I grew up feeling like my life would follow the same path as other people – work and you shall achieve, be and you shall receive. It baffled me when I was attacked or called entitled for this, when the boys I knew, weren’t.
I wrote about this often. I created a comic about a little girl in a green dress, throwing barbs and smiles at a world trying to put her in a gender box (The Idea-toons). Humour became an easy way to deflect the always present horror about the idea that people have tried to impose on me all my life – that I don’t deserve what I am/do/have.
I resisted the label of feminist for too long because I didn’t think I deserved to be categorised with people who ensured that I had a vote, an education, the right to a job, to not be an object of ownership. I didn’t feel that important. It would be years before I realised living that belief is far more important than a label.
I wrote this piece on a whim, sitting in a coffeeshop waiting for a friend. It had easy witticisms and sharp edges because it was only for fun, not craft like my other pieces (Paper Plane, Goddess, Flamingos). I would perform it on my first time at a stage that would go on to be my favourite. The creators of that space would notice me and friendships would be born, bringing me support for my work. I would also get marked as a target, by other people’s misogyny hidden under camaraderie. I didn’t know it then.
In 2017, Simar Singh would tell me about his idea to promote poets and poetry and ask if I’d open his first event for Women’s Day, with this piece. Sure, I’d say, without much thought. Later, they’d find technical glitches in the footage, teething problems for a first-time team and decide not to use it. I’d shrug. There were other battles I was fighting.
In August 2019, UnErase Poetry put up the first ever video they shot at their launch show – mine. It crossed 75k views in a week. 😄 I still don’t know – which battles I can win without even realising I’m in a fight and which ones I’m doomed to perish in. But I am a feminist.
Watch the video on YouTube or Facebook on the UnErase Poetry channels. Have you met my feminism?
I was a diarist through my teens. When I was 24, I discovered blogs which I learnt was short for ‘web logs’. And my diarying transitioned online. Because I wrote under the then anonymous identity of IdeaSmith, I could pour my unvarnished feelings into writing, things I didn’t feel at liberty to say in my daily life.
These were my 20s and I was accumulating new experiences faster than I could process (post-graduation, first job, recession survival, new love, matrimonial pressures). There was fear, worry, anguish and grief for what I’d left behind – things that I was not ‘supposed to’ feel or dwell on. Writing anonymously allowed me to examine each feeling and experience at leisure.
Before I knew it, I had readers and IdeaSmith was a personality, an entity built by me but also by what my readers wanted to read. Possibly because my dark emotions and experiences were not permissible in my offline life (Nobody wants brooding, angry, grieving or annoyed women even in 2019), these writings were more poignant than my cheerful work. Maybe they just suited the mystery persona of an unknown woman on the internet better.
I had a revelation in the early 2010s. I realised each time I wrote or spoke or even read a piece, I relived that memory. So in my dark, brooding words, I was keeping my pain alive. Writing, I concluded, was cathartic, not healing. And in 2014 after abuse, a broken engagement, a nondescript startup, I decided I needed healing. I needed levity & light. Words matter so much to those of us who wield them. It’s hard to bring them to destruction. But the image of a paper plane flew into my imagination.
And from that came a healing philosophy and a tattoo for reminder. This was my first performance as a stage artist, a wordsmith with flight, a new me.
I’m talking to you. That part of you behind closed eyelids. Inside a deep inhaled breath. Tucked away into a memory so intense, you don’t look at it often so it becomes a secret. Who are you in that darkness?
I think we’re all the same. The same disproportionate halves of a body. The same anxious uncertainty. The same disorganised desires. The same imperfection that makes comfort and poise look like two opposites.
Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be seen away from the light? Is there something slightly magical about the eyes adjusting to darkness even as the mind adjusts to incompleteness? Is it intrusion to be seen in the dark?
I guess that depends on you. Me, I crave being understood. I am terrified of being misunderstood. I fear being miscounted, being left behind or being carried along with a people and to a place I don’t belong. I burn to fit right, to find my tribe, my home, me.
I also know the tricks our minds play on us (before each other). I know about camouflage. About defence mechanisms. About confirmation bias and seeing only what one is looking for. About becoming fluid, chameleon, mercurial and being whatever the eye demands. And I know these are the endless games of living, the repeating charades of relating. Maybe clarity is possible only when a story is over. Or maybe not. Thank the universe for a sun that shines on us all equally.
Hey you, with the bored shadows rising in your eyes. Hey you, fallen into the cracks of your own fractured dreams. Have you looked my way lately? I exist.
Don’t hang yourself on the noose of someone else’s attachment. It’s nice to feel needed but nice is an illusory trap. You are the sand and the ash inside a dormant volcano. You won’t be held inside a fist or even an embrace that breaks at the first sign of heat.
Do not shatter over the sound and fury that is the face of a person’s humanity turning on itself. You are not glass, not paper, not wood, not stone. You are the center unbound, holding the chaos outward. You are the eye of the universal storm. You won’t be snuffed out by a few angry breaths.
