Political Stories by Volga

Political Stories-7 

Torment (Part-2)

          My brother threw a tantrum the next day for new clothes, With mother grew impatient with him reminding him that Was only Ago months ago that he had gotten new clothes For Deepavali. My brother began to grumble and cry. my father snapped at him, Why do you mumble and cry, like a girl? Say clearly what you have to say,” It confused me Why women had to be forbidden to laugh and made to cry, And it baffled me that crying was then considered a womanly, weak thing to do. I had a childless aunt then who lived six months of each year in our house. The only thing she ever did was holler at me and my mother. If she ever caught me in a happy mood she would go haywire.

          “Why is she so springy? Is there any reason why she is so high?” she asked one day. “That girl, she has been that way since the day she was born, always cheerful,” said mu pinni, the only relative who never said anything harsh to me Whenever somebody hit me or accused me of something she would draw me close to her and console me and say gently, “That’s not the way to do it, this is how.” If I asked why, she would tell me that I would understand when I was older. My aunt used to get wild whenever pinni stood by me and appreciated my spirited behavior. “Exactly, that is my question, why jump like that is what I am asking. She is a girl, isn’t she? Shouldn’t she behave like one? No respect, no obedience,” she would grumble. I remember so well chiming in, “Exactly, because I am a girl, I am happy like this,” tossing away the book in my hand and buzzing off like a honeybee, like a breeze. 

          I bet she never understood what I meant about being happy as a girl. But I didn’t know what I was saying either except I wanted to say something to spite her. One day the children of my neighborhood were playing together. We girls were swirling around fast until our parikinis rose up and then we would sit down quickly. Our parikinis landed around us, wide, looking like inverted baskets. It was great fun to watch the swirling, colorful cloth rising up and landing like baskets. We whirled around faster each time. I wasn’t sure whether it was curiosity or jealousy, but in any case, my neighbor, Raja, also wanted to wear a parikini like us and join in. I went into the house and brought him my red parikini and white jacket. He put them on and made ugly faces. “Chee, why are you making those faces?” I asked. “Oh, he is just feeling shy,” Radha said. “Oho! So this is what shy is! The other day my aunt was saying that shyness is the ornament for a girl. If you ask me, we should never make such ugly faces to be shy. Let’s take an oath we never will.” I can still see before my eyes our oaths of that day. In fact, I have never done anything to be shy about or ashamed of. I wasn’t shy the way I was expected to be. Things that were supposed to make me feel shy often made me feel proud. I managed to hide my pride for fear of the world, but I could not learn to be shy. With age, my body changed. I grew taller, my voice became softer, my chest rose and my waist narrowed. I was thrilled at the transformation, but everybody else seemed worried. I had no clue why.

          The girl is growing like a palm tree already at twelve. We shouldn’t wait anymore; she should start wearing an onnee maybe we should have done that at eleven, but it would be positively ugly to let her Walk around without an onnee until she is thirteen, my aunt mumbled to my mother at every chance. And my mother would appear worried for having birthed a girl that grew too tall for a twelve-year-old. Girls who grew up without wearing onnees Walked crooked with shoulders drooping forward. Even if they put on ones later, their hump never straightened out. I had always walked with a straight posture and my mother and aunt scolded me for not bending forward and lowering my head as I walked. They used to give me weird looks. When I was by myself or when I was taking a bath, I felt proud looking at my body. But at other times, however much I tried not to, I slumped. My body shriveled when people looked at me. People wanted me to be bashful and ashamed of my body. The struggle not to be, in spite of the pressure, was painful. Giving up the normal free movement of body and limbs, contracting and shrinking myself, taking small gentle steps, turning only the neck to look in different directions without moving my body, all these restraints that I had to impose on myself made it very difficult. Why did I have to do this to myself? Why did I have to kill my boundless enthusiasm and behave like a crumpled leaf? The bodies of women all around me were indeed like that, and gradually, even without my knowledge, my body, too, contracted.

