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Identity

October 22, 2011

I’ve probably spoken about this quite often here – identity.

My camera is my identity. When I walk down the street, there are people who do not recognize me without the camera. When I do meet people, they just expect me to have a camera with me and want me to take photos. It is kind of reassuring to see that my ID card is my camera.

It gives me access to places that I probably wouldn’t wander alone. Of course, a little naive that… thinking the camera is also a shield but sometimes, it actually is. People wave you away, frown and grumble but they let you be.

You feel safe with an ID card, declaring who you are and your identity. I feel weird and out of place on certain occasions when I do not have my camera. With it, I stand by the road, clicking away, aware of the glances and perhaps stares at me but they all just bounce off me. But put the camera away and I wonder how to respond to the query “what were you shooting? who are you shooting for?”

***

I recently picked up Reading Lolita in Tehran. I’m barely through half the book and I’m swayed by the quality of writing. It is almost poetical and puts the most mundane thing to the forefront of your mind. The sentences seep into you, haunt you, making you repeat them over and over again, trying to fit the pieces. You try to understand how it works, emphasizing various words.

It makes you more aware of the pieces of your existence by the virtue of its absence in another part. And hopefully learn to appreciate it.

One such thing is freedom.

Yes, we have all read about how bad the situation is with women in the Middle East. They aren’t allowed to drive, not allowed to travel without a male relative. Education is absent and many such things.

But then you think about Tehran, Iran… a place that enjoyed all these ‘freedoms’ and are now struggling under the weight of radicalism. Where wearing  a veil is no longer a personal choice.

Imagine if your freedom to colours were taken away from you. Your freedom of music, of chaos, of noise, of making irresponsible decisions, of living through your errors and learning, of reading what you chose and saying what was on your mind. Of perhaps that is too complex.

Imagine that you could never wear any other colour but black. Nobody around you can live in another colour but black. Everywhere you see it is black. The only splash of colour is that blue book. Or the blue sky that you see from a narrow patch.

But you are scared to look up in public.

A line from the book made me laugh and cringe. “Imagine,” it said, “having such power as to make one lose control of themselves.” It was loaded with sarcasm, and in the context that a stray hair seen on a woman’s head could induce people to such frenzy. You have the power to give those radicals sleepless nights, thinking about that one person who would induce people to revolt and rebel. Not by huge speeches and movements. By just leaving loose one tiny strand of hair.

I imagine such darkness. And I’m grateful for the small freedoms that I do have.

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