The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently

One Toe, Two Earlobes

This essay by Jerusha was awarded the Special Mention for the SJU Prize for the Personal Essay 2024 by judge Amulya Shruthi. The theme for the contest was Keeping Secrets.

An index finger always followed me – dancing from side to side, like a pseudo-magic 8 ball built in with only one answer, ‘You must tell the truth.’

My morals came from colouring books, the first stories I ever heard would be cemented with Faber Castells – each scene of Adam and Eve were coloured in the lines. If only god wasn’t a God, Eve could’ve kept it a secret – continued in Eden, eating seasonal fruits for free without having to bargain in the name of student poverty and gossiping to the crows that if she was in charge of naming everything – she would’ve done a much better job. Telling a lie isn’t the only thing that I was told was a lie – not telling the truth was much worse. There’s no point keeping secrets, God can you see hiding behind that tree and eventually one day he will embarrass you by downloading your entire life and screening it before everyone at the gates of heaven and then everyone would know I threw eggs at the neighbouring building’s walls for timepass at the expense of starving immigrants.

During the dress rehearsal for my 1st grade annual day performance, Chinnu was accompanying me as we rushed through the corridors to get ready – I figured neither of us were paying attention to the other because of the crowd, so I told her my uncle passed away. This tragic news was reported to her mother, who called my mother to pass on condolences. As we were getting ready, Chinnu’s mum said she’ll help me with my skirt – as she was pinning it, she asked why I would say my uncle died when he was still alive. She was still holding my skirt, so I couldn’t run away to hide behind a tree. My reasons for declaring my uncle dead weren’t malevolent in any way – I was just throwing eggs on the wall, no one was supposed to catch me in the act.

Everything that moved on the ground were keeping secrets, truthful beings were the ones you would see flying – birds and angels don’t lie. Which is why chickens flap around with hoarded secrets in their tummies and the angel that became the evangelist of lying ended up crawling on his belly. Pearly gates and gold roads never appealed to me, any road would do as long as it doesn’t have potholes or won’t crack in the monsoons, I wanted to get flying privileges – not just for the last mile connectivity issues but because that was my definition of free. I’ve met enough pastors who swapped the leather soles of their shoes for springs and a megaphone in lieu of vocal cords tell me what’ll set me free – the truth. The hall would echo with amens and since this was an all-caps point, I would scribble THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE from one end of the page to the other – tripling my asterisks and doubling my underlines.

No space was held for a well-intentioned lie, I wasn’t told that lies consisted of classifications and proper definitions. A lie just depended on the truth; the way darkness was defined as an absence of light. When Cirilla Ma’am wanted to know why the strings of my brother’s guitar were snapped, she said ‘why aren’t you telling the truth? that’s lying!’ I never thought I would have to testify in court, but there I was – in piano class, waiting to move on from Yankee Doodle to Mary Had a Little Lamb, being asked an altered rendition of –

‘Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give in this case will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?’

It didn’t matter that I was trying to keep my brother from having to witness Cirilla ma’am’s eyeballs burst out of their sockets as she writhed around the floor crying that the strings were made of steel that were not like the other steels – and it didn’t matter that I didn’t want him to cry. In Imitation Game – choosing not to come out and choosing to come out posed similar ranks of pain for Alan Turing. Holding it in is one kind of woe, but stripping off the wallpaper and putting your walls in The British Museum is much worse. It’s the kind of invasion that denies you to put up protective performances and will punish you for the truth and the withholding of it.

When I was 10, I had taken my diary and told Ma that she has to know everything – which really defeated the purpose of keeping a diary. Like fish laid out on the veranda by a vendor who let the crows have their fill – my crushes, people who I’ve cursed, potential ice cream flavours were told to Ma. After which I tore up my diary till the sentences couldn’t be patched up again. I figured I didn’t have to tell the truth to everyone, just the ones I’m obligated to – Ma and my venue-based best friends. Even though everyone groaned whenever M would lift her chin and say ‘Everyone but my mother’ when told not to tell anyone about hush-hush details of 5B, seeds of thought were dispersed – mothers need to know everything. This pyramid scheme was successful with me – I had gained my first and only recruit, Elizabeth. After staring at the clock, willing the wind to move the hands faster – church service ended and the tables were finally being set up for Love Feast. Elizabeth grabbed my hand and took me to one corner of the building, where we were still visible by everyone – but it was a corner, so it must’ve given the illusion of camouflage. She had something to tell me that she was told not to tell anyone but I shouldn’t tell anyone either. Now it was my turn to dance the index finger – no, no, Elizabeth, if I wasn’t supposed to know, you aren’t supposed to tell anyone but your mum.

Most times you are handed a way of being, a starter pack inclusive of what to do when feeling low, how to make meaning out of your existence, and who are the kinds of people you must confide in with everything. Which is also a pre-determined thing, it has got to be the closest people in your life, they are owed your entirety because to be close means to not hide parts of you – it should elicit transparency. Your parents, siblings, closest friends, partner – people who take away the purpose of keeping a diary – the length of your love for them is measured by how much you reveal. And it goes both ways, if either party is unaware about the particular type of way they like to take their eggs or their favourite colour – it’s treated reproachfully. There are Instagram pages and Buzzfeed quizzes that are centred around ‘If your best friend/partner reallyyy knows you, they would be able to answer these questions’ – and I hope my curses reach it someday.

In The Farewell, the whole family comes down to China in the name of a wedding, while in actuality – Nai Nai has cancer and they want to spend more time with her without having her find out about her own diagnosis. Billi, the granddaughter, initially resists coming down from America – but only because she was afraid of letting the truth spill out. It’s a swirl of emotions, but not for a second would you believe that they didn’t love her. To love is more than choosing to tell, it’s also the words you swallowed or the performances you put up, it is to extend yourself beyond the truth. It’s what Malar did in Premam at George’s wedding – to tell him that she regained her memory and remembers the love that they had for each other would be far more difficult for him to come to terms with than letting him believe otherwise. It’s what Nikki Giovanni meant in her conversations with James Baldwin, when she said, ‘If you loved me of course you’d lie to me… what do I care? I care that you’re there.’

Love isn’t my main reason though, self-preservation is. In creating art, you breathe so much of yourself into it – there’s not much air left for you. Whether in writing or in film, there are questions of – how much of myself is on this word document? How much to edit out? Ultimately, I want my writing to become a mirror; that a sentence or two in this piece echoes a sentence or two you’ve said, thought, or feel about yourself. So, as I stand in front of a mirror, I only trace the outlines of a part or two, maybe a toe and two earlobes – never the whole figure. It’s like throwing assorted ingredients into a cauldron – eye of newt, tail of rat, tongue of dog, some thyme – you don’t need an entire dog or the full rat, it’ll just mess up the potion. A part or two is what works, it’s all you need. The rest I’m keeping secret.

Image credits – GR on Flickr
The following two tabs change content below.


Latest posts by Jerusha (see all)

Next Post

Leave a Reply

© 2024 The Open Dosa

Theme by Anders Norén