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When a woman's marital home, where she tries to "belong" to a man and his world, becomes alienating and full of bondage
It was only after my divorce that I realized what my home had been and what the concept of a home that I had failed to build and lost was. I had grown up watching this concept with some amount of fascination and trepidation but no understanding at all throughout my childhood as I watched my parent’s inter-religious and inter-community marriage negotiate and balance its vulnerable edges on each other’s shoulders with respect and trust.
This lack of understanding on my part had made me depend on my husband completely after marriage because I wanted to belong to a home that would love me and include me; I wanted to belong to him, just as my parents had belonged to each other with a vengeance that had excluded the world, me included. This dependence made me an emotional cripple simply because I didn’t belong to my husband’s world; simply because I couldn’t belong to him by virtue of being an outsider to his world; simply because I was a hybrid, a product of an inter-religious and inter-community union that had lived as migrants on the periphery of ‘rooted’ autochthons. This concept of a home seemed as insurmountable as the Himalayas to me even if as beautiful and majestic, even as I quailed under the power of its poignant beauty and romance.
The concept of this home was described to me by my husband for the first time in an intimate moment through the words of the Marathi poet Kusumagraj. The words hit me at my core, coming from the lips of the man I deeply loved and desired. And in my heart at that moment I believed its empty nostalgia that critiqued the west as essentially lonely and full of alienation for us Indians to be true; I tried to believe that my home lay with him. Nobody could have told me then, that my home with him, where I tried with all my might to surmount my ‘outsider’ quotient in order to simply belong to him and his world could be as alienating and full of bondage and claustrophobia if not more.
I lost myself; in the love of the man I desired and wanted to belong to, I lost myself…and what I was and could ever be. In return I faced a right-wing home that was selective in its traditionalism, in terms of choosing modern concepts that suited their selfish purposes and endorsed and validated masculine freedom at the expense of feminine servitude.
Kusumagraj in the meanwhile continued to say in my mind:
There might be nine million heroes looking like lights,
Who seem like bands of stars visiting from the heavens
Still the heart desperately remembers in torturous moments
The divine glow of the flame lit deep in the heart of the home
There is the heady aroma of flowers in the air
Panting and with slowing pace
The heart desperately remembers in torturous moments
The perfume of that single flower in the backyard of the home
There is the boundless ocean lapping around us
Where magnificent buildings adore its coasts
The worn steps to the small river near the home
The heady attraction of beautiful and attractive women abound
As do the pearly bubbles that froth over alcohol
Those sad eyes and the happiness and beauty of their pathos
The parties gain colour in intoxicating states of inebriation
The heart grows lonely in moments of lively music
The devotional songs you sang out for me from the bottom of your heart
I remember to have tried with all my heart to light that light that glowed out of me to my husband from the centre of our home and my heart; I tried to fill his life with my fragrance that never belonged enough for it to feel defined as beauty; I tried to be the lonely pathos of the broken river steps by becoming plain; I tried to sing out to him from the bottom of my heart even if my music and my voice jarred in his ears. I simply did not belong enough to his world to belong to him or seem beautiful enough. I lost my beauty even in my own eyes. I lost myself.
I met many women thereafter who suffered pain because they did not and could not belong…they could not gain acceptance within their very homes as women. The home became the site of domestic violence and sexual abuse for them, just as it did for me. And I wondered at this romantic, nostalgic and right-wing concept of the home that assumes hierarchy to be beautiful and romantic…a sexy context of hegemonic patriarchy that constructs masculinity and femininity in hierarchical heterosexual relationships as pleasurable constructs that provide women with empowering experiences, wherein their political contexts go unquestioned and their privileges a ‘culture shock’.
I returned after some time to the house I once shared with ‘him’, my lost lover and husband who rejected my alien existence, stripped of all its meaning, amidst the emptiness of my very soul. I wander its rooms, lost between romantic and nostalgic poetry, his presence defined by a lack that felt like a chasm between us and my own invisible self that felt guilty about reclaiming our joint space, without ‘him’.
Deepra Dandekar is a feminist historian working on narratives of religion, community and violence in India, currently living with her husband in Germany.
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