Bendr Magazine

A retrospective look at a life spent learning to question, to defy and to be.

We are good people. This is our country. We only do good things. People need to obey the law. We don’t believe in gods. People need to have virtue. We don’t associate with those people. This is outrageous. We are good people. We have nothing to fear. They’re right to be scared. We must have faith in our leaders. They’re going to burn us to the ground. We do good things.

As the 16-year-old chubby girl with acne on her face and anxiety in her veins, all I did at extended family gatherings was sit and listen. I would eat at the dinner table and bide my time until someone asked about me. I wouldn’t answer, either, because those words were spoken on my behalf. During the “she just achieved this” part of the speech, my heart would swell with joy because I had done something to be proud of.

As soon as the “well, she needs to lose weight” portion of the tirade began, I used to get teary-eyed and try to hide the pressure that was snaking up my throat and egging me on to scream, but later on, it became part of my routine to smile faintly, get up with an eye-roll and excuse myself from the table.

I was asked quite often to “dress like a girl” and for a while I saw no appeal in skirts and dresses. I flipped naturally when I reached my late teens and wore a dress wherever I could.

This was met with much admiration but also a sense of unease when my dress was sometimes too short. Of course, it would give off the wrong impression, and we were people who didn’t do that. As I spent my days carefully assessing the length of dresses with the appropriateness of events, I found myself resenting the shorter skirt and tighter bodice. Opting for a sensible pair of jeans became the popular choice.

A few years later, Harry Styles wears a dress on a magazine cover, causing outrage and admiration. I scroll through hashtags and revel at the power that a piece of fabric can hold. My father asks me about it and I reply with “I mean, it’s a dress” and he laughs at the thought that a man could ever wear such a thing “in real life”. My “it’s just clothes” argument makes no effect and he wears me down until I laugh along with him.

My mother and I used to spend Sundays watching TV. One late afternoon, “Modern Family” was on;

Mitch and Cam were talking about their daughter Lily, and after a few minutes of observation, my mother told me not to watch that show ever again. I dared to ask why, and she repeated to me that it was “just wrong” and that I shouldn’t be influenced. We were good people who only did good things. I pressed further with “but they’re not doing anything wrong” – spoken faintly, gently – only to be met with a minute of silence (as if remembering the dead) and with “they’re doing bad things, it’s just wrong”.

Later on that night, as we consumed our daily dose of local television, she praised the main character and his wife for protecting their child.

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My best girlfriend and I would become inseparable after breaking into the school auditorium after hours, lying on the dusty stage and talking about ghosts stealing pencils from our pockets. She would be the first person to whom I would admit that I wasn’t thinking straight all the time. She would smile and say “I don’t think anyone’s thinking straight” and then together, we would exchange details of outrageous idiots and solemn sweethearts who were plucky enough to wrong us or treat us right. We were still good people, doing good things. I would go on and on for hours about Mila Kunis, and she would simply nod in agreement. She would travel on a stream of thought about why some people are treated differently, and I would say “yeah”. I would say “nobody knows what they’re doing” and she would reply with a sigh. We would both spend hours raiding each other’s closets only to settle on our usual “jeans and black top” combo.

I would remark that both SRK and Kajol looked wonderfully attractive on screen, and she would reply “bro same” and we would laugh about the looks on our families’ faces if we ever said that out loud.

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At 22, I was halfway between the “adults” crowd and the “seen and not heard” crowd at family dinners. While “she needs to lose weight” had shifted to “she has lost weight”, people were also looking to me to talk; it was a welcome change, but my heart glowed when my parents did their “look what she has done” talk, just the same. Halfway through dinner one night, I was asked a question. My answer was soon cut off with the “just wrong” line as predicted, before I even started.

As the urge to push back roared in my ears, the air of indifference that accompanied the “that’s just wrong”,

the finality of the tone, the silent yet resounding unwillingness to consider any other alternative, crashed into me. As much as it pained me to hear the disapproval, the dissonance and the intolerance in every word, it also became apparent to me that erasing the prejudice would be a feat accomplished in another time, in another life.

As their conversation shifted, so did my mind. I became at ease, knowing that I would never dispute their claims, because I had recognized at that moment that there would always be something that they wouldn’t understand. Who was I to inflict on my family – the people who love me, feed me, clothe me, care for me – the pain of that confrontation? We are good people, after all, and we only do good things.

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Nishedha Indraratne

Nishedha Indraratne is an undergraduate at the University of Colombo, reading for an English Honours degree, and works part-time as a freelance writer, editor and translator. She is passionate about good movies, great books and weird TV shows.