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 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.

 

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

Of Fresh Endings

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Now even the farewell is done, and it really is just a matter of time before it ends. I didn’t speak much yesterday; only a little bit of garbled nonsense, which was perhaps the only sensible thing to say. But there are things that seem sensible and important to say now, so this is where I’ll say them.

There are no absolutes in life. You know this. You’ve read about it. At the end of your three years, you’ll realise it.

You may think you’re going to remain friends with someone for the rest of your life. But hell, you may not even know when you stopped talking, stopped texting, and it’s barely been six months. Now you’re shaking your head and saying we used to be so close,  and you’re shrugging and turning back to someone with whom you wouldn’t have dreamt of sharing any kind of friendship. That is what happens.

Don’t shy away from talking to anyone, no matter what; the biggest inspiration I ever received in college is now also the source of my biggest regret. I wish I had spoken to her, the girl who will be the first female graduate in her family- hell, the first female college student. She has inspired me, and I may never know her. That is what happens.

You may come to realise that this is not where your heart lies, in these books and names and monuments, with these people, in this college. One morning or late one night, you may wake up crying, or too tired to cry, from a dream of how things could have been. You may find yourself forcing your eyes and mind forward into the book on the desk, with your heart galloping somewhere quite different. This is what happens.

But we are young. You can set yourself on fire and build yourself back from the ashes. You will stand tall and then suddenly break, get back to your feet and immediately shatter, and the best, most painful part is picking up the pieces again and deciding just how you want to build yourself again. How high, how broad, how deep- and stronger, always stronger. We are young, and this, what you build, will be the foundation of the tower of your life. Choose your stones wisely.

Remember to laugh. Laugh often, laugh loud and clear, feel your laugh in your lungs and your belly. Don’t forget to cry. Cry when you’re sad. Cry when something moves you. Cry during sad movies, cry with laughter too. Tears are as human as laughter, and both should flow strong like rivers out of you.

Above all, remember that you need to ask. Question everything. Read so that you can ask more questions. Be kind to people. Be kind to yourself. Fall in love. Have a hobby. Learn a language. Sing loud and off-key. Listen to good music, watch good plays. Watch the news. Don’t mess with Vandana ma’am or Ruchika ma’am.

Find what makes your heart beat faster and your mind move like quicksilver, and go do it. Make no apologies for any of it- loving, laughing, and being human. Least of all that. Look people in the eye, and talk to them, not at them. Dance even if you don’t know how. Get on the wrong bus and get off at the wrong stop, and ask people where to go. Travel alone. Travel in a group. Take photographs. Throw away your camera and make memories.

Hold your friends close, give your heart and mind and time freely, and love yourself with all your heart.

I sound so old, but I feel marvellously young. This thing doesn’t feel anything like an ending. Of course, it’s not a beginning either. I don’t feel tentative or nostalgic, though maybe that will change in the next month (Unlikely. Exams leave very little time for quiet nostalgia, the only kind that works for me because it lends itself quite easily to poetry. History exams have nothing to do with quiet, nostalgia, or poetry).

But, back to the point- this is a fresh ending, one I haven’t read before. College usually ends, in the books I’ve read, with a cocktail of euphoria, heartbreak, regret, and achievement, salt-laced with tears. Promises to remain in touch, to remain in memories and in hearts, and to meet as often as possible. How many of those will be kept, I wonder, and how many will flutter to the ground like glinting gust?

Does it matter? At that moment, I loved you. I cared about you enough to say I wanted to stay in touch. Is the fleeting moment less valuable than the broad expanse of time? Stupid, philosophical questions that matter even less than the promises that- let’s face it- we’re none of us going to keep.

It’s a new ending, a different end to a unique story that all of us have written, in solitude and together. It has been a terribly good one. I hope the next one is too.

Keep Calm and Make History.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Madwoman

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On my last night in school, I went down to the basketball court and lay on my back at the very centre. The stars were very clear. It was summer, a warm night, and with the heat in the air, the chill of the concrete, and the clear so clear stars, it was a curious ten minutes. Ten minutes of heavy breathing, and the idea of a self that rises from the core into forever.

