"Blue for boys and pink for girls,
One may cry a river, but the other is not allowed to shed a single tear,
Cars for boys and dolls for girls,"
Most of us have grown up to succumb to this rigid gender identity. Thanks to the patriarchy for betrothing the power to the masculine!
Gender is a social construction that is choked by patriarchy over time. Our achievement in deconstructing this complex social norm is as far as considering tomboys cool while brushing tomgirls under the mat.
Mahesh Dattani is a well-known Indian playwright. His plays aim to expose the hypocrisy and the vices prevalent in modern Indian society. His Tara is the plight of every Indian girl who had to sacrifice her share of fate to entitle the jackpot to the 'male'.
"Tara, drink your milk, amma!" hollers Bharati. Sounds like a loving mother, right? Who could have guessed it was to bury the trail of her guilty conscience. After all, love makes up for everything, every heinous crime.
The play is about a regular Indian family which suffers the consequences of a gut-wrenching decision made in the past. Tara and Chandan are born as Siamese twins, joined from the chest to down with three legs. Bharti's father can accept a crippled girl, but not a crippled boy. So to make him the 'acceptable man' for society, two legs are gifted to him while depriving Tara, both ethically and medically.
Bharati keeps on spiralling down the tornado of her guilt. Like any other Indian woman, she also had to shoulder the 'responsibility' of giving birth to a healthy baby boy, as dictated by patriarchy. That is a major reason why she devoted the rest of her life cuddling up to Tara. She is the 'mute wife' of patriarchy.
Bharati echoes in myriads of Indian women who have to either abort or kill their girl child under the pressure of bearing 'Khandan ka Chirag' (The light of the house).
Tara is born as the brightest star of her dark universe. She twinkles with wit, passion, and the persistent will to pursue her studies only to be failed by her health. Bharati is her best friend whom she loves with all her heart. Again, a typical picture of the patriarchal society where the marginalized stick together.
A million girls like Tara who want to pursue their passion are held back by,
"Kya hoga padhai karke?"
(What is the use of studying?).
" Don't turn him into a sissy- by teaching him how to knit!", grits Patel, the patriarch of the family. This reflects his dislike of Chandan's effeminate nature. Like any other Indian patriarch, Patel forces the 'mainstream masculine norms' on Chandan.
We often forget the fact that men are equally constricted by the expectations others have towards masculinity. Society demands that masculinity be defined by a muscular body, beard, dominating behaviour while staying away from trivial chores like cooking. Men who behave otherwise are said to be 'Joru ka Gulam'(Wife's puppet).
Patriarchy has the power to break families. Anything new is not acceptable because it reduces the 'God-like' status of the patriarch. Its impact is realised much later. Bharati is driven to the point of insanity due to the guilt of shortening Tara's life. After Tara's death, Chandan moves far away, leaving Patel to moon over his only son.
It is indeed true that the Patriarch has the power to terminate the perpetual cycle of patriarchy. This is what feminism demands. Feminism is often misunderstood under the wings of radical feminism or Feminazi. But its primary aim is to dismantle the never-ending cycle of patriarchy.
As Dattani says, "Tara is about the gendered self, about coming in terms with the feminine side of oneself in a world that always favours what is 'male'," let's discover ourselves on our terms; let's make space to understand and to help others win over patriarchy.
- Leha Biswas