My divorce was a rejection even if I was the one who had initiated it. It was almost like being put in a garbage bag and thrown out of someone’s life. To climb out of this long, dark sack of rot and tell myself that I was worthy, still worthy, was a Herculean effort. Especially now, when Hercules’s muscles were sagging.
The divorce filled me with the most unimaginable emotional bullshit possible. Like the absolutely prehistoric, terribly regressive and embarrassingly banal thought of not being ‘able to keep the man’. Of not being a femme fatale, who twists a man around her finger and holds him there with his explicit consent. In my dating years, only one break-up had chomped up my heart. The others had been a mutual falling out or moving on. Even that big break-up felt like a minor drizzle when
compared to the divorce. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. The end of a marriage is the end of the world (at least, for some time). For tomboys like me, who think kajal is a mega seduction tool, it is too cruel a blow.
I would wake up in the morning and look into the mirror. Straight, unflinching, taking in my little brown spots, the wrinkling at the eyes, the not so pink lips, the fatigue that seemed to hover around me, a permanent gloomy cloud. Going through an ugly duckling phase in your thirties is equivalent to getting chicken pox before your movie launch.
All this scrutiny resulted in the buying of an anti-wrinkle cream, and I thought that’s not bad for someone who used to think sunscreen was make-up. I couldn’t bear to increase the frequency to the parlour, where I went once a month. It was such a boring thing to do. The worst part was the facial.
One school of thought has it that sleeping while someone pounds your body is delightful. My flesh moans in pain and usually comes out of a massage more exhausted than relaxed. But the very worst part of it is that you can’t read.
Every morning, the thinking part of my head would fight valiantly with the superficial part that wanted to look ‘wunnerful’. On some days, I would succeed and could completely disassociate with the outer body. On other days, it was not so easy. My father is to blame for this confusion. The first time I wore a saree, I thought I looked beautiful, girly and grown-up. My dad glanced at me preening and said, ‘No matter what a monkey wears, it will look like a monkey. But if a monkey reads the right books, it won’t sound like a monkey.’ My poor father. He tried to teach me right. The result is that to this day a parlour visit is always calculated against the number of books I could have bought. But now this monkey was divorced and wanted to look like a swan.
At the best of times, it is difficult to fight against conditioned media imagery, stereotypical cues of beauty that are stuffed down the throat by the consumerist world. When the chips are down, it’s worse. How does one still feel attractive in an obviously unyouthful body? Nothing could be done.
This monkey was a bit raggedly and that was the truth. When I was with the Ex, it wasn’t that I didn’t think about how I looked but I had sort of accepted the imperfections, secure in the knowledge that they were loved by someone I found attractive enough to marry.
One day after the divorce, I was at the parlour and a lovely woman whizzed in. She was breathtaking, a diva. As she passed me, she complimented me on my ‘fantastic skin’. My jaw hit the ground and bounced a few times, but I don’t think she noticed. I heard her complain to the masseuse that her looks were gone but when she was young she had been such a ‘bomb’.
Here was I, sitting in my scruffy jeans, feeling like a pill and this gorgeous creature from the gods was complimenting my skin and lamenting the lack of glow on hers. What did she want? A torch shining through her cheeks? That’s when it hit me. All of us are bundles of insecurity. To get over it, there was only one solution – to be in love with me. I had to love myself, wrinkles and all. How could I judge how attractive I was? There’s no universal good-looking meter that I could refer to. I was dealing with enough emotional nonsense. Did I really want to add the condition of my skin to that? I gave up on the beauty business. This was me and I liked me. If someone liked me, then he shared my good taste and I’d obviously get along fabulously with him.
While I was shedding one layer of superficiality, I discovered another – a layer of pop philosophy.
An instant feel-good tablet of words. I’d read an inspirational quote or a chapter on self-help and get madly fixated on it, following what it had to say with the blindness of a believer. I would chant the words and feel them filling me with power.
It took me a long time to realize that self-help is common sense. To be happy, you had to get back to being comfortable in your own skin. It was amazing how the simplest of truths missed me by a mile in those days. I had to relearn that looking good was a feeling that only I could generate. If a man wasn’t attracted to me, he was obviously the wrong man and no amount of parlour-going would fix that. I had to understand that my happiness was linked to whether my head thought I looked good. I didn’t have to convince the mirror about my femme fatale charms but I had to convince the little grey box in my cranium. Once it gave the stamp of approval, the image-making, image-convoluting, image-brainwashing mechanisms could go take a flying dive into quicksand. It took some working on but today I know I’ll grow old with me and never, ever divorce me.