This then was my grand attempt at freedom. A freedom with the price tag of leaving behind everyone close to me. In other ways, it was better like this. It is far easier to act like there is no shame around being a divorced woman among strangers, because they can’t throw the culture book at you.
A clean slate is always easier to write on than a broken one. Not like I had much choice. I could go back and hear about how I was characterless and become a depressed loser like my mom, or I could survive or die trying.
It took me exactly one day to realize that it is one thing to have friends as a girl or married woman, and altogether different when you are “free”. Amazing number of puns on this one. All except the one implying real freedom applied. Getting a place to stay becomes a character assessment. My mountaineering friends, who would also be working with me in camps as instructors were looked on with such suspicion or male “understanding”, that the decent ones kept away to spare me the embarrassment, and others started changing agendas on me. How I wish the ones who WERE decent hadn’t stayed off. How could they be an embarrassment for me? If they were, what’s a bucket more or less in the sea? Perhaps they were sparing themselves.
The work suddenly got cut off, and I the only explanation I got was that I was “naive”.
I was now dressing to look ugly. Oversize shirts, rigidly tied hair, no jewellery… with my father’s tape playing in my head, that I’m dark, I’m ugly I felt a little more better now that I was undesirable. I look back and shake my head in astonishment. Even if I were ugly, seriously, who doesn’t notice a twenty year old slim woman? That is our world.
And I was prickly. The tapes were louder. Be modest, head down, encourage men, and you’ll get raped. I had no trust in the intentions of anyone whom I didn’t know from a safer time, or they were visibly happily married. And then I made friends with the couple. Wise, I suppose, but it was nerve wracking paranoia. I had no girl friends. A “girl like me” didn’t meet approvals of families, with the empty home to get into trouble I had. Also, in hindsight, girls didn’t like me for the same reason. One friend I did have said her friend avoided me because I was living alone (and her boyfriend was interested in me, whom I didn’t want at all.) At the end of the day, I was a girl living alone. While no one obviously seemed to be judging me (tourist town), it was a fair bet that they knew me. I had also heard people speak about other women in ways I’d not like to be spoken about.
The other reason was money. I had very little. My good English had come to the rescue, and I was doing some tutions, but there have been weeks when I survived an entire week on one loaf of bread. Nothing with it. Being too obvious about such things could be dangerous too. Another mark of desperation/availability.
And the insomnia… wondering why me. Wondering if I was safe. Counting tiles on the ceiling. Practicing increasingly obviously meaningless Karate moves (body weight 40kgs 😛 ). Parents called me back. Didn’t go. At least I was alive.
It all changed with a cautiously made new friend remarking that I was beautiful. I smiled, continued conversation, but gears were turning in my mind. What did he want? Turns out he really wanted to be a friend, and he really thought I was beautiful and that friendship helped. A lot. Also I realized that people would be noticing me one way or the other. And my enthusiasm for clothes continued.
They became more feminine. Less jeans, more salwar kameezes, saris quite a few times. I had some jewellery with me, I used that. Made friends. And it was a friend who stole the jewellery. Made a police complaint. No one took me seriously. The gold that was my safety net was gone. Well meaning friends called me stupid for wearing it. Their hearts bled for me. Mine was bleeding too. But it wasn’t stolen on the street. It was stolen by a person of trust. Who knew full well that it was part of my survival kit. Nor did any of the well wishers offer to do a single thing monetary or otherwise to offer safety in life. This town was getting too small for me.
Time to move on. Coincidentally, parents called to complain that I make them worry. I lost track of the bitter laugh that kept bursting out at this line, but I didn’t hold them to blame. But really I made them WORRY? I was living worry because they didn’t parent me. I didn’t think they meant it. My father has always charmed me as long as I’m not living under his roof (in other words, he’s not at fault for my “failures”). Still, family is family. In some visit, they had got me to fill in a form for the HSC Board exams. He was calling because exams were next week. When was I coming? Ah… that explains it.
Frankly, I’d signed the form to keep them shut. I didn’t even have textbooks. He kept arguing. Attend and fail, but you must do it. It had been a long time since anyone had even been familiar enough to demand like this. Charmed (yeah, I’m crazy), I returned, got books, gave the exams. Realized that nothing had changed. Prepared to move on.
The chance was round the corner. I got hired as an instructor in children’s adventure camps in Manali. Pay was piddly. My interest was “new place” + “far away”. Asked to be paid money for the return at the end and I would do it at my own convenience. (in other words, one way, + the all important money on hand).
That was a new phase in life.
To be continued in A Life in Clothes – Part 4 : My Terms