The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Tag: life lessons

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.

Time stitches all wounds with loving hands

“Untitled”

When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open
Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt

Let a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring
Let it go. Let it out.
Let it all unravel.
Let it free and it can be
A path on which to travel.

— Michael Leunig

A colleague lost his young cousin in a road accident. The boy was 19. He was at a friend’s home that evening, presumably intending to spend the night there. Around 2am or so (as my colleague told me), he woke up and left the house quietly without informing anyone. He got into his car and started driving towards home. The car crashed into a tree, and he died within minutes of the accident. He was a few minutes away from home.

So near, yet so far.

Most of us figure out a way (consciously or  not) to deal with trauma. Probably it is the body’s mechanism of keeping itself alive. If we were to internalize every emotion, happy or not, that crossed our path, we would be unable to survive too long. Life would be intensely turbulent and discordant.

Distancing oneself from the actual incident helps. So I did just that, as I have been doing a lot these days.

But I couldn’t help thinking about the boy’s mother. No, I don’t think that this would be any easier on the father at all. (How could it ever be so? A father’s heart can be soft in all the right places too, just like a mother’s. My father exemplifies this for me.)

I imagined the pain she’d be living with… an open wound, like a mouth ulcer. Sometimes pain is so overwhelmingly intense that death (or unconsciousness) feels like a relief. But what if that was not a choice at all? The only alternative (not even an alternative, really – well, unless one considered suicide) is to live with this immense pain, day in and day out, every moment threatening to snuff out the very life force energy without actually doing so. It hurts so bad, my heart… It is a huge sensation, very physical and real and visceral. Oh, how do I get rid of this pain? It is killing me but just not yet. So I have to live, feeling this pain in every pore, every fiber of my being… Without being able to do a thing about it.

Words are utterly useless at this point.

But there is something that I can say, with complete sincerity and conviction, and that is: Everything changes. Not a single thing remains constant in this manifest universe. The pain that seems to sear our insides also changes. It is simply part of the process, the paradigm. Knowing the principle may provide some relief.