What she said
It is day four in the Big Brexit house.
I had hoped after Friday’s absolute catastrophe of a day that the country might somehow magically rally over the weekend. I mean, when you plunge your country into possible ruin on the promise of a golden future that will allow it to rise like a phoenix from the flames, you have a plan, right?
As it turns out, you don’t. The only person that seems to have any plan at all, and be acting on it rather than just spouting meaningless Churchillian rhetoric is Nicola Sturgeon, and I can’t even vote for her.
I was distraught and angry on Friday. I had hoped to feel better by today. Instead I am running on barely controlled rage and getting more enraged by the moment.
Here are a few things I am furious about:
Firstly, leave voters telling me to calm down. I’m sorry…
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At the best of times, this is a complicated topic to think, write or talk about. And currently, I am enmeshed in a peculiar situation with religion, albeit more intellectually stimulating than spiritually engaging.
I was born and raised in a fairly devout Catholic family, regular Sunday masses topped off with Sunday school, catechism classes, prayer at home, socialising with church folks, spending time with extended family on both sides dealing with excessive levels of praying and preaching and even having an aunt on each side who’s a nun. That said, mind that growing up Catholic in India still means having a healthy dose of pluralistic upbringing, given the sheer plethora of gods that abound in daily Indian life. My mother was always the more blindly faithful while my father maintained a healthy dose of skepticism of the institution of church while still believing in a greater force, i.e., God.
Then I left home for Singapore, and amazingly kept up with Sunday masses at church despite occasional bouts of laziness, in all honestly also because I found some company for these outings. In university, as part of my political leanings to the left of the centre, I started seriously questioning the virtue of the institution of the Church, especially in the context of exclusion of LGBTs, the various controversies relating to sexual abuse by clergy, etc, but, somewhat ironically, thanks to a close gay friend who’s Catholic, I kept up with church on Sundays. In many ways, it was the ‘community’ aspect that kept me hooked to my Christian/Catholic identity more than any faith in the religious institution itself.
Then I moved to London where I found myself very alone as a Catholic, living with non-Christians / non-religious housemates, in a Christian country which followed unfamiliar rituals (Anglican denomination), with Catholic churches located far and few in between in a large city. The community aspect of religion seemed well and truly over for me unless I could be bothered to make significant investments into finding ‘social capital’ within the church community which had zero intersections with the rest of my life. In any case, through my 20s, I found myself getting increasingly individualistic (which, I can now retrospectively connect to being less religious) and then outright atheistic with the increasing conservatism of the Church under the leadership of Pope Benedict. In the post-9/11 world, religion also proved itself to be an effective vehicle for radicalisation, further reason to reject it if one is so inclined already.
Through much of my 20s, my liberal and scientific self aspired towards rationalism, occasionally dabbling in bouts of empiricism, relativism and even nihilism. I remained wary of religion, religiosity, pious folks and their blind faith. Being atheist also conveniently comes with a not insignificant sense of superiority for having escaped the trap of the ‘opium of the people‘. My analytical mindset and, perhaps, my career in business encouraged more of utilitarian view of ethics and morality in any case – organised religion seemed so inefficient in comparison.
But over time, the appeal of atheism waned, especially with the increasing cacophony from the ‘New Atheists‘, the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose books and belief systems seemed to be just as dogmatic as institutionalised religion. As I travelled more around the world, I came to appreciate at least the legacy of religion – music, architecture, legends, stories, cultural heritage – even if not the religions themselves. I started considering myself less atheistic and more agnostic, or as I called it, spiritual but not religious. I cherry-picked some concepts / values to live by (for e.g., karma) and still vehemently rejected rituals.
Being in a relationship and then in a marriage with a Hindu Brahmin, it eventually became a matter of convenience to be irreligious so we never actively followed any rituals. When with our respective families, both of us silently suffer through whatever ceremonies we may be expected to attend with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. Both of us enjoy the shock value of being irreverent and cracking jokes on the caricatures of various religions. But I also continued to view myself culturally rooted in the Syrian Catholic community in Kerala, even if I shared NONE of their orthodoxy or conservatism.
I just finished reading a fantastic book – The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, an author whose talk I had the pleasure of attending during my exchange term at The Wharton School. The book is on moral psychology and why religion and politics divide people and although it looks at the topic with an American lens, the themes are universal. The multidisciplinary take on the topic uses a broad range of logical arguments and evidence to demonstrate how religion has several evolutionary purposes – a conclusion that squares up nicely with my rational mind and puts at rest my unease with completely rejecting religion and my need to be rational. This does not, by any measure, make me religious. It just also happens to be that we recently, as a family, went to mass at church (for various reasons) AND I have been invited by a friend to join her discussion group on Nichiren Buddhism a couple of times and I have gone and chanted. I do not know what this will lead do, and I cannot say I am at this point particularly moved spiritually by any of these recent experiences, but what an interesting journey – worthy of a post on this neglected blog, if nothing else!
