The child within…

fousiya-1

 

Finally, you can write my story. It is complete now“, she said.

How do you feel?“, I asked her.

I am alright. I ask myself what life gave me in these four years of marriage. Honestly, if it was another girl in my place, she would have stepped out of the marriage. It is not easy living with a person who has an illness of this sort- the physical and psychological issues were a nightmare. In these four years, I have not known one day of peace. Is that why I married? First, the trauma of a rejection. I had never wanted to marry after that. But I married…for my family. I didn’t wish to burden them. But did marriage save me? I only moved from one hell to another.

She paused and then continued:

I have only been thinking of you these last few days. You took the right decision. Many people may coax you to get married, but please don’t. There is nothing in it. I wouldn’t have said this if you had people in your family to stand by you. But since you have nobody to fall back on, you certainly shouldn’t take a chance. People may think you ought to get married since you have nobody, but I would say that is the very reason why you shouldn’t get married.

I was speechless. Suffering alone had the ability to make people see things they had never seen until then. I had always sensed her potential, but suffering had made her spirit richer.

You mustn’t lose heart. You have a son. He should be your motivation now“, I said to her.

That is what I decided. I know that in a few months, people will start talking about marriage again. Don’t they have a heart? Many looked at me and remarked that I was too young to be a widow. I could read their minds. They think we are machines without a heart. Before I recovered from my first setback, I was already into a marriage. I had no time to feel, think or heal. I was already confronting fresh challenges. My husband was always ill. I was always taking him to hospitals. I was battling with the pressures of dealing with his needs, dealing with financial issues, dealing with the absurdities of his family, and dealing with the issues in my own family. In no time, I was a mother too. I never had time to prepare myself. I was never ready. But I was just pushed into everything that I wasn’t ready for. And now, when this happened, I hated the people who sympathized with me. What do they know of my life? What do they know of my suffering? I don’t need sympathy; I need understanding. If only they left me alone, I would at least think peacefully about my future. But no. They will think for me and I will have to endure.

She sighed.

They weren’t even letting me come out of my room or call anybody. I thought I would go mad. So I inquired at the mosque. They said it was not necessary to shut myself from the world. I want to get back to work. More so, to escape these people.

As an afterthought, she continued,”The only person I feel like talking to, is you. With you, I need not feign sorrow. You understand what I have been through. Sorrow or loss is not what I feel right now. I feel numb. I need to catch up with my feelings. If only the world had more people like you!

That night, I thought of her. She was still a child- a child who had been forced to grow up. I remember her laughter and her simple dreams. That was before I had left. After that, she had led a different life. She had faced a rejection and attempted suicide. She had got into a complicated marriage. She had become a mother. And now she was a widow.

What the world failed to see is the child in her- the child that continues to throb within her…the child that has survived the enormity of her suffering…

Cinderella’s private life

Youthful…zealous…passionate…inspiring…bubbly…full of life…compassionate…picture of happiness.

These are the adjectives my students have often used to describe me.

You have an aura that makes one instantly fall in love with you!‘, a student once said to me.

My students have seen me on the dais, teaching Physiology. They have seen me outside of the classroom, in the moments that I have interacted with them on a more personal or casual note.

The lady who drives a black Santro‘, they say.

And now the author of a book!‘, they add with pride.

A few days back, one of my students turned up at my house, unannounced. There was a look of shock and dismay on her face as I ushered her in, and I could see that she was in conflict. I was tired and exhausted from a day’s hard work, my clothes were soiled and sticky, my hair was disheveled and grimy, and I bore no resemblance to the person she had seen in college. I could very well have passed for a housemaid. Any day, my maid was more presentable than I was at this point in time. My mother appeared, and I could see my student’s confusion as she regarded this thin, frail and fragile woman.

My mother‘, I said to her.

She was silent for a while.

Do you both live alone? Is there nobody else?‘, my student asked.

