The Others’ ‘I’

Arpita Mitra

Sitting on the periphery of the room, I am in constant search of my own reflection within four walls so opaque to light that I don’t even gather traces of a shadow. Surrounded by scattered memories, shattered inspiration, and fragments of ‘me’ in crumbled balls of paper—the ‘I’ is vulnerable, unable to weave myself a definition.

When was the last time I sketched my identity through my vision? Strangely, why did I confine myself to expectations, assumptions, notions of the ‘other’? Did I never learn to mirror my own portrait?

I am disciplined—that is what my portrait could have revealed to me by now. Ah! It was rather a lesson taught compulsorily, responding to the ticking alarm, despite my battle with burdened eyes, trembling to avoid a curtain raiser. I was a recipient of nothing but doubts- extending greetings to people. I never cared to know, folding hands as a gesture that bore no meaning per se. I had to succumb to all that, just to be recognized as a ‘good daughter’—a fanciful term to denote an ideal image—a well-brought-up child.

I was already given a meaning to hold on to: My name! It was systematically thought, discussed with innumerable others (even the farthest of relations I may have the slightest knowledge about) and also (hopefully) rhymed with my elder siblings’! For some reason, I have found this ritual of naming the newborn so intrinsically significant, such that any hurried decision established in isolation appears to me a rarity.

There was never ‘one’ meaning I got attached to, however, a meaning never my own. Someday the matrimonial leaves of the newspaper would describe me based on categorical expectations of colour, age, size, weight, skills1—as if I was advertised to be approved by the standard requirements of ‘the other’.

The conception of the ‘social’ tended to overpower the individual existence—if at all the latter had succeeded to survive by this minute. The ‘I’ had hitherto discovered a space to germinate, however within pre-defined frames, routines, its roots leveling at a certain stage of development, failing to materialize its intentions to push the boundaries already erected- of institutions firm and old. It acquired a shape, but within an already structured mould.

Not that today, I, the real me, propagates any aspiration of being a deviant, or anti-social. However I would contribute only via questions of a different kind—naïve! Did I ever get the opportunity to know what I really wanted, what I could have made of myself? Could I ever begin from a clean slate, getting to determine my own name, my own norms and ‘my’ expectations, the vision to see me, independently?

Why could I never be the artist of my own portraiture, despite being artistic?

My thoughts stoned me for a while, as I kept staring at the crumbled balls of paper surrounding me with the irrational hope to receive a response. Sadly I was (made) blind for a long time before I managed to discover the light in ‘my’ room, handicapped in layers of intellectual abstractness, as someone opened the door….

1  For a long time, the advertisements in Matrimonial sections of the newspaper would quantify men and woman to racial and cultural stereotypes. Caste, colour and skills were the lowest common denominator based on which the worth of a potential bride or groom was decided. An unhealthy practice, it has often been satirized through literature and art, yet its existence has never been eradicated.