The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Category: This and That (page 1 of 438)

A Navaratri Story

Navaratri, Divine Feminine, Beauty, Grace, Power

Navaratri is a lovely time of the year. The nine-day festival is a celebration of the Divine Feminine in all her resplendent forms — mother, daughter, artiste, warrior, musician, danseuse, princess, and others.

Navaratri arrives in the Oct-Nov time frame, as autumn descends on India and temperatures start falling. Not entirely so, because summer is a tenacious season, and October heat is a real, tangible beast. But Navaratri nights were/are always cool. And this is so important, because Navaratri nights are all about dancing. This is not the slow, sedate kind of dancing but more the spirited, energetic type.

People gather every evening, form a circle (or some kind of elongated circular-oval formation), and dance. The circle moves quick and smooth, and you have to keep pace with your fellow dancers. The hand clapping is basic, but the footwork is often sweeping and elaborate. The music used to comprise of traditional melodies and simple rhythms, but today you can find a melange of movie song remixes, disco beats, electronica and funky new tunes during Navaratri. All music that is even remotely hummable is packaged into a Navaratri-friendly format, which means you can dance to it, all night long.

Navaratri is also about gorgeous Indian clothing and jewelry (not shoes, because most people kick them off before dancing), which means that you get to see women beautifully dressed in shimmering chaniya-cholis and lehengas, jewelry swinging from ears, necks, waists and wrists. Guys wear colorful kurtas and kurtis, dupattas/stoles carelessly slung around the shoulders, looking every bit as dashing and attractive as their female partners.

Each apartment/building complex typically hosts its own Navaratri dance celebration, small or large, depending on the space at hand. Some larger event venues stage mega Navaratri events featuring circles within circles with hundreds of dancers. The innermost circles are where you’d see the most experimental performers, their moves grand and spectacularly elaborate. These dancers are the prizewinning types, and if you are unable to keep pace with their whirling energies, you are better off moving to one of the outer circles where the dance steps are simpler and everyone moves slower.

In my building complex, the dances took place right beneath my apartment balcony, and I could hear them all night long. I could see older aunties moving gracefully at a steady rhythm, enthusiastic young men and women doing their fancy moves, older uncles keeping pace in their own slow way, and lots of little kids playing/dancing along. And everyone would be all aglow, smiling and laughing and chatting and dancing. The music would wind down at a reasonable hour, and the adventurous folks would head to another venue, dance for hours, rinse and repeat, all night long until dawn. Make your way home at the end of a night of dancing, catch some sleep, go to work (or not), then do it all over again… For nine straight nights.

It was a magnificent spectacle, one that I watched from afar for years, through my childhood and youth. I seriously ached to join in the dancing and merriment but I never did, not even a single time.

You see, I was a shy kid. Not that you’d ever know because I was so good at playing the role of an extrovert. I’d regularly speak up in class, and raise my hand at every question the teacher asked. I had a comment or opinion on everything, and I wasn’t shy about opening my mouth and sharing it either. But I had no friends to speak of. I spent all my years in school feeling like a misfit, an awkward outsider. I am still befuddled to this day how I projected such a confident exterior, even as I hungered for friendship and connection with my peers.

I think it all began in my kiddie days. I was painfully sensitive as a child. Our apartment building was inhabited mostly by Gujarati families, and most kids spoke Gujarati among themselves. My family hails from Kerala, and Malayalam is our native tongue. I spoke no Gujarati, and I was too shy to go introduce myself to the other kids. So I stayed home. And no one came looking for me. I spent my childhood immersed in books and reading, fantasizing about friends and fun times. I played little, preferring to spend time with books, dance, music, films, and so on. I had no friends at home or at school.

It felt like I lacked a basic gene or something equally fundamental that prevented me from connecting with others my age, and this seemed to follow me everywhere.

I have felt like a misfit, many times in life… and not just at school. And I have been regarded as a snob, an uppity kind of personality. Again, this befuddles me, but it seems that this is not an uncommon experience, after all.

Anyway, this isn’t a pathetic story about a lonesome childhood. It is an honest attempt to describe a childhood, and it may not be all that unique an experience.

A child’s life isn’t always simple. It isn’t about friends, play, or fun all the time. A child has a complex inner world, and the pain and nervousness is real. There is genuine confusion, and fear of judgment, and awkwardness, and all of that. There is internal conflict about self and the other, about fitting in and standing out.

And some of us experience this more acutely than the others, yes.


Style Essay

Essaouira

I wrote this essay for another blogger. But it seems to have disappeared from that site. Why waste a good piece of writing, huh? So here it is.

I wish I had a great story about my style evolution. This may be termed a good story, not great. Anyway, I am happy to share!

I believe that personal style is an extension of who you are. Does that sound very obvious? I fervently believe that everything we do in the outer world is a natural and spontaneous expression of our inner self. Call this my personal hypothesis, a pet theory, a life philosophy.

