My very own Dashavataram

Last week I saw Kamal Hassan’s Dashavataram. In Tamil, with subtitles.

After my divorce three years ago, I suddenly came upon that vast, unexplored no-(wo)man’s land called singlehood. Other people’s summer parties, happy bright kitchens with kids running around, fresh dosas on the griddle, all instantly became alien and alienating to me. I found better comfort at anonymous tables in Seattle’s coffee shops buzzing with strangers. And this is when I began exploring this unfamiliar territory of being a non-wife non-mom in my thirties, an age by which one would assume – but of course – that I would be a mom.

One of the biggest ghost-pains of turning into a non-wife suddenly is the missing body by your side everywhere you go. So now you think that every where you go, every thing you do, you need another warm body to go there with you, or do that thing with you. So you wait for this friend or that acquaintance to do this or that with you. Somewhere along the way, you get tired of waiting, tired of the polite enquiries into your well-being when you do have the company, and tired of the limitations of togetherness. And somewhere along this journey, you start going places or doing things by yourself (pretending all the while that there’s someone next to you whom you can talk to should you need it), and you suddenly begin recognizing yourself as a person whose company you never once fully savored, whom you took for granted, whom you never gave a real chance. I began enjoying this new person so much that often it was a close call on whether to have other company at all on my various expeditions!

Along this journey I found that aimless driving would often take me to strange places. One, which I had never imagined would have any attraction to me, was the unsightly little theater across the Lake that plays Bollywood movies … not just on the weekends, but also on week days! The first time I went there by myself, it was for a film I really wanted to see. As most of us don’t grow up thinking we can see a movie in a theater by ourselves, it was a completely alien experience. I felt naked, like I had showed up without my dupatta at a puja in Auntyji’s house. Soon I discovered the joy of my very own theater row, samosa and chai in hand, losing myself in the dreamland of Bollywood, its loudness silencing my inner struggles, its melodrama causing my own drama to pale, its music and color soothing my pain, and somehow, its catharsis allowing me a good purge by the time 3 hours and 10 minutes were up. I usually walked out lighter and happier, tummy full and hands sticky.

Last Thursday was one of those impulsive days. I was getting over a bad stomach flu and knew that Bollywood would be perfect medicine (and no, I wasn’t even going to spare my poor tummy the samosa-attack). I showed up there as the only person wanting to see Mera Baap Pehle Aap, so the fellow said they wouldn’t be running it. “See Sarkar Raj, you will like it,” he magnanimously offered in his unmistakably Bengali accent. So I bought a ticket for Sarkar Raj, contemplating the Bacchan Boys, waiting around for the one-man show to sell me my mandatory samosa and chai, when I saw a huge line welling up outside. I was sure these were all people for my film, the comedy, and that Mr. Bengali would have to run it after all. No, they were all disappearing into the blackhole marked theater number 3! Some enquiries and eavesdropping later, I found out the attraction was Kamal Hassan’s Dashavataram in Tamil, a language I don’t understand. I called my Mom on the spot to see if this is the movie she had mentioned to me on our last call. “Oh, yes, great action, great music, great acting, great reviews …” Ma’s enthusiasm was compelling across the seven seas. “What the heck, got to see what this is about” I said to myself, and coolly swapped movie halls.

As I sat through this technical wonder spanning historical and geographic timezones, mega-cultures, musical and martial-art genres, with 10 versions of Kamal Hassan filling the screen, I found myself wondering what time and culture really mean anyway. Here I was in America, in a theater full of Tamilians swarming all around me, whistling and cheering as Kamal Hassan came on, and despite all the commonality I felt with them, I did not comprehend a word of their delighted chatters. Here was a group of young men and women, there was a group of families with young children running wild all over the movie theater, there was a couple hand-in-hand snuggling up to each other, while Kamal Hassan bravely fought himself 8 times over on screen, and I nibbled my samosa and sipped my chai in glee. Here I was, in a community of my people, but really all alone. As I laughed out loud in various parts of the movie, single men and couples and aunties and uncles turned their heads to stare at the strange young woman in jeans who’s at the movies alone. I sensed mixed emotions in their stares – pity and sympathy, surprise and curiosity, awe and admiration, dismay and disapproval.

As I walked out at the stroke of midnight, I found myself thinking about my own many avatars … my very own Dashavataram. Yes, I am very Indian, but I am also rather American. Yes, I have been a wife for almost 9 years, yet I am now a single woman. I have all the innate mom-ness in me, yet I am a working woman dealing with large complex organizational problems by day, and fully responsible (financially and otherwise) for myself. I love my samosa and chai, yet I also love the feel of zipping the freeways in my Forester at midnight, with no one to answer to or negotiate with. I cling dearly to my Indian classical music, while I hike and explore like a Pacific Northwester. I love my resplendent silk sarees, yet like a naughty chameleon, emerge every now and then in a skimpy summer dress. And yes, I am a woman, replete with all the feelings and emotions and needs for gentle voice and touch, and yet at the end of the night I am a person, happily content to have her queen-size bed all to herself in her downtown condo, falling asleep to visions of Kamal Hassan’s rippling muscles.

Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta



10 Comments

  1. Khushi

    I love this post. I think its true in many of our lives – the many avatar part. You know, often as a mom or wife you lose track of yourself – I like what you write about learning again to appreciate and enjoy your own company. Last weekend I went to the library all on my own – no kids and I stayed for a while, savoring the time I had with me.

  2. Marjorie

    Great writeup. I know what you mean – went through a bad breakup before I found my soulmate. For a while I felt lost as I had made plans with this guy for years and then learnt to have a blast on my own before willingly losing myself with kids and a my husband. The dosa talk make me hungry.

  3. Pry

    Wow!!!Cool Post..Kushi-I know..Sometimes I go for shopping alone and dont take the cellphone..So that I am far way from home ..and enjoy the time off without the kids screaming and the hus’ look” Arent you done yet?”

  4. Smitha

    Love this post!!!

  5. Anonymous

    I like the term Ghost Pains. Table for one is tough to get used to, but then its fun – I take home leftovers and call it table for one, but mean for two.

  6. ranu.dattagupta

    Tana,
    I just simply liked this post and you style of writing. Good that a non wife, non-mom has opened this side of Indian existence in USA, more can join in to express their thoughts.
    You post reiterates one point of women’s nature as DURGA, dasabhuja.
    A Well wisher from India

  7. Anonymous

    i enjoyed reading the post.compare to men woman plyasmore number of avatars at atime but learning to enjoy one’s own company is a unique
    concept everyone should learn.
    mima

  8. tana, keep writing and sharing with the world your bits of wisdom on life is really about.
    xoxo,
    farah

  9. priyanka080305

    Hi…Tana….am so happy tht u r enjoying ” your very own company” .Thats a big acheivement, to b happy in ur own self. B happy alwaz..love u

  10. Tana

    Hi Priyanka,
    Thanks for your sweet comment. I wish you all the best too!

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