Rosalyn D'Mello: Life beyond flesh and blood
There's more to life than the blood ties we are born with, like the relationships and art we build ourselves, as labours of love
I've never understood people who don't "believe" in adoption. It is not some kind of article of faith that needs to be invested with belief. It is a human act of investing your emotion in another being. Representation pic/Thinkstock
I managed to restrain my annoyance with Jet Airways as I slunk into my middle seat at the back of the aircraft. The man occupying the window seat to my right was all sneeze and snot through the two-hour-five-minute airborne journey, but I tried, with relative success, to immerse myself in the Marguerite Duras interview I was reading. It was intriguing that two days before, Facebook showed up a memory from 2012, when I had visited Duras' grave at Montparnasse cemetery in Paris. On my last evening in Kolkata, I'd bought a book-length interview with her at the beautiful Seagull bookstore. Doubly intriguing was that I'd also purchased a copy of Helene Cixous' Tomb(e), the first book the French feminist had ever authored, back in 1970, and which she calls the "all-powerful-other of all my books, it sparks them off, makes them run, it is their Messiah." Cixous says that in 1968-69, she wanted to die, "that is to say, stop living, being killed, but it was blocked on all sides." Instead of suicide, she began to dream of writing a tomb for herself. So there I was, mid-air, perched nervously in an uncomfortable seat, contemplating the meaning of death, and something my ex-colleague at Nature Morte, the artist and curator, Peter Nagy, had said at a recent opening, about how artists and writers invest in their creative legacies as a means of transcending death itself.
I knew this particular trip would be different from the countless others I'd made since I adopted Delhi as my base in 2010. This time I was returning to the city of my girlhood in order to bear witness to my sister's court marriage. Two days after I'd arrived, we took a cab and made our way through the city's morning traffic to the court in Khar so we could sign some papers after watching my sister and her fiancé take a quick, non-ceremonious oath so they could be formally wedded. I walked out with a brother-in-law. My sister emerged slightly dazed and spaced out. It possibly still hadn't sunk in that she was not just her own person but was now, legitimately, her new husband's mother's daughter-in-law. Later that evening, we had celebratory drinks at a friend's place, and I happened to broach the subject of adoption, relating to my new brother-in-law's friend about my best friend, Mona, and our plan of co-adopting a child, should we ever feel the parental urge. "I don't believe in adoption," he said, callously. "It's not like a religion that you have to believe in it," I retorted.
I've never understood people who don't "believe" in adoption. It is not some kind of article of faith that needs to be invested with belief. It is a human act of investing your emotion in another being. To not believe in it is to belittle the great acts of love and empathy and sacrifice it entails. The truth is, if you are someone with a heart and a soul, you are engaging in little acts of adoption all the time. If you're a single, independent woman, then more so than others, because the families you create and curate end up being the ones that sustain and nurture you, both emotionally and financially, much more than the ones you are born into.
I am also in this city to ring in my niece's 13th birthday. She will officially be a teenager on August 4th. She isn't my child, and yet, I cannot think of her as not mine. Yes, there is a blood connection, but there is so much more. Some of it has to do with the person she is, and so much more of it has to do with the 13-year-long relationship I've had with her. She is someone who brims with empathy, so full of feeling and imagination; she can empathise with a stone. I know I aspire to be like her, privy to a secret wisdom that comes from an ability to simplify the world, translate its many perplexities into the warmth of pure emotion. It's true, I'm technically her aunt, but it's also because we've adopted each other as confidants that I feel so connected to her. Blood does not guarantee depth of relation. At best, it is a pretext.
Artists are always sublimating. My continuing desire to remain unmarried and childless stems from the calling I've had since I was a girl to be a writer, which, for me, isn't a profession but a vocation. It is so inextricably linked to my identity that if I were suddenly left bereft of words, my 'I' would cease to exist. I suppose that, like Cixous, I, too, am knowingly or unknowingly, erecting my tomb. I don't fear death because I am keenly aware of the immortality of the written word.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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