Let’s begin, shall we?

Raise one eyebrow. 
That’s easy enough, it’s genetic.
Now, the other.
Ah,now there’s a difficulty. How can I raise the other? I contort my face. I try again. Both go up. They furrow. I try again. Both go up, comically raised in atbutham.
Again.
I try again, press my palm down on one and force the other up. I try 100,000 times. I raise one. Now, the other. There you go, now?
Do you look like one?
I look into the mirror, long and hard. Long hair, kohl-lined eyes, earrings dangling from both eyes.I raise one eyebrow, then the other. I do it rhythmically, increasing my speed to the beat of the chenda. 
Stop.
At most, a clown’s instruments to play the Fool. A veshakaran? No.
Then be that.
What?
The Fool. The Harlequin.

 


	

WeaRIng SenSIble Shoes

What are you wearing? It doesn’t matter.

Where are you going then? It doesn’t matter.

But what you’re wearing would depend on where you’re going.

It doesn’t matter!

But how are you going?

I’m going to walk it.

Then shouldn’t you wear something appropriate?

It doesn’t matter.

Your shoes might matter.

It doesn’t matter.

You might trip.

It doesn’t matter.

What if you fall, face first?

shrugs

What if you fall on your butt and you have a patch of dirt on your behind the entire time?

Then I have a patch of dirt on my behind the whole time.

People will stare. People will laugh. What if a cute guy walks by?

Then we’ll laugh together.

You might fall.

It doesn’t matter. It’s not an obstacle race.

I walked down the road, earphones in ears, bag on back,shoes on feet. I fell. Dirt on butt. Cute guy walks past. No one laughed. Someone smirked. Everyone stared.

I changed into sensible shoes, I walked on the pavement, I turned the volume down for traffic on pavement. The first clump of men stood resolutely still. I walked toward them, hoping they’d move. They stood and watched me walk toward them. I got closer.  They kept looking. One look at my shoes. Others elsewhere on my person. I reached where they stood. They got a closer look. I stepped onto the pavement and navigated around them. They resumed chatting, stray eyes fixed on my back.

I took off the earphones and kept them in my bag as I crossed the road to avoid second clump of men. One man loitered around on this side of the road. I walked toward him. He walked a little closer and stood still. I kept walking. He stood and watched as if admiring the way my pants clung fittingly to my legs. He stood mesmerised as I walked closer. He stood in front of me and then stared after me, finding my eyes staring back. He stared unblinkingly as I walked past.

I lowered bag on back and continued walking. Shoes held on tight and firm. I got to my destination, did what I had to do and walked back home. Quick trip. Barely warranted a change of shoes. But they were on and they were pink along the sides. I walked back and got stuck behind a dusty group of men. I wondered what their original hair colour was, they all sported the dusty white of cement. One turned around, then the rest. They looked, sniggered and stopped. I tried navigating around them and they walked faster. This continued for a while, till I crossed the road again.

I walked faster, bag on back, bag in hand, dust in eyes. Man on bike slows down beside me, I walk faster, he rides faster. I slow down. He rides past me,head turned completely. I marvelled at his flexibility. I fall butt first. Man rides away. Cute guy walks past. Shoes get dirty, but stay on. I walk back and don’t see more or hear anything else.

 

