Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Nones

I attended a talk on the rise of "Nones"--people who identify as not having a religion--in the UK. Some interesting takeaways:-
--For the first time in British history, more people identify as Nones than as religious
--Non-religious people abhor organized religion but a surprising proportion of them believe in God, have a spiritual practice, believe in the soul and the afterlife
--Only 13% of Brits think of the UK as a Christian country
--Churches are surprisingly popular in Sweden and Denmark (for funerals, etc.) where more than 60% of people identify as Nones.
--95% of children raised as non-religious remain so.

From the survey, Britain seems like a remarkable place, tolerant, even welcoming of foreigners and becoming more so. It feels anything like that but that is a topic for another day (or days).
I belong to the category of people who were raised as non-religious and remain so. However, I am not against religious faith, only against faith that manifests itself as intolerance towards others, which it often does. I believe anyone who has a concept of right or wrong, good or bad has a faith. Faith, to me, is belief in something that is absolute. That could be anything, god, a person, the soul, a moral code. It is based on conviction, not logical reasoning, although, of course, a belief can always be rationalized. Our actions might not always be true to our beliefs, but that is only because we are human. People with strong political beliefs can be as dogmatic as very religious people. Some atheists feel morally superior because they feel they don't need the crutch of a supernatural power to get through life. Well, believing you don't need the crutch of God is a faith too. I have little patience for militant atheists, most of whom tend to be privileged white men who often stray into Islamophobic and racist territory. Life is difficult and, at the risk of sounding biblical, there are many  paths to salvation, some through religion. No path is better or worse than the other. This is not a defense of faith, but just an acknowledgement that faith is one of the things that makes us human.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The 'L' Word

Doing a PhD is 'isolating' not 'lonely'. I have described it as 'isolating' and have heard a number of others do so too. 'Isolating', somehow, sounds more palatable than 'lonely' because you become the object rather the subject. You are lonely, while, on the other hand, you are isolated, not isolating. Isolation is something that happens to you, while lonely is something you are, or so it seems. Loneliness has a tinge of value judgement attached to it--you are lonely because of some character or personality flaws. Is there a stigma around loneliness and will calling it by its name change things for the better? I think much of the stigma is internal rather than external. Refusing to accept that you are lonely because you don't want to be THAT person who everyone pities but no one wants to befriend. No one likes to be pitied as pity robs the object of pity of all agency. Pitying someone is a way of asserting your superiority over them, which is why pity is very different from sympathy. You don't try to relate to that person because she and her situation are so alien to you that you can't even imagine it.
Accepting you loneliness helps  you move on from it rather than trying to dance around it. You stop trying to deny it or fight it and free up a lot of emotional space in the process. It becomes just another one of those not very pleasant emotions that life throws up.
I realize I have been writing a lot about loneliness, so I won't for a while :-)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

New Experiences

The thing about being new to a place and not having a natural socialization pool of workmates or classmates is it pushes you to try out new things. Things that you wouldn't earlier have tried for lack of company, because now you lack company for most things. I suppose that sounds rather sad but the point I'm trying to make is when the question of company is out of the picture, you can focus on what you want to do. You can't blame a lack of nerve on a lack of company because its not like you have company to do less intimidating things. In the past year or so, I have gone to salsa classes, yoga classes, a social justice group meeting which turned out to be a group of old white church-goers. Things I would never have thought off doing earlier. This morning I went to a book club focused on female authors. To be sure, I was in two minds whether to go. Book clubs are a quintessentially female activity and book clubs focused on female writers doubly so. To add to the awkwardness, I figured that I would be the only foreigner, and possibly the only non-white person there. Would the women think I am there to hit on them?
But, I reasoned to myself, if they thought so, it was their problem. If they didn't want men, they could have restricted the group to just females. I wasn't there to win feminist brownie points or to ingratiate myself with women. I was there because most of my favourite authors happen to be women anyway and I am eager to get back into the habit of leisure reading. If my mere presence, and not my behaviour, was causing discomfort, it wasn't my problem. As it turned out, I had a great time. The conversation was scintillating, nuanced and refreshingly non-academic. I wasn't made to feel unwelcome at all. 
I suppose being lonely makes you brave. It is easier to follow your interests and discover new ones because the only other alternative is to sit at home and sink into a morass of self-pity and disillusion. Of course, not every new activity you try is a hit. Regrets are plentiful. But, you can never ascertain the depth of the water unless you get your toes wet. Over time, you get better at judging which activities might interest you. Initially, I would try out new activities to meet new people and hopefully making friends. Now, I try out new stuff because I find it interesting. Being alone and often lonely forces you to live life on your own terms, because the alternative is just too dismal. And, if you flout popular notions about gender roles and preferences in the process, so be it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


