Wearing a mascara is all fun and games until you have to remove it. Leaving the black caked liquid on my eyelashes is not an option but every time I need to do a cleansing routine, it is as if the day’s worries have descended upon them. In the many weeks that have passed since I last blogged, I have found myself in a new city where crates upon crates are lying full with treasures in gullies and everyone speaks a new language. No lines of communication go out of this city for I’ve found myself feeling unheard by the people with whom I spend my time outside. This is probably because I refuse to believe that I’ve entered a labyrinthine place where I see the world a certain way; this is no labyrinth. The truths I see are truths. The treasures I uncover are treasures. The city is real, sparsely inhabited, but buzzing all the same. This is a city where women who wear mascara to work are tired of ordering cakes for you, but we will come to that later.
I am convinced that the diagnosis to my dual life will not be found in the waterfall of reels or on a Twitter feed. (Although, now I consume online content lesser than I used to.) I’ve spent a lot of time mistrusting myself but I’ve realised that I have not lost my way nor injured my ability to perceive the world. I suspect women tend to believe that we are impostors. It happened to me. For the longest time, I believed I was an impostor (truth be told I still think so at times), but a lot of searching has convinced me that I am not a fake. I am in the wrong place. It’s not a quote-on-a-poster type situation because on the one hand, I find it terribly exciting to be living in the world we do; on the other, I find that I am unable to relate to many people around me. After much deliberation, I’ve concluded that I am not off my bearings, I am only suffering from the malaise of being misplaced.
Not being understood or heard by the people around you is very hard. I have it on good authority — the authority of medical science — that human beings are relational creatures. We yearn to belong. We want to share experiences, be supported by a community, engage in acts of service, and receive responses from those around us that we are heard and seen. It might seem like a wishy-washy affirmation in a sticker book, but it is damningly true. On the authority of science, as they say. Every time we lose sight of this as a species, a tectonic plate under the surface of the earth shifts. I mean, no it doesn’t, but you get the drift.
When I was writing copious cards and letters to friends at the start of this year, I was filled with a profound sense of completeness. I no longer wished to be someone else. I didn’t need anyone’s validation. Most of all, I knew it in my heart that nothing was wrong with me. You see, I have spent months wondering what was the matter with me because people said something was the matter with me. I was agonised and troubled and disturbed in my sleep by the way I didn’t fit in. But after months of this, I realised it wasn’t me. It was them. It obviously wasn’t the act of writing new year cards that shifted something in me. It was who I had become by the time the time to write those cards arrived.
So, I spent time packing gifts I had brought for friends, picking out pens to match them to the cards, and visiting one post office and then another to send snail mail. And then, I decided to walk into this year knowing that it was time for me to find spaces where I belong. And off, I went. Now here, I am. I have continued to do the things I wanted to do, and not questioned myself in the process. I have succeeded. I have failed. It has been a gift to be alive burdened by the incessant worries of living and the insensitivity of some people. I’ve learnt who my friends are and who don’t have my best interests at heart. I’ve been awed by many things I have experienced and seen and felt hollow and sad, too. Even the small things. Especially the small things.
Turns out that capitalism won’t let me re-use cardboard boxes I’ve received from e-commerce companies and re-send them via India Post unless I don’t fully obscure the name of the company on the boxes. E-commerce and India Post are incompatible. Advertising through a public organisation is not how private companies roll. To be honest with you, I can’t think of a better marketing strategy than using India Post for your wares. However, I have a feeling I am missing some part of a “due process” that some cock-headed person conjured and other cock-headed people follow. “That’s the process” they will say. I am certain. Run away from such people, I tell you. Take your belongings, lift your long skirt, pick up the mischievous demon hanging from your ankle and run.
These days I am counting rejection letters in my inbox, picking out sweat-friendly clothes despite the low temperatures, watching a pigeon systematically break my ZZ plant every morning, and avidly ticking off items on my to-do list that I have unoriginally* renamed کام just because I am unable to call it a to-do list anymore. “To-do” is so blasé. So, the Urdu script is enough for me right now. کام is all I have at the moment for my own impoverished creativity that I am determined to make right. I am scared more than strapped. When the editor of a literary magazine asked me if I was going to be able to write my photo-essay in a literary form, a fear seized my wrists and held on tight. It wasn’t the first time I had pitched to a magazine or spoken to an editor. Just that question — will you be able to do it — made me question everything I know about literary writing.
I did not end up submitting a revised photo-essay pitch to that editor. Although, it is true that I think about it quite often. I know my idea works, is relevant, and for some blathering reason I have research paper upon research paper to prove what I have “seen” in the world around me. I was scared, and I still am. Despite having evidence that I am capable of writing, I doubted myself. It has nothing to do with the editor, but outside of this literary world, I’ve been living in an environment where people ask me if I can do something, instead of helping me do the things. Am I not worthy of support, I used to wonder. Now, I don’t question my worth, but I question the absence of support from people who know better. The shift is very subtle, but has great magnitude. Do I want to occupy spaces that demand me to prove who I am? Do I want to be in spaces where I am supported to be who I am?
We live in a BOYM world — bring your own motivation — as if all of us, collectively experiencing this human existence is not a thing of wonder every single day but a banal rite of passage through this galaxy. I refuse the diminishing of the act of being alive. That’s why I know I am not in a labyrinth. I know that the crates upon crates in the gullies of this city are real and the hum of the place is beating from the knowledge that human living is relational. I am not a Minotaur and this is not a trap. Living sure feels burdensome, but I have to resist compounding it by self-flagellation. Feeling weighed down by my eyelashes at the end of most days is a symptom of life, not life itself.
While sharpening my lip crayon the other day, I ceased all inquiry into why women of older generations have been able to use the same lipstick for decades. Or just have them lying around. Similarly, I have stopped questioning the need for feminism in the world, stopped distrusting the small riots we inherit from older and other women. Do I belong in this world? is a question women have been asking for decades. I have been asking myself this question for a long time, too. I’ve done this outside of my gender and because of it. But you know what? I am trying not to do this anymore.
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