I was twenty years old when I moved to Delhi. I was a fresh graduate, aspiring but only now beginning to grasp the reality of being a woman in a kyriarchal pandemic. Not that I was limited in social mobility in any manner, but my gender was the appendix that was attached to any document establishing my legal or professional credential. When I enrolled as a Masters student in a pioneer social work institution, it could not have been otherwise – me identifying as a feminist. I believed in the ethos of feminism, its multilateral principles, and in its intersectionality. I was still naïve, yet unread in feminist literature, but I believed in feminism. It appeared to me as the logical premise, the common denominator, how the world should be. I shifted between liberal and radical feminism, but I stayed on the spectrum, trying to deconstruct my personal realities as a saintly scholar would do.
My boyfriend, at the time, was from a community whose identity was under violent and tumultuous resistance by the state. It was only natural for both of us to stick together under these tough times, believing in ideals, desiring with passion for a world that sowed the seeds of peace and justice, a world of love and acceptance. For us, the literature we read was the heart-to-heart, in private and in the public. Our compatibility was upon the likeliness of us choosing the Malcolm X way rather than the Martin Luther King Jr. way, even though we agreed in spirit with him. I was fighting for what I believed in and he was doing the same. For the moment, it was enough.
I have never written about this relationship previously in public and choosing to write about it, today, is in no way an attempt to defame or create an opinion about anyone. It is merely an attempt to understand how kyriarchy, in literature and in practice, affects a romantic couple – a man and a woman – in our society. The relationship itself, lasted for a brief period of two years, which in retrospect, I believe to be the years which afforded me maturity, depth, and profound dignity. But mostly, it caused me to look at myself, perhaps for the first time, as a woman. In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir writes, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” I was, now, this woman.
Belonging to the low middle-class, my parents were prone to the belief that education was our means to a better life. It was its promise to which they submitted us, their daughters, believing we would grow up to become women who could earn their livelihoods, if nothing more. But alongside, my sister and I grew up listening to our mother’s political consciousness and watching our father do the household chores. We were and still are a dysfunctional family but within this dysfunction was brewing the fundamental dysfunction – dynamism. It was the dynamism in roles that our parents played while performing traditionally ascribed roles, the discourse that was the undercurrent of the numerous conflicts that rested within my parents’ marriage, and the desperate desire to have an alternate reality. This was how my sister and I were becoming women.
When I entered into the previously-mentioned relationship, it was natural that this dynamism would show itself, if only after a relatively congenial period. It appears to me now, it was natural and fundamental. While we continued to bespoke the practices of justice and liberty in the public, within the dimensions of our relationship, we were fighting our own battle – as the man and as the woman. It does not necessitate that a particular gender is right and the other wrong in wanting or denying expectations. It only indemnifies the dignity of an individual. Corinthians 13: 4-8, in the Bible, describes love as,
“…patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
If there is scope, I would also add, love is between equals. The unfortunate reality of being a woman is that by default, she is unequal. This reality instigates the rift, at least, that was the case for me, and I have no need today to deny that I grieved this unforeseen fate. I was not ashamed of being a woman but I was not ready to be a woman – the woman, my partner expected me to be, even if he was fair about it. It was likewise, my needs in a partner ranged between a romantic elegy and a spiritual consort, unfair, but parallel to the social constructs of the time. We suffered together and separately. The only comfort that I had was that I had access to feminist literature that provided assuage from the suffering. It would eventually take the relationship to run its course towards its end through denial, grief, anger, and at last, acceptance.
What I have accepted is that I am a woman, biologically. My temperament, disposition, nature, and the use of my body are dynamic. At the moment, my needs remain in discovering my personhood and expressing myself creatively, through the art of writing. Despite the bitterness of an old love affair, it is natural for me to expect and believe that someday I will fall in love again, hopefully, in an equal relationship. I also am aware that I might fail a few more times, but I remember fondly the American poet Jack Gilbert,
“Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew,
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.”
Before the night ends, this Valentine’s Day – the day deemed for love – I wish each one of us, a feminist love, a love among equals, unbound and worth doing badly.