My bookworm self is a voracious reader. Life chapter in Dhaka was caught between presence and absence of reading hours. When I had books, time wasn’t there, or books were not near when I wanted to read. British Council Library in Dhaka had a good collection of reading materials but it wasn’t possible to go there regularly and the membership fee was a rather pricy. During the teaching years, the paycheck at the beginning of month meant I could buy one new book. There were other sources of reading too: newspapers and magazines. Every once in a while shopping bags made of newspapers, magazines and notebook pages came with fruits we bought. I liked to flatten them from the glued folds and read the contents.
The notebook pages were usually students’ school work. Those were glimpses into how teachers marked the papers or the handwritings. One day pages of a diary came with my purchase of apples. The handwritten pages that made the bag held neat handwriting, black ballpoint ink that made the letters stand out on the white paper. “Mona’s Diary” it read. A personal diary was not supposed to be read, but I could not hold my curiosity and wondering who Mona was. I smoothed out the rumpled packet and started to read.
Mona’s Dairy: My Lost Virginity
‘ I heard the term ‘losing virginity’ referred to the first physical intimacy with a man, that it meant drops of blood even if it was not the period time. I don’t know if my mother tongue, Bangla has a term for it. However, when that came to me, it had double impacts: not only did I lose my virginity but the respect, dignity of womanhood. Sex, when it happened, was without mutual consent. I would say that it was a curse in an arranged marriage. But did I dare voice it?
Ah, no. I would be labelled as a shameless woman talking about her desires. A woman douses every spark of desire in her body, it was not right to want physical intimacy. Even when a wife felt like kicking the husband out of her bed, she could not. The unwritten code said, “Abide by your husband and his wishes”.
Men in the male dominated society of ours, rarely had any respect for their wives’ wishes in the conjugal bed. When I was married in the late 80’s, women in the Bangladeshi society were taught to ‘yes,yes’ by their husbands in all matters. Like my elder sisters, bound by those invisible chains, I gave my body to a stranger on my wedding night. These days it seems insane, but that was how we were conditioned to think and act.
On the other hand, there was an understanding among menfolk that a man who did not have sex with his wife on the night of their conjugal life, was no man at all. It was termed as, ‘killing the mouse’. Only in reality, it was no rodent at all, but the dignity of a woman that was murdered, leaving the body bleeding forever.
On the other side of the coin, some men were considerate and gave breathing space to the wives and approach physical intimacy with time. Most of them were known to pounce on the woman, as if the wife was a piece of flesh delivered for consumption.
Why am I beating about the bush, too embarrassed to admit that it was no different in my life?
What kind of relationship began with the wedding I had no idea for I did not meet the man before my marriage, had only seen his photograph but my parents had chosen, and that was that. My dark complexion was a stigma in my society and when he wanted to marry me, everyone said I was lucky. Even though, there was no notion of what my life partner looked like or anything about his personality, I felt grateful to the stranger. It meant no more of weird looks from people or asking my mother when she would have her ‘kalo’ ( dark) daughter married.
Day before the marriage ceremony, my friend Rita confided that she did not have sex on the first night of her wedding. Her husband and she had sat and talked, tried to know each other and that he had a special gift for her. But that did not happen, there was no room for choice for me. Was my dark skin looked down thing and was I was the labelled inferior being? No efforts were made to know me, at least an hour time given so I could stop shivering from fear? Alas, the fish was baited and consumed with full gusto. He was a man indeed.
Few days into wedded life, my romantic notions born out of reading romances evaporated. I understood that for the man in my life, the wife was not a lover or a person to cherish, but a woman to tend to his needs. That included looking after his siblings, parents and being a perfect wife. Starting family with that woman was also a part of the package but that too began with his choice. What other words to describe the one sided satisfaction of his desires?
Fifteenth year into my marriage comes with changes among women, they dare raise voices. Aware of rights over their bodies, they have a voice over losing virginity, arranged marriages or affairs. Rita told me of a woman who told her husband, “You cannot pounce on me like a tiger, I am not your prey.”
That marriage lasted a year. The woman was termed as shameless and too independent for her own good. Her husband could not accept the fact that she was not ready for sex when he was. “Oshobho” meaning ‘uncivilized’ was how she was categorized. For the year she lived with him, no matter how hard she tried to meet the impossible goals set with the new home, she was never good enough. “I am not a slave sent to you and your family”. She said one day and walked away from her marriage.
For this woman in her times, it was possible to come out of an abusive marriage. But for many women in earlier times, human beings like you or me, were reduced to a kind of slavery, their 24/7 services taken for granted. Physical relationship was enslaved to the point of having to give their bodies even at seven to eight months pregnant stages. Did they ever file a rape case? Nonsense.
They never heard the cries of their bodies, of their souls upon the insult on the psyche. Voices of society rang louder over self-respect.
Let me see, was there much difference in my life?
When virginity was lost, so were my dreams of sharing my womanhood with a man with whom there would be shared respects. A relationship can flourish when based on trust and friendship, not when it’s a master/slave kind. Losing virginity for me might have become a cherished memory, something wonderful that happens only once.
How can I make it up my body, to my existence? How and when will we all stand up to our rights over our bodies? I wish my body had not been toyed with. Anger and frustrations grip me when I think of other days, when I was sick and…’ Here the page of the diary was torn and I could not read any more of ‘Monas diary’.
It was one Mona’s diary that I had a glimpse of, but I knew that there were many Monas who had similar stories to tell and others who endured in silence, their lips sealed for fear of what society would say.
I kept wondering who Mona was as I crumpled the shopping bag. When I was about to throw it away, my eyes fell on an address on one corner of the bag, an address was written there. If that was really Mona’s address, she lived very nearby. But who would say that the happy go lucky Mona harbored all that pain inside her?
I wondered what was right, keeping your lips sealed for sake of peace or let society and some blind people kill you alive?
Tulip Chowdhury is an eminent Bangladeshi novelist, poet, columnist and former teacher. At present, she lives in USA.