Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I attended a speed dating event in Chennai. This is how it went…

First up, a big shout out to LOL, the organisers, who bravely held a speed dating event in Chennai. I went purely for the novelty factor, because, let’s face it, when was the last time something like this happened in this city?

What was it like?

Well, here’s how it works. You register online and pay to attend. LOL had set up a payment link on bookmyshow.com    The charges were 999 for women and 2999 for men. This covers an evening where you get one beverage and a minimum of 5 meetings lasting 8 minutes each with potential dates.   

The event was held at a new-ish resto bar and I thought that was a good choice of venue. Relaxed, fun. 

What bothered me was the really horrible ratio of men – women.  There were 9 men and only 4 women. 2 of the women actually declared at the beginning of the event that they had just come to hang out and watch; they weren’t interested in participating.  But eventually  the organisers convinced them  to join in.  Out of the 9 men, 4 had attended a previous speed dating event with an equally dismal ratio of women and so were encouraged by LOL to come again for this one at a discounted rate.

Fact: One of the organisers called me a couple of hours ahead of the event to check if I could bring along a few more women friends. I said no one is going to turn up at such short notice. The organiser said I could bring as many women as I liked, FOR FREE. Ugh. Sigh. Sigh. Long sigh.

[ Aside: This is a short rant so skip this paragraph and move right to the next one if you don’t want to read a rant. Ok, if you’re still reading, let me take a side note to tell you how much this dismal ratio bothered me.  For one, I was one of the only 2 women who was actually there to PARTICIPATE, not just watch. Awkward, much? Second, I’m not really sure what message it sent out to all the men who showed up. I’m still grappling with the mystery that is the Indian hetrosexual male brain and the only thing I have managed to ascertain about it is that it automatically assumes the owner’s attractiveness and irresistibility towards women. I am genuinely sorry to report that I am yet to meet a man who is able to separate a woman who is simply testing the waters from a one who is genuinely interested. So yeah, I was worried and I won’t lie about it. I felt relieved when the other 2 women agreed to participate, bringing the total to 4, because, well, I guess I felt that that way I’m not exactly standing out in the men’s brains and won’t have to deal with one I’m not attracted to…]  

Anyway, moving right along.

There were 4 tables set up in a row, and each woman sat at one.  Every 8 minutes, a new man would take the seat across from her. At the end of 8 minutes, a buzzer would go off and the men had to move down the row to the next table. This went on until all the women had met all the men. Because of the skewed number of men, LOL set up a larger “guys only” table where men could just hang out and wait until their turn came for a speed date.

So, who are the people who turned up for speed dating? Well, I didn’t learn much about the women but let me tell you about the men I met.

Man number 1 worked with his father at their family-owned real estate business. He said he was tired of living AND working with dad and it was hard to meet girls his age. He said all his friends are already married and none of them have time to play with him anymore.  He was nervous, he said he’s never had a girlfriend in his life. He said that if he had a girlfriend, he would immediately have to convert her into a wife.  He said his family was putting a lot of pressure on him to get married but he didn’t feel confident about  “taking care” of a woman. I pointed out that it was probably the potential women who were developing cold feet about having to take care of him, but he missed my point. I ran out of conversation with him before the 8 minutes ended.
Verdict : DISLIKE

Man number 2 just seemed… I don’t know. Old? I think he was possibly the oldest person there. He was wearing a very cool shirt with fun coloured boats. Well done, Man 2, for trying to stand out. He had tried every single dating app out there and had given up on the world of online dating and so had surfaced at this speed dating event. He was polite. He said he’d like to meet me again and would show me all the dating apps on his phone.
Verdict: DISLIKE

Boy number 3 was cute, well dressed and 21 years old. He was really proud to be the youngest person at the event. (As an aside, I’m just wondering how this played out for him in the outside world.  Interview question: What’s your achievement? Boy 3: I was the youngest person at a speed dating event.)  He said the other women had all rejected him because he was too young. I said I’m not too hung up about age and then he got super happy. He was from Dehradun, had just finished studying dentistry and was interning at a hospital in the outskirts of the city. He said Chennai gave him culture shock. He was interesting to talk to and seemed genuinely passionate about fixing people’s teeth. He gave me free advice on mine.
Verdict: LIKE

 Man 4 was possibly my favorite. Well built, good smelling. Yay. He was a general surgeon and told me a funny story about how he got trapped inside the ICU once for 36 hours  at the hospital where he works. I felt bad when the 8 minute buzzer went off.
Verdict: LIKE

