Where fleeting thoughts are ok, but judgements are not.

I recently had a thought about a close relative. It was not a very pleasant one. It was more of what you’d call a judgement, and so, pretty quickly I started feeling guilty for even thinking something like that. It is one of those thoughts one is perfectly comfortable thinking about an absolute stranger, but thinking such thoughts about someone you know well felt wrong. So, I wondered why it felt so wrong.

Thoughts we think about strangers are usually fleeting and don’t often linger around for too long. But thoughts we think about people we know linger around for a bit longer, sometimes even until we see them again, or even longer. Sometimes we end up sharing this thought with someone else because we somehow want to rid ourselves of this discomfort of thinking something rather unpleasant about someone we know. The thing with sharing thoughts is that it leaves our system, it is no longer just ours anymore, it breeds in the other person’s head. May be they will pass this thought further along, and it may sometimes travel back to you making it even more uncomfortable.

Problem with thoughts that leave your system is that they are no longer just thoughts, they become your judgements. Fleeting thoughts are like visitors who come by for a little natter, but judgments are like guests who hang around too long. They linger around for much longer than fleeting thoughts either because they lie around in your head or leave your system and linger around elsewhere, but hang around out there much longer than they must. Nobody like guests who overstay their welcome. Fleeting thoughts on the other hand are a necessary component of our human existence, just like short term visitors. This is what makes life interesting.

I miss writing about arbit thoughts that keep me entertained in the shower because of my own hang ups about writing something that is well formed, etc. But I have just decided to let go and repeat out loud before I bother refining my thoughts. So, enjoy!

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Diversity and virtue signalling

Virtue signalling has been fashionable in our society forever. I am guilty of indulging in it sometimes, not even consciously most of the time. I haven’t necessarily always been good at recognising it merely as a signal. Call me naive, but I tend to read people at face value most of the time. But then again, most people are unskilled at virtue signalling and the more you get to know someone it is easier to see through that. In any case, in the absence of more information, my learning tends to be Bayesian. I remember once my  former roommate told me not to colour others with my judgement about people since he preferred that learning be non-bayesian. So, yeah, whatever works.

I had a very homogenous life until 2014. I lived in the same city, hung out with mostly the same people, accepted life for how it is in my world and never once thought my life could be any other way. Sure I’d watched movies to get a flavour for diversity, but I’d never quite experienced it myself. When I moved out of Bangalore for the first time, everything was new. When I moved back home in 2016, my world view had completely transformed, and the problem with that is it is an irreversible process. I can no longer have only the woman do all the household work, I can no longer comprehend our obsession with inter-caste marriages in India or accept workplaces that advantage one culture or gender.

My first job was working in a factory where women were less than 1% of the workforce. In most of the meetings I chaired, I was the only woman in a room full of men. I’ve been quizzed about when I’d get married or when I’d have kids. My seniors would decide against sending me on overseas assignments concerned about my ability to manage such ordeals on the home front. I’d be asked to organise coffees/ teas for everyone during meetings. There were no toilets for women within the plant. When I started, there wasn’t a signal woman at mid-manager level or above. Sure, you can blame it on the ability of women to perform as well as men, but who can really tell what’s the real truth.

Anyway, people were biased, and not one bit aware or concerned by it. Now, you couldn’t expect any better from men in the Indian manufacturing sector given their lack of exposure, but at least the good thing was that there was no virtue signally when it came to embracing diversity. On the other hand, the tech industry that employs women more generously (not on the software development side yet, but still), you would’ve thought that they embrace diversity better than the manufacturing sector. Sure, there are more toilets and a few more places at the top, but do they promise a better future for women joining the workforce at the bottom? I am not so sure.

