FAT comfort: wrestling with the image police

What’s happened to you, you’ve ballooned!big wonder woman

The ‘tactful’ remark greeted my hesitant foray into the garden after a self confinement of nearly 5 months in my apartment.  On venturing outside, I was only too aware that the garden lies in the epicenter of the ashram, subject to the sundry looks of passers-by, self advertised spiritual seekers. Ironically, the comment had issued from one of the longtime residents, hardly a slim woman herself.

The community had gone through an upheaval with the death of its founder 5 months earlier, and we were still reeling from sensational revelations of hidden wealth, silent immediate thefts by the managing council, and speculations about the true date of his death. [see for eg. http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/more-gold-found-in-sathya-sai-baba-s-ashram-in-puttaparthi-116432http://www.ndtv.com/topic/sathya-sai-central-trust; ] Unable to socialize, gossip, or add to the rumor mill, I’d shut myself up in my room. But, my room lies in the eye of the storm, behind Swami’s erstwhile residence, itself next to the big hall of worship where the 12 day death rituals were conducted–I could elude none of hysteria.

I’d lost the three of them over them over these 50 years of my life–Dad first when I’d just turned 15, Mum next, four years after my return from the States, and now, Swami two months into my 50th year. Menopausal, hurting with grief, I couldn’t take the socio-spiritual hubbub. So, for five months, I stayed within my little apartment. A box really, but one Swami had personally gifted to me just two years before he died. A prescient talisman, the room was simultaneously my protection and an object of envy, a double on the ground floor occupied by a questionable single feminist when whole families occupied a single.

How did the time of self immuration pass? Times of depression or great grief are periods of hibernation for the soul. The body may ache from lack of exercise, but the spirit needs silence and solitude to nurse itself back into human interaction. Menopause, lack of exercise, over-eating, all played their role: I knew I’d ballooned up.

But, still mentally vulnerable, that unthinking comment by a sista, a self-promoted white sari clad seeker, triggered my angry response, “Hey, you’re not so thin yourself. What gives you the fuckin’ right to comment on others?” Of course, she was righteously offended, unable to comprehend my anger or its cause. To her way of thinking, the remark was merely a casual joust, to me it was an insensitive blow to my already shaky psyche. I’d had to summon up my willpower and courage to go outside, into the glare of human interaction. Perhaps I unconsciously sought the friction of social intercourse that the scar tissue of ill-healed grief might toughen up?

Anger has always been my defense, armor to withstand the blows of the world. angryblackwomanWhere other folks cry, I scream. I throw tantrums. I used to break glass and crockery, tear up clothes, smarting from social hurts I couldn’t explain even to myself. “You’re oversensitive, you read too much into things,” friends and acquaintances advise me. But I’ve never been able to figure at what point sensitivity crosses over into the prohibited area of over-sensitivity.

Unfortunately, in order to be a productive, socialized, civilized human, this knack of differentiation is a pre-requisite!

Patch (for sale) by artist karapassey

Patch (for sale) by artist karapassey

Fat is chain-mail too, a sheath both defensive and aggressive. [on a life changing book, see http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/04/09/fat-is-a-feminist-issue-2/ ]  Right from childhood, I’ve been plump, overweight, at one point even labelled obese by the school doctor, a family friend.  I remember my mum outraged by the word, “obese, what a word to use.  She’s not obese!”  So, the very first time I heard the word, it was an insult, an affront to parental nurturing.  Looking up the word, I took in its connotations and cringed.  That was the beginning of fat guilt:   I was the culprit in my obesity.  My mum consulted our family doctor after that report about my ‘obesity,’ and he put me on a diet.  It didn’t work.

Obesity, however, didn’t come in the way of my activities.  I played throwball, basketball, netball, even tried hurdling.  Inclined to sports, and addicted to swimming, I continued stubbornly overweight.  And obese I grew up–through my troubled teens, my father’s death, my college years in Anantapur, through grad school in the States, and my return to India and the ashram.   It took my Mum’s death to make me lose weight.  I walked miles each day, worked out frenziedly between times sitting in the big hall for Swami’s darshan.  Appropriately enough, that was the time my sexuality made its presence anew after a decade of dormancy. I wonder if such sexual hunger at time of loss is a reaffirmation of life force, the urge to the species to continue to propagate its kind.

