The other day, I was looking at my mother not as her daughter, but just as a woman. I looked at her long and hard and wondered what made her marry when she did. As a woman, what were her expectations? Was she scared? And then she caught me looking at her, so I snapped back to the present. Here she was, my mother and I, her daughter.
I tend to think about marriage now and then, but never once have I written about it before this. Of course, one buys into the jokes and memes around it, especially in India. It’s all very well. But here’s the thing – I’m a long way off from being married. So there’s this whole societal acceptance and blah blah for an unmarried girl my age that I don’t even want to get into. I see how some popular female Internet icons uphold their right to marry whenever they think is the right time. And that’s great, you know. But then there’s also so many other women who are under immense pressure to “settle down”. I would be lying if I said I don’t feel it too. So, there’s this secret society of women who are unmarried/single and that’s their support system. (Yes, there is a secret society like that.)
One of my favourite writer’s memoir about motherhood starts with her on a ferry. She’s traveling across the Bosphorus when she pulls out a notepad and pen to write her manifesto for the single woman. This, while a mother of two kids looks on rather sneakily. In this memoir, she goes from being a single woman straight on to motherhood. The bits about companionship are present, but not so much. Apart from quoting Neil Gaiman to the man in her life, there’s not much about the part of her wanting to be in a relationship. I wanted to know more about how she wanted to be with someone. I love her, you know. I’m not ashamed to say I want to know more intimate details about her life no matter how messy. Like Elizabeth Gilbert. Like Cheryl Strayed. Like Anne Lamott. Where is prose about that part of the yearning for companionship? There’s a lot about being a companion, messing up another, and getting past a third one. But that small place in between, I wanted to know about.
Then, I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. It’s a historical fiction novel about the women of the pre-Judaic era, as a climax to the book of Genesis. Although they say it’s the story of Dinah (Dee-nah), I think it’s a story all those forgotten women in the voice of Dinah. While the prose itself was tedious from time to time, I think this is really necessary re-telling. More on that later, but yes, in this book I found the longing of companionship quite openly. How women want to be with men, make love to them, have them by their side, and bear their children (let’s be fair, this was a couple of centuries ago). There are swathes and swathes of pages about menstruation, sexual relationships, and childbirth all across this book. Some of them have made me squirm with what all the cutting open bellies without anesthesia. But here is where I want to impress upon: the twofold nature of my interpretation: 1) This side of the story has gone untold in all religious texts and it must, must be told, 2) There’s so much rawness in how they feel and conduct themselves. It’s so refreshing. A couple of reviews of The Red Tent diss the book because it deviates from the stories in the (Hebrew) Bible. I understand that. But the necessary bits were left out, right? What about the women and their perspective, their side of the story? What about their lives and the comprehension thereof? So, if The Red Tent offends people, good. If it offends women, spectacular. How do you get here after all these centuries and not know how your fore-mothers, if I may, lived? The things they fought for? The people they tried to make out of their daughters? And how do you get offended at someone who tells their stories as opposed to the complete lack of them already?
I’m sure there’s enough prose about the space before companionship and marriage. I’m sure DF will find me all the books; I only have to ask. From time to time I find myself wondering about these things. Someday, I want to be the woman who writes about the spaces of lives women have led which have gone untold. Someday, when I can want again, hope again. Maybe that’s in another life. For now, another favorite woman, Celine, comes to mind, when she says:
“I always feel this pressure of being a strong and independent icon of womanhood, and without making it look my whole life is revolving around some guy. But loving someone, and being loved means so much to me. We always make fun of it and stuff. But isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”
– Celine, Before Sunrise