My mom had this strong prejudice about me, “You are really impressionable”. She was not far from the truth. I was the unpredictable 3-year-old who took up the kitchen scissors to cut away handfuls of my hair, because I wanted to look like my favourite teacher in the kindergarten, she wore bangs I think.
Growing up, I would gaze for hours together on the portraits of favourite heroines, always an artiste, and more often than not a writer. Thank God it was the time when we didn’t even have television transmission in my part of the country. I had just a couple of role models handed down from glossy magazines, always borrowed from libraries. My favourite was the Pakistani singer Nazia Hussain. She had come out with the “aap jaisa koi” album just then and was very very pretty. I remember the long hours I compared her face with mine, and thinking how close I could come to looking like her. If only my cheeks were less chubby, I was fairer, and didn’t have pimples. If only my hair was less oily and didn’t really have to be plaited.
The writer Kamala Das (she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1984) then stormed into my life with her poems. (She never left actually, we share a birthday too …and she is buried at a mosque barely two kilometres away from my home). Kamala had this famous open-hair style and a way of wearing the saree with its free ends wrapped round her shoulders. No doubt that she looked superb, and a whole lot of us fell in love with the style. I was still in college and saree was a formal grown-up dress for us yet; we wore it only for those major occasions where we wanted to prove our maturity. So we actually looked like we came to the venue in a hurry and did not know how to wrap a saree round our body when we emulated Kamala.
I was quite accepted as a poet in college by then, and writing for ever was already an idea that was firm-rooted. Looking like a writer but was something that evaded me. I was fully in love with writers and writing and content to satisfy my writer-hood by being the bouquet-girl in all writerly functions in college. A gracious smile, a tap on my pimply cheek, and I would be in seventh heaven. On rare occasions I would be asked to recite a couple of verses that I had penned, and I hardly dared to look more than once at the expressions of my demi-gods, would they grimace at my turn of words or smile in tolerance?
Poetry wrapped itself up in me with my college days. I was now in a job away from home, but still made time for the poetry recitals that happened around my new city. I was then in my twenties, and to me writers were people who stood or sat upon the podium, and I was one among the crowds milling below waiting for manna from heaven. I would wait with bated breath for those demi-gods to open their mouths, and swallow whatever they would pour forth. I remember I had then taken to wearing the formal Indian dress of a saree and tried unsuccessfully to wrap its edges round my shoulder. I had given up writing in that period but not the aspiration to look like a writer. Did I look like a writer now? My bosom friend crushed my hopes in a frank sentence, ‘You look like maybe an academic, but not a writer at all’.
Marriage happened soon, and like any good Indian girl, it was an arranged marriage. I plunged into domesticity and juggled a job and a home with some difficulty. I became a mom not once but twice. I was promoted in my job, transferred to various places and my expertise with figures took over my dreams to be a wordsmith.
The classic twenty-year gap later, writing rose like a phoenix in me. I resigned from a plush government job, and in the process gave up all benefits that a government service would entail. I was now literally ‘out in the streets’ but in the virtual world. It was the time of awakening of the web and the growth of the web writer breed. I opted to be one among them and was also back to writing poetry, fiction and journalistic features. I was getting published too. But strangely, the desire to dress or look like a writer had vanished; I was more bothered about how people would take my creative fancies.
I returned to attending poetry recitals and story readings and was occasionally called upon the stage as well. One day, after a particularly successful reading session, I came down the steps of the podium to meet a vaguely familiar face smiling ear to ear. It was an old classmate, from my college days. We went through the whole exercise of re-introductions and catching up with what happened to whom. Before she waved good bye, she said this, “You know I wouldn’t have recognised you if I hadn’t heard them announce your name, you look every inch a writer”.
Suneetha is a writer by passion, profession and hobby. She writes fiction in English, poetry in her native tongue Malayalam and journalistic features in both. She can be contacted at email@example.com