Anawnimiss is dead

I opened my neglected, timeworn blog half-expecting messages that go “where are you” and “hope you’re okay” and “I’m worried for you”. And when I found nothing, I didn’t really know what to do with the knowledge that nobody – not one person – cares if I’m suddenly gone.

It was hard to accept, but after a week of wallowing in self-pity I’ve realized what a jerk I have been all this while, disappearing again and again for months together without a word about where I’m going or why, or if and when I’ll be back.

Here’s the thing – I haven’t said anything because I didn’t know how to explain how I’ve been feeling lately. The illusion of the freedom my anonymity affords me has, over time, degenerated into a bitter, painful sense of isolation from the *real* world where other *real* people live.

Besides, would I choose anonymity if I were a man? I don’t think I would. Like Woolf said, through most of history, anonymous was a woman.

So I’m done with anonymity, and I’m done hiding.

Call me Priyanka, will you?

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of grief

I’ve told D a hundred times since the divorce – you’ll always be family to me. I’ve meant it every single time. I’m his family, whether or not he wants me to be.

I couldn’t think of a reason why I should be upset over the death of his mother (other than the fact that I lived with her for a few years), but I went anyhow. He needs his entire family around, I kept telling myself, even though he won’t say so.

My eyes welled up as soon as I saw a distant relative (a random one, not even someone I knew well) from across the road. As I got closer, other people shifted into focus. Bhaiya. Bhabhi. Didi. Mamaji. One of the other daughters-in-law, the one whose kid used to have an imaginary dinosaur as a pet. The four-year old kid who was so smitten with how I looked as a bride that she slept in our bed for the first few days, suddenly towering above a lot of elders, who had now begun to stoop. Everyone looked different.

I saw dad sitting in a corner with his hands folded, eyes closed, and head bowed, stoically listening to the hymns that were being sung. And then I saw D’s older brother, looking just like dad. I was surprised I never noticed the striking similarity when I lived in their home.

I heard murmurs. People were talking about how the ex-daughter-in-law had decided to show up. I avoided making eye contact for as long as I could, but I could feel the sides of my face burn with the attention. It was almost as though they were shocked that I came and were waiting for me to betray some emotion.

I think I did a pretty good job of staying stone-faced through the ceremony, but my walls crumbled the second the priest asked the family to step up.

I wanted to stand up but I couldn’t – I have considered myself family for ten years. I still call his father papa, his sister didi, and his brother bhaiya. I never stopped. I had been worried about his mother’s health for months before she finally passed. Why must I stop now?

Because the day I decided to leave D, I crossed some kind of invisible line out of that family.  

On my way home, it occurred to me.

She was nearly seventy when she had objected to the length of my knee length skirt. It was too short by her standards. I was late three nights every week.

She had pestered me about the undercooked onions so much that I pushed myself to learn to cook them perfectly. I now make the best baingan bharta Mister claims he’s ever had.

She tried to teach me how to make amla sherbet. I didn’t want to learn until one day, many years later, I was no longer living with her and I wanted to have some. I tried a recipe off the internet, but it never tasted as good.

She told me every time I pulled out a saucepan to make tea, wash it first. I got upset every single time because she never waited to see if I would wash it on my own. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I wouldn’t do it if she hadn’t told me.

She hated it when I bought a red bedsheet, one I thought she would like, for the diwan in the living room. It’s too bright, she had said, while she sat on the diwan, munching on muskmelon seeds. I stormed out of the room, convinced that she was being mean on purpose because she was sitting on a red bedsheet that she had bought. Years later, I exclaimed, ‘my eyes! my eyes!’ when Mister’s mom pulled out a bedsheet the exact shade of red.

When I got home, my eyes were burning with everything I had held back for two days. It’s been a week, and though still don’t really miss her, I am grieving.

Okay, I’m done with this shit.

Recently, one of my domestic helps took a couple of days off without calling me first, and I instantly knew something was wrong. She showed up at my doorstep the third day, with a blue-black eye and a swollen lip.

Apparently, her drunk husband beat her up because he wanted sex, and she asked him to wear a condom, or fuck off. She took a beating because she took a stand, and he fucked her anyway.

This, coming from a man who was filled with rage when he heard about the Nirbhaya incident. They had no right, he had said to his wife, over and over, shaking his head. And yet, he thought that marriage entitled him to use his wife’s body however he wanted, and therefore he felt entirely justified in hitting her. I am a good husband, I deserve good sex, he told her in the morning.

What bothers me is that this is not an incident that took place in isolation.

I grew up in a household where it was normal for mom to cook and clean even if she was unwell or tired. The children were her responsibility, too – and trust me the three of us didn’t make it easy. Dad would just come home and start making demands – tea had to be ready within five minutes of him asking for it, dinner had to be served at nine, and mom had to run from the kitchen to the bedroom (where he ate) with hot ghee-smeared chapatis on a small plate. Then she would clear his plate, and give him water. Next, she would serve us dinner. She always ate in the end.

