My business is to create

“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s,

I will not reason or compare, my business is to create”

– William Blake

I was 13 when this quote first entered my life, and since then it has, time and again, given meaning to me in my darkest moments. At 13, with this quote, I was first introduced to this “other world”. In between my grief of losing a member of my family, and the pain of surviving in a family that was acutely in pain, this quote and the world around these words gave me hope. In Prithvi Cafe on those humid mornings and scorching afternoons, perhaps I glimpse a truth that I have tried to hold on to all these years. Those moments showed me that it was possible to relate to others deeply, that it was possible to fall in love and have others fall in love with you – with all the madness that it means. It showed me what collective energy looked and felt like, showed me that others were in pain too, and all of us were suffering together. Writing and theatre showed me that there is a way in which to truly and vulnerably express that suffering – to share it with the world, to listen when others share, to empathise with them, and hold their hands because sometimes thats all we can do.

All these years, I sought that energy again, and if I think about it like that – it makes sense that I have landed up where I did. Over the past few years, I had forgotten what it means to not “reason or compare”, and that made me suffer deeply. I judged myself for not having paid enough attention to my career, I compared with others and convinced myself that I had no skills to offer to the world, at times I tried to reason that this way of living was somehow “better” than others, in an attempt to understand why I have landed up where I have and to not feel it like a failure. In a system where friends find that their work and efforts and skills find gratification in the form of recognition and success and money, to have none of these made me feel like I had failed. Instead of continuing to have faith that “my business is to create”, I allowed myself to be “enslaved by another man’s (system)”.

I know how much I missed it – this energy of “creating”. I was at a tribal museum in Bhopal, surrounded by the beautiful and vulnerable and universal energy that I saw in everything they created – from their tools, to their shrines, to their homes, to their art. In that moment, I longed so deeply for that energy – to be one with the universe of creation. I felt jealous of these people who lived in a system in which this energy was available to them to tap into in every little thing they did with their day – whether they created food from the soil, or created art from stone, or created homes from clay. I felt angry and “enslaved” in this system, the one where I don’t create at all. Where all my work is – is managing other people, coordinating with other people, talking to other people, engaging with other people. Perhaps there are possibilities to create in this way too but they just weren’t coming to me.

Just a few days before this trip to Bhopal, we had a three day workshop within Nirantar. I was dreading this workshop with every cell in my body. At the time the space in Nirantar was alienating, excluding, hostile and made me anxious to be in it from a mile. But it was also the time that I had made a promise to myself, this is where I will be. Despite every reason and incentive to bail, to abandon ship and start over, there was a part of me that kept me rooted right here, to this place. Even on the worst day, I convinced myself I will try and do the best I can in the space that I have available, but that I will discipline myself into coming to this space, and be vulnerable to this space. During this workshop, I suddenly remembered being told about zentangles – this method of creating a particular kind of art – that is rooted as much in creativity as it is in discipline. Maybe all art forms are, come to think of it, but this one is explicitly so. The moment I started to feel anxious in the workshop, I reached out to a sketch pen and started drawing zentangle after zentangle. Everyone noticed what I was doing, they asked me, they were even perhaps irritated that I was doing this but I didn’t feel at all apologetic. I knew that I had to do this, and when I did, something happened. The negative anxious energy in me started to come out in a positive, creative and celebratory form. Maybe its as Einstien discovered, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another”. Slowly, I started to feel the difference in me. The space and the people around whom I couldn’t stand to be, suddenly I felt love for them, and I felt their acceptance of me. I felt like I could come to be in that space, and that space will come to have me.

This happened, and then the tribal museum the weekend after. I started to slowly become convinced of this lose idea that I was grappling with – that there is something about creative energy that has the potential to help us be and stay much more conscious of the world in and around us, and perhaps even transform it as we go along.

