Personal Essays “A woman has no home, and no surname.” Forever in Exile: Women as Diaspora

“A woman has no home, and no surname.” Forever in Exile: Women as Diaspora

“A woman has no home, and no surname.”

During my adolescence, anytime I came upon this miserable proverb, my cheeks reddened in anger. What utter nonsense, I muttered under my breath. One of those degrading idioms that have survived the years, and which sexists continue to use with much relish – that was pretty much what I thought of it.

Until, last year, a colleague of mine – an independent working woman and a proud mother of one – repeated it verbatim. “Don’t say that!” I immediately retaliated. “It feels so… so… old-fashioned.”

“And true,” she smiled. We let it go at that.

The month before, I was filling out a form, a regular one which asked for my birth date and parents’ names and the like. Then I came to the part that demanded my permanent address. Here I paused. Before this, I had always dutifully filled out ‘Damak-1, Jhapa’ in this blank space. Not because I was born there, but because it is my father’s permanent address. I always felt this was somewhat unfair to Dhankuta, which is actually my birthplace, and my mother’s too. But no, there would be a dozen questions asked if I wrote it in, because my citizenship certificate, of course, insists that Damak is what it ought to be. Not that I have any animosity towards the place, just that I newly realized how we were supposed to be wherever our fathers were.

But now that I was married, Damak could perhaps no longer be my permanent home? I didn’t know. I thought of the alternatives. Could I mention Kirtipur, where my parents live, and which has always been home to me? Absolutely not. In the eyes of the society, and perhaps the law, that would be my maiti, my parental home, it did not belong to me. I no longer have a right to it. (I wonder if I ever did?). Then I thought of my husband’s home in Pokhara. That would probably be considered my permanent address now, with everyone from government officials to the neighbors being satisfied with it. Everyone except me, that is. I haven’t lived there long enough, nor feel adequate affinity, to call it my home. Which place, then, do I call my own? Nowhere, apparently.

I haven’t talked to many men about this matter, but I doubt that they have any sort of confusions before jotting down their permanent addresses. They have homes that are wholly and completely theirs, they never need doubt their ownership nor their rights over it. Unless there is a family dispute, and even then no one disputes that it is the men who have a right to it.

There is no difficulty for me, now, in relating to my female colleagues, who hate the very word ‘maiti’, a derogatory term for the place which will be ghar to us for as long as we live. There is one more proverb I take offence to, these days – that a woman is attached even to the dog at her maiti. And why wouldn’t she be, I ask? Isn’t it because men are so devoted to their homes that they wouldn’t ever contemplate leaving it, dogs and all? And is it a thing to be jested about if women have the same affection for their homes? By those standards, we should be ridiculing men every single day.

Without being too wrapped up in my anguish, I know there are men who stay away from their homes and families for years, either studying hard or earning a living for their people back home. But the fact remains that they always, always, have a home to go back to, to assert as their own. While their wives back in their (husbands’) homes live in a state of quandary, unable to determine whether either of their homes is actually theirs.

That night, in Twitter, I wrote out my thoughts in words. A number of my friends said nothing but simply retweeted and favorited the tweet, either agreeing to or empathizing with my opinion. Two of them, meanwhile, disagreed – saying, in a light-hearted manner, that women are actually luckier because they have two homes. To this I disagreed equally gently, saying that women are actually torn into two halves all their lives, between the half-home they have and the half-home they left, both of the homes never meeting together to form a perfect whole, as they always do in a man’s life.

To my tweet, one friend answered, “Home is where the heart is.” And that is where my dilemma is. When I am with my husband, whom I marked as my own, my heart flies to my parents. And when I am with the dear ones who reared me and made me what I am, I fret about my husband. The scary thing is, this is just the beginning, and like my mothers and grandmothers before me, I, too, will forever lead a life with my feet in two worlds, wanting to be in both places at once. The irony here being, neither of them are actually my homes. I cannot claim ownership to either of them. I lived someplace for nearly three decades and it was termed as my ‘previous’ home the day I left it, so how can I assume that a new home will accept me before three more decades have passed?

Here comes a rebel, plenty of men and an equal number of women will say, these are the kinds of feminists scheming to uproot our societal values and evilly upturning the traditional structure. She had known that her husband’s home would be hers after marriage, she is not a child to be so unaware of society’s dictates. To the women, I have nothing to say, save that the society has succeeded in turning them against their own kin. Perhaps, someday soon, I will be like one of you, happily ensconced in a bubble that convinces me to fulfill my duties and uphold my tradition. Not yet, though. Not quite yet.

The only other people I imagine who feel like this are the Diaspora, unwilling to leave their current place of residence, where fate or the search for new opportunities or just plain circumstances have led them. Always longing for the place of their birth, dreaming of it, wishing for it – but feeling like a stranger anytime they visit it. Both the places outwardly eager to own them – and in reality ousting them in miniscule, penetrating, hurtful ways.

At least even these Diaspora men have an original homeland to call their own. And I have none.

Featured Image Credit: JulijaJan

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