A Wednesday in Pink

“On Wednesdays, we wear pink.”
The Wednesdays are not pink anymore
like your presence,
like your absence.

The petals of the Alliums you gave me were pink
with a stiff stem
and
fabricated leaves
hanging like a tongue.

The silky sheets on our bed were pink
dented and scattered
that the street lamps outside would illuminate
in the darkness of the night
like our breaths mingled in the frosty air.

The pencils kept on the table were pink
stacked together to write notes and letters
full of words rejected and thrown
into a dusty bin
and hugged and stored in a small box
at the back of my bookshelf.

The Cali CD you loved was pink
and it played in the background
with you whispering along
C’est quand le bonheur
I didn’t understand it then and now
I do.
When will I finally be happy?

The tissues at the restaurant were pink
as we ordered through
audible sighs and hissed breaths
hot, hot anger
flowing through our veins, as it
spilled over and died
unlike the ticking clock which exploded in the back.

The cherry blossoms in our local park were pink
as they fell on the bench
and then the ground
slowly, slowly
and were picked up by me for my niece
and were trampled upon by you.

The last piece of cheesecake with
too much strawberry syrup on it was pink
which you ate
leaving the crumbs on the plate
in the overflowing sink
for me to wash away.

The leash of our small dog is pink,
filled with white polka dots
who will sit in the tired sunlight
at your feet
like the world you believe you live in.

The post-it on which you wrote
“Need toothpaste, butter and socks”
for me was pink
that will stare at me
until the cheap glue dries off the wall.

The laughter between us was pink,
soft, ugly, true
and loud, loud and loud
just like our anger, just like our tears.

And the memories of you are pink,
bright, happy
vivid, furious
pale, faded
and just out-of-reach
like your old and warm t-shirt
kept at the top of my closet
wrinkled at the sides
and ripped
in the centre.

The skies were pink too
on that Wednesday
Tinged with pink
Stained with pink
Consumed by pink
As you screamed me, me, me all the way down.

Written by Pragati Sharma

Image by Sheena Kasana

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A Movie Review by a Reformed Skeptic

I was a person who had only ever seen bits and pieces of “Mean Girls” on TV, and the parts I had seen gave me the impression that it was an overrated movie that people enjoyed merely for its brash, offensive one-liners and its clichéd portrayal of high-school hierarchy. So when I voted for it as the theme for this month’s issue of Jabberwock— I was prepared to roast it.

I decided to watch the entire movie once first to do justice to the article. By the time it was finished, I was very, very annoyed.

I was annoyed because I could no longer write a scathing review about it.

Yes, the movie can be watched on a superficial level, in which case all one takes away are the iconic one-liners and the Disney-esque life lesson at the end. Yes, it has its flaws since some characters are excessively caricatured, some of the acting is sub-par and some of the comedic one-liners are completely unnecessary (although extremely quotable, standalone lines, such as the woman who wanted to bake a cake of happiness).

But as a whole, the script of the movie shows a brilliantly technical circularity. The best example is the parallel between Cady and Regina, how they both become the same type of shallow and self-centred people, and how Regina goes from being the predator to the prey.

Another aspect that sets “Mean Girls” apart is its characterisation. There are many stereotyped, stock characters, but some manage to stay with the viewer. While Cady has her dark moments, overall she is an idealized and innocent character. However, Regina and Gretchen, two of the original “mean girls,” are more complex. Of course, we dislike them for their cruelty and narcissism, but their dark and petty traits are something all of us can somewhat relate to – they have human flaws. And despite these flaws, we cannot help but root for them at times. Regina is mean, no doubt, but we cannot help but feel for her when Cady exploits her body insecurities with the Kalteen bar scam. We also pity Gretchen and her strong need for approval from Regina, and validation from others.

Thus “Mean Girls” is a film which has parts that you can laugh at because it seems so exaggerated and far from reality, and parts that are almost unsettlingly realistic and almost guilt-provoking, reminding us of the ease with which we judge and slander the people around us. It is also realistic because it does not show a great deal of change in the existing hierarchy of the high school, or an ideal reform of everyone’s character. There is just a rearrangement of the “mean girls” into new, less damaging social roles and a greater understanding of existing problems – which is how change, actually begins.

