It’s a man’s world

India is a difficult country to be in for a woman, especially if you’ve just arrived from a place as liberal, open and tolerant as London.

In London, people constantly talk about women having to smash through the “glass ceiling” where management-level positions are concerned and bridging the gap between the genders, especially in certain sectors like finance and tech.

In India, a woman would be fortunate to see the outside of a kitchen and the inside of a school, let alone a board room: in Rajasthan, India’s largest state, only slightly over half (52%) of women can read and write. Given her circumstances, a woman is considered blessed to have – and be able to shirk all responsibilities and leave – the four walls of her home, what more talk about this elusive and far-fetched idea of a “glass ceiling” which is all the rage in the West.

When Darren and I walk around the streets, it is Darren that the many different salesmen (always men) address first (this could also be because he is white and I look Indian). Indian women seem to still be confined to their homes to cook, clean and take care of the children, as well as go out to beg (if their husbands don’t make enough money).

Indian women are always someone else’s wife, mother, sister, daughter-in-law – their duty is to always be of service to someone else first and never themselves; their identities seemingly lost in someone else’s.

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Maybe knowing ourselves (or at least thinking we know ourselves) is a privilege granted to those of us who live in liberal countries; a privilege we don’t realise is a privilege at all until we see that it isn’t so freely afforded to everyone. And it is such a damn shame because the injustice is painful to bear witness to and there is so much unfulfilled potential as a result.

Our camel safari guide told us that his tips would be used to send his two sons to school, but not his daughters. His reason? Because his daughters would eventually marry, and be provided for, by someone else’s sons so there was no need to provide them with the opportunity to learn to read and write. This patriarchy is so deeply embedded in society that no one questions it – it’s just the way things are and women have accepted it as their fate.

Women are fighting all around the world to be treated as equals, but to extremely varying degrees: a woman’s fight for workplace equality in Iceland is a different kettle of fish altogether compared to a woman’s fight for individual expression in India.

Indira Gandhi becoming India’s first ever female prime minister back in 1966 shows that women rising to positions of power isn’t a distant dream here. There couldn’t be a greater achievement than being the head of government of the world’s second largest nation, but the country still has a long way to go before women are released from the shackles of patriarchy and allowed to express themselves just as freely and openly as men are allowed to do, as well as being provided with the same opportunities.

Let’s talk about Attention, the ‘Sumatran Elephant’ in the room

We live in an “information glut” and it’s an excess that we should be concerned about (never a more apt time for the hashtag #firstworldproblems…) because it’s not something that has obvious side effects. Clogged arteries might make us feel sharp pains in our chest while we’re busting a gut on the treadmill, but what signs do we watch out for when we’ve had too much of scrolling through social media news feeds ad infinitum?

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media and in recent times it has drifted towards the latter (after being on hiatus from Facebook for over 12 months I realise now how much I despise using it) because it robs me of time and control over thought patterns. It also means that whatever attention span I have is scattered between the channels I use (using more platforms = more fragmented attention) and so I have less time to direct that limited attention to producing something of value.

Social media platforms encourage users to use them more, if not to post, then at least to scroll through feeds and digest MORE content (read this piece from the BBC about Facebook’s algorithms and a personal favourite from ex-Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris on how tech hijacks the mind), which is the reason platforms are providing an abundance of content in all of its forms: status updates, live profile photos, photos, 360 photos, videos, live broadcasts, disappearing media. If there’s another variable to add to that list, then you can bet the third mole on your arm that it’ll be on Facebook at some point.

Then there is the problem of private FB accounts not being quite so ‘private’ as photos or status updates that you put up, and which your friends engage with, end up appearing on their news feeds. This side to social media of feeling so exposed – of leaving more and more digital footprints that perpetuates who you are at a particular moment in time and which creates an inadvertent projection of yourself that you might not want to bear witness to in future (or that you might want to keep in the past) – is quite disconcerting. Redemption? No such thing when most of the online world is permanent.

Attention isn’t close to being the ‘Sumatran elephant’ in the room in that it will never be extinct at such, but it has never been more fragmented than it is now. And the fact that this scarce resource that is our attention has been so sought after shows us that attention is desirable and valuable in itself and it is so because where attention is, so is the bling.

The more time you spend on these platforms, the more ads you see in your feed and the greater the likelihood that you will make a purchase, making FB even more valuable to advertisers. And the more valuable it is to advertisers, the more bling it makes and the more it is able to reinvest into the platform to make it more engaging, and it goes on and on and on. At what point FB’s growth ceases is anyone’s guess.

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Fuck dis shit we gettin’ outta here son

So I am at least going to attempt to wean myself off a dependence on distraction and refrain from social media during our trip, and will be deactivating all social channels to focus on the reasons we are going on the trip in the first place: to have one hell of an amazing adventure (without our noses stuck in our phones), to focus on personal projects for the near future, and to spend time with loved ones.

Will still be updating this blog (with updates shared through The Rambling Wanderers FB page, managed through a private account) and will resurface on Instagram again sometime after September, but until then, there’s a lot of improvement to be done here 🙂

Losing spontaneity

There’s something that’s been on my mind lately that I haven’t quite been able to put a finger on and it sort of has been swirling around and around in my head, tainting other thoughts that have been passing through.