Frida Kahlo
frida kahlo, without hope

She was young, very young. 10 maybe? A little older perhaps. She was dressed in pink and white. Her spotless white pants and her dark eyes as she stared out of the window seemed lost and out of place in that crowded train. I moved a little closer, and a little more till my toes felt her bare ankles. They felt cool in the sweltering humidity of the crowded train. I kept moving, inching closer to her. Stepping on toes and pushing the old man standing beside her. As my toes found her skin again, I saw in her face the first sign of disturbance,just the slightest; but she merely moved her feet and retreated unto herself. But I refused to let her go, as the jolt of the engine came to my rescue and my body pressed against hers momentarily. She sat up almost violently, her terrified eyes looked up at mine. She had felt me growing against her. Her mother had noticed her discomfort and offered to shift places. But she refused, she wouldn’t leave. She wanted to be right here, with me. Why does she keep moving away from me though? Can’t she see that her mother would bother us again? And she did,she kept offering to shift places! But I knew her, she wouldn’t leave me. She simply shook her head. Each time I pushed myself against her, her face would contort in pain. She’d look up at me, her eyes pleading. She looked so innocent, so vulnerable…but I couldn’t help it. The more she looked at me, the more I pushed myself against her. I couldn’t get my eyes off her, the bare hands right against me…And then it happened. A tunnel ahead; a few seconds of darkness. I gritted my teeth, the excitement building. She looked at me again, she had realized what was going to happen. The moment the darkness hit, I almost fell forward, my hands reaching out just as her hands reached up to cover her chest. The light was beginning to filter in as I moved back, a nail scraping against her neck. She was almost in tears. Would she cry? Would she finally say something? She looked up at me almost pleading and I stared back at her. The train screeched to a halt, but I couldn’t move. I didn’t even remember where I was heading anymore. My head was heavy and all I knew was that I needed to be there, to touch her, to keep looking into those fearful eyes. I refused to move as the crowd jostled, abused and pushed me to get out of the train. Even as I moved closer to her, almost towering over that body that seemed even smaller, I felt the first blow and I realized the man was yelling, asking me to stop what I was doing. He had been watching me he said, watching this private moment I shared with her. How dare he have intruded! Look at her, he was scaring her. I fought back,feigning innocence. I told everyone he was delusional and I was simply minding my own business. Her parents now knew what happened, but I knew her. She wouldn’t give me away. That was our moment and she wouldn’t let anyone else in. They made her sit elsewhere and she did. She didn’t look back at me, but I knew she would never forget me. Never forget we had looked into each other’s eyes. I would remember her pink shirt and spotless white pants and she would remember me and all of me against her body for the rest of her life.

thick thighs and chubby ankles

collarbones sticking out with a double chin for company
my flabby arms dance wildly as i flail them about to punk rock
chunky muffin tops pop up brown and toasted in my little crop top
fleshy folds of sweat line my small tummy like a double decker bus
i haven’t heard from my cheekbones, so i’m guessing i’ve been stood up for life
but this birthday,i’m celebrating the layers of fat that have kept me company for 23 years
you’ve been kneaded and moulded and have still stayed resiliently by my side
and maybe it’s the tough skin with the flabby fat that’s kept me going all these years
so this birthday, the two of us have a date

 italian and a large ice cream sundae

ThE MAd woMan In the attIC

I never quite understood how fairy tales helped put little children to sleep. I read a lot as a kid and we had many a bulky book of Cinderella stories. I read and reread them, their tired pages always firing up my wild imaginations. My books were my sanctuary, but for everything that it did for me it never quite helped putting me to sleep. On the contrary, it blew the lid off my mind to introduce colours I’d never seen with my own eyes before; tingled my taste buds to bread and sweets that were beyond the realm of my mamma’s kitchen. I reimagined myself in blue eyes that I had never looked into and golden locks that no amount of Indian sun could coax my black hair into. These dreams kept me up for hours at night.They were not always rainbows and sunshine either. The fairytales were a constant trigger for nightmares.

The little girls were subject to cruel realities, snakes and toads came out of their mouths, they were often orphaned and were haunted by evil stepmothers,wolves and witches. The happy endings never made up for these terrifying realities. I grew beyond the fairytales to read little novels, most of them English- so you know they were morose. I was terrified of the hellish plague-ridden London streets, the gloom and despair of the English weather forever casting cloudy shadows even in warm, balmy summers of my childhood. One particularly morose novel was Jane Eyre. A stark contrast from the boarding school amusements of my Enid Blyton novels, Jane Eyre always managed to upset me.

It wasn’t merely her poverty that got to me, but that her character was so remarkably familiar that her fate read like a prophecy to me. The quiet child, buried in corners of a room with a book, often chided for her lack of cheer and amiability and when she spoke, she got a rap on her wrist for her sharp tongue. While the wife in the attic was the monster of the story to me, it was Jane who I always thought was the mad woman. Her many delusions, conscious meanderings from what was normal and acceptable, even her love for an old, scary man were abnormalities. She could only pretend to be the chaste Christian and everytime she grew tired of her mask, she ran away to don a new one. Even as I lived Jane’s life through the novel, I felt it becoming the narrative of my life.

