Building community and family one relationship at a time

Standard

If there’s one thing I have learnt in building a transnational community of loved ones in partnership with my awesome soul mate, Sus, across three different cities and colonial states – it is this:

Community and family is best built one relationship at a time.

Not in large gatherings.

Not in giant parties (though they do help).

Not even in the fun community or family dinner hangouts (awesome and integral though they may be.)

Community – a family of our choosing – comprising blood and other blood members alike, truly is built one relationship at a time.

At least that’s how it seems to have worked best for Sus and I.

That relationship could be with a person who is either a good friend or family member or otherwise generic loved one to either of us, eventually becoming a friend and loved one to both of us. I think about the people in our lives; those whom we call our friends and loved ones; those whom we would fight for through thick and thin.

And they all happened, and continue to happen, one relationship at a time.

But it’s more than just the particular closeness that such a friendship can bring.

It’s about the person as well.

The relationship is likely always going to be a caring and nurturing one because we only develop close relationships with caring, nurturing people. It would also be primarily with people who would care for our non-human loved ones (in our case, the Brothers Cuteness, Faiz and Rumi – our two feline bffs/confidantes) with as much tenderness and gratitude as we do, because we can’t even imagine being in a relationship with people who have cruelty or callousness in their hearts.

Of course, with all these requirements of care and nurturing spirits in our loved ones, our community has tended to have a slightly higher proportion of women at any given point in time than men – though we do have some gentle spirited and kindhearted men whom we count among our loved ones.

(I apologize profusely for any problematic stereotypes I might be perpetuating here. I don’t know why, but the world over I have generally always felt safer in communities and families where women outnumber men, and the men that are there tend to be of the gentler, more caring type rather than the harder, masculine kind. From a very young age, this has been a core value of sorts and it seems to have followed me as Sus and I organically build our own family and community.)

The biggest reason why this community building works best one relationship at a time, as this musing has been harping on, is because it helps us really know a person, their life experiences, what makes them happy, and find ways to figure out love and friendship together.

(Indeed, there’s one big relationship coming our way, even already begun, with our soon-to-be little one currently growing in Sus’ belly.)

Building our community and family in this organic way affords us the ability to get to know one another in a deeper way, hold space for each other’s failings and peccadilloes, as well as each other’s pain and suffering. All, to the best of our ability. Nothing more and nothing less.

It also helps us celebrate the beauty  and richness in one another. It gives us the time to truly understand one another, support one another, have each other’s backs when the going gets tough – but also be honest with one another, realize each other’s limitations and strengths, and help one another find a liberated sense of self.

We know it’s not perfect and it never will be. But we also know there’s a certain beauty to that imperfection.

The relationships that constitute the core of our community are likely to emerge from anywhere, aided by our openness to friendship and comradeship, but also guided by our sense of safety for one another.

We know we are far more likely to build these community relationships with people who fight against oppression within themselves and society as a whole – beautiful souls who see racism, sexism, gender violence, colonialism, and patriarchy as dehumanizing and evil at an organic level.

Soulfully.

Not just intellectually or rationally or conveniently.

We also understand that there can be a variety of ways in which these relationships are sustained. Perhaps we see each other on a regular basis or it’s merely a weekly text, a monthly phone call, even a bi-annual hang out.

We don’t sweat the small stuff.

Who needs a rule book on how a loving relationship is to be sustained over the long term?

All in all, I’d say it’s a good practice to build community one relationship at a time.

It makes for a more liberated and healthy family.

‘Tis the fucking season after all.

In the midst of all the patriarchal religious dogma and glitzy commerce we have been and will continue enduring, here’s wishing you and your loved ones much joy and health.

 

Advertisements

Engaging with martial arts from the standpoint of love, soulfulness, and non-violence

Standard

I have a very difficult relationship with martial arts. I like them. I’m not very good at them. And I’m deeply troubled by them.

I’m especially troubled by the masculine, macho garbage that’s promoted and highlighted the world over in sports and popular culture. There is misogyny, sexism, and gender violence across the length and breadth of the world’s practices and practitioners of martial arts (including, and some might say especially, the armed mercenaries of the colonial state and private capital.)

