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  • Writer's pictureAbhishek Anicca

Im/personal Intimacies

As a young adult, I loved being on the stage. I was on the stage during the morning assembly, giving high pitched speeches or reading thought for the day, or being Santa and struggling with my fake beard. Yes, I was that person. Being on stage was a source of much needed validation for my always fledgling self esteem. I was a chubby little kid whose life was in constant turmoil, waiting to fall apart on cue. Waiting for the next bad math score. Stage was the only time I wasn't really thinking. I was free. I was just performing.

Decades later, much has changed. I don't have to worry about my next bad math score. Disability has been a lesson in humility and the impermanence of validation. The falling apart is more dramatic but less consequential. Being on a stage though, is still very liberating. Perhaps more liberating than it ever was.

As any performer will tell you, the high of a performance and the total calmness that follows it is one of the most meditative things that one can experience in life. My biggest fear these days as a performer is that my body will fail me on stage. My disabled, very unpredictable body will fall apart and I wouldn't know how to handle it. But something happens on stage. A special kind of energy surges from within. Time and Space shrink. It doesn't matter who is watching you, where you are, how hot it is (which it was). It might sound pretentious to say this but I feel everytime I am on the stage I am performing for the universe. People in the room don't matter and yet it is these people that you establish some level of intimacy even without meaning to. It's a beautiful relationship that can be only preserved if you never meet again outside of a performance.

The energy that performances give you generally lasts a few days and you use that high to create other intimacies. I was in a new city, Kochi and I wanted to use that energy. Disability takes much of the adventure out of everything though. You have to google what places are accessible, hotels that are welcoming. But once you go beyond that, you are ready for an adventure. If only for a few days, you want to take risks, walk and fall all over the place, get in an autorickshaw and drive around the city aimlessly.

It's not easy. It was hot and humid. So everyday when I stepped out, all I wanted to do was have ice cream and sit and gaze by the sea. And do nothing else. But what's the fun in that. I had to find new ways to be intimate with the self. Explore. So of course, I went shopping. I went to the Broadway and bought small attars for myself. They keep ready potions of famous brands. Sauvage. Tom Ford. Oud. The stronger versions of oud are very strong for me. I like the ones mixed with fruity mellow notes. I tried them all. On the back of my hand. On the wrist. I was a flower for the day. I went and bought chocolates and dry fruits. I window shopped cakes. I almost bought pajamas that were far too small for my size. Soon, I was tired. I needed a beer.

It's something about being a traveler that makes me go back to a version of the self that no longer exists. I quit drinking a few years ago. There was a time I was big on drinking. I would call myself borderline alcoholic but then I would be disrespecting the beauty of day drinking. The afternoon suroor, as you get higher and then down. It's only when all the dopamine leaves you that you start to hate yourself. I tell people that I quit drinking because of health reasons. It's an easier explanation than telling them that I often used alcohol to cry myself to sleep. I don't want that anymore. Never.

The people in Kochi love their strong beers. Wherever I went I saw people drinking Kingfisher Strong which is kind of unusual these days. A friend said that the reason might be the state’s hesitant approach to giving licenses of hard liquor to restaurants and establishments. Whatever it is, Strong beer takes me back to college hostel days, all night parties and puke soaked cushions. It's not a place I want to return to.

I did let myself go eventually. A rickshaw driver offered to take me to Kochi Fort and suggested that if I want to drink, I can buy something on the way. It was a strange prospect and for a second there was a cloud over his intention. But soon, we got talking. Half English, half nodding. On our way back, we stopped. I bought him an ice cream. I bought myself a can of beer. It was one of the best drinks I have had, on the back seat of a rickshaw, with the humid air for company. Strong and yet soothing. Although a part of me wanted to make this part of my nostalgia, I was there, present and listening to this stranger who wanted to know everything about my life.

The intimacy that will stay with me though is neither of the performance nor the beer, or the conversation. It will always be about food. My memory stores food like it stores trauma. Always and forever. The tanginess of Alleppey prawn curry at The Grand Hotel, with Malabar Parotta for company. Veg Stew and Appam for breakfast. And fish. Lots of fish. There is something so personal about food that it becomes part of your sense of adventure in a way that nothing else can. After all, it does become part of your body, literally. And who knows, the next time people stare at you, they might just be staring at the Karimeen stuck in your belly. You never know.

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