TW: Suicide, Allusions to Fire, Implied Abuse.
India’s rich cultural ecosphere comes to exist through the diversities of its sub-cultures. At a time when arranged marriage was the norm and those propelled by love were considered morally averse, my parents’ cultural crossover came to be through subduing these challenges presented. It allowed me to experience my youth within a sphere comprising of an intersection between Delhi and Kolkata heritages, and explore my ethnicity in a way that people seldom get to.
As a child, there was nowhere I preferred more than Kolkata during Durga Pooja. My father’s home would be brimming with excitement and the general sort of eager preparation that marks the oncoming of significant festivals. I watched with admiration the women decked in their red and white sarees, and all I wished for was a beauty, so one day I’d be worthy of adorning myself with the same.
The highlight of this vibrant city, however, was my grandmother. I was of that particular age where maturity starts developing; I was considered young enough to be impressionable, but wise enough to know what I should be receptive towards. Her kindness, especially then, shaped a lot of who I am today. My memory of her has weakened over time, but the photographs I have of her remind me with striking accuracy of her love, and this one emerald necklace that she prized highly, yet rarely ever wore.
Being the eldest daughter of her oldest son, I stand to inherit her jewellery. As my age crossed numbers faster than we seemed to be able to comprehend it, my visits to Kolkata decreased in frequency, so much so that I have not been there for eight years. The last time I saw her was six months before she passed, all dressed in that traditional saree and with that precious gem around her neck. Then, I didn’t even consider that there would be a day when I wouldn’t hear her voice anymore.
My grandmother had doused herself with gasoline and struck a match. I didn’t receive the specifics of her death at her funeral; neither was I privy to it until a couple of days before my sixteenth. The necklace was presented to me as a gift on that milestone in my life. Only then was it that in casual conversation, my mother let slip this demise. My heart, in tandem with all the memories I had of her; sunk in a way it never recovered from. That one piece of jewellery was all that was now left untainted by reality’s misery. It reminded me of what was happy in my childhood and represented the connection of half my lineage with the woman that attached me to it.
Men have always suffocated women, in modernity and tradition alike. That necklace was a part of the jewellery given to her by her in-laws, as is commanded on the occasion of marriage. It functioned as a sort of compensation for her in what would prove itself to be a regrettable match. My grandfather was a controlling man, whose misogyny never filtered into his public persona. That necklace alone can speak of her history, for none cared to listen when she lamented for her future.
That gem hung heavy over her chest, pressing her voice into the corner of her heart where defiance brewed, so harshly that it came to exist as a piece of her struggle. Culture awarded her that ornament, in the same manner, the custom had used to pass it through the hands of innumerable women before her. It has borne witness to their grins and laughter, their cries and suffering; becoming the culmination of their ancestral resistance. This jewel embodies her scream, and I felt her rage when I wore it as if saying, “Scream, for you have the strength of those before you; so that there may be mercy for the fate of those that come after you.”