I happen to be one of those breed of women who can’t easily be identified as one; at least not as long as one doesn’t take off their stereotype tinted spectacles. Though I am not terribly fond of them, there is something to be said about stereotypes. They give one a sense of identity; fight it or fit it, it moulds a part of you. Ok, I don’t know if there is a politically correct way of saying this and in here one size sure doesn’t fit all. Haven’t we, however, seen enough examples of Gay men being overly pansy or women at times being wholly ineffectual and literal wall flowers ready to wilt at the slightest sign of distress; when nothing in their nature actually suggests the need for these? These somewhat stereotypical stereotypes aside….an identity tag, be it “man” or “woman”, gives one a framework to work within, to if not “fit” entirely, at least to mould our personalities around the fringes; it’s a comfort, so much a part of you that you don’t realize it’s there. Here I believe my crisis took root.
What hadn’t happened for 23 years of my life; was happening now, and my star struck wonder was partly to blame for it. I was turning into an identifiable woman, or so said the world. Imagine my tentative delight at the dubious honour. It was quite thrilling, I must admit. It was like getting a peek into the elusive world that has intrigued you since long but that you could never touch. Like I, for instance, ever since I was a wide eyed little girl could never decipher how a pretty pout and doleful eyes could get you your way, I only knew of reasonable argument. I also never knew why one would engage in plainly duplicitous behavior to question their own capability at handling a situation and then enjoy favours like it’s a god given right. I never understood why one would place vanity over practicality, and as if that weren’t bad enough, over safety! I never understood why it would be sacrilege to walk out the door without kajal/mascara/gloss/moisturizer….or why one wouldn’t step out in clothes one has slept in if the situation so demands or if one is just plain lazy for a change of ensemble for a dash to the grocery. I never understood the charm of lashes fluttered just so…or the strange ritualistic engagement between the sexes that was spoken and understood by most but me. Like, if I like someone, I’d tell them. The “mating” dance so to speak and all the “done” things that went with it were beyond me. Why one would need to shop before every party was beyond me too, when there was a perfectly decent existent wardrobe to choose from. Neither did I understand why it would take one 4 hrs in the least to get coiffed before a ball, or a date or well, whatever! What a waste of perfectly good time! Oh, and whining! I mean, you can’t deal with it, don’t do it, or get out of the situation! Why whine people’s ears off? Even about something as simple as, oh my long manicured brightly polished nails get in the way of my typing!! For God’s sake woman, cut them off, or get an assistant!
Anyway, I’ve never had much patience with people deliberately sabotaging one’s capacities and definitely not for what is familiarly termed as feminine wiles. And Golly, I got away with it!!! For more than two decades. Sad as it is, one would think that these should be gender neutral behaviors that I described, doable by anyone. These however, seem to be taken as and actually seen materialized as very specific gender traits going with the identity of being the female of the species. Sadder even than that is how being a woman is equated most to a first visual impression of ummm…boobs and booty, with a rack to boot. (Not being sexist here people, just confounded.) So yeah, till recently I was not expected to indulge in womanly behavior and hence could get away with just being my quirky old self. Now, with 18 kilos off of me and more on the way, a world of opportunities beckoned. It with its mystical appeal of the unknown…the feeling of being well, a “normal” girl/woman/female of the species. OOOOH….and I stepped into the shimmering mist and viola, turned into an oddball! Not that I realized at first…because unlike most other people I never made the connection that in order to feel like a woman of this world, if I change my appearance, I must change my behavior to go with it, lest I be mistaken for a female man.
