Looking back at The Husband Stitch

Picture courtesy - Granta

I have always been a teller of stories.

~Carmen Maria Machado

The first time I read The Husband Stitch, I wished I hadn’t read it. Because I knew that the many times after I’d reread it, I would continue to ask myself what it was like the first time -like asking someone who likes sex about their first time.

Reading it the first time was difficult. I had to pause every now and then and do something else. It was early November and I had a whole day yawning at my disposal. AM sent me the link and as I began to read it, I had the vague discomfort that only someone who is tragically falling in love can have.

Then there was this laziness that occasionally comes even when you have found a great piece of writing, and sometimes, especially after you have found a great piece of writing. This happens because the mind bookmarks it for a moment in the future where the reading will happen and where the energy to be left smitten and ravaged can be found in plenty, and- guiltlessly.

But I pushed — because I knew that the preliminary pleasure to be derived from The Husband Stitch was going to be like no other.

The moral of that story, I think, is that being poor will kill you. Or
perhaps the moral is that brides never fare well in stories, and one
should avoid either being a bride, or being in a story. After all, stories can
sense happiness and snuff it out like a candle.

Every time I had read a great line, I’d put my phone away, sigh, and dig deeper into the folds of my rug. I would shut my eyes for not more than three minutes before straightening up and starting over again.

Scoffing is the first mistake a woman can make

Pride is the second mistake

And being right is the third and worst mistake.

The Husband Stitch was and still is the most haunting story I have ever read – the kind that makes you want to impose it on all the people you know and love. The kind that allows you to grow a little, no matter how overshadowed you are by it, and want to be.

As a teacher, here was another tiring thing I felt compelled to do – which was to take it to class after class and make students read it, with the hope that they will fall in love with it, like I had.

But – as I have come to learn – This is the worst mistake a teacher can make — especially if you are an Avarna woman teacher. And if like me, your language is questionable, if you falter over difficult words and don’t have answers to questions – then it doesn’t matter how much you love something, you will never be good enough. Not as good as someone Savarna or someone male or someone both.

I used to think I wasn’t good enough. Or rather, I was made to think I wasn’t good enough.

But I don’t let myself think that anymore.

Not because I have suddenly found confidence but because I recognise now how power works. Because centuries of Savarna assholes have gotten away by making a lot of people feel that they aren’t good enough, that they will never be good enough.

So now even if I’m not good enough, I tell myself it is okay. As long as I have stories to take cover under, and learn from – then everything will be okay. From Ambedkar, to Vaidehi, to Marquez, and Machado – I must keep trying. It’s what my father did, it’s what my mother does, and it’s what I must do.

Stories have this way of running together like raindrops in a pond. They are each borne from the clouds separately, but once they have come together, there is no way to tell them apart.

How did I do The Husband Stitch in class then?

I tried.

That’s all.

Today, I do that story in the classroom as though I own it – as though it came from my body after days and nights of sacrifices. But always remembering and painfully knowing that i did not write it. Maybe that’s how one must do stories in classrooms. As though something of value was sacrificed for it. As though without you, they would just burst into tiny puffs of smoke and disappear.

(If you are reading this story out loud, move aside the curtain to illustrate this final point to your listeners. It’ll be raining, I promise.)

Soon, I had found another reason to drag The Husband Stitch to other classes; I had to undo the memory of doing it the previous time. And so each time I do it, I am simultaneously undoing it. As a result – as of this moment, I know a couple of lines, and two paragraphs by heart. That’s the great thing about loving the same story everyday– that it can liberate vulnerable people who carry what they love proudly.

I did the story again, today. And loved it –again. And I felt the same wave of possibility that makes writing seem all at once doable and at once monstrous.

It’s what makes teaching enjoyable – I can fall in love everyday, shamelessly – with the same story – again and again and no one can take this away from me – no matter how good they are.

I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten the rest of the story.

*** All the sections that appear within quotes are from Carmen Maria Machado’s short-story – The Husband Stitch ***

*** Featured Image Credits – Granta

Coming to Sonnet 116

I sat in an Optional English class yesterday and wished I had been a better student. Since The Awakening, The Yellow Wallpaper, and The Husband Stitch, I have been all prose, less poetry. I have read these stories over and over again, imposed them on students every semester because the women who wrote them wrote them so unnervingly.

