The Cracked Glass

Guest Author: Vibha Shetiya

Originally published here: https://feminismandreligion.com/2017/04/30/the-cracked-glass-by-vibha-shetiya/

I haven’t shared this story with too many people, yet it is one that has always remained on the back burner of my mind.

I was almost thirteen and as boy-mad as an almost-thirteen-year-old could be. I remember me and my then best friend coming of age in Zambia, our experiences manifested in squeals of “Oh my god, I think he’s looking at us” or in the life-and-death decision of “Ooh, should we really walk past them?” for the ultimate target of a not-really-necessary packet of crisps, the “them” referring to equally silly, starry-eyed boys.

I thought these were universal expressions of puberty; shyly glancing over to catch someone’s eye, wanting to look your best while Jello-ed legs and a temporary loss of voice inhibited your ability to say a simple “hi” to the object of your very existence, the raison d’etre of your life, well, at that particular moment anyway.  Or deciding to spend the afternoon at the movies, never mind what was running, so long as cute guys would be hanging out for pretty much the same reason as you were. Of course, all of this was accompanied by the attention span of a freshly pubescent brain with expressions wrapped in innocence, with harmless and fleeting murmurings of the heart.

Very quickly, however, I learned – the hard way – of the power of cultural expectations and norms. At a family wedding soon after I had freshly arrived in India “for good,” a 19-year-old cousin of a cousin took a certain liking to me. We chatted, laughed, and at one point, even held hands. And then after the celebrations, I went back to my life, and he to his. Or so I thought. A few months later, he declared his love for me. I was at a loss – I hadn’t thought of him even once since then, although ashamed of my “shallowness,” I lied that I had.

Of course, by then, I had also been amply introduced to the ways of my new surroundings.  A woman’s character was like glass, you see. No amount of adhesive, soldering, covering, coaxing could hide a crack. I still remember the effect this declaration by an aunt had on my adolescent brain; what did that “crack” represent? What constituted a crack? Had I inadvertently caused a crack when I had gotten friendly with that young man? Did a crack necessarily mean my entire life would be worthless? I was suddenly very scared… I now realized that talking to boys was a sign of overt sexuality, perhaps sexuality gone out of control. I had learned a lot in the short months I had already come “back home” to India, notably about that famed chastity belt worn by women, and how it had to be kept under lock and key at all times until, of course, the wedding night when the key would miraculously resurface, whether you wanted to take off that belt or not.

By now, my fickle adolescent brain had layers of “Indian womanhood” to it, rather layers of what good Indian womanhood ought to be. Of course, there would always be bad women; women who drove men to do unsavory things, and whose own wicked ways caused that most sought after chastity to crumble, never mind crack a little. No way on earth did I want to be that woman.

I was a quick learner. I learned to suppress my blossoming sexuality; to feel that even having a silent crush on someone was wrong, that admiring a man’s good looks was unbecoming, that speaking to someone of the opposite sex would mean I was secretly having an affair with him, and hence tarnish my compromised image, which I was desperately trying to save after that disastrous encounter with the cousin-in-law. That didn’t stop me from having crushes though. Nevertheless, it was always a dichotomous experience – a crush would relieve some of the internal pressure, but I always ended up feeling it was wrong, and ended up hating myself for secretly being “in love” with someone, that something was wrong with me for being “boy mad.”

These injunctions slowly began to pervade other areas of my life. I began to feel the need to always be a “good girl,” to always say the right things, sit the proper way, wear the right clothes… I began to feel like a pressure cooker waiting to explode. While I never really did explode, the long journey towards implosion had begun.

I had forgotten my one week “fling,” but he hadn’t. Ten years later, I learned of his intention to marry me. A few years after that, he said I had promised to marry him. Not only was my reputation at stake now, my integrity was too – I had reneged on a promise. It didn’t matter that I had said nothing of the sort, and that the whole one week “affair” had climaxed into all of a holding hands session. People began to gossip. Someone even asked my mother: “Was it true?” To her credit, she dismissed the whole thing, a courageous act considering her own standing within the community was on the line as a mother of a young, out-of-control woman, a mother with a now potentially unmarriageable daughter on her hands. After all, what did that say about her child-rearing capabilities? I’m sure even today there are stories circulating of me and my “wildness.”

As I have grown older, I realize that this could be categorized as obsession and abuse of power given the fact that I was a minor. But as Bollywood movies often depict, the refusal to let go, and a dismissal of the other’s wishes, is supposedly an indicator of true love (on the part of a man). Decades later, I’m still trying to process the whole thing. Was I indeed an “over-sexed” teenager? After all, my cousins knew better than to chat with an unfamiliar male, never mind “flirt” with him. Did I ruin his life? I hear that he has pretty much turned into an alcoholic. Was it because of me? Was it my “Western” upbringing that had led to this confusion and mess? Maybe I was a bad person at the core. Or maybe I was someone who just enjoyed playing with people’s hearts.

As my (American) husband keeps reminding me, the fault was not mine but of extreme patriarchal expectations. On a rational and intellectual level, I know that. And I have definitely come a long way since then. But on the emotional, every now and then, I still find myself struggling, years later, with feelings of guilt and shame.

Vibha Shetiya was born in India and raised in Zambia before moving back to India as a teenager. She has been living in the US since 1999. She has degrees in journalism and religion and a Ph.D in Asian Cultures and Languages. Vibha moved to Albuquerque in 2014 from Austin where she completed her dissertation on feminist versions of the “Ramayana,” an ancient Hindu epic. She teaches at the University of New Mexico.