Years later, I read Jane Eyre again .And two weeks after, I read Wide Sargasso Sea- that brilliant story, dragged out from Bronte’s attic and given a life of its own. With every few pages, I would find similarities between Jane and Antoinette. England’s gloom and the Caribbean heat has both eked out the wild bearings of these women. Both as similar as they were dissimilar. It made me wonder who the mad woman in the attic was again. Why are these fiercely independent women such a threat to the world?

Recently I read Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, where she traces the very genesis of the capitalist order through the ordering of the witch-hunts in 16th c Europe. The pragmatics of inequality that capitalism needed, could not afford hysteria, superstition and the ethereal- those qualities associated with the feminine need to be erased out of the square box of a normalised world order.In the present globalised world, she says the same is happening with women in the Global South being expelled from their livelihoods.  Witches and ghouls, women of loose morality and unchristian behaviour are not just unwelcome, they are brutally expelled.

Who is the mad woman today? The card carrying feminist? The lesbian? The widowed and the unmarried? The raped? The sexually active? Moulded and shaped into pretty ceramic figurines, the times we don’t cross our legs, smile and acquiesce, we risk setting loose the mad woman in our attic. Or is it setting free?

oF MIRrors anD VaNIty

Mirrors have played a large part in my life. I always had just the single mirror in my room, a small one. It was at a rather uncomfortable position, I could never see my uniform properly or the ends of my long hair. I had to stand on my knees on the bed to examine the pimple on my nose for any sign of a promising pop. Despite its position, I loved my mirror and would constantly look into it, brushing my hair or putting up little theatrical shows for myself. I loved role-playing and the mirror was both my audience and my judge. Everytime my mum came upstairs to check on me, I would be in front of it, in the middle of a song or dialogue, a sharp dance move or religiously brushing my hair.

I hated it when she caught me, mirrors were meant for sneaking a look at yourself, prolonged examination would conclusively place you in the vain category.

Vanity was a bad best friend. I loved my designer clothes, clear face, wide eyes and long hair. I hated being admired just as much as I loved it. I learnt how to paint my nails at four and don’t remember ever having stepped out without lining my eyes with kohl.I winged it with a liquid liner, went under my eyes with a dark kajal pot, coated my lashes with it hoping it would look like mascara and even drew elaborate bindis with it. This didn’t mean that I did badly in school, in fact I did rather well and was an excellent student, but at home my vanity became my only trait.

Sabina, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Sabina, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The early categorisation and being an easy target for ridicule drove me farther from the things I loved. I forced myself to read, I told myself I hated frills too. my eyeliner became less dramatic(it never fully went away) and my little trysts with the mirror reduced in number.

I did gradually learn to love books and even engaged in politics, and however well I cultivated an attitude of indifference towards all things material and ‘silly’, I still had midnight affairs with my mirror. So when I finally got my very own full-length mirror, I found it hard to stop myself from fixing a cuff, smoothing a wrinkle, or quickly changing a mismatched outfit.When had it become a cardinal sin to be conscious of my appearance?

Today, in another continent altogether and amongst strange faces completely alien to me, I wear bold red lipstick and spend 5 whole minutes in the morning lining my eyes. But now my bold red lips become the slogan of my feminist stance, heavily massacred eyelashes gain sanction when they widen in political outrage and anything from crop tops to a salwar-kameez make political statements rather than fashion statements. I must admit that I am not wholly innocent here, I do this fully aware that I can let my love for fashion go wild as long as I have a prompt answer with a complex theory to back it up so it never seems trite or silly. I spend long hours on Youtube looking for the perfect shampoo and ways to trim my eyebrows, as long as I read a serious magazine right after. Fashion has become a guilty pleasure. I cannot watch 6 straight episodes of Sex and the City without making a righteous commentary on how American television soaps are dumbing us down. So, when I stand in front of my full-length mirror now I spend all the time in the world making sure every strand of hair falls perfectly …and then give it a tousle right at the end, so I don’t look like I spent an hour on it.