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The Lost Land Of Afghanistan That I Found in Rome

March 22, 2019
Moody Mo

Flea markets world over has been my never-to-miss spot. As usual once in Rome I tried to follow the adage – be a Roman in Rome. I got my gladiator sandals out and decided to look for Al Capone on the streets. I found many with noses that could hold a hanger with my freshly ironed robes. And was amused at the confidence levels with which they charm the panties of a celibate. The Romans are loud, emotional, proud people with a daunting history that takes you back into time. The architecture lying in ruins throughout Rome reminds you of the history books you have read as a child. The paintings and the sculptures breathing life into their stone eyes and structure keep me spellbound for more.

Opposite the river bank on a Sunday noon, are tired and hopeful shopkeepers selling art, jewellery and pasta stalls. In the midst of all this, I find the city filled with migrant labourers from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and many more places. Selling their wares with the hope of earning a good future for their families. I always find myself drawn to people whose eyes have stories. As I navigate my path into the Flea market below a long winding staircase, I am reminded of the absolute genius of this country and it’s Neo-Realism films that have inspired so many artists. I am reminded of the genius of Vittoria Di Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and the many more films that have made me weep for the protagonists.

In this flush of weeping and awe of the city and its history, in a corner, I found an open stall with the most exquisite Afghani jewellery. The shop owner was a tall, burly man with a complexion that has traces of his Afghani Roots. His eyes are proud and he is selling not because he likes to sell but has to feed himself and his family. I find myself lost in his beautiful, intricate, stone inlay traditional jewellery. It is made up of German Silver and glass with enamel inlay floral designs.

He tells me his name is Ahmed and he is a Kuchi nomad. They are the nomads from the Ghilji tribal confederacy, the largest tribe called the Pashtuns from Afghanistan. He said the poorer families wear these silver pieces because the more exorbitant things are used for the Nikkah (marriage) and those are also made with floral and crescent moon designs.

Ahmed sold me his choice of jewellery and I couldn’t say no to his gaze of hope. He said it looked beautiful on me. Rome had taught Ahmed to be a Roman in Rome. Effortlessly flirting with women who thronged his space in the flea market.

I wear my Afghan tribal jewellery with much pride. It speaks of the resilience of the nomads who are not bound by chains of settling down. I can’t help but smile at the irony of life, we the settlers who are always unsettled in our hearts. Searching for the elusive spot of sunshine and security. Unlike the nomads, they live one day at a time.

The crescent moon on my necklace is one step away from its fullness. The tiny silver on its edge is illuminated by the glass pieces reflecting the sun rays. I imagine a bride in the finery of her Afghani resplendence saying “Kubool hai, Kubool hai” even if her heart says no. I had to have Ahmed’s story on my neck.

Gender, Suffrage Movement 1848 To Continued Women Empowerment 2019

Desire Has No Gender

March 5, 2019

She heard the car pull up. She heard his footsteps as he approached her room.  She hurriedly put on her bra and a worn out kurta. A dependable wife. A doting mother. That was her refuge from desire. She caught a glimpse of her delicate curves. Curves that once turned Murad to jelly. That was a different life. More so, very different people. She looked away from the mirror. No point in dwelling over the past.  After all, none of it mattered anymore.  It didn’t matter that she was a fading shadow of herself. That she had become a self-deprecating image of the Madonna, overlooked too often for she had given up her voice and her desire. She looked around her room. Yes this is enough. A home. A family!

She greeted him with a placid smile. “Hey beautiful! It’s been a long day at work. Would you pour me a  drink? Did you see the email from school?”  He spoke in a tone that matched her smile.

Ranjana often felt alienated from her thoughts of playing the role of a wife, mother and all the glorified images that society has conjured for women over the years.

To be the wife cum mother which a woman is supposed to be, is an religious, media image of perfection. A perfect body, no hair on body and always with a smile. It is the image of the Madonna who is giving and never asking, the image of the householder who holds on to the façade of a home of equal opportunity. Ranjana thought, I must! I must not encourage these thoughts of wanting to see myself and admire my breasts or the side of my waist that once turned Murad to jelly.

Karan enters the home tired and everyone is on their feet. It is an unspoken rule since years. When the man comes home, you got to be all ears to his needs. I recall the day I came back after many tests from the hospital. No one even noticed that I needed a glass of water. But who am I to complain. At least I don’t have restrictions like many more women I know. I am allowed freedom. Maybe not thoughts but it’s all right to have the rest.

