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The Other

By: Meher Manda

 

Like most children I come from two parents.

My mother, culled from all my deficiencies, scatters herself all over my papers. You can only write well about your failings. I puke my mother out and all my inadequacies with her madness. I grow under her shadow a magnificent beast.

I am one of the many women who take after their fathers and become something undefinable.

To speak of my father is to speak of my edge, the anger that sits on and burns my tongue slowly, and how free my body can be from within its confines of breast and hip.

I live and breathe like a man in a woman’s body in a man’s world which makes me a very specific animal.

I wasn’t to take after him, but his ālāp opened whole wounds for my body to pass through. I knew then that I too would sing to survive.

Like the ālāp I take when anger belts my back with rushed strokes of red. My tongue finding tune in beatings.

My father knows little poetry but knows that nights can sometimes metamorphose into questions. He answers: कोई किनारा जो किनारे से मिले वो अपना किनारा है and everything is the colour of honeyed sunlight. Even once-red bruisings.

I hear Kishore Kumar in my father’s voice or is it the other way around? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that I try and sing as low as I can, my music rumbling from the pit of my chest. And just like that, I fail my mother all over again.

I am a child hanging onto ageing arms. I am told that I can and must be one thing only. But I slowly become another. I unknot the rules. The women squeal in shock. My mother is angry.

This isn’t a story of transformation. This is a story of wilful resignation. How someone can reach the fork end of a road and decide, without a modicum of proof, to go right than left. Just a mild decision with very little consequence. Right?

To become a father is to become territorial, angry, insistent. But it is also to step into large feet, and see the world through fresh eyes. It is to sieve through words and conditions, look around confused and ask, “You’re talking to me?”

I ask my father the same question. He doesn’t know how to hit back at a mirror.

My mother is in there too, somewhere in the back, crying.

I don’t know how to say this without raising eyebrows. But I wouldn’t have ever known how to play woman without becoming my father first. Without tasting that peculiar dish of freedom.

I am him, and he is me, and in that likeness is the shredding of any pretension of obedience. I am tactless, brash, unruly, a little ruffian. Whose fault is that? The father before him? Or the one before him? Let’s keep playing this game so we never have to blame mine.

वो शाम कुछ अजीब थी, ये शाम भी अजीब है

We repeat ourselves. Atoms. Divine Words. Fathered daughters.

At the international terminal, my father cries the ālāp of a baby who has lost sight of its mother. Maybe that is correct. Birthing is a two way process. I too birthed my father at arrival.

I disappear through the gates and find my reflection sobbing, bent over himself, becoming a foetus.

 

Meher Manda is a poet, short story writer, journalist, and educator from Mumbai, India currently living in New York. She works as a teaching artist with Teachers & Writers and Community-Word Project, and is a Poetry and Fiction adjunct for undergraduates. She is the founding editor-in-chief of The Canopy Review, and cohosts An Angry Reading Series in Harlem.