Two reasons why I think the tech industry is no better, or may be even worse

  1. Tech industries, by virtue of having a larger online presence pay more heed to preserving reputation as the world has started increasingly rely on online social justice for any slight error on the part of these firms. Recently, four colleagues moved out, there was a public announcement about the men but not any for the two women. When I quizzed the manager of one of the women, he was adamant that it was not gender bias, instead it was due to her performance as we are a workplace that embraces diversity in all forms. Virtue signalling is more important than following through. At this point, I want to clarify that I have met lots of men here who are either more open or better at virtue signalling, but bias masked by virtue signalling is the hardest to fight.
  2. Equality amongst men and women is no longer hot. Recently one of my colleagues was telling us a story about one of her friends who married someone of the same gender. This got us speculating about how things would change a few decades hence. To get us started, one of my colleagues, who has teenage kids said that the hot topic in schools at the moment is gender identity. That’s when it hit me that we’re no longer in the 70s fighting equality for women at the workplace, we have moved on. Most workplaces have started embracing LGBTQIAPK, or atleast are busy signalling that they do because you know your sexual orientation is pertinent to how you are treated at work. You don’t want your boss hitting on you if you are oriented otherwise.

Now, I have been thinking if I should fight for restoring equality between men and women, not in the whole world necessarily, but atleast just at my workplace. With all the virtue signalling, it’s quite hard to first establish if the bias is real or just in my head (which always is the case with women, no?). Open to ideas from people on how to determine if a workplace is truly biased, not just towards one gender, but could be culture, personality type, whatever. Until I figure this out, I will stick to focusing my energies on adding value where I can with reasonable confidence.

Fingering your phone too much?

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Part 1: How it all started

You’re stuck in a traffic jam, you pull out your phone and mindlessly start swiping. You are waiting in a queue, you pull out your phone, start scrolling. You aren’t able to fall asleep, you pick up your phone and start fidgeting. You go into one app, then into another and back to the first. Each time you do this for a couple of minutes, you get extremely exhausted and switch tabs or put your phone away, and then do it all over again after a couple of minutes.

Then, there are some days you decide to take a hard look at yourself, realize you are getting older each day but not one bit closer to finding that ever elusive soulmate who you hope to get into a long term stable relationship with. You conclude that you need to be more disciplined about your partner hunt and decide to sit in front of your laptop/ desktop and spend a few hours scrutinising a couple of reputed matrimonial sites that are known to attract eligible singles who are just as serious as you are feeling at the moment. You decide to look past people’s terrible photographs, and read every bit of their profile carefully in order to go through the process in a non-superficial and structured manner. That discipline yields a few well crafted expressions of interest to the select few that were the best among the worst available online. You end the weekend feeling great, having made a lot of progress by “settling” on what was available and assume that if you can pull off the ability to “make do” for a little bit longer, your search would end soon.

At this point, having aimed quite low, you are reasonably confident of hearing back. But just when you are revelling in your little success, your mind starts wondering when you’ll hear back. You constantly keep going into your inbox wondering if one of them has already responded, then when you don’t see any replies yet, you decide to disable your notifications and decide you won’t check your inbox for another week. You prefer to be surprised when you open your inbox randomly in a week and find a message you didn’t expect.  Except, you keep wanting to look for the surprise every day, every other minute. So you then decide to delete the app because you can’t believe how this has taken over your life. Except, you re-install it the very next day. And you go over this cycle of deleting and re-installing a couple of more times.

By this point, your body has completely taken over your mind. Your body desperately wants to experience the rush of dopamine levels that come out of experiencing something unexpectedly pleasant. So it cannot get you to stop fingering your phone every now and then. It’s going to be a while before you realise that your body has taken over this process and is controlling the way you choose a partner.

Part 2: How do you get it to stop

First, pause for a moment. Allow yourself to acknowledge what is happening here – Your body has taken over a process that should ideally have involved your mind as well. Now, it’s one thing when you are 16, lust over someone and confuse that for love, and that over time evolves into much more and eventually does become “love” and you end up with that person forever. But here, let’s face it, your hormones aren’t exactly raging anymore and your mind is probably worth trusting a bit more, so it’s important to gain back some control from your body. But listen, it’s easier said than done. So, I want to share a few things I know works better than most of the advice I have personally ever given myself –

1.You are made up of two people

You are made up of (1) Core you and (2) what I call the “valent” you. Core you is who you are when no one is looking. It is your identity devoid of any external association. You could be someone who reads, writes, enjoys art or science, etc. and it’s what best describes you or your interests, and is responsible for attracting a partner. “Valent” you originates from the concept in chemistry related to the ability of an element to react with other elements and combine to form compounds. Similarly, the “valent” self in each of us craves for association, be it in a couple or as a member of an organisation. You need both parts to attract a partner.

