I only have a few things from home now. One is a cotton scarf, it’s black with a red stripe. In Yemen I would have worn it to cover my hair, but here I wear it around my neck. I have a silver necklace too, with a dark red stone. I wear that a lot, though I often take it off when I work with the Yemeni community here in New York. They are often simple people, and they’re not used to seeing a Yemeni woman without an abaya or a hijab. Many Yemenis don’t want to change, even when they’ve left Yemen. The Yemeni community in New York is very strict, so I don’t want them to identify me as Yemeni necessarily. It’s funny: I’m so attached to Yemenis on the one hand, but I also want my space.
‘They’ decide everything. ‘They’ know whether it is to be pink or green this fall, whether it’s to be short skirts, whether you can wear mink. For years everyone who thinks has gone around at one time or another trying to find out in a desultory sort of way who ‘they’ are. One of the most fascinating things about the world of fashion is that practically no one knows who inhabits it or why it exists. There are a few people who know how it works, but they won’t tell. So it just goes on, getting in deeper and deeper, until something like a war or depression slows it up from time to time. But once the war or the depression lets up, off again goes fashion on its mad way.
He thought of Lydia and wondered what it was that had gone wrong. He had felt her drifting away from him like the cloud in the windowpane. He’d just stood there. Until she collected her things, kissed him on the mouth and walked out of the door. The cardboard box had remained. It was filled with her. Her touch, her kindness, her skin. He held the piece of leather in his hands and gently folded it back into the box.
Within the context of a public event, clothes help to endow the wearer with a greater sense of themselves. You find yourself behaving differently when wearing a costume and you are often less inhibited. The costume helps to give you a new persona to project yourself from. With a ritual, a simple black robe does the opposite and is often worn as a form of anonymity. I find elaborate robes project ego and when working in a ritual context the will needs to be focused on the job in hand.
Because what are the all-pervasive representations that Westerners have of India? Raj nostalgia in never ending slew of costume drama box sets? Yoga, mysticism and a souvenir of rudraksha beads in Rishikesh or a beach holiday in Goa? Beyonce and Chris Martin doing India with heavy dose of nautch exotica and lobbing coloured Holi powder with abandon in ‘Hymn for the Weekend’? Which begs the question, what are the aesthetics of an emerging post-colonial economy? And when something different from what we expect arises, why don’t we have the interpretative frameworks to understand its nuances?
Prison literature and theory often focuses on the oppressiveness of the system, the callous discipline enforced on the prisoner, the strict rules which often seem arbitrary in their focus and the often patronising attitude of the authorities. We often assume that prison is an environment so infused with control and discipline that the inmates have no choice but to bow to the authorities. This is of course not the case. Prison life is full of upturned collars and resentful squints, as well as a myriad of other ways to subvert the rules, however slightly.
Among my peers I often come across an attitude that says, ‘Well, I’m different.’ I’ve certainly been guilty of that myself. ‘I do things right.’ But I don’t think it’s very productive to think like that. Rather than pointing fingers at others, why not look at yourself first? Maybe the whole idea of objective journalism is defunct. Maybe we would be better off being open about objectivity not existing. We’re human beings aren’t we? It’s very hard to be objective when you’re a person in the world, influenced by certain forces. I would always argue that it’s better to be self-aware and admit your agenda, even when it’s not flattering.