Sunday, July 15, 2018

10 Things People Are Using Way Too Much Of

Taking advice from myself, I am writing a post about the environment. After coming to the States I have become very conscious about wasting of resources, as I think it's being done more severely here. Because Indians seem to want to do whatever Americans start doing, here's a list of things to avoid overusing before we create environmental havoc for ourselves:

1. Disposable Gloves

I get it. You want to keep your hands soft. But why do your gloves need to disposable? Just buy one pair and use it again and again while remembering to clean it regularly. And honestly, nobody needs to wear gloves to clean a half inch stain from the couch.

2. Ice

Really, what's the point? No, seriously, I don't get it. Why do you want a foot tall glass filled to the brim with ice, with only the remaining gaps containing some carbonated drink which just gets diluted because of all the, well, ice.

3. Take-Out Containers

Just get a container from home and ask the vendor or server to fill it. I've been doing it with food carts in NYC for a while, and it's made me pay attention to all the waste that I would be generating if I hadn't been doing so. I also try not to take the disposable spoons and napkins.

4. Plastic Bags for Everything

And I mean everything. Sometimes I get a plastic bag for one small box of cookies and I resist the temptation to ask if this is some kind of joke.

5. Air-Conditioning

At least where I live, in Pennsylvania, there's no need for airconditioning for most of the summers. I wish more people thought so.

6. Soda Cans

Okay, first of all, you're not doing yourself any favors by ingesting the 54 grams of sugar in a can of coke everyday.

7. Travel Packs

You're not only generating more waste but also wasting your money. Keep a few small empty bottles for essentials and refill them whenever you travel.

8. Water Bottles

Just carry your own. This one's not even hard.

9. Flushable Wipes

You know they aren't really flushable, right?

10. Coffee cups

I think at this point, I've made myself clear. Refills are possible my friends. 

The Case for Case-by-Case Consideration

Last week, something interesting happened. A friend of mine, who happens to be living in what is supposedly one of the unsafest neighbourhoods in the US, was working late and told me he would be heading back home at around one at night. I was a little worried, and proceeded to tell him to be aware of his surroundings and to make sure he wasn't the only one unnecessarily working late as that could be an indication that others were being more prudent about the whole being-out-late-at-night situation.

Some would say that it was an overreaction, but I disagree. The advice I was offering a friend was merely one that has been given to me thousands of times, because such advice is more commonly reserved for women. I do agree that there are many situations under which women do become the more vulnerable gender, but I also believe that there are times when we ignore men in debates of safety. I grew up in New Delhi, which is considered on the less safe metros in India, and I always thought that I could be sexually assaulted by someone but its just as likely that one of my male friends could be beaten up or even killed in an incident of 'road rage.' I think there's a misconception that men are protected from harm simply because they are men, but there is no logic in that. Everyone must be encouraged to exercise caution, and men should be believed in their claims of having been harassed or assaulted.

Just today, I saw this video, about Priya Seth, who murdered her Tinder date and cheated thousands of others.


This case is obviously horrifying and I hope nothing like this happens ever again. But I do have a question : Are we so stupid, as a people, that we can't really assess crimes and misdemeanours on a case-by-case basis? And I'm asking this because it seems that everyday victims are disbelieved and offenders get off with no consequences. In some cases, it seems that the bias favors one group (in this case women), such as in cases when the very fact that somebody is a woman is used as their defense. But there's also times when the other group gets the advantage of bias (in this case men), as brutal crimes like rape are investigated with a focus on the woman's 'character' and the length of her skirt. Why is it so difficult for us to dispense justice on the basis of truth, and I am not asking this question in a cute blogger-y way. I really don't know the answer.

By the way, since the video put up here was uploaded by Deepika Narayan Bharadwaj, I have this video of her arguing against having any laws against marital rape as she thinks rape laws only exist to be misused and doesn't seem to understand the logic that just because a law can be misused doesn't mean it shouldn't exist. If that were the case all laws could be done away with, and not all accusations of equal punishment.



