FROM OUR CREATIVE RIOTERS
I remember the first time I watched The Haunting of Hill House. I was prepared for it to shake me up (and it did), but I didn’t anticipate that I’d be sobbing in my bedroom, devastated, by the end.
Themes of mental illness, exploitation of power, queerness, classism, and more were explored in an imaginative yet disturbingly lifelike manner. And for once, I didn’t think any of these themes were misrepresented. Moreover, because the show had such an uncanny realism to it, I saw myself in all the characters. The element of horror in the show is brought by individual manifestations of each of the characters’ fears and it showed me that horror could serve as a brilliantly done allegory.
I’ve found that most horror and dystopian media are allegories, intentionally or not. Often, these allegories tell stories of oppression and suffering that either very closely resemble or outright mimic stories of (primarily) people of colour. Ironically, horror and dystopian films are notorious for killing off the only minority characters early on and completely removing them from the narratives of their own stories. And these are the same stories that don’t make it into history textbooks. They’re about the same people that are forgotten, neglected and shadowbanned. Whose names we never learnt to say. Whose names were overwritten and replaced with Western, White names. And somehow, that gives these stories some form of validity, so much so that they sell out in theaters and bookstores.
A friend of mine who lives in the US was talking to me about their history curriculum. They explained that their textbooks tend to glorify American and British colonisers and conveniently leave out information about countries that were hurt systemically during these times. Naturally, people who live in countries like the US grow up with more knowledge about zombie apocalypse movies than the colonial mindset and the xenophobia that clearly inspires these movies. A ton of films with a ‘they’re-trying-to-take-us-over’ storyline seem to share a fundamental trait, which is a fear of the other; the same fear between White people and POC. Zombies were originally characters in Haitian lore, and when Haiti was colonised, they were appropriated into the American media we see today, like The Walking Dead. Here, though, White people are seen as the victims, having their livelihoods taken away from them.
It’s astonishing how much of a sway White people have in the narrative. Think about all the horror you’ve watched, and then think about how much of it is told through a Western perspective. I’ve read a lot of horror, more than I’ve watched. And admittedly, most of it has been by older, White male authors such as Stephen King. And you can tell when something’s been written by an older White man by the values the piece expresses. For example, in the beginning of It: Chapter Two, a gay couple gets thrown off a bridge, like, right off the bat, really making it blatant how dangerous public displays of queer affection can be. When I first watched that, the only thing I learnt was that I had to be careful.
Another example of a questionable allegory is Squid Game (although one could argue it’s more dystopian than horror). It’s been applauded for its clever social commentary but the irony there is blatant once you do a background check. Despite the massive investment the show had for filming, it was intentionally filmed in certain parts of South Korea where workers’ rights weren’t rigid, so they wouldn’t have to pay as much for things like set-building, extras, props, etc. The cost of filming Squid Game was a lot lower than the investment; and unsurprisingly, the main cast and production crew got paid much more than everyone else involved. This becomes all the more baffling when we consider that the show in question is about the effects of capitalism on workers.
The reason I bring up Squid Game is to emphasise how the lives of real people are retold and dramatised into the genre of horror, while the people themselves remain unrecognised. Most such apocalyptic horror works on the same principle: the rich and powerful have an imbalance of control over the last of the remaining resources, while everyone else has to compete for the little that they are left with as the world ends. My friends and I joke about the world ending because of climate change and depleting resources, but this could be a reality for our generation, and horror movies that represent this are all the more terrifying for us to watch.
Most of these concepts - the zombie apocalypse, the doomsday trope, or the world invasion - were either invented or appropriated into film by Hollywood. But horror is an entirely different experience when watching it is like looking into a mirror. When you realise you are the horror story.
WE ARE THE HORROR STORY
Do you feel fear? Everyone feels fear. The only thing that differentiates all of us is the things we fear. Some of us fear spiders or the dark, and others loneliness. But why do we feel fear? Does it not inhibit our abilities? Then, is it not a flaw?
Perhaps. However, this bug in our system has proven over time to be a very important design feature, remaining an evident part of the human psyche, even after evolutionary software updates.
Think of it this way: Modern humans first emerged on this planet 300,000 years ago and our evolutionary ancestors, 2 million years ago. And yet, we have endured. Innovation lays the foundation for progress, however, fear is the reason for our survival. We knew not to challenge anything bigger than us, anything with sharper teeth or better yet, insult a person who cooks our food. All because we were aware and afraid of the consequences. We were always inquisitive, searching for new ways to become the dominant species despite knowing that there was danger lurking around every corner. So, we waited before turning that corner, making new ways to combat this danger and eventually, we emerged victorious.
However, somewhere along the way, we lost this innovative nature. Instead, we turned on our own, creating horrors worse than any danger that nature could deliver upon us. Instead of progressing as a species, we began tearing each other apart like the very things we feared so long ago. Communal hate, bigotry, apartheid leading to social harm, alongside nuclear warfare and chemical weaponry for physical harm. I believed that fear was supposed to be temporary, that we were supposed to have stopped feeling it once we had reached the finish line of progress. Instead, we created our own monsters, having to fear them.
Every morning we wake up, having to worry about our futures, our past and worst of all, our feelings. We run and hide from showing our emotions because we wouldn't like what others think. We shy away from making new connections because of predefined inhibitions given to us by society. And yet, this is necessary. Our instincts help us avoid those we don’t feel comfortable with and they help us forge bonds that would stand the test of time. But these instincts may just stop us from being an active part of the social machine, perhaps leaving us to a lifetime of loneliness and cynicism.
So this Halloween, be thankful for all you have because you never know. Fear may be a trick, or it may be a treat.
your heart is a ripe fruit in my hand, and i sink
my teeth in until you bleed; it tastes almost sweet.
and the air, it sticks to your skin like a forbidden lover
it is heavy with the hum of dragonflies, and they show me
even a godless summer eventually turns colder
now wildflowers grow from my broken bones
though i know they’ll grow from anywhere
still i find some respite in knowing that despite
it all; the life in me remains unaware
nothing ever lasts, not the sunflowers in june
not our rotting bones, what will remain of me and you
but until then you will stand barefoot to pick fruits
from our backyard, and peel away the same tender hue
as the setting sun, as pasta sauce jars and untied shoes
and that will be enough to know how i love you.
Over the past year of living with cats, the most valuable thing I’ve learnt is the art of just hanging around.
With their fearless and unapologetic disposition, cats basically do whatever they want. They stay around in favourable conditions and they hop out of the window when they’re bored of you. Personally, I think that’s an entirely rational way of functioning and I wish it was socially acceptable for me to function that way. Cats don’t care enough to stay put if you want to photograph them. They don’t care enough to move, even if you were just sitting there. So, cat owners have had to master the skill of making the right spaces for them to hang around in. A great example of such a space is a blanket fort, with its sheltered, womb-like nature.
Just like cats, we deserve to exist in environments that nurture our brains. And well-crafted spaces transcend immediate physical surroundings. States of mind are spaces too; they’re spaces we spend our entire lives in and can’t simply walk out of. Even the people we grew up around contribute to our spaces. What kind of books did you have around you growing up? Were you a LEGO kid? What were the conversations you heard amongst people around you? What we learn and internalise from these things, we carry with us everywhere. How is the system in which you were educated?
Growing up, I was surrounded by a variety of great books. After a certain age, though, my parents stopped getting me books that were ‘targeted toward children,’ and began insisting that I read books they enjoyed growing up. Now, in retrospect, I’ve been thinking about the books kids my age read as middle schoolers, and why so many of us grew out of our John Green phases so quickly. I noticed how many middle grade books dumb down the content to make it ‘digestible’ to kids, and how most people can’t tolerate them as soon as they’re capable of independent, critical thought. The more engaging and stimulating books are, the more we can take away and retain from them. But for many middle grade books, they’re enjoyable as long as you don’t — or can’t — think too much about them. I find that patronising and insulting to middle grade readers. Children deserve good books, too.
This is just one example of how kids often aren’t taken seriously by adults. Growing up, I constantly felt like I was spoken down to just because I was younger, and something that happened very recently reinforced this feeling. A few of my friends and I were experiencing bad treatment from some of our school faculty, and when we tried to have that addressed seriously by our authorities, they said that kids were dramatic and often exaggerated problems that shouldn’t be taken so seriously. When kids grow up in spaces where they aren’t adequately attended to by their caretakers, they refrain from asking for help. According to a study mentioned in this article, only 20 percent of children in the UK with mental illness receive the help they require. This survey shows that in India, that rate drops down to less than 1 percent. This is a result of hostile spaces created by adults through perpetual denial, disbelief, and ignorance towards children.
I want to address, lastly, that not all of us have access to spaces — be it mental, physical, or social — that are inviting and inhabitable to us. What makes a good space? Freedom of expression, perhaps, and the ideals of individualism; access to resources of the best quality; a home with a pleasant environment. On a larger scale, maybe inclusion in society or representation in one’s government. Nearly all of these things are associated with upper-class communities and Western heritage, or to put it concisely, wealth. And they’re often out of reach for people, particularly kids, of other backgrounds.
I’ve learnt from firsthand experience how much of a long-term difference having early access to pleasant spaces (blanket forts, if you will) makes, and my cats have taught me that we should be unapologetic about leaving spaces we don’t feel safe in and entering spaces we do feel safe in. All my life, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by a plethora of safe spaces, both online and in real life. They’ve taught me how to express my needs, desires, and emotions in a liberated and uninhibited manner. They’ve taught me that we all deserve to occupy space in this world.
MY AVERSION TO HORROR
I hate horror stories.
