The Unbearable Silliness of Presumptiveness.

I've neglected to post anything on this blog for several days now - life took several unexpected turns during this period and I think it was easier to not write anything during this time since that would have required me to pay attention to how I was dealing with all of these events. Hence, the extended absence. I do that sometimes - not as an escape from problems and obstacles because there is no way that they can be bracketed for that long but I try to avoid dwelling over such stuff so that I can ride the storm out. I think the distance helps me to deal with the situation in a better fashion if I think about the longer run. It also is a way in which I give myself the time I need to percolate to be able to get a clearer perspective on things.

But last night I had a bizarre dream that forced me to change gears and start thinking a bit more actively about everything that has happened rather than just dealing with stuff to get through the moment...so here I am.

I don’t know whether or not the symbolism of the dream is important or relevant or, for that matter, what it might be but I’ll share anyway. I was in my grandmother's dining room, lying on the carpet sleeping quite peacefully underneath a massive brown blanket. I wake up startled but am unable to move. I realize it was because someone was putting a heavy suitcase on top of me. It wasn’t necessarily crushing me as such but I do remember feeling like I was being held down. From the conversations that I could hear I was able to discern that there were other people waiting to pile more suitcases in the same space. I started yelling out to my aunt to let her know I was under there feeling incredibly suffocated but no one could hear me or see me move. I struggled to get out from underneath the blanket but failed. And suddenly I stopped trying - and I distinctly remember why. Because I was tired of struggling when it seemed so futile. I lay there motionless for a bit and suddenly it occured to me that I just have to fight back irrespective. I recall getting ready to make the effort in my dream. The next minute I knew I was sitting straight up in bed and wide awake!

Now I'm not a big fan of dream interpretation per se but I've been thinking about this dream since about 4ish this morning and haven't been able to go back to sleep after that. Damn! However 8 hours later the interpretation I ended up with was that the feeling of being almost buried under these suitcases meant that I clearly need to work through the baggage I seem to have accumulated…the baggage of various experiences over the last couple of years that have had a great impact on my life - some of which I think I'm still reeling from and that will probably make their way into subsequent entries.

Among those is a recent and considerably explosive conversation with my grandfather.

But before I go on let me add that in my family we have what some might call seamless relationships - it seems like we're always in each others' business which can be overwhelming and frustrating on certain occasions but I wouldn't want that to change because it's also an incredible feeling to know that these people love me just because....and vice versa. I enjoy this closeness despite the challenges I face negotiating it in certain instances when I feel a bit helpless in terms of garnering support for a particular decision I’m about to make or defend an opinion I hold. But back to the story I started above…

It was my grandfather’s 75th birthday a few weeks ago and I figured I'd call him at the stroke of midnight Pakistan Standard Time – that’s where my mother’s family lives. I was kind of excited about surprising him because I knew he wouldn't be expecting me to call just then. Little did I know what was about to happen. After I wished him we got to talking about other stuff. One thing led to another and so our conversation veered from the US elections to his “serious doubts” about my qualifications to say anything about India-Pakistan relations (that's my area of interest re: my dissertation project) because I will never have the kind of knowledge that some idiot journalist who hosts a news program produced by BBC Pakistan has to a statement that I have yet to figure out the logic of - apparently just "because" I'm working on my PhD and in my late 20s my grandfather *knows* that I'm *obviously* not interested in having a family and am too old to get married and have kids. (The most baffling statement in this last stream of thoughts was something about how I was too old to have those dreams any longer.) Not that the second statement doesn't bother me (I’ll wax poetic about age discrimination and legitimacy in Pakistan some other time; clearly the other dude who is 60+ has the “right” to say stuff but little puny me – well, not so much!) but the third one leaves me stark raving mad....it's not the first time I've heard someone jump to such conclusions about me but definitely the first time that someone in my family has expressed this opinion - and that too in quite a relentless manner.

Sadly, I feel that my relationship with my grandfather has changed forever - for me things will never be the same...or it seems that way right now. I continue to feel a certain sense of obligation and respect towards him but I just don't feel the same love for him. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that my grandfather, who claims to know me so well, misunderstood my being, my identity. I can be quite forgiving in general but this is not one of those things I can forget about and put behind me – even if my grandmother would like me to …. I can tell that she’d like things to go back to the way they were but hasn’t said so explicitly as yet. The silver lining in this cloud though is that both my parents were probably more furious with my grandfather than I was; that vote of confidence felt really great. As for myself - I've transitioned from livid to incredibly hurt to okay with it and trying to be indifferent but it still bothers me.

