A Life in Clothes – Part 5 : Shehari
Returning to the city was trauma. Big time. I was a fish out of water. I lost track of the times I left doors unlocked (just latched), while hopping across to a shop, ruined food, because I didn’t heat or refrigerate it, stayed awake from the sound of a fan, shied away from crossing traffic…. My whole way of being was different. Slower, more trusting, ignorant on many things, and worst of all the crowds really got to me. Delhi was slightly better than Mumbai on the crowded front, but it was a prison in other ways – safety. It totally sucked to be looking over my shoulder again.
However, old training dies hard (read part 3), and I have never had trouble I couldn’t handle in Delhi, largely due to my vast, automatic mental alerts and a lot of luck. Mumbai was safer on this front. I still felt safe in Mumbai. Possibly because of the lack of privacy in most parts of the city’s public areas.
One of my first realizations was indeed dress. My clothes were …. out of place, old, with no specific style, etc. They were worn with hard, impatient hand washes where violence overcompensated for time-consuming attention in frigid water. I had some city wear, and salwar kameezes that would do to till I could get more. They were most unsatisfactory. I should have left most of the clothes behind. Saved the effort of lugging them for days and throwing in Mumbai.
Didn’t find any work related with documentaries, so worked as an AD on Ad films to pass time and keep the wallet full. This paid better than I’d earned so far, and with no horses to pay for ( 😛 ), the money just sat in the bank. This was good. I wasn’t much of a spender anyway. Purchased clothes. Fancy, pretty stuff. All I wanted. Got hair cuts, purchased make up – the expensive brands….. for the first time in my life, I was doing the “girly” that I should have been doing all through.
My relationship with my parents had improved like I said in the last part. My father stopped seeing me as less of a fool when on one of his visits to my remote home in the mountains, a foreigner friend had come riding by asking to meet. Dad has a bit of a thing for firangs. He hasn’t really believed that they don’t rule us. White skin, blue eyes, etc person asking to meet me by name and saying no fetching me was needed and he would visit at my convenience!!!! I must be doing something right. (He was one of the neighbours come for a routine chat – no extraordinary respect or achievement involved). But that did help my father see me as something possibly worthy of respect even if I wasn’t a doctor or scientist, etc.
So this time around in Mumbai, I was treated to less of the abuse. Also, I think my father mellowed with age. It helped that my “bold” move of moving to the mountains had got a lot of attention and admiration from people. Calls for me to write a book, etc. So I wasn’t exactly a “failure”. He started treating me as more of an adult, and pushing those achievements at me. Write a book, edit that film…. now these are things I’d have loved to do. Still want to, in fact, but somehow the nagging took all energy away from beginning.
My choice of dress was met with more subtle disapprovals. For example, one fine day I couldn’t find any of my best jeans. Three designer jeans – worth about Rs.2,000/- each – a fortune. He pretended innocence and said he’d thrown them away because they were worn and torn. He didn’t know they were so expensive. He thought they were old from wear and tear. Yeah right. And all those left over clothes from the mountains that were almost disintegrating on touch were not yet thrown because?
Clothes he thought were revealing had a strange way of being put away in the most obscure places, where I wouldn’t find them handy while dressing to go out. “Dad, did you see that brown sleeveless top?” “Oh that! I put it by mistake in your mom’s clothes.” Huh? A quick raid would find a treasure of sexy tops 😀 Dad was turning into a squirrel.
Make no mistake, these were character judgments, only put across more politely.
Another thing I found about the city was that clothes were crucially important. What you wore was who you were. I thought that that was because that was pretty much the only place where you could publicly own your gender. Everything was asexual, carefully equal. Almost warily. Clothes were you. If you were attractive, sensuous, bold, modest, timid, tomboyish, artistic, austere…. you don’t see that so much in more remote areas. But then gender is easily a part of your identity. I was a ghodewali. The only one I knew from my generation, but I never felt a need to be “ghodewala-like”. Nor was I ever expected to, other than by city folks who visited. The roles, responsibilities, image…. was different and that was fine. Anyway…. I must stop slipping into the mountains at every opportunity and move on 😀
Mom had been suffering from depression for several years and had quit going out of the house at all. Didn’t meet people, didn’t take an interest in anything. Had a small list of subject she had strong opinions on, and used to get irrational with those. She once came at me with a stick because I was on the phone for too long. I hastily disconnected the call and calmed her down. She used to hear voices. Was absolutely normal for her to break the silence with a “shut up”.
I was convinced she had withdrawn into her own world as a way of coping with all the shit about herself dad told her for years. I think it is quite natural to find a fantasy world when the real one gets too bad to live in. After all, wasn’t that what my books brought me in childhood? She was being told too many things about herself that she found ugly, and that was the only feedback about herself that she got for years. She had lost all confidence. The woman who was a working woman in an age of housewifes, who did the Kailash Manasarovar Parikrama before my father, on her own initiative, was now intimidated by the idea of stepping out of the house. Small uglies pile up.
It was a project to convince dad to get treatment for her. He didn’t want the shame of having a mad wife. That was when I blew a fuse. I told him that one way or the other she was going to get help and it could happen two ways. The first was that we both reassured her and took her with us and met a doctor. The second was that he resisted and I did whatever it took to get the same result, including getting a group of friends to physically stop him and take her there kicking and screaming. He chose the lesser shame, and mom got treatment.
Her schizophrenia was so severe, that she had to be hospitalized initially because of the drugs she was getting and to watch for adverse reactions. That shook my father. Outside the nursing home, we had a long talk. About her, about any human’s need to be loved and accepted, about me, him…. I have never seen him more introspective. A lifetime of brash judgments dissolved, leaving behind a real person. Possibly the only meaningful conversation I have had with him in my life. But we made it count.
I got married again. Proved that I have a talent for picking exactly the wrong person for me, whom I can get along with wonderfully, while dying in prison. I think too much. I challenge too many status quos with devastating honesty. It is intimidating, because disagreeing is irrational, and agreeing demands courage that freaks most people out.
The surprise in our marriage is that I smoke, drink, wear shorts and am loved by my mother-in-law who is THE most orthodox, superstitious, traditional, ritual driven wife of a pujari of a particularly narrow-minded community. We both find each other exasperating and love each other anyway. When things went into a bad phase with the husband once, she was of the opinion that its a woman’s lot and all women suffer like this and that her son was being an ass. When in a drunken rage my husband wanted me to get out of the house, her side of the net was clear. “You’re my daughter. He doesn’t like it, he can leave or you come and stay with me for a while.”. The cage is that I must stay married at all cost, because he’s a man, so being an ass is something he can’t be blamed for. She agrees completely with me, but she accepts that women must suffer. That is all the world she knows. She doesn’t think its a woman’s place to change the world. She offers solidarity.
I see this echoed all over. It is easier to attack a woman and get away with it. Physically, verbally, emotionally, socially, professionally…
In a drunken moment of remorse, my husband laid it out flat “You are too high. I can’t reach there. I am a man. I should have control, so I pull you down. I’d die for you, but I’m scared when you do the kind of things that I want to, but can’t.”
But then controlling me has frustrated too many, including me. I live too enthusiastically, care too deeply, feel too intensely… to be “allowed”. I have slowly come to realize that to have an intimate relationship, I must dumb myself down. Or, I need to accept that I am loved by thousands, but not the ones who really matter, not because I am not lovable, but because it is too much, too close.
Today, I describe myself as a mother and blogger.