Our Feminism is better than Yours.

My friend arrived for dinner visibly agitated. In one of his leadership classes, one of his classmates had shared an example of sexism at work – as an intern in a fancy firm, she was apparently kept out of the conversation in her first week by all the men she was working for. “That’s not a gender thing. Every intern goes through that”, he had protested, and had subsequently been, in his words, attacked by the other women in the class. “You feminists”, he started narrating the incident to me in anger, “so conveniently turn your weaknesses into a complaint about injustice”.

Another friend on the table chimed in, recounting his experience with feminism. He had been in a group activity in class where they had to find a solution to a hypothetical problem that involved stranded ruined planes in deserted islands. One person in the group made a “rather stupid suggestion” that the group heard out patiently, before they decided to go with the suggestion offered by another person, who did in fact, with have some flying experience. The former was a woman of colour, the latter, a white straight cis-gendered man. This distinction was pointed out by someone during the debriefing, as a sign of subtle racism and sexism working in the group dynamic; a suggestion the group found offensive. “I have nothing against feminism”, the third friend said, “I just don’t know why everything has to be about gender all the time.” The first friend nodded. The terms “humanist”, “bra-burning femin*zi”, “men’s rights” were thrown around in the conversation.

My first instinct was to judge, brand them as chauvinists. I wanted to lecture them, trace the history of feminism through the many waves and schools of thought and the broad range of issues it encapsulates, convinced that once people know the same things as me, they have to feel the same way; right? I felt like a defender of the whole feminist movement, the same way one feels about one’s family; it’s by no means perfect, but if anyone says anything against it, one must vehemently defend to protect the honour. Being a feminist has been such a huge part of who I am, of the battles I’ve fought and the things I’ve believed – this felt personal. Losing this “battle” not only meant being proven wrong, it also discredited so much of what I stood for.

One of them noticed the frustration evident on my face and changed the tone, “we are on the same side, J”. I didn’t agree with a lot of what they said, but this debate looked a lot different from the same side; it felt less like a battle. It was now no longer about who wins a territory, but rather a discussion about what is best for the territory. Suddenly my defensiveness vanished. “Feminism is complex”, I tried to summarise what I was feeling, “and it’s kind of unfair to reject an entire movement because you don’t agree with some people’s versions of it”. I confessed that I was saying this as someone who has had her fair share of tussle with several tenets of feminism – do I agree with all of them? I don’t. If feminism as a whole perfect? By no means. Is feminism still important? Yes. Absolutely.


“What is your feminism”, one of them asked. I paused. Usually, I am pretty clear on where I stand on most issues. Pro-choice: definitely. Strongly vouch for inter-sectional conversations in feminism. Vehemently protective when any girl is accused of “asking for it”. Kind of pro-slut walks. Each of these, however, felt like different spectrums that I stood at different points on. To reduce it all to one center point where all the spectrums merge perfectly would probably be a blessing, but if it were a good idea – I wasn’t entirely sure. Also because a part of me wanted to leave the space open to change my mind on those issues, not out of flakiness, but more as openness to points of view hadn’t yet considered. Yet, some sort of allegiance felt necessary. However, on merit of the same allegiance and family metaphor, I shouldn’t have to defend my feminism – despite what places it takes on the different spectrums, they all lie within the basic tenet of equality, and thus within feminism. Why then did it require extra justification?

Source: https://www.hercampus.com/school/utah/feminism-isnt-funnyso-why-are-people-laughing

Words from Roxane Gay’s TED talk, “Confessions of a Bad Feminist” rang true in my head: “We demand perfection from feminists, because we are still fighting for so much, we want so much, we need so damn much. We go far beyond reasonable, constructive criticism, to dissecting any given woman’s feminism, tearing it apart until there’s nothing left.” For an “intellectual issue”, there was too much feeling, too much decision making in that tiny situation on the dinner table. I could hear the responses I was used to hearing play out on cue in my head “seriously, stop being so dramatic about it”.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am dramatic. Proudly so. I also happily take the blame in being an “overthinker” who “reads too much into things”. But sitting on that table, all these thoughts and feelings stirring up inside me, I couldn’t unsee this. My discomfort came from a place of power inequality – a dynamic that I am as much to blame for playing into – but a dynamic that is very real, despite all the good intentions. A dynamic that comes from a certain assertion of normal, which puts (my) feminism outside of this “normal” forcing me, indirectly, to justify my stand to those standing within that normal to be accepted by them. “Hegemony”, I was taught this was called in college. The “normal” that was created by a group that yields power, a “normal” that gets so embedded, that everyone just assumes it is true. A normal that then becomes an ideology that makes decisions for the people within that dynamic, often without the person even realising that they are agreeing to this cultural domination. Sitting here, in this group of well-meaning men I love being asked to justify my feminism, we were all playing by this normal, perpetuating it, without really being fully aware of it.

Source: http://www.thedickinson.net/poetry-is-the-best-medicine.html

I tell them that, as kindly as I can. Thankfully, they take a moment to take it in (or maybe just to eat their food, but I am going with the more assuring explanation of the silence that followed) before one of them responds, “but aren’t you trying to create your own hegemony, such that the new normal makes feminism the normal, and those of us outside of that now have to explain to you? Aren’t you fighting for domination, in a fight against domination?”