Create what? The task I have unwittingly committed to is a massive one. “Create a system” – a feminist system -“or be enslaved by another man’s” – yes the writing is on the wall. But how does one create a feminist system? When I was younger (can’t believe thats the term I use for when I was 18, but its true). I used to think creating a system meant creating a macro system. When I consumed all that delicious Marxism, and Leftist Idealism, I just knew that until the macro doesn’t change, the micro won’t either. When I went to a school for tribal children after my undergraduate, and took on the task of building thematic curriculum with them based on a Freirian pedagogy, I was disgusted with my work. I thought so little of it, thought it was wishy washy. I wanted to do what other friends were doing “research”, “policy” – big fat changes for adult people. What was this “working with children” thing anyway, so worthless. I wanted there to be agrarian reforms and economic reforms and healthcare reforms and environmental reforms – all at once – radically. I guess, I believed then that the only way to create a system is to destroy the other one, the one that exists.

At that time, I didn’t think much of myself as a “woman” or a “feminist”. I had a long journey to make from that moment on till the moment I would encounter Ursula, and she would help me make sense of this dilemma. So what is a system, UKL would ask me, I think, if we sat and spoke. Is this system a Utopia? What kind of utopia? And aren’t all utopia’s, perhaps by virtue of being “static”, a man’s system that can enslave all else in them? But UKL gives me an alternative too – a deeper, more spiritual alternative, rooted in a way of understanding the world that we have come to disregard in this current “system”.

“Every eutopia contains a dystopia, every dystopia contains a eutopia.

YinYang

In the Yang-Yin symbol each half contains within it a portion of the other, signifying their complete interdependence and continual intermutability. The figure is static, but each half contains the seed of transformation. The symbol represents not a stasis but a process.

It may be useful to think of utopia in terms of this long-lived Chinese symbol, particularly if one is willing to forego the usual masculist assumption that yang is superior to yin, and instead consider the interdependence and intermutability of the two as the essential feature of the symbol.

Yang is male, bright, dry, hard, active, penetrating. Yin is female, dark, wet, easy, receptive, containing. Yang is control, Yin acceptance. They are great and equal powers; neither can exist alone, and each is always in process of becoming the other.”

-Ursula K le Guin

So perhaps that means that all that is creative is perhaps also destructive? That in creating a new system, bit by bit, you’re also destroying an older one? This feels much more approachable, and echoes much more the feelings in my heart.

Maybe what this also means is that what is destructive is also creative? I think I understand that too, which brings me to the final section of my stream of consciousness.

Its difficult to write about this and I don’t know where to start. So maybe I will start by introducing C again. C is, without doubt, my soulmate and my home. We met each other when we were 15-16, and soon after, we told each other that we were in love with each other. We were young and we didn’t know what these words really meant, I on my part was gripped by fear – I didn’t know what I wanted from my life, and to think that I was in love with this person and to know that I could see myself spending the rest of my life with him is a scary thought when you’re 16. I know he felt the same way, and I know he was afraid too. For many years – we danced around each other – experimenting with the boundaries of friendship. Together we created a language in which we could speak of all that made us feel vulnerable, anxious, afraid and human. Together we treaded the tightrope of intimacy, discovering each others bodies along with each other’s souls. The first six years that we knew each other, maybe we were in a “yin” kind of space. A space that was dark (yes without doubt), easy (in parts and moments, differently for the both of us), and most importantly of acceptance – of each other – as we were, and of the nature of our relationship – as it unfolded. 6  years later, we found ourselves in a different space. We chose to “penetrate” a certain boundary, we chose to be together, as a couple. Those years, by virtue of this commitment – were the “yang” years. These years were active in that we made an effort to be with each other, to fight through our differences. They were penetrating in that we dug into each other’s beings, we unearthed the very best and the very worst in each other. They were bright, in the moments of our togetherness, in the moments of our joy, in the moments in which we laughed together and the moments in which we cried together. But these years were also years of control – over each other, over ourselves in order to be with each other, over circumstances so that they may lead us to each other. The “yang” phase started almost exactly 6 years after the “yin” one, and almost exactly 6 years after that, we found within ourselves, the seed to destroy what we had created.

