I sat staring at those words for a long time. “Is there a place in the world you never want to visit? Why?” Is there such a place? Is there somewhere I would never want to go? I, who love traveling, and rue the fact that I am not able to travel as much as I would like to. I, who waited and waited for that coveted onsite opportunity to come, for years, and when it finally did come, was not able to take it? Would I not love going to those foreign lands, discovering new cultures and people? Why, even within my own country, there is so much to see and do. For one can never have enough of India. So is there a place I would not like to visit in India? No, I do not think so.
One would not want to visit a place only if one has unpleasant memories or negative feelings associated with it. And try as hard as I may, I am not able to zero in on one place that gave me negative feelings. My schools, Ajji’s home, the houses we lived on rent throughout my school days before moving into one of our own, college (even though there were some unpleasant memories attached there), my workplaces… nopes. No luck there. All these are places I would love to go back to again and again, for these are places that made me what I am today.
So is there really no place I never want to visit? As I sat racking my brains, it hit me. I had recently finished reading “Listening Now” by Anjana Appachana, and there in, within those pages, lay my answer.
Listening Now, is by far the only book, that has literally wrenched my heart out, squeezed it and punched it and kicked it before letting me put it back where it belongs. It is a powerful narrative of all that goes inside an average Indian woman’s mind. Not high class, not intellectual, not glamorous, it is a peek into the minds of women like me, my mother, her mother, and thousands and thousands of others like us. An uncomfortable peek at that. For the book lays bare each and every thought that passes inside a woman, has passed for generations before us, and will pass for generations to come. It is a book about what women think, what women expect, and how those expectations are never put adequately into words, or when they are, they tend to become a nag. It is the story of how we ourselves comply to stereotypes, automatically, without even thinking about it, and then how we rave and rant about them, or accept them as out fate. The book talks about what sexuality means to Indian women, and to the men as well, and how a woman’s sexual urges and desires are never given consideration, leave alone satisfied.
The book is set in the 1950s and 1960s, my mother’s generation, but many of things are relevant even to us. To cite an example, how women always reserve the best made rotis, the best pieces of chicken, that extra piece of sweet, for the men of the house – be it husband, or father, or brother or son. How women let everyone else eat and almost always eat the leftovers. I would like to think that the situation is changing, and maybe it truly is in some sections of the society, but in many, the reality is, that it is not. There are women who go hungry because their son wanted their share of the meal too. Listening now talks of all these and more. Listening now, in the process of telling a story, digs deep into the recesses of one’s heart, and throws out inconvenient truths that we ourselves fail to acknowledge.
Now that is the place I would never want to visit, if at all I can avoid it. Those deep recesses, not just of my heart, but of countless women who have silently labored behind the backs of their men to hold together their family, to make their homes comfortable, all the while suffering taunts, accusations and ignominy at the hands of those whom they work for, never once crying out in pain. Those recesses hold innumerable worms of pain, wriggling, nagging and itching within the heart. The darkness there is more black, the silence too loud. If I entered those recesses, I am afraid I will drown in those miserable currents.
Still, I cannot stay away from those recesses. I cannot gloss over the truth, and pretend to myself that all is well. I do have to acknowledge that those recesses exist, and will continue to exist no matter what we do about them. In one way or the other. Maybe in future the mother-in-laws will not taunt their bahus anymore, yet, there will be other threats to their dignity that women will have to experience. And experience they will, and store them all, consciously or unconsciously, in the recesses of their mind. And deep in those recesses I will understand a woman’s life, my life, as it really is.
This post was written for Project 365 program at We Post Daily. The prompt for today was “Is there a place in the world you never want to visit? Where, and why not?”.