Not just the deranged-toy-that-got-possessed kind, but even the ones where six kids go in and five come out, filled-with-gore kind. From IT and The Conjuring, to The Exorcist and Dracula; I've avoided it all. The dread-filled whispers from my friends recounting their sleepless nights plagued by certain ‘monsters’ and fictitious creatures that may seem all too fatuous to you now, but certainly alarmed me when I was nine years old. Now that I’m fourteen, I beg to differ as I contemplate my existence every time my friends wait with a bated breath to watch the upcoming horror flick.
My parents' substantial indifference to the genre confounded me, as I always recollected watching Tamil movies filled with slaughter and carnage, which left me flabbergasted as to why they weren't scared out of their wits like I was. I avoided the genre like the plague. Well, until I couldn't anymore.
Recently, my English teacher assigned us, much to my repugnance, the task of writing a horror story. This left me dumbstruck, my qualms not changing my fated outcome, as I was forced to tackle this obstacle of magnanimous proportions. For a week, my pages stayed as blank as a canvas, with no blue ink blotting its ruled lines with scenes right out of a cliche horror film.
The deadline neared, my teacher’s reminders echoing in my head, as each day passed by, with nothing outright terrifying happening in my life to inspire me. Perhaps you could blame it on my ‘fatal flaw’, that any story of mine could be a good story, whether it was a horror piece or not, if it had a multitude of adjectives. So I sat and filled my pages like ornaments sitting emptily on a Christmas tree, as I created an image that lacked any horrific element at all, but still had the setting of an ideal horror story.
Horror. The word had conjured up an abandoned street, the dilapidated cobbled road littered with debris; so quiet you could hear the shrill tone of the cricket lurking in the corner and the menacing cackle of the ravens. You could see putrefying trees with branches that seemed like the fingers of a witch protruding from each side;an eroding tombstone filled with dust and cobwebs, the grave however empty, and the perfect victim for this masterfully set scene.The dazzle of this fictitious picture clouded my judgement, giving me false hope that maybe I too could be delve into the intimidating genre of horror and enjoy it, like everyone else around me did.
I am a chocolate milk person. Any time, any day, give me a glass of ice-cold chocolate milk and I’ll gulp it down before you can ask, “coffee or tea?” Evidently, I still have not graduated and moved on to the world of more ‘adult’ drinks. I’ve grown out of the baby cup with a straw, to the Tinker Bell and Winnie the Pooh plastic cups, and finally to glass and ceramic mugs, but I don’t normally venture beyond the realm of chocolate milk.
I have a coffee-obsessed family, though. I wake up to the smell of fresh coffee and the loud gurgle of a drip machine every single morning. I love all of that. But the moment the coffee sets foot in my mouth, I hate it. Believe me, I’ve tried to like coffee. Several times I’ve tried the sweetest, most sugary drink Starbucks has and at first, it was great, I’ll give you that. After a few sips though, I could no longer say I liked coffee. From then on, if I went there with my friends, I would get either nothing or chocolate milk.
So yes, I am nothing if not a chocolate milk person.
Now, after 17 years of drinking chocolate milk, it’s more than just that - than just merely an act of drinking chocolate milk. It has always been there for me. It was the only constant in my life back when I treasured graham crackers more than Milk Bikkies (I know - abhorrent). It let me stare at it forlornly on rainy days when I couldn’t go outside to play. It provided that much-needed fuel after a full day of school to share a 45-minute bus ride with two dozen screaming toddlers
I think all of us have small, seemingly insignificant objects in our lives that we don’t give enough thought to, but should. Things that provide us with nostalgia, comfort, happiness. The little things. Maybe it’s chocolate milk. Maybe it’s that stuffed toy you found buried deep inside a closet, or maybe it’s that dish that your mom made after a long time that you absolutely love. Being caught up in the stress of high school has definitely made me fixated on the future - the bigger picture, and it’s made me forget about the little things that make me happy.
I started writing this article about a year ago, with no idea where it would end up or how I would ever make it coherent. Yet here I am, trying to finish writing that same article about chocolate milk. A lot has changed over the past year, but I don’t think my love for chocolate milk will ever change.
To conclude, I’d like to share the bad haiku that brought about the article’s inception:
Chocolate milk is the
Ultimate comfort drink if
You don’t like coffee.
Try to find those little things. You’ll find there are a lot of them.
INTERTWINING THE STRANDS
My hair is the most important part of my presentation. I’m also awfully reckless with it.
The first time I dyed it, I made the brilliant decision of bleaching it first - which I did without appropriate equipment, in my bathroom, with two other people on the phone who didn’t once try to talk me out of it. My hair was some odd shade of purple afterwards, and it’s still damaged from the incident. Three months later, I decided that that wasn’t enough - I needed to damage a different part of my hair. I went red two weeks before my boards and was told to focus on work instead of distracting myself with irrelevant things (and this only grows funnier in hindsight).
Despite the mess I had made, I felt, for the first time, like I looked the way I was supposed to. Growing up, I believed white people were inherently more beautiful than POC - not just because of their Eurocentric features, but because my friends and I never really felt like we looked ‘right’, whereas white kids always seemed so self-assured in their appearance. That has little to do with their physical features and so much to do with their autonomy in their appearances growing up. For white kids, turning sixteen seems to signify getting a third piercing or dyeing their hair, but for many people here in India, all being sixteen really seems to mean is board exams. So many Indian people only seem to start discovering themselves during adulthood because we’ve actively been discouraged from exploring our identities and experimenting with our appearances as children.
Hair is also a big source of gender affirmation for non-cisgender people. Yes, I cut my hair relentlessly because it’s a cathartic experience, but I also cut it because I can’t tolerate the thought of having to braid it for school. But if I were to tell an authority figure that cutting my hair makes me less dysphoric, they probably wouldn’t be able to empathise with me. I’ve been told several times by my parents that being openly queer and ‘having pronouns’ is a white people thing. That gender dysphoria is a first-world problem, and that it’s only a grain of sand in the deserts that my parents and grandparents have crossed. I still don’t fully understand why my desperate attempts to describe my identity seem foreign to my parents.
This is part of the reason there is a lack of Indian representation in queer media, and vice versa. It seems, somehow, as though Indianness and queerness cannot be intersecting identities. Diverse content is nearly impossible to find unless you explicitly search for it. Even within queer communities online, I rarely find people genderbending or breaking binaries within ethnic Indian attire. My parents seemed to share in this observation: Boys in skirts? That’s a white people thing. Boys in lehengas? That’s almost unheard of. You won’t see it, not unless you scour the earth specifically looking for it.
By ‘white people’, my parents refer to kids in America on Twitter who tweet about the overturning of Roe v Wade and how much they hate their own government. In Indian communities, America is seen as one of the most self-loathing countries. They think American kids are too self aware for their own good. And subsequently, the fraction of our generation in India that hates our own government is seen as ‘whitewashed’, almost as though any degree of individualism is dismissed as a foreign concept. Recently, my psychology teacher was talking about how most modern psychology is WEIRD (western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic) - and it’s important that we recognise the privilege behind being able to easily orient our mindsets to WEIRD thinking without having to first deconstruct our worldviews. And I recognise that I’m inclined to WEIRD thinking as a result of consuming almost exclusively Western-dominated media growing up, while my parents don’t have the same context. They don’t see everyday things through the same lens as me, and I can empathise with them on that.
It isn’t even true that the entire young population of Americans is completely self-centred and hyper-individualistic. In their defence, Americans have definitely realised how extreme me-ism has led to the modern capitalistic hellhole that is America. People who challenge their own government are usually trying to build a healthier community, not break it apart. Historically, nationalism has only been thought possible for homogeneous communities. France, for example, put in years of work to erase language dialects in order to create a uniform, and therefore more united (and patriotic) nation-state. They’re continuing to enforce this archaic tradition with their latest hijab ban, which seems to perpetuate the notion that in order to be equal, people must be similar. Which just isn’t reality, because if people are given the opportunity to express themselves, they’ll inevitably diverge from each other.
Even still, I don’t get it; I don’t get why individualism isn’t celebrated with the same enthusiasm as togetherness in this country. I don’t get why having purple hair and pronouns has to be a white person thing. And I don’t get how the same people who stand up for the national anthem on Independence Day and call themselves proud Indians claim that identity and individualism are white people concepts.
Anyway, I’m thinking I’ll dye my hair all the rainbow pride flag colours this December. Just for the fun of it.
Creators of this universe yet scorned,
Dishonored and oppressed
My thoughts sardonic
Yet you gaslight me to overdramatic
A canvas for your frustrations, opinions galore
Each time my plight worsening from before
Should the broom be all I hold,
Can I never be someone you hold?
Weak, helpless, amiable
Never somebody incredible
Every success of mine dignified
Yet you make it seem plagiarized
Dominated by your power
From effervescent to withered flower
Your norms disillusioning
My faith depleting
Contemplating my liberty
From the shackles of your mentality
My happiness, now only a ridicularity
WAKING IN HELL
She woke with a jolt, her unruly curls falling on her face. Sweat collected on her brow. Why on earth was it so hot here? She shook her head, pushing the hair and blinking the sweat out of her eyes.
She rubbed her eyes, her blurry vision clearing, slowly. Her expression changed rapidly from confusion to pure terror. She scrambled to her feet, her fear-filled eyes shifting across the forbidding landscape.
Under her worn sneakers was dark red mud; a color so deep, it was as if it was stained with blood. Above her swarmed dark, formidable clouds. If there was anything beyond them, no one would know, and it would be impossible to find out.
Crevices dotted the ground for miles, flames growing from them, licking the soil. That would explain the temperature. From the larger craters spurts of hot lava erupted, enough to illuminate this strange place.
