Looking back, looking ahead: No Dorai!

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As 2019 is coming to a close, here I am at present, self – proclaimed happy and healthy, but frantically trying to find a perspective to take on the past and future. Yesterday, as I watched No Dorai, a newly released Bangla film about a young Chatgaiyya girl’s aspirations to be a surfer, I began to do some deep chinta on how we as women are conditioned to fear.

Ayesha, the female protagonist in the film,  is depicted as a creative child who loves the sea and yearns to conquer the waves. No, as a child I did not want to be a surfer and still do not, but if we take surfing as a metaphor for dreams and aspirations where one has to break out of the marriage market ideals, then yes Ayesha’s life resonated with me.

I recall a fun childhood, but one fraught with threats too! “If you do not finish your khabar, the police will come and get you,” or “Taratari ghumay jao, nahole bhoot dhore niye jabe”, and so on and so forth. Fear was instilled in me because that was the norm.

As for teenage life, more fun accompanied by more severe threats and lock downs. “If you don’t wear this outfit, people will say you do not own any nice clothes”, “If you do not do well in your exams, how will you ever show your face?”, “If people see you speaking to so and so, what will they think”, “You have overstepped your limit, and  are not to leave the house for the next month”, etc, etc.

I had to understand that there were people 24/7 watching me, collecting information about me, drawing conclusions, and sharpening knives for the day of judgement, or that window of eligibility for marriage proposals. Dorai dorai thakte hobey, or else dire consequences for me and the family as a whole. 

After marriage, the same old dorano tactics. I mean if the in-laws heard a slight negative word regarding my character, or if “people” got to know that I was not a favoured beloved daughter-in-law, or if someone got wind of the fact that husband dearest was displeased…hai hai! Qayamat. As Ayesha’s husband tells her, “If you will be a good wife, I will be a good husband”. Translation: be continuously fearful, and my affections and caring will be contingent upon that.

As the story unfolded and I watched Ayesha suffer emotional and physical abuse, I wondered about the instinctive protectiveness of parents, and where and how that intersected with “people”.

I cannot comprehend what is natural about allowing your daughter, an extension of yourself, to become a spectacle of horrific beatings in order that people can be satisfied you have inculcated a sense of fright in her.

Neither can I process why someone coming and saying something negative (and unsubstantiated or unproven) about your female offspring or spouse creates a hysterical reaction, which then leads to an unleashing of rage on her body for public consumption.

I wonder sometimes, is it really about other people, or are they a convenient prop to mask control? Why would parents wish to dominate their children such a manner as to destroy their innate talents and potential? What possible satisfaction is there in watching one’s daughter wilt away to nothingness?

I have two daughters myself,  and having been through several debilitating doraisi episodes in various stages of my life, I was rather delighted with Ayesha engaging directly with her socially imposed fears and defeating them. As the movie came to an end, and the year does too, I look forward to overcoming the fears that have permeated my being and prevented me from being who and what I wished to be. It is never too late, aar dorabo na.

Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.