I do appreciate Bharadwaj's efforts to create a more equal world for both men and women, but I do feel sometimes that she feels that all women are liars and abusers and all feminists are basically supremacists. The reason women have more support groups and helplines is because violence against men happens it is usually not a systematic phenomenon and the result of an individual deplorable woman's actions while women are often victims of a system which has existed for years which is why even now there are entire villages where every girl and woman is raped or sold to the flesh trade.

I think the underlying issue here is identity politics, which is an issue no group seems to be able to address appropriately because it goes against the very idea of them being a group in the first place. Honestly, I can't address it either. But I do recognize the need for greater subjectivity in cases where groups are pitted against each other. There is also a need for us, those who understand the complexity of the situation, to present more balanced viewpoints in the media (that is, the Internet). My honest opinion is that for a while we should all take a break from sharing articles about gender, sexuality and religious violence and instead focus more on issues of education, economics and the environment, but so far nobody has agreed with me one-hundred per cent. But I think we can all agree that something must change, and that there are flaws in how we are discussing matters where idenity can either be a wound or a weapon.

(Also, I apologize for the poorer quality of writing today. Because I'm not a professional writer or anything, I can't always present my thoughts in the best way. I was discussing something today that I didn't have clear answers or opinions to and I think that shows in my writing.)




Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Tiny U-Turn From The Left

I support women's rights (I mean, it would be stupid to be up against myself), gay rights, the rights of minorities, better public infrastructure. I believe in global warming, am alarmed at the rate at which we are generating and accumulating waste. I am agnostic and do believe in democratic socialism. It seems that on the Internet, I am a 'good' person.

Unfortunately, I can be, for lack of a better word, an asshole sometimes, and today, I want to talk about how that is.

Let's start with an example. Recently, I had some confusing thoughts about elections. I was brought up under a school of thought which says that it's important to vote. Our voices matter, and the act of voting is not just our right but also a responsibility. To a great extent, I agree with that. However, I don't understand why people equate ignorance with not bothering to vote, because if you believe voting is a step in the path to the well-being and progress of all, wouldn't votes cast by the ignorant derail us from that path? In a nutshell, why do we encourage people to vote without taking into consideration that they might vote for the side that we are fundamentally opposed to? My confusion grew deeper when I noticed that those encouraging voting were mostly in the same camp of reasonably well-to-do, educated, liberal (perhaps even progressive) and well-intentioned people that I myself am a part of.

When I thought about it deeply, I realized where my mistake lay. When encouraging others to vote, I was making the assumption that they were on my side, because how the hell could someone not be? In this particular case, I was, quite ironically, fundamentally opposing my own views of how every voice matters because I had counterintuitively invalidated some voices. As human beings, we have a tendency to think of those who act in ways that we would not as the outliers and weirdos, but is such a thinking, even on behalf of liberals and progressives, in any way productive? Also, is it, in fact, hurting our own cause?

Now that I have stated my case on this matter, I would like to venture into the slightly more controversial territory, and I hope you will give this a fair hearing. Recently, I have read a lot of articles being shared on the Internet about how people who are not transgender should label themselves cisgender and how we can't say 'Latina' or 'Latino' anymore and should say 'latinex' instead. To be fair, I didn't think there was anything wrong with these discussions per se, but I did think there was something disproportionate about how much traction these discussions were getting and how these discussions were being put forth by the people starting them. The issue is that these are issues that can be argued about endlessly, but in the life of a common person, there might be very little time or opportunity to give them serious thought, and it might make this common man think that liberals are people who are constantly debating issues that have little relevance to them and don't have direct impact on their lives, so what's the point of showing support to their? There might even be some women who are tired and overworked and desperately balancing jobs and families, who just need longer paid maternity leave, and when their issue isn't covered the same way as the politics of semantics and wordplay, they might get frustrated and start to believe in the established order of power more because the group looking to challenge that power dynamic seems to have very little time for her.

Another example of leaning too far left was the case of Aziz Ansari, where he was accused of sexual misconduct for what turned out to be a bad date. When that case was reported, my first thought was, "Man, now a lot of men who were on my side will become victim to fear that something similar could happen to them." This was just another example of how the liberals took too many liberties and suddenly things were out control. A similar case I have seen is of men from metropolises ridiculing the patterns observed by men in smaller towns or less economically well-off groups when it comes to approaching women, calling those men 'despos' and 'creeps' without giving due consideration to te fact that these men unfortunately function in a different social setting than us, where direct communication between men and women is more difficult and therefore indirect actions (that is, the actions which are ridiculed) are thought of as the only way to start any kind of a relationship.

