Sometimes Iwonder why most of the suffering humans I come across happen to be women. Perhaps Ilook at the world with a tinted glass, with a feminist hue. Which makes women substantial, of flesh and blood, anchored in the centre of my visual span. While men, papery, ghost-like, float at the periphery.
Is my perception selective? Might be. But I don’t understand this process of selectivity. It is in my genes which make me perceive, make me feel so intensely about my own kind? Or is it in the environ — the women’s condition — which etch them on my mind?
I try hard. Yes, I do remember a few men whom I know closely. Who had suffered in life. Or are suffering. Of poverty, or disease, or circumstances. But their miseries I always ascribe either to fate or to their own failure. That’s not the case with women. Somehow I always find a man behind a suffering woman.
At times you find truth stranger than fiction. In fiction life appears a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces at least fit together, no matter how crooked and a pattern emerges, no matter how weird. But with truth! No way! There are moments you could simply gasp at reality and not grasp it at all.
It was a year back when my sister came to know through some one that Mr. Y. had taken a second wife. I refused to believe it. “It’s a lie. We just visited Mr. and Mrs Y. a few days back and they were both quite the same happy couple.”
“And who do you think is his second wife?” My sister ignored the remark and persisted. “How should I know?” “Try to guess.” Something dawned on me. “Oh God! Don’t tell me it’s her!”
The family is known to us for the last seven years or so. Though it’s not a very long period but they had been our next-door neighbours for four years. And we have a relatively close acquaintanceship with the family. The couple has two sons, aged 24 and 21.
Sometimes women can be their own worst enemy. Particularly when it comes to falling prey to the stereotype. For instance, it’s a generally held belief among women (forget men for a while) that ‘women are dull, uninteresting and stupid’. At most, they are ‘shrewd’ and ‘bitchy’. It hurts me when I find educated women holding the view.
I wouldn’t say all educated women harbour this notion. I know many women who judge people, whether men or women, on their individual worth, untarnished by prejudices, stripped off of stereotypes. Nonetheless, I’ve come across women, working and educated who have a rather negative opinion of women.
“Women bore me,” one told me with disdain, “they only talk of dresses and jewelry.” You might have forgiven her and let it go by sticking a label ‘so-called intellectual’ if you’ve ever heard her talking about things like Kant’s Criuque of Pure Reason or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch or watched her falling into a heated argument over USA’s foreign policy in Latin America or the games politicians play in Pakistan.
Women are strange beings. Suffering silently. Taking in whatever comes. You wonder if they are black holes — sucking inside the cruelty, the injustice. Without a whimper. With bruised souls, they continue to exist. Hidden from the ‘all-knowing’ male eye.
But at times your black hole metaphor collapses. Something happens. A rare event. They refuse to rake in any more. They explode. And the rebels are born.
They simply stand up and walk down the streets, picketing!
A rare phenomenon indeed, in the female population deprived of education. Pinned down by the hard issues of survival, they appear immovable. And their privileged few sisters rack their brains in vain to change their lot.
Did the traditional family of the past have a happy, blissful time? This question has intrigued me often. I hear from the elders, and read in books too, that once upon a time ‘They all lived under one roof. There was love and care and sacrifice. The human values were intact’, etc. etc.
I don’t refute the elders’ claim. In fact I find it very soothing to believe that once the world was a better place to live in. It makes me happy to know that people were once happy!
Being an urban woman — dweller of a concrete jungle — you get an idea of your rural counterparts — the women who inhabit vast lands and terraced mountains — only through crude statistics that tells you of their illiteracy, of their deaths during child-births, of their unpaid labour, of their harsh life.
It’s seldom that you have a glimpse of them, not spun out of the figures of statistical bulletins but of real encounters, no matter how brief, how abrupt.
When a marriage falls apart, who suffers? Either of the spouses, logically. The woman, most probably. But there are times when logic fails in our peculiar social scenario.
When I saw Aapalately, I was dumb struck. She looked like a ghost of her former self. From a plump, hefty woman she had been reduced to a skeleton. Dark circles had made her eyes sunk deep in her shriveled face. Her skin had broken into a rash and her body itched from eczema — a long suppressed ailment that re-surfaced with a ferocity.
There is something getting on my nerves day by day: it’s hypocrisy in our society and our life. Above all, in familial relationships. It makes me sick and I dread the day when it would rob me completely of my trust and pride and good feelings I have for the ‘family’.
The ‘family’ of the East has been so glorified and its accounts so studded with adjectives like ‘love’, ‘warmth’, ‘cohesiveness’, ‘stability’, etc., that it’s almost a sacrilege to point out any flaws, glaring or subtle. You can only talk about ‘the good’ and dare not contemplate ‘the bad and the ugly’.
And the last thing you can question is the parent-child relationship.
Of all the misfortunes that befall women in our society I think the hardest is an idle husband. A husband who doesn’t work, doesn’t earn, doesn’t do home chores, and neither does he go away and leave the woman (and kids) alone. A woman stuck with such a husband is in a quandary.
An idle husband (nikthatto shauher) is not an uncommon phenomenon in our society. Women suffer in silence accepting their condition as fate. They know the treatment of this diseased situation is divorce. But they don’t want a divorce because of the stigma attached.
“In women,” Bertrand Russell said, “zest has been greatly diminished by a mistaken concept of respectability”.
Zest is an in-born human capacity to enjoy life, to be interested in the world and the varied and the beautiful things it has to offer. In our society, I think, this basic human instinct is, to a large extent, killed in women not only by a mistaken concept of respectability but also by a distrust of men inculcated in women by men themselves.
Take for instance travelling. Not till very late, a woman’s going out of her house for pleasure was considered a horrible, ignoble act. Times have definitely changed. The women who have the opportunity and desire to travel in-land or abroad, do travel. Still, by and large, conventional thinking persists — that it’s dangerous for girls to travel unless they are duly chaperoned. Girls who do travel may have to face raised eyebrows and sarcastic remarks.