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Fly, Manju, fly!

May 21, 2014

For some time now, I have been arguing that the apparent acceleration of tension around gender in Kerala, especially on the male-female axis,is because Malayalee women of this generation, as a group, have become far more individuated than their mothers.

Several friends have been quick to point out that I may be wrong — there seems to be quite a bit of evidence that women of this generation, despite improved access to higher education, are crawling before patriarchy when asked to bend. I do not deny this, but I would still argue that it may not be evidence for their lack of agency and that their subversive behaviour may, in the long term, actually confuse the system enough to render it ineffective. My fieldwork of the last seven years has only made my belief stronger: wherever I go, I have met women who struggle within the system, whose fights may not be feminist in a certain familiar sense but yet contain a noticeable anti-patriarchal charge.

But more importantly, I say this because it is hard to ignore what I experienced for eleven whole years of my life when I was a housewife-cum-research student, in a very middle-class, upper caste, very average Malayalee family that typically embodied the uniquely modernised patriarchy of twentieth century Malayalee society. More than ten years after I escaped its confines, Manju Warrier’s comeback movie, How Old are You? made me return there. Fourteen years ago when Manju decided to quit acting, she was admittedly the most successful female actor in Malayalam, and perhaps the most talented as well. Before she became a successful actor, she had shown tremendous potential as a classical dancer. She chucked all this, to become an ‘ideal’ housewife, retreating behind the fame enjoyed by her husband, the actor, the very ordinary Dileep – in fact so ordinary that he almost symbolizes the ‘average’, mediocre, insecure, young-to-middle aged Malayalee male both in his roles and his off-screen behaviour.That was the time when I had begun to plot my escape. I knew how wrong her decision was — and it saddened me that members of yet another generation of Malayalee women were mistaking what was a gaping cellar-hole to be a snug refuge.

How Old are You? made me go back to those times and spaces which appear so distant now. It is not a great film going by just its aesthetics, but it definitely talks to the survivor of Malayalee modernised patriarchal family. This patriarchy is difficult to recognize because it is so banal, everyday, normal, and so – it goes without saying — often not violent in the crude physical sense. When you are woman and part of that institution, you don’t realize that neither your education nor your income will open an exit route if you needed it. I am talking not of being born into it — many of us are born into it but some of us, like Manju or me, do, in between, find routes to travel away through an acting career or higher studies.I am talking of those of us who had this opportunity, but who chose to re-enter the upper caste middle-or upper middle class Malayalee family probably nursing the hope of making our own space within it. Indeed, the workings of this institution were quite unexplored by those of us who profess commitment to democracy, including feminists. I mean, even feminists at that time couldn’t tell you how to negotiate and survive within it apart from educating you about legal rights .I think it is a different scene now with more public discussion on the nature of domestic violence – but even now I think we do not have a close feminist analysis of how power works in such intimate familial situations, one that would prepare us for the slow poison that is served up as sweetness.Indeed, I still see highly educated young Malayalee women, my students often, who belong to the same social class as myself, walk like zombies up the same path, wishing intensely for a nice young upper caste middle class educated man,acceptable to their families, who will ‘allow’ them to do the things they want to do. They too hover at the edge of that cellar-pit, and it is rarely that I or anyone can do anything about it.

On that count, How Old are You? is superb. Rosshan Andrrews has captured the subtle ways in which patriarchal power operates in middle class upper class upwardly mobile families, slowly disarming the woman, lulling her with a semblance of security,the availability of affect and intimacy, eroding her individuated self with a constant shower of tiny barbs of criticism, a constant if inconspicuous stream of humiliation. I know how this works from my own life — I have endured the constant slow assault on my sense of worth, the frequent if implicit messages about my ostensible lack of domestic skills on the one hand and intelligence and efficiency on the other, the way in which every little slip is interpreted as evidence for this lack. I know what it can do — I, who was regarded my own family as a good cook, ended up so nervous in just one year that whenever I picked up a steel tumbler, my hands would shake in the fear that it would slip out of my fingers. And it was futile to protest, because the response would be that protesting against such ‘minor’ things as (the fairly constant stream of) pointed jokes, unwarranted comparisons,and nasty little comments about one’s skills or efficiency, was just hysteria.