I think, on some level, we have a tendency to think of those that don't agree with us as people that are stupid and uneducated, and on an average, we don't give any consideration to their thoughts or feelings. As Indians, we often use words like unpadh and gavaar against them, and make fun of them, and act surprised when they don't sympathise with us. But when have we ever sympathised with them? We trolled them and invalidated them. I think a big example of that is how many liberals and progressives are now trolling those who voted for a right-wing government (both in the United States and in India), and we accuse them of being hateful, gullible citizens who can't tell the difference between right and wrong, and maybe a significant proportion of the voters were like that, but it is also possible that many people were just frustrated with the establishment for not having come through on their promises, disillusioned by governments that self-claimed to be the good ones without ever receiving direct benefits, and they thought that if I vote for someone different this time, maybe I'll get something out of it.

Lastly, there is significant research concluding that conservatism is often driven by fear, and fear cannot be recognized in ourselves that easily. If someone feels that their position is being threatened, it might be their natural instinct to fight back. At the end of the day, everybody reacts to attacks, and attacks often cause people to hold on more dearly to their beliefs than if they were educated with due consideration.

My dear fellow liberals, let's fight the good fight but let's not do things that cause us to lose our soldiers along the way. If our intentions are true and good, they must go hand in hand with trying to convince others into seeing our point of view instead of completely invalidating theirs, because then, we're just turning into the deplorables that we claim to be fighting against.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Valuating Validation (And How It Affects Pretty Much Every Indian I Know)

Something really weird happened today. I was on Youtube, and I came across a nice video about the in-built inferiority complex of middle- to upper-class Indians. Take a look:


To the creator, of FMF, good job. I agree with you and I give you special credit for making the video in Hindi (mixed with some English), because a lot of Indian content creators don't do that. Also, I just want to clarify that I said upper- and middle- class Indians because from 2015-2017, I did some work with economically struggling Indians and they seem to have bigger problems to deal with than what foreigners in the West think about them.

Coincidentally, I chose to check the stats on my blog. I usually don't check the stats because I already know that I'm not exactly a famous blogger and I don't need to keep track of the single-digit numbers I usually garner. But I randomly wandered to the stats section just five minutes ago, and this is what I saw:


Apparently, an overwhelming majority of my pageviews are from the United States. It's not a small difference of a few views, it's almost five times as many pageviews I have gotten from India. The discovery made me realize a few things:

1. I still really wish I had more pageviews because, like most people, I wish there were more people who cared about what I had to say. Even after eight years of blogging, I only have about 68,000 pageviews total, and that's not a very impressive number. In fact, the number of years I've been blogging would seem more impressive to most people (especially those who start blogs but don't keep up) than  the number of pageviews. All in all, I don't have a very successful blog.

2. I keep blogging for some reason in spite of modest number of pageviews. And no, it's not because I believe in the miracle of small efforts, but because I continue to hope someone will finally care what I have to say.

3. If I am being honest, I think a lot of Indians would be so proud to have more pageviews from the United States than from India, but honestly, I don't care. I wish I had more pageviews from India because that's the country I mostly write about so I obviously think Indians would enjoy my content more.

I want to talk more about 3.

As far back as I can remember, I've wanted some degree of validation from the West, but I never really valued the validation that others got from abroad. The reason was that I didn't see how a few Americans giving their approval to someone automatically made them better, but I had an acute awareness of how it seemed everyone around me would value me more if I got into an elite American university or even managed to marry a white man (the second one is ridiculous, by the way). Business owners and respected professors in India seemed to have lesser value than 25-year-old working regular jobs in the States. Aishwarya Rai commanded inordinate amounts of admiration from the fact that she was in a few 'Hollywood' movies, even though all her ventures abroad failed, because for most Indians, it was enough that she'd been invited. Occassionally, I heard expats home for the summer talking about how nothing ever happens in this vast unwashed country, and their only qualification for saying so was the fact that they lived in America. Even my own family, God bless their heart, have often rationalized their arguments against our systems by saying, "This is not how they do it in Western countries."

