Being a Conservationist at a Spa & Salon 

My last visit was a little different. Since I was there for a couple of hours, with just one stylist, he had time to figure out his responses. He asked me to use various products, till I finally lost it and said “A. I don’t like chemicals on my hair, and stopping the usage of such products finally helped it. B. I don’t like chemical products, since they aren’t really good for the environment as well. So if you guys switched to better alternatives, it might be good for everyone.”

I hate salons and spas. While I love the experience of being pampered, it is often interspersed by product plugs and annoying comments about how whatever the product I’m using at the moment isn’t good for me (even if these were products suggested by the same person before they got better commissions from another brand).

However, since I’ve switched to organic brands, these conversations are more awkward. Most often, the stylist goes quiet since they don’t want to comment on the organic part of it, or how they are bad for you.

They do try to still push brands on you, most of them being some version of heat protectors, anti-frizz serums etc. Depending on my mood, I’m polite, sarcastic or plain mute.

The last time, I was getting a little annoyed and decided to confuse the guy. I told him I’m a conservationist, and I try not to use chemical products as much as possible (which is true, though that didn’t start from an eco-perspective!).

If there’s one entity that’s not yet made the attempt to switch to being eco-friendly, that’s salons and spas here. They use copious amount of water to maintain hygienic conditions, or even just wash off the chemicals off the hair and body.

Well, nothing much can be done about that (yet) from individuals. A while ago, there was a mass movement about products being tested on animals, and a lot of customers would ask if the products being used were animal-tested. Some awareness, some impact. We’ve not yet got to a stage where people are asking if the products being used are environment-friendly.  They aren’t talking about alternatives to plastics.

So having one person sitting there talking about how much water you are using to wash one’s hair makes them extremely uncomfortable. This is not a conversation they want to start yet, since that means involving more structural changes (eco-shower heads, better recycling policies, LED lighting, washing policies, hygiene maintenance).

Now to be honest, I’ve never thought much about conservation in the beauty industry. I do know that the water being used here needs to be treated before it enters the sewage system. But no clue if Indian rules enforce this. There’s a tough line to maintain between hygiene and being eco-friendly, and one reason the luxurious places use fresh products – so we know that it is clean.

But for me, I’ve found my way to shut up the annoying sales person the next I want a head massage in peace.

A Rant on Shopping

Four hours on the street and not a single thing bought. Three hours online and all I have to show is a single little top that, lucky me, was on a sale.

The modern woman today is apparently particular about what she wears. The modern Indian woman is apparently even more exacting.

Why then in the hundreds of sites and apps are similar products of bad quality? Where are the rich fabrics, the fun designs? And if you do come across one or the other, they come with a hefty price tag with it.

Shopping today is no longer fun. It is a riot of clothes, bad tailoring, worse fabrics and makes you wanna scream. Every time you see those little list “5 must haves in your wardrobe”, you wanna slap the writer because you know most of that is paid. Or the writer has a fantastic salary or an inheritance.

The common girl simply cannot survive fashionably in this city. Reading the listicles online make you wonder if all those good things are simply eluding you.

I’m someone who appreciates quality. I hate this concept of fast fashion where you clothes not only go out of style in a few months, but fade away as well. As someone who has my favourite clothes from a decade ago (and yes, many of them came back into fashion as well!), I choose my clothes with care and love and I want them to last.

But in the days where ‘subscription’ is the norm and not buying, fast is preferred over quality, fashion doesn’t allow you the same luxury. From what my fashion-conscious friends tell me, there are some brands that do last but the price tag… well, I mentioned that before already right?

There was a time when I bought Ferragamo and Bardot and dailywear were brands… but it is all so boring today. Putting together a look requires more effort… even the t-shirts are badly shaped! The $2 t-shirt fits me better than the $20 branded wear.

And since this is a rant, I can perhaps conclude it – where the hell do you get quality, funk and prices for normal human beings?