I saw a half-naked man lying at the centre of a golchakkar (roundabout) near the Ministry of External Affairs. It was a makeshift golchakkar, just orange traffic cones placed in a circle at the crossing. It was around a quarter to six in the evening.

He was just lying there, playing with a water bottle. I don’t remember if there was water in the bottle or not; he was just moving it up and down right above his face. I wondered what he could see in the bottle that we couldn’t have, the people who sped by him ensconced in cars, sparing him glances. Some are amused, some are flummoxed, some are innocently disgusted, but they are glances only, thrown like spare change that we don’t want to be caught giving.

I bleed into becoming that man. I remember. My clothes disappear, as do my breasts, and I gaze up into a rapidly dimming winter sky. I’m still me, whoever that may be. I remember. Flat on my back, no water bottle in sight. I’m looking for stars and clear black sky; I can hear cars, and although I’m aware of the people, speeding by and throwing me glances, they don’t really seem human, and their thrown alms of attention float to the road like the down feathers pigeons shed.

There’s a water bottle now though, so I suppose I must seem like that man to the faceless me that speeds by in one of the cars. Half-naked, and here’s a water  bottle. I move it to and fro in my hands, peering in.

It’s clear, and it sparkles. It moves around, sloshes around, and it looks like starlight that’s been forced into a canister, except that I can tell what it is. Stars made liquid, the sun and moon melted, a universe that’s folded in on itself and chosen this particular water bottle to drip into. A condensed swirl of perhaps a million galaxies and light-years of space, all sloshing around in here, pooled at the bottom of a madman’s water bottle. For who else would have eyes to see a universe, but the utterly mad?

I bleed back into mind, I see my breasts rising again like newborn mountains; once more, I’m girl and woman, with the remnants of sanity lying around my mind like so much construction waste dotting the landscape of school. Under my back is a mattress- no concrete or tar- and a ceiling stares blindly back rather than take my rising self like stars would.

I’m sane, you see, just a little closer to it than I’ve been all night, and it’s almost morning now.

Bitter Seeds

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Write about it, they say. So I will.

Maybe I’ll write, now, about the humiliation. About the jolt, the numbness that was shock’, the confusion; maybe even about that kernel of sadness that has since rotted and turned bitter. Would you like to hear about that?

Were you afraid? I wonder if you were; if you knew me, you would have been. I love hard and fast and ferociously. It could well have been forever. Did that scare you?

I could have loved you, given time. Could have liked you in a few weeks. How close I was, teetering on the cusp of affection, dipping a toe in occasionally, but still playing at my self-preserving balancing act; wanting not to fall, but consciously to step down into one side or another. How far you were, and I thought you were close, as close as I was. How prettily you played it- the game and me both, and no rules but your own.

A game with no rules and no stakes, and no end except when you wanted out.

Months have gone by, and I have yet to forget. No broken heart for me to mend, no wounds to lick, no tears to cry and dry and brush off my pillows. No blood. No foul, it stands to reason, but that’s not on. That’s not the way I think, the way I play.

I cry foul, and that’s my rule. No stakes, again, and maybe not even a game. But I still cry foul, and I won’t forget.

It’s hard to let go and find something that might ease the bitter seed inside me that you planted, so that it doesn’t grow into anger. Harder still to find something to sweeten it. It could so easily turn to hatred. I wonder what my hatred would do to you.

Better to fear what it might do to me. Yet I want it sometimes, to hate you. The burn. The ash. The end it brings.

Emotion is a hurricane. I wonder if you ever suspect how much I struggle not to let it rise up and wash you away.

Would it take the rot as well? Perhaps; and perhaps it might take me whole.

How strange it is, though, that there are no regrets. No “I wish” or “If only”.

Sometimes I laugh quietly- at you, at her, at myself. So much to laugh about, if only because I’d rather not cry.

When seen through the shimmer that mists a happy girl’s eyes, you were rather lovely. But what would I give to see you like that forever- to be that girl again? Not much, I suspect. Then again, it doesn’t matter, does it?

Not to you; not to me; not to all else, the infinite number of things that actually do matter.

And one day I’ll dig here again, and there’ll be no seed to find.

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.

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.