“I don’t know where I find resilience, honestly. Some days I find it; some days, I don’t. It looks different each day.” – Kirthi Jayakumar
Late last year, I had to ghostwrite on gender gaps in technology for a celebrity client. I had been writing for this client for a while, yet I was never confident when it came to her. She’s too powerful and authoritative in ways that I am not.
And this topic? I had never written anything on gender before. I was struggling to be the confident voice of someone else who was already a fierce trailblazer in her field. Ghostwriting, I have come to realize, is one of the toughest things you can do. To forge someone’s voice on to your own is, honestly, soul-crushing. But while it has been challenging, it has also been enriching. Because I can delve into the minds and thoughts of some amazing people in the process and come away with insights I would never have got otherwise.
And so there I was, trying to write on gender gaps in technology. I didn’t know technology either, and the woman I was writing for had sold her tech company for a billion dollars. Sigh. This wasn’t getting easier.
Frantically, I scrolled through hundreds of Google pages and clipped references. But the report still looked like an amateur wrote it. It didn’t sound authoritative. It sounded like me.
“What can you write about gender? You know nothing about feminism or gender or women studies,” my mind protested.
To silence that voice, I drank even more cups of tea. I googled even more incessantly.
And that’s when I stumbled on the feminist and peace and gender activist Kirthi Jayakumar’s work. Her name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it at the time. As I looked at her Wiki page, I gaped. Surely, she must be 65 years with ALL these accomplishments and awards? Not in her 30’s? I held my head in my hands and wondered what I had ever done at all in life.
I sent a panicky LinkedIn connect request to her (and other gender activists) as I scrambled to finish that piece. By then, I had remembered why Kirthi’s name was familiar (I had briefly known her friend).
I eventually wrote a passable foreword for my client. I knew it wasn’t my best effort, yet the client was kind enough not to comment too much on it.
But writing that ghostwriting piece reopened doors that had first been opened by a friend back in Dec 2019. That friend had told me then that my “silence now is the price I would pay later.” I had been too silent for too long and it was messing up my head. Doing all this research made me understand what I had gone through in life, and that what I had thought was the ‘norm’ wasn’t normal at all.
Normalizing oppression, hatred, harassment, abuse, and ill-treatment wasn’t healthy and it was wrecking me.
In the name of kindness, I was ignoring that people weren’t treating me well. That’s not kindness. I believe in powerful kindness: compassion in action. It means that we never ignore or condone the harmful actions of another. We take our kind umbrella and compassionately whack the person on the head with it, wishing ourselves to be free from suffering. We recognize to condemn the action, without condemning the abuser to the gates of hell.
We do this because we know that being unkind to ourselves is never valuable in the long run. That doesn’t mean we are selfish. But we know and understand the interconnectedness of pain and humanity. When we harm another, we suffer. Simple. When we knowingly cause hurt to another, we suffer. When we refuse to offer empathy, we suffer.
I wanted to understand feminism. Abuse. Women empowerment. Gender inequalities. And I understand best when I write about it. When I talk to people who are doing work that I can’t hope to ever do.
So, I worked with Kirthi to write two different pieces for eShe® and Deccan Herald. Moved by her work, I shared my own story with her, as many other women had before me. She received me graciously, compassionately, and wisely.
Decades of internalized shame came tumbling down with these words from her: Nothing about being harassed, trolled, doxxed, and treated with misogyny is acceptable, no matter who the perpetrator is.”
I gaped at myself in the mirror. It’s not ok? I had always been quick to forgive because I thought I deserve ill-treatment. I had thought it’s all ok. For the first time, I realized I never deserved abuse. No one does. It will take me time to reach that space of deeper healing, but understanding what wasn’t ok was the first step toward it.
And then, at one point, I sent Kirthi an angry email I am not proud of. Now here’s the thing. I like to come across as very patient and wise. Nice facade, SM.
Reality is I crumble all too often. I lash out without considering the other person. I am learning all the hollow holes of my many-chambered heart, and this learning often ain’t pretty. But I am still a bit kind, no? 🙁
In this email, I assumed this person had violated my confidence. Assumptions are just that: making an ‘ass’ of yourself. I reacted rather than pause, take a breath, and find out if she had really breached my trust. But it was her response that changed my life forever.
Kirthi responded with grace to that email. She forgave me with the sort of kindness I had seldom seen in anyone until then. Something broke free in me then: a caged little butterfly called hope. I resolved then that I wouldn’t harden my heart when it meets the caprices of human behavior, but soften it with compassion, even when it’s most wounded.
I believe that’s resilience too.
This is a woman who needs to be celebrated. This is my celebration.
I may never meet her or even talk to her unless I get to write yet another piece on my new, favorite topic now. But in life, we all have that one stranger who shines like beacons of hope in the stranded islands of our self, changing our life in infinitesimal ways. And she is a stranger who will be a beacon in mine.
Kirthi’s work and life speak of incredible courage, beauty, and meaning. Because of her, thousands of women have a voice to hear their pain.
That’s resilience too.
And I vow to never again keep quiet about harassment, abuse, and any kind of violence, be it sexual, physical, or emotional. I am working on that, and I am proud, and not ashamed anymore.
That’s my resilience.