by Chintakindi Srilakshmi
Country of Origin: Malaysia
Why, I asked him, do we have to return to our dorms at dusk, like pigeons into pigeonholes, while they don’t—their freedom resounding like the condor’s cry as they walk the dark streets. The ‘security’ guard leered, patting the low parapet he was sat on; ‘Come here, and I will tell you,’ he drawled, like he was any better than the unhinged rapist he was supposedly protecting me from.
So many rules.
Rules to keep me safe, apparently.
Rather, rules to keep me existing, but not really alive.
Don’t go up to the terrace, don’t linger, don’t make eye contact when they stare at you like they want to devour you. How can I not notice when going to the shops morphs into a game of dodgeball? Or when their aim is flawless, and they walk away with their power trip? How can I brush it off? How can I muzzle myself? But my outrage was only stifled with sighs of ‘this is how the world is… you have to be sensible.’ As if asking for freedom is senseless.
I’ll never forget when my heart went out to my classmate’s ignorance as she told me that I should be happy with all the devious desires on the streets, because her ebony skin was ever ignored, unless to be disregarded. Truly, perhaps it was me that was ignorant of her plight, more than she was of mine; those so-called differences pitting women against each other in this game of patriarchy.
I look back at all those movies, where dainty feet with tinkling anklets was the only ideal to achieve, to ultimately be the caretaker, the less-than-him, the sidekick, or even reduced to just a romantic interest: there to dance when the music plays. At every instance, my mother told me to grow out my hair, for it is the only way for a woman to be. At every instance, my friends’ mothers told me to wear some jewelry, for it is the only way for a woman to be.
But it was a slow-acting venom, to conform, yet to be told that the thing you have conformed to will always be less than the other. If these were the only ways for a woman to be, then I must be a man—a gay man in a woman’s body. I, so unladylike with my bare neck and bob; the non-female. I was puzzled at the homophobes, bleating through the night, calling for correctness, for equality, when what can be more equal than a man and another man? Or a woman and another? And is this the reason I daresay, that the women of this world celebrate the gay ships as they float by? Because they crave that level of equity with a man that they know they can’t get in any other way?
And slowly, my breasts were strangers to me. I had hair on my chin and cysts in my ovaries. Menstruation, a thing of the past. And when I confronted her, my body asked me eagerly, ‘This is what you wanted, right?’
But is this what I had wanted? Was I becoming a man to be seen as equal to one? They sent me to the doctors and labelled me diseased. It was physical, they said, not psychological. But was it? It’s a polycystic epidemic out there, they said. But why was it? Lose weight, they said, and it will be fine. But will it?
To diagnose this tree, I excavated for fortnights to find its root. And at the root was a syndrome, not a transition. At the root was non-conformity playing an identity crisis. At the root was the audacity of this world telling me I needed to be a man to be seen as human.
I throw these fresh fruit for thought: Am I syndromed because you believe I lay about the house all day, eating potato chips? Or because applying to intern at an environmental agency in the Andamans was forbidden? Heck, doing or being me was entirely forbidden. Heck, stating a thought would soon be forbidden if I let it. Did my depression gift my ovaries with cysts, or did the cysts give my brain depression?
Sure! Yell away into megaphones about educating the girl child. And when she wants to do all the things she’s read can be done, snuff out the flame and tell her if only… if only she had a key where she has a keyhole… Now that could open any door, hey?
I am not a man; I am a woman. But I am only this woman, not any other woman. Especially not the woman some poet, politician, swamiji or any other sanctimonious degenerate desperately needs me to be.
I am this woman—still a woman.
And so is she who does not want to study ‘that degree more suited for women.’ And she with all those tattoos. She who dreams of riding a Ducati.The one who wants to travel to Peru over the summer, as is the one who says all she wants to do is stay home and cook for her husband.
And we will not laud ourselves with titles like Queen or Goddess, as if we are invaluable only if we are born as them. We are invaluable simply because we are women. In it, lies our splendour.And you may no longer contain this splendour in a cage by christening it ‘protection.’
No longer pat yourself on the back for all these ovaries dipped in patriarchy.
Author’s note: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition that affects some women, mostly in South Asian countries. It causes several health imbalances like obesity, hormonal malfunction, and amenorrhoea (not getting the period for months in a row). But not a lot of people talk about how this syndrome affects the woman’s mental health. It affects different women differently, from causing brain fog (the inability to focus or make decisions), depression, anxiety, to questioning it all.
This syndrome has affected me in the past and this prose poem I’ve written talks of its origins; it sort of teases the notion that women develop this syndrome because their mental health is in a bad state, which is in turn because they have been restricted in a way or have restricted themselves due to societal conditioning.
Chintakindi Srilakshmi has an Honours degree in English with Creative Writing from Nottingham University, Malaysia, where her work has been published in the college magazine. Having dabbled in engineering, biotechnology, and wilderness studies before pursuing the arts, Srilakshmi has a unique perspective on life that makes its way into her works. She is unafraid of digging deep into the weird or dark, and loves making them relatable.