It’s been a while but we were sort of running dry of ideas of what to write about. And, you know what that gets like… a day away becomes two, three, a week, a few more, a month, 2 months and then some. The longer we left it the harder it became to think of something to write about. It’s not easy staying current. It’s not easy keeping up when your mind is full of so many other things.
T.B.C; what started off as a bit of fun and a creative output, ironically became stifling, and we struggled to say how or what we were feeling. We were dry of blogging creativity whilst still engaging in our creative fields as actors, writers, and drama teachers. Perhaps it all just got too much. So we stepped away for a bit.
Mental Health Awareness month is a little while off but this piece of writing is about mental health. It’s a little abstract and more a stream of consciousness – however, it is about being open to the behaviours of people who may have mental health breakdowns. My aunty is someone who I feel has slipped through the net. People passed her erratic and unusual behaviours off as “uneducated”. Our South Asian communities have a lot to answer for.
I have been observing my aunt for many years now – I clocked it, but back then it didn’t have a name… now, I wonder if we are too late.
She wears braids in her hair, tied up in red and white chequered ribbons.
She wears bright red lipstick, it’s her favourite.
Black kohl under her eyes, making them pop.
The kohl pot sits on top her dressing table.
An ornate Indian looking vessel.
A long metal stick, dusted with thick, black soot.
She wears brightly coloured bangles to match her equally brightly coloured suits. Reds, greens, purples, and yellows. Psychedelic patterns, swirls to make your head twirl. She is loud. In both voice and appearance. She is announcing to the whole world she is here. She is saying look at me – I am the most important person in the room.
Full of other women, who too are dressed in brightly coloured suits, matching bangles and bindi’s in the centre of their foreheads; a sun; a target; a full stop.
The other women are sober, speak quietly, eloquently, with dignity
Maybe they are masking who they really are. I know they gossip. I have heard them;
“she has mirrors on every wall” they laugh
“passport sized pictures of her and her husband on every door” they smirk
“she’s trying to remind herself who she is married to” they belittle
“Or showing that she is important. She has a husband, who would do – anything for her” they observe.
And he would…
Cook, clean, speak up… for her, placate… her. Silence her… so as not to give her…away. Perhaps…
“She has plants all over the house, it’s like a forest” they cackle.
“She has far too many tables” they snigger.
“She is uneducated. She can’t speak English”. They gloat in their perfect English, in an Indian accent.
I once heard her tell him to “fuck of” in an Indian accent, in the middle of a crowded street. It came seemingly out of nowhere. No one questioned it. At the time we all thought it was funny. We thought how unnecessary.
So, we laughed.
They’d have parties at their house. He loved entertaining people. Special birthdays, New Years, Anniversaries; any excuse for a good ole piss up. She went along with it – she put on her best glad rags. Everything matching, down to her nail varnish. He hated her Self expression.
And they would come. In their droves. The whole town would descend upon No 57.
They’d eat their food, drink their beer, chuck de pathe (lift the floorboards) whilst dancing,
AND bitch about her behind her back on the dancefloor. In the kitchen. In the toilet. In the bedrooms. In her own home. She would catch them, whispering and laughing … about her. Or her daughters would. Awkward. But the other women would brush it off. Never sorry for their behaviour.
“She not educated. She just says what’s in her head. She doesn’t think before she speaks”. They’d remark when she had upset them by retaliating.
I now see she was hurt. And not just then.
She then started to go around to the markets on a Monday and Saturday. Talk to the market traders and tell them in her broken English that she was broken.
But she was happy. How can you be broken and happy?
Buy loads of stuff. Unnecessary stuff. Perhaps she bought stuff to fill up space. To take up space that wasn’t meant for her. The stuff was an extension of her.
She was trying to take up space.
One time She and He went to India and their suitcases were over the limit.
Her suitcase was over the limit.
Pay up or reduce the weight. So, they reduced the weight. Reams and reams of carrier bags and jumpers took up space. Why would you need so many bags and jumpers – December in India is much like Summer in the UK – which is why many South Asians make the trip. She’d got hot and flustered, and very upset. She spoke down to him, again. They saw “rude” and “uneducated”. I saw vulnerable and insecure.
When the depression kicked in, she would go to peoples houses and run tales on him, and her children. She would betray them with harsh words. A tongue like a sword. She would cut them up. And the “community” – this so called “community” would ridicule her and spread her secrets. She was airing her dirty laundry in public herself, so it didn’t matter if they all sat in each other’s houses and bad mouthed her over a delicious curry.
Did their mouths ever burn?
They never invited her. They never wanted her there, she didn’t know how to behave in public. She was from the village; a grown woman with pigtails, ribbons and bangles.
“People don’t like her” he had once revealed to his best friend. “Doesn’t matter what they think. She is your wife. You must support her”.
It was an arranged married. At 19. Nothing wrong with that, it was the norm back then. No one was forced. Both families were good, decent, families. But she was young and grew up in a country she knew nothing about.
Married to a photograph.
“She’s uneducated, she doesn’t know what’s going on” they scoffed whilst stuffing their faces with food.
She would continue to tell her stories to anyone who would listen, crying one minute, laughing the next. She would be what they wanted her to be for as long as she could. Trendy, fashionable, with her garish clothes and matching bangles. Educated; she spoke broken English in a very loud voice.
“Ju listen me. I hurting inside, ok?”
She could… never be who they were. He could… never turn her into those women.
“People don’t like her” he’d revealed.
Now, she is angry. She feels the right to lash out and be heard. She can’t sit still. Something has broken and it’s too late. She lashes out at everyone – even those who recognised the signs that something wasn’t right and tried to love her – unconditionally. Me who fought her corner and stood up for her when they gossiped about her. Me who ran into the toilet with her when she felt sick, whilst the men just sat there and watched her mad desperate dance from the living room to the toilet and back again.
Was it attention seeking?
Was all of it attention seeking?
Why does one seek attention?
I knew something wasn’t right. I knew it was odd. Her garish clothes, loud voice, matching bangles, tables, plants, clothes, plastic bags, jumpers, pictures, new mirrors popping up around the place, the excessive taking up of space was so that she didn’t dimmish. The mirrors were a constant reminder to herself, that she existed. That she may not be like them, but she was alive. The colours were screaming I AM HERE. The bangles jangled DON’T IGNORE ME. The Bindi, the full stop, and the target – I AM MARRIED. I AM IMPORTANT. FULL STOP. I CAN SPEAK YOUR ENGLISH. FULL STOP.
All those years and no one gave her the attention she wanted. He covered up for her inadequacies for not being able to cook, clean or hold a decent conversation. All because he was embarrassed. The children couldn’t understand her. They still don’t. They were born here, in this country and they were English. Not Her sort of Indian. Perhaps their dads sort of Indian, but not her village mentality Indian.
But now its too late.
Exists on both sides. Now its too late
When he needs her to behave
She doesn’t know how to. She “plays up”. He cannot live in peace, even though his mind is dying. Dementia is taking him slowly – but she’ll take him with her. He can’t live peacefully now.
Till Death do US Part. That’s the hardest part.
Until the next time, take good care of yourself and your loved ones.