Chapter 32: The Addams Family – Part I


addams-family

In the 1990’s, when Cartoon Network was all the rage, one of my favourite TV shows was The Addams Family. They’re a quintessential horror family:

Gothic mother with an octopus-like slithering gait;
Super enthusiastic but crazy gothic father (eternally and passionately in love with his wife);
Poker -faced crazy daughter and horribly annoying monster son— both with a penchant for torture;
Frankenstein style butler;
Sneaky, explosive, shark-toothed Uncle; and
Motorcycle-riding, eerily-cackling, spell casting Granny.
Oh, and a dismembered walking hand for a pet.

Welcome, everyone, to The Addams Family.

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Grandma Bazooka is the Border Security Force in our household. Navy, Army, Air Force all rolled into one— no external power, no matter how strong or sneaky, can ever attack us and get away with it. She has her guns, missiles and bazookas forever directed at anyone who so much as wishes to harm a hair on our bodies. And her intelligence bureau is highly trained to keep an eye on all intruders.

Inside those borders, however, she can wreak major havoc. Military rule, so to speak.

Benevolent General of sorts, for you will be lavished with sumptuous delicacies, spoilt with beautiful gifts and tantalisingly exhibited—and promised— the heirlooms she would hand you at your wedding. But make no mistake, you will bear the brunt of that love in no small measure. You will be judged for every step you take, the tiniest of mistake you make, and though you will be encouraged to find your path, that path shall be strictly and unreservedly laid out for you—brick by brick, direction by direction. If she could have her own way—which she mostly doesn’t.

Ours was never an authoritarian household, so she couldn’t technically be a matriarch. To be honest, there’s no ‘Arch’ in our family—Patri, Matri or otherwise. We’re quite close to the definition of anarchy. Rebels all, to the core.

It wasn’t always so.

Before Papa died, mom was just a sweet, loving homemaker—well-read and intellectual but an ‘Indian woman’ nonetheless. I was a timid girl, brilliant in academics but quite a bit of a sissy. My sister was only two—so she just was. And my grandmother was an external force herself, encountered merely on occasions like birthdays and vacations.

And then the world as we knew it was no more.

In the beginning, our uncle—mother’s brother— lived with us. And then he got married and his wife was there, too. For us, it was like a normal, happy family again.

Like I’ve said before, our loss though greater in absolute terms—loss of a parent—was nothing compared to the loss experienced by our mom. We could create new fathers in our uncles, grandpas and whatever male relative that looked kindly upon us. For our mother, love was lost forever.

And then a few years down the line, my uncle’s family increased to four, and our house wasn’t big enough for everyone to fit in. They had to shift to another place—not too far off, yes, but then it was a separation, yet again.

Without a Patriarch to head the family, we escaped the trappings of the traditional Indian home structure, where the man’s word is final, and no one dare question it. And so we grew up quite like a crazy democracy—with the right to protest and the inalienable right to freedom of speech and expression—but squabbling all the way with progress often stuck in first gear.

We’re closer in the sense that we don’t feel obliged to maintain a persona in front of each other —as I’ve seen so often in small town families around me. But we also have significantly less peace and less direction. The best outcome of all this is that we have developed the faculty to think for ourselves and not blindly follow our forefathers and foremothers. The worst, of course, is that compromise never comes easily to us, with no semblance of sanity to our dawns and our dusks.

Into this kaleidoscope of crazies entered this man—this quiet unassuming man with his droll, Jughead-style sense of humour— like a sliver of sunlight in an unceasing storm.

There’s a huge Banyan tree right at the back of the auditorium in AMU Women’s College, underneath which I used to sit and read out poetry on the phone to him. Rabindra Nath Tagore. Gitanjali, Lover’s Gift, Crossing. Narrate to him stories of the books I was reading. Time Machine, Chitra, The God of Small Things. And sometimes, couplets from Ghalib. Or Mir.

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Women’s College, AMU: Front lawns

Ever wonder why trees are so often used in the backdrop of romances? Because trees are the poetry of the earth. They are the welling up and bubbling out of love from the earth’s heart— as shade and fruit and breath. Guardians and protectors. Preservers of love.

The weary heart always seeks refuge from the unending buffets of life . Asylum from the onslaught of accusatory screams and peristent, unresolved emotional clutter. And though I was an equally crazy member of the Addams Family, I desperately sought refuge from it too.

This man became my refuge. Noah’s Ark, with just me on it. And the promise of safer lands.

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Keep Bleeding, I Keep Keep Bleeding Love


Guy: “I love it when we’re all on the same cycle, we all get to be passive-aggressive and fight.”
Shira: “You’re not even a woman!”

— No Strings Attached

Keep bleeding love NSA

One of the first movies Sajjad and I watched in a theatre after we got hitched was No Strings Attached—you know, the Ashton Kutcher- Natalie Portman rom-com that’s the cutest thing to watch — I mean who can ever forget that ‘period mix’? One of my favourite dialogues from the movie is the one quoted above, spoken by Guy who ‘isn’t even a woman’, and my favourite scene the one where Adam and Emma sit on the bed with “keep bleeding, I keep, keep bleeding love” playing in the background.

From that movie onward, Keep Bleeding Love became a subconscious period-anthem for me—forevermore. It’s like a background score that keeps playing when someone speaks of that time of the month—or whenever it brings the blues with it. Yes, I have background scores for almost every moment in my life: the funny, the romantic, the dramatic. (And very specific background scores for every villain in my life, too —echoing full volume in the corridors of my mind every time a villain appears.)