I could see that she had expected a lively and cheerful house, brimming with people, with noise, and with optimism. A house where maids bustled about and where chauffeurs opened doors of limousines for people to be driven around. And here we were, a mother and daughter, living a life on the edge. A house that was filled with silence and loneliness. She was quite taken aback, and she left shortly, the conflict in her mind unsettled.

My mother gave me a knowing smile. We have often talked about this malady of our lives. The illusion that people have of my life. Cinderella’s private life! Behind all the adjectives that my students use to describe me, they are unable to fathom the circumstances that surround me- the private moments that characterize my life. Not just students, but a lot of people. Somehow, there appears to be no connection between my public moments and my personal moments.

Last evening, when I got back home, my mother did not answer the doorbell immediately. I panicked for a moment. Then the door opened, and I was relieved to see her. But her face looked pale. It was only when I stepped in that I noticed her limping. Only then did she tell me that she had slipped and fallen. As she narrated to me the details of the incident, I felt a little giddy. Immediately after the fall, my mother’s first thought had been me. What if she had broken her leg and had to be taken to hospital? What if it was a fracture and required admission to hospital? Weeks of hospitalization? My mother couldn’t imagine my predicament. With not a soul to turn to for help, how would I manage?  Her first instinct had been to try and see if she could manage to get up. She was relieved when she realized she hadn’t broken her leg, and she had cried with relief. I couldn’t help dwelling upon the helplessness that characterized such moments, but I didn’t want my mother to know how I felt. So I heated up some water and applied hot packs to the swelling. Then I went about the household chores while she gave me verbal instructions. When I had a few moments to myself, I cried all the tears I had bottled up until then.

The peripheral elements of society- beggars, destitutes, orphans, prostitutes, lunatics. There are others too. Single women, divorcees, children from broken marriages, victims of child abuse…even celebrities. Some are alienated from society because they have nobody. Others are alienated despite having everybody. Every day is a struggle to belong. Belong to that gross order that they call society. A struggle to prove to oneself that one is worthy. Worthy enough to be wanted. Worthy enough to belong. The whole world can admire you and yet not want you. It is therefore not surprising that many celebrities have resorted to suicide in the lonely moments that characterized their lives.

It is perhaps these helpless and vulnerable moments that have connected me to cinema. My mind attaches itself to the vulnerability and helplessness of these characters in cinema. I experience the companionship of these characters who walk my paths, and this companionship comes in as a welcome respite- a ray of hope in the dark solitude of my life. It is these moments that liberate me from my vulnerability and transform me into the Cinderella that the world loves.

 

 

 

 

 

The alchemy of womanhood

Woman…

When I was a child, ‘woman’ signified nothing more than a gender distinction.

When is it that a girl grows up to be a woman?

Biologically, adolescence marks this transformation. But emotionally, it takes much more than adolescence to grow into the spirit of a woman. For ‘woman’ represents a higher order of emotional potential. The roles conferred on her by society and by nature demand a greater degree of maturity and resilience. A woman has a long journey ahead of her, in the quest for equilibrium.

I look at my own self and realize that I have undergone a silent metamorphosis in recent years. As life unfolds, the realization of how intricate the relationship between woman and society is, dawns upon me.

Given the complexity of a woman’s life, she persistently finds herself at the interface of conflict. The battle between being true to herself, and yet sustaining the integrity of society. A woman’s emotional make-up is of a more complex nature, and for its healthy sustenance, it banks on the integrity of society. The more fragmented a society is, the more complex is the nature of the consequent conflict generated in a woman’s life. It is therefore not surprising that many women are pushed to rebellion. That is but human. But how many of us would have the ability to expand the horizons of our mind, live on our own terms, and yet not disrupt the integrity of society?

It is in this context that my mind gropes for a reference that defines ‘woman’ for me.

In the modern world, there is the dire deficiency of such role models. One cannot find such references in celebrities of the modern world nor can one find references in day-to-day life. There is nothing of value I see in the glamorous lives of most women today. Nor is there anything of value in the women who don masks of traditionalism, embracing age-old traditions that earn them medals of morality and character. Like Anita Nair wrote in her book, the blood-red vermilion on their foreheads is nothing short of an emblem of their traditionalism and marital status.
A traditionalism that permeates no deeper than the surface of their skin.

