Today isn’t a particularly special day. It’s just a rather random Thursday that I’ve spent doodling in the memory of various people and the times I’ve lived with them, that I need no particular occasion to celebrate. So cheers to you, and us, and all that we’ve been through and the people we’ve become. I love you.
The lead vocalist asks us to raise our hands if we’re proud of who we are, as people and as artists.
And something suddenly unravels inside me, a tightness that’s been there for a while. And with a few other wavering hands, I raise mine up in the air and smile.
There’s a gentle drizzle. The accompanying breeze makes the yellow paper lanterns sway, as if in rhythm with the light strumming of the guitar and banjo down below. The drums weave a comfortable,solid presence as fifty-odd people, friends and strangers hum along. Music does this to people- it makes one body out of individuals, a body moving in seemingly eccentric patterns but with a wonderful coherence.
There is silence towards the end of the show as the performers play the opening bars to a song they have dedicated to survivors of depression. What amazes me is that it isn’t an awkward pause. In this audience, there are people who, in some odd way, understand, either first-hand or through their loved ones, what it is like to not want to get up at all, to not eat or bathe or write or paint for days, or to just do all of it in a frenzy until you’re not sure what you’re doing anymore. There are people for whom turning up to a live show like this is one of their greatest achievements this month- they might not have stepped out of home for weeks. There are also people who are lucky enough to be mostly non-depressed, even happy, and who take this moment to understand how that isn’t necessarily a “normal” every one is used to.
As I raise my hand, standing here in this city that I’ve been both non-depressed and depressed in before, it is because I am proud today- of myself, of being able to sing along, of showing up alone, of continuing to write even if it seems to be most ordinary on some days. It’s because I can now raise my hand without feeling weird about being happy about my own existence. And because I have done a lot of things in the past year, good, fun, somewhat crazy, mundane, only for myself, and have loved doing it. It’s because the rain, and the lights, and the songs have the ability to make the darkness beautiful and bearable. And so does my writing, and your art, and someone else’s strumming, or playing or mere existence.
There will be bad days. But try and hold on long enough, and there will be good ones.
Listen to these guys (When Chai Met Toast) here:
When you ask me
to decipher jumbled-up words
From the day’s newspaper,
I take a moment,
To memorize the half-smile
On your face as you take
the black-and-white sheet back.
I keep looking for that smile
In the arms of lovers and
the eyes of friends,
and only sometimes
do I discover it,
in the bathroom mirror.
I write about everyone
except us, lest you should
One day find it and say,
like always, that you
do not understand,
even without reaching
Each line that you don’t read
Sets us back,
A little more,smothered
by layers of conversations
About lunches and dinners
And the weather.
I have dozens of
shushed stories stashed away
with my childhood, enough to last
the rest of your days; and still,
every time you read someone else,
I abandon mine and wish to be
My writing and I
are not quite the puzzles
we could still figure out
all the garbled sentences
that have been scratching
our silences for too long,
if only we take
one jumbled-up word
at a time. You could still be
the best story I ever live.
*Character and Quote Credits- J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll.* *No attempt at copyright infringement. More like fan love.*
“Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”
“I think I’ll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up – it always does in the end.” she smiled as she turned towards the Great Hall.
Harry watched her skip along till the end of the corridor before he realised he was smiling too.
“Yes?” she peeked back around the corner.
“Do you, I dunno, want to go get some dessert and eat it by the Lake?” Harry mumbled. He didn’t even know where the random thought had come from. But Luna’s face lit up, almost as if she’d suddenly spotted a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. She waved at him to hurry up as she continued to skip along the passageway, and Harry broke into a half-run to catch up with her, his heart light for the first time since Sirius’ death.
“Meet me near the Birch tree. And bring your cloak.” She murmured before going ahead into the Great Hall towards the Ravenclaw table. Harry followed more slowly, thankful for the fact that Ron, Hermione and the rest of his year-mates seemed to have finished and left already. He sat down next to Natalie McDonald at the Gryffindor table, half-expecting a glance of fear and disgust. Instead she gave him a respectful nod as she cleared some space for him, and then continued her conversation with her friends.