But I’m also quite fascinated by them. Have been from a very young age. With no real training to speak of save a year at a raggedy Bangalore sports club and some occasional self-motivated workouts, it’s a fascination that has nevertheless stood the test of time.

Not that I’m particularly good at it or even super motivated to become good at it.

For instance, my “martial arts” practice these days consists of reading Bruce Lee’s JKD stream-of-consciousness once a month for 10 minutes, maybe followed by Paulo Coelho’s Manual of the Warrior of Light for another 10, then shadow boxing for a very vigorous 5 minutes, followed by a less vigorous 5 minutes of simple kicks, all while watching Futurama. Wait for a month. Repeat.

So it’s safe to say that it’s not exactly some UFC or Navy Seal shit that I partake in. If you’re looking for that, you’re in the wrong place. I think the martial arts I tend to practice is more the kind for those who also need daily rest and relaxation time with their amazing loved ones, human and non-human, alongside hefty doses of sitcom watching, comfort foods and beer; more Homer Simpson than Chuck Norris when it comes to warrior prowess.

Nevertheless, and with that disclaimer-cum-shameless-nod-to-popular-culture, I’d like to explore what I’m self styling as anti oppressive martial arts, trying to engage with it from the standpoint of three things: love, soulfulness, and non-violence – aka “all that boring, wimpy-ass shit about finding inner peace and all”

I’d like to briefly expand on those three things that define this kind of anti oppressive martial arts for me.

Going ass-first, let’s start with non-violence, and to that we can add, the prevention of violence.

I’m going to borrow a concept from the genius Bruce Lee where he spoke of “zones” of attack and defence. If I remember correctly, they are the kicking zone, the punching zone, the grappling zone, and the trapping zone. To that, I think a particularly important zone is actually the zone of non-violence and violence prevention.

Because truly one of the core values of martial arts, I am beginning to realize, is non-violence.

I mean, just think about it for a minute.

Why the hell would I want to get into a fight?

I am about to become a father for crying out loud.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in self defense and safety from harm or evil. I truly do believe in my loved ones and myself protecting one another.

But to actually have to use violence in order to do that is only if there’s absolutely no other choice.

Ideally, my loved ones and I just want to lead a peaceful, non-violent, fun, safe, and healthy life. (Wouldn’t you?)

So I think a really important tool (or weapon, if you want to get all into that martial artsy language) in anti oppressive martial arts is the ability to prevent violence, avoid violence, calm violent situations down, and promote nonviolence. Because if we’re really honest with ourselves, the times when we are faced with no other alternative but violence are way less often than we are often led to believe, especially when we choose to not be poisoned by male egos and violent mainstream pop culture. For the most part I do believe that safety and preventing harm to loved ones can almost always be done without violence; indeed violence often makes things much worse.

Which then brings about a mindset that is needed in order to avoid violence unless faced with no other alternative, because that varies for many people.

What is the kind of warrior mindset that first and foremost values nonviolence?

I call it soulfulness.

Soulfulness in martial arts for me is about remaining calm, breathing, understanding that our souls can never be harmed by evil, and invoking some spiritually liberating thought in order to deal with any stress or pain, no matter how severe.

Was that a bit too much to digest right there?

No worries. I’m happy to break it down a bit more…

I’ve written previously about how in moments of extremely high stress or pain, often the best (and during the moment, only) thing you can do is to remain calm. Take that breath. And get your shocked system in order to take the next best step to protect your loved ones and yourself. Any training, thinking etc. can go out the window and as such, it’s important to just stay calm and remember to breath.

In order to prepare for that however, it helps to have a belief in the power of our souls. Deep down, fear and panic ultimately comes from our sense of mortality and vulnerability. From personal experience, I’m convinced that people with a liberated sense of spirituality tend to do better in crises and with traumatic situations than those who don’t have that soulfulness or spiritual liberation, because the idea of our indestructible souls is an idea that can provide great strength and courage against that mortality and vulnerability. It can help us brave a lot of evil, especially since evil in this world often has a lot more money, power, and wealth than we do.