I think I might have found my perch in Bristol. A perch is a special perspective on the world, a vantage point from which the hugeness of the world becomes apparent. It is difficult to look at the open sky and not feel small yet at home in the world. You never feel alone on a perch because you have the whole world for company, but keeping a respectful distance so you don't feel hedged in.The best perches are tall roofs or hilltops because they give you a chance to admire the city and also to gaze up at the open sky. For me, a perch is place of relaxation and mellow reflection. Being above the world physically gives you, not just a splendid view, but a different perspective. Being above the bustle allows you to look at the bustle with a different outlook.
My second-favourite perch is a giant rock I discovered last autumn in the mountains surrounding a tiny village called Chithkul in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. The view from there felt like a collage of breath-taking postcards. A pine forest against a backdrop of grey rock mountains, flanked by snow-covered mountains on one side. The river streaming down from the snowy mountains and the azure blue sky were the icing on the cake. I sat on that rock for about three hours, singing my favourite songs, talking to myself or just being silent, and felt a peace that I hadn't in a long time.
But my favourite perch is a plateau overlooking the Kedarnath temple in Uttaranchal. That was a magical scene. Snow-covered mountains on one side providing white relief to the majestic ancient stone temple, from which long queues of devotees snaked out. The town laid out untidily immediately below the perch. The sound of bells and hymns floating in the air along with the odd cloud of mountain mist. Blissful.
At home in Thane, my perch is in the Yeoor hills and overlooks the taller Parsik hills in the east, with Thane city laid out below. The sight of the sun popping up from behind the Parsik hills at sunrise cannot be forgotten easily. From there, the chaos of my maddening claustrophobic hometown feels bearable, almost benign.
During my time in Holland, I didn't have a perch since the country is as flat as a pancake, but I had the sea. I have spent many a pleasurable evening walking on the beach in the dark, occasionally startling the odd couple or group who thought they had the beach to themselves.
After describing my past perches, my present perch in Bristol doesn't seem so spectacular. But, it will do just fine until or unless I find a better one.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Male and female friends

A few days ago, I read an opinion piece advising women not to date a man who doesn't have any female friends. Who sees women as either mothers or sexual partners. Since most of my close friends are women, I am eminently dateable. But, I feel that is an incomplete aspiration. As I have written before, I have male friends who have female friends that they are very close to. Our interactions with our respective female friends are imbued with a closeness and affection that our interactions with each other aren't. That isn't to say male friends haven't helped me in hard times. But, when shit hits the fan, it is my  female friends that I seek out. Feminism isn't just about changing how men interact with and treat women. It is also about changing how men interact with each other. Not just blokey alpha males but also sensitive "woke"ones. Neither can happen without the other. Yes, sensitive, progressive men will have female friends. But, that is not enough. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Diversity Hires

Happy International Women's Day! That's a relief because I don't have to wrack my brain for a blog idea. Last weekend, I was chatting with a guy on a walk with the International's Meetup group. We were talking about women in politics, and he said that Italy had reserved quotas for women because of which many dumb women were in positions of political power. Which got me thinking.
The idea that men are smarter than women is quite popular, even among supposedly woke men who would only venture this opinion in male company. But, in my experience incompetence is gender-blind. I have had incompetent male bosses as well as incompetent female bosses. The only difference is male incompetence is viewed as a personal shortcoming while female incompetence is seen as a shortcoming of the entire sex. 
A few months ago, I watched a TV contest of female stand-up comedians in India and found most of them quite bad. I am not a fan of male Indian stand-up comics either, but they are at least marginally funny. I was disappointed because I felt viewers would go away with the impression that women are not funny, which is unfair. Just as it is unfair to let two racers start from different points, it is unfair to compare men with women who are trying to enter a male-dominated profession. Who have for their whole lives been told that men are stronger, funnier and smarter than them. Is this being patronizing towards the women who don't want any special favors from men? Yes, but I believe super-capable women are seldom trailblazers because they are few in number (just as few as super-capable men). These women are able to able to break glass ceilings, but only for themselves as they are seen as exceptional. While they may serve as inspirations for younger women, their performance doesn't do a great deal to change social perceptions about women. The majority of men and women, by definition, are of moderate ability. It is women of moderate ability, supported by affirmative action policies, who will truly advance the cause of gender equality when they enter male-dominated professions in large numbers. They might compare poorly with their male colleagues at the beginning, but they will get better. Just as female stand-up comedians in India will become funnier. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about ghosting and how it is acceptable, especially in online dating when you haven't even met that person. I said I try not to think about it too much, but I now acknowledge that I don't always succeed. As a friend pointed out, individual micro-rejections don't mean much but when they accumulate it can be unhealthy. A string of micro-rejections can weigh on your self-esteem or make you question your desirability. (I know everyone is desirable to someone else in this world, but I'm taking about being desirable to some of the people you desire). We all feel undesirable sometimes, and at such times it is perfectly okay to remove yourself from situations where you subject yourself to judgement. Take a breather. You don't have to swear yourself off dating, but just accept that dating is something that cannot be completely casual, especially for a sensitive person. You are a person with feelings and you are dealing with people with feelings, so there is always the scope for hurting others (followed by guilt) or getting hurt yourself. Of course, with experience you learn to handle some situations better but rejecting someone or being rejected is never easy, at least for some people.