Skinsuitsplit

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Have you ever tried to fit into another skin? It’s not easy. First, you have to choose a new one; there are usually a few on offer, standard issue, one-size-fits-all, like dresses at Forever New. You can alter them up to a point, but there are limits here and here, tailoring can only go so far, and anyway, you’re supposed to shrink, not expand.

Then, you have to squeeze. I remember my first dress. It wasn’t the lovely one-shoulder black gown that hangs in my closet; it was a cute black and white Globus number that I bought when I was thirteen. Knee-length, about three tiers of skirt, I think. I loved it so much. Never mind the squeezing. You kinda have to go with it- everyone does it. Suck in your stomach and shimmy into that clingy bodice, arrange your skirt- pull your bum in, stomach in doesn’t mean bum out– tie back that hair, there’s nothing you can really do about it, and now smiiiiile. Oh, don’t you look cute!

You also sound like a dying horse, but what to do.

And when one skin splits, you try another. Your own is dry and chafed, grey from lack of sunlight, but what does that matter when there are all these shiny and healthy ones lined up, and somewhere you know there’s one that fits you?

There has to be.

You do the same with what’s under your skin. It’s like Photoshop- you realign your smile, it has to be perfect and show just the right amount of teeth. You line up all your emotions and humanness, like cans on a wall, to knock off what they won’t buy. There’s a certain demand, and you have to supply, even if the curves intersect so high that you’ve lost sight of the price.

I have tried skin after skin after skin, pulled my stomach in and pushed my bones out of alignment to fit into them, only to have it all come apart at the seams again and again.

I’m tired. I’m so tired.

 

 

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Day 4: Phosphorescence

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(…in other words, of netting the light particles tingling around us. ~ ‘The Enchanter’, Lila Azam Zanganeh)

You don’t need to have read Nabakov to read Zanganeh on Nabokov. All you need is to listen to the way she talks about him- the passion in her words, the gesticulating hands, the laugh with which she tells us never to trust a writer completely- and to the little she reads out of her book, to fall in love with either this strange man she loves, or with Zanganeh herself. Both.

I remember liking Lolita, but I never got the chance to finish it- meh, college. I picked it up because I’d heard of it- scandalous, disgusting, I’d read, thinking that these epithets had been applied to Wuthering Heights too. I love Wuthering Heights, so I took Lolita to find out if I could love it too.

The first words of a book matter so much- it’s one of the many reasons that Pride and Prejudice remains my favourite book after all these years. (It’s heartening to know that Ms Austen was perhaps the only female writer Nabokov approved of, but I suspect that if he’d dismissed her, I’d be writing this post on something totally different) Beginnings are important. And when Humbert Humbert said Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta, my heart stuttered. With one line, Nabokov had grasped the tail-end of my lungs and squeezed, so that the top expanded and then with a whoosh deflated, sending all the air rocketing up my throat and out of my mouth in a gasp.

This, I thought, is a beginning.

I never talked about Lolita because I never finished it. It seemed futile to talk about a book when I never had the time (or card space) to take it out of the library, or indeed off the shelf ever again. Still, sometimes I silently tapped out the syllables Lo-lee-ta in my mouth, my tongue working light and precise. Lo-Lee-Ta. And then I’d cease, embarrassed at what I’d caught myself doing.

I have a copy of Lila Azam Zanganeh’s The Enchanter (a signed copy, thank you), and I look forward to reading it. I wonder whether I’ll find shades of Lila in her Nabokov or, when I return to it after reading him, traces of Nabokov in Lila. Not in her writing- in her. When I finish Lolita or Speak, Memory, or Ada, and revisit Lila in my head and her book, will I find Nabokov? Does she mean him to be found?

Even in darkness or demise, Nabokov tells us, things quiver with lambent beauty. Light is to be found everywhere~ ‘The Enchanter’, Lila Azam Zanganeh.

 

 

 

Day 2: A Tamil Me

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Is there room for me in Tamil literature?

A part of me thinks often of no. 8, Arundale Beach Road, and the sound of my family speaking Tamil around me, to me. I speak my mother’s language, the Tamil of a non-Tamil; I’m a Tamil outside of my language, who has made a home of the white man’s tongue.

But say sambar in English- a vegetable broth with a tamarind base, thickened with pre-cooked lentils, flavoured with asfoetida, fenugreek, red chillies, and coconut, and topped with fried mustard seeds, curry leaves, and un-ground red chillies

Say Jallikattu- a popular sport involving the taming of the Bos indicuscommon in parts of Tamil Nadu during the festive season

Say kanmani- jewel of my eye-

Tell me the story of Ponniyin Selvan all in English, without using a single Tamil word, without the cadences that only a Tamil speaker could have, even in your language, the lilt that we use to make your language ours while your tongue and fingers slip and slide on the surface of mine.

Are there stories that can only be told in their own language?

It doesn’t sound the same, ya!

Is there room for me in Tamil literature if I write about Tamil people in a language to which they do not belong?

where will my stories rest if you say no

?

 

 

Am I Sure I Want To Shut Down

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Parts of me are shutting down.