I had seen Boy 5  just when I entered the venue.  He had a squeaky clean complexion of a 12 year old and was sitting with his earnest, bespectacled face right at the door of the bar before the event started. The minute our speed date began, he announced that he was looking for a girlfriend. I said that’s a lot of pressure but told him about  Man 1, who was looking for a wife. Boy 5 was firm, he said girlfriend first and wife only if it developed into something where both he and the girl felt they wanted to spend their lives together. He then proceeded to deliver a short sermon on how Indian families are always pestering young people in their 20s to get married. I asked him to guess my age, he said 24. HAHAHAHAHAHA.
Verdict: DISLIKE

What can I say about Man 6 without making him sound like the disgusting piece of slime that he was? The date should have been over the minute I smelled his bad breath which floated right across the table to me. Or the date should have been over when I noticed his beverage of choice was orange juice (I had got myself a beer). Bravely, I soldiered on. He conspirationally told me that he was here to meet “high class girls”.
Me:  Who qualifies as a high class girl?
Him: A modern one
Me: Define “modern”
Him:  A girl who wears jeans and T-shirts
Me: ( no sound… should the date be over now?)
Him: In my family and my neighborhood, girls aren’t allowed to wear jeans.
Me: (Downing half the beer bottle in one go to keep my spirits up) … Oh… ok, what’s a “modern” boy, then?
Him: A boy with a crew cut who gels his hair
Me: Oh. Well I can see YOU definitely aren’t modern.
Him: I’m not allowed to style my hair. My father and uncle and brothers won’t allow it
Me: (no sound… wtf? This boy is at least in his late 20s and HIS DAD chooses his haircuts? )
Him:  (clearly he thinks my stunned silence must mean something good) Wow, you are the first girl I have met who thinks like me.
Me: (no sound… WHAT?)
Him: I would like to meet you again
Me:  Well if we both tick “Yes” on the score card, that can happen
Him: Please take down my number right now
Me: That’s against the speed dating rules
Him: I like you even more now.

Boy 7 was one of the smoothest talkers I’ve met in under 8 minutes. He was cock-eyed, sweaty from having played some extreme sport before coming for the event, intelligent at conversation and very relaxed. Like me, he was simply curious and looking to meet new people, not necessarily date. He liked long lunches, house parties, meaningless consumption of alcohol and long conversations. He suggested a few places in Chennai that I could go to if I wanted to listen to music and hang out with a group of friends. 
Verdict: LIKE

Boy 8 was well built and bald – my favourite combination -  and so  that immediately made me give him many, many plus points. But the minute he sat down he said to me, “You have a peculiar smile.”
Me: Uhhhh… thank you. I’m choosing to take that as a compliment
Him: Yes, it’s a compliment
Me : Thanks
Him: I have been watching your smile for a while now
Me:   (no sound….  This dude is just creepy)…. Ok. Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself?
He had gone to engineering college and had a start-up company with his friend.  He was super nervous because he said he’s never been on a date before. He said nothing memorable and to be honest, though I had initially thought he was cute, his having admitted to watching me for a while just creeped me out. I ran out of conversation.
Verdict: DISLIKE

Boy 9 was determined to see how many languages I could speak. We did conversation in Tamil, Hindi and English before exhausting our options.  He  worked as a site inspector but I don’t remember what exactly he inspected. He said he doesn’t get a chance to meet women and so had come for speed dating. [ I don’t understand these men who say they don’t get to meet women. To me, such statements just reek of privilege because as a woman, I am CONSTANTLY trying to live my life around avoiding the unwanted advances of men. It is THE MAIN THING that controls my choices in a way no other factor does. Please check your privilege, dudes. If you behaved better, women would actually WANT to meet you. ]
Verdict: DISLIKE

 Ta-da!  Speed dating over. LOL sent all participants a Whatsapp link with the names of everyone so we  could click “yes” on the people we liked. If both you and your speed date have  “liked” each other, LOL will share contact numbers with you both and then it’s up to you to get in touch.