He says “hey beautiful, Did you  see the email from school? “ I am lost because I only saw myself in the mirror and saw an older woman stare back at me.

I smiled and said “The net connectivity you know is terrible and the damn crap keeps buffering”. I learnt that word from the millennial child. In reality, I am buffering between spaces of reality and desire. I used to read a lot as a young girl and I especially remember the theory of Freud where he says for most men they desire the whore and worship the Madonna. They marry Madonna but fuck the whore.

So as an intelligent woman I knew to act coy and scared was the best way for him to feel he is in a safe zone. He is anchored with the thought of being in control. To keep peace and harmony it is best to make them believe that truth. Sometimes, I also felt he indulged me sexually just out of mere obligation. But I stop my thoughts always. Its disturbing for the home environment.

My thoughts are broken by the  millennial child who says, “Come on you know mama, she barely ever checks mails or even tries to push for grades. She says that travelling is education, loving is celebration and sex is honesty”. I almost got  caught there. I say, “Yes baby, let’s not worry about all that. Let’s gets the grades going”.

I am always cognitive that I have to be the Madonna which you all have created for me and put me on a pedestal.
That evening, in his drunken stupor, he made out with me. Ok, I also learnt that word “ making out” from the millennial child. I was bored of the act but I sighed and hummed in between. Was worried maybe he heard my Yaman raag. Quickly, I stopped the notes in my mind and said oh my god! That feels great! I knew his mind was not there like mine too wasn’t.

I loved my friend Saida. Meeting her  is really the most deliciously evil thing to do, she keeps telling me how he never cared for her. So she cared for herself. Her words always make me smile and I feel calm in her company. There is no pretence of being another version of me. It’s always me. Everytime we speak,  I  feel I am not that much of a freak to feel desire and passion, because  it’s my natural state of being human. I feel greater to think that I am more in control than Saida and control makes me the Madonna of my home.

That evening, I sat by myself and asked myself the questions which I was scared even my conscience would hear. I asked why is it that desire is also patriarchal, why are orgasms reserved only for men, why is a man allowed to be fat yet desirable and a woman not?

I recalled Murad when we met so many moons back. He couldn’t keep his eyes off me. He couldn’t keep his smile concealed every time he met me. How his strong hands held me from breaking down the day I told him I was getting married to a businessman who Ma said would look after me. Murad was a musician and his earning was meagre. Murad let me go with pain in his voice and anguish in his soul. I still can, on lonely nights, see those honest eyes brimming with tears as he said goodbye.

Lord I will go into hell! And  be surrounded with sad virgins. What a shame would that be. So I decided I mustn’t indulge in these thoughts that are not for the Madonna of the home. You have to remain eternally beautiful without being wild, you have to remain happy without being hormonal and you just have to tow the line.  But, bastard desire is a real crook, it keeps coming in spurts and moments when the rain touches the wet earth and the flowers blossom with nipping the bud in its own force.

I quickly tie my hair and wear my lipstick to regain composure and be another beautiful thing that lies in the home. Dusted from time to time and forlorn  on a busy season of exams and duties. Just like the changing season, my breasts have grown softer and my belly fat gets thicker but Murad has a way of re-appearing when no one is watching me.

I don’t know if I am the Madonna or the whore. You can’t be the same person with so many versions of you. I am scared of discovering my sexuality, so I put my feet in the puddle of water in the garden and feel the wetness calm me down.

Someday, I know that society will accept that lust and love are twins of a separate identity in one being. One protects the other from destruction and separation.

Fashion Clothes, Gender, Lifestyle, Own Life Story

Frida Kahlo And Her Refusal To Accept The Rules

February 20, 2019
”I hope the leaving is joyful; and I hope to never return” 

Frida Kahlo was an iconic artist from Mexico who painted portraits, of pain and passion. Women all over will remember her till time to come, for her unashamed rebellion against the norm. She had polio as a child and nearly died in a tram accident. During that time, with a broken rib and multiple fractures, she painted her anguish on to the canvas. She took Mexican folk art to a world platform with her attitude on her sleeves. Feminists world over lauded her for her unconventional choices.

