An Indian Woman’s Story, Or a Tribute to Hannah Gadsby

The paper shouts the morning news:
‘India becomes the most dangerous place for women’
It makes me rewind five seconds
When I was rushing to wrap a shawl across my chest
before going out to get the newspaper
Before the rain washed away the truth and ink off the paper
And I wouldn’t have seen the news first in the eyes of the paper vendor
Rereading it in ink later

What’s with men demanding a medal for an apology?
How some of them casually say – ‘It isn’t like I misused you or something,
you are making a big deal out of it’
Yes, thank you!
For not abusing power that you gave to yourself
For calling us ‘vulnerable’ and choosing to call yourself a ‘saviour’

Another message pops up in the right corner of my phone screen
‘I like you, why wouldn’t you talk to me?’
And I try to say NO ‘politely’
‘Slowly’ freeing my hand from a masculine grip
‘Softly’ changing my bus seat so nothing hard touches me
Still, it’s written all over my face
When I reach home
I skip dinner because I am full of the words I have swallowed all day

‘You look so cute when you’re mad’
My teeth are grinding against each other, they are brittle and sharp
I am thinking of a way to express it ‘kindly’
God dammit, I am still thinking of how to hurt you less
Or make you hurt me less
Chains teach you a lot about freedom and strength
And how deeply the cage disgusts you
It makes you wonder if all the birds, the ones you were taught to call homeless
Are the only ones who are really free

A classmate jokes on the class group about how angry I always look
The texts crack my bones
My fingers icy, wanting to type –
‘That’s the only way your people wouldn’t reach me or maybe reach me first’
I don’t know, I don’t care
My fear only knows one way to get up every morning and it wears only ‘anger’

How can you call it a fair game
When you made the rules
The winner is pre-decided
And every other victory is treated as a kind allowance
My W.O.M.A.N reads as A.N.G.E.R
I have known no other way to be more visible and valid

We shall rewrite histories of women
The ones we didn’t get to read
All the stories written in our mother tongue
That we never were allowed to learn
Erased and burnt and mocked as tongue twisters
As Hannah says ‘when you destroy a woman, you destroy her story’
This is our story and it’s angry
We will never learn it if we are too busy being ‘ladylike’
We need to shout it out loud
To write it on our faces and spit it on all the walls
Make it a story you can’t escape
Like all those other stories you made us believe were ours

And ask me why I am angry once more
I swear to my goddamn woman,
you will feel my answer setting fire to your face
We will take your crowns and throw them in the ocean
Along with the rubble of our dead dreams, the wings that couldn’t fly
We will build safe houses for those you tried to kill but were too stubborn to die.

Aishwarya Shrivastav is a 21-year-old history graduate from the University of Delhi and author of ‘Mouthpiece’.

Featured image credit: Abhijith S. Nair/Unsplash