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LISTEN, O FATHER! - Jaya Jadwani

 

 Most revered father,

          Today, I wish to devote my 'little' humble and heartfelt subservience to you. I would not have ever been what I am today, if you had not been what you were then.

          Let me come to the main point, as you strictly dislike dilly-dallying the dignity of time. Just a few months ago, I happened to get a message from both of my brothers that I should legally acquiesce to transfer my share of the paternal property to their names or else they will withdraw any relationship with me and will 'see' me. I am well aware that they can cross any limit to 'see' me. Perhaps, it seems that they too are inherent of the so-called 'patriarchal modus operandi' that you cherished the most. It was far beyond your likings that a woman should raise her voice to get her rights or even think about it. You neither allowed such raisings to my mother, nor did to me. It must have restored in your memory lane that how the entire family used to pounce up on me all of a sudden whenever I tried to impugn on anything,- "if you cross-examine in such an advocacy to your mother-in-law, she, 'the miserable', will lament over her destiny to have you." Yet believe me father, my mother-in-law did not lament on my advocacy but essentially because I continued my studies then. She, the helpless, too couldn't save herself from being the part of the same patriarchal system where it is preconceived that girls go astray if they continue their studies. Maybe, they think rightly, as it was the same point from where I too went astray...

          It has been four years now that you left us but I don't remember I reminisce of you in such vehemence as I did today. Rarely, when anyone reminded me of you asking that I look younger than my age and so it is difficult to guess of it for them; I would humbly reply to them that I belong to my father in this regard, as people always opined that you too would seem in your sixties even in your nineties. Your legs were wooden framed that were never meant to be jaded. You never stopped, father and kept moving to the extent that swayed beyond our reach. For all of us, you were more than a father, a powerful man descended from distant skies whom we were always afraid of. Our tiny limbs never got the privilege to hold your hand. I was the sign of our heightened fear when you would enter into the house. As soon as we heard of your arrival into the house, we used to open any book and hide our heads behind it to stay unnoticed by you. Whoever confronted you would have to be your target of the day. But, our mother had to face you every single day. She carried all the calamities on her heart as well as on the physical being. Both must have been riddled off when she died. Being a woman, she was such drenched in the hot waters of misfortune that all would have turned into rags. As Kabir, an Indian mystic poet and saint, says Jyon ki tyon dhar deeni chadariya (One should always keep every string of one's Chadariya(body), the cover in which soul resides, neat and not frayed) but can a woman do this? The strings of her chadariya appear to be tattered from far distance that her soul feels ashamed to reside there.

          Now look! The relatives too started calling me after the brothers and trying to persuade me in their 'tact' that I have all the amenities bestowed upon me by the Almighty and so I should neither 'mess up' with my brothers nor should I think about it; else I would lose all the relations with that 'house'(my paternal home). Hearing their petty excuses, I couldn't help laughing out loud contemplating that these are the same relatives who feared to enter our house in your presence. Now see, how they are entering reluctantly. And listen! As far as the bond with that 'house' is concerned, it wasn't ever mine even if you were alive, my father! You didn't ever let it feel mine. That 'house' could not belong to my seventy years old mother, so how the same could belong to a sixteen-year-old girl. Father, that 'house' did belong only to YOU. The only voice to be heard there was- "Go to your house (by marrying someone) so that we may get rid of you." The cows of the house were better respected than the girls there but those too until milking to profit you, as you would offer them in charity afterwards. Four of my buas (father's sister) and I too would try our best to compensate the expenses incurred on us and used to work assiduously and you were too negligent to see that but it doesn't matter, father! As such, there was nothing worth to be seen for you.

          Somehow marrying all the buas (father's sisters), they were reluctantly sent to their so-called 'that house' (in-law's place) and you tried all the feasible ways to entrench me in the four walls of the house. The entire prison house was stocked with books so that I keep raveled up reading them. I found wings in those books and would flee away riding on the chariot of words. Really, father! You did such pious deed. Those books bestowed me the life that you could never think of to gift me. As time passed, I moved in transgression against you and that very day when my mother was beaten up, I stood alarmed between both of you.

          Dear father, we used to love you very much. On every good thing of the house, you possessed the first right and then your sons, be it the delicious food cooked by mother or something else. As soon as the food was cooked, the mother would serve a plate for you first and would keep it aside. Thereafter, she used to serve the meal to us and at the end; she would eat cleaning the pan with her chapatti and feel satiated to the extent that you would not feel having your unique plate especially meant for you. I remember you used to keep a cotton ball of costly perfume (itra) in your earlobes. As soon as you left home, we siblings used to rush for smelling the fragrance from the cushion of your pillow. We also had deadly fights for the cotton ball dropped from your ears. No matter how unworthy we were, but what difference it would've made if you kept just one cotton ball in our ears too. All through our life, we would whiff with the fragrance of your memory.

