How are you doing? I have had an exhausting week full of workshops, Zoom fatigue and calling out a big international organisation on their lack of diversity and caste blindness. It was exhausting to remind people that they are stepping on others. I was worried that everyone would hate me for causing them discomfort but I did it with my voice quivering and sweaty palms. I know I could also do it because I had the power of getting off the table if they were not receptive and knowing that there are other tables everywhere and what they were doing was not okay. It wasn’t easy to stuff my anger. They also encouraged me to speak. And this is what happened.
I was about to write about my experience in this newsletter but my friend Farah sent me this from Vogue India that appeared in the Feb issue. This is the first time that Conde Nast India is writing about me, Germany and America have already given space in the past. This piece is special to me because the fabulous Priya Ramani has written it and the has done such an awesome job. And I have a personal and old story to share.
So some of you may have seen this on my Instagram but I wanted to share a longer version of the story. So here goes.
I was 19 and at a wedding, the first non-Malayali wedding I was at. I had seen this dancing and singing in DDLJ but I had never seen it in real. Anyway I remember we had all piled into cars to get there. It was a long car ride and it was in one of those hotels on the Marine Drive. This was my first time attending a wedding in a hotel. We were told Yash Chopra would be at the wedding. When we entered the hotel, I saw KJo. Our friend's brother was getting married. I don't know what I was wearing but what I clearly remember is spotting the editor of Cosmopolitan at the wedding. I knew of her because I’d buy the magazine just to flip through the pages.
She was wearing a bright red silk saree with the tiniest golden border, it had tiny paisleys on it. Everyone was loudly dressed, she in her red saree and gold jhumkis stood out for me. She had gorgeous curly hair and seemed very much in love with the man she was dancing with. They looked so happy. That image stayed with me. I told myself when I get married I will get myself a similar saree.
In my 20s I kept looking for a saree like hers. But the borders were too big or the colour wasn't right. The sarees my mother wore to weddings all had big golden borders. Now I know this was her way of saying how we were doing financially. My mum always says, “When you have money you can wear fake jewellery and no one will bother. When you don’t have money and you wear gold, people will ask if it is real?”
Anyway moving on in 2007, I moved to Chennai on work, I thought I'd get the saree woven in Kanchipuram but I never visited Kanchipuram in the one year I lived there.
Then in my 30s, I'd see the editor and her husband on Twitter but I had forgotten about the saree. Then one day, when I was visiting from Delhi, my mum said they were selling sarees in the temple, sarees discarded by the goddess. Both of us went to look for sarees and I saw one just like hers. It didn't have those tiny golden paisleys but it I loved it. I had given up on marriage and having a wedding but I bought the saree.
I shared this story in 2019 with this digital painting. A little context about the painting. Then my sexting partner and I were then recreating nudes from paintings. I dressed up like Raja Ravi Verma’s Tilottama (below) and sent him a picture.
If it wasn’t exciting enough to dress up like paintings, my partner would say the most witty things. For him I’ll always be “Raja Ravi Varma’s muse,” on somedays I was “the mustard maiden on others I was the Semal in bloom.” I referenced one of the pictures I created for him for the post.
Now the editor was following me and I wasn’t sure she had seen the post mentioning here. So I sent it to her and she was so thrilled and said, “Mine is a Mysore silk saree.”
Last December she got in touch with me for this piece. Though I have done so many interviews I was so nervous while speaking to her. She was kind and very compassionate. I kept thinking if I was talking too much and if I was making sense, she reassured me. All of Feb, I thought I should get a copy of Vogue. I didn’t. I rarely read anything that’s written about me but this I wanted to. And then yesterday when I was exhausted from a tiring week, Farah sent me this.
I was so thrilled that Priya mentioned Tilottma in her piece. This had the such full circle feels. Perfect balm to distressful week.
Take care of yourself.