Day 5: Tempest and Tranquillity

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“Sometimes I feel like my life is someone else’s dream”~ ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’, Kate Tempest.

Last time, I told you about Nabokov, the man who squeezed the bottom of my lungs and forced a gasp out of my throat. This time, let me tell you about hypnotism.

It’s not of the slow you are getting sleeeeepy pendulum kind. I wasn’t sleepy. I was awake, alive, and frozen.

When Kate Tempest said Imagine, I did; when she said Jemma and Ester and Pete and Zoe, I saw them come closer and closer and melt into my limbs. I’ve no doubt that if she’d said we stand here and grow roots, I’d have stood up, grown roots, and become an amaltash tree.

Kate, do you realise that you gave us no choice?

I sat there, breathing only when I heard her breathe into the mike. That was the only chance I had to catch my breath, as she piloted us, brakeless, weightless, into a journey from which we all came back more than a little ragged. A little broken in the best possible way.

I come away from this year’s Jaipur Lit Fest with books, few photos, and other things more important- Lila Zanganeh’s happiness, Kate Tempest’s chaotic brilliance, Sholeh Wolpé’s sweetness, Rosalyn D’Mello’s courage, among others. I leave with more goals, a desire to build and grow, to engage in passion more. I leave with the idea of working at writing, of getting better by working harder and every day. A lesson at once simple and confusing.

I leave with a knowledge of living with people I don’t know, in an unfamiliar family scene. I came expecting a hotel, and when I found a family home, I was shaken and a little afraid. But somewhere in between my first makki ki roti and preparing the child for an upcoming test, I found comfort, and a space that I could, for five wonderful days, call my own.

I leave hoping to come back some day. Hopefully, soon.

Day 3: It’s a ME-moir, not a YOU-moir

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(Title shamelessly stolen from Bee Rowlatt’s unnamed friend)

At what point is my story worth writing? As children, we’re told it’s wrong to take pride in our accomplishments, to talk about ourselves as though we’ve achieved something, however small. So how do I come to the thought that, hey, I’ve got a good story, look, it’s about me ?

But that’s not completely accurate. Emma Sky’s story in Iraq is as much the story of Iraqi people (not the Iraqi people, as though all of them experienced horror in the same way) as it is about the US soldiers she worked with, as it is her own. She wrote it. They claim it. In different ways- in the US, it’s in the political section, in the UK, it’s among the biographies, but I might be wrong there. In Iraq- where would it be in Iraq? But they claimed it.

I talk about what inspires me at Jaipur, about what sticks. This next person sticks, but there’s very little that I can say about her, because to write about her journey and her trauma and the scars that her courage left her with is her privilege. I don’t get to tell that story. Read The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee, let her tell you, in her own words.

Rosalyn D’Mello peeled off layer after layer of protection, and her book- a different kind of courage, a terrifying vulnerability, and words that mingle into my bloodstream like warm wine- is on my Kindle shelf. A Handbook for My Lover is the sort of book I would justly be terrified of writing, not because of the sex, but because of the intimacy. It would be like putting cameras in my bedroom, bathroom, in my closet and in my underwear; an artful sort of bleeding out, time and again, the knife steady between my fingers. I wasn’t sure if I could ever have enough courage- to start, and if I did, to ever stop.

I asked how- how do you choose when to stop– and she smiled and said, the end sort of looms over the whole book. She laughed, sometimes I’d storm out and then I’d go,’ oh no, my book’. She smiled and told me, I think you’ll like it.

I think I will. She answered my other question too- that deciding that one has a story worth telling, even if no one else thinks so, is a brave thing to do, and that’s the kind of bravery I hope to have one day, when I do have a story worth telling. I think I will.

 

On Being Dirty

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Is it ever a small thing, molestation? I don’t think so. It may have happened fifty years ago; perhaps ten; perhaps just five. Maybe it was just yesterday. It could be an open wound or a shiny old scar. You could cover it with your clothes or hair, or you could wear it openly; whisper it to heavy dark demons at night, or scream from the rooftops It happened it happened it happened. Because it did. It happened, and that is the truth.

It may seem, at the end of the first day, like a bad dream. But do you remember your oldest nightmares in detail? I remember in bits and pieces; but I remember that moment, that morning, so clearly- every tiny, filthy detail.

I’m not filthy. I’m not. I know this. I believe this. But I also remember after the initial realisation- I’ve been touched, I’ve been molested- sank into my skin, it was as though something black and oily  and viscous had replaced my blood, emanating outwards from the breast that had been squeezed- like an auto rickshaw horn, I thought- to every vein and capillary in my body. I was terrified that it would bubble up, dark and dirty, through my pores, and then  everyone would know. I’d be bad.

I didn’t keep it a secret for long. Home has always been where I could break, ugly and peaceful. I told my mother and elder brother that very day. There’s nothing quite like the warmth of a hug when you feel as filthy as I did that day. But hugs don’t wash away memories, and no matter what smile I put on at home or how flippantly I spoke, the ten minutes of hell were permanently burned into my brain.

