In Riyadh, I would be licensed to operate procedures on critically ill patients, yet never to drive a motor vehicle. Only men could enjoy that privilege.
Even the security of my medical skills could not change the fact that doctor or domestic, Muslim or not, an unmarried woman cannot enter Saudi Arabia alone. Without a sponsor, without husband or father, without son or brother, I would wait as a maid would wait, with cargo, like cargo, until collected. Women cannot function as independent entities in the Kingdom. My autonomy had already been curtailed.
That’s our dream (mine more than his, I suspect) –moving out of this two-room apartment where it seems to me if we all breathed in at once, there would be no air left.
But, here my imagination, conditioned by a lifetime of maternal censorship, shuts itself down.
So I knew mother-love was real. Real and primitive and dangerous, lurking somewhere in the female genes –especially our Indian ones–waiting to attack.
Many of my women friends considered me strange. The Americans were more circumspect, but the Indian women came right out and asked. Don’t you mind not being married? Don’t you miss having a little one to scramble onto your lap when you come home at the end of the day? I’d look at their limp hair pulled into an unattractive bun, their crumpled saris sporting stains of a suspicious nature, the bulge of love handles that hung below the edges of their blouses.) Even the ones who made an effort to hang on to their looks seemed intellectually diminished, their conversations limited to discussions of colic and teething pains and Dr, Spock’s views on bed-wetting.) They look just like my cousins back home who were already on their second and third and sometimes fourth babies. They might as well have not come to America.
Over and over on the flight to Dum Dum airport, I’d promise myself that I wouldn’t offer up my life for her inspection and approval, as I had so many times before. Yet I’d done it almost immediately. I guess transformations –the really important ones- require more than time and distance and even desire.
The ayah, who had recovered by now, stated acidly that it was well known that when ants grew wings, the time of their doom had arrived.
Perhaps it is like this for all the daughters, doomed to choose for ourselves, over and over, the men who have destroyed our mothers.
And even when he remembered that he had forgotten, he would experience only a slight twinge, similar to what he felt in his teeth when he drank something too cold too fast.
Our husbands are kind and dependable and take good care of us. In the Indian culture, that is the same as love.
They belonged to the villages of their fathers. Villages where a woman caught in adultery was made to ride around the market square on a donkey, her head shaved, her clothes stripped off her, while crowds jeered and pelted her with garbage.
It came to me that the marriage she was describing was my own. If I slit open my wrists now, I would find only salt powder.