Mrs Sharma’s Saturday Nightmare

Mr Sharma who’s an entrepreneur is contentedly settled in a semi-urban town house of a metro city. When I said contentedly settled, I mean, Mr Sharma and his young boy, not his wife, whom people recognise as Mrs Sharma. She is worthy enough to be known by her own name, but as she’s married to and migrated with Mr Sharma, and also choose to live with him only for fear of the society, she didn’t object to be called by that name . She’s a government employee, who works in the health sector. Her work itself keeps her busy, apart from her work, she’s devotional, she’s a melophile and also enjoys classical dance concerts. In short her world is confined to these three or four fields, she remains updated about what happens around though.

Until recently, she awaited for the weekends to set in, with a lazy mind. Saturdays she loved the most as that was the only time when the family would have their day out in the town, having a meal. Not only that, it was the only break she would get to enjoy in a week before a working holiday( Sunday) sets in. Since lock down started she has developed a phobia towards Saturdays. Friday itself she becomes restless, thinking of the day to come. As the family is habituated with that eating habit, she needs to cook restaurant style dishes for her son and husband which she should have enjoyed with their company, but don’t. Family gives her company, only at the dining table. Some enjoy cooking, but she doesn’t. Not that she hates it, but no one lends a hand to her than pointing out silly faults.

Those who have tasted her food has always fallen for her talents, but not these two. She hated to see those permanently discontented faces. Moreover, the summer was too suffocating that she hardly could stay in the kitchen for hours. And Saturday’s business took more than three hours, including maintenance and setting. When she vacates kitchen, it becomes as late as eleven, while Mr Sharma busily watches news or movies and her son busy with playing games in his mobile phone.

The next day, being Sunday, she had plenty of chores to do. Sundays, for an Indian housewife/working woman are longer than usual days.Moreover she had no break from her work , but she enjoyed her work. Taking a relaxing breath in order to calm herself down, she returned to the patio, having completed that Saturday’s scheduled events. For a minute she lend her ear to her husband’s piercing tone of ordering for a flask of black tea to keep him revived till he gets his snoring sleep.

Smudged Vision

Standing in front of the mirror, Priya glared at herself,her drained face and fatigued figure, which appeared to her like the lampoon of a circus troupe. The exhausted day she had might have reflected on herself, she thought. Thinking further she addressed herself, all the days she had the same schedule, same sleepless nights, how is it that she felt herself more drained out ,that day? As any lady would like to think, she also thought it could be because of her smudged vision. For the vision to be clear, one needs clarity, not an ophthalmologist, she hissed. I, who had a well-defined vision could hardly become half blind so sudden, she relaxed. Without any movement Priya stared at her own eyes. No, nothing can change my outlook, nobody can blemish my vision, she decided. She just presumed what perhaps might have blocked her vision.

She was just into herself more and more, without looking around. She just saw what she wanted to see, what she would like to see. She heard many voices around, but hearing some sounds she thought, was sheer waste of time. There are people around who would scream, shout, scatter and mutter about for fame, trying to redeem some personalities whom they don’t appreciate much, listening to all of them is like killing your senses! In her effort to concentrate more on what she thought inevitable to her, she unheard some of the important voices. She decided to widen her spectrum. Then how to avoid those irksome, unpleasant voices? She determined to be again deaf, towards them. She allowed her vision to move zigzaggingly, than letting them to wander linearly.

The little cleared vision of her then told her not to chase for money. Money can substitute things and people, but it does create barricades which hinder their easy movement sometimes. How, she enquired. With a grin the mirror replied,’ it’s because it blocks your inner vision.’ Elaborating further, it explained her that pathetic process of money madness. Chasing money, people do everything possible to explore ways of accumulating it. When luxuries add to their coziness, they only looked at people either being rich or poor. What defines success is your social status, what decides your status is the money and luxury you have, what an irony! Shamefacedly she stared at herself, trying to clear her vision.

Then what defines success? She asked her smudged reflection. Do you have friends, I mean trustworthy friends, it asked. Roaring laughing, she asked her reflection to remove the adjective it used to describe her friends. Having known it before, it stood by her helplessness in that matter. Unite human, possess trustworthiness. These two lets you grow up healthily, it said. Priya was lost in thoughts again.

In ancient times, people though lacked academic education, had a non-differential attitude. They had high moral values, their outlook was more clear. They led a life based on Vedas, Epics…they were god-fearing. Priya remembered her great grand parents, who were respected all over for their wisdom and humanity. Perhaps, those two should move parallel in a human, she finalised.

Ashamedly, she thought of her own generation and the generations yet to come. No self- fear, no repentance, nothing…Suddenly she vanished from the sight of the mirror, and got back within no time with a piece of cloth and clean water to wipe off the smoky shades of the mirror. Wonder! when she glared at herself again in the mirror, she appeared crystal clear to herself as an angel.