Women Empowerment

 

Women are supposed to be easier to market to than men. Why? Because women are apparently more susceptible to suggestions. We tend to take things at their face value. If an ad says “use this shampoo and you’ll have awesome hair”, we will go try it out. Is it because we’re trying to constantly aspire for a better body image or we are just fools? I think it is the former.

Because women aren’t fools always. They know how to take advantage of a situation.

Recently, a friend of mine got into a spot of trouble on the road. She was backing out for a legit parking spot, and someone coming in the wrong direction banged her car. She started fighting with the guy and demanded he pay to fix the damages. A crowd collected, and they were pretty supportive of her. But as usual, there were some who were supporting the guy and telling her to let it go.

A plump old aunty came to my rescue, my friend said. She started arguing with the guy much more loudly, and finally threatened him in Hindi “If you don’t back off, she’ll put a molestation and rape case on you. We’re tear her clothes a bit and then we’ll see how you won’t pay damages.”

The statement shut up most people and apparently the crowd dispersed quietly. My friend was too shocked to do anything more than take the now-subdued guy’s number and move.

This isn’t the first time such a thing has come in conversation. Another lady advised a friend to complain about someone who was troubling her (in a absolutely non-sexual way). “Tell the cops he attempted to rape you,” the lady said. The disturbing part was she actually meant it.

How does this India co-exist with an India where women who have been subject to this atrocity kill themselves?

We thought that women being raped as a form of punishment was abhorring enough. Now, we find out that women are filing fake rape complaints to get their way. What makes it worse is that a woman is ready to destroy a person’s reputation and life for something as trivial as a fender bender. Or because someone complained about the dogs in your apartment.

On one hand, we are facing serious issues regarding women empowerment. We are facing issues in getting the cops to take molestation and rape seriously. We want them to be educated and be sensitive towards people who’ve suffered – men or women. And on the other, we have women who are misusing these laws to further to their own agenda.

Cases of sexual harassment have become the norm. And today, I find it hard to believe anything that I read. A comment on a nail polish colour could be construed as sexual harassment.  A opinion about how someone has become fat is considered as sexual harassment.

Is this what women empowerment is?

Superwoman

Once you are past the age of 30, your Facebook feed invariably consists of baby posts and mommies posting about their adorable munchkins or how tough it is to be a mommy. There are those one-off posts from women who do not want to have babies, and are feeling pressurised by society to have kids.

Strangely, most of the women are sharing posts about how tough it is to have it all and how they don’t want their child to grow up being a ‘latchkey’ child.

The term ‘latchkey child’ apparently originated in 1942, but in India, I first heard it at the age of 18 when someone called me a ‘latchkey child’. And here I was thinking it was pretty cool to come home, open the door myself and decompress after school, and that my mother thought I was responsible enough not to burn the house down in the few hours I was at home by myself.

I loved coming back to an empty home, with the knowledge that others will be home soon. The house is quiet, nobody is asking you annoying questions about how your day went and you can just sit and stare at a blank wall and let all the stress of the day go away before the others come home.

I’d be mostly out of home in half an hour, playing with friends, so my mother had the same privilege of coming home and not having to tend to a child immediately, after a stressful day. She’d sort herself out with her stuff and was probably a lot calmer.

Looking back, I had absolutely no issues being a ‘latchkey child’ and would not want to change that for all the money in the world. It taught me how to be alone and keep myself occupied. I did not burn the house down. I did not even flood the house. I learnt how to sleep alone. I wasn’t afraid of the dark or cockroaches and lizards.

So when I hear about all the fuss and worry about mothers wondering how to let their kids alone, I wonder if it is more guilt on their part than about the child. With the numerous technology tools today, it is easy to monitor the child at home. And thankfully, being in India, you always have neighbours to look out for the child. Massive apartment complexes have enough security that you do not have to worry about your child running out on the street.

Being a working mom can be challenging, no doubt. I can only imagine the guilt you would feel for enjoying yourself when your child is home with the father or other family members. Perhaps you feel guilty about enjoying your work and wanting to go back to work. One of the Sex & The City Episodes is one of the few popular media to cover this logically… about a woman wanting to go back to work after having a baby. Fathers do. Perhaps they don’t have a choice, even if they wanted to spend the whole day with the child.

