Wonder Woman

I’m not sure, but I guess it was sometime in the fourth decade of the nineteenth century; feminism wasn’t a fad or even an afterthought for that matter. The country was preoccupied with a different ism.  It eventually went on to get its independence, but women like my grandmother didn’t get theirs from the excuse for farm animals that their husbands were. Irrespective of flags, their lives continued to be at half mast. Like a delicate doll dealt from one monkey to another, my grandma was short-sold in the marital market by her father(of sixteen children) to a man with an attention span of a three year old in a candy shop, who went on to give her four children. Those times, even if a marriage wasn’t made in the heaven exactly, it was meant to last for a lifetime. The painful idealization, vanilla mythology and the Chinese whispering septuagenarians, ensured that a woman endured,even if she didn’t enjoy. So even before my grandma could come to terms with her womanhood, motherhood had confronted her with a child per limb with a man who had abandoned boat.

Carrying way more than her shoulder could bear, with no real help in vicinity than concerned elders and ancient places of worship, anyone’s mind would’ve scurried to a drastic way out of the purgatory life had become. But not my grandma’s. Whatever doesn’t break one, makes them stronger. She became a stronger person who learnt to make lemonade out of the limes thrown at her. She singlehandedly went on to raise her boys into decent men, who would never be how her husband was to her and them, to their wives and children. Not a remarkable feat normally, but from where she got it done and how she did it, it’s an incredible journey of a single woman through an uphill path strewn with insult, taunt and chauvinism in every twist and turn. By the time my generation had begun, she had mentally turned into this zen like war veteran, wary of the crowd of ersatz relatives and acquaintances that had conspicuously bulged in size. Most of these anecdote sharing well wishers in attendance at the peak, were somehow coincidentally absent at the foothills. Her wounds had healed. But she had hardened from within. She could forgive, but never really get to forget.

Pride gushes through the nostalgic arteries every time I reminisce of my childhood that eventually became hers too- growing up to her gibberish, sleeping next to her, calling her fat, the jawarsi payasam, being fed while watching TV, those few fables that were on infinite loop, the solicitous commentary during movies, the hush hush manner in which she kept helping others. And almost forgot those clumsy diabetic break-ins to the kitchen in the middle of the night to eat sweets. My house might be under constant CCTV surveillance with a guard on the gate now, but somehow life felt the safest with a fat old woman overseeing it.

We see the sun rise from our sides of the sky, to kiss the morning sky saffron. Some of us from the sea, some from a sea of buildings and those with the jogging pants, through a bunch trees in a park. Although an epic event for a planet to find compassion in a distant star, the everydayness lets it remain slighted. All of us have such Suns in our lives, who shine on us while we continue to take them for granted, till an eclipse comes to wake us. My grandma was one such Sun from a early horizon. She will continue to be a part of my life as a deity. As a guardian angel. My family’s very own iron lady.

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Virtues like virginity

There are certain things that continue to perplex me- meat eating pet animal lovers, coexistence of religious donations in nation with rampant poverty and the sanctity of virginity. Especially the female virginity. For brevity sake, I’m gonna call it V. We Indian are the forefathers of the concept of foreplay-to-foreplay in movies. Though Hollywood has been filming nudity and intercourse with minimal fuss for decades, it barely has explored the sensuality of the female anatomy like our filmmakers have, with moral daggers hanging above their heads. Case in point, the countless dance numbers involving our actresses dressed in miserly two pieces, gyrating to lyrics that would put seasoned perverts to shame. Just look up “navel” on Youtube to come to terms with the extent of our hoi polloi’s carnal fascination. Our films depicting relationships will go up the entire nine yards-stalking, lengthy phone conversations, dancing, songs, almost-there-kisses in painful detail, to only leave the ‘thing’ to the audience’s imagination at the threshold of the ninth yard. The distance between the eight yard and ninth yard constitutes the average Indian’s erogenous zone; the inch beyond the ninth , his orgasm. So in a nation like ours that nurtures the male promiscuity through popular culture, it’s bewildering as to why V features, still in the moral code of women more than men, obviously in an unspoken capacity like most assumptions about one’s character in this part of the world.