And often, much of this slow and silent violence is not even deliberate — just as the intense male-identification of some really sweet, nice female family members is not deliberate. I developed deep affection for many such female relatives, and continue to love them even now. When I found that there was much I could not swallow in them, I developed my own strategies– like offering to take care of the children whenever there were family gatherings, which unfailingly brought positive responses from their mothers and insulated me from them. The best moments of those eleven years were with the children. With the mothers I had warm relationships but our worlds were far too apart. My own epiphanic moment came on a family trip to Kanyakumari. Taking small children to the beach is exhausting,and the children were with the women — though they were withus too,the men formed another group not burdened by child minding. When it was almost night, we headed back to the hotel, and young mothers, including myself,trudged back carrying plastic bags full of wet clothes which the kids had worn. I asked myself if I had enjoyed the evening and had to admit that it was too stressful having to mind the kids all the time. We then had to wash the clothes, get rid of the sand on them before dinner (something we imposed on ourselves, I am sure now,unconsciously, to avoid later barbs and comments on our lack of housewifely skills). Our rooms were by the sea, and women and men were in separate rooms. The women’s room was on the top floor and had a beautiful sea-facing window. By the time we reached the room, it was dark outside. The other young mother, a female relative, went into the bathroom first to wash the clothes and bathe; I waited for my turn looking out of the window. It was a clear full-moon night and the sea lay sparkling like molten silver, the waves playing their calming music. I could not take my eyes off it, nor could I hear anything else. And then, after some minutes, the female cousin emerged from the bathroom, walked to the window, and started hanging up her children’s underwear on its bars to dry — as if the amazing sight of the sea, its sounds, never existed! Something struck me inside, hard, that moment. I asked myself, are you like this woman, who can’t see any beauty anymore? Do you want to be like her? Everything inside me revolted that instant. I decided that I did not belong there and should escape. Once I broke free, I began to carefully build my defenses so that I would not only escape, but also survive.

And I don’t think these women took me seriously when I announced in a family gathering that I was leaving. It took me enormous mental and emotional preparation to speak out this, and it was indeed a major turning point of my life. But I don’t think it found any real resonance despite all the warmth we shared. Later I learned that the major concerns voiced among my female relatives were about who would keep the house clean till its real mistress, the senior woman of the family, returned after her stay outside, and how the young cousin in a hostel who returned on weekends for her driving lessons would now cope,since no female member was available to welcome her there at the house on weekends.

Of course it is not that housework by itself, in some essential way, is a self-corroding force. But when the burden of chores, and that too, ones considered lowest in value and skill, are first divided on gender-lines and then further sub-divided on the lines of age, it definitely becomes destructive to the self of the young woman who is at the bottom.It does not harm me now though I cook everyday and do most of the domestic chores myself. I survived it, I think, only through humour. My favourite joke those days was about how I was working on two PhDs simultaneously: my first PhD was on scavenging — the research question was about eco-friendly ways of disposing off children’s vomit and faeces (my older child was quite ill as a toddler), and the other one, was on the language of gender and individuation in late 19th-early 20th century Kerala.And then I learned how to think as I carried out everyday chores like sweeping the dry leaves, cleaning the house,scrapping the coconut, doing the washing. My very first published single-authored research paper, on the Malayalam author K Saraswati Amma, was scribbled on sheets of paper placed on the kitchen table, to which I would run in between washing a large batch of dirty clothes in the bathroom near the pantry.And that was an easy one I think. There are books I can never forget in this life because I read them cover to cover sitting inside a locked toilet, on the seat, one ear alert for angry sounds outside. And the way I rocked my younger child on my outstretched legs and wrote my thesis on paper placed on a low stool to my right.

It is almost like a ritual of initiation — to be really part of the family, the newly-inducted woman should be shorn of her individuation, slowly but surely. How Old are You? is not really a story of this painful process – it is about a woman brought to her knees by it, who however, bounds back and throws it down. The manner in which the filmmaker hints at it, however, makes it very real. Manju Warrier who plays this brave woman in her comeback film, has been attacked viciously by her former husband Dileep for having ‘abandoned’ the family — he has, most egregiously, used their daughter to press his point home. He has been condemned by many, but there have been many who supported his despicable attempts to discredit her return to a career. Manju, however, has remained a dignified silence. Indeed, How Old are You? may well be her forceful and convincing response to brainless critics and tiny minds who are the beneficiaries of the slow violence of Malayalee families.