Its not easy to let go of something you have created with such love, such intensity, such investment, and yet, having faith in the process of “creating”, it felt like the right thing to do and both of us chose to walk back into friendship, into our own darkness, and into its acceptance. In destroying the way our relationship and we in it, have existed so far, are we also creating another way to be? A system that does not enslave one another? I really hope so.

What this phase has done for me, however, is that it has also simultaneously destroyed many of the assumptions about myself that I held close. It has destroyed in me any ‘utopias’ I may have had about how things should be, any ‘expectations’ about how I and others ought to be with each other. This destruction has helped me plunge into my own darkness -the “yin” energy – the one that according to UKL – is dark, wet, easy, receptive, accepting, and above all – female. Slowly it starts to feel like the most natural next step.

Inside of my darkness, among all other things, I have confronted another idea of ‘utopia’ that I had come to believe all these years. That it is not, as UKL identifies, “located not in the afterlife but just off the map, across the ocean, over the mountains, in the future, on another planet, a liveable yet unattainable elsewhere.” If utopia is a process, then its also a process that must happen here and now, in the present. If utopia is a process, then maybe it must transform the past, rather than abandon and distance from it.

All my life, I have run towards a utopia (perhaps, or definitely according to my dad). I can’t grudge myself for having run, because if I had not run far, I would not have found myself where I am now – where I am now which makes perfect sense because of what I seem to have been seeking since 13. But running towards this utopia has led me to realise that utopia is a process, has led me to realise it is both acceptance and control, that it is both creative and destructive. Coming to this realisation is deeply settling. It makes me stop running and learn to stand and breathe. It makes me need to stop and create, because perhaps you can’t create when you’re running. And most importantly, it makes me hopeful, that there is another way of being with my past, one that is accepting, and maybe some day, one that is healing.

A fortune teller once told my mother – that I will never live in Mumbai (the city of my birth and my childhood), and that I will most likely divorce – after marrying – the person that I love. It seems he also said that this “divorce” will be for the best for both of them. Here I am, in New Delhi, with a soul mate who is my best friend, and it feels like destiny has come to pass. Maybe this journey was written in my stars all along? And where do we go from here?

My father always asks this question, perhaps its pertinent here – “what is my role in all of this? am I only playing out my destiny? or do my actions have impact the direction my life will take?” To this, my mother always says that “Your destiny has brought you to this moment, your actions define where you will go next”. Is it that hers is an answer of acceptance and his of the need for control? Or is it that his is the question of acceptance, and hers is an answer of control? Maybe this is the yin-yang relationship I have grown up with, in which it is never really clear which one is the masculine and which one is the feminine – that they become each other interchangably – and their relationship signifies their interdependence and continual intermutability.

So here we are. And where are we going?

If I already had the answer to that question, all this would be pointless.

All I have are desires, hopes, dreams intertwined with fears, shame and low self worth. Is it that I want to control destiny, lead it to where I want it to go? Or is it that I want to accept destiny, even when it means something deeply painful? Or is it, as Thich Nhat Hahn says, that we need to “We accept others (or in my case destiny) as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”?

As I complete this sentence, the thunder echoes around me and I am reminded of monstrous rainy nights in Mumbai, in my home, with my home, and all I can do now is have faith that one day I will come home to myself.

 

 

 

In love?

Remember the time you first felt it? The little funny feeling in your stomach, the little hazy feeling in your head, and that little place in your mind that was far away from reality, where the world was exactly the imperfect and beautiful place you wanted it to be.