Knowing oneself can seem like a monumental task. People spend a lifetime searching. They seek help from enlightened masters, ancient teachings and practices, wisdom in books and scriptures. Does this mean that good style can only dawn, post-enlightenment? Not really. Knowing oneself may be easier than you think. One can embark on the path of self-knowledge in many ways. As you gain greater clarity and insight, life changes inside out. Appearance, perspective, outward action, expression, career, relationships… all of it.

So here I am, curious and introspective, a little more aware of myself than before, and naturally that knowledge starts to express itself in my lifestyle choices, relationships, future dreams, personal style.

As a child, I was somewhat shy but I was able to pull off the extrovert act quite well. So well that I fooled myself too. It took many years before I realized that I wasn’t an extrovert any more. Perhaps I never was one. I wore simple clothes, nothing too attention-grabbing or bright or fancy. I was (and still am) of a conservative mindset, so I’d pick inexpensive clothes. I favored plain colors, often picking shades of maroon, brown, russet, beige, cream, etc. My aunt enquired why I was dressing like an old woman. I think my style at the time may have been an extension of my personality — shy, timid, unsure, wanting to please.

As I progressed from teenage to adulthood, my style didn’t change much. I wore a lot of jeans and Tees. That was pretty much how my cohort dressed. Mumbai is a hip city, and I recall feeling intimidated by girls in miniskirts, shorts and like. My parents are fairly progressive; they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if I’d worn shorts to college every day! But I was the self-conscious one: oh, my thick calves and fat legs! No, my calves weren’t close to thick. I also wore Indian cotton salwar suits in beautiful shades of saffron, red, ochre, forest green and like. This may have been the period in my life when my personality bloomed, and possibly my clothes reflected the inner confidence and blossoming. I had no qualms about wearing bright colors at that time. I was drawing my fair share of male attention, and my personality glowed under its heady effect.

Then it was time to get married, meaning I had to buy wedding sarees and salwar sets, jewelry, etc. And I was moving to the United States, so I also had to begin packing. Oddly enough, I hit a phase that I like to term “delayed adolescence.” Pink entered my wardrobe. I even owned a pair of deep pink heeled shoes! Again, it may have been a reflection of my life and emotions at the time. I was marrying the love of my life and moving with him to a new country. It was going to be just the two of us. It was the end of courtship and the beginning of married life. Excitement, apprehension and happiness made for an eventful entry to the U.S. But I was carrying sadness within. I had baggage to deal with. And it was dealt with in good time, and soon I felt free, light, forgiven.

Then I hit a so-called “style wall.” What was I to wear? Stores were so overwhelming. And I am a skinny person, so sizing was a problem. Plus I had to get the hang of layering.

I blundered along, picking clothes, shoes, bags, etc. as best as I could. Again, my conservative mindset prevented me from making expensive mistakes. Parallel that with my life journey where I was similarly experimenting, testing the waters, finding my true philosophy.

Fast forward to 2017. I am 38 years old. I have been a resident of the United States since late 2003.

I am a happier woman today than I was when I came to this country. I enjoy a deep sense of contentment within. It feels like all those years of soul-searching, climbing craggy hills and mountains, and wading through murky streams has brought me to a happy, verdant place. Now I can saunter along at my own will… Gazing at lilac sunsets, drinking in the quiet solitude, relishing the stillness.

I have nowhere to go, nothing to gain.

And that probably explains my current dressing style too. I have found the clothes that make me happy, comfortable. No, this isn’t a static state. As my mind expands and develops greater knowingness, so does my style. I have no one to impress. This feels like a happy medium that allows me to explore, stay curious and content, all at the same time.

My current wardrobe comprises of slim-fitting jeans and pants, an assortment of tops including blouses, linen shirts and tunics, cotton tees, a couple of dresses and skirts. I prefer natural fabrics and simple silhouettes. I am not afraid of color; I think I would wear any color that appeals to me. I hardly ever stop to think about how a color would look on me. I feel that I gravitate towards shades that I enjoy AND look good on me. I love Indian clothes. I have a decent collection of sarees in the loveliest of shades and fabrics… Navy blue, flaming orange, beige and maroon, ice blue and gray, vibrant aqua, cream and gold, deep brown, smooth silks, comfortable cottons — I love them all.

A few years ago I decided that I wouldn’t wear silk any more. So that meant the end of new silk sarees for me. It’s okay; I have no desire to acquire any more. I have a similar policy towards leather as well.

I think that my low-drama, no-fuss attitude to life has percolated into my sense of style and dressing in a natural way. I have very little desire to buy clothes. My closet looks full to me, and I genuinely enjoy wearing the clothes I have.

What does the future look like? Perhaps a continuation of the current state? As long as I remain true to who I am, all is perfect.