How Other-izing Begins
A couple of years ago, when Huff Post published my article, How I As A Single Mom Reclaimed Goddess Lakshmi, even as appreciative messages began to pour in, there were a few skeptical ones as well. People refused to believe that such other-izing exists. That in this age and time, people still continue to discriminate a woman based whether she has a man by her side.
To them, I would like to tell that discrimination is more common than we would like to believe. But instead of acknowledging it and waging a battle with it, we push it under carpet.
This happened many years ago.
G and I were of the same age. We considered ourselves smart, educated and forward thinking. A few years ago, when I had gone to meet G, she was heavily pregnant and had just received the news that her brother-in-law(husband’s elder brother) who lived in a remote village along with his wife and two kids had expired two days ago. G’s mother who was highly superstitious would not let G go to the village in the fear that seeing her sister-in-law’s face during this time might bring G bad luck. G argued, debated and fought with her mom. And finally won.
And although filled with trepidation for the coming journey, G began showing me the clothes she had bought for the family, clothes that formed a part of the mourning rituals.
A silk sari in a deep shade of bottle green for her mother-in-law.
A pink frock made of organza for the daughter of the deceased brother in law.
A silk dhoti for her father in law.
And finally a cotton sari in pale mauve for the grieving sister in law. Resembling the color white.
“Plain and simple..suitable for a widow…no?”she asked. But the question was rhetoric. G was not seeking my validation in any way.
Years passed. G and I lost touch. I transitioned from wife to mother to solo mom. That is when the second incident took place.
Symbols of Loss
The woman who lived opposite our building lost her husband. Now this lady and her husband were a part of a big joint family. The death came suddenly and even as the family reeled under shock, the mourning rituals had begun. As the front yard filled with relatives and friends who had come to pay their condolences, the lady sat near her husband’s body. As women drew her into an embrace and men joined their palms as a mark of respect, this lady would alternate between silence and loud sobs. In between all this, I saw another lady, most likely a friend or sister pulling down the pallu which rested on her shoulders over her head, so that it now covered her face. Truth be told, the second lady did not look like some tyrant relative. She looked like a protective sibling/ childhood friend and the grieving lady seemed to appreciate her gesture.
As I watched from above, I realized how quickly the mourning lady had embraced her new identity, not realizing that it was a trap laid out for her by the thronging relatives and by her own grieving self.
The thing about traps is they seldom make themselves visible. They hide under thickets, bushes and leaves. And we woman crushed under the weight of our own identities walk into them.
As women, our friendships are fierce. We talk deep. We listen deep. We immerse ourselves in the sorrows of our sisters. We cry for them and draw them into our protective embrace. We stand in solidarity. That is what makes our friendship rich and layered.
And yet through all these, we remain tethered to our fears. We call it resilience of spirit. We sometimes even call it valor. We label it our fate. And continue to survive/exist. We continue to believe that a woman is rationed only so much anger. So much power. So much freedom. And that when she is handed all or a few of these elements, she must revere them, cherish them. Hold them close to her heart. And not ask for more. When someone tells us that our loss needs to follow a certain structure, obey certain color codes, we obey. Not daring to ask how this transformation will empower us. Or how it will fill us with peace.
Imagine for a moment how we it would be if we transform our loss into a powerful beginning like T did.
T was a lady who lived into her nineties. She was spirited and mean and believed in living life to the fullest. When she was in her mid thirties and lost her husband, she did not let herself be swayed by the society’s interpretation of how she must grieve. Or how she must lead her remaining life. Or how she must crunch her spirit to fit into a dark corner of some room.
As the day dawned, when T was to shed all her symbols of matrimony, hesitant female relatives walked into the room to initiate the ritual only to find T sprawled on the floor, with one arm under head and the other over her eyes. T had kumkum on her forehead and bangles on her wrists.
For the rituals to begin, T had to sit. But she continued to lie down. Finally, as the baffled relatives continued to stare, T commanded in an irreverent tone that if they “wanted”, they could remove only one toe ring from one of her feet. Nothing more. Not even one tiny bead . They were not to touch any other ornament on her body. They were not to wipe off anything from her face. Her ornaments, her kumkum and her sari were hers alone. No one was to touch anything. The women gasped. They sat there for a long time un-decided about what to do. As for T, after some time, she just turned to one side and started to snore. The toe ring remained where it was.
T waltzed through the rest of her life in her bright maroons and oranges.
T belonged to a much older generation. But when she had become care giver to her own self, she stopped seeing herself as the receptacle of illusive freedoms and cleverly disguised bondages. Instead she became a powerhouse of strength. From a passive receiver of sorrow, she transformed into a risk taker, into a strategist. She showed them what powerful beginning looked like. And in that she imbibed the warrior spirit into every fiber of being.
To me T will remain my hero because she won even before the battle had begun.
Making Edits to Inner Narratives
I end this post with project #edit where I make edits to my old poems and begin listening to the new poems and absorb their nuances into my system:
Written May 2011
On Sunday mornings
my words take different shapes
a grave digger
a dream catcher
or simply a cobweb
make a summer’s sound
echoed in an endless forest
at others they just die
like one primordial cry
But mostly my words
into one constant shape shifter
On uncertain sands
On most mornings
My words take different shapes—
A cradle maker
A dream catcher
They echo the summer’s sounds
At other times,
They breathe like
Spirited raindrops on window panes
Mostly my words
into constant shape shifters
On uncertain sands
Linking this post to Bhavana Nissima’s aka Light Weaver’s powerful series Sa Ham – I am She (2017 series).
©: Sridevi Datta