Of the body and the mind

Published: May 01, 2020, 04:16 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

From embracing a new work-out to slowly learning German to perfecting recipes — every day amid the lockdown has been sprinkled with little victories as I retreat further into domesticity

The butter cookies that I have been trying to perfect during the lockdown. Pic/ Rosalyn D'mello
The butter cookies that I have been trying to perfect during the lockdown. Pic/ Rosalyn D'mello

picIt feels admittedly asynchronous. On one hand, I’m increasingly immersed in research around the silencing of female subjectivity by relegating it within the domain of the exclusively non-public, while on the other, I am personally deriving immense pleasure through my voluntary retreat further and further into the inner realms of domesticity.

I find I am consciously withdrawing from being public, whether out of a sense of responsibility, by staying home in a bid to minimise the country’s COVID-19 fatalities, or voluntarily, by limiting my social-media engagement. If anything, it is this practice of restraint, this movement away from what my body has begun to interpret as cacophony that I hold responsible for my increased productivity.

And I mean here to challenge this very Capitalist word. I don’t mean for productivity to signify output. I don’t mean for it to be quantifiable in any way. I want to address it as a sweaty qualitative notion. I want to centre my absorption of it at the level of the physical and the psychological. Later, in retrospect, I want to synthesise my experience of this ‘Lockdown’ as a fine-tuning of my very corporeal encounter with muscular memory.

This morning I was surprised by my body’s sudden fluency with raising itself upwards. When the curfew was first announced and our access to public spaces began to be curtailed, I asked my partner to help me evolve an exercise routine, so that I could find an alternative source for the endorphin high I had begun to enjoy after two weeks of playing badminton in the park.

When he first demonstrated to me some of the moves that were part of his work-out, I tried to mimic his gestures. Perhaps because I had been slaying him at badminton, he had no conception of my body’s inability to perform movements that he had internalised as fundamental. I remember breaking down when he was instructing me on how to, while lying down, bring both legs together and heaving them up into the air by enlisting the back to aid the lift-off.

I’m not exaggerating. I collapsed into a hot, wet mass of tears. I felt defeated by my body. I felt angry that I was not allowed to continue to excel at badminton, a game I love not just because I played it through childhood and adolescence and am good at, but because it really tricks my body into exercise by nurturing my competitiveness.

I had told my partner then that he would have to be really slow, superbly gentle, and would have to cajole me into this daily practice. Being the fantastic listener that he is, he agreed to my conditions.

Organically, my partner began waking up by 7 am. I’m lazy. I wait for the scent of brewing coffee to invade the bedroom and for him to bring my cup to my bedside. Eventually, when I feel ready enough to get out of bed, I do, and change into basic clothes, a sports bra and hot pants, and show up in the living room.

I let myself be trained by him, and about 20-25 minutes later, I pick up my hoop and either freestyle or learn new moves on YouTube. After breakfast, we often sit to learn German, and once again he becomes my instructor. Post lunch, I have begun spending more time at my writing desk. Every two days, I bake something as a form of currency to show my appreciation for his time. I post pictures on Instagram when I feel compelled to say something, and don’t spend more than 30 minutes on Facebook or Whatsapp.

This is how we have been living the hours. Every day I can do a little more than I could the day before. The nature of my advancements is diverse. I can speak German with a little more fluency. I grow more confident with the same recipe than a week before. Something clicks and I suddenly figure out how to make the best bhurji, or how to perfect my lemon cake.

I’ve reduced everything to this elemental logic — muscle memory, and my instances of joy derive increasingly from the recognition of momentary synthesis between body and mind, so that my subjectivity is not only shaped cerebrally, but through the embrace of the pulpiness of emotion and the expenditure of sweat and muscle soreness. Today I did ten roll-ups effortlessly. It was a small achievement.

As adults, we forget how the single gesture we’ve internalised is, in fact, comprised of several units of small movements that are only learned in time. It’s like not just holding a pencil, but also writing with it. It’s super basic, but if you’re a three-year-old, it’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face.

I’m having so much fun playing outside my comfort zone, going out on a limb, so to speak, being child-like by learning how to acquire new movements and thus expand the range of my vocabulary. I want this muscle memory to feed my post-curfew life.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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