I’m still rather scared of strange men, particularly those around 40-60 years. I don’t remember what my eve-teaser looked like, I didn’t see his face long enough. But black hair, fat face, and smug smirk sailing away on a motorbike- I remember that well enough. Too well, and too little, but enough.

I’ve moved past it, really. I’m not always looking over my shoulder. Mom thinks I should; after all, this is Delhi. But the road of my life will not be paved with stones of fear. I look staring strangers in the eye until they look away. I take public transport as much as I can. I try to live the life I want as much as possible, because the truth is that I am terrified.

Not of men, or what they can physically do. I’m terrified that my body and my belief will be alien and dirty to me again. So I try to live as much as possible before that happens, in the hope that it will never happen.

And really, I’m one of the lucky ones.

 

Inhabit

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Roll your shoulders back, lift your chin, tighten your core.
Raise your eyes, and don’t blink. 
Smile, and let tears sting the very corners of your lids.

Never, ever let them fall.


But perhaps what was needed then was to be. Be sad. Be shocked. Feel the sting of the slap in the face, feel the burn of the humiliation.

Feel the beginnings of affection turn into jagged things; they prick and prick, waiting for time and life to smooth them away.

Be sad; cry. Cry at the half-formed spectres sitting on your pillow, the remnants of what might have been, what you thought was. Cry at the thought of how rosy the world once seemed, and how you can now see little spots of grey and rusty browns in the corners and undersides of pretty, softly glowing things. The world seems a little less bright, sometimes, and your heart isn’t even broken.


So little to say when there’s so much to feel. They’re things you can’t bring yourself to feel, and things you can’t admit to feeling. There are feelings which you fear to name, for it might turn your world on its axis, pull you apart and expose your insides to light and air and truth.

Would you do it? Let yourself and all you know be irretrievably changed, all for the sake of a name of a feeling? Should you? Could you?

I have no answers, and neither do you.


Oh stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.
~W.H Auden,
‘As I Walked Out One Evening’.

nearly, Almost

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Do you ever wonder
What we could have been?

Do you ever think,
Had curves been lines
And had not straight paths
Twisted us way-
Could we have been something,
Do you think?

When my mind thinks of you,
It is in thoughts left over;
Bitter ale
From the bottom of the barrel.
The dregs of things
That almost were feelings,
That nearly became hopes;
Not quite wishes-
Not nearly desire-
Time would have told.

Time tells me
What might have been,
And what instead is;
But I tell Time,
Of hopes that never died
Because they never drew breath-
Of things better off stillborn.

Just conversation;
Exchanges between us.
Time and I, we go hand in hand,
And sometimes, dear,
We may talk of you.

She Was A Girl

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“She was a girl who knew how to be happy even when she was sad. And that’s important.” ~Marilyn Monroe.

Much to my mother’s disapproval, I’ve been on a Marilyn-Monroe-inspiration-spree recently. About being a woman, being beautiful, smiling, laughing and some of the more flippant things she said that just sound cool. I like them. Being a girl with (yes, be surprised if you know me) crippling self-esteem and self-image issues, I admire tremendously any woman who is comfortable with her body and sexuality, with her looks, with her femininity and womanliness- any woman who is as comfortable in her skin as I’m not. Quotes like Monroe’s give me the strength to get through the day with a facade of confidence and security and freedom from self-doubt. Yes, darlings, the lack of self-consciousness that characterise Malavika is just that: a facade.

And why? Had I been able to answer that five years ago, I would not be writing this today. I would not dread the hours spent with peers outside the four walls of my room. I would not dread judgement from my own parents despite knowing in my very bones that it’s impossible.

And again I ask myself: why? I’m not ashamed of my attributes: I’m smart, sarcastic, witty, friendly, funny and a nice person to be around because I have to be. I’m not pretty, I’m not beautiful, I’m not sexy. My hair doesn’t fall perfect and straight; my stomach juts out, not in; my skin has monthly eruptions; my teeth aren’t like Snaggletooth (Sophie Kinsella? I forget) but they aren’t the best either. In short, I look like Miss Bingley’s description of Elizabeth- you know, the one where she provokes Darcy into calling Eliza gorgeous.

I was a tomboy for so long that by the time I remembered that I am a girl, I’d forgotten how to be one. Sometimes I think the rest of the world had forgotten what I really am too. I came to makeup as an extension of dance, or as something to fool around with and play ‘disguise’ with (Five Find-Outers, I blame you). I came to heels because I realised that I was the only girl in my seventh grade class who’d never worn a pair. I came to clothes when my male friend had to explain peplum to me- with a diagram. Before, I’d thought it was a dress material.

It suddenly comes to me (as it does every morning when I give myself those li’l pep talks) that all this sounds so shallow and nothing at all to do with the woman I am. Something I once read, like, ‘just because I’m not a lady doesn’t mean I’m not a woman’, that was pretty cool. That was true, too. That is true.

It’s just so hard to remember when I stare into the mirror at night.