Elisa turned with a loud shriek, stumbling backward. Her frantic eyes locked with those of a towering creature, draped from head to toe in terrifying shades of black and red, an intimidating sight indeed. “Elisa Stretser?” The creature questioned the frightened girl.
“No.” She stammered, forcing the words out. “I'm Elisa Sletser, sir. Might I ask who you are?” She offered a small, shivering hand to him.
His brow furrowed, and he turned back to his clipboard. “Well I would know if you were lying. I am the Devil, my dear girl, and it seems that there has been a terrible mistake,” he said as he shook her hand with two of his enormous fingers.
Elisa muffled a soft gasp, whispering, her voice breaking. “Does this mean I’m dead?”
“It certainly looks like it. But you darling, are in the wrong place. You weren’t meant to arrive down here. That imbecile of a demon Skara must have made a mistake, and I assure you he will face consequences.”
“No!” blurted out Elisa, shocked at herself. “Everyone messes up… Please don’t hurt him.”
The Devil gave her a curious look. He was now certain this had been a mistake. Even if she had truly died, she deserved to be up there, not here in this seering, soldering, quite literal hellscape.
“As you wish. And there is nothing you need to worry about. Contrary to what most of you humans believe, I am not a cruel, barbaric monster. Until the matter is sorted and you are back where you belong, you will remain under my wing. You will have my protection and anything else you could wish for. It will be a delight getting to know you, dear Elisa.”
He carefully offered her a finger, that her tiny hand cautiously grasped. A warm, unexpected gust of wind swept past them, as their disparate hands made contact.
“The feeling is mutual, Sir.”
The two walked hand in hand, as the Devil shared with her stories of her new home - at least, temporarily - and she listened in wonder.
IS THAT WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL?
I have been thinking, lately, of what it means to be pretty.
Not in the poetic sense (though that thought is on my mind always), I’m referring to the objective aesthetic appeal that some people seem to radiate - and how the world rewards them for it.
Growing up, being pretty was never high on my priority list - at least not consciously. My head was always stuck in a book, my mind in a faraway land, perpetually attempting to escape from the pre-algebra books at the dining table. But in the books I read, I noticed how the boys were smart and brave and witty and charming, but the girls were always pretty. Lovely, or alluring, or ‘beautiful, but she didn’t know it’. They were smart too, strong and fierce, but the first I saw of them was their rod-straight blonde hair, their kind smile, and their bright eyes that put the stars to shame. And though I couldn’t tell at the time, I had internalised the idea that someone who was all those things - smart, brave and kind - had to be pretty; and vice versa.
But before we begin to explore the intricacies of pretty privilege, I would like to explore what exactly ‘pretty’ constitutes. The textbook definition is ‘pleasing or attractive in a dainty, delicate, or graceful way’. But the idea of prettiness becomes more subjective when it is applied to humans. Conventional attractiveness has been, historically, rooted around Eurocentric ideologies. Fair skin, long hair, slim waist, small nose, high cheekbones - you already have a picture in your mind, and I’m willing to bet good money that it’s a flattering one. Any features that deviate from these norms are usually shunned.
But the arrival of the internet has marked a clear shift in our beauty standards. Suddenly, tokens of POC culture have been co-opted by white and european communities, and they are rewarded for the very same behaviour others are punished for. ‘Fox eye’ eyeliner to the recent ‘clean girl aesthetic’ is an example of this. It is almost comical to see the hypocrisy at play.
Though I grew up in India, I felt the weight of these standards - All the media I consumed seemed to surround me with people I knew I could never be. In a way, the media you consume holds up a mirror to the life you live, and it is strange to never see your reflection.
Pretty privilege, simply put, is the idea that the more attractive you are, the easier your life gets, the more you’re allowed to do. Suddenly your outlandish interests - that could have been ridiculed - become endearing, like character quirks. There’s been many studies done that explore how much of a role attractiveness plays in interpersonal relationships. There are some that theorise that pretty privilege goes hand in hand with The Halo Effect (no, this is not the video game).
The Halo Effect is a type of cognitive bias in which our judgement of a person is positively influenced by one of their characteristics - in this case, physical appearance. Think about all the Disney Princesses and what they had in common (aside from their lack of autonomy) - the beauty standards they upheld. Contrast this to the villains in those very same films - they too have common physical traits. Annie Edison from Community (one of my favourite shows) is a perfect example of subverting these ideas - that pretty means pious, pliable, perfect.
We tend to assign morality to physical appearance, and are more likely to be more empathetic towards objectively attractive people. And people that put effort into their appearances need not simply be superficial; because after a point it is less about vanity and more about self-preservation. The Halo Effect can shape our thoughts on intelligence, competence and behaviour too. It’s something I witnessed growing up as well - but never in first person. It was always my best friend that had love letters delivered to her at lunch, my cousin sister that got discounts at every restaurant we went to. I never understood it, but I stood there, watching from the sidelines.
When I was only knee-high, I would fantasise about being liked by everyone around me a little bit more, simply because I was nice to look at. Like the main character in every 2000s teen rom-com that gets a stark makeover and looks (and feels) like a new person. I want to tell her, my past self that is, that I found a way to achieve those picture-perfect moments; through cheap eyeliner and overpriced clothes; hair straighteners and the wonders of mascara. I wonder if she would recognise me. I am on the other side of the spectrum now, being rewarded for my appearance, and it is something I’m still getting used to.
Pretty privilege is hard to unlearn. The whole idea of there being a clear-cut definition of what beauty has to mean, is archaic. But these values are so entrenched in our cultures, in our media, in our make-up advertisements posing as empowerment, that they are nearly impossible to escape. But I have faith that with enough awareness, we can rid these angels of their halos, and see each other for what we truly are.
Same hearts pumping tirelessly, same blood flowing through our veins: We’re all human.
LOSING THE SAFETY NET
Lately, I’ve been trying a lot of new things and meeting a lot of new people. Whether it was traveling by plane alone, going to a dance, or trying a vanilla oat milk frozen yogurt (if you’re wondering, it was free, and it was pretty good), my new experiences helped me realize that trying new things isn’t all bad.
I’m not the biggest risk-taker, and I never have been. I’ve always been protected by the safety net of my school, my friends, and my parents, and I don’t normally experience a lot of change. I embrace my humdrum daily routine and I don’t usually feel the need to switch anything around. However, growing up is a huge transition. It’s finally starting to sink in that in a year, I’ll be experiencing a change of huge proportions by going to college. Contrary to the attitude of most small children, I've never been a fan of growing up - growing up means getting rid of my safety net, and getting rid of my safety net means I can fall and get hurt.
Needless to say, I’m not fond of getting hurt.
As much as my 10 year-old self didn’t want to hear it, or my 14 year-old self didn’t want to hear it, or my 17 year-old self doesn’t want to hear it, everyone has to grow up at some point. That’s where new experiences come in. Each and every new thing we try out, each and every new person we meet has an impact on our lives. They help us grow as individuals, and help us understand the world around us better. We’re all restricted by our fear of the unknown, and I’m still learning that being paralyzed by fear just makes things worse - most often, the best way to deal with it is to face it head on and take a leap of faith.
All of my new experiences this summer have definitely made me more confident for my future and have helped ease me into being (somewhat) ready for college. I’ve learned so much about so many different things just by trying new things and meeting new people. Even the free vanilla oat milk frozen yogurt taught me something: oat milk is delicious!
All in all, maybe I still don’t like taking risks or maybe I’m still not that welcome to change. Even so, I’m definitely more willing to try something new and see where it takes me. This summer, I’ve begun to understand that taking a leap of faith can be the first step to soaring - as opposed to falling down to the cold, hard ground, which is what I used to think (bad metaphor, but the sentiment remains). Seek out new experiences and new environments and soak up all the knowledge you can from them.
It’ll definitely change you for the better.
It was the smell that convinced me to stop at that street corner.
Not the hunched figure with a labouring breath, not the big duffle bag shifting slightly under them. It was definitely the scent.
I had never, ever, smelled so much nutmeg.
At first, I regretted leaving my car in the dead of the night for this distraction, trading in comfort for this chilling breeze that splintered my cheeks. And for what? An oddity during my nightly patrol? In a city that lives and breathes chaos, a little nutmeg was hardly cause for alarm. But then I heard a wheeze coming from the same direction. I stiffened.
Moving as quietly as I could, I crept up to the figure. But in a heartbeat, the shifting gravel gave away my presence.
It was too little, too late when I realised what nutmeg was used for. In that split-second, I remembered the names of the chemicals I’d studied all about, the ones that melted flesh right off the bone. How nutmeg could help you hide all of them.
Initially, I thought I’d benefit from the element of surprise. Life doesn’t always oblige. It had, however, presented me with a pleasant surprise. Planted an idea, like a venus flytrap into nitrogen rich soil. As the figure straightened, I smiled.
The duffle bag under them was large and unmoving - but the one in the back of my car was bigger.
COLLEGE IS LIKE ANOTHER DIMENSION
Several months ago, when my father first suggested that we should tour colleges in the US this summer, I was sceptical. How would walking around a bunch of college campuses help me decide whether or not I should apply there? I remember my father vaguely tried to convince me that it would be great (I later learned that he was just as sceptical as I was). But, I hadn’t set foot in an aeroplane in 2 years, and who was I to refuse a vacation? Thus, the planning started.
I was still apprehensive – every time my father tried to sit down with me to plan the trip, I somehow managed to wriggle my way out of it. Even I found my behaviour strange. Why wouldn’t I want to think about my fun summer vacation, or life after high school? Most of my friends can’t wait to graduate and are just jumping at the chance to go to college. I, however, was dreading it.
