UnVeiling Hued Bodies

This weekend over a family dinner, I was seated at the ‘women’s table’ as usual, wondering when did I morph from child to woman, old enough to be the invisible ear for middle-aged Ladies who need to vent out their LadyEmotions through the forms of humour and snark. As the conversation turned to ungrateful husbands and disobedient children I looked at the table at the end corner of the room where a young mother kept on glaring at her daughter of about six years of age for hiking up her dress or sitting ‘inappropriately’. I always had the same problem growing up; I could truly empathise and almost wanted to send her an invisible signal reassuring that she’d learn to ignore such comments soon enough as I watched her burst into tears later. Body policing is something Ladies Of The Dark Regions learn very quickly and rather subtly, only when someone points it out, the cracks in our disciplined bodies become visible. I remember reading Freud’s theory on Penis Envy — and rolling my eyes to eternity of course! — and realising how bourgeois and Euro-centric the theory was considering MudSquatter kids like I and my friends  weren’t generally allowed didn’t play with boys till about the time we were aware just how and why our bodies were different, we knew how girls were supposed to run, jump and be and how ‘those boys’ could be as carefree as they wished, to ever want to voluntarily see the little dudes up, close and personal to ever develop envy for that dangly appendage. In fact, after facing direct sexism and existing under the thumb of patriarchy as many DustyLadies do, then this supposed envy comes out, just so we can — for a while — be as unmarked as the culture lets us be.

The point is, as ‘occupied bodies‘ the body — theoretical or literal —  is a taboo subject to explore, discuss or even think about. There is a popular superstition that if a little girl swings her legs — non-applicable to little dudes –, one of her parents will die thus effectively blackmailing the girl into sitting still and poised at all times. The body is something that hardly goes unnoticed out here which is directly ironic to how much effort goes into negating it.  The motive is to police, tutor and chart it the way the DudeCouncil wants, which will make these unruly bodies into wives and mothers of the Dutiful Variety. I went to a Girl’s Convent school and can still remember how certain Muslim girls would suddenly start wearing full length tights under their uniforms in sixth or seventh grade, the way other girls would whisper “she got the curse¹!” much to the poor girl’s embarrassment. The shock on seeing classmates changing into the hijab or donning the veil everyday the moment they stepped out of school is still raw, I could never reconcile the Girl I Knew with the Girl In The Veil, to me they were separate bodies altogether, one marked as someone else’s and the other as bits of ‘herself’. I am not saying the veil is an imposition and there is never a possibility of it being a choice, rather that to a person who will never be expected by society or her religion to practice veiling, the invisibility of the veiled body bears a certain meaning to me, which may or not go along with the traditional space of hijab and its many practices.

On a personal level, the body stands as a space for negotiation of meanings and values, albeit this transaction is unheard and often airless. My cook gets very uncomfortable seeing the scar on my hand endured because of a vicious assault some years ago, she always asks me to wear full-sleeved things around her, whereas I think it is a reminder of what transpired and what is left of me despite of it. But I do wear full-sleeved clothes in public to make sure no one knows or thinks it appropriate to prod further with inane insensitive questions and remarks. If I’d be forced to reveal my ‘marked’ patch in public, I’d be acutely uncomfortable too, just like Muslim women of Maharashtra will be if the latest effort of the Shiv Sena to police ‘heathen’ (which is any non-Hindu entity) bodies comes through. While there are real security reasons behind this burqa ban — or so they’d like us to believe — the other motive is to reveal, bare, break Her resistance and ultimately make her available, a body that has adjusted to being perceived a certain way due to societal and religious norms. This UnVeiling is just as political and lacking in agency as it sounds, especially when the ‘ripe’ availability is offered to the DudeCouncil to benefit from. Like the DoucheColonial Empire, the State becomes the Coloniser of bodies in this scene, operating under notions of ‘liberation’ and the deeply paternalistic notion of ’empowerment’, which when stripped of all its high-minded aims just becomes a dance of ownership and control with the aftertaste of stealing collective agency. The desire to see is overwhelming, a powerful motivator to go behind the Purdah, without even an inkling of concern or consent. Branded with caste and sect by the LocalColoniser’s Eyes and Race in the GlobalColoniser’s Gaze, the UnVeiling of such hued bodies is a sight akin to non-consensual ventriloquism.