Now, it would be unfair to let you assume that dad wanted hot chapatis. He said, hundreds of times, that he’d prefer it if all of us sat together and ate, but she kept doing it anyway out of a sense of duty. I remember him getting so, so angry because he had left some documents on the dining table and then couldn’t find them. Somehow, it was mom’s responsibility too – never mind that he had actually kept them elsewhere!

If mom was traveling for work, I was given clear instructions on what he does and does not eat, how much ghee he likes on his chapatti, and where I should keep his documents should he forget to file them.

See what I’m talking about?

In our culture there is an implicit assumption that men are somehow superior to women and they deserve good sex, hot food, an orderly house, and well-behaved children. Men, just because they are men, deserve female nurturance, whatever the circumstances, throughout their lives.

Think mother, sister, wife, daughter – we’re all just side actors in the story of a man’s life. He has prerogatives and we have obligations within the family structure. We exist only because He needs us.

Enough of this shit. Things change, TODAY. I’m letting my six month old son know as soon as he’s able to understand.

What about you?

Eight

Childhood was so perfect! Sometimes I wish I could be eight again, she said. More freedom.

Freedom from what? I asked, curious.

Freedom from having to think twice about everything I say or do, of course, she giggled. You know how it is with in laws – they find reasons to get offended. I would fight back, but my husband does not tolerate that kind of stuff. Plus I can’t wear what I want anymore – can’t just step out to go meet a friend when I feel like it.

I understood.

R came from the ideal family – doting parents, independent children, enough money to keep squabbles at bay. I was jealous of the way her parents spoke to her, always lovingly and with concern. She married her college sweetheart and has the most well-behaved children but the most boring life.

Me, I come from a far-less-than-ideal family that liked to pretend otherwise. My parents hated each other’s guts, and ours. We were the reason why they had to stay together – this was my mother’s ultimate sacrifice, and we were painfully aware of the burden our existence was for her. But if you were to look at our photographs from back then, you’d see only oblivious children with glazed, glassy eyeballs. You’d have no idea how fucked up we really were. I grew up to become a socially awkward person with the decision-making ability of a saucepan.

 

And now, in my thirties, I am finally discovering what it is like to think and feel like an eight year old – a luxury I didn’t have in 1990. (Because when I was eight, I was battling agony, indignation, confusion, self-loathing, betrayal; and a few years later, even arousal.)

I am filled to the brim with love and contentment. I am truly happy for the first time in my life. Not because I have a family that loves me – but because I am finally able to understand and love myself.

Maybe my childhood is only just beginning. Maybe I was meant to live my life in reverse.

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What about you? Are you happier now that you are an adult? Do you miss your carefree childhood? Did you have a carefree childhood?

 

of tails that wag

When I first moved in with Mister, Sugar would greet me every morning with a happy wag of the tail and a cursory but tell-tale lick on the hand. She would wait in the room until I got out of bed, and then proceed to follow me around as I carefully avoided reading the newspaper. She would wait patiently for me to pet her. I would often sit on the floor, resting my back on the ugly-ass black leatherite sofa in the living room, and Sugar would promptly sit down next to me, touching me just a little bit.

She’d growl if I got up before I finished my tea. She’d whimper if I ate before passing on a morsel of whatever it was I was eating to her. She’d follow me around like a puppy, because she became one when she was with me. She was having fun, being in the here-and-now.

Now, she’s eleven. She has cataracts in her eyes and no energy in her body. All she can manage to do in the morning is walk up to my bedroom and crumple in a heap near the door. She doesn’t lick me or wag her tail anymore, or whimper or growl at me for not giving her attention. She just drags her feet trying to be in the same room. He favorite treat, ice-cream, goes untouched. Now, I’m no longer sure if she’s enjoying the here-and-now so much.

We recently had her uterus removed. And then, right after her surgery, we discovered that there was a tumor in her breast. We don’t know if it’s cancerous yet, but what if it is? The doctor says she may not make it, and it may be kinder to “put her down”.

Most of my life I thought – hell, I knew I was against euthanasia. Not on religious grounds – because god knows I’m not religious at all; but because I don’t think it’s ethical. And here I am, entertaining the thought that maybe Sugar would be better off dead than dying. It seems, suddenly, the more humane thing to do.

But is it ok to even consider euthanasia just because we’re talking about a dog and not a human being? A pet, however old, is still like a baby – completely dependent on us human beings for their survival, unable to speak their minds, unable to give consent.

I wouldn’t request a doctor to put down a terminally ill baby, so why Sugar? What makes it ok for me as a human being to assume superiority over a being not even from my own species?

Have you ever been faced with this situation? What would you do?