I could see where he was going with this. I had recently entered into one of those futile but heated Facebook debates about this with another friend, who had shared that godawful video mocking political correctness and “oppression olympics” that went viral recently (I refuse to share the link because, like, contributing to that demand (not happening!)). For those of you lucky to not have seen it, it shares the story of a “privileged man” in a classroom, who essentially gets ostracised for everything he says because it offends some group, and in the end, despite being deserving in his merit, he doesn’t win a certain prize in the math class because equity rules take away points from him and give them to others in the class. Now, if that video was more good-heartedly funny, I would have probably loved to use it engage in a discussion about the the balance between assuming good intentions and pointing out inherent deeply coded systems of injustices, something that I would love to be able to get perspectives on. But, this video made me acutely uncomfortable instead, not because of its exaggerated tone, but the crude way in which it tries to justify its message through a lens of meritocracy.

In the discussion that followed, the much-too-common debate trick of exaggerated exceptions was used neatly, wrapped in reason-appealing notions. So there was the classic “but what about the women who take advantage of these moments and cry wolf in cases of rape”, to discuss the undue misuse of feminism by women to get their way, or worse, to get attention – apparently that’s what happens when we create conditions for women to feel safe and be supported for things like rape. I would probably have agreed to the extent that men need to be given the benefit of doubt when making a decision in these cases, a narrative that sometimes gets skewed. However, the fact remains that the fight against victim shaming/blaming, the fight to give women right to complain against rape without feeling afraid is still too real. While there would definitely be cases of women misusing this power, it is still only the exception. The “self-defense murder” is used so frequently too, but one doesn’t question the need for that law. Several schools misuse the funds that they receive to improve education, but we don’t question the need to push in more funds into education. “Why then does this fight get questioned”, I asked, I must confess, rather aggressively/ defensively.

To which, another commentator said – “look at the context of the video; why does privilege need to feature in a discussion in a math class. It takes away from the learning math”. Conveniently forgotten here is the point that unfortunately that discussion hardly ever shows up in classes other than the social sciences and humanities, but I see his point. A fellow (male) feminist joined in and tried to reason with the barrage of men supporting that video. In a long back and forth that followed, on and off facebook feeds, one of the men said, “look, I am all for equity, but the competition is already intense, and then some populations get unfair advantage because they belong to populations that were once discriminated against”. A point that my friend on the dinner table was also perhaps alluding to; that sense of threat, very real and disconcerting to them.

On the dinner table, I tried to engage with the same thing a friend who fights for racial justice once said to me – “Ideally, we could take a blank slate and start off equally. You know, give everyone the same starting points, same rules, let the best runner win. The problem is, this is a long marathon, several people have already started running a long time ago, and now we are trying to give some people who weren’t allowed into the marathon at all, the chance to catch up by giving them shortcuts in the initial parts of the race. It does not sound fair, and I constantly wonder if it is, I mean everyone else did run the whole route, but it seems also just, once they make it to where the other runners are, who by the way, are still competing, they have a chance to become equal runners. Some of these runners we provide shortcuts to might be Bolt-like fast, and may zoom ahead in this marathon, and all those people who have been running this whole time might have every right to be p*ssed, but I do intend to fight for that Bolt-like person to at least have a chance to fight the race”. My friend didn’t seemed convinced, unfairness always seems too uncomfortable, but when put in the context of the justice issues, the latter feels way too important not to fight for. In my work in inclusion and belonging, I truly struggle with this balance. It is hard to always be able to clearly distinguish between fairness and justice – fairness cannot always be promised or even possible, but justice is ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to access situations where fairness is possible. The means to this are complex, often with much space for improvement, but the debate needs to be about the best way to seek justice, not about whether or not justice is required.

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Source: http://culturalorganizing.org/the-problem-with-that-equity-vs-equality-graphic/

For anyone who has been following the news lately, this fight feels way too real. And to be honest, I am terrified of having that conversation. I am sure there are things I can learn in the conversation, things I hadn’t considered before, and there is value to me opening up my mind about it while also sharing what I have learnt, but the issue feels too sensitive to allow for that, perhaps even too personal lately. In my head it always looks like this: say there’s a destructive object that we are all trying to diffuse, a goal we all share in common, and one way to do that is to shoot it at the right spot. Now, if a person holds this object in their hands, wears a bullerproof jacket and asks me to shoot the object, I would still not do it, because I will still be worried about shooting the person. The best way would be to put the object on a more neutral table, and then try and diffuse it. A conversation about complex topics like these feels like this object – when we refuse to address the complexity of it as a given, oversimplifying it or avoiding it because it is complicated – we cannot diffuse it. We cannot diffuse it if we hold it on our bodies, where there is always a fear of getting shot, of it becoming personal. It needs to be put on a neutral table and diffused collectively, where the differences in our approaches to doing that might just bring us closer as a whole to doing that. But if we don’t diffuse it, it is going to blow in our faves. I don’t even know if we will ever diffuse it entirely, but isn’t that still a fight worth having?

The issue on the dinner table was never resolved fully, but it could have been much worse. For me though, that conversation feels like a reminder of hope – hope that it might be possible to somehow engage in these conversations more deeply and empathetically, learning through them, that some people in this debate might still be on the same side, and perhaps, by accepting the fears and feelings, all of which are very real, and acknowledging the complexity of everything that we are all fighting for, we might at least begin to start working together. Without this hope, I wouldn’t know how to proceed in the world that we see around us lately.