It was an interesting experience and since I travel a lot and since LOL organises these in different cities across India, I would definitely think about attending another speed dating event in a different city. Am I looking to meet my soulmate at one of these? Hell, no. Let’s be realistic – it takes much more than 8 minutes to build everlasting love. But if you’re just curious about meeting new people, without the burden of having to survive their company if you really hate them then this is a nice way to connect. Definitely recommend – it’s much more fun than a dating app because you can immediately decide whether or not you are interested in meeting the other person again and if your date is creepy, it will end in 8 minutes  J

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

the waiting game

This is possibly one of the most difficult things I will ever write in my life. But I think it’s important for me to put this piece out there because I’m convinced that I cannot be the only person in this world who feels this way. I want to be able to reach out to others who have these feelings and I want to be able to start an extremely difficult conversation.

This piece is for everyone who cares for a terminally ill family member and struggles with the emotional and mental load of it all. This piece is for anyone who has ever felt like they are waiting to move on with their life but can’t until their terminally ill loved one dies. This is for everyone who feels guilty for ever wishing death upon a loved one. This is for anyone who has felt like the emotional blackmail of family life is suffocating them. This is for anyone who has urgently felt the need to be mentally free and emotionally free one day. This is for those who fantasize about getting rid of owning people and getting rid of owning things and dying themselves. This is for those who are simply waiting.

Seven years ago, my dad was diagnosed with chronic renal failure stage four.  He is now on stage five  and battling for his life in the ICU.  It is unlikely he is going to make it. But we are waiting. Some days, I wait for a miracle. Some days, I wait for death. Some days, I feel like his death would be the miracle.

My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer four years ago. She died last year. I felt at peace on the day she died.

This feeling of peace is a hard emotion to negotiate and a harder one to explain to yourself. It is hard because feeling at peace is in direct contrast to the expectation of tears - the burden of tears that you think is the natural response to bereavement. It was a revelation to me when I finally learnt that grief is sometimes in the feeling of peace and not in the outpouring of tears.

I was at peace because she was at peace. I was at peace because someone I loved so much was finally free of the body that caused her so much pain. I was at peace because I could finally feel exhausted. Because when you are caring for a terminally ill patient who is undergoing slow suffering there are days and months and years where you simply don’t have the time to feel exhausted. You can’t. You won’t. And when you do, you will hate yourself for it.

And now a year later, I find myself waiting. I am waiting for my father to die. I was waiting even before we took my father to the hospital. I started waiting around the time he slipped into a maniacal cycle of bereavement and depression and bereavement and depression and bereavement and depression and bereavement and depression. I have been waiting because I simply don’t have the emotional energy to help him. I have been playing death games for seven years and I’m simply fed up. And that’s the naked truth. I have been waiting because familial love can be fierce and it prevents me from abandoning him. And that’s also the naked truth.

The two feelings co-exist. It is possible to love someone fiercely and still desperately want to be freed of their love. In a parent-child relationship, it is possible to love someone fiercely and naturally and still feel like you are obliged to love them. It is possible to experience these emotions together, at the same time and for a sustained period of time, over several days, over several months, over several years. It is possible to go crazy. It is possible to not.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

friendship and silence

This time on New Year’s Eve, my father and I went out for lunch. Just the two of us. I can’t remember when was the last time we did this. Probably this time. Yeah. THAT long ago.

So anyway. I really did wonder what we would say to each other during lunch. Because, well, really, what is left to say? Dad does his bereavement through tears. I seem to be doing mine by cutting my hair to look like my mother. And the truth is, on most days, our bereavement feels out the silence, rolling along in the vacuum my mother has left behind.

There is so much silence that envelopes our time as a family now. To be honest, I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. But I can say one thing – for the first time in what has been possibly the roughest decade of our lives, the churning craziness seems to be standing still. There is so much mental noise and emotional noise that comes with financial strife. Terminal illnesses. Coma. Dialysis. Chemotherapy. Death.  Death makes things stand still. And so in the silence – and this is possibly the first time in a decade that we have had silence – we are actually just alone with our thoughts.

It’s new, this silence. I’ve not heard it before. I can’t recall having so much time to hear myself think. Because that’s what death vacuums do, they leave you with gaping holes of memories and emotions and wonder at what you could possibly be doing still left behind in this world.

So yes, I did wonder how we would survive an entire lunch in each other’s presence. My sister was travelling so this was really just me and dad going out together. And I have been spending a lot of days with dad since she was away and the only voices in our house have been the voices on the television.


But let me tell you about the lunch.

Well, dad chose a fancy restaurant.  We drank wine. His idea, not mine. But it felt cool to share a drink with my dad. We talked about his younger days. His days at the tennis club. His days back in college, when he and his friends used to organise disco nights with free entry for women. We fought over the bill, which was hysterical but I got it in the end.

