“Get outta town” was a household expression that I’ve grown to know and love. It was my mother’s child friendly way of saying “Get the [insert four letter expletive] out of here with that [insert eight letter expletive].” That expression that expressed so much in disbelief, in torment of reality, in sheer shock, has been one I have heard myself say so many times here in India – not just in the way that my mother once used it, but also in its literal meaning. Ditching Delhi and seeking new sights has become as powerful in my adult life as any expletive ever was in my childhood.
My childhood was encased in a YaYa Sisterhood-like circle of my mother’s friends. My aunts by blood and/or by bond were everywhere, all the time. They were at awards ceremonies. They were at my house. They were at my grandmother’s house. They were at their houses with my brother and me (their kids, nieces and nephews too). They were at the supermarket. They were at birthdays and holidays and funerals and hospital rooms. And while it never seemed that these 40-something mothers and sisters and businesswomen, my aunts, actually ever got outta town (literally), I remember them saying it quite a bit to each other.
“Ohhh girl, get outta town” was usually followed by throat gurgling laughter. There was always a kitchen or dining room table that they were gathered around like the Knights of King Arthur’s court. There was always food on the table and, more recently as my cousins and I have grown older, there has been more and more liquor on it too.
Just last week I went to a performance of a Durga Puja. In this dance rendition, Durga, the goddess of destruction, grows her 10 hands by combining the bodies of five women in to one. I’m not so much into the fiction of her having slain evil Mahishasura with her combined woman powers. The story doesn’t make much logical sense in my cursory understanding. But, I was fascinated by the idea of female partnership, by our power to be stronger together than apart. It’s the fraternity of females that shows in the pantheon, but not in the reality.
What I noticed most when I arrived in Delhi was the lack of female-to-female relationships. There’s never just a bunch of young women hanging out at a restaurant or bar or a coffee shop or a bookstore together, just them, no male escort in tow. It has remained difficult for me to understand the need for women to be surrounded by men and to call that protection. I missed the lack of girl talk, the silliness and the goofiness that gals are permitted when not around men they hope to impress or have to appear proper in front of. I recognized that the circle of women that I had known and loved as a child was an anomaly in this space, and it pushed me more than ever to “get outta town.”
Beneath this layer of mythological female power, there is a very real Sita complex. The tortured wife whose identity is based on her long suffering with her [insert seven letter expletive] husband who treats her like [insert four letter expletive] and really doesn’t much give a [four letter expletive] about her as person, so much as her as reproductive capabilities. I digress.
There are huge absences of women in Delhi places where they could be, should be – on the streets, in the nightclubs, in the art galleries, in the professional work places. It seems as if the women of Delhi have learned to simply get out of these places, minimize themselves in these spaces, be un-present as much as possible, so as not to threaten (what? I’m not sure) or be threatened.
As time has passed, my mother and my aunts have seen their children grow older, their parents pass on, relationships resolve themselves and now more than ever they are taking their girl gang on the road. They’ve been to Spain, Italy, Saint Lucia and Germany, and while I’m sure I could beg, borrow, and steal their sympathies to bring them to Delhi I just can’t bring myself to do it. How can it be that being a woman, enjoying a woman’s friendship is more foreign than being a foreigner? These women who have had men in their lives, not as handlers, but as partners, wouldn’t understand how what has come so natural to them would appear so strange to these people of Delhi.
So while I long to hear their laughter and banter around my dining room table, to host them here and hear their stories washed down with high-end liquers, I can’t help but encourage them to go to a different destination from their next girls’ trip out of town. What they see here might shock them. They might be tormented by the realities of this place, and I am sure they won’t believe some of the ways that women are treated and some of the ways that women behave. I’ve spent so much time trying to ‘get outta town’ myself, I’m not sure I’d have the capacity to make believable some of the absurdities and to make bearable some of the oddities.
How would my mom and aunts get along here? We may never know.