It was the place, where it was safe to be so submissive, so not in control of yourself, that a look from across the classroom could make you melt to the floor, and that was alright. It was that place where you could shamelessly desire to spend every moment of your day with the other person, imagining how incapacitated you would be at hiding your joy if you bumped into them unexpectedly on the road. It was that place where you were vulnerable to reading into the slightest gesture, affectionate or hurtful, and obsess over it for an infinitely long period of time. It was the place that you ran to every free second you got. When you were around people, you had a consistent smile on your face to buy time in this place and avoid being dragged into conversation.

You thought this place was so private, so unique to your being and so intensely yours, that surely, no one else has ever felt this. You thought that if anyone else knew this place existed, they wouldn’t go about their days doing what they do, living as they live, being as they are. Surely, knowing that this place exists had magical transcendent powers.

And then the vase fell from the table and crashed on the floor, glass scattered and water spattered everywhere. Someone recognised your smile, said they knew it all too well, knew it was a passing phase and that you would get over it. In one swift move, the doors to this place slammed shut on your face, and you were left outside in the cold, in the big bad world, all alone.

Of course, you got over it. You toughened up to the world outside, you found strategies to cope, to pretend that this is the only world that existed, this other place was a juvenile creation of your imagination, it was fiction, a thing of books and films. You went so far as to smirk, or even blatantly laugh at others who found the place after you, breaking something in their hearts and adding an extra lock to your own slammed shut door.

Then one day, suddenly you woke up to find the door wide open. The sun felt brighter and the wind cooler and the world went about its business without bothering you, without shaking you out of the euphoria you felt when you realised you were standing at the door with someone, someone special. You held hands and walked into this place together, for the first time you allowed someone into this private,  intimate world. You allowed this person to mark their territory in your space, in your heart and mind and spirit, which led to a feeling so intense, so scary, so huge that you knew you had not felt this before.

You panicked. Ran amuck. Raised hell. Everything, anything to not feel/be in this place again. No! You know how this story ends, its too painful to go through again and again and again. Theres hurt and bloodshed and mess and noise. NO! This must end. “Go! Get out!”, you scream to the other person. “This was a mistake, I’m sorry, just please leave!”

Just like that, the door shuts again, and you’re too afraid to visit it, for weeks and months, maybe even years, you pass by that door and look the other way. You pretend theres nothing on the other side, or that its just a part of the wall, painted differently. Yet, as you go through your days, jaded and disillusioned, someone somewhere makes sounds in your heart, catches you unaware, off guard.

Now imagine living in this place. Physically building this place, with your own hands, with others, one brick at a time. Now imagine realising that the place is not yours alone, its not a private space but the most public one there is. Now imagine understanding that this is not only a personal space but a deeply political one. Imagine knowing that its worth fighting for. Imagine figuring out that the only way to open your door and keep it that way, is to open someone else’s.

Imagine reclaiming “love” from hallmark and rom-coms, from running around trees and choreographed dances. Imagine realising that to be in love is the most intensely bittersweet experience in your life, with pain that tears through your rib cage and joy that explodes in your lungs. Imagine sharing this, not with one, but with many. So many, so differently, so intensely.

And between the reality of closed doors and aspirations of open spaces is a struggle that defines the purpose of your life. And then you realise, that you were right, that if people truly knew this feeling, you would not exist as they do now.

Unworthy Mothers

My generation of girls was born to unworthy mothers. 
These mothers, women, artists, scientists, feminists,
Almost as human as men.
These women, fools, that loved,found strength in love, 
Not quite the same thing as winning bread. 
These women that were unguarded to everyone but themselves,
Willingly exchanging desires for the fruitless whims of others.
Repeatedly, ceaselessly, thanklessly,
Giving their self, part by part, whole by whole. 

What did these women know about the testosterone driven pleasures,
of power and wealth.
How did this dull in the face of their progesterone driven desires, 
of caring and nurturing?
Did they understand that it takes the fortress of masculine egos,
to be a full human?
No, of course motherhood was not enough.
A self sacrificing person is no person at all. 