          A strange thing happened when I was in the eighth grace During the math period the teacher gave us two problems.

          We were to solve the problems quickly and show him the results. He went back to his chair. I showed him my work but my neighbor Suseela just sat there though she had finally solving the problems. Everybody else in the class was done. The teacher noticed that Suseela was the only one left. She did not move even when he called her by her name.

          Why don’t you go,” I asked. But when the teacher raised his voice, she finally stood up and walked over to him. I was horrified at the red spots all over Suseela’s parikini. Finding blood all over the place where Suseela had been sitting. I let out a shriek. Everybody looked at it. Our teacher was disgusted and went on a tirade. He resented being in a class with girls of our age instead of teaching the fifth or sixth graders. Suseela was sent home immediately. The rest of the class was sent away to sit in another room. All I could think was that Suseela had done something that she shouldn’t have, something very bad. But what? I had no clue. My friend Sujatha and I talked about it later. “Suseela reached puberty. Every girl has to go through it, and you bleed when you reach it,” said Sujatha. “Really! Everybody! No chance of missing it at all?” “No. In fact, if you don’t get it, it is some kind of a disease. Besides, if you don’t reach puberty, you can’t have children.” I was amazed that Sujatha knew so much. But why was everybody so revolted at Suseela? If she didn’t bleed, she wouldn’t be able to have children. So why wasn’t she proud of her ability to have children? Why was she ashamed of it? Why was everybody putting her down? Neither of us found any answers to our questions. Sujatha thought that this was something to be ashamed of, some thing disgusting. I couldnot understand how we could live with a body if we were disgusted by it! One day, I had the very same experience:.”its come already -I was hoping it would be sometime next year, but, then, it runs in the family, her maternal aunt had it early too,” my mother complained when my aunt wasn’t around.

          “Now we have a stove burning on our chests. I am not sure how we’ll get it off,” my aunt sympathized with my father, I am not sure how father replied, but he did not come into the room where I was seated. I didn’t feel any shame that day, but I was afraid. It was worrisome not to know what was happening to my own body. But whatever it was, I wasn’t going to be ashamed of something that happened to all women. I felt no pain either. I didn’t cry like some other girls of my age. People around me were surprised at my behavior. Looking at me as I sat there with my head held high, my aunt pressed her cheeks with both of her hands and exclaimed, “Girls these days have neither fear, nor shame.” I grew bolder with her comments, getting over my initial fear and confusion. The warm red blood appeared to affirm that I was a woman. I felt happy that I had acquired some new power. I was proud.

          But the women who came to the perantam depressed me with their talk and planted fears and uncertainties in me. I was already confused and their ignorant remarks made it worse for me, leaving me feeling disappointed and scared. There was a huge argument about whether I should go to college. My family was not in a bad financial situation. My parents had no problem supporting my brother who was studying at Layola College in Bezawada and staying in the college hostel. But we had endless discussions about bether I could join the women’s college right here in town. “She has to be married and sent off one day. Why waste money on her education?” my father and aunt asked. Their attitude reminded me of an incident from my childhood. We had rented out two rooms of our house along with the large front yard to a woman. One day her relatives came to visit and brought her two coconut saplings. One of the visitors suggested planting them in the front yard since there was so much room. “Look at that! This is a rented house. Who knows where we will be by the time these plants come to fruit. It is a waste watering them and caring for them and have someone else enjoy the fruits eventually. You’re anyway traveling to Bezwada, why don’t you give them to my sister there. She owns the house she is living in, and if she plants these, there is a chance that she will send us some coconuts in our future,” said the tenant. My father and aunt had denounced that woman’s attitude, but when it came to my education, their attitude was exactly the same. Sending me to college was a waste of money, a benefit to somebody else. I was just a commodity, ready for sale. Profit and loss were the only worthwhile considerations in this matter. They seemed to have forgotten that I was a human being who needed to grow, learn and flourish. For some reason, my mother was inclined to send me to college, but she couldn’t do much without my father’s agreement. In the end, after arguing a lot, crying and threatening to starve and worse, I did manage to join college. The atmosphere at the women’s college was quite nice and supportive. The college had a huge playground, plenty of sports equipment and even a good physical trainer, I was happy again and participated in many sports, but that didn’t go over well with my parents. I had to go to the college early in the morning to participate in sports, and had if stay back an hour of two in the evening I could not just skip classes and play: In fact, I didn’t like skipping classes either; I was just as interested in my education as I was in sports. My Father was adarant that I should go to the college and return home strictly on time. I never came home without playing for at least an hour after classes and it usually resulted in a huge argument at home. Though I didnt give up sports, the arguments at hore did drain my enthusiasm. I did manage to pick up quite a few trophies in the year-end sports competitions, but nobody at home appreciated it.

