European Adventure (Barcelona, Spain)

“Barcelona – It was the first time that we met
Barcelona – How can I forget
the moment that you stepped into the room you took my breath away
And if God willing we will meet again, someday”

-Freddy Mercury-

Barcelona is a dream. One of the major cities in Spain, capital of Catalonia, situation in the Northwestern side of the Mediterranean Sea. This was definitely our favourite city in Europe thus far. Unfortunately, we only stopped over for about 4 days before heading to Italy. Barcelona is incredibly tourist friendly and is fairly affordable in comparison to top-tiered European cities.  Due to our short time in this city, our tips and recommendation are confined to whatever we had time to see!

Where to Stay

 

barcelona

It is definitely recommended to stay closer to where the action is in Barcelona, in our case, it was the Gothic Quarter. We loved our stay here as it was very close to La Ramblas and the neighbourhood had some charming back lanes.

Getting Around Barcelona

Barcelona is very well-connected by the metro line and buses. If you stay somewhere near the city centre, then you find that most attractions are close-by and walkable. Only a few, like the Sagrada, Parc Guell and Camp Neu are a little further.

From the airport, you can catch the Aerobus to the city centre which would cost about €5. This would a cheaper option in comparison to the train or a taxi.

The city has a Barcelona Pass tailored for tourist (access to 15 attractions, ride on Hop On and Hop Off and unlimited use of the public transportation. We did not opt for this pass as we were not interested in seeing that many monuments. Instead, we bought T10 (10 single journey tickets) at a slightly lower price. There are also other options as listed here.

Highlights

Mercat de La Boqueria 

Once we  reached Barcelona after a layover at Orly Airport, Paris, we were exhausted and slept the day away. So, we woke up the next day FAMISHED!

The market was less than half a km from our AirBnb home. We walked into this beautiful market and were met with the bustling of morning crowd buying fresh produce, the smell of food and arrays of freshest ingredients! It really is a paradise for foodies and cooks.

We highly recommend El Quim for their tapas are incredible. So fresh and flavours that makes you go ooohhh and ahhhh. For dinner, we really liked Bar Central (friendly waiters and amazing food!). Ask the waiters for their specialty.

Make sure to walk around and enjoy the fresh juices. We recommend the ones with the coconut blend, so so delicious (only €1 each cup), get those arrays of home made chocolates, varieties of nuts and eat away. Try out whatever that looks good. Forget the calories because the food here is worth every bit!

La Sagrada Familia

When you roam the city of Barcelona, you would see very unique looking buildings. These are the remnants of the famed architect, Antoni Gaudi. The crowning glory of Gaudi’s work has to be La Sagrada Familia which is still under construction since 1882.

The first sight of this architectural wonder would leave you awe-struck. It is simply stunning and looks like something out of a fairy tale. Outside, the gothic inspiration is evident with the carvings, huge doors and statues. Inside, the stained glasses alone would hold your attention for some time. The intricacies is truly mind blowing. This church is built entirely out of donations, so it is really a nice way to be a part of this monument.

We highly recommend reading up before visiting in order to fully appreciate Gaudi’s inspiration in designing this masterpiece. The link above is extremely comprehensive and also has a virtual tour of the Sagrada. We also suggest buying your tickets beforehand before to avoid the crowd, the wait can sometime be up to 3 hours. You can get the ticket from the official website. Unless you want to be part of a tour, we think it is perfectly fine to get the ticket and explore the Sagrada with an audio guide.

Be mindful that there are various types of tickets (the basic one gives you access to only the Basilica). If you want to explore the towers, then you need to pay extra. There is an elevator that takes you up, but you need to come down hundred overs steps using a tight and narrow staircase!

Parc Guell

This is a public park that houses Gaudi’s house museum and two houses that looked like it was out of Hansel & Gretel. The access to the park is free, but you need the ticket to see the structures designed by Gaudi. If you want to see the house museum, you can buy the combined ticket with La Sagrada. The paid section cost about €6. You can get the ticket here. Walking around the park, you will be able to see how he has drawn inspiration from nature. The architecture is very organic to compliment the landscape surrounding it. If you are into photography, you will definitely love this place. Pack your flowy summer dresses!