Rosshan Andrrews also shows a rare honesty in the way he sketches the modern young man — the ambitious, upwardly mobile husband who is not violent but whose husbandly love and concern are totally and completely subservient to his wife’s instrumental value with regard to his desire for upward mobility. Also, I must say that depicting the husband also as someone who inhabits the fringes of the Malayalee intellectual world — who works in the All India Radio — a communications professional who can also pass off as an intellectual — was a master-stroke. Of all the species of patriarchs I have met and endured in my life of forty-six years in Kerala, the worst is this. Typically, a member of this species is closely bound to the capitalist market, yet can make anti-systemic noises time to time. He would choose a domestically oriented but employed wife, take advantage of her domestic labour, but also accuse her whenever necessary of not being ‘intellectual’ enough.This breed of men represents a patriarchy that is really hard to fight for they often form, implicitly or explicitly, the front-runners of ‘social progressiveness’ in Kerala, and possess formidable armour, like the widespread culture of homosociality.

The husband of How Old are You? can barely conceal his intention to use his wife as an instrument of his ambitions; so also, their thirteen-year-old daughter, already wrapped around herself, full of facile cliches, and whose sole guiding light and world is Facebook. This is an excruciatingly honest depiction of Kerala’s post-demographic-transition children — the precious lone kid or one in two precious kids who are raised to be sold in the global job market, but are fooled into thinking that they are God’s own gift to humanity. In my own life, I escaped the hell-hole before my daughters turned into little monsters resembling Lakshmi in the film — but the time that they spent in the early years of their life watching their mother clean up their mess, wait patiently while they took their own sweet time, attend to their tiniest wishes and so on has definitely had an impact.

And so I did not warm to either the father or the daughter even though they turned apologetic in the end. They were apologetic, but they hadn’t changed for sure — if the mother was valueless before, now she had become really useful to them — she was now being endorsed by both the market and the state, personified in the gathering of architects and the super-patriarchal figure of the Indian President, respectively. The fact that she would be loved as long as she was useful didn’t change at the end.I suppose that’s the price the filmmaker pays when he wants his story to continue to be ‘family-oriented’– when family relationships are understood as essentially instrumental to the ostensibly common end of family upward mobility, this is the natural culmination that can be expected of a film that is critical but still a ‘family film’. What would the film look like if the mother had taken off to become, say, an artist whose work did not win critical acclaim from the art establishment or the state, I wonder? What if her dream was one that brought ‘bad name’ to the family?

Rosshan Andrrews drives home a fundamental truth of the silent, slow patriarchy in middle class upper caste upwardly mobile Malayalee families when he avoids the usual suspects — oppressive mothers-in-law or parents-in-law, and clinging mothers. Indeed, they are not the source of the subtle oppression, I know from my experience. You don’t end up with the worst chores just because your mother-in-law is mean, you don’t stop going out on your own because your parents-in-law have locked you in. The moment you enter this lair of deception, your connections with the world outside are subtly marked as less important. Every time you go back outside, you receive subtle messages, rarely violent ones, that your place is inside, not outside and that ‘balance’ and ‘adjustment’ are necessary. Had these messages been violent, surely, there would have been rebellion and resistance. And surely enough, the world outside also leaves you, again, slowly, imperceptibly. Then, when you finally decide to escape, you realize that you have to rely upon your own wits and resourcefulness. The good news however is that by this time, at least a few of us (sadly, not all for sure) would have acquired those in ample quantities — escape is possible when you deploy them to your favour, and not for the institution. After the movie I heard some young things titter outside the theatre that it was not very realistic that the witless female protagonist should rise up and become resourceful so suddenly. I was overcome with a sudden desire to go over and shake their fashionably thin shoulders — wonder if they know how much resourcefulness it takes to carry on in a system of normalised, everyday humiliation without becoming a nervous wreck? Without ending up in suicide? Without letting the silky-smoothness of everyday life enjoyed by husbands and children,especially children,get disrupted? Wonder if they have ever bothered to look closely at the lives of the women in their own homes? While the remark sounded innocently-made, I felt for a moment that the brat of a girl in the movie had suddenly emerged outside the theatre, quite unreconstructed inside her mind.

And despite the fact that the female protagonist returns to her family, now in a position of strength, bolstered by approval of both market and state, it appears to me that she did escape the dominant Malayalee family-form. To me ‘escaping the dominant family form’ means getting past the slavish desire for belonging there; it means summoning the will and the energy to conjure one’s own vision of loving and non-oppressive relationships to nestle in, some of which can be termed familial, but not all; it means finding one’s own calling — or, in an old-fashioned way, one’s karma on this earth. Not nishkaamakarma, which sounds like a contradiction in terms to me, but karma that will really draw one’s kaama. That karma would make one dream beyond the simple need to make a living tied to the capitalist market or even outside.

