Today I am thinking about Virginia Woolf and how old I was when I first heard ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’
I wonder if I understood what she meant when I heard it at 22. I must have smiled like I smile when I hear nice things. But this morning I felt the force of her words and didn’t smile.
Was she talking to women who don’t own their time? If you are a 30- year- old Indian woman, living with your parents and resisting marriage – you definitely don’t own your time. It is eaten up whole on mornings when news of cousins getting married or having babies arrives like a bagful of steel dropped by huge birds on your dining table. They come with a crash. Then the birds take off and there is dust everywhere.
On quieter mornings, there is dust inside me. I have to soothe them by reaching into my body and ironing them with my hands. Reading ‘To the Lighthouse’ felt like that.
A room of my own – in my parent’s house- no matter how much I make it mine by decorating it with pretty fairy lights, and pictures of women reading and writing, and a picture of Adichie saying strong things that tear themselves out of the frame and land angrily on my table, a picture of Marquez smiling into the corners of his laughing eyes, and a picture of Ambedkar telling me to be at work when I am at work – is still not mine. This room is not my own.
It belongs to the crashing sound of vessels in the kitchen, the red dot of my mother’s silence, the anger of my father’s tissue-white pajamas, and the sounds that could have been – if like they had told me – I was married by now and had babies.
I know I will have a room of my own one day. I know it’s why I was born. It will have peeling yellow walls and a kettle that makes flurry noise when it’s ready. It will open out to a terrace where the evening birds come to drink water and the morning sun comes to dry clothes. The nearby Adhan will remind me of something – home perhaps. And this is my fear – that when I finally have a room of my own – I will miss the sounds of the room that were not my own.
That I will miss the hiss of the pressure cooker, the well-shaped hole of my father’s yawns, the eyelashes of my mother’s sighs, the heaviness of my brother’s footsteps when he goes to open the front door, and the socks that my sister wears and unwears.
But then – I tell myself – I will always miss these sounds, no matter where I am. I will probably miss them more if I’m waking up next to a husband every morning.
At least – in a room of my own with peeling yellow walls – I will wake up alone and crush cardamom pods loudly for my chai, without worrying that I am waking anybody else.