Re-Presenting Absences

As a simple defense of the well-being of my lobes, I tend to not interact with people who believe Culture is one monolithic and omnipresent entity, that somehow it is the particular duty of the “youth” to uphold it and keep it intact, for reasons that sound eerily close to neo-colonisation and imperialism. However, there is only so much a DustyLady can do to avoid such people; especially if this person is the key-note speaker to one of her seminars, avoiding him becomes a tad difficult. This speaker spoke of ‘urban myths’ that the ‘young people of today’ perpetuate and one of them is Lesbianism, supposedly. Of course, he didn’t say it that bluntly; he slid it in as one wry statement and I almost missed it — by the time he got to this part, I was already sleeping — but my friend nudged me and whispered “This dude thinks Indian lesbians are a Western myth, like the moon landing or something” and I couldn’t help laughing and then sighing, because not only is this opinion too popular, it has some inkling of truth as well. Lesbianism is seen as a Disease Those White Hippy Buggers From The 80’s Left Behind In India though authors like Devdutt Patnaik have shown traces of queer identities and characters in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist folklore and mythology.  As I’ve discussed earlier, Indian lesbians are made invisible, consciously written off as non-existent to uphold patriarchy, despite a plethora of virtual and real spaces like Gaysi and other LGBTQI forums thrive with many people who identify as lesbian. We’re somehow relatively tolerant of gay men and ‘hijras exist on the fringes of gender and cities anyway’, so we don’t engage with them unless we absolutely have to. But the idea that the SariClad Ladies Of Our Traditional Country™ may have feelings for other people who identify as women, collective gasps and cries can be heard.

It’s interesting to see how such visible absences are re-presented in media and even in everyday conversations, however homophobic they may be, such re-presentations do exist. One of the most famous and early lesbian stories is Ismat Chughtai’s Lhiaf which remains shrouded in ambiguity and innuendos throughout, which still cost the author a court trial for obscenity. Today when we study the text, we try to see beyond the draconian control in the writing and see queer-relations within an airless patriarchal setting; we can almost tolerate it, as long as we contain the author and her work into walls of ‘fiction’ and ignore other contemporary queer artists. Amruta Patil‘s graphic novel ‘Kari’ that voices a lesbian protagonist is seen as an ‘experimental’ novel at best. The nuanced drawings and references in the book — she mentions reading Winterson’s Sexing The Cherry a few times, the Body is shown as a site of navigation of memories and events, exercising agency at all times — are obscured under readings like “look how angry her art is!” or “did you see the pretty colours?” and we deliberately unsee the presence of a queer protagonist. It gets to me when voices of people are rendered voiceless by religion or patriarchy, just because it doesn’t fit in the six by four-foot box that people are supposed to fit in, and those who don’t, we paint them invisible. This making invisible is done under the waving flag of religion, where we firmly state that “our scriptures do not depict such lifestyles ever!”, again ignoring a myth in the Mahabharata that talks of two lady priests who make a son out of the earth, mud and soil pouring life into him, modern re-readings show hints of a queer family model in function; however short the verses describing their life may have been.

Such visible absences become even more painful when we move away to more heteronormative narratives, or stories that fold under the ‘bigger’ causes — Uteruses aren’t big enough causes on their own, of course! — to other side-stories that we just never talk about. Every once in a while the word ‘Kashmir’, ‘Arundhati Roy’, ‘Separatist Movement’ peppers conversation as it is one of the most debated issues right now, passionately arguing for or against the ‘self-determination’ of India’s so-called pride, but when it comes to hearing voices from Kashmir, we turn to stone and pretend Kashmir is voiceless, open to be conquered and possessed. This is why it takes voices like the rapper MC Kash from Kashmir to make songs like ‘I Protest’ that reaches airwaves, ripe for ready consumption, the voice is a heavily hued with hip-hop traditions and sounds so far to what we can localise as ‘Kashmiri’ or even Indian¹, so that we can empathise and sympathise from a cultural distance, see the film before our eyes, nod and stop the song when we want to, without really engaging with the visceral nightmare Kashmir today is. Another recent re-presentation of absence is having Hrithik Roshan play a quadriplegic magician, despite being able-bodied in his real life; we applaud his role for ‘portraying disability’ while obscuring the disability, by prioritising a healthy able-bodied person over zie’s disabled or ‘broken’ counterpart.

