I want this to be a fancy read. Trust me, I do. But bear with me. This has not been an easy year.
If I’m being completely honest, it hasn’t been an easy 25 years.
I know, I know. I should acknowledge my privilege. After all, I do have a lot of it.
I’ve never had to worry about paying my fees. Food—home-cooked, or ordered—has never been an issue. Both my parents are healthy, and I hope they always will be. The list is endless, and I have a lot of gratitude for the blessings I have been bestowed with.
Even then, I am not okay.
Has it always been like this?
No. I mean, sure, I remember the bad more than the good. But does that mean it’s been bad predominantly? Honestly, I wish I could definitively answer that. But I can’t.
Why does the bad linger longer than the good?
Like I said before, it’s been a strange year. Despite being introverted, I like losing myself in a crowd of people, be it in school, college, university, or at work. Always in the background, blending in. Sort of like a passive observer of my own story.
Never the protagonist. Always the token brown girl that has no legitimate storyline or character arc.
Or so I thought.
This year, I’ve had to be me. Experience my reality in its entirety. And I’ve realized something.
I am not okay.
Things happen, you know? Despite privilege, despite protection, despite helicopter-parenting. Things happen.
Whether those things happen when you’re a child, visiting a relative who, perhaps, drinks a little too much, or when you’re a teen, frequenting the market-place that has seen you grow into your body—what’s done is done. And when it’s done, it leaves a mark.
Things happen. They leave their mark.
“It’s fine,” you think to yourself, and lie a little each day. “At least it’s not THAT bad. It could be worse.”
It could be worse. And when it gets worse, you condition yourself to repeat the same mantra.
“It’s fine. It’s not THAT bad. It could be worse.”
It’s not just internal, either. The inner monologue is amplified by the deafening, roaring voices around you. Drilled into your head, till the noise is one with your thoughts.
The men around me, for instance, want me to think women are inferior. They think we aren’t as strong as them. They think we don’t have it as bad.
They think privilege means getting to cut in line at the tandoor. They equate ease with having to stay at home, “only” looking after the tasks that may arise in that abode.
I scoff, of course, because what do they know?
What do they know about the plight of the woman who battles hungry, gaping, penetrative leers while hoping she can get her roti as soon as possible and leave? What do they know about the thoughts that cross her mind, and the dua she utters under the large chaadar draped around her body? What do they know of the wandering hands that made her recoil upon making contact with her jism during the short walk from her makaan to the tandoor?
It’s not THAT bad. But what do they know?
I think about this, while also thinking about the reader who has rolled his eyes at the sentences before this.
“Another laanday ki feminist trying to use the woman card.”
The woman card is a strange thing. I thought I possessed it when I was a child, with that sharaabi uncle. But what do I know? Maybe little girls don’t get the woman card. I thought I possessed it as a teen, but the men around me seemed unfazed. It didn’t help me at 8 and it sure as hell didn’t help me at 23.
Despite carrying this card, it got worse.
It got worse, and I am not okay.
Perhaps, women are built differently. They’re cultivated to take abuse of all kinds and are stripped of any kind of agency. Privilege, unfortunately, doesn’t factor into this. It helps, but the principle remains the same.
Your worth is determined by those around you.
With this in mind, we learn to silence ourselves the first few times. The anger grows, but we take everything that is thrown at us. It’s what we’ve been taught.
The hands with which you slap us are the hands we seek blessings from when we are wed off; and the new pair of hands that violate us are the same hands we begrudgingly kiss each night before going to sleep.
I’m not saying this happens all the time. No, sometimes, we try to point out that we’re human. We grasp at this woman card in a frenzy—this supposed ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ concept.
But my body is my prison. Being a woman is my crime.
It could be worse. Of course, it could be worse. However, it is what it is. And I am not okay.
I am not okay with each passing minute in this cell, where an act of service for myself seems like rebellion. I am not okay with having to be okay when I’m not. I am not okay at the wails that have died a million deaths inside me, escaping only as tears that are beginning to dry.
I have so much I want to say. To you. To me. To the child in me who could have been more rebellious, more free.
I could have been more. I could have just been.
But I kept thinking, “It’s not that bad. It could be worse.”
And now it is. And I am not okay.