When we find proof of our existence

Published: Apr 19, 2019, 07:30 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

Sometimes it is art, and sometimes a Netflix show that holds up a mirror to who we truly are, and what we would like to become

By the beginning of the sixth episode of Russian Doll, the metaphor of the Matryoshka doll revealed itself more obviously
By the beginning of the sixth episode of Russian Doll, the metaphor of the Matryoshka doll revealed itself more obviously

Rosalyn D'melloLast Sunday, at 2.30am, I fell into a state of grace. I was sure my life had just changed. Exposure to art does that sometimes, though I didn't expect the source of my ecstasy to be a Netflix show. Mona was next to me in bed. She'd fallen asleep in the middle of episode five. I forayed on. I was hooked, glued, riveted, utterly convinced this show had been made explicitly for the sake of my viewing pleasure. I was able to decipher its prophetic undertones. I 'got' why the show was called Russian Doll, I 'got' Nadia, I 'got' why her hair was the colour it was, why she walked with a swag, why she spoke with sass.

Her personality was the opposite of Clarice Lispector's Macabéa, the female protagonist in The Hour of the Star, who is described as being as appetising as cold coffee. "She lacked that elusive quality known as charm," Lispector tells us through her narrator, an author. She continues- 'The girl did not know that she existed, just as a dog doesn't know that it's a dog. Therefore she wasn't aware of her own unhappiness. The only thing she desired was to live. She could not explain, for she didn't probe her situation. Perhaps she felt there was some glory in living. She thought that a person was obliged to be happy. So she was happy. Before being born was she an idea? Before being born was she dead? And after being born was she about to die?"

Both Nadia and Macabéa are tragic figures fated to die. And yet, they desire to live. It's the process of resuscitation that is common to both, as is the means of their alleged ends (spoiler alert)-both are run over by cars. Lispector sees death as an encounter with self. As do the writers of Russian Doll. By the beginning of the sixth episode, the metaphor of the Matryoshka doll revealed itself more obviously. Self nestled within self nestled within self. I thought of my therapist, and how she had been helping me unravel this abundant multiplicity. It had been more than a month since I'd seen her. I owed myself a visit. Just as I thought this, the therapist character in Russian Doll tells Nadia and Alan, both characters stuck in a death loop, "without a therapist, you are the unreliable narrator of your own stories."

Right then, as these words were uttered, Mona's laptop ran out of battery and died. They had been talking about mirrors, how they function as proofs of our existence. I decided it was best that I slept. I went to the bathroom to pee and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and inadvertently thought I was beautiful-not usually the thought that comes to mind when I look into any reflective surface. It reminded me of one of my earliest sessions with my therapist, when I told her that I find myself most attractive when I am confronted with my reflection in front of the mirrors in Mona's house.

When Macabéa is hit by the yellow Mercedes, the narrator says she seemed to become more and more transformed into a Macabéa, as if she were arriving at herself. "Her struggle to live resembled something that she had never experienced before, virgin that she was, yet had grasped by intuition. For only now did she understand that a woman is born a woman from that first wail at birth. A woman's destiny is to be a woman. Macabéa had perceived the almost painful and vertiginous moment of overwhelming love. A painful and difficult reflowering that she enacted with her body and that other thing you call a soul and I call-what?"

During the Easter Sunday mass two years ago, Father Mario gave a profound sermon. I don't remember all of it, but one line stood out, which I recorded instantly- "The Resurrection is a self-emptying process". When I did meet my therapist on Monday, I recounted to her that proclamation and articulated how I was trying still to make sense of the simultaneous nature of the processes of exhuming one's selves while also replenishing them. As I was watching Russian Doll, particularly as I drew nearer to the end, I thought of Sartre's dictum, "Hell is other people", expounded in his play, No Exit. The series makes the opposite point, as if to say, "Hell is the absence of people", the subtext being that our personal salvation is intricately connected to that of the other. Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, asks, "What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love."

I decided to seek wisdom in the process of sour dough. As an ode to my Catholic upbringing, I prepared the leaven the night before Maundy Thursday. This afternoon I deemed it a success when I scooped out a spoonful and let it dive into a cup of water. As it floated I drifted once again into a state of grace. I remembered another wonderful line, I think it's also by Lispector-"Joy is limitless as long as it lasts".

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

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