Deepa Bhasthi takes a look at the freedom of expression in writing, the politics of the human body and what it takes to be sexually liberal in today’s times.
How dare you insinuate that my body is worth just Rs 31,000!!? As if you can put a value on something that has never been for sale.
The body is the temple? Sure it is. It is also a dance floor. A fast ride. A slow dinner. It is what I choose it to be.
I shall abuse it with alcohol in a smoke filled room as part of an ongoing Sunday ritual. I shall torture my never bent bones with gravity defying kicks in a martial arts class. I shall become a jalebi for postures in yoga. Or I shall sit and stare today, vegetate, at the birds on the jacaranda tree that overhangs my balcony.
Here is something you need to know. You, the khap, the men in my life, the men on the road, the @$%&@ ministers, the ‘people’ in ‘what will people say’; this here that you see, imagine, assume, judge, want? This body? This is wholly mine and mine alone. It is mine when I wear whimsical shorts in summer (and monsoons), mine when I go on holidays with my partner who I am not married to, mine when I inhabit it. Mine alone.
We humans ask ourselves and others several questions, don’t we? Most of them rhetorical, like this one. Like who owns this body, even when I call it wholly mine. I ask myself if I do. I ask myself if I am really free in the words I choose, in my medium if it is the body that I choose to use to express what I feel, who I am. Or am I, like all of us, bound in chains, unbreakable, even at their weakest links?
Rhetorical questions don’t seek answers, do they? Or do they demand responses?
It isn’t easy practicing the whole ownership of this body. No man an island and all that. It is my partner’s, when he makes love to me – I lend it to him then. It is my parents’ – they gave it to me and set me free. It is a friend’s – when he embraces me in a tight hug and talks of mundanities of the day. But I always claim it back, whenever it suits me. I am whimsical that way. I will unclothe it the way I want, especially within home. I am not a ‘good girl’ that way.
It is not the house owners’, at the flat I moved into, so they can raise their eyebrows all the way to the first floor when the boyfriend visits, stays over. It is not the town lecher’s, so that he can whistle all he wants at the saree I wear. It is definitely not the vaguely termed anonymous society’s, so they most definitely cannot tell me how my body must behave.
Old lessons don’t go away though. Ideas of propriety ingrained from childhood gains credence as you grow older and choose to listen to what the social fabric permeating your routines has to say. Even for the hippie, I suppose, there are rules to follow. I sit before the computer slightly mortified. The food politics magazine I edit will have erotica in its next issue. I wrote it. I talk of figs as fruit and figs as the traditional metaphor for vagina in art, literature. And I invite my lover to eat the fig. I am mortified because my mother will read it. She will not say a word, for we have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell going on, but she will read it. And somewhere, there is a little girl who cringes, because in the eyes of her mother, she is still that little girl and anything of the adult body is not for her. Except for modesty and honour.
The erotica emerged after a bitter fight with these old lessons subtly trying to get me to censor my words, that even when my lover was called to eat the fig, I was blushing for having to write these words. It seemed easier to just do it on old cots, behind doors, against the wall with the delicious risk of discovery looking over us, rather than write a metaphorical piece that may or may not be about us making love. Morality is such a loaded word, so convenient, so controversial, so intrusive upon lasting memories.
She will read this too.
I ask myself this. I never wear nail paint. Yet, on a whim, to celebrate moving to a new neighbourhood, I bought a bottle the other day. I wear red nail paint today, as I write this. It is slightly chipped in some places, from cooking last night. I can never keep it perfect for long, for these hands work. But I ask myself this. Red is vamp. Red nail paint is sophisticated, for the confident woman. Apparently. Does the fact that I wear red as I type this help in shedding inhibitions of what will people think? The librarian glasses and pajamas I wear apart, do the cultural connotations that advertisers and fashionistas have fed me with about red make me feel sexier because I wear red nail paint?
I think it does. Though please don’t ask me again if I say this because I feel so or because I have to say so. It’s just nail paint on the tips of my fingers.
I get scared more often these days, because the FOE hashtag is so viral everywhere I see. Writers, comedians, artists, every creative person is being shortchanged on that freedom which is the most important. It matters a lot where the desire for self-censorship comes from. “Because mother might read it” is ok. “Because I might be caged” is not ok. I am not a dancer, so the body is not what I tell you stories with. My body is like the words I employ to translate the voices in my head for you. I neglect it, I take it for granted, but when I go back, like an understanding old friend, my body embraces me back. Like these very words that never fail me. The possibility of cages gets stronger these days. There is, most often, family to think about, no man an island and all that.
But then a caged bird sings too. He “stands on the grave of dreams/his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream/his wings are clipped and his feet are tied/so he opens his throat to sing.” He sings of freedom and his tune is heard on the distant hill.
Tuneless or otherwise, the only recourse in this chained, changing world is to continue to sing, louder and louder.
Body. Pimples. Muffin tops. Unthreaded eyebrows. Unwaxed hands. Granny panties. Beauty. Cellulite. Tattoos. Expression. Scars. Roses. Ripe red figs. Love. Sex. Yoga. Long walks. Music. Dance. Cramps. Stiff neck. Breasts. Summer dresses. Overeating. Faded pajamas. Whisky. Draught beer. Soles. Soul. Celebration. Sexy. Fluid. Flexible. This body. Mine.