If we were to get into the habit of truth-telling here, it feels like I’ve lost something over some time and I wasn’t entirely sure what it was (I say ‘wasn’t’ because I think I might know what it is now). This loss happened over a number of months – years even – without my being aware, and sadly as is often the case with a lot of things we don’t even realise we’re doing (or maybe it happens to me more often than it does to others because of my acute lack of ability to focus on multiple things at a time), it didn’t even occur to me that this loss had happened until recently.

Some people call it ‘growing up’ and others call it ‘life’ (like an old man who stole a parking spot I signalled for two weeks ago in Bath who muttered those words to me while I fumed in the car), but much as most people will bang on the ‘life is all about perspective’ drum (which is true to some extent), I cannot help but see this transition to humdrum as an unfortunate tragedy. And in this transition, something so vital to vitality itself was lost, and that thing was spontaneity.

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Granted, we all grow up, most of us get full-time jobs and work 9-5 (sometimes even outside of those hours), we travel to work and back, put our legs up when we get home and do mindless things like watch TV shows before the next 24 hours roll around again and we find ourselves doing just about the same things. On this scale, we are often counting down to the weekend and before we know it, months and even years have passed us by because there is nothing to distinguish one time period from the next.

On a larger scale, we place invisible markers on how much we need to earn before we leave in search of the next role and the next step up the ladder, keep a close tab on the amount of annual leave we have left and count down to that time off, consider getting a house, a car, a partner (or a dog), a fridge that dispenses ice, a gym membership because we are getting fat or because our biceps aren’t big enough, a pension although we don’t even understand half of what it means. And on and on it goes, a spinning top with no end to its ceaseless whirling…

I count myself luckier than most – I’ve had the good fortune of working with a company that has treated me well and given me a number of promotions in the space of three years (granted, after starting a PR career in hell-on-earth), but despite all of that something still seems to be missing. As we’ve lived in London for almost 6 years, it’s easier to measure these things against the constant that is the place (i.e. it’s not the place’s fault). I was far more proactive in earlier times about doing new things (I was a student then and had more free time, but less money) than I am now.

These days, I find myself spending the weekends just chilling and no longer making plans to do anything at all, let alone fun things (‘being a grown up’ is a TERRIBLE excuse for lack of initiative). I kind of miss that. It feels like I have parted from myself, and it wasn’t an amicable separation.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for planning; careful planning and then acting on those plans are 100% essential to reaching goals. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you are sitting on your ass doing nothing. And granted, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. But completely forsaking fun and spontaneity while doing that feels like a tragedy. A wasted life even.

Which is what I’m hoping to recoup during this time abroad and while spending 7-8 months travelling. It’s like going to marriage counselling with spontaneity and seeing what went wrong and where. Of course there are many other things we want to do while travelling, like reconnecting with ourselves as ridiculous and new age as that sounds (no better a place than India – although searching for an oasis of calm amid chaos is going to be challenging…) – having the freedom to be spontaneous is one of the highlights for me, and truth be told, I can’t wait to be reunited with my old self again.

Getting rid of stuff and backpacking

Seven years ago, I spent about six months getting rid of stuff.

Clothes in the cupboard, used toiletries, random stuff like hats, books, sunglasses and all sorts of things that a person might own. It wasn’t a huge cleanout and there wasn’t a lot of effort put into it, hence the reason it took six months. I’d spend pockets of time here and there donating stuff to charities or passing them on to relatives who might find better use for those things.

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You get the idea…

My mother had just died and I wasn’t sure I wanted to stare into a cupboard full of clothes no one was going to use (her cupboard was next to mine). Her perfume also sat in that same cupboard which she used to wear on special occasions (in the months following her death, each time I caught a whiff of it it would trigger lots of tears), and there were lines from the Bible offering comfort IN CAPS which coloured her bedroom wall which I often looked at with what felt like unenthused dispassion.

And it was in all of that cleaning, and in all of that staring at clothes hanging from the rails and putting stuff into black bin bags, that the realisation hit me like a punch in the gut. My mother was gone and there was not a single bit of comfort to be had in her belongings whatsoever. She used them and they benefitted her while she was alive, but they no longer had utility now, at least not in our home where her things will no longer be used or worn.

On the outset, I thought that I was being practical with all of the cleaning (and I was – to some extent) but perhaps there was more to it than that (hindsight is a beautiful thing). This brilliant piece in the New Yorker looks at loss as “putting us in our place; it confronts us with lack of order and loss of control” so perhaps it was also an attempt to regain some semblance of control under emotionally chaotic circumstances.

It turns out that all the memories we made travelling (or even doing something as simple as having dinner) together were much more valuable than the things that sat in our home or that I had inherited from her. Those things meant nothing, zero, zilch. Pearl necklaces? Don’t care. Diamond engagement rings? Not interested.

About a year or so after all of this cleaning happened, I travelled to Cambodia to teach English to children who either had AIDS or had lost their parents to AIDS to put my loss into context. While the intention was noble, the focus wasn’t. It was self-directed, and perhaps to an extent selfish, but it turned out that it was giving and other-centredness that made me the happiest.

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School near the rubbish landfill area outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

All of the time that I’ve spent abroad – in Cambodia included – NOT following the path of least resistance of school to higher education, to degree, to job (which I realise I was privileged to have had the chance to pursue at all) was when I felt most alive, which I learned from the most, and which I look back on with not an ounce of regret (again, hindsight is a beautiful thing).

So if the formula works, wash, rinse and repeat!

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This cheese is true. Eugh.