A shameless plug to end this: A hope that lays at the center of the “Library of Perspectives”. To get started on this, I am currently working on an experiment in feminism, and the sides to it. Get in touch if interested. More on this experiment, soon.

Jayati Doshi
Aug 26, 2017. 9.13 am

I like big “ands”, and I cannot lie.

“You drive really well for a girl”. Each time someone says that to me, which is unfortunately more often than I’d like, my brain responds with a massive ugh, which I have learnt to translate into a more “girl-like” mumble-sigh that could be taken for a thank-you on the outside.
Because that, despite probably being intended to be one, is not a compliment. What it is is a pseudo-polite way of saying, as a girl I am not expected to drive well, and by that benchmark, I performed well. It’s like telling someone they are a brilliant human being for not killing anyone – it is important, but there is a lot more to being a great human that we can expect from them.


Anyhow. What you think about my driving skills doesn’t bother me too much because I don’t really care about what you assume of my capabilities (or those of my gender) in that realm.


However, there are several such “but” statements that do cause harm. Statements that frame me into narratives that I confine my being in. Statements regarding identities I don’t have a choice about. We know these far too well. “You have great communication skills for a man”. “You are too feminine to be queer”. “You have done rather well for yourself as a person of colour”. They cause harm because of the boundaries they draw around one’s experiences – not the healthy boundaries that delineate spaces of respect, but the kind that confine and cage one’s spaces for exploration. Boundaries contained in that clause of omit for politeness – “As a man, you aren’t supposed to communicate well, but, look at you (being so un-masculine (or worse, feminine))!”. When we use “but” to contextualise someone’s identities vis-a-vis their reality, and mark their realities to be an exception, we bound them within the assumptions that we make about certain parts of their identity. Assumptions that come with unsaid and just as harmful assumptions that are based on the ideas of “normal” we don’t bother to challenge. The assumption about men inherently not being good communicators not only promotes raising of men without teaching them how to communicate well (because that isn’t an expectation placed) but also puts a judgment on communication being something that women do and want, and create space for several jokes around that, eventually setting an unconscious bias that communicating is something to be mocked, women do it (and hence can be mocked), slowly evolving also into several men not wanting to because it is “not masculine enough”.
Now, I get that assumptions have a functional use. Given how much needs to be done in a day in terms of all the interaction and navigation, it is definitely easier to function on the basis of assumptions. Social scientists call them heuristics  They save time. It’s like everyone (except artists, who are bad at math of course) know that Pythagoras theorem means  a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}, and that it alludes to a right angle triangle, and all the many assumptions about right triangle that come with it. So, you say Pythagoras theorem, and suddenly everyone is on the same page. But people, and their beliefs and personalities do not fit fully into formulas  and not every triangle is a right angle triangle.


Let’s take this example. When I tell people I study love, people assume that I care a lot about love, and by extension, people and relationships. The most immediate response is being labeled versions of “love-girl”, or being asked if I am a “love-guru”. By itself, that isn’t necessarily bad, or even untrue, but inherent to those responses are the assumptions people make about me being romantic/ cheesy/ corny/ touchy-feely, etc. A little bit like the Google-search version pasted below, no?
Now, think about what that assumption does to how I am perceived when I go on dates. Or worse, in professional settings when I mention this as a project. See why it could be a problem?


I have, obviously, learnt to deal with it. I change the way I describe the work I do, such that I highlight the academic nature of this, throwing in a lot of research-based jargon, like “in-depth interviews” and “literature reviews” particularly when putting this into my cover letters. I have learnt to use the question “so, what did you learn about love” as an opportunity to establish the kind of content that I deal with, making sure it sounds “smart”. And at the same time, my PR-strategy-trained friends have taught me to embrace the curiosity to my benefit. Plus, it makes for a great ice-breaker in otherwise annoying networking events.


That being said, I am also very aware that this is the image that people unconsciously form of me in the first few seconds of meeting me, and a lot of the next few minutes is affirming or contesting this image. They can’t help it. It’s the way our brain works – the common sense part of semantics/ psychology/ social sciences.


So, say as a child, when your mum first pointed out to a four-legged furry animal and called it “dog”, you assumed all the four-legged furry animals were dogs. As you grew up, and the categories in your brain became more refined, you learnt that four-legged animals could also be cats and cows and horses and tigers, that not all of them were furry, and you started to distinguish between them. Slowly you learnt to tell a Labrador from a Golden Retriever and a Pug. Along with that, depending on what your relationships with the dogs around you were, you started attaching emotions to a dog. If you say had a pet that you loved playing with, your brain would associate security and joy with it. If you were bitten by a dog and had to get painful injections after that, your association with dogs would be different. Nevertheless, these associations and assumptions have evolutionary purpose. They help you navigate. They help you decide quickly how to respond to dogs. Were they indeed dangerous, your brain being trained to respond to it with fear might have even saved your life.
dogOur assumptions about people come to form the same way. They are based on our experiences and the experiences we inherit through what we are taught – from the people we learn from like our families, schools and communities, the kind of experiences we consume, like the movies we watch and books we read… They are what create our version of the world. The details in the reality as we experience it.


However, that’s also exactly why it gets tricky – our experiences and reality are, in turn, shaped by these assumptions. The way you respond to the next dog would be based on what you have felt about it all this while. If you were the kind who hates dogs because you have seen your younger brother get bit by them, you might not let even the most friendliest dogs near you.