In between courses, Harry snuck a glance at Luna who looked as serene as ever as she held a conversation with two tiny first years who seemed to be worried about something. She must have felt his gaze because she flashed a half-smile in his general direction before patting the first-year girl’s shoulder and rising from the table with her plate of pudding. Harry gave her five minutes before he followed, summoning his Cloak from the dormitory just outside the Great Hall, idly wondering why the spell hadn’t worked when Hermione had tried it.
There was no one under the birch tree when he reached. He was wondering if Luna had gone back to her dormitory when he heard a giggle. “Well, hello there.” Harry looked up at the slim pair of legs dangling from a branch. He laughed again, wondering why it was suddenly so easy. “You remind me of the Cheshire Cat.” He exclaimed, before remembering that Luna was a Pureblood. “Well the Cheshire Cat is -”
“…a character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And I’ll take that as a compliment. After all, we are all mad here.” She answered as she jumped down from the branch, landing nimbly without her pudding so much as wobbling.
“Wait, you read Muggle literature?” Harry was surprised.
“Yes. Alice was one of my favourite stories as a child- I made Mummy read the book every night. And after she died, I’d read it myself.” Luna stated matter-of-factly. Harry gazed out at the Black Lake, still unsure of how to behave around the concept of death.
“Does it still hurt?” he asked abruptly.
“Oh yes, it does. Some days, when the sun shines really brightly, or the first day of snow, or on days when I get a spell right on the first try, or on days when they hide all my stuff at the same time and I have nothing left to wear. I miss her.” She said simply, as she sat down under the tree with her legs crossed, her bluish grey eyes vacantly staring for a moment before they turned to him, twinkling. “But I still have so much left. Daddy, and this pudding, and Alice, and you, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville. I have friends now, don’t I, Harry ?” she looked up at him beaming.
Harry looked at her through his glasses, this being that was Luna Lovegood, not trusting his ability to speak in that moment. Instead he hung up the Cloak from a low-hanging branch like a canopy, making them invisible to everyone except each other, and sat down next to Luna. And they stayed there, for a very long time, staring at the stars shining on the surface of the Lake as they finished their pudding. And for the space of a few hours, at least, all was well.
At 18, in college, as I slowly grew into my “wild” side, casting away the demure facade I’d maintained all through high school, I gave my parents some cause for concern. Suddenly I transformed from having no social life to staying out late, going on trips with my friends, and discovering the phone and internet in ways that many of my peers would have already experimented with a few years earlier. In my headstrong, teenager mind, I decided that I would have a cool life, full of new experiences each day, as if to compensate for the stagnant calm of my life hitherto.
The one thing I utterly disliked was being compared to either of my parents, be it in terms of academic excellence or personality. I was especially determined to not resemble my mother in any fashion, and derived great pleasure in telling her how I was so totally “not her”. And yet, a mere five years later, living with a set- ranging from brilliant to not-so-great- of my own choices and actions, I find that I have, in a lot of ways, realised that very fear.
My Friday plans now include figuring out which clothes to wash on Saturdays. I can’t go to bed with dirty utensils in the sink. I don’t randomly say a yes to late night bike rides with friends I don’t know very well, even though I love bike rides. I don’t indulge in crying my eyes out for more than ten minutes at a time, choosing instead to do something practical, like cleaning the room or my cupboard. I still entertain the words of lovers, but don’t really believe them as willingly as I used to.
Of course, I am also not my mother in many ways. We are two women with vastly different character quirks. She hates being alone. I love my solitude. She can laugh off many things with a careless ease that my twenty-three-year old over-thinking self envies at times. She moves on quickly, and I have never really moved on from anyone or anything.
But look closely, and you can tell how related we are. It’s not even something we focus on most of the time, but it’s there. We both believe in six impossible things before breakfast, just that they differ in specifics. We both shut the world out when we read, and eat chocolate when someone is being indifferent to our feelings. We can finish a tissue box between us when we watch Lion King, but we also have the ability to step up to make all the logical decisions when necessary. Keeping my head when others about me are losing theirs, is something in which I’d rather take after her, than anyone else.
So yes, as I become more me, I am, in some ways, turning into my mother. And that isn’t really a bad thing.