2. Restoring balance between them both

With extended partner hunt, the “valent you” has taken over and subdued the “core you” hence, impeding you from attracting a partner. So, it’s important to restore balance, and it takes a ton of discipline to do that – You need to tame your valent self while encouraging your core self to become a bit more pushy.  In order to tame your valent self, you need to be strict about when and how you will seek association. If you’re logging into dating apps/ sites everyday, stop. Do it once a week. Dedicate a day of the week, when you will go wild hunting, but that’s it. On the other hand, dedicate some time every day to spend time on yourself, exploring your own likes and dislikes. Give yourself a month to try this new routine to see you’ve been successful in restoring balance. Ask yourself if you’ve become any more interesting than you were a month ago. If yes, great.  It won’t be long before your fingering skills will be put to use elsewhere. If not, try again, but try harder this time.

3. Serendipity happens when you least expect it, not when you go looking for it

We all like to meet our partners by chance. Despite spending hours on apps consciously looking for partners, we expect to be caught by surprise. So, if you are one of those people expecting to have a chance encounter that results in a long term relationship, let me remind you that serenity actually happens when you least expect it, not when you are wildly hunting for it day in and day out. So, focus on 1 and 2, and leave the rest to serendipity.

Of course, as always, if nothing works, you know where to find me!

What I learnt from Marie Kondo

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A couple of years ago, the husband gave me as a birthday present, “Spark Joy”, a book by Marie Kondo. I was flattered that he got me something that was closely related to a passion – tidying. I started reading, but got bored very quickly as I do with most books. Most things I read were too obvious and I was struggling to get past the details that I’d long internalised. One thing I was quite impressed by was her ability to breakdown something that is so banal and pretty hard to do if you’ve already internalised something. I abandoned the book, nevertheless. Fastforwarding a few years hence, I saw her show on Netflix recently, and watched all the episodes.

I got quite bored of the show too, but I think getting myself to get through the show made me learn a few things I hadn’t learnt the first time around when I half-read her book. Here’s a quick summary of my learnings:

1. You are what you do, you do what you are

My earliest memory of organising my room was when I was 8 or 9. Someone at home applauded me and said I’d win laurels from a future mother-in-law for this skill. I even remember showing off to the parents of my friends how organised my room was at one of my birthday parties. Rather one of my friends’ remembers this better than I do, because she got yelled at by her mum after they went home since her room wasn’t as organised as mine (Sorry, Shru!). Someone even told me I organise things out of anxiety, almost making me wonder if this was more a problem than a skill. So it never occurred to me that someone could make a living out this until I watched Marie Kondo. After watching her, I learnt that who you are can be the same as what you do.

2. Passion isn’t enough, you need personality

Clearly, she is passionate about tidying, and you see that through her attention to banal details that an average human would never think about. She has really figured most things about de-cluttering a home and keeping things organised. But that’s not enough for a services business. The customer experience has to be exemplary for a business to thrive. She has developed her own little unique touches through the “pray to the house before you start”, “hold each item to see if it sparks joy” and “thank things for their service before you discard them” theatrics. These are elements of her branding that make you believe that this is a way of life rather than a one time clean up project. In a services business with limited tangibles, branding is everything, and when it’s a 1:1 service, it’s your personality that makes all the difference.

3. Stacking horizontally enables fair play

While most of her folding techniques are pretty standard and subject to personalisation depending on who you are, the one thing about her folding technique that has made all the difference in my life is folding vertically and stacking clothes horizontally. Earlier, I used to stack clothes vertically one on top of the other and end up places stacks one behind the other and the problem with that was that I’d hardly ever wear the clothes from the stacks behind, overwearing clothes in front. By stacking vertically in retractable drawers, all wearable clothes have a fair chance to be worn. So, 3 months in, if you find that there are some clothes you still don’t wear despite having access to it, then you know they don’t “spark joy”.

