Rosalyn D'Mello: Elastic heart

Published: 16 December, 2016 06:10 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello |

It's difficult to straddle different worlds, but it also builds the flexibility of an elastic being

"How elastic are you?" asked Japanese artist Aki Sasamoto during a performance at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Pic courtesy Kochi-Muziris Biennale
"How elastic are you?" asked Japanese artist Aki Sasamoto during a performance at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Pic courtesy Kochi-Muziris Biennale

It's been such a touch-and-go week. I've just landed in Delhi after four intense days at the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and have to leave on Saturday for the Bangalore literature festival. I get back on the 19th and leave two days later for Mumbai to spend Christmas with my family, and to finish making the sweets. My sister and I will be taking the same flight together on the 21st and I suppose by midnight, we should already have the tree up.

My sister asked me a few weeks ago how I manage to travel so much, if it wasn't exhausting. I told her it had become a compulsion, something I had to do because of the nature of my work. But what is in fact challenging is moving between the different worlds I have to travel between. My recent trip to Mumbai was split between being home with my parents for lunch every afternoon and then meeting people in the art world in the evening, whether for Art Night Thursday, or for Subodh Gupta's opening at Famous Studio.

Kochi was entirely focussed on art; sprinting across different parts of the historic Fort Kochi in order to see what was on offer; bumping into artist friends from different cities and sharing a few beers every evening, which always ended with some ranting about the new regulations that state that all bars must shut at 10 pm sharp. I was living and breathing art. Over the weekend I'm meant to be at a literature festival that has Chetan Bhagat as its star panelist, and I'm already anxious about having to identify as an author, as against art writer or critic.

Christmas in Bombay will again mean having to embrace a different persona, where I'm not Rosalyn but Rosita, the pet name by which I'm known to family and my neighbours in Kurla. While it's difficult to straddle so many different worlds, I admit I enjoy the diversity that each one brings to my lived perspective. Often, each unique space serves like a buffer from the other. When conversations get too intense in the artworld arena, I look to my non-art-inclined friends for respite.

When I allow myself to forget about my calling as a writer, I spend time with my more literary friends and absorb their insights and opinions about my life and work. And when I want to feel the comfort and familiarity of being Bombay Goan, I rely on another bunch of friends who are keenly aware of that version of myself. And when I need to momentarily escape all of those networks and friendships, I indulge in the pleasures of solitude. I savour my time with myself.

At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, I watched Aki Sasamoto, a Japanese artist perform a treatise on elasticity. She had made a large hole in the ground at TKM Warehouse. A wooden cupboard was suspended over it. She used a chain mechanism to pull the cupboard higher, and through charcoal drawings on the wall, insinuated how holes could be metaphors for time warps.

She composed the space around us into grids, separating its expanse with a set of elastic ropes. When she moved the cupboard higher up, she climbed into the hole, whose bottom was not obviously visible, and started to jump upon a trampoline that was nestled there, all the while talking to the audience about what is means to be elastic and what it means to be non-elastic. How time was an important component in determining the future flexibility of an elastic being, and how its shape was permanently altered each time it was stretched and let go of. “How elastic are you?” she asked.

I had no easy answer to the question. Sometimes I'm so rigid about my identity and personhood I fail to step outside of myself to seek alternative perspectives. Sometimes I am overly compliant and allow myself to be moulded into the vision someone else has for me, to fit into another's lens and be a good subject. Every now and then I assert myself and can even be stubborn. I guess you could say I make an effort to be elastic, but my self-actualising project is still in its nascent stage.

Some day, I imagine myself living in different worlds with the graceful ease of a chameleon unhesitatingly adapting its colour to camouflage its outsider-hood; blending into a range of ecosystems so comfortably and conveniently its prey remains unsuspecting. Words have been my prey. I try to bait them through the snapping of my writerly tongue, lapping them up before they elude me once more. I'd like each self I perform to be authentic — not a mask worn to greet the faces you must encounter, but my own flawed skin and flesh. Until I find that equilibrium, I see this column as that neutral space.

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


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