Who does a tree belong to?
The roots of that tree, whose are they?
And the soil in which those roots thrive, where did it come from?
I actually think the tree ‘belongs’ to the universe.
No living organism can claim it and say this tree is entirely mine, unless that organism is the universe.
Even if the tree is in the garden of your land which you bought with your money, that societal notion of value and money doesn’t quite make sense to me when it comes to a tree.
Yes it’s in your garden, but essentially you’re just loaning it from the universe for some time whilst you enjoy the space.
When a child is born, a new lease of life has been given by the universe. The universe is contracting the child a beautiful concept, both life and time, to spend as they wish. Hence, the child belongs to no person, no mother nor father, no city or community, but to the universe. We are all entities that belong nowhere and everywhere. To ourselves and to the universe.
To my future daughter, you have come to me as a blessing from the universe. Nobody owns you and you are not solely mine, but under my care just because I’ve been lucky enough to ease you into life. Even if you’d been a bump in my belly, as small as a peach, you wouldn’t be mine. And so you, who I love as if I felt you grow in my womb, belong not to me, but like the tree and soil, to the universe.
I promise to nurture you and protect you, but to always distinguish that from ownership.
In a society which is confined to the patriarchy, I promise to create a new system in our home in your early years, which deems you the power full.
You’ll help with chores not because I expect you to as a young woman, but because your brother is expected to do the same.
You’ll be read empowering stories about how the young woman saves herself, rather than about passive princesses who are saved by the cisheterosexual man.
There will be no boundaries to where your dreams can take you.
I’ll mess up because nobody is perfect
But one thing I’ll never do is clip your wings
Your roots are deeply-seated already
You belong to the universe.
When she comes to me
Her head hung
Heavy with the words of the world
I will remind her
Her mother weaved water and flesh
With gold and bronze to be thicker
I will let her collapse into my arms and
Heal her there
With the tough strong hands of our
Ancestors I will illustrate stories of our parents before us.
Stories i have told her once as a child
When she was half her size and twice
As believing in the world
As I mix language and oil into her hair
The hard mask she shields herself with
From the world will crack
Leaving my soft child
While she sits and listens I comb the
Problems one by one out of her hair
Brushing the earth as I braid and
Mend her forgotten self.
She will rise with a smile
My eyes and her fathers teeth
I smile at the thought
Reminded of how my mother would
Watching me rise and walk away
I see a blurry reflection of myself
A generation younger
Ready to fight another day
This is an ode to the adivasi (tribal) woman, who provided me with a roof over my head in a small village in Jharkhand, India. It is a testament to her unwavering strength and courage with which she battles through her every day. It is to the woman, I call ‘amma’ (mother).
You walk with playfulness, a purpose;
Your feet gliding over the rocky path,
Finding familiar footholds, despite the darkness.
The forest produce lies scattered,
Your day’s wage.
The sun rises, painting the sky orange;
You walk back, joining,
A line of women, baskets on their heads;
Silhouetted against the rising sun.
You collect water, light a fire
Warming yourself on the earthen stove,
The food simmers, as you sip your tea.
You walk to the field,
The seeds need care.
The day goes, the shadows that
The sun makes against your labouring body, dance.
The setting sun sees you,
Walking back, collecting water for the night;
The earthen stove lights again, food simmers.
Amidst this monotony, peals of laughter
Shatter the silence of the night.
You sit with the other village women,
Sharing, laughing, crying.
You sleep like a baby,
Only to wake up again,
For another walk to the forest.
Amma, you taught me the importance of labouring, opened my eyes to the fact that while the world looks at the farmer, it forecloses the labour of the woman who if not more, but equally, contributes in producing the food that we consume. Amma, you made me question gender, to think and reflect that in our mad rush to achieve gender equality, we have forgotten that we want your development, without you. You make us all think of how the adivasi woman has been neglected in our imagination of a nation, how you are a reminder of a past that we wish to disavow. You scoff when we use your smile for our reports and case studies. You ask me: am I just a symbol? Does my smile make you ignore my pain and my suffering? You make me think: what are we doing to the life-world of the adivasi woman. Where does she fit in (if at all) in our gender work and discourses of empowerment? How can I, a young woman from the urban, be empathetic to her hidden gender experiences? What can I do about them?
Nikita Khanna, in India