4. Drawer separators help decentralise organising responsibilties

Traditionally at home, the husband or I put clothes into the washing machine, the husband and daughter put out the clothes on the drying rack and finally, I fold all the clothes (because I am a folding snob) and put away mine and the daughter’s clothes into their respective places. I usually leave the husbands clothes for him to put them away on his own because I used to struggle immensely in figuring out where to put each piece of clothing in his closet. Inspired by Konmari, the husband decided to get separate boxes for each type of clothing so everything had a very clear territory (I already had this anyway!) and stacked his clothes horizontally as well. Thanks to this, I can now put away his clothes too, which means the laundry area (a portion of our living room!!) is always cleared out quite quickly. On the other hand, if I’ve left folded clothes somewhere, the husband can do the putting away bit too. It’s a different story that the daughter was quite adept at putting clothes back in their respective places without any of this shabazzble, except her height doesn’t allow her to do this independently.

Oh, her boxes are a nice little touch to her business as it’s easier to scale with products and that’s where you make all the money.

5. There is more joy to be sparked

Most people struggle to part with their things, and hence, as much as they’d like to de-clutter, they struggle. All things spark joy, and even if they don’t, we prefer to get something in return for the clutter. Back home, people occasionally de-clutter their house by giving away things to their household help. But not for free, mind you. If not money, they most definitely expect loyalty in return. So, given that we don’t like to give things away for free, what I told you that more joy could be sparked if you gave away your clutter because one man’s clutter is another one’s treasure. If I ever got into this business, I’d charge for my service through all the clutter people are trying to get rid off by re-selling it off to lesser abled households and the money I make of it would go towards supporting even lesser abled households and we could spark more joy and share it across the value chain.

 

 

 

Letters to my Berry#25

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You are almost two and one-third, boo! I’ve been meaning to write for you for a while, but I’ve been too distracted the last couple of months to do justice to this letter. But, yesterday you did something which moved me a lot and I couldn’t help but wake up early this morning to write to you. In the morning while I was getting ready to leave to work, appa and I were arguing silly about something and I was fairly stressed out about something else at work, which made me all teary eyed through our argument. You immediately jumped on appa and said, “Appa, you are not nice. Look, Amma is crying”. How cute is that? I was too touched by what you did, all at a little over two. You have always been quite sensitive to other people’s emotions, and I don’t know if all kids are like this, but this tells me your EQ is fine.

Since I last wrote, a lot has happened and I wish I’d continued writing once a month rather than deciding to lower the frequency. In the hindsight, I think the biggest changes happened over the last quarter. For instance, you have started communicating quite clearly through words and we understand most of what you say. In fact, you are almost always talking now, and most of the time, we love it. I think what helped with the transition is the nursery where you spent a lot of time playing on the ground with older kids. It started with you coming back home and telling me about your day. You’d say “I went to the “gorden”, and I did a poo-poo”. In order to be able to communicate with you, we unconsciously made the switch to speak to you in English. So, you can currently understand Kannada fully well, but almost always respond in English. I am not trying to force you to learn another language as it will anyway happen when we move back to India.

Another big milestone in the last quarter is that you are now fully potty trained during the day, and you only use a diaper for wees through the night. At the cost of sounding like my mum, I am going to say that you will never realize how big a milestone this is until you have a kid of your own. This has changed our lives irreversibly – Fewer diaper changes, resulting in far lesser trash and we don’t have to keep tossing for who gets to wipe your bum. On a more serious note, I think it has made you a lot more independent thinking, where you tell us when you want to go and sometimes you prefer to be left alone while at it. Like this one day, I’d left you in the bathroom while I went and checked on something in the kitchen and came back a minute later and you said, “No, ma. Go away, leave me alone”. This was probably in October or November, and I remember thinking that it’s not going to be long before you become a teenager.

