Monday, January 19, 2009

Masks and such

Winter ground is different. The white blanket masks everything. The earth peeks out merely through a web of pathways and black, tarred roads. I walk to the entrance of the grocers, ready for mundane tasks. Life doesn't always give happy servings on a platter, bitter memories somehow seep in, always.

My friend Barnali recently hosted an express yourself contest on Sulekha. The topic ....thousand masks, one face revolved around a stunning photograph taken by her friend Sumit. The Purulia Chau masks in the snapshot were not the types I had seen in dance pictures but a gorgeous picture nevertheless.

And then I thought of all the dancers, the faces behind the Chau, Kathakali and other masks. Each with his own story, his own family and joys and sorrows. Every Arjun has a unique thread of history to call his own. Each Krishna has to run home to his wife, kids and parents. For those few hours, the audience is king and all personal identities and complexities fall away. A transition into another life the moment the mask and the stories are donned.

The mask, the great equalizer.

I walk to the counter at the market. The server shifted her weight from one leg to another, she has obviously been working overtime. Her face splits into a huge smile, showing concern for me, "Hi, how are you? Find everything ok?"
My feet were killing me, the groceries were not where I remembered them to be. Moreover, I was not in the happiest of moods. My life was not where I remembered it was either.
I reply, "Wonderful, and how are you?"

Barnali's contest had me thinking about what I was, and have become. My personality closet has a huge collection of masks. I even have my favorite ones tucked away carefully in the back. The masks that each of my friendships and relationships are marked with. "Gosh," I thought, "I have such strong personality issues! Maybe its time to see a shrink?" Maybe I do, but then, reading the contest poems and stories, I realize that my mask issues are quite common in the world, nothing unique there. We all wear our masks, different for different occasions. For different moments of each occasion. Not necessarily to hide behind but most times to save ourselves the botheration of having to explain ourselves; what we are.

What I was and what I have become. What rot!

We are what we are. Some perturbations aside, we usually cannot change the basic essence of what we are. We can tuck our personality away, far back in our closet, but amid the darkness and emotional confusion, it waits patiently to manifest itself. When any trauma or strain is sighted, there it is! You -out in the open- as you are. Seldom do we realise how much our happiness is connected to the frequency of us surfacing.

Sometimes, some happy times, it surfaces when we are emotionally unthreatened. In the company of those who we feel will be happy with who we are. For those few, there is the gift that we give of ourselves, as we are. For everyone else, there is the mastermask.

I walk out of the grocery store, the sun was blazing down on the snow. I blinked, the bright snow has given me a sudden headache. Winter sun is nice, sometimes, but when something inside of you tugs at the tear ducts, you want to go home and sit in a corner. Maybe bawl a little bit. A small lady with a silver mop of hair, dressed in pink waddles up towards me. She smiles. "Its such a wonderful day!"
"Yeah," I reply, beaming back. "Real beautiful, isnt it!"


PHOTO: Courtesy, Barnali Saha Banerjee, Sumit (


  1. Sangita, that's a lovely post. It is true indeed that each of us has a mask for each situation in life, and perhaps each person we know or meet. It is perhaps common human nature that we tend to be insecure about revealing ourselves as who we really are. Maybe it's the fear of rejection, the need for acceptance and to fit in...for most, it's life as usual.
    By the way, as I was reading this, I kept thinking of Billy Joel's "Stranger," one of my favorite songs.

  2. Thanks a bunch, Vaish!
    I looked up the lyrics of Stranger (not heard it, unfortunately) and saw what you mean.
    Life, as usual, is right.

  3. Wonderful post, Sangita.

    I know the masks you are talking about, ALL too well. Sometimes I feel very tired from all the masks that I have carried around with me in my life... It was only a few years ago that I realized I didn't take my mask off even when alone... At the very least, I ought to know what my own face looks like, right? :-)


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