These women, our mothers, at the threshold of person-hood,
denied to their mothers and the mothers before them,
turned it away. 
They turned it away because who did they think they were,
to deserve person-hood in the first place. 
To be treated equally is scary, it means accepting that you deserve it.
To accept that you are worthy.

Its not what mothers tell us that sticks with us,
Its what they do, and who they are,
Which stays, like data in our blood.
And while our mothers and their naive faith,
Their undying love of us, our beings and person-hood,
Almost had us believe we were worthy of everything,
When the final moment arrived,to measure up to our selves,
We relied instantly on the data in our veins,
And found that we aren't worthy at all,
Because our mothers hardly believed they were. 



If I could be honest

If I could be honest,
I would tell you I was asleep,
This whole time that you knew me.
If I could be honest,
All this while that you thought I knew,
It was all a lie I said to you,
To me.
If I could be honest,
I would tell you that,
I fear that you see through me.
If I could be honest,
I would let you see me,
For not being any of what I claim to be.
If I could be honest,
I would stumble all over you,
Speak to you in broken languages and strange accents.
If I could be honest,
I would show you how little I really know,
How little I really am,
How small I really am.
If I could be honest,
I would introduce you, to every demon I've tried to fight.
And when you met them, I would honestly tell you,
Yep! That's a demon, alright!
And for a while I would sit with it,
Have a beer for you to see,
Just how comfortable with my demon, I pretend to be.

But if I could be honest,
then once the beer was done,
I would put my hand on the table,
And hold the demon's,
And for the Nth time this week,
I would wrestle with them in a game of mercy,
Right till I was on my knee.
And if I could be honest,
then when I lose,
I would accept defeat and let you know,
That I will be back for more,
tomorrow.

Patching Up With Words

Words and I go way back. Back to when they were still just only in my head. Long endless sentences creating one story after another around and about me to keep me entertained, occupied. Words was my companion, my partner in crime, my love. Words and I, we saw it all together. First crushes and ensuing heartbreaks. Best friends lost and found. Alternative worlds discovered and aspired worlds experimented.  So long as we had each other, we needed no one. Not legs, not stomach.

Like all long term relationships, Words and my affair also waxed and waned. Moments of intense togetherness, discovery, emotion followed by moments of silence and separation. When Words and I were with other people, we didn’t need their bodies to make love to them. Their ideas were enough, their voice was enough. Words took care of the rest. The physicality of being was lost on Words. For them, the body was a distraction, an unnecessary one.

My recent falling out with Words, though, was not a part of the normal ebb and flow of our relationship. My recent falling out with Words came from a sense of betrayal, of being lied to, of feeling hostage to and powerless. You see, Words was all I consumed. I devoured them and on their part, they adapted to my every need, my every taste, my every whim and desire. Words would wear the Marxist hat or don the feminist robes or slide comfortably into fictional slacks.  Words and I needed each other so much, that we did everything to never let the other feel, or realise, they were not enough.

This whole time, the body, my own, other people’s, and just the materiality of the world we live in, was in the other room having a party. So many were invited to this party, so many came to this party. Everyone that came shared their common physicality – happy in the shared knowledge that they touched and were touched by the same things. This party was huge. Everyone was there and neither Words nor I found it worth our time. We went there, and smiled and waved at the others while we sat around in a corner, until we slyly slid away, back to reminding ourselves that the body was just a distraction. Words and I even organised our own little parties, with others who were like us. These usually looked very different. The only physicality that mattered in these was usually the form and frequency of caffeinated drinks.

Words and I were so close. Too close if you ask me. Words knew exactly what hurt, exactly what caused pain, exactly when to speak and exactly what to say. And Words was everywhere, in every space whether physical or mental or emotional or spiritual. I couldn’t understand if there was any difference – what if Words and I are the same person. I am all that Words is, and they are all that I am. Through all of this my body had had enough. My body had endured pain, neglect, hurt, solitude and shame at the hands of Words and now it was not going to sit there quietly.