          I usually walked to college with four other neighborhood girls and we passed by a boys’ college on our way. All along our path, boys used to trail us making jokes and passing comments on our looks. We would usually get upset at their remarks, but, sometimes, we laughed at them. One day, a very handsome boy was standing at the gate of our college. Just one look at him excited me. My mind and body felt lighter and I kept looking at him. Sujatha nudged me with her elbow and dragged me inside. “Isn’t he handsome?” I asked, still thinking about him. “Shut up,” she said sharply. “Why? You don’t like him?” “Don’t talk like that. Somebody might hear us. We should be talking like that about boys.”

          we compliment them? They talk about our looks all the time. Why can’t we talk about them?” “You always come up with these weird questions ” sighed sujatha “Don’t you know we will be called bad girls if we talk about boys and their looks?”

          it’s true that a lot of girls never looked directly at boys. They would keep their heads bent forward, and roll up their eves to peek at the boys or look at them from the corners of their eyes. Some girls never lifted their heads. I never understood the reason for this stealth. Why not look directly? Why was it bad to look straight at a boy? These thoughts confused me and left me flustered whenever I came face to face with boys. I hesitated to look at them directly, but I could not, and did not want to look at them stealthily. As a result I was confused and anxious. Just as I was writing my PUC exams, my father announced that this would be the end of my education. Efforts were under way to look for an alliance for my marriage. Some of my friends were already married by then, some were planning to continue studies, and others were waiting for matches. “You’re beautiful. There will be no problem for you. It won’t be long before you find a match,” said Karuna. Karuna was quite tall, almost six feet. At the college, everybody made jokes about her, and the boys on the street teased her with all sorts of nicknames. Her folks were worried about her prospects for marriage. People who complimented tall boys sneered at the height of girls. This wasn’t a problem for Karuna only. Nearly every one of my friends was worried about something or the other. Some were too fat, others too thin, and their worries were all about marriage. None of them ever felt proud of their intelligence or the strength of their bodies. the all consuming thought was whether they were beautiful enough to snag a groom and they always worried that they might not be.

          it was two years after my PUC that a match was final, Jettied for me. The marriages of my friends That i witnessed over the previous two years had left me depressed, Frightened and disgusted. Fortunately I didn’t waste those two years. During the first year I learned typing and shop hand and found a job as a typist at the college that I had attended. Quite to my surprise, my father had not objected to my taking up the job as much as my aunt had. “It is  just here in our town, in the girls’ college, what’s the harm?”he argued, convincing her. The fact that he was more aware of the value of money might have helped.

