When there is nobody to call us beautiful, what might we discover while binge-watching ourselves?
By Roopal Kewalya
Illustrations by Debasmita Das
During this lockdown, I wake up one morning and find myself face-to-face with the mirror on my wardrobe, next to the bed. The light from the slightly parted curtain at the window peeks inside and makes my face luminous. I look at myself and inadvertently think ‘You look so beautiful’. And immediately feel shame and embarrassment at my narcissism. I’m about to get up and begin my morning routine but instead I come back to the mirror, sit in front of it and remove my clothes. And look at myself in the mirror again.
I wonder, what if I have to live alone for the rest of my life and there is nobody to call me beautiful ever again especially in the mornings. Would I still feel ashamed then, for calling myself beautiful? I smile and the room lights up. I have this urgent desire to capture this moment where I find myself so desirable – my wild hair disheveled, falling over my shoulders, my long neck ending in the valleys of my collar bones that cradle a mole inside; my rounded breasts that I had become so self-conscious of after breastfeeding my child four years ago, seem normal again. Rested but free. Each trying to find its own path without the prison of a bra that holds it together…my nipples being the GPS pointing them in directions they need to pursue. I quickly bring a paper and a pencil and start sketching. I have not sketched since I was 8 and here I am at 36, alone in my house in Mumbai, in isolation, attempting to capture this moment of beauty with a burning desire.
I draw the curves of my body and the magic that I see; each fold a curve, each seeming crookedness simply a line as my amateur hands try to match what I see in my mirror. It’s far from perfect. And yet it looks so beautiful. I had been feeling miserable for days for not working out, for not exercising, for my big thighs growing bigger, for letting myself go because who was going to see this body anyway, except myself.
I baked cakes doused in butter and lapped them up because I was hungry. When had I ever cooked for myself? If I ever got a couple of breaks in between in the last few years, I would cook haphazardly, so as to finish a chore. After all, who am I cooking for, it’s just me. And yet, I had cooked so many meals over the years for those I loved.
And it brought attention to the thought that perhaps I had never loved myself. I didn’t know how to do it. I had never seen my mother do it. There was always a quiet disdain over anything that involved spending more than five minutes on yourself. There was always so much to do. I told my mother that I had looked at myself in the mirror and sketched my naked body. She laughed in embarrassment, ‘You’ve gone crazy. This lockdown is making you crazy.’
And I realised, it wasn’t true. I was crazy before this, but not anymore.
Looking at my eyebrows breeding hair every day…multiplying tenfold, looking like writing quills and the hair on my arms and legs growing like wild grass and in the middle of all this wilderness stood I, like a tree ready to birth fruit. I have never felt so beautiful in my life, watching my body come alive again. Like a patch of land that was left to be fallow and instead of a groomed farm, I see this magical forest waiting to be discovered again. I feel raw and magnetic. I stand under my shower imagining it as a cascading waterfall and I feel one with nature knowing that nature is not to be sought outside. It has always been here, within me. I just forgot to nourish it.
So, I moisturise my thirsty skin with oils smelling of almond and coconut and sesame and become the food that I was meant to devour. I lather myself up in foam, and wash myself with water that drenches my body in gratitude for the love that I show her. I settle in my gluttony and in my lust for my own body. I discover a newer palette for myself in the kitchen and I map my body in the bedroom discovering newer cities on the exotic island that I have become. I conquer myself and I feel rich.
While I was already headed there for a few years now, since the lockdown, the gaze within my mind has completely shifted. My body no longer exists to please anyone. It’s there first, for my pleasure. The flowers that will bloom out of this, in spring – I will smell them first and then make an offering as I stand on an altar of my creation and feel like the goddess I was always meant to be.
Roopal is the author of the book THE LITTLE RAINMAKER, screenwriter, single mom of a 6-year-old on a quest to rekindle a relationship with herself. She has seen magic in her life and wishes to share it with the world.