January 2014


Post 134.

Born on November 14, 1913, my father’s mother, Taimoon Hosein, daughter of Kapooran and Shah Mohammed Hosein of Balmain, Couva may have been the first one in the world with this name. It was a misrepresentation of Tayammum, the kind of linguistic and historical mangling that clung to many who crossed water and entered the world in new locations across the British empire.

In the year 1946, my grandfather, himself born in 1901 and the son of Sapheeran and Nazar Hosein, went to register the birth of a third daughter. My grandmother wanted to call her Zairee, but my grandfather named her Taimoon, after my grandmother. Disregarding both my grandfather’s ultimate decision and the official certificate, my grandmother called her Zairee anyway and, eventually, so did everyone else in the family.

Such small acts of defiance are the legacy left for young Indian women like me. There were also large acts of insubordination and self-definition in the histories of indentured Indian women who bravely came to Trinidad as independently waged workers, who unapologetically left men who did not satisfy them, who participated in workers’ public resistance, and whose confrontations with inequality led them to be seen as the wrong kind of woman, deserving of shame, punishment and even death.

Indian great-grandmothers had to be pushed hard by the combined forces of Indian men, religious leaders, local planters and British colonial authorities into forgetting decades of increased autonomy so that now we think that they were naturally and always dependent, docile housewives.

I know that narrative is false. So, every time a contemporary mouthpiece of Indian authority, justified by religion, race, a belief in natural gender inequality or some invented history of female obedience, gets upset by Indian women’s choices that they haven’t approved, I’m without fear. We’ve been making decisions about our bodies, our beliefs, our money and our labour for almost 170 years.

Drawing on the history we know and knowing there are stories like my grandmother’s still to be told, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Indian feminist in our region. It’s a risky location. On the one hand, we are without authorization by religion, the state or men, whether here, India, the diasporas or even Mecca. On the other, we are aware of how Afrocentrism has dominated woman-issues consciousness, mobilizing and writing in the Caribbean. It isn’t that we don’t draw on all of these connections, it’s that daily-Quran-reading, name-I-chose-insisting grandmothers cannot be entirely understood within or determined by them. Neither can I.

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

There have been Muslim, Hindu and Christian Indian great-grandmothers and grandmothers, aunts, mothers and sisters who at one or another time agreed. I hear you all nodding quietly as you read. Being an young Indian feminist in the Caribbean is about continuing such resolute negotiations and deciding what to name our own stories.

Note: CODE RED for gender justice is hosting a Caribbean Blog Carnival. This post is published there and I hope that the Caribbean receives it with love.

Postscript: A reflection on the post’s receipt can be found here.

Post 133.

When I was small and electricity went, monsters would instantly populate the dark. Scratch the ‘when I was small’ part of that first sentence.

Their inconceivably ominous, overwhelmingly paralyzing forms occupied my imagination. I was terrified that they lived under the bed, in the closet, in hallway shadows and behind closed doors. I wasn’t afraid of bandits, rapists or looming dangerous men. That’s now, not then.

Where did this fear come from and when did it become so palpable? What made it so irrationally resilient? Was there any way to conquer it, such that I ran monsters, monsters nah ran me?

Much later in life, I learned that other adults were actually not preoccupied with monsters once flung into the dense uncertainty of a T&TEC failure. Were they just brave or foolish? Was it worth the risk to find out?

Observing Ziya’s recently acquired, screamingly-acute angst about the dark, I wondered if I was looking back at my own fear’s mysterious origins, if such anxiety is a natural part of everyone’s budding capacity to make-believe, the spectrum of fictive life that begins to be conceived at Zi’s developmental stage. What is it about the dark that wrecked all the hours of socialization I spent on hard propaganda about how she should be brave like Durga and strong like Kali, and badass unafraid?

It didn’t help that blackouts also scare our dog. Our dog! That left me. For the three year old and the trembling pothound, I had to believe that we were safe. Full of bravado, I lay in the stillness feeling like real big people. Dead truth was I was just waiting for Stone to get here and make everything okay.

Watching children acquire fear is like a bad premonition. Fears can kill selfhood, assertiveness, trust and happiness. I’d do anything to help Zi find her own courage long before she is also a mother and turning forty.

Speaking of bravery, Stone calls the next day to say he sees a snake in the mesh on the roof. I say hold on, I almost reach. With my phone light, I identify what indeed looks like a curled up, patterned snake, probably a macaquel and not a mapepire, though we frequently find those in the yard. I call everyone I know who rescues snakes. An insanely cool woman sends someone to Santa Cruz.

He saw it in afternoon light. Now with a proper flashlight in hand, I verify, ‘Stone are you sure they aren’t leaves?’ He says he’s sure it moved. Zi’s doing her new angst thing.

In Stone’s territory wars with insects and animals, dozens of grasshoppers have performed in yet another night chorus because of me. I’ve saved bats, caterpillars and even small frogs. Caught moths by hand. God’s creatures great and small, right? So, now up on a ladder and peering into the roof’s pitch-black recesses, I fearlessly tap along the mesh. No noise, no movement. No snake. I make sure. I climb down. I breathe.

Ratid.

I speed dial the insanely cool woman and tell her that we’ve handled it. She’s skeptical about the snake’s safety plus someone is almost here. I could ah dead with shame. ‘What are you going to do with the snake? We can come to collect it’, she offers. Aack! No! In my least frantic voice, I unfailingly promise, insha’allah, that no snake will be harmed by us. She calls off the rescue. I thank about four pantheons of gods.

I show Stone. No snake. We agree. All is well.