So why do women question themselves when they have another interest other than the baby?

Pants vs Skirts

You know why pants were made? For horseback riding. Because people needed something comfortable, and to protect their legs. And there are some who say that the first trouser was invented by a Queen – a woman.

But if you are a woman wearing pants today, at some point you are asked the question ‘why do you dress like a guy’?

Our dresses have evolved over centuries, wherein certain garments became popular with men and some for women. Trousers veered to the men’s side mainly because they were out working, doing tasks that required horse riding, and jumping on fences and other things that did not need a garment getting in the way. And women continued with the airy (and then not so airy) garments of skirts and dresses.

Now that women are back out on the streets again doing things, why not go back to that simple garment of pants? It is comfortable. It gives you pockets to shove your keys, cellphone and money into. It means you can sit with your legs up without worrying about your dignity. It means you do not have to worry about a strong wind and flying dresses. It means you stay warmer.

Luckily for women, we’ve had the freedom to take back certain items of clothing. For men, not so lucky. Wouldn’t a guy want to wear something loose and comfortable to work in this heat? Except for Americans, and some parts of Europe, there are forms of a ‘skirt’ still popular, if not in the workplace. A mundu / lungi / sarong is quite popular in Asian countries. Romans wore long tunics, ensuring they survived the hot summers.The Greeks wore some version of it. So why not bring it back? If men will (and that’s the tough part) why shouldn’t they be allowed to wear skirts to work?

Women’s Women

Kalki Koechlin. Nandita Das.

You rarely hear about men liking these women. They don’t find them hot. They don’t find them interesting. But women… women love them. Not quite the same way they admire actresses like Priyanka Chopra or Katrina Kaif, but they have a different sort of affection for such women.

Why? To some of us, the answer to this is easy. Because these women are simply themselves. They do not set unrealistic standards for the regular women to achieve. They are almost regular women, with some fame and nicer clothes thrown in.

They have bad hair days, fat days, pimples, tanned skin and more. And more importantly, they are comfortable in their skin. kalkikoechlin-sexualabuse

In the world of unrealistic body sizes and fashion sense, the regular woman feels pushed towards these ideals and it takes a tough fight to remain true to yourself.

Your body image is not entirely of your creation. We aspire to be slender. Not thin. Not fat. Slender. Sleek. With the right size of boobs and ass, and great shiny hair. And if we could have managed it in some ways, the right length of leg as well.

But the right size of boobs, ass and shiny hair actually takes a whole lot of maintenance. It takes money on products, it takes working out regularly, eating healthy and weekly trips to the salon, where you spend more time and money. And honestly, the average working women just does not have the time. Do you think we’d rather go to the parlor and suffer unspeakable tortures after a crazy week or get into our PJs, pour some cheap wine and pig out in front of the TV?

Personally, what I like about Kalki is she is not the bra-burning feminazi that’s become so common today. She is almost just a women, trying to live in this world. Of course, the pedigree helps… but there are some things that’ll never change no matter how rich or poor you are.

We’ve been conditioned to standards of beauty and fashion over centuries. With more media being thrown at us, these ideals are being reinforced quicker and stronger. Young girls are flooded with images on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, news sites, pop idols wherein people are a particular way.

If your genes bless you with a great body, you might have a little less teenage angst. But what if you are NOT the right size? What if you are just a teeny bit fatter? Thinner? Your hair is frizzier? You are shorter. You have a lot of hair and your parents don’t allow you to wax till you are 16.

Guys have their set of problems too… I’m pretty sure I do not know about most of it, but there are pressures to be and behave a particular way. Which is perhaps why guys like Rahul Bose make an impression. Many guys are not really keen on saying that they ‘like’ him… because masculinity demands that you do not subscribe to such notions.

We need more public figures who stop reinforcing stupid, unachievable aspirational images. No, I’d never want to be a Katrina Kaif or a Bipasha Basu. What I’d like is to be quietly graceful (and that’s as unachievable as the moon!). So I’d rather be myself… uncoordinated, sometimes graceful, and wacky.

