Revisiting an old friend – 1

In 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, I had an epiphany. I wanted to write and share some of my ideas with a very close knit group of friends and family, because it would keep me connected to them, I loved to write and I thought (at that time) that my Musings (as I called my personal newsletter) would go viral. I kept at it for 6 months, week on week writing about things that mattered to me and hopefully providing food for thought to those who were my audience. I was revisiting some of it today and I thought it’d be worth putting some of that writing (entirely mine and original and am sure some of my friends on that mailing list will vouch for it) here for your consumption. Yes, there may be an odd reference to something ethnic as I come from India, so perhaps I’ll add something as a Footnote for you 🙂 if warranted. I’ll probably post all of these under a new category called Musings, that way you and I both will know the fresh from the regurgitated :). But hey it’s all me. Hope you enjoy it and please do share because sharing is caring. In fact why don’t you tell me which song would go well with every post that I post under Musings? I’d love to accede to your requests…this is the JukeBox after all!

“Go beyond borders”

Many of you would recognize the quote that I’ve posted above. I found it brilliant. Of course the context that CNN used it was to promote their brand of news making and presenting. But for me it stands for so much more. It truly means ‘pushing beyond the paradigms of well defined, articulated and accepted definitions’. You see, we need to teach ourselves and our children to reflect deeply on what being human entails. It’s a tough ask but it’s also deeply enriching. Don’t we often, say, ‘push the envelope’? Or ‘think out of the box’? Why do we say it and what do we mean by it? Aren’t the envelopes and boxes our own borders? Aren’t our prejudices our own borders? Aren’t our attitudes and mindsets our own borders?

You know I saw this lovely movie called ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ for the nth time. I love that movie. And not only for Julia Roberts, but also for the premise that she puts forth. She’s an art teacher who teaches this bunch of young, smart and sassy girls at Wellesley in ’50s America, to think beyond what they perceive, to question tradition and dogma. Here are some interesting snippets of dialogue to illustrate:

“Look beyond the paint. Let us try to open our minds to a new idea.”
Julia Roberts known as Katherine Watson shows the class a slide:
Katherine Watson“Carcass”, by Soutine, 1925. Is it any good? C’mon, ladies, there’s no wrong answer. There’s also no textbook telling you what to think. It’s not that easy, is it?
Betty Warren: Alright, no. It’s not good. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it art. It’s grotesque.
Connie Baker: Is there a rule against art being grotesque?
Giselle Levy: I think there’s something aggressive about it. And erotic.
Betty Warren: To you, everything is erotic.
Giselle Levy: Everything is erotic.
Susan Delacorte: Aren’t there standards?
Betty Warren: Of course there are! Otherwise, a tacky velvet painting could be equated to a Rembrandt!
Connie Baker: Hey, my Uncle Ferdie has two tacky velvet paintings. He loves those clowns.
Betty Warren: There are standards! Technique, composition, color, even subject. So, if you’re suggesting that rotted side of meat is art, much less good art, then what are we going to learn?
Katherine Watson: Just that. You have outlined our new syllabus, Betty, thank you. What is art? What makes it good or bad, and who decides?
[referring to a childlike drawing of a cow]
Katherine Watson: 25 years ago, someone thought this was brilliant.
Betty Warren: Who?
Katherine Watson: My mother. I painted it for her birthday. Next slide. This is my mom. Is it art?
Susan Delacorte: It’s a snapshot.
Katherine Watson: If I told you Ansel Adams had taken it, would that make a difference?
Betty Warren: Art isn’t art until someone says it is.
Katherine Watson: It’s art!
Betty Warren: The right people.
Betty Warren: And who are they?
Giselle Levy: Betty Warren! We’re so lucky we have one of them right here.

There was a Point/ Counterpoint in the editorial about having legislation on ‘lookism’. For many of us who are not sure what this means, including yours truly, it means to remove bias at workplace on the basis of one’s looks. Well, what can I say! I don’t know if legislation will really help. It’s an attitude isn’t it? It’s an age-old mindset about what constitutes ‘beautiful’ vs. ‘ugly’. Ask me about it. I’m a dark, not terribly attractive woman. When I was in school, one of the most impressionable years of one’s life you will agree, I remember coming home crying, or sitting outside with ‘friends’ and feeling completely wretched because the ‘boys’ would always call me ‘Kaali Bhains’ meaning ‘black buffalo’. When you’re 8 or 9 it scars you. You question and you don’t get too many answers that make sense. ‘You’re beautiful inside’ doesn’t make sense. You want to know why do they call you so? You want to know why you don’t get ‘red roses’ in college. You want to know why guys are forever dedicating songs to the ‘fairer prettier one’. You want to know why you’re asked supposedly innocent questions by your own family ‘So you’re quite alright girl, how come you don’t have boy friends?’

You may of course wonder, is this something to get upset about and isn’t it time to grow up and leave it behind? I have, but till date, I feel uncomfortable looking at myself in a mirror in a public ladies’ cloak room. I am afraid to comb my hair or anything. Till date I feel a sliver of something undefined when someone says, ‘she’s so dark or she’s so ugly’. Do I not indulge in being judgmental about others and their looks and their sense of style? I do. Which brings me back to the question I began with: Will legislation help people who are discriminated against on the basis of looks? Isn’t it a shifting goal post as the definitions of beauty shift and as they say, ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder?’.

I don’t know the answer.

Have you noticed that some wounds run so deep (perhaps as deep as the Indian Ocean’s deepest point at 14,800 feet) or the Mariana Trench in the Pacific, that you keep talking about it repeatedly? Yes, my deep insecurity and scarring about my looks has me mentioning it very often, because at the end of the day am trying to heal myself. My outpourings to you help me learn the utter hopelessness of holding on to self-defeatist and self-sabotaging thoughts, but when it runs in your veins, perhaps it will take the 12 step AA process to get it undone. Maybe I’ve just done 2 or 3 and still have a ways to go.

Well, anyway, am older, wiser, greyer and I know that being who I am in my own skin is the only way to be. My skin may be dark, but dark is also beautiful. And I think that if there was no dark, how would you appreciate the fair-skinned? You need the darkness to revel in the light.