But I did warm to the manner in which How Old are You? depicted female friendships and relationships. Yes, that’s another fundamental truth Rosshan Andrrews has managed to excavate — it is female friends who help you escape. The moral brigade in Kerala has never been short of news of women’s extra-marital adventures and of how the institution of the family is being undermined by women’s unbridled desires. I do not say that this is false; just as men’s unbridled desires have been the bane of families for very long, it is quite possible that women’s desires, once unbridled, can have the same effect. However I do hope people see that thirty-five year old women (like the female protagonist in the movie, I was that age when I opted out) who have children and aged parents to provide or care for,are not seeking romantic adventure when they seek to escape (in the above sense). At thirty-five, if trapped in a loveless and instrumental marriage as a glorified domestic labourer, you know that youth is past, and that depression, suicidal tendencies, or a terrible change of the psyche awaits you by the mid-forties or after. So you lunge at life desperately. When I escaped, I was at the lowest point of my life – sick, tired, obese, financially insecure, largely isolated, bearing the responsibility of two little children and the anxiety of an early career, teetering at the brink of depression, perpetually breathless, ugly, lugging myself on two creaking knees,plagued by the recurrent nightmare that I had been somehow returned to the hell-hole I had escaped. No, I was not looking for a kind boyfriend, nor did I have any hopes of a happy marriage ahead. Marriage and romance in Kerala are entirely instrumentalized to the ends of family upward mobility and the best a woman like me can hope for is to be the off-and-on girl friend of some nice, married man, and at best become his friend, at worst be a bridge for him to cross the treacherous waters of his (real or imagined) male mid-life crisis. Certainly, women who seek to escape might end up in well-laid traps, especially by men who promise help and support but that in itself cannot be a reason to be suspicious of women who seek to escape.

It is here that the movie’s reference to female friendships is important.The role that women friends have played in my own escape is huge — and they made sure that I not only survived but also thrived. I have always guarded my private life from public view very strongly. I do not mean any offense to members of the family I left especially the female members. I no longer see them as personally responsible for any hurt they caused me — the best thing about escaping is that you escape rancour and gain the maturity to view their behaviour as shaped by the institutions in which they live.

If I write this now joining her experience to mine, I write it for Manju — and in the spirit of female friendship. I do not know her personally but I do know this is the time for me to hold out a hand, to come out as her friend. At the least, we both sense how important it is to have wings. Fly, Manju, fly! Not to reach high perhaps, but to revel in the sheer joy that you have wings and can fly.

49 Comments leave one →
  1. Sonia permalink
    May 21, 2014 10:25 PM

    Devika, Thank you for the article and sharing your experience. The art of survival for a middleclass, malayali woman is something one learns only after being knocked down by life and the loved ones. I went through it and can identify with all the phases that you are mentioning.

    With regards to Manju, I wish her all happiness. And also for all the other friends who are making the same journey.

  2. Dinakaran permalink
    May 22, 2014 11:57 AM

    Wow ! What a piece of writing. I thought I was reading fragments of a fien-de-siecle novel by an European Novelist. Perhaps one Manju and one Devika can create a prairie fire which would burn the thicket of patriarchy in Kerala.

  3. Jayasree.A.K permalink
    May 22, 2014 12:28 PM

    very well written Devika. Loved to read it

  4. May 22, 2014 2:33 PM

    This was a fabulous read. Sent shivers down my spine. Thank you.

  5. May 22, 2014 2:36 PM

    I couldn’t have put this better. I empathized so much with Manju but when asked to justify that in a discussion with a female film-maker intellectual, I fumbled. You, Devika, have now explained what I felt in the very best words possible.

  6. Rahul permalink
    May 22, 2014 3:06 PM

    That’s so very well written.! I think I would have said the same remark that the thin-shouldered girl whom you overheard at the theater – that it is not realistic. The way you wanted to shake her shoulders, I got jolted too. Yes, one never realizes how much level-headedness it takes for an ordinary woman to drag herself across the mundane terrain that is her day to day life.

    And you sidestepped the omnipresent danger one faces while writing a piece as these: when one tries to write a piece that correlate one’s own life to that of another’s, he/she stands the risk of being accused of telling her own tale in the guise of telling another’s tale. You did it so beautifully and so seamlessly.