And even the disease is made aesthetic as the trailer too shows, it’s a romanticised and a lofty notion — something viewers can only enjoy in theatre halls, not that different from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s (the filmmaker of Guzzarish) earlier film ‘Black’ where he portrays blindness, autism and a few other disorders using the same formula of aestheticism and using able-bodies and able-bodied narratives to almost make ‘real’ disability a myth and a grotesque reality. Once again, we represent absences without ever completely engaging them — not that far away from Colonialism are we?

When these ‘absences’ are interrogated, what emerges out is a society or culture that painfully and willingly turns its head away from ‘pressing issues’; but we can’t use this Society as a scapegoat either — even though I may really want to — as even this ‘wilful’ apolitical bliss is political. It’s a choice we’ve somehow collectively taken in the past few years. We’d much rather ‘proceed forward’ to being one of the nations that are regarded as a part of the First World than interrupt and question these absences. Of course the ‘inconsequential’ muffles coming out of the Invisible — spaces and people alike — are further devoiced by keeping them firmly absent. But who cares about people Progress, Change and Development can’t see anyway?

—-

1. I don’t mean to intone MC Kash is any less ‘Indian’ because he doesn’t sound like one, in his song, or chooses to engage with a Western form of music, but rather that his accent is used to Other him. Also, he’d probably sound Dusty if there were any hip-hop songs that sounded like they haven’t come out of the same New York neighbourhood.

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Caught Between Colonised Consonants

These last few weeks have been rather stressful for me, so by the time I get home, I’m more than exhausted, crash on my sofa and let the TeeVee numb my LadyLobes into oblivion for a while. This is around the time my grandmother’s favourite soaps are aired and we’ve developed a routine between the two of us. I help her to get dinner going (in my limited capacities as a non-cook) and she fills me in to whatever I missed in the first 10 minutes of the show. Over these weeks, I have now become familiar with the plotlines of more than seven shows, each predictably depicting middle to upper middle class Hindu households, where the protagonist, generally a virtuous woman battling a myriad of obstacles  from abusive husbands to nosy-parker neighbours, this Indian Daughter In Law suffers and endures rather vapidly, always quoting from some scripture or following orders to a T. This is TeeVee land after all, where women go to bed in saris and with their full make-up on, where the idea of a ‘diverse’ family is a multilingual Hindu family — what? have a non-sterotypical Muslim or a Christian character? Never! The TeeVee roars back — and where always, good triumphs over evil, after about every 200 episodes. Of course, when I’m watching these soaps with my grandma these quips are contained in my LadyBrain as she genuinely enjoys these shows. Plus if you saw her blushing the way she does when a Dude and a Lady on the screen brush hands, you’ll get it too.

Yesterday I noticed something interesting in one of these shows; it reminded me of my other grandmum that I lost a few years ago. One of the senior actors on the show had the exact expression as my grandmum would get when I’d start rambling too quickly in English; like many MudSquatters she too could read and write English quite well. Though she was the one who introduced me to Austen and the Brontës; when it came to sounding the syllables she fell short. The actor on-screen was making an exaggerated effort to understand her grandson as the child blathered on in the Coloniser’s tongue – with the American accent no less!—when this grandma of mine looks at me and teases me, “Isn’t this like us? You and your English books, always ranting in that language! Going so fast that no one can even understand! God knows what you must be saying in that language about us!”. While my parents and I converse in English relatively easily, for my grandma this language remains an unexplained pun, as she correctly guesses our tones but the words and their exact meaning escape her. For her not learning English remains her way to defy the Empire, while today I believe in smashing the Empire from within, using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house and caught in the middle are people from my mum’s generation who learnt English to get jobs and status. My parents have a more intimate relationship with our Mother Tongue than I do, for English remains a means to an end for them, as for me English is one of my primary expressions; it’s alienating, frustrating and yet the only tongue I can dream in. The debate of ‘Whose English Is It Really?’ can continue forever. What interests me today how this language is used to cut, to prod, to break into and make room for new dichotomies to absorb. I’ve noticed how my tone changes when I’m speaking to my friends or students, while at home even my English shifts its tenor, it slows down. Here, a few words from my Mother Tongue blend in, the way I leave questions open is again extremely specific for my community, the language flows more smoothly till the transition to speaking entirely in my Mother Tongue has been made. Sometimes when my Mum and I don’t want to let the maid know we’re talking about something that concerns her, we shift unanimously and almost subconsciously to English and then step right out again in a similar manner. Here, English is used to show and maintain class and to an extent caste supremacy whether we’re aware of it or not.

