Exploring Self Worth…

Sitting at the airport for a few hours the other day, I was consumed with one prevailing thought. Everyone seems to be trying to be someone. You have the business suits, the cool teens, the frequent fliers, the first timers, the couples, the families, the backpackers. Some people dress nice but look so depleted, so sad and forlorn. And that got me thinking about what they really think of themselves vis a vis what they want to be seen as.

The concept of being born for something. A reason. A purpose. To make a difference.

Does there always have to be a reason for it? What about being born to just be?

People talk about making a difference to the world, adding value to it. They say you are born for greatness. To accomplish. To help. To make something of yourself.

What if all of this was nothing but a bunch of lies, possibly invented to comfort someone. Only somewhere along the line, it has now become a universally accepted belief; one that does nothing but put an enormous amount of unnecessary pressure on each of us to ‘achieve’ something. A thing that will justify one’s very purpose of existence!

What if all one ever wants to do is live a life full of peaceful existence? Away from the crowds? What if all that matters most to someone is to love someone – child or partner or… Does this make one less worthy? Less significant? Less deserving? Must the stamp always be on a sheet of paper, that can be framed on a wall, hopefully preserved by generations that follow, as evidence of purposeful existence?

I almost find it alarming that almost everyone on this planet is expected to have dreams – dreams of things they want to achieve. Why should they?

What if one’s dream is to never become a parent? Or what if one’s dream is to be the most supportive, eternally loving and understanding spouse to their partner? Why does that automatically raise eyebrows or make people assume that this person is weird, submissive, spineless? Is it not an ‘accomplishment’ to love? To love for loves’ sake? No boundaries. No motives, no hidden agendas, no divisions. To just be the greatest giver of love (without intending to be)?

Why must we be ambitious about goals and materialistic things? I may be perfectly happy living my life without fighting for things and attention, reducing this constant need to struggle, to push, to compete; in order to be or have something deemed fit by society. Does that make me a loser?

We seem to have forgotten a most essential thing to our core – we are not defined by things we have/got/made/accomplished. Or in today’s world, by how many likes or followers we have. We are defined by who we are.
So really, who are you?

-Ramona Arena 2015.

Baring It All.

Just as the cool dew of morn
Kisses every blade of green
You don’t have to smile, she cooed
With moisturising timidity.

Parched, like dry, cracked land
For oh so long
He’d forgotten the taste of rain,
As her words he absorbed.

Tis better than the alternative
He grimaced unwittingly.
For he meant to flash another smile
Maintaining appearances & dignity.

Her tone of vanilla
Took on a softer hue
In order to lift the floodgates
And let the water through.

Leave it be
Let the candle burn.
Don’t worry about the flicker,
It’s a part of it’s sojourn.

Her gaze lay fixed
Upon his stare
Tears also make moments
Memorable and rare.

He looked at her suspiciously
As the winds of caution blew
Dark clouds rolled in continuously,
Squeezed dry, leaking through the roof.

With defences disguised in the form of clothes,
No recollection of when she stripped him bare,
He now lay covered in those very drops of dew
Reflecting her light through the sunshines’ glare.

-Ramona Arena 2014.

Hello Gorgeous!

Oh yes, You!

You are so beautiful,

You don’t even see!

Your relevance,

Such significance

It’s almost uncanny.

You shine and glow,

But you won’t believe.

For you let the fog stay put,

In the guise of fear; insecurity.

If only I could lend you my eyes

To see what you really are.

Vulnerability is an appealing truth,

We’ve all misjudged for being weak.

And why do you interrupt your

Pretty, beaming smile?

Happiness is a worthy friend,

Consult your inner child.

We all have fragile hearts

That’ve been smashed to smithereens.

We all deserve much better now

So smile, love, breathe.

To be alive in a world with you

Is such a wonderful gift.

It’s one you must realize,

Without further ado, be swift!

-Ramona Arena 2014.

Conversation.

The milky moon
Shining full and bright
Negates the intensity
Of the ebony night

Beaming down
Upon the sea
He boasts aloud
Drunk with vanity.

The stars weren’t bothered
They just ignored
The pompous moon
With claims so broad.

‘They’re filled with envy’
He justified,
‘But I control you beings
With water and tide.’

Now a lone urchin boy
Seated on a rock
Looked up at the moon
Thinking ‘what a shmuck!’