It should be noted that this place is situated on top of a hill, so the climb is steep. The nearest metro station is 20 minutes away. So, the best option would be to take a bus from downtown which drops you right at the entrance. You would also get a nice view of Barcelona from here.

Casa Batllo

This is also one of Gaudi’s masterpiece. The facade has an almost skeleton-like, visceral quality to it. Gaudi took inspiration from marine life on this piece of work. Definitely a must see for its visual delight. Get the audio guide to ensure you are able to appreciate the architecture. You can pre-book your ticket here.

Gothic Quarters

This neighbourhood used to be a Roman village,so you would be able to see ancient buildings alongside the newer ones. This is nice area to take a stroll with its narrow and winding streets. It almost is like a labyrinth, so get lost. You will find countless spots for photo opportunities. We did not do much shopping in Barcelona, but this definitely looked like a shopping hub. When the night falls, this is where you want to be. There are countless bars and places to chill. Barcelona is a city that never really sleeps. This neighbourhood is the cultural hub of Barcelona and has something for any type of traveler.

Erotic Museum

Barcelona is also home to an erotic museum. It has some interesting things/articles/videos but we would not recommend it if you only have a few days there. Barcelona has better things to offer. Even the kinky souvenir at the end of the day is not worth the €11 you pay. However, if you are keen on checking this out, bring your student card (if any) to avail the discount.

Blogs We love

Apps We love

 

In conclusion, our trip to Barcelona was a super short one and we did not rush to see everything. We however loved our stay so much that we have made the rest of Spain a bucket list. So, we highly recommend you look at the blogs (links given above) for more information to plan your trip.

 

 

 

 

 

European Adventure (Paris, France)

“Paris was a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history; so she seemed in this age of Napoleon III with her towering buildings, her massive cathedrals, her grand boulevards and ancient winding medieval streets–as vast and indestructible as nature itself. All was embraced by her, by her volatile and enchanted populace thronging the galleries, the theaters, the cafes, giving birth over and over to genius and sanctity, philosophy and war, frivolity and the finest art; so it seemed that if all the world outside her were to sink into darkness, what was fine, what was beautiful, what was essential might there still come to its finest flower. Even the majestic trees that graced and sheltered her streets were attuned to her–and the waters of the Seine, contained and beautiful as they wound through her heart; so that the earth on that spot, so shaped by blood and consciousness, had ceased to be the earth and had become Paris.”

Anne Rice

The City of Love is one that is in most bucket lists, one of world’s most popular destination. Paris is a dream destination, be it for lovers, artists or fashionistas. For all it’s glory, Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world. So, if you are traveling on a budget, you will have to plan it well to experience the city. In this post, I have covered my Parisian experience and couple of tips for budget conscious travelers.

Where to Stay

arrondissements-paris

Paris is divided in to 20 arrondisements (areas) as the picture above illustrates. These arrondisements used to be little villages that grew on to one another until it came to be known as Paris. Generally, the best pick for tourist would be to stay near the Seine where most attractions are located at. Many seasoned travelers suggest the 4th, 5th and 6th arrondisements for its history and vibe.

Since we were on a budget and did not mind the travel time, we stayed in the 19th arrondisement which is 45 minutes away from downtown Paris.

However, our personal favourite is Montmartre in the 18th arrondisement. Artists such as Picasso, Degas and Renoir once called this place home.  It is home to Moulin Rouge. The lanes of this place are evoke a sense of nostalgia on how it would have looked back when the artists flocked to find their muse. Adding to that, the building and lanes are so instagram-worthy.

Getting around Paris

The city is well-connected with metros and buses, so getting from one place to another is easy. Moreover, the city is structured making it easy to walk around. We feel that the best way to see Paris is on foot, to soak up the beautiful Parisian sidewalks and buildings.

There are various types of transport passes available, from single tickets to buying in bulk at a slightly cheaper rate (a carnet – 10 single tickets). There are also day passes (1,2,3 and 5 days) called Paris Visite.

