The gallant tales of heroism is synonymous with powerful men warring each other to reign supreme. Such tales testify the immense physicality that these men possessed and displayed with panache and bravado, so much so that physical domination became a vital trait of the basic quality of masculinity that a man is supposed to possess. Decades, centuries and even millennia have witnessed this great totem of manhood, writing pages of history and cultural edifices with the ink of blood and sweat. Today, the world looks a little different from the crimson painted portraits of our ancestors. The battlefields have changed and so has the societal segregations. However, man hasn’t lost his ill minded pride that compels him to hurt others to establish his false sense of dominance. The heinous crime of domestic abuse is the result of this stupidity of man. Every slash of crimson that any woman has, etched on her body, compels me to question this sick disturbing illness of my own gender. However I do not wish to write about it. It’s been written about extensively by many a people and what I wish to highlight is something far more prevalent. What if the scars are not physical, but mental? What if the marks are not red but black? A bloodless torture that strangles a wife throughout her life. This, dear readers, is a manifestation of domestic violence which is skin deep, this is the atrocious act of mental dominance.
The Chakrabortys lived next door to us in the sub-urban area of Behala, Kolkata. A nuclear family with a single daughter barely two years older than me, the family seemed like any other family. They would join us for the yearly festivities of Durga Puja with Rumy Aunty, aka Mrs Chakraborty toiling day and night to prepare the “bhog” or the religious offerings to Mother Durga and her four offspring. She did it with a mild smile and a quiet dignity and her daughter was no different. A software student on the verge of graduation she was, at best, an average student academically. She had a poise similar to her mother and a restraint which was almost super-human. Mr Chakraborty, a ageing man in his 50s, worked in the Tram division of the Kolkata Municipal corporation. Twenty five years of government service provides you with a sense of aplomb and rigidity, and Mr Chakraborty was the personification of twenty five years of government service. George Bernard Shaw says –
I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig, you get dirty; and besides, the pig likes it.
Mr Chakraborty had to deal with a lot of dumb and uncouth sycophants in his many years of service and that took a major toll on how he behaved with people in general.
The people who took the major brunt of it were his wife and his daughter. His strong presence and deep baritone was intimidating for anybody, but what if you had to live with him. Having got married at the tender age of 20, Rumy Aunty never received an opportunity to dream. An incomplete bachelor’s degree and rigid orthodox in-laws meant that she would be gradually forced to walk down the same path as many other women in this country, the path of a house-wife. Like many other housewives, she tried her best to make her spouse’s house her own with her riveting charm, her culinary skills and her aura of nervous enthusiasm. The only person she couldn’t impress was the person who mattered most to her, her husband. She learnt to love the man she knew she would have to spend her life with but he couldn’t totally reciprocate that love. What came from the opposite end was authority, hurtful remarks and an iron clad decree that she had to live by to avoid any further comments. I would not say that Mr Chakraborty necessarily wanted a son. Mun Di, his daughter, was an average student. She was great at everything else. A great artist and a good writer, she was forced into science even though it wasn’t her calling. With a great weight of parental expectations, the stringent rules of being a lady and a cold fear of her father, she was rebuked and disrupted on a daily basis.
Constant humiliations and scathing statements were common occurrences in the Chakraborty family and the general sense of helpless prevailed which was despondent. However this wasn’t the sad part. The sad part was the understanding that the Mother-Daughter had, that Mr Chakraborty wasn’t doing anything wrong when he behaved in that way. It was just how he was. At least he didn’t beat his wife. At least he didn’t raise any objection to his daughter’s education. This despondency, this mental torture is a travesty and the understanding which women have with their situation needs to change. A voice needs to be raised against this sort of behaviour. No human being deserves to be stepped on. Housewives often feel obligated to such behaviours because their husbands support them financially and are responsible for their future. No amount of money can buy mental peace.
The battlefields have changed but what hasn’t changed is the false sense of satisfaction that man feels by humiliating and over-powering others. Many years have seen masculine domination. It’s time for poised restrained dignified voices to overcome arrogance and despondency. Strong women need to take an initiative. I hope Rumy Aunty answers back to him one day.