I’m glad we went out. Conversation masks silence and a change of ambience can make you find a friend. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Bangalore - the circle

I have thought so many times about this over the past 248 days that I can’t understand what  has driven me to write it down. It’s unlikely that I’m going to forget this train of thought because I’m so familiar with it.

My mother died leaving me as old as she was when she had me. She also died leaving me with her eyes,  her feet,  her voice, her laugh and the same sounds she made when she cried.

I wonder what she would have thought if she had known that by the time I was her age, she would be dead. That she would be one of the first among her friends to die. Or the fact that my grandfather will be 93 next year and his grief is something none of us can even begin to understand.

When she had me, it was a crazy day in Bangalore. My dad was away on a business trip. Our nieghbours  drove her to the hospital in the middle of the night. So much drama, in a time without cellphones.

We moved cities a few years after. I clearly remember the time we flew to Delhi. It is probably my first distinct memory of a plane ride, but I’ll probably write about that on a different day.

Today I think about how I’m back in Bangalore all over again. Living in the house my mother had so many plans for but never got to stay in. She would have liked it here. Whenever I’m here, I sleep on her bed. The bed she died on. Sigh.

It’s a tug-of-war of emotions, thinking about what she would and wouldn’t have liked. It’s a careful balance  between missing my mother and the equal number of times that I have appreciated that she’s finally free of the crazy trappings of human life.

And there are just so many things. Like the hangers I’ve hung, which still have her clothes on them. The way she had them before she died. I mean that literally. I simply took the hangers down from our cupboard in Delhi and  packed them without removing a thing and now they hang here in our cupboard in Bangalore.  Yes, our cupboard. My mother and I have been sharing since 2011 and I think that’s going to continue.  

Or the fact that I’m back in Bangalore after so many years, on my birthday, being the age that my mother was when I was born. We’re living in the house she hoped to watch me grow up in and we have moved the same year that she died.

And on my birthday I think what this day would have been like for my mother so many years ago, the day I was born. I think about all the emotions she would be feeling on this day. And then I think about today and now. And I feel thankful for words like bereavement. An overarching term that I have been liberally using for pretty much every uncategorized, deeply traumatic, deeply chaotic and yes, deeply tranquil emotion I have experienced since she died.

Because really, how do I hope to explain my thoughts otherwise? 

Friday, March 31, 2017

the undiscovered parts of bereavement that no one tells you about

I went through most of my life thinking I looked exactly like my grandmother.
Until my mother died and I cut my hair because I wanted change. Until my mother died and I discovered her pictures from when she was about my age. Until my mother died and I smiled so much at these old photos because she and I have the same haircut. Until my mother died and I started wearing her clothes. Until my mother died and so many of her friends told me I sound just like her. Until my sister said it to me herself. Until one day, I caught my reflection in the mirror and I did a double take because I thought I was my mother. 

And then I miss her and I don't miss her all at once. 

And she's staring right back at me and I'm smiling so much because she's right here, I sound like her, I look like her and we're the same age in the photographs of her I've collected. 

This year, I'm as old as she was when she had me. I've got so many pictures of us together in our first year together. And I've got pictures of her in the few years just before she had me and the few years just after she had me. All these are my favourite pictures now. I want to freeze myself, I want to look like how she looks in these photographs. The resemblance is near perfect, I really don't have to try at all.
I know with each day I'm growing older. Soon, I won't be the person in the pictures of her that I've surrounded myself with. I want to somehow freeze the clock on that. So then I take pictures of myself. I've taken more selfies in these 2 months than I ever have or ever will. Because I'm freezing myself to look like my mother. Because maybe when I'm dead, whoever discovers these pictures will drive themselves crazy trying to tell us apart. 

It's complicated. When my grandmother died, I really just wanted to live my days wrapped up in her sarees. I didn't and that's mostly because I have no idea how to drape a saree. 

With my mother - her clothes are more accessible to me, so is her jewelry. I'm in a phase of my life where I clearly bear an uncanny resemblance to her when she was my age. My hair looks like her hair, my eyes look like her eyes, my feet are her feet, my hands are her hands, my voice is her voice and it's so easy to get us confused. Except, well, when I'm wearing her clothes. She's obviously given away the clothes she had in her twenties and thirties. What we have left are her clothes from the later stages in her life. They are the clothes she owned as a middle aged woman in her forties and fifties. And I'm wearing them now. Young body. Old person's clothes. 

