We Need New Names

Our ‘celebrations’ need new names.

Ideal, of course, if, to begin with, we had no occasion to carve out a ‘women’s’ day. But if celebrate we must, let’s do so with quiet rebellion. And an all-embracing  sans souci–ness that topples the mightily narrow definitive constraints of the event.

I invite you to throw it open.

And today, we can celebrate, not ‘women’s day’ but a something else day. Less concerned with sex and gender, and the regressive, old-fashioned conflation of the two, and more allied with the universal, the intangible, the complex.

Let’s celebrate, I suggest, the qualities traditionally associated with femininity – care and nurture and selflessness – wherever we have been lucky to encounter them in our lives. Let us remember that these are not allotted according to biological provision.

Growing up on a tea plantation in Assam, I led a somewhat isolated, yet not lonely, childhood. I had books, sun-warmed haystacks, a veritable farmyard of pets – and a host of unusual caretakers.

Stian Kharwar, or lovingly called Oiñ, has been with, or rather, a part of, our family for almost forty years. (Apparently, my three-month-old sister stopped crying as soon as she lay in Oin’s arms, and my mother hired her on the spot.) She was a travelling governess from Mawkyrwat, a village about fifty kilometres outside Shillong, who’d fled an abusive husband, helped a Punjabi family raise their son, and then found us. She is a mother – in a way that no Hallmark card  could put into words, and no ‘mother’s day’ could ever hope to encompass.

Sharmaji built me a home. He was the tea estate carpenter and set up his workshop in an unused garage near the back gate of our house. I remember the smell of wood shavings and saw dust. The patience and kindness he showed a small, clumsy girl keen to assist, but mostly delaying, his work.  The doll’s house he built was large enough for me to step inside. Long past childhood, we remember such safety.

If I am enthralled by the wonder of growing things, of the complicated delicacy of caring for them so they thrive, it is because of a gardener named Ranjit. Who helped me tend my very own 2×2 square foot vegetable patch. Who hunted alongside me for earthworms to feed a batch of motherless ducklings. He helped me understand the seasons.

In Shillong, when I started school, and lived with my grandparents, I remember Kong Jilis, she with the infectious laughter. Who picked me up every weekday afternoon, waiting outside the gates of Loreto Convent, holding my hand, telling me stories, walking me home.

If we must celebrate a ‘women’s’ day, let’s do so with quiet rebellion. Let’s claim it for ourselves – away from the clutches of the United Nations and corporations – and unpick its seams. For our language carries the power to entrench and perpetuate the very inequalities and distinctions – man, woman – we try to obliterate. On this day, let’s ignore the taglines, and remember kindness.

This article appeared in Hindustan Times (9th March 2014)

Love poster © Jorge Arrieta 

One Reply to “We Need New Names”

  1. Hi Janice ‘
    Beautiful writing …..simply awesome.

    Its a thought that goes on in our minds you chose to pen it beautifully sharing pl.


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