books I read

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Weekly Sexual/Textual Reader (Week Three)

As it turns out, recovering from flu is more exhausting than it seems — something about watery eyes, raging fevers and runny noses fits in here. Of course I won’t mention that here because I’m classy like that — so I’m posting this book review three weeks late. Apologies from an invalid lady on the delay! For the uninitiated, you can read Part One and Two here.

Dear Tumblr,

It shouldn’t surprise you too much when I say I can’t easily tolerate misogynist writers or their ‘critically’ acclaimed works — my pesky gendered brain raises its head at the most inopportune moments! — and I have flung many books on the wall the moment the narrative gets too dudely for me; when the ‘unsexed’ narrator played by the White Male Default Human insists on me achieving a series of mental orgasms because the dudely protagonist lifted a finger or sneezed, when women are devoured whole under the pretext of being ‘universal’, ‘progressive’ and when they’re written with the intensity of lightly buttered toast to shed Lady Insights On The Resident Douche are a few of my feuds with such writers and their works. In brief, this LadyBrain is fatally allergic to anything even remotely dudely. In such books, the Body is heavily inscribed with invisible meanings and norms that almost always further heteronormativity — patriarchy is so predictable! — here the body becomes a site of conquest, possession and most importantly, a sort of a Tabula Rasa, waiting to be inscribed upon. This Body is almost always feminine or made feminine, either by blatant submissiveness or misogyny, reserving the spot of the creator or sculptor for the Default Human or the occasional case of the Lady acting ‘tough’ (read: Dudely) and veritably focusing agency and action on the male-identified characters in the narrative.

This is mainly the reason I stray away from books that focus on the Body alone, it scares me how easily it can be consumed and made into an object, with a few well-placed phrases and words. I remember being moved to tears by just reading Toni Morrison’s description of Sethe’s scarred back in Beloved to the extent that whenever I see a knotted tree trunk, I can only think of her. Can you see People Of The Olde Interwebes why reading about the Body is often triggering and a stressful subject position for me to take? But somehow, Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Written On The Body’ came nowhere close to the trauma I expected. In fact, it has carved a permanent niche on my skin. Perhaps that bit about the Tabula Rasa is true after all!

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A Woman Like That

Last year, I met an extremely interesting woman; she was fierce, passionate and charming. She had one ‘problem’, she was a part of the bigger sect we post-caste Indians have conveniently labelled ‘Dalit’. And to advance her (un)popularity, she was a former sex-worker. She worked as a maid in one of my aunt’s houses and I spoke very briefly with her before my aunt reprimanded me for talking to a woman like that. As if, whatever ‘problem’ or ‘disease’ she had, it would somehow seep through my skin too, or worse I’d become a woman like that too! Or maybe she just really hates two utreuses talking — and you know utreuses,  they ruin everything! — and that’s why she made me go to another room. Or maybe having a woman like that under your roof makes the air contaminated and you need to make sure that her ‘stench’ leaves with her. I for one am confused as to why would you let her work in your house if you feel it’s necessary to douse the house with ‘holy’ water after she leaves (think of the water waste daily!), obviously considering you can’t stand to be in the same room as her. I’d rather not employ someone I have a problem with than to employ them and treat them as less than human. But, that may just be me. I’m just a sillyarse LadyBrain after all.

I’ve heard about women like that since I figured out ‘that’ was a part of the Secret Indian Code parents or grown-ups use when referring to sex-workers. Or a woman who commits adultery – are you shocked that some women out here have affairs? Perhaps you should really give up thinking that all we do is squat in the mud all day. It might make comprehension of humans as a species a tad easier — or perhaps she’s a woman who had pre-marital sex. A woman like that always had to correspond with any vulva going out of line. Somehow circumstance, context and coercion wouldn’t be a part of such a discussion, just emphasis on how wrong the sexual transgression was and it ends with the same bleat of These Modern Women Racing To Be The Next Best Prostitute. Imagine my shock when someone I know called Arundhati Roy a woman like that. It shook the ground beneath my feet — take that Rushdie! — when I realised I didn’t know the Secret Indian Code at all. Turns out, a woman like that doesn’t require special prowess or inclination to indulge in more than socially sanctioned amounts of coitus but rather any woman whom the DudeCouncil considers ‘going out of her place’.

Jaded's picture

Negotiating Silences Within Spaces

As the eldest daughter of a Hindu family, I occupy a number of spaces that intertwine, merge and blur with the larger idea or identity that I like to believe is me, somewhere inside. Whether or not I believe in the values and ideals endorsed by Hinduism is inconsequential to the space of the 'dutiful Hindu daughter' that is allotted to me. It works as a double bind, where even imagining another identity is impossible and at the same time, this old one is a comfortable claustrophobia we've become used to. This weekend while talking to a few of my old friends as we sat discussing and catching up whatever we'd missed over the years, one thing was clear -- this is a big one people of the Olde Interwebes -- All Of Us Were Uncomfortable In The Skin That Is Technically Supposed To Be Wearing! After a little alcohol and a few hours of talking, all of us started talking about things that left us uneasy about our 'roles'. From too much expected virtuosity to too many barriers to being "ourselves", the problems started coming through. What struck me is how natural the whole conversation was, like I've heard this many times before and knew exactly where to sigh, exclaim, gasp, be silent, chime in accord. Like a well rehearsed scene, it flowed seamlessly. So did the guilt that comes after such a confession.

Even the way we were talking was shrouded in ambiguity and a hazy layers of meanings. We didn't say, "I hate such and such" but instead started sentences with "I wish I didn't have to..."; never fully coming out and expressing what lay inside. And then like an extremely French déjà vu I remembered where I've seen this happen. Practically everywhere, my LadyBrain now remembered. In family discussions that involve Decisions Of The Extremely Serious Kind, I've seen many an aunt and even my mum enter the discourse from breaks and silences. Retreating before anyone else notices, the Voice is again beneath the purdah safe in its distance from the world and yet sad due to its very muffled impact. I will not say that this is how every woman is every day but confess that we've all played a part in this hide-and-seek at some part of our lives. What really strikes me is how voluntary the action seems, more natural than breathing sometimes.

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