As a student of Postcolonial Studies, even references of the ‘marked’, ‘possessed’ and ‘occupied’ maps, lands are offensive for they bear reminders to the invasive seeing of our bodies and minds for me. We argue that the ‘rape’ between the coloniser and the colonised country is possible because of the feminisation of land and spaces; what about the feminisation of the BODY? In Discourse From The Empire — colonial or present day — almost always, the ‘body’ that is under subjection, scrutiny is the Female Body (for which other body fulfills the role of complete powerlessness?). What is this but another form of colonisation, exposing bodies and by extension ‘forbidden’ horizons piece by piece, under each veil? On whose terms do we want to blur these boundaries of marked bodies, to whose benefit are questions that have been silenced, in its space the bigger farce of National Security² ebbs, till those words are inscribed on the skin. By this time my mum was giving me the Olde Glowering Eyelid, bringing me back to one ‘women’s space’ as I left another one behind. Who knows, maybe that little girl did hear me after all.

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1. It’s amazing to what lengths we can go to avoid the term ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’.

2. I am certain there are other, less invasive methods of securing National Security, IF we want to avoid mass-control of bodies  that is.

 

A Woman Like That

Last year, I met an extremely interesting woman; she was fierce, passionate and charming. She had one ‘problem’, she was a part of the bigger sect we post-caste Indians have conveniently labelled ‘Dalit’. And to advance her (un)popularity, she was a former sex-worker. She worked as a maid in one of my aunt’s houses and I spoke very briefly with her before my aunt reprimanded me for talking to a woman like that. As if, whatever ‘problem’ or ‘disease’ she had, it would somehow seep through my skin too, or worse I’d become a woman like that too! Or maybe she just really hates two utreuses talking — and you know utreuses,  they ruin everything! — and that’s why she made me go to another room. Or maybe having a woman like that under your roof makes the air contaminated and you need to make sure that her ‘stench’ leaves with her. I for one am confused as to why would you let her work in your house if you feel it’s necessary to douse the house with ‘holy’ water after she leaves (think of the water waste daily!), obviously considering you can’t stand to be in the same room as her. I’d rather not employ someone I have a problem with than to employ them and treat them as less than human. But, that may just be me. I’m just a sillyarse LadyBrain after all.

I’ve heard about women like that since I figured out ‘that’ was a part of the Secret Indian Code parents or grown-ups use when referring to sex-workers. Or a woman who commits adultery — are you shocked that some women out here have affairs? Perhaps you should really give up thinking that all we do is squat in the mud all day. It might make comprehension of humans as a species a tad easier — or perhaps she’s a woman who had pre-marital sex. A woman like that always had to correspond with any vulva going out of line. Somehow circumstance, context and coercion wouldn’t be a part of such a discussion, just emphasis on how wrong the sexual transgression was and it ends with the same bleat of These Modern Women Racing To Be The Next Best Prostitute. Imagine my shock when someone I know called Arundhati Roy a woman like that. It shook the ground beneath my feet — take that Rushdie! — when I realised I didn’t know the Secret Indian Code at all. Turns out, a woman like that doesn’t require special prowess or inclination to indulge in more than socially sanctioned amounts of coitus but rather any woman whom the DudeCouncil considers ‘going out of her place’.

For a while I thought perhaps Arundhati Roy made a statement about feminine sexuality, or even hinted that it exists and that had the DudeCouncil up in arms. Or maybe she called Dalit activists ‘people’ like the last time; then I could understand  the fury that comes up whenever anyone mentions her. This time all she had to do was write a couple of brilliant articles on Indian politics and she has entered the race to become the Next Best Prostitute too, and completely without her knowledge from what I understand. As of now there are four ways one looks at Roy depending on the direct relation of the size of one’s lobes and the person’s inclination to not use them :

  1. Either she’s a sillyarse LadyPerson blabbering about the Maoists and how their fight is justified and she suggests alternative ways to just killing them as one would fleas, so she’s a Leftist and people in the Left are silly.
  2. She is a completely unreliable person when it comes to politics because she started off with writing fiction. And sillyarse ladies cannot be trusted to talk about politics who like to ‘dream’ things up.
  3. She should stick to what she knows best, dreaming up things and winning Bookers.
  4. She’s a LadyVulva. Like anything they say can be important at all.