As a younger sibling, I should have a good idea of how college life is, but I really don’t. My brother seemed a whole world away in some fantasy land that I couldn’t relate to. College seemed like I would be leaving the comfort of my home, the care of my family and my amazing friends, and be forced to face a whole new world that was just so different and so foreign from the one I have always known. I thought about it this way: we’ve all been going to school ever since we can remember, and graduating and leaving the comfort of that bubble is scary. I would literally be leaving everything I have ever known and loved and be moving on, alone, to some dubious reality. And that’s something I’ve never ever done before – I don’t think most of us have.
But going on college tours completely changed my mind.
The first tour was on a dreary Tuesday morning in Baltimore. We were late to the admissions section: my father, a family friend, and I. As I settled into the cushioned seats, I immediately regretted not bringing a jacket to this heavily air-conditioned auditorium. We listened, asked questions, and then left for the tour, led by a shy rising sophomore. At first, there was silence. Then we reached our first stop. Our tour guide started to talk about the university and I was in awe. With each stop we made, with each beautiful building we walked through, and with each new factoid about the university that I learned, I was lured in deeper and deeper, like Jerry from Tom and Jerry following a trail of cheese.
By the end of the tour, I was practically in love. My father asked me, “So this is your ED?” “Definitely!”
Our next stop was Atlanta. Even though I walked for several hours in 40˚C heat in jeans(!), I was in love with this one as well. And in Houston, I was – drum roll please – head-over-heels madly in love with this one too (this time it was 35˚C and I was more appropriately dressed). By this time, I had no idea what my ED would be.
All my tour guides were incredibly charismatic and receptive, and just really nice people in general. They painted such a good picture of the respective colleges in such a way that I could really imagine myself living there for 4 whole years. They were definitely a huge part of why my attitude towards college has completely reversed. I learned so much about college life and academics from them that I’m now actually excited to be going to one in a year – however nervous I still am.
So to anyone who is still anxious like I was, or really just anyone who is planning on applying to the US, college there is truly amazing! They’re leagues above any hellhole of a board you’re doing now for sure.
Research as much as possible, attend admissions sessions, and find the place where you fit in the best and where you’ll be happiest rather than applying somewhere for namesake – because that’s what is the most important. It doesn’t matter where you end up as long as you’re happy with your decision and that you know you’ve put in the work to get there. I think the biggest lesson I learnt from this whole trip is that it’s alright to leap into the unknown sometimes. Because you may just be rewarded for it with state-of-the-art robots, free t-shirts year-round, or close-knit residential houses.
THE WORST THING YOU EVER COULD HAVE TOLD ME WAS THE TRUTH.
it was warm and sunny; birds chirping, sun smiling, the picture of a perfect afternoon. our wiry frames were out of place, like storm clouds in a summer sky; like time-travelers on the titanic. you looked me dead in the eye, turning on your side, and said that you didn’t love me. that maybe you never did. you said it like any other indisputable fact, like that the sky is blue (it was, right then) or that grass is green (i felt it, poking under my skin). and you didn’t love me.
i closed my eyes and let the sunlight paint my eyelids orange, chest rising and falling, rising and falling. i focused on the sound of the stream behind us, the bees buzzing loud and low. your words rang in the cavern of my mind. i had felt it for a while, that you were whole without me. the hole in your heart i once inhabited was patched up, filled with something new. concrete was taking the place of me. but maybe that makes you stronger.
do you know what it felt like, knowing you? it was like trying to catch a wave in your hands, like trying to trace your name in the sand. but i’d hold you like water if that was the only way i could. i would’ve lived a life of salt air and rusted bones if it meant the slightest chance of being somebody to you; but you never knew that.
now i hate the beach and summer afternoons, but i don’t think i could ever hate you.
(PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED IN BIBLIOPUNK LIT)
I’m going to talk about one of my favorite things in the whole world: the IPL. It’s an abbreviation that’s supposed to be familiar to everyone in the country, whether they care about cricket or not – regardless of whether they know what it actually stands for. In case you were wondering (and I really hope you were not), it stands for Indian Premier League – the only summer staple common to all Indian households with televisions.
While it would be hard to imagine my summers without the IPL now, a little over a decade ago, the sensation of the T20 cricket format was unimaginable. This is because cricket used to be played in the Test format, where one match typically goes on for days on end. Limited-over cricket was only introduced in the 1960s, but was not regarded as pure cricket at the time. However, limited-over cricket allowed fans to enjoy the game in one sitting, and was a more attractive option to a younger audience.
With the introduction of the IPL in 2008, the explosive, action-packed, unbelievably entertaining, incredibly profitable, and legend-producing nature of limited-over franchise cricket was revealed to cricket fans, test zealots, and cricket boards across the world. And yes, I am very passionate about the IPL, if you didn’t get that already.
The course of T20 cricket was completely transformed due to this league. It has blown up into the huge phenomenon it is today, with many benefits to all parties involved:
Indian cricket (and the BCCI) have grown into superpowers. The league has provided young, domestic players exposure to high quality coaching and high-pressure environments. This is conducive to helping train them to become viable candidates for international cricket. They also get to learn from the best players from all around the world. The IPL has nurtured so many of the successful players on the Indian international cricket team, which has been one of the top cricketing sides in all formats in the past few decades. The BCCI also gains a large portion of their revenue each year from the IPL.
Sponsorship. The IPL has an extremely high viewership; every year, it attracts over 200 million viewers in the first week of the tournament alone. This means that advertisements aired during matches are exposed to a very large number of households across the country, spanning various demographics. The audience isn’t complaining either – the advertisements get increasingly more creative and entertaining each year. Even if they don’t, there’s always something to make fun of during the ad breaks (Cred bounty khelo baby, Cred bounty khelo!).
Financial stability for players. Cricketers playing in the IPL now make huge sums of money from each match – even more than players in the English Premier League! In the past, cricket was not nearly as profitable; players often had to take other jobs after retiring from cricket. However, a contract with an IPL team usually means you’re set for life. Players can also profit by participating in advertisements.
Entertainment! This is pretty self-explanatory. The IPL is incredibly exciting to watch, with huge hitters, thrilling catches, and heroic victories. Some of my happiest (and saddest) memories are in front of the television with a plate of food on my lap, watching the IPL. Whether it is an easy victory, or an adrenaline-inducing thriller, I am always entertained by the match.
The very nature of the cricketing landscape has changed. Cricket is now not just viewed as a day’s worth of watching the same deliveries over and over again (sorry Test fans), but as a fast-paced, profitable piece of entertainment. Cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world, right behind association football. The IPL was a major contributing factor to the popularity of the sport – the effects of which can be seen in many households across the country. For example, most of my summer evenings were spent playing a game of cricket in the street.
While it may seem as though the country is divided into the IPL franchises they support, I believe that this beautiful league actually unites the country. Our shared passion is so strong, that the outcome of the match doesn’t matter - at the end of the day, win or lose, all we really want is to enjoy a nice game of cricket together. I cherish these shared ups and downs, the hope and the pain. We celebrate the victories and remain in denial after the losses, all while experiencing a great game of cricket. Which is why the IPL will always hold a special place in my heart.
Though, I have to say, as an RCB fan, it would really be nice to have a win…
Can I get up high in the clouds and never come down?
Can I experience heaven and forget hell?
Can I bathe in the light and get away from the dark?
Can I have the blue skies and not the gray?
Can I be young forever and never age?
Can I twirl with the angels and leave the devils?
Can I have the blessings without the curses?
Can I always be happy and never sad?
Can I always succeed and never fail?
There are so many things I cannot do,
But I wish for them and so do you.
Is there life without pain and just blue skies?
Is there life without the lows and just the highs?
RUNAWAY CATS AND THE IMPERMANENCE OF LOVE
i lost my cat two weeks ago. lost, in the truest sense of the word; like a kid at a carnival enthralled by the blinding lights, hands slipping out from each other. lost, like a balloon drifting in the sky. you know it was loved once, but now it is untethered, never to come home again.
i tried to keep my grieving to a minimum. “i couldn’t afford it”, i told myself. i had exams to write, classes to attend, a life to live. but in doing so, i neglected the very real truth that it hurt. i had spent every summer afternoon with my cat purring softly in my lap, cool stone against my skin. he had a terrible habit of breaking into our house in the morning - 7 am sharp; my very own living breathing alarm clock, yelling for me at the foot of my bed. as much as i detested it then, i miss his loudspeaker yowls in the morning. i’ve already started to forget what they sound like. i have begun to forget the feeling of his soft fur between my fingers, the sound of his soft snores.
i tell myself that just because i cannot remember, does not mean it wasn’t real. love is not permanent. we’re told that love means more when it lasts, when it stands the test of time, but we have to take a minute to remember all the love that didn’t. take the time to grieve.
in depriving myself of that closure, the ability to feel that grief, i forgot all the love i had for the time we spent together. and that felt even worse.
i heard someone say that grief is just a summation of all the love you never got to give. it is love that went unexpressed; and there is no worse kind. grief, they say, is simply love persevering.
love is not permanent; and that’s alright. i think there’s beauty in its transience. sometimes it’s easier to cherish something fleeting. think of it this way: a vacation is only special because it lasts a week. if life was a vacation, every adventure would feel mundane. the magic would be lost. to live has so much meaning to us because one day, we will stop.
we are mosaics of every person we have ever loved. dogs, childhood mates, music teachers, old neighbours, internet friends. all that love, the love we hold for the world, makes us who we are.
you hear about biomagnification in biology class - the accumulation of toxins as you go up a food chain. your teacher looks like she wants to die, probably on account of the classroom full of boisterous teenage delinquents (she doesn’t get paid enough); the sweltering summer heat and the fact that the power has been gone for hours. you don’t blame her.
as she continues, you think about inherited traits, the way your hands curl into fists like your father and when you cry, how your brows crease - a perfect picture of your older brother. you think about the trophic levels in your family - which way does the energy flow? you are born with the very best and the very worst of the ones you love.
you remember the time a distant relative let slip that you were never meant to be alive; a mistake. you remember how living everyday feels like an act of defiance. you think of pea plants and your grandmother’s house; and how no amount of mendelian genetics can make you feel like a better person.
