The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Author: Lakshmi (page 2 of 326)

Actors and Projection

(Derived somewhat from an old post dated October 2012)

“Kaun Banega Crorepati,” India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was/is a popular show. The host Amitabh Bachchan would ask contestants what they’d do with the prize money they earned. Many men would respond quick, Go on a date with Aishwarya Rai. These were the days before Ms Rai became Mrs. Rai Bachchan. Anyway, Amitabh Bachchan would laugh lightly, then move on to other questions. The Aishwarya Rai answer was so darned common, it almost felt de rigueur. I never gave it a second thought. Everyone was joking, of course.

One day, my father (after hearing another contestant give the same answer) remarked, “Is Aishwarya Rai a prostitute that she’d go with anyone who is rich?”

He said it without any anger or annoyance, perhaps a trace of irony. It was a simple question, a rhetorical one. It made me stop and think. It hadn’t even occurred to me to think this way. With my complicity in this stupid joke about a game show winner going on a date with Ms. World, I had, like many others, bought into the “commodification” of Aishwarya Rai.

And then there is this.

One of my favorite films, a scene that is tough and unpleasant to watch for me.

Actors know all about projection. After all, they are constantly being projected upon. That is their job. The most talented actors function as blank slates, all the better for a director to project their vision on to.

And of course, projection is the way of this world. We are constantly foisting our dreams, expectations, fears, etc. on people around us. Actors aren’t exempt from this even though we don’t share physical space with them on a daily basis. They are projected upon, both on screen and off-screen.

And that’s how you land up with arrogant men who think that a female actor is a prostitute, AND the others who stand in deep awe of the personality, wanting to own her.

A Ripe Love

It was a love like none other I had ever experienced.

It began with stories of love itself, longing embedded within. Longing for a sense of purpose, a deeper meaning to life, direction. Stories of intense sorrow and pain, alleviated by a look, a touch, a word. Stories of miracles, large and small, inexplicable phenomena, familiar figures, comforting and loving. Stories of death averted, life transformed, birth and rebirth.

I longed for a story myself. I thought that if I wanted it bad enough, it would happen to me.

Did it? Perhaps it did.

Finally the day came, and I had the opportunity for a meeting. It left me miserable. All those beautiful stories dissolved into nothingness. There was no chemistry, no meeting of eyes, no significant glances or words.

Wasn’t I worthy enough? Why others, why not me?

I languished in self-inflicted misery a short while, then resolved I’d do better. I’d prove my mettle. I wouldn’t give up. I’d stick to my promise. I’d prove my love, devotion and sincerity.

I wish I could tell you that it worked. It really didn’t. I tried, then tried again. Finally I mustered up the courage to ask a question, hoping for a life-transforming answer, the word of God, just for me. Sure enough, the answer came but I was unimpressed. It did nothing for me! Was this a joke? Were all the stories mere fabrication? Was I missing something? Was I a fool?

Give me full marks for persistence because I did persist. I stuck along, confident that things would change. I would be deemed worthy to join the ranks of those who got special time. I would be soon sharing my own stories of miracles and supernatural phenomena.

And thus the saga continued. On and on, year after year.

I dropped my hankerings eventually. It was too darned exhausting. My fevered cravings morphed into a resigned acceptance. I started to experience a sweet kind of love, a puppy-like devotion and adoration. Somehow it seemed enough because my life actually felt sweeter, more melodious. There was a sense of dynamism, purpose and meaning. I was going somewhere, maybe not where I’d imagined. But somewhere… No, I wasn’t among the elite few who exchanged knowing glances and shared secret stories. But I was there, trudging along amid the masses, occasionally feeling both lost and found.

Then one day, it all began to change. The flavor of my love changed. It felt like it’d matured, gained in ripeness and understanding. Looks didn’t matter any more, neither did glances or words. Distance ceased to make a difference. Physical presence felt unimportant.

What was happening to me? Had I gotten completely lost? Where had I landed up? Why was I alone? Where were the elite, special ones?

I wondered long and hard. About what I’d lost, what I’d given up, if I had gained anything in the process.

The Sun needs no illumination. It is self-illumined. Perhaps I had become the Sun? Or a sun?

For years, I had watched from a distance, learning and growing. Over time, my inner wanderings finally led me to an orbit of my own, far away from the teeming masses, large and small planets, shining stars and dust. Finally I was on my own, lit from within, growing in light, brilliance and confidence.

Perhaps he would be proud of me today.

(Thank you, Gurudev, for setting this heart ablaze.)

Take Space

At Tai Chi class last week, while practising the 10-form sequence, I felt a sudden instinct to extend my body farther out. So I began to stretch, lean forward, expand. Moved my arms further apart, expanded my chest fuller, widened my stance, sat deeper, rose higher. I felt larger, grounded and graceful, majestic.

I have always associated grace and beauty with a contained space. Expanding my body in Tai Chi, I thought, would make me look ungainly, awkward. Plus, I have nearly always been told that I am a petite, slender person, so it naturally follows that a person like me would take up less space, literally.

Hmm, I think I have grossly underestimated my body: size, height, width.

I am not a petite person. I take up a decent amount of space. But the truth may be that I internalized the petite-slender narrative well enough to begin taking up less space, literally. Perhaps, I shrank a little. Thankfully, I didn’t develop the habit of slouching or hollowing my chest or hunching the shoulders.

One day, I dumped the graceful walk. Placed my legs wider apart, dropped the shoulders, spread the arms out a bit. It felt good, freeing. I wasn’t swaggering or posturing; it simply felt like I was taking my rightful place, the actual volume of air-space occupied by my body.

I am sure there are all kinds of metaphors hidden (or not) in here, but I am going to leave it at that.