Any critique of Roy, wise or otherwise, always narrows down to her gender and the profession she chose and then you go on to elaborate what she should do with the rest of her life, especially if it entails quitting to be one of the most outspoken voices of Indian politics. And perhaps you grudgingly acknowledge the fact that she won the Booker so she must have some slivers of talent after all considering she won an International Award Of The Important Variety. And then you add, “Maybe that Booker was a fluke. Explain why else has she not written another novel?” and even my Medusa face doesn’t stop you from detailing the flaws — where flaws become her inclusion of people from the lower castes — in God Of Small Things. And then while someone was ranting about Roy some more, I tuned out and started thinking about other women like that in Indian herstory. Starting from Mahashveta Devi who writes from the Subaltern, to Kamla Das who suffered vicious consequences for choosing Islam over Hinduism, to Ismat Chughtai who had to censor every word she wrote because of how she hinted at feminine sexuality under veiled and contained spaces to the recent writers of today like Namita Devi Dayal who shifted genres from non-fiction to fiction. The basic idea is to contain these writers into controllable spaces where the DudeCouncil can bask in the safety of never being accused. Between these admissions lies a truth I don’t want to acknowledge, that one not necessarily be feminist to be censored or policed, that being female is more than enough.

Women like that have a history of being ostracised, heavily critiqued and sometimes just negated to the point of being invisible. One professor I knew told me how publishing houses like Zubaan or Katha let women’s writing out because “no good publishing houses will publish such substandard writing. They get printed because they are women and not despite of it¹”. As if gender and sex are a blemish a woman can overcome if she tries really hard and adopts an ambiguous sounding name like A.S. Byatt then no one will regulate her into becoming a Silly Lady Novelist. Women like that need to taught their proper place in society, need to allow the DudeCouncil to ventriloquise them without mouthing any inconsequential muffles about ‘each voice for her own’ or other topics we pesky feminist like to take up ever so often, need to accept that no matter what they do, they will never be in a position to reach their MaleStreamed counterparts (who by the way are allowed to hop and skip between as many genres as they like! Ask the dude organising races for prostitutes. He’ll explain) and in a few words, Just Keep Quiet.

And when women fail to do that, they become Women Like That — diseased, contaminated, untouchable — and their tales become cautionary folklore. Every time I mention I hope to be a cultural theorist or a writer someday, all I hear is “I hope you don’t want to be one of those ‘women’s rights women’. They don’t do very well, you know. Some don’t even get married! Can you imagine?”, to which I am now going to reply, “Sorry, it’s too late. I am a woman like that“.

1. I still remember this statement even though I heard it more than two years ago.

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Sorry for the sporadic posting last week. As my evil exams are now a thing of the Olde Tymes, posting will be much more organised.

‘Skin Deep’ In Whose Skin?

As a budding wordling and receptor of English Literary Academia in India, it’s not difficult to notice our affinity to the terms ‘Postcolonialism’, the ‘subject position of the Oriental reader’, our tendency to use words such as ‘colonising space or time’, ‘deoccupying bodies’ and many other words in Literary mumbo-jumbo that somehow help us to disentangle the mess two hundred or so years of colonisation has left us with. At least for those privileged enough to understand said lingo. And for the ones who don’t, there is always assimilation into the larger ColonialMissionary looming over our heads, yielding keys to the fantastic universe of soap-operas, movies and music. And perhaps even kinky alternatives to intercourse of the coitus variety. But I digress. Either way, there are two options: 1. Fight the Imperialist Chromatic Hegemony  or 2. Be consumed by it (perhaps even like it!). I wish there weren’t such clear dichotomies — take that Descartes! — that there was some possibility of subverting or perverting the Neo-Colonial garbage thrown at us MudSquatters. But how can you topple an ideology or put it through the cycle of systematic and total bouleversement without exposing the underlying ulterior motive?

