Every once in a while I have to endure full-blown family gathering that my parents are so fond of. If I were to say this is one migraine that lasts a lifetime, I won’t be doing it justice — and I haven’t even begun using the hyperbole people of the Olde Interwebes! — for there are just so many times a Lady gets to hear, “Oh dear! You’re studying Literature. You were so intelligent as a kid” or “So you want to read story books for a living is it?” before she loses it in a room full of people gathered to decide Who-Can-Be-Louder-Than-Who contest. I don’t mind my relatives, some are even downright passable. It’s only when they decide to give in to the judgmental conga line in their heads when my pickle with them turns sour. Or ripens (My LadyBrain forgets which one smells worse). It’s at a time like this when the difference in my virtual and real life come out and mock me as I try to look interested in the discussion on which spices to add to which dish.
I spend hours mentally wishing I were discussing The Olde Woman Problème every time the conversation around me goes to cooking, parenting and family values. Especially when the topic at hand goes dangerously close to what I should be doing with my life. If I am to believe all the discussions and scientifically tabulate using a lot of mathematical-sounding devices, it would seem talking about me is my family’s favourite hobby. More specifically, what I am doing wrong, what I should be doing and more importantly I shouldn’t be doing. And you thought I was just displaying my daily quota of narcissism! But I digress.
In my ‘real’ life — for what is real, really? — whenever any family gathering exceeds just my immediate family, donning the ‘good Indian girl’ costume is easier than showing how rankled my LadyBrain got by the misogynist statement of the last two minutes. It’s much safer for everyone around me to not hear me explode as I try to tell my uncle that insinuating his sister should go back to her abusive husband isn’t the solution he should be pointing towards without popping a BloodVessel. And after careful calculations by the trial and error method, there are fewer arguments heated discussions if I’ve not mouthed off yet another relative after zie says anything along the lines of ‘a woman who speaks out is a dangerous thing’. For if somehow my LadySecret will be spilled that I (gasp!) am feminist! AND opposed to almost every view they’ve tried to instill in me, you’ll hear Collective Gasps Of The UberShocked Variety. For, how exactly will they ever find me a husband if I’m as obstinate as this? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T WANT TO MARRY? WHO WILL GIVE US PUDGY GRAND-CHILDREN THEN? and many rants in this entertainingly UnSubtle vein.
It’s only in this virtual world can I speak up and out, on various issues without the pressure of about 500 years of societal pressure expecting complacency from me. Counting out the delightful trolls who want to do various inappropriate things to my ‘deliciously brown’ face, there is nothing but support to express my mind (for which I am ever grateful). Here, I can fish incidents out of my life and connect them with any larger event at hand before you can even begin to say ‘Personal Is Political’ — only on good days — or just find a way to inflict pure torture on you gentle readers! Either way, all that isn’t articulated, the GooglePervie comes to feast on here. However, these days, there is a strange twitch. The more I write, the more I want to let people know just what I think of their misogyny and casteist remarks.
This weekend, sitting with my family pretending everything is okay as they talked about a cousin’s failed marriage because of her ‘independence’ I felt the words at my tongue, festering on my skin. Then I remembered where I was and kept mum. The other day while reading Gauri Despande’s poem ‘Female Of The Species‘ the stark difference in the public and private lives of women just leapt from the page. We talk of sex, love, marriage, children in the privacy of our LadyFriends, at cafes and in our living rooms. But when placed in the public setting, where our in-laws (and their neighbours too!) will hear just what we think about our country, economy or husband’s girth, the silences roar. There are many women I know who would surprise you with their views on motherhood, family life and so many ‘delicate’ subjects had they had a platform to speak. Reduced to just mumbling here and there, women have mastered the art of saying so much in a few words when men go on prattling about. I remember watching Amitabh Bachan in an old interview with his wife Jaya Bachan spoke 13 words in the hour-long interview. And this is perhaps the most-loved on-screen and off-screen couple India saw in the 80’s.
The woman still speaks from the inner courtyard, that’s an old statement. What concerns this LadyBrain today is what happens after this constant — forced — splitting of the soul we collectively self-inflict on ourselves, to an extent. Especially to those who have no medium of letting that other half escape in some way? Like the women who can’t afford a computer to blog, don’t have hours to mull over — existentially or otherwise, don’t have a support system of an echo-chamber of Loyal LadyFriends who understand their views, let alone support them? In such cases, our silence turns inward and bites us. Two minutes of hearing my cook rant and you know just what is on her mind since 1987 or exchange one friendly smile with a fellow strap-hanger on the train and she’s telling you about her sister-in-law’s conniving tactics. But given an audience, she’ll rather remain in the shadows. This ghost of the “Indian Woman” is always leering over our shoulders, whether we acknowledge her or not, sitting on her throne of tradition, religion and twisted internalised misogyny.
Living life on the threshold, being on the outside while dubbing the inside story is a trait you’ll see in all our lives. I’m close to being 20 years old and I still haven’t figured out which one begins and ends in which part of me. While there is ritual silencing, there is also keeping the tongue heavy and glued to the roof of the mouth, which we inflict on ourselves at times. Who knows when I’ll be whole and *me* again — if ever. Meanwhile, my other self sits there quietly. She moves her lips but has forgotten to speak these days.