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Why You Need to be a Better Person

This blog post is about why you should be a better person in a relationship.

We are often told,’ if you love me, you will accept me for what I am’. While there is truth to that, we all have our faults.

And we are not as much of an island as we think we are. When we are in a relationship, the basic purpose is to give our loved one the best, most loving, caring experience they can have.

It is critical to know: our relationship with ourselves defines our relationship with our partner. If we are harsh and critical ourselves, our partner will receive the harshness or criticism. If we are impatient and unforgiving, our partner will experience the impatience and judgement.

Its not even the interpersonal relationship outside you that I am speaking of. Inside you. Do you have spaces, quiet, peace? Do you know what feels like? If you don’t, ask. A friend will demonstrate, or I will.

But you haven’t said anything explicitly to your partner, you say.

But ah, say I. You need to make yourself better because your beloved lives in you.

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The Silent Partner

So you get in a business or personal relationship, and the partner does something you don’t like, and what do you do? The relationship is so new, you are so excited, you worship them so much, you let it slide.

When something else happens, you are uncomfortable, but you let it be. You second-guess yourself, you carry on with your commitment to the relationship, to them. You give it your best, you give it all you’ve got.

And a third thing happens. Then a fourth. And with diminishing feelings, diminishing commitment, you carry on, until you start building resentment. You serve, but its not with love. Its with anger and resentment. Whenever you serve, you serve with a curse. What did I do to deserve to be in this relationship? What am I doing, suffering like this? I’d be better off alone.

It’s a logical conclusion.

Except for one thing: when someone crossed a boundary, you didn’t say anything, until that boundary became a cliff and you watched your partner walk right over it. And you did nothing about it.

And here’s the best part: they had no clue.

The relationship is dead, and your partner is at the bottom of a ravine, bewildered and weeping at the hurt.

Its neither reasonable, nor possible, for you to expect them to know what is going on with you. Especially when you seem to be fine, or claim you are fine. Unless you married a mind reader, they probably can’t. Read your mind.

Withholding information never helps anything. It is tantamount to lying, with equally deleterious effects. You didn’t tell your partner because you are afraid of confrontation, and afraid of the partner being upset. Even so, you owe it to them to at least speak your truth before its too late. Trust is not a matter of speaking when things are going well. It’s a matter of communication and redressal. That is what builds trust. Its not a static thing; trust is built or destroyed every day.

resentment-destroys-relationshipsEveryone fucks up. What is right for them might not be right for you.

Do yourself a favor, speak up. Don’t be a silent (and resentful) partner. The person you chose to be your partner isn’t a bad person. If you brought it to their attention, they would have the opportunity to change course so as not to hurt you. If you brought it to their attention and they didn’t do anything about it, you are justified in walking away. And you and they can choose to stay, or leave. But do them the courtesy of the opportunity of redressal.

Silence is not always golden.

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The Horrifying Faces of Acid Attack

It wasn’t without trepidation that I went to meet the victims of Acid Attack. I have never before seen such horror. Will I be able to maintain my composure in front of these women, who bear their scars so well? Would I behave inappropriately, and stare, trying to come to terms with acts that I can’t begin to imagine?

Their stories..

Their stories belie the cordial image of India; they show people so far removed from empathy toward their fellow man that they might as well be standing on the moon. The ‘reasons’ (as if there can be any) boggle the mind. ‘He said he loved me, he asked me to marry him, I refused, so he threw acid on my face’; ‘I don’t know who, or why, poured acid on me while I was sleeping’; ‘my in-laws were trying to hang my sister from the fan, and when I tried to stop them, they poured acid on my face’.

So I went, on my white horse, all ready to teach them how to say no, all ready to teach them self-defense.

I was wrong.

These women were attacked because they said no.

When I tried to teach them self-defense, they fell over laughing. At first, at how ridiculously simple it was. (I also re-iterated that when you can’t see your attacker, or trust your attacker completely, there IS no defense. Sometimes, there just is no defense.) And then they laughed when I taught them to get out of a grab hold of both their wrists. I’d teach them, then hold onto their wrists tight, and say, ‘go on, get out of my grip’, and they’d say, we don’t want to. We like it like this. (Why does this always happen to me?) Then fall over laughing.screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-12-49-12-am

I was curious. Are you happy? ‘Now we are’ they said. There was this moment where they had been obeying their parents, their husband, obeying, obeying, not venturing out of the house because they weren’t allowed to do so, obeying, obeying, and this happened?! Somewhere inside, something snapped, and they said, ‘f*ck this sh!t, now I am going to do exactly what I please’. Now they are happy.