Since, we stayed for 5 days, we opted for a Navigo Decouverte Pass which is a weekly pass which gave us access to the metros and buses for all 5 major zones. The locals use this pass for their daily commute. The validity of the pass starts on a Monday and ends on 11.59 pm on Sunday. This would cost approximately €22.15. With an additional €5.00, the cost of travelling to and from the airport is covered. To save some money, bring along a passport sized photo for the pass to avoid having to get it done there. This is a pass that you would need to ask when you are purchasing as it is not listed on the sales brochure.

We found this Pass to be most cost beneficial based on our own itinerary. This also allowed us the flexibility of roaming and getting lost in the city without having to worry about the cost of getting on the wrong bus/metro.

Details of the Passes Available

Highlights and Hacks

  • Downtown Paris is best seen on foot, so we would highly recommend taking a Free Walking Tour to get a feel of the city. It would usually take about 2.5 to 3.0 hours. This would give you an opportunity to get a feel of the major attractions and learn the history behind it. The guide would also throw in tips on surviving Paris. At the end of the tour, you can tip the guide. We recommend Sandemans!
  • We highly recommend checking out Sainte Chapelle, a gothic-styled royal chapel that was intended to house precious Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns, acquired by Saint Louis. The upper deck of this chapel houses stained glasses that are arranged across 15 windows depicting 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Go early in the morning, it is worth beating the crowd to see sunlight streaming through. It looks like magic. You will want sit there and soak that up in some silence. Additionally, there is a combined ticket to visit the Conciergerie where Marie Antionette was locked up before her execution. We skipped the Conciergerie. (For details: Official Site)
  • The Notre Dame is another beautiful gothic styled church. The access to the church is free and you will find a long line waiting to go in. It is fairly fast-moving because the officials are only conducting security checks. However, if you want to beat the line, you can just go right in front and access the gate for those attending the “Mass”. Take note that it is the same gate, just different entrances.
  • Montmartre is a really beautiful village in the metropolis that is Paris. On top of it stands the Basilica Sacre-Coeur. Just try to lose yourself in the steep and cobbled streets of one of the most historic and interesting neighborhoods in Paris as explained above.
  • While you are exploring Montmarte, check out Basilica Sacre-Coeur, one of the most visible churches in Paris as it is situated on a high point. This church has vibe that is really hard to put into words and the fresco of Christ inside the church is something spectacular. You can get one of the best views of Paris from here, so try to catch the sunset here. Entrance to the church is free, but you would need to pay a small sum to climb the dome.  (You can also see get an amazing view of Paris from Mont Parnasse) 
  • Of course you cannot miss the Eiffel Tower, we liked it best at night with the light show. Walk around until you find a nice spot to take pictures from. We would suggest grabbing some pastries, cheese or wine and have a picnic and watch the tower come to life. You could also do the river cruise which passes along the Eiffel Tower.
  • Paris is full of museums, with the Lourve being it’s crowning glory. Due to it’s sheer size, you cannot see all of Lourve. So, decide in advance what you are interested in seeing and get the map (You could also download the app). There are 2 entrances into the museum, the Pyramid and the Carrousel du Louvre. The latter hardly has any line and you could even buy the tickets from the kiosks. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the museum is open till 9.45pm and you might get to enjoy Lourve without battling hordes of tourist. Also, consider getting the audio guide to help you understand what you are seeing. Otherwise, it could get frustrating (We found Rick Steve’s app to be very useful and reasonable to navigate around Europe, plus it is free). Every Friday from 6 p.m. admission to the museum is free for under-26s of all nationalities on presentation of valid ID.
  • During the first Sunday of the month, all the museums are free. The downside would be the crowd but definitely huge saving for budget travelers. We took this opportunity to check out the Musee D’Orsay which houses contemporary pieces. We checked out the Impressionist collections. Again, huge place, so plan accordingly.
  • Again if you are into museums and planning to check out most of it, then the Paris Pass might be worthwhile. Otherwise, check out the free museums like we did!
  • We definitely enjoyed walking the Tuileries Gardens, Champs-Elysees and the other sections of Paris. Spend some time sitting by the banks of Seine, soaking up the ambience of Paris. La Marais is another hip neighbourhood which has nice cafes and back lanes for pictures.
  • We also checked out the Père Lachaise Cemetery which has more than 3.5 million visitors, making it the most visited cemetery in the world. It is famous for housing the tomb of Oscar Wilde.
  • For antique lovers, the St.Ouen’s Market will be a delight. Tucked right in the middle of bustling neighbourhood is a piece of quiet elegance. You would be able to find such diverse pieces.
  • Toilets in Paris are not free. It cost about €1 per use. So, we suggest either using the facilities in the museums/cafes that you are visiting. Otherwise, walk into any cafes /McD’s as if you own it and use the facility. Alternatively, ask nicely 🙂
  • We personally found the Parisians to be nice and helpful. Pick up some French, they will love it.
  • Beware of these scams!