Crossing the forty watershed, I looked much younger than my age.  It had nothing to do with weight, however–I’ve never looked my age thin or fat.  angry black womanNow, at 52, I still don’t look my age, fat though I thankfully am.  Looking young, to me, is more trouble than its worth. I’d rather look my age if not a little older: youthful looks often encourage patronage, particularly by the men. I still suffer from the occasional male follower, at a stage when sexuality is more trouble than it’s worth. How did I regain my weight and recover the self I’m most comfortable with? [see a wonderful post on self image: http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2010/01/feminism_and_fa]  A torn knee ligament which the aches and stiffness of menopause only made more painful, Swami’s death–the last of the trinity I love–and the accompanying depression/ grief.  So here I sit, typing these words, too big for the world as ever.  I’m out of the agoraphobia of intense loss, go for regular walks early morning, work out with weights, but I’m a big mama.

After 52 years of being obese, with a skinny interim of maybe 5-6 years, I have at long last learned to rejoice in my big self.  Too large for the social spaces I’m in now, and spaces like academia that I moved in earlier, I am the right size for me.  Men can’t easily talk down to me, either physically or intellectually, nor do most women. [see also– http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/oct/11/gender.society ] Thin socialized women find me unsettling:  loud, big, and rebellious, unable to conform.  I make my friends uneasy, as I really have not much yen for company.  My solitary self does not revel in too much interaction.  [on singleness today, see http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/05/09/going-solo-klinenberg/http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/04/16/120416crbo_books_heller]. Most comforting now, I’ve begun writing again, taking up as much space as I want in words and letters.

I spread myself easily: I am fat enough for comfort.

Leaky bucket days–life dripping down

“Water not only moves around a rock, it actually moves through it,”
Larry Fleinhardt in Numb3rs

An eccentric genius, Larry is a physics professor who cannot get his ‘self’ together. In certain aspects of his life he is highly organized and anal retentive as, for instance, in his food habits, he eats only monochromatic foods. But, Larry has his anarchic  side as well; he sells his house and, now, beds down wherever he feels unthreatened.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0888290/   The episode opens with Larry scurrying out of a steam tunnel, bedding in hand, watched surreptitiously by a Senior Professor.   Although he has been offered a space in Charlie’s garage, he moves out after a few nights, preferring the tunnels.larry Larry’s is a more borderline personality than Charlie Epps, the math genius who, though he may have commitment problems, lives in his own house albeit with his dad. Watching the show at night, having had a few pegs of ‘Honeybee’, that wonderful Goan brandy, I sense Larry in myself.

So far the day has been a leaky bucket, my resolve to write, my good humor, have both dripped out through the hours. An all too familiar mood of futility and desperation flows in instead.  I hear my own voice, shrill, high, and loud, berating the service people who delay the car’s return until the afternoon.  The heat today  is like an unwanted blanket, it presses down and renders me numb and nerveless.  Aware that the world is at odds with me, I don’t want to move.

Sure enough, my voice hits the heavy air again like a harpy’s. I shout at Francisca, the housekeeper, who forgets to bring the sticky tape I need to mend a carton. And, I am constantly on the phone to the service people who whine,
“we are bringing the car, just now, bringing the car ma’am.”
They have now been bringing the car for four days.
“Brake pads are worn down, ma’am, we don’t have a driver, ma’am, the car is in the body shop, ma’am.”
Sung in inimitable Indian cadence, the refrain drums through my head. The customer will never be God here, s/he has to grateful for any favors done.

My harangue, in response to their ditty, removes me to another time and place–the ashram of two years ago when its founder died.  The note of hysteria that inflects my voice summons up those days:  Swami dead, people, pilgrims, gawkers, and thieves bound together in the sweat of mass emotion.  Me, in my tiny flat, I cower amid the thick of things, hidden behind my walls but I witness all.putt  I don’t venture outside, but my room rides the gusts of hysteria and hypocrisy. My apartment is a ship, battered by a cyclone of mourning.

I lock myself forcibly inside, and attempt to eat myself into immobility. My legs lock up.  They ache because they have nowhere to walk. [FYI:news video Devotees mourn death]  Today, two years later, the legacy of locking myself in for eight months endures, physically and mentally.  I write to release myself from that immuration within doors. Physically, I am free, I have the means to move where I please–to be in Goa, to meet folks, to walk on the beach.  But every so often I feel the weight of  those mental shackles.  I allow myself more latitude now but grief still bears down on my mind. I will not move out of this room in Sunlife Residency today, although my voice beats at different doors.

Scrunched over my little MacBook, I hear a scooter start up, and Shalini, my neighbor goes by with her year old son balanced in front of her.  She looks up and waves, plump, with shoulder length black hair, large dark eyes that crease up when she smiles. Her round face, as well, creases into goodwill. In her black skirt and printed blouse, she looks the perfect mum.
“You must have heard me screaming,” I tell her, “horrible day, guess how much the service cost?  Thirteen thousand rupees.”
“Ooh,oh, my Gawd!” she exclaims.
“Fuck them. Ba-a-ad day.”
“Yes”, she agrees.