At least, this is the assumption many Postcolonial theorists make. Apparently it comes with the territory of considering oneself three steps above everyone else because you can theorise ‘them’ and ‘their mental condition’ as ‘they’ lie passively consuming all societal messages, like ‘they’ were brainless sheep in a culture factory. This is a sort of obsession, expecting the world to open ‘herself’ — another side-effect from nineteenth century academia — open to mapping, stealing narratives and even tongues. This way, each potential Postcolonial subject sits with their corner of land and language, positively asserting they can voice the people that come with the geography, denying that this re-possession of land isn’t another colonisation. After all, if you speak their language, you can represent them, right? I could continue ad nauseam in this vein but for the sake of my sanity and yours, let’s pretend I did and move on. This fetish with cartoligising, mapping, codifying history isn’t a new one. But the belief that the only way to de-colonise the self, dance the coloniser’s dance to unlearn old tricks is a recent one. Repeated and ritual use of terms such as Diaspora has trivialised the culture-specific experience of immigrant Jews and African communities; especially when writers such as Salman Rushdie and his band of dudely writers claim to be “children of Diaspora” while sitting in a comfortable mansion in the freaking Center of Western Imperialism. Or when many theorists compare racism with casteism, treating them as the same phenomenon and erasing each prejudice’s specific history, localising it to an understandable and reachable series of events. Not that different from the Victorians, isn’t it? These and countless others are the barriers that come up when a native sits back to theorise zie’s own culture and all its Colonial baggage. Imagine the plight of my lobes when I read some Western account on any Orientalist practice. Spoiler: It’s not a very pretty visual. Often it involves strange burning sensations of the nuclear kind in the vicinity of my LadyBrain.

Especially when talking about Feminist theory (practical or otherwise), more often than not its focus tends to center on the Extremely Obvious Universal Experience Of Every LadyPerson On The Planet: The Middle-Class, Suburban White Vulva Woman! And when pesky LadyPeople who may or not be of different colours, hues and ethnicities complain that it is too narrow a view, that it erases our experiences as LadyPeople who have faced oppression, silencing, misogyny and various other weapons in patriarchy’s arsenal more intensely than the Universal White Vulva Woman, rhymes, chimes and bytes of the GlobalSisterhood start blaring, once again pushing people of colour in the corner. Like Jane Eyre, the Colonial narrative of mainstream feminism too critiques its anti-woman elements within their own borders, but when it comes to seeing Bertha trapped in the attic emphatically, silences roar uniformly; she is castigated as a ‘beast’ without understanding the reasons behind her supposed bestiality. And then you wonder why words of WOC snarl, bite and corrode the psyche every time the pen hits the paper. But I digress.

While there are quite a few theorists, bloggers, activists and people (who may or may not be acquainted with technical jargon of écriture féminin) who understand the problems with privilege and consciously work at divorcing it from their lives, there is an acute lack of Colonial critique or even acknowledgment that actions of mainstream feminism are, in fact, Colonial in more instances than countable. To borrow and modify from Shulamith Firestone, “Colonialism (in feminism) is so deep, it is invisible”. You are probably wondering if I have enough caffeine in my veins as I write this, considering this accusation sounds entirely baseless. First off, the caffeine situation is taken care of, thank you for asking. Secondly, it’s not enough to say, “One must be aware of privilege and try to be aware of its super secret ways of manifestation” when speaking of WOC, especially from colonised lands. Just like the way it isn’t enough to say “All men are equal” and somehow hope this ever eliding equality will reach LadyPeople through the delightful trickle-down method, WOC need to be accorded with the respect and understood when we speak of ColonialForces at play, even in a movement as awesome as feminism. The very idea that feminism is meant to “enlighten” the masses, or the notion that European-American feminist ideals, theory and goals will somehow help LadyPeople all across the world isn’t the brightest belief. Replace feminism with “culture” and you’ll see how closely it smacks of ‘cultivising’ and ‘culturing’ a certain predetermined X sect of people it seems. And then try to explain how it isn’t Colonial to always seek examples of the most exotic and extreme practices of the Third World to justify why feminism isn’t “for them”. I’d like to see you backpedal your way out of rationalising how come women who don’t necessarily huddle in the corner of ditches, swat flies with their hands as their intestines lie bleeding, somehow don’t fit into the descriptions of the “backward” cultures. As the entire belt of women who are educated, aware and ready to fight patriarchy are coloured invisible by repeated excluding them out of discourse, explain to me once again why it isn’t Colonial, once again.