Decisions, decisions – do I or do I not get my baby girl’s ears pierced? My understanding of feminism dictates that I not impose beauty standards to alter the body of a child with no agency – with no medical requirement, this would be an act purely for vanity of her parents. I do not own her body but she has no say in this. It is the same reason I was not comfortable dressing her up ridiculously for cute photoshoots, although I do love well-done themed baby photos of my friends 🙂
On the other hand, I am notoriously bad in terms of maintaining links with my Indian heritage – I am not good at being part of ‘desi’ networks overseas, I speak to her in English and worry about what identity my child will adopt as she grows up. Ear piercings are very much an Indian girl thing, and while I am averse doing something purely for the sake of tradition (FGM is also part of some traditions, after all!), I would rather she inherit the piercings as part of her Indian identity, than adopt it in a few years’ time due to brainwashing by media on how girls must appear. And at what age is a person deemed to have a proper sense of agency anyway? Five? Fifteen? Eighteen? The logic most older Indians will offer for getting the piercing done early – the child will not remember the pain, it gets harder once they’re older and have phobias of needles and such.
Furthermore, I love my earrings and cannot fathom giving them up to be a role model to her, should I choose not to get her ears pierced. I am aware of the ongoing discussion in the UK on banning ear piercings for babies, but I also do not like getting overly caught up in symbols. Not getting her ears pierced today and having her obsess over it and go crazy over them tomorrow (what I call the ‘forbidden fruit effect’) – not ideal. Getting her ears pierced but having her achieve whatever she wants in life, irrespective of her sex – excellent!
An example of such an outcome would be my favourite image in recent times – the awesomeness of Indian women, in all their traditional garb, celebrating their success in the mission to Mars. This certainly beats a politically-correct image of a woman locked out of typically ‘male domains’ such as science, tech or finance.
Dilemma. Feminists and/or Indian women (not that they are mutually exclusive!), please discuss.
Note to non-Indian readers: Beware of pooh-poohing this as a non-issue. I would consider circumcision an act of violence to my baby boy, if I had one, because I do not place any cultural weight on the act, like people of other faiths do. But I do not judge other people who consider it important for their sense of identity. So please do not reduce this to simply an act of violence. Also, I am aware of the medical risks of piercing at jewellers with “gunshot” (cannot be sterilised), so I am looking into medical facilities offering this with use of topical anaesthetic.
Less than a month before MH17 and just a few months after MH370, my husband took long haul return flights on Malaysian Airlines – we recall seeing Donetsk on the flight map and admiring Tehran as we flew over it in a very clear sky.
We had some real annoyances with the airline – complete inability to check in online, leading us to be checked in to separate sections of the aircraft (upstairs and downstairs!), friendly but somewhat clueless customer service over the phone etc. So we would grumble to each other – geez, what an airline, no wonder they lost an airplane (wrt MH370). It felt OK to whinge about the airline and even make jokes like ‘haha, I hope they don’t lose our plane’. I guess it felt fine to say it because statistically speaking, the odds of the same airline having two major incidents within the space of a few months are very low indeed. Guess I should have paid more attend to that Black Swan book a few years ago when I read it.
The bombing of a civilian aircraft (minding its own business at 30,000 feet) as collateral damage to a pointless conflict is chilling, to say the least. The stories of a 100 AIDS researchers/campaigners etc, the 80 children, the mangled bodies…nothing is comforting.
To add to the misery of the aircrash story, there is the relentless violence in Gaza in a conflict that seems as old as time itself. I refuse to expound on my views on the topic here but that the world is willing to look away while innocent children get caught in the crossfire makes me mad. What is everyone waiting for, where’s the intervention that is happily deployed when convenience strikes?
It has been a grim week in the world recently, hope the universe is planning on tilting the balance towards a bit of positivity.
I have been thinking a lot about work and its place in our lives. As an older Millennial/GenY person, I subscribe to views that resonate and conflict somewhat with both those of the younger Millennial lot and those of the older Gen X lot. At various points, I have switched and straddled between traditional, conservative, white-collar professions and more entrepreneurial, informal, ‘cool’ roles. I have been attracted by and developed aversions for different types of jobs at various points in my brief career thus far. After some 6 years of working and a 2-year MBA in between, I am hardly an authority on all matters relating to work, but one thing I have figured out for sure is that there is no such thing as a perfect job. This conviction in our generation about the existence of a perfect job for each one (like a perfect mate) is surely one of the reasons why we are inevitably set up for unhappiness, apart from the many other reasons for unhappiness articulated well here. Even before I hit ‘Publish’ on this post, I can already hear the clamouring dissent to my claim above – ‘yes, there is a perfect job, if you follow your passion’, etc etc.
