I have to arrange the sack of papers at the corner of my table which stays useless until the moment I throw them away. Then I hate being part of these immensely popular things called meeting. Meetings; Unofficially defined as nothing but a formal event for all the barking, quacking, squeaking, cackling, neighing, mooing, braying, croaking, cawing and everything else that can be categorized as the antonym of the word “productive”. And today is no different. I am going to graze on this same tasteless grass. Lick the same bitter water from the container decorated with the algae at the bottom. I am going to plough the same way over my forged spreadsheets and try my best to wipe my legs drenched in mine or somebody else’s dirt on someone else’s skin through my e-mails and double bleats. I am going to follow the same routine. I am going to caress the feet of the different customers who might have different faces but they all have the same habit of picking on every bit of our brains. Hell! Look at me whining and constantly bleating! When did I become such a pathetic goat? I almost remember being human once. Though as far as I can recall, everything had always been like this – A monotone; the gray ceiling, the gray walls, the grayer complaints of fellow cattle of how they hate mooing around here and how they would like to leave and explore the greener farms outside but they just don’t. Because let’s face it – no farms are green. Not for the dumb witted animals like us! We exist for the sole reason to get forcibly fed and be butchered later to become a meal. At least, I hope that meal is delicious. But let’s fret not. Let’s adapt ourselves to our fate. And let’s laugh hysterically at a joke we didn’t really get but our manager oinked it with such affection that you just had to show the entire population of teeth in your mouth. And let’s learn to passionately blame the other ducks or the hens or the buffaloes or the cows or if we dare, the ‘favorite’ dogs for anything that turns out wrong and that way we can keep ourselves out of all the troubles all the time. And if you are diplomatic and pretentious enough, you might also grab an undeserved promotion! Vous comprenez?

With this long trail of complaints and gloomy thoughts dangling behind him like a long tail, Amar slowly walks to the bus-stop. When the bus arrives, shining in the ironically cheerful combination of grays, Amar sits on the same seat – fourth from the last, listening to the same playlist that hasn’t been modified at all since the previous year. His eyes, engulfed in a darker circle of brown, droopy from lack/over-abundance of sleep closes immediately with the cradling of the moving bus. He falls asleep with his head leaning on the glass window, mouth half open, earphone wire dancing along with the bus and also complementing a long thread of saliva emanating from his lips. He breaks away from his brief slumber when the bus finally halts at the office. Groggily, he leaves his seat and takes reluctant steps towards the thing that provides him both a comfortable life and an equally uncomfortable state of mind. Before beginning the day’s work, he stops at the smoking zone. After converting two Goldflakes into ashes, he suddenly recalls how he had resolved to quit smoking. As if blaming the cigarette butt for his own lack of will power, Amar thrusts it on the bottom of the ashtray angrily. When he finally inaugurates his day by clicking open his inbox, his eyes start hurting immediately. The day has just begun, and eight more hours need to be spent staring at this screen – How would he accomplish that? His mind wanders back to his delightful morning thoughts –

Vous comprenez? Non! Je ne comprends pas! Why should the undeserved be promoted? And get the highest incentives? Why should the meetings be unproductive? Why can’t the grass be green here? Why can’t the managers be inspiring? Why can’t this job be exciting? Why can’t-

Ping! The vibration of his cellphone diverts Amar’s train of thought to another route. Without even bothering to look at the content, he starts cursing the SMS(s) too – How they practically spam his cellphone and take up so much of space! And what do they convey anyway? That there’s a sale at the mall where he will never go? Or the special offer at the pizza place that he absolutely detests? Or the discounts on the brands that shall remain too expensive for him to afford even after the reduction in their prices?

The message today, however, says something else entirely – something that is going to brighten the rest of his day for a change.

“Your account XXXXX1111 has been credited with …”

He is both surprised and shocked by this message. Not because this message has been sent at an unusual day. It is 30th after all and this SMS was thoroughly expected. But what has left him surprised is the slight change in the order of digits which has led to a figure that bears significantly higher value than his usual monthly salary. A bit excited and at the same time apprehensive, Amar asks his team mate –

“Hey Bhavna! Did you check your salary?”

“Yeah, I received the bonus as well!”

“Wow, what is it for? Any idea?”

“Our project!”

The confirmation on the fact that his salary is not a mistake results in a mild smile on Amar’s face. His annoyance and desire for a break from his monotonous life turns into reluctant appreciation as well as gratitude towards his manager and office. Suddenly the farm transforms into a workplace and the surrounding cattle turn into people-

I guess the most beautiful day is the 30th of the month. The most pleasing message is not of a proposal or confession of love but the bank telling you that your account has been credited with a good amount of money. I wasn’t being completely honest when I was talking about this place earlier. Morning blues, one can say. You know when you work on your project, dedicating your days and nights to it, being showered with all kinds of weird obstacles and yet when you are able to succeed, you can’t help but feel a certain kind of satisfaction seeping right into your heart. And when this hard work is finally recognized, transforms us all cattle, I mean people, from being employees to being proud engineers. Sure, work can ask too much from you sometimes. But isn’t this work the reason why your personal life exists? Yes, we all get carried away in emotions. Sometimes being here isn’t very pleasing. We get furious. We get disappointed. But we can’t always keep looking at the troughs of the waves, can we? My cubicle, my corner of inspiration, my means of living is the center of my existence. Here, I admit it. Sometimes, days aren’t that bad – they are merely a little challenging. Here, I admit it. Sometimes, I even love coming here. Here, I admit it. So, today is different. Today is the day when I am confessing all this –  that it’s not always a monotone. That the grass, right here, can be green. That people here can indeed be people.

Wait. Why am I being this joyous? It’s just a little of extra cash, that’s all!

But isn’t fifteen a decent amount?  We could do a lot of things with it. Go on a short trip maybe. Or buy Arpita a surprise gift. Or maybe a saree for Ma? Or maybe I can buy those speakers I had been wanting to for so long! There are these plethora of options to explore suddenly! It’s good. It’s good.

Amar spots Rohan passing by his cubicle, he excitedly asks him about the bonus hoping that he hasn’t been given any and he would get to witness an amusing expression on his face.

“Hey! Rohan! Did you hear about the bonus?”

“Yeah! I got 25! Cool, no? Didn’t expect this at all!”

With his jaws dropped to the floor, Amar unsuccessfully tries to conceal the shocked expression on his face. The figure 25 echoes so loudly in his head that for a moment he isn’t sure if it is his thought or he is actually speaking out loud.

Rohan got twenty-five?

The person who did nothing, NOTHING AT ALL on the project got twenty-five?

Twenty-five?                    

T-W-E-N-T-Y-F-I-V-E? And what is mine? A fucking charity?

Amar gets up from his cubicle, heads straight towards the smoking zone. “Nothing has changed of course! The undeserved will always be rewarded! And the actual talent, well, the actual talent will always be greeted with a few pennies or not even that! Fucking bullshit these people! Fucking bullshit these animals! Fucking bitch this job!” He angrily mutters as he takes the last puff from his third cigarette and resumes making a mental To-do-list for the day.

***

 Author’s little note: You can find the other two stories of Bitch Trilogy here.