For some bizarre reason, my “existence” seems to have come under much scrutiny amongst relatives and acquaintances belonging to the South Asian contingent ever since I decided to pursue a Ph.D. The consensus operates according to the following logic:

1. Women getting PhDs are man-hating feminists who have no respect for tradition – i.e. getting married and having children.
2. Kiran is getting a PhD and is still single.
3. Therefore, Kiran is a male-bashing feminist who will never have a family because she isn’t interested in one. Heinous! Sacrilege!
Implied in this logic is a certain disdain for the life-path these folks think I seem to have chosen. Of course you also have to throw in some pity for my so-called empty vision with respect to how life ought to be led. Apparently I didn’t pay enough attention to the memo that I was put on this planet to please and serve a chauvinist asshole and bear 2.5 children!

Seriously though I don’t know what perplexes me more: those people who feel so enormously concerned about the fact that I’m still single (I think a certain contingent among this population might be less vexed if I’d been married once and divorced which sounds sufficiently scary to me) or that they feel compelled to chalk it up to some male-bashing feminist they assume exists inside me who obviously doesn’t want to have a family because if I did I would have had one before I turned 28.

As much as I’ve tried to figure this one out I fail to come up with an answer – satisfactory or otherwise. Why is getting a Ph.D. assumed as the be-all-and-end- all of my existence? Even worse, why do people assume that this is the only thing that I consider to be of consequence? Just as bad, why do they feel compelled to share these thoughts? Hello – Earth to Butt-inskys…Think it, DON’T say it! These folks tend to paint this picture of me as if I’m some “post-modern woman” who isn’t interested in “tradition.”

Of course it’d be easier to modify my own attitude and stop caring about what these people say but the only problem is that I do….well more on some days than on others…most likely, more when people I care sufficiently about express these thoughts than others do. It just upsets me too much to be able to bracket it and move on. So as an answer to this contingent’s asinine assumptions I offer the following thoughts in the hope that they’ll get off my case and find other uses for their free time – a luxury most of them seem to have in abundance…

First, I don’t consider myself a feminist for several reasons of which the most important one is I just don’t feel inspired by that narrative. It doesn’t piss me off sufficiently. It doesn’t speak to me the way, for example, Nietzsche does. This doesn’t mean that my experiences of being a woman aren’t relevant; I just don’t want that to be what defines the fact that I’ve achieved anything in life. I’m getting a PhD because I’ve always wanted to teach and I enjoy the process of making the effort to think better thoughts – I don’t want to prove that a woman can do anything and everything. Of course we can and I have no problems with people who go down that road but it isn’t the point for me.

Second, I’m not getting a Ph.D. to avoid “settling down” and “having a family”. I believe things happen when they are meant to happen. Like most other women I know, I’d love to have someone to share my life with but the fact that it hasn’t happened as yet isn’t because I’m a picky bitch but because it just hasn’t happened as yet – that’s all! I too, like most women my age, have a strong maternal instinct but I have my doubts about being able to write a dissertation and be a good parent at the same time. I believe that if one does something one must put their heart and soul in it. I’m aware of my own limitations and do not think that for me to attempt kids and a dissertation in the same breath would allow me to meet either of those commitments in the best way possible. Why? Because I’m just way too monochromic and I’d suck at doing them together. I value the fact that my mother stayed at home with me through my early years and then my father worked from home during my not-so-early years all the way through most of my adolescence. I think it’s that undivided attention I got from my parents that has been the single most important influence in my life – and I happen to like the way that I turned out :-). I’d like to provide my kids with the same – but I don’t think I am quite capable of it right now. And I refuse to turn into the kind of stay-at-home mom that some of my friends have transformed into – these women claim to stay home because they want to raise their kids in a nurturing environment but seem to spend more time on the phone exchanging gossip while their kids’ baby-sitter in effect are Bollywood films – that to me is purely appalling and unacceptable. I don’t want to turn into one of them either. So these are precisely the reasons why I don’t see myself having babies in the next couple of years. Of course if God has other plans for me then I’ll figure things out as and when my situation changes but for now this is how I feel.

Aaah that felt good to get out of my system :-). Although an interesting question that comes to my mind now is whether or not similar presumptions will come into play as I proceed to Pakistan and India to do field research. And if so, what might be the best way of dealing with them? Time will tell…so stay tuned :-)!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the latter part of your entry. You're really good when you get angry! It's not a bad thing to be considered a feminist. I'm one myself even, though, in disguise. I've had kids, 2 slave marriages and have just now come to terms with all the events of my life and still working on it. You do what you think is right for you and don't mind the doubters. Forgive your grandfather and all others for not understanding; they don't know any better and only want to best for you as they know it. Believe one thing: they are proud of you even, though, their society has ingrained certain rules upon them. At the age of 58, I have just now come to understand my mother and would like another chance with her (I was angry), but she's gone forever and there are many regrets.

7:04 AM  

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