I wanted the validation of people around me, so I thought I needed to get the validation of people abroad. Honestly, I'm not even sure I knew what 'abroad' meant. It was just the land of people where everybody was supposedly smarter than me, more beautiful than me, better educated than me, always right where I was wrong, people who upheld standards that I couldn't uphold no matter how much education I got. I was born inferior to some and would remain that way till I got some validation from people of a wealthier, whiter country.

The only issue is that right now, I am in America, making American friends, doing reasonably well in school with a full scholarship, and I have more pageviews from the United States than from India. And guess what? Nobody cares. And that's because validation, regardless of the source, only takes you so far. Nobody needs to be overtly patriotic, because, at the end of the day, nobody has any true control over which country they are born in. However, we can't let our desire for validation grow to the point where it actually starts to limit us. If we believe that there is a glass ceiling that is unbreakable for us, how can we ever be anything resembling the people that we admire, because I am pretty sure those people didn't doubt themselves. Also, it is important to note that more people have access to higher education abroad today then there were a few decades ago, and honestly, you don't really become special just by getting a degree from the US or the UK. If more educated Indians start businesses and venture into the fields of science and arts, which is now possible because of the Internet, maybe you could find yourself at a dinner with other educated Indians who've managed to find some self-respect and don't really care about your foreign exploits.

This is not a competition to become better than Western countries, because in a lot of important ways, India has a long way to become a devloped nation. It's more that on a personal level, seeking the validation of strangers is, at the end of the day, a flimsy thing to pin one's self worth to. It's even worse when we put divides amongst ourselves based on attributes that have nothing to do with the real merit of people. For example, today, 'broken' English is a bigger setback for many educated Indians than poor fundamental understanding of science, even though, if we are being honest, we do speak in our native tongue in the workplace. This is a conversation about reevaluating our internal biases regarding our own personal worth, and the worth of others around us. I don't want to be too political and say that an acceptance of our roots will change the world and guide future generations to a life of progress and prosperity, but I will say that an acceptance of who we are can relieve us of unnecessary stresses that we bear in our hearts while participating in a twisted pageant that has no real value, and this unburdening can free up our consciousness to be directed to more productive endeavours. Maybe it's time we start looking for other forms of motivation, not for the sake of our country, but for the sake of ourselves. If nothing else, maybe we can one day become the kind of parents that love themselves and don't pressure our children to enter the same rat race leading up to a foregin degree/job that many of us accused our parents of entering us into, and that, I think, is worth more than the validation of any First World validation we could get in our lives.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Elizabeth Holmes and Fraudulent Futurism

For those of you that don't know, Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, a biotech company specializing in blood testing technologies, was indicted of wire fraud recently. Her company claimed to be manufacturing small blood testing machines that could take just one drop of blood and run upto a thousand tests, but in reality, it could only run one test and that too not always accurately. What is shocking is that Theranos was valued at 9 billion USD, all for some technology that didn't even exist. In this episode in the Elizabeth Holmes series, I talk about how futuristic design played a part in making the scam possible.

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My reaction to Elizabeth Holmes is equal parts horror and admiration, because seriously, how the hell did she pull this off?
It doesn't matter who we are. There is always going to be some part of the world, or some idea of how the world could or should be, that we will not relate to personally. For example, I have never lived in Central Asia, but I still know that Central Asia exists and some things about what it's like because there of information absorbed by my brain over an extended period of time. I have never seen a rocket with my own eyes, but TV has helped me have an image of it and therefore, I would be able to recognize it the first time I lay eyes on one. Come to think of it, most of what I know is composed of ideas and representations, not first hand experience.

These representations are responsible for how a good portion of the population romanticizes periods in the future, imagining kings and queens draped in finery and decked up in precious jewels while speaking in elegant accents, while the truth in previous centuries was more about widespread disease, random beheadings, wars and despotic rulers, with the average person having a life of hard labour and little to no power, and yes, this was true even in Western Europe which is supposed to be the pinnacle of development today. These representations are responsible for misconceptions we have about communities other than our own, and stereotypes which persist even when there is little interpersonal interaction between groups.