But maybe, say after you grew up a little, you went to your friend’s house and she had a pet dog. A furry friendly huggable playful jolly old Marley. You decide to open up your mind a little bit, and let Marley smell you while your friend ensures that he is leashed. You realise its not that scary. A few times of doing that, you may even find yourself playing with Marley, and enjoying yourself. You still hate dogs, but Marley is adorable. Congratulations! You just opened yourself up to a little more variety of experiences by adding that layer of complexity to your assumptions about dogs.


Now, imagine you let this crevice in your well-formed assumptions expand. Suddenly, there is space for you to even love dogs. Suddenly, while it is possible that you still are a tad bit afraid of dogs because one bit your younger brother, it is also possible for you to experience the joy of playing with (some) dogs and to believe that not all dogs are scary. You suddenly realise the possibility of those multiple realities to co-exist. And with it expands your repertoire of what’s possible.
 We all know this. And most of us are rather open-minded to such possibilities too. I thought of myself as someone like that, until one day I heard myself say it nonchalantly. It was after a negotiations class where we had just practiced using “and” instead of “but”. In a casual conversation that evening, I told a friend he was “rather interesting for a consultant”. Crap, I had just done what I hated when other people did to me. In the days to come, I started hearing more times when I inadvertently spoke like that. I was suddenly aware of how much I was restricting my reality through these assumptions I carried – for example, I immediately shifted to small talk when I heard someone was a consultant, because in my experience, most of those that I had met had been boring. As as result though, I had closed off the opportunity to have an interesting conversation with them. It had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Replacing the “but” with an “and” though allowed me to open up the possibilities – reminded me that he was a consultant, and a lot of his experiences were indeed shaped by that, but he also had several other experiences at the same time, which I didn’t give him the space to explore by putting him into this box. His reality was larger than that one descriptor, but that descriptor was all that I had been seeing this whole time.


Just making that one little change in my vocabulary was immensely transformative. Not just because it allowed me to have better conversations with consultants, but I didn’t have to wait to have an interesting conversation with one to believe in the possibility of consultants being interesting deeper people. They weren’t always, to be fair, but more often than not, they did have a lot of interesting things to say when I was willing to listen. The “and” opened up the curiosity to find out all the things they also were, rather than the things they had to prove to be despite being a consultant. It became an opening for better conversations in itself, allowing the space for more stories to emerge. While enlarging the boundaries of my own reality of what I expected that individual experience to be. It made it possible, in its own way, for some of my favourite people to be these consultants, who I might have previously thought I couldn’t get along with.


This is particularly poignant in the context of the aspects of our identities that we cannot change, and/or the parts that are visible. I can rephrase the identity of “love-girl” by changing how I define it, but I cannot do that about my gender, ethnicity, or other aspects of my identity that are more “factual”. The “and”, in that case, becomes particularly more important, because it allows for choice – the opportunities to be more than the “should be this” and “supposed to be that” that our identity-based assumptions expect of this. It allows me the opportunity to be a good driver, to say the least.


The “and” also changed how I explained myself. I am a lot less anxious about introducing my love-project. I have learnt to embrace the parts to me that I tried to hide because I was afraid of the assumptions they carried. I let myself be all those “ands” rather than restrict myself with the “buts”. And that has suddenly liberated me in more ways I can count. And not because I suck at math – after all, I am a qualitative artistic social-sciences type girl, and I like math now.


Jayati Doshi
23rd July, 2017.

The “Real world” assumption.

In one of the most powerful scenes in the edu-documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” (which, by the way, if you haven’t seen already, you absolutely must), a teacher trying out something new in a classroom is having a meeting with some of his students to talk about the new pedagogy he has introduced in class. Pedagogy that is intended help the students “learn” rather than just prepare them to ace tests. Some of the students (mostly the high-performing ones) are hesitant about these new methods he’s brought in. “Is it more important for you to learn or to do well in the tests?”, he asks, cautious hope in his eyes. “Do well in tests,” one student immediately responds. The others chime in almost instantly, agreeing. The look of confusion and concern that he has on his face after that summarises what a lot of us feel about our education system.

It got me to think about my own early experiences as a student. I wasn’t a bad student. I got decent grades, my teachers would call me a sincere student. Yet, despite the fact that I loved learning, studying (for exams – which I found out later wasn’t necessarily the same as learning) was hard. Even after I managed to find healthier educational opportunities, the same struggles followed me into the real world. My questions, stemming out of genuine curiosity, were often met with well-intentioned advice of “don’t complicate your life too much”.

In the past year, being encouraged to “complexify” my life, I have come to think about how we are taught about the “real world”. When a wiser person tells us there’s a certain way the real world works and certain ways that it doesn’t, our learnt default response is to believe in that, because experience is true, and if that were really how the “real world”- which is in any case too overwhelmingly massive and intricate for one person to fully understand – works, we don’t want to risk being on the wrong side of.

happy c 10

Our education system, I have come to believe, is one such system that is formed around such assumptions about what the real world need and values. Our schools and colleges work so hard to prepare us to do well in a system that we all know is messed up. Whether or not they succeed in doing even that is a whole other conversation.