Being a Girl with Hair

 

Have you ever thought how much women, on average, spend on hair? Yes, I know we are supposed to be the spend thrift, consumerist, favorite with the advertisers because we are so easy to sell to sorta people. But perhaps it is our own warped self-image, the society’s steep expectations or media’s portrayal… or whatever it is, but a lot of it boils to one simple factor – hair.

A woman becomes aware of her hair when she hits puberty. Till then, the stuff on your head is just something to be kept out of the way and the rest of it does not matter. Then suddenly, you have to actually pay attention to these cells.

Let’s see what an average woman, living in a city with a decent job, in the age group of anywhere from 21 to 45, needs for the hair on her head.

  1. Shampoo
  2. Conditioner
  3. Leave-in conditioner
  4. Serum
  5. Anti-frizz
  6. Hair Mask
  7. Hair Spray (to whip it into shape on those bad hair days)
  8. Oil
  9. Heat Protection Serum

Yep, we need alllll that to make ourselves look halfway decent. Not glam. Just presentable.

On average, we spend about INR 3,000 per month on all these prettying ‘basic’ products – and that’s by going for something just above the low-range of products. I’m not talking salon-level products.

Next, since we are obsessed about hair, we need to ensure that the remaining part of the body is free of hair. Which means bi-weekly appointments at the salon for waxing arms, legs, most part of the face, and if you are adventurous, a brazilian as well. When the bikini or the wedding season comes around, you might also need to wax your back, your stomach and well, maybe your whole body. Not accounting for the hours of pain, this also means an average of INR 1,500 per month for removing  the hair from your body.

Then there are the hair cuts – and the search for the perfect hair stylist is as tough as the search for the perfect pair of pants. A single hair cut at a good salon – you are down another 2 grand every 3 months (if you are religious about maintaining your hair, that is).

Of course, you cannot forget the ‘special occasions’ wherein you’ve to get the hair washed, shined and polished styled and set. Which is another INR 1,500 each setting. Believe it or not, most women have at least one occasion every month for which they need to hit the parlor!

Some of us also enjoy a calming head massage along with the other painful treatments, which means another INR 1,500 each month.

Let’s do the math: 3,000 + 1500 + 650 + 1500 + 1500 = 8150

We’re spending about 8 fricking grand on hair every month! That’s 96,000 a year!

All because we are obsessed with this thing called hair – which grows on every single human being over the age of 12.

What makes you a Powerful Woman?

There is just so much hooha about ‘feminism’. You are doomed if you will and you are doomed if you won’t. But then, what’s new in that? Women have always walked that tightrope… and have always gotten slammed no matter which side they picked. And the people doing the slamming are generally other women.

One of the latest things is about naked photographs of women celebrities online. Happened a while ago… photos are perhaps still circulating. But there were a bunch of articles today that were like sitting on a seesaw. They talked about naked women’s photos, women’s depiction in the media and of course, the everyday woman who is apparently beaten up by her drunken husband.

It got me wondering – who is really the ‘powerful’ woman?

Hillary Clinton on the cover of Time? Aishwarya Rai on the cover of Vogue. Kim Kardashian with her own reality show?

What defines them as successful? Nigella Lawson would be called successful by some, till photographs of her being manhandled by her husband showed up and then she became ‘oh that poor woman’.

I’ve often struggled with being nice to women who have chosen to be housewives. I felt it was an insult to all mankind and womankind because here were are, trying to say that we can do things too and be all strong and independent and then you go and become a housewife because you are too damn lazy to get off your fat ass and actually do something.

Actually, I still do have a problem with these women… because this isn’t about women empowerment shit. This is about the fact that you are taking advantage of someone else.

The reason there is so much of fuss about ‘feminism’ is because of people like this. Feminism is not a bra-burning, men-hating movement. It was a movement that was born to remove some of the oppression. Sure, we might not see this sitting with our really cool, evolved friends who have more than two working brain cells. But after several decades of being a second-class citizen, where you did not have the right to study, vote, own property or work – which basically meant you were a burden on the rest of the family – people decided that they wanted to do stuff too.

