Gained in Translation: I won’t remain without a name

No woman in the world knows her name because women are generally not addressed by any name. She is known through her relationships or through geographical limits.

Updated: November 4, 2018 12:52:10 am
(Illustration: CR Sasikumar)

Written by Ramanika Gupta

I am a woman. I don’t know what my name is. In fact, no woman in the world knows her name because women are generally not addressed by any name. She is known through her relationships or through geographical limits. One can also say she was not given a name, under a conspiracy. Therefore, I too do not have a name.

A curiosity rose in my mind that I should give myself a name. But what name? Maybe I should look into a dictionary; probably, I’ll find some words there that I could adopt as my name. I should look into the scriptures! Perhaps in the myths I’ll find a woman who had a name.

I should look into history. Perhaps there I will find some extraordinary women who were known by their names. On thinking hard, stars in the sky began to appear like letters. I stitched them together to fashion some words and crossed the first step in search of a name for myself.

The first word thus formed was ‘Eve’ who was held guilty of giving man the forbidden fruit to eat! The one who tasted the fruit was not guilty, the one who saw the fruit was! I should move on, search somewhere else.

A word like Muhammad’s daughter ‘Fatima’ appeared twirling in the sandy whirlwind of a desert! This daughter turned out to be very brave. She did not hesitate one bit in facing grave risks to save her father Muhammad. But that’s a daughter’s story, not a woman’s. A tale of a relationship. Where is the woman there?

That way even Mary had given birth to Christ by breaking the rules of society, and she was even glorified because of Christ! But as Mary she was guilty, an adulteress. Had that child not become Christ who would have known Mary today? She too would have endured dire punishment.

Should I move forward or return to the past? I was in a dilemma. Just then the wind whispered, “Call yourself Sita”. Wind too is feminine. It just threw a name and disappeared with a swish.

Sita? Oh, that Sita who underwent an ordeal by fire to prove her chastity before Ram? Who, when her sons defeated Ram in a battle and took Hanuman captive, asked Mother Earth to take her into her womb to prove that her sons were begotten by Ram. Earth too is a woman after all! Poor thing’s heart was rent asunder and Sita clung to her mother’s heart. She left the battlefield of struggle.

Sita and Earth both could not understand that it was all Valmiki’s conspiracy. Just to glorify the norms established by Ram, he introduced the idea of Sita returning to the Earth. Lurking in Sita’s mind too was faith in this system created by man. Otherwise, she could have gone with her two sons or alone. She could also have won victory over Ram. She had won the sympathy of the public and Ram’s mask had slipped. Sita forgot that she was not just a woman, but also a human. Sita valued social norms above humanity. She dwarfed the humanity of human beings. She invalidated the potency of her existence while still alive.

No, I cannot affix on myself the name of an obedient follower or a personality dedicated in blind devotion.

I was wrestling with this dilemma that Draupadi knocked on my door. She was indeed very brave. She also knew well how to avenge insult, but by accepting five husbands against her wishes on Kunti’s order, she hurt not only woman’s psyche, but also womanhood. She was in love with Arjun, then why did she suffer the others? This was not even a strategy on her part to use the five Pandavas to avenge her humiliation. Those five had remained silent on even seeing her being stripped. Despite this she put up with them. Even to save herself she pleaded with a man. She could have fought on her own. She could have stripped like the Manipuri women who shook entire India by stripping in protest against rape. From the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, every part of India was shamed! Wouldn’t Duryodhana and his assembly have been shamed on her stripping?… All the five Pandavas, including her lover Arjun, had treated her as a mere property, that’s why they had staked her. Why didn’t she leave the Pandavas so that those cowards would have been shamed?

I told Draupadi to go back!

Names like Savitri were outside my thought sphere because the Savitris deny their very existence without their husbands. But I believe in the existence of woman, that’s why for her identity I have today embarked on a search for a name.

Razia, who was killed for taking her own decisions, was appealing. But she vanished somewhere in history; no other Razia was visible in her league. Still Razia’s name is an example of a woman’s existence, identity, taking risks for one’s decisions.

Just then I saw Shiva-Parvati approaching me, arguing. Parvati had revolted against her father to marry Shiva. Once Shiva went away for a long period. They say Parvati gave birth to Ganesha without waiting for Shiva and made him stand at the door. The Puranas say she made a statue from 12 years of dirt gathered on her skin and stationed it outside the bathroom… After some years Shiva returned… Ganesha stopped Shiva, saying, “My mother is taking a bath inside. You cannot go.” Shiva snarled, “How could you be my son, I have been away so long?” And he beheaded Ganesha.

When Parvati saw Ganesha beheaded, she was furious. Shiva was compelled to bring Ganesha back to life by fixing an elephant’s head instead… Evidently, Parvati saw her son, born out of her body’s dirt, as part of her existence. The compulsion to give birth to a son only from the husband’s semen was not acceptable to her. Semen could be anyone’s, but the womb is woman’s own. Mother is a fact, the concept of father is based only on trust.

On this point, Parvati placed woman, womb and woman’s pride on an equal footing with man. She was not subordinate to Shiva. Nor was she a follower like Sita or a dedicated wife sitting in Vishnu’s lap like Lakshmi. She was neither Sati nor Savitri. She lived her life as Parvati, Shiva’s wife, not slave. She would ride Nandi bull along with Shiva. On seeing injustice on Earth, it was Pravati who would prompt Shiva to give boons to needy humans.

So should I name myself Parvati? From inside my mind there was a voice saying what’s the hurry. Verify, else the entire journey would fail if you choose a wrong name.

Then, Vasudev’s eighth child, who was a girl, roared. She was exchanged to save Krishna… She was saying, “Shiva was not that innocent! He too had male ego! Parvati was cheated by Shiva several times… I too am a victim of a conspiracy by men… I had to die for the sake of Krishna.”

Then an ankle bell told me the secret of Shiva’s ego. That bell might have fallen when Shiva had done tandav to chase away Parvati from an arena. What a sight it was! Parvati was charming everyone through lasya dance. The gods watched in fascination. Only Shiva’s ego was provoked. He became jealous.

“Parvati will score a point? She’ll win and I’ll lose? Absolutely impossible!” He rose like a whirlwind and twirled on one leg across the arena. The dust rose up to the sky. The gods were dumbfounded! Yet Parvati continued dancing… to the tune of love’s cadence. But where was any room for love in the fire of Shiva’s ego? When Parvati did not leave the arena, Shiva started dancing naked!

Parvati ran away from the arena. She could not face obscenity.

The ankle bell that had flitted away from Shiva’s foot became silent!

“What should I do?” I had fallen in deep thought.

“Why did Parvati run away?” I was repeatedly asking that bell. Why didn’t she reply to that obscenity? So will this male ego never let me adopt a name? Is it this male ego that has kept my woman nameless?…

So what should I name myself? It was now morning but I could not find a name for myself! Yes, I had indeed embarked on the search for a name, once again! One day I will definitely find a name. I will encounter many such mornings… I have confidence in myself. I won’t remain without a name.

Excerpted from the writer’s essay ‘Naam ki khoj mein stree ki yatra’, translated from Hindi by Archana Yadav

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