These assumptions have been around for a while, and with history. At the risk of hyper-simplifying its nuances, the well-known story goes mostly like this:

Years ago, with the Industrial Revolution showing us dreams of a fancy new society, an era of moving from our agrarian/ artisan culture to that of professionalism, our metrics for measuring success changed. We now thought of productivity through the lens of efficiency – how much more can you produce in a shorter period of time, how fewer mistakes can you make while doing that, and can you be trusted to be consistently as accurate – measures that we inherited from the machines we created. Mass-production of goods led to a culture of mass-production of people and their skills – what we (currently) know as our educational system centered around exams and standardised tests. What was meant to measure learning became what learning focused towards. Our systems came to be designed so that we would memorise to prove our competencies – static knowledge of facts and procedures to do well in the industrialised marketplace, with rights and wrongs to be handed down by teachers who are considered authority. In industries, the employee was individually involved in a very small part of making the product, was easily replaceable and was thus supposed to be detached from the product – and slowly, these values came to also structure the qualities we hold as valuable in people. Values that are represented in our education system. Certainty, consistency, order and uniformity. Words that sound like music to the industrial companies.


Of course, there are several ways that this is changing with the advent of the Internet era; there is much that the Googles of the world are changing in the work marketplace and there are several schools, colleges and non-institutional settings that are doing phenomenal work to change that. Yet, we are largely still functioning in the same way; these versions of learning are being passed on across generations, setting the boundaries of what we call success even if we decide to challenge the ways we learn/ work for it. The square pegs-round hole analogy has in my head always been about cookies – the cookie boxes are round, so all our cookies need to be cut with round cookie-cutters, and the square ones need to be chipped off the edges to fit the boxes. Individuality then gets restricted to how many colours you can make these round cookies in, which is easier than changing the shape of the boxes to fit all kinds of cookies, including the ones that don’t have a perfect shape. Add to that the very real problems of lack of equal access and resources, and we have a nice little vicious cycle, a whole machine of faulty systemic gears. A cycle that continues to perpetuate, because those who come into power, very often if not always (thank god!), do so because of this system, and by the time they get power, might not have sufficient motivation and credibility to really change it as substantially as it deserves to be.

There are several people asking questions about this and finding fascinating ways to shift these gears – a task that, as you can well imagine, is rather tricky given that you need to change multiple gears while the machine is still in motion. But here’s the question that keeps me up at night – what can I, as an individual, subject to the risks that come with not “following this system”, do to change it?

Although far from having an answer, I do have a hypothesis that I am testing out right now. (I must state at this point that I fully recognise the privilege that underlies my ability to say this – the privilege that comes from having encouraging teachers, professional mentors, like-minded peers and supportive family along with access to opportunities that allows me to venture on this experiment). It was a thought that was planted in my head by a very enthusiastic Alfie Kohn dancing around our classroom stage, as he spoke about the “BGUTI culture” i.e. the “Better Get Used To It” culture that we are slowly hammered into. The culture of being told “that’s how the real world works, better get used to it” every time we question something that does not make sense. The culture where we are told that questioning and challenging and changing are privileges reserved for the “already successful” club, and we need to be successful within the system before we start to change it. A culture of keeping our head down, take only calculated risks, and continuing to believe that it is only a dog-eats-dog world out there, and the only way to survive it is to learn to be a part of it.  I have no credibility to say that that is not true. I am just not sure that that is the only truth.


I have been wondering about the versions of the “real world” that we come to believe as true, and that has made me conscious of what my own versions are that I use to build my life in, and what I pass on and contribute to through the choices I make.  Trying out what happens when I ask good questions, questions that come from a place of genuine curiosity, when something doesn’t make sense to me. Not rebelling, not challenging blindly, not being idealistic/ unrealistic,  but questioning to understand, so I can know why and how I make choices, and thus make better ones.

So far, it’s served me well. It’s opened up opportunities and space for conversations. Conversations like the one I had with one of my professors when I spoke to him about my learning in his class. What I wanted to gain from that class was different from what the class’ learning goals were – and having a conversation asking him what his learning goals were and why, and defining the same for my goals, led to him helping me get to my goal, so long as I respected the criteria of the class in the assignments I submitted. This discussion itself brought to the forefront the learning that was happening from the class and gave me better focus, rather than the bitterness that I had begun to develop. Conversations like the ones I have with new people I meet when we realise that we are mutually baffled with small talk, and thus don’t need to work so hard at trying to do that at all – this one in fact has made parties so much more bearable for me. It’s not always been yay-ish, I haven’t always received answers, sometimes I found

It’s not always been yay-ish, I haven’t always received answers, sometimes I found good reason why things worked the way they did rather than the way I thought they should – and all of this allowed me to contribute better. There have been several days that not asking felt a lot more convenient and comfortable. Yet, the times that I did muster up the courage to ask questions, I have felt more empowered, as though I had more information on the map that I navigated through my world. I felt more a part of how things worked, than just an object to assumptions of it. It’s opened up space for more possibilities, opening me up from the binds of only one version of them. Kinda like the time someone said, wait a second, why did you say women can’t have the right to vote again?


I would like to invite you to try your own adventure of curiosity with some faith in the good in this world. Next time you find yourself craving into believing that the real world works in a certain way only, maybe stop and ask what proof you have of that, and if there are other possibilities you might imagine. Maybe, if you feel particularly daring, seek out and test out some of those possibilities. For the few times that they work out, let people know those possibilities can happen. And maybe, just maybe, we will all be able to put those possibilities together and create better versions of the “real world” we live in. If you do embark on this journey, I would love to know about what you learn so that I can add it to my repertoire of “tested assumptions of the real world”.