I think at this point you could understand how representations have affected our visions of the future as well.

Take for example the case of smartphones. A smartphone company is visualized by many as a glass-cladd office building with underground chambers lit with neon and scientists in lab coats diligently working in front of computers and fancy laboratory equipment. It is a honour to be working for a company making smartphones. However, in reality, the actual manufacture of smartphones happens in sweatshop-like settings, with underpaid, usually Asian, men and women slogging away performing repetitive tasks, the human beings basically just treated like machines. Now, this isn't to say that smartphones don't do any good, or the basic idea of smartphones is unethical, but it explains why people are able to successfully overlook what happens behind the scenes of a tech company and only focus on the positives. It is similar to the manufacturing of fireworks, which start to seem a lot less celebratory when you find out about the child labour that goes into making them.

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Oh, really, Theranos? Really?

I think part of what made Elizabeth Holmes' scam go on for so long is that she invested in an idea of changing the world that we have accepted in our minds as the path to the future. If you look at the promotional material of Theranos, their facilities appear to be futuristic places with the latest technological innovations, even when we don't really know what the technology does. That's because years of science fiction, movies, television and Silicon Valley powerhouses have taught us to associate certain images with progress and development, and for this, George Orwell and Issac Assimov are just as responsible as Steve Jobs, even though their intentions may have been different.

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Could you believe she's just playing with toys here? There was never any technology in the first place.

What Elizabeth Holmes did, essentially, was invest in creating a set, not at all dissimilar to how maybe a Hollywood production house would build a set for a sci-fi show. Her 'technology' was essentially just props, things that looked like they served a purpose but were beyond the fourth wall and therefore couldn't be checked for their effectiveness.

I think this is an opportunity to re-examine what all we have internalized in terms of imagery. Are we at a point where the looks of something have become this important that even billionaire investors could be fooled by techno-looking packaging? And if this true, are we on our way to regressing as a society, as no matter how much we want to embrace all people for how they look, will we continue to judge their position in life by how they are packaged, whether they wear a grey T-shirt and hoodie and therefore are the smart guys or whether they wear ratty denim cutoff shorts and tank tops and therefore are on the Duck Dynasty side of things? The design aspect of the Elizabeth Holmes scandal opens up an interesting discussion that needs to be addressed in case we want to really move forward in the world, and maybe if we look at the issue carefully, we can figure out how we can not get fooled as consumers and investors in the future

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Compassion and Skam

Last year, I discovered a Norwegian TV show online called Skam. Although nobody I knew had ever seen it, apparently it had reached a height of fame unexpected from a Scandinavian teen drama, and it was easy enough to find episodes on the internet.

I will always be grateful to the fandom that helped me find this show, not because it changed my life, but because it told me that there were more people out there like me and that we can all be understood by the right people.

Let me explain.

For as long as I can remember, I have related to characters in some books and movies and sometimes TV shows, perhaps more than real people, and have an uncanny ability to accept formula. This is because a formulaic storyline often revolves around someone who, at the end of the day, is a good enough person, and they always "do the right thing" in the end, as opposed to a lot of people I met in real life who talked up a big game about what "the right thing" is and how they embodied it but seemed to change their mind way too often about their definition and have low tolerance for people who did not agree with them. Real people's idea of the "right thing" felt inflexible to me, dissimilar to a character arc of starting out one place and ending up reformed and more understanding by the third act, and due to this inflexibility, to me it all felt shallow.

When I started watching Skam, I thought I was just watching another formulaic show about good-looking teenagers in a wealthy neighbourhood with their first world problems, which would be good enough for me but nothing to write home about.

Obviously, I was wrong, because here I am, writing about it.

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It was the first season that got me hooked, about a sixteen-year-old girl called Eva who is insecure about her new boyfriend Jonas. We soon realize that she was dumped by her friends, too, and is now alone. It all feels very typical, but what caught me off guard was the showrunners ability to see Eva's problems from her perspective, therefore lending the show an emotional nuance which only the compassionate can lend. Instead of a Gossip Girl-esque drama, we get to see a young woman grappling through struggles all young women have, and showrunners validating that struggle as something to acknowledge while reminding the audience, through the character of Eva, that it'll get better if you grow up, not just in age but when you learn some lessons.

