This week, a Class 11 student died by suicide in Chennai, leaving a note for her mother that has since been circulated on social media. Written in a mix of Tamil, English and Romanised Tamil, the note clearly indicates that sexual abuse was a large motivating factor for the student’s action. In an angry, despairing tone, she called out schools, relatives and society for the pain they cause to women and girls. In one line, she wrote: “The only safe places are the graveyard and the mother’s womb.”
A minor public shockwave rose and will dissipate as quickly. This society – or to partially quote the note, “this [expletive] society” absorbs such tragedies with ease, and allows them to happen again and again.
She was all of 17 years old. She is gone, too soon, and the words here have no meaning to her. But I know there are so many like her, pushed to shattering points because of the many ways that a conservative society punishes them for even existing, let alone for resisting. One doesn’t have to be an iconoclast to suffer – the pressure of conformity chisels at the personhood, the freedoms and the joys of even the most “ordinary” of people.
So these words are for anyone who feels that way, no matter the particularities of your situation. They are especially for students and young adults. If you’re open to hearing from someone who is perhaps a couple of decades further down the path than you are now, this is what I want you to know.
Firstly, I won’t lie to you. You will never stop cursing this society, and your expletives will always be justified.
You will never stop encountering obstructions, even from unlikely quarters. Sometimes, they will break your heart or destabilise you. Other times, you will laugh, and write that person off. Count the victories. Use your bitterness like medicine, for that’s what it is. You will make a life for yourself not within these oppressions, but despite them.
Whenever you are boxed in, make it possible for yourself to reach into a deeper resource built from all the times you swam in the light and claimed it for yourself. When you are released from those boxes, even briefly, you will see that no part of who you are was lost, even when you had no choice, even when you just had to keep your head down, stay quiet, and work at what matters. Do those three things, diligently – with your eyes firmly on escape. Define what escape means for you.
All of this has happened to me over and over again, and probably always will – unless life gives me the beautiful opportunity to root myself in a nicer place. Which reminds me: you will keep evolving, but don’t count on this society to change. Its rot runs millennia deep.
To experience our lives meaningfully we must resist, even so. Don’t believe anyone who says that getting along will make life easier. It will only make you chafe. It will make you unkind.
Choose kindness then. Choose to thrive on the margins. That’s where all the wildflowers are, lushly blooming.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 28th 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.