Wednesday, 5 June 2013

To The Woman in the Mirror


Cochin, 2008

I saw you sitting with your back towards me in a busy eatery. I was on the table diagonally behind you. I saw your face in the ornate mirror in front of us, part of the decor. We both sat facing the same mirror. I saw your face, only when you removed your dupatta from it with your hands, to try and eat your dosa, then the noodles and then the Pepsi. For the rest of the time, I saw your lowered eyes listening to your husband and your head nodding, all under the green veil. Every time you heard him approach with a new delicacy for you, you moved your head away, pulled your veil down and froze, in that moment.

I know he was your husband, and you still froze. You refused to look at him, or show yourself to him. The mehendi on your hands and feet had faded. It had been a few weeks of marriage, I’m guessing. And you still froze when you heard his voice and looked away into nothingness when he spoke. Can it be a mark of respect, that emotion best conveyed eye-to-eye person-to-person when it shines from within? No, I think not! Was it fright, then? I can’t say! Or was it something in between the two, that not just me but you too fail to understand as you follow, or are made to?

I sat there wearing a tucked in tee with many Buddha faces and skinny jeans, enjoying my mouthfuls of food and easy banter with the two men in my life – my son and my husband. But every time the man in your life approached you with a new dish, I compulsively looked up from mine. At that brisk movement of your hand with 200 bangles quickly veiling your lovely face! I would look at the draped green head and shoulders in the mirror in front of me and wonder – why? It’s not pity I felt, no, but a lot of incomprehension. I thought veils were to protect women from strangers’ gaze. But yours was only to keep it hidden from your own man, and removed when you were alone in the middle of stranger men.

And then suddenly in such a moment of no-husband, you caught me looking straight into your eyes, which had caught mine in the shared mirror – staring rudely. And I caught the look of incomprehension in them too. For me and my kind! For my eyes which were stuck on everything to do with you. Or was it for my cropped hair, my clothes, my uncovered head or for how freely I had ruffled my husband’s hair? How he and I looked at each other and smiled every time our son burped? How we were man and wife! No veil, no secrecy, no external signs of matrimony and no added respectful reflexes? Sitting together, sharing food, drinks, laughter, looks, liberty, moments, memories, smiles and equality! 

I ask you - Are those things you don’t understand, or are those things you don’t want to understand? Or are those things you were never allowed to understand? You are perfect – for what they reared you to be. I can see that! I can see that in every movement of yours and every stop, in your laden hands and shuffling feet, your voice that is a whisper’s whisper and your eyes that hardly ever see. 

I wish I could know who you are. I wish I could spend that evening talking to you. I wish I could ask you if you ever swallowed your thoughts, your opinions, your ideas about yourself and replaced them with someone’s else’s, for someone else. I wanted to ask you if it was You and Your Face sitting under that veil that day, and every passing day, or was it someone else born out of 3 odd decades of bending backwards for the "given" and the taught?

A little bit of me in you, and a tiny bit of you in me. And a shared mirror!  

I felt very guilty. For the contrast that I saw, between your situation in life and mine. And then I breathed a silent thankful sigh, for the situation that is mine, only. As I write this, I pray to the power that made me free to make you free too. Soon, and not in another life, but in this one itself! 

And I just want to tell you, that I Respect You – not just the face I saw in the mirror but the stronger one hiding within you too. 

63 comments:

  1. Wonderful post Sakshi. Reminds us of the disparity that still lies in our society. Most of the time our modern appearance may be deceptive too.

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    1. Absolutely, Janaki. And that contradiction is worse.
      Thanks for reading. :)

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  2. What a powerful post, Sakshi!!!! RESPECT!

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    1. Coming from you, that 'Respect' really made me happy. :)
      Thank you!

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  3. Is the green cover a means of protection or an obstacle or impediment. well observed and well-written , Sakshi.

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    1. Well questioned, Kalpana. I have no idea!
      Thanks for reading and liking this. :)

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  4. Impressed, both with your thoughts as well as the words used to convey them. It is so easy to feel superior, to shrug it off or look down on these sisters of ours. Empathy ... its a rare gift. Use it wisely.

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  5. The words... the situation..the thought .. totally awesome

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  6. Such a powerful post and such powerful observation.
    I wonder whether I should pity her or be angry at her or applaud her.

