That Which Is Not Said
By Chitra Gopalakrishnan
977 words, fiction, original and unpublished
Akhila, a midwife, in her small village of Pugalur in Tamil Nadu, knows of the promiscuity of making, animated, animalistic, noisy, agonizing and even violent sometimes as it is, just as she knows of the assaults of unmaking, of its unspeakable acts and of all that which is not said in the undoing.
She knows of the many rough ways of ousting the awaited and just-arrived lives from wombs. Not only in her village but the entire Karur district, the textile hub of the state, through her sisterhood of midwives.
Akhila knows that these disappearances unwanted or not, by the women are never spoken of by them. She knows the rivers of Kaveri and Amravati, their foremothers, who flow noisily here, carry away some their agony within their swishes and swells like they do the pieces of the oppressively hot sun that fall into them. As these rivers, beneath their scintillating surface, bear the dark of the girls’ woes, their sombre lamentations on their lack of freedom, their being yoked to their men, fathers or husband or sons, they have turned a poisonous, midnight-blue. A naïve visitor should not be blamed for resting the blame on handloom dyes.
She, as a midwife, knows intimately of the thrusting of the near-lethal wooden stick with cotton wool at one end. Of the wedging of twigs wrapped in rags soaked with red oxide. Of the ingesting of fruits and flowers of the bitter and toxic Datura plant. Of the swallowing of roots and tree veins of local creepers smeared with opium. And of so many more crude methods that her tongue can’t bring itself to shape the words.
Akhila knows of the many ways that women in her district, young and old, married and unmarried, of upper and lower caste, hurt, within and without, in red rawness, in aloneness, in silence, as compulsions of their present-day life and the overlay of cultural, social and historical norms, tales and fairytales, contain, control and erase them. Abortion is legal in her state and her country yet many women seek elusion through midwives like her to keep their injuries undercover. The liberation they attempt, or made to attempt, succeeds, most times, but each woman, she knows, goes away with pain and privation like no other.
She knows of the grief that takes these women hostage. She knows of how their aches rise with them from the shallows of their early morning sleep and dive with them into the cavernous slumber of the night. She knows of just how deep they seep into their simple daily rituals, their comforting routines, as these women stand knee-deep in water to plant rice, as they wait in the sweet expectation of a new crop, as they winnow paddy, as they feed cows and cook meals, as they string milk-white jasmine flowers into garlands and as they seek shade from the crackling sun under the lush green lines of banana trees.
Akhila knows how their torment is part of their flesh and bones. She sees it in the swinging of their arms, the pressing of their hands behind their back, in the glance of their eye and knows that it will radiate for a lifetime. She knows of how they burn daily from within, as their incense sticks do for the gods in brass pots, a smoldering reminder of their un-readiness for motherhood, their denial of it, their lack of grit to fight for their flesh and blood and their inadequacies to be themselves at their best, social conditions and settings that men so easily claim.
She knows that their anguish will not die with them but will be passed on organically, with its inner and outer casings, to their surviving daughters, as a kind of muscle memory, as a kind of tensile strength, to allow them to bear up to their own inheritances of loss, to its regular, repeated ticks.
Akhila knows that when she is asked about how she can live with this knowledge, and as a party to, as a sharer and helper of such murderousness, she will have a ready answer. She will say truth is a faulty enterprise. It is rarely single and never pure. The women’s truths are theirs alone, and they can never be yours or a universal one.
She knows she will tell the questioners, especially the men, they will never know or understand these women’s inner geographies of loss, how soul-empty it is to live in the body of the condemned. She will tell the men that though they are invisible in the process of unmaking, they are very much present at the scaffold, often at the center of disintegration, as the raison d’etre, disciplining and punishing the female body that they desire yet despise.
Akhila, the complete one, the meaning of her name, knows that she, perhaps, can never live up to her nomenclature. But she is going to try, the silence of the women around her is crushing. Her mother had wilfully defied society by giving her an upper-caste name after the Hindu goddess Akhilandeshwari. Her move away will come with her telling of people around her of the distance between her hands and heart. Of the part of her, that lies poisoned and buried in the ground, against her choice, one that leaves her bruised and incomplete. And of the parts of her that she owns, breasts, waist, hips, vagina, buttocks, heart, and soul, that are hers and hers alone.
She knows her uncovering of her shroud of silence will set off resistances among other women. That they will begin to say that which is not said. Their lack of charge over their bodies and lives. The denial of their choice of whether or not to bring a child into the world. Of their right to not be measured and shamed against the norms of society.
That Which Is Not Said
That Which Is Not Said