Having something to spiritually invoke, however your spirituality might manifest in your life, can be very useful in such moments. In my case, it happens to be a personal chant to the divine feminine, but it can take many liberated forms.

Which brings us to that which we need in our daily lives in order to help us with soulfulness and non-violence, which is love.

We are nothing without love and community, i.e. a family of our choosing, no matter how small or large. Our spiritual liberation and sense of peace can only reach it’s full potential with love.

How, you might be asking yourself right about now, have we come to this in an article about martial arts?

Because I ask myself ultimately why I even do that monthly workout. Why I have this weird fascination for the martial arts, maladroit though I may be in every attempt at them.

And it’s because with every failure I realize that, deep down, at a primal level, we all ultimately fight to defend and protect those whom we love. Thus for me, any true (and relaxingly stress-free) study of the martial arts absolutely must have love at its core.

So the next time you workout on that long bag or smash the air as you shadow box or do your regulation 100 kicks (in my case, a month from now) – remember that it’s very ironically about the peace, spirituality, and love.

You’ll have the most stress-free workout ever.

If we have to sell our labor, let’s find ways to make it more tolerable

Standard

I hate the fact that I have to sell my labor in alienating, stressful ways in order to help sustain myself and my loved ones. I’ve been doing it for well over a decade, and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, seeing as we all exist in a colonial, capitalist world mired in patriarchy.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a good job working as a trauma therapist in a community health centre, and am certainly very grateful that it pays for life in general.

But that still doesn’t deny the fact that there are at least a hundred other things I would rather be doing. Topmost on that list is hanging out with my pregnant partner, our cats, and our burgeoning community. It is so very painful to say goodbye to her every weekday morning before we both head to our respective workplaces. It hurts deep in my gut to spend so much time away from her and our loved ones, human and non-human.

But we all need sustenance.

For me sustenance is healthy food, clothing, and shelter, as well as the security that it will be there for the perceivable future. In an ideal world, we’d all be living in intentional communities comprising of friends and loved ones, sustaining and caring for each other, wherein the labor involved in feeding, clothing and sheltering ourselves would’t have to be so onerous and might even be fun because it’s done alongside people we love, minus alienation and insularity.

I hope we never stop fighting for this ideal world. Because capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy should never be taken as a given. They are socioeconomic systems that suck the life force out of human beings. Love and joy are afterthoughts, while stress and suffering are seen as normal. And that’s simply unacceptable.

But we can’t just fight, can we? We actually have to sustain ourselves while fighting this good fight (quite possibly for a victory only to be tasted many generations from now). Intimate partners work for the sustenance of each other. Parents work for the sustenance of their children. Community members work for the sustenance of their loved ones.

And this sustenance almost always involves selling our labor in one way or the other, often with dollops of tension and strain. So how the hell do we make it more tolerable?

Some thoughts on the matter follow. For starters…

Let love be the primary driver for going to work (not career advancement): In my line of work, burnout is common. Because banks tend to be quite unsympathetic when the mortgage payments aren’t made on time, and landlords don’t hesitate to kick someone out when the rent isn’t there on the first of the month, it means that there are times when I have to keep working even when burnt out. During those moments, it is only love that keeps me going. I literally visualize what my salary helps pay for – the sustenance of loved ones – and it helps no end. My partner, our little one, and our community of humans and non-humans. I see them, and the pain goes away.

When I’m running on nothing but fumes, love fuels me in a way nothing else does. Neither money, status, or acclaim can come anywhere close as a motivating factor when the stress levels rise and burnout is imminent, if not well and truly complete. Love does indeed move mountains, and it also gets me the hell up on god-awfully painful Monday mornings.

But then there’s the stress of the job itself. For that, among other things, I suggest we strive to…

Build community and friendship on the job (even if it’s via the whole misery-loving-company thing): This is tougher than it sounds, but it’s so very important. I’ve written about this before, and I do believe it’s one of those things that really sticks it to the man, so to speak, because it goes against the very essence of alienated labor in a capitalist society. We’re supposed to erect barriers around us, become productive professionalized automatons, and not share friendship or solidarity with the people we share a good portion of our waking lives with.