Her view on sexuality wasn’t restricted with what society deemed right and wrong. She loved deeply and was hurt deeply, in her multiple relationships with men and women. She grew as a person to become a better lover, artist and celebrated every moment of her failing and falling. When we say beauty is skin deep, which holds true for her because she is known for flaunting her facial hair, her uni-brow and carried her limp with style. She chooses to wear Mexican weaves and art on her clothing. She met the much married Riviera Diego, an artist par excellence, who taught her to paint. She later married Diego and became great friends with his wife. While in the relationship that was tumultuous and full of passion, she found her art. They were both artists who loved Mexico and while being married to each other were not scared to experience love and life with others. Diego was her anchor and she was his.

 Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Frida’s flowers on her head were like a crown that she wore. They were symbolic of her free nature, her free style. She truly embodies that style is not restricted to trends in fashion. It is what you make out of your choice in clothing that becomes your statement. A statement, which you eventually choose as your external identity. She wore Mexico all over the world with pride.

I recall one chilly nippy winter month on my visit to Paris; I read that there was a museum displaying Diego and Frida’s art. I wasted no time in booking the tickets for the show. Crossed over the river Sienna, the bridge which was filled with locks that lovers had put on the bridge and threw away the keys into the river with a promise to be forever together.

My little boy asked me if I too wanted a lock and I replied “no”. I held his grubby little hand in mine, feeling the wind on my face and in my heart I knew we all break promises. Relationships that do not celebrate the evolution of one another remain stunted like the stale odour of a dead horse being flogged to ride and move.

I picked my tickets, grabbed my black coffee and croissant and walked inside the gallery. Diego’s art was sublime, whereas Frida’s art had her anguish all over the canvas. Her aborted children, her bedridden state of wanting to break free yet confined. Her art was full of pain and also a celebration of that growth which comes out of that pain. I am drawn to anything that has Frida Kahlo on its cover. I feel her energy embody my rebellious mind.

Obedience to society and its conditioning. I know, it’s a long battle for women to be sexually free. But I have hope…

Gender, Indian culture, Tradition

Kumari That Was Not Killed

November 18, 2018
Kumari That Was Not Killed

As the winter sets in on the fading sunlight against the Ganges Ghats. West Bengal worships the pre puberty girl child as an reincarnation of the divine Goddess. It’s celebrated as Kumari Pujo. Little girls are given a bath and dressed like a bride. Resplendent in her attire of flowers, the traditional red sari and jewellery she is worshipped in homes and temples. The spiritual leader Ramkrishna Paramhans in his Belur Math has the Kumari Pujo that’s celebrated with divinity that only a goddess deserves.

The Howrah Bridge stands stoic, the river flowing gently below. It teaches us resilience. With the advent of technology. Clinics have sex determination tests. And unfortunately female foetus after its gestation period is aborted in our country. The girl child is a burden. She is viewed as a taker and not a provider. Innumerable stories that wrench your gut. You hear how the baby girl when born is left out in the cold without a shred of clothing on her. So that she dies. Cold and blue. The mothers cry is choked because her voice is silenced by the patriarchy of her household. We face this level of discrimination in India. Where the blooming bud is torn away from the branches. Because she may bloom unhindered and happy. Let’s take a leaf out of this garland of tradition from West Bengal. Where your little girls are treated like beautiful divine flowers. Her essence is her freedom. Worship her like the reincarnation of the goddess in you and me. As the Ganga flows with the debris of stale worshipped flowers and the ashes of the dead. Let India be reborn into a secure country, where the girl child is taught to feel the wet earth under her feet, the rain on her skin and the sunlight on her face.

Gender, Indian Fashion

Love is an emotion and tears are salt. Salt & emotion is not he or she.

September 6, 2018
Love is an emotion and tears are salt. Salt & emotion is not he or she.

I always dreamt of open fields, open skies and open minds. Minds that are not hindered with the societal diktats of right and wrong.
In a historic judgement today the archaic Section 377 has been scrapped.

Gay sex is not illegal anymore. I often wonder if emotion and love has gender. Does your muffled cry at night have a gender?
Then why conditions for loving someone you desire need government approval.

I have seen close friends sink deep into depression because they are not allowed to speak or express their gender choice in loving someone.
Finally we are waking up from this long slumber of darkness where light is entering through the crack in the windows.  It’s seeping you, me & all of us with a knowledge that India still upholds respect of choice. Like any democracy should & would.

Cry out loud, love strong & intense and never apologise for who you are. Among the best artists and best designers world over are LGBT hindered voices that express anguish in their art.

With my ever increasing love & loyalty to Indian fashion & designers.  I salute the creative genius of the designers who rule the roost in Indian fashion & has taken India on the world map with their sensibilities and aesthetics. Here too Art has no gender.