My mind wanders to the past. Images of women come to my mind. Women in the villages and cities of India. On television screens and in real life. Women who nurtured traditionalism in their spirits. Traditionalism far removed from conservatism. Traditionalism that spilled into the external facets of their personality. They were women carved by the richness of the emotional spectrum of their lives. They were women with melancholic eyes for their eyes spoke of sorrows and struggles. But beneath those melancholic eyes, something vital glistened. It was this feminine spirit that defined ‘woman’ for me.

Like lamps lit up at dusk, the vitality of their souls lit up the darkness in their lives.

As I encounter circumstances and situations that pose emotional challenges of a more complex nature in my own life, I ask myself what it is that I want. And it is with peace that I choose acceptance of my circumstances. I now know that true freedom is within the mind. I choose to expand the horizons of my mind and act on more mature terms.

As impulsive disquiet and rebellion slowly give way to freedom and happiness, I find myself slowly stepping into the shoes of a ‘woman’.

Be a little more feminine. Not only does the woman have to be liberated from men, the man has also to be liberated from men. There is a great need for a men’s liberation movement – not liberation from women, but liberation from all the nonsense that has been taught to him down the ages: Be hard! Be steel! Don’t bend! Break but don’t bend! Man has been taught to be hard like a rock – man has missed much. And now women are following in the same tracks. It is a dangerous situation. If the woman also follows the man, she will be a second-rate citizen, she will never be equal to man. And not only that: if she follows man and becomes hard, as lib women ARE becoming – their faces are becoming hard, their bodies are losing roundness, softness, vulnerability, they are becoming more and more angry and less and less loving – the danger is that that will be the end of the whole of humanity, if it happens. The only hope for humanity is in the quality of feminine – the only hope. The hope is not with Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini: the hope is with Buddha, Chaitanya, Meera – with a totally different kind of people. And we have to turn men and women BOTH into a kind of feminine lovingness.

Osho

In search of the Amaranth

Summer in Kerala is the season of the amaranth. The fields are full of them, the red amaranth in particular. The red amaranth is my favourite vegetable. When we were children, we didn’t have to buy it. We grew it in our backyards and my aunts had to only pluck them and cook them. I would insist on a meal of just rice and amaranth, refusing the curry because I believed it diluted the taste of the amaranth.

As fields, groves and backyards disappeared off the face of this land, we started buying all the vegetables from the market. Markets that sold amaranths that had been rendered tasteless by the pesticides and other chemicals sprayed on them to keep them fresh and perhaps, everlasting! Those years of home grown vegetables fresh from the garden, became a nostalgic memory, especially for my mother, who in her times, had even witnessed rice being cultivated at home. Our ancestors would perhaps be horrified by what we call development…

In their wildest imagination, they would not have conceived the idea of buying packaged water, pesticide treated vegetables or fruits, and processed, ready-to-eat food.

And so, it was with great excitement that I received this news of home-grown vegetables being sold in the neighbourhood.

Kerala has always demonstrated immense potential at creative and innovative solutions to an existing problem. The Kudumbashree organization that empowers women, particularly housewives,  by productively and meaningfully engaging them in the various sectors that can utilize their potential, is a brilliant illustration of such creative thinking.

Kudumbashree is a female-oriented, community-based, poverty reduction project of the Government of Kerala. 

The mission aims at the empowerment of women, through forming self-help groups and encouraging their entrepreneurial or other wide range of activities. The purpose of the mission is to ensure that the women should no longer remain as passive recipients of public assistance, but active leaders in women-involved development initiatives. Kudumbashree movement was launched on May 17, 1998. 

http:// https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kudumbashree

In 2014, the Agriculture department, in association with the Gram Panchayats and organizations such as the Kudumbashree, set up a project to address the problem of scarcity of vegetables and toxic vegetables unfit for consumption. Thus was born Kudumbashree’sOrganic farming project‘.

