Rosalyn D' Mello: Do you approve of yourself?
In our quest for others’ approvals, we lose the plot of our own narratives; nurturing biology when we should be pursuing biography
Flowers, candles and messages left by well-wishers and fans in tribute outside the north London home of singer George Michael. Pic/AFP
A day after I read about George Michael’s death, I discovered a video link to an appearance he made on Oprah years ago. When she asked him what it meant to come out as gay, he spoke briefly about the challenges, but one line by him really stood out for me. It seemed perfectly synchronous to have encountered it after his death and as 2016 is ending. He said, “I don’t need the approval of people who don’t approve of me.” I was stunned by the audacity of this diktat to himself — the principle by which he chose to live his life.
I’m not one for resolutions; the only one I find myself wanting to make on the cusp of 2017 is to live more profoundly, to be more in control of my body and my narrative. And, since a few days ago, to live by George Michael’s words — to not waste my energy seeking the approval of people who do not approve of the non-conforming, independent nature of the life I live.
It dawned on me that the most intelligent way to get back at one’s detractors, at what we ambiguously call conservative ‘society’, is to work towards being ridiculously happy, deliriously self-reliant and self-contained.
As I was going through some notes I made on my phone, while I was at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, I found this single line that I wrote during artist Joan Jonas’ presentation by the sea, alongside the Chinese fishing nets. She was speaking about the secret lives of fish, and their alleged sentience. Just below a note that read “The ghosts of animals”, I wrote, “To have biography, not just biology.” I was fascinated by the wisdom of it, its potential to be a life mission. How many of us live our lives restricting ourselves to moulds that other people have created for us? We go on from day to day thinking that one day things will change, that our situation is temporary, until we start to get
domesticated within those forms. We get seduced by the lure of mediocrity and its ensuing value systems, never challenging convention, never realising that we have become an indelible part of that beast called ‘society’ that we otherwise imagined to be an abstract thing.
Where before we were threatened into following the rules for fear of what ‘others’ will think, eventually, we become those imaginary ‘others’, wilfully deciding what the people we love and those around us can and cannot do. In our quest for others’ approvals, we no longer question whether we even approve of ourselves. We start to possess biology, but lose the plot of our narratives, when all along we should have been pursuing biography, self-hood. And the only way to do that is to start to claim agency, to start to actively determine the course of our own lives without fear of disapproval.
I’ve been wary of sounding preachy in my columns, but I suppose the conversations I’ve recently had with readers of my book have prompted me to twist my stance a little.
A few weeks ago, I met a bunch of young women who asked me how much courage it took to write the story of my present. I told them that I felt I could do it because Kamala Das had done it before me, and that I hoped they would similarly feel empowered to live their own stories and tell it too. At the Bangalore Literature Festival, I met amazing women, many of whom were married off at 25 and are mothers now, who confessed they had made their peace with the unhappy state of their lives, and I felt I had to urge them to think otherwise. If you don’t believe you deserve to be happy, no one else will.
Few people have the right to tell you how to live your life. So instead of counsel, I would like to propose a New Year’s blessing to all of my readers, especially women: May you learn to stand on your own feet, despite any handicap you may perceive.
May you inherit the wisdom of all the great women through the ages, women who dared to possess biography and not be limited to biology. May you have the audacity to make your own decisions. Marry if you want to. Don’t marry if you don’t want to. Earn a living if you want to, be a stay-at-home mother if you want to. Let no one else make choices on your behalf. May you have the courage to follow your greatest passions and indulge in your greatest joys. May you never settle for the monotony of a predictable life. May you live exceptionally, with pride and dignity. And may you forever feast on light. Happy 2017!
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a repuable 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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