Written by Madhuboni Bhattacharya

Image by Aanchal Juneja

 

Lunch-Tables

The lunch table buried itself
Under the cover
Of a dozen books.
It hid itself
Within the soft strands
Of hair
That fell comfortingly,
Inconspicuously,
Over thick lashes
And dark-rimmed glasses.
It brooded over
Its half-done homework.
It talked
In soft murmurs
About the world
And how it worked
It talked
In muted words
About life.
It glowed
With the soft sallow bloom
Of pale yellow skin
It saw the world
Through half-open eyes.

The lunch table simpered
With frothy giggles,
It blushed
Under the rose-tinted hue
Of fake laughter
And expensive perfume.
It flaunted itself
Through crisp, blonde curls
That framed
Animate, inquisitive eyes.
It conversed over
Its latest exploit.
It babbled with urgency
About the mall,
And about the people.
It talked
In staged whispers
About the life
Of Others.
It shone with
The bronzed glory
Of a summer spent
Tanning,
It saw the world
In Pink.

The lunch table
Was bursting
With irregularities.|
It was a constraint,
A self-imposed restriction
That did not know
That you,
You were an anomaly.

Written by Avani Solanki

Image by Joy Malsawmhlui

Mean Girls

“Fugly slut” was a phrase I picked up while watching the film Mean Girls on television with my sister. She was about twelve and I, nine. By default, books and television would never get censored in our household. It was not until much later that I really understood what it meant; but it wasn’t just a film to me even back then for playground politics has never been just a microcosm. It is what enables the performance of power and socialization into the roles that power dynamics demand from us at a very young age.

Being eight years old is one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. My family moved back to the city we had earlier lived in, which meant changing schools in the middle of the academic year. I spent a lot of hours learning how to spell because I was terrible at it, trying to live with the constant discord at home and waiting outside my paediatric nephrologist’s office. It was a painful and endless battle with my body and mind. I had no friends at school or otherwise and wasn’t able to do well academically either. The presence of mean girls wasn’t a welcome addition to this.

Playground politics at the “sexually latent” stage of childhood manifests itself in physical and superficial appearances, because abstract thinking isn’t supposed to have completely developed in a child’s cognition by this stage of development. When I look back, that’s exactly how it seems. The two girls in my class that everybody seemed to adore and worship, even the teacher, seemed to meet some arbitrary standard of attractiveness that pervades the world of childhood too.

Each day, I would struggle with how different I was, in the way I looked, in my quietness, in my academic and athletic incompetence. “You can’t sit with us” isn’t just a dialogue in a film to me; it has been an everyday reality for a significant part of my childhood. I remember not wanting to be associated with, being bullied and socially ostracized. I remember falling asleep each night wishing I would wake up somewhere else and not having to go back to school. I never felt like I could get any real help or talk to my parents about it and so I learnt to keep mum about way too much from quite early on. Nobody will really help us, my mother’s voice still echoes in my head from the time she used to say it when I was little.

I wanted to be like my sister. Look like her, talk like her, befriend her friends. The sheer impossibility of this consumed me with jealousy and immense rage at myself. Little did I know she was battling with the manifestation of the mean girls phenomenon within her own age group, it was only as we grew older that I learnt how to grapple with the magnitude of its presence. Unfortunately, I also happened to be one of the youngest children in the apartment where we lived, so anybody hardly ever took me seriously and nobody could really protect me. I was always a lemon/tamarind/tangerine; the rules of the game relaxed for me because I couldn’t run fast enough by virtue of being five years old. Once, an older girl who we played with didn’t slow down while she held my hand and ran with me, my feet could not keep up and I ended up skinning my knee on concrete. I remember crying and asking her to slow down; the bruise is still a shadow on my left knee; over the years, it has healed from looking like a chocolate chip cookie to a butterfly to just a faint scar of a memory. Somebody had to carry me home that day; “Ayyo, what happened?” said our neighbour’s sympathetic voice, as she leaned over her balcony ledge lined with potted cacti.

Mostly, I was an indoors-y child who hid under the large dining table with my dolls and our private tea party. Occasionally I would peep from the windows at children skating outside on Saturday mornings, only to retreat back to my hiding place. I wore pink not just on Wednesdays, but almost all the time, I gravitated towards this colour almost instinctively but it didn’t allow me any access or an entry point into an exclusive clique of girls. My sister seemed to be doing much better by having tastes completely opposite to mine. I talked so little, most people assumed I knew just as much and had little to contribute to any conversation. ”Your daughter is too quiet, she needs to talk” was a phrase my mother grew quite familiar with as everybody who ever taught me reinforced this idea.

