That is how my stories begin. Literally translated it means, “at first they show that…”. And this is how my mother expects books, movies and life to be narrated. So here it is, पहले-पहले दिखातें हैं की … there was a little girl.
This girl was desperately wanted. So much so that she had been wished for and named a year before she was thought of and two years before she was born. The people whose she was wanted very much to do right by her. And they did. Of course, she did not grow up to be exactly who they expected when they taught her those things; she didn’t even really grow up to be who she expected to be when she learnt them; but grow up right she did.
At least, that’s how I tell the story.
One of the things I was taught was that beauty (the having or not) was irrelevant. That the way you look was (more often than not) something that was determined by an accident of genetic combination; and as such not something that my person-hood needed to be evaluated by. Another edict drummed into me was that the only appropriate way to respond to a compliment was to say ‘thank you’. That anything else tended to either insult the intelligence and judgement of the giver or suggest an unflattering lack of belief in their intention. So when someone tells me I’m beautiful, I say thank you. And then I wonder what they mean.
Beauty can be a capricious creature. In India alone I have seen the standards shift to accommodate capitalist sales targets and global marketing standards. History tells us that beauty has defined itself in various iterations. But I think it’s fair to say that ‘inner beauty’ arguments not withstanding, it is something to do with the way you look. And with how much effort you put in to conform to the prevailing model of beauty. And the extent to which you succeed. Which, to my mind, makes it a scary thing to base even a part of my self on. Even with the best intentions of my parents, I still learned what it meant to be beautiful and it still confuses me. And because beauty is so enmeshed in desire, parts of me want to be thought of as beautiful. But desire and desirability are complicated. Largely because I want to be desired for what I think makes me desirable. How I move through this world, what I do, and how I do it.
Now my Ma worries that she did it wrong. That she made me believe I wasn’t beautiful. She didn’t. She made me believe that whether or not anyone else thought I was beautiful said more about them than it did about me. So if you think I’m beautiful, thank you. Now let’s talk about how.