Sunday, June 15, 2008


In Hindi, there is only one word for yesterday and tomorrow--kal. The context lets you know which one is meant, but only today is truly different. As I left India, feeling as if I were dry-heaving through my skin, this idea kept coming back to me.

And so I must look at the past year. What does that kal hold for me?

The mingled smell of incense and baked piss as I walk around the city. Seeing women go bowling in saris. Sunrise over the Himalaya. Writing on a riverbank in Laos. My French friend Sam inexplicably changing his pants in the middle of a restaurant. Train station goodbyes. Directing plays. The kids at the orphanage. Dancing anywhere and everywhere. Praying over a dying baby. Seeing a woman whirl singing around a temple in a religious trance. Hinglish. Eating holy fruit. Rooftop conversations. The stares. The head-bobble. Tandoori smiles. A lime-green dump truck full of men in white-collared shirts. An 8-year-old monk struggling to free his hand from his robes so he could return my wave like the little boy he really was. Listening to some of my students pray at a stupa while the spire and the scent of Lotus flowers pointed at the rainbow-halved moon. Getting my sandals stolen when I left them outside a Buddhist temple. Night paddles in Kashmir. Women’s face veils falling away when they return my smile. Falling asleep in public places.

These things I will carry with me. But where will I carry them to?

Part of that answer is wrapped up in the fortunes of women. India was deeply feminine for me. Women were the first to genuinely welcome me to India, the ones to walk with me and teach me, to protect me from danger and lead me towards wonder. To be in India is to be firmly reminded of your gender at every turn. Where you can go. What you can wear. Who you can touch. What you can do. Of course India is evolving, and gender roles are evolving with it. I had dear male friends there who helped make my experience wonderful and rich. But that doesn't change the fact that my experience has been thoroughly defined by the general cultural perception that, as a white woman, I am both rich and easy.

In response to that, one of my last projects was to direct the Vagina Monologues in order to raise money to help victims of human trafficking. The main reason I did this was because of one piece: My Short Skirt.

It is not an invitation
a provocation
an indication
that I want it
or give it
or that I hook.

My short skirt
is not begging for it
it does not want you
to rip it off me
or pull it down.

My short skirt
is not a legal reason
for raping me
although it has been before
it will not hold up
in the new court.

My short skirt, believe it or not
has nothing to do with you.

My short skirt
is about discovering
the power of my lower calves
about cool autumn air traveling
up my inner thighs
about allowing everything I see
or pass or feel to live inside.

My short skirt is not proof
that I am stupid
or undecided
or a malleable little girl.

My short skirt is my defiance
I will not let you make me afraid
My short skirt is not showing off
this is who I am
before you made me cover it
or tone it down.
Get used to it.

My short skirt is happiness
I can feel myself on the ground.
I am here. I am hot.

My short skirt is a liberation
flag in the women's army
I declare these streets, any streets
my vagina's country.

My short skirt
is turquoise water
with swimming colored fish
a summer festival
in the starry dark
a bird calling
a train arriving in a foreign town
my short skirt is a wild spin
a full breath
a tango dip
my short skirt is

But mainly my short skirt
and everything under it
is Mine.
--Eve Ensler

Clothing is so fraught in India, especially women's clothing. The group of women that came together to do the play--Indians, Germans, Americans, Sri Lankans, Mexicans--all responded powerfully to these ideas. As a group, we made a LOT of people uncomfortable. As a group, we helped each other realize our womanhood in India more fully. But the biggest thing that this project taught me wasn't to appreciate what I had as an American--it was to realize what I didn't have. In a land where a woman's place is somewhat fragile, there are powerful bonds of sisterhood, support, and solidarity. Those things of course exist in the West, but they often exist alongside of acrimony, envy, and tearing other women down.

My Indian woman pulled me through the days when I didn't love India. They cheered me up when I was overwhelmed with the dust, garbage, objectification, dying puppies, hopeless mothers and starving children. They are the main reasons I am leaving India still Carolyn and not a shivering wreck of a Hindified Post-Capitalist Hare Krishna Hippie with a masala fetish.

So aside from learning how to wear a sari and eat when I'm bursting and begging a bus driver in Hindi to stop swerving over mountains unless he wants me to upchuck all over his bus....

India has taught me how to be more of a woman, with all of the joy, sisterhood, baggage, and potential that goes with it. And so as kal turns to kal, I can only hope that my tomorrow will let me pay back the lessons of my Indian yesterdays.

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