I’ve been bled dry.

 

Low tide debris–moving beyond intellectual strife

“In proportion as [a person] simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude…,” Thoreau, http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/03/13/tarkovsky-advice-to-the-young/

At the age of fifty-three, a friend works on a degree in Law: he is finishing up at a university only about 200 kms south of where I am now. The courage of his endeavor amazes he, that he puts himself into school alongside the young, that he leaves his wife in Chennai to stay in a crummy hostel. I invite him to Goa when I first get here, fearing perhaps the loneliness of my undertaking. Unfortunately, Ganesh cannot make it.

But later, two months into my stay, when I recover my cellphone after leaving it in the car, I see five missed calls, all from the same person. I call the number to hear Ganesh on the line: he has to return to Belgaum on work of his own but is thinking of coming up to see me. With only a couple of weeks remaining here, I tell him to hurry up. He suggests that it maybe a good idea to come up at the end of my stay and travel back to Chennai with me. “Alright,” I agree, “it’d be good to have some company on the way back. We’ll be on the road 15 hours.”

Next morning, I wake in the pre-dawn. (I wish I could regain this habit of early rising–earlier on, in the ashram, rising in the dark was as unforced as walking.) By the time, I’ve done my various waking bodily chores and drunk my coffee, it is seven in the morning. At the beach, my body refuses to move but the sea soothes both mind and muscles. Extreme low tide exposes black tidal sand, compacted by the water, and it takes me a while to get to the sea.

The scene reflects my mind. I have a sense of scraping bottom. Words and people feel extraneous to being, and that I have made it out of the apartment is accomplishment enough. As I move further, my body eases up and I walk the same distance as the day before. Turning back however, fatigue washes over me. Back at my place, I realize that I have done too much. In that weariness, doubts about Ganesh’s visit grow.

I call him up to voice my hesitations, and curiously find camaraderie in his response:

“You’re just about a year younger to me.  Both of us in our fifties.  You know, we’re not young.  I also was thinking,  I need time in the morning to get up, go to the bathroom, get myself together.  If we leave at 4 am, it’s a long long drive.”

His doubts ironically reassure me about his company.  Now, I’d like him to accompany me, but he will only confirm his arrival once he reaches Belgaum.

Leaving Goa will not be easy as I’m in a liminal space, uncertain of what I am, what I want in life. Existing in the ashram, I had fashioned a single goal: emptiness, a vessel to be filled with god. To keep the mind empty is difficult, it entails cultivating detachment. Detachment from material desires or ambition is not too hard for me as I have always been skeptical about goals that drive people on.

To publish, to prove one’s intellectual worth, for example, holds no intrinsic meaning. Even as much as we value literary effort, the printed word is constantly displaced by digital images. Is this necessarily tragic? Before written/ printed texts came oral recitation with each performance revising the one that went before. Think of the ballads, or the many cultural epics in song. Those religious texts have added to and been edited after their Original spoken ‘Word’ (if ever there had been an original singular text!): the Koran, the Bible, the Vedas. As for literary texts, all are constantly re-inflected by patriarchal and cultural agendas in each new reading. Literary scholars make a living arguing over which interpretation is more relevant. Having a printed text does not ensure that meaning is simple or singular.

While writing this blog today, I am prey to the vagaries of the internet reception: a couple of times, my draft disappeared and I had to write anew. Each time I faced a blank screen, I typed in a different version, my meanings in flux. With no control over this text, I am free from Authorial pretensions. Easily cut-and-pastable across the web, my Signature dissolves in a jumble of code. And in similar scramble, I move to create meaning in my life, wanting nothing, and believing that nothingness is enough.

Having fled here, to Goa, I discover that this apartment is also ‘home’ to a self who once again begins to put words on the web, limping in text, mind, and body. In this little patio, marginal space, I create myself anew as I look up at the different greens that define the trees, as a bird whistles, another whirrs, and a crow caws. The onomatopoeia of words with the world is in sync with me.Photo on 10-02-13 at 1.16 PM
This self is solitary, it desires only to reflect on connections through the universe, none profound, none profane. I have to “learn by going, where I have to go.” Roethke’s lines run through my days, after Goa where? I will not worry, each ‘home’ will have its own learnings.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close behind me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lonely worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air;
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

–“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke,http://allpoetry.com/poem/8498751-The_Waking-by-Theodore_Roethke, http://www.317am.net/2012/02/i-wake-to-sleep-and-take-my-waking-slow.html [the second link discusses if poetry should have any one ‘interpretation’ or not]