When Body first started speaking, it was like a baby that shrieked when it was hungry, or wet, or cold or scared. It was always a shriek and you had to pay real careful attention to understand what the shriek was about. Unlike Words, it didn’t spell things out, it only made itself heard, made its presence felt. Words didn’t know what to do. Threatened with divided attention, Words made Body shriek more. Like an older child does to the younger new born, a sado-masochistic pleasure so instinctual no one understands it.

I reluctantly started tending to Body, still hoping to be done with it quickly so I could and go back to Words. Slowly though, I started to discover things with body that I had never experienced before. Body made me aware of the wind on my skin, of the dancing shadows of the leaves on the ground, of the dull red colour of brick. Body helped me find ‘things’ to love. Not in the way the words and I had always hated – you know. Not in the way of shiny purses and gameboys. It was more everyday than that. It was just the heightened awareness of the little purple wildflower along the path. An awareness of love, and happiness, and calm.

But also panic! I’m 25 years old! Why is this the first time I’m experiencing all this?! I summoned Words and I was furious. I demanded answers. Words had none. They hinted to when we had both decided that Body was a bother. Like a possessive best friend, they argued that we had everything we needed just the both of us, that Body was lying, seeking attention. I was not convinced. I shut Words out. Even though Words never left, they were no longer a part of everything. Every time Body shrieked, I shut the door before words could enter and distract me, or make it worse.

Words’ other lies crumbled too. The fact that they only spoke, mostly, in English. That they were inaccessible by so many people all over the world. People that I cared about, people that I wanted in my life. Body spoke a different language, so it seemed to communicate more unanimously. It wasn’t always coherent, but then, neither was the world. Words’ were a reminder of privilege, Body was a reminder of the opposite. Body was the reminder of shame. Shame, all consuming. Body and I battle with shame constantly. Body demands to feel it, I, reeling and tired and devastated, try to distract Body with a colourful toy. But through all of it, Body has my utmost attention.

Words lurks around the corner, joining me from time to time for a caffeinated drink. Words is careful when it speaks now, no longer changing dresses in youthful enthusiasm. Words has now tried to don a more sombre attire, its called Truth, Words’ tells me, its the latest fashion. Words is right. Even when it hurts, the truth will always be one that Words and I have shared. We might give up our childish game and invite Body to the party, or participate more enthusiastically in Body’s noisy gatherings, but Words will always be my companion, my partner in crime, my love.

Truth

“If I had a life ahead of me – I who am about to die – I would spend it telling this story, without ever stopping, a thousand times, so as to understand why truth gives itself over only to horror, and to arrive at it we have had to pass through this inferno, to see it we have had to destroy one another, to have it we have had to become ferocious beasts, to flush it out we have had to rack ourselves with pain. And to be true men we have had to die. Why? Why do things become true only in the grip of desperation? Who has turned the world around this way, so that the truth must be on the dark side, and the repulsive swamp of forsaken humanity is the only loathsome earth in which there grows the only thing that is not a lie? And in the end: What truth can this be, that stinks of corspes, and flourishes in blood, feeds on pain, and lives where man humiliates himself, and triumphs where man rots? Whose truth is this? Is this a truth for us? Back ashore, during those winters, I use to imagine a truth that was tranquility, womb, alleviation, mercy and sweetness.”

“This is what the womb of the sea has taught me. Those who have seen the truth will always be inconsolable. Only he who has never been in danger is really saved.”

“And what we have seen will remain in our eyes, what we have done will remain on our hands, what we have felt will remain in our souls. And forever, we who have known the truth, forever, we the children of horror, forever, we the veterans of the womb of the sea, forever, we the wise and the sagacious, forever – we shall be inconsolable. Inconsolable. Inconsolable”.

“A marvellous feeling. As when destiny finally shows its hand, and becomes a clear path, and an unequivocal trail, and a certain direction. The interminable moment of drawing near. That coming close. One would like it never to stop. The gesture of giving oneself over to destiny. Now that is an emotion. With no more dilemmas, no more untruths. Knowing where it lies. And attaining it. Whatever it may be, destiny.”

