Tag Archives: sisterhood

The Venus Flytrap: A Coven At The Crossroads

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This is a column about things too sacrosanct to write about, but which deserve sharing. About spoken silences. About synecdoches: how smallness can contain splendour. About how your long covenant with your work encountered the best chemistry you have with the world, and they embraced one another – just as you do these people who you knew were friends even before you met them.  About opening your palms later to enjoy how the deep inner magic of a few days has left them glittery. How long will you hold onto this for?

This is a column about women talking to each other. This is a column about women being quiet with each other. This is a column about women reading each others’ minds only so as to have each others’ backs. This is a column about sheer excess, because what the heart communes with another’s heart rarely requires the formality of words.

This is a column about something people call sisterhood, but that’s an illusory word. Someone says “coven”. Someone else says “solidarity”. This is a column about all that, then.

About people meeting for the first time who seem to other eyes to have known each other forever, who share confidences as though they aren’t revelations. And about people who meet after half a lifetime but exchange notes from their journeys as though they’d never diverged. About old friends anew, and new friends already familiar.

About gratitude. About how life gives you only limited chances to see what you really do in the world, but if you’re lucky you’ll see lessons even in the laurels. About knowing better than to mistake glitter for gold, but learning also to love glitter for what it is, and cherish gold for what it’s worth. About grace. About growing deeper. About mirrors. About how what you see is based on who you are. About inner beauty and how every butterfly carries the memory of how it dreamed its wings in the dark of its cocoon.

About amazement. About sitting on the stairs surrounded by wine glasses and the scent of recently-sprayed Volini, talking about chronic illnesses. About shaking it off.

About someone bringing your forgotten bra to you in a brocade pouch one evening and then you draping your shawl over someone else’s shoulders so that she can take hers off at the lunch table two days later.

About gestures. About statements. About synchronicities. About how you packed a box of tea for someone you thought you’d meet, but don’t, then coincidentally catch her at breakfast before her flight. About how you, sleepy and unwashed, thank her for her defiance, for it was the very stuff that transformed an uncomfortable handshake into a warm hug.

A column, then, about many warm hugs. With those you recognise as kindred, even if only for some time as you amble on parallel paths. And with those in whose eyes you see the fear of unbelonging. To them you want to say: I was once you. I still know that me. Come into this garden of mine, this garden of forgiveness and myrhh, resilience and rosewater, for it has room for us all.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on May 18th 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

Guest Column: Sisterhood Is Complicated

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I’ll have to begin this with a mea culpa.

There have been times when I’ve been a multiplier of gossip, a pronouncer of wicked words, a deliverer of the sharply-shredding gaze. And although I don’t think gender has anything to do with who constitutes one’s tribe, I’m still plagued with a little feminist guilt when the rage subsides and I realize its recipient has been of my own “kind”. Which is to say: another chick, another bachelorette, another girlfriend gone gaga. How strange that I can comfortably joke that one of my superpowers is emasculation, but feel such self-reproach when I turn my cruelty towards another woman.

I did this, in fact, not so long ago. The when and the why have (hopefully) sunk into irrelevance, but what I’ve continued to think about is a specific phrase I appended to one particular verbal defenestration. “Oh thank God I met you today,” I said to the other party, after a long tirade about a certain distressing damsel. “I needed to talk to a female friend today to restore my faith in the sisterhood.”

The Sisterhood.

What on earth does it mean, who gets admittance, and why does it sound so grandiose? In the United States some decades ago, sisterhood was radical and political – specifically, it was also (to quote from some book titles) Powerful, Global and Forever. But what does it mean to us, here, in these times? Female friendships are one thing but what about female community? In a country where the sexes still experience segregation in some quarters, i.e. that community can be forced rather than fall together organically, it’s a particularly interesting question.

The times I have most felt that sisterhood is important have been in times of its abject lack. For instance, I have longed for it when I felt betrayed by female peers who preferred stabbing me in the back and stepping on my shoulders to reveling in the creative synergy we could have had together. I have longed for it when I’ve felt ostracized. I’ve longed for it when I’ve seen other women enjoy it with an ease I did not share.

But sisterhood is complicated, like all good and grandiose things. Platonic relationships between women are the ultimate Longfellow’s little girl – when they’re bad they’re horrid, but when they’re good they’re very good indeed. There have certainly been times when I have genuinely had it, or something resembling the fuzzy, fierce emotions I associate with it. And in those times, I haven’t always been its perkiest cheerleader, much as I may have yearned or fought for it before. I’ve thrown in the towel (“I’m sick of these chicks and these straight boys. Where is my gay posse? Give me a boa and crown me empress among queens!”). I’ve been downright partial (too little energy for a bus across town to see a galpal, way too much enthusiasm for a bus across town to see a funbunny). I’ve taken it for granted, forgotten how special it is, traded it in, opted out, and generally been less than totally sisterly.

But then, think for a moment about what it actually means to have sisters or siblings. It means rivalry, it means responsibility, it means broken things and fisticuffs and conspiracy and tears and duplicity and loyalty and love. Love is complicated. Women are complicated. Family is complicated. Sisterhood is all of these – a little less on some days, a lot more on others. But always, somehow, worth the effort of finding out which.

An edited version appeared in Times of India (Chennai) today.