TROPHIES ON A SHELF
I have several trophies that I keep in chronological order on a shelf in my room. They each represent different times in my life where I’ve accomplished something more than just winning those trophies.
For example, the 3 individual championship trophies from sports days in my old school were defining moments in my life, helping me realize that I was a good athlete, as well as teaching me the importance of team spirit. The Most Promising Player award I won for soccer in 8th grade was the year that I tried my best not to miss even a single after school practice, and also the year I tried out for the state team. It showed me that hard work and determination are rewarded (and that a little serendipity can’t hurt). The last trophy I won was the Player of the Match award after coming into the match in the second half, and also losing 5-0. Either I was rewarded for pulling off a stepover and then accidentally doing a Maradona turn, or they meant to give the award to a different Diya (I’d bet on the latter).
That’s enough bragging for the next year or so.
The point is, I’ve come to realize that these trophies don’t mean as much to me as they used to. I can’t look at them to get a confidence boost anymore because they’re now just memories of how simple things were before. Before the pandemic, before IB, before I had access to the streaming trifecta of Netflix, Prime Video, and Hotstar. I feel like everyone has a little part of themselves that they’ve lost in the past few years, maybe not because of the pandemic itself or because school has become more demanding, but because they’ve had to grow up and move on. I’m slowly trying to believe in my trophies again, because I think they’re an important part of me that I can’t afford to lose.
I decided to write a poem about these trophies. The first part is based on the days where you could be carefree and spend the whole day playing hand games with no consequences. The second part is about the murky present.
Trophies on a shelf.
More than five, less than twelve;
Eight neat in a line
From grades one to nine.
Made of plastic, glass, or wood,
I don’t value them like I should.
Some look silver, some look gold,
Looking at them makes me feel old.
Twenty eleven to twenty nineteen,
Not before, nor after, only in between.
3 years since I’ve added to the collection.
No more! Time for daily disinfection!
No sports, no trips, no time to think –
Last two years gone in a blink
of an eye. I am lost in a never-ending day.
The future always too far away,
but all the memories collect dust
on a shelf. Hard to cope.
I’m waiting for a glimmer of hope.
I know these trophies seem like mere mementoes,
but dust them off, pick them up,
hold on to them for dear life and
step back into the unknown,
knowing that they are yours and that
you earned them.
IF YOU LOVE ME, LET ME GO
you woke up to the sound
of footsteps on the hardwood floor
green eyes and an unwavering stare
that you never could keep
and then there was her
from before, soft hands and
a wide smile. there’s thousands
of miles between you now, and
you haven’t spoken for a while.
if you learn how to love,
you must learn how to lose.
warmth will turn to cold one day, but
they will not always turn to you.
everything is transitory, even
the ones you’re thinking of now
and it hurts, that one day all your affection
will have no place to go but out
but is it worth never taking the leap?
never breaking your bones
because you fell too deep?
never holding a heart
that wasn’t yours to keep ?
if everything changes, you will too
you’ll grow older and maybe wiser
you’ll change the photos in your room.
someday you will no longer long for a love like
the stories in the comment section of
‘the notebook’ on youtube.
if you love something, you must let it go
because love is not a collar
that you can force
it is an outstretched hand;
to love is to grow.
LOVE LIKE THAT
my greatest fear is forgetting the shape of your nose // or the crookedness of your front teeth // the way your clothes hang off your body // or even just the way you breathe // we fell apart like branches from a tree // buried in the soil of the old farm, do you remember me? // the idea i had of you is something you could never be // if you were the one to cut me, i would forever bleed //
i used to think of an invisible string // that tied together our pinky fingers // it's golden like sun rays on a warm summer eve // but the knots could not help but linger // and dug into my skin, i still have the scars // reminders of love like that // love that we lost.
and now my wounds bleed purple like your lipstick // i’ll forget the way your eyes used to shine and those high heels clicked // it was death by a thousand razor-blade nicks // every dry summer night i replay the signs i missed//
someday i’ll forget your favorite songs and your peanut allergy // someday i won’t hear your voice again, not even in my dreams // i thought i knew where i belonged, the space between your arms // but it grew wider and wider // until it wasn't there at all //
love like that is crash and burn but I'll remember the fall.
INKSTAINS/ LIKE A WRITER
she sits there, in front of you, and calls you a taker.
she says that you take and take and take, you take
pain and eat it for breakfast, and come up with some
grand retelling of events that didn't need to be recounted.
she says that you take lives and memories and words
that were never even spoken, you chew and swallow
and when you're done with it it's a shiny new thing
no longer theirs but not quite yours either.
it shames me to admit that i see myself in you
your hollowed out cheeks and nimble fingers
only my eyes still have the spark that yours are missing
but i wonder if the flame will only leave blisters.
i think like a writer, in prose and future memories
i cry like a character in a best-selling teen novel
i live like a writer, in flashbacks and hazy recollections
like my life is but a montage of better times.
i love like a writer like i love the thoughts in my head
too much, or not at all (there is no middle ground)
i breathe and eat and laugh and cry like a writer
and by that i mean that all of it means next to nothing to me
not until it's marked by an inkstain on an old worn notebook
or a half-finished jumble of words on a notes app.
i change the world as a writer, but not in the way you think
i write the things that i wish i would've said: here, now, and yesterday
because at least on paper i am who i want to be.
i am a writer, because i am what i've written
i am flawed and perfect and real and scenic
and even when i come undone it is beautiful
if i was written, if i write, then i have meaning.
Context For This Poem-
Opening lines are inspired by a dialogue between two characters in the TV show ‘The haunting of Hill House’, where one of them is a down-on-his-luck author and the other is his conscience (in the form of a figment of his wife). He is selfish and manipulative, but he is a genius and goes on to sell millions of copies of a book that profits off of his family’s trauma - without their consent.
A SERIES OF INFINITE POSSIBILITIES
As a perfectionist with a penchant for embarrassing myself, I often find myself rethinking old decisions or thinking of a mediocre zinger I could have used in an old conversation instead of whatever boring sentence I did say. I often find myself wondering about what could have been. This led me to realize: in my measly 16 and a half years on this planet, many life-altering decisions have been made to put me on the path I am on right at this moment.
And it’s not just me, it’s you too.
This concept is beautifully phrased by Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb in season 4 episode 8, Primal Perry:
“Every choice carries within it its own potential timeline. So every decision I make effectively nullifies a possible future. I cannot even choose which flavor of ice cream to order! If I choose vanilla, that may set me on the path to the presidency. But if I have strawberry, I could get hit by a bus! … I do not know that if I choose strawberry I will get hit by a bus! I am just saying that every decision we make has unforeseen repercussions.”
And he was right – he did get hit by a bus after choosing strawberry. But that’s not the point. What I’m trying to say (and what our dear Baljeet was trying to say) is that there are many aspects of our lives that could be vastly different if we had chosen alternate paths. I like to think that there’s some version of me out there in an alternate universe that’s enjoying all the things I could’ve enjoyed if I had made different decisions.
I can now think of so many instances where I wish I had said or done something other than what I did. For example, if I had asked for a guitar when I was younger, would I now be able to play chords on the guitar without feeling like my fingers are about to rupture? Definitely. If I had continued athletics training would I have participated in the Tokyo Olympics? Definitely. Ok fine, maybe there’s a chance I wouldn’t have, but I’ll never really know; we don’t know if the decisions we didn’t make would’ve had any serious repercussions. We’ll never be able to find out what could have been.
That led me to think of the decisions I could’ve made but didn’t. I could’ve chosen not to watch Parks and Recreation based on the first season, but I did anyway. And my brain would’ve been drastically less fun to be controlled by than it is now, if I hadn’t watched the show. I could’ve even made the decision not to go to the school I am now, which would eventually lead to me not discovering this magazine!
One thing I know for sure is that the decisions I’ve made (conscious or otherwise) have not led to me getting hit by a bus, or being without the joys that come with any show touched by Michael Schur, or never writing this article (although you would’ve probably had a few extra minutes today if I hadn’t written it; I’m truly sorry a decision I made 5 years ago has wasted your time).
We should try to make the most of the decisions that we actually have made, instead of being stuck in the past, regretting old decisions that can never be reversed. Because, after all, those decisions have led to us being who we are today, through the good times and the bad. We should try to learn from the decisions we regret to make sure that our future self has a better life than the one somewhere out there in an alternate universe, playing the guitar without getting carpal tunnel, and also representing their country in the Summer Olympics.
MONEY, MASSACRE AND VANITY
“Made in Bangladesh”,”Made in Vietnam”, “Made in India”. I catch sight of these words as I neatly stack my fresh laundry, imprinted onto the labels of my favorite sweaters, skirts, and the like. I didn't think much of it at the time; it was only until 8th grade Economics did I start to make sense of it. In an era of free market capitalism, it would make sense for capitalist societies as well as their corporations to have profit bearing aims. To keep costs low, it's no surprise that private firms and individuals would go to great lengths ergo reaping maximum profits. As I delve into the debate of fast fashion, its profitability and its environmental impact, I discover the collapse of Rana Plaza. Not only was this incident one of the world's worst industrial disasters due to poor structural integrity-it awakened the world to poor labor conditions. It served as a kind of defining moment in the conversation of environmental and human rights in textile supply chains. It caused activists to lobby for sustainable textile and fashion industry, the establishment of standards as well as agencies whose sole purpose is to safekeep both workers and the surrounding environment of the industry.
