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A life in Clothes is a five part autobiographical series I did in support of the slutwalk Delhi to illustrate what it can be like to live in a male oriented, judgmental world.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6

When I married for the second time. I thought I was older, wiser, I was making the right choice. However, in hindsight, I realize I lack any sense for what is normal, hence I am not able to see warning signs for when people may not be so good for me.

When I returned to Mumbai, and met an old friend, it was a comforting feeling of touching roots again, in a place that had started feeling alien to me. Instead of turning right around and heading out of the city again, I chose to find a way to settle in it. This friend, among the oldest I had among mountaineers was a comforting whiff of the outdoors in a cement jungle.

I thought he was necessary to surviving in a city. He thought that I was attractive and exotic enough to be a good partner for him in business. I wanted to continue working in the outdoors. And I fell into a kind of love that can destroy mercilessly as it holds you immobile.

There were warning signs everywhere. Big glaring ones. Orthodox parents whose wishes were paramount. No problem, I thought. I'd lived rural. How orthodox could it be? Well, it could be very, very confining. My entire personality was submerged in some kind of a new identity I could not recognize. Small rules, easy to adjust. Small responsibilities, easy to take on. Small things that were offensive, easy to avoid. Before I knew it, I was someone else. Someone I didn't like.

Far from being in touch with the outdoors, I found that this new life didn't include it at all unless we were earning from it. My role was to play the ignorant woman in the outdoors, while wooing clients to bring business. I took to facilitating learning groups, and found a new direction of growth that enriched me.

But I couldn't escape the know-it-all critic watching every move. What should I do, how I should deal with clients, how I should budget, how I should facilitate, how profits should be spent... I was the proprietor of a business I didn't own. My actions increasingly got overruled by him, useless business decisions were insisted on because he thought they were better. A new narrative began "You are so clever, you do things I could never do, but you must channelize your potential" and the person who couldn't understand what I did was apparently clever enough to channelize it. Whatever that meant.

The facade of high voltage adventurers stayed for a while, but I was now the ignorant office partner while he was the outdoors partner mentoring me. My experience was shoved aside as irrelevant, which increasingly became apparent as his view of it as a flaw - I was living in with a man when it happened.

While none of my history was hidden from him, it was now narrated as his rescue of me from a life of shame. Increasingly alcohol was becoming a bigger problem in our lives, with him being irritated with me in public, which I found so offensive that I stopped going out. I became responsible for communicating with his parents, whom he didn't get along with. I became responsible for paying all the bills in the home, including his phone bill and petrol expenses, because he worked for our business. The business never took off that well. I ended up paying from my pocket to avoid conflicts.

When I had my son, shit hit the fan.

Till then, I was working in partnership with him, supposedly, though most of the home was run from my considerably higher income from consulting. This stopped with the birth of our child. And with it stopped any respect I got.

I was now the target of a lot of frustrated anger over lack of money, though my expenses were always covered by me, the running expenses of the home were always covered by me. What had stopped were his phone bills, petrol expenses and his ability to find work. I should make it clear here, that we had always taken on our own freelance work all through. He had too, to the point of refusing better paying work for our clients in favor of that offered by a buddy. I was officially the bird in hand, but I was already in hand, and to be ignored.

His alcoholism grew the more unemployed he got, which in turn led to his increasing temper and inability to respect people hiring him. Soon he lost a lot of work, which made things worse. Nightly attacks of verbal abuse became the norm when he got home high on alcohol, and proceeded to vent on us. I got increasingly frustrated with my inability to protect my son from this nuisance. I was paying increasing bills with lesser money, and he then started getting angry if he saw me anywhere near a computer (I earn from writing).

My son developed the habit of waking up in the middle of the night and to date doesn't sleep well till early morning. Hours after my husband has crashed to bed, drunk. He blames this on me spoiling his habits by keeping him near a computer all the time. He ha developmental delays.He declared me to be the cause. He stopped giving any money at home, and no matter what I did, the reply was always a taunt. The taunts were increasingly public.

I started disengaging from everything. I got criticized in public, I stoped going out with him. I got criticized for going out, I stopped going out. I got criticized for the taste of food I cooked, I stopped cooking food. I got abused for objecting to a mess made after I tidied the home, I stopped tidying the home... till I do nothing. I escape online, I engage with my son, and I avoid the world completely.

Last year, I left home, but instead of moving in with friends as planned initially, I gave in to my father's invitation to stay with them. Another mistake. Within 24 hours of my arrival, the insults started again. I got bullied into returning to him, while he was told that I really wanted to come back. On my return, the first thing my husband told me was that he hadn't changed a thing and was still the same man, so if I wanted to stay, I should behave.

