Arpita Singh, a pioneering artist of modern art, in one of her interviews, says, that when a mother gives birth to a daughter, she is, in fact, bringing another woman into the world – a woman giving birth to another woman. In effect, it is the birth of her thoughts, emotions, ideas, fears – it is her extension. In this manner, each woman is connected to another – a thread that ties all of womankind. While this may be a tall claim, gender is a continuity, in the sense that the space women occupy are fraught with similar tensions. My apprehension here is the divisions of caste and class in occupying such spaces, but that’s a problem I consciously choose not to address here. I speak of a woman of my caste and class for that is all that I know. In as much as this similarity is there, there is a spatial continuum that women share.
This gendered space that can and is shared has transferable legacies. I say this because I take the ‘ethics’ of cooking and servility from my mother. As a woman, while she is subversive to the patriarchal demands of the family and even the generic society at large, she continues to struggle with her own servile instincts. For as women, we are used to servility. We are trained in servility. Muted, unspoken, quietened, throttled. Our screams implode. My mother will fight to maintain her dignity in the household, under the pressures of the patriarch of the family, my father, who demands her subservience. Amidst this, my mother shouts, and fights, and scorns, and cries, and reaches out with a trembling hand to hold on to me, begs for love, and remains quiet.
Quietude is our legacy, my mother’s and mine. While she remains quiet towards the cruelties of the family, I remain quiet towards the cruelties of men. In that way, and in many other ways, I am fused with my mother. I imagine love to be a fusion. How can it be otherwise? How can individuality exist in love? In my relationship with my mother, there are no individuals. I am she, and she is I. The umbilical cord was never cut, she continues to carry me, and I often try to climb back in her womb, become one with her flesh and blood.
We are women, in a corrupted sense, perhaps, because both of us forget that we bleed. I forget that I must bleed every month, and she has undergone a hysterectomy, so she does not bleed at all. I struggle to exist on my own. I don’t like that I am alone in this world, because that is what we are – terribly alone in our existence. And yet, if I am to achieve personhood, I must learn to come into my own. This is a lonesome journey, and my mother’s shadow hovers over the length of it because she cannot be a part of it in person.
But there is a rupture. Despite being connected at some invisible origin, we are separate- I am my own and she, hers. There is a distance that cannot be bridged because society and life, as we know it, will not allow such a union. Yet, I continue to feed off of the metaphorical breast – I take my illnesses from her. Low immunity, diabetes, mental illnesses, anger – these are our shared gifts. I take my sickness to her and ask for the comfort of her arms, and she, in turn, calls me ‘Ma’ when she is delirious with fever. When the therapy clinic is filled with a putrid air of emotional baggage, that I have acquired from the desires of my mother, it is also significant of the trauma that she carries on her ailing body, limbs and fingers bent from rheumatoid arthritis.
I look for conclusions and find none. Maybe a link that exists and does not at the same time has no beginning or end. Mothers beget daughters who beget mothers – an endless cycle of birth, and no death. How do we begin to understand such humanity? Is the kitchen a good starting point? Or the body in bed with another man? Or the vagina that both accepts and expels? What binds us and what separates? Grief? Momentous explosions of freedom and equality that let us breathe and live?
It is difficult to put an end to these questions and thoughts. The heart flutters, palpitates. A sense of nervousness abounds these speculations. But now that I have put them out there, you, my reader, are a part of it. Welcome to an unwholesome legacy.
*Feature image is for representational purposes only.