Jayati Doshi
July 15, 2017. 10.00 am

Also on Medium: https://medium.com/@jayatidoshi/the-real-world-assumption-46605357f2c2

My life, on a google doc

We walked back from the Charles river, our impending romantic relationship apparent through occasional brushing of our hands. The boy had already lost track of the names of the people in my life I had introduced to him through my stories that night. There are too many people in your life, he complained. The aww-inducing thought underlying that complaint came right after: how do I know where I lie in your life?

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am an obsessive categoriser. It is only natural then that all the people in my life are neatly divided into categories based on the roles they play in my life. The task then, was to now make these categories more concrete for the boy. As usual, Google had the answers.

Imagine my life were a story being written in real time on a Google doc, I told him. It’s a detailed narrative, filled with much details and anecdotes, the voice evolving as I grow.

This Google doc is publicly visible; my story, written with pseudonyms, is an open book. Anyone who wants to put the effort of looking up the url and opening it can read what is written in it.

Some people get commenting privileges for parts of this story. They can leave their thoughts, and I will look at it in my own time, and choose what I want to do with them, how much of those I take seriously. Some comments, obviously, are taken more seriously than the others.

Some people, the ones in my intimate circle, get editing privileges. They, each with their own voice, can make changes to my story, helping me make more coherent sense. These edits show up as suggestions, allowing me to keep the ones that make sense to me. This explains why my story can feel multi-hued at times, there are several eyes editing it with different linguistic aesthetics.

Someday, I hope to find someone who can write this story with me. That person will have edit without suggestions privileges, I tell him, blushing.
The boy never moved past commenting privileges, and slowly he stopped even viewing the document. However, the metaphor has stayed on; it’s helped me define roles and boundaries and made my life easy. I wrote to a friend recently complaining to her about an email feedback I received that had left me upset. Is this feedback a comment or an edit, she asked. One line, putting the distinction into perspective, putting the ownership of my Google doc back into my hands.

Jayati Doshi
14th June, 2017

Status: It’s Complicated

Baby, i’m not complicated.
i’m the intricate art
of layers
of chaos
collected from our complex world
as i embrace it
with open arms
naked body
curious soul
letting it consume me,
and through it,

i’m not the complicated that you mean, the abstruse
It might just be your baffling you project, darling.
i am the elaborate beauty that has taken time to build
with meticulous interaction with the world
the esoteric mess of inclusiveness
of perspectives
a center to multiple viewpoints
that shines like sunshine.

i’m not complicated, love
i am work
in progress
reorganising the world
into inviting categories of meaning
by being embedded in it.

or maybe i am
a bundle of paradoxes
of mistakes that consciously lead to wisdom.
if that’s what that word means, anyway.
i simply no longer
use that as a disclaimer
to my being.


Jayati Doshi
15th Oct, 2016. 9.33 am EST.

Us. Within our rhythms.

We take our circumstances and beliefs, and find our choices within.
You, to the best of your ability, slightly enchanted by your needs of the moment.
Me, to the best of mine, finding my way amidst the sea of my wishes.
We, dancing our moves through this stage full of improvisers, occasionally swinging together.
Organising our circumstances into stories. 
Somehow, through it all, orchestrating the rhythm that tunes our shared circumstance. 


Jayati Doshi
July 11, 2016. 4.14 pm

Who else? Who else?

Two friends, perhaps in their early 30s, sit talking at the table in front of me. Their conversations are unapologetically loud, punctuated by lots of laughter and “are you f*cling kidding me?!”. Judging by their awkward but tight hug when they walked in, they probably haven’t met in a while.

I sit quietly reading my book, chuckling away to myself. I hear the words literature, theatre, Brecht and Neil Gaiman from the aforementioned table, and my mind automatically assumes I’m invited to the conversation.

In my zoning in and out of that conversation over the next hour, a conversation that began with “how do you get people to notice the literature part of your resume (which is pretty much all there is) as if it’s a real skill”, slowly becomes an entertaining people-mocking session about people I don’t know (I do, however, know much about their idiosyncracies by the end) as also some mentions about some people I think I know (enter comment about the world being too small). References to Victorian British literature and Chickflicks aplenty in the conversation while trying to make a point. As do some facial expressions that depict a whole different range of passion for disappointment in people.

At one point, the girl, heavily pregnant, stretches her neck, and with mannerisms that mimic someone going into a wrestling pit, she exclaims, “who else? Who else?”

I go back to the book. My attention is drawn to them again during their attempt to take a selfie. They cannot seem to be able to look at the screen at the same time. In a conversation about her nickname for him that ensues, I gather that the two of them used to be really close (probably even date) once upon a time, until he came out as gay (clearly, I seem to be surrounded by these men) and “got busy with his people”. She’s visibly livid that others use the unique name that she had for him. “Isn’t it an obvious abbreviation?”, he justifies. “Of course not. It’s so creative”, she argues, hitting him playfully. Thrice. “I can’t believe you have let your people replace me by letting them call you that”, she complains. He pulls her cheeks. She smiles. (How do men get away with that gesture, all the time? How??!)

I am finally called upon to click a picture. As I put my book down, she asks if she can look at it and tells me she’s been meaning to read it. We discuss it, briefly. Me sitting alone for so long surprises her. I laugh. I click their picture. They wave thank you-goodbye to me, hug each other and leave.

