Listening to music on his mobile he smiled. I returned the smile. He was one of the service boys. The old couple who were there had got down from the train at some ungodly hour. The seat now was empty and he taking a break from the neighboring pantry car occupied the empty seat and was listening to music.
I could hear the music he was listening to as I was moving my mind and my eyes on the book my hand was holding. All of a sudden the music stopped. The man was not in his relaxed state and was looking into my eyes. I could read in his eyes that he had something to say. As I waited for him to say something he breathed deeply. Breaking the silence after a while, he said, “I have observed this. Girls are not the same after their marriage.”
Even before I could ask myself as to why he was telling me this and what was making him voice this question stopping the music, he continued to say, “The light on their face vanishes once they get married.” Quoting the example of his own sister he said, “I feel the chain around her when I see her now. But it was not so when she was not married.” He stopped his flow of words the way he had stopped the music. He went back to the pantry car but I could not go back to my book. Instead I went back to Bangalore where a week ago I had met Divya on my way back home.
It was after a year that I met Divya and like always we spoke about the books that we had read, the movies/plays that we had watched, the music that we had listened to. The rivulet of our conversation made its own way beyond our guidance. It reached the issue of women and marriage after a while. Speaking about how women are not treated as ‘subjects’ but as ‘objects’/ ‘things’ she asked me, “Why do parents feel relieved after they get their daughter married?” I couldn’t stop myself from recollecting the various instances where my mother had told me that she would sleep peacefully only when she would get my sister married.
There was something seriously wrong with the collective unconscious which did not treat women with dignity, it appeared to me even the more when Divya raised this question.
Divya later narrated an incident where a colleague of Vinu (Divya’s husband) said “I will give full freedom to my wife.” Divya raised objection about this whole idea about men “giving” freedom to their wives. “Have we women deposited our freedom under your shoes for you people to give it in installment to us?” she asked. I was silent. “Did men give ears, eyes, hands, nose to their wives? We were born with it. And we were also born with our freedom. What do you mean by you people giving us our freedom?” she continued. My silence also continued.
“Once while I was cooking in the kitchen my husband came and said that he would help me in my work,” recollected Divya. “What did he mean by helping me in my work?” she raised objection and pointed at the patriarchal mind set operating behind the statement. The mind set believes that cooking is women’s work and if men lend their hand then it is a work of generosity and help.
As we continued to speak another friend Rajesh came home. I introduced Divya to Rajesh and Rajesh to Divya. And as one can expect they asked one another about other details about each other. Rajesh asked Divya “Where are you from?” and Divya said “My native is near Siddapura but Dad settled in Udupi and I was brought up there. My husband’s house is also near Siddapura but he is settled in Bangalore.” As she gave this piece of information she turned towards me and asked, “Where is my house?” I was struck by this question. Her house of childhood was her ‘father’s house,’ her native is her ‘grand fathers house’ and her current house is her ‘husbands house.’ I guess every woman would come up with similar answer if asked where they were from. The identity the roots of a women is rooted in the male soil. Divya who was raising objection about this patriarchal mentality, which had seeped into the collective unconscious and sensibility of women also, could not escape from it completely.
Now when I sit and recollect these conversations I ask myself if what the service boy said is true. Yes he was true. But partially and not completely, it appears to me. Because there is a “chain around the neck” even when a girl says “My native is so and so” as much as it is when she says “my dad settled in such and such a place so I belong there,” and “after marriage we shifted to such and such a place so I belong to such and such a place now.” Everywhere one can see that the woman is not free. Not even free to claim that the house of which she is the homemaker as her own house. It is either ‘fathers place’ or ‘husbands place.’
Patriarchal mind set, as I said earlier, has seeped into the collective psyche of woman too.
A friend of mine who got engaged recently is discovering the ‘manly’ side of her fiancée. The man who was broadminded till the engagement was fixed was rediscovered as a narrow minded person after the engagement was fixed. Once they exchanged rings her fiancée was rediscovered again as not narrow minded but more or less mindless. She expressed her suffocation with her fiancée. But when some of her friends ask her to come out of the relationship immediately, saying it is not late even now, she takes shelter in statements like “His ego will get hurt,” “If I come out of this how will my parents face the situation?” “He has helped me,” and “I am already dependent on him.”
Is the man’s ego more important than the life of the girl? Is the dignity of the family more important than the life of the girl? Should the girl repay the help of a man by giving away her freedom and peace of mind? But the question what pricks me the most is “Why is it that always we hear about women/ wives being dependent on men/husbands and why is it that we don’t get to hear the other way round?”
This friend of mine has discussed feminism and “fight patriarchy” issues several times with me and our friends circle over our chai sessions. But today I have a feeling that she has not still fought the patriarchy within her. The ‘enemy’ which she saw everywhere also resides within her and she must have failed to recognize the enemy inside who had, through the patriarchal environment, seeped into her subconscious and unconscious.
One of the important writers of Kannda- Vaidehi- once told me, “After opening the seven doors of heaven what we see is Godess Lakshmi sitting at Lord Vishnu’s feet. The day our minds eye, our subconscious, our unconscious, our myths, our mythologies see Lord Vishnu and Godess Lakshmi sitting together and not as Lakshmi sitting at Vishnu’s feet that women would be liberated. Vaidehi was referring to the hidden patriarchal image in our mythology in our myth and our collective unconscious. When we fight the patriarchy inside the patriarchy outside will also be conquered.
As I sit and muse over this and analyze these I attempt to look within myself and try to locate the patriarchy within me. I know it exists within me too. It has, for sure, seeped in, through the patriarchal environment, into my subconscious and unconscious too. I need to fight it. We need to fight it.
18 November 2009