Till date, English remains as a ‘gift’ and ‘boon’ granted by the coloniser to us dusty colonised people, we don’t own it, command it, manipulate it. We swim in, forth and sideways at best; which only further cements the concepts of ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds. Even while re-reading canonical texts as Austen, Dickens or T.S. Eliot and many others¹ from this camp, the one thing I’m constantly looking in this dance of conversations between the Master and the Slave is where is the end of one and the exact beginning of another’s border. As to tell the history of the Other is to expose and ‘deal’ with the limit’s of one’s own history; this is where the obsession with defining the Empire and its Colonies becomes visible as our bodies are written upon as ritually as possible by narratives of literature and media. Similarly, the Mother Tongue is heavily washed with English till all is left are Anglo-Saxon and Nordic sounding syllables in the place of well-woven langues that are birthed from Sanskrit. And this ‘conflict’ is of a Lady who belongs to the upper echelons of society — caste and class wise — where the negotiation between my Mother Tongue and English doesn’t seem as violent as it really is, as erasure ‘progress’ that comes packaged in Disney and Beatrix Potter books masks the harshness. People who aren’t as privileged as I, who are forced to learn English and are told that their ‘worth’ will increase to that of a human only if they speak in English, their transitions into our Collectively Colonised Skin is much more painful and gory². And the few who scrape pieces of themselves from this system, they are rejected later for ‘poor English’ pronunciation, ill-formed grammar regardless of what their potential is.

Here all previous notions of ‘dismantling’ or breaking the Empire go void, for words and sounds that were never yours to begin with cannot be called back or used to ‘talk back’ to and dreams of a ‘new tongue’ are long gone. What remains are shards of sounds, words, alphabets with which the POC has to start building a ground that has to move out of its previous feminised sphere — hence available and penetrable — and work to a negotiation that rests with neither the colonised nor the coloniser, the concept of ‘nation’ has to be reconciled with neither the subjugator nor the subjugated skins is the solution to interrupt and resist imperial narratives. The question that haunts me today is just how far do we force ourselves to indicate this ‘OtherLand’? All I can hope so, this defining doesn’t result in a pompous show of appropriation and tokenism. Like in the case of my two grandmothers, English has to move beyond a forced ventriloquism, a dubbing of tongues or all we will be left with will be tongue dumb tongues³.

——

1. Ask F. R. Leavis. If you can resist puking at the Wikipedia page that is.

2. Most first-generation learners of English are people from ‘backward’ castes and indigenous tribes.

3. Thank you Nourbese Philip!

 

We Are Still Using Knowledge To Cut

A few months ago, my student asked me why do I read so much — well, what is much? — and I couldn’t reply to that seemingly simple question. I made an excuse and told him I’d explain later, when I’d realise it myself. I’ve been reading for as long as I remember; I started because I wanted to be like my mum, snuggled on her side of the bed with the reading light on and lost in her little niche every night. Soon enough books weaved their magic spell on me and now I have the incurable fetish for words, written or otherwise. That is still not a reason enough that can explain my relationship with reading; for books are just my way of knowing the world. Especially after it dawned on me that most books that I read weren’t really meant for me despite the claim of their ‘universal’ status. Even as a child of 12 I knew I was never going to raft down the Mississippi with Tom Sawyer, I had no ‘crazy’ acquaintances like Mrs. Haversham, if I met Mrs. Dalloway in real life she’d frown at my skin and many such examples that made the cultural static between my world and theirs painfully visible under all the layers of Cannonisation and Universalism. And for a long time, I considered myself lacking in someway for not feeling at home in these masterpieces of World Literature. These days I just fondly call this list ‘Dead White Ubiquitous Writers’ who are just about as universal as my dog is for the rest of his species. Doesn’t mean I won’t read Wuthering Heights every year or won’t hurt from the way it treats ‘dark-skinned ruffian’ Heathcliff, but rather I am aware of this difference and am not ashamed of my subject position in and out of the text anymore, however alienated the text or the language makes me feel.