          Sometimes I feel abashed for how carelessly I forgot those offerings that I acquired from you viz. immense courage, sense of self-respect, sturdy power to combat by my own, a sense of dignity and much more. Those struggling days crystallized me as an individual. In fact, not only the struggle that I faced then  but also the one offered to me by that so-called 'that house'(in-law's place) where you had sent me in the name of marriage. How relaxed you must have felt while dissociating, "Go and never turn back", mustn't you? You know father, at your 'house', seldom  had I bathed in the brackish water because my mother was there to caress me but I was obliged to bath in the brackish waters at 'that house' as there was a mother-in-law indeed.

          We, the pitiable homeless girls often jeopardize our lives in search of 'safe house' for us and believe it or not, what else do we have to gamble than our physicality? But father, I never regretted before you nor did I sob any jeremiads. It was my destiny, which I had to confront on my own. You forged me as a 'commodity' and the in-laws pruned me to a 'good commodity'.

          We were not among those children borne out of love yet just existed. I was born before your very eyes, grew up young, fought contended at every step; but no one in the family actually understood me; not even my mother. Well! She had to bear the economic burden as well as the burden of protecting the children and herself. Waking up at three early in the morning until eleven in the night, she would hang up working hard. When I look around the women of today, I feel no surprise that dancing amidst the bazaar, they are busy to make men penniless and in quenching their lust, the bazaars are honestly returning to them. Maybe, the women are being paid off for their bitter past. I used to get angry with my mother as she was always vowed to some or other fasting and rituals for you and your sons. She sometimes would whirl the auspicious red thread around the trunk of Amla (emblica) tree and bake sweet-chapattis on the burning charcoal during Holika Dahan (a ritual of fire burn on Holi festival) and other occasions on the other. You have ruptured us into two halves: below the waist and the other lying above that. Both fragmented parts were indulged in serving you. Whenever the mind wished to revolt, the other fragmented part would handle and if the lower fragment revolted, the head would handle. You could never have imagined that my mother and I could be something beyond your awe-authority; that we too possessed a mind and feelings. It was always you to decide up on our belongings and you did well as per your mercy upon us.

          You were always vertical with your unworthy sons in sharing their sorrows or happiness. It was a matter of great pleasure for you that your sons will be the successors of your property worth of crore rupees. They were not interested to continue their studies but you used to force them to continue. Contrary, I wished to study but you didn't let me do so. You were habitual to lavish upon them extravagantly but whenever your ill-fortuned sisters asked you for petty hundred rupees, you would excuse them pretending the paucity of funds with you.

          You had the deepest desire that your sons will put your name to 'shine', but alas! They 'drowned' it. But you don't worry at all father, as the heaven might also be congregated with people like you. There too, the presiding deities sing in praise of each other. There, they have attuned the Goddesses as well. Therefore, I am with high hopes that the flag of your name would have been floating in the heavenly air too.

          By the way, please tell me one thing father, wasn't your 'name' and 'fame' based on trivial superficialities. I remember, whenever I forgot to veil my head with the dupatta (shawl or scarf worn by girls around the head, neck and shoulder and is considered a matter of keeping dignity), you would yell, "Look Benazir Bhutto! She always presents herself in the lectures veiling her head with the dupatta, and you! How will people react? Or look at Lata Mangeshkar, how she has made her father's name to 'shine' and compare you! Father, every move of mine, in fact my appearance seemed to you with thousand faults...

          "Look her ways, how she walks with constant thudding...who will marry her?"

          "Look at her inauspiciously growing height, only short girls suits the best."

          "What is the need to burst into laughter? Girls should not laugh out so loud."

          Perhaps, you were right in your assumptions, father! Girls do really look decent while crying because then one can pity upon them and can offer their kind favours to her. You have crushed sundry possibilities under the nasty feet of your words and it was altogether better that you always remained unaware of it. You ruined our self-confidence. We were 'nothing' and you could not even sense  how I felt tossed through years and passed through the pains to be 'something' from 'nothing'. How difficult it was for me to eradicate the vestiges of the past from the soil; to turn the dead soil fertile once again; to sow afresh, and then to wait for rain and harvest. I am altogether thankful to you, father that you did not try to pamper me as your pampered your sons exemplifying the results. They could not find their respective paths on their own.

          Feared to be preyed by the disposed mentality of the people like you, Benazir Bhutto too must have been wandering aloof but sadly! She too could not save her. Men cannot bear with a strong woman in the houses and so it is out of question to bear the one with legal powers and status. Moreover and suggestively, men should not stand with such influential women to be feared by the fact, my father, that if these women folk come out of the thresholds, who will take care of your begotten children? And it is the need of the hour to show them their status, isn't it?

          But I adjure to you father! It is not the duty of a father to 'make' his children. Please do desist from this! One can only 'make' what he himself owns. You should only proffer them with love and a sense of respect so that they can give it back to themselves and could stand up from their own raw soil. After all, where do women perceive salubrious proximities in relationships? We are always offered with piles of certain 'objects' that so-often we cling to them and sustain our satisfactions. Unfortunately, we are never destined to meet a man who could intuit us our whole-being and thus we often tend to waste our life in an unfulfilled swerve. Nevertheless, yes! When occasionally a fearless, candid, dauntless and rugged woman raises her voice against the male authority and shakes their hinges to proclaim herself in her own voice and herald her existence,  what happens then? Ah! Then? Then these so-called patriarchal seven-spots frown and eventually put her at the deliberate destination.