    Thanks for such a sensitive piece of writing!

  7. Poornima Varma permalink
    May 22, 2014 4:36 PM

    I truly enjoyed reading this.. I wish all Malayalam serials were banned..

    • Joe Nathew permalink
      June 7, 2014 5:16 AM

      Nothing can be banned Poornima. But anything can stopped. Personally make decisions to stop watching them and urge others to stop watching them. The viewership reduces and the channels are forced to stop such serials.
      These serials are real poisons playing upon soft emotions of Malayalees. Nothing real about them.

  8. murali vettath permalink
    May 22, 2014 4:42 PM

    Good one Devika

  9. Jessy permalink
    May 22, 2014 5:45 PM

    This comes at a time when I’m just beginning to feel (2 years into marriage) this slow and silent patriarchy in the family during family gatherings and pressure to live close to/with the family (we live in another city now for work). Thanks so much for writing this, I deserve to continue to pursue my life the way I want and fulfill my calling.

    • jdevika permalink
      May 23, 2014 9:50 AM

      Jessy, yes, it is important for us to put our foot down, of course as non-violently as possible, but make sure that nothing will harm your individuated self. My mistake was to think that by blending into the routine I could build connections with the other women in the family. That is not easy, I discovered, and it sapped too much energy. The important thing, I think, is to insist without being apologetic, that you are what you are, merits and faults and everything together. Once you enter that position of strength, then you will be able to afford to be incredibly generous, even to those who tried to put you down! It is possible to love, give, share, without reducing oneself to a glorified slave.

      • suneetha permalink
        May 23, 2014 1:00 PM

        hai devika though u r not known to me personally I could very well identify with u . may be in a practical way we ladies hav priorities other than ourseilf. rarely such feelings labeled as selfrespect. often accused as oversmartness. on watching how old r u ,several occasions I doubt the film makers had secretly followed me like mohanlal in “spirit” behind the drunkard. and the success is majority of malayalee ladies felt the same! now go ahead all the best and may god bless u. few words to manju, dear dear little girl, we luv u so much and our wholehearted support to u cheers

        • jdevika permalink
          May 23, 2014 3:24 PM

          Suneetha, yes we don’t know each other but I think we must all get together somehow and try to think together of our experiences. Just this morning, I was struggling to try and describe what one goes through as one tries to resist and keep oneself safe … and why coming out isn’t just sexual awakening. If at all there is a sexual awakening, it would come after,not before! People hardly understand why one resists, why one must do so. I think only our collective reflections will help us understand how the micro-strategies and counter strategies of power in intimate familial situations.

      • Jessy permalink
        May 27, 2014 5:15 PM

        This helps. My family actually trusts me a lot and gives me responsibility. The larger family is where I have difficulty and I think accepting myself with my faults and differences actually helps. And yes I want to exist amidst all this without losing myself and definitely to be able to give back to a wonderful family which has given me my kind and loving husband.

  10. swapna permalink
    May 22, 2014 6:03 PM

    loved ur article Devika!

  11. jdevika permalink
    May 22, 2014 8:55 PM

    Rahul, I couldn’t agree more about the danger you indicate. I don’t think one can only reduce the other’s experience to one’s own, but the danger is very real and doesn’t disappear just because she and I have the same sociological coordinates. Indeed it is a danger that is right at the heart of any effort to analyse any set of social events or instances that share some common properties. But I think we should be willing to take the risk of attempting to do it as self reflexively as possible- otherwise we would end up with intellectual and political paralysis which could perhaps be dressed up as political correctness. I have never cared for the latter. I guess the lessons learned from surviving and escaping one kind of mental slavery continue to guide me.