          At the time my brother also stayed at home attending the medical school in our town. Everybody paid a lot of attention to him, valued his opinion and approved of whatever he did. We weren’t quite two years apart, but the difference in the way everybody treated us made me feel much smaller. “Well, he is male and his studies are important,” said my father, mother and aunt whenever they backed him up. However responsible I was in doing household chores, however much he ignored household work, he was respected more. It is hard to describe the struggles I went through just to keep my head up in the face of constant put downs by people around me. I believe many girls struggled like I de It was never very busy at work. I spent my time with books borrowed from the library, waiting to get married But I was too scared to daydream about marriage and about the man who would enter my life. What is marriage? Will I change much after marriage? Will I be cut off from my folks and my home and belong to someone else after marriage? Will I be myself after that?” Sometimes the uncer painties left me dejected. Other times, I hoped to get married soon.

          finally everybody approved of an alliance. The suitor was lecturer at a college in my hometown of Guntur. Handsome. I would say, and I liked him. The wedding cerem was over and the first few days after the wedding were spent quite happily in comforting him and being comforted. I was quite pleased with myself as a woman in pleasing him, and enjoying sex; I was eager for it. Though I didn’t pay much attention to it initially, it wasn’t long before I noticed that my behavior agitated my husband. I was astonished to hear him say that it was unnatural for a woman to desire sexual pleasure. I was aware from reading books and watching movies that it was men who first ask for it; the women act shy, but ultimately the men prevail in getting what they want. However, it somehow didn’t occur to me that I should behave that way. I didn’t realize I should hide my desire and pretend to have none. That I should feign to be uninterested in sex, and behave as if I did it just to please him. I kissed him when I had the urge. I would go to him on my own and take him into my arms. He would be uncomfortable about it. Gradually I realized that my behavior raised suspicions in him about my character. I made strenuous attempts to suppress my desire, but depriving my body of the pleasures it so naturally desired left a void. So, was my body to be used just for his pleasure?Any attempt I made satiate the desires of my body why did it imitate hif and ruin him I couldnt Figure it out Flow did it come about that only the woman who doesnt talk about her deSires is good? Why should it be bad to talt about desires that occur naturally?

          It was during the days I was battling with these questions that I came to know I was pregmant. On the day that I learney Iwas going to be a mother, I was elated. My spirit took to the skies. But in addition to the immense joy, somewhere inside me also lurked fear. What will happen now? How will my fetus grow? I realized very quickly how little I knew about my own body: Neither did I know how to learn more. But my body didn’t wait for me; my tummy kept growing. It used to be quite satisfying to feel the movements of the fetus in my tummy. The whole world appeared beauti Life was beautiful, I felt. I looked at everybody around me with love and kindness. I was eager for the birth of the child who was growing inside me. I used to wake up at night when I felt the baby kick inside my stomach. Placing my hand on the stomach, I would lie there peacefully, feeling proud that my body was nourishing my baby. Yet in the back of my mind lurked the fear of the unknown. I did not clearly know what was happening Nor did I know whom to ask about it and what to ask. My doctor never gave me a chance to express my concerns. One day I gathered enough courage to talk about my fears and she brushed me aside. She thought I was just wasting her time with meaningless questions. I left the doctor’s office in confusion. She was a woman, too; why didn’t she sympathize with my concerns and fears? What about my mother and aunt? They were women. Why did they ignore me, and think so little of themselves, as well?

          The day finally arrived. How hard it was to bring the baby into the while I thought I might even die.

          what if I died? All that mattered was that the baby was born healthy, I thought. A sharp pain developed around my waist and traveled un toward the lower abdomen. The pain was entirely physical, with no strain on the mind. Recurring every five minutes, it was a unique experience. “How long will this continue?” I asked the nurse. She replied that the pain had to recur two to three times a minute. “I am scared. What will happen?” I asked the nurse. “Nothing to worry. This happens to every woman. Hang in there for a bit more, you will be fine,” said the nurse, with a smile. The atmosphere in that room was strange to me and frightening. A cold steel table, various kinds of instruments, nurses rushing in and out, smell of lotions, and huge overhead lamps – they scared me. I longed for someone to stand by me and talk to me. The staff here wouldn’t allow anybody in. My husband didn’t even know that I had been brought there; I was brought in from my parents’ home. They didn’t want to bother him; he would be informed after the delivery was over. Even if he had been told, I wasn’t sure he would have come to see me at this time of the night. A huge task before me and I was there all alone. Not even a comforting word of support.


(To be Continued-)


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