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The second season, I think, was one of the most cliche of all, about a beautiful girl, Noora, falling in love with the cool boy in school. I will admit this season was more of a guilty pleasure than anything else, because who doesn't like to watch beautiful people falling in love? But it was more than that, because it dealt with the misunderstandings of a new relationship, when two people are absolutely convinced they like each other but don't really know each other that well, finally culminating into a story about sexual abuse. Again, I was struck by the writers' decision to focus less on graphic scenes of violence or over-dramatic storylines, but the internal feelings of the protagonist, and it was worth it to see people not just for their attractiveness but for their depth.

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The third season, probably the most popular in the fandom, was about a boy, Isak, coming to terms with his queerness, only to find out that the boy he loves has problems bigger than he could have comprehended. Isak doesn't start out the most likeable character. He is manipulative, restless, and has no direction. His family life appears to be a mess, with an absent father and an emotionally unstable and very religious (and therefore, unaccepting of homosexuality after he comes out to her) mother (but perhaps that was just to avoid having to pay parent-aged actors). But we see how we can be transformed not for our own sake, as we saw in Eva's storyline, but because we are needed by someone we love. There are so many storylines about breaking free of other people's needs and expectations, and it was refreshing to see a story where someone's strength could be to become a source of strength for another person, because after all, who are we without the people we love? I remember having tears in my eyes when Isak loses hope with everything, and at that moment, his mother sends him a simple text saying that she has loved him since he was born and will love him forever, just as he is, relieving him of all his fears and causing him to go to church for the first time in years. I am not ashamed of crying over this scene given how many parents disown their kids for this very reason. Even though I am not gay, this level of acceptance is something all children want from their parents, and it's representation in the show left me feeling emotional.

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But it was in the fourth season that I finally said, "This is going to be my favourite show for a long, long time." Because that's when we get to Sana, a character who had been recurring throughout the series, but only given a season in the end. I thank the showrunners for giving me this season. Sana, a Muslim girl, struggles to fit into her Western surroundings. Although she appears to have it all figured out, we realize in this season that she's been fighting internal and external battles for years now, feeling insecure about her choices in a world that doesn't completely understand them. She is acutely aware that her family, her life and her faith is different from everyone else's, and maybe she should go the route of sticking to other girls like her, who go to mosque and wear a hijab, but really wants friends of all kinds, including the very Norwegian Eva and Noora.

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But no, it's not a story about a Muslim girl. In fact, it's a story about anybody who has ever battled between ideologies, and chosen to stay on the conservative side of things as a means to guide and discipline oneself, not as a means of judging others. We see a lot of movies about people stuck in small towns yearning for the freedom and perceived progressiveness of bigger places. But what about the opposite? What about the stories of good people who have chosen to follow tradition without judging the choices of others and even wanting to look at the world through other people's eyes without compromising too much with their own worldview? That was confusing even to put down as a question, so I am grateful for the writers of Skam doing it for me.

The best part was that season 4 was about a Muslim girl but eventually ended up being about two things Western teenagers are expected to be dealing with- bullying, and first love. And no, Sana does not get bullied. Instead, fueled by her insecurities she becomes the bully, leading to a downward spiral of guilt and shame. And then, there's a boy, and no, he's not a Norwegian boy, but from a Muslim family just like her, but their story of accepting each other and getting on the same page was more inspiring than a lot of opposites attract Romeo and Juliet stories out there, because differences don't always have to be glaring and easy to put on paper. Sometimes, they're just differences that exist because too people are, well, not the same, and the keys they use to open the door to understanding is the same key that even bigger differences need. Their romance is portrayed as chaste, full of long walks and longer conversations, with a few games of basketball here and there, and instead of the clearly very progressive writers looking down at it as a sign of two people from stuck-up families not knowing any better, they celebrate it as a difference in ideology worthy of being understood, a choice made by people with a certain set of beliefs with no less of a value than the accepted norm Western norm that we are all supposed to be striving towards. And so we see the growth of a character that seemed the most grown-up throughout the series, and realize we all have room for more.

Honestly, I felt as if Season 4 was about me sometimes.