  12. May 22, 2014 9:17 PM

    Quoting you “You don’t end up with the worst chores just because your mother-in-law is mean, you don’t stop going out on your own because your parents-in-law have locked you in. The moment you enter this lair of deception, your connections with the world outside are subtly marked as less important. Every time you go back outside, you receive subtle messages, rarely violent ones, that your place is inside, not outside and that ‘balance’ and ‘adjustment’ are necessary. Had these messages been violent, surely, there would have been rebellion and resistance. And surely enough, the world outside also leaves you, again, slowly, imperceptibly. Then, when you finally decide to escape, you realize that you have to rely upon your own wits and resourcefulness. The good news however is that by this time, at least a few of us (sadly, not all for sure) would have acquired those in ample quantities — escape is possible when you deploy them to your favour, and not for the institution.” There are no better words to describe how I felt when I read this than THANK YOU for writing this article. Just like many women, only one who has gone through this erosion of self can identify with the helpless that one feels in such relationships. But once the shackles were broken, I am still flying :)

  13. JOE permalink
    May 22, 2014 9:25 PM

    Thank you Devika. Brilliant. Kudos to you and Manju. Your writing was medicine for the sores in the heart of a male like me, who has been rebuked as introvert, shy, feminine, bookish etc…. by even comrades who defend the Malayali modern patriarchy
    JOE

  14. Inasu de Paris permalink
    May 22, 2014 10:10 PM

    Inspiring with the right dose of hindsights into author’s own experiences! Wonderful.I’d simply add: oppressive arrogance of the Kerala men towards women has not much to do
    with capitalism. It is rather a cultural construct, has deep roots in the most widespread of
    mythologies and NaMO in the saddle at Delhi one wonders how the situation will evolve!!!!
    In the meanwhile, girls will need every skill in their physical and psychological repertoire to
    to haul themselves from the purgatories into which they will be thrown, wittingly or unwittingly. Devika-ji, courage and plenty of stamina!!!!

  15. Sreevidhya.V permalink
    May 22, 2014 10:25 PM

    Yes …the dual role ( women’s primary role is that of wife and mother)of married women ,the role conflicts of a working wife,the household structure etc…reminds us Talcott Parson’s Essays in Sociological Theory.nice article ….

  16. Ouseph Devassy permalink
    May 22, 2014 10:33 PM

    What troubles me is that you preferred divorce to working things out. You don’t write (in this post afaict) how you tried to change the situation at home.

    • jdevika permalink
      May 23, 2014 10:02 AM

      Ouseph Devassy I do not believe that this institution in its present form is redeemable at all. But we may be able to rework our relationships into more human,democratic,and ethical ones. For that your suggestion is totally inadequate. If we are really interested in reworking the family so that we can be truly non-violent as adults and truly caring towards children, women should resist this sient violence and men should start giving up their power and privileges. We should refuse to turn our families into factories that produce labour for the global job market and become less obsessed with upward mobility. We must start nurturing relationships, find the time and the energy to do it, and not expect gendered identities to ‘naturally’ shape them. Ouseph Devassy, love is a living thing, like a delicate herb — it needs to be taken care of, nourished. What you identify as family is nothing but a labour producing factory to me in which women are labourers — I dream of another institution, a greenhouse for love.

  17. Neema permalink
    May 22, 2014 10:36 PM

    Could relate to every word of it. Every single one!!! A very emotional read. Thank you for writing out my mind.

  18. radhika permalink
    May 22, 2014 11:35 PM

    brilliant analysis.. in perspective.. i like the concept of turning a film review at its head to communicate a profound sociopolitical analysis and message.. Thanks Devika – profound, to say the least..!

  19. Parvathi K. Iyer permalink
    May 23, 2014 12:16 AM

    the big question for me is, even though we acknowledge and understand the subtle and insidious nature of mallu patriarchy, why do we still continue to toe the line….in different degrees…..

  20. PACHA permalink
    May 23, 2014 9:33 AM

    We should start thinking of striking the deep roots of our traditional family relationships to rejuvenate the dreams and ambitions of women society. That is the starting point of all kind of revolutions. Anyway thank you so much for an outstanding piece of writing.

  21. May 23, 2014 11:02 AM

    Kudos to you Devika. So apt and rightly put. Hoping that this goes in for wider circulation – and doesn’t get restricted only as a critique of the movie. Love that ‘Greenhouse for Love’. Your struggle and being honest enough to acknowledge it has given you and Manju the inner strength and confidence to move on. In solidarity.

  22. shiny jacob permalink
    May 23, 2014 11:30 AM

    Outstanding. It’s a treat to read something so refreshingly honest. You have succeeded in bringing a silent form of abuse to the forefront and also turn the arc lights on mental and psychological abuse. Kudos to you and may your journey be pleasant…..

  23. Balachandran permalink
    May 23, 2014 11:46 AM

    Forceful, insightful writing.It is an irony that Kerala is still referred to as matriarchial society by sociologists.