(Ocean Sea, Alessandro Baricco)

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

She would look at herself. At her face, her pimples, zooming in on the scars they left when she scratched them. Her skin was far from perfect. It was sticky, oily, uneven. It was hairy and dark. Her lips were too thick. And her eyes, my god her eyes. These massive pockets of white sunk insides the black holes in her face, that opened up wide, too wide. When she was angry, they would get big, as would they when she was happy or excited. Her only path to normal eyes, was to be perfectly emotionless. Still.

She smeared her eyes with black Kohl. Her mother said that made her eyes look like a cat’s. Others said it made her eyes look even bigger. In her heart, she knew, she put Kohl to draw a boundary around her eyes. To define that they start here, and end here. That it is only within these parameters that they can exist, emote, be seen. And even the Kohl would smear, overflow from her eyes when she blinked, making her dark circles darker.

She wore it, everyday. It was the only way her face was acceptable to her. It was her security blanket, a mask that wouldn’t let someone look into her. When the ophthalmologist told her, years later, that she would need glasses to wear everyday, she could’ve kissed him if it wasn’t so inappropriate. Instead she made a sullen face because her mother stood next to her, feeling her daughter’s dwindling eyesight as a personal failure, and immediately blaming it on food habits and staring at the computer screen too long, and reading in dim lighting.

The glasses she got had a thick black frame, boxing her eyes in the middle. It did what the Kohl was meant to, and added another barrier between the person in front of her and the person inside her. Yet she hated the concept of sunglasses, of not being seen at all.

She was fifteen, maybe, when she first got her eyebrows shaped. A few years later, they started taking her moustache off. They called it “upper lip” euphemistically. The first time she did it, it was purely out of curiosity. She had seen it being done to a lot of aunts and older women and she was fascinated at the process of a white thread dancing on one’s face, leaving eyebrows looking well rounded, and perfectly shaped. When these aunts would let out slight screams of pain, she wondered how something as soft as a white thread could ever cause any pain.

The first time she did it, the boys in her school looked at her weirdly. They made fun of how her eyebrows danced to her every emotion. Her best friends were fascinated that in moments of doubt and mistrust, she involuntarily raised one eyebrow. It wasn’t the norm for girls in her class to have their eyebrows shaped, and so she put all this unnecessary attention and the shame it brought away in some corner. She would smile and look away, or ask, often sounding very agitated, what the fuss was all about and why they couldn’t just get on with life.

Then it seemed to become a habit, when she entered high-school. Whenever the ‘dehairing’ lady came over, it became part of the package. A monthly quota of physical pain that had to be endured. Until, it didn’t have to be endured anymore. Until she decided it wasn’t worth it.

She walked around high-school proactively wearing all things “unattractive”. When someone asked, she said confidently, that if someone decided to like her, it would be because of the person she is, and not how she looked. This made her popular with the guys, mostly because she didn’t find any common thread on which to speak to the girls in her class, who carried substantial quantities of make up in their bags and touched up their lipgloss between classes. The boys mostly thought she was one of them. They would joke about whose leg hair was longer, and she often took pride in the fact that it was hers. Every time they mocked her, she asked them if they’d rather have her touch up her lipgloss, and that settled the conversation. Had she known this was misogynistic? Was it?

When she had dressed up in a black dress and heels for prom, the now-love-of-her-life, then-prom-date looked behind her and asked what ‘this person’ had done to his date, and when he fretted about how beautiful she looked all night, it annoyed her to no end, a feeling that stayed with her for days after.

In the years to follow, she would chop of her hair to a ‘boy cut’, pierce her nose, continue wearing copious amounts of Kohl. She would dump the shirts and t-shirts for Kurtas, as a rebellion against all things “western”, as a way to find and keep her roots. She would remain completely alien to the idea of skirts and dresses and wear shorts only at home when sleeping. She felt complete, in her own skin, in her person.

