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Who is left to pick the pieces?

First published in The Sunday Guardian here

Inspiration is the springboard for creativity. Elusive as it may be in nature, it propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities. Come to think of it, the inspiration behind my stories come from women. It’s not because I am one. It is more because women do have some inspirational stories to tell.

Throughout history and the landscape of time, the men went into hunting and foraging with vengeance. I think they have carried it too far. So, who were the obvious sufferers? No prizes for guessing that one. When the Normans went south, women suffered on both sides; those that were left in their villages to fend for themselves against the forces of nature and other men and those who suffered as obvious victims of pillage when the Normans indulged in arson, robbery and rapine.

Who was left to pick up the pieces? It was the women, of course.

Too little credit is attributed to women as social builders in my opinion. It is as if their voice had disappeared, and yet, I want to make this statement without pulling my punches. But for women, humanity would still be steeped in unimaginable violence. We would be living out of caves and basically doing everything that Neanderthals were supposed to. It is mainly due to women that humans progressed from being hunter gatherers to being settlers and empire builders. While the men stayed away, it was women who created homes, influenced children, influenced opinion and indulged in the endless art of creation.

There is a shloka in the ancient Ardhanarishwara Strotram that speaks about how men and women (here symbolised by Shiva and Parvati) are representative of destruction and creation respectively. Interpreted in another way, it would mean that men by nature are tuned to destroy, while women create; both are indispensable in the ways of the world.

This is true, mostly. I am yet to hear of a riot where it was the women who cast the first stone. A riot where women roamed the streets in bands of many with hockey sticks and Molotov cocktails. A riot where women went from house to house, looting, raping and burning. There may have been exceptions, but few and far in between.

What is also true is that it’s always women who are left to pick up the pieces. It is they, who rationalise, accept and then, when the riot ends, reconstruct, often from scratch.

The recent riots in Delhi are a case in point, though by no means an isolated example. It was not about Hindus and Muslims. It was about brutality. It was about some people destroying the lives of the others. One moment there was a community. The next there was just burnt out ash and bodies. And yet there were stories of unimaginable courage and fortitude.

I don’t want to name them, because even names in our time have communal tones — the story of the brave woman who fled with her children from her home when the rioters came with fire and sword and who turned back to save a few goats that were in a small enclosure in the house as it was being burnt down. The goats were just symbolic of her passion to save whatever remained of her home, her meagre belongings… because she knew that after the dust settled, she would still need to support her family.

Or, the story about a 50-year old who had converted her life savings into jewellery for her daughter’s wedding. When the mob came, she fled with her children. Then she returned to save her daughter’s dowry and was beaten and assaulted… till saved by other women from the locality… from another community.  I am not sure if she could save her jewellery.

In a riot, there are no winners. There are only two certitudes. That there will be destruction and that, it will be the women who will pick up the pieces. That’s the way the world has been working. Hopefully things will change… but till then, that’s the way it will work.

We are builders. We will continue to build. And that’s my inspiration.

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