In the meanwhile, his parents decided to sell the home we are living in and to move to a cheaper locality and keep the balance money, since neither sons provide any money at home, and I stopped being able to provide for two households once my son was born and income stopped. While initially the mother in law had said she would provide for me and get me a separate home if need be, when the time came to buy, she did not. The writing on the wall was clear - she didn't want the shame of the two of us living apart, so she had sold the security from under my feet hoping that this would force me to not leave, even when she saw the behavior of her son and disliked it.

On his part, the husband gave me clear ultimatums. If I wanted to live in the new home, I'd have to live as he dictated. By now, nothing I do or say is acceptable. Nothing is told to me without a taunt attached. On my part, I have become so disinterested in the home, that I have all my clothing on the floor of the bedroom in a mess for a month, because I started packing, but couldn't decide if I wanted to live on my own or move to the new home. Rather poetic a metaphor for what happened of my life in the marriage. Taken out for some purpose, stagnating in a limbo.

And I am finding my solutions, because I woke up. Late, but better than never. It is time to start living again, or this autobiography ends because what follows will be a depressingly mundane story that will be too tragic to ignore, and too boring to write.

I must find me.

5

Earlier: A Life in Clothes part 1, part 2, part 3

While my first escape from home was an epic in insecurity, I had learned a lot from it. Most importantly, that the world had not ended. I was alive. A little worse for the wear, but I was ok.

This article is of necessity going to be a little abrupt between "snapshots", because there simply is no way to fit 6 years of intense living in one post.

On the whole, this period was the first time in my life I was me, and I healed. There definitely were outstanding moments far more than drawbacks. Manali was another tourist town, but a lot of the tourists were foreigners. It was easier. I started relaxing. Possibly for the first time since teenage hit.

I did the Basic Mountaineering course and followed with the Advanced course the next year. I gained 3 kgs in the first and 5kgs in the next. Mountaineering courses are supposed to be exhausting and no, I'm not superwoman, they dumb things down for girls. As though the mountain cares about gender when its out to get you. The attitude of instructors toward us, was rather like they didn't expect better.

One instructor we used to call Tarzan for his attitude - the swinging from trees bit. He never used words if he was within reach to use touch. We thought we made history when our entire batch filed a complaint against him. It was an epic disappointment to find out through other sources that it was quite normal for a batch to complain against him. There is exactly one women's batch per year in June. How difficult could it be to plan? At least my confidence was back. I wasn't cringing, I was responding to my best.

Got the results from the surprise Board Exams (from last part end) 64.64%. Endured another lecture about how if I could "perform" like this with one week of study, I should study more. Yawn. I was done performing.

I joined a local Khampa family who considered me one their daughters after meeting someone from Delhi they called son. We started an affair that lasted six years. We had horses, lived a nomadic life. It was hard, hard work, but some of the best time in my life. Summers were spent in high altitude trekking, cultural tours and other tours.

Wore all kinds of clothes from shorts to uncountable layers and looking to add more. Trekking clothes mostly. Wore jackets of Goretex fabric that client companies gave us with pride.

Saw places I hadn't imagined I could call home. Yet, as a nomad, home was where camp pitched 🙂 A peeling nose was a fact of life. Its the high altitude version of digging your nose - you absently peel dead skin from the sunburn. Come autumn in Ladakh, and you're an idiot if you don't empty the water cans before sleeping, because they will be unusable ice containers in the morning. And yes, you live in a tent with one side always open to the elements, looking out at the world. The tent is a plastic sheet, like road laborer shelters.

Winters were spent in physical labor. Kidding you not. To earn money and exercise horses, we used to transport construction material from the roadhead to wherever someone was building a house. Rough work, endless hours, physically overwhelming (one cement bag weighs 12 kg more than my then 38kg bodyweight). A horseman's winter is to be lived to be believed. It is an endless loop of tasks. Most of them heavy. And there is no holiday. You can tell someone to take care of a child or dog. A herd of horses? hahaha.

I had forearms I still miss for their strength. Day after day for five months. I didn't own a mirror (too much hassle to lug), but I ate with spoon, because fingers were routinely cracked like the heels on TV ads + curry/spices = #fail. 😀 Here's a memory from then.