Do you think you are beautiful? Most raised their hands. Except for one, let’s call her A. Do you not think you are beautiful, I pressed her. She looked down at the ground. Do you love yourself? ‘What, like physically?’ she asked. So, no. Do you think you are a good person? I mustn’t be. That’s why I was attacked. She wouldn’t raise her eyes to look at anyone, wouldn’t say no, wouldn’t fight to protect herself. We all noticed.

img_5197On the second day, I was teaching them how to defend themselves from a slap, and so pleased were the women with the new techniques, they came complaining to me. ‘Ma’am, no one is slapping me! This is not fair’.  With the basic elements of Aikido, they darn near broke each other’s wrists. A got herself out of a wrist hold, everyone noticed, everyone applauded her first effort in even wanting to defend herself.

Oh, and – by ‘horrifying faces’ I don’t mean the women; they are beautiful. I mean the men who can fathom committing such heinous acts. Like Voldemort who left a scar of his attack on little Harry Potter’s face, so did these men leave the mark of their horrible self on these women.

I think I realized my first day that I cannot teach these women anything. They don’t need teaching. As Chetna Gala Sinha, a fellow Ashoka fellow once said, ‘the women don’t need help; the men do – help them!’

My three days with these women tells me they are not Acid Attack Victims. They are Acid Attack Victors.

 

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You Had Me at No

Okay, I’ll admit it. A woman who says no turns me on.  Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.13.04 AM

There are men who get enraged when a woman says no to them. For a date, a relationship, to maintain a long-standing relationship.

A woman who says no is a strong woman with defined likes and dislikes. What does that mean?  That means this woman has a healthy and well-used intellect, and has taken the time to know, and love herself. She is comfortable saying no to things she doesn’t like, doesn’t want at that time. She takes action to safeguard her well-being, her happiness, and her mood. That means she takes responsibility for her happiness rather than depending on others for it, or blaming the world for her unhappiness.

And she puts herself first. Before you, before anyone else. She can also put someone else before her, but that’s her choice. Not an imposition, not an obligation. That means she’s not the kind to passively agree to something, and then be unhappy about it. You can trust her at her word. This is a woman for whom a yes in a yes, and a no is a no. She knows if she doesn’t look out for her happiness, and treat herself with respect, no one else will. Can’t you see it, just from the way she carries herself? Strong back, straight posture, chin jutting out at the world?

Isn’t this JUST the kind of woman you’d like to be with? Who doesn’t follow you around because she has to, but because she actually looked at the men around her, and chose to be with you? And if this woman says no, don’t do it. Listen carefully to what she is saying. She is usually saying, ‘don’t do this, do that’. And if that ‘do that’ means leave, give her space, if you truly love her, you will give her all she wants, including your absence.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.18.24 AMOr, when a woman says no, she doesn’t feel like a cappuccino right now, do what I do: kiss her. Because these are our national treasures: the women who dare to say no. Even to people they love, who love them back. When a woman says no to you for a relationship, bow your head, and ask her if she’d accept being friends with you. Hurts, yes, but first and only rule of love is that you will give to your beloved what she wants. Not what you want, what she wants.

I love a woman who says no to me. You don’t have to get turned on, like me, but at the very least – love her for it. Want a woman to say yes to you? Honor her no first.

 

 

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A Moose and A Biryani

My parents in Alaska are Ray and Vivian Menaker. Vivian passed away from cancer a few years ago, and Ray last year. They were among the finest people I have known, the grandparents of the Alaskan environmental movement, helped set up the Alaskan bald eagle preserve, and were formative influences in my life.

I met them when I went up to do an GIS and web design internship at the Alaska Clean Water Alliance. Vivian was on the board of the organization, and I stayed with Ray and Vivian, and was never the same for that experience.

Haines is a small town upstream of Juneau, the capital of Alaska, along the Lynn Canal. Its small, but cruise ships would stop along this little port town. Once Ray pointed to a cruise ship and said, that cruise ship is using more electricity than the entire town of Haines. And in this tiny town, this young Indian girl of 23 found a home.

thimbleberryI used to wake up and go have a thimbleberry/ raspberry breakfast in their thimbleberry or raspberry bushes, Vivian grew her own produce in a lovely garden she constructed from scratch. I would fetch eggs (as would the town of Haines) from their double-storey chicken coop, clean chicken shit, chop wood (we had a wood stove), stayed with them in a house they pretty much built with their own hands. Vivian would make me cherry pie from cherries that I plucked from their cherry tree, and the finest granola in the world (both Vivian and I loved nuts).

