I met a woman today.
No, let me correct myself.
I didn’t really meet her.
I saw her in passing.
I glanced at her.
I brushed by her.
For one infinitismal moment in time, the curves of our lives were tangetial to each other.
I was intrigued by her.
Not in a romantic way. Not intrigued by her own self.
Intrigued by who she was.
Her dress was unremarkable. A salwar kameez. Perhaps a bindi on her forehead. I fumble for details. It is easier to remember the outré than the commonplace, easier to remember the strident than the somber.
But I remember some things about her. She wore a perfume. It was a strong one. The odor was familiar to me. How many times have I smelt its heady form on the streets of this country? The fragrant essence of duty and responsibility, taken head on. The sweetly toxic fragrance of unfairness accepted and discharged to the full. The misty fumes of guiltily held desires melting into the tortured smoothness of a worldview inculcated since birth.
She stooped a little, I think.
As though carrying something vast. Carrying something no human was ever meant to carry. Carrying something that someone just thrust upon her, without her even knowing it.
Carrying something vague and indefinable, that everyone insisted on defining anyway.
Carrying society’s honor on her back.
She strained under that load, pearl drops of perspiration on her face. She labored under the burden. But she knew of no other way. The gilded bonds of patriarchy bound her to her load, and she could not put it down. She must carry it as her own.
Her eyes were a striking black. They hid her soul behind the curtain of duties and responsibilities, to a husband, to a family, to a child, to a world. They hid the symmetric charm of a fundamentally good person. They hid the vagaries of her own personality under a crushing veneer of uniformity. She was a stone, crushed into a brick, to fit her place.
There was still a light in those eyes. A sparkling, shining, dancing, flicker of fiery flame.
The sparkle of dreams. Dreams she saw for the future. For her husband. For her children. Maybe for herself.
They would overcome.
She would learn to carry her load.
Perhaps someone would share it. Oh, how unbearably heavy it was! But she was young and she had the strength. She would do it.
In a few fleeting years, the light would go out. Extinguish. Forever.
The dress would be the same. Her perfume would be different. Oh yes, I’ve smelt that fragrance on the city streets too. The bitter musk of a cheerless existence. The dark mists of broken hopes making the world oddly wet in a chilly misery.
She was no feminist. She would never be one. Never be anyone significant. She would never go down in the pages of history. Never be toasted. Never even be seen by most of us.
And yet, in her own quiet, invisible way, she is important.
She is not just a she.
She is legion, for she is many.
She’s just an Indian woman. And yet she is so much more.
In a few seconds, she walked away.