Juliet’s Mother

Summer break was almost over. Samita was excited . This session the class would be studying Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.

It was a tradition that the play was taught by making the students enact the scenes while reading it. The characters would be allotted to the students and each would read dialogues of the particular allotted character.

Samita was the most proficient reader in the entire section with several prizes for elocutions and debates to her name. She was more than sure that Juliet’s part was indisputably hers.

The day arrived and the school was buzzing with activity after the summer break. Finally the much awaited English period arrived.

However, instead of the English teacher, Mrs Srivastava, the Principal entered the class. She was accompanied by a lady. All the students were a little puzzled . The mischievous ones alarmed . The principal introduced the lady accompanying her as the replacement English teacher .

“Children , Mrs. Srivastava had a surgery and she is in the hospital.She wouldn’t be able to teach for around a month. We have a replacement teacher for you. “ The Principal announced.

Samita was heavily disappointed wondering if the replacement teacher would teach the play the traditional way.

The Principal left and the teacher introduced herself as Ms. Lal. She was a tall young woman who seemed to have taken special care of the way she looks. Her hair were braided and then assembled in a very artistic bun . Her choice of clothing was impressive. Her shiny skin reminded Samita of her newly acquired pimples.

She felt embarrassed .

However what the teacher said after introducing herself brought back Samita’s enthusiasm.

“I have been told that the play is taught by allotting characters to students and you read it according to your respective characters. “

She paused and looked around the whole class.

“So today I would make each one of you read and then allot some part.”

Samita geared up and was all ready to display her reading skills . But what happened next was the least expected. Perhaps from here on would start a series of realisations for Samita ; like her sudden awareness of the pimples on her 14 year old face.

After the reading was over the teacher started picking up students . She looked at Ananya instead of her.

“For Juliet’s part I think Ananya would be absolutely fit .”

Samita could not believe her ears . Her ego bruised and her spirits dampened . She looked at Ananya .

“ She ain’t a bad reader . But she isn’t better than me. “

By this time Romeo was chosen. Another shocker. Ritwik had a slurr and he was truly not the best choice . Ananya and Ritwik stood together and it was then it struck Samita. Almost hit by a lightning bolt . They were the best looking kids in the class. Ananya was a flawless beauty with a creamy pearly complexion and features to die for and Ritwik was a boy who would grow into a very handsome guy soon.

This was uneasy . But the worst was still to come . The teacher pointed at Samita and said “ You would play Juliet’s mother!”

“Juliet’s Mother?! Really !!! She hardly has any speeches.” She thought in dismay.

Samita was suddenly morose and shocked. Deeply aware of her looks. Her unattractive frame. Her borderline masculine features and her lack of feminine curves. She stayed quiet for the rest of the class. She anyways had nothing to read and her mind was too disturbed to focus on anything else.

Samita however was addicted to giving her best . So she read her part with earnest dedication. She could however feel the mockery in Miss. Lal’s eyes on her immensely sincere effort.

Juliet’s mother was the only character she could allot to an unattractive girl like her.This thought nagged Samita day and night.

Suddenly replica’s of Miss Lal came alive around her. Samita could see how often the advertisements talked about fair, young ,soft skin. How frequently a beauty product was called out to be the ladder to all success. As the reading of the play through the days continued Samita grew more and more disinterested and disillusioned.

The mirror was looked into often and avoided at the same time desperately. She would wonder how she could get a better , smoother, fairer skin. She also realised the importance of a sleek body. The thinner you were the more acceptable among friends you became. The food morsels became smaller and her diet reduced to half. A constant sadness and worry preoccupied her. She has definitely become quiet. It was no fun being Lady Capulet. She was growing wary of it.

It was time for Rakshabandhan and so was time for aunty Jaya to come for her annual visit . The great ritual of coming home to tie rakhi on her brother’s wrist was followed religiously by her aunt. This time of the year was best as her aunt otherwise based in US would come for a month’s holiday . Samita was always excited around this time. Jaya aunty called her Sammy.

“Sammy haven’t you lost weight “ She had noticed the instant she hugged Samita at the airport. Samita’s working mother , Kumud ,was worried about her going quite and eating less and she shared it with her best friend and sister-in-law , Jaya.