          You had tried out to humiliate and insult your sisters with all the possible ways that they all started tolerating their future humiliations as their written fate. Anyway, now their husbands and sons have restored your position. However, what could you do, father! As you were not obliged to take all the reformed contracts, were you? Remained an exception, I could not become the one like them. You had done well to keep us 'faceless' but I augmented a new face from the core. Of course, this fame owes to you. Now tell me, the books that you had stored to lock me up have ruined all for me. Certainly, my mother must have understood this so that she would put fire on the books or throw them on the roof. She would advice then, "Girls should not study much, after all what is the efficacy of studies in managing the household." Better learn tailoring and embroidery, making papad (wafers made from various flours) and badiyan (a dry dish made from pulse and lentil flours, later to be used to make curry). Learn extracting Ghee (liquid butter), making quilts-mattresses-bags, learn Sindhi embroidery, Gurmukhi (a script in which Punjabi language is written.), read religious scriptures, cognize the virtues of becoming a good wife and good daughter-in-law- otherwise people will spit on us and question what we have taught to you? Now let me tell you, in our country people spit anywhere they want, what should be done to them? Then marrying me forcibly she enlightened me further as, "Wake up early in the morning and do all the household chores, touch the feet of the mother-in-law  and father-in law every day, whatever they say, never dare answer them impudently. If at any moment, we happen to get complaint from there, keep that you will be no more for us that very moment." Father, I do not know whether I would be able to state you in words how many times a girl has to die to live until her last day. Whatever was told to me, I tried to keep at my best but I couldn't help much as very soon a new woman emerged out of me who overtly murdered that former one.

          I could have never been convinced, my mother that the one whose supremacy she always cursed and moaned over, in reality she too cherished it. Father, my mother too hated you but she had a bizarre kind of fidelity towards you. The meaningfulness of her life was attached to her 'master' yet the master judged it as meaningless boundlessly. She was always irritable, angry and disturbed. Most of the times her neuter rebellion used to thud and pinched up on us like a glass broken. It was not accidental that she died of cardiac arrest and worms in the vagina. But mother, you are not to blame as this is the destiny of every stupid woman. I remember you used to aver, "Women keep loyalty to men only when they are beaten with a truncheon."

          I was of the opinion that at certain point women can get rid of all these cruelties but I was wrong. No matter they have turned old; women cannot be free, only their 'masters' get metamorphosed. Living amidst the fear of shielding themselves from male demesne keep loomed up on conscience. To vindicate themselves, they have to struggle quadruple than men do. See! I am still doing it.

          Father! You were such an erudite that you did not like naive and boobyish husbands, as they might not be skilled enough to subdue women. You kept a disliking towards your father, most presumably, because he was not that much skilled enough to subdue your mother. So as of now you might be poring your sons as who is being subduing upon whom? Maybe, you have felt a little wounded and unhappy but time has come round a bit now. You even used to dislike your foul-mouthed and illiterate mother, as you always wanted women to be 'prudent' yet to be in her 'limit'. She should keep 'sanity' and 'willpower' provided the qualities remain unapplied. Sorry to say father, but now onwards, such women will be found in the books only.

          I deeply regret for all my insolence with you, revered father! Whatever I am, I am your offspring. Neither do I refuse to be born through you, nor do I want to erase you and bow down before me. All I want today is to talk at a level of equality. Look! You never gave me an opportunity to speak but today I am speaking to my heart's content. If you were alive, you would undeniably hit me with your umbrella. It never offended me to be beaten with umbrella, father. That was just that the wounds of words pierce much injuriously. But never mind! It was your birthright. You used to quote so often," if I had not been there, what would have happened to you all, you would have been severely poverty-stricken?" I really do not know what would have happened to us father, but if you had not been there, we would surely have rekindled the lost conscience, courage and intuition within us.

          Today, standing afar, after so many years I apologize to you father for shredding your extinguished mindset into pieces. Though I know that this is not your choice but an adaptation that has been cuddled now into your entire being. Men who cannot be free from this, women like me get themselves free from their clutches.

          Servitude of a woman is the cry for men's existence yet the freedom of women is the need of their soul.

          You may be wondered why I am telling you all this, today? I am sharing with you because my brothers are practising the same what they have inherited from your set traditions. We, the women can lay upon your properties but cannot use it, why? They want me to withdraw and without buying their time for 'free of cost', I should keep my limits, walk bare hands on different path, silently and should get out of their lives. Father! I have already been out of your lives long ago. I may not be alive in any one of you but everyone is still alive within me. Now, they would have to sweat a lot to divest me from my property right. I have your pious blood running in my veins and so I will never give you a chance to be ashamed by losing the battle.

          I overtly take all my apologies back, if I'd rendered you any in this regard.

 

                                                                                                     Your Indocile Daughter

[ I 'm not writing the name as I have left the name far behind that I was baptized with. And what will you do knowing the new one?]

 



Translated by Deepa Kumawat from Hindi original Suno O Pita! into English

Edited by: Dr. B.K. Anjana

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