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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 52, New Delhi, December 12, 2020

Mask Over Mask | L K Sharma

Friday 11 December 2020

by L K Sharma

I arrived, arrived at strange
unknowns in order to get
away from known knowns.
To turn a new leaf, begin
a new life as an exile.

Arrived at a place, far away
from familial familiarity to
live without the fear of being
found out by those like me.

Arrived to create a gulf between
past and present, between now
and then, between me and them.
Arrived to experience transition,
change, dislocation, alienation,
and anxiety of an exile. To feel
the pangs of separation. To define
and to be obsessed with identity.

Arrived on a dual mission,
to hide and to get noticed!
To stand out among curious
onlookers who mark me out
as the Other. To be at a place
where I see myself as not one
of Them. To get an idea of
Self. I clutch at any straw that
comes my way to help define
me against the non-me.

I love to be among strangers.
In a milling crowd of all like
me, it is hard to meditate on
crucial questions:
Who am I? Am I the same?

I masquerade as a hero without
a home, like in an exilic novel.
I store nostalgic memories to
be retailed to listeners, readers
and scholars studying the
Indian Diaspora. I take every
opportunity to talk of the
Home Away from Home.

I masquerade and observe
their reaction to my act,
no less professional than
that of an accomplished
actor, to watch whose
performance in theatre,
they pay. I love to see
their ways of seeing me.

In short, I masquerade.
My mask hides the face
and the fright of not being.
I accumulate multiple masks,
a mask for every reason, for
every season and occasion.

Then one day to my dismay
my mask gets merged with
million others, all seen hiding
the unseen. My identity gets
submerged in a composite whole.

I think of V. S. Naipaul who
felt let down when in the
crowds of Bombay, no one
paid any attention to him.
They all saw him as one of
them. This was too much
for the man from England to
bear. Naipaul was hurt by
the sudden loss of the sense
of his distinctive self

Having lost distinction and
assumed identity, I know
even less as to who am I?

My drill to act as an outsider
among the natives went waste.
They all are masks and I am
just another mask.

I spot a mask hiding beneath
a mask. A face covered with
two, one over the other, one
with the valve and the other
without it. Who is she? Is she
beautiful? Cannot see her as
she has a mask over mask.

Abruptly, the pantomime ends,
the curtain call is curtailed.
No one appears to take a bow
and win a standing ovation.

In the land of masks, faces are
expressionless, gestures are
frozen; physicality prohibited.

Masks march on. Mask after
mask. Mask after mask.
A carnival of masks is on but
songs and dances are missing.
Masks do not appear jovial.
All move slowly, cautiously.
It is like a funereal march.

Since all masquerade now, I am
lost in the crowd. In this new
world, like an angel in heaven,
I am no one in particular.

I have been found out
and am lost to me!

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