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.


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.



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.




Paul, I Love That You’re Not a Man

I still remember that evening in Oakland, California, when I said to Paul, a black man of Jamaican heritage:

What I love about you, Paul, is that you’re not a man.

He replied: ‘Thanks, I guess.’

What I was saying was, I love that he doesn’t introduce himself with, hi, I’m a man. The fact that he is who is, is more important than what gender he is. He doesn’t hide behind his masculinity. A single father who works full-time and raised his son all by himself, feeding him, bathing him, taking him to school, doing his laundry, helping him with homework, he does it all.

black manPaul has six-packs so pronounced that you can hang clothes off them. The ridges in his back are so powerful a ant would get giddy sliding on them. His baritone voice belies his lithe frame that he has no right to.

Ruggedly beautiful, dark as the night, this man could belong to any ancient tribe across the world. And yet, this man doesn’t hide behind his masculinity.

The first time I met him was on the street, I was walking my great dane, Noor, and he was coming back from play school with his son. In characteristic Paul fashion, he shook my hand as I have seen Ethiopians do – one hand extended, while the other hand lightly touches the elbow of the extended hand. He bent slightly in greeting. “Hi, I’m Paul”.

The second time he met me, he asked to spend the night with me. I said yes with absolutely no hesitation. And got a yelling from Gary after.


Gary, this is Paul.

Paul held me through the night, and in the morning, moved away from me. “I still wanted to hold you, but I didn’t wish to impose.”

The most precious thing a man can get from a woman is her trust, her heart. It saddens me when men hide behind desire, lust, and all the ‘I have no control over myself’ card men freely give themselves.

Paul, I Love That You’re Not a Man


The Magic That Is India

Mum's birthdayDaily living in India is shit. The traffic, the yelling, the garbage, the patriarchy. And I so often forget the Delhi I grew up with, the Delhi I love.

Every morning my mother wakes up and goes to the wall dividing our neighbor’s house from ours. Every morning she finds a steaming cup of tea waiting for her, with a plate of biscuits. Sardarni aunty or sardar uncle make it and put it out there for their friend every morning.

Every so often, we’d come upon a two-wheeler scooterwala pointing repeatedly to a closed car door, with a dupatta or sari palla hanging out of it, trying to notify the woman inside that she’s closed the door on her palla. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Because no other women in the world wear a sari. (hehe, sorry).

Indians are the greatest friends in the world. They will always fight to pay the bill when dining out. The limits of intimacy are best transgressed by Indian friends. At a local swimming pool, octagenarians would get together every Sunday for a swim and one of them would be pakodas for their Sunday brunch. A few Sundays went by, and they didn’t see their friend, so they called. Found out he was sick. ‘Oh, if you’re sick, at least come by, don’t swim, but get our pakodas.’ And that’s not the end of the brazenness of this request; the friend came with the pakodas. ‘cause we be intimate like that.

When I was a child, I went to visit my mother at work, at the American Cultural Center. The security guard behind the bulletproof glass wasn’t paying attention to me waiting to be let in. The Chief of the American Cultural Center, who was on the phone at the security booth, was. She tapped the guard on the shoulder and pointed me out. I broke into an inadvertent smile, and nodded my thanks. In acknowledgement, she winked at me. To this day, I am amazed at that trust – in a culture where winks are seen as disrespectful, she wasn’t being ignorant. Her wink reached across our skin colors, and culture, to establish her playfulness and an innuendo of a statement ‘we gals gots ta stick together’. At my age, she trusted that I’d get all that.

Another time I was tricked by another American. We had been invited to dinner, my twin sister and I, by a friend of my mum’s, an American diplomat. We were ushered to a dining table, our host graciously asked us if we’d like dinner. ‘No, no’, we protested. He placed pastries before us. Loving the sight of them, but loath to abandon our manners, we didn’t reach out a hand. He placed them in our plates. ‘No, no’, we still protested. He said, with all the mischief of an elf, well, they’re in your plates now, you might as well eat them.

Bobby uncle is a neighbor whose house I’d walk into any hour of the day or night. One day I said to him, I wanted to call to see if it was okay to come over. He said, the day you ask me for permission to come home, I’ll break your legs.

Such are Indians. Such is their love. This is my India: where people go out of their way to be hospitable to strangers, neighbors, friends.