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Timeless tinders

Usha tries her newly purchased swimsuit
Usha tries her newly purchased swimsuit
The rebellious community
The rebellious community

Wandering intothe recently inaugurated bookstore near my house, I struggle to choosewhich shelf I should probe. The books are neatly stacked into convenient categories, none of which I can decidedly fit myself into. Children, young adult, self help, spiritual...The 'Children' section seems the most colourful and inviting one, the rest of the bookstore looking like a sad sepia undertone to an already hopeless reality. Before I realise, the browsing trip turns into an aimless walk where I'm lost in my own thoughts, paying little attention to paperbacks and hardbounds.

How does one progress from the colours, shapes, and perfectfiction of childhood to the monotonous expectation of eternal truth and salvation? Adults write children's books, which means they must be capable of imagining them. If that's the case, why is it a separate category at all? How is it that all sexual education, experimentation, transgression, and exploration is stacked in the 'Young Adult' section, crossing which one must most definitely require 'self help'? I leavethe bookstore soon after, knowing there is nothing in it for me. I should soon go looking for a bookstore which sticks to the old school 'fiction' and 'nonfiction' categorisation.

Sexual liberation, comfort with one's own body, and consent are topics very close to my heart. And hence, once the ageist silos started whacking my head, there really was no going back. A few days ago, the controversial "lady oriented" movie Lipstick Under my Burkha released in India. Needless to say, I watched and enjoyed it thoroughly. The movie is an intelligent play on narrative voices and styles, stringing together four women at different stages of their lives, forced to live dual realitiesdue to the shame and restrictions associated with women's bodies, and the widespread fear of their sexuality. The character which stuck with me was Usha's- an 'old' widow, managing the affairs of her entire building and safeguarding it from the capitalist eyes of 21st century contractors. Despite her public sphere power and authority, Usha is treated as a scandal when her inner sexual life and desires are revealed. Within minutes, she is stripped of her matriarchal persona, and literally thrown out of her own house. This does not happen when the younger women explore their bodies- perhaps it is not appreciated in the younger women either but nevertheless, is expected of them.

Lipstickdoes a fantastic job of quashing family values and ripping them oftheir sanctity by forcing the audiences to confront their hypocrisy. It allows the audience to partake of Usha's journey, evengrow supportive of the 'old' woman who is out to explore her sexuality once again and revels in the company of sensual pulp fiction- only to force them to confess to their real loyalties once the theatre lights turn on. It also accomplishes the difficult task of portraying the sense of loss of control which Usha experiences when faced with her own desires- and the beautiful way in which she conquers that feeling. She no longer feels estranged from her own body- but accepts it beyond the arbitrary binaries of age and gender.

There is a particular scene in the movie which stayed with me- Usha learning to take the escalators of the shopping mall by seamlessly holding hands with a group of very young girls. I don't know how the makers intended it to be perceived, but for me it represents the integration of unscrupulous boundaries, Usha's union with childhood, only to be followed by her union with supposed sensuality which is associated with young adults- the purchase of the swimsuit.

Women's sexuality is hugely apprehended but within it, old women and widows go through worse ordeals. Of course, there is no logical explanation as to why older women should suddenly forget what they knew a few years ago or even why we should be uncomfortable watching certain things with our families- we know it all as well as they do. But years of battering and one track upbringing have allowed us to ignore logic completely. Usha finds her own space of rebellion and allows herself to break free of the unsaid guidebook which prescribes exact behaviours for all of us. She permits her instinct to take her through and finds the real communityshe had been looking for- a community of rebellious women who are not afraid of their own bodies.

The very title conveys the desire of these women to do things for their own sake. Just because the lipstick is hidden under the burkha, does not mean that it is nonexistent. It exists for the happiness of the woman who can feel it on her lips and can taste it on her tongue. It exists for her, who owns it, no matter how old she is, and no matter if you can't see it.

Girl Power
Gender-based Violence
South and Central Asia
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