As reading is such an important part of my identity — you don’t major in Literature if you feel anything less, People Of The Olde Interwebes — the question why I read plagued me for quite a while, I even brought it up recently when my friends and I were discussing Zadie Smith’s essay on ‘Death Of The Author’. Each of us had our own reasons, one liked to read to escape to another world, another liked to escape from this world, one reads so that she doesn’t have to listen to her own thoughts all the time and another reads to feel a part of something. But my LadyBrain was still hoping for a better and a concrete answer that would stop the constant inner interrogation for good and allow me to bask in my books once again. One time I brought it up in class to see how other ‘non-readers’ viewed books and the politics behind them where one dudely student remarked that I was making a ‘personal issue’ about a harmless question, because apparently, “Seriously? Reading? Words don’t matter that much anyway, nor do they change the world in any way” is quite a popular opinion among most afore mentioned ‘non-readers’ when all I was doing was not making a problem out of a personal question; but making a personal question an absence of a problem, to borrow and modify from Foucault. Reading is a space where there is infinite potential for negotiation of meanings and implied subtexts. For instance, Kamla Das talks about making walls — “I shall build walls with tears/She said, walls to shut me in”, almost a retort back to Woolf’s statement that being ‘locked in’ is the worst possible scenario — to me it’s a resilience while my student read it as an act of submission. Such possibilities often make me giddy and for a while I thought I’d found my answer. And then last week while voluntarily melting my BrainCells watching TV I reached my happy place. Who knew the idiot box could lead to wonderful Lady Insights Of The Super Important Variety?

This Lady Insight was ushered by a DHL ad¹ that ended with the obnoxious statement, “No one knows Asia-Pacific like we do” at the end of their cocky reassurance that they are the best shipping services after all. I’m sure they aren’t as daft as I’d like to think they are, and they know full well making a statement like that does graze quite heavily on the history of colonisation and occupation South-East Asian countries have, especially so when the team who asserts this ‘knowing’ is European. I started ranting at the TV and in the next half hour they aired the commercial again and that’s when I realised what the ad also implied that I missed in the first waves of fury: they had ‘knowledge’. This knowledge would in no way be used for understanding — if they did they wouldn’t make such an insensitive commercial to begin with — or perhaps even empathasisng with the cultures they claim to ‘know’ but rather we still use knowledge for cutting, just like Foucault, Derrida and Judith Butler have been saying all these years. Knowledge used to cut across people, cultures and histories, using this weapon to somehow support the standard of supremacy and domination that the West is so anxious to uphold, albeit rather subtly as is the case with this ad. Under this façade of globalisation and ritual chanting that the ‘world is a global village’ lies a macabre truth that if some people had their way, they’d still be occupying bodies and asserting their rights on ‘alien’ flesh. This isn’t to cement the Coloniser in the draconian cast of Ultimate Evil — though they come very close — but to see we still think of Whiteness as Ideal Humanhood, that given a choice we’d chose White bodies over hued ones as our films, literature and ads amply show. This racial preference is so inexorably twisted with our collective psyches that now we don’t even realise it when we discuss actors like Katrina Kaif or Kareena Kapoor for their ‘wonderfully pale skin’ and not their acting skills. We use knowledge to hack into unavailable bodies and spaces too, for why else would knowing about some Hollywood celebrity’s dark confessions become transcendental to MudSquatters?

