Sunday, June 30, 2024

Ma Shouldn't Be Scared

The ten stories of Ma is Scared portray pictures of Indian women and Dalits (scheduled castes) who suffer, who fight, who persist and also those who couldn't live a life of their choice and dreams, just because of their gender and caste. Anjali Kajal's stories are straightforward and powerful, and what fuels the fire inside these stories are the everyday realities of women and Dalits, which outsiders, like most of us, often fail to notice and understand. Do people question their biasness, do people refine their characters, do people change even after they understand? Rarely does the understanding lead to behavioral changes. Abuses grow wild, hatred replaces simple jealousy, misunderstandings fill the voids. These stories are critique of the present and the past, of our time and the way of the world.

You try to escape, you feel you have succeeded, but again, you fall into another trap, and this becomes your way of life, expected and unbearable. Now imagine, women being trapped – this is the story of Deluge: the difficulty of growing up as a woman, who are kept in fear, confusion, away from men, protected and abused. The women of the family are secluded through beliefs. These beliefs restrict them, treat them different from men. They are unable to socialize outside, unable to aspire and dream, and they are supposed to fit into a character fabricated outside, by their families, relatives and society. In this void, protection burst like bubbles, and harassment and sexual abuse barge in. Women seeking emotional support make themselves vulnerable to emotional predators, and they risk their lives only to get manipulated, to be once again thought of as a property. Defiance, suicide, isolation, submission to your fate, shape or shatter your relations, what would you do? What Pammi does in Deluge?

When men exposed themselves to her, she would be filled with panic. Pammi didn’t know how to free herself from her body. She became so fed up, she sometimes wished she could separate herself from it, take it off and throw it away.

Pammi: Every man is potentially a disgusting animal.

‘If only my mother had shown some strength. If only she had taught me to fight, rather than teaching me only to close my eyes, like her mother did with her.’

Dalits from villages moving into the cities looking for a new life, girls kept ignorant become woman who wants their daughter to be ignorant, boundaries drawn around the lives of girls, that want to limit the girls within four wall of a house – this is the complexities and way of life of story Ma is Scared. Jasbir's mother, Ma is consumed by fear, whether Jasbir would return home safely, whether her daughter would be able to fight against the sexual predators and against harassment on her own. Ma is scared for her daughter's safety, for hatred lurking in the society. Meanwhile, new generation of daughters like Jasbir and Dalit women have been strong, and have pushed the boundaries, trying to burst out of their margins imposed on them.

The environment they live in is suffocating for young women. Everybody interfering with everybody else's business. In small communities like this, a careful eye is kept on everyone's daughters. Girls are brought up in such a closed and protective atmosphere that they suffer from a lack of confidence for the rest of their lives.

Rain narrates a story of a couple. But the story is also about the chasm between a husband and wife even after the marriage, the complexities in relation, especially when past lives bleeds into the present, and unattained destinies deluges their inner lives. Couples are lost in their understanding, the space they keep for solace is disturbed, but relations can be rekindled, renewed with love and trust. A rain can wash away what must be.

They had planned to live like friends after their wedding but without realizing, they had ended up as husband and wife.

There was something wrong, she felt, with the institution of marriage… Irritation was also a part of married life… Love frees the other person, she realized, it doesn't imprison them.

The Newspaper is a story about how the constant barrage of news surrounding us: of sexual abuse, rape, death, murder, riots, terrorism and hate – because the world of the news centers on the bad (?) – negatively affects a homebound mother with depression. Women left alone at home are prone to such societal factors such as news, which are funneled down to them. This also can be extended to the interpretation that lives at margins, which can be created even inside our families, are vulnerable to all kinds of influence. Women made to live at the margins, not made strong to cope up with societal influences may develop one or another kind of difficulties.

Taru, Zeenat and A World Full of Crap revolves around disability, child adoption, motherhood, the complexities of relation, failure of people to understand disability, motherhood and women as a whole.

History delves into the entrenched social hierarchy of India, where the marginalized Scheduled Castes face discrimination from a young age in schools, perpetuating a cycle of hatred and resentment. Hatred against reservation, hatred against those coming from Bastis, and discrimination ingrained deeply in the society, these form the sad chapters in the life of a character, which represents the common fate of many.

Pathways is another story of resilience of a Dalit boy who waits two years before getting a placement in a government engineering college.

To Be Recognized is a story of the fate of girls wanting to pursue education, the hatred and discrimination against reservations and people getting it.

'These people get away with murder. They don't have to study; they don't need to pass. They get everything through charity.'

… their families expected them to be housewives, they weren't allowed, let alone encouraged, to work outside the house. Once in a while, a few stubborn girls managed to convince their families to let them continue studying, but the rest resigned themselves to their fate.

'Daughter, don't teach these lower caste children too much. They will only grow up to become competition for our own children.'


             Darkness was written in the lines on my mother's hands.
             The soil on my father's body belonged to somebody else.
             My family had no fields of their own,
             No country in their name, that they could claim.
             More important than existence
             Is to be recognized.
             There are centuries between us.

Suffocation is another such story to show discrimination even by/among educated people, women who are not able to pursue jobs and explore world outside, women given a life where home and family are regarded as her sole responsibility, and where men tend to escape those responsibilities in one or another name. Isn't it obvious that frustration take root among those who couldn't live their life to the fullest, who could never explore the world outside, people who realize that they lost their active life somewhere else, when it could have been different. Isn't it a suffocation to live a life not chosen by you?

All my life, Vimal has put me own, saying that I'm not his equal, not as educated or intellectual as him. And I carried that shame all those years. I ran from pillar to post, working outside and inside the house, educating the children. I have to be perfect, I always told myself: a good mother; a good housewife; a good wife. Only now have I come to understand that all this was just as much the responsibility of my intellectual husband as it was mine. He did nothing but pick faults with me constantly.

Sanitizer, set in the Covid world, still talks about the discrimination. Casteism has now been carried from old to new generation, and the thoughts have been fanning inside the mind and thoughts of little school children, where jealousy have been fueled with hatred. 

'Here, the area behind our colony is not good. It's mostly Scheduled Castes. These people don't wear masks. Covid is spreading mainly because of them.'

Anjali Kajal has shown us the world around her, its characters and its fabrics. We cannot accept discrimination; we cannot accept casteism. We defy hate, and we defy abuse of all kinds. We are not just story readers, we are men walking outside of these stories, and living in these stories. Forget the characters, we are the characters. Forget the plot, we know the right way. Ma is Scared, let's go to her. 

Author: Anjali Kajal

Original Text: Hindi
Translator: Kavita Bhanot
Publisher: Penguin India
Source: Review Copy from the Publisher

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Ma Shouldn't Be Scared

The ten stories of Ma is Scared portray pictures of Indian women and Dalits (scheduled castes) who suffer, who fight, who persist and also ...