 Joint liability groups of women farmers are formed under the collective farming initiative to help women cultivators access agricultural credit from the banking system.
The Grama Panchayat supports by giving seeds and manure. Agriculture department officials also provide periodic technical support and advise. 
Through the Collective Farming programme the twin benefits of poverty eradication food security and financial returns through agriculture and increased agricultural production are sought to be accomplished.
The leadership of women and the effectiveness of collective action are shining examples in Perambra’s sustainable employment initiative. Breaking stereotypes, women also do the harvesting and other male dominated activities. Addressing women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation, assured employment, environment and food security has contributed to the success of Kaipram.

http:// http://www.kudumbashree.org/?q=cf2

It was thus that I dropped in at Shobha’s house, asking for some red amaranth.
I’ll just be back‘, she replied and went out of the backdoor.
I waited, and her two children kept me company.
Mom will be back shortly. She is plucking the amaranth‘, the boy said to me, as I paced across the verandah.
I couldn’t help thinking how sensitive he was. He was just four years of age.
Shobha got back shortly, with a bunch of fresh red amaranth.
Would you have any other vegetables now?‘, I asked her.
You can take a look‘, she said.
I followed her to the backyard. I let out an exclamation as I caught sight of her vegetable garden. It was a big square piece of land, and she had transformed it into a green paradise. I was speechless as I took in the snake gourds and bitter gourds hanging off the trellis erected from wooden poles and dried coconut palms. It reminded me of the vineyards from ‘Namukku parkkan munthiri thoppukal‘…

King Solomon’s green paradise.

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Snake gourds and bitter gourds hung from the trellis...

I walked into the cool shade of the trellis, the gourds hanging about me. That they were so within reach and I could just pluck them was still hard to believe! The climbers had formed a natural roof and I had to pinch myself to believe this was real. The children followed me for they were amused by my obvious excitement. Little did they know the value of what they had. By modern world standards, this was pure luxury that was beyond the reach of most children…

What money could just not buy.

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I walked past the climbers and the children showed me the amaranth, rosy and basking in the sun. There were also the little saplings planted in a row, throbbing with new life. The brinjal plants stood in the distance and tender green brinjals nodded gently in the wind.

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The red amaranth basked in the sun...
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The amaranth saplings had been planted in a trench
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Brinjals stood in proud display

Beyond that were pumpkins. All I could see was the leaves. We walked up to the plants and moved a few leaves aside. I let out a squeal as I saw two pretty pumpkins nestled inconspicuously beneath the leaves. ‘We will give you the pumpkins for Vishu‘, the girl said to me.
The children were adorable. They were eager to give. They found happiness in the happiness of the people around them.

Perhaps agriculture rears the most beautiful children. For it nurtures the human spirit. It is in the forests and fields that children learn the lessons of sensitivity, empathy, love, selflessness and simplicity. It is here that their eyes open to the true aesthetics of human life. It is here they learn their earliest lessons of happiness and contentment.

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The pumpkins that we unraveled

I shall come back with my camera. I must take pictures’, I said.
Shobha smiled. I waved to the children.

When I went back to take pictures, Shobha shared with me snippets of her life. The events surrounding her mother’s cancer- those impossible moments that chronic care encompasses.
I took pictures. As Shobha walked across this garden she had created on her own, she seemed to belong there. I could see that she derived meaning from this beautiful creation of hers.

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She derived deep meaning from her creation

I clicked pictures of the children.
Please click my mother’s pictures‘, the boy said to me.
I have‘, I replied, and showed him the pictures.
He smiled.
How did you learn to click?‘, he asked me.
I loved the innocence and admiration in that question. This is how children were in the past.

When I said goodbye to them, there was a deep contentment within me. I deeply admire such women who lead very ordinary lives, and yet carve their own stories of independence and resilience within the framework of the system that confines them.