Clothes in this time were ones I didn't want to see again. Cement + clothes = #fail. As an outsider, I had considerable leeway with clothes. Particularly in the foreigner rich summers. In the winters, salwar kameezes were the thing, but eventually I got back to wearing jeans during the days when horses grazed.

Why do I mention this? Because this was a very nosy region. Everybody was into everyone else's business, but jeans cut unwanted friendlies faster than anything else.

I was surprised, since jeans were not actually socially acceptable. There were judgments here too, but not anything that prevented LIVING. Clothes weren't that big a deal compared with horses. This was paradise. And it was.

But the undercurrents of the cage vibrated with every breath here as well. From women labelled unclean and spending four days on verandahs in winter temperatures during their periods, to lecherous men holding stud roles in groups. My offer of housing them at our room in the village for those four days didn't go down well. Men asked my partner why he made me work like that, like I was a slave. But then, the women were somewhat enslaved.... or they were "shrews" if they had an opinion. Modesty was default. I don't know anyone who messed with that. His reply used to be "Send your wife to help me, and I'll send mine home".

We had not told anyone we were not married once we realized that that was serious "prostitution territory". Sigh. Whatever.

Well before I started smoking, traveling alone a lot in the high altitude deserts, I used to carry cigarettes. A timid girl asking for directions or help is a magnet for patronizing lechers. Initiate conversation, pass cigarettes, address people you wanted speaking specifically, talk "man to man". Move on. Never failed.

Oh, sure they had their thoughts, but my personal space became less of a parking lot, because I could then throw a man-to-man "chod yaar, kya bakwaas hai?", without triggering a male female chase. They shook their heads, called me crazy like the foreigners. Better that than wondering how far my friendliness extended.

I met my boyfriends friends in Delhi, did a stint with a production house to get an idea on how to make documentaries, got a camera, shot a 45 day trek from Ladakh to Kinnaur. Through some of the most incredible high altitude terrain (no, I still haven't made the film, but if anyone wants, I have the footage).

I did a lot of wandering alone with my two dogs - Sweety and Pye, or just me. Really formed bonds with people. Spiti. Feels home. These areas are rather safe for anyone (or at least were, but things were already changing rapidly), women included, and it helped I spoke the language a bit. I finally came to terms with being a woman, with its vulnerabilities and its advantages.

I learned to dumb down, to appeal to spectator heroes for assistance in dealing with villains, to grab stage, go invisible, to be a woman when the situation warranted one, and one of the guys if that was how it was. To fit in smoothly, yet be me. That was empowerment. And it was infectious.

People started bringing up things that were bothering them, and often found ways beyond reactions and egos to make functional responses. For the first time, I was me, and it was heady. It was beautiful. I couldn't break the cage, but I built me such a library of workarounds, that I could render it largely irrelevant to my freedom.

I discovered that in this battle with life, I'd learnt something for survival that people search for for all their life. I had no shame. I was absolutely fine being wrong, so easily adaptable around criticism, that I didn't make stupid responses. I had confidence that I was capable of reinventing myself over and over, and criticism was a help understanding me from a new angle. Ideas from such a space helped people. this continues till today. I just opened up, blossomed as a person, and it was so clearly my trial by fire that had made me thus, that all was forgiven - without reservation. I liked me.

On one level, we were well matched. He was technically modern about clothes, but I started discovering a side that didn't respect women. From comments about other women, to accusing me of provoking friends into making passes.... but the disenchantment began with a stray comment on me not being "Shadi ke layak" and ended when he said in a group that he got involved with me because I was available.

Things got better, but words like this have a way of eroding relationships. For the record, I was the woman who stood by his side sweating blood for six years growing a herd of 5 horses into 27 and the gazillion ways you need to care that come with it. The one who could watch a horse grazing half a kilometer off and know he had a saddle sore just from how he moved.

The one who didn't take anything away when moving out, because the wealth was horses, and they were a family. They didn't understand break offs or money. The one who wasn't even informed when they were sold off separately later.

There never was a fight. just a losing respect and moving off. We did get along excellently in other ways and six years worth of memories of a life under the sky overwhelm many bad ones. We sometimes connect, but now I find him high handed. Also,  however it ended, there is one debt I will always owe this man. I found a family with him. I never had a problem not being top dog, so those six years were amazing.

I moved to Delhi, because I knew there was one person there I could count on for a job.

But my mother's health concerns brought me back to Mumbai.

To be continued in A Life in Clothes - Part 5 : Shehari This will be the last (for now at least). A post about the series will follow. Note: I know this is abrupt. Bear with me. I won't be editing these smooth till they are all done and settled for a while.