Sunday, February 21, 2010
The Demure Indian Woman
Sooti chhaan, rang mahal maa,
sooti na aayo re janjaad,
sapna re bairi, jhootho hi aayo re.
Dag dag mehlaan ootri,
gayi gayi samad-tadaav,
Kurzaan e mhaaro, bhanwar mila de re.
You see her in fields, you see her in mountains. You see her laboriously working her way through a soop to free grains from impurities, you see her pumping air out of her lungs into choolha so her her family is fed. You see her sowing the fields, you see her weaving cloth. You see her all around you- yet, the presence you don't appreciate!
The above quoted lines are from a folk rajasthani song, which i have been singing since perhaps i was eleven. The beauty of this song would fill me, the melody of it would escape my lips even before i knew it. In my head for the past many years, it took a long, long time when the actual beauty and worth of its lyrics dawned on me. Now this song wasn't confined to regional music competitions; now it had acquired a meaning- and a beautiful one that is. Now i had started comprehending a life which i knew would never touch me; but wouldn't stop fascinating me either.
Rajasthan has always been a place that has enamoured me- beckoning me with all its varied hues and vibrant cultures. More intriguing for me have been the native women of this land, and the lores and traditions skirting them. I associate them with a typical kind of appearance- long, bright, flowing ghagras; intricately woven cholis, with sunlight reflecting off the embedded mirrors; odhnis in variegated colors, swaying to the command of the flowing breeze; and heavy, (coveted) silver jewellery.
Spotting any of them on my way to Jaipur transports me into the world of my imaginations, centred around them and their lives. Most of these women are married at the age when we, the proud urban class, have still not got a hold of what it means to be a women. My aim here is not to express dissent to the phenomenon of child marriages- yes, they are rampant in Rajasthan- but in this article, I am trying to reflect on the bountiful feminism, leaving aside all rage and frustration for having been treated as inferiors. These womenfolk are very muh snug in the lives they lead, and have carved around themselves, with discontent not getting any place in their busy schedules.
It is apt to relate an anecdote here, that was told to us by Dr. Suman Sharma (Dept. of Pol. Sc. Moti Lal Nehru College). In an interior village, somewhere in India, a counselling group intiated a programme on family planning, that they intended to air through a locally operating channel, and were looking for a suitable time slot for the same. When they went out to survey, the menfolk were convenient with almost any slot. The problem occured when women were approached. Assumed to be easily bought, it is the women who were tough customers. Morning time- "No, no! we've to send our kids to school. Too much work." Later- "Husbands leave for work, have to lay their breakfast." Afternoon- "No! Have to clean house, make lunch, wash clothes, and carry lunch for our husbands in fields." The other hours during the day weren't much different. After much discussion and persuasions, only a half hour slot could be identified.....Oh! Our benevolent mothers and wives....
Anyway, so the song quoted at the beginning voices the sentiments of a married woman, who has been pining and praying for the return of her beloved for many years now. Nothing, absolutely nothing has lessened her love, devotion, and commitment towards her husband. Sitting in fields, lost in thought, she reflects on what it would be like when 'he' returns. She envies the other females on the common village well when she goes to fetch water, because they all chatter away about their husbands- the gifts and care and attention they recieve. When she cooks, she worries if her husband has eaten. At night she can't sleep. She tosses and turns at misses him, and wonders when will he be back.
What a contrast it is to our new age woman, for whom, sustaining a long distance relationship is like an unconquerable feet. Here we are talking of a woman, who is not even keeping in touch with her beloved, her only communication being an occassional letter, nothing more, that comes and makes her heart dance. When she gets frustrated, she turns to all elements of nature, searching for omens that night predict 'his' return. The innocent women in her is even prepared to bribe the Almighty with all she has, only to get her beloved back.
Sitting in the snug zones of our cozy, comfortable living rooms, we look at these women with contempt. We pity their lifestyles, we call them 'not-ambitious', we distance ourselves and our innate feminine nature from them. We think ourselves superior. We think we are sensible, for we make wiser choices in life. This, however, is not the case. These village women have sensibilities of their own, ambitions of their own. Being a good homemaker, a good wife, a good mother is what their ambitions and aspirations comprise of. We call their vistas constrained. If their sensibilities do not conform to ours, we have NO right to scorn at them. These are women, grounded, simple, and living lives much more virtuously than we ourselves ever can. Their biggest asset, in my view, is their 'simplicity'- their loving, caring, and giving nature. They don't demand for themselves. The just know how to make someone else's life better, even if it is by killing their own desires.
My song, that has sort of stringed this articles together, concludes with a couplet, which suffices to throw enough light on the love these women hold for their husbands deep within their hearts. Love, which is so giving that it doesn't for once consider that their husbands might be so lost in the better lives they lead in cities and towns where they work, that they might not even be thinking of the wives they've left back home....
"Kaaga sab tan khaaiyo, chun chun khaiyo maas,
Do naina mat khaaiyo, mohe piya milan ki aas."
(She pleads to the scavengers, that should she die waiting for him, feed on all except her eyes....her eyes still, just once want to behold his form in them)