That’s bullshit.

Making friends, even one or two, and building a caring community, no matter how small, is really important if you don’t want to feel like absolute crap going to work. You can have each other’s back and share in each other’s pain. You might even have a person or two whom you actually look forward to seeing when you get to work, which makes it slightly easier to endure the pain of leaving your loved ones in order to sell your labor. The friendship and solidarity has to supersede the work however, in order for it to be truly nurturing. You can’t compete with each other or try to outdo one another or have trust issues and still be friends.

But friendships are hard to come by in capitalist, colonial societies. They can take time, and can often be frustrating (even if ultimately rewarding) endeavors. So, during the day-to-day, when you have no one to rely on but yourself, don’t forget to…

Find ways to “zone out” and de-stress while on the job (maybe even find ways to relax): Do not be a workaholic. Do what you need to do, but don’t go overboard. There’s a really messed up pedestal that workaholism is placed on in our society, and that pedestal is emblazoned with the words “Maximum Productivity To The Point Of Ulcers And Break Down”. Don’t fall for that crap. It’s more important to play the long game. If you have family and community whose sustenance you are committed to, then it’s equally important to remember that this sustenance needs to take place over the long term. And that means you have to find ways to de-stress, zone out, and yes, even relax, while on the job so you live to fight another day. If this is impossible in your job, then seek one where there are greater opportunities for this. It’s worth the effort to prioritize low stress levels in any job search, even if it comes at the cost of some money.

Ways to make the job more tolerable is one thing. But the stresses tend to follow you home. No matter how many platitudes we might hear of “leaving your work stress at work” it hardly happens that way. Stress is stress. It’s not an on-off button. If it were, life would be the easiest thing.

But there are ways to handle the stress that we take home with us. Love plays an important role here too. So remember, next time you get back home from work (and in an adequately relaxed state of mind)…

Talk about the stresses of the job with your loved ones (rather than bottling them up to the point of frustration): Verbose as I am, my motor mouth tends to vacillate between silly buffoonery and deep political anger (picture an obnoxious clown wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt). I often make the mistake of bottling up my day-to-day stresses. Sometimes the more overwhelming it gets, the more I bottle up, until I have some kind of break down. It happens subconsciously. I feel it’s some deep-rooted sexist crap around, ironically enough, not wanting to seem weak or vulnerable. Indeed, It’s safe to say that the vast majority of my mental health issues and negative behaviors is due to my internalized patriarchy. (Dudes are so messed up.)

But without fail, each and every time I have a heart-to-heart with Sus about the stresses I’m feeling, I am better off for it. She helps me get a better grip, do away with the stresses that aren’t worth stressing about, and get a healthier perspective on life. I still instinctively bottle up my stresses (like I said, dudes are messed up), but it’s now at a point where I just feel stupid when I catch myself doing that because there’s such an easy, healthy way to de-stress.

This then helps us…

Ensure that unhealthy ways of relaxing are only done with loved ones (and in moderation of course): Booze and greasy food are topmost on my list of unhealthy relaxation methods. Binge-watching television shows on my laptop hovers up there too (though I do believe there can be a healthy side to it, especially if it helps one get the necessary mental break to rest and heal from trauma, anxiety, and depression – if that’s you, then binge-watch away my friend).

I always find methods of relaxation that don’t exactly scream “clean living” are best done with loved ones. They are far more relaxing, and they don’t end up being a crutch to hold on to when the stress is overwhelming. As someone who fought off serious alcohol abuse following the loss of my younger brother over a decade ago, I know what such a crutch looks like and it’s a constant struggle, with varying degrees of success, to prevent myself from going back there. Ensuring that the dopey buzz of beer and the salty fat of takeout is only during fun social occasions with loved ones makes that struggle way easier. Even binge-watching television has a far more salubrious effect when actively done with a loved one (it’s one of the excuses I make anyway for Sus and I indulging in so much of it).

