This August marks 5 since I moved back to Bangalore after almost a decade in the U.S. I'll get into my weird bi-cultural life in another update, but for context, right before I moved back I spent two tremendous years doing my MFA in San Francisco. That's where I met Martha and Rachel, two writers I have ridiculous amounts of respect for. Two women whose influences have been pivotal in my life as a person and writer.
It's pure serendipity, I am writing an update series that collaborates with Korea, the U.S, and India. We're hitting social idiosyncrasies, political trends, gender, and personal context- topics we've covered ordinarily over whisky sours or in our workshops back in the day.
Six years ago I was filling in Rachel on a summer visit to Bangalore. I was telling her about the rapid changes of a city on steroids. Bangalore has been importing global lifestyle necessities since the mid 2000s: fancy gyms, cafes, coffee culture, bars, and clothing trends. But we're a developing nation for a reason. This urban boom lacks infrastructurally, modest-sized flyovers takes years to complete, sidewalks have no utility, public transport is inefficient, and public spaces are diminishing and becoming increasingly and exclusively available to elite sections, people who could afford fancy apartment complexes built with privatized parks, jogging tracks, and even mini hospitals.
'Maybe your career in writing needs to focus more on social issues and politics' Rachel said after I was done blabbing about my vacation back home.
I shrugged my shoulders, the the thing was, she had hit a nerve. It was something I felt strongly about, something I wanted to articulate in the written form. But I wasn't psychologically equipped, I was daunted by the idea of being any kind of social authority. Nudging people to form social opinions and opening up public debate to further discussion were for brighter, more well-read people.
Anyone who knows me through social media today, would scratch their head. I have not only been called passionate, but even aggressive in my approach to writing about urbanization, politics, and race. I've had lengthy debates, countered trolls and even humored misogynists on the internet with the discipline of a full time job.
This confidence emerged from finally understanding that 'arm chair activism' had a role, and a solid role at that. It has always been the written word that could approach the world, nudge, ask, counter, press, and evolve thought. Writing out ideas and opinions allowed me to see my own ironies and social limitations. It allowed me to acknowledge my specific privileges and link my everyday actions to larger social patterns.
So here I am. A (another) Bangalore entrepreneur, co-running a design and content company, living an Indian urban privileged lifestyle in one of India's most liberal cities. My exposure to hardcore sexism, gross injustices, and ridiculous amounts of misogyny has been limited to the Internet- based on reportage, based on troll comments, based on things that have luckily never physically happened to me.
India's social narratives aren't very different as the ones in other countries- It's the shape, application, and interpretation that is. But the more I read and wrote, the more I understood we are linked back to the same results of oppression, privilege, gender roles and understanding of success. We have similar right wing and left wing thought, and the same inabilities to change because of limited exposure, attachment to habit, and existing in defined cultural ecosystems.
Martha talks abut Trump, and if you a ask me it's simply a reflection for our times. A struggle to make sense of our world, and while we struggle it's the assholes that jump on top and start curating the puppet show.
Here in India, we have a very conservative right wing as well which operates on similar lines of majority (in this case, it starts with the Hindu male and levels down accordingly). We have the Kashmir issue, the women issue, the class issue, the caste issue, the language issue, the rural issue, the urban issue, but we also have globalism and the Internet, which makes for an often confused, lopsided race to find a politically correct vocabulary and identify issues that are worth talking about.
Urban Indian women are reading feminist articles based on western ideals of political correctness, but the truth is, percentage wise, there are very few that can relate to the same cultural application. Individualism is not a cultural asset here, we're deeply linked to family and micro-culture. We're linked to regional language and food, and we're also (often hilariously) linked by suave global aspirational identities that result in startling ironies.
My update is not very specific, it's rather a start to something I want to narrow down. Picking domestic issues and linking them to the the rest of the world. An attempt to illustrate how the human mind has roped us all with the same limitations and capabilities of bias and social conditioning. And that these biases operate on the same motivations and human attachments. The gold will be in the cultural application- and that's where we all can learn from.
When Rachel wrote about the perception of women in Korea and what constitutes a good man for a educated woman, I directly applied it to India: we're obsessed with 'fairness creams' and gold, and marriage, but we're also obsessed with education and career and status. The contradictions makes for many stories, and its here that I will tell them.
While I apologize for the scattered nature of this article, I promise you that this verbal vomit will be a context map to the smaller, more specific stories I want to tell.
Till then, I am super excited to see what Martha and Rachel have to say next, my gut feeling is that all our stories will spill into each other, making that cliche, oh- so -true: it's a small world, after all