Pain and joy on your plate

Updated: Feb 14, 2020, 07:50 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

Being (largely) immobile due to a torn ligament, I have had the chance to rediscover what a delight it is to bury yourself in a book

I have to record how I've never before had a partner who was such an avid reader. I've lost track of how many books he has read since the beginning of January
I have to record how I've never before had a partner who was such an avid reader. I've lost track of how many books he has read since the beginning of January

Rosalyn D'melloWithin a span of just a few seconds, a minor seismic shift occurred within my body. Exactly a week ago, after I submitted my column from a cafe on Baily Road in Dhaka, I was figuring out a Plan B because an artist had to cancel on our studio visit. I thought I'd go check out an exhibition close by, at Drik Gallery.

I booked an Uber. I had to wait a long while before I could finally walk towards the cab that was stationed on the side of the road. The driver and I established contact through the glass window. He had accepted my ride. All that was left was for me to enter the cab. I remember the moment of slight hesitation. I wondered which was the better way to enter. Was there enough space on the left, considering how close the taxi was to the pavement?

I had to step down onto the road, and I simply didn't account for the height difference between these two entities. I don't know what happened, but my right ankle snapped. I found myself sitting on the pavement trying hard to suppress my howls of agony. The driver rushed out to help me. He cajoled me into rotating my ankle, to ensure it wasn't fractured. That's when we noticed the gross swelling that had erupted instantly. He put me onto a cycle rickshaw, literally lifting me onto it and sent me to a hospital.

To cut a long story short, after being lugged around on a wheelchair to get my foot X-rayed, I learned I hadn't fractured it. It was a ligament tear instead. I was relieved. The prospect of being in a cast didn't excite me, especially when I had so much research to do, and considering it was just my second day in Dhaka and I had two weeks on hand.

I'm learning now that a ligament tear is possibly a lot worse. The painkiller the orthopaedic surgeon prescribed induced an allergic reaction across the expanse of my body. By day two, I had broken out into hives and was itching myself like a crazy person. I had to return to the emergency room to get an anti-histamine shot and had to take medication to alleviate the allergic recall for another three days.

I spent at least four days just convalescing, and the best outcome was that I finally finished reading Sara Ahmed's Living the Feminist Life, which has recently been published by Zubaan, and is therefore available in India. It was possibly the best thing to read at the time because it attested to how the conditions and circumstances of our relative privilege and marginalisation can define our subjectivity and inform how we teach ourselves to be more inclusive.

I have to record how I've never before had a partner who was such an avid reader. I've lost track of how many books he has read since the beginning of January. I made the irredeemable error of gifting him Khushwant Singh's Delhi back in October for his birthday, completely forgetting, because so many years had passed since I'd read it, how it is a masterpiece of misogyny and sexism that normalises the sexual assault of minors and is totally invested in promoting patriarchy through the fantastic realm of viewing sex with white women as a form of territorial conquest for a bawdy, ageing old man.

It was a difficult book to digest, and all through Christmastime in Goa, my partner would read me passages that bore evidence to the narrator and the author's intense and inherent misogyny. Perhaps to dilute that intensity, when we were back in Delhi, he went to a bookstore and bought two books by women. I have enjoyed watching him inhabit whatever room we happen to be in, lost in the pages of the books he is reading, from feminist historical retellings (Ruby Lal's Empress. The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan) to biography (Supriya Gandhi's The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India) to pure fiction (Ismat Chughtai's short stories). There is something about being around people who love reading. It induces you to give in more readily to the habit. Their presence can be disciplining — in that you feel encouraged to be less distracted, to not allow for breaks in your concentration, to be more focussed in your attention.

If you haven't been reading, or have taken a break from reading, this, if any, is a good reason to return to it. Because no amount of reading articles online or long-form journalism can substitute the dedicated attention a book demands and the rewarding feeling of turning a page when you're done, whether by physically lifting it or swiping across a screen.

Yesterday, we spent most of the day on a bus from Dhaka to Sylhet, which was obviously a fairly traumatic experience for my sprained foot. But the highlight of the uncomfortable journey was that I finally finished another book that I had been reading across several months, dipping in and out of as has been my habit since I was a student of literature. It was bell hooks's All About Love or Visions of Love. It's just about 250 pages, and I cannot recommend it enough. Perhaps it is the perfect book with which to return to reading because it espouses a feminist love ethic.

I'm still configuring whether I should continue with my fieldwork or return to Delhi to rest my leg. I'm not thrilled at all about the sordid state of affairs concerning my ankle. But if there's one thing I'm grateful for, it's that I had the opportunity to return to reading in a way I haven't been able to embrace for a while, given my hectic schedule and the omnipresence of deadlines. And maybe my column will encourage you to go out and indulge in the joy of sitting for hours with a book and staying with its pages until the end.

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 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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