The Way You Look at Me

Aarti Nair

There are both merits and demerits of living in the same city, same country all your life. Merits being that you can be deeply rooted and connected to a particular place, its people, and you have the ability to feel that place better than others. Demerits that you lack exposure of what there is in the world outside, how do different cultures survive, and co-exist. At least this is what I used to think when I left India in 2018 for my Masters in London.

Although this is not the first blog that I am writing while in London, there is a series of them. I have written down my experiences as a reader, my daily finances as a student, my first hand experiences of cooking, and how a new person can survive in London. Funny part, the last piece I wrote about London (which was later translated and published in a fascinating Gujarati publication), has stark differences from this one. I wrote that London is a place where your judgements don’t matter. It was true to my experience by that time. But what I have experienced in the past few months is quite new, something I have never felt before in life. Before I reveal what is that feeling, a little background about the character that I am.

I am 28 years old and so far in my life, I have not given a damn to what anyone thinks of my appearance. I have easily survived without feeling the need to apply makeup on my face on any regular day. I do not disrespect or detest women who do. I just know it is not for me. The only ‘makeup’ I put everyday is a kajal and a lip balm. I have confirmed with ‘experts’ that both of those things don’t even count as makeup in the real world. At 21, I cofounded a company of my own, was a columnist for a daily newspaper, published long-ish essays, write a decent-enough blog, and have attempted stand-up comedy too. So at this point, I know I can successfully survive in this world, without putting anything on my face. Apart from that, I dress the way I please. I do not find the need to follow any fashion trend, nor do I feel the need to buy clothes in each and every festivities or events. People around me get to learn (the hard way) that if they insist me to do something against my will, they will get some uncomfortable answers. So most people either wholeheartedly love me for the way I am (my father, my lover, close friends) or just learn to keep their concern within themselves. I have been surrounded by adorable people who even a new earring or a slight change of appearance would fetch positive compliments. I do have body image issues, yes. But I am aware that it needs to be constantly correct; not my body, but that image in my own eyes. Nevertheless, for a girl, it is not just convenience that her close ones accept her the way she looks, but it also strengthens her. Hence, I have turned out to be a strong woman who is extremely self-aware, and would not be affected by anyone’s damn opinions. Until I moved to London.

In the past few months, I have been around a few people who perhaps see me differently. I had no idea that working in an extremely commercial area of London, travelling with people dressed up in blue suits and people with the ‘perfect office-look’, can take a toll on you. There is a split second difference between glancing at someone and staring at them. The speciality of human expressions is that even if you do not use words, you can just look at someone and make them feel something. What was happening was completely non-verbal communication. But more often than not, I felt judged by other ‘perfect’ looking people around. It is obvious that I am not just talking about some random people but even some of the people around me. How do you deal with someone’s judgement when they do not even bother to verbally address it? What do you do about being hated from the first moment, even before you get the chance to present yourself?

In one of my long conversations with a dear friend asked me: When you are outside home, do you think of what is in your head or do you look at others and think of, “What do they think of me?” Lately, both of us have been thinking more of the latter. It is hard to know what came first. Is it the privileged ‘looking down upon me’ make me insecure or is it my insecurity that bothers me when they look down on me? In London, I came face to face with my colonial heritage. The things from my country’s history which I thought was a thing of the past, and did not matter to me today, was deeply ingrained within my system. So much that I did not even know. I am extremely aware of my surroundings, and most living beings have this inherent ability to know when they are being looked at. I know when I am being stared at. The question is why? Is it because I dress too simply, or I apply no make-up or is it my skin colour or that I don’t have a gym-sculpted body or all of these? Can they see that my shoes are a little worn off? It is difficult to not think of these questions, and not question yourself when it happens everyday? As a result of this, your mind remains in a constant battle within. How much should I give up and what is non-negotiable to retain? Well, it is perhaps too late for me to unlearn my ideals of simple living. Never in this life, do I think that I will be drawn to wearing make-up. Fortunately or unfortunately, my course in London has even instilled the question of, “Do I really need it?” before I buy any new piece of clothing (more about that, some other time). How often should you remind yourself that what others think of you is none of your business?