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    1. That wonder I share with you, Red. I also wonder if she pities herself or celebrates herself for towing the line to the t. And thus I ask all those questions that I do, albeit to no one in particular.
      Thanks for reading! :)

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  7. Reading this could not help notice the sharp contrast.Birth is an accident but what we make of our life is reality.Hopefully one day she will also conquer:inhibition,fear or whatever name we want to give this!

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    1. Yes, a very man made reality, Harpreet. I like how you brought that in.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. A thought provoking and bold post Sakshi. Your strong, flawless words are impressive, and leave a mark in the reader's mind

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  9. Lovely post. While you clearly highlight the stark difference between the two worlds that these women inhabit the fact that you end the post with respect to the inherent strength of Indian women for putting up with this 'duality' so to speak is very apt.

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    1. Rebellion is usually considered more heroic than conformism. I respect the strength of the veiled woman, Jai, of conforming, which I don't have in me at all. But I know I need to view this differently. Or I could just be one among the many "promoting" that veil in a different guise.

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  10. Sadly this is a plight of women in the world and that's what connects all of us together in a shared bond of inherent strength of Women and not just Indian women!

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    1. Exactly, Swati. Glad you see the collective that women are.

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  11. As I read through this post, two contrasting situations struck me. One from SATC-2, where women flaunt their glamorous identities hidden inside those veils. And the other from the life of someone I know, who looks as glamorous and modern as one can aspire to look, drives a swanky car and holds and lucrative job, but I suspect gets beaten up by her husband every night. I can only say, what a world this is! Thank you for portraying the disparities of our times in such a beautiful manner Sakshi.

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    1. Disparity and duality too, Yamini, The veil does not automatically make someone orthodox just as skinny jeans does not make one modern. A lot is in the head. In the views and the attitudes towards what we call "conventional". Most shuttle between "tradition" and "modern" as situation demands. Somewhere, that makes us hypocritical. But more importantly. somewhere that makes the removal of the veil even more difficult.
      Thanks, Yamini. :)

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  12. You have portrayed the very schism that exists in our society. But more so, you have opened the doors to the question, 'Why Women's day?', the question that seems incomprehensible to me. Why does the woman get only one out of 365 days? Why is special only for 24 hours? Why is womankind as a whole convicted to live behind that metaphorical veil?
    Incomprehensible much, isn't it?

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    1. Yes, and thus the post is ridden with more questions than anyone can answer for me.
      Good to see you here. Thanks a lot, Brendan.

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  13. There was a time when I looked at veiled women with more pity and anger than empathy. I always wondered why they put up with the veil .. did it not make them claustrophobic …. in more ways than one? But I am wiser now. What freedom means to me may not mean freedom to someone else.
    And is it so easy to break the shackles that bind you?
    And is not the modern women dressed in a jeans or T shirt facing her own demons?

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    1. Yes, absolutely, Ruchira.
      Thanks a lot for reading! :)

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  14. This piece is so beautifully written! and frankly it is more apt for women's day than any other I have read so far. The message is subtle yet powerful, hitting at all the right points and tugging all the right strings... very well written Sakshi.

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    1. Thanks, Seeta. Of course, many are written because all women have their own versions and voices to put them in. None is right and none is wrong. I am just happy to know this got such an over-whelming response. Thanks! :)

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  15. Lovely post Sakshi. The veil is certainly a thought provoking topic during my travels to Allahabad, Bangkok and recently Bangalorre, i saw women wearing burqas and others wearing trendy clothes coupled with head scarves

    Times aer changing but a bitt slowly. I have memories of a 12 year old girl watching women in burqa pluck henna leaves from our garden. amazingly when i re visited Allahabad 36 years later the same spot still had women in burqas from the neighborhood village.

    In Bangkok women from the gulf were eating at food courts all in burqas. and i saw plenty of these in Bangalore too.

    On WOMEN'S day today let us hope and pray that our sisters get a better life an can live a unveiled life

    happy Women's day to u Sakshi. We must meet sometime in Delhi soon!

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    1. That is very interesting, what you just shared here, Abha.
      Oh I am all set to meet you too. We are in the same city, and no excuses whatsoever should come in the way of meeting. Let us plan soon. And thanks for your kind words. :)

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  16. One word - WOW! :) I have heard a lot about you.Coming here for the first time and I plan to come often. Happy to read your work, Sakshi. :) happy women's day!

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    1. Oh dear, you have heard about me? A lot? And you still came to read me? Phew, you heard all good it seems. :D Thank you for coming here and would love to see you more often too. You will be good for my ego. :D
      Many thanks, Gayathri.

