Thursday, March 29, 2012

On posing for photographs & projecting writerly sexiness

There was nothing sexy about me. I didn’t know what it meant to be sexy. But at 17, I began to write. And when I looked up from my books, I realised that some girls were sexy. Slender and clear-skinned, they knew how to hold a stranger’s gaze as if they were appraising the response, waiting to be amused. They wore jeans that clung in the right way. I wanted to look like them. And I also wanted to write.

At 18, I won a college-level prize for poetry and was invited to co-edit the college mag. I began to believe I had some talent. I won more prizes—poetry, stories, essays, drama. Everyone else told me I had talent. I still wasn’t sexy.

I worked hard to knock off the kilos. At 20, my body was toned almost to perfection (though I wouldn’t believe it then). Recently, in the context of sexiness, a friend and writer, Prateebha Tuladhar mentioned a photograph of me taken in the college hostel.

I looked at that self across this gulf—a girl in a short woollen blouse, a pair of jeans two sizes too large, rubber Hawai chappals. Slender, clear-skinned, big-eyed. Her flat stomach is exposed and her fingers push back her long hair. This is how actresses strike ‘sexy’ poses for the camera and that’s the only kind of sexy she knows.

... Now that word and image constantly make war on our nerves, surely, writers need to grab potential readers by the eyeballs. And if a bare shoulder or thigh can do the trick, why not? This seemed to be the premise of Karan Mahajan’s essay in Tehelka last year. I was in it, posing as a sexy writer. Or a writer who is not afraid to be sexy for the sake of a new book, The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl.

The red chiffon sari was borrowed from my mother. The black blouse was meant for her, but the tailor got mixed up and sewed it in my size instead. I had been trying hard to look ‘natural’. I look at the photo now and wonder—was I really not afraid?

When I agreed to be photographed, I was doing it for a lark. I wasn’t thinking of the ramifications of writers becoming cultural non-entities. There was a vague assumption that my getting noticed would translate into my work getting noticed.

Well, I got some attention. But I doubt the photo persuaded anyone to buy the book. It might even have put off some readers. After all, even I remind myself sometimes not to judge books by the female author’s clothes. Women writers are victim to the idea that the public will read a book if a film of sexiness clings to the author’s body. But the opposite is true. A film of sexiness clings to the author’s name once the public begins to buy her/his books. Sexy photos are just a way of catching a reader’s eye on a crowded bookshelf. But nowadays, everyone looks nice in photos, and sexiness is coming out of our collective ears. So what did it matter?

In any case, I was reassured by the fact that others were doing similar photos. I hadn’t realised that the male writers would be in denim and leather jackets, and that would pass as ‘sexy’.

1 comment:

Dr Mandeep Khanuja said...

Damn right,face value cannot give you lasting success !

Tweets by @anniezaidi