This must have been a dream because I can’t remember how it began, the details of the ending are hazy, but I remember everything in between. What followed waking was rebuilding, reconstructing, retracing, recovering. You and I recanting – all that was said and done before.
I was sewn back, not in a hurry, and yet threads of you embroidered themselves into me. Your dust got caught in the bricks that remade me, your voice trapped in these crooked crevices, reminding me to look for you. And so I do even a world away.
I look at every passing bus, to see if it’s your face in the window reading comics at the back of the paper. And every time somebody orders a steak well done, a smile rises to my lips, the resurfacing of an inside joke that once was – your penchant for rich food, and mine for poor puns. I look under coffee mugs, behind polished oakwood doors, waiting for you to spring at me, for the thrill of a fear anticipated. But I’ve lost the fragment of that sorrow, the piercing I felt when it was new.
When did I become so audacious, rushing to the edges of sharp cliffs? It is you who taught me to fearlessly jump. You became the air around me that scraped my skin as I fell, holding me, cradling me, even as I bled. Through those cuts and bruises, you entered and remained, like fragrance in my hair, revealing itself every time I moved. You permeated the notes of a lullaby. The one with the mockingbird.
“And what will you say when he asks since when you’ve been unwell?” “Since yesterday afternoon.” “And when he asks if you’ve taken any medication?” “I took some cough syrup.”
At this point, a grin would spread across his face. This scene has been played out so many times in our home that I know what is coming. My fever-parched throat readies itself to whine, call out to my mother. “And what will you say when the doctor asks when you’re getting married?” “Mommy!” I shout out to her to let her know of my irritation that has nothing to do with my illness.
Mommy comes over, smiling at my father’s “dreams” of his daughter’s far-off wedding day. Dreams he has begun to have when the daughter in question is seven. “Your daddy’s just teasing. But one day you’ll have to go.” Her smile turns wistful. The father of the future bride barks out a laugh.
My brother was never teased this way. His fevers and coughs were just fevers and coughs. His visits to the doctor did not have prospective alliances looming over them, brides lurking around in their trousseau. His doctors were never equated to matchmakers waiting for eligible bachelors to fall ill.
Parents, armed with their bedtime fairy tales and their “good-natured ribbing”, are essentially salespeople. And good ones at that. Fairy tales tell you the damsel met her prince and they lived happily ever after. That is the height of your heroine’s aspirations. The ceiling, the sky. For instance, in my dad’s hypothetical scenario, never once does the doctor ask if I maybe wanted to become a doctor myself. Or anything, other than “Would you like a groom with your prescription?”
This height of aspirations, not seeing beyond the “happily ever after”, was perfectly summarized in another conversation from my childhood. The youngest one in our group loved (and I mean LOVED!) to play the bride in our games. Just the bride, mind you. She was quite young, a kindergartner at the time if I remember correctly. Our neighbor’s daughter, who was in college, often came over to pinch our cheeks when she saw us playing. One day, she asked the little one why she liked playing the role of the bride. She whispered something into the older girl’s ear, whereupon her eyes widened theatrically and she exclaimed, “Haaye main marr jaawaan!” This roused our curiosity, and after we demanded, “Didi, usne kya kaha? What did she say?!” a few times, Didi revealed to us that, “Use sajne ka shauk hai.She loves to dress up.”
That is honestly all that’s sold to us. And that is enough. It leads to a lifetime of insecurities and doubts on self-worth, creating scared little girls whose only ambition is to be a bride someday. (Note how I say “bride” and not “wife”) And why? Because it’s nice to dress up? Play a bedecked and bejewelled centrepiece as a linear continuation of our childhood games?
Now you could argue that this limit on women’s aspirations is a thing of the past. After all, both the examples above are from my childhood. And that now, girls are encouraged to choose other, better ambitions than settling down unwillingly into someone else’s life and getting lost in it. If you believe this, then I’m here to shatter those beliefs (as much as I wish you were right)
These magazine covers are from September 2016.
This is just the beginning of a certain kind of conditioning that states your main aim is to look pretty. That’s your ladder. It starts at a young age and something we carry into adulthood. An unmarried woman past a certain age is automatically labeled a failure, even if she’s the CEO of a company. She’s labeled “angry”, “aggressive”, “frustrated”. Never “successful”. Never “fulfilled” or “happy”. The world cannot compute even the possibility. The world has not taught the woman to aspire to this happiness, this success. How dare she?
Then there are some of those (I’m struggling to not use expletives here) who complain, “But if women really could do better than they are now, why are all the famous scientists men?” These people need to be high-fived. In the face. With Thor’s hammer. (Then they would probably ask why Thor is male, but that’s just not an argument that’s worth getting into.)
