Withered Women

I know of a few women
These women I oft referred to as my withered women
They remind me of the flowers I used to pluck and steal from places I’ve been
To be pressed between the pages of my books
In a futile attempt to preserve their beauty
Only to find them all shrivelled up and cast me a look of scorn
/Why oh, why did you suck us dry?/

The first is my grandmother who declares she is “no feminist”
Why would I call myself a feminist when a woman is clearly superior in every way?
You forget my child that it is the Queen who always saves the King.
When I was a child, I would caress her webbed palms which intrigued me
For even the maps of the world did not seem to have pathways as intricate
They are for all the years that have been unkind to me, and the dreams I have lost on the way.
/With two thousand wrinkles on her hands, I wonder if her shattered dreams were so much more, perhaps two million./

Our neighbour is a good friend of my mother’s. And in my opinion, mine too.
Theirs was a late marriage, says my mother, that’s why they have not been blessed (?) with any progeny yet.
My husband is a good man,” she repeats at least thrice to anyone willing to lend an ear.
She doesn’t dance anymore, too bored of it she says,” says he during our annual residents’ association celebrations
I do not know if it’s the ‘goodness’ of his heart that keeps him from seeing the wistful looks his wife throws towards the nimble-footed dancers who dance gleefully on stage,
What I do know is that the vessels clang a lot louder in the kitchen, and the word ‘Koothichi’ keeps ringing rather loudly when they get back home on such nights.
/You lock away a woman in the kitchen and the utensils would weep with her and sing her sorrow./

The Doctor’s wife is an enigma.
The Doctor is the most venerated man in our neighbourhood
A rather small man with a rotund tummy and an endless list of degrees MBBS, MD, DM, MRCP, and holds Fellowships in India, America, London, UAE, the Sun, the Moon!
The Doctor’s wife on the other hand is tall and thin as a stick, forever complaining of her backaches and migraines.
But your husband can surely cure you of any illness in the world, he’s simply the best.” “Him? He couldn’t understand what was wrong with me even if he takes all the degrees in the world!
Word has it that she was once the belle of the town and a pageant winner, and the Doctor fell hard for her beauty – only to keep her locked away from the gaze of the other members of his sex thence.
/The tiara that once adorned her head was replaced with a sindoor that bound her for the next seven lifetimes./

And then there is my childhood best friend – the life of any party and the daredevil amongst us.
Her dreams of all that she would be when she grew up had once had us all looking up to her with equal measures of admiration and envy, for which other 13 – year old had their lives so meticulously planned out?
School ended for us after our final boards in March and we parted ways
Only to receive her phone call in mid – July and a card on our WhatsApp Group named ‘JHSN Girls at Goa’ with a ‘coconut tree’ and ‘bikini’ emojis at the end
H weds M’ – “it would mean the world to me if you guys could make it to my wedding.
JHSN Girls did make it to Goa one day five years later – J, S and N sipping their tequilas in a bar and video-calling H who had one child balanced on her hip and two others wailing nearby at her house about a thousand miles from Goa – but bound by the same old group with the ‘coconut tree’ and ‘bikini’ emojis.
/When we cribbed about our grumpy bosses and deadlines, I wonder whom she shared her woes with about the skinned booboos she had to kiss and the stubborn fevers that took a few days to go away for motherhood is a full-time job after all./

These women I once referred to as my ‘withered women’
But now I realise they are so much more
They are the ones who have taught me what it is to truly be a woman in the face of adversity
Like half-bloomed flowers, they await the time they can bloom to their complete glory even in the twilight zones of their lives.
And when I have a daughter of my own one day I shall tell her –
The Queen needs no saving. In chess, she saves the King, and in life she saves everyone, and most importantly, she saves herself.
/Half endurance, Half strength, Full woman
Naari hi shakhi hain/

Navya Benny holds a Master’s degree in Law, is a people watcher, is passionate about Literature, and occasionally writes about people, places, and things she holds dear – it’s almost always about the hearts and flowers.

Featured image: Kealan Burke / Unsplash