Don’t string yourself together on other people’s definitions. Those thoughts are full of knots, ones they’ll never care to disentangle because they’re about someobody else. You are the water of churning whirlpools. You won’t be contained in a net that tears and loops so easily and is discarded like straggling threads.
Do not find yourself in tatters when toxic thought and poisonous words infect your being. You are not the wastelands laid bare in these fumes. You are the chemistry that gives everything a place, a season, an identity. You are all that was and also all that comes after – the death, the survivor, the guilt, the redemption and the reprise.
You are more than can be imagined. Take the rest of your life to find out what all.
You may look back more often than the world tells you that you should. You may linger in places you’ve already spent too many dark moments in, with no increasing clarity. Why did she leave? Why did he stay silent? What were they thinking? Did they ever consider how you feel? Do they ever think of you?
Your past-diving may be more than your body can bear, even if your emotions are hungry. Your gaze may sear across unresolved incidents and unnamed feelings, seemingly never reaching conclusions. Why. When. What.
You may plumb all these depths over and over because you are the boundless universe. Your life has had fathomless lessons that are too big, too nuanced, too glorious and too stark to keep up with time. It is true. You may need to read a story again to make sense of it. A joke could make you laugh no matter how often you hear it. And a song may ring on in your head for years without your ever understanding its words.
Maybe some day clarity will come. Maybe the answer will materialize in the sky that you look up to, for guidance or the sea that you gaze at, hoping for a reason to hope. Maybe knowledge will find you in a book or a conversation or a new teacher. Or maybe the lessons will just seep into your skin, more mist than rain and settle on your bones.
A lesson in letting other people live out their crashes. A lesson in not get hit and run over. Lessons of goodbye. Lessons in silence. Shh.
You can look all you want. Underwater, no one hears you scream.
A steady gaze is also a cocked gun. This gaze makes the world go silent, words dropping away, identities falling away, sounds melting away and all that exists is that tenuous link held by eye contact. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul. These windows pull you in just as much as they penetrate your being. You cannot touch without also being touched. This touch your skin won’t feel but everything inside you will.
There is a wealth of perceptions that lies buried under good manners. There is yearning, unreasonable. There is rage, unconscionable. There is desire, filthy, savage and uncontrollable. There are screams that merge need and satiation. There is worry, seeping into the cracks between the best laid plans. There are war cries that are claims of identity. They lie shuttered behind blinking eyelids and wavering gazes. And when you make eye contact, you will see your pretty covers taken down to wash. Laundry day for your insides. You will feel the rain and you will be the clouds and you will see it all.
It will be hard to remember the boundary between you and me and the world and them and sense and feeling and structure when…when you look straight into these eyes and they look back at you. You are simultaneously witness and the witnessed. The audience and the performer. The existence and its perception.
It takes two to create and not even a fraction of a second. And it takes one to break it and we always do. Because this game of identity & eye contact is one that we all like to play. Just until we remember that when those eyes shut, there is only darkness.
I’ve written reams and reams about home – going away from it, running in search of it, how it defines me, how I define it. I am a Cancerian, after all. We make this world feel like home. Maybe not entirely coincidentally, my contribution to International Poetry Day 2019 was also titled HOME. This video was shot and produced by the fab team at kalArt (who also produced my GODDESS video). Please watch and if you like it, leave a comment here or on the video.
Do you remember that place? A time when every emotion was a Picasso painting? Vibrant jealousy. Mind-bending joy. Lucious fear oozing through pores. Jarring ecstasy coating the roof of your mouth, the back of your neck and the inside of your navel. Crippling wonder that made you want to stop and hold the cosmos for as fleeting a moment as one lifetime would be.
Yeah, I’ve been there. We all have. Most likely we glimpsed it now and then as children and were told it was all fairytales and horror stories. And then as adolescents, it burst upon us suddenly. That one moment when we suddenly attained puberty. Or fell in love. Or watched someone die. Or didn’t fit a favourite teeshirt anymore. Or saw somebody else’s name written, emblazoned in a place that used to have our own and feel like home.
I was in that place all of the last month. It started with a new year resolution to be easier on myself, to relax some of my fear fortresses. Maybe it was the years I spent inside and that it was time to come out. Maybe it was the sleep-deprived, alcohol-soaked advice I received on New Year’s. Maybe it was just that person. Maybe it was me.
I’ve been feeling so much, struggling to set one foot before the first, walk in a straight line, act the part of the intelligent person I have enacted for so long that I forgot it was a part. I forgot I’m not meant to walk or even run. I’m meant to fly. I forgot that sky and water merge in my universe and I have always been a good swimmer. I forgot that I’d closed my eyes because the last time I glimpsed beauty, I thought it destroyed me but really, I only closed my eyes. I opened my eyes and look, the world is in HDR again.
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