He kept on ranting
Till the lad could take no more
‘Shut up you dim wit
Your flatulence, I abhore.’

Aghast, the moon scowled
‘Who do you think you are!
Don’t you know who I am?
I can wreck you with my power!’

‘You’re nothing alone
You can only shine
Because the sun loves you
And lets you steal her light

You’re not even a planet
You can’t host or sustain life
You’re dented, cold and old
A lonely satellite’

‘You know not what I had to go through
To evolve and get to this stage.
There’d be no earth without me
No animals nor human race.

Just like the other scum
All that you can see
Is a rabbit on my face
But I stabilize thee!

All of you ingrates
Your time will come
When I leave your sight
Disaster will be done!

And then you will remember
All I wanted was respect and affection.
But you are a selfish species
Bringing doom upon creation.’

23rd Aug 2015. Ramona Arena.

Who’s To Blame

We sit here,

We sit here

Terrified.

With hands tied,

Seeing her scream,

Watching him lie,

Time and again.

Everyday.

Your are slapped,

With the pain,

As you drive, as you walk;

On your wall, its the same.

You wanna help,

You wanna try,

You’d give

Whatever it takes.

But they won’t let you,

Cuz they got nothin to gain.

So they’ll hunt you down,

Arrest you, threaten your life,

Torture your family,

Rape your women and child.

Let you bleed real slow,

Up until you’re dry.

But you’re okay with it all,

Cuz this is destined life.

When will you wake up you fool?

When will you have enough?

Their fancy cars go by,

You stand and breathe their dust.

This is a crime.

This is a shame.

This is outrageous.

But will we change?

This ain’t no culture.

This ain’t faith.

Not tradition.

Or a religious game.

Its your life,

Its your right,

Take away,

The kryptonite

They’re holding onto

with fists clamped so tight.

Democracy is a joke,

When you’re afraid to smile.

This ‘freedom’ is the lullaby,

That makes them sleep in peace each night.

Where shall I point my finger?

‘Congratulations!! It’s a perfectly normal and healthy baby girl!!’
Most people would be thrilled to hear that. But then again many would consider that to be a disappointment, a burden, a result of bad karma, a tragedy or a reason to get pregnant again, hoping this time the Gods’ won’t curse you with another girl child.
I’m not here to judge, I’m just thinking out loud and trying to understand – why for generations, a girl, a woman has been seen as an inconvenience, not just by men but by women too. So this time, I’m going to place the ball in your court and ask you 6 questions. Take your time and think about it. I would love to hear what all of you – male, female, young, old etc have to say. And of course I know I am generalizing here – there are exceptions, but we’re looking at the larger picture.
*Please don’t reply with it’s our culture/tradition/religion; unless you have actually read up on your culture and can send me facts to back up your statement. Facts don’t include what your parents, teachers, guru babas said.
1.     Why is it expected that a good wife will cook, clean, look after the house, bear children, attend to them, to her husband, his family and tend to every need each of them may have and go to work whilst a good husband will go to work – all else is beneath him?
2.     Why is this ‘good’ wife an even better one if she quietly bears the brunt of his stress – be it emotionally, sexually, physically or mentally?
3.     Why is a single woman frowned upon and called a slut if she enjoys sex, but a single man is patted on his back and called a stud if he does the same?
4.     Why is it so hard for single, independent women to find apartments to rent whilst if there are men, it’s no problem at all?
5.     Why is she a bad influence, not a fit candidate to take home to ‘mother’, if she wears clothes that show skin, lives her life her way, has lots of male friends, tattoos, parties, smokes and drinks?
6.     Why is she too much to handle if she isn’t afraid to stand up for and be herself? Why is her opinion not worthy of being voiced?
I know most urban women will relate to at least one of these questions. We have all experienced these situations directly, seen it second hand within families, amongst friends and with house-help too. I know a lot of men who seem very liberal and open minded but when it comes to their own wives, sisters or daughters, something kicks in and everything that was acceptable suddenly isn’t.
If you could help me understand why we as a society (again not just men) discriminate against our own, I would be able to find peace and make some sense out of what we are doing to ourselves. It’s easy to point fingers, bash, blame everyone and the government!
But before I choose sides in a seemingly never ending blame game, I just want to ask –
How many of you mothers have knowingly defended the wrongs of your sons, husbands and fathers; how many of you have oppressed your daughters; secretly favored your son over your daughter – yet she is the one you expect to look after you in your old age; taken abuse silently – verbal or physical; judged other women based on their appearances?
How many of you women have thought it was okay for your mothers to behave this way? And let it continue?
How many of you men have treated women badly even in the smallest way? Accepted parents/ in laws hitting their grown daughters? Thought certain women need to be taught lessons? Told a woman how to behave/dress? Asked for dowry? Expect her to do all the housework? Watched women get teased, tormented, harassed in public and just walked away minding your own business?
I state again, I am not judging or condemning anyone here. But if there is an inner voice that (despite the obvious external discomfort) identifies with an ‘I have’ to even one of these questions, I think it’s time that we remember to look deep within each of ourselves, before pointing fingers outwardly.
There is no denying – A change must begin.  But it only begins within – regardless of religion, education, social standing, wealth and gender.

