It was beyond midnight as I was returning from a late night movie. As soon as I turned into the lane where my house is, I was surprised to see a good number of people sitting around on two three khatias (bed made of wooden frame with jute rope weaving). The immediate feeling was that someone has passed away a while back. Without any reaction one my face I just got into my house. There were only men outside sitting and chatting.
It was understood that the next few days were going to be of mourning in the lane. So I kept the music, if I did play any, low and my general disposition very neutral and avoided showing any expressions of excitement whenever I was going out or coming back home. This was partly in respect to the feelings of the family and partly to avoid any unnecessary issues with any of the local impulsive and brash guys.
I stay in a locality with the majority of landowners from the Gujjar community. India is overflowing with innumerable religions and castes and communities that come with their own set of cultures and etiquettes and beliefs. But in some cases they are all the same.
So as I expected the air to be mournful for a few days, the families didn’t disappoint me for even a minute. Instead their extravagant display of grief (displayed largely only by women) made me dwell on a few things about the society we live in.
For the next three-four days I could hear women howling at the top of their voices every now and then. The howling also accompanied some sort of prayer or mantras which they kept reciting with frenzied bouts of howling. Initially, it made me feel sad and I felt for the family who lost someone very dear.
But slowly I could hear like waves of cries passing my kitchen window. Curiously, I peeped outside to see what was happening. As the days were passing more and more relatives of the bereaved family were pouring in from nearby localities and their native villages. The women, who were coming in, all had their heads and faces covered and passed by crying like mad. Somehow something made me feel otherwise from their body language though I obviously could not see their faces underneath their veils.
I have seen deaths in my family too and in others but this felt somewhat weird to me. With all due respect to the bereaved family and the person who passed away, I just couldn’t join the pieces together.
In the course of the next few days, I went out several times for something or the other and could see the hordes of men sitting around on the khatias conversing and smoking. Except for a few men who seemingly had some sort of grief on their face, most seemed very normal. I didn’t expect them to be crying like mad and looking totally dejected. It was normal to be normal.
But what made me feel awkward about the scenario was the stark difference between the reactions of the two sexes to the same occurrence. Women howling like they just cannot accept the death, like there is no holding them back. The men, sitting around, simply chatting and smoking. I didn’t see even a single man with eyes swollen having cried.
I am sure this is not the simple case of women naturally being different from men in their reactions.
As I said earlier, there was nothing in the body language of the women passing under my kitchen window outside, that really suggested that these women were crying the way their sounds implied. Also, the cries started the moment they entered the lane.
What I really felt by what I observed was that these communities still largely treat their women as objects. As objects or tools of appropriating a situation. It made me feel that these women obviously, over the generations, have got their chores cut out depending on the situation.
So when everything is normal, they are supposed to be at home looking after the household chores and the children while the men roam around in the glory of their new found wealth brandishing their machismo, teasing other women on the road.
Starting from one, now almost every family in the whole lane has a dog to flaunt, though they do not have the decency to make their dogs shit and pee at home but take them out to the road to do their daily morning chores. I am glad for the fact that some of these dogs have got a home but then it is not that their owners really love them but it is largely a symbol of their status. One can clearly see that they are in some ways competing with each other in terms of whose dog is more exquisite.
These men loiter around outside staring and eve teasing women whereas the women from their homes stay indoors. The days of the quintessential “Gujjar/Jat Boy” stickers are gone. The times are more intimidating nowadays. So one car’s back window says “Your attitude is hurting me, mine can kill you”!
So coming back to the women, the whole incident made me feel sick about the situation. The women who were crying and howling were possibly just doing that because they were supposed to be doing that. The society or their community has defined their role in this given situation to perform such tasks. As the men are chatting up and smoking (as it will be so unmanly for men to be crying), the women are supposed cry their hearts out whether they really are so sad or not so that the air is filled with the pain of the family who just lost someone. They seemingly were the tool for their community to create the feeling of mourning. Every time some new set of women came in the cries grew even louder and crazier.
I really wonder when these stereotypes were defined and by whom. I wonder what those small kids in these houses must understand of the situation and the reactions of the people. I feel so helpless seeing such scenes and so sad that we still have so much distance to cover in terms of being a more equal and just society.