Tag Archives: “semiology of dressing”

The Venus Flytrap: Porcelain, Lately

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I’ve been buying blue.

Not the blues – not music or depression, both of which I have in abundance. I’ve been buying blue in a very specific way – for weeks now, every item of clothing I’ve purchased has been in that colour. I’ve been buying blue clothing as though, well, it was going out of style.

To be precise, the theme is, overwhelmingly, blue with white. Everywhere I turn to empty my wallet as though that would detox my heartsickness, I am drawn to the lacing of those two colours. The cornflower blue sundress cut in a decades-old style that flatters women cut soft like me, the deep-necked casual top in a particularly vivacious Prussian shade, the long-sleeved blouse reminiscent of a kebaya – all of them sieved through with white in floral, psychedelic and paisley prints. Then there’s the tube dress bought off the street on a Sunday I suddenly found myself in Pondy, the lingerie, the saree I chose for my birthday with its electric cobalt so unusual I almost couldn’t find a blouse (but I did, of course).

Sapphire spiked with snowflakes. The sea and its foam. A certain man’s eyes the moment they find yours. Pick your imagery, I don’t care – I may be a poet but I am as much a bird known for my plumage as I am for my song. I buy it as though the colours are in season, like fruit or fads, or umbrellas in the monsoon – though the truth is I am working to the demands of an internal meteorology alone. I buy it as though there will be enough somedays to wear it all.

Why am I doing this? Dressing as if to declare I am porcelain, lately.

I met someone who reads auras. Mine was pinkish on the day we met, but I generally seem to carry a grey one, according to him, which is all the things you might think it might mean. “Wear bright shades,” the aura-reader advised, not having yet been properly acquainted with my infamously kindergartener sense of colour. “It will make a difference.”

I know this to not be true. I wore purple to my grandmother’s funeral, because she had liked that saree. My nails are never anything but red. I have a weakness for yellow ochre and fuchsia. If there is a colour I have not worn, it isn’t visible to the human eye. But it’s like painting a papier-mâché globe; all that’s inside is a burst balloon.

And this is what makes me wonder if, somewhere, it is the ocean after all that I keep trying to recapture. I know now that there are people who will manipulate the grief of someone in mourning. I learnt this the only way one can learn things like this. Six weeks after the funeral to which I wore purple, I took my grief to the sea the way almost everyone does – in their own ways, their own seas, allegorical and actual – hoping to be washed clean of it, and got caught instead in a undercurrent that slammed me back ashore: stripped, seaclogged, vomiting salt.

Not everything is a metaphor. But some things reveal a pattern, fractal though it may be. If I seek to wear the sea, it is only because the coast has disappeared.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Venus Flytrap: In Defense of Developing World Diva Hair

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I have oppressed woman hair. No, not “oppressed hair”, as Alice Walker famously put it; the ceiling on my brain cannot be blamed on the chemicalisation or colonisation of my locks. I mean I have the hair of an oppressed woman, heavy duty developing world diva hair. Think Draupadi. Think Dravidian Rapunzel. I have hair that practically demands sitting on a swing and gazing wistfully at a world of dangerous things like riding side-saddle, or smiling beatifically in Amar Chitra Katha comics while undergoing trials by fire for the love of incredibly undeserving men. (Such activities are much better scapegoats for the ceiling on my brain).

But why should I apologise? Not everything needs to be forced through a feminist or subaltern perspective, you know. Remember that line, my similarly-styled sisters: it sounds a lot better as a defense than, “Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m beautiful, hate me ‘cuz your boyfriend thinks so”. And if you must know, I have oppressed woman hair as reclamation, damnit! It’s subversive to be traditional in a world of peroxide and pageboys! These tresses are radical aesthetics, deliberate declarations! They are avant-garde, anarchist, insurrectional… and just incidentally, quite pretty.

I know hair is political. But I think above and beyond that it is deeply, deeply personal. I wear mine messy, letting it be as schizophrenically curly or straight as it pleases. When I am healthy it shines black. When I am not it dries brown. I used to trim it myself, until I stopped wanting to trim it at all. It’s a gorgeous disaster – which happens to be my favourite kind. But I promise you I comb it. Most days, anyway.

I discovered I had this ridiculous hair ten years ago, about the same time I started wearing a fake nose stud, before my parents – modern folks who continue to be deeply disappointed by the bindi-wearing, diamond-nostriled, handloom-sareed miscreant I turned out to be – let me pierce it for real. I’ll never forget that day. I loosened my hair to retie it in a classroom and someone said she wished she had my “beautiful long hair”. That’s when I noticed it myself. I was thirteen and nothing about me had ever been beautiful in my life.

So you see why I can’t let it go.