It was only once I was a teenager that I started talking, really talking about how I feel and what I think. It took me about fourteen years of my life to feel brave enough to do that as I’d silently fought my battles until I learnt I could make friends.

A friendship I developed as an adult has grown rife with animosity but in a moment of tenderness, she calls out to me and in memory of better times, we sit together in a circle in the hostel’s inner quad, under the canopy of fairy lights at midnight. It’s fesitive, warm, fuzzy and bittersweet. There’s mellow and sentimental music drifting along with the smoke from sugary coffee in paper cups as multiple conversations encircle me. It isn’t really a circle, that’s impossible and it’s real that smaller sets of people are talking even in this arrangement. A couple of people beside me talk about how nobody really stays, how nobody can really ever stay. On the other side of the circle, there’s talk of a movie that makes you feel through and through. This moment could possibly be a scene from a film like that, I think.

Some of these people sitting along with me were the mean girls who would have bullied me in school. I often wonder if those girls ever stop and realise, if they even had a sense of the magnitude of damage they were doing or if they have grown to realise it at all. Probably not. I thought I had transcended that, that I had made peace and learned how to befriend people despite their meanness but it’s still very personal and difficult for me. It brings back a flood of unpleasant memories and I try to see these people sitting here just as people. Make allowances for all of us, even myself. Think of who messed up so bad that we feel the need to do this, in turn.

I’m no Cady Heron, and thankfully, “fugly slut” never became a part of the vocabulary I used to describe someone. I’m still learning how to live with the anxiety I learned to internalize at home and school and on some days, it gets really difficult but at least, I didn’t turn into a Plastic.

Being eight will probably be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but even then, I knew I wouldn’t always be that small and helpless. That year, I discovered I could write poems when we lost our dog to an accident one morning; the going got tough and I had nobody to confide in. The year after, I picked up reading and books couldn’t always be replacements for friends I didn’t have but it made feel less alone and powerless, at least. It taught me how to be less and less apologetic for being me and being incapable of being mean.

Written by Priya Tripathy

Image by Radhika Aneja

STARE OF THE MUSE

Art does not exist for the mere purpose of decorating shelf-tops and wall-fronts of palaces, neither does it exist for sitting ideally behind glass cases, hunting for the highest bidders. Coloured canvases have stories to tell that escape the yellow pages of historian’s journals—social histories, personal anecdotes, political upheavals—that could have been lost otherwise.

A painting might sit there, right above your head, without ever being looked at, unless it has something about it that has the power to trouble you and throw you out of your chair into a trail of questions leading up to those stories that escape the yellow pages of a historian’s journal. Even if you can’t dig up any social histories and personal anecdotes, it might just become your muse!

In that respect, Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring must have thrown a lot of people out of their chairs. For there is no end to the questions she raises, and there are no answers are to be found.

The Girl is recognizably European. She has a loose garment over her bust. As per today’s fashion, it might qualify as a camel-jacket thrown over a white pull-over, but people have trouble guessing what it might signify for a 17th-century Dutch costume. The turban she wears is often identified as oriental, and is certainly odd for a European face. The earring itself is abnormally large and too finely polished for a pearl. Who is she? What is she wearing? Is that really a pearl earring? Is she wearing only one? Is it even her own?

Vermeer probably wasn’t convinced that these questions were troubling enough to throw you out of your chair, so he didn’t stop there. The girl looks back with her head turned as if having suddenly remembered something she had to do but did not do. Her lips are parted as if she was going to say something, but decided otherwise. The strong, expectant, unexplained gaze is hard to resist. What is it that had slipped her mind? What is it she wanted to say? Why does she gaze so?

Another question that must come to your mind is whether Vermeer intended to throw you out of your chair with this painting…for there isn’t just one reason why an artist might create something. Wondering about the artist’s intention is inevitable once you become aware of the effect it actually has on you. And it was one such trail of thought that left me wondering what effect the Girl had on me.

What she is wearing is far from familiar—more so for the times that I live in than any other. Her attire is very unrecognizable, and so is she. I say this for the only tag of recognition I can give her is that of a stranger; the attire that she has been portrayed with would make me believe that it was so for the artist, as it is for me.