Take the sex-positivity movement for instance. Not only does it exist in privileged White circles of people, it is again Colonial in its root as it doesn’t place responsibility on the Coloniser for maintaining, perpetuating and forming specific cultural practices that brought sex-negativity into the forefront. Today, Indian culture is critiqued for being rigid when it comes to sexual norms, but understanding how the Colonial Gaze is still out loose in Indian society is missing. This way, it becomes equally difficult for an Outsider to see how the way we define ourselves, see ourselves and form our identities still reflects Colonial principles and by extension our sense of “normal” and “deviant” in sexual practices is still a parting gift from the (un)lovely Mr. Hastings. So don’t blame me if I don’t want to destigmatise BDSM or other kinky alternatives with you. I’d rather have women’s desires and voices heard now, instead of globalising experiences.

Feminism is supposed to be that one space which permeates our lives, eyes and sensibilities and make us better equipped to fight oppression. It promises to go ‘skin deep’ and become a part of our insides, to give us this special brand of armour that will make smashing patriarchy easier. Turns out, there are only a few skins who get this choice. The rest of us wander aimlessly, skinless.

 

 

 

Surges Of Nationalism And Just Where To Stuff Them

The last few days out here have been rather strange. Strange enough that I actually paid attention to what was happening around me instead of just going on under the oblivious haze I call my eyesight. It so seems everyone is very concerned about ‘India’ these past three weeks — concerned only in the worst possible of ways — and more specifically about how is the ‘image’ of India being represented. This isn’t to say there aren’t such tower guards employed by the Government to make sure we’re represented as a footstool of human civilisation and or as a growing super-power (as per your specifications and the amount of money you can loan us!¹) but rather the whole country now wants to openly engage in this ‘patriotism’. For a while I thought it was because of the Gandhi anniversary on the 2nd of this month that has swept the nation into wholesale CountryLove but then I remembered all we do on Gandhi Jayanti is stay at home, drink the stocked up alcohol and try to look interested in the latest GandhiFlick that Bollywood spurned this year. And it turns out the real reason for this mass-ejaculation of patriotism are two entirely different polarised debates.

For the uninitiated, Delhi is the host of this year’s Commonwealth Games and garnered a lot of justified negative reputation when ceilings and bridges began to collapse two weeks before the event. Of course the media had a field day supposedly ‘exaggerating everything out of proportion’ (frankly I don’t blame them. I’d take the Government to task every turn I could too) while the politicians in charge started paling and gave out silly and inane replies providing the weekly quota of entertainment. In the light of these events, a lot of people were ashamed to think of what would happen to the image of India now? “THEY WILL ALWAYS SEE US AS A BACKWATER SEWAGE DUMP NOW” has become the chief concern. Not the gang rapes of Dalit women a few kilometers out of the national capital, or the fact that someone set another Dalit woman on fire after raping her but what will people (read: other countries) think of our sanitary practices. We’re quite placid about massive groups of Delhi beggars who have been shipped out of the city since the past four months² just so the city can look like poverty never touched it but the fact that international candidates are opting out of the game makes us cringe wholeheartedly, collectively and uniformly. So the poorly constructed stadiums and terrible lodging arrangements are the source of national shame but the thousands displaced by floods last week in Delhi hardly make it to two centimeter notes in the paper. When I raise such questions, often I’m berated for being a ‘bad’ Indian; for don’t you know good Indians don’t critique the Government — especially in events like this one — but instead make groups to encourage positive environment? I didn’t know either till fifteen different people sent me the same e-mail coaxing me to join the group that will magically pump me up with Optimism! and Happy Feelings! about the Commonwealth Games (without any drugs they say!). Which is the exact same time, co-incidentally, I burst a blood-vessel in there somewhere.

