The past few days have been emotionally as well as physically taxing, as I prepared for a seminar, re-wrote, re-edited and then wrote again my paper. Then deleted it and started all over again. A few years ago I had the nasty habit of never saving any of my writing, so I went along and got me an auto-saving program. Now all I need is a program that will swat my hand away every time I try to delete my writing. So you can understand, dear reader why I didn’t want to open or even read any of my TrollMail. Turns out, had I opened it earlier I wouldn’t be comatose in front of the computer screen, losing the battle against writer’s block. Some days, the universe just provides you fodder, while on other days it spews slander all over you and your virtual space.
Questions like, “Must you use such harsh language, when you talk of your body or anyone else’s body?” or another states “It’s not proper for Indian women to talk of the body in such terms. You sound Western when you do write like this. Indian women don’t and shouldn’t talk of their private organs so blatantly. This isn’t our culture”. And I edited this one, because I distinctly remember my LadyBrain slammed itself shut after these lines. Forgive me for not reading any of her remaining eight e-mails for my eyes blurred over as soon as she started defining what “Indian women” should do or rather shouldn’t do. And just as I start to write this, another e-mail scurries forward bearing the words, “What is the point of breaking up your body to show what you mean? Aren’t you mutilating yourself, under the name of using poetic devices? Also, isn’t this an extremely Western method of articulating ? Doesn’t this stand against everything you supposedly believe in?”. As I mentioned before, the Interwebes can smack any semblance of the Writer’s Block right out of you, on a day like this.
First of all, where does language lose its trappings of ‘beauty’ and enter the realm of the ‘grotesque’? As far as I can see, there are no specific boundaries as one of the biggest dangers of any art is its ability to transform tragedy into something aesthetic or beautiful. This is probably why I like Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ so much, despite the fact it is the man’s last painting before his suicide. Or the fact I like Sadat Hasan Manto’s grotesque short fictions, even though they leer so close to brutality, madness and often just plain violence. The one poem that speaks to me is where Emily Dickinson manages to write, “They shut me up in Prose –As when a little Girl/They put me in the Closet –Because they liked me “still” --” leaving me with the image of muffled words and inconsequential mumbles. All of these artists use macabre to further their crafted skill. This doesn’t mean I don’t get goosebumps when I see Starry Night, read Colder Than Ice, the above poem or any other work that hovers on tragedy and yet manages it to make it beautiful. The tragedy or the violence of these works don’t reduce because of its aesthetic value. To my mind, they become even more beautiful and jagged, pierce deeper than they would have had they not been so brutal. Do you think this painting loses its value just because of how raw or harsh it is? In fact, one of the most basic components of ‘Trying-To-Let-The-Silenced-Speak’ is to accept a certain conceit as well as “darkness” in their writing. For after years of silence, when the ‘voiceless’ speak, zie is hardly going to bestow praises to the oppressor. Outside of a Margaret Mitchell book that is. To write off someone’s word as too dark, too harsh, too loud, too blunt is nothing but another form of silencing; reducing them to be less than worthy to have – let alone use — their voice.
Secondly, policing bodies is probably a tradition older than time. Religious texts across cultures as well as literature insist on shaming, labeling and prodding the body — be it human or otherwise. When you hide something away, create a taboo around a part of your body; you further ensure silencing. Why is talking about one’s ‘private organs’ such a faux pas for people? And Indian women in particular if I’m looking at the second TrollMail? And just who is this Indian woman every troll — virtual or otherwise — surely brings up? She sounds like she is completely SpineLess, devoid of any inkling of choice or consent and extremely happy to be a broken doll. Eternally malleable, manageable and has no more potential than a masquerade. If there is a specific person behind her existence? If yes, could I have a long conversation with them and perhaps smack them with common-sense till they get it that creating such dichotomies, ideals and definitions, they are trapping hordes of bodies in the realm of the ‘impossibly Indian’? This Indian woman serves to keep us in our place, one step below everyone else. She is that ever-elusive ideal that isn’t achievable. I shudder to think of the army of doormats women this ‘Indian Woman’ has the potential to produce. Kind of a female culture-factory. Even the visual stuns me into silence; to expect me and all ‘Indian women’ to adhere to this norm is more than a little naïve. Another thing that irked me was the troll’s insistence that “this isn’t Indian culture”, for who defines Indian culture? Historically speaking, it was a few privileged dudes who decided how everyone else behaved. Today, perhaps quite a few women have internalised this misogyny giving the illusion of choice while ironically they are still dancing to someone else’s tunes. Also culture isn’t a monolithic or fixed ground — for what is culture without its people? And if we are still to adhere to “original Indian culture” — which was first translated and recorded by German Indologists — then we should declare an infinite war against modern plumbing. But I digress. Policing and controlling this ‘Indian woman’s body’, by telling how she should sit stand walk sleep jump sprint eat move be swim follow dance run bend talk sound hear see do is like placing her in a box without holes and asking her to blow glass inside. And, by giving it the appearance of ‘culture’, the need to have ManMadeWomen, as desired so by people is hidden away.
Coming to the third TrollMail, I was rather surprised to see zie could be as presumptuous to say, “everything you stand against” as even I don’t know what things I don’t like on a fixed basis. But the most obnoxious statement was when they said I sound ‘Western’ — because that is the worst any Oriental would ever want to be. Even if it means choosing between terrorism and opposing the West, any sound-minded Oriental would pick the West. I hear they have nude beaches there. So you can see our indignation with you — because of my choice, form and use of words. It never fails to amaze me how many people want to believe that everything was perfect before they came; ‘they’ can mean the Greeks, Persians, Portuguese, English invaders (pick one according to your mood!) and regard everyone who doesn’t subscribe to this view as ‘Westernised Trash’. After being colonised for more than 200 years, after being told that we have no culture or anything at all, by people who ironically originate from ‘Barbarians’ themselves (as St. Augustine would agree), it’s a tad difficult to not be Western. We speak in a language that is not ours, go by laws that are fundamentally based on Western principles, study in schools that still insist on teaching children ‘Daffodils’ by Wordsworth as essential poetry though we will never see that flower on our land, perceive the world through the Coloniser’s eyes. Our sense of what is ‘proper’, ‘public’, ‘private’ comes from our oppressors, even if it was Nehru behaving as the mouthpiece. And just for kicks, if I start speaking in the DesiTongue, will I become more ‘Indian’? Or perhaps I should pepper my posts with actual spices, for what screams more Indian than chillies (which we stole from the Mughals by the way)?
It is while experimenting with words, sounds, senses and meanings I can negotiate with my heart into believeing that somehow I’m articulating who I am, or am trying to be in a language I don’t belong to, that breaks me up every time I write. To deny me that space, to criminalise my chosen method, judge me based on what YOU think I should do is to ask me to stop thinking and breathing. For it is after very long that I’ve managed to pry the blindfold off; and I have a few things yet left to see.