Aunty Jaya pacified Kumud that teenagers go through such phases and all they needed to do is to give her all the encouragement ,love and support and perhaps then she would herself share her problem.

“Sammy how is school?”

“Alright , Bua.”

“You will have your boards soon “

“Yes, Bua.”

“ So here’s the time to shine and then you will be a senior student…”

Samita had lost interest in the conversation.

“Any cute boys in your class.” Jaya changed the topic

Samita grew more sullen.

“What’s the matter honey? You don’t want to share with me … we always shared . I know teens are difficult years but we all still love you the same.”

Samita looked at her and gave a faint smile. But a bit of reassurance had seeped in her heart.

Two days later they were strolling in the stalls of the National Book Festival . Samita felt her usual self after months . Books always made her feel happy. She was excited and chirpy and Jaya felt relieved. They spent hours together strolling, surfing and buying books .

While they enjoyed ice cream together chit chatting … Samita suddenly posed a query..

“Bua is that only beautiful girls do well in life ?”

“Sammy tell me whats wrong? I know you would share with me”

Samita tried to put in words her disappointment on being allotted the speeches of Juliet’s mother and the deep confusion and identity crisis she was facing regarding her looks .

“Oh , being Lady Capulet isn’t flattering at all .”she concluded.

Jaya paused with an intense look and a sweet smile.

“Not because she is old and so you presume her to be all wrinkled and unappealing. The time the play was set . Lady Capulet would have been in her thirties perhaps . That’s not old honey. But I think your Mrs. Lal was concentrating on looks and in that case your resentment is right. “

Samita looked at her without speaking.

“It’s not great to be Lady Capulet because she was too obedient and to traditional . Nothing wrong in being traditional but she refused to help her only child just to stay obedient to her husband. That’s what I feel and she hardly shows affection to Juliet.”

“But why would you want to be Juliet either , honey? Except that she was the lead of the play.”

Samita was not expecting this query.

She spoke to herself “Why do I want to become Juliet except that she is the lead of the play and has a lot of dialogues.” As if something dawned on her.

“Well Mrs. Lal might be crazy about good looking people but I don’t think you should be bothered about that. It’s her problem. You are a pretty child and you will become a beautiful woman. You have to look at yourself that way and accept the way you are. Beauty is an abstract concept very often used to tie down women. But don’t be fooled by it.” Jaya continued.

“The world glorifies beauty and the beauty product companies create false hype about beauty. It’s there business. Don’t ruin your life and health because whatever they are saying is to only to promote their product. If fairness creams could change skin colour we would have no dark skinned people left. Think about it! Sammy it’s important to be healthy and to take care of your looks as well. But don’t try to be a certain prototype of beauty. “

Jaya went on speaking and Samita was listening intently the worry lines on her face vanishing miraculously and her smile becoming brighter.

“ Bua, I don’t want to become Juliet .” She spoke with excitement and then with a serious note to her voice Samita continued .

“ Since I love both biology and literature I would rather be Rachel Carson or Beatrix potter. I liked only one thing in Juliet that she rebelled against the norm but beyond that I think she was just a hopelessly confused teenager who was fascinated by Romeo. She died in utter confusion due mismanaged scheme to unite the lovers . Perhaps if she had lived she would have known better things to do with her life “

Jaya hugged Samita and smiled. Her work was done. Her old brainy, well read, talented niece had won the first battle of the teenage years .

“So Lady Capulet, Shall we have a large, juicy, yummy pizza ??”

Samita nodded with a beautiful smile.

The Tree Mourns

The news channels have been flashing yet another crime of brutality against women. The UP government took some reactionary steps after a couple of hours, reemphsizing once again on  it’s inept administration and complete lack of sensitivity to women’s issues. Well what would you expect from a party whose head calls rape a ‘mistake’!!!!??? that happens by boys and is  worth forgiving as if they are spastic as far as penile control is concerned.

I have become deeply cynical. Honestly its a whirlwind of crimes popping within a week . The hanging body of the minors screamed of chronic deprivation, malnutrition and a complete neglect from a society which boasts of being highly cultured and throttles every attempt to blemish HONOR.