Feminism is about equality. And I really do mean equality. Because when you put one side of the seesaw down, the other one goes up. If one person in a family is not working, that means the other one needs to work doubly as hard. If one person does not have the opportunity to follow their dreams, it means the other one does not either. This is not about putting men down… it is returning a part of what was lost to them in the trial of machismo – an opportunity to be themselves.

Which brings me back to the question – who is the powerful woman? Is she the waitress who turned into a politician? Is she the small-town girl who is plastered as a semi-naked poster in a teenage boy’s room? Is she the social worker who turned into a politician? Is she the everyday woman who does what she has to because she has a family to maintain? Is she the woman who chooses to sit at home and not work because someone else can?

A powerful woman is not really the one who is out there and being seen. To me, she could be the little village girl making her own way in a patriarchal society. Because when we have the liberty to make our own choices, we sometimes forget about the millions of others who do not have that liberty. Who cannot even wish of it.

We cannot stand for those people every single day. We have our lives to get on with. But maybe, once in a while, before berating a woman for a making a choice that is not socially acceptable, perhaps we should stop to think that mere decades ago, you would not even be allowed to have an opinion. That is not about being powerful. It is about just being.

The Most Expensive Piece of Property – The Woman

Rape, according to the Indian law, is a sexual act and a violation of that sexual body. The law narrowly defines what can and cannot constitute rape and many of these definitions are limited by its inclusions or exclusions of body parts, gender and acts. And most importantly, the mental state and reasoning behind such an act.

I fail to understand the reasoning behind the construction of such laws. But when you do look a little closer into the fabric of Indian culture and its society, you realise that it perhaps springs from the fact that sex is taboo in our society, talking about it is worse and rape is often a weapon that is used against a woman and her entire family, her caste and worse.

A woman is directly related to the family’s honour. She is like a pristine idol, kept in the depths of a temple, meant to be worshipped and needs to be protected against all invaders. She is not seen as an individual,  and is more of a very important piece of property. And like anything so precious, also a burden.

The easiest and the best way to break such honour would be to aim at the woman. To invade her, physically. To strip her and parade her around (which isn’t considered rape or anything close, according to Indian Law). The reasons could be plenty – a brother saw a woman from another caste/sect/religion; the family did something that the community believed was wrong; the woman chose to see herself as something more than mere property.

By this very definition, once a woman is out of the confines of the altar room, she becomes public property.

While this explanation might seem far fetched (and I’m sure there are detractors who would argue against this), this to me seems quite true.

How else would you explain the stripping and parading of a 40-year old woman, because her son was in a relationship with a woman from another caste? How else would you explain statements like ‘she asked for it because she was out with a man at night’? How else would you explain statements that a woman invited rape because she showed her legs?

Rape is a form of punishment and assertion of authority for all this and more. It could be because you challenged one’s authority by stepping out of your bounds, by questioning things you weren’t supposed to question, by doing things you weren’t supposed to do, by denying someone of things that they believed was their right.

This isn’t specific to men or women. Men get raped too in those little hell holes, but it is rarely talked about.

When the image of a woman is a piece of property, and when that is the image you have been shown through your life and the idea reinforced by people not punishing you when you sample some of the goods… one starts believing that. Perhaps movies do have a role to play… because in our movies, ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and a molestation can easily get the girl of dream into your arms.

Women believe that too… that they are property, meant to be taken care of, tended and protected. They believe it is their right and that their only duty is to look good, stand good and take care of the family. In the modern world, you could possibly have a ‘job’ that would keep you entertained and give you a little bit of spending money, but you do not think you should have an opinion of your own. The only thing you could aspire for is to look beautiful and provide good sex and children. And you use the technology of the modern world… creams that make you fairer, that tighten your vagina so you husband still ‘loves’ you.

