Updated: Nov 15
Well, I'm not sure they really tried to make me - specifically me - go, but there was the legality of it all, which made it pretty clear that people in my circumstances would find it difficult. I guess the reason why I didn't automatically think, "Well, ok - let me figure out an easier way to do this" is because I've always fought, and alternatives aren't exactly easier for someone like me. Someone like me who is fighting not just a mental illness, but for values, and my place to be an authentic version of myself in the world. Why? Because I believe in advocating for myself first - it serves as the basis for the rest of my advocacy. I need to know what I'm fighting for if I begin to fight for others, and the issues I have fought for in the wider world, in my case, concern me directly.
It has been, without a doubt, an enormous - time consuming, risky, emotionally draining - challenge.
And it isn't made easier by the fact that sometimes holding on to the value of your work, your ideas, your aims and ambitions, can be not only isolating and debilitating but also feel meaningless when they are not being recognised. It's complicated. The lack of recognition at this point in time doesn't really upset me because the art has been a way for me to truly feel myself into who I really am, and what I really believe in, free from external pressures imposed on my ability to think and express myself. That is so important because that external pressure is mind-numbingly painful. I chose controversial issues not to be defined by them but to emphasise how they have a defining effect, beyond my control. Holding on to the emotions attached to sexual abuse, mental health, and abortion - the emotions, which are the backbone of stigma - is exhausting. The fear and real threat of persecution is a treacherous human rights violation that we continue to endure in our global society. I don't see the point; however, I suppose those who play the game of shame and honour have a historical basis to justify their actions, i.e., you hurt me in some way so I will hurt you back.
Vengeance is sad but it is a reality. I understand it emotionally, and because I do, I know it never leads to a lasting positive outcome. If social capital and reputation is truly everything then we live in an incredibly dangerous society. We live in a society, which justifies violence, and denies the full human experience because people are far more mysterious and expansive than the boxes, roles, labels, and categories that are made for us. That denial also perpetuates more violence.Therefore, defending diverse characters is tough. Trying to achieve peace and equality is even harder. Tolerance is incredibly vague. I have found, that in my being a woman, lies a great purpose - a purpose that goes beyond fleeting emotions such as jealousy, pride, superiority, victimhood, power, etc. It lies in defending the right - with great assertion - to live one's truth.
My truth, in a few explosive subjects, has been misconstrued as perhaps going against my country of birth, India, or passing judgement because I express great relief at having left that country: these points will not go down well with your average patriot turned aggressive nationalist, who is, let's face it, a chauvinist. Yet, what I'm pleading for is the relevance of stories that are able to value all of us and treat all of us with the respect we all deserve, and perhaps that means expressing opinions that forgo previously held beliefs - beliefs that encourage us to affirm our life choices at the expense of other's lived experience.
One might say, aren't you doing that by disregarding the experience of those who choose to abide by certain social norms? And, my answer to that is, I have nothing against social norms - unless of course the penalty for going against them, or deviating from them, or breaking them, or trying to amend them - is so severe - that the norms itself cease to have any true function aside from upholding very narrow-minded views - views, which do not genuinely benefit society at large.
Why am I confident about this? Because I bothered to speak to people who are affected by these issues, and the one commonality in their stories, whether in India, or otherwise, is their strong desire to be able to address unconscious biases and tackle prejudice. They can't do that alone. They are guilty until proven innocent, so someone has to step in, because predetermined fates don't just magically change themselves. Proving their innocence is a cultural challenge. Expressing emotions on a stage may not actually change their circumstances directly - but I view it as an integral part of my art to speak for those who cannot, in places where they have not been, where they cannot imagine being, where no one expects them to be, and the places which perhaps deliberately attempt to exclude them. Breaking the silence within elitist structures may feel like an echo chamber but we do not know who might be listening, and what they might end up learning, and what they might then end up doing.
Representation is an inevitable part of what the arts is. If we only represent that which makes us feel comfortable, I'm not sure we are doing a great service to the purpose of the arts, which in my view is to expand our understanding of who we are - our humanity - our multifaceted truths and realities. There is no peace in absolution and because I believe that I say no to anything that asks me to denounce the many versions of myself, for the sake of one. If I had to do that then to me there's no point in having chosen to become an artist. If that is controversial, then I'll keep asserting my right to be controversial not because being controversial is the aim, but because sometimes ideas, work, or opinions, which attract controversy have some truth within them that needs to be addressed - good, or bad.
And why do I write about this so much? Because, I'm gambling with my life. No one is going to hand anything to me. It's interesting to be bold; however, at what cost? I pay a lot more than I earn for the sake of personal justice - perhaps, that's why I understand how harmful our current social systems are. They contributed greatly to my becoming mentally ill. And those who have the authority to effect change, those in power - whatever their reasons may be for not seeing injustice - of course, they must be challenged.
Is it wrong to disagree with those in power? I don't think so.
So, that's why: they tried to make me go, and I said - no, no, no.