It’s quite important for you to feel independent at your age as you develop a personality. As parents, we are often tempted to intervene and help, especially with eating, peeling an orange or putting your clothes on, etc. but I think I’ve been trying to be patient with letting you do some of these things as often as possible. You tend to pick out your clothes for the nursery on your own almost every day, you try to eat on your own at your table, but over the last month with vacation and travelling, some of these routines have gone a bit haywire. Sometimes, you even come and help me in the kitchen – You drag your chair into the kitchen and stand next to me while I prep to cook, you find the vegetables I need, wash them and also help throw their peel. Helping with dinner makes you very proud, which is quite cute. You show the same level of interest in doing lots of chores around the house like fixing things, cleaning, etc.

You are a very observant kid, you know what goes where in the house, even though we have not actively taught you anything. This one day when appa brought home a bag full of groceries and left the bag on the floor next to the breakfast counter, you started unloading the bag trying to keep the supplies where they belong and then you started directing appa to keep the ones you couldn’t reach. You knew where every single item belonged. I wonder if it’s my OCD passed onto you, but you like things to be kept where they belong. You don’t like trash lying around, and so you will always pick up trash after anyone and put it in the bin while at home. I am starting to become blinded by your awesomeness and bordering around an over proud mother.

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Taking about being proud of you, there is yet another incident that fascinated me. Over the last few weeks, amma’s cousin (Smitha) and her family were visiting us to spend Christmas and New Years here in London. It was quite amazing to see how you shared all your toys with your cousins, Avani and Addu and also how well you got along with all the family we met over the vacation. While we were in Scotland, you had each got an activity book and pencil and each of you was busy doodling in your own books. After a while, Avani came over to draw in your book and you resisted that. She kept insisting and you kept resisting. Neither Smitha nor I intervened, mainly because I just wanted to observe how the situation would unfold. What surprised me was that you didn’t cry or throw a fit, instead you told Avani, “This is not yours, it’s mine. Let go. You have yours, draw in yours” and you kept insisting in words that she leaves you alone. It fascinated me that you were able to lay boundaries and stand your ground using words, that too very explicit and did not hesitate to do so. I am not quite sure if this is a phase or a part of your personality, but what ever it is, I hope it stays as it’s something most adults struggle to do – lay boundaries.

You are so good at laying boundaries that when ever you are watching a cartoon on TV, you decide on your own if something is the last episode to watch. You say “Amma, last ok. Last.” Once the episode finishes, you declare that it is “tachi” time or dinner-time and head over to set the table. On days when we don’t have the TV switched on, you decide that it is either yoga time or meditation time. You want the lights dimmed out, some soothing music on Alexa and make us say “Oooom”. One day, appa and I decided to follow the “Om” with the gayatri mantra. You absolutely loved the sound of it, and wanted us to chant it again, and again. By the end of that night, you could chant by yourself. Similar story with “Shuklambaradharam”, but with a funnier ending. Appa decided to play Vishnusahsranamam which starts with this Shloka and decided to let it play on. You’d been sitting on appa’s lap and suddenly jumped out and ran to your toys. You pick up your toy “ghante” and start shaking it to accompany the shloka which was absolutely amusing to watch because we have no idea where you picked that from.

You have a great way with associations for your age. You seem to have a good memory for names, because we visited Raji thatha and Shobha ajji in Cornwall and now anytime, anyone says Cornwall, you remember them. We aren’t religious, in fact, appa is even atheist. About a year ago, when we went to the British museum, you started saying “mami” looking at all the statues there as you’d seen that idols were called mami on the one trip to Bangalore. You’d only been exposed to Ganesha once and ever since you can recognise Ganesha mami in any format. You can recognise a few other Indian gods, thanks to Amar Chitra katha. You still only enjoy books that have a lower words to picture ratio, so some of your favourite bed-time books are Bing, Sophie, Caterpillar, Hansel & Gretel and Anansi the spider. Recently, we got you this book called “The Gruffalo” because you insisted that we buy it while at WH Smith. When we came home, I read the story out to you one or two times and by the third time, you were reading the entire story all by yourself word to word. It completed creeped me out, but I later realised that it is your favourite book at the nursery and all kids there know the story by-heart. Haha. More recently, I have seen you make up stories from books you have never read and I think this ability to image and cook up stories makes you a bit more human.