Happy Diwali …

Another day begins in Mumbai. I have much too much going on. In my life, in my heart, in my head, with work etc. We all do I guess. As Sapna, Harrish and I make our way to a place I’ve never even heard of in my city, our rickshaw explodes with political talk, India, the possibility vs the reality of change and solutions. All that chattering comes to a halt as we reach our destination and find a smiling Dipesh awaiting us.

The four of us started walking through the chawl. This place has Muslims and Hindus living together in peace side by side. I started looking around and it took me back to a different life, in a different era. Kids playing together outside, every huts doors wide open, roosters running around, everyone keeping the area clean and plain happy faces all around. I dressed very simply as I did not want to stand out or seem different, but I guess all of us just didn’t look like we were from there, so the novelty factor got everyones attention as we passed them by. Smiling eyes peeked from windows, happy shop keepers waved and excited children led us to the exact place we had to go to. Just then I saw a coal iron – it was so beautiful. I asked if I could take a picture, the lady who was ironing was more than happy to let me and posed even with a big smile. The other girls around her chuckled and hid behind the curtain. Once I finished clicking, they were all more than eager to speak to me and tell me how this is the best iron for clothes.

We then proceeded to ‘The HIJRA Community Centre’ at Char Chowghi. We were welcomed by Gauri Sawant, a woman who is witty, charming, hilarious, motivated, inspiring, strong and she shed so much light upon us. Appropriate considering it’s Diwali! We greeted the Guru Ma, sat on the floor with a few more women and the talks started. We were offered so much to eat and drink, it was heart warming. Initially we politely declined. We were asked to answer with a simple yes or no. Gauri asked ‘If I came to your house would you accept me not even having a glass of water or tea? Would you let me leave just like that?’ Our ‘buts’ started and she thundered ‘just answer with a yes or a no – it’s that simple’. We smiled and indulged in their hospitality. Growing up in India, having a ‘proper’ education, it’s amazing how we are still so unaware of our own people and their ways of life.

There is a difference between a transgender and a Hijra. A Hijra is a part of a community – like a sufi Community or Parsi community. No one just becomes a Hijra just like that. They have Guru Ma’s, they are each others solace, friends and family. If you see one in a sari or dressed as a woman, refer to her as she – not he, not it. Did you know they have to go through 3 years of psychological consultation and evaluation to be able to get permission to have the operation? Do you know they save a lot of their own hard earned money just to be able to have that operation? I’m sure you cannot imagine the pain of being trapped somewhere (in their case in a mans’ body) when all you want to do is get out. I can fully understand them, I’ve been through that and it’s not a fun feeling – you feel as if you’re trapped in the tiniest jail cell, its walls are constantly drawing closer to you, you cannot breathe, you’re choking, suffocating, screaming and yet all people around you do is laugh, instead of lending you a hand.

They are often abandoned by their families, shunned and mocked by society, raped, disrespected and considered unworthy of love. They are ridiculed for being true to themselves – here’s my question, how many of us actually have the guts to see who we truly are, be who we want to be and not care about how difficult life will be and how much pain it will cause one mentally, emotionally and physically? We are conditioned by society and so if something or someone is different to societys’ warped concept of normal, they are termed weird, crazy, mentally ill, f*cked up etc. Why do we fear individuality? Why do we fear things and people that are different? A lot of this can also be linked to procreation and Lord Brahma. I won’t delve deeper into this, but reading and understanding Hindu Mythology and Indian history during the Mughal Empire will explain a lot and prove that all of this is and has been a part of our ‘culture’.