Then you step out into this modern world where women do not think of themselves as property. If they do, they choose what to do with that property. And that angers you. What are you supposed to do except hit back at those images and reassert your beliefs? And you do not expect to be punished because you think what you are doing is your right, and nobody ever questioned you when you tested your limits in smaller ways earlier. Nobody slapped you away for pinching a woman’s ass on the bus. Nobody ever called you out for whistling at women on the road. You were just trying your hand at gaining a piece of the property that seemed to be out there for everyone, unguarded.

Is that what happens?

It could explain the statements made by several people. It could explain why the woman was always to blame. But then, this happens to men, women and children.

I don’t know. Perhaps this is a small part of the truth. Because this cannot explain the little things that people do to the ones they know and perhaps love. Is that just sheer perversion? Another twisted way of laying claim? Or another accession of power?

And this cannot explain what kind of animals could beat, maul, rape and do worse to a girl who was just trying to perhaps get home, and then live with it.

We are still looking for answers that creates such beasts.

That Banked Fire

There is a subdued sense of fury as I drive through the streets of Bangalore. It is quite late in the night, and the streets are fairly empty. But there is just enough traffic and casual laidbackness for the neighboring vehicle to peep into the other car, curious about its occupants. This is nothing new. Particularly since the removal of window tints, there has been a overwhelming share of stares into a woman-driven car.

I thought I had gotten used to it. You practice your blank stare, you practice studiously ignoring the auto driver or the tempo driver staring at your every move, even if it is as mundane as you fiddling with the stereo or lighting a smoke or applying lip balm. You learn to live with it.

But there is a banked fury that has begun to rear its head up at such stares. A intolerance towards that guy who is crossing the road just by your car and leers at you. The overwhelming urge to get out of the cocoon of your car and ask the guy what is so funny, if he has never seen a girl before.

I didn’t particularly relate it to the Delhi Bus Rape.

There have been numerous heinous incidents and they all pass, leaving things just the way they are before.

But, maybe, just maybe, we have reached the end of our tolerance. The latest attack has awakened the constant sense of insecurity that haunts us and we learn to tamp down.

A walk down Church Street – a street located right in the middle of the busy city – a little past 11 PM is harrowing. An attempt to buy cigarettes at a non-fancy store is always a little bit of an ordeal, starting from the 4 bucks you have to pay extra for a pack. Waiting in line at the fuel station a little late in the night is uncomfortable, with the curious glances.

You know that nothing is going to happen, but there is never a sense of ease.

This does not stop us from living. This cannot stop us from doing everyday things because then, we would have to stop living. We would have to sit indoors or be escorted by multiple bodyguards and male ones at that, to have a life.

Perhaps that is the wise thing to do. Not take risks.

But what does one define as risk? Going out with friends for dinner? Having a drink? Smoking? Wearing jeans and standing by the road, hailing an auto? All these things are risky in today’s modern world.

Cultural theorists, women-oriented organizations and everybody else is theorizing why there is an increase in the rape numbers.

They blamed the woman for dressing the way she did and living the way she did. They blamed her for going out with ‘male’ friends. Such an insult to both the sexes.

And if these were the reasons, when would it ever be safe for me to step out of my house? Should I wait indoors for someone else to make the streets safe for me? And how will they do that? By telling men not to rape? And when will people ever listen?

I cannot and will not put my life on hold while others try to figure out a solution for this. The government’s solution is to ask women not to work at night. They figure if there are no women out on the streets at night, there won’t be any to rape.

Perhaps it is foolhardy to travel alone. But I do like to travel. I do like to shoot. And it is hardly realistic to expect company on each of these trips. Why should my art, my work suffer because my country finds it strange I’m woman out on the streets alone?

I appreciate company. I appreciate a friend looking out when needed. But what about times when you have to go at it alone?

If we never stand up and say “I’m going to do this and you better learn to deal with it” how will things ever change?

If women had never stood up and said I wanna work too, where would we be today? The world is not a kind place that will give you things simply because you have a dream. You need to work at it.

Prince Charming on his White Horse is dead. And not needed. Let’s go be our own angels.