By Lopa Banerjee
“The caged bird sings with fearful trill
Of the things unknown, but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.
…But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing….”
(Maya Angelou: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings)
You were probably right. Being born a girl, I should have felt the warning rattle at the door. I should have heard the noisy presence of heavy feet stomping the old cement floors. I should have braced myself for invaders taking direction, seeping through the damp, concrete walls. Being born a girl, my mind was quiescent and tame. I had sunrise, I had hope. I was simmering in my pretty looking prison. I was simmering in arrogance and expectation.
You were very right. I am born a girl, I must honor the gift of sanctity between my legs, I must crawl, walk, dance within a fence. My footprints are that of a ghost, they must die within a deep pool of silence. I must welcome the first bleached white sun of spring, remember sundown, remember to crawl inside the fence, shutting off the slapping wind. I must remember how to wait for my own heartbeat to lull me back to my dreams, through the traffic lights of your commands.
I had scratched at the fence again; with my blue wings and petite white chest. Being born a girl, I should have adored the pretty pink frills of my frock and the cup of hot, frothy milk of my childhood when I remained among the stack of fairy tales and pelting rain. You were probably right. Beneath those locked doors and wordless wallowing, as my lungs held the solid air as a snug encasement, I thought I had embraced solace in a sanctuary that was entirely mine. In this sanctuary of maiden virtues, in this breeding ground of the unsaid bliss of virginity and sanctity, I never knew I was entwined in rage and loneliness.
I never knew how I would strip myself into nakedness, bit by bit, entering the regions of darkness and terror. I never knew I would be tempted by concocted freedom, singing vainly at the knife-edge of my teeth, until its salt and pepper of domesticity ate my life away, one grain at a time.
You were so right. Being born a girl, I should have known the confines of my possibility. In the prison of my childhood room, as I saw with wide, gaping eyes the dawn melt into the day, I had opened the window panes, waved at the world offering the vestibules of change. I had walked by the narrow alleys, desiring to mount the light and ride my way up to the blinding light of the sun in a smudge of embrace, as the sky fell around me in splinters and slices.
You were right. I should have braced myself for darkness and gloom in all those bright hours when I had soaked myself with rapture and expectation. I should have tasted a bite of the colored balls of lust, swirling in quick movements, scissored by the crisp airs of vanity. I should have caught hold and caressed the bluebird chirping in my throat, refusing to be swallowed up by mighty monsters of sanity.
Being born a girl, I should have sensed when invaders had pushed through the padding of closed doors, throwing me back into the irredeemable domain of bruise and hopelessness. By now, I should have learnt to focus on my own life as an outcast, to thrive in my madness and be pleased to walk alone amid the crowded city streets with impetuous fools. You were probably right when you thought how gloom had plagued me, crawling all the way up to my toes, ankles, knees, thighs, waist and my rib-cage, tasting the delicious orchards of my womanliness.
Being born a girl, cursed with the pain of acknowledging, my femaleness each month pushes through the blood and clots and cramping, the clockwork of my body, the awareness of my sexuality. You have taught me right to hide it away, to feel shameful of it when needed, and also, preach to the world out there how my body is a temple, a heaven to be worshipped. You have rightly taught me my skilfully carved out path, to be a sexy woman and a shy child, punctuating my whispering, my gasping, my moaning and my sighing. You have taught me right, breast to hip, moist bits that promise a riot, an uproar, a tempest, weathered well.
“Let woman be a plaything, pure and fine, like a gem, irradiated by the virtues of a world that has not yet arrived.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
I know now what I have between my legs. All the way from my first uterine cramp and blood-soaked pants to the ultimate trophy of giving birth, I am pinned into your geometric cages along with the dusty photos of old role models. Do not teach me now, with the mountainous pile of definitions and diagrams, where my body performs the dance of tendrils. I do not care to sift through your lessons of how to obtain my femininity. I have known all of my curves and pumpkin vines, fresh and fertile enough to sow the seed I’ve held within. I know it’s not worth dying for, you know, preparing to be peppered and injected, since menstruation to menopause, covering my body in polished jewelry and opals. Being born a girl, I should have known how to place myself in neat, transparent jars—compact, polished and tangible, referring to myself, cloaked in my femininity.
I know when we were being taught our prescribed purpose and potential, the old prophets and the Gods saw us swinging on ropes like pendulums. Springing from the abyss I plunged into, I return to the disheveled rubble of my long forgotten childhood. Who knows, who cares then, if amidst the paper heap of instructions, I had ever spent a day dreaming of my life as a princess? As I stand here today, I have danced all my dances, sprung up like weeds rooted in the old nursery of my existence. I hurl my powder puff and concealer, my body mist, my flirty winks and my bathroom mirror at this awful world of vows, aisles and intrusion.
Author’s note: This is my humble attempt to craft a short personal essay inspired by the narrative technique of Jamaica Kincaid’s bold, edgy nonfiction piece Girl, where the recurring idea of the girl child being a ‘slut’ keeps coming back like a spinning plate in answering the mother’s questions and misconceptions.
Lopa Banerjee is a freelance writer, poet, and mother of two beautiful girls. She is also in her final year of studying creative nonfiction writing at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. She has just completed her memoir, a book-length collection of personal essays and stories on her childhood and her internal journey titled, Thwarted Escape: A Journey of Migrant Trails and Returns. Her poetry, essays, articles, and book reviews have appeared and are forthcoming at Prairie Fire, 13th Floor Magazine, Fine Lines, Yahoo Voices, The Mind Creative, Incredible Women of India, and Ampersand Review.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issues of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Inland Labor Migration in India” (Edited by Soma Chatterjee, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada) & “Debating the Disability Law in India” (Edited by Nandini Ghosh, IDSK, Kolkata & Shilpaa Anand, MANUU, Hyderabad).