It takes a story to explain how yuh girl could fraid monsters, but not macaquel.

Post 132.

Children start attending school to learn, but surely the real schooling is ours.

Last term, Ziya’s first in school and more importantly my first, I was completely unprepared on registration day. Had no clue. School supplies? Ummm. This term, yuh girl checked off the list like I studied for that gold star. Who’s learning now, baby!

There with the other parents, I was amazed that somehow we manage to bring up children without group therapy sessions or domino-effect disasters, the business of parenting, at once so mundane and been-there-done-that for the last two hundred thousand years, also seeming like everyday, parental A-level exams.

Today, a speech and language therapist came to talk about dos and don’ts, and the importance of getting children tested. By three years old, she emphasized, lisps, mispronunciation, language fears and even baby talk are no longer cute, but show potential problems that need attention.  These can result in shyness, lack of confidence, greater conflict and an inability to be understood in your child’s interactions with others. All kinds of things can contribute, from thumb sucking to bottle-feeding beyond a year to just sheer bad habits when talking to our children.

I must have been sitting there like the other parents, glassy-eyed and reviewing the last months’ memories, to see if there were signs I missed or don’ts I was guilty of. Like most parents of three year olds, I couldn’t imagine how anything could be wrong with the speech of someone who literally talks so much she once stopped herself to comment on how talkative she was. When you comment on your own talkativeness, you know harnessing that kind of chat could give T&TEC competition.

But, I had to reflect. Were they just words or whole sentences? Did I ask her yes or no questions, or did I ask questions that required full conversation answers? Do I really know if she hears well in both ears? Did I really ever pay attention to her eyesight? Because most parents are busy, tired, multi-tasking and preoccupied with being broke, even conscientious ones may not notice everything. Children also adapt and learn to compensate, making up words, pointing, choosing silence, reading lips and so on. Plus, they are usually moving so much and so dizzyingly that, really, watching them is like feeling warm and fuzzy about a loud, overly exuberant, endlessly awake blur.

I love that the school tries to teach parents. Some may know all this stuff from raising siblings or from having prior children or just from having it together. Not me. I know about books, rivers, vegetarian food and rhyming. Oh, and feminism. That’s my skill set. Stone knows about DJing and music. The rest is all aha moments we didn’t expect. So, I find myself learning about parenting, schooling, developmental stages, and both tough and tender love as Ziya moves through each term.

What’s nice is that such learning can bring parents together too. I whatsapped Stone, who was home on shift with Zi, throughout the whole morning parents’ session, though I figured that the principal probably looked askance at my bad example of texting through class. When I got home, Stone and I sat like two tired people assessing the steepness of the terrain ahead. We worked out how to join forces, compared notes and different perspectives, and sorted out who would be better at what.

Although Ziya doesn’t start school until tomorrow, I feel like I covered a whole syllabus today. Surviving morning traffic for the next term feels like just the opening challenge in the labour and lessons of life-long learning.

Post 131.

Everybody knows that feeling when everything comes together. You can’t explain what clicks, but you know when it happens. You lift off like you have wide, sure wings and they are in control, and all that exists is this moment when you are not even touching ground. Somehow.

Right then, there is no doubt that each thing that happened had to, with the exact timing and order as it occurred, or else the magic of confluence and consequence would never have swept you off your feet. Such a moment of transcendence can’t be predicted, planned or pretended, though you can conscientiously prepare.

What got me here? I had been wondering about a way ahead and was unable to force the process. I learned that my brain couldn’t dominate it.

Turns out, the next step is only lighter than air when mind, heart, body and spirit come of their own free will to the crossroad and, without too much dialogue, all turn toward the same direction, feeling ready, knowing what is right.

Mind has no chance of convincing the others. Arguing with heart is like dictating terms to rolling thunder. Not listening to it is as inhumane as caging a bird because it sings. Body doesn’t listen to anyone. Logic echoes thinly against body’s faith in visceral sensation. After all, who feels it knows. Spirit arrives where it should, when it should, how it should. Its modus operandi is trust. Spirit can’t be made into form far less told what to do. Imposing hard rules only alienates them all from each other and from you.

Responding to me, mind said to take control. Spirit said to trust in the best outcome for all. Heart said that nothing is forever. Body said, it was beautiful then, now there is only the present and it feels good. Listening, I still didn’t know the way ahead, but I knew what direction I was facing. There, at the crossroad, someone had lit a fire. So, I turned thoughts to intentions to words to flames and then to smoke to seal a deal I didn’t want undone.

You already know what happened next. Quiet. Stillness. Effortlessness. Somehow.

Everybody knows the frustration of searching in the dark or choosing unnecessarily difficult options. The fear when wondering how long it will take for things to make sense or settle down. Everybody knows the futility of being at odds with yourself or without balance. Everybody knows that the z axis, time, cuts right through the middle of your pattern, teaching you about causality and correlation until it eventually marks the spot where you now realize you’ve arrived.

What’s clear is that people appeared in my life, like guardian angels, bringing pieces of something I had never seen whole. I fitted the pieces together as best as I could. When the last piece arrived I felt certain, in the valley of bone between my breasts, that they would all fall into place.

You know when you start something not knowing how it will end, but as you get closer you realize you had the whole idea, not yet formed, since you began? When you finish, it looks exactly how you knew it should even though you didn’t know that it would. Somehow.

I looked back at the process, tidied together what I learned, breathed joy in and joy out, and took a single step ahead that can only be described as soaring.

Wings lifted, I was only a vibration in mid-air, a consciousness without scope, nothing but now, exactly where I was supposed to be and precisely on time. Somehow.