They create happy families, happy children and a happy world.

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Of contentment and happiness!

She lived…

She was dusky in complexion. And in her eyes, there was the spirit of dusk. A resigned silence to the beauty of a receding day. A colorful world whose impermanence had made her find comfort in the darkness of the night that followed.

She was wary of the day- of its enchanting colors and sounds that had the potential to fade away without warning.

 

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Dusk that smeared on it the ashes that remained of the day’s fierceness

 

Her demeanour cleverly concealed her vulnerability. One would easily mistake her for a strong, self-reliant soul who cared little about what the world thought of her. At work, people branded her as rebellious just because she was a single woman with a head on her shoulders. She took her work seriously, and she was good at it. This was reason enough to offend her peers. They pretended to get along and even sympathize with her, but she knew just as well that it was all a farce. And so, she became more defensive. It becomes necessary to don a mask of defense when society secludes you. Society scans for a weak point in you in order to deliver a blow, and so, you have to conceal all your weaknesses and feign strength, even if it means rebellion.

But if you could see through the mask, you would see the bleeding, soft core of her persona- still in a state of shock and denial. An year had passed, but it still took a lot of effort to get by. The suicidal impulse had passed. But the future seemed to hold no promise- it was all dark and empty. The only companions were the memories. Somehow, it was easier to hold on to them and get by, rather than move on.

There was no moving on.

The only consolation were books. Somehow, they seemed to add value to the perceptions and to this sense of loss.

Many a time, she would ask herself- Is it really possible for a person to do this? Then what was the truth in their relationship that had seen nearly 8 years of blissful togetherness? What was the truth in love? How could one trust anybody at all? A man had taken from her all her love, only to discard it eventually, robbing her of her ability to love another soul.

But then, to whom does one complain about the unfairness of life? When did life ever promise you that it would be fair?

 

Nived was a name that had become a part of her. Theirs was a love that had its roots in the early years of adolescence, when love and life were governed purely by the intensity of emotions. Somehow, the love had matured beyond infatuation and evolved into a deep friendship. Perhaps it was because of common interests. Perhaps it was because at that age, their love was uncorrupted by the currents of life. But the truth was that they had become inseparable. It was impossible for her to think of her own self in isolation from Nived. He had always been around…almost like her shadow.

They had always walked together….dreamt together.

 

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Today, she walked alone, unsure of her steps, unsure of herself. She found it impossible to dream without him by her side. She looked at the birthday pictures he had posted- his wife by his side, the two of them smiling happily. It made her sadder for it contrasted with the picture of her own life. She remained frozen in the past, a million questions swarming in her head, unspoken. Too shocked to react. Too shocked to comprehend.

Too shocked to even cry.

It was a miracle she was even alive. But for what? For whom? The past had transformed into an illusion. The present into numbness. And the future an endless desert.

But she lived.

She lived in a beautiful house that was the outcome of the collective effort of both their minds. They had both been drawn to the aesthetics of the locality- a quiet lane with  fields in the neighbourhood, a temple and an old pond with stone steps leading to it. They had spent countless moments discussing the design of the house- agreeing, disagreeing and arguing. In the end, it was a beauty. The living room had a high ceiling, and stepping into it seemed to set the mind free. The patio looked on to the fields. A hot cup of tea, mild rays of the evening sun cutting across the fields, the slender grass dancing to the gentle breeze….one couldn’t ask for more. They had shopped for all the furniture and home decors together.

The house was rejuvenating. But it was designed for a happy couple. Every part of the house reminded her of him. But she lived.

She lived, paying the mortgage every month.

She lived, sometimes wanting to run away from the suffocation of this place.

This place that reminded her of his proximity. This place that constantly judged her. People who wanted to know her story only so they could judge her. She lived, wishing she could get away and perhaps go back abroad. She lived, looking for jobs that could help her clear her loans faster. She lived, hoping to fill her soul with the joy of books and travel, the intensity of which could perhaps drown her pain. She lived, taking trips to the hospital all alone when ailments bothered her. She lived, watching new leaves unfurl on the mango tree he had planted for her.