There are days when I'm confusing myself so much with this crazy traipsing backwards and forwards through time.
And then there are days when I feel oddly satisfied about being her living resemblance. 



Friday, March 03, 2017

things I figured out when my mother died - how to organise a cremation

The first thing to do is to call up the crematory and book a slot. It really is as simple as that. We used the Lodhi Road Electric Crematorium.

The next thing to do is to order a refrigeration unit and a van / ambulance to transport the body to the crematorium grounds. If the death occurred at a hospital, you can choose to pay for mortuary services until it’s time for the cremation – but if you need to or want to bring the person home for anything more than an hour, then you do need to get this refrigeration unit organised because bodies tend to decompose steadily and the bio wastes can be harmful for those who are alive.

I found out that cremation grounds have good business links to refrigeration unit providers and hearse van drivers – and the simple phone call that you make to book your slot is a one-stop phone call where you can also ask for a refrigeration unit and make the hearse van bookings.

Remember to have a doctor check and declare the death BEFORE putting the body into the refrigeration unit. But also remember the  caveat - if it has been a violent death ( for example, a murder) or a crime scene – please DON’T disturb the evidence until it is feasible to do so.

The important thing to remember is that in India, the businesses around death – crematorium services, refrigeration units, ambulances, hearse vans, priests etc – more often than not, use cash as their ONLY acceptable method of payment. Ensure that you have enough cash to bear the costs. We made it a point to visit ATMs within the very first hour of my mother’s death. Sometimes friends and relatives can be incredibly generous in helping out with cash. I suggest accepting the money and settling accounts later, but of course, each to one’s own.

The refrigeration unit will arrive at your house within a couple of hours of your phone call – and if the doctor has already declared death, then I recommend moving the body into the box immediately. Keep in mind that the longer you wait, the heavier the body becomes and the more manpower you will need to help you out.

Unplug the refrigeration unit roughly an hour before you expect your hearse van to arrive. Depending on your beliefs, you can use this hour to bathe and dress the body for the final goodbye. Even if you aren’t planning to bathe and/or dress the person, unplugging the refrigeration is useful because it brings the body temperature down to a comfortable level for the hearse van staff to move / handle.

The thing I realized is that news of death spreads really fast. I remember that all it took was a few phone calls to some relatives and friends, to let them know when the cremation would be. Then my sister and I wrote a facebook post and put it up on my mother’s wall.

We had a priest come over to our house and recite some prayers with a few close friends and family before we took my mother in the hearse van. At the cremation grounds, more friends and relatives just tend to show up.

Again, many side businesses mushroom right next to the cremation grounds. We found the flower shop particularly useful. One of our friends had the foresight to generously buy enough flowers for everyone who had come to see my mother off. This was a way to spend a few moments with her by standing beside her and laying flowers across her body. And then the priest said a few more prayers and then we had the cremation. 

And so, yeah. That’s pretty much how it’s done. Abrupt ending, I know, but death is like that

Friday, February 24, 2017

things I figured out when my mother died – how to get paperwork organised if the death occurred at home

While you and your family/friends may be able to easily TELL that your loved one is dead, remember that we live in a world highly affected by documentitis and it is therefore prudent to organise a document declaring death.
I recommend calling a doctor as soon as possible – try to do this within the first 15 minutes. Request him/her to come over to your house along with their letterhead and seal to write out a statement of death.

I say first 15 minutes because bodies tend to decompose pretty steadily and you may want to begin preserving your loved one’s body in a refrigeration unit as soon as possible. I also say first 15 minutes because when you realise a person is dead, emotions run high and /or a complete numb shock may take over and you just sometimes need a few minutes to grieve.

When the doctor arrives, he/she will need to check the person before pronouncing them as dead. Once the person is declared dead, the doctor will proceed to write out a statement on the letterhead. You may be required to supply details such as name of the dead person, their date of birth, name of parents and/or spouse, house address,  approximate time of death and nature of illness (if any). You may not necessarily know all these details - that's fine, just do your best to give as much correct information as possible.

In India, this statement of death given by the doctor is one of the things you will be required to submit when applying for a formal death certificate, which is issued by municipal authorities. Note that if your loved one passes away in a hospital, the hospital will issue a death summary that you should submit.   I will write a separate post explaining the procedure for obtaining a formal death certificate.

I hope this has helped you. I would be happy to edit and update this post - let me know in the comments section if I have missed out any crucial information.