Back in the day, most people who could chose the safe option (corporate careers, long tenures until retirement etc) while the truly brave and different picked the road less travelled, truly ‘following their passion’ if you may. Now, there is a mainstream of people who are ‘off-the-beaten-path’, which begs the question on what it means to be on a ‘beaten path’. Never before have there as many articles, blogs, podcasts, private and public exhortations on self-actualising by taking a risk, placing a bet, taking a blind leap of faith, finding yourself, investing in yourself. To do anything less than something deeply in-tune with one’s calling is to ‘sell out’, or deal in ‘wage slavery’ even. Of course, this discourse on ‘Do What You Love’ is inherently elitist, because not all people can afford to take on unpaid internships and most people simply have to work to get by. But let’s be honest, even if you truly, madly, deeply believe in your work and identify with it strongly, reality can still bite, after all, especially as there is little distinction between ‘work’ and ‘life’ in such cases.
This conviction about life = work and work = life is probably to blame for the unprecedented trend of work taking centre-stage in our lives. The rich, educated who work hard for a ‘good life’ now have a reward of still more work and less leisure – in direct contrast to what it meant to be rich in previous generations. So many Millennials place such an undue weight on their jobs that it often takes something like a serious health issue or death in the family to serve as a wake-up call about the other equally, if not more important, aspects of life. I am guilty of this – I tend to define success in very narrow terms, almost completely tied to professional success and tend to hold as role-models men and women who have astounding careers, even if at the cost of their personal lives, happiness, health, etc. But it may have something to do with me getting older, wiser, less fit/healthy and more time-starved but I am starting to evaluate the trade-offs of having it all. I am going through some serious thinking on whether it is better to lean in or recline. On some days, I am guilty of being a downright entitled Muppie (embarrassing to admit, but true story).
This discussion is complicated still further if you have a complex relationship with money. For instance, for someone in the kind of profession I am in, my lifestyle has a super low burn rate…I don’t hanker after ‘stuff’, and even with experiences, I have low-maintenance tastes. However, I see monetary compensation as an important barometer of success, especially in relative terms within the same career. So if money, beyond a point, is not a strong motivator, what do I work hard for? Learning, curiosity, interest? If I got those things in a different career which paid half as much, would I consider myself less successful? Hmm.
Oh well. I am sure I will figure it out. Knowing myself, I am likely to be more guilty of leaning too far in, and trying to take on the world – this thread of thoughts is good for me to temper my natural tendencies… Meanwhile, let me ruminate on the complex relationship between identity, the work we do and the life we aspire to.
Due to a recent ski injury on my left knee, I have had limited mobility for a few weeks now. I spent the first two weeks (which coincided with my birthday too) working from home, travelling by taxis if necessary and generally moping about my situation – I am embarrassed to admit that I whinged about having to cancel a couple of weekend getaways (talk about a first world problem).
Recently, I decided to stop cancelling trips and just go for some planned trips to Amsterdam and Vienna. I learnt to appreciate the wonderful infrastructure in the various airports and the Eurostar for wheelchair provision, ramps and faster processing of queues. I had never paid very much attention to these facilities until now, and I am very impressed.
I grew up in India where, it’s safe to generalise, accessibility and inclusion are NOT top of mind for the public or for planners. Broadly speaking, the culture allows people with disabilities to be marginalised; often, pity is the best reaction they can hope for, rather than respect. The infrastructure is not planned keeping in mind enablers for people with limited mobility, vision or hearing – good luck finding ramps in public spaces or beeping traffic lights in India. It is perhaps of this cultural context that I am always pleasantly stunned at the relative level of independence disabled people enjoy in this part of the world (I realise this may be a controversial statement to make, so I brace myself). For instance, before moving out of India, I would never thought possible for a blind person to navigate public transport independently, but TfL has a support system for this. While there is no denying that there is a long way to go, even in this part of the world, to fully include people with physical or other limitations, I just wanted to express appreciation for what I have experienced in these past few days in my temporary situation of limited mobility.
On the other hand, I have also seen the harsher side of living in a city always on the fast-track; as someone who always enjoyed the fast pace, I never fully understood the downside for those who cannot keep up. I got nearly mobbed by the rush hour crowd at Euston station because of my slow pace when I foolishly took a train to client offices before I was more healed. Shockingly, I also did not have anyone offer me a seat during the only tube ride I took in the last 6 weeks despite my very obvious and visible knee brace; it was only two stops so I did not bother creating a fuss either. At least this has taught me a lesson on being more empathetic in the future and to look up from my book/iPad/nap to notice someone who may need a seat more than I do.
I was never a serious blogger. I maintained a personal blog during university years for private ruminations and consumption only by close friends. I started this blog intending it to be a portal for more considered and thoughtful writing, but between such high expectations of myself and the lack of a made-up moniker, I soon got too self-conscious to ‘put myself out there’ so much with my writing – for that is exactly what writing is. Over the past few years, I became more and more a consumer of content, rather than a creator, only occasionally making my presence felt on Twitter. And it recently occurred to me that this truly bothers me – tweeting is not exercising my writing muscle, and 140 characters are not enough for my verbose self. So, even if at the risk of putting very mediocre writing out there, I shall write. Wish me luck.