The building housed around 5 garment factories, for which higher stories were illegally constructed for their accommodation. The plaza was known to have been built with substandard materials; conditions that were certainly inadequate to lodge nearly 4000 garment workers. To make matters worse, the mayor of Dhaka had granted permission to Sohel Rana (the owner of the plaza) for this illegal construction and to discount construction codes for the sake of its profitability. Large power generators were used daily for basic utilities such as electricity and water that shook the building whenever they were switched on. Large cracks were observed in the body of the building the day before the crash for which an engineer was called for inspection . It was determined that this building was unsafe and at risk of an immediate collapse. The workers were sent home, given the instruction to return the next morning. When the generators were switched on that day, the building and its eight floors collapsed into a pile of steaming concrete, crushing underneath it some 4000 workers- out of which 1130 had passed and over 2500 injured. Sohel Rana and the mayor himself, however, remained unscathed, and fled from the country after numerous charges were pressed against them.
What puts this into perspective is that this isn't an isolated incident. Merely 5 months earlier another textile and garment factory by the name of Tazreen had collapsed with the same magnitude, and it is estimated that there have been around 110 such industrial accidents in Bangladesh since. What's bitter is that these are only incidents that have been reported. There are countless women and children out there that are as deserving as any of us are that have had mines collapse over the top of their heads, just so they could go to bed with a full stomach. Large companies such as Adidas, MAC, H&M, Zara, Nike and Estee Lauder all manufactured at these factories, not only under illegal working conditions, but also with unethically sourced raw materials, giving their workers little to no compensation despite the blood on their hands.
Since these tragedies, the Fairtrade Foundation has created a powerful coalition of agencies, including key figures from the fashion industry, press and academics across the globe to call for a transparent textile supply chain. The fashion revolution movement asks us, as consumers, a single question: “Who made my clothes?”.
About 75 million people work to make the clothes we wear from which about 80% are women aged 18-24. When we catch sight of that cute sweater that we just absolutely have to buy, that very sweater has passed through the hands of cotton farmers, spinners, weavers, dyers, sewers- only to name a few. The Fairtrade foundation essentially protects them, by setting standards (such as the cotton standard where they ensure cotton farmers receive a fair price for their crop) and providing certification (a seal that represents millions of products across 62 countries, improving a multiplicity of lives, land and waterways).
Now, it is inevitable to avoid the consumption of commodities from such firms. However, what we can do is choose local vendors over MNCs, shop less often, recycle, and be aware and conscious of the effort that has gone behind our novelty. We, as a society, need to learn to prioritize literal human lives and wellbeing as well as the escalating conditions of our planet over instant gratification.
THE MAGIC CLOSET
I will put in my closet,
All my special clothes,
All my artwork,
And things I behold.
I will put in my closet,
The wind from a beautiful summer night,
The first snowman I ever built,
And all my trinkets from the fair.
I will put in my closet,
Water from a pool,
All my ice lollies,
And all my shoes.
I will put in my closet,
My first time on a loop-the-loop,
The yummy taste of a hot dog,
And the first day at my new school.
It's fashioned from wood,
And holds my secrets.
The bottom is a fluffy carpet.
I will dance in my closet,
With my blaring speakers,
Then look up at the twirling disco ball,
The colour of a rainbow.
SQUID GAME AND SOCIETY
HOW SQUID GAME CRITIQUES CAPITALISM
Money controls every single aspect of our lives.
More specifically, those with unimaginable amounts of money and power control every single aspect of our lives. This fact is inescapable, and it is the point that Squid Game hammers into our heads throughout the series.
From the very first game of ddakji that our main character, Gi-Hun, plays, in which he tolerates physical abuse in return for a relatively meagre sum of money, to the concept of the ‘game’ itself, this message is never concealed.
But the question remains - how far would you go for money? Would you sell your body? Your morals? Would you step on the backs of whoever you could to get ahead? And finally, would you turn a blind eye to the villains in front of you?
Squid Game asks, and answers, most of these questions. But contrary to several other shows that only contain subtle hints and under-currents of anti-capitalism, Squid Game revels in it. The show’s plot is less a heavy-handed, poorly-disguised metaphor for capitalism and the working class and more a mirror to the life we live today.
If you’re one of the three people on this planet that still hasn’t watched Squid Game, (I envy your self-control), the show follows the lives of hundreds of people from financially-unstable backgrounds that are forced to play childhood games (with a deadly twist) to win a jackpot prize.
There was a lot of discourse on LinkedIn about Squid Game recently. Yes, LinkedIn. This is about how companies can learn from Squid Game in terms of employee management, moral lessons, leveraging knowledge and teamwork.
While there is nothing wrong with finding lessons in the darkest of media, the amount of dissonance in these ‘positive messages’ was jarring. While discussing individual games, they suggested using empathy and compassion, and made vague observations of ‘honing your instincts’ and ‘setting clear goals’.
The problem with these suggestions, so to speak, is how blind they are to the message of the show itself. Where Squid Game delivers a scathing critique to the system, these ‘tips’ change the narrative, and tell us, ‘Hey! The system’s great, actually, and here’s how you can get better at being a part of it.’
Squid Game is unapologetically anti-capitalistic; the entire basis of the show is the struggles of the working class under corporate overlords, all at the mercy of the 1%. To reframe the horrors of this show (many true to life) as a ‘learning experience’ would be invalidating the essence of the show, as well as the lived-in experiences of billions around the world.
Brands on Twitter are capitalising on the popularity of the show as well, making Squid Game memes to advertise their products and boost engagement. But it feels inauthentic, and laughably ironic.
Most of the characters of the series are employees and people who have fallen on tough times. Corporations, and their stand-ins in the storyline, are completely unsympathetic if not downright villainous to their struggles. The show tells it like it is; and how it is, is devastating.
Bonding with multi-billion dollar establishments is hard on a good day.
Bonding with multi-billion dollar establishments about a show that condemns them?
But it’s not just corporations that are diluting Squid Game’s message. There are plenty of trends right now on social media platforms that involve recreating the games from the show and posting them on the internet. Not to mention the hundreds of memes about the show that serve as better advertising than Netflix could ever provide. But the icing on the cake is the commercialisation of Squid Game, its characters and logos. There are posts showing off credit cards with the infamous Squid Game logo and Squid Game themed birthday parties. Tone deaf would be putting it lightly.
The commodification of anti-capitalist themes is hardly new. We saw it years ago with ‘The Hunger Games’, a scathing commentary about the media, and the glorification of class struggle. The book, which criticised an autocratic, profit-oriented government, was translated into everything from marketable plushies to eyeshadow palettes. Even the movies had questionable themes and marketing, glossing over the point author Suzanne Collins was making in the novels.
Now, is it fair to expect the themes of a show to remain unadulterated even as it becomes popular? No, of course not. And it’s not fair to expect everyone to consume content and discuss it the same way. But it would be a tragedy if somewhere along the way, we lost sight of what the show means, even though it’s been yelling it at us this whole time.
Although I do not actually celebrate Christmas, I still quite enjoy Christmastime for several reasons: the vacations, the general cheery spirit, but most importantly, the food. Although I don’t make fancy Christmas feasts, I love making and eating sugar cookies.
The perfect sugar cookies, characterised by a blonde (just barely lightly golden) colour, are soft on the inside, but are still slightly crisp on the outside. They are wonderfully crumbly and buttery and, of course, sugary.
And then comes the frosting.
The frosting elevates the cookies and adds that extra sweetness and vanilla flavour. It also transforms the cookies from regular old cookies into Christmas cookies with attractive, vibrant colours and familiar designs.
This year, I decided to make the cookies by myself. That meant ignoring my mother’s anxiety about me making a mess and/or making a mistake while following the recipe, and trying to make these delightful treats. Baking these cookies should have been simple, but of course, as with any perfectionist trying something out for the first time (while being watched by an eagle-eyed mother/baking expert), it took about 5 hours longer than it would take the average person. From sifting the flour to piping the icing, everything seemed to need 75% more effort than it took the maker of the recipe – or would have been required for the average person. The end result was also 20% less satisfactory than it would have been to the average person. And that is the curse of the perfectionist.
No words can really describe the amount of effort it took to transform the lumps of sugar, butter, eggs, and flour into beautiful Christmas cookies. Imagine a marathon runner who, after no training, managed to complete the full 42 kilometers. I felt exactly like that runner, not just in terms of a sense of accomplishment, but also in terms of how tired I felt.
I still enjoyed every second of making them. For me, making sugar cookies has always involved friends. The whole process is associated with spending time together making delicious treats to share with each other and our families. There’s that feeling of nostalgia from that one winter’s day 5 years ago making a mess decorating Christmas cookies with friends. Even though this year I made the cookies alone, I was reminded of the good times I had had in previous years. That first bite into the cookie completely transported me back in time. One of my favorite aspects about food is its ability to transport you to memories, and that is just so rewarding in my opinion.
While the cookies did not turn out perfectly, I still had a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment (and a stomach pumped full of sugar) at the end of it. My cookies definitely looked better than they tasted. So I guess the moral of the story is that what really matters is not the cookie on the inside, but the cookie on the outside. Happy holidays!