Ray taught me how to drive a stick shift. Once when we came from driving into town, I ran and opened his door for him. And before getting out of the car, he looked down at the ground. And I asked, what are you looking for? He said, I don’t see the red carpet.

We had salmon caught fresh in the Alaskan waters. Vivian had installed a hand-cranked milling machine in her wall, and she would pour wheat into it, and flour would come out the other end. She would then make dough and put it in their bread maker and we would have the softest, warmest bread, best had with melted butter and Alaskan winters. We would wake up to the smell of a house infused with the smell of freshly baked bread. They never locked their home, or their car. Ray read stories every Saturday from across the world, and Vivian would listen to every story he read, back at home, over the radio.

For their 50th wedding anniversary, they snuck me into town at 3 am with eight feet of snow on the ground. The entire town showed up to give them a surprise wedding anniversary party.

2010-05-09 23.38.02You have to know this about them: Ray had a Gandhian charkha and he would spin stuff into yarn. By stuff I mean wool, yes, but the good people of Haines, Alaska, would also give him hair from their huskies, and he would spin that into yarn. And Vivian had a giant loom in one room, from which she would spin it into cloth. And these two wore bathrobes spun by Ray, and woven by Vivian all their lives.

I have always heard them say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to each other, and never once witnessed a fight. I once asked Ray, curious, Ray, how come you two never fight? What happens if you want one thing and Vivian another? Well, he said, in his slow drawl, then it doesn’t get done. Ray would say, Vivian and I have divided responsibilities around this house, Vivian does all the work, and I am perfectly willing to let her. (Which wasn’t quite true, since he did an equal amount of work). They went for walks in the evening, with Vivian holding onto Ray’s arm. He was gallant, and he would always offer his arm to Vivian.

And here is the most remarkable story: when I met Ray last, I was warned that he had lost his memory. When I visited him at Haines Assisted Living, he indeed didn’t recognize me, and he was as polite as he was to everyone. This is what he looked like when I saw him:

2010-05-10 01.50.26

So I decided to cook for everyone at the facility. Since I was in Alaska, guess what I cooked? I made biryani, but what kind? You’d never guess! Moose. I made moose biryani (I had never made biryani before). And this is the little miracle that occurred.

Now, Ray had never had Indian food before he met me. He had never met an Indian before. And he’d never had biryani before. I set a plate before him, he took a bite, frowned, looked up, and asked, you wouldn’t be Vasu Primlani, would you? HE didn’t remember me, but his palate did! From a dish he’d never had before! Not only did he remember, he remembered that he forgot! He said, ‘Now I feel like such an idiot for not remembering you.’

Ray and Vivian Menaker, good people become immortal, and you will live in my heart for my entire life. I love you, and you, and Alaska will always be my home.

2010-05-11 01.44.59

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The XX Love Story

She’s a standup comedian who falls for Ms. M. But Ms M. is looking for a husband, not a girlfriend.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.21.08 AMM. wasn’t even supposed to be there. She told me this later. Some of her friends from Puducherry were in Mumbai for the weekend, and she’d got them to the Canvas Laugh Club. M is not the “pay for a laugh” kind of girl. She’s all smiles, all the time. I swear she lights up the bloody room. But more on that later.

Read more..

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The President has good taste

o I met the President. He’s actually an erudite, very sweet man.

People asked me, what will you do after you receive the award? I say, I’ll hold my hand out for a second award. They told me in advance I was going to get the award (you know, to make sure I was in town, prepare logistics etcetera) with the caveat that I not tell anyone. Do you know how HARD it was to keep THAT secret, the motherlode of all secrets, for all that time? I ended up cracking a little and telling people I had good news, and they’d ask eagerly, what good news (even some assumptions around children and pregnancy), I’d say, I can’t say. That earned me a few choice expletives.

SO, I say, I’ll hold out my hand for a second award, for NOT TELLING!!

The ceremony was imposing, which you can see here. Just scroll down, and you’ll see the video. Make you proud. It made me proud.

Oh, why did I get it? For being AWESOME, dude! For promoting the cause of women, through everything I do: standup comedy, business school professor, somatic practitioner, triathlete.

The Nari Shakti award is the highest and most prestigious award given to women by the President of India. And I am the first comedian EVER to receive it. EVER.

Thank you to Minister Maneka Gandhi and her office, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, for initiating and instituting this award.

And thank you, President Mukherjee. You have EXCELLENT taste.