I have been contemplating this post for many months now, writing and deleting and rewriting. Going ahead with it wasn’t an easy decision, even though as a friend once remarked, “You’ve owned up to much bigger things in there.” True, that. But talking about menstruation isn’t easy. I don’t mean for the Twitter-Instagram metro-dweller high-life set but the small town, Aligarh-Allahabad-Muzaffarnagar-what-have-you kinds of societies where even pregnancy is something to be embarrassed of, let alone discussing your period (collective gasp of scandalised aunties!) But you can’t have a womanhood blog and be completely silent about this major, defining part of what it means to be a woman.

I was 13— in the 9th standard at school— when I read this book called Girls Speak Out by Andrea Johnston.  I got it at the Scholastic Book Fair held annually at my school in Aligarh. Reading that book was perhaps one of the most defining moments of my life. I was just browsing through the racks, running my eyes over scores of books figuring out which one I’d like to buy, and then this title caught my eye. I flipped it open, picking a page at random, and my eyes fell on a paragraph that went, approximately, something like this:

Why is it that most girls are taught to feel ashamed and embarrassed about their periods? If this were something that happened to boys, there would probably be celebrations and ceremonies around it, hailing the onset of ‘manhood’ for the boy—for isn’t that what periods actually signify—the onset of womanhood? Boys would be lauded and congratulated for coming of age, and they would brag about how much they bled and for how long. But it’s not. It’s not something that happens to men, and so it isn’t something to be proud of. Everything associated with women’s bodies is taboo.

Those are not the exact words, but a summarisation of that page’s contents as best as I can remember. And then I turned to the next page, which elaborated a theory so completely enthralling, it changed my perception of menstruation forever.

The female monthly bleeding cycle, said the book (my words, not direct quote), follows the rhythms of the moon. It follows the 28-29 days pattern of the lunar month, connecting us intimately, inseparably to Nature, to the Universe. It connects us to the cool light of the moon, it makes us special. (Even a bit ‘loony’, you know, from lunar. But that’s my addition.)

I cannot picture a better image of the female body’s rhythm every month, nor a more magical way of looking at yourself.  Up until that day my opinions on menses were much the same as the average bleeder— moaning, groaning and looking at yourself with embarrassment or even disgust. But Andrea’s witty observations about how men would have celebrated it hit home. Case in point: in Indian Muslim culture, the young boy’s circumcision is colossally fussed over, and people are actually invited for lunch or dinner to celebrate his initiation into the religion. Think about it, what is (traditional) circumcision? It involves your genitals, an agonising amount of pain, and a whole lot of blood. And it isn’t even a ‘naturally occurring’ phenomena. But it’s related to boys, so you can go ahead and celebrate it. No need to be embarrassed.

It isn’t that I became a ‘feminist’ when I read that book—which, by the way, I would recommend to every woman, young or old—but that I found someone whose thoughts supplemented my own. I wanted to feel good about myself as a girl, to feel proud of it, but didn’t quite know how. Didn’t have the words, the framework to define it. And with Andrea, I did.

As for the feminism, I was born with it.

So, from that day onward till the present moment, I have followed Andrea’s advice and made the moon-phases special. In any way, however miniscule it may be. Watching a great movie, painting my nails, trying out an elaborate hairdo, getting a salon session, gorging on Ferrero Rochers, eating out at a great restaurant or even praying quietly, if that’s what I felt like. I know this has been a bone of contention in recent times, the barring of women from ritual prayer during periods. But honestly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. You don’t need a mosque or temple or prayer mat or rosary or idol or diyas to pray. What is prayer? It’s a connection with the Divine. Simple. So you can just sit comfortably on your bed, close your eyes, focus on your breath and pray. What’s stopping you? If anything, the absence of ritual prayer seems like a good thing to me, because you’re already tired out from the cramps and the pain, why should you have to go through the rigorousness of obligatory prayer? Seems more like a boon than a bane—but that’s just my opinion. Of course, I know the resistance is to the whole mindset of women being considered ‘impure’ or unclean during the phase. But that won’t change in a day—you’ve gotta be the change.

So to come back to the feel-good things, I consciously conditioned my mind to think of periods as a good thing, a happy thing. And I tried to pass on this thinking to every girl I knew—especially my sister. Yes, I know, the cramps, the weakness, the dizzy spells make it all very difficult to be happy about. But this I can absolutely vouch for: when you do things you love, it takes your mind off the pain.

But more than anything, the sensitisation of family— men, especially — is too important to be overlooked. To treat this thing as normal. Not embarrassing.  I still haven’t figured out how to explain this in the right way to my son when the time comes, but I sure will. The human body needs to be respected—whether male or female.

And your periods need to be celebrated, with dollops of cheer. (Though there is one thing I hate about periods: the week long celibacy! But that’s a different matter altogether.)

And so, gals and guys, when I first came to know of the #HappyToBleed campaign in the not-so-distant past, I couldn’t help but break into a super-smug smile. I’ve been happy to bleed since almost two decades.

You don’t need to hold up a placard or a sanitary napkin to be a part of the change. You just need to make other women feel good about it.

Keep bleeding love, honey. Keep, keep bleeding love.

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