Repeatedly ritually and routinely we’re encouraged to participate in this ‘nationalistic fervor’ to promote India while easily turning a blind eye towards the internal problems that plague us such as the Olde Woman Problem where silly feminist bitches want to destigmatise abortion and abolish female feticide, the Dalit Question where those ruthless buggers are still demanding equal rights — Didn’t we give them three seats in buses and trains? people can’t stop asking–, The Army Question where the army is engaged in ‘encounters’ every other day in Jammu and Kashmir as countless rapes, thefts and forced entries go unreported to name a few. To top this, the Babri Masjid verdict came out yesterday which sanctioned that Lord Ram was indeed born in Ayodhya and the Hindus were always right and the Muslim buggers need a swift kick you-know-where. Or at least that’s how it sounded like in my head as many people from my community set out to celebrate Hindu domination and force out into the streets. In fact, I even heard many people saying, “Even if we will shame ourselves in Delhi, we at least showed those Muslim devils their place” as we once again croon how great Hinduism is while completely forgetting to mention the fascist leanings of Hindu Supremacy groups (one of them being the B.J.P which is the national freaking opposition). Why does our nationalism have to be so ruthlessly set on Othering and marginalising minority groups?

As I’ve said before, nationalism isn’t for me where I’d be required to let go of my humanity, build up this ‘love’ for my country on the basis of hating someone else’s homeland. Somehow boxing and labeling people isn’t something I’d like to do, even if my life depended on it , despite how much ‘fun’ it may seem like (it’s just like doing origami! Only you fold people to your imagination instead of coloured paper they say). What disgusts me here is the CollectiveReprimandTone almost everyone — from my parents to the woman who dusts my house — has so easily internalised. “What do you mean you don’t feel a thing about the Babri Masjid verdict?” or “How can you even call yourself Indian?” are common questions as well as sickeningly popular opinions. Whenever I manage to steer the conversation to letting go of personal biases and evaluating the situation critically, the easiest remedy is to say “But don’t you think we deserve to win the court case?” or say “scrounge up your two-inch deep respect for the country, will you?”. Apparently these statements don’t hamper common sense in other people. Supposedly. But I digress.

This is a particularly sore topic for me and many others to discuss because so much is wound up with both of these events. Not ‘national pride’ people of the Olde Interwebes but the massive effort it takes to come to terms with such nationwide brutality. The fact that so many people were exploited as they worked the last few weeks to make the National Capital ‘seem’ worthy of International press or the fact that the same city espouses currently thousands of displaced people who lost everything in the floods or the communal riots that can take place soon considering the verdict was more legally unfair than believable and so many things I may not even be aware of.

These bouts of nationalism that we seek and encourage epidemically just turn us into perpetrators of violence, inhuman as we are so ready to marginalise and exploit anyone we can in the social, cultural and economic ladder as long as we can look like the country people see on our coins and notes. All I know is, these surges of nationalism just need to be shoved up capitalism, cultural imperialism and neo-colonisation’s respective hindquarters — after nationalism needs to be reunited with its parent ideologies. Don’t believe me? Google Gramsci. He’ll explain everything.

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1. Seriously, ask P. Sainath. He has all the answers you need.

2. Observation of a police officer in Delhi who wishes to remain anonymous.

Discussing Dusty Skins And Previlige (Part Two)

A few days ago, I ran into an old friend. While I like running into people — for there are always entertaining possibilities — what I dislike with a Direct Vengeance Of The Force Of A Thousand Suns And Add All The Angry Stars Too™ is how quickly the conversation goes to bodies. Suddenly, you’re not the person meeting your friend, you morph invisibly into the BodyRemarkCouncil while you try to squeeze out just the right insult without seeming to undermine the person, smile tersely while silently fixing the exact difference you imagine in the person. Questions like, “Have you lost a little weight?”, “Your hair is as unruly as ever, isn’t it?” are quite common. This week as soon as I heard, “You look better than before. Your skin tone is glowing. How did you lighten it?”, my LadyBrain slammed itself shut as my acquaintance probed further to learn my ‘secret’. I may or may not have told her I peeled a layer of my skin off to achieve the effect. She may or may not have walked away from me mumbling safety chants to herself. It’s too soon in the post to digress anyway.

