It is nearly impossible to be a Dusty Lady and not have your body become a canvas of comments, critiques and opinions; specifically the one’s you didn’t ask for. You know the ones by orthodox ladies — and sometimes, not so orthodox people — who say things like, “I liked it better when your face was fuller, now you just look like a vegetable” or “You call that a chest? Pfft. How will you ever rear children with that?”¹ without lowering their voice or taking their eyes off of you, and then the next minute your head starts hurting and you think to yourself that you will never, ever again go to these silly events again, after which you get your cousin to spike your drink which makes the whole evening bearable, blissful even. Only when you next see these people again, you remember that promise you made to yourself; smack your head — figuratively, for your real hands must never do such a thing in public — and then start looking for a cousin to trick into slipping very suspicious liquids in your fruit juice, so that you can nod and let the words float by you till the time you get home and vow to never, ever go to such silly events till the next time. I don’t know what is more amusing — where amusing becomes the new migraine — that people don’t see the effect their words on the bodies they are commenting on or the fact that I’ve accepted it as a routine activity. Only when this week, some trolls made similar remarks focusing on the body alone, did I start to unravel and start re-acting to their statements and assumptions.
Bodies, dusty bodies particularly almost never speak. We are spoken for — of course colonialism still lives on! What do you mean the British left 60 years ago? — in true imperial fashion, and this tilted-equation even translates to the way we see, read and frame bodies. Last week, in a study break I ended up watching TeeVee for a bit. And just my luck, I ended up watching two minutes of Dabangg and I couldn’t help chuckling and then sobbing how this less-than-3-minutes trailer encapsulated perfectly how we view bodies. Here’s a convenient list:
- Land is feminised — very subtly, I must give them that — so it’s ‘lawless’ and must be ‘disciplined’. Land becomes a deviant body and of course a dude has to ‘bring it back to its place’.
- Dudely bodies are mobile. Feminine bodies move in the periphery. And this mobility is not restricted to just physical activity, it shows up in how feminine bodies are dressed too; dudes are in pants and shirts, most women in saris, bringing another form of ‘bondage’ and ‘restriction’ to play, as the sari needs to be physically and compulsively wrapped around the body².
- A privileged dudely body need not respect any other bodies. Disabled or feminine, especially not if this body is a ‘criminal’. Bodily agency is for taking, obviously.
- When a dudely body transgresses socially, it’s allowed and forgiven. When the dusty lady transgresses — talks back in this case — she is threatened with ‘romantic’ violence³.
- If any dusty lady is portrayed as ‘mobile’ then she surely must expose her ladybits for a living — which as society routinely tells us, is a truly terrible, terrible thing to do. Because no ‘good’ dusty female body transgresses; if dusty ladies start doing vile, vulgar things like dance in public, who will cook and rear sturdy boy-children then?
As an upper-caste Hindu lady, I will never know how my identity as a ‘body’ is taken away communally, the brutal way in which Dalit bodies get erased or may never have to veil myself because of religious dictats. In that regard, my body does have privilege or a few liberties anyway; however this doesn’t change the fact that in most cases, because I’m a dusty lady, my body reads as one without agency, as the caste and social status come in later. What fascinates me today is how we’ve ‘accepted’ and mainly shuffled around the Olde DoucheColonial Standarde when it comes to keeping the feminine body free of annoying things like consent and autonomy, especially since we’re a country which claims to have ‘shed its tracts of being colonised’. But I digress.
I don’t really listen to any radio stations — dusty or otherwise — but whenever I do, in about a few minutes I have to compulsively turn it off as every other song is about ‘taking’ love (or bodies as sung by dudes or dude protagonists) and giving ‘herself’ up to the “man” or “husband” or ‘settling in her in-laws’ while every time my LadyBrain screams, “what about her?”. This isn’t to imply there are no songs where the female protagonist of the film gets to voice her point of view — such generalisations are the reason I’ve stopped reading the Times Of India — but that most narratives are built and written around the male perspective, sometimes even when it’s written by a lady! If I were to set out, figuratively or literally to ‘look for my body’ in re-presentations of our culture, say in mainstream Bollywood movies or songs, I come away with a big gaping void. The Feminine Body™ as it were, doesn’t exist in most representations. We do see a caricature of what femininity or ‘womanhood’ is supposed to be, but characters that are multi-dimensional and dynamic, radical and practical are almost never dusty ladies. This probably explains why I’ve taken to words and poems of Kamla Das, Eunice De Souza and Gauri Despande, almost like an addict, as these are the few spaces where the Body is aired and allowed to be. It may not be my body, or the way I even view the Feminine Body, femininity or even being woman, but such re-presentations reassure me that this body too, has breath and a voice.
Whenever I’ve spoken of such gendered dis-memberment of the Body to my LadyFriend, she laughs and then sighs, as for a person who claims to see the body-policing as a ‘routine’, there are many things that make me uncomfortable and livid. So then yesterday, I asked her amid a rant, “What do I do then? Ignore that I can only be at peace when I hear a few selected Ladies, who are generally white and sadly, dead? Why do I need to go read Dickinson every time I crave for The Body to come alive, or go through reading Das again, even when she says ‘he takes my body away, and I didn’t even nod my head this time?’. Do you suggest that I should learn to not think of how much this epistemological violence the ‘absent’ body undergoes?” and she told me, “You do what most women in your place did. They wrote”. And that’s what I did, in hopes that The Body isn’t voiceless, yet.
1. There are many variants of such body-policing, and these are just examples. The real thing is much worse. You can thank me for sparing your lobes later.
2. No, people who wears saris aren’t ‘bound’. But the way the sari functions, and the way we wear it does bring to mind restricting bodies to certain kinds of mobility. And by ‘bondage’ I didn’t mean to imply kink. Because dusty bodies never do such ‘Western’ things. Not even when you tempt them with coco-cola.
3. ‘Romantic’ violence is violence done or implied by dudes (generally) to feminine bodies because they want to woo them. No, it’s not scary at all, because they always fall in love and get married, so then violence is clearly ‘for a good motive’.