I have a friend, who is about to get engaged. The other day we were talking about the awkward spot she found herself in, between her soon to be in-laws and parents after she unassumingly let out about being in a relationship a year before. What about this filled the hall with taciturn after that, we pondered together? Maybe, the thought of her flirting with another guy before their son. Barely, they were liberal enough to ‘let’ such interactions, their son went to a coed, after all.  Then could it be the thought of her straddling coffee-shops and malls with this guy. Could be, but still didn’t add up to the pale white, their faces turned into. Is it probably the thought of exchanges between them, a little beyond words and glances that stupefied the room. Most likely yes, since the other alternative to such collective response was that she didn’t have legs when they looked down, which likely wasn’t the case. So why this friction to a woman’s past, all the more with our great grandparents and grandparents being born into set ups with sibling count exceeding a test team. My great grand mom for instance, died in her sixteenth trip to the maternity ward. What my friend spoke next, caught me unaware. She told me about how despite being in a few physical relationships, she’s never done ‘it’. God, the same ninth yard syndrome, she had walked the entire distance to only stop at the door to save sacrilege. She was saving ‘it’ for after marriage, she naively went on. She was one of the most liberal souls in my life, at times a little more Bohemian than me, but here she was bending subconsciously at the feet of conservatism. This was the place from which she was surreptitiously seeking approval to her past life.

To try understanding this paradox, let’s go back in time to an age where men were neanderthals torn between increasing evolutionary insights and declining primal pangs. They had learnt to attend to hunger, passion and shelter diligently. Languages were spawned, body fur had vanished to make way for clothes as intelligence took over instinct, emotion took over expression.Man prostrated before every facet of nature that brought life to him- trees, rivers, animals, birds and women. Nature was mother to him, women that expanded his tribe; mother goddesses. It must have been a largely matriarchal set up. He humbly bent before nature and nature benevolently put a hand on his head, not knowing a day would come were the places would reverse.

Be wary of a worshipper, even more about his worship.With time he’ll draw a jurisdiction around you with his ideology, to protect you from your freedom.

As his life moved from the forests to the cities during the Neolithic era with nature turning collateral, he began to feel bigger than it. From this new found vantage he felt the need to protect his erstwhile protectors-nature & goddesses, the nucleus to his belief system from a life gone by. Things that held emotional value, turned into religious sentiments.As the vision was lost, with faiths turning blind. But nevertheless they were revered, but regulated to same extent.

With time matriarchal system caved into patriarchy. With it came chauvinism and double standards like ticks. The man could have as many wives. Each one had to be chaste.Male promiscuity was seen as virility. Women promiscuity; well spawned a new profession, prostitution. Women were plundered along with the wealth of a lost kingdom and taken in as war slaves.With time they were dichotomised  into wives and whores. Femininity became the virtue to yardstick a woman, with motherhood hyped to be her nirvana. Her ambition had to revolve around her man and the progeny he gave. If she dared to think beyond or much worse differently, she would be tamed as a shrew. Her gift of life creation was starting to be used as a noose to strangle her, by the very man she created. Her womb turned a holy grail. Her puberty was celebrated like a festival of harvest to notify eligible suitors to give her away in marriage; proudly with the designation of a ‘virgin’. She was a liability that had to be sold for a dowry to the highest bidder. Her life was to revolve around him and was to end along with him, sometimes forcefully like in the case of sati. Attempts at consummation outside this draconian system was frowned upon as being extramarital, premarital and illicit.Hundreds of years, colonization, few many reformers and contraceptive devices later, she is treated with dignity and respect that extends beyond her ability to give birth. Yet the patriarchal mind set continues to exist strongly in the heartlands of the country that continue to function with a value system from a bygone era. In the cities though it exists in its more palatable subversion of traditions and culture.

It’s about high time we started accepting an individual’s sexual curiosity, within or outside the precincts of a socially accepted institution. It needn’t be about making love or having a child, all it needs is an itch in a couple, heterogeneous or not. It needn’t be subjected to baptism by fire, morally.It can be an expression of desire, attraction, admiration, commodity, transaction or just a lonely night well spent. A woman should be embraced with her share of fantasies and promiscuity, just as her male counterpart would be as a player. Motherhood is her choice, lets not paste a hallow around her head. If she wants a relation that lasts till her orgasm ends, let’s not name call. She needn’t be a goddess. Nor does her sexuality need cordoning as a forbidden fruit. We need to respect her above the belt, just the way we would like ourselves to be.