As I discussed earlier, I never really saw myself as ‘brown’ till the default human being — White, heterosexual, male — decided to spell it out for me. Sort of like that in that grotesque way you label a ‘thing’ in order to castigate and possess it; my ‘brown’ skin has become one of the most important signifier of my being. This is an especially ironic relationship as somehow online bodies aren’t their physical manifestations — even if your static status picture suddenly starts singing — or in the most simple manner of speaking, they are ‘left behind’ on another plane. One where the virtual and the ‘real’ don’t really meet. Isn’t that the main argument anyone who is quick to dance to the “Look how far we’ve come” or “DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN JUST DROP YOUR IDENTITY AND MAKE A NEW ONE ONLINE and THIS TIME YOU CAN WEAR A SHINY DRESS IF YOU WANT” tunes of supposed progress? Of course, that is a possibility, that new identities are made online. There is no point on denying a certain freedom in making and re-imagining bodies. You can be White, Yellow, Brown, Chocolate or as many hues as you want. Understandably, many people prefer being White because that way, you don’t get trolled as much. For instance, I can pretend to take on a ‘Western’ name, even model myself to be a member of the privileged class, that works out without a glitch. But unlike  in a Danielle Steel book, things cannot be compartmentalised that easily. Extremely safe and tested methods of the scientific variety of observation — otherwise known as legally e-stalking people — it is clear that your ‘old’ body inscribes itself on your new one. Whether you acknowledge it or not, shedding bodies isn’t nearly as simple as it is made out to be. So how does one go about discussing privileges about bodies that are essentially invisible or at least are virtual?

To borrow and modify from Spivak, it is only when we look at margins and cracks, will we possibly find traces of earlier bodies (in this case). A good example to is to look at the absences that are present in most lingerie ads that come on TV out here. Here is one revolting one :

At this point you’re probably wondering if my pain meds have taken over my LadyBrain again, for you see nothing offensive in the ad. On close attention, you’ll see the women are speaking in what is stereotyped as the ‘Indian accent’. This ad is specifically made for viewers in the subcontinent, by a team that is Indian too. So why are most models White? Especially when the product is for Indian women, who do not resemble the protagonist in skin tone. Turns out, after all these years, we associate that White women are all ‘sluts’ so then they can display their skin without ‘shame’ that is embroiled within every Indian uterus from birth. Here the absence of an identifiable Indian body stands for marks it bears of guilt and shame. This isn’t to say Indian actors have never gone nude or showed skin on film, or worn ‘revealing’ outfits; but rather given a choice we’d rather put a White body in a position of autonomy and agency than a hued body.

In virtual spaces too, the same kind of regulation takes place where people are more comfortable with reading and even accepting White bodies transgress socially, sexually etc than they are with dusty skins. The website ‘Gaysi’ which is a space for Indian (read dusty) LGTQI people to voice themselves and which has its headquarters in Mumbai, most of the DudeCouncil have problems with it (patriarchy is so predictable!) because apparently being Queer — or whatever label you apply — is like a Western myth. “Like jeans or Coca Cola, ‘queer’ people only exist over there. Out here, we men marry women” and so many hilarious explanations were lashed out. Again, we’d rather believe that only Western populations can be homosexual, transgendered etc. This is our way of ‘Othering’ the West as well as keeping our own people from (supposedly) transgressing.

On the other hand, dusty bodies are used specifically in Western spaces, where they are exotic and infinitely penetrable, possessable, too much like The Darjeeling Express isn’t it? Though many people will happily point out Anouska Shankar and her ‘acceptance’ in the International sphere; more often than not people will talk about her ‘beautiful’ eyes, deep brown skin and so on instead of talking about her musical talents. Her presence marks the absence of the autonomy her body is allotted, however unwillingly. You will not see the same partial possession and obsession of skin when discussing Norah Jones (Shankar), perhaps because she passes off as White and by extension a body of her own right.

It’s in these absences, ripples and tiny cracks do we see really how ‘invisible’ bodies relate to each other. Light skin or white skin is seen as a disseminator of progress and movement, where as dusty skins are territorial and therefore bound. The same pulse is channeled by so many ‘Fairness cream’ commercials, Bollywood movies that choose ‘fair’ actors over dark ones, families who seek daughter-in-laws that put out ads that demand a specific complexion from their bride-to-be. Much like my friend, they see light tones as the only desirable tone. And then you wonder why I can’t take any more trolls discussing, fetishising and claiming my ‘brown’ body. Next time you hear someone screaming at the word Brown, you know where that came from.

[cross-posted]

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