  24. Mergi George permalink
    May 23, 2014 12:42 PM

    Wonderfully written! But I’m yet to see the movie; looking forward to it

  25. christy permalink
    May 23, 2014 1:25 PM

    “A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers” : Ruth Bell Graham

  26. Renza permalink
    May 23, 2014 3:01 PM

    I’m 21. Independent, free, flying! I guess it goes on until you get married. It is the institution of marriage that really cages the desires of a woman and pushes her down with a burden of expectations and responsibilities. I fear of being plunged into this institution, of the dread a man could bring, the harm it could do to my wings. Would staying a spinster for life save me from this dire situation

  27. May 23, 2014 3:16 PM

    Beautifully written.

    But, Devika, you frighten me. As a woman in my mid-twenties who so badly wants to be married and have babies and all of that (and that’s how it is now, whether or not I want it for myself, or they’ve MADE me want it for myself), your frighten the fuck out of me. Is there no negotiating this? Is it so nearly impossible, or just impossibly hard to preserve oneself? Does it really have to be one or the other?

    I truly, most sincerely hope not.

    • jdevika permalink
      May 23, 2014 3:30 PM

      Dear Renza and Sowmya Karun

      I don’t think fear should be the response. When you are trying to take a mountain path and someone tells of the potential dangers there, your best response isn’t that of cancelling the trek. I am sure you wouldn’t do that. You would probably prepare yourself better, take note of early warning signs etc and change your plans accordingly. All I’d say is that you should never sacrifice your-self, in or out of marriage. I am sure that there are instances in which women who remain unmarried can also be subject to a corrosion of the self

  28. May 23, 2014 5:58 PM

    Devikaji,

    Loved the way you saw the movie and could relate to it. I mean, it is indeed a remarkable quality in one’s persona to neglect the glitches and see what is relevant. I also liked the movie, even when in every frames of it my logical mind was telling me that this movie is nothing but a tactfully cooked pseudo feminist khichdi. I hope you also would agree to it that this is nothing but a sheer commercial film targeting the middle aged women, who is in two confused about having a self esteem or not. But, it can be used by any woman, to derive the little bit of motivation that one needs to kick off, start finding ways to respect oneself. The movie would have been much better had the team been more worried about the honest treatment than the commercial equation part of it. But, even when we consider that part, this movie still is the right tincture for a big cross section of women in our society who are trapped in the cuffs of patriarchy. I repeat the statement which I used to start this comment, I liked the way you were able to hold your breath to write this piece out of that otherwise very normal cooked up pseudo-pro-fem formula film. and inspire a whole lot of ladies who really needed to retrospect in to their recent past of married life and realign themselves to have a breather of self respect..:)

    Keep on inspiring..:)

    Love,

    Babu.

    • jdevika permalink
      May 23, 2014 6:10 PM

      Babu, I don’t think your point convinced me. I mean you will have to have many more arguments to establish that the film is what you say it is. I don’t think such a formula that you indicate is readily available. I agree that the film’s feminist credentials are strictly limited but I don’t think that’s enough reason to discredit it the way you do.

      • May 23, 2014 6:19 PM

        Devikaji,

        I don’t discredit the movie totally. But, I am not able to believe that this movie was conceived with emotional honesty as well. I agree that Formula was a wrong word to use, but, I used it to refer to the way the movies usually try to comply to gather public support. If the movie had a genuine intent, then it would have been able to get rid of the cliches and the illogical scenes it currently has. But, despite of having said that, I would still support the movie, just because it will instill a lot of courage and motivation to the hearts of a broad spectrum of female minds in our society and will ignite them. I choose not to discuss about the petty points where I felt disheartened about the emotional dishonesty of the writers, and will happily let the movie cruise along(not that my banter could hamper it in anyway), and inspire my fellow ladies..:)

        Have a nice day…:)

  29. neeta permalink
    May 23, 2014 6:39 PM

    The essay is a lot better than the movie.

  30. Lux permalink
    May 23, 2014 7:41 PM

    You have spoken for so many millions of us out there.Many who belong to this vicious farce of Mallu society. Kudos and hope your literary career makes great strides. This was a blessed piece at a time, when it is needed the most! May many more Manjus fly, high!

