“ She is an equal-opportunity icon. Red-blooded men lust after the Princess; so do lesbians; and so do straight women. But that’s just lust. If you are talking feminism, She is a splendid businesswoman who broke through the glass ceiling of the crime world; she chooses and discards her partners but likes lengthy, intense relationships just as much as one-night stands; she has survived rape and attempted murder; can wear pearls with elegance, cook passably or break a man’s neck with equal ease. And, she has someone else to do her housework for her – beat that, Supergirl!” - Nilanjana S Roy, Outlook Delhi City Limits, July 2007 issue, pg.40
So who is this Supergirl? Femme fatale? That intelligent warrior woman with gravity-defying breasts? That woman who from her humble rough beginnings became an expert in the martial arts, yoga and crime, running a highly successful, if upright, criminal organization called The Network, her favourite weapon being the kongo which doubled up as the handle of her handbag? Mayawati? Hardly! In fact, if she had been through western education, she would have perhaps used her as a role model! (Hers is the Phoola Devi role model.)
If you have not guessed it yet, let me let the real Cat out of the bag – Modesty Blaise of course! Who Modesty Blaise? If that is the question on your mind, then spare yourself the rest of this blog – you were not one of those fortunate massive mass of minds affected by what ruled men and women alike in the sixties. And still does.
What makes her tick? Feminist icon, Modesty Blaise was created by Peter O’Donnell in the sixties. Not from nothing. In fact it was in 1942, as a sergeant in the army, he had come across a young girl, about 12, one of the many refugees moving through the Caucasus Mountains at that time. She was hungry, carried a nail on a piece of wood around her neck as a weapon, but she walked like a Princess. O’Donnell never forgot her and she became the inspiration for him to create Modesty Blaise. Modesty Blaise became the obsession of the sixties and knowingly or unknowingly many of the feminists of the sixties and seventies, imbibed her attitude. What clicked was that Modesty Blaise was that perfect mix – the lady who could fence, shoot and kill with equal ease as she could lisp and coo “ Oh, Sanjeev……” feeling weak in her knees and willing to fall into the strong arms of her man, without feeling divided in political philosophy.
However, although feminist struggled to be that, in the real life of the feminist, the circumstances were not the same. It was not possible to be both although one tried to imitate to perfection. Resulting, you have those who finally had men chaperone around strong women like poodles on a leash, or you have those who finally gave in to the supposedly stronger sex but continued to lie to the world and themselves that they were on top of the men in their lives. And, there were those who dropped out of both to form their own road maps. The point of my discussion is not Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dikshit or any other failed mission, but that between imagination and reality there is a huge gap and you can imagine anything, but to live it out to the last word is perhaps as impossible as is living with a mask on forever.
We all wear faces/mask, the face for the outside world and the face for the inside world. We also have one more face – the face we aspire to be. Identity is a social issue. It is a mix of what society wants us to be along with some traits, which will distinguish us from the rest of the world. However, in private we may be quite a different person. We do not need our outside social face in our inner rooms, where we are among our near and dear ones. Yet, in spite of this, we are never at ease. We still aspire to be someone else. It is an ongoing process through life, where we imbibe values from around us, or meet individuals who affect us deeply and in some way we aspire to be them. The process of self-actualization is never-ending in that way.
Let me give you an example: As business manager Arti maybe a very outgoing person, always ready to be at service to her customers, but the same Arti may be highly demanding at home and expect to be always heard to and followed without any argument. Yet, at the same time she may feel the need to chill out a bit on herself and take on a hobby or a Yoga regime, dancercise, whatever that makes her see herself as a different person, a person she aspires to be.
So in a way, many of us have this constant feeling that “ We are in the wrong place”. Wrong place, just like a doctor who wanted to be a writer, a businessperson who just wanted an easy life, a woman who wanted to simply be a homemaker, but is a Public Relations Officer. This mainly happens because of clash of what we must be and what we really are. Few are fortunate to have made it to a place where who they really are and what they do are all the same. The struggle to keep face is not the concern of such a person.
In fact, our original face is none of these, neither, Modesty Blaise, nor a doctor, a writer or anything at all. It is clean and clear. Spotless and Self-reflective.
But to see that face, whoever we are, we have to peal the layers off the onion, one by one. And in so doing, we realize that to be naked of all faces, we must first be clothed in them.