One thing I know for a fact is that at its root, the behaviour of looking down upon someone is in itself the greatest sign of insecurity. It is their insecurity about themselves that they are transmitting into you. So I consciously do not feel a sense of intimidation or respect for people who do this. Some people around who are friends, also do it without having the slightest indication of how toxic this behaviour is. When this friend seemed to advice, “Oh you don’t have a foundation? Everyone must have a good foundation.” I had swiftly replied back, “Well, as Sheldon Cooper has said, everyone needs to breathe in oxygen and release carbon-di-oxide. Everything else is optional.” Next time, she was surprised that I did not know what a lip-scrub was.

London happens to be one of the most diverse cities in the world. I have seen open expressions of all forms of love, gender and sexuality here. But in that diversity, also exists an unsaid, subtle class-colour snobbery. And if you are not careful, it cuts through you, and sucks you in, like a vampire saga. Once you have adapted to this mindset (become a vampire), you spread this self-loathe to others by mirroring what your loathers do/did to you.

On the other hand, I am not a good hater either. Hating creates heart burns that I have never been a fan of. Loathing them, of course, helps in easing down the frustration of being rejected/not accepted but it is only temporary. In the world of social media, we can also get into the race of posting pictures online to further get validation about ourselves. Unfortunately, this validation is also temporary. More often than not, it screws with our mental health. Early in this year, I quit Instagram. Especially because I told myself: “I am going to be enough for my own validation.”

Nevertheless, if not cautious, you easily begin mirroring them. I have to keep telling myself that I CAN NOT look at myself the way they look at me. I repeat my father’s words (in his voice) in my head, something that he has told me hundred times: You are beautiful the way you are. I repeat what a dear friend in India used to say, “You have nothing to prove.” One has to walk with their heads held high. There are days when the nature brings a calming effect on you. I am addicted to napping in the parks. Or seeing the water flowing through the canals. Or cycling aimlessly with a beautiful sunset over your head. Some days are more difficult than others. On those days, my books become my support. I take my book in my hands and put all my focus on it. So whether it is the tube or the footpath, I remain engaged in something empowering. After all, I have learnt after falling multiple times, how not to internalise other people’s bullshit.


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Full text of TMC MP Mahua Moitra's first ever speech in the Parliament.

“Sir, I rise to oppose the Motion and to speak in support of the amendments made by our party. First of all, let me begin by humbly accepting the resounding mandate that this government has got. But, it is the very nature of the overwhelmingness of this mandate, of the totality of this mandate, that makes it necessary for us to be heard today, the voice of dissent to be heard today. Had the mandate been any less, there would have been a natural checks and balances woven into the narrative. That is not the case. The House belongs to the Opposition. So, I stand today to reclaim this inch that has been guaranteed tous.

Let me start by quoting Maulana Azad, whose statue stands tall outside this great hall. He once said of this country that he was fighting to build. He said, “It is India’s historic destiny that many human races and cultures should flow to her, finding a home in a respectable soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here. There are cultures, our languages, our poetry, our literature, our art, the innumerable happenings of our daily life shall bear the stands of our joined endeavour.”

This is the ideal that was carved into our Constitution. This is the very Constitution each of us has sworn to protect. But, this Constitution is under threat today. Of course, you may disagree with me. You may say, acche din are here and the sun will never set on this Indian empire that this Government is seeking to build. But, then you are missing the signs. If you only would open your eyes, you would see that there are signs everywhere that this country is torn apart.

In the few minutes that have been allotted to me, let me list out these dangerous signs. The first sign – there is a powerful and continuing nationalism that is being sphered into our national fabric. It is superficial, it is xenophobic, it is narrow. It has a lust to divide. It is not a desire to unite. Citizens are being thrown out of their homes and are being called illegal immigrants. People who have lived in this country for 50 years have to show a piece of paper to prove they are Indians. In a country where ministers cannot produce degrees to show that they graduated from college, you expect disposed poor people to show papers as proof that they belong to this country?

Slogans and symbols are being used to test religion. There is no one slogan, no one symbol that ensure any Indian that they are patriot. There is no one test, Sir. No one test.

Sir, the second sign – there is resounding disdain for human rights that is permeating in every level of governance. There has been a ten-fold increase in the number of hate crimes between 2014 and 2019. 10X. This is like the valuation of an e-commerce start-up, Sir. There are forces in this country that are sitting there just pushing this number up. The lynching of citizens in broad daylight is being condoned. From Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan last year to Mr Ansari in Jharkhand yesterday, the list is not stopping.

