The art of letting go

10 10 2010

I have never known the art of letting go. The art of losing, yes. But not of letting go, of people and spaces that I have greatly loved.

It is hard to know if this is the moment to let go of someone or some space, walk away from things you believe in, things you like to do, the spaces you embraced. It is difficult for me to judge if I should let go right now or if I should stay till tomorrow. How do I know if my staying in that space will make things better and if I will regret walking away? Am I not letting go because I truly see the worth of being in that space or because of my fears and needs? Or because I want to stay addicted to the love and the laughter, the adrenaline and the driving energy?

And so, it has always been hard for me to see that moment when you have to let go and walk away. If I were Lyra’s Will I might not have seen that little patch of air which is the entrance to another world. But sometimes, suddenly there is a moment when I feel detached, when I can step away from it all, see the snag in the air and slip in.





First love…

2 08 2010

1.

I had two first loves. The first first love happened when I was 13. The second was when I was 25. The second first love had more of a life impact on me, so I will make that one the subject of my contribution to this post….

I was 25 and she was a year older than me. It was the first lesbian experience for both of us, so it was all very intense and consuming. We were good friends before we became lovers. We were both straight at that time and we both had boy friends. None of our friends knew and neither did our parents. (However her mother found out towards the end of our relationship.) We were together for two years before we broke up. During our relationship we read sad lesbian stories and books where the gay or lesbian character would often die at the end. Our favourite was ‘Lihaf – the Quilt’ – a short story by Ismat Chugtai. We both loved the sea and spent a great deal of our leisure time in the water…

It took us an age to break up…and even when we stopped being lovers, we continued to see each other as friends. Trying to keep up a pretence of friendship when you still desire someone is not a good idea. It was very difficult and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

(Next time it has to be a clean break and no seeing the ex for a good while I told myself!)

Are we still friends? Yes we are. Not the best of friends but friends nonetheless.

Sometimes when I see her I am reminded of our old relationship, but we never talk about it or discus it. I think an old flame is easily rekindled, especially the first. But we have never gone back. Some things are best left alone.

2.

As above, I have two first loves. Or I should, because I came to loving women later in life. But I spent the last few days trying to remember which boy or man I first fell in love with, and I can’t! I suppose falling in love with a boy is not really a life changing experience.

When I first met the woman I fell in love with I had no idea I would fall in love with her. If someone had told me at the time that I would fall in love with a woman half a dozen years later, I would have laughed. Some things become significant only after events have unfolded. Memories are strained through a sieve then. The sand is allowed to fall through and checked for specks of gold. The shiny stuff is kept separately.

What is chronological time when you measure feelings? At the time I used to think that we went our separate ways too soon, but maybe it was just right, that time. When the beautiful die young they are forever beautiful. Pardon my macabre sense of humor. But because there were beautiful things in it, we could remain friends. The shiny flecks could be sifted for gold and it didn’t have to be all thrown away. Why would you want to send away someone who knows you far better than most people around you, listens to the stupidest things you’ve done without judging you and gives you a hug when things are really bad? Such friends are fine gold, and I keep them close.

3.

I remember the first time I saw her.

It was such a long time ago, or so it seems to me now. Maybe that depends on the event too…and on the person. The distance and space it all acquires as time passes and you move on from your self. From the way you were then, the thoughts that passed through your head and the feelings that moved your heart and hands. The way you remember things sifting, shifting and maybe taking on qualities they never had at the time.

I couldn’t swear to any of it. What I am now is so different in every way, it could have all been a dream. There are doors in my head though, that were not there before, and I have to open a great number of them, one leading to the other like Russian dolls, deeper and deeper, into the very heart of myself, till I reach that place where I look at what I saw once and then lost and I feel the first tear burn my skin like fire.

But the pain that I imagined infinite then, has passed of course and I remember all of those events as a learning experience only, as a time in my life when I was transformed, and that is enough. I do not ask any more of it, of her, of myself now. It has been such a relief to forget, to cease wondering, to enjoy every moment of every day without waiting for the day I look up, look around and see her there again.