She lived quietly in her world- inconspicuously, with all the richness of her melancholy. 

She was long gone, but she lived….

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Independence versus Interdependence

In the progress of personality, first comes the declaration of independence. Then comes the realization of interdependence.

I have been pondering on the independence-interdependence equation for quite some time now, especially in the context of Indian marriages.

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I look at my colleague whose life revolves around social networking and fashion- the only highs in her life at this point in time. She has been married for 8 years now and when I look at her life now, it is hard to imagine that love must have been a component of her marriage at some point in time. But it was, and she recollects the initial years of her marriage as very happy and fulfilling for they revolved around companionship.

She remembers the endless conversations about everything and nothing…she remembers all the sharing and caring…she remembers the energy and enthusiasm the relationship instilled in her. But she does not recollect when the magic faded away. She only remembers how the challenges grew as life unfolded, for there were pressures- sometimes from both families, sometimes at work, and these only multiplied as children came into the picture. Housekeeping itself seemed a mammoth task.

Listening to her, I couldn’t help thinking how she regarded each of these as her individual problems. I guess that is ingrained in the mindset of a traditional Indian woman that the problems are hers alone, and it is up to her to strike a balance. Meanwhile, her husband started to focus more on his work, and his preoccupation stole away the qualitative time they had spent in the initial part of their relationship. As the environment at home became more charged with responsibility, her husband responded to the stress by finding outlets to unwind and relax. He loved his job for it gave him a sense of productivity and achievement. He socialized with people at work and outside of work. He lead an active life on all fronts- career, social circles and recreation.

For her, it was the other way round. Work reduced to just being a source of income and a distraction from the responsibilities. She no longer had the energy to define or chase her career dreams. Fighting the variables dominated the equation of her life. Frustration gradually crept in, for most of her energy went into the mundane things that she did not enjoy doing. Her husband distanced further for he did not look forward to spending time with a woman who radiated negative vibes most of the time.

divorce-2

I couldn’t help thinking how this was the story of almost every Indian woman today. On the Indian landscape, there are women who have never explored their potential, for they just move in from the protected environment of their parents’ home to the protected environment of their husband’s home. They are women who have never defined independence- the very first step in the progress of personality. These women will continue to limit themselves to a small world for the rest of their lives and may never explore their potential.

Then there are the more fortunate women – fortunate to have been raised in a more liberal environment. These are women who are given the freedom to dream. For these women, marriage can be a sophisticated affair. When challenges enter the marriage scenario, these women often feel the currents for they find themselves robbed of their dreams. Some will rebel and opt for separation. Others will hang on a trifle longer for the sake of children, banking on temporary outlets such as social networking and extramarital affairs. Yet others will rediscover individuality and liberate themselves within the framework of the relationship. The tragedy is that in each of these cases, the relationship has been emotionally severed, irrespective of whether it is legalized or not…

Once companionship absents itself in a marriage, the marriage has lost its essence.

divorce

The interesting fact is that this attitude is more prevalent in Indian men, especially of this generation- this escapist response to stress. It is often not the case with men from other races or even with Indian men raised abroad. For them, a problem is something that binds both people involved in a relationship. A man’s role or a woman’s role are not charted in black and white. In fact, a man feels responsible for the woman, for she is emotionally vulnerable and fragile.

Who doesn’t wish for long lasting companionship in a relationship? It is the one dream that brings two people together into a relationship. And if one sheds off all the social conditioning, one would realize that expression of one’s personality to its fullest potential would be the ultimate motivation of every individual, man or woman. A relationship can only provide a source of strength and energy in this process. And so, independence rests on interdependence.

In a world where every external element tries to extinguish the flame that characterizes the richness of one’s spirit, the purpose of a relationship must be to provide a cover that shields one from these external elements and helps maintain the flame, nurturing it, amplifying its brightness and warmth.

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