Food Scene

  • To be honest, we did not explore much of the cuisine/cafes as we were on a budget. The general rule would be to eat away from the popular tourist areas. As you wander further, you can see the prices going down.
  • Be sure to try the pastries in as they are divine and simply amazing!
  • You can either check out the Marche Bastille or Rue Mouffetard to explore the Parisian cuisine – we loved the latter.
  • Grab your wine and cheese from local grocery shops and have outdoor picnics.

Blogs that We Love

Apps that We Love

One of the important things to remember is that there is truly a lot to see in Paris. We were there for 5 days and spent most of our times roaming the city and enjoying its vibe. So, accept that you will not be able to see all of Paris.

 

 

The Girl in the Mirror

I am my biggest critic. I know what are my strengths and my weaknesses. I look confident, assured but I suffer from the worse kind of self-esteem. I hate this body that has sustained me all my life. I hate how I look, loathe the stretch marks on my skin, abhor the acne scars and just dislike how I look. Some days, I try to fix myself with better clothes and make up. Mostly, I just embody the ugliness and brave out. My reflection on the mirror has been hurled with so many unkind words that it has created an immunity called indifference.

Talk about the struggles of clicking a good profile picture (countless attempts at various angles to hide the double chin, the flabby everything and to look decent), or the struggles of getting through a social event without feeling like the ugliest person in the whole wide world. This insecurity goes to the extent of hating any form of candid shots as I am unable to control the angle. I also absolutely do not believe it when someone says I look nice. I can’t believe that because I have a mirror and my mirror does not lie. I am after all honest with myself, I am my biggest critic.

This much of hatred towards this vessel that sustains me and my life experiences is sad. What is sadder is that I am not alone in this. I see it in my sister who avoid dresses because it accentuates her so-called big hips, I see it in my cousin whose life goal is to erase the acne scars on her face, in my friends who will easily criticise how they look. These are women who are intelligent, compassionate, kind and beautiful. These are the same women who would shrink themselves as much as they could, to fit a mould called beauty. Heck, I would like to fit that mould myself.

I would never say all the things that I tell that girl in the mirror to anyone else. I am able to see beyond a person’s physical appearance to see their spirit yet I can’t see mine. All I see is an extremely imperfect face and body that does not fit in. A face that will never be called beautiful, a body that will never be just the right shape and of course a person who will never be labelled as attractive.

That is precisely what it is, a label. Off late I have realised that by reinforcing these thoughts, I have essentially shrunk my entire existence under a label called unattractive. I have diminished my spirit as being ugly. I have failed to hold my thoughts or my humanness at an esteemed position. Many a times, I have shrugged off my own achievements because at the end of the day, I presume that looks will matter most. I have disappointed myself by applying a standard that I would never prescribe to someone else.

Most of us do it. We talk ourselves into believing that we lack beauty. A lot of times, women like me make up for it in substance because we know million other women are better looking. Hours of reflection has taught me that it is unhealthy, being part of this invisible competition to find a worthy spot in the world.

 The wise me knows that I have my spot, like every other individual to fill this world with the marks that are unique to me. The world has space for every kind of looks to exist and thrive. The wise me also knows that it is going to take a conscious effort to make the girl in the mirror believe that she has a place. She just has to believe that her beauty lies in a place deeper than her skin.

p.s. You too might have a girl in the mirror, waiting to be broken free.

