“We women, when we’re searching for a meaning to our lives or for the path of knowledge, always identify with one of four classic archetypes.
The Virgin (and I’m not speaking here of a sexual virgin) is the one whose search springs from her complete independence, and everything she learns is the fruit of her ability to face challenges alone.
The Martyr finds her way to self-knowledge through pain, suffering, and surrender.
The Saint finds her true reason for living in unconditional love and in her ability to give without asking anything in return.
Finally, the Witch justifies her existence by going in search of complete and limitless pleasure.”
— Paulo Coelho, Brida
The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle is a 15th century English poem that narrates a tale so timeless, so alluring, it’s been retold a multitude of times in as many versions as the mind can imagine. Over a decade ago—12 years, to be precise— I narrated one of these versions to a boy with a serious demeanour and a crooked smile— a friend and a tease. He and I sat in the verandah of my house, conversing casually but locked in a joust of wits.
He had discovered the biggest chink in my armour—my fierce feminism— and he knew just how to get my goat. Keep making snide remarks against womankind in general, and sooner or later you’re bound to get the mercury rising. And my goodness, it sure did work. But after several instances of this, I’d grown wiser and learnt to dish it back with a smile. And so, on one of those balmy afternoons that punctuate the month of March, I began:
“You know, you have actually no idea what a woman really wants, and that’s why you keep making fun of them,” I said, grandiosely. “Let me tell you what it is.”
King Arthur, went my version of the story, was ambushed and held captive, but his \wisdom and valour so impressed the enemy that he agreed to spare Arthur’s life. There was, however, one condition: within a year, Arthur had to bring back the answer to the question,’what does a woman truly want?’
As it so often happens in legends, Arthur reached the end of his year without success, but then he met a witch who proclaimed to know the answer. But of course she had her own conditions, too—marriage to the young and most handsome knight in all of the land, Sir Gawain. Poor Arthur could not subject his loyal knight to a lifetime with the ugly, spiteful, malodorous witch with a face full of boils and the most obnoxious behaviour. Sir Gawain though, loyal to the core, agreed to marry her and she in turn promised to give the answer on the wedding night.
Now the wedding day was a perfect disaster, with the lady at her witchly best—rude to guests, cackling hideous and disgusting. Gawain, on the other hand, resolutely remained a gentleman, ignoring her behaviour and putting guests at ease.
But as night drew near, Gawain rued his fate and braced himself to enter the bedchamber. Imagine his great surprise, then, when he found in the bedchamber not the hideous witch he had married, but the most beautiful maiden he had ever set eyes upon.
“Who are you, fair maiden?” Gawain asked, confused.
“I’m your wife,” smiled the woman, “the witch that you married. Your behaviour today has won over my heart, and I shall grant you a favour, by transforming into a maiden wondrous fair,” she paused, “But only half the time — either by day or by night. The choice is yours.”
Wise Gawain pondered for a moment. A wife like that would make him the envy of the land by day, but this beautiful woman at night was a sight no man could refuse. The choice was tough.
In the end, Gawain made his decision.
“Since you are the one granting this favour,” he said, “I leave the choice to you.”
The witch beamed.
“Brave and wise Sir Gawain! Know that this is truly the answer to your king’s question. What does a woman really want? The answer is Sovereignty. The power to make her own decisions. And so dear knight, I shall be my beautiful, pleasant self at all times—day and night—for you gave me what a woman wants.”
I ended my narration and gave him a smug smile. “Now do you get it?”
The boy smiled mischievously.
“Hmm…” he said— his favourite word, as I was to discover later. “But there’s another moral to the story.”
“Is there?” I grinned. “What?”
“Inside every beautiful woman… hides a witch.”
I so wanted to punch him, but he’d definitely scored this one.
The episode passed, but the boy never forgot the story— for he remained forever a gentleman, and gave the beautiful woman in his life the best thing a man can give: Sovereignty.
But he had been right, all along. Inside every beautiful woman there does indeed hide… a witch. A witch with deep, burning desires and clandestine thoughts full of sorcery. The Witch that, if you believe Coelho, “justifies her existence by perpetually being in search of complete and limitless pleasure.”
On the surface, I might as easily have identified with the Virgin: ‘complete independence’. But there’s always that little matter of the witch lurking inside…
January 10, 2014
A new year, with nothing quite new to show for itself.
Except that the witch grows stronger with every breath, feeding on unspent passion, unspoken thoughts, unremarkable days and untouched nights. She claws my insides hungrily, egged on by a weakening exterior. The witch is strong and desperate.
Every bone that holds her in is a fossil, assaulted by relentless winds of fate.
There’s a reason why witches are always depicted as ugly, gnarled, crafty creatures of hate. The world is intimidated by their unashamed acceptance of desire, their full-blooded longing, their refusal to be meek martyrs— their need to ask so much of life and their ability to extract it as well. The sorcery of her untameable spirit scares and confuses the world, and so the pleasure-seeking ecstatic witch must necessarily be turned into a fearsome creature— villainous to the core and hideous to behold. Because ugliness, more than anything, repulses humans.
The witch inside me screams.
She screams, inaudibly, in indescribable agony. Twists each strand of yearning she finds and spins technicolour dreams in my head at night—dreams purple with passion and longing, crimson with violent lust. She bottles that which has coagulated inside—unable to flow for so long—and uses it relentlessly against me—against herself—revelling in the pain; hers and mine.
‘Tis true. The witch is forever in search of complete and limitless pleasure.
Pleasures of flesh.
Pleasures of blood.
Pleasures of vein and bone.
A caress, an embrace, a kiss, a whispered conversation deep into the night. A choreography of ecstasy. The world around her is full of it—every image on screen, every poem on page, every note of music wafting around.
“And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?”
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lines pierce through the page.
“Fading in, fading out
on the edge of paradise
Every inch of your skin is a holy grail I’ve got to find…
…So love me like you do, la-la-love me like you do
…Touch me like you do, ta-ta-touch me like you do…”
Ellie Goulding croons from the opposite ends of the earth.
Curse you, Fifty Shades of Grey.
“Lahoo mu lag gaya…” smoulders Deepika Padukone.
“Soya tha nas nas mein ab ye jag gaya… lahoo mu lag gaya…”
‘I’ve tasted blood—it smears my lips,
Long asleep in my veins, it blazes awake.’
The witch smirks. Grimaces. And writhes.
The taste of blood never fades. Never wanes. All it takes is one sampling.
The world around her appears submerged in pleasure and not one speck can she partake. Blood, blood everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.
Day passes night, night passes day, and the witch’s bloodlust saturates each pore. The more she starves, the more she frenzies. Gnashes her teeth and snaps my veins. My brain clots. My vision blurs.
I’ve tasted blood… it smears my lips….Long asleep in my veins, it blazes awake.
Blaze, blaze, inferno. Raze me to the ground.
For surely it is the fate of the witch to be burnt forever at the stake.