So, this is how it happened. Here I was…star struck at the wonder of being able to walk into a shop and walk out with a bag full of clothes! They fit damnit! Like…I wore them and they umm…actually fit. I could actually take a pick from the stuff I liked rather than liking whatever fit, if it did. The wonder of being noticed as a woman, by a man, and being acknowledged as such, is a high I could get used to, and did. Suddenly, there was a concern in me travelling alone at night that I was aware of in a way I was never before. Honestly though, if more women lost the concern they would find a greater freedom with dealing whatever risk the night presents. Presently, however, I was enjoying masculine concern over my feminine safety. Charming. I did try to flutter my lashes, but then well, it felt like grit in my eye so I let off on the feminine wiles. It was just a curiosity to explore what it might feel like if they worked, no greater a malady than that. The world was morphing, and every day I found another hidden passage to connect me from my very individual world to the distinguished ahem, sorority of womankind. Woohoo, what fun! What voyeuristic delight!
My practicality, ignored as it were with the sudden appearance of long elusive playmates, took a hike. A pity it did, because suddenly, I who have always only travelled with necessities in the bag was travelling with clothes for every occasion that I might attend…just because I could (ummm, have enough clothes that I fit into, for all of these.). More an inconvenient folly than a stroke of genius. Also, for some reason, I seemed to have my bags filled more with superfluous nonsense than the things that have some practical value on a trip. That apart, the death knoll to have finally knocked some sense into me was this; I was to travel to Jammu, to meet mum and dad. This would be the first that they would see of me since I knocked off all the weight. Call me a sentimental idiot, but I knew they would be more proud of me now than they have been through my first stage performance, my first paycheck, the release of my book at 16, my topping the university in my graduation…where does all that matter? This would be the crowning glory of my life as a daughter. They would see me and see a woman! Oh, how glorious. They’d be so happy!
I had to make this special. What better than to highlight the womanliness. So here I was ready to leave home at 4:30 in the morning, a cab waiting downstairs…and I with one bag, one suitcase, my guitar, my laptop bag and a “bag”, tottered down the steps in 3 and a half inch heels, and a “just above the knee” length dress, my curly tresses open to fly in the wind, and my lips glossed a becoming shade of pink to go with the beauty of a dress. (The first I have fit into since my 15th birthday.) Now, would it not have been fine if I had an uneventful flight home? No damage done and my stint as the “femme fatale” so to speak would be accomplished and I would rest in peace. No, but the fates have no mercy. After having borne the raised eye-brows of friends dropping me off with a “This is just so not you.” to a supportive, “It looks nice. Go for it.” I was ready to check in. To my horror of horrors, my baggage was a whopping 19 kilos over the allowed limit! At paying 500 per extra kilo here I was faced with the prospect of having to pay about 9k in cash! Or well, I could miss my flight and lose the 9k I spent booking it in the first place.
Ok, I hadn’t lost my mind yet, so I calmly asked, “How long do I have to bump off the extra luggage?”
“Ten minutes,” replied the news bearer from hell.
I frantically called friends who had just dropped me. They, bless their souls, offered to get an extra bag. There was, however, no time. I asked them to rush and was now faced with rearranging the luggage in a way that I could fit 19 extra kilos of it in one bag so it could be carted off! Ok, so, well, how does one bend in that dress without compromising on their modesty! Ok, sit straight down on your feet, DON’T bend your back, no! Ok. Umm, why does the world seem to be at a vantage, oh, the killer heels!! Well, they were killing, to say the least. With sweat pouring down my ramrod straight back and the hair coming on to my face and sticking to the useless gloss was something I needed to ignore in my haste to do some damage control. I hurriedly shifted clothes and books and shoes and hard disks and made a pile of stuff to leave behind. I don’t know how I did it. The only conscious thought was to not leave the books behind; I was going home to study damnit! Ok, so, breathe. Phew, it was done. The nice fellow, who was weighing the luggage, looked at my stupid person in distress and his male instincts kicked in to allow me 3 extra kilos of baggage at no extra charge. Who can resist those doleful eyes and a head full of corkscrew curls when it comes attached to a daft female? God bless him, for repacking was beyond me! Then I got up, with a minute to go, and ouch, my feet felt like they had been maimed by a hungry lion! All the blood rushed down there in a most unpleasant sensation as I stood to walk. Anyhow, it was my torture to bear, and I bore it. Calling myself a million different names I handed over the bags, and sent 5 messages in apology for my stupidity. Oh, and how I missed my boots and the t-shirt, jeans and jacket, that I had outfitted in for my last flight! I could have overhauled the airplane in those! Damn my blasted luck! Ok, so now what was done was and it was time to do the embarrassing situation cover up, smile prettily and surreptitiously check the ruddy dress wasn’t riding up my backside! Onward to Delhi!
