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“That my dear is your definition. If you choose to define yourself thus that is going to be your lot.” Cantadora paused”… remember the design of the mother, daughter, wife or sister is chosen by you.”
With shadows of women around the bonfire, it evoked the memories of the opening of Girish Karnad’s Nagamandala. As the kitchen cinders cool, the flame from every stove hurries down to the broken temple where they gossip about the kitchen that they dwell. It could have well been that.
To Alana, a tiny woman who stood tall could be the shaman right from the silk route shamans she was researching. There was so much of presence, so frail yet so strong, the shadows cast a spell, and she appeared ancient one moment and very young the next. It could be playing of the flames that created it. Alana was reluctant to break the mystic power of the scene and the reigning energy of the frail woman, that Alana called ‘The Cantadora’ in her mind. The keeper of stories.
It was as if she knew the secrets of the infinite women who came before her and held it in custody for the women who came after.
“Women speak two languages,” Dharni was saying, a staunch feminist. She seems totally convinced with the well marketed concept of the oppressed Indian woman.
“And they are?” asked the Cantadora.
“The language of men and the language of silent suffering.”
“Sounds so morbid,” said the Cantadora.
“It is so,” came the reply.
Very softly the Cantadora said, “There is a third – the language of the queens.”
“What rubbish!” snorted Dharni, and the rest of the tribe chuckled. “To be a queen there has to be a king.”
Says who, asked the Cantadora. Suddenly there was silence. It was like every woman sitting there realized that there was something going to shift.
“Have you understood what being a woman is?” the Cantadora asked very softly.
“Of course, mother, daughter, wife, sister.’
“When you are born your body is either female or male, your gender gets decided slowly over time.” Think about it. Yes the narrative is patriarchy indeed. But the choice to toe the line is yours.
Look at the early paintings of Egypt or even Kerala for that matter, the basic clothing was just draped, be it man or woman. the draped tucked between the legs when work was to be done. “
There seems to be a drop in the temperature of the crowd. The modern liberated feminist woman did not like the journey of giving up her choice, or may be one did not want to take the responsibility of the comfort driven choices one made.
“A father, has a picture of a daughter,” the Cantadora continued, “of course I am talking of the modern woman. pink laces, ribbon and the works, the daughter grows into it. But the choice to grow into that or different definitely lies with child.”
“With the wars came the bards, the bards began singing the glory of the fighting warrior. The woman got enobled. The all glorified motherhood, the sacrificing mother, the ambitious mother, all at the turn of the 19th century.
The Durga within, who ruled, who organized, who would definitely allow a child who is incapable of survival to perish, slowly chose to become the daughter the father created. Every time the daughter became the mother, she choose to give up some more, to be comfortable, until there was an angel in the house, the angel created by the father, and within her nested the monster of suppressed energy.”
“So you agree with me, when I say that it is motherhood that has enslaved the woman, so the choice of pregnancy should be a woman’s.”
“When was it not?” quipped the Cantadora.
“Of course it wasn’t before the pill.”
“The pill. I’ve heard people say that it liberated the woman. It just took away the myth that women were monogamous.” The smile reappeared on the Cantadora’s face. “But Dharni, my child, before the pill every woman knew her body. She knew when she was liable to conceive and when not.”
There was a visible disturbance in the energy as the crowd dissipated. Alana was still huddled in the comfortable armchair of the night before. The Cantadora came up to her; she seemed so different in the daylight, less exotic, and with a strange sense of continuity, to Alana it appeared as if she flowed.
“Ma’am did you really mean what you said yesterday, or was it just conversation.’
“Well, there are layers to everything you know.”
“You mean mothers destroy their young ones.”
“Of course don’t you see it around you. How many of the children today are allowed to develop into their person? Eating micro-managed, their time micro-managed. So we have emotional dwarfs. The power of enquiry gone right out of the window.”
The Cantadora conked her head to an angle, and smiled, of course it was mischief. “Think about this, motherhood is not an institution it is an experience. We have made it into an institution. First level was being a mother at all, then we came to being the mother of a son, and now we are confused.”
“Some more about this madam.”
“When we say Indian and Indianness we are talking only from early 19th century. We are talking about Victorian Morality, we are talking about society that glorified the angel at home, the sacrificing mother, the obedient daughter, the servile wife, they all came alive. We forgot that we have a choice.”
“Meera Bai becomes an icon, Radha becomes a pathetic lovelorn vegetable.”
“The power of matriarchy is slowly giving way because we as women do not listen to the narratives of the women before us. we as women choose to cover our head because Manish Malhotra says so, we as women particularly from the south, choose to follow Kadva Chauth, or Chat Pooja because it is fashionable; movies made by those in the north made these fashionable! We choose to disempower ourselves.”
“So you put the feminist in her place.”
The Cantadora smiled at Alana. “No my dear, she is right in her place. She is awakening to the fact that there is disparity, yet she is still speaking the language of the other. Silent suppressed suffering has made her putrid.” With a long pause, as if making an Annunciation, she softly said, ”My purpose was to remind her of the language of the queens trapped within her.”
Editor’s note: This short story was shortlisted for the Muse of the Month, July 2019 contest.
Image source: pixabay
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