SUGAR COOKIES AND ME
I dream during the night,
I dream during the day,
And I dream most of the time.
Though I try to save them,
Many of my dreams
Like vapour in the sky.
The ones that stay,
Leave hope in me,
To take on each day.
Every one of us,
Has great dreams of our own,
Though sometimes they are buried inside.
Discover your dreams,
And once you do,
You must chase them,
Remembering to enjoy the ride.
Don't ignore those dreams,
Because you will regret it if you do.
Follow the path made by your dreams,
And let them guide you through life.
Sometimes dreams feel like they leave you,
They never do.
THE PARADOX OF INDIVIDUALITY
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
- Mahatma Gandhi
This well-known quote was by one of the most influential figures in India’s history. His raison d’etre was ‘being true to oneself and one’s ideals.’ This mentality, as well as his undying patience, and the lives of millions of other brave hearts, earned the freedom of his country. But does simply 'being yourself' have anything to do with saving the world?
Let's move onto a few other examples.
From Bessie Coleman, the first black person to earn an international pilot's license, to Virginia Woolf - one of the first feminists who incorporated those themes into her world-renowned works, there have been so many icons that preach individualism.
Even celebrities and influencers in today’s world, often give us the same (often clichéd, in my opinion) advice:
But is this always the best advice to follow?
After all, the most vile, infamous figures in history, those who committed genocide and discriminated unfairly against millions, were doing the very same thing.
Take Adolf Hitler as an example. What he did to a community of several million people, he did simply because he was following his ideals: that one race was superior and the other were so inferior that they deserved nothing. Stalin, Mussolini, Sadam Hussein are names that are remembered (though not fondly) today, because their dogmatic and blind faith and belief in their ideals was overpowering. They believed they were doing the right thing, and overlooked any and all casualties along the way.
But knowing yourself is important. Because while the herd mentality can lull you into a false sense of comfort, it creates Kafkaesque societies where nobody truly has a platform to voice their own thoughts, as well as propagate stereotypes.
The notion of being able to live life on one’s own terms, never bending your own rules and principles, though tempting, is an idealistic and rose-tinted view.
In my opinion, there’s a dangerously fine line between being centered (having a good sense of yourself) and being foolish (being so entrenched in your ideals and opinions that you disapprove of opposing ideals).
Self-reflection and the willingness to accept changes must be another integral aspect of 'being yourself'. Stumbles along the path of achieving perfection are only natural, and it's important we acknowledge them for what we are. This is what truly gives us the push we need to change.
There is a Native American story that resonated with me, one I heard a long time ago. It describes the two ‘wolves’ that are incessantly at war with each other in our minds. The white wolf represents the good, the peace and purity, whereas the night wolf represents the darkness, the hatred and violence that fester in our hearts. They are both present in everybody, but only one will win this never-ending fight:
The one you choose to feed.
MISOGYNY IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE WESTERN PERSPECTIVE
M.I.A. - "Bad Girls" (Official Video)
With its catchy pop beat heavily influenced by traditional Khaliji (a modern approach towards more conventional arabic styles of music)undertones and mischievous wordplay (such as the term “suki” in the chorus which means “car” in Arabic) Bad girls by MIA is popular in western media for shedding light on the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia (which has now been lifted) and shaping the Western perspective towards misogyny present in the said “Arab” mindset. It has been both heralded and criticised for its portrayal of the Middle East and for the propagation of its stereotypes. Inclusively, the reception to the music video was certainly that of a mixed response; however, MIA did achieve to instigate a conversation.
There are several aspects to this music video that could be regarded as problematic. For instance, something that struck me was how MIA appropriated hijabs. She herself isn’t a follower of Islam and that’s vexed me for a number of reasons; beyond the scope of this composition but it got me thinking. Why did she choose to portray hijabs in that fashion specifically? Bedazzled, embellished and with those loud prints? Was she aiming to imply something? Or was it just simply misappropriation? I think not. Bearing in mind that MIA targets western audiences, it makes me think of the popular assumption of perceived oppression in Western culture involving Middle Eastern women.
The general notion surrounding hijabs in the west is that they are a form of oppression. Especially in the States, a consequence and a very harmful one at that is of the 9/11 terror attacks where Islam has been misrepresented in media and has normalized the frame of reference that all Muslims are radicalists, violent, terrorists, and fundamentalists who express regressive world-views. Concerning women, the Hijab which serves as an outward expression of Muslim identity, has often been symbolized as means of oppression, tyranny and exploitation in western nations. Islam, however, views the Hijab as a sign of women’s empowerment, modesty and liberation.
The roots of this negative association began with Lady Mary Wortley Montague was an English aristocrat and a part of the Ottoman Excursion (which is modern day Turkey) in the early 1700s. She wrote of her experiences as a secular woman in an Islamic society. She heavily criticized hijabs and used it to justify her catholic beliefs and philosophy of religion in her book, “Turkish Embassy Letters”. So much for secularism I suppose. I would like to comment on the comparison of Catholic and islamic beliefs, in the same manner Mary Montague has compared them. A Christian Nun's habit signifies her piety, modesty, humility, renunciation of earthly pleasures and that she is married to God. A Muslim woman's head covering (which is just part of her "hijab" which actually refers to not only a head covering but modest dress and modest behavior), signifies her piety, modesty, humility, her rejection of immodest fashions, and her commitment to and submission to God. In theory, they are very similar but they are viewed and received with great significance by the general public and by practitioners of both of these religions. After scrutinizing Mary's commentary, the point she aims to make is simply inexplicable.
As I’ve briefly mentioned before, MIA’s music video confronts the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. A study was conducted to examine the differing perspectives regarding the oppression of women in the Middle East (which is obviously, highly generalized), comparing an informed Western female’s perspective and a Saudi Arabian’s perspective. The irony is that although many in the US may think of Saudi women as oppressed, the Saudi Arabians themselves revealed that they did not see Saudi women as oppressed at all, except that they were aware of the stereotype. This brought up a question in my mind: If women governed by Islamic law are actually oppressed, how do we know? What would it take for us to recognize true oppression? Are we getting too caught up in cultural indicators? Or is it that this is the standard for them?
These questions urge me to revisit my assumptions and acknowledge how heavily influenced they are by the occidental, which I have inherently been conditioned to think in.
Why is the lack of women driving such a salient indicator of oppression in Saudi Arabia among individuals in the US? A Saudi woman explained that most families have drivers that reside on the premises. It is customary in their culture that the driver will take you where you need to go. Many women would love the idea of having someone to drive them places, freeing them to busy themselves in the car with other tasks. In a country like the US, driving is a means of physical freedom and hired drivers are cost prohibitive; it is almost like a rite of passage, when teenagers acquire their learners permit at the age of sixteen and are gifted cars on their eighteenth birthday. Only among the extremely wealthy or in business interactions will one find a hired driver, and then it is a status symbol. For Americans, the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia relates to the fact that, because women are not allowed to have driving licenses, driving is therefore illegal. Perhaps it’s the illegality that strikes foreigners as oppressive.
The general notion of most westerners when it comes to misogyny in the middle east is to think of it as an Arab problem; an issue of what Arab societies and its people are doing wrong. But is it really that simple? If that misogyny is so innately Arab, why is there such wide variance between Arab societies? Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist writes,"We have no freedoms because they hate us. Yes: They hate us. It must be said.” The usage of the word “they” is especially abhorrent as she refers to the Arabian peninsula. Why did Egypt's hateful "they" elect only 2 percent women to its post-revolutionary legislature, while Tunisia's hateful "they" elected 27 percent, far short of half but still significantly more than America's 17 percent? Why are so many misogynist Arab practices as or more common in the non-Arab societies of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia? After all, nearly every society in history has struggled with sexism, and still are. Just in the U.S., for example, women could not vote until 1920; even today, their access to basic reproductive health care is backsliding. We don't think about this as an issue of American men, white men, or Christian men innately and irreducibly hating women. Why, then, should we be so ready to believe it about Arab Muslims? A number of Arab Muslim feminists have criticized the article as reinforcing reductive, Western perceptions of Arabs as particularly and innately barbaric.
The question remains, was this music video- with its Grammy nominations (yes, plural)- that discusses an issue such as this really relevant or merely a poor generalisation and misappropriated aesthetics to appeal to the western mass mindset and to a white saviour complex?
ONE OF US
The world right now is as divided as it’s ever been. The social divides between rich and poor, privileged and underprivileged are all the more clear in the light of a global pandemic. But the very same pandemic has also brought about a sense of unity across borders, unity that is surprisingly controversial despite its positive undertones. In this article, I hope to discuss how globalism is not all it’s cracked up to be, and explore the alternatives.
The word “globalism” means the planning or operation of economic or foreign policy on a global basis. Simply put, it means connecting the world and the myriad languages and cultures in it. To me, that sounds like a nice sentiment. However, it is something that many fear. There is a belief that in connecting with the cultures of the world, you would lose touch with your own. I myself have been privy to this; being exposed to so much of the world and that most certainly affects my mannerisms, beliefs, taste in food, and even my sense of humour.
Today, we live in a world which seems to be constantly oscillating between the forces of nationalism and globalism. On one hand, globalism gives millions of people access to technology, which helps them feel less isolated. In a single second you can communicate with someone halfway across the globe, and build a community of people all around the world. On the other hand, nationalism is undoubtedly alive and kicking, given the many forms of exclusionary sentiments which continue to pit one group of people against another, within countries, as well as across them.
