Friday, November 15, 2013

ragamuffin on the loose

Do not mistake yourself for a guardian, or a muse, or a promise, or a victim or a snack.
You are a woman
Skin and bones, veins and nerves, hair and sweat
You are not made of metaphors
--Sarah Kay

She knows. She knows.

I am working this year in an office in the golden dome
One day, as I walked to work, I looked up at the statue of Mary, that I have walked by every day of every school year on my way back home.
I no longer live right behind her, but I work right under her, so it's a fair trade-off.
She looked very frozen and stilted in her gilded glory.
All I could think of was these statues of Mother Teresa that populate every street corner in Kolkata.
They are, bless their souls, the last word in absolutely atrocious.
Mother looks wan, wasted.
Or her smile tends towards leery, creepy, and definitely not saintly.
And they're trying, bless their hearts.
I'm sure each artist is really trying to convey their love for their Mother.
But the product of their work is sort of ostentatious and uncomfortable.
And I felt exactly the way I felt when I saw those statues of Mother as I felt as I looked at Mary on the golden dome.
I have not felt like that since then.
But I felt that way then.
So I tootled around back to the bike-stand, and parked my bike that has the sticky break.
(How I miss my bike, and it's noisy, sticky break)
I walked into work, wearing my power heels and a "I am business woman, hear me roar" attitude.
I walk into an office that is air-conditioned.
Air conditioning.
Air conditioning is a strange, blood-chilling magic.
Air conditioning is the strangest sort of enviornment.
It's an enchantment that pervades a building, and you're fooled into thinking that the outside temperature is not much different from the indoors temperature.
And I think for a moment: what if one day I become a business person, and do business things, and care about copiers and always wear a business black skirt and heels and start flying business class on airplanes?

I flew business class on our flight out of Kolkata to Mumbai.
I was in a modified, cleaner version of our classic ragamuffin uniform-- my blue India pants and a brown India shirt.

Here's a visual for you:

Full Ragamuffin Uniform:

Modified Ragamuffin Uniform:

And so, as it approached time to board the flight, as we were waiting in a haphazard semblance of a line, we looked at our boarding passes, and to my surprise, my seat was: 3A.
Row three?
I bet you're in business class, said one of my companions.
So much for solidarity, we laughed.
And then we arrived in business class, and a white middle-aged East-coast businessman was sitting in seat 3A.
I stared like an Indian man watching a gaggle of Westerners amble down the sidewalk.
In my defense, it'd been a while since I'd seen a middle-aged, East-coast businessman.
Thinking that it was probably a misprint on my part, I asked excuse me sir but was 3A his seat?
He got up in a huff and grumbled off, complaining that he should have been in business class.
And I realized he was right: he should have been; and I definitely should not have.
I was, after all, dressed like a modified ragamuffin.
And all I could think of was Sobita, who always looked impeccable, while I always looked like a ragamuffin. And she would probably never fly on a plane, much less fly business class on a plane to Mumbai.
And then they handed me the menu for lunch, and I couldn't help but wonder if all of this was going to end in a lot of mandatory tips, like the dinner on our train ride to Puri.
I had become very wary of any "free extras."
Because you realize that "free of cost" is not anything that truly exists in the "real world."
But that warm August day, I found myself in air conditioning.
As soon as you become aware of air conditioning, your blood begins to tingle, and run frozen inside your veins. You know that you're living in a modified environment.
You feel that the place you're sitting in is not quite natural.
And it felt strange to be wearing a face full of makeup, and clothing that I ironed.


I sat outside the little cafe in the liberal arts building, populated by intellectual hipsters, hipster intellectuals, and that bearded kid from one of my theology classes who is playing some sort of video game on his computer.
Yes, I looked over his shoulder at his screen.
No, that's probably not very socially acceptable.
Yes, I am the nosiest person I know.

And then I stopped watching that bearded kid from my theology class as my favorite song came on over the radio.
And I felt how astounding it was the songs, and places, and people can hold inside of them so many different sorts of memories.
And you so often have to leave those familiar people and places and songs, so that when you return to them, you can rediscover and relearn not only what you knew was there before, but find what you didn't know was there but what was waiting for you to find.

"We cared little for what lay beyond the borders of our land. Songs we have that tell of these things, but we are forgetting them, teaching them only to children, as a careless custom. And now the songs have come down among us out of the strange places, and walk visible under the Sun." 
"You should be glad," Théoden King," said Gandalf. "For not only the little life of Men is now endangered, but the life also of those thing which you have deemed the matter of legend. You are not without allies, even if you know them not."
"Yet also I should be sad," said Théoden. "For however the fortune of war shall go, may it not so end that much that was fair and wonderful shall pass for ever out of Middle-earth?” 
--The Two Towers

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