Words & Visuals: Saheli Khastagir
Edit: Tanushree Baijal
As I grow older, I am learning how to both say and receive “NO”. As I engage with the word more deeply, I learn that a NO can be of different types: heartbreaking, liberating or anything in between. The act of saying and receiving it can vary immensely by how and in what context it is given.
Two months ago, I explored 7 different types of NO. These are in NO way exhaustive, but 7 seemed like a good number. The act of engaging with this has helped me be more conscious of the undertones in the NOs I receive and give. It has also made me fear it a little less, and embrace it a little more.
In the hope that others can find similar solace and understanding in this, I am putting those 7 drawings together below.
Like a gift, a blessing in disguise, like the girl who dumped you in the bar so you can find the love of your life on the pool ride back home, like “I am happy to let you know that we won’t be accepting your application, and instead we wanted to offer you this more amazing role in this beautiful location that will change your life!” These are like keys to the door of a new beginning, sometimes disguised in heartaches and sometimes wrapped in rainbow coloured ribbons, conspicuous in the hope they bring.
These are the NOs that stop us on our sidetracks and point us to the path we should have taken all along.
The apologetic NO. The kind of NO you pack in between gushed explanations, some bouquets, some colours, the kind you almost wish will go unheard. The NO to another call for donation- the guilty NO. The NO you give to your best friend for another party you are too busy to attend- the kind of NO that leaves your mouth with a bad aftertaste. The one you offer in your softest voice, the one that stalls at your throat- the hesitant NO.
The censoring NO. That NO that trims your frills, your jigs. The NO your editor uses to polish your 120,000 words manuscript to the 45,000 words bestseller. The NO they use to police our bodies, our clothes. The NO that cuts our excesses- the NO you use to stop your father from taking another spoon of sugar. The NO that watches the time you get back to your hostel. The parental NO- sometimes to control, sometimes to protect. The NOs some of us spend our whole lives unlearning.
The Yes-NO. The NO that begs you to ask again – ask nicer, ask louder. The NO you haggle out at the shopkeeper so he will reduce the price by another 100 – the negotiable NO. Scratch the surface, and there’s the YES. The NO that wants to change- the reforming NO. The NO that caps a cautious layer on the adventurous Yes-es. The NO on it’s path to conversion. The NO that wants you to try harder – the kind that tests your perseverance.
The NO that rejects; like a door slamming at your face- all spikes and spines, it doesn’t beat around the bush. Like refreshing the site announcing the awards again and again, and watching it write a name that isn’t ours. The NO that cuts into our dreams in one swift motion. Ruthless in its certainty- the diagnosis we didn’t want to hear. The promotion that never comes, the proposal that is never pronounced. That NO that makes our heart drop, the one we fear the most, the NO we spend years recovering from.
The formal NO. The NO that slides down our shoulders without touching our skin. There are no tears or screams involved with this one- it is announced over handshakes and drinks. Cold and civil like smoked salmon- it is glanced over emails and couriers and responded to with formed messages saved on our laptops. Not a minute is spent mulling over the giving and receiving of it. Proud and indifferent in a three-piece suit, this is what all NOs aspire to be.
The liberating NO. The NO that slowly pushes itself through you, after years of Yeses. Maybe you will practice in front of your mirror or maybe it will erupt out of you in a moment of clarity. The NO that accompanies a beating heart and precedes the breath of fresh air. The NO they never expected you to ever say. The NO that you will never regret. The NO to political correctness, the NO to submission, the NO to “just one last time”, the NO to false entitlements. The NO to the haircut that you never truly liked. The NO that makes space for all the Yeses that you choose for yourself.
Saheli Khastagir is a self-taught visual artist, poet and development consultant. She is currently developing an illustrated directory of mental health terms called MHIllustrated and also creating 26portraits of writerly women for 26 letters of the alphabet.