When journalist Rana Ayyub and poet Meena Kandasamy determined to decorate in purple, displaying resilience and defiance by means 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.
| Picture Credit score:
Melissa Lyttle and Lexey Swall

The video she despatched can be all around 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 carrying a purple go well with.

The 38-year-old’s face has been morphed into pornographic movies, she has obtained loss of life and rape threats. Effectively-meaning mates have requested her to vanish, to steer clear of 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 telephone 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.
| Picture Credit score:
Varun Vasudevan

Ayyub’s purple go well with 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 yr’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 gown.

Kandasamy tends to be modest in particular person. However her portraits — even the early ones of the younger poet in denims — have all the time carried a sure hauteur: a grounded stance, chin in 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 carrying the purple gown when a newspaper advised her they have been going to interview her for a canopy story and wanted new pictures. She had picked the gown at a charity thrift retailer a very long time in the past as a result of it mentioned to her, ‘You don’t should really feel apologetic, you don’t have to cover, it’s possible you’ll flaunt.’ “I assumed the purple was putting and likewise 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 vitality of the color,” she says.

Crimson 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, by some means, each auspicious and harmful.

The legendary French-American artist Louise Bourgeois championed the usage of 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 concept 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 mentioned {that a} girl can by no means go improper in a purple gown. For him, a purple gown couldn’t simply make a girl 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 yr.
| Picture Credit score:
Particular Association

When Kandasamy was chosen a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature earlier this yr, she wore a handwoven purple silk sari with some black and gold for the occasion in London. “Messaging is all the time 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 vitality,” she says.

New York-based Engie Hassan, who styled Ayyub for the Aubuchon occasion, says she steered purple as a result of it might be a historic night time. “I needed to be sure that when individuals Googled who gained this award, that she would look robust and basic irrespective of what number of years later it’s searched,” says Hassan, including that purple gives power, energy and fearlessness that are “all qualities that Rana embodies”.

Ayyub first acquired herself a stylist when she wanted portraits for her new position as columnist at  The Washington Publish. It began with a black energy go well with. 

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

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

In April this yr, for her speech on the Worldwide Journalism Competition in Perugia, Italy, Ayyub wore a flared burgundy go well with 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 seemed nice, and asking her if she was the keynote speaker. “I felt I had gained half the battle earlier than I took the microphone,” says Ayyub, who shares that her faculty outfit was all the time a Fabindia kurta with white pyjamas. She purchased her first pair of denims at 19 and has all the time been a conservative dresser.

“Crimson was one thing that occurred this yr. There was a lot backlash in opposition to me. Crimson turned resilience, it turned defiance.”

Reclaiming an identification

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 all the time been policed.

This performed into Kandasamy’s selection. “If you consider purple, you consider a bride. I’m not married to the daddy of my youngsters,” she says. There was a component of reclamation. Why does purple should be bridal, why can’t purple be a girl celebrating herself, a girl taking her house, a girl who’s at that time in her life when everyone seems to be 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 would possibly put on purple for Eid subsequent yr. “I’m now not petrified of it. If I’m not petrified of talking up, why ought to I be afraid of carrying a color individuals don’t count on me to put on?” 

“That is new for us,” says Kandasamy, concerning the dialog we’re having. “For ages, we’ve been the type of feminists who don’t need 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 will 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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