Women and Her Shadow

The little girl in me was most gratified when I could reflect myself over the shadow of the moon. As a child, anybody would cherish doing it with great sense of accomplishment, no matter how often they do it. Never would that girl in me have thought she had to undergo pains to get over those differently shaped , demon-like shadows of her life.Haunted by these shadows, I lost my peace of mind, my freedom to speak and act, my freedom to think , I lost myself. Finally, I decided to have only my shadow left, reflecting it on things, not otherwise. That very thought gave me goosebumps, for a while I lost again to myself wondering how marvellous it would be when I , the girl in me, the lady in me and ultimately , the woman in me can leave my shadow on still things and on floating objects.

It’s not easy for a woman to dispatch her shadow. Even after her death, the shadow hesitates to move on. Shadows do not haunt a man as much as it haunts a woman. At a later stage in his life he will have a shadow, of his own, which he would want to be reflected on others. My decision to get rid of the numerous shadows wasn’t planned well in advance. Just an accidental decision it was. When the woman in me could not watch on the puppet shows happening around , she thought, that decision would save her from casualties. But then she didn’t know how. There was nobody whom she could have approached, at a stage she attempted for that too, but everyone around her thought it wise to be part of such shows. A woman must cope with such situations, for her sake, for the family’s sake, they said. For the norms of the society doesn’t allow her to be out of the periphery of the shadow encircling her.

She clang to her decision. Every effort of distancing the shadow had a counter reaction. When reactions had counter reactions, she arrived at easy solutions. Reflections ceased to chase her. Gradually she found her own reflection. The first sight of her reflection wasn’t as beautiful as her attitude, she started liking it still.When she coloured it with different shades of valour, its beauty reflected onto herself. She relished the sight of it. The shadow made several attempts to come back strongly, but she didn’t yield. She brought her kids up not allowing them chase any shadows, taught them to make one on their own.

Years later when she looks back presuming to have killed her shadow, she had questions again. She has perpetually succeeded in chasing away those phantoms, but the women around? Plenty of them live in cocoons built by conventions, people and the like shadows. When do they take the sublime step? Do they even plan? As there is a saying,

There’s but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous…don’t flip.

An Illustration of Words

Words, the only means of breaking a prolonged silence! But, why are we silent when we have words in our stock? Because words can hurt. It can make us feel elated too, but why aren’t we happy if it is not nicely executed or if it has implied meanings, why do we become restless? Yes, we have it in plenty, shan’t we limit its use? The caricatures I bump into daily concrete my belief that words too feel shameful. Our free tongue can be controlled not to spit venom, if we have one. Words are not to be thrown to assassinate other’s characters, they are not be used only to speak ill of others in their absence. Words that always irritate, words that always blame, words that slay the throat of our friends, words that always pretend innocence, tongues that blabber, throats that sing boring songs, tongues that scandal, shan’t you cease?

Surrounded by the slaying tongue
paralysed did I become, panting for every breath,
poisoned daggers, dipped in colours
pierced right on my heart, not my rebellious mind.
They peeked for me to fall, searched I for the pillars
just to hold tight, I found the one erected by Him.
She , he and many more scornfully smiled
again wagging their venomous veils 
You bold, stern, serious and straight forward
should lay in the ditch dug by us now and hence.
Staring straight and up I stood, for He grabbed me
to place me more strong and bold,
where I strolled with a generous and determined
attitude, not many could chase me where I 
just strode with patience, built in years.
The innocent smiles which I see now
Makes me strong, fearless and daring.
 
Words are to carefully used , everyone has their dignified lives which they would like to live with much easiness. Accepting the truth that, sincerity and kind- heartedness always lives in a fearless mind to make it immortal,would probably help them revive. Shockingly but gradually these words become garlands of serpents that tighten their own thick necks.

A Feminist Mind

Speaking of a mind may seem easy, but speaking of a mind owned by a feminist seems to be time consuming. Framing a critical study could be rather easy than making an untrue effort to understand her mind. When she tries to express herself, when she reasons, when she inquires, when she tries to be equal or taller, when she believes in herself, and ultimately when she proves herself…a feminist as she’s labelled by the public, is in the making.

The particular way in which a mind receives treatment given by those around is purely judgemental. Why is it that a girl , as a child and in phases later has to hear reminders about her gender limiting her capabilities, freedom of movement, adaptability and face restrictions? Both the sex is bound by restrictions, but more blessed is a girl when she’s the only one empowered with numerous divine ‘weapons’. I have had questions in my mind when the elderly ladies in our joint family said a girl shouldn’t sleep until too late in the morning! If she does break taboos, it causes destruction to the whole family! If she has a brother, only she is expected to make most of the adjustments. Why is it that she has to function within a frame and multi-sacrifice?Haven’t you had questions?