As for the “happily ever after”, if there’s a more guilt ridden position than “wife”, I’ll be happy to hear it. If you work, you’re guilty. If you don’t, you still are. If you have friends and a social life, you’re guilty. If you don’t, you still are. There’s guilt anywhere you turn, because you are always expected to be a certain way and somehow, you are always failing to meet those expectations. To use my own example, I’ve lost count of the hints that have been dropped around me that it’s now “time to quit my job and take care of the household”. Ridiculous as it sounds, it appears that I’m a rebel of sorts just because I go for work.
It’s taken me years, but I’m finally learning to let go of the “wife guilt”. Letting go of it one wedding bangle at a time. It’s taken me even more years, but I’m unlearning my “Cinderella Complex”. My “Snow White Complex”. My “Hell-literally-any-fairy-tale-with-a-prince-and-damsel-in-distress Complex”. I won’t deny that I suffered from it – it was a part of my upbringing. It is all I heard every time I fell ill, every time I changed schools, every time a family friend came to visit. Every time I was reminded that I was a cumbersome responsibility that my parents had to shed. All of these expectations that didn’t even lead to a cute dress up party, as my little friend claimed a long time ago, but a disappointing, underwhelming experience (which I wrote about here).
When I wrote the above-linked post, in his comments, Marty Rubin pointed out that women give up so much of their freedom when they get married. It occurred to me that though we all know this to be true in most cases, we still go ahead without a second thought because it never crosses our minds to negotiate better for our future. We put a lid on our dreams because of the fears that have been instilled in us. We don’t even realize it at the time, because our minds have been warped into believing that we’re meeting the ambition that was set for us from childhood.
Why are we doing this to little girls?
This is the Women’s Day week and I’ve written this post as a part of #WomenOfBlogging. If you’ve written a post about this theme, please add it to the Linky:
“Has it ever occurred to you that life is an excruciatingly long wait for death.”
-Not A Famous Person
‘Twas I who said those words. Ok, tweeted. It is a universally acknowledged fact that we hate to wait. Combine that fact with what I have written above and what you have is a sinister idea – well, suicidal, but please do not try anything stupid at home, because I don’t want this blog post to be held responsible.
Also, you’re all already performing various acts of varying levels of stupidity all around me.
I know a lot of people blame social media for a whole lot of things, and rightfully too. I have one major grievance against it and that is – inspirational quotes. Especially of the YOLO variety. Oh wait, apparently YOLO is now outdated, because evolution somehow started working in reverse or something and all of us now have the attention span of a fish. I have no idea about the real attention span of fish, that’s just an expression but I am guessing that also could be a possible acronym which completely encapsulates the idea of short attention span – Fuck It, Shithead (FISH) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Oh, digressing. Blame the FISH attitude. So, YOLO is now outdated, and acronym of the year 2014 (two years ago, so probably wayyyy outdated) was FOMO – fear of missing out. The idea of fomo (I don’t feel like capitalizing it, meh) is that people want to do too much, too soon, because they are all convinced they’re gonna die tomorrow or in the next hour and are terrified they wouldn’t have DJ’d at a pub before then. Or grown potatoes on Mars.
Ugh, how morbid.
I sometimes binge-read wikipedia late at night, as I am sure you all do (no? okay) and last night for reasons beyond the ideas and constraints of logic, I started reading about Drake, the rapper. Apparently he is credited with popularizing “YOLO.” He must be feeling real foolish now. Also, I noticed, he is my age, so I guess that’s ok – ’86-borns are used to feeling foolish from time to time. Then I woke up this morning, and Facebook slaps my face with this:
Then I just lost it. I wanted to wail, please stop putting so much pressure on me to enjoy my life! I never even thought about Feb 29th before this as anything other than just another day – an attitude I reserve for every day, including NYE, because I, boring as it sounds, don’t wanna over-drink and die of alcohol poisoning or being bonked on the head by over-enthusiastic party-goers.
What are we so afraid of? Of death? Because sounds like we’re more afraid of life. Life, as idyllically and unhurriedly as it comes – we seem terrified of it. We are, propelled by those nonsensical quotes (admit it – it’s all it is!), doing so much that our heart isn’t in any of it. Everybody I know is travelling like a maniac, playing four musical instruments, getting tattoos they don’t like, dating a new person each day, screaming off rooftops, enjoying NONE of it. Why? Because they’re too afraid of not enjoying life while it lasts. Oh, the irony.
I agree, life is short. I mean, I’ve been doing it for 29 years, but yeah, I’d probably find it short when I’m on my deathbed, and I still find the manuscript of my novel unfinished on my desk (I’m not fooling anyone, I started off in 2012, it’s been bloody 4 years, that’s not getting written, LOL). But do you really have to rush through life? In your chaotic frenzy to create an unforgettable one, aren’t you just creating an utterly forgettable one, one that even you can’t remember, thanks to the fish?
Ask yourself, what do you really want. Tell me it isn’t just a blanket and more hours of sleep.
And some momos (cos it’s there in the title, and I had to put them somewhere in the post. Also they’re tasty)