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  17. First time on your blog and I found it so powerful. Wishing you a Happy Women's Day and for all women, a world where "mind is without fear, and head is held high"

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    1. Welcome, Puru. May this not be the last time. And I second Tagore's thought with you. Amen. :)

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  18. But i guess they are happy to be that way and we cant imagine our lives to be like that.

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    1. Absolutely right, Nima. What if they are happy that way? Notice how I leave it all with ? marks. I really don't know. I really do want to know though.
      Thanks for reading!

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    2. Nice post Sakshi.
      BTW i am from Cochin. Just saw that the image is captured from Cochin.
      Happy Womens Day

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    3. I was in Cochin for about 2 weeks back then. This was Jew Street. Thanks for reading, Krishna. :)

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  19. Nice Post, Sakshi, as you have captured the culture differences for both of your situations so nicely...

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  20. A very hard hitting post that makes you wonder, introspect. You drew parallels between two diametrically different mindsets so succinctly and yet your thoughts were so powerful, Sakshi.

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    1. Thank you, Deeps. Those are lovely words to hear.

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  21. I always feel that everyone is one way or the other happy in their own lives and at the same time, fighting their own demons. A woman in the veil might be happy while a woman who seems independent might be facing her own demons. Everyone chooses a life they want. It is a problem only when it is forced upon. A strong post, Sakshi. Well written!

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    1. That's a very interesting comment, Pooja. I understand when you say "everyone chooses a life they want" - for whatever reason. Thanks for reading !

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  22. That's a beauty! And yet so powerful!

    A wonderful wonderful post of parallels drawn to different leagues.

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  23. Amazing... very well said.

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  24. So beautifully written, Sakshi! You brought out the dichotomy in attire, thoughts, emotions and perhaps two worlds between two women. I have often wondered the same. I remember reading this book, I think Princess where the lady who is always veiled considers it hers by choice. She says that once she visited the US and found everyone gawking at her. She looked at the scantily clad women and wondered what freedom they were enjoying being half naked in front of strange men. She like her own cultured upbringing. I guess, it is all about upbringing. Not to say, that some are forced to wear the veil. When I studied in a girl's college for two years, a couple of girls in my class used to come to college in burqa. They took it off as soon as they entered the classroom. Oh, they were chic, so well dressed and pretty. And they stayed that way in front of male teachers too :-). Very intriguing, isn't it?

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    1. A lot is in the upbringing, Rachna, and the conditioning that comes with it. There are such varied perspectives that I could do nothing more than leave questions abound in the post. What struck was the veil here was for her husband, not for strangers. I tell you, those women inside the veils are indeed so pretty, fashionable and done up like ramp models. Intriguing, if they stayed that way in front of male teachers too. Something like what I am sharing, actually.
      Thanks, Rachna.

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  25. Lucid and thought provoking, Sakshi! What must it be to look at the world, both the immediate and the beyond, through a veil everytime.

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    1. What must it be, Ilakshee. I have no answers. :)
      Thank you for reading this!

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  26. Sakshi,
    There comes a time when some articles just fly by and some, stay and leave an indelible footprint in your psyche. This is one of those - one of the latter ones.
    I mean, I can not express the helplessness I feel about these strange customs that are not only degrading but also so humiliating for women of some sects.. also, there is one group in our own country.. I saw when I visited a friend's house that a daughter-in-law is not allowed to sit on the same platform (bed/sofa) as her mom-in-law. She has to sit on the floor with the head covered. And I am talking of an educated family in a cosmopolitan city.
    I mean, why? Equal respect, equal place.. these concepts are still a far cry for most of us.

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    1. Very big words for me. Thank you for the kind words. :)
      I have never come across or heard of the incident you quote. I shudder to think that one day, the daughter-in-law will become a mother-in-law and "avenge" the humiliation she had to undergo. It's a vicious chain of events and a twisted sense of "respect" I hope this changes.

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  27. Sakshi, I love your writing style. I could imagine everything and you have penned down thoughts which take us back to generations, to the freedom we share or don't share, to the depth of that woman's heart & sealed lips, to the various customs which make me question them daily... So much to take in but you wrote so simply. "A little bit of me in you, and a tiny bit of you in me. And a shared mirror! " Loved this.

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    1. Thank you, Poornima. Really happy you liked this.

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