After tottering from one terminal to another from my precarious perch I did the usual routine at the Delhi airport, and presently fell asleep in the lounge after having spent a sleepless night and a harrowing morning at Pune. I woke up with a half hour to go and found the flight was boarding. I rushed through the final call and as I reached the gate, the attendant recognized my name and was alarmingly relieved to have found me. He picked up the walky-talky and announced them having found me. Here I was, sweating that I had done something terribly wrong and would be hauled to the police when they uttered words more dreaded than the scenario I had just envisaged; “Ma’am, please come this way, there’s a problem with your luggage!!” And sure enough, my over stuffed bag had burst open! Again, with ten minutes to go I had to repeat my performance of maintaining my virtue, sitting on spiky 3 inch heels and wrestling with a bag weighing 23 kilos that had books, clothes and cosmetics spilling out! The zipper had given way, my back was hurting, I was gently perspiring like a lady, had worn off my pink gloss to nothing was in serious danger of flashing the airport staff with my pretty purple undies! Oh Gawd, what I would give to have my boots and jeans! Finally, I worked a miracle and wrestled it shut. Only, I had to keep some books out. A small burden to carry considering I had almost missed my flight twice! They hurriedly ushered me to the plane and I breathed a sigh of relief. The world was good. I had for some reason been upgraded to Kingfisher Class and I wasn’t complaining. I sipped on water and allowed the luxury to pamper me. Sigh, no more hauling ass. My parents would be there to receive me. And the dress, well, it did have its charm. With my guitar slung over a shoulder and my composure intact, I was a sight to behold in the back and beyond we call Jammu. We alighted from the plane, I bade my fellow passengers goodbye, someone from airport security singled me out as the damsel in distress and loaded my trolley and there I was set for my grand entrance that was to make this ordeal worth it! But wait, there was no sign of my parents. Ok, now this was it! Where were they? Drawing curious stares and admiring glances, I pushed the trolley out. Each step an ordeal with my killer heels that had been put through a boot camp of sorts… a crash course in going from “Stilettos to Sneakers”. I found a payphone and called dad (Phone’s in Jammu do not work because obviously the terrorists have no way to communicate but over commercial networks!) and he said to come out, there was a problem and they couldn’t get in! Fuming, I trudged all the way from the terminal to the main gate and yet again they were nowhere in sight. And now, there wasn’t a payphone either! God bless the security guard, who mistaking me for a foreign national stranded on his soil offered me the use of his cell phone! My parents had reached inside it seemed! Ok. Calm down. I asked to come to the gate and waited. It was nearly over. My parents did fawn over my appearance, though it wasn’t as happy an occasion for me as I had imagined. Finally I got home, with my books, barely any clothes, no shoes and no toiletries.
I did learn a lesson though; a lesson in identity. If I wanted to be my carefree, efficient self I needed to be me. I couldn’t dress up a vain woman, in clothes that don’t allow for much more than restrained movement and a chance at playing the distressed damsel and expect to be anything but. The trappings made way for the behavior and the behavior for the stereotype. I also learnt that as exciting as this foray into this unexplored arena has been, I am too much a woman to be trapped into the image of what a “woman” is expected to do. Also, now that the world is noticing I’ll be playing a different game; it won’t so much be me being my quirky self, but a woman being that. But then, hey, when has it ever mattered? Until then, now that I know my feminine prowess, I’ll keep the dresses and stilettos handy for a seduction…the trick I believe is in playing a part where it is suited. Say what? ;)