But this brings me to something that sounds cheesy, but I feel I should say anyways because it's important. The showrunners were not teenagers. They were not Muslim and had not been raised in the context that a lot of teenagers in families from more conservative families come from. Yet, they understood Sana in a way that a lot of writers from India and other parts of the Eastern world can't. And I think they were able to do so because they chose to listen.

After coming to the United States, I have witnessed bigotry from the most unexpected places. I have witnessed girls from the Indian subcontinent looking down upon black and latinos, claiming they would never live around these communities as that would compromise with their ability to feel like they live in a first-world country. I have seen Indians who have very little depth of knowledge of deep political issues making fun of minorities, with the superiority of thinking that they're Indians, so they're on a higher plane (going back to the idea that Indians have done better in the US than some other communities). I have witnessed Indians looking down upon their own culture and country, acting like they could never go back because it was unbearable there, as if they came as survivors of civil war and rampant terrorism. And these are my own people! The same ones who cry a river when the president makes a reference to "shithole" countries even though their opinions don't really seem very different from his, just because they might not get H1B visas. In the end, they all excuse their behaviour saying that people, at the end of the day, want to stick to their own people and nobody really cares about other communities. But the truth is, if that was the truth, a show like Skam would never have happened, because writer Julie Andem has proven to everyone that it is possible to see the world through the eyes of somebody who you have very little in common with. Unfortunately, shows like Skam are the minority compared to the myriad of shows that have a bunch of bad Muslims and one good Muslim on the side of the good American people, which is why I think more people should watch it.

I am glad that I got to watch this low-budget show with no stars from an obscure corner of Scandinavia, and if you agree with anything I said in this post, maybe you should watch it, too, and join a very positive fandom that keeps growing everyday. Maybe you could even follow @imanmeskini on Instagram, the actress who played Sana and now does a series where she explains modern-day Islam to people who have questions. Perhaps, once you get over feeling like a cheesy goofball, you can relate to the series' message of love.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why An Indian Girl Who Chose To Grow Into An Indian Woman


The Indian girl who chose to become an American woman was right about one thing. She did learn how to sit at a big round table and say things in a way that made it seem like she knew what she was talking about, and it is clear that she is perfectly capable of making a convincing argument about pretty much anything.

I knew this to be true the minute she brought about Nirbhaya. Because the Nirbhaya case was a matter of national shame, probably the lowest of our lows, something that shook us to our core. But for me, it was the incident that put the Indians who truly believed in the potential of the country to become a great nation into a defensive corner. I knew that it would be the story that many would look bring up from now on to definitively “prove” about the barbaric inferiority of my country, thereby reinforcing the ideas of being inherently lesser that colonization has deeply cemented in our psyches.

Like the newly minted American woman, I too am at an American university right now. However, I think that’s where the similarities end. Therefore, allow me to present a different perspective on the country I still, quite proudly, call home.

When the Nirbhaya case happened, I had just started with college. I started living in a PG which charged me a meager sum of money for basic living facilities, with three roommates who all came from smaller towns. We were all women, and all rattled by what had happened to a girl similar in age to us, all exposed to pretty much every side of the argument, from the feminist protest and women’s safety marches to the groups that blamed the victim, and the case became something through which we started exploring our own perceptions of ourselves and our womanhood. We had disagreements about what constituted sexual harassment, what could be called rape and what punishment suits the horrific crime. And yes, I will admit that many ignorant comments were made (there was a girl who said, “Look, if you have an expensive laptop, you can’t go around parading it in front of a thief. If you’re a woman, you can’t live with the same liberties as a man. That’s just how it is.”) Fights broke out, with me often losing my temper and yelling when women were accused of being temptresses of some kind, provoking young men to commit actions that they wouldn’t otherwise commit. But at the end of our stay together, as a result of all our controversial conversations, we all grew. We became better people, more understanding of the struggles of other women, broadening our minds and our inquisitiveness, and instead of being disheartened and wondering why we were still having arguments about injustices that are very clearly, well, injustices, I felt like I had been a small part of a small change.

