Illegitimi non carborundum is dog Latin. It loosely translates as ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’. Margaret Atwood uses a variant of it in The Handmaid’s Tale, which has become a cultural phenomenon of sorts. Her version is Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum, which essentially means the same thing. It can be a war cry of women all over the world who are trying to win battles, fight for their rights, and in all manner of speaking, making their presence felt. Taking the logical step forward from my last week’s post entitled In Search of the Warrior Goddess, I decided to do a little navel-gazing instead, and talk about women in my life who enhance, enrich, and empower me in their own unique ways.
I share a very close relationship with my mother and her sisters. We talk, we laugh, we swap stories of childhood, motherhood, of being a wife. I look forward to going home because Home for me is about spending some much-needed relaxing time with them over steaming cups of tea. Home for me is the sound of laughter and incessant chatter of my aunts, which may seem chaotic for an on-looker, but in which I find comfort, because in the chatter I find solace that in an ever-changing world, some things will never change. In a world of eroding values, there is the innocence of child-like banter. In a world where we have to wear masks of apparent politeness, where we have to bite our tongues before saying what we feel, with my aunts I find a corner where I can speak my mind. I can say what I feel without the fear of being judged. I can be.
Sometimes we all want to just be. That is precisely why I run back, time and again, to my girlfriends. They are a bunch of crazy women who fiercely guard their sense of self, who cut me no slack, and show me the mirror every single time. It is exhausting at times to experience so much honesty, but I love them for just that. Their honesty. No matter how many differences of opinions we may have and how many times I may say, ‘This is it’, I try once again to work on our friendship. Perhaps, it comes from a place of confidence that no mending is required because they know me inside out. Like an old pair of ever-forgiving pyjamas (nod at Twinkle Khanna), they embrace my expanding waistline, hide my scars, and overlook the sharp edges of my calloused feet. The moment I slip into my old pyjamas, I am home.
Mother and mothers-in-law
When I am having a bad day, I can pick up the phone and vent. She listens patiently. She waits for me to finish my rant and then proceeds to tell me calmly, what she feels about the situation. Her tactic is entirely different from that of my girlfriends, who will bombard me with questions and comments and remarks and sit me down and make me listen. Just like I need them to shake my shoulder and make me see sense, I need the quiet strength of my mother to guide me gently back to the right path. Like the quiet tinkle of the meditation bell, she is a gentle reminder to breathe and return to the moment. She is the polar opposite of my mother-in-law, who is all about staying productive and focused and getting things done.
‘Make sure you focus on yourself in 2020. Take out time for yourself because no one else will.’
I admire this remarkable woman for her fortitude, determination, and a never-say-die attitude. I am deeply thankful to her for raising her son to be such an empathetic and kind man because only a mother can. But mostly, I look up to her for always putting things in perspective. The advice she gave me last year was, and I paraphrase, ‘Make sure you focus on yourself in 2020. Take out time for yourself because no one else will’. Honestly, it blew my mind. That’s the kind of mother-in-law I aspire to be, if my child ever decides to get married. Speaking of mothers-in-law, I need to mention my brother’s mother-in-law. She is changing the world in small and big ways. Armed with a doctoral degree in Sanskrit and years of researching and teaching the subject, she is the first and only woman priest who conducts Hindu ceremonies focusing on Vedic philosophy and not ritualistic religion. In a right-wing extremist political climate, her job is more difficult than ever before but she soldiers on, not through direct confrontation, but through quiet work and gentle persuasion. The media, too, is sitting up now and taking notice of this remarkable woman. She reminds me of Marie Tharp, the first woman who mapped the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and proved the theory of continental drift, bringing about a paradigm shift in oceanic geology. I feel blessed to have so many awe-inspiring mother figures in my life.
“I was so busy making maps, I let them argue.” — Marie Tharp, Oceanographic Cartographer.
I have always maintained that relationships are like framed photographs. Each one a shard of our identity. When we take all these photographs together, they give us a sum of all the parts and make it greater than the whole. Mathematically impossible, perhaps, but emotionally enriching and I, for one, am here for the experience.
When I need a voice of reason, I know whom to call. Dial 5 for practical advice. Dial 8 for a heart to heart chat. Dial 4 for constructive criticism, or in other words, to receive a well-deserved kick in the ass.
But there are other women in my life who are not on my speed dial. I don’t need to talk to them to be inspired. Their presence in my life is complete without the need for communication. My grandmother is one such woman. I can talk to her, remember her anytime, anywhere. She is ever-present with her encouraging words and encouraging smile. I can close my eyes and feel her presence, just like I can with so many other women. They are my soul sisters. Sisters from a different mother, if you will. I feel belonged when I am with them. They cannot be around physically to help me out with childcare or groceries but they form an important part of my support system.
My clan of warrior women
All these wonderfully amazing women — my sisters, girlfriends, soul sisters, grandmother, aunts, mother, and mothers-in-law; they are all warrior women. They are brave, enterprising, determined, focussed, strong women who are tirelessly playing out all the social roles and yet, trying to carve a niche for themselves. They are uncompromising mothers who stay up after midnight to practice for their dance recital, or to help finish school projects, or to read a book, or to bead, or to catch up on the latest season of Marvellous Mrs. Maisel. They are dutiful daughters who juggle work, home, business, and not to mention large distances between cities to be near their parents no matter what time of the day or night. They are loving wives who wake up early to cook breakfast for their husbands before dashing off to office. They might be silently battling depression, negative body image, eating disorders, anxiety attacks, heartaches, stress-related diseases, insomnia, a sick child, an ailing parent, an abusive partner, or an uncompromising co-worker. But they fight tooth and nail for things they love, they put on a brave face and they carry on. They do all this because they can. Not because they love being workhorses, driving themselves to the ground; but because they are women. They are women who belong to the clan of the Warrior Goddess, who never, at any cost, let the bastards grind them down.