We just finished watching Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. I was sitting there thinking uhh, everything they are talking about–the suffocation of expectations, the biases, the utter indifference to a daughter-in-law considered too much of an outsider because she isn’t from their community–was so Indian. Even the being left to flounder about protocol, which I am very sure was not a neglect that happened with other women who married into that family in the past–you only hear what the protocol actually is when you fuck up.
It reminds me of that moment in The Great Indian Kitchen–when the unnamed young woman serves up leftovers to her father-in-law and husband, not realizing that, because they have undertaken the vows of penance prior to their Sabarimala pilgrimage, leftovers are taboo to their state of purity. She’s standing stricken in front of her angry husband, whose father has stormed off from the table, after uttering a despairing “Swami Sharanam.” And he says to her–you couldn’t not have known this, so you must have done it on purpose to humiliate us. She defends herself and his answer is–so you didn’t know? The implication being that her upbringing has been so lacking in Bahrain that she almost defiled the men. Whether she knew or she didn’t know, she is a sinner.
So then my mind went to the Ramayana. As an adult woman, I have always believed that this beloved story is one which holds up a mirror to the entire society (when I watched Delhi 6, I felt like they were echoing my thoughts, and was pleasantly shocked; there was an actual mirror!)–and the reflection it reveals is the failure of patriarchy. How men suffer too under its impossible yoke. What is the meaning of a union between a man and a woman when the whole world and its shame-based value system is allowed to drive a wedge between them? Its final destiny is heartbreak and the disappearance of a wife. Leaving behind a man who will carry on with a gold statue of her. Her value was mostly in what she symbolized anyway. Her actual body was a site of contention, no matter what pains she took to protect herself. Even stepping into fire didn’t absolve her. And women have been paying for this gross misinterpretation ever since, through the ages. Not only with life threatening ideas of chastity and internalized policing, but with husbands who tremble when they have to stand up for their wives. Who will they be if they are not filial; devoted to reputation and lineage. They will be as lost as the women they hold up to impossible standards but refuse to cherish.
Which brings me to Meghan and Harry. Can it be true? Privileged they certainly are, but at least we finally see a prince who cut the asinine tightrope that was constructed for his wife to build her life on. And when she asked for help, he listened. Her life means something to him. When she suffered, he did too. His heart remained open to her. And her vulnerability saved them both.
I did roll my eyes at how he still thinks he could support the royal family endeavors if allowed to. Foolish boy. When you cut ties, they tend to throw you away entirely. And if you unravel one strand, the whole enterprise ends up revealing itself. You can’t defend institutions of colonization while declaring you stand for racial liberation. We all arrive at this realization slowly and painfully–that one form of oppression/liberation stands on the back of another. Race, caste, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, weight, wealth distribution. They are inseparable. Because some of us once found support within its strictures, we are devastated by the truth of how there always were people who were abandoned entirely. We just didn’t see the well maintained walls that kept them from accessing the infrastructure that held us. There is a Siddhartha quality to this awakening that isn’t less painful just because someone already lived it centuries ago.
I’m sure we will hear and read a lot of backlash to this interview. I hope we keep in mind that when a person buried under oppression asks for help, they should not need to be famous or wealthy or light skinned or abled or thin or from a first world country for us to build a bridge so they can save themselves. We can stop normalizing suffering.