When journalist Rana Ayyub and poet Meena Kandasamy determined to decorate in purple, exhibiting resilience and defiance by way of clothes

In early December, I woke as much as a message from Rana Ayyub about receiving the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, the very best honour conferred by the U.S. Nationwide Press Membership. She is the primary Indian journalist to win the award, and the primary Muslim. 

Journalist Rana Ayyub poses with the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award.

Journalist Rana Ayyub poses with the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award.
| Photograph Credit score:
Melissa Lyttle and Lexey Swall

The video she despatched could be everywhere in the information quickly — Ayyub on freedom, on talking fact to energy, on how she was in hiding when she learnt she was receiving the award as a result of Mohammed Zubair, a journalist co-accused together with her in a few circumstances, had simply been arrested. Ayyub took the rostrum with the physique language of a stateswoman, her speech carried a poet’s ardour. She was sporting a purple swimsuit.

The 38-year-old’s face has been morphed into pornographic movies, she has acquired loss of life and rape threats. Properly-meaning buddies have requested her to vanish, to avoid her units so her IP deal with isn’t tracked. And right here she was in purple. A color that catches the attention, and holds the gaze.

Over the cellphone from Chicago, Ayyub tells me that ever since she has turn out to be a persona non grata for the Indian administration, she has been suggested to make herself small, to go quiet. “That was me asserting myself. I’m not going away anyplace,” she says.

Arresting picture

Poet and activist Meena Kandasamy.

Poet and activist Meena Kandasamy.
| Photograph Credit score:
Varun Vasudevan

Ayyub’s purple swimsuit jogged my memory of the poet and activist Meena Kandasamy’s portrait from two months in the past, quickly after she was introduced the recipient of this 12 months’s PEN Germany Hermann Kesten Prize, awarded to those that take a stand in opposition to the persecution of writers and journalists. The information arrived with an arresting {photograph} of her in a purple summer time costume.

Kandasamy tends to be modest in individual. However her portraits — even the early ones of the younger poet in denims — have at all times carried a sure hauteur: a grounded stance, chin in the direction of the sky, eyes to the lens, thick strains of kohl, lips barely curled on the edges, hair that refuses to observe college guidelines.

Kandasamy tells me she considered sporting the purple costume when a newspaper advised her they had been going to interview her for a canopy story and wanted new images. She had picked the costume at a charity thrift retailer a very long time in the past as a result of it stated to her, ‘You don’t must really feel apologetic, you don’t have to cover, chances are you’ll flaunt.’ “I believed the purple was putting and in addition one thing that offset my complexion. It’s daring, provocative, and it stands for lots of issues I stand for. I just like the loopy power of the color,” she says.

Pink is a color of prospects. In India, the sanguineous color is synonymous with each Lakshmi and light-weight, and tantra and darkness, fertility and loss of life, the bride and the whore. It’s, someway, each auspicious and harmful.

The legendary French-American artist Louise Bourgeois championed using color to speak in profound methods. The semantics of the color runs deep. From purple flags to purple carpets to portray the city purple to being caught red-handed to scarlet girls and scarlet letters, underlying all of it is the thought of visibility, of being seen.

For Ayyub and Kandasamy, girls from marginalised communities, who’ve at varied instances confronted repercussions for being shamed for being “too seen”, the selection of purple shouldn’t be with out ceremony.

Public messaging

The Italian designer Valentino Garavani had famously stated {that a} lady can by no means go flawed in a purple costume. For him, a purple costume couldn’t simply make a lady stand out, but additionally elevate her. It did greater than assist its wearer show confidence. It additionally instilled it.

Meena Kandasamy in a handwoven red silk sari when she accepted the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature in London earlier this year.

Meena Kandasamy in a handwoven purple silk sari when she accepted the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature in London earlier this 12 months.
| Photograph Credit score:
Particular Association

When Kandasamy was chosen a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature earlier this 12 months, she wore a handwoven purple silk sari with some black and gold for the occasion in London. “Messaging is at all times very fascinating after we seem in public. I had determined I used to be going to go in purple. It’s not nearly ‘Lal Salaam’ and my commie credentials. It’s a very Dravidian mixture of colors. In Tamil, we additionally affiliate it with the Goddess Mariamman. I consider it as a color that carries my rage and my feminism. It encapsulates each the inventive and harmful energy of female power,” she says.

New York-based Engie Hassan, who styled Ayyub for the Aubuchon occasion, says she advised purple as a result of it will be a historic evening. “I needed to make it possible for when folks Googled who received this award, that she would look robust and basic regardless of what number of years later it’s searched,” says Hassan, including that purple supplies power, energy and fearlessness that are “all qualities that Rana embodies”.

Ayyub first obtained herself a stylist when she wanted portraits for her new function as columnist at The Washington Publish. It began with a black energy swimsuit. 

Rana Ayyub at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.

Rana Ayyub on the Worldwide Journalism Pageant in Perugia, Italy.
| Photograph Credit score:
Courtesy Rana Ayyub

In April this 12 months, for her speech on the Worldwide Journalism Pageant in Perugia, Italy, Ayyub wore a flared burgundy swimsuit by Nikhil Thampi. It had golden buttons. Individuals got here as much as her within the stroll from her resort to the venue, telling her she appeared nice, and asking her if she was the keynote speaker. “I felt I had received half the battle earlier than I took the microphone,” says Ayyub, who shares that her faculty outfit was at all times a Fabindia kurta with white pyjamas. She purchased her first pair of denims at 19 and has at all times been a conservative dresser.

“Pink was one thing that occurred this 12 months. There was a lot backlash in opposition to me. Pink grew to become resilience, it grew to become defiance.”

Reclaiming an id

Throughout cultures, girls in purple in fiction and folklore are harmful, daring, promiscuous. Givenchy’s iconic purple lipstick — a private favorite — is known as L’Interdit, French for “forbidden”.

We’ve heard of royal purple too usually, however in Tudor England, no Englishman below the rank of knight of the garter was allowed to put on crimson velvet in any a part of their clothes. Who can put on purple, and who can’t, has at all times been policed.

This performed into Kandasamy’s selection. “Once you consider purple, you consider a bride. I’m not married to the daddy of my kids,” she says. There was a component of reclamation. Why does purple must be bridal, why can’t purple be a lady celebrating herself, a lady taking her house, a lady who’s at that time in her life when everyone seems to be taking a look at her, she asks. “The truth that purple is a bridal color was very heavy on me given my very painful and notorious reference to matrimony,” says Kandasamy.

Ayyub, on her half, has determined to embrace purple. She has purchased herself a purple tennis set. She tells me she may put on purple for Eid subsequent 12 months. “I’m not petrified of it. If I’m not petrified of talking up, why ought to I be afraid of sporting a color folks don’t count on me to put on?” 

“That is new for us,” says Kandasamy, in regards to the dialog we’re having. “For ages, we’ve been the type of feminists who don’t wish to be judged for what we put on however who we’re — after which there’s a second or a rupture like this after we may be each: a thoughts and a physique, and make garments into statements.”

The author is a Mumbai-based arts journalist and editor. Her debut novel ‘The Illuminated’ was revealed in 2021.

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