I am 5. Against a backdrop of flickering lights and early 2000s Bollywood, I drape the delicate fabric around my waist and over my shoulder, vehemently twirling on the carpet with the sort of feverish urgency that makes the world make a little more sense. Here, life is simple, and life is sweet — and to breathe is not to ache. Imagination goes a long way, they say — so I sit back as fluorescent bulbs metamorphose into sumptuous chandeliers and bedrooms into vast bungalows and studs into radiant jhumkay (earrings) too big for my ears. And little old me? I’m Aishwarya Rai — or so my brain whispers at least. I am not a little girl; I am a woman. I watch as the corners of the room glisten and pulsate with life — a cacophony of sitars and drums unabashedly reverberating around the room and encapsulating my adolescent body in a vibrant reverie. It’s just me and my silk against the world, I think, as I bask in the glory of the cascading cloth. Maybe it’s the room that’s fervidly spinning on its axis, paying no heed to the utter monotony of its surroundings — or maybe it’s me. I find it difficult to tell. I am a coalescence of emulated dance moves and makeshift sarees, relishing the feel of the gossamer on my skin and officially deeming it my most prized possession. But then a timid voice in my head threatens to rain on the parades of felicity I’ve concocted so lovingly: shh, keep it down. We don’t want Mama to find out. Mama says these songs [giggles] are for big girls. So I reluctantly enclose the echoes of laughter inside my silk-clad silhouette, continuing to spin like the records Mama window-shops on a daily basis. I am every toddler’s dream come true — and I harbor the feeling in my butterfly belly with all I’ve got.
I am 21. You seldom realize the ephemerality of a moment until it’s been replaced with a profound stillness, leaving in its wake the remnants of a life that once was. I am a fatigued amalgamation of under-eye crescents and calloused heels, yet another casualty at the hands of fate — but then I adorn myself with the exquisite fabric of the yesteryears, and for a minute there, I am alright. It still smells like 2005 — like the nostalgia that swallows you whole among wide-eyed strangers in the middle of a seemingly normal summer afternoon, transporting you to the memorable fields of ebullience you fervently yearn to run through one more time. I am not a little girl; I am a woman — but I wish I wasn’t. It’s a soul-sucking realization, this one. I am a woman — a pacing mishmash of sleepless, caffeinated nights and one-too-many deadlines, a bottomless chasm and a vacant shell. That Aishwarya Rai song now sits in a throwback playlist, but we’ll still pretend it’s the 2000s for that semblance of normality — the burning pining for something unattainable. And there’s a little tear on the upper right of the cloth — but you know the deal, right? Don’t tell Mama. We don’t want to disappoint Mama. On days that require deep breathing and the counting of tiles to go to sleep, the pastel blue tenderness envelopes me in its humanlike embrace, covering me with the silken blanket of sentiment — of love, of simpler times and of Her scent. And then it’s okay again. It’s okay. As long as I have Mama’s dupatta (scarf), it’s okay.