Uit: The Clothing of Books
“It didn’t help that some of my classmates, finding my clothes somewhat strange, used to tease me. They would say: What an ugly outfit. Those two things clash, didn’t you know? No one wears bell-bottoms anymore, they’re out of style. They laughed. That is why, for many years, while I waited for the school bus, my day began in a state of humiliation. My classmates derided me and, implicitly, also my parents. Being foreigners, they bought my clothes with an eye toward savings and not toward fashion or norms. They bought my clothes at end-of-season sales or at used clothing stores, knowing that I would outgrow the items in less than a year. My mother, moreover, did not share the taste of American moms. She did not shop in the same stores or dress me like the other girls. This is why I thought that a uniform would have been the solution. Clothing has always carried additional layers of meaning for me. My mother, even today, fifty years after leaving India, wears only the traditional clothing of her country. She barely tolerated my American clothes. She did not find my jeans or T-shirts cute. When I became an adolescent, she disapproved of short skirts, high heels. The older I grew, the more it mattered to her that I, too, wear Indian or, at the very least, concealing clothing. She held out for my becoming a Bengali woman like her. Every time we went to a party held by another Bengali family, to an important event or celebration, she would ask, implore, in the end force me to wear Indian clothing. If I protested, she would get angry. To placate her I gave in, but I would get irritated and sulk. As soon as I put on those clothes I felt like a different person, a foreigner like her. I felt the weight of an imposed identity. Those clothes, which had their own separate space in my closet, had a discordant, showy quality: colors that seemed too bright, material rooted in another land. They were, actually, more elegant than my everyday clothes, but they discomfited me. They tasted of a faraway place. They weighed almost nothing, and yet they weighed on me. Throughout this bitter struggle between my mother and myself, of long standing and with no clear resolution, I learned the hard way that how we dress, like the language we speak and the food we eat, expresses our identity, our culture, our sense of belonging. From childhood I understood that the clothes I wore, wherever I was, rendered me an “other.” Even in Calcutta, whenever I went out with my cousins, whom I physically resemble, I was perceived as a foreigner, often addressed in English. When I would ask them why, the answer was, with a shrug of the shoulders, It must be your clothes. As an adult, I dress the way I want; I decide how I present myself. But the shadow of that old anxiety remains: the fear of being badly dressed, of choosing wrongly and being judged. Every so often, overwhelmed by my wardrobe, by the pressure of having to choose the right outfit, I still wonder if it would be simpler to adopt a sort of uniform. When my books were first published, when I was thirty-two years old, I discovered that another part of me had to be dressed and presented to the world. But what is wrapped around my words—my book covers—is not of my choosing. I am forced, at times, to accept book jackets that I dislike, that I find problematic, disappointing. I tend to give in. I say to myself, Let it go, it’s not worth the battle. But I end up feeling afflicted, resentful. What in Italian is called a sovraccoperta (literally, “overcover”) is also called, in English, a jacket. A jacket made to measure, conceived and created specifically to cover and package a hardcover book. It should fit like a glove. And yet, in my opinion, most of my book jackets don’t fit me, which is why I sometimes think, as a writer too, that a uniform would be the answer.”
Kettingzagen; Atlantische depressie. Al vroeg
de sirene voor de vrijwillige brandweer. Twee vrouwen
liepen in de gang op en neer en ik vond niet
de weg uit de badkamer naar buiten.
Een reeks scènes zonder herkenbaar begin, of ik had
het begin gemist. De ademhaling was rustig, het land
voor de ramen steeg langzaam op
naar de bergen van sneeuw. Een van de vrouwen bleef staan
toen ze hoorde, dat er op de deur werd geklopt.
Het was geen weer om tot ‘s middags
op de dakdekker te wachten. De andere vrouw waste zich
het haar, om precies te zijn, was zij ermee doorgegaan
en stond nu op de wei in de regen.
Daar lag ook de kersenboom. De pomp
in de kelder hield niet op, het sneeuwde
alweer; in de teamauto zat alleen
de chauffeur en telefoneerde. De schade kan men
niet zien, en de post komt de laatste tijd zo laat.
Vertaald door Frans Roumen