Billie Holiday in 1958. Photograph courtesy Dennis Stock/Magnum.
99th Birthday of one of my most favorite singers. More in the Photo Booth in New Yorker.
I saw the movie Highway last night and then cried myself to sleep. It has been the best movie experience for me in a while. And I have seen at least 40 films in the last two months. It is indeed director Imtiaz Ali’s best and the darkest work so far and hats off to him for pulling off this amazingly weird travel narrative, abduction, stockholm syndrome, freedom, child abuse and breaking free story of a woman. Of course, he has established that very few directors can come close to him when it comes to laying bare India’s soul, its streets, its corners, its small towns, its weird local ads, local buses; and not just a few areas, it’s the whole deal. If you don’t want to pick up your bag and dive into the soul of India after watching it, then well, you are a bean bag.
It’s amazing that the last two Hindi movies I have seen, including this one and Queen, are both about women finding their true selves and realising the fact that they actually have the courage to make their own way rather than falling in line when they are told to do what millions ahead of them have been doing almost blindly. If you are an Indian woman, you would know what this means. Even though Highway’s protagonist is a woman belonging to a rich politician’s household and Queen’s protagonist is this woman who is just about to stand in that line where she would just ignore all the passive aggressive fucked up shit of her soon to be husband to follow what millions of women before her have been doing. (Thankfully, her soon to be husband leaves her one day before her wedding and she goes for her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam alone.) Even urban women in India, women like me, are often conditioned to believe that they may get as educated and independent as they want to but standing in this pre-defined invisible line is still the whole point of their existence. And sadly, often so many women end up believing that.
Don’t take me wrong, it’s not the idea of marriage or starting a family that I am talking about. It’s the fact that we are told that it has to be a part of our existence, we have to just simply accept so many things like the right age to get married, the right age to have children, to not drink and smoke because we are (Indian) women and of course, as Veera from Highway says, if we have been sexually abused as a child, god forbid that we ever talk about it to anyone. It has to be forgotten, it has to be suppressed, even if your own father caught someone who is holding you up in the middle of the stairs and trying to press himself against you. Your father will never talk to you about it. Your mother will slap you even if you are 7 years old at that time and would ask you questions instead of beating the hell out of the monster who has been molesting you for whatever time you can remember. If you summon the courage to share it with friends, most of them would say that it happens to almost everyone, as if it is indeed a part of life.
The point is that we are told we have done a good job in life, brushing all our peripheral accomplishments aside, only when we get “settled down” at the right time and behave demurely even while we are peeing alone in the washroom.
What we often need is a jolt to realise that we do not have to stand in any fucking line. We are capable of making our own choices and that choice could involve getting married or not getting married, raising our voice or not raising our voice, taking an action against someone after years of being abused or not taking an action. And these two lovely movies show that Travel can be that big beautiful jolt. (But please don’t wait for dangerous men to abduct you or someone to dump you at the altar to start travelling like in these movies.)
The way travel makes your breathe, nothing else probably can. And travel obviously is anything and everything from going to a different city to live independently, or a short weekend trip to a nearby town, or backpacking on your own to some part of the world. It can mean different things to different people. And for some, like many Indian women, it holds the power to redefine their existence.
Being out. Being out in the whole wide world which can be anywhere.
Okay. So a brief background. There is massive renovation going on in my house in Delhi (where I have currently moved in with my parents for a few months). I am hating being displaced due to the renovation once again as I moved here for some peace and comfort. But I have been lured by the prospects of a new renovated attached bath with my room. Also, secretly I am having fun because I prefer shopping for things like commode, tiles and washbasin over shopping for clothes which confuses the hell out of me. So anyhow. Today we went tiles shopping in Jagatpuri in East Delhi and saw this dude.
On another note, I was just mentioning to my brother in the car today that for all my hatred of Delhi for zillions of reasons, what I can’t take away from Delhi ever is the bottomless depth it has and the variety of experiences one can have here.