Another lady, sitting alone at the table beside them makes eye contact with me. She’s been eavesdropping too. We smile, like partners in this meddlesome form of guilty pleasure, and return to our books.

I think I see the waiters laugh too. Oh, the stories they could tell. I wonder if they compare notes, or if they would recognise the people mentioned in these stories, should they ever show up… or maybe they aren’t as easily distracted as I am?

Jayati Doshi
July 1, 2016

Also published on: https://medium.com/@jayatidoshi/peoplelistening-two-friends-at-a-cafe-fadab54707d7

Auto-ride lessons in negotiations.

Through my auto journey today, we come across several signals. Each with its own kind of beggars. The usual suspects. We meet a cripple, a mother with a son, eunuchs. Each have their own negotiation strategies that they use, inspiring a different evasion strategy from me.
Aap ko yeh bura lagwayenge. Kuch logon ko dhamkayenge. Aisa hi toh chalta hai (they’ll make you feel bad. some of them will threaten you. this is just how it works), the autowale-uncle says. Leads to a fascinating conversation with him about the politics of begging, the dynamics of guilt and privilege as he sees from his driver seat. There’s certain kinds of passengers who would pay, he tells me. Out of guilt, pity, generosity and also spite. And some who would look to him for help. Some who would be downright rude.
What is your stand on begging, I ask him. He starts by telling me how people who refuse to pay him Rs. 20 at night might pay Rs. 100 to an eunuch out of fear. I laugh and give him an unsolicited lecture about how sometimes it really is impossible to negotiate with both groups. He agrees. And then tells me in all seriousness that all of this is at the end about what one think deserves to be paid for, and what deserves more pity, and thus more help. You’d pay the shirtless cripple in coins; the eunuchs start negotiating at a Rs. 500, he points out.

The conversation turns to one about opportunities. If begging really is the only option. And who am I as a auto-affording citizen to comment on their opportunities, I mumble. Kisi ke chehre pe nahi likha hota unhone Kaise din dekhe hai (it isn’t written on anyone’s face what kind of days they have gone through), he tells me. Woh minute ke signal mein, aapko jo lagta hai, usi soch se paise dete ho. Agar aap ki shaadi nahi ho rahi, Aap chakke ki duaon ki bhi keemat karoge. Agar aap job karti ma hain, shaayad bacche ko dekhkar jyaada taras khaoge. (In that minute-long signal, each one makes snap decisions about what they are willing to pay. If you aren’t able to get married, you will value even the blessings of the eunuch. If you are a working mother, you would feel more empathy for the kids that beg)” We speak about the assumed hierarchies of what is considered under-privileged, and what, deserving.

We arrive at my destination. I pay him in notes of Rs. 10; there is a gap of Rs.5 that neither of us have the change for. We look around for shops to get change, while I search frantically through my purse. He knows that I’m late because of the last 2 phonecalls through the trip that he heard. I tell him to keep the change. “Rehne dijiye (let it be)”, he tells me instead. “Aur agli baar langde ko de dena (next time, give it to a cripple)”. Smiles. Waves. Leaves (Me thinking.)

Jayati Doshi
29th May, 2016. 1.30 pm

A flight journey. Too many families. A gorgeous man. And me. (Among others)

I find my seat in the flight. 3 kids and 2 infants in a 2 row radius. Check the battery of my ipod; gonna need that. A newly wed couple arrives on the other side of my row. And a gorgeous gentleman takes the seat beside mine. Light teal blue shirt, jeans, octagonal jaw and just the right amount of stubble. And a warm full smile.

Food is exchanged, kids are threatened and bribed around me. Families returning from a summer trip to the north exchange mundane information across the plane. Phone calls that suddenly seem more urgent are returned.

The gorgeous man takes out a book and puts his bag in the shelf above. Chronicles of Narnia. I smile. He notices the smile, and smiles back, sheepishly. Or charmingly. I can’t really tell.

I realise there are cookie crumbs on my shirt. No idea how, since I haven’t had any cookies all day. As I dust it off, he points out an insect in my hair. A live big insect. I gotta have set some kind of a record for awkward introductions.

The plane takes off. The man really is reading the Chronicles intensely. (I’m totally thinking Hot Dudes Reading)

Electronic devices are now allowed to be used. The couple plays a game together on their phones. A grown man in the seat diagonally behind me plays candy crush rather competitively. Sounds on.

A father and his 5ish year old son in the row diagonally in front take turns playing a video game and exchanging tips and reactions, complete with sound effects. The mother, when not distributing biscuits to the family (2 kinds, brought along in jars) cajoles her other baby son with rhymes on her phone, playing at full volume, her singing along with it.

The kid sitting in front of her stands up on the seat to watch. His mother keeps tugging at his shirt to make him sit. While trying not to wake up her toddler.

Another father in the seat right in front of me is helping his 11ish year old daughter with hangman, which she explains quite succinctly to him. After a while, he takes the phone and starts playing it himself, promising the daughter to give it back after yet another one. When the daughter gets angry, he gives her his phone. Meanwhile, this mother has joined the father in playing hangman. The daughter cannot find any interesting game on the father’s phone, so threatens him by trying to read his messages. He locks the phone. Her phone gets locked meanwhile, and now she refuses to give him the password till she has the phone back. Finally, the negotiations end with the three of them now playing together.

