This is a regular scene at certain vantage points in our layout in the afternoons. Maids who have finished work at the respective houses drift towards these points where they exchange betel leaves and areca and plenty of gossip. This is perhaps their equivalent of blogsphere, where they recount,share,counsel and of course, gossip. Nothing is sacred, no privacy restrictions - whether it is about their private lives or that of the people in the houses they work. Their network is a source of more detailed and authentic news than the ladies' club or the men's network where information is shared in bits, implied rather than explicitly stated and where everyone likes to gossip while seeming to be least interested in the private business of others. I do not know if it is because I am not part of any of these networks that my maid feels the need to relay local news to me every now and then. Most of them I switch off after the headlines except when it is about a birth or a death or illness. But it is never just the news as it is always padded with their views and opinions and I am fascinated by the simple set of rules they have for everything to decide if it is good, bad or awful.
This morning she told me about another maid who was working in the next lane. She worked all day in their house and very often a person calling himself her brother used to visit her. Last night she went away with him leaving her family. She called her employers to inform them that she had resigned from work! She is married to a person with one dysfunctional leg and has three kids. My maid was furious and peppered the whole narration with many curse words and finally pronounced "With this kind of behaviour does she really think she is going to be able to live happily? she will starve without anything to eat and she will die of a horrible disease for doing this to her husband and children."
I asked her if she knew if that woman was in an abusive marriage and if she was very unhappy. My maid did not know but said that all this was irrelevant after 3 kids and the woman should have stayed back for the kids and thrown out the husband if he was abusive. 'Why did she need another man?' was her question.
My maid herself was abandoned by her husband a few years after their marriage and has had to bring up her 3 children all alone. She never had another man in her life for the past 20 years. She accepts it as her fate and the correct way of life. So I totally understand where she is coming from. And having grown up in a milieu with similar values and norms, I cannot pretend to be shocked or surprised by her take on the woman.
"why does she need another man?" - the implication was that she was after sex. It is sad that it is still not considered ok for a woman to want sex. It has always been accepted that men needed sex and so even if their wife died, they were encouraged to marry as soon as the grieving period was over. One of the arguments handed out for legalising prostitution is that a lot of men do not have the opportunity to marry or stay with their wives and they need outlet for their sexual desires. A woman's sexual needs are still frowned upon and they are quickly dubbed as nymphomaniac if they are open about their desires or needs.It is even considered something to be ashamed of. The number of children that a couple has had is hardly an indicator of a sexually fulfilling life. Today we know that even without proper intercourse, conception is possible if the sperm manages to reach the egg. A drunken husband using her to satisfy his needs is hardly fulfilling for a woman. Many women still marry early and hardly know their husbands before marriage. It takes a few years for them even to be comfortable about sex and realise whether they are actually compatible at all. By the time they are sexually aware and awake most women have already been married for a few years and mothered a few children. I am not talking about the urban elite here but this is true in most rural and semi-urban settings and lower economic strata and even in the urban areas among conservative families.
Many years ago an incident happened in our extended family. This was a family of three brothers. The youngest died a couple of years after his marriage leaving his beautiful wife and a one year old child. As was the custom in those days, she stayed in the house of her parents in law along with the other brothers and their wives. One of the brothers was attracted to her and she was young too and they ended up in a relationship. When the boy was old enough to go to high school the uncle shifted them to the neighbouring city where he 'visited' them frequently. One afternoon the thirteen year old boy returned home early and found the mother and uncle in bed. That night the boy hanged himself.
This story has haunted me from my teens. I have always tried to justify the woman on the grounds of her vulnerable position and her dependence on the brothers-in-law for financial and moral support. She was not college educated and did not possess qualifications required for an employment. She needed them and hence she could not antagonise the brother in law's advances. This seemed a good version as it justified her behaviour in my moral framework. A helpless woman, a predatory man - that was ok. A woman whose sexuality was waking up and who needed a man to satisfy her desires? NO, that would have been terrible, preposterous. In my books then, "Good women" didn't do such things. And certainly not when they had a child to think of. "Why does she need another man?" that would have been my question too then. But now I know better.
A Tamil writer (perhaps Thi janakiraman) said in a story that there must be a strong reason for a woman to go astray. Is her sexual need strong enough reason, I wonder?
added after 4 comments:
I am not passing any value judgements on the two women as I do not know why they were motivated to act in the way they did.
In the first case, it could have been forced marriage and the children happened because she did not have access to protection and perhaps her husband was forcing her into sex which she never enjoyed. Obviously there was a strong motive that encouraged her to take such a step even while being aware of burning all her boats.
In the second case it happened about 50 years ago. She was in her early twenties in a house where two other young couple lived. She could not even have dreamt of remarriage even without a child. Was it wrong that she had the normal desires of flesh?
If anyone had a business to object, it was the man's wife and she did not. Remember this was a time when men were openly flaunting their affairs with concubines and mistresses as a mark of their virility?
This was also a time when young widows living in Benares were sent to rich zamindars houses in the night. So what exactly are we objecting to? The fact of a widow having sex or wanting it?
Even today if you were to pose the question 'why does a woman need a man?' the answers would be 'for emotional and moral support' , 'to have children', 'for financial support', 'for love' etc but the fact of a woman needing man for sex is never mentioned. Try asking the same about why a man needs a woman and no prizes for guessing the top answer!