Finding myself and freedom in unlikely places: The Romantics, A CHONKY CAT group and Atul Dodiya’s painting exhibition.
I have had a very long journey of trying to be limitless. It has taken various forms, the daughter who grew up before time so she could care for a wounded mother, a star employee who always had brilliant ideas and spot on execution and of late, as an entrepreneur and as a therapist — it seems almost embedded in the description of the job.
Of late I find myself encountering novels and psychoanalytic literature which talks about limits of ourselves and others and the natural frustration that brings. However, I feel that my mind might have come to this now, but my body has always shown me limits. Be it the limits to losing weight (I have now embraced an anti-diet, intuitive eating way of life, regardless of what the scales say), be it having a sensitive nervous system (so traveling and sleeping with ear plugs), or a nose that gets blocked easily (enter humidifier), the susceptibility to migraines (watching myself on sleepovers and not being in the sun too much), my body has always been very grounded in its limits. I went from being ashamed of its limits and overcompensating for them, to just embracing them now.
But the Facebook group, This Cat is C H O N K Y, does not suffer my affliction. It is a proud, fat cat loving group. The main rule is, no fat shaming of cats, or no judgement of cat owners/parents whatsoever, and many moderators work behind the scenes to ensure this. Not only do fat cats get space to exist in this group, but they are celebrated in all their glory, with unique vocubulary for fat cat body parts like “fupa” — the loose belly pouch of older and fatter cats. The love and warmth is just exuberant in this group.
Not surprisingly, members come to this group to cheer themselves up, but also to seek support in dark times (breakups, illnesses and even the loss of people and pets). And I don’t think this would be possible without limits set by the moderators. Ironically, limits, boundaries and needs have a way to set precedent for a very unique kind of freedom.
Its like the trust exercise where you can fall because you know your partner is going to catch you. The limit set by their body is your license to let your body go. As this article from one of the group members says, “A lot of love and work goes into keeping the group how it is.”
Another surprisingly joyful experience for me was watching “The Romantics” on Netflix, and of course, there’s op-ed pieces on how its dismissing nepotism or is just an ad for YRF. Maybe it is, but I think that’s just one part of the experience.
I feel that for me, looking at Yash Chopra’s evolution and the attention he paid to social issues and the nuances of gender which his heriones had, while at the same time the grandness of love that he showed — big landscapes, sweeping mountains and so on, spoke to me. I feel these two sides inside of me — an intense moving feeling when I see warmth, love, care, emotion, intimacy, connection — on screen or in a book or in a client’s life, or mine or a friend’s life, and the importance of looking at inequality, anger and the needs of the masses. I was also quite moved by Yash Chopra’s relationship with Shah Rukh Khan. It felt like he got orphaned for the second time when he lost Yash Chopra. And then what happened next — Aditya embodying the commercial success legacy and Uday embodying the humility that comes with failure, felt to my like the natural trajectory that follows something so brilliant. And I think that is also one of our reasons for the problem we have with nepotism.
I think we’re all nepotistic, we prefer what we know over something new, but with Bollywood, the nepotism is profitable and so, it stings.
And of course, when something is beautiful, often it becomes a little closed off to reality, and that’s what happened with Bollywood and nepotism and high levels of gatekeeping — cut to today, when we cannot relate to the majority of the movies anymore. And I wonder if there’s a reckoning of this limitation as more and more outsiders enter the industry and hopefully, will balance out the echo chamber.
And then there was Atul Dodiya’s exhibition in Chemould Prescott Road gallery, a series of 24 paintings, that are stills from older movies. The common theme across them is that in all of them, the protagonist is not looking at you. They’re in their own thoughts, actions and life, not privy to your gaze. The summary of the beautiful installation also talks about how these moments are frozen and decisive, and full of possibilities.
There were some posters available to buy in the gallery, and the one I chose was of Anuradha with her sprained leg, resting, book in hand and looking behind, as someone had called her. For me, the immediate association was often how I, and many other women, are not left alone in our leisure. Reading and other activities become privileges that you steal time for. Like you cannot have limitations to existing for others and always being in a providing stance.
But on staying with it for longer, I also felt it had another meaning for me.
I feel that this also my relationship with my needs, emotions and my natural propensity for errors and messups. I feel that shame makes me want to look away, to have a task-master like approach (i.e, Karna kya hai, thinking only about actions), or to be more interested in what the other person feels and how they receive me, rather to pay attention to my needs, feelings and humanity. There is a balm like quality to just being with yourself, which is very freeing and also very home-like, a place you come back to. We can only get here if being with yourself is not tied to some outcome — like how do I behave with them or how do I work through this to get to that goal, because outcomes make us think that self-understanding or acknowledging needs and limits is just a step on the way to get something.