I’m not yet strong enough to wear my empty spaces like I do my lipstick.

Last week, I took a blade to my wrist for the first time in two years. I was crying. Not because I couldn’t stop, but because I no longer have anything sharp enough. I threw three pairs of scissors across the room; I retrieved one and sawed until I saw the blood beading on my wrist

I no longer feel disgusted that sometimes, the only thing that makes me feel better is the burning of open wounds. I don’t feel sick or ill, there is nothing slimy and shameful growing under my skin or at the base of my neck. I am as I am, with every dark, dank part of me that no one wants out in the open.

Maybe, at thirteen and sixteen, M could let go of grief through tears. At twenty, it’s not about grief or guilt. It’s about not wanting to inhabit the sack of skin into which this mind has been poured. It’s about this heart being wrapped too tightly in meat to breathe. It’s about blood and bone and sinew that form a prison for dark things that have no place in the sun’s light because no one wants to try and see or smile at them. It’s about these dark things wanting to know how the air tastes, and they will wreck everything to get out.

It’s about not wanting to be this woman, this person typing everything that you’re reading and wondering if you will smile. I slide lipstick over the empty spaces; I feel them growing as more pieces crumble within the structure. Sometimes I dream about everything under my skin simply winking out of existence. Those are the loveliest nights.

I paint a pretty smile on, the sun lights up my eyes, I kiss with a heart that screams my love, and I type and type, when I should have stopped at

h  e  l  p

Think-Stream

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I had a teacher once, who said that even if I couldn’t think of anything to write about, I should just put my pen to paper and write. He said it didn’t matter even if I wrote the same sentence ten times; perhaps the eleventh sentence would be different.

He taught me just for a year, during my eleventh grade. I missed him a lot the next year. I wish he’d stayed. He was 22 years old; he was the only adult with whom I felt comfortable sharing my poems. We would sit in school after he’d read them, and he’d point things out to me, cool things I’d never noticed I’d done with words; he’d nudge words into better order, so the poem wasn’t lopsided. By the time we were done, it looked like it was proud of itself.
Many people had told me that I could write well; he was the first person to show me how to write better.

I have a friend whose descriptive writing I prefer to Amitav Ghosh. Her story about cancer ripped into me, but I kept reading it because of the sheer skill it took to put those layers of words and story together.

I think about my third grade class teacher who hurt me so much, and I want to meet her again and tell her about it. I don’t know if I can forgive her; maybe it won’t be necessary, maybe she won’t even want to be forgiven.

I have a friend who is incredibly attractive to me because he’s intelligent and confident and mature and a lot of fun. I don’t know if I’m attracted to him. I’m usually not, though; it’s just sometimes.

Honestly, though, the person I love the most in the world is myself, at the moment. I think that after so many years, it’s time I started believing that I’m worthy of being my most important person.

Paintbox

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I can’t paint. I really, really can’t.

But when I shut my eyes, I always see a screen of black. It starts like that, just soft black, like fabric. Then it bleeds into red; or rather, red bleeds onto the black until there’s nothing but red. And then there’s purple. There’s always a lot of purple. There are yellows, greens, and dark blue (the blue’s always dark, I don;t know why), but I remember the purple most clearly, because when I open my eyes, streaks of purple hover for a second, before dissipating into… well, whatever’s I’m looking at.

So I guess, the colours of my mind and mood would begin from purple.

There’s a tone of red to my thoughts, though. No, it’s not anger. It’s a lot of maroon and pink, but from time to time, my feelings have a strong tone of crimson to them. I think they do now, although it’s fading, like more water’s been mixed in. It’s love. Or rather, romance. I’ve fallen in love perhaps thrice, so usually it’s just a lot of pink. Shifting emotions. Crushes. Sometimes nothing at all in that range. And sometimes a deep, deep crimson that colours everything else and makes my world look like hell.

Anger isn’t red. It isn’t even like a burn. It’s usually ice-blue paint on a canvas, cold, but it’s edged with orange. There’s a layer of black on it. I keep it under wraps, because I don’t like my anger. It’s cold and ugly and hurtful. Sometimes it pushes the black aside, and leaps up, the orange edges scalding the first person it touches, and then freezing everything else. The freezing hurts worse. I don’t like anything cold but fridge-water and ice cream. I don’t like being angry, because my anger colours my mind an ugly blue-orange combination that blots out everything else and leaves my world cold, hurt and unhappy.

Smiles are white. Not because of teeth. They’re not yellow, because smiles are like sunlight and everyone knows that sunlight is white light. Sunlight does good things. It makes things grow- pink and red and green and golden and yellow and happy and laugh-  and it makes things sweat, and thinga are alive and well and breathing because of the sun. I like smiling. I don’t like my teeth, or my skin, or my hair, but  I like my smile. It makes me feel happy, and white and nice and warm and brown. Smiles and laughter are white and brown and a little bit of everything. Every mood, every colour, every shade of the paints mixed and mingled in my mind.

And my hands are stained, and I look at the page, and I sigh, because I really can’t paint.