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Not only stories, you like to build other things with your blocks. You like building towers which you call “London” and bridges and this is all recent development. When asked where you are from, you now say London, and I have no clue who taught you that. When you see an airplane in the sky, you always think it’s going to Bengaluru and you can blame me for that. You are obsessed with make up, and like to put on imaginary lipstick all the time. You keep pouting and posing whenever asked, and sometimes even when you aren’t. This one day I wiped your mouth after lunch and you started howling saying that I’d wiped off your lipstick and you wouldn’t calm down until I pretended to put some on you. I have no idea where you get this from, it’s cute for now.

I wish time would freeze and you stayed this small and cute forever, but I guess I’ll learn to enjoy every phase for what it’s worth. Can’t wait to fall in love over and over again raising you. So, more to come soon.

Goodbye 2018, hello 2019!

 

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New year’s eve is always a time for reflection, contemplation and what not. When I sat back to think about the year that had gone by, I struggled to find a reasonable summary of events through the year and I felt at a loss trying to rate the year. I didn’t know if it was a good year or a bad year, on an average. Given my lack of discipline with blogging, I only ever muster the will to write when I am overcome by very strong emotions, mostly negative because I am somewhat hard to please. So it’s easy to think that 2018 has been a bit rummy, but that’s not quite true.

The year started off on a fantastic note with my column in Mint Lounge receiving overwhelming response, especially this article. Through the first half of the year, I was juggling more clients through Marriage Broker Auntie than was humanly possible while managing a full-time job with Amazon and raising Berry. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the unconditional support I got from the husband. I also had the privilege to meet some of the best VCs during the summer I spent in Bangalore which has helped shaped the way I think about the relationship space.

At Amazon, I had the opportunity to build a team that reminded me of my time building the IEEE team in my undergrad. I realised that I deeply trust people to do what they do best better than how I could do the same thing and that’s how we achieve things greater than each of us put together. It also made me realise that my leadership style of trusting means that I am actually quite good at building things from scratch a wee bit more than leading marginal revolutions (read process optimisation and navigating petty office politics). So despite all the chaos, I am thankful for this experience at Amazon.

Work aside, life has transformed quite significantly from a relationship perspective. Karthik and I have taken our relationship to the next level – we have truly become “one” team navigating the logistical needs of raising a child. It is exhausting as hell but we seldom complain at the same time, and that to me is truly amazing. We are there for each other and is romantic in a way that I could have never imagined 8 years ago.

I remember saying in the beginning of the year that I didn’t quite feel at home in Bangalore when I was back there in December, but I don’t quite feel at home even here. However, there’s one thing I realised more strongly – Spending a few days a year with people who I love and care about is not enough. Over the summer, I had a chance to spend a lot of time with my family and friends. I had the chance to witness my mum retire from a 30+ year career. And it’s moments like this that don’t come by quite often and I realised that I want to be there for all of them.

So, as you can see, 2018 was a year of kindness, acceptance and wisdom. I think the last 3-4 years have generally been quite overwhelming for most people in the world with infinite choices, thanks to access to information like never before. Our smartphones help us get through most things and so we try to juggle more things than we ever have on our own. On a personal note, I think, with Berry becoming a fuller person, I have had to share my mind space with her and this means you pick the mental battles you want to indulge in. I have started to accept the way I operate, and rationalise my seemingly weird responses to who I am as a person.

Through acceptance, I have become a lot kinder to myself, which was long overdue. This transition happened through the second half of last year, especially after the loss of a dear one in the family. Through Mani aunty I learnt that we are not defined by our constraints, but it is who we are despite them that makes us who we truly are. So, for 2019, I wish to focus on the things I am grateful for and worry less about things that elude me.

 

 

 

Why won’t my bosom blossom?

