Last week, “OPEN LETTER TO A DELHI BOY” was zipping around the Indian blogosphere, gratifying and utterly infuriating people. It is, as the name suggests, an open letter, written post-partum by a South Indian woman (ethnicity unspecified) to Punjabi North Indian lover. This is how it opens:
Namaskaram from the South of India, or as you may like to believe, the countries south of the Vindhyas. My friends and family here thought I was completely insane to choose Delhi over more female conducive cities like Bangalore or even Bombay. I am very sad to report that your [i.e, the northern folks’] reputation of being an ignorant, chauvinistic oaf …precedes you.
Smooth, what? Gets right to the point. Textbook Writing Centre stuff. Also, a non-subcontinental might not immediately get the import of ‘namaskaram’, but the author is using it to claim her ethnicity straight off. And it is not the native — or the majority — ethnicity of Delhi. Why this linguistic staking of territory? Read on.
I understand that your stone faded, ripped jeans, your V-neck cleavage showing t-shirts that reveal to the world that you have infact inherited your mother’s voluptuous shaved Punjabi bosom, are what you think maketh a man, but it does not. It only maketh for a man who gets a pity license to share his girlfriend’s bra.
You meet me at a friend’s birthday, talk to me about nightclubs and your new SUV and when I look like I’m in desperate need of a barf bag, you think I have an attitude problem. But let me remind you that I am from SOUTH INDIA and not SOUTH DELHI, so no ,I am not scrawny, I am not fair, I don’t have straight hair and my topics of conversation go beyond the Fendi I saw in last month’s Vogue. I am olive-skinned, have lower –back-length lustrous cascading tresses that sometimes make me look like I fell out Jim Morrison’s tour bus.
Surely, one might think, the Jim Morrison touch was unnecessary. What cool kids, one might wonder, listen to Morrison anymore, or even know who he is? One would be entirely out of touch with India’s rock scene, which delights — and insists — in being largely stuck in the loud golden days of classic rock.
The same applies to a lot of feminist rhetoric here. Except amongst academics in the field and a tiny clique of what my dear friend Lali called socialite feminists, feminism in this country is still about the right to equitable decision-making and financial independence of (married) women. Whole sections of the nation are marked off in terms of how their women are treated. The contrast is particularly strong between the perceived repression of female agency in the north and north-western areas, and their relative emancipation in the east and south. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the comparative rights of women forms the crux of this break-up email:
While your mother pretends to be very progressive but still cows down to the whims of her husband every single time, mine on the other hand was born into a matriarchal home where every single possession is in the rightful name of the girl child. Could you ever, my hunky handsome, cash throwing pig, imagine this kind of power in your society? So stop telling me that women are not treated like trash where you come from. Just shut up and admit to it.
The post goes on after this, but I don’t particularly care for the author’s analogies — one of which is to ‘autistic 3 year olds on crack’ — and will not quote further. Those following the reprecussions of the post will know that this post has brought this woman instant fame, infamy, hounding journalists, and death threats. And this has been brought to her in a week of much-anticipated court verdicts, a Chief Minister going on a three-day fast, over-hyped film releases, and general super-busyness of the news desk. Clearly, then, this post about one woman’s break-up strikes a chord with the nation. Why would this be the case?
We are starting a new series on this blog to answer the question — which, frankly, is simple enough — and then pin the answer under a microscope and look at it from different angles. Gossipy tales about ethnicities interacting are most welcome, as are opinions about dual/multiple identities we juggle everyday, cultural, religious, political, dietary, linguistic et al. Posts under the Divided States of India series can be found under the label Divided India, most recent at the top and progressively vintage from that point on.