The third sign – there is an unimaginable subjugation and control of mass media today. Five of the largest news media organizations in India are today either indirectly controlled or indirectly debted to one man in this country. TV channels spent a majority of airtime broadcasting propaganda for the ruling party. Coverage of every Opposition party is cut out. Let the government come out with facts and figures to show ad-spend per media house. What are they spending the money on and which media houses are they blocking out? The Information and Broadcasting Ministry employs over 120 people solely to check the content on TV channels every day to make sure that there is no anti-government news being put out.

Fake news is the norm. This election was not fought on the plank of farmer distress. This election was not fought on unemployment. This election was fought on Whatsapp, on fake news, on manipulating minds. Every piece of news that this government, I repeat, every piece of news that this government have put out, every lie that you put out, you repeat and repeat and then it becomes the truth. This is the Goebbels doctrine.

You talk about naamdar and kaamdar? Let me tell you the Congress party might have put up 36 dynast since 1999 in parliament but the BJP put up 31. Every time you put out one figure anything that is not the truth, you are destroying the fabric of India. Yesterday the floor leader of the Congress party said that the co-operative movement has been a failure in Bengal and I urge him to check his facts. The one co-operative that he is referring to – Bhagirathi – in Murshidabad is now in profit. Every little misinformation that we put out serves to destroy this country.

The fourth sign is that there is an obsession with national security – identification of enemies. When we were children our mother used to tell us to do this and do that or kala bhoot will come. It is as though all of us in this country today are in fear of some nameless, shameless kala bhoot. There is fear pervading everywhere. The achievements of the army are being usurped in the name of one man. Is this correct? New enemies are being created every day and the irony is that over the last five years terrorist attacks have gone up manifold. There has been a 106 per cent increase in the death of jawans in Kashmir.

The fifth sign is that the government and religion are now intertwined in this country. Do I even need to speak about this? Need I remind you that we have redefined what it means to be a citizen? With the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill we are making sure that there is only one community that is the target of anti-immigration laws. Members of Parliament these days are more interested in the fate of 2.77 acres of land than in the 812 million acres of the rest of India.

Yeh sirf 2.77 acre janmabhhoomi ka mudda nahi hain. Yeh sara desh, 80 crore acres, ko akhand rakhne ka prashna hai.

The sixth sign is the most dangerous. There is complete disdain for intellectuals and the arts. There is a repression of all dissent, funding is being cut for liberal education, scientific temperament which is enshrined in Article 51 of the Constitution. There is Article 51 of the Constitution, which demands a scientific temperament. Everything we are doing is pushing India back to the dark ages. Secondary school textbooks are being manipulated and distorted in order to indoctrinate.You don’t even tolerate questioning, let alone dissent.

I wish to quote the great Hindi poet, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. I wish to tell you this, that the spirit of dissent is integral to India. You cannot shatter us.

“Haan haan duryodhan baandh mujhe, 
baandhne mujhe toh aaya hai. 
Zanjeer bari kya laya hai? 
Yadi mujhe baandhna chahe man, 
pehle toh baandh anant gagan.
Sune ko sadhna sakta hai,
woh mujhe kab baandh sakta hai?”

I ask you this, you cannot keep us down.

Number seven, the last sign; there is an erosion of independence in our electoral system. The Election Commission was used to transfer key officials. Rs 60,000 crore was spent in this election; 50 percent by one party, Rs 27,000 crore.

In 2017, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum put up a poster in its main lobby and it contained a list of all the signs of early fascism. Each of the seven signs I have pointed to you featured in that poster. There is a danger of fascism rising in India. It is incumbent upon all of us to stand up to it. Let us, the Members of this 17th Lok Sabha decide which side of history do we want to be on. Do we want to be upholders of this Constitution or do we want to be its poll bearers?

I do not dispute the resounding mandate that this Government has got but I have the right to disagree with your idea that ‘there was no one before and that there should be no one after you.’

In conclusion, I quote the poet Rahat Indori:

“Jo aaj saahibe masnad hain kal nahin honge 
Kiraaydaar hain jaati makaan thodi hai, 
Sabhi ka khoon shaamil yahan ki mitti me 
Kisi ke baap ka hindustan thodi hai?”


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features