There are things which come with the acceptance that one is, herself, a complicated country, a feral thing. My developing world diva hair is one of those things, for me. I’ve seen how, subconsciously, it has been part of my semiology. I have tied it up to desex myself. I have worn twin braids to appear innocuous. I have worn it like a wild thing and been that wild thing. I am not the only kind of woman I know, mine is not the only femininity. But this is the only kind of woman I know how to be.

A woman friend of mine recently went bald, and a couple of days later, fell off the bed and injured her newly shiny cranium. On the upside, it was easier to check for bumps.

“You do realise,” I told my bed-bouncing friend, “That your autopsy report will have the words, ‘jungle sex'”?

“What a great way to go,” she grinned (emoticon-ally, that is. World Citizen is just a euphemism for people whose entire social lives are conducted via technology). I couldn’t disagree – that’s exactly what a badass bald babe wants on her Wikipedia memorial page, anyway. I guess a simpering traditionalist like me, in the event that all other attempts at infamy fail, could just hang myself by the hair.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

It’s My Party And I’ll Wear Copper Sulphate Blue If I Want To…

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Pictorial evidence, as requested in the last post’s comments:

Chennai, March 13 2009

Chennai, March 13 2009

Pix: Dilip Muralidaran.

Also, I wanted to add that Eric Miller pulled a surprise that ended the event with a twist, (thankfully – in lieu of a q+a session) by reading a poem written during the launch. Here it is, reproduced with permission:

“Poem for Sharanya”

On the occasion of her reading from, and launch of, her collection of poems, Witchcraft, at the Park Hotel, Chennai, 13 March 2009.

Goddess priestess, witch, poet.
What is this public persona you are weaving?
Will you shake the city?
Will you melt it?
All the world disappears
and is reborn
in the words,
sounds,
dreams,
hopes,
daydreams,
fantasies,
meditations,
colors,
shapes,
smells,
the ideas
you inspire.
Yes, bring down the moon,
and let us all discover where to put it.

The Venus Flytrap: In Defense of Insensible Fashion

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Some people know they’re depressed when they can’t eat or sleep. I know I’m depressed when I stop giving a damn about what I’m wearing. I’m a huge believer in what Tim Gunn called “the semiology of dressing”; my ostentatious collection of attire and accessories – stacked, scattered or in storage – colour my allegiance glorious. From fluorescent pink bras to huge hibiscus hair ornaments to boat-shaped bags you could zip me into, I have it all, and then some.

Ever since I began choosing my own clothing, I’ve taken this liberty and spun carousels with it. In college, I enjoyed semesters of never repeating an outfit. It wasn’t as though I set myself a challenge. I just had that many clothes and that much imagination and that much disrespect for the humility required in the face of Institutions.

My passion for fashion has often been privileged over common sense. I own a red feather boa, after all. I’ve stalked through international business districts in cowboy hats and feathered ornaments. I went to church the other day draped in a black wool crotchet poncho. In Madras. In May. Because that’s just what I think I should wear to church. It helps me feel, you know, spiritual. Whatever sins I confessed to, rest assured they were not sartorial.

Get off your holier-than-thou clotheshorses, I’m only kidding (but not about the poncho). For more drastic consequences than death by flamboyance, consider this: I’ve done dozens of spoken word readings, but excepting a few truly special ones, pretty much all I recall about most involves what I wore. When I did my first solo show a year ago, I embarked on several expeditions seeking the perfect outfit. I settled on thigh-high leopard print boots and a brown kurta worn as a dress with a huge waistbelt. I spent the afternoon before the event hand-stitching the kurta to my shape. I wrote my set list in the taxi on my way to the show.

Do I dress for men? Absolutely. I also dress for women. I dress for pets. I dress for plants. I dress for praying and flights and to hang out by myself. I dress to drink black coffee at 1a.m. and dance around in my sister’s room for an hour and incur her wrath. I dress because if God had wanted us to be drab, She wouldn’t have created the bias cut and the body to carry it off.

I also dress down. I do the typical Fab India kurta and jeans work thing. I tie my ridiculous Draupadi hair up. When I really need to get serious, I even wear my glasses. It’s all about aura. And as the most cunning coquette will tell you, sometimes it pays to keep it toned down.

I’m a slave to my narcissism, alright. Stoned on my own sensuality (and greatly bolstered by my uncanny ability to spot rock bottom bargains). Vainpot? Yes. Victim? No chance.

What I do, dressing up and down and occasionally upside down – it’s not what a magazine or a man or a mannequin told me is expected of me. It’s not under someone else’s power.

There is one dogma I live by, and it is this. Anais Nin wrote: “Women always think that when they have my shoes, my dress, my hairdresser, my makeup, it will all work the same way. They do not conceive of the witchcraft that is needed. They do not know that I am not beautiful but only appear to be at certain moments”. And that’s my secret.

Because it is power. And all of it, every last bead and hook and the divine proviso of femme fatale-ness vested within, is mine.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.