Violence is Never a Solution

This is a response to a video I watched recently where someone has expressed anger over the death of Nhaveen. The person who made the video expressed his anger and spoke how killing of an innocent life is not right. However, there is a point he made that was very disturbing. He advised parents with children who are involved in gangsterism or are bad to poison their kids. He said it is alright to kill such kids, and likened it to a noble act. He also encouraged lawyers to not take up the case. When he was called out for his statement (wrong to propagate an idea that it is okay for parents to kill) , he and his followers bullied those criticising out of that conversation. This video has been watched more than 120,000 times, has over 2,000 likes and reactions and has comments that are predominantly supporting those statements. I am worried. I am worried because how do you remove violence in a society when the very first reaction to anything is violence. 

To the person who made the video, your anger is justified. Your suggestion and advise is not. Be responsible when you put out a public content. You just rant away your anger without thinking? Do you realise that you made a statement that it is alright to kill as long as it is justified? The law is extremely clear here, no one has a right to decide who lives and who does not. Are you blind to the fact that your suggestion is violent? How can you tell someone to not kill but advocate that it is alright when the circumstances calls for it? Poetic justice does not help maintain order in a society. Attractive concept but not right. When you were called out, you said that your readers do not have pea brains. They would not kill just by watching your video. Be responsible! You and those who have endorsed the video represents society. I hope you are aware that parents have murdered their own children for lesser reasons due to societal pressure. So, it will not shock me if some parent somewhere fear the repercussions of being alienated by society and do what you have told them. Don’t propagate something without proper understanding of the actual issue at hand.

You were called out for your statement, instead of having an intellectual discourse on it, you and your followers justified the video by saying that those criticising won’t understand because they are not mothers, they are just feminists. You cyber bullied because someone said you were wrong. Look, if you want to post something in a public sphere and take credit for the praises, you must also be willing to accept the criticism. Have some level of curiosity to read up and understand the perspective offered. None of those who responded to the criticism had any valuable input to the conversation. None of you were able to go beyond your anger to see what you were advocating. Every life has a value, no one has a right to put a timeline to it. 

Let me just break it down to you, Nhaveen is not the first victim of bullying. He is a statistic because this is a very old disease. His case is visible, hence the anger. This is good, at least now we might be able to do something about it. Bullying happens everyday, at home, in schools, workplace and of course online. I have written a piece on why it happens, and how society contributes to this dilemma.

Your defence that you are entitled your opinion is childish. In that case, anyone can say that they are entitled to their actions too. That is not how it works! You are a functioning member of the society, be responsible on the content that you preach. I don’t need to be a mother or have this happen to my kid in order to understand this pain! I am human and that is enough.  I believe in spreading  the right kind of message, and not make the society more inhuman. 

Your video would have helped if it addresses how parents can manage difficult kids instead of poisoning them. Maybe give avenues where they could seek help. Instead, it amounted to nothing but an advise out of either your own ignorance and poor thought process. If you choose to do another video, please do tell the parents/society one more thing, to not raise their kids by telling them that being effeminate/gay is wrong or something to be embarrassed about. No one needs to teach people from the LGBTQ community a lesson! It would do a whole lot of good if we acknowledge the fact that he was abused because he was perceived to be different/gay/’potte”. This is what we are taught anyways, that being all that is wrong! 

Nhaveen – Society’ Hypocrisy 

Our society surprises me with it’s hypocrisy. Social media is flooded with posts and messages that demands justice for Nhaveen and Zulfarhan Osman and the whole nation is enraged. Everyone is now discussing bullying, demanding stern actions to be taken. I even watched a video that told parents to poison their kids if they are unable to control them from becoming scums of the society. This dilemma is not something new, it has existed for ages. Human sadism is not a new crisis, it is just more evident because of exposure. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone bullying. I think this conversation is important. But at the same time, I am afraid all this rage and anger will turn cold if we don’t acknowledge our collective hypocrisy.