There is another side to the relaxation coin however, which shouldn’t be neglected. It’s not just unhealthy ways of relaxation that need to be engaged with. So while you have that occasional evening of drunken, gut-busting revelry, don’t forget to…

Make a long list of the healthiest ways you can relax and de-stress (and actually follow it): For me this includes regular exercise (even if just 5-10 minutes a day), long walks where I can daydream (and imagine myself as a brooding superhero in an alternate universe), writing and blogging (not to mention the occasional shitty podcast), music (listening, learning, and criticizing), television (especially stuff that makes Sus and I laugh or think, but mostly laugh), a little martial arts here and there (nothing macho, just fun stuff), hanging out with friends and loved ones (even the occasionally irritating ones), invoking the divine feminine whenever down (the whole liberated spirituality thing), erring on the side of joy and laughter (I mean, why the hell not?), cooking loads of really good, delicious food (taste in no way needs to compete with health – humanity would probably have died off a long time ago if so), receiving wise counsel from our cats (their fail-safe solution for de-stressing me is to have their bellies rubbed and their daily quota of cuddles met), and finally, lots of sugary, milky, black tea (the tea is just an excuse to get a sugar high – just ask any South Asian surreptitiously adding that extra spoonful.)

Remember to always privilege love and joy, my friends. The job is just a means to that end and nothing more.

Now go have some adequately debauched fun with a person you love.

 

My transnational accent: Spawned out of a lot of cultural crazy.

Standard

Off late I’ve realized that my accent has changed.

Quite possibly a lot.

Back home in India, I had a distinctly Bangalorean Tamil, accent (as opposed to Bangalorean Kannadiga, Bangalorean Northy, Bangalorean Bengali, Bangalorean Telugu and so on), but also one that reflected the fact that English was my first language. The language I dreamed in.  English was, for all practical purposes, my mother tongue – alongside Tamil of course (us Dravidians are nothing if not linguistic elitists and could never accept a non-Dravidian language as our primary one, no matter how badly some of us might speak the languages of our ancestors.)

Nevertheless, while English was indeed my first language, it was a distinctly personal language, it was my English, spoken in my accent. Not American. Certainly not British. Not some generic, Hank-Azaria-voiced, North American stereotype of an accent.

For I was the son of Radha and Ananth, a mother and father who spoke to me in a Dravidian-Anglo linguistic mix of more-English-than-Tamil to me and my friends, and more-Tamil-than-English to each other and their families. (Add to that the Malayalam on my mother’s side, the Kannada in Bangalore, the Hindi of Bollywood, the Tamil of Kollywood, not to mention the languages of my friends – and you have a helluva mix.)

Now, Amma and Appa spoke to me in that mix of more-English-than-Tamil because I do believe that somewhere deep down they knew that I would have greater opportunities for myself in this Euramerican, colonial world if English was my first language.

Bless their souls. For all my Dravidian spiritualism (and occasional nationalism), I do know that English is one of the reasons I have made a transnational home across Toronto, Minneapolis, and Bangalore, with my awesome warrior-goddess of a partner and a burgeoning community of loved ones in each place.

Thus, my accent was one cultivated partly due to my parents’ foresight to ensure I spoke English from the get go, while ensuring that my Tamil wasn’t forgotten (even if slightly broken). It was a rich, beautiful-as-fuck linguistic environment I grew up in, quite effectively reflected in my accent.

When I left Bangalore in 2002 for a brief while to live in Gujarat, I think my English accent changed a touch, primarily because my spoken Hindi was forced to get much better due to the nature of my work there. (It still rankles me ever so slightly that my spoken Hindi is better than my spoken Tamil, but that will hopefully change as I start parenting.)

When I moved to the States, a mix of lefty political anger, racism that I faced, and a touch of assimilation anxiety in a white-dominated, settler-colonial society had me very rapidly shift to a more neutral accent. One that often had Americans remark at my “British accent” – making me cringe every time, while still secretly gladdening me since it proved I could blend in with greater ease into Euramerican societies when I needed to.

