Update in 2023:
In the mid 2000s, I was an anonymous blogger, soldiering my way through patriarchal India and a newer internet. A lot of people tried to trick me into offering more information about myself, many just demanded it. At that time, one reader sent me an email on the address I had listed to assauge the most insistent of the above. They said they had enjoyed my writing for so many years and wanted to give me a gift. But also that they wanted to respect my need for privacy so they were sending me an Amazon.com gift voucher code that I could use and they would never know who used it and I wouldn’t know where it came from either. The voucher was for $30. The ecommerce site was not available in India at the time so shipping costs for any product were exhorbitant. I chose the above book for roughly $12 and spent the remaining on the shipping, neatly completing my voucher value.
I chose this book after having chanced upon ‘De:Tales’ by its twin authors at a bookshop that doesn’t exist anymore. In the introduction of ‘De: Tales’, the authors had spoken about their overnight sucess with their previous book, ‘Ursula’ and their anxieties about coming out into the world. They were the same age as I was. So I thought this book would be a fitting choice for the kind of unique validation I was being offered.
Years later, I was in an exclusive relationship. That relationship ended after a prolonged period of abuse, which included multiple counts of violence. I am still recovering in health (physical and mental) from that trauma. While I was starting that relationship, everything looked perfect. He came from a ‘respectable’ background, had impressive politics and talked a good game. In the early months of our dating, I told him about this book and lent it to him to read. I asked him to treat it extra carefully, because it had the thin paper covers of a cheap comic. After that, each time I asked him for it back, I was met with excuses. Finally two months later, I was on the verge of breaking up with him and I demanded this book back. With great reluctance, he fished it out of his backpack (the same one he had carried each time we had met). It was soaking wet. He claimed it had gotten wet in the rain. And he had no answer to why he hadn’t taken it out. When I asked him why had lied, he did have an answer – because I knew you would react badly. Like my ‘bad reaction’ justified his lying.
I was so stunned by this, I took the damaged book from him and walked away. This photograph is from that day.
Every friend I spoke to told me I should not break up with him over ‘something so small’. Even the friend who I’d bonded with, over books told me I shouldn’t break up over a book. And I was in a smog of gaslighting telling me I should forgive one lie, that people lied sometimes, that it didn’t make them bad people, that I should not be such a perfectionist. So I went back to him. I succumbed.
I was right. He treated me, my feelings, my body as brutally and callously as he treated this book. With exactly the same lack of remorse. The friends have melted away but somehow left the blame for the situation still with me (now it’s the failed relationship, not his lying).
The book survives with all its damage – as do I. It’s a gnawing reminder of the world’s ugliness. Under the damage, its scars & mine, occasionally I’m able to remember the pureness of a stranger showing appreciation, support & respect in ways my world refuses to.
Ursula is the story of a gentle first love. A dream. A fantasy.