Sunday, August 26, 2007

Estella and Estella

I first read Great Expectations as a wide-eyed thirteen year old, and though I was not yet of an age to be capable of analysing myself, I sort of found myself in Estella. No, I am not an adopted child, nor even brought up by a Miss Havisham kind of figure. Neither have I lived as a recluse most of my life, taught to scorn those who had not the privileges I did. I’m strictly not beautiful (someday I plan to orate on the postulates of true beauty, but here I imply physical attractiveness), and so I have no real right to be proud.

But here’s the catch. I’m proud. Terribly. I don’t know why. I can’t even define this sense of pride. Let’s just say it’s that indefinable something that makes me believe I’m different from the rest. Not superior. Simply different. And it isn’t only vain pride, I actually am different. There are certain things about people and society I simply cannot comprehend, and their incomprehensibility somehow cuts me off from people big time. I’m isolated in my understanding of this world. Rarely do I see someone agreeing to my views; even rarer are those who see and believe what I do. For those who don’t, I have only pity to offer. Someday the truth will shine down on them like some abstract sun, lighting up their souls and making them capable of vision.



And that is not all. What Estella and I share chiefly is the coldness of heart, the indifferent attitude, and the cynicism. Of course, it’s not possible to be human and sensitive, and not to feel strongly about some things in life. But then, there has always been this sincere lack of passionate feelings, for anything or anyone. Even in the initial stages of a crush, there has hardly been anything more than vague stirrings of the soul. (Not, I admit, in the case of my first crush- that one was different.) Sooner or later, the dust seems to settle down on my feelings, and all emotion disappears into a vast limbo. I have watched patiently while my friends, in the “first bloom of youth” (as Dickens calls it), mooned over a cricketer, a film star, or any other pimply teenaged boy. But I never felt that kind of a feeling. I don’t know what I’m saying here, but I’m trying to express in words what I feel (yes, feel), not what I think. Even today when I see my sister gushing over some trifle, I fail to understand the emotion. She is way older, but I believe I’m wiser (told you I was proud). She simply thinks I’m ante-diluvian, with long, wispy white hair.



When Pip passionately declares his love for her, Estella responds with cold cynicism. She declares herself incapable of feeling in any form. “It is in the nature formed within me” , she says. The emotion of love is something that she fails to understand-it is simply a form of words; but nothing more. She decides to marry Bentley Drummle because she is simply tired of the life she leads. There are no charms in it for her. This tiredness, this weariness is something that has come upon me quite recently. I have no idea where I am going… or what I’ll do next. It’s this vague sense of purposelessness that seems to be engulfing every aspect of my life. Suicide would have been an option if I was not afraid of the pain that it involves. Oh yes, I’m scared of pain…dreadfully so. And I’m tired of the life I’ve led, especially in the last five years. I’m greatly tempted to marry, like Estella, simply for a change of situation. But that would be wronging my unsuspecting partner. And whatever I do, I shall not do that. For deceptions and hypocrisies are not exactly my cup of tea.


Cynicism is usually the scar that experience leaves behind. Estella is a cynic because she is conditioned to be one. Miss Havisham teaches her the ways of the world; Estella is not only adopted to Miss Havisham’s care, but also to her cynicism. Mine is a little different. My parents aren’t cynics, so I cannot have been imbued with their cynicism. No, my cynicism has been born out of an observation of this world and her ways….

The biggest difference between Estella and myself is perhaps the fact that she really doesn’t have a heart to feel. I do. I feel, and have been feeling for a long time now. Estella’s cynicism and indifference prevents her from feeling, till life teaches her otherwise. My life has taught me that it is better to be cynical, and not feel, and therefore not get hurt. I’m scared of any emotional excess.... I seem to have seen and felt a lot more than I should have, and don’t want to go there anymore.



This post may seem like the outpourings of a confused soul. Perhaps they are. This was, at best, an attempt to analyse myself, and the way I think. This exercise of self-introspection is usually best carried out within the safe confines of a diary. I don’t know why I’m choosing to put this up on my blog.

Me and my Blog

This is not the first time that I’m blogging…nor is this my only blog page. I keep wondering why we all blog…..who’s going to read them anyway? Not only is this an anonymous blog, the author will also not ask anyone to read it. It doesn’t seem right, somehow, to write what you think is wonderful, then ask others to view it and comment upon it. It’s almost as if one is fishing for compliments, an idea that is wholly disagreeable.