An outlook I have witnessed, rooted in small-mindedness and hatred, is another disadvantage of nationalism. While nationalism, in most areas, was created to promote solidarity and unity, sometimes it does the opposite. Creating a sense of solidarity by defining another group as “outsiders” proves to be an effective strategy to gain power. However, such a sense of solidarity is causing an unhealthy amount of intolerance towards the “enemies within” (for example migrants or other minorities). Nationalism is turning into a divisive force, undermining the very sense of cohesion it once helped to create.
There are many conflicts around the world today which are being fueled by these sentiments, manifested in the form of ethnic, racial, or religious characteristics. Hatred towards migrants or visible minorities has increased.
For instance, the media is highlighting Muslim women in hijab that have become newer targets of resentment. It is not only Western countries which have fallen prey to tribal tendencies. Consider the fate of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the violence against the Uighurs in China, or against the Rohingya in present-day Myanmar.
There are undoubtedly big downsides to globalisation as well, like the fact that multi-national corporations have much more to gain than the working class themselves as they are given ready access to the human capital of countries. Many critics argue that globalism will actively harm the poor, and benefit the rich even more.
The aim should not be to promote isolation. We now live in an inextricably interconnected world, shown to us by the availability of Chinese, Mexican, Thai, and Midwestern cuisine in small Indian cities, the ability to consume media from all parts of the world, and the instant interaction one can have with someone living halfway across the world. The international community can and should work together to achieve common goals. But the most important need is to seek out and support indigenous causes and allow them to engage with the global economic system, as well as promote their own. There is no magic pill that will fix everything, it has to be a multiple-step plan. Change can be slow, but it will come.
THAT SATURDAY MORNING
It was a sunny morning, a Saturday. I went out with my ball to go to my best friend's house. As I shut the front door, I saw some people whom I had never seen before.
They were probably here to move into the house besides me - it was sold a few days ago. They were weird looking. There was a man and a woman and their son – I'm guessing. The man was middle aged and very fat. He looked like he hadn't shaved in a month and had one of those fake gold teeth. To me, he seemed like an escaped criminal. The woman was also very fat and had shoulder length straight soft brown hair. The son looked about my age and was a replica of his mother. They were all wearing pointy, violet, witch hats with dark, purple stars on them.
The man threw his used cigarette to the ground and lit another one. I had enough. Just as I opened my mouth to say something, the man stared at me with his beady little eyes. I stared back and narrowed my eyes at him. He made a maniac sort of action as if he was about to beat me. I ran to Sarah's house just in time. I caught a glimpse of his wife - who was looking worried, pulling him back by his arm.
Walking into their house, I pulled Sarah by her arm and said, "Sarah! Did you see those people?!"
"What people?", she asked.
"Those! The ones outside! The ones who moved into that house!"
She walked out of her house with me by her side, but by then they had already finished unloading their boxes.
The son then came out of his house.
"Hi", he said.
"Hey", said Sarah.
He wasn't wearing his witch hat anymore. I had told Sarah about them so she asked "Hey, what's the deal with your dad?"
"Excuse me?", he said.
"I mean, he was about to beat my friend here."
He looked down at his shoes. "Can I trust you guys?"
I looked away and Sarah looked at him.
"My dad- yeah. He's not a criminal. Just a little off, you know? He's super nice once you get to know him."
"And what about those witch hats?" He looked worried.
"Can you guys keep a secret?" Sarah looked at him again.
"Why don't you come inside? I'll tell you the whole story then." I looked at Sarah and she looked at me. She nodded. We followed him inside the house.
I sneezed because their house was so dusty. It had nothing but boxes in it. He led us to where his parents were. His dad got up. He had a look on his face that I couldn't understand.
"So, Jack, I see you've made some friends huh?"
He walked closer to us.
"Well, well. You guys sure look tasty."
I had a feeling that we were dead. Suddenly, I was in pain and I knew that Sarah was too.
I won't even describe what happened next.
THE AZURE OCEAN
The azure ocean,
The one in my dreams,
A creation of god,
Gift for all.
The sapphire waves,
Dance on the surface,
To the music of the elegant current,
Controlling the water.
The majestic animals,
Swim over the iris reef,
They are in for a treat.
The aristocrat blue whale,
VIP of the ocean,
Feeds on the green algae.
The water whispers to me,
Calling me to the golden sand,
The water sweeps over my feet,
Surrounding where I stand.
The canary sun,
Rises in the east,
Meaning dawn is here, Time to say goodbye to sleep.
HARRY STYLES REVOLUTION
MISOGYNY AND (TOXIC) MASCULINITY
A week or so ago; as I was loitering around on the internet in the depths of my chronic procrastination, I stumbled upon this pixelated clip presumably from a reality show from around the 2010s:
“Volleyball is a very masculine sport. Modeling is a very feminine thing. And that means sometimes we have to give up things that we love to do”, Yolanda went on, “You eat like a man. I thought you were lesbian.”
Her daughter; Gigi, listened. I didn't think much of it at first; in fact, I let out a weak chuckle. These words echoed in my head by some uncanny fluke. The video came to a resolution yet I was left in thought. How could someone possibly make so many inferences about another's temperament based on a hobby - and to go as far as to assume sexuality? What even makes volleyball masculine? Why is anything even gendered? And no, this isn't the exposition of some downward spiral but (ironically) a product of my lackadaisical ceremony. How did I manage to have a string of coherent thoughts? I was impressed.
Harry Styles had caused “controversy” (because this is obviously one of the biggest issues of the 20th century this last December over sporting a flowy periwinkle dress on the cover of Vogue). When I say Candace Owens rained on this parade , I'm not suggesting a light drizzle - not even a heavy downpour. I mean a flood. “Bring back manly men”, she said in response to Harry's cover. This was my last straw. This ideology that dominated people - subconsciously - was getting out of hand.
What defines masculinity and femininity? Why are clothes assigned gender? These societal constructs govern our daily lives. Why did I have to wear a skirt to school and the boys a pair of pants? What did the length of my hair have to do with gender? These scrutinies flashed across my conscience in an unexplainable rage and I needed to hold someone accountable. Where did it all go wrong and how have we reached this state of mind as a society? Who decided to gender clothes?
The sad truth is that men have looked “feminine” for the majority of history. As early as 400 BC, Spartan warriors, who are “manly” and “tough”, wore miniskirts made of leather and embellishment . Shortly after, in Ancient Greece, men wore a Chiton which is that loose flowy garment that is very popularly depicted in Greek statues that today would be considered a dress. There was a strong anti-pant sentiment because of the long standing cultural belief that pants were effeminate. Yes, the Greeks thought pants were feminine. The Greeks were disturbed by the fact that in many of these pant-wearing cultures (like the Persians) both men and women were wearing them which implied that men and women had the same roles in society, which was considered horrific.
Eventually the Roman empire took over the Greeks and they were just another component to the anti-pants movement. Roman Emperors went as far to enforce a trousers ban, where anyone caught wearing pants would be exiled. It's also significant to note how common pederasty was in this era and that it was considered hyper masculine and a rite of passage for young men. Achilles and Hercules himself, the peak of manhood, engaged in this. Obviously, twice the man, more the manliness!
In my opinion, men looked the best between the late 1400s to the early eighteenth century. For instance, in the early 1500s, Henry VIII , who was the monarch of England (certainly a very manly man isn't he?) wore exquisite silk stockings adorned with embroidery under his skirt. He fashioned well crafted jewelry in his royal portraits as well. The 17th century saw the invention of high heels as mens footwear. As a matter of fact, men of that period ostracized women that wore high heels as “stealing their ultimate attribute to manliness.” Men styled their hair in voluminous locks, neat rolls, ponytails and wigs. Men's interest in fashion and their own appearance wasn't considered effeminate but as a sign of wealth of power. As far as western human history goes, manly men wore dresses, makeup, they did ballet, wore corsets, lace, silk frilly nightgowns, tasty pastels and a lot of pink. The general notion of this time was to dress in a way that pertained to an individuals class and not sex or gender (although the bipartite did exist, social class and obligation overruled it), which in contemporary standards is would be considered tragically effiminate.
Indian maharajas wore such extravagant, colorful clothes in loud patterns lined with gold piping and embedded with pearls. They adorned themselves with many diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and whatnot. In East Asian cultures, nobility and aristocrats were quite elegant and possessed a variety of “feminine” traits.
This brings me to a seminal theme - the racial component of this issue. When Harry Styles wears something society deems feminine, it's viewed as a progressive move; he's dismantling toxic masculinity. It's nice to see Harry Styles incite a conversation within mainstream media. But when Billy Porter wears a dress, there's more negativity and backlash; he is discredited and it gets pushed under the carpet entirely. This is just one such example. There are numerous male (or even male presenting) A-listers that have been wearing dresses to red carpets that just happen to be BIPOC.
I want to stress that the way we've gendered clothing has shifted throughout history to reflect current values of the times. For example, pants are essentially free of any binary because we've moved closer to gender equality (there’s still a long way to go). Due to the spike of women who have joined the workforce, I think that dresses and skirts should also be unshackled from the girls-only connotation; because we have simply surpassed that point. People who hide behind tradition are unreasonable because traditions constantly change as I've written. It isn't erroneous to dress “masculine” or “feminine” - the problem arises when people gatekeep it. People may wear dresses to look more “feminine” while others may view them as simply fabric - that is, with no binary confinements.
One day, we are going to look back and be astounded at how in 2021 men were criticised for wearing dresses in the same manner we look back now in the 1930s when women were vilified for wearing pants (obviously, women have always been more oppressed than men, hence, it being socially acceptable for women to wear pants has completely different implications than men being “allowed” to wear skirts and dresses); but what we can today is to not ruin the fun by dictating what people and should and shouldn't wear, according to a construct that literally changes every 50 years. Take notes, Candace Owens.