Thursday, April 1, 2010
Women and Breath
Lately when I meet with women friends, I hear of so much cruelty towards women that sometimes it feels we are in the medieval ages. In Indian marriages the bride's father washes grooms feet just as the procession of grooms family enters the bride's house. The groom is then gifted clothes, shoes, shawl, ring and many other things in a suitcase. This is the first step in our patriarchal society that brands the bride and her family in whimpering submission. I have not seen much of the dowry scene as luckily we belong to a a community of Himalayan Brahmins where dowry is not strongly demanded. In the plains of India as every one knows there are still dowry deaths where women are burnt to death for not bringing a car, cash or whatever the in laws fancy.
With women stepping out to work, things have improved but just as the customs demands, the roles are cast in stone and very few are able to be liberal enough and broad-minded enough to bring about balance and fair play in inter personal relations. When I take kids for tennis there is lady friend I talk to. Yesterday, she did not turn up I wonder it has something to do with her aunt's daughter whom the family is trying to rescue from her husband's tyranny. Have researched extensively and yet I will not go to the psyche of Indian women shaped by the role models. Should I put all this I hear into a short story?
She was ordered to quit her job in London to immediately return to India, her father had found a good match for her. Life as she knew it was about to change, she would come back from college and mother would fuss over her tired daughter, bringing her cold coffee as she lay listening to back street boys. The ticketing course she was doing kept her on her toes all through the day as the classes would follow the college. " Mira, can you help me with the clearing up?", she would take out an earphone and yell back, " what mamma, didn't hear you!" Her world had just begun to open up as she would quickly finish the last touches to her makeup, she would see a healthy but happy young woman in the tiny apartment her company hired.
Today, she was flying back, she could not dare to disobey her Rajput father. For Rajputs, the daughters are a liability, and a matter of great shame if they bring disgrace to family by marrying outside the cast, she had grown up listening to the bed time stories of rajput queens committing jauhar, the mass self immolations to escape being captured by Muslim invaders. As the lane landed she was hurriedly escorted to home and briefed about the absolute urgency to accept the proposal.
She saw him with the family and no matter how hard she tried she could not get a chance to talk to him alone and gauge him as a human and a prospective mate. Before she realised, the arrived when decked in bridal finery with henna-painted hands she entered her bridal suit. He came in late, after midnight and she, a virgin sat on the edge of the bed with ponding heart. " Can I take off your shoes?", she asked in a whisper. He looked at her, was she dreaming? There was contempt in his eyes. He came near and held her shoulders till she stood up trembling, a hand flashed across one, twice, thrice till she lay in a bloody mess near the bed post. " You are a fat whore". He slurred," look at your self in the mirror, you are worse than these shoes I wear, you will take off my shoes?" Blood dripped on her maroon ghagra and the sight of blood angered him. " Get up and wash this mess and come to the bed." Years later as she plays with her daughter, she tells me how she has never washed that wedding dress. He gets drunk abuses her, she has warned him now that another beating will make her call the police. I play with her daughter and wonder how this little child's psyche is being shaped watching her father abuse her mother in drunken haze. Her father now generously doles out money to her to keep the sham going. Her confidence of the early morning in her tiny London flat had fled the very first night, now she just wishes for some peace when he drives back in terrible moods from office. " He checks the groceries and how I manage them when he gives me the money", she tells me. Back from office I see him digging in the garden, pruning the hedge, lining the pots. Creating a distraction for those who bother to see from the hell he has created inside that shell that he decorates-his home.
To breath and not to live, it's a crime
Yet, find the innocent in the crowd
Deep stagnant pool of conditions
And a sad lotus smile floats up
Why is this blossoming?
Certainly, to tease the rules
Before the petals unfurl iron eyes scorch the life
Fragrance dies, a fetus in dead lotus
Gloom's musty vapors enbalm the bud
It is wrong to blossom here
Look everyone breaths, such equality
This was corruption, this smile
Rest now that it drowns to the stagnant depths
Innocence and living is dangerous
Breathing is safe, all breath deeply, freely now...
Pic: Himalayan evening