Youthful…zealous…passionate…inspiring…bubbly…full of life…compassionate…picture of happiness.
These are the adjectives my students have often used to describe me.
‘You have an aura that makes one instantly fall in love with you!‘, a student once said to me.
My students have seen me on the dais, teaching Physiology. They have seen me outside of the classroom, in the moments that I have interacted with them on a more personal or casual note.
‘The lady who drives a black Santro‘, they say.
‘And now the author of a book!‘, they add with pride.
A few days back, one of my students turned up at my house, unannounced. There was a look of shock and dismay on her face as I ushered her in, and I could see that she was in conflict. I was tired and exhausted from a day’s hard work, my clothes were soiled and sticky, my hair was disheveled and grimy, and I bore no resemblance to the person she had seen in college. I could very well have passed for a housemaid. Any day, my maid was more presentable than I was at this point in time. My mother appeared, and I could see my student’s confusion as she regarded this thin, frail and fragile woman.
‘My mother‘, I said to her.
She was silent for a while.
‘Do you both live alone? Is there nobody else?‘, my student asked.
I could see that she had expected a lively and cheerful house, brimming with people, with noise, and with optimism. A house where maids bustled about and where chauffeurs opened doors of limousines for people to be driven around. And here we were, a mother and daughter, living a life on the edge. A house that was filled with silence and loneliness. She was quite taken aback, and she left shortly, the conflict in her mind unsettled.
My mother gave me a knowing smile. We have often talked about this malady of our lives. The illusion that people have of my life. Cinderella’s private life! Behind all the adjectives that my students use to describe me, they are unable to fathom the circumstances that surround me- the private moments that characterize my life. Not just students, but a lot of people. Somehow, there appears to be no connection between my public moments and my personal moments.
Last evening, when I got back home, my mother did not answer the doorbell immediately. I panicked for a moment. Then the door opened, and I was relieved to see her. But her face looked pale. It was only when I stepped in that I noticed her limping. Only then did she tell me that she had slipped and fallen. As she narrated to me the details of the incident, I felt a little giddy. Immediately after the fall, my mother’s first thought had been me. What if she had broken her leg and had to be taken to hospital? What if it was a fracture and required admission to hospital? Weeks of hospitalization? My mother couldn’t imagine my predicament. With not a soul to turn to for help, how would I manage? Her first instinct had been to try and see if she could manage to get up. She was relieved when she realized she hadn’t broken her leg, and she had cried with relief. I couldn’t help dwelling upon the helplessness that characterized such moments, but I didn’t want my mother to know how I felt. So I heated up some water and applied hot packs to the swelling. Then I went about the household chores while she gave me verbal instructions. When I had a few moments to myself, I cried all the tears I had bottled up until then.
The peripheral elements of society- beggars, destitutes, orphans, prostitutes, lunatics. There are others too. Single women, divorcees, children from broken marriages, victims of child abuse…even celebrities. Some are alienated from society because they have nobody. Others are alienated despite having everybody. Every day is a struggle to belong. Belong to that gross order that they call society. A struggle to prove to oneself that one is worthy. Worthy enough to be wanted. Worthy enough to belong. The whole world can admire you and yet not want you. It is therefore not surprising that many celebrities have resorted to suicide in the lonely moments that characterized their lives.
It is perhaps these helpless and vulnerable moments that have connected me to cinema. My mind attaches itself to the vulnerability and helplessness of these characters in cinema. I experience the companionship of these characters who walk my paths, and this companionship comes in as a welcome respite- a ray of hope in the dark solitude of my life. It is these moments that liberate me from my vulnerability and transform me into the Cinderella that the world loves.