When I left India to pursue graduate studies abroad, it wasn’t because I was running away from something. My grandparents on both sides were refugees, and thankfully, at least in my family, the running away from violence ended with them. My father, hardworking and ambitious as he is, had a good job he was proud of and that led us to living in New Delhi and Mumbai, and for college, I went to Jadavpur Unviersity in Kolkata. My college experience was different from the American woman’s. I went to school with students from all stratas of society, and we all became friends, and I don’t think there will ever be a day when I will not be proud of that, and I had no loans or debt because I basically studied for free. My classmates were curious, overwhelmed with work and expectations, getting drunk and waking up hung over, engaging in philosophical debates even though Hegel wasn’t a part of our syllabus. It was a fun four years, and they made me look forward to the rest of my life, even though I understood that college was a bubble and grown-up life would be different.
By the end of my 23-year stay in my country, I kind of felt like I had seen it all. I wanted to see what education abroad is like. In Europe and Japan, language would be a problem, so America would be my destination of higher education. I wanted to do research here. I like America and I think I am doing well for myself here, but I have a plan to eventually go back to my own country.

The minute I stepped in America, I became Indian with a capital ‘I’. I felt like someone who was a representative of a vast and diverse country, and therefore, felt responsible to be honest as well as dignified in my representation from it, which basically meant that I needed to hold my head up high and pray and work and root for Mangalyaan in the face of constant media coverage of rape and child marriage. Some days, this was such a hard task that I wondered if it would be easier to just get on some Mangalyaan thin and just move to Mars. But fortunately, I am not devoid of hope, not superior to my countrymen who I’m now living 8000 miles away from, and perhaps naively hopeful that there is a miniscule sense of power to bring some positive change in my representation of my country. Some of my fellow Indian graduate students call me stupid, while some have expressed admiration in my views. But my views aren’t for any of those two groups. They are for and my home.

If the Indian girl who chose to become an American woman wants to settle in the US, good for her. It is her choice, and perhaps she doesn’t know this, but many Indians believe in personal choice and freedom, even the ones who never studied abroad. But to say that India failed its women on an international platform, and using our biggest shame, the Nirbhaya case, to justify your personal decisions is, well, low, not to mention, a mockery of people like me who don’t mind putting in the belief and work to make our own country a better place. Feelings aside, her position is damaging to all immigrants. It gives ammunition to white nationalists like Richard Spencer who claim that non-white immigrants are just people who couldn’t do anything in their country and are now just trying to feed off what  “white” countries have already built. The part where she says India is just a place where everybody’s just getting raped every minute is disturbing, because it makes Indian men sound like monsters who do nothing but torture women all day. How is it any different than some very powerful person claiming all Mexicans are drug dealers or all Muslims are terrorists?

Also, how does her position make sense? Should 1.3 billion Indians just move to America? Is that a solution? Last but not the least, it is important to note that there has been a recent surge of NRIs bombarding social media with their views on what is wrong with India from the relative safety of their foreign “first-world” abodes. But their constant criticism is hurting India economically. In the age of globalization, many countries need foreign investment to thrive, and who would want to invest in a country its own people are disparaging of? An example of badly affected industry is tourism. Every month, I meet an American who tells me they could never dream of going to India because of how it’s unsafe for women, and now, they will never see Kashmir, Agra, Kerala or Shantiniketan, which is a shame.

As I type up this article on my computer, passionately banging away on my keyboard after a night of not having slept, I feel a deep shame, this time not for the crime and corruption that I hope we keep fighting against in India, but for the colonial mentality that still plagues my countrymen and seems exacerbated in NRIs. Because, to be honest, I think that’s what the article was about. It wasn’t about the safety (or lack thereof) of women in India at all. It was about the happiness many Indians seem to get simply by being in a foreign country. They may not feel themselves inferior to their new mostly white, mostly wealthy peers but they do feel superior to us backward natives, and the idea of coming back to India is the stuff of nightmares for them. I am hurt and saddened by this, and wish it weren’t true, but how else can I explain someone joining the freaking American army when they seem to have not a single thought to spare for our brave armymen fighting for what is good in our country, or any of the values of the truly patriotic Indian? All this just for a citizenship?

Maybe I believe in too much and hope for too much. But here I am, being me, hoping to bring some small shred of change. And yes, I feel like superior to those who don’t even try.