In that never never time of memory, a decade ago when Mum was alive and Swami too, I worked at the Western Canteen, pre-dawn, mornings, afternoons, and evenings. A dog used to accompany me there, leave me to work and sometimes even appear to take me back. Pappu was my Mum’s dog, really, but she took it upon herself to assume responsibility for me. (Who owns whom?) Eddie, a co-worker seeing Pappu’s solemn duty, joked, “one man and his dog.” Without thought, I reacted, “No Eddie, love, its one woman and her bitch.” Eddie found my come back apt, but funny, as I did too at the moment. But, my own quip remained with me through the years: unconscious knee jerk reaction to language and its sexism.
Now, when I’m writing this blog, putting words down after a silence of almost twenty years, I find that words like ‘bloody’, ‘period’, ‘bitch’ run through my sentences. I wonder at myself that I gravitate instinctively toward words or phrases resonating with women’s sexuality. Growing up an overweight child prone to tantrums, fits of withdrawal, I had my parents worrying about my mental health. [See Mollow’s article that looks at fat discrimation even in the queer community: http://bitchmagazine.org/article/sized-up-fat-feminist-queer-disability] Getting my periods early didn’t help either, nor that I possessed a shrieky witch’s voice too loud for the surroundings. These traits added to a mind that couldn’t take anything for granted meant that I invariably got singled out. Trouble followed me around.
My discovery of Audre Lorde, when doing my doctorate in the States, lifted a weight off me. Reading “The Uses of Anger” and the poems in “The Black Unicorn” and meeting Lorde herself gave me a role model. I fancied Lorde literally bulging out of the confines of white racism and academic restrictions with her big black lesbian body. She thrust the physicality of her black, woman’s body in the midst of white anemic writing. Myself too big, too loud, too argumentative for my Indian context–the well behaved, upper class schoolmates, or conversely, the conservative, modestly hindu collegemates in Anantapur–I rejoiced to be one among the big, black women I met. [On going against the norms of modest Indian womenhood, read http://thefeministwire.com/2013/05/walking-the-tightrope-good-indian-girls-race-and-bad-sexuality/ ] Called “nigger” by my black friends, I learned the painful ironies of that sisterhood.
Running out of beer late one night, Jackie, my girlfriend, and I walked down to the corner store only to be told by the lone clerk that we couldn’t buy alcohol after midnight, although we knew that the cut off was 1 pm. When Jackie and I suggested that he wasn’t selling us the liquor because we were black, the store clerk was on the verge of pushing the panic button, thinking he was about to be attacked by us. Merely the sight of our skins signaled aggression to him. Where then is the difference between black and brown. Did Indian culture and upper classness distinguish me any from Jackie, my tough black ghetto woman?
A month or so later, Jackie left me, jailed for shooting a dealer when he intruded on her territory. I wonder if I’d been around in that park whether I’d have been arrested too regardless of my involvement or not. [For a look at internalized racism and its workings, see http://shotgunseamstress.blogspot.in/2012/10/radical-anti-racist-racism-or-rarrrrrrr.html ] Later, while writing my dissertation, I wrote of a black/ brown/ colored woman’s, particularly a lesbian’s, “monstrously feminine” body in the convoluted prose of critical theory. The jargon of ‘high’ theory protected me against the messiness of words, the dirt of description and anecdote, the visceral secretions of women’s cussing.
Growing up, I learned first to lisp English syllables. Speaking the different vernaculars of Coorg and Tamil communities, Mum and Dad, educated intellectuals both, spoke fluently the language of our colonized past. Indian English is my first language, and I now dig in the mire of its sexist, racist, and classed legacy. I speak my woman’s self and body, not to abuse my self but to savor the curious delight of an identity too big for others’ comfort.
But, twenty years down the line, doctorate or no, class markers or no, I am yet prey to a secret guilt that I am too gigantic, too clumsy still for the spaces in which I live and write. That these negative socio-cultural attitudes persist, internalized somewhere in my psyche, is proof of the immense power of cultural norms. I fight against these dictates of womanliness, but in moments of self-doubt they rise like specters to haunt me. I shut myself up in an ashram room, go for walks only at first, faint light, and speak to hardly anybody but Tippy. Grie Verd, the my private childhood nickname for myself fits snugly into the “malformed series of noh masks” by a Japanese artist in a collision of non-white hurting(s). Apt indeed that I find these malformed faces/ masks beautiful! [see ‘About’ page: https://quiescentbeing.wordpress.com/about/]
And what about my clumsy quest for otherness, the ache of longing for some vast awareness that includes all, animate and inanimate, and judges none? Any route or religion seems to demand purity, often an ascetic purity involving continual cleansing of humanness–of the dirty woman’s self and body, in particular. But I’ve been born with a being who hinted otherwise, that total acceptance of the self and universal process leads, will nilly, to surrender. Surrender which rejoices in just being, worship and adoration without mind, a sense of arbitrary divinity—I am tumbling through Generation-Organization-Destruction, process, entropy, cosmic chaos, multiverses. I live in god. I am everything and nothing—loud, big, messy, dirty, bloody, slutty, womanly, angry micro in the macro cosm.
- What is worse? DIRTY WORDS or Dirty Deeds? (wintropemerrideththeiii.newsvine.com)
- Stories they tell about languages (thehindu.com)
- The modern history of swearing: Where all the dirtiest words come from (salon.com)