The accent shifted a bit with each move that I made. Baltimore. Boston. New Delhi. Minneapolis. Toronto.

Occasional racist jokes or references to crude Indian stereotypes by so-called friends in different North American cities shifted the accent in different ways. Often in defiance, but also in survival.

Whenever I visited friends and family in India, some would pass comments on my “American accent” or “Westernized accent”. And little shifts in the accent would occur each time. Usually quite subtle and probably unnoticeable to no one save myself.

But incrementally I do believe, especially after Sus and I moved to Toronto, I developed a rather unique transnational accent. One that shifts, depending on the company and environment, while still remaining very firmly mine. With Sus and I building community and family across three very different cities, two Euramerican, one Indian, the shift occasionally even catches me by surprise.

The best part about it, however, is that I’m able to experience laughter, satire, and sarcasm with the same linguistic diversity as the myriad sources for my proudly mongrel accent. The razor-sharp Tamil humor and Tam Bram cynicism of my parents, usually directed at our own communities. The laugh-out-loud goofery of Tamil and Hindi movies. Bollywood. Kollywood. Of course Hollywood. And British comedy. Good and bad. Plus a lot of American sitcoms. Good and bad. Not to mention my warrior-goddess of a partner and our daily humor. As well as that of all of our loved ones (including our cats).

That’s a lot of sources for one accent.

And that’s a lot of cultural crazy for one tongue.

 

Being in love with a brilliant freedom fighter

Standard

I often speak about my soulmate (and mother of our soon-to-be little one) in many of my posts. Today I’d like to dedicate a piece to her because she liberates me, herself, and others in ways that I can only dream of achieving.

Being in love with this brilliant freedom fighter has been the greatest experience of my life. Sus brings love, light, and liberation to a world easily consumed by hatred, darkness, and oppression. And she does so disarmingly, as if it’s the easiest thing to her.

Make no mistake though, she makes it look easy because that’s what real freedom fighters do, but easy is the last thing it has been. Very few know of her struggles, the mountains she has had to traverse, the battles she has had to fight, the grief and pain she has had to endure.

And while I’m not going into the details for various reasons, I feel very privileged to have a vantage point in my life that allows me to learn, from the inside out, just what it takes to be a lifelong freedom fighter – for that is what she is.

Sus doesn’t do bombast or arrogance. (That’s my forte.) Sus fights the good fight with all her might while embodying an organic framework of care, solidarity, and spiritual self-reflection. She fights for freedom because she knows it’s the only way – no matter what might be thrown her way.

That’s because Sus doesn’t do cowardice either.

She fights against patriarchy, colonialism, and racism because she sees it playing out in oppressive ways in her own life. But many people, especially privileged folk, see it play out in their lives and don’t do shit – happy to turn a blind eye so they can continue wallowing without being inconvenienced. Not her though. Sus is made of sterner stuff.

Like I said – she’s no coward.

This is one fearless warrior-goddess.

She teaches me that organizing and fighting for freedom happens across the length and breadth of life. It happens in our homes, at work, on the street, and within our families. She doesn’t shy away from any battle, and she gives her all to each and every one of them, no matter how small or big the fight may be. Because she knows that it’s in the small battles that the fight against oppression is won.

I know a lot of activists who do what they do to get their street cred going or to showcase their radical political chops publicly to others. I know a lot of do-gooders who do what they do to build up their altruism cache and seem like a great humanitarian. I know a lot of progressive thinkers and writers who do what they do to generate acclaim and praise for themselves. I know this because I was one of them, all of them, and likely still am.

Which is why it is so fucking awesome to be with someone like Sus. Her liberated soul and deeply compassionate heart blazes a trail for lesser mortals like me – a trail which almost always leads to healing and happiness – even when we have to occasionally come through pain and sadness.

For Sus is no run-of-the-mill activist. She is no privilege-mongering do-gooder or elitist-minded writer.

Sus is a freedom fighter. The very best there is.

And, if this wasn’t already bleedingly obvious, I’m the luckiest man on earth.

I pray that everyone finds this kind of love in their life.