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I was cleaning out my closet and found my old swimsuit. I decided to flatter myself by trying to fit into it and found myself having to tuck in my saggy mommy boobs. As I watched them ooze out from the sides of the swimsuit, I was reminded of a time when the only thought in my head was “Why won’t my bosom blossom?”

It was August 1999, I was in 7th standard. Teacher’s day was round the corner, and our class teacher Mary Christine decided to pick people who would take on the responsibility of not only collecting contributions from students, but would also go buy gifts for the teachers on behalf of the whole class. I can’t remember if she picked or the class nominated or people volunteered themselves, we were finally a group of 6 – 3 boys and 3 girls. Of the 6, there were 2 “pseudo couples” or at least the rest of the class teased them as a couple. The remaining two of us were not teased, but an occasion like this could potentially result in us being teased going forward, or atleast I assumed that’s how these things worked.

The non-coupled boy suggested that we all meet in his house after school some day as there was a nice gift shop near his house. We prompted assembled there after school. He lived in a nice modern looking flat in Malleswaram, after all his father’s income was an outlier in our class. When you go to a CBSE school, you eventually find out such things and you never quite come to terms with the economic disparity amongst your classmates. We had all got change of clothes, I had carried a nice short skirt which was supposed to help the cause of being teased, either with the uncoupled boy, or just in general. You see, being teased was more a proxy for how popular you were and less about a pseudo relationship, and I had hoped for some “action”. Lulz.

After having some fancy milkshake and snacks, we decided to walk to this gift shop “Lakku’s gallery”. After much deliberation, one of the coupled girl’s choices was picked as the best gift for our class teacher. It was a chain with a hologram pendant of Jesus, because you know our class teacher was a Christian. Then we decided to go to 8th cross, which is the busy shopping street in Malleswaram to find gifts for other teachers, and probably our headmistress because she wasn’t anyone’s class teacher and so we didn’t want her to be left out.

While we were walking on 8th cross, we stopped at a softee store where one of the couples bought an ice cream to share. I obviously neither had money for a softee nor a boy to share with. I am sure my dad hadn’t even given me any money for an auto back home and I probably walked back home after making a pit stop at another friend’s house. Anyway, back to the softee, it was a rage in the late nineties, you got an absolutely delicious ice-cream for just 5 bucks which was not hard to save up over the course of a month or so. You just needed to make sure you either charged a commission for the errands you ran for your folks or did any household chores.

Back to the shared softee, so this couple happened to lick the same softee once and that’s probably the extent to which that softee was shared. But if you know a thing or too about “enjil” or sharing saliva, it’s a big fucking deal, and especially if you are in 7th grade and belong to opposite genders. That’s like a PG 12 rated kiss, which calls for being teased even more. I think it was also the year Kaho na pyar hai had released and I don’t know if someone said it or I imagined these two to be like Hritik Roshan and Amisha Patel, in my head.

Anyway, by the end of the evening, one girl had chosen the class teacher’s gift and the other girl’s ice cream had been licked, now I still hadn’t found a reason to be teased. It was my one shot at being teased and I was not an inch closer to being teased. And the worse part was this – the group had decided to pool in some extra money, over and above what the rest of the class had contributed just so they could buy the “best” gift for our class teacher. What did this mean? I had to now go beg my dad for more money, when he hadn’t even given me money for a softee or an auto let alone seem “cool” by contributing more to a cause that cared two cents about me being teased.

Anyway, as one does, I sucked up to the peer pressure, agreed that we had to buy the best gift and hence, bear the burden of our “collective” decision. I walked all the way back home after our “cool escapade” in Malleswaram. I came home feeling somewhat cool, in a way similar to how’d later on feel after coming back after spending a day with friends on MG Road. As I looked into the mirror on my dad’s Godrej Biro, changing into my house clothes, I stared at my flat chest through my petty coat and my mind wandered back into what I had seen while changing clothes in the uncoupled boys house – both the coupled girls had worn some sort of training bras.

As far as I knew, only women worse bras, and I mistook correlation for causation. I had finally found the reason for not being teased, ever and so I wondered, why won’t my bosom blossom?