  31. Asha permalink
    May 24, 2014 12:21 AM

    Your article kind of answered a lot of questions on my mind by seeing others life and living my own. I can so very well identify the slow poisoning of females that is the effect of modernised patriarchy of twentieth century Malayalee society, but I am pretty sure it is not restricted to just the Malayalee society. Kudos to you for embracing life in your own terms and also to extend the spirit of female friendship to Manju, who has been a target of criticism for the life she so chose for herself. I have noticed that it is the Malayalee males who are criticizing her the most, and was shocked to see some females advising her to return home and take care of the daughter! The points that you stated here speaks volumes of the behavior in our society.

  32. Sam permalink
    May 24, 2014 5:48 AM

    Wow and speechless … Hope now I can spot that oppression each time I perpetrate early on and stop and change.

    The beach incident is so routine that now I see it so differently.

  33. renu khanna permalink
    May 24, 2014 10:09 AM

    Devika, I loved your reflective analysis. I also appreciated your gentle and persuasive responses to some difficult questions. Keep writing….

  34. May 25, 2014 10:13 PM

    I was very much disappointed with the film. Not just a weak script, but also some ‘clever’ appeasing of the patriarchal values also made me feel sick. For instance, limiting the ‘dream’ to a vegetable garden on terrace — husbands would only be happy with that, as long as they don’t have to take the wife to ireland. They also get good vegetables for free, without putting in any effort or paying for it. (Note that there is not a single woman in the team that does the farming). And the scene where the family meets the president, the husband holding the wife’s hand comes as the ultimate appreciation for the wife.

    • jdevika permalink
      May 26, 2014 9:26 AM

      Sudeep ,no one is arguing I think that this is a politically correct film. Clearly it falls well within the genre of the ‘family film’ in malayalam with all its problems. But I disagree with the way you trash it. It attempts a depiction of the covert violence of malayali patriarchy and semi or quasi buddhijeevi men as its agents. I almost think that is the reason why so many men who answer to that description are so discomfited by it. And btw I am sorry I do not fulfil your expectations about what the liberated woman should look like. Truth is, I love urban gardening and not adventurous bungee jumping. I love growing flowers and not making news. That may look like very enslaving to you but I suppose you don’t have the sovereign right to decide what a woman ought to do to feel good about herself …!

      • May 27, 2014 7:31 PM

        I do not trash it. I respect, rather love, the makers’ guts to do a film with Manju in the lead. We have all seen how Dileep boasted about lobbying with directors against casting her in their films. I also like the question “who decides an expiry date for womens’ dreams?” But beyond that, I do not want to celebrate this one as some breakthrough feminist film. At best this is an ad-film that sends a message about ‘women empowerment’ in a convincing manner. I am sure Roshan Andrews would have been a better choice for the Congress ad campaign. The Rahul Gandhi message of women empowerment is communicated so well to the audience.

  35. May 25, 2014 10:43 PM

    This patriarchy is difficult to recognize because it is so banal, everyday, normal, and so – it goes without saying — often not violent in the crude physical sense. Spot on. I got an opportunity to study in TISS for my dream course. Giving it up to become ”normal’was the worst mistake of my life.I can understand exactly what you are saying. I will not call myself a coward in the normal sense.I am independent , well employed and generally courageous. Still, breaking free is so difficult. At times you doubt even your own sanity.
    Thanks for your lovely write-up.

  36. Jerry Joseph permalink
    May 26, 2014 12:09 PM

    Whether one wants to be in the rat race of the modern world or be a respectful housewife or mother is an individual choice. I know many talented and highly qualified women opting for the safety and security of their households rather than preferring to be in the rat race of the modern world and some of them told me that they love it. Writer Kamala Das after returning from U.S. said in an interview that only in India mothers and sisters are respected; in U.S. women are just sexual objects and they try to enhance their sex appeal through silicone implants and plastic surgery. So the respect one gets at home should not be viewed with contempt.

  37. Deepthi Cherian permalink
    May 29, 2014 1:30 PM

    Simply loved what you wrote and how you wrote it! Spot on!
    Its systematized brainwashing right from the time we are born. And the sad thing is we cant blame our parents for,that is what they were taught too….the good thing though, is we can bring about a change…when we bring up our children-boy or girl…. And I have a good feeling that a lot of us are bringing about a change….and movies like ‘How old are you’ and people like you,Devika who are coming out and talking about it and writing about it are actually helping in bringing about this much needed change, So well done and thank you! All the very best!

  38. Parvathy permalink
    June 2, 2014 12:37 PM

    Devika this is a brilliant, fierce and tender piece of writing..one that I among many others can deeply relate to. Thank you for writing this.

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