by Dishari Neogy, Kolkata, India
“I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me”
I grew up adoring these lines of Emily Dickinson, whose life was everything but optimism, never halted for death to pronounce his dictate. Little did I know talking behind the sepulchre would be so dauntless and exhilarating. As I lay entombed, I dared to chronicle my life trajectory, which bore inadvertent semblance with the poet herself and fertility goddess Hera.
Since childhood I heard my father say, my name was in close approximation with the Greek goddess Hera, who was the consort of Olympian God Zeus, just like my name Ishani, who was the consort of Lord Shiva, but unlike these goddesses of unparalleled fecundity, I was still barren and sterile at the age of thirty-two. Nearly, after eight years of my farcical marriage, I was unable to produce an heir to my in-laws. Goddess Hera deserted me and I had become only a namesake of Shiva’s companion.
Being my father’s only light-bearer, he often soothed me saying, “You are Hera’s child and Ishani’s little sister, they will always shower their blessings on you and protect you from invisible inhibitions.” As years passed by, a realization dawned me, that Gods like to play with our lives, they like to taunt and mock our meager survival, a breathing humiliation in front of the society. My incessant prayers and offerings to their shrines have fallen into their deaf ears and they had conveniently turned a blind eye towards my entreaties.
When the world turns against you, one’s husband becomes the last resort to a married woman. My husband, Pratik, was gradually distancing himself from me and was often reluctant to discuss the small little things of life. The society and my in-laws in particular blamed me for my unproductivity, but in Pratik’s case I was quite unsure. He never overtly disregarded me or blamed me but his manoeuvre mostly transformed my skepticism into certainty.
With time, my world had contracted, unable to reach out to my closed ones in fear of being asked the same questions: “When are you planning a baby?” “You have already turned too old to conceive now!” “If you can’t conceive then think of adopting a baby!” Their inquisition and grotesque remarks confined me within the four walls and plunged me into a dark niche of insanity and paranoia.
My mother-in-law one day, while chopping vegetables jibed me, “Rita recently had a daughter and I don’t know how long I have to wait to play with my grandchild!” These comments had become more frequent those days, but when I assess my living days, I ponder, would she ever use that language and tone if her own daughter was infertile or was it reserved specifically for daughter-in-laws. As I’m dead now, I no longer lament my fate rather I’m glad to live an unscathed life under the soil.
In those long years of so-called conjugal life, I comprehended one significant truth, those harsh burlesques of my dear ones would become more frequent with passing days and I would have to learn to endure it stoically in order to remain with my family. At times, I ruminate of my husband broaching the topic of a possible divorce, so that he could conveniently remarry but until now, he never indicated anything of that sort.
My mother said I ponder too much and should rather heed into enticing my disarrayed husband again. But little did my mother know, there was nothing charismatic about my attributes and I couldn’t revive my lost enigma due to natural process, but she undeniably knew my inevitable destination of a social ‘outcast’.
In India, women are held liable for sterility and men are considered Roman gods, beyond the realm of question and doubt, always on a graciously elevated pedestal of worship than their other half. But unfortunately, none wants to delve deep into our hearts, but always upright into dissecting and stigmatizing us and shun us from the pedestal of women, who are the breeder of advancement and upholder of civilization. If I were productive, then I could decorously wear the mantle of ‘Devi’, ‘Parvati’, ‘Durga’ and as per Greek tradition ‘Hera;, but due to fate’s unprecedented play, I was barren, then God forbid, I would have to forever bear the scorn and repulsion of regressive appellation of ‘monster’, ‘devil’, ‘demon’, ‘home-wrecker’ and what not.
Gradually, I witnessed, people tend to avoid me from religious and auspicious ceremonies, as an unfruitful woman is considered an ‘omen’ or ‘augury’ of sinister evilness, where I was relegated to a pauper, devoid of sentiments and love. They imagine, I possess the potential to subvert a cheerful and jovial moment into a death bed of misery, mishap and agony, then before dissipating my power over others, I would have endeavored to circumvent my own plight.
Pratik often lamented his fate, as I knew his utmost desire to be a father. He never pronounced these words overtly, but I knew deep down that he blamed me for his misfortunate. But I too want to be a mother like everyone else, I too want to hear ‘Maa’ from my child, I too desire to be included in ceremonies and enjoy the privileges reserved for mothers. My insanity knew no bounds, I was tired of seeing my husband’s haggard appearance and dishevelled behaviour, but I’m too plaintive to convince them of my mental stress.
My name had become a mock of my own self. I couldn’t articulate my pain to the external world without being critically judged. My husband, whom I wedded on my parent’s consent, had turned into a lifeless soul much like my horrendous marriage. What remained was our mundane talk – a bundle of platitudes, required to run a partially dead marriage. “Do you need water?”, “When will you return from office?”, “When will I serve the dinner?”, “Are you going to office tomorrow?”, “Can you buy these medicines while returning home?” – this was the least I expected of my conjugal life.
Once my mother said, a woman build a ‘house’ into a ‘home’, a reckless loner into a responsible father, a playful man into a dutiful husband, but after all these years of being in an union with him, I felt ‘faceless’, an ‘unidentifiable’ person, whose life merged in the realm of ‘negotiation’ and ‘pretension’. I had to pretend to deceive the outer world from being caught and ruthlessly judged, who were forever on their toes to misalign my psyche.
As a Literature student, I had great passion for reading Greek mythologies, though that bookish education was unable to save my tumble down marriage, yet I often introspectively look at my graduating days. Over the years, I accumulated adequate consciousness to comprehend the enormity of my name. Until then, I had never felt the burden and significance of it and hence, never encountered humiliation which was unquestioningly attached to it. Though Hera was revered and glorified as a goddess of marriage, childbirth and fertility. But her marriage with Zeus, was far from being perfect and blissful.
On the other hand, goddess Ishani’s relationship with Lord Shiva, was the very epitome of euphoria and utopia. Being mother of four children deities, she created Kailash an abode of everyone’s envy. As my name resembled him, I always expected her to protect me from mishaps. But my marriage was dangling between these two vast arenas of far-fetched possibilities. I didn’t know for how long did I have to deal with this inarticulate pain and unexpressed silences, that abundantly filled my life. Words hurt people once spoken, it can’t be withdrawn, but I never realized that silences could be ‘unbearable’ and ‘traumatic’. I had turned into a beach, where the ravaging sea waves of ocean crushed upon, where the whirlwind of criticism and condemnation, uprooted me from my base of strength and determination and unapologetically lashed me on the rock shore of skeletons.