But when it was happening it was a continuing story in my mind, with all the passion and fire of any script, any song, any poem, any tale told to any child or lover. For it is mine, you see. It is part of my story and I am it.





What does it mean to be a man?

11 08 2009

There are some dominant characteristics that constitute being a man in south Asia. Being physically strong and attractive, being the protector, the leader, the chief decision maker, being sexually successful and being heterosexual are just some of them. These definitions are commonly referred to as Masculinities. The plural form “masculinities” conveys that there are many definitions for being a man and that these can change over time and from place to place.

These dominant forms of masculinities are instilled in men from birth onwards and perpetuated by men and women, mothers and fathers, in schools and on the streets, throughout a mans life. Once instilled, men are required to constantly prove their manliness. Men are taught from an early age that to be a successful leader you must be ready to put up a fight. Adolescent boys for example think they are proving their manliness by engaging in risky behavior, like driving too fast and too rash, or drinking and driving, or proving them selves to their friends by going through with certain dares. Ragging in universities is a good example of this in Sri Lanka. Some men consider beating their wives an expression of their manliness. Many young men are initiated into sex by their friends. Some are forced to visit sex workers whether they like it or not and rarely refuse for fear they will be considered less of a man.

These aspects of masculinity are encouraged to prevail for a man to be a “real man” and are endorsed by key institutions, such as in business, politics, the military and in sports. Such institutions are structured and designed around these masculine roles making it extremely difficult for women to play a leadership role. We see this from the few number of women in parliament in Sri Lanka for example.

However, these behaviors have a cost to society. Ragging for example has lead to countless closures of our Universities and even to the death of some students, most notably S. Varapragash in 1997. Drunk driving and the resultant injuries and deaths from road related accidents amount to millions of rupees in losses. These are costs that can be easily avoided, lives that can be saved.

What if a man were to develop and take on characteristics that are not those of the dominant man, if he were to become for instance a secretary, or a kinder garden teacher, or a nurse, would that make him less of a man? At least as women we are given the choice today to either wear pants or skirts, to work and pursue a career or to stay home and bear children or both. A young girl can be a tomboy and get away with it, but a boy who is sissy is called a “sothiya” a “ponnaya”, laughed at and taunted. A man who is not naturally aggressive or competitive is forced to pretend to be or face scorn. In fact, “feminized men” are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Studies in our neighboring countries India and Bangladesh show that feminized men are more likely to be abused as adolescents, most often by members of their own family. They are also more likely to harm themselves and commit suicide than their peers. It seems like the worst insult one man can hurl at another is the accusation that a man is like a woman.

One reason for this is that women are less valued than men in our society. We know from the rates of female infanticide across the region that this is true. The girl child is seen more as a burden and liability to the family. When compared to boys, girls are less valued hence less educated, less fed, given less opportunities, confined and treated as less than human in many instances. Our culture and the rituals associated with it celebrate the male child, while a daughter’s arrival is not half as jubilant.

Certain jobs associated with caring and rearing, are considered too demeaning for men to do, almost unclean and dirty.

But no man can possibly live up to the dominant characteristics of being a man all the time and still be human. As a society we expect too much from men. We expect them to be super human; men are looked down upon if they show emotion or if they cry, men are expected to do tough physical jobs, they must succeed at all costs, they are expected to be assertive, to know all about sex and how to perform in bed (in reality young boys get even less sex education that young girls[1])  We place too much pressure on men. And if men cant live up to the pressures we place on them, they turn to other ways to vent their frustrations like drinking, violence, abuse and the like.

As a society we need to redefine what it means to be a man. This will not only allow men to develop deep and rich connections with others, including women and children but also with other men. These connections are what make life full and rewarding, but they require vulnerability. We need to allow men to explore their softer side without being ridiculed and tormented instead of narrowing their emotional range and depth. This will be good, not just for men, but for women too. By redefining what it means to be a man, there will be less violence against women and more harmony between the sexes.


[1] In a recent review of the Millennium Development Goal indicators for young people from 9 countries in Asia, no country reported more than 50percent level of sexual knowledge among boys with some countries reporting as low as 3percent. Redefining AIDS in Asia, 2008