Except, he hated the nose ring. He hated the short hair too. He tolerated the Kohl, but often suggested she use it less, so that it won’t smear, so that it will be a thin perfect line under her eye. He wasn’t a particular fan of the kurtas, but he noticed when she teamed that up with a matching chudidar, dupatta and earrings.

He was never one for grand expressions of likes and dislikes, or anything else for that matter. Everything with him was about picking up on the subtle hints, a smile, a nod, a cringe, a frown. Things didn’t need to be spoken about or explained. There wasn’t room for that kind of dialogue. It was just as it was. Take it or leave it.

She decided to take it. Just before his visits, she would make sure she “dehaired”. She would spend a few moments more on dressing up, wear the one skirt she owned. It seemed okay, because in a week or three, he would be gone again, and she could go back to not caring.

Then, suddenly, there was an addition to their dynamic. A small black box with lenses that divided them into 2, the seer and the seen. In the click of a button, a moment could be frozen in time, a version of her could be frozen in time. This version would normally have changed from one minute to the next, and would only be complete in a culmination of moments. Yet, what would be remembered of her was in that one moment.  A moment of excitement, one she would like to remember fondly because of the way she felt, would be captured as one where her eyes took up half her face, where her lips made some convoluted shape, and her scars were all too evident. A moment of complete submission, of posing for the camera, of accepting to look a certain way for someone else, and of complete alienation from a part of her own past, could be captured as something beautiful, something that he will admire, something that he will die to share with the world. When others would compliment it, he would bloat with pride, the pretty thing in the picture is his.

If she travelled alone, she would carry a small backpack, something kids would take for an overnight stay at a friend’s house. Thats all she needed. Just enough cloth to cover her body, and kohl. On her travels with him, this backpack would make way for a bag, with clothes that were beyond utilitarian, that served some aesthetic purpose. Right in that moment, she would surrender her freedom to jump of a train when it halted between stations because it was easier to reach her destination. She would surrender her freedom to get on a crowded local bus, and settle for a private taxi. She would surrender the illusion of classlessness that she liked so much to create for herself, and accept her reality, of being able to afford clothing for aesthetic purposes. She would accept that she is rich enough to own accessories of no monetary or security value. She would accept that she is rich enough to not have to worry about the cost of private transport, to ferry her additional baggage.

Instead of spending time romanticising stories of passing landscapes as seen from inside a fast moving train, or the infinite mental images of small fascinating things that would dot the roads, she would imagine what she would wear, how her boots would look with her skirt, and how she needed a belt to go with it. These thoughts were detailed too, except that the focused on details she had spent all her life believing and telling herself, were not important.

The camera brought along with it many feelings, of excitement, to be seen and captured in the perfect image of herself, of fear of the moments of imperfection, and of all the lies and deceit of the image because it would tell no honest or complete story of her. It would forever after be associated to her, used as a symbol of her, a simili, and she would have to live with having been that person in that moment for the rest of her life. To save herself from that, she will pretend that she is everything she wants to be seen as, hiding everything she is but would rather not show. She will pretend that she doesn’t care when her insides are burning. She will pretend that she can look away rather than fight. She will worry when she’s laughing too loud, when she’s carefree, when she’s happy, because thats not who she is supposed to be. When she poses in front of the lens, her smile will hide her feeling of betraying herself, and when she is speaking about something that she is deeply passionate about, and he is seeing it from the other side of his camera, she will learn to accept that he will not engage with her on her passion, because his is very different from hers. She will learn that when she looks away because she is upset, he will see it as a moment to capture, rather than a moment to support and hug. He will be too busy seeing and capturing someone else feel a certain way to feel it himself. And when that moment has passed and they have both accepted that neither understand how the other feels and why, they will settle in the silence they both know so well.