Questions from Priya:

  • why is a woman’s sexuality feared so much?
  • why is a woman’s desire seen as shameful?
  • why is a crush seen as a full blown committed relationship?
  • why is rejection (in romantic relationships, especially rejection of a man by a woman) seen as such a terrible thing?
  • Going beyond this post …….
  • a woman who has many casual relationships is seen very differently from a man who does – she is a “slut” while he is a “stud” – she is demeaned while he is simply “scoring”
  • what are your thoughts and experiences with dating?  how are man/woman relationships different/similar in today’s India compared to the past? cities versus smaller towns?
  • do men still require virgin wives while they feel this doesn’t apply to them?

Related Posts:

Teenagers!

Inter sex mingling in coed schools – permitted or not?

What do you think of this mother, and this family?

Who benefits from criminalizing consensual teenage sex?

Pregnant at fifteen? No moral issues. Unmarried and pregnant at fifteen. Degeneration of society.

Boys and Girls Holding Hands …

Don’t fall in love NOW!

Advertisements

Suicide: How You Can Help

Guest Post by Pragmatic Dreamer

(blog: https://apragmaticdreamer.wordpress.com/)

“Did you really want to die?”
“No one commits suicide because they want to die.”
“Then why do they do it?”
“Because they want to stop the pain.”

― Tiffanie DeBartoloHow to Kill a Rock Star

There are so many articles, movies, TV shows, Cartoons, experts, doctors and so many people who talk about what Suicide is.
They say how unnatural & selfish the person who commits suicide is, they say that they should’ve just asked for help, they say they don’t think of anyone else but themselves, they say they’re just stupid or that they just wanted attention.

I’m just another person to tell you what it really is. What you really feel at that moment you want to just die.

I can tell you that, it’s not like that moment when you say I’ve had such a bad day, I want to die. No, it isn’t that moment when your grades are low that one exam & you want to just die. It isn’t when your bills came out so high that month, you want to die.

No, that isn’t what it is.

It’s days, weeks & months of pain,
Pain that takes you to point when you can’t feel anything
It’s pain that drags you to a corner
And makes you hate everything and feel nothing
It repeats the bad stuff over & over & over

It’s when you push the good stuff away
It’s when you know you’re a burden
When the smallest of mistakes make you feel like a loser

It’s the constant pain
Just & only pain

It’s days of being underwater with no way out
It’s days of hating yourself
It’s days of breathing with your ‘heart under attack’
It’s days of your brain telling you to quit
It’s days of people telling you to go away
It’s days of bullying
It’s days of being called a ‘loser’
It’s days of crying & suffering

It’s days of no one smiling at you
It’s days of no one asking you “How are you?”
It’s days of no one caring for you
It’s days & days of torture within the core of your very being

It’s days of knowing it won’t matter if you’re alive anyway

So, it’s better off, being dead instead.

There are about 800,000 people who die by suicide every year(1.4% of all deaths worldwide). I say die here, but there are many, many more who attempt it. According to WHO, “There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.”*  

So what are some signs that a person wants to commit suicide?

1. They stop being themselves – by this I mean, they don’t dress like they used to, or miss classes & take too many off days at work, they don’t work like they used to, they don’t enjoy the things they used to, you see a dramatic loss or gain in their weight etc.

2. They seem erratically happy, by giving away their favorite possessions, a big party etc.

3. They say things like: “It’s better if I’m not around”, “Soon you won’t see me around”, “Things will be okay, I won’t be around anyway”, “I can’t seem to work on this like I used to before”, “I just didn’t feel like doing this”….

(Remember, just because they said this once doesn’t mean their suicidal. Look for signs, most of them overlap. It isn’t just one thing, it’s usually a mix of multiple things.)

How can you help?

I’ll try & keep this brief. There are links to more detailed articles at the bottom to address this question.

The first thing you need to remember is, you cannot wish their problems away. The only thing you can do is provide support & help & take them to the necessary counsellors or psychologists who have the professional means & knowledge of helping them.

Ask them if they are planning to kill themselves. (Yes, you have to ask this. And believe me, it’s hard when you actually have to ask.)

If they say yes, ask them, how are they planning to do it, when and where?

If they answer these questions, don’t react in a condescending manner, instead just tell them that you feel terrible that they wish to take their life & that you want to help. Ask them if they will be okay if you call a hotline, a person they trust or take them to a specialist etc. They shouldn’t be left alone.

(You can do the above even when they say no.)

One of the main things to remember is to stay calm & speak to them in a calm but assertive voice. All you have to do is listen – non-judgmentally.

Note: Education is key. The more you educate yourself on Mental Health Issues & Suicide, the better equipped you would be.

For more info, please see these articles:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/suicide/in-depth/suicide/ART-20044707

http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/

Related post from IHM: https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/jiah-khans-suicide-note/

—————————————————————————————————————–From Priya:

Suicide doesn’t just happen to “other people”.  It could be someone right next to you – a friend, a coworker, a kid in your neighborhood.  If we are aware, maybe we can help this someone.  Often when suicide happens in their midst, people feel shocked because they never suspected anything.  Sometimes they feel guilty for not having reached out, because they did notice some signs but were not sure what to do.  It is important therefore, to know how to help, if you suspect something.  Thank you to Pragmatic Dreamer for raising awareness regarding this.

Sharing from readers:

  • Are you concerned about someone around you being suicidal?
  • Do you know someone who attempted suicide?  What helped in their situation
  • Have you contemplated suicide?  Have you sought help?
  • Have you overcome your suicidal feelings?  Please describe the process/journey you went through.
  • If you have direct experience with the situation (you yourself have contemplated suicide or know someone close who has been through it) please do share, so we can add it to this post.  There is nothing more valuable than hearing from someone who has actually been through it – so please do not hesitate to share (anonymously if you want).