There are many who are willing to surrender. They have already accepted it as the way of their life, and then curse fate! Fate is what you create for yourself, you can always alter it. You need not fight for your space, if it’s provided. Unless, you may have to keep that spirit of regaining the lost space.

When Virginia Woolf spoke of her struggle to fight with a certain phantom and establish her own identity as a woman writer killing the Angel of the House to make a room of her own, despite of her wealthy origin in the 20th century, we all admired her. Also remember the classic feminist literary criticism, The Madwoman in the Attic, portraying women’s identity in female fiction and poetry by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. They showcase how the Victorian female writers, just as the male writers, were lost to deal only with the two stereotypical faces of women characters, Angels and Monsters. Contextually, I remembered these bibles.

Starve a person, break his flesh
until he is reduced
to skin and bones, 
and yet he will live
with attention.          
I must linger on,
trapped in immorality,
my only freedom being
the freedom to decompose.  ( Kamala Das: Composition)

Shall we decompose thus? When are we becoming sensible? How are we trying to be ourselves? This is not a cry or fight, when we mutually respect the worthiness in human, accept every body as part of it, we may not have to let out further cries. Till then let’s speak of our minds…

“But this freedom is only a beginning-the room is your own, but it’s still bare. It has to be furnished;it has to be decorated;it has to be shared. How are you going to furnish it, how are you going to decorate it? With whom are you going to share it, and upon what terms? These I think are questions of the utmost importance and interest.” (Professions for Women- a speech Virginia Woolf gave on January 21, 1931, for the National Society for Women’s Service).

The Blatant Cry

Heard an incessant, furious female voice ,
She seemed frenetic, mightily she screamed,
The bewildered trees instantly bent their proud heads,
The whirling wind thither ed wildly circling the surface,
Gathered every bit of the earth twirl  up in the air.

Her tears splashed to adore the earth
 with numerous crowns, crowns of sorrow, dejection, 
And desperation. I rushed out only to hear
Her cry, gathered myself to ask her of her sorrow.
Booming aloud,replied she,Hey human, you,

You're the reason for my shapeless fall,
Vociferous cry, you elevated my troubles,
While I erased yours, washed away your worries.
      
      I dived into, just to see her fuming face,
     Yelled out another helpless cry while I recognised her,
      As that of the summer rain!
      
 



Kamala Das: The Mistaken Identity-II

Having titled my previous article the way I did, When I googled yesterday to find out few images of kamala, I came across another article which bears the same title. Though I am still unfamiliar with the stuff given under that title, I felt little embarrassed. The immediate thought was to rename my part two edition, which I am currently implementing. God save me, for I hope there are no more stuff which has my new title.

You can never anticipate people around you to understand you the way you would want them to, the best thing you can do is to be true to yourself being sincere and god fearing. Speaking your mind is no sin, speaking your experience is also no sin! Projecting yourself as a holy figure, doesn’t satisfy the soul inside you. One thing Kamala was particular about her writing is to be true to it, as I slightly touched upon, yesterday. Her personal experiences weren’t faked ones. Any woman who grew up in a similar background may run into the very same situations. So, before any body criticise, don’t be judgemental unless you study them. As men say, it’s not easy to understand a lady’s true emotions, may be that it’s beyond them. Kamala’s poems were too full of honesty.

Don't write in English, they said,
English is not your mother tongue. Why not leave 
Me alone,critics,friends,visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? It's half English,half
 Indian, funny perhaps, but it's honest, 
It's as human as I am human, don't 
You see? (An Introduction-1965). 

An Introduction goes further to expose the more true and honest Kamala. She describes her body, her marriage, her husband , rather it's one of Kamala's exclusive poem, exhibiting every bit of her shattered self.  

I am sinner, I am saint. I am the beloved and the betrayed. 
I Have no joys which are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

While Kamala concluded thus, an introduction virtually became a beginning, a beginning of many don’ts and controversies. The poems she wrote between 1965-67, around 25 of them were focused on themes of love, longing, loneliness, desolation and sometimes death. ‘The Descendants’, a series of 14 poems, showcased a matured, still wanting- for- love mind of Kamala.