The last scene of Lipstick Under My Burkha resonates, in a rather curious fashion, with the book I happen to be reading at present, Reading Lolita in Tehran. As the various men in power say their piece and move away, ostensibly to get a good night’s sleep, the women protagonists of the movie are left, quite literally, to pick up the shreds of their existence. They gather around the remains of the forbidden romance novel capturing the sexual fantasies of Rosie, in what is, on the face of it, an impromptu reading session, but in effect, captures the essence of what director Alankrita Shrivastava is trying to say throughout.
What makes Lipstick an engaging watch is that its women are feminist by the sheer dint of being real. The characters range from the college-going Rehana (trying to reconcile teenaged rebellion with her cultural identity) and Leela (the beautician whose dreams are bigger than an arranged marriage in a small town) to the older Shireen (a saleswoman struggling to carve a niche for herself within and outside her marriage) and middle-aged Usha (rediscovering her sexual identity through telephone sex). Each is flawed in her own way, and therein lies her perfection.
Perhaps it is the gift of a stellar cast at the hands of a female director, but Lipstick manages, for the most part, what movies claiming to be pro-women generally don’t — well-fleshed out female characters that make both appropriate and inappropriate choices, and have dynamic personalities extending beyond but not necessarily in alienation of the men in their lives. So, Usha Buaji (aunt)’s desire to read racy romance magazines is not at odds with her solid business sense, and Shireen’s success on the professional front does not erode her desire to keep her family intact at any cost.
Another stroke of brilliance that the script possesses is a fine sense of balance, be it in its portrayal of right and wrong, or in capturing a whole spectrum of sexual desire. So, on the one hand, where you find yourself rooting for the women taking the obligation of a Burkha and turning it around to live their dreams, you also find them facing up to the repercussions of some of their ill-thought out actions. The women of Lipstickknow that all is not well with the world, and thankfully, the director doesn’t sweep in with a magic wand to make the young swimming instructor fall for Usha, or for Shireen’s husband to suddenly realise how much potential his wife has, or for the police to let shoplifter Rehana off with a warning even as Leela’s nice fiancé comes back with a clichéd “Main thaamunga tumhara haath” (“I will take you back”, or some such shit). Lipstick Under My Burkhaconcludes the way such events in life usually do, with a lot of tears, an occasional giggle and a mountain of understanding, collapsing upon you all at once.
The best part isn’t even really obvious until you focus on what’s not happening in this movie. Halfway across the movie, it hits me that these women are, for the most part, all very non-judgemental of each other. In what is a refreshing change from the “A woman is another woman’s worst enemy” trope, we see Shireen helping Usha buy her bathing suit, and Leela acknowledging that Shireen’s need to be touched affectionately by her husband isn’t something she should be hiding. Even as Rehana’s classmate gets her arrested and lashes out at her in anger, we don’t really see the typical “You stole my boyfriend” scene. The anger is directed towards the legitimate recipient, the man who got one woman pregnant before leaving her for another. The final scene is a silent war cry and a flame of solidarity all at once, as the women read the end of the novel and share a cigarette. And as you watch, perhaps you would wonder, like I did, if the next day, Shireen would hand in a resignation at work, and the widowed Usha be sent away to Kashi (a city where abandoned widows live in India). Maybe Leela would choose to not run away to Delhi with her boyfriend, and Rehana would eventually complete her degree through distance-learning. And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re a woman who has the ability to make some, or all of these choices for yourself. The question is- If you aren’t wearing as much (or as little) lipstick as you want, who and what are you waiting for?
Like me, do you sometimes sleep through
the safety demo on flights,
firm in your belief that your flight,
of them all, will never land on water,
because nothing ever happens to you anyway.
On other days, do you map out scenarios,
of potential seas and oceans along the way,
and what temperature the water will be,
and if, in the melee, you’ll choose
not to slip the life jacket on?
Are you just as fascinated by red things-
tomatoes, boys in ragged capes,
Danger signs, life jacket tubes?
Do you check under the seat with your toes,
to see if they are telling you the truth-
and then laugh wondering if
your life-jacket lovers will ever be
this close when you feel the urge to jump?
Sometimes, when your throat gets
a little too tight, do you reach for
the oxygen masks they aren’t dropping yet?
Is it only you feeling the pressure a little too deeply,
as you face the choice between being a cloud
and longing for solid ground?
When the shadows start getting larger,
and the bottom falls out from under your stomach,
do you, like me, always land a little more blurry
each time? Do you still manage to keep your head
amidst the clouds?