WATER: A viewer’s musings

Posted on March 23, 2007

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My friend and I went to watch the movie: WATER (Deepa Mehta) yesterday. I can only tell you from the word “go”, I was unnerved.

The name “WATER” symbolizes the river, Ganga and how everything, births, deaths, marriages, cleansing (bathing and washing off one’s sins) was incomplete without the so-called holy river. A beautifully shot movie, with every scene well-thought off, with a casting so strong, that one does not know whom to love or hate. Every character was gray, some light gray, some a few shades darker.

The theme is based on Child Widows. Most of them had been married off to OLD men before they were even ten, and of course, he obliged by bumping himself off, leaving her isolated by her very parents. They were all sent off to an “ashram” (read ramshackled, decrepit place) with shaven heads and white sarees. Every widow was unique, every widow was malicious in her own way, and every widow was affectionate in her own way, to the people/things she loved. Be it the old old old bua who dreamed of ladoos from her wedding night, and the one’s she hadn’t had since that night! Be it the bitchy Madhumati who used to prositute the younger widows to the jagirdaars with the help of a hijra. Be it the feisty Chuhiya who scampered about like a mouse, but who oozed the charisma of a grown woman of the 21st century. Be it the prostitute-widow Kalyani, who gave up her life savings to allow the cremation of bua who dies in peace because she finally was able to eat a ladoo!

An important question asked by the little child widow was, “where do the male widows live?” Of course, no one answered her. She was asked to shut up and disappear.
It led me to ask many questions about the status of women (then and now). Yes, I have studied control of sexuality. Yes, I have studied subjugation of women. Yes, I have read The Second Sex and other books which talk of the sociology of women’s status in society. Yes, I have experienced some personal engendering through home, school and media. Yes, I have studied the emancipation of women. Yes, I am an empowered woman.
From the time the movie began, I was saying this to myself, “This would never happen to me” and still I found myself shedding tears, silently. I shed tears for all the women who suffered this kind of existence.

I came home, went into the temple in my house, picked up something I needed and stood in front of the mirror. I parted my hair properly, and filled the gap with red vermillion. I cannot describe what I felt. I have never understood the importance of this signature of married-hood. But right then, I did understand it!

It was not the presence of vermillion that was important, it was the absence of it. Similarly, in WATER (the movie) the husband’s presence in the girl’s life was not important…HIS ABSENCE WAS!

In today’s day, I am happy that I would not wear the chudas (the traditional set of Bangles worn by brides, and even by house-wives) or the sindoor (vermillion) because it does not match my western dresses.

Last night, I realized that for women like me, it is not the presence of vermillion in our lives, but the absence of it, that is the grounding factor!

What a world of difference! The absence of vermillion meant austerity and today it has come to symbolize empowerment. I am not saying that women who wear vermillion are disempowered. Or that women who wear vermillion are empowered, just that one small thing means entirely two different things…I can’t explain any better.

My thoughts rested on my best friend’s mom, her husband died 28 years ago! She is not subjugated…her daughters love her. But she is single. Both daughters live abroad. She has friends.

Will friends suffice when she is lonely? Does she ever feel sexual desire? Or did she drown them alongwith the hopes of ever finding another man to be with!!!! Find friendship, companionship and SEX!

We change only those things which are convenient to us, and the rest is just the same. Just the same.

We, the children of our parents, need to free our minds. If mothers need to be our friends, we need to be the friends of our mothers too!

It was for the millionth time, I thanked God that my father has remarried after mom died in 2001. But it also made me wonder, what would have happened, if instead of mom, dad had died…? I was happy when I got the answer, I would have liked her to be remarried and have companionship, love, sex and whatever else she desired with any man of her choice, no matter how much I disliked him.

Just me and my rambling once again…please go back to work now! 🙂

March 23rd 2007…

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