The Old Playhouse and Other Poems by Kamala in 1973, about five poems immortalised the mother’s mind in Kamala and sometimes her obligations as a wife. Towards 1984 and beyond Kamala’s spiritual mind turned to one seeking love from Lord Krishna, projecting herself as Radha. She wrote about Mortal Love(1991) and how she faced her father’s death. It also saw the composition of the famous Anamalai poems, a series of ten poems. Only the soul Knows How to Sing(1996) series shows her dreariness and worn out mind, ready to succumb. The Circus, from Kavya Bharathi familiarise the readers about the Old Kamala, still lonely, anticipating death. A number of poems from her Closure(2009) express the poet as the one awaiting death, accepting the realities of life.

Call me callous
Call me selfish
But do not blame my blood
So thin,so clear,so fine,
The oldest blood in the world (Blood).
 
Speaking about her own ancestral blood, which is fine and clear, she chose to bear the burden of all the mistakes she claimed to have possessed, only on her shoulders. But Kamala, you gave voice to a million unheard female voices...you never die, you're immortal.
 

Remembering Kamala Das

The time since my literary senses began to mould the myself in me, I have been quite familiar with the questions and cross-questions that might have shaped in a feminist writer like Kamala Das’s mind when she , for the first time in Indian English Literature, celebrated womanhood, criticised the superiority of the opposite sex in conventional Hindu families and gave the desires of women a definite shape. Yes, when a woman expressed her sexual desires, her feminine self, she was branded as anti-social and immoral. Centuries differ, but minds don’t easily alter. My attachment with Kamala (her poems, short-stories, novels) began when I started finding myself in her, rather the striking similarity of thoughts we share. It’s quite accidental, no imitation or something if you want to name it that way, maybe because the backgrounds we shared were the same. That outspoken, fearless nature kamala had, to be precise, her disregard for the conventions, taboos on subjects sensational, her intense depiction of personal self, are genres where I draw a match to her.

This is how K. Sachidandan(a renowned Malayalam novelist) has written, as a blurb to her autobiography, My Story(published in 1973): “I can’t think of any other Indian autobiography that so honestly captures a woman’s inner life in all its sad solitude, its desperate longing for real love and its desire for transcendence, its tumult of colours and its turbulent poetry.” Enumerating her story in 50 chapters(English Version), Kamala keeps her readers on the edge of their seats, drawn into a charming and intriguing life of love and longing, of desire and disloyalty. First published(serialised in a weekly) in Malayalam, the autobiography, shook the prudish Malayali community and its orthodox readers soon branded Kamala as a seductress. The access to read her story was denied to the young girls( reference: Sachidanandan).

Kamala has always been controversial,till date(yes, after her death too). She has always been misunderstood, by men, women also, the conservative, purely traditional women. She dropped a controversial hint, at many a place throughout her writing, her interviews. Truth, in its true sense is often controversial.

“Today, let this paper receive my dripping blood. Let me write like one not in the least burdened by the thoughts about the future, turning each word into a negotiation with my life lived so far. I like to call this poetry.” The opening page of My Story is right into the flesh of the readers, touching those zones untouched so far, being true to the core. In one of her poems, Anamalai, she beautifies her body, she was conscious of the ultimate moment when her bones and flesh would announce to the world man’s mortality through its pungent odours. She’s so honest that she tears her own self image into pieces. She has made no attempt to project herself as a super woman.

At six, Kamala started writing poems. The one on dolls without heads that remained headless for eternity suggests her childhood loneliness, the trauma she underwent which haunted her lifelong. Perhaps Kamala was lost in that land of alienation and sense of fleetingness with everyone around her. This is where, Kamala and I draw another match!

In one of her interviews with the legendary Takazhi Shivashankara Pillai( Author of the classic novel, Chemmeen ), Kamala was seen intriguing the legend about his tastes and most influential literary figures, especially Russian literary figures. Whenever I read and write on my gender, my emotions, my fantasies, often Virginia Woolf crosses my mind, who had influenced Kamala too. Chekhov, Flaubert, Maeterlinck, Katherine Mansfield had their share of impact on Kamala’s thoughts and writing.

I don’t touch her poetry in this episode. I only wish more of Kamala cast a spell on me!

  • I have taken the reference of K Sachidanandan while drafting this as it is an exclusive guide to Kamala’s autobiography.

Into the Shades

Those murky sheets of grass blankets
Whose lap I gazed at the heights of the blue
Whom I whispered my sorrowful mirth
Who cradled  the immature d mind in me.
Growing with You, I fell in love with
The the green velvet cloak you wore sometimes
And sometimes yellow, the dusky shade of your skin
The lean coniferous canopy bed you made 
Under the shade of which you made me sleep
When sick and distressed, the crimson Sun's 
Orange shades you  thew in to drape my dusky body
That brook with which you glittered my pale garb
The songbirds that rejoiced and wept with me
That sand bed which nursed my soft feet
Where I learnt to walk, holding your long fingers
That long  silent conversations  and the long laughter
All of you  I ache for, take me into your shades....