What is the significance of women specially the ones who belong to low socioeconomic strata and worse still lowest on the caste ladder?? Is it anything more than having disposable vaginas!!!!??????Serve as easy targets for forced gang orgasm and then the rest of the body just  worth burning or being forced fed bottles of acid or hanged conveniently to die beneath life giving trees . The two sister corpses hanging off a tree shows that there is no fear,no mercy no respect for another human being.Oh sorry women are not human beings !! My bad!! they are men pleasing machines and male child bearing ‘ birthing vessels’.

There is a  flood of harsh words I want to spew.There is a an unimaginable anger that is building up in every cell of my body. The female of the human species is a classic example of an eagle’s egg that cracks among chickens , who dreams all her life of soaring but is told you are a chicken . She believes it and paralyses her wings to be accepted to the chicken community .

How many women grow up believing that all they need to be acceptable and validated by the society. Dress a certain way and speak a certain way. Being pressurised constantly to walk on a thin rope mastering a  strange balance of attracting male attention and at the same time  averting too much of it . Else be raped , molested or eve teased.

It’s a confusing place for a woman. Her body doesn’t make things any easier. As a practicing gynecologist I have seen women curse their bodies.But I also see fragile women go through labour valiantly . So are they weak ??

It’s a time where every woman has to realise that her womb is not her weakness and her vagina is a not a playground. Her body is sacred and it belongs to her and only her!!

I read somewhere on the net that there is a war against women and I felt that it’s a bit of an exaggeration of things . However in the past 2 to 3 years I have had a goose bump realisation that indeed there is!! Whether it is war rapes in Darfur or marital rapes in so called security of homes. Violence against women has more than 50 shades of grey I am sorry to say.

It is also a form of psychological  violence to tell an independent , educated , talented , aspiring girl to mould her life according to her husband’s will. That women have only supportive , home making and child bearing roles. That a girl who is ambitious should either drop the idea of marriage or be mocked and asked to find a house husband. The idea of equality in marriage and family has to settle in and the boys should not feel offended if they have to cook once in a while. Or better still why not outsource household chores or depend on technology to solve the problem.

I seem to be gliding off topic but it is a very chaotic entangled issues . Every such news has deeper roots then we can ever see. Each time such incidents happen thousands of girls see the cloud of fear thicken, there movement in the outside word restricted , their educational prospects being killed . It’s never about one victim it’s always about a domino effect that hits many .

The only way we as women can survive this is to not allow fear to creep in . To stand for ourselves . To believe that we are equals and believe in that religiously. The first and foremost task thus is to not give up . To pledge to stand through the storm. It’s easy for women actually as believe it or not  they do have inbuilt mechanisms for surviving. Women should protect themselves and first and foremost from falsehood that women are weak. It’s time to systematically break every myth of what women can’t do. There will be martyrs in this ‘war of identity and equality’ … there have been. There will be women who would fail women in so many ways but we should forgive them and break the ancient myth that women are women’s worst enemies. They are not . It’s a complex manipulative trick ingrained in patriarchy that makes women hate themselves and then act against their own kind.

Everyday let little girls and boys learn and know that there have been equally competent men and women who have helped the society progress. Lets strive to shift focus from skin scores and fairness index to brain and humanity scores and being fair rather than just possessing a fair skin. Lets find role models for our boys who don’t feel castrated by a  successful woman who has and speaks her mind. That no little boy thinks that it is his sister’s ‘work’ to pick up a glass of water as if she was stamped at birth with a list of must do things with kitchen chores inscribed on top. Let girls understand that they are capable and that it is their own duty to protect themselves . That it is not worth perishing for honor and dowry . That they deserve every bit of respect as long as they stay good , honest human beings unrelated to the status of their hymen. And when I speak of this I am not supporting promiscuity rather emphasizing on the idea of  producing a generation of responsible human beings and gifting them freedom.

What I wrote above  is a dream I have but for now the irony of the scene is stark. Two innocent sisters raped , killed and  hanging from a tree. Our so called society worships both trees and women. But it is also forgiven for cutting trees and killing women as if it was just a passing thing … a necessity a mistake.I wonder if the tree which was the silent witness could speak .. what would it say?

I have strong feelings for the cause of  both women  and trees and perhaps these words from Hermenn Hess could fill in what I feel for trees and how relevant it is for women to understand their own strength just like strong trees, to fulfil themselves according to their own law.

 

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

 

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”

 

That home, that peace , that strength is within women . Lets pray and strive for the indestructible spirit of the strongest tree.