And just like that, the fascination Colonial and Cannonised texts hold for me — and countless other hued eyes — now makes sense as I wander into texts hoping to see the Coloniser’s guilt in some texts or the awareness that the Other existed out of their theoretical discussions, to see if anyone ever felt queasy about subjecting half of the planet to their will. I use this knowledge to cut into the idea that they’re perfect, that they deserved — has there ever been another word as twisted as this? — to willfully colonise others, that their ‘culture’ is impenetrable and constantly eliding for a Woman of The Other World as I am, to see if beneath the façade of being the Master, is there a fear or a threat of the Slave, to see if our hued bodies matter at all to them, even after all these years. Using knowledge to cut isn’t the problem here, but the dichotomy that ‘We’ are somewhat different and by extension superior to ‘Them’ is. The only possible solution is to break into the cutting and ask ‘at whose cost’ at every juncture for us to stop bleeding out our last dregs of supposed humaneness.

1. I couldn’t find the ad which is just as well. Wouldn’t want to start Collective Bleeding of Lobes. Not yet, anyway.

 

On Charting Invisible Bodies

As a Lady born on the brink of globalisation, English is something that comes to me as naturally as breathing. As a kid, I had access to all sorts of books, movies and songs from the ‘Center’ of civilisation — U.S. and Europe of course! — and was encouraged to speak in English as much as I could. Apparently, an English speaking person is a marker for a ‘civilised’ and a ‘cultured’ individual, even roughly about 50 years after the The White Buggers Left India Alone And Took Their Annoying Bulldogs With Them. There was a sense of shame or even guilt when my native tongue Gujarati would be brought up; I went as far as to believe that the person speaking Gujarati was a different ‘me’ than the one fawning over Austen and Disney and somehow they must be relegated into different spheres of seeing and believing. It took a few years for me to realise the dynamics of the DoucheColonial Gaze I had internalised and am still trying to see the person inside who speaks her native language as a fully fleshed organism rather than something out of visions E.M. Forester had in a Passage To India.

Memories of reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils are clear, so is the sense of disappointment that settled in when I realised I’d never see the flower on Indian soil, but I have very few memories of easing in to my native language, letting it unfurl against and within me. Till date, I dream think talk rant rave in English and occasionally in French — for having one language colonise you is simply not enough, the Queen said — and the person who I am in my native language sits inside and aside. This weekend, while watching a performance of Wilde’s ‘A Lady Of No Importance’ and hearing people thunder and applaud at the ‘perfected British and American accents’ did Caliban’s idea of ‘red plague’ and the notion of turning language to curse at the coloniser¹ came to its full appeal for this LadyBrain. Numerous instances where people feel embarrassed to sound ‘Indian’ come to mind, where you perform an accent and a manner of speaking till all that is left behind are dregs of another being rather than you. While there is no one way of speaking a language you don’t belong to — too bad geographical proximity doesn’t count, for that way I should speak American as I live obnoxiously close to the WorldWide Embassador of America: McDonald’s — or can ever dream of ever possessing fully regardless the number of degrees you have in this said tongue. Most of my favourite authors are from the Center, hard to undo the cannon and numerous whinyarsed problems in the same vein can be talked of time and again. What really sticks with this LadyBrain is how as post-colonial subjects anything we consume today, from the copiously auto-toned baritones of Taylor Swift to Foucault’s Genealogy,  we’re inevitably fixed sideways, invisible, alloted the space of the Proverbial Other. Even in spaces that are decidedly ‘intersectional’, colouring the Other invisible is a game we play right after the first rounds of Subtle Cultural Appropriation and before Packaging The Other As One Of Us.

