Tuesday, November 20, 2007


At my engagement, my mother was coming holding a plate with sweets towards me, when I overheard a voice of a distant relative suddenly stopping her in her tracks “No, you don’t go there – give it to me, I will give it to the priest” (the unsaid message was clearly “You are a widow – not auspicious”). Immediately, Ma’s face crumpled a bit but she stopped anyhow – for my sake.

Two things stopped me from physically assaulting that person in the middle of the function. One- a cousin who took a look at my face and forcibly held me back. Two- the priest (God bless him) who had heard this exchange quickly and pointedly said “YOU GIVE IT- You are her mother”.

My blood boils every time I think of that episode.
I cannot think of ANYONE in the universe who has my wellbeing more at heart than she does. And therefore cannot think of anyone who can be more auspicious in my life.

For the last eight years, ever since my father died, there have been sundry instances like this –the raised eyebrow, the whispered comment, the disapproving look. All of which I’ve ruthlessly annihilated. We have endured enough devastation at his death - without having to face THIS particular ordeal. So prima-facie, I don’t hear anything in this strain anymore.
But I suspect some instances still occur (which Ma hides from me). Fortunately for my peace of mind, she is temperamentally an upbeat, positive person; so she just shrugs it off.

And I know it’s not just my acquaintances - One very distressed friend told me that at her wedding, her mother was made to stand almost at the end of the hall and not participate in anything. Ironically, her wedding rituals were performed by her uncle – a widower, who sat with a supari (in lieu of his wife if you please) next to him for the ceremonies.

Someone else’s Gruhpravesh; the widowed mother was not invited at all – because the in-laws were against it. In that girls place, I would have probably boycotted the function altogether!

I find this absolutely appalling – that people, so called urbanized, educated, sophisticated people, can be so utterly blinded by superstition/rituals/whatever-it-is.

Maybe the more visible customs (the shorn head variety) might have disappeared. But there are other customs which still seem to have sneaked into this century – the whole taboo on brightly hued saris, glass bangles, participating in religious rituals. The raised eyebrows when the person laughs out louder-than-permissible-volume, or goes for a movie or even indulges in rich foods (yes, various levels of this still exist believe me.)

The movie “Dor” has depicted this with sensitivity and pathos – when the young widow Ayesha wots-her-name spontaneously breaks into a jig on hearing a popular ditty - and the sudden belated recollection that she is not allowed to dance anymore.

No one who has not suffered the loss of a spouse can probably understand what the woman is going through. And to add these subtle reminders everyday is just utterly insufferable.

The religion does not propagate this – I remember asking a priest once and he had said that most of the taboos are man-made. These are rituals which seem to have sprung into being maybe originally protecting women from unwanted advances (if they were drab and insignificant as possible, no one would look at them twice) or maybe from the insecure wives of men-with-roving-eyes

But the fact that they exist even today – I think is a matter of great, great shame to us.


galadriel said...

I saw comments and practices like these even in Malaysia, Avagirl. It happened to my friends and relations.

Thankfully, cooler and wiser heads prevailed. And in each of the instances, the people I referred to had chosen tact and logic over antiquated practices aimed at subjugating women.

A widow who just lost her husband isn't traumatised enough without her having to be dressed up, and then having all marks of her married state obliterated in front of the funeral crowd.

Barbaric, and not something I'd ever allow in my family. And many of us Malaysians feel the same way.

Screw those old bats who think otherwise.

Kraz Arkin said...

The world would be so much better off without relatives. Damn.

zambezi said...

sad that it still happens.

Amodini said...

We think society's "modern", but scratch the surface and all the old crap's still there. I see lots of folk, old and young, aping western dress codes, but wonder if they are just as willing to adapt on the insides ?
Totally empathise on your anger against that relative.

-Swollen Abyss- said...

But its a pity we still live on with this behaviour ~

Cynic in Wonderland said...

yus gala unfortunately its quite common. the tragedy is there are millions of women who cannot say screw it.

kraz..yup.especially petty minded ones.

true zambezi

Cynic in Wonderland said...

amodini - no they arent - there is a public face and a private face. and the latter can be ugly as hell.

swollen abyss - pity indeed. hopefully we will change.

VeenS said...

I am sure these rituals are man made really!

Give them all the happiness i could manage, really to make the pain more bearable! they deserve every ounce of it!

I wish the people who say or do these kind of injustices, may jus once feel the pain of loosing their significant better ( of coure they should be in love with them also)!

u r right in your views!! and i m in it with you !


Anonymous said...

oh.. and then there is the ^%#@! caste system. It's still there, still holding fairly firmly in place, behind a veneer of lip service.

Here's to a world where there is true equality - economic, social, gender, racial and even genetic. I'm fairly certain we'll be there.

Alankrita said...

So that some such thing could happen at my wedding made me force everyone to settle for an Arya Samaj style wedding- and I threatened a registered marriage here in the US if they did not agree.

I do not know if religion sanctions this behavior or not, but what I do know is that the hindu religion is also good at treating women as the others... whenver they ask for "gotrea" its always the husband's gotra, even though the wife's gotra never changes. Most puja ceremonies are so demeaning with the where I was pretty much the women as the "also sat theres" No matter if they chant on in Sanskrit, they do make one realize that a woman has no place at all, unless flanked by her husband... I would say religion- not only this one, but any religion on the whole are inherently misogynist, reducing us to mere part humans.

Anonymous said...

I really wish it was *you*, who told your aunt that it would be your mother who hand over the sweets, thank you very much.And kudos to the priest for standing up for your mom.