Yet, there is something about her face that does not let her be a stranger—it haunts! The soft strokes of her face make it hazy, as if it were slowly fading away. At the same time, it is highlighted by the colour and shadow scheme which focuses the visitor’s gaze on it, making it all the more captivating. It all leads me to believe that she must have been either a stranger, someone refusing to be effaced from memory even when there remains no reason to remember them. Or a loved one, long gone and kept alive in memory, whom the passing days do efface much against our will. For she exists in this rather extraordinary amalgam of the strange and the familiar, the forgotten and the oft- evoked. I believe she personifies memory. Retained and renewed as memories are—through souvenirs — it is important that she is The Girl with the Pearl Earring, something which becomes indispensible to her very being.

Witness, memorise, record, send posterity on a quest and make it witness too—things both historians and artists do. Yet the whys behind the creation of art and whats of the artists’ intentions are always fascinating because all is never revealed, and what is revealed is never conclusive. This fascination is what throws people out of their chairs into a trail of questions that lead to discovery and creative expeditions. And as you might observe in this column throughout, this is what has thrown me out of my chair too, into a space where there are no constraints to my imagination.

It must have been such whys and whats of this painting as well, for they are innumerable and interminable, that would have led to the origin of the varied literature that surrounds it. The artist’s life history is lost to us. The painting itself remained undiscovered for more than two centuries after his death. This girl’s story is one of those which escaped the yellow pages of a historian’s journal, but the literature it went on to inspire ranges from Tracy Chevalier’s fiction, its movie adaptation, and play performances to scholarship that includes clinical studies as well as Edward Snow’s rather emotional account of his encounter with the stare. The painting, despite a lost history, did not get lost and managed to trouble us enough to bring forward a story—a story about the lack of a story.

Some stories will always get lost beneath unwritten pages of histories, simply because we don’t know them yet. But if you look around, there’s always one odd girl, one odd earring and one odd stare, looking back and asking, “Do you wonder why I exist?”

Written by Eshna Gupta

Painting by Johannes Vermeer

Image Edited by Chetanya Godara

A Paperback Memory

Last year, in December, my grandfather was kind enough to take my sister and I to an annual book fair. It is safe to say that the three of us returned with empty wallets but hands full of books, and shiny grins on our faces. It pains me to confess that of all the new paperbacks, since then, I have managed to read only two. An exaggerated traitor, I have resorted to the realm of online reading. Sure, it is quite convenient to not lug around the weight of a physical book, but the experience cannot possibly be the same.

Reading a paperback book allows me to appreciate the delightful punctuation used by the author – the carefully placed semicolons, the graceful commas; which is a rarity on the Internet. When you have the soft, white pages before you to savour, a smudged screen peppered with fingerprints can’t even begin to compare. When you read a book which is particularly heart-rending, your salty tears are invitingly soaked by the paper, almost as if to say, “there, there darling; let it all out.”; what makes you cry also dries your tears.

The art of reading books brings the idea of “six degrees of separation” to a whole new level: you and a complete stranger are merely six books away from getting to know each other. To me, the idea of a second-hand book sale is wondrous. Novels that are carefully preserved over the years and have traces of another book-lover’s presence. Dog-eared pages tell me that line sixty-three on page five hundred and seven is close to the previous reader’s heart. A note on the first page that reads, “Happy birthday, love. I wish you the best in life and hope you reach for the stars!”

A few weeks ago, I watched a play which introduced me to my favourite line: “Kaash hum ek lambi saas le kar keh sakte ki zindagi mein koi mushkile nahi hai.” (I wish we could take a deep breath and say to ourselves that in life, there are no troubles). Why else do we read books? We read to forget, to imagine, to create, to believe in a world apart from the troubled one that we live in and to have an adventure without leaving the warmth of our cozy comforters. My parents have always encouraged me to read; a major chunk of my childhood was spent reading Ladybird books rather than hosting makeshift tea-parties. While I don’t always remember the plot of each book I have read so far, it is almost impossible to forget what I felt once I finished it.

When I finished reading Thumbelina, I felt happy that the little thumb-sized girl had finally found a home for herself (and a tad bit envious that she had had so many adventures within just fifteen pages!). When I read The Kite Runner, my heart was heavy and my eyes refused to dry. Once I finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I was in awe of the author because never before had I witnessed such creativity. It was this three hundred and sixty-eight page novel, one of my all-time favourite books, that made me think ‘I want to write a book of my own.’

My first outing since I moved to Delhi was the visit to Pragati Maidan to see the annual book fair. I bought three books and the next time you hear from me, the conversation would begin with a happy, satisfied sigh because I would have read my first paperback book in a very, very, long time.

Written by Sukriti Lakhtakia

Image by Sheena Kasana