These ladies were so polite, respectful, fluent in English, well educated and knowledgable about current affairs and laws. Despite everything they have gone through and still go through, they stood tall, smiled constantly and cracked us up as they spoke. They want to be accepted but aren’t because of irrational fears, preconceived notions that are all man made. Sure, there are a few rotten apples, but don’t we all have them in every community, in every family? That doesn’t mean we judge them for it. And who the hell are we to judge anyway? What gives us the right? Our own self-made, self-superiority complexes?? I’ll be honest, I don’t like it when they touch me and threaten to curse me if I don’t give them money, but then again how are they supposed to feed themselves, get medication etc? Who looks after them except their community? We give beggars, old and handicapped people money, but nothing to them because they are a nuisance. Why this discrimination? How often have you said/heard ‘Oh shit, quickly roll up the windows, the Hijras are coming. We’ll be safe behind the glass and if we turn up the music we won’t hear their curses..’ I’d just like to say, I’ve also met many Hijras that I’ve not paid, only spoken to nicely or smiled at and they’ve left me with a blessing. One of them even paid for my friends rickshaw fare when she fell short of cash.

It takes guts to commit to being a member of the Hijra family. Don’t just think of the physical part. That’s being narrow minded. Look at the commitment to a lifetime filled with hardship, discrimination, hate and injustice and still rising above it all, standing tall with a big heart and open smile. They have seen more life than most of us. They are souls of awareness. They have nothing more to lose and in that, they have their freedom and happiness. Something all of us crave, hardly any will achieve.

It was time to leave; we clicked pictures, got blessed by the Guru Ma and as they walked us out till the rickshaws, all I felt was an overwhelming sense of inspiration and strength. We were meant to make theirs a Happy Diwali,  instead they showered us with immense love and happiness, leaving us with good, positive and motivating energy.

We headed towards an 85 year old ladys’ home next. Dipesh met her at his doctor. He’s been helping her out whenever possible, bringing her clean sheets, sorting out her meals, her walking stick, cable connection etc. She’s lonely, has no one to talk to, no family or friends left, her daughters have abandoned her and therefore is left with hurt, anger and her memories of a painful past. We picked up some juice, chocolate and oats for her.

Vatsala spoke in Marathi. Each time she spoke of her past we changed the topic, made up stories, each of us told her what we do for a living. She told Sapna to cut her hair the next time and made me sing for her. I knew just one Marathi song… just 2 lines of it. Everyone encouraged me to go for it regardless. Her face lit up and she sang with me. And then we sang it again, this time everyone joined in. She ate chocolate, drank juice which she refused to do before. She told us it felt nice to have us here, that when she’s alone she only has memories, having Krishna (the only God she has ever believed in and calls Dipesh that) and his friends around keeps her mind occupied. When we walked in, she spoke of how much she wanted to die. As we left, she asked when we were coming back and where we could go to the next time, so she has a change of scene.

I couldn’t get myself to write about this yesterday because it was so heavy, there was so much to just take in and absorb… I’m still reeling. Moments like these, days like these put life and my ‘issues’ into perspective. I have so much to be grateful for, how can I have the audacity to be sad, upset, crib and whine about my life?

We are all human beings at the end of the day. Not Hindu, Not Muslim, Not Jew, Not Christian, Not Hijra, Not Gay, Not Lesbian, Not Indian, Not Pakistani, Not Rich, Not Poor. None of these stupid religious and political divisions!!!! We are all one. We are all love. We are all from the same Source! We will all be reduced to ash and bones.

I leave you with something Gauri said that just hit me, touched me and will forever stay in my heart. She said it in Hindi, but I’ll translate it into English. ‘No matter how high up and successfully the kite may be flying in the air, fact is the thread and it’s reel are always on the ground, right? And that’s where it should stay, for we all know what happens to the kite once that thread gets cut. And that is life… you never know when the thread may get cut.’

Happy Diwali everyone… Stay enlightened and spread the light.


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The lady with the coal iron.


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The signboard above, where the Guru Ma (in picture) lives.


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Vatsala.


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Much beauty exists, much love exists. It’s a shame we live with eyes tight shut.