Another man sitting on my other side has just asked for his 9th glass of water,each time only getting ruder.

I turn my attention to the Narnia man. He’s still reading as he sips his coffee. Notices I’m looking and responds with an explanation. He can’t remember reading it as a child. So he’s catching up. Why? I ask. Why not, he says. Also reads adult books though, he clarifies. The last fiction book he read was Kafka. I now realise I’m staring. Probably blushing. There has to be a catch. And then it comes. His boyfriend introduced him to Existentialist literature.

The kid in the row in front screams. The one in front of him joins in the symphony. Another from somewhere else in the plane adds his high pitch little person voice. The kid behind me wakes up and takes his place in the orchestra. The 5ish year old brother screams “shhhhhhh”, echoing sentiments of the plane. Some kid gets thwacked somewhere in the front. Loud crying. Slowly all of tiny lungs do get tired. Takes a few minutes for the plane to quiet down.

A few minutes later, a man (presumably a relative) comes strolling to the family in the row in front. “I knew it had to be you”, he says to the baby in Gujju. Laughs. Asks the father if he has Rs. 50 change. The mother, now trying to put the child to sleep, gives it to him. Along with a biscuit. The man wants another one.

I return to my book on the business and politics of AIDS and its research. Titled “Wisdom of whores”. It suddenly seems too adult.

The flight is now landing. The very thirsty man beside me, now down 12 glasses of water, decides it’s trivia time. Do you know why they ask you to raise the window panes? He asks, and then answers himself, proudly. I knew, I wanted to say to break his bloated balloon. I don’t.

The flight lands. The gujju mother calls her “maharaj” to tell him to start making the “rotlis”. Another aunty calls the driver. Phones start to buzz. Lots of comments about the humidity in several languages.

I see the Narnia man one last time as I leave the airport. His equally handsome Camus-loving boyfriend (presumably) has come to pick him up.

I breathe in the horrible weather. Oh, Hello, home-ish city. I have missed you.

Jayati Doshi
27th May, 2016. 3.45 pm


Also published on: https://medium.com/@jayatidoshi/a-flight-journey-too-many-families-a-gorgeous-man-and-me-among-others-5227ac7c23

Notes from a Bibliophile.

My bookshelves, they are like carriers of large parts of my history. Organised in patches of memories from my life, they are reflections of my meaning systems.

When you come home, spend a few minutes looking at my shelf, taking in the titles of my books; some faded, some shiny new, and you will know all you have to about me.

You will know that I love second-hand books. And that when I am feeling sad, I go scavenging for them. I especially like the ones that have a disappearing name on its first page, the ones with things underlined (with pencil, always with pencils). My favourites are the ones with scribbles in the margins, or the ones that had been gifted with personal notes. It makes me feel intimate with the previous owner, because I now know what matters to them.

These books, they will tell you of how I have evolved, because books cannot be deleted. They will tell you that I was a Meg Cabot fan, and that I once owned a Chetan Bhagat book before I became more elitist about the literature I devoured. That I still have some books that I would never publicly mention enjoying, but bookshelves don’t lie. It’s an honesty the kindle can never provide.

Open these books and you will be privy to my thoughts. You will see little stars and smiley faces, exclamation marks and circled question marks as well as some epiphanies doodled in the margins. You will see outlines of the tears I cried while reading them and the pages that have had bookmarks in them for real long.

The bookmarks, they are a story of their own. You will see the shady but wonderful ones my sister made for me when she was a child. The quotes I turned into page markers. Plane tickets and coffee house stubs. Like the remnants of my time with them.

I like taking my books on vacation, like a companion for all places. These books, often become conversation starters, and their covers are all you need. I can write a whole series of conversations I have had when I was reading The wisdom of whores by Elizabeth Pisani. The kindles will never hold that mystery, or the joy of being so open about what it is that fascinates you at that moment.

Some books, they hold hints to my intimate moments too. The Murakami, Norwegian Wood, as my companion in one of the tough phases of my life, has all kinds of stains from being in my purse for too long. Flip open my copy of Bridge Across Forever and you will see lines of hope a friend’s father wrote to him before he gifted him this book, the wishes that the friend carried forward when he gifted it to me, and then some notes from a screenplay a friend and I tried to write inspired by it. These books, they have seen me through as much as my closest friends, and you will stumble across these stories when browsing through them.

I will let you borrow these books if you wish. And for me, that would be like sharing a piece of my soul. It will be our shared memory and not just a common pdf. I will warn you not to use pen marks on them, but I will let you leave me little pieces of your heart in it when you return them. And years later, if you have forgotten about the book, I will remind you to return it because there is a paragraph in that book that I want to find. It will be an extra reason to reconnect, should that ever be needed.

When finding these paragraphs, as I turn the pages, I will relive my time with the books, perhaps stopping to read some of my favourite parts. Not as efficient as your Kindle’s search, but bliss cannot always be rushed.

So, next time you are home, stop by my bookshelf. And smell it. It has centuries of stories in them, the joys of holding them, and real shelves of my love. Their brightness may not be adjustable, but they can be held. Hugged. And they light up my soul instead.

Blossoms bookstore, Bangalore, India. A home/haven for bibliophiles.

Jayati Doshi

Also featured  https://thecoffeelicious.com/notes-from-a-bibliophile-f7cdc4844e3d