A very private moment in a very public place

Have you ever had that moment? Standing still in the middle of Bombay’s VT at rush hour, as people stream past you, thinking of something that seems terribly important? Sitting on a cement bench in the CP Inner Circle in Delhi, as it slowly comes to life in the morning, sipping chai and reading Said’s Reflections on Exile? In Hyderabad’s Birla Mandir on a Saturday evening, sitting on the steps watching the lights come on in the city and thinking of someone?

I’ve needed that moment, these past few days. A moment alone with my fear, with my hope. A moment to realise what has happened to my life. To feel the despair while its strands slipped from my hands , as if in slow motion. To take a deep breath, find the resolve to bend and grasp as many of them as I can before they all fall away. Then I know I can straighten up again, and look for the rest.

I’ve needed that moment, and instead I’ve been sitting on a hospital bed, convincing scores of concerned people that I am perfectly alright. I’ve needed that moment, because I lay on that bed, with no control over, no consciousness of, the convoluted dance my body was playing. I needed it, and instead I listened to well-meaning advice about eating properly, about not living alone, about not staying out late at night, about sleeping well.

I needed it, but I refused to take it for fear my mind would give out on me again.

It’s now, with my head still slightly woozy from all the drugs in my body, sitting in front of my laptop, that I’ve found my public space, my private moment. And as usual, strange, disconnected thoughts flit into my head. I think of Orpheus and how perceptive it was of him to pick up on my need for control. I think of passes to a concert that I promised to someone and can no longer deliver. I think of a bike ride down Necklace Road as the lights came up in the city, sitting behind my scrawny BikerBoy; a ride from the Uni through the beautiful cantonment on BikerGirl’s little scooterette: rides I cannot have again for a long, long time. I think of three pairs hands hovering close to my back while I sit up and dust myself off.

I think of all these things in my private moment; and as I stand in VT, as I sit on the bench, as I watch the city, as I write, I turn off comments on this post.

Today

Clouds. Grey, heavy with rain, off to the left. Thick and white overhead. And some wispy, hardly there, floating across the patches of blue.

Sun. Patches of bright light, warmth. Hide and seek. Never completely gone, the light promising return.

Wind. Roaring through trees, corridors. Dropping to a gentle breeze, teasing. Playing with clothes, hair. Fighting clothes, hair.

Trees. Graceful. Fragrant. Unnoticeable, un-ignorable. Noisy with birds, rustling leaves. Green.

People. Ignoring all of this, working steadily away.

Nightmares

of Rahul Bose dressed as a pirate inspire this post. If I get it out of my system, it might stop plaguing me!

Two movies last week – Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pyaar ke Side Effects.

Pirates was great fun. Johnny Depp as Cap’n Sparrow is Cap’n Sparrow, of course. The movie’s hilarious. Even Orlando Bloom is more likeable than in the first movie. There’s a wafer-thin plot, which leaves us dangling till the next one for the ending, and the story takes inordinately long to unfold (I couldn’t tell what was happening till the second half began), but as long as I can watch Jack Sparrow while I wait, I don’t mind. Watch out for the fight in the giant water wheel – I nearly fell off my chair laughing. All in all, really funny in the slapstick, slapdash way we expect of the Cap’n (and if you don’t like him, don’t watch it.)

PKSE on the other hand, just don’t watch. We actually walked out halfway through the second half. It started promisingly enough – witty, fun, wisecracking its way through. Then it started playing through every stereotype in the book. And in the movies. There isn’t any attempt to round out any of the characters – they’re all just the stereotype and nothing more. The commitment-phobic boyfriend. The nagging girlfriend who wants marriage. The girlfriend’s bitch of a best friend. The boyfriend’s horny slob of a roommate. The girlfriend’s overprotective father. The sister (could’ve been his or hers, but his because he’s telling the story) and her husband who don’t seem to serve any purpose in the movie, except to provide a foil/sub-plot of some kind. The break-up. The respective new girlfriend/boyfriend. I’m sure there would’ve been a reconciliation if I’d waited for it.

I know the movie’s supposed to be irreverent fun, but that doesn’t mean you reduce your characters to a bunch of caricatures! And why, oh why, the urge to have a ‘Baby Girl 3’ subplot? One that went on and on with no end in sight? And Rahul Bose talking to his penis is supposed to be funny? The references to ‘having coffee’ are supposed to be funny?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a prude. But I find this sort of unproblematised sexual objectification disgusting. It’s what happens in porn, not in a supposedly hip and sophisticated look at relationships and commitment.

No wonder I have nightmares!