No, this blog does not ask anything from anyone. What I’m attempting here is a blog that will be personal, something that will reflect my self, without being intrusive and overbearing. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been in the other two blogs. Because I’ve never attempted anything like this on blogger before. This account will be something like the diary I keep, except that all personal details will be thoroughly masked. For, anonymity is my chiefest ambition, and giving details of any sort will simply not do.


I want this space to reflect the life that I want to live, but dare not. This is me as I feel like being, definitely not what I am. And I want this space to be free from all the hypocrisies and the sham that life in the real world seems to be so full of….

Friday, August 24, 2007

Freedom...

I like to wake up in the morning with the belief that I am free.What does freedom really mean for a woman who is young, educated, and living in urban India ? This fact has haunted me from the day that I realised my privileged existence.

Had I lived a hundred years ago, I would probably have been married at the age of 11, forced to bear children, and chastised for the birth of every daughter. I would have been uneducated….worse still, illiterate…and be forced to believe that if I dared to study my husband would suffer some misfortune. My husband would, of course, be at least twenty years older than me. If he were kind to me I would have been among the lucky few…not having to suffer abuse and marital rape, and being forced to live with the man, and having no one to relate my griefs to- or sympathise.


I would definitely not be choosing my husband. My parents would marry me off to anyone they thought was suitable for me. And in case my father owed anyone a debt, that debt would be paid off by marrying me off to the son of the person he owed money to. My marriage would also be based on religion, community and caste. A Gujarati girl could not marry a Bengali. A Brahmin’s daughter cannot marry a Kshatriya. She must marry a Brahmin-the irony, of course, being that Hindu women are denied the fact of caste. They are the daughters, sisters, wives and mothers of the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Shudras, but not Brahmins, Kshatriyas or Shudras themselves.


My movements would be restricted to the home and the ‘antarmahal’ –the inner chambers where the men would not enter. I could not even stand at the window and stare at the world outside. I could not meet a stranger, even within the precincts of my home without the ‘ghoonghat’-the Hindu equivalent of the veil or the ‘purdah’. I would also have to appear in the ‘ghoonghat’ before the elders in the family. And it goes without saying, of course, that I would be wearing a sari at all times of the day and night. Not that I have anything against wearing a sari—It is one of the most beautiful dresses any woman can wear—but what concerns me today that society and family would decide what the woman must wear. Not that it is much different today…it is society that fashions what we wear, but at least I have the autonomy to wear what I want to, from capris to shorts to saris !

And even God would not help me if I was unfortunate enough to be a widow. Those who have seen Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ will know what I am talking about. Those who have not, please watch it. To be a widow would mean to live like an outcast in your own home, if you were lucky. If you were not, you would be sent to an ‘ashram’ of widows…to live like an outcast in the midst of society.


As a woman, perhaps the most important privilege that I enjoy today is the fact that I have a voice. I am educated, and I have my own opinions on everything, be it religion, politics, or cricket. Best of all, I am allowed to voice my opinions, and be contradicted only in a healthy debate, and not because I am a woman who is incapable of thought. A hundred years ago, I would not have the right to ask my husband where he is going, or where from he has come. I could not question his decisions. I would have to accept unquestioningly all that he decided, even if concerned my most personal life. Not only my husband, but also the elders of the family, be it my own parents, or my parents-in-law. They would decide whether it was time for me to have a child, whether I should try for a son again, after having given birth to six daughters, or whether I should sell my personal belongings so that my husband can educate himself further, perhaps go abroad.


One more huge step in the emancpation of women in urban India is the question of marriage. No longer is it a matter of compulsion, but one entirely of choice. True, society does exert a lot of pressure on those who choose not to marry, but the fact remains that we can choose! My parents cannot decide when I want to marry, and whether I want to marry at all. Education has given us freedom, and the ability and the confidence to earn our own bread and hold our heads high. Today, women marry because they want to, and not because they need to.


The picture is not the same everyehere, though. Rural India needs to go a long way to emancipate their women. Even today there are hundreds of thousands of baby girls who are killed as soon as they learn to breathe. Of those who survive, very few attend school. Even fewer graduate from school. College is still unthinkable for girls in most of these areas. And they are still married off without being allowed their choice of husband in most cases.


Which reminds me again of how fortunate I am to be living as I do today…free from the shackles that bound the lives of women hardly a century ago, and continue to bind the lives of those far away from the urban centres of life.