As a ‘invisible body’, being in such spaces and cultural texts is a duplicitous position to hold namely because there is no specific direction or position to occupy in theory, whereas literally you’re fixed and pinned down in borders and boxes. Like Jane Eyre, I can sometimes slip in and out of these texts and corners, if the Omnipresent DoucheColonial Liberator is present like she did in and out of rooms and moors. At the same time, the ‘bestial’ Bertha still awaits my position beside her as the Woman of the Other World. The problem is, “I don’t always want to be Bertha, to be castigated and locked off” like one of my students put it. This isn’t to insinuate the internalisation of colonialism is a strictly one-way process, I’d like to think it’s a negotiation, despite how silently it’s whispered. There is an overwhelming desire to identify and even step right into the coloniser’s shoes, to feel giddy with the power, to be free and disseminate agency and rights among Othered, lesser spaces and individuals. Like George Bernard Shaw, it would be nice to be socialist and endorse FABIAN ideals while keeping the eye glazed whenever any talk goes beyond the borders being English, it would be nice — where nice translates to nausea — to have such cultural amnesia, to constantly slip up and about the boundaries of deciding who is ‘oppressed’ and to what degree. I won’t lie that I’ve never dreamt of a world that wasn’t Eurocentric, dedicated to keeping and maintaining the ‘Up‘ status-quo or thought of everyone speaking Hindi the way the world does English or if everyone was simply happy with their designated borders.  But when reality sinks in, I still break myself up while speaking in this NotMotherTongue and alienate myself when the overbearing gaze of the native tongue that is evaporating daily from my mind and body sets its hold on me. And the bigger problem that this ‘splitting into half’ is how much of this conflict is welcomed, or even self-inflicted. As an ‘invisible body’ it would be reassuring to categorise the Coloniser as the ultimate source of All Things Evil; especially for bringing to this LadyBrain’s mind the legend of Pandora before The Curse of Yellama (which is the MudSquatter version of Pandora, perhaps two shades more dustier). Like Caliban, the impulse to bite back at the oppressor is equally overwhelming as well. And stuck somewhere in the middle is the invisible body.

If I were to map the invisible bodies on the globe, a majority would take up The Third World; and the other half would take up half the world’s population that is biologically or culturally inclined to being feminine. Imagine if you’re a Double Invisible Body and then someone, magically, gives you a pen and you start reclaiming your body and space; only to realise that body you mention is already in someone else’s possession — namely capitalisation, neo-colonisation and cultural appropriation — and that space never existed but between the cracks of your own mind? Only when we stop fixing, cartologising, mapping and charting both ways — our and the Coloniser’s identities — do the gaps and breaks help us build a cohesive language of silence, expressed through feeling and not saying.

in

finite

absences the spaces we con

struct

build and

no one comes

the silences — speak volumes

the gaps start creaking songs

of virtual ashes

bytes unto bytes.

—–

1. You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you,/For learning me your language!. Who knew I could even like Shakespeare at times? Wonders never cease.

 

 

Going Behind The Old Stone Face

As a country dedicated to be a hub for Westerners to feel ‘at home’ or to ‘re-find themselves’, India peddles a lot of things right by your nose — to the delight of the omnipresent DoucheColonial Gaze–  as long as they fit the frame of being ‘exotic’ and condescendingly charitable. Like the handmade paper by limbless workers, the Snake Dance performed by devdasis or Temple Dancers or anything that evokes the same sentiment that Slumdog Millionaire did: consumable, understandable and decoded culture, set to lively Bollywood beats, ready for you to devour it and then feel better for being as far away as possible from a culture or space that ‘terrible’. In this process of re-packaging and selling culture, we’ve started buying it ourselves. That our religions or gods were indeed some mystified beings, that they did really exist at one point, and we will seek legal proof of just that — as opposed to the previously held belief that they were well written and formed myths or epics — that festivals need to be celebrated collectively, publicly, catastrophically till all semblance of an ‘I’ is washed away and in its place remains the bigger, more heavily inscribed ‘We’, till the act of worshiping god becomes an exhibitionist ritual while the personal in religion is coloured invisible.

Eyes glowering. Sometimes raised, sometimes fixed. Rock steady.