Bodies

I was reading an essay while invigilating the exam today (Mari Matsuda on the construction of masculinity), and I was struck by what she says about how the abstract individual of polity doesn’t have a body, except as something he needs in order to exist… here’s the actual quote, I can’t put it better than:

…the “abstract individual” exemplifies an absence of pregnancy and other female bodily characteristics that arguably play a major role for females in self- and social-identity formation, and in the formation of political interests, whereas in political theory the “individual” that emerges is monotonically singular, unreproductive, and apparently sexless. Moreover, the “individual” is sometimes theorised as a “rational” consciousness in a way that suggests disembodiment altogether, as the body never really appears except as a presumed material substratum. The body is certainly not the site of the drama of female bodily existence…”

The female body as a site of a drama of existence – that’s an idea that radical feminism has been largely concerned with. I don’t know who it was that said something about sexuality being central to women’s identity… 

When I first read that about sexuality being central to identity, it seemed rather abstract to me – not really relatable to experience. Maybe I relegated it to the back of my mind with a “makes sense in the context of queer studies” note.

But Matsuda’s passage above really brought it home to me how much it was about me. Those of you who know me will probably smile if I write that sexuality is central to my identity. Sitting in that exam hall today, however, I realised how much it was.

My body has been and is a site of struggle. A site of struggle between tradition and modernity, conservatism and liberalism. The conservatism of being part of the ‘arranged marriage set up’ and the modernity of arguing with my Mum that it’s okay for me to have male friends staying overnight. The traditional-ness of lighting a lamp every morning in prayer and the liberal-ness of not stopping when I’m menstruating. The conservatism of wearing a saree and the modernity of short hair. Each a struggle. Either about, or expressed through, my body.

It’s also been a site of struggle for control. Control over my body. Not forcible, or cruel. Not even conscious. Mostly born out of concern, love, even affection. Nevertheless a struggle to control my sexuality, my womb. Control that is more basic, even – the crisis* that puberty (and every menstrual period after it) sets off, and the resultant loss of control. The struggle to regain it. A struggle.

A site for struggle between emotion and reason.** Emotion that makes me respond to touch, to sound, even to a look – a response that is instinctive, sometimes physical. Reason that tells me to hide that response, or to ignore it, or to express it to achieve an end – and the hiding, ignoring, expression are all physical too.

I realised that my body was the site of struggle, and the struggle was about the expression of my identity, about my sexuality. That the two were central to each other.

*De beauvoir writes beautifully about this…

**The dichotomy that is the feminist nemesis – isn’t that weird? 

What goes around…

…comes around. Only, I didn’t think it would so soon! Thanks to @, I’m the victim of my own tag. Now I have to write about another city.

I considered Delhi, and I considered Bangalore, but decided on the little English town where I spent a year studying. Just to be fancy. So here goes:

  1. Summer Sunday mornings on Parker’s Piece, with a book, looking up to watch the closest match – cricket or footer – whenever you feel like it.
  2. Guy Fawkes’ Day on Midsummer Common – all evening and well into the night.
  3. Baked Potatoes from the vendor in Market Square, holding the paper tray close on a winter afternoon, and sitting on Kings’ Parade to eat before it gets cold.
  4. Second-hand books and music – not at the stalls in the market, but in a tiny overcrowded bookshop in a little lane that leads nowhere, while an old gentleman (or maybe his wife, the old lady) looks in on you while you browse for hours to your heart’s content.
  5. Formal Hall at one of the older colleges – Trinity, maybe – and walking on the grass afterward, slightly tipsy, out of sight of the snooty porters.

Should I find more people to tag? Let’s see – people I wanted to tag earlier but didn’t. Baudolino, Dilettante (who I suspect has been lurking here, just as I have been lurking there), The Corinthian, Rekha, DivSu. So, people, five things to do in your city – not touristy stuff, but what you love to do! Enjoy!

Hyderabad

I was commenting on this post, and realised there was a full post in there, not just a comment! So here’s my own list of five things-to-do in Hyderabad – apart from the ones Kunal’s already suggested!

  1. Visit Birla Mandir as the sun is setting. Sit on the marble steps eating the pieces of coconut they hand out, and watch the lights in the city.
  2. Climb up the Charminar and try and identify the buildings you can see – the Mecca Masjid, the Chowmahalla Palace, the Unani Hospital…
  3. Tank Bund – walk up and down eating ice cream and roasted corn on the cob. Watch people, or the lights in the city, or just the water beside you.
  4. Eat button idly and pesarattu upma at Taj Mahal Hotel in Nampally – not the new ‘Wah Taj!‘ cafe, but the old Taj Mahal Hotel.
  5. Chaat at the (no longer) little place in front of the Balaji Grand Bazaar (I hope I have that name right) in Basheerbagh.

I could make a tag of this, couldn’t I? Ok, then – @, Amateur Blogger, Mr. Nair, Chinmayi, Shreya – name five things to do in your respective cities (not typical touristy stuff!), tag five people and leave them a comment to know they’ve been tagged!

Lovely poem

Are the angels of her bed the angels
who come near me alone in mine?
Are the green trees in her window
the color I see in ripe plums?
If she always sees backward
and upside down without knowing it
what chance do we have? I am haunted
by the feeling that she is saying
melting lords of death, avalanches,
rivers and moments of passing through.
And I am replying, “Yes, yes.
Shoes and pudding.”

– Jack Gilbert ‘Say you love me’ from his 2005 collection Refusing Heaven.

Via Falstaff.