I read a Sharon Olds one day and thought that Sex without Love was beautiful– both the idea and the poem. I read Ramanujan another day and it rained. Sometimes poetry does what prose cannot do for me. And this is a discovery I made only a month ago.

P, S and I formed a poetry group, which means one whats app group was also created. P called it Bommali Beats and put up a Javed Akhtar dp. We’ve met only once so far. But when we did meet, we made chai, sat on the steps near the media lab and read Ramanujan.

We read poems about leaky taps in small marriage halls, about conjoose marwari businessmen who slipped coins under the mattress they sat on, and about barks that scratched the windows in unison. It was an interesting session. I came to read words beyond what they meant for me, in my regular prose world. I came to treat words with envy, with distance, and with an unfamiliar resistance to laziness.

I realized that I have been avoiding poetry for so long because I am afraid and lazy — it’s too much work to stay with words for so long. To stay with them until they become coherent meanings and patterns and eventually stories that bend and curve in ways that I do not understand. The rhythm and the line and the meter all go over my head. Because I prefer the freedom that words I read in prose throw at me. There’s so little to resist when I read prose. Not that it’s easy. Reading never is. But I am learning only now how both poetry and prose are so alike and so different at once.

Yesterday in class, AM did Sonnet 116. He sat at the table with nothing but a book and a pen. I felt intimidated and thrilled all at once. Of course he knew the poem by-heart. Long ago, when Titus had asked him how to teach a poem, AM told him to read it 20 times before teaching it. Titus returned the next day and said that the class didn’t go well. AM asked him how many times he had read it. Titus said 5 and received an almighty whack on his egg-head.

In school, they made us memorize poems. I had learnt to close my eyes and recite them without knowing what I was reciting, like the multiplication tables my mother made me by-heart, a wooden scale in her hand, her lips pursed tight.

We would get 5 marks in the English exams for reciting poems without mistake. I took an immediate aversion to it and failed, like so many others, to see that poems are meant for the ear, it’s how they sound more than anything else.

AM had made everybody write down the poem before they came to class– hand-write them. I copied mine from R who was sitting next to me. While I was writing it down, I remembered reading Sonnet 116 in M.A once and liking the first and last lines. I didn’t know what they meant; I just liked how they sounded. This was also the sonnet that Paris recites to Rory in Gilmore Girls just before their big AP test on Shakespeare.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

There’s such a thing as simply allowing the poem to take shape, to give it time, to give oneself time, to make sense of the poem – one word at a time, to read each line in isolation first and then in relation to the poem. I have never been able to do that. I am hurrying always, to get to the bottom of it all.

After yesterday’s class, I am learning ways to rediscover meanings. From what I was able to gather, poetry is as much resistance as it is interpretation– resistance to laziness, to conclusions, and sometimes to interpretations themselves. This is exciting. I have found a whole new way to learn.  Sometimes I wish I was studying EJP and not teaching it.

Reading old stuff

Most of my evening today was spent reading old journals that I finally got my hands on. They were all stashed away at F’s for safekeeping because every now and then my mother decides to ruin her life and walk into my room and eventually find something – Anything – an old movie ticket stub, bills from some resort, an old letter, kuch bhi; that will leave her feeling like her uterus dropped down to the basement and died. Because I came from bloody there no? The uterus, I mean. Not the basement. So to avoid this tragedy, I had given away all my journals to F because they were all about him anyway. Let’s not even get to the fact that he hasn’t read any one of those journals that are all about him and me and all the romantic goof shit that I was made of a couple of years ago.

I realised a whole lot of things from reading all that today.

1) That I was a far more regular writer then and a lot better also.(Even though I say so myself) And maybe why I was better was because I wrote like freaking everyday.

2) The life threatening problems that I had a year ago are laughable today. Just goes on to say how pointlessly serious I take myself and my life. And that eventually, whether or not I am prepared, time heals everything.

3) I was very stupid.
Back there I found some stuff about myself. That I wrote. With my own bloody hands. That I never want found out. By anyone. Not even after I die.

4) I was a dick head to assume that I would never change and that what were priorities in my life about 3 years ago would be my priorities forever.

5) I Trusted too much and too many people.

6) I was in touch with myself a lot more than I am today.

Which only means, I need to write more and write everyday.