The last two weeks have been what we call in India ‘Navratri’, where most of the overtly Hindu regions of the country break into a folk tradition of dance and celebration to felicitate the myth of a Goddess who slayed a Horrid, Horrid Monster some centuries ago and in her memory we perform this ritual. There are ambiguous reasons behind this Goddess Amba some say she is another avatar of Shakti (the root of all feminine folklore), some believe she existed outside Shakti and some believe she is tied up with Creation itself, seeing how she is the Mother of the Universe. Whatever the reason may have been for her creation, today she is one of the ideals of femininity; an extremely non-threatening one at that. The myth I grew up with was the demon Mahisasura had got himself a boon of immortality and specifically speaking requested that “No god nor animal” will be able to match up to him, conveniently forgetting to include ‘Woman’. So the Gods from their Heavenly Seats decided to make such a woman, where each God gave her some of his special powers, she was given extra limbs and a weapon in each arm, to kill the demon. One thing that strikes me is how she is ManMade, how she is created with a specific purpose in mind, she has utility for the DudeCouncil and that she wouldn’t exist at all — or even occupy the few hundred lines she does in our epics — had it not been for one vain demon. Just like Eve, she too is half, incomplete without her demon; she has no role to play except fly into a rage, use her Shakti to restore peace unto Earth, displaying sanctioned amounts of rage on the source of ‘Evil’ after which she dissolves into obscurity without a trace.

Mouth set. Not a word ever escapes out. That fixed smile sets on me.

Last week as the house settled into preparations for Dusshera, the proverbial ninth day when Amba is said to have killed Mahisasura, we prepared the pyre where a caricature of the demon is burnt, and my LadyBrain wandered off to thinking alternatives to this ritual, whether it was possible at all and (perhaps?) tried to understand my problem with this Goddess. As she is a creation of the DudeCouncil, obviously she has problematic elements as discussed above. What worries me greatly is how most modern re-tellings don’t focus on her origin, at all and simply skip to her heroic deeds; which is doubly ironic considering the Mother of the Universe has no history or rather that her birth is wiped away with the hopes that she will stand out as a figure in her own right. Instead she steps further into darkness, or she’s simply seen as an extension of Durga and therefore her history is again tied up with the bigger mythological narrative or Origin and Creation and by extension all the Patriarchal Pantheon of Gods. I remember asking my grandmum as a child who hadn’t yet learnt to keep such questions to herself, “But what about HER?” and this is the only time she didn’t have an answer ready. It’s extremely disturbing to see mothers and daughters praying to this Goddess to seek blessings, to seek the ‘calm’ she has, to seek the qualities she has and most important of all, the ability to please everyone. There are other Goddess who are more subversive then her, some like Ma Tara (another avatar of Durga) who can be plainly described as, “almost naked with matted hair and a blood-red rolling tongue and sitting upon a tiger’s skin with four arms, wearing a garland of freshly severed heads; she wields a blood-smeared cleaver as she stood victorious, dripping with blood, over a dead corpse with an erect phallus”, or Draupadi who hints at sexual promiscuity in the most patriarchally inclined text such as the Mahabharata or even Laxmi, who stands for wealth — much to my surprise for she’s probably one of the most SpineLess goddesses — who decides whose house she enters, indicating agency and free-will. But, obviously, we choose to mass worship this particular Goddess, precisely because of how unproblematic her entire story is, from start to finish.

Now the eyes don’t glower. The mouth has crumbled away, a few years ago. What is left is a shell.

Twice a day we prayed near her idol, for nine days as the ritual dictates. On the last day, we immerse the idol in water to bid her goodbye into the universe — where she truly supposedly exists — and for a moment I thought I saw her head move. Like the idol, we too are somewhat set in stone, existing for others, occupying spaces on the fringe; never taking center stage to any narrative, just slipping in and out of collective consciousness, but never really being. That moment I realised my real problem with her: she reminded me too much of the lives of women I see around me, the woman I am expected to be someday. The reality of what we are as women will never be enough to the DudeCouncil because unlike Amba, we talk too much think too much are too loud are too ‘rebellious’ and ultimately are too ‘us’. As I saw the caricature of the demon burn I thought of burning HER instead, futilely hoping that her shadow will come off my skin too. Maybe, someday it will. Today, I’ll have to settle for being ‘hysterical’.

—-

I don’t mean to offend any one’s religious feelings or inclinations channelised through and to this Goddess, rather examine her from a cultural distance. Please make sure the comments stay in this direction as well, instead of attacking anyone’s belief.

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