Bullies are not created in isolation, they are raised by people. Parents and the society. We model our prejudices to children, creating an impression that being different is a sin. We instill values in children that either makes them bullies or spectators of bullying. This requires some personal reflection on our part, to think about the opinions that we project to kids. This ranges from issues relating to sexism, colorism, sizesm, LGBTQ and even religion. We, the society have paid too much attention in modelling certain lifestyle, creating  fear that being different is bad instead of teaching children empathy. A lot of people are well behaved only because of societal expectations and fear of being ostracized, not because they are truly empathetic to another person’s circumstances.

Fundamentally, this problem persist because it has an audience, a public that actively or passively supports it. How many times have you seen someone being called names (fat, ugly, gay, black) and kept silent? How many of you have called out subtle bullying. How many parents or adults in the society do the same? Little things like this add up, and takes only one bully to cross a line and raise hell like this. 

The society has contributed to this mess. How many of us are truly accepting of gays/transsexual; we alienate them. We label them as not normal. We teach our kids what masculinity/feminity looks like. We give no space for the spectrum that exist within the fabric of the society. Empathy is considered weak. We look at the word feminism as a bad word.

So, how can we blame the boys alone? Honestly,  are we shocked that bullying happens or just that it got out of hand? That is a critical question for us to answer, instead of beig indenial about our own realities. 

Nhaveen is not the first, nor will he be the last until we take personal responsibility in ensuring that we are empathetic. Until individuals call out subtle bullying so that growing children see that being different is okay and we don’t accept bullying or mean behaviours. Take personal responsibility in teaching people around you to respect someone’s space in exercising their choices. Creating an empathetic society requires small acts of love and kindness, and that is an individual responsibility.

An European Adventure 

2017 started off as a difficult year. I was struggling with where I was in life in everu aspect. So, amidst all this reflections, I made a spontaneous decision to travel around Europe solo. I have to thanks Jeevi (one of my humans) for encouraging the idea. So tickets were booked overnight and I knew I was going to have to stretch every penny. Then, the solo trip became a trip with my best friend, Sree. Anything better than a solo trip was this. This was definitely ticking off a bucket list for the both of us.

So, plans were laid out and hours of research were clocked in. We started off in London, then to Paris. From there, we were off to Barcelona. Then, we flew into Italy (Bologna), then were about to take the local trains to Florence and Rome. Finally, it was back to London. 

At the point of penning this, I am en route to Florence on a local train. I can see the Italian countryside listening to ARR. The rolling hills, houses perched on top and wineries are so picturesque. I am grateful for this moment. For all the instances that left me in awe in this mini adventure. Such an amazing experience this is.

p.s. I have promised myself to document this travel in detail, and all the travel hacks and money saving tricks that we used/learned in each of these countries.

Our Personal Belief 

So, Watson’s made a blunder with  their Raya ad by featuring a blackface insinuating that a fairer skin illustrates beauty.  I don’t think there is anything Watson’s could say to justify their ad because it is a very poorly thought out concept and just plain inaccurate. I won’t even say insensitive because Watson’s definition of what is beautiful is a factual inaccuracy. Since there was an uproar to this ad, it is very clear that the public will not stand for this.

However, there is something that puzzles me. How is it possible that the same individuals who are enraged collectively to a single ad do not believe what they preach? In our daily lives, with our interactions with people, we judge our own beauty by colour, size and a standard template. We ourselves don’t believe the truth that we stand up for. We apply filters/makeup to lighten our skin. We try very hard to hide our perceived flaws (I am guilty of this too). However, when people we love beat themselves up for the same flaws, we are quick to assure them that the flaw does not make then less beautiful. I honestly don’t think this hypocrisy is out of malice, it is probably because we view people whom we love based on their human spirit. However, this does not help because in the same breath we also beat ourselves up for the same flaws. So, unintentionally everything we preach becomes just empty talk. It is hard to believe the words when we refuse to live this truth in our own lives.

We raise our eyebrows when dark skinned people wear bright colours, at fat people who dance or wear clothes that are deemed not flattering. We may all believe that colorism and sizesm is wrong in a broad sense but in our own personal lives, still subscribe to it. This extends to many things, including racial profiling. So, it is very important to understand our own prejudices, and of course to accept that social conditioning makes it impossible to escape this. We can however choose our reaction to it, to edit the prejudices that we impose upon ourselves. At the end of the day, being politically correct is easier than truly embracing the perceived flaws that lives in our heads.

Clothes – A Woman’s Trap

All my life, one way or another I have always heard remarks made on women’s clothing. I am very sure this experience is shared by many (men and women included). There is a strong perception built on a person’s character based on the amount of clothing worn. This does not just happen in our community, but happens around the world. This judgment falls within a spectrum, either women are chastised for overexposure; looked down upon or risk being viewed with suspicion for covering up (i.e. women were banned from wearing hijab in France).

Focusing on our part of the world, it is not uncommon that a woman is labelled as a slut for wearing clothes that are revealing. She is perceived to be too westernized and has forsaken her culture. Only a few months back, a group of crusaders who wanted to preserve the Indian culture threatened to spray paint women who dress inappropriately (their exact parameters of ‘inappropriate’ remains undefined) during Thaipusam. On social media, it is very common to see derogatory comments made when women post pictures of themselves. Instantly, it becomes everyone’s problem what a woman chooses to wear. The way a woman clothes herself has become a societal problem because there is a segment that still believes rape happens because of overexposure of skin, that clothing represents respectability and that virtuous women should dress a certain way.

How have years of progress, education and exposure resulted in this? I am not only calling out men who do this because a lot of women do it too! Why do we as a society feel that women’s clothing should be monitored, or that it reflects our cultural standing? When did our society’s achievement became intertwined with the yards of cloth covering the bodies of women?

I think it is very important to accept that we are moving towards a time period where globalization is inevitable. Our way of dressing is a mere reflection of that. Clothing has become a form of expression, a tool to dress our personalities or even our insecurities. There should be space in society to accommodate this because every human has the right to exercise their individual freedom. For those who argue that it is important to police women’s clothing because it is tied to respectability you should really ask yourselves a really important question, “What story does the clothes she wears tell you that her voice does not?” We have women who say and do amazing things, yet are judged for their sense of style.

In my opinion, we have not progressed holistically if women still have to justify their choice of clothing. Encroachment on a person’s right to clothe themselves by labelling them negatively is regressive. Progress simply means understanding and accepting that a person’s character or value lies in their ability to think and act in empathy. We progress through intellectual conversation and critical thinking, not age-old dogmatic thoughts.

The real victims of this regressive school of thought are those who are raised to believe that their clothes is reflective of their character/value. Women who have the exposure and knowledge will continue striding because they are aware, and have moved beyond having to justify their choice of clothing. The others are not so fortunate, there is a fear of being labelled if they don’t live by society’s rules. That to me is cruelty; we can’t equip women with education that does not question or is uncritical of what they are used to. Norms often get redefined, so there should be constant reflection and space to exercise their personal choice.

This is a conversation that needs to happen more often and more loudly. We should talk about it, understand it and grow from it. At the end of it all, within a society, women should be able express their individuality in a manner they deem fit. I think we can safely trust women to make smart choices with all the wisdom that they possess, in this case, what is deemed as appropriate clothing.

Change Agent

Such a lofty goal to want to change the world. We grow up reading about it and look up to those who have somehow left an impact in this big world. Growing up, it is easy to aspire to change the world. Then, adulthood happens. In a split second, we are left to face a sobering reality that maybe it is not possible to change the world, and yet again, it remains just as a lofty goal.

Even if we persist on changing the world, the hurdles are aplenty. The limitations of our own existence, personal responsibilities and of course the emotional quotient. Changing the world requires drastic actions, being able to call out to people and mobilise a movement. In today’s digitalized world, perhaps inventing something for humanity would go a long way.

The realist in me quickly realised early on that changing the world is not for me. I was already struggling with adulthood myself. Figuring out where I fit, career directions and of course people is already exhausting enough. So, I shelved the aspiration for another lifetime.

I was wrong. Changing the world is not lofty aspiration after all! I owe this realization to some ordinary human beings who try so hard to impact humanity positively. Maybe it is difficult to rally up a movement, have a trending hashtag or change the course of history. However, showing up in our daily lives with kindness and thoughtfulness is not. Interacting with our environment with empathy is doable. The size of the footprint left behind is not important, just that there is a mark.

Of course, all those are just words. Without actions, they mean nothing. When I tried it, I realized that helping people in need was easier for me than others. My struggle was on an emotional level, like refraining from making a sarcastic remark, to genuinely wish well for someone when I myself am not doing too well, to not be envious or even to show up in a positive way. My struggles were very apparent during times of difficulties. But it took some effort to not fall off the bandwagon and to practice kindness in a conscious way. This definitely shifted my perspective!

I began to realise that these people I so admire, who are trying to make an impact, have one thing in common. They are positive, kind and are willing to open their lives. Be it in sharing something material or their experiences. They touch lives because they empathize instead of judging. They smile, lift and encourage. That’s everyday leadership. Alone it may not look much, but a single act of kindness changes a person’s life at that moment. Collectively, that changes the world!

So, how do we fit in? I think we start with kindness, empathy, love and perhaps a small dose of courage. Because it is not only vital that we demonstrate kindness within our own circle, but it is perhaps more important that we voice out in the face of injustice. Start small, save that kid from being bullied, call out someone who is racist/sexist, share your story, avoid being mean and just show up for people. That also changes the world.

 

Brave Girls

Disclaimer: I am not a parent. This piece is written purely based on my observations and from my experience in working with young children.

We are raising our girls wrong. In many ways, parents today are focusing on their girls’ education. They are interested in ensuring that their daughters’ have employment opportunities. Girls today are being exposed to various opportunities. However, there is one virtue that we don’t emphasise when we raise girls – bravery. We demand from them perfection instead of encouraging them to be brave. Think about it, how many times are we overprotective of our girls? Be it when they are leaping from one monkey bar to another, riding a bike or engaging in any activities that look dangerous. When the girls are allowed to do it, there is obviously always an adult hovering with careful supervision. We do it to boys as well, however, the extent of scrutiny is much lesser.

Parents are likely to be okay if the boys suffers bruises when partaking in these activities because it is perceived as a toughening up process. However, when it comes to girls, parents are concerned. An injury from a fall is magnified and instantly the activity becomes unsafe. We teach boys that risks are good, and that challenges will help them grow. But, with girls on the other hand, the narration is that risks are painful and too dangerous. This happens to even the most progressive parents who tend to caution their daughters more than they would their sons. So, we groom them to be perfectionist but not brave. We instill the idea that helplessness is cute.

We see the results of this conditioning outside playgrounds. In my classes, the boys are likely to be eager to try something outside their comfort zone in comparison to the girls. Even if the new thing interests them, there is a moment of hesitation before the girls partake in it. More often than not, the boys spearhead the enthusiasm. This hardly means that girls are not bright or not as intelligent, it just means that they are likely to play it safe.

There has been research that has shown that when challenging scenarios are presented to a group of children, the girls who are brighter tend to give up while the boys tend to view it as a challenge. This conditioning has resulted in girls finding it hard to move out of their comfort zones. You see this is their demeanor where girls strive to be likable and have difficulties expressing their disagreements or discomfort.  This carried into workplaces as well where women are likely to have difficulties asking for a raise or challenging an appraisal. This boils down to an upbringing where they are not trained to be brave, to ruffle the feathers. Hence, the status quo remains regardless of how bright the female is.

This of course may not be the rule, there are many parents who are actively trying to do better in raising their daughters. But, when posed with scenarios it is important to examine our prejudice of whether we are over cautioning our daughters. It is very important to drill in the virtue of bravery and resilience at a young age before they grow up to face the pressure of being perfect in their teenage years. Every bruise and cut will help mold stronger and bad-ass girls. This